DISCLAIMER: If I owned them, I wouldn't need to write fanfic about them. Ergo, they aren't mine <g>. They belong to the wonderful folks of Tollin/Robbins, the WB, DC Comics, and many more. Neither money nor bribes have been received for this work of fiction, though I'm partial to chocolate if someone feels compelled to send me something … even if it's to get me to stop writing <wink>.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: First off, I need to say a big thanks to kc (chaos) for assuring me that this story was worth posting. Thanks, hon. Secondly – this one is still kinda rough, so read at your own risk, especially since I seem to be on an angsty kick. Thirdly, as always, feedback is welcomed but not required. Hope you all enjoy.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Price We Pay
By ocean gazer


"These wounds won't seem to heal
This pain is just too real
There's just too much that time cannot erase."

Evanescence, "My Immortal"

Helena flopped down on the bed, flat on her stomach, burying her head in the pillow. Feeling the feathered softness surrounding her face, smelling Barbara's scent of cinnamon and vanilla, she let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. Fisting her hands in the pillow, she snuggled deeper into it, and then did something she hadn't done since those first terrible months after her mother's murder: she sobbed. This wasn't a soft, sniffly, dainty sort of crying. Instead, it was as though a dam had burst open and floodwaters had come rushing out.

Hot, heavy tears stained her entire face, before soaking into the pillowcase. Her nose ran freely, though she could still smell the tang of salt from her tears. She could hear the rough, ragged edge of her breathing, could feel the lump in the back of her throat from the sobs torn out of her. She fisted her hands more tightly in the pillow, hearing the faint rasp of the ripping pillowcase as she pulled the soft shape closer to her face. It was hot and wet from her tears, and should have felt suffocating to her, used to the open air as she was. But she was too lost in her emotions to notice … or care.

All she could see in her mind's eye was a gallery of people lined up, staring at her, mocking her for her inability to protect those she loved. The Joker stood with a maniacal smile on his face, finger pointed accusingly at her, his laugh more wicked than usual. Clayface stood smirking at her, a triumphant gleam in his eyes and a photograph of Selina Kyle in his hand. Wade simply looked at her with big, disappointed eyes, shaking his finger in a "tsk-tsk" sort of way. Sandy – Shiva – stood with hands on hips, her head thrown to the side, disgust painting her features as she regarded her former friend.

Helena screwed her eyes more tightly shut, despite the tears still leaking out of them. She tried almost desperately to shut out the accusing faces, to escape from the visible reminders of how she always caused pain to the people she cared for – the people she loved. No matter what she did, no matter what she DIDN'T do, it was never enough to protect her nearest and dearest. She was a hero who couldn't protect her own household, her own family. Try as she might, she couldn't shut out the faces, could only watch as they blurred together. She cried harder as the weight of their accusations, their taunts, pressed down on her heart.

Then she screamed into the pillow – a ragged, muffled scream – as all the other faces melted away and Harleen Quinzell's took their place. Her former therapist, the one who had caused her to betray the people she most loved, smiled sweetly at her. One blonde brow was raised in a challenging gesture and the blue eyes were cold as ice. A wealth of malice shone in Quinzell's gaze and she mouthed the word "Barbara" over and over, reminding Helena of how she'd hurt the woman she loved.

She tried to scream again, but was so hoarse from crying that she couldn't manage more than a keening gasp. With a violent, fluid motion, she rolled to her side. Flinging the pillow against the wall, she heard the dull thud as it hit. She pried her salt-sticky eyes open, feeling guilt wash over her, even as the faces from her mind disappeared. Curling up in a fetal position, she stared at the far wall, grabbing another pillow and clutching it in her arms like a child would a teddy bear.

The tears were coming more slowly now, though they hadn't yet stopped. Her face felt damp and sticky – her eyes itched and felt hot. She sniffled and then reached up to wipe her nose on the sleeve of her cotton sweatshirt. While she was usually something of a clotheshorse, she couldn't muster the energy to care about getting snot on her shirt. A dull ache pounded in the back of her skull and she felt as though she'd gone ten rounds with the Incredible Hulk.

She burrowed her head into the mattress, curling up around the pillow she held tightly in her arms. The thought flitted through her mind that this was why she didn't like to let go of her usual control and let herself cry: the physical effects were uncomfortable and the naked vulnerability left her feeling raw. Even though she was alone in the room, the sense of vulnerability went against her predatory nature.

She blinked back the last, errant tears, then yawned as a sense of exhaustion stole over her. It had been a long time since she'd had a basis for comparison, but she thought that crying seemed to be at least as physically tiring as kicking ass. Yawning again, Helena dug her fingers into the pillow, unconsciously kneading the soft shape held securely against her body.

Within moments, she drifted into a deep sleep.

"When you cried I'd wipe away all of your tears
When you'd scream I'd fight away all of your fears
And I've held your hand through all of these years
But you still have all of me."

Evanescence, "My Immortal"

Barbara rolled to the foot of the bed, some of the worry draining from her when she saw Helena curled up on her side, asleep. She might not have any meta senses to draw on, but she'd known where the younger woman had gone, had known that her lover was in their room, sobbing her heart out. She didn't need to see the traces of dried tears on Helena's cheeks as proof of her theory. And while the woman's fetal position and death grip on the pillow were also solid evidence of what had happened, she didn't need to see those signs either.

She'd just known.

Running a hand tiredly through her hair, Barbara mustered up a tiny ghost of a smile at the mere thought. She was smart and observant enough to realize how people saw her: as an emotionally repressed, emotionally clueless, and overly logical and analytical type. And while she would be among the first to agree with that assessment, she also knew that when it came to the people she loved in the world, her heart took over and she was acutely aware of their feelings. It was just that she loved so very few people that no one really saw that side of her.

Shaking off her meandering thoughts, she focused all of her attention on Helena. Her heart ached at the sight of the younger woman looking so alone, so vulnerable. Having been there in the first months after Selina's murder, and having been there throughout the intervening years, she knew how rarely the younger woman allowed herself to drop all her defenses and release the bottled up emotions that threatened to strangle her. Barbara had wanted to come to her lover earlier – had wanted to hold her close and be there as she cried. Unfortunately, she had known that the woman needed to be alone, that she couldn't handle being that vulnerable with anyone. Not even with her.

As Barbara knew all too well, there were some walls that just couldn't be broached.

Sighing softly, she sat for a moment and just watched her lover sleep. She was glad that Helena had finally let go of some of her demons. The younger woman had been keeping so many things inside since she learned of Harley Quinn's true nature, blaming herself for being hypnotized and under Quinn's spell. It had been several months since the showdown in the Clocktower, and she had truly worried that her lover's guilt over what had happened would consume and destroy her. Not that all the demons had been exorcised in a single crying jag, but at least some of the pressure had been released. At least it was a start in the process of Helena forgiving herself and starting to heal.

When Dinah and Helena had come limping in from sweeps earlier in the evening – Dinah clutching her upper arm where she'd been stabbed and Helena looking pale and haggard – Barbara had realized her lover was having flashbacks about the death of her mother. And when Helena had run out of the room, after being assured it was just a simple flesh wound and the teen would be fine, Barbara had felt an odd sense of relief, knowing that the other woman was going to find the emotional release she needed.

On the one hand, she realized the space and the time alone to cry was good for Helena, was what she needed. On the other hand, Barbara wanted to have been there for her lover. Wanted to hug her and whisper reassurances … wanted to soothe her as she cried … wanted to hold her hand if she screamed.

One of the ironies of the crime fighting life – one that kept popping up to smack her in the face – was that all the ability in the world to physically protect the people she loved did nothing to help her protect them emotionally. And as she had discovered – painfully – emotional wounds were the hardest to heal.

Moving cautiously and quietly, Barbara levered herself from her wheelchair to the bed, trying hard to avoid waking Helena. With a practiced nudge, she pushed the chair out of the way and scooted herself back on the bed, settling herself against the headboard, her legs lying next to Helena's back – just shy of actually touching. Looking around the bed, she frowned as she realized one of her pillows was nowhere to be found, then saw it scattered on the floor by the wall, mangled beyond repair. The sight did nothing to alleviate her concern about her lover.

Grabbing another pillow, she positioned it behind her, getting comfortable since she planned on being here for a while. She'd made sure Dinah was sleeping soundly and had given Alfred instructions to keep an eye on the girl. So that was one burden off her shoulders.

She sighed softly and then reached out tentatively, gently, to brush her fingers through her lover's hair. The touch of her fingers was slow and soft, not wanting the woman to wake. She might not have been there for Helena in the midst of the emotional maelstrom. But she was here now and, if nothing else, could at least guard the woman's sleep.

Careful as she was, Barbara wasn't entirely surprised when Helena rolled over onto her back, blinking sleepily, looking up at her with those big, blue eyes. She held her breath, not quite sure whether the younger woman was ready for her to be there. While she knew intellectually that her lover trusted her not to push – not to take advantage – she also knew it was no easy thing to feel vulnerable and open and allow someone else to be so close.

When she saw the love and the trust in the blue gaze, she released the breath she'd been holding. She tugged Helena's hair gently, not enough to hurt, inviting her to cuddle close. And when her lover rolled over completely in response to the nonverbal summons, head settled in her lap and one arm draped across her legs, Barbara felt the ache in her heart ease just a little.

Letting her hand continue stroking Helena's hair, she watched as the younger woman sighed deeply – contentedly – and drifted back into sleep. The trusting gesture warmed Barbara and she felt a sense of peace she hadn't felt in a long time. She knew she couldn't protect her lover from the pain of the world, as much as she wanted to. All she could do was be there to pick up the pieces. All she could do was offer herself as a balm against the pain and stress of their work, against the anger and violence of the world.

She hoped it would be protection enough.

The End

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