DISCLAIMER: I think we all know I don't own a thing. That honor belongs to Tollin/Robbins, DC Comics, and the WB; and probably a few others as well. I'm not making any money off this story; I write strictly for my own entertainment.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have to say that the bare kernel of this idea was first inspired by the wonderful job Dina Meyer did in the episode "Lady Shiva". She evoked such a sense of loss, longing, and pain which got me thinking about what was going on inside Barbara's head. But the story most likely would never have been written if not for a wonderful painting by Pink Rabbit Productions. The painting touched me very deeply, and it's as a direct result of it that I actually wrote this story. I owe her special thanks for the inspiration.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Lady Shiva.
From Shadow To Light
By ocean gazer
Barbara shifted restlessly in her chair, one finger tapping on the edge of her keyboard, a sense of disquiet gnawing away at her. It was several days after the events of what she'd mentally dubbed "the Lady Shiva incident", and for the first time in those several days, New Gotham was actually quiet. There hadn't been a single alarm or urgent notice on the Delphi in over five hours. Nothing to keep her mind preoccupied with immediate problems, with issues that affected other people. And since Dinah was spending the weekend with Gabby, there was no one around to distract her mind from the dark places it wanted to go.
That was the problem with having time on her hands; she couldn't keep her thoughts safely tucked away in their usual lock boxes. She hadn't really had time before this to process what had happened with Shiva. She knew with dreadful certainty that she didn't want to dwell on it now. Especially knowing how much she'd hurt Helena. She hated that she'd hurt Helena.
The two of them had dealt with the obvious issues: the way Barbara had kept critical secrets, the way they needed to trust each other with past mistakes, the way they needed to work together. And after a couple days of walking on eggshells around each other, things seemed to be back to normal. As normal as life for a bartender and a schoolteacher both with secret identities could ever get.
That didn't mean that Barbara's demons had disappeared, that the airing of those obvious issues had caused her demons to dissolve into smoke and dissipate. They were still there; she felt their sharp teeth nipping away at her soul.
Barbara sighed softly and pulled her glasses off, only vaguely aware of the way her dark thoughts were breaking through her usual walls of denial. She knew only that they were bearing down on her, refusing to be banished any longer. She rubbed her temples, feeling the beginnings of a headache pounding through her skull, then covered her eyes with her hands. It was as if her fingers formed a mask one that could keep her hidden from herself.
The door to the Clocktower slid shut noiselessly as Helena eased her way inside. She glanced at the clock on the wall, surprised to see that it was only four in the morning. She'd been so bored out on the unusually peaceful Saturday night streets that it felt like she'd been out there for days, rather than hours. Without any punks, drunks, or troublemakers to beat up on, there had been nothing to keep her worries about her lover at bay, nothing to keep her mind from spinning in scary circles. She'd finally decided to come back home, though she usually was on the streets 'til dawn. She'd wanted almost desperately to be with Barbara, wanted desperately not to be alone.
Helena walked quietly into the main room. She froze in place as she saw Barbara sitting at her worktable, slumped forward with her head in her hands. She watched the redhead for a few moments, troubled by how tired Barbara seemed, distressed by the air of despondency radiating off of her.
Without thinking about it, Helena moved over to stand behind her lover, vaguely aware that the other woman seemed completely oblivious to her presence. She placed her hands gently on Barbara's shoulders, massaging lightly. She felt the way the redhead nearly jumped out of her chair in surprise and she leaned down to whisper softly, "It's ok it's just me."
Barbara tensed for a moment before relaxing into the familiar and soothing touch. "Sorry," she said in a low voice. "I I didn't hear you come in." It scared her that she was so clearly lost in thought that she'd failed to notice her lover's entrance. She never let her guard down that completely.
Helena laughed, and armed with the subtle sarcasm she used as a default mode, said, "Obviously. I think I could have set off a bomb in here and you wouldn't have noticed it."
When Barbara didn't offer either a quiet, self-deprecating laugh or an equally subtle, sarcastic protest, Helena felt her worries gather in her chest. Her residual fears from the other woman's confrontation with Shiva the ones she'd shoved aside once things started to get back to normal came back with full force.
She understood why Barbara had shut her out of the whole showdown. She didn't agree with the decision, but she understood it. They'd talked about it; they'd argued about it; they'd moved past it as best they could. Helena knew her lover was still dealing with what had happened, that the redhead hadn't come fully to terms with it. That was normal; that was just the way she was. It took her a long time to process and analyze certain things. But this was different in a way Helena couldn't quite explain, and it worried her.
It wasn't even Barbara's usual mask of invulnerability, the one she used to keep her guard up nearly 24/7. Helena hated that mask, hated it with a passion. But after so many years in the redhead's company, she'd learned to deal with it. She felt the tension in the muscles under her hands, tension that wasn't dissolving away at her touch. She felt her worry grow, felt it rising in her chest, felt it forming a lump in the back of her throat. Abruptly, she lifted her hands and moved around so she could swing herself up to sit on the worktable, facing her partner.
"What's going on, Barbara?" That wasn't the question she meant to ask. She meant to ask something like "Are you ok?" or "What's wrong?" Either of those would have sounded less accusatory than the words that just left her mouth. Helena inwardly winced at her own lack of tact. But even as she did, she realized that there had been something going on for several days now, something she was not willing to be left out of any longer. Helena knew all too well about denial and avoidance. She had those defenses in abundance herself. She also knew that if those walls were left in place too long, they'd become a prison.
Barbara looked up, her focus on Helena's naked blue gaze. She saw the worry there the hurt the love. She fought down the urge to paste on a fake smile and say she was just thinking, or just tired, or whatever other excuse she could concoct on the spur of the moment. Excuses and secrets had been a part of her life ever since she could remember. She had to make a deliberate effort every time she moved out of their shadows. She knew her lover would allow those things to a point, since Helena knew all too well about secrets. But she'd learned that the younger woman needed honesty more than she needed air, and she loved Helena enough that she tried to meet that need. She couldn't always do it. But she tried.
Barbara sighed softly and leaned back in her chair. She couldn't answer the question, not yet. She knew the answer. It wasn't some new revelation. But she couldn't talk about it there, not inside that little room, that box that sometimes made her feel like she was trapped with the walls closing in. "Let's go outside." She needed air for this, needed the freedom of the open sky, needed a space with no walls to come crashing down.
Helena wasn't surprised by the request, the lack of an actual answer to her question. Instead, she was incredibly warmed by the three words. She knew her lover well enough to understand what they meant. She knew that Barbara was going to be as open with her as she could. She knew how hard it was for the older woman to let down her guard with anyone, even with her.
She tried not to push, tried to show the same respect for Barbara's privacy that she'd always shown to Helena. Some days, she couldn't help herself and she demanded more than she knew her lover could give. She offered a half smile to the redhead and asked softly, "Want some hot chocolate?" The tight band of tension in her chest eased a little when Barbara smiled back and nodded. She nodded slightly in return, and watched as her lover turned and wheeled her chair towards the balcony doors. Then she padded off to the kitchen, grateful that she at least knew enough about cooking to avoid burning water.
Barbara sighed softly as she looked over the city. It always looked so peaceful at that time of day when the sky was dark, with just a few flickers of artificial light twinkling brightly in random windows across the skyline. She'd always liked the dark. Ironically, she'd always felt safest in the dark, not in the light. The dark made it easier to hide. The dark made it easier to be herself without the need to put on a public face. The dark was another mask.
She heard Helena's soft footsteps behind her and then felt the way the air swirled across her bare shoulder as the younger woman moved closer. She held out her hand for the steaming mug and smiled her thanks. Her eyes tracked Helena as she swung herself up gracefully to sit on the balcony edge, legs outstretched. Her lover's face was almost hidden in the shadows of night. Shifting her gaze back to the city, Barbara picked up her mug and took a tentative sip of the chocolate. She felt a surge of gratitude that Helena wasn't rushing to fill the silence with words, that she was allowing her to speak in her own time. These sorts of conversations had never come easily to her, and she was touched that the younger woman respected that.
Helena set her cup between her legs, letting it cool. She watched her lover, saw the thoughts and emotions drifting like clouds across the soft features. She knew it was a precious gift to be allowed to see Barbara like this. She'd long been in awe of her lover's intensity, her intelligence, her kindness. It amazed her that Barbara seemed so wholly unaware of just how incredible and special she was. And watching the redhead, it broke her heart as she saw the shadow of self-doubt hover and then settle in green eyes. She wanted to do something anything to chase that shadow away. Instead, knowing her lover, she simply sat and waited.
Barbara put her cup down and stared up at the stars. She could feel Helena's love as if it were an actual blanket enveloping her. It warmed her. She sometimes wondered what she'd ever done to deserve the love of such a passionate, wonderful, vibrant person. Taking a deep breath, she released it slowly, blowing out the worst of the pain that had built up in her chest. "I lied before," she stated simply, sincerely.
Helena nodded, though she was vaguely aware that the older woman couldn't see the gesture. It didn't matter. She knew Barbara knew that she was there. That was what mattered.
Barbara fought to keep her voice from shaking. She knew she couldn't manage it, that the pain was too intense. She tried anyhow, a lifetime of training too hard to overcome in that moment. "I do miss it being Batgirl. When I said I didn't, I lied." She paused, blinking back the sudden threat of tears. "I've adapted. I've had to. I've done the best I could to move on but I still miss it. It still hurts every day." She exhaled sharply past the lump in her throat, finally laying the whole truth out on the table.
Helena gritted her teeth against the stab of pain those words caused, and stared blindly up at the stars. This was it this was the real problem. It had nothing to do with trust, or the lack thereof. It was loss. Soul deep, life altering loss. She smelled the faint tang of salt that told her Barbara was crying silently. She wanted to move to comfort her lover, but she couldn't. She was paralyzed by a surge of anger, not at Barbara, but at herself. She should have guessed. She should have known. The words hadn't been spoken in years, not since those first terrible months following the shooting. The clues, however, had been screaming loudly for attention. Now that the words had been spoken, she could look back and see all the evidence clearly.
She suddenly knew that Barbara wasn't the only one who'd been imprisoned behind walls of denial. Helena realized she'd gotten too used to relying on the older woman's strength, and had stopped noticing when her lover needed some strength of her own to rely on. If it hadn't hurt so damn much to realize that, she would have found it ironic.
A gentle, regretful voice sliced through the darkness. "It's not your fault, Helena. I should have told you."
The words should have comforted Helena. They didn't. "I should have asked." It annoyed her that her voice was so clearly husky with unshed tears. "I should have been here for you."
Barbara felt her heart break at the remorse in the tight voice. She knew it was her fault for not letting her lover know how she felt; she couldn't see any reason on earth that Helena should have been blaming herself. She pulled her eyes away from the faint sparkles of starlight and wheeled her chair closer to the younger woman. Laying a hand on a muscled leg, she whispered, "You have been here for me." Salt water rolled down her cheeks unheeded. "I'm not sure I could have come this far without you." The confession scared her. She wasn't used to laying her emotions out so openly.
Helena couldn't keep her own tears from falling. She slid off the ledge and knelt at the redhead's feet, burying her head in her lover's lap, wrapping her arms around her lover's waist. She felt Barbara lean forward, felt the woman's head resting against hers. Her own tears were soaking the soft cotton sweatpants under her cheek and she could feel the drip of Barbara's tears sliding through the strands of her hair. She didn't care. They both needed this. It was cathartic. It was healing.
Barbara sighed softly with a slight hiccup as her sobs began to abate. She had no idea how long they'd been in that position. She didn't care. Feeling the strain in her back from bending over, she straightened up. She watched Helena lift her own head, saw the blue eyes fixed on her. The younger woman's face was streaked with tear tracks, but there was a serenity there that she hadn't seen in a long time.
She licked a stray tear off her lip, and slowly became aware that she felt as serene as Helena looked. It wasn't that the problem had gone away. It wasn't that the pain would ever be completely gone. It was just that she'd finally let go of some of the power it had over her. And she knew, without needing words to confirm it, that she'd also let Helena in deeply enough to allay the younger woman's fears of being shut out.
Barbara spoke softly, her voice slightly hoarse from crying. "I do love you, Helena. And I never meant to hurt you."
Helena smiled, seeing the affection shining out from green eyes. "Does it count if I just say, 'ditto'?" She was only partly kidding. She heard the soft laughter that greeted the question and felt the last of her worries lift on the wind, rising up. She would be ok. Barbara would be ok. They'd both be ok.
"I do love you, you know. And I don't mean to hurt you either or push when you aren't ready."
Barbara leaned forward, placing a soft kiss on salt touched lips. "I know." She stroked a pale cheek for a moment, then ran her fingers through dark hair. "And missing HER doesn't mean I regret being Oracle that I regret the life we have together."
Helena nodded, then leaned into the gentle touch of her lover's fingers in her hair. She felt the slight tremor that ran through Barbara as the breeze played over her bare arms. She pushed up off the balcony floor, then tenderly scooped the redhead into her arms. She smiled as Barbara allowed herself to be picked up. Her lover hated to be picked up. Helena held tightly to the other woman as she resettled herself on the ledge. Once she was comfortable, she spread her legs enough to settle Barbara securely between them, holding her lover close.
Barbara leaned back against Helena, feeling the younger woman's hands slide around her. She could feel one hand pressed against her stomach, the other pressed against the curve of her breast. It felt warm comfortable comforting. She looked out at the city, surprised to see the first rays of sunlight peeking over the horizon, chasing away the dark piece by piece. Smiling at the thought, she snuggled more securely against her lover, feeling safe. She allowed her eyes to slide closed. She reveled in the warmth of the soft rays of sun touching her skin, in the warmth of her lover's hands holding her close, peeling off her masks, making her whole.
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