Barbara�s eyes snapped open, her body going rigid. She had gone from deep slumber to complete wakefulness in the space of a moment and with all the subtlety of a freight train whistle. She blinked rapidly, willing her eyes to find focus in the night dark room. Taking a deep breath, she tried to calm the racing of her heart. She had no idea what had woken her. She just knew it wasn�t something good.
Frowning, she reached out and curled her fingers around one of the metal bars on the side of her bed, using it to lever herself into a sitting position. One small part of her mind cursed the fact that she couldn�t just bound out of bed and head out into the dark to investigate. Adjusting her pillows, she leaned back against the head of the bed, her hands braced on the mattress beside her. Muscles tense, she sat completely still � listening � waiting.
Logically, she knew there was no way an intruder could have entered the Clocktower without setting off a plethora of alarms. That knowledge didn�t stop her from being worried. She knew, deep down in her bones, that something was very wrong. She was a light sleeper under the best of circumstances, but it was usually a drowsy sort of wakening, something that allowed her to fall back to sleep almost as if she�d never woken. When she woke with adrenaline pumping through her veins, there was a reason � and it was never a good one.
Straining her eyes, she stared at the shadows created by moonlight, hoping they would somehow coalesce into solidity and paint her a picture. It was then that she heard the noise, one so faint that she thought for a moment she�d imagined it. But no, there it was again. A muffled sob. Distant and faint as a whisper of wind, it was nonetheless real.
Barbara hoisted herself, smoothly and quickly, from bed to wheelchair with a grace borne from years of practice. She shivered slightly in the chill air, already missing the languid warmth of her covers. Though she couldn�t feel her legs, she knew they�d be warm enough in the sweatpants she wore as pajama bottoms. But there were goose bumps rising on her arms, bare as they were in her tank top. She glanced around, but there wasn�t a single long sleeved shirt anywhere within easy reach, and another muffled sob made the idea of wasting time looking for clothing distasteful. Snatching up a rainbow-colored afghan from the foot of her bed, she draped it hastily over her shoulders even as she wheeled her way out of her bedroom.
She rolled quietly down the hallway that led to Dinah�s room, ears pricking for any hint of sound. Nothing. The door to the girl�s room was closed, but unlocked, and Barbara eased it open silently, peeking inside. Her conscience pricked her at the mild invasion of privacy, but she also wanted to be sure the teenager was okay. She smiled fondly at the sight that greeted her eyes: Dinah was lying on her side, tangled up in her covers, a teddy bear in her arms. The girl was snoring ever so slightly � clearly sound asleep.
Barbara left the room as silently as she�d entered, wheeling back down the hallway, heading towards the outside balcony. Seeing Dinah asleep led her to the only other possible conclusion as to whose sobs she was hearing. Helena. It was Helena�s distress that had woken her.
She no longer had to try to listen to figure out where the sounds were coming from � she already knew where the younger woman would be. It was the same place she always went when her emotions got the better of her, when her demons threatened to overwhelm her. It didn�t matter that Helena had her own apartment. Whenever she was in distress, she came back to the one place where she felt safe. To the one person who made her feel safe.
Barbara shivered as she made her way outside and drew the afghan more tightly around her shoulders. She wheeled her chair over to the very edge of the balcony, not needing to look up to know that Helena was perched on a nearly hidden ledge sheltered under the eaves. The place had been the younger woman�s refuge for as long as she could remember � it gave Helena the security of being at home but the freedom of being outside, not trapped behind walls.
She didn�t say anything, knowing she didn�t need to. Helena�s senses, even dulled with whatever distress she was feeling, were more than sensitive enough to detect her presence. Barbara desperately wanted to say something, wanted more than anything to reassure the younger woman, to find a way to make everything ok. And had she been dealing with anyone other than Helena, she would have jumped right in, using words as a salve.
Instead, she waited.
She could hear the faint hitches of breath above her that told her the younger woman was struggling to compose herself. The sound made her heart ache. She wanted nothing more than to take her friend into her arms, hold her as she had so many times before, and soothe away the pain. But Barbara knew Helena, knew that she hated being vulnerable, even with her. It wasn�t a matter of trust. It was a matter of control. She knew it was ironic that Helena � for all that she wore her emotions on her sleeve � hated losing that last edge of control, of being completely vulnerable. The two of them were alike in that way, trusting each other as they trusted no others, but still not able to open themselves completely to each other.
She knew she would have to wait until Helena was ready to let her in. It was the same way she made Helena wait, for the same reason.
Barbara looked out over the skyline, finding a brief moment of peace in the soft glow of moonlight. Out here, it was easy to forget about the battles they fought, the fragmented lives they led, the never-ending and taxing work of bringing justice to a world that didn�t even know they existed. Out here, it was easy to just be. She knew Helena felt it too. That was why she always came back.
The soft scuff of shoe leather on brick was the only warning Barbara got before Helena leapt off her perch to land beside her. She looked up into red-rimmed blue eyes, heart clenching at the raw pain reflected there. The younger woman looked lost, in a way she hadn�t since her mother�s death. Barbara reached out her hand, fingers stroking the inside of Helena�s wrist, feeling the ragged pulse there.
She wasn�t surprised when Helena�s breath came out as a shudder and fresh tears began to fall. Barbara reached out with both hands, the afghan falling from her shoulders at the sudden motion. She took Helena�s hands in her own and tugged gently, encouraging the younger woman to accept some comfort. A profound surge of relief coursed through her as Helena followed the nonverbal summons, sinking to her knees and burying her head in Barbara�s lap. She reached down and ran her fingers lightly and soothingly through Helena�s thick brown hair. Murmuring softly, she encouraged the younger woman to cry, reassured her that she was there, and said anything she could think of that might keep the demons at bay for a while.
The strangled sobs she heard nearly broke her heart; she hated to see the people she loved in pain. But Barbara was so profoundly grateful that Helena was letting down her guard, letting herself be vulnerable, that she pushed the pain aside, instead focusing on the humbling honor of seeing her friend this way. It was a precious gift. Sounded nuts to say that, even inside her own head, but it was the truth.
She heard an abrupt intake of breath, then felt the head under her fingers jerk slightly as Helena was racked with hiccups. Barbara leaned forward in her chair and patted the younger woman�s back gently. She was fairly sure it would have no effect on the small spasms rattling the woman�s body, but it seemed to help Helena�s tensed muscles to relax. And that was something in and of itself.
After several long moments, she heard the hiccups subside. With a sudden motion, she felt Helena pull her head up, sitting back on her haunches. Barbara let her hands drop down to her side, her eyes searching the tear stained face in front of her. There was still pain in blue eyes, but it was no longer raw. And there was a small hint of gratitude gracing gamine features.
Barbara opened her mouth to say something, but a fierce shiver ran through her body, making speech all but impossible. Now that the intensity of the moment had faded, she was suddenly aware of just how cold it was outside, especially since the afghan had fallen from her shoulders, leaving her upper body exposed to the autumn air. She shivered again and saw a frown cross Helena�s face. The brunette moved slightly out of her line of vision, and then she felt the soft kiss of yarn on her bare skin as the younger woman gently draped the afghan over her again. She felt Helena�s fingers grasp her hand, tugging her towards the balcony door. Willingly, she wheeled her chair beside her friend, still shivering slightly.
Helena led her inside, and then stopped suddenly, as if unsure where they should go or what should happen next. Barbara was struck once again by how lost the woman looked, and she took charge, moving her chair in front of Helena and using their still joined hands to guide the brunette down the hallway to her bedroom. Had the circumstances been different, she might have found it amusing to have the younger woman trailing so obediently behind her. At the moment, it simply alarmed her. Helena was only this acquiescent when she was in the midst of an emotional maelstrom.
Barbara stopped beside her bed, throwing the afghan off to the side, and deftly transferred herself from chair to mattress. She took a moment to settle herself in a sitting position, her back resting against both the headboard and an oversized pillow. It didn�t escape her notice that Helena watched her intently, eyes glistening suspiciously. Once she was comfortable, she looked up, met the intense blue gaze, and nodded. Without hesitation, the younger woman climbed into bed beside her, pulling up the covers in her wake.
She felt strong arms wrap around her waist and then Helena�s head was burrowing into the curve of her neck, as if she were hiding away from the world. Barbara let one arm slide around the younger woman�s back, holding her close. Her other hand moved up to once again pet Helena�s hair, well-aware that the gesture soothed the other woman.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
She knew she had whispered, but even that scant sound seemed loud in the quiet room. Snuggled together as they were, she felt a faint tremor work its way down Helena�s spine at the question, felt the warm wetness of Helena�s tears against her skin.
"I � I can�t." There was a vaguely helpless quality to the words. "I don�t even � know � exactly �" Another tremor slid through Helena�s frame and Barbara felt the way the woman�s arms tightened around her.
"It�s ok," Barbara murmured, her voice low. She had suspected that this pain was still too deep for words. She�d been there herself a time or twenty. It stung a little to know that Helena couldn�t talk to her, but she also knew that it didn�t have anything to do with her, not really. And at least her friend wasn�t still outside, risking pneumonia and wrestling with her demons alone. That, at least, was something.
She hadn�t expected Helena to say anything else, so the hoarsely spoken words caught her by surprise. "Can you just � hold me? It helps � being here with you."
Barbara kissed the top of Helena�s head and tightened her hold on the younger woman. She heard the soft sigh of relief, and felt the way Helena relaxed into her body. Her fingers continued their slow, steady stroking through silky brown hair, happy to be able to do something to comfort the woman in her arms. She loved Helena and wanted to do anything in her power to ease her pain, even if only for a while
In the stillness of the night, she could hear the way Helena�s breathing slowed, could feel the progressive relaxing of the younger woman�s muscles. She let her fingers slow the gentle petting, aware that Helena had finally fallen asleep, arms still pooled around her waist, head pillowed on her chest.
Barbara lightly kissed the top of Helena�s head, grateful that the younger woman had managed to slip into the peace of slumber. She felt vaguely useless, aware that she had done nothing to help Helena come to terms with whatever was bothering her. But maybe, she mused, it wasn�t about that. Maybe it was just important that she�d been there for Helena, that she�d given her even a slight bit of comfort.
Maybe she�d given her a space where she could heal.
Bolstered by the thought, Barbara once again kissed the head pillowed against her chest. Then, she leaned back against the headboard, watching the moon and stars through the skylight and listening to Helena�s slow, steady breathing. She knew she should try to sleep, but she knew she couldn�t.
As long as Helena slept, Barbara would be here. Awake. Watching over her.