DISCLAIMER: I don't own Guiding Light and no copyright infringement is intended.
SPOILERS: For the whole series, or at least how it ended basically.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To procrastinatingsith[at]gmail.com
A Day in the Life
It wasn't like Natalia was really expecting a response as she threw on her robe and glanced at the clock. Somehow she had slept through the alarm and now they were all going to be running late. It was Olivia's fault. She was a bad influence - at least on Natalia's sleep schedule. One look at Olivia was all it took to make Natalia's willpower disappear. She was so beautiful, and so warm. All Natalia wanted to do was snuggle in closer to her and go back to sleep.
"Olivia." Natalia's voice was sharper this time, desire warring with the knowledge that there was no time to linger.
Monosyllabic, unintelligible grunts were definitely progress, but if they were going to get the girls to school and daycare on time, fed and with some semblance of grooming, they were going to have to work together. Natalia needed Olivia upright and caffeinated. To do that, Natalia was going to have to play dirty.
Olivia was clutching the comforter tightly to her body - she was a horrible cover thief - but Natalia pried it out of her grip enough to slip beneath it. There was barely enough room between Olivia and her edge of the bed, but Natalia managed to press herself against Olivia's back.
Natalia ran her hand up Olivia's thigh and then slipped it beneath the silky, barely-there fabric of Olivia's nightgown. She skimmed her fingers upwards along the line of Olivia's hip until her hand lay flat against the smooth skin of Olivia's stomach. There was a faint twitch beneath her fingers, then nothing. She tucked a strand of Olivia's hair behind her ear and then Natalia couldn't resist kissing her neck, just below it. It was incredibly tempting, lying there bare and vulnerable, practically calling out for her touch. She couldn't forget her mission, however, and since Olivia still wasn't waking up it was time to raise the stakes.
"Olivia, sweetheart, time to get up." Natalia made sure the warmth of her breath tickled over the shell of Olivia's ear. Olivia squirmed, but didn't wake.
A smile curved over Natalia's lips as she ducked her head. Lips found skin. It was a light kiss, barely fluttering over Olivia's pulse point, and light enough that Olivia still did not stir. Natalia nipped at the spot her lips had just found, and this time Olivia sucked in a sharp breath. Success. But it wasn't enough. Not yet. She had wetted Olivia's appetite, set the bait, but Olivia was still pretending to be asleep. So Natalia let her hand drift further up Olivia's abdomen until it was resting just below Olivia's breast, her thumb brushing across the highly sensitive underside. "Olivia." Her teeth grazed Olivia's earlobe. This time Olivia whimpered. Natalia thought she saw Olivia's eyelids flicker. "Mmm, well, I suppose if you really insist on sleeping, I should go get ready."
A hand closed over Natalia's wrist, holding her in place.
Natalia couldn't help but smile. "Good morning, beautiful."
If Natalia hadn't felt Olivia grab her, she would have assumed the other woman was still sleeping soundly for all the response that she received. Natalia fingered the cross that hung around her neck and wished that she could bury her face in Olivia's neck and forget the demands of the day, losing herself in intoxicating scent and soft skin until both she and Olivia lay boneless and sated. This woman was more tempting than anyone she had ever met.
Faint sounds of Emma moving around down the hall made Natalia sigh. Even if they all played hooky for the day, the girls would still be there. There was no way she and Olivia could spend the day together in bed. Natalia abandoned her wishful thinking and let her hand slide upwards to cup Olivia's breast fully. It was a solid, firm weight in her hand. Natalia gave it a gentle squeeze and brushed her thumb over Olivia's nipple.
Natalia almost laughed as Olivia's eyebrows shot up, though her eyes remained firmly closed. Natalia's thumb slid across Olivia's nipple again, and then once more, as it stiffened and Olivia arched into her touch.
"Natalia," Olivia gasped, her grip on Natalia's wrist tightening. Beneath Natalia, Olivia pushed up with her hips, shifting onto her back so that she was more fully under Natalia. She found Natalia's hip and slid her hand down to the curve of Natalia's ass.
"Good morning," Natalia whispered, stroking Olivia's cheek tenderly and then leaning down to brush her lips against Olivia's. Olivia followed as Natalia drew back, clinging and tasting again and again, unwilling to stop, to let Natalia slip away.
Finally, Natalia raised herself up on her forearms over Olivia, forcing Olivia to sit up, bracing herself with her elbows, or let go. Olivia broke the kiss and sank back down onto her pillow. There was a faint pout on her lips, but her eyes were still closed. "This is the part where you make me get up, right?"
"Oh yeah." Natalia said.
Olivia sighed. "Fine. But I don't have to like it."
"No, you don't," Natalia agreed cheerfully, pushing herself away and slipping out of bed. "But I'll make you coffee."
"You're amazing," Olivia called after her, her eyes remaining open just long enough to take in Natalia's retreating form and then she sighed, sinking further back down into the bed.
Natalia didn't hesitate or look back over her shoulder, knowing that if she did there was a good chance that she would be drawn back to bed. Walking away was just as hard for her as letting her go was for Olivia, but it helped knowing that Olivia would be up and moving shortly, wrapping her robe around herself and trying not to stumble as she bounced and wove between wall and railing as she made her way downstairs and inevitably back into Natalia's arms.
Olivia seemed to think she deserved a reward just for making it down the stairs and Natalia was happy to oblige. After all it was an excellent opportunity to cop another feel and remind her lover of all the fun they'd had that morning and the possibilities that the rest of the day might yet bring.
The knock on Olivia's office door made her jerk her head up at the unexpected interruption. A flash of irritation with her assistant for not warning her about the intrusion died as quickly as it had begun as she saw Natalia at the door - holding Francesca's wriggling, squirming three year old self.
"Hey," Olivia said, her voice full of warmth and surprise as she rose from behind her desk and came around to embrace Natalia. She kissed Natalia in greeting and then held her arms out to Francesca. "It's been awhile since two of my favorite ladies came to visit me on my lunch break."
"I bet you say that to all the girls," Natalia said dryly, dividing her attention between Olivia and the little girl she was still holding in her arms. Francesca had dived for Olivia and was now giving her a hug with all her exuberant toddler enthusiasm.
"Hey, Sweetie. Did you have a fun morning?"
Francesca launched into a fast paced babble about her day. Olivia caught most of it, letting the happy sound wash over her with no need to decipher the rest of it. The sound of her voice said it all and settled something within Olivia that she hadn't realized was tense. It was like a breath of fresh air.
Olivia let out a content little sigh and pulled Natalia closer. "Thank you," Olivia murmured, nuzzling against her. "I didn't realize how much I needed a break."
"That's what I'm here for," Natalia said, turning her head press another brief kiss against Olivia's lips.
Olivia grinned and turned her attention back to Francesca before she could complain at the lack of parental - or any - attention. "Sounds like you had fun, baby," Olivia noted, taking Francesca under the arms and lifting her out of Natalia's grasp.
"Olivia!" Natalia chided. She didn't fight against Olivia taking Francesca from her; she didn't want to put any more strain on Olivia than she was already under. Instead she put her hand under Francesca's bottom, supporting her and taking some of her weight away from Olivia. "You can't do this. Doctor Rick said..."
"I don't care what Rick said. If I want to hold my daughter, I will." The fierce, stubborn look on Olivia's face was one that Natalia was very familiar with.
"Your daughter needs you to be there for her more than she needs you to hold her," Natalia hissed. It was an argument that they had been having with more and more frequency in the past year as Francesca edged past the twenty-five pound weight limit that Rick had suggested for Olivia and inched closer to thirty and thirty-five pounds. Natalia suspected it had as much to do with Emma being about to become a teenager as it did with Francesca. It wasn't something Olivia discussed much - if ever - but Natalia knew she worried about how long her borrowed heart might have left to give her.
Natalia worried about it, too. It was why she wanted to yell so badly, to demand that Olivia stop every time Olivia picked up something she wasn't supposed, drank too much or ate something fried and dripping in grease. She also knew how important actually living life was to Olivia. So she tried her best not to say anything about it most of the time, or at least do her best to present Olivia with the healthiest choices and best options in ways Olivia wouldn't notice. Natalia hadn't been her assistant for nothing.
"Can we not have this argument right now?" Olivia asked over Francesca's head.
"No, we can save it for later," Natalia agreed, flashing Olivia a smile and giving Olivia's bicep a light squeeze to let her know that she wasn't that angry. "Actually we came up here to see if we could drag you away for lunch. I had a feeling you hadn't eaten yet."
Olivia sighed wistfully. "You would be right." Her eyes softened as she looked at Natalia. "I'm glad you came, but I'm not sure if-"
"Twenty minutes." Natalia said, her dimples flashing as she smiled. It was rare that Olivia could resist when she smiled and pleaded.
"We can't even get something from Company that quick," Olivia pointed out. "Especially not with this one," she added, tipping her head down at Francesca. "Someone's a messy eater."
"Trust me?" Natalia requested.
Olivia laughed. "You know I do."
"Good," Natalia said. "Then that's settled." She wrapped free arm around Olivia's waist and guided her out of her office. "Kyra, she'll be back in twenty minutes."
"Yes, Ms. Rivera."
Olivia arched an eyebrow as Natalia hit the "up" call button on the elevator. She leaned over until her lips were almost brushing Natalia's ear. "Dragging me up to a suite to have your way with me for old times' sake?"
Natalia laughed and ran the back of a finger down Olivia's cheek. "I wish our old times had looked like that...but, no. You'll just have to wait and see." She grinned again, her eyes sparkling with mischief and a hint of desire. "It's a good idea though. Maybe one day when it's just us..."
"Another day then," Olivia said, fully intending to hold Natalia to it. Not that she would have to do much convincing.
"Mmm," Natalia agreed.
"Mama hath surprise!" Francesca blurted out.
"That's right," Natalia said, rubbing Francesca's leg in agreement and hoping to forestall Francesa from spilling the beans any further.
The elevator stopped on the top floor and they all got out. Natalia surprised Olivia by turning towards the door to the roof rather than suites that lay in the opposite direction.
"Let me take her up the stairs," Natalia said, holding her hands out as she stood with her back to the door, not allowing Olivia to pass.
"Walk! Walk!" Francesca chimed in before Olivia's expression could turn mutinous.
"Okay, 'Cesca, you can walk," Olivia said, setting the eager girl down. "But you have to hold my hand."
Francesca nodded without any further argument, willing to accept the price of handholding for the prize of running up steps. It was a bargain Olivia had known she would accept; stairs were the kid's favorite.
"You win," Olivia said softly as she and Francesca stepped past Natalia.
"Olivia..." This time Natalia sounded sad. "It's not about winning." She braced her hand against the small of Olivia's back as they climbed. Her touch was barely there, but even still Olivia could feel the tension running through Natalia. It meant Natalia was worried - again. Then Natalia's hand flattened against her back and her thumb began making small circles at the base of Olivia's spine. It made Olivia smile. She could feel the shift in Natalia from worry to just needing to touch Olivia, to feel skin against skin as she sought wordless reassurance. Olivia glanced behind her in response, and felt the surge of warmth and love that she almost always did when she looked at Natalia. The words were on the tip of her tongue when Natalia beat her to them.
"I love you."
"Not fair," Olivia murmured.
Natalia smiled as they took the last few steps. "Someone taught me to never fight fair when I could help it. In love or business." She paused next to Olivia on the landing, her hand on the doorknob. "I still love you."
"I know," Olivia said. "I love you too."
"Mommies gross!" Francesca chimed in from below them, echoing Emma's newfound complaint. Olivia wrinkled her nose. She was about to retort with equal maturity when Natalia squeezed her hand and then pushed the door to the roof open.
"You'll understand when you're older," Natalia told Francesca, guiding her outside and pulling Olivia along behind them.
A small table was set up in the middle of the area, covered in a white linen table cloth and surrounded by three chairs. Elegant place settings and a dainty spray of flowers in the center completed the setting. Off to the side there was another table of similar size but covered in food. Olivia could smell the wonderful aromas from where she stood. Shaking her head, Olivia turned to look at Natalia in disbelief. "We were running late this morning and that was just before you went into work. How did you manage all this?"
Natalia shrugged. "I have my ways."
Olivia just shook her head and took Natalia in her arms, holding Natalia's face in her hands for a long moment before she leaned in to kiss her. "You really are amazing."
"You tell me that enough," Natalia murmured. "You almost make me believe it."
"You should," Olivia said without hesitation.
"Food, Mama, food!" Francesca interrupted them.
Both women looked up in time to see Francesca reaching for a hot dish.
"Francesca, no," Natalia called out , striding over to stop her. "You don't touch hot things. You could've been burned," she chided the girl, taking Francesca's hand to stop her from touching anything else.
Olivia sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose between her fingers. Her children were going to be the death of her. Her eyes lit up as she came closer and saw the dish of tuna casserole, topped with crunchy, fried onions just the way she liked it. "You brought my favorite," Olivia said, grabbing a plate from the small stack and helping herself as Natalia fixed another one for Francesca.
"I know what you like," Natalia replied her voice almost a purr as she gave a look over her shoulder that held more passion than gentle warmth.
It struck Olivia that Natalia had fixed her another surprise picnic like this before, back when Olivia hadn't even wanted to see Natalia and Natalia had been trying to persuade Olivia that a life together, a life with their children, was what Natalia wanted most of all. Olivia hadn't been grateful then; she certainly was now. She couldn't imagine her life now without Natalia, Rafe or Francesca. They were the light of her life as much as Emma and Ava.
"You do," Olivia agreed. "Even when I don't appreciate it." She hoped Natalia understood both her apology for earlier and how grateful she was that Natalia hadn't given up on her - on them. When thoughts of what her life might have been like if she'd never forgiven Natalia crossed her mind, it was all she could do to contain a shudder. She would have survived but she wouldn't really have been living, not like now with a messy, complicated life full of laughter and love.
The sand was warm beneath Olivia's toes. She couldn't resist the urge to dig them in just to feel the gritty texture beneath. It had been far too long since she had been to the beach - since before Emma had been born. She had gone back to San Cristobel once during the mess when she'd found out about Ava but relaxation hadn't been one of her priorities then. All she'd wanted to do was get off the island as soon as possible, memories clinging to her skin like leeches, painful and impossible to rid herself of.
This time it was different. They weren't on San Cristobel, but in the Maldives, a tiny string of islands in the Indian Ocean. There was nothing but white sand and blue sea for as far as the eye could see. It made her feel light, like she could breathe again. Anything was possible. Olivia wasn't sure that Natalia felt quite the same way but she would persuade her to love it. She had come to love Olivia after all; this had to be an easier sell.
Thinking of Natalia...there she was, standing in front of Olivia wearing a bikini that was such a deep shade of purple that it almost looked black in the bright sun. She was staring out over the water with one hand raised to shade her eyes, her long hair falling down her back in thick waves, made curlier than usual by humidity and the sea air.
Olivia's breath caught in her throat, struck as she sometimes was by Natalia's beauty and just how damn lucky she was. "Hey, beautiful," Olivia spoke, coming up behind Natalia and sliding her arms around Natalia's waist. She couldn't resist kissing the bare skin at the base of Natalia's throat. A laugh bubbled out of her. "Mmm, salty. You've been swimming, Mama."
It was Natalia's turn to laugh. "Just for a minute - it felt weird without you. There's so much ocean out there."
"That's because you're used to skyscrapers." Olivia bent to continue nibbling on her neck. She couldn't help the urge to nuzzle against Natalia's skin and here she didn't even have to try. A shiver ran down Natalia's spine. "Does it bother you? We can-."
"Hush," Natalia said. "No, it's amazing. I never thought I'd really get to see someplace like this. It's just going to take some getting used to."
"Well don't take too long," Olivia said practically. "We only have a few more days before we get back to the kids. I'm not sure Ava could handle both Emma and Cesca for longer than that."
Natalia let out a shaky sigh and Olivia held her a little tighter. "They're fine. You know Ava will take good care of them and its the middle of the night there. We can't talk to them anyway."
Natalia snorted. "Did you plan it that way on purpose?"
"Never. I just wanted to take you someplace where I could have you all to myself. Is that so wrong?"
Natalia shook her head, her hair tickling Olivia's cheek. "Not when I wanted it as much as you did." She slipped a hand up behind them, cupping the back of Olivia's neck and pulling her around until she could find Olivia's lips with her own. It began with the barest brush of lips and then deepened until Olivia was panting and gasping against her. She was burning with warmth from the sun and from the things Natalia was doing to her. Natalia's skin was blessedly cool from the water and Olivia pressed herself closer into the line of Natalia's back.
"The things you do to me..." Olivia murmured as Natalia turned in her embrace so that they were at last face to face.
"And don't you forget it," Natalia agreed. She stepped back out of their embrace and Olivia whimpered at the loss of contact until Natalia held a hand out to her. Olivia took it without hesitation and let Natalia draw her toward the water. It rose up warm and as smooth as silk around Olivia's ankles and then higher, up around her knees. Shuffling closer to Natalia, Olivia took her in her arms and turned them until she was leading Natalia deeper still. It rose to their hips and Natalia's hands clamped down on Olivia's forearms.
"Trust me?" Olivia asked quirking a smile at Natalia.
"I'm an excellent swimmer."
"I'm sure," Natalia said dryly. "Me, not so much. Mama took me to a few classes at the Y but...it was only for a few weeks and I never had a chance to keep it up."
"Just hang on and I'll keep you afloat," Olivia promised.
"I know you will." Natalia never took her eyes off Olivia's as Olivia pulled them into ever deeper water.
The water was buoyant and Olivia could feel Natalia begin to relax. Olivia laughed and let her hands drop into the water, stroking up Natalia's knees, gliding up the outside of her thighs until she urged Natalia's legs up around her waist.
Natalia let out a little gasp and clung tighter, her arms going around Olivia's neck. "Olivia. Wait. Put me down. I weigh too much." Natalia's hand came down to cover the faint scar that still bisected Olivia's chest, bared by the almost non-existent coverage of her bikini top.
Olivia shook her head. "I'm not holding you up. The water is."
Natalia's eyes narrowed. She opened her mouth to speak and Olivia ducked her head to capture Natalia's lips. Her hands drifted from Natalia's thighs to cup her behind. Natalia nipped at her lips in retaliation.
The sun warmed Olivia's shoulders, the faint sea breeze filled her nose with the scent of the salt air, the water was lifted them both up and Natalia was surrounding her, responding to her kisses like she couldn't get enough, like Olivia was the only thing in the world and it was perfect. Other than their children being happy and healthy there was nothing else in the world Olivia could have asked for.
She buried her head in Natalia's neck and breathed deeply. "I love you."
"I know." Natalia's fingers stroked up and down her back. "I love you too...."
"Ms. Spencer?" Olivia's head jerked up, her hand reaching for her mouse as if to prove she had been doing something instead of staring off into space.
"What is it, Kyra?"
"You have a call on line two."
"Thank you." Olivia took a deep breath before she picked up and answered it. The conversation was all business and quickly completed. It also didn't require much thought on Olivia's part, which was fortunate since the thought of Natalia, bikinis and an endless beach were still floating at the back of her mind. Olivia hadn't meant to daydream about Natalia at work or get so lost in her thoughts. Olivia wondered if it would be possible to talk Natalia into an island vacation. And a bikini as skimpy as the one in her daydreams.
Mmm, probably not. Natalia had never been a fan of those kinds of outfits, even when worn by Olympic volleyball teams. Maybe Olivia could persuade her though, with the right encouragement. Olivia could just imagine undoing the thin strings of the halter top that tied behind Natalia's neck and letting it fall, baring Natalia to her...
Olivia shook her head and cleared her throat, forcing those thoughts away. She needed to focus on work - that thing she paid herself a generous salary for - but...she made a mental note to check on island vacations anyway.
Hadn't Blake been a travel agent at one point?
Olivia answered her phone without looking. "Spencer." She winced, waiting to see what disaster had struck now. Her staff knew better than to call her this late unless it was an emergency. It wasn't very late - at least not compared to the hours that she had once kept - but Natalia expected her home for dinner and Olivia tried her best to make it. Family time wasn't something she liked to miss. Francesca and Emma were both growing up so fast.
Olivia's irritation disappeared, replaced by pleasant surprise. "Rafe. Is everything okay?" It was unusual for Rafe to call her, not the farmhouse or Natalia directly.
"Yeah." Rafe's response was curt, but then that wasn't unusual. He was courteous enough when he came to visit, but they still didn't speak much. "I mean, I guess so," Rafe continued.
Immediately the hair on the back of Olivia's neck stood up. She had been a parent long enough to know what that meant.
"You guess?" Maybe parroting Rafe's words back at him wasn't the best strategy to get him to open up but Olivia needed time to think. She didn't want to mess this up before the conversation had even begun.
"Yeah, I mean, it's not me. I'm fine."
"Good," Olivia said, keeping her wariness from her voice. She wasn't sure she believed him yet.
"Yeah." Rafe hesitated again. "I'm not sure I should be talking to you."
The words stung but Olivia managed to hold her temper. "Okay." It was Olivia's turn to hesitate. "I can't tell you if you should or not until I know what we're talking about here, but I can tell you this. I'm here if you ever need anything and so is your mother."
"It's Ava." Rafe blurted the words out so quickly that it took Olivia a moment to parse them.
"Ava?" This time her repetition was surprise, not stalling for time. "What's wrong with Ava?"
"Nothing. I guess. I'm not sure."
"Rafe." This time Olivia couldn't help the edge that had crept into her voice. If something was wrong with her daughter, then he needed to stop stalling and spit it out. And since when did he know more about Ava's life than she did? Olivia hadn't even known that they talked.
"I was in Springfield on leave when everyone found out Jeffrey was still alive, you know?"
"Right." Olivia had almost forgotten that he'd been there for the drama and chaos that had been stirred up by Jeffrey's apparent resurrection. Reva's reaction alone had been...well, there wasn't really words for it. Josh had decked him, not because as Jeffrey claimed, he was upset and jealous that Jeffrey had returned, but because Jeffrey had abandoned Reva in the first place.
Ava, when Olivia had called and told her, had been mostly stunned. A jumbled mixture of anger and happiness had followed, but more than that Ava had just seemed tired and worn down by it all. It had worried Olivia. She knew what Springfield could do to a person with its apparently endless well of tragedy, drama and gossip. It had worn Ava down once before, leaving her a fragile shell of her usual self. It had been bad enough that as much as Olivia loved having Ava in Springfield, she was always a little bit relieved when Ava went back to San Francisco. There Olivia didn't worry about her as much.
"So when she left we kind of started talking, you know? About dead dad stuff and she gets to see the munchkins more than I do," Rafe added.
"Okay." That actually made sense, and despite the seriousness of the situation it made Olivia happy to know that the two of them had been getting along and talking, forming a relationship besides the one that existed when they were inside the four walls of the farmhouse.
"But she hasn't sounded so good this past week," Rafe said, sounding reluctant to even mention it.
Olivia wondered what "not good" covered exactly. There was a little bit down and then there was Olivia needed to get her ass out to California immediately. Olivia didn't need to glance at the calendar to know what was bothering Ava. Thoughts of her first and only grandson were never far from Olivia's mind around the anniversary of his death.
"Do you know about Max?" Olivia asked, sinking back into her chair and softening her voice.
"Is that the dude she's been seeing?" Rafe asked.
"No," Olivia's interest sharpened again momentarily. Ava hadn't mentioned a new someone in her life, but then she wouldn't. Not until it was more serious. But that wasn't important right now. Rafe needed to know. "Max was Ava's son. He died when he was only a few weeks old."
"Yeah." Olivia pretty much agreed with Rafe's sentiment on the matter. "It was four years ago, this week."
"That's...she okay? I mean, will she be?"
"I don't know. Ava's been through a lot - even before Max. How bad has she sounded?"
"I dunno." Rafe paused and Olivia could almost hear him shrug. "I didn't know it was that bad. I just thought she sounded kinda down, you know? I haven't heard her like this before. I didn't know what to do so I thought someone else should know."
"I'm glad you told me." That made up Olivia's mind for her. "I might fly out there and see her?"
"Yeah?" The relief in Rafe's voice solidified Olivia's decision for her. "Think she'll be mad?"
"No. Probably not. But if you want, I won't tell her that you called." If that was what it took to keep Rafe talking to her, it was a price that Olivia would gladly pay.
"No, it's cool. You think I should say anything...about knowing?"
"It's up to you, Rafe. I can't tell you how Ava would respond. She might be mad that I told you. I don't know. But it might do her good to have someone to talk to about it. It was a pretty bad time in her life and there wasn't a lot of good things to remember about it. Maybe if she talked about it to someone who wasn't there it would be easier for her to remember those things," Olivia suggested. It was worth a try if Rafe was willing.
"You sound like Ma."
"She has a way of doing that to people," Olivia admitted.
Rafe paused. Olivia could almost see him looking down at the ground, scuffing a foot. "She okay?"
"She's good. Wonderful. She and Francesca came by the Beacon for lunch."
"She misses you, Rafe. She's proud of you."
"You don't have to say that."
"I'm not saying it; it's true."
"Yeah?" This time Rafe sounded young - younger than he had since Gus had died - and as if he very much wanted to believe her. "Thanks, Olivia. Later." He hung up so quickly that Olivia didn't have time to say anything back. She lowered the phone and sat there staring at it for a moment until a tinny voice began its recorded speech.
"If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and try again."
Olivia shook her head and hung up. That had to be one of the strangest phone calls she had ever had, yet despite how worried she was for Ava, Olivia was also strangely happy. Rafe had called her, confided in her and asked her for advice, without being prodded into it by anyone else. It was a huge step for Rafe, and the knowledge of how happy Natalia would be when she told her what Rafe had done only added to Olivia's happiness. Natalia had been telling her for years now that everything would be okay. Maybe she was right after all.
It would still take flying out to San Francisco and seeing Ava before she could relax.
Olivia heard the sound of adolescent footsteps in the hallway. "Emma?" She called softly. The last thing she wanted to do was wake up Francesca if she had finally managed to fall asleep.
"Yeah, Mom?" Her little girl - who was getting to be not so little any more - stuck her head inside the room.
Mom. It was what Ava called her, and now more and more, it was Emma discarding "Mommy" for "Mom". It felt so grown up, so final, so abandoned and useless. Olivia hated it.
"What are you doing up, baby? It's late and you have school tomorrow."
"It's not that late." Emma said it looking down at her toes but Olivia didn't miss her grudging tone. "I couldn't sleep. I wanted some water."
"You couldn't sleep?" That was unusual for Emma. Normally she was pretty worn out by soccer and a host of other playdates and extracurricular activities. "Something wrong, Jellybean?"
Emma shook her head but Olivia wasn't convinced. With a minute shrug at the lateness of the hour, she scooted over in bed and then patted the space beside her in invitation. The sound of running water meant Natalia was still in the shower and wouldn't be out for a while longer. Natalia's night time rituals were well-developed and as reliable as clockwork.
Emma dragged her feet as she came around the door and got up onto the bed next to Olivia, but she tucked herself up against Olivia's side as she did, belying her reluctance. Knowing Emma might fein irritation, Olivia still couldn't help wrapping her arms around Emma's slender shoulders and dropping a kiss on the top of her head. No matter how old she got, Emma would always be her little girl, her jellybean, and she would just have to learn how to deal with that.
"Want to tell me about it?"
Emma shook her head.
Olivia considered. "Want to tell Natalia about it?"
Emma hesitated and then shook her head again. The part of Olivia that felt good about that wasn't something she was proud of.
"Hmm, so that leaves me with two options," Olivia said with as much seriousness and gravity as she could manage as she weighed her options aloud. "I can sit here and play twenty questions until I get something right-" Emma scrunched up her nose "-or I can tickle it out of you."
Olivia suited actions to words until Emma was wriggling and squealing at her side, finally shrieking, "Mommy! Stop!" through breathless laughter.
Olivia laughed, refusing to let go of Emma even as she squirmed, keeping her tucked close to her side, but she did stop tickling. The bathroom door opened with a creak and they looked up to find Natalia staring at both of them and shaking her head. Olivia expected Natalia to look disappointed but all she saw was a twinkle of amusement in her eyes. "What am I going to do with the two of you?" Natalia asked, her voice full of rueful amusement.
Olivia turned her most endearing eyes on Natalia. "Love us?"
Natalia laughed, not buying it for an instant. "You know I already do. Both of you." With a final shake of her head, Natalia turned, ducking back into the bathroom to finish drying her hair, and complete the rest of bedtime beauty regimen.
When Olivia looked back at Emma, her daughter's eyes were wide. "She didn't even ask why I was up."
"Did you want her too?" Olivia asked, arching an eyebrow at Emma. Staying up late had become one of Emma's goals in life and a minor battle in the Spencer-Rivera household.
Emma shrugged, such a careless adolescent gesture that Olivia almost winced. Her own teen years had been filled with long stretches of cold silence as disagreements simmered between she and her mother - silences broken only by arguments that had left Olivia feeling hurt and helpless, wounded to the quick. Emma's newfound moodiness and tendency toward being melodramatic were almost welcome by comparison, but Olivia still hated to see her daughter sad and hurting when she couldn't do anything about it. If she had been a praying woman, Olivia would have asked for Emma's teenage years to turn out better than her own. Since she wasn't - Olivia left that up to Natalia - she could only hope and offer a diversion that might bring that missing sparkle back to Emma's eyes.
"Hey, Em, I think I'm going to take a trip tomorrow."
Emma looked up at Olivia, her eyes clouded with worry. "What's wrong? Is it your heart? Did something happen?" Natalia presence in their life had been a great stabilizing influence for Emma, but she was still quick to worry, knowing how close she had come to losing her mother as a child.
"Nothing's wrong, Em." Olivia reassured her, putting a comforting hand on Emma's arm and giving it a light squeeze. "I'm just going to see Ava."
"But she's she okay?" Emma pressed on, determination written on her features. From experience Olivia knew Emma wouldn't relax until she was certain everything was okay. Olivia couldn't give her that but she could give her honesty.
"I'm not sure, Jellybean." Emma wrinkled her nose again at the nickname but Olivia pressed on. "But I think so. Rafe called me today." Olivia let out a sigh. She didn't want to bring talk of more death into Emma's life. "Do you remember Max?"
Emma hesitated, then nodded.
"The anniversary is coming up and I think Ava might appreciate it if we went out there and cheered her up a little." Olivia gave Emma another little squeeze. "What do you think of that? We could go shopping, see the city, ride the cable cars...take a couple days off."
"In the middle of the week?" Emma asked, sounding aghast at the mere thought. Natalia wasn't a fan of playing hooky, far stricter about the matter than Olivia had been on her own.
"Sure, why not? You don't have any big tests or presentations coming up right?"
"Okay, then, it's settled."
"Awesome!" Emma bit her lip and then looked as if she wished she hadn't sounded so excited. It didn't stop her from hopping out of bed and darting towards the door. "I should go pack. What time are we leaving in the morning? Is it early? I should tell Karen I won't be at school-"
"Hey, slow down, Jellybean. Just because you don't have school tomorrow, doesn't mean you don't have to sleep. Sometime soon. And you probably shouldn't call Karen right now. I don't think her parents would appreciate it. Let's wait until tomorrow morning. And I haven't booked the tickets yet, so I'm not sure. I haven't talked to Natalia yet," Olivia added.
Emma sagged. "So we might not be going."
"Going where?" Natalia asked reentering the room from the bathroom.
"To San Francisco tomorrow to see Ava," Emma blurted out. "Please, Natalia. Please?"
It was Natalia's turn to laugh, stroking Emma's hair absently. "I don't see why not, but why don't you give your mom and I a chance to talk about it and we'll let you know in the morning."
Emma deflated. "The suspense is going to kill me, you know? How am I supposed to sleep?"
She said it with so much drama that Olivia could barely hold back laughter, biting her lip to suppress it.
"Good night, Jellybean," Olivia said, ignoring Emma's rhetorical questions as she held out her arms for one last hug and kissed the top of Emma's head when she drew near. "I love you."
Head hung low with a distinct air of tragedy, Emma collected a hug from Natalia too and then shuffled back down the hall toward her own room. Olivia watched her go until Emma pulled the door shut and then looked over at Natalia. "I'm afraid she inherited my dramatic tendencies."
Natalia laughed. "I think you might be right." She sat down on the bed and then rolled over until she was pressed up against Olivia's side. "That might not be so bad. I kind of like you."
"Kind of?" Olivia demanded, her voice full of mock indignation. "I happen to know I'm the love of your life. Or so I've been told."
"And you would be right," Natalia agreed, pushing herself up enough that she could lean acroos Olivia to kiss the tip of her nose.
"On the other hand," Olivia said, her tone shifting from silly to soft and serious. "You didn't know me as a teenager. According to my mother I was quite the handful."
"You still are," Natalia said, giving Olivia a fond smile taking the sting out of her words.
"I just don't want Emma to go through everything I did as a teenager," Olivia admitted, picking at the comforter and refusing to look up and meet Natalia's eyes.
"She won't," Natalia said, laying her hand on Olivia's arm and rubbing back in forth in a soothing motion. "She has us - both of us - and two older siblings that can help her with all the things she doesn't want to talk to us about."
"Yeah," Olivia agreed. "I was thinking this trip might be good for both her and Ava."
Natalia nodded, then laid her head on Olivia's shoulder. "I'm going to miss you though. Both of you."
"Me too." They lay there in silence for a moment, Olivia wrapping her arms around Natalia and holding her a little tighter until Olivia spoke again. "You know it was Rafe who called me about Ava today?"
Natalia glanced up at her. "Really?"
"Yeah. He asked about you too. Wanted to make sure you were okay."
Natalia nodded again, seeming pleased and laid her head back down on Olivia's shoulder. "I'll give him a call tomorrow."
"Good." Olivia sighed. "I really am going to miss you."
Natalia smiled. "But it will be okay, because I'll be here when you get back."
"Always," Natalia promised, as she looked up into Olivia's eyes. Olivia held her gaze, searching for the faintest hint of doubt, as she always did - even if she had yet to find it. Something in Olivia eased and she shifted, rolling from her back to her side until she didn't have to turn her head to meet Natalia's eyes. For a moment, all Olivia could do was look at her, drinking her in. She cupped Natalia's face in her hand and marveled at the smoothness of her skin and the way Natalia leaned into her caress. Olivia couldn't help but smile as she moved to kiss her. It was soft and sweet and left Olivia aching for more. Natalia's hands slid up Olivia's side as she deepened the kiss, pressing herself against Olivia. "I'm going to miss you."
"I'll only be gone a few days," Olivia reminded her, slipping her leg between Natalia's.
"That doesn't matter." Natalia let her hand drift down to Olivia's hip, then hesitated. "You must be tired."
"A little," Olivia said, struggling for nonchalance. "But not very. I think I could manage to stay up a while longer. Did you have something in mind?"
Natalia smiled, as her fingers brushed against the bared skin of Olivia's inner thigh and left goosebumps in their wake. "Actually I think I'd rather show you."
In response Natalia's fingers trailed lower and Olivia sucked in a gasp. It was the only sound - besides soft gasps and little moans - that either of them made for quite some time.
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