Chapter XXV

The next morning Bianca woke up stiffly with a scream on her lips in the armchair by the windows of the nursery. Disorientated for a moment she stared out of the sunlit window at the snow capped purple mountains silhouetted against the rising sun, rosy and welcoming.

She took a ragged breath and then expelled it slowly. It was only a dream. It was only a dream.

A smile lit her lips unbidden and she looked down at her sleeping daughter, cradled safely in her arms, her ivory skin cream and roses in the golden light. The memories and lingering dread of her nightmares calmed as she watched Leyna wave her arms sleepily around as she dreamed, her fat little fists opening and closing like a starfish.

The black dress of the night before lay in a discarded puddle in the middle of the floor like an unwanted toy, the diamond clip that had pinned back her hair thrown on top. She hadn't want to stay in it a moment longer than necessary. Instead she had curled up in the armchair in her underwear, taking comfort from her daughter's warm skin against her own.

She stayed in the armchair watching the sunrise until Leyna woke up with a grumpy wail. Once full Leyna gave a contented sigh and began to reach her small fingers up to play with Bianca's hair, her sapphire eyes screwed up in concentration.

With a shaky laugh Bianca pulled her hair away from her daughter's questing fingers and slowly stood up, groaning as her vertebrae realigned, then laid Leyna back in her cradle. Peeping at Freddy to check he was fast asleep she pulled a blanket around herself and unlocked the door. Peering cautiously up and down the corridor she stepped out and made her way as quietly as possible back to her room.

While dressing she realised happily that for once as there were no guests she had to see to and she had no lessons she would get to spend the entire day with Freddy and Leyna. First she decided, she would grab some cocoa and see how Matthew was doing. If he was feeling well enough she could have breakfast with him and then she could take the children out for a long walk while the weather remained bright. Though she refused to let her mind dwell on what had happened the night before she unconsciously planned the route to the kitchen and Matthew's room where she was most unlikely to see Georg or anyone from the night before.

She took the old servant's passage leading downstairs towards the kitchen, ducking under the crystallized cobwebs hanging at head height. She had reached the corridor that led out into the courtyard behind the kitchen when she heard the unmistakable sound of Leyna screaming as though she were close by. A cold unease seeping through her she took a few steps forward, peering down the dark staircase on her left that she had never taken much notice of for the noise seemed to be coming from there. "Hello?" she called out uncertainly. "Eugenie? Hello?" Her only reply was the increase in volume of Leyna's distress. Unnerved and more than a little angry that someone had taken her daughter from the safety of her nursery to bring her down into the cold, Bianca steeled her courage and made her way cautiously down the steps into the gloom, the darkness eagerly enveloping her.

When she reached the bottom she was unable to see even her hand held in front of her nose. Her chest tightened and the familiar fear froze her in place. "Leyna?" she called out in a small voice when the baby's cries cut off. She took a few haltering steps further into the room, hands held out before her. "Who's down he-?"

There was the rough scrape of a shoe on stone and Leyna began to cry again. Spinning around she was just in time to see a dark figure blotting out the small square of light from the corridor above and to hear the dry groan of a bolt being slid into place.

For a split second she froze in fear and shock and then she leapt towards the door, pushing against it with all her weight. It was locked. Terror overwhelmed her. She began to scream, bashing her fists against the solid oak. Her chest tightened and fat tears began to roll down her cheeks.

Suddenly there was the sound of rasping metal and a little grille at head height opened. Bianca staggered back in surprise and then stepped forwards again when she heard Leyna crying. "No one's able to hear you," a familiar, amused voice drawled, freezing her where she was.

"G…Georg?"

"You have a beautiful daughter, she's just like her mother," he said conversationally.

Her hands clenched into fists as she fought back the overwhelming panic. Whatever happened she couldn't let that monster have anything to do with her. "Please, leave my daughter alone," she said as calmly as she could, "she's got nothing to do with you."

"You know, you really shouldn't have run of like that last night, sweetheart," he continued casually as though she hadn't said anything. "It's real a shame that I have to do this to you."

She swallowed hard, her fists trembling at her sides. "I told you I had to feed Leyna so I had to leave."

He tutted. "You should do as your told. It's when people don't do what they're told that they cause trouble."

"Just let me out Georg. I need to sort Leyna out."

He shook his head, looking regretful. "I'm afraid I can't do that. It's your own fault that you're down there."

Bianca shook her head in disbelief, unable to believe what she was hearing. "You're mad," she said in a shaky voice, her fear of what he might do to Leyna growing.

His face twisted. "Watch what you're saying! You ought to remember I'm the only one who can let you out of here!" With a furious glare he slammed the grille shut, leaving her in total darkness once more. Unable to stop the terror controlling her she threw herself against the door, screams being involuntarily dragged from her throat as she hit the it as hard as she could, hoping-praying-that someone would hear and let her out.

"GEORG! Let me out! Oh God, please let me out!" Her screams dissolved into sobs and she pounded harder on the door, ignoring her split knuckles. "Leave Leyna alone Georg. Please just leave her alone! She has nothing to do with you! Lord, please just leave her out of this! Georg!"

She collapsed against the wall, sinking to the ground, fingers clawing weakly at the wood. She screwed her eyes up tight against the darkness, choking back her sobs. Her mind fled to her memories as it always did when she was scared, seeking the sanctuary they offered, holding onto them like a lifeline.

The room trembled as another bomb landed ever closer to the house, causing the light bulb above their heads to flicker uncertainly and then go out, leaving them in darkness. It was then the terror really clenched her insides. She had a fear of being in small spaces as it was but when the light was killed her breath came faster and faster and her suddenly sweaty hands clenched into fists, her nails digging into the soft flesh of her palms.

She felt as though the walls were closing in, trying to suffocate her. She drew a shuddering breath to try and prevent herself from crying out. The thought of being in this tiny enclosed room in the dark for an indefinite amount of time, with the chance of being buried alive if the house above was hit, made her more afraid than she'd ever been.

"Bianca, are you all right?" Stefan's hand fumbled through the darkness and caught hers, uncurling the tense fingers and threading his own between them.

"I'm going to try and find some candles ok, so don't move. I'll only be a second." He made to let go of her and move away but she lunged forward, clutching his greatcoat. She would rather stay in the dark than be left on her own.

"What's the matter?"

"Don't leave me alone," she begged in a small voice muffled by his chest.

He paused and she heard the rustle of clothes in the dark. Seconds later a match was struck, illuminating his face, the gentle glow softening the sharp angles of his cheekbones, glossing over the scars covering the left side of his face.

He raised his fingers and trailed them along her cheek, her skin warming wherever he touched. His eyes held hers, sapphire fire dancing in the match light. He tilted his face down and brushed his lips across hers, so gently as not to scare her. He pulled back and she swayed towards him, craving more. He blew out the match and kissed her again, longer and harder, his hands coming up around her face and she responded in kind. She was sure she was dreaming.

His lips were pressing soft butterfly kisses along her collarbone, his fingertips stroking her back, when the dim light flickered back on again and a bomb was dropped ever closer, making the ground shake.

She made a startled noise, her hands clenching into his shoulders. He raised his head, an amused expression on his face. He kissed her lips briefly and then pulled her over to the bed. He sat down, his back against the wall and drew her down to sit with her back pressed against his stomach, his arms around her waist. It made her feel better, safer.

"The worst thing you can do is panic," he said softly, leaning his head against hers. "I always tell that to the new recruits. Don't panic. If you do you'll end up a wreck. Just keep calm and take a few deep breaths."

She turned her head to his chest, hearing the steady thud of his heart and knew that as long as she was with him, she would be safe.

She wasn't sure how many hours she had been down there when the door banged open, causing her to fall backwards onto the cold flagstones.

She weakly raised her head, staring hatefully at the shiny black shoes with bleary, swollen eyes.

"Have you had enough?"

She nodded pitifully, too cold and exhausted to speak.

"Have you learnt your lesson?"

Again she nodded, and then coughed when she breathed in the dust from the ground, her throat on fire.

"So there will be no telling Matthew or my father or anyone else, will there? You know what I'll do to your daughter if you tell."

She bowed her head, hating herself for having to give such an answer.

The shoes turned around and began ascending the stairs but then they paused, little eddies of dust rising from the step like silver clouds.

"I've got a guest coming tomorrow. I expect you to be with me to greet him."

With that he carried on up the stairs and Bianca watched in a kind of daze as the light hit the tiny dust particles, making them a thing of beauty.

Wincing, she got to her feet and put aside the pain, her only thoughts now of Leyna. With cramped legs she ran through the chateau to the nursery. Pushing the door open she cried out in relief when she saw her fast asleep in her cot. Scooping her up she cuddled Leyna to her chest, raining soft kisses over her downy skin.

Blinking sleepily Leyna opened her eyes, stared up at her mama and smiled, reaching her arms up towards her.

It was then that Bianca realised the full extent of the lengths she would do to keep her daughter safe, even if it meant putting herself at risk.


phew! i made it!

Thank you everyone who read the last chapeter and particularly those who reviewed. Aomera, LeeneElle, Clarelouise, diabolical.angel, dawn9800, fictionluvr, IheartStewart20 and I'dRatherBeRunning. I think we should start a We Hate Georg Club. Feel free to imagine the various ways we could murder him, I often do.

I love this chapter, mainly because it has a looooong flashback to one of my favourite parts of the first story :D so I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it.

I HOPE i can have the next chapter written within a fortnight but I can't promise everything. I feel like digging my own grave and climbing into it most evenings. I have too much work!

Who may the mystery guest be in the next chapter? Someone new or someone old?

(by old i mean you've met him before, not old as in age wise...)

-Auraya