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Title: The Gilded Cage
Fandom: 24
Characters: Kim Bauer, Barry Landes
Rating: PG
Summary: She didn't see the bars until it was almost too late.
Spoilers: Season 5
Challenges: written to a prompt chosen by [ profile] birdseyeview  from a list of prompts from [ profile] 31_days : "Too proud to be a queen".

Kim's hands were still shaking as she closed the bathroom door behind her.

She rubbed her upper arm, the skin sensitive to the touch, and swallowed past the lump in her throat.  The events of the last few minutes were swirling in her head and in the silence of the house, the memory of Barry's voice was crystal-clear.

The argument had been about nothing, really.  Kim had thought about taking a class at the local college in the evening.  It shouldn't have been a big deal, but Barry had been angry that she had talked to someone from the college and gotten brochures without talking to him about it.

"I don't think you're the best judge of what to do, Kimberly.  We both know I'm the one that knows best for both of us.  That's why you're here; why we work go so well together," he'd said, his words gentle on the surface, but Kim could see the steel underneath.

"Silly me, I thought I was here because you loved me," Kim had snapped back.

He'd grabbed her arm then, his eyes flashing.  "Do you realize the risks I've taken so we could be together?" he'd asked, shaking her, and for the first time she had been afraid of him.  "Do you realize how much I've given you, trying to make you better?  Where would you have been without me, Kimberly?  All I ask in return is that you talk to me about things; is that so much to ask?"

"Barry, you're hurting me--" she'd gasped, shrinking back.

He'd dropped her arm but hadn't apologized.  "I'll be back by ten.  Maybe by then you'll realize that not communicating is a sign you still need my help."  Then he'd stormed out.

And here she was, standing in the bathroom, looking at the red marks on her arm.  Wrapping her arms around her, she took a seat on the edge of the tub. 

He hadn't hit her, but his words had felt like a slap in the face.  This wasn't right.  This wasn't how it should be.  She knew that, even as doubts started to grow in her mind.

Maybe he was right.  Without him, she would never have made it through the dark time after her father's "death" and Chase leaving her.  He'd saved her, made her better.  She owed him everything, and he'd risked losing his license to be with her.  He'd always been trying to help her and all he asked was to be included in her decisions.

But part of her wondered how much of it was for her, and how much for himself.  She'd tried so hard to be the person he'd wanted her to be.  She'd done what he asked, because she'd believed that he was doing it to try and make her better.  He was a well-educated and highly respected psychiatrist and she'd been a crumbling shell of a person; why wouldn't she think that he knew better?

She'd let him make the decisions, hadn't argued when he'd subtly distanced her from the few old friends she had left, from her mother's family.  He'd convinced her it would be better to put her past behind her, and she hadn't fought it because in her pain it had been the one thing she wanted: to forget.  He'd made her feel safe, secure again, given her a lovely home and anything she could have wanted.  He'd told her that he loved her.

Only now, could she look around and finally see the bars of her gilded cage.  The bars he'd built so slowly she hadn't even seen them, because she had been so willing to stay in the little space he'd created for her.  Only now that she wanted to push those boundaries did she realize that she had any.

He had grabbed her arm; she couldn't call that abuse, really, could she?  It wasn't like he hit her, called her names.  Maybe she was overreacting.  He was older than her, knew more than she did.  What did she know about how to have a healthy relationship?  It wasn't like her parents' marriage had been perfect.  Far from it.

But she knew that while her mom and dad had fought, her dad had never questioned her mom's loyalty to him, never said she should be grateful to be with him.  They'd made decisions together, trusted each other, and the problems had started when her father had tried to pretend that everything was okay.  They'd had their problems, but she knew that they had never seen each other as anything but equals.

She had a home here with Barry, someone who looked out for her, who only wanted her to be better.  Could she really leave, when she didn't know where she would go?  When the last time she'd been alone, she'd fallen apart?

But she couldn't unsee the bars of the cage, now she knew where they were.  Maybe, if she stayed, she'd eventually stop seeing them, and the thought scared her.  Her parents had taught her better; she could almost hear her mother telling her she had too much self-respect to stay with someone who didn't treat her like an equal.  Her father would have had to be restrained to keep from going to find Barry and beating him to a pulp.

She swallowed, a hollow pain eating at her heart.  She'd regretted telling her father that she didn't want him in her life many times after the last time she'd seen him, but never so much as at that moment.  She wanted to be able to call him, to ask him to come pick her up.

But she didn't know where he was or how to reach him, and it wouldn't be fair to ask him to fix everything for her.  She'd had Barry handling everything for her for too long.  This was her fault; she had to get herself out of this mess.

She had a choice to make: put aside her pride and stay where it was safe and easy, where she was comfortable and try to be who Barry wanted her to be.  Or she could try and reclaim herself, even though it meant jumping into the unknown alone.

It wasn't much of a choice.

Wiping the tears from her face, she walked out into the hall, opened the closet and dug out the biggest suitcase she and Barry owned.  Then, she walked into the bedroom and started pulling her clothes from the closet and placing them on the bed, collecting up everything she had to have.  There wasn't much; most of her family treasures were in storage, as there hadn't been room for them in Barry's house, but she hadn't had the heart to get rid of them.  All she had in the house were the things Barry had bought for her, and those weren't really things she needed.

Maybe there was a chance they could salvage something from the relationship, though she knew that without counseling it was unlikely, and there was no way Barry would agree to it.  He'd see it as a threat to his reputation.  She didn't want to run, didn't want to give up, but she knew that if she stayed, if she didn't get some distance from him, it would be hard to resist being convinced by him.  She needed her own ground to stand on, and to get a second opinion.  She wasn't completely without resources; she had her inheritance from her father, which she hadn't touched since she'd moved in with Barry.

She found all her important papers--birth certificate, social security, passport--and started packing.  Barry wouldn't be back for three hours.  It would be enough time to pack her things, call a cab, and leave her cage behind her while the door was still open..

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