A/N: I warn you now this is NOT a fluffy story. It does have a happy ending, but it depends on how you see happy endings. =)
Stevie had been attempting to break in a new horse that had been purchased for Taylor's upcoming birthday. Tucker was getting a bit on in age. Stevie being the horse lover, was put in charge of training him. As Stevie's experience had taught her, a horse and its rider would have a shared bond of mutual trust and respect. This particular quarter horse - Cobalt - was a perfect match for Taylor.
All Stevie ever seemed to do with her time was break in horses, work on the farm and raise her son, Xander. Stevie made no time to play in pool competitions, though Markus asked her every week. Frankly, she had no desire to play the game without her pool partner. It wasn't the same, playing with someone else, and it hurt when she tried to. In the end, it was easier to simply keep busy with the farm and spending time with her son.
Alex Ryan had been dead for more than a year. Xander was coming close to 16 months, and not a single day passed when Stevie didn't miss him, ache for him, and wish that wherever he was, she was there, too. But she reminded herself time and time again, that Xander needed his mother, and it was for that reason alone that she knew she had to survive the death of her husband.
Though no amount of time had dimmed the pain that struck her heart. She somehow learnt to hide behind a mask, she had learnt to live through the next seconds, minutes, days… somehow she had learnt to keep going. She always felt that her head was barely above water, that she was treading in the deep end of the pool and she wasn't getting anywhere, but she somehow managed not to drown completely.
Alex still had such a strong tie to her heart. She had tried once to move on, to open her heart to someone else, but the truth was that she didn't want anyone else. Alex was the great love of her life, and she was lucky to have his son, but she still felt cheated. Without him, life just didn't have any kind of brightness. Stevie still couldn't understand how he managed to survive the death of Claire, and go and fall in love again. She felt too drawn to Alex, to ever think that she could fall in love again.
Whenever Stevie needed some male company, which wasn't often, Markus would offer to take her to dinner. He and Grace were in a committed relationship, and extremely happy, Stevie thought they made a perfect couple.
"Hey, Stevie…" Grace called, approaching the gate and poking her head over the top. "How's the training going?"
Stevie barely looked up. "I think he's about ready," she said impassively. There was no smile. No excitement. The only time that she ever did manage to crack a smile these days was when she was playing with her son, and even then it was forced. Stevie was broken.
"Wow," Grace beamed. "Already?"
"Yeah," she nodded. Stevie had been working two straight days trying to break him in.
"But you've only been working on him two days, are you sure that-"
"Grace!" Stevie snapped. "I know what I'm doing. I don't need you to tell me. Alright?"
Grace nodded and tried not to take it personally. Stevie was yelling at everyone left, right and centre. It was the new her. Grace stepped off the fence and sighed heavily. "Yeah, okay…" she hesitated and decided not to argue with her.
"How's Xander doing?" Stevie asked.
"Meg has a handle on it," she replied. "He's happy as a clam." Babysitting Xander was a shared duty between Meg and Moria, as was the house chores. But Moria had recently married and she and Phil were currently away on their honeymoon.
Grace offered to bring back lunch in a little while, and left Stevie alone.
It was before Grace returned with lunch that Stevie decided to test the horse's skill. She believed he was ready to ride and saddled him up as she had done a thousand times before, with a thousand different horses. It felt natural to be on a horse, the only time she ever felt like she was herself. But this time, she climbed on him a little too early, and she realized that when she gently kicked the horse in the side to move him forward, the horse became skittish. It wasn't as easy to just climb off the horse as it had been to get on.
Stevie's stomach turned inside out when she realized that the horse was going to bolt. She felt the horse's fear, and Stevie clung desperately to the reigns, and when it bucked and stood up on his hind legs, she felt herself being lifted high into the air. Stevie wasn't prepared.
"Woh!" she cried gently, as if her soothing voice would calm the horse's nerves. Instead it only made the horse panic more, and again bucked with more strength than the first time. Before Stevie could stop herself, she felt the horse trying to throw her off.
Stevie lost her balance.
With visions of being dragged across acres of paddock, she loosened her grip on the reigns, which was a mistake. A moment later, she was airborne. Her eyes widened and her heart thumped loudly in her chest.
Stevie heard the crack of wood being broken before she landed on the ground beneath her, the crunching of her bones breaking as she was thrown between the mess of splinted wood and the dirt. Then the pain set in.
Her instant thought was of Alex, followed by another flash of Xander. Something inside Stevie made her remain calm, as if she had a burst of strength from an unknown place. Her eyes were closed.
A smile came to her face when she saw him approaching. A smile that had been missing since he had died. A smile full of life, full of pure happiness. It settled across the entire length of her mouth and reached her eyes, adding a kind of sparkle that she hadn't had since then.
He knelt down beside her and took her hand. "God, I missed you…" he said, his smile as wide as hers. "I was wondering when you would get here."
"You were expecting me?"
"I've been waiting for you all my life, cowgirl," he grinned, embracing her. She wrapped her arms around his waist and held him against her, feeling the familiarity of his warmth as he pulled her gently on his lap. She was in no pain.
"I missed you, too," she whispered softly.
"I know…" he replied knowingly. He pulled her back to look at her, and she was smiling. The very idea of being with Alex again made everything seem light and easy. The heavy burden she had been carrying for over a year now finally faded, and in its place came calmness and pure ecstasy.
"Alex…" she thought about leaving him again, and she knew with certainty that she couldn't do it. She wouldn't do it. "What happens now?"
"You stay with me," he answered.
"Really?" she smiled, overwhelmed with the idea. "And Xander?"
"He stays on the farm," his smile faded then. "With Moria and Grace, who will love him as much as we do. I promise. And until then you and I will wait until we have him, so that we can be the family we were supposed to be."
Stevie nodded. She loved her son. She loved her son more than she could ever imagine, but she couldn't live without Alex anymore. It was too hard. She wanted to be with him, and she didn't care what she had to lose to make that happen. Stevie was not afraid, she knew that Xander was going to be okay. Charlotte had lived without her mother and she had turned out fine, and with Xander being brought up on Drover's Run and Killarny, he would survive without his parents, too. But he would be well provided for. She believed that with all her heart. And Rose, who was coming on 19 and travelling with friends, would be okay, too.
"I want that too… to be a family," she smiled, reaching her hand up to cup his face. "I love you, Alex Ryan."
"I love you, too, cowgirl." Then he kissed her.
The taste of his lips was just as she remembered. He was hers again.
As if from a distance, Stevie heard her name being called. She heard Moria and Grace, both begging her to open her eyes, but when she tried she found that it hurt.
"It's okay, Stevie…" Alex urged her. "You can do this."
"If I open my eyes, will you disappear again?" she panicked.
"I'll be here," he promised. "I'm always with you. I always have been."
There was something about his tone that made Stevie believe him, and she tried again, forcing herself to open her eyes, no matter how much it hurt. Alex disappeared and she was back on the farm, staring up at Grace and Meg. "Alex…" she gasped weakly. "I want Alex."
"Honey, you had a fall off a horse," Grace explained.
"Where did Alex go?" she asked, ignoring Grace's comment. All she could think of was getting back to him.
"He's not here," Meg told her bluntly. "Remember, Stevie? He died a year ago. Stevie… I need you to focus and tell me what hurts?"
"My heart," she whispered honestly. "My heart hurts. I want Alex. Please… Xander… take care of him. Love him… tell him…"
"We'll tell him, Stevie!" Meg promised.
"No, we won't!" Grace yelled bitterly. "You tell him yourself. You will not give up, Stevie! Do you hear me! Damn it, you will NOT give up!"
"Alex… Grace, I need Alex." Her voice was barely a whisper.
"We need YOU!" she shouted angrily. "What about your children. Xander and Rose! They NEED you! Stevie, open your eyes, damn it…" tears streamed down Grace's face. Time, Stevie realized, it would take them time. But they too, would learn to live without her.
Stevie watched as Moria put a hand on Grace's arm, she watched the tears fill both their eyes and then a moment later, she closed her eyes and whispered. "Thank you… I love you…"
"We love you, too," she heard them say in unison. There wasn't a doubt in her mind that Grace wouldn't be able to move on. She was one of the strongest people that Stevie knew, and Markus was lucky to have her. They were lucky to have each other.
A moment later Alex appeared to take her hand.
Okay… I know it's morbid but I can't help it. Alex & Stevie belong together. I hope you guys liked it… and if not… that's okay, too. Go ahead and press that review button, I'm interested in your opinion! =)