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"Is this a joke?"

The low question startled Ares as he looked down at Joxer; the mortal was squinting up at him, the light from the fire too dim for Joxer to clearly see Ares face. But it wasn't the question so much that threw Ares, it was the tone behind it; the flat, expressionless tone of a man that's been hurt too much. A man that's lost the last hope he has and has been thrown out of his own cheerful fantasies into cold reality. Into the real world where Gabrielle doesn't love him but sees him as only a friend and mild irritation.

Ares wasn't sure how to answer, wasn't sure if approaching Joxer was such a good idea after all. But the man was so miserable by Gabrielle's cruel rejection that Ares had been forced to step in. He could have blasted Gabrielle for breaking Joxer's heart but in all fairness it wasn't her fault that she didn't believe his love or return it; although Ares would at least set Strife on her for all the times she'd been callous to Joxer. All because Ares had a crush on the seemingly ordinary Joxer; a simple crush, nothing more as he was quick to always reassure himself despite the crush having lasted the best part of a decade.

"I said is this a joke?" Joxer was glaring at him now, snapped out of his depressive mood as he transferred his heartbreak into anger.

"No, it's not a joke." Ares could see the confusion in Joxer's eyes as he weighed up Ares offer, the mortal so unsure if it's genuine. The War God was glad he'd invested in listening to Hephaestus' advice before charging into the situation. Gabrielle's rejection of Joxer had elated Ares and nearly pushed the God into racing forward to offer the mortal what he thought would help- a long, hard sex session. Luckily his brother had stepped in and offered some timely advice; Joxer wasn't a Warlord or a spurned, vengeance seeking lover; he was someone who'd had his hopes and dreams ripped away, his love dashed in an unfortunate moment. He wouldn't appreciate a quick tumble and would only feel worse, more rejected, afterwards.

"Is this about Xena?" Joxer was curious now, yet there was a slight tremble to his voice as he spoke.

Ares shook his head; "It's not about Xena or anyone else, just you." He adds the *and me* mentally but his expression must have given his thoughts away. Something flashed in Joxer's eyes but since his face was unreadable Ares has to hold back from exploring the mortal's thoughts.

"Is this about sex?" Joxer wasn't being cocky; he'd just been shot down so low he couldn't think what else he'd be wanted for. "Is this some kind of pity thing? Or doesn't the God of War do pity?"

Ares could hear the bitterness in Joxer's voice but the words evoke a deep anger within the God and, with surprising swiftness, he had the mortal pinned against a tree. Ares tried to ignore just how good it felt to be pressed against Joxer, especially as Joxer's body betrayed just how much the mortal liked it. It was too tempting to succumb to what he felt, for Ares to take what he wanted there and then and try to mend Joxer's shattered soul afterwards. But Ares loves Joxer, much as he'd deny it was more then a crush, and so he held back and answered softly;

"I'm War, Joxer, the God of War. This isn't pity, it will never be pity because War doesn't have mercy," Ares words were sincere as he continued, "I don't do soft things and say like or love, but I don't use those I'm fond of either- and I'm fond of you."

"Your fond of me?" Joxer was baffled now, stunned by the revelation.

"Very much, more so then I should be." Ares admitted, knowing not only how dangerous it was for him to feel so deeply for Joxer but how the danger would be greater should the other Olympians find out. Ares wasn't the most popular God.

Joxer hesitated, "So this is just what it is then?" His gaze rested on Ares as his glower faded into wonderment, "You want to train me to be a true Warrior? Not just a Warlord, but a Warrior?"

"My Warrior."

Ares now knows he made the right choice, giving Joxer the other dream he'd yearned for so long for; hoping that the distraction and time would ease the wounds on Joxer's heart. For being Ares Warrior, there were perks, not only for Joxer but also for Ares himself. Joxer would be given the gift of immortality and would reside in Ares own temple when he trained; Ares would have all eternity to make Joxer feel better and to gain the trust and love the God longed for. Companionship would come, then friendship Ares hoped, then finally love, trust and intimacy.

"Yes," Joxer's answer was simple but already Ares could see his spirits lifting, the depression lifted. It wouldn't last for long; Ares knew Joxer would still lament over Gabrielle and the love he'd wanted, but it was a start.

"Yes, please. I want to be your Warrior." Joxer's words were firmer now; the mortal was still stunned by what had happened but the offer itself, the knowledge that someone wanted him, had given him new confidence. As Ares stepped back and offered his hand, Joxer immediately took it; the mortals rough fingers brushing against the God's smooth ones, as they clasp palms. As the waning fire finally extinguished, a flash lit up the darkened clearing and Ares transported Joxer to his new home.

It would take time, it wouldn't happen overnight or maybe not even in the next few months but for Joxer, Ares had patience. He'd have forever.