DISCLAIMER 1: This story is an original work of fiction set in the hectic little town of Springfield, as seen on Guiding Light. Most, if not all, of the characters and references used within belong completely to someone else. Someone who recently found a clue but could still use a swift kick in the rear, so I have borrowed them for just a little while and promise to return them unscathed, and smiling, as soon as I am done. No gain, monetary or otherwise, is expected from their use and no copyright infringement is intended or should be inferred.  (In other words, all I am really hoping to get out of this is some hot sex with my girlfriend so please don't sue me!)
DISCLAIMER 2: All original characters and story lines contained herein belong to the author. (Like anyone else would claim them!) This story may be archived upon request with the stipulation that it must be posted exactly as it was written, with all disclaimers intact.  (Ralst and The Athenaeum don't have to ask!)
DISCLAIMER 3: This story does depict a romantic relationship between two women. Some scenes may be graphic, but they are lovingly so.  If that bothers you than you are wound too tight for daytime TV!   I mean really, how can you be okay with someone marrying their cousin's sister's nephew's son and still bitch about a well done romance between two beautiful women??  Ever hear the old saying that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones?  (Unless of course they're trapped in said house, then throwing a stone or two might actually be a good idea...but I digress.)  If you are under 18, then you're never going to understand the title reference.  Ask your mom. (And get her to watch Otalia!  We need all the MILF's we can get!)  If this is illegal where you live, check your local ladies night for women in trench coats and silly hats.  Hey it couldn't hurt...
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I had to go into FicSec (Protective custody for fanfic authors) to write this!!  The A/O shippers have teamed up with the J/7 shippers and they're threatening to arrest and assimilate my ass so...write reviews! (How that relates I don't really know but...what the hell!) Just a quick note:  Since we don't know what is going to happen I am approaching this as my own little A/U.  Everything up until now is cannon.  Thanks to all of the wonderful Jesbians on the What Comes After forum, to Otaliafan for providing the clips that melted my brain, to Big Purple Dreams for giving madness a home, and to Ky and Emma for sliding into Otaliawe with me.  Most of all, thank you to Beep, for giving me one more thing to obsess over.  (You just HAD to do it didn't you??) Oh and BIG thanks to DiNovia and Fewthistle…for giving me somewhere to go where I wouldn't end up crying! Now what the hell does the name mean??? This is dedicated to Emma, for supporting everything I do and trying her hardest to keep the snickering to a minimum. I love you, Tidbit.  You're the reason for everything.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.


The Courtship of Emma's Mother
By Patricia L. Givens


Love is everything it's cracked up to be…

It really is worth fighting for, being brave for,

risking everything for.

-Eric Jong



Chapter One:  Now what?

"So what happens... what happens to us?"

"There is no us.  You love me.  But you're going to hate me... one day for this.  I can't live with that.  I can't..."

Olivia carried the last box down the stairs, setting it gently on top of the small stack that was perched on the edge of the coffee table.  She took a deep breath and looked around.

So this was the last of it.  Everything else had been taken back to the Beacon by the movers.  All that was left was this small stack of her life with Natalia; her make-up and toiletries, a selection of clothes and the items that she absolutely needed every single day.  She had left them here thinking that she and Emma would come back to the farmhouse one last time after the wedding.  Spend one last night together in a place where they had both been so happy.  Frank and Natalia had booked a romantic room in town anyway, so it wasn't as though they would have been intruding.

And then it had all gone wrong.

She had tried so hard to keep how she felt to herself.  She had wept in private for what she was losing, keeping a smile firmly in place whenever Natalia was around to see.  She had truly believed that what she was doing, what she was willing to do for Natalia's happiness, was the right thing.

So how had she allowed it to all go to hell? 

Standing there, at the grave of the man who had given his heart to both of them, she had screamed her feelings at Natalia, her chest heaving with an ache she had never experienced before as she fought to convince the person she loved more than any other in this world... that they could never be together.  And every argument Natalia had thrown back at her opened the wound a little bit wider, cut into her a little bit more, until every sound, every word, every brush of the winter air on her face was like a knife across her skin.  And in the end she had forced her heart to go cold, taking Natalia by the hand and leading her back to the church, to Frank, while she wondered if she would ever feel warm again.

She should have known the cold wouldn't last.

Standing there beside Natalia, listening to her speak her vows, she couldn't stop the tears that coursed down her cheeks.  She had held each breath she took a few beats longer than she should, trying to force an ache that would give her something, anything, else to focus on.

Then Natalia was gone.  For a moment she had been dumbstruck, angry at the wild hope that had flared with unwelcome strength within her chest.  Then she had followed her... found her... heard her say the words she had been secretly dieing inside to hear.  But hearing them did not wipe away the shame that had followed in their wake.

And she knew.  Natalia could never be hers.  She would always be God's, she was Emma's...and she could even be Frank's.  But not hers.  Never hers.

So she did the only thing she could do to save them both. 

She broke her own heart...for good this time.

Olivia sighed heavily as she took in the room around her.  Everything about it screamed Natalia and she swallowed, willing herself not to cry again, she had done enough of that the night before.  After her daughter had fallen asleep she had cried for hours, and not just for herself.  As miserable as she was, she knew that Emma had lost just as much.  She had lost the home and the woman she loved, just as her mother had.  She couldn't even bring herself to let Emma come with her today, choosing instead to send her off on a sleepover with one of her little friends.

Olivia laughed bitterly.  A year ago the pain she was feeling would have eclipsed everything else in her life, including her daughter.  But living with Natalia had taught her about living for other people.

Something in the top box caught the sunlight streaming in through the window and Olivia stared at the small glass figurine for a few moments before finally picking it up.  Tears tracked down her cheeks unchecked as she studied the delicate crystal duck in the center of her palm.  It had shown up on the small shelf above her bathtub sometime after Natalia had teased her about her and Emma playing with the ducks in the back yard.  There had been a post it note stuck to the wood beneath it, written in the younger woman's slanting script: 'The Olivia Spencer version of a little bathtub ducky." 

How pathetic was it that she still had that post it note?

Olivia closed her eyes tightly.  Was there anything that didn't hurt?  Would she ever reach a point where it just wouldn't matter anymore? 

Somehow, she didn't think so.  But that wasn't the worst part.  Not by far.

The worst part was that she didn't want it to.  Because the hurt from loving Natalia was better than not having a piece of her at all.

Olivia gasped as a sharp pain cut through her hand.  She opened her fingers to see that she had snapped off the corner of one delicate wing.  She stared absently at the blood that was welling up through the cut.  It wasn't serious enough to worry about and it gave her something else to focus on, if only for a moment.


She clenched her fist as she looked up, her heart spasming painfully in her chest when she saw Natalia leaning up against the entryway to the kitchen.  For a moment, their eyes locked, then the brunette frowned as she noticed the red drops collecting on the floor at Olivia's feet.

"Olivia??"  She quickly moved to her side, prying open her fingers to gently pull the crystal figure from her grasp. She set the duck carefully on the table and ran to the kitchen, returning with a towel and a small first aid kit.  She pressed down on the cut, frowning when Olivia winced.  "I think there's a piece of glass in there.  What happened?"

Olivia closed her eyes, savoring the warmth of having the other woman near, the gentle touch of her fingers along the edge of her bleeding palm.  "No.. nothing."  She swallowed and shook her head.  "Accident."

"An accident?"  Natalia shook her head.  "Okay, sit down."  She pressed Olivia down onto the couch and placed her hand palm up on her thigh.  She opened the first aid kit and pulled out a set of tweezers, some cotton balls, and the hydrogen peroxide.  She cleaned the tweezers thoroughly before using them to fish the small triangle of crystal from the cut.  She poured peroxide on the wound, then covered it with a bandage, holding on to her fingers tightly for a moment before releasing her.  "There.  All better?"

Olivia snorted.  "I'm not Emma."

A flash of pain traveled across Natalia's features, then she sighed and let it go.  "No, you're not.  But that doesn't mean I can't try to keep you from hurting."

"Little late for that."

Fire replaced the hollow, lost look in the younger woman's eyes. "Now wait a minute, you're the one that walked away."

"And you're the one that let me go."

Natalia swallowed hard, flinching at the pain she heard in those quiet words.  "I needed... a little time."  She stood up and moved to the fireplace, trying to put some distance between them.  It had always been hard to think when Olivia was close to her, but lately she found that she couldn't even put two words together; the other woman's presence just seemed to overwhelm her, leaving her caught up in her voice and almost drunk on her scent.  She cleared her throat, trying desperately not to think about the way Olivia's hair smelled.  "I needed to think."

Olivia sighed.  "About what?"  She stood up, looking around for her keys.  There was one she still needed to remove from the ring.

"About... us..."

Olivia froze, grateful that her back was to the other woman.  She fought to keep her voice even and her body from trembling.  "I told you, there is no us."


"No!"  The older woman let her shoulders slump.  "I can't keep doing this with you..."


"I can't keep tearing my own heart out.  I don't think that's what you had in mind when you gave it to me."  She breathed in harshly, unable to stop the sobs that shook her frame and broke her voice.  "I can't keep hoping and failing..."


"I'm done with this."  She picked up the little crystal duck, her eyes flooding when her finger ran across the jagged edge of wing.

"Olivia!"  Natalia finally snapped.  She reached out and grabbed the older woman's hand, taking the statue away from her.  She looked at it for several long moments before finally meeting Olivia's eyes.  "I can fix this."  She whispered.

Olivia brushed the tears from her face.  "You can't fix everything."

Natalia smiled.  "I disagree.  According to Emma there's nothing that can't be fixed with enough crazy glue."

"Well,  you've got the crazy part down.."

The younger woman rolled her eyes.  "You know, now I understand why you've been married so many times.  Are you always this difficult when someone is trying to ask you out?"

Olivia blinked.  "You...you're trying to ask me out?"

"Well…..yeah…I mean... I think that's…how things like...like... this... are supposed to start right?"

Olivia tilted her head to one side, her mouth quirking slightly as her eyes danced for the first time in days.

"What?"  Natalia straightened her sweater self consciously.

The other woman shrugged.  "I kind of assumed...I would be the one to ask."

Natalia's eyes widened slightly in panic.  "Well I don't know how this goes!!"

"Have you ever been the one to ask? Someone out, I mean?"  Olivia asked curiously and then held her breath when the corner of Natalia's mouth quirked up adorably, showing one of her dimples in all it's glory.

"No.."  She pouted slightly and Olivia had to fight the urge to run a fingertip across that lower lip.  "but….then…this whole thing is something new, right?  So I figured.. why not start at the top?"

The older woman smiled gently.  "Okay."

Natalia looked like she was holding her breath.  "Okay?"


"Well....okay!" Nat straightened her shoulders.  "I'll pick you up in an hour at...uhm... the bottom of the stairs?"

Olivia managed not to laugh but couldn't stop the gorgeous smile that transformed her face.

Natalia had been backing away and found herself so enchanted by that smile that she ran into the corner of the couch.  Stumbling slightly, she pointed her finger at Olivia.  "Stop it!"

"Stop what?"

The brunette frowned.  "Just... don't be late!"

Olivia watched her go, the heavy hammering in her chest making her feel like she was alive for the first time in weeks.


Chapter Two: Buying Trouble

It couldn't be this simple.

Olivia slid her hand across the mirror, wiping away the steam so that she could look herself in the eyes.

It couldn't just be a matter of telling Natalia that she loved her, hearing her say it back and then moving on to the next step. It could not be that easy!

Nothing for her was ever that easy. Everything she ever wanted, everyone she ever wanted, she had only gotten after a series of long, drawn out battles. Battles that had earned her many of the epithets that were slung at her most days of the week. The saddest part was, whenever she had emerged victorious from a fight, it never took her long to realize it had been more about the winning then wanting the prize.

But it wasn't like that this time. This time, she didn't want to fight... she didn't want to win.

All she wanted was Natalia.

Olivia swallowed, laughing quietly at the mist of tears that filled her eyes. "What the hell is wrong with me?" She ran her hands through her wet hair. "When did I get this soft?"

The smile faded to a look of longing as images of deep brown eyes and dimples filled her head. Soft laughter, gentle touches, warm caring and the simple joys of living with someone that understood her on such a fundamental level; someone who simply shook her head and rolled her eyes when she was being bitchy or childish, ignoring her until she got over herself. Having that every day of her life... that had made her soft.

What astounded her was that she actually liked it. She liked trading the bar hopping for Friday movie nights, rushing straight home after work to watch Natalia cooking dinner in their kitchen instead of meeting some random guy at Towers, only to end up sneaking out of his room at four in the morning.

Her eyes widened. Sex... She didn't even miss sex!

Olivia blinked at her reflection. Okay, if she was honest with herself, she did miss sex. She missed it a lot. What she didn't miss was the anonymous partners and illicit affairs that used to define her. Somewhere along the way she had found herself buying into the whole one person, one partner deal she had always laughed at before. She had found herself daydreaming of lovemaking that occurred naturally after a night spent laughing and talking. Lovemaking that was slow and sweet, that would fill her with emotion she could feel all the way down to her toes.

And her imagination had very definite ideas about who she wanted that with.

Olivia shook her head, trying to clear it of the images those thoughts always carried with them. Natalia was nowhere near ready for that, and fixating on it was sure to make their first date more torturous than it already looked to be.

But still... it wouldn't hurt to show Natalia a little of what might be ahead of them... Would it?

She picked up a bottle of the perfume Natalia had mentioned liking in the past. She turned it upside down for a moment, then pulled the stopper, running it across both sides of her neck before trailing it lightly between her breasts. A wicked smile curled up the edges of her lips as she raised one eyebrow at her own reflection. "Shame on you!" She whispered, grinning happily as she went to find the perfect thing to wear.

The bottom of the stairs was lonely when she finally arrived there twenty minutes later. She was tempted to follow the sounds she heard coming from the back of the house, but didn't want to risk messing up any plans. Instead she wrapped her hand around the balustrade and leaned into the living room, being careful not to step down from the first stair. "Natalia?"

"You're early!" The other woman squeaked from the kitchen. There was the sound of something crashing and then Natalia appeared, looking flustered and beautiful as she brushed the hair back from her eyes. "I didn't think you would even be on time let alone earl..." Her voice trailed off and her jaw dropped slightly as she took in the woman standing at the bottom of the staircase. Her eyes started at the knee high black boots that wrapped around her calves, then traveled up the slit in the side of the creme colored silk dress she was wearing. It was tight in all of the right places, accentuating her curves while still leaving a great deal to the imagination. Her gaze lingered just a touch too long over the low cut neckline, so that when their eyes finally met, a lovely red flush had spread across her cheeks. "You... uh...you..." Natalia swallowed and waved her hand up and down in Olivia's direction. "Yeah.."

Olivia smiled. "Thank you... I think. " She tilted her head to the side and took in the younger woman's appearance. She was wearing black slacks and a midnight blue poet's shirt, the ruffled cuffs hanging long over elegant fingers and the drawstring collar open to expose the smooth skin of her upper chest. The color was perfect, turning her eyes into inkwells that seemed to sparkle with their own internal light. She smiled gently. "You're pretty... 'yeah', yourself."

Natalia blushed even harder and looked down at the floor as she smiled. "Thanks."

"So!" Olivia cleared her throat, knowing that if she didn't ease the tension she'd never get off the stairs. "Where are you taking me?"

"Taking you?" Natalia blinked. "Uhm... about fifteen feet thataway." She pointed to the kitchen then hesitated for a moment before reaching out her hand.

Olivia took it slowly, twining their fingers together as she felt her knees go weak from the simple contact. Unable to speak, she allowed Natalia to lead her through the living room and into the kitchen, where she pulled up short, her mouth forming a perfect 'o' of surprise.

The kitchen table had been covered with one of their best tablecloths, then set with the dishes and glasses she kept for strictly special occasions. There was a bottle of wine chilling in a ceramic cooler and the table was completed by brightly lit tapers in crystal candle holders. It was beautiful and perfect and altogether romantic. She reached out to flip off the overhead lights only to have Natalia grab her hand.

"No!" The younger woman swallowed. "Uhm... I think it would be better if we left those on... you know... this time."

Olivia swallowed her disappointment. "When did you do all this?"

Natalia shrugged, her attention absorbed by the long fingers she was stroking absently with her thumb. Finally she took a deep breath and dragged her attention back to the question. "Mostly this morning. I called Jane to see if you had dropped off Emma and she told me that she wasn't sitting for you today, that you had let Emma go to a sleep-over because there were 'things' you had to do this afternoon." She shrugged again as she bit her lip. "I knew you'd show up sooner or later and I wanted to be ready... just in case."

Olivia nodded slowly, suddenly grateful she hadn't come in through the kitchen. Everything Nat had done was wonderful, but she couldn't shake the sad feeling that was overwhelming her. "So... You never planned to take me out." She pulled her hand away. "Is this how it's going to be, Natalia? Hidden dinners and secret dates? You're still ashamed..."

Natalia's eyes had gone wide. "No!" She closed her mouth quickly, frowning at herself. "Okay, maybe a little but not for the reasons you think."

"What other reasons could there be?"

The younger woman grabbed both of her hands and held them up to her chest. "Olivia, I am ashamed of so many things. I'm ashamed that I spent so much time lying to myself, that I allowed myself to nearly marry a man I didn't love because I couldn't bear to let go of my lies. But most of all, I'm ashamed that I ever hurt you." She blinked back her tears. "And yes, I am confused and I don't have a clue what I'm supposed to do, but I'm here...with you... and there is no one else I would rather be with." She rested her forehead on their joined hands. "I want to do this right... I just thought... our first time…. our first date would be easier if it was just us….not us and the whole world."

Olivia swallowed. Unable to speak, she stroked Natalia's cheek gently. They stayed like that for several minutes until the older woman finally ended the moment. "So," she said softly, her voice rough with emotion. "I'm starving. What are you going to feed me?"

Natalia released her, running her hands over her face before picking up potholders and opening the oven door.

The scent hit her full force and Olivia couldn't help laughing. "Tuna noodle casserole??"

"What?" Nat flushed. "I only had an hour! Give me a break! I'm flying by the seat of my pants here."

"Wouldn't be a bad way to fly." Olivia mumbled under her breath, smiling innocently when the younger woman glanced at her sharply.


"Nothing!" She shrugged and pulled out a chair, sliding into it as she looked up at Natalia expectantly. "Let the date begin."

Olivia studied Natalia intently as she moved about the kitchen.  There was something about watching her cook that had always appealed to Olivia, this occasion was no exception.  Maybe it was her enthusiasm, or the grace and happiness with which she approached a task that most others would consider mundane.  Whatever it was, it filled the older woman with deep sense of contentment she had never experienced before.

Olivia raised one eyebrow curiously as Natalia brought the last dish to the table, setting it down in front of the older woman with a shy smile.

"Are those...?"  She lifted the glass lid, her eyes closing in appreciation as the steam bathed her face, carrying with it the delicious aroma of one of her very favorite side dishes.

"Snow peas with garlic butter and cracked black pepper."

Olivia shook her head in amazement.  "The last time I asked for these you said they were out of season!"

"They are.  But Daisy told me about this little farm about a half an hour outside of town where they grow everything indoors.  I called and they had them so I went and picked some up."

Olivia blinked.  "You..."  She swallowed against the sudden ache in her throat.  "You drove an hour in the snow...to get me peas?"

Natalia shrugged but her face turned a light pink.  "It wasn't snowing that hard."

"You were pretty sure I would say yes, weren't you?"

The brunette smiled.  "I had faith." 

Olivia felt her stomach drop slightly.  She carefully put the lid back on the dish before unfolding her napkin and draping it across her lap.  "In God..." she said quietly.  How is this ever going to work?  I can't compete with an entire religion...  She was so lost in her own thoughts that she jumped when she felt warm fingers slide over her own.  She looked up into dark, expressive eyes and felt the coldness that had started to take hold of her melt away.

"In you." Nat said simply.

Olivia bit the inside of her cheek to try and control the silly grin that threatened to hijack her lips.  She almost succeeded.

"But!"  Natalia released her hand and clasped both of hers together. "Speaking of God..."  She closed her eyes.  "Dear Lord, thank you for the  life and the breath you have allowed us this day, thank you for the family that we hold dear and the many forms of sustenance you provide.  Thank you for the love you allow us to feel and to share..." She glanced over at Olivia, her eyes so full of emotion that the older woman thought she might drown in it.  "Thank you for tomorrow and the next day and the one after that, all of them stretched out before us, full of hope and possibilities.  Amen."

"Amen."  The whispered word fell from Olivia's lips before she could stop it and she found herself fighting a blush as Natalia looked at her curiously.  "What?  It's the first prayer I ever completely agreed with!"

Natalia just smiled.

Olivia grumbled quietly to herself as she picked up her fork.  A second later, all was forgiven as she took her first bite of the casserole, followed immediately by an enthusiastically speared snow pea.  She made little happy sounds in the back of her throat as her lips turned up in a silly smile, her upper body wiggling slightly in her seat.  For a moment, there was just her and the food and rapture.  Then she opened her eyes to see Natalia's grinning face and she swallowed quickly.  "What?"

"Nothing."  The brunette let out a happy sigh.

"That didn't sound like nothing."

Natalia picked up her glass of wine and sipped from it slowly.  "Have I ever told you how much I like to watch you eat?"

Olivia's eyebrows looked like they were trying to crawl off her forehead.  "I beg your pardon?"

The younger woman laughed.  "You have this image you project whenever you're out in public... at least whenever Emma and ice cream aren't involved.  It's like you want everyone to think that you have this internal power cell that runs on nothing but sarcasm and martini's."  Her smile softened as her eyes sparkled.  "But when you're home... it's like you let all those pretenses go and you just enjoy yourself, enjoy the food.  Honestly sometimes, when my back is turned, I can't tell if it's you or Emma at the table.

Olivia blinked innocently.  "I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about."

Natalia flashed her dimples, causing a crack in the older woman's calm demeanor.

"Then again, maybe it's just being with you.  I mean,"  She smiled back, looking directly into deep brown eyes.  "The food is great, but it doesn't compare to the view."

Whatever reaction she had been hoping for, the brief look of confusion and hurt that flashed across Natalia's face wasn't it.

"I'm sorry."  She immediately reached for the younger woman's hand, only to sigh heavily when it was withdrawn.  "Are you upset because you think I was insulting your cooking or did I just push a little too hard?"

"It isn't... that's not..."

"Then what?"

Natalia looked everywhere but in her eyes.  "That just sounded like... it came a little too easy for you."

Olivia frowned.  "It did come easy!  Apparently you've forgotten the part of this where I'm in love with you!"  She saw the brunette's body tremble at her words and felt an echoing shiver run down her own spine.  "What am I missing here?"

"You..."  The younger woman sighed.  "You seem pretty accustomed to flirting with women."  She finally raised her head and Olivia recognized the hurt in her eyes for what it was. 

"You think I've done this before!"  She said in amazement.

"Have you?"

"Natalia, you know me.  When have I ever backed down from a fight I knew I could win?  From something I wanted that I knew I could have?  Do you honestly think, if I wasn't at least as screwed up about all of this as you are, that I would have ever let you get anywhere near Frank and that church?"

Nat looked at her hopefully.  "So that's a no?"

Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger.  "That would be a no."  The sigh of relief from the other side of the table surprised her.  "You know how many time's I've been married and I'm sure you have a rough estimate of how many lover's I've had.  Why would it be so terrible if I had a little experience in this particular area?"

Natalia shrugged.  "I'm aware that you're no angel, Olivia.  But those were all men and... and I know that it's ridiculous, but I feel like... like maybe we've been given another chance to get it right."

"Natalia..."  Olivia's couldn't help the snarky little grin that curled the edges of her mouth.  "I don't really think you get a do-over on virginity."

The younger woman blushed, turning her olive skin ruddy and, for a moment, Olivia flashed on what she might look like in bed.  The powerful surge of desire that shot through her left her body weak and her mouth dry.

"I know that."  Nat idly ran her index finger up and down the tines of her fork, causing Olivia's breath to catch painfully.  "But the fact that this would be something... special between us, something..."

"Pure."  She finally understood.  "That's how you made peace with this, isn't it?  We're both pure..."  She rolled her eyes slightly.  "...more or less, in this area and that makes it good in your book?"

Natalia's shrug was almost imperceptible this time.  "It makes it real..."  She said softly.  "It puts us on level ground with each other."  She tunneled her fingers through her hair, leaving it tousled and slightly messy and looking for all the world like she had just been thoroughly made love to.

Olivia swallowed and shook her head slightly.  She had known she was attracted to Natalia for months, but the desire to be with her had never been this acute. 

"And I guess..."  Natalia smiled shyly.  "I guess the fact that neither of us has been... with a woman...  makes it about you and me, about how much we feel for each other and not just... about... sex."

"Okay,"  Olivia said slowly.  "I can see that. But Nat, you do know that's something I want right?"

"What is?"


Natalia had been sipping her wine and promptly choked on it, coughing wildly as she sputtered, "Not on the first date!"

"No, no, no, sweetie, I'm not asking you for sex."  Olivia couldn't help smiling.  "At least not tonight."  She took a large drink of wine.  Here's to dutch courage!  "How I feel about you... it's big, and it's real and... it eclipses everything I ever thought I knew about love..."  She felt her heart swell painfully at the beautiful smile that lit up Natalia's face.  "And I know that it's only going to keep growing.  I know that... because it's been getting stronger every day.  That means that sooner or later, more than likely sooner, it's going to manifest in a more...physical aspect." 

Natalia's eyes widened slightly.  "Oh."

"I'm not trying to rush you, that isn't what I want.   I just need to know that you want this relationship to grow, that you want us to share our lives... "  She sighed.  "And... eventually... a bed."  Natalia opened her mouth to speak and Olivia held up a hand.  "Because sweetheart, this kind of marriage,"  She waved her hand between the two of them.  "It's a long way off and if you are going to hold us to that particular standard... well... eventually I'm going to turn into a major bitch."

The younger woman swallowed.  "Do we have to talk about this now?  I thought we were going to ease into things."

Olivia raised one eyebrow.  "Oh I'm all for easing into things."

Natalia looked scandalized.  "Olivia!"

The older woman stopped playing with her.  "You know I want you to take all the time you need, Natalia.  I just need to know that we both see this going to the same place and that we both want to work towards that... together."

Natalia crossed her arms over her chest and fought down her embarrassment long enough to whisper, "Yes."  Olivia flashed her a wicked smile, causing Nat to grab up her napkin and throw it at the other woman.  "Shut up and eat your peas!"


Chapter Three: Jumping on Trampolines

"That was incredible."  Olivia laid her fork on her plate, returning Natalia's happy smile as the younger woman stood and began to clear the table.  Olivia watched her for a moment and then picked up her own plate and carried it over to the counter.  She placed her left hand lightly in the small of Natalia's back as she leaned past her to set the dish in the sink, blinking in surprise when a noticeable tremor ran through the muscles beneath her fingertips.  The trembling was followed by a sharp intake of breath and a loud clatter as the plate Nat was holding slid through her fingers to land heavily in the sink.  "I'm sorry-"

"No!  It's not a problem... well... it's not a problem as long as we keep a supply of extra dishes... apparently."  Natalia gave her a watery smile and moved away slightly.  "I just... I guess I'm just not used to having... that kind of reaction.  To you."

"To me?"

The younger woman sighed and rubbed her forehead.  "To your touch, okay?  I'm used to it being comforting..."

The corner of Olivia's mouth twitched into a smile.  "And now?"

"Now?"  Natalia let out a short bark of laughter.  "Comforting isn't exactly how I would describe it!"

"How would you describe it?"

The brunette stared at her for a moment.  "Crazy,"  She finally whispered.  "Overwhelming... so strong it scares me."  She sighed, steepling her fingers together in front of her mouth as she continued softly.  "But so warm... and wonderful... that I think..."  She swallowed.  "I think I can feel it all the way down to my toes."

Olivia's heart jumped in her chest as her own thoughts were echoed back at her.  "Oh."  She couldn't stop the pleased smile that graced her lips.

"Olivia Spencer blushing? Now I've seen everything!"

The older woman's grin turned into a smirk as she took a step closer.  "Not. Quite. Everything..."

"Uh..."  Natalia took a step back and collided with the counter, her arm swinging out to knock over two glasses that she quickly caught before they ended up on the floor.  "Olivia!"  She straightened her back and pointed to the entryway.  "Couch!  Now!"

Olivia's eyebrow rose. "I beg your pardon?"

"I want you to go sit on the couch and wait for me."

"But I want to help!"

Natalia started to laugh.  "Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing you could possibly do in here that would help me clean up the kitchen!  Now please, go sit on the couch.  I will be there in a few minutes and I'll... bring you another glass of wine and some dessert."

"Is that a bribe?"

"Will it work?"

Olivia grinned.  She grabbed her empty wine glass from the table and then leaned forward, moving well into Natalia's personal space as she set it down on the counter.  She could feel the nervous energy vibrating through the younger woman and, after a small pause, she pushed the glass further away from the edge.  "I'll be waiting."  She said softly.

Nat watched her walk away before she leaned heavily against the counter, inhaling deeply as she willed her heart to slow. 

Who would have known that Olivia Spencer could be so hard on two hearts at once?

Natalia came out of the kitchen with two glasses of wine, stopping short when she saw Olivia waiting for her on the couch.  The older woman's eyes were closed, her head tilted back so that she seemed to be offering up the soft expanse of her throat.  The image of pressing her lips and teeth against that smooth, sweet smelling skin invaded Natalia's thoughts and, for a moment, she stopped breathing as she felt a shiver run down her spine to sap the strength from her knees.   She closed her eyes and leaned heavily against the wall, focusing for all she was worth on pushing air in and out of her lungs so that she didn't hyperventilate. 

What is going on with me?  She raised one hand, pressing the cool glass against her temple.  She was a grown woman!  Strong faith or not, she had experienced both love and lust in the past... but what happened to her every time she looked at Olivia was something she had no frame of reference for. 

She opened her eyes to find Olivia watching her, a knowing smile on her face.  "Where did you go away to?"

Natalia bit her lower lip.  "Hmmm?"  She handed Olivia her glass and sat down gingerly next to her.

"You were standing there for quite a while.  I just wondered where you went."  She smiled when the younger woman's cheeks pinked.  "Well...  wherever it was, it looked pleasant."

Natalia turned and looked her, her eyes traveling over Olivia's face, drinking her in like she was afraid she might disappear.  "You're beautiful."  She whispered. "I've always thought so."  She reached out and traced the older woman's jawline with her fingertips.  "I used to catch myself staring and my mind would run through all of these rationalizations.  That you're my friend, that I love you like a sister..."  She laughed lightly.  "...that there was nothing wrong with it because it was natural to appreciate something so...."

"...Exquisite..."  Olivia's smiled shyly as she stared into deep brown eyes that seemed to surround her with warmth.  "That's the one word that always popped into my head whenever I caught myself watching you."  She laughed and looked down into her wine glass.  "But I stopped trying to rationalize it a long time ago."

"How long ago?"

The older woman shifted uncomfortably.

"Olivia? How long have you felt this way?"  When she didn't receive an answer, Natalia glanced across the room to the piece of door frame that was resting in the corner.  It had traveled from spot to spot in the house since Olivia had given it to her at Christmas, finally finding a home where she could see it every single day.  Her eyes counted the marks automatically, as they did every time she looked at it. She thought about Rafe for a moment.  Frank had called her that morning to tell her he had to take Rafe to the halfway house.  She had held him and cried until her Frank had shown up, then she had waved goodbye, immediately regretting that she hadn't been able to tell him about Olivia.  She had counted the marks three times after he left, using them to center herself; to remind herself that he would be home again soon.  That simple piece of door jam had offered the same comfort before he had gotten out of prison and that was all because Olivia had taken the time and made the effort to get it for her.  For the first time she really considered the trouble her friend had gone through to acquire it.  She would have had to have someone find the apartment, then she would have had to convince the owner to allow her to tear apart the entryway to the kitchen.  She smiled to herself when she pictured that particular conversation.  She would have had to pay for the removal and restoration of the old piece of wood, and then for it's replacement as well.  All in all it would have taken a huge amount of effort to complete... and an incredible amount of love to think of in the first place!  She turned back to Olivia, the question plain on her face.

Olivia nodded slowly.  "Yeah,"  She whispered.  "Even back then..."

Natalia's mouth dropped open slightly.

"So, I answered you, now you answer me."  Olivia looked down, picking at an invisible piece of lint on the couch.  "You never once told me no, when I called you... when I told you I needed you.  You always came..."

The younger woman swallowed against the lump in her throat.  "All I had to hear were those three words... and nothing else mattered."  She shrugged.  "I told myself at first it was because of Gus, and then because you were sick... and then I just stopped trying to tell myself anything at all."

"So you had your own personal little don't ask, don't tell policy?"

Natalia sighed.  "I guess we've both been fooling ourselves for a long time."

"I don't think we were fooling ourselves so much as we were trying to find our way.  We've messed up a lot but we're here now... together... and we get to decide what happens to us from here on out."  She laid her hand gently against Natalia's cheek.  "I know where Id like it to go."

The touch against her face was so warm, so gentle that Natalia couldn't help turning her head into it.  She pressed her lips into the center of Olivia's palm, her breath quickening when the older woman's eyes closed, her head tilting to one side as she licked her lips.  Natalia followed the path of her tongue unaware that she was leaning forward until a bell dinged in the kitchen, breaking the mood.

Olivia opened her eyes and looked up at her; she didn't seem at all surprised to find Natalia so close.  The bell dinged again and she matched Natalia's grin.  "I'm not even going to say it."

The brunette snuggled into her hand again briefly then jumped up, pulling the half full glass of wine from Olivia's hand and snatching her own from the table before disappearing into the kitchen.

"Oh... uhm..okay..."  Olivia called after her.  "Sure I'd love a refill!"

A few minutes later, Natalia returned with two plates and two steaming mugs.

"Coffee?"  Olivia looked into the mug she was handed and then stared up at the younger woman curiously.  "You brought coffee instead of wine?"

The other woman shrugged.  "I thought it would be better."

Olivia's face filled with understanding and her features hardened.  "Oh, I see.  You were worried that I wouldn't be able to drive back to the Beacon."

Natalia set the plates down on the table and settled in next to her on the couch.  She was silent for a moment, then turned and faced Olivia, taking her hand gently.  "No."  She said softly.  "I just want it to be your choice... that you stay."

Olivia blinked, her mouth opening and closing several times as she tried to think of something to say.

Natalia didn't give her the chance.  "I'd really like it if you stayed, Olivia.  I slept here last night and I felt... so alone.  I mean, Rafe was here with me; but as good as it felt having my son home, the house was still so... empty... without you.  I want you here with me... well, not 'with me' with me....but with me... You know what I mean!"  She smiled shyly.  "Your room is still made up.  The bed still has the two billion count sheets on it that you seem to need to sleep... like you're the princess and the pea or something."  Olivia's laughter caught her up short and she closed her mouth quickly.  "I'm sorry, I'm babbling."  She ran her fingers through her hair.  "Will you stay?"

Olivia's features softened into a happy smile.  "Okay, but dessert better be fantastic."

Natalia blinked.  "Dessert!"  She grabbed up a plate and handed it to Olivia, smirking when the older woman's face lit up with childlike glee.


"Caramel pecan cheesecake."  Natalia corrected, watching as Olivia took her first bite.

"Oh my god, this is good!"  The older woman sighed.  "How did you know I liked cheesecake?  I never eat it if i can help it!"

"You told me once.  I believe your exact words were 'I love jumping on trampolines and eating cheesecake for breakfast.'  I couldn't do anything about the trampoline so..."

Olivia smirked.  "But this isn't breakfast."

For the first time Natalia smirked right back.  "We'll have to work on that."

Dumbfounded, Olivia could only stare at her.

Twenty minutes later the cheesecake was gone and Olivia watched as the younger woman leaned back onto the couch, her eyes closing as she sighed in contentment.  She looked so incredibly beautiful that Olivia couldn't have looked away if she tried.

And she certainly didn't want to.

Natalia yawned and the image was so adorable that Olivia had to shake her head.  She was so far gone from 'soft' she was practically jelly.

"Hey, it's late."  Her heart caught at the sleepy smile the brunette bestowed upon her.  "Why don't you let me walk you home?"

Natalia's smile turned into a full on grin. "What a gentleman."  She stood up and started to gather the dishes. 

"Oh no."  Olivia took them away from her and set them back on the table. "I'll take care of those.  It's my turn." She held out her hand.

Natalia's eyebrows rose but she said nothing as she took Olivia's offer and twined their fingers together.  Laughing when the older woman led her to the bottom of the stairs and stopped. 

"Do you want me to walk you up?"

"No, no. I think it's... safer... if you drop me off here."

Olivia nodded, staring at the younger woman for a moment before she leaned in slightly.

Natalia placed her hand on the older woman's shoulder, stopping her with a small shake of her head.

"Let me guess," Olivia sighed.  "None of that on the first date either?"

"A girl's gotta have standards."

"Well, do you think you could get me a schedule of approved events prior to each of our future dates, Miss Rivera?"

"What makes you think there will be any future dates, Ms. Spencer?"

Olivia's face went slack.  "Wha...?"

Natalia smirked and went up on her toes to place a soft kiss on Olivia's cheek.  "Good night."

"Night."  Olivia watched her climb the stairs, trying to keep her thoughts clean and failing miserably.  Once she was out of sight she looked at the dirty dishes with a frown.  "The things I do for love."  She sighed.

Olivia climbed the stairs quietly, stopping in the hall halfway between their rooms.  When she didn't hear anything, she opened the door to her bedroom and went inside, finding herself ridiculously happy to be there.  She glanced at the bed, the three hundred dollar sheets making her smile as she remembered Natalia's comment.  "She just doesn't know what she's missing."  She said quietly to herself.  "...yet."

She stepped into the bathroom, flipping on the light so that she could run the water for a quick shower.

That was when she noticed it.

The little crystal duck, complete with mended wing, was back on the shelf above the bathtub. 

She touched it lightly with trembling fingers as happy tears rolled down her face.  She looked in the mirror and laughed at the silly smile that graced her lips; a smile that that didn't dim as she took a shower and prepared for bed.

When she finally slid between her soft cotton sheets just shy of an hour later, her cheeks were sore, but her heart was light.  Unfortunately she was also wide awake.  She didn't know how she could be expected to fall asleep when her heart was somewhere down the hall.  Images of Natalia kept running through her mind; and as if it that wasn't bad enough, her other senses seemed to be betraying her as well.  She could swear she was surrounded by the younger woman's scent...

Olivia gasped and sat straight up in bed.  She gathered the sheets and held them up to her face, inhaling deeply.  Then she did the same with her pillow.  She wasn't imagining it!  Her entire bed smelled like Natalia.

She slept here! 

Olivia's heart filled with joy as she imagined the brunette wrapping herself up in the sheets, using them to be close to her, drawing comfort from them.  With a sensual smile she laid back down and pulled them over her head.

Sleeping was overrated anyway.

The scent was all around her.  The scent of her skin, of her hair.  It was driving her crazy, threatening to drown her, turning her inside out and leaving her open and weak under the heavy weight of her gaze.  It made her want things she had never even contemplated, never even thought about... before now.


Now it was all she could do to keep from screaming as feather-like fingertips trailed down her neck to cross over the top of her breasts.  She was arching up into the contact before the fingers even reached one nipple; moaning before strong teeth closed over the other.  She whimpered and writhed, moisture flooding the juncture between her legs as a smooth thigh was inserted between them.  And when her heated flesh came in contact with that soft skin, her lips parted, releasing nothing more than the tiniest 'OH!', as that was all the breath she could spare.

Gentle lips met hers, pressing softly and then becoming more forceful as a hand trailed down her stomach.  Curious fingers played lightly through her short trimmed hair before sliding into the moist folds of her sex.  She groaned loudly and the woman above her smiled in wonder, taking her open mouth as an invitation to slide her tongue inside while her fingers danced over the bundle of nerves at the top of her cleft.  The sensation was unbelievable, the pleasure beyond sublime.  For a moment she thought that there could be no more than this, no deeper feeling, no greater delectation.

Until those gentle fingers paused for a moment... they hesitated...

Then moved lower and slid inside.

Her back spasmed and she flew upwards, wrapping her arms and legs around the woman moving inside her.  She felt the fingers curl, felt them find the spot hidden deep within her that made her begin to quake, then felt a gentle thumb making lazy circles around her clit and she came apart in her lover's arms, panting, tears streaming from her eyes as she finally opened them to look up.

Bright green eyes stared into hers and she watched as Olivia slipped two fingers into her mouth, humming quietly under her breath,  "Mmmmm."

Natalia shot completely upright, crawling out of her bed as though her backside were on fire as she looked around the room in a panic.  "Holy shit!"  She whispered and then immediately clamped her hand over her mouth as she began to pray silently for God to forgive the vulgarity. 

It took her a moment to realize she hadn't asked forgiveness for anything else.  Nor did she feel the least bit guilty.

Embarrassed?  Yeah. 

Shy?  You bet. 

Insanely aroused?  Oh yes!

But not guilty.

She couldn't stop herself from thinking about what had happened in her dream and she felt her cheeks burn with warmth.  After a moment, she felt other areas begin to warm up as well.  She glanced at the wall that separated her room from Olivia's, a thoughtful look gracing her features.  Then she smiled and shook her head, crawling back into bed with an amused sigh.

It was going to be a very long night.

Olivia practically danced down the stairs the next morning.  She had slept like a baby comforted by the scent of Natalia wrapped around her.  It had been years since she had felt this alive and energized so early in the morning and she walked into the kitchen on a cloud.

The euphoric feeling was immediately replaced by that of large butterflies careening through her chest and stomach when she saw Natalia at the sink slicing mushrooms on a cutting board that rested over the basin.  A huge smile lit up her face and she leaned against the entryway for several long minutes, quietly drinking in the sight of her before she said softly, "You're still wearing my favorite perfume."

A tremor traveled up Natalia's back at the sound of Olivia's voice.  It was at its lowest register, as it always was in the mornings, thick with sleep and so incredible that she thought it would drive her insane.  She tried to control her reaction but she knew Olivia wouldn't miss the way her eyes closed or how her head swayed back slightly before she was able to find her equilibrium.  When she finally got herself under control, she glanced over her shoulder, her forehead furrowed in confusion as she pondered Olivia's statement.  "How would you know?"  She smiled.  "I don't think you can tell from way over there."  Her heart-rate jumped to triple time when the older woman smiled and glanced upward, nodding in the general direction of her bedroom.  "Oh...!"  A dark flush crept into her cheeks and she began to stammer.  "I'm... I'm... so, so...  sorry.  I know I... I crossed a line.  I should have asked... I should have..."

"Natalia..."  Olivia crossed the space between them, pressing up against her from behind as she laid her hands possessively on her hips.  She nuzzled into the mass of dark curls for a moment, getting lost in the younger woman's scent all over again  When she was finally able to speak, her voice was so deep she barely recognized it.  "If you think you need to apologize for being in my bed, then you're not... paying.... attention."  Olivia punctuated each of the three words by bringing her lips closer and closer to Natalia's ear.  Her breath stirred the delicate hair that hung in front of it and raised goose bumps down the side of her neck.  Natalia trembled and leaned her head to the side, as though she was offering herself up like a willing sacrifice.

Unable to resist, Olivia closed the small space between them and pressed her lips to the pulse point below Natalia's jaw.  She felt it jump wildly, heard the small whimper that fell from her lips and opened her mouth, biting lightly for a moment until Natalia twisted out of her arms and bolted across the kitchen to the refrigerator where she stood with her head pressed against the cool metal, her chest heaving as she fought to breath.

Olivia smirked.  "I'm sorry."

The corner of Natalia's mouth curled and one eyebrow went up sarcastically.  "You don't look very sorry."

"I'll work on it."  The older woman winked at her and dropped into her customary chair, sipping from her coffee mug as she watched Natalia with a blatantly over-interested stare.  "So what's for breakfast?"

Natalia snorted.  "Keep it up and all you'll be having is cheesecake!" She opened the fridge to grab the eggs as Olivia laughed behind her.

"You think that would bother me?"  She heard the chair creak as the older woman leaned forward, towards the dessert that was sitting covered on the kitchen table.  "God this is even better the next day.... Mmmmm!"

The brunette spun around, the eggs she was holding dropping from her nerveless fingers as she watched Olivia suck the confection from her fingers.  Whatever scared, aroused, crazy look she was wearing must have been very obvious because one of Olivia's eyebrows shot towards the ceiling as the biggest smirk she had ever seen played on her lips.

"Why, Miss Rivera... Was that an impure thought?"

Natalia watched Olivia's eyes sparkle as she returned her fingers to her mouth to run her tongue quickly across the tips of them.  "Uh... Late!  It's late!  Too late for food!"  She scooped up the dripping egg crate from the floor and tossed it quickly in the sink.  "We have to shower..."  Her eyes widened in panic.  "Not together! We have to work to get ready... I mean... So much work today... I have...uhm..."  She finally tossed her hands up in the air and fled, calling back over her shoulder.  "I'll meet you at the car!"

Olivia watched her go, waiting until the woman she loved was out of earshot before dissolving into a fit of helpless giggles.  When her laughter finally trailed off she wiped her eyes and sighed happily.  So Natalia had naughty thoughts about her.  She glanced at the statue of the Virgin Mary on the side table.  Grinning like a fool she winked at it and whispered, "Well hallelujah!"


Chapter Four:  Hats & Beards

"So you have an appointment with the contractors who are working on the grand ballroom at ten and then a lunch meeting in conference room one at two-thirty with Sam Jennings from VIP Travel."  Natalia rattled off Olivia's schedule for the day as she drove.  "It took some doing to get him to come talk to us since he usually only negotiates with chains that have more than twenty locations but he heard about our reputation and I was able to get him to come have a look."  She kept both of her hands on the steering wheel and her eyes fixed pointedly on the road, being very careful not to look at the woman sitting less than two feet away from her.  "I know that's going to make you late to get Emma so I'll pick her up from school and swing by Company...uh... somewhere to get dinner after we go shopping for her new dress for picture day..."


The younger woman swallowed.  "There's also a problem with the wait staff.  Some kind of feud between them and the busboys over the percentage split from the tips.  I tried to talk to them but they won't be happy until they hear from you..."


"Oh, and you need to approve the estimates for the new laundry equipment the engineers want to install, but I really think you should reconsider the expense since the old equipment is still working perfectly..."  Her voice finally trailed off when Olivia reached over and plucked her right hand off the steering wheel, dragging it to her lap where she rested it on her thigh before twining their fingers together.  The older woman was wearing a fairly short charcoal skirt that had ridden up when she entered the car and Natalia's knuckles rested against the smooth skin that showed above the edge of her garters.  Who wears garters to work anymore?  she thought desperately.  She felt her breathing begin to quicken and tore her gaze away from their joined hands, bringing it back to the road in front of them.  "This isn't a safe way to drive."  She said in a small voice.

Olivia's light laughter cut through the haze of her thoughts and focused them once again on the feel of the skin beneath her hand and the edge of one strap that she began to trace with the tip of her index finger.

"I know you love me."  Olivia pursed her lips.  "So there's nothing wrong with the kind of thoughts you were having this morning."  She looked over at Natalia's profile and smiled.  "Lord knows I've had some incredible fantasies about you."

The younger woman shifted in her seat.  "I know you're trying to make me feel better, Olivia and I appreciate it, but it might work better if you didn't bring God into the conversation."

Olivia bit her lip to keep from laughing again.  "Okay.  Then what if I just tell you some of the thought's I've had-"

"No!"  Natalia's hand slipped and the car swerved slightly.  "Now would so not be a good time for that!"

"Okay, okay."  She tightened her grip as Nat tried to pull her hand away.  "I just don't want you to feel like you need to be ashamed of what you want."

Natalia stared at her for a moment.  "Is that what you think?  That I'm ashamed of it?"  She shook her head and turned her attention back to the road.  "That's not it, Olivia."

The older woman frowned in confusion.  "Then what is it?"

"Have you ever... just had a thought that was so... strong... that it completely threw you?"  She sighed.  "Despite what you think, Olivia, I am not that innocent.  I've had lovers..."

"Obviously," Olivia quipped.  "Otherwise I'd have to reevaluate just how close your relationship to God really is!"

Nat half rolled her eyes but chose to ignore the comment.  "I know what desire feels like... what want feels like."  She took a deep breath.  "And it doesn't compare to what's happening to me now.  Sometimes I get overwhelmed just from looking at you.  Do you understand?  I don't...  I've never... had to deal with anything like this before!  It's new and it's crazy..."

"But it's good....right?"  The insecurity in Olivia's voice reminded Natalia that she wasn't the only one going through something new and different.

"Oh it's very good!"  She exclaimed a little too forcefully, feeling herself blush furiously as Olivia smiled at her.  "I'm just... still trying to get used to all of this..." She squeezed the older woman's hand tightly.  "All of us...  so please don't ever think that I'm not happy about it.  It's just a lot to get used to."

Olivia nodded, releasing the other woman's hand so that she could enter the underground parking garage and pull into her reserved space.  When they were out of the car, however, she grabbed Nat's hand again, holding it tightly as they rode the elevator up to the first floor, not letting go until the doors slid open and the sounds of their work world intruded.

"So, uhm..."  Natalia smiled and shifted her purse on her arm.  "I'll go make the rounds."

"And I'll go check on the wait staff and the engineers."  She reached out and touched Natalia's arm quickly as the younger woman went to leave.  "Meet me for coffee in my suite in a couple of hours?"

Her assistant smiled.  "Definitely."

Natalia slipped the passkey into the lock, pushing the door open with her hip as she balanced two thick paper cups full of coffee and her clipboard in her hands.  She smiled when she saw Olivia was already in the room, but the smile quickly turned into concern when she heard the tone of the older woman's voice as she spoke on the phone.

"...and there's no where else you can put it?  No, I don't want to take up one of the rooms, we're heading into the busy season and we'll need every room we've got."  She flashed Natalia a sweet smile as she accepted her coffee, closing her eyes in appreciation when she took her first sip.  "So when do you need it?  You're going to have to give me an extra day."  Her face hardened and Natalia pursed her lips, recognizing the old Olivia even through love blind eyes.  "Michael, let me remind you that this is my hotel.  If I need an extra day I'll damn well take it and you'll make it work, understood?"  She nodded. "Good.  I'll get back to you."  She hung up the phone with a sigh, leaning forward to rest her head on Natalia's hip in an intimate gesture that took the younger woman's breath away.

"Problems?"  She managed to squeak as she ran her fingers through Olivia's incredibly soft hair.

"Just some logistical issues."

Natalia slid her hand to the back of Olivia's neck and gently massaged away the tension she found there.  "Want to share?  Maybe I can help."

"Oh god..."  The older woman practically purred.  "Trust me, you are helping."

Natalia smiled, but kept pushing.  "Come on, tell me what's going on."

Olivia groaned and sat up.  "My stuff is in the way."


The older woman sighed. "I moved out so quickly that I didn't have time to separate what I would need from the rest so right now everything is in the storage room off the main garage."  She shook her head in frustration.  "I thought I would have at least a couple of weeks but Michael included the space in a package deal he drew up for a tour group that arrives tomorrow."  She frowned.  "So now I need to find a place to move it just so I can pull it all out and go through it again."

Natalia slowly pulled her hand away and moved to sit beside her on the bed.  She looked directly into Olivia's gorgeous green eyes.  "Why don't you let me take care of it."

"You know somewhere I could store it?"

"Yeah,"  She took her hand again.  "Back home.. at the farmhouse."

"What?"  Olivia blinked  "You mean..."

"Yes, I mean."

The older woman frowned.  "I thought you wanted to 'ease' into things.  This doesn't seem all that... 'ease-y'."

"I think it's very easy."  Natalia responded. "And simple."

"Just like that, huh?  And what about all the things we talked about this morning. Don't you think it's a little soon for that?"

"Soon?"  Natalia tried to keep her emotions in check but the slight tremor of her lower lip gave everything away.  "Olivia, we've been dancing around each other for six months.  Hiding what we want and need has done nothing but cause hurt, to both of us and... to others."

Olivia felt her stomach drop dangerously, as it did whenever the conversation turned to Frank.  "And you think us moving back in will help?"

"You and Emma... I told you, you're everything to me.  When you're not there... I can't think about anything other than how badly I miss you.  I was so sure I'd find you there after the wedding..."  She looked down and Olivia felt the warmth of her tears as they dropped onto their tightly joined fingers.  "When you weren't...  My heart broke in my chest and I honestly didn't think I would survive it."  She brushed at her eyes quickly.  "I need to wake up to you being grumpy and Emma's exuberance and the simple joy of feeding you and getting our daughter off to school..."

Olivia blinked in surprise but Natalia didn't seem to notice what she had said.

"I need your warmth, your presence.  I need you... both of you!  At home!  Otherwise I'm going to be stuck on missing you and we'll never be able to move forward."

Olivia studied her face carefully for a long time before she finally nodded.

"Is that a yes?"  Natalia asked hopefully.

Tears filled the older woman's eyes and she quickly wrapped her arms around Natalia to hide them.  "That's a yes."

"Thankyouthankyouthankyou!"  Natalia hugged her back fiercely before picking up her notepad and scribbling furiously.  "I'll call for a truck and offer some of the bell boys a bonus to get everything loaded as quickly as possible.  You..."  She leaned forward, giving a very surprised Olivia a brief, but heartfelt kiss.  "Call the front desk and tell them you're checking out."

The older woman had stopped breathing the moment their lips touched.  It took a moment to kick start her brain enough to supply a snarky reply.  "Hey, isn't that what I have an assistant for?"

"Just do it!"  Nat pointed at her before she pulled open the door.  "I'll see you before I leave to get Emma."  And she was gone.

"Getting kind of bossy, there!"  Olivia called after her before dissolving into an adoring smile.

A bossy Natalia Rivera.

Now that could be interesting.

Natalia stepped into the conference room, her eyes quickly finding Olivia at a table off to one side.  She was seated next to what could only be described as an extremely pretty man.  The type that spends more on gym memberships than she probably paid in rent last year.  He was tall, she could tell that even though he was sitting down, with thick, wavy blonde hair and incredible blue eyes.  She supposed many women would think he was attractive, but she couldn't be bothered to give it much thought.

Until she got closer and she saw the sultry smile that Olivia was busy draping all over him.  One of Olivia's hands was resting lightly on his arm and she leaned forward as she laughed lightly, looking up at him with inviting eyes that caused Natalia's footsteps to falter.  She shook her head and looked again.  Surely she was mistaken, Olivia couldn't possibly...

But all the signs were right there in front of her.  From the way Olivia tilted her head to how she turned her pad and inched closer so they could both look at  the figures that were printed there.

Oh yeah, she was flirting.

Natalia felt a coldness seep into her that she was unfamiliar with and before she could stop herself, she strode over to the table and slammed down the files she was holding.

Olivia looked up at her in surprise, the initial warmth in her glance turning to confusion when she recognized the anger in Natalia's eyes.  "Hi!"  She tried to keep her voice light.  "Natalia, you know Sam Jennings.  I believe the two of you spoke on the phone?  Sam this is my personal assistant, Natalia Rivera."

The man tore himself away from the view of Olivia's chest to glance up at the woman standing over them.  "Oh, hello."  His smile was ingratiating as he ran his eyes over her body as well.  "How you doing, sweetheart?"

"My name is Natalia, but you can call me Miss Rivera."  She ignored the look of warning that Olivia shot her.  "And as good as I'm doing, it looks like you're doing better."

Jennings frowned.  "I'm sorry?"

Olivia jumped in before the situation could spiral any further out of control.  "I think what Natalia means is that, as much success as we've enjoyed here at the Beacon, adding your company as a client and sharing in your prosperity would only create a win-win siutuation for us both."

"Oh,"  he nodded slightly.  "Of course."  He smiled at her again.  "So listen, sweetheart, I could sure use a cup of coffee."

Natalia pursed her lips.  "Well, you can find a fresh pot right over there by the door.  I'm sure an... enterprising man like yourself can figure out how to pour it."  Without another word she turned and left the conference room.

Olivia smiled sweetly.  "Would you excuse me for a moment?"  She squeezed his arm when he winked at her.  "I'll be right back."

She found Natalia in the hallway, leaning up against the wall as she tried to get her temper under control.

"Natalia?  What is going on?"

The brunette turned, the anger radiating off her in waves.  "Why don't you tell me!"

Olivia held her hands up as she shook her head in confusion.  "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about you and that... that...guy!  I know how badly you want this contract, Olivia.  You might get it a little bit faster if you just go ahead and climb right in his lap!"

"What the hell is wrong with you?"  Olivia grabbed her by the arm as she went to leave.  "That 'guy' is responsible for about half of the summer tourism in this town, or did you forget that little detail?  Do you want to tell me why you just treated him like he was a bastard at a family reunion?"

"Oh, I'm sure he'll get over it!"  Natalia snapped back.  "Especially since he has you to comfort him."

Olivia blinked.  "What?  What are you talking about?"

The younger woman growled in frustration.  "You don't even see it do you?  Do you even pay attention to what you're doing?"

"What is it that I'm doing?"

Natalia rolled her eyes.  "The coy little looks from under those long, black lashes, the little touches on his arm, leaning forward when you talk so he can stare down your..."  She waved her hands in the general direction of Olivia's chest, causing the older woman's eyes to widen in understanding.

"Are you kidding me?"  Her voice rose slightly. "Jesus, I thought I was the one with green eyes!  You're jealous!"

"I'm not...jealous..."  Natalia frowned slightly.  "I'm not!"  She shook her head when it sounded like a lie even to her, but instead of conceding that point she went on to the next.  "You talked about me last night... 'hidden dinners and secret dates'... remember?  And here you are today acting like you're... you're..."

"Available..."  Olivia finished for her.

"And interested!"  Natalia hissed.  "Are you, Olivia?  Are you interested?  Because that's what it looks like to the rest of the world."  She swung her purse wildly as she gestured towards the conference room.  "That's what it looks like to him!"  She took a deep breath and shook her head.  "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go pick up Emma and get to the farmhouse before the truck shows up with all of your stuff.  You know... since you're moving back into our home today.  Or did you forget that little detail?"  She shrugged sadly when Olivia didn't answer.  "I guess it's a good thing I'm your assistant then.  Otherwise you might keep forgetting things like that."

Olivia watched her go, dumbfounded by the younger woman's anger.  What the hell?  How can she think I'm interested in anyone but her??

Shaking her head, she went back into the conference room, her eyebrows rising slightly in surprise when she was greeted by a huge smile from Jennings.  The man slid to the edge of his seat, his eyes traveling possessively over her chest and hips as he waited for her to rejoin him.

Oh shit.  Olivia pinched her nose between her thumb and forefinger.  I'm an idiot!  She took a few steps and then stopped, leaving more than a respectful distance between them.  "Mr. Jennings, my apologies.  Apparently I missed something important... on my calendar.  I know you're only in town tonight, so I was hoping we could finish this up by phone sometime next week?"

The man frowned.  "Well, I was hoping you'd be willing to give me a tour of one of your suites."

It was so sad she almost wanted to laugh.  I am such a ass.

She smiled sweetly.  "Of course.  I would be more than happy to have the concierge walk you through business class and the honeymoon suite."  She saw his confusion deepen and didn't wait for him to ask any questions.  "I'm sure they'll be able to answer any questions you might have.  Thank you for your time and I'll have my assistant contact you next week."

She turned and quickly left the conference room, muttering to herself, "If I'm out of the doghouse by then."


Chapter Five: Acts of Contrition

Olivia entered the house quietly, her heart in her throat as she tried to think of the best way to apologize, sighing a little sadly and shaking her head when she realized that apologizing wasn't something she had a lot of experience with.  It wasn't that she had never needed to apologize.  She had just avoided doing so for most of her life.  In the past, nothing had been worth more than her pride.

And it scared her more than a little that she was now willing to toss it on the fire if it meant keeping Natalia; that there was nothing, short of her daughter, that she valued more than the younger woman's love and respect.

So if she had to grovel a little, beg a little... well... at least she'd have a great view of Natalia's legs while she did it.  She paused for a moment to wipe the smirk off her face before she headed towards the noises coming from the kitchen.

Natalia was on her knees, pulling the pans she needed to make dinner from one of the lower cupboards. She kept her back turned as Olivia approached, barely glancing up when the older woman was right behind her.  She saw the white floral paper and green stems and rolled her eyes. "Wow...  You're just the whole package aren't you?  You hurt me and then you show up with flowers like that's supposed to make it all better? I swear Olivia, I thought dating you would at least be slightly different than dating a guy!"  She grabbed the edge of the counter and pulled herself up.  "Well, I don't want your roses..."  Her voice trailed off as she turned around and really looked at the bouquet that Olivia was holding for the first time.. 

Large Gerber daisies in deep purples and reds were wrapped up tightly with sprigs of acacia and fern, all tied together with a purple silk ribbon.  Every bloom was perfect, and she suddenly had this image of Olivia driving the florist crazy as she rejected flower after flower until she found twelve that met her standards.  She reached out and traced the edge of one petal with her finger before looking up at the older woman through mist filled eyes.  "Olivia..."

"Roses weren't good enough."  The older woman bit her lower lip.  "Anyone can do roses.  But daisies... Daisies really make you work for forgiveness."

Natalia laughed through her tears.  "They're my favorite."

"I know."

She looked up in surprise.  "How...?"

Olivia shrugged.  "I called Rafe."

Natalia blinked. "He didn't... he... didn't wonder..."

"Actually, "  Olivia stepped closer, until the flowers filled what little space there was between them.  "Rafe was surprised I hadn't called sooner.  He seemed amazed that I'd made it this long without needing to buy you flowers."  She touched Natalia's cheek gently.  "I swear, Natalia... I never would have... It was just a little harmless flirting..."

"Harmless doesn't mean it doesn't hurt."  The younger woman took the flowers slowly.  "I deserve better."  She said quietly.

Olivia felt her heart stop in her chest.  "I know."  She whispered, shrugging as tears filled her eyes.  "You deserve better than me, than who I've been...  "  She pulled out a chair and pressed Natalia into it before sitting down next to her and taking her hand.  "I have spent my whole life using sex to get what I want, Natalia.  I've always treated it like a commodity; something to be bartered...or used as an incentive."  Olivia sighed heavily.  "I've been doing it so long it's second nature, like... breathing."  She tightened her grip when Natalia tried to pull away.  "But I want to be better.  You make me want to be better."  She dropped her eyes to floor as she whispered,  "Please don't give up on me."

"Give up on you?"  Natalia shook her head in disbelief.  "Olivia, I am not going to give up on you!  But I'm not going to let you get away with crap like this either."  She put her fingers under the older woman's chin and raised her head so she could look her directly in the eyes.  "I am not someone who is just going to accept whatever you have left over at the end of the day.  I expect you to think about me, about us, at least as much as you think about yourself.  Maybe you have played these little games too long, maybe you're used to making people want you more by showing just how easy it would be for you to be elsewhere.  But that won't work with me, Olivia, because it isn't possible for me to want you more than I already do.  And,"  She leaned forward and over-emphasized her words.  "I. Don't. Share.  You, of all people, should know that."

That brought the tiniest of smiles to Olivia's face, until she noticed the far-away look in the brunette's eyes. "Natalia?"

Nat blinked and smiled at her wanly.  "It's funny...."

"What is?"

"A little over a year ago... you were making me crazy."  She tunneled her fingers through her hair.  "And here we are now and you are still making me crazy."

Olivia smirked.  "But for all different reasons."

"Really?"  Natalia looked at her seriously.  "No one has ever pushed my buttons the way you do. There has to be a reason for that."

Olivia nodded slowly.  "Yeah, I guess there has to be."

The look between them intensified until Nat finally broke the tension by laughing lightly. "And yet you're still flirting with the wrong person."

Olivia wrapped her arms around the younger woman, pulling her into a tight embrace.  "What if... I promise to save all my flirting... for you?"

"I think I can live with that."

She leaned back, getting caught up in the deep brown eyes that were staring intently into her own.  "How 'bout we try a little of that right now?"  She leaned closer until her lips were just barely grazing the other woman's, then she moved her head slightly from side to side, enjoying the feel of Natalia's mouth as it skimmed lightly across her own.


Olivia closed her eyes, swallowing down her frustration as she released Natalia and stood up.  "In the kitchen!"

Emma ran in and threw her arms around her mother's waist.  "Hi, mommy!"

"Hey, baby.  What are you doing?"  Olivia leaned down and dropped a kiss on her daughter's forehead.

"I was upstairs and I thought I heard a car so I came down to see if you were here."  She noticed the flowers that Natalia was holding.  "Ooo those are pretty!  Did you do something good or did Mommy do something bad?"

Olivia let out an exaggerated groan.

"Your mommy just wanted me to feel special, honey."

"Oh." Emma nodded, leaning in to smell the daisies.  "Do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Feel special, silly!"

Natalia looked up at Olivia, a smile on her face as she squeezed the older woman's hand.  "Yes, I do."

"Good!"  Emma hopped into a chair.  "Is Natalia making us dinner?  Is that why we're here?  Do I have time to go talk to the cows?"

Olivia looked surprised. "You didn't tell her?"

Natalia shook her head.  "I thought we could do it together."

"Tell me what?"  Emma looked between them curiously.

There was a loud knock and Olivia glanced out the window, a huge smile transforming her face.  "Why don't you get the door, jellybean?"

Emma gave her a funny look and then shrugged before sliding off her chair and running to the back door.  For a moment there was complete silence.

Then Emma came running back into the kitchen, ecstatic squeals of joy filling the air around her as she hugged her two mommies furiously.

Olivia sighed and sank down into the couch next to her daughter and Natalia.  The living room was littered with boxes, many empty, but quite a few still full.  The movers had dispersed the rest throughout the house and Olivia cringed when she thought about what her bedroom must look like.  "I think I'm done in."  She laid her arm across her eyes.  "Lets clean up and head to bed.  Tomorrow's Saturday, we can finish the rest then."

"Oh no!"  Nat shook her head as she picked up Olivia's arm and draped it over her shoulder, surprising the older woman completely.  "There will be no unpacking tomorrow." 

Olivia smiled.  "Not that I'm complaining but why is that?"

"Because we've missed our last two movie nights so I proclaim tomorrow to be a movie day!"  She emphasized her joy by poking Emma lightly in her belly.  "What do you think of that, roly poly bug?"

The little girl giggled and rolled around on the couch.  "I think it's great!"

"And guess what else Emma?  Mommy said that we get to pick all of the movies, and that she'll stay and watch every single one, even the ones she doesn't like!  And she's going to make the popcorn and she's going to get our drinks for us all... night... long.  Isn't that right mommy?"

Olivia threw Natalia a dirty look but smiled down at her daughter.  "That's right!"

"Yay!"  Emma jumped up and down on the couch as she hugged her mom's waist.

"Yay!"  Olivia echoed, before leaning over to whisper into Natalia's ear, "Let me guess... penance?"

Natalia grinned.  "Oh, you better believe it."

Natalia couldn't seem to breathe.

They had spent the afternoon on the couch, curled up under a blanket watching movies.  Emma had stayed for A Knight's Tale and The Dark Crystal but when the next choice had been Julia Ormond and Harrison Ford in a passable remake of Sabrina, she had opted for a tea party with her dolls instead.  Olivia had sniffed and turned her nose up slightly after the opening credits had rolled.  Apparently she had thought they would be spending time with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart; and the innocent look on Natalia's face when she asked Olivia if she had seen that version in the theaters did not fool her in the slightest.  The older woman had huffed in annoyance and crossed her arms, making Natalia work for nearly half an hour before she was able to wiggle into her warm embrace.

Once she was there, however, the incredible feeling of rightness, of belonging, filled Natalia with a deep sense of peace.  For the first time in weeks, all the questions and self doubt disappeared and she found herself focused on nothing more than Olivia's even breathing and the steady beat of her heart.  Halfway through the movie, Natalia closed her eyes, snuggling more deeply into the older woman's arms as she brought her hand up to Olivia's waist.  Her fingers slid under the fabric of her shirt until they could trace small circles on the smooth skin just above the older woman's jeans.

She heard the sharp intake of breath, felt it as a shiver that traveled down her spine to invade the most sensitive areas of her body.  She felt those areas tighten almost painfully as Olivia's hand buried itself in her hair, fingers gently massaging her scalp as her other hand slid firmly around the thigh that Natalia had unconsciously pulled up across her legs. 

The other woman's touch was soft, overwhelmingly so, and still Olivia managed to make her nerve endings sing with no more than the lightest pressure of her fingertips.  It was so different from everything she was used to, so completely foreign, and yet achingly familiar.  It took her a moment to recognize that this was the way she had always touched herself, on the few occasions that she had felt the undeniable need to do so.   A light flush crept into her cheeks when she realized how many of those occurrences had been in the recent past.

She thought for a moment of Frank, unable to keep herself from making the comparison.  He had been a considerate lover, but he was still a man.  And the truth was, men conquered... women caressed.  Even his most gentle touch had been rough, heavy handed and smothering, while Olivia's seemed to set her free and leave her craving more.

As if on cue, the older woman's hand slid further down, her fingers curling behind Natalia's knee, using the light grip to pull her body closer.  The immediate affect was an increase in pressure between her legs and Natalia shuddered, burying her face into the soft shoulder beneath her cheek.  "Olivia..."  She whispered, her voice low and raw.  "We can't do this..."

"I know."  She could hear Olivia swallow heavily.  "I know, just... please don't stop touching me... please..."

The raw need in her voice sent Natalia's heart into overdrive.  Without stopping to think, she pulled herself up until she was straddling Olivia's lap.  Looking down into half-closed, jade eyes, she recognized the intense desire she saw there, felt her own desire flare in response and leaned forward.  She stopped when their faces were less than an inch apart and the moment seemed to hang forever; until Olivia closed the space between them and gently claimed her mouth.

Natalia heard herself whimper as their lips touched and felt a corresponding tremor in Olivia's hands where they had settled on her waist.  She slowly sank down on top of the older woman, sliding her arms behind her neck as she parted her lips, breathing in the taste of her, holding it on her tongue until she couldn't stand it any longer.  Opening her mouth, she let the tip of her tongue trace Olivia's lower lip and was rewarded by hands sliding up her back, pulling her more tightly against the body beneath her. 

Olivia raised one thigh slightly as she began to rock her hips up and back, her pulse racing as Natalia whimpered into her mouth.  The younger woman went still for a moment, then a feral growl escaped her throat and she tightened her grip on Olivia's hair, using it to hold her head tightly as she plunged her tongue between her lips.

Olivia moaned into the kiss, her fingers sliding under Natalia's shirt to skim up and over her ribs,  her thumbs brushing lightly against the undersides of her breasts.

Natalia pulled back quickly, sucking in huge lungfuls of air as she tried to regain her equilibrium.  Her throat was raw with emotion and she might have mistaken that for the reason she was finding it hard to breath... if she hadn't opened her eyes to search out the pulse point on Olivia's neck and seen the white vapor of her own breath.

"Olivia?"  She leaned back further, trying to gather enough of her shattered wits to form a coherent sentence.  "I know I'm new at this, but aren't we supposed to be getting warmer?"

Olivia blinked and pulled back the blanket, only to shudder and quickly wrap it back around them.  "Dammit!  The furnace must be out."

As if on cue, a little head appeared between the banisters above them.  "Mommy, I'm really cold!"

Both of the women froze, looking up into Emma's curious eyes.  "I know baby.  I think the furnace went out."  Olivia smiled at her daughter from her upside down position, wondering how to explain the 115 pounds of wildly blushing Natalia that was sitting in her lap.  "But you know you're not supposed to stick your head through the banisters, jellybean."

"That's right, honey."  Natalia jumped on the 'everything's-normal-you're-not-really-seeing-this-there-is-no-spoon' bandwagon. "If you get stuck like that we're going to have to stand on the couch to feed you  your dinner!"

Emma laughed, pulling her head back through the railings.  "Sorry."  She came bounding down the stairs.  "You guys look warm!"  She accused.

"Uhm, yeah..."  Natalia slowly slid out of the saddle. "Why don't you climb in here and warm up for a minute?"

The little girl smiled brightly, launching herself onto Olivia's lap and giggling when the two women wrapped her up in their arms.  They ended up face to face again and Olivia kissed Natalia quickly on the nose, before whispering,  "To be continued."

Olivia frowned, her lips quirking to one side as she stabbed the furnace control panel with an accusatory finger.  They had been standing, shivering in the closet off the entryway to the kitchen for the last 30 minutes and she was still no closer to figuring out what the problem was.

"I don't think that's going to help."  Nat commented from behind her.  She moved in closer, brushing against Olivia's back as she peeked over her shoulder.

The older woman shivered wildly.  "Yeah, I don't think that's helping much either."

The brunette flushed.  "I'm sorry!"  She tried to move away, only to find that Olivia had reached back and tangled one hand in her sweater.

"I didn't say I wanted you to stop."  Her voice dropped lower as she pulled Natalia even closer.  "And since I have absolutely no clue what's wrong with this thing, it's not like the distraction is inconvenient."

Nat smiled.  She snuggled closer, wrapping her arms around the older woman's waist and resting her cheek against her neck when Olivia leaned into her.

"Besides, you're warm."

The younger woman smiled, breathing Olivia's scent in deeply.  "...I love the way you smell."  She sighed.

Olivia turned so they were facing each other, a shy look on her face.  "Really?"

Natalia nodded happily.  "Oh yeah..."  She kissed Olivia's neck, her lips caressing the pulse point she had had been looking for earlier. 

Olivia let her head drop to the side as she moved one of her hands from Natalia's waist to the counter top, using it to try and compensate for her suddenly weak legs.

"Mommy?"  Emma called from the living room.

Natalia let out a small whimper of frustration and Olivia dropped her chin, resting their foreheads together as she laughed softly.

"What's up, jellybean?"  She kissed one of Natalia's dimples before turning her attention back to the control panel on the stubbornly uncooperative heater.  "Are you warm enough?"

"Uhm...  Some hot chocolate would make me warmer!"

The two women laughed as Nat went to set the kettle to boil and get the milk and mix. 

"Well," Olivia shrugged, closing the closet door.  "I have no clue.  It looks like it should be working!"  She sank into one of the chairs at the kitchen table.  "I don't suppose it could be out of oil?"

Natalia shook her head.  "I had them out here the week before last.  There should be enough for well over a month."

Olivia nodded. "Then I guess we need to find a repairman."  She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair, her shoulders slumping sadly.  "Which will be impossible until Monday."

The brunette frowned.  She set down the mugs she was holding and knelt in front of Olivia, taking her hands.  "Hey...  I know it's kind of frustrating but I don't think it's worth getting this upset over."

Olivia rubbed their hands together.  "It's not the heater...."

"Then what is it?"

She stood up and walked over to the window, looking out at the snow covered barn.  "We just got here... now we're going to have to... go back to the Beacon, I guess."  She tried to look on the bright side.  "At least you'll be with us... right?"

Natalia smiled.  "Of course."  Her eyes widened slightly and she held up one hand.  "But... maybe we don't have to leave."

The older woman looked at her quizzically.  "We can't stay here without heat."

"I know, but when Cassie put in the new oil heater, she left the old boiler hooked up in case of emergencies!"

Olivia raised one eyebrow.  "You mean that big hunk of dirty metal in the basement?  Even if it is hooked up, would it still work?"

"Cassie said it did."  She grabbed Olivia's hand.  "And the guy that came to deliver the oil checked it over real quick when he was here.  Come on, let's go see."

They checked on Emma, sticking a Disney DVD in the player for her and supplying her with extra marshmallows for her cocoa before they cracked open the cellar door and trudged down the steps.  The single bulb that hung from a cord in the center of the ceiling combined with the waning light coming in from the small ground level windows above them provided just enough light for them to see but did little to diminish the shadows in the corners.  It was in one of those corners that the old steam furnace sat dark and quiet, covered in dust and cobwebs.

"This thing looks like something out of a bad horror movie." Olivia commented as she watched Natalia pick up a broom and knock away some of the dirt.  Feeling a little sheepish she squared her shoulders and walked up next to it.  "So how does it work?"

"We had something like this in Chicago." Nat set aside the broom and brushed her hair out of her eyes.  "There's a hatch here and a big metal vat up above that's filled with water.  When we light it, it makes steam and sends it up through the pipes to the radiators upstairs."

"Radiators?  Oh, you mean those white curly things?"

Natalia tried not to laugh.  "Yes, Olivia, the white curly things."

"I thought those were just for decoration!  You know...like a rustic farmhouse touch."

"This is a farmhouse!  It doesn't need any 'rustic farmhouse touches'!"  The brunette smiled at the older woman fondly.

Olivia made a face at her.  "Whatever!"  She grabbed the handle on the door and twisted it.  It turned freely but the hatch didn't budge.  "Well, this could be a problem."

"Oh!"  Nat tapped herself on the forehead.  "When I told Cassie that Emma would be living here, she said she had it bolted shut.  You know how curious kids are."

Olivia nodded and looked closer, finally spying the bolt that held the furnace closed.  "Hand me one of those... squeezy things, would you?"

The younger woman bit her lip.  "Squeezy things?"

"Yeah, you know!  It's got handles and you grip them and they grab this bolt thingy?"

"You are such a girl." Natalia laughed.  "Pliers.  You want pliers."

Olivia bit back a snarky response, choosing instead to steal a quick kiss when Natalia returned from the work bench with the requested tool.  She applied it to the bolt and pushed, her face scrunching up with the effort.  When it didn't move, she inclined her head and Natalia joined her.  The nearly frozen bolt screamed in submission and the pliers finally swung free.  Using her fingers, Olivia unscrewed it the rest of the way and pulled the door open to peer inside.

"It's empty."

"Yeah, we need to fill it.  There's a bin of coal right here." 

She flipped open the lid on a large metal box and the older woman's nose crinkled at the acrid smell that came from inside.  "Is that stuff still good?"

 Natalia was grinning at her again.  "Considering it's about a million years old?  Yeah, I would think so."

"You're getting awfully lippy, you know that?"

The brunette leaned in close to her ear and whispered, "You should be so lucky..."

Olivia shivered and gently pushed her away.  "Okay, so not the kind of heat we need right now."  She traced Natalia's cheek softly with a fingertip.  "But you are in so much trouble later..."  She reached into the bin and picked up a briquette with two fingers, tossing it into the furnace before going back for another one. 

Nat watched this process for several minutes before rolling her eyes.  "At this rate we should be warm by June."  She bumped Olivia to the side with her hip and grabbed up a small hand shovel, using it to quickly fill the hatch to the line marked on the inner chamber.

"Well...if I'd known there was a shovel..."

"Yeah, yeah.  You get to light the pilot."   She turned the knob on a small tank of gas.  "There's long matches right there." 

Olivia pulled out a match and struck it, poking it through the slats in the door.  The pilot jumped to life, but nothing else happened.   "Hmph."  She waited for a minute and then frowned.  "What the hell?" 

"Maybe it's not getting enough air?" 

Olivia turned off the gas, waiting until the pilot went out before opening the door and looking inside.

Natalia tried to look inside too.  "Can you see the top of the stack?  It goes straight up to the roof so you should see at least some light."

Olivia shook her head.  "I don't see anything."  She turned around, half laying in the opening as she grabbed the top and pulled her upper body inside.  "I see a pipe but it's pitch black."

"Maybe it's blocked?"  Nat offered helpfully.

Olivia couldn't keep the snark out of her voice.  "Gee, ya think?"

Emma sat up quickly as a loud knock came from the front door.  Pausing her movie, she unbundled herself quickly and walked over to it, stopping with her hand on the knob.  "Who's there?"

"Emma?"  A surprised voice came from the other side of the door.  "It's your Uncle Frank."

"Frank!"  Emma giggled and opened the door, letting the shivering man into the house. 

"Hey kiddo."  He ruffled her hair, not noticing when she frowned slightly.  "What are you doing here?"

"I live here!" A smile lit up the little girl's entire face.

His mouth dropped open slightly.  "Since when?"

Emma faltered at the tone of Frank's voice.  "Since...  yesterday?"

"Well... that's just perfect." he grumbled quietly.  One more freaking obstacle to get past!  One more thing to keep Natalia rooted in the past.  He started to take off his coat and stopped when he realized that it wasn't much warmer inside than it was outside.  "Where are your mom and Natalia?  And why is it so cold in here?"

Emma jumped back on the couch and wrapped herself up in the blanket.  "They're downstairs trying to get the old furn...furnish... to work."

"The furnace?"  Frank smiled condescendingly.  "Well, I'm good with tools.  Why don't I go see if I can help them out?"

"Any luck?"  Natalia rubbed her hands together after blowing in them.

"Nope.  I don't see any way to clear it."

The brunette sighed and glanced up, spying a lever near the top of the furnace.  "Hey, maybe the flue's closed!"  She grabbed the handle and tugged, smiling for a moment as she heard the metal flap drop open.

Until it was followed by a thick cloud of black dust from the door that was half blocked by Olivia's body and the sound of the older woman choking.

She slapped her hands over her mouth, her eyes widening in surprise as Olivia slid out of the opening, her entire face and upper shoulders covered in a thick black coating of soot.  The older woman shook her head from side to side and wiped at her eyes before glaring at Natalia, one eyebrow rising slightly when she realized the brunette was trying her hardest to control a fit of giggles.  "I know that you are not laughing right now!"

Natalia tried to respond but all she managed was a strangled squeak before dissolving into helpless laughter.

"You think this is funny?"  She advanced on the younger woman, her intent clear in her eyes.

Nat held up her hands as she backed up quickly.  She didn't watch where she was going, however, and ended up tripping over a stack of moving blankets.  They broke most of her fall as she landed on her backside, but the surprise kept her from moving in time and she ended up with a very feisty Olivia on top of her.

The older woman grabbed her hands and raised them over her head as she proceeded to rub her face against Natalia's, transferring the soot onto her skin with deliberate thoroughness.  "Ya like that?"  Her own laughter mixed in with the younger woman's as she held her in place, using her nose to draw a black line from one dimple down to Natalia's chin.  Satisfied, she smiled down at the woman beneath her, until she realized that the wild thumping against her chest wasn't coming from her own heart.

Natalia looked up at her with eyes so full of love that Olivia thought she would die from it.  She switched both of Natalia's wrists to one hand, bringing the other one down to gently trace across her lips before claiming her mouth hungrily.  She felt the younger woman's teeth close on her bottom lip and she groaned, her hand sliding under Natalia's shirt to trail across the sensitive skin that covered her ribs.  Planting her knees firmly on either side of Natalia's hips, she kissed her hard, allowing all of the emotion she had been struggling with over the last few months to come to the surface as the brunette's body strained upwards, trying to press more fully against her.

"What the fuck is this?" 

Frank's voice cut through the haze of love and desire like a knife, causing Olivia to fall backwards off of Natalia.  She climbed to her feet slowly, sighing as she held out her hand to the other woman, who seemed frozen, one hand covering her mouth as she looked up at Frank in shock.

"Answer me, damn it!" 

Olivia stepped in front of Natalia as Frank moved towards them.  He had never struck her as a violent man, but there was something desperate in his eyes that made her more than a little wary.  "Take it easy, Frank."

"Take it easy?" He snarled.  "Isn't that your job, Olivia?  Taking things easily?  Especially things that don't belong to you!"

The older woman clamped down on her anger, holding onto it tightly as she whispered, "Natalia doesn't belong to anyone but herself."

"She's my fiancé!"  His eyes widened.  "Is this why you called off the wedding, Natalia?"  His heart ached at her tiny nod and then hardened as he glanced down at their hands, which were still tightly linked together.  "You just couldn't stand it could you?"  He spat at Olivia.  "That she chose me over your friendship?  So, what? You seduce her?  Turn on that charm and confuse her?  Make her believe that you love her so you don't end up alone?  Trust me when I say that is exactly what a heartless bitch like you deserves!"

"FRANK!"  Natalia's voice was loud, echoing off the walls of the basement as she stepped out from behind Olivia, releasing her hand to grab his arm and drag him to the top of the stairs.  "That's enough."

"No, it isn't."  He hissed.  "It will never be enough."  He took a deep breath and tried to cup her face with his hand, growling when she pulled away.  "Nat, you have to know she's just playing with you!  Her entire history is defined by whatever man she happens to be sleeping with at the time!  She's got you tied up in knots.  She's got Gus's heart and she's using it to keep you right where she wants you."

Natalia looked at him blankly.  "And where is that?"

"Here!  With her!  She wants to live at the farmhouse!  She wants you to take care of her, she wants you to take care of Emma, but she doesn't want you!  She doesn't love you!  She isn't capable of it!"

"How can you say that?"  Natalia's voice was very small as she answered.  "You loved me."

Frank looked at her like she was crazy.  "I'm supposed to... I'm a man!"

She stared at him in silence for a few moments before finally responding.  "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For proving to me just how stupid that sounds.  All Olivia has ever wanted is what's best for me.  I guess it just took us both a while to realize that what's best for me... is her."

"I don't understand... when...  how could this happen?!?"  Frank whined.

"It happened like it happens for anyone, Frank.  You meet someone and... they get under your skin.  Maybe you start off as friends... maybe not even that; maybe you start off as nothing... or worse.  Two people who can't stand each other yet can't seem to stay away from each other either.  And all the fighting and the bickering is because you have these... intense emotions... that you don't understand.  Then something happens... something changes... and you see something... something you missed before."  She glanced back down the stairs.  "And suddenly that's all you see."  She shrugged helplessly.  "I can't tell you when I fell in love with Olivia, Frank, because honestly... I can't remember a time when I wasn't."

Frank stared at her in shock and disbelief.  He wanted to grab her and shake her, to make her see reason.  But he knew if he put his hands on her, he would cease to be the man she thought he was.  Seeing that disappointment in her eyes was more than he could bear.  "We need to talk about this when we're both a bit calmer."  He said matter-of-factly.  "This isn't over."

"Yes, Frank.  It is."  She slid his ring off her finger and pressed it into his palm.

He opened his mouth to say something and then thought better of it, choosing instead to walk away.  She heard him say a muted goodbye to Emma and listened as the front door closed before turning and walking back down the stairs.  What she found there nearly broke her heart.

Olivia was braced against the work bench as huge sobs wracked her body.  Natalia rushed to her side and gathered her up in her arms, tears stinging her own eyes she held her tightly.  "Hey... shhh...  What's wrong, baby?"

Olivia sniffled.  "I heard you."

Natalia leaned back and looked at her curiously.  "So... all this...the crying... it's good a thing, then?"

The older woman nodded.

"Okay, well, you need to stop."  She tried to dab at Olivia's eyes and laughed when her fingers came away black.  "Yeah... 'cause...  you're turning into mud."  That finally got a laugh and she held Olivia a moment longer before letting her go. "Come on, let's light this thing, then we'll go get you cleaned up."

Olivia snorted.  "You going to hose me off before you let me walk on the carpets?"

"Actually," Natalia leaned in close, nuzzling the older woman's ear as she whispered, "I thought we'd take a shower." 

Olivia's jaw dropped open and Natalia used two fingers to push it shut before she grabbed up the matches and went to light the furnace.

Part 6

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