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 Six

They had been driving for nearly an hour before Rafe finally deigned to speak to Natalia.  He'd practically thrown his bag into the trunk of the car when they left Josephine's apartment.  Natalia and Josephine had exchanged tentative hugs while he glowered at them from the passenger seat.  It had then started to rain quite heavily as they picked their way through the Chicago traffic.

"Why'd we have to leave today?" Rafe said, his eye trained on the window at the passing scenery.  Natalia set her jaw.

"Because I was ready to go home," she said.

He squirmed in his seat.  "But I could have stayed," he argued.  "I barely even got to know her."  Natalia shook her head.

"I'm your mother," she replied.  "You belong with me."

Rafe turned to look at her, taking in the set of her jaw, the determination in her profile.  "You're not the mother I thought I knew," he spat, clearly intending to wound.  To his surprise, Natalia laughed.

"Good!" she exclaimed.

"Huh?"  Rafe frowned and crossed his arms across his chest.

"The mother you thought you knew spent her whole life in fear," Natalia said, keeping her eyes trained firmly on the road.  "The mother you thought you knew didn't like herself very much.  The mother you thought you knew was lonely and unhappy."  She looked across at him briefly.  "I seem to remember you saying something about wanting me to be happy."

Rafe looked away again.  "Yeah," he murmured.  "Just...not like this."

Natalia turned back to the road.  "You don't get to decide what makes me happy, Rafe," she said softly.  He didn't reply.

Natalia sighed deeply and looked up at the sky.  The rain began to ease and suddenly the clouds parted to reveal a weak, cold sun.  Natalia couldn't help but laugh.  There, newly formed in the sky and pointing right towards Springfield, was a rainbow.

Obviously God's given up being subtle, she thought wryly. Because if that isn't a sign I don't know what is.

She thought of Springfield then, of her farmhouse, the Beacon, even Company.  All the familiar sets where the drama of her life had played out over these last few years.  Most of all she thought of Olivia.  Olivia, waiting for her.  Olivia, loving her.

She pressed down a little harder on the gas pedal.

Natalia had to wait three days for Olivia to get back into town.

The first day, she spent cleaning.  She scrubbed the floors.  She polished the silver.  She washed and rehung all the drapes.  She cleaned until the farmhouse shone and her muscles ached.

The second day, she spent shopping.  She bought flowers for every room in the house.  She bought candles of all shapes and sizes.  She bought all of Olivia's favourite foods.  And she bought two gifts which she kept in her pockets at all times.

On the third day, she woke early to the sound of bird song.  For long minutes she languished in bed, slipping in and out of a doze which contained dreams of nothing but smoky green eyes.  It felt like Christmas morning, but not one from her own childhood.  More like one of the Christmas mornings she'd shared with Rafe as he grew up.  This was the excitement of finally being able to give, and to watch joy creeping into the face of a person you loved.  Except Olivia wasn't a child and Natalia wasn't giving a toy.  Olivia was her life, and she was giving her no more and no less than her whole self.

A loud knocking at the door pulled her out of her warm cocoon and she sighed.  It was time to get up, she supposed.  Tying a robe round herself, she made her way downstairs to answer the door.  Whoever was there was being most insistent.

"Is Olivia here?"

Natalia took a step back as she came face to face with a very strange looking Doris Wolfe.  The normally immaculate Mayor looked like she hadn't slept in days - there were dark purple rings under her eyes and her hair had been scraped back into a haphazard ponytail.  Most shockingly of all, the usual tight pencil skirt, heels and blazer were missing.  Instead Doris was clad simply in jeans and a plain white T-shirt.  She hardly looked like herself at all.

"Is she here?" Doris said again, and there was a hint of desperation in her voice.  Natalia shook her head dumbly.

"She's still in Chicago," she murmured.  Then, remembering her manners, she motioned for Doris to come into the house.  Doris looked over her shoulder before she did.

"Oh God," Doris muttered.  She looked like she was on the point of being sick.  Natalia forgot for a moment that she didn't like her very much and stepped forward.

"What's wrong?" she asked gently, resting her hand on the other woman's shoulder.  Doris swallowed hard.

"This."  She produced a newspaper from somewhere and threw it down onto the coffee table.  She then threw herself onto the couch and covered her face with her hands, waiting for Natalia to connect the dots.

The Springfield Journal wasn't the only paper in town, but it was the only one anyone seemed to buy.  Just about everyone in town read it over their morning coffee which meant, Natalia realised as she took in the headline and lead story, that Doris's big secret would be well and truly out, right about...Natalia glanced at the clock...now.

"Oh," she said softly.  Doris let out a strangled laugh.

"Thanks for that, Natalia, I know I can always rely on you for insightful commentary."  Natalia rolled her eyes.

"Oh, pull yourself together," she admonished.  Doris peeked out at her from between her fingers.  Natalia fixed her with her best Mommy-knows-best glare, her hands on her hips.  "It's not the end of the world."

Doris threw her hands in the air.  "Not the end of the world!" she exploded.  "Need I remind you that I am a public figure?  That I'm the Mayor of this one horse town?  This is...this is..."

"This is nothing you can't handle," Natalia said firmly.  Doris slowly closed her mouth.

"Really?"  Her voice was very small and very quiet.  Natalia smiled softly.

"Yes," she replied, with certainty.  "Now come on.  I'll make you some breakfast."

Doris read the article as she picked at the French toast Natalia made for her.  "Oh great, they dug her up," she muttered.  "Continued on page four.  Jesus.  Sorry," she added when Natalia coughed and nodded pointedly at the crucifix hanging on the wall.  She closed the newspaper and tossed it across the table.  "So, how do you suggest I handle this?"

Natalia took a sip of her coffee.  "Address it," she said.  "Call a press conference.  Confirm it."

Doris just stared at Natalia for a long moment.  "What?" she said at last, in a monotone.  Natalia just smiled.

"Look, it's already out there," she said, gesturing to the newspaper.  "No-one's going to believe you if you try to deny it.  And they'll just get worse - dig up more and more salacious stories to bombard you with.  That's what'll damage you.  Not the truth."

A stunned silence was her response.  "Since when were you in favour of coming out?" Doris spluttered eventually.  "I seem to recall you balked at the idea the last time I saw you."

Natalia flushed, thinking of that day that felt like so long ago, in this very kitchen.  Doris's words had started her on the spiral of self doubt from which she'd only just started to emerge.  She couldn't bring herself to be annoyed about it though.  She was in such a better a place now.  "Things are different now," she said quietly.  Doris raised one eyebrow.

"So you and Olivia are..." she trailed off, making a complicated hand gesture that could have meant anything.

"We're together," Natalia said proudly.  She watched Doris carefully, noting the slight disappointment that she covered quickly.  A tiny tendril of jealousy sprouted somewhere in the pit of her stomach.  But then, she could hardly blame Doris for wanting Olivia.  It was hard to conceive of anyone - male or female - who wouldn't.

"Right.  Congratulations."  She couldn't have sounded less sincere, but Natalia decided to ignore it.

"So, you know, just write a speech and then just..." she drew a straight line with her finger in the air, "draw a line under it."

Doris scraped her hands through her hair.  "What am I supposed to say?" she asked, her voice small and slightly tremulous.  A faraway expression crept onto Natalia's face.

"Tell them that you spent years hiding because you were afraid.  Afraid to be judged or disliked or discriminated against."  She fixed her full attention back on Doris.  "And then tell them that being afraid is no way to live.  Tell them that this is America, and that in America everyone is equal.  Tell them the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  And tell them that you're going to continue being the best Mayor you can be and that you have faith that the voters of this town are reasonable and intelligent people who know that your sexual orientation has nothing to do with your ability to do your job."

Doris spent a good ten seconds dragging her jaw up from the floor.  "Do you want a job?" she blurted.  Natalia blushed shyly.  "I'm serious," Doris continued.  "Speech writer?  Campaign manager?  What's Olivia paying you?  I'll pay you more."

"But if I worked for you I wouldn't get to spend all day every day with the woman I love," Natalia replied sweetly.  Doris simply scoffed as she reached for her cellphone.

"Yeah, well...when that gets old, give me a call," she said.

For the second time in a month Olivia landed at Springfield's tiny domestic airport, but this time Natalia was there to meet her.  She spotted her while she was still going through security and her heart gave a little leap.  Emma rushed ahead and threw herself into her arms.

"Natalia!" the girl squealed.  "Mom bought a hotel!"

Olivia sauntered up at a more sedate pace, trundling both her bag and Emma's behind her.  She shrugged.  "It was a bargain," she said.  And then, a little shyly, she added: "And it means we might visit Chicago a little more often."

A slow smile spread across Natalia's face.  "Well, I'm sure my mom will be glad to hear that," she said.  Olivia beamed and Natalia suddenly felt she might just burst if she didn't kiss her.  So she did, right there in the airport, in front of Emma, and the security guards and the bustling commuters.  When she pulled back Olivia looked slightly dazed and Emma was grinning like mad.

"I knew it!" she said happily.  "You're girlfriends, just like Selina and Rosie.  This means we can go back to live at home!"

Emma's excitement seemed to wake Olivia from her stupor.  "We'll have to see about that, Em," she said, at the same time as Natalia said:

"That'd be nice."

The two adults blushed and Emma bounced in happiness.  "Take your bag, Em," Natalia said, and then grabbed Olivia's hand as soon as it was free.  They didn't say anything else.  The drive back to town seemed to take no time at all.  Olivia held Natalia's right hand the whole way, cradling it in her lap and staring at the other woman's profile as if she expected her to disappear.

When they reached the city limits, Natalia sought out Emma's eyes in the rear-view mirror.  "So, I called Jodie's mom today," she ventured casually.  "They've really missed you and they wondered if you'd like to go over for a sleepover tonight.  How about it, honey?  You wanna go and see Jodie?"  Emma's squeal was answer enough.  Natalia smiled and glanced quickly over at Olivia.  "Is that okay with you, mom?"

Olivia could only nod dumbly.  Natalia directed the car towards Jodie's house and Olivia swallowed hard as she stared at her.  Was she sending Emma for the night for the reason Olivia thought?  Or was this just her being nice to the girl, as usual?  Had she done this deliberately to engineer some alone time?

The questions were still swimming in her mind as they kissed Emma goodbye and got on the road again.  Natalia glanced at her watch when they reached a crossroad, and then turned left towards town instead of right towards the farmhouse.

"Where are we going?" Olivia asked.  Her voice was slightly hoarse and she coughed softly to clear it.

"We have to go and see Doris real quick," Natalia replied enigmatically.

"Doris?"  Olivia frowned, remembering the trouble Doris had gotten her into the last time she saw her.  "Why are we seeing Doris?"

"Moral support," Natalia said, and refused to elaborate any further.  She parked just off Main Street and took Olivia's hand again as they walked together.

The first thing that Olivia noticed was the crowd.  Then she noticed the press - she recognised a reporter from The Springfield Journal, as well as a few from some slightly more down-market papers.  WSPR was there too.  Their camera was set up facing a small, impromptu podium.  A backdrop of the American flag and the Springfield Mayoral seal dominated the scene.

Just as Olivia was about to ask Natalia what was going on, Doris appeared out of nowhere.  The crowd of people immediately began to buzz a little louder as she climbed up onto the stage, followed by Ashlee who hovered close to her protectively.

Doris gripped the edges of the lectern until her knuckles turned white.  She seemed to have ditched her usual blazer in favour of what looked like a new one in soft baby blue, just the same colour as her eyes.  Her hair was down, falling in slight waves round her face, and her makeup was a tiny bit more muted than normal.  Olivia knew enough about public relations to realise that this image had been carefully calculated to make her look softer, more feminine, less threatening.

"Thank you," Doris said at last, after taking a few visible breaths.  "I want to thank you all for coming here on such short notice."

Olivia glanced at Natalia again.  "What's going on?" she hissed, but Natalia hushed her.

"Firstly I want you all to know that serving as your Mayor has been the greatest honour and pleasure of my life," Doris said in a clear, level voice.  "Only one title fills me with more pride, and that is being a mother to my wonderful daughter, Ashlee."  She gestured to the blonde at her side who smiled encouragingly.  Doris stood up a little straighter.

"But I'm here tonight to address something that I should have shared with you all a long time ago.  It concerns the article I'm sure you all read in the illustrious Springfield Journal this morning."

The crowd began to murmur softly, and Doris waited for the whispers to die down before she continued.  "I have a different recollection of certain events the article mentioned," she said, holding on even more tightly to the lectern.  Her voice seemed calm but Olivia could see the tension rolling through her friend's taut muscles.  "However," she continued, "the substance of the article is true."  Another deep breath.  "I am a lesbian."

The crowd exploded in excited babble.  A dozen people began to shout questions at once, but Doris simply held up her hands until they quieted and allowed her to continue.  Her eyes scanned the crowd until she found Olivia and Natalia, and she seemed to draw a little strength from their presence.  "I know," she said, "that you must be wondering why I have never disclosed this.  And I can answer you in one word."  She held her head high.  "Fear."

Olivia raised her hand to her mouth as Doris continued with her speech, all about how poisonous and destructive fear could be, and about the American Dream, and her faith in the voters.  She even quoted FDR.  The crowd were hanging on her every word, drinking it all in.  Olivia turned to whisper something to Natalia.

Natalia's eyes were trained firmly on Doris.  Her lips were moving.  After a moment of watching her, Olivia realised to her surprise that she was mouthing the words of Doris's speech along with her.

"And so I will continue to serve as this town's Mayor, to the best of my ability," Doris said at last.  "And I will have faith - in my family," she nodded to Ashlee, "and in myself.  And most of all in you, the good people of Springfield.  It is my privilege to represent you.  Thank you for your time."

She stepped back from the lectern just as the cameras began to flash.  For a moment there was nothing but stunned silence and then, from somewhere to their left, someone began to clap.  Olivia's head snapped round to see Blake Marler standing on a bench, a deeply earnest expression on her face, applauding with all her might.  Natalia quickly joined her, and then there was no stopping it.  Soon you could count the number of people not clapping on the fingers of one hand.

Olivia joined in, beaming wildly at her friend who was standing slightly back from the lectern with tears streaming down her face.  Ashlee wrapped an arm round her shoulders and dropped a soft kiss onto her cheek.  Olivia thought she saw her whisper something into her ear.  Whatever it was it caused yet more tears, but a smile as well.  Doris waved at the crowd one last time, and allowed her daughter and her staff to lead her away.

"Oh my God!"  Olivia turned to Natalia and grabbed her shoulders.  "You knew about this, right?"

Natalia smiled happily.  "Yeah, I saw her this morning," she explained.

"And you helped her?"

Natalia shrugged.  "Yeah, I guess I did," she said bashfully.  Olivia laughed a surprised and delighted laugh.

"Why?  I mean...you don't like her."

Natalia reached out and took Olivia's hand.  "I know what living in fear is like," she said, slowly and seriously.  "We've lived similar lives, she and I.  The only difference is that I've spent all this time hiding from myself.  She's just been hiding from everyone else."  She held her head high.  "None of us should have to hide."

Olivia's mouth hung open.  None of us, Natalia had said.  Not neither of us.  She wasn't just talking about her and Doris.  She was talking about a wider group, claiming a larger identity.  "Kiss me," Olivia said breathlessly.

Natalia didn't need a second invitation.  She wrapped her arms round Olivia's neck, pulling her close.  And then, in front of half the town, she claimed her lips in an unambiguously passionate kiss that Olivia felt all the way down to her toes.  No-one could mistake what this kiss meant.  No-one could explain it away as anything other than what it was - an expression of love between two people who belonged to each other.

Olivia's eyes were glazed over when the kiss finally ended.  "Oh..." she murmured, stroking Natalia's hair back from her face.  "I love you."

"I love you too."  Natalia's eyes glistened.  She kissed her again, softly and sweetly.  "Come home with me..."  And Olivia forgot every word in the English language but one.


Olivia was still in a daze when they got back to the farmhouse.  Everything felt vaguely unreal - Natalia, the world, herself...especially herself.

She was Olivia Spencer.  She wasn't supposed to get the happy ending.  She was the troll under the bridge, not the princess.  She was too damaged, too soiled to be anyone's princess.  Her forehead knit itself into a frown as Natalia fumbled with the key.

"Are you sure about this?" she began, but Natalia silenced her with a kiss as she pulled her across the threshold by her shirt.

"I love you," Natalia breathed, wrapping her arms round Olivia's waist as she claimed her lips again and again in hot, bruising kisses designed to chase all doubts from the other woman's mind.  "And I've never been more sure of anything in my life."

Olivia buried her fingers in Natalia's hair as they kissed, allowing the pounding of her heart and the roaring in her ears to drown out her questions.  For a moment or two.  But then she pulled back, breathing hard, and there was a hint of pain in her eyes.

"I don't want it to be like last time," she murmured.  "I'd rather wait...if there's the slightest little shred of doubt, I'd rather wait." She managed a small, tremulous smile.  "It's not like we haven't waited before."

Natalia took a step back and bit her lip.  "I'm sorry," she whispered.  Olivia looked away, blinking hard.

"I understand."  Her voice was soft and muted and all the colour seemed to have been sucked out of it.  "I understand, I...I should go."

She turned away and managed two steps towards the door before Natalia's hand closed round her wrist and stopped her in her tracks.  "That's not what I meant," Natalia said softly.  Olivia glanced up at her though hooded eyes.  "I meant that I'm sorry I screwed up so badly last time that you don't trust me this time."

"I trust you," Olivia replied in a rush.  She took a step forward and quickly pulled Natalia back into her arms, where she belonged.  "It's me I don't trust."

Natalia was silent for a beat.  "What does that mean?" she said at last, in a tone Olivia couldn't quite identify.  She shrugged.

"What happened before," she murmured, stroking Natalia's hair back from her face, "that was my fault."  She smiled sadly and Natalia shook her head.

"H-how could it possibly be your fault?" she whispered hesitantly.  After all, she was the one who'd barged into Olivia's hotel room with a chip on her shoulder, she was the one who had kissed her like she was trying to kill her, she was the one who'd lost control and forced them into going too far.  It had all been her.  How could Olivia think any of it was her fault?

"You said it yourself," Olivia said sadly.  "You've never...acted that way before.  That's not you.  So it must have been me."  She shrugged.  "It must have been my fault that it was all wrong."

Natalia stepped back, horror-struck, and took in the pain and regret shining in the other woman's eyes.  How absolutely selfish she had been.  Again.  So hung up on how that afternoon in the hotel room had made her feel, and she'd never once stopped to wonder how Olivia had felt about it.  She'd never so much as suspected that Olivia had felt just as wrong and dirty as she had herself.  The difference was that those feelings hadn't come from within Olivia, from a dark place of shame and repression and guilt.  They had come from Natalia herself - from her reaction, her fear.

"Oh my God," Natalia murmured, holding herself round the middle.  "I'm so sorry."

Olivia's brow creased in a frown.  "Natalia, what?" she began, but then the air was knocked out of her lungs as Natalia wrapped herself around her, kissing her desperately, smoothing her hair back from her face.

"I'm sorry," Natalia gasped between kisses.  "I've treated you so badly.  My sweet, beautiful, perfect Olivia."  She squeezed her tighter, moulding their curves together like even the few millimetres of air remaining between them were too much to tolerate.  "I love you so much.  I can't believe I let you think..."  She trailed off, swallowing back tears.

"Natalia..." Olivia breathed, taken aback by the strength of the other woman's reaction.  "It's okay..."

But Natalia shook her head.  "It's not okay," she insisted.  "I let you think..oh God, I let you think it was you.  And it wasn't you, it was me.  It was all me.  You've been nothing but good, and strong, and steadfast.  I'm the one who's been running away."

"It's all right," Olivia soothed, but Natalia cut her off again.

"It's not all right," she whispered fiercely.  "I hurt you.  That's never all right."  She stepped back and her face cleared.  "Come with me," she said.  "I need to show you something."

Dumbly, Olivia followed Natalia to the stairs and from there to her bedroom.  There were flowers here, and candles waiting to be lit.  Olivia watched as Natalia busied herself with that task, touching a match to each wick with as much reverence as if she were lighting a candle in church.  "Oh... Olivia gasped, her hand flying to her mouth as she took in the sight of Natalia bathed in candlelight.  It was just like she'd wished for and dreamed of and ached for.  Natalia, in candlelight, with flowers all around her.

"Sit down," Natalia murmured, gesturing towards the bed.  Olivia did so in a daze.  There was no question of saying no.  There was nothing that Natalia could have asked of her in that moment that she wouldn't have given happily.

Natalia blew out the last match and turned her liquid brown eyes onto the woman on the bed.  "I want to show you something," she said softly, and nodded towards the night stand.  "In the drawer."  Olivia frowned as she followed Natalia's gaze.  "Go on," Natalia continued, and took a step forward.  "Please."

Dragging her eyes from Natalia's face with an effort, Olivia leaned over and slid the drawer open.  She wasn't sure what she'd expected to find inside, but she was surprised to find books.  She was even more surprised to discover the subject of said books.

She pulled them out onto the bed and stared at them.  Some of them purported to be instructional, but most were just bare-faced erotica, of the kind that even Blake Marler would blush to publish.  "I wondered where you learned all that," Olivia admitted, and Natalia looked away.

"I didn't understand what I wanted," she admitted.  "I was so overwhelmed...so overrun with all these feelings you stirred up in me, and I just needed...I don't know."

"Something to copy?" Olivia ventured.  Natalia nodded.

"Yes," she said.  "Exactly.  That's why...I think that's why it happened the way it did before.  I just...had no frame of reference for what we were doing.  So I fell back on those..."  She gestured towards the books on the bed and blushed.  Gently, Olivia took her hands in hers.

"I don't want some character from a book," she said softly.  "I don't need someone who knows all the tricks.  I don't need someone worldly who's been around."  She brought their joined hands to her lips and kissed them.  "I just want you."

Natalia swallowed.  "I want you too."

Olivia's eyes sought out hers and suddenly the air between them was thick and buzzing, crackling with electricity.  Olivia stood and took one step forward so she was toe to toe with Natalia, breathing her air.  "I love you so much," she murmured.  Reverently, she trailed her trembling fingers across the planes of her face, then continued further down, leaving a path of goose flesh down her arms before she clasped her hands.  "Huh?" she said, frowning as she looked down.  How had she not noticed that before?

There, on the fourth finger of Natalia's left hand, was a ring.

"I was wondering when you would spot it," Natalia murmured, smiling.  Olivia pulled her hand up to inspect it, her eyes widening.

"Is this-" she gasped, but couldn't finish the sentence.  She knew it wasn't the wedding ring she'd been given by Gus.  Neither was it Frank's engagement ring.  This was something new, and much less flashy than either of those rings.  It was just a plain band of white gold.  Simple, yet elegant.  Understated, yet beautiful.

"I don't expect anything," Natalia said slowly, carefully.  "You don't have to...well, you don't have to do anything.  Not if you don't want to.  But I...I just wanted to wear something.  To show that I'm yours."

For a moment Olivia couldn't speak, and then a sob rose up up in her throat.  "Oh my God," she gasped.  "Natalia-"

"Sssh," Natalia soothed, pulling her close and kissing her trembling lips.  "It's okay.  I don't expect-"

"I want one just like it," Olivia interrupted.  "Just like it."

Natalia smiled tremulously.  "That can be arranged," she said, and produced the ring box she'd been carrying around with her for nearly two days.  Olivia gasped.

"You...you did this for me?"

Natalia nodded.  "I did this for you," she confirmed.  "To show you I'm done running.  I'm done being afraid.  From now on, I want everything to be about us.  I want to be with you.  I want to be with you for the rest of my life."

It was a vow as good as any she could have said in City Hall or in a church.  Olivia made no reply.  She couldn't have made herself speak even if she'd had the words.  Instead she simply proffered her left hand and held her breath as Natalia slipped the ring onto her finger.  It was a perfect fit.

The stared at each other for long minutes, feeling the weight of what they'd just done settling over them like a blanket.  All at once Olivia could see the rest of their lives stretching out from this moment - raising Emma, snuggling on the sofa, kissing at New Year.  Loving each other.

They came together without conscious thought, Natalia's head tilting up at exactly the moment that Olivia's bent down to meet it.  The kiss was long and deep and slow, a promise rather than a firecracker.  And then it changed and Olivia found herself being pushed backwards onto the bed.  Her knees hit the mattress and she was forced to release Natalia's lips as she sat down.

"It won't be like before," Natalia whispered, stroking her fingers through Olivia's hair.  "This time it'll be right.  This time it'll be perfect."

Olivia nodded.  How could it be anything else?  They had the candles, the flowers, the romance.  And they had each other.  Above all, they had each other.

Moments passed in a daze as Natalia stood back and undressed for her.  How strange to think that they had been inside each other but hadn't shared this kind of intimacy.  This vulnerability.  Olivia didn't fully realise what they'd been missing until they were lying naked together on the bed and Natalia was pressing herself against her.  "Oh..." she moaned as their bodies fit together and Natalia claimed her lips in a slow, sweet kiss.

"I love you," Natalia whispered, pressing a kiss to her forehead, her lips, her heart.  She followed the thunder of her lover's pulse from her heart to her throat, each kiss a burning vow on Olivia's overheated skin.  She wrapped herself around Olivia, her arms round her shoulders, their legs tangled together, kissing every piece of skin she could reach as if she was trying to baptise her new lover in kisses to mark this rebirth, this new life together.  Perhaps that was exactly what she was trying to do.

"You're so beautiful," she murmured.  "Thank God for you, Olivia, thank God, thank God..."

Olivia opened her mouth to speak, to ask what God had to do with this, but only a breath came out.  Natalia had moved lower and now she was bestowing the benediction of her lips onto Olivia's heaving chest.  Olivia forgot her question.

"I want you," Natalia whispered, letting her hands join her mouth in worshipping Olivia's body.

"You've got me," Olivia replied in a strangled cry as Natalia slid easily inside her, like she'd done it a million times before.  "Forever, Natalia...you've got me."

Natalia raised up and tangled her lips together with Olivia's hungrily.  She settled her hips into a steady rhythm, allowing them to propel her hand forward.  Olivia clenched around her and moaned her name into the still air of the bedroom.

It was a perfect moment.  Their eyes locked as Olivia hung suspended in time, just as their bodies were joined, like two perfect puzzle pieces finally placed together by some omniscient hand.  Natalia's eyes were bright, shining with unshed tears.  Olivia gasped.  "I love you so much," Natalia whispered, and then she was lost - body, mind and soul crashing together and rising up to meet Natalia who kissed her and stroked her and rode the wave out with her until she was still and quiet, tears streaming down her face as she realised what had just happened.

That wasn't sex.  She knew what just sex with Natalia was like and that wasn't it.  It wasn't making love either, at least not in any way she'd understood it before.  It was deeper than that somehow.  She felt changed, altered, transformed...like if anyone ever asked her in the future Who are you? she would have no answer to give except: I'm Natalia's.  She felt claimed.  Possessed.  And yet, oddly, freer than she'd ever felt in her life.  This was life, she thought fiercely, this was the future, this was-

"Beautiful," Natalia murmured, unconsciously completing Olivia's thought.  She buried her face in Olivia's neck, breathing her deep.  "That was beautiful."

Olivia held her lover close, cradling her against her body, and closed her eyes.

Finally, she thought, with a sigh of pure contentment.

There would be time for reciprocation later.  For now they were both content to simply lie together, warm and safe, sure in the knowledge that at last they were exactly where they belonged.

It was very rare indeed for Olivia to be awake before Natalia.  Everyone knew Natalia was a morning person while Olivia was a night owl.  Back when she'd lived at the farmhouse, Olivia had often woken at the last possible minute, only to find that Natalia had been up for hours cooking breakfast or cleaning or baking bread.  It was a given, like a simple universal constant.  Natalia would wake up before Olivia.

Not this morning.  This morning the sun rose on two women; one sleeping and one wakeful, and the wakeful one was wrapped around the sleeper as tightly as she could manage.  Olivia breathed deeply and slowly, timing each rise and fall of her chest to synchronise with her lover's.  She barely blinked.  Her eyes rested on Natalia's face, relaxed and peaceful in her much deserved sleep.  Olivia herself had not slept.  At first she'd been too wired, too full of nervous excitement to even think about closing her eyes.  Then, after hours of slow, gentle lovemaking, that had slowly ebbed away to be replaced by a bone deep contentment that strangely chased the need for sleep.  She sighed, watching her breath travel across Natalia's cheek, raising the tiny, almost invisible hairs that dusted it.

Revelation.  That was the only word to describe what had happened between them.  A new heaven and a new Earth.  The world had changed, or...no...that wasn't true.  Olivia had changed.  Loving Natalia had torn her down to her foundations but last night Natalia had rebuilt her, piece by piece, with her hands and her eyes and her whispered devotions, and with all that remained unspoken in the vocabulary and grammar of their bodies' silent language.

Natalia stirred in her arms, burrowing closer to her heart.  "Morning," she murmured, and pressed her lips to the thin scar bisecting her lover's chest.

"Morning," Olivia replied.  Natalia raised up to claim her lips, and then there was no more talking until the sun had risen high in the sky.

"We should eat," Natalia said, much, much later as she lay in Olivia's arms, tracing patterns on her stomach.

"Hmm."  Olivia seemed to consider the idea.  "Can't we just stay here forever?"  There was a laugh in her voice, but something wistful too.  She didn't particularly want to leave the bubble of the bedroom, the farmhouse, the moment.  The world was still out there, and it was still cruel.  Natalia tightened her hold on her lover's waist.

"Everything's fine," she whispered, answering the unspoken question.  "We're together.  We don't need anything else."

Olivia nodded.  "Right," she confirmed, and the quiet determination in Natalia's voice felt like the last piece of her life's puzzle clicking into place deep inside her.

"Come on," Natalia urged, pulling away.  "Food.  I have to go see Rafe today."

Olivia's ears perked up at the mention of Natalia's son.  "Does he...uh...does he know?  About...well..."

"About us?"  Natalia looked over her shoulder as she wrapped herself in a robe.  "Yeah, he does."  Olivia swallowed hard.

"Is he okay with it?"

Natalia pursed her lips.  "Let's talk about that later," she said diplomatically.  That was all the answer Olivia needed.

"I'm going to take a shower," she said.  "I'll be right down."

Natalia decided not to protest but, knowing that Olivia would probably let a few doubts seep back in while they were separated, she made sure she took the second of Olivia's gifts downstairs with her.

Olivia strolled into the kitchen twenty minutes later dressed in jeans and a tank top, rubbing her hair with a towel.  "Listen, sweetheart, about Rafe-" she began, but Natalia hushed her with a kiss.

"Sit," she instructed firmly.  "And open your present."  She gestured to the box resting on top of Olivia's plate.  Olivia raised an eyebrow.

"Another present?"  She twisted the ring on her finger, allowing a smile to ghost over her lips.  Natalia kissed her briefly before returning to the stove.

"Another present," she confirmed, and smiled.  "Go on.  Open it."

Olivia slid into the chair and took up the box with slightly trembling hands.  Could this be more jewellery, she wondered.  What could Natalia possibly want to give her that she hadn't already?  She pulled the ribbon away and opened the box.

It was a key.

Olivia's hand flew to her mouth.  A soft "oh..." escaped her lips and Natalia turned, smiling down at her dumb-struck lover.

"I know you already have one," she explained gently.  "But I thought this might be...symbolic."  She crossed the room and took the key, holding it up to the light.  "See?  It's engraved."  Olivia squinted, and finally made out the gently flowing Olivia scratched into the metal.

"Does this mean..." she said softly, trailing off when she couldn't find the words.  Natalia smiled.

"It means I want you to move in," she said simply.  "You and Emma.  Today, tomorrow...as soon as possible."

Olivia looked down.  "What about Rafe?" she asked.  Natalia stood up a little straighter.

"Rafe won't be a problem," she said firmly.  Unspoken was the addendum I won't let him, but Olivia heard it anyway.  She smiled tremulously.

"Really?"  Natalia nodded.

"Really."  She reached out and pushed a strand of damp hair behind her lover's ear.  Olivia leaned into the touch.

"But what if he can't deal with it?" she asked softly.

Natalia sat down and pulled her chair closer to Olivia's.  Taking both her hands, she stared into her eyes.  "I know my son," she said gently, but firmly.  "He's confused right now, but he wants me to be happy.  I know he does.  He's going to understand.  I will make him understand.  I promise."  Her eyebrows raised.  "Do you trust me?"

"I trust you," Olivia answered immediately.  Natalia smiled.  "But what if things don't...work?"  Olivia cringed as she spoke, hardly able to believe the words were coming out of her mouth.  But she couldn't help it.  Every past experience, every instinct, every failed relationship she'd ever had told her that this was too good to be true.  There was a brick out there somewhere just waiting to hit her in the head.  There had to be.  "Maybe...I don't know, maybe we should wait?"

Natalia didn't speak as she laced the fingers of her left hand with Olivia's.  A stray beam of light glinted off their rings.  "Olivia," she began seriously.  "I belong to you.  You belong to me.  We've already shared everything that's important.  There's nothing to be afraid of, and I am so done with waiting.  That's all we've been doing is waiting, from the first second we explained to each other how we feel.  First you tried to push me away and then I had to leave town and then I had to work through all these issues...and you know, what I realised is that I've been waiting my whole life to deal with them.  Waiting officially sucks.  And I don't want to wait one more minute for our life to start.  This is what I want.  This love, this home, this family.  Do you understand?"

When she replied, Olivia's voice was shaky.  "Yes."

"So, you'll move back in."  It wasn't a question, but Olivia answered anyway

"I'll call the movers today."

Natalia beamed, lighting up the whole room with her smile.  Olivia couldn't help but smile back.  After all, Natalia was right.  There was nothing to be afraid of.  Not now; not ever again.

The halfway house really wasn't so bad - not compared to jail anyway.  Rafe had his own room which locked from the inside.  He was allowed to go out - with a pass - almost whenever he liked.  There were work programmes, and educational opportunities.

He hadn't been appreciating it much over the last few days though.  He'd been preoccupied; thinking about his mother and the bombshell she'd dropped on him.

Gay.  His mother was gay.  He turned the word over and over in his head, examining it from every angle.  Gay.  And for Olivia, of all people.

Olivia.  The woman who'd tried to destroy his family, who'd stolen their house and their plans for the future and Gus's heart and now - apparently - his mother's love.  It wasn't fair.  Why did she always get everything?

"Rivera!"  Rafe snapped his head up at the sound of his name.  "Visitor for you."

He looked behind the man who'd called him and saw his mother waiting behind him, dressed formally in dark pants and a jacket, like she was on her way to work.  His heart lifted for a brief moment, but just as quickly he quashed the feeling.  Sullenly, he sloped over to the communal dining tables and slumped into a chair.  His mother smiled at him as she slid into the seat opposite.

"How are you?" she asked cheerily.  Rafe shrugged.  She tried again.  "Is everything going okay since you got back?"  Another shrug.  She sighed deeply.  Well, if that was they way he wanted it to be...

"I just came to tell you," she said quietly, "that Olivia and Emma are moving back home."

Slowly he raised his eyes to meet hers.  "What?"  There was no expression in his voice.  Natalia smiled.

"Olivia and Emma are moving back home," she repeated clearly.  Rafe shook his head.

"Home?  What the hell are you talking about, Ma?  It's our home, not hers!"

"Oh, Rafe..."  Natalia shook her head and sighed.  "It's her home too-"

"No!" Rafe interrupted explosively.  "It's supposed to be for us.  You and me, like it always was before."  He slammed his hand down on the table, and Natalia suddenly saw a three year old throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, demanding candy.  Before his diagnosis, she'd always given in to demands like that - keep him quiet, show him he's loved, those were her mantras in those days.

"It's Olivia's home," Natalia insisted calmly, "because it's my home and I've invited her to share it."

Rafe threw himself back in his chair.  "It's not fair," he whined.  For a moment he wasn't sure what else to say, but then inspiration struck.  "You should have asked me before you did this."

One of Natalia's eyebrows shot into her hairline.  "Asked you?"  Her voice lowered dangerously.  "You think I need your permission?"

"Yes!" he replied instinctively, then quickly shook his head.  "I mean no...I mean....I just mean that this affects me too.  Don't I get a say?  We've always made decisions together before."  He rubbed his face with his hands, and Natalia felt a little pang of regret for the pain and confusion this was obviously causing him.

"Oh Rafe...you're nearly an adult," she murmured, reaching over to take his hand.  "And you're not just my son; you've been my best friend for half my life."

"Exactly!" Rafe exclaimed, gripping his mother's hand almost painfully.  She motioned for him to let her continue.

"I think that might be the problem."

For a moment, Rafe made no reply.  "Huh?"  His brow crinkled in confusion and Natalia bit her lip.

"Since the day you were born," she began, slowly, hesitantly,  "I've lived for you."  She thought for a moment.  "Since before you were born, actually."  Rafe squirmed in his seat at the uncomfortable reminder of the lengths his mother had gone to all those years ago to protect him, even while he was still in the womb.  He'd been thinking about that a lot lately - morbid thoughts, but he couldn't stop them.  How much easier it would have been for his mother just to have the abortion she'd heard her parents talking about.  Then there would be no Rafe Rivera at all.  Just like his own child with Daisy, who he still thought of sometimes, that never got a chance to live.

"I know," he said softly.  Natalia squeezed his hand.

"I love you," she said firmly.  "But I should never have let you be the only thing in my life.  It wasn't fair...not to you, and not to me.  I think...I don't know, I think I've given you a screwed up view of the world where you're just at the centre of everything."  Rafe opened his mouth to protest, but Natalia just raised her voice and drowned him out.  "I've tried so, so hard to be everything you need.  I've tried to be mother and father and friend and sibling to you - all at the same time.  But it doesn't work like that."

"You are all I need, ma," he whispered fiercely.  In that moment, he even believed it himself.  Natalia shook her head sadly.

"That's not true, Rafe," she said.  "You need more than me."  She took a deep breath.  "And I need more than you."

There it was, living in the air, the crux of the issue.  Rafe pulled his hand from his mother's as if he'd been burned.  "You're talking about her," he spat.  "Why?  Why her?"

"Because I love her," Natalia answered simply.  Rafe shook his head.

"No!" he insisted.  "You don't!  Not that way, ma!"

Natalia's spine straightened and her voice dropped.  "Don't tell me how I feel," she said, quietly but clearly.  Her voice cut through his frustration, forcing him to pay attention to her.

"She took advantage of you," he muttered, but it was half-hearted.  Some of the fight seemed to have gone out of him.  Natalia smiled at him and shook her head.

"You're wrong," she said.  "I didn't know who I was before.  And now I do."  She took a deep breath, gathering her thoughts.  "You probably think she has a reputation," she said.  "And I don't know, maybe she does.  She has a strong personality, but that's what I love about her.  She makes me feel better about myself."  He flinched, remembering her speech in the car about how the mother he thought he knew didn't like herself very much.  She reached for him as she continued.  "When I'm with her it feels right.  And I need her."

For a long moment he stared at the table, unable to speak.  Her left hand was lying flat on the surface of the table and his eyes were fixed on the thin band of white gold encircling her ring finger.  "This is so weird," he muttered at last, and closed his eyes.  He heard his mother stand and come round the table to hover over him.

"It's not weird, Rafe," she said firmly.  "It's love."  She leaned down to kiss him on the forehead and he let her.  Her spirits lifted.  That was something, at least.  In Chicago he'd yelled out Don't touch me! when she'd first tried to talk about this.  This was progress, of a limited kind.  "I'll come back and talk to you some more tomorrow," she said.

Opening his eyes, Rafe watched her go.  His thoughts swirled like a tornado in his head, slamming together and crackling, refusing to be pinned down.  His mom looked at him over her shoulder as she left and smiled.  She looked happy.  He'd said that was all he wanted, hadn't he?

With a sigh, Rafe dragged himself to his feet and headed back to his room.  This was too much for him to deal with right now.  He couldn't think about it anymore.  Not today.

But tomorrow.  Tomorrow was another day.

The movers were booked solid for a week, Olivia found when she called them.  Unwilling to wait that long, she enlisted Emma the minute she got back from school and started packing all the things they would need urgently.

"Are we going on vacation again, mom?" Emma asked hesitantly.  Going to Chicago had been fun, but she'd already missed a lot of school.  Jodie had overtaken her on the teacher's merit chart, and she was sure Cornelius the class hamster had forgotten her.

Olivia beamed at her daughter.  "Nope," she said, almost bubbling over with excitement.  "We're going home."

Emma's eyes widened.  "Home?  You mean...to the farmhouse?"

"Uh huh."  Olivia nodded, and then had to brace herself as she was nearly bowled over by four feet of excited nine year old.

"I knew it!" she exclaimed, and scampered off to pack her things.  Olivia smiled.  Now that she thought of it, Emma had known she and Natalia belonged together before they did.  Crossing to her bedside cabinet, she made sure to pack her printout of Emma's My Two Mommies presentation.  Maybe she and Natalia could read over it in bed.

Olivia sent Emma upstairs to unpack her stuff when they got back to the farmhouse.  Then, leaving her own suitcases and boxes in the living room, she headed through to the kitchen to start dinner.  Something simple, she thought.  She and Natalia didn't need anything fancy to be romantic.  They never had.

She'd barely even begun when a loud knocking erupted from the living room.  Frowning, she headed to the front door to answer it.

"Doris!" she said in surprise when she saw who was waiting on the other side of the door.  "Blake!  What are you guys doing here..."  She trailed off, suddenly spotting the angry purple bruise forming on Doris's left temple.  Surprise turned to concern in an instant.  "What happened?"  Blake slipped a comforting arm around the Mayor's shoulders and sighed as she turned to Olivia.

"I think our Mayor is experiencing a little bit of backlash."

Natalia waited until she was a good three miles from the halfway house before she pulled over, too shaky to drive.  Where the strength to stand up to Rafe like that had come from she wasn't sure.  But...no, that wasn't true.  It had come from inside her.  From the bottom of a well she'd only recently discovered - a well of calm, and confidence, and self-respect.

She was still getting used to it though.  The adrenaline from her encounter with Rafe had begun to ebb now, leaving her pale and slightly overwrought.  With slightly trembling fingers, she pulled out her cellphone and scrolled through the contacts.

"Hi, it's me - Natalia," she said when the call connected.  The voice on the other end of the line was warm and excited.

"Hey you," Selina said.  "Long time no hear.  Are you still in Chicago?"

Natalia flinched slightly.  She hadn't even said goodbye to Selina before she left.  She'd been...preoccupied.

"No, I'm at home in Springfield," she replied.  "Sorry I didn't see you before I left.  Uhm...I was kind of on a mission."

Natalia could practically see Selina's ears perking up.  "Do tell," she purred.  Natalia grinned, feeling herself begin to calm and settle again.

"I, uh...had to get my girl," she said, and laughed when Selina whopped down the phone.

"Nice!" she exclaimed.  "And things are good?"

Natalia held out her left hand, examining the new ring on her finger.  "Yup," she said happily.  "I got her a ring.  And she's moving in."

Selina couldn't help but let out a wry chuckle.  "Oh Natalia," she murmured affectionately.  "U-Hauling already?  You are so gay."

"I am," Natalia replied instantly.  "I am very, very happy."

They talked for a few minutes more before Natalia extracted a promise from her friend to visit sometime soon.  Then she put her phone away and continued on her way home, feeling much more able to face Olivia's inevitable questions about Rafe.

However, when she got home she found that they had bigger fish to fry.

"What happened?" she asked as soon as she walked into the kitchen to find Olivia and Blake crowded round Doris, who was holding an ice pack to her head and scowling.

"Christians," Doris replied bitterly. "I'm sure you'll see it on the evening news. The Springfield Evangelical Church is picketing City Hall to demand my resignation."

Natalia's fingers grazed delicately over Doris's injured face as she inspected the damage.  The Mayor winced in pain and averted her eyes from Natalia's.  She couldn't cope with the other woman's kindness right now.  She needed to be hard to get through this latest trial, and she couldn't afford to fall apart just because someone was nice to her.

"How did this happen?" Natalia enquired softly, after making certain for herself that Doris's injury wasn't serious.  Doris opened her mouth to reply, but Blake answered for her.

"God, it was awful," she said, scooting closer to Doris and rubbing slow, comforting circles on her lower back.  She ignored the way the other woman's spine stiffened under her touch.  "These nutjobs were just swarming round City Hall, screaming and shouting and waving these disgusting placards everywhere."  She shuddered.  "I happened to be passing just as Doris was leaving.  One of them actually threw a bottle at her!"  She turned sympathetic green eyes onto the woman beside her, who seemed to be trying very hard not to cry.

"Where the hell were the cops?" Olivia demanded, her voice low and dangerous.  Doris scoffed.

"Frank was there," she said darkly.  "He said it was impossible to tell which one of them threw it.  So he didn't do anything."

Natalia reared back, appalled.  "What?  Why would he do that?"  Doris shrugged.

"I don't think it's a secret that he doesn't like me," she ventured.  "He was the one who outed me in the newspaper you know.  God knows how he found out."

"Oh...he saw you in a...sensitive moment," Olivia replied delicately, hoping Natalia wouldn't press the issue and figure out exactly what she meant by that.  Doris groaned.

"Fabulous."  She covered her face with her hands.  "You know, I thought for a minute or two back there that this would be okay.  After last night...I don't know.  I thought...hoped that things would be all right."  She dropped her hands to her lap.  "But now..." she trailed off.

Blake's face was a mask of determination.  "Those hateful bastards don't speak for the people of Springfield," she insisted.  "Don't let them grind you down.  You're going to get through this."  She straightened.  "I'm going to help you."

Doris blinked once, then twice.  "Oh..." she murmured, taken aback at the fierceness of the defence being mounted by a woman she barely knew.

"So am I," Natalia added softly.  Olivia stood behind her lover, resting one hand on her shoulder as she nodded.

"And me," she said firmly.  "You're not alone."

Doris looked up at them, the three women arrayed in her defence, and this time she did cry.  Tactfully, they all pretended not to notice.

In the end, the simple family dinner Olivia had planned turned into a strategic planning meeting fuelled by takeout and nibbles.  "You know, this might actually turn out to be good for you," Natalia said to an incredulous Doris around a mouthful of fried rice.

"Head trauma is good now?"  She snagged a spring roll with her chopsticks and rolled her eyes.  Natalia shot her a withering glance.

"The violence of their reaction will turn neutral people to your side," she explained.  "And the editorial you're going to write for the Springfield Journal will demonstrate how much better you are than them."

Doris grudgingly conceded the point.  Although it wasn't she who'd be writing it - Natalia and Blake had taken on responsibility for that.  Natalia nibbled at her food as she pored over her Bible, looking for appropriate quotes for Blake to weave into Doris's article.  "Fight fire with fire," she'd said.  "There are a handful of passages in the Bible that address homosexuality but there are thousands that address hate and violence."  She'd then gone on a long rant about the hypocrisy of some so-called 'Christians' and only a hug and a kiss from Olivia had been able to quiet her.

Olivia stood back from the table, watching her lover as she traded quips with Doris.  She was definitely holding her own.  A grin spread over Olivia's face as she watched her - articulate, confident, beautiful.

And mine.

Later, they stood shoulder to shoulder at the front door saying goodbye to Blake and Doris.  "You really don't have to drive me home, Blake - I can call a cab," Doris said after she'd received tentative hugs from Natalia and Olivia.

"Nonsense."  Blake grabbed Doris's arm and dragged her towards the car.  "And you're staying in my spare room tonight," she said, in a tone that brooked no contradiction.  "Just in case your head injury gets worse."

"Stop being such a mother hen," Doris muttered.  Blake just rolled her eyes and shook her head, but her reply was lost in the noise of the car door opening and thunking closed.  Olivia and Natalia watched them go, smirking when they saw through the windshield that they were still bickering.

"Wow, Doris is going to have her work cut out putting up with that," Olivia murmured as she stepped out onto the porch.  Natalia followed her, moulding herself against her lover's side as her arms slipped round her shoulders.

"They remind me a little of some people we know," she ventured, her eyes twinkling with mirth.  "You know...one sarcastic, stoic and reticent, the other kind and chatty and unable to take no for an answer."  She glanced up at Olivia and laughed at the stunned look on her face.

"No matchmaking, Natalia," she sputtered at last.  Natalia grinned wolfishly.

"Why not?  It'd stop her chasing after you."  She nudged Olivia in the side.  "I haven't forgotten exactly how Frank got to know about her, you know."

Olivia sighed, turning so she could take Natalia fully into her arms.  "It doesn't matter who's chasing me," she whispered, softly yet firmly.  "I'm already very much caught."

A shy smile was her reply.  "I know."  They leaned into each other on instinct and long moments were lost as they kissed, arms wrapped around each other in the dying light of the day.

"I want to go for a walk," Natalia murmured when they separated.

"Where?" Olivia asked, knowing that - in that moment - she would go wherever Natalia asked.  Her lover shrugged.

"Nowhere," she said.  She gestured to the west.  "Into the sunset."

Just as Olivia was about to reply, the phone erupted inside the house, demanding their attention.  "I'll get it," Natalia murmured.  "You go get Emma.  She can come walking with us."

They separated when they entered the house, Olivia heading up the stairs two at a time to collect her little girl; Natalia crossing to the phone.

When Olivia returned to the living room with Emma she found Natalia looking a little flustered.  "Yes," she said into the phone.  Then: "no," followed by: "he's getting there."  She glanced at Olivia and mouthed "It's mom."  Olivia raised one eyebrow.  "Huh?  Uh...yeah, she's here."  Natalia held the phone out to Olivia who looked at it as if it might bite.  "She wants to talk to you."

Olivia took the phone gingerly and pressed it to her ear with a wince.  To her credit, though, none of her discomfort was apparent in her voice.

"Hello Mrs Rivera, how are you?"  She paused.  "I'm very well, thank you.  We were just about to go for a little evening walk with my daughter."  She paused again, and her face softened at whatever Josephine had said.  "Thank you," she said sincerely, and her eyes landed on Natalia.  "So is yours."  There was another slight pause, and then she pulled the phone away from her ear, a look of puzzlement on her face.  "Huh," she said softly. "She hung up."

Natalia laughed, shaking her head slightly.  "That's your mother-in-law, sweetie," she said as she took the phone from her lover and replaced it on its cradle.  When she turned around she frowned.  Olivia had gone deathly pale.  "What's the matter?"

"I..." Olivia began, then trailed off.  "She's...that battle axe is my mother-in-law."  Her eyes widened.  "Oh my God."

Natalia laughed and held out her hand.  Olivia grasped it, lacing their fingers together.

"Lucky me," Natalia whispered as she tugged Olivia out the door.  Emma had already run on ahead with half a loaf of stale bread, desperate to reconnect with her cherished ducks.  "If you'd known my mom was part of the package in the first place you might have reconsidered this whole thing."

Olivia's reply was instinctive and instant. "Never."

They stopped on the porch for another kiss before stepping out into the twilight.  The farmhouse was warm and solid at their backs, and ahead the world spread out like a dreamland.  The dying sun glinted off the pond like the flash of tiny jewels.  It was beautiful, perfect, and worth every step of the journey, every moment of pain.

"I love you," Natalia whispered, tightening her hold on Olivia's hand.

"I love you too," Olivia replied.

With that, they followed their daughter towards the pond, into the sunset.

The End

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