Title: I Turn to You
Author:
Pink Rabbit Productions
Email:
Yes, please. Feedback welcome and encouraged be it good, bad, or indifferent at pinkrabbit@altfic.com
Disclaimer: Prurient, prurient, prurient. Learn it. Know it. Use it. Oh, and itís all this storyís about. Well, not all. Hopefully there are a few nasty ole emotion thingies thrown in just for good fun. Canít have the prurient stuff without a bit of context. Well, actually you can, but itís not nearly as much fun...at least in my opinion. Then again considering that porn is pretty much the most lucrative thing on the internet, my opinion may be the minority one. Oh, and Lena and Binks, they belong to other folks...kinder, gentler, much better represented folks with absolutely no need whatsoever to sue a poor, starving artist like míself. Really, a Cease and Desist would do the trick, in case anyone from legal is reading this. Actually, a strongly worded email is probably all it would take as Iím a compete and total utter coward, unless money is involved and then I do grow a bit of a spine (true story: I once got a receipt for a bribe I paid to get into Russia, and got reimbursed by my employer too---Bwah!). Meanwhile, I mentioned, the prurient part, right? Well, just for the record, itís prurient action between two (gasp!) women (insert brief pause while a 12 year-old in Topeka dissolves into a fit of adolescent giggles), which means that if youíre gonna be offended by that sort of all female, nudity driven, prurient action, then you should probably go find something else to read. I would make a suggestion, but...um...I just donít know of anything likely to be innocent enough. Sowwy, Iím just not built that way. *evil grin* Meanwhile, if youíre underage, this isnít for you Ďcos of that prurient thing. You should learn about prurient stuff the way the rest of us did...incorrectly on the streets from your friends (though methinks Internet porn may have already made that option obsolete). Lastly, if you live in a place where reading this would be illegal, donít read it. Pack, move someplace where you can read it, then read it. And finally, for those of you who admit to actually reading these notes, I really pity you because youíre officially weirder than I am, and trust me, thatís saying something because I am the original oddball, donít let the fact that I look like a normie fool you, damn, sheís weird, slacker child. Bwah!
Authorís Note: Iím embarrassed to admit that I wrote the disclaimer before writing anything else (contrary to popular opinion, I donít normally do that...and I donít normally write the stories just to try and get an audience for my stand-up disclaimers either), and ...well...the promises of prurient may be a bit overblown, or itís entirely possible I was being a tad on the mocking, sarcastic side. Anyway, while the damn thing was supposed to be about sex and went off and got all emotional on me, plus...well, there are times in life when wild, gymnastic sex is not really a likely option. As it turns out, 8+ months pregnant and making love for the first time after being raped is one of them (yes, I did actually already know that...but...well...apparently didnít consider it very closely until I actually got down to the nuts and bolts of, yíknow, writing things). *sigh* And if you think reading this is weird, you should trying being me. Itís a scary thing. Anyway, I just wanted to warn you that if youíre looking for a whumpa-whumpa, burning hunk of love, ooh-baby, ooh-baby, bleep me till I canít bleep no moí, hot-hot-hot action, this story will probably disappoint you. Iím sorry for that, but then Iím sorry for a lot of things, so this is just one more on a very long list.
One More Authorís Note:
You guys are gonna get real sick of Ďem soon, arenít you? Just a brief note that the original title of this was Connections, but I decided it was too close to Disconnected. The title is from Melanie Cís I Turn to You because the lyrics seemed apropos, but I hate songfic (largely because I know almost no current music, and so the lyrics just annoy me--heck, I only heard this song because of Bend it Like Beckham...fun movie, btw), so theyíre not here. However for people far more up on pop culture than I, now you know.
Authorís Dyslexia at Play: And the award for the most dyslexic, yet strangely humorous mistake of the day goes to my wonderful phrasing, "preferred to avoid the hangmanís ax..." So which is it, Barb, the rope or the ax? Poor Lena. As if she didnít already have enough problems. Yes, I caught the mistake, but if I hadnít, I wonder if I could have claimed it was just the sort of small glitch a non-native speaker (or me) might make since it was in Lenaís thoughts?
Final Authorís Note: Rewrote the ending. Hopefully itís working better now.

I Turn to You
(version 2.0)
by Pink Rabbit Productions

Crouched down in front of her livingroom fireplace, Lena Kundera stirred the dying remains of the fire with a poker. Not wanting something likely to burn all night, sheíd used an artificial log and had found from experience that if she didnít stir them toward the end, they sat and smoldered, leaving her livingroom with an unpleasantly waxy odor the next morning.

And she was definitely trying to distract herself from more serious worries if she was down to thinking about that sort of thing, she decided even as the fire flared and sent a wave of heat through the room. She glanced over her shoulder, a hint of a frown creasing her brow as she noted that Bianca was still curled into one end of the couch, her expression distant.

Sheíd been like that all evening, so serious, quiet, and not even remotely in the mood to talk that Lena found herself wondering what the purpose of this date was given that it was Bianca who had asked her out for once. Certainly it didnít seem to be an evening of entertainment or light conversation.

Lena considered asking Bianca what she was thinking, but afraid of the answer, she finally just set the poker back on its stand and rose. Her instincts were all on edge, and she wasnít sure she really wanted to press Bianca and risk finding out what was going on in her head because she had a definite sense that the younger woman was debating something and weighing her options, and in Lenaís experience whenever that sort of thing was going on it was more likely to go against her than for her, particularly where Bianca was concerned. If that was the case, she preferred to avoid the headsmanís ax for as long as possible. Pure cowardice, she supposed, but life had taught her to grab at any tiny moments of pleasure available because the misery would come soon enough. She snagged her empty wine glass off the coffee table, then indicated Biancaís which was down to nothing more than a few dregs of sparkling cider. "Would you like some more or..." she trailed off a little uncertainly as dark eyes rose to touch on her.

Bianca shook her head. "No more for me," she said and offered a hint of a smile that seemed strained to Lenaís eyes.

"Very well then...Iíll just put these up," Lena grabbed Biancaís glass as well, trying not to let herself analyze things too closely as she carried both glasses into the kitchen and tucked them into the dishwasher. As she closed things up, she glanced back toward the livingroom, suddenly hesitant to return for reasons she couldnít quite put her finger on. She just had a sense that her head was on the chopping block, and sheíd learned to pay attention to that instinct.

Unfortunately, hiding in the kitchen all night wasnít an option, which meant she had to face her fate sooner or later. Taking a deep breath, she straightened her shoulders, plastered a forced smile in place and stepped back into the livingroom.

Bianca was already watching for her, full lips neither turned up in a smile nor down in a frown, delicate stress lines showing around her eyes and mouth. It was a studied look of total neutrality, not an expression one wore by accident.

Lena couldnít imagine that look portended well for her and she swallowed hard as she felt her knees threaten to buckle. Realizing that Bianca was staring, she offered a forced smile. "Sorry I took so long." A random hand gesture that indicated nothing concrete went nicely with her vague, "I had a bit of a problem."

A frown touched the younger womanís brow. "Nothing serious, I hope," she said quickly.

Lena waved that idea aside. "No...just a...." She really had lost the knack for lying she realized as her mind went blank. "Nothing...really...itís nothing."

Biancaís frown turned faintly quizzical. "Thatís good," she murmured, sounding faintly breathless. A forced smile curved her lips. "I mean, Iím glad nothing serious is wrong."

Lena offered a weak nod and a weaker smile. "Nothing serious," she agreed, the words coming out in a rush. With nothing else to say, she stood there utterly still, feeling painfully foolish.

"I...uh..." Bianca looked away, no longer meeting Lenaís gaze. "Could you...uh...I mean...could we talk?" The words came in halting syllables. Nervous and uneasy, it was obvious that Bianca wasnít looking forward to whatever she planned to say.

Lena swallowed hard, worry turning to near panic, tempted to offer up some sort of excuse in an effort to avoid whatever lay ahead, no matter how weak it might be. Unfortunately, it seemed as though someone had thrown the off-switch in her brain because she couldnít think of a single thing to say.

"Lena?" Bianca questioned when she still hadnít spoken a moment later.

Blinking as if to clear her vision, Lena struggled to kick start her brain which was threatening to simply shut down to protect itself. "Iím sorry...I think Iím just a little tired," she apologized. "Of course we can talk...about anything you want."

A tiny flick of a strained smile touched Biancaís lips and she glanced down at her hands. "Thanks," she said a little breathlessly, then looked up again. Gesturing to the other end of the couch, she offered a look Lena suspected was meant to be calming, though it had quite the opposite effect. "Why donít you have a seat," she suggested, a weak smile curving the corners of her mouth upward as she tried to make a joke, "before I get a neckache from tipping my head back this far."

Any answering smile she managed to summon decidedly forced, Lena sat, her posture too straight and stiff. Flashing a sideways glance at Bianca, she avoided meeting dark eyes, afraid of what she might see there and instead concentrated on almost anything else, the distinctive shape of Biancaís advancing pregnancy, the delicacy of pale hands where they rested on folded legs, the line of bare feet that Lena knew from experience were more than a little ticklish.

"Lena?" Bianca said her name again, forcing to look up and acknowledge the other womanís close perusal.

"What did you want to talk about?" Lena questioned, hoping she sounded calmer than she felt.

Bianca ducked her head again, staring at her hands where they sat twined together in her lap for a long moment before looking up through her lashes. "We havenít really talked...since...I mean...not seriously..." she said at last only to realize too late that she hadnít made the slightest bit of sense. "I mean, we havenít really talked since weíve been seeing each other again," she tried again, "about...everything."

"No," Lena agreed quietly. Afraid of making some kind of mistake, sheíd allowed Bianca to lead the way and the younger woman hadnít seemed eager for any more serious topics, so sheíd simply let it go, grateful to accept whatever crumbs she could get, well aware they might have to sustain her for a long time.

Dark eyes dropped momentarily, the rose again, so wide and luminous that Lena thought she might be able to simply lose herself in them. A slender hand caressed the inescapable reality of her distended belly, the gesture inherently protective but also forcing Lena to acknowledge that very real obstacle in their path. "Iím due soon," Bianca whispered after a long beat.

As if Lena could forget. Michaelís child. Her fault. An ongoing tangible reminder of the evil that had brought her to town as well as her failure to protect the woman she loved. "I know."

"And we havenít really talked about...things...after..." Bianca said haltingly.

Lena nodded, her heart seemed to beat in a vacuum in her chest, leaving a painful, hollow feeling. She looked away, the sense of the ax falling toward her neck so intense it took considerable concentration not to bolt. "No, we havenít." In fact, theyíd both carefully avoided the subject, keeping things light and superficial, never going too far or too deep.

"Everythingís going to change once sheís born," Bianca whispered, her voice ragged with stress.

Another nod as Lena stared blankly into the distance. She thought she could literally feel the blade tickling the hair at the nape of her neck. Sheíd known there was a good chance it wouldnít last, her second chance with Bianca, but sheíd thought they were gaining ground. Suddenly she wasnít so sure because Bianca didnít sound like someone about to offer to share her life. No, she sounded like someone who didnít know how to let someone else down gently. "I know," she exhaled and leaned forward, head down, elbows braced on her knees, so scared she was shaking.

A long moment of uncomfortable silence followed while they were both lost in their respective thoughts and fears.

Finally Bianca cleared her throat and spoke, her voice higher pitched than normal and tremulous. She was nervous as hell and not hiding it well. "Itís just that...things are so complicated," she began, the words coming unevenly in brief bursts with awkward pauses between. "It wonít be simple ... and my life isnít going to be the same...."

No, it wouldnít. Lena closed her eyes for a brief moment, then blinked them rapidly in an effort to banish the threat of tears, fiercely determined that she wouldnít beg. She wouldnít do that to Bianca or herself. If this was the end, sheíd just do her damnedest to accept her lot gracefully and not put any more pressure on the younger woman. All of which was going to be much easier said than done.

"I mean, momís trying to accept that Iím going through with this, but itís going to be hard for her...and thereís going to be a lot of gossip...once everyone starts to figure things out...."

Lena finally forced herself to look at Bianca. She was fiddling with a throw pillow sheíd tugged onto her lap and appeared to be close to tears. Not exactly the look of someone about to say, ĎCome be my lover and share my life with me.í More like, ĎIím sorry, but it just wonít work.í Considering her history, Lena couldnít even blame her. Not exactly the ideal influence for a child.

"I just...I donít want to hurt anyone but...." Bianca trailed off, her voice so rough she couldnít continue.

The fingers mindlessly pulling at the fringe on the pillow were shaking, Lena noted and her heart sank a little lower. She hated it all, hated the pain and uncertainty, but mostly she hated what the situation was doing to Bianca. Unable to bear it any longer, she reached out and covered a cold hand with her own, stilling the nervous plucking. "Itís all right," she said very gently, nearly overwhelmed with her own pain but determined not to let it show and make this any harder for Bianca. "I understand."

 

A hint of frown creased Biancaís brow and she offered an uncertain look. "You do?"

Lena nodded, hating the guilt she saw in dark eyes. "And itís all right," she repeated even as she silently castigated herself for wanting too much. Despite her best efforts, she hadnít been able to hide her desire to be allowed back into the other womanís life on a full-time basis. She should have known it wasnít possible. She squeezed the hand under her own, rubbing Biancaís knuckles lightly. "Really. I knew going in to this that...that it probably wouldnít last."

Bianca blinked, her mouth working silently, throat bobbing gently as she swallowed hard. "You did?" she whispered, her voice cracking mid word.

"Itís only logical," Lena croaked. Desperately wanting to take the younger woman in her arms and soothe the pain she saw in her expression, she pulled her hand away lest she give in to that impulse and pushed to her feet, turning to face the last remains of the artificial log still smoldering in her fireplace. She rested one arm and forearm on the mantel, bracing herself to keep from dissolving completely. She could do this. It was the best thing for Bianca, and she just had to accept that. "And itís all right," she said again as though she could convince herself if she just repeated it often enough. "I realize that my presence in your life would only make things much harder." She massaged her temple which had begun throbbing violently. Probably her blood pressure going through the roof. "And that is the last thing I would ever want to do."

"What?" Bianca whispered, her voice very hesitant and small.

Lena forced herself to turn, struggling to project an aura of calm control. It was a total lie, of course, but she was an experienced liar. Unfortunately, not that experienced---nobody was that experienced---and she heard her voice crack as she made a valiant effort to look like she was handling the whole thing well. "After all, who would want me anywhere near their child?" As if on cue, the last dregs of the fire went out, throwing the room into near-total darkness so that all she could see of Bianca was her silhouette and the occasional glitter of her eyes. "With the things Iíve done...my past...." She trailed to a halt, felt the burn of tears and the sensation of choking. Still she struggled to marshal on. "And my ties ... to...." She fell silent again, then found she couldnít do this while facing Bianca even if she couldnít really see her. Lena pivoted and went back to her position leaning against the mantel and staring into a nonexistent fire. Her heart was throbbing too hard and too fast in her chest, the pain enough to leave her wondering if she was going to survive. "I just want you to know that itís all right and I understand," she added, her accent thick, stress making English a challenge. Swallowing hard, Lena moistened her lips in the hopes of getting through what she wanted to say.

"Lena---" Bianca began, but Lena cut her off, well aware that she was one small step from falling apart completely and wanting to get this done and over with before she lost all control.

"Let me finish, please," she begged, uncertain she could get through this if she didnít do it quickly.

Bianca was silent this time.

Which was easier as far as Lena was concerned. She could almost pretend that Bianca wasnít really there, that the words she was uttering were meaningless, and she wasnít helpfully slitting her own throat to make things a little easier on the woman she loved more than life itself. "I know you," she continued, her voice low and rough, "how soft-hearted you are...and I just donít want you to feel any guilt." She closed her eyes again, clutching the mantelpiece tightly with her hand as the world threatened to tip on its axis. "And I want you to know that Iím very...grateful...for the last few weeks...the time weíve spent together...and the trust youíve shown me...."

"Grateful?" Bianca rasped.

"Very," Lena admitted, finally giving into temptation and peering over her shoulder, eyes searching out what little she could make out of Biancaís shadowed figure where she sat on the couch. She only allowed herself a moment to drink in the sight, then turned away again. She couldnít do this while she was facing her former lover. "I just want you to know that I could never regret any time we spent together...and if you ever need anything, you only have to ask." She took a deep breath, fighting the panic and desperation, unwilling to give in to them. "And if you want me to leave town before y-you give birth...Iíll go." It cost her everything to make the offer, but she just wanted what was best for Bianca, and it seemed her presence didnít qualify.

"And if I asked you to stay?" Bianca asked, her voice very soft in the darkness.

In some ways it would be harder than going, because it would mean seeing what she could never have and being forever reminded that she was permanently locked out of heaven. At the same time there was a part of her desperate to stay, silently crying out that anything was better than nothing. "Whatever you want."

Lena nearly jumped out of her skin a beat later as a hand landed gently on her shoulder, and she realized that Bianca had risen and moved to join her while she was lost in her own thoughts. She looked over her shoulder at the younger woman, trying to make out her expression in the darkness without success, then nearly jumped again as the hand on her shoulder slid up, tracking the line of her throat and jaw, then brushing her cheek lightly.

"Youíre crying," Bianca whispered at last.

Lena swallowed hard, speech nearly impossible, and the right words totally missing. Of course she was crying. She was surrendering every damn thing sheíd ever wanted in the world, trying desperately to do the right thing, and hating every moment of it. Sheíd sooner have given up a limb than do what she was doing at that moment. "Iím sorry," she muttered helplessly. She hadnít really even felt the tears begin and certainly hadnít intended for Bianca to know.

"God, what have I done to you?" Bianca exhaled, sounding ill.

"You havenít done anything," Lena instantly insisted. "None of this is your fault...and I told you, I understand---"

"Stop it," Bianca hissed and laid her fingers over Lenaís lips, silencing her. "Just stop," she continued, her tone gentling, her fingers caressing lightly once Lena had fallen silent. She curved her other hand to Lenaís shoulder, drawing her around so they were face to face. Lena started to draw breath to say more, but Bianca apparently realized she was about to speak and pleaded, "Stop, Lena...just stop. Just stop talking."

She stilled except for the trembling she was helpless to fight.

Bianca hand dropped from her cheek to rest on her upper chest. "You donít understand," the younger woman breathed at last.

"Iíll be all right," Lena quickly broke in, just wanting to spare Bianca any pain or guilt. "Donít worry. I know that you need to put your child first."

The younger woman made a small, angry sound in the back of her throat and Lena flinched as though expecting a blow.

Bianca tensed, going stock still, her tone breathy and a little shocked when she whispered, "Youíre that scared?"

"No," Lena insisted too quickly, then stumbled as she tried to continue, "just...donít worry. Itís all right."

"No, itís not," Bianca disagreed and slid her hand under Lenaís blouse, spreading her fingers along the upper plane of her chest. "God, your heart is beating so hard." She ran her thumb very lightly along the ridge of Lenaís collarbone.

Not quite understanding, Lena remained utterly silent, waiting to see what would happen next or perhaps simply paralyzed by her own fear.

Bianca ducked her head, taking a moment before she continued. When she tipped her head up again, Lena could see the faint glitter of her eyes. "I never meant to...for you to think that I...." Bianca straggled to a verbal halt, took another long moment to gather herself before finally speaking again. "Did you really think that Iíd spend all this time with you...start rebuilding things just to throw you out of my life once my due date approached?"

Not knowing what to say, Lena simply shrugged, then felt a tremor shake the hand resting on her chest.

"Of course thatís what you thought," Bianca whispered after a long beat. "After the way Iíve..." she trailed off and was silent for a moment before she continued, "What else could you think?"

Confused and knowing only that Bianca was hurting, Lena tried again to offer something that might ease things for her. "Bianca, whatever you need to do for you and your child...itís okay. I understand...and Iím not going to make any trouble for you. I promise."

"Stop saying you understand when you obviously donít," Bianca snapped a little impatiently, then gentled her voice when Lena flinched again. "God, I did this to you," she murmured, and Lena had the sense that she was speaking to herself more than anything else, "made you so afraid...and Iím sorry." She continued caressing the rise of Lenaís collarbone very lightly as she took a moment to gather herself before beginning again, her voice tight with restrained emotion. "Look...I didnít come here to just throw you out of my life. I wouldnít do that...even though I understand why you would think that...but right now I need you to just listen...okay?"

Lenaís chin dipped and rose in a hesitant nod.

Bianca took a deep breath, pausing momentarily before she continued. "I need to ask you something and I need you to swear that youíll think about it very seriously and be absolutely honest," she said at last, her tone deadly serious.

"You have my word."

"Good," Bianca exhaled, then caught Lenaís wrist, guiding a long, fine-boned hand to her stomach, forcing her to acknowledge the child growing in her womb. "Because this is important."

Working on instinct, Lena spread her hand, her gaze dropping. There was little to see in the near total darkness, making the tactile awareness that much more intense as she felt movement through barriers of clothing and flesh. A miniature foot kicked and a thumb-sized fist punched. She almost thought she could feel the shape of tiny fingers and toes and was still involved in the overwhelming sense of another life that she momentarily lost track of everything else.

"Weíve avoided discussing anything serious these last weeks, but thatís not going to be possible much longer. Iím a package deal now and I need to know if you can accept this child completely," Bianca whispered as they stood there like that. "...no reservations...no looking back at who her father was."

Lena looked up, finding the glitter of Biancaís eyes even in the darkness. She was scared, Lena realized in a rush, absolutely heart-wrenchingly terrified. Which perhaps explained how quiet sheíd been all evening, because this wasnít new fear. It was something that had been with her in her head, growing and gaining steam.

"Mom and Uncle Jack are trying...but they canít really look past what happened...at least not yet. I can see it in their eyes...and Kendallís too bound up in her own past." Her thumb was moving lightly against Lenaís inner wrist though it was impossible to know who the caress was meant to calm, Lena or herself. "I need to know if youíll look at her and see him...or if you can let that go...and just see my baby."

Having already spent several sleepless nights agonizing over the question after first learning the truth, Lena was surprised that it suddenly felt like an all new question because it wasnít theoretical anymore. It was a tiny baby knocking fierce blows into her spread palm as though demanding her attention just like her mother was demanding that Lena consider the question with the gravity it deserved."I want you to know that Iíve thought about this...a lot...that I wouldnít have pursued anything these last weeks if I hadnít." She didnít want Bianca to think she took any of this lightly. She knew what kind of responsibility the younger woman was facing. She looked down again, spotting the pale shape of her hand where it rested against the contrasting black of Biancaís shirt. She rubbed her thumb slowly back and forth, feeling the warmth and heat of human flesh, then smiled ever so slightly as a tiny hand or foot made contact as if sensing she was there. "I never felt this before," she whispered after a beat, still rubbing her thumb lightly and feeling an occasional flutter of movement. "A baby, I mean." She hadnít exactly run in the right circles to encounter many pregnant women, and certainly none likely to invite her do something as intimate as feel their child moving.

Bianca stood perfectly still, waiting, letting Lena work through her thoughts now that she had some sense of what was happening. "I understand...and Iím asking if you can...if you want...to be a part of her life...her family?"

The reality of the new life right there, making contact, so close and so vulnerable settled an inescapable weight on Lenaís shoulders, one she could only ignore at her own peril and Biancaís. She finally truly understood what Bianca was asking and it was no small thing. "Iíd be lying if I said the idea doesnít scare the hell out of me," she said at last and felt Bianca tense. Thankfully, the younger woman appeared to have learned from her error and didnít interrupt. "Iím not afraid of seeing anything of him in this child," she clarified. "That doesnít frighten me at all." She lifted her other hand, cupping her palm along the side of Biancaís face. "Youíre stronger than he ever was...and he will never be a part of this baby. You wonít let him be."

"Itís not that simple," Bianca reminded her.

"I know," Lena allowed, "and if Iím afraid of anything itís my own failings." She looked down again, watching her own hand and the slow, rhythmic movement of her thumb. The baby kicked again, apparently determined to charm her completely as it rapidly became real to her at an instinctive as well as intellectual level. Amazing how such a tiny hand seemed to be wrapping its way around her heart in so short a time. Much like her mother, she thought with some irony. "Of not being good enough or strong enough for you...but," she whispered, "this child is a part of you...and there could never be any part of you that I donít love." She ran her thumb along the edge of Biancaís lower lip. "And if you could find it in you to trust me, I would do anything to be a part of your lives...to hold you and protect you both...."

Whimpering very softly, Bianca leaned her head against the support of Lenaís shoulder. Wrapping an arm loosely around her upper back, Lena realized she was trembling violently. "Shhh, itís all right," she soothed as she nuzzled Biancaís temple tenderly, fluttering soft kisses over silky hair and velvety flesh. Bianca wrapped her free arm around Lenaís waist, drawing their bodies together and clinging tightly while her other hand remained nestled on its resting place just over Lenaís heart. They stayed like that for a long time, simply holding one another in the darkened room.

Finally, Bianca lifted her head off of Lenaís shoulder. "Your heartís not beating as fast," she whispered.

Lena shrugged and her lips curved in a hint of an embarrassed, hesitant smile. "Not so scared now." Not that she was exactly sanguine, but she had real hope for the first time in a long time and that made all the difference.

Bianca tipped her head back on her shoulders and Lena could almost feel that dark gaze sliding over her skin like a palpable caress. "But still scared?" she questioned.

"A little," Lena admitted, still uncertain what it all meant. Apparently she wasnít being banished as sheíd feared, but she wasnít sure what to expect or what Bianca intended. She knew what she hoped, but after months on the outside, she wasnít sure how realistic those hopes were. "Iím not quite sure what all of this means yet."

Bianca reached up and then Lena felt a gentle finger stroke her cheek and outline the shape of her lips. "It means that...if youíll have me, I want you with me in this."

Lena drew breath to answer, no question in her mind if that was what Bianca was asking of her, but the younger woman laid fingers over her lips, silencing her before she could speak.

"Donít answer too quickly," Bianca cautioned, her voice low and a little hesitant as though it was hard to say what she needed to, "because I want you to know that I realize how much Iíve hurt you...and that I am so sorry."

Not wanting Bianca to take that kind of guilt onto her shoulders, Lena was ready to deny the softly spoken words, but gentle fingers returned to her lips to silence her.

"Donít try to deny it," Bianca commanded gently, her voice thick in ways that made Lena want to just wrap her in a protective hold and keep her safe from the world. "I know the mistakes Iíve made ... and how many people Iíve hurt...and I canít guarantee I wonít screw up again."

The self-doubt in Biancaís voice tore at Lena, and she reached up, catching a fine-boned hand and peeling Biancaís fingers away from her lips. "No one can, Bianca," she reminded her. "Weíre all just stumbling through life making mistakes and doing our best to get through. You, me, your mother, your uncle...everyone." She lifted her free hand, tenderly petting silky hair back from a rounded cheek while she continued rubbing her thumb very lightly against Biancaís stomach. "Even this child, when sheís born, sheíll have to struggle through things just like the rest of us."

"But---" Bianca started to argue and this time it was Lenaís turn to silence her by laying her fingers across soft lips.

"You were in an awful position...and not thinking clearly. You did what you thought was necessary to survive." As much as some of Biancaís decisions had hurt, she couldnít add to the recriminations when she knew the price of those mistakes had been so high. "I understand that...and believe me, Iím the last person to stand in judgment of it." She let her fingers wander on, caressing a silky cheek, the contact serving as a tactile reassurance of sorts that she was here and this was real and not simply a particularly vivid trick of the imagination. "But I need to know if youíre asking what I think you are. If you want nothing more than a friend, Iíll be that...and if you want a lover...you know I love you more than my life---"

"Donít say that," Bianca hissed, the sound somewhere between angry and scared, her body suddenly rigidly tense.

Lena flinched, Biancaís tone reminding her that her own mistakes had caused plenty of pain. "Bad phrasing," she said softly by way of apology. "I just meant that I love you with all my heart...and I would do anything in my power to support you...but," she said carefully emphasizing the word, "I need to know what youíre asking for."

Relaxing fractionally, Bianca settled a hand over Lenaís where it still rested on her stomach. "Iím asking you to be with me..." she whispered, her voice little more than a ragged shadow of itself, "...and not just as a friend...but as a partner...a lover...."

Lena dragged in a hard breath, then let it out on a shuddery gasp, her body trembling, knees threatening to buckle under the weight of it all. It was everything she could have wanted from Bianca, but she couldnít let herself answer too quickly because there was one more question she had to ask, and it was the hardest one of all because as much time as theyíd spent in each otherís company during the previous weeks, she didnít know the answer. "Bianca, you must realize thatís everything I could dream of," she admitted, very aware of the delicate movements under her hand. The baby seemed to be settling down now, but she still made her presence known every so often. "But thereís one more thing I need to know...and itís a dealbreaker."

"All right," Bianca murmured tersely.

Lena glanced down, taking a moment to gather herself. She knew she had to ask, but who knew the question would be so hard. So tempting to just grab at the brass ring and ignore the more serious issues. Tempting but a bad idea. She looked up again, wishing she could see Biancaís face better and read her expression as she asked, "I need to know if you love me." There, she laid it out, admitting to her worst fears. Bianca hadnít said the words, at least not to her, and as much as she wanted it there was a part of her that was afraid the answer was no. After all, Bianca had thrown her aside for so long that it was hard to have faith. A part of her was afraid the younger woman was just panicking and feeling alone and grabbing for someone she knew would support her without question.

Bianca froze for a long beat, then finally reached up, fingertips just barely making contact as she stroked them along the line of Lenaís brow, smoothing out the frown lines. Lena half expected anger or resentment, but when Bianca finally spoke, her tone was all sadness and regret. "Iím sorry," she said at last, "that Iíve made you doubt...me...yourself...us..." she said haltingly. She brailed Lenaís cheek, then trailed a light caress along her jawline. "I donít blame you if you donít believe this...because these last months...so much has seemed so unreal...and Iíve been so shut down...but I love you...and I have through all of this." She caressed Lenaís hand lightly, trailing faint her fingertips along the line of her knuckles, then tracing the cords and bones. "Iím sorry I cut you out of everything...but I was so afraid that youíd look into my eyes and know the truth...and I just couldnít face that...but you have no idea how much I regret the choices I made...and the way I threw you to the wolves to protect a lie that should never have been told. If you canít forgive that and believe that I do love you, I donít blame you."

Lena caught the hand exploring her face so gently, lifted it to her lips, and pressed soft kisses to each fingertip. "It may take a little time to completely trust again," she admitted, struggling to follow her counselorís advice and not deny her own hurts so completely. That way was madness and had already brought her too close to the edge. "But I believe you...and Iíve never wanted anything as much I want to be with you."

Bianca slipped her hand free of Lenaís light hold, then hooked her fingers around the back of the taller womanís neck, threading them into short dark hair. It didnít take much pressure to draw Lenaís head down and less still to guide her into canting it to a counter angle.

The kiss that followed was soft, hesitant, a fluttering of lips that met, brushed with featherlight strokes, parted momentarily, then met again, the pressure firmer with each successive meeting. Without thinking, Lena slid her free hand around Biancaís waist while her other one remained firmly anchored over her stomach. The kiss stretched out, both of them clinging, the hunger in bodies that hadnít touched in far too long nearly overwhelming.

Finally, Bianca broke the kiss, leaning back and peering up at Lena, her eyes glittering brightly in the faint light. "Can I ask you to do one more thing?" she breathed, her voice shaking.

Lena nodded unsteadily. "Anything." At that point, Bianca could have asked her to walk the nearest plank and sheíd have cheerfully complied. Really, Bianca could have just started with the kiss and avoided the whole discussion. Which possibly wouldnít have been the healthiest approach to things, but Lena had to admit, she would have gone down like a ton of bricks.

"If weíre going to do this," the hand covering Lenaís linked with her fingers, guiding them to spread wide, encouraging the instinctively possessive gesture, "I want to feel like this baby is yours...."

Lena frowned in confusion, not understanding. "I donít... What?" she questioned.

"I want to be...to be with you...tonight...." Bianca glanced down briefly, the words coming haltingly with long pauses between as she continued, "I know it probably sounds nuts...but...it would feel..." she looked up again, her voice breathy and strained as she continued, "it would feel like she was yours...ours...that way...and I just...I need you...."

Her heard suddenly in her throat, Lena almost couldnít breathe for a long moment. Amazing how something she wanted so much could be so utterly terrifying. Bianca was asking her to make love, and she had the urge to run for cover because the only thought in her was that she might make a mistake and ruin things while they were still just starting. Whether or not it was too soon for Bianca she didnít know, but she was terrified that she was in no way up to the task.

"Lena?" Bianca whispered after a beat when she still hadnít answered.

Swallowing hard, Lena took a tiny moment to compose herself, gather her thoughts---and pray that her heart would kick-start and begin beating again soon. "Thereís nothing in this life I want more," she admitted in a rush, then took a breath and let it out slowly to calm both extreme nervousness and a sudden bout of raging hormones that she would have expected to lessen under the impact of stark terror. Apparently not. "But are you sure?" She peered hard at Bianca, struggling to make out her expression in the darkness and afraid she would just see what she wanted. "I donít want you to feel pushed in any way...or to do anything you donít feel ready for."

By way of answer, Bianca tugged Lenaís head back down and kissed her. Not an innocent or remotely chaste kiss. Hungry, passionate, it was a storming of the walls, drawing Lena in, pressing past her lips, exploring, so intense it nearly dropped her to her knees. When Bianca finally pulled back, Lena was trembling and breathless, and Bianca was little better, her breath coming quick and rough.

"Does that answer your question?" the younger woman questioned.

Lenaís brows shot up and her mouth hung open for a long moment. Finally, she struggled to find something to say and managed to croak, "I think so." She slid her hand up the length of Biancaís torso in a trailing caress that ended as cupped her palm along the side of Biancaís face, her voice low and intense. "But," she said carefully, amazed at her own willpower to be able to hold off and not simply fall into bed. It would be so easy, and it was so tempting just give way to desire and have everything she wanted if only for a few hours. Only it was also terrifying enough to make her very aware that simply rushing in might well risk everything. "I need a promise from you first...because this isnít a small thing."

Bianca drew in a sharp breath, tensing ever so slightly, a visceral indication that she wasnít quite as confident or at ease as she was trying to appear. "All right," she exhaled a little tersely.

Lenaís mouth curved in a gentle smile even though she knew Bianca probably couldnít see the expression. "Itís nothing awful, I swear," she reassured the younger woman and felt her relax ever so slightly. "But I need you to promise me that if anything bothers you...or if you get at all scared...or uneasy...that youíll tell me. We can stop anytime. The point here is pleasure. If something bothers you, no putting up with it or bearing it alone." Incredibly aware of the weight resting on her shoulders, she had to make certain there were a few ground rules. "I canít do this if Iím not sure in my heart that youíll feel completely safe...and will take care of yourself."

Exhaling a soft curse under her breath, Bianca slumped a little. "God, I hate this," she muttered. "I just want things to be simple again."

"I know," Lena admitted. "I do too...but theyíre not...at least not yet." She petted a softly rounded cheek. "Maybe sometime soon...but right now...for both our sakes, we need to be careful." She ducked her head, brushing Biancaís lips with her own. "I donít want make any mistakes...not with this." She dropped another light kiss onto velvety lips. "Thatís why I need your word." Much as she wanted to be with Bianca, she couldnít stand the idea of frightening her or feeling like sheíd pressed her into anything.

Bianca was silent for a brief moment, and then she nodded. "I promise...Iíll tell you if anything bothers me."

Lena stroked a full lower lip with the pad of her thumb, trying to lighten the moment as best she could as she leaned close to Biancaís ear and whispered, "You know you can also tell me if anything in particular pleases you." A smile skated across her lips as she felt a delicate tremor make its way through Biancaís muscles.

"Really?" Bianca drawled, her voice little more than a tiny breath of air.

"Mm-hm," Lena exhaled, then trailed her fingertips from Biancaís cheek down the length of her throat, lightly stroking a sensitive cord in the smaller womanís neck the way she knew from experience she loved. "For instance, if you enjoyed that, you could definitely tell me." If this was going to work it couldnít just be some symbolic gesture. They needed to enjoy each other and find a way to let go of the fear and have fun.

A tiny, relieved laugh escaping her lips, her breathing suddenly strained, Bianca leaned into the caress. "Oh. Then you should know that I definitely enjoyed that."

Grinning, Lena dropped a meandering kiss onto Biancaís throat, following the same track her fingers had only a moment before. "How about that?" she exhaled, her breath ruffling fluttery hair where it curved in toward Biancaís neck.

"That was nice too," Bianca allowed, the words coming unevenly.

Turning her hand, Lena trailed her knuckles over the soft flesh open to the air in the vee of Biancaís blouse, not trying for anything more intimate than that light caress. "You have the softest skin," she breathed.

"Would you like to feel more of it?" Bianca whispered and caught the hand on her chest, putting pressure to guide it elsewhere.

Sensing that Bianca was trying to overcome any nervousness by simply leaping in, Lena refused to be hurried, instead turning her hand in her loverís grasp and twining their fingers together. "Of course," she whispered near a delicate ear, then nibbled lightly on the lobe. "But we have all the time in the world," she added, then lifted Biancaís hand to her lips and fluttering tiny kisses across her knuckles.

Another shudder shook the younger womanís delicate frame. "It doesnít feel like it," she gasped, and Lena knew it wasnít fear that made her voice quaver that way. It was arousal. Not as intense as it could get by any means, and a little hesitant, but very real. Definitely a good starting point.

"Mm, itís not supposed to," she murmured near Biancaís ear. "Itís supposed to make you feel like you have to have it now...and yet you never want it to end." Biancaís breath caught and Lena pressed another round of butterfly kisses to her knuckles before releasing her hand and returning to caress the faint rise of her collarbone. "Like youíre caught in an undertow and you canít breathe...canít think...and everything coalesces down until all you are is the ache in your body." Lena allowed herself a small smile as she heard her loverís low moan.

"Lena, what are you doing?" Bianca questioned on a tiny whimper.

"Making love to you," Lena responded and rubbed her thumb very lightly against the spot where a cord in Biancaís throat met her collarbone, the caress the smallest of brushes.

"Oh," Bianca exhaled, sounding vaguely perplexed. Good, get her mind working on that problem instead of worrying about the past. "But...um...shouldnít we move to the bedroom or something?" she muttered, sounding embarrassed. As inexperienced as she was, she tended to have a rather direct train of thought where such things were concerned.

Lena, on the other hand, was nothing if not subtle. "Soon," she promised, then dropped a light kiss onto full lips. She tapped Biancaís temple lightly. "But right now, this is the erogenous zone Iím concentrating on."

"Really?" Bianca drawled doubtfully.

"Mmm," Lena confirmed, then leaned even closer to whisper silky, intimate, suggestions in her loverís ear. She was subtle, none of the words she used or images she painted too overt or openly sexual, and yet every syllable had an erotic spin that soon had Bianca breathing hard and leaning heavily against Lena.

"Oh. God," the younger woman groaned at some point.

Lena chuckled softly. "I take it the lady approves?" she exhaled.

"How can you...I mean...all youíre doing is talking and yet..." Bianca moaned low in her throat, the words coming in disjointed phrases. "Howíd you do that?"

"I have a very active fantasy life where youíre concerned," Lena said, her voice a low, sexual growl as she ducked her head and fluttered silky kisses down the length of Biancaís throat. Her free hand trailing the width of her opposite shoulder, she whispered a few more covertly carnal ideas and felt Bianca tremble gently in response.

Bianca moaned. No words this time, just a low, hungry sound that bubbled up from her chest while a hand found Lenaís shoulder and clung so tightly her fingers threatened to leave bruises.

Tugging Biancaís collar to one side, Lena flicked her tongue into the hollow of the smaller womanís throat, tasting the faint salt of her skin, the intensity of sensation and emotion of even that small bit of freedom to touch and explore enough to make the world swirl around her.

"I...uh...Lena..." Bianca croaked, shuddering gently, "do you have any idea what youíre doing to me?"

A soft, triumphant laugh escaped Lenaís lips. "Why donít you tell me," she suggested, her breath flowing over heated skin, arousal running thick and molten in her veins as she continued the painstakingly slow explorations.

A slender hand tightened possessively in her hair without putting any pressure on where she went. "Making me a little crazy," Bianca panted, then she released her hold on Lenaís hair, sliding her hand around until her fingertips were resting along the curve of Lenaís jaw. She applied just enough pressure to draw the taller womanís head up until their eyes met. Her expression serious, she ran the pad of her thumb along Lenaís lower lip. "I want you so much," she whispered after a long moment.

Swallowing hard, her throat suddenly too tight to allow her to speak, Lena nodded, well aware of the gift Bianca was giving her. "Thank you," she breathed when she finally managed to summon enough oxygen to say something.

She caught a glimpse of even white teeth, then felt the hand on her jaw slide back around to the back of her neck. "Thank you," Bianca said with extra emphasis on the last word, then pulled Lena to her, taking the lead with a degree of confidence Lena hadnít expected. Even if some of it was more illusion than reality it was a sign how much she wanted this and Lena found herself sinking into the kiss that followed, sinking in and surrendering her heart in a way she wasnít sure she ever had before, not even the in the beginning. No lies. No games between them. Plenty of fears, but they were the honest kind, and for the first time in her life none of them involved the risks of being completely honest with another person.

Mouths danced a slow waltz as hands searched and clung, and their breathing grew heavier with every passing moment. Despite the fire burning in her belly, Lena was trying to think her way through it all and be careful and when a sudden thought occurred to her no matter how much she wanted to just ignore it and move ahead, she had to pull back. Wrenching her mouth from Biancaís, she gasped in air, one hand finding a slim shoulder and maintaining some distance when Bianca started to lean in again. "Wait a second," Lena groaned, "Is this okay?" She glanced down, staring at the pale image of her hand just barely visible where it still rested almost possessively over Biancaís stomach. She rubbed her thumb lightly to draw her loverís attention back to the obvious reality. "I mean, the baby? Is it safe?" She had no experience with such things. Her principal knowledge of pregnancy involved methods for avoiding it.

This time Bianca laughed softly, clearly enjoying being the one with superior knowledge for once. "Itís fine," she quickly assured Lena. "I spoke to the doctor and he assured me itís okay...provided things donít get too gymnastic."

A soft laugh escaped Lenaís lips as it occurred to her that Biancaís answer meant sheíd asked---that sheíd been thinking about it for some time and this wasnít just an impulse. Somehow that helped soothe some of her fears. "I guess that means the trapeze is out of the question?" she teased, smiling as she felt Bianca lean into her, her body shaking with gentle laughter.

"For a little while yet," the younger woman answered through soft chuckles, the light banter drawing an answering laugh from Lena.

And then laughter was the last thing on Lenaís mind as Bianca tugged her head down and found her lips again, kissing slowly, hungrily, pressing past her lips and exploring at will. In an instant, Lena felt her knees turn to jelly while certain other key regions seemed to become molten. Suddenly she couldnít breathe, couldnít think, could barely stand. Sheíd been controlling herself remarkably well up until that point, the last vestiges of the intellectual still at least marginally in control, but she was abruptly all hormones and naked desire.

"Lena," Bianca whispered and curled the fingers of one hand into Lenaís collar, tugging her closer, hot breath playing over her face, "I think itís time for you to put some of those ideas of yours into practice." She kissed her lover again, fast this time, but tender and passionate, then caught the hand resting on her stomach, twining their fingers together as she tugged gently. She turned away and Lena was surprised by the sense of loss she experienced as her hand broke contact with Biancaís stomach, but then Bianca was pulling her in the direction of her bedroom, and suddenly the baby and her growing sense of connection to it were the least of her thoughts.

Actually they were no thoughts at all because every neuron and molecule in her brain was dedicated to exactly one subject.

The woman leading her into her bedroom.

Her apartment was small and Bianca had been there more than enough times to easily navigate her way in the dark, and then they were in her bedroom, and it seemed as though a flood of illumination washed over them even though the lights were off. The curtains were open and the illumination from a full moon reflected off the pale walls and seemed to make Biancaís skin glow as she turned back so they were facing each other. She was the most beautiful thing Lena had ever seen, and she found herself struck dumb, unable to do more than stare for the longest moment.

"Lena?" Bianca whispered a little uncertainly.

Blinking at a few hot tears, Lena swallowed hard, so overcome by emotion that she couldnít speak. "I just...youíre beautiful," she whispered after a brief pause, swallowed hard again, then reached out with her free hand to caress Biancaís cheek, just barely making contact. "So beautiful." She glanced down, fighting for some measure of control, then looked up again. "Iíve just missed you so much."

A hint of a frown touched Biancaís forehead as though she was struggling to understand and then she stepped forward, putting them almost toe to toe. She released her hold on Lenaís hand to rest her palm at the curve of her waist. "I donít deserve you," she said at last, guilt and recrimination still sadly evident in her tone.

"Donít say that," Lena disagreed, still caressing Biancaís cheek lightly. "You are the most perfect thing that has ever been in my life. Meeting you changed who I am. You drew me out of the pits of hell...and I will forever be grateful to you."

Staring up at Lena with haunting intensity, Bianca tightened her hold on Lenaís waist and pulled her closer. "Iím not looking for gratitude," she whispered as she searched dark brown eyes, then continued with burning intensity, "I just want us back."

Lena framed that delicate face in her hands, studying the rises and hollows for a long moment. "We can do this," she breathed, then ducked her head, finding Biancaís mouth, lips meeting, mating, making love the way their bodies soon would.

Minutes passed as breathing roughened, hands searched and clung, and bodies leaned into each other. Lena felt a thin layer of sweat gather between her shoulderblades and every time Bianca touched or caressed she made a soft sound low in her throat akin to purring. She was right where she wanted to be, where sheíd dreamed of being, and in the one place sheíd long feared sheíd never be again. "I love you," she breathed near Biancaís ear, the sound ending in a sharp gasp a fine-boned hand slid under her blouse and stroked the flesh just over her ribs.

And then Bianca was peeling the front of Lenaís blouse apart and fluttering soft kisses over her upper chest above the edge of her bra. Wanting Bianca to feel totally safe and in control of the situation, Lena let her lead the way, eager to be certain, but also incredibly careful her loverís feelings and the fact that this might not be an easy or comfortable thing for the younger woman. Arousal threatened to make the world spin around her, but at the same time awareness of the responsibility resting on her shoulders tempered the raging need somewhat. This was not the time to make a mistake.

As if sensing that line of thought, Bianca pressed the softest of kisses onto Lenaís upper chest, then looked up, her eyes suspiciously bright as she whispered, "Weíll be okay." Another soft kiss and another doe-eyed look. "Iím not scared...not with you."

Lena just nodded, instinctively understanding what Bianca was trying to say. Only one response was needed. "I love you." She wasnít so deluded as to think that perfection or simplicity were even possible, but she had total faith that with care, they could reestablish that old connection. She ducked her head, kissed softly, moaning into the blending of their mouths as she felt gentle fingers begin to very lightly brail her body, searching out the shapes and textures theyíd touched before but not in months. Bianca was hesitant, careful, as though she was a little afraid of doing something wrong, but as moments stretched into minutes, her touch grew more confident, gentle fingers stroking runs of bone and muscle. Finally, she pushed at Lenaís blouse and the taller woman shrugged out of the silky fabric, letting it fall away to be forgotten, moaning low in her throat a moment later as trembling fingers fought with her bra, fumbling with the hooks until Bianca gave up and simply pushed it off over her head.

Lena was startled when Bianca caught her hands and drew them to the bottom edge of her sweater, guiding her to lift the soft knit. "Are you sure?" Lena questioned as she stared into eyes that looked wide and a little frightened to her. "Because if youíre not ready...."

Biancaís eyes darted down then up again. "Itís not that," she said quickly, her tone soothing Lenaís fears. "Itís just that..." Her gaze fell again. "The baby...I mean...Iím not exactly...Iím a little---"

"Youíre beautiful," Lena over-rode the younger womanís burst of self-consciousness as she stroked her cheek very lightly to draw her chin back up, "the most beautiful thing Iíve ever seen in my life."

Then suddenly it was like they both knew they were exactly where they wanted to be and they leaned into each other, hands reaching, moving, pulling and pushing at soft fabric, whatever was needed to make way for flesh to touch flesh until they stood together amid randomly scattered clothes, the only thing remaining between them a few random sprays of moonlight.

They stumbled to the bed together, still touching and exploring even as they moved. Lena paused long enough to pull the comforter aside, then Bianca tugged her close again and they were sinking down. Moaning into the kiss that followed without either of them even thinking about it, Lena fitted a hand to the small of Biancaís back, offering a supportive brace as the younger woman sank into the mattress.

Stretching out next her lover, Lena broke the kiss as she tugged the comforter back over both of them, blocking out chill air and trapping the heat between them. A beat and then she pushed up on one hand to stare down at soft features for a long moment. Their gazes held, both lovers so perfectly still they barely breathed. And then Bianca reached up, ruffling silky hair with gentle hands, then framing her face. Another long moment passed and then she drew her lover to her.

Slow kisses, the kind a body can get lost in, followed, and then Lenaís mouth was floating lower, Biancaís fingers in her hair a loose guide and ongoing encouragement. The faint salt of flesh on her tongue, a hint of remaining perfuming filling her senses, she roamed over Biancaís shoulders and upper chest, relearning familiar terrain until she felt the pressure in her hair shift, guiding her lower. Biancaís heart was hammering in her chest as she tasted the thudding beat with her lips where they rested on soft flesh. Worried, Lena looked up, then smiled as she saw nothing but arousal in the dark eyes watching her.

No fear. They were okay.

She ducked her head again, fluttering butterfly kisses onto breasts that had changed with pregnancy, growing fuller and also more sensitive. Slipping one hand under Biancaís shoulder, she found the curve of her hip with the other as she leaned over her loverís prone form. Hearts beating in sync, silky kisses, low moans. Her head swirling, Biancaís hands playing restlessly in her hair, Lena took her time, exploring the warmth and heat of her loverís breasts, discovering old erogenous zones and inventing all new ones. In no hurry to go any faster than necessary, she swept her tongue around gently puckered flesh, tasted delicate goose bumps as cool air touched moist skin, laughed low in her throat when Bianca moaned heavily.

Pushing up on one hand, Lena stared down at her lover, trailing the hand on Biancaís hip up and over the mounded sweep of her stomach, spreading her fingers and stroking very lightly. A tiny flutter of movement under her palm drew her eyes down.

Bianca obviously felt the movement as well. "I think she knows you," she whispered very softly and ruffled Lenaís hair, tenderly petting it back from her forehead.

Smoothing her hand over taut flesh, Lena leaned down and pressed a soft kiss over Biancaís belly, her voice low and husky as she whispered, "Will you let me take care of you and your mama, little one?" As if in response, a tiny hand pressed against her palm.

"I think that was a yes," Bianca said after a long beat, her voice soft and sepulchral in the darkness.

Lena looked up, catching the glitter of bright eyes. "And will her mama trust me as well?" she questioned seriously.

"She already does," Bianca responded without pausing.

Dark eyes dropped back down as Lena watched her own hand moving restlessly over Biancaís stomach, caressing lightly, then moving on. Cautious, once again aware of the weight of responsibility on her shoulders, she leaned closer and let her fingers float lower, brushing Biancaís upper thigh lightly, painting erotic designs in random patterns, ready to pull back if she sensed any fear or tension.

As if sensing the direction of her loverís thoughts, Bianca tugged Lenaís head up until their eyes met. "Itís okay," she assured her, stroking Lenaís cheek very softly with her thumb.

Then gentle pressure brought Lena back up until they were nose to nose and she could see her own reflection in impossibly deep brown eyes, her expression heavy lidded and sensual, yet somehow frightened at the same time.

"I know who Iím with," Bianca assured her, pressing the softest and sweetest of kisses to her lips before settling back into the pillows. Cupping Lenaís face in her hands, she whispered, "And what I want...you."

Her heart was hammering violently in her chest, Lena suddenly realized. She wasnít sure whether or not Bianca was afraid, but she was suddenly scared to death.

"Itís okay," Bianca breathed, leaving Lena feeling hopelessly foolish that she was the one in need of reassurance.

"I just donít want to make any mistakes," Lena admitted, her voice tight and throbbing, the fear of doing something wrong washing over her.

"You havenít and you wonít," Bianca said confidently and kissed her again, not letting go this time, her tongue slipping into Lenaís mouth. No hesitant foray this time, but firm and self-assured, full of arousal and desire.

Lena moaned into that kiss, her heart so lost she could barely breathe. Bianca knew her, wanted her. No question about it. Despite earlier thoughts of drawing things out, it wasnít the time. They both needed this, needed to know, and to touch, needed to answer the questions and put away the doubts that couldnít help but nag at them. Later they could take all night. Right now, it wasnít the right time.

Stretching out next to her lover, Lena trailed her foot very lightly up and down Biancaís calf even as she let go of her self control a little, relaxing into the arm that hooked around her shoulders, the lips that toyed with her own, and the hand that slid over her chest, trailing light caresses and drawing low moans.

Working her fingers into the hair at the nape of Lenaís neck, Biancaí tugged lightly, breaking the kiss and pulling her head back until their eyes met. "I want feel you...be with you," she breathed, her tone part plea, part command.

And then Lenaís hand was moving, caressing, sliding over Biancaís stomach and lower, smoothing caresses along the curve of her hip, then over the top of a firm thigh. Her own body trembling under the intensity of emotion and sensation, Lena darted her tongue into Biancaís mouth, far less confident than her lover, but hungry all the same, and needing the comfort only Biancaís could offer.

Then she trailed her fingers higher, stroking a soft inner thigh, feeling the gentle quiver of taut muscle beneath a covering of velvet skin. Bianca shifted restlessly, her hips rolling slowly, instinctively hunting for more sensation. Her fingers tightened in Lenaís hair, her kisses growing more demanding while her fingers grew almost rough as she molded firm breasts and ran her thumb back and forth over tightly puckered nipples.

Still hesitant, even a little afraid, Lena massaged Biancaís inner thigh, her touch firm, but went no higher, still avoiding the source of the heat she could feel radiating over her skin, threatening to sear her fingertips.

Finally, Bianca slid her hands back into position on either side of Lenaís face, her expression intense as she drew Lenaís chin up and peered deeply into dark eyes. "Touch me." She pronounced each word carefully and with utter clarity, leaving no doubts about what she wanted.

Holding that dark gaze, Lena ran her fingers higher, stroking slowly, lightly, watching for any sign of fear, aware of every tiny tremor and quiver that slid through her lover.

"Go on," Bianca urged, her voice little more than a ragged quaver, her body shifting restlessly in anticipation.

Passion, not fear. Desire, not rejection.

Reclaiming soft lips, Lena sank into the kiss even as her fingers danced higher, played, teased, taking it slow, giving Bianca time to adjust, well aware of both the symbolism but also the very real importance of what was happening. Silk, heat, wet. Suddenly her senses were swimming in the awareness of a thousand details. Amazing how instantly sensory memory seemed to be kicking in, and a good thing too, since her brain seemed to be shutting down almost as quickly. Bianca moaned into her mouth, then abruptly broke the kiss as Lenaís fingers pressed into silky-wet flesh, her head slamming back into the pillows, body trembling in time with the slow rhythm Lena adopted.

Bianca gasped, clinging to Lena with desperate strength, one hand spread against her upper back, fingers pressing into firm muscle. "Itís all good," she whispered, turning her head so her breath played over Lenaís ear.

And it was. God, how it was. Lenaís head was spinning, her body throbbing so hard she was close to imploding. Words like arousal, desire, and need barely began to cover the rich banquet of feelings burning through her. Stretched out alongside her lover, weight braced on her left elbow, left hand smoothing silky hair back from Biancaís face, she moved slowly with the younger woman in a native point-counterpoint rhythm. "I love you," she groaned, trailing silky kisses along the line of Biancaís cheek, dusting a fresh kiss in time with every stroke. Her lover was close. It was there in the ragged quality of her breathing, the slow thrust of her body, the come and go tension in her muscles.

The knowledge made Lena shake and tremble, her body aching in ways sheíd only experienced once before and had more or less accepted sheíd never feel again. Oh, how wrong sheíd been.

Her hand tight in the hair at the back of Lenaís neck, Bianca, tugged Lenaís head down until they were eye to eye. "I love you," she whispered almost inaudibly. Her gaze dropped, trailing over Lenaís upper body, the look so intense it was almost like an actual caress. "But you arenít...I mean...," she stammered uncertainly.

Lena shook her head, her pleasure bound up in the other womanís to a degree that nothing else was important to her. "It doesnít matter," she whispered.

"It matters," Bianca disagreed, skating a hand into the space between their bodies, her touch sliding and pressing. "Weíre both in this and I want you with me."

Lena shuddered violently as she was touched and stroked, her body already so close to the edge that even the briefest caress had her shaking. Her focus on Bianca, she again started to deny that it mattered only to fall silent as she saw the look on her loverís face and gentle strokes sent hot runners of fire over every nerve ending in her body. Bianca touched again, smiling tentatively when the delicate caress drew a tiny whimper, clearly enjoying her power. She was right. They both needed this, needed to be completely invested in making love as equals. "With you," she gasped, then kissed Bianca again, surrendering to her own need.

They quickly found a rhythm, moving together, flesh sliding against flesh, bodies shaking in time with each other. And then they were both trembling, low cries erupting to fill the room, lips meeting, parting briefly to make way for desperate gasps of air, then meeting again.

Finally Lena buried her face in the curve of Biancaís neck, whispering words of love and pure adoration, her lips fluttering against soft skin, the length of her body pressed against her lover, aware of every thrust and caress, her hips rocking gently to meet Biancaís touch. When the hand in her hair tugged her head up, she made no effort to resist the gentle pull, instead falling gratefully into the kiss that followed.

For their first time, Lena made no effort to stretch things out. Neither of them was up to those sorts of games. They needed the pleasure, the answers, the relief.

Another thrust, another stroke, a ragged gasp shared through a hungry kiss, tiny shudders that signaled the final moments that came amid the heated rush of sensation, and then Bianca collapsed into the mattress while Lena sagged against her lover, her face buried in the curve of her neck.

Not a wild moment, the intensity coming as much from emotion as sensation.

Weak and shaking, both lovers lay sprawled, cool air ghosting over damp skin where the covers had been knocked aside, the only sound the ragged, mismatched rhythm of their breathing as they struggled to drag in much-needed oxygen.

Nuzzling into the curve of Biancaís neck to hide the sudden burn of hot tears, Lena inhaled the mixed odors of perfume, sweat, and sex even as she slid her still-damp hand up over Biancaís stomach. Feeling faint tremors of movement, she spread her fingers wide, absorbing the experience, reminded that they werenít completely alone and if Bianca was serious and their relationship went forward, never would be again. A hand covered hers, a soft, uncallused thumb stroking the back of her knuckles.

"Sheís ours now," Bianca exhaled.

Yes. Theirs. Bianca was still caressing Lenaís knuckles very lightly while her other hand was spread over her upper back, rubbing slowly, the gesture affectionate in the aftermath. "Ours," she mumbled against hot skin, the reality of it sweeping over her in a fiercely protective wave. Hers and Biancaís. This child, this relationship, their future. All of it. Bianca in her life, the other half of her life.

Everything she could have ever wanted; everything sheíd already lost once before and then some.

Bianca, a life together, a child shared. The sheer enormity of what sheíd been granted swept over Lena with the force of a tidal wave, leaving her blind and small in the face of the overwhelming nature of it. It was almost too much to take in and she was nearly lost in the realization of what sheíd been granted.

Along with the realization of what sheíd gained came the knowledge that it could so easily be taken away. Sheíd lost so much in her life. Lose this and she truly didnít think she would survive. She would finally break utterly and completely, just shatter down to random atoms that would be dispersed on the winds.

Lose this and there would be nothing left of Lena Kundera.

And suddenly she was shaking violently, a few stray tears turning to outright weeping, months of pressure and stress combining with the realization that for the first time in a very long time she truly had something to lose and an appreciation of just how easy it could be to lose it. It was terrifying. She fought the sudden influx of emotion, tried to get the hot tears under control through sheer force of will, but the harder she tried the worse they became and the harder she cried.

"Lena?" Biancaís worried voice echoed in her ears as the hand on her back slid higher to cup the back of her head. Obviously her lover had noticed.

Unable to stop crying and ashamed of her weakness, Lena tried to hide her response, turning her face deeper into Biancaís shoulder, muscles clenching as she tried to control the harsh shudders shaking her from head to toe.

"Lena, are you okay?" Bianca questioned hesitantly, tensing fractionally.

She sounded worried, even a little scared, and the tenderness and caring in her voice only made it that much harder for Lena to hold back on the overwhelming surge of emotion that had trembling from head to toe. "Fine," she mumbled, determined not to let Bianca see that was coming apart at the seams. Despite her intentions, her voice came out thick and choked with tears.

Yeah, that was believable.

"Lena," Bianca whispered her name again. "Youíre crying."

Lena abruptly realized the tears she didnít want were sliding off her cheeks and splashing onto Biancaís shoulder, hitting bare skin, their heat and moisture inescapable. "No, itís not...Iím not..." she tried to deny the obvious without much success, stiffening as she felt Bianca slide down a little and turn more toward her.

"Talk to me," her lover urged, her tone tender but clearly worried. "What is it? Whatís wrong?"

"Itís nothing," Lena choked out, every effort to banish the rough tears only seeming to make things worse. "Iím fine." Horrified that she would lose all the ground sheíd gained and maybe destroy the trust sheíd worked so painstakingly to establish, she tried to pull away, thinking that maybe if she could get into the bathroom before Bianca realized just how shaken she was, she could get things under control, only to find Bianca unwilling to let go. "I-I just...itís nothing...really...Iím fine," Lena whispered desperately as though she could make it true simply through repetition. Panicked and close to bolting, the only thing holding her there was Bianca, though it was more her fear of failing the younger woman than any physical restraint.

"No, youíre not," Bianca disagreed, refusing to be put off. "That much is obvious." The hand across Lenaís back spread, while Bianca reached across with her other hand, catching Lenaís forearm and refusing to let her flee. "Talk to me. Itís okay to tell me whatís going on...because something is."

Lena shook her head. No, it wasnít okay. Sheíd meant to be strong, to show Bianca she could be trusted and leaned on and instead she was falling apart and she didnít even know why. After everything that had happened, to be here, now, she should have been laughing with joy, not breaking down. "Iím sorry...I donít mean to...itís just that...." It was just that she was falling apart and couldnít seem to get it under control. No, that was the last thing she could say. God, Bianca would run screaming if she knew just how scared Lena was.

"Itís just what?" Bianca whispered, petting her hair tenderly, holding on, not sounding disappointed or afraid. Lena drew breath to demur, but Bianca hushed her, "Shhh," her tone low and soothing. "Just talk to me."

"I canít," Lena cried, shaking her head, her face still hidden against Biancaís neck. "I was supposed to be strong for you...so youíd know you could always rely on me." How could Bianca trust her if something this wonderful was enough to leave her in a puddle of frightened tears? The younger woman needed someone she could lean on, someone to protect her, not another person for whom she felt responsible.

Ashamed of her weakness, Lena would have turned away, but Bianca wouldnít let go. Instead, she tugged Lenaís head up, curving a hand to her cheek and not letting her turn away. Her expression gentle she forced her lover to meet her eyes. "I know that, Lena...I know," she repeated with added emphasis as she smoothed her thumb along the ridge of a high cheekbone, rubbing at hot tears. "And I know I can trust you and lean on you...but you donít have to be the strong one all the time---"

Lena shuddered, her whole body rattling under the force of harsh tremors as she shook her head back and forth, rejecting Biancaís softly spoken words. "No, I need to take care of you...make sure youíre all right---"

"Lena, Iím fine," Bianca said firmly and gently smoothed chestnut hair out of dark eyes. "Iím fine." And she did seem completely calm and totally in control, a hint of a reassuring smile playing about her lips though it was obvious she was worried. "You did everything right." Lenaís hair fell back into her eyes almost instantly and another gentle stroke brushed it back. "I know exactly where I am and who Iím with." Biancaís voice quavered ever so slightly as she continued signaling that she was more affected by Lenaís reaction than she was trying to let on. "And I am so glad that Iím here with you...that weíre together...but now I need you to let me take care of you for once."

The tenderness nearly splintered Lena into a thousand pieces. After months of feeling so alone and so lost, of protecting Bianca from the knowledge that she was hurting, convinced the younger woman didnít need that awareness on top of her own problems, she couldnít quite trust that it was real, and at the same time she wanted it more than sheíd wanted almost anything in her life. "I canít, I---"

"You can," Bianca overrode her attempts to deny the obvious. "When you love someone, you take care of them...and sometimes you let them take care of you." She continued smoothing dark hair back in slow, rhythmic strokes, staring into Lenaís eyes. "Let me take care of you for once."

In an instant, the dam shattered. The last of Lenaís self-control completely lost, she didnít even try to resist as Bianca gathered her close once again. "I wanted to take care of you," she whimpered, still fighting the influx of emotion even as she sank into protective arms with a low moan.

"I know...and you did," Bianca whispered, pulling Lenaís head to her shoulder and holding her close. She pressed a soft kiss to her loverís temple. "You did. Itís okay to let go...to let me look after you for a little while."

"I-I didnít mean to-to lose control...I-I---"

"Itís okay," Bianca assured her. "I understand." Another soft kiss. "The counselor warned me this could happen...though I think she meant to me," she added with a touch of wry humor, then dusted another kiss onto Lenaís temple. "But I was the lucky one. I had you looking after me."

The soft words brought another round of tears a body-wracking shudders. God, she had been scared. So terrified of doing something wrong, making another mistake that would cost her everything yet again. After months of walking on eggshells, it was all more than she could deal with. "I was trying to be strong."

"I know," Bianca soothed. "And you were...just like you have been all along. Youíre strong now. Itís just all catching up with you...an overload of stress, adrenaline, and endorphins. It doesnít mean youíre weak. Just means you need to let go for a little while." She continued tenderly petting silky hair, offering any comfort she could as she encouraged, "Just cry it out." Lena coiled tightly against her, hiding her face in Biancaís shoulder, while Bianca tenderly snuggled her lover close. "Have you even let yourself cry through all of this?" she whispered.

The question only brought a fresh round of sobs, reminding Lena of the only times sheíd been unable to squelch the need for tears. Sheíd cried when sheíd found out the truth, alone that one night in the boathouse after Maggie had made it clear Bianca had no desire to see her, and the night sheíd tried to kill herself. Other than that, she hadnít let the tears begin for fear once she did theyíd never stop.

Only now theyíd started, and there wasnít much left to do but ride out the storm.

Lena kept expecting Bianca to push her away. Instead her lover only drew her closer, petting her hair, whispering in her ear, rubbing her back, pressing soft kisses onto her hair. "Thatís it," she soothed. "Just let go...let yourself cry. You need this. We both do."

Nothing could have held back Lenaís tears at that point. She simply broke down. With Biancaís voice soft and soothing, whispering mindless nonsense phrases in her ear, she sobbed, crying until she had no tears left and sagged against Bianca in an exhausted slump.

"Iím here," Bianca whispered, still massaging Lenaís back lightly. "Iím here...and Iím not letting you go."

"Why?" Lena mumbled against skin that was damp with her tears.

Cupping Lenaís face in her hands, Bianca gently drew her head up. "I love you," she said very seriously, her brows drawing into a frown as their eyes met. "Please believe me."

Lena looked away, not quite knowing what to say. Her brain was running slow, the aftermath of passion and the emotion storm leaving her so exhausted she was numb. Gentle fingers drew her chin back around, forcing her to face worried brown eyes. "I do...b-but sometimes...." Unable to finish, she shook her head, paused to draw a breath, and tried again, "Itís just that...this last year...." Again she trailed off and couldnít finish. "Iíve been so alone..." she whispered at last as a hard shudder shook her frame.

Dark eyes slid closed and Bianca flinched as though struck, her throat bobbing as she swallowed hard.

It was impossible to ignore the hurt in the younger womanís expression, and Lena instantly regretted the bout of honesty. "I-Iím sorry," she apologized, eyes downcast. "I-I shouldnít have said anything---"

"Donít," Bianca said sharply, cutting her off, then gentled her voice when Lena reacted with an instinctive flinch. "Iím sorry. I didnít mean to snap," she whispered, her voice rough with emotion. Her hands suddenly trembling, she rubbed Lenaís shoulder, then gathered her close in spite of any resistance, pulling Lena to her with almost desperate strength and wrapping her in a strong hold. "But youíve done nothing to apologize for."

Lenaís back was to Bianca, and she felt the warmth of her loverís breath on the back of her neck as the younger woman pressed closer and nuzzled into her hair. "But I---"

"Nothing," Bianca repeated firmly, her voice muffled in the softness of Lenaís hair. "Iím the one who..." she trailed off, was momentarily silent, then tried again, "I never want you to be afraid to tell me the truth." She was quiet for a brief moment before she spoke again, her voice rough and sad. "I never want you to be afraid at all." Another moment passed, leaving Lena with the distinct sense that the other woman was struggling for words, or perhaps struggling to face the herself and the things sheíd done. "And Iím sorry...so sorry youíve been alone...that I couldnít see what I was doing to you." She stroked Lenaís shoulder lightly, ducked her head and pressed a soft kiss to velvet flesh. "But, Lena, you canít go on being afraid...we canít survive that." Bianca nuzzled deeper into soft hair, her voice low and muffled. "You did everything right tonight...but you are going to make a mistake, sooner or later...we both are...but that doesnít mean Iím going to throw you out of my life."

The ache in her chest and throat making speech impossible, Lena curled tighter into herself. Even if she could have spoken, she wouldnít have because every possible response she could think of seemed to reek of leftover resentment and anger for the way sheíd been treated for months on end and too many other emotions that threatened to turn into a deluge if she ever let them out.

A long moment of silence followed, and then Bianca tightened her hold on the woman in her arms, and Lena thought she heard a tiny catch in her loverís breath, the sound bordering on the smallest of sobs. "Lena," Bianca pleaded when she finally spoke, "say something."

Lena shook her head, the idea of speaking up feeling far too dangerous.

Bianca was perfectly silent for a long moment, waiting, then finally she exhaled, "Okay." Another moment of silence. "Then Iíll do the talking," she said when she spoke again, her voice shaking gently. "Iíve hurt you...made it so you donít know whether youíre coming or going...and I know you may never completely trust me again." She ruffled Lenaís hair gently. "Iím sorry for that...but I have to live with it...and if youíre with me so do you." More silence, and then Lena felt Bianca take a deep breath, then warm air against the back of her neck as her lover exhaled the air in her lungs. "Was this a mistake for you?" she asked at last, her voice tremulous and high pitched. "Are you sorry...because..."

Bianca choked off, and Lena could feel her struggling for breath. Knowing the younger woman was upset, she wanted to offer some kind of comfort, but her own emotions were already too shredded and she was so tired she couldnít think straight. Nothing was making any sense and the emotion storm had left her so physically exhausted that just taking a fresh breath almost felt like more effort than she could manage.

"...because if you are," Bianca continued shakily, "itís okay...I understand...."

"No," Lena insisted as she finally parsed the words and found some meaning to them, shaking her head back and forth to reject the idea, Biancaís offer driving some of the paralysis back. She wanted this more than she knew how to express. It was just that there were fears, maybe logical, maybe not. Moving slowly, she pulled free of enveloping arms, pushing up on her hands and turning to face Bianca. Kneeling, she silently reached out, brushing a few strands of hair off of Biancaís cheek and tucking them behind her ear. Feeling tears threaten to well up again, she rubbed her eyes with her other hand, swallowing hard in the struggle to contain the emotional response. "I love you," she said at last, her voice low and strained. "I could never regret being with you." She caught one of Biancaís hands in her own, lifting it to press soft kisses across her knuckles, then simply held it gently, her eyes dropping to study the play of light across the intricate twining of bone and muscle. "But most of the time I donít know where I stand anymore." She wanted to sink into herself and hide away. It would be so much easier and safer that way. But do that and sheíd lose everything. Sad to say, but her counselor was right about the need for honesty and the need to admit her own angers and hurts. "Everything...itís been wrong for so long...that I donít always know what right is anymore."

Dark eyes slid closed and Bianca took a deep breath. Her hand turned in Lenaís hold, fingers wrapping around hers and clinging tightly. "I want right to be us...together..." she said at last.

Lena squeezed the hand bound to her own tightly. "I do too," she said honestly. "I want you to know that. What happened now...it wasnít me wanting out."

Her eyes still tightly shut, Bianca nodded.

Slipping a hand around the back of Biancaís back, Lena tugged very lightly, leaning forward until their foreheads were almost touching. "I love you," she said again, her own voice thick and raspy. "Nothing has changed that...donít doubt it...and I want to be with you." She settled her free hand lightly on Biancaís midsection, laying a tactile claim to both mother and child. "With both of you. Thatís one thing I am absolutely certain of." She knew she was repeating things as she worked her way through her own thoughts and feelings, struggling to understand them on the fly. She loved Bianca---no question about that---loved her and wanted a life together, but theyíd been both affected by everything and to go on denying that basic fact almost certainly doomed them. "But thereís a part of me thatís afraid you donít feel as much as I do...that whispers in my ear, suggesting you couldnít possibly really love me...."

Bianca was silent for a long moment, her eyes downcast. Finally, she looked up, her expression as open as it had been in months, drawing Lena in until she had the strangest sense that they were totally in sync. Lena had never believed in the notion of hearts beating as one, but if someone had told her theirs were, she wouldnít have doubted it. A slender hand rose between them, stroked Lenaís cheek, then ran along the line of her jaw before pressing into the pulsebeat in her throat. "Your heartís beating hard again," Bianca said very softly.

Lena nodded, wondering if Biancaís was doing the same thing or if the sense of being so totally in tune with each other was a figment of her imagination. As if to answer the question, Bianca caught the hand resting on her stomach and carried it up to her chest for Lena to feel the too rapid, unsteady beat of her heart. God, they were both scared to death. Lena hated knowing Bianca was afraid, but at the same time it was almost a relief. If she was frightened it was because she cared. "Yours is to."

A slow nod. "Iím terrified," Bianca admitted quietly. "Afraid that itís too late, that Iíve hurt you too much, that youíll never quite believe anything I say ever again."

Lena didnít argue, simply letting her lover have her say. She understood all of those fears all too well. That was the problem with lying. It left so many time bombs in its wake.

"But I love you," Bianca continued, her voice low and serious. Her gaze dropped, touching on Lenaís hand where it rested on her upper chest. "And I want our lives back."

Incredibly aware of the warmth of velvety skin and the hard driving beat of Biancaís heart, Lena caressed very gently. "Iím willing to try if you are," she said at last.

Brown eyes tipped up, filling with gratitude and tears, while Biancaís chin and lower lip quivered in the way that Lena had always found particularly endearing. "More than willing," Bianca whispered, her voice so strained as to be nearly unintelligible. She shuddered gently as a few tears escaped her eyes and slid down rounded cheeks.

Without saying a word, Lena simply nodded and gathered Bianca close as she shifted to lie down next to her lover. This time it was Biancaís turn to cry as she turned into Lenaís body, burying her face in her shoulder and clinging tightly. Not the desperate wrenching sobs that had torn at Lena, but small shivers and an unsteady trickle of hot tears. "Iím here," Lena breathed as she held her lover close. A quick tug brought disarrayed blankets back up over them, trapping mutual warmth and blocking out the cold night air, enforcing the sense of intimacy. "Weíll be okay," she assured Bianca, petting her hair and whispering loving reassurances in her ear until the smaller woman quieted.

Lena pressed a soft kiss onto silky hair. "Feel better?" she questioned tenderly.

Exhaling a wry, muffled laugh, Bianca nuzzled deeper into the warmth of Lenaís shoulder. "Define better," she mumbled weakly.

Lena thought about it for a moment. "Just better," she sighed at last, unable to think of a more complete definition.

A moment and then Bianca lifted her chin, offering Lena a watery smile. After some consideration, she nodded. "Better," she allowed and reached up, outlining full lips with the very tip of her finger. "A lot better." She did a slow roll onto her back, sliding an arm around Lenaís neck as she moved and tugging her along for the ride. "I do better on my back these days," she explained, her tone practical.

Curling against her side, head pillowed on her loverís shoulder, Lena didnít complain. She draped an arm across Biancaís midsection, her palm resting lightly Biancaís stomach. A hint of a weary smile touched her mouth as Bianca rested a hand over hers, but she didnít speak, simply lay there, absorbing some measure of comfort in the aftermath.

Bianca was equally silent, apparently just as lost in her own head until finally, several minutes later she looked down, studying Lena with a thoughtful look. "Thank you," she said at last, her tone perfectly serious.

Lena started to respond, only to have the words die unspoken as slender fingers landed lightly on her lips.

"Not for that," Bianca said softly, "wonderful as it was...and not for holding me while I cried either."

The Polish woman frowned, not understanding. "Then what?"

"I know how hard it can be to open up to someone...to trust them enough to let yourself be vulnerable." She brushed her fingers along the curve of Lenaís cheek. "And I know how hard that is for you," she added seriously.

Lena shrugged, fighting the urge to coil tightly on herself and hide away when she thought about just how sheíd fallen apart by silently reminding herself that this was Bianca and she could trust her. "Itís not exactly my specialty," she admitted through gritted teeth. Years of hiding and lying hadnít exactly enhanced her skills on that front.

"Mine either as it turns out," Bianca sighed, sounding far older than her years. "But thank you for trusting me. After everything thatís happened, I wouldnít have blamed you if you hadnít."

So many secrets and lies, and so much damage. Sometimes Lena wondered how much any of them would ever really heal. Needing to banish that thought she turned her head to press a small kiss over her loverís chest, tasting the steady beat of her heart. "I trust you," she murmured, sensing that Bianca needed some assurance. She sometimes forgot the other woman had own list of guilts, fears, and regrets, that it wasnít so simple as just having been a victim. Sheíd made mistakes and bore the responsibility for them even though no one else blamed her. Lena offered a lopsided smile, trying to mute any hurt. "More than I trust myself sometimes." It was meant as a compliment though she wasnít entirely certain her lover took it that way from the way she looked at her.

A moment passed and then finally Bianca reached out, brushing Lenaís bangs out of her eyes, but didnít speak, her expression dark and a little sad as though the weight of the world rested on slender shoulders. "Funny," she exhaled at last, "I could say the same thing." Suddenly she caught Lenaís hand in her own stroking her knuckles lightly as she twined their fingers together. She rubbed her thumb lightly against the silver ring that still encircled one finger. "You still wear it," she said very softly when she finally spoke.

Slim shoulders dipped in another shrug. "Iíll never take it off." That was simple enough. "Itís a part of me." As much as she wanted to ask Bianca to wear the matching ring, she held back, afraid of pushing things too quickly in spite of everything theyíd shared. She was still figuring out her place and her rights, still not quite believing she really had any. She wasnít so foolish as to believe it would be a quick or easy process only that it would be worth the time and effort required.

As if reading her thoughts Bianca offered a faint smile. "Soon," she said, the words not quite a promise, but something close to it. "Meanwhile...." She carried Lenaís hand back down, sliding under the covers until their bound hands were resting over her belly. "Weíre together."

Together. Yes. Theyíd used those words once before. Before everything went to hell. Lena allowed herself a moment to absorb the heat and shape, the rhythm of Biancaís breathing, and the tiny fluttery movements of the child she carried. Their child now, because strangely enough, it did feel as though it had become hers in a way she didnít even begin to understand. "Itís not going to be easy," she said with quiet practicality. There were still so many things to face, so many things they needed to learn and relearn about each other, so many expectations and judgments from the people around them, so many truths yet to come out that would affect them all. "But we can do this, canít we?" She rubbed her thumb very lightly against tightly stretched skin. "Be together...protect her."

The arm wrapped around Lenaís back slid up, cupping the back of her head, ruffling silky hair with a gentle touch. "We can," Bianca agreed quietly. "We will." She brushed Lenaís hair back from her face with one hand, massaged her knuckles lightly with the other. A long moment, then she gently tugged Lenaís head to her shoulder. "Sleep now," she exhaled almost inaudibly. "We both need to sleep."

So exhausted she could barely keep her eyes open, Lena settled, curling up against Biancaís side, her hand still resting over Biancaís stomach, one leg loosely tangled with her loverís. "I love you," she sighed as she felt her body relaxing into slumber.

"I know," Bianca said very softly, then her voice echoed in the darkness. "Lena."

"Hm?"

"I love you too."

It occurred to Lena that perhaps she should have been dancing with joy, but she was too tired, and in some respects more relieved than happy. Bianca had said the words before, but she understood better than most the difference between vows uttered in moments of passion and those whispered in times of lassitude. She pressed a soft kiss to Biancaís shoulder, then relaxed comfortably against her. "I know," she sighed even as she felt the peace and darkness of sleep start to wash over her. Later there would be time for more serious considerations, plans, and long discussions.

For the moment, they were both right where they wanted to be.

END

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