Loosening the Chains

by JS Stephens
Copyright 1998, revised 2013.. All Rights Reserved
(Xena & Gabrielle, Mythical Babes series - 6)

Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. belong to Renaissance Pictures, Universal, etc. I'm just borrowing them for a short time.

This story takes place immediately after the episode "Death in Chains".

Xena awkwardly put an arm around the sobbing girl, not sure how to comfort her. Death permeated the room in the form of dead thieves, but it was the death of one brave young man, Talus, that upset Gabrielle so much. Xena could feel Gabrielle's tears sliding down her neck, her arms wound tight around the warrior's waist, her body shaking with grief. What could she do for this girl? Damn, she was a former warlord, not accustomed to dealing with the emotional aftermath of death, just accustomed to dealing death.

Queen Karis came over and laid a gentle hand on Gabrielle's head as she spoke to the warrior. "Xena, would you and Gabrielle like to spend the night here? It is rather late and certainly it would be better for both of you to make a fresh start in the morning."

"Yes," Xena agreed slowly, "I think that would be a good idea." The queen nodded and motioned for them to follow her. "Gabrielle, we are staying here tonight. We need to follow Queen Karis now," Xena said to her friend.

"Okay," Gabrielle whispered. She kept her face buried in Xena's neck for a moment longer, then took a deep breath and lifted her head, but held on to Xena's waist, clinging as if her life depended upon it. Xena decided to tolerate this, putting her arm gently on the top of Gabrielle's shoulders as they followed the queen to a guest room.

"Xena," Gabrielle asked after they had been served dinner, "why did Talus have to die? He was such a young man, barely started on life, just a few years older than me!" She laid down her fork, unable to eat more than a few bites.

"Gabrielle, sometimes death is a blessing," Xena began quietly, "and for him, it was a real blessing."

"But-" Gabrielle started.

Xena interrupted, "He wanted to end his misery, Gabrielle. Talus had a weak heart and it was getting steadily weaker. He was a very brave man to help us find Death, he went through much pain before she released him. I just don't know what else to say."

"Oh." Gabrielle picked her fork back up, but then laid it down. "I'm not hungry, would you like the rest of my dinner?"

"No, thank you. Are you sure you can't eat?" Xena asked, worried. Gabrielle's appetite was usually never affected by anything.

Gabrielle hung her head and mumbled, "Positive."

Xena looked sharply at the girl, growing worried. How should she handle this situation? She thought back to just last month, when Gabrielle stood silently beside her as she sang for Marcus' funeral pyre, lending whatever comfort she could to the proud warrior. Xena finally abandoned her dinner and motioned for Gabrielle to follow her to the couch.

Gabrielle followed her, pulling Xena's arms around her as soon as they were seated. Xena was uncomfortable with the close contact, but did not pull away. A long buried memory surfaced, a memory of holding her friend Diana. She couldn't quite remember why, but the eight year old Diana had come running into the inn and made a beeline for the fourteen year old Xena's lap. She remembered holding Diana and gently stroking her hair until the girl stopped sobbing. Xena wrenched herself back to the present, finding her hand gently stroking Gabrielle's silken hair, found herself murmuring reassuring words in the girl's ear.

How did this scrappy little girl do this? she wondered. It was as if the remaining chains were dropping from her heart, crashing around her feet. She still didn't know Gabrielle that well, but knew her well enough to know that this kid was tough and could handle nearly anything. Tenderness stole over the warrior, stirring the embers of love in her heart. She had already risked near death to rescue Gabrielle from the arms of Morpheus' priests, but this was different.

Gabrielle gradually stopped sobbing and sat back up, barely daring to look at Xena. "I'm sorry," she whispered brokenly, "I didn't mean to keep crying. I've never lost someone I love, or thought I could love," she said. "You were so brave when you sang for Marcus, a man you had known for years, yet here I'm bawling over a man I had barely met."

"We all react in different ways," Xena said quietly. "I've dealt with death more often than you have. I'll wager that you never had to say goodbye to someone your own age before."

Gabrielle shook her head. "No."

Xena continued, "It's different, dealing with the death of a friend. I'm not good with words, but Talus was in pain, and wanted to be released from that pain, and death was the only way he would be released."

"That doesn't help the pain in my heart!" Gabrielle retorted.

"No, only time can help that pain, Gabrielle." Xena sighed. "I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted. Should we go to bed now?"

Gabrielle nodded and followed Xena to bed. She curled up next to the other woman, then reached over and kissed Xena on the cheek. "Thanks, Xena."

Xena rolled back over to face Gabrielle. "Thanks for what?"

"For being my friend," she replied simply. "For being my best friend ever."

"You're welcome," Xena whispered. She watched as the girl heaved a sigh, then snuggled up closed and promptly fell asleep. "And thank you for being my friend," Xena thought. Hercules may have unchained her heart, but it appeared that a young girl from Poteidaia was stealing it.

The End

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