DISCLAIMER: If I owned 'em, this so would have happened. Maybe.
SPOILER: only the one I took literally: Lena walks through the fires of hell, etc. Which turned out not to be a spoiler. Alas.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
THANKS: Xander, my perennial beta and pal.

By Harriet

Bianca's stomach dropped at the look on Jack's face. "What, what is it?" she asked urgently. "Is it Mom?"

Shaking his head, Jack reassured her. "No, your mother's fine."

"Well what happened? You look terrible." She noticed some black dirt on his cheek and wiped it away. "And you have schmutz on your face. Where have you been?"

Taking Bianca's hands, he led her to the couch. "Sit."

Bianca yanked her hands away, really worried now. "Tell me, Uncle Jack." The softness in his eyes suddenly told her everything. "Lena," she choked. When his face drooped, Bianca felt everything solid in her world slip sideways, and vaguely she felt pain in her knees when they made contact with the floor.

"She's alive, Bianca, but we need to go to the hospital."

"What--" Bianca asked. "What happ-- was it Michael?"

He helped her to the couch and took her hand again. "Looks that way. We think he set fire to Myrtle's place. Everyone made it out, but it's possible Michael told Lena you were inside. From what Boyd told the police, she rushed into the house before anyone could stop her, and the firefighters found her unconscious in your room." He took a deep breath. "No visible burns, but it appears she inhaled a good deal of smoke."

Dry-eyed, Bianca stared at him. "She could die." Her voice was flat.

Jack took a deep breath. "I don't know."

"We should go then."

My fault, my fault. The words looped in her head over and over. I should have forgiven her. I should have believed her. Believed in her. She tasted the iron tang of blood in her mouth, realized she'd bitten the inside of her lip without noticing. How pathetic am I that she lied to me and now I don't even care?

"Bianca?" Jack said, quietly.


"She'll be all right. I know she will."

"Yeah." She stared out the window of the car, not believing.

Bianca's legs were weak when she made it to the room where Lena was sleeping. Unconscious, she corrected. Kendall and Greenlee were sitting with Boyd, who was filthy from the smoke, but otherwise unharmed. They stared at her, and Kendall spoke to her, but she ignored it. She couldn't even bring herself to be sorry Boyd had almost been hurt. Knowing she'd probably lost much of what she owned didn't bother her either, which seemed strange. Her music, letters and books, clothes... None of it made a difference, not with the only thing that mattered lying unconscious behind the door in front of her.

She placed her hand on the cool door and pushed. In the bed, Lena lay quiet, an oxygen mask covering her nose and mouth. Bianca knew in her mind it was really Lena, but the figure under the sheet seemed so much smaller than the one that lived in her memory. She floated forward, feeling a little lightheaded. Lowering the railing beside the bed, she perched on the mattress.

Minutes passed as she sat in silence. Soon her hand was drawn to Lena's ribcage as it rose and fell gently. Her fingers hovered above it, and her mind melted back to a time when there was nothing between her skin and Lena's ribs as they heaved with the effort it took to catch her breath. Her lips had traced each bone, and she'd told Lena it was time to fatten her up a bit, that she worried she wasn't eating enough. Lena had laughed breathlessly, then stopped when Bianca's mouth traveled lower.

Bianca looked up at the drawn, pale face lying on the pillow. She leaned down to whisper, "Lena. Wake up, I'm here." No response. "Lena," she said again, louder this time. "Wake up." She scooted closer to the pillow, and noticed a sheen of dirt coating the skin near Lena's ear. From the side table she took a tissue and dampened it in a water glass that lay untouched and full. Bianca supposed it was there in case Lena woke up on her own and decided she was thirsty. She gritted her teeth against the tears that wanted to come, and bit the inside of her mouth again.

With infinite care, Bianca cleaned the rest of the dirt from the side of Lena's face, then wiped the other side clean as well. She caught an acrid whiff of smoke, once black and thick, and the thought sickened her. She pressed her nose to Lena's hair and inhaled. Gone was the soft scent that normally greeted her, a fragrance of cocoanut tinged with her natural scent. Instead, smoke filled Bianca's nose, old cigarettes and burned plastic. "When you're awake the first thing we'll do is wash your hair, okay?" she said, and her voice sounded strange in her ears. "Please wake up."

Bianca slid down to sit in the chair next to the bed, suddenly exhausted. She rested her chin near Lena's arm, the silence of the room drawing her attention for a moment. Outside she could hear the faint sounds of people moving and talking, but inside, it was quiet. Too quiet. She heard the whistle of Lena's breath in the oxygen mask, and it comforted her. She laid her head flat on the bed and lifted her left arm to rest it on Lena's hips. Hoping the weight wasn't too much, she pressed her forehead to Lena's wrist and closed her eyes.

Someone was playing with her hair, and the gentle pulling on her scalp sent tingles down her spine. Felt so good... Suddenly Bianca was awake, springing up from her prone position. Her heart pounded in her ears, and to her surprise, Lena's eyes were open. Barely, but they were open. "Lena," she choked, "Lena." The hand that had been playing with her hair lifted a few inches, and Bianca grasped it gingerly. "You're awake." She slid closer and brushed Lena's hair back from her face to kiss her forehead. "You're awake," she said again, unable to believe it.

Lena made a sound, and Bianca looked into her eyes. "Don't try to talk, you should rest." But Lena's hand pulled from Bianca's and pushed aimlessly at the mask covering her face. "Here, here, let me. But just for a second." She lifted the mask to the side, still stroking Lena's hair with her other hand.

"You're all right," Lena whispered. Bianca nodded, a tremulous smile on her lips. Lena coughed a few times, making Bianca nervous, but Lena shook her head and breathed through it. "Bianca," she said, the relief palpable in her voice and expression. "I thought you were in the fire."

Bianca's throat closed at the words. "I wasn't. I'm fine. Lena," she whispered, "you could have died."

Lena's eyelids fluttered. "But you're all right."

Bianca nodded. She placed the mask back upon Lena's face. "I want to tell you something, okay?" She took a deep breath. "I made a mistake, pushing you away." She watched as Lena's brow furrowed. "I know you lied, and I let my pride get in the way of trying to move past it. And now I'm in the middle of this ridiculous clichéd scenario in which I realize my feelings because of my lover's near death experience." Chocolate eyes widened at the words. "But that fact that it's a cliché doesn't make it any less true. I don't want to waste any more time, Lena. Please forgive me for my stubbornness. I feel like such a fool," she cried. "I want to be with you. I love you. I never stopped."

Lena's eyes closed, and Bianca panicked for a moment. But they opened again, and the expression was so familiar it made Bianca's breath catch in her throat. The dark head nodded. Lena pushed the mask to the side again and she said, "There's nothing to forgive, Bianca."

Bianca looked down at Lena, praying her next words would be well received. "Could you... could you still love me?"

A smile tipped Lena's lips. "I do, my darling. I do love you." Bianca grinned. "I would die for you to be safe."

That brought Bianca down to earth with a jolt. She remembered where she was, and why she was there. "No. No dying, got it? Not ever." She moved Lena's hand from the mask and adjusted it back in place. "I want you to breathe in this oxygen till you get better, is that clear? Now that we've got this mess straightened out, I won't lose you again." She wiped beneath her eyes, catching the tears she'd held back willfully. She would not cry in front of Lena.

Lena caught her hand, and from beneath the mask, asked a muffled question. With a sigh, she complied. "Okay, one more thing. What is it?"

"I'm thirsty," came the quiet words.

"Oh... oh! I should have known that. I'm sorry." Quickly Bianca poured some fresh water, slopping it over the side of the glass in her haste. After checking the table drawer and looking around, she was at a loss. "No straws. We'll just have to be careful." Slowly she positioned herself to have both hands free, and to her surprise, she felt Lena's hand creep down her bent leg. "Okay, here you go," she said, and tipped the glass to Lena's lips. She drank, and the loud sound of her swallows made Bianca smile. When she was almost finished with the full glass, Lena lifted her chin and tilted it away. Getting the message, Bianca raised it, and saw the faint print on the rim. She turned the glass in her hand and drank the rest herself, lips pressed to the mark.

When she looked down again, Lena's eyes were dark, her mouth still damp from droplets left behind. With a thumb she wiped them away, and her eyelids drooped a bit when Lena's lips kissed what skin they could reach.

She lifted her eyes to stare at Lena, who said, "Thank you," in a rough voice.

Bianca just nodded, unable to find the words.

The door swung open behind her to break the moment. Quickly Bianca straightened her back, preparing for the onslaught that would undoubtedly explode from Hurricane Erica.

Instead, a hand rested on her shoulder. "How're we doing here?" Joe Martin's quiet delivery relieved Bianca greatly. She supposed it was old habit that made her convinced her mother had just walked in while she thought about kissing her girlfriend. "I see the patient's awake. You gave us quiet a scare, Ms. Kundera."

"I- I know. I didn't mean to," Lena said.

"Of course, of course," Joe soothed. "Bianca, could you leave us alone for a few minutes? I'd like to check Ms. Kundera out, and I believe her mother is outside waiting to hear some news. Could you deliver it to her?"

"My mother is here?" Lena repeated.

"Oh my gosh, I didn't realize-- I'll go tell her right now." In an instant Bianca was off the bed. Suddenly she turned around. "But I can come back in a few minutes, though, right?"

Joe just smiled. "Of course. I'll let you know."

With a last look at Lena's face, she waved. "Be right back."

She burst through the door and searched the surprisingly large crowd of faces for Paulina. She was there, standing against the wall, alone. Her face was creased with worry, but she stood a little straighter as Bianca caught her eye.

Erica lurched forward, saying her name, but Bianca brushed by her and ran toward Mrs. Kundera. "She's awake. She's talking." Without stopping, she launched herself into Paulina's arms, shaking with emotion.

"Thank God," Paulina cried in return, and she held Bianca tightly. "I was so afraid."

How strange, Bianca thought, to feel so close to this woman I hardly know. "Me too," Bianca replied. She had been afraid. Terrified. The tears finally came in Paulina's embrace, and Bianca let them as she rested her head on a soft, welcoming shoulder.

Behind her she heard her mother calling her name, and she was more grateful than she'd ever imagined she could be to Kendall, who seemed to be the one to pull her away. At the moment, the last person she wanted to see was Erica, who would do everything in her power to convince her that Lena was a no-good liar who had probably set fire to Myrtle's house herself.

Lena's mother caressed Bianca's back with calming strokes, and slowly her tears abated. For a moment she was embarrassed, and pulled away to wipe her face. "I'm sorry, I'm--"

"No need to be sorry, my dear," Paulina said. "I'm overjoyed to see someone who so genuinely cares for my daughter." Paulina wiped a stray tear from Bianca's cheek.

"I do care, Mrs. Kundera. I love her very much." From a few feet away she heard Erica's horrified yelp, but she only afforded a glance to her mother. "I'm sure she'll want to see you as soon as we can go in. Dr. Martin is checking her out."

"I would like to see her, yes. I'm glad you were here for her, Bianca. I only just arrived a few minutes ago, courtesy of Mr. Montgomery, who was kind enough to retrieve me from the Inn."

Bianca brightened at her Uncle Jack's kindness, and caught his eye with a grateful expression. Next to him, Erica looked livid. "Mom, we can talk later."

"Bianca, I will not have you running back into the arms of that--"

"Mother!" Bianca shouted. "Do not say whatever it is you were going to say. In my presence, or anywhere. Lena could have died trying to save me, and I won't have you calling her names. Not now, and not ever."

"Bianca, she may have engineered this whole plan herself--"

"Stop it, Mother. Right now. You sound ridiculous. I'm the one standing here, perfectly healthy, and Lena's in that room on oxygen because she tried to rescue me from a *burning building*. Did you hear that part of the story, Mom?"

"Well, yes, I--"

"Good. I'm putting away my anger at Lena, and we are going to be together. This is her mother, Paulina. You should get to know her. You'll be seeing a lot of her." Erica looked gob-smacked when Mrs. Kundera kindly held out a hand in greeting. Without thinking, Erica automatically shook her hand, manners briefly canceling out her wrath.

Fortunately, Dr. Martin emerged from Lena's room, and Bianca stepped toward him. "How does everything look?"

"Let's talk over, here, Bianca," he said, moving her to a corner, away from prying eyes and ears.

"Mrs. Kundera, come on, you should hear this too," Bianca asked, and Paulina came to stand at her side.

Quietly, Joe began, "Right now, she looks fine, as well as can be expected. It would be best to keep her under observation for about 48 hours, since in many cases, injuries from smoke inhalation surface sometime after the initial event."

Bianca paled. "What kind of injuries?"

Joe shook his head. "It's nothing that you should worry about--"

"Dr. Martin," Bianca said firmly, "Please tell me what's going on with her. I'm not a child. Please." Beside her, Paulina gripped her elbow tightly.

Smiling, he looked down at the floor for a moment. "You're right, Bianca. Sometimes I forget how fast time goes by." He looked seriously at her. "We just need to keep an eye on her breathing passage, since it can become obstructed, and tomorrow we'll do a chest x-ray to make sure there's no fluid in her lungs. If she starts heavy coughing or wheezing, get a nurse. Some coughing is normal, but you'll be able to tell if there's a problem."

Mrs. Kundera asked, "How bad could this be?"

"It's not definite, there could be no after effects except the discomfort she's feeling now. The best treatment is oxygen, which she's getting through the mask. And she needs rest to heal. Just keep her calm and make sure she sleeps."

Bianca nodded definitively. "I can do that. I'll stay with her till its time for her to go home."

"Bianca, you don't need to do that--"

"I want to." She paused. "I need to. I have to be sure she's okay. It's my fault she's here."

"Now, my dear," Paulina interrupted, "that's absolutely untrue. There is one person responsible for this fire, and I won't have you taking the guilt of Lena's injury upon your shoulders. Michael Cambias is to blame, no one else." She looked into Bianca's eyes deeply, and Bianca saw the flare of life there that echoed her daughter's. "You are not at fault. Let go of your guilt; it will help no one, least of all Lena."

Bianca believed the sincerity of Paulina's words, and though in her head she felt their truth, she still felt responsible. She nodded to Mrs. Kundera, knowing that for the moment, she was right that her guilt would do none of them any good.

"We will go inside now, yes?" Paulina asked Joe.

"Of course. We've made her as comfortable as possible. If Lena needs anything, just ring the buzzer in her room."

Holding out her hand, Paulina said, "Thank you, doctor, for saving my daughter's life."

Joe was typically self-effacing. "I just cleaned her up, Mrs. Kundera. You find the firefighter who hauled her out of that building-- that's who you should thank." He pressed Bianca's hand. "Remember: keep her calm, and lots of sleep."

"Thanks, Dr. Martin."

Immediately Erica materialized in front of Bianca. "Bianca, I must speak with you, right now."

She knew she wouldn't escape this, so she figured it was best to get it over with now. She thought about the prize she'd receive when it was over-- Lena's eyes looking into hers with the affection she'd dreamed of for so many empty nights.

"Fine," she snapped. "Mrs. Kundera, tell Lena I'll be in in just a few minutes."

"Of course, my dear. Take your time," she said as she stepped into the room.

"Oh, this won't take much time at all," Bianca said under her breath. "Okay, Mother. Talk."

"Don't you take that tone with me, young lady, my concerns about you and that woman are perfectly legitimate."

Bianca felt like screaming. How long would she have to deal with this? A few months? A few years? Forever?

The word resonated within her mind. Forever. If she really wanted, she thought, she could stay with Lena that long. Indefinitely. For good. She could wake up in her arms and go to sleep the same way for as long as she liked. Erica was prattling on and on, but Bianca was totally unfocused on the conversation, instead imagining the wealth of riches a life with Lena might bring. Of course there were obstacles: both of them getting over the past, learning more about each other, regaining trust. But suddenly everything seemed less urgent, less terrifying. Lena would be fine, and soon they could go home and begin anew. There would be another first kiss, first touch, first time... and there would be nothing to stop them. Not even her mother's hysterical blathering, or Michael's rage.

She felt sorry for Erica at that moment. All this drama because of nothing more than love. Her mother could never be truly happy for her, no matter who she was with, and she planned on being with Lena for a long time. So she put aside her annoyance with Erica, and hugged her right through her tirade.

"What are you doing?" she sputtered.

"Mom, you know I love you, right?"

Erica lifted an eyebrow. "Of course I do."

"Then just listen to this one thing, okay?"

Looking as if she wanted to stomp her foot and shake her head no, she replied, "All right. But if it--"

Lifting a finger in her face, Bianca stopped her. "Ah ah ah, shh. One thing. There is nothing, nothing at all, that is going to keep me from walking in that room and staying with Lena for as long as it takes. You can complain and yell and scream about it, but I want her, and I'll be with her. Mom, I love you, but I love Lena too. So accept it, and be happy for me, otherwise I don't know what will happen between us." She meant every word.

Erica's expression was a familiar one: shock and amazement. "Are you telling me that you'd choose Lena over your own mother? The woman who gave birth to you?"

Expecting that exact answer, Bianca smiled. "I'm telling you, you can choose to have me and the woman I love in your life, or you can shut us both out. But we come as a matched set, Mom. I would never, ever cut myself off from you or stop loving you. You are the one who can decide what you want to do about Lena and me, and I'll accept whatever choice you make." She placed her hands on Erica's shoulders. "I love you no matter what. But I won't leave Lena again. Ever." She hugged Erica close, hoping she hadn't made a mistake.

"Darling, I'd never abandon you," Erica said tearfully.

Relieved, she pulled back and smiled. "I'm so glad," Bianca said truthfully. She knew she'd be having this conversation over again, probably indefinitely, but she'd have Lena's hand in hers next time. And the time after that. "I'm going inside now, Mom. Thanks for being here for me. It means a lot."

That knocked Erica for a loop. "Well-- yes. I mean, yes," she stammered, and Bianca saw the wheels turning. "But we'll talk again soon, okay, darling?"

"Sure, Mom. You know where to find me." After one last embrace, she went to Jackson and hugged him too. "Thanks for bringing Mrs. Kundera over, Uncle Jack."

"Sure, sweetheart. I knew she'd want to be here."

"That's what I love about you, Uncle Jack. You always do the right thing." She was grateful to have him there, and even more so that he'd been the one to tell her about what happened. "Thanks for bringing me here, too." She kissed his cheek, and he nodded.

Boyd still sat with Kendall and Greenlee, and Bianca bent to wrap her arms around him. "I'm glad you're okay, Boyd. Really."


"You're all right?"

He nodded. "Just a little weirded out. It looked bad." He paused, looking a little unsure. "You know, I heard her, yelling for you."


"Lena, she was screaming your name. When I saw her I tried to tell her you weren't home, but she ran right by me. She looked terrified, Bianca. It was awful." He looked into her eyes. "She loves you."

Patting his hand, she responded, "I know."

Greenlee leaned forward. "No more waiting, Binks?"

Bianca shook her head. "I wasted enough time already."

Kendall had the grace to hold out her hand to Bianca. "I'm sorry I doubted her. Lena, I mean."

Bianca tried not to look surprised at the apology. She just accepted it for the moment, and would worry about where it came from later. "Thank you, Kendall. I mean it."

"Don't you want to get back in there?" Kendall asked.

"Yeah. But what about Myrtle?"

Boyd smirked, his face lightening for a moment. "She wasn't even home. She was at SOS with a bunch of her lady friends, dancing."

Bianca laughed, unsurprised. "Leave it to Myrtle. I'm glad she wasn't there. But we'll have a big clean up, I guess."

"Later," Kendall insisted. "Forget about that. We can deal with it another day."

Another surprise from her wayward sister. "Right. Okay. I'll talk to you soon, then?" she nodded at Boyd and Greenlee, and found herself glancing gratefully at Kendall too.

Finally she stepped back into Lena's room, and saw Mrs. Kundera settling in a chair next to Lena, their heads close together. A thought crossed her mind, from weeks before, when Lena told her she wished she could have the two women she loved most together. And here it was happening, right now. She wished for better circumstances, but she'd take it whatever she could get.

"Hi," she said, feeling slightly awkward for intruding on what felt like a private moment.

"Bianca," Lena said, and held her hand out. Bianca crept forward next to Paulina and took Lena's free hand. "You're here."

Mrs. Kundera's arm circled her shoulder. "How is your mother, my dear?"

Grinning stupidly, Bianca said, "Oh, she's the same. But I think I've put her off for a while, at least. She can be a little..." She paused, searching for the word. "Difficult."

Lena laughed as Paulina smiled knowingly. "I believe that is what one would call in this country an understatement," Mrs. Kundera said. "Lena has told me a great deal about your mother, and while she may be troublesome, I like to believe she has your best interests at heart."

Bianca nodded. "I'd like to believe that too, Mrs. Kundera."

"Oh, call me Paulina, dear. Please."

"Okay," Bianca dipped her head, "Paulina." She hugged Paulina for a moment, then released her to cross to the other side of the bed and sit. Sighing, she took Lena's hand in hers and relaxed for a moment. "What a day," she breathed.

"Yes," Lena agreed, and squeezed her hand.

The night passed without incident, Bianca dozing in the chair next to Lena's bed as she slept. Paulina went back to the Inn for the night, and promised to bring some things for Lena first thing the next morning. Though she didn't sleep much, Bianca felt comforted just to be next to Lena, making sure she was all right. A few coughing spells disturbed her already uneasy rest, but they didn't last long, and Lena seemed to sleep right through them.

Morning came, and Bianca rubbed her eyes as someone came in to check on Lena's pulse and blood pressure. "Sorry to wake you both," the woman said kindly, and went about her business as quickly as possible. To Lena she said, "We'll keep the oxygen mask here for you, but you can remove it now if you like, Ms. Kundera. Use it if you feel lightheaded or short of breath."

"All right, thank you," Lena rasped, licking her dry lips.

When the nurse left, Bianca poured Lena some water, which she took eagerly. "How do you feel this morning?" Bianca asked.

"My head hurts a little. And I'm hungry."

"You didn't have anything for dinner last night, I'm not surprised. Do you want me to go get you something?"

"No thank you," Lena said, pouting slightly. Bianca found the expression incredibly endearing. With no make-up and messy hair, the sophisticated air slipped away from Lena to reveal a woman who could pass for ten years younger.

"Is there anything I can do for you?"

"No thank you," Lena repeated, frustration lacing her tone.

"Lena," Bianca said slowly.


"What's the matter?"

"Nothing." Her eyes squeezed shut and she turned to Bianca, expelling a huge breath. "I'm sorry, I'm not a very good patient." Pausing, she seemed to screw up her courage. "I don't care for hospitals."

Bianca smiled faintly. "That's not a problem. We only have to stay one more day." One more day till they could go...

Where? She'd nearly forgotten her living space had probably been all but destroyed. And Myrtle! What would she do? What a nightmare. The practicalities of losing most of one's possessions suddenly slammed into Bianca like the proverbial ton of bricks.

"What's wrong?" Lena asked, her pout disappearing.

Should she mention it? "Um, well. I just realized that I probably lost a lot of stuff in the fire."

Lena's eyes fell closed, her mouth dropping open. "My goodness, I hadn't even thought. Bianca, your home, Myrtle's home, all your lovely things," she trailed off, tears in her eyes.

"I guess I didn't think too much about it yesterday. I was just wondering where we'd go tomorrow, and I guess the boarding house is out."

"You can stay with me at the Inn," she said. "If you like," she added shyly.

Bianca smiled, charmed by the bashful look. "I'd like," she replied. A thought occurred to her, one that caused her stomach to explode in a riot of butterflies. "How long will you be living at the Inn?"

"I'm not sure. My plans never seemed very definite about staying in Pine Valley, so I was hesitant to lease anything. But now--"

A knock on the door interrupted her mid sentence, and Bianca cursed her luck. "Come in," Bianca called.

A bright red head ambled slowly into the room carrying an enormous bouquet of flowers. "Myrtle!" In a flash Bianca was hugging Myrtle fervently, and quickly she relieved her of the flowers. "Myrtle, I'm so sorry about the boarding house."

"Oh darlin', it's all right."

"No, it's not, it's your home!"

"Hasn't anyone told you what happened?"

Bianca stepped back. "No."

"Only the top floor saw any real damage, the rest of it is just troubled by the smoke. A little like your friend here." She moved closer to the bed as Bianca set the arrangement on the table near Lena's bed. "I'm glad to see you're all right, Lena. That was a very brave thing you did."

"Thank you, Myrtle," she replied, looking down at her hands. Bianca had noticed that Lena never took compliments particularly well. Or at least never seemed to believe them.

"They've set those great big fans up to air out the place. It will be a while, but we'll survive."

"Do you think any of my stuff is salvageable?" Bianca asked, afraid to hear the answer.

"Of course!" Myrtle crowed. "The fire only spread to two rooms and the hall, but even that smoked the whole house terribly. The one good thing about Boyd being home was that called the fire department right quick."

"I feel like such a fool for believing Michael when he said you were inside, Bianca," Lena said, her hand on her forehead.

Myrtle assured her, "Darlin', we're all fools for love when it's our time." She patted Lena's arm. "You just get better soon."

"Myrtle, I'm so glad you're okay," Bianca said. "Where will you stay?"

"Oh, Opal has offered to take me in for a spell. The insurance folks are lookin' at the house now, and Boyd found one of those cleaning services to fix everything. Shouldn't be too long till I can get back in. I'm not so sure about you and Boyd though," she said with a sigh, "We'll just have to wait and see."

"Don't worry about me, Myrtle. I have a place to stay." Bianca tried not to grin too broadly.

"Oh, I'm not surprised to hear that, darlin'. Makes it much nicer to have someone share the burden, doesn't it?" Bianca nodded her head solemnly. "Well I'll leave you to it, I've got to get back to the house. Those cleanin' folks need supervision, you know. If you want to find me, just call Opal's or the Glamorama. I'll be around."

"Thanks, Myrtle, for everything." She hugged her, and Myrtle bent to kiss Lena's cheek.

"Get well, darlin'."

"I will," Lena replied softly. "Thank you for coming to see me. The flowers are so beautiful."

"It was nothin', dear. Call if you need me. G'bye children. I'll see you soon."

"Bye," they both said. Left alone again, Bianca noticed the aura of perfume and powder that trailed in old woman's wake. "Myrtle's always been there for me."

"I can tell," Lena said. "She cares for you very much."

"My grandmother died a long time ago, and Myrtle just seemed to pick up where she left off. She was one of her best friends."

"You're lucky to have her," Lena said wistfully.

"Well you have her too now," Bianca said strongly. She knew Lena had spent so much of her life fending for herself, and wanted to remind her that she no longer had to be alone. "And you have me."

Lena nodded. "I know."

After finding Lena some extremely non-threatening toast and fruit, Paulina came back to the hospital for a few more hours. Lena insisted Bianca use some time to take care of the things hanging over her head, namely, her room, and work. It was only Lena's assurance that it would make her feel better as well that pushed Bianca out the door.

She'd grabbed some files at Enchantment hurriedly, hoping to escape the omniscient gaze of her mother. Val caught her running out and demanded news on Lena's condition. Apparently Erica had blown in that morning, and more than one expletive had been thrown in the direction of "that woman."

"Lena's going to be okay," Bianca had said with a relieved smile.

"Well, thank goodness for that," he'd said, and smirked. "So you're back together?"

"Yep." That was the only detail she was willing to give, and she'd breezed out as he continued to prod her for information. Next stop: Myrtle's place. It hadn't looked nearly as miserable as she'd expected, especially considering she'd assumed the whole house would be gone. The cleaning crew delivered some essentials to her, and had already washed out enough clothing for her to pack a bag that would last close to a week. Checking the limited (and not exactly matching) unmentionables she had to choose from, she decided to make a stop at Victoria's Secret as soon as she had a spare few minutes. Maybe not today, but soon. Very soon.

Once back in the car, bag in the trunk, she felt infinitely more settled. She had her phone, things to wear, a toothbrush, and two mercifully unharmed bottles of Lena's favorite Kiehl's shampoo and conditioner-- that seemed like everything she needed.

Having taken care of her own work situation for the next day or two, she made a call to Greenlee Investments and had a very pleasant conversation with Woody Greenlee's executive assistant. She seemed to be quite taken with Lena and was extremely upset to hear the news that she'd been injured. If Bianca hadn't seen the employees of Enchantment quickly fall at Lena's feet shortly after she started working there, she'd have wondered if she ought to be jealous. But Lena did tend to inspire admiration and devotion wherever she went, so she just accepted the woman's effusive wishes for Lena's recovery with a knowing smile.

Back at the hospital by the afternoon, she found Mrs. Kundera reading quietly at Lena's side as she slept, oxygen mask on again. After dropping her things on a nearby chair, Bianca approached Paulina and knelt at her feet. "Is everything okay?" she whispered.

"Yes, yes, it's fine. Lena was just a little tired after going for her x-rays," Paulina replied in a low voice.

"Whew," Bianca breathed. "I was a little worried there for a second."

"No need, my dear." Paulina held out a hand and stroked her cheek. "You look very tired, Bianca."

Looking up at the dark circles under Paulina's eyes, she replied, "If you don't mind my saying, you look exhausted yourself. Did you sleep at all last night?"

Sighing, Paulina closed her book. "Not very much, I'm afraid. I could not help but think I would come here today and find something had happened to my daughter. After not seeing her for so long, I could not imagine losing her once again."

Bianca closed her eyes. "I know what you mean. If you want to go back to the Inn, don't worry; I'll be here for her. It's after lunchtime too, have you eaten anything?"

"Goodness, I hadn't realized." Bianca saw the concern warring with exhaustion on her face. "Perhaps I shall return to the Inn only for a little while, then I can come back later this afternoon?"

Bianca nodded, "Absolutely. Lena will be fine, and I promise, you will be the first person I'll call if anything happens."

"All right, then." Mrs. Kundera stood and gathered her things. "You have my room number at the Inn, yes?"

"Yes. We'll be fine. Take a nap, get some food, you'll feel better. Thank you for staying with her while I was gone."

Paulina leaned in and hugged Bianca lightly. "Thank you, my dear, for being here. I know it means everything to my daughter."

Bianca helped Mrs. Kundera gather her few things, then quietly saw her to the door. "See you soon," she said softly, as Paulina waved goodbye. Turning back, Bianca took a few folders and her notebook and settled into the chair to Lena's right. She ought to be able to get a few things done if Lena slept for a little while longer.

"Bianca. Bianca, wake up."

Bianca's chin shot up from where it rested on her chest, pen flying out of her hand and across the room. "Wha-?"

"You were sleeping," Lena said, eyes half lidded.

"Oh. Sorry." She tried to calm her racing heart after the sudden wake up call.

"No, don't apologize. I want you to come up here. Come and lie beside me and rest."

Once what Lena was saying made sense, the idea sounded heavenly. But she knew it wasn't smart-- anyone could walk in, and she didn't want to cause trouble. "No, Lena, I'm fine. I'm totally awake."

"Bianca, please," Lena said, drawing out the request in a tone that Bianca could hardly resist. "I want to feel you next to me. It has been so long."

Bianca felt the same way. It was remarkable how much she'd missed Lena's body, her skin, her smell, after being with her so briefly. But the memories were vivid, and they called to her raucously as she debated within herself.

"Please. Just to sleep."

Bianca looked up and sighed. "Okay. Just for a little bit." She shed her shoes and sweater, straightening her tank top. She was relieved to be wearing sweats instead of jeans-- the light fleece would be a lot more pleasant against Lena's bare legs.

Okay, she thought, no more thinking of Lena's bare legs. Or bare anything.

Easily she slid under the sheet and snuggled beside Lena, who shifted to rest on her side facing Bianca. "This is much better," Lena said muzzily. Lips brushed Bianca's forehead and cheek, drifting gradually to her mouth.

Without thought, Bianca's lips parted of their own volition as the warmth of the touch spread through her whole body. Lena's eyes were closed, and Bianca's followed as their mouths met for the first time in ages, softly, hypnotically lulling her into a state of complete relaxation. Her blood thrummed in her ears, but the arousal she expected to feel only blossomed into a gentle reawakening of her senses. As her hand slipped through the softness of Lena's beautiful hair, she was reminded of what it felt like to love someone, and to be loved in return.

"I love you," Lena murmured against her lips.

"Love you," Bianca responded, sliding her knee between Lena's. She felt a long leg stretch over her hip and exhaled in contentment. "I belong here."

"You do."

Bianca woke with her head tucked beneath Lena's, their legs tangled together. It was familiar, yet an entirely new experience. The one morning they'd spent together, Lena had awakened before her and left the bed to shower, a fact that disappointed Bianca after the fact. But this time made up for the last, because she knew the fragility of what lay in her arms. She would not let go of this woman again.

She realized what had pulled her from sleep-- a rather pungent aroma of food. In response, her stomach complained loudly. She'd had an orange for breakfast and nothing for lunch, and now her belly was ready for a little sustenance, whatever time of day it happened to be.

She shifted quietly in the bed, lifting her head to look around. Staring snarkily at her was one Greenlee Smythe DuPres. Bianca sniffled. "Greenlee? What are you doing here?" Lena stirred in her embrace, and she wasn't sure if she was relieved at that or not.

"I brought dinner. Chinese. You game?"

"What?" She squinted at the overhead light, surprised she'd slept so soundly with it on. Lena's eyes opened, and Bianca turned over to face Greenlee full on. "What are you doing here?" she repeated.

Slowly, Greenlee sounded out, "I brought din-n-n-e-r-r-r. Are you hungry?" She made a circular motion on her stomach.


Greenlee's shoulders slumped. "I'm being nice. Is that allowed?"

Bianca turned to Lena, who shrugged her shoulder. "Okay," Lena said. "She did get me a job."

"I have a message for Miss Kundera from my Granddaddy too," Greenlee said. "Woody says: 'You tell that woman she'd sure as hell get well. I won't lose my best analyst this early in the game. Tell her to come back as soon as possible but to take all the time she needs.' How's that for conflicting requests?"

Bianca sat up, and though she was loathe to leave the warmth, she didn't relish the idea of Greenlee watching her in bed with Lena, even if they were fully clothed. Silently she slid down from the bed as Lena thanked Greenlee for the news. "I'm glad I won't lose my job because of what happened."

"Are you kidding? Half the place is in love with you, and the other half won't acknowledge that you'd be the one they'd swing over to the dark side for. I think there would be some kind of revolt if he let you go."

Bianca watched as the faint blush tinted Lena's cheeks. "That's silly."

"Ha!" Greenlee cackled. "That's what you think. Binks, I suggest you keep an eye out for sharks looking to steal your little Polish crumpet out from under your nose. Male or female."

Bianca grinned as she slid her shoes back on. "Don't worry, Greenlee, I don't plan on letting this crumpet out of my sight long enough for anything like that to happen."

Lena frowned. "I would not do that."

Sore subject, Bianca remembered. "I know, sweetheart. I was just teasing." She kissed Lena's nose, and was rewarded with a charming smile.

"You two are too cute for words. Now let's eat before I experience sugar shock from all that sweetness."

Greenlee had brought everything, food, plates, chopsticks, bottled water. "I brought some Tsing-tao, but I left it in the car. Figured I'd get thrown out by the nurses if they thought I was getting the patients drunk."

"Next time," Lena said as she lifted a mouthful of noodles with her utensils.

Bianca thought about the words. They implied that they'd do this again, with Greenlee. Imagine, having Chinese food, enjoying a beer, experiencing a normal conversation with her. Like friends. Hmm.

"This was really nice of you, Greenlee. Really," Bianca said, inhaling some shrimp fried rice. After the first bite, she suddenly felt as though she hadn't eaten in a week. "Oh God, this is so good. I'm starved."

"Bianca, did you not have lunch?" Lena asked.

Mouth full, Bianca shook her head.

"No wonder you're hungry," Greenlee said. "It's almost seven."

"What?" Bianca yelped incredulously. "We slept half the day!" Lena smiled slyly. "What, were you awake?"

"No, but I was up for a little while when my mother returned."

Taken aback, Bianca asked, "Was she okay that I was, uh, here? In the bed, I mean?"

Lena tilted her head in that way that made Bianca want to kiss her. "She does know that lesbians do tend to sleep in the same bed, darling. It may have unnerved her, but she didn't say a word."

"Unlike your mother, Binks."

"Huh?" She grunted.

"When I got here, I saw your mom walk in the room, then turn around and march straight out again." Greenlee snickered. "She looked like she'd swallowed a bug. Or a hundred."

Bianca rolled her eyes. "Great. Oh shit, my cellphone. I turned it off when I got here, she's probably been trying to call me all day." Leaving her food on the side table, she hurriedly shuffled through her bag and turned it on. She waited the few seconds it took before messages registered, and sure enough, the message light flashed. "Oh boy." Quickly she dialed up her voicemail and was deflated to hear she had six new messages. She prayed they weren't all from Erica.

One, from Maggie, checking to see if she was all right. That was a relief. Two, from her mother, with the requisite demands: where are you, what are you doing, who are you doing it with. As if there was any doubt. Three: Uncle Jack, calling to check on Lena. "Jackson called to ask how you were," she said to Lena, who looked grateful for the news. Four: her mother. Five: her mother. Six: her mother, saying she was coming to the hospital and that they had to talk. "I think I dodged a bullet by falling asleep," Bianca said. "She called four times! I have no idea what she could possibly want to talk about so badly other than her trying to change my mind about you."

Greenlee grinned. "You thought you were off the hook yesterday, huh. I saw that little speech you gave her. Good effort, but it was only a momentary distraction." She messily scooped some chow mein into her mouth.

"I should call her back," Bianca sulked.

"Darling, sit. Eat your dinner. Call her later," Lena reasoned.


"No buts. You can not face Erica Kane on an empty stomach, even if she is your mother." She pointed at Bianca's empty chair. "Sit."

Smiling slightly at Lena's demands, she obeyed. "Yes, Ma'am," she said.

Greenlee left an hour or so later, and Bianca was surprised how much fun they'd had. When Greenlee didn't have any ulterior motives (that she could see, anyway,) she was an okay person. Lena seemed to like her, and the feeling was apparently mutual.

"Is it okay if I call my mom now?" Bianca teased.

"Yes. But if she gives you any trouble, I want you to hand the phone to me."

Laughing, Bianca dialed her mother's number. "Sure, that would make it all better."

The phone rang, again, again, and for a moment she thought she could get away with leaving a message. "Sweetheart, finally! I've been calling you all day!" Erica said lightly, though Bianca recognized the tone of impending hysteria threaded through it.

"Mom, I stopped at Myrtle's, then for the rest of the day, I've been here. At the hospital. Like I said I would." She hoped she didn't sound too annoyed.

"Well, I wanted to talk to you about a marketing meeting that's happening first thing tomorrow morning--"

"Mom, tomorrow morning, I'm taking Lena home. I'll be staying with her at the Inn until I'm able to get back into the house. If I even want to." She glanced at Lena, who was watching her with great interest.

"Well honey, I think you really need to be at this meeting. We have to come up with a way to counter Fusion's buzz over the summer. Besides, you can come and stay with me at the penthouse while the boarding house is rebuilt."

Bianca gritted her teeth and exhaled. "Thanks, for the offer, but I'll be fine. And I'm sorry, but I can't make it that meeting tomorrow. You've got great people working for you, I'm sure you'll be fine for the rest of the week without me."

"The rest of the week!" Erica cried shrilly. Bianca saw Lena's eyebrows fly up-- she must have heard the high-pitched voice on the other end. "No, no, no, Bianca, you must come in, if not tomorrow, then the day after. I simply can not do without you."

"Mom," Bianca said slowly, "I understand that you don't like the idea of me being with Lena, but we've already talked about this. You have to get used to it."

"Bianca," Erica said, "I'm offended you would even think such a thing. I know I can't change your mind about that-- that woman. But Enchantment needs you, we need you."

"I'll be in on Monday," she said finally, not willing to continue the conversation that would undoubtedly never end. "If for some unforeseen reason there's an emergency, you can fax me at the Valley Inn. I'm sure Val has the number."

"Bianca, please don't do this."

"It's already done, Mom." Guilt weighed her down for a moment, knowing Erica didn't understand. And wouldn't. "I'm sorry, but Lena really needs me. And I need her. When Jack was in the hospital, you stayed with him every minute, didn't you? I bet work didn't even cross your mind."

"That's different--"

"Mom, it's the same. Please, try to consider that. I'll be taking Lena home in the morning, you can reach me on the cellphone, okay?"


"Okay, Mom. I love you. I'll talk to you soon."

"I love you too, sweetheart. I'll call you first thing tomorrow. Maybe you can come in later-"

She rolled her eyes. "Bye Mom." She hung up, and shut the phone off. She sighed. "That went well."

"She didn't disown you," Lena said.

"True. Maybe I'll get fired. That wouldn't be so bad."

"Don't even think that way, Bianca." Her gaze dropped. "Maybe your mother is right. Maybe you should stay at the penthouse, with her."

The hangdog expression Lena had worn for the past month returned, and Bianca wanted to kick herself for being one of the people who put it there in the first place. "Do you want me to stay with you, Lena?"

"I don't want to destroy your relationship with your mother."

"Ah, that's not what I asked." Bianca sat up on the bed and took Lena's hands in hers. "I asked, do you want me to stay with you? If the answer is no, I'm happy to go to the penthouse. But I want to be with you, Lena. I want to put everything that's happened behind us, and go forward." She stroked Lena's face softly. "Do you want that too?"

Lena's lip quivered slightly. "Yes," she whispered.

"Then I'll come home with you."

"Okay," Lena nodded.

"I won't sacrifice a future with you because of my mother. I promise you." She looked away for a moment. "And I won't let my jealousy of what you and Michael Cambias had get in the way either."

Lena sat up in bed and looked Bianca directly in the eyes. "Bianca, I can tell you there was nothing for you ever to be jealous of." Bianca nodded, but there was still that niggling doubt in the back of her mind, that little factoid that Lena had been sleeping with him while she was supposedly falling for Bianca. It bothered her. "Tell me what you're feeling, darling. I don't want this to continue to stand between us."

Darling. That word almost overpowered the doubts, almost made her forget that anything troubled her about Lena at all. But not quite. "There is one thing." Lena watched her carefully, listening. "You were having sex with him while you said you were in love with me." Lena nodded. "That's what's bugging me."

"Bianca," Lena began, "I know you would never make love to someone without truly loving her. Your heart is too honest to even consider it. But before..." she waved a hand around, "this, before you, I did things like that. A lot. But to me, there is a difference between making love, and just sex."

"I know--" Bianca interrupted.

"But in your heart, you don't understand," Lena finished for her. Hesitantly, Bianca agreed. "I pray you never learn the difference, my darling." She leaned in to press her nose to Bianca's cheek. "I will tell you that once I realized the depth of my feelings for you, I did not, uh, have relations with Michael any longer."

Without wanting to, Bianca asked, "When?"

Lena's lips tipped into a half smile. "After our date, with Myrtle."

For some reason that surprised her. "Really?" Lena nodded. She'd expected that the "relationship" had continued well past that time, past the one amazing night she'd spent with Lena. "Oh," she said.

"Bianca, I need to know if this is something you can learn to live with," Lena said intently.

She could see the fear in Lena's eyes, but there was an element of determination as well, as if she was willing Bianca to do as she hoped. Bianca cupped Lena's cheek and ran her thumb across a damp lower lip. The question wasn't even necessary; she would not allow Michael Cambias to spoil her future. "Yes."

"You are the only one I want, Bianca. I promise you."

She kissed Lena. "I believe you."

The next morning, Bianca woke in her make-shift bed just as the sun was rising. Though Lena had asked, begged, cajoled her to sleep with her again, she'd insisted on spending the night in the chair.

"Why are you being so stubborn?" Lena had asked.

Grinning, Bianca had quipped, "Get used to it."

She'd actually finished some paperwork in the middle of the night, sitting under a dim lamp in the waiting area. The nap earlier in the day had kept her wide awake till well past midnight, so she put the quiet time to good use. She was relieved that someone hadn't even bothered trying to toss her out because of visitor's hours. Sometimes being a Kane had its perks.

After that Bianca had roamed the darkened halls, and when she'd come to the ER, she was suddenly incredibly grateful that Lena had only been hurt as badly as she was. Quickly she'd returned to their room, and took refuge in her chair, listening to the relaxing sound of Lena's breathing. She didn't snore, but tended to sigh a lot in her sleep, with an adorable sound tacked on at the end. How wonderful it will be, Bianca thought, to hear that sound in our own bed.

She watched the sun rise for a while, drifting in her own thoughts, the occasional daydream of making love to Lena intruding more often than she'd like to admit.

Knowing they would wait till Lena was feeling completely well didn't mean she couldn't think about it.

Lena awoke shortly before 8:00AM and immediately requested help in getting dressed and out of the hospital. Bianca tried to put her off, but Lena was ready to go whether she was able to officially check out or not. Fortunately Dr. Martin was in, and after a final once over, he declared Lena ready to depart. Bianca was relieved; another day and night in the hospital was liable to drive Lena (and herself by extension) crazy.

They arrived at the Inn mid-morning, and despite Bianca's request to stop for breakfast, Lena was resolute in her desire to get to her own room. When they finally arrived, the first thing she did was fall on the bed and wrap herself in the duvet. "I know it's just a hotel, but it's still the closest thing I have to home," Lena said from under the covers.

Bianca smiled, hoping that some day soon, she'd have a better home than a single hotel room.

Lena made a call to her mother, and Paulina spent a little while with them as Bianca unpacked her few things. For some reason her heart beat a little faster as she found space in the dresser. She bit her lip when she found a drawer full of silky underthings, and denied herself the pleasure of doing any hunting through it. The image of a wine colored lace garter was enough to convince her to slam the drawer shut rather noisily. "Sorry," she'd squeaked.

Paulina just smiled, but she'd seen the look on Lena's face; busted.

Mrs. Kundera departed soon after, leaving Lena to get situated. Bianca turned to her, abruptly having no idea what they'd do together for the next three days. Or longer.

"I need a shower," Lena said, and that took Bianca's mind off everything except water, dripping down soft skin, wetness... She internally smacked herself, chalking it up to raging hormones or something equally nefarious.

"Okay. I'll be here. Do you want me to order something for you from room service?"

"I want you to join me."

All thought fled at that moment. Her morning musings came back to haunt her full force. "I don't know if that's a good idea."

Lena walked toward her, and Bianca felt stalked by a languid cat who knew she'd devour her prey in the end. "Come on," she said, taking Bianca's hand and leading her into the large bathroom. "Don't you want to be here in case I feel faint or light headed?" Lena murmured as she removed Bianca's sweatshirt.


"I may need help washing my hair. Help me?" Bianca's pants were around her ankles, and Lena had pulled her own shirt over her head.

"Um. Lena, I don't think this is a good idea."

Swiftly, Lena unhooked her bra. "You already said that."

"Well I meant it." Before Lena could get any further she shook out of the stupor she was in. "You aren't feeling well. You just got out of the hospital. I'm worried about your lungs, what if you have some sort of relapse?"

Lena moved in again, her hands sliding Bianca's panties down to the floor. "It's just a shower, Bianca. Nothing more. I'm filthy, I want you to help me get clean."

Bianca was speechless as Lena, clad in only panties, started the shower running. "Come along, darling."

"I really don't think--"

"Don't think," Lena said, removing her underwear and stepping into the stream of running water.

Accept it, Bianca thought. Just go with it. After stripping the last of her clothing, she stepped in after her. Lena's arms opened, and Bianca moved into the circle, rubbing her face against Lena's smooth collarbone. Shivers overcame her, and Lena held her under the warm water and stroked her back soothingly. Bianca groaned at the sensation of unbearably soft skin everywhere. Tears pricked the backs of her eyes as Lena kissed her ear. "It's all right, Bianca. I won't break."

She pressed her nose into Lena's neck, and the scent of smoke greeted her once again. She realized during all the time in the hospital, Lena hadn't washed her hair. Running her fingers up through the damp strands, she took a huge breath.

"All right?" Lena asked.

Bianca smiled. "Yes. Hand me the shampoo," she said.

Lena did, and Bianca had her sit in the corner on the little chair the hotel had kindly provided. Slowly she lathered and rinsed, then again, using the handheld showerhead to wash the soap away. Lena's head tilted back, and Bianca admired the long line of her throat, the slick shoulders shining in the light, the dark slide of hair between her fingers.

Finally she added the conditioner that provided the strongest sensory memories associated with Lena, back to the first day they met. For a fashionista, Lena wore remarkably little perfume, but instead relied on bath oils and lotions to perfume her skin. But the scent of her conditioner was so familiar to Bianca she wanted to swoon when she applied it. She massaged Lena's scalp leisurely, swaying with the body under her hands.

When she was done, Lena wrapped her in a tight hug, and said in her ear, "You are everything I need."

Bianca realized the jitters that had somehow crept in that morning were gone; Lena had known exactly what to do to relieve her of them. She looked into Lena's eyes and said easily, "I love you."

"And I you, Bianca." Lena kissed her nose; it was becoming a habit.

Quickly Bianca took care of washing her own hair as Lena scrubbed her skin, each of them alternating under the spray. Drying off, Lena exclaimed, "I feel like a new woman."

"Me too," Bianca said truthfully, "but I'm hungry. Bigtime."

"Bigtime?" Lena questioned.

"As in, really. A lot. Massively."

"Ah. Bigtime hungry."

Bianca laughed at the way Lena sounded saying it, and wondered if she was just playing with her. Instead of worrying, she beamed at her lover as she towel dried her hair.

While Bianca dressed, Lena ordered a lunch large enough for three, and insisted to the server on the other end of the phone that they were "bigtime hungry", which amused Bianca greatly. They lounged until it arrived, then enjoyed demolishing an incredibly fattening portion of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and vegetables (Bianca's concession to her typically health-conscious diet.)

"I feel like a beached whale," Bianca later groaned from the bed, lying flat with an arm flung over her face.

"I am the same," Lena said after leaving the empty tray in the hall. "I never eat that way."

"Me neither. Except when I'm in the mood to celebrate."

"Like now?" Lena asked.

"Yep," Bianca grinned.


"Because we're together."

With an enormous smile, Lena replied, "That's reason enough."

Much to Bianca's surprise, the pair had no problem staying occupied as time passed. Between occasional bouts of kissing, they talked, cuddled, talked some more, listened to music. Eventually Bianca returned a phone call to Maggie as Lena dozed with her head in her lap, a point she neglected to mention to Maggie. Her friend was still with Henry, despite Bianca's subtly delivered advice to drop him after the whole cheating fiasco.

"Well I trust your judgment, Maggie, but it's a tough call."

"No tougher than your deciding to go back to Lena," Maggie countered.

Immediately it put Bianca's back up to hear her friend's tone, but instead of starting what would undoubtedly develop into an argument, she backed down. Maggie wouldn't understand the circumstances of Lena's deception, and she honestly didn't have the energy to explain it all. Especially not with Lena's precious head resting so comfortably under her hand. "There's no point in comparing the situations, Maggie. I'm just telling you what I think."

"I know, Bianca. I guess I'm still up in the air over what I should do. And I doubt Henry's going to do anything to make it easier."

"For what it's worth, I'm sorry about it all," Bianca said, stroking Lena's hair softly. Lena's hand skimmed up her thigh and drew tingling circles, raising goosebumps along the path.

"Me too. Anyway, I'll figure it out. How about things on your end, is Lena really okay?"

"Yes, she's fine. Glad to be out of the hospital, definitely."

"What about you? Where are you staying?"

Bianca only hesitated for a moment, the affection she once felt for Maggie clouding her voice. "I'm staying with Lena. For a while." She didn't elaborate.

"Oh." Maggie paused. "That's great. I guess."

"It is," Bianca assured her. "There's no place I'd rather be." Lena turned over and smiled up at her, taking her free hand and kissing it.

"Okay, well, cool. Thanks for calling me back."

"Sure, Maggie. Anytime. I mean it."

"Talk to you soon."

"'Kay. Bye."


Lena kissed her palm, scraping her teeth tenderly across the base of it. After Bianca's sharp intake of breath, she moved on to Bianca's wrist. "So Maggie, she's all right?"

Bianca shook her head to clear the fog. "Yeah, I suppose. Her boyfriend really screwed her over, and she can't seem to let him go."

"That happens, Bianca. Look at us."

Cradling Lena's jaw in her hand, Bianca responded, "It's not the same."

"How do you know?"

Bianca shifted and moved atop Lena's long form. "I just do."

The cellphone rang. "Blast that damned thing," Lena cursed.

Giggling, Bianca checked the display. With the requisite eye roll out of the way, she answered the call. "Hi, Mom."

"Bianca, darling, what are you doing?"

She debated the multitude of dirty scenarios she could relay to her nosy mother, but instead went for the truth. Otherwise she'd have a frenzied woman banging the door down in a matter of minutes. "Hanging out. I just talked to Maggie."

"Is Lena there?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Oh. Well, how are you?"

"We're both fine, Mom. Was there something you wanted?"

"I thought I could let you know what happened in that meeting today."

Bianca's head fell back against the headboard. Maybe if she made this concession, Erica would leave her alone till at least tomorrow. "Okay. Let me get my notes. Hang on?"

Lena pouted when Bianca left the bed and placed her head on a pillow. "Sorry," Bianca mouthed silently. "Five minutes."

"Sure," Lena said quietly. "But it won't be five minutes."

Lena was right. Erica kept Bianca on the phone for the better part of an hour. Finally she pled exhaustion, which wasn't so far from the truth. Her sleeping habits of the past two days were far from normal, so she was drooping rapidly.

After ordering a light supper for the two of them, Lena and Bianca snuggled down in the bed, picking at fruit and cheese.

"How are you feeling? Physically, I mean," Bianca asked.

"Very well. Much better than yesterday, though my head still aches a bit."

Bianca's eyes lit up-- she had an idea. "Maybe if I rubbed your back you'd feel better? I can return the favor from the steam room."

Lena grinned. "That sounds lovely. Though the massage in the steam room was far from ideal. I'm usually much better at it."

Bianca actually blushed, remembering that she hadn't exactly been focused on what Lena's hands had been doing that day. She'd fantasized rather extensively of a longer version of their steam room visit after the fact, and those images popped into her head without warning. "Uh, okay." She swallowed. "Turn over then and I'll see if I can help."

Eagerly Lena flipped over and pressed herself into the comforter. Bianca took a deep breath and asked, "Can you take your shirt off? It would make it much easier."

Slyly Lena looked over her shoulder, a seductive expression in her eyes. "Of course." She sat up for a moment and pulled the cotton shirt over her head, and Bianca blinked at the absence of a bra. Lena licked her lips and retook her place, wiggling her hips to get comfortable.

Bianca began to wonder if her offer was a particularly smart one. She'd stood in a shower with Lena not five hours before, held her naked body in a relatively non-sexual way, but she suddenly felt a lot hotter under the collar than she had in a long time.

"There's lotion in the drawer there, in the night table." Lena pointed, and Bianca automatically retrieved it. She squeezed a large dollop of the powdery-smelling lotion and rubbed it in her hands to warm it. As she spread it over Lena's shoulders, she thought it was best not to think too carefully about what she was doing.

That worked for about two minutes, till Lena groaned, and Bianca's libido took a flying leap forward. "That feels wonderful, darling." Bianca wiped an imaginary bead of sweat from her temple. "Right there," Lena said in a low voice as Bianca kneaded her lower back, just at the point of her tailbone. Bianca ground her thumbs in and chewed on her lip, breathing deeply to distract herself from wanting to pounce and consume every last inch of skin before her.

Minutes went by, and Bianca became more and more enamored of what she was doing, and whom she was doing it to. She straddled Lena with her eyes sealed shut, stroking and soothing as tenderly as she knew how. It was unbearably sexy, and just as Bianca leaned down to lick Lena's ear, she heard that sound. The one that said, 'I'm asleep, do not disturb'. Blinking rapidly, Bianca sat up again and removed her hands from Lena's back. She bent down and saw that, yes indeed, Lena was out cold.

Foiled again.

Slowly, Bianca stretched her arms over head, subconsciously satisfied at the quiet adjustments her spine made on its own. Her muscles were warm and loose; her head clear for the first time in days. She felt wonderful. Turning her head to the left, she realized why -- wide brown eyes were open and fastened on her, and the gaze sent a shiver from shoulders to breasts to hands and knees and ankles. "Lena," she said, licking her lips.

"Hello," Lena said softly.

Bianca grinned, and Lena mirrored the expression. She knew Lena read her mind, that this was their first morning to wake up together in the same bed, no secrets between them. Rolling over to face her fully, Bianca placed a hand on Lena's cheek. "Hmm," she sighed.

"You are very beautiful in the morning," Lena breathed. "You are beautiful always, but right now you are a lovely as I've ever seen you."

"Oh yeah, right," Bianca said with a doubtful smile.

"Don't," Lena said, frowning. "Don't do that. I mean what I say, Bianca."

Bianca blinked a few times, gauging the serious look in Lena's eyes. "I'm sorry. I guess... it's a bad habit."

"I'll help you break it. I have lots of time, don't I?"

The word 'forever' echoed in Bianca's mind, but instead she just said, "Yeah," a little more breathlessly than she expected.

"Come closer," Lena said, and Bianca obeyed, unable to deny the deep timbre. Their lips met, and again that frisson of warmth traveled through her whole body, awakening her passion gradually. Bianca spent long minutes exploring the rich depths of Lena's mouth, inhaling her breath as if it were her own. She kept her hands as still as possible, worried about getting Lena too aroused.

"Touch me," Lena whimpered finally, and Bianca stopped, lifting her head.

"I-- I don't know. Do you feel okay?"

Lena's eyes opened, the pupils large enough to eclipse soft brown. She smiled gently. "Yes, Bianca. I promise if I feel the least bit ill, I'll tell you. But I want you very badly. I need you. Please, don't stop..."

Bianca dipped her head once again and began the task of kissing Lena as thoroughly as possible. Her hands slid down the bare skin of her lover's chest to scratch lightly at the sensitive spot on her hip, and Lena groaned in response. She remembered that one. "I pay attention," she whispered with a smile.

"I see that."

Hovering over Lena, Bianca shed her tank and briefs, then divested Lena of her panties till they were both bare. She pressed her flesh against every inch of skin she could reach, reveling in the riot of sensations coursing through her. She listened intently to Lena's breath, which seemed deep and even, so she started moving against her in a slow, rocking rhythm. Lena responded and scissored her legs with Bianca's, wrapping her arms around her shoulders. Their mouths pressed together, trading kisses and nips as Bianca's heart beat faster. She felt wetness on her thigh, and her own on Lena's, so she held herself up on one elbow and slid her hand down. A sharp gasp met her ears as the dark head beneath hers flew back, mouth open and slack. "Yes, ohh, yes," Lena murmured as Bianca maneuvered her fingers tenderly between sleek legs.

A hand mirrored hers, sliding down her belly to delve between her thighs. She lurched forward at the shock of sensation. Then it was as if waves sent her body closer and closer to Lena's as they surged and ebbed against one another, Bianca's breath catching as she met Lena's eyes. The connection they shared was more powerful than she remembered; she couldn't shift her gaze from the dark pools as they pulled her deeper under.

When Lena came with a great moan, her neck arching gracefully, Bianca followed her, pushed over by the simple beauty of the image. She rocked against long fingers, drawing out the fluttering contractions while keeping her own hand pressed between Lena's legs. She licked sweat from above her lip and allowed her head to drop next to Lena's, rubbing their cheeks together.

"God," she exhaled. Bianca rolled to the side taking Lena with her, and a long flank stretched over her hip. Once readjusted, Bianca looked again into fathomless eyes. She swallowed thickly, emotion swelling inside.

"That was good," Lena drawled, looking supremely sated.

Bianca hoped so; she still felt as though her lack of experience compared to Lena's put her at a disadvantage.

"Wipe that look off your face, darling. You're a wonderful lover."

"What look?"

"The one that says you're not sure of your prowess in the bedroom. Believe me, Bianca, my experience in such matters has lacked one integral part of what we share together."

Bianca hesitated before she said the word. "Love."

Lena nodded. "What I feel for you when we're together is beyond my experience. Everything is new, and fresh, and it seems as though each touch you give me comes from your heart."

"It does."

"Then how could making love with you be anything but glorious?" Lena snuggled closer. "Experience will come with time. And it will get even better as we practice, I can assure you."

Bianca's eyes fell closed, imagining. "Practice," she said, as all sorts of interesting ideas occurred to her.

Lena chuckled. "Oh yes. We should practice very often, don't you think?"

"Absolutely," Bianca answered with a bright smile.

They lay together quietly, bodies cooling, and Bianca pulled the sheet up to avoid the chill. Both of them dozed, and Lena ended up shifting to lay her head in the crook of Bianca's neck. It felt wonderful to have her lover's warm breath brushing her skin, her weight resting on her body.

Suddenly she heard a strange buzzing-- her phone was inching across the night table, ringing on vibrate mode. Of course the display read: Mom, work. Bianca looked down at the face near hers, so soft and relaxed in sleep, and only debated a moment. Turning the phone off, she dropped it gently on the carpet, and wrapped her arms around Lena once more.

The End

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