DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
TIMELINE: Begins immediately after the episode on the 12th of May and goes off into its own little world at that point.
DEDICATION: This is dedicated to the memory of badtyler, a great writer and an even better friend.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Wonko


Part Two

"Watch out for that cyclist."

Natalia gritted her teeth hard enough that she thought she might actually grind off a layer of enamel.  "He's on the other side of the road, mom.  And behind me.  Going the other way."

Her mother exhaled through her teeth, a sure sign that something suitably acidic was about to come out of her mouth.  "Maybe if you were looking where you were going," she said.

"I'm a very safe driver!"  Natalia winced at the juvenile defensiveness creeping into her tone.  "I've been in exactly one accident in my entire life - and you were driving at the time."  She unconsciously fingered the small scar on her forearm that was the memento of that particular incident - her mother had been so busy chastising her father for some imagined slight that she hadn't watched where she was going and had run straight into a telephone pole at forty miles per hour.  No need to mention she'd caused a similar accident herself when she first arrived in Springfield, she decided.  It would just give her mother ammunition.

"That wasn't my fault," Josephine said.  Natalia couldn't help but look at her incredulously, then had to slam her foot on the brakes to avoid running straight into the back of the pickup truck in front of her.  Josephine actually smiled.  "Safe driver?" she remarked caustically.

Natalia ground her teeth some more and said nothing at all.

It was a short drive from the apartment to the morgue, thankfully, so Natalia didn't have to endure much of her mother's advice concerning her driving style and competence.  The county medical examiner had called that morning to tell them that the autopsy had been carried out and that a death certificate had been prepared.  Natalia had offered to collect it by herself, but her mother had insisted on coming along.

"Are you sure you don't want to wait in the car?" she asked as she unbuckled her seatbelt.  Her only reply was a withering look as her mother threw open the door, heedless of the traffic.  "I guess that's a no then," Natalia muttered as she locked the car and trotted after her.

They were ushered into a small waiting room with hard plastic seats and dingy wallpaper.  They were the only two people there, which made avoiding talking to or looking at each other quite difficult, but they managed it.  Finally a clerk came in and sat across from them, a sympathetic look pasted onto his face.  "Sorry to keep you waiting Mrs Rivera, Ms Rivera," he said, nodding at them both in turn before turning to Natalia's mother.  "As you know an autopsy is required in all cases of sudden death before a death certificate can be issued.  That autopsy was performed on your husband yesterday and we're now in a position to release him to you for burial."

Josephine nodded impatiently.  "Yes, yes," she said, waving her hand absently.  "I know all that.  I want to know what caused my husband's death."

The clerk smiled stiffly and handed her the death certificate.  "Here you are ma'am."

Josephine glanced at it before passing it to Natalia with a choked laugh.  "They take three days to do it and they can't even explain it in English," she said.

Natalia looked down at the paper.  Emilio Rivera, it read. DoB: 4/4/1950, DoD: 5/14/2009.  Cause of death: Congestive Heart Failure due to Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

The blood drained from Natalia's face like someone had pulled a plug.

"I ask you, what is that supposed to mean?" she heard her mother complaining.

She took a breath.  "It means," she said.  "That he needed a heart transplant."

Natalia suddenly felt two pairs of surprised eyes on her.  She looked up to see her mother and the clerk both staring at her.  "That's correct," the clerk said gently.

Mother and daughter's eyes met.  "I've got to get out of here," Natalia mumbled, thrusting the certificate back to her mother and all but running from the room.  She heard Josephine calling her name but didn't look back.  Instead she broke into a trot, fumbling in her bag for her phone.  As soon as she was in the sanctuary of her car she hit the number one speed dial and closed her eyes.

"Come on, answer," she mumbled as it rang and rang and rang.

"Hello?"  Olivia sounded slightly breathless.

"Oh thank God," Natalia said before she could think better of it.  "Olivia..."

"What is it?  What's wrong?"  If she concentrated very hard Natalia could practically see Olivia's concerned face.

"Nothing," she breathed.  "Everything's fine now.  I just...just needed to hear your voice."  Her heart was doing a sprint in her chest, but she knew she couldn't explain to Olivia why she'd needed to talk to her.  Was there a tactful way of saying to someone "I just found out that my father died of the same heart condition that nearly killed you"?  If there was Natalia was much too overwrought to think of it.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Olivia said softly.

Natalia nodded even though Olivia couldn't see her.  "I'm okay," she said.  "Sorry," she added belatedly.  "You're probably in a meeting at this time of day, huh?"

"Nothing that's more important than you," was the reply.  Natalia smiled.


"Of course."  There was a pause and then Olivia added hesitantly: "There's nothing more important than you, Natalia."

Natalia raised an eyebrow.  "Nothing?" she challenged.

Olivia chuckled.  "Okay, you and Emma and Ava," she admitted.  "And...you know, Rafe too."

Natalia's breath caught in her throat.  "Yeah?"

Olivia sounded embarrassed.  "Yeah," she said.  Natalia imagined the blush that would be creeping up her chest.  "My list of important people seems to be growing by the second.  Hard to believe that once upon a time there was only one name on that list."

Natalia laughed.  "Your own, right?"

"Got it in one," Olivia replied.  Then her voice softened.  "I love you..."

Natalia's attention was distracted by the clunk of the passenger side door.  She looked up, her heart leaping to her mouth as her mother slid into the seat opposite and fixed her with a questioning look.

"Natalia?" said Olivia.  "Did you hear me?"

Natalia took a breath.  "Yeah," she said.  "Uh...ditto.  I'll talk to you later."  She quickly ended the call.

Olivia looked at her cellphone for a very long time after Natalia hung up, as if it could provide the answer to the only question that was running through her mind.  Ditto?  What the hell does that mean? No-matter what doubts or concerns or reservations she had, Natalia had never failed to respond to an I love you before.

Her confusion must have shown on her face because Doris pounced on it the moment she stepped back into her office, much as a lioness would pounce on a wounded zebra.  "Girl trouble?" she asked, a deceptively innocent smile on her face.

"Nothing you'd understand," Olivia replied.

Doris raised an eyebrow.  "You think so?"

Olivia smiled sweetly at her as she slipped back into her chair.  "I do," she said.  "It involves two people who actually love each other."

Doris sat back.  "Oh," she said.  "I see.  You think I've never been in love?"

Olivia's smile faltered.  "Have you?" she asked.

Doris laughed, but bitterly.  "Her name was Lydia," she said.  "Pretty typical story really...girl meets girl, girls fall in love, girl gets cold feet...girl loses girl."

Olivia tried not to feel sympathetic but found she couldn't.  Dammit Natalia, why did you have to force that niceness under my skin, she thought.  "She couldn't handle it?"

Doris frowned.  "What?  No, you misunderstand me.  I was the one who got cold feet."

Olivia leaned forward, interested despite herself.  "You?"

Doris laughed and gestured to herself.  "Haven't you seen the closet I'm carting around with me?"

"I don't know, you always seem to be in the same outfit," Olivia quipped.

"Oh ha ha," Doris replied.  "Do you want to hear my tragic love story or not?"

Olivia held up her hands.  "Fine, fine," she said.  "Go ahead."

"Thank you," Doris replied primly.  "To cut a long story short, she wanted more than I could give her.  She wanted a real life, not one lived in the shadows.  But I had a teenage child to think of.  And my reputation."  She leaned back.  "I told her that I loved her, that I just needed time.  But in the end...love wasn't enough."  She shrugged.  "So maybe I do know a little something about what you're going through."

Olivia shook her head.  "No," she said, but didn't sound sure at all.  "That won't happen to us."

Doris opened her mouth to say something, then seemed to change her mind.  "Whatever you say," she said instead, and stood.  "Maybe I'll come by and talk about these arrangements another time.  You seem a little distracted."

Olivia shook herself.  "Right," she said.  "Thanks."

Doris looked back from the doorway as she left.  Olivia was staring into space, a pensive look on her face.  For a moment Doris felt a brief twinge of regret about what she was trying to do.

It didn't last long.

After several days of limbo while they waited for the results of the autopsy suddenly there was so much to do that Natalia hardly had time to think.  Between choosing readings and hymns for the requiem Mass, discussing the service with the priest, deciding which family members should read or speak, dealing with the funeral home, choosing a coffin, selecting flowers and keeping her mother calm and happy Natalia barely managed to sit down over the few days following the release of her father's body.  Hours and days bled into one another until suddenly, as she sat at the dressing table one night, she realised she hadn't spoken to Olivia for three whole days.

Her head snapped round immediately to check the clock.  After midnight.  Much too late to call.  Damn.

All of a sudden she was hungry for the sound of the other woman's voice and it seemed almost an impossibility that she would be able to wait until the morning for it.  She toyed with her cellphone for half a minute, thinking of calling anyway and waking her up, but then she remembered how she'd left their last conversation and winced.  Maybe she shouldn't add waking Olivia in the middle of the night to the list of things she'd have to explain away.

Natalia scraped her hands through her hair and wondered what had happened to the woman who, at the age of only sixteen, had stood up to her parents and struck out on her own.  What had happened to the woman who'd raised a sickly child all by herself for sixteen years, defying all the odds?  What had happened to Olivia's superhero?

She watched her reflection in the mirror for a very long moment.  "Who are you?" she whispered, staring into her own eyes.  Unsurprisingly, her reflection had no wisdom for her.

Deciding to shelve the introspection for the night, Natalia turned away from the mirror.  Tiredness - her constant companion - overtook her and all she could think of was her bed at home, with its firm mattress and clean, cool sheets.  The bed in this room was by no means a substitute but it would have to do.

She tossed and turned for an undefined amount of time, trying to get comfortable.  A loose spring kept digging into exactly the wrong places - first her hip, then her side, then her arm.  She couldn't get away from it.  A couple of times she nearly managed to slip away, but then her body twitched without warning and suddenly she was wide awake all over again.  Her eyes nipped painfully, but worse than that were her legs which were...not painful, but just there, heavy and leaden and unwilling to be ignored.

After an hour of fruitless trying Natalia finally gave in and slipped out of bed.  Insomnia had never really been a problem for her in the past - she was normally so tired from working two or three jobs that keeping awake when she needed to was more of an issue.  There had been nights though, in the recent past, when thoughts and unvoiced feelings had swirled unchecked through her mind at such speed that sleep was impossible to come by.  On those nights she'd busied herself with laundry or with paperwork for The Beacon or even cooking.  But in this tiny apartment she couldn't do any of that for fear of waking her mother who, frankly, she was not up to dealing with at that particular point in time.

As quietly as she could Natalia stole into the kitchen and made herself a mug of peppermint tea.  Her stomach was a little upset now, as if she didn't have enough to deal with, and she vaguely remembered that peppermint tea was good for that.

When she returned to her bedroom she nearly tripped over her suitcase for the umpteenth time.  Setting her tea down on the bedside table she turned her attention to the bag, glad of the distraction.  Living out of a suitcase was becoming a bother, especially as it looked like she'd be around for a while yet.  The funeral was still three days away, and she couldn't just disappear afterwards - her mother would need help settling into life without her husband, and Natalia knew that was the hardest part of all.

All of which meant it was beyond time to unpack her things.  For the first time she was glad that her parents had left her room untouched.  She was still planning to ask her mother about that one at some point.  It had blind sided her completely.  She would have expected them to rip every stick of furniture from the room and have a bonfire in the street after she left.  But no, everything was as she'd left it  - the closet even still had a few items of clothing hanging in it.  Her dresser drawers were not empty either.

"Oh..." she breathed as she opened the top drawer and closed her fingers round the book inside.  Her diary.  She'd left it behind when she abandoned the family home, though she couldn't remember why.  Maybe she'd just forgotten to pick it up.  Maybe she'd wanted to leave behind all memories of the past.

She sank onto the bed and leafed through it, a slow smile appearing on her face.  Turning to a random page, she began to read.

March 4th 1990 - Nicky asked me on a date today!  I can't believe he actually noticed me!  Christina was absolutely green.  She's been trying to get her claws into him for months but he wants ME!  Me, me, me!  I just have to think of some excuse for mom and dad, but I think Selina will help me.  I can say I'm staying over at her place or something.  She won't mind.

Natalia looked up from the book.  Selina.  Wow, she hadn't thought about her in years.

She flicked through the rest of the book, expecting to find more reminiscences about Gus.  And she did.  There were a number of entries about him - about how sweet he was, and how cute his smile was, and how fluttery he made her feel when he walked past her in the halls.  But, to her surprise, she found that for every one entry about him there were two about Selina - what they'd done together in school, how much she was looking forward to their next sleepover, how pretty her hair was, or how nice her hands were, or what a lovely shade of nail polish she'd been wearing that day.

"Oh my God," she muttered.  "Oh my God."

It was all there, and so damn obvious she could barely conceive that her teenage self hadn't seen it.  Her crush on Gus - Nicky, as she'd known him then - came through loud and clear.  But just as loud and clear to her now was her crush on Selina.  And all this time she'd thought Olivia was the first and only woman to make her feel this way.  From the pages and pages of entries in her diary about how pretty Selina was, what a nice shade of blue her eyes were, how soft her hair was...well, clearly she had been mistaken.  Olivia was not the first.  Not the only.  This had been part of her for a long, long time.

She flicked to the end of the diary, deliberately avoiding the entries she knew would be about finding out about her pregnancy and the ensuing chaos.

January 12th 1991 - Mom says I'm not allowed to see Selina anymore.  She won't tell me why.  I don't think she found out that she was covering for Nicky and me.  She's been giving us these funny looks lately.  Maybe she found out about Selina's sister and that boy.  Or maybe she's just decided she hates me and doesn't want me to have any friends.  Well that's okay because I hate her too.

Natalia closed the diary slowly and looked up.  Mom knew, she suddenly realised.  I was clueless, but she knew.  That's why she tried to keep us apart.

And it had worked.  Pretty soon after that she'd found out she was pregnant and had to leave school, and home, and the whole area.  She'd started again in a new neighbourhood and she'd never seen Selina again.

Still, maybe it was time to change that.  She was the prodigal daughter after all, back in the neighbourhood after long years of absence.

What could be more natural than looking up an old friend?

Olivia had never really understood why Natalia seemed to enjoy cleaning.  Perhaps it was all the time she'd spent living in the hotel, but to her cleaning was just an unpleasant chore that got taken care of sometime between the hours of eleven and three.  It wasn't something she had to think about, much less do.

However, over the last few days she'd begun to develop, if not an admiration, at least a grudging respect for the virtues of housework.  Washing  dishes, doing laundry, vacuuming, scrubbing floors, weeding the garden, all of these physical and repetitive tasks were absolutely ideal for taking her mind off the fact that Natalia hadn't called her for three days.  Over those three days she'd fallen into a routine - get up, take Emma to school, work at The Beacon, pick up Emma, cook her dinner, help her with homework, put her to bed, and then find as much as possible to do around the house so she wouldn't have to think, and so that she could get physically tired out enough to sleep.

She had toyed with the idea of just calling Natalia herself, but something kept holding her back.  It might have been the distant understanding that the other woman was doubtlessly busy with funeral preparations.  Maybe it was that word ditto still bouncing around inside her skull like shrapnel.

Or perhaps it was Doris Wolfe who'd taken every opportunity to needle her about Natalia's continued silence ever since Olivia had been silly enough to mention it to her.  Olivia wasn't quite sure why she had confided in the woman.  It was just that she always seemed to be around, and Olivia was so tired and frustrated and not very good at keeping her feelings to herself.  Even when her love for Natalia was supposed to be this big secret she couldn't stop herself from telling people about it at every opportunity.  Josh, Jeffrey, Mel, Bill and Doris herself had all been her confidantes at one time or another.  No wonder Natalia hadn't been shocked at her confession.  What was more surprising was that there was anyone left in town that didn't know that Olivia Spencer - man-eater extraordinaire - was now batting for the other team.  Part time, at least.

Doris had told her once that taking this step with Natalia didn't have to mean giving up anything, that she might just find a whole new part of herself.  She was discovering that was true.  She still noticed attractive men, she could still turn on the charm that had led to five marriages, but lately she'd found herself occasionally looking at women too.  At first it was just idle curiosity.  She had never looked at any woman that way before Natalia after all, and it was only natural that she should try to compare her with others.  Natalia's kindness and strength and spirit were why she loved her.  But - and she had taken a long time to come to terms with this idea - it was her body that made Olivia want her.  Her lips, which she couldn't stop staring at.  Her hair, which she longed to touch and stroke and comb her fingers through.  Her curves, so delightfully different from a man's body.  And other women had those attributes too.

Olivia thrust her hands into the sink full of dishes, the hot water clearing her thoughts.  She couldn't let her mind go there.  Thoughts of kissing and touching and loving Natalia could only lead to frustration and heartbreak.  The other woman was nowhere near ready for that step.  Not if she couldn't bring herself to say I love you over the phone.

As of by magic, her phone began to ring the moment the thought crossed her mind.  "Speak of the devil," she muttered as she glanced at the display.

"Olivia," Natalia exclaimed as soon as Olivia answered the call.  "I've missed you so much."

Olivia closed her eyes.  A lot of possible answers crossed her mind, some of them not exactly civil.  She had been wounded by Natalia's distance and apparent rejection and when Olivia was hurt she tended to strike out.  Only a colossal strength of will stopped her from doing so this time, although her voice was not as warm as it could have been as she replied.  "How are things?"

Natalia hesitated.  "Uh...things are OK," she said.  "The funeral's the day after tomorrow."

Olivia nodded.  "When do you think you'll be coming back?"

"I'm not sure," Natalia admitted.  "Things with mom are...uhm...a little bit complicated."

Olivia's lips twitched in an unpleasant sneer.  "Oh right, and she needs you I guess."

Natalia didn't speak for a moment.  "What's that supposed to mean?" she said at last.

Olivia managed a bitter laugh.  "Nothing at all Natalia.  Duty calls, right?  I know how important your family is to you.  I mean when people have loved and supported you unconditionally they really deserve your time and consideration."  Sarcasm dripped from every syllable.  "Oh, wait," she said, smacking herself on the forehead with the flat of her hand.  "I think I'm getting her confused with someone else."

A deep sigh was her response.  "Why are you doing this?" Natalia said.  "Don't you think this situation is difficult enough for me without you trying to make me feel guilty for wanting to look after my own mother?"

Olivia rolled her eyes.  "When has she ever looked after you?" she demanded.

"That's not the point!" Natalia shouted.  Olivia winced a little holding the phone away from her ear.  "You don't treat people as they've treated you, you treat them how you would like to be treated.  What kind of person do you think I am?"

Olivia ground her teeth, but couldn't bring herself to reply.  Partly because she was angry and hurt, and partly because she knew Natalia was right and didn't want to admit it.

Natalia let out a small, defeated sound and sighed.  "I don't want to fight with you," she said softly.  "Please.  I love you, Olivia."

Olivia didn't mean to say it.  She didn't want to say it.  She'd been waiting to hear those words for days and everything in her heart called out to say them back, to re-affirm the love and desire and tenderness that had drawn them so inexorably together.  But the word was out of her mouth before she had a chance to think about it, born from a bitter core of pain that had been living in the pit of her stomach for as long as she could remember.  "Ditto," she said, her voice cold and empty.

There was an intake of breath on the other end of the line.  "I guess I deserved that," Natalia said.  Olivia could hear the tears in her voice.  She clenched her fist, digging her nails painfully into her palm.  She longed to take the word back, to start again, but if there was one thing Natalia had taught her it was that there were some words you couldn't take back.

"Natalia," she began, her voice warmer now, but Natalia cut her off.

"I'm sorry," she said.  "I didn't want to say that, I really didn't, but she was just right there and...it would have led to so many questions..."

Olivia felt each word like a slap.  "So she doesn't know?" she asked.  "About us?  You haven't told her?"

"N-no..." Natalia admitted.  "I didn't think...I mean I don't see why it matters.  I don't need her approval."

Olivia choked out a humourless laugh.  "But you do fear her disapproval, that much is obvious."

Natalia sniffed, and Olivia imagined her wiping away tears.  "I just think it would make things really complicated right now," she began, but Olivia didn't let her continue.

"Look, don't worry about it Natalia," she snapped.  "I'm used to being a dirty little secret.  Why break the habit of a lifetime?"

"Olivia!" Natalia gasped.  "No!  That's not-"

Olivia didn't give her a chance to finish.  She stabbed at the disconnect button on her phone and tossed it onto the counter, not particularly caring when it slid to floor with a crash.

She leaned against the countertop for several long minutes, breathing deep and hard and fighting back tears.  How foolish she had been, she thought.  All her life she had been waiting to feel like this.  Waiting for the fairy tale, the great love she'd read about in books and seen in movies.  She'd jumped from man to man looking for it for years, always yearning, ever searching.  Never anyone's first choice, always second best.  How stupid she'd been to think this would be different.  How crazy to think this could ever work.  She'd tried to tell Natalia as much, back in the gazebo.  And she'd been right.  Natalia was ashamed of this.

But Natalia had been the one to pursue her.  Olivia had never asked her for anything, never expected anything.  She'd tried to walk away but Natalia wouldn't let her.  That day at Emma's school there'd been such fire in her voice, such conviction.  Natalia had been the one to convince her that they could make this work.

How could she do that and then break her heart?

Olivia allowed the pain to settle in, burrowing deep into her heart and taking up residence like a familiar friend.  Then she bent down and collected her phone.  The back had come off and the battery had skittered across the floor, so she had to put it back together before she could make the call.

"Hey," she said when Doris picked up.  "It's me."  She closed her eyes.  "Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?"

Natalia had tried to call her back several times that day but Olivia had put the phone on silent and ignored her.  She had listened to the voicemail messages though, which had gone from pleading to irritated within the space of about twenty minutes.  At first there had been a lot of 'I'm sorry's and 'forgive me's but they had transformed soon enough into 'what do you want from me's and finally a 'grow up'.

Grow up?  Well, Olivia was already a grown up and she was going out that night to do a grown up thing.  She was planning to get completely, irretrievably drunk.

Emma had been safely deposited at Jodie's house for a sleepover before she headed to Towers to meet Doris.  She had debated dressing to kill - maybe teasing Doris a little to get back at her for her relentless needling all week - but in the end she'd decided against it.  She was angry with Natalia, but that wasn't any excuse to give Doris the wrong idea.

It was pretty obvious to Olivia that Doris was into her.  Olivia always knew - she'd known about Natalia too, way before either of them was ready to admit it.  She'd seen the signs - the physical signs anyway - and she was versed enough in the art of seduction that she could have taken advantage of them.  But she had changed.  She wasn't the Olivia of old who would have simply taken what she wanted and to hell with the consequences.  She had quickly realised that a furtive fumble in the dark followed by shame and recriminations was not what she wanted. She'd said it to Josh; she wanted the real thing.  She didn't just want to kiss Natalia, or touch her, or make love with her.  Not just that.  She wanted to wake up beside her every morning.  She wanted to raise Emma with her.  She wanted to know every facet of her.  She wanted anything and everything the other woman would give her, for as long as she would give it.

Doris's interest was a little bit flattering, but it couldn't compare to that.  The Mayor wasn't exactly being subtle about it.  Her constant peppering of snide remarks about Natalia notwithstanding, Doris had been attempting charm over the last week.  It didn't really suit her, Olivia had decided.  It certainly wasn't having the desired effect - Olivia had found it more amusing than anything else, when she had the time to actually think about it, in between worrying about Natalia and their so-called future.

"Good evening Ms Spencer," said Doris smoothly, sliding into the bar stool beside her.  She was wearing that red, white and black jacket again.

"Seriously, don't you have any other clothes?"

Doris smirked.  "I didn't realise you paid such close attention to my wardrobe, Olivia," she said.

"To your closet you mean?"  Olivia turned a deceptively sweet smile onto her companion and raised her glass.  She had been waiting for ten minutes or so and had already got through two martinis and was on her third.

"Oh, very funny," Doris replied, gesturing to the bartender to bring her one of what Olivia was having.  "How long have you been working on that one?"

Olivia shook her head.  "Oh no Doris, I'm afraid that was completely spontaneous.  I just don't spend that much time thinking about you."

Doris concealed her flinch quite well - she was a politician after all, good at lying - but Olivia saw it.  "Well, obviously you thought of me enough today to ask me out," she said.

Olivia shook her head.  "Okay, let me get a couple of things straight," she replied.

"No pun intended?"

Olivia rolled her eyes.  No wonder Natalia hadn't found that line funny.  "Ha ha," she deadpanned.  "I'm serious."

Doris folded her hands primly on her lap.  "Do go on," she said.

Olivia gentled her tone, suddenly feeling a little sorry for the other woman.  "This isn't a date," she said.  "I'm not interested in you.  I'm in love with Natalia."

Doris sat very still with no expression on her face for a long moment, then she affected a look of confusion.  "Ms Spencer I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about," she said.

Olivia hesitated, then nodded.  If that was the way she wanted to play it.  "Okay, my mistake," she said, and raised her glass to the other woman.  "Cheers."  They clinked their glasses together, and Doris downed her drink in one fast gulp.

"I thought you said dinner, not drinks," she said.

Olivia nodded, and they graduated to a table where they ordered a little food and a lot of wine.  A little too much wine really, considering Olivia had been halfway to drunk before she even sat down.

"And get this, do you wanna know what she said?"  Olivia gestured wildly with her fork, splattering a little tomato sauce onto the white tablecloth.  "Ditto!  Fucking ditto!  What the hell is that?"

Doris, who hadn't had nearly as much wine, managed a tight smile.  "Ah, the infamous ditto," she said.  "That's what we closet cases say when we're too scared to say 'I love you'."

Olivia laughed bitterly.  "Yeah, I get that.  She's scared.  Scared of what?"  She took a gulp of wine.  "Scared that her mother might disown her?  Again?  Big freakin' loss."

Doris frowned.  "Her mother disowned her?  Why?"

Olivia shrugged.  "Sixteen, Catholic, pregnant, unmarried, do I have to draw you a diagram?"

Doris hesitated.  This probably wasn't a good idea.  But what the hell, she reasoned.  In for a penny.  "Don't you think you're being just a tiny bit unreasonable?" she said.

Olivia fixed her with a poisonous glare.  "What?"

Doris shrugged.  "I don't know Natalia very well," she admitted.  "But she seems like an old fashioned type.  I mean come on.  She lives on a farm.  She goes to church.  She bakes."  Doris almost shuddered.  It always seemed to come back to the baking.  "Family must be important to her."

"I'm her family," Olivia hissed.  "I'm the one who's always stood by her.  I'm the one who's always put her happiness first.  I'm the one who loves her, dammit."

Doris sat back a little in her chair.  "Okay," she conceded.  "That's fair.  But parents are tricky things.  We do feel this strange loyalty to them, even if we really shouldn't.  Even if they don't deserve it."  She sighed.  "Think about it from Natalia's point of view.  Her dad's dead.  She's never going to get another chance with him.  However they left it all those years ago - that's it.  No way to fix it.  But she has this second chance with her mom.  Can you really blame her for not wanting to screw it up right away?"

Olivia's lips thinned and for a long moment she didn't speak.  "I should call her," she said at last, her shoulders slumping.

Doris shook her head.  "Tomorrow," she said.  "When you're sober."

Olivia looked for a moment as if she was about to argue, then crumpled, nodding.  "Okay," she conceded in a small voice.  She looked at her watch.  It was getting a little late to call anyway.  "I should get a cab," she said.

"I'll drive you," Doris said.

Olivia shook her head.  "You don't have to-" she began, but Doris cut her off with a wave.

"What kind of Mayor would I be if I didn't see to the safety of my constituents?" she said archly.

Olivia laughed.  "Can I tell you a little secret?" she said, leaning forward and dropping her voice to a whisper.  "I didn't vote for you."

Doris raised an eyebrow as Olivia descended into peals of laughter.  "All the more reason for me to do you a favour," she said, standing and holding out her hand to the other woman.  "Floating voters are my bread and butter."

Olivia was still giggling drunkenly.  "Does that mean you're going to eat me?"

"You wish," Doris fired back, pleased to see Olivia blush.

"Oh shut up," she said, taking Doris's proffered hand.

They headed out to the deserted parking lot, drawing the occasional second glance on the way.  Doris smiled placidly at everyone they passed, as if it was a perfectly ordinary sight to see the Mayor practically carrying a noted local business-woman out of a restaurant.

Olivia stumbled when they got to the car, accidentally pushing Doris against the door and pinning her there.  "Olivia," she muttered.  "Jeez, you're heavier than you look."

Olivia laughed.  "Charmer," she said.

Doris rolled her eyes.  "Are you going to move?"

Olivia shook her head, lassitude creeping into her limbs.  "I'm quite comfortable," she slurred.  "Thanks anyway."

Doris looked around to see if any assistance would be forthcoming.  There was no-one around she could see.  "Okay, you asked for it," she said, then leaned forward and kissed Olivia.  For one startled moment Olivia kissed her back - Doris assumed she was thinking of someone else - then roughly pushed her away, stepping back.

"What was that?" she demanded.  Doris simply rolled her eyes and opened the car door.

"Well, you weren't going to move by yourself," she said.

"I...what...Doris, I don't-"

"I know," Doris replied.  "You're in love with Natalia, blah blah blah.  Would you just get in the car?"

Olivia stood there, still and silent for a long moment, then finally gave in and slipped into the passenger seat.  Suddenly she felt very tired.

As the car pulled out of the lot neither woman saw Frank Cooper emerge from the shadows.  He took a deep breath and exhaled through his teeth.  "You utter, utter bitch," he muttered, and reached for his phone.

"I'm so glad you looked me up."

Natalia smiled at Selina's happy face.  She certainly appeared to be pleased to hear from her.  Very pleased, if truth be told.  After Natalia had finally tracked down her number, going through two cousins and an aunt to do so, she hadn't quite known what to expect.  She had hoped for a friendly conversation, with maybe the option to keep in touch down the road.  She hadn't anticipated an invitation to dinner, and she'd hesitated a little before saying yes.  Two things had made up her mind.  One - Olivia had been behaving quite ridiculously and she wanted an excuse not to think about her.  Two - she figured that seeing Selina would really, really piss off her mother.

And indeed it had.  "Why are you seeing her?" she'd asked, a curl of disapproval on her lips.

"Because she's an old friend I haven't seen in years, mom, is that so strange?" had been Natalia's reply.

Her mother had looked her up and down, taking in the new dress she'd bought that day, midnight blue, low cut, and tapering down to a finish just below the knee.  "You're not dressed like you're just seeing a friend."

Natalia had raised an eyebrow at her mother.  She'd been spoiling for a fight since her conversation with Olivia and, while her mother wasn't the ideal target, she would do.  "What's that supposed to mean?" she'd asked.

There had been no reply, and Natalia had ended up going out to meet Selina with her frustration unsatisfied.

"I'm glad I looked you up too," Natalia said, forcing her mind back to the present.  She twirled the umbrella in her cocktail, smiling at her companion.  She looked better than Natalia remembered.  She'd been a skinny girl when they last saw each other - a long distance runner on the school track team.  Natalia remembered cold, rainy Saturdays spent huddled on the bleachers watching her race round lap after lap.  She hadn't felt uncomfortable, even on the most frigid and wet of days.  One glance at  Selina on the track and she had felt warm.  What a blind idiot she had been.

She wasn't blind now, and she couldn't help but notice that Selina had filled out in some very pleasant ways.  The awkward gangliness of adolescence had flourished into the full blossom of womanhood during their eighteen year separation.  Selina looked good.  Really good.

And she had dressed up too, Natalia was pleased to see.  After her conversation with her mother she had worried that the new dress was a little much.  It was just the only formal wear she'd brought was a black pantsuit for the funeral, and that was hardly the impression she wanted to make on her old friend.  But her fears had been allayed when Selina had breezed into the restaurant with her honey-blonde hair cascading down her back in waves, and wearing an emerald green cocktail dress the colour of Olivia's eyes.

Natalia shook herself.  Stop it, her mind warned her. You're supposed to be mad at her.  Stop thinking about her eyes.

In the end it was easier than she'd thought it would be to put Olivia out of her mind.  She'd worried that seeing Selina again would be awkward but it wasn't.  After just one or two false starts they were right back in the groove, as if they had just seen each other last week at school, instead of nearly two decades ago.  It was easy and comfortable and light, three things that being with Olivia hadn't been lately, and Natalia simply let her mind relax and revel in it as they chatted and slowly cleaned their plates.

It was when Natalia caught herself staring at Selina's lips for the third time that she realised that the easiness and familiarity of their conversation weren't the only things she was revelling in.  Oh boy, her brain muttered as she forced her eyes up.  No, no, no, those are bad thoughts.

"Did you bring your son with you?" Selina was saying.  "I'd love to meet him."

Natalia smiled, hoping the pounding of her heart wasn't too obvious.  "Uh, maybe next time," she said, with a nervous laugh.  "I didn't think he and my mom were quite ready for each other."

Selina rolled her eyes.  "Oh Jesus, your mom," she muttered.  "Yeah, keeping him away from her was probably a good idea."

"I see you're harbouring a few fond memories there," Natalia replied with a twitch of her lips.  Selina responded with a full blown laugh.

"Like the time she threw me out of your house and told me never to darken your doorstep again?" she said.  "Yeah, that's one of the fondest."

Natalia hesitated as their waiter appeared to clear away their entrees.  "Any dessert for you ladies?" he asked.  Selina shook her head.

"Oh not for me, I'm stuffed," she said.  "Natalia?"

Natalia shook her head demurely.  "No thanks."

"Just the check please," Selina said, then inclined her head toward Natalia.  "Do you want to go and get a drink?" she asked.  "I know a really good place not too far from here.  Not too loud."  She smiled hopefully.

Natalia looked at her watch.  "I don't know-" she began.

"Just one," Selina interrupted.  "Come on, I haven't seen you in nearly twenty years.  Just one eensy little drink."  She held up her thumb and forefinger.  "A teeny little one?"

Natalia couldn't help but laugh.  "Okay," she relented.  "Just one."

Selina's smile was breathtaking and Natalia had to force herself to keep looking into her eyes.  Her lips were dangerous territory.  Not quite as dangerous as Olivia's...but dangerous enough.

It was short walk to the bar Selina had in mind and it was, as she'd promised, not too loud.  They found a quiet table in a corner and picked up the thread of their prior conversation easily.  "So," Natalia said.  "Do you have any kids?  Are you married?"

She frowned at Selina's slight double take.  "Uh...no," Selina said at last, with a nervous laugh.  "No kids.  And defintely no marriage.  Not in this state anyway."

Natalia's frown deepened.  "What do you mean?"

For a moment Selina seemed to be torn between exasperation and amusement.  Amusement won.  "Same old Natalia, still living under that rock," she muttered.  She pinned her old friend with laughter filled eyes.  "Natalia, I'm gay."

Natalia's eyes briefly widened and she took a sip of her drink to hide her reaction.  "Oh," she said.  "Oh...well...that's great.  Good for you."

Selina giggled.  "Well, thank you for your approval, I can't tell you how much it means to me."

Natalia rolled her eyes.  "Oh shut up," she said, and then found herself laughing too.

With the tension gone Selina took a sip of her own drink.  "You really didn't know?" she said.  "I mean, when we were kids..."

"What about when we were kids?"  A little flutter of excitement burst in Natalia's stomach as she remembered all those supposedly innocent hugs and whispered sleepover conversations that she now recognised for what they truly were.

"I was such an obvious little baby-dyke," Selina said, a twinkle in her eye.  "And..." she trailed off, gazing up at Natalia almost shyly through half-lidded eyes.


Selina smiled lazily.  "And I was so absolutely crazy about you," she admitted.  "You didn't know?"

Natalia shook her head slowly.  "No," she said.  "Not...not then."

Selina's breath caught.  "And now?"

Natalia lips twitched up in a rueful smile.  "I've...figured out quite a few things out over the years," she said.  She shrugged, feeling a little uncomfortable all of a sudden.  She stole a quick glance over her shoulder, sure someone was looking at her.

A long exhalation of breath dragged her attention back to her companion.  "Well, your mom knew, that's for sure," Selina said.  "The day she...well, the day she threw me out?  I think she caught me..."

The back of Natalia's neck tingled.  "Caught you doing what?" she said, fighting the urge to look over her shoulder again.

Selina shook her head.  "God, it was nothing really," she said, laughing at herself.  "We were having a sleepover, remember?  I woke up before you and...God, I was so nuts about you."  Her eyes fluttered closed.  "I was just holding your hand," she said softly, obviously lost in the memory.  "It was hardly anything.  Just holding your hand while you were sleeping."  She opened her eyes.  "But I guess your mom didn't see it that way."

Natalia's heart was thundering in her ears.  "So...mom knew," she said.  She'd thought as much, but it was still a little shocking to have it confirmed.  "She knew we were..." she trailed off and took a long sip of her drink.

Selina raised an eyebrow.  "We?"  She leaned forward.  "It wasn't just me?  There was a we?"

Natalia took a deep breath, then finally nodded.  "There was a we," she replied.  As soon as the words left her lips she gave into an ever growing impulse and turned round.  Her eyes scanned the room but if anyone had been looking at them they had judiciously looked away.

"What's wrong?"

Natalia turned back to Selina, exasperated.  "Do you feel like everyone's watching us?" she asked, and frowned deeply when Selina began to laugh.

Selina clamped a hand over her mouth to stem the laughter.  "Sorry," she said.  "But you know how ridiculous that sounds, right?"

Natalia crossed her arms across her chest.  "Why ridiculous?" she asked defensively.

Selina leaned forward and grabbed her hand.  It felt clammy to the touch, and tense.  "Look around, Natalia," she said.  "You're in a lesbian bar.  No-one's staring at you, I swear."

Natalia paled as she slowly turned and looked around the room again.  The bar was half full of people of all shapes, sizes and colours.  The only thing they all had in common was that they were women.  She could hardly believe she hadn't noticed before.  And Selina was right.  No one was looking at them.  It had all been in her head.

"Oh my God," she murmured softly.  "It's me.  I'm doing this to myself..."

Selina frowned.  "What?  What are you talking about Natalia?"

But Natalia wasn't listening.  Her mind was back in Springfield, in the grocery store, the bank, Emma's school, all the places she'd felt the tingle of eyes boring into the back of her skull.  Had that all been in her head too?  Had she really been working herself into knots over nothing more than imagined scrutiny?  Had she been blocking Olivia out, pushing her away, because of problems that didn't even exist?  Over simple paranoia?

"Oh my God," she said again, gently disengaging her hand from Selina's.  She reached for her phone.  She needed to talk to Olivia.  She needed it more than she needed her next breath.

But the phone was already ringing when she picked it up.  The caller display said Frank.  Natalia frowned.  What could he possibly want?

"I've got to take this," she said, shooting an apologetic glance at her confused companion.  Selina nodded and sat back in her chair, turning her attention to her drink.  Natalia accepted the call.  "Hey Frank," she said, attempting to sound pleased to hear from him.  "Is everything okay?"

Selina watched as her old friend listened to whoever was on the phone, beginning to frown as Natalia grew more and more pale.  Then shock and pain turned to anger and Natalia almost growled.

"You saw Olivia doing what?"

In that moment Selina felt very sorry for this Olivia, whoever she was.  And, from the look on Natalia's face, she figured Olivia was going to need all the sympathy she could get.

"Oh, Jesus fucking Christ, I'm never drinking again," Olivia groaned as she rolled over and swatted at the alarm clock.  The incessant chirpiness of whatever vacuous DJ was on that hour stopped, much to her relief.  Her eyes creaked open.  She hadn't thought to close the curtains when she'd stumbled into bed the night before and she regretted it now.  Squinting against the light, her head pounding, she tried to look at the clock.  The digits swam before her bleary eyes, mocking her.

She sat up and immediately felt her stomach shift.  She held her breath and swallowed hard.  Only when she was sure she wasn't going to be sick did she swing her legs out of bed and rise unsteadily to her feet.

It was only then that she realised that the pounding wasn't just in her head.  Someone was hammering at the farmhouse door.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," she yelled, holding her palms against her ears.  Blearily she stumbled downstairs.  She was quite proud of herself for managing it without stumbling over her own feet, which seemed to be made of lead.  "Yeah, Jesus, you can stop pounding on the freakin' door, I'm right here!"

She flung the door open and couldn't stifle a groan at who she saw there.  Frank came in without waiting to be invited.  "Olivia," he said.

Olivia flopped onto the couch, holding her head in her hands.  "Frank," she groaned.  "What the hell?  Why are you trying to bang my door down at stupid o'clock in the morning?"

Frank began to pace.  Gradually the realisation that this was not typical Frank behaviour penetrated Olivia's foggy brain.  "Is Doris here?" he said at last.

Olivia frowned angrily.  "What?  You burst in here at some ungodly fucking hour and that's what you ask me?  What the hell is wrong with you?"

Frank's jaw clenched.  "I saw you with her," he ground out.

Olivia shook her head.  "What, at Towers?  She's a friend...sort of, anyway...I'm allowed to have dinner with my friends."

Frank laughed bitterly.  "Oh, this was a lot more than dinner."

Olivia threw her hands in the air.  "You're delusional," she muttered, pinching the bridge of her nose.

Frank's voice raised.  "I saw you kissing her," he insisted.

"What?"  Olivia shook her head.  "Kissing her?  What the-"  Suddenly she broke off, her face turning even greener than it had been, if that was at all possible.  "Oh," she said, horror creeping into her voice.  "Oh my fucking fuck."

Frank shot her a look of pure disgust.  "You sicken me," he ground out.

Olivia hid her face in her hands.  "It's not what you think," she said.  "Honest, Frank-"

"Honest?" he shouted incredulously.  "Honest?  How can you dare to even say that word?  It means nothing to you, it never has."

Olivia's eyes flickered to the crucifix on the wall.  This is my punishment for every sin I've ever committed, right? she asked it silently.  Hungover, with a morally outraged Frank in my face?  Do I really deserve this?

"That's not fair Frank-" she began, but Frank cut her off.

"No Olivia, you know what's not fair?  The woman I love leaving me at the altar for a vile, pathetic excuse for a human being.  A woman who can't even stay faithful to her for a week!"

"I wasn't being unfaithful!" Olivia yelled.  "Jesus Christ, we're not even a couple yet."

Frank's lip curled.  "Oh, how typical of you, Olivia," he said.

Olivia shook her head.  "That's not what I meant," she said.  "Look, Doris kissed me okay, not the other way around."

Frank threw his arms out wide.  "You still got in the car with her, you couldn't have hated it that much."

Olivia stood up a little too quickly and swayed on her feet.  Frank instinctively reached a hand out to steady her.  Olivia shook him off.  "You don't have any idea what you saw," she ground out.  "And I'm done explaining myself to you."

Frank's face twisted into a mockery of a smile.  "It's not me you have to explain yourself to," he said.

Olivia's heart dropped through the floor.  "What?"  Her voice was low and deadly.

Frank didn't seem to hear the danger in it.  "I called Natalia last night.  She was pretty interested in your little escapade."  He looked her up and down one last time before heading to the door.  "God, she deserves so much better than you," he said, a parting shot.

"Oh dear God..." Olivia whispered after he was gone.  "Oh dear sweet fucking God."

In a daze she rushed back upstairs.  Her cellphone was by the bed and she fumbled for it blindly.  Natalia's phone rang twice before she picked up.

"Natalia-" she began breathlessly, but the other woman cut her off.

"Save it."  Her voice was cold and hard.  "I'm not interested in anything you have to say."

A choked sob rose up in Olivia's throat.  "Natalia, please-" she said, but it was too late.  Natalia had hung up.

With trembling hands she dialled Natalia again, but it was no good.  Voicemail.

A tight scream burst from her chest.  She couldn't decide who she wanted to kill more - Doris or Frank.  Maybe she'd just do both.

Right after she threw up.

Natalia spent a day studiously ignoring Olivia's calls and a night tossing and turning and alternately punching the pillows and weeping into them, and before she knew it it was the morning of her father's funeral.  Her mother looked at her strangely when she appeared in the living room in a neatly pressed pantsuit with bloodshot eyes, but she said nothing.  She had enough on her mind.

It was a short drive to the church.  Natalia slipped an arm around her mother's shoulder as they filed in, and was not rebuffed.  Josephine slumped against her side, already weeping.

Natalia felt tears nipping at her own eyes, but not for her father.  She had expected the feelings of grief that had overtaken her that first night in Chicago to come back, but they eluded her.  Her tears were for herself and for the empty pit that had burst open inside her after Frank had called.  Olivia, her mind murmured.  How could you?

She sat through the first hymn in a daze, not trusting her voice to sing.  The readings were similarly a blur to her, but she perked up her ears as the priest began to talk about her father, and what a wonderful man he had been, how unselfish, how devoted to his religion and his family.

The back of her neck turned red and she ground her teeth.  A long dormant anger growled in the pit of her stomach, aching to be set free.  Suddenly she felt her mother's warning hand on her arm.  She turned and met her eyes.  She expected to see anger there, perhaps scolding.  Instead she saw pain and a quiet pleading and it was that, more than anything, that made her bite her tongue.

So they wanted to paint her father as some kind of saint.  It didn't matter.  They could believe what they wanted.  She knew the truth.  She knew what had happened eighteen years ago.  She knew what kind of man her father really was.

"Sorry I'm late."

Natalia turned in surprise as she felt someone slide into the pew beside her and whisper into her ear.  "Rafe!" she hissed, letting go of her mother's hand and turning to embrace him.  "How?  Why?"

Rafe ignored the murmurs of displeasure from some of the mourners around them.  "Olivia," he said simply.  "She told the parole board about your dad and they gave me a week's compassionate leave."

Natalia had focused on only one part of his statement.  "Olivia?" she whispered.  "Is she here?"

Rafe nodded.  "She's staying at the Omni downtown," he said.  "I told her to come to the church but she wouldn't."

Natalia shook her head in a daze.  Olivia was here, in Chicago, just a short cab ride away.  She could be there in twenty minutes.

The tinkle of a bell forced her mind back to reality.  The priest was holding up the host, consecrating it.  Thirty-four years of Catholic training made her bow her head.  "My Lord and my God," she whispered, along with half the congregation.  Rafe took her hand and squeezed.

Josephine was watching them with naked curiosity.  Especially Rafe.  She couldn't take her eyes off him.  "Madre de Dios," she murmured.  "You look just like him..."

Natalia looked at her mother, and then at Rafe.  For the first time she saw her son through her mother's eyes and she gasped.  He really did look like her father.  Something around the eyes, and the nose.  The way he frowned, like he was doing now.

She didn't have time to think about that.  Before she knew it she was standing and reciting the Our Father, and then she was filing out past her father's coffin to receive communion.  It was when she was on her way back to her seat that she made the decision, almost without thinking about it.  She grabbed Rafe's hand.  "Stay with your grandmother," she whispered into his ear.  "I'll be back later."

She ignored the stares and muffled whispers as she bypassed her pew and headed for the door.  She broke into a run when she got outside.  "Taxi!" she yelled, as soon as she got to the kerb.

There had only been one thing on her mind since Rafe had told her Olivia was in town.  The other woman was like a magnet to her, even now.  There was no question of not seeing her.

It was time for them to have this out, once and for all.

The knock - pounding, really - at her hotel room door startled Olivia out of a restless sleep.  She'd flown in with Rafe that morning and the flight had been delayed by an hour, leading to rushing and stress and general annoyance.  She had toyed with the idea of going with Rafe to the funeral but in the end she'd decided it was a bad idea.  It wouldn't be fair to Natalia to just appear like that.  After all, she'd made it pretty clear she didn't want to talk to her - she wasn't likely to want to see her either.

So why are you even here? she asked herself, and sighed.  Hope, she supposed.  A hope that had been almost crippled by Natalia's repeated failure to answer her calls, but hope nonetheless.

The pounding came again and Olivia grimaced in annoyance.  "It says do not disturb, can't you read?" she yelled irritably.

"Open the door, Olivia."

For a long moment Olivia couldn't move.  She half expected to hear her pacemaker beeper going off.

Natalia pounded on the door again.  "Open the door now!"

Olivia scrambled off the bed and made her way quickly to the door.  Natalia was just getting more and more pissed the longer she left her waiting in the corridor - that wouldn't help matters.

"Uh, hi," Olivia said, with an attempt at a smile, when she finally opened the door.  Natalia brushed past her without a word.  She was stoney-faced.  Olivia searched desperately for some clue as to her mood, but there was no tell-tale expression to latch onto.

"Wow, first a wedding; now a funeral.  What religious ceremony are you going to run away from next?"

She'd known - in her mind - that it was the wrong thing to say before she said it.  Unfortunately her mind had not thought to inform her mouth.  Disgust crept across Natalia's face.  "Oh, for God's sake," she spat, contempt in every syllable.

"Sorry," Olivia replied, covering her face with her hands.  "That was really...fuck  Really stupid.  I'm sorry."

A hollow laugh was her reply.  "I don't think sorry's going to cover it."

Olivia crossed her arms over her chest.  "It was just a bad joke, Natalia-" she began, but Natalia interrupted her.

"Stop playing dumb, it doesn't suit you," she said sharply.  "Frank called me.  I know."

Olivia's shoulders hunched.  "It's not what you think," she said softly.  Natalia just shook her head, then made a show of looking round the room.

"Is Frank with you?" she asked.

Olivia frowned at the left-field question.  "What?  No."

Natalia shrugged.  "Oh, it's just someone dragged my son into something that's nothing to do with him because they were trying to manipulate me.  Seemed like something he would do."

Olivia's cheeks flushed pink.  "I'm not trying to manipulate you!"

Natalia's voice raised to match Olivia's.  "What the hell would you call it?"

Olivia couldn't look at Natalia any longer.  She turned and stalked over to the window, looking down at the bustling street below.  "I don't know," she admitted.  "I thought you'd need family with you right now.  Real family I mean, the kind that actually loves you no-matter what you do."  Tears nipped at her eyes.  She wiped at them quickly, angry with herself for having so little self control.  "If I'd wanted to manipulate you I'd have turned up at the church," she said.

For a long moment Natalia didn't speak.  "I'm glad you didn't," she said, watching the stiff line of Olivia's back bend a little as she leaned forward.

Olivia's eyes fluttered closed as misery crashed over her like a wave.  Of all the good things she'd ruined in her life, this was surely the one that would live with her forever.  "Okay," she said, knowing that there was heartbreak in her voice, but not able to muster up the energy to care.

Silence stretched between them.  "How could you?" Natalia said at last, and this time it was her voice that sounded heartbroken.

Olivia shook her head.  "I didn't-" she began.

Natalia choked out a humourless laugh.  "Oh please."

Olivia turned back to her and crossed the room in two long strides.  "Listen to me," she said, grabbing Natalia's hands and refusing to let go, even as the other woman tried to wriggle from her grip.  "Please.  It's not what you think.  Really."

Natalia's cheeks were pink with anger.  "Then what is it, huh?"

Olivia released her and scraped her hands through her hair, grimacing.  "Look, I was drunk-" she said, but Natalia interrupted again.

"Oh, colour me surprised," she said bitterly.  Olivia flushed.

"What does that mean?" she replied, her chin jutting forward.

Natalia laughed.  "You know exactly what it means," she said.  "This is you all over.  The first sign of trouble and you just go off and get drunk.  Damn the consequences, right?  Just as long as you feel better, who cares who gets hurt!"

Olivia's nostrils flared.  "I know more than you ever will about the consequences of drinking," she spat.  "And the one who gets hurt is usually yours truly, so don't you dare preach to me Natalia."

Natalia shook her head in disbelief.  "Hey, you don't get to be angry!" she yelled.  "You're the one who cheated on me!"

Olivia threw her hands in the air.  "I didn't fucking cheat on you!"

Natalia snorted in disbelief.  "Oh yeah, I get it, I haven't put out yet so you don't owe me anything-"

"No!" Olivia shouted, cutting her off.  "I owe you everything, don't you know that?"

Natalia seemed lost for words momentarily, but rallied.  "Then why-"

"She kissed me!" Olivia all but screamed, anger and pain and fear written all over her face.  "For God's sake Natalia, you of all people should know that when someone kisses you it doesn't have to be mutual.  I didn't kiss her back!"

Natalia hesitated.  "Frank said-" she began.  Olivia laughed, throwing her head back.

"Oh, Frank said did he?  Frank fucking hates my guts right now, Natalia.  Frank thinks he's going to win you back by following me around waiting for me to make a mistake so he can paint me as the villain.  Again.  So what, he sees Doris plant one on me when I'm obviously drunk and he calls you up with some story like I'm sleeping with half the town?  And you swallow that?"

Natalia's hands were shaking with rage.  "Don't do that," she ground out.  "Don't you dare make me out to be the bad guy here."

There was a long moment filled with nothing but air forcing its way into their lungs and blood thundering in their ears.  Olivia's face was red and her lips were parted as she breathed shallowly, her hands balled into fists at her side.  Every muscle was tense, as if she was expecting to have to defend herself from physical blows.  Natalia's dark eyes scraped over her from head to foot.  She looked good.  Really good.

Olivia seemed to realise what was happening a fraction of a second before Natalia did, but it was Natalia who surged forward and claimed the other woman's lips in a brutal, bruising kiss.

"Mmmph!"  Olivia's eyes widened, but she had been dreaming of Natalia's lips for too long not to respond, even if the way this was happening felt wrong.  This kiss was not about love - it was all frustration, and tension and lust finally unleashed.  Natalia was stiff and tense in her arms, still mad from the fight, but much, much too far gone to care.

"You make me so angry," she said as their lips parted briefly.

Olivia's lips twitched and a gleam entered her eye.  "Ditto," she breathed.

Natalia growled.  "Oh, shut up," she said and kissed her again.  This time she slid her hands over Olivia's shoulders, pushing her jacket off and letting it tangle behind her back.  Olivia moaned into the kiss as her arms were trapped in the fabric and Natalia pushed her back towards the bed.

"Natalia," Olivia gasped as her knees hit the mattress and she sat down heavily.  The other woman loomed over her, all dark hair and clothes and eyes.  Olivia flushed at the look of pure, unabashed desire on her face.

"Don't talk," Natalia said, her voice clipped.  Her hands trembled only a little as she pushed Olivia back onto the bed.  She followed her, straddling her waist and holding her shoulders down.  Olivia's pulse was throbbing and Natalia leaned down to kiss the thunder of it as it jumped in her throat.

Olivia squirmed, her hands still strapped behind her back.  "Ah!" she gasped as Natalia suddenly bit down - not enough to hurt too much, but enough to leave a mark.  Natalia reared up and Olivia could see that her eyes had shaded to black.

"You're mine," Natalia hissed.  "No-one else's."

Her heart in her mouth, Olivia closed her eyes and moaned.  "I'm yours," she said, and knew that it had been true for a long, long time.  Months.  Since before the two mommies debacle, before they lived together, before they were best friends.  Maybe it had always been true and she had just been waiting all this time to find her.

She felt urgent fingers at the buttons of her shirt and her eyes flickered open.  Natalia's lips were set in a thin line, a look of sheer determination etched onto her features.  "You don't have to-" Olivia started to say, but was cut off.

"I'm going to," Natalia said.  "I've been waiting for you for so long.  You're mine and I'm going to have you."

A rush of heat licked over Olivia's skin like wildfire and all she could do was moan.  "Oh Jesus, Natalia..."  She felt Natalia's lips and tongue on her skin as she pressed desperate, sloppy, open-mouthed kisses all over her neck, her chest, her stomach.  Natalia moved around randomly as if she couldn't decide where she wanted to be, as if the expanse of skin revealed when she pushed Olivia's shirt aside was a banquet and she didn't know what to eat first.

Natalia's hands moved from her shoulders and she took advantage of the opportunity to squeeze her arms out from behind her back.  She rolled her shoulders gratefully, feeling the tingling that had started up in her arms beginning to ease.  She was so pre-occupied with the feeling that for a moment she didn't notice what Natalia's hands were doing.  It was only when she felt the rush of cool air against her thighs that she realised that her jeans and underwear had been pushed down to her knees and Natalia was settling down between her legs like she belonged there.

"Oh my God," she muttered as their eyes locked.  Natalia smiled slowly and seductively.

"Do you get this excited every time we fight?" she asked smoothly, her eyes flickering down.

Olivia could barely breathe.  "Uhm..." she managed to say.  "Pretty much."

Natalia grinned.  "Is that why we fight about everything?"

Olivia hesitated, then slowly nodded.  "I can't help it if you're sexy when you're mad," she said.

"Hmm."  Natalia looked sceptical, but then her face cleared, as if she was putting it from her mind and had better things to think about.  "You're sexy all the time," she growled, and dipped her head down.

"Wait!" Olivia halted the motion, holding her head back.  "You don't have to do this, Natalia," she said.  "I...this isn't...I mean, I don't want you to feel like you have to do anything...I-"  She swallowed hard.  "I'll be okay," she said.  "I mean, if you don't want to...I don't need-"

Natalia stared up at her with incredulous eyes.  "Dear God, would you just shut up and let me fuck you?"

Olivia flushed, and so did Natalia, neither of them quite able to believe that she'd just said that.  Nevertheless, her words had the desired effect.  Olivia's hands relaxed and didn't attempt to stop her as she bent down and flicked her tongue out to taste her lover.

"Oh fuck," Olivia ground out, burying her hands in Natalia's hair, curling her fingers round the back of her head.  Distantly she heard Natalia's answering moan, but it was indistinct, like she was hearing it from underwater.  Her stomach clenched as her lover's flickering tongue caressed her - a little uncertainly, a little hesitantly, but that didn't matter because she'd been on the edge for what felt like forever and this was going to be quick.  Embarrassingly quick.

"Oh God, Natalia," she moaned, instinctively rolling her hips against her lover's delicious, intoxicating mouth.  Her eyes flickered down. I've got Saint Natalia fucking Rivera's head between my legs, she thought deliriously as their eyes locked.

She lasted a lot longer than she thought she would - at least a minute - but when Natalia pursed her lips and sucked just a little she couldn't suppress a sob.  Her hands pulled her lover's head closer while her hips thrust forward of their own accord and she came, Natalia's name on her lips.

Every muscle in her body tensed for an endless moment and then the wave broke and she fell bonelessly to the bed.  Natalia raised her head and the vision of her licking her lips and wiping at her wet chin with the back of her hand nearly set Olivia off again.  "Oh my God," she muttered.  "Oh Natalia, I love you.  I love you so fucking much."

Natalia crawled up the bed, and Olivia realised with a start that the dark slacks she'd been wearing when she came in were now lying in a heap on the floor.  "Show me," her lover said breathlessly, taking Olivia's hand and guiding it between her legs.

Natalia was warm and very, very wet.  Olivia slipped two fingers inside easily and Natalia moaned, desperation written all over her face.  "Oh God yes," she breathed, grinding herself down onto Olivia's thrusting fingers.  She planted her hands on either side of Olivia's head, gazing down at her with flushed cheeks.

"Kiss me," Olivia said.  "Please."  Natalia's eyes fluttered closed as she leaned down.  Olivia could taste herself on Natalia's swollen lips, but this kiss was slow, and deep and tender.  She gasped when Natalia broke away, her face contorted with need.

"Fuck me, Olivia, please..." she whispered.  "I need you.  I love you, please...please..."

Olivia combed the fingers of her free hand through Natalia's hair as she thrust deeper and ground the heel of her palm against Natalia's clit.  Her wrist ached from the angle and from the strength of Natalia's bucking hips but she didn't care.  Natalia could break her arm for all she cared, she could break every bone in her body, as long as she got to make her come and watch that lovely face as it happened.

And she did get to do that, much more quickly than she'd thought she would, because of course Natalia had been dying for this too and denying it, which had only made it more potent and devastating when it was finally set free.

A wave of love and devotion like nothing she'd ever felt washed over Olivia as Natalia's muscles clenched against her fingers.  Her face cleared suddenly and she held her breath.  Olivia had the strangest feeling that Natalia had gone to some wonderful, otherworldly place for a moment, but then she came crashing back to reality and crashing down on top of her, breathing deeply through her nose and crushing her in a sweaty, desperate hug.  Olivia trailed kisses over her brow, tasting the salt on her skin.

"Oh my God..." Natalia was whispering, as if to herself.  "Oh my God..."

Olivia wrapped herself around Natalia, arms and legs tangling together as she held her tight.  It should have been painful, such was the strength and intensity of the embrace, but it wasn't.  It was perfect.

She closed her eyes.  She had planned that their first time together would be gentle and tender, in a candle-strewn bedroom after a night of unparalleled romance.  But then, Natalia had always taken her by surprise.

And maybe this actually made more sense for them.  Two women who'd fought each other, the world and themselves to get to this point, and whose love had begun in a graveyard, with a scream.

Part 3

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