Po crouched low, his heart racing during the steep climb. His senses were on screaming alert, his mind shrieking at him to give up this quest. No woman, it said, was worth this.
A quick glance back verified his two men struggled up the slope behind him. Belen, young and impetuous with arrows slung across his back, breathed hard. His blond hair fell into his face time and again, each toss of his head a futile attempt to keep it out of his green eyes. Po’s heart stilled each time the youth jerked his head, for only a moment’s inattention would send him careening into the churning sea below.
Thanos climbed below Belen, perhaps the only way for the young man to be saved should he slip. He struggled as they all did, but without the frantic physical exertion of Belen. Thanos was older and wiser, conserving his energy for the climb. His dark hair framed his head in the style of the wealthy, the sweat pouring down his neck and face making the strands seem blacker than night. A suitable match for his scarred face, if truth be told. One look into his seen-it-all eyes often saddened Po.
Truer friends, servants or not, he couldn’t have asked for.
“Move your ass, Belen!” he bellowed. The youth took it for the joke it was, turning his face up at Po with a cocky grin.
“If you would but step aside, my lord, I’d be able to reach the top and help my elders in their climb. Alas, my departed mother often chastised me that age comes before beauty.” His foot slipped, the sight forcing another shard of ice into Po’s heart. Belen dangled from a jutting ledge, the sweat on his arms glistening in the bright glare of the sun. The arrogant child took a moment to admire his own corded muscles before regaining his footing in short order. “So you see, my lord, I am in a quandary. Which manners rule here?”
“The only thing that rules here is death,” Thanos grumbled.
“Unless you wish to add yourself to the count, move it, old man,” Po responded. By his estimation, they neared the top. If light bantering got them there that much faster, so be it. Besides, he owed it to them to keep the mood buoyant. If any one of them stopped to think too long on what they were doing, on why they were doing it, the thoughts of a madman would consume him.
For love—for her love—he did this. He’d commanded his two most trusted servants to defy the will of the gods, and especially the will of the goddess who’d cursed her, to show his woman, perhaps for the last time, that their time together had not been forgotten. That although he’d been spared from punishment, he’d not abandoned her.
“We’re losing daylight. I, for one, do not plan to be on the cliff’s side when the sun sets.” Po pushed his fingers into the compact earth. Already they bled as rocks and dirt peeled skin away. So far his nails had been spared, but he didn’t expect that to last. “You both need to rest before we approach her tomorrow, so move your damned asses.”
They not only needed to rest, but he needed to think. No real plan drove him. No thoughts of how to convince her of his true affection. He focused on putting one step after the next; on approaching her and letting the dice fall where they may. She might kill them all, or she might have forgiven his absence. There was just no way to tell without standing before her, looking into the face of judgment.
An apology was all he had to offer her. He could only hope it was enough.
For now, he let his mind focus on the superficial burns his armor seared into his back. His pale skin couldn’t save him from the way the sun heated the metal he wore. Knowing they wouldn’t face anything more than her wrath, they’d chosen to travel light with little more than their hand weapons and shields for protection. For this journey, their wits would be the greatest necessity.
“My lord, you could have finished this task on your own by now.”
If he’d chosen to reveal himself to the others, yes, Po could have been done. That way led to his death even if his men didn’t realize that yet. “We’ve been over this, Thanos. I’m no more welcome here than any man.”
“Then why are we here?” Belen continued to breathe hard. Po bit back a growl. The younger man must have realized the error of his questioning for he looked to Po, his eyes wide. “Apologies, my lord.”
“Acknowledged.” Po let a long silence pass as he pondered an appropriate response. No, he didn’t have to explain himself, but odds were good neither servant would be alive to see another sunset, so he allowed them their curiosity. “The land is not my element, as you know.” He thought of his home underwater, where the climate was cooler, the beauty unlike what could be found above the soil. “Any magic I wield here would be instantly detected by others.”
Belen climbed higher, a new crab-like crawl propelling him further. “But you are a god. Surely no one would interfere.”
“My brothers and sisters are petty, jealous creatures.” Much like himself … or what he’d been like once upon a time. While watching the destruction of humans meant little to him, watching the effects of a curse upon a certain human had changed him. “They would most certainly interfere. None of us should be here, and anyway it would irritate them to no end to find out we are here against their wishes.”
“Irritate is a polite way of putting it.”
Po chuckled at Thanos’ dark humor. “Well said. They’ll be more than irritated. They’ll have the two of you sent to my brother’s hold in Hades, and me, most likely set aflame and cast into the sky to shine down each night.”
Thanos grunted, his hands tightening on sharp rocks, despite how they cut into his flesh. “Compared to what we go through now, Hades might be a welcome change.”
“Say the name of the underworld too often and you might get your wish. Quiet your talk about it. Believe me, my brother’s world is nothing like mine.”
A companionable silence ensued as they continued their trek, their breathing and the ocean crashing against rocks below the only sounds to serenade them. Po let his thoughts drift, not stopping to land on one idea or another simply because he didn’t have the strength to climb and face them at the same time.
The sudden image of Belen on his knees before Thanos appeared in Po’s mind, and he almost lost his purchase. With a poorly hidden smile, he clasped onto the image, focusing it in his mind’s eye until it cleared.
Eyes closed, Belen feasted on the older warrior’s cock, his hands gripping Thanos’ thighs where muscles bunched in an effort to remain motionless. Head thrown back, Thanos encouraged his lover’s attention with soft words and his hands threaded in Belen’s blond hair. The cool ocean flowed around them while they lost themselves in each other’s touch. In bruising kisses. In more.
Po grew aroused at the image one of the men cast. One day he might tell them of his ability to catch glimpses of their thoughts, such as now, but more than likely not. In truth, they probably already surmised as much. He didn’t know which man projected the image, nor did he care. It was a welcome respite. The last woman he’d been with had been her, and another way he was like his brothers and sisters was in his interest in all things sexual whether man or woman.
Disappointed with the lack of time available for enjoying the voyeurism, Po pushed away the decadent thoughts to focus on hauling himself over the last hurdle. With a grunt, he crawled over the side, wanting to take a moment to catch his breath. Instead, he made little work of dropping his gear on the silt to lend a hand to the others. They accepted it without comment, all three collapsing to the ground in exhaustion when at last Thanos reached the level area.
“Your age catches you,” Belen gasped, his chest heaving, “old man.” His eyes glittered with merriment, and Po envied his always-jovial mood.
“And you are but,” Thanos swallowed hard, pulling air into his lungs, “an old man in a young man’s body. A true shame.”
Belen laughed. “But it is this young man’s body whose stamina you crave.” His voice had dropped to a suggestive tone, all but daring Thanos to dispute his claim. At once Po knew who’d projected the lasciviousness a few minutes ago. Ah, to be young again.
Thanos shot a look at Po who raised an amused eyebrow in return. The older warrior rarely hid his affection for Belen in front of others, but Po had the feeling the impetus for this journey, namely Po’s lost love, made him uncomfortable about flaunting their relationship. This disaster was not his servant’s creation, though, and he would not allow him to feel the blame. “Perhaps you’ll honor us all with a demonstration of such stamina before the night’s through?”
Belen jumped to his feet, and sketched a low bow. “As my lord wishes.”
“Go on, you,” Thanos said, rising to his feet as well. He swatted Belen across the rump before reaching down to gather their meager gear. “Work first, play later. The morning will come quickly.”
Poseidon, god of the sea, glanced at the setting sun, nodding his agreement. Before long, the orange globe would rise, signaling the start of a new day. The day he’d put off for far too long; the one in which he would confront the woman he’d help to damn.
Tomorrow they would meet Medusa, third of the Gorgon sisters, and pray to the heavens that for their troubles, she didn’t turn them all into stone.
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