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Best Laid Schemes...
By Wonko


"Natalia, could you get me the Smithson file?"

Natalia reacted instantly to Alan's lazy drawl, spinning round in her chair and rifling through the filing cabinet beside her.  "Here you are, Alan," she said, dropping it onto his desk with a pleasant, courteous smile.  Alan nodded distractedly and immediately returned his attention to his work.  Natalia resisted the urge to roll her eyes.  She hadn't expected that working for Alan Spaulding would be a walk in the park.  Certainly not like working for Olivia which, even in the beginning when it was hard and often infuriating, had been...exhilarating.

Of course, that was probably more to do with the woman herself than the job.  It was only to be expected that this would be a little less satisfying - after all, Alan Spaulding had never given her butterflies.

"I have a lunch meeting with the head of HR, Natalia," Alan said as he wandered out of his office.  Natalia nodded.  She knew that.  She knew his schedule by heart, and she'd only been there a day.

"And then you have golf with the city's chief planning official followed by dinner with the Mayor," she replied, raising one perfectly sculpted eyebrow when Alan had the temerity to look surprised.

"Very good."  He smiled that shark like smile that always made Natalia feel like an ant under a magnifying glass.  "I don't know why Olivia let you go."

Natalia barely stifled a flinch as a cold rush of shame flooded through her.  She didn't exactly have a choice, her mind pointed out helpfully.  She plastered a fake smile onto her face.  "Was there anything in particular you wanted me to do while you're gone?" she asked.  Alan shook his head.

"Just compile a one page summary of the accounts report from yesterday, and then you can go."  His body was already half out the door, but his mind, Natalia would be prepared to bet, had skipped the lunch meeting and landed fully on the golf course.

Natalia hummed softly to herself as she worked.  Her forehead creased in a small pinching frown as she read over the five page, densely typed report that the accounts department had submitted the day before.  Occasionally she stabbed at a line or two with her highlighter, or made a note on the post-its at her elbow.


Natalia looked up in surprise.  The clock on the wall said an hour and a half had passed.  She blinked.  It was hard to believe it.  But then, like Olivia had said only the day before, she was known for getting enthusiastic about her jobs.

"Philip."  She smiled warmly.  "Alan's not here..."

"Actually, I'm here to see you."

He sat down on the edge of her desk and looked down at his fingernails.  Natalia sat back in her chair.  Philip's voice had sounded...cold.  He was usually more than pleasant to her, grateful, she supposed, for the obvious love she harboured for his daughter.  "What can I do for you?" she asked warily.

He looked up at her and pierced her with intense blue eyes.  "I want to know why," he demanded, his voice harsh and clipped.  "Why did you leave?  And why in God's name did you come back?"

Natalia felt his words like a physical blow.  She was surprised that her cheek hadn't actually reddened after that verbal slap in the face.  "I came back because this is my home," she spluttered, eyes wide.  "My son is here, Olivia's here, Emma's here-"  Philip waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.

"Emma?  You don't care about Emma."

Natalia bit her lip, tears springing instantly to her eyes.  "That's not true," she said softly.  Philip stood up and began to pace backwards and forwards in the small office, managing one and a half strides per round before he had to turn and walk the other way.

"If you cared about Emma you wouldn't have abandoned her," he spat venomously.  "And you certainly wouldn't have done what you've done to Olivia."

Natalia's heart began to race, on cue, at the mention of Olivia's name.  "Olivia and I have some things to work out," she began, flushing darkly when Philip stopped pacing and glanced pointedly at her swollen abdomen.

"You have no idea what you've done," he muttered, scraping his hands through his hair.  He squeezed his eyes shut.  "You've ruined everything," he whispered.

Natalia frowned, concern for Philip overriding her discomfort with the situation.  "Are you okay?"

Philip shook his head tightly.  "Jeffrey died while you were gone," he said.  He seemed to be breathing a little more shallowly than before.  Natalia nodded slowly.

"I know..."  A single tear escaped one of her clouded eyes and trailed miserably down her cheek.  Philip shook his head again, more roughly this time.

"Olivia had to deal with it on her own," he said harshly.  "Because you weren't here.  Because you ran out on her, she had to comfort her daughter alone.  And there was no-one around to comfort her."

Natalia looked away, her cheeks reddening in shame.  "I'm sorry," she whispered.  Philip scoffed.

"Sorry doesn't cut it," he snapped.  "Because it's going to happen again."

Natalia's head jerked up.  "What?"  She frowned in confusion.  How could it possibly happen again?  Jeffrey couldn't exactly die twice, could he?

Philip stood a little straighter.  "I mean," he said, slowly and clearly,  "that very soon Olivia's going to have to deal with another death.  And so is Emma."

The second hand on the clock ticked round ten times before Philip's words finally sank in.  Natalia's hands flew to her mouth.  "Oh my God," she murmured.  Philip looked away.

"I've got weeks," he said softly.  "I'll be gone by the middle of September."  He turned back to her, eyes blazing with anger.  "And you!  You ruined everything!"

Natalia shook her head dumbly.  "I...what?"  Philip began to pace again.

"Emma's never had two good parents before," he ground out.  "I mean, come on - I'm never going to win any father of the year contests.  But you and Olivia, the farmhouse, the ducks...that was what was supposed to be.  That was what I wanted her to have, after I'm gone."  He looked at her then, and seemed to look through her, grief and anger and disappointment written all over every line on his face.  "And now what?  What's my sweet baby girl gonna have now?  A dead daddy and two mommies who live on opposite sides of town?"

Natalia shook her head firmly.  "Olivia and I are going to be together," she said confidently.  Philip laughed bitterly.

"Oh really?  Well fill her in, would you, 'cause that's not what she says."  He threw his head back, blinking hard as he stared at the ceiling.  "I was going to sign my custody over to you," he whispered.

"Philip!" Natalia gasped. He quieted her with a raised hand.

"Not anymore."  He met her eyes and held them.  "I just don't trust you.  Not with Olivia's heart, and certainly not with my daughter's."

Natalia rose from her chair, but before she had a chance to say anything more he turned on his heel and stalked out of the room.  She glanced at the clock.  A mere five minutes had gone by.

Shakily, she released a long breath and lowered herself back onto her chair.  Her heart ached.  Emma was going to lose her daddy.  That sweet little girl who'd already been through so much, who'd already had so many people just disappear from her life - including you, her mind remarked acidly - was going to lose the father she'd just barely begun getting to know.

Just like Rafe had.

Tears stung the back of her eyes and she began to realise, for the first time, just how badly she had screwed up.  The perfect family photograph she'd been keeping in her head for weeks began to fade - herself holding the baby to her shoulder, Olivia looking on adoringly with her arm round her waist, Rafe carrying Emma on his back, all that anger and sullenness finally gone.  A sob bubbled up in her throat.

"I have to make this happen," she whispered to herself.  "I have to fix this."

She sighed deeply as she glanced down at her desk, the report she'd been working on swimming before her eyes.

She'd known it would be hard.  Just not quite this hard.

Still, at least she knew now.  She had a deadline.  And every reference that had ever been written for her said she worked well under pressure.

Abandoning Alan's report for the moment, she fished out her cellphone.  "Kira?" she said, with her best good girl smile in her voice.  "I need a little favour.  Do you think you could get Olivia to meet me on the roof of the hotel tomorrow morning..."

The End

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