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A Certain Time and Place
By Purplepapillon


You know that you shouldn't be here. Olivia would kill you if she found out. There's no guarantee that Doris won't kill you anyway. But you need to know. You need to know if she has the answers; if Olivia has said anything - even the tiniest ghost of a hint - that might help you win her back. You need to know, so you stand on Doris's doorstep, your heart in your mouth as the sound of the doorbell echoes in the hallway and a shadowy figure approaches the glass.

"Natalia." Her tone is not unkind. It's somewhere between surprise and caution, with the smallest hint of resentment. The tiniest glimmer of hope is ignited somewhere in your chest and you allow it to take hold, to grow.

"Can I come in?" Your own voice is trembling a little, and you clench your fists together tightly to strengthen your resolve.

"It's not really a good time..." she begins, but you cut her off, gazing up at her pleadingly with those big brown eyes.

"Please," you urge, the briefest smile gracing your lips. A flash of dimples - your secret weapon - and she steps back, silently, to let you pass. Your bodies brush as you ease by her - you often forget how much more space you take up now - and she guides you through into her living room, motions for you to take a seat.

Your first thought is that she looks softer somehow, dressed in a simple tank top and jeans, her hair loose about her shoulders, not a sign of the harsh lines and sharp corners of city hall. Your second thought is that she has quite obviously been crying.

She sits, wordlessly, waiting for you to speak, to explain why you've come. You'd expected resistance, you'd prepared a speech which you'd practiced several times in the car, but now, as you sit and stare at her profile - proud and straight, but still oddly hunched - and her eyes - so sad underneath the polite interest she's feigning - the mother in you takes over and you can't help but ask.

"Doris, are you ok?"

Your voice is tender and she flinches as it washes over her, donning her armour to shrug off your concern. Her voice is too bright, too clipped, and altogether too forced as she answers that she's fine. You give her a knowing look - the same one you gave Rafe all those times you visited him in jail - and she crumbles just a little, biting her lip as fresh tears spring into her eyes.

"I tried to tell her," she whispers finally, spitting the words out as if they're literally burning her mouth. "I tried to tell her, but I couldn't."

You don't need to ask to know that she's talking about Ashlee; the sheer terror in her eyes says it all. Its the same fear you saw in your own face, in the days - no, weeks - before Rafe found out. It's the same fear Olivia saw written on your features time after time, the fear that nearly broke you both more often than you can remember; the fear that finally drove you away.

But you're not afraid anymore, and you don't want Doris to be either. You know how destructive that terror can be; it was a hard lesson, but you've learnt it now. Not without effort, you pull yourself out of the armchair and position yourself next to her on the couch, placing a comforting - yet still lightly trembling - hand on her arm. "Do you want to talk about it?" you ask softly, your voice stripped of everything but compassion.

She hesitates. She's not sure if she should do this; you can read it in her eyes. Not because she doesn't want to, although the two of you certainly aren't close. It's because she's Olivia's friend, and she's not sure of the boundaries. She's not sure if it's ok for her to be confiding in you. She's not even sure if it's ok for you to be here. She's not known Olivia for long enough to tell where the other woman draws the line between friendship and betrayal. But what she does know is that you're perhaps the only person right now who can understand how she feels. You're the only person who's been crushed by that fear; who's known the rejection that she's so desperately trying to avoid.

The unadulterated sympathy in your eyes is all that it takes for her mouth to open and all the fear, doubt and guilt to come tumbling out. When the tears start again, you stretch a tentative arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer when she she doesn't shake you off.

"I'm sorry," she mutters into the wet patch on your shirt as her sobs finally subside and your fingers still their comforting motion in her hair. "I'm just so scared that I'll lose her, that she'll react..." she pauses for breath, "...like Rafe."

She apologises again almost instantly, flushing guiltily as she feels your muscles tense and senses your sharp intake of breath.

"Rafe will come round," you say, but this time it's your own voice which is clipped and forced.

You feel her nod against your chest, her face as lacking in conviction as your own. Your eyes lock and you hold her gaze for long moments; long moments in which you realise that you have far more in common than you ever thought you could; in which you both reflect on what it means to face losing that which you hold most dear; long moments in which her lips move slowly towards yours, and instead of doing what you know should, you meet her halfway.

The first contact is short and chaste, lips brushing for the briefest of seconds. But it's been so long since either of you were close to anybody; since you've had that human contact which has been lacking ever since you left. And so her lips part against yours and your tongue darts between them, craving that which you know is so far from your reach.

This doesn't change a thing, you both know that. You still love Olivia, you're still determined to fight for your girl. But what you have in that moment somehow fits into the gaps; into the spaces between what you now recognise as fantasy and real life. The spaces between Olivia's welcoming arms and her cold eyes across the park; the spaces between Emma's warm smile and her mother's restraint; the spaces between Rafe's loving gaze and his accusatory stare. All those things which you dreamed of, which kept you warm on lonely nights. Those things which you wonder if you've now sacrificed for good.

At the exact same moment, the moment in which Doris's hands tangle in your hair, and yours begin to creep underneath her shirt, you both realise what you're doing and break apart, guilty, confused and ashamed.

"Olivia can never know," you whisper, your hand covering your mouth as you slide away from her and push yourself into the corner of the couch.

Doris nods her agreement, your eyes meeting in a silent pact.

"She's really hurting right now," the mayor says quietly, but it's a statement, not an accusation. You watch her carefully, trying to decode the mystery behind those cloudy blue eyes, but her expression is unreadable as she leads you to the door.

So much for honesty and a fresh new start.

The End

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