DISCLAIMER: This is an Otalia-Uber fiction. The characters in this story portrays the physical and some personality attributes of the characters Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera from Guiding Light but they belong to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Blue for her great beta-ing skills!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Frances struggled to breathe. It had taken her a few moments to get her wind back after her not so little fall from the tree. However, other than the initial difficulty of getting out of the house, her escape had been obstacle free. The force of her father's hug was overwhelming but she smiled in his arms, nevertheless. When he finally let her go, she took a huge breath.
"Thank God you're okay," Russell said, his eyes filling up with tears. "Thank -" He crushed Frances to him again as his voice broke.
"Dad, I'm fine," she reassured him, her voice muffled. She could not remember the last time her father had hugged her.
"Did they do anything to you? I will kill that asshole!" he growled out, grabbing her upper arms and shaking her slightly. He caught the look of pain flash across her face and dropped his hands immediately, scanning Frances all over for any obvious sign of injury. "You're hurt! Do you need to go to the hospital?" he asked frantically.
Frances shook her head. "I'm fine, Dad," she reiterated, favouring her scraped elbow. Her entire body, especially her right ankle, felt a little sore from her tumble and she was sure that she would locate more than a few bruises and scratches but none of them were life threatening. "And it wasn't Jack Canning who took me..."
Russell frowned. "If it wasn't him, then who took you? Why?"
Frances bit her lower lip. "It was Liam. He's been working for Benjamin."
When Liam walked into the hotel room behind Benjamin with a bunch of papers in his hands, Kristen was beyond incredulous. Then something clicked in Kristen's head. Liam was Benjamin's source. He had been working for her brother all this while. All the questions that he had been asking about her when he first started working at Taters... they all made sense now. He had been sent, first to look for her, then to inform Benjamin of the happenings in Taters.
"Hey Chef," Liam greeted in a tentative tone.
"Liam, you -" Kristen clamped her mouth shut and her eyes narrowed. "Did you take Frances?"
Liam bit his lip but nodded. "She's fine. I'll take you to her as soon as this is over," he said uncomfortably, not meeting his eyes to Kristen's. He had considered himself to be one of the good guys, but recalling the way Frances had looked at him, he wasn't sure about that anymore.
"I need to get my lawyer to see this before I sign it," Jack said finally. "I've worked hard for the company and I'm not ready to just give it away like this."
Benjamin lifted a brow. "I don't think you have a say in this, Jack." He waved the digital voice recorder in his hand as a reminder.
"Benjamin will compensate you accordingly," Kristen said from her seat. Benjamin threw his sister a surprised glance. "You weren't thinking of just getting all this for free, were you, Benjy?" Kristen asked with a lift of her brow. "Because none of this is gonna be for free, especially after that crap you pulled."
Benjamin looked confused. "Why are you helping him?"
Kristen glanced over at Jack before meeting her eyes to Benjamin's. "I'm not helping him. Or you."
Benjamin thought for a long moment. "I'll only pay for eleven percent of the shares because that's all I need to have control of the company," he said finally.
"I give away forty percent for the price of eleven?" Jack was furious.
"That or nothing, Jack," Kristen said with a shrug, not caring either way. "Cos' I sure as hell haven't got any money for ya." She signed her name with flourish. "And you'll only get the money after you sign our divorce papers," she added.
Jack scoffed in disbelief; if he had known this was going to happen, he wouldn't have bothered getting out of bed this morning. Kristen looked at him impatiently. "Get on with it, Jack. Like Benjamin said, you really don't have a choice. And I don't have all day. Frances is locked up somewhere..." She gave every one of them a pointed look at that. "... thanks to the combined effort of the three of you, it seems."
Benjamin and Liam managed to look sheepish while Jack took a deep breath and signed the documents.
"Can we go now?" Kristen asked, standing up.
"Kristen..." Jack called out in a tight voice, making Kristen turn her attention to him. "Is there really no hope of us ever working things out?"
"Jack," Kristen said firmly, sick of repeating herself and anxious to get to Frances. "If it was legal, I would marry Frances the moment you sign our divorce papers." Benjamin's jaw dropped from where he was standing behind Kristen. "So no. There is no hope in hell that we'd be workin' anything out."
Kristen ignored the calls from Russell's mobile, not sure that she wanted to speak to him before she saw for herself that Frances was all right. Moreover, she could not shake the guilt that it was her brother, and not Jack, who was behind Frances' abduction.
They arrived at a house in the Blue Mountains in separate cars. Kristen had gotten more and more furious during the hour long drive "I can't believe what you did. It is not okay, Benjamin. You had her taken, against her will, and you had her locked up for days. I don't care what you say; it is not okay."
Benjamin sighed. "It worked, didn't it? Jack's no longer gonna be a pain in both our asses and Frances is fine."
"What makes you think you're any better than him?" Kristen threw back at Benjamin when she got out of the car. Stunned, Benjamin did not answer his sister.
"And you. I don't even know what to say to you, Liam," Kristen said to Liam when they got to the door. "She trusted you. That's why it was so easy for you to take her, wasn't it?"
Liam shrugged guiltily. "I'm sorry, Chef," he mumbled, his head low. He recalled Frances saying that she would never trust him again and felt even smaller. He unlocked the stout timber door that kept Frances from her freedom. All three of them were dumbfounded to find it empty.
When they looked out of the window through which Frances had made her escape, Kristen's heart almost stopped. It was a high drop from the bathroom and Frances had definitely fallen, judging by the broken branch lying on the ground under the window. Kristen scrambled down the ladder. "Give me your car keys," she demanded of Benjamin.
"If she had just waited a coupla hours more, Sis..." Benjamin started, earning himself a dark look from Kristen.
"Do not even make a reference to her, you understand?" Kristen said, cutting him off. "Now give me your damned keys." Benjamin dug into his pocket for the keys and handed them to Kristen. "I..." Kristen trailed off, looking from Benjamin to Liam, not knowing what else to say to either of them. She clamped her mouth shut and stalked out of the house, hoping fervently that Frances was all right.
Kristen let herself into her flat hurriedly. She had called Russell during her drive home, hoping that his calls to her were about Frances and been told that Frances had been trying to reach her from Russell's mobile. Because she hadn't answered the calls, Frances had gone to get cleaned up.
Frances was okay! Kristen had to keep herself from speeding all the way back to Sydney.
"Baby?" Kristen called out even before the door had slammed shut behind her. She threw her keys onto a cushion on the floor and made for her bedroom. "Frances?"
Frances had gotten the spare key from Russell so that she could wait for Kristen in the flat. Stopping short when she saw her on the bed, sleeping soundly, Kristen’s breath rushed out at the sight of Frances; even after Russell had told her that Frances was back, her mind had not fully believed it until this moment.
Kristen padded softly over to her bed and lowered herself onto the floor. She touched a hand to Frances' face, sighing when it came into contact with warm skin. Frances' hair was still damp from her shower and a shadow of a bruise was forming on one of her cheeks. Kristen frowned at that and trailed her eyes down Frances' body to look for other signs of injury.
When green eyes returned to the slumbering face, it was glazed over with tears. Kristen allowed them to fall down her face freely. "I'm so sorry, baby," she murmured. "If it hadn't been for me, none of this would have happened to you. Benjamin, Jack... I led them to you." She stroked Frances' cheek softly.
Frances stirred. "Kristen..." she mumbled when her eyes cracked open. "I tried calling you..." she trailed off, frowning when she saw the wetness on Kristen's cheeks. "Hey, don't cry..."
"I... I'm just so relieved you're okay," Kristen said quickly, wiping her cheeks.
Frances cupped the back of Kristen's neck to pull her closer. She had fully intended to remain awake while she waited for Kristen but the past few days had taken their toll on her. "I told you I'd always come back to you. Are you scared now?" she asked half jokingly as she swept her eyes across Kristen's features, imprinting them in her mind once again. It had only been three days since she had last seen Kristen, but it had felt like a much longer time in her head.
Kristen sniffled as she broke into a watery smile. "Why should I be scared?" Her eyes fell to smiling lips, and she felt her chest constrict at the familiar sight of dimples.
"Cos' I might be some crazy psycho. And if you ever break up with me, I might start stalking you," Frances said, her smile widening. She ran a hand through silky hair, sighing at the familiar scent of Kristen's shampoo. "Sneak into your house, go through your things, wear your clothes, sleep on your bed..." she rambled on, pushed on by the urge to make Kristen smile, hoping to make everything feel normal again, even if it was just for a moment.
"Well, it's not gonna happen because I'll never break up with you," Kristen murmured softly before leaning in close to touch their foreheads together.
"True?" Frances asked with a lift of her brow. At Kristen's nod against her forehead, she wrinkled her nose, effectively deepening her dimples. "Good. Because I don't plan on going anywhere."
"God, I love you, Frances," Kristen said hoarsely as she burrowed her face in Frances' neck, loving the feel of Frances' damp hair against her face.
"There's something I have to tell you though... and I hope you won't freak out," Frances said, the tone of her voice making Kristen pull her face back worriedly.
"What is it?" Kristen asked, searching Frances' face for a hint of what she was going to say; she had sounded serious.
"I just snuck into your house, went through your things, put on your clothes and slept in your bed," Frances deadpanned, dark eyes dancing.
Kristen stared at Frances and felt laughter bubbling up her chest. "God help me," she said, resting her forehead against Frances'. "I missed my smart ass so much."
Frances chuckled, immensely pleased with herself for making Kristen laugh, then tugged at Kristen to come onto the bed beside her. When Kristen was finally pressed up against her, Frances sighed contentedly. "I love you too." Then she touched their lips together and the rest of the world fell away.
"I'm taking you to the doctor tomorrow," Kristen said firmly.
"But I feel fine," Frances whined, looking to Nell for support. "It's just a sprained ankle!" She had an ice pack against her throbbing ankle; it was already numbing the area around it and she hoped that the discomfort will go away after a night's rest. The other things... she would think about them when she was ready. Her mind was already shutting them out.
Nell rolled her eyes at her uncooperative friend. "It's just the doctor."
Frances couldn't believe that Nell and Kristen were ganging up against her and she said as much.
"Stop being such a baby... baby," Kristen said, smirking. She high-fived a chuckling Nell and looked pointedly at Frances.
Russell entered the kitchen with two bags of takeaway Indian for dinner. None of them had given food much thought until now, so all of them were starving. Frances could not help the faint smile that crept onto her face as they bustled around her, not allowing her to lift a finger. These were the three most important people in her life. They had respected her wishes to not talk about her abduction and Frances was grateful for that.
"Someone dumped their car on us today, Kristen. If you're interested, I'll let you know when we fix it and you can come check it out," Nell informed Kristen as she set the table.
"Cheers. What model is it?" Kristen slammed the fridge shut with her hip.
Russell placed the four different curries on the table between them. "Getting a car, are ya?" he asked conversationally. "Beats the public transport," he grumbled.
Frances observed their interaction, feeling amused and slightly surreal. Nell and Kristen seemed to have bonded over the last few days.
"Can we eat now?" she piped up, interrupting their conversation. They glanced at her, looking almost surprised that she was in the room with them. Frances cowered slightly. "I'm hungry," she said in a small plaintive voice.
"Of course, lass," Russell said, fixing up a plate for her. "Here you go."
They all stared at her as she prepared to tuck in, making her feel extremely self-conscious. "What?" she asked, her fork poised above her plate of rice and curry.
"Nothing. Eat," Kristen ordered. Nell nodded.
Frances looked from one face to another, frowning. "You guys are scaring me," she mumbled.
Russell cleared his throat. "Help yourselves, you two. I'm not serving anyone other than my daughter."
Kristen and Nell were spurred into action by the words and Frances shook her head, smiling. She glanced at her father, who quickly averted his eyes from hers. Then she dug into her dinner with an enthusiasm that was quickly mirrored by her dinner companions.
Frances laid on her side, softly stroking Kristen's arm around her waist. They were silent in the dimly lit room, content to soak in each other's presence. Kristen would plant a kiss on the back of Frances' neck occasionally, making Frances' faint smile deepen each time.
"I'm so glad you're here," Kristen said in a hushed whisper, breaking the silence. "I'm so sorry about everything."
Frances frowned and turned to face Kristen, careful not to dislodge the ice pack that was haphazardly tied around her ankle. "Why are you apologising?" She lifted a hand to Kristen's face. "You didn't do anything."
"Everything that happened... it's all because of me," Kristen choked out, aghast at the emotion that was welling up in her throat. "Taters was vandalised because Richardson saw us together and found out I was working there. Jack's sabotage of Taters has caused our business to go downhill. And Benjamin taking you... to blackmail Jack into signing the company over to him... I still can't believe he did that."
Frances listened to Kristen silently, knowing that Kristen probably needed to get all of it off her chest. Her own thoughts were sloshing around her brain, waiting to be sorted out. One step at a time.
"It's all my fault," Kristen concluded in a strangled voice, tears threatening to spill from her eyes.
"I hear you," Frances said softly. "It's all your fault. You told Doug to give up Taters' security code. You told Jack to set the rats on Taters. And it was definitely you who told Benjamin to abduct me. You locked me up in that house and you wanted Jack to sign the company over to you."
"I..." Kristen stared at Frances, flabbergasted.
"No?" Frances asked, her eyes dropping to Kristen's lips before flicking back to her eyes. "Then how can you claim responsibility for anything?"
"I..." Kristen tried again but no words came to mind.
"Either you're responsible or you're not, Kristen," Frances repeated herself. "Did you do all that?" Kristen finally shook her head no. "Then why are you saying it's your fault?" Frances admonished gently.
"Because if it weren't for me, neither of them would even be in your life," Kristen insisted.
"And trade this for that? Never," Frances said firmly. "Unless you would..." she trailed off.
"No!" Kristen cut in hurriedly. If there was one thing she knew for certain, it was this.
Frances smiled tiredly. "Thought so."
Kristen rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Since when did you get this smart?" Frances had effectively made her see that none of this was her fault even though she knew it would take a lot more to fully rid her of the guilt that she felt.
"What are you talking about? I topped the class Genius 101," Frances said, smirking, slipping a hand under Kristen's shirt. "Are you impressed?"
Full lips twitched. Frances' hand had wandered up her body to rest on her nape, pulling their bodies closer. Kristen hummed in contentment.
"Please don't feel sorry for any of this," Frances said quietly, her eyes falling onto Kristen's lips again. "If anyone should apologise, it should be me."
"You? You're the victim here, Frances. Why should you apologise?" Kristen asked, confused.
Frances fell silent for a long time and Kristen did not press, allowing Frances to process her thoughts before speaking. In truth, she was amazed but glad that Frances had not taken the familiar route to flee and recuperate. She needed to feel Frances' physical presence.
"Liam didn't... After I got into the car, he lied about needing to borrow my mobile and held on to it," Frances said haltingly, recounting everything from the beginning. "He told me we were going to go on a little trip, that Jack Canning wanted me to disappear."
Kristen tightened her hold on Frances but did not say anything.
"He told me he was working for Benjamin, that they'd been gathering information to use against Jack for a while now. When they heard him say that, Benjamin decided that they should keep me safe... and at the same time, blame my disappearance on Jack. It would be the last nail in his coffin, Liam said. They would wait for you guys to realise I was gone, call the cops, confront him..."
A tear leaked from Frances and she wiped it away angrily. "It was supposed to be quick... a day... except no one realised that I was gone. So it dragged on... and I got restless... It seemed like such a long time... and I was so angry with myself for actually agreeing to let you guys worry about me. I wanted to leave but Liam kept trying to convince me otherwise. So when he left to meet up with Benjamin, I ran off."
"I should have fought him," Frances said, finally looking at Kristen. Kristen was alarmed to find Frances' face streaked with tears.
"No, baby. If you hadn't agreed, he still would have taken you. You just made it easier for yourself... initially," Kristen insisted. "I should have known that you were gone. What kind of girlfriend am I anyway?" Kristen gently wiped Frances' cheeks, feeling angry at herself.
"You thought I was at work on Monday. My phone could have been dead."
"I could have swung by yours."
Frances gave Kristen a watery smile. "It was your day off. You had stuff to do. We didn't make plans. You said you had dinner with Benjamin."
"He wanted me to go by yours, actually," Kristen said bitterly, recalling her brother's suggestion to ask Frances out for drinks. "He wanted me to realise that you're gone."
"It's not like abduction would come to mind just because you haven't heard from me in a day." Frances chewed on her lower lip. "So... you're not mad at me?" she asked in a small voice.
Kristen cupped Frances' face in her hands. "Listen to yourself. You're actually asking if I'm mad at you for getting abducted... under my brother's instruction. Frances, you'll be the death of me."
Frances burrowed her face in the crook of Kristen's neck, inhaling deeply as she fought hard to not cry again. "I'm so sorry," she murmured. "I'm so stupid."
Kristen felt her heart break at Frances' words. "You're not stupid. You're my silver-tongued devil who topped the Genius 101 class," she said, hoping that Frances would appreciate her lame attempt at humour. It worked; Frances began chuckling through her tears. "I love you so much."
Frances mumbled something into Kristen's shoulder. "Hmm?" Kristen asked, not catching the words.
"I said..." Frances repeated herself as she pulled her face back from Kristen, sniffling, "'Figures you'd love me for my tongue.'"
Kristen could not help but roll her eyes at that. "Welcome back, smart ass."
"Thank you," Frances murmured, pressing the length of her body against Kristen's, enjoying her warmth. "Now, what were you saying about my tongue...?" she asked coyly in a low whisper.
Kristen lifted a brow in amusement, feeling the seriousness of the moment ebb away. They still had a lot to talk about but it could wait until Frances was ready again. "It was metaphorical."
"Well... would you like a literal demonstration of what this tongue can do?" Frances asked, wiggling her brows. She slipped her hands under Kristen's top and awkwardly shifted her injured leg atop Kristen's waist, loving the way Kristen fitted snugly in her embrace.
"Oh..." Kristen breathed out, her lips quirking and her body tingling at Frances' words and increased proximity. "I'm always up for pleasurable experiences," she said, her voice dropping an octave.
"Love me," Frances said softly. Kristen looked at her, startled at how quickly Frances' playfulness had dissipated. "Make me yours."
"Anything," Kristen replied in an equally serious tone as she leaned in to capture soft lips with her own. "I'd do anything for you," she murmured between kisses. "Tell me what you want."
Frances combed her fingers through Kristen's hair. "You," she said, hating that her lips were quivering, hating that she was about to cry again. She felt as though she was on an emotional roller coaster with no stop button in sight. "Just you. Every day. Like this."
Kristen sucked in a breath at Frances' words. "Hey..." She ran her finger down Frances' cheek to trace her lips. "Baby, you have me."
"If I..." Frances said haltingly, waiting for her thoughts to catch up with the overwhelming ball of emotions in her chest. She blew out a shaky breath. "If I go into my head the next coupla days, please don't hate me," she managed out.
"You do whatever you have to do," Kristen murmured reassuringly, her chest constricting at the vulnerability in Frances' voice. "I’ll understand if you want to be on your own, too. I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do."
Frances shook her head and nuzzled Kristen's neck. "Right now I just wanna be with you," she said, slurring a little. Her eye lids felt heavy and her head was beginning to swim. "I'm so tired..."
"Sleep, baby. I'll be here when you open your eyes." Kristen pressed her lips to Frances' temple and their embrace tightened.
"I'm sorry, I must sound like a crazy person right now," Frances mumbled drowsily.
Kristen smiled faintly. "That's okay. I can handle crazy."
"And my ankle does hurt," Frances added in a small, woeful voice that tore at Kristen's heart.
"I'm sorry. We'll go to the doctor's tomorrow, okay?" Kristen tucked Frances' hair behind her ear, sighing worriedly. "Keep it elevated. Do you need a new ice pack?" she asked, ready to get up.
"Just wanna sleep now," Frances mumbled, interrupting Kristen. "With you."
Kristen settled back onto the bed and lifted a hand to stroke Frances' hair and cheek protectively. She did not want to succumb to sleep herself, for fear that she might wake up to discover that Frances' return was nothing but a dream. "Sleep well, my love."
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