"I'm just a lowly mortal, I'm not the demigod you're looking for!" Joxer shouted, covering his head with his hands, which he knew would be completely ineffectual if Ares actually threw the fireball he was in the process of forming.
Ares halted, the just-forming ball of flame in his hands dissolving back into the ether. "Joxer?" he practically squeaked. Clearing his throat and giving the mortal a death glare, he said, "What are you doing here? Aphrodite told me Hercules was here, messing up my temple."
Joxer was confused, but rallied his courage and said, "Aphrodite told me that you had a mission for me, and wanted me to meet you here. I haven't seen Hercules, Iolaus, Xena or Gabrielle for months."
At that moment, all the doors in the temple closed with loud bangs, and the sound of an energy shield going up around the building could be heard.
"Wh-what?" Joxer stuttered.
Ares growled. "I'm going to kill her," he swore.
"We're locked in, aren't we?" Joxer asked. "'Dite set us up and locked us in here."
"Thank you so much for stating the obvious," Ares said sarcastically. "Of course 'Dite set us up."
"But why?" Joxer asked. "Why would she do that?"
At that, Ares' face went bright red, then almost immediately turned pure white. Then his complexion returned to its normal color and he pasted his trademark scowl on his face. "Because she can't stop meddling in things that aren't her business," he finally grumbled, stalking over to his throne and throwing himself almost violently into it.
Still puzzled, and seeing no other chairs in the room, Joxer crept hesitantly over to the dais on which Ares' throne stood, and perched on the edge of the raised platform. Ares gave him a raised eyebrow, but said nothing.
They sat there on their respective seats for almost an hour before Joxer finally got up the nerve to ask, "Um…how long do you think she'll make us stay in here? I mean, I'm mortal; eventually I'm going to need to eat."
"The energy shield Aphrodite put up only prevents me from using my powers to get us out; it doesn't prevent me from using my powers. I can zap up anything we might need," Ares admitted grudgingly.
"Well, that's good, but how long do you think she's going to keep us here?" Joxer asked, Ares' partial answer not deterring him from his first question.
"How should I know?" Ares growled, though Joxer could tell the War God was hiding something.
Gulping at the rage-filled expression on Ares' face, Joxer nonetheless forged ahead with, "Well, you said she keeps meddling in your business, so I thought maybe you'd know why she did this. And if you know why she did this, then maybe we can figure out how to get her to let us out."
"Even if I do know, why would I tell you?" Ares said waspishly.
Inwardly sighing in irritation at all this beating around the bush, Joxer knew he still had to tread carefully. No matter what he might feel for his god, Ares was the God of War, and crushed puny mortals like himself for breakfast.
"But if we don't figure out what she wants, 'Dite might never let us out of here," Joxer said anxiously, though he was actually thinking it might not be that bad to be trapped, alone, with Ares… "So I won't die of starvation or thirst, but while you might be immortal, I'm not. I will eventually die of old age, and I'd prefer not to spend my final days with you." He blinked and gulped, shocked that he'd actually said such a thing to Ares of all people. Especially since he wouldn't, in reality, mind spending the rest of his life with the dark god.
Outwardly, Ares appeared bored, but inside he was seething; and buried underneath the anger, way down deep inside, was hurt and disappointment. Idly conjuring up a fireball in his hand and sliding it back and forth between his fingers, he said, almost nonchalantly, "You don't want to spend time with your God?"
Joxer gulped and scooted backwards, though he knew that Ares could still kill him with that fireball even if he was a whole league away. "I-I didn't say that," he stuttered. "It's just…you can't honestly say you'd enjoy being locked up with me for however long 'Dite keeps her shield up, can you?"
There was a bit of wishful hope on Joxer's face that set Ares aback, and he hesitated before answering, long enough that Joxer's hopeful look turned to shock, and then awe.
"No," he said gruffly, lying through his gritted teeth. "No, I don't want to spend umpteen years trapped in here with you," he mumbled, but that last sentence was more to convince himself than Joxer.
Sensing that any questions on his part would just make Ares explode like the ticking bomb he obviously was, Joxer settled in to wait the War God out. He could be very patient when he wanted to be. Curling up on the stone floor, he pummeled his pack into the semblance of a pillow, and made as if to sleep, knowing that his seeming indifference about the situation would eventually get to Ares.
Ares couldn't believe it. Joxer knew – he knew Joxer knew that he felt something for him – and the clumsy fool was going to sleep?
Huffing in irritation, he turned away and stalked down the hall towards his personal chamber. There were many more bedrooms here, but if the idiot wanted to sleep on the cold stone floor, then Ares would oblige him.
But it did get damn cold here at night, so he'd left a blanket over Joxer, along with a plate of food in case he got hungry.
After all, he wasn't about to spend the next days/weeks/months/whatever with a corpse.
The next morning, Ares walked into the main room to find Joxer happily eating the fruit. Joxer thanked him, and Ares grunted in reply. This was how the rest of their day went: Ares would zap up the food, whatever he felt like eating, Joxer would thank him and eat, and Ares would give a sound of acknowledgment before leaving the room. Joxer never said anything about what he'd discovered, or about Ares' foul mood, and Ares never volunteered anything.
This tense civility was maintained for almost a week before it finally got to be too much for Ares. Joxer was treating this whole enforced incarceration as a vacation, acting as if he hadn't a care in the world, as if he hadn't figured out Ares' biggest secret…and it annoyed him to no end!
It all came to a head exactly one week after they first got trapped in the temple. Ares had never had a very long fuse, and he confronted Joxer right before dinner.
"Why haven't you said anything?" he demanded abruptly, prepared to get extremely angry when Joxer pretended to misconstrue his question.
But Joxer wasn't going to be duplicitous. "Because it might not have meant what I thought it did," he said bluntly. "Just because you'd rather be trapped here with me than with an average guy off the street doesn't necessarily mean anything. After all, you know me, and the idiot you know is better than the interesting person you don't. Or something." He blushed. "And you obviously don't want to talk about it, so…"
Mentally smiling at this so-typical 'Joxer' answer, Ares said, "So you're not sure what it meant?"
Joxer shook his head quickly from side to side, looking cutely like a puppy ridding himself of water. "Nope," he confirmed, then looked slightly uncomfortable. "But I…hoped."
"Hoped what?" Ares asked curiously. I know what I hope – that you feel the same way. But is it the same for you?
He gave Ares a measuring look, seeming to try to see into Ares' soul, before blushing and saying, "That you…liked…me. Maybe even…romantically." He unconsciously cringed, as if expecting to be hit with a fireball for his impertinence.
He expects me to kill him for that answer…yet he still gave it, Ares thought, awed. For all his bumbling ineptitude at fighting, and all his fear of pain, he has more courage than my baby brother is supposed to. And how can I not answer, when to remain silent would be cowardice?
"I…do," he said gruffly, his voice cracking on the second word.
Joxer looked shell-shocked. "You…do?" he squeaked.
Ares nodded curtly, not quite sure that it was a good idea to reveal himself this way. After all, he loved Joxer, but he wasn't entirely certain Joxer felt the same way.
Or does he? Ares thought as he observed the expression change on Joxer's face; from uncertainty, to delight, and finally amorousness. His answer had apparently made the wannabe warrior bold, for now that he was over his shock, Joxer's confidence had risen to heretofore-unknown heights. Reaching forward, the mortal grabbed Ares by his black leather lapels and yanked him into a ferociously blistering hot kiss.
Ares, for his part, returned the sensual assault wholeheartedly, diving into the blissful battle with pleasure.
Up on Olympus, three deities watched the romantic proceedings on a scrying mirror and smiled.
Aphrodite turned and leaned back against a convenient pillar, giggling. "I can't believe that worked," she exclaimed.
Cupid and Strife just exchanged smiles and high-fived each other.
"But I thought it would take months for them to work it out," Aphrodite cut in, twirling a golden curl around her right index finger in agitation. "It only took a week. How is that possible?"
Strife cackled with glee, clapping his hands together. "See, feathahead? I told ya I could do it."
Cupid nodded and grinned indulgently at him, saying, "You were right, love."
"Right about what?" 'Dite asked demandingly.
"I cast an uninhibiting spell on Unc an' Joxer," Strife said proudly. "It made 'em more open with each othah than they woulda been othawise. Normally Unc woulda noticed, but I cast the spell on the air in tha temple, so they pretty much just breathed the magic in."
'Dite's eyes lit up and she clapped Strife on the back. "That was an ingenious plan, Strife. I might try it out myself."
"Oh, really?" Cupid said curiously. "On who?"
Smiling wickedly, 'Dite confided, "Athena and Apollo."
"'Thene and 'Pol?" Strife squeaked. "Yer kiddin', right? Shinypants and the Bookworm?"
'Dite nodded. "Mm-hm. She's afraid he wouldn't want a long-term relationship, and he's afraid she wouldn't believe he wants commitment."
"Well, I wish ya luck." Strife shook his head. "It'll be like tryin' ta get oil and watah ta mix."
"That's what people said about us, babe," Cupid pointed out, taking one of Strife's pale hands in his own tan ones.
"True." Strife smiled.
Giggling, Aphrodite said, "I can't wait to see the expression on Hera's face when Ares asks her to marry them."
"Hera's face? I can't wait ta see what Ma says when Unc tells her Jox is movin' inta tha Temple a' War," Strife shot back.
"Things'll sure be more interesting around here, that's for sure," Cupid summed up.
"Oh, yeah," Strife agreed, before bursting out into maniacal giggles. After all, for all that Joxer had pledged himself to Ares, he still – albeit unknowingly – ended up working more mischief than any ten of Strife's other worshipers.