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 Two

Despite the trappings of wealth required by her position, Lena Kundera had never cared overmuch for expensive clothes, jewelry, or knick knacks. She owned what was needed to create the illusion she wished at any given point in time, and could discuss them everything from haute couturier fashion to fine art with ease, but owning things had never interested her much.

With one exception.


She loved them small, sporty, fast, and powerful. German, Italian, English, Japanese, even American---the few that fit that description. The Americans understood power to be certain, but their tendency to build vehicles slightly larger than the average house merely annoyed her, though there were a few models she was fond of, most of them Mustangs. She'd never cared much about impressing anyone with makes or models, though much of what she'd owned had been impressive indeed. She sought out examples of beautiful engineering alone and allowed herself that one luxury in the interests of maintaining her sanity in a world that often seemed to her to have gone mad.

She paid top dollar, bought the best, and often spent her time hunting down classics rather than buying new because they appealed to her sense of grace and style. Automatic transmissions were tools of the devil as far as she was concerned, and she adored the feel of being one with an automobile as she upshifted and downshifted through a tight course, timing when to accelerate and when to back off with ease and grace. It had been her one consistent indulgence since working for Michael. Everything else was for show---just a part of the game---but whatever car she owned was always for her pleasure alone. They had been her escape and her salvation, giving her a few hours when she could run away from the world and lose herself in the rigors of surviving her own wild driving.

That night she drove.

Without steep twisting mountain roads to really challenge her, she found herself haunting the twisting country lanes outside the city that she'd hunted down on other nights when her room was too oppressive to allow sleep. She drove much too fast and much too carelessly, leaving her to wonder at some level if she was trying to wrap herself around a tree, but with reflexes well honed to such games, she never came close enough to do more than raise her pulse ever so slightly.

Her most current guardian angel with tires was a Jaguar XK-E, rebuilt, hand polished, and three years older than she was. It was a wholly impractical vehicle as even she fully admitted, but it was painted a glossy shade of blue so dark it was nearly black, the engine purred for her every time she hit the accelerator, and when she got the speed up high enough, she could literally watch the needle on the fuel gauge fall as all twelve cylinders growled their might. She loved it as much as it was possible to love any inanimate object, though had she been able to afford a Lamborghini Countache, she wasn't entirely certain she could have remained faithful.

In any event, it was a statement of her love for Bianca that when the cell phone resting on the passenger seat rang for her attention, she carelessly pulled off the highway onto a ragged patch of shoulder, skidding so hard she kicked up dust and gravel large enough to risk hangar rash. Lena never noticed. "Lena Kundera here," she said as she clicked the phone on.

"Lena, it's Bianca," a familiar voice stammered out the information Lena had no need for. She always knew Bianca's voice, and even if she didn't, there was no one else to call her so late, generally no one else to call her at all, in fact.

"I'm here," Lena quickly assured her, her entire attention focused on the phone, terrified the worst had happened.

There was a moment's silence, and then Bianca spoke again, sounding almost ashamed, as though she'd failed somehow. "I'm not a match for Uncle Jack ... and I guess the blood type he needs is really unusual...."

"Is there anything I can do?"Lena wanted to simply tell Bianca she'd be right there and promise to make it all better, but she knew full well that would be pushing in where she wasn't welcome, so she simply held out the offer.

Another moment's silence followed on the other end while Bianca either considered the question or debated her answer. "Mom's doing a news conference ... just trying to get people to come in and donate blood in hopes of finding someone who matches...."

"That sounds like a wise thing to do," Lena said to fill in the tinny version of cell-phone silence that followed that announcement. "The more people tested, the better the chances of finding a match, I assume?"

"Mm-hm," Bianca confirmed.

"Do you want me to come or stay away?" Lena asked after another long moment of noisy nothingness.

Lena could almost feel Bianca debating question on the other end of the line, so palpable was her sense of the woman she loved. "Please," Bianca whispered at last, "I need you."

Despite the seriousness of the situation, something warmed and melted deep inside of Lena Kundera, reassuring her that she was still human underneath it all, despite what anyone else might think or say about her. "I'll be there as quickly as I can," she breathed, glancing around herself at the night shrouded landscape. "It may take a little while," she admitted even as she struggled to decide exactly where she was and calculate the fastest route back to the hospital. "I went for a drive." Bianca knew that was one of her ways of dealing with stress. "But I will get there," she reiterated as she hooked the phone into place between her shoulder and her ear and restarted the engine.

"Thank you," Bianca whispered, sounding very young and frightened.

Lena accelerated into a steep U-turn, gunning the engine hard in her need to get to Bianca. "I'll be there as soon as possible." She was already nursing the speed up over the limit, confident in her ability to handle it.

"I know."

"I love you," Lena said even though a part of her knew she should hold back and not push.

"I know," Bianca said again, her voice small and barely audible above the powerful roar of the Jaguar.

And then the signal was lost to the whims of cellular hell, not even a moment of cutting in and out, just silence. Lena peered at phone for a moment, punched a button or two and said Bianca's name several times as though that could call her lover back, then concluded it was either dead or the signal well and truly lost and tossed it aside. Her mind completely on her driving now, she pushed her speed even harder than she would have dared while listening to Bianca's voice. The younger woman distracted her more than anything had in years, and having been called back to her side, any desire to wrap herself around a tree seemed more like a figment of her imagination than a serious possibility.

Lena reached the hospital parking lot in what could only be described as record time, and it was mildly miraculous that she didn't have a whole line of police cars in pursuit given the speed laws she'd not so much broken as shattered beyond any hope of repair. She quickly parked and locked up, noting the local news vans parked haphazardly in one corner of the lot as she hurried toward the emergency entrance.

Havoc was the kindest word to describe what she found as she entered the hospital. People were entering and milling about, some drawn to help, some simply drawn to the circus atmosphere, while news crews wandered, shoving microphones and cameras at all and sundry. An injury to the district attorney made Jackson Montgomery's situation news. Erica Kane's part in the whole affair made it News. Lena ducked between people, ignoring them beyond the physical reality of bodies in her way, her entire attention focused on finding Bianca, knowing that she had to be scared to death. She'd just entered the waiting room when a crawling sensation along the back of her neck warned her that she was being watched. She glanced over, easily spotting Erica where she stood near the admitting desk, suddenly in full whisper mode with her friend Opal.

Lena checked the urge to tip an imaginary hat, well aware that Jackson Montgomery's health had suddenly been replaced as the topic of choice between the two women. Erica glared at her, her laser gaze so sharp Lena was amazed it didn't drill a hole right through her. She was still debating several responses, none of them likely to improve the situation when a hand landed lightly on her forearm, drawing her attention back around. Any thought of her former employer instantly became a thing of the past as she found herself lost in fathoms deep, brown eyes. "Bianca," she exhaled, searching the younger woman's face intently.

"You came," Bianca whispered, clinging tightly to Lena's lower arm.

Containing the desire to reach out and touch, Lena nonetheless summoned a tender smile. "I told you I'd get here as quickly as possible," she reminded Bianca.

"Where were you?"

"Out on Anklam, past Limberlost," Lena answered automatically. "I was just letting off a little steam."

"That's quite a ways out." A watery smile touched full lips while arched brows rose questioningly. "I don't think I want to know how many laws you broke getting here this fast," Bianca admitted.

Lena shrugged, her expression wry. "Maybe one or two," she admitted, then offered a tiny wink and a wicked grin, "dozen." It got the laugh she was hoping for, a little weak perhaps, but definitely real.

"Thank you," Bianca breathed. "I'm really glad you're here." Lena couldn't help but notice how chilled the hand clinging to her bare arm was.

Lena's voice turned serious as she responded, "Anything for you."

A hint of a flush dusted Bianca's cheeks, her smile a little uncertain.

"How's your uncle?"

The flush drained away to be replaced by a sickly pallor. "They still haven't found a donor, and they can't do the surgery he needs until they do. And if they don't...." She fell silent, unable to finish, but the implication was obvious.

Finally, Lena did reach out, unable to resist the urge to tenderly brush a few stray strands of hair off Bianca's cheek. "He'll be---"

She didn't get to finish as a delicate hand closed on her other arm and yanked hard. She had a sense of Erica Kane, her other hand swinging in a high arc. Lena probably could have blocked the blow, but it would have involved striking Erica, and that wouldn't do, so she simply held her ground and allowed it, pain rattling through her head as Erica's hand made contact along much the same path that Michael's had and crashed into her already bruised jaw. She relaxed, letting her head whip to the side, knowing that would lessen some of the impact.

"How dare you!" Pure fury echoed in the older woman's voice.

"My God, Mom, what do you think you're doing?" Bianca demanded as she knocked Erica's hand off Lena's arm and stepped between her mother and her former lover.

Lena fought the urge to smile, knowing both that it would hurt like hell and only worsen the situation, but Bianca's outrage on her behalf almost made up for the pain as well as the fact that one of Erica's rings seemed to have reopened the cut in her lip. She swiped a fresh run of blood up with her tongue even as Bianca pressed her back as though afraid she might just return the blow. And lose what she'd just gained? No chance.

Bianca settled her feet, insinuating herself more firmly between them.

Erica drew a fresh breath, glaring spitefully at Lena. "This woman has lied to you and abused you, and now she shows up here, trying to prey on you again, like some psychic vampire and---"

"I asked her to come," Bianca said before Erica had a chance to really work up a good head of steam.

Under different circumstances the older woman's doubletake would have been comical. "You-you---" she stammered while staring at Bianca as though she'd grown a spare head. "Bianca, Baby, she---"

"Is here because I asked her," the younger woman reiterated firmly. She glanced back and Lena wiped any hint of a smile from her expression, schooling it into a serious, pained look as she studied her feet with utmost intensity. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Bianca raise an eyebrow, indicating she wasn't fooled by the act. She didn't call Lena on it though, simply turned back to face her mother. "After all, we're trying to get people in to get tested to see if they're compatible with Uncle Jack, right?" It was the one argument she had that her mother couldn't disagree with.

Lena risked a look up through thick lashes as she reached up and wiped away another gathering drop of blood. Erica was, quite amazingly enough, pulsating between ghostly pale and purplish with frustrated fury, the effect impressive to say the least.

Then Erica's eyes fell on her again, her gaze one that could have sliced her to pieces were it given weight and form. Erica drew a breath, visibly contemplating several responses, while Bianca stiffened, instinctively resistant to her mother's unspoken wishes. That wiped any thought of smiling right out of Lena's mind, reminding her that there was a very good chance that any remaining appeal she had for Bianca might simply be a matter of defying a famous mother utterly determined to smother her. That was definitely cause for a quick bout of Deep-Depression, You-Are-Here Syndrome.

Lena sighed very softly, bracing herself for the Armageddon she was comfortably certain was about to result from her appearance.

Ironically, it was Opal who headed off the gathering storm, her thick twang of an accent oddly soothing under the circumstances. "Erica, maybe this isn't the best time," she said as she joined them, one hand resting lightly on her friend's shoulder as though she expected to have to drag her back from a fray. "If she's here because Bianca asked her, then there's not much you can do about it."

Lena seriously doubted Erica would agree with that, though the situation was serious enough that even mental images of Erica clinging, terrier-like, to her ankles in an effort to drag her out of the hospital wasn't enough to draw a smile, but she was grateful for anything that would calm the situation given that there was really nothing she could do except stand there and hope for the best.

"Oh, Opal, you have no idea what I can---"

"The most important thing right now is Jackson, honey," Opal reminded Erica as she turned a glacial look Lena's direction. "She doesn't matter in comparison to that."

Erica deflated as though someone had stuck a pin in her while Bianca winced noticeably. Lena simply kept her head firmly down. A major confrontation was the last thing any of them needed, and any kind of defiance on her part seemed likely to trigger that kind of explosion. Besides, no matter how much she might wish to defend herself, she'd long since learned that it was usually the worst way to deal with people's anger, merely stirring up emotions likely to take things from bad to worse. Better to just let it wash over her and hope the anger would burn itself out quickly.

"No," Erica agreed at last, her voice both as dismissive and as vicious as she could make it. "She doesn't matter at all."

"Come on, Lena," Bianca said quickly, apparently eager to escape. "I'll show you where to go." This time she made no effort to touch Lena and her tone was cool, while she ignored her mother's muttered comments about just where that should be.

As she followed her former lover, Lena overheard Opal's muttered comments about ice-water in the veins and simply presumed they referred to her. Who else, after all? And the general consensus did seem to be that she was barely human.

Frowning inwardly, she pushed that thought down, not particularly liking the wave of self-pity it threatened to engender. After all, if people like Opal had such a poor view of her, then it could easily be argued it was her own fault. It was time to suck it up, take her beating like a good girl, and hope perhaps she could prove herself once again. Unfortunately, she'd been on good at that sort of thing as a child, and she sincerely doubted her skills along those lines had improved much with age. She'd been capable of doing the things she'd done for several reasons and the abilities to rationalize her own actions and exist in a permanent state of denial were chief among them.

The confrontation, though brief, had chilled Bianca's warmth to that of a brief acquaintance. She was polite enough but distant as she guided Lena to the special admissions area that had been set up and stood by while she filled out the necessary paperwork, leaving Lena to wonder once again why the younger woman had called her back again. But then that seemed to be the game played between them ever since her ties to Michael had been revealed. Bianca angrily pushed her away, yelled at her for going, then drew her back, and proceeded to ignore her or treat her with a certain casual cruelty that wounded far worse than yelling and insults would have. Lena had it in her to wonder why she continued to try under the circumstances.

Even as that thought occurred to her, the memory of hours spent in the younger woman's company, of feeling loved, safe, even happy for the first time since earliest childhood played in her mind's eye, reminding her of all the reasons she'd had for falling in love. If there was any chance of regaining that kind of closeness, she had to make the effort. It was simply something too unique in her life to be easily or lightly surrendered. At the same time, she was beginning to fear that she was surrendering her self-respect to Bianca in somewhat the same way that she had done with Michael. As awful as it was to contemplate, the fear was growing that, though the hoped for payoff was very different---her own happiness in place of her mother's life---her desperation was much same.

Lena pushed that thought aside, unable to deal with the complications it raised or what it might mean about her.

Finally, she found herself being escorted to one of the pallets set up in the room where they were actually taking blood and it suddenly occurred to Lena that needles were going to be involved---amazing how Bianca's presence had somehow driven that little detail from her mind. In an instant, she felt her lungs seize up, breathing suddenly nearly impossible. She hadn't come back with the intention of donating blood, but rather giving support, hadn't really considered that this might be expected. The nurse was cheerfully setting up the equipment and Lena could only stare. Oh, god, she had to do this for Bianca, but she was far from certain she could.

She was startled when a hand landed on her arm. "Lena?" Bianca murmured, sounding concerned.

Breaking away from the sight of the nurse preparing things, Lena half turned to peer at Bianca who was now standing beside the gurney, her expression concerned. "Needles," she said hastily as she stared into brown eyes that had softened once again. "I don't deal so well with them." Which was the understatement of the year.

Bianca offered a gentle smile, the arctic chill apparently taking flight now that she was away from her mother's influence, showing some of the kindness and caring that had won Lena's heart almost from the first moment they'd met. "They're not so bad," she whispered, drawing closer to the gurney as Lena took a seat and leaned back. She curved a supportive hand to Lena's forearm, a hint of frown creasing her brow. It suddenly occurred to Lena she was shaking ever so slightly, just enough that Bianca had to feel it. "You really are scared."

Lena nodded stiffly, trying to will the response away without success. "Stupid, no?" she muttered disgustedly, embarrassed by her inability to control the knee-jerk terror.

"No," Bianca assured her. "We all have our phobias, I guess." She rubbed Lena's upper arm lightly, generating a spark of heat that had nothing to do with friction. "Are you sure you can handle this?"

Loathe to look like a total coward and let her former lover down at the same time, Lena nodded. Then the nurse tied a tourniquet around her arm, and she felt the panic threaten to overwhelm her. "But if you could just stay and talk to me," she pleaded, not even remotely trying to manipulate, though she half feared Bianca would think she was. She looked down at her free hand where it rested on the edge of the gurney, studying the complex twining of bone and muscle in an effort to distract herself. "I think that would help."

She was caught by surprise when Bianca's hand came down over hers. "I never intended otherwise," she said softly, continuing their strange dance.

Her breathing suddenly tight for all new reasons, Lena looked up, so caught in the trap of doe brown eyes that she barely felt the prick of the needle as it entered the soft skin of her inner elbow. She turned her hand under Bianca's, grateful to feel strong fingers lace with her own. It was one of those small moments that she'd learned to cling to because they gave her hope. It was amazing how little could keep a person going.

The nurse had been silently efficient to that point, as though she sensed that it was best if she not draw any attention to herself, but as she finished, she spoke up. "It's all ready ... wasn't so bad was it?"

Lena made the mistake of glancing over and felt the color drain out of her face.

"Just keep your eyes on me," Bianca said quickly and squeezed Lena's hand firmly.

Lena purposely turned her head away from the sight of the needle and hose still attached to her flesh. "You must think I'm a hopeless coward," she muttered in a voice thick with embarrassment as carefully kept her gaze off both Bianca and the needle since neither one was doing her equilibrium any good.

Bianca didn't respond to that suggestion, instead saying, "Let me guess, you had a needle scare as a kid." She grinned, teasing lightly. "Did the doctor get a little aggressive during your childhood vaccinations?"

Lena tensed, trying to summon an equally light response without success. It simply wasn't in her power to joke about some things, and she wasn't up to any explanations at that point, while Bianca already had too many things to worry about. Finally, she gave up trying and simply shook her head, avoiding the subject altogether. "Just don't like needles," she demurred, hoping Bianca would take the hint and drop it.

Bianca was silent for a long moment, her thumb moving slowly back and forth over the surface of Lena's knuckles, that light touch more soothing than it probably should have been. When she spoke again, the teasing note had dropped away completely, and her tone was serious, perhaps even a little worried. "You okay?"

Lena took a breath, pushing the tumult of emotions down and looked up again, consciously schooling her expression into one of calm neutrality. "Fine," she answered a little too quickly, then offered a watery smile. "Just a little tense." She was surprised when Bianca's other hand lighted on her shoulder, massaging taut muscles with a gentle touch. She risked a look up, eyes flicking away as she saw the desire to question her response in Bianca's expression and found herself hoping the younger woman would just let it go. The hand on her shoulder rose, then brushed her hair, sliding over and through the fluttery strands.

"I'll be right here,"Bianca reassured her.

Lena rubbed the side of Bianca's hand with her thumb, stroking firmly and enjoying the feel of soft flesh and subtle muscle. She wanted to ask why, but didn't dare. "Thank you," she said at last.

Bianca was silent for a long moment. "I'm the one who asked you to be here," she pointed out when she finally spoke. "I should be the one saying thank you."

Lena shrugged, chancing another quick glance up. "I'm just glad if I can help at all."

Bianca sighed softly, one hand twining more tightly with her fingers, the other still petting her hair lightly. "I'm sorry about my mother." The hand on Lena's hair broke away, just barely brushing the tiny wound on her upper lip. "She had no right to do that." A hint of a frown touched her brow, and Lena fully expected a lecture on all of the reasons why she needed to see someone about Michael's attack, but apparently Bianca wasn't up for rehashing the subject, at least not for the moment.

"Your mother hates me," Lena said, her tone pragmatic, keeping to the topic at hand, "along with most of the town." She looked down again, all of her doubts resurfacing with a vengeance. Some days she seriously doubted the wisdom of regaining her emotions since there seemed to be so much bad stirred into the tiny bits of intensely good. She, who hadn't doubted herself or her actions in years, was not at all comfortable with the way she was becoming a creature of nothing but doubts. "And not without some reason."

"I don't hate you," Bianca said after a long moment of uncomfortable silence, and Lena realized she'd been telegraphing her fears loud and clear.

"Your opinion is the only one I care about," Lena whispered in a tone that was meant as much to convince herself as Bianca because the truth was that, while Bianca's opinion might be the only one that meant anything to her, the constant ongoing hostility from so many corners could start to feel like an awful weight bearing down on her, especially when coupled with the sense that there was no one truly in her corner.

Bianca leaned a little closer, the fingers stroking Lena's lips trailing along the line of her cheekbone and back into her hair.

For just a moment, Lena thought the younger woman meant to kiss her, then a familiar voice broke in with cheerfully teasing spite.

"Hey, Lena, looks like the job offer worked its wonders."

Greenlee Duprés.

As grateful as she was to the other woman for helping her get a job so that she could stay in the states, Lena would have cheerfully locked her in the nearest broom closet at that precise moment because the taunting snapped Bianca straight and had her jerking both hands back and dropping them to her sides.

"Hey, Binks, don't stop on my account," Greenlee taunted as she offered a broad grin and a saucy wink. "Not my thing, but I'm all for the grrl power."

"Greenlee," Bianca said stiffly. "What are you doing here?"

The other woman chuckled, clearly aware of her ability to annoy Bianca and enjoying it. "What can I say? I heard this was the place to be in Pine Valley, and you know how trendy I simply have to be."

Given the seriousness of the situation, Bianca was clearly in no mood for Greenlee's mindgames. The younger woman's back stiffened, her eyes turning stormy in a way that Lena had since learned signaled her temper was building.

Judging by the sparkle in her eyes, Greenlee knew it too, and was hoping for a blow up. Sometimes Lena thought they rather enjoyed their perverse need to snipe at one another.

"Mrs. Duprés," Lena gestured with the hand that had been twined with Bianca's, "I've been wanting to thank you for your efforts in helping me get a job." The reminder neatly deflated both Greenlee and Bianca, neither of them quite so crass as to continue their automatic conflict when reminded they'd recently been on the same side.

"Oh, right ... granddaddy." Dark eyes glittered with disappointment at a fight neatly avoided, but Greenlee accepted the change in subject surprisingly gracefully. "How's that working out?"

"The work is interesting and I like your grandfather very much." It was the sort of pat answer she'd given dozens of times over and had little to do with reality. In truth, the work looked like it was going to be boring as hell, the sort of financial analysis she could have done with her eyes closed, and she'd barely met Woodruff Greenlee beyond being brought into his presence for a reminder that she was receiving the job as a favor to his granddaughter and a firm warning that any shenanigans---a complete silly word in her opinion---would not be tolerated in his company, and to make certain there none, she could expect to be closely watched for the foreseeable future. She'd found it borderline to humorous that he thought she might have assumed anything else.

"Oh, well, that's great," Greenlee muttered, no longer involved in the conversation now that the possibility of causing a little havoc had been removed. "Oh, hey, there's Carlos. Must run." And she disappeared off after her handyman, leaving the two women staring after her.

"Nicely done," Bianca murmured in a faintly bemused tone.

Lena struggled to maintain an innocent pose. "I'm not sure what you mean. It only seemed right to thank her for her help."

A dark eyebrow rose into a high arch. "Right," Bianca exhaled doubtfully, then glanced over at Greenlee where she was ooing and ahing over the Fusion handyman. "Well, thanks for heading her off anyway."

"It didn't seem like a good time for a catfight," Lena sighed practically, wishing she could as easily figure out a way to go back to the comfort level they'd shared before Greenlee's untimely arrival. "Not that I think you'd be involved in something like that, but---"

"But Greenlee doesn't exactly bring out the best in me," Bianca supplied wryly.

Lena simply shrugged. Knowing something of what Greenlee had put Bianca through, she didn't blame the younger woman for her feelings, but at the same time, she did owe Greenlee, which put her in a difficult position. It seemed easier to simply mediate so there was some measure of peace between them.

Bianca sighed softly. "She did come to donate blood ... and we do owe her for helping you get a job," she allowed through gritted teeth, giving credit if not especially gracefully so.

Still, the acknowledgment that Greenlee had done them both a favor in getting her a job was a comfort to the Polish woman. Perhaps Bianca really was glad she'd stayed.

Full lips twisted into an ironic smile. "So I guess I can hold off killing her for another day," Bianca sighed on a mockingly disappointed note.

"That's the spirit," Lena said with forced good cheer, then she made the mistake of glancing at the needle. Bianca's hand braced against her upper back when she wavered slightly. "Sorry," Lena apologized quickly. "Just a little...." She didn't finish, just made a fluttery motion with one hand as she uttered a disgusted curse under her breath.

Bianca massaged her back lightly. "It's okay," she soothed. "You should see me when I have to go to the doctor." She shuddered delicately. "Total wimp."

Lena shook her head, her expression serious. "I doubt that." She'd long been amazed by Bianca's strength and courage.

"Don't," Bianca assured her. "Believe me, I have my cowardly moments." She glanced over her shoulder, toward the door and the waiting room, as though she half expected her mother to come rushing in, her expression momentarily worried. "More than a few of them."

Reminded of her uncertainty about her position in the younger woman's emotions, Lena looked down at her hand, once again feeling the slide into a dark, mental place threatening to take place.

As if sensing that they both needed to shy away from anything too personal, Bianca cleared her throat, then spoke up. "So how'd the job really go?"

Lena shrugged. "It's fine," she sighed, hesitant to voice any complaints for fear Bianca would misunderstand, "and I'm just grateful to have something."

"But," Bianca prompted.

Lena sighed, thinking that she should have remembered that Bianca was inordinately good on picking up on her moods. She could easily fool most people, but rarely the younger woman. It left her wondering whether that was because of Bianca's ability to see through her lies, or her own inability to tell them well when it came to the younger woman. It had been a problem from the first, making successfully lying to her nearly impossible at times. She shrugged. "The pay's not so good ... and there is some degree of suspicion directed my way," she admitted. "Hardly surprising, I suppose."

"Still, it must be hard," Bianca murmured, some sympathy slipping into her voice.

Lena didn't argue. "I've had more fun in my life." Whether she'd earned it or not, it was difficult to bear the constant level of suspicion and hostility. In the past, she'd played the game so skillfully that she'd managed to avoid this sort of disdain. It had made the mental games she played with herself far easier to maintain, allowing her to live a double life. Getting caught had shattered any ability to rationalize her actions or live only in the moment and left her vaguely uncertain how to respond in certain situations. "But," she added, looking up into brown eyes and reminding herself of just why she was fighting so hard and putting up with whatever anyone wanted to throw her way. She found Bianca's hand and held on tightly. "It's worth it."

Bianca's gaze dropped to their twined hands, a hint of a frown touching her brow. She seemed about to say something only to change her mind. After a moment, she carefully disengaged her hand and dropped it to her side, though she continued lightly massaging Lena's shoulder with the other one.

Lena flinched, but made no effort to resume the contact, simply accepting whatever Bianca chose to offer.

After that, by tacit agreement, they stuck to neutral topics until finally, the nurse returned and removed the needle from Lena's arm, then quickly affixed a tiny band-aid over the oozing puncture wound. After she'd gone, Lena peered at it with a wry look. "I don't seem to be doing very well on the blood front tonight."

A frown touched Bianca's brow. "I guess you haven't done anything about Michael's attack."

Arched brows climbed toward Lena's hairline. "I think your uncle has more important matters to deal with right now ... and for some time to come." She'd rather hoped that Bianca would simply forget the issue in light of her other concerns. No such luck. She reached up and fingered the reopened cut on her lip. "And I suspect it would be very difficult to claim Michael did this now that half the town saw your mother strike me," she reminded Bianca. Oh, how Michael would love to see that in little tidbit put into the court records.

Bianca exhaled a soft sigh, and Lena could almost see the gears turning in her head as she considered the argument they'd had in her room at the inn and tried to decide on a course of action. The younger woman was very easy to read some days. It was like her face was an open book. Which was why Lena had the sudden urge to get out of there as quickly as she gracefully could. She simply wasn't up to fighting with Bianca. Bracing herself, Lena swung her legs over the side of the gurney, only to waver gently as she found her feet. In an instant, Bianca's hand shaped to her elbow, offering a supportive brace.

"Take it easy," her former lover murmured while Lena regained her balance.

"Sorry, just a little..." she hunted for the word she wanted in English, somewhere between amused and frustrated to find that it wouldn't come. She made a spinning motion with one hand.

"Dizzy?" Bianca offered helpfully.

No, that wasn't it. Close, but not quite right, and Lena shook her head, then wished she hadn't as a headache threatened to start pounding between her eyes. "Something like that, but I can't...." God, she hated the rare occasion when her English failed her.

"Woozy?" Bianca supplied another option.

Yes, that was the one. A silly word, but somehow evocative of the swirling sensation getting up had produced. Lena nodded, massaging her temple as the whirling effect finally began to fade. "That's it." She shook off the momentary daze, straightening her back and shoulders as she forced the brief unsteadiness down. Once she was stable, Bianca's hand pulled away, and it startled Lena a little to realize how much she noticed the break in contact. The realization was just a little frightening. No, more than a little if she was honest. She wasn't used to giving a damn about anything or anyone. Even her mother, as much as Lena loved her, had been neatly stored away. Safe, yes, but in no way demanding on her emotions.

Which was probably for the best given that there was a part of her that wasn't entirely comfortable with the ease with which her mother had allowed her to sacrifice herself to save her own life. She'd never begrudged the choice, but at the same time, if she let herself consider it too closely, she inevitably wound up wondering if she could have allowed a child of her own to take a similar path. That she invariably concluded she couldn't did nothing for her peace of mind and tended to leave a lurking dent in her sense of self-worth that she could ill afford. In her case, mindgames weren't merely business, they were a matter of survival.

"Lena?" Bianca's voice broke in on her silent musings and it occurred to the Polish woman that she'd slid off into her own head for a moment.

Lena instantly threw off the unwanted thoughts, a skill she'd developed through long practice. "I'm sorry," she apologized automatically. "Just thinking," she added a little distantly, her tone not inviting any inquiries. Her thoughts were the last thing she had any desire to share.

"Serious thoughts by the look of it," Bianca probed gently, clearly curious, but not pushing.

Lena glanced around, noting the curious gazes surreptitiously directed their way, certain that quite a few ears were also cocked to pick up any stray dialogue. Bianca was too famous and she was too infamous to expect anything else. "Perhaps we should continue any further conversation somewhere more private," she suggested with a subtle nod of her head to indicate the surrounding watchers.

Bianca followed the line of her gaze, suddenly looking uncomfortable as she realized how much attention was aimed their way.

"A number of people seem to find us rather interesting," Lena drawled knowingly as she checked all of her more outrageous impulses. She noted Greenlee was watching them again, her eyes glinting wickedly, clearly hoping for a show. "I don't assume you want an audience for any conversation we might have."

Bianca shook her head self-consciously. "No," she confirmed and pulled back a step, apparently none too eager to have anyone make the mistake of thinking they were together now that she'd noted the perusal.

Feeling the sting of rejection in the light of Bianca's apparent embarrassment at being seen with her, Lena found herself wishing she'd just keep her mouth shut. Given some of their recent interactions, she half expected Bianca to simply turn on her heel and leave. It would fit the strange, push-me-pull-you dance they'd been caught up in. She found herself rather relieved when instead, Bianca nodded toward the entry doors.

"Maybe we should find someplace a little less public," she mumbled and moved to escape.

The outer corridor was no less crowded or more private than the makeshift blood donation center, and Bianca looked around momentarily, then hurried into another hallway, barely pausing long enough to make certain Lena was trailing along in her wake. Ironically enough, despite the milling crowds, they didn't have to go far to find some privacy. Bianca had chosen a narrower, darker corridor that was surprisingly quiet given the surrounding havoc in the Emergency Ward. Apparently anyone not in line to donate blood wanted to stay close to where the cameras were to be found, so it was merely a matter of heading the opposite direction.

Suddenly Bianca did a half turn, her hand warm and soft when it curved to Lena's forearm. She tugged lightly, drawing Lena into a recessed niche that afforded them some privacy from any prying eyes.

Lena felt her heart clench as their gazes locked and held and for just a moment, it was as though the gulf between them simply melted away. The look in Bianca's eyes was so hurt, wary, and frightened, and yet at the same time, she could see enough of the same longing she felt that she barely restrained the urge to take another step closer and draw the younger woman into her arms. She held herself off though, keeping her distance and waiting to find out what Bianca had to say. The tenuous contact with her arm broke and Bianca stepped back a half a pace, her expression closing down as though she realized she'd allowed her emotions to become too obvious. She straightened her shoulders, the warm brown of her eyes cooling noticeably.

Lena was tempted to look away but instead simply waited to feel the ax fall across the back of her neck with a certain practiced air. Obviously she was about to be banished once again. So much for her brief stint back in her former lover's good graces.

"I wanted to thank you for coming," Bianca began, her tone so politely formal that it set Lena's teeth on edge. She hated that courteous, who-gives-a-damn tone with a vengeance. Almost anything was preferable, even fury. At least that gave her something to react to. This was just a brick wall. The younger woman glanced around, her eyes darting as though she couldn't quite maintain the façade if she actually looked at Lena. She twined her hands together in front of her, her gaze dropping to touch on them as she continued, still struggling to maintain that formal mien: "It meant a lot to me." Her tone was artificially cool, threatening to belie the words, but Lena clung to the meaning like a lifeline.

Unable to control the urge, Lena reached out, resting her hand lightly over Bianca's. "I'm simply glad if I could help at all," she murmured, her tone dropping low. "I'd do anything I could for you...anything you ask of me."

Bianca's gaze remained on her hands.

And Lena's. She could almost feel that gaze like a caress.

"Thank you," the younger woman mumbled after a long beat, her gaze still firmly downcast.

Realizing she'd probably done as much good as was possible and trying to force the issue might well lose any ground gained, Lena accepted it was time to go if need be. She pulled her hand back and let it fall to her side, trying to ape Bianca's formal tone. "Would you rather I left now?" she asked even though it went against everything she felt and believed. Bianca was in pain, and her every instinct was screaming at her that she needed to stay close and see her lover through the current trauma. However, the reality was that she might well not be the least bit welcome.

"You make mom crazy...." Bianca finally looked up, her eyes suspiciously bright.

Lena could almost feel the fear like a physical thing and understood it too well. Wanting nothing more than to wrap Bianca in her arms and protect her from the world, she nonetheless knew she had no right, so she simply waited for Bianca's response. She let her gaze fall to the floor between her feet when Bianca still hadn't spoken a moment later. "I'll go," she said at last, freeing Bianca from the burden of having to tell her she wasn't wanted any longer. Her head still down, she started to pull away.

"Don't go," Bianca's voice caught and held Lena in place.

The irony that those were the same words Bianca had uttered the night Lena nearly went to Chicago didn't escape the Polish woman. Half turned away, she froze, uncertain she'd heard right. "Bianca?" she whispered after a beat when no further comment was forthcoming.

"I don't want you to leave," Bianca admitted, her voice strained and tight, for once it was with an emotion other than anger, though Lena wasn't entirely certain what it was.

Lena didn't turn back, standing so still she might have been turned to stone, wondering if perhaps it was also easier for Bianca to do these things when they weren't face to face. "I'll do anything you want," she whispered, still not looking back. Staying would mean braving Erica's wrath, but she would willingly suffer the storm for that twining sense that she was still someone whose life was worth something. "Your mother won't be happy," she said after a beat, forcing herself to be practical. She didn't want Bianca to have to bear her mother's anger unless she was very certain of what she was getting into.

She should have remembered that Bianca knew Erica's tempers far better than anyone else ever could.

"I know," the younger woman drawled, tension sliding over into irony. "And I probably should ask you to leave," she admitted, "but...this is...it's easier ... to get through this ... with you here."

Lena did a slow pivot back to face her former lover, swallowing hard as a band seemed to tighten around her throat. "Then I'll stay," she said very softly.

Bianca's answering smile was watery, with a relieved cast to it. Not exactly the wild passion Lena might have dreamt of, but it was a start.

* * * * * *

Continue to Chapter 3

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