Okay, so  I made a joke about one day putting all of my notes out for people to read while I was working on a story. A friend saw the comment and spent two days hounding me. Dares were involved. Regular dares, dog dares, multiple dog dares. It was awful. I wasn't made to resist such things, and I will say in my defense that I held strong until the dreaded triple dog dare when I started to seriously waffle (yes, I know it says Double Dog Dare in the Subject line, but Disconnected and the Triple Dog Dare lacked alliteration), and then the whole thing got really interesting when a $50 bet was tossed into the mix. Yeah, I caved. This is probably a deeply, meaningfully bad idea, but we shall see. If nothing else it has the value of being unique (and hey, I'm $50 richer---Bwah!). I just wanted y'all to know why this particular bit of strangeness is being inflicted on anyone who cares to look.

Oh, well. It has the value of being a unique choice if nothing else.

That said, I should add that everything is subject to change, most of the scenework contained herein is just to remind me of what I was thinking (I forget these things rather quickly) and should not be taken very seriously at all, and that this is actually a lot more organized than my usual efforts.  There is lots and lots of stuff missing and I tend to figure out the emotional beats as I go along. Also, I do tend to add to outlines as I write and things build in my head, so if anyone finds this interesting, I'll update as I go.

Sections in black are currently being written, though may include outline notes and old scenework. Purple = outlines and selected scenework. Red covers research and such.

First Posted  01-04-04
Updated 01-08-04
Updated 01-19-04
Updated 01-23-04
Updated 02-06-06
Updated 02-17-04
Updated 03-01-04
Updated 03-28-04
Updated 05-05-04
Updated 07-16-04
Part 21 - Updated 08-27-04 - Read it
Part 22 - Updated 12-22-04 -
Read it
Part 23 - Updated 02-18-05 - Read it
Part 24 - Updated 03-06-05 - Read it

Part 25 - Updated 03-31-05 - Read it
Part 26 - Updated 11-05-05 - Read it

Note: the file with the story got so huge it was crapping out my html editor, and so it's now broken into two pages, plus the spoiler page.

Make that three pages, and I'm going to start listing the chapter numbers associated with various places I've been posting it.

| Story to date Page 1 | Story to date Page 2 | Story to date Page 3 | Story to date Page 4 | Spoilers |

Last Updated 07-16-04

Title: Disconnected

Author: Pink Rabbit Productions

Email: Yes, please. Feedback welcome and encouraged be it good, bad, or indifferent.

Disclaimer: Yes, this includes all female prurient type stuff. Gonna be offended, run away, please for all of our sakes. Offending you doesn�t please me. I don�t enjoy it, so go away. Likewise, if reading my work is going to get you tossed in jail. I like to think I�m a reasonable writer, but nobody is that good. Also, if you�re underage (which might get me tossed in jail), please wait until you�ve passed whatever age is legally acceptable in your neck of the woods to read this. I would not do well in jail as I am an utter and complete coward, and while being locked in with nothing but women has some theoretical appeal, I just don�t think I�d do well with the criminal element. Also the lack of computer time would seriously affect my mood. So let�s just avoid the whole scenario. For those of you likely to freak over spoilers, you�re in luck. There aren�t any. If you�re looking for Baggie Bonding, there�s none of that either, though the Maggot will be mentioned and might even show up in a scene or two. Plot? Oh, who knows, if I�m feeling inspired, I might include one. I will warn you that I�m thinking of trying (yet another) experiment with this one in terms of process, so I may sort of end up posting it virtually a scene at a time (I�m thinking about it). The end result of that would be more frequent posting, but they could easily suck like few things have sucked in the history of suckage if that happens because my own worst instincts might well get away from me before I can keep it from happening. I�m just saying....

Also, kind of important author�s note here (which is code for: READ THIS:) I�m not really feeling the Bianca love right now and it�s showing. Not that Binks has become a nasty, backstabbing sort or anything like that, but at the same time, she�s a looooonnnngggg way from perfect, sweet, wholesome, and thoughtful. In short, this is not a sweetsty-sweetsy piece, and she�s not especially admirable...at least at the moment. And I�m thinking I may have to force her to see that fact (I mentioned I�m not much feeling the Binky-Love, right?), and I�m being honest here in saying I barely have a plan where it might lead, and I dunno how far it will even go. I just mention these things because I wouldn�t want to bug anybody or leave them thinking I know what the hell I�m doing.

Oh, and the angst factor here is pumping way higher than my usual tolerance levels will allow. Yeah, I�m a sick puppy.

Disconnected
by Pink Rabbit Productions

Page 2

Pulling her car to a halt, Bianca peered across the dark landscape, a frown touching her brow as she struggled to make sense of the unfamiliar shadows. She�d been here once before, but it had been daylight then and nearly two years had passed since that day, so while she knew the general layout, she was hardly comfortable with the place.

The Pine Valley P.D. auto impound lot.

The last time she�d been there had been to witness the damage to a car she�d crashed after a drunken attempt to kiss Maggie.

God, it seemed so long ago, almost like another lifetime. She�d been so young and desperate then, romantic notions of love driving her to think that any female who was friendly or looked at her twice might be her one true love. She�d thought it was all so simple; that once she found someone everything would be sunshine and roses all the time, that her life would somehow instantly become simpler rather than more complex.

Hard to believe she�d ever been that young and innocent, or maybe a better phrasing was that inexperienced and stupid.

Bianca leaned her forehead against the steering wheel, taking a moment to gather herself. Finally she straightened, and reached into the backseat to retrieve the flashlight she kept in the car for emergencies.

This definitely qualified as an emergency, if not exactly the type she would have expected to need it for. Hefting the heavy flashlight in one hand, she climbed out into the night air. If need be, it could double as a decent club and she was a little uneasy to be alone in such a quiet place, but desperately in need of answers to the questions plaguing her.

The impound lot was surrounded by chain link fence topped by razor wire, but it was locked up for the night so there was no one to stop her as she walked along the perimeter, shining her light into the open air parking area, watching as the remains of accident after accident were neatly illuminated under the sharply delineated beam.

With each successive wreck, the knot in her stomach grew tighter and tighter while her thoughts spun faster and faster.

If steel and glass could be that fragile, what chance did mere flesh have?

How many of those crushed cars had held equally crushed bodies?

How many had lived, how many had died?

Those thoughts left her shaky legged and nauseous, the sense of human misery hanging over the place almost too much to be borne.

And then her light fell across the battered remains of a once-sleek, black Jaguar and Bianca froze, the only movement the shift of her hand at the wrist as she let the beam play over crushed metal and shattered glass.

The passenger side window was dark as though it had been painted out, but it wasn�t until the flashlight beam fell directly on the glass that she realized it wasn�t black, but rather a rusty shade of brown so thick the light barely penetrated what should have been clear glass.

The nausea only increased as Bianca realized what it was.

Blood.

Unable to bear the sight, she let the beam play on, touching on the hood where the missing front windshield had been draped, the spiderwebbed surface of crushed safety glass reflecting the light like a thousand interlocking prisms. Perversely beautiful, the sight held her rapt even as she realized a fine spattering in that same, chilling shade of brown dotted the inside of the glass on the driver�s side.

More blood.

She wanted to run away and keep running until the image was purged from her mind, but Bianca stepped forward until she was toe to toe with the fence, peering through the wire into the remains of the vehicle. It hurt simply to look at the proof of what had happened to her lover, but she saw it as her penance for her mistakes and failures, her punishment for letting Lena down and sending her into the night to be injured this way.

The driver�s door had been cut away and lay inside the vehicle in the driver�s seat. Even at that distance Bianca could see the crushed steering wheel and hacked seatbelt alongside jagged edges of steel. They�d had to cut Lena out in an effort to prevent the crumpled Jaguar from becoming her coffin. The fact that the other woman had nearly died was suddenly real to her in a visceral way that couldn�t be denied.

The car had rolled. They�d told her that, but now she could see the evidence of it in the damage to the vehicle. Then Lena had hung there, trapped, bleeding, probably scared as hell, maybe even expecting to die like that. Dark eyes slid closed, and Bianca had to fight to keep breathing as her brain insisted on conjuring a mental image to torture her. Human flesh, Lena�s perfectly fine and unbelievably soft, was so frail it was a wonder she�d even survived an accident that could do that kind of damage

The girl shuddered with horror, shying from the images playing in her mind�s eye.

She was still standing there like that, desperately trying not to imagine what Lena must have gone through when a hand landed on her shoulder.

A strangled scream escaping her lips, the young woman spun in place, the flashlight coming up as an impromptu club.

A thick hand came up, ready to block her swing. "Easy," hurried and tense, the words reached her ears even as she realized the newcomer was a police officer, blocky and solid, his hand on his gun. A brief pause, then he spoke again. "Ms. Montgomery?"

Bianca nodded. "M-my uncle is Jackson Montgomery. H-he was the D.A.," she said quickly, her heart beating a staccato rhythm in her chest. "I was just...I mean...." With no adequate explanation for what she was doing there, she fell silent.

He looked past her at the impound yard, then his eyes swung back. "I know who you are, Ma�am," he said softly, the suspicious note melting away to be replaced by a sympathetic one. He removed his hand from his gun, relaxing fractionally and threw another quick glance at the yard.

"You�re Officer Lyman, right?" Bianca mumbled unsteadily as his name came back to her.

Nodding, he looked at her again. "You really shouldn�t be out here alone, Ms. Montgomery. It could be dangerous." He nodded to indicate the impound lot. "We occasionally have break-ins...thieves raiding the cars."

"Oh," she exhaled. She hadn�t thought of that. "It never occurred to me. I just...I know this probably seems pretty weird, but a friend was in an accident and I just needed to see her car...what happened."

Again his eyes slid past her, and he drew a small flashlight off his belt, shining it into the yard to touch on the ruined Jaguar. "Ms. Kundera," he said very softly when he finally spoke.

Surprised that he knew, Bianca nodded jerkily.

"Nasty accident," Lyman added.

"W-were you there?" Bianca whispered, wanting the details and yet uncertain she could bear to hear them if the answer was yes.

"No...but I heard about it," he answered, his tone that of someone who�d seen too many such accidents and knew what they entailed.

Relieved and disappointed at the same time, she quietly asked, "Do you know what happened?"

A long, uncomfortable silence followed and she had the sense he was debating his answer. "It was rainy," he said at last, reciting the details almost matter-of-factly. "She was driving too fast, something happened, and her car rolled." He nodded to indicate the bashed-in door. "It landed on the passenger�s side in a ditch. They figure it was a couple of hours before she was found."

The nausea was back in full force as Bianca�s head swam, her brain doing far too good a job at conjuring what it must have been like for her former lover. "It must have been awful for her," she breathed, barely able to force the words past the tightness in her throat and chest.

Broad shoulders rose then sagged in a helpless shrug. There was really nothing to say to that so he didn�t try. "Why don�t I walk you back to your car," the officer suggested gently when he finally spoke again.

Torn between the need to stay right where she was---as though staring at the wreck of Lena�s car could somehow atone for her sins---and the profound desire to run and never look back, Bianca froze, uncertain what to do.

Officer Lyman seemed to understand her inner turmoil because his voice softened to little more than a coaxing murmur. "There�s nothing you can do for her out here." His light played over the crushed Jaguar again, drawing her eyes back to the wrecked car. "And looking at that? All that does is make everything seem worse." He looked at Bianca again. "Go home, okay?"

Bianca did a slow turn, staring at the wreck of Lena�s car.

"Don�t make me make it official, Ms. Montgomery," Sean Lyman pleaded. The last thing he wanted to do was make things any rougher for Jackson Montgomery�s niece. He liked and respected Montgomery and hated what had happened to the young woman in front of him. However, he couldn�t let her stay at the impound lot alone in the dead of night, and he had other duties to attend to. "You have to leave...now."

Looking back over her shoulder, she saw the determination in his eyes and nodded slowly, accepting that it was time to go. "Yeah, I know," she admitted. After one last long look at the destroyed Jaguar, silently imprinting the image on her memory, she turned away from the fence offering a wan smile. "Don�t worry. I�ll go."

"Drive carefully," the officer murmured as he fell in step beside her. He saw her to her car, then remained where he was until she�d pulled away, his expression sad and sympathetic. "Poor kid," Sean Lyman murmured as he watched her car disappear into the night. He glanced back toward the barely visible shadow of the crumpled Jaguar, then finally shook his head and made his way back to his own car. Pathetic as it all was, he had other duties to see to.

* * * * * *

"Thanks for staying late, Mrs. Timmons," Bianca said as she watched Tyler�s nanny retrieved her bag preparatory to leaving for the night.

The older woman turned and peered at her young employer, noting her sunken eyes and distinct pallor. The poor girl. She was so young for the responsibilities she�d been saddled with, and it often seemed as though she was simply hit with one tragedy after another. "Did you see your friend in the hospital?" she asked gently, careful not to let on how much she�d guessed about Bianca�s relationship with Lena Kundera. Spending as much time as she did in the young woman�s home, she�d seen the signs; the clothes accidentally left behind, the silk robe that Ms. Montgomery never wore, yet which was clearly in use by someone, Ms. Kundera�s car pulling away once, the jotted notes, and phone numbers on the caller I.D. She was discrete of course, never mentioning what she�d seen to her employer or anyone else. If Ms. Montgomery wanted her to know, she�d speak up. In the meantime, she could only offer whatever support was possible.

Bianca nodded stiffly. "Yeah," she whispered, her voice threatening to crack.

"Oh, I almost forgot," the nanny said abruptly and grabbed a piece of paper off a nearby end table. "A Dr. Grey called for you just a little while ago...asked that you call her as soon as you get in."

Any remaining traces of color drained from Bianca�s face, her breath suddenly short and ragged. She stared at the paper in the nanny�s outstretched hand, frozen in place, too scared to reach out and take it. After the way Dr. Grey had thrown her out, the only reason she could imagine her calling now was---

"She said it was nothing for you to worry about," the older woman broke in on Bianca�s tortured thoughts, "that there�s no problem with...with your friend," she added haltingly, hoping to banish the terror she�d unintentionally triggered. She reached out, laying a gentle hand on Bianca�s forearm, her tone reassuring. "Dr. Grey said it was just something she needs to ask you."

Her hand trembling, Bianca took the number. "Thanks," she whispered, the paper rattling gently in her hand as the adrenaline rush swept on past and left her shaking in its wake. Dr. Grey had said there was no problem. She wouldn�t lie about something like that. Lena was okay. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly in an effort to calm herself as she mentally repeated that mantra over and over. Lena was okay. Maria probably just wanted to give her another dressing down and warning not to show up at the hospital again, but she could live with that so long as Lena was okay.

Seeing the way her employer reacted, the nanny offered a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "Why don�t you call your sister and ask her to spend the night," she suggested gently, not liking the idea of leaving the girl alone when she was so obviously upset, especially if there was any chance that Maria�s news wasn�t so good after all. "I�m sure she�d be happy to."

Bianca shook her head, staring down at the paper clutched tightly in her hand. Even though Kendall knew about her relationship with Lena she didn�t want her there when she called Maria back. It was just too private. "No." She looked up, her expression as neutral as she could make it. Seeing the worry in her nanny�s eyes, she forced a smile. "Really, I�m okay. It�s just been a long day."

"I could stay a little longer if you�d like," the older woman offered on impulse, hating the idea of the young woman facing whatever lay ahead completely alone.

Shaking her head, Bianca waved that idea off. "No, you�ve already stayed a lot later than normal. I�m fine." She held up the paper with Maria�s number on it. "I�m sure this is nothing to worry about."

The older woman didn�t entirely believe Bianca, but it wasn�t like there was much she could do to argue. "If you�re certain," she said hesitantly.

This time Bianca�s smile was genuinely affectionate, the older woman�s caring reminding her of her grandmother in a way that chased off the internal chill just a little. "Really, I�m fine. You go on home."

A short time later, Bianca closed the door in her nanny�s wake, pausing momentarily after she finished locking up to catch her breath and try to calm her nerves.

Finally, she found the phone and a seat, paused another moment, once again trying to calm her nerves. She stared at the handset. Maybe she should have had Mrs. Timmons stay or called Kendall.

Neither of them would have judged her for still caring about Lena. Kendall wanted her to pursue the relationship, and Mrs. Timmons was one of the few people around who never offered even the vaguest criticism when her name came up. In fact her only comments on Lena had been sympathetic about the choices she�d been forced to make to protect her mother. Maybe she should�

Bianca cut that thought off. Who was she kidding? No matter what she should do or how good it might feel to have a little support, she couldn�t stomach the idea of letting anyone see her emotions when it came to her former lover. She didn�t even pretend to know why, but she simply couldn�t open up that part of her life. Better to create the illusion that any sexual or romantic feelings were dead now, that she was just sister, daughter, mother---anything but partner or lover. The thought made her sick and ashamed, and she hated herself for it, but she didn�t know how to get past it.

And now wasn�t the time for going there, Bianca reminded herself. She looked down at the phone clutched tightly in white knuckled fingers.

No, she was on her own. Whatever Maria wanted to say, she had to face it alone

And now it was time to do just that. No more delays.

Her heart in her throat, Bianca ran her thumb over the keypad, dialing Maria�s number, then fought to breathe while she listened to the phone ring on the other end.

"Hello, Dr. Maria Grey here, how may I help you?"

"It�s Bianca Montgomery," Bianca gasped, nervousness making the words coming in a quick tumble of syllables. "I just got in and got your message."

"Hi, Bianca,"

Maria said. "Thanks for calling me back."

A momentary pause followed and Bianca blurted into the silence, "Is she okay?"

"She�s fine,"

Maria quickly assured her, then paused again, leaving Bianca with the sense that she was choosing her words carefully. "In fact that�s why I called. After you left she had a lot of questions...about you. I tried to change the subject, but she wouldn�t let it drop."

Bianca tensed, her voice a tight rasp as she asked, "What did you tell her?" Knowing how angry Maria had been and the way Lena�s family felt about her, she didn�t quite know what to expect or even what to hope for, the whole truth or a pleasant fabrication. Either answer had its benefits and its drawbacks.

"I told her that you and she were involved,"

Maria explained haltingly. "Past tense...no more than that. I don�t think she�s ready to hear the rest of it...not yet." Another pause. "I thought you should know."

Her skin breaking out in a cold sweat, Bianca concentrated on keeping her voice as smooth as possible. "Is that all?"

"No,"

Maria admitted. Another long pause had Bianca close to screaming in frustration. "She wants to see you."

A startled gasp escaped the girl�s throat as she was torn between terror and relief. "Does she remember anything...I mean, about me?"

"No."

Her emotions still a confusing turmoil, Bianca clutched the phone more tightly. "But she still wants to see me?"

"Yes. I think she�s hoping it will help with her memory...or maybe she�s just...."

Maria trailed off.

"What?" Bianca prompted a little desperately.

"I don�t know,"

Maria sighed. "She didn�t tell me. All I can know is she wants to see you---"

"I�ll just call my sister to look after Tyler and be right there," Bianca began.

"Not tonight,"

Maria interrupted the younger woman�s plans. "And not anytime you might run into her family." Her voice took on a firm, almost parental note and she pronounced each word slowly and carefully to drive her point home. "They can�t deal with you."

"B-but..."

"I�ll call you...probably tomorrow sometime after visiting hours are over if that works for you."

"Whatever," Bianca said quickly. "I�ll do whatever you want. I just want to see her."

Maria�s grim tone softened. "I know," she allowed. "Go ahead and give me your cell number. I�ll call you and let you know when you can come."

"Thank you," Bianca choked, then read off the numbers, her mind awhirl with what Maria had told her. Lena wanted to see her. A little of the agonizing terror let go somewhere deep inside allowing her to breathe a little more easily than she had since first learning of the accident.

"One thing,"

the doctor warned her.

"Anything," Bianca instantly promised.

"As I said, she doesn�t know anything about...about what happened...Michael Cambias, what she did for him...what he did to you...and she�s not ready for it. She�s still too fragile. I don�t want you telling her about any of that. If you can�t do that, you need to tell me now."

Bianca swallowed hard. "Don�t worry," she assured the doctor. "I won�t tell her anything about any of that." No sacrifice there. She�d just as soon forget it all anyway.

"Just so you understand, not one word."

"Not one," Bianca confirmed.

"Okay,"

Maria said. "I�ll call you when it�s time."

After that they made their farewells, and Bianca hung up, well aware of the silence surrounding her and missing Lena�s late night presence more than she knew how to express. The house was too large and overwhelming, full of dark corners and hidden spaces that left her feeling small and alone. Lena had been there so many times to nurse her through the times like this, touching her, making love to her, then, when they were both spent, holding her as long as she would allow it. She would have given anything to feel that cared for and protected once again. Finally, she stumbled up the stairs, taking a moment to check on her son before stripping off her clothes and grabbing a fast shower. Her skin and hair still damp, she rifled through her closet, pausing as she came to Lena�s robe, the only garment she consistently left over. Without thinking, Bianca slid it on, wrapping it around herself, her lover�s perfume still clinging to the finely woven silk and making her feel a little less alone. Still wearing it, she climbed into bed and pulled the sheets up over herself.

It would be a long time before sleep came.

* * * * * *

David Hayward took a long swallow of beer, his throat still burning from the vodka chaser, though the alcohol did nothing to blunt the raw guilt burning in his belly as he thought about Erica�s message on his voice mail. Bianca knew about Lena�s accident.

And she was still in love with the Polish woman.

Christ, he should never have let Erica talk him into keeping his mouth shut. He didn�t like Lena Kundera, considered her a coward for her suicide attempt, and tended to agree with his cousin Maggie�s assertions that she was just in it for herself, but she�d been Bianca�s lover and Bianca should have heard about her accident in a controlled situation from people who cared about her and could help her deal with the news. They all should have been there to protect her and take care of her, not let her stumble into something she wasn�t prepared for.

He took another swallow.

So now Bianca knew, and however she�d found out, it had all gone badly. Big surprise that. Secrets never stayed secret long, and they were never revealed in the way you would have wanted. No, they always came out with the maximum amount of pain for all involved. If he�d learned anything in his life, he�d learned that much. Pity he�d let himself be talked into forgetting it because now Bianca got to pay for that mistake.

"Knew we should�ve told her," he muttered to himself between swallows, nearly eaten alive with guilt as he thought about the young woman. The irony that he should finally be discovering that lying didn�t help didn�t escape him even as he had a few more swallows of beer and another shot glass of vodka, the alcohol nowhere near as comforting as he�d hoped it would be.

Looking down at his mug, he noted it was nearly empty and waved to the bartender for another. It probably wasn�t the best time to get well and truly drunk, but he thought maybe he�d do it anyway. He glanced at his watch. He still had a few minutes left anyway, and facing Erica sober suddenly didn�t seem like all that good an idea. Being clear headed wasn�t likely to make things any better, but being drunk might blunt the pain a little.

The world was just starting to get pleasantly blurry when a hand landed lightly on his shoulder and a delicate figure perched on the neighboring stool.

"David," Erica said breathlessly. "Thank you for agreeing to see me."

He shrugged, peering peered intently into his mug as though perhaps it held the answers to life�s problems. "I�m here, Erica, but I don�t see what good it�ll do." No matter what they did now Lena would still be in the hospital, Bianca would still be hurting, and he would still be a lying scumbag. Wasn�t it amazing that no matter how much things changed, they always stayed the same?

"It�s just that...well...we haven�t spoken since that night," Erica began, the words coming in staccato bursts.

David glanced over, his eyes a little unfocused as they ran over her perfectly coifed figure. She was nervous and upset and trying to cover it without much success. "Don�t worry," he drawled, his tone wry. "Nobody knows where you were that night...or who you were with." He�d avoided her since then, his emotions over their clandestine coupling going from a sense of triumph at having cuckolded Jackson Montgomery to a definite sense that he�d risked hurting a lot of people for a few hours that meant nothing.

Erica stiffened, her eyes darting around, making certain there was no one close enough to overhear his comments. She kept her voice as low as possible while still making herself heard. "David, I don�t mean that. I know you wouldn�t tell anyone." Despite her attempt to sound confident, she stumbled over the words, stuttering ever so slightly. She lowered her voice another notch as she continued. "I was just wondering if anyone knows about you...that you were there that night."

He gained a moment�s time by taking a swallow of beer, then carefully set his mug down, his hands no longer their normal rock steady. "The paramedics saw me," he admitted, took another draught, then continued, "I don�t know if any of them recognized me though. It was too crazy...I didn�t give anyone my name, but...." He trailed off thoughtfully. "I live in infamy, so who knows?" He lowered the level of his beer another half inch. "Why? Did Lena remember seeing us?" He was startled when Erica didn�t immediately answer, and he finally looked over, startled to see how pale she�d grown. "Erica?"

"She doesn�t remember seeing you and I," she assured him, her voice quavering ever so slightly; for once not in that rather manipulative way he�d long since grown used to, but in a genuine show of emotion. She looked down, trailing a fingertip through a few drops of condensation left on the bar by whoever had previously sat on her stool. "She doesn�t remember any of us."

A hint of a frown touched David�s brow. "What are you...." His voice faded as he remembered the shot. He thought he�d overcome that flaw in the formula. "Amnesia," he exhaled as though he�d been gut punched. Oh god, what had he done? "Does she..." he didn�t finish the question.

Her mouth twitching into a brittle parody of a smile, Erica stared at her own reflection in the polished surface of the bar. "Apparently it�s not complete," she told him. "She at least knows who she is, but she�s missing the last several years of her life...." She continued to stare at that shadowy version of herself reflected in glassy dark wood, hunting for some sign of the monster her daughter apparently thought her to be. "...including Bianca...and everything that happened between them. And Bianca hates me for it...blames me...." The short sharp syllables gave way mid-sentence to a pathetic, very unEricalike dullness. A long moment passed, then finally she looked at David, her voice eerily flat. "She thinks I wanted Lena dead."

Remembering the way Erica had tried to comfort Lena, talking to her, trying to soothe the frightened, dazed woman, her tone and touch as gentle as she knew how to make them, he shook his head, denying that possibility. "No...you didn�t. I know that." Reaching out, he drew Erica�s head up and around until their eyes met. "I saw the way you took care of her that night...the way you comforted her. You did everything you could for her."

Dark eyes slid closed, Erica�s expression stricken. "I can�t exactly brag about that to Bianca, now can I?"

Reminded of the cost of their decisions, David doubled over, elbows braced on the bar, his head down, hair falling across his brow. "We shouldn�t have lied," he informed no one in particular.

"What else could we do?" Erica demanded.

A soft, ironic laugh escaped David�s lips. "Tell the truth?"

She stared at him as though he�d lost his mind.

And maybe he had, David thought with more than a little irony, if he thought either was one of them was going to take the straight and narrow at this late date in their lives.

"That would have just caused more pain," Erica snapped when she finally spoke, suddenly impatient with David�s need to wallow in whatever it was he was wallowing in.

"As opposed to what lying did," he snorted derisively.

A flinch shook the woman and she took a deep breath to steady her nerves. "Whatever we should or shouldn�t have done, it�s too late to change it now," she hissed. "We made our decisions---"

"And once more Bianca suffers for them," David sighed, head coming up as he ran his hair back from his brow.

Erica flinched again. "And that�s my fault," she said very softly, "but what�s done is done. Trying to change it now will only make things worse."

Dropping his head, David glared at his beer as though it was somehow at fault. "Look, Erica, what do you want from me?" Once he might have enjoyed the intrigue. Not now. Maybe he really was growing up.

Erica swallowed hard, her already precarious self-control momentarily threatening to slip. "Lena was conscious some of the time---"

"But hardly coherent," David muttered.

"But if her she remembers...if her memory comes back and she tells Bianca...." Her eyes were wide, desperate. "David, I was supposed to be at home alone that night." And they both knew where she�d been and what she�d been doing instead. Not at home and definitely not alone. If Bianca or Jackson ever found out, she stood to lose everything.

Closing his eyes to block her out, he shook his head. "What do you want me to do, Erica," he murmured, tired of it all and sliding into extreme sarcasm, "sneak into the hospital and smother her with a pillow to make sure she doesn�t talk?"

"Don�t joke," Erica hissed, outraged at his offhanded crack.

His expression serious, he looked at her, simply staring until her gaze broke from his.

"I would never..." she choked out, her voice thick and tremulous. Why couldn�t David and Bianca understand she truly didn�t wish the Polish woman any ill? She was just trying to protect the people she loved. Erica paused, taking a moment to gather herself, then looked up again. No matter her sympathy for Lena Kundera, she had to put her own family�s interests first. David, of all people, had to understand that. "Will she remember what happened?" she asked when she finally spoke again.

He shrugged. "I have no idea," he admitted. With no detailed medical knowledge, no idea the true cause of her amnesia, just his own suppositions, and no idea how much permanent damage might have been done, he couldn�t even begin to answer.

A hint of a frown touched Erica�s brow. "Is there any way you could find out?" she questioned.

"Maybe," he allowed, his tone sliding over into a mix of ironic and frustrated, "if I could examine her and get a look at her records." Seeing the hopeful look in her eyes he shook his head. "Remember, I don�t have hospital privileges. I can�t just waltz in and start going through a patient�s records." She reached out, her hand warm where it rested on his arm. He looked down, staring at the twining of bone and muscle, seeing slender fingers and perfectly painted nails....

And remembering.

"You could find a way, David," she whispered, her voice low and encouraging.

He swallowed hard then reached down and carefully removed her hand from his arm, the look in his eyes hardening. That night had been pure impulse, a matter of comfort and the need to chase out some very nasty demons, but it had meant something. This was simply manipulation. "No."

Desperation driving her, Erica tried again, instinctively going for another line of attack. "What about Bianca?" She saw his expression soften ever so slightly and drove the wedge harder. "This situation could hurt her in so many ways. We need to know what�s going to happen."

David cursed mentally, wishing he could simply walk away. It would make everything so much simpler.

"It�s the best way to protect her," Erica continued when he didn�t respond. "You have to do it...for her sake."

A muscle pulsed in his jaw and he ground his teeth until it was a wonder his molars weren�t powdered. He drained the last of his beer and set the mug down. "I�ll do what I can." Again her hand landed on his arm. This time he made no effort to remove it. Why bother? He�d sold his soul long before. What difference did one more lie, one more scam, one more con make?

"Thank you, David," she said, her voice low and grateful.

The bartender looked his way, and he pointed at the empty shot glass, indicating he wanted another. "I�ll do what I can to protect Bianca," he said softly, then flashed a bleak look Erica�s way. "But if you�ll excuse me, I prefer to drink alone."

Brown eyes reflected Erica�s hurt. "David, I---"

"I plan on getting falling down drunk," David explained with quiet practicality, "and I�m not really in the mood for company while I do so."

"David, I..." Erica began only to trail off as she looked at his stiff, angry profile. Ashamed of her actions, sickened by the bad choices they�d all made, she froze for a long moment. "I just don�t want my mistakes to hurt the people I love," she said at last.

Too late

, David thought as he drained a shotglass full of amber liquid the instant it was delivered. He made the mistake of glancing at the woman on the neighboring stool, her pain too real for him to completely dismiss. His shoulders sagged and he leaned more heavily against the bar. "I know," he exhaled, unable to hold back that little bit of absolution for Erica. He might hate what she was asking of him, but he was the one giving way, and god knew, she�d already been through so much.

"Thank you," Erica breathed. She stared at him for a long moment, started to say more only to change her mind. Finally she slipped out without another word.

David waved to the bartender for another drink, and didn�t stop until the bartender and a waitress poured him into a cab.

* * * * * *

Sitting on an MRI table in the lab, Lena was looking very askance at the device. "Didn�t you already do this test?" she exhaled very softly. The memory was foggy, but she distinctly remembered sliding inside that narrow steel chamber where she had been surrounded by a constant din of intimidating sounds while unable to move lest it all start over again, her nails digging into her palms, oxygen feeling in short supply, confused, barely understanding the commands being given to her in English, in constant pain, and scared to death.

And that was the hazy version of events. She shuddered to think of what it might be like completely awake and coherent.

Maria patted her knee lightly. "Yeah, we did," she admitted, feeling bad for putting the woman through it again because she�d had a miserable time of it. Still heavily drugged and claustrophobic into the bargain, she�d barely managed to keep things together. "But this is a little different. We�re going to have you do some things while we�re running the tests...like tap your fingers and answer questions. It lets us get a better look at exactly how you�re brain is functioning."

"Don�t you mean malfunctioning?" Lena muttered darkly, the stress of the ongoing tests and amnesia, not to mention a return to the MRI chamber starting to affect her mood. She was desperately trying to maintain an even keel if only for her mother�s sake, but as the situation stretched out and the tests continued without offering any answers it was getting harder and harder not to panic.

A sympathetic smile curving her lips, Maria shook her head. "It may not be malfunctioning."

That comment earned her a soft snort and a doubtful look.

"What I mean," the doctor felt the need to clarify, "is we don�t really know what�s causing the memory loss. It could be something very minor...shock, stress, the drugs you�ve had since the accident---"

"Brain damage from oxygen deprivation or the blow to the head," Lena whispered, acknowledging the dark fear that everyone had so far carefully avoided mentioning.

Maria paused, then nodded. "Yes," she admitted. Time to face that possibility head on. "But even if that�s the case, it doesn�t mean the damage is permanent or that your memory won�t come back. Aside from a mild concussion, we�ve found no signs of neurological damage."

"But you�re not sure?" Lena whispered as she peered up at the doctor, her fear coming through in spite of her best efforts to hide it. Her best weapon and last refuge when life got rough, her mind had given her a leg up over others, allowing her to climb out of poverty, gain an education, and see the world. Now it wasn�t working right, stripping her of her normal confidence and leaving her feeling naked and vulnerable.

 

It wasn�t time to lie or try to placate her patient. "No," Maria said, her tone firm, trying to project an aura of confidence as she continued, "which is why I want to run the fMRI. I�m hoping it�ll answer some questions or at least eliminate some possibilities. And if we do find something, it may open up treatment options." She reached out, resting a hand lightly on a narrow shoulder. "My only interest is in seeing you get better...and this is just a tool to try and help do that. Think you can do it?"

Heaving a deep, tired sigh, Lena nodded. She had to trust the doctor knew what she was doing. Surrendering, she swung her legs up onto the table and lay back, lying perfectly passive as Maria adjusted her position in the frame that would help keep her head perfectly still. The doctor was nearly finished when she cleared her throat, drawing Maria�s attention. "You never told me." She was careful to keep her voice low. "Did you manage to arrange a meeting with Bianca Montgomery?" Her mother had been there when she woke that morning, only leaving her alone when the doctor arrived to escort her to the latest round of tests.

Her hands never faltering, Maria looked down, a hint of a frown touching her brow. "I spoke to her," she said hesitantly, carefully tracking her patient�s response. Noting Lena�s fascination with her former lover, she couldn�t help but wonder if it was a sign that whatever was wrong with her was healing allowing her memory to return.

"And?" Lena prompted when the doctor didn�t immediately continue.

Maria sighed softly, wondering how in the hell she�d wound up in the middle of this mess without meaning to. "She wants to see you," she admitted, startled by the leap of relief and something else that felt eerily familiar in Lena�s eyes. It was the same kind of speculative interest she�d once seen in Edmund�s gaze. Not love to be certain, but perhaps the potential for it.

Lena nodded, absorbing Maria�s answer and her lips twitched, not quite turning up into a smile, but teasing as though they might at any moment. "When?" she demanded when she looked up again.

"If your mother leaves early enough...tonight."

Dark eyes slid closed as Lena contemplated that news, abruptly realizing she�d been afraid that the young woman might refuse to see her again. After all, according to Dr. Grey they were no longer a couple. Bianca Montgomery had no reason to agree to see her. "Good," she exhaled after a beat. Maybe this would help her understand why her mind seemed to summon memories of her face and voice at every opportunity as well as the tangled emotions those thoughts invariably engendered. "Thank you for arranging it."

"I doubt it�s going to solve anything," Maria said softly. It wasn�t unusual to see patients latch onto strange ideas or expect miracles where they weren�t likely.

"I realize that," Lena murmured, her expression distant in a way that told Maria she was thinking about Bianca. "But I need to know."

"Know what?" the doctor questioned, wondering if perhaps

"I don�t know," Lena admitted, well aware that she wasn�t making sense, but with no better explanation to give.

Maria doubted anyone else in Pine Valley would have understood that comment, but oddly enough she did. She�d had plenty of those kinds of moments in the months after learning her true identity, but before she�d remembered anything and truly felt like Maria Grey again. "Can I ask you a question?" she said after a beat.

Lena nodded her assent.

"Is it possible you�re starting to remember?" Maria wanted to be prepared if that was the case because Lena wasn�t likely to have an easy time of it once her recent past started coming back.

A long moment passed while Lena considered the question. "I don�t think so," she murmured at last, then shrugged and tapped her temple with two fingers. "But I don�t feel like I�ve forgotten anything, so I don�t know that I�d know." Her voice trembled ever so slightly, a sign of the stress she was under. "I�m sure I don�t remember her though," she said after another pause. She�d searched her memory a dozen times over since meeting the young woman and the only images she could find were from that brief meeting. "But then I don�t even remember ever traveling to the states and yet here I am." She rolled her eyes back, staring at the ceiling. "I don�t know what�s happening...I just can�t stop thinking about her...wondering what it was like...what we were like together."

Once again Maria understood, perhaps better than she would have wished. "Okay," she sighed, not pressing for any more answers. The questions were stressing Lena, and it wasn�t the best time for that, since she still had the fMRI ahead of her. "I hope you learn something that helps," she said honestly, then left any further questions for another time as she quietly explained the procedure in more detail.

Several minutes later, as she slid into the tight confines of the MRI tube, Lena closed her eyes, consciously pushing down the claustrophobic panic. Struggling to think about anything but the close confines and rattling din of sound around her, she found herself going back over her memories of Bianca Montgomery and summoning the memory of a heart shaped face and gentle features. The mental image was a comfort and she held it close even as she followed Maria�s instructions, clinging to the knowledge that the other woman was out there and still cared enough to want to see her. She didn�t know why that was so important to her, but it was, and so she held onto it tightly, silently imagining comforting arms wrapping around her and a gentle voice in her ear.

It chased off the terror a little and let her get through the tests without coming unglued, leaving her to wonder if it had been like that before, if they�d supported each other through other times, shared their strength when life became too much.

She could only hope.

* * * * * *

Maria entered Lena�s room on light feet, her eyes going directly to the figure lying silently in bed, her broken arm propped up on a pillow to raise it above the level of her heart and help keep any swelling at bay. It was a little after nine P.M. and Lena�s mother had left only a little over a half hour before, though not before reminding Maria of her promise not to let "that girl" anywhere near Lena.

A healthy measure of guilt prodded the doctor�s conscience as she remembered that she�d gotten around telling a bald-faced lie by agreeing not to let in anyone that Lena didn�t want to see. Now there was a bit of hair-splitting that any politician was likely to admire, leaving her to think that she really should have stayed out of this one. The problem was she knew and liked Bianca Montgomery, while Lena Kundera had a puppy dog look sure to melt the resolve of the hardest heart.

Then of course, there was the fact that she was the biggest soft touch in the county.

Maria felt a tiny surge of relief as she drew closer to the bed and noted that Lena�s eyes were closed, her breathing slow and even. Good. Maybe they could avoid the subject of Bianca visiting for another night. That would make her life a little easier because she felt like the biggest heel alive for not telling Paulina Kundera her daughter wanted to see her former lover.

The problem was she understood Lena�s desire perhaps better than the woman did herself. Even when she hadn�t remembered Edmund, had resented the way he knew her better than she knew herself, and had nearly hated him for the way he couldn�t let go of the past, there had been a part of her drawn to him. That old chemistry and curiosity had been there in spite of her discomfort with it, and when she looked at Lena she saw that same sense of being drawn to something without quite knowing why.

Unfortunately, there were so many things that Lena didn�t know, so much pain and so much evil, and the poor woman hadn�t a clue. Maybe Paulina Kundera was right in wanting to keep the two women apart. Maria honestly didn�t know.

Which was why it would be a relief if Lena would just sleep the night through and make the whole topic moot for another day or two. Sometimes a little avoidance was a good thing, and at the very least, that would delay any meeting until after Lena was released when it would no longer be Maria�s problem.

She was still musing on the fact that it looked like she�d actually gotten lucky for once when brown eyes slid open, peering blearily up at her. Full lips turned up in a hint of a worn smile. "Doctor Grey," Lena said softly.

So much for luck

, Maria thought, though her lips turned up in a hint of a genuinely fond smile. "I saw your mother out," she explained to reassure her patient. It surprised her, but she found she liked Lena Kundera. Soft spoken, thoughtful of the hospital personnel, and polite to a fault, the woman was handling a stressful situation surprisingly well.

"Thank you," Lena said, grateful to the doctor for looking after her mother when she was so alone in a strange country. "I hope you know I appreciate how kind you�ve been to her." Her lips curved into a wry twist. "I know she�s not always the easiest person in the world to deal with...and well...."

"She�s just afraid for her child," Maria replied honestly. "Believe me, I�d be a lot worse if one of my kids was hurt the way you were."

"Well, thank you anyway," Lena reiterated, then glanced away for the briefest moment as she drew in a deep breath, leaving Maria with the impression she was nerving herself up. When she looked up again, she seemed to settle herself, her expression turning deliberately neutral. Most of the time since losing her memory she�d seemed to be fairly open about her emotions, but the doctor was quickly learning to spot those moments when she put a protective wall into place. Though it was often very subtle, this time, it was screamingly obvious that she was trying to appear cool and collected when she was really nervous as hell. "Did you call her like you promised?" she asked.

Maria nodded. "I called Bianca." Despite her better judgment. "She should be here in a few minutes."

Dark eyes slid closed and a tiny, shuddery gasp escaped full lips while Lena�s uninjured hand trembled ever so slightly where it rested on the sheets. She drew in a breath, exhaled slowly, painfully aware of her suddenly racing heartbeat as she found herself wondering if this was such a good idea. She didn�t remember the woman, and according to Dr. Grey, they were no longer a couple. Perhaps the sense that she needed to see her again was nothing but a crossed signal in a very confused brain.

Seeing her patient�s obvious fear and confusion, Maria felt the need to remind her, "You know, if this is too much...if you�re not ready to see her, it�s not too late." Despite being torn between understanding what Lena was going through and some very real worries about the possible ramifications of this meeting, her primary concern was her patient�s health---both mental and physical. "I can still tell Bianca you�re not strong enough yet."

"No," Lena instantly rejected that option. Whatever her fears, she needed to do this. She swallowed hard, then moistened her lips, struggling to appear calm as she shook her head. "I want to see her," she insisted. "And you said she wants to see me."

Lena�s voice rose at the end in a questioning lilt, and Maria couldn�t deny her the truth and risk crushing the hope she saw in those eyes. Depression was starting to affect her mood. Understandable, but also a possible barrier to her getting better. She needed something to hold onto and if this was it, who was Maria to say otherwise? "She does," she confirmed, though she didn�t let on just how eager Bianca had been. "So I guess we�ll just see how it goes," she sighed, wondering how she�d wound up as the chaperon for the local lovelorn lesbian population.

Lena frowned, taking a moment to dissect the doctor�s words and tone. "You�re planning on staying while she�s here?" she asked when she spoke again.

"That was the plan, yes," Maria answered cautiously. Brown eyes flicked away, a subtle warning to the doctor that she wasn�t going to like the next part.

"I think it would be better if you left us alone," Lena murmured, her gaze coming back to the doctor only after she�d finished.

Oh, this just keeps getting better and better

, Maria thought as that pleading, puppy-dog look that had already been her undoing once before was turned her way. "I really don�t think that�s a good idea," she muttered defensively, her determination to keep a tight rein on the situation already starting to slip. After all, she had a pretty good idea what Lena was going through.

Lena took the comment the wrong way, her expression falling, pleading turning to hurt. "Y-you don�t think she�d want to see me alone?"

No way in hell was Maria cruel enough to let the Polish woman think that, especially when she was comfortably certain of Bianca�s wishes, and they didn�t include a chaperon. "That�s not what I meant," she said quickly. Brown eyes continued to reflect Lena�s worries and she found herself wanting to erase that frightened look. "I�m sure Bianca would prefer that I wasn�t here when you meet, but I really think it would be best if I stayed." Bad enough that she was letting Erica Kane�s youngest in when she�d been banished, but to leave her alone with the freedom to say whatever she wanted? No, that was not a good idea.

"Why?" Lena asked, hurt sliding over into confusion with quicksilver speed. "Do you think she�d hurt me in some way?" As far as she could tell, the doctor�s hesitance made no sense unless she was afraid of something bad happening.

"Of course not," Maria instantly dismissed that possibility. Whatever lay between those two, she wasn�t worried about Bianca intentionally harming Lena in any way. "It�s just that...it�s...I just think it would be best," she sighed. There was little else she could say without explaining far more of Lena�s recent history than she had any intention of doing.

Lena wasn�t in the mood to be put off. "I don�t understand why," she said, peering at her doctor closely. More than once since waking in the ICU she�d had the feeling that people were hiding things from her, that there were secrets her mother and the doctor didn�t want her to learn. "Are you keeping something from me?"

Maria froze for the briefest second, then shook her head. "No, of course not. It�s just that you�re my patient and just a couple of days ago, you were in the ICU, seizing...and seeing your ex...even if you don�t remember her...I�m just afraid it could get a little intense." It wasn�t the best explanation since she was making it up on the fly, but Lena appeared to be buying it. "Your health is still fragile and I just want to make sure you�re okay."

"I understand," Lena murmured, though she was still turning the doctor�s explanation over in her head, not entirely comfortable with it, though it made sense she supposed, "but I�m fine...and I�m sure Ms. Montgomery will call you if there�s a problem," she added with quiet determination, buying the explanation, but apparently not sold on anything else.

"I really think---"

"Alone," Lena said simply.

Maria drew breath to argue, but was interrupted by a soft knock on the door. And that would be....

Bianca Montgomery eased the door open, sticking her head into Lena�s hospital room a little hesitantly. The first thing she saw was wide brown eyes and a nervous smile. Drinking in the sight, Bianca hooked a thumb over her shoulder to indicate the corridor. "I wasn�t sure if I should wait or just come in," she said by way of a question.

"Please," Lena said instantly, "come in."

Bianca found herself nodding and stepping inside. She was aware of Maria, but had eyes only for the woman in the hospital bed.

"Thank you for stopping by, Doctor," Lena said softly, every bit as absorbed as Bianca, "but you don�t need to stay."

As dismissals went it was probably the most polite Maria had ever received. She started to refuse, then saw the stubborn set of Lena�s jaw. Technically, Maria was the one in charge, but she wasn�t going to win this battle---not without a hell of fight. She glanced at Bianca, then back at Lena. "I�ll be close," she said pointedly. "Just hit the call button if you need me." Turning away, she faced Bianca, her expression grim. "Not one word," she mouthed to the young woman in silent caution.

Bianca nodded her understanding and mouthed back, "Not one," her response shielded from Lena�s view by the doctor�s body.

Maria cast a quick glance over her shoulder at her patient, wondering how the hell she�d been so neatly maneuvered when she was supposed to be the one in charge. "Remember, just hit the call button if you need me."

A hint of a smile graced Lena�s mouth. Her answer was directed at the doctor, but her gaze remained locked on the young woman who�d just entered. "I doubt it will be necessary."

The doctor glanced back and forth between her patient and Bianca. The two were simply staring, the energy between them enough to make her feel like she�d evaporated out of existence and no one had seen fit to mention it. "Okay, then," she sighed, accepting that she didn�t belong here. "I�ll check back in a little while." She turned a hard gaze Bianca�s direction, though she doubted the young woman noticed. Her attention was focused elsewhere. "Just be careful and don�t tire her out. She�s already had a long day, and I don�t want to see any complications from this little visit."

"Don�t worry. We�ll keep things quiet," Bianca promised as she tore her eyes away from Lena and did a half turn to show what she hoped was a responsible, serious expression to the doctor. "And I�ll get you if there�s any sign of a problem." Maria nodded and Bianca watched her exit before pivoting back to face Lena, her heart in her throat, still half expecting to find herself facing all that repressed hostility she�d glimpsed the night of Lena�s accident. Instead, the only thing directed her way was a welcoming, if somewhat nervous, smile.

They both froze, back to staring at each other, totally at a loss for words.

Realizing her mouth was hanging open, Bianca snapped it shut, glancing down at her own feet as she tried to jump start her brain. She�d rehearsed so many clever comments, but couldn�t remember a one. She swallowed hard, folding her hands together at the small of her back. Studying Lena carefully from under the cover of thick lashes, she couldn�t miss the nervousness that bordered on actual fear. With Maria�s exit her former lover tensed, suddenly looking like a wild animal ready to bolt at the slightest sound, her eyes wide, muscles taut to the point of quivering faintly. "I was surprised when Maria called and said you wanted to see me," she said after a long moment in what she hoped was a soothing voice.

Abruptly wondering if perhaps she shouldn�t have sent the doctor away, Lena squelched a nervous jump when Bianca spoke. It had suddenly occurred to her that Bianca might well be suspicious or hostile after their last meeting, but she sounded calm and friend enough. "I wasn�t sure you�d come," she admitted when she finally spoke, her eyes dropping to where she was plucking at the sheets with her good hand, "especially after what happened before." A moment of uncomfortable silence passed, then she looked up again, the lost look in her eyes holding Bianca perfectly still, a little afraid of how any movement might be interpreted.

"That doesn�t matter," Bianca responded instantly, keeping her voice low and soothing as though she was speaking to a frightened animal or child.

"I wouldn�t have blamed you if you�d stayed away," Lena whispered, watching Bianca carefully in an effort to gauge what she was thinking, whether she was angry or feeling pressured to be there.

"I could never stay away if you needed me," Bianca swore. "Never." She took a careful step forward, watching Lena as she moved. "I�m just grateful that you�re alive and you�re going to be okay."

Lena paled and looked away again, but not before Bianca glimpsed her fear. This time there was no planning or care in the way the younger woman surged forward several steps, her tone urgent, her eyes scared. "You are going to be okay?" she demanded.

Slim shoulders dipped in a helpless shrug. "They�re still running tests," Lena said, her tone echoing her exhaustion with the entire subject. "They don�t seem to know why I can�t remember...so...." Another shrug.

Another hesitant step put Bianca next to the bed and she stared down at Lena, searching out familiar rises and hollows of her face, grateful to see that the cuts and bruises were starting to heal. "B-but you seem okay...I mean, aside from some missing time." Lena�s speech was clear, her eyes focused, and she seemed to track things well. No sign of any of the symptoms Bianca associated with brain damage.

Lena�s head dipped in an uncertain nod. "They keep telling me that there�s no sign of any other damage...or loss of function."

A small tremor shook Bianca as relief swept over her. "That�s good then," she exhaled.

"I suppose," Lena allowed, though it was hard to be very cheerful simply because things weren�t as bad as they could be when her brain wasn�t working the way it should. "I guess they�ll know more when the rest of the test results come in." Her mouth turned up in a wry smile. "Anyway, that�s not why I asked you to come."

Her eyes locked on Lena, Bianca pulled a nearby chair over and sank down into it. "Okay," she said cautiously.

Not knowing what to say, they were silent for a long moment, minds racing as they each struggled to formulate some kind of approach.

Lena tried first. "What happened when you were here before," she said at last, "the way my mother treated you...I�m so sorry about that." Even though she�d already broached the subject only to have it brushed aside, a formal apology seemed like a good opening gambit. And besides, she couldn�t think of anything else to say that didn�t sound slightly insane. Hello, I know you know me, and I don�t remember you, but I feel like I have to see you even though they tell me we aren�t together anymore, just didn�t seem to her like a good way to start a conversation.

"I told you, it doesn�t matter," Bianca assured her former lover with a dismissive wave of one hand. That was the least of her concerns.

"Yes, it does," Lena disagreed. "She shouldn�t have spoken to you that way." She looked down again, embarrassed by her mother�s behavior. Then again, maybe this wasn�t the best of topics. "There are just things she...she doesn�t understand." Definitely not the best of topics.

"Like the idea of two women in love?" Bianca asked gently, eager to simply blame it on that and keep Lena from considering any other possible reasons for the hostility.

Lena nodded, her embarrassment deepening. She couldn�t face Bianca as she quietly confessed. "She thinks such things are wrong...a sin...and that it�s not about love...just sex."

The color draining from her face, Bianca clenched her hands together in her lap to keep from reaching out to her former lover, something twisting tightly inside her in response to Lena�s words. How it must have hurt her to think that Bianca thought of her that way as well. "She said something in Polish," she reminded Lena, not giving herself time to think about things too deeply. "What did she tell you?" she needed to know how much Paulina might have said.

Lena still couldn�t look at Bianca, every word hurting her to speak. "That you cared nothing for me...were only using me. Nothing that matters." Finally, she looked up, her expression sad and lost, giving Bianca no opportunity to speak as she tried to explain, wanting to take away the pain she knew those words had to inflict, but also defend, or at least offer some understanding of her mother�s position. "I told you, she doesn�t understand. She thinks she�s protecting me. That�s why she acted that way." She glanced away, took a breath, then continued. "That�s why I..." she trailed off, the sentence unfinished.

"What?" Bianca prodded, sensing there was something important there that she needed to know.

"It�s nothing," Lena muttered, wishing she�d just remained silent.

"No," Bianca disagreed and shook her head, refusing to be put off. "It�s important. I can tell." So many times Lena had brushed things aside and refused to discuss her past. Not this time. "Talk to me."

Lena was silent for a moment, intensely aware of Bianca�s close perusal. "There was a girl...in Poland," she began at last in halting, uncomfortable syllables, "...when I was in my early teens. My mother found out...and she..." she paused momentarily, her gaze again dropping away, uncertain precisely what she was ashamed of, herself or her mother�s actions. Maybe both. "She was so angry...and so ashamed...so I just threw myself into my studies. It was easier...safer...and I knew I wouldn�t disappoint her that way." Again, she looked up, her eyes open windows to her soul in a way they never had been before, giving Bianca new insight into those old hurts and insecurities that Lena had at most only hinted at. "But I�m sure I�ve told you all of that," she muttered after a short beat.

"No," Bianca exhaled, aching for what Lena must have gone through and at the same time resentful that she�d never discussed it before, "you never did." She looked down, avoiding Lena�s gaze. "You didn�t talk about your past much."

Lena frowned ever so slightly, clearly surprised. "Oh," she exhaled.

Bianca could almost see the gears turning in Lena�s head. She was starting to have doubts and formulate questions. "I think you�d probably gotten past it by the time we were together," she said quickly, not wanting to let her former lover go too far down that path, afraid it would open up topics she couldn�t discuss. She could see the curiosity and discomfort in her former lover�s eyes. "It�s nothing to worry about." A hint of a soothing smile touched her lips.

"I suppose." Lena desperately wanted to ask more questions, but wasn�t certain how well they�d be received, something in the younger woman�s manner warning her off. She drew a breath to ask only to think better of it and leave the words unspoken.

Bianca heard the little hitch in Lena�s breathing and saw the way she started to speak. "What is it?" she encouraged.

"It�s nothing," Lena demurred, afraid of making the other woman uncomfortable or perhaps of learning something she wasn�t ready to hear.

"You started to say something," Bianca disagreed. "Go ahead."

"It was just a question."

"You can ask me anything."

"Dr. Grey said we were no longer a couple," Lena admitted. "I was wondering why." She peered up at Bianca, openly curious.

Momentarily paralyzed, Bianca�s breath caught, trapped in her lungs as she found herself wishing she�d just kept her mouth shut because there was no graceful way to tell that story without revealing things that would cause nothing but grief and doubtless get her banished from Lena�s presence. Dr. Grey had been very clear about avoiding everything to do with Michael Cambias and the last year. She swallowed hard, brain racing as she searched for a way to answer Lena�s question without saying too much. "Stupid misunderstandings," she said at last. "Nothing that mattered." She leaned forward, running her eyes over Lena�s body, taking in the evidence of the accident that could have killed her. "Especially not now." She wanted desperately to touch, to renew some measure of the intense physical connection that had always been such an inherent aspect of their relationship, but was afraid of moving too quickly or overwhelming her former lover.

That barely began to salve Lena�s curiosity. "But it was enough to---"

"We were trying to put things back together," Bianca blurted out. She saw Lena pull up short, her eyes wide. "Nobody knew," she continued quickly. In a way it even felt like the truth, though she suspected Lena might have argued given some of the things she�d said during that last fight. "I mean we weren�t ready to share it with anyone...but we...we were trying...and things...they were moving forward...." She trailed off, quickly running out of poorly planned lies.

Her mouth hanging open, Lena could only stare. "We were keeping it secret?" she questioned when she finally spoke again.

"Yes," Bianca confirmed.

Another beat followed as Lena absorbed that news. Finally, she tipped her chin up, peering seriously at Bianca. "Was it because of my mother...was I hiding it from her?"

The question caught Bianca completely by surprise, and she had no ready response.

"It was, wasn�t it?" Lena whispered when Bianca still hadn�t spoken a moment later. "I made you keep things secret to hide it from her, didn�t I?"

Lena�s interpretation of the situation was so far off that Bianca truly didn�t know how to respond.

Taking her former lover�s silence for affirmation, Lena flinched as though struck. No wonder they�d had problems. She�d probably been so busy trying to keep secrets that Bianca had felt unloved---something Lena instinctively knew wasn�t the case. "That�s it...and you...that�s why we..." she trailed to a halt, then whispered, "It must have made you feel awful---"

"No," Bianca broke in at last, shaking her head as she stammered out a weak denial, "it wasn�t...wasn�t that...that simple---"

Unfortunately, Bianca�s stumbling efforts to put Lena�s fears to rest without actually explaining anything only made things worse, convincing the Polish woman that her worst fears were right on target. "Stop lying. You�re not very good at it," she exhaled heavily, the sorrow in her tone temporarily silencing Bianca. Lena knew about lies. She�d spent most of her life telling one lie or another; to protect her family�s secrets, to protect her mother, to protect herself. Had she hurt Bianca with those lies? The idea sickened her. "Just tell me the truth. I was trying to keep my mother from learning the truth, wasn�t I?" Her voice threatened to crack and she couldn�t look at Bianca. "I probably thought I was protecting her. Since my father died, I...." She didn�t finish, instead dropping her eyes to focus on Bianca. "And I hurt you," she breathed, amazed by how easily she read the other woman�s emotions. Bianca just shook her head, but Lena was certain she�d finally figured out what was going on. "I can see it in your eyes."

"No," Bianca rasped, shaking her head, her voice little more than a ragged shadow of itself.

Lena barely heard the weak protestation. "I�m sorry," she whispered, overwhelmed by the magnitude of what she was sure she�d done. God knew, she�d made similar mistakes before, sublimating her own needs to hide her true nature, avoiding relationships and burying herself in school to escape the fear of being cut off from the only family she had left, determined to make a success of herself as though that would undo all the ugly things in her past. She�d hurt people before, and it seemed clear that she�d done so again. "I�m sure I never meant to hurt you...and I just...god, I�m sorry," she breathed. It was the only thing she could think of to say. "So sorry---"

"Stop apologizing," Bianca burst out sharply enough that Lena flinched and instantly fell silent. Her head down, tears blurring her vision, Bianca didn�t see. "Just stop," she pleaded, her own guilt a hard lash that ripped a fresh stripe across her emotions with each apology Lena wrongly felt the need to offer. All she could think of was that night and the way Lena had stormed off, so angry and hurt.

And it was all her fault. If she just hadn�t let Lena think those things, she wouldn�t have cracked up her car and she wouldn�t have been injured. She�d be fine and not lying in a damned hospital bed.

"But I---" Lena started to whisper.

Lost in her own tortured emotions, Bianca didn�t hear. She shook her head slowly, unable to look at her former lover as she croaked, "You didn�t do anything wrong...nothing...." She rubbed helplessly at the few tears that escaped in spite of her best efforts to contain them.

Bianca�s obvious pain breaking through her own wall of guilt, Lena pulled up short, staring at the young woman with wide eyes as she struggled to understand. "If I hurt you somehow---" She still couldn�t quite believe she wasn�t responsible in some way.

"No," Bianca cut her off. She shook her head, looking up to stare at her former lover through a watery haze. "You didn�t," she rasped. "It was me," the words burst from her lips. "It was my fault." She looked down again, unable to face the clear, innocent gaze directed her way for long. "God, if I hadn�t...." Unable to continue, she choked to a halt.

"What?" Lena questioned when Bianca still hadn�t spoken a long moment later.

Unable to face Lena, Bianca stared resolutely at her hands where they were folded together in her lap. "I told you we were trying to put things back together," she confessed, the words coming in halting, disjointed syllables that rapidly gained momentum, turning word by word into an uncontrolled tumble. "We were together that night...and...and...we argued...it was stupid...but I just...I screwed up...and you went away angry...driving too fast and...you crashed your car...and I...I didn�t even know...you could have died...and I didn�t even know...." She couldn�t continue, the words too hard to speak, and certainly couldn�t look up, too afraid of seeing distrust and hostility return to familiar brown eyes that normally offered so much safety and protection. Tension rippled through the young woman when a warm, remarkably gentle hand suddenly covered her own.

"Bianca," Lena�s voice was low, worried, and innately seductive enough to send a shiver of awareness down the younger woman�s spine despite the difficult situation.

Bianca swallowed hard, barely able to breathe, afraid to let herself hope too much.

"I�m not sure what happened," Lena began carefully, her words unplanned, the only thing she was certain of that the young woman in front of her was no more responsible for her accident than the tooth fairy, "but I am certain that I�m an adult...that I know better than to drive too fast...though one can�t generally tell that by my driving according to several friends." They teased her unmercifully whenever she was able to borrow a car, that she was going to drive to her death one day. Apparently some things hadn�t changed with the passage of a few years. She rubbed the rise of Bianca�s knuckles lightly with her outstretched hand. "Whatever happened before the accident, this isn�t your fault. It�s my doing."

"You don�t understand," Bianca broke in. If Lena just knew the truth, she wouldn�t be so kind and certainly wouldn�t offer any absolution. "I knew you were upset...that I�d hurt you...and I shouldn�t have let you go that night. None of what we were fighting about was important enough to justify your being hurt. If I�d just stopped you, you would have been safe."

"How could you have stopped me from leaving?" Lena demanded gently. "Locked me in a closet?"

"No, of course not," Bianca insisted and wanted to say far more, but unable to explain her own guilt, could only mumble, "but I shouldn�t have let you go the way you did."

"Bianca, I don�t know exactly what happened," Lena sighed, a little startled by her need to alleviate the other woman�s obvious guilt, "but I do know that each of us is responsible for the decisions we make in this life." Unaware of the fresh wave of guilt her innocent words triggered, she continued, "No matter what was said, I�m still the one who drove too fast on wet pavement...at best a foolish choice. That�s not your fault." When Bianca didn�t reply, just stared down their hands, her expression shielded by the fall of her hair, Lena continued, "If you�d had any idea what would happen, would you have stopped me?"

"Of course I would have," Bianca swore as she looked up again, "and if I�d known you were hurt, I would have been here..." her voice faded momentarily, emotion making it hard to speak. "Nothing could have kept me away...nothing." The intensity of her proclamation caught both of them by surprise, and they froze, Lena because of the confusing array of emotions she didn�t quite understand, Bianca because it suddenly came home to her just how true those words were. She doubted herself in so many ways, but she would have been there for Lena if she�d known. For the first time since learning of the accident, she truly believed that. She�d failed Lena in plenty of ways, pushed her away and hurt her, but if she�d known what would happen that night, she would have done anything necessary to protect her, and she would have been there if she�d any idea Lena was hurt.

Held in the trap of those eyes, Lena�s breath caught, her pulse abruptly racing. "Then don�t torment yourself," she whispered. "I certainly don�t blame you."

"Thank you," Bianca croaked, emotion making it hard to speak.

The intensity of the moment enough to leave her breathless, Lena dropped her gaze, brushing Bianca�s hand lightly with her own in a tactile offer of comfort. As she watched, one of Bianca�s hands turned under hers, the lightest of caresses brushing her palm then trailing along her fingertips. Up to that point she hadn�t let herself consider all of the things their relationship had doubtless entailed. In an instant she couldn�t think of anything else. Slender and graceful, those hands had touched her body. She couldn�t remember it, but there was a sort of sensory afterimage, as though the flesh still knew what the mind had forgotten. She glanced up, a tiny shudder making its way through her when she saw Bianca�s expression; intelligent, caring, and full of complexity and the memory of things Lena had no knowledge of.

It was too much.

Overwhelmed and just a little frightened, not of Bianca, but of her own responses, Lena tugged lightly on the hand bound to the other woman�s.

Feeling Lena pull away, Bianca momentarily tightened her hold, not yet ready to release that small physical connection. After everything that had happened, it felt so damn reassuring to simply hold Lena�s hand, feel her warmth and the touch of her skin and know she was alive. Lena continued to pull, becoming uneasy, and slender fingers twisted in Bianca�s grasp in an effort to work their way free. Would another moment bring fear to those eyes? Bianca couldn�t bear that idea and opened her hand, unspeakably bereft when Lena broke the contact and settled her hand on the sheets at her side. Afraid she�d pushed things too far or fast, she tried to apologize. "I�m sorry if I---"

"You didn�t do anything wrong," Lena assured her before she got any further.

Noting the way Lena suddenly wouldn�t look at her, and the way she hunched her shoulders as though she was drawing inside of herself, Bianca was inclined to disagree. "Obviously I�ve made you feel uncomfortable," she pointed out gently.

A small sigh escaped full lips. "It�s all just a little...confusing," Lena admitted, feeling bad about her response, but overwhelmed and a little bewildered all the same. She tried to explain. "I don�t know you...and yet...there are feelings...and when I look at you I can see so much emotion. I don�t know what to do or how to react."

Uncertain what to say or do that might offer some kind of comfort, Bianca could only say, "I can�t imagine what it must be like for you."

Lena finally risked a look at the other woman, strangely soothed by the caring she saw directed her way. "It�s a little frightening," she admitted, the simple act of speaking the words somehow making the fear a little easier for her to bear. "Sometimes it feels like people are looking at me...expecting something...or someone...like they know me and expect me to know things I don�t. And sometimes it feels like there are secrets they�re keeping from...things I should know, but no one will tell me." She�d felt the eyes of the nurses and technicians watching her, sometimes feeling as though conversations were quickly aborted when she entered a room. "I didn�t even know I had a lover. God, what else haven�t I been told?"

Trying to imagine what that would be like, words like raw, exposed, vulnerable coming to mind, Bianca just wanted to wrap Lena in her arms and protect her from anything and everything. At the same time, there was a curious sort of relief. She was talking to Lena, but with all the ugliness and pain between them neatly erased. In spite of the guilt, or perhaps because of it, she could almost pretend none of it had happened, that they were simply innocent lovers separated by an accident and an unsympathetic world. That denial allowed her to quietly ask, "What do you want to know?" and mean it. It wasn�t that she intended to lie, just that the images in her head, and those she intended to share weren�t those darker times.

It took Lena a moment to process Bianca�s offer, and when she did a hint of a frown touched her brow. "Are you sure the doctor would approve?" she asked. Instinct told her that Dr. Grey had probably warned Bianca not to discuss certain topics.

Bianca shrugged. "Maybe not," she allowed, "but I�m not sure that�s important." Seeing a hint of trust returning to dark eyes, she carefully reached out, just barely touching a fine-boned hand. "I can�t answer everything...but maybe I can make things a little easier."

Lena paused, amazed to find that she suddenly couldn�t think of a single question to ask despite the myriad of them that had plagued her since waking in ICU. "I-I guess..." She was tempted to ask about the fight that Bianca felt had driven her out into the night and left so much guilt in its wake, but something held her back. Perhaps just the idea of causing Bianca further pain, or perhaps she was afraid of upsetting the delicate balance they seemed to have achieved. "How did we meet?" she asked the first question she thought of that seemed fairly safe.

Careful to keep her expression neutral, Bianca tried not to let her relief show. Thankfully, Lena had asked something so easily answered without venturing too close to forbidden topics or requiring a lie. "You were applying for a job in my mother�s company."

A hint of a thoughtful frown touched Lena�s brow. She kept forgetting she hadn�t been a student in years."Did I get it?"

"You did."

Lena wasn�t sure how she felt about that. "So I chased the boss� daughter?" she murmured doubtfully.

"No," Bianca said. "It wasn�t like that. It was..." she paused, then tried again. "I think any chasing was pretty mutual." Lena didn�t know about the bet with Boyd and now hardly seemed like the time to tell her. "We were both pretty fascinated with each other...but it was initially a working relationship. I was trying to learn the business and you were always willing to take the time to explain financial things to me...so we talked and later did things together...sometimes met for breakfast on the way to work...or shared dinner after." A genuine smile curved the young woman�s mouth as she remembered those better times, talking about them reminding her of the genuine pleasure she�d found in the Polish woman�s company. "We had a lot of fun...and over time it became something more." She paused, giving Lena time to absorb her version of events. It might not be the entire truth, but it was still true enough.

"So we were friends first?" Lena murmured when she finally spoke.

Bianca nodded in confirmation. "Uh-huh...though we flirted from the first," she said, a smile teasing her lips as she remembered that first innocent encounter, "but it was awhile before it went beyond that." She didn�t want Lena to think it was something either of them had rushed into.

"You�re younger than I am." It hadn�t really struck Lena at first---she was used to thinking of herself as younger than logic told her she was---but now it did, the realization feeling vaguely uncomfortable as though perhaps she�d done something wrong.

"Yes," Bianca admitted the obvious, "but it never seemed to matter to either of us." Without pausing to consider her actions, she scooted her chair a little closer, peering deeply into Lena�s eyes, relieved to see no signs of rejection, though there was a definite worried cast. "If you�re afraid that you somehow took advantage, you didn�t. Anything between us was completely mutual." Odd how freeing it was to say those words. She�d spent so much time doubting the sincerity of Lena�s emotions, but looking back through a new prism, she could see that genuine attraction far more clearly. It had been there from those first moments in small, subtle ways. Boyd might have been Lena�s target, but in retrospect Bianca had to admit that she�d been the one that Lena had paid attention to, the one who�d caused her voice to take on that inviting note, and who�d drawn her watchful gaze and easy smile. "I wanted," it was tempting to simply say, I wanted you, but Bianca sensed Lena wouldn�t be comfortable with anything that obvious and changed tack mid-sentence, "...to know you better from the first time we met."

Bianca�s brief pause and carefully avoided, but obvious suggestive phrasing sent a shiver coursing through Lena and she looked away, her chest suddenly tight, Bianca�s expression driving home that it very likely hadn�t been a simple, platonic affair. Still, she wasn�t quite certain. The chemistry between them didn�t necessarily mean they�d already followed through on it. Her lips moved, shaping the words, but she had a hard time speaking. She took a fresh breath, tried again. "Are we...I mean...have we...." Embarrassed heat suffusing her cheeks, she stumbled to a halt, unable to gracefully ask the question plaguing her mind.

"Are we lovers? Have we made love?" Bianca finished both questions for her. "Yes." It was that first night she thought back on as she spoke, and the remembered sweetness and passion made her voice throb with emotion. She leaned a little closer, intensely aware of the texture of Lena�s skin where their fingers were just barely touching. "The first time I was hurting and needed you so much...and you were there for me. You held me...made me feel so safe and so cared for...so loved...." Her voice tight with emotion, Bianca trailed off and took a moment to gather herself together before continuing. "No matter what happened, I�ve always felt that way in your arms," she whispered when she finally spoke again. "And I can only hope you�ve found a little bit of that peace with me." It was hard to say the words because it was what she wanted to believe, but at the same time she knew all too well it probably wasn�t the case. It was primarily a lie of omission, but it was one Bianca needed to tell almost as much as she needed Lena to hear it.

Her chest tight and aching, Lena could only stare for a long moment. They�d been intimate. Lovers. Alternately hot and cold, she didn�t quite know what to make of that knowledge, but seeing Bianca�s obvious lack of confidence that her emotions were returned snapped her out of the brief paralysis. Wanting to ease that self doubt, Lena impulsively stroked the hand so close to her own. "I�m sure I did," she whispered to offer some reassurance. "I can�t imagine I�d have..." Uncertain how to phrase what she wanted to say, she verbally stumbled for a beat before finishing, "...have been with you if I didn�t."

It should have been so easy to lie after everything she�d already said, but any simple response died unspoken on the tip of Bianca�s tongue. "Maybe," she said at last, the single word the only thing she could think of that neatly balanced on the dividing line between a lie she couldn�t tell and the truth she couldn�t bear.

Lena stroked Bianca�s hand again, her touch almost too light to be felt. Almost. Dark eyes honed in on and tracked the tiny caress with unerring accuracy.

Her heart running fast, a little frightened by the intensity of the moment, but drawn to it all the same, Lena debated her response, then simply whispered, "I�m sure of it." And she was. She didn�t know what had happened between them, but she couldn�t imagine looking into Bianca Montgomery�s eyes and feeling anything but safe and cared for.

Staring at features that were elegantly striking in spite of any cuts or bruises, Bianca found herself smiling in spite of herself. Even if it was offered in ignorance of the truth, Lena�s absolution meant far more than she could express. "I hope so," she said, not needing to lie this time.

After that they were both silent for a long moment, as though they�d both found some measure of peace in things both spoken and unspoken.

Without the twin pressures of fear and excitement to keep her going, weariness caught up with Lena and she settled more deeply into the mattress, her eyelids growing heavier.

Seeing her former lover�s obvious fatigue, Bianca frowned, worried that perhaps she�d pushed Lena too far and risked her health. "You�re tired," she said softly. "Maybe I should go."

Lena shook her head, catching Bianca�s hand in a surprisingly firm grasp when she seemed about to pull away. "Please, don�t." She wasn�t ready for things to end. Not yet. "Talk to me."

A thrill slid through Bianca. In spite of everything, Lena wanted her to stay, trusted her enough to want to hear more. She�d already said more than she should have---certainly more than Dr. Grey would have preferred---but she didn�t have it in her to refuse the other woman�s request. "What about?" It was risk to ask---Lena could ask a question she couldn�t answer---but she didn�t know what else to do.

It was on the tip of Lena�s tongue to say, �Anything.� Bianca�s voice was comforting, making the world seem less alien and more like she had a place in it, but a little embarrassed by what felt like her own cowardice, she was in no hurry to confess that much. "Tell me about our times together...what we talked about or did...."

In no hurry to leave, Bianca nodded. "Okay." She gave herself a moment to think before she began, the details of better times spilling out in a low, soothing tones. "One of the first times we did something together, we went to a trunk show...then dinner afterward. I don�t think we�d have ever gone home if they hadn�t insisted on closing the restaurant...."

Tired but fascinated, Lena asked an occasional question, but mostly just listened, letting Bianca weave the story around her, comforted by the picture the younger woman painted of a sweet, gentle love affair. It was a relief to hear, squelching her hidden fears that there was some kind of secret everyone was keeping from her. Listening to the younger woman�s voice and hearing the genuine affection in her voice, she realized her worries had been more a matter of paranoia than reality. Waking to find that she was apparently missing five years of her life was a trying experience at best, making it too easy for the brain to seize on the tiniest things and build them into impossible scenarios. God knew, she�d had to fight that temptation, especially when her mother played such secretive games. Bianca�s version of their relationship eased those fears, making it clear that five years hadn�t changed her basic character.

Her eyelids fluttering, sleep hovering at the edges of her consciousness, Lena found herself wondering if the other woman had any idea of the gift she�d given. By simply talking to her and not putting her off, Bianca had chased off the worst of the clinging worries, giving her a new peace of mind. It let her relax for once, instead of fighting the encroaching loss of consciousness. When she settled her hand over Bianca�s it felt completely natural to do so, just like it felt totally natural when Bianca leaned close enough that Lena could feel the warmth of her breath. That soft voice still playing in her ears, she studied the shape of those eyes, then moved on, taking in the rounded curve of jaw and cheeks, the perfect cupid�s bow of pink lips. She�d tasted that mouth not so long ago, and she tried to remember what the sensation must have been like. Had the kisses been soft or firm, quick, or had Bianca�s mouth clung to her own, stretching the contact until they were both moaning and pleading for more?

Soft and clinging. Definitely soft and clinging.

She suddenly realized that Bianca had fallen silent, and was simply staring at her, so close now Lena could see her own reflection in inky black pupils.

"Lena," the younger woman breathed and lifted a hand to tenderly brush her cheek.

Had it always been like this, this overarcing surge of desire and emotion that swept a body up and drove everything else out? Like being caught in a powerful undertow, it left no room for anything else in its wake, and for a moment Lena almost forgot where she was, even who she was. She didn�t feel like she knew this woman, certainly didn�t feel like her lover, and yet she couldn�t deny the potent chemistry that simmered between them.

Then the soft creak of a door, footsteps, and a throat being cleared interrupted the moment.

Maria supposed she should have been surprised to find them like that, absorbed in one another, breath mingling in the scant space between them, only moments from doing something likely to get her killed by Paulina Kundera if the woman ever found out she�d had a hand in it. Oh yeah, those two weren�t likely to let a little thing like a lack of memory keep them from repeating their mistakes. Which was why she got to be the evil adult and break up this little party. "Sorry, kids, but Lena needs her rest." She turned a firm look Bianca�s way. "And it�s time for you to be on your way for the night, Bianca."

Bianca�s expression fell and she rose stiffly, abruptly self-conscious in the wake of Maria�s arrival. "Thank you," she said softly, casting nervous glances at Lena between almost every word, "for making this possible."

"It was what Lena wanted," Maria replied, making it clear that her loyalties lay with her patient.

"Thank you anyway," Bianca said softly. She got the message loud and clear.

Noting the way the Polish woman was watching Bianca, her gaze hungry and curious, Maria was far from certain she�d done the right thing. That sort of look portended continued curiosity of a sort all too likely to be noticed by Paulina Kundera. Given the elder Kundera�s emotions where Bianca was concerned and the lover�s recent past, it seemed entirely too probable that the whole situation would blow up in their faces. So why was it she couldn�t help but root for the two of them just a little?

Oh yeah, she�d been there, just as confused and scared and hopelessly lost as either of them could hope to be, and still somehow found her way back to Edmund. He�d been her anchor, giving her back her life, her family, and her children when she�d thought she might just go mad.

That made it very hard for her to maintain anything approaching neutrality no matter how hard she tried.

She abruptly realized both women were staring expectantly at her and dipped her head in a brief, understanding nod.

Turning back to face Lena, Bianca smiled tenderly. "Dr. Grey�s right. I should be going. I don�t want to tire you out."

Reaching out, Lena just barely brushed Bianca�s fingertips with her own, intensely aware of the brief warmth of the contact. "Thank you for coming...and for...everything."

"I�m just glad you wanted to see me," Bianca whispered in broken syllables, emotion making it hard to speak.

Maria experienced that curious sense of ceasing to exist once again as the two women stared at each other.

"Always," Lena breathed.

Then Maria winked back into existence as Lena flicked a quick glance her way as if seeking approval before saying anything more. Strange as it might seem the doctor knew exactly what her patient was going to say before the words left her mouth.

"Will you come again?"

Then it was Bianca�s turn to remember they weren�t alone as she turned a hopeful gaze her way. Maria drew breath to refuse---one visit was already taking more of a chance than she could ethically justify---only she couldn�t do it. She could see the need they were both struggling with, while Lena seemed more at peace than she had since waking. She was still mentally debating the gap between the dictates of logic and emotion when Bianca decided to take advantage of the situation.

Leaning down, the young woman turned a reassuring smile Lena�s way. "Tomorrow night...after your mother�s gone," she glanced at Maria, "if Doctor Grey will allow it."

Sneaky, very sneaky.

Teeth grinding together in frustrated resentment, Maria found herself hit with that pleading, puppy-dog look, only in stereo now. Oh hell. Damn Bianca for putting her in this position. And damn her own inability to be as hard hearted as she ought to be. "All right," she sighed after a beat, surrendering though not especially gracefully. "I�ll call you after Paulina leaves." Besides, she reminded herself, if you don�t help, Bianca will just try to sneak in anyway.

"There you go," Bianca murmured, her attention returning to her former lover. Her gaze touched on full lips and she was incredibly tempted to steal a quick kiss, but it would be a mistake. There had been a moment there when Lena might have allowed it, but that was gone now. "I�ll be back tomorrow night, so until then you just do what the doctors tell you and concentrate on getting better, okay?" Having given up her chance at a kiss, Bianca didn�t miss the opportunity to caress a velvety cheek, just barely brushing her knuckles along the graceful arch, absorbing the texture and warmth of living flesh.

Lena allowed the contact, a small, shy smile making it clear the gesture wasn�t unwelcome. "I�ll do my best," she promised, "but in return I want your promise that you won�t feel guilty for things that aren�t your responsibility, okay?"

Maria�s ears pricked, her gaze sharpening as she paid close attention to the subtle undercurrents between the two women. What the hell had they talked about? Nothing too close to the truth she was sure, since she couldn�t imagine Lena looking that relaxed if she�d found out what she�d been up to for the last few years, but definitely not just the weather either.

"I�ll do my best," Bianca assured her former lover, while Maria resolved to ask some very pertinent questions before letting the young woman leave.

"You do that," Lena murmured.

"I will."

"Okay, time for the party to break up," Maria interceded, comfortably certain their goodbyes would last all night if given the chance. She rested a hand lightly on Bianca�s shoulder as she directed a smile Lena�s way. "You two can pick things up again tomorrow...but right now I think it�s time for you to get some rest."

In spite of any temptation to argue, Lena nodded, accepting the doctor�s wisdom. The fatigue was rolling over her, making it hard to keep her eyes open. "Goodnight...and thank you again," she murmured to Bianca, sharing a tender smile.

"I�ll be back," the younger woman promised even as Maria guided her out.

"I know," Lena breathed, though the door had already closed in Bianca�s wake. Her brow furrowing thoughtfully, she lifted her right hand, rubbing the pad of her thumb lightly against her fingertips, startled by how powerful the tactile memory of Bianca�s skin against her own was. "I know."

* * * * * *

As they stepped out Lena�s hospital room, Bianca pulled away from Dr. Grey, her head still whirling. Beset with so many pressures from within and without, she�d almost forgotten, or perhaps more correctly hadn�t allowed herself to remember, those early good times when it had seemed like the world was a better place just because Lena was in it. Those innocent pleasures had become almost unreal, like some romantic movie she�d seen, but which had starred someone else.

Now, for the first time in over a year, those memories felt real again. Telling their story had reminded her of all those old feelings, the sweetness and caring, the tenderness of Lena�s hand on hers, the warmth of her voice, and the oddly shy smile she�d often turned Bianca�s way that had been meant for her alone.

After so many months of doubting Lena and punishing her lover and herself for all of their mistakes, it was startling to realize she�d found so much comfort in sharing those good times, Lena�s faith in her bringing them back to life and giving them meaning again.

It was Dr. Grey�s voice that broke in on her silent musings. "Bianca?"

"Mm?" the young woman murmured, her tone distant, in no hurry to have the outside world intrude on her most private thoughts.

"I�d like to know what happened in there." Lena was her patient. Maria needed to know what questions she might face.

Bianca paused, but didn�t turn, not liking the reminder that she�d undoubtedly said more than she should have. "We just talked," she responded, careful to keep her tone neutral.

Wouldn�t look at her, nonspecific answers in a too-flat voice. That looked to Maria like guilt in brilliant Technicolor. "About what?" she asked, hoping her tone made it clear she wouldn�t be easily put off.

Bianca got the message loud and clear. She did a slow turn, wincing at the suspicion she saw directed her way, hating that anyone considered her untrustworthy where Lena was concerned. "Nothing that will hurt her," she said, hoping that would forestall any further questions, loathe to share anything of their time together.

"Go on," Maria instructed, her look deadly serious in a way that promised consequences if her questions weren�t answered.

Slender shoulders slumping in defeat, Bianca exhaled a heavy sigh. "She kept asking questions, so I told her about some of the good times, that�s all. Nothing about business or Michael or anything like that."

She looked so hangdog that Maria pitied her, but she couldn�t afford to let that show. Bianca was testing boundaries, and for Lena�s sake and her family�s sake, even for Bianca�s sake, Maria had to make it clear the risks inherent if she made a mistake. "Be very careful, Bianca---" she began.

"I would never willingly hurt her," Bianca swore before the doctor got any farther.

"I believe you," Maria assured her, but she was experienced enough to know that some of the worst hurts in the world weren�t intentionally inflicted, "but I�m not sure you appreciate that she�s not the same woman you knew...that she�s lost a big chunk of her life and it�s left her younger and a lot more inexperienced. That means you�re now the one with all the knowledge and the power...and you need to be very careful about what you do with that."

Resenting the weight of responsibility, but at the same time hungry for it, Bianca didn�t quite know how to respond. Used to a different dynamic to her relationship with Lena, it was hard to accept they�d traded places. At the same time, she had a right and a duty to be there. "I didn�t tell her anything that could hurt her," she said resolutely, not allowing herself to consider anything else.

Maria squelched a disapproving sigh, wondering if the young woman had any idea what she was doing and what she was risking. Probably not and perhaps that was for the best. If she really grasped the seriousness of the situation, Bianca might well decide to run like hell, and for good or ill, Lena seemed to need her right now. All of which left the doctor with very few choices, none of them ideal. "I�m going to trust you because she seems to need you right now...but I strongly suggest you keep in mind that her memory is very likely to return...and even if it doesn�t, she�s going to learn the truth sooner or later." Under the circumstances, it seemed like the best thing she could do was try and make Bianca stop and think about what she was doing in hopes she�d avoid the minefield Maria could see lying ahead of her. "I�ve sat on the staff to keep things quiet, but that�s not going to work forever."

"But I didn�t tell her anything to do with any of that."

Which was only a small part of what had Maria worried. "I understand that," she said softly, "but that�s not all that�s going on here." Bianca only shook her head in confusion, driving the doctor to try again. "You can�t tell her the truth right now, but you need to walk a very fine line, because if you go too far the other direction...make it sound like everything was sunshine and roses, you�re setting her up for a hell of a fall."

Bianca took that for an accusation. "I�m not trying to---"

"I know that," Maria said sharply, then softened her voice, "but sometimes we hurt people without meaning to...which is why I�m telling you to be careful and think about what you�re doing. This situation puts a lot on you, and if you can�t handle it---"

"I can," Bianca broke in, then paused for a brief moment before continuing, her voice low and serious. "Look, I know I�ve screwed up a lot," she admitted when she spoke again. "And I don�t blame you for not trusting me...but I...I care for Lena, and I wouldn�t do anything I thought would hurt her...not now...not when she�s...." Bianca couldn�t finish, and finally just shook her head and muttered, "Not now."

"Okay," Maria sighed after a beat. "Just think about what I said." She got a nod in return, and opted not to press things any farther. There were plenty of secrets that had no business coming out in this mess, not all of them things Lena didn�t know. There were that had been kept from Bianca as well, and this wasn�t time to reveal them. "Okay...go on home." She glanced past Bianca�s shoulder, then back at the girl. "Would you like me to have someone from security escort you to your car?"

Bianca shook her head. "No, I�m parked right next to the entrance."

"You sure?" Maria questioned, even more cautious than she might normally be given what had happened to Bianca.

The girl nodded. Taking a step back, she started to turn to leave only to change her mind and turn back. "Thank you for letting me see her...and for taking such good care of her," she said softly, uncertain the doctor had any idea what it all meant to her. "I know she�s in the best hands."

"We�ll take the best possible care of her," Maria promised. "And I�ll do everything I can to help you see her again tomorrow night," she added, sensing how hard it was for Bianca to leave Lena this way.

Bianca nodded and turned to go only to be pulled back by the soft timbre of Maria�s voice.

"And, Bianca, anything I�m saying isn�t because I think you did anything wrong. What I saw in there was a woman who appeared more at peace than she�s been since she woke in my care...and that�s not my doing, it�s yours." The young woman needed to hear where she�d done right as well as the possible mines along her path.

Maria paused long enough to take a breath and marshal her thoughts. "When I lost my memory," she began, hesitant to make things personal, but unable to say what she needed without doing so, "I was so scared...and so alone. I had no one to turn to. Sometimes I don�t know how I survived...." She trailed off for a moment, a little surprised by how hard it was to discuss that part of her past. As many times as she�d gone over it in her head and with Edmund, there was still a clinging emotion that was dangerously akin to shame. Five lost years of her life guaranteed that she could never be completely free from self doubt and the temptation to berate herself for not being strong enough to question David Hayward�s story or find the truth.

Five lost years.

Maria had to fight a shudder of horror as she remembered the fear and loneliness, both such constants in her life that sometimes it was still hard to be free of their weight. "She needs you, Bianca," she reached out, barely touching the young woman�s upper arm. "She may not be as alone as I was, but I think she feels that way, and I know she�s scared. I think you can help her. I just want to make sure it doesn�t go wrong and wind up hurting you both...because I know too well just how hard it can be to face yourself, the things you�ve done and the mistakes you�ve made."

Feeling almost as lost as she suspected Maria had, Bianca nodded, almost envying Lena�s lack of memory. "I just want to do what�s right." If only she knew what that was.

Maria took pity. "I know," she assured the young woman.

For a moment Bianca looked like she wanted to say more, but finally she shook her head. "I should probably be going, and you need to get back to her."

"Take care of yourself," Maria said gently, wishing there was more she could do.

Offering a wan smile, Bianca nodded in acknowledgment, then turned and all but fled without further word.

Her expression sad, Maria watched her go, waiting until the elevator doors closed in Bianca�s wake. The doctor waited a beat, then straightened her shoulders, purposely wiping any sorrow from her expression. Lena was remarkably sensitive to emotions, and the last thing she wanted to deal with was any uncomfortable questions. This case had her own emotions churning in ways that made it hard to maintain her objectivity. That was the last thing Lena Kundera needed to see, or perhaps more correctly it was the last thing she needed Lena to see. Finally, confident she had a smooth, professional mask back in place, Maria turned and strode back into her patient�s room.

She returned to find Lena lying with her eyes open, staring thoughtfully at the ceiling. She turned a weary smile the doctor�s direction, and wasted no time before saying, "Thank you for making it possible for Bianca to come tonight. I know my mother didn�t want it...and that you took the chance of facing her wrath."

"This is a difficult situation," Maria sighed, wishing she could have been more sanguine about the newfound confidence in her patient�s expression, "and I�m not crazy about the sneaking around, but you have a right to see who you want."

Lena�s eyes slid closed for a moment, her expression unreadable. "Thank you," she murmured when she opened them again. "I feel like it�s all out of my control sometimes." A flush rose on her cheekbones, a sign of the natural embarrassment that seemed to come with admitting to some weakness in a world that didn�t respect such things.

"You�re not," Maria said softly and drew close to the bed, studying the other woman�s features, automatically assessing the healing damage, but also noting the rises and hollows of striking bone structure. "You�re my patient...and your best interests are my first priority. I want you to understand that."

Lena was silent for a long beat, then finally she murmured, "She really does care for me, doesn�t she?"

Maria considered how broken up Bianca was. "I believe so." The kid was hurting and trying so hard, while Lena was struggling with her own confusion. "Would you like to talk about what happened?"

Lena considered the offer for a long moment, then shook her head. "No." She wasn�t sure what she was feeling and was nowhere near ready to try and put it into words or share it with anyone. It was just too private. She shifted in bed, wincing as her broken arm protested. It was still painfully vulnerable to any kind of twisting motion.

Seeing the flinch, Maria started forward, then checked the impulse when Lena held up her good hand in a halting motion. "It�s all right," the Polish woman hissed through tightly clenched teeth. Already chafing at the loss of control over her own life, she was taking that power back any way she could. Pain was preferable to being manhandled by one more caring professional.

Understanding the need to assert some kind of independence, Maria pulled back a half step. "Would you like something for the pain?" She�d made the offer earlier, but Lena had refused, perhaps because Bianca was coming, but she�d wanted to be clear headed for the visit or perhaps she simply didn�t like the feeling of being drugged.

A quick, decisive head shake was Lena�s reply, though her stressed frown made it clear she was still hurting.

"Are you sure?" Maria questioned. "It might help you get some sleep."

Another sharp shake. That kind of sleep was worse than the alternative, often bringing a confusing array of nonsensical nightmares and seldom leaving her feeling the least bit rested. "I�ll be fine."

"If you�re sure," Maria said doubtfully.

"I am," Lena assured her. The pain bothered her less than the drugs. Besides, she needed some quiet time to think.

Realizing arguing would be pointless, Maria checked her patient�s vitals, filled out her chart, then slipped out and left her to her thoughts.

* * * * * *

After leaving the hospital, Bianca drove around for some time, too keyed up to go straight home. Unlike Lena�s late night driving binges, she didn�t head for the country roads surrounding the city, nor did she drive too fast. In fact, she preferred to move with traffic, blending in like the automotive equivalent of some pack animal. It was a strangely comforting ritual, allowing her to become just one more nameless, faceless member of the crowd for a little while.

She could be anonymous; no longer Erica Kane�s daughter, Kendall Hart�s sister, or Michael Cambias� victim. She was just the late model blue sportscar that moved easily with traffic, neither too fast nor too slow, obeying the law, and hanging with the pack.

It was easier to think that way. She just drove on autopilot while her mind wandered and she saw things from another angle. She could almost become someone else for a little while, an objective observer on the outside looking in.

And Bianca needed all the objectivity she could muster as she went back over her meeting with Lena, trying to put it all together in her head like some particularly complicated jigsaw puzzle. Even with all the pieces and a general idea what she thought it should look like she couldn�t quite make things fit. She was sure she was close, but something was still missing.

Or maybe she was just indulging in a bout of wishful thinking. God knew it was tempting to fantasize a new beginning for them. In some ways it felt It was like someone had hit a reset button and wiped away months worth of pain and mistakes. For the first time in months Lena had looked at her through eyes that weren�t haunted by the past, and that very innocence felt like it had released some of Bianca�s ghosts. Strange as it was to contemplate, given that Lena didn�t remember her, but she felt closer to the Polish woman than she in months, as though talking about the past without all the emotional baggage had restored something in their relationship.

That irony didn�t miss Bianca�s notice.

Nor did the irony of what she found herself planning. The part of her looking in from the outside was appalled, but the part of her living it knew it was the only way.

She could have everything, and it was best for Lena too because her former lover had been very clear about wanting to see her again. They had another chance. Memory or no, that old energy was still there, maybe even more intense than it had been since Michael�s attack. They could do this. The pieces were all there. She just had to put them together and make it happen.

That conclusion made her feel a little better, like she had a plan even if she wasn�t entirely certain what it was.

Impatient with a clump of slow moving traffic, she surged ahead, then turned onto another main thoroughfare only to find it moving even more slowly. No longer enjoying the sense of being lost in a crowd and mildly satisfied with her conclusions, she turned off onto a narrow street and quickly made her way home.

As she entered, Bianca found Kendall sprawled on the couch in the livingroom, watching TV, Tyler settled comfortably in the crook of her arm. Her sister instantly sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the couch and settling Tyler into his bassinet where it sat next to the couch.

"So how�d it go?" Kendall asked, watching Bianca carefully as she crouched down next to her son.

Reaching out, Bianca tenderly petted Tyler�s hair, smoothing the delicate dark strands back from his face while he yawned sleepily. So small and innocent, he represented a new beginning for her in many ways. Despite the circumstances of his conception, the past had nothing to do with who he was or how she felt about him. He was her child. It was that simple and that complex.

"Binks?" Kendall whispered on a questioning note.

Bianca looked up, noting the way Kendall was watching her with that same worried gaze everyone cast her way since the rape. She seldom let herself think about just how tired she was of that expression, but now she couldn�t help it as it occurred to her how good it had felt to have Lena look at her like she would have anyone else, curious and interested, but without the guilt and pity that had become so integral to their relationship, or the anger that had snuck in there when Bianca wasn�t looking. She looked down again, stroking her son�s hand and watching the way he grabbed for her finger. "Her memory�s still gone," she said quietly. "She doesn�t remember any of it...none of us...not working for Enchantment...or Michael...and not me."

Kendall slid to a crouch next to her sister, watching her carefully in an effort to understand what she was thinking. Bianca had become expert enough at hiding her emotions that Kendall couldn�t decide what was going on in her head. "You knew that going in," she reminded Bianca gently. Her sister had told her that much, though little more.

Concentrating on her son, Bianca nodded.

"So what happened?"

"Dr. Grey warned me not to tell her about anything that happened before...Michael...everything," Bianca began, trying to stick to a factual version of events.

Bianca had left that part out in her previous accounting of the situation and Kendall�s jaw dropped as she heard it. That didn�t seem possible. That was just too big a secret, the knowledge seeming far too common to possibly hide from anyone. Much of it had been front page news not just in the local paper, but across the country. Hell, around the world. "But she must know---" she began, but Bianca cut her off.

"No, she doesn�t," she said sharply. "All she knows is that she I were involved...but she doesn�t know about any of the rest of it...and the doctor feels she�s too fragile to be told right now." She toyed with the top snap on Tyler�s jumper just to have something to do with her hands.

Kendall turned a quizzical look her sister�s way. "So what did you talk about?" If everything since Lena�s arrival in Pine Valley was off limits, she didn�t see what was left to say.

"At first, nothing," Bianca admitted. "It was just so good to see her alive and conscious...and I didn�t know what to say." Her voice choked a little and she blinked at a stray tear. "All I could think about was how she almost died...but she seemed to be glad I was there...so we just talked." A sad smile touched her lips, her gaze distant. "She told me she doesn�t blame me for the accident."

Kendall�s gaze sharpened suspiciously. "But you said she doesn�t remember anything," she reminded Bianca. Considering the way they�d parted, was it possible Lena was up to something? God knew, the woman could teach Machiavelli a few things about the fine art of manipulation. And Bianca---so mired in guilt she could barely function some days---would be ripe for the plucking if Lena had finally turned on them all. The day she went after Bianca was the day Bianca would go down hard. Kendall was under no illusions. She�d once thought of herself as quite a manipulator, but she didn�t hold a candle to Lena Kundera. If the Polish woman had turned her skills on Bianca in her anger over how she�d been treated, she�d hurt her.

"She doesn�t...but I kind of fell apart. I didn�t mean to but, I told her how we fought that night..." Her voice cracking randomly, Bianca paused for a tiny beat to catch her breath. "And that her accident was my fault."

Her momentary suspicions forgotten, Kendall wanted to argue with her sister about accepting any guilt for what had happened to Lena, but Bianca�s tone held her back. She needed to get it out. Best to just let her.

"I kept expecting her to be angry...but she wasn�t." Bianca searched Kendall�s face for a long moment before she continued. "She told me it wasn�t my fault...that she was the one who drove too fast, so she was the only one responsible."

"She�s right, you know," Kendall whispered, grateful that Lena hadn�t tried to lay on more guilt when Bianca already had enough to deal with. "What happened is an awful accident, but it�s not your fault."

"I know," Bianca exhaled though she didn�t sound nearly as confident as Kendall would have liked.

"Did you tell her why you fought?" Kendall questioned. If she wasn�t supposed to say anything about the past, that fight had to be one of the most dangerous topics a person could get onto.

Bianca shook her head. Thank god she�d had enough self control not to do that. "No...I just glossed that over...and she was too busy worrying about me to notice."

Which sounded like Lena, leaving Kendall to feel a twinge of guilt for her suspicions.

"She was so kind about it...reassuring me..." Dark eyes slid closed as Bianca remembered the moment when Lena had reached out and covered her hand, her touch warm, her skin velvety soft. Flexing her hand, she ran her thumb over her fingertips, reminded of the comfort of that soft caress.

"What happened then?"

A poignant smile touched Bianca�s mouth as she remembered the time spent quietly talking. "I talked to her...told her about the good times..." despite the pain in her voice, there was a happy undertone, "...the things we did together...the fun we had." She brushed a fingertip along her son�s forearm, then tucked a finger into his palm as he gurgled sleepily and grabbed for her.

Watching her sister closely, Kendall wasn�t sure what to think of the confusing array of emotions she could see, so she remained silent, waiting for Bianca to tell the story in her own time.

"I know this is going to sound insane," Bianca said after a long pause, "and maybe I shouldn�t say it...." She trailed off, hesitant to give voice to the thoughts that had been running through her brain since leaving the hospital.

"Say whatever you want," Kendall encouraged her. Keeping silent hadn�t done any of them any good as far as she could tell.

"For just a little while," Bianca whispered, her voice so soft it seemed as though she was almost afraid of her own words, "it reminded me of how it used to be between us." She couldn�t look at Kendall, afraid she might see disgust or disapproval. "Even though she didn�t remember, it was like it was in the beginning...and she wants to see me again tomorrow."

Kendall frowned, carefully considering what Bianca had told her. "Are you sure that�s wise?"

Bianca�s gaze snapped back to her sister as she returned to the present. "Maybe not," she admitted, "but if she wants to see me I have to be there for her."

Uncomfortable with what she saw in her sister�s eyes, Kendall leaned closer. "Binks, what are you---"

"I know there are problems," Bianca broke in before her sister could get any farther, "but sometimes good comes from bad." She dropped her gaze to touch on her son, stroking his cheek lightly. "Maybe this accident can produce something good," she whispered in a very small voice.

"Binks," Kendall exhaled as she started to put it all together and her stomach sank.

Bianca never heard her, just continued stroking her son�s cheek. "The most awful thing in my life produced one of the best things." She�d gone over things so many times during the drive home, almost getting the pieces together, but it wasn�t until she considered Tyler that they really began to fall into place. "Maybe that�s what�s supposed to happen this time too. Maybe it�s supposed to be a second chance for both of us...a way to get past everything and start over."

Shock nearly knocked Kendall on her backside, stunning her into total silence for a long moment. "Bianca," she said when she finally kick started her brain again, "what are you..." she stammered only to trail off. Not liking that approach, she tried again, "are you saying you�re thinking of..." again she didn�t finish, though the question was obvious enough that Bianca nodded.

"I know it�s not ideal...but you weren�t there...you didn�t see how it was between us," Bianca said, nervousness making the words come fast. "Like it used to be. If we could have that again...."

"And what happens when she learns the truth?" Kendall demanded, easily seeing the pitfalls in the path her sister had laid out.

"If we can put things back together...trust each other again...it won�t matter."

A sharp retort on the tip of her tongue, Kendall pulled herself up short. "I�m not sure you�re thinking clearly," she pointed out, wondering why Bianca couldn�t see that another lie might well destroy any trust they built once it came out. "Don�t you think she�ll feel lied to when she learns the truth?"

Bianca ignored the question, too buried in her own plans to deal with Kendall�s doubts. "She almost died, Kendall. I almost lost her for good. This is a second chance---"

"What about the fact that her family hates you?" If she was going to spend time with Lena, that could be a problem.

"That doesn�t matter," Bianca insisted with a dismissive gesture as though she was physically pushing that issue aside. "This is between Lena and I."

Seeing the stubborn set of her sister�s jaw, Kendall didn�t even try to argue, just took another tack. "All right. What about your reasons for hiding things. If Lena doesn�t know what�s going on, how long do you think you can keep it secret." She leaned closer, her voice low and intense as she questioned, "Are you ready to face Erica and everyone else...ready to stand up and say, �This is the person I love, and you can all go to hell if you don�t like it?�"

Bianca lost all color, Kendall�s reminder enough to make her flinch. "It�s no one�s business but ours."

"Meaning?" Kendall asked, though she had a bad feeling she already knew the answer.

"There�s no reason anyone needs to know," Bianca answered right on schedule.

Kendall didn�t want to be disappointed in her younger sister, but she could see the looming disaster so clearly it was impossible not to wince at her behavior. After all the lies and resulting damage, it seemed Bianca still hadn�t learned a thing. It made Kendall want to grab her sister and shake her until she saw the obvious and let go of this asinine idea.

"I know what you�re thinking," Bianca said defensively, Kendall�s expression broadcasting her disapproval as effectively as words, "but you�re wrong. Lena doesn�t want her mother to know." It wasn�t like before, when Lena had felt forced to keep secrets. Now she wanted to. It put them on the same side, pulling together instead of apart. If Bianca suddenly wanted to tell the world, it would only put them back on the same old track, just different sides.

"More secrets," Kendall muttered unhappily.

"It has to be this way," Bianca insisted, "for everyone." It was what Lena wanted this time. That made everything simpler.

Seeing her sister�s eager desperation to believe the scenario she�d laid out in her head, Kendall�s stomach sank another notch. Bianca wasn�t going to listen. All she could see was a chance to have everything she wanted without having to pay the price for it. Kendall had made that mistake enough times to know life never worked that way. This was not going to turn out well. "What happens when she remembers?" Having broken things off with Bianca, she couldn�t imagine Lena would be happy when she discovered their relationship had been restarted on a lie. And she would find out. If Kendall had learned nothing else during the previous two years, she�d learned that the truth always came out eventually.

"If she remembers," Bianca responded, putting extra emphasis on the first word, "she�ll understand."

Kendall didn�t think so. "Would you?" she demanded.

"It�s not the same," Bianca said sharply, then softened her tone when she saw her sister�s disapproving expression. "Look, I know it�s not ideal, but it�s the only way I can be there for her...and she needs me right now." She thought of the way Lena had looked at her, the way she�d relaxed as they talked, and the genuine smile when she�d asked Bianca to visit again. Even Maria, with all of her dire warnings, had to admit that the visit had been good for Lena. "This is the only way." She shifted her voice, trying to sound like she was only pointing out the obvious. "I�m protecting her, Kendall, not hurting her."

Kendall considered arguing further, but it seemed obvious that Bianca wasn�t going to be deterred from her current path and a fight wasn�t likely to do either of them any good. "I hope you know what you�re doing," she sighed when she finally spoke.

"I do," Bianca said earnestly, her voice threatening to crack with the intensity of emotion. "I just want to take care of her." It was so obvious that Kendall had to see this was the only way she could do right by Lena. Standing up and speaking out would only mean being locked out of Lena�s life by Paulina Kundera and the rest of her family. This way she could be there for her and rebuild their relationship. If Lena ever found out about the past, she�d understand.

"Okay," Kendall murmured, her smile decidedly forced, though there was genuine affection in the way she tugged Bianca into a hard hug, "but you be careful." Settling her hands on Bianca�s shoulders, she set her back a step and stared deeply into her eyes, "and tell me if there�s anything I can do to help." Maybe if she kept close track of things she could keep it from blowing up too badly because it seemed obvious Bianca wasn�t thinking clearly enough to see the pitfalls ahead of her.

"Actually, there is one thing," Bianca said, "I told you she wants to see me again tomorrow night...after her mother leaves for the night. I was wondering if you could babysit again?" She felt bad for imposing on her sister�s kindness, but she preferred not to ask Mrs. Timmons to work that late.

For a brief moment Kendall contemplated refusing. Maybe she could put the brakes on this disaster in the making with a bit of foot-dragging. No, Bianca had on her most stubborn look, the one that guaranteed she wouldn�t listen to reason until trouble walked up and smacked her in the face several times. "Okay," she sighed. "What time do you need me here?" Who knew, maybe Bianca was right and everything would turn out the way she wanted. Kendall doubted it, but there had to be a first time for everything.

* * * * * *

This time when Bianca stood at Lena�s hospital room door, her heart was running a little fast, but it wasn�t hammering violently in her chest the way it had before. No need to wonder. This time she knew for a fact that Lena wanted there. Not that she didn�t have her fair share of fears and self doubts. The day had seemed interminably long, each minute bringing yet another disastrous scenario to mind, but she forgot them all as she stepped into Lena�s room and the most beautiful smile she�d ever seen in her life was directed her way.

"Bianca," Lena said softly, stretching the word out, emphasizing each syllable in a wholly different way from anyone else in the young woman�s life, the pronunciation pleasantly exotic and poignantly familiar at the same time.

A flush slid over Bianca�s skin as she remembered other times when Lena had said her name, taking her time, her voice often breathless and low, excited and eager to please. Different reasons, but Bianca glimpsed many of those same emotions once again, along with a rose blush and a sudden look of awareness. "Hi," she said very softly, her tone low and inviting.

Lena�s eyes dropped, her unbound hand suddenly trembling ever so slightly, cheeks heating under the impact of the look directed her way. And then the shaking stopped as her hand was steadied by Bianca�s. Smooth, warm fingers wrapped around her palm, stroking lightly, and looking up from under thick lashes, she felt her pulse accelerate as she caught a glimpse of Bianca�s expression. Dark eyes caressed her with near-palpable intensity until Lena imagined she could almost feel the fingers holding her hand so tenderly stroking her body the same way. Though the hand caught in Bianca�s didn�t tremble, the rest of her body did. "Thank you for coming," Lena whispered, a tiny hitch in her breath making the words catch mid-sentence.

Hearing the slight break in the smooth flow of words, Bianca found herself smiling a little more broadly, the realization that she wasn�t the only one who was nervous and a little flustered helping to dismiss some of her fears. "I promised," she responded, still stroking Lena�s hand lightly.

The Polish woman�s answering smile was sudden and wholly natural.

For a moment, Bianca was totally lost, completely forgetting they weren�t alone.

Maria Grey cleared her throat as a reminder and both women looked up, their expressions startled and a little guilty, like children caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar.

"Dr. Grey," Bianca said quickly, her flush a matter of embarrassment now, though it was without the component of shame that had become so common. "I...uh...was just...uh..." She glanced over at Lena who had ducked her head, though her shy smile was impossible to miss. "That is, we were...um...."

A tiny, nervous laugh---little more than a slightly high-pitched gasp---escaped Lena�s lips, filling the brief silence that followed.

Maria raised an eyebrow and turned an ironic look Bianca�s way as the girl drew breath to stutter out another series of uncomfortable non-answers. "No explanations needed," she sighed to forestall the effort. Really, it was all pretty obvious and if there was anything she couldn�t figure out for herself, she didn�t want to know anyway.

"Thank you for dropping by, Doctor," Lena broke in on Maria�s musings, the courteous dismissal accompanied by a subtle tilt of her head indicating the door.

Never before had she been thrown out so politely, Maria thought with some humor. Lena seemed to have a knack for that sort of thing. Maybe it was the old world manners. She could probably fling courteous insults if she was in the mood. "All right," she murmured even as she wondered at her own sanity for getting herself in the middle of this mess. She looked back and forth between the two woman, noting their eagerness to be alone. Then again, maybe it was best this way. The last visit seemed to have done wonders for Lena�s mood, so much so that she�d bordered on cheerful even during the worst of the testing. "But you two keep it quiet, okay?" She turned a hard look on Bianca in silent warning. "Just remember everything I warned you about," she said, certain that Bianca got the message when she ducked her chin in a hint of a nod, her expression momentarily hang dog, "and be careful."

"I don�t think there�s anything to worry about," Lena said, glancing at Bianca.

It seemed unlikely she�d be so confident if she knew the truth, but Maria couldn�t help but admire her patient�s seeming serenity in the face of her situation. God knew, when she�d been in the same shoes, Maria had been climbing the walls and ready to go quite mad. She watched as the two traded a knowing look, then both started grinning broadly just because they were together. Then again, she�d been facing things alone. No matter the problems, Lena wasn�t. Which was why the doctor was going against her common sense and allowing the young woman to visit in spite of Paulina Kundera�s threats. "Okay, I�ll be back in a little while."

Bianca forgot all about Maria Grey as she focused on Lena, barely even hearing the sound of the door opening and closing again as the doctor exited. A shared grin gained momentum, turning to embarrassed laughter. Bianca sat on the edge of the chair next to the bed, still grinning and chuckling softly. "So how are you feeling?" she asked as she retook Lena�s hand, stroking the rise of her knuckles very gently.

"A little tired," Lena allowed, "but better now." She turned her hand in Bianca�s grasp and curled her fingers around her palm, holding on loosely. "I�m glad you�re here," she added, fascinated by how natural it felt to hold Bianca�s hand in her own. She laced their fingers together. "I thought about you today."

Bianca couldn�t have held back a smile if her life depended on it. "Good thoughts I hope," she breathed, surprised to find herself wholly unafraid of what Lena might say for the first time in far too long. Knowing nothing of their tumultuous past, her ties to Michael, the rape, or its aftermath, there was no guilt, no anger, no bitterness or resentment; maybe a little fear, but mostly just curiosity and something more complicated; a tangible sense of growing attraction.

"Of course," Lena confirmed, her blush deepening under Bianca�s watchful gaze. She took a breath, pushing some of her nervousness down through force of will as she faced the younger woman. "And you...how did you spend your day?"

Slim shoulders dipped in a shrug. "Nothing exciting," Bianca murmured. "Just work."

"For your mother?" Lena asked, remembering the few details Bianca had given her.

"No," Bianca answered automatically, then quickly explained, "For my sister actually..." She saw Lena�s questioning look. Probably should have kept her mouth shut, she realized, but it was too late now. "She runs the company now...and we work together." There, hopefully that should forestall any questions and make everything seem wholly and completely innocent and simple. Lots of families owned businesses and worked together, after all, even if very few of them did so under the bizarre circumstances surrounding Enchantment.

"Ah," Lena exhaled, "that sounds nice...working with family, I mean."

"It has its ups and downs," Bianca responded, not particularly wanting to get onto that topic with its profusion of dangerous pitfalls. "But that�s not important," she dismissed as she leaned closer, intensely focused on Lena�s face. "How are you doing?"

Slim shoulders dipped in a hint of a shrug. "Okay," Lena sighed without listing the latest round of tests. With nothing new to report, it seemed like a boring topic that bordered on self pity at best.

"Well, that was convincing," Bianca drawled, her tone making it obvious it was anything but. "So how are you really doing?"

Lena drew breath intending to offer a pat denial that anything was wrong, but Bianca continued watching her with a look that warned her that nothing less than the truth was going to be acceptable. "Just a little tired," she sighed when she spoke. She slipped her hand out from under Bianca�s to indicate the room. "I�m either in some lab being poked or prodded or I�m in here...and it just gets..." she trailed off, hunting for the right word, but the English term she wanted was elusive. "I get tired of being here...." She made a small gesture, indicating her bland surroundings.

Frowning, Bianca considered that information for a moment. "The hospital has a solarium. Why don�t you get your mom to take you down there tomorrow. It�s pretty...would let you change your surroundings a bit."

Lena looked uncomfortable. "It would be nice, but..." she paused, unease making English more of a challenge, "my mother, she�s not comfortable around strangers...." Another pause. "It�s easier for her to just stay here..." She considered trying to explain more only to decide against it. There was simply no graceful way to make someone understand the kind of paranoia that came from living in a totalitarian society.

Bianca glanced around the sterile hospital room. "You mean, you�re just stuck in here all day?" No TV---she wondered if there was a practical reason for that or if it had been deemed too risky, since Lena might accidently learn something she wasn�t supposed to know---no books or magazines, not even a window to provide a little sunlight and distraction. No wonder Lena sounded like she was going stir crazy.

Lena�s shoulders dipped in a fatalistic shrug. "I have my mother for company, and nurses periodically show up to wheel me out into the world to my assorted tests," she said in a forced attempt at humor. Unfortunately, the cheerful mask slipped several notches as she added, "Though I�m afraid if I�m here long enough, I may start looking forward to them."

Forcibly reminded that Lena still had serious health issues at stake, Bianca had to fight a flinch. "Have they learned anything new?"

The question earned a fatalistic head shake. "No...at least nothing they�re telling me." Lena said, not openly admitting to the occasional fear that everyone was lying to her, that perhaps what sometimes seemed like furtive looks and quickly halted conversations were more than just paranoia generated by an imagination busy filling the boredom with overly complicated conspiracies. Sometimes she feared that perhaps there was some dark, forgotten secret in her recent past or that she was in imminent danger of dying and no one wanted to break the bad news.

Despite any attempts to hide it, Bianca saw the fear. With nothing that might undo it, there was nothing to say and no way to escape the obvious. They were all lying to Lena, telling her half truths and comfortable versions of the past sanitized of any evil. And when she found out the truth, she might just wind up hating them all. That thought occurred before she could stop it, drawing something akin to a flinch and she pulled away from Lena, breaking the faint contact of their hands.

"Bianca?" Lena questioned, reaching out to retake the warmth of a fine boned hand. "Are you all right?"

Blinking rapidly to clear her head, Bianca consciously threw off any dark thoughts, looking around herself as she consciously sent her mind down other pathways, paying attention to the details around her, noting that Lena was no longer hooked to any monitors or an I.V. line. "Could you go someplace like the solarium, if you wanted?" she asked after a beat.

"I suppose," Lena answered a little hesitantly. "In a wheelchair," she added, then continued in response to Bianca�s concerned look. "I get dizzy sometimes," she indicated her head, "from the concussion. The doctors are afraid I�ll fall and injure myself." She exhaled a defeated sigh. "But it doesn�t matter. Like I said, it makes my mother uncomfortable to---"

Bianca didn�t wait for Lena to finish, just popped to her feet, a plan forming in her head almost instantly. "Just give me a minute. I�ll be right back."

Lena frowned in confusion. "I don�t understand," she exhaled, drawing each syllable out in her uncertainty.

Bianca continued backing toward the door, her expression one meant to pacify any fears. "Just trust me, okay?" She offered an encouraging smile as she laid a hand on the door pull.

A beat, then Lena nodded, totally captivated by that smile, though there was a faintly bewildered note in her voice as she answered, "All right."

"Okay," Bianca whispered. Liking the sense that Lena had faith in her, she couldn�t hold the happy grin that burst forth. "I�ll just be a few minutes," she promised.

Her lips tipped up in a bemused smile, Lena watched the young woman hurry out, amazed to find herself confident that whatever Bianca had in mind, it would be for the best. She couldn�t remember the last time she�d been tempted to trust someone so completely, but somehow when Bianca looked at her she was comforted and eerily certain that the younger woman would never hurt her. Could it be she was starting to remember? Perhaps that explained the sense that she could trust so completely when it went so thoroughly against her nature. Was the relationship they�d had coming back to her in small and natural ways? Or was it possible there was a bond between them that went deeper than memory; a kind of intrinsic knowledge that nothing could erase?

Or was it possible that spending too much time alone with nothing but four walls for company was sending her imagination to all new heights? Silently laughing at the fanciful notion, Lena dismissed the idea, though she couldn�t quite shake the gut feeling that there was some native truth to the idea. She was still musing on the psychological dissonance between logic and emotion when Bianca returned pushing a wheelchair. A small pile of blue fabric sat neatly folded on the seat. A dark eyebrow quirked higher as the Polish woman canted her head to one side. "What are you---"

"Trust me," Bianca said, her charming smile meant to disarm any fears.

Eyeing the wheelchair, Lena tried to decide what Bianca had in mind, her native lack of trust at war with the way Bianca always made her feel safe and protected. How could someone she�d known such a short time do this to her? Had it always been like this, such an amazing, overwhelming rush of emotions that she�d never even believed in, wonderful and at the same time a little frightening?

"Please," Bianca added hopefully a long moment later when Lena still hadn�t replied.

Lena�s heart skipped a beat. She couldn�t hold out against the sweet, coaxing look directed her way. "All right," she exhaled and nodded.

Bianca�s smile widened and she reached down, grabbing the folded fabric off the seat of the wheelchair to shake out a set of lightweight surgical scrubs. "I don�t want you to get cold."

A hint of a frown touched Lena�s brow as her eyes flicked from Bianca�s face down to her outstretched arm, then back up to her face, watching closely as the younger woman�s expression shifted, going from coaxing to inviting, her eyes dancing merrily, mouth tipped up in a teasing grin. The transformation was subtle but fascinating and Lena thought she could probably spend a lifetime studying the play of expressions on that face and never be bored. A beat, then she nodded and reached to slide the covers back.

Several minutes later, Lena cleared her throat and Bianca turned back to face her. Having refused any offers of help, the Polish woman was sitting on the side of the bed, a little pale from the effort, but she�d managed to slip into the scrub pants. She hadn�t bothered with the shirt---the brace on her forearm would have made that task nearly impossible---and instead had pulled a robe on over her hospital gown. Her feet were still bare. That wouldn�t do.

Bianca did a slow turn, hunting the sparse confines of the room until she spotted what she was looking for. She grabbed for the slippers sitting on the floor under the edge of the bed. "You�ll need these too," she said as she straightened, holding them up so Lena could see. "Don�t want your feet getting cold," she added with a teasing grin.

A faint flush touching her cheeks, Lena nodded in acknowledgment, surprised to find herself so touched by the tiny bit of thoughtfulness. "Thank you." She meant to keep her tone light, but somehow it slid over into a note of very real, and very serious emotion. She couldn�t remember the last time someone had cared so much about her needs.

The intensity of the moment caught Bianca by surprise and she froze, not even breathing for a second or two. "Happy to help," she muttered a little lamely when she finally spoke.

Lena peered at the slippers, then at Bianca. "Only one small problem," she said wryle. "If I lean over, I get lightheaded." It felt like a hopelessly stupid and weak thing to have to admit, but then again Dr. Grey was already edgy about allowing the visits. Lena was comfortably certain a fainting spell would put an end to any future meetings.

Without pausing to think, Bianca dropped to one knee. "Not a problem," she assured Lena as she set one slipper aside and held the other in place so her former lover could easily slide her foot inside. Like the rest of her, Lena�s feet were long, fine boned, graceful---and very sensitive. A hint of a smile touched Bianca�s mouth as she remembered the moment she�d made that particular discovery. Their first night together, the edge already off the desperate need, they�d continued to touch and explore, unable to stop just because of a small bit of satiation. Lena had been wrapped around her, stroking the back of her thigh with the tip of one toe. Following the line of Lena�s spine, Bianca had brailed her back the curve of hip and thigh, caressed the back of her calf, trailing down her leg to a slender ankle, and finally to a deeply arched foot. The first teasing caress had brought the softest of gasps as a delicate shiver made its way through Lena�s body, seeming to radiate outward from that tiny point of contact. Fascinated by the tiny shudders, Bianca had continued to toy with the bottom of Lena�s foot, shifting her body fractionally to adjust to each twitch and play of muscle, creating a slow moving friction that had soon had them both trembling. Even now she could remember the way ebony pupils had expanded, the faint sound of a quickly drawn breath, the gentle vibration of soft laughter, and the teasing note in Lena�s voice as she�d whispered her confession in Bianca�s ear, both of being ticklish and of having a somewhat unusual erogenous zone.

Then it had been Bianca�s turn to shudder and tremble.

And now she remembered it all.

Bianca didn�t plan the light stroking caress that followed, just reacted at an instinctive level, trailing the pad of her thumb along the curve of Lena�s instep as it slid past.

A tiny gasp, a gentle tremor.

Bianca heard and felt the startled response, her chin rising until dark eyes met an equally dark, yet wholly different gaze. Still holding Lena�s gaze, she settled the slipper into place, carefully drawing the back up over a narrow heel, then reached for the other one. This time the contact was no unplanned accident, but a slow stroking caress with only one aim in mind.

A faintly louder gasp, a more distinct tremor.

Dark eyes widened fractionally, startled, aware, and just a little afraid.

The last emotion caught Bianca by surprise, forcing her pause and think instead of rushing headlong forward with the game she was playing.

No, not a game; something much more serious, and far more important.

What she was seeing wasn�t fear in the usual sense of the word, but a kind of uncertainty she recognized all too easily when she paid close attention. She�d felt it and seen it in her mirror enough times. Youth and the resulting lack of confidence seemed a strange fit on the older woman�s face, but there was no denying that was what she was looking at. A visceral reminder that Maria was right about Lena�s relative innocence, it yanked Bianca out of the momentary fantasy playing in her mind�s eye, forcing her to admit what she didn�t quite want to; that this time Lena was the innocent in their relationship.

Bianca was still musing on that knowledge when Lena hesitantly pulled her foot back, her eyes dropping away, a flush suffusing the arch of her cheekbones. She swallowed hard. "Thank you," she exhaled, the tempo of the words unusually uneven, "for your help, I mean."

"Anytime," Bianca croaked unsteadily. Realizing Lena was embarrassed, she quickly rose, fumbling self consciously as she turned and pulled the wheelchair over. Sensing that pushing too hard was likely to make her former lover retreat, she kept her voice gentle, completely ignoring what had just happened as she asked, "Ready to go for a ride?"

Her chin rising, Lena peered at Bianca through the untidy fall of her bangs for a long moment, suddenly a little uncertain. The brief burst of heat had caught her by surprise, and she wasn�t quite certain what might happen next, nor what she wanted to happen. The situation was so complicated. Bianca, however, seemed oblivious that anything unusual had happened, which was oddly comforting. Denial wasn�t always such a bad idea in Lena�s experience. Finally she nodded. "Very much so," she admitted, the idea of leaving her room irresistible.

"Okay, then," Bianca said on a relieved note as she moved the chair a little closer, "do you need help, or can you get in on your own?"

"I think I can do it on my own." Bracing her right hand on the mattress and cradling her injured left arm against her body, Lena pushed to her feet, teetering ever so slightly when the world threatened to spin around her. Having a concussion wasn�t so much painful, she�d learned, as annoying, playing havoc with her balance and making the ground shift strangely beneath her feet at the most unpredictable times. Usually the spinning sensation went away fairly quickly when she stood. This time it didn�t---she wondered if maybe her nervousness was making it worse---and she was seriously considering sitting back down when a hand found her uninjured arm, curving supportively at the elbow.

"Lean on me," Bianca murmured, one hand under Lena�s elbow, the other near her center back, ready to steady her more if need be.

A moment later, Lena was settled safely in the wheelchair and peering curiously up at Bianca who grinned back. "I think we�re ready for blastoff now," the younger woman said, then took a moment to stick her head out the door to make sure they weren�t likely to get caught before they�d gotten more than a few feet.

They made their escape without a hitch and a couple of minutes later, Bianca set the brake on the chair and hurried forward to peer around another corner, making sure the coast was still clear. No way this little jaunt would be on the list of approved activities. After a moment, she turned back and grinned at Lena who had her head tipped to one side was watching her with an odd expression that left Bianca breathless and faintly flushed. It wasn�t anything overt, just a look in her eyes that said that she�d been studying Bianca very carefully. "Close your eyes," she instructed, her voice catching for the briefest second when Lena quirked an eyebrow in silent question, "and don�t open them until I tell you."

Growing steadily more curious with every passing second, Lena did as asked, blocking out the world despite the temptation to cheat and peer through her lashes.

"No peeking," Bianca said from just over her left shoulder, so close her breath ruffled Lena�s hair and teased her ear. She gave the wheelchair a solid push, moving them along.

"I won�t," Lena assured the other woman through a soft laugh.

"Promise?" Bianca whispered.

"Promise," Lena assured the younger woman.

"Good," Bianca breathed. "Now remember, no opening your eyes until I tell you," she told Lena as she brought the chair to a halt.

Lena nodded, ears perking as she heard a few soft clicks. A beat passed and then the low grinding sounds of metal on metal. Machinery noises. An elevator? Her suspicion was confirmed moments later when Bianca rolled the chair a short distance; more sliding and grinding sounds, and the sensation of the floor moving. Lena�s breath momentarily caught, feeling mildly disoriented with her eyes closed and the lingering light-headedness from the concussion. Her good hand tightened on the chair�s armrest.

"Lena?" Bianca questioned, her hand landing lightly on Lena�s shoulder. This wasn�t supposed to be stressful, but she could see the way Lena�s knuckles whitened. "Are you all right?"

Her eyes still closed, Lena turned her head toward the sound of Bianca�s voice, offering a wry smile. "Just a little dizzy for a moment." She reached up, finding the hand resting on her shoulder and squeezed, afraid the younger woman might pull the plug on their outing if she thought there was any kind of problem. "It happens sometimes...nothing to worry about." The last thing she wanted was to return to her hospital room now when she had a chance at a little break from the monotony. During the day it was easy enough to avoid depression; there were always people coming and going, tests to be endured, and her mother to talk to. But at night things often threatened to close in as she lay alone in the dark. Bianca�s visit the night before had broken that frightening cycle, allowing Lena to muse on something pleasant before enjoying the closest thing to a decent night�s sleep she�d had since waking in Intensive Care.

"Not much longer," Bianca whispered near Lena�s ear, the hand on the Polish woman�s shoulder massaging lightly, that gentle touch incredibly reassuring.

A beat later, Lena felt a slight lurch, signaling the elevator had come to a halt, then the pneumatic groan and metal on metal slide of the doors opening.

"Just another moment or two," Bianca breathed even as she put the muscle into setting the chair into motion.

The chair bumped ever so slightly as it went over the lip of the elevator entrance, and Lena�s ears perked as they paused momentarily and she heard the double click of a door mechanism. No more than a second later a cool breeze touched her skin. Her nose twitched in response to the familiar smell that filled her senses. "Fresh air," she breathed almost inaudibly.

"Almost there," Bianca assured her, sensing just how badly Lena wanted to open her eyes. Another few feet and she pulled the chair to a halt and set the brake, then let one hand float off the handle, fingers just barely touching silky hair and brushing it back from Lena�s brow on the side opposite the head injury. "You can look now."

Brown eyes snapped open, and soft lips parted in a gasp before spreading into an enchanted smile. Before Lena lay the twinkling lights of a small city edged in the jagged shadows of a thick forest. In the distance, moonlight silhouetted a low mountain range. They were on the roof of the hospital, high enough to look across the city.

"Lena Kundera, meet Pine Valley." Bianca leaned down to make the introductions, so close her breath warred with a light breeze as it ruffled dark hair.

The Polish woman leaned back in the chair. "I love it," she said through a delighted laugh even as she wondered if Bianca knew just what this gesture meant to her. As a child, she could remember climbing innumerable flights of stairs to the top of their apartment building to stare out at the city at night. Up high like that, staring down at the world, it had seemed so different. No longer a worn, gritty city full of tired, frightened people. For a few hours, it had seemed like a fairy land. "I�ve always liked city lights," she added a tiny beat later, her voice softer this time, memories of the past making her tone more serious.

"I know." Bianca brushed Lena�s shoulder lightly, then moved around in front of her to sit on the edge of the ledge surrounding the roof, her back to the city, her full concentration on her former lover. She reached out, catching Lena�s uninjured hand in her own, holding on loosely. "That�s why I thought you�d like it here." Her thumb played over the graceful rises and hollows of the hand curved loosely around her own.

"I do," Lena said honestly. The breeze kicked up a little and she closed her eyes and tipped her head back as if to absorb the very freedom of the air around her. After days of being cooped up inside, it was pure heaven. When she opened her eyes again, it was to study the stars overhead, a smile quirking her lips. More fairy lights. "Thank you so much." She couldn�t even begin to express her gratitude. The simple joy of realizing the world was still out there made her soul feel a thousand times lighter.

Still toying with the hand wrapped in her grasp, Bianca swallowed hard, her smile a little watery as she watched Lena drinking in her freedom. It felt so damn good to give this to her that Bianca was close to tears.

"How did you find this place?" the Polish woman asked after a long moment.

Bianca didn�t answer immediately, the innocently asked question reminding her of things she�d tried to avoid thinking about for months. Odd how even in planning to bring Lena up here, she�d managed to avoid the memories of the other time she�d been in this place. She�d pushed them so far back in her mind she�d almost managed to forget. "Actually, you did." she said at last.

"I did?" Lena questioned, surprised by the younger woman�s answer.

Bianca�s head dipped in a nod, though her gaze remained locked on Lena. "Yeah...you brought me here once," she explained, then twisted to stare out at the city, remembering another place and time. So scared she could barely think or even breathe, she�d been ready to go slightly mad until Lena brought her here and simply held her, whispering soft words of encouragement and hope, talking to her quietly about the future. How could she have forgotten that kindness for so long?

"Bianca?"

The younger woman abruptly realized that several seconds had passed and Lena was staring at her with an odd expression. "I�m sorry," she said in a rush.

"I just asked when," Lena reiterated.

"Right," Bianca said, throwing off her own brief sense of unease. "I�m sorry. I was just thinking...remembering. I hadn�t thought about that night in a long time," she explained, then added, "Things were rough...my uncle had been shot."

Arched brows drew together in an appalled frown.

"He�s okay now," Bianca said quickly when she saw Lena�s worry. "But when it happened I was scared to death." She sniffed back on the threat of tears. "I was ready to come apart...until you brought me here...just held me...told me it was going to be okay." She paused for a moment, her voice thick with emotion as she added, "and you made me believe it." She abruptly realized she�d lost her hold on Lena�s hand sometime during the brief explanation as Lena reached out, brushing her fingers along the side of Bianca�s thumb, then curving them to her palm, restoring the momentarily lost connection.

"But your uncle�s all right now?" Lena questioned hesitantly, uncertain she quite believed Bianca. There was something so sad and lost in her eyes that it hardly seemed possible there�d been a happy ending to whatever had caused her so much pain.

Bianca nodded, offering a weak smile. "Yeah, he�s okay. I just hadn�t thought about it in a long time." She looked down, focusing on their twined hands to buy herself a moment to clear her head. "I�d forgotten...how..." she�d been about to admit she�d forgotten how much Lena had helped her that day, but the words wouldn�t come, the notion of forgetting that much kindness making her feel small and petty.

Misreading the way Bianca�s voice faded, Lena gave her hand a comforting squeeze. "I think I understand," she sympathized. "To have someone you love hurt and be unable to help them is..." she paused, shaking her head slowly before continuing, "It�s the worst feeling in the world."

Remembering how it had felt when Paulina had thrown her out without even telling her how Lena was doing, Bianca nodded, barely able to force any words out. "Yes...it is," she agreed, wishing she could forget all the times Lena had wanted to help her and been rejected. God, how it must have hurt the other woman to feel that helpless, unneeded, and guilty. Yet another thing she hadn�t let herself consider. Would the fun never end?

Suddenly hating the decisions she�d made, Bianca found herself wanting to tell Lena everything, just hand her the truth so they could hash it out the way they had never done. They had slept together, making love for hours, but there had been no discussions. Sometimes she�d been aware that Lena wanted to talk, had wanted to help and offer comfort. She�d seen the look in her eyes, been aware of several quickly aborted attempts at broaching the very serious issues between them, but she�d pulled away every time, going cold, making it clear the topic was unwelcome, unwilling to have that conversation. Not with her. Maybe never with her. Sex was safe, anything more profoundly dangerous. She�d made absolutely certain Lena knew her place, and it didn�t involve helping or supporting, just---

Bianca pushed that thought off unfinished, hating how far she�d gone down that mental road, unable to deal with the meaning behind it.

"Bianca?" Lena�s voice was low, worried, caring, and innocent...

Just like that other Lena, the one before everything went to hell, the one who had comforted Bianca the night of Jack�s shooting; not at all like the figure Bianca had built in her mind, the one who was cold and hard and betrayed lovers of both sexes with equal ease. Bianca had never met that Lena---never even glimpsed her---but she was terrified of her and the things she could do.

"I�m sorry you had to live through something so ugly," Lena continued, unaware of Bianca�s thoughts, innocently thinking it was one memory tormenting her when it was quite another. "That kind of violence changes you," she said very softly, her tone sympathetic and sad. Her gaze grew distant, memories of another time and place underlaying her words. "It gets inside you...and never really goes away." She abruptly looked directly at Bianca with eyes haunted by their own fair share of terrors and no walls to hide the emotions away.

Bianca froze. Before Lena had always held that part of herself back, shielding her thoughts and feelings from the world. Only once had it broken completely free of constraint in Bianca�s presence; that day at the penthouse when she�d come back from David�s examination. Lena had looked like hell, guilty agony in her eyes, desperate to help, and so hurt when Bianca hadn�t allowed even the smallest contact.

Another memory Bianca hadn�t let herself consider because if she did she�d have to face the fact that she�d purposely hurt her former lover that day, putting a wall between them to punish her, very nearly hating her for what Michael had done. She�d managed to avoid that fact for months, but faced with so many facets of their shared past as well as a woman who knew none of it, she was forced to face the cognitive dissonance that had haunted her since the night of Michael�s attack. Much as she had loved Lena, she had hated her too, blaming her for all of it and wanting to strike back in the cruelest ways possible. Still healing from Michael�s mind-games, her ego remarkably fragile despite the image she projected to the world, it wouldn�t have taken much to shatter the Polish woman. Bianca could have done it with little more than a few words; just tell the truth that she did blame her for the rape and she could have pushed her right off a cliff.

And sometimes she�d wanted to, had even fantasized about the agonized response those words would have triggered. Lena would have been near-suicidal, and there had been a part of Bianca that had wanted her to hurt that much for her part in Michael�s schemes, for failing to stop him that night, for not being some perfect knight in white armor capable of fixing everything, for all of it.

She�d wanted her lover to hurt and bleed, and she�d pushed her away because she�d been afraid she might just make it happen.

A hard shudder worked it way through the younger woman, her lungs threatening to seize up as the truth she had never admitted before, even to herself---or perhaps especially to herself---hammered itself home. She hadn�t pushed Lena away because she couldn�t deal with her, or with sex, or even because she didn�t trust her. Those had been excuses, maybe partially true, but not the real reason. She�d pushed her away both to punish her and in a way to protect her. So hurt and our of control, there had been a part of her that wanted everyone who�d failed her to suffer just as much as she had. The irony was that in the end she�d punished herself as much or more than any of them. Her own choices meant she�d had to go through it all without the support of the one person she�d wanted with her most of all.

That thought nearly tore her in two.

So much of what she�d lost had been own doing and no one else�s.

"Bianca?"

And now she�d nearly lost Lena all over again because of her own inability to face the truth and deal with the issues between them.

"Bianca," Lena said more sharply, squeezing Bianca�s hand tightly, demanding her attention.

Looking up, the younger woman was overwhelmed by the caring directed her way, the strength of purpose she saw in dark eyes making her feel safe and protected, the kindness offering some measure of absolution for her sins even if Lena was unaware of them. Lena squeezed her hand harder, her grip one that might have been painful under different circumstances. At that precise moment, it was what Bianca needed; a hand offered to help her escape emotional threatening to sweep her away. She clung tightly, clawing her way free of the riptide until she broke the surface and could breathe again. "Sorry," she apologized after a long beat. "I�m supposed to be looking after you and instead I...I go and fall apart."

"It�s all right," Lena soothed, loosening her grip on Bianca�s hand, to stroke her knuckles very lightly. "But maybe this isn�t such a good idea if it bothers you so much." She tried to hide it, but Bianca could see her disappointment as she added, "Perhaps we should go back inside."

"No," Bianca said almost instantly, then stared deeply into doe brown eyes that were warm with concern. A little of the pressure in her chest let go. "I�m okay," she added, though to judge by Lena�s expression not nearly as believably as she�d hoped. "Really...some things just caught me by surprise."

Still frowning and clearly worried, Lena studied Bianca carefully. "Are you sure, because---"

"I�m sure." Bianca offered a wan smile, but the pressure let go another notch as Lena continued to stroke her hand and maintain eye contact. It was almost easy to breathe again. She leaned closer, a little embarrassed by her response. "Besides, I know how much this means to you." She could see it in Lena�s eyes, and she wouldn�t be responsible for taking it away from her. "And after the last several days...you need a little peace."

Shaking her head, Lena whispered, "But not at the price of hurting you."

"I�m okay," Bianca whispered, and strangely enough, she was. Just like the first time they�d been here, Lena�s strength and caring wrapped around her and helped her push the darkness back. This time her smile was real if a little watery. She gave Lena�s hand a comforting squeeze, concentrating on the expression in warm, brown eyes. "And I want to be here with you...and be here for you," she added, a little surprised to realize just how true it was. She leaned forward, drawing a little closer, and reached out, smoothed dark silk back from Lena�s brow, enjoying the cool texture. "That night...it was painful, but it was also special." She caressed Lena�s cheek tenderly, then ran a finger along the line of her lower lip. "You were so giving and you made me feel so safe...like nothing bad could happen as long as you were with me." Her hand slid back up, stroking Lena�s hair in a slow moving rhythm, the repetitive motion oddly soothing---for both of them judging by the way Lena leaned closer, relaxing and turning her head into Bianca�s touch. "I just want to help you that way if I can." Her eyes were drawn to the full cupid�s bow of soft lips, the memory of their taste making her mouth water. No, it wasn�t the time. Not yet.

Frowning ever so slightly as she digested the softly spoken proclamation, Lena was utterly fascinated by the rises and hollows of face she barely knew, but which seemed so familiar. Waking in a place she didn�t recognize, tended by doctors and nurses who often seemed painfully alien, she�d been stressed and scared in ways that even her mother�s presence couldn�t seem to relieve, but somehow this woman reached inside her and took away the pain and fear. "You do," she breathed, leaning forward, her forehead almost touching Bianca�s, so close that strands of two distinct shades of dark hair blended in the space between them. "I was going a little mad," she admitted, the words coming in rough, faintly disjointed syllables. "Afraid of crazy things...but you look at me...talk to me...and I know everything�s going to be okay." In danger of becoming lost in impossibly dark eyes, she looked down, focusing on anything but the young woman who so affected her so deeply. "I don�t understand it...it�s not logical...but I trust you more than you know."

Unable to resist temptation any longer, Bianca tucked a finger under Lena�s chin, drawing her head up. It was tempting to speak, try and find something profound, but there simply weren�t words. Instead, she tipped her head to one side---automatically adjusting the angle to Lena�s position---lips parting faintly, eyes sliding closed.

And suddenly Lena wasn�t there anymore.

Bianca blinked, momentarily confused by the sudden change in the course of events. The wheelchair went rolling backwards with a noisy clatter, the motion dislodging brakes meant to keep it from sliding forward. She tipped her head back, staring up at the woman now towering over her. "Lena, I---" she began, but the Polish woman cut her off, her voice tremulous with stress.

"I�m not sure this is a good idea," Lena said, backing up a step. She was standing, if a little shakily. Amazing the things a little panic could do.

Bianca snapped to her feet, hands out, ready to catch the other woman if she started to fall. "Lena, y-you�re not supposed to be up." Her eyes went to the bandage on her former lover�s forehead. "Your concussion." Her gaze dropped. "Your arm."

"I seem to be stable enough for the moment." A hand came up in a calming gesture probably meant to reassure.

It only made Bianca afraid when it seemed the unsteady motion might send Lena toppling and worsen already painful injuries. "Lena, please, just sit back down."

Instead Lena backed up and turned away, holding up her good hand to dismiss Bianca�s fears. "I�m fine." Panic aside, the dizziness seemed to be in abeyance, at least for the moment. Aware of what had nearly happened, unwanted energy ran through her veins: fear, excitement, arousal. Dangerous emotions all, especially in light of other very real facts of her life. "This isn�t wise," she exhaled, reaching up to massage her temple. She shouldn�t have given in to impulse. This was all too intense and moving too quickly.

Wise? No, probably not, but Bianca couldn�t give up now. She approached her former lover�s back, not quite touching, though she wanted to. "Talk to me," she pleaded. "Tell me what you�re thinking." The irony that Lena had doubtless wanted to make similar demands of her for months but hadn�t dared for fear of banishment didn�t escape her, but she couldn�t let herself focus on anything but the woman in front of her. The past was just that. She was concentrating on the future.

"This isn�t simple," Lena whispered, her chest aching, stomach tied up in knots. "I�m drawn to you---I don�t deny that---but this situation...." There were so many complications, so many risks, and what seemed like so very many opportunities to leave both of them heartbroken.

"I know you�re scared, but it�s okay." Bianca risked making contact, just barely stroking Lena�s upper back, feeling the heat of her body through the thin hospital robe. It seemed so obvious that Lena was just scared and feeling overwhelmed by circumstances. If she could just reassure her it would be okay. "I want to be here for you...help you through this.

Tensing, Lena pulled away fractionally, putting a little physical distance between them even as she struggled to look at the situation as rationally as possible and not give way to the obvious temptations. "You don�t understand," she said very softly and drew another step from Bianca. It really was like falling. She could almost hear the wind rushing past her as she plummeted almost totally out of control. It seemed mad to make such a leap without any idea what lay below. "We�re getting in too deep to just walk away." This thing between them was rapidly becoming far more than just a distraction from her worries. It was becoming much too real, and she wasn�t ready to deal with the repercussions from that.

Biana wanted to grab Lena and shake her to make her see the obvious, but she restrained the impulse. "We were born in too deep to walk away from each other," she shot back. The one constant in their relationship had been an inability to let go even when it might have been wiser.

The certainty in Bianca�s voice made Lena�s pulse kick into high gear, a purely physical response she fought desperately to ignore as she insisted, "You don�t understand."

"Then talk to me," Bianca said, her tone somewhere between commanding and pleading. "Tell me what you�re thinking. What has you so scared you�re ready to give up what we have...and don�t tell me you don�t feel anything for me, because I know you do."

Lena was silent long enough that Bianca was beginning to fear she would refuse to answer, but finally, she cleared her throat, then drew a deep breath. "The doctor is quite satisfied with how quickly the obvious injuries are healing," she began carefully.

"But that�s good," Bianca inserted into the silence that followed, afraid that perhaps Lena thought she might want her hurt and trapped in this place. "I mean, it means you�re getting better, right?"

Lena nodded without looking back, a soft sigh escaping her lips. "But it also means that at some point they�ll be releasing me from the hospital." And how could it be that what had, until a short while ago, seemed like the most desirable action imaginable, suddenly seemed impossibly painful because it would deny her this woman�s presence? "Even if my memory�s not intact yet."

"Does that scare you?" Bianca questioned, not understanding what had the other woman so upset, because it was clear she was. "Because if that�s it, then I�ll---"

"That�s not it," Lena interrupted even as she turned and laid gentle fingers over Bianca�s lips to silence her, amazed to find they were even softer than she�d fantasized. "Once I�m released, my mother wants me to go to Chicago...with her...."

"But..." Bianca began only to trail off as the words permeated her brain. Shock made it take an extra beat. Finally, she shook her head, denying the entire idea. "No, this is...Pine Valley is your home now." Lena couldn�t leave; she just couldn�t. "Y-you have an apartment here," she stammered when she couldn�t think of anything else to say.

Slender shoulders dipped in a hint of a shrug, the movements still stiff and a little uncomfortable in the aftermath of the accident. The bruises were healing nicely, but far from gone. "I don�t even know the address."

That hopeless sounding answer threatened to trigger Bianca�s temper. "What about your job?" she demanded. "You�re an executive in," she verbally stumbled on the description of the company, "in the family company. We need you." I need you, she added mentally.

Dark eyes rolled skyward. "Doubtless a wonderful job ... that I probably can�t do," Lena scoffed, then focused on Bianca again, silently willing her to understand that the woman who�d done those things---who�d been Bianca�s lover---was someone else. "I don�t remember anything about this job...or your family�s company. I doubt I�d do them much good." She was being practical, no matter how much it pained her. This had to stop now before they both wound up badly hurt. "And the doctors, they don�t know if I�m ever going to remember."

"Fine...then you have to play a little catchup...but you�ve done that before----"

"With five years more experience than I have now," Lena pointed out, then turned away again, shaking her head, feeling totally inadequate and hopelessly out of her depth. Business wasn�t the only facet of her life that five years of experience had apparently improved. "Face it, Bianca, I don�t know what�s going to happen: going with my mother is probably the wisest course of action."

Bianca remained silent for a long moment as she contemplated Lena�s stiff back. Her posture was tense and even straighter than normal, every muscle in her body rigid. She was lying. Bianca was sure of it. "That�s not the real reason you�re trying to run."

"It�s reason enough," Lena choked.

Bianca drew close, her voice low and coaxing as she continued, "No, it�s not and you know it." She reached out, spreading her hand against Lena�s upper back, just barely touching. "You�re running scared."

"I hardly know you," Lena reminded Bianca even though that wasn�t how it felt.

"You know me," Bianca disagreed, her voice dropping low with intensity, unwilling to accept that excuse. When Lena didn�t respond, she continued, "Is this because of your mother?"

"You�ve seen how she feels," Lena said by way of answer. "She�d never accept it." And Lena wasn�t certain she could bear that kind of rejection from the only person left in her life who was still completely familiar to her.

"It�s your life," Bianca hissed, frustrated that someone who had nothing to do with their relationship could possibly get in the way.

"One I don�t remember right now," Lena rasped, frustration and confusion threatening to make her voice break. "I barely know who I am...and this is...." She trailed off, making a loose gesture meant to encompass the entire world, Bianca included, before pausing to massage her temple, her skull throbbing in a physical expression of the emotional hammering she was taking. She�d been able to ignore the conflict before, but their near-kiss had shattered any illusion that she was in control of the situation. "You don�t know what it�s like."

"No...I don�t," Bianca admitted on a sigh. "But I know what we have together...how special it was...and how special it could be again." She wanted to take Lena in her arms, but sensed the other woman was likely to bolt if she pressed too hard. Instead, she stayed where she was and whispered coaxingly. "Don�t go...don�t let her take you away ... please." She took a half step closer, her touch a little firmer this time as she continued just barely rubbing Lena�s back. "Your mother doesn�t need to know anything."

From what little Lena knew, her need to hide their relationship had already damaged it almost beyond repair once. That option seemed hopelessly unacceptable. "I can�t ask you to lie for me." Better not to go down that road than wind up hating each other.

"It�s not lying," Bianca countered. "It�s just none of her business...or anyone else�s." She drew another half step closer to her former lover, aware of the heat radiating from her body and the soft scent that was hers alone. Lena turned her head ever so slightly, and Bianca glimpsed the dark shadow of the bruises that remained on her neck and shoulder, a brutal reminder of just how close the other woman had come to dying. "I can�t lose you," she croaked. "I�ve already come too close. You can�t ask me to just let you walk away."

A delicate shudder worked its way through the taller woman and she swallowed hard, very nearly crying. "I don�t know what else to do," she admitted.

Feeling the sting of rejection, it was hard not to get angry because Bianca had no doubt that Lena wanted to be with her. She was just afraid. She pushed the anger down, struggling to understand just how frightening it had to be to wake in a world one didn�t know, and then feel threatened that you might lose the support of the only familiar person left. "Lena," she said at last, "I know this has got to be confusing and frightening for you...but I don�t think you want to lose what we have anymore than I do." She risked another of the ghostly-soft caresses to Lena�s upper back, relieved when the other woman didn�t pull away.

"I don�t even know what it is that we have," Lena whispered hopelessly.

"I do," Bianca breathed. She curved her hand to a narrow shoulder, gently tugging Lena around until they were face to face. "Let me show you." She reached up, cupping her former lover�s face in her palms.

And Lena panicked again. "I�m sorry, " she gasped, her voice thick and ragged. "I can�t." It was all moving too fast. If the obvious happened, there would be no turning back and she jerked her head back, moving too quickly. Stiff and sore muscles protested, sending bolts of pain through her neck, chest, and back, and the world tilted dangerously around her. Stumbling ungracefully, she lost any reliable sense of balance, and could feel herself starting to fall. Oh, hell. Probably break her arm all over again, get another concussion into the bargain, and add a few more bruises. Memory or no, her luck was still running true to form.

And then almost as abruptly as she started to topple, she wasn�t falling any more. Instead, slender but surprisingly strong arms were wrapped around her waist, her torso plastered against shapely curves, one arm flung loosely around a delicate neck. "Bianca," she gasped.

The younger woman tightened her grip fractionally and spread one hand against Lena�s back, offering even more support. "I�ve got you," she breathed.

Yes, she did; held so close, Lena could feel every inch of graceful curves pressed up against her. She couldn�t find the breath to speak; could barely find the motor control to nod.

Bianca�s gaze fell, touching on the fluttering pulse in Lena�s throat, then falling on her chest. Confident she wasn�t going to let the taller woman fall, she didn�t pause to consider her actions as she slid a hand around and up, settling her palm above the curve of Lena�s left breast. "I can feel your heart...it�s racing."

Lena exhaled a harsh gasp through faintly parted lips, running away no longer an option.

When she looked up again, Bianca�s gaze touched on those lips, her gaze a near-palpable caress, before moving on to lock with glazed, brown eyes. The pulse under her hand accelerated still faster. She barely moved her thumb in the faintest of caresses, watching as ebony pupils expanded. Without a word she trailed her hand up Lena�s upper chest, caressed the side of her neck, careful of any bruises, then threaded her fingers into the fine, dark silk at her nape.

Even knowing what was going to happen, Lena had nothing left to resist the attraction between them. It took almost no pressure to tug her head down until their lips were a scant distance apart.

"I�m going to kiss you now, you know," Bianca breathed so softly Lena had to strain to hear her.

"I know," Lena admitted, her fear forgotten as she allowed Bianca to draw her the final distance.

It wasn�t so much one kiss as a hundred; a gently shifting game of advance and retreat expressed in a rain of butterfly caresses. Their lips met, parted, met again, each new introduction taking the relationship a little farther in an intimate courtship dance.

Drawn by mutual need, they leaned into each other, bodies molding together, soft curves dovetailing together and reshaping to fit. Lena lifted her injured arm, resting her elbow on Bianca�s shoulder to steady herself and free her other hand to explore. Gentle fingers trailed along the line of the smaller woman�s clavicle, following the subtle curves even as Lena drank in a low moan and welcomed another advance in the slowly deepening rain of kisses.

Bianca couldn�t contain a throaty groan as soft lips parted and allowed her inside. The taste of sweet breath, and the textures of sharp teeth, a rough tongue, a smoother inner cheek filled her senses.

Sliding her hand under the fall of Bianca�s hair, Lena stroked the graceful line of her spine, then toyed with the cool strands, letting them slip through her fingers like a silken waterfall.

"Lena," Bianca exhaled through the trade of longing caresses, "you can�t go." They couldn�t lose each other. Not now.

Lena pulled back less than a hand�s breadth, breaking the kiss just long enough to whisper, "No...I can�t." No, there would be no leaving now. She barely knew herself, but she knew she belonged with this woman. And then their mouths were wedded again, Bianca�s hands possessively tight on her body and her hair, holding on with a desperation borne of want and need and fear of loss. Though one handed, Lena�s hold was just as tight, and she folded her injured arm around the back of Bianca�s head, just barely able to stroke the dark cap of hair with the tips of her fingers where they escaped the confines of the leather and neoprene brace.

It was wild and raw, and at the same time all things gentle and loving; like nothing Lena had ever experienced. A body could get lost in that much desire, she realized as she sank deeper into Bianca�s kisses. If just kissing was like this, dear god, what must it have been like when they made love? She trembled at the mere thought, her body reacting, blood buzzing in her ears, an unfamiliar ache settling in all of the places she suddenly wished Bianca was touching.

"Ahem."

"Lena," Bianca gasped through the kiss.

"Ahem!"

"I know," Lena groaned, totally lost in the other woman.

"Ah-hem!"

It took both lovers yet another beat to realize they weren�t alone as Maria Grey cleared her throat even more distinctly, managing to achieve considerable volume in her efforts to distract them from their involvement in one another. Judging by her disapproving expression it seemed obvious there had been several previous attempts.

Bianca flinched as the doctor�s flinty gaze fell momentarily on her, painfully aware that the woman had to be angry at her. Making out on the roof had undoubtedly not been on the list of Lena�s approved activities.

Maria didn�t bother to shout, just rolled the discarded wheelchair over one-handed, sliding it into position behind Lena. "You...sit...now," she ordered in a tone that brooked no argument.

Lena sat, though Bianca was careful to steady her until she was firmly settled. Still holding each other loosely, Bianca still bent forward, the two shared a guilty, nervous look.

Maria pointedly cleared her voice, though this time she didn�t need to do so at jet-engine-rated volumes. Nonetheless, the sound acted like a gunshot, snapping Bianca upright and back a step. "Care to explain?" the doctor demanded, the syllables coming in short, sharp bursts.

"It was my doing," Lena said before Bianca could draw breath to offer any kind of response.

Maria turned a doubting look Lena�s way, while Bianca stared at her former lover in shock.

"Really?" the doctor exhaled, her tone making it clear she didn�t believe a word of it.

"Obviously I didn�t ask her me to bring me here specifically," Lena allowed, realizing her lie would quickly be obvious if she didn�t think fast. After all, she hadn�t known this place existed until Bianca brought her here, and the doctor was more than intelligent enough to realize that. "But I haven�t been outside since I woke here...." Her voice choked for real, momentarily making it hard to speak. She look aside and down, taking a moment to gather herself. "I just wanted to see the sky...smell fresh air," she rasped when she finally spoke. Whatever else, that much was very true, just as it was very true that it meant more than she knew how to say that Bianca had found a way to satisfy that longing. She put any thoughts of any other longings firmly aside. It wasn�t time to contemplate that particular turn of events.

The genuine emotion in the Polish woman�s response pulled Maria up short. She froze, the lecture she�d planned on giving fading away unspoken. She flashed a look at Bianca who was standing there with an expression somewhere between surprised, guilty, and hang-dog. No doubt Lena was telling the truth, or at least something akin to it, but there was also no doubt there was considerably more to the story. After all, somewhere between looking at the sky and smelling the fresh air they�d wound up with their tongues down each other�s throats.

The doctor exhaled a tired sigh. Not that they�d tell her what was going on, which, if she was honest, was probably just as well. She was already more in the middle than she would have liked. "I can understand that," she said at last, sounding more sympathetic and less forceful than she would have preferred, "but, Lena, you can�t be up and around like this...and certainly not..." the remonstrations ended in a disgusted sound and she reached up, ruffling her hair in a gesture of frustration, none to eager to get into any discussions of the scene she�d interrupted. "Well, you just shouldn�t have left your room without letting me know, and you certainly shouldn�t be up out of the wheelchair...on a rooftop." Maria glanced at Bianca who looked like she�d be grateful for an opportunity to melt into the tarpaper roof beneath her feet. "You could have been hurt. Your arm�s still delicate as hell...not to mention your head...and your balance is iffy."

"I know," Lena allowed, "but..." she looked at her former lover, held her gaze, "Bianca wouldn�t have let me fall," the Polish woman said with absolute confidence.

Maria noted the way the younger woman swallowed hard and straightened her shoulders under the impact of that trusting gaze. That kind of faith wasn�t a small responsibility and she could only hope the girl would live up to it because Maria couldn�t help but be touched by the level of emotion between them. She truly didn�t want to see that fall apart and fail even though it was all too easy to see the possible seeds of destruction that might well come to fruition in the future.

As if sensing that line of thought, Bianca looked at Maria with a serious expression. "I wouldn�t have," she assured the doctor.

Several responses flitted through Maria�s brain, most of them sarcastic, all of them inappropriate. Damn her sense of humor for showing up at the worst possible times. She maintained a bland expression. "I�m sure you wouldn�t have," she said at last, careful to keep her tone neutral, "but nonetheless, I don�t want you taking the risk." She flashed a look Lena�s way, careful to include her in that directive. "And no more unapproved jaunts." She started to reach for the handles on the wheelchair, making it clear she intended to escort them back inside only to freeze mid-motion as Lena spoke.

"Of course, doctor, you�re right," her patient placated in an effort to smooth things over, "but as we�re here now, would it be possible to have just a few more minutes?"

Maria drew breath to refuse. After her recent injuries, Lena had no business gallivanting around the local rooftops. But the words died unspoken as Lena peered up at her with a look that was all pathos and pleading.

"Please," the Polish woman said very softly before Maria could manage to utter the refusal she�d intended. "I�m already here," Lena continued to press, sensing an opening. "What could a few more minutes hurt?" Her voice dropped a little lower, taking on a begging note. "I just want to look at the stars for a few minutes...breathe fresh air... know the world�s still out there...."

A soft sigh escaped the doctor�s lips and she closed her eyes to block out the pleading stare aimed her direction. "Fifteen minutes," she said at last, then hardened her voice. "Not one minute more...and if you give me any reason to believe you�ve been out of that chair, you�ll be restricted to your hospital room unless in the company of myself or a nurse." She waved a finger in Lena�s face before turning a hard look on Bianca. "And you�ll be banned from the hospital." It was time they both understood the games were over. She�d help them, but not if they kept running around behind her back. "Now I�ll help you see each other...or whatever else you want...but not if you�re going to lie to me or pull anymore stunts like this. Understood?" She purposely used her "mom-voice" that particular tone that only mother�s are granted the rights to, but which intimidates nearly everyone who hears it, the memories of youth enough to snap even the most slumped shoulders a little straighter.

"Yes," Lena exhaled.

Bianca nodded. "Understood."

"Good." Maria�s gaze flicked back and forth between the two of them as she wondered just how long those promises would hold. She doubted the subdued aura would last long---there was just too much sexual energy there for it to be that easily contained---but hopefully they�d at least follow orders for the moment. She held up her left wrist, tapping her watch with one finger. "Fifteen minutes," she reminded them, "and if I have to come looking for you, you�ll both wish I hadn�t."

"You won�t," Bianca promised. "You have my word."

"Mine as well," Lena added, her tone so solemn that Maria couldn�t be angry at her.

"Okay," the doctor exhaled, deciding she�d been hard enough on them, "then I�m going to leave you two alone." Brown eyes swung back and forth. God, was this what it was going to be like when Sam and Maddy got a little older? Maria suddenly felt the urge for a drink. "Don�t make me regret my faith in you."

"You won�t," Bianca said again, this time under her breath as she watched Maria move away and slip back inside. She drew a deep breath, letting it out on a slow five count, then moved around in front of Lena. "You okay?" she asked as she crouched down and peered up at her former lover.

Lena tipped her head to one side, her smile one of wry acknowledgment. "A little shaky," she admitted. She glanced down at her hands where they rested in her lap to gain a little distance, her expression becoming serious again. "You?"

Reaching up, Bianca covered Lena�s hands, her touch gentle. "If you meant what you said about staying, I�m fine."

Tipping her head back up, Lena nodded. "I meant it." She reached out, brushing the back of her hand along the smooth curve of Bianca�s cheek, amazed by the texture of warm velvet. "I don�t pretend to understand what�s happening between us...and in some ways that frightens me...but you�re right, I can�t just walk away." She reached out, tenderly stroking Bianca�s hair, petting it back from her brow. "I�m not sure how I�m going to explain this to my mother, but I�m not going anywhere."

A soft laugh and an answering grin, and then Bianca caught the hand slowly stroking her hair and pressed a soft kiss over the knuckles. "I�m glad," she whispered through a smile that began relieved and slipped as the emotion of the moment threatened to overcome her. Resting both hands on Lena�s upper thighs, Bianca peered up at the other woman. "We can make this work. We just need to---"

Lena laid two fingers over Bianca�s lips, halting her mid-sentence. "Before we go any farther, there�s something I need to ask of you."

"Anything---" Bianca started to promise only to fall silent again when Lena held up her hand.

"Don�t promise anything until you know what I�m asking," the Polish woman advised.

"All right," the younger woman said and sat back on her heels, waiting to see what Lena would say.

"I need you to promise no lies between us---"

"Lena, I---"

"Let me finish," the Polish woman requested, and Bianca fell silent, her heart in her throat, terrified Lena suspected something. "I don�t know exactly what happened before," Lena continued, her words broken by uneven pauses as she struggled to formulate her request, "...why we broke up...but it seems obvious I made a lot of mistakes...and I don�t want to make them again. I need you to help me if I�m doing something that bothers you or repeating past errors. I want you to promise you�ll tell me...and not try to spare my feelings or protect me."

Gnawing on her lower lip to keep from saying so many things, Bianca looked away for a long moment as she struggled to maintain her composure. Lena thought it was all her fault; that much was obvious from her words and tone. Prevented from telling the whole truth and not wanting to lie, Bianca was caught in a vice, one which would make it so easy to simply let Lena take that responsibility on her shoulders. Only the absolution would be nothing more than an illusion.

The long delay seemed to confirm Lena�s worst fears that their relationship had fallen apart because of her mistakes. "Please," she croaked. "I don�t want to hurt you again."

Feeling like the biggest heel alive, Bianca shook her head, struggling to find a way out to reassure Lena without making things worse. "When there are problems in a relationship, Lena, it�s never just one person�s fault," she explained. Maybe that was vague enough to settle things.

"But I---"

"Don�t," Bianca cut her off sharply, unable to bear the thought of listening to her former lover blaming herself when she knew just how wrong the entire idea was. She straightened her back and shoulders, reaching up to cup Lena�s face in her hands as she gentled her voice and tried again. "We can do this," she insisted intently, "but only if we don�t get lost in the past." She ran the pad of one thumb along Lena�s lower lip, outlining the soft curve. "We both made mistakes, but that�s not important." She caught a long, slender hand, dragging it to her chest so Lena could feel the solid beat of her heart. "This is...the way I feel about you...and the way I hope to god you feel about me." She ducked her head just long enough to regain her control, then looked up again. "We need to focus on moving forward...on our future...." She trailed off, pausing for a long moment before pleading, "Trust me."

The sounds of the traffic far below seemed to swell and gain power in the moments that followed as Lena sat silently. Finally, she nodded, her expression grave. "I do," she whispered. She�d fought it, and still feared it, but she trusted the younger woman more than she knew how to express. It wasn�t a gift lightly given.

"Then trust me that we can make this work."

Lena nodded. "I do."

Heaving a sigh of relief, Bianca slumped and lost her hold on Lena�s hand as she let her head fall forward until it was resting against her former lover�s knees. "We�ll be okay," she whispered, the words part vow, part prayer.

Leaning forward, Lena rested her cheek against silky hair, coiled over and partially around Bianca�s upper body as she rubbed her upper back and shoulders, the motion as soothing for her as it seemed to be for the younger woman. "We�ll find a way," she promised, then pressed a soft kiss to the back of the other woman�s head. "We have to."

They spent their remaining time like that, simply holding one another, relaxed, their breathing in slow syncopation, the sounds of city far distant. For a little while, they made their own world that nothing and no one else could intrude upon.

It would not stay that way long.

* * * * * *

David Hayward uttered an obscenity under his breath as the computer at the nurse�s station on Lena�s floor continued to reject the passwords he entered. Dammit, they�d changed all of them since he�d been away, and none of the alternatives he�d sweet-talked out of Melinda Carl worked either. Wonderful. So much for Erica�s inside spy. He hoped her info on Lena was better than her knowledge of the computer system or he and Erica might be well and truly screwed.

As he typed in another password option he found himself wondering if Melinda had purposely given him a couple of bogus choices. He�d slept with Melinda a few times when he�d still been on staff, and it would be like her to carry a grudge and get revenge this way. Unfortunately, he was well aware that despite her fawning exterior, she had a temper and a cruel streak all tied up in a nicely shaped, but not terribly bright, nor the least bit ethical package. If she ever put two and two together and realized he was involved with Erica, there would undoubtedly be hell to pay because she always owed somebody money and the prospect of blackmail wouldn�t bother her in the least.

Hearing footsteps, he shoved the keyboard back into place and dove into a nearby waiting room, just barely managing to hide behind a convenient pillar before Maria Grey came around a nearby corner. She had a manila folder open in her hand and was reading as she walked. As he watched, she paused at the nurse�s station to check something on the computer, frowning as she got a look at something. An uneasy chill slid down his spine as she glanced toward the room he knew belonged to Lena Kundera, then back down at the open folder where it now lay on the counter, frowning thoughtfully. She looked back down at the screen again, entering another command. Whatever she saw, it only deepened her frown and she stood gnawing on her thumbnail for a long moment before finally pushing the keyboard back, snapping the folder shut, and moving in the direction of her office.

David watched her go, then hurried back over to the nurse�s station, hoping against hope that she�d forgotten to log out and he could find out what he needed and go. "Damn." No such luck. Maria in her infinite wisdom had logged out and the system was locked up again. He tried several more passwords, but nothing worked, and finally the distant sound of an elevator warned him he wouldn�t be alone much longer. He started for the same waiting room he�d hidden in before, only to change course on a dime as he heard footsteps coming from the direction of Maria�s office. David dove into the nearest room, hoping he�d find it empty. He did, and the door slid shut just as he heard the sound of voices. He cracked it, picking out Maria�s soft timbre. A wry, exotically accented reply marked the other speaker as Lena Kundera. Apparently she�d been out of her room, probably escorted by her mother. Satisfied he hadn�t been discovered, he pulled the door shut to avoid detection and leaned against it, breathing harder than normal.

God, he was getting too old for this sort of thing. A few years ago, he�d have gotten the info he wanted and been out of the place with a half a dozen thoroughly seduced nurses in his wake, all without cracking a sweat. Now he couldn�t even crack one of Joe Martin�s goddamned passwords, and was stuck hiding alone in the dark just like all the other rats.

Thank you, Erica

. The next time he felt like cuckolding Jackson Montgomery, he was just going to say no. Let someone else dance attendance on her. Once this was done, it wasn�t his job any longer.

He waited a few more minutes in the interest of avoiding detection, then slipped the door open a notch to see if the coast was clear, only to freeze as he recognized a familiar voice.

"I�ll be back tomorrow, Lena, I promise."

David opened the door a little wider, his jaw dropping as he realized who was exiting Lena�s room. "Bianca?" No, it couldn�t be. According to what Erica knew Lena didn�t remember her, and Paulina Kundera had ordered she be banned from the hospital. Why the hell would she be here promising to come back? His jaw hardened as he found himself wondering if Lena had somehow drawn Bianca in with another con, maybe playing on Bianca�s sympathies in order to set Erica up for a little blackmail scheme.

His teeth ground together until it was a wonder his molars hadn�t turned to powder as he contemplated the possibility that the Polish woman was playing people he cared about for fools. That wouldn�t do. His eyes narrowed as he watched Bianca step back into the hospital room doorway as though she couldn�t quite leave yet, her soft laughter hanging in the air. He slid the door closed until it was barely open a crack when he glimpsed Maria moving down the hallway toward Bianca.

"I think that�s enough for one night," the doctor chided very gently. She leaned past Bianca to peer into the room. "You�re still on the mend, and I don�t want you to wear yourself out."

Leaning back into the room, Bianca spoke again, and though David couldn�t make out the words, he could hear the affectionate note in her voice. To his ears she sounded genuinely happy for the first time since Michael�s attack. What the hell was going on? Lena and Bianca had broken up months ago, had barely spoken as far as he knew, and suddenly there was Bianca playing the supportive what? Friend, lover, candy striper? Bianca had such a kind heart. She�d try to help her former lover if she could, and Lena Kundera was more than capable of using that very sweetness against the younger woman if she wanted. And did she want to?

He had no idea, but he was comfortably certain Erica was unaware of this little turn of events. He wondered if she�d regret helping save Lena�s life if she found out. Suddenly Bianca was in the hallway again, Maria walking along beside her, and he slipped the door closed again. Explaining his appearance wearing a lab coat and doing his best to look like a doctor in a hospital he was technically banned from even entering was not high on his list of things to do that day.

* * * * * * *

"Are you sure you wouldn�t like security to escort you to your car?" Maria asked Bianca as she walked with her toward the public elevator.

The young woman waved her off. "Really, I�m fine," she assured the doctor, smiling light-heartedly, her mind still on the time spent with Lena. "I�m right next to the entrance."

Impossible to miss how the girl was floating a good six inches off the ground, Maria thought with some irony, instinct telling her it wasn�t likely to last. There were just too many angry, hurt people, and too many lies piled upon even more lies for the current peace to be more than a lull in the storm. In her experience, no matter how much love there might be, relationships built on ground that shaky never had an easy time of it. It was like building a nuclear reactor on a fault line. It might seem stable, but sooner later something was going to crack loose and the result was always toxic. "Bianca, I---" she started to try and offer the girl yet another warning only to pull up short as Bianca turned her way, her expression light and happy for the first time since Maria had returned to Pine Valley.

"Yes?"

Maria drew a breath to say something, then couldn�t do it. She just could not put her heart and soul into shattering that happiness, not when the poor kid had seen so much tragedy over the last couple of years. It just wasn�t in her to be that cruel, even if it might turn out to be a kindness later. If fire and brimstone was going to come raining down in the long run, maybe it was better to just let them grab at any happiness they could for as long as they could. "Nothing," she said as she offered a tired smile. "I just wanted to remind you to drive carefully." Besides, what the hell did she really know anyway? She just had a bad feeling and a few hunches. With any luck she was the one who was wrong.

"Don�t worry," Bianca assured her, too lost in her own happiness to notice Maria�s less than cheerful mood. She pushed the call button for the elevator, then turned to face the doctor. "And thank you...for understanding...and helping Lena and I."

If anything, Maria�s smile grew more wan. "I just hope you two can help each other," she said a little haltingly.

Bianca never noticed the other woman�s reticence, her gaze already distant as she considered the future with some sense of hope for the first time in months. "We will," she said confidently. The elevator arrived, ending any further discussion. "Thanks again, Doctor, and I�ll see you again tomorrow night."

"Same bat time, same bat channel," Maria said wryly.

Too young to get the joke, Bianca smiled a little blankly. "Right."

Then the elevator doors closed on the girl, leaving Maria alone with her conscience and her worries. Ruffling her hair, she stood where she was for a long moment, silently contemplating what she�d noted in the files Jackson Montgomery�s office had finally faxed over. If she was right, there were no easy answers. Some cans of worms are best left closed if humanly possible. But if she was right....

If she was right, there might be no avoiding it.

Finally, she turned and hurried back to Lena�s room, unaware of the eyes that silently tracked her as she passed by.

The doctor found Lena still awake, her uninjured arm folded behind her head, staring at the ceiling with a glazed look. Lost in her own thoughts, she didn�t seem to realize she was no longer alone until Maria reached for her chart and the steel folder clattered as it was opened.

Lena looked down, smiling as she recognized the doctor. "Thank you for what you did up there," she said, nodding to indicate the roof.

Maria shrugged, still uncertain she was doing them a kindness. God, what a mess. "You have a right to see anyone you want."

"I don�t always feel that way since..." Lena trailed off momentarily, uncertain how to describe her current situation, "since the accident," she muttered at last. "Sometimes I feel like a child again...or at least like everyone thinks of me as one."

Flicking the folder closed, Maria peered at the other woman. "I think we all know you�re not," she disagreed seriously. "But at the same time you were hurt...and you�re missing a lot of knowledge. I think that makes people feel protective."

"It�s not protectiveness that made my mother ban Bianca," Lena said resentfully.

Actually, it was, but Maria could hardly explain the reasons to the other woman, so she simply said, "I think she feels it is."

Lena just shrugged, her stomach churning with tension as she considered that she was going to have to confront her mother over her desire to stay in Pine Valley. That was not going to be pleasant, no matter what reason she came up with. Was it worth the fight, she wondered, then she remembered the sense of being safe and of belonging. It wasn�t a feeling she was used to, but there was no denying the appeal, nor the appeal of the woman who triggered it.

Definitely worth it.

"Lena?" Maria questioned, sensing there was more going on in her patient�s head than she was admitting to.

The Polish woman offered a wry smile. "Just thinking about things," she answered without further explanation.

Uncertain she wanted to know, Maria opted to change topics. "Can I ask you a question?"

Refocusing on her doctor, Lena nodded. "Of course."

"I know you�ve said you don�t remember anything from the night of the accident," Maria said to clarify.

"That�s right," Lena confirmed. "Nothing."

Maria took long moment to debate her options. If there was any chance the man in the report had been David Hayward, then it might offer an explanation for Lena�s memory loss, and maybe some hope for getting it back. "Sometimes people aren�t really aware of their own memories. They can be there...just hidden," she said at last, then added by way of explanation, "Sometimes if something triggers that memory, a person can bring it up again."

"Okay," Lena said hesitantly. Not understanding where the doctor was headed with that point, she waited for her to continue.

"I want you to think back. It was raining that night. You�d rolled your car. It was on its side and you were pinned in it...hanging from the seatbelt, your arm caught between the steering wheel and the car door. You were there for quite awhile before help came. That�s why you lost so much blood...." Maria spoke slowly and carefully, watching for any sign that the story was bothering Lena. Sometimes resurfacing memories could be incredibly traumatic, as she knew too well. Lena showed no sign of being bothered, so the doctor continued, "Finally someone showed up...helped you. They called in the accident and looked after you until the emergency vehicles got there." She laid out the story as factually as possible. If Lena would just remember something, it might make things a lot simpler---or a lot more difficult because certain answers would almost force her into certain actions.

"Okay," Lena said a little blankly, believing Maria, but with no emotional investment in the story she was being told.

"Do you remember anything of that night? Is there anything in that story that sounds familiar...or triggers a memory?"

Lena considered the question for a long moment, searching her memories. Nothing matched the story. Finally, she shook her head. "I�m sorry...but no."

"Try to envision the scene," Maria pressed, and Lena closed her eyes, struggling to do as asked. "What about a dark haired man? Medium height, about 40...a doctor. He would have treated your wounds as best he could."

Still blank, Lena just shook her head. "I�m sorry," she said at last. "I really don�t remember anything."

A frustrated sigh escaped Maria�s lips.

"Is there a reason this is important?" Lena asked, the doctor�s intensity leaving her confused and uncertain why it mattered.

Wondering if should have left well enough alone, Maria shook her head. "I just got your accident report and the paramedics described a man on the scene who sounded familiar, but they didn�t get his name...and I thought you might remember."

"I�m sorry," Lena apologized again, sensing that it was important to the doctor, though she couldn�t see why. "Perhaps you should just ask him," she suggested logically.

Unable to explain why she really couldn�t do that, Maria lied. "He�s unavailable right now...and I�m not sure when I might have a chance to speak to him."

"Ah," Lena exhaled, then shook her head. "Well, I�m afraid I can�t help. It�s all still missing."

Nodding her understanding, Maria jotted a few notes in Lena�s chart, her expression bland. She had no desire to let on that she was worried and already going over possible options in her head. Her patient already had more than enough on her plate. She didn�t need this too, especially since it was still only a vague suspicion. No reason to upset her for what might be nothing. Once back in her office, it would be no problem to order the necessary tox scans. There was a sample of Lena�s blood taken the night of the accident. If there was something unusual there, they could find it.

Which left Maria wondering whether she should hope her suspicions were right or wrong. Either answer had its inherent dangers, and neither offered any easy solutions. Which was about par for the course in her experience. She suddenly realized Lena was watching her curiously, a hint of a frown touching her brow, and silently reminded herself to keep her game face on with this one. She was too sensitive to people�s moods by half. "Sorry," she apologized, faking a yawn. "I guess I fogged out for a moment. Been on duty a little too long."

"You should get some rest," Lena advised with genuine concern. "Can�t have my doctor in worse shape than I�m in."

"I will," Maria assured her patient. "I�ve got a few more things to do tonight, but barring any emergencies, I should actually get home before midnight for once."

"I�m sure your husband will be glad to see you," Lena made conversation as Maria checked a few more things and jotted more notes.

"We�ve both been pretty busy lately," the doctor allowed, "so, yeah, it would be nice...assuming I can actually get out of here." Several recent near misses had left her uncertain she could actually manage the feat. Finally, she snapped the file shut and turned a professional smile Lena�s direction. "I think that�s it for now. Do you need anything before I go?"

"I can�t think of anything." Lena shook her head, her eyelids already feeling heavy. The excursion with Bianca had left her pleasantly tired.

"Get some sleep then," the doctor advised, "but if you need anything for the pain or to help you sleep, just hit the call button. I�ll leave an order on file to let you sleep unless you ask for something." Lena preferred to go without meds where possible and Maria was all in favor of that choice so long as the pain wasn�t too severe and she was getting enough sleep. She�d seen too many people walk away from serious injuries addicted to drugs to be too eager to press them on any patient.

"Thank you," Lena said softly.

Maria stepped to the door, pulling it open as she glanced back at Lena. "I�ll see you in the morning then."

* * * * * *

Still listening at the door, David heard Maria speak and opened it a crack, peering out in time to see her exit Lena�s room and stride away in the opposite direction. Opening the door a little wider so he could see better, he watched as she rounded a distant corner. He waited another few moments, then widened the crack another couple of inches so he could check the rest of the corridor.

Nothing moving.

He almost wished that wasn�t the case because the conscience he thought he�d long since discarded was not being kind. After years of being silenced and ignored, it wasn�t strong or loud, just whispers in his ear reminding him of all the pain that Bianca had suffered, making him want to make certain she suffered no more.

Whether that involved saving Lena Kundera or....

Or.

He didn�t like that unfinished thought at all because it wasn�t really unfinished, but rather a not quite conceivable contemplation of one of the few evils he�d so far managed to avoid committing in his life. His comment to Erica had been the product of sarcastic resentment for the position she�d put him in. This was something far more serious.

What would he do if Lena recognized him when he entered her room? What if she offered a seductive smile, threatened blackmail, made it obvious she was playing a game with Bianca�s emotions? What would he do then?

And conversely, what if there was nothing? What if her eyes were blank and confused, her mind gone due to his actions?

Neither option was in the least bit pleasant, and either one seemed likely to ultimately leave his soul stained with one more sin. He would just as soon have avoided this little visit altogether and maintained some level of plausible deniability for his part in the whole sorry mess.

Unfortunately, since he�d failed to break in to the computer, there was only one way left to discover what he needed to know. And that involved finding out personally.

He thought of what he�d seen of Bianca. She hadn�t seemed upset. In fact, if anything, she�d seemed happier than he�d seen her in a long time. That hardly seemed likely if Lena was a vegetable. Was it possible her memory had returned, but that the night of the accident was either missing or something she�d opted not to share with Bianca? If she�d put two and two together, she might have chosen to keep it to herself to avoid hurting the younger woman. Of the possibilities, that one seemed like the most desirable by far. It would leave his conscience clear on all counts---past, present, and future---or at least as clear as what little of his conscience survived was capable of being.

Finally, concluding it was as safe as it was ever going to be, he slipped out of the darkened hospital room, moving quickly and purposefully.

Entering Lena�s hospital room on light feet, he glanced around. The lights were low to allow the patient to sleep, but still bright enough to enable him to navigate easily, and he easily spotted her, apparently asleep in bed. David wondered whether he should be relieved or disappointed. Pushing that thought back, he reached for her chat, quickly paging through Maria�s notes. A complete list of test results would have been far preferable, but beggars couldn�t afford to be choosers, and Maria was as thorough as ever so at least was a reasonable amount of information at his fingertips.

Unfortunately, it wasn�t the right information to answer his questions. "Shit," he exhaled under his breath. He was still trying to decide what to do next when a muzzy, thickly accented voice reached his ears.

"Doctor?" Lena was leaning on her elbow, peering at him through a sleepy squint.

Caught, David froze. He was standing between the bed and the light, probably little more than a silhouette to her. Even if her memory was intact, she might not recognize him under these circumstances.

Lena�s head tipped to one side as she studied him. "Are you new?" she murmured at last.

If she did have her memory and still hadn�t recognized him, she would the moment he spoke. On the other hand, if he just stood there like some kind of mute stalker, how long before she hit a call button, and he found himself on the wrong end of a security detail? "I...uh..." he tried to make his voice a little deeper than usual, though he suspected it wouldn�t fool an idiot, much less the woman on the bed. "...I usually work a different floor. Filling in for a friend tonight."

"Ah," Lena exhaled and sagged into the mattress with a tired sigh. "You can go ahead and turn on the lights if you want," she told him as she gestured loosely with her good hand. "I couldn�t sleep anyway."

"That�s all right," David started to say. "I can...." He trailed off as Lena ignored him and reached up to flick on the lamp over the bed, throwing the room into bright illumination. David froze once again, one hand tightening into a fist as her head started to come back around. She was as taller or taller than he was, but slightly built. It wouldn�t take much to....

And then she was staring at him. No hiding his face now. David stood perfectly still, waiting for her response.

She blinked, still watching him. Her eyes were wide, blank, and mildly curious. All he could do was stare. Still waiting and silently wishing for some sort of response, he hunted for some small sign, a twitch that would give away her thoughts. There was nothing.

"Are you the doctor on duty?" she asked when she finally spoke. Whether she really didn�t remember or was playing it that way, she showed no sign of recognizing him.

"Yes, that�s right," David muttered, fighting the urge to glance over his shoulder in case someone came in. "I just wanted to check on you...see how you�re doing."

"Fine," she answered, then shrugged. "Just thinking."

A polite smile curved Lena�s mouth, though he thought she looked a little uneasy. Maybe a sign of recognition? David couldn�t tell. Perhaps it was time to push it a little and see how she reacted. After all, the woman had damn near killed herself for Bianca Montgomery---love her or hate her, pulling a con or completely honest, he couldn�t imagine Lena could hide her emotional reactions where her former lover was concerned. "I saw a young woman leave here earlier. Bit late for visitors, isn�t it?" He threw the words out there, watching carefully to gauge her response.

"She�s a friend," she said very softly, the words coming slowly as though she was being cautious or maybe just uncertain. David couldn�t decide, and it was important he be very certain. His eyes narrowed as he studied her, hunting for something that would convince him one way or another. Nothing. Lena Kundera was a pro at fooling people, but he was no slouch at it. If she was playing a game, so was he. Ultimately, it came down to which one of them was better at it.

"I thought you didn�t remember anyone in Pine Valley," he said at last, not bothering to hide his suspicions. If she remembered him, she was smart enough to know he was onto her.

Caught up in her own thoughts, Lena didn�t recognize the start of a verbal fencing match. "I don�t...but she�s someone I knew..." she paused, gestured to her head, then added, "before...."

David frowned. Her tone wasn�t that of a sharp con artist, but rather a young woman, a little lost, but innocent. "So...she just stopped by for a visit?" he questioned, still pushing. Unfortunately, Lena was good enough that her seeming innocence could be nothing more than an act. God knew, she�d played innocent well enough before. "Have a good time?"

"Yes...it was nice to see a friendly face," Lena continued, unaware of his suspicious perusal. "...and I guess I�m getting to know her all over again."

Could she possibly be faking that soft note of caring and affection, trying to play on the sympathy she knew he felt for Bianca?

David was still considering the question when Lena abruptly changed topics to ask, "Do you know if Dr. Grey has left yet?"

It took him a moment to process her question. "Ah...no, I�m sorry, I don�t." He looked at the folder, trying to look busy, then back at her. "Did you need something?" He wondered what he was supposed to do if the answer was yes. He couldn�t exactly get Maria for her, and anything else risked raising suspicions.

Lena shook her head. "She was supposed to leave early...and I was just hoping she got to. She works too much, I think...don�t you?"

"She�s definitely very determined about her job," David murmured, hoping the comment was sufficiently neutral.

Lena didn�t appear to notice his unease, her attention elsewhere. "She�s been very kind." She looked at him again, offering a shy smile. "If not for her..." She trailed off and was silent for a moment before speaking again. "Well, she�s helped me in a number of ways," she said without further elaboration, leaving David to wonder if perhaps she had a bit of a crush on the doctor. Given the situation and her sexual preference, if she really had lost her memory, it wouldn�t be much of a stretch. Patients often developed feelings for their doctors, and Maria was an attractive woman.

"She�s a very caring doctor," he said, tempted to ask more questions. Unfortunately, he couldn�t think of a good way of phrasing any of them. Probably better to table that thought. He stepped closer to the bed, peering down at Lena, silently assessing the injuries he could see. She stared back at him, her eyes clear, her expression questioning but not scared though perhaps a bit uncertain, as though she wasn�t quite sure what to make of him. Finally, he retrieved the stethoscope draped around his neck and leaned over her. "I just want to check a few things."

Used to being constantly poked and prodded since waking in the hospital, the Polish woman didn�t bother to argue as he studied her head wound, shined lights in her eyes, checked her reflexes, listened to her heart, and asked a myriad of questions about her physical condition. She went into a sort of autopilot mode, doing as told, but letting her thoughts wander elsewhere; elsewhere mostly being defined as Bianca Montgomery.

David noted the way Lena zoned out, appearing to barely listen, but was it real or just a way to shield her emotions? If she was trying to block him out, she was doing a good job, because he couldn�t read her. "So you said that young woman was a friend?" That ought to shatter that impregnable emotional wall.

Yanked out of her musings, Lena looked up, her expression still hard to read. "Something like that," she answered, though he had a sense that she was holding back.

David�s eyes narrowed ever so slightly. In his experience when people were holding back, it was for a reason. Only if she�d seemingly just met Bianca, what could Lena�s reason be? "Sounds complicated," he prompted when she didn�t continue.

Dark eyes slid closed, blocking him out. "It is," Lena exhaled. "It�s...difficult," she said after a brief pause, "when others don�t approve of..." another pause, then she continued, "...of a friendship."

David wondered if Lena realized that she�d let it slip that she knew everyone disapproved of her, but he kept his tone perfectly neutral. If she was playing Bianca, then he had no moral qualms about playing her. "People can be very judgmental," he said with false sympathy, hoping she�d think she had him snowed and slip up some more.

"Parents especially so sometimes," Lena said very softly.

David tensed, fingers tightening into a fist around his pen, fury sliding through him in response to the not-so-subtle reference to Erica. Despite the bait he kept his expression blank, careful not to show his hand. He was almost sure. So close.

"They see only other people�s lies," Lena continued, looking up to focus on him through clear eyes, "and overlook their own."

That was it. She was playing with him. The bitch was playing with him. Throwing that comment out there was no accident. He would have had to be blind or far more naive to miss the obvious threat, no matter how innocently it was offered. Obviously she remembered the accident, and she�d probably used her time since waking very well.

David glanced around, noting the spare pillow that sat on the counter next to the bed. Probably there to help prop and/or pad her broken arm as needed. Keeping his tone calm, he went along with her as he quietly agreed. "Parents can be very difficult. They never really understand."

"No," she said softly, seemingly distant, but he wasn�t fooled. "Nor do they see how dangerous their own lies are...how those lies can hurt their children...and force them into untenable positions."

No doubt in his mind now that she was fencing with him, making it clear just what she held over him, and threatening to tell Bianca what she knew. God, how that would hurt the girl, and she didn�t deserve any more pain. His molars grinding, David stared down at the top of her head. Lena was so damned beautiful, her voice low and inviting, the threats so subtle anyone else might have thought they were a plea for understanding. Luckily, he saw right through her ploy. He reached out with his left hand, laying it on the stiff, hospital pillow with its rubberized cotton casing and plastic inner lining. What prevented bacteria and moisture from entering would also stop air flow very neatly.

She was silent for a long moment, leaving him to wonder if perhaps she was feeling a measure of regret for her actions. Did it bother what little conscience she had left that she was hurting Bianca one more time or did Michael Cambias� whore think nothing of one more betrayal?

Finally, she cleared her throat, sounding so lost and sad even he almost believed her. "They don�t see how they force people to lie more to protect the original lie."

She looked up again and David froze, amazed by how utterly unaware she managed to appear, as though she wasn�t firing shot after shot across his bow. He might not want it, but he had his answer. No one feeling any regret could lie so believably. She was as cold as she was beautiful, that innate appeal and ability to make a body want to protect her every bit as much a lie as everything else about her. Everything Maggie had ever told him about her was sickeningly true.

"And then they have the audacity to stand in judgment of others," Lena continued at last, unaware of his grim thoughts, "for perceived moral failings far less than their own." Her head dropped again in a perfect mockery of aggrieved innocence, doubtless designed to tug his heartstrings.

It only made him angrier.

God, she was good, but was the bitch really so over-confident that she thought she could swing him to her side? She reached up, appearing to rub at an escaped tear. Apparently she was. David�s fingers closed on the pillow, clutching it tightly. The inner lining made a tiny, plastic rattling sound that seemed like a warning klaxon to his ears, but Lena didn�t appear to notice as he lifted it off the counter, clutching it in both hands. After the number of seizures she�d had, no one was likely to ask any questions. They�d just assume another had struck while she was alone, and she�d quietly succumbed.

It would easier for everyone that way. Bianca might mourn, but he�d see to it she never learned the truth about her former lover. The loss of someone who was barely in her life anyway seemed far kinder than learning just how thoroughly she�d been betrayed one more time. She�d already moved on. Hopefully she would quickly forget Lena had even existed.

"How could my mother say those things about Bianca?" Lena exhaled so softly it took the words an extra beat to catch up with David.

But when they did, he froze. "Your mother?" he repeated on a sharp gust of air as though someone had struck him in the stomach just as he began to speak.

Lena nodded without looking up. "She accused her of using me and manipulating me...lying to me...just because she�s...." Lena trailed off, was silent for a long moment, then tried again. "Mama doesn�t see...or doesn�t want to see that I�m the same."

The heartbroken note in her voice held David perfectly still. For a moment, he thought even his heart stopped beating.

"If it means she�s evil...worthy of such disdain...then so am I." She paused, narrow shoulders straightening as though she was trying to get herself under control. "I�m sorry," she apologized. "I�m sure you have more important things to do than listen to my problems."

Suddenly David Hayward was having doubts. If it was all just a game to let him know she knew about he and Erica, why bring up her mother? "It�s part of the job," he said almost too quickly, "and I�m happy to listen."

Her mouth turned up in a shy smile. "Thank you. You�re very kind."

Feeling anything but, David ignored the compliment."You said your mother dislikes this friend?"

A small disgusted sound escaped the Polish woman�s lips and she nodded. "She doesn�t see," she whispered, her voice ragged with emotion, "how very special Bianca is."

And suddenly David knew.

It was in the way Lena said her former lover�s name, soft yet full of a thousand levels of indescribable emotion. Love was easy enough to fake. He�d done it a few times. But that all-encompassing kind of emotion was another matter entirely. She was trying to hold it back, keep it hidden, and it was too intense to be dammed that way. Dear god, she wasn�t playing anybody.

Then she looked up and if David had thought her tone was the ultimate proof, it was only because he hadn�t looked into her eyes yet. Not really, not when it was Bianca she was thinking about. Wide, scared, hurt, and so ass deep in love, it made his chest ache just to look at her. He�d been lost like that once, with that all-consuming, desperately wanton sort of passion. And then a child�s death had broken it and them until they were all unrecognizable. Knowing what that could be like, he almost pitied her.

Unless she was the best goddamned liar in the universe, she was telling the truth. It wasn�t Erica�s or disapproval she was talking about, it was her own mother�s. She really didn�t remember.

And he�d nearly�

David couldn�t finish the thought. His stomach suddenly rolling with violent nausea, sweat streamed down his back in wide rivers, and his hands shook so badly the plastic lined pillow made a noisy rustling sound.

This time the sound drew Lena�s attention to what had nearly been the engine of her destruction. "I don�t need that tonight," she told him, showing trace of awareness or fear of what had nearly happened. "It�s more comfortable to just leave my arm alone...and I don�t seem to be injuring it in my sleep."

He set the would-be murder weapon aside as quickly as he was able, the stiff cotton case feeling like it might just burn his fingers if he held onto it any longer. It abruptly occurred to David that he should get a blood sample. He looked down, noting how his hands were trembling. Normally, he was all steadiness and arrogance. Not now. Hit a vein in his current condition and it would be purely by accident. Knowing he could afford to even try for blood, he used the opportunity to study her, seeing what he�d been unwilling to accept before. She wasn�t the same woman he�d met before. Oh, the body was the same, and the mind was just as sharp, but emotionally she bore only a slight resemblance to that Lena Kundera. This woman was softer edged, younger, not so beaten by life, and if there were tragedies in her past, Bianca wasn�t one of them. He resisted the urge to reach out and smooth her hair the way he might a child�s. She seemed just that young. "It sounds like you really care for this woman," he croaked unsteadily, the words as much about his discovery as her emotions.

Lost in her own thoughts, she was unaware of his inner turmoil. "I do," she said at last. "Even though I don�t remember what happened between us...it feels right...like she really is..." she cut herself off, clearly changing her wording at the last moment to say, "...a good friend..."

David heard the verbal glitch. "Maybe more than a friend?" he asked, still reeling and speaking too quickly as a result.

Lena blanched, her adrenaline rushing so hard it made her hands tremble. He knew. He�d seen through her and knew and so would everyone else. "I-I...she�s...she�s just...she�s...it�s not..." she stammered.

"It�s okay," he soothed, her obvious panic bringing him out of his own paralysis. Dear god, was Bianca really involved with her again? Everything about Lena�s responses indicated the answer was yes, and certainly the young woman had sounded happy when he�d overheard her. Still, he had a moment�s doubt. Bianca had pushed the other woman out of her life after the rape in a way that bordered on cruel. Bianca had denied it, but he�d always assumed she blamed the Polish woman for her part in Cambias� schemes. Given that situation was there any chance the girl was using Lena�s amnesia as an opportunity to get some kind of revenge?

No, he pushed that thought aside almost as quickly as it came. Bianca wouldn�t do that. If she was seeing Lena again, it had to be because she still cared for her. Nearly losing someone could make even the most serious betrayals seem minor by comparison.

He abruptly realized Lena was still stammering uncomfortably, her trepidation enough to knock him out of his self absorption and cause years of training to kick in. He calmed almost instantly, his head clearing, the awful guilt pushed aside for the moment. He had a patient in pain, which left neither time nor room for his own problems. Guilt and recriminations could come later. Now he had to help her if possible. "I know Bianca Montgomery is gay." It didn�t occur to him until after the words were out of his mouth that she�d never said Bianca�s last name. He could only hope she wouldn�t notice the slip.

"Oh." Ducking her head, Lena stared at the sheets, plucking idly at the delicate threads with her good hand. "I guess you know then that...." She didn�t finish, but her meaning was obvious.

"Yeah," David confirmed. "And it�s okay." It seemed clear to him that the last thing she needed was more shame. And if Bianca really had taken her back, then he owed her whatever support he could muster.

"I doubt my mother would agree." A sad, ironic smile twisted full lips. "She considers such things a sin."

"Then she�s wrong," David told her seriously. "Honest love is never a sin."

Love. Amazing how one word could have the power to make a body tremble and shake, Lena thought as she felt an uncontrollable shudder slip through her. She and Bianca had both avoided using that particular word, dancing around it as if by tacit agreement, though she found herself wondering if it had passed between them before. Had it been something they�d avoided or had they said it easily; speaking it aloud while making love, whispering it in public, mouthing it across rooms full of people? She didn�t know and she wished she did. "I hope you�re right," she admitted. Suddenly exhausted, she sagged back onto the mattress, her voice tight with emotion as she whispered, "Because I don�t know what I�ll do if you�re wrong." She couldn�t change her feelings, and the notion that they might be wrong or ugly in some way was almost too awful to consider.

Seeing the way she collapsed into the mattress, David realized he�d already pressed her too hard and backed up a step. Considering the severity of the recent accident, she was actually doing surprisingly well, but it was obvious her strength was way down. "I don�t think I am," he offered, hoping that would soothe a little of the worry he saw.

"And my mother doesn�t think she is," Lena said very softly, her gaze unfocused, no longer seeing him, but rather the scenario playing out in her mind�s eye of what her mother would say if she learned about her reasons for wanting to stay in Pine Valley. And what would that be? Nothing kind. Of that Lena had no doubt.

Tempting as it was to suggest she simply tell her mother to go to hell, David held his tongue. It had to be scary as hell to wake up five years younger, in a strange place, with the only person you knew one who disapproved of who you fundamentally were. "I�m sorry," he said at last. "I hope you find a way."

"Thank you."

Lena folded her good arm over her eyes, and her voice was rough, leaving him to wonder if she was crying. He�d entered contemplating murder, and was leave feeling guilty as hell for leaving her in tears. Oh yeah, his life was going right to spec tonight.

"You�ve been very kind," Lena added.

"No, I haven�t," David rasped, his own guilt starting to catch up with him, "but I mean it when I wish you well."

She didn�t appear to notice the odd phrasing, too focused on her own problems to concentrate on his.

He reached up, flicking off the light over her bed and throwing the room back into the usual dull, nighttime illumination. Knowing the dim flourescents were behind him, and he was again little more than a silhouetted shadow, David felt safer and more in control. Time to get out of there before he made another mistake. "You should get some sleep now."

"You�re right," she exhaled, her voice ragged and uneven. "Thank you," she added, and lifted her arm to peer at him, "for listening. It helped to have a friendly ear."

If he weren�t so sure she wasn�t lying about her memory loss, David would have wondered if she was twisting the knife on purpose, cheerfully adding to the load of guilt already amassing on his shoulders. After all, how often does the intended victim offer gratitude? David didn�t speak, or more correctly couldn�t. He moved to the door, and started to step out, only to change his mind and look back as he found his voice again. "Good luck, Lena," he rasped. He feared she was likely to need it. A frisson of awareness slid down his spine, something akin to a psychic flash in his head.

And she wouldn�t be the only one.

He turned, hurrying away from her room at top speed, but not fast enough to escape his thoughts.

There were too many lies, and too many liars on the loose: himself, Erica, Bianca apparently, because whatever she�d told Lena about their past together, he sincerely doubted it was the truth, probably Maria and most of the hospital staff, certainly Paulina Kundera.

And there sat Lena Kundera in the middle of it. Once Machiavelli, now the innocent; a goddamned clueless gazelle among a pack of what? More gazelles, or hungry lions? He honestly didn�t know.

He stripped off his labcoat and tossed it in a garbage can as he passed.

And what would happen if she ever became Machiavelli again?

David lengthened his stride, eager to escape.

Would Lena thank them all for protecting her, or would she strike back? David knew exactly what he�d do, and he feared she wasn�t so different. Would there come a day when he regretted sparing her? That thought didn�t go down well for a thousand reasons. It tore at him and tormented him, threatening to destroy everything he believed about himself and force him to look at what he�d become.

He was shaking and nauseous again by the time he reached his car, and nearly stumbled as he climbed in. His stomach still rolling wildly, he draped his arms over the steering wheel, and concentrated on breathing slowly and deeply in an effort to control the urge to vomit. Dear god, what had he nearly done? Innocent brown eyes haunted him, and the nausea worsened until he thought he might just have to open the car door again in a hurry.

He cursed volubly as he remembered he hadn�t even gotten the blood sample. Precious little gain considering the risks he�d taken.

Oh, he�d gotten enough for Erica�s sake. She could rest as easy as she ever did. Lena didn�t remember, and she was falling in love with Bianca all over again, so if she did remember, she�d probably stay quiet to protect Bianca from the pain of knowing about her mother�s infidelity. He supposed it might be best not to tell the grand diva that last part. Erica probably would have listed Bianca breakup with the Polish woman as the one good thing to come out of her daughter�s rape.

That thought occurred before he could banish it, and he supposed he should feel guilty for it, but considering the ideas recently running through his head, it seemed painfully minor by comparison.

Besides he wasn�t feeling terribly happy with Erica at that point.

He rapped his fingers on the steering wheel, tapping out a staccato rhythm.

He had what she wanted now.

But not what he wanted, or at least not what the doctor and researcher in him wanted. He needed to know what had caused Lena�s memory loss. Was it her injuries or his formula? And if it was his formula, was there anything he could glean from her condition that might help him improve it? The relatively basic physical he�d given her hadn�t given him any answers. Even the blood test would have bought him scant real information. He needed more.

He needed Lena�s complete test results. In some strange way, she was still his patient and he had a responsibility to her. Oh, he was smart enough to know no one else would understand, but that didn�t change anything. His internal debate didn�t last long. Finally, David pulled out his wallet and dug out a scrap of paper with a number jotted on it. His cellphone in hand, he dialed it. Not his preferred course of action, but the only option he saw if he was going to remain true to himself. "Melinda, this is David Hayward. The passwords you gave me didn�t work," he told her call messaging. "I need Lena Kundera�s test results...so you�re going to get them for me and be well paid...or Joe Martin just might hear about that little insurance scheme you ran last year...and I don�t think you want that to happen." He paused no more than a second. "I�ll expect them by tomorrow night." The words were said in a hard voice intended to act as a threat. He knew Melinda. Bribes were all well and good, but it was best to make sure she knew the price if she tried for a double cross. He clicked the phone off, waited a moment, then dialed another number; from memory this time. "Erica...it�s David." Apparently no one was answering tonight. Which was probably just as well considering his mood. "You�re in the clear. She doesn�t remember a thing...now don�t call me again." He clicked the phone off for real this time, then started the engine and pulled out of the hospital parking garage, eager to get home. There was a bottle of scotch with his name on it there, and he planned on crawling in and not coming out until he absolutely had to.

Lies, betrayal, attempted murder, and the resulting guilt are all things that demand a good bout of drunkenness.

And David Hayward planned on getting very drunk indeed.

* * * * * *

In the modern age, it takes only a few keystrokes to electronically transfer the vast majority of any patient�s medical data from one place to another. Lab results, computerized images, all of it stored in bits and bytes, and all it takes is the right password.

Melinda Carl had the right password. Her teeth were gritted and she glanced up frequently, but she knew the schedule on Lena Kundera�s floor, and she knew she still had a little time. Unfortunately, recent security upgrades meant that even with the password she�d stolen from a colleague who always wrote such things down due to a mind like a sieve, she could only get what she wanted through the nurses� station that served the Polish woman.

Damn David Hayward. She thought she�d gotten rid of him with the outdated passwords. She should have known he wouldn�t leave well enough alone until he had what he wanted. And now she was the one stuck doing the dirty work. She supposed she should be happy to make a few bucks out of the deal, but she didn�t like being forced to do anything, not even by the high and mighty David Hayward.

And what did Hayward want with Lena Kundera�s records anyway? She smirked, wondering if he was trying to get into the Polish woman�s pants, maybe hoping to blackmail her with a little something embarrassing. That would be just like him. Or maybe it was about money. Lena didn�t seem to have any, but her family obviously did. She�d seen the notes in the files. Lena�s bills were being paid in cash and no insurance company was listed. Of course, given that the it was David, the answer was probably yes to both. He was always running some kind of scheme, and a rich woman with no memory would be right up his alley. Hell, the fact that she apparently preferred the "company" of women would probably be a real sop to his ego; leave him thinking he was real man. Having shared his bed a few times, she could only smirk at the idea. Now there was a man much too impressed by his own perfection to actually be good in the sack.

Finally, she hit the button to send the file to the email address he�d given her---doubtless anonymous---entered a few more commands to hide her tracks, and logged out. She was just about to make a successful exit when a hard voice interrupted her self-congratulatory thoughts.

"What the hell are you doing?"

Melinda froze. Dr. Maria Grey. Of all the people she didn�t need finding her here, Chesty LaRue was at the top of the list.

"I said, what are you doing?" Maria repeated, her tone coldly furious.

Moving with the care of a drunk at a traffic stop, Melinda pulled her hands back from the keyboard and did a slow pivot, desperately trying to appear nonchalant. Dr. Silicone was standing a short distance away, her eyes blazing, one foot tapping restlessly. "Doctor Grey," the nurse said, her voice nowhere near as steady as she would have liked, "I was just checking on the schedule for a patient who�s due to be transferred up here sometime this afternoon."

A dark brow shot up. Maria wasn�t buying that excuse at all. "Really?" she drawled doubtfully.

"Yeah," Melinda lied, "our station is having computer problems, so this was the logical one to use to check on things." Which was true enough. Everybody did it all the time. The hospital�s computer system was notoriously unreliable.

Unfortunately, Chesty was as thorough as ever. "I was just in ICU checking on a patient. The computer system appeared to be working fine to me."

"Well, it wasn�t just a little while ago," Melinda insisted on the thesis that once you�ve picked a lie, stick with it.

Maria wondered if Melinda�s lies worked better on the male doctors as the other woman puffed out her chest and did her best to look stupid at the same time. The stupid thing she did remarkably well, not to mention the chest puffing, but Maria was neither distracted nor inclined to think Melinda was that stupid. Greedy, and shortsighted? Yes. But she also had a sly cunning that made it unlikely she was simply going about her job. Not when she�d already been caught selling information on a patient. She gave Melinda one more chance to come clean. "Tell me what you were really doing, and I�ll consider whether or not to take this to Joe Martin." Sometimes in Maria�s experience it was best to just eschew any pea shooters and go straight to the big guns. When it came to threats, Joe Martin was as close to a Howitzer as she could come.

No way in hell Melinda was going to do play it that way, not when Boobarella was so obviously out to get her. "I told you, the computer at our station wasn�t working right," she hurled at Maria as if daring her to call her a liar. The computers were down all the time. No one could prove she was lying. "I needed to check on a patient�s transfer status."

"Who?" Maria asked very simply, lips twisting into a hint of a smirk as the other woman froze, the color draining out of her face. It was odd, she thought, how liars always seemed to forget some key element where the lie and reality didn�t mesh. "Get the hell off my floor," she growled, not giving the nurse an opportunity to try and correct her mistake, "and then I suggest you meet with your union rep...because I promise you, I�m going to do my damnedest to see you fired with cause."

In spite of the earlier warnings, that caught Melinda by surprise. She hadn�t thought Dr. Grey would really go that far. "Y-you can�t be serious," she stammered.

"The hell I can�t," Maria disagreed. "You were ordered to stay off this floor...and now you�re here...and my guess is that whatever you were up to had to do with Lena Kundera." She stepped forward until they were toe to toe. "How much did Erica Kane pay you to keep track of her daughter�s lover? Or were you maybe supposed to cause a little bit of trouble into the bargain," Maria suggested grimly. That would be just like LaKane. "That woman�s got enough problems. She doesn�t need you helping Erica Kane to try and torpedo her."

"You don�t know what you�re talking about," Melinda tried to cut that line of inquiry off. Maria remained hard eyed and furious. "Jesus, what the hell do you care about Michael Cambias�---"

"Don�t say it," Maria hissed. Lena Kundera was a patient, and they had a duty to protect her best interests, no matter what her past sins or mistakes. "Don�t you ever refer a patient---any patient---that way again." Whatever her past, she liked Lena, but more than that, she felt protective, and she was damned if she would see any patient mistreated on her watch. She got right up in Melinda�s face. "I hope Erica paid you well...because I�ll see to it there�s a computer backtrace, and if it confirms my suspicions---and I think it will---you won�t be able to get a position as a candy striper." She pointed toward the elevators. "Now get the hell away from my patients and off my floor."

The staredown lasted only a moment before Melinda broke and fled.

Cursing softly, Maria reached for the phone on the counter and dialed Joe Martin�s extension from memory. It might take a few days to resolve things, but Melinda had had her chance. This time she was toast. "Joe, it�s Maria Grey," she said when his voice mail picked up, "I need to speak with you asap."

* * * * * *

Holed up in her office, Bianca was bent over the latest financial report on Fusion, barely even pretending to work. A folder was open on her desk, the contents spread out before her, but her mind was elsewhere. She hadn�t turned a page in close to an hour, though her fingers kept tracing and retracing the neat margin notes as though they had a mind of their own.

She loved Lena�s handwriting. It was like a microcosm of the woman herself, long, flowing, neat and perfectly shaped, but sometimes hard to read.

No, that had been the old Lena, the one who sometimes frightened Bianca because she was never completely sure what the Polish woman was thinking. She�d lied so smoothly and easily in the beginning that Bianca found herself forever doubting the veracity of nearly everything she said, even when she was telling the truth. Not like the woman in the hospital, whose eyes were just as soft, but far more open, who had no secrets left to keep. A wave of uncomfortable guilt swept through Bianca as it occurred to her that perhaps Lena�s current appeal was in part because she no longer seemed to possess the capacity to lie.

Or to tell when she was being lied to.

She was still struggling to push that thought aside when a light knock on the door rescued her from her own thoughts. Bianca looked up just as the door opened, smiling as she recognized the newcomer. "David," she said quickly, smiling and waving him into her office. "What can I do for you?"

Stepping inside, David Hayward pushed the door closed in his wake as he turned an affectionate smile her way. "Can�t a friend just stop by to say hi?"

"Of course," she assured him and indicated the chair on the opposite side of the desk. "You just caught me by surprise," she admitted. "I wasn�t expecting anyone."

Watching her carefully in an effort to gauge her mood, David offered a smooth smile. "I was in the neighborhood...thought I�d stop by, see how you�re doing...maybe take you out to dinner."

Glancing at her watch, Bianca noted the time with some surprise. It seemed like the day had just floated by while she wasn�t looking. Clearly her mind had been elsewhere. "I�m sorry," she apologized, "but I don�t really have time. I have to be tonight...and I need to go home beforehand to check on Tyler and grab a shower."

He tried to appear surprised, though he was comfortably certain he knew where she was going. "Oh, anything interesting?"

Bianca started to brush the question aside with a non-answer, but something in David�s expression stopped. He�d always been so kind and understanding, not like all the people who�d constantly stood in judgment of her every decision. She looked away, mentally debating, her heart suddenly racing in her chest. God, why was it so hard to just admit she was visiting Lena? It didn�t even mean admitting they were still involved, that she wasn�t the broken, asexual little girl everyone wanted her to be since the rape, that she�d found comfort in desire despite Michael�s attempts to destroy that part of her nature.

Bianca shivered, sensing she stumbled over something important in that stray, resentful thought.

"Bianca?" David broke in, prompting her when she didn�t immediately continue.

Yanked out of her musings, Bianca blinked, the near-discovery slipping away in an instant. Her attention was drawn back to the papers under her hand where Lena�s neat handwriting served as a physical reminder of the ties between them. Lena had signed the bottom of the last page to certify she�d read it and the notes were hers, and Bianca ran her thumb over the graceful script.

Kendall was going along with her plans where Lena was concerned, but at the same time she�d made her disapproval plain. David would never do that. He�d simply support her and understand. Only the mere thought of telling him made her pulse race and her palms sweat with fear. Dear God, what was wrong with her? She knew perfectly well she could trust David. He would never think less of her, even if he disagreed with her decision.

Frowning worriedly, David resisted the urge to pace around the desk to go to the girl. This wasn�t good. The last time he�d seen Bianca this distracted, she�d been hiding the worst secret of all. Dear God, had something happened to Lena during the night, or worse had he been wrong and she had been fooling them, and Bianca found out? "Bianca," he said her name more again, then finally pressed very gently, his tone tender, ready to help her any way she needed. "It�s obvious something�s bothering you," he began carefully. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Bianca�s voice caught, a sudden, overwhelming rush of emotion catching her by surprise. She loved David dearly, but in some ways his presence was a reminder of other times when he�d used that same caring tone of voice and offered her more support than anyone should ever have to ask for. It took her a moment to gather herself before she could speak. "I don�t know if you�ve heard," she said at last, "but Lena�s in the hospital. Car accident," she said at last, the words coming in a nervous rush. She�d played uncaring distance when it came to her lover for so long that it was hard to let go of the facade, even with David.

"I know," David admitted, hoping that would make it easier to open up to him.

Startled, Bianca looked at him. "But...how?"

"Hospital grapevine," he said by way of answer, hoping she wouldn�t question his answer. That could make things difficult. "I heard she was pretty badly hurt."

"Yeah." It never occurred to Bianca to doubt his answer. She knew doctors talked to each other. "She almost bled to death..." A tiny shiver slid over her skin as she remembered that first look she�d gotten at the other woman. It wasn�t so much the memory of cuts and bruises that haunted her, but the image of Lena lying so perfectly still she might have been dead. She�d come so close. That thought would forever haunt Bianca.

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, trying to read her mood without much success.

"It�s complicated," Bianca croaked after a moment, unknowingly echoing David�s description to Lena the night before. It was all too insane for her to put into words.

David stared at her downbent head, trying to decide exactly what that meant. He knew Bianca had visited Lena, and he�d seen the emotion in Lena�s eyes, but maybe he�d misread things and it wasn�t the same for Bianca. Was she just helping Lena out of a sense of responsibility and feeling pressured by the other woman�s emotional response? "Y�know," he interrupted her thoughts, "just because a relationship�s over, it doesn�t mean you stop caring about someone."

Just because a relationship�s over

, Bianca repeated David�s words mentally. She�d worked so hard to create that illusion and at the same time it seemed so wrong to hear him say the words. Her relationship with Lena was far from over, no matter what anyone else thought.

"I know that if Anna ever had a problem, I�d do anything I could for her...but it wouldn�t mean we were back together."

Bianca tried to interrupt and push the issue aside, then maybe he�d stop talking about things he didn�t understand at all. "I don�t know what you�re---"

David was having none of her attempts at avoidance. "I know you�ve been to see her," he told her, not really considering the possible ramifications of that little confession.

Bianca�s chin rose and she lost all color, her eyes wide, black orbs, the sense of being caught doing something wrong knocking the air from her lungs.

"It�s okay," he quickly assured the girl, wanting to erase that look of terror. "It�s understandable that you�d want to know how she�s doing...that you�d care. But, Bianca," he continued, wanting to comfort her and ease her mind, "it doesn�t mean that you owe her anything, or that you have to get back with her...even if it seems like she needs you."

A confused frown creased Bianca�s brow as she stared at David, not quite understanding his point. "I don�t owe her anything?" she repeated doubtfully. She was having a hard time reconciling David�s comments with her expectations.

"That�s right," David assured her, thinking he finally knew what was going on. Bianca must have heard about the accident and visited Lena just to be kind, but alone and scared, the Polish woman had probably become more attached than Bianca was ready to deal with. Soft hearted as she was, Bianca probably felt like she should return the other woman�s feelings, even though it seemed obvious that any romantic emotions were long dead. "I know she�s hurt, but that doesn�t mean you have to return her feelings...or that your kindness has any deeper meaning or responsibilities attached to it."

Bianca shook her head slowly, uncertain precisely what David thought was going on, but confident that he had it all wrong. "You don�t understand."

"I do," David disagreed, absolutely certain he�d figured it all out. "I know you don�t want to hurt her, but it wouldn�t be right to let her think you still love her, or that there�s still a chance for the two of you."

Suddenly Bianca understood, and he was so far off-base it was almost funny. She had to fight a hysterical giggle. "David, you really don�t---"

"I know you, Bianca. You�re a kind person. You�d never want to hurt anyone---"

He kept talking and getting it all wrong, and she just wanted to make him stop. "David, it�s not---"

"I�m sorry if she misunderstood your intentions, but that�s not your fault---" he continued as if she hadn�t spoken.

Bianca tried again. "No, she just---"

And still he continued, seemingly oblivious to her protests, so convinced he�d figured everything out that he just thought she was trying to deny the obvious. "But, Bianca, you aren�t responsible for her. No matter how much you care, you have to take care of yourself first."

"We�ve been sleeping together for months," she said in a rush, the words out before she could think better of them. It wasn�t what she�d meant to say, but it was guaranteed to end his lecture. Suddenly, they were both silent, the words hanging between them with near-palpable weight and presence.

Her confession stopped David. Dead in his tracks. He just stared at her as though he couldn�t possibly have heard right.

Bianca sat perfectly still, dreading the lecture she was sure would come. She�d thought David would understand, but suddenly it seemed like he was likely to say all the same things that her mother and Maggie always harped on whenever Lena�s name came up. Oh, he�d be kinder than either of them, but no less disapproving.

So shocked he barely knew what to think, David sat with his mouth hanging open for a long, uncomfortable moment. "Maggie never told me," he said at last.

This time the mildly hysterical giggle did escape Bianca�s lips. Right, tell Maggie and she�d never hear the end of it. Her friend hated Lena with a passion and never missed an opportunity to run her down. Just having Lena working for Kendall had been enough to trigger more than a few bitch sessions, and she never let Bianca forget that she blamed Lena for the rape and thought she should too. Not wanting to fight, and tired of listening to it, it was easier to just leave it alone. "She doesn�t know," she said and quickly added, "and I don�t want her to." She valued Maggie�s friendship, but the other girl was too good at reminding her of every doubt, every reason to distrust, every mistake Lena had ever made, and she just couldn�t deal with that, not right now. Lena needed her, and she couldn�t let herself be pressured into pushing her aside again.

"Okay," David said hesitantly. "I won�t tell her then," he assured the girl. "But Bianca, I thought you two...that you---"

"That I broke up with Lena," Bianca broke in, not giving herself any breaks as she added, "just threw her out of my life like she meant nothing to me."

David flinched at the pain and guilt in the girl�s voice. Hating the self-loathing he could see and hear, he wanted to offer some kind of comfort yet didn�t know how. All he could really do was listen.

"I did," the girl said, her voice threatening to crack. "I just couldn�t.... "She trailed off, then tried again. "None of it was her fault, but I...." Again she couldn�t finish. It just hurt too much. She pushed that subject aside and took another tack. "I tried to...to forget...but then things were closing one night a few months ago...and I called her. I didn�t really mean to...but I needed...her." She�d tried to tell herself so many times that it had all begun because she�d needed someone---anyone---that night, but that had just been an excuse. It was Lena she�d needed for so long, Lena who made her feel safe and protected and whole again when everyone else failed to, and Lena who�d given back so many of the things she thought she�d lost. "She didn�t ask any questions...just came over...whenever I called..." She trailed off, the tightness in her chest and throat making it nearly impossible to talk for a moment. David was looking at the floor between his feet, the surface of her desk, the walls, in short anywhere but at her. It made the confession easier in some ways and harder in others. "Sometimes she was just the only one who could help." She wanted to explain why; why she�d needed Lena and why she�d kept it secret. Then maybe she�d understand it herself. She�d come up with so many reasons, so many excuses really, but none of them really explained her actions. She�d told herself so many things: that it was because they all hated Lena, that she didn�t want to listen to their insults and disapproval, that she wanted something that was hers alone, and that it was none of their business, but the honest truth was that she didn�t really know why she�d been so secretive about the relationship.

David struggled to catch his breath, trying to think of something to say. "I�m glad she was there for you," he said at last.

Bianca exhaled a heavy sigh of relief, grateful that David seemed to understand and hadn�t found fault with her for caring for the Polish woman the way it seemed almost everyone else did. "She was," she whispered fervently, wanting him to understand that Lena had done everything she could have asked for, been so sweet and caring that she would always be grateful. "She never once complained or refused to help." She wrapped her arms tightly around her body, drawing into herself. "She made me feel safe and cared for and I just...I just needed that." No, she�d needed Lena.

"I think I understand," David stammered. Knocked for a loop and uncertain what to say or do, he was just desperately trying not to screw up.

"I have to be there for her, David. I owe her that." She needed him to see how wrong he was when he said she didn�t owe Lena anything, but also that it wasn�t about any kind of debt. "And she needs me."

"Of course she does." David took a deep breath, then let it out on a ten count. His stomach was suddenly rolling the way it had the night before as it occurred to him that far from protecting Bianca he�d nearly taken one more thing from her---someone she clearly needed more than any of them had realized. "And you want to be with her," he croaked at last. That explained a lot. It seemed he�d misread the situation in every way possible and nearly made things so much worse.

Bianca nodded. "Her mom forbade me from seeing her." She didn�t elaborate on the reasons, too ashamed of Paulina Kundera�s accusations to repeat them, especially since some of them were partially true. "But Doctor Grey has been helping us...so I can visit her...."

"After normal visiting hours," David filled in when the girl trailed off. Which explained what he�d seen and heard at the hospital.

Bianca nodded. "It�s the only way we can see each other."

"And you want to see her," David said, the words somewhere between a question and a statement. He was still struggling with the whole idea that Bianca had been sneaking around with the Polish woman, not quite believing it even though Bianca had made it clear that was the case.

"I have to." Another nod. "She was hurt, David, lying there so still. I thought she was dead." Her voice cracked again. "I can�t lose her, I just can�t."

She looked so utterly heartbroken that David had to close his eyes to block her out for a moment just to maintain some semblance of his own stability. And he�d thought the guilt had been bad the night before. When he opened his eyes again, he reached across the desk, covering her hand with one of his. "You won�t," he assured her. "She�s in the best hands. She�ll be okay."

"You don�t understand. She doesn�t remember me," Bianca rasped, unaware that he already knew about Lena�s condition. "Some kind of amnesia. The last several years are missing."

David tried to look surprised, though he suspected he didn�t pull it off very well.

"They think it was probably caused by a head wound. Her intelligence is normal though," she added quickly, not wanting him to think that Lena was some kind of vegetable. "And she�s conscious and very much aware of her surroundings now. I�ve told her we were involved...and she wants to keep seeing me." A sad, poignant smile curved her lips. "I know it doesn�t make sense, but we connected...almost like in the beginning...before..." She didn�t finish, but the sad look in David�s eyes told her he understood. "Anyway, what we have is special...and we both feel it."

"Sometimes nearly losing someone can make it easier to see what�s important."

"That�s what it feels like," Bianca admitted, "like I know what�s important now...what I have to do...take care of her."

"Then she�s very lucky to have you there for her."

Bianca shook her head. She hadn�t done such a good job of being there for Lena so far. She looked down at Lena�s notes again. "The problem is her mother wants to take her to Chicago when she�s released from the hospital," she whispered, her tone sliding over into near-hopelessness.

Remembering the look in Lena�s eyes when she�d said Bianca�s name, David didn�t believe she was going anywhere, but he could hardly let on what he�d seen. "What does she know about the situation?" he questioned, trying to sound like he didn�t know anymore than she�d told him, though he suddenly wasn�t sure exactly how much of what he knew came from the girl in front of him, and how much from other sources. That was the problem with lying; the longer it went on, the harder it got to keep the story straight.

Bianca nodded. "Just about she and I and that she worked for mom...nothing about Michael...or any of that. Maria�s afraid it would upset her too much...maybe endanger her health."

"Makes sense," David exhaled. "Considering the seizures and the amnesia, they�ll want to keep her as calm as possible until they know what�s going on."

Another nod. "The thing is," Bianca continued, "her mom�s putting a lot of pressure on her. She said she�d stay, but...I don�t know if she really will." She understood the kind of pressure Lena was under all too well. Knowing how poorly she�d done against it, she wasn�t sure she even had any right to hope Lena would do better.

A long moment of silence followed as David composed a response. "I know she loved you before," he began at last, "and if everything you�re saying is true...I don�t think she�ll be able to leave anymore than you can let her go."

"I can�t lose her," Bianca swore intently, barely even seeing David as she considered her lover.

"You won�t," he assured her. "I promise." A muscle worked in his jaw. She�d already lost too much. He wouldn�t see her hurt again.

Full lips twisted in a hint of a wry smile. If only it were that easy. "Thanks," Bianca said very softly. She glanced at her watch, suddenly eager to see Lena again and dispel the rising tide of doubts. Maybe if she just saw her and talked to her it would reassure her that everything was going to be okay. "I really should be going," she said too quickly, aware of the way he was looking at her. "I really need to stop by the house before I go to the hospital." She scooped the papers back into their proper folder and dropped it back into a desk drawer, purposely not looking at David.

His expression painfully sad, David nodded. No matter how much he wanted to, he couldn�t really help her. "I understand."

Nodding, Bianca swallowed hard to banish the sudden threat of tears, unable to look at David for fear she really would lose control. "Thanks," she croaked unsteadily, purposely concentrating on gathering her things together. She slung her jacket on and grabbed her purse, all but running for the door.

"Bianca," David said softly, his voice drawing her back around, "if there�s anything I can do to help, you only have to ask," he promised her.

"Thanks," she said again. "Don�t worry about locking up. The staff�ll do it later," she said.

"Okay." He�d been about to offer to walk her to her car, but it seemed obvious she didn�t want him to. David didn�t press. He knew there were times when it was best to just get away from everyone. He couldn�t deny her that right. "Call me if you need anything."

"I will," Bianca assured him, and then she was moving, disappearing down the corridor.

David stood in the hallway just outside her office door for a long time, physically numb and sick at heart. "God, let them be okay," he sighed to himself a long moment later. Finally he straightened his shoulders, and headed the same way the girl had gone, saying a silent prayer the whole way.

* * * * * *

Melinda Carl�s mouth twisted into the faintest of smiles---a smirk really---as she stepped into the radiology waiting room. And there sat Maria Grey�s golden girl waiting for a nurse to take her back to her room---she wondered if maybe the doctor had decided to cross the gender divide, and that was why she was so eager to protect Lena Kundera. The smirk broadened a notch. Nothing like a little X-rated speculation to make a body feel superior.

And Melinda Carl needed some reason to feel superior to Dr. Grey because she was going to lose her job. No two ways about it. Joe Martin had already called her into his office and made it clear that this was the final straw. She was now on paid administrative leave, but as far as he was concerned, she was never going to be allowed near another patient in the Pine Valley hospital.

All thanks to Maria Santos-Grey, David Hayward and Lena Kundera. Maybe a few interesting tidbits of gossip would bother the good doctor. It was the only thing she could think of offhand to ruin the woman�s day.

David on the other hand? Well, she still had a few plans for David---profitable ones if she had anything to say about it

And then there was Lena. Not much of interest for her. She didn�t do women especially ones with no money who were too innocent to blackmail. Despite the leering jokes she�d enjoyed making to the other nurses, she knew full well that Lena�s amnesia was real enough. Pity that. It might have worth a bit if it weren�t. Lena Kundera was reputed to have stashes of cash all over the world despite the fact that the fed had confiscated everything they could find when she turned state�s evidence against Michael Cambias.

And speaking of Michael Cambias....

Melinda glanced down at the magazine clutched in a white knuckled hand. Lena�s current state really only left one option. Revenge. Punishment. If Melinda was going to suffer, then Lena Kundera could suffer right along with her.

"Ms. Kundera," she said with a charming, if somewhat brittle smile as she approached the wheelchair.

Looking up, Lena offered a naive smile, utterly unaware of the hatred hidden behind a seemingly pleasant face. "Can I help you?"

"I�m afraid it may be a little while before your ride arrives." Crimson lips continued their lying uptwist as Melinda held out the magazine in her hand, an issue of Tempo, nearly a year old now. She�d ordered it from a backorder shop online when Lena had wound up under her care. It laid out the whole sorry mess, complete with the faked photos of Lena in bed with a client---though the photo hadn�t yet been proven a fake when the article had come out. She�d had a hell of a time finding the issue. It turned out it was a bit of a collectable. Apparently quite a few men out there found Ms. Kundera�s unique charm quite appealing, and they enjoyed the fantasy of Michael Cambias� faked photos. Men were so reliably perverse, much to her advantage. "I just thought you might like something to read while you wait."

Lena offered a blank, somewhat automatic smile as she took the magazine. "Thank you," she said a little hesitantly, suddenly uneasy. There was something about the nurse that set her teeth on edge, though she couldn�t put her finger on what it was.

Melinda tapped the cover with a perfectly manicured nail. "You should definitely check out the article on Michael Cambias...quite a local scandal...and fascinating reading."

"I will," Lena assured the other woman.

"Good...well, you take care," Melinda said smoothly, then glanced at her watch. "I�ve got to go check on another patient now." Which was a total lie. She no longer had any patients to worry about thanks to Lena Kundera.

"Thank you," Lena said again as she watched the other woman leave. She was just starting to thumb through the magazine when an orderly arrived to take her back to her room. "I expected you to be delayed longer," she said as he pushed her along, not noticing the quizzical look that comment earned.

In her room, he carefully helped her into her bed. "My mother?" she questioned, surprised to find the older woman nowhere in sight.

"I think she�s still at dinner, Ma�am," the young man answered. He turned to leave, but Lena�s voice brought him back around.

"Wait," she called out as she remembered the magazine she�d tucked into place next to her hip. "Could you hand me that magazine?" She�d had no reading material since waking in the hospital, and while the magazine appeared to be little more than a lightweight tome on fashion, the notion of something to distract her, no matter how brainless was rather appealing. She was already flipping through the pages when he silently exited.

* * * * * *

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