Ares strode unseen among the combatants. This war began without his active help...in fact, in the past couple of months, the only time he'd instigated fighting was to help encourage the overthrow of a tyrant in a city near the Mediterranean, and that was after the rebels had tried every other means.
But now that this was a full-fledged war, Ares knew he had to be there. This time, though, he faced a different challenge than before. Before, he would have encouraged more fighting, letting it spread beyond the soldiers and making it more violent as he a absorbed the energy it created.
Before, he wasn't trying to see if he could still be God of War without that.
The war had to be fought, and he still absorbed much energy, but he could do it without hatred...he thought.
The key was honor. Not honor as he'd thought it...of not running away, of challenging as many as possible, of defeating all around. Honor as Joxer had taught him.
Ares stood behind a Spartan soldier who propped up his injured Athenian opponent and left him with a skin of water before he found another skirmish.
Elsewhere, he knew that wounded were being treated and guarded and that non-combatants were safe for a change.
The odd part was that the fighting was just as fierce and just as satisfying as in any other battle he'd witnessed, even if the death count was lower. Indeed, because honor required men to fight only those who could take them, the fighting was *better*.
Where was Joxer? He'd been busy with this coming war, so he hadn't been able to see or talk with him for days.
And he missed those talks more than he'd ever thought he'd miss anything.
He'd gone down to that campsite the next morning, hoping to talk to the man, but he was gone. The only things left were various broken branches and, rolled into a little ball, the fur and wool cloak.
He was about to blast the garment in anger. But, no. He was not going to be hurt because his gift was rejected...not yet. He picked it up. It hadn't been fully rejected...Joxer had slept in it. It smelled like him.
He held it to his nose again. Then he sent it to his bedroom. One day, he'd give it back to Joxer. That day hadn't come yet.
He watched the man from a distance for a couple more days. He had to stand back and let Joxer trip over his own feet and flail around with a sword, and take too much from his companions. Ares also watched him quietly give away half his food - food he needed badly himself - and whatever money he came across. He fell out of a tree trying to rescue a little girl's kitten while the kitten itself looked perfectly happy where it was.
Finally, he could stand it no more. He had to at least talk to Joxer. At this point, it would have been enough if the man stopped cringing in Ares' presence. That was enough to twist his guts up in a knot.
He had chosen his night carefully. Joxer was wandering by himself for a change, so he'd built himself a fire. There was a hint of moon in the sky, but not enough to drown out the stars.
He waited until Joxer finished his dinner - a rabbit he'd trapped and some roots he'd grubbed because he'd given everything else away - before becoming visible.
"Why did you throw away the cloak?"
Joxer jumped. "What are