Disclaimer: The characters in this story: Xena, Gabrielle and Eve, are the property of Renaissance Pictures and Universal MCA. This story is not meant to infringe upon their rights or the rights of the actors who portray them. Also, any part of the Stand By You series is not to be copied, whole or in part, without the author's permission, and is not to be copied for public use or for profit.
Stand By You - Part 6
Written by: Caina Q. Fuller
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Gabrielle heaved what remained of her breakfast over the edge of the ship. Even by using the wrist technique Xena had taught her to avoid seasickness, Gabrielle was as nauseated as she would be if she hadn't used it. She didn't doubt Xena's trick wasn't working due to her delicate condition. They were, after all, only on a river. The ride was much smoother here than it would be were they at sea.
Almost as if her child sensed her thoughts of him, or her, it began to move within her. This was the second time she'd felt it's presence, and she found it an odd sensation. Hope had grown so fast Gabrielle hadn't even been able to absorb she was pregnant much less take the time to feel her develop slowly. Gabrielle caressed her mid-section and stared out over the serene waters, contemplating her second chance at motherhood.
"What am I going to do with you?" she asked her child. She received a strong kick in response, causing an unexpected chuckle.
Gabrielle had considered giving the child away to the first willing woman who would take it and letting that be the end of it. Huron wanted them to get married and raise the child themselves. Before he had left with three hundred of her men to invade the Northern Valley as a distraction to Xena, he had suggested they let the Warrior Princess defeat her army while they moved to some small, backwater village where no one knew them and started their own family. Had he suggested that before he confessed he loved her she may have ordered him killed. Now, however, the offer was very tempting. She wondered, not for the first time, why those three little words had had such a profound effect on her dead soul.
Gabrielle caught sight of her reflection in the shining surface of one of her mens shields next to her. She was smiling. It was a small, almost non-existent smile, but a smile all the same. A seed of hope took root in her heart. Maybe...maybe it wasn't too late for her. May if she went to Xena...
Gabrielle turned to find Adar, her temporary second in command standing at attention beside her. The way he said her title it sounded as if he'd been repeating himself several times. She'd been so wrapped up in her thoughts, there was no way to tell how long he'd been calling her.
"We're coming to the southern shore now."
"How much longer?"
In the distance, Gabrielle could see the rising towers of King Gabriel's castle. "We're almost at our goal Adar. In a few minutes we'll be landing and...."
To Gabrielle's horror, a ball of fire was flying from behind the castle walls right toward her ship.
Gabrielle watched in helplessly as one flaming ball of ammunition after another came flying for them. How did they know Gabrielle would be attacking from the South? She had chosen this approach because it was the least logical choice from the prospective of a warrior like Xena. Maybe that had been her downfall. Of course! Xena would expect her to do the unexpected.
The ship behind her, carrying two hundred of her men took a direct hit and exploded into flames and smoke. Even over the loud explosion she could hear the agonized wailing of her soldiers as they died in the fiery destruction of the vessel.
"Adar! How man men on that ship?"
"Two hundred my lady! What are we going to..."
His voice died in his throat as he looked at the sky in horror and began to scream. Gabrielle followed his gaze, only to find another ball of ammunition heading right for her. Adar jumped overboard but Gabrielle remained frozen in place, unable to move though she wanted to.
This is it, she thought to herself. This is my death.
Gabrielle looked to the sky behind the ball of death that was upon her, and said good-bye to this world and all the torment it had held for her at the end of her life. It was finally over. The ship exploded around her, and blackness swallowed her, body and soul.
The last thing the victorious King Gabriel expected was for an angry Warrior Princess to come bursting into his bed chamber, arousing him from the first restful sleep he'd had since all of this confusion with Gabrielle began. Xena jerked him from the bed so hard that for a moment he was air born. His groggy mind struggled desperately to understand the hateful words screaming from her mouth. He was surprised she'd made it back from the Northern Valley only two days after he'd defeated and captured Gabrielle.
"Xena! What in Tartarus do you think you're doing? I'm still the King of-"
Xena swept away the last vestiges of sleep with a solid, well-placed backhanded slap across his face, sending him flying over to a window with a three story drop on the other side. "You may be King in this castle but to me you're just a man! A man who may have killed the one I lo...my best friend in this world! She and Eve are all I have left and now I don't even know if Gabrielle is going to survive!"
Gabriel cradled his stinging face. Guilt tugged at his conscience, and blood filled his mouth from his busted lip. "Xena, I had to save my Kingdom. The people under my rule depend on me to keep them safe-"
"Eve told me about the attack!" Xena's voice turned to ice as she tried to regain control of her raging emotions. "You never had any intentions of taking captives. You wanted to obliterate her."
"Damn straight I did! If I had it to do over I would. Without hesitation."
Queen Calantha entered the bed chamber, took one look at Gabriel's rapidly swelling lip and shook her head, but she made no attempt to rebuke Xena. "Xena, I just thought you should know. A couple of things have happened."
"Gabrielle's General, Huron, was killed leading an escape attempt on his way here from the Northern Valley."
"And the second thing?"
"Eve asked me to tell you Gabrielle lost her child."
"Is Gabrielle awake?"
Calantha nodded. Xena didn't know whether to be relieved or worried. She'd been out of contact with Gabrielle for so long, she didn't know what her friend was feeling, below the surface in her heart where it counted. She shoved past Calantha, leaving the Queen to patch up Gabriel's busted lip, and made her way to Gabrielle's chambers.
Xena arrived to find Eve washing the small cuts and bruises on Gabrielle's face and applying healing ointment to them. It was amazing to Xena that the same hands that had caused so much death and pain was capable of soothing another and healing. Eve hummed the same lullaby to Gabrielle now that Xena herself had sang to Eve as a baby.
"...hush now my little one. Please don't you cry. Lay your head down, on my shoulder and sigh. The suns gone away. Mama will pray the silence will keep all the while you're asleep..."
"Evie. Do you mind?"
Eve smiled her beautiful smile at Xena and nodded. She looked or a moment as if she had something else to say to her mother, but opted against it and moved on. Xena took her place at Gabrielle's side and studied the dead expression on her friends face.
"Gabrielle. How are you feeling?"
"Welcome to my gilded cage."
"King Greg-Gabriel isn't going to touch you. I promise you that."
"What do you want Xena."
"I want to apologize."
"For not being there for you when you needed me most. I'm so sorry."
Gabrielle studied her for so long Xena began to wonder what she'd managed to say wrong this time. "I don't blame you anymore. I blame me. I should have been strong enough to hold him off."
Even the mighty Warrior Princess broke into tears at these words. "Gabrielle..."
Gabrielle did the unexpected. She pulled Xena to her in a much need embrace. The Bard of Potidaea didn't cry herself, but she gave Xena the forgiveness and absolution she'd been needing since all this began.
When Xena's tears subsided, Gabrielle spoke. "I just wish my soul weren't dead."
"What do you mean?"
"Let me up Xena."
Gabrielle went to the window and looked out. The villager's below went about their daily affairs with a sense of security now that the threat of imminent destruction was gone.
"I suppose I should consider myself lucky. I didn't want the child, but I couldn't give it up either. I just feel as if I've failed somehow. Like I did with Hope. Hope..."
Gabrielle took a deep breath and faced Xena. "I've met someone Xena. A man who loves me and...if I get the chance I'm going to take him up on his offer to settle down and raise a family of our own. I'm tired of playing the nomad. I need stability right now."
Xena was hurt to say the least, and frightened. They had come through all of this, only for her to lose Gabrielle now?
"Who have you met?"
"His name is Huron. He's my General."
Apparently the look on Xena's face alone told Gabrielle something was wrong, and Gabrielle wanted to know what that was. "What's the matter?"
"During the three days since you were... hurt, Gabriel's army defeated your men. You don't have an army anymore."
Gabrielle wasn't nearly as upset by this news as she'd thought. With everything that happened she'd felt a spark of hope in her heart that she and Huron could make it work. Her army was disbanded, and she did feel a sense of loss for the original group of men she'd "rescued" from Thad, but this was her chance to settle down. Just like she'd had with Perdicus so many years before. For some reason Xena's face looked stricken.
"I guess I'm not as bothered by that as you are."
A finger of ice caressed Gabrielle's heart. Something was wrong. "Say it."
"I just found out myself. Huron lead an escape attempt on his way here from the Northern Valley...he was killed, along with his men."
The spark of hope that had been trying to rekindle the old fire of love and happiness in her heart died out with Xena's words, and once again Gabrielle's soul went blank. Again she felt nothing but hate.
"I'm so sorry."
"Sorry? Sorry? Huron is dead and you're sorry? No!"
Eve ran into the room at the sound of Gabrielle's scream, just in time to see her jump from the window. Gabrielle hit an awning she'd seen below her window and slid to the ground. She wasted no time in making her escape, though physically she was in no shape to make a run for freedom.
Xena took Eve by the shoulders. "O.K. Evie. You said you knew what to do. Do it. I just hope you're not wrong."
"I don't have it wrong Mother. Trust me."
With an incredible leap few people on this Earth could execute, Xena included, Eve flew head first through the window. She landed on the ground feet first with her mother's feline agility and whistled. Argo came running faithfully to her, and Eve galloped after Gabrielle in hot pursuit. It didn't take her long to catch up with the woman she was beginning to think of as her second mother. She snatched the Warrior Bard from the ground and tossed her over her saddle, face down.
"Eve! Put me down!"
Eve ignored her and galloped into the forest, Xena following at a discrete distance. If Eve's plan was going to work, Xena couldn't be there to distract her. After an eternity of bouncing uncomfortably on her belly in the saddle, Eve came to a stop and Gabrielle jumped down. They were in a clearing.
Gabrielle faced Eve, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "For a second there I thought you were going to spank Auntie Gabrielle for being a bad girl."
Eve wasn't intimidated in the least and she stood toe to toe with Gabrielle. She spoke to Gabrielle in her best "Livia" tone. "Don't think I wasn't tempted. You've hurt a lot of people who love you with your recent behavior. Mother, your sister and niece. Me."
"Did you bring me out here to preach at me?"
"No. I have a bigger plan in mind. It's time to end this, once and for all."
Eve placed her right hand over Gabrielle's heart and immediately the world around them disappeared to be replaced with a magnificent garden. Gabrielle found herself alone in this place, where roses and orchids, violets and honeysuckle adorned the stone walls, perfuming the cool misty air with their sweet scent. The sky above was the most perfect blue with fat cumulus clouds floating lazily over the greenest of pastures. A fountain with an amazing geyser in the center stood to her right.
"Eve! What are you doing! Get me out of here this instant!"
Eve's voice filled the garden, seeming to originate from the air itself. "Hatred has killed your soul Gabrielle. Love will make it live again."
A man coalesced into being at the fountain. A man that she believed she would never see again. She knew the shape of his body so intimately she didn't need to see his face to recognize him.
At the sound of Gabrielle's voice Perdicus turned to her. When he recognized who she was, a grin broke out from ear to ear on his boyish face.
As Perdicus walked toward Gabrielle the truth of what was really happening came to her and she backed away. Perdicus wasn't really here. This was some sort of torture. She'd died on that ship under Gabriel's attack and she was in Hell. That was the only thing that explained what was happening. She cast nervous glances around the garden, expecting demons to leap out at her at any moment.
"Stay away from me. I know what's really going on and it's not going to work Lucifer! You can't fool me with your little illusions!"
Perdicus shook his head, his cheerful smile gone. "No Gabrielle. I was sent by Eli to talk with you. I'm glad you're here sweetheart. There's so much I want to say to you."
Gabrielle wasn't going to take it anymore. "No! Stop it! No more." She closed her eyes and buried her face in her hands, willing this nightmare to end. All became quiet, but when she looked up, Perdicus still stood before her, his head cocked to one side in an expression of almost child-like curiosity.
"What can I do to prove to you I'm real?"
"O.K. then!" Perdicus said cheerfully. He threw up his hands and examined the sky. "This is not the Elysian Fields and I am not really your husband. This is all an illusion of Hell. What would you say to me if I really were Perdicus?"
Gabrielle decided to play along with Lucifer's little game. Maybe he would inadvertently slip and reveal a way out of here.
"I would say...I'm sorry for letting Callisto kill you."
"I know. You've apologized each and every day since it happened. You know what Pie?"
Gabrielle froze, unable to believe what she just heard. "What did you just say?"
When Perdicus had died, so had all hope of hearing his special name for her. He lived only in her dreams, and so did those special moments from their childhood when they'd first fallen in love. Lucifer wouldn't know to use something so pleasant from her childhood against her. He would only use pain.
Maybe...Maybe Eve has taken me-no. She just wasn't ready to give up her hatred. It was a living
thing within her now. A part of her very identity. Hate had become a familiar companion that she just wasn't sure she could live without. She didn't know if she could see life through the eyes of someone who felt mythological feelings such as love and happiness. No matter how much she wanted to.
"Pie. I'll never forget the first time you cooked for me. We were twelve years old, and we had just been betrothed. You hated the idea of spending your life with me so much you tried your best to convince me you weren't wife material. So you made an apple pie for desert, but left the crust raw. I loved you so much I ate it anyway."
He had it all wrong! All this time he'd thought she made that pie as a sign of rejection, when it had been anything but. Gabrielle swallowed over the lump of emotion that had formed in her throat at the memory, and her husband's misunderstanding. She no longer doubted Perdicus was real. She knew Eve had brought him to her to heal her of her pain. Gabrielle didn't know if clearing things up with Perdicus could do that, but she sure was going to try.
"No, you're wrong Perdicus. I didn't make the pie with raw crust to discourage you. I was so excited about cooking my first meal for you and getting everything right that I just forgot to bake it."
Perdicus laughed, genuinely amused at this revelation. "Well I'll be! All this time I thought...Never mind what I thought. Thanks for clearing that up for Mr. Illusion."
"I know you're not an illusion. You're real."
Perdicus gently ran his fingers through the wisps of hair that framed her beautiful face. His spoke with the usual gentle, quiet timbre to his voice. "Gabrielle. I never blamed you for my death. Given the chance I would die for you without limit. I love you."
"I love you too Perdicus."
"I know you do Pie."
Perdicus offered her sweet forgiveness and Gabrielle took it with both hands. By doing so, the weight of her misplaced guilt all these years over his death was lifted. This spiritual freedom had an almost physical effect on Gabrielle, making her to collapse in his arms, weeping tears she didn't even know she had left to spill. Perdicus had opened the floodgates of her heart with his love, and hurt and anger came pouring out in waves. Little did she know, it was the tip of the ice burg. Sobs wracked her body, making her knees too weak to hold her but Perdicus held her tight, and for the first time in a long time, she felt the security only the love of this old friend and lover could bring.
Finally, when she was unable to cry another tear, Perdicus released her. He looked deep into her eyes, his soul speaking volumes to hers that words could not express.
"Your journey here is not complete. You have a long way to go."
"I want to stay with you."
"I wish you could, but Eli is giving you a chance to do what very few other's are blessed with the opportunity to do."
"Heal old wounds. Say good-bye to those you love."
"I just found you! I can't let you go now."
He kissed her deeply and with a passion she had only felt from him and no other. "As long as you remember me, and love me, you will never lose me," he lay his hand over hear heart. "I'll live within you."
"Will I ever see you again?"
"The soul is eternal Gabrielle. We will be together again. Someday."
They shared one last soft kiss, then he turned and walked away, fading with each step he took until he was gone.
Xena came to stand over Eve and Gabrielle. What she saw frightened her, deep in her soul. Gabrielle and Eve stared blankly up at the sky with a dead gaze. Eve had asked Xena to trust her when she'd first told her of Eli's plan. Her daughter had sworn that night in the temple, she hadn't been dead, but she had Ascended to a better place. Now Xena had to force herself to leave their bodies untouched, and hope that Eve was right about her vision with Eli, because if she were wrong, they were both dead, and there would be nothing Xena could do to change it.
No sooner did Perdicus fade away did a stone exit slide open, revealing rolling green pastures as far as her eyes could see, along with an insistent thumping sound. Gabrielle exited the garden and followed the wall until she came to a young man who was the cause of all the sound. He was tall and well-built, with flowing brown hair that hung half way down his back. He wore a white robe that seemed to sparkle with it's own life with each move he made. He beat the wall with a fighting staff and dodged blows from his imaginary foe, his bare feet sure and steady on the soft ground of the pasture. Sensing her presence, he turned and smiled at her, and Gabrielle slowly began to recognize him, but...it couldn't be!
"Gabrielle! It's so good to see you again."
They face may have aged, but there was no mistaking that voice.
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