(A sequel to the "What If" epic)
Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes as sunlight spilled into the bedroom. She smiled as she looked into a stunning pair of blue eyes. “Good morning.”
She placed a hand on his face. Even though they had been married for almost a year, she was still getting used to waking up next to Iolaus. Everything else had seemed to fall into place. Of course Xena and Hercules were a little shocked, to say the least, upon hearing their announcement. Gabrielle and Iolaus just told them that they had better be glad they had waited until they got back.
“You had better get dressed, Hercules is going to be here soon.” She gave him a light kiss. He smiled down at her. “You don’t think it’s a routine visit, do you?” She pulled a piece of parchment out from behind her pillow.
“I got this yesterday. Xena’s coming for a visit.” He sighed and rolled over.
Hercules surveyed the small house as he approached it. Smoke was coming out of the chimney, the porch was draped with furs. As he got closer he noticed a small garden in the front. It finally looked like a home. He smiled. In a few years he was certain that there would be children running around. His smile got wider as he remembered something his mother had said to Iolaus when they were teenagers. I hope that when your older and married that you have a son that’s exactly like you. So that you know exactly what you put me through. “For Gabrielle’s sake I hope that doesn’t come true.” He muttered.
“No. I haven’t seen her in a while. Why so you ask? ”
“I got a note from her yesterday, saying that she was coming. So I thought...”
“...That she’d be with me.”
“Oh, well. Iolaus is out in the barn.”
“It’s all right, I’ll find him.” Hercules stepped off the porch and disappeared behind the house.
Xena tugged on Argo’s reigns. She smiled as she reached the small house. It had been almost three months since she had seen Gabrielle and Iolaus, and she was looking forward to a small vacation with them. Gabrielle was waiting on the porch when Xena arrived. She had her staff and bag ready.
“Come on.” She told Xena as she walked past her.
“I just got here. I was hoping for a rest.” Xena turned Argo around.
“We won’t be gone long, just over night.”
As they traveled, Gabrielle told Xena what had happened while Hercules had visited. “War broke out in Ephesus.”
“I had heard that.”
“Well, Hercules and Iolaus made some kind of promise to the king of Ephesus to help out whenever a war broke out and they couldn’t handle it.”
“All right, that explains where Iolaus is, but where are we going?”
Xena looked at the temple in front of them. “This is one of Aphrodite’s temples.”
“Yeah, I know.” Gabrielle said pushing open the temple doors. Xena reluctantly followed her in to the very ornate room.
“Aphrodite!” Gabrielle called out.
In a flash of gold the blonde goddess appeared before them. “Hey Gabby, how’s it going? No problems with Iolaus, I hope.”
Gabrielle blushed. “No...No. Nothing like that. It is about him, though.”
“He’s been called off to war...”
“You’ve come to the wrong god, sweetie.” Aphrodite cut in.
“No, I just want you to make sure he comes home to me alive and in one piece.” She paused a moment. “Within the next eight months or so.”
“Hey! I can protect him, but you can’t put a time limit on it.” Gabrielle sighed and looked at the goddess, who put her hands on slender hips. “I’m not putting a time limit on it...OK maybe I am, but I’d just like him home before the baby’s born.”
A big smile spread over Aphrodite’s face. “Sweet Cheeks is going to be a daddy, how cool! I’ll send Hermes to tell him!”
“NO!” Gabrielle shouted.
“Gabrielle.” Xena spoke up for the first time.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want him to know...I know he’s worried about me as it is, if he finds out I’m pregnant he’ll just worry more. And I don’t want that for him.”
“'Kay. I won’t tell Sweet Cheeks about the baby, but I’ll see if I can’t pull some strings with Athena.” Aphrodite gave Gabrielle another smile before she disappeared.
Xena stepped up and placed a hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder. “Xena, I knew before he left.”
“It’s all right, Gabrielle, you were protecting him. I just hope this is a short war.”
Iolaus sat at the negoiation table with his arms folded across his chest. Two rather portly men stood at the head of the table pointing and screaming in each other’s face. Hercules was playing moderator between the two.
“I’m sure we can work out a treaty of peace, if you would just calm down.” Hercules said placing a hand on either man’s chest. This had been going on for three months now and each day it got worse. At least that was Iolaus’ opinion.
“No, I can’t think any more tonight.” The man on the left said and walked out of the room.
“Fine.” The other one followed.
Iolaus looked up at Hercules. “I don’t believe this. That's the only thing we can get them to agree on. I could've stayed home if I knew all we were going to do was play diplomat.” All Hercules could do is shake his head and sigh. Iolaus pushed himself out of the chair and walked toward the door. “I’m going to see if I can get some dinner. You coming?”
“In a few minutes.”
“Xena!” Gabrielle shouted from the back bedroom. Xena, fearing the worse, sprinted back to her, sword drawn.
“What is it?”
Gabrielle sighed. “I can’t see my feet. Do you think you could lace my boots up?”
Xena shook her head with a sigh and stood her sword up against the door frame. “Sit down on the bed.” She pulled a stool up next to Gabrielle. “What would you be doing if I hadn’t decided to stay?”
“I don’t know. I’d think of something.”
“Yeah, I bet.” Xena teased.
“Gabrielle. Xena.” A voice called from the outer room.
“We’ll be out in a minute, Jason.” Gabrielle called back.
Xena finished tying her boots and stood up to leave. “Xena.” Gabrielle looked at her and held her hand out. Xena grabbed her hand and helped her up. Gabrielle took a quick look in the mirror, smoothing out her dress. Her hands rested a moment on her round stomach. Xena sighed. She placed a hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder.
“Let's go see what Jason wants.” Jason was sitting on the edge of a long chair covered with furs. Something wrapped in rough material was sitting next to him. He stood up when they entered the room.
“Jason.” Xena greeted him with the typical warrior greeting.
“I found this in the barn and thought that Gabrielle would get more use out of it.” He reached down and pulled the dusty cloth off to reveal a beautifully carved cradle. “It needs to be cleaned and there are some rough spots, but I can take care of that for you.”
“Oh, Jason...it’s beautiful.”
“I think Alcmene would have wanted you to have it.” Gabrielle leaned in and hugged him. The baby gave its mother a kick. She placed a hand on her stomach. “I think the baby wants to thank you too.”
“You know, I saw some loose shingles on the roof, I could patch them up for you.”
She smiled again as he turned to leave. “Jason, thank you.”
Gabrielle tossed over one more time before pushing off the covers and slipping out of the bedroom. She crossed the outer living area and walked out to the porch. The air was cool and refreshing. Gabrielle ran a hand over the leather cord around her neck and pulled the black stone amulet out from underneath her tunic. It had been Iolaus’ wedding present to her. The thought of her wearing it had struck her as funny at first, she had been so used to seeing him wear it. Now she hardly took it off, holding onto it during the night, praying that he would be brought back to her.
“Gabrielle?” Xena’s voice called from the doorway.
“I couldn’t sleep. I’ll be there in a minute.” She wiped away the tears and walked back into the house.
Gabrielle used Jason’s arm as leverage as she walked up the hill. Somehow, she'd convinced Xena to take a few days for herself. “Go and bash some warlord’s head in.” Were Gabrielle’s exact words. She had noticed that Xena was becoming a little bored with just haggling around the house. So it was good for her to get away. Of course, she'd put up a protest, but Gabrielle stood firm and told her that she’d be fine. The baby wasn’t due for another three months. Jason sat down on a fallen tree and looked around. “I'd forgotten how beautiful it was up here.” He said, taking in the view.
“You came up here a lot?”
“Herc and Iolaus did a lot more than I did, but there were times when the three of us would be here together." He smiled.
“I hope that this one will find friends like you and Hercules.” She looked down at her stomach.
“I’m sure he will.” He smiled at her.
“Huh...I haven’t thought much about that. I guess I’m going to have to. I mean, I haven’t even thought of a name. Jason, what am I going to do?” She placed a hand on her forehead. “The closer it gets to the time the baby’s to be born, the more worried I get.”
He moved over to sit next to her. “I’m sure everything’s going to be fine.”
She placed a hand on his arm. “I hope so.”
Hercules rubbed his eyes again. The two monarchs had been going at it for nearly twelve hours strait. He gave Iolaus a look. The hunter had already spaced out and was twisting the solid gold band on his left hand.
“Huh? Oh, sorry.”
“Is this a bummer of a party or what?” A familiar voice called out. Then in a shower of gold Aphrodite appeared.
“What are you doing here?” Hercules stared, a little shocked to see her and even more worried whether the two men at the head of the table could, too.
“Don’t worry, they can’t see me.” Giving a small grin. “Can’t I just drop in to visit my two favorite mortals?”
“No, not in the middle of a war.”
“Okay, Gabrielle sent me. She was just a little worried about her hubby.” She gave Iolaus a cheerful smile.
“At least I know she hasn’t forgotten me.” Iolaus smiled.
“I’ve been here and there watching the two of you ever since you got here. I just thought it was time for a personal appearance.” She patted her hair once before going on. “Athena isn’t getting her act together so I thought...”
“What’s the catch?” Hercules eyed his sister.
“Why does there always have to be a catch?” “Because...I know you, Aphrodite. Now, what’s behind this motivation of yours?” “You know, I don’t think that anyone had used the word 'motivation' in the same sentence with me before.” She gave a big grin.
Hercules let out a frustrated sigh. Iolaus muffled a laugh. “Aphrodite...”
“Herc, I promised Gabrielle that I’d have Sweet Cheeks home before the baby was born.”
Iolaus sat up on his chair and looked at the goddess. “What did you just say?”
“Athena’s not doing anything about this war so...”
“No, after that.”
Aphrodite blushed, embarrassed. “Gabrielle’s going to have a baby.” She placed a hand on his arm. “Gabrielle came to me after you guys left and asked me to bring you home in one piece, but she didn’t want me to tell you because she was worried that you’d be more worried about her and you’d do something stupid. But she really wants you to be there.”
“Can’t you just zap me home?”
“Wish I could, curly, but I used that up when I saved the two of you from Ares. But I’ll see what I can do.” She was gone with a shimmer of gold.
Hercules watched Iolaus heading for the doorway. “Iolaus, you need to calm down.” Iolaus didn’t look up. “Herc, I can’t calm down, not until I see Gabrielle.” He stopped and slung his pack over his shoulder, walking to the door. Hercules stopped him by putting a hand on his chest.
“I know you're worried, but it’s not going to help if you act irrationally.”
“Hercules...” “Just relax and take your time, and you’ll be home before you know it.”
Hercules nodded and watched him hurry down the hall. “Be safe, my friend.”
Gabrielle looked out the small window. Xena was coming up the hill, pulling Argo behind her. She walked out on to the porch to meet her. “Did you have fun?”
Xena smiled. “What ever do you mean?” With an innocent look she let Argo loose and walked up to the porch. “How are you doing?” She reached out a hand and felt the baby move.
“Xena, you worry too much. I’m fine.”
“Maybe...I sent for Ephiny, she should be here soon.”
“What? I’m going to need the help.” Gabrielle looked at her friend and decided to let it drop. There was no use in arguing with her.
“All right. I guess it’s going to be fine.”
“You were going to go see her after the baby was born anyway...this will just cut down on your travel time.” Gabrielle sighed and walked into the house.
Xena’s eyes flew open when she heard the noise. She got up and walked into the back bedroom. Gabrielle was sitting on the edge of the bed. Her eyes were tightly closed and her hands were clenched in a fist. “When did they start?” Xena asked from the door.
“I don’t know.” She relaxed as the labor pain past.
Xena sat down next to her. “They probably started this morning.” She placed an arm underneath Gabrielle’s shoulders. “Come on, lets go for a walk.”
“Ephiny.” Xena shook the amazon who was asleep in the outer room.
“What is it?”
“Gabrielle’s gone into labor. I’m going to walk with her until her contractions get stronger.” “I’ll send Xenon to get Jason.”
Throwing on his blue tunic, Jason ran to the door to see the small centaur stood waiting outside. “It’s Gabrielle isn’t it?” He asked. The centaur nodded. Jason stepped out into the cool night air. “Let's go.”
Though the two houses were just a few miles apart the walk felt like a thousand. Jason cut through the path in the woods, his mind going a million miles that he didn’t hear the twig snap behind him. Within seconds, Jason was flat on the ground. Gathering his barings, Jason heard a muffled voice.
“Damn! Jason, are you all right?”
“Iolaus!” He reached out and grabbed the other man’s hand. “Thank the gods you're home.”
“I take it this isn’t just a midnight run?” Iolaus ran a hand through his hair.
“The baby’s on it’s way. Looks like you made it just in time.” Jason saw a the blue eyes light up. “Come on. I’ve already lost Xenon, I don’t want to loose you too.”
Jason was right. He had a tough time keeping up with Iolaus all the way to the house and was grateful when he saw it in the distance. Ephiny was out front with Xenon. Iolaus gave her a small greeting and walked past her into the house. Xena head the door open and walked out into the front room.
“Xena, where is she?”
“In the bedroom.” She stopped him before he could walk back. “Iolaus, she’s in a lot of pain.”
She gave him an understanding look and let him pass. Iolaus walked into the back room and laid his pack and sword against the door. Gabrielle was laying on her side facing away from the door. He sat down on the edge of the bed, trying not to disturb her too much. “Xena, I don’t think I can do this.” Her voice was tired and laced with pain.
“Of course you can.” His words were comforting.
Gabrielle turned over as soon as she heard his voice. “Iolaus!” She wrapped her arms around his neck. “Oh gods, I’ve missed you.” She nearly sobbed.
“I’ve missed you too.” He just sat there holding her, not wanting to let her go.
“Iolaus...” Xena’s voice came from behind him.
He looked into Gabrielle’s eyes. “I’ll be right outside.”
Xena placed a hand on his shoulder as he walked out of the room, entering with Ephiny.
Iolaus sat in the bedroom next to the window. The early morning sunlight was just starting to spill into the room. He moved from his chair to the bed. Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes and looked up at him. “Have you had any sleep?”
“No, you two needed it more than I did.” He pointed to the sleeping infant nestled in her arms.
She smiled at looked down at their son. She ran a finger along his chubby face. “We haven’t decided on a name yet.”
“I was thinking about that.”
“Yeah, while you were asleep. I was thinking that he should be named after his mother, who kept his father from doing something stupid.”
“Sorry, Aphrodite’s words, not mine.”
She laughed a little and rested against him. “So Gabriel, it is.”
Iolaus was glad to be home with his family. His family. It was odd-sounding at first, but he was getting used to it.
“Oh gods, I’ve missed you.” Gabrielle whispered. He smiled, whispering back.
“I’ve missed you, too.”
Read the story that started it all. WHAT IF - by CCAmazon
Read the story that started it all. WHAT IF - by CCAmazon