DISCLAIMER: All characters (Olivia Spencer, Natalia Rivera, Frank Cooper blah blah etc.) and situations belong to Guiding Light, Telenext, Proctor & Gamble, etc. I'm not them.
SPOILERS: Spoilers for everything through July 9th. Goes off canon after that.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To procrastinatingsith[at]gmail.com
"Are you sure you want to do this, Sweetie?" Blake pressed Natalia's hand between both of her own. "You can still change your mind."
Blake Marler was no major fan of Olivia Spencer's. There had, in fact, been a time in their lives when she would have wished Olivia nothing but ill-will - the period during her marriage to Josh Lewis for starters - but the look on Olivia's face when she informed her that Natalia wasn't coming to the barbecue and didn't want to see Olivia either, would have been enough to draw pity from anyone. Blake recognized that kind of devastation; it had surprised her to see it coming from Olivia. She hadn't thought Olivia was capable of it.
"I-" Natalia glanced away, her attention drawn by the elderly nun who had taken her bag and was rolling it toward the main building. "I need to do this," Natalia said with a shaky voice. "I have to figure out what's right." Her hand hovered over her stomach.
She wasn't showing, Blake noted, not really. It wasn't like Natalia wore form-fitting close anyway. Her jeans might be getting a little bit tighter, but who didn't add on a few pounds now and then.
Blake nodded, trying to be supportive. She wasn't sure this was the best way to go. Not telling Frank about this made her uncomfortable. He was a good man and she had known him for decades. But Natalia was her friend and she had promised Natalia that she wouldn't say anything to anyone; it was a promise she very much intended to keep.
"If you need anything," Blake said, giving her hand another squeeze. "Just let me know."
"Thank you," Natalia murmured, the words sounding more rote than heartfelt. "You've done so much already."
"Natalia-" Blake wished there was something she could say that would take away all of the other woman's obvious doubt and heartache, but she didn't think it was quite so simple. Blake shook her head. "Just take care of yourself." She smiled. "And your little one."
Natalia nodded, but there was no smile. That worried Blake the most. Almost from the moment Natalia had come to Springfield she had been dealing with one thing or another - and none of it easy - but Natalia had always had a ready smile and a positive attitude. Today there was no sign of that; it wasn't like her at all. Even though Blake knew this was what Natalia wanted, it made her reluctant to leave.
There wasn't anything else she could say though, or any reason she could think of to delay. Blake took her time getting into the car and she couldn't help one last glance back at Natalia just before she pulled out of the drive. It didn't seem right, leaving her like this.
The woman - Sister Mary Francis - who guided Natalia inside and showed her to her small room was kind and welcoming. There was a peace about her that Natalia thought might have been soothing under the usual circumstances. Today it just chafed, reminding her of what was eluding her at the moment.
"Would you like the tour, dear?" Sister Mary Francis asked. "You have a little while yet before dinner."
"No," Natalia said, sinking down onto the small bed. "Thank you." The small courtesy coming to her from years of habit. "I think I'd just like to be alone for a little while. I need to...think."
Think about what she had done and what she going to do. Somehow Natalia needed to try to make sense of this mess that she had created, so that she could do the right thing. If only she knew what the right thing was.
"Of course," Sister Mary Francis said gently. "Dinner is at 7." She paused. "If you ever discover that you need someone to talk to, that is what we are here for. Do not be afraid to ask." Sister Mary Francis waited a moment longer to see if this would prompt Natalia to say anything and when it didn't, she simply smiled, nodded and left Natalia to her own devices.
The small room was comfortably decorated, but not lavish or sumptuous like the Beacon suites or any of the other hotels where she had worked through the years. The floor was covered with medium-blue industrial carpeting, and a plain chair and desk sat beside the bed. There was a Bible sitting next to the lamp. Natalia put her hand on it, but didn't pick it up. She knew what she would find in there.
Her fingers trailed over the Bible as she let go and sank back onto the bed, curling into a fetal position. Natalia's hand rested over her stomach. She didn't feel any different. Just a little bit nauseated but that had been her default for the past week. How could she have gone so long without realizing what was happening? It was ridiculous. She should have noticed.
Natalia bit her lip and struggled not to let her tears fall. Discovering you were pregnant was supposed to be a happy time in a person's life; not a time that made them wonder what they had done to deserve this. That made Natalia feel even worse. It wasn't fair to her unborn child - her baby - to think of him or her that way. Her little one had done nothing wrong, hadn't asked for this at all.
God, why had she slept with Frank?
She knew the answer. Olivia. She had known it at the time. Natalia wanted so badly to believe that she could be happy with Frank. She was so desperate to feel something other than the way Olivia made her feel that she had tried to summon that feeling with Frank. Only it hadn't worked, not at all. The only thing that Frank had made her feel was ashamed and dirty. And what made it worse was that he had thought they had shared something beautiful. At the time, she had wished she felt the same way, but in her heart, she knew the truth.
Frank would never make her feel happy and content - like she could aspire to more - not the way Olivia had. She had a growing suspicion that Olivia was the only person who would ever make her feel that way.
Abruptly, Natalia rolled to a sitting position and grabbed her purse off the desk, throwing it open to search for her cell phone only remembering then that she had handed it to the nun at the registration desk to be kept with all the other visitor cell phones until she was ready to leave. It had seemed like a good idea then; now wanting to hear Olivia's voice, needing to speak to her more than anything, it seemed like a terrible idea.
Natalia dropped her purse and stood up, pacing around the small room, bringing her fingers to her mouth as she paced. Her moment of decisiveness was replaced by hesitation. She could go and ask for her phone. It wouldn't be that hard to get it back, but what was she going to say to Olivia once she had it?
How could she tell Olivia that she was pregnant? Rafe's refusal to accept them - his hatred - was the last thing that had stood between them being happy and together. Now she was bringing another child into the mix, one that brought Frank back into their lives in a way that there would be no escaping from. Because Natalia knew Frank. She knew that when he found out she was pregnant with his child, he would want to do the right thing, want to marry her. Everything inside her - years of tradition and ingrained beliefs and years of listening to reproofs and slights - screamed at her that a child should be raised by its parents, born into wedlock. But that was the last thing her heart wanted. Was it selfish of her to deny her child this just because she wanted - wanted Olivia, wanted a life that was more than just tradition, duty and what was expect of her?
Natalia had told Olivia that they had dealt with the whispering that had gone on around Emma after her "My Two Mommies" presentation, but she was under no illusion that there wouldn't be more whispers as time passed. It would always be more difficult for their children, if they were together.
But they could deal with all of that, if being with Olivia was the right thing to do. Natalia had faith in that. She just wished that she knew if it was the right thing. What she wanted, most of all was a sign, something to tell her, this is right or this is wrong.
Why couldn't it be that easy?
Dinner that night hadn't really interested Natalia. She was still feeling nauseated and the thought of food was uninteresting. She had too many things on her mind, but she made an effort to eat something because she knew she should. Her baby needed the nourishment. She hadn't been taking care of herself lately, not the way she would have been had she known she was pregnant. The thought of every shot she had taken or glass of wine she had drunk since February made her cringe.
More deeds to add to her list of sins.
Panic began to flood Natalia and she left the dining room, emptying her half-eaten plate into the garbage with another twinge of guilt. She hated waste of any kind and all the years that she and Rafe had spent just getting by just made her feel worse about it. She couldn't eat another bite though.
Back in her secluded room, Natalia didn't feel any better. Out of habit, she found her rosary in her purse and began murmuring the traditional prayers. Usually the words brought with them a comforting sense of familiarity and settled her mind, enough to let her think or see clearly the path that had been set before her. Tonight it did neither, and when she reached the end, she felt just as agitated and miserable as she had when she began.
With nothing else to do, Natalia changed into her night clothes and slipped into the unfamiliar bed. This place was supposed to give her the peace and distance from her life that she needed to see things more clearly, to understand what she needed to do. So far it wasn't working at all. So far, all she was doing was going over the same things in her mind, again and again.
Olivia. Rafe. Frank. Her baby. Father Ray.
They echoed through her mind like a litany of a different kind.
She couldn't make them all happy. It was impossible. There was too big of a difference in the things they wanted from her.
Father Ray wanted her to be the model parishioner, pious and willing to volunteer at the church. Natalia was supposed to be content with raising her children and teaching them how to be good people, never stepping a foot out of line, or thinking controversial thoughts. Much less doing things that went against the church doctrine.
Her baby demanded nothing from her, but nourishment and protection, unconditional love. Natalia had every intention of giving that to him, giving her the best life she could provide. It was the how and the what that remained elusive.
Frank simply wanted her. He wanted her to be the simple, uncomplicated woman that he had assumed she was. He wanted a woman who shared his values of home, family and faith, not someone who defied what was expected of her and reached for a beautiful dream.
Rafe needed her, even as he tried his hardest to push her away. Needing her was a weakness that he didn't think he could afford. Seeing her as different from the way that she had always been had shaken the foundation of his world. He couldn't deal with it; so he had pushed her away and hurt them both in the process.
In the end, it always came back to Olivia. With Olivia, it was more than just want or need, Olivia claimed every part of her without even trying. She saw things in Natalia that Natalia had never even imagined in herself. Olivia freed her, pushed her and demanded more of her. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
Each time Olivia had pushed her, though, Natalia had soared higher. This time, Natalia had failed her. She had made a mistake - one that there was no fixing or eliminating - and Natalia had no idea what to say or do about that. In her experience, mistakes like this one were crushing and unforgivable. There were no chances to explain. "I love you" wasn't a good enough reason for finding herself pregnant out of wedlock.
On the bed, Natalia curled in on herself more tightly. What was right seemed unknowable and what was possible seemed full of despair and hopelessness. Her mind circled endlessly until exhaustion claimed her.
She dreamed of Olivia; Olivia holding her closer than Olivia had dared to since they admitted their feelings for one another. Olivia stroked her hair and nuzzled into Natalia's neck. Her lips trailed kisses across the line of Natalia's jaw and back behind her ear.
Natalia sagged into Olivia, letting her head rest on Olivia's shoulder, letting Olivia support them both for a moment. "I love you," Natalia whispered. "I love you so much."
"Then why are you crying, Princess?" Olivia asked.
Natalia shrugged. Some part of her knew this was a dream, but she didn't want it to end. Being held by Olivia felt safe. More than that, it felt right. But this Olivia didn't know her secret. Soon enough the real Olivia would and then Natalia would lose her. Natalia wasn't ready for that to happen yet, not when this felt so good. She shook her head, leaving it buried against Olivia's shoulder.
"Promise me you won't ever leave me?"
Olivia eased away from Natalia. In a blind panic, Natalia held on tighter.
"Hey, it's okay," Olivia said gently, her hands running soothingly up and down Natalia's arms. "I just want to look at you."
Reluctantly, Natalia let go enough that Olivia could shift away from her, her fingers clenching in the material of Olivia's shirt. Delicate fingers touched Natalia's chin and tilted her face up to meet Olivia's gaze.
"I promise you that I will never leave you."
Olivia's grip on her chin loosened. Natalia could feel the fine tremors going through her hand. Then Olivia dipped her head and pressed her lips against Natalia's, kissing her gently. The kiss lingered, neither deepening or lessening. Olivia was waiting to see how Natalia would respond.
Natalia surged forward, her nose hitting Olivia's in her hurry. She ignored the smarting pain and adjusted for it, choosing a different angle. She erased the small distance between them again, pressing herself up against Olivia wantonly. How many times had she wanted to do this, only to be constrained by fear or doubts? Had she lost her chance?
"Whore!" The word cracked through the air, shattering the moment that Natalia was trying so desperately to cling to.
Natalia jerked away from Olivia as if she had been burned, her hands flying free of Olivia as she stumbled backwards.
"You would corrupt your child by exposing her to this woman and her evil influences? Bad enough that you would chose this life for yourself, but exposing a child to your unnatural impulses...I thought better of you, Natalia. Didn't you learn your lesson with Rafael and your precious Nicky?"
The woman staring back at her was her mother. Natalia hadn't seen her in years. She had pictures of her family, of course, but she'd kept them all put away. There was no need for constant reminders of the people who hadn't wanted her or Rafe. But Natalia would recognize that familiar figure anywhere. Only when her mother stepped forward, it wasn't her mother she was facing. It was her own eyes - her own features - staring back at her in accusation, with the echoes of her father's words on her own lips.
For a moment the disparity and disorientation distracted her, her mind struggling to make sense of this. Somewhere in the decades that had slipped by, she had lost track. Somewhere along the way she had grown into her mother, only time and familiarity with her own body had kept her from seeing it. The thought almost made her recoil. Natalia wanted to be nothing like the woman who would throw her own child out.
"Well?" she asked, "What do you have to say for yourself?"
But Natalia didn't know what to say. She shook her head, the accusations hurled moments before, coming back to her. She remembered Olivia distantly and looked around, but Olivia was no where to be seen.
"Olivia?" Her voice came out high and panicked.
"You pushed her away. She's gone."
"Don't say that," But there was no bite in Natalia's voice; it was almost pleading.
"You did it, not me," the other-her corrected callously. "You pushed her away. You left."
"I didn't leave her."
"Funny. It doesn't look that way to me. You're here. She's there."
"I'm the reason I left."
"She doesn't know that," her other-self observed dispassionately. "She thinks she fucked it up big-time. Olivia thinks all sorts of horrible things. But what did you expect?"
"That's right," the other-her cut her off. "You didn't think at all, Natalia. You didn't have faith. You didn't do anything but panic and run."
"I'm not running away. I'm figuring out what's the right thing to do."
"So leaving Olivia is the right thing to do then?"
"I didn't leave her." Natalia's voice rose, a hint of frustration creeping into it.
"You can't have it both ways, Natalia. You either left or you didn't."
"I'm not leaving her," Natalia said desperately. "I'm not."
"But leaving her would be the right thing to do. Living with her the way your heart desires is a sin. Raising a child like that, with her, without its father, would be even worse. Can you imagine what people would whisper about that Rivera woman? The little cutting glances and knowing stares would be delicious."
"You're..." Natalia searched for a strong enough word and found nothing. "You're wrong. Olivia is a good mother."
"But this isn't about her. This is about you."
Natalia swallowed and felt the room swim around her. A hand clamped around her wrist, steadying her, bringing her face to face with herself.
"You're the one who thinks this is a sin."
"I don't," Natalia whispered.
"You say that. You don't believe it, not in your heart. You want it, but you still think, very deep down, that there must be something wrong with it. You think it's unnatural. What you feel scares you. Don't lie, Natalia."
Everything in her wanted to deny it, say that it wasn't true. But there was some small part of her that couldn't. Natalia broke, doubling over, gasping for air in huge heaving sobs. She cried until she couldn't breathe. Her fingers clenched around her knee and she wrapped an arm around her stomach, willing herself to calm down, to breathe. She had to breathe. Desperation choked her and for a moment, she thought she would never breathe again. And then she did. One breath after another until she was calm again.
Natalia stayed curled up on the floor, looking up at herself.
"I love Olivia. There is nothing wrong with what I feel for her. Our love is good and pure."
"But there is something wrong with you. To feel the way you do when you look at her."
Panic again. "There isn't." The words came out tremulous and shaky.
"Oh, very convincing."
It was, Natalia admitted to herself, a very hard thing to say. "I look at Olivia the way that someone looks at a lover. I want to be with her - all the time - in every way. She's the woman I love," Natalia said, her voice easing at that. "There's nothing wrong with looking at her like that."
"Then why are you here, if there's nothing wrong with that?" The other-her knelt down on one knee, covering Natalia's hand over her belly with her own. "Does this really change anything?"
"Olivia," Natalia murmured. "I can't ask her to accept another person's child."
"Right, because you're just counting the days until you can send Emma off to boarding school."
"I would never..." Natalia started indignantly, biting back the rest of what she had been about to say. "But this is different. I betrayed her."
"So ask her forgiveness."
"It's not that simple."
"You're making it too hard."
"She won't forgive me."
"Olivia isn't your mother. Give her a chance. Give her a chance, before you take her chance away."
"I wasn't trying to-"
"But you did. You took away her choice. You made her doubt everything. You left. What was she supposed to think?"
Natalia shook her head, feeling horror of a different kind well up in her. "She thinks I left her."
"I have to go back. I have to-" tell her. She couldn't even say it out loud to herself.
"You do. Because she deserves the truth, or else she'll never believe you. And she'll figure it out for herself eventually," the other-her added with another glance at her belly. "Just remember what you told me, and you'll be okay."
"It's not that simple," Natalia said. She knew not simple. She knew how life really worked. It was easy to think something, but saying it and believing it was harder.
"No," her other-self agreed. "It's not. But you already know about doing things that aren't easy. Don't stop making the hard choices now."
In bed, Natalia shifted, rolling closer to the edge, and fell deeper into sleep, leaving behind her dreams and nightmares.
Natalia woke to the mid-morning sun pouring in through the small window. She rubbed her eyes and put her feet over the side of the bed, sitting up slowly. She had only slept so late once before, that she could remember. She had been sixteen; old enough that her mother expected her to get to school with no promptings or reminders from her. Natalia had woken up from a dead sleep at ten-thirty in the morning only to realize to her horror, that she had missed the first several periods of school. It was the first and last time that had ever happened. And, although she hadn't known it at the time, she had been pregnant then too.
Her hand touched her stomach, her first thought, the baby. Her second was Olivia. That sparked something, and her dream came back to her in an instant. The fogginess of sleep vanished; Natalia straightened. Her hand flew to her face.
"Oh, God." How could she have forgotten her dream and Olivia? She hadn't been thinking about Olivia at all in her rush to get out of town. She hadn't considered what Olivia would think when she didn't show up at the barbecue. Now it was all she could think about. Natalia could imagine Olivia's devastation and panic when Natalia didn't show up. Olivia would have no idea why she wasn't there. The last time she had spoken to Olivia, she had told Olivia she loved her. Olivia didn't know that anything was wrong and she had left Olivia - just like everyone else had.
Oh, God, what had she done?
Without a conscious decision, Natalia stood up and began to throw the few things that she had brought with her back into her bag. Out of habit she started to tidy, the bag and then stopped mid-motion. Not today. She didn't have time for that; she needed to get back to Olivia.
Natalia pulled open her door and almost ran into the diminutive Sister Mary Francis.
"Sister, I didn't see you." Natalia shook her head, flustered by her unexpected presence. "I'm sorry. I have to go."
"Go, dear? Where are you going? The seminars are purely elective. This is a place for spiritual reflection, however you may achieve that. We are here to guide you and help you, but there is no set path that you must follow."
"I'm sorry," Natalia said, apologizing again. "I can't...I'm not...I have to go."
"Is something wrong? Has something happened? It's usually not best to leave until these things are clear in your mind."
"I shouldn't have come here. Coming here just made it worse." Natalia said, emphatically.
"I'm sure that's not the case. You must have had a good reason to come here."
"I did, but-" Natalia's voice broke. "But I shouldn't have come the way I did. I left...someone, without telling them why I was leaving and where I was going. I shouldn't have done that to her. I have to fix it."
"Her, dear?" Sister Mary Francis asked with a gentle but knowing tone. "Is that what you came here to find answers about?"
"No." Natalia shook her head. "Yes." But that wasn't quite right either. "My baby. It doesn't matter. I have to go back before it's too late."
"Of course you may go, dear, but have you come to a resolution for any of your problems? If you leave without having that, nothing will be any different. Nothing will ever change."
For the first time, her words made Natalia hesitate. She needed to get back to Olivia, that was true. Natalia needed to fix her mistakes. But she was still pregnant with Frank's baby; that hadn't changed. She would still - somehow - have to tell Olivia about it. And she still didn't know what was right. She just knew that staying here, hurting Olivia more with each passing moment wasn't right.
She just needed Olivia. Not to fix everything or make all her problems go away, but because Olivia was who she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. She needed to try, at least, to make things right with Olivia before she worried about anything else. Olivia deserved that and more. Natalia just wasn't sure that she would be capable of giving Olivia everything she deserved.
Natalia wasn't the woman that she thought she had been - a single mom of a son, who while still troubled, was doing better, trying to pull his life together. For the first time in her life, she owned a home. She had a single job that was enough to support them both and that she could be proud of.
Now, she was a scared, pregnant, unmarried and working at a part-time job with no benefits. How familiar that felt. There was nothing wrong with that, but there was nothing right with it either. It had felt so good to have something to be proud of. She could never equal Olivia's money or status, but she hadn't been ashamed of what she had either.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," Natalia admitted softly. "I feel like, I haven't made this big of a mistake in years, but I do know that staying here isn't going to make it better. It's only going to make it worse. I have to go back and face what I've done. I can't...nothing will be right until I do that."
Sister Mary Francis looked at her for a moment. The way she seemed to be looking into Natalia was unsettling. "Then, if that is the way that you feel, go with God." She hesitated for a moment. "Is your friend coming back to pick you up?"
"Uh..." Natalia hadn't thought that far but there was no way she could ask Blake to come and pick her up today. Not after she had driven her so far the day before at no more than a moment's notice. "No, I don't think so. I should call a cab."
"That's a good idea," Sister Mary Francis said, touching Natalia's elbow briefly. "Why don't you do that and then we'll get you something to eat before they get here. You need to keep your strength up." She patted Natalia's arm again. "For you and for your child."
If Natalia thought about what she was going to say to Olivia for too long, panic clutched at her, sending her heart racing and leaving her palms clammy. Not to mention feeling sick to her stomach. Either morning sickness or dread. Maybe both.
The food hadn't helped with that. Or maybe it was the long wait for the cab to get to the retreat that had left her with nothing but time on her hands, time with nothing to do but think and pace and worry, about Olivia, about Rafe and about her baby.
The long ride back to Springfield hadn't been much better, but at least then she was moving toward something instead of standing still. Natalia hated that most of the day had already slipped by. She had felt even worse when she had retrieved her cell phone and heard Olivia's imploring messages. Her first instinct had been to call Olivia back immediately, but then she had reconsidered. She didn't know what the best way to tell Olivia would be, but calling her would only lead to Olivia wanting to know why she left and Natalia just couldn't tell her over the phone.
So here she was, standing in front of the door to Olivia's suite, as scared as she had ever been in her life.
Natalia took a deep breath and then knocked. It felt presumptuous to use her keycard now, not until she knew how Olivia would feel about her news. Everything had changed; Olivia just didn't know it yet.
Jane opened the door with a puzzled smile. "Natalia?"
Jane wasn't the person she had been expecting and it flustered Natalia. "Jane, I-" She pursed her lips and shook her head. "Is Olivia here?" A stupid question. Olivia rarely had Jane stay when she was home.
"No, I haven't seen Ms. Spencer since this morning."
"Natalia!" Emma's cry from inside the suite brought a smile to Natalia's face.
"Emma!" Natalia dropped to her knees as Emma ran toward her and wrapped her in a tight embrace. She stroked Emma's hair and couldn't believe she had ever thought running away was the answer to anything. "I'm so glad to see you!"
Emma's little arms squeezed her back with surprising strength. "You didn't come to the barbecue yesterday. Mommy said something must have happened if you didn't come, but she didn't know what. I think she was sad. I missed you for the three-legged race. James and Daddy won, but I think we could have beaten them. Don't you think so?"
"Of course, we could have," Natalia said staunchly. She took a deep breath and pressed a kiss to the top of Emma's head. "I'm sorry I couldn't come to the barbecue, Emma. Do you think you can forgive me for missing it?"
"Of course," Emma said with a bright smile that dimmed a little bit in the next moment. "I wish you'd been there though. We had to leave early and we missed the fireworks."
"I'm sorry, Em," Natalia said softly, biting her lip, hating that she had ruined Emma's holiday on top of everything else. She knew how much the little girl had been looking forward to the festivities.
Emma shrugged, brushing it off with her natural resilience. "It's okay. I had fun anyway." Her grin turned mischievous. "We had the best water fight. I hit Bill and James, but then James got all mad because I got him wet."
Natalia laughed softly. She could imagine the young Spaulding's offended sensibilities. It probably hadn't helped that it was his little sister who had nailed him with the water balloon. Her laughter faded. Despite how much she was enjoying talking to Emma, the need to find Olivia hadn't faded.
"I want you to tell me all about it, Emma, but I need to find your mommy. I have to tell her something." Natalia looked up at Jane. "Do you know where she is today?"
"No. I haven't seen Ms. Spencer since she left this morning. Although she did ask if I would mind staying late."
"Okay," Natalia said, brushing a few stray hairs behind Emma's ear. "Thank you, Jane. I'll just keep looking. Will you call me if she comes back?"
"Of course," Jane said.
Finding Olivia was not that easy, Natalia realized. She had gone to Towers first, running into Josh on the way and asking him if he had seen Olivia since the barbecue, but he hadn't. Natalia had tried the grocery store, gas station, dry cleaners and any other place she could think of.
Company was last on her list. She didn't think Olivia would want to see any Coopers today. In her desperation, she was even going by Doris' office. It was more or less on her way to Company from the dry cleaners. She hadn't thought much beyond seeing Olivia when she got back into town, so she'd had the driver drop her off directly at the Beacon. Unfortunately Olivia hadn't been there and her search was taking much longer on foot.
Natalia stuck her head in the door. It was open and Doris' secretary had sent her on back; it wasn't like she was intruding. She knocked lightly on the door frame to get Doris' attention.
"Ms. Rivera," Doris leaned back in her chair and folded her arms over her chest. "What can I do for you?"
The last time Natalia had been in this office, she and Olivia had blackmailed Doris into getting Phillip's trial date moved up. How things had changed. Things with Phillip were almost friendly; she and Olivia had admitted how they felt about each other; and she was carrying Frank's baby. If anyone had told her where her life would be the last time she stood in this office, she would never have believed them.
"I was wondering if you'd seen Olivia?"
Doris snorted. "You let her slip away so soon? I thought you'd have her chained to the bed in that big old farmhouse of yours today."
Natalia winced. "Um, I... There was... I mean..." She fumbled to a stop. "So you haven't seen her?"
"No," Doris said slowly, as she straightened and rose from behind her desk. "Trouble in paradise? Olivia was practically glowing in Company the other day." For reasons Doris couldn't explain, Natalia roused a protective instinct in her where Olivia was concerned.
"It's nothing," Natalia said quickly. "I just need to find her."
"Have you tried calling her? I mean, before you came to my office and interrupted my busy day?"
"No," Natalia shook her. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come. I just thought she might have... It doesn't matter. I'll go."
Doris watched her leave, thumping her pen contemplatively against her desk. It was true that she did have work waiting on her, but it was nothing that couldn't wait a few more minutes. She picked up her cell phone and dialed Olivia's number.
There was no answer and eventually Doris was kicked over to Olivia's voicemail. She contemplated just hanging up for a moment and then decided against it. "Spencer. Your girlfriend just paid me a very strange visit. Everything, all right?"
Doris hung up without another word. She wasn't usually a meddler. People tended to take it as an invitation to get involved in her private life in return, which was really the last thing that she wanted. But in for a penny, in for a pound. She had already stalled a wedding to give Olivia a chance with Natalia. A little phone call had to be harmless compared to that.
Anyway, that was Doris' story and she was sticking to it.
Olivia was not at Company and Natalia didn't know where else to look. There wasn't much more she could do on foot anyway.
Blake looked more than a little surprised when she saw Natalia walk into Company.
"Hi, Blake," Natalia said. She flushed a little with embarrassment, but to her credit, Blake seemed to take it all in stride.
"Natalia!" Blake looked genuinely happy to see her as she came around from behind the counter. "I didn't expect to see you back so soon."
"I didn't either," Natalia said with a wry smile. "I really appreciate you giving me a ride yesterday. I wasn't thinking very clearly."
"No problem," Blake said, waving it away as nothing. "I understand."
"Do you?" Natalia asked. "I'm still not sure I do. I just realized that leaving wasn't the answer." She hesitated. Now that she thought about it, there was another good reason to come to Company. Blake might have some of the answers she wanted. "Have you seen Olivia today?"
Blake's smile dropped away. "No, I haven't, Sweetie. I'm sorry."
"No, it's okay," Natalia reassured her, even if it was far from okay. "I just haven't been able to find her."
Blake gave her a sympathetic look. "She seemed pretty upset yesterday when I talked to her."
Natalia nodded. It wasn't like she hadn't realized that, but having it confirmed for her made it worse. "I know this is a lot to ask, but would you be able to give me a ride back to the farmhouse? I went straight to the Beacon when I got back; I needed to see Olivia. So I don't have my car."
"Sure," Blake said, "That's not a problem." She hesitated for a moment. "Have you thought anymore about telling Frank?"
Frank. Natalia had thought about him, in the context of what he would expect from her. Not about how she would tell him about his baby. She would tell him, eventually. She knew that and she had no intention of trying to keep Frank from his child. She wanted Frank to be a big part of his child's life. Rafe had missed having a father and she wanted to give this baby what she hadn't been able to give Rafe.
But Natalia wanted to be certain of what was going on between she and Olivia before she said anything to Frank. She had let him take advantage of her uncertainty when it came to Olivia too many times before. This time Natalia couldn't afford to get it wrong.
"I'm going to tell him," Natalia said. "I just need..." She hoped Blake would understand. "I owe it to Olivia to tell her first. I'll tell Frank soon, I promise."
"Just...please don't forget him in all this, Natalia. I know you're dealing with a lot right now, but this will mean so much to Frank."
Natalia swallowed. "I know. I just...I think I really made a mess of things, Blake. I'm so scared that I hurt Olivia and I have to fix that first."
"I understand," Blake said gently. "I just don't want you to regret anything."
Natalia smiled tremulously. She already had regrets, but maybe it wasn't too late to fix things. She just needed to find Olivia.
"Olivia?" Natalia was so surprised when she saw Olivia's car sitting in her driveway; it had never occurred to her to look for Olivia here. She wasn't sure why. She just hadn't thought Olivia would want the reminder of this place today when she knew Natalia wasn't here.
"Looks like you found her," Blake said, turning her head to flash Natalia a soft smile.
But Natalia was too focused on finding Olivia to really hear Blake. She was already opening her door before Blake had rolled to a stop.
"Thank you, Blake," Natalia said as she quickly retrieved her bag. She only stopped for a second in her headlong rush toward the house and Olivia. "If you ever need anything...anything at all...just ask."
Blake smiled. "I'm okay right now, but I might take you up on that sometime." Her smile turned slightly mischievous. "Now go get your girl."
Natalia's heart skipped a beat at the too familiar words. Blake had said them with none of the inflection that Rafe had put behind them, but the reminder was there all the same. Just remembering the hatred in his voice hurt. This time, however, the hurt was balanced by the sure knowledge that if she gave in to that hatred in Rafe's voice, she would lose one of the best things that had ever happened to her. And Natalia believed in cherishing blessings, even when it wasn't immediately apparent that they were blessings, like conceiving Rafe and this baby. She would just have to work to show Rafe that this was a blessing too.
He needed to have faith, instead of letting fear get the better of them, and at the moment, she needed faith too, to believe that this would work out the way that it should.
Instead of letting her fear get the better of her, Natalia smiled at Blake. "I think I will."
The wheels of her suitcase sounded loud against the concrete sidewalk as Natalia pulled it behind her. She was already walking quickly toward the house, anxious to see Olivia again, when she saw Olivia sprawled at the opposite end of the sidewalk. Natalia let go of her suitcase and hurried forward.
"Olivia?" Natalia knelt down beside her, reaching out hesitantly to touch Olivia's shoulder.
Olivia jerked at her touch, looking up at Natalia as if fighting her way out of a thick fog. "Natalia?" Her voice was heavy with disbelief. "What are you doing here?"
"I came home." But that wasn't quite right. "I came to find you."
Something in Olivia seemed to harden. "Blake said you didn't want to see me."
Natalia bit her lip and looked down. This had gotten so messed up. Everything she had done had come out so wrong. This wasn't what she had meant, but that's how Olivia would have heard it. How could she not see what it would do to Olivia when she left?
"I didn't meant it like that," Natalia said softly.
"Well, then how did you mean it?" Olivia demanded, anger spilling into her voice. "Because it sure looked like you didn't want to see me when you didn't show up at the barbecue and then sent your little messenger just to make sure I got the point."
Natalia flinched, closing her eyes briefly against the pain in Olivia's words, the pain that she had been responsible for inflicting.
"There's something I need to tell you," Natalia said. Her explanation would make no sense if Olivia didn't understand what had scared her in the first place. Besides that, if she didn't tell Olivia soon, Natalia was afraid she would lose her courage again. Olivia was hurting so badly already. She hated the thought of anything that would hurt Olivia more.
"What?" Olivia demanded, stumbling backwards slightly as she pushed herself to her feet. "What do you need to tell me? What did I do that was so bad that you couldn't face being with me? Tell me!" Olivia said, her voice rising with each word.
"You didn't do anything!" Natalia countered just as firmly, standing up to go toe to toe with Olivia. "It was me. I messed up."
"What?" That seemed to confuse Olivia. Her brows furrowed and she pushed her disheveled hair out of her face to get a better look at Natalia. "What are you talking about? You didn't do anything except for not show up at the barbecue, and I got that message loud and clear."
"No, you didn't."
"Then, what? I don't understand, Natalia. I thought you wanted to go to the barbecue with me. I thought you were tired of waiting. I thought you wanted to show everyone we were together. I thought you wanted to be with me."
"You were right," Natalia said, seeing her opening and stepping forward to take it, catching Olivia's hands and cradling them to her chest. She took a step closer to Olivia, close enough that there was no more space between them. "I want to be with you more than anything else." Natalia hadn't intended to say that, but when the words came out of her mouth, she knew that she meant them. There had never been any doubt about that. The doubt had come from her own heart - the belief that something that she wanted this badly couldn't possible be right.
"Then why didn't you come?" Olivia repeated. "I waited for you. I told myself if I just had patience you would be there. I trusted you and you never came."
"I'm sorry," Natalia said, tears tracking down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry. I never meant to hurt you."
Olivia sniffled against her own tears, unable to wipe them away with her captured hands. She looked away from Natalia and out at the distant woods instead. "But you did. Ray said, he said you were going on a retreat."
"I needed to figure some things out."
"Like how wrong it was to fall in love with your best friend? How many Hail Mary's are you supposed to say for that, Natalia?"
"None," Natalia answered firmly. "Nothing but a prayer of thanks."
"Don't say things like that," Olivia hissed. "Don't you dare."
"Olivia, please, just let me explain."
"What, Natalia?" Olivia prodded. "What do you have to say? I think not showing up said it all."
Natalia opened her mouth to tell her, to blurt it out because she had to. There was no other way that she could say it, but she never got the chance.
For the very first time, the baby moved, kicking out. It was the oddest sensation, her stomach fluttering from the inside. She had forgotten that. Her hand dropped to touch the spot where she had felt him and she felt Olivia instead, her body still flush against Natalia's.
Slowly, her heart racing, Natalia looked up from her hand to Olivia's face. Olivia looked stunned. Her eyes were wild with something that Natalia couldn't quite place. Olivia bit her lip and tilted her head.
The baby kicked again, a flurry of motion beneath her skin. Natalia was mortified. Tears began to well up in her eyes and everything turned blurry. Still she looked away from Olivia. She couldn't bear to see the accusation, the disappointment in Olivia's eyes.
Natalia felt Olivia's hand slide in between them and cover the spot where the baby was kicking. She couldn't do this; she couldn't. Fear and panic began to consume her again.
"You're pregnant?" Olivia asked, her voice cracking as she said it. She sounded so hurt that Natalia looked back to her immediately. "How long..." She swallowed and tried again. "How long have you known?"
"Not long," Natalia admitted. "I just found out the day before the barbecue."
Olivia nodded, in a distant sort of way. "This is why you left?" she asked quietly.
Natalia nodded. She was still waiting for her sentence to be handed down, for Olivia to pass judgement and declare her un-worthy and un-lovable. Everyone else had.
"You couldn't tell me?" Olivia still sounded so hurt.
Natalia wanted to do anything that she could to make it better, but she couldn't change the facts of this situation. She would go back in time and stop herself from sleeping with Frank if she could, but she couldn't. Once again that mistake was coming back to haunt her. She had hoped that it was buried firmly in the past where it could be forgotten. She and Olivia had never spoken of it since they had admitted their feelings to one another.
"I couldn't face you," Natalia whispered. "I didn't know how to tell you that...that... You were so happy, Olivia, and I was - I am - so scared." She sniffed and tried to meet Olivia's eyes, but couldn't quite. "I'm so ashamed."
"Of us?" Olivia asked brokenly.
Natalia shook her head. "Of me. I slept with Frank. I betrayed you and...and...then this happened. And I couldn't face you or Frank. I hurt so many people and I didn't mean to. I'm so sorry, Olivia. I'm so sorry."
Without a word, Olivia cupped the back of Natalia's head and brought it down to her shoulder. Her other arm slipped around Natalia's waist as Natalia's tears turned into sobs. Natalia held onto Olivia just as desperately as Olivia was holding on to her, burying her fingers in the thin material of Olivia's t-shirt.
Despite everything, the devastation and uncertainty of the past two days, the fear and shame that poured off Natalia, Olivia couldn't help but feel just a little bit better in Natalia's arms. Nothing had been solved, but she could breathe again. She didn't want to let Natalia go every again. If she could just keep holding on, never letting her go again, maybe things would be okay. But Olivia knew all about holding on too tightly. With desperation, the people that she loved - relationships that she formed - only slipped away even faster.
"I just wanted to do the right thing," Natalia said, her voice muffled by Olivia's shoulder. "But I keep making things worse. I don't know what to do. Tell me what to do."
Olivia closed her eyes against the panic in Natalia's voice. What Natalia was asking her to do was so tempting, but she couldn't do it. She needed it to be Natalia's choice, her decision. Olivia had always needed that. She needed to be chosen and loved. It would crush her if she made Natalia's decision for her, only to learn later that Natalia regretted the path that they had gone down.
"I can't do that, Natalia." She stroked Natalia's hair, biting her lip in effort to hold back her own tears. "You have to decide what's best for you." Olivia hesitated. "For this baby."
There was a long pause and then Natalia whispered, "Do you hate me?"
Olivia couldn't hold back her tears at that. "No."
"I need you," Natalia said desperately. "It isn't fair to you, but I can't do this without you. I'm so scared to face Frank. And Rafe - he's so angry with me, Olivia, and I don't know how to deal with that. I can't even imagine telling Frank about this baby. And I am so scared of losing you."
Olivia stiffened. In the revelation of the last few minutes, she had almost forgotten about the way that Natalia had left without a word. Part of her wanted to promise that she would be there as long as Natalia needed her - wanted her - in her life. The rest of her felt shaken and scared in a way that she had never imagined that Natalia could make her feel.
"Am I really what you want?" Olivia asked, as calmly as she could.
"It didn't feel that way."
"I know," Natalia said, straightening so that she could look at Olivia. She took a deep breath. This was the moment. She had to make Olivia understand or nothing would ever be the same between them. "When I left," she said, trying to organize her thoughts even as she spoke, "I didn't leave because of you. I left because I was scared and ashamed and I couldn't face you or Frank. I didn't leave you, I swear. I just needed a place to think."
"You couldn't have thought here?"
"No," Natalia admitted softly. "I didn't think so. All I could hear was how angry Rafe was. All I could see was how much I had hurt Frank. And then, what I had done... all I could see was how badly it would hurt you. Father Ray said I needed to find a place of peace and then I would be able to see what I needed to do."
"So you took his advice and left." Olivia said bitterly. "Right. Because he's been so supportive."
Natalia bit her lip. She deserved that, she supposed, Olivia's anger. But she couldn't let that dissuade her. "He was right though. But what I forgot is that the place that I feel the most peace is with you. You're my best friend, Olivia. You are everything to me."
"But I can't be just your best friend, Natalia. I want to be more than that."
"You are more than that."
"Am I?" Olivia asked. "Am I really? Because nothing has changed. We're still the same that we've always been, except for now, every moment that I'm around you I'm terrified that I'll do something that will scare you away." She laughed bitterly and ran her hand through her hair in agitation, pushing it away from her face. "Something like this."
"I'm not going anywhere," Natalia said. "I'm still here."
"Here. Where no one can see us."
"I didn't go to the barbecue, because I didn't know how to tell you about-" Even now Natalia couldn't say it yet "-this. It wasn't because I didn't want to be with you."
"You say that," Olivia said, "And I want to believe you." She wanted to so badly, but she couldn't. Not yet, not after the devastation of the barbecue.
"Then believe me," Natalia said, raising her hand to Olivia's cheek. "Because I'm never going to leave you again."
"It's not that simple. I wish it was. What happens the next time something scares you?" What happens when I scare you?
"I don't know," Natalia said slowly. She had no way to predict what would happen in the future, no guarantee that she could give. She could say all the right things forever and it still might not be enough. Going to the barbecue together was supposed to have been a gesture, her gesture to show Olivia how much she loved her. But she had failed at that, had let her fear chase her away. Now she was paying for that mistake. She wanted to be closer not farther away. She needed to prove to Olivia that she wasn't running away.
"Move in with me."
Olivia raised an eyebrow. "You're not serious."
"Yes, I am," Natalia said, just as fierce as Olivia had been dismissive.
"Don't be ridiculous," Olivia scoffed. "You haven't even kissed me."
"Is that what this is about?" Natalia asked, her brow furrowing. "I know we haven't yet, but..." It had never seemed like the right moment. Either it was too soon or Emma was just around the corner, or it just hadn't happened. Natalia had been so sure that Olivia was about to kiss her when she had come home from San Francisco. It had seemed like the perfect moment and Natalia had missed her so much, but at the last moment, Olivia had turned away, leaving Natalia flustered and confused.
"No," Olivia denied loudly, then added more softly, "No." She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "You haven't even tried to kiss me," she murmured, her eyes still shielded from view by her hand.
"You haven't tried to kiss me either," Natalia pointed out, trying to sound reasonable about it, not like her heart was racing in her chest.
"Because I was terrified of scaring you! Because I wasn't sure you wanted me that way. I kept throwing myself at you and you never made a move." Her voice rose with every word. There had been times when Natalia had found herself amused by Olivia's tendency to overreact, but this was not one of them.
"I'm sorry," Natalia said gently. "I was scared too. This is new and different for me and you know I don't do new and different well."
"I know," Olivia said with a little sigh. "But you barely acted like you were interested. I never even caught you checking me out."
Natalia flushed and glanced down. "Olivia, it wasn't...I didn't...I was embarrassed. I didn't want to be like some guy in a bar looking at you like...like...a piece of meat. I love you - respect you - too much for that."
"And I love you for that," Olivia said quickly. "But it's okay to want me, Natalia. I want you to want me."
Natalia's lips quirked upwards. "You need me to need you?"
Olivia's eyes narrowed. "Don't make fun of me."
Natalia's expression turned serious again. "I would never."
But Olivia could still see the mischievous twinkle in her eyes. She snorted. Natalia's tendency to hide mischief behind her innocent face was one of the things she loved about her. It was something that no one ever expected and few people even knew existed.
"Yes, you would," Olivia said matter-of-factly. "That innocent face might work on other people, but you can't fool me, Rivera."
Natalia smiled, not enough to show her dimples, but she looked happier than Olivia had seen her since her return. "I don't want to. I want you to know me better than anyone else." She took a step forward, taking Olivia's face in both of her hands so that she couldn't look away. "I want you, Olivia Spencer." Her voice shook and she flushed, color flooding into her cheeks, but she held Oliva's gaze steadily as she said it.
Olivia reached up, covering Natalia's hands with her own and held them there. Her eyes drifted shut as she basked in Natalia's touch, soaking it up like a plant desperate for sunlight. It was just as necessary.
Olivia's heart almost stopped as she felt soft lips against her own. For an instant, she froze, unable to move a muscle, afraid that she was imagining things or that if she moved, Natalia would pull away. When Natalia didn't, Olivia kissed her back. She kept it just as sweet and tentative as Natalia had started it.
She reveled in every second of the kiss. Natalia was a good kisser, but it was more than that. It was freedom and permission. Tangible evidence that she could hold up to the demons that whispered in her ear in the long, dark night and declare that did Natalia love her and want her.
Natalia was smiling as they pulled apart. Olivia could see it and a hint of a dimple peeking out. Natalia hadn't gone very far, resting her forehead against Olivia's.
"You never answered my question," Natalia reminded her softly.
"What question was that?" Olivia asked with a teasing smile. "If you keep kissing me like that, you're going to have to refresh my memory."
Natalia stroked Olivia's cheek with her thumb. "I want you - and Emma - to move in with me."
Olivia sighed, reality crashing back in, in a second. "Natalia..." She closed her eyes. She didn't want to ruin this moment. It had been so perfect, finally getting to kiss Natalia. "If you had asked me that yesterday," she said wistfully. She opened her eyes, taking Natalia's face in her hands. "I would have said 'yes' without hesitating."
"And today?" Natalia asked, keeping her voice steady with an effort.
"I can't," Olivia said, hating the fact that the words were coming out of her mouth even as she said them.
"Oh," Natalia breathed the word out, more than speaking it. She looked sad and a little scared.
"Hey," Olivia whispered. "Please don't look like that."
Natalia bit her lip and gave a small shake of her head, trying to smile for Olivia but failing.
"I'm not saying no forever, just...not now."
This time Natalia nodded, but she still looked distraught. It wasn't fair, Olivia thought, that Natalia had this kind of hold on her heart. She was the one who was supposed to be angry and afraid here. She was frightened, terrified that if she leaped and moved in with Natalia that Natalia wouldn't be ready, that Olivia and Emma would have to move out again. She couldn't bear the thought of Natalia regretting her invitation or deciding that she couldn't live with Olivia as a couple or as the other-mother of her child. But seeing Natalia frightened and hurting was worse.
Olivia stroked her thumb across Natalia's cheek, hoping the touch would bring Natalia out of her head and back into the moment with Olivia. "I love you," Olivia whispered, not as a consolation, but as a reminder. She might be scared and uncertain, but that remained true.
"I love you too," Natalia said. "That's why I wanted..."
"I know." Olivia cut her off before Natalia could finish. She wanted so badly to move back into the farmhouse. If she heard Natalia out, there was no way she would be able to turn her down a second time. "Soon. I just...I can't, Natalia...not today."
"Okay," Natalia said, visibly pulling herself together. "But I'm going to hold you to that."
Olivia smiled; she couldn't help it. "Promise." It was both question and command.
Natalia tilted her head, smiling back at Olivia. "I do."
Her choice of phrasing was not lost on Olivia.
"Will you come inside?" Natalia asked, cradling one of Olivia's hands between her own.
Olivia pursed her lips and shook her head regretfully. "I should get back to Emma. I wasn't in a very good frame of mind this morning."
Natalia suspected that was an understatement. She pressed a kiss to the knuckles of Olivia's hand. "I'm sorry."
"I know," Olivia said reassuringly. "I believe you."
"Thank you for believing me. You always have."
"You make it easy," Olivia admitted.
"Not this time," Natalia countered.
"Maybe not," Olivia agreed, "But you're worth believing in."
Natalia soaked in her words, taking the reassurance and love apparent in them and holding it close to her. She needed to believe in Olivia's belief.
"I know," Natalia began carefully, "that I didn't make it yesterday, but can we still tell Emma about us now?"
Olivia hesitated for a moment and Natalia held her breath. Everything felt so fragile, as if one wrong word could destroy everything they had struggled to build together.
"You still want to do that?" Olivia asked finally.
"More than ever," Natalia said emphatically.
"I don't want to hurt you," Olivia blurted the words out, "but, Natalia, if you have any doubts, I need to know that before we think about telling Emma. She loves you so much. If we tell her that you're going to be her other mommy and you can't handle it..." Olivia shook her head. "I can't do that to her again. I've put her through so much already. More than any little girl should have to handle."
"I won't," Natalia said firmly. "I know what I want."
"What about the baby?" Olivia questioned. "What about Frank?"
"I don't know. I need to talk to him and I need to tell Rafe. I haven't made any decisions yet. But what I do know, is that I want you to be a part of this baby's life. Not just a part, but I want you to be his other-mommy. I want you to help me raise him or her. If that's something that you think you might want."
This was it, Olivia realized, the moment that she had to decide what she wanted. When she had confessed - yelled out - that she loved Natalia beside Gus' grave, there had been no conscious decision to do so on her part. It was reflex, instinct and simply no longer being able to hold the words back. This time it was harder. Natalia, who she had thought wasn't even capable of it, had hurt her and yet she still wanted Olivia. But that was what made it so hard, because Natalia had said that before and let her down. Had broken her heart. But she had come back. It came down to faith and trust.
"Come to the Beacon tonight for dinner," Olivia said, making her decision in an instant. "We'll tell Emma then."
"Really?" Natalia's face shone with hope and joy.
"Really," Olivia confirmed, relieved that Natalia knew her well enough to hear the answer to one question in the other. Raising this baby with Natalia wasn't something that Olivia could let herself imagine quite yet. Everything was still too fraught with uncertainty, but she wanted it more than she could put into words. "We can talk afterward."
"Okay," Natalia murmured. She tried to keep her gaze on Olivia's eyes, but Natalia couldn't help the way her eyes drifted down to Olivia's lips. She wanted...
Olivia's chuckle jerked her attention back up and Natalia blushed, a little embarrassed at being caught wanting so obviously.
"Was there something you wanted, Natalia?" Olivia asked teasingly.
Natalia thought about answering, flirting, giving into the shyness that she couldn't rid herself of even as she wanted, but in the end she did none of that. She simply leaned forward and kissed Olivia again, letting her actions speak for themselves.
For the second time that day, Natalia knocked on the door of Olivia's Beacon suite. This time it was with a much lighter heart.
It was Emma who yanked the door open with a squeal. "Natalia! You came back."
"I did, Sweetie." Natalia wrapped the little girl in a hug and kissed the top of her head, even as she felt a pang of disappointment. Not about Emma. Never about Emma. But she had hoped, in the back of her mind for a moment alone with Olivia at the door, a moment where she didn't have to hide her feelings, a moment where she might be able to kiss Olivia again. It was quickly turning in to an addiction. "I'm so glad your mommy invited me over. I've missed you both so much."
Emma laughed. "But you were only gone a day!"
"I know," Natalia said conspiratorially. "It's silly, isn't it? But you two are my favorite girls and I miss you whenever I'm not with you."
"Now that's what every girl likes to hear," Olivia said.
Natalia jumped. She hadn't heard Olivia come in behind them. "It's true."
Olivia smiled, telling Natalia without a word that things were okay. Natalia had wondered, knowing that the time apart would give Olivia time to think, to doubt. She had been willing to do whatever was necessary to reassure Olivia.
Olivia shifted her gaze to Emma and raised an eyebrow. "And what have I told you about opening the door without me?"
Emma looked dejected. "But it was Natalia. You said she was coming."
"Uh-huh. But you didn't know it was her. No more opening doors until you can see out the peephole."
"Yes, Mommy," Emma agreed dutifully.
Olivia shot a quick glance at Natalia. It sought something, even if Natalia wasn't quite sure what Olivia was trying to ask. Olivia seemed to find whatever she needed in Natalia's face though.
"Hang on a minute, Em," Olivia said casually. "Natalia and I need to talk to you."
"I didn't do it," Emma said quickly. Guiltily.
Natalia stifled the urge to laugh. It wasn't hard. The thought of the conversation that Olivia was starting was plenty. They hadn't had time to discuss what exactly they were going to tell Emma or how Olivia wanted to do this.
Please just let her be okay with this, Natalia prayed. Not like Rafe. She took a step closer to Olivia. To her surprise, Olivia held a hand out to her blindly, never taking her eyes off Emma. Natalia took it immediately, lacing their fingers together.
"Guilty conscience, Jellybean?" Olivia asked.
Emma shrugged, but her "oops" face, spoke louder than words.
"Uh-huh," Olivia said knowingly. "We'll talk about that later. Right now, we need to tell you something else. Let's go sit down."
Olivia led the three of them over to the couch. If Emma noticed them holding hands, she didn't comment on it. It almost made Natalia feel ridiculous.
Olivia sat down first and pulled Emma up onto her lap, then patted the couch next to her for Natalia to come sit beside her. Natalia slipped in beside them, facing toward them with her arm on the back of the couch until they were almost encircled.
Olivia held Natalia's gaze for a moment and then glanced down at Emma, pushing a stray piece of hair out of Emma's face so that Olivia could see her better.
"You know how much I love you right, baby?" Olivia asked.
Emma nodded, wide-eyed.
"And you know that Natalia loves you just as much?"
Emma nodded again, but fear was starting to clench around Natalia's heart. Something wasn't right. She could tell that just by the look on Emma's face. She glanced up at Olivia and saw her own concern reflected back there. She wondered if Olivia had any more idea than she did what Emma was thinking.
"Is it your heart?" Emma blurted out, twisting around so that she could see Olivia better. "Are you sick again, Mommy?"
"What?" Olivia asked, taken completely by surprise. "No, baby," she answered quickly. "It's not my heart. My heart is just fine," she added with a quick glance at Natalia. "Why would you ask that?"
"Because you were so sad this morning and now you're talking like you used to talk then, when you were sick."
"Oh, Em," Olivia said, wrapping her arms around her daughter and hugging her tightly. "I'm sorry we scared you." She held her for a minute more, swaying back and forth with Emma in her lap. "Talking like this doesn't have to be a bad thing, baby. In fact, Natalia and I are both very happy about what we have to tell you."
"You are?" Emma asked, her voice holding the beginnings of curiosity.
"We are," Olivia agreed. "Don't you want to know what we're so excited about?"
Emma nodded, a little bit of her usual enthusiasm and joy beginning to return.
Olivia found that her mouth was suddenly dry. She glanced over at Natalia, who looked wide-eyed and not a little bit freaked out. Panic gripped her that had nothing to do with Emma and everything to do with Natalia. If Natalia couldn't handle this... Natalia had been the one who had asked to do this; she couldn't freak out about it. If Natalia couldn't face Emma how was she supposed to stand up to Father Ray or Rafe or Frank?
Natalia laid her hand on Olivia's knee and shifted a little closer. Olivia was hyper-aware of Natalia's hand and every where that it was touching.
"You know how your mommy and I are best friends?" Natalia asked. "Like you and Jodi."
"Uh-huh," Emma nodded like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "You're BFF's. Everybody knows that."
"Right," Natalia said, her fingers beginning to grip Olivia's leg more tightly. "But we're more than that." She took a deep breath. "I love your mommy as more than a best friend."
Emma's face scrunched up as she tried to process that. She tilted her head, glancing up at her mother briefly before turning back to Natalia. "So, you love her like family?"
Natalia smiled, unable to help it. Being called Olivia's family was something she always cherished. It had meant more than she could ever express when Emma had declared Natalia her other mommy. But this was something more too.
"Like family," Natalia acknowledged. "But different. I love your mommy the way that someone loves a spouse." So not looking at Olivia, but it was true and she wouldn't take it back for anything.
"What does that mean?" Emma asked.
"Uh-" Natalia hadn't thought beyond that comparison. She and Olivia had never had a chance to discuss this and she had no idea what Olivia thought they should say.
"Spouse means someone's husband or wife, Jellybean," Olivia stepped in seamlessly, as if she hadn't just been stunned speechless moments before. Her mouth still felt dry and it was hard to swallow, but she almost felt like she could get through this conversation now.
"Oh," Emma said. For a moment her face was blank. The only thing Natalia could tell was that Emma was seriously thinking about what they had said.
Natalia felt something brush her hand and glanced down. It was just the tip of Olivia's pinkie finger, brushing against the back of her hand, where Olivia was holding Emma on her lap. It was clearly deliberate though and Natalia understood it for the gesture that it so obviously was. Her fear didn't disappear but for the first time Natalia felt like she could breathe again. It felt almost like a childish gesture, but Natalia didn't care. She flipped her hand over and hooked her pinkie through Olivia's.
"So you love Mommy like a wife?" Emma asked.
Natalia hadn't heard it put so bluntly before, but with the question in front of her a denial rang false. She hadn't realized until that moment how much she wanted that exactly. "Something like that, yes," she admitted, hoping that this wasn't pushing too fast, too hard with Olivia.
Emma turned to look at her mother. "And you love Natalia the same way?"
Olivia just nodded, too overwhelmed with emotion to say anything.
Emma nodded back. "That's cool." She hesitated. "Can I go play now?"
Olivia felt stunned, like she had just hit a brick wall going 50 mph. She had been so braced for Emma's reaction, any kind of reaction that her simple acceptance was hard to process.
"Yeah," Olivia answered, sounding too-loud to her own ears as she managed to find her voice from somewhere. "Yeah, you can go play."
Emma hopped down off her lap and a sudden thought hit Olivia.
"Wait, Em, there's, uh, just one more thing."
"Natalia and I might act a little, ah...differently around each other now, than we did before. I might..." Olivia searched her brain frantically for an example of how she hoped things might differ. "I might hold her or kiss her. Do you think you'd be okay with that?"
Olivia winced inwardly. Why had she asked that? What if Emma said no? She couldn't, wouldn't hide the way that she felt about Natalia, especially not from her own daughter. A sudden thought struck her. Was this how Natalia felt all the time? She had no idea how to make Rafe stop hating her and them, but it made her more determined than ever that she had to think of some way to bring Rafe on board.
"Like you kissed Bill?" Emma asked with a giggle.
Olivia felt her face heat and didn't look at Natalia. She couldn't believe she was blushing. How long had it been since she had done that? That thought just made her blush deepen. Olivia cleared her throat. "Sure, Jellybean. Like that."
She wished with no real hope of it happening that Natalia would just forget this entire conversation.
"Okay," Emma said with a shrug. "But I don't see what's so great about kissing. When Derek kissed me it was just all wet and icky."
For a moment, Olivia thought she was going to faint. Then she decided that it would probably be a relief. Unfortunately, she wasn't so lucky.
"Yeah," Natalia said easily. "I know what you mean, but it does get better when you get older. You should probably wait a few more years before you give it another try."
Emma looked doubtful. "Okay. But I can still go play, right?"
"Yes, you can," Natalia agreed. "I'll come get you when dinner's here," she added as Emma made a bee-line for her room.
Sitting next to her, Olivia still looked stunned. She sank back into the couch, her hands coming up to cover her eyes. "Oh my God," she murmured. She took her hands off her face and stared at Natalia. "My baby kissed a boy."
Natalia almost felt like laughing. "I don't think it was quite like that." She settled in to the couch next to Olivia and reached over to take her hand. "It will be okay."
Olivia snorted. "I'm not ready for my baby to start noticing boys."
"I don't think she is," Natalia said. "Not yet. But, when she does, we'll deal with it together."
Olivia's hand twitched under hers but she didn't say anything. She stared unseeingly after Emma. They had sat there together in silence for so long that Natalia's thoughts had started to drift, content just to be with Olivia, not needing to say or do anything in particular, when Olivia spoke.
"I love you."
Natalia squeezed her hand and tried not to show how much hearing those three words from Olivia without prompting meant to her. She thought it might be too much.
"I love you too."
Olivia stepped out of Emma's room and carefully pulled the door shut behind her. She had spent half an hour reading Emma stories and watching as her eye lids drooped lower and lower. By the time she had finished the last book, Olivia was fairly certain that Emma was out for the rest of the night, but she wasn't taking any chances.
The sight of Natalia sitting on the couch where she had spent the previous night full of despair and staring into nothingness was jarring. Yet somehow the day had turned out so much better than she could have imagined when she had left the Beacon that morning. It felt like another day entirely. A lifetime ago.
Natalia was pregnant. It felt surreal. It wasn't like she hadn't thought about it through the day but it had been more in terms of how the baby would affect their lives rather than the child itself. The concept of Natalia and children weren't foreign to her. Natalia was young enough to want to have more and Olivia knew firsthand how good of a mother she was. Since Natalia had left Frank, she hadn't really thought of it, except as something that Frank could give to her and she, Olivia, couldn't.
And now he had. But Natalia had said she wanted Olivia. After she had left her and come back. It was a lot to take in. Olivia rubbed her hands over her face and sighed. Thinking was the last thing she felt like doing tonight.
"You look exhausted," Natalia said quietly.
Slowly Olivia lowered her hands. "I didn't sleep last night." She didn't say it like an accusation or too carefully, either. It was just an admission.
"Come here," Natalia said, holding her hand out to Olivia.
Olivia crossed the room and took her hand, sinking onto the couch beside her. Natalia turned, pulling her legs up so that she could wrap both arms around Olivia.
"I dreamed of you last night," she said, her lips next to Olivia's ear.
Olivia could feel the warmth of Natalia's breath against her neck. "Oh?" Her hand covered Natalia's knee, bared by her skirt and pressing up against Olivia's thigh. "What was I doing in your dream?" Olivia asked, her eyes falling closed as she leaned into the back of the couch.
"You held me and kissed me," Natalia said simply.
The admission was so straightforward that it took Olivia a moment to process it. The day - and the night before it - was catching up with her.
"You dreamed about me like that?" she asked, rolling her head to look over at Natalia.
Natalia cupped her face, stroking her thumb over Olivia's cheek. "All the time."
Olivia felt strangely relaxed. Her body ached with tiredness and her limbs felt heavy, but it was freeing in a strange way. She felt languid, like she was moving so slowly that nothing could frighten Natalia. Her fingers curled around Natalia's knee. With effort, she pulled herself up and leaned forward. She kissed Natalia gently, slowly, taking her time. There was no need to rush and her overwhelming exhaustion made the constant aching desire that she felt around Natalia seem distant. It was still there, but it was no longer so pressing. She could simply enjoy this for everything that it was instead of rushing past it or pushing for more as she had so many times in the past with so many other people.
Natalia didn't pull away. Instead she clung tighter to Olivia, her hand trailing down to come to rest over Olivia's heart. She could feel it racing beneath her palm and marveled that she could do this to Olivia, that Olivia was just as excited by this as she was.
They drew apart reluctantly, Natalia tilting her head up, following Olivia for one last taste of softness that she couldn't deny herself. Olivia pressed her forehead against Natalia's, a smile bursting across her face, despite her exhaustion.
"If I asked you to stay tonight, would you?" Olivia asked, running her hand up and down Natalia's bared thigh. She couldn't seem to stop touching her.
"Yes." Natalia didn't hesitate.
Natalia kissed her again; it felt so right. She couldn't remember why she hadn't done this before. It was a long moment before they separated, Olivia dropping her head down to Natalia's shoulder. They stayed that way until Olivia shifted, snuggling in closer to Natalia and wrapping her arms around Natalia's waist.
"Can we just sit here for a minute?" Olivia asked. "I know we should get up, but..."
"We can stay here as long as you want," Natalia said, leaning back into the corner of the couch and bringing Olivia with her. She kissed the top of Olivia's head and idly stroked her hair.
"'m not living up to my reputation," Olivia slurred against her shoulder, lulled into near sleep by exhaustion and the steady reassurance of Natalia's touch.
"Another time," Natalia promised her. "You can show me all your best moves."
Olivia snorted softly and drifted in to sleep.
Olivia jerked up, heart racing and disoriented. She struggled momentarily against two weights that crisscrossed her chest, trying to sit up and throw them off until recognition kicked in. Natalia's arms, holding her close. Olivia forced herself to relax, sinking back and taking a deep breath.
Slowly things began to come back to her: first, Natalia's unexplained absence, then the confusion of her return and finally the happiness of the fact that Natalia had been willing to spend the night with her and was still holding her. Olivia smiled slowly, and shifted so that she could see Natalia.
Her head was tipped almost all the way back to rest against the back of the couch in what surely had to be an uncomfortable position and her mouth hung slightly open. Olivia thought she looked adorable. It couldn't be good for her to sleep like this though, all jammed up and uncomfortable on the couch, holding Olivia. With the baby, it was important for Natalia to get her rest.
Olivia touched Natalia's face, stroking her thumb over Natalia's jaw. "Hey, Beautiful."
Natalia groaned, stretching against Olivia, her legs sliding further across Olivia's as she struggled to sit up. She made a face and clutched at the back of her neck.
"'Livia?" she asked sleepily.
"We fell asleep on the couch, Sweetheart. Let's go to bed." Olivia's pulse jumped at the innocent words. Saying them to Natalia made all the difference.
Natalia shook her head. "Too tired."
"I know, but you'll wish you had in the morning when you can hardly move."
Natalia didn't respond for a moment, pushing her arms out rigidly past Olivia and bending her spine outward as she stretched, pushing her front against Olivia's side in the process. Olivia closed her eyes and forced herself not to move.
Natalia's arms sagged, hanging loosely over her shoulders again. One hand dropped to Olivia's chest. Both of them stopped breathing as they realized almost at the same moment that Natalia's hand was covering her breast.
Olivia's eyes snapped open. Surely Natalia hadn't meant to do that. It had to have been unintentional. They could just pretend it had never happened. If Natalia moved it soon. Because Olivia wouldn't be responsible for her actions if Natalia left it there much longer.
Then Natalia's hand moved, just not away as Olivia had expected. Now instead of covering her breast, Natalia was cupping it in her hand. Olivia gasped, arching into the contact as Natalia brushed her thumb across her hardening nipple.
"God, Natalia," Olivia hissed. "What are you doing?"
"Touching you," Natalia said simply, pressing closer to Olivia and pushing her hair aside until she had unfettered access to Olivia's neck. The first kiss just behind Olivia's ear made her shiver; Natalia was kneading her breast now.
Olivia quivered. It felt so good. It was a relief to have Natalia touching her. She could finally breathe.
"We should stop," Olivia managed to say. "We need to go back to sleep. It's..." she craned her head to see the clock, "...way too early in the morning."
Natalia froze, her hand stopping mid-motion. "You don't want to?" She sounded almost hurt, then with comical speed withdrew her hand. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. I'm sure you're still tired, or-"
"I'm not tired," Olivia blurted out in a loud whisper. Confused silence reigned for a moment. "I just didn't want anything to get out of hand."
Natalia rested her chin on Olivia's shoulder. "And if I wanted it to?" she asked softly and then clarified. "Get out of hand."
"I don't want you to feel like this is something you have to do. You don't have to prove anything to me. Not this way."
"Before...everything happened," Natalia said, slowly finding the words she wanted. "I was going to ask you to spend the night with me after the barbecue. I wanted you then, Olivia, and I want you now." She hesitated. "If that's what you want."
Olivia swallowed. Now that Natalia was offering what she had so desperately wanted, she was almost afraid to take it. Almost. The remembered fear of yesterday loomed, telling her that they weren't ready, that Natalia would just break her heart. That knowledge dueled with the way Natalia made her feel, so safe and so loved. Natalia knew her better than anyone else she had ever met and that was a little bit scary too.
Olivia had never thought of sex as giving herself to someone. Sex was just sex; fun, pleasurable and often aerobic. She had stopped thinking of sex as a meaningful act at sixteen years old. But if she and Natalia did this, it would be so full of meaning. It would be a commitment that Olivia didn't want to escape.
"Hey," Natalia raised a hand to her cheek and turned Olivia to face her. "We don't have to do this. I didn't mean to pressure you."
Olivia snorted. Of all the ridiculous things to say, Natalia pressuring her. "You're not," she said, finally finding words. "I do want you."
Even in the faint light, Olivia could see the smile that curved over Natalia's face.
"Then why do you look so scared?" Natalia whispered.
"Because this means something."
Natalia nodded slowly. "I feel the same way, you know. You are so important to me. The thought of doing something wrong really scares me," she added, looking as vulnerable as Olivia had ever seen her.
"You're here," Olivia said simply. "What could you do wrong?"
"What if I'm not..." Natalia shrugged and glanced away looking annoyed with herself. "If I'm not what you need? I don't want to be some charity case that you stay with just because you feel sorry for me. I want to be everything that you need."
"You are everything I need," Olivia said, the intensity of her words making something clench inside Natalia. "Come here," she said, standing up and holding her hand out to Natalia.
Natalia didn't hesitate but took a little bit longer to stand as she tried to work the kinks out of stiff legs. When she did stand, Olivia shuffled closer until she was pressed up against Natalia, sliding her arms around Natalia's waist and holding her close.
"Come to bed with me?" Olivia asked simply.
Natalia nodded in response, lacing her fingers through Olivia's as Olivia reached for her hand again and led them both toward the other side of the room. Olivia never broke eye contact with Natalia, an enchanting smile playing over her lips as she backed up.
Olivia stumbled slightly when she ran into the bed and sat down a little bit more clumsily than she had intended. She looked back up to see Natalia's eyes sparkling with amusement.
"Think that's funny, huh?" she muttered with mock-irritation.
"Oh, no," Natalia exclaimed with mock-sincerity. "You're so smooth."
Olivia snorted. "I'll show you smooth." She tugged Natalia forward until she was standing between Olivia's legs. Natalia steadied herself with her hands on Olivia's shoulders as Olivia's hands ran up and down her sides, her thumbs just brushing the swell of Natalia's breasts.
"You're so beautiful," Olivia said reverently, her face tilted up to meet Natalia's gaze.
Natalia had never seen anything like the look of love and adoration directed at her before as she stared back into Olivia's eyes. She bent to capture Olivia's lips with her own, needing to taste her, touch her, to prove to herself that this moment was real.
Olivia responded with enthusiasm, her hands slowing and her grip on Natalia tightening. The kiss grounded her even as it sent her senses reeling, overwhelmed by the softness of Natalia and the marvel of finally being able to touch her and taste her and look as much as she wanted.
Natalia's fingers tightened around a handful of Olivia's hair. Her grip was firm but not uncomfortably so. Olivia whimpered. It had been years since anyone had touched her like this. She wanted to melt into Natalia's arms, dissolve into a puddle of need and want at Natalia's feet, and throw herself on Natalia's tender mercies, but that wasn't what Natalia needed.
She had been so careful to consider what Natalia needed, what Natalia wanted, that she hadn't considered that what Natalia might need was for her to make the first move. Now that she knew that, Olivia would do everything in her power to make this okay for Natalia. It had to be. She needed it to be, more than anything.
Slowly she began to undo the buttons of Natalia's blouse, starting at the bottom and working her way up, her hands slipping beneath the cotton from time to time unable to resist the temptation of discovering the smooth skin beneath. She was almost to the bottom of Natalia's bra when Natalia broke their kiss pulling back from Olivia. Even in the dim light Olivia could see Natalia's flushed skin and the wild look in her eyes.
Olivia hesitated, a button stuck halfway through the hole under her fingers. She was intensely aware of the back of her fingers brushing against Natalia's breasts on either side. She searched Natalia's face for a moment, falling back on everything she had come to know about Natalia over the months that they had lived together to look for the subtle signs that betrayed what Natalia was really feeling.
Finally she flicked her gaze from Natalia's face down to the precarious position of her hands. "Is this okay?" How she hoped it was. She didn't want to have to stop now that she was so close, but for Natalia she would.
Natalia nodded. "Very okay," she said so softly that Olivia almost couldn't hear her.
It eased the doubts that had begun to creep back in to Olivia's mind. "Good," she said simply. "Then let's get you out of this." She made quick work of the rest of the buttons and then pushed the shirt off Natalia's shoulders. Natalia dropped her arms obligingly to let it fall away.
Olivia ran her hands up and down Natalia's arms for a moment and then let them drift over her shoulders and down her back, until Olivia found the clasp of Natalia's bra. She unhooked it easily and let the bra fall away between them.
Natalia felt a little nervous under Olivia's obvious appraisal, not because it was Olivia, or because Olivia was a woman, but because she still wasn't used to being seen. And Olivia saw more of her than just skin. Olivia saw all of her and it was enough to make her squirm.
Natalia reached back to undo the button at the top of her skirt and slide the zipper down. Olivia caught her hands, pinning them behind her, against the small of her back.
"Not so fast," Olivia said gently. "We have all the time in the world."
It wasn't the first time that Natalia wondered if Olivia could read her mind, but the love that she saw in Olivia's eyes, the reassurance that Olivia did know her, eased her momentary insecurity and she relaxed into Olivia's hold. Olivia let go of her almost immediately and Natalia let the skirt fall to the floor, leaving her standing there in only a pair of panties.
Olivia hooked her fingers into the top of the simple cotton material and tugged them down Natalia's legs. Natalia let out a shaky laugh.
"Now you look a little over dressed," Natalia said as Olivia stood.
"I think I can rectify that," Olivia said, feeling confident for the first time. This was her area of expertise after all. She took her time and made a show of pulling her shirt over her head, glad that she had taken the time to shower before Natalia had gotten there earlier and even happier to have made sure she had put on a matching set of bra and panties. Not that they would be on long. Not that she had expected Natalia to see them.
When she was done, her clothes discarded in the same haphazard fashion as Natalia's, Olivia caught Natalia staring at her, her eyes pinned to Olivia's face, flicking little glances at the rest of her body but nervous to openly appraise what was before her. That just wouldn't do, Olivia decided. Not at all.
"Like what you see?" she asked bluntly, challenging Natalia, pushing her as was her wont.
Olivia's question seemed to startle Natalia, making her jump. "I," she swallowed. "Yes, of course I do." Realizing the inadequacy of her answer, Natalia tried again. "I've never seen anyone as beautiful as you," Natalia said honestly, relaxing as spoke from her heart. "Sometimes I look at you and I just can't believe it. You're so..." she shrugged, running out of words. "What you make me feel is overwhelming."
"In a good way, I hope," Olivia said with a tentative smile.
"Very good," Natalia assured her.
"That's...good," Olivia finished lamely. She was much more interested in Natalia than in their conversation. She itched to touch Natalia. When she couldn't stand it any longer she reached for Natalia and Natalia reached right back. Olivia hadn't been thinking beyond her desire to touch Natalia so she was unprepared for the intensity of the moment when their bodies met. It was like touching a live wire; it jolted her entire body.
The weeks and months of waiting, of quick, darting glances and hardly any touching at all caught up with Olivia in an instant, her yearning for Natalia burning as brightly as the sun. Her hands roamed, down Natalia's back and up her sides. Natalia's breathing quickened in response.
"Do you think we could move this up on the bed?" Olivia asked, maintaining eye contact as she did. She didn't think Natalia would object, but she had to ask. She needed the reassurance that Natalia was still completely there with her.
Natalia bit her lip and nodded, following Olivia as she got in bed and held a hand out for Natalia to join her, patting the space beside her with her other hand. Without any hesitation, Natalia scooted closer, until she was lying beside Olivia. She tilted her head for a moment, looking as if she were about to say something. Olivia waited patiently, but Natalia never spoke. Instead she took Olivia's face in her hands and kissed her. Gone was any tentativeness and all that remained was something that was both sweet and passionate.
Olivia didn't have to wait any longer to know that Natalia wanted her as much as she wanted Natalia, because she proved it to Olivia, with each stroke, each caress and each kiss that seemed to consume her. Natalia's desire stoked something within Olivia that could hardly build any higher.
She wanted to touch every part of Natalia. What started as a careful exploration, grew more certain as Natalia didn't pull away, but moved into her caresses. Olivia began to trail kisses from Natalia's jaw, down her throat, finding more and more smooth skin that she wanted to taste. Natalia stilled next to her as her kisses descended below her collar bone. Deliberately she kissed the creamy skin just above the top of her breast. She let a moment linger between that kiss and the next, knowing what Natalia was expecting her to do. Instead her next kiss landed just below Natalia's sternum and the one that followed that landed just a few centimeters to the right.
The second time that Olivia's kiss didn't land where Natalia had thought it would, Natalia caught a tiny glimpse of the smile on Olivia's face as she turned her head to place another kiss.
Her grip on Olivia's shoulders tightened. "Olivia..." she protested, her voice almost a growl.
Olivia lifted her head, doing her best impression of looking innocent. "What's wrong?"
"You know what's wrong!"
Olivia gave a tiny little shrug. "Maybe."
"Well then, do...something," Natalia finished lamely.
Green eyes seemed to sparkle back at Natalia as Olivia pursed her lips in an attempt to keep her amusement at bay. "Do what, exactly, Natalia?" Olivia asked, her voice low and tempting.
Knowing Olivia was just doing it to draw a reaction from her didn't help Natalia any. She sank back into the bed and felt like crossing her arms over her chest, but didn't. She didn't want anything to stop this now, which was why she was getting so frustrated.
"Kiss me," Natalia finally said.
"I can do that," Olivia agreed, tilting her head down, her intent to kiss Natalia's lips clear.
"Not there," Natalia almost whined, stopping Olivia before she could make contact and Natalia got distracted.
Olivia nuzzled into Natalia's hand, kissing her palm before she looked back to Natalia and arched an eyebrow without another word. Daring Natalia to tell her what she wanted. Natalia felt her cheeks flush, from frustration, embarrassment or arousal, she wasn't sure. Maybe some combination of all three.
"Here," she finally muttered, using her hands to guide Olivia's mouth to exactly where she wanted it.
"Oh," Olivia said simply, as if she truly hadn't known, as if even with her teasing it was still a surprise to her too. Her lips found Natalia's skin and this time there was no more playing. She kissed the swell of Natalia's breast and took her painfully erect nipple into her mouth.
Natalia's hands slid down her back, clutching at her and tugging her closer. Olivia went willingly, intent on what she was doing, and less so on what Natalia was doing to her until she realized that Natalia had pulled her almost completely on top of her, her leg thrown across both of Natalia's and their bodies pressing into one another. The feeling of Natalia's soft curves beneath her was intoxicating.
Slowly Olivia began to work one hand down between their bodies, across the barely noticeable swell of her abdomen, over the slight jut of her hipbone and the soft skin of her thigh, until Olivia found the wet warmth between Natalia's legs. Natalia jerked at her lightest touch and Olivia did it again, desperate for Natalia's response.
Natalia's fingers dug into her hip and Olivia surged downward in involuntary response. It wasn't enough. She pulled Natalia closer to her, kissing her deeply, devouring her. Natalia whimpered into the kiss as Olivia pressed harder, stroking more confidently as Natalia's response spurred her on.
"Olivia," Natalia gasped, pulling away from the kiss. "Don't stop."
"Oh, don't worry about that," Olivia said. "There's no way I'm stopping now."
And she didn't, not for a long time, not until she had finally pushed Natalia over the edge of pleasure and Natalia was shuddering and coming apart in her arms.
The sound of their breathing, sharp and loud in the room, was the only sound as Olivia lay beside Natalia who was still struggling to catch her breath and come back down, regaining her equilibrium. A contented smile curved over Olivia's lips as she ran her fingers idly up and down Natalia's side.
"Oh my God," Natalia whispered. "That was..." She pushed herself up so that she could look at Olivia.
"Mmm," Olivia nodded her agreement, shifting to get more comfortable. "I think we waited so long that when we finally stopped waiting..." She grinned. "We couldn't keep our hands off each other a second longer."
"You're still waiting," Natalia noted.
"Believe me when I say that I enjoyed that," Olivia said fervently.
"Something tells me you'd enjoy this more," Natalia said palming Olivia's breast with one hand. Unwilling to neglect its twin, she covered it with her mouth, licking, sucking and brushing feather-light kisses against sensitive skin until Olivia was squirming beneath her, her back arching up sharply as Natalia's teeth scraped lightly over a hardened nipple.
Olivia's hand sank into Natalia's hair, clenching around a handful of silk locks as Natalia kept going. Olivia hissed sharply. "Might be right," she admitted through clenched teeth. "Keep going. I'll let you know."
"Smart ass," Natalia said with fond admonishment as she raised her head. She wanted to bring Olivia just as much pleasure as Olivia had brought her, but this was new and different. She hesitated. She didn't want to mess this up.
Olivia covered her hand, now hovering over her abdomen, one finger touching the tip of the scar that bisected Olivia's chest. "You can't do anything wrong. Touch me any way you want."
"What about what you want?" Natalia murmured.
"I want you," Olivia said simply, guiding Natalia's hand down her body, over a trimmed patch of hair and down between her legs.
Tentatively Natalia began to explore with her fingers, noting a gasp here, a whimper there, remembering what she liked and trying it on Olivia. Eventually she found a rhythm, slipping inside Olivia with a finger until Olivia's hips were bucking up into her hand. When Olivia's motion seemed frenzied and her groans and whimpers sounded more frustrated than pleasurable, Natalia rubbed her thumb over Olivia's clit until Olivia came, her fingers digging into Natalia's shoulders as she rode out the waves of her pleasure.
Finally Olivia let out a shaky laugh, turning her head to demand a kiss from Natalia. When they had parted and Natalia laid her head on Olivia's shoulder, Olivia finally spoke.
"Not bad?" Natalia demanded, pushing herself up to look at Olivia. "That's all you can say, not bad?"
Olivia laughed, catching Natalia's hand and bringing it down to her lips so she could kiss each knuckle. "I think that was amazing and wonderful, and I can't wait to do it again. I think I love you so much that I never want to let you go." She looked up at Natalia, her gaze completely sincere. "I think I want to spend the rest of my life with you - and our children. Does that work for you?"
Natalia melted, sinking back down into Olivia's arms and finding her for a kiss that was more loving than sensual. "I think I can live with that," she said, her nonchalance belied by the way she clung to Olivia.
There was no early morning light drifting through the Beacon's windows into Olivia's suite. Olivia had made sure of that a long time ago with thick heavy curtains designed to block out the sun and let her sleep as long as she wanted. The lack of sunlight didn't really make a difference for Natalia though, not after years of being so accustomed to waking at an early hour.
There was a disorienting moment when Natalia woke where the darkness felt enveloping and she couldn't quite place where she was. Then it registered. She was in Olivia's bed in her suite at the Beacon. With Olivia. Even though there was no one else awake in the room, no one who could know what she was thinking, Natalia flushed at the memory of what they had done the night before. It wasn't because she was ashamed, but because it seemed like too much. An embarrassment of riches.
Natalia sank back down on to the pillows and curled onto her side so that she was facing Olivia. Even in the dim light she could still make out her features, looking so peaceful as she slept. She had an urge to reach out and touch Olivia, just because she wanted to, because she could. But she didn't, stopping herself from actually following through with the knowledge that Olivia needed her rest.
As giddy and wonderful as Natalia felt this morning, she knew it didn't erase what had happened in the past few days. Olivia had been through so much and it had been all her doing. Their activities last night hadn't helped any in the letting-Olivia-sleep department either, but Natalia couldn't regret that. Olivia had needed it, to feel how much Natalia wanted her, and to give her surety of the way Natalia felt about her when she doubted. Natalia, on the other hand, had just wanted. She still did, but she didn't think that was a good enough reason to pull Olivia from her slumber.
Just when Natalia thought she would burst with impatience and desire, Olivia shifted. Natalia held her breath. It was an entirely different story if Olivia woke on her own. Long lashes fluttered for a moment and Natalia smiled. How many times had she seen Olivia stumble into the kitchen in the morning and been amazed that Olivia allowed Natalia to see her like that, dazed, vulnerable, not at all awake yet and absolutely adorable? So many. It had definitely been an unexpected side of Olivia, just one more thing she'd come to love. She'd never gotten to see it from this perspective though, one eyelid struggling to open while its twin remained firmly shut.
"Hi," Natalia whispered as Olivia blinked sleepily, trying to clear her eyes. She reached out, pushing hair out of Olivia's face and tucking it behind her ear.
"Hey," Olivia mumbled, still not yet fully awake. That didn't stop her from throwing her arm across Natalia's waist, tangling their legs together and snuggling in closer to her though. Apparently she didn't need to be awake for that.
Natalia wrapped her arms around Olivia and let out a contented sigh. This was what she had been craving, this closeness. She kissed the nearest bit of bare skin she could find, Olivia's collarbone, and buried her head in Olivia's shoulder, breathing in her familiar, intoxicating scent.
They lay in silence for several long moments, Olivia's breathing so deep and steady that Natalia wondered if she had fallen back asleep again. She got her answer just a moment later.
"Is this real?" Olivia murmured. "Or am I still dreaming?" Her arms tightened briefly around Natalia. "'Cause if I am, I don't want to wake up."
Natalia smiled. It was a little tremulous but she managed. "You're not dreaming. At least I don't think you are. And if we are dreaming, I don't want to wake up either," she assured Olivia.
"Yeah?" Olivia asked, a smile curving over her lips. She said it sweetly, charmingly, but Natalia could still hear the aching vulnerability beneath it, the need to be reassured despite everything that they had shared.
"Oh yeah," Natalia agreed, shifting until she could find Olivia's lips, kissing her lightly, morning breath making her self-conscious about letting it linger.
Olivia didn't have any of the same reservations and deepened the kiss, shifting so that she was laying on top of Natalia. Her hands began to stray, caressing bare skin that she was only beginning to familiarize herself with.
Natalia whimpered, amazed that with just a kiss and a few touches Olivia could make her want this much. She had never had this kind of reaction to anyone else, not even Gus.
She gasped as Olivia broke the kiss, pushing up on one elbow so that she could look at Natalia. "Is this okay?" Olivia asked. Her hair was a clumpy mess, making her look wild and disheveled, but her eyes sparkled and there was no doubting that Olivia was completely awake now.
"More than okay," Natalia whispered, hooking her legs around the back of Olivia's legs, keeping her where she was. "I've been laying here watching you sleep and wanting to touch you. You just looked so..." She trailed off with a shake of her head, at a loss for words.
"Old?" Olivia suggested with a wry grin. Covering her face with one hand and grimacing. "Were my wrinkles showing?" she asked teasingly.
Natalia took Olivia's head between both hands and brought her face down until she could place a kiss on the corner of her eye. "Beautiful. Peaceful. Intoxicating." Each word was punctuated with a kiss, moving from Natalia's original target to her forehead to the corner of Olivia's mouth.
It was too close for Olivia who couldn't resist, turning her head fractionally to kiss Natalia again. It was tender and unhurried. They had plenty of time to touch and taste and explore and Olivia intended to savor every moment of it.
Natalia's hands drifted down until they were draped loosely over the back of Olivia's neck, keeping her close.
"Mommy?" The sound of Emma's sleepy voice from just outside the door jerked Natalia up short even as her hands had been sliding over Olivia's shoulders and down her sides.
Natalia froze, breaking the kiss and looking panic-stricken, her eyes widening almost comically as she stared past Olivia. Olivia sighed, her head dropping down in defeat. The tickle of Olivia's breath against her chest made Natalia suddenly all too conscious that they were still naked underneath the sheets.
"Just a minute, Jellybean," Olivia called back to her daughter, keeping her voice light and even only with years of practice at hiding her feelings from corporate sharks eager to attack at the slightest hint of weakness.
Olivia touched her chin, drawing Natalia's attention away from Emma and back to her. She met Natalia's eyes with an intense stare.
"It's going to be okay. Trust me." But it was as much a question as it was a statement meant to reassure, and that was something Natalia knew how to deal with. Olivia needed her support. She could be there for her, with her. That was old hat for them. She knew how to do that.
Natalia summoned a smile and nodded, trying to seem more confident than she felt. She was horrified that Emma had caught them together like this and had no idea what to say or do. She had never brought anyone back to the string of crappy apartments that she and Rafe had shared in Chicago. The only person Rafe had ever really seen her with was Gus and he refused to see she and Olivia together. If he didn't see it, he could pretend "they" didn't exist as what they really were.
Olivia stroked Natalia's cheek tenderly with the back of her fingers and then rolled off Natalia, springing out of bed to grab two shirts, pulling one over her head as she came back to bed and holding the other out to Natalia. But when Olivia got back in bed, it was on the opposite side of the one that she had woken up on so that she was between Emma and Natalia. The gesture didn't go unnoticed by Natalia. She was still nervous, but she couldn't help but lace her fingers through Olivia's in thanks for Olivia's small, protective gesture. Even if, when Natalia thought about it, it seemed a little bit ridiculous, needing to be protected from Emma. This was still new and different though, for all of them, but Emma especially.
"Okay, Em. We're awake now," Olivia said, making sure the comforter was tucked in firmly around them and then holding her arms out to her daughter.
"Mommy!" This time it was more of a squeal than a cry as Emma came hurtling through the rest of the room and bounced up on the bed with a ferocious pounce that jarred both of them. She dove straight for her mother's arms.
Olivia laughed and wrapped Emma up in a tight hug, kissing the top of her head and peppering her with kisses until Emma started to giggle and squirm.
"Mommy." This time Emma was protesting. She rolled onto her back and held out her arms to Natalia. "Help me, Natalia."
For a moment Natalia was too startled to react and then she laughed. "Oh, you want my help?" she teased and Emma nodded frantically.
"Yes," she squeaked. "Help."
Natalia wrapped her arms around Emma and half-tugged Emma toward her until Emma was laying sprawled across both of them on top of the covers. "Help you?" she repeated again, brushing her nose back and forth across Emma's. "But I wanted to tickle you!"
Emma squealed again as Natalia suited actions to words. "No fair. Mommy!"
Olivia laughed, having stopped her portion of the ticklefest to watch Natalia and Emma together. She felt like she was about to burst with joy and contentment watching them laugh and play together. This was what she had always wanted, wasn't it? Even if she hadn't always known it - someone to share her life with, who loved her little girl just as much as she did. A family.
"Mommy!" Emma repeated, more demanding.
Olivia snorted, drawn out of her momentary reverie. "Oh right." She scooted closer to Natalia, sitting up just a little so that she could wrap both of her arms around Natalia and kissed the side of her throat, her tongue flicking out to make Natalia squirm.
"Olivia," Natalia protested, but pinned down and wrapped up there was no where for her to go. Not that she was trying too hard.
"Mommy, that's not right," Emma corrected her. "You're supposed to tickle her."
Olivia laughed softly, the puff of her breath warm against Natalia's cheek as she rested her forehead against Natalia's temple.
"Next time, Jellybean," she promised her indulgently, sitting up again. When Natalia pinned her with a warning look, she amended. "Maybe." Without meaning to, she lost herself in Natalia's gaze, knowing that she was staring back at Natalia with unabashed adoration and not caring at all if Emma noticed it.
Emma shifted and Natalia grunted as Emma's elbow dug into her.
"Hey, Em, be careful. You don't want to hurt the ba-" Natalia's eyes went very wide. Olivia winced, her face freezing comically as she stopped mid-word. "-by."
For a moment Olivia and Natalia just stared, their eyes locked, neither of them willing to look down at Emma.
"Baby?" Emma asked, her little brow furrowing and making her look so much like her mother in that moment. "What baby?"
Olivia gave Natalia a little shrug and grimace and glanced down at Emma, reaching over to push a few stray strands of Emma's hair behind her ear.
"Well, Natalia's pregnant."
"But I thought you had to have a daddy for that?" Emma asked innocently.
"Ah, you do," Olivia said, her own brow furrowing. "Usually. You need an egg and sperm anyway." She risked a glance up at Natalia and noticed that she looked a little pale. Olivia reached over to take her hand. It felt limp in Olivia's grasp. "Uh, but this baby does have a father." She stroked her fingers through Emma's hair again. "Do you remember when Natalia and Uncle Frank were going to get married?"
"Well, they were together and now Natalia's going to have a baby." That was one way to put it. She didn't want to look at Natalia. Somehow their wonderful morning had turned into a mildly excruciating conversation.
"With Uncle Frank? But I thought you said you and Natalia were-"
"We are," Olivia said jumping in quickly. "Just because two people have a child, doesn't mean they have to be together. Like me and your Daddy."
"Oh," Emma said slowly. "Right."
Olivia watched her think for a moment. "Anything else you want to ask, Jellybean?"
"Noooo," Emma said drawling the word out contemplatively. Then she changed her mind. "When will the baby be here?"
"It'll be a few more months." Olivia glanced over at Natalia again. They hadn't really had a chance to discuss all the details yet. "I'll let you know when we have a due date."
"Okay," Emma said, sounding remarkably matter-of-fact about the whole thing. Then another thought occurred to her. "So if you and Natalia are together, what does that make me and the baby?"
"Ah..." Olivia knew what she wanted, hoped she knew what Natalia wanted, but things were still fragile. They weren't even living together and Natalia was having a baby. There was still so many things up in the air. She had just turned Natalia's offer to move in with her down yesterday, but there was no way she wanted Natalia living alone after the baby was born. Her damn big fat mouth.
"It means you'll be a big sister, Em," Natalia said, startling them both. She had been so quiet, Olivia had begun to worry.
"Really?" Emma asked, her excitement plain. Her face was almost glowing as she looked to Olivia for confirmation.
"Really," Olivia said, swallowing hard, trying not to show any of the apprehension that she felt. Things were changing so quickly. Only the day before, Natalia had been gone. Now they were acting like a little family discussing the addition of their newest member. It was a lot.
"Hey, why don't you go get dressed, Em," Olivia suggested, trying to sound more casual than she felt. "And we'll do the same."
"Okay, Mommy," Emma said, bouncing up just as quickly as she had landed. "Can we go to the park after breakfast?"
"We'll see," Olivia said, deferring the question for later negotiations. She watched as Emma darted back into her room and waited until the door between her room and Emma's had slid shut. "You okay?" she asked Natalia, keeping her voice low even though there was no way that Emma could hear them anymore.
Natalia nodded, letting out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "I think so." She winced, closing her eyes and sinking into Olivia. "I'm sorry I freaked out." Her hand rested over Olivia's heart, feeling it race beneath her palm.
"It's okay," Olivia said, sounding anything but okay.
"No, it isn't," Natalia disagreed. "I just haven't done this before," she added, gesturing between them.
Olivia scowled. "Well, it's not like I've been throwing lesbian orgies every other Friday, Natalia."
Natalia straightened abruptly, pushing away from Olivia. "That's not what I meant. That's not why I-" She swallowed. "It was Emma. I never-" She flicked a quick glance up at Olivia and then looked down again. "I never brought anyone home. The first person Rafe ever saw me with was Gus," she blurted out, hoping her explanation made sense to Olivia.
"Oh," Olivia said softly.
"You've been married. You know how to do this relationship with children thing. I'm still learning."
Olivia winced. "My step-kids hated me. Ask Josh. And Phillip." She tilted her head. "Marah and Rafe could form a club."
"Olivia..." Natalia protested weakly. She didn't know what she wanted to say really, only that she wanted to reassure Olivia that Rafe wouldn't come between them. She had no idea what she was going to do about him or how to bring him around, but it didn't matter. Despite what he thought, she had realized what was important and she was determined to hold onto it and not let go.
Gently Olivia put a finger over her lips. "I didn't mean it like that." She took a deep breath and summoned a smile. "Look, I don't know how, but it's going to be okay. Eventually. We just need to give it some time. I have faith."
Natalia's eyebrows shot up, unconsciously echoing a gesture that was all-Olivia in her disbelief. "You do?" she asked with a charming mix of disbelief and hopefulness.
"In you," Olivia amended with a shrug. "I'm not so sure what I think about the Big Guy anymore, but I do believe in you. I think you can do anything you set your mind to. Look at what you've already done," she said softly. "I'm still here and that's all you." She hesitated to let Natalia absorb what she was saying. "You made us a family, despite everything."
Natalia shook her head. "It's so messed up, with Rafe and the baby." She squeezed Olivia's hand tightly. "I hurt you."
Olivia glanced down, what she was thinking and feeling retreating behind an expressionless mask for a moment. "You did," she admitted and Natalia flinched. "But you came back - to me. And this is where you want to be. Right?" she asked, turning Natalia's hand over as she cradled it between her own.
"Right," Natalia agreed, the lump in her throat making it hard to speak as she realized how close she had come to losing Olivia and this family that they had built together - no matter what Olivia said. "More than anything."
"Good," Olivia said firmly, as if that settled it. She reached a hand out to place it over the slight swell of Natalia's abdomen. "Because I'm looking forward to watching this little one grow up."
"And being her other mommy," Natalia added, pushing a little bit because she wanted there to be no doubt in Olivia's mind just how Natalia wanted her to be involved in this baby's life. She had no idea - okay, some - how Frank was going to react when she told him, but whatever he had to say, it wouldn't change the way she felt about Olivia or what she wanted. Natalia was certain of that now.
Olivia swallowed, tears welling in her eyes. "If that's what you want."
"I do," Natalia said. "So much. Do you-"
"Oh yeah," Olivia agreed quickly, and then seemed a little stunned by what she had admitted.
Natalia couldn't help the smile that began to spread across her face. The fear and uncertainty that had been her companion for most of the past few days was gone, removed like a weight from her shoulders that she had almost forgotten she was carrying. She felt light and almost giddy now that it was gone.
Forgetting Emma and the fact that they were mostly still naked she surged toward Olivia, kissing her passionately enough to tip her off balance, sending her sprawling onto her pillow. Olivia didn't resist, clinging to Natalia and pulling her down on top of her, all too eager to touch her and hold her now that she was finally allowed.
Natalia broke the kiss a long moment later, panting lightly as she struggled to regain her composure. "Emma," she breathed the little girl's name, as she remembered that Emma was only gone for a few minutes and there was no way they could finish what she had started. "We should-" She couldn't bring herself to say stop, not after everything she had put Olivia through in the past few days and weeks.
Olivia snorted. "Not scar Em for life."
Natalia nodded. "Something like that."
"You're probably right," Olivia agreed. "But I hope you know I have every intention of finishing what you started sometime very soon."
"I hope so," Natalia said. "I'm going to hold you to that."
"You do that," Olivia said with a smile, scooting out from underneath Natalia and striding across the room to get her robe out of the closet.
Natalia watched her walk away unabashedly, only flushing when Olivia glanced back over her shoulder at her and flashed a wicked grin.
Snagging another robe from her closet, Olivia crossed back to the bed, dropping the spare robe at Natalia's feet and leaning over her. "Was that an impure thought you were having, Natalia?"
Natalia had an urge to grab the robe and wrap up in it quickly, hiding herself from Olivia who saw far too much, and the things that Olivia brought out in her, things that she had never thought she could feel, much less feel without shame or embarrassment.
"There is nothing impure about the way I feel about you," Natalia whispered. "Nothing. But I was thinking about how absolutely gorgeous you looked, walking away from me."
Olivia sucked in a breath and Natalia couldn't help her satisfied smile. She was rarely able to surprise Olivia, especially not in a good way like this. There was nothing like the look on Olivia's face when Natalia rose above Olivia's expectations in a way that she had never considered. It was a heady feeling and she was going to savor every moment of it.
"Where have you been?" Rafe demanded, sounding more like the parent than the child. He scrubbed his hands over tight curls, messing them up in his agitation. "I've been here for hours, Ma, and it's still early - even for you."
She considered telling Rafe what he wanted to hear, that she had just woken up early and decided to take care of a few errands. Or maybe, Father Ray had called from the hospital about a parishioner who had been in a car accident and whose family needed a hot breakfast. No, Rafe had asked and he was old enough to hear the truth. She wouldn't lie to him. Natalia couldn't lie to him, dressed in a pair of Olivia's old jeans and a faded t-shirt that Natalia had found in the back of a drawer.
Olivia had protested when she hadn't chosen something nicer from Olivia's ample closet, but Natalia had insisted that this was okay. She hadn't regretted her choice for a minute though, after Olivia had leaned into her back, wrapping her arms around Natalia's waist and saying that it didn't matter because Natalia looked incredibly hot anyway. She had chastised Olivia for the comment, glancing over to make sure that Emma was safely out of earshot, still a little bit worried that Emma wasn't completely okay with them, but secretly she had loved it. Seeing someone's desire for her in the past had always made her feel self-conscious and on display, with Olivia it just made her feel loved.
"I spent the night with Olivia and Emma at the Beacon."
Rafe folded his arms over his chest, stumbling backwards into the railing and shaking his head. "Spending the night with her in some hotel, Ma? Like some-" He broke off, his face contorting with the effort of choking back his anger.
Gone in an instant was the happy glow that had suffused Natalia upon waking up with Olivia. Gone was the peace and sense of hopefulness for what the day might bring. It was replaced with a memory, strong and visceral, of being sixteen years old, pregnant and in tears, devastation warring with disbelief as her father threw her out of the house, railing at her with harsh words that she would never forget.
"Go ahead," Natalia said, pushing herself away from the side of the house, where she had been leaning. "Say it, Rafe. Say it if you're going to think it. Like a whore."
"No." For the first time she cut him off, refused to let him speak. She would not let history repeat itself. "Your grandfather called me that name when I told him that I was pregnant with you. Do you think I was a whore for sleeping with your father? Do you?" She demanded when he didn't answer, stunned into silence.
He shook his head, looking a little frightened. "No, Ma, I didn't-"
"Be quiet," Natalia said in a tone that brooked no disagreement. "If I'm not a whore for being with Gus, then the same is true of being with Olivia." Part of her still wanted to shy away from Rafe, part of her couldn't believe she was saying this, but she couldn't let Rafe keep saying things like that. She had given him time, now it was time for him to start listening to her. He was going to have a baby brother or sister soon and he needed to set a good example. It couldn't hurt for Emma either.
"I love her just as much as I ever loved Gus," Natalia said, her voice losing some of its firmness, breaking down with the need for Rafe to understand what she was saying. "What I feel for her is not evil or wrong. It's a gift from God."
"How can you say that?" Rafe lashed out again. "After everything she's done to us. I heard the things she's said to you. I know the way that she's treated you. Why? Why would you do that with her? Why would you feel anything for her but hate and contempt? She's not good enough for you, Ma. Don't you get it?"
"I get that she gave me a job that paid well enough that, for the first time in my life, I only had to work one job. I get that she pushed me to strive for something - to live instead of just survive. She showed me that I could have so much more, Rafe, and wanting her is part of that. She gives me the freedom and the confidence in myself to look beyond what I've always known. How does that make her not good enough for me?"
"She tried to steal Gus from you and then she took his house - the only thing that we had left of him and she had to have that too!"
"And we're so blameless?" Natalia asked quietly. "I cost her a heart, Rafe. You shot an innocent man. Both of us have done bad things."
"Ma!" Rafe protested, sounding sucker-punched. "It was an accident."
"I know that," Natalia said. "But that doesn't absolve you. You made a decision - a bad one - and you paid for it. You may not think so but Olivia's paid for her mistakes too. More than you can imagine."
Rafe fumed, silenced but still unable to accept what she was saying. "So what are you saying? You just want me to accept the two of you?"
"I would love that," Natalia admitted. "But I don't expect it from you right now. I just want you to give Olivia - and us - a chance."
He fidgeted for a moment and Natalia waited, giving him a chance to say what he needed to. She had seen him like this so many times as a little boy, wanting so badly to ask her something, but nervous because he thought it would make her feel bad or he already knew the answer, but couldn't help himself. She wondered what it was this time. It felt like progress that Rafe was hesitant and not just yelling.
"You say you don't think there's anything wrong with this...thing...with you and Olivia, but..." he took a deep breath. "If you really think that, then why didn't you tell me? Why did you hide it from me?"
Tears stung Natalia's eyes. "Because, honestly, I was scared that you wouldn't understand, that you would hate me and I couldn't stand that."
"So you didn't trust me?" Rafe asked sounding hurt.
"No," Natalia said immediately. "Of course, I trust you. I just know that this is a big deal. It's different. Rafe, I never thought I would be in a relationship with a woman. It took me a long time to accept what I was feeling for Olivia. I knew that it would take time for you too. I just wanted you to have a chance to get settled into living here before there was this other thing that you had to deal with too."
"You can't keep doing things like that, Ma," Rafe said, shaking his head and looking away. "I'm not a kid anymore. I'm a man and you have to treat me like one."
Natalia nodded, hating what he said even as she realized the truth of it. "I can try, Rafe, but it's not going to be easy. You were the only person in my life for so long. I'm not going to get it right, right away, but I am going to try." She hesitated. There was one more thing she had to say, but she didn't think he was going to like it. "But if I'm going to treat you like a man, then you're going to have to act like one."
For a moment she thought Rafe was going to get angry again, protest that he did act like a man, but then he bit down on whatever he had been about to say and nodded.
"I can do that."
"Good." Natalia bit her lip. There was only one problem with this new agreement they had made between them. If she had really meant it, she would have to trust it now, immediately. If she didn't, then Rafe really would have something to hold against her when he found out.
Natalia smiled at him tentatively. "Let's go inside and sit down. There's something I need to tell you."
"What else you gonna spring on me, Ma? Is Olivia moving in or something?" He asked, laughing like it was impossible.
With her back to him, Natalia unlocked the door and pushed it open. She couldn't help the small smile that tugged at her lips. "No, not yet, but soon, I hope. You should know I asked."
She shot him a look over her shoulder.
He shoved his hands in his pockets. "Fine, whatever." He considered it for a second. "She told you no?"
"I hurt her when I didn't show up at the barbecue the other day. I was scared about something, so I took Father Ray's advice and went on a retreat."
Rafe glanced up sharply, looking startled. "You went on a retreat? Why? Because of Olivia? Did she do something or..."
"No," Natalia said quickly, shaking her head. "Actually that's what I wanted to talk to you about - the reason why I left."
She tried to think of some way to ease Rafe into it, but couldn't think of one. "I'm pregnant."
Rafe stared, blinked. "You're what?"
Natalia tried to smile. It was harder than she had thought it would be. "I'm going to have a baby. You're going to have a little brother or sister."
For a minute Rafe looked stunned. Then like the clouds parting after a particularly nasty storm, he smiled. "That's great, Ma." It was Natalia's turn to be shocked when Rafe came toward her, wrapping her in a hug, burying his face in her shoulder and squeezing her tightly in his enthusiasm.
Natalia couldn't remember the last time Rafe had seemed that genuinely happy around her and she held him back just as tightly, giving a little prayer of thanks for his response. Maybe this was when things would start to turn around for them.
She smiled at him when he let her go. She knew he would hate it, would see it as too much, but she couldn't help it. Natalia turned away before he could comment on it, hoping he hadn't seen the joy bubbling out of her.
"I have to say I'm a little bit surprised that you're okay with this. Surprised, but happy," Natalia added.
"Of course I'm happy, Ma. This is perfect," Rafe exclaimed. "This is your chance. Don't you see? You can marry Frank and he can take care of you and the baby."
She couldn't blame him for thinking that way, Natalia supposed. After all, hadn't she had some of the same fears and doubts when she had first found out that she was pregnant? But she had realized just how wrong she was. Rafe just needed to see it too.
"No," Natalia said firmly. "I can't marry Frank. I don't love him, Rafe. I love Olivia."
"But he can make you happy. He won't hurt you and you can go back to what's normal - what's right."
"You think marrying a man that I don't love is going to make me happy?" Natalia asked, her brows furrowing.
"You could love him though," Rafe said like it was the most reasonable thing in the world. "He's a good guy."
An uncharitable thought flashed through Natalia's mind, well, if you like him so much why don't you marry him? She almost gasped, a little shocked at herself. She imagined for a moment how Rafe would look if she said something like that. She had never spoken to him that way before. And she wouldn't start now. But, oh, would she tell Olivia later. Maybe. Because Olivia would look utterly startled for a moment before she collapsed with laughter and the look on her face, warm, proud, and understanding, would be so worth it.
"Frank is a good man," Natalia agreed. "I couldn't ask for a better father for this child, but just because he's a good person doesn't mean I would be happy with him. Have you even thought about what that would be like for me? To be with someone that I didn't care about in that way? For the rest of my life. Is that really what you want for me? You told me once that all you really wanted was for me to be happy. I thought you meant it."
"I do," Rafe protested. "Of course I do."
"But only the way that you think I should be happy."
"You thought Frank could make you happy too. You were going to marry him."
Natalia stopped, realization crashing over her. "No, that wasn't why I agreed to marry Frank," she said, shaking her head. Maybe this was where it had gone wrong. Somewhere between running away to Greece and being stuck behind bars, she and Rafe had stopped talking about the things that really mattered. There were so many things that he didn't know.
"I said yes to Frank because Olivia pushed me to marry him. She did that because she thought she couldn't make me happy and he could. I went along with it because I thought Olivia didn't want me." Natalia sniffed, not proud of what she was about to say. "I thought that being with Frank would be better than being alone for the rest of my life." She hesitated and shook her head. "I thought he would be good for you."
"He is good for me, Ma. And he would be good for this baby too. Just give him a shot to be that guy for you."
"Not when I have a chance to be with Olivia. That's what she did for me, Raphael. She taught me to go after what I wanted, not just accept what I could get by with."
Rafe shook his head, backing away. "I can't do this. I can't listen to this. I have to go."
Natalia reached for him, touching his arm. He tensed, but didn't jerk away.
"I'm not trying to tell you who you can and can't talk to, but please don't go to Frank about this yet. I haven't told him about the baby yet - I saw you first - and I need to tell him myself."
He made a motion that might have been a nod. He pulled away from her, but gently, not harshly, and walked out the door.
Natalia felt like crying. Instead she went and got the phone and called Olivia.
"Hey!" Olivia sounded giddy and excited.
Natalia wished she could share the sentiment. Just hearing Olivia's voice was better, but worse at the same time. The tears that she had been fighting back welled up in her eyes.
"Hey," Natalia replied, trying desperately to keep her voice even. She didn't want Olivia to know that she was upset, but her voice betrayed her, breaking even over the single syllable.
"Natalia? What's wrong?"
Natalia sniffed, trying to hold in her tears before any more escaped. "Nothing," she murmured, forcing the word out.
"It doesn't sound like nothing," Olivia countered. There was a pause. "Do you want me to come over?"
In that pause, Natalia heard something more. She heard, Do you still want me? "Rafe was here when I got home."
"Oh, Sweetie," Olivia said sympathetically. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked you to-"
"Don't," Natalia said, cutting her off swiftly. "Don't you dare say that, Olivia." She took a deep breath. "I'm not ashamed or embarrassed that Rafe knows that I spent the night with you. I'm not even sure why I'm crying. I'm just a little emotional right now and I needed to hear your voice before I called Frank."
"Okay," Olivia said softly. Some of the fear had left her voice. "I can do that." Silence sank in for a moment. "Now I can't think of anything to say."
Natalia laughed. "I think you're doing pretty good."
"Good," Olivia said firmly. "You're going to talk to Frank?" she asked, changing the subject and growing more serious.
"I was about to," Natalia confirmed. "I told Rafe about the baby."
"Oh?" Olivia asked feigning an air of indifference. "What did he say?"
"He was excited," Natalia said. Technically it wasn't a lie.
"Really," Natalia confirmed. "He's still not happy about us, but I think I made some progress."
"That's great, Sweetie. I'm so happy for you," Olivia said encouragingly.
"Thank you," Natalia hesitated. "I really want him to be okay with us, Olivia."
"But I don't need him to be."
"No, I mean it, Olivia. I'll hate it if he's never okay with us and sometimes it will make me sad at what he's missing out on. But it won't make me regret what we have. You and Emma are such a big part of my life that I can't imagine it without you anymore. I want you to know that."
Silence echoed for a moment. Then Olivia sighed. "I just want you to be happy, Natalia. That's all I've ever wanted and I know Rafe is a big part of that for you. I don't want to come between the two of you."
"You're not," Natalia said firmly. "You make me happy. Without you I would be miserable."
"Rafe is the one who's upset. You didn't do anything but try to help him and help me."
"Not always. I haven't been a very nice person."
Natalia snorted. "You think I don't know that?" she teased Olivia.
"Sometimes I wonder if you've forgotten," Olivia admitted in a small voice.
"I haven't forgotten anything," Natalia said gently. "I know who you are, Olivia Spencer, the good and the bad. And I love you."
Natalia shrugged. Knowing Olivia couldn't see her she struggled to find the words. She made a small, frustrated sound. "Because...I just do. Because you're the only person who can get under my skin and make me really mad. You see more of me than I saw of myself and you pushed me to be a stronger person. No one's ever cared about me enough to do that before."
"So you're saying you like me because I'm mean to you?"
"Olivia!" Natalia protested, with amused frustration at the way Olivia had twisted her words, but inwardly she was glad. If Olivia was laughing and teasing her, it meant that she accepted what Natalia said, believed it enough to hold onto it for a little while long. One day, eventually, it would be enough that Olivia would no longer need to ask and if that day never came it would be okay too.
"Fine," Olivia said with a soft huff. "I'll be nice, but you said-"
"Olivia," Natalia interjected again. Silence hung between them, following Natalia's exclamation but it was comfortable silence. It lasted until Olivia let out a small sigh.
"So you're going to call Frank and tell him?"
"That's the plan," Natalia said, trying to sound as up-beat as possible. The thought of telling Frank was still...daunting. "I was going to ask him to meet me somewhere so I can tell him in person. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing you should tell someone over the phone."
"Right," Olivia agreed. "Think you can arrange another demonstration from the little one?"
Natalia gasped and there was a brief moment where she was at a loss for words. "You!" She shook her head, then added softly. "The only person I want close enough to me for a demonstration is you."
"I'm glad to hear it," Olivia said it casually, almost flippantly, but Natalia wasn't fooled. She knew how much her simple declaration meant. "You should go," she added. "Otherwise I'll be tempted to come out there and monopolize the rest of your day."
"I'd like that," Natalia said smiling at Olivia's innuendo.
"You say that now..." Olivia bantered back playfully.
"I would. Say that now," Natalia clarified. "But I need to tell Frank. I asked Rafe not to say anything..."
"But Frank deserves to hear it from you," Olivia finished for her.
"Exactly," Natalia agreed. "Would it be okay if I came over after?"
"I'd like that very much," Olivia replied and Natalia could almost see her soft smile.
"Okay," Natalia said, suddenly feeling a little breathless but in an entirely different way from how she had begun the call. A much better way. "I'm going to hang up now."
Olivia laughed. "Are we going to do that disgustingly cute thing where people argue about who should hang up first but no one ever does?"
"No," Natalia said with a shake of her head. She had never done that even as a teenager and she couldn't imagine starting now. She had a brief thought of hanging up and then wished Olivia would instead. She wrinkled her nose at her own thoughts and then said more firmly, "No. I'm going to hang up now. Good bye."
"Bye," Olivia said, infusing the simple word with enough warmth to send a shiver down Natalia's spine.
And then they both managed to hang up.
"Hey, Frank," Blake said, giving him a gentle pat on the shoulder as she walked by.
"Hey, Blakie," Frank said excitedly.
"You sound happy," Blake noted, glancing over her shoulder at him as she grabbed her apron, getting ready for her shift. "What's up?"
"I just got off the phone with Natalia."
Blake stopped and looked up. "Yeah?"
Frank nodded. "I'm really excited, Blake."
Blake hesitated. So Natalia had told him then? It didn't seem like the kind of news to be delivered over the phone but to each her own. If it worked for Natalia then that was great. Blake smiled, bright and warm, relieved and happy for both of her friends. "That's really great, Frankie. I'm so happy for you." She stood up to enfold him in a hug. "For both of you," she emphasized as she squeezed him tight.
"She said something to you, Blake?" Frank said hopefully, hugging her back more out of habit than anything. He was still a little bit confused.
"Of course! She told me the whole thing. I was the one who helped her get out of town over the holiday."
"Out of town?" So that was where she had gone, Frank mused. Strange that she had taken a trip without telling Olivia, unless there was a reason she hadn't told Olivia.
"Well, you know, it's a lot to take in all at once. It's a big change, especially when you're not expecting it!" Blake snorted ruefully, patting his shoulder. "I should know." She shook her head. "At least Natalia won't be dealing with twins. Well," she amended. "As far as I know."
"Twins?" Frank blurted, now thoroughly confused. "What are you talking about, Blake?"
A sudden, horrible thought hit Blake. Could she have...but, no. Surely Natalia had already told him. He seemed so happy.
"I...nothing." Her eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about, Frank?"
"Natalia called. I told you that! She said she wanted to meet me somewhere, at the park or some place private. To, you know, talk. Not about Rafe." His expression was pleading for Blake to understand and she still wasn't.
"Okay," Blake drawled the word out, clearly searching for more explanation.
If it was possible Frank looked even more excited. "She said something to you, didn't she, Blakie?"
"I-," Blake paused, searching for a way not to lie. She wished she had just kept her mouth shut. She had thought she'd already learned her lesson about that, but apparently not. "Yes."
"So, what do you think?" Frank asked, sounding like a kid on Christmas morning. "Do you think I still have a shot? Me and Natalia?"
Oh, Frank. Blake wished more intently than she ever had before that she had just kept her mouth shut. Or never come into work that day. That could work too.
Olivia rapped her knuckles against the doorframe. It was little more than a formality because she didn't even pause for a response, just stepped inside.
Doris glanced up from the papers on her desk and arched an eyebrow at Olivia. "Dropping in unannounced. You and Natalia really do have so much in common."
Olivia rolled her eyes. "You know you're happy to see me, Doris."
Doris snorted in response, although secretly she was. She had an image to maintain, however, even if she and Olivia both understood it was just that - an image.
"So why was your girlfriend out looking for you? After the way you were talking the other day I was sure I wouldn't be seeing the two of you for several days after the Fourth."
Olivia's lips pursed. "Things didn't exactly go as planned."
Doris' eyes narrowed. "How not exactly?"
Doris shot up in her chair. "She did what?" She had many opinions on Natalia Rivera, but that was one thing she had never even contemplated the woman doing.
"There were extenuating circumstances," Olivia continued.
"Like, what? Cold feet," Doris scoffed.
"Like, she's pregnant." Olivia said, her voice almost devoid of tone.
"Damn," Doris said succinctly.
Olivia just nodded. "Tell me about it."
"But she came back?" Doris asked. "She was looking for you."
"She came back," Olivia said with a slow nod.
"She wants to be with you? Not the father. Frank?"
"Frank," Olivia confirmed and then hesitantly she smiled. "Yeah. Yes. That's what she says."
Doris fiddled with her pen for a moment, staring intently at Olivia, searching for something in her face. "Do you believe her?"
"What kind of a question is that?" Olivia demanded.
"A valid one," Doris said. "If she left once, she could do it again."
"She won't," Olivia countered.
"And you're sure enough about that to risk everything?"
"You know, I didn't come here for this. Why are you trying to make me doubt her?"
"That's not what I'm trying to do. I just want to make sure that you've thought about what you're doing before it's too late."
"This from the woman who pushed me to tell Natalia how I felt about her at her own wedding!"
"That was different," Doris said. "And you know it. That was taking the coward's way out. This is...not putting your heart out there when you know for sure it's going to get stomped."
Olivia's lips twisted into a wry smile. "It's too late for that. I'm already all-in."
"What about the baby?" Doris asked, more gently this time. "Have you thought about that?"
"Of course, I've thought about it, Doris. It's practically the only thing I've been thinking about since Natalia told me."
"So what are you thinking?"
Olivia swallowed and looked down, studying her hands. Finally her gaze flicked back up to Doris. "I would do anything to be with Natalia. You know that."
Doris' eyes narrowed again. "I do. Is that all it is? You'll put up with Frank's baby to be with Natalia?"
"I...No. It's not like that." She tilted her head, looking down to conceal the emotion welling up in her eyes. "She said she wants me to be the baby's other mom."
"That's quite a commitment. Is that something you're willing to do?"
"It's not like the thought of Natalia having more kids hasn't crossed my mind. When she and Frank were getting married...but since then... There was just so many other things we had to deal with first. But I realized that I love the thought of that. I want to share that with her."
"So what's the problem?" Doris asked with surprising gentleness.
"The problem is that Frank is going to hate the idea of having me in his baby's life and he's going to make Natalia's life hell because of it. It's exactly what I didn't want for her, Doris. Being with me is going to hurt her - and worse - hurt her baby."
"Olivia, you can't let your fear control you," Doris said softly. "Natalia is better for having you in her life - even I can see that. And her baby will be too."
"How, Doris? You tell me that."
"So you're just going to give up? Because of Frank Cooper. You could eat him alive, Olivia. He doesn't stand a chance."
"Except for the fact that, I can't," Olivia snapped back. "My hands are tied. I have to play fair with Frank, try to be the better person and he can do whatever he wants because he's-" Olivia bit the sentence off, her nails digging into the palms of her hand as they clenched into fists.
"He's the father of her child?" Doris finished for her.
Olivia nodded. "Yeah, that."
"And I'm telling you that it doesn't matter."
"Of course it does," Olivia shot back. "It matters with everything."
"The only thing that matters is how much you love that child," Doris countered. "And don't try to say that you don't, because I know you. You already do - so much - because it's who you are. You love your kids and you want to protect them from anything that might hurt them. You're mad because Frank's probably not going to handle this maturely and you can't do anything about it. But stepping back is not the answer."
"Then what is? Huh, Doris?"
"Being there for Natalia, whenever and however she needs you, and letting her be there for you," Doris said simply.
Her answer rocked Olivia back into her chair. "It's not that easy."
"I didn't say it would be easy. Just that it's what you should do, if you love Natalia the way you say you do."
Olivia glared. Doris knew better than almost anyone the way she felt about Natalia. Slowly she relaxed, her indignation slipping away. If anyone understood, it would be Doris. Telling each other the things that were hard to hear was what they did best.
"How did you get so smart, Wolfe?"
Doris smiled tightly. "I just think of the choices that I made, and then suggest the opposite."
"It's not too late, Doris. You can still tell Ashley."
"I know," Doris admitted. "But there are other things. Things that it is too late for."
But Doris held up a hand, cutting off whatever Olivia had been about to say. "It doesn't matter. I knew what I wanted and I did what I had to, to get it. Just...make sure you know what you want before you make any decisions."
Olivia smiled and if it was a little bittersweet, Doris pretended not to notice. "That's easy. Natalia is what I want."
Then Doris smiled too, because they both knew it wasn't easy at all.
The park was quiet at this time of day, too early for moms to be out with their young children or the lunch crowd. It felt strange to Natalia to be meeting Frank here. The gazebo was her spot with Olivia, but when she had requested to meet him somewhere quiet, where they could talk - not Company - this had been his suggestion.
All it made her do was think back to the moments they had shared here - an almost too-warm summer's day spent planting flowers with Olivia and Emma torn between worry for Rafe and wanting to forget about everything else in the world except for Olivia, and a winter's day that it had been its diametrical opposite - everything covered with snow for as far as the eye could see as she confessed her feelings to Olivia for the first time.
Of course, Frank had been there that day too, but that part of the memory was one that she regretted instead of cherished. As if summoned by her thoughts, Frank came into view, walking down the path toward the gazebo. There was a bounce in his step and he almost looked like he was whistling as he walked. He was in a good mood; it let Natalia relax a little, knowing that he was happy. It would be easier to tell him about the baby in the absence of the uncomfortable tension that had been between them since he had found out about she and Olivia.
"Hey, Natalia," Frank said, swinging up the gazebo steps with the gate of a much younger man.
"Hi, Frank," Natalia replied, nervous but smiling. Sometimes she missed the rings that had adorned her finger simply because it had given her fingers something to occupy them. Now her fidgeting was more obvious. "Thank you for coming. I know it was short notice."
"No problem," he said, as he reached her, giving her a hug that lingered longer than she had expected and a kiss on the cheek in greeting.
A frisson of nervousness worked its way up her spine.
"I'm always available whenever you need me, Natalia. You know that."
"Thank you, Frank," Natalia said, feeling more uncomfortable yet. She looked around the gazebo. "Why don't we have a seat?" With Olivia, the decision of how to tell her had been taken away from her, fate intervening to illustrate it for her plain as day. Here, now, she still had to find some way to tell Frank.
"Is everything okay?" Frank asked, showing concern as he sat down next to her, turning toward her. "Blake said you were out of town over the holiday."
The revelation that Blake had said something to Frank about her was jarring and unexpected. She wondered what else Blake had said, surely nothing too revealing or Frank would have said something already.
"I needed to clear my head," Natalia said, with a thin smile. "But when I got there, I realized that the answers that I was looking for were all back here waiting on me."
"That's good, right?" Frank asked, with a chuckle.
Natalia nodded. "It is." She took a deep breath. "Frank, I'm not sure how to say this, so I'm just going to say it. Things have been such a mess since..." She shook her head. "I'm not sure how long, but for months now. Since the wedding, at least. I've been so focused on Olivia - and Rafe getting out of prison - and everything else, that I missed the thing that's been staring me in the face. What I'm trying to say, Frank, is that I'm sorry. I should have realized sooner..."
"Realized what?" Frank prompted her breathlessly.
"That I," Natalia paused and corrected herself, "That we..."
"You can tell me anything," Frank said, earnestly reaching out to cover her hand with his. "I hope you know that, Natalia."
"Thank you, Frank." Natalia said, wondering if there was a polite way she could reclaim her hand. She was normally a person who didn't mind casual, friendly physical contact with others but things with Frank were different. They shared more than a casual history.
"You know," Frank said. "I think I might have some idea what you want to talk about."
"You do?" For the first time, Natalia was really surprised. But he couldn't, not really. It didn't make any sense at all. Unless he had just been trying to wait and let her tell him herself.
"I do," Frank replied. "I know that you had to get out of town this weekend and that you left without telling Olivia."
"How do you-" Natalia started to ask. She couldn't imagine Olivia voluntarily sharing that information with Frank.
"She was worried about you; she tried to file a missing persons report. It was too soon, but I told her we would keep an eye out for you."
"Oh, God," Natalia murmured. Olivia hadn't mentioned that. She couldn't imagine how worried and crushed Olivia must have been to be willing to do that. "I can't believe.... I didn't know."
"It's okay," Frank reassured her. "I understand why you had to do that."
"Do what?" Natalia asked, something like the beginning of comprehension starting to take hold.
"Leave without telling Olivia. I understand, Natalia. I really do," Frank hurried on. "You made a mistake and that's okay. I'm just glad you felt comfortable enough to come here today and talk about it."
"A mistake?" Natalia looked a little stunned. She wasn't certain whether to be horrified at the misunderstanding or angry at his assumptions. "The only mistake I made, Frank, was leaving in the first place."
"Right," he said with a nod. "You could have come to me first. You didn't have to go anywhere. I've been here, waiting."
"No, Frank, you don't understand." Natalia closed her eyes, praying for strength. "I'm so sorry. This isn't... Nothing I've done with Olivia has been a mistake - nothing. I'm in love with her."
Frank looked stunned. "But Blake this morning in Company, she congratulated me - us. Why would she do that if you weren't interested in getting back together? And why would you leave without telling Olivia if you weren't upset with her?"
"Because I made a mistake. I was scared and I thought she would hate me for it, but she doesn't. She loves me anyway and I love her." Natalia rose to her feet pulling her hand back from Frank, one arm wrapped around her waist and the other coming up to rest at the base of her throat. "Frank, just before the barbecue I found out that I'm pregnant."
It was several long moments before Frank spoke again. "You're what?" he asked as if he hadn't heard her correctly.
"I'm pregnant." Despite the awkwardness of the moment and her own nerves, Natalia tried to smile. "We're going to have a baby."
Frank looked stunned. Natalia could imagine the dramatic shift taking place inside of him. His cheeks reddened as he stood. "So I guess I'm the idiot again, huh?"
"Frank," Natalia pleaded. She wished fleetingly that they could just forget that this conversation had even taken place. She had hoped that he was getting over what she had done. That he was over her, and was moving on.
"No, I get it, Natalia. I jumped to conclusions because I wanted..." His tight smile twisted into a grimace. "I thought...but I was wrong." He rubbed a hand over his face. "You know, after Coop died, when we," he tumbled his hands in a vague gesture. "It was about more than just Coop for me. I hoped it meant something more permanent for us. You know that. I guess it did - just not what I was expecting."
"I'm sorry that things didn't work out the way that you hoped. There was a time when I thought that was what I wanted. I didn't plan any of this, but I think this baby will be a blessing, Frank. I can't see it as anything but that."
Frank nodded, but he seemed distant, still reeling and consumed by his own thoughts. "So, what does this mean?"
Natalia wasn't quite sure what he was asking, but did her best to answer it anyway. "It means that in a few months we're going to have a beautiful baby boy or girl."
"What about Olivia?"
"She knows and she supports me."
"You told her first?" Frank sounded hurt and Natalia flinched away from it.
"She's the woman I love, Frank," Natalia said tightly. "I wasn't going to keep it from her."
"But you could keep it from me? Just like you did with Gus."
Natalia paled. The situations weren't remotely similar and she could hardly believe that he had gone there. She was almost shaking, not with fear but nerves and disbelief. "It's...That has nothing to do with this. I told you as soon as I could."
"That's not good enough, Natalia. I'm this baby's father and-"
"You are," Natalia agreed. "But Olivia is going to be a huge part of this baby's life too, and she deserved to know."
Frank folded his arms over his chest. "I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that."
Natalia felt at a loss for words, frustration welling up inside her chest. The first time she had done this, it had been without the father of her child. She had wanted this time to be different. She had wanted them to be a happy family and for her child to have a mother and father - who if they didn't love each other as a couple - at least liked and respected each other.
"With what, Frank?" Natalia asked, trying to remain calm. Maybe she had jumped to conclusions.
"Olivia. I don't know that I want her being apart of my child's life like that."
"Frank, I don't want to fight about this," Natalia cajoled. This wasn't a good start. She had hoped it would be a happy occasion for both of them.
"It's how I feel."
Natalia struggled to find a polite reply for that. Frank was driving her to levels of anger and frustration that in the past only Olivia had been able to achieve. Funny that this should be about her too, but not amusing at all.
"Frank," Natalia said, choosing her words as carefully as she could. "I understand that you feel that way, but I love Olivia. She's going to be moving back into the farmhouse soon. Just because we're having a child together doesn't mean that you can dictate my life."
Frank snorted. "So I'm just the sperm donor for you and your girlfriend?"
"Of course not. You're this baby's father and I want you to be a big part of his or her life." She put her hand over her abdomen in an instinctive gesture. "Rafe didn't have that and I want this baby to. But not at the expense of losing Olivia. I want this baby to have family surrounding it from the day that's born - all of its family."
"I'm not sure that I can do that," Frank admitted, but something in him eased, Natalia could tell. "Why her, Natalia? Why not anyone else?"
She shrugged weakly. "It's not something I did deliberately. I tried so hard not to be in love with her," Natalia told him. "In the end, I just couldn't deny it. It had nothing to do with you, Frank. You're a good man and I would have been lucky to have married you."
"Are you sure? We could still have that, you know? Give this baby a life with both his Mom and Dad. It would be good, if you let it. I would be the best husband."
"I'm sorry, Frank," Natalia said as gently as she could. "But I can't. Not like this. We would both be miserable and you would resent me for it. It would be no way to raise a child."
He nodded reluctantly. "I had to ask."
He swallowed and gestured behind him. "I'm going to go. I need to think. Call me if you need anything."
Natalia nodded. There was no need to point out that if something came up Olivia would already likely be there with her.
"I want our baby to have the best life, to be so happy. It's just hard, knowing what could have been."
She wanted to say something to make it easier for him. She wanted to say that she wished it could have been different but the truth was that she didn't. The only thing she could have wished away was having sex with him in the first place and that was too cruel to say.
"I'm sorry," Natalia couldn't help but apologize one more time. "I never meant to hurt you, Frank. I hope you find someone who makes you happy."
He shrugged. "No one ever means to, but it always seems to happen that way." He left without waiting for her to respond.
Natalia was almost glad because she didn't know what else to say. She sighed. "That could have gone better, baby," she murmured, rubbing her belly protectively. Then she straightened. "But it's going to be okay. Your Mommy and I love you so much and your Daddy is going to come around, I promise."
This time Natalia used her passkey to let herself into Olivia's suite. This time Olivia had known where she was and that she was coming back. It made all the difference.
When she entered, Olivia was sitting on the couch, legs crossed and computer on her lap. One hand was tangled in her hair, pushing it back away from her face. She looked up immediately when Natalia came in, a smile lightning up her face.
"Hey." Natalia heard more than just a greeting in the single syllable. It was a combination of I'm-so-glad-to-see-you and Are-you-okay? How-did-it-go?
Natalia dropped her purse on the coffee table, slipped out of her shoes and sank down next to Olivia, winding her arm through Olivia's and dropping her head to rest on Olivia's shoulder. Olivia brought her free hand up to touch Natalia and turned her head to kiss her temple, the only part of Natalia she could reach still constrained as she was by the computer on her lap and Natalia against her side.
For a moment, Natalia let herself go and savored simply being near Olivia. Leaving her this morning had been hard. Everything in her had wanted to stay and talking to Rafe and Frank hadn't exactly been a picnic. She was so glad to be back - here - with Olivia. She didn't want to think about anything else. The kiss at her temple reminded her that she was loved, cherished, even after what she had done - the nearly unforgivable. And it reminded her of the incredible softness of Olivia's lips.
Natalia lifted her head from Olivia's shoulder and raised a hand, holding Olivia in place before she could look away again. Their eyes met, locked, lost in the moment. Natalia brushed her thumb across Olivia's cheek. Then she leaned forward, closing the scant inches between them and kissed her. Feeling Olivia's lips against hers was a heady sensation. She hoped it always would be. Natalia didn't want it to end. She wanted it to go on forever, the tender sweetness in the way Olivia's lips moved, the way her hand came up to cup Natalia's jaw, the way she made Natalia feel loved and wanted like no one else ever had.
"Hi," Natalia whispered, giving in reluctantly as they eased apart. "I missed you."
Olivia smiled. "It's only been a few hours since we talked."
Natalia shook her head. "It doesn't matter. Still too long."
"I'm glad you're back."
"Me too," Natalia agreed a little bit too emphatically.
Her tone didn't escape Olivia's notice. She leaned her forehead against Natalia's. "How did it go? With Frank."
Natalia sighed, running her hand up and down Olivia's arm a few times and then took her hand. "There was a misunderstanding."
"What kind of misunderstanding?" Olivia asked, drawing back to look at Natalia.
"Frank thought that I had changed my mind." She squeezed Olivia's hand, tightening her grip. "About us." As she had expected, Olivia tried to pull away, but she refused to let go.
"He thought you wanted to get back together with him."
"Something like that," Natalia agreed.
"And then you told him about the baby?"
Olivia desperately wanted to get up and pace. Natalia, pressed up against her side, leaning over her and holding her hand tightly, prevented it. She had no doubt that it was deliberate.
"Let me guess: he wasn't happy about it."
"Actually," Natalia said, the thought occurring to her only as she thought back on it. "He really didn't say how he felt about it."
"Natalia," Olivia began, choosing her words carefully as she shifted on the couch so that she was angled toward Natalia. Olivia lifted their joined hands and cradled it with her other one, bringing it to her lips to place a kiss on the back of it. "You need to think about something: Frank is never going to be happy about having me in this baby's life. I've done too much to him for him to forgive me."
"What are you talking about? You haven't done anything to Frank."
Olivia pressed a finger over Natalia's lips to silence her. It was distracting.
"I chose Buzz over him. I was cruel, Natalia. I've taken advantage of the fact that he's a good guy more than once. I took you away from him."
"You didn't take anything from him," Natalia retorted, no longer willing to be silenced. "I left him, Olivia. It was my choice, not yours. You're the one who brought me to the church, who helped to make that wedding possible. And it was your choice to be with Buzz, just like it was my choice to be with you. Just because someone has feelings for you, doesn't mean that you're forced to have feelings for them back."
"You and this baby would be better off without me in your life," Olivia pressed on stubbornly. "It would be so much easier with Frank. You wouldn't have to worry about what he might say or do. He'll make your life miserable."
"He can try," Natalia agreed. "But he can't, not if we don't let him." She tugged her hand away from Olivia's and took Olivia's face between both hands. "I'm miserable without you, Olivia Spencer, and I'm not going to let you go just because you're worried about what might happen. I let you bring me back to Frank once before because I was scared of what my heart was telling me. I won't do it again."
"I just don't want you to regret anything," Olivia admitted in a hoarse whisper.
"The only thing I could regret is letting you walk away. I'm not worried about Frank. He's a good man at heart. We both know that. He's hurt right now, but when he gets over that - when he meets his baby - he'll come around. And if he doesn't, then we'll deal with it together. But I need you."
"Okay." Doris had said much the same, but she had needed to hear it from Natalia before she could truly believe it. "You have me." Olivia tried to smile. "For better or worse."
Tenderly Natalia stroked her cheek and smiled wide enough to show dimples. "For better."
It was a sweet moment, but the way Natalia's gaze flickered down to her lips and she seemed to be unable to look away didn't escape Olivia's notice. Her smile turned almost predatory and she bent her head toward Natalia. Eagerly Natalia leaned forward. Deliberately Olivia angled her head so that she caught just the corner of Natalia's mouth.
Natalia whimpered, surprised by her own surge of disappointment. How quickly had she grown used to Olivia's kisses, grown to crave something she hadn't even known a few days ago. She turned, dragging her lips across Olivia's until it turned into a proper kiss. Olivia responded enthusiastically; Natalia felt consumed. She wanted to be closer. With a gasp, Natalia broke the kiss.
Olivia was breathing hard and stared back at her uncomprehendingly. Natalia stroked her cheek reassuringly and then very deliberately took the laptop out of Olivia's lap and sat it down on the coffee table in front of them. Then she slid across Olivia until she was straddling her thighs. Olivia's hands automatically came up to rest on Natalia's hips.
"What are we doing?"
Natalia smiled. Her hand started out resting on Olivia's shoulder, but began to drift down Olivia's chest. "Making out on the couch?"
"Okay," Olivia agreed, distracted by Natalia's hands on her. "We can do that." She groaned when Natalia's hand covered her breast and squirmed, shifting beneath Natalia. She caught a glimpse of Natalia's satisfied smile before Natalia kissed her, eliminating the need for any more talking.
It was fortunate, Olivia decided, that Natalia had made talking impossible because she was having trouble forming a coherent thought as Natalia's hands glided over her, touching and caressing every inch of exposed skin. Then Natalia's hand dipped underneath her shirt and Olivia arched up into her touch. She tugged Natalia closer. Even after the previous night, it still felt daring to let her hands slip into the back pockets of Natalia's jeans. Her jeans, Olivia remembered with a sudden surge of possessiveness. There was just something about Natalia wearing her clothes that sent a fresh shock of desire through her.
Natalia's kisses shifted, moving away from her lips, across her jaw, down her throat. The brush of her lips everywhere was driving Olivia crazy. There was something niggling at the back of Olivia's mind, something she knew she needed to remember, but with Natalia touching her so freely and willingly, it was hard to even think about it. It seemed important, Olivia remembered vaguely, but distant at the same time. How could anything be more important than this?
Abruptly she remembered, the knowledge flooding her in a flash.
"Emma," she gasped, the single word stopping Natalia cold. She lifted her head, staring at Olivia uncomprehendingly.
"Emma?" she parroted back to Olivia.
Olivia nodded, feeling winded and suddenly bereft. "We have to stop. She's going to be back from camp soon."
"Oh," Natalia murmured, flushing at the thought of the little girl walking in on them in their current state.
There was nothing innocent or presentable about them. Olivia's words had jerked Natalia to a halt in the midst of her ministrations and now Olivia's nipple - just visible over the top of her bra which had been roughly pulled down to expose what was beneath it - was hardening in the chill of the room.
Olivia's gaze followed Natalia's down to her chest.
"You should...do something about that," Natalia said, her voice hoarse and rough.
Amused, Olivia glanced up at her, noting the still hungry look in Natalia's eyes. "You're the one who did it," she pointed out, as reasonably as she could with Natalia looking at her like that.
Natalia's flush spread from her cheeks, down her chest. Olivia wondered whether it was from arousal or embarrassment. She knew which one she would bet on at the moment. She also knew they had to stop, but knowing that Natalia wanted her like that was a wonderful feeling.
"Unless you want me to keep going..." Natalia drew the words out slowly and then lost her train of thought.
"I do," Olivia said regretfully. "But we shouldn't." She pressed her forehead against Natalia's, one gesture of physical contact that hopefully wouldn't get her in trouble. "Will you stay tonight?" She held her breath, hoping Natalia would accept her invitation. Last night had erased some of the hesitance between them, but not all of it. That would only come with time.
"I would love that," Natalia said simply, genuinely, and Olivia almost melted with relief. Their breathing slowed until it seemed to be perfectly in sync. Olivia could feel the tension - briefly defused - growing between them once again.
"I should go," Natalia whispered, her lips close enough to brush against Olivia's as she spoke.
Olivia's hands closed over her arms, holding her in place.
"Just to the other end of the couch," Natalia reassured her. "And you should fix...that." She nodded toward Olivia's chest. "Then we can sit here and...talk...until Emma gets here."
Olivia wanted to protest, but she knew Natalia was right. If they stayed the way they were, there was no way that they could behave themselves until Emma got home.
"Fine," she said with an exaggerated sigh and let go of Natalia.
Reluctantly Natalia slid off her lap and scooted to the other end of the couch, drawing her knees up in front of her. She glanced away as Olivia very deliberately tucked herself back inside her bra and did up the buttons that Natalia had undone in her desire to see and feel more of Olivia.
Natalia knew she needed to change the subject if they were going to keep things from progressing back to what they had been doing. Her attention latched onto the fancy gilt of an invitation sitting on top of a pile of papers on the end of the coffee table closest to her.
"Someone's getting married?" Natalia asked, trying to make conversation.
Olivia seemed lost for a moment and then realized what she was looking at. "Yeah, Bill and Lizzie. They want Em to be their flower girl with Bill's little sister, Maureen."
"So you're going to go then?"
"Mmm," Olivia said, with non-committal agreement. "It's not my idea of fun, but Lizzie is Emma's sister and Bill was important to her. I can't exactly say no."
"It must have been hard - Bill and Lizzie."
Olivia shrugged and looked away. "We were mostly over by the time he got interested in Lizzie."
"Hey," Natalia said, reaching across the distance between them to run her fingers down Olivia's arm. "I didn't mean to bring up bad memories."
Olivia shook her head. "You didn't. Bill and I..." She searched for the right words and sighed. "Bill tried, but I was in a very bad, very frightening place in my life. It was too much for him."
Natalia didn't dare move any closer, but picked up Olivia's hand, holding it in her own. "He just didn't understand you."
"Not like you do?"
"Exactly," Natalia agreed.
"You do understand me better than anyone else ever has," Olivia said, raising Natalia's hand to her lips and pressing a gentle kiss to her knuckles.
Natalia stroked her free hand through Olivia's hair. "What if we went together? To Bill and Lizzie's wedding. Your invitation does have a plus one."
Olivia froze and then slowly tilted her head up to look at Natalia. "You mean the way we were going to go to the barbecue?"
Natalia nodded, nerves causing a lump in her throat that left her barely able to speak. She swallowed. "Except for this time, I will be there - with you and Emma." Then she held her breath, waiting for Olivia's response and wondering if it was too soon to have asked.
"Promise?" Olivia asked, sounding vulnerable and a little scared.
"I promise," Natalia agreed, relief flashing through her. "Tell you what. It's in-" she glanced at the invitation "-five days. I'll stay with you and Em the night before and bring my dress with me so that I can get ready here. You won't have to let me out of your sight all day. How does that sound?"
Olivia smiled. "Perfect." A smile tugged at her lips. "Although I think you're just looking for an excuse into my bed, Ms. Rivera."
Natalia let out a startled laugh, meeting Olivia's teasing smile with raised eyebrows. "I didn't know I needed an excuse."
Olivia couldn't resist. She ran the back of her fingers down Natalia's cheek. "You don't," she said, a wealth of emotion in her voice. "You're welcome here anytime."
"Thank you," Natalia whispered, the seriousness and intimacy of the moment forcing her to lower her voice even though they were alone. She took a quick breath to steady her nerves. "I know you're not ready yet - and I understand - but I want you to know that whenever you are ready, I still want you and Emma to move back into the farmhouse - more than ever."
"Thank you for understanding," Olivia said. "And for not making this any harder on me."
"Whatever you need," Natalia responded. "I want to be there for you."
"You are," Olivia said simply and kissed her, but it was a gentle kiss, almost chaste compared to the earlier ones, all about love instead of desire.
They were still sitting that way when Emma burst in with Jane, talking excitedly about her first day back at Camp.
No matter that Olivia had watched Natalia get dressed in her suite at the Beacon - and helped - it was still a little bit surreal to see Natalia stepping out of her car, holding the door for Emma and herding the little girl out in front of her. Even though they had made it to the field after Dinah's last minute call, Olivia still felt like she was waiting, breathless and on tip-toe, for Natalia to change her mind. It didn't help that Bill and Lizzie's plans had been moved up, without warning.
In one way, Olivia supposed it was better - not as much time to stress over what might happen. But on the other hand, there was less time to prepare. Natalia had always hated rapid change, preferring plans and certainties. Still, she didn't look scared, a little nervous maybe, but her smile was bright as she held her hand out to Olivia.
Olivia smiled back as she stepped around the car and took the proffered hand. Natalia twined their fingers together and gave her a little squeeze meant to reassure.
"We're here," Natalia said almost too brightly. It could have been a statement of relief. Getting the three of them there, dressed and ready by the time Dinah had given them over the phone was no small feat, but Olivia knew it was more than that. It was about them as a couple, about standing in front of all of Springfield and declaring themselves just as surely as Bill and Lizzie were going to.
Apparently it was a day for declarations.
"Yes, we are," Olivia agreed, glancing over at Natalia as they strolled across the grass. "And you're okay with that?" she couldn't help but ask.
"I am," Natalia said and Olivia could almost believe her.
Olivia turned away quickly as tears welled in her eyes. She didn't want Natalia to see them. The devastation in her heart when she had finally realized that Natalia wasn't coming to the barbecue was still too fresh. So many things had changed since that day less than a week ago, bad things and wonderful things, but it had all left her feeling a little bit raw and emotional.
"Hey," Natalia said gently, her hand sliding up to Olivia's wrist and tugging her to a stop. "It's okay," she whispered, letting go to cup Olivia's face between her hands and waiting until she could catch her gaze. "I understand."
Olivia sniffed, glancing away. "I should go check on Emma. Make sure Dinah told her what she's doing."
"She's going to be great," Natalia said warmly. "And so are we."
"Don't make me cry," Olivia pleaded, her voice breaking. "It'll ruin my makeup."
A quick grin flitted over Natalia's lips. "Okay," she acceded to Olivia's wishes, knowing that there was only so much her love could take. "But I'll be right here waiting when you're done."
Olivia nodded, squinting into the sun. Natalia knew she was wishing for a pair of sunglasses to hide her eyes behind for more than one reason. Natalia couldn't resist and she couldn't let Olivia walk away like that. Quickly, before Olivia could go, Natalia kissed her. Ordinarily she would have settled for a kiss on the cheek, but she wanted nothing that she did today to be interpreted as merely friendly or platonic. With everything she did, she wanted to prove to Olivia that she was really here and not ashamed of anything about them.
So she kissed Olivia squarely on the lips and pulled back to Olivia's startled expression. Olivia nodded, looking slightly dazed as she walked away. Natalia watched her go for a moment and then started walking again herself, moving toward the groups of people gathered under the trees as Dinah and another woman soldiered things into order.
"Natalia. It's good to see you."
Natalia jumped, startled at the unexpected voice from just behind her. She relaxed almost immediately when she realized it was Phillip. That was another big change, one she couldn't have imagined months ago.
"It's good to be here," Natalia said with a smile. "Congratulations. Bill and Lizzie seem very happy together."
"They seem to be," Phillip agreed. "They deserve it. They've faced their share of difficulties."
Natalia nodded, not quite sure what to say to that. There was something in Phillip's voice that she couldn't quite place, something that reminded her more of the man she had first met waving a gun at a funeral than Emma's genial father.
"So has Olivia," Phillip said into the silence.
Natalia glanced over at him sharply. "I know." He had been one of those difficulties once, the scariest one she had ever seen Olivia deal with.
"I saw her, the day after you left," Phillip said, not looking at her but staring straight ahead. "She was at the church."
"The church?" Natalia couldn't help herself - she had to ask.
"She was looking for you. She couldn't find you anywhere and she was so scared. She didn't know what she had done wrong. She was afraid you were hurt or scared. All she wanted to do was find you so she could fix it. She called me to come get her, because she was too upset to drive herself home."
Natalia swallowed roughly. Her mouth was dry and she felt stricken by dread and regret at the knowledge of what she had done to Olivia.
"She didn't do anything wrong," Natalia whispered. "I know I hurt her, Phillip, but it won't ever happen again. I'm making it right."
Phillip nodded, his hands tucked into his pockets, looking supremely non-threatening.
"I've hurt her, Natalia. I don't make any excuses for that. But I don't ever want to see her hurt like that again. She's been hurt too many times in her life by people who claim to love her."
Natalia felt her chin tremble at the implicit accusation. She had wanted to be the one who was there for Olivia, who protected her and stood by her, instead of hurting her.
"I do love her."
"I just want her to be happy. She deserves that."
"And I'll make sure she is."
For the first time, Phillip turned toward her. "Today I'm watching my little girl get married. I don't want Emma to have to go through all the things that Lizzie did. I want her to be happy, to have a good childhood. You told me once what was necessary for that to happen. Now you need to know this. Olivia and Emma both need you in their lives, but if you run away from her again, Olivia will never let herself trust you again. Not really." His lips twisted into a bitter, knowing smile. "I should know."
He walked away without another word and left Natalia with a chill that wouldn't go away even under the warmth of a brilliant sun.
Natalia found Olivia standing alone on the edge of the woods. Olivia didn't hear her approach. Natalia touched the back of her elbow lightly, the barest brush of skin against skin. Olivia turned, startled, and Natalia tried to smile for her. The last thing she wanted to do today was worry Olivia more. She wanted - needed, desperately - to make things right with Olivia, to undo as much of the damage as possible.
A welcoming smile lit up Olivia's face. "Hey you," she said, her voice almost a purr.
The knot of guilt that had been tightening in Natalia's chest relaxed at Olivia's words and the obvious happiness in her voice. She wouldn't forget how much she had hurt Olivia, but she would learn how to move on, to put it in the past so that it didn't keep hurting them both. All she wanted was to make Olivia happy, to let them be happy together.
"Hey." Natalia hesitated, then slipped her arm around Olivia's waist. The ever-present urge to touch Olivia hadn't gone away now that she had finally given in to it. If anything it had intensified and left her torn, jonesing like an addict for her next fix but full of fresh uncertainties resurrected by Phillip's reminder. There was no doubt in her mind about what she felt for Olivia, but it was impossible not to wonder how Olivia could ever have forgiven her for the way Natalia had so callously abandoned she and Emma.
She didn't have long to dwell on it, however, as Olivia's arms encircled her and Olivia rested her chin lightly on Natalia's shoulder. There was something about the way Olivia was holding her, Natalia realized. It was just a little bit tentative, and that wasn't like Olivia at all. She stiffened in Olivia's embrace, about to pull away to turn and look at her. Olivia's arms tightened around her. It was just for an instant but long enough that Natalia froze, knowing that Olivia didn't want her to go. Worry made her heart begin to pump harder, but Natalia stayed where she was, waiting as patiently as she could for Olivia.
"Are you okay?"
Natalia frowned. "I was just about to ask you the same thing." She didn't try to step away from Olivia's embrace this time, just leaned back enough that she could see Olivia's face.
Olivia nodded hurriedly, then shrugged. It was an equivocal answer that tried to brush off the fear that hid beneath it. It would have been a poor disguise, even if Natalia hadn't known her so well.
"Tell me," Natalia said in a gentle tone that nonetheless brooked no disagreement.
Olivia rolled her eyes. Natalia didn't back down, her eyes boring calmly, gently into Olivia and refusing to let her slip away. Olivia huffed softly and glanced down.
"You were upset," she said flatly. "When you walked over here. Something happened."
Olivia was scared, Natalia realized. Scared that she wouldn't be able to handle whatever had happened, other people's disapproval. Lying to Olivia wasn't an option, but telling her what Phillip had said wasn't something she wanted to do either.
"Phillip came up after you left."
Olivia stiffened. "If he said anything about us..."
"Relax," Natalia said, putting a hand on Olivia's shoulder. "He didn't. He just wanted to speak to me for a minute. He cares about you and he wanted to make sure I was treating you right." She smiled again, but her lips quivered. She was all too aware of how little she had lived up to that recently.
"He had no right to-"
"Olivia," Natalia cut her off. "It's okay. He didn't say anything that wasn't true."
"What did he say?" Olivia demanded, suddenly realizing what he could have told Natalia. He had witnessed the worst of her breakdown outside the church and been the one to pick her up when she couldn't do it herself. If it had been anyone but Phillip it would have been humiliating, but they had already seen each other at their worst. Still, it stung. Olivia wouldn't pretend differently, and the thought of him telling Natalia what he had witnessed.... well, she hated it.
Natalia swallowed, glancing down. "Just that you were looking for me while I was gone," she said it so quietly that Olivia could hardly hear her.
Olivia touched her chin gently, tilting Natalia's chin up until she was facing her again. "I would always go looking for you." She hesitated a beat. "Just please don't make me do it again."
Natalia shook her head, attempting to breathe past the lump in her throat. "Never. I know what I want now and I'm not going anywhere."
Olivia smiled, needing to break the intensity of the moment. "Not even if I wanted to show you the world?"
An answering smile tugged at Natalia's lips. "I guess I could make an exception for that." She squeezed Olivia's hand. "As long as you're with me."
"Not letting you out of my sight," Olivia promised, pulling Natalia closer to her. They lingered that way for several moments, happy to just be together after the trying events of the past week.
"Blake's waving at us," Natalia noted wryly, not making any move to pull herself from Olivia's embrace. She was more than content to remain where she was for the moment.
"She's just hoping that you'll save her."
"Save her?" Natalia asked, twisting her head up to look at Olivia.
"Let's just say I wasn't too happy when she came to tell me that you wouldn't be coming to the barbecue."
"Don't," Olivia said, brushing her thumb over Natalia's lips. "I didn't mean it like that."
"It doesn't matter, because you're here with me now, right?"
"Right," Natalia agreed, pushing back the twinge of guilt to give Olivia the assured and certain response that she needed to hear. For all of Olivia's bravado, Natalia hadn't missed the lingering hint of insecurity in Olivia's question. Natalia knew it would take time to disappear, but she would be there until it did.
"Blake's still waving," Olivia noted with a sigh. "Should we go see what she wants?"
Natalia nodded, considering. "It might be something about work," she said, reluctance coloring her words. She doubted it, but it was an out if Olivia wanted it. "I can just go..." she made a gesture with her hands.
"No," Olivia said, a little bit too quickly. "I'll go with you. I'm sure she just wants to catch up on the latest gossip."
Or see us together. Natalia was aware of the possibility. Part of her disliked it certainly; she wasn't fond of being the center of attention. She never had been. But being with Olivia, it was almost impossible not to be at the focal point in the room, the couple that all eyes found. Not because they were two women together, but simply because Olivia was who she was. She fascinated everyone, drawing their attention indiscriminately, whether they knew her, hated her or had never met her. They couldn't stop watching. Natalia couldn't say she didn't mind it, just a little, but it had nothing to do with being ashamed of them and she was determined to give Olivia no other reason to doubt her.
"The wedding starts soon," Natalia offered it as a consolation.
Natalia wouldn't tell her in a million years, but Olivia's familiar sarcasm was almost reassuring. She squeezed Olivia's hand and together they began to pick their way over the slightly uneven ground toward Blake and the group of people standing with her. Olivia still managed to cross the distance more smoothly than Natalia, even in her ridiculously high heels.
They had already crossed half the distance when Olivia realized that Frank was a part of the small knot of people standing with Blake. She tensed, her grip tightening on Natalia's hand. Natalia looked up and saw him a second later.
"We don't have to-" Olivia started, but Natalia cut her off.
"He's going to have to get used to seeing us together sometime," Natalia said. "He's this baby's father and I am with you. You're going to be a very big part of this baby's life. He's going to see a lot of us together. It might as well start now. Besides," she leaned in to Olivia's shoulder. "I'm not letting you go just because it might make Frank a little unhappy."
Olivia swallowed. "Well look at you, not trying to make everyone happy. I think I've been a bad influence."
Natalia flushed. "You are not a bad influence," she said firmly. "But I won't apologize for what makes me happy anymore."
"Me?" Olivia said with a coy little smile.
"You," Natalia confirmed. She tugged on Olivia's hand, stopping her in the middle of the field and raised her hand to cup Olivia's cheek, stroking the back of her fingers down downy, smooth skin. Natalia leaned in and pressed a sweet, tender kiss to Olivia's lips and then drew back until she was looking Olivia in the eye. "You."
Olivia's arm was wrapped firmly, possessively around her waist. Natalia liked the solid reassurance of it and loved the way Olivia was holding her close into her side. She hadn't missed the way Rick's eyebrows had shot up when he saw them sauntering across the field toward them arm in arm. It probably had more to do with the kiss Natalia had planted firmly on Olivia's lips just before that, but none of it really mattered. Not even the unhappiness at seeing them together that Frank wasn't making any effort to hide.
"Well, look at you two!" Blake said, her broad smile acting as a counter-balance to Frank's dour presence. "I'm so glad Dinah was able to get a hold of everyone. It's a beautiful day, a perfect day to celebrate two people in love, coming together to commit the rest of their lives to one another."
"Weddings," Michelle sighed dreamily, pulled into Blake's blissful romanticism and managing to tear her gaze away from Olivia and Natalia. She had seemed startled to see them together, her gaze flicking from Olivia's arm around Natalia's waist and back over to Olivia as if not quite certain she could believe what her eyes were telling her. Olivia had met her gaze with a steady look that had brought an embarrassed flush to her cheeks and made her look away again just as quickly. "I just miss him," Michelle continued quickly. "I wish Danny was here with me instead of stuck at home with two sick kids. I think I could marry him again."
"Oh, come on," Rick cut in. "You've already married him twenty-seven times or something."
"You can never have too many weddings," Blake cut in, taking Michelle's side. "It's so romantic," she cooed. "I might just have to borrow this for one of my novels."
Frank sighed loudly - pointedly - into the silence and stared out into the distance.
Olivia tensed. Natalia felt it but she was certain that no one else had noticed. Her grip on Olivia tightened, wanting to remind Olivia that she was there and she wasn't going anywhere, no matter how much Frank sighed.
Blake's lips pressed into a thin line and she looked momentarily torn, wanting to say something conciliatory and supportive to Frank but aware of Olivia and Natalia standing there too.
"I know it's hard, Frank," Blake said, reaching out and touching his shoulder. "Sometimes things don't work out. You just have to give it time and you'll find someone who's right for you." She couldn't resist a glance back at Olivia and Natalia, her smile growing a little brighter as it did. "Because sometimes it does work and you find something so special, you can't imagine your life without it." Her gaze grew a little sad and distant. "It was like that with Ross."
Natalia gave Blake a grateful smile. She knew Olivia still had hard feelings toward Blake as the bearer of bad tidings, but Natalia would be forever grateful to the woman for her immediate acceptance of them. She could so easily have reacted disapprovingly or sided with Frank, bestowing on him all the sympathy he certainly seemed to feel he deserved as the wronged party.
She had hated hurting Frank and she should have stopped the wedding sooner. That had been wrong, not just because of Frank, but because of Olivia and herself. But marrying a man she didn't love wouldn't have solved anything, wouldn't have done anything but made them all miserable. She was glad she hadn't consigned them all to that fate. Natalia just hoped that one day Frank would understand that too; she just didn't expect that day to be today.
"You're right, Blakie," Frank said with a smile that was clearly strained. "It's just harder when you lose something that special."
"Frank." This time Blake's voice was more urgent, both chiding and pleading with him to stop this. It wasn't the time or the place.
But Frank was in no mood to be accommodating. "Don't 'Frank' me, Blake. I'm supposed to stand there and watch the two of them act all happy and couple-y, when she's pregnant with my child."
Michelle gave a little gasp and Rick's eyebrows shot up, but Blake didn't look taken aback at all.
"It was supposed to be us," Frank said, turning to direct his words at Natalia. "We were supposed to be the ones attending this wedding together, getting ready to announce the birth of our first little baby. We could have been so happy if she hadn't interfered."
"She didn't-" Natalia denied quickly, but Frank wasn't paying attention, caught up in his own pain and righteous indignation.
"You don't deserve her," Frank sneered, his focus shifting from Natalia to Olivia. "For God's sake, Olivia, how many of your conquests are at this wedding? You were married to the groom, the groom's uncle and the bride's father and grandfather - not to mention what you did to me and Pop."
"You're right, Frankie," Olivia agreed with a nod, her features inscrutable. "I don't deserve her."
"No," Natalia said, cutting in more forcefully and stepping forward into his space. "You're wrong, Frank." She glanced over at Olivia. "And so are you," she said with a gentler tone. Her hands were shaking, but it was from the intensity of what she was feeling, not fear. "I'm the one who doesn't deserve her, Frank. I'm the one who betrayed her, who left her and came back pregnant with someone else's child. And she took me back into her life, like I had never been gone. No," Natalia corrected herself, "More than that. Better than before. She loves me more than anything else, Frank. She sees me. You never did. You saw who you wanted me to be - this perfect wife and mother that you could adore. But I'm not that person. I have flaws. I ruined a marriage." She stopped abruptly jarred by what she had said, but no less determined. "I did that, Frank, to Gus and Harley. But not us. Olivia didn't make me love her. I already did. Long before I agreed to marry you and that was my fault - not hers. Blame me if you want, but you don't get to blame Olivia - not for this."
"You don't know what she's really like, Natalia. She manipulates people; she uses them, hurts them and throws them away. I don't want that to happen to you."
"You don't know her at all," Natalia countered, her voice shaking. "You don't know anything about Olivia."
"Oh, wake up, Natalia," Frank said, sounding disgusted. "She tried to steal your husband. It's who she is. She doesn't change. She just takes and takes until there's nothing left."
"Takes what, Frank? I have nothing she could want! A teenage son who hates her? A farm? A new baby on the way? I'm a real prize."
"Natalia-" Olivia cut in, unable to stay quiet any longer. "That's not-"
"I know," Natalia said, laying her hand on Olivia's arm reassuringly. "I know that you love the farmhouse, even though it's not a mansion. And my son too, despite the fact that he's been nothing but horrible to you. You'd do anything for him just like Emma and Ava - you already have." Natalia's smile gentled. "And you think this baby is a blessing not a curse. That's why I love you."
Frank shook his head. "You'll find out who she really is one day."
"I already know," Natalia said simply. "All of it, the good and the bad. I just hope one day you can see what I see, Frank."
"I hope you're right," Frank said, but it was clear that he didn't believe it. "For your sake. But I don't think you are. One day she's going to hurt you and you're going to realize I'm right." He took a step closer to Olivia, looming over her. It was a move meant to be intimidating, but Olivia didn't look phased, staring at him just as she had been, her arms crossed over her chest. "But if one of your little schemes ever hurts one hair on my child's head..."
Pain flickered over Olivia's face and was buried in an instant. "I know you don't believe me, Frank, but I would never hurt a child, especially not Natalia's child."
His eyes narrowed and he leaned closer until his face was by her ear. He whispered just one word. "Ava."
"So don't tell me what you wouldn't do, Olivia. I know your dirty little secrets."
"No, I don't want to hear it. Just...don't do what you do best. Don't mess this up, Olivia, because I will bury you if something happens to my child because of you." He spun on his heel and walked away, every line of his body taut and stiff with anger.
Olivia sniffed, turning away from the group still standing there, turning away from even Natalia. She couldn't face the comfort Natalia would want to offer, not right now. She strode past Blake and Rick and Michelle, who all looked a little stunned and refused to meet her eyes as she went by.
"Olivia, wait," Natalia called after her.
Her step slowed, but she didn't stop. She couldn't stop, not with this fear and rage choking her. What could she say to Frank? He had been there. He knew well enough what had gone on with Ava and she couldn't deny that she had once hired a hitman to kill her daughter. But she also couldn't forget the terror and utter desolation she'd felt when she had realized that Ava was the little baby she had given up and that she was responsible for her death. Even now it was like a stabbing pain in her heart. Olivia faltered, gasping, and reached out to a tree to steady herself.
"Olivia?" Natalia's cry was breathless and worried. She touched Olivia's back hesitantly and when Olivia didn't jerk away from her touch, let it linger. "Can you talk to me?"
Olivia shook her head. She didn't know what to say. She couldn't bear it now if Natalia realized that Frank was right.
"Okay," Natalia said softly, stepping closer, her hand slipping up over Olivia's shoulder until she was pressed up against Olivia from behind, enfolding her in an embrace. "It's okay. You don't have to say anything." She kissed her neck. "I love you."
Olivia shook in her arms, trembling violently. Rough bark bit into her palm. It was an odd thing to focus on but she needed something, that and the solid strength of Natalia, holding on to her tightly, were all that was keeping her from falling apart completely.
"You know that I would never do anything to hurt this baby, don't you?" Olivia asked, trying to choke back the emotions that were overwhelming her, as she turned to face Natalia, the tips of her fingers reaching out to brush the barely visible swell of Natalia's abdomen.
"Of course I know that!" Natalia exclaimed. She cupped Olivia's face in her hand. "I know you, Olivia Spencer. I know your good and your bad." A smile tugged at Natalia's lips. "I see all of you and I love it. I'm not going anywhere."
"How?" Olivia whispered. "How can you love me? I've done horrible things, Natalia - to you."
Natalia nodded. "We both have, in the name of desperation, of what we thought we couldn't live without. But you've done some amazing things for me too. It's not some great cosmic ledger, where your good deeds have to outweigh the bad."
Olivia arched an eyebrow, even in her current state unable to contain her skepticism at that.
"It's about love," Natalia countered. "And you love me. You prove that every day. So don't doubt yourself, because I don't doubt you."
The hesitance that was plain on Olivia's face was almost enough to break Natalia's heart.
"Frank's wrong. I hurt him and hurt his pride when I chose you. I hate that I wasn't strong enough to stop it before it got that far..." Natalia took a shaky breath. "But I would do it again - right now - to be with you. I wouldn't change a thing. And one day Frank will realize just how wrong he is. He'll see that you're a good mother. Emma is so lucky to have you and so is this baby."
Olivia sagged, her head dropping down to rest on Natalia's shoulder, her arms wrapping tightly around her, finally returning Natalia's embrace. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Well, lucky for you, you're never going to find out."
"I am lucky," Olivia agreed. "Luckier than I ever imagined." She clung to Natalia for a moment longer, refusing to let her go - not that Natalia was trying. Finally, she straightened, swiping at the moisture that had built up under her lashes, careful not to smear her makeup, and said, "We should get back."
Natalia nodded. Surely it was almost time for the ceremony to start. She glanced up and looked straight into her son's eyes.
"Rafe!" Natalia's exclamation came out in a gasp of surprise. She hadn't heard him approach and she had no idea how long he had been standing there. The confrontation with Frank had left her feeling drained, but there was no way she was going to allow him to take his temper out on Olivia, not after the damage Frank had already done.
"Ma." He bit his lip and folded his arms over his chest in a gesture so familiar, it made Natalia's heart ache. She missed her son. Not this angry man, but the kind boy she had raised. "You told Frank she'd done things, you know, for me." He wouldn't meet her eyes, staring down at the ground.
"She has," Natalia agreed.
"Yeah?" He asked, his voice harsh. "Like what?"
Natalia tensed, anger stealing back over her that he would chose this time - now - to take another shot at Olivia. She drew herself up, preparing to let him have it too, when she saw the slight stoop of his shoulders and noticed the way he scuffed at the ground with his shoe. He wasn't angry; he was shaken. His view of the world had suddenly shifted, leaving him reeling and he was looking for something to hold on to, something besides his anger with the world and everyone he thought had hurt him. Natalia could deal with that. She could give him the foundation to build on, starting with the knowledge that he needed about Olivia.
"She got you put in a better prison - one where you wouldn't get hurt."
Rafe was already shaking his head. "No, you did that. With the house."
"Which we wouldn't have had if she hadn't paid down the mortgage. I couldn't afford it, Rafe." Natalia sighed. "Making a deal with the Governor wouldn't even have been a possibility if it hadn't been for Olivia." It was her turn to glance down. "I never even finished paying her what was owed on it. I used the money to fly to Europe - to find you. And when I sold the house, she never asked for what I owed her either."
Natalia's hand clenched, an outward manifestation of her inward flash of anger at her ungrateful son. "No. She didn't turn you in when you came back to Springfield - and she could have. You had been nothing but disrespectful and hateful to her."
"She tried to steal Gus away from you," Rafe said indignantly, as if that justified everything.
Natalia shook her head. "I won't discuss that with you. Olivia and I made our peace about loving him a long time ago. It's time you do the same."
"Ma," he protested, but she stood firm.
"You want to know what she did for you?" Natalia didn't wait for him to respond. "She loved you when you hated her. She brought you your insulin in prison when I had forgotten it. She let her daughter love you, when she could have cut you out of her life like Alan did. She fought for you and for me. Who else has ever done that for us?"
The answer - no one - hung unspoken in the air.
Rafe still couldn't look up, but he nodded once. "I, uh, this thing with you and my Ma," he glanced at Olivia to see if she was listening. Their eyes met briefly and his gaze dropped. "I'm not, I can't...yet. But, you didn't have to do any of that stuff. I don't know why you did, but I guess I should say thank you. So..." He shifted uncomfortably on his feet. "Thank you." He took a step back. "I think Ash was waiting on me. I need to-" he gestured over his shoulder and fled.
"Huh." It was the last thing Olivia had expected from Rafe, today of all days.
"It's a start," Natalia said, leaning into Olivia. "It can only get better from here. He's not stubborn enough to keep holding onto this now that he realized he was wrong. He'll come around."
For the first time Olivia believed her. "I'm so happy for you," Olivia said softly. "I know how much it hurt you that he didn't approve of us."
"I'm happy for us," Natalia corrected her. "We're a family and that's all that matters."
Olivia smiled, letting herself hope tentatively. "I like the sound of that."
In the distance, they heard Dinah calling to everyone to take a seat so the wedding could begin.
"Sounds like it's time," Olivia said, holding her hand out to Natalia.
Together they crossed the field hand in hand, sharing a smile when their gazes met. A thought struck Olivia and she almost stumbled, steadying herself when Natalia's hand tugged on hers, gently restoring her balance. The little gesture, subconsciously done, only made Olivia more certain. The doubts that had been lingering inside her all day, pushed to the forefront by Frank and Rafe, made her heart race at the thought of what she was about to do though.
Olivia risked a glance over at Natalia. "We should do this some day, you know?"
"What's that?" Natalia asked a little distractedly, slowing down as she glanced back at Olivia.
"This," Olivia said, spreading her arms to take in everything around them. "A beautiful day, our family and friends, everyone we care about - and us - telling everyone how we feel about each other." She hesitated, almost holding her breath, waiting to see how Natalia would respond. "Someday. When we're ready."
Natalia's smile was beatific and showed off both her dimples to full effect. "I would like that very much."
"Yeah?" Olivia asked. Giddy with relief, she could finally breathe again.
"I wouldn't do it with anyone else."
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