Title: Wounded
Author: Pink Rabbit Productions
Feedback: Always much appreciated pinkrabbit@altfic.com
Pairing: Lena/Bianca
Disclaimer: It all belongs to AMC and ABC, and I'm thieving scum, but given how badly they've been screwing it up lately, somebody might as well have fun with the characters. Oh, and it's likely to feature all girl nookie, so if that's a problem, just run away.
Author's Notes: This is wholly and completely experimental. I don't know where it's going or even if it's going. I've never tried fanfic for a soap before beyond a couple of missing scene type things. Obviously this is AU, and I'm considering playing with a lot of the same basic overall plot points that they've used this summer, but mixing it up in a completely different way. If I keep writing, I may well use the rape, or I might not. I honestly don't know for certain. In short, I'm just sort of dipping my toe in the water and seeing what happens ... or maybe I'm just diving in. I don't know. I have a bunch of ideas, and little if any idea which ones I'll use. How was that for confusion? Welcome to the wonder that is my life.
Summary: Life damages. Can love heal?

A Note from the Management: We're trying an experiment of allowing stories related to soaps to be posted in serialized form (since they lend themselves to that format), so just so you know, this story isn't finished and is being posted in segments.

| Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 |


Chapter One

Nauseous, the world spinning around her, and in a cold sweat, Lena Kundera was barely aware of her surroundings as she stumbled into the elevator and hit the button for her floor. She leaned heavily against the steel, side wall, fighting her own shakiness. Several days of not sleeping, radically swinging emotions, governmental threats, and a first day on a new job where she was forced to constantly prove herself and everyone stared at her with utmost suspicion had not left her with much to spare. Certainly nowhere near enough to calmly handle seeing Bianca out with a beautiful, young woman on what clearly appeared to be a date. She'd had just enough self-control to quietly exit Stage Right without making a scene, but that was her limit. At that precise moment, she wasn't sure which she wanted to do more, have a good cry, or stomp back down to the restaurant and demand that Bianca tell her what the hell she thought she was doing. Given that both options would have required more energy than she possessed at that point, she stayed right where she was.

Lena sighed softly, leaning more heavily against the wall, gripping the railing that ran at waist height with one hand as she tipped her head back and let her eyes roll ceilingward. God, it was all such a mess. She shook her head slowly, feeling like she'd taken several vicious body blows as she found herself wondering if Bianca was angry enough to leap into another relationship so quickly, or if perhaps there was any hope it was simply some kind of business or just a friend. No, those looks and that gleeful, little smile on her former lover's face strongly suggested otherwise. Massaging her temple, she cursed her own stupid choices. She wouldn't be in this mess if she'd just....

The thought trailed off in her head a she failed to come up with a scenario that wouldn't have ultimately ended up right where she was.

Maybe if she'd been born someone else, somewhere else, and possibly at some other time.

That wasn't asking for too much, now was it?

The elevator lurched ever so slightly as it came to a halt, forcing her to rebalance herself, something she did without thinking. She straightened away from the railing as the doors began to slide, relieved to find the corridor empty. She was used to men's and women's gazes following her everywhere she went---had long since ceased thinking anything of it---but the ongoing hostility, curious whispers, and speculative curiosity that came with her current local notoriety were starting to grate on her nerves. If not for Bianca, she would have been glad to be gone. Another city and a bit of anonymity had considerable appeal at that point in her life. The south of France was lovely this time of year, and lazing the day away on a beach somewhere far away from suspicious stares would have been heaven were it not for the fact that she just couldn't walk away from the younger woman.

Normally, she tracked her surroundings carefully, a side effect of so many years on the edge of the law, but lost in her own thoughts, she wandered through the empty hallways of the Pine Valley Inn in a daze. As she reached her door, she retrieved her keys from the small side compartment of her portfolio and was still fumbling with them when a shiver slid down her spine, warning her that she wasn't alone. Half expecting to find either Erica Kane or one of the tabloid reporters who'd been dogging her footsteps behind her, she tensed as she turned, only to pull up short as she realized Michael Cambias was standing there, his mouth twisted in a sneer as he leered at her. It occurred to her that not once in all their time together had she felt the faintest bit of desire for him. In fact, quite to the contrary, he actually made her skin crawl and always had. For once she admitted to herself that sleeping with him had simply been a matter of survival, and not even manipulation or control as she'd long tried to convince herself. She'd known instinctively from that first moment that if she resisted, she'd pay and pay heavily.

"Well," he said, his tone soft and menacing, "if it isn't my betraying little whore."

Her eyes narrowed faintly, lips pulling back from clenched teeth in an instinctive hint of a snarl, while her pulse kicked into high gear. His appearance did not bode well. She looked into his eyes, trying to decide if he'd been drinking or if he was just permanently in that dangerous place now.

He saw her fear and savored it. She could tell by the way he smiled. "Aren't you going to invite me in, darling?" he asked, clearly enjoying her response.

"Go to hell," she said very softly, her eyes darting right and left, praying another guest would appear in the hallway. Michael would never try anything if anyone was looking on. He was much too involved in his pose of injured innocence to allow a stranger proof of his real nature. His expression never changed, but she could feel the rage sluicing off of him in thick waves. He didn't like to be refused. It was one of the reasons she'd never even tried to resist his sexual demands---had even feigned eagerness. She'd realized very early that refusing him was likely to cost her everything she'd earned and get her physically hurt in the bargain. If not for Bianca she'd still be playing that sick game, her self-respect surrendered in the name of money. That was how Michael had caught her in his trap; he'd seen her desperation and used it, and by the time she realized what he really wanted from her, she'd been in too deep to safely navigate her way free.

"Now, now, darling," he said in that dangerous, acid tone she knew so well, "that's not polite."

"I'm not really interested in trading pleasantries with you," she spat. "And since there's really nothing for you and I to say to one another, perhaps you should be going." She glanced over her shoulder, calculating her chances of getting inside before he could stop her. Almost nonexistent, she decided in an instant.

It was only a moment's distraction, but it was just enough. Before she could react, he slammed a hand into her throat, straight-arming her into the door at her back, his fingers clamping down hard enough to make breathing difficult, with the knowledge that only a little added pressure would increase that to impossible. She felt him reaching for the hand that held her keys and struggled, suddenly lightheaded as his fingers clawed more deeply into her throat. He yanked her back from the door, then shoved again, the thud her head made as it hit solid wood rattling around inside her skull while white lights exploded behind her eyes. She clawed at his face, tried to get a knee into his groin, and fought the hand trying to tear her keys free. She couldn't let him get her inside her room. If that happened, she'd be lucky to survive. Unfortunately, he was far stronger than she and easily blocked all of her efforts, though she did manage to keep him from getting her keys.

"Stop it," Michael grunted as she managed to glance a blow off his inner thigh. He pulled her away from the door again, pushed again, his fingers clenching even tighter, cutting off almost all air.

Panicked now, her body screaming for oxygen and getting almost none, Lena clawed at his hand, everything forgotten in the need to get his fingers loose. Writhing desperately, she wrenched her other hand free of his grip, then stabbed with her keys, drawing a grunt of pain. Cursing volubly, he brought his free hand around, slapping her hard enough to leave her tasting blood and whip her head to the side with the force of the impact.

The world swirling around her, colors running like wet paint on canvas, Lena felt her knees buckle, and knew she would have gone down if not for the door at her back and Michael's brutal grip. She dug her nails into his forearm and fought to get her feet back under her as everything threatened to slide into a cold, blue darkness that was likely to become permanent if something didn't happen soon.

"You really should have invited me in," Michael growled as he leaned close.

God, he was really going to do it. Murder her here in a hallway of the hotel. She wondered if anyone would even care. Erica would probably dance on her grave and Jackson would simply be worried about the viability of his case, but would Bianca at least be a little sad? Lena lost her grip on her keys, vaguely heard the soft, rattling sound they made as they fell away from her fingers to the floor.

"Dammit," he hissed, and she could feel him trying to grab for the dropped keyring. He had to lean close and crouch down as he reached blindly, the change in position reducing the amount of pressure he could put on her windpipe, giving her a small gasp of air, just enough to gain a few more seconds of precious life and consciousness. But she was just buying time, slowing the inevitable, and they both knew it. Unless someone came along or something happened, she couldn't win.

And then suddenly Michael fell into her, cursing and snarling as he tried to catch himself.

"Get your hands off of her!"

He shoved Lena hard and spun, lashing out at his attacker, easily sending her slight frame flying.

Lena went down, her shoulder jamming painfully against the door, her lungs heaving for air as Michael lost his brutal grip on her throat. Still gasping in life-giving oxygen, she looked up just as a slight figure hit the floor in a sprawl on her backside. Michael stood braced between Lena and her would-be rescuer, his feet spaced apart, hands drawn into fists.

A black, animal rage descended on the Polish woman as it sank in that she wasn't just having an oxygen deprivation induced hallucination. It was Bianca who had come to her aid. She saw Michael take a half step forward, one fist pulling back to hit, and threw herself at him, scrambling for her feet and lunging at his back as hard as she was able. Her elbows hit first, cracking into his shoulders and the back of his head, then the rest of her body slammed into his with enough force to send him stumbling. Lena caught her own balance as he went careening into the far wall, but she was still staggering badly. His expression twisted by rage, Michael regained his balance and started to spin just as Bianca made it to her feet. His fist pulled back, his gaze hard and focused as it landed on Lena.

Her defiance was going to hurt. He'd make sure of it.

"No!" Bianca threw herself between them, hands clenched into small, tight fists, her stance pugnacious. Several inches shorter than Michael and far slighter, she'd wind up bruised and bleeding if she played David to his Goliath.

Lena grabbed her lover by the arm, pulled one way, then pushed another, skillfully maneuvering Bianca behind her as she stepped forward, fully intending to take any blows Michael aimed their direction.

Startled, Michael momentarily froze, fist back, apparently undecided as to who he wanted to hit more, Lena or the woman she loved. His eyes followed Bianca, silently stalking her as he made his decision, clearly targeting her. Hurting her would do the most damage to the person he really hated---in fact to a whole host of people he hated. Lena, Erica, Jackson, Boyd, Kendall, and a dozen others would all feel the pain if he harmed her.

Maintaining a tight grip on Bianca's forearm to keep her lover from lunging around her, Lena just glared at her former employer, her eyes full of a thousand kinds of hell. He'd seen her in action enough times to have at least some idea of what she was capable of, and even he was faintly intimidated by that look. "Touch her," Lena said at last, her voice low and full of threat, "and I'll kill you." She was completely serious. If he hurt Bianca in any way, she'd see him dead, and damn the price she'd pay for the murder.

He knew it too. She could tell by the tiny flicker of fear in his eyes, the one he tried to shield and hide away.

For the first time in their relationship, he was afraid of her, and she found she rather enjoyed the role reversal even though she knew it wasn't likely to last. The tiniest hint of a smile touched her mouth. "Get out of here," she hissed very softly.

His eyes narrowed, lips pursing as his nostrils flared. He wanted to hit and not stop until she was down and bleeding and begging for her life. She could see the barely repressed rage in the way his muscles quaked and twitched. The faint, muffled sound of the elevator doors, then voices in the hall warned him they were no longer quite so alone. Still quivering like a dog on the hunt, he slowly straightened himself, feigning a cool calm she knew perfectly well he didn't feel. His gaze raked over her with insulting intensity, then moved on to the slender figure just past her shoulder. A taunting smile touched his mouth as he directed his words toward Bianca. "If you ever want to experience all those tricks she's learned from the person who taught her, give me a call."

"Go to hell, you sick bastard," Bianca shot back and would have lunged at him had Lena allowed it.

The Polish woman tensed, fighting panic as she saw the speculative look in Michael's eyes. He laughed very softly, turning the tables once again by ignoring her and directing his attention to Bianca. "Y'know, I bet you just haven't had the right man," he said, very deliberately aiming for what he was cunning enough to know would be a hot button subject. "I'd be more than happy to give you the complete sexual tour."

Maintaining her grip on Bianca's forearm, Lena thrust her other arm behind herself, blocking the younger woman's efforts to go after her tormentor despite the fact that it left her completely open if he decided to take a swing. One blow wouldn't kill her, and she needed to protect Bianca. "Really, Michael," she shot back, deliberately trying to draw his attention back to her, "why would she, when all you've ever done is convince me that men---you in particular---are rather useless?"

He snarled softly, and would have struck out, but an older man and woman chose that moment to step around the corner into view, though they were still far enough away that they likely hadn't heard any salient points of the conversation. "This isn't over," he said, pitching his voice too low to be overheard.

Lena ignored him, glancing sideways at the elderly couple who had unknowingly become her shield, buying her a little time and maneuvering space. "Bianca, get my keys and unlock the door," she commanded, releasing her death grip on the younger woman, and praying she'd do as told. She wanted a locked door between Michael and Bianca as quickly as possible.

"Do you seriously think that'll save you?" Michael growled, drawing her attention back to him.

She heard Bianca moving and tracked her shadow on the wall as she crouched down, grabbing for the dropped key ring. "It's over, Michael." Then the scrape of metal on metal and the sound of the tumblers turning in the door lock reached her ears. "Time for you to do what the rest of us do when a situation turns against us and cut your losses." Lena slanted a look toward the elderly couple where they were letting themselves into their own room and taking their time, the man clearly suspicious and aware of the tensions, though from their angle, he probably couldn't see much, not enough to make a good witness, unfortunately, but at the same time his unease was buying her more time.

"Oh, don't worry," he jeered, rolling up onto the balls of his feet, his eyes narrow and calculating, "I have plenty of plans that involve cutting."

It was such an obvious threat that Lena's stomach rolled and she barely resisted the urge to hurl herself at him, because she knew damn well it wasn't her he wanted to hurt as his eyes touched on the woman behind her. He knew with that sick, scheming intelligence of his, that harming Bianca would do more to destroy her than a thousand blows. "Come near her, and I will kill you," she hissed even as she heard the faint creak of the door moving on its hinges. Still glaring at Michael, she did a half turn so her body was sideways to him, and reached back to push Bianca inside her room. "I suggest you leave before I call security," she warned her former partner in crime, her eyes remaining locked on his stiff frame as she backed into her room. He was still standing there, glaring at her as she shoved the door shut in her wake. Hands trembling violently, suddenly aware of the taste of blood in her mouth, and the pain that ran along her cheek and jaw---following the print his open hand had left--- she nearly lacked the dexterity to throw the locks. When she was finished, she stumbled back several paces, then turned. Bianca stood a short distance away, her eyes wide and scared. Lena's cupped slender shoulder in both hands, then ran them down the length of Bianca's arms before linking their fingers together. "You are all right?" she whispered, her voice sounding breathy and frightened even to her own ears. "Did he hurt you at all?"

"I-I'm okay," Bianca whispered shakily, peering up at Lena, her lips faintly parted. "He just pushed me. What about you? He was...Lena, he was strangling you."

Bianca's worried question rattled around in Lena's head, and, while she heard the words quite clearly, she suddenly found it difficult to assign meaning to them. She staggered backward another step, nearly losing her hold on Bianca's hands, then sat down hard as the backs of her calves hit the edge of the mattress. She felt a delicate hand slip free of her loose hold, then twitched away as Bianca reached out to touch the corner of her mouth. She felt weak and vulnerable, any contact seeming like more than she could bear.

"You're bleeding," the younger woman exhaled and pulled her hand back as though she understood that Lena simply couldn't deal with certain things at that moment.

Lena completely lost her grip on her lover's hands as she leaned forward heavily, suddenly feeling mildly faint, her mind racing with the possible implications of what had just happened. She glanced toward the door, wondering if Michael was still out there waiting. She suddenly had the urge to grab Bianca to her and never let go, certain that his revenge would now be directed toward the woman she loved. Michael had a knack for finding people's weaknesses. With her mother no longer vulnerable, Bianca had become a serious chink in her armor.

"Lena?" Bianca whispered, breaking in on her tortured thoughts.

Lena looked up, mouth working soundlessly, the small movement sending lancers of pain through bruised facial muscles.

"He hit you," Bianca said softly as she crouched down and peered up into dark eyes.

Lena just shrugged. It was the worst of what she'd seen so far, but not entirely unexpected. His behavior had been escalating since things had begun turning against him in his battle with Erica.

"He's done it before, hasn't he?" Bianca asked.

Another shrug and Lena looked away, not wanting to admit to the things she'd tolerated in the name of survival. She already felt dirty enough without dredging up those ugly memories, particularly while Bianca was there watching her so closely. Elbows braced on her knees, she let her head fall forward into her hands, too numb to even summon tears. She felt and heard Bianca rise and move away, and experienced the twin sensations of deprivation and relief. She wanted Bianca close at all times, but opening up, trusting, showing those parts of herself she kept carefully locked away was terrifying for her. She could feel her stomach muscles knotting in response to the mere idea. She was still trying to untangle her own thoughts when Bianca returned and crouched down in front of her. A cool, damp washcloth was thrust into one hand, but Bianca made no further move to touch her which was actually something of a relief. She needed a little distance and to be clear headed, and the younger woman's presence generally made it harder to think.

"We need to call the police," Bianca woman said softly.

Lena raised her chin as she began mopping up the blood running from her nose and mouth, a little startled to realize how much of it there was. "What's the point?" she asked as she peered at Bianca, her tone defeated. She knew Michael. He'd have a battery of lawyers ready to make sure she came out of any confrontation even more despised than she already was.

"He attacked you," Bianca pointed out, her tone outraged.

Shoulders dipping in a hint of a shrug, Lena looked back down at the damp cloth in her hand, carefully folding it to hide the crimson streaks, shamed by the sight and everything it represented. "And most of the people of this town would doubtless feel that I deserved it." She folded damp cloth again, turning it into a thick pad, exhaustion and hurt giving way to bitterness as she added, "Perhaps even you."

She was startled by the vehemence of the younger woman's reply. "No," Bianca hissed. She sat back on her heels, the movement sudden and jerky, her eyes wide as she shook her head. "I would never...." She paused, swallowing hard. "Is that what you think?" she breathed. "That I would want you hurt like that?"

Lena shrugged, dropping her eyes and refusing to look at the younger woman. "No one would blame you," she said very softly, well aware that she was allowing a dangerous degree of emotion to show, but too tired and too battered to keep her normal walls in place. "And I saw the way you smiled...." She made a small, helpless gesture with one hand. "...when I saw you...." She flinched as though half expecting a blow to come her way. "...in the dining room...."

Bianca was utterly silent, not even breathing as far as Lena could tell, though she would have had to look up to be certain. And no way in hell did she want to do that, too afraid of what she might see. Disgust, anger, maybe even a bit of righteous triumph that she was getting the punishment she deserved. Oh, Bianca wasn't so cruel as to want her dead, but hurt? Lena suddenly wasn't nearly so certain about that. She'd caught a glimpse of that little smile down in the dining room, the one that said Bianca knew quite well the pain she'd inflicted and had enjoyed her little bit of revenge.

"Is that why?" Lena whispered when a long moment passed and Bianca still hadn't spoken.

"Why what?" the younger woman questioned, her voice rough and creaky as though she was having a hard time speaking.

"That night in my office," Lena clarified, still carefully not looking up. She took another swipe at the blood with the folded washcloth, wincing at the sting as the rough terry cloth pulled at the cut in her upper lip. She'd wiped up most of the blood, but her nose and mouth both continued to ooze. "You said two words," she whispered, accusation slipping through despite her best efforts, "'Don't go,' and then you left. I thought it was because you wanted me here ... because ... because there was a chance for us. But was it just so you could get me back for what I did? Make sure you had a chance to twist the knife?"

Another long moment of silence followed, and Lena was too frightened of seeing confirmation of her worst fears in chocolate eyes to look up, then Bianca spoke very softly, her tone bordering on defensive. "I also told my mother you're the person I love."

A flick of bitterness escaped the tight constraints Lena normally kept on her emotions. "When you were angry at her ... fully aware that caring for me is likely to hurt her." Her tone made it clear that as much as that moment had meant to her, she doubted its veracity in light of more recent events. A tiny gasp warned her that perhaps she'd been a bit too honest about her fears, and she braced for the furious words she fully expected to fall on her head. In her experience, honesty was vastly overrated and normally punished, and she found herself regretting that brief, impulsive foray into such a truly alien realm.

She was surprised when rather than hurling insults, Bianca sighed a little sadly and reached out, her hand swimming into view as she carefully removed the washcloth from Lena's unresisting fingers. "Maybe there's a little truth in what you say," she admitted, flicking the cloth out of its neatly folded state, forcing Lena to look at the crimson streaks left by her blood as Bianca found an unstained corner. The younger woman rose up on her knees and reached up, her touch incredibly gentle as she began daubing at the slow moving, crimson rivulet that persisted in trailing away from Lena's left nostril. "But that's not the only reason ... and I didn't tell you not to leave to try and hurt you." She didn't look into Lena's eyes, instead concentrating on her injuries.

The lack of close perusal was a relief for the Polish woman. She wasn't up to dealing with anything too demanding or intimate at that moment. When hurt she'd always drawn into herself, locking the world out and finding safety in her own mind. She might torment herself at times, but she was also good at denial and far less cruel than the world had long proven to be.

Bianca's attention moved on as she focused on the cut in Lena's lip. "You should get ice on this," she whispered, her touch gentler still as she cleared the blood to get a look at the injury itself. "I can go---" She started to rise, but Lena's hand snaked out, fingers wrapping around Bianca's forearm and pulling her back down, terror making her pulse pound.

"No," the older woman hissed and felt Bianca tense. Lena deliberately softened her voice, trying to contain some of the terror. "Michael," she whispered, then nodded toward the door. "I don't trust him. He might still be out there." He wouldn't forget the fact that they'd beaten him anytime soon, and she knew him well enough to be comfortably certain that he'd be out to get revenge for that sin.

Bianca started to wave the idea off, clearly not really believing he was that evil despite everything she knew. That was the problem with genuine evil, as Lena had learned through painful experience. It seldom wore the monstrous face of fairy tales, so people were loathe to believe the proof in front of their own eyes. "He wouldn't---" she started to demur, but Lena cut her off.

"What? Attack someone in a public hallway?" the older woman demanded, her voice firm as she drove her point home. "Try to rape your mother in her own office or force your sister into his bed against her will?"

The color drained out of Bianca's face and she swallowed hard. She opened her mouth, visibly struggling for words, then abruptly snapped it shut again. "You don't really think..." she rasped at last.

Lena felt for the fear she saw in doe brown eyes and couldn't resist the urge to reach out and stroke a velvety cheek with the back of her hand, wishing she hadn't had to be the one to put it there. "I think you are the one thing that ties together a great many people who've made a fool of him and drawn his hatred. Me ... your mother ... your uncle ... Boyd ... even Kendall." She hadn't thought much of Bianca's sister, had even somewhat despised her when she thought about the things that she'd read about their history, but she'd seen real emotion in the other woman's eyes, seen her growing closer to Bianca. Lena could understand someone changing because of the woman in front of her and couldn't discount the likelihood that the emotions Kendall had shown were real. She cared---and Michael knew it. That would only enhance Bianca's value as a target.

Bianca took a breath, her expression growing more serious. "If you really think he's that dangerous, then you have to call the police," she argued at last.

Rising and turning away, Lena moved to stare out the window at the darkening face of the city. "And tell them what?" she asked.

"That he's threatening you," Bianca responded simply.

Lena sighed, considered the answer for a long moment, then asked, "With the only witness, my lesbian lover ... and the daughter of one woman who claims Michael attacked her---rather unbelievably, according to some---and sister to another ... both of them perjurers ... one rumored to be unstable...." A tiny burst of grim laughter escaped her lips. "I suspect Michael's lawyers would be grateful for such a gift."

"The couple in the hall ... maybe they---"

"I doubt they saw anything," Lena disagreed with firm practicality. Had they actually seen anything she was confident the man would have come over. She'd chatted with them a time or two before, and he was of the old school, protective variety. Besides, she was an expert when it came to knowing what witnesses might have seen. She mentally figured the angles in her head, then dismissed that idea with a small wave of one hand. "They weren't in a position to see ... and certainly they heard nothing."

"So ... what?" Bianca demanded. "He just gets away with it?"

Lena did a slow turn, taking in the younger woman's idealistic outrage and trying to remember if she'd ever been that young. It didn't seem likely somehow. The streets of Gdansk had not been kind to her childhood. "No," she argued, sticking to the logical realities and struggling to ignore emotion. "Your uncle will put him in prison for the crimes he committed in stealing the formula. That's the best way to deal with Michael."

Bianca glared at Lena for a long moment, then shook her head, rejecting that idea. "If you won't call, I'll--," she said at last and moved to reach for the phone.

Lena blocked her path, settling her hand on the receiver to make certain the younger woman couldn't get to it. "You'll stay out of it," she said seriously. Bianca had already attracted Michael's attention. Lena had no intention of allowing her to become any more involved than she already was.

"Dammit, Lena--"

"I mean it," Lena insisted. "You stay out of it." She reached out with her free hand, fingertips just barely brushing a gently rounded cheek. "He won't get away with anything ... but he wouldn't have been here if he wasn't confident that there was nothing I could do to punish him for his actions." She knew Michael well enough to be certain he already had his plan in mind for destroying her if she tried to press charges for the assault. "And I don't want to bring you any farther into this than you already are." She couldn't help but remember the look in Michael's eyes, as though he was seeing Bianca for the first time. Tension rippled down her spine. That wasn't good news. It was never good when Michael noticed something---or someone. She cupped her hand along the side of Bianca's face, her heart thudding against the inside of her ribs with the sheer terror of thinking he might hurt the woman she loved. "You don't know what he can be like," she told Bianca, her tone a little desperate, "and I don't want you to find out."

"Lena---" Bianca began, clearly intending to argue.

"No," Lena snapped, anger flaring in her eyes for just a second before she doused the emotional response. "Please," she began more calmly, "trust me. Stay out of this." Bianca stared up at her, her eyes liquid dark and so deep Lena thought maybe she could just fall in and get lost in there forever. Despite everything that had happened between them, there was a promise of love and safety, two things she'd barely known in her life. Unable to resist temptation, she started to lean closer, only to remember the confused situation and her own resolve not to push things. Pulling back, she turned away, folding her arms across her chest as she rasped, "You should call Boyd and have him pick you up and escort you home." She trusted the chemist. He'd do anything in his power to protect Bianca, and he was wise enough to know that Michael was dangerous.

"Have Boyd escort me home?" Bianca repeated slowly, the words coming out broken and choppy, as though she was saying them phonetically, but didn't understand the meaning.

"It would be best," Lena confirmed without looking back, carefully resisting the urge to see to such things herself, with the brutal reminder that she had no rights where Bianca was concerned. The younger woman had made that much very plain to her. "You should call him whenever you're finished with your ... date." Silence greeted her quiet declaration, the lack of response stretching out to painful lengths while she waited. She jumped ever so slightly, arms dropping to her sides when a warm hand lighted on her back right over her left shoulderblade.

"About what you saw in the diningroom," Bianca began cautiously.

Lena wanted to whirl around and stop the younger woman before she said the words that would shatter hearts and hopes for all time. She wasn't ready for that kind of pain, didn't want to know that any chance she had thought she had was gone now. Nonetheless, she simply stood there, waiting for the ax to fall. She even supposed Bianca deserved that bit of revenge for what she'd been put through.

"It wasn't..." Bianca started to say only to trail off. "It wasn't a date ... at least not like you're thinking...." She fell silent again and Lena didn't dare say a word, too afraid of dousing the tiny flame of hope struggling to sputter to life despite the emotional winds threatening to kill it again. "My mother," she said after another beat. "She tricked me into having dinner with her ... then tried to set me up with some model who 'accidentally' showed up at the restaurant."

Glancing over her shoulder, Lena frowned, arched brows drawing together. "Your mother?" she said doubtfully, unable to envision the scenario Bianca was laying out. That almost fell under the heading of things so ridiculous that they absolutely had to be true.

The younger woman offered a wry smile. "Mm," she murmured by way of confirmation. "She's what my mother thought I'd be attracted to ... an ambitious, supermodel type ... who was probably very eager to romance Erica Kane's daughter. She actually asked if I was a model." Bianca snorted disdainfully.

Her frown deepening, Lena digested that bit of news, already putting two and two together. Clearly Erica had chosen a younger version of herself in terms of temperament, if not looks. Even for someone as self-obsessed as Erica Kane, picking a woman who even looked like herself would have been a bit.... The thought trailed off as Lena mentally hunted for the female equivalent of an Oedipal complex. Nothing came to her and it occurred to her that perhaps Erica's neuroses were unique enough not to have a name. She focused on Bianca anew as she found herself wondering about the effectiveness of the tactic. Despite her sarcasm now, Lena couldn't help but remember the looks between the two woman in the dining room and Bianca's triumphant smile. She turned away again. Some things were easier to do when not facing brown eyes that so easily slipped from invitation to accusation. "And were you?" she asked quietly, then clarified, "Attracted, I mean."

The silence that followed drew the band already wrapped around Lena's chest steadily tighter until breathing was a near-impossibility. Then it was like someone wrenched on the band around her chest, threatening to crack her ribs with the pressure as Bianca responded, "She's very beautiful."

"Of course," Lena exhaled, distantly proud that she managed to remain standing. She nearly jumped out of her skin as the hand on her back slid higher, shaping to her shoulder and tugging lightly. She momentarily resisted the firm pressure, half afraid of facing Bianca and hearing that she was interested in the date material her mother had hand-picked for her.

"But not really my type," Bianca added as their eyes met.

Lena gulped in air and abruptly realized she'd forgotten to breathe for a moment or two. She swallowed hard, too on edge to respond and instead stood frozen in place. "Not your type?" she questioned at last, feeling hopelessly stupid and confused, as though the words weren't quite computing.

"No," Bianca confirmed, then reached up, daubing at the last few traces of drying blood that had trickled from Lena's injuries and gently washing it away.

Lena caught Bianca's hand, halting the motion of cloth on her skin, her thumb grazing delicate knuckles. She wanted to ask, but found herself too afraid of the answer. She smirked inwardly at that thought, amazed by her own timidity. Once upon a time she'd feared nothing, but then she'd had nothing to lose in those days. And then Bianca had stepped into her life, and changed everything. Now she was nothing but things worth losing: thoughts, emotions, desires, and dreams, the loss of any of them enough to drop her to her knees.

"Nothing to say?" the object of her affections murmured, breaking in on her thoughts.

Lena dropped her gaze to study the hand wrapped safely in her hold, tracing long, slim bones, and taut cording. "I don't know what to say," she admitted. It was so much easier when she was lying. Then she always knew exactly what words to use and how to beguile people into doing what she wanted. Simply telling people what they wanted to hear was much easier than telling the truth. A part of her was tempted to use language that way, to engage that silver tongue likely to draw Bianca back into her life and bed. But no. Bianca deserved better than that. She deserved nothing but the very best.

"I don't think I've ever seen you at a loss for words before," the younger woman observed, her tone thoughtful.

Risking a quick glance up through thick lashes, Lena's mind raced as she hunted for something to say. A tiny, fatalistic laugh escaped her lips as she accepted that her normal facility with words had completely deserted her. "With most people, it's not a problem ... but with you...." She trailed off, swallowing hard as she struggled to understand what Bianca wanted to hear. "I don't want to lie to you, and I don't want to say the wrong thing." She paused, forced herself to take a deep breath as it occurred to her that she was forgetting to breathe again. It was just that the stakes were so damned high. That made it hard to get everything just right.

"Then just tell me what you're feeling," Bianca said very softly.

The Polish woman took another breath. "I love you," she exhaled in a rush. Another breath, then she tried again. "And I don't want you to ever even see that woman's picture again," she admitted, the vicious jealousy feeling hopelessly out of character. She'd never cared enough for anyone before to give a damn what they did with others. "Much less...." She made a frustrated, half growling sound in the back of her throat, tempted to turn away again. She would have looked away, but gentle fingers brushed her jawline, not letting her escape so easily. "I don't know what you want from me."

"Just look at me," Bianca encouraged, fingers still stroking the Lena's skin lightly and leaving heat trails everywhere they touched. "And let me see inside."

It was hard to do, requiring all of Lena's self-control. She was better at running and hiding than opening up. And what Bianca didn't understand was that in some ways, opening up to her was the hardest task of all. Lena had so many ugly things in her past, so many dark secrets and tortured memories, things she never wanted the younger woman to know or understand, things that would haunt her until her dying day. Letting anyone see that bordered on the impossible. But to allow Bianca? It was beyond terrifying. If she knew the truth, how could she possibly even consider a relationship. Most likely, she would simply---and wisely---run screaming into the night.

"Please," Bianca whispered, the coaxing note in her voice breaking through Lena's normal wall of self-protection, making her feel safer than since the very earliest days of childhood.

It was still terrifying to let all the masks she normally wore fall away, especially given what she'd seen in the dining room, and Michael's appearance, twin stressors that would normally have pushed her deeper into her own head. It required a level of trust she simply wasn't used to feeling---though she'd faked it well enough on several occasions.

"Lena?" Bianca inserted gently, not letting her run away, physically or emotionally.


Lena sighed very softly. No more delays. She could do this. She linked her hands together in front of her, fingers interlacing and clamping down until her knuckles were white with the pressure she unthinkingly inflicted. It had seemed so easy and natural to open up the night they'd made love, bodies twined together among tangled sheets, breath shared along with laughter, soft words of affection, and even occasional serious thoughts. She just had to focus on that and remember. She slowly raised her chin, not letting herself look away, determined to allow Bianca in even though she knew she was handing the younger woman the key to destroy her if she so chose.

The taller woman froze like prey caught by a hunter's gaze as intelligent brown eyes focused on her, staring deeply and refusing to be blocked out. She swallowed hard, suddenly intensely aware of the trickle of sweat inching its way down her spine and the hard, thudding beat of her heart. Seconds seemed to stretch into minutes, then hours, her time sense completely confused while they stood there staring at each other for the longest time.

Finally Bianca reached up to run her thumb along the bottom curve of Lena's lower lip, the contact light and mindful of any bruises. "Did you ever feel anything for him?" she whispered.

"Nothing good," Lena responded instantly, hoping her tone conveyed some measure of the disgust she felt for the man who'd blackmailed his way into her bed. "I had no choice in what I did. I was desperate when he hired me ... needed the money to get my mother out of Poland and it was the only thing that paid enough. By the time I knew what he really wanted, I was in too deep to get out." She glanced down at the floor, ashamed of the things she'd done and who she'd become in the name of survival. "And I suppose, at some point, I was too dead inside to care." She looked up just as Bianca glanced away, one hand rising to quickly brush the corners of her eyes. She was silent for a long moment, uncertain about the younger woman's mood.

Finally Bianca looked up again. "Your childhood?" she said at last. "Was it really bad?"

Lena shrugged, not quite knowing what to say, and mindful that earlier efforts to discuss her past had not gone so well. Of course, Bianca had still been utterly furious at her at the time, the discovery of Lena's actions on Michael's behalf still uppermost in her mind. She drew a breath, trying to come up with a coherent response. It wasn't that she had no good memories from her childhood, but they were definitely in short supply and thinking about them was prone to bring the bad ones to the forefront as well. She considered her options for a moment before settling on offering up the blandest overview she could come up with. "It wasn't good," she admitted hesitantly, uncertain how much to say. The only time she had briefly mentioned her past Bianca had been too angry at her to even try to understand and Lena was in no condition to lay herself open that way again. The wounds were too deep and too raw for her to allow anyone---even Bianca---to make a mockery of them. "Poland was starving and we were starving along with it. My father worked loading steel in the shipyards ... low paid even by the standards of a dirt-poor country...."

Bianca was perfectly silent this time, as though she sensed that any words would drive her former lover back into the comfortable realms of silence about her past.

Lena closed her eyes, unable to avoid the memories of a time when gnawing hunger pains had not been an unusual event. "I think that's why Papa was drawn to the movement to unionize. He wanted to feed his family ... thought the party members were living high while the workers starved." He'd been wrong, of course. Very few had been living high by that time. Nearly mismanaged into oblivion, Poland had been a starving nation desperately trying to claim everything was just fine, that the worker's paradise had been brought to life. Some paradise. A tiny, grim laugh escaped her lips. "He hated them for the fact that he worked so hard and his family often went hungry." She heard Bianca's soft, appalled gasp, but didn't allow herself to acknowledge it. If she allowed herself to feel something, she was afraid she was just going to lose all control. "Unfortunately Papa was never meant for such subterfuge." She offered a wry smile, well aware of the irony that her father had been among the worst liars who'd ever lived. "He was quickly arrested ... and sent to one of the more brutal prisons. It wasn't like here, where you at least know what the sentence is, and there are rules about you're treated. He was just in for as long as they chose to keep him ... and they could do anything they wanted to him." She looked down again, her throat painfully tight as she added, "He was starved ... beaten...." Another soft gasp told her that Bianca at least believed her this time. "...in the end...to death," she finished, the words barely escaping the band around her throat.

An incredibly gentle hand brushed Lena's hair back from her temple. "Why didn't you tell me before?" Bianca asked, her voice hoarse and quavery. "Did you think I wouldn't care or wouldn't understand?"

Hearing the lack of confidence in the younger woman's voice, Lena looked up, staring deeply into dark eyes. "No," she admitted. She'd known for a long time before everything had gone bad that Bianca would hurt for the past she'd lived just as she'd known she should break down and tell the younger woman the truth about Michael and that entire mess. She'd even gone so far as to plan the speech only to find that she was far too much of a coward to go forward when it came to it. For some reason she didn't entirely understand, when dealing with Bianca, her normal courage simply took flight and left her stranded.

She took a moment and tried to clear her thoughts and find a way to put it all into words. "It's difficult," she said at last. "Things become more real if you speak them aloud...." She paused again, allowing herself a moment to catch her breath. "And the way my father died...." Her voice choked into nonexistence for just a moment, then she got the rest out in a rush, "I don't want that to be real." Sometimes in the minutes before complete wakefulness was upon her, when she was lying in bed, still half asleep she could almost pretend it had never happened, that she hadn't seen him that way, his eyes blank in death, his body battered and broken by the secret police. It had been something that no child---no one of any age, if she was honest---should ever have to see. She shivered ever so slightly, more a tiny quiver that slid through her muscles than anything else. "Just like I didn't want..." she paused, struggling with words, not because of any lingering difficulties with language, but because there were things it was almost too difficult to admit, "...to be who I was ... what I was." She looked away from the curiosity burning in chocolate eyes for a moment, taking a second to gather herself together before facing that clear gaze again. "I didn't want the things I did for Michael to be real either."

Bianca stood absolutely frozen at that point, her expression unreadable. "Is that why you lied about your mother?" she asked at last. "You didn't want the truth to be real?"

Lena looked away again, her gaze sliding furtively sideways. She should have known Bianca would seize on that and see too much. She had a knack for that. Which was both good and bad. It had allowed her to see past the layers of lies to the soul Lena had thought she'd lost long before, but it also let her see things Lena would have preferred to keep hidden. "Not like you mean," she whispered after a beat. "After the government fell, I worked hard ... got a scholarship ... and then another ... but when I left home I didn't fit in. The lies made it easier...." Intelligence and hard work had taken her far from home and allowed her to climb in the hoi polloi business world, but acceptance had come at the price of her past. The daughter of a menial laborer and a seamstress didn't gain the entree into the same levels of society that the daughter of a fashionista did. Bianca was still watching her closely, driving her to continue the explanation, "... and later, the lies helped keep my mother hidden. Better I stay away from the truth, and not give anyone any clues that might lead to her." And yet Michael had managed to find her anyway. Lena shuddered as it swept over her again just how close she'd come to losing her only surviving family.

As if reading her mind, Bianca murmured. "Except Michael found out, didn't he?" she demanded, a note of anger filtering into her normally soft tones. "And he threatened your mother ... and now he's threatening you."

A muscle clenched along the line of Lena's jaw. "Yes," she hissed through clenched teeth, suspicious she knew exactly where this line of questioning was headed.

Bianca reached out again, not pulling back this time as she brushed her fingers along the cut in Lena's lip. "You have to report this. You can't let him get away with it."

Lena looked away, Bianca's quietly logical tone threatening to shatter her determination. She knew Bianca was probably right, but she also knew what had happened every time she'd tried to defy Michael in some way or stand up to him, and now he was threatening Bianca as well. At some level, she didn't believe that her word, even with injuries to show for it, would be anywhere near enough to get Michael jailed, and she didn't want Bianca any more involved than she already was.

"We'll talk to Anna and my Uncle Jack together," Bianca said quickly as though she sensed that Lena was wavering. "They'll help ... and if I'm with you...." She trailed to a halt.

"And if you tell them what happened, they might actually believe it?" Lena said in a tone that resided somewhere between depressed and sarcastic.

Bianca paused, taking her time as though she was choosing her words carefully. "It's not that they wouldn't believe you," she began at last, "but at the same time," she shrugged,"you don't have the best reputation."

A wry smile twisted Lena's mouth. No, she didn't. Not the best reputation at all. Not even remotely good actually. Her gaze momentarily slid away, then went back to the slight figure before her. "No, I don't," she admitted, a soft sigh on her lips as she reached out and tenderly brushed Bianca's cheek with the back of her hand before resting her palm on the smaller woman's shoulder. "But I don't want you involved in this ... in any way." Which meant that going to the authorities would be, more or less, a pointless exercise in futility which was only likely to increase Michael's ire. She sighed very softly and ran a hand through her hair, brushing her bangs back from her face, fighting to stay calm and in control of the situation.

"I'm a witness," Bianca pointed out logically, "and he hit me too." She straightened her shoulders. "Even if you don't go to them, I will."

Lena exhaled another tired sigh, her shoulders slumping under what felt like the weight of the world. "All right," she said at last. "If I go and speak to them, will you stay out of it?"

Bianca shook her head. "Lena, I'm a part of this---"

"No!" Lena snarled through tightly clenched teeth, desperate to keep the younger woman away from that part of her life, sickened that it had touched her at all. "No, you're not," she denied. If she could have, she would have protected Bianca from the knowledge that things as evil as Michael even existed. Bianca jumped in response to the vehemence in her tone, and Lena took a breath to force some semblance of calm into her voice before she continued, "There's no need for you to be involved---"

Bianca looked aside, visibly upset. "That's crazy. I saw what he---"

"Nonetheless," Lena interrupted.

The younger woman drew breath to respond only to come up short as the cell phone in her purse rang. "This discussion isn't finished," Bianca snapped impatiently as she reached for it.

Lena simply shrugged. She had no intention of giving ground on this front. She would not see Bianca any more tied up in the mess with Michael Cambias than she already was.

"Hi." Bianca's eyes flicked up as she answered the phone, then a faint flush slid over her skin as she continued. "Oh...Mom."

Lena stepped back, glancing around herself and wondering if perhaps she should disappear into the bathroom to give the younger woman some sort of privacy since her room was too small to simply pull away and achieve much. She'd just turned away to leave when Bianca's voice cracked.

"How bad is it?"

Lena did a sharp turn, her gaze narrowing as it fell on the woman she loved. In only a moment, the embarrassed flush had dropped away from Bianca's cheeks to be replaced by a milky pallor, and her hand was shaking where it clutched the cell phone to her ear.

"Of course ... of course, I'll be right there," the younger woman whispered tremulously after a moment of listening. Her lower lip quivered ever so slightly and then she added, "I'm sure Uncle Jack will be okay." She clicked the phone off, then quietly whispered, "He has to be."

"Bianca?" Lena breathed as she stepped back toward her former lover, well aware that something was very wrong.

The younger woman stood perfectly still, her eyes wide and frightened. "It's my Uncle Jack. He's back in the hospital ... something about internal bleeding ... and they don't have the right blood type in stock, so they need to test me ... since I'm a blood relative...." Hands shaking, she shoved the phone back in her purse and started fumbling around in the hunt for her keys. "I need to get to the hospital," she stammered unsteadily.

Lena retrieved her keys from the dresser where they'd been tossed aside. "I'll drive you," she said. Clearly Bianca was in no condition to be behind the wheel of a car.

"No," Bianca responded too quickly, her voice still shaky. "I-I need to---"

"You're in no shape to drive." Lena's voice was low but firm, and she laid a gentle hand over Bianca's, her touch lightly caressing. "I won't come in if you prefer, but I'm not going to stand by and let you wrap your car around a tree because your mind isn't on the road."

Bianca swallowed hard and was silent for a long moment. Finally she nodded, her voice soft and subdued when she spoke. "Thank you."

Lena nodded, resting a hand lightly on Bianca's shoulder as she escorted her out. Lena was extra alert to their surroundings as she moved with Bianca through the silent hotel hallways, then the darkened parking lot, well aware that Michael had probably slunk away by now, but not nearly as certain as she would have liked. Fortunately, there was no sign of her former employer and they reached her car without incident.

They were both silent during the short drive, Bianca tense and visibly frightened where she sat in the front seat every time Lena glanced over. As they waited at a stoplight, she couldn't resist the urge to reach over, resting her hand lightly over Bianca's, a little worried by how cold Bianca's skin was when it was normally so warm and alive. She rubbed her knuckles lightly. "Your uncle, he's strong. He'll be all right."

The younger woman nodded stiffly, but didn't speak, just twined her fingers together tightly under the light cover of Lena's hand.

When they finally reached the hospital, Lena pulled into an open parking space near the emergency entrance, gripping the wheel so tightly, her knuckles were bone white and glared at the zeroed out speedometer as though it were somehow at fault for her banishment from Bianca's life. For just a moment, she'd felt a part of it again, but now they'd arrived, and she knew full well that she wouldn't be welcome any longer. "I'll stay here until you're inside," she said softly, wanting Bianca to know she would watch her back.

Bianca sat perfectly still for a long moment, then finally reached out, her hand finding Lena's, fingers twining and squeezing hard. "I have to go in," she said, her voice coming out on a gasp, as though she was having a hard time breathing. She didn't move.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Lena asked after a beat, knowing all too well just how hard it could be to take that step and face some things. Even knowing Erica's feelings toward her and the friction her presence would likely cause, she would gladly brave the fire if she could make things a little easier for Bianca.

A stiff head shake was the only reply for a long moment, and then Bianca spoke up. "You know how nuts you make mom. She's already got enough to deal with." She fell silent again, still not moving.

Feeling Bianca's terror as though it were a living thing, Lena gently rubbed the back of her hand. "I'll do whatever you want," she assured her. "But if you need me ... or you just want to talk ... anything ... I'll leave my phone on. You only have to call, and I'll do anything I can for you."

Bianca sighed and nodded at the same time. "I have to go in," she repeated, but still didn't move. Finally, she took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then released her seatbelt and pushed the car door open, sliding out of the car. Lena didn't really expect her to say anything, so she was pleasantly surprised when the younger woman leaned back into the car, her voice low, the expression on her face soft with gratitude. "Thank you," she said softly.

Lena barely had time to nod in acknowledgment before Bianca was pulling back and slamming the car door shut. She stayed right where she was, watching closely as Bianca trotted across the parking lot, moving quickly now that she was on her way. At the hospital door, she paused for a long moment, looking back in the direction she'd come. Even though she knew it was impossible at that distance, Lena had the strangest sense of their eyes meeting, and she remained perfectly still, silently willing the sense of contact to continue. Finally, the younger woman turned and hurried inside while Lena remained unmoving, simply staring at the last point where she'd seen the younger woman for a long time.

At last, she released a tired sigh, and restarted the engine. Moments later, she pulled onto the street and away into the night.

* * * * * *

Continue to Chapter 2

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