AresJoxerCupidStrife - Kerensa


Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12 Part 13 Part 14 Part 15


Fic: Heads I Lose, Tails I Lose

Author: Kerensa

E-mail: vkevans@yahoo.com

Feedback: pretty please

Rating: NC-17, for violence

Fandom: Xena/Hercules

Pairing: Ares/Joxer, preslash Cupid/Strife

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these pretty boys and I’m certainly not making any money on this.

Warning: Torture, extreme descriptions of torture and rape. Murder, not of a main character.

Status: WIP

Series: Children At Play, This is a prequel to Overheard Conversations

Archive: Yes, to AJCS and Make Believe; anywhere else, just ask

Website: No

Notes: This is in response to a challenge on AJCS. The challenge was to bring the Spanish Inquisition to Greece. There was to

be no Twilight of the Gods, so all the Greek gods are still alive. Joxer was to be tortured until Ares finds him. Then Cupid

is to punish the guards who hurt Joxer, Strife is to punish the people who questioned him and Ares is to punish the people

who tortured him.



Heads I Lose, Tails I Lose

By Kerensa



“Ares, I don’t understand. Why you are making such a big deal about this? I’m just going down to visit Xena, Gabrielle and

Eve.” Joxer the Mighty, former warrior extraordinaire…(Yeah, yeah…I know. Okay.)…former warrior wanna-be, now immortal

...frowned at his godly lover.



Ares, God of War, sighed and rubbed his forehead tellingly. This had been an extremely *bad* week. Ares had been trying to

start a war in Thesaly and things weren’t going according to plan.



‘They are actually trying to thwart my plans. Stupid mortals.’ Ares shook his head bemusedly.



Ares was tired and didn’t want to have a fight tonight. All he wanted to do was curl up in bed with his sexy young consort

and make love all night long.



Ares certainly didn’t want Joxer going down to Athens for a week. He didn’t like for them to be separated even for a day, let

alone a whole, long, lonely, empty week. Besides which, Ares always worried himself sick when he and his lover were apart for

very long. With good reason. Joxer always somehow managed to get into trouble when he was on his own. Ares didn’t like it

when he couldn’t be around to keep an eye on his young lover.



Ares shuddered as his imagination came up with different ways Joxer could get into trouble; each more horrific than the last.



“Joxer, it’s different now.” Ares ran his hand through his curly black hair in frustration. How could he say this delicately.

“A lot of things have changed since you came up to live on Mt. Olympus with me.”



Joxer frowned in consideration. It was a cute frown, one that furrowed his brow and wrinkled his nose oh-so slightly. It was

one of the looks that brought Ares to his knees. Actually, Joxer could have crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue and

still accomplished that. If Ares had looked up in time and seen that…things might have turned out differently.



Joxer thought for a minute. ‘Well, no kidding. I know things have changed.”



‘For one thing I have gone from being a clumsy nobody to being the…well, yes, still clumsy…but now I am the consort to the

God of War.’ Joxer’s inner dialogue only increased his curiosity.



“What do you mean changed?”



Ares arched his eyebrow in a way that was guaranteed to knock Joxer over in a lustful frenzy. Again, not much effort needed

here. “Xena has other responsibilities; she has Eve to take care of now. She can’t look out for you the way she used to.”



Distracted by a scroll brought in by one of his priests, Ares had replied to Joxer without thinking. As soon as he realized

what he had said, Ares looked up in horror. The hurt look in his lover’s expressive brown eyes made Ares want to bite his

tongue.



“That’s not what I meant to say…”



Joxer overrode what Ares was trying to say, something he had never, ever done before, with anybody; let alone the man he

loved. “So…in other words, I need to be looked after, huh. I’m so pathetic, such an “idiot loser” that I can’t even take care

of myself and Xena already has one baby to look after, is that it.” Joxer stepped back out of reach when Ares tried to touch

him. “I see. I guess I know what you really think of me.”



Joxer turned his back on Ares and hugged himself. He ignored his lover’s attempts at apologizing as he took several

shuddering breaths. ‘I am not going to cry, I *am not* going to cry!’



Joxer’s mind kept talking to him, bringing up old insecurities and fears. He kept hearing all the times Gabrielle had called

him either an “idiot” or a “loser.” Joxer kept seeing the looks of utter contempt she and Xena always used to send his way.

And they were his friends.



‘Now I know exactly why you have never wanted to marry me. As your consort you could just leave or kick me out when you got

bored with me. If I were your husband it would be a lot harder to get rid of me. God’s if that’s the way you feel about me,

then why did you go to the trouble of petitioning Hera to make me immortal?’



Ares might not have been able to hear what Joxer was thinking, but the expressions on his face were easy to decipher. “Joxer

that’s not what I meant, not at all.” He winced as Joxer jerked his shoulder away from Ares’ hand.



‘Backsteppinging seems like a good idea. I can do backsteppinging.’



“It’s just that you’ve been living on Olympus for 5 years now. I think you have forgotten what it’s really like down there.

It’s too dangerous and I don’t want you to get hurt.”



‘I’m good at backsteppinging…or maybe not.’ Ares could recognize how possessive his tone sounded and stopped talking when he

realized he was only making matters worse.



Too late!



“You’re wrong and I’ll prove it.” Joxer squared his thin shoulders resolutely and turned to face his large lover and god. He

would show Ares that he wasn’t just a piece of property. An inept one at that.



“I’m going to go down to Athens for a week without you or your protection. I bet you…” Joxer paused and it was obvious that

he was thinking as fast as he could. “I bet you that I can take care of myself for that time, *without* any outside help.

None from you, none from Xena or Gabrielle…or even Eve.” Joxer’s jaw was clenched so tightly that Ares was afraid it was

going to break under the strain.



With that Eve comment, Ares got an inkling of just how badly his comments had hurt his lover. Ares winced, things were going

to Tartarus fast. The worst possible thing would be for Joxer to be on earth alone. Without Xena’s protection Ares was

*really* afraid what would happen to his lover.



“Joxer, please Angel, you don’t need to prove anything…” Ares didn’t quite know what to say. Tact had never been his strong

suit…or words either for that matter. He was more of an action type of god. Ares was used to letting his sword and his fists

doing the talking for him.



Joxer interrupted his godly lover yet again. Pride was rearing its ugly head…and no, Apollo wasn’t coming up from behind the

chair. Things were about to get really bad.



Joxer had never really had anything but his pride, no matter how misguided it might have been, for most of his young life. To

realize that his lover didn’t think any more of him than his family or Xena or Gabrielle ever had, really hurt. He hadn’t

felt like that pathetic, unwanted loser in a long time.



“In other words, you don’t think I can do it.” Joxer ducked his head and muttered quietly to himself, “of course you don’t.”

The young immortal tightened his arms around his waist, so his shaking wouldn’t be noticeable. He blinked back the tears and

forced himself to look back up.



“Fine. Here’s the bet. If I win, I get to go traveling any time I want to.” Joxer paused and looked Ares straight in the eye.

“By myself.” He spoke emphatically. “If I lose…if I lose I won’t leave Olympus without you again. Ever.”



====



Three days later



Three very long and depressing days later.



Joxer was getting ready to leave. He had a small knapsack packed with a couple of changes of clothing. The young immortal was

taking a sword and his knife, but no armor.



The young man had given up his ratty, mismatched armor several years ago. The old armor was in a closet in his and Ares’

bedroom. He kept it as a reminder of better times…uh, no, old times…oh well, just as a reminder.



The sword was one of the best in the world. Second only to Ares’; it was similar in style and decoration. Size-wise it was a

much smaller blade, because Joxer was a much smaller man than Ares. The craftsmanship was superb and Ares had had it made

just for Joxer. The knife was just as spectacular and had also a present from Ares.



Ares had tried to talk his surprisingly stubborn lover out of going through with the silly and unnecessary bet. Sadly, yes,

those *were* the exact words he used in his argument. Unsurprisingly he couldn’t sway Joxer.



Strife had silently watched his uncle and best friend from the sidelines for the last several days. It was clear to anybody

who was *paying attention* that Joxer was still very hurt by the things Ares had said. In fact, Joxer had even refused to

share a bed with Ares since the fight.



And hadn’t *that* made life fun around the old temple.



For the first time since Strife had moved out of Ares’ temple, he was almost glad to be on his own. At least in his own

little temple, Strife was out of the line of fire.



‘Tha tension’s sa thick around heah, ya could cut it with a sword.’ Strife shook his head ruefully. ‘Literally. Unc’s

threatened ta cut off mah people’s heads in tha last coupla days than he has in tha previous decade.’



It was true. Since Joxer came to live on Mt. Olympus, Ares was calmer and more rational. A gentler god. (Uhm, does anybody

really believe that? I didn’t think so.) Okay, so he didn’t lose his temper nearly as often as he used to. Only three or four

times a day, as opposed to his previous nine or ten.



However, events had been set in motion that wouldn’t or couldn’t be stopped. Smarter heads could have prevailed, but…nobody

was listening to Strife. By the end of the first day following the fight, all of Mt. Olympus had gotten word about the bet.

Perhaps if word hadn’t gotten out so quickly, Joxer might have let Ares persuade him into calling off the bet. However, news

travels fast, especially when Mr. Nosybody Hermes was spreading the word; via winged feet and a really big mouth.



The reactions around Olympus were varied, but not by much. A *very few* of the pantheon thought that Joxer had overreacted

and was being downright silly.



However, surprisingly enough, the majority of them ended up siding with Joxer. They decided Ares was an overgrown idiot with

a runaway mouth, who was about to lose the best thing that had ever happened to him. Not that anyone was stupid enough to

tell him that to his face.



However in one dark temple at the bottom of Mt. Olympus, there was one god who was happy. Very happy.



‘Now, after all these years, I will finally have my revenge on Ares. Hurting Ares himself never accomplishes anything. No,

the best way to punish Ares is to hurt someone he cares about.’ The god cackled insanely.



‘Joxer is perfect. He’s such a little nobody. No one will *really* care what happens to him.’ With a flick of his wrist, the

mysterious god sent his minions off to wait for the young immortal.



‘Of course, Ares will be upset. That’s the whole idea. But he won’t be *too* upset.



Not killing vengeance upset. After all, if Ares really loved Joxer that much, he would have married him long before now.’



====



The leave taking was awful. Ares again tried desperately to stop Joxer from going; pleading with him. He did everything but

physically restrain Joxer and Ares knew that such a move would surely destroy any possible chance at reconciliation they had.



Strife paced nervously in the main room of Ares and Joxer’s temple. He was hoping that Joxer would back down or Ares would

say the right thing. Like ‘I love you’. Strife sighed at his uncle’s obtuseness and Joxer’s doggedness.



Joxer stood tall and proud…and thoroughly miserable. He had none of his usual enthusiasm and anticipation for the upcoming

journey. Joxer didn’t really want to go, but all of the gods and goddesses knew about the bet. If he backed out now, Ares

really wouldn’t have any respect for him.



Lacking godly powers, Joxer couldn’t leave Mt. Olympus on his own. So, with great reluctance Ares flashed Joxer away. Joxer

gave one last sad look behind him and then he was gone.



Thunder rumbled through Mt. Olympus, startling most of the beings that lived there. It rained only rarely and thunder was

practically unheard of.



Various deities trembled in fright.



====



Across Olympus Zeus and Hera ducked their heads in shame. They hadn’t meant to throw firebolts at the same time.



Who knew they’d make *that* much noise.



====



Joxer arrived in Athens, unobserved. Now, normally the consort to such an important and powerful god would be heralded and

pampered. Flowers and presents would have been laid at his feet in the hopes of gaining favor with the consort’s godly lover.

Joxer, however, wasn’t even recognized.



Since achieving immortality Joxer had been kept in the background. Not out of shame, although in his heart that’s what Joxer

secretly believed, but because the other gods didn’t want a queue of favored mortals begging them for immortality.



Truthfully, it bothered Ares that no one knew the sweetness and innocent wonder that was his lover. If Ares had his way Joxer

would be revered not ignored.



For the young immortal it was no big deal either way. Being unnoticed wasn’t a problem for Joxer. Before Ares *no one* ever

noticed him anyway. Unless they wanted to hurt or belittle him. Or both.



Actually, that wasn’t strictly true. Joxer knew his brothers, Jett and Jayce loved him and his good friend Strife had always

been nice to him. (But that’s another story.)



Joxer did plan on going to see Xena…eventually. But after the nasty crack Ares had made about Xena taking care of him, there

was no way in Tartarus he was going to stay with her. Joxer didn’t care if he had to spend the whole week sleeping in an

abandoned temple; he was not going to be a burden to his old…traveling companions.



As Joxer walked down the street he was happily unaware that he was being followed. The men trailed behind Joxer as he walked

around the town for awhile. They enjoyed watching the young immortal.



The uncoordinated Joxer of old was gone. In his place was a graceful man who was so light on his feet that he seemed to float

about an inch off the ground. His smiling face was a delight to watch and even his pursuers were not immune to the young

man’s charms.



====



Joxer was not having a good time. Yes, he was happy to have a little freedom, but he missed Ares too much to enjoy the

outing. A depressed Joxer left the marketplace and decided to stroll around the town some more.



The men slid around Joxer, going down back passages and were able to get ahead of him. They circled around like predators

separating a smaller animal from the herd. Joxer had no idea what evil was closing in on him.



As he passed a large and imposing black temple, the 4 large priests who had been following him jumped out from their hiding

places and grabbed the unsuspecting immortal. Despite being outnumbered, Joxer fought back and fought well.



Ares would have been surprised at his lover’s newly acquired fighting skills. Joxer slashed at the men with his sword and cut

several of them severely before they knocked it away. He kicked and punched and hit until two of the men were lying on the

ground bleeding. But in the end Joxer was subdued. That last man was able to overpower and hold him until they rest of his

gang could help. Even Ares would have been hard pressed to win with 4-1 odds against him.



The priests drug a still struggling Joxer into the temple and led him over to a cloaked figure. “Excellent.” The figure took

Joxer’s chin in his hand and tilted the young immortal’s face from side to side. He looked at Joxer’s pale skin and slender

body and made an appreciative sound in his throat. The god took Joxer’s sword from one of his priests and sensuously slid it

into its sheath, sliding his hand across Joxer’s hip at the same time.



“You are delicious.” All Joxer could see of the god were his frighteningly flat black eyes. “It will be a pleasure seeing you

broken.”



Before Joxer could figure out what he meant by that statement, the god waved his hand and a portal opened on one of the

temple’s walls. The cloaked god then shot a magical flame from his hand. The unearthly blaze enveloped Joxer who was then

propelled backwards through the portal. Joxer disappeared into the swirling hole with a pained shriek.




Part 2



Joxer, overcome with the shock from the trip, stumbled and fell to his knees as he landed in the alley. The young man then

fell on his butt. He scrunched his eyes shut and waited for the pain from the firebolt to subside. When he felt better, Joxer

decided to see where he had been sent. It wasn’t good. The passageway was dark and filthy. His amour clanged loudly as he

tried to look around.



His armor?



Joxer looked down and frowned in amazement. He ran his hands over the hodgepodge of pieces and bits of metal that comprised

his old armor.



Joxer didn’t understand what was going on. He hadn’t worn his mismatched armor in over 5 years. He guessed the cloaked god

had, for some reason, put it on him while he was being knocked through the portal.



Joxer tried to figure out why anyone would do that. He was wondering who that god was when he heard an even louder clanging

noise and looked up in apprehension. Someone was coming. A *bunch* of someone’s, in armor. Joxer realized that he needed to

run, to hide. He hadn’t been able to fight off 4 men and this sounded like a whole lot more than that.



‘I am going to serpentine. I don’t know what that means, but I heard Gabby say that once and it seemed to work, so I think

I’ll do that.’ Joxer was worried when he realized he was babbling to himself.



Looking around, Joxer quickly realized that there was nowhere to go. The alley was a dead end. He was trapped. Joxer tensed

up as he waited for the inevitable confrontation.



Just then several Guards in heavy metal armor came running into the passageway. They pointed their swords at Joxer and spoke

in a language he didn’t recognize, although they did sound a little like Jayce. The motions they made at him, Joxer did

recognize.



Joxer struggled to his feet, trying to avoid being impaled on the numerous weapons surrounding him. The young immortal was

roughly pulled along behind the men. He didn’t even try to get to his sword or knife. Joxer could plainly see that he was

*vastly* outnumbered and drawing his sword against them would only make things worse. They hurried him along and it was only

because Joxer had extremely long legs, especially in comparison to the shorter soldiers, that enabled him to maintain the

brisk pace.



Joxer had no idea where in Tartarus he was, where they were taking him, or what was going to happen when they got their.



‘I don’t even know when it is. When I left Athens, it was early morning. It’s dark here. Late night maybe.’



In his mind he called out for Ares. He didn’t care about the dumb bet now or saving face in front of the other gods. Joxer

might have his pride, but he wasn’t stupid.



When Ares didn’t immediately appear, Joxer knew something was up. Ares always came if he called or at least acknowledged the

summons if he was in the middle of a battle.



Joxer had no notion where that god and his portal had sent him. He certainly wasn’t in Greece. The unknown language and dark

aspect of the men prodding him in the back emphasized that.



Ares wasn’t coming. No, something was keeping him from coming. Joxer knew that Ares would never abandon him. However, for

right now at least, he was all alone. As he was marched behind the grim faced soldiers, Joxer realized something else.



‘I’m scared.’



‘Ares! Ares, please come, I need you…Ari?’ Joxer almost wept at the answering silence in his mind.



====



Ares was…Not…Happy. In fact, he was the *opposite* of happy. Unhappy didn’t even begin to cover how he felt. Miserable was a

little more like it, only not as bad. Joxer had only left an hour ago and Ares was already missing his young lover.



Truthfully he’d been missing Joxer for days now. ‘Ever since I opened my big mouth and inserted my sword.’ (Do you really

think Ares would stick his foot in his mouth.)



Ares felt it when the mysterious god attacked Joxer. He experienced an odd sensation in his chest. It felt like something had

been ripped out and a great, gaping chasm was left in its place.



Instinctively, he realized that something terrible had just happened. But, Ares went against his gut and ignored the

sensation and the feelings they produced. It was only the forth time he’d done that in all his long life. It was of course a

mistake. Ares didn’t realize it but the other three times had been as well.



Ares was determined to give his upset lover all the space he needed to prove that he could handle himself. Besides, if

anything happened Xena would watch out for the young man.



So he had nothing to worry about.



Right?



====



“I saw him appear my lord. He emerged out of a bright cloud in the air and floated to the ground as if he were flying. It was

like…*magic*.” *Magic* was uttered in a hiss, like it was a dirty word and most of the people in the room recoiled from Joxer

in condemnation and made strange crossing motions on their torso’s.



Joxer looked up in surprise at the statement. Somehow, thank Zeus, he could now understand what was being said. He didn’t

know what had caused this abrupt change, but he was profoundly grateful. It was always better to know what was being said

about you. He thought.



Joxer looked over at the young Guard in trepidation. There hadn’t been anyone in that alley when he appeared and he sure as

Hades hadn’t floated down. The scratches on his hands and the bruises on his knees testified to that. So, why was that man

lying?



The young immortal looked around at the large group of men he was kneeling in front of and became even more frightened. The

men all wore long brown cloaks. The light from the torches sent flickering shadows across their faces and made them look

menacing. To top it all off, they were wearing necklaces that looked like the platforms people were crucified on.



He didn’t understand the significance of the necklaces, but they were ominous. A small hangman’s noose as an ornament would

be as bad, well almost. Hanging was horrible, but it took considerably less time to die from hanging and wasn’t nearly as

painful as crucifixion.



One of the men in the brown cloaks raised a hand to stop the Guards who were still talking; embellishing the story told by

the first man. He gestured and the group of Guards snapped to attention, turned in unison and went to the far side of the

room, in essence leaving Joxer alone with these grim faced men.



One man came up to Joxer and grabbed his chin, pulling it up brutally and forcing Joxer’s neck back at an unnatural and

decidedly painful angle. The man’s voice was harsh, his movements intentionally cruel. He looked at Joxer fixedly. “Are you a

witch?”



Joxer’s expressive brown eyes widened in fear and he blanched. Even in Greece, where there were gods walking the earth, you

didn’t admit to being a witch. “No sir, I’m not a witch.” Joxer strained to talk. His voice sounded odd because the angle of

his neck placed a constriction on his throat.



For once Joxer didn’t say anything else. He really didn’t think these men would appreciate his Joxer the Mighty song.



After several seconds of studying him, the man released his face. Joxer coughed a few times, trying to clear his throat.



“Are you a Christian?”



Joxer frowned in consideration, his eyes flickering from one face to another. What should he say? What was the best answer?

Was being ‘a Christian’ a good thing or a bad thing?



In the end, Joxer decided to go with the truth. He didn’t like to lie, to anybody. Besides, his face was too revealing. He

was unable to lie convincingly. At least that’s what everybody always told him. Joxer looked as contrite as possible; which

wasn’t hard considering his honest, open face.



“Ummm, I don’t know sir. What’s a Christian?” That was *definitely* the wrong thing to say. The next thing Joxer knew, his

head was flying to one side from the force of the blow he received from his interrogator.



“Blasphemer.” The other men hissed. The noise kept going round the room and it sounded like dozens of snakes were housed

there.



“My lord, please observe.” They all looked over to the Guard who was talking. “It will not break.” The young had Joxer’s

knife in one hand and a hammer in the other. The Guard attacked the knife, trying to break it, without any luck. Another two

Guards were trying the same with his sword.



Joxer knew they wouldn’t break, because they were made with Hesphestian metal. Joxer and the Questioners watched the Guards

as they dashed the weapons against the stone floor, without causing even a scratch on the shiny metal blades, but causing

considerable damage to the stone.



“More proof of your witchcraft.” The first Questioner’s lip curled in disgust at the demonstration. “Prepare him for

questioning.”



Five of the men that surrounded Joxer moved in closer, as the main Questioner gave Joxer another cold look and stepped back.

Still stunned from the first blow to his head, not to mention being blasted into another plane of existence, Joxer was

unprepared for another blow that knocked him onto his back. Four of the men latched onto him. Each grabbed a different

appendage and pulled hard. Spread-eagled, Joxer watched in wide-eyed horror as the fifth man pulled out a huge knife and

proceeded to cut his clothes off.



His faithful, old armor was tossed into a corner. The shirt Bliss gave him for his last birthday was ripped to pieces in

their frenzy. They even cut his boots off.



In minutes Joxer was completely naked and bleeding from numerous cuts all over his body. The man hadn’t bothered to be

careful with the knife. There was a particularly nasty cut that ran from the outside of his left knee to his ankle. The next

thing Joxer knew he was being yanked up. He was panting and shaking from his ordeal.



Still spread-eagled, a shaken Joxer was carried to a chair where he was roughly sat down. His hands were tied behind the back

of the chair and his legs were pulled apart and tied on the outside of the legs of the chair. This left him wide-open and

hopelessly vulnerable.



Joxer felt humiliated. He flushed uncomfortably, turning his normally pale complexion a bright red. Before he and Ares had

become lovers, Joxer had been a virgin. No man, other than his brothers, had ever seen him naked. Now he was sitting in a

room with about 20 men who were ogling him…and making comments about his body, his hair, the fact that his body didn’t have

much hair. About how pink his nipples were.



Ignoring the talking another Questioner walked up to Joxer. He casually picked up Joxer’s penis and began to examine it.

Joxer’s lips trembled and he bit his lip so as not to say anything. The man twisted his genitalia around, looking it over

very carefully. Joxer ducked his head in shame, trying to keep to the tears in his eyes from showing. No one other than Ares

had ever touched him there. Several had tried, but thanks to Strife, none had succeeded.



“He’s not a Jew.” The man sniffed derisively and dropped the limp penis so it lay angled across his thigh. Joxer tried to

squirm, wanting to at least get his manhood back between his legs. Unfortunately he couldn’t move enough and so was left

exposed.



His actions and obvious distress did not go unnoticed. Joxer’s tormentors were thrilled. They immediately realized how

uncomfortable he was with being seen and touched. They were glad to capitalize on that perceived weakness. With this in mind

they made sure to stare more and touch him intimately as often as possible. Every effort was made to degrade and demoralize

the young immortal.



Joxer looked up to see the rest of the Questioners encircling him. The men surrounded him like a horde of angry locusts. They

all began talking at once. Joxer flinched at the noise. This only made them talk louder. The onslaught was unrelenting.



One man put his hand on Joxer’s naked shoulder and smiled when the young man jerked. More men moved in closer and touched his

face and chest. One Questioner took great delight in pinching a nipple and watching Joxer squirm in pain.



Once in a while, one of the Questioner’s would lean forward and yell in Joxer’s ear. It wasn’t long before his ears were

ringing and what was left of his nerves were shot.



They took turns interrogating him non-stop for 21 hours.



====



At long last they dumped an exhausted Joxer into a cell. He was hungry and desperately thirsty. It had been almost a full day

since he had had any nourishment. He was cold too. The castle was cool, at times you could see your breath come out in little

puffs. Joxer was still naked and his skinny body had no fat with which to warm itself. Without the body heat from his

Questioner’s he was cold enough that his teeth were chattering.



The prison cell was filthy, worse than the alley had been and crowded with numerous other detainees. It was dark, the only

illumination coming from a tiny window set high up on the wall and since it was nighttime again, even that didn’t help much.

Looking around, Joxer decided that he didn’t really need or want to see any more of his prison, what he could see was bad

enough.



Joxer heard a skittering sound and tensed up, which made his overextended muscles protest. He recognized the noise and looked

over fearfully. Joxer saw a huge rat about to bite a man who was lying unconscious in the middle of the floor. Even though he

could barely move his numb arms, Joxer picked up a rock, drug himself over and killed the rodent. He dropped to the ground

beside the man and was asleep in seconds.



=====



Meanwhile back on Mt. Olympus…



Ares had gone to the bloodiest, goriest and most vicious battle he could find and immersed himself in it. Fighting and

killing with abandon until the early hours of the morning.



It didn’t help. Nothing helped ease the knot of tension coiled in his gut. Ares was still upset about Joxer and even as worn

out as the god was from the fight, he still couldn’t sleep that night. Ares gritted his teeth in frustration and made himself

lay in bed when what he really wanted to do was go find Joxer and beg him to come home.



Ares punched his pillow in frustration. Then he punched it some more. Then he fixed the broken pillow and lay back down.



‘Joxer is *just fine*.’



Maybe if he said that often enough his heart would believe it. So…he did. Ares lay in bed all night long, reassuring himself

that everything was all right.



“Joxer is *just fine*.”



Thus ended Day 1




Part 3



7 in the morning, Day 2



Joxer was awoken by a kick in the side. He grunted in pain and looked up to see a Guard holding out a cup and some bread.

Joxer saw a booted foot aimed for his side again and sat up quickly.



The Guard grinned and kicked him anyway, before sauntering over to wake up the next person. The hungry young man gratefully

took the proffered food. Joxer drank eagerly and tried not to gulp the scant cup of water. The bread was moldy and green.



Try as hard as Joxer could, he just couldn’t make himself eat more than a couple of bites. Joxer gave the rest of his bread

to one of his cellmates who shoved the food in her mouth. The emaciated young girl hunched over her meal protectively and ate

it as fast as she possibly could.



Joxer noticed that the rat’s carcass had disappeared sometime during the night. He tried not to think about that. It wasn’t

that he was disgusted. All right, yes he was. More importantly he was sad. Joxer knew what it was like to be that hungry and

while he had never personally eaten a rat, he had eaten some pretty reprehensible things in his time.



8 in the morning



The Guards came back and hauled him to his feet. Joxer winced at the tight grip they had on his already bruised arms. They

pushed and prodded him down several long corridors, back to the Questioners. The men took the opportunity to rub their hands

over his body as they went. Joxer tripped several times on the way. Not because of his natural clumsiness, but because the

men kept putting their hands between his legs.



Joxer was tied back in the chair, in the same painful and humiliating position as the day before. One of the Guards reached

down and picked up Joxer’s balls. He held them as if weighing them and then he juggled the sensitive scrotum back and for the

between his rough and calloused hands. Then the Guard squeezed his balls until tears formed in Joxer’s eyes. The man grinned

and tightened his grip once more before letting go. He made sure to position Joxer’s penis back on his leg before he moved

back.



The throbbing between his legs distracted Joxer from the noise and the questioning for a while.



They questioned him for 4 hours.



====



“…and then this otha soldier said, ‘yeah, but ya shoulda seen his head. It looked just like Hercules.’” Strife giggled and

waited for his uncle to laugh. That was the funniest joke he knew and anything funny about Hercules was generally good for at

least a smile.



Ares snarled as he continued to pace in the throne room.



Strife watched his uncle pace and fought the urge to join him. He didn’t though, because Strife knew his agitation would only

feed Ares’. The young god squirmed on the step he was sitting on. Sitting still made his hips and back hurt something fierce.

That was why he was always on the move. It hurt too much to sit still.



Strife jumped as Ares punched a statue.



Strife sighed and with a wave of his hand, he reformed the crumbled marble. This was going to be a long week and damn he

missed his friend.



====



12 noon



They had chained Joxer to the wall. His aching arms were pulled high above his head. His face was pressed against the rough

plaster. Joxer stood precariously on his tiptoes trying to alleviate some of the pressure on his abraded wrists.



Just minutes earlier he had been slumped in his chair, facing the Questioners. Several of them had been haranguing him when

abruptly one of them had said, “Take him to the Torturers.” There was blessed silence for a short time and then here he was.



Someone came up to stand behind him. His captor was standing so close that Joxer could feel the man’s breath on the back of

his head. Joxer shivered in fear. The man didn’t say anything. He just stood there, for several long minutes. Joxer was

unnerved by the quiet. After the endless noise from the Questioners this silence was scary.



Joxer jumped when he heard a loud crack. It was a whip! ‘Oh gods, no, not a whip.’ There was another crack and then fire

erupted across his shoulders. Joxer cried out in pain. Another lash hit on his bottom and he arched forward into the rough

wall. Plaster dug into his bare hips, making an angry scrape.



“Stop! Oh gods, please stop.”



The Torturer heard Joxer’s reference to “gods” and was disgusted. He pulled his arm back as far as he could and hit harder.



Joxer’s screams echoed through the silence.



The blows continued until Joxer passed out. When he came to, they started up again. Joxer was left chained to the wall,

barely conscious and whipped off and on for 3 hours.



====



3 in the afternoon



Joxer was brought back to the chamber where the Questioners were and shoved back down onto the chair. A rough rope was looped

around his waist and another at chest level, just under his arms. They were tightened until he gasped for breath. Only then

did the Guards loosened the ropes a little bit before they were knotted. Not out of pity. No, they just didn’t want him

passing out…too soon.



The young immortal could breathe, but the ropes dug into his exposed torso. Cutting it. Little bits of rope broke off and

worked their way into his skin. Being tied like that pulled Joxer back firmly against the chair. This ensured that his

striped back and bottom were in constant contact with the rough chair. His arms were tied behind him again and his legs were

pulled apart.



Joxer was in agony.



“I’m not a witch, I promise.” Joxer moved around, trying to get comfortable. The widely spaced slats of the chair kept

pinching his damaged bottom. “I swear I’m not.” Joxer looked at the grim men beseechingly. “*Please* let me have something to

drink.”



The Questioners ignored his pleas. The tears of pain streaming down Joxer’s pale face only brought nods of satisfaction. As

devout Christians it was their jobs to save this wretch’s soul. No matter how long or by what means that they had to employ

to do it.



They kept him there for 3 hours.



====



Ares watched Bliss flying around the room. He looked like a pale little bumblebee, buzzing from one spot to another. His

little blond curls bounced as Bliss twirled and tried to do a somersault. Ares’ grandson was just learning how to fly and had

been eager to show his grandpa how good he was doing.



Ares tried to smile at the tiny winged boy, but it came out as more of a pained grimace. All he could think of was Joxer.

Joxer’s straight brown hair bouncing as he tried to drag Ares over to look at some interesting new rock or flower he’d found.

Ares wondered where Joxer was, what he was doing and if he missed Ares half as much as Ares missed him.



====



Cupid saw his father’s preoccupation and sighed. He’d been pretty sure the diversion with Bliss probably wouldn’t work. His

dad was too worried about Joxer to be cajoled into a better mood.



The winged god wondered if he would ever find someone that he could love that much. He thought about his ex-wife, Psyche and

shuddered. She was as cold and unfeeling as a block of marble. Cupid wanted somebody warm and loving, like Joxer.

Why couldn’t he find somebody like Joxer?



Cupid looked over at Ares and sighed again. He hoped his father hadn’t messed everything up. Someone as special as Joxer

didn’t come along very often. God’s know he knew that was true. Cupid had been looking for several hundred years and hadn’t

found anybody yet.



The only reason that he’d married Psyche was because he was clumsy and got stuck with one of his own love arrows. Even under

its spell he had realized what they had wasn’t really love, but he had been lonely and had decided to go along with it. The

only good that that had come of that union was flying around the statues.



The two lonely men watched the little boy flying around the table. One was missing his love, the other was just missing love.



====



6 in the evening



A trembling Joxer was taken back to the Torturers. The hard faced man yanked Joxer’s arms back and tied them together behind

him. He ignored Joxer’s scream of pain as his painfully swollen shoulders were twisted around. The Torturer’s tight grip on

his arms the only thing that was keeping Joxer upright as his vision wavered and dimmed.



‘I don’t understand why they are doing this. Obviously I’m not a witch. If I were, I would have done something magical and

gotten the Tartarus out of here before now.’



Joxer felt something scratchy slide across and then slither between his bare buttocks that snapped him awake. He started to

panic, until he realized it was a rope that was being tied around his wrists, over the ropes already there. He vaguely heard

the Torturer say “strappedo” before he walked away.



Joxer was left naked and trembling in the middle of the chamber. Now he was panicking again. ‘Gods only know what they’re

going to do know.’ Joxer tried to think positively. He’d survived being whipped, he could survive whatever this was.



Then the Torturer began turning a crank and the rope started going up. So did Joxer. He gasped as his arms were pulled up and

back. The Torturer didn’t stop his torment. Joxer’s feet left the floor and the pressure on his arms increased tenfold as all

of his weight was concentrated on his wrists and shoulders.



Joxer cried out, “STOP! Pleasepleaseplease stop.” The Torturer’s impassive expression never changed and he kept cranking.



‘Joxer, stop begging. That only makes it worse; they like to see you beg.’ Joxer closed his eyes tight. ‘Please,’ he prayed,

‘please let it be over soon.’



Finally he realized he had stopped rising. Fearfully, Joxer opened his eyes and gave out a panicked shriek.



He was suspended 30 feet in the air.



The man standing safely on the ground watched the young man twisting in the air. Then the Torturer let the pulley go and

Joxer dropped. Joxer screamed in absolute terror as he plunged towards the ground. The Torturer stopped the rope when Joxer

was halfway down. The abrupt stop wrenched Joxer’s shoulders up at an even more unnatural angle and he screamed again. When

he ran out of breath and stopped screaming, Joxer was dropped again, almost to the ground this time. Joxer dangled, a couple

of feet above the ground.



The Torturer came over and stood in front of the sobbing immortal. The man’s emotionless face never changed as he reached

down and put both hands between Joxer’s legs. The Torturer gazed off into space, seemingly bored, as he began to knead the

exposed flesh. Joxer had to endure being fondled as his arms and back were in agony and he hung, suspended in mid-air.



After a few minutes he was raised back up. Joxer was dropped again and again and again. For an hour.



====



7 in the evening



A barely conscious Joxer was brought back to the Questioners and his chair. They restrained him again and questioned the

young man, unceasingly for hours.



The zealous Questioner’s didn’t seem to notice or care that their “blasphemer” was incoherent and barely conscious. That

didn’t matter to the men. They were saving his soul after all.



In one corner of the room, several of the Guards played a game of chance. Their cheers were oddly interspaced with the

haranguing of the Questioners.



====



3 in the morning



Joxer was unceremoniously tossed into his cell. He rolled bonelessly and was left where he lay, in the middle of a pile of

moldy straw and excrement. The feces was smeared across his back and into the open wounds. By the next morning infection had

already begun.



The young immortal couldn’t even cry. His throat hurt from all the screaming and pleading he had done.



Moans could be heard from the other prisoners. Despair hung heavy in the air. Nobody expected to leave the castle alive.

There would be no rescue; after all, Queen Isabella herself had sanctioned these acts of redemption. Their only hope was to

die a little sooner.



“Joxer the mighty…he roams….through the ………countryside….”



The weak, painfully cracking voice was as comforting to the people there as a lullaby.



“…..righting wrongs……and singing songs….”



Thus ended Day 2




Part 4



6 in the morning



After only 3 hours of sleep Joxer was again wakened by being kicked by a Guard with a very heavy boot. Joxer’s upper body was

bruised from being kicked the day before. The considerate Guard kicked in an unbruised spot this morning. This time Joxer

felt a pop in his chest and realized at least one rib was cracked. Joxer cried out weakly at the pain.



Joxer could barely move and was only just able to take today’s offering from the Guard. He sat there looking longingly at the

water, but he couldn’t make his arms cooperate enough to raise the cup go he could drink it.



Before long the young woman Joxer had given his bread to the previous morning came forward. She took the cup from Joxer’s

weak hand and held it to his mouth. Joxer drank gratefully.



“Thank you.”



The skeletal figure just nodded; she hadn’t talked in months. Most people didn’t talk after they had been there for a while.



The young woman gestured with the piece of bread. It didn’t look any better than that from the day before.



Joxer swallowed hard, he wasn’t sure he could eat anything.



“You go ahead and eat it.”



The woman looked desperately at the food, then she looked at Joxer’s already thin frame. She made a noise in her throat and

tried to push the bread at Joxer again.



“Okay.” Joxer conceded. If she was that hungry and still wouldn’t take the food, he would try. “But only if you eat half.



The dark-haired young woman nodded and broke the bread in half. She shoved the small piece of bread in her mouth and ate it

quickly; before it could be taken away. Joxer was offered the other half. He looked at the green bread and resolutely thought

of Ares.



He managed to eat the bread this time.



====



7 in the morning, Day 3



‘Ares will find me, he will.’ Joxer kept saying this to himself. His personal mantra was the only thing keeping him sane as

they used the strappedo again.



His arms were so stiff and swollen from the day before that the Torturer, a new one this time, had to forcibly pull them

behind him. This tore open the inflamed skin on his back. Joxer vomited up the bread and water that he had managed to choke

down earlier. His Torturer wasn’t bothered at all.



Not pleased with the previous day’s results, this Torturer tied several weights to Joxer’s feet before he was hoisted into

the air. Joxer’s screams and pleads for mercy had as little affect on this man as they had on anybody else.



====



Strife stood in the doorway with his mouth hanging open. Ares was decorating! Well…technically he wasn’t actually decorating,

he was furnishing.



Every piece of furniture had been removed from the seldom used bedroom and replaced with blocks of wood. Wood in every

conceivable color and texture. There were also a lot of knives and chisels.



It was a little known fact that Joxer liked to carve. Xena didn’t know, neither did Gabrielle, even though they had some of

his work in their house. Joxer’s brothers and a very few people close to him knew about this talent.



“Strife, help me. I can’t decide. Which do you think Joxer would like better the green or blue curtains?”



That’s what had Strife stunned. ‘Unc’s pickin out curtains.’ Okay, maybe he was decorating. Strife looked at his uncle who

was standing there with a blue curtain draped over one arm and a green one over the other and had the insane urge to giggle.



It was insane because Ares would probably kill him if he did. The war god was twitching and about to explode. Strife felt

like he was in a tournament, one wrong moved and that was it.



“Uh…” Strife looked carefully at the curtains. “…I think he’d like tha blue ones, because they look kinda like water.” Ares

looked at the curtain uncertainly. “Ya know how much he likes tha ocean.”



Ares smiled brightly, too brightly and Strife had to resist the urge to run. Ares flung his arm out and the green curtains

disappeared while the “water” ones were placed on the windows. Ares nodded once and then waved his hands again. Several

chairs appeared.



“So…which chairs do you think he’d like best?”



And the tournament continued.



====



They questioned him for 6 hours this time.



Joxer didn’t even hear the questions anymore. His world consisted of the agony in his back and shoulders. The first cut, the

one that ran down the side of his leg was inflamed and oozing puss. Being immortal didn’t mean he couldn’t get sick, very

sick. It just meant he couldn’t die.



Never in the best of health, from when he was a small child, Joxer was already feverish and had developed a hacking cough.

Joxer shook most of the time and his teeth chattered as he swung from being burning hot from the fever to freezing because of

the cold air.



Joxer clung desperately to his chair, his broken nails digging into the hard wood, when the Guards came to take him back to

the Torturers. The Guards just peeled his hands off and drug him, twisting and screaming back to the torture chamber.



====



The unknown god stood unseen in one corner of the chamber. He smiled in insane delight at what he saw.



‘Yes, I knew it would be wonderful to see that sensitive young man broken. I can’t wait to see Ares’ face when he finds

Joxer.’ The god laughed. ‘Or at least what’ll be left of him.’



The god sent out a bolt of energy into the room. He revitalized the Guards and Questioners and filled them with a new urgency

to “save” the young immortal.



====



Ares sat down to eat lunch. It was, of course, a magnificent feast…for one. Ares pulled out a scroll he had been meaning to

read and tried to keep his mind occupied as he ate.



After several futile attempts, Ares threw down the scroll and pushed his untouched food away. Nothing helped. Nothing got rid

of the constant worry and ache of loneliness in his belly. With a strangled growl Ares flashed out to the nearest battlefield

and arbitrarily chose a side to fight for.



It didn’t matter who he fought with. No one realized they were fighting beside Ares, God of War. They thought he was an

anonymous soldier. Besides, both armies were in the right and in the wrong about this conflict. Ares’ participation neither

helped nor hindered either side.



Several hours later, a bloody Ares went home and collapsed.



====



2 in the afternoon



Joxer had been laid down on a flat rough board and his body strapped down. This time his arms were tied to his side and his

legs were bound together. A small block of wood was placed under his back, just above his bottom. He waited fearfully,

uncertain what they were going to do. His heart felt like it was going to pound straight out of his chest.



Two men came in this time. They were pulling a large wooden barrel that sloshed as it bumped over the uneven floor.



One man came over and pried Joxer’s mouth open; the other man quickly shoved a funnel into his mouth and partially down his

throat. Joxer gagged and tried to get the invader out, but the Torturer kept a firm grip on him and the funnel. The other man

came over with a large pitcher of water and started pouring it into the funnel. Joxer choked as a large amount of water was

poured down his throat.



The men never said a word as they tortured him. Even a jeer or curse would have been more welcome than the silence. The only

sounds in the room were the choking a gagging of the young man on the table.



Finally the pitcher was empty and Joxer prayed his ordeal was over. He was wrong, because the men let him gasp a few

unimpeded breaths before one of them went over to the barrel and came back with more water.



Joxer squirmed and twisted as best he could but he was strapped down too efficiently for escape. Then there was the fact that

Joxer had nowhere to run, even if he got free.



The Torturers were relentless and poured horrific amounts of water down the young man’s throat. His stomach got bigger and

bigger the more water he consumed. Before long it was so distended that it actually hurt and still they gave him more water.

All told they poured 30 pints of water down the young immortal’s throat.



Finally they stopped and removed the funnel. Joxer was gasping, a couple of tears ran down the side of his face. Despite all

of the water he had consumed, Joxer was still very thirsty. Very little of the water had ever actually been in his mouth.



The need to go to the bathroom was desperate and yet Joxer was afraid that if he did urinate they would torture him again.

The pain in his stomach had him writhing. Then the men came back.



Joxer was afraid they were going to give him more water and he whimpered. The two Torturers were happy. They were breaking

this young man in a timely manner.



One of the Torturers slapped Joxer hard on the stomach. Joxer screamed at the pain of being hit on his bloated stomach. The

other Torturer picked up Joxer’s penis and the young immortal expected to be fondled again. The man had a different agenda in

mind this time.



He pulled out a leather strap and began to wind it around the base of Joxer’s penis. He wrapped tighter and tighter until

Joxer’s penis seemed to be erect it was bound so much. Joxer realized he *couldn’t* pee now and was doubly afraid of getting

more water. With no way to get rid of it, Joxer feared his stomach would rupture.



The Torturers didn’t bring more water, no, they began a new aspect of this particular torture. They tilted the table

backwards at a 90 degree angle so that Joxer’s head was down, almost to the floor and his feet were pointed up towards the

ceiling.



Joxer immediately understood the reason for this maneuver. All of the water in his abdomen shifted and pressed down on his

chest. It got harder to breathe and he felt like he was drowning. Joxer knew he wouldn’t really suffocate because he was an

immortal. That didn’t stop the sensation. Or the panic, which only made it harder to breathe.



He felt like he was slowly being smothered.



After almost 3 hours in this agonizing position they got him up. Joxer gasped, trying to get air into his oxygen deprived

lungs. Joxer was again chained to the wall, only this time he was angled so that he was facing out. His legs were pulled

apart and Joxer was positioned so he was straddling a chamber pot. A man, one of the Guards this time, *slowly* removed the

strapping on Joxer’s penis. The pain of returning circulation made the young man sway in his chains.



The Torturers and his Guards stood and watched the young immortal in this humiliating position until his bladder cooperated

and he urinated. It took a long time and was very painful. Joxer’s body cramped time and again as it emptied itself of all

the extra fluid.



The room started to go dark and he felt so dizzy. Joxer hoped and prayed that he would pass out, but he didn’t. His

tormentors just smiled at his pain and leered openly at his body. One of the Guards pulled out a piece of fruit and began

eating it.



‘Ares!’ Joxer cried out in his mind for the hundredth time, hoping against hope that this time his lover would answer. He had

called out to some of his other godly friends as well. Joxer realized it was possible that the god who sent him here would

have blocked his connection to Ares. So, Joxer had cried out to Strife, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Asclepius, even Apollo was

appealed to. Nothing ever happened. Joxer’s only hope was to survive this anguish until Ares came looking for him.



Joxer raised his head up as the Guards came sauntering over and started touching him again. Hands, with painfully tight

grips, roamed over his chest, pinching and twisting his nipples. Still more hands rubbed over his sore ribs and aching

stomach. Their rough hands scratched and irritated his tender skin even more. Seeing the pain they were causing…the men

rubbed harder.



The young immortal’s face was bright with embarrassment and humiliation. Luckily no one had, as yet, put their hands *inside

him*. Joxer was afraid it was only a matter of time though. Joxer hung there, despondently and tried to blank his mind as the

men molested him.



Sadly, he stayed conscious.



====



Ares had had enough! He decided to break the rules of the game. It’s not like he ever followed the rules anyway. He was a

god, he made up his own rules. Ares was going down to Athens and see Joxer and that was all there was too it.



He was just so worried! And scared. What if Joxer decided he liked living back on earth? What if he realized he didn’t want

somebody hovering over him all the time? Joxer needed him and he needed Joxer.



The God of War snuck down to Xena’s house. He decided to keep his presence a secret until he could see Joxer for himself.

Just to be reassured. Just to see how he was doing.



Xena and Gabrielle were sitting in the garden, watching young Eve who was playing with her toys. For once Xena’s well-known

intuition and sixth sense didn’t kick in. For the first time in her life, Xena didn’t sense her father nearby.



Ares watched the happy domestic scene for a few minutes, impatiently waiting for Joxer to appear. When he didn’t, Ares

decided his lover must have gone into town. Upset at missing Joxer, Ares flashed back to their temple.



‘Everything must be all right. Otherwise Xena wouldn’t be so calm.’



====



5 in the evening



A barely conscious Joxer was brought back to the Questioners. His stubbornness must be from Lucifer, they reasoned. There was

no other explanation for his being able to resist. This time they were unremitting. They were going to break this young man,

if it took all night.



So they kept at him *all* night, not allowing him to sleep at all.



The only time Joxer got any respite from the pain and the unrelenting questioning was when he passed out. This only brought

temporary relief, because as soon as he passed out the Guards would throw water on him until he regained consciousness.



Thus ends Day 3




Part 5



7 in the morning, Day 4



After a night without any sleep Joxer was even more on the edge of collapse than ever before. The Guards and the Questioners

took turns resting so they wouldn’t get tired.



Joxer couldn’t even try to eat; he did manage to swallow a few drinks of water. The cup was held by one of his Guards. The

Questioners determined that today was the day he would crack, so they wouldn’t even let him be untied to eat. The constant

dousing by the Guards had kept Joxer soaking wet all night. Naturally, this made the shaking worse and his cough was deep and

rattling.



Joxer passed out again and woke up to yet another nightmare.



He found himself tied spread eagled on a rack. There were rough wooden rollers spaced at various intervals under his legs,

bottom and back.



Joxer moaned gutturally. The pain was so all-consuming. He was so cold he was shivering uncontrollably. This rubbed Joxer’s

poor maltreated body against the table and rollers. Cuts and scrapes bled and oozed onto the table. The rollers dug into his

body, opening previously semi-closed wounds.



On the other side of the chamber Joxer could see another poor wretch strapped down to a table. The man was young and had, at

one point, probably been very handsome. Now, his hair was matted and looked like it had been hacked with a knife. His body

was covered with scars and had a wasted yellowish look to it. His skin was loose, indicating he had not always been so thin.

The victim’s once long, elegant hands were crooked and misshapen. His fingers had been broken and left to heal without being

set.



His fellow sufferer was laying on his stomach with a thick wooden block under his hips that arched the poor man’s butt high

up in the air. Joxer was horrified at what this scene implied.



The young man looked at Joxer sadly. Joxer didn’t know what to say. What comfort could he offer? Neither one of them was in a

position to help the other one.



“My name is Joxer.” The young man blinked at Joxer dazedly. “Can you tell me your name?” Joxer asked softly. He wasn’t sure

the other man could still talk; so many of the prisoners didn’t.



“Jabben.” The soft voice was scratchy from continual screaming.



A door opened, interrupting their conversation and a man wearing fine woolen robes entered the chamber. Just the sight of him

frightened Joxer. He was obviously a powerful individual. You could tell by the way he carried himself and the way everyone

else was cowering in front of him. Everyone who could bow down did so.



The only thing more frightening than a zealot was a zealot with unlimited power.



“My Lord Torquemada,” one of the toadying Torturer’s said, “here are the cases you indicated a special interest in.” The

Torturer gestured grandly towards Joxer and Jabben.



Torquemada glanced between Joxer and the other man; he seemed to be considering his choices. Finally, he came to a decision.

He walked up behind the other victim and made an imperious gesture to one of the Torturers. The Torturer raced forward,

bowing and scraping as he went. Torquemada was handed a hideous device that he held up high so his current victim and Joxer

could see it.



Torchlight glinted off the bronze metal, making it glitter like an obscene piece of jewelry. There was a round handle that

you held the instrument by. The device was big enough that Torquemada’s hand didn’t cover all of the handle. The other end

flared out into a very large pear-shaped ball.



Torquemada spoke for the first time. His voice was deep and melodious; it should have been soothing. Instead the evil came

out in his voice, making Joxer and Jabben shiver.

“This is an anal/vaginal/throat pear. It is for punishing abominations, whores and liars.” Torquemada smiled as he ran one

hand appreciatively over the metal; caressing it. “It drives the devil out of you.” There was indeed a likeness of the devil

engraved into the side of it. “Let me demonstrate its use for you.”



Torquemada began twisting the screw that was part of the handle and the pear end began to open up, separating into several

sections. It opened out to more than double of its already considerable size. On the ends of each section were wicked-looking

metal barbs that, when extended would dig into the appropriate body cavity viciously.



Jabben started begging. He jerked and pulled desperately at the ropes binding him to the table. The Torturers laughed and

told him this was the price for being a blaspheming homosexual. The Guards laughed as well and positioned themselves so they

could enjoy the coming show.



At a gesture from Torquemada, the Guards surged forward and clamped down on the young man’s lower body. Two of the Torturers

untied his legs and removed the wooden block.



For one brief moment Joxer and Jabben thought his pleas had worked and they were going to release the young man. They were

wrong.



The Guards pushed up on his knees and manipulated his body into an even more unnatural angle. The same two Torturers turned

the wooden block up on its side and then retied Jabben’s legs, connecting ankle to knee in an extremely cramped position.



Torquemada ignored them all, victim and tormentor alike. He went to stand behind the young man. He stood there for several

minutes, sadistically rubbing the horrible device over the trembling man’s buttocks. The poor victim was hysterical, offering

to admit to any sin if only they wouldn’t do this, but it was too late for salvation.



In one vicious, brutal move Torquemada shoved the anal pear deep inside the young man’s butt. No warning was given. There was

no preparation done to his dry, tight anus. The Jabben screamed and writhed and begged for mercy as he was violated.



Torquemada stood quietly, his hand pressing the pear in firmly and waited for the man to calm down. That never really

happened and so, Torquemada shrugged and proceeded to the next phase. He began turning the screw on the pear, opening it up

inside the other man. You could actually, literally see his buttocks spreading apart as his anus was opened wider and wider.

By now blood was coming out of the violated man in a steady stream, on account of the barbs digging into his unprotected

bottom and because Jabben was being ripped in two. Thankfully the young man lost consciousness.



Joxer looked up in terror as Torquemada walked over to him. Torquemada stared at him silently and then began turning the

crank on Joxer’s rack. He kept tightening, turning the crank until Joxer’s body was pulled taunt. His arms and legs were

actually lifted off the table from the unrelenting pull. The wooden rollers drug over and into his already abused body,

causing even more wounds to reopen and soon there was blood all over the table.



Moans from the other table stopped Torquemada. Eagerly, he left Joxer, stretched out taunt and went back to his first victim.

The unfortunate man had regained consciousness and began babbling incoherently. The poor wretch was in too much pain and

couldn’t think straight. He tried confessing to every sin they had accused him of. Jabben even confessed to crimes that he

made up. He was praying and begging to die hoping to end his misery.



Torquemada smirked in self-righteous satisfaction; the first real sign of emotion he had shown. “I knew you were an

abomination. In the name of the one true god I sentence you to death.” He took hold of the pear and began raping his victim

with it. Blood and pieces of flesh were literally flying out of the man who screamed and screamed and screamed. The screams

echoed through the chamber, multiplying as they bounced around the room.



One of the other Torturers stepped back from the bloody carnage in horror and hurried to the other side of the room. He

immediately came back with a wet cloth and reverently wiped the blood and gore from Torquemada’s face.



To Joxer it seemed like the horrifying scene went on forever. It didn’t, of course; the violated man was weak from past

tortures, starvation and had already lost a great deal of blood.



Blood poured over the sides of the table as the poor man bled out. Mercifully, Jabben quickly lost consciousness again.

Torquemada was not deterred in his quest to punish this sinner. He kept raping him until no more blood came out, because

Jabben was dead.



A gory Torquemada came over to stand in front of a terrified and more than a little hysterical, Joxer. Joxer could smell

ejaculate on the man. ‘He came from raping him to death!’ This disturbing bit of information frightened Joxer more than

anything else had.



Torquemada reached out one blood-spattered hand and rubbed it sensuously across Joxer’s breasts. The same grimy hand

slithered down the front of Joxer’s body, leaving blood and gore in its wake. He picked up Joxer’s bruised and sore penis and

examined it carefully. With his other hand Torquemada took hold of Joxer’s balls and squeezed. He stood there awhile,

fondling the helpless young man’s genitals.



By this point, Joxer didn’t care that he was being molested. He was long past feeling humiliated at being touched in such an

intimate manner. As long as Torquemada was touching him, he wasn’t using that awful thing on him. Joxer almost hoped he would

keep touching him. If that was the price to keep that pear thing away from him, then he’d gladly pay it. He’d even encourage

it, if that’s what it took.



Eventually Torquemada left, as did the other Torturers and Guards. They left Joxer alone with the corpse of the other victim.

Joxer couldn’t turn away from the gruesome tableau. He could see Jabben laying there his face frozen in an eternal scream,

covered in blood and gore; the anal pear still protruding from the dead man’s behind.



‘I won’t die, I can’t die, I’m immortal. He’ll do that to me and I won’t be able to die.’

Joxer began to scream for his lover.



“ARES!!!”



Ares’ name echoed in that dismal chamber. In his mind he knew that it wouldn’t do any good, but Joxer was so frightened he

couldn’t think straight.



====



Strife reclined on the steps beside Ares’ throne and watched his uncle pacing. Back and forth back and forth back and forth.

Ares was moving so fast he was almost a blur.



‘All right. Enough is enough.’ Strife thought to himself. ‘Theah ain’t no sense in Unc worryin like this. Not when all I’ve

gotta do is find Joxah and see how he’s doin.’



Strife flashed down to Xena’s house, keeping himself invisible. The last thing he needed was an upset former Warrior

Princess. Finding the God of Mischief in her house was guaranteed to send Xena to Tartarus and back.



Strife walked into the house unnoticed. Like Joxer, Strife was used to not being noticed. Even when he was visible nobody

paid him much attention.



As he passed Eve, Strife felt a tiny burst of energy. Looking around for the source of the mischief he had felt, Strife

watched as Eve hid one of Gabrielle’s scrolls…inside the stove. Strife giggled and said, “Kid that was an act ah kindness.”



Strife walked through the house, looking for his good friend. Where in Tartarus was he?



The first bedroom he came to was obviously Xena and Eve’s. Toys and pieces of leather were spread out over the room.

‘Hmmm…some ah tha toys seem ta belong ta Xena.’



Not *those* kinds of toys. What would a Warrior Princess need with anything like that? Besides, *those* toys were put up.



Strife stopped and smiled at the tiny replica of Xena’s old leather outfit; complete with breastplate and a tiny chakram.



No Joxer there.



The next bedroom was definitely Gabrielle’s. Scrolls, some blank and others filled with writing, covered every flat surface.

Ink stains were liberally splattered on the wall behind the desk.



Strife stopped long enough to read one of the poems. Well, he tried to anyway.



‘Her penmanship is atrocious. I don’t know if this says love or lava.’ Strife shrugged. Either word would actually have fit

the poem.



No Joxer there.



Strife continued down the hallway to the last room. It was apparently a catch-all room. There was a spare bed, but there were

also fruits and vegetables laid out on top of the bed, ready for winter storage.



No Joxer there.



Strife was beginning to get worried. It was obvious that Joxer wasn’t in the house and it didn’t look like he’d been there at

all. He was supposed to be staying here. If Joxer wasn’t here, then where was he? An anxious Strife hurried to the front of

the house. With a flash of energy, Strife made himself visible to Xena.



Gabrielle jumped up with a mighty yell. At least that’s the way Gabrielle saw it. Xena wasn’t startled, Strife ignored her

and Eve kept playing.



Anyway…Gabrielle jumped up, startled by his appearance. She dropped the bowl of food she had been stirring. The bowl broke,

spilling its contents onto the floor. Strife waved his hand and automatically fixed the bowl, put the food back in it and

flipped it back up into Gabrielle’s hands. This stopped Gabrielle’s rant before it could start.



Eve saw Strife and started to run towards the interesting new person who had appeared suddenly. The little girl’s body got

ahead of her feet, as children’s will and she tripped and fell to her knees. Her little face screwed up into a ferocious

Xena-like scowl and she began to bawl. Strife picked her up, before Xena could get to her. He swung the little girl onto one

hip and bounced her up and down absent mindedly. Immediately the little girl started laughing.



Xena was stunned. Here was Strife, the jumpy, nervous God of Mischief, calming down her daughter and doing a damn fine job of

it. Xena was jealous! Eve was a very temperamental child and Strife was soothing her without even trying.



‘I wonder how he does that?’ Xena looked at him with awe. ‘And can he teach me?’



Strife turned to an amazed Xena and kept holding Eve, who was fascinated by the safety pins on his clothes. “Xena, wheah’s

Joxah?”



Xena looked into Strife’s pale blue eyes in astonishment. There was no mistaking the worry etched on his face. “What do you

mean, where’s Joxer? I haven’t heard from him in about 3 months.”



Strife grimaced. He was afraid of that. “Dam…uh, darn. He was supposed ta be comin down heah ta visit with ya.”



Xena put her hands on her hips and unconsciously stood in a battle ready stance. “He never showed up here, did he Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle shook her head no in confirmation.



Strife stopped bouncing the little girl, although his hold on her remained sure. “That means he’s been missin fah three

days.” Strife kept his voice calm, so as not to upset Eve. The little girl looked up at the god and stopped playing. She

could tell something was wrong.



The three adults looked at each other in horror. “A lot can happen to a person in three days.” Gabrielle spoke quietly, not

only out of a consideration for Eve, but because she was scared for her missing friend.



Strife kissed Eve on the top of her curly head and handed the little girl back to her mother. Strife flashed out leaving Xena

with a screaming child.



====



Strife appeared in front of Ares, who was startled. Ares was so worked up that he hadn’t even realized Strife had left.



Strife swallowed hard and looked his volatile uncle in the eyes. Anyone who valued their lives would have sent Ares a scroll

with the news. From Chin, maybe. Strife, however, didn’t value his life at much, so he just stood there, like a pale, skinny

lamb to the slaughter.



“Unc, I think we gotta problem.”



Ares just looked at his nephew and frowned. Mentally, Ares was thinking about the various conflicts he had brewing. He tried

to think of which fight could have been messed up since that morning when he checked on them. So, Strife’s next words were

like a sword to the gut.



“Joxah never arrived at Xena’s.” Strife winced as Ares took that in. “He’s missin.”



Ares’ agonized bellow echoed out across Mt. Olympus.



====



Cupid flashed into his father’s temple to see what was the matter. He saw Strife cringing before Ares. Ares had hold of

Strife’s tunic and was shaking him like a mad dog with a cat caught in its grasp.



‘What’s Strife done now?’ Cupid thought as he looked at his pale cousin. Strife’s job as God of Mischief meant that he was

always causing trouble, but Cupid had rarely heard about his upsetting Ares like this.



Strife was bent down, held in place by Ares’ large hand wrapped in the leather on Strife’s chest. ‘Nice butt.’ Cupid blinked,

startled by what he had just thought. He looked over at his cousin and eyed his leather-clad butt. Cupid decided to enjoy the

view.



“Unc, ya gotta calm down.” Strife was having trouble talking. Ares had unknowingly twisted the collar of Strife’s leather

suit into a knot and was choking the young god.



“Calm down. CALM DOWN!” Ares bellowed. He was still pacing, only now he was dragging Strife along with him. “Three days! What

in Zeus’ name could have been done to him in the last THREE DAYS!”



“I know.” Strife was clutching one of Ares’ massive hands between his own smaller ones. “We’ll find him and we’ll help him.”

Strife rubbed the hand soothingly, he hoped. “Unc, if ya don’t calm down we won’t be able ta find Joxah.”



Ares saw the wisdom in this statement and stopped pacing long enough to notice his son. “Cupid! You have to help me find

him!” Ares raced over and grabbed hold of Cupid’s harness and began to shake *him* like a dog. Now he had Strife in one hand

and Cupid in the other.



Strife rubbed Ares’ arm soothingly again, with one hand while he patted his uncle’s chest with the other. “Calm down Unc and

let Cupid go.”



Abruptly, Ares let go of his son and nephew. Strife was prepared and managed to remain standing, but Cupid unceremoniously

fell down on his cute butt. Ares went and plopped down on his throne.



Strife gave Cupid a hand up. ‘Damn he’s cute.’ Strife shoved his thoughts back ruthlessly. ‘Now’s not tha time fah that,

Joxah needs ya.’ Strife eyed his rumpled and sexy cousin once more. ‘Besides, what would somebody like him want with tha

likes ah me.’



Strife innocently (no, really) helped Cupid straighten his clothing and hair. He then explained what was going on to the

shell shocked love god.



====



Torquemada sauntered back into the dungeon. He ignored the gruesome reminder of his last victim. He was dead, his unfortunate

soul residing in hell for all eternity because of his sins and therefore no longer the Inquisition’s concern.



Joxer watched his progress as the frightening man crossed the room. The man had cleaned up and put new robes on. Torquemada

stopped in front of the quivering young man and listened to Joxer beg for mercy.



Joxer knew that if they started to turn him over he would lose his mind. He just would.

Torquemada just smiled knowingly at Joxer, as he listened to him beg and began turning the crank. He didn’t stop until

Joxer’s left arm was dislocated.



Joxer could hear the popping sound inside of his head, as well as outside. Joxer screamed and passed out.



When Joxer woke up it was to a world of endless pain. His left arm was on fire and his right one wasn’t much better. He could

feel the unrelenting pressure on his back and knees. The manacles were digging in at his ankles and wrists, cutting into the

already damaged flesh.



Torquemada was still standing there. He was patiently waiting and roughly manipulating Joxer’s genitalia as he waited for the

young immortal to come to. As soon as he saw that Joxer was conscious once more, Torquemada immediately began turning the

crank again.



Naturally, the movement of his already dislocated shoulder was misery. Inky black hovered around Joxer’s vision. It felt like

his back was being pulled apart. Joxer felt first one pop and then another as the tendons in his knees were torn in half.



Torquemada kept turning the crank until Joxer’s right shoulder was wrenched out of its socket as well. Joxer gave in to the

encroaching darkness gladly and stayed there as long as he could.



====



Ares sent out an energy search. He was looking for his mark. His energy signature flowed out of the temple in ever increasing

waves, like a rock thrown in a pond.



Only four people now living had his special mark that indicated they were under his personal protection. His daughter, Xena

and granddaughter, Eve were in their house and doing fine. Ares added more energy and extended the search He found Salamoneus

in Thrace. The grifter was in the middle of another scam, but he was all right as well.



That caught people’s attention. Everybody was curious. They wanted to know why Salamoneus of all people had Ares’ protection

mark, but they knew better than to ask about something so inconsequential right now.



Ares extended his search all over the world with no luck. Joxer was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t dead or Ares would have

felt the essence of the mark on his body.



Being immortal didn’t mean Joxer couldn’t *ever* die. Hind’s blood worked on immortal’s much the same way it did on the gods.

But he wasn’t dead, just missing.



So, where was Joxer?



====



Joxer came to briefly as he was being drug, by his now worthless arms, back to the Questioners. He whimpered softly as his

legs were bumped down some stairs. Agony shot up from his knees to his hips to his twisted back. The gut-crushing pain let

him pass out again and Joxer was glad to go.



====



Strife ran through the Halls of Time. He had gotten permission from Zeus to look at Joxer’s life. The young god hated

invading his friend’s privacy like that, but the situation was desperate. He had to try and find out what had happened to

Joxer. Strife knew he had to hurry and find out something quick. ‘Cause Unc is gonna blow.’



Ares’ face had turned a funny purple color and if he had been mortal, he would most assuredly be dead by now. He wasn’t, but

everybody else was fearing for their lives.



Cupid, being a dutiful and loving son, had stayed with Ares, trying to keep him calm. ‘But since tha disastah with his mark,

Unc has been more outta control than evah.’ Strife sped up, he wasn’t entirely sure that his House of Love cousin could

manage Unc. Cupid had never had to deal with one of Ares’ blowouts before and this was the worst Strife had ever seen.



Strife watched on the scrying pool, as a skinny Joxer was attacked by four burly priests. Strife was duly impressed. Joxer

managed to fight off two of them before he was overwhelmed. ‘I knew those fightin lessons I’ve been givin Joxah would come in

handy one day.’



As soon as he saw Joxer being blasted through the portal, Strife flashed back up to his uncle’s temple. At least they knew

where to begin looking now.



====



12 noon



Joxer woke up back in his chair. His dislocated arms were once again twisted behind his back. Joxer’s ripped back and

buttocks firmly strapped against the chair.



Joxer was filthy, from the top of his bloody head to his dirt encrusted feet. He was covered in blood, tears, sweat, urine

and feces. His temperature spiked higher and higher in direct contrast to his bitterly chilled body. Joxer coughed and

wheezed badly. Occasionally, a few drops of blood splattered onto his tormentors as his dry throat tore. Joxer’s lungs were

filling up with fluid and they rattled every time he tried to breathe. Blood loss made him weaker by the second.



Joxer slipped in and out of consciousness for the next twelve hours. Mostly out. Not even having water thrown on him kept him

awake for very long at a time.



Joxer was as close to death as an immortal could be.



====



Ares, Strife and Cupid strode into the temple Strife had seen in the Halls of Time. Ares went over to the wall where the

portal had been. He could still sense it and was certain he could reactivate it. Ares heard a choking noise behind him and

spun around.



“Oh gods.” Cupid looked at his father and saw the agony written in every inch of his face.



Strife was holding an Aphrodite doll that he had found lying in a dirty corner. It was the same doll that Joxer had brought

with him to give as an early Solstice present to Eve.



Ares quickly turned back and blasted the wall. A portal spun out into the room. The gods could sense it was a Time/Place

displacement portal. A spell like that meant Joxer could be anywhere and anywhen in the world. That explained why Ares

couldn’t sense Joxer; he wasn’t even in the same time frame with them anymore.



“Unc let me come with ya. We don’t know who we’re dealin with. This might be a trap.” Strife tried to reason with his uncle

one more time. “Tha two ah us would have a bettah chance at findin Joxah than ya will goin by yarself.”



“He’s right Dad. It would be even better with three of us.”



Ares looked at his nephew and son. “No, you both stay here. If I fail, you will be Joxer’s only hope.” Ares walked over to

the portal. “Besides, I’m not going to risk either of you if I can help it.”



With one last look at his son and nephew, Ares stepped through. He was going to find his beloved and god help whoever took

him.



“Joxer!” Ares’ cry from the heart pulled him to his waiting love.




Chapter 6



Strife stood in the middle of the temple, stunned.



Cupid was pacing around the chamber, trying to work off his nervous energy, while Strife, the normally agitated one, just

stood there.



‘He said he wouldn’t risk me.’ Strife was amazed.



‘He cares about me?’



Strife looked over at Cupid and sighed. ‘Oh, I get it. He was talkin about Cupid and just included me ta be polite.’



Nodding in understanding, Strife returned to his vigil by the wall. He forgot that Ares never said anything just to be

polite.



====



Ares landed in a large chamber full of people. They were crouched around the same area and all of them were talking at the

same time. The din was incredible. Ares made sure he stayed invisible. There was no point stirring up trouble until he had

to.



Joxer.



Ares stopped and concentrated. He could sense Joxer. His young lover was somewhere in the room. But where? Ares followed the

tantalizing essence of his lover and discovered the discarded pile of clothing forgotten in a corner. The heart of Joxer in

his destroyed armor, his weapons and his shredded clothes.



Ares whirled around. He was about ready to start ripping through people until he found his lover. That awful, mutilated pile

of Joxer’s things meant Ares’ worst fears had been realized. Something terrible had happened to Joxer. But where was he?!



Across the room, in the middle of all the confusion, Ares saw some poor wretch tied to a chair. The man had obviously been

tortured; Ares resolved to help him as soon as he could. War was one thing, but deliberately torturing someone was another

matter all together.



Ares turned to keep looking for Joxer when it dawned on him what he had seen. He looked back at the pathetic lump tied in the

chair and recognized his lover’s brown hair.



Ares screamed in denial of what he was seeing. It was a primal scream that startled the Guards and Questioners, who hadn’t

known he was there. Ares shoved people out of the way with his mind as he made himself visible. The Questioners and Guards

were stunned to find themselves thrown against the walls by an unknown, unseen force. Those who were still conscious looked

over in time to see a *very large* and *very angry* man race to the blasphemer.



With a clap of thunder, Ares magically removed the ropes holding his beloved to the chair. Joxer’s arms flopped uselessly to

his sides and he began to fall forward. Ares caught him and picked the unconscious Joxer up in his arms, cradling him like he

was a baby. Ares tried to lay Joxer’s arms across his stomach, but the one not lying next to Ares’ body wouldn’t stay still.

It kept sliding off to hang limply at Joxer’s side. Ares whimpered at the sight of his lover’s pain.



Joxer came to with a moan. Joxer writhed in pain as Ares’ arms rubbed against his ripped flesh. “No, please, no more.” Ares

whispered words of love in Joxer’s ear and kissed his brow. Joxer looked at his godly lover; his soft brown eyes fever

bright. After several seconds, his eyes focused and Joxer recognized him. “Ares.” With a sigh, Joxer slumped against Ares’

massive chest.



Ares rubbed a hand on the back of Joxer’s head and felt the matted hair, stiff with dried blood. The blood gave Joxer’s

normally soft, brown hair a stiff, gorgon-like look.



Ares heard clanking and looked up in time to see several of the more fool hardy Guards rushing towards him. They were about

to hit him and more importantly, Joxer. Ares quickly turned so that the coming blows would land on *his* back and not on his

lover’s brutalized body. Joxer screamed in agony at the abrupt movement, his body arching up against Ares’ in a sick parody

of their love making, and then he passed out.



Ares looked down at his unconscious consort and saw red; he didn’t even feel the rain of blows on his back. Without realizing

what he was doing, Ares pushed with his mind and shoved the men back against the walls…again.



He thought up a soft, downy blanket and spread it out on the chair. Ares cleaned Joxer with a thought. Without the blood and

other bodily fluids covering him, Ares could see the horrific wounds that covered Joxer’s body even more clearly.



Then Ares tenderly laid Joxer down on the blanket and wrapped the ends carefully around his cold and shivering love. This

would help warm Joxer up and kept his damaged arms tucked in next to his body.



It also got his beautiful body away from prying eyes.



Ares left Joxer draped over the chair while he turned to face the Questioners and the Guards. By now they had realized they

weren’t dealing with their usual helpless victim. All of the men were cowering by the door, gibbering and desperately trying

to claw their way out.



Ares made the door vanish with a thought. That got their attention.



“You hurt my consort.” The men in the room faced Ares’ wrath. The smell of urine quickly overcame the stench of blood.

Joxer’s blood.



“Now, you’re going to pay! In blood and pain!” Ares raised his hands to blast them into nothingness when he heard Joxer

cough; deep, painful cough that went on for several seconds. The young immortal whimpered again. This sound was the only

thing that stopped there being a massacre in the room.



Ares dismissed the frightened men as unimportant and carefully picked Joxer back up. He needed to get help for Joxer more

than he needed to crush those insolent vermin.



“Shhh Angel, you’re safe now. I’m going to take you home.”



“…yes, home, please…please now…”



Joxer’s broken whisper galvanized Ares into action. He turned towards the men who were huddled back against the wall where

the door used to be. “I’ll deal with you later.”



With a curl of his lip Ares put the entire castle in a protection bubble and then froze the occupants. Everyone froze, victim

and tormentor alike. This way Ares could concentrate on his lover and none of the other victims would suffer any more. To

them it would be as if no time had passed at all.



With that thought Ares took Joxer back through the portal, back home.




Fic: Heads I Lose, Tails I Lose

Author: Kerensa

E-mail: vkevans@yahoo.com

Feedback: pretty please

Rating: NC-17, for violence

Fandom: Xena/Hercules

Pairing: Ares/Joxer, preslash Cupid/Strife

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these pretty boys and I’m certainly not making any money on this.

Warning: Torture, extreme descriptions of torture and rape. Murder, not of a main character.

Status: WIP

Series: Children At Play, This is a prequel to Overheard Conversations

Archive: Yes, to AJCS and Make Believe; anywhere else, just ask

Website: No

Notes: This is in response to a challenge on AJCS. The challenge was to bring the Spanish Inquisition to Greece. There was to

be no Twilight of the Gods, so all the Greek gods are still alive. Joxer was to be tortured until Ares finds him. Then Cupid

is to punish the guards who hurt Joxer, Strife is to punish the people who questioned him and Ares is to punish the people

who tortured him.





Chapter 7



Ares and Joxer came flying out of the vortex. Ares kept a firm grip on his unconscious lover as he stumbled. It was lucky for

Joxer that he was unconscious, because such a landing would have caused him no end of pain. The portal snapped closed behind

them, leaving the temple wall blank.



Strife took one look at his brutalized friend and shrieked, “Ace!” Before the echoes died down Asclepius appeared in the

temple with a flash. Even a distracted Ares was surprised at how quickly the God of Healing appeared. Asclepius immediately

hurried to Strife’s side, not even noticing Ares and his burden. He ignored Cupid, pushing him out of the way in the process.



“Strife, what is it? What’s wrong?”



Strife gestured helplessly. “It’s Joxah.”



Asclepius turned back to Ares and the young immortal. He took in the distressing scene with one glance. Ace yelled for his

father as soon as he saw the terrible condition Joxer was in. Apollo flashed in and then, as a group, they all quickly

flashed to Ares and Joxer’s temple.



The main room was filled with gods and goddesses, all of whom had been helping in the search for Joxer. They gasped in horror

at the sight of the young immortal.



Granted with the blanket covering him from neck to feet and Ares holding him there wasn’t much to see. But what they could

see was horrific. Joxer’s face was bruised and scraped; his lips were cut and chapped. Joxer’s feet were sticking out from

under the blanket and even they were scraped. And the blanket. The once clean blanket had numerous damp patches of blood

covering it.



Ares ignored everyone and their questions. He carried Joxer into their sleeping chamber. Once there he started to lay Joxer

down on the bed, but Apollo stopped him. “Ares, let me examine him before you lay him down.” Apollo tried to move the blanket

and Ares growled at him.



‘NO! I won’t let anyone else ogle Joxer!’ Ares thought of all the people who must have seen and *touched* Joxer…and how awful

that must have been for his beloved.



“Ares, I need to see how badly he’s hurt before I can give him anything for the pain.” Ares just growled ferally at his

brother. The war god’s mind was fixated on the blood and horror he knew his love had gone through.



Again, it was Strife who bravely stepped forward. “Unc, ya gotta let em do their jobs. Ya don’t want Joxah ta be hurtin any

more than he already is.” Strife’s quiet voice broke through Ares’ anger and he calmed down…slightly. Ares nodded his assent

and let Apollo peek under the blanket.



Apollo swore at what he saw. “Who in Tartarus did this to him?” Apollo thundered.



“Never mind that right now.” Apollo examined him briefly. “We need to lay him on his side, because otherwise we’re going to

do more damage to his back.”



“We can’t lay him on his side. Both of his shoulders are dislocated.” Ares rocked the unconscious Joxer in his arms. It was

impossible to tell who was comforting whom in this situation.



====



“Both! They’re both dislocated?” Cupid was stunned, he had never seen anyone this ill-treated before, not even in some of the

wars he had been witness to. Cupid looked over at his cousin and was shocked when he saw sadness and anger, but no real

surprise on Strife’s face.



That staggered him and upset him. Really, really upset him. Strife *had* seen this sort of thing before?



Where? When? ‘What the Tartarus has he seen and how can I make it better?’ Uh, huh? ‘Where did that come from?’ Cupid was

surprised at his internal rant and glanced back at Strife. Yes, he felt anger and the most overwhelming need to comfort

Strife.



Cupid was brought back to earth…well, Olympus…with a thud when Apollo carefully eased the blanket down. Everyone could see

how swollen and misshaped Joxer’s shoulders were. There were open wounds where his arms had swollen and been manipulated

until the skin split open.



“I need to get some of the swelling down or we’ll never get his arms back in place.”



This was when it would hurt Joxer the most to be awake…so naturally this was when Joxer regained consciousness. He began

whimpering and thrashing around. He was begging softly. “No more, please…please, have mercy.”



Cupid’s gut clenched hearing Joxer, such a gentle man, begging for mercy. The despair in his voice showed that he didn’t

expect any. The shape he was in just proved that he hadn’t been given any mercy at all.



====



“Shhhh Angel, it’s me.” Ares ignored everyone else; helping Joxer was the only thing that mattered right now.



Hearing Ares’ voice, Joxer began to calm down almost immediately. The young man risked opening his eyes. ‘Maybe this time it

won’t be a dream.’ There had been too many times that Joxer had woken from a dream about Ares, only to find one of his

tormentors laughing at him.



Joxer took a chance and looked up at Ares with adoring, trusting eyes. Yes, it was Ares. He knew Ares would never hurt him.

He would protect him. If Ares was holding him and really here, then Joxer knew he must be home.



Home. Safe.



The safe feeling disappeared in an instant. Joxer whimpered and tried to push back into Ares’ chest when he saw someone

coming towards him. “No…please, not again.”



“Shhh, Angel, it’s just Apollo, nobody else.”



Joxer listened to the truth of Ares’ words and relaxed. Yes, it was Apollo. He watched as Apollo came towards him. Apollo

wouldn’t hurt him, he would help him. He would make the awful pain go away.



Apollo didn’t say anything; he didn’t want to spook the already upset young man. As soon as Joxer seemed to be used to his

presence, the God of Healing began to work.



Apollo gently placed his hands on Joxer’s swollen shoulders and agony ripped through the young immortal. He screamed and

screamed. Joxer couldn’t seem to stop. His mind and body were overwhelmed by everything he had gone through and Joxer’s

nerves snapped.



“NOOOOO. God’s no, please no more!” Joxer sobbed and it was crying without the tears, which made it that harder to witness.

Joxer started coughing. The deep, painful cough was frightening to watch and wracked Joxer’s already pain filled body.



Apollo jumped back and watched as Ares soothed and petted, trying to calm Joxer back down. Apollo spoke to the room. “I can’t

give him anything for the pain, not with some of the obvious injuries he has. Plus, Zeus only knows how badly he’s hurt

inside.”



Apollo wracked his brain, trying to come up with a plan of action. He *had* to get Joxer’s arms back in place before he could

attend to any of his other wounds. How could he do that when Joxer couldn’t stand to be touched?



Cupid was standing beside his father, a hand on his strong back. He was trying to calm Ares down as Ares calmed Joxer down.

Out of the corner of his eye, Cupid saw a flash and looked over in time to see Strife disappear with a very slight flash. ‘He

just left!’ Cupid was stunned. He would never have imagined that his cousin would run out on Joxer or Ares like that,

especially when they needed help so desperately.



Approximately 30 seconds later, before anyone else had a chance to notice Strife’s *defection*, Strife flashed back in with a

very startled Warrior Princess. Strife shoved Xena towards Joxer and said, “Do ya stuff.” Xena looked around, confused. Then

she saw Joxer. A tortured, crying Joxer.



Xena was livid. “What in Hades’ name has happened?” Xena growled, her blue eyes flashing fire. What had Ares let happen to

her friend? Then she saw that her father was crying, crying over his lover whom he was holding so tenderly in his arms.



Apollo touched Xena on the arm to get her attention. “We need to get Joxer’s arms back in their sockets and I can’t give him

anything for the pain yet.” Xena nodded, she understood now what Strife had meant about “doing her stuff”. She reached over

and quickly mashed on the pressure points in Joxer’s neck. This paralyzed the nerves in Joxer’s neck, leaving him pain free.



Just as quickly, Apollo surged forward and carefully placed his hands back on Joxer’s damaged arms. When he saw there was no

pain at his touch, Apollo sent healing energy into Joxer’s shoulders. They were so badly abused that even with godly healing

powers it took a couple of minutes for the swelling to go down.



The assembled group waited anxiously as Apollo worked. Joxer was still whimpering, even though he couldn’t feel most of the

pain right then. Xena was especially antsy; like her father, she was used to fighting her way out of a problem.



Xena stepped forward again. “I need to let the pressure off.” A slight trickle of blood was coming out of Joxer’s nose. If

the pressure on the nerves wasn’t released soon Joxer would die from a brain hemorrhage…or considering he was immortal, well

he’d probably be severely brain damaged…forever. Apollo nodded his agreement and Xena once again mashed at Joxer’s neck.

Joxer moaned at the return of feeling.



The little group in the bedroom waited for a few minutes. Ares was gently rocking Joxer and whispering softly in his ear.

Xena looked over to Apollo who nodded his head. Once Joxer was numb again, Apollo took hold of his left arm and popped it

back into place. Luckily Joxer couldn’t feel this, but they could all hear it snap with a distressingly loud pop.



Xena released the pressure again and looked into her friend’s eyes. Joxer tried to smile at her, the relief, even briefly,

from the pain had given him time to get himself under control.



“Ares you can lay him down now; on his left side.” Apollo hastily reminded him, in case Ares was so upset that he forgot

about Joxer’s other arm still being hurt. “Then we will be able to get to his right arm without causing any additional pain.”

As Ares moved to lay his lover down, Joxer panicked. In his mind he was back in the torture chamber.



“Angel, I’m right here and I’m not going anywhere.” Ares rocked Joxer in his arms until the tremors in the young man’s body

died down. Ares laid Joxer gently on the bed and then flashed to the other side. This way he was facing his consort and could

keep him calm. It happened so fast that Joxer didn’t have time to get upset. That was the reason Ares flashed, instead of

simply walking around the bed.



Ares kept looking into Joxer’s expressive brown eyes. It was obvious he was still terrified, but Ares’ presence kept him

grounded.



Xena ‘did her stuff’, as Strife put it, and Apollo fixed his other shoulder. Joxer closed his eyes in relief and Ares wiped

the couple of tears Joxer managed to squeeze from his eyes. Then Ares wiped the tears from his own eyes.



“Joxer, I’m going to roll you onto your stomach now, so that I can get to your back easier.” Apollo’s tone was as calming as

he could make it.



“NO! Please don’t turn me over.” Joxer remembered Jabben, the man who had the anal pear used on him and began a feeble

attempt to push Apollo away. Joxer clutched desperately at the blanket covering him.



“Angel?” That one word conveyed everyone’s fears and ironically calmed Joxer back down.



‘Only Ares calls me Angel.’ Joxer opened his eyes and looked over at his lover. ‘He’ll protect me.’



Once again Apollo reached out to turn Joxer over. “No don’t, it hurts.” Joxer’s soft cry interrupted Apollo.



Apollo knelt by the bedside. “Where does it hurt?”



Joxer blushed a bright red and looked away. Reluctantly he gestured to his groin; Joxer’s still mostly lifeless arms moving

sluggishly.



Apollo felt Ares stiffen beside him and he spared his brother a quick look, gaining permission before he removed the blanket.

Ares nodded his assent, never looking away from his hurt love.



In the meantime, several people had left the room so as not to cause Joxer any further embarrassment. Xena was flashed back

down to her home where she waited anxiously for more news about her friend.



Cupid was one of the ones to stay, because he wanted to offer moral support. He compromised by moving to the other side of

the room. Cupid glanced over and was surprised by Strife. Not in seeing Strife still there, but because he realized that

Strife was still standing bleakly by the bed. Cupid frowned as he noticed that Ace touched Strife on the back as he went to

help his father. Cupid narrowed his eyes.



Grimly they moved the blankets back, exposing Joxer’s lower body. All four gods stared in horror at what they saw. Joxer’s

genitalia was swollen to twice its normal size and bruised a deep purplish-red.



They tried to preserve some sense of modesty for the young man and rearranged the blanket so only the area around the crotch

was in view. That made it seem worse; almost like this badly damaged area was framed by the cloth…and badly damaged it was.



The numerous people who had *examined* and then molested Joxer during his ordeal had started the process, however Torquemada

had finished it. His groping of Joxer during his time on the rack had become vicious. Poor Joxer had been so frightened that

he hadn’t realized he was being hurt.



Joxer cried in pain and humiliation as Ace carefully took hold of his knee to lift his leg up. Asclepius took one look at

Joxer’s knees and laid his abused leg back down.



While he was on the rack, Joxer’s knees had been pulled as well. Things had torn and stretched around the knee. Now the

joints of his knees and hips were swollen and misshapen.



Joxer’s knees looked like someone who had severe arthritis. His hips were so swollen that his legs wouldn’t close properly.

Ares wept to see how badly Joxer had been hurt.



Ares kissed Joxer on the eyelids, murmuring words of love the whole time; trying in vain to distract his lover from the

necessary touches on his body.



Asclepius wrapped his hands around Joxer’s right knee and began the slow process of healing it. The pain from the procedure

was so bad that Joxer passed out again. This was a blessing, because it allowed Apollo to start on the other knee at the same

time.



By the time Joxer regained consciousness, his knees were *better*. It would take several more healing sessions and time for

them to be completely well; as would his badly damaged arms. Joxer’s hips had been spared from more catastrophic injuries,

because his arms and knees had given way.



Once again Ace took hold of Joxer’s leg; he carefully avoided the thick bandages that protected and supported Joxer’s healing

knees. Yet again, Joxer cried out in pain; this time due to his inflamed groin being moved. This gave Apollo access to the

injured area.

They did their best to help Joxer’s fractured mind and only moved the blanket when they had to. With an apologetic grimace,

Apollo carefully cupped his hands over the area and concentrated on healing Joxer.



Joxer tucked his head into Ares’ shoulder and unsuccessfully tried to ignore the pain and humiliation.



When it was over all they covered Joxer back up and left him alone with Ares. Joxer shuddered in pain. The swelling was down

and the open wounds were healed, but most of the bruising was still there. There was only so much healing energy a non-godly

body could stand in one area at a time.



The God of War tried to comfort his demoralized lover, but he wasn’t very successful. Cupid came forward and tried his best

as well. Amazingly it was Strife, who got down on his knees beside the bed, that was best able to comfort Joxer.



“Ya ain’t done nothin wrong, Joxah.” Strife ran his hands delicately across Joxer’s bruise mottled fingers. “It will be all

right, ya’re gonna get bettah.” Strife smiled slightly and whispered. “It does get bettah, I promise.”



Joxer nodded at his friend. “okay.” Joxer’s meek reply made Ares want to scream.



‘They’ve broken his spirit.’



Ares vowed to annihilate the “people” who had done this to his lover. He began to growl again. Strife reached over and rubbed

his uncle’s arm.



“We’ll get them.”



Ares nodded decisively and went back to holding Joxer as best he could.



====



Cupid stepped away from the bed and tried not to gag. The stench from all the infected wounds on Joxer’s body was

overwhelming. The God of Love watched in horror as Asclepius cleaned a ragged cut that ran down the side of Joxer’s leg. At

the same time Apollo was cleaning numerous scraped areas on the young immortal’s hips and chest. They were inflamed, a deep

angry red and all of the wounds oozed a nasty greenish liquid.



Cupid was at a loss about what he should do. He didn’t know how to help Joxer or Ares. Cupid watched in amazement when he

realized that Strife *did* know what to do.



The God of Mischief, supreme prankster and helper to war, knew exactly which salve to pass to Ace. He was in the right spot

*every time* to pass new cloths and clean water. Strife knew just when to place a comforting hand on Ares’ shoulder and when

was the best time to wipe a wet cloth over Joxer’s feverish forehead.



‘How is it that the God of Mischief knows as much about healing as the healers?’ Cupid frowned as he contemplated that

question.



Cupid wasn’t the only one who was surprised. Apollo watched the interaction between his son and Strife with obvious awe. The

two gods worked like a well-built chariot. Even Ares, who was preoccupied with Joxer noticed the camaraderie.



None of the gods missed the touches of comfort that passed between Strife and Asclepius. Again, Cupid found himself upset and

had to pinch his leg hard so he wouldn’t let loose the growl he found trying to work its way out of his chest.



====



Strife looked up suddenly. ‘What tha Hades was that noise?’ The young god looked fearfully around the room. He looked first

at Ares and realized it wasn’t him. ‘Oh gods!

Did I just hear HIM?’



Strife heard it again and followed the noise to the other side of the room. ‘Cupid?!’ Strife frowned in consideration.

‘What’s he growlin about?’



The young god didn’t realize he was shaking until Ace rubbed a hand across the back of his head. Strife smiled at his friend

and then jumped slightly when he heard the growling again.



Strife handed Ace another bandage, for Joxer’s abraded wrists this time and glanced back at Cupid. The winged god was

standing in the corner. His eyes were shut and his hands were clenched into tight fists at his side. Cupid’s snow-white wings

were fanned slightly around him.



Strife had never seen anything so beautiful in all his life. The young god forgot to breathe as he drank in the quivering

figure before him.



Joxer coughed and Cupid’s eyes snapped open and over to him. Strife sighed. ‘Oh, of course, he’s upset about Joxah. He’s

thinkin about what he wants ta do ta tha men that hurt him.’



Strife watched as his friend was soothed by his lover and sighed sadly. ‘I wish somebody would wanna hold me that way.’



====



Joxer let Strife and Ares roll him over onto his stomach. He gasped in pain and immediately tried to turn back. Seeing his

anguish, Strife and Ares helped him back onto his side again.



Ace eyed Joxer’s abused body in trepidation. “Where else are you hurting?” Ace’s calm, quiet voice helped soothe Joxer. Joxer

had rolled into a ball and was holding his stomach, indicating this was where he was in pain. Ares talked softly to Joxer and

kissed his young lover’s nose and then eyelids. Finally, Joxer relaxed enough so that Apollo could reach him.



Apollo held his hand over Joxer’s stomach and his eyes widened in horror a moment before his blank professional mask slipped

back into place. Joxer’s stomach lining was inflamed and slightly swollen. Apollo thought a moment and then checked other

places on Joxer’s body. Joxer’s throat was irritated and torn in several places where the funnel had been shoved down his

throat.



Apollo healed the damage done to Joxer’s stomach and throat by the water torture.



Before Joxer was laid back down on his stomach Apollo decided it was safe and



“Drink this Joxer. It’s for the pain.”



“I thought you said he couldn’t have any pain medicine.” Ares looked mad at the idea that Joxer had been hurting for no

reason.



“I did,” Apollo explained patiently, but quickly. A pissed of war god protecting his mate was nothing to trifle over. “…but

enough internal damage has been healed that it’s safe now.”



Ares grunted his understanding and Apollo relaxed. ‘Once crises averted.’



Joxer took the cup, fatigue making his hands tremble and drained the liquid quickly. Ares held him up as Strife helped him

drink. “Water, please…please something to drink. A little water please.” Joxer whimpered slightly, in fear and desperation.

Joxer had forgotten that he didn’t need to beg.



He was naturally given a cup of water. His parched throat soaked up the water as quickly as it was swallowed. Exhausted,

Joxer lay down on his stomach and after four agonizing days he fell into a semi-peaceful sleep.



Joxer had a tight grip on Ares’ hand and even in his drugged sleep he didn’t want to let go.



Apollo waited until he was sure that Joxer was asleep and then he motioned for Ares and Strife to join him on the other side

of the bedroom. Reluctantly, Ares untangled their hands and when Joxer kept sleeping, Ares followed his brother. Once they

were far enough away so Joxer wouldn’t accidentally hear something he didn’t need to Apollo explained.



“I’m going to finish examining Joxer now. I need to know if you’ll be able to control yourself.” Ares looked confused, hadn’t

he controlled himself before now?



“There’s something you need to know…” Apollo took and deep breath and braced himself; hoping against hope that Ares wouldn’t

become homicidal, at least not yet. “…from my initial examination, I can tell that we haven’t seen the worst of his injuries

yet.” He looked up into Ares’ horrified eyes. “The back of his body is where he is hurt the worst. Yes, even worse than we’ve

seen so far. It’s going to be awful to see and I need to know if you can handle it. The last thing Joxer needs right now is

you going crazy.”



Ares didn’t bother answering. He went over and sat back down on the floor by the bed. The older god started running his hand

over the back of Joxer’s head. This was one of the few places the young immortal wasn’t hurt. One of the few places he could

touch his lover without hurting him.



Joxer murmured in his sleep and moved his head back a little, into Ares’ gentle hand.



====



The three other gods stayed where they were and watched this tender scene. Actually, it was only two of the gods who were

paying any attention to Ares and Joxer. Strife’s mind was elsewhere, he was staring blankly out into space. He had been since

Apollo explained that Joxer’s injuries were worse on the back of his body.



Asclepius moved closer to the young god and stood hesitantly a few moments before he carefully put a hand on Strife’s arm.

Strife flinched and then smiled when Ace leaned in close to whisper to him. Ace ran his hand up and down Strife’s arm, much

in the same way Ares had been doing to Joxer.



It looked very intimate.



Cupid frowned. He didn’t like this, he didn’t like it at all. And he didn’t quite know why this intimate moment was bothering

him so much. He and Strife weren’t close, they were cousins, but not chummy. So why did the sight of Ace up close to him make

Cupid’s blood boil?



Cupid didn’t realize it, but his eyes briefly turned a glowing shade of green.






Chapter 8

Joxer began whimpering again and Ares pulled him close.

“It’s all right Angel, you’re safe.”

Joxer snuggled into Ares’ arms, burying his face into his lover’s strong shoulder. With a snuffling sigh, Joxer went back to sleep.

Ares held Joxer, mindful of his still painful injuries. Joxer had hold of Ares’ arm in a tight grip. At least, as tight as his wounded arms would let him.

Ares vacillated from one emotion to another. One minute he was boiling mad, ready to rush back and punish the men who had hurt Joxer. The next minute he wanted to scream out loud and punish himself for inadvertently causing this anguish.

‘Why in Hades name didn’t I check on him sooner! Who gave a damn about the bet. It’s not like he would have had to know.’

Ares managed to lie quietly. His inner turmoil didn’t disturb his devastated lover.

‘Strife! I could have had Strife watch him.’ Inside Ares hit himself. ‘Strife could have snuck around and we would have known Joxer was gone within a few hours.’

Joxer shifted on the bed and moaned in pain. Inside, Ares cried out in pain.

====

Strife stumbled as he came through the portal and landed painfully on his side.

“Well, that was graceful.”

Strife hauled himself up and looked around. He snorted at the panicked looks on the frozen men’s faces.

“Ya oughta count yarselves lucky that Unc didn’t have time ta deal with ya yestahday.”

Strife walked over to where the door used to be and nudged one of the men out of the way with his foot.

“Move it creep.” Strife resisted the urge to kick him.

The young god pushed through the wall. Ares’ spell recognized Strife and let him pass unhindered. Strife had decided to go exploring, on his own. He wanted to get an idea about the layout of the prison and the way things were handled.

Strife stood in the middle of the hall. He didn’t want to touch anything. The walls were wet and green with some sort of lichen clinging to it. The floors were dirty and Strife could see a rat, frozen as it scuttled along the wall.

“Gods, it’s no wondah Joxah’s sa sick.”

Strife went into the first room he came to. The door creaked ominously. The young god rolled his eyes.

“That’s a sad attempt at frightenin people.”

The room seemed empty at first, except for the ubiquitous frozen men. Then…and then Strife noticed the people chained to the walls. They were skeletal and naked. Their figures were so emaciated that it was difficult to tell who was male and who was female.

Strife counted and magicked up the appropriate amount of beds. In seconds the people were out of their chains and resting. He didn’t care that they were frozen and not in pain at the moment; he wanted them comfortable.

Strife gave in to the urge he had earlier and kicked one of the Torturers in the butt. “Ya’ll be feelin that latah.” He snarled at the insensate man.

Feeling calmer, Strife tapped his chin with one pale, partially leather clad hand. “Theah seems ta be 3 distinct groups heah.” He kicked the man again. “Tha Torturers…” He smacked one man on the back of the head…hard. “…tha Guards…” Strife waved in the general direction of the main room. “…and tha Questioners.”

“Hmmmm, I think everybody needs ta go ta their own rooms.”

With that, the Guards in every room disappeared and reappeared in one of the lower dungeons. The prisoners in that room flashed onto their own beds in the better rooms in the barracks.

The Torturers were all whisked away to the main torture chamber. It was pretty crowded in there but Strife figured they could handle it. The Questioners remained in the main room where they had been.

Strife glanced around at the victims and cringed when he saw how many of them there were. *Several* other rooms were packed with the beds as well. With a wave of his hand the chains and other implements of torture disappeared and the rooms were sparkling clean.

With a nasty smirk, Strife magically gathered all the rats in the castle and divided them into thirds. Each group of men got their own little pets.

Strife stepped outside and walked down to another room. It wasn’t a room he wanted to go in, but he *had* to.

“Sa much pain.” Strife whispered. The quiet of the hall demanded it.

He gently pushed the door open and walked in to confront the dead.

====

Strife leaned against the door, his hand pressed to his mouth. His stomach was heaving and the god swallowed back the bile.

Images were running through his head. Images of what he’d seen, what he could imagine…and images from his own memories. Unfortunately, some of his memories overlapped with the others.

Strife’s mind was working desperately. He was trying to think of something else. He gasped and lowered his hand as an idea began to form.

“I’ve got an idea.” He bit his lip as he considered.

“Yeah, that’ll make Joxah feel bettah taa.” Smirking, he continued; thinking up more plans. “And that’ll make eveahbody happy.”

Strife strode down the hallway, in a much better frame of mind now. Pushing back through the wall barrier, Strife reentered the main questioning chamber. He walked over to the chair standing in the middle of the room.

The young god could smell Joxer on the chair. His blood was all over the back and bottom. The bloody ropes were still hanging off the arms of the chair where Ares had magicked them off.

The God of Mischief stood without making a sound. He turned to leave and halfway across the chamber he whirled around and shot out a stream of flame that hit the chair like one of Zeus’ best thunderbolts. The offending chair exploded, raining flaming bits of wood down on the frozen Questioners.

Strife walked over to one of the Questioners. The man’s tunic was on fire and his dark beard was smoking. The young god vigorously pounded on the man…putting the flames out.

Strife narrowed his eyes as he looked past the man he was *helping*. Standing behind the Questioner was someone who didn’t belong. Strife shoved the Questioner out of the way; not even noticing, and caring less, when the man crashed to the ground.

“Who have we got heah?”

The God of Mischief scrutinized the stranger. He was darker, like the other men, but his skin was a different shade; more golden than brown. Also, the man’s hair was shockingly a flaming red color.

But what gave the man away the most was the energy crackling off him. Frozen, it looked like ice crystals hanging around the man’s, who was obviously a god, head.

Strife smiled nastily and batted away the frozen energy. He walked around the god and inspected him.

“Sa, it looks like Unc’s trap caught an extra big piece ah vermin.”

Strife turned to leave and stopped with a smirk. He snapped his fingers and gathered the frozen energy in an invisible net. He looked around the room and spotted one man that several people seemed to be looking at.

“Ya must be tha main Questioner.”

The pale, young god snapped his wrist and the energy swirled around the man; settling around his hips like a foot wide belt.

“That’ll give ya a nice surprise.”

Strife giggled and it was a good thing that the man couldn’t hear it, because he would have dropped dead on the spot. The God of Mischief looked around and found a rat that was in the process of biting, someone or something, when it was frozen. The pale god moved the rat over, until it was lying on top of one of the Questioner’s crotch.

“I hope ya enjoy that. I *really* do.”

Now, in a *really* much more contented frame of mind, Strife stepped back through the portal, into his own time.



Chapter 9



The first thing Strife saw when he flashed back to his uncle’s temple, was Cupid’s butt. Strife stopped and stared at the awe inspiring sight for a few moments. It felt safe Strife in doing so, because he was invisible.



Strife had learned early on in his life to keep himself unseen when he first flashed into a place. At least until he learned the lay of the land. That little trick had saved him from getting hurt on more than one occasion.



So, the hyper young god used that ploy everywhere he went, even into his uncle’s temple. Especially his uncle’s temple. Ares was known to blast first and ask questions later when he was upset or mad. And since he was either upset or mad most of the time…



The God of Mischief took the opportunity to eye his fellow god’s beautiful behind. Normally you couldn’t see Cupid’s leather clad backside, not with that kind of kilt…thingie that he wore over his pants. But now the love god was bent over enticingly and those luscious round…



Cupid straightened up from picking up a scroll he had dropped and Strife snapped out of his stupor. He shook his head violently, trying to clear it of the pretty images his mind had formed.



Strife was stunned. He never, *ever*, looked at people like that. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about sex…well, actually it was. All of the things that had happened to Strife in his life had squelched any desire he might ever have had. Except for when he was watching…



‘Stop it right theah, ya idiot. Ya ain’t got not right ta be lookin at someone like him that way. Not bein who ya are.’



====



“Hiya Cupid.”



The God of Love jumped a foot in the air and let out a very undignified squeak as he started to fall backwards. He flapped his wings a few times and managed to keep himself from falling, so Cupid wasn’t *too* embarrassed.



“Ooops. Sorry about that.”



Cupid glared at Strife, until he realized that the God of Mischief wasn’t laughing at him. He wasn’t really even looking at him. Cupid frowned. He wanted Strife to notice him, even if he was only laughing at him.



“Sa, what’s evahbody doin heah?”



Pale, pale blue eyes danced around the room. Flitting from person to person and yet, not really looking at anybody. There were several gods and goddesses lining the chamber. Quite a few mortals as well.



“Well…we all need to talk to Dad, for one reason or another.” Cupid glared at the long line of warlords who *insisted* that they just *had* to talk to Ares *today*.



“We’re, uhmm…” Cupid blushed. It turned his tan skin a dusty rose color and for a moment, Strife stopped breathing at the beauty of it. “We’re worried about disturbing Dad and Joxer.”



Cupid blushed again. They weren’t worried; they were scared shitless. Him included! Ares hadn’t left Joxer’s side since the young immortal had been rescued. All attempts to get close to the pair had ended up with people being blasted out the door.



Even though he felt like a wimp, Cupid wasn’t going to risk it. After all, he did have a son to think about.



The love god smiled wryly at Strife and ran his hands through his hair, messing it up. At least he wasn’t the only one who didn’t dare approach Ares.



====



Strife gasped for air and tried to cover it up. Oh My Gods! Cupid was beautiful; more so every time Strife saw him. The young god figured that by the time he had seen Cupid a couple of dozen more times, the other god would be so stunning that Strife would be blinded by the sight.



The pale god pinched the inside of his elbow…hard. The pain snapped him back to reality once again. Glancing around the room, Strife narrowed his eyes. He strode across the room, his black leather outfit blending in with the black marble floor and walls and contrasting starkly with his fair skin.



“All right, Blalack, what da ya want?”



The warlord in question sneered openly at the skinny young man standing in front of him. He rolled his eyes in open disdain and remained slouched against the temple wall.



“I need to see Lord *Ares*.”



Blalack sniffed and rubbed his nose, as if something offended it. He was a rather stupid man and forgot that while Strife’s godhood was considered to be one of the more minor ones, he was still a god.



“I see.” Strife smiled and seeing the malevolent smirk, Blalack finally seemed to realize his mistake. “Well, why dontcha go back ta yar little battle…” The young god, still smiling, picked the mortal up by the front of his uniform and raised him high off the ground. Strife had to reach up to do it, but the warlord’s height didn’t seem to phase him. “…and do like Unc told ya ta 3 days ago.”



He shook the much larger man, before he dropped the warlord on the ground. Blalack lay there gasping. “Dam up tha rivah and flood their side ah tha battlefield. When they’re all confused, ya attack.”



The young god poked the prone man with the toe of his boot. “Da ya think ya can follow those *real tough* instructions.” Now it was Strife who was openly sneering.



Strife squatted down in front of the bigger man. No one but Blalack saw the pained look that ran across Strife’s face. The warlord in question was too busy trying to breathe to notice.



“Sa, get up off ah yar lazy butt and fight yar own battle. Ya can’t keep expectin Unc ta fight em fah ya.”



Strife stood up, crossed his arms and just stared at the man. Blalack seemed to grow a few more brain cells, because he scrambled to his feet and beat a quick path out the door.



Several other warlords seemed to realize they could handle their own problems as well. None of them wanted to anger Ares’ second-in-command. Strife was more unpredictable than Ares. So they quickly ran, uh retreated, as well.



Strife turned to the lone remaining warlord and cocked his head to one side. “And what da ya need?”



This warlord was smarter and snapped to attention immediately.



“Forgive me, my lord. There was a problem with Lord Ares’ plan.”



The young warlord spoke reverently and quickly. Just as quickly, Strife dealt with his problem. In a matter of minutes, the room was cleared of all the mortals who had been petitioning to see Ares.



Strife glanced around at the remaining gods and one goddess, wondering if they *really* needed to see Ares either. Quite frankly, Strife doubted it.



‘I can’t imagine what Dionysus needs ta see Unc about sa urgently.’ The young god sighed and rolled his eyes. ‘It ain’t my place ta ask.’



‘Screw that.’ Strife thought about Joxer and decided that this time he was going to make it *his place* to ask.



“So, ya all need ta see Unc, huh.” Strife looked at the assembled deities. “Wow, it must be real important fah ya ta worry him right now. Ya know, when he’s still sa *upset* about Joxah.”



Nobody missed the emphasis on upset. Several people shifted around nervously. Bothering an upset God of War might not be the best plan.



Astonishingly enough, most of the gods in the room decided their problems could wait a few more days. Not that they were running, no never that. They beat a well thought out retreat.



So many flashed away at once that Strife had to close his eyes against the glare. He opened them again to see a *few* remaining gods who were looking at him defiantly. Strife sighed in disgust.



“Fine, I’ll go and try ta get Unc fah ya.” Strife turned his back on the stunned group and strode towards the bedroom door.



====



Cupid reached out to catch Strife and missed. He was just discovering his feelings for Strife and didn’t want to see him smeared across the hallway.



The other deities watched interestedly as the *very brave* young god went to his fate.



====



Strife wasn’t *very brave*; he just didn’t care. If Ares blasted him or pounded him, what did it matter. Maybe if he was unconscious he wouldn’t have to think or dream for a while.



The young god tapped lightly on the heavy wooden door. There was nothing for a few seconds. A mumble from inside caused him to open the door. Strife stuck his head in carefully.



“Unc.” The name was whispered so quietly that Ares barely heard him.



“Come on in.”



Strife tiptoed inside.



Joxer lay curled up on his side, facing Ares, who was also laying on the bed. Joxer’s face was still bruised and had healing cuts. His poor legs had thick bandages on them. One leg was covered from ankle to thigh. That badly infected cut on his leg was proving to be stubborn. Joxer’s damaged arms lay loosely across Ares’ chest.



“What is it Strife?” Ares’ voice was also quiet. He looked at his nephew and patiently waited for an answer. Ares knew that Strife wouldn’t disturb them unless it was absolutely necessary.



Strife decided to take care of the important things first. “How’s he doin?”



Ares looked back to Joxer’s sleeping form and brushed the soft, brown hair out of his love’s eyes. “A little better. Apollo’s supposed to be here any time, for Joxer’s next treatment.”



Either Apollo or Asclepius came in several times a day to give Joxer a “healing treatment”. Because Joxer was not a god, it was going to take many *weeks* of treatments to fix all the damage the torture had caused.



“What are they gonna work on taday?”



“His arms and knees.” Ares saw a slight shiver run through Joxer’s body and waved his hand. A super soft, feather light, very warm blanket settled over the young immortal.



The two gods watched as Joxer smiled and snuggled further into his pillow. Ares was ecstatic at seeing any happiness on his lover’s face. Strife was thrilled to see *both* his Uncle and best friend a little more contented.



“Unc.” He waited until Ares was looking at him. “Theah’s some people outside that need ta see ya.”



Ares started to protest. There was *no way* he was leaving Joxer alone. But, then again, he knew Strife would have gotten rid of anybody that he could.



While Ares was thinking, Joxer started coughing again. Ares quickly pulled his consort up, until Joxer was leaning back against him. The coughing slowed down considerably when Joxer was upright.



The injured immortal opened bleary eyes and looked around. Joxer wasn’t afraid, because he could feel his godly lover holding him up. Ares held a cup of water and Joxer drank appreciatively.



“Hi Strife.” Joxer’s voice was scratchy and barely above a whisper. His throat was still recovering from all the screaming he had done.



“Hiya Joxah.”



Strife smiled indulgently at his friend who was already falling back asleep. “Why don’t ya go back ta sleep.”



“okay.”



Ares laid Joxer back down and tucked the covers around him. The exhausted young man curled up on his side, as best he could with his legs encased in bandages.



“love you…’res.”



Ares kissed Joxer’s temple. “I love you too, Angel.”



Joxer nodded once and smiled sweetly.



The God of War started to lay back down and then he looked reluctantly at the chamber door. He sighed in disgust and thought briefly of just opening the door and blasting.



“Visitors, huh?”



Strife snapped back to reality. The loving scene between Joxer and his uncle had depressed the already dejected Strife.



‘I’ll nevah have anybody ta love me like that.’



“Strife?”



Ares looked at his nephew questioningly. Strife was usually more attentive than this.



“Yeah? Oh, yeah. Theah are a few visitors left.”



Strife saw Ares frowning at Joxer and understood his reluctance. If he had somebody like Joxer, he wouldn’t let them out of his sight either.



“I can stay with Joxah fah ya.”



Strife smiled at his uncle and Ares smiled back. “All right, I know you’ll take good care of him.” Ares carefully extracted himself from Joxer’s embrace. When the injured young man mumbled in his sleep, but didn’t wake, Ares started outside.



“This *won’t* take very long.” Ares paused in the doorway to look back at his lover and then his nephew. “I’ll be right back.”



Strife just nodded, dumbfounded.



‘Unc trusts me ta watch ovah Joxah fah him.’



The God of Mischief eased down on the bed. Joxer stirred a little, but was calmed by Strife’s hand on the back of his head.



“It’s all right Joxah, I’ll protect ya.”



Joxer smiled again.



====



Less than an hour later.



Ares smiled as he walked back in. Strife was laying on the bed beside Joxer, both men sound asleep. They looked like two children innocently sharing a sleep over.



Until you looked closer that is. Hopefully a child wouldn’t be dressed from head to toe in black leather, metal studs and safety pins. Ares smirked, remembering some of the clothes that the child Strife had come up with.



The God of War shook his head as Strife shivered. The young god apparently wouldn’t even get under the covers with Joxer. Ares looked at his young nephew’s feet sticking off the side of the bed and laughed silently at the fond memories. Strife had remembered his lessons from childhood and kept his boots off the bed.



Ares sighed and magicked up another blanket to cover Strife with. The god stood by the bed for a minute looking at two of the most important people in his life. With a wave of his hand Strife’s boots were sitting on the floor. Strife immediately whimpered and tried to curl his feet up. Ares quickly picked them up and slid them under the covers.



‘I don’t know why Strife hates having his feet sticking out.’ Ares contemplated the question he had always wondered about.



In his sleep Joxer heard Strife whimper and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. The hand quickly slid down to lie beside the sleeping god when the muscles in Joxer’s weak arms gave way. Joxer whimpered.



Strife heard his best friend, even though he was asleep. He unconsciously took hold of Joxer’s hand and mumbled. “It’s okay Joxah. Ya’re safe heah.”



Both young men settled down to sleep. Ares watched the exchange in awe. He extended the bed on Joxer’s other side and carefully slid in behind his consort. All three men slept dreamlessly for a while.



====



Strife was staring at him when he awoke. Now most people would have started screaming and not stopped running for a week. The God of Mischief wasn’t exactly conducive to happy dreams.



Ares just frowned at his nephew.



“Go back to sleep Strife, it’s too early for this.”



Strife grinned at his sleepy uncle. “Unc, it’s three in tha aftahnoon.”



The war god thought for a minute. “Oh yeah, so it is.”



Ares shook his head. For a moment he had been back to when Strife was a little boy and would come into his room in the mornings and wake him up.



Strife was sitting rather stiffly on the side of the bed, his boots back in place on his feet. To

Ares, he looked almost scared, as if he were afraid of being punished because he fell asleep.



Ares smiled reassuringly at his young charge and thought back through the years, to all the times Strife had looked afraid for no reason. He wondered if it was because of Eris, Strife’s mother or his unknown father.



“Unc. I found somethin I think ya’ll want ta see…back *theah*.”



The fire in Ares’ dark eyes showed that he knew where ‘there’ was. He started growling. Joxer whimpered in fear at the sound and Ares forced himself to be calm.



“What did you find?”



Strife was amazed at how calm Ares sounded when he looked like thunder on the outside. “Maybe it would be bettah if we talked about this *outside*.”



The young god jerked his head towards the door and looked meaningfully at his injured friend. “We can keep a scryin mirrah with us, so that ya’ll know if Joxah wakes up or needs ya or anythin.”



“All right. I don’t want to upset Joxer if I can help it.” A hard look at Strife convinced him that there was *no way* he was going to be able to keep his temper.



====



Cupid was still waiting outside when Ares and Strife came out. He had talked to his father earlier, but still wanted to ask him a few questions. He needed his advice about…



‘Oh, the Tartarus with it. I just want to see Strife.’



The God of Love was infatuated with his young cousin and he didn’t know what to do about it. He and Strife were about as far apart as two people could be.



‘Except for loving dad and Joxer.’



Cupid shook his head at the thought.



“Unc, I’ve found somebody at tha castle. I think ya’ll be interested in him.”



Cupid looked at his cousin and licked his lips. Strife saw the motion out of the corner of his eye and flicked a fascinated glance over. Ares made an impatient gesture and Strife quickly looked back.



‘Bliss likes him too.’



Mentally Cupid slapped himself. Now was *not* the time to be thinking like this. The love god interjected himself into the conversation.



“So who is he?”



“Another god, but not one I recognize. He’s tall, tanned and has bright red hair…”



Ares’ roar made Strife jump back…back into Cupid. Cupid grabbed Strife around the waist to keep the younger god standing. There was an electric charge that distracted both of them from Ares’ hollering.



Strife turned his head and looked at Cupid, who was looking back. Pale blue eyes and dark brown eyes stared at each other. They stood that way for several long, wonderful seconds. Strife recovered himself first and stepped away.



Cupid leaned forward, wanting to grab Strife back. Sanity took over and he didn’t grab.



‘Mine.’ Cupid’s eyes flickered between brown and green. ‘He’s going to be mine.’



====



Unaware of the silent declaration being made behind him, Strife crossed his arms and hugged himself. It had been so wonderful in Cupid’s arms, so warm. He desperately wanted to dive back and never let go.



Strife shook his head sadly.



‘Get real, ya idiot. He’s tha God ah Love and ya’re a git; don’t be stupid.’



Ares continued to rant, not realizing that *nobody* was paying attention to him.



“Did he look Egyptian?”



Strife stopped and thought a minute. “Yeah. That was what was different about him.”



“Lo-Ra.”



Cupid and Strife glanced at each other. “Uh, what?” Strife’s question was quiet.



“Lo-Ra, the Egyptian God of War.”



Strife frowned, it wrinkled his pale brow and made Cupid stare. “But I thought tha God ah War in Egypt was…ah, Tartarus, I forget his name now.”



“Lo-Ra used to be, before I caught him causing peace.”



“What?!” Cupid and Strife exclaimed together. They looked at each other and grinned.



“Yes.” Ares was pacing back and forth and missed the exchange between his son and his nephew.



Ares started to explain. “I was living in Egypt at the time, training with their gods. I was sent there as a young man to learn how to use my powers properly.”



Strife grimaced at the thought of a young boy being sent to a foreign country. ‘He musta been sa scared…and alone.’



“It seems he was in love with a mortal named Charel. She lived in an area where a war was planned. Instead of just moving the mortal somewhere else, Lo-Ra instilled feelings of peace in the warring leaders. It took us 2 years to get that war going again. In the meantime, there was a famine that killed four times the amount of people who would have died in battles. Not to mention the gangs that took over the towns in that vicinity and raped and murdered.”



Ares shook his head and missed Strife’s cringe. Cupid was watching his father so intently that he missed it too.



“I found out, by accident, what had happened and reported it to Ra. Lo-Ra was stripped of his title. He’s still a god, but doesn’t have a specific godhood.” Ares frowned and shook his head. “At least, not the last I heard.”



“What about the woman?” Cupid focused on the love aspect of the situation as could be expected.



“I don’t know. I never heard any more about the event. I came home shortly after that and haven’t seen Lo-Ra since then.”



Ares shook his head. “I can’t believe he waited all these years to get his revenge. Tartarus, it’s been almost 2,000 years. What’s he waited for?”



It was Strife who quietly spoke up. “Ya ain’t nevah really been in love before, have ya.”



Strife wanted to take the words back as soon as he spoke them, when Ares got the most horrified look on his face. But it was too late and Ares would have figured out the truth himself anyway.



“No. Not like I feel with Joxer. Oh gods, I’m the reason that Joxer went through that agony.”




Chapter 10



Strife turned away from the sight of his uncle’s pain and smacked himself on

the head. Hard. Several times.



“stupid, stupid, stupid.” The young god muttered angrily. “why don’t ya just

kick him taa.”



Cupid flinched at the self abuse and made a move, as if to stop the other

god, but was prevented when Strife turned back around. If the love god

hadn’t heard Strife’s upset he wouldn’t have known anything was wrong.



The younger god didn’t look any different than he usually did. There was a

slightly pained grin on his pale face. His dark, black hair hadn’t moved

during any of these gyrations and Strife’s incredible blue eyes seemed to

dance nervously around the room.



“No, Unc.” Strife eased up to his agitated uncle and placed a very pale,

leather clad hand on Ares’ arm. “It isn’t ya fault that Joxah was hurt, it’s

tha god that sent him theah and tha jerks that tortured him. Not ya.”



Ares looked over at his nephew with a hopeful look on his face. “Do you

really think so?” The God of War sounded like a young man who was

desperately in love and scared, not a thousands year old god.



“Yeah, I really do.”



Ares smiled gratefully as he seemed to accept what Strife was saying. He

began tugging on his short beard as he thought.



Strife seemed to realize how close he was standing by his uncle, so he

stepped back and bumped into Cupid. This time it wasn’t an accident. The

love god had specifically placed himself behind Strife, in order to hold him

again. Cupid squeezed the thin young god and took a good breath, inhaling

the scent of Strife deep into his lungs.



‘Cinnamon. He smells like cinnamon.’



Meanwhile, Strife was reveling in the feel of having someone wrapped around

him. Twice in one day was…well, twice more than he’d ever had before.



He didn’t pull away, even though he felt guilty about using Cupid this way.

No, he leaned back for a moment and realized that for the first time that

Strife could remember, he didn’t feel cold inside.



The moment only lasted for that, a moment…and then it was gone.



Ares blasted a statue into pieces and both men reluctantly separated. They

didn’t look at each other and decided to pretend nothing had happened. That

way, it might happen again.



“Unc, I’ve gotta idea ah how ta fix this. Or at least help tha situation.”



The God of War leaned forward, his dark eyes glittering at the thought of

revenge. His posture showed how eager he was to hear the idea, when out of

nowhere, a whimper was heard. Ares looked at the scrying mirror, still

clutched, forgotten for the moment, in his hand.



Cupid and Strife stepped quickly out of the way as Ares raced by them. By

the time he got to the door, screams could be heard from within. Ares

hurried over to the bed and pulled Joxer to him.



“It’s alright, Angel. I’m here. You’re safe now.”



The still sleeping Joxer kept crying. He was trashing around on the bed and

moaning incoherently, obviously caught up in a nightmare of memories.



It took Ares several minutes to calm his lover and consort. A shaken Ares

looked up at his nephew and son who were waiting in the doorway.



“What do you need to do?” Ares was, of course, referring to the plan Strife

had mentioned.



“I need ta speak ta some people first and then I can give ya tha

particulars.”



Ares nodded. “Go. I trust you.” He pulled Joxer’s broken body closer. “Mind

you, I want to be in on…whatever it is you have in mind.”



“Me too.” Cupid didn’t sound like the God of Love. He sounded like the son

of Ares, the God of War.



“Don’t worry, ya two. They’re will be plenty ah revenge ta go around.”



Strife grinned nastily and flashed away. His maniacal giggle echoed around

the cavernous hallway. Ares and Cupid looked at each other in apprehension.

Cupid swallowed hard. Even Ares looked anxious.



====



Out in the hallway, two warlords, covered in blood from their most recent

battle, carefully dropped low to the ground and crept backwards out of the

temple door. They could wait for another time to report on the war they had

just fought in.



The men, who were responsible for at least 100 deaths between them that day,

didn’t look at each other as they ran…uh, scurried…no…left the courtyard.

They knew better than to mess with the God of Mischief…he was crazy.



“BOO!”



Both warriors…screamed like little children and ran to their horses. They

didn’t look back and didn’t stop to pick up their swords that they had

dropped in their fright.



Their men, who weren’t stupid either, didn’t comment on the suspicious stain

on the front of their uniforms or the hasty, uhm, retreat from Ares’ temple.

Strife giggled as he made himself visible.



With a wave of his hands, the swords flew up from the ground. The right hand

of war looked them over critically. “Not bad. At this rate I’ll be able ta

outfit a whole army by tha end ah tha month.”



Strife laughed quietly. This time no one and nothing was scared. “That’ll

keep em from bothahin Unc right now.”



====

A flash brightened the room for a minute.



“Hades.”



The God of the Underworld looked up and frowned.



“Yes?” He asked impatiently.



“Can I talk ta ya fah a minute?”



Hades sighed. “As you can see…” He waved a black clad arm around the crowded

room. “…I’m kind of busy right now.”



Strife fidgeted in the darkened doorway. Hades peered at him, narrowing his

eyes as he tried to see who he was talking to. “Who is it, anyway?”



The young god stepped forward. “It’s me, Strife.”



A scuffling in one corner distracted Strife for a few seconds. He didn’t see

Hades’ normally forbidding countenance, lighten at the sight of him. What he

did see made his eyebrows raise.



“Blalack?!” He smirked at the inept and whiny warlord. “I just saw ya at

Unc’s place a few hours ago. How did ya get yarself killed sa fast?”



Hades snorted and looked contemptuously at the men crowding his room. “He

was supposed to flood a battlefield…right?”



“Yeah.”



Strife eyed the warlord in question nervously. ‘What if I gave him tha wrong

instructions. Unc’ll be sa disappointed.’



“Well…the idiot dammed the wrong side.”



Mouth hanging open, Strife turned to look at the dead warlord. “Tha wrong

side?”



Blalack looked embarrassed, his men looked really ticked off. And rightly

so, considering they were now dead because of him.



“Yep. He and his men all drowned in the backwash.” Hades shook his shook his

head. Strife goggled at them, amazed at the sheer stupidity of the dead man.



“But, I doubt you are here about them.”



“Uh,” He turned back to Hades and shook his head, trying to clear it. “No, I

need ta ask ya fah a favah.”



“Of course.” With a wave of his hand, the shades occupying his office

vanished.

Strife started to speak and then stopped, again in amazement. He figured

that it would take a lot of begging and frankly, boot licking, to even get

Hades to listen to him.



“Oh. Okay. It’s about some people I’ve seen.”



“Fine. Are they dead or alive?”



“Both. But, uh, they’re in anothah country and about 1,500 years in tha

futuah.”



Hades sat up at that. “And they would have anything to do with me…how?”



Strife leaned one narrow hip against Hades’ desk. “Well, ya see. It all

started when Unc said somethin not taa smart ta Joxah…”



====



“No, nonononono, please…I’ll be good.”



Strife turned around at the first no and hurried over to the bed. “Joxah.

Wake up now, ya’re safe.”



Brown eyes flickered open. He peered around the room, looking for the men

who hurt him.



“I’m tha only one heah, Joxah.”



“St-Strife?”



“Yeah, it’s me.” Strife waved a hand and the room brightened. “See, we’re

alone.”



Joxer relaxed onto the bed and closed his eyes with a sigh.



“Are ya hungry?”



Strife brushed some hair out of his friend’s eyes and smiled. Joxer gazed

back. The young immortal thought for a moment. “Yeah, I think I am.”



“Good. Come here and let me help ya.” Slender hands slid under a skinny back

and lifted. Joxer moaned in pain. “I’m sorry.”



“I know. You’re really gentle though.” Joxer blinked away the tears in his

eyes and gifted his friend with a small smile. He looked around the room

again and frowned. “Where’s Ares?” He asked fearfully.



Waving a hand, Strife rearranged the pillows into a cushiony pile and leaned

the injured Joxer back. “He’s gone ta talk ta anothah god. He’ll be back

real quick.” Strife grinned.



“I had ta close up tha temple, that’s tha only way Unc would agree ta be

away fah a few hours.”



Joxer blushed, happy at the evidence of Ares’ love.



Strife grinned at the blush. He brushed the hair out of Joxer’s eyes, when

the young immortal couldn’t make his arms rise up enough to do so. The young

god did it matter of factly and so Joxer wasn’t too embarrassed by the

weakness in his damaged body.



“We’ll go slow at first. Ya don’t need ta be eatin anythin but soft foods

fah a while yet.”

With a flick of his wrist, a tray appeared, along with a table for it to

rest on.



“Okay.” Strife cracked his fingers and made a great show of placing a napkin

on Joxer’s lap. “I’ll give ya a hand with eatin…okay?”



Joxer ducked his head and nodded slowly. He knew there was no way he could

hold a cup, let alone a spoon.



“How about some mead first?”



It took a little maneuvering, since this was the first time Strife had ever

fed anyone, but there were only one or two mishaps before Joxer got

something to drink. By the time he did, Strife was giggling uncontrollably

and even Joxer was smiling.



“Heah ya go.”



Strife held up part of a roll for Joxer to bite into. The young immortal

blanched at the sight. Strife looked at his friend’s trembling lips and

dropped the bread back onto the tray.



“Is that what they fed ya?” He asked quietly, using the napkin to wipe away

the tears.



“Y-yes. I…it was moldy and nasty and after the second morning I couldn’t

even hold it to eat the stuff. There was this poor, young woman

who…helped…me…oh Gods!”



“Joxah?” Strife was worried about the look on his best friend’s face.



“She’s still there! I left here there! All of them, I left them. Nononono,

I’ve got to do something…”



“Joxah, calm down…” Strife tried to soothe the young man.



“No! You don’t understand, what they did to me was nothing compared to what

they’re *still* doing to all those innocent people.” Joxer’s voice got

higher and higher as he began to panic.



“NO, they ain’t.”



Strife’s strident voice captured Joxer’s attention. “What?”



“They aren’t hurtin anybody, anymore.”



Strife eased Joxer back against the pillows and made him take a drink. When

the young immortal was a little calmer, he continued.



“Tha Torturers, Questioners and Guards are all still frozen. They can’t hurt

anybody.

Besides that, tha prisoners are all gone from tha castle.”



Joxer gasped, his eyes wide. “Gone? Where are they?”



“Heah.” Strife grinned as Joxer began looking around. “No, I mean heah in

Greece…wheah they belong.”



Frowning in confusion, Joxer closed his eyes tiredly. “I don’t understand.”



“Tha god that kidnapped ya.” Joxer shivered. “Apparently, he’s responsible

fah most ah that people that were sent ta tha Inquisition.”



Seeing Joxer’s frown, he explained. “That’s what they called tha questionin

that they did, an inquisition. It was just an excuse ta torment people, in

my opinion.”



Ducking his head so that Strife wouldn’t see the tears in his eyes, Joxer

nodded. “Yeah, I think so too.”



“Uhm…” Strife cursed himself inside when he realized that he had upset Joxer

again.



“Anyway, this God, Lo-Ra is his name, used tha Inquisition ta punish people

that made him mad or opposed him or just plain turned down his advances.”



“People were being tortured to death because they didn’t want to have sex

with him? Gods…I can’t imagine such a thing.



“Yeah.” Unfortunately Strife could.



“But it’s ovah now. He’s been caught and Unc’s workin out his punishment

right now with some ah tha Egyptian gods.”



“Good…but all those people.”



Strife smiled at his friend. “I’ve got somethin ta show ya.”



The young god magicked up a scrying mirror. He turned around and scooted up

in the bed so that he was sitting beside his best friend.



On the mirror, the silver reflection of Strife and Joxer wavered for a

moment and then cleared. On the surface a young woman could be seen. Her

long black hair was pulled back with several beautifully ornate combs. She

was smiling and laughing as she served a round of drinks to some warriors.

The men weren’t as grabby as usual, due in part to the large man at the end

of the bar who was watching over her so protectively.



“Who is that?” Joxer asked quietly.



“That’s Cassia.” At Joxer’s uncomprehending look he added. “She’s tha young

woman that helped ya ta eat.”



Joxer looked at the woman in astonishment. She was no longer starved and

emaciated. The haunted look was gone from her expressive dark eyes.



The young immortal looked over at Strife hopefully. His eyes were wide with

mingled hope and fear. Fear that what he thought Strife was saying would all

be in his imagination.



“Tha people who he had hurt are all healed now. It took some doin, but Ace

and Apollo were able ta fix everybody. They don’t remembah their ordeal or

bein kidnapped or anythin. Ta them it’s like nothin evah happened.”



Strife carefully put an arm around Joxer’s shoulder and hugged him. The

young immortal watched the happy young woman and cried. Strife wiped his

friend’s face.



“Theah’s somebody else I want ya ta see.”



With a wave of his hand the image clouded up and then cleared again. This

time there was a young man standing there. He was outside, positioned in

front of an artist’s platform with a brush in his hand.



The man in question tilted his head from side to side and gestured to

someone just out of sight. After a moment, another man appeared. He was

taller than the artist and slender where the other man was softly rounded.

The two men laughed and gently kissed one another.



Joxer watched the tender scene for a little bit and then looked at Strife

questioningly. “That’s Jabben.” Strife answered the unasked question.



The immortal sucked in a surprised breath. He looked back at the image and

tried to see the tortured young man in it. It was hard to see. Jabben’s

hands weren’t bent and twisted now. He was just like Joxer had imagined, a

little rounded.



“Tha dead were given a new chance at life. Like the othahs, they don’t

remembah all they went through.” Strife gestured to the young man who was

pretending to be mad. The other man looked sorrowful and Jabben laughed at

his antics.



“That’s his lovah, Antonious. He was tortured taa.”



Strife cleared the image and the mirror returned to its normal self.

“Everybody gets a new chance.”



Joxer leaned against his friend and cried and cried. It was as if a dam had

broken and all the fear that he had been holding inside burst forth. Strife

gladly comforted his best friend, holding him as tightly as he dared.



“Thank you.” Joxer’s voice was muffled from where his face was buried in

Strife’s bony shoulder. “I know this was your idea.”



Strife smiled. “Ya’re welcome.”




Chapter 11



The three gods stepped through the portal, into the main room of the castle and looked around coolly at the frozen tableau. Their fierce expressions showed their disdain.



Well, not really.



Ares sort of lurched into the room, Strife stumbled in and Cupid, who had never been through the portal at all, fell in and down onto his knees. Cupid looked around the room in horror and then he then promptly threw up his breakfast.



All in all, not a very intimidating picture.



Luckily, for all concerned, the men who needed to be intimidated were still insensate. Strife waved his hand and cleaned up the floor and offered Cupid his help in standing.



The God of Love took his cousin’s proffered hand gratefully. The other god hauled him to his feet easily. Cupid looked over his skinny cousin interestedly. Who knew he was that strong.



“Alright.” Ares cleared his throat and glared around the room. “You know what to do.”



Cupid nodded as he took in the dismal room. The remnants of Joxer’s chair were scattered around. Cupid’s normally healthy and glowing tan faded to a milky brown as he thought of Joxer, sweet, innocent Joxer, being trapped here for four days. His eyes narrowed as he concentrated and found the men he was after.



“Yeah Dad, I do.”



“Strife?” Ares’ question wasn’t necessary and he knew it, after all, Strife was the one who thought up the plan for revenge in the first place.



Grinning wildly, Strife waved his arms around. “Yep. Let’s get ta it.”



Ares concentrated, his brow furrowing, and the castle came to life once more. The Questioners looked furtively for the wild man who had been carrying the blasphemer. They didn’t find anyone, the three gods in their midst were invisible, at least for a while.



The men began to frantically search for the Guards as well. They should have been here. It was their duty to protect the Questioners and the Torturers from the evil people that they were saving.



The main Questioner’s eyes widened as Lo-Ra’s energy reactivated and began sending little lightening bolts to his body. The man began to spin around wildly as he tried to dislodge whatever was attacking him, as his butt and crotch began to tingle…and not in a good way.



The rest of the Questioners looked on in horror, not knowing what to do. A high pitched screech echoed around the room, scaring the men even more.



Strife giggled. “I guess that Questioner has found tha rat I gave him as a present.”



Closing his eyes for a moment, Strife followed the shriek back to its owner. “Hmmm, well he doesn’t need that part ah his penis anyway.”



Cupid blinked at Strife and then gave his cousin a wicked smile. “Good one, Strife.”



Strife smiled back, for once finding an ally in his mischief.



====



The men were milling around like a herd of dumb beasts, their gleaming armor clanking loudly. (Not that dumb beasts have armor, but you know what I mean.) They were standing in the deepest, darkest, most dank dungeon imaginable.



Up, high up in the air, towards the ceiling, an intense glow began to form. The Guards immediately looked up and saw a bright cloud. In the middle of the cloud was a beautiful angel with snow white wings. The magnificent being floated down, his wings flapping majestically, until he landed softly on the ground in front of the awed men. The Guards immediately dropped to their knees and began genuflecting to the deity.



Cupid looked on quietly. His expression cold. The love god had listened to the cries from one of Joxer’s nightmares. He had intentionally mimicked the lie that the Guards had told about how the immortal had supposedly used magic to appear when he was first pulled into this realm.



He watched the men groveling at his feet and waited. Eventually the silence got to the Guards and they began to fidget. Still Cupid waited. His patience was rewarded when one of the men couldn’t stand it anymore.



“Oh bright angel.” He bowed. The other men bowed as well. “How may we serve you?”



“Serve me? You are a disservice to all who have decency.”



“What?” One of the Guards questioned Cupid. The man shrunk back in fear at the disgusted look the god gave him.



“Liars.” Cupid’s voice hissed out and sounded like a thousand snakes as it echoed through the vast chamber. “Blasphemers.”



The former man’s head jerked up at the first word. At the second accusation, all of the men shrank back in fear.



“I-I don’t…we would never…”



Cupid interrupted. “An innocent was sent here. You lied about him, causing him to be falsely imprisoned. You accused him of foul acts that precipitated his being tortured unmercifully. You even…” Cupid’s eyes were spitting fire. “…helped to molest him.”



His wings spread out behind him in a madly flapping frame. Cupid’s eyes had darkened to almost flinty black and his chest was heaving with suppressed rage. He leaned forward, almost lunging at the men, who gasped in fear.



“He was one of mine.”



The Guards paled. “An angel?”



Cupid didn’t answer. He didn’t lie, but he didn’t tell the truth either. In his opinion, Joxer was very nearly an angel. His goodness and inner light were like a beacon to everyone around him.



The men started babbling. Cupid ignored them and began to pace around the supine men.



“I can see in your minds that you have lied about others. More innocents.” Cupid turned and gave them a deadly look. “How many people have you sent to their death with your lies?”



He leaned over and grabbed up one of the Guards hands. “You are covered with their innocent blood. Blood you made less innocent with your molestations.” He tossed the man to one side.



Cupid strode back to where he was in front of the men again. The God of Love threw his head back and straightened up tall. It was Zeus’ typical haughty stare and on Cupid, it scared the Guards to death. Or so they wished.



“You have angered me and you have angered your God.” Cupid sent up a prayer to the god of this region. Again, he doubted that he was lying.



The Guards wanted to deny the charges, but they couldn’t. They falsely believed that Cupid could read their minds. If they had been in Greece, Cupid would have been better able to know what they were thinking, if they had been contemplating love. But in another pantheon and in another godhood, Cupid was just guessing at what they had done. Based on Joxer’s experience, he knew it wouldn’t be far off the truth.



“Hear me, ye faithless servants. Your actions are a crime against humanity.” Cupid looked down at the cowering men disdainfully. “You have desecrated the name of Christianity and so, in His name, you shall be punished.”



With an imperious wave of his hand, the room emptied. Cupid sent the men back in time.

He concentrated and could hear their screams of horror as they realized where and when they were.



The men who had lived solely with the supposed purpose of spreading Christianity, were about to be crucified for their beliefs. Nazareth at the beginning of the millennium was not a good place for followers of Jesus Christ’s to be.



====



Joxer huddled in the corner of the bedroom. He was shivering from the cold he felt, both from the chilliness of the room and the arctic cold in his heart.



The young immortal whimpered and tried to wrap his arms around himself. They wouldn’t move very well and ended up lying limply at his sides. Joxer cried out as his bandaged knees protested any and all movement.



He lay down on the floor and started to sob. Joxer wasn’t sure where he was. He *thought* he was back home, but he couldn’t be sure. Home was warm. Home was where Ares was. It was cold here and Ares was gone.



“Joxie?”



The injured man yelped and squinched his eyes tight. No Ares. That meant they were going to hurt him again.



“Oh Joxie, it’s alright.”



Aphrodite knelt down beside her young friend. She ran one hand over his hair and wanted to cry herself when Joxer jerked away in fright.



“Shhhh, its okay sweetie. You’re safe here.”



Joxer decided to trust the sweet voice and opened his eyes. “Dite?” His voice was tremulous.



“Yeah, I’m here.” She kept petting his head. The motions soon soothed the troubled young man. “What happened?”



“I-I don’t…” Joxer thought a moment, trying to remember. “I had a bad dream.”



“Oh sweetie…” Dite had tears in her eyes as she pulled the young immortal close. Joxer buried his face in the delicate pink froth that was the goddesses gown.



“Where’s Ares?”



“Making sure you’re safe. He’ll be back real soon.”



“Okay.”



“Come on, stud muffin, let’s get you back to bed.”



Aphrodite waved her hand and Joxer began to float. The immortal gasped in terror and tried to clutch the goddesses arm.



“Shhhh, I’m just using my powers, because I can’t carry you.”



Dite kept reassuring Joxer, as she settled him back in the bed. Only when he was once again, safely under the covers, did Joxer relax.



Brushing back some of Joxer’s unruly hair, Aphrodite kissed his too warm brow. “You’re safe here Joxie. We won’t let anyone hurt you.”



“okay.” Joxer trembled and his voice shook with him. “am i really here?”



Her heart broke as the love goddess heard the fear and uncertainty in Joxer’s voice. The young immortal was fearless or at least he always pretended to be. It was disheartening to see how shattered his spirit was.



“Yes, you’re really here.”



Looking around uncertainly, Joxer frowned. Then he looked up at his friend and a tiny smile flitted across his lips.



“Okay…I trust you.”



Settling back in the bed, Joxer slid back into sleep. Aphrodite sat with him to keep the monsters away.


Chapter 12



Flash.



“Aphrodite?” Apollo kept his voice deliberately quiet, so as not to disturb the sleeping man. “You called?”



“Yeah, ‘Pol. Joxie’s hot again.”



The God of Medicine didn’t leer or make a lewd comment at Dite’s statement. That in itself showed how serious the situation was.



Apollo placed a hand on Joxer’s forehead and heard the young immortal whimper. “Yeah, his fever’s gone up again. Damn.”



Pulling back the covers, the god exposed Joxer’s left leg. With a flick of Apollo’s fingers, the bandage that covered the lower part of his leg disappeared. The long, ragged cut was mostly healed, but the skin around it was red and swollen.



“Crap, the infection’s coming back.”



“I don’t understand.” Dite magicked up a wet cloth and began to wipe Joxer’s forehead. The young man sighed at the cool relief. “Why is this wound so hard to heal?”



Exhaling softly, Apollo pulled a bottle of medicine out of the air. He carefully began to smear it on the wound. Joxer twitched at first, but then relaxed as the balm began to numb his leg.



“Joxer’s got so many wounds and was so worn down from what those animals did to him that his body has no resistance left.” Apollo lowered his voice, Aphrodite obligingly moved closer. “If he were still a mortal, he would have died long before now.”



Aphrodite nodded and her lips trembled as she took in the fragile life in front of her. Apollo replaced the bandage on his young charge’s leg and then sent as much healing energy as he could into Joxer’s body. Dite took hold of Apollo’s arm and added some of her energy as well. Their efforts were rewarded as a little of the flushed look faded from Joxer’s face.



Smiling sweetly, Joxer relaxed and said with an almost inaudible sigh, “ares.”



====



The air in the castle seemed heavier. Those who were left, felt something when the Guards were sent to their punishment. Now, everything was wrong and they didn’t quite know what to do.



Crack!



The Questioners jumped looked around fearfully, not knowing who or what had caused that terrible loud noise. Their fear was fulfilled when they saw the young man reclining on the conference table.



He was long and thin, all angles and sharp lines. His body was dressed totally in black. The unusual clothing looked dangerous, with sharp, pointy objects attached to it. Black hair stuck out at all angles and his pale, pale blue eyes glinted dangerously.



“Hello, theah.”



Strife smiled and then giggled manically. He propped his head up on one hand as he stretched out on his side facing them.



Several of the Questioners slipped back along the wall and began to frantically try and open the door. “Wheah are ya goin?”



The God of Mischief waved his free hand negligently and the door disappeared. The men in question dropped to the ground and started praying…loudly. “Now, don’t be like that. We’re just gettin ta know one anothah.”



The main Questioner, who had finally gotten rid of Lo-Ra’s magic sparks, was feeling better and decided to take control of the situation. He strode up to stand beside the table and glared at Strife.



“Who are you…sir?” He sneered at the pale, skinny young man.



Strife raised one eyebrow at the temerity of the idiotic mortal. “Why, I’m tha one that’s gonna give ya all yar reward.”



The man stepped back a pace when Strife sat up on the side of the table. “Wh-what do you mean?”



“Welllll, ya’ve been such a help ta me, I thought I’d give a prize ta ya.”



“And how have we helped you?”



The men looked at each other uneasily. None of them liked the idea that they might be indebted to this…this person.



Strife ran a hand over his hair, tamping it down a little. The men gasped when they saw that, nestled among the ebony spikes…were two little horns.



“Why, ya’ve been workin fah me.” Strife stood up. A long, forked tail swished out behind him. “Didn’t ya know that?” He seemed truly puzzled.



Several men screamed at the sight and two or three fainted.



“You’re the Devil.” The main Questioner said in horror.



The god just smiled. It was a wicked smile. He turned and began to stride up and down on the table. The tail twitched and swung around, almost hitting one man in the face. The man in question lost control of his bladder.



“I don’t know what I woulda done without ya.” Strife smiled at the men who were now as far away from him as they could be. “Ya’ve destroyed sa many innocent people, sa many pure souls, that ya’ve made mah job positively easy.”



“no.”



It was said in horror and the word echoed around the room several times.



“Oh, yes.”



Strife jumped off of the table. Pain radiated up and down Strife’s back as he was jarred all over. He would have fallen if determination to see the almost destroyers of Joxer’s soul punished. The scowl on his face worried the Questioners even more.



“NO!” The main Questioner seemed to be made of sterner stuff than the rest of his men and he pushed himself forward. “No, we were doing God’s work.”



The young god threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, oh that’s a good one.” He snickered and then sobered as he looked around the room. “Do ya really believe that?” He shook his head. “Mah’s tha pity.”



He reached a hand out and with one finger lifted the leader off the floor. “Ya stupid, stupid fool. I’m yar god.” He threw the man across the room.



Strife snapped his fingers and used his powers to push against the air. To the men in the room, it appeared as if Strife were floating. He levitated himself back onto the table, realizing that the higher vantage point made him look more imposing.



“As a reward…” He smiled at the group at large. “…fah services rendered, ya get ta go wheahevah ya think ya should. Fah yar eternal rest.”



With an impressive wave of his arms, the men disappeared.



The God of Mischief closed his eyes and concentrated. “Oh dear, ya boys have been bad, haven’t ya.”



Thinking that they had been in service to the Devil for all this time (and hadn’t they really), the Questioners expected to go to Hell. And so they did.



Screams reverberated through Strife’s mind as each person immersed themselves in their version of Hell. Some were in a boiling lake. Others were being tormented by demons. Still others were tortured by the faces of the people they had wronged.



Strife nodded. His face was serious and sad. “They’ve made their own punishment.”



He flashed out to find Cupid.



====



“Joxer.”



Apollo spoke quietly, not wanting to wake the young immortal if he were still sleeping. Joxer opened his eyes and slowly focused on the God of Healing.



“Yes?”



“It’s time to give you another treatment.”



The god sat down easily on the bed. He was careful not to jar the young man and cause him more pain and he was even more cautious not to upset him. The earlier treatments seemed to have helped, but Joxer was still very injured and dangerously weak.



Joxer didn’t know it, really few gods did, but immortals could be injured to the point where they faded away. Not literally fade away, no, worse than that, they would sink deep into themselves and just leave the shell of a body behind.



Apollo was determined that Joxer would not fall to that fate.



“Okay.”


It was almost as if the immortal had read Apollo’s mind and that frightened the god for a moment. Then he realized that Joxer was agreeing to another treatment and he blew out a breath of relief.



The young man blushed when Apollo took his hands in his. The medicine god didn’t say anything, he just began to carefully siphon off some of the sickness and replace it with healing strength. It was a slow process, one that temporarily left Joxer even weaker than before. But when the young man woke up, he would be farther on the way to recovery.



Apollo saw that Joxer was looking at a scrying mirror and angled his head to look at the polished surface better. Joxer was smiling at the image and Apollo wondered who the young artist was.





Fic: Heads I Lose, Tails I Lose
Author: Kerensa
E-mail: vkevans@yahoo.com
Feedback: pretty please
Rating: NC-17, for violence
Fandom: Xena/Hercules
Pairing: Ares/Joxer, preslash Cupid/Strife
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these pretty boys and I’m certainly not making any money on this.
Warning: Torture, extreme descriptions of torture and rape. Murder, not of a main character.
Status: WIP
Series: Children At Play, This is a prequel to Overheard Conversations
Archive: Yes, to AJCS, Beyond Cannon, Lone Tree and Make Believe; anywhere else, just ask
Website: No
Notes: This is in response to a challenge on AJCS. The challenge was to bring the Spanish Inquisition to Greece. There was to be no Twilight of the Gods, so all the Greek gods are still alive. Joxer was to be tortured until Ares finds him. Then Cupid is to punish the guards who hurt Joxer, Strife is to punish the people who questioned him and Ares is to punish the people who tortured him.

Chapter 13

The doors to the torture chamber were blown off their hinges. The Torturers screamed and jumped back in fright. The men in question had been cringing in the corner, huddled together like frightened children. The Torturers had heard the terrified screams from another part of the castle and were scared to death. Some of the men pushed at their friends and co-workers, hoping to get in the middle of the group and therefore not be as noticeable as the ones in the forefront. Since their confronter was a god, this really didn't matter, but they had no way of knowing that...yet.

Ares walked in the hole where the door used to be, his face darkened with wrath and utter loathing. His dark eyes surveyed the men who were cowering on the floor, with disgust.

Looking around at the various implements of torture, Ares had a hard time containing himself. His hands flexed and the black leather of his shirt creaked ominously as his body clenched up in anger. He wanted so desperately to blast these vermin to Tartarus for what they had done to Joxer and all the hundreds or possibly even thousands of victims over the years.

Growling at the men, he turned and actually had his hands raised to do so when a quiet voice stopped him.

“Unc.”

Ares looked over to where a wide eyed Cupid and a compassionate Strife were standing. The two gods had a slight shimmer around them, indicating that they were invisible to all but other gods.

“Don’t, Unc.” Strife walked towards his homicidal uncle, despite Cupid’s frantic efforts to stop him. “Don’t let them get away with it that easily.”

Strife’s words penetrated the red haze that was surrounding Ares’ brain. He tossed the fireball he had summoned up, into the far wall. The explosion made the Torturers scream again.

After giving a nod of thanks to his nephew, Ares turned back to the men on the floor. “Even one’s as stupid as you are can probably tell that I’m a god. The God of War, as a matter of fact.”

One of the Torturers made the mistake of moving at that moment and caught Ares’ eye. The large god grabbed the man by the front of his robe and hauled him to his feet. So, perhaps being in the middle of the cowering crowd was beneficial after all.

“That’s right, gods are real. I’m real. And that young man you seemed to take such delight in torturing…is my lover.”

As he said lover, Ares threw the man into a pile of other Torturers. The men were all knocked over. They were smart enough not to move.

“It took me a while, but I’ve come up with the perfect punishment for all of you.” He paused and looked them over with a sneer. “I thought about killing you, but what’s the fun in that?”

The god paced to the other side of the room. He stopped in front of the rack and laid one hand on the dark stain he knew to be Joxer’s blood.

“I thought about turning the poor people that you’ve hurt, lose on you.” Gasps had Ares turning around. His eyes were unfocussed; he could almost feel the agony that Joxer must have gone through. “But then that would make them like you and I wouldn’t do that to anybody.”

Ares looked over at Strife and the two shared a brief, wicked smile. “So, I’ve decided you will punish each other.”

The Torturers looked at each other, not understanding. Cupid had a similarly questioning look on his face.

“You animals are going to be let loose…inside this castle.” He grinned at the first hopeful and then fearful looks on their faces. “Every day, you will run free…and run you will, because the object of this little game is to not get caught. And who will be chasing you? Why, each other, of course.”

Ares paused and let them think about that for a moment. He could still see incomprehension on their faces, so he went on. “The ones who are caught will be tortured by the ones who catch them.”

That got their attention and Ares watched happily as, one by one, they blanched and looked at each other in horror. They knew what their colleagues were capable of and it terrified them.

“Just to make things interesting, whatever you do to somebody tonight, can’t be done to you tomorrow. So, if you catch someone,” he pointed to one heavyset man, “be as nasty and brutal as you can. That way when you are caught tomorrow night, that particular torture can’t be done to you.”

Ares looked around at some of the nastier things on the wall and winced in mock sympathy. “You won’t live like this forever.” The men were shivering in fear and didn’t seem very comforted by that statement. “No, just until you have been tortured as much as you did all of the prisoners you had here.”

One man gasped in horror and clutched at his chest as his heart seemed to be being gripped in a tight hold. Ares waved his hand and the man’s heart settled back down.

“Don’t worry,” Ares purred. “You are all in excellent health now.” He leaned down in the man’s face and hissed, “So, how many times did you use the rack on poor devils?”

The Torturer’s eyes widened as he began to calculate. He looked at the wooden table behind Ares and began to cry.

“That’s what I thought.” Ares straightened up and walked over to stand by his invisible family. He knew that if he stayed by the other men, he wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to rend them in two.

“After everybody has been tortured, no matter how long it takes, then you will be allowed to die.” Ares tapped a finger against his chin in contemplation. “I think the castle will fill up with water. Yes, drowning seems the way to go.”

The men had been begging for quite a while now. Ares ignored them, just like they had ignored their victims for so long. “Of course, there is the matter of food and water. You won’t have any.” Ares smiled at the even louder whimpers. It wasn’t a happy smile, because he could see Joxer begging for water.

“You will be thirsty and hungry, but there is no food in the castle. You won’t die from the lack, but you will be miserable. After you die, your god will sort you out. That should be interesting don’t you think?”

It was strangely quiet now. The men realized that begging and crying would get them nowhere.

Ares waved a hand. “Oh, and don’t think your leader, Torquemada, is getting away with anything.” A dirty wall shimmered and cleared. Screams poured out of the hidden room and made the men cringe. There was the lead Torturer of all of Spain. He was being tortured in several different ways at once.

“He won’t have any down time,” Ares said quietly. “His torture will be unrelieved until he has been punished for all his crimes.” The man writhed and tugged at his bonds as his fingers were broken, one by one, by an invisible force. This was while he was being whipped and, from the size of his stomach, the water torture had just been done. “He’ll be here long after you all are sent to Hell.”

Ares waved a hand and Torquemada disappeared from sight. He snapped his fingers and the torches on the walls dimmed and the shadows lengthened. “You better hurry, the chase is on.”

It took the Torturers a few moments to realize they needed to hide, but as soon as they did they hurried out of the room and scattered into the hallways. One man, not quite as quick as his fellows, was immediately grabbed by a good friend. He was drug, kicking and screaming, into the room with the strappedo.

The three solemn gods flashed out. Ares sealed the castle and the only way any of the men inside would ever leave was when they died, *many* years from now.

====

Joxer’s soft snores were a welcome relief to the horrors that Ares had just seen and heard. Knowing that all those men deserved the punishment they were receiving eased the burden, but left an ache nonetheless.

Asclepius quietly got up from the chair he’d been watching Joxer from and set the jar of healing salve on the bedside table. He gestured and Ares reluctantly followed him out into the hallway. The war god didn't want to leave his lover after being parted all day.

“He’s doing much better,” Ace said in his gentle and soothing voice. His personality was just the opposite of his brash and fun loving father. Asclepius was quiet and serious and his presence engendered a feeling of calm.

Ares shot a quick look into the room behind them. “He is?” There was so much hope and fear in those two words that Ace patted the larger god’s arm sadly.

“Yes. He had a hard time earlier. The infection in his leg worsened and his fever shot up, but dad and Aphrodite were able to give him some extra energy and he’s doing better.” Ace looked back at Joxer and sighed. “He had a nightmare and fell out of bed though.”

The God of War wanted to blast something. Joxer had been alone and scared. Ares had promised his mate that he wouldn't be alone and he had.

Ace patted the larger god on the shoulder. It was easy to see how guilty Ares felt. "Aphrodite was here when he had the bad dream and then dad came to help with the fever." Asclepius waited for that to sink in and then he continued. "See, he wasn't alone."

Ares let his nephew comfort him, even though he felt he didn't deserve it. In his heart, Ares knew that he had failed his lover. First, by upsetting the immortal so he went down to the mortal plane by himself. Secondly, by making Lo-Ra hate him so much that he waited for all these years, just to take it out on his lover. And finally, he didn't go looking for his lover when he just *knew* that something was wrong.

It wasn't very often that the God of War had intuitive feelings, but when Joxer had been attacked he had realized something was happening and hadn't acted on it. Ares paused for a moment, remembering a few other times that he had had similar feelings and wondered uneasily what other *rescues* he had missed.

"He'll be alright," Asclepius said quietly.

"Do you really think so?" Ares said disbelievingly. "You've seen how shattered he is."

"Yes, I have, but..." Ace seemed to be struggling with himself. He took a deep breath and braced himself. "I've seen people hurt worse, physically and mentally, that have come back from it."

Ares looked over and looked the younger god in the eye. Seeing the sincerity there, he nodded once and walked back into the bedroom. He carefully lay down on the bed and distantly heard the door shutting behind the healing god. Joxer tried to roll toward Ares and the god placed a warm hand on Joxer's slender hip and helped him move closer.

"I'll protect you, Angel. That is a solemn oath from me to you. I will not let this sort of thing happen to you ever again."

Joxer smiled in his sleep and snuggled closer to his love. One, slightly bigger nose, tucked itself into the side of Ares' neck. Ares wrapped his very muscled arms around Joxer's thin back and held him safe.

====

Strife jumped up with a gasp. He scrambled on his hands and knees until he managed to stand somewhat upright and stagger over against the wall. There was an ominous groan when his super thin body banged against the rickety structure. Strife's *temple* creaked and shifted to one side. The God of Mischief waved his hand without thought and used his godly powers to set the building upright again.

He panted and looked around in wild eyed terror as his mind placed the nightmare back where it belonged. "I'm fine. I'm fine!" he yelled. The walls shuddered at the sound. "He's not heah and He hasn't been in ovah 37 years."

The mischief god closed his eyes and took several panting breaths. His heart felt like it was going to pound its way out of his chest. He wished there was someone he could talk to about the memories that Joxer's imprisonment and torture had stirred up, but he couldn't. The one and only time he approached anyone had been when he tried to get help from his mother.

Eris had blasted him and told him to "get the Tartarus out of my temple". Strife didn't know what had possessed him to approach Discord in the first place. It had been after Tryst had actually raped him for the first time and Strife had been alone and desperate. He was afraid to tell Ares, because Tryst had threatened him.

"Unc is big, but Tryst is a lot bigger and what with tha Hephestian metal he likes ta carry around..." Strife shuddered in fear at the thought of what Tryst would do to his uncle, just to punish Strife.

Strife shook his head and forced himself to walk over to his *offering table*. The two pieces of badly splintered and worn wood were being supported by an uneven pair of chipped rocks. Strife sat down on the only piece of furniture in the whole temple and sighed.

"It's not like Discord evah gave a damn about me anyway. She would have probably liked it if I'd have died by Tryst's hand."

Strife flinched and glanced around uneasily. Saying Tryst's name terrified him. It seemed to invoke some sort of curse, because whenever Tryst’s name was used it usually caused the giant god to appear. Not this time though and Strife relaxed.

"Tartarus, she'd be glad ta see tha back ah me. I'm just a painful reminder ah whatevah indiscretion she had with whoevah tha crap she slept with." Strife didn't know who his father was. Eris wouldn't tell and if his father knew, he was keeping it secret as well.

The mischief god walked over to the southside wall and looked up the hill at Ares' temple. "Enough ah this pity party. I hope Joxah's doin bettah. He's such a sweet guy and sure as Tartarus doesn't deserve what's happened to him."

Strife laid back down on his *bed* and tried to ignore the cold night air blowing by his head. He pulled up the crazy quilt blanket that one of his more insane followers had made for him. It was really long on one side and short on the other. The young woman had taken several worn out blankets and cobbled them together as an offering for her god. Strife could have magicked up a different covering, but he never knew when the follower would wander in and it upset her to see him using anything else.

The sad god closed his eyes and this time, his dreams were filled with Cupid. Him laughing at a joke that Strife had made. Cupid looking at Joxer so sympathetically. The love god playing with his son so tenderly.

In Strife's dreams he was happy.




Chapter 14

Joxer was walking down the hallway. Actually, it was less walking and more hiding in plain sight. The young immortal was hugging the wall and creeping slowly along. There was no talking, no singing…nothing. It was sadly quiet in Ares’ temple, not lively like it had been since the young man had come there to live.

There was a bright flash of blue light. “Hi, Joxer.”

The young man in question screamed in fright and dropped to the ground. He lay there trembling, crouched with his arms over his head, protecting himself, and whimpered in absolute terror.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Please don’t hurt me.” Joxer sobbed.

Cupid was appalled. He hadn’t meant to frighten the young immortal. Indeed, he hadn’t expected the other man to even be out of his room. In the two months since Joxer was rescued from that Tartaruslike place, this was the first time Cupid had seen him anywhere other than his and Ares' bedroom.

'And I scared the crap out of him,' Cupid thought as he internally beat himself up.

“Oh, gods.” Cupid squatted down and winced as Joxer whimpered. “It’s okay, Joxer, it’s just me…Cupid.”

Joxer slowly lowered his arms and peered up at the love god. His lips were trembling and big, brown eyes were wide with fright. He glanced around the hallway, as if searching for his tormentors.

“I-I’m sorry.” He said again. Joxer’s eyes darted around the hallway in fright.

“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Cupid was using his *father* voice, the same one that he used when his small son, Bliss, had a nightmare. His voice was calm, the tone soothing. It worked and soon Joxer had calmed down enough that he let Cupid sit down beside him.

“So…” Cupid desperately tried to fill the deafening silence. He thought and thought, trying to come up with something that wouldn’t upset Joxer any further. The love god wanted to make it seem like the two of them sitting on the floor in the hallway was a normal, everyday occurance and not something pathetic.+ “You’re out of your room, that’s good.”

Joxer swallowed hard and nodded, but didn't say anything. He couldn’t seem to talk nowadays, something that Gabrielle would have been happy about when he was traveling with her and Xena a few years ago.

"How are you feeling?"

The warrior smiled at that question and Cupid figured he'd been asked that *a lot* in the last few months. "Pretty good. Everything works okay." He carefully sat up and flexed an arm to demonstrate and straightened his legs to show how well his knees worked. "I'm just a little...s-s-skittish." Joxer gave a wobbly smile to the blond god who had a hard time smiling back. It was positively painful to see how subdued the normally so vocal young man was.

"Are we havin a party heah?" There was another flash. This one was a brilliantly glowing, nauseatingly bright green with orange polka dots in it. The dots bounced around like balls for a few seconds after the flash.

Joxer actually giggled and Cupid just barely managed not to cheer at the sound. "Yes, it is," Cupid said seriously and then he laughed too.

"Great!" Strife leaned against the wall and then slid down to sit on the other side of the slender young immortal.

Cupid frowned and wondered why Strife did it that way. He decided that it must be *cool* to slide down like that. He didn't know that Strife's back and hips were really hurting today and that was the only way he was going to be able to sit down. All Cupid did know was that he wished Strife had sat down beside him instead.

Strife waved his hand and a tray appeared in front of him. The mischief god handed Joxer and Cupid a mug of drink each and picked up a plate covered with all sorts of goodies. "Ya want a snack?"

Joxer looked at the drink in his hand, the plate of treats, and the other two men sitting in the middle of the hallway floor, having a mini-party and started laughing. "Sure," he said when he stopped to breathe. For some unknown reason, that was funny to him, and he started laughing again. That started Cupid laughing and Strife giggling.

Heads peeked out of side halls and dining rooms. Word soon spread that Joxer was having a good time and people relaxed a little. Maybe their god's consort was coming back to himself. Everyone hoped so, because life had been so sad and definitely much more boring without his bright and lively personality.

====

"Please take your seats. This hearing will now come to order." The sonorous voice echoed through the large meeting room.

All of the spectators, deities and mortal alike took their seats. It wasn't very often that a god was tried for his crimes, let alone found guilty. Most of their shenanigans weren't even seen as crimes, but as their godly rights. However, Lo-Ra, already in trouble all those years ago, had been found guilty for crimes against Ares, Joxer and all the people he'd had tortured over the years.

Sitting in the front tier of the seating, was Ares, God of War. He could hear the whisperings around him. People were wondering what Lo-Ra's punishment would be and what Ares' reaction would be if it wasn't as severe as he wanted.

Ares wasn't sure what he would do if the Egyptian gods wanted to show leniency towards the former god of war. He hadn't even wanted to bother with a trial, but had to agree to the other pantheon's decision. Ares knew that he would have to keep agreeing, no matter what they decided. Greece didn't want a war with Egypt.

Lo-Ra was led in, in chains. The chains were impressive; large and heavy. They wrapped around his wrists and arms several times and there was even a set of manacles tethering his legs together. The size of the chains didn't matter, they had curses to bind him magically inscribed into the metal. The look was purely cosmetic, to show the mortals, other gods and Ares that they were serious about Lo-Ra's crimes.

The Egyptian god glared at his nemesis and smirked. Ares felt his blood beginning to boil. He figured that the other god was gloating over how much he had hurt Joxer and thereby, Ares. The war god's hand twitched; he wanted to peel the skin from Lo-Ra's body...slowly, dip him in a pit of salt, set fire to his tongue as he screamed, pull his body apart, digit by digit, beat his torso until the bones were mush, pluck out his eyes...no, crush his eyes and *then* pull them from their sockets. And when there was just a broken trunk left, he wanted to heal the former god and start all over again.

Ares turned his attention back to the front of the room, the tribunal was about to start. The god had no great hopes about this trial. There really wasn't much that they could do to Lo-Ra to sufficiently punish him for all the agony he had caused. Ares just hoped that he was punished in some way approximating the horror he had caused.

There was an empty spot in the middle of the chamber. It had been left deliberately open, because it was supposed to represent the will of Ra and show the head god's support of the trial. In all the long days of the trial it had stayed empty, but now a small spark of light appeared in the center of the open area and began to grow. Very soon the whole room was lit up and it was so bright that even the gods had to close their eyes. When they opened them, Ra, the King of the Egyptian Gods, was standing there in his gold robed glory.

Several people gasped and even Ares was impressed. It was very rare to see Ra, he usually let the other gods see to the running of the pantheon. The Greek God of War just hoped this wasn’t a sign of leniency towards Lo-Ra. Everyone bowed to the main god and only took their seats again after he had sat down on a magnificent throne. The chair appeared as he was being seated and the audience gasped when it looked like Ra was going to fall down on the ground.

There was a hushed expectancy as the head of the tribunal stood. "Lo-Ra, former God of War, stand up." The red headed god rose and flicked a nervous look over at Ra, who gave him a sad, but steady look back.

"We are here to pass sentence on you today. All in attendance, please take note that this judgment will be final and binding. There will be no chance for appeals. Lo-Ra, you are sentenced to eternal and forever death."

Ares blinked in stunned surprise and looked at the other gods. Some were as startled as Ares, others seemed resigned to the fiery god's fate. Lo-Ra played with the links on his chains, as if he weren't being discussed at all. It was then that Ares realized that his nemesis was truly and utterly insane.

The speaker continued, his voice deepened and the dark brown eyes that were so prevelant in Egyptian people, began to glow an otherworldly golden color. The other gods in the room, excepting Ares who wasn't from their pantheon, got faraway looks in their eyes. They were all adding their support to the coming event. The one man whose voice was to suffice for all, raised his hands in supplication. His words began to ressonate around the room and out into the kingdom where all could hear it.

“Thy Soul shall be dived into a 1,000 pieces and 1,000 pieces more. Then each piece of thy soul shall feel the pain the surfing thou has cursed onto others. One by one each piece will relive the nightmare of thy own doing and one by one each piece of thy soul shall die from this pain, until there is no more of your soul. You shall no longer exist in this world or any other. And if it was up to me, I would bring your soul back from the Darkness, so I could watch you relive this nightmare a 1,000 times more.”*

His voice faded and everyone turned to stare at Lo-Ra. The doomed god seemed stunned, too stunned to say anything. Ra waved his hand regally and Lo-Ra began to glow, a dark black color and then started to shimmer. Finally, Lo-Ra found his voice as his body separated into a 1,000 screaming pieces and disappeared.

====

Ares flashed back into his and Joxer's temple unnoticed. He needed a few moments to collect himself before facing anyone else. It wasn't every day that a god died, and it had shaken the war god. The sentence was no less than the other god deserved because of all the horror he had purpotrated, but he had been a friend to Ares at one time and now he was gone entirely.

'Zeus!' Ares thought in horror. 'What's Joxer going to think when he finds out that Lo-Ra has been anniahlated?'

Laughter wafted out of the semi-closed door. Ares realized that it was Joxer's laughter and he was drawn to the precious, and almost lost, sound like a moth to a campfire. He peeked around the door opening and saw Joxer, Strife and Cupid sitting in the main meeting room. It was like a family room when there were no important events planned.

'He's out of the bedroom!' Ares thought and he had to bite his lips in order not to cheer. 'My love is getting better.'

The God of War looked in at his precious lover and knew that the knowledge of what had happened to Lo-Ra would send him scurrying back into hiding, so Ares decided not to tell him. It was possible that Joxer would find out eventually, what with Hermes' loud mouth, but that could be dealt with when the young immortal was stronger.

Ares pushed the door open and was pleased to see that Joxer wasn't frightened by the intrusion. On the contrary, he seemed relaxed and happy for the first time since the kidnapping. Joxer raced over and grabbed his lover in a hug.

"Ares! I'm so glad you're home. Did you get everything straightened up? Or can I ask that? I know that the work of the gods is sometimes just for the gods and I don't want you to get in trouble." Joxer took and deep breath and was off again. "Bliss is trying to fly! It is the cutest thing I've ever seen. Come on, grandpa!" Joxer grinned irrepressively and tugged on the bigger man's arm. "You've got to see!"

The war god allowed himself to be drug into the room. He shared a happy look with his son and nephew. The babble was back! That, more than anything else, showed how on the mend the warrior was.

====

Cupid leaned back in his chair and was silently thankful he was a god. After eating that big of a meal he would have been exploding at the seams if he had been a mortal.

The god glanced around the room and grinned. Joxer was talking fast and furiously. The self imposed silence that the immortal had been under had been lifted and Joxer seemed to be making up for lost time. No one minded though, they were all glad to see the young man back to himself. Well, almost back anyway. There were still signs of the strain around the mouth and his eyes had a slightly haunted look to them, but he was getting there.

His renewed enthusiasm was infectious though. Bliss was so hyped up that Cupid was having a hard time keeping him in his specially made chair. The chair had been created so that the little boy could sit at the table with the grown ups. It sat him up high enough so that he was on the same level as everybody else. Joxer had carved the chair for Bliss several months ago.

Bliss' snow white wings were fluttering in excitement as he giggled along with Strife. Even as Cupid watched the dark haired god leaned over and whispered something to the godling that, amazingly enough, settled the little boy down. Cupid's mouth fell open in surprise.

"How did you do that?" he demanded quietly.

Strife giggled and leaned around the little god who was quietly eating his vegetables. "I promised ta let him paint latah if he'd eat like a good little boy."

Cupid felt a flush start from his ear where Strife's warm breath had caressed him and spread down his body. He swallowed hard and smiled back at the pale god. "Th-that's great. Are you going to clean it up?"

The mischief god laughed. "It's a special kind ah paint called watah colors; it doesn't make a mess."

Strife seemed to realize how close he was to the love god and sat up abruptly. Cupid mourned the loss of closeness and started to reach for the other god, but stopped himself just in time.

'Soon,' he promised himself. 'Very soon.'




Chapter 15

“Ya know,” Strife drawled out slowly, “we should get outta heah fah a little while.” The mischief god saw his friend pale at the idea and in a nonchalant manner gave a small wave at the windows. “Inta tha garden, because I don’t know about ya, but I could use some sun.”

Joxer gave the window a nervous glance. (Well…you know, not really the window, because why would a window bother him. It’s what’s *outside* the window, because otherwise that’d just be weird. Ahem…sorry.)

Strife pretended not to notice how jittery the immortal was at the thought of leaving the relative safety of the temple. Luckily for Joxer’s current state of mind, he didn’t realize how unsecure his and Ares’ home really was. The god gave a small shudder as he remembered…

“I-I don’t think you need any sun.”

Strife turned his head slowly and looked at his friend incredulously, then he looked down at one *very* pale hand, at least what you could see of it, and shook his head and smiled. “Joxah…I’m sa pale they named a new shade ah white aftah me.”

Joxer burst out laughing at that witticism. “Wellllll…”

The God of Mischief put his hands on his hips in mock indignation. “Heyyyy, ya’re supposed ta deny it.”

With a grin and a shrug, Joxer said, “Have to face the facts.”

This time Strife laughed and wrapped an arm around Joxer’s super thin shoulders. “Sa, what da ya say, ya feel up ta a stroll in tha gardens?”

Joxer reluctantly let himself be led over to the door. “I don’t know…I g-guess that would be okay.” He glanced around, obviously looking for a way out of the istuation.

“If ya’re not sure, we don’t hafta go.” Strife stopped walking and rubbed a leather clad hand over his chin. “I’m sure ya’re flowers will be fine…tha ones that have survived that is…”

“My flowers!” Joxer hurried forward and flung open the door. Without any hesitation, the young immortal raced out into the bright day. His mind was off the fear that had been so much a part of his life the last several months and on the plants that he had been cultivating and breeding for several *years*.

“I had a feelin that’d get ya movin again,” Strife whispered, his eyes sparkling a brighter shade of blue with the unshed tears. “Like Unc would evah let anythin happen ta yar garden.”

====

3 months later

Strife leaned negligently against the wall and gave his friend the saddest look he could summon up. ‘And that’s pretty sad,’ Joxer decided. The immortal knew he was being played, but he decided that the time was right.

“Oh…alright,” Joxer said with a sigh.

The mischief god brightened at Joxer's capitulation and straightened up quickly from his slouch. Joxer blinked in momentary surprise. It was always a shock to realize how tall Strife really was. The God of Mischief either slouched or cringed most of the time and gave off the impression of being much shorter instead of the tall man that he was.

And, of course, anyone standing next to Ares was bound to look small in comparison. What with his lover being so tall, with those broad shoulders and massive arms that could...

“Yea! Come on, let’s go.” He grabbed hold of Joxer’s arm and began to tug and pull, dragging Joxer down the marble hallway.

“What? Right now?” Joxer felt his heart fluttering in his throat as panic began to build.

“Oh yeah, right now, before ya can change yar mind.” The mischief god could feel how frightened his friend was, but he was determined to help Joxer get over his ordeal. So far things had been going well. Joxer roamed all over his and Ares’ temple and had ventured out into the garden, but no further. Strife planned to remedy that situation…today.

Strife hollered with his mind for reinforcements...and support, ‘Unc, Cupe, he said yes.’

A quick, double flash heralded the arrival of the aforementioned gods. Ares slid an arm around Joxer’s waist and Strife felt he could let go. He moved back a pace and stood by Cupid instead.

Things were progressing with Cupid and Strife as well. They had been…dating. Well, sort of. Okay, okay, Strife ate dinner with him and Bliss sometimes. But it was a start!

The blond god and the dark haired one waited and watched anxiously as Joxer hesitated on the threshold of the temple. It had literally been months since that ill fated trip of his and, even though he was completely healed physically, Joxer still startled easily.

With Ares' firm grasp around his waist and his two friends behind him, Joxer stepped out into the rest of Olympus for the first time in almost six months.

=====

Ares kept a close, but stealthy, eye on Joxer. This excursion had been a success, so far, and the war god didn’t want anything to spoil it. Several gods and goddesses had come up, supposedly to say hello to them all, but it was obvious that they had ventured forth to help ease Joxer's reentry into Olympian society.

*BOOM*

Joxer and Strife *both* dropped to the ground with a scream. Joxer was crouched down on his knees and trembling like a leaf in a storm, while Strife was rolled into a tight ball, with his long arms wrapped around his head in a self protection posture. Ares could see that his always nervous nephew was acting just like his traumatized lover and was momentarily stunned into immobility.

‘He’s been scared…badly…at some point,’ Ares thought, as he stared at the shaking Strife. But before he could do anything, Strife seemed to recover. Without even standing up, Strife scuttled over to where Joxer was whimpering and tried to calm him down.

“It’s okay, Joxah,” Strife said as he carefully laid a hand on Joxer’s shoulder. “We were just passin by Maheha’s temple. She musta been workin on some magic and somethin went wrong.”

Joxer carefully raised his head and looked up at the mischief god. He then glanced over at the Goddess of Magic’s temple and gave a shaky but brave laugh. “Or ma-maybe something went right.”

Strife giggled nervously. “Yeah, ya’re probably right theah.”

Ares finally pulled himself out of his stupor and reached a hand down to both Joxer and Strife. The two men took hold of a proffered hand and let themselves be helped up.

“Thanks, Unc.” Strife smiled like nothing had happened.

Ares gave his nephew a searching look and decided the earlier fright had just been part of Strife’s nervous personality. After all, he would have known if something terrifying had ever happened to his beloved nephew.

“Look what I’ve got!”

Bliss came running up. Luckily he missed Joxer and Strife’s reactions. The young godling had a handful of sticky sweets that he offered to his loving family. Cupid grimaced at the sticky goo that was mixed in with Bliss’ soft, curly hair.

One look at the messy cherub and the adults began laughing, even Cupid, who had to clean his son up later. The tension was broken and Strife’s reaction forgotten.

=====

2 months later (my, doesn't time fly)

“Damn! Damndamndamndamndamndamn…”

The cursing didn’t show any signs of letting up anytime in the near future, so Strife took his life in his hands and peered around the door. His uncle’s War Room bore evidence of his upset.

Maps were thrown onto the floor. Pieces of paper were flung under his desk. A statue of Zeus was pockmarked and looked like it had been used for target practice. Actually, the statue always looked that way because it *was* used for target practice.

“Unc?”

Ares spun around and Strife automatically ducked. The sight of that automatic reflex made Ares hesitate. It looked just like Joxer’s nervous reactions and gave Ares momentary pause. Fully expecting a fireball at any moment, Strife remained where he was.

“Come on in, I won’t blast you.”

Smiling nervously, Strife edged into the room. “What’s tha mattah?”

Frowning, Ares started pacing again. “It’s Joxer.”

“Joxah?” Fear and nervousness forgotten, Strife hurried to his uncle’s side. “Is he alright?”

“No, he isn’t and I don’t know what to do.” Zeus’ marble face took another blast.

“What’s wrong?” Strife wracked his brain. Joxer had been just fine when he saw the immortal the day before.

“He won’t leave.”

Strife turned to Ares incredulously. “Ya want him ta leave?!”

Ares frowned at his nephew. “Don’t be ridiculous, of course not. I mean he won’t go down to Earth. I thought that maybe he was afraid to go, but I’m not so sure. He doesn’t seem scared, but…oh, I don’t know. Crap!” he screamed. Several objects rattled on their respective shelves. Strife rattled a little too, but he didn't let that show. "It was four days. He was in that horrible place for *four* days. How do I help him get past that?"

"I don't think it was just tha few days he was tortured."

Ares turned and gave his nephew his whole attention. Strife swallowed hard and wondered if coming in to the room had been such a good idea after all, because having Ares watch you like that wasn't generally good for body and soul.

"What do you mean, it wasn't just the torture?" Ares asked intently.

"Look at tha rest ah his life. He's been treated like crap from most ah tha people he's hung around with, even his friends."

They both grimaced as they thought about all the people who had been mean to the young warrior. Gabrielle sprang to mind the soonest, but she hadn't been the only one or even the worst. Joxer's own *loving family*, excepting his siblings, was pretty awful.

With his head bowed, Strife pondered the situation. Coming to a decision, he looked up at his very upset uncle. “Unc, think back ta how this all started.”

The God of War winced as he thought about his stupid, thoughtless remarks and all the pain they had caused. 'If only I had thought before I spoke that day, none of this would have happened,' Ares chastised himself.

“What were tha particulahs of tha bet that Joxah made?”

Ares had a blank look on his face. “Tartarus, I don’t remember.”

“Joxah said that if he couldn’t take care ah himself fah one week, then he…”

“…wouldn’t ever leave Olympus without me. Ever again.” Ares closed his eyes in pain. “Oh, Tartarus.”

Strife nodded. “Yep.” He watched his uncle flash out of the room.

====

Ares found Joxer in the garden. The young man was crouched down, weeding a small section of flowers. Joxer looked up at the flash and smiled at his lover. The god was happy to see that Joxer wasn't frightened by his sudden appearance or worried about being outside all alone. Things had gotten a lot better.

“Res. Hi.” A small wave sent little bits of dirt flying. “Oops.”

The God of War had to smile, the scene was just so typical of Joxer. “Hi, Angel.”

“What do you think?” Joxer gestured to the flowers he was kneeling by. “I’ve finally gotten them to smell, in addition to looking pretty.”

Ares sat down on the ground and looked at the beautiful flowers. They were a deep, velvety purple. The petals were as soft as they looked and smelled like a burst of sunshine.

“They are wonderful,” Ares said truthfully. Joxer’s flowers were as prized as his wooden carvings and just as precious.

Joxer blushed at the compliment and ducked his head, seemingly to rub some dirt off his face. The motion actually deposited more dirt on his impressive nose than it took off. Ares obligingly wiped off the offending soil and then kissed his lover’s nose, just to make sure he hadn’t missed any. Then he decided he'd better kiss the young man on the lips...just in case there was any dirt there. Joxer giggled and happily accepted the attention.

Ares pulled the lover back, until they were laying on the soft grass, and kissed Joxer breathless. They snuggled in each other’s arms and the look of contentment on Joxer’s face was so misleading that Ares almost let himself be convinced and not say anything. But he knew his lover and realized that he was still hurting.

Deciding to plunge in and see what happened, Ares turned on his side and looked Joxer over. The warrior had gained back all the weight he had lost and looked healthy again. He didn't limp any more and his arms were as strong as ever.

Joxer rolled onto his side to face his godly lover and frowned at the look Ares was giving him. "Ares?"

"Angel, I want you to do a favor for me," Ares said solemnly. Ares quickly placed a large hand on Joxer's hip bone when the young man paled considerably. "Now, don't get upset, it's a good thing."

Joxer relaxed again and smiled sweetly at his lover. "Of course, I'll do anything you want."

Ares nodded, hoping this would go alright. "You have some rose bushes that are ready to be given away, don't you?"

The horticulturist perked up. "Yes, I have several different varieties that are already potted." Joxer always took cuttings and gave away the plants as soon as he was sure they would survive.

"Good," Ares nodded. "Maybe you could go on a visit today and take a couple of them with you."

"Sounds like fun." Joxer wriggled a little at the thought of a visit. "Who do you want them to go to?"

"Xena."

Joxer's smile slipped for a moment and then he brightened again. "That's a good idea. I'm sure Eve would be glad to see you."

'Darn,' Ares thought. 'He's not getting it.'

"Of course she would." Ares threw his chest out in mock self appreciation. "Who wouldn't?"

Joxer giggled and slid a hand underneath Ares' leather vest. "So true," he purred.

Ares smiled in appreciation, but wouldn't let himself be distracted by Joxer's wandering hand. "But...I thought you might like to go yourself."

The immortal let go of the strand of Ares' curly chest hair that he had been playing with and sat up. "But...I don't...uhm...."

Sitting up beside him, Ares took hold of Joxer's hands. He was happy to note that the long fingers weren't shaking. "Are you afraid to go down to Earth? That would certainly be understandable."

"No, it's not that. With this," he fingered a medallion that hung around his neck. "I feel safe. Besides, this time if somebody attacked me, I'd yell for help straight away and not let my pride get the better of me."

Ares picked up the gold pendant. It was something that strife called a *love knot*. The mischief god swore that it was *all the rage* in the future. The war god wasn't entirely sure what that meant, but he figured it was a good thing. The necklace was enchanted; any time Joxer was in danger it would automatically send out a signal to him and if he didn't respond within a few seconds, the warning went out to Strife and Cupid. If for some strange reason they weren't there quickly, a general, all purpose alarm went out to all the gods of Olympus.

"Then why don't you want to go visiting?" Ares asked, laying the medallion back against Joxer's shirt.

Joxer shrugged and looked away.

"I have an idea of what's wrong. Actually, it was Strife's idea." Joxer waited. "It's because of that damn bet we made, isn't it?"

"Yes, a bet is a bet and I certainly lost." The young man plucked a blade of grass and began to twist it back and forth between his fingers.

"That's true." Ares' agreement brought a look of hurt into Joxer's eyes. Ares continued on as if he hadn't seen the pain. "Because it was such a *fair* bet, what with there being no interference or anything." Joxer looked at him sideways. "I mean, it's not like there wasn't an insane god with *all* of his followers that attacked you and sent you off somewhere." Joxer started to say something, but Ares kept talking. "Do you think any of us could have stood up to four to one odds?"

"Uhm, four to one?" Joxer's brow furrowed as he frowned.

"Yes, the men that first grabbed you."

"Oh...yeah. I-I guess that would have been hard to beat."

"Imagine Iolaus being attacked by four, much larger men, and then being cursed by a god. Would you blame him...or hold him to a bet?"

Joxer could easily picture the blond hunter in his place and flinched. "Of course not. That wouldn't be fair, because he...couldn't...stand up to those kinds of odds..." Joxer trailed off in thought. After a few moments he looked back at Ares. The smile on his face was genuine and his eyes didn't look haunted any more. "You're right. It wasn't my fault."

"No, my love, it wasn't. And that damned bet is something I'd like us both to forget."

The younger man smiled. "Gladly. And I'd love to go visiting, but first..."

He grabbed hold of Ares' face with both hands, startling the god, and drug him in for a kiss. The next thing Ares knew *he* was lying on his back in the grass with one of Joxer's hands inside his tunic and the other tugging on the laces of his leather pants.

Joxer let go of Ares' mouth long enough to smile. "I want to do a little visiting of someplace else first." His hand slipped inside the war god's pants and he started to explore.

=====

"Hi Xena. I've come for a visit..." Joxer's voice announced his arrival.


The end...for now.

(To be continued in Bumps Along The Way)


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