Author's Chapter Notes:
"And I am stripped of nimbus and excuse/a Past, subject to Judgement."- W.H. Auden "New Year Greeting"
He slept, my winged, copper toned lover. He did not snore or drool or move so much of a feather out of place. He was, by his very definition, the perfect lover. I can have no complaint of the act just completed or the one that will most likely come when he wakes again.
And yet...I felt nothing more then I ever do. I felt cold. Emptied of anything, but a thirst to disturb. To muss his hair or pinch his nose until he let's out a hiccuping gulp. Perfection, I begin to understand, is overrated. There is such a thing as waking up sweaty and gross, messy and tangled in bed sheets.
I rose from the silky black sheets, conjured for me as I know he prefers white. He looked out of place in all this dark decadence. Over done. He works so hard to embody Love that I think he's quite missed the point. It wasn't strange that he had me as his bed mate. He has rolled with practically every god and goddess at one time or another, excepting father, mother and perhaps some lesser or non-equipped. He was equally generous with us all, the universal lover.
There was a time when this would be enough for me, a tumble into his changeable bed, a fine hard ride that left me aching and warm in all the right places. Lately...I leave him. Which will most likely confuse him. He was not used to being left in the night. Then again, he was forever adaptable and his wife only a call away to fill my place.
Perversely, I did not seek out any of my other sometimes lovers as they are in one way or another mirrors to him. From Ares, who I cannot approach at any rate, who would give me the pain that I do occasionally crave to the nymphs who open their legs to anyone with a sweet enough tongue. There are more then enough places for a god to dip his wick, no matter how unappealing. If I was feeling particularly dangerous, I could even search for Thanatos.
Instead, I shook myself into mortal guise. It was day where I land, somewhere far from any vibes of godly interference. Perhaps, I would be guided to mischief here and fulfill myself in another way. Or maybe I could find a new, more mortal toy, a risky, but profitable business. They do have the unfortunate tendency of dying. My mind would drift to faces past, but I do not dwell too long. In the end, they were all Cupids only with a bit of inevitable mortal fuss.
As I walked, I could see a field were several local boys have gathered to play at some game. They are between about six and twelve, dressed in peasant garb. Two sat on the sidelines, one nursing a cut on his scalp, the other merrily knotting flowers together in a pile. As I approached, I became aware that they are nearly identical. They, and the other boys, note me, but do not seem to care. Travelers must be common here. A stop on a trading route perhaps.
"Hello." I grin down at the two sitting lads. "You look as if you've had a rough time of it today."
"I tripped when I caught the ball." The fiercer, bleeding one informs me. "I scored."
"That you did." His brother, for that they must be, patted him on the knee. "It was a good catch."
"And you are suffering from injury too?"
"Of course not!" He grinned at me, almost flirtatiously, but he could have been no more then ten, so I dismissed it. "I don't like getting dirty. Besides, someone's got to keep Joxer company."
"So you're Joxer then?" The scuffed boy nodded.
"And I'm Jayce." He nodded out to the field where one of the smaller boys had just punched and elder in the stomach and run away with the ball. "That's Jett. We're triplets."
"Are you really, then? You're mother must be exhausted."
"She's dead." I am rapidly informed by chatty Jayce while Joxer bites at his lip. "Three babies is a lot."
"Ahhh. I see." I glanced around the field to spy Jett triumphantly throwing down the ball and grinning at his injured playmate. "I was wondering if you could recommend me to a good place to sleep for the night."
"The Sweet Lamb." Joxer said quickly. "Don't go to the Dragon's. They don't wash the mattresses there and people get strange rashes."
"Joxer!" Jayce scolded. "What did Daddy tell you about sending business away!"
"He's never around anyway." He said bitterly, obviously ignoring my presence in order to reopen an old argument. "Leading everyone into battles and when he is home, he's up at the house, counting gold while we turn down beds and fix meals for Marion."
Jayce seemed to have no reply to this and he returned, more morosely now, to his flowers. I bid them good day and trekked into the village. I reached out with invisible fingers as I left the three strange boys behind and found a trace of power I'd missed before. And no wonder I had. A very minor warlord, who was very rarely around. I'd bet the inn was a front for some dirtier vices in the town.
Naturally, I passed right by the Sweet Lamb, far too intrigued by the promise of deceit and dirt. The Dragon bore the marks of Ares', tucked into the base of the stoop. I found a lone barmaid there and paid for my room. Was informed of the cost of the 'extras'. All very boring and typical of a whorehouse. Disappointing. I went into the market. Tripped a few merchants up, pinned stolen goods on a local gang, who had most likely been playing in the field only a few years before.
I'd done this before. Made trips to the mortal world and stayed about like a tourist, loitering and soaking in the local life. It was considered an eccentricity among gods to such things. Fuck one now and then, sure. Play chess with them as the pieces, absolutely. Live among them? Walk the lunatic fringe. But since I did that already, no one took much notice.
I returned the inn at nightfall and was pleasantly surprised to find my waiter the wounded triplet. He barely acknowledged me, bringing over my order without comment or eye contact. Jayce winked at me from behind the bar where he must have been standing on a stool to serve drinks. The tough one, also flitted about the tables and stole more then his share of coin. When his fingers grazed my purse, I caught them tight in mine.
"Nice try." I growled. "Who taught you?"
"No one." He gazed up at me, defiant. Impressive for a self-taught.
"You're good. Try setting up better distractions and keep an eye out for crooks who are more crooked then you." I handed him a dinear. He took it wordlessly, aware that it wasn't charity, but a warning.
"Thank you, sir." He tilted his head in acknowledgment and I saw the killer within. No petty crook this one. I didn't like to tap into possibilities, surprise was half the fun, but even a little godling like me can just outright see certain things.
Dinner polished off, I set about to find the extras. Settled on one of the girls who probably wasn't used much. She was big in an unattractive bulgy way, but I wasn't feeling particular. When we were done, I let her slip away and take her money. I watched her go, fascinated as she rippled into her clothes. Mortals have it rough, but it can be beautiful to watch. All that muscle and mass, her cheaply bought dignity wrapped tightly to her bosom.
I slept, because I could. When I woke, it was to the softest noise of a someone come to collect the chamber pot. Which was naturally quite empty. It was Jayce this time. In the early light, he looked tired and much older then he had in the noon sun the day before. Under slit eyes, I watched him putter quietly around the room, straightening things. He caressed my disagreed pants with interest as he folded them neatly. He was already a very sensual child and yet...profoundly sad. I let him slip away without comment.
I readied myself to leave in the morning, already choosing a horse to steal when Joxer appeared at my side. The stables were quiet and he was a clumsy child, yet I never heard him coming.
"You're going to take someone's horse, aren't you?"
"How could you tell?" He shrugged.
"You're not like other thieves we've had. They usually clean out the whole stable. Then I get beaten."
"The stables are your responsibility?"
"Sort of. " He looked off, going to a place he would later to describe to me as 'middle distance'. "Sometimes it seems like everything is my responsibility."
"It's early yet." On a whim, I smiled at him. A soft, untrusting shadow of one flitted across his lips. "Do you have chores?"
"I finished them. I don't sleep much."
"Come on a walk with me."
"I'm not for rent." He told me firmly without shame or anger. I wondered how many offers he had already fended off. He was an awkward bony specimen, but he worked in a fairly shady establishment.
"I don't like children." I returned tartly. "I want to show you something."
The wary look did not fade, but he followed me as I lead him out the barn. As we walked, I was in my own middle distance, pulling strings of power. One of the nice things about being thought of as insane, is that I am rarely called upon to justify my actions. Which is good, since half the time, I have none. In this instance, if forced, I could say I liked him, but I didn't really. He was just another angry, moody child, who'd given me nothing, but silence.
We reached the spot I created, a pond, no more then ten feet in any direction nor deeper then my chest that teamed with life. Frogs on lillypads, dragonflies that darted and swept. Fish that glittered as they splashed to the surface.
"When you're here, no responsibility." I told him. "This was a spot created by the gods. Time will stand still while you're here."
"For real?" He was still young enough to believe in tales and for that reason, time would stand still here. A little older and it would have shattered in an instant.
"Do other people know about this?"
"Just you and me, kid. And I won't be around much."
"I guessed." He chewed on his lip. "You going to go steal that horse now?"
"Not this time. I think I'll walk for a while."
"Will I see you again?"
I glanced over to him, to find brown eyes wide and serious. Inadvertently, I'd made him like me.
I never honestly thought I would.
To say that time passed quickly would be a lie. Gods don't move through time quite like mortals do, though they cannot jump around in it, they can slow or speed through moments or freeze them like I did with Joxer's pond. But time did pass.
I came to the pond again two years after I created it. I had been badly beaten by Ares and needed to linger in a place of my own power to heal. The pond was the closest. Joxer wasn't there when I went to sleep, but when I woke up, he was twirling in the grass staring up at the sun. Adolescence had begun to work its mad magic on him, stretching him out in all directions, pocking his face and twisting at his limbs.
"I wasn't sure if you were dead." He said softly into the early morning sunlight. It was always early morning here.
"Hard to kill the likes of me."
We sat in silence for a long time. He tried to skip a rock, but it sank.
"Thank you. For showing me this place." He rested his chin on tucked knees. "I come here a lot."
"Shown it to anyone else?"
He shook his head.
"I told Jayce, but he just smiled at me and told me to take my wild imagination back outside. He thinks he's older then me." He sighed. "We're supposed to be identical, you know? But I don't think we are at all. It's almost like Fates created us like a colossal joke. Jett is like the House of War, tough and unfeeling, Jayce is like the House of Love and what am I? The remnants of both. Can't even walk properly."
"Do you envy them? Jayce and Jett?"
"Why? You can be both those things, Joxer. Without even trying. You can be solider and a lover. No one can tell you that you aren't." I grinned at him, my true feral grin. "Everything important is here." I tapped my own head. "Use your head."
How was I to know he'd take me seriously? No one else ever had.
I returned to the pond three more times. The first, Joxer was fifteen and still awkward, but burning with thirst for belonging. The second, he was seventeen, already striving for his warrior dreams, less content now to sit by the water and watch the fish gulp at flies. The third, he was already gone and I arrived to stay for three long years.
The story of how I got trapped in that bubble and went mad is not terribly complicated. Most would say, of course, that I was quite mad already, but being trapped in that small a space with no one to talk to or even think at...
Everyone said it was a practical joke gotten out of hand. 'Pollo only meant to dunk me in the pond, didn't realize it was one of my own creation, accidentally twisted the time stream to a shield that kept me in. Time is funny for gods. Ares didn't notice me missing, Cupid put others in my place and time passed with me in that small space, cursing my whims and Apollo's name. I pushed through the time as best I could, forcing it quickly forward, but still I felt my mind bend and words that would not be invented for years came in. Speech fractured, sanity oozed away.
I returned to Olympus, cursed Apollo's cock to shrivel and fall off. Which it did for all of a month. I returned to my job and tried to forget everything that came before. I stopped my human vacations, forgot that I'd ever had a spot in Cupid's rotation. My prick stayed in my pants, my eyes glittered with constant rage and I played pinball with Hercules and his sidekick. When Xena defected, I took no notice. Why should I care when Unc had specifically warned me to leave her to him?
Until I happened on them, causing chaos with a bizarre vomiting sickness in a nearby town. I saw him then, my made up tin soldier, only doing what I had so brazenly told him to do. Dedicating himself to Ares, throwing himself into Xena's merry band of two. I learned he'd become a good lover, to whores at famous brothels, but the one he thought he gave his heart to despised him. He was a bumbling mischief born monster, created in a mindless act of a warped god.
I did not reveal myself. I tried to forget it, but it gnawed at me and suddenly his name began to aper again. Whether it was as a side note in another Lena rant by Ares or Aphrodite's pitying/admiring speeches, the boy he'd left behind returned a haunting man.
I know now that he must be a demigod of some sort. A water nymph maybe or some other spiraling. Nothing mortal could have found or made the spot that served me so well all those long years of childhood. I don't really care what he was thought if I saw him again, I'd have some other questions to ask. I wonder if he would answer them. If he even could.
Soon, I will be dead, I think. Gabby and Xena have been gone a while, I think to the East. I'm not much good on my own. I try to fight wrong and do good acts, but I never seem to get very far. Eventually, I will trip on my sword for the last time or try to take down something to large for me. I know this. And yet I see no other life for me, nothing I could do or say that would change my creeping pathetic destiny to be merely mediocre in all things.
I found him raw and bleeding. His thoughts muddled and confused. Something pulled me too him, to the place that might have been his death bed had I not just laid hands on his wounds.
"You came back." He said softly.
"I was wrong. What I said about being a soldier." I told him. He smiled, weakly.
"And I was wrong. When I listened." He shifted on the hard ground. "And now I have nothing else I can do."
"You could run a brothel."
"I would rather die."
We stilled for a long time. My tics and nerves settled slowly, leaving behind whatever mask it is I now where, desolate and alone.
"You're an immortal?"
"I am a god." He's not stupid. I knew this, but it is good to be reminded. "You know me."
"Oh." He coughed. "Hercules thinks you're irritating."
"Feelings mutual." He couldn't be comfortable on the ground. "You need a bed."
I took us to a remote war temple that I claimed as my own. Laid him in a bed softer then any he'd probably every occupied. A priestess dressed what wounds I had left unhealed and drew warm covers around him. In near darkness, he found my gaze. And told me to come to bed.
It was messy without being bloody and no where close to violent. Afterwards, he hummed me songs where he couldn't remember the words. His voice was pleasant. He fell asleep on my arm and drooled. In the morning, he glanced at me from under sooty eyelashes and made no move to leave.
Three months of quiet, mellow days of twilight where we rolled together, unnoticed by the world. When the time came, he unraveled himself from me, announced his new intentions, brushed a kiss over my eyes and swept away, a dream of a promise.
I leveled a town that day with a herd of elephants. Zeus undid it and ordered me to Olympic confinement. He need not have bothered. My rage was spent. I took to sleeping. Another strange habit. I would nap for long stretches of time. I did as Ares bade, fed off old power sources and roseately, did not look for him.
Only when news of Xena's strange return reached my ears did I trust to hope. But he was not with them. Nor did they search for him. Wearied of my own melancholy, I gave up principle and found him in a shop. He was, of all things, an assistant to one of the great vase painters of the time. I watched him work, cleaning up mostly, bringing his master, an older genial man, food and drink. When the shop was quiet, he would take up shards and create his own works, dotted with dragonflies and cross-eyed frogs.
"I know you're there." He said softly, one night. "I am not a lover, nor a soldier. I am nearly nothing. Give me time."
So I left him. I returned two years later, having been busy with an Apocalypse or two. The old man had died and now it was he who painted. He was not as good as his master, but people liked him, so they came for plates, cups and vases. In the depths of the night, he would acknowledge me. And asked me for time.
Another three years and the gray starts to show in his hair. He took all his money, gave the business to a better painter and began to walk. He roamed the country, doing nothing more then look. I watched him sleep, the lines easing about his eyes and forehead. Finally, when it seemed he had walked every inch of the country, he began to speak. It was nothing at first. Funny anecdotes over ale in the inns, a short tale exchanged in the hot noon sun. But his tales became longer, more involved and his experiences began to shape all sorts of strange myths. No lyre or harp did he play, but his voice had become compelling somewhere along the way.
"I know you're there." He called to me one night. "I am something now. Come and talk."
I emerged from the shadows. Unaware that I too had changed. The glade made madness had seeped from me. I had been to Tartarus and back, quite literally, since I had known him. We were both of us not quite what we were, not entirely what we would be. I could not tell you of what we spoke that night though nothing but words passed between us.
We traveled together from that night. I had work to do, to be sure, but it was easily done away with as Ares' great enemies became allies and he lost and regained himself. Joxer told his stories and I provided food, shelter and other basic needs. We made slow delicious love for a decade. Mated with a god, Joxer aged slowly, but age he did and one by one, the great heroes of the age fell.
When Xena died, Joxer metamorphosed again. He asked me to make a house. Somewhere quiet and remote. He moved slower then, his hair long silvered. The parchments he filled with neat script piled up around him. I was not allowed to read them and I was sure they were pages and pages of his adventures.
I did not ask for him to be made immortal and forever young or even to scatter him into the sky. I loved him as he was, mortal and therefore, temporary. He died in my arms and I lamented him properly over his hissing pyre. I left his likeness burnished into stone on the ground to puzzle archeologists, who would come much later. My own demise was still a few centuries away, but I could already feel myself fading.
The house I would have left abounded, but for the tantalizing call of the parchments. Never much of a reader, I did not know where to begin with the towering pile. Eventually, I picked pages at random. It was poetry or some epic form, I'm still not quite sure. But every word was a part of us, of who we had been. Ultimately, he may not have been of love or war, but something fatally both and neither. He'd filled parchments with that odd combination, catching every look and thought that had caught and held between us. A catalogue of our lives together. I never showed his writings to anyone though over the fading epochs I would obsessively turn through them, remembering a time that I had felt truly alive.
Dawn will be here soon. The last that I shall ever see. One last chaos worshipper left and his every breath closer to his last. The others may last longer though several have already vanished. Cupid's starting to gray a bit a the temples, Ares spectacular strength grows weaker. We are all of us, actually mortal in the end. Merely a matter of time, before we are the fragile corpses we once mocked in our followers.
But I leave no regret, no hard feelings towards the Earth that bore me nor the bitch that reared me. I had something worth having, once. Who made himself worth something for me. On the other side of oblivion, he is most likely already waiting, pen in hand, soft glow to his eyes and a small trickle of blood from when he tripped and fell over some cosmic dust.
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