DISCLAIMER: All characters (Olivia Spencer, Natalia Rivera, Emma Spencer, Rafe River, Frank Cooper, Josh Lewis, Phillip Spaulding, Buzz Cooper & Fetus Rivera) and situations belong to Guiding Light, Telenext, Proctor & Gamble, etc. I'm not them.
SPOILERS: For the 1st July '09 episode, and the things leading up to that episode.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The End of Her World
By Jaina


Part One

Olivia is standing in front of her talking about family, and Natalia's heart is slowly crumbling in her chest.  This is their beautiful dream and she can feel it turning to dust in her fingers.  The harder she tries to hold on, the faster it disintegrates.  She is so scared; scared that she is actually pregnant and scared of what it will mean.  Can she bear being irrevocably tied to Frank for the rest of her life?  Worse, will Olivia hate her for it?  Will she lose Olivia for a mistake that she thought she had already paid for?  Most of all she needs Olivia and she's afraid that this will push her away forever. 

"Olivia..." She tries to get the words out of her mouth, but her voice breaks. 

Olivia thinks that she's worried about telling Emma.  "It will be okay, because she loves you so much, and you love her. It shows. I just know. I know this is gonna be a great day tomorrow.  I can't wait."

Her reassurances are beautiful, and they only make Natalia's heart ache more.  She knows how badly Olivia wants this happy family with the three - no, the four of them, with Rafe even as he is fighting so hard against them - and she doesn't want to be responsible for taking that happiness away from her. 

"I know."  She can barely force the words out of her mouth.  She can't tell her.  There isn't anything to tell Olivia.  She doesn't even know yet.  The only thing she is sure about is the sick, aching feeling in her stomach.  It's not a physical sensation.  It's different from the way that she's been feeling.  This is shame and dread and fear; a deadly combination that is all too familiar from her teenage years.  It's telling her that she is pregnant.  And, of course, this happened to her, because only she would have the bad luck to get pregnant the first time that she had sex with a man - for the second time! 

Olivia blows her a kiss and the look of adoration in her eyes breaks something in Natalia.  She never speaks before thinking.  It's a hard learned and deeply ingrained trait. 

"Wait.  Wait, wait, Oliva. Wait."  She blurts the words out so quickly that they come out of her mouth in a jumble, before she even realizes she was going to speak and without her conscious consent.  

Olivia freezes, catching the panic and desperation in her voice.  The flirty happiness is gone in an instant, replaced by deep concern.  "Natalia?  What's wrong?" 

The gentle concern in Olivia's voice breaks the dam that's been holding back her emotions.  Her face crumbles and tears stream down her face.  She's trying desperately to choke back the sobs, to hold them inside, and it isn't working.  Olivia is by her side in an instant, crouching down beside her, one hand rubbing her back soothingly. 

Natalia flinches under her touch.  It's a reflexive reaction; she can't help it.  She can't bear the comfort that Olivia is so freely trying to give.  It's only when Olivia jerks her hand back that she realizes, once again, that she is sending the wrong message.

She reaches out blindly for Olivia's hand and pulls it back to her, cradling it over her heart.  She's holding on so tightly that she's afraid she might be hurting Olivia, but she can't make herself loosen her grip. 

"I'm sorry," she breathes the words out.  "I'm so sorry. Olivia..."

"Shhh."  Olivia soothes her now.  She has no idea what's going on or why Natalia is acting this way.  All she knows is that she wants to fix this for Natalia.  "Shhhh.  It's okay.  Whatever it is, it will be okay. I promise."

Olivia knows, vaguely, that it's a promise she may not be able to keep, not if it involves Rafe or Frank or any of a dozen other things.  But she will try.  There is nothing she will not do for Natalia.

"You can't promise that."  Natalia eerily echoes her thoughts. 

With her free hand, Olivia reaches up slowly to brush a lock of hair out of Natalia's face.  She hesitates just before she's about to touch her and without thought, Natalia turns into Olivia's gesture.  The tips of Olivia's fingers skim across her cheek, before she tucks the hair behind Natalia's ear.  Natalia gains immeasurable comfort, if no lasting peace from the gesture.  She is stalling now and she knows it. 

"Tell me what's wrong," Olivia commands her gently.

Natalia bites her lip.  This is the most terrifying thing she's ever done in her life. More frightening than running out of the church and away from Frank, or telling her parents that she was pregnant with Rafe. 

"I took a pregnancy test and I'm afraid it might be positive."  She spits the words out so quickly she's not even sure that Olivia could understand her. It's the only way she can say it.

She knows Olivia does understand what she's said when every muscle in Olivia's body freezes.  Now her hand is clutching Natalia's hand back just as tightly.  Slowly Olivia sinks to the ground, her feet half-sliding out from underneath her.  Natalia follows, bending over her awkwardly, never letting go of her hand. 

"Olivia?"  She asks softly, when the silence has stretched and stretched until it's unbreakable.  She needs some response from her - anything.

"Frank?" Olivia asks in a whisper, not looking at Natalia.

The question hurts, but Natalia manages to nod her answer.

"You..." Olivia's voice breaks.  She swallows and starts over.  "You took a test?"  


"Let's see it."

Natalia hesitates.  Her purse is still on the floor by her chair.  She wasn't willing to let it out of her sight since she put the test in there.


But Olivia is holding out her hand, while still not quite meeting Natalia's eyes.  So Natalia opens her purse and finds the test.  Now it's her turn to be unable to meet Olivia's eyes as she places the test into Olivia's outstretched hand.  Her heart is racing so fast that it's almost painful.  She's certain that it's going to jump out of her chest at any moment.

"Huh."  Olivia's soft exclamation is as surprising as it is completely uninformative.  Natalia had expected a reaction one way or another. Olivia is nothing, if rarely quiet and reserved.

"What?"  She can't help the harsh tone of her question.  She has to know, one way or another, what it's to be. Is she pregnant or isn't she? It's time for her sentence to come down.


If Natalia hadn't already been sitting, her legs would have gone out from underneath her.  As it is, all she feels is a jumble of emotion, too complicated to even attempt to decipher.  After that declaration, the silence seems to echo around them both.  They are equally lost in their own thoughts, each dealing with this very unexpected news in their own way.  Natalia is jerked out of her whirling kaleidoscope of thoughts with a hand on her knee.  She looks down into Olivia's eyes and finds them brimming with emotion. 

"What do you want to do?"  The question makes Natalia gasp. 

"Olivia, I can't - I couldn't. Ever."  Even now the thought is too surprising for Natalia to form a more vehement denial.

"Oh, no! No. God, no. Natalia, I would never suggest. No."  Olivia squeezes her hand. "I know you would never consider that and I would never ask.  No," Olivia repeats firmly. 

Natalia's relief is almost tangible.  As much as she doesn't want this, she can't consider destroying an unborn life either. 

It's Olivia's turn to stumble and struggle for words now.  "What I meant," she says slowly, blinking back tears.  "Is what do you want to do now?  Frank...if you still want..."  She looks away. "Frank can give you and your baby a traditional family. If you want it."

"No!"  Natalia says the word too quickly, but she has to.

She is reeling, has not ceased to be reeling since she admitted the possibility to herself earlier in the day while talking to Blake.  This feels like running into a brick wall at fifty miles an hour.  She's stopped short by the possibility that Olivia raises. But instead of leaving her hurt and shaken, it gives her certainty. She is certain, at least, of what she does not want.  That much she knows, because the moment Olivia raises the possibility to her, it is an anathema.

This is how she almost ended up marrying Frank.  She can't do that again.  No matter how terrifying and impossible it seems at this moment, she has to be strong and stand up for herself.  If the worst happens and Olivia doesn't want her, even then she cannot run to Frank. Not this time. She doesn't even want to.

"I don't want Frank," she says bitterly.  The last word turns into a sob. She doesn't want to see Olivia pushing her towards Frank, not again.

Olivia is kneeling, her hand is running oh-so-lightly through Natalia's hair.  Her presence isn't dominating, but comforting and soothing.  "What do you want?" She repeats. 

Natalia clutches at her desperately.  "I want you and Emma and a family.  But not like this. I didn't want this, Olivia. I'm so sorry."  

"Shhh," Olivia whispers again. "It's okay. I know."  She holds Natalia until her sobs fade and her breathing calms.  Natalia takes a deep breath and then lets it out slowly.  Only then can she look up to meet Olivia's eyes.

"What about you?" she asks.  She doesn't want the answer, but she has to know now.  "Can you do this?  Will you..."  Natalia can't even believe she's asking this.  She knows what she's asking from Olivia Spencer of all people. "Will you do this with me?"

Olivia takes a deep breath.  Natalia can see the fear in her eyes, but she's looking directly at Natalia, and her gaze is so penetrating and overwhelming that Natalia can't catch her breath.

"Yes.  If you want me. Yes."

"I do. I do want you so much. I need you, Olivia."

"Okay," Olivia says, nodding.

Just that simply, it's done.  Their future is decided - together.

Olivia stands shakily, Natalia notes, and holds a hand out to her.

"I guess we need to get you to the hospital then."

The matter of fact practicality of her statement leaves Natalia in amazement.  It's possible that she's just a little bit in shock, because even if she'd had a chance to imagine how Olivia would react, she never would have pictured this calm acceptance.

Natalia takes her hand and lets her pull her to her feet.  She squeezes Olivia's hand and stops her when she starts to step away.  Instead Natalia steps closer and wraps her arms around Olivia, who embraces her instantly.  Their bodies melt together and Natalia can finally feel some of the insane jumble of emotion begin to fall away.  She luxuriates in Olivia's embrace and finds peace and calm in it. 

There is so much uncertainty, so much yet to be decided, but here, in Olivia's arms, she can forget about that just for a moment and just be.  Above all, in Olivia's arms, she feels safe and loved, something that only moments ago, she thought she was about to lose forever.  Emotion overwhelms her again, and Natalia pulls back from their embrace far enough to look Olivia in the eye. 

"I love you so much, Olivia."  She hopes Olivia knows how much she means those words.  She tries to put everything that she's feeling into them. 

Choked and speechless, Olivia can only nod, before she finds her voice.  "I love you too."

They are still standing that way when Emma, impatient with the delay in their departure, comes back in and finds them.


Part Two

"Mom?"  Emma sounds confused and a little bit worried.  She's a very bright little girl and well attuned to the moods of her mother and Natalia.  "Are we still leaving?"

Olivia steps back from their embrace, letting the fingers of one hand trail down to clasp Natalia's forearm.  She holds her other hand out to Emma, who tucks herself against Olivia's side without protest.  Olivia leans over to place a kiss on top of her daughter's head. 

Emma's presence is a sudden reminder of everything else that they're still dealing with.  She still doesn't know about them and it's making Olivia more and more nervous as time passes.  She doesn't want to have to hide this from her daughter anymore. It's getting harder and harder every day and she definitely doesn't want Emma to find out the same way that Rafe did.

Olivia has a brief thought of the barbecue that they're supposed to attend tomorrow - together, and pushes it out of her mind just as quickly.  She has to focus on the moment. If she doesn't, all the challenges that are stacking up in front of them will start to seem impossible to overcome. Still, she was never one to back down from a challenge.  No, she charges straight ahead and dares anyone to try and stop her.  It's something of a specialty of hers, and she isn't about to give up on one of the best things she's ever had happen to her.

Olivia gives Emma's thin body one last squeeze, and then cups her daughter's chin and tilts her face up. 

"I think we're going to have to skip the ice cream today, Jellybean."

"But, Mom...."  Emma protests.  "You promised!"

Olivia laughs, because even in moments like this one - when she's just had one of the biggest shocks of her life - Emma can still cheer her up.  Her little girl reminds her so much of the best parts of herself.  She only hopes that her own darkness doesn't end up seeping into Emma.

"Tomorrow," Olivia says firmly, and gives Emma a no-nonsense look to back up her words.  

Emma pouts, pulling back and crossing her arms over her chest. 

"Why don't you go check on the ducks?" Olivia suggests.  Diversions are nearly always a sound strategic move.  "Jane will be here in a little while to pick you up. Natalia and I have some things we need to take care of and I think you'd be bored."

Emma frowns, not happy about it, but knows better than to protest.  Spending the afternoon with Jane isn't so bad.  There's always the possibility that she can talk Jane into some ice cream, after all.  Still, it's not how she wants spend her afternoon.  She'd been looking forward to today all week.  She can't get too upset, though.  There's still tomorrow and the barbecue to look forward to.

When Olivia looks back at Natalia, her gaze is following Emma as she practically skips out of the room.  She bites her lip and looks up Olivia.

"How are we going to tell her?"

Olivia shrugs.  She doesn't have all of the answers yet or maybe even any at all.  "I don't know.  We'll think of something."  She squeezes Natalia's hand reassuringly.  "It's going to be okay." Olivia isn't quite sure where this faith is coming from.  She's never been one to believe that things will work out for the best. Usually the opposite is true for her.  But this time she wants to believe, and she needs Natalia to believe it too.  So, she'll keep saying it and saying it until it becomes true, until Natalia starts to believe again.

Natalia doesn't respond and Olivia wishes she could erase the haunted look from her eyes.  "Let me call Jane to come get Emma.  We can go when she gets here." 

They're in Cedars, surrounded by the horrible green walls that Olivia has seen far too much over the past two years.  Of course, Natalia has been by her side for much of that time, one way or another.  Today, however, is different.  This time it's Natalia up on the hospital bed and not her. 

It's taking an eternity for the technician to come in and take Natalia's blood.  Olivia can't stand the waiting any longer.  She's up out of the chair and pacing back and forth in front of Natalia's bed.  She knows Natalia is scared and she hates feeling helpless.  She can't do anything to make this better, except simply be here for Natalia, but it doesn't feel like enough.  

"Olivia!"  Natalia winces at the harsh tone of her own voice, as Olivia stops pacing and looks over at her quickly.  She hadn't intended to speak so sharply, but watching Olivia's restless pacing is only making her more and more nervous.  She still doesn't know exactly what's going through Olivia's mind.  Since they looked at the pregnancy test, and Olivia asked her what she wanted, Olivia hasn't said much.  It's only adding to the queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach.

Natalia bites her lip and holds her hand out to Olivia, who crosses the distance between them in two long strides and takes Natalia's hand.  Their fingers lace together, and Olivia's thumb glides back and forth over the back of Natalia's hand in a tender caress.  Olivia seems transfixed by the simple play of skin against skin and Natalia doesn't want the moment to end.  Olivia has always had this power over her to make the rest of the world disappear. At times, it's frightened Natalia, how easily and eagerly she can fall under Olivia's spell. Right now, she craves losing herself in Olivia, in forgetting what she's here to find out. 

Instead Natalia focuses on the look of adoration in Olivia's eyes, the way a strand of brunette hair has fallen out from behind her ear and down into her face.  She takes in the line of her jaw and the gentle swell of her full, intoxicating lips.  

"You are so beautiful."  Natalia whispers the words reverently, so caught up in Olivia that she barely realizes that she's spoken them aloud.

She sees Olivia flush, a hint of red tinting her cheek, as she looks over at Natalia.  How she has this power over Olivia Spencer still amazes and slightly terrifies her.  Olivia's green eyes are staring directly into her own now, and Natalia finds herself getting lost in them.  She has seen Olivia so many different ways - hard, and sharp and full of anger, willing to inflict it on anyone, no matter the cost to them or herself, but vulnerable, tender of heart and incredibly generous when it's least expected - but she loves Olivia like this best of all.  Because, in this moment, Olivia is completely open to her.  There is nothing hidden or guarded about the way she's looking at Natalia.  Everything she feels and thinks is in her eyes, obvious for anyone who's there to see it.

The door to the room swings open without warning.  Natalia's focus is jerked away from Olivia, who startles at the sudden noise and starts to pull away.  Natalia simply holds on tighter, waiting until she can find Olivia's gaze again and hold it.  She doesn't want to let go.  She isn't sure she can do this if she has to do it by herself.  She needs this tactile connection, and she is not embarrassed or ashamed to be seen holding Olivia's hand.  

Olivia nods and squeezes her hand reassuringly, offering her a brief smile.  Natalia cherishes it for the effort.  She knows that Olivia must be just as nervous as she is, if her recent pacing is any indication.

"Okay, Ms. Rivera, hold out your arm," the technician chirps brightly, drawing her attention away from Olivia. 

Natalia does as she asks and preempts her next request by pulling up her sleeve.  If the technician notes or cares that Olivia is still holding her hand, Natalia doesn't notice.  She's too focused on the blood filling the small vial connected to the needle that's in her arm.  The answers to this test will dictate the course of her future. 

And just that simply, revelation comes.  This moment will matter, yes.  Having a child is certainly life-altering. Natalia should know, but Olivia is still here, in this hospital room with her, holding her hand, loving her, and she is pregnant with someone else's child.  The child of the man that Natalia almost married. So, yes, this changes everything, but in the same breath, nothing has changed.  Olivia is still here with her and Natalia knows that whatever happens now she wants that - needs that - and she will do anything to keep Olivia in her life. 

It's as simple and as complicated as that. 

Natalia follows the technician's movements with her eyes, watching as she places the vial in a stand with others, before putting a band-aid on Natalia's arm and then going back to label the vial of blood. 

"Okay, Ms. Rivera, all done," the technician continues cheerily.  "If you want to take a seat out in the waiting room, we'll have the results out to you in a little while."

Olivia doesn't let go of her hand, but helps her off of the bed.  She still doesn't let go as they collect their purses and head for the waiting room. 

"I was by myself, when I found out I was pregnant with Rafe."  Natalia is mostly just thinking aloud, but she feels Olivia tense beside her on the hard bench where they're sitting.  

"Gus was gone?"  Olivia asks softly, even though she pretty much knows the answer to this question already.  She, too, remembers how she found out she was going to be a teenage mother.  Neither of them had an easy experience.  With Emma it was different.  She was happy, even as she was surprised, confused and terrified. 

"I didn't know it when I found out, but yes, he was already gone."  Natalia takes a deep shuddering breath.  "I had to tell my parents by myself. There was no question of 'doing the right thing' and getting married."


But the other woman cuts her off with a gentle squeeze of her thigh.  "That's not what I meant, Olivia."  She looks over at the older woman for the first time since they've been sitting here.  "This is the right thing.  If I am." She can't quite finish the sentence yet. Saying it aloud to Olivia once had been hard enough.  "I know it is. I don't have any doubts about that."

Natalia swallows.  "My parents were so disappointed when I said I wasn't willing to put Rafe up for adoption.  They thought I was being foolish, and irresponsible.  I was shaming the entire family and I just wouldn't stop embarrassing them. Every time they looked at him, it was just another reminder of the mistakes I had made, and the way I was ruining their good reputation for everyone to see."  Her fists clench. "I couldn't stand it."

"I did, you know."  Natalia glances over at her quickly, surprised that she's suddenly breaking her silence, but Olivia is staring straight ahead.  "I put Ava up for adoption." She gives her head a small shake, as if she's dispelling a long ago memory that's caught her in its grasp once more.  "I don't regret it," she says firmly. "It was the right choice for me."  She looks over at Natalia to make sure that she understands the distinction in those last two words.  "But what you did, Natalia, raising Rafe by yourself, I know how much strength that took.  I know how hard you worked to provide a home for him and to raise him to be a good man."  Olivia reaches for her and then hesitates, her hand frozen in mid air as if she isn't certain of how her gesture will be received.  

Natalia takes the decision out of her control by cupping her hand and bringing it to her cheek, holding Olivia's hand against her face. 

Olivia smiles, but it looks slightly strained as if she's trying to hold back some greater emotion.  "You are amazing, for raising Rafe the way you did, and for what it matters, I am so proud of you."  She swallows again, but continues to meet Natalia's gaze.  "But know that for as long as you want me in your life, I will do my best to make this easier on you than the last time. I want to be there for you and help you, because I love you."

"Olivia...." The emotion in Olivia's voice humbles Natalia. It robs her of words and coherency, leaving her only with an overwhelming rush of emotion.  Tears well up in her eyes.

Whatever she's struggling to find words to say, however, is lost when the doctor appears in front of them and clears her throat to get their attention.

Together they smoothly stand to receive the test results, as if their actions had been choreographed.

She is still all smiles as she holds the papers with the test results on them out to Natalia.

"Congratulations, Ms. Rivera. You're pregnant." 

The words echo in Natalia's mind and she realizes distantly that the woman is still speaking but she doesn't quite understand what she's saying.  There's something about scheduling a sonogram.  Honestly, she hopes Olivia is paying attention right now, because she just can't focus. 


That's when her mind jerks everything back into focus and she looks over at her companion.  Natalia's heart immediately jumps into her throat, because it's been some time since she's seen Olivia look so pale.  She's trembling and Natalia realizes, barely in time, that Olivia's knees are about to give out on her.  She grabs Olivia's upper arms and gently guides the other woman back into a seat on the bench behind them.

"Olivia," she says forcefully.  "Look at me, Olivia."  Green eyes snap up to meet hers, but Natalia can tell that Olivia isn't quite focused.  They look hazy and distant.  "Tell me what's wrong," Natalia continues.  "Is it your heart?"  Because always, always when it comes to Olivia that will be her first and deepest fear, worse now than when Olivia wanted to die.  Because now it's not just the last part of her dead husband that Natalia is fighting to keep alive, it's what is keeping the woman that she loves - that she cannot live without - alive.

Olivia shakes her head, but remains mute. 

For Natalia, the first sharp pangs of fear are gone now, but in their place something more insidious is slipping in to fill the void that it's left.  Worry, nagging but present, is making her wonder if this is the moment that Olivia will realize that this is all too much.  She needs Olivia to say something.  She has to know what she's thinking. 

"Olivia?"  This time Natalia is pleading, the neediness in her voice slipping out uncontrollably.

Whatever Olivia hears in her voice, it seems to be enough to slip her out of her daze.  She grasps Natalia's upper arms.

"You're pregnant," Olivia says. There's a hint of bemusement in her voice, not wonder, but certainly surprise.

"You thought-"

Olivia shakes her head quickly.  "I just wanted to be sure.  It wasn't real until we were sure." 

"Oh."  Natalia can certainly understand that. She's not quite sure that it's real for her yet. She's been too worried about Olivia.  She sinks into a seat beside her, the impact of what's been said suddenly sinking in for her as well.  "I'm pregnant." 

It's only the second time now that she's said the words aloud, and this time she isn't merely worried. She knows for sure.  And it is all so very, very real now.

"Yeah, you are."  Olivia's voice lifts her out of the spiral that her mind has been sinking down into. 

When Natalia looks over at her, she's actually smiling.  It's small, and not in the least obnoxious, or overly cheerful. It's merely Olivia looking back at her with love, and confidence, and understanding shining in her eyes. 

And for the first time, Natalia thinks, Okay. Okay, maybe, just maybe, everything is going to be all right.


Part Three

"I have to tell Frank." Apparently, just ripping off the band-aid is getting a little bit easier, at least where Olivia is concerned, because it's not nearly as hard to get out her next word as it would have been earlier. "Today."

Olivia glances away from the road, arching an eyebrow at Natalia. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

Natalia frowns. It's not like she's looking forward to this conversation, but it wouldn't be fair to Frank to hide this from him. Besides, Natalia may have only lived in Springfield for a few years, but she already knows how virtually impossible it is to keep a secret here. She isn't ready for something else to blow up in her face.

"I can't hide it from him, Olivia. That would be wrong."

"I know," Olivia says quickly, reaching out to put a reassuring hand on Natalia's knee, as she lets out a frustrated breath. "That's not what I meant." Olivia rolls her eyes. "And it never works out well anyway."

Her statement startles Natalia, and she considers its implications for a moment. She knows a little bit about Olivia's tangled past with the men in her life, and she's aware for the most part that the time surrounding Emma's birth was frightening and difficult for Olivia, but it's the details that she's still fuzzy on.

One of these days they really need to sit down and talk about their pasts. Natalia already knows that's an idea that Olivia won't like. She keeps her past firmly in the past, but it does seem to come back to influence their lives at the worst possible moment. Not, Natalia concedes to herself, that there has been time since they admitted that they loved one another to delve into the issues of their past.

"I just thought it might be easier to tell him tomorrow."

"The Bauer barbecue is tomorrow," Natalia reminds her.

Silence takes over the atmosphere of the car almost immediately. Natalia watches Olivia's profile as it grows more pronounced. She has no idea what she said that could have provoked this reaction from Olivia. Sometimes she still has no idea how Olivia's mind works.

"If I don't tell him today, it will just be harder tomorrow," Natalia admits. "And I'll spend all night worrying about what I'm going to say to him and how he's going to take it. This way, it will be over." Even as she says it, Natalia can feel her nerves resurfacing.

Frank is not Olivia. He doesn't understand her with barely a word being spoken. He can't just look at her and almost immediately realize that something is wrong. He doesn't love her enough to want what's best for her. He only loves her enough to want her for himself. She hates the way that he acts around her. It was hard enough to break his heart the first time by running out of the wedding, even as much as she loved Olivia and knew that marrying Frank wasn't the right decision for any of them. She knows it was an added blow when she had to spell out her relationship with Olivia for him, but she shouldn't have to keep paying for loving Olivia each time that she sees him. Her dealings with Frank lately have been strained at best, especially since Rafe found out about her and Olivia. It's only making her feel more nervous about seeing Frank now. She doesn't want him to see this as a second chance for them. The third time isn't the charm for breaking his heart.

"As long as you're sure," Olivia says finally.

"I'm sure," Natalia confirms, feeling anything but. She reaches out to cover Olivia's hand that's still resting on her knee. Immediately, Olivia flips her hand over so that she can intertwine their fingers. Natalia loves the play of Olivia's fingers between her own and the strength that she always seems to gain from that simple reassuring touch.

"Do you want me to go with you?" Olivia asks, as she pulls to a gentle stop at a red traffic light. She looks over at Natalia when the car stops.

"I want you to," Natalia admits immediately, because it's true. She does want Olivia with her. She craves her strength and support, her subtle but constant reminder that she is loved. "But I think I need to tell him by myself."

Olivia nods, and looks back at the light. If she pulls away a little bit more quickly than is strictly necessary, Natalia doesn't comment on it.

"Okay." Olivia hesitates. "Do you want to go now?"

The fear that Olivia has gently begun to erase is returning in full force, but Natalia nods and makes herself speak. "Now is good."

Olivia gives her hand a reassuring squeeze, as she turns down another street, taking them in the direction of Frank's new apartment. "I won't be far, if you need me. Just call."


The rest of the ride is filled with uncomfortable silence, both of them lost in their own, not particularly pleasant thoughts. It lingers even when Olivia parks in front of Frank's apartment building.

"I'll call you when it's done."

Olivia nods in acknowledgement, but she won't quite meet Natalia's eyes. The lack of that vibrant connection is frustratingly familiar. Natalia remembers the time, only a few months before, when Olivia always seemed to be avoiding looking at her. She doesn't want to go back to that painful time for anything.

Natalia raises their joined hands to her lips and pressed a lingering kiss to the back of Olivia's hand. She sees the stunned expression on Olivia's face as she finally meets Natalia's eyes.

"I love you," Natalia states firmly. It's her constant – the love that they share - the one thing that's taken her through this day so far. She hopes it can erase the haunted, uncertain look from Olivia's eyes.

"I love you too," Olivia says, the words sounding strangled.

"Natalia?" Frank is surprised to see her there, and with good reason.

"Hi, Frank." She tries to keep the dread out of her voice. "Can I come in?" She bites her lip. "We need to talk."

"Sure, sure," he says, swinging the door open wide for her. "Come on in, but, uh, Rafe's here right now, so if he's what you needed to talk about...."

Natalia's breath catches. Foolish, but she hadn't considered Rafe being here. He's done such an excellent job of avoiding her lately, it never occurred to her that he would choose now to be home.

"No, Rafe isn't what I wanted to talk about." Natalia shakes her head. "Actually I need to talk to Rafe too, but we need to talk first."


She hates the hope that he manages to infuse in that single syllable. Natalia sees Rafe now, sitting at the kitchen table, slumped inside his hoodie. He gives her a three fingered wave, but doesn't get up. She carefully stifles the anger that rises up in her dismissive gesture. She's not asking for much, but the way he's acting…. She raised him better than this. At least she hopes she did.

"Can we go out back?" Natalia tips her head toward the small outdoor patio shared by several of the apartments.

"Of course," Frank agrees just a little bit too readily, and darts ahead of her to hold open the sliding doors.

Once they're outside, Natalia isn't sure what to say. She doesn't want to just blurt it out. Frank deserves better than that. She flutters her hand in front of her.

"I haven't been feeling good for the past few days," Natalia finally begins. "Blake has been worried about me." This is where it gets difficult. "I took a test, Frank, and I went to the hospital to confirm it." She doesn't want there to be any question or doubt about this. "I'm pregnant."

Frank's face freezes in a comic expression of shock and dismay. He starts to say something and then hesitates before any sound can come out. Then he tries again. Still nothing. Finally he sinks into a seat on one of the wrought iron chairs.


Moments pass and Frank doesn't move. She can almost see him thinking, however, as slowly, ever so slowly, a smile begins to grow on his face, until he gives her the biggest, brightest smile that only Frank Cooper can give.

He almost jumps up off the bench, his arms open, and everything in him screaming good cheer.

"I'm gonna be a dad. Again!" He picks her up and twirls her around, and all she can think is how wrong this feels.

She grabs his shoulders instinctively, to steady herself, pushing away from him even as she tries to hold on.

"Put me down, Frank." She tries to say it calmly, but the twirling isn't doing her already dicey stomach any favors, and she squeezes her eyes shut. She can't throw up again, not now. She really, really doesn't need this.

Apparently, her command comes out sharper than she intended because Frank almost drops her in his haste to comply. He doesn't seem to be deterred, however.

"You're going to be a mom!" he cheers, as if he's forgotten that her nineteen year old son is sitting inside her apartment. "We're going to be parents." He squeezes her shoulders. "It's going to be so great, Natalia. You'll see."

Before she can protest or move to stop him, Frank slips a hand behind her neck and kisses her squarely on her lips. This time Natalia does push forcefully away from her, staggering several steps back.

"Frank," she says warningly, shaking her head. "This isn't what I-"

"It's okay," Frank interrupts her. "I know the past few months have been confusing, but it's going to be okay." Somehow hearing Frank say those words doesn't comfort her at all. Not like when Olivia said them to her. "Everything has just been so messed up, but this can make it all right again. Don't you see, Natalia? This is our chance to have everything that we wanted. We can be a family, with Rafe and the baby. It will be so good. I still love you so much, Baby."

All Natalia can do is shake her because this is not what she wants. Oh, a family with Rafe and this baby sounds wonderful, but she wants Olivia and Emma and ducks, too. It won't be right without that.

"No, Frank." For the first time, she is the one to cut him off, to refuse to let him continue. "That isn't why I came here." With just that simple statement Frank looks back at her as if he's never seen her before, which, Natalia admits herself, is a side of her that he's never seen. Only Olivia, and occasionally Rafe, can bring out this fierce stubborn passion within her. "I wanted to tell you because you deserve to know. This baby is going to need a father, and I want you to be a part of his or her life. But I'm not asking for anything from you." She swallows and straightens. "I still love Olivia. That hasn't changed, Frank."

"But…" Frank wrinkles his brow, and looks confused. "It's not right, Natalia. This baby should have a real family with its parents."

"My baby will have a real family, Frank," Natalia counters, growing annoyed with his implication that what she and Olivia share isn't real. "And he or she will have you, too."

"Olivia knows?" Frank asks, his tone implying that he doesn't think that's the case.

Natalia swallows, because this is the part that she does feel a little bit guilty about. The father of her child should have been the first one to know and for the second time in her life it just doesn't work out that way. She doesn't regret telling Olivia the way that she did. She needed her to know, because it was killing her to keep her fear bottled up inside.

"I told her." Maybe she won't have to tell him that Olivia went to the hospital with her and held her hand while she found out. That will only hurt him more and she doesn't want that. She wants this to go as easily as possible. She's just afraid that it's not actually possible anymore.

Frank shakes his head. "She's not capable of loving you the way that I can, Natalia, or the way that I can love this baby. Don't you want that?"

I already have that, she wants to tell him. "Frank," Natalia repeats slowly, instead. "Nothing has changed. Olivia still loves me."

"But she can't love this baby. She's not capable of it!" Frank states it like it's the most obvious thing in the world and he has no idea why Natalia can't see it.

"Why, Frank?" Natalia asks. She feels like she's burning up and icy cold all at once. "Why can't she?"

"Because she's Olivia Spencer!"

Natalia nods slowly, realizing for the first time how deeply Frank hates the woman that she loves. It goes beyond the ways that she, herself, has hurt him. It's a deeper wound that Frank has never allowed to heal, and he holds onto it tightly, claiming the pain that Olivia inflicted on him and using it against her at every turn.

"You don't know her, Frank. If that's what you think of her, then you never did. She's a wonderful mother to Emma and she is going to be there for me and this baby."

"No." The word is so firm, and crisp and completely unlike Frank that at first Natalia has the urge to laugh. "No, that woman isn't going to have anything to do with my child."

His words and the vehemence with which he says them leaves Natalia shaking.

"Frank," she says softly. "You're a good man. You don't want to do this. Let us all be happy about this baby. Don't turn this into a fight."

"Natalia, you don't understand," Frank pleads. "You don't know what she's like yet. I don't want her to hurt you."

"The only thing that can hurt me, Frank, is if you use this baby to try and keep Olivia and I apart. That will break my heart."

"It doesn't matter," Frank says firmly, brushing aside her concern as unimportant. She can see him take a deep breath and try to pull himself together. "Eventually, she will hurt you. And when she does, I'll be there." He says it to her in the same sweet, persuasive tone that he used to propose to her, and all it does is make her stomach churn more. She doesn't know what else to say to that. No matter what she says about loving Olivia, Frank refuses to believe it.

"I need to talk to Rafe," she says finally.

"Of course!" Frank agrees, jumping past her with a smile to get the door for her. "When you get done telling him, then we can celebrate."

"Frank...." Natalia suddenly wishes desperately that her son wasn't living with this man, no matter how good of a mentor he may be. "I think I need to tell him myself." She gestures between her and Rafe. "This is a mother-son conversation."

"Oh." He deflates instantly, but tries valiantly to preserve the illusion that he hasn't. "Of course." He clears his throat. "Let me know when you guys are done. We can, uh, go to Company and celebrate with ice cream. Tell Pop." He's beaming again.

It's all Natalia can do to step inside. At the table, Rafe looks up when he sees her come inside, but he doesn't move. Natalia takes the seat across from him at the small table.

"Rafe." She resists the urge to reach out to him and pull him close. He has always been her baby, even now that he's almost a man. Soon, he won't be her baby any longer. He will be her first born, her oldest, the first child with a claim on her heart. But Natalia also realizes that there has been another child with a claim on her heart for some time now. She loves Emma just as deeply, purely and completely as she loves Rafe.

"You guys were out there for a while." He tips his head toward the door. "Busy talking about how much of a screw up I am, Ma?" His bitter tone stings, but his words hurt her more.

"What are you screwing up?" She uses his words because she knows that even hearing that tame phrase from her lips will shock him. "You have a job and you're reconnecting with old friends. You're meeting the conditions of your parole and you're figuring out what you want to do with your life. Am I missing something?"

Okay, so she's not certain about the part where he's figuring out what to do with his life, but surely some positive reinforcement can't hurt. She's tired of arguing. She doesn't want to fight anymore tonight, and especially not with her son.

Rafe straightens in his chair, sitting away from her. "Don't do this, Ma. You know I don't approve of what you're doing with Olivia. It's wrong."

She takes a deep breath. They need to talk about Olivia again, now that he's had a little bit of time to get used to the idea, but right now isn't that time. She needs to have another conversation with him.

"That topic isn't on the table right now."

Rafe blinks in surprise. "So, what?"

"I came to talk to Frank, because he deserves to know. And I came to tell you, too, because I didn't want you to find out about this from anyone else."

"Find out what?"

"I'm pregnant."

Rafe blinks and then stares at her. He grabs a handful of his hair and tugs at it.

"How could you...Ma, this is just...pregnant?" He's staring at her as if he doesn't recognize her at all. "Frank's the dad?"

She nods, answering his only coherent question.

"Are you two getting back together?"

"No. This doesn't change anything, Rafe. I still love Olivia, and even if I didn't, I don't love Frank enough to marry him."

"You thought you did a few months ago."

"I wanted..." Natalia hesitates, struggling to define what it was she had wanted. "I wanted you to have a father, and I thought I couldn't have Olivia - that she didn't want me - so I thought I could learn to love Frank. He's a good man."

"You thought she didn't want you?" Rafe looks confused.

"She told me to marry Frank because she thought I could be happy with him."

"You could," Rafe says emphatically. "If you just give him a chance."

"Oh, Rafe," she says softly, feeling for her son who was struggling so hard to understand the world in the small, clearly defined box that he was trying to place it in. "It doesn't work that way." Natalia stands and goes to his side of the table. She wraps her arms around him and pulls him close, ignoring the way he stiffens in her arms. For a moment, she simply holds him and then pulls away. She makes sure he's really looking at her before she speaks. "I love you. Don't forget that."

He swallows and looks down.

She smiles sadly and turns to let herself out. Just as she's about to open the door, she hears him.

"I love you too, Ma."

She knows nothing has changed yet, but the soft words give her hope.


Part Four

Natalia is an intrinsically practical woman. Living with Olivia has smoothed away some of her sharp edges and shown her that it's okay to splurge sometimes, but it's still not something that comes naturally to Natalia. She is much more likely to do something to spoil Emma, or even Olivia, than to pamper herself.  That practicality makes itself apparent in ways both large and small.  At the moment it's most visible in the darkness that lingers inside the farmhouse. 

With no one to share this house, there's no reason for every room to be lit.  Lights are turned off as Natalia leaves one room and enters the next. It's an old habit of frugality and at one point in her life, a constant refrain to Rafe. Now it is only one of a hundred things that make her miss him more.

It also serve to make her house seem even emptier, without the soft glow of light suffusing it with comfort and warmth from within, providing a safe harbor from which Emma's easy, childish laughter could ring out.  Tonight, Natalia doesn't need anything to emphasize that she's alone, subtly or not. She feels it sharply, but she still can't bring herself to fill the house with light. It would feel worse to have it ring with false promise.

She's been sitting on the couch since she came inside. At first, it was intended to be just for a moment, but she can't make herself move.  Exhaustion has sunk into every inch of her body.  It weighs her down and holds her in place as she relives her son's words over and over.  And, as they always seem to do recently, thoughts of Rafe bring with them thoughts of Frank.  The man that she once thought she would spend the rest of her life with is now a man that she will be forever connected to, and not in a way she would have chosen. Just thinking of him makes her more exhausted, because she knows this isn't over. Frank hasn't accepted anything about her relationship with Olivia. It will continue to be a fight to make him understand and stop making their lives more difficult.

It's a daunting thought, but one that she can't dismiss.  There are choices that she could make to simplify her life, but the truth is, for her, there is no choice.  If she was one to chose the simple path over the right one, she would have done it years ago. In so many ways, the decision to have Rafe has dictated the course of her life. There are turning points in everyone's life.  Finding out that she was pregnant with Rafe was the first turning point in her life, her first serious decision.  She chose the more difficult path then.  She won't start taking the easier way now, but tonight she needs something.  Just a reminder of why taking the harder road is worth it in the end.  She needs a moment's peace and something to remind her of why she's fighting, why Frank and Rafe are both so very wrong about this.

Natalia pulls out her cellphone and hits the speed dial before she can talk herself out of it.


She hears a quick, sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line.

"I'm here."

The darkness of the farmhouse is suddenly suffocating.  The richness of Olivia's voice makes what's lacking here so much more apparent.

Natalia bites her lip but some small sound must make its way out of her mouth, because Olivia speaks immediately.

"Are you okay?"  There's a slight pause. "How did it go with Frank?" 

"I'm okay," Natalia says, but the sniffle mid-sentence belies her words.  She folds her arm across her midsection and her hand clenches tightly around her other arm.  "I need something."

She's afraid to ask.  She doesn't want to ask. How can she ask for anything else after Olivia has been there for her so completely?  Natalia has already asked her to accept the fact that she's having someone else's child.  Is asking one thing more finally asking too much? 

"Anything," Olivia replies without hesitation. "You know that."

Natalia blinks, startled by the response even if she shouldn't be.  That has always been Olivia's response whenever she has asked for something, or even when she hasn't asked.  Olivia had even gone inside the church with her the day Rafe had gone back to the halfway house after her aborted wedding.  Natalia is not unaware of how big of a statement that had been for Olivia.

"Will you and Emma come spend the night?  I don't want to be alone," she hurries on.  Natalia rubs her wrist across her nose, wiping away tears.  "It's so quiet."  In fact, the only things that aren't quiet are the accusations and unfriendly voices running through her head, along with her own troubled thoughts.  She knows that she needs to be able to stand on her own. Olivia has taught her that, but just for tonight she wants to drown her worries with Emma's laughter and Olivia's sarcastic commentary; the look in Olivia's eyes that makes her shiver and forget everything else in the world.

There's silence from the other end of the connection and Natalia grits her teeth.  She's just about to verbally backtrack, wishing that she had never asked, but, she knows best of all that once something has been said, it cannot be unsaid. 

"We'll be there," Olivia says, her words coming out in a rush.  Natalia hears the sound of a deep breath over the phone.  "Natalia...what about Rafe?" 

Natalia shakes her head.  "He won't come out here tonight."

Olivia is silent for a moment, processing her statement, Natalia assumes.  "Okay," she says finally.  "We're on our way."  Natalia is about to say good bye when Olivia speaks again.  "I love you."  She closes her eyes when she hears Olivia, and allows herself to let those three simple words soak into her like a healing balm for the soul.  It's just what she needs to hear.

"I love you too."

Olivia knocks and waits for Natalia to come to the door before she enters.  It's a small detail that Natalia cherishes.  She hasn't realized how irritated she was with Frank for the many times that he had simply walked in without knocking.  This is her home, not his.  And, she admits in her heart, it's also Olivia's home, and Emma's.  She wants them to come and go as they please, without any hesitation, but she still loves that Olivia cares enough to respect her space.

"Natalia!"  Emma squeals joyfully when she sees her, giving the woman a quick, tight hug before she darts past them into the house.  She runs loudly up the stairs and Natalia smiles as she thinks of Emma back in her old room.

When she looks back at Olivia, Olivia is leaning against the doorway, a concerned smile on her face as she watches Natalia.  She notices Natalia's attention refocusing on her and opens her arms without a word. Natalia steps into them gratefully.  She buries her face in the crook of Olivia's neck and holds her tightly as Olivia strokes her hair and murmurs soft comforting words into her ear.

When they finally separate, Olivia takes her hand and leads her over to the couch.  They sit down close to one another, knees touching.  Olivia reaches out and gently tilts Natalia's chin up until she can see her expression clearly.  Suddenly, Natalia feels self-conscious.  She's been crying for most of the day and she knows how red and blotchy her face gets when she cries.  Her eyes are probably bloodshot and her hair feels disheveled, which is not her best look.  She tries to look away, but Olivia holds her gently, but firmly in place, not letting her turn away.

"How are you?"  Olivia asks after it looks like she's satisfied with her perusal of Natalia.

Natalia shrugs, and sinks against the back of the couch.  It brings her closer to Olivia and she tilts her head over to lean on Olivia's shoulder.  She needs to find words again. Olivia has already done so much for her today, and she deserves to know what Natalia is thinking.

"I told them," she says softly. "Frank and Rafe." 

Olivia lets out a deep breath.  "How did they take it?"

Natalia shrugs.  She doesn't particularly want to rehash the conversations that they had.  "It's going to take time," she says finally.  "Frank still thinks..." She shakes her head. "Well, it doesn't really matter what Frank thinks."  She squeezes Olivia's hand. 

"Are you sure?  He is this baby's father."

Natalia straightens, feeling stung by the reminder.  She had known that sleeping with Frank was a mistake as soon as it had happened.  Guilt had consumed her immediately afterward.  There had been nothing solid between her and Olivia for her to betray, but her actions had felt like a betrayal nonetheless.  She had known what she was feeling for Olivia, even if she could barely admit it to herself.  That made it inexcusable. Now this reminder of her child's parentage feels like an accusation and she isn't expecting it from Olivia. "Of course I'm sure. I told you, I'm not getting back together with Frank."  Her statement comes out harsher than she intends, and defensive.

Olivia's flinch isn't lost on her.  "Olivia..." Natalia struggles for a moment to put her thoughts into words.  "If I married Frank because of this baby, it would be for all of the wrong reasons, especially since I'm in love with you. I would be miserable and so would he, even if he wouldn't admit it. And it certainly wouldn't be a good environment to raise a child."  The more she speaks, the more certain she feels.  It's slowly washing away the wrongness she felt when she was speaking with Frank earlier, when it became clear that Frank still wants them to be a couple. She can't just go along for a second time; living a lie hurt them all too much.

Olivia nods, and the look in her eyes seems almost completely free of the sadness and insecurity that Natalia so hates to see there.  Olivia changes the subject with a smile.

"Have you eaten?"

Natalia shakes her head.  She hadn't felt like eating when she'd returned from Frank's and then it hadn't seemed worth the effort to fix herself a meal. 

"Okay, then. I'm going to fix us dinner," Olivia says in a tone that leaves no room for argument.  "Em and I were just about to order something when you called."

Natalia smiles at the mental image of Olivia and Emma piled up on Olivia's big bed, pouring over the Beacon's room service menu the way they do every time, even though she's pretty certain they both have it memorized by now.  "Thank you." Even if she isn't particularly hungry, she appreciates Olivia taking care of her.  "The takeout menus are still in the drawer by the refrigerator."

Olivia laughs.  "Oh, no. I'm not ordering you takeout.  I'm cooking you dinner."

Natalia blinks in surprise and her eyes narrow.  "Since when do you cook?"

Olivia grins, giving her that smile that is knowing and slightly flirtatious.  Natalia has just laid a challenge at her feet whether she knows it or not, and Olivia is always up for a challenge. 

"Just because I don't cook, doesn't mean I can't – when I want to."  She shrugs, still giving Natalia that same look.  "Do you mind checking on Emma?  I'll have dinner going by the time you get back down."

"You don't even know what's in the kitchen," Natalia protests weakly, mainly because she doesn't know what's in her kitchen, and she's a little bit embarrassed by that.  She has been distracted for the past few days and home cooked meals have slid to the wayside.

"I'm sure I'll find something," Olivia counters confidently as she stands and offers a hand to Natalia to help her up.  Her hand lingers on Natalia's after they've stood and for a moment neither woman makes a move to leave.  Natalia catches herself staring at their joined hands, marveling at how soft Olivia's skin is and how much she doesn't want to let go. 

When she realizes that she's staring, Natalia flushes and looks up.  Olivia is watching her with penetrating green eyes that always make Natalia's breath catch in her throat.  The smile on Olivia's face is knowing, now, and makes Natalia blush even more.  She starts to pull her hand away, but Olivia only holds tighter.  Slowly she brings their joined hands up until she can place a feather light kiss on the back of Natalia's hand. 

The fire in Olivia's eyes is almost palpable, as she clears her throat and steps back, gesturing behind her.  "I'm, uh, going to go work on dinner." 

Natalia can't help but be charmed and almost forgets how embarrassed she was to be caught looking.  Olivia backs toward the kitchen, allowing their hands to drift apart gently.  Natalia stares after her for a moment before she shakes herself out of her momentary Olivia-induced daze, takes a deep breath and heads toward the stairs to check on Emma. 

This evening isn't going the way she expected.  Instead of being alone in a darkened house, it's filled with life, laughter, and the sense of safety, comfort and warmth that Olivia always seems to bring with her when Natalia is around her now.  There's is still so much that they need to discuss, a myriad of issues to resolve.  Her son still won't come home, but what she has right now is far more than she imagined she would have when the day started. 

Natalia is pleasantly full from Olivia's delicious dinner, as she lies in bed.  Tomorrow she will have to remember to ask where Olivia learned to cook like that.  The older woman is still full of surprises.  The bed is soft and the sheets are just as comfortable as they've always been, but as exhausted as she is, sleep just won't claim her.  She had thought it would be imminent as she and Olivia put Emma to bed earlier.  She had felt herself drifting off several times as Olivia read a bedtime story to Emma, but now that she is actually in bed, the peaceful oblivion of sleep is eluding her.

Instead of drifting off into a dream, Natalia finds herself pondering the future. It's true that she's more financially stable now than she's ever been in her life, but there's more to life than money.  She wonders how she will explain this life to her baby - that she never really loved this child's father.  At least with Rafe she had a pretty fantasy to hold onto for herself and to give to him.  If Gus had found out before he left, their lives would have been different.  This time, there is no pretty fantasy.  She's going into this with her eyes wide open.

She's well aware of the exhaustion brought on by endless nights with too little sleep, long days filled with anxiety about her child when she can't be with them, the ever present doubt about whether she is raising the child the right way or if she is simply making more mistakes.  Are Rafe's stints in juvenile hall and jail really his fault or can they be laid at the altar of bad parenting? His most recent judge certainly seems to think that's the case.  And then there's the question of religion. With Rafe it was her salvation, her foundation, her support system and the community that she clung to when everything else had been stripped away from her, but now...now she will be barely welcome.  It's worse than when she was a pregnant teenage mother.  There are sins that cannot forgiven, forgotten, or overlooked, it seems. 

Tears begin to fill Natalia's eyes and she squeezes her eyelids tightly shut, to keep them from falling. It's something of a pointless effort since she's alone in her own bed surrounded by darkness with no one there to see her.  But she's tired of crying, of being ashamed.  She's ashamed that the weakest part of her wants this to be easy.  Everything has been so hard and all she can think about is taking a break from it all.  As she thinks it though, she realizes that a break would mean a break from Olivia and Emma, and this little family that they've created has been the only thing getting her through the day lately.

Natalia rolls onto her side and struggles to find a more comfortable position.  She knows that in a few months' time it will be virtually impossible to find a comfortable spot to lie in, and she should savor this relative ease while she still can. Tonight it's not making a difference, however.  The sheets are twisted around her feet now and she kicks at them, growing more and more frustrated as they refuse to let go and untangle.  She's sweating and almost in tears before she finally manages to get free. 

Sitting up, Natalia decides that sleep just isn't going to come for the moment.  Picking her worn terrycloth robe off the footboard, she pulls it on before she leaves the room.  Her intention is to head down to the kitchen for a glass of warm milk. It was always the solution she recommended for Rafe when he couldn't sleep, but when she walks past Olivia's door, she hesitates.  The loneliness has been kept mostly at bay since Olivia and Emma appeared at her door earlier, but now that she's alone in the dark again, it's returned in full force, bringing her troubled thoughts and the feeling of desperation that's beginning to rise up within her.

Her fingers brush against Olivia's door.  It isn't shut completely and the door swings open several inches.  It's dark inside Olivia's room and although she can make out faint shadows from the light drifting in from the open window, Natalia can't see Olivia in her bed.  

"Olivia?" She whispers into the darkness.  She isn't expecting her to answer. She knows all too well how deeply Olivia sleeps and how hard she is to rouse, but the shadows suddenly shift as she realizes that Olivia is walking toward her. 

"Hey," Olivia says softly.  "Are you okay?  What's wrong?"  

"Nothing," Natalia hurries to reassure her.  "Nothing. I just couldn't sleep."

Olivia laughs.  "Funny. I was having a hard time falling asleep too."  The understanding in her voice eases Natalia's uncertainty at having shown up in Olivia's room like a scared child. 

"I was going down to the kitchen to make some warm milk.  Do you want some?" Natalia offers.  Maybe if they're both there she can relax enough to get some sleep.  The nagging voice in the back of her mind, however, tells her that she'll just be facing more sleepless when she returns to bed, alone once again.

Olivia hesitates too long before she answers and Natalia wonders if she's searching for an easy way to turn her down. 

"I'm sorry," Natalia says as she steps back.  "I shouldn't have bothered you."

"No, wait," Olivia speaks quickly, reaching out to catch Natalia's wrist before she can back any further away. "I'm glad you did. Tell me what's wrong."

Natalia shrugs, looking down.  "I can't stop thinking.  Every time I close my eyes, it's the same thing.  I keep going around in circles and I can't slow down and relax."  

"Me too," Olivia admits.  "It's a lot to take in.  We had a big surprise today; it's no wonder that neither of us can sleep.  There's a lot we still have to decide." Olivia hesitates again. "I have an idea, but I don't know...."

Olivia is usually a confident woman, not prone to second thoughts or hesitation. At least not as far as anyone else is concerned.  With Natalia, she is different.  She is often uncertain and cautious.  Natalia appreciates that Olivia is careful with their relationship, but she hates it too.  She hates that her doubts and fears have given Olivia reason to doubt them.  She doesn't want their relationship to be some fragile thing that Olivia is constantly worried about shattering.   She wants to give Olivia strength and comfort in the same way that Olivia's belief in her lets her be a stronger person.

"Tell me," Natalia says gently. "What are you thinking?"

Olivia plays with the hem of her pajama top before she looks up at Natalia, from underneath the dark strands of hair falling across her eyes.  "Come lay down with me."  She waits a second for Natalia to say something and then continues. "Just to sleep.  We've done it before - at the spa - remember?  And neither of us will be alone with our thoughts.  We can talk until we get sleepy, then you can go back to your room if you want.  I just...."  She shakes her head and trails off.

Inwardly Natalia marvels at the way Olivia is handing her everything that she, herself, needs - someone to be there with her in the darkness, and keep her turbulent thoughts at bay -  but is to nervous to ask for.  Not that Olivia doesn't sound nervous, but her boldness has always exceeded Natalia's. 

"Olivia," Natalia speaks quickly before Olivia can start thinking the worst.  "I would really like that."

"Yeah?"  The tender, hopefulness of that one syllable takes Natalia by surprise. 

"Oh, yes."

Slowly, Olivia backs up, leading Natalia toward the bed.  She lets go when they reach the foot of the bed and steps around to her usual side.  She sits and pulls back the covers for Natalia on the opposite side.  They've done this before. Natalia remembers the few times with incredible detail, but she can still feel her stomach fluttering.  Not from nausea or fear, but the best kind of nerves because she's about to get into bed with Olivia Spencer.

"Hey." The softly spoken word draws Natalia out of her thoughts. "We don't have to do this." 

It's only then that Natalia realizes she's stopped moving and is standing by the side of the bed. She bites her lip and shakes her head, although Natalia isn't sure that Olivia can see either gesture.  The only reason she's hesitant is because she's afraid she might want this too much.

"I know we don't have to," Natalia says, pulling the sheets and comforter a little bit further down before she sits on the edge of the bed.  "But I want to."  Her face heats up and she's glad that it will be lost from sight in the room's shadows.  

"Okay," Olivia replies as she slips under the cover on her side of the bed and lays back.  

Next to her, Natalia does the same thing.  Neither of them move in the enveloping darkness.  They lay perfectly still on their backs, nothing, not even their fingertips are touching.  Is it going to be this impossibly awkward all night long, Natalia wonders.  She doesn't want it to be.  She waits, hoping that Olivia will move toward her.  Maybe she doesn't want to.  Maybe she prefers her space when she's sleeping. 

"Are you still awake?"

Olivia's whisper startles her and Natalia almost jumps. 

"Yes."  She turns her head on the pillow to look over at Olivia, and finds her awkward position echoed back to her.  Neither of them has moved and both are still lying flat on their backs having to turn their heads at an awkward angle to see one another.  It all suddenly feels foolish to Natalia and she hopes she doesn't look as silly as she's beginning to suspect she does.  They're grown women, after all. Women who love each other.  They should be able to share a bed without all of this awkwardness.

Unable to take it anymore, Natalia rolls over on her side, pulling the pillow a little bit further underneath her head.  She smiles when a glimmer of light spilling in from the window illuminates the bemused look on Olivia's face and then Olivia copies her gesture, rolling onto her side.  No one can blame Natalia either, if she scoots a little bit closer to Olivia while she's distracted with getting situated.  After all, Natalia isn't ready to sleep and she doesn't want to wake Emma with their talking. 

This is much better Natalia decides, when Olivia's face is only inches from her own.  The silence becomes more comfortable and the tension eases as the pressing need to say something begins to fade.  Staring into Olivia's eyes, memorizing her striking features, is something that Natalia loves doing even in the dark like this where she can only make out the edge of her features. In the dim light they're free to indulge in a blatant perusal of one another that would be awkward in the full light of day.  They can stare as long as they want to without having to make excuses or worry if the other is growing uncomfortable under their gaze.

"Where did you learn to cook like that? Really." Natalia asks, her curiosity from earlier suddenly returning.  Sleep is still proving to be elusive and she needs a distraction.  Not that Olivia isn't distracting enough on her own, but those thoughts lead in a direction she's not prepared to follow tonight.

Olivia's chuckle sends soft puffs of warm air brushing across her skin.

"Still can't get over that little display of culinary mastery, huh?" Olivia can't resist teasing her.  "I trained to be a chef on San Cristobel."

"Wow." Natalia is truly surprised.  Olivia's never hinted about this piece of her past. "I had no idea."

Natalia feels the slight movement of the mattress as Olivia shrugs.  "It was a long time ago."  There's a pause and then she adds, "I had to learn to do something to support Sam and Marissa and it turned out I was good at it."  The pride in her voice is unmistakable and it brings a smile to Natalia's face.

She shifts closer to Olivia without even realizing it.  "So, why did you stop?"

"There were a lot of reasons, but mainly, I wanted something else.  Money," Olivia admits with slight hesitation, "And power."  She knows that Natalia doesn't understand the lust for that sort of thing and she hopes that Natalia doesn't judge her too harshly for it. 

"What was it like? San Cristobel," Natalia clarifies.  Their bodies are almost touching now and Natalia's arms are wrapped around Olivia's arm.  Her long hair brushes across Olivia's shoulder and the bare skin of her arm raises goosebumps on Olivia's skin.

Olivia smiles, her eyes drifting up to the ceiling above her as she thinks back.  "It was beautiful," she says wistfully.  "So beautiful."  She turns her smile on Natalia. "You would love it." 

Natalia shifts a fraction closer so that her forehead is resting against Olivia's shoulder.  "Tell me about it."

And Olivia does: the gentle rhythm and rich tone of her voice eventually lulling Natalia into sleep.


Part Five

"Mom!" Emma's excited exclamation jerks Natalia out of a deep sleep. She freezes as she realizes she is in Olivia's bed and Emma is currently jumping on the end of it, occasionally landing on each of their legs. Her eyes are still closed and she wonders if Emma will assume she's still asleep. She wonders what Emma will think about any of it - about being in Olivia's bed, being with Olivia, or being pregnant. She hopes Emma doesn't hate her for any or all of it. She doesn't think Emma will, but then again she hadn't thought Rafe would be as hateful as he has been. And fear is rarely ever reasonable or logical.

Despite Emma's bouncing, she can feel Olivia beginning to shift sleepily beside her. A rush of gratitude flashes through her. She's grateful that at least she won't have to deal with this by herself.

"Em," Olivia slurs groggily from beside her. "Em, stop bouncing."

The little girl's enthusiasm can't be contained, however, and eventually, Olivia is forced to sit up. She reaches out blindly for her daughter, catching her shoulder mid-bounce and uses her momentum to pull Emma against her chest. Emma giggles as her Mom wraps her in a hug and holds her close before the squirming gets to be too much and she sets her free.

"What are you doing up so early, Jellybean?" Olivia asks, glancing over at Natalia as she catches Emma's bare foot and runs a finger down its tender sole drawing squeals and laughter from her extremely ticklish daughter.

The covers are pulled up around Natalia so that only part of her face is sticking out. Olivia is watching her and Natalia can see the concern and the slight tension that is etched in the lines of her face. She is worried that Natalia is going to freak out with Emma's sudden appearance or perhaps because they spent the night in the same bed.

"The barbecue, Mom!" Emma declares, her disbelief that her mother could forget about the celebration clear in her voice. "We have to get up early, so we can be there early! I want to play all of the games."

A sudden wave of nausea grips Natalia and she throws the covers back. Her hand flies to cover her mouth as she sprints for the bathroom. Distantly, she hears Olivia tell Emma to go get dressed and she'll be downstairs in a moment to fix Emma breakfast. All Natalia can focus on is the way her stomach roils as she's pants over the toilet, praying for the feeling to go away.

There's a quick knock on the door and a moment later, before she can get control of herself enough to respond, it's opened. Olivia kneels down beside Natalia on the cool tile of the bathroom floor and without a word, pulls Natalia's long hair out of her face and holds it behind her. Her other hand rubs soothing circles on Natalia's back.

When she can finally breathe for a moment without having the urge to throw up, Natalia groans and sits back. Olivia moves with her, letting go of her hair only when she's sure she's going to be okay. She then gets up to get a glass of water, handing it to Natalia, who holds it for a moment, but doesn't drink yet. The thought of putting anything in her stomach is not appealing.

"Can I get you anything else?" Olivia asks. "What about some crackers?"

"That sounds good." Well, not good, maybe, but Natalia knows they're supposed to settle her stomach, and at the moment she would give anything for it to just settle down.

When Olivia returns several moments later, she sits down beside Natalia with a sleeve of crackers in hand. She pushes slightly damp hair back from Natalia's face and tucks it behind her ear, then opens the crackers and holds one out to Natalia.

"Feeling any better?"

Natalia shrugs. Left alone, she had been thinking, anything to take her mind off the way that her stomach feels. "Emma seems really excited about the barbecue."

It isn't her imagination that Olivia immediately looks more guarded. Olivia pulls her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them and resting her chin on her knee.

"She is really excited. She's looking forward to all of the games."

"She wants me to run the three-legged race with her," Natalia reminds her.

"You know," Olivia says slowly, "If you're not feeling up to racing - or even going - I'm sure she wouldn't mind if we told her that you weren't feeling good."

Olivia is giving her an out. Natalia recognizes it immediately because Olivia is good at giving her outs - maybe too good. 'Two people who are what, exactly, to each other? 'Cause Phillip's gonna wanna know.' 'I think you should marry Frank.' She took those outs and look where it got her - almost marrying a man that she doesn't love - and now sitting on her bathroom floor pregnant. Still, Natalia takes a moment before she answers. She wants to be certain before she says anything to Olivia. The thought of going to the barbecue with Olivia is more nerve-racking now than it was before she knew she was pregnant. Before that, all she had to consider was herself and that she was tired of waiting. Rafe is nearly a grown man and she's tired of putting her life on hold for him when he won't even speak to her or let her in at all for that matter. It doesn't mean that she's given up on him, just that she needs to live her own life for herself. Wasn't he always telling her that she needed a life of her own, something else to worry about besides him?

Now she's scared. It's different now because she's carrying Frank's baby. She's not showing yet, but eventually people will find out. Going to the barbecue with Olivia now will add an extra level of salaciousness to the inevitable gossip about them when people do begin to find out that she's pregnant. Can she handle the looks and the whispering behind their backs? She had thought this feeling was behind her. She bites her lip against the remembered emotions. She's not sixteen anymore and she never wanted to feel that way again.

"Natalia." Olivia squeezes her hand gently. "If you don't want to go, it's okay. I understand."

"If we go today," Natalia says, "It won't be easy. Frank is angry. He'll probably cause a scene and Rafe..." She shakes her head. She hardly recognizes the man her son has become.

"Do you want to go?" Olivia asks softly. "Forget about Frank, and just for a minute, forget about Rafe. Do you want to go to the barbecue with me? And Emma," she adds with a smile a moment later. "Can't leave out Emma."

"I...yes, but, Olivia..."

Olivia smiles. "Then let me worry about Frank and Rafe. I can handle what they say about me. I've been handling what people say about me for years. I talked to Phillip yesterday about telling Emma and he supports us. He said he would help if he heard anyone saying anything we wouldn't want Emma hearing."

Natalia blinks, surprised by this development. In the midst of all of this she's forgotten that Phillip and Olivia had even talked.

"That's amazing, Olivia."

"I know. Who would have thought that Phillip would turn out to be supportive?"

Natalia shakes her head as another thought occurs to her. "Emma."

"She's downstairs." Olivia gives her a wry grin. "I gave her Fruit Loops. I figured one decidedly un-nutritious breakfast wouldn't permanently stunt her growth and she's going to be eating enough junk at the barbecue today that it really won't matter what we give her now."

"No, I meant, she still doesn't know."

Olivia nods, her head tilting down. "Yeah," Olivia says softly, "And I've been thinking about that actually." She looks up at Natalia. "I think we should tell her that you're pregnant at the same time we tell her about us."

Natalia sighs and slumps a little bit further into the wall. "She's going to be so confused." What she's more frightened of is that Emma will hate her, will no longer want her to be a part of their lives. She's not sure what she'll do if Emma can't handle this either.

"Natalia, it's going to be okay." Olivia's confidence catches her attention. "I promise," she adds firmly. "Emma loves you no matter what. You're her other mommy." Olivia can't quite hide the depth of emotion in her voice and Natalia smiles, feeling like her heart is breaking at those simple words.

"Okay." She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "Then I think we need to tell her before the barbecue." She holds both hands out to Olivia. "Help me up?"

"You want to tell her now?" Olivia sounds surprised as she scrambles to stand and then takes Natalia's hands.

"There's no time like the present," Natalia says, trying to sound cheery and confident, but not quite managing it. That's more Olivia's department really. Her heart is racing and she feels shaky as Olivia helps her up.

As they stand, there's only a few inches separating them. For just an instant, their closeness is awkward and then, just as suddenly, it melts away. This is the woman she shared a bed with the night before, who held her while she was sleeping and kept the nightmares and distressing thoughts away; the woman who didn't go anywhere when she found out that she was pregnant, has done nothing but be there for her. This is the woman she loves.

Natalia steps closer to Olivia, erasing the distance that remains between them and slips her arms around her. She melts into Olivia's body and lays her head against her chest. Olivia holds her just as tightly, one hand rubbing slow circles on her back, as the other sinks into Natalia's hair. They linger there, soaking in the comfort of their embrace. Natalia nuzzles into the warm skin of Olivia's neck and savors her intoxicating scent, a mix of perfume and something heady that's uniquely Olivia.

Olivia's arm tightens around her briefly, and then she's ducking her head to press a kiss against Natalia's neck. She can just barely feel the softness of Olivia's lips through long strands of her hair. In Olivia's arms, the last of her discomfort vanishes, and she feels strong once again. They can do this. Together they can tell Emma and go to the barbecue.

"It's going to be okay?" Natalia needs to hear it one more time.

"It's going to be okay," Olivia says confidently.

"Okay," She exhales slowly. "Let's go tell Emma."

When they come downstairs hand-in-hand Emma is not only eating Fruit Loops, but is plopped down on the couch watching cartoons.

"Why don't you turn that down, Em?" Olivia suggests. "We need to talk to you."

Her daughter obliges, the remote looking too big in her child-size fingers. "Okay, Mom." She sets the remote down and fiddles with her spoon for a minute. "Are we still going to the barbecue?" She asks suddenly, sensing that this is a serious conversation. She's a little bit nervous with her two moms focused on her so intently. The last time they talked like this they had moved out of the farmhouse. She doesn't want more bad news today. What she wants is to go to the Fourth of July festivities.

"Of course we're going," Olivia reassures her. "What else would we do with all those rice crispy treats?"

"Eat them?" Emma suggests hopefully, bouncing up so quickly on the couch that she almost spills her bowl of milk.

"Well, I guess we could, but I still think it would be more fun to go to the barbecue. What about you?"

"I want to go!" Emma nods her head quickly to emphasize her point, but she hasn't forgotten that this started out as a serious conversation.

"Good." Olivia fingers the hem of her robe for a moment and Emma notices that her Mom is holding Natalia's hand. "You see, Em..." She trails off, looking over at Natalia for support. They should have rehearsed, Olivia thinks wildly. Why did she dismiss that as a plan? She takes a deep breath and starts over. "Do you remember the paper you did for your class about what made your family unique?"

Emma nods because, duh! of course she remembers. It hasn't been that long since she wrote it and she got to do it again in front of all of the parents.

"The thing is, when you wrote that, neither of us," she gestures between she and Natalia, "realized what we had either. Your paper started to make us see that." She takes a deep breath. "And eventually I realized that I was in love with Natalia and she was in love with me."

Emma looks back and forth between them now. A tiny furrow forms on her brow. "Is that what you wanted to tell me?"

Olivia and Natalia exchange a quick glance. "Yes, Baby. It was."

"But I already know that you two love each other."

Olivia bites her lip, a grin tugging at the corner of her mouth, as she looks over at Natalia. What are they supposed to say to that? Are they supposed to explain to their little girl why this is a big deal? Maybe not.

"We might...act a little bit differently around each other sometimes," Natalia says slowly. "I like getting hugs and kisses from your mommy. Does that bother you?"

The look on Olivia's face tells Natalia that it definitely doesn't bother her, but it's certainly surprised her. Natalia kind of likes that. But right now she needs to focus on Emma - Emma, who is still looking at them like she doesn't quite understand.

She shrugs. "But you two hug all the time."

Olivia turns her quick laugh into a light cough. "You'll understand better when you get older, Jellybean." She hesitates. Despite the moments of humor she isn't quite sure how this is going. "So you're okay with this?"

Another shrug from slender shoulders. "I guess." It's clear that she's not quite sure what she should be okay with. "Does this mean we get to move back in here soon?" She directs the question to Olivia with her best pleading eyes.

This time it's Natalia's turn to rescue her as she deftly steps back into the conversation.

"Someday, I hope." She looks over at Olivia. "Maybe even someday soon."

This is news to Olivia, but she definitely likes the way it sounds.

"Okay," Emma says brightly, happy enough for the moment. She is already aware that 'maybe' is always better than 'no'. "Is that all?" She's done with her Fruit Loops and she's ready to get back to her cartoons - at least until her mommies are ready and then they can go to the barbecue.

Emma's innocent question reminds Natalia that they still have more to tell her and Natalia's hand clamps down on Olivia's in a sudden resurgence of her nerves. Olivia winces despite her best effort to keep the pain from her expression. She picks up their joined hands and brings them to her lap, cradling Natalia's hand with her own and hoping that her reassurance will calm Natalia. Her grip doesn't ease, however.

"Actually there's one more thing, Emma." Olivia says slowly, looking over at Natalia. She wants to tell her daughter now. She's tired of keeping secrets and hiding things from her little girl. She wants it all out in the open, but if Natalia can't do this yet, she can wait. It's a thin line, walking the balance between her daughter and the woman she loves, but both of them are more than worth it. She can't live without either of them.

Natalia nods a little bit shakily and Olivia gives her a reassuring smile. They've come this far; the rest will be okay.

"Natalia is pregnant. She's going to have a baby in a few months." Okay, so maybe that came out of her mouth a little bit more bluntly than she intended, but she tries her best not to lie to her daughter, and she's not about to start now. Besides, how do you ease into that statement?

"Really?" Emma looks surprised and actually kind of impressed. She turns to Natalia for confirmation. "You're having a baby?"

Natalia nods, smiling at the little girl. Only Olivia can read the terror in her eyes or see the strained edges of her smile. She knows how big a piece of Natalia's heart Emma holds. She needs Emma's acceptance and approval desperately.

"Is it a boy or a girl?"

Natalia's smile begins to lose its tension, and she shakes her head slightly. "I don't know yet, baby."

"So I'm going to have a baby brother or sister?"

Olivia hears Natalia's gasp and caresses Natalia's hands gently, knowing the strength of the emotion that's taken the other woman in its grip, because she's fighting to keep the same emotion from tracking happy tears down her own cheeks.

"That's right." Olivia manages to get the words out, her voice deepening with emotion. "You are. Now," she clears her throat looking back and forth between her two favorite girls, "I believe we have a barbecue to get ready for."

Olivia waits until Emma has disappeared into the kitchen with her bowl before she turns to Natalia. "Are you okay?"

Natalia nods, wiping at the tears trailing down her cheeks. But instead of lessening, her tears intensify until she's almost sobbing. Worried, Olivia wraps an arm around her shoulders and pulls her in close to her.

"What's wrong? Emma was okay. Did I say-"

Natalia shakes her head, quickly denying that it is anything that Olivia has done. Slowly, still wrapped in Olivia's arms, she begins to regain her composure. Her breathing slows and her tears begin to ease.

"I'm sorry," Natalia finally says shakily, her voice breaking on the last word. "I didn't mean to get so emotional."

"It's okay," Olivia says softly. "You're pregnant. I think it's allowed."

Natalia lets out a choked laugh, her throat still tight from crying, and relaxes even further into Olivia's embrace. "I'm so glad we finally told her."

Olivia hesitates for a moment, tilting her head to try and look at Natalia's face but the angle is wrong and she doesn't want to pull away from the woman in her arms. Her words remind Olivia that she - they - didn't get to tell Rafe about them in their own way. That decision was taken out of their hands by careless laughter and allowing themselves to get lost in a moment of simply being together and enjoying each others' company. Olivia lets out a soft sigh. This is why she never wanted their relationship to begin because whether it's intentional or not she always hurts the people that she loves.

"Not like Rafe found out, right?" Olivia isn't accusatory, just resigned.

Natalia reaches up, her hand curving around Olivia's cheek, to reassure her with a touch. "I wish he had found out differently; I wish I'd had a better chance to make him understand, but," she takes a deep breath, "I don't regret anything about us." She twists a little bit in Olivia's embrace so that she can look at her. "Do you believe me?"

Olivia can't quite meet her eyes and finally she gives a small shrug. "I want to believe you, but I know how much your son means to you. That's why what Emma thinks means so much to both of us."

"You're right. I am happy - so, unbelievably happy - that Emma isn't upset about us, because I love her as if she were my own daughter, and I think it would break my heart if I heard another child telling us this was wrong."

"Natalia..." But Natalia puts a finger over her lips, gently cutting her off.

"I don't think what we have is wrong. I don't! But hearing it from him is hard, because I want him to be a part of this family so badly." Natalia swallows, taking a moment before she starts speaking again. "That's why I was so relieved when Emma didn't...say anything like Rafe did. I want her to be happy, not miserable like he is right now."

"I wish I could make everything better," Olivia admits softly. "But I don't know how. All I know is that your son loves you and you love him. He can't hold out against that - no one can. I didn't."

Her admission draws a startled laugh from Natalia and it makes Olivia smile as well. She's relieved to have made her happy, even if it's only for a moment. This isn't the day she'd been planning for. The events of yesterday have changed everything and there is no going back, but she still wants this day to be as perfect as possible and making Natalia happy is the first step in that direction. She wants her whole family to be happy. Hell, today she might even settle for wishing Reva Shayne happiness. Love does strange things.

"You know, I do happen to remember something else from our conversation with Emma that was interesting," Olivia adds when Natalia is still smiling a moment later.

"Oh?" Natalia asks, a bit of amusement returning to her voice as she hears the hint of mischief in Olivia's tone.

"Yeah. Apparently you like my kisses." Olivia has never seen a flush darken Natalia's skin quite like it's doing at this moment, but she decides she likes it very much. She leans closer to Natalia, the tension electric between them. "I didn't know that."

It's her final sentence that gets Natalia to look at her again. She's still blushing, but she's more confident now. "Of course I like it when you kiss me." She's whispering but her words are urgent and full of sincerity.

Olivia cups her cheek. "You never said anything."

Natalia shrugs. "I didn't know how to."

Olivia nods in understanding because this is Natalia and she knows her better than anyone else. She can feel the heat of Natalia's skin under her hand and it's driving her wild, pulling her attention away from this light, teasing conversation and turning it into something more intense. The pad of her thumb grazes the underside of Natalia's bottom lip. She hears Natalia's breath catch, but she's too caught up in the sensations of her skin against Natalia's to look up and meet her eyes. She's lost in the sight Natalia's full, soft lips, hypnotized by how easy it would be to close the distance between them and taste Natalia's lips with her own.

In the kitchen, Emma drops something, and it pulls Olivia back sharply from the edge of temptation. Natalia catches her gaze and she smiles. In it, Olivia can see her longing and frustration echoed back to her, with just a bit of amusement mixed in. The moment fades and Olivia lets out the breath she hadn't realized she was holding.

Decision made, Olivia acts decisively. She leans closer and presses her lips to one perfect dimple. She feels it widen even further under her quick, light touch and knows that Natalia smile just got bigger.

"Someday, Natalia," she promises as she sits back. "Someday soon."

Natalia is still smiling. "I'm holding you to that."

"Oh, I can't wait."


Part Six

It's hard to be terrified with Emma's excited energy coursing through the car like a live wire, and Natalia is grateful for the distraction that the little girl is providing.  She and Olivia are virtually silent on the ride from the farmhouse to the Bauer's.  Emma's chatter never seems to stop but instead of being annoying the animated river of sound soothes Natalia.

"We're here," Olivia announces quietly. 

Emma is practically bouncing in the backseat.  She barely waits for Olivia to put the car in park before she unbuckles her seatbelt and grabs the rice crispy treats.  She's out the door an instant later, but hovers near the car, knowing better than to run off too far without one of her mothers, but too impatient to sit in the car any longer.

Natalia smiles nervously at Olivia.  They really are here.  There's no going back now - not that she wants to - but this is it: the moment where they are going to make a statement in front of everyone about who they are to each other.  It is a moment for boldness, and Natalia has always preferred to blend into the crowd instead of stand out from it.  This time however, she doesn't have a choice.  She knows what she wants.

As she looks over at Olivia, Natalia notices that beneath Olivia's confident smile, there is a definite nervousness in the way that she won't meet Natalia's eyes, her gaze flicking everywhere but there.   That's when Natalia sees past the smile and realizes that this nervousness is for her benefit.  She knows it isn't about the people at the barbecue.  There's no one here - except, perhaps, for Phillip - who's opinion Olivia cares about, and only because she wants his cooperation to make Emma's life as uncomplicated as possible.  No, what Natalia suddenly understands is that Olivia is scared this will be too much for her now that the moment has arrived.  Or maybe, that this has always been too much for her. 

It isn't that Olivia doubts her love, but she doubts her worthiness, whether Natalia will still choose her in the face of people's disapproval. When people are whispering about them and making snide comments will she still be willing to stand with Olivia? 

But Olivia's doubts offer her a distraction, just as surely as Emma's excitement.  It gives her something to hold onto as she looks into the face of her fears, and it makes her brave.  How can she falter when she can have this relationship - this family - if she's willing to take the narrow path, where the way is not wide and easy?

Natalia smiles at her reassuringly, and reaches over to touch Olivia's wrist.  "I'm glad we're not waiting anymore."

"Are you?" 

"I am," Natalia says firmly, testing the words even as she says them, realizing she does mean them.  "If we keep waiting for the perfect moment, or for everyone to be okay with us, we'll never be together and I don't want to have to wait forever to be with you."

The smile that Olivia gives her is brilliant.  Olivia has a hundred different smiles, but this is one of the ones that Natalia loves the best.  It is open and unguarded, giving a glimpse into the depths of her heart, made all the more dear by the fact that Olivia reserves this smile only for those closest to her.

"Then let's go," Olivia says softly.  She glances back at Emma who's practically dancing with impatience beside the car, and lets out a small laugh.  "Before Emma can't stand it any more."

The sun is warm on Natalia's face as she gets out of the car. It caresses her skin and suffuses her with a sense of well-being that she knows originates from the woman standing on the other side of the car.  They're both waiting for her when she gets there.  Emma is still carrying their offering for the barbecue and Olivia is idly playing with Emma's ponytail.  When she sees Natalia, her hand drops to Emma's shoulder and she holds out her other hand to Natalia, who smiles, lacing their fingers together.

"Are we ready?" Natalia asks both of them.  

Emma is oblivious to the hints of nervousness that still spark between them despite their mutual determination to see this through.  "I can't wait," she declares loudly.  "Natalia, are you still going to do the three legged race with me?"

"Of course I am," Natalia reassures her, flashing Olivia a smile at Emma's enthusiasm.  They both love to see her happy.  

Slowly they begin to walk toward the Bauer house, as Emma runs in front of them.  "Are you sure you should be running three legged races right now?"  Olivia asks in a quiet tone, so Emma won't overhear.  

Her concern surprises Natalia - not that Olivia would be concerned, but that she hadn't even considered it.  Her memories of being pregnant are distant - nineteen years is a long time - but what she does remember is how hard she worked the entire time she was pregnant.  There was no stopping or slowing down.  She didn't have the option then.  One race is nothing compared to an eight hour shift of waitressing.

"I think it'll be fine." Natalia says, considering her answer.  "It's nothing too strenuous - just a three legged race with Emma. It's not like I'm going to be playing football or anything," she adds with a teasing grin. 

For a moment, Natalia can see that Olivia clearly wants to disagree, but then she nods. 

"Okay."  She pauses and looks over at Natalia.  "I just don't want you to feel like you have to do anything. I know how...persuasive Emma can be."

"I think it's sweet that you're looking out for me," Natalia admits.  "There was no one before..."

"I know," Olivia says, "But I want this time to be different for you.  I want to be with you for everything."  She hesitates.  "If that's what you want?"

This is the first time that Olivia has spoken about what part she wants to play in this child's life - in her life - and Natalia is a little bit overwhelmed. 

"I do want that."  Natalia stops walking and reaches over to take Olivia's hands.  "I want everything with you."  It seems incongruous for them to be having this conversation now as they're about to walk into a barbecue, but they've never done anything in the way that's expected and they certainly aren't about to start now. 

Olivia smiles again.  "I want that too."  There's a fierce look in her eyes that causes Natalia to catch her breath. For just an instant, she thinks Olivia is about to...but then that look is tamped down again and the tension between them eases.  Olivia blinks and the look doesn't fade, but it changes, softening just a little.  "You make me so happy, you know." 

"You make me happy too," Natalia manages to get the words past the lump in her throat.  They stand that way for a moment, looking into one another's eyes before they remember where they are and what they're doing, so they start walking again.

They're still holding hands when Emma rushes into the kitchen ahead of them and they find Phillip sitting against the edge of the table.  He glances at them, but his eyes are for Emma alone, bending down to talk to her. 

"Hi, Daddy!"

"Hey! What've you got there?

"Beats me. Mommy made them."  Which isn't strictly true because Emma was there with them the whole time, helping to read directions and stirring when she could.  Natalia wonders at Emma's sudden shyness around her father. It isn't like the little girl, most of the time.  She definitely has her mother's confidence and people skills.

"Oh, wow.  You must have a really great mommy." Phillip whispers, even though Natalia knows he means for Olivia to hear what he's saying.  It's the only reason he's saying it.  She shakes her head a little at the difference between this moment and the moment when she told Olivia that Phillip was back in town.  What a big difference a little time makes.

"She can hear you," Emma points out. 

"That's okay, because I don't think I ever told her that enough."  Phillip is still looking at Emma, not either of them.  It's the only way he can say the words that he wants Olivia to hear.  Natalia is actually a little bit amazed to be included in this private family moment; because that is exactly what this is - a family moment: mother, father and daughter all together. 

Natalia is standing by Olivia's side but as Phillip sampled the rice crispy treats her mind wanders. Abruptly, she realizes that this is the first time she's seen this little family together.  This is what Emma's family would have looked like had Olivia and Phillip stayed together, not the hodge-podge she has now. There's a brief moment when Natalia feels completely out of place and she's about to drop Olivia's hand and leave, when Emma darts past her out of the kitchen, rice crispy treats in hand and intent to distribute written all over her eager little face.

Olivia glances over at her with her eyes shining and laughter still ringing in the air.  It's more than a friendly look and Natalia realizes that this is absolutely where she belongs. 

"Well Natalia helped.  She, she bakes." Her comment is directed at Phillip but she's still looking at Natalia.

He gestures at them with the treat in his hand.  "You told Emma about the two of you?" 

Natalia straightens at the comment and her heart begins to beat a little bit faster.  She's resolute about this and she knows what she wants, but she can't help her response.  It still makes her nervous.  She's not used to people's scrutiny of them, even if Phillip really isn't "people" and he seems to be more interested in what he's eating that watching every move that they make.

"We did," Olivia answers him.  "She seemed a little bit confused actually. I'm not sure she understood how it's different from when we lived at the farmhouse before."

Phillip's eyebrows shoot up and Natalia can see the question begging to come out of his mouth.  She wonders suddenly how this will look to the people who know them.  Will they assume that this has been going on for a long time?  Natalia wonders how wrong that assumption would be.  It's true that she and Olivia hadn't said anything to one another about their feelings prior to Natalia's aborted wedding, but their feelings had still been there, simmering under the surface of everything they said and did.  She remembers telling Phillip that she loved Olivia and Emma.  She had meant it then just as much as she means it now. 

"I'm sure she'll understand eventually."

Olivia nods slowly.  "If she asks you anything about us, will you let me know?"

"Of course," he agrees quickly, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his shorts and nodding affably.  "Actually," he continues. "I should probably get back out there before Rick manages to set something on fire."

"Sounds like a plan," Olivia agrees with him, her chuckle following him out of the room. When he's gone, she turns back to Natalia.  The smile that's been on her face most of the day when they weren't dealing with serious issues has returned and Natalia isn't sure she can remember ever seeing Olivia this happy for this long.  "That went well."

Natalia smiles back at her.  Despite her momentary doubts about her own place in this moment, she knows how much Phillip's words meant to Olivia.

"He's right, you know."  She says as she steps closer to Olivia.  "You are such a good mother."

"I hope you're right." 

Natalia lets out a soft laugh.  Olivia is such a mixture of incredible boldness and shyness.  It isn't a matter of one being more true; both emotions coexist in Olivia.  "You know I am," Natalia injects a teasing tone into her voice.  

"Always," Olivia agrees fondly.  Her expression turns serious for a moment.  "You know that would never have happened if not for you."

"I'm sure you and Emma would have come up with something to bring to the barbecue. After all you are a gourmet chef."

Olivia shakes her head.  "That's not what I meant.  He kidnapped my daughter, Natalia."  Olivia's hand drops back to her side and she clenches them into fists as she speaks.  "And I was ready to kill him to keep it from happening to her again."  The emotion almost chokes her as she speaks and she can feel the beginnings of tears stinging her eyes. "If you hadn't been there, it would have happened and I would have lost her anyway.  Now, we're standing here having a friendly conversation and he's telling me what a good mother I am." She shakes her head because she can't quite believe the things that have changed.

"You've had just as big an impact on my life, you know," Natalia tells her, emphasizing the words by reaching out to touch Olivia's arm just above her elbow.  

"Right," Olivia says, but Natalia can hear the doubt in her voice so she takes a step closer.

"No, I mean it.  Do you have any idea what you've done for me? And I don't just mean things like helping me get Rafe moved to a better prison or getting my money back from Decker.  No one has ever believed in me the way that you do.  You give me so much strength every day.  I don't know what I would have done without you here in my life.  Even when I didn't want you there, you were there for me every step of the way with Rafe when he was in prison.  You and Emma are so much a part of the good things in my life."

"You can say that?" Olivia asks. "Today?"

"Of course," Natalia replies immediately. "Of course I can. Because if I hadn't told you - if I weren't here with you and Emma..." She shakes her head. It isn't worth thinking about. "I don't know where I would be, but I do know that I would still be scared and miserable."

Olivia blinks rapidly at her words and pulls Natalia into an embrace.  Natalia sinks into it, savoring the feeling of being in Olivia's arms and reveling in the comfort and security that she has found there.

"Don't you dare, Emma Spencer!"  Olivia speaks sharply as her daughter runs toward her with a water balloon. 

Natalia laughs at the way Emma comically applies the breaks to her forward motion, as she comes up behind Olivia and leans against her shoulder.  Olivia smiles at her as she throws Bill to the wolves - or more accurately the balloon lobbing children. 

For a vital second, he's distracted by Olivia and Natalia's closeness and the water balloons that come at him from either side catch him completely by surprise when they bust open on his shirt.

Olivia laughs wickedly as he shakes his head and dives into the bag at his feet.  He comes up with more balloons, breaking them over the childrens' heads and sending them shrieking away from him. 

"Here, sit down."  She offers, scooting over on the lawn chair.  "I promise I won't bite."  Her tone, however, promises all manner of naughty things. It sends a shiver skittering down Natalia's spine, but her feet are aching and tired.  She sinks down onto the chair next to Olivia with a grateful smile.

"Emma looks like she's having fun," Natalia says as she leans into Olivia's side.

"She does." Olivia agrees, moving her arm from between them, and putting it around Natalia's shoulders.  

Even though the day is warm, Natalia savors the gesture and their closeness. 

"How about you?" Olivia questions.  "Are you having fun?"

"I am."

"Ladies."  Josh's smooth voice cuts into their conversation.  

Olivia glances up at him but doesn't move her hand or shift to put any space between them. Instead she smiles at her ex-husband and often-friend. "Josh." 

Natalia sees the amused twinkle in her eye and is glad that someone is getting some enjoyment out of this at least.  But this is Josh Lewis.  She doesn't know him particularly well, but what she does know she likes, and she suddenly finds herself not worrying about how he will react.  When she turns away from Olivia to face him, he's holding out two bottles of beer. 

"I thought you two looked thirsty."  Josh is smiling too, almost smirking as he looks at Olivia.  It's not mean, but amused. 

"Uh-huh," Olivia drawls, the disbelief clear in her voice as she accepts one of the condensation-covered bottles.  "That and you look as if you lost a bet.  I saw you over there with Rick and Matt."  She dips her head toward the grill.  "What were your terms?"

He shrugs and holds the other beer out to Natalia.  She takes it with a smile, but doesn't move to take a sip.  Josh takes off his sunglasses and runs his hand over his goatee. 

"Not a bet really.  More like I'm a wingman today."  He continues at Olivia's raised eyebrow.  "Rick is looking for love." He grins at Olivia.  "In your direction, actually."

This time Olivia's other eyebrow joins its mate.

"Matt seems to have been shot down twice in the past week, once by each of you ladies."

"I told you he was hitting on you," Olivia murmurs.  She's close enough to Natalia that her breath stirs the fine hairs on the back of her neck.  

"I told Rick I didn't think he had a chance, but he insisted that I come over here and scout out his prospects." 

Josh is looking too amused by this whole conversation, Olivia thinks.  But then, two can play at this game.  She's grateful that he doesn't mention their brief moment in the parking lot. 

"And what do you think? Of his prospects," she adds a moment later.

Josh laughs.  "Honestly, Olivia...I don't think he has a chance in hell."  He glances at Natalia and she's shaking her head with a smile on her face.  She shades her eyes as she looks up at him.

"I think you're right," Olivia agrees.  She gathers up her courage and leans forward to rest her chin on Natalia's shoulder, hoping that she won't mind. But this is the reason they came here, to declare to everyone what they are to one another.

To her relief, Natalia leans back, and Olivia exhales as Natalia reaches around to cover Olivia's hand where it's resting on Natalia's side. 

"Would you mind letting them know that she's very much taken?" 

A quick glance over at Natalia confirms that she's still smiling as she says it but Olivia likes the possessive note in her voice. 

"I can do that," Josh says with a nod.  He smiles again. "Actually it would be my pleasure."   

As he walks away, Olivia calls after him. "Thank you, Josh." 

He raises his sunglasses in salute before he heads back toward the grill. 

"Three down..." Olivia whispers against her cheek and Natalia laughs.

"The rest of Springfield to go?" Natalia finishes her sentence for her.

"Hey, now," Olivia protests gently. "I'm sure they'll help spread the word."

Natalia can't do anything but laugh again, because Olivia has a point, and she finds that it doesn't bother her.  She's okay with people knowing about them, and more than a little bit grateful to Josh for making that moment so easy.

Olivia is grateful for the shade.  The sun has moved on from pleasantly warm and graduated to down right hot.  Her shirt sticks uncomfortably to her back and she wonders how Natalia is faring out in the heat.  She still has reservations about the other woman running this race with Emma, but knows that Natalia doesn't want to let her daughter down.

"What the hell?" The startled verbal explosion from behind her whips Olivia around and brings her face to face with Rafe.  "What is she doing?"  Rafe glares at her, expecting an answer and Olivia has no idea where this is coming from.

Oh, she expects the anger.  Rafe is angry at them right now, but she's nowhere near Natalia, and that should make him happy.  Olivia feels her own temper beginning to stir.  That's her kid out there with Natalia and if Rafe continues this confrontation where Emma could be hurt by it, well, there's no telling what she might do.

"Emma asked her to run the three legged race with her." Olivia's voice loses its harsh edge as she begins to talk about her daughter.  "Apparently your Mom is faster than I am and Em really wants to win."

Rafe doesn't seem to be content with her explanation, however.  "How could you let her do that?" He demands again.  "Does what your kid wants mean that much to you?  You say you love my mom, but you make her do that? In her condition!"

Olivia almost laughs.  She manages to choke it back at the last second, but it's a close thing.  "First of all," she says slowly, stepping closer to him.  "I didn't - and don't - make Natalia do anything. She wanted to run that race with Emma. I tried to talk her out of it and she insisted. So don't take this out on me."  Olivia pauses and lowers her voice.  "And second, if you're so worried about your mother, why don't you go over there and actually talk to her instead of yelling at her. That hurts her a lot more than what she's doing right now."

Rafe is shaking his head.  "I can't!"  He tugs at his hair and takes a step back.  "I shouldn't have come.  I didn't want to see any of this!"

"What?" Olivia challenges him. "A family.  What do you think is going to happen here, Rafe?  We're at a barbecue with half the town! I'm not going to-"  She bites her words off and looks down.  She can't even finish her sentence.  "She has a lot going on right now, Rafe.  Especially with this baby."  She sighs and looks up at him again.  "I know you don't want to hear this, but I am going to be there for her and help her every way that I can.  Anything that she needs.  But she needs you too.  Your support - for her, even if it's not for us - would mean everything to her right now.  Think about it."

Rafe doesn't say anything as he backs away and his eyes are still hard and glittering, but Olivia can see the cracks beginning to form in his angry facade.  There's only so long that he can keep this up.

She turns her attention back to Natalia and Emma just in time to see them cross the finish line.  Their stumbling effort brings a small smile to her face.  The closer she gets to them the more she can feel the tension from her confrontation with Rafe draining away.  By the time she gets back over to them, she's smiling easily again and wraps them both in an embrace, consoling Emma over her loss as they walk away together.

Emma tugs at her hand a moment later.  "Why weren't you and Rafe in the race?  He was with you, and you said you wanted to be on his team," Emma reminds her. 

Olivia shares a startled look with Natalia, wishing that sometimes Emma didn't have such a good memory.  "I don't think he felt like racing today, Jellybean." 

"Oh." Emma sounds disappointed by his lack of enthusiasm.  On her other side, Natalia just looks worried and Olivia gives her a small smile over Emma's head that she hopes is reassuring.  Her conversation with Rafe - if it can really be called a conversation - wasn't all sunshine and roses, but Olivia still finds herself almost cheerful about it.  Or maybe it's just this day.  She can't seem to stop smiling.  There are moments when she stops and looks around that she can't believe she's really here in front of all of these people with Natalia and Emma as a true family. 

Olivia lets go of Emma's hand to wrap her arm around her daughter's shoulders and gives them a squeeze.  "Maybe next year."  And Olivia really means it.  There's no way to tell where they'll be in a year, but she can't help but think that things will be better.  Rafe will have had more time to get used to her and Natalia as a couple, and Olivia has a feeling that he won't be able to hold out against his mother's unconditional love for much longer.  His little outburst - while still annoying - was full of concern, albeit misguided - for his mother.  It's not much yet, but it's a start.

"Em, why don't you go get some lemonade for Natalia? You both look all hot and sweaty," Olivia teases her daughter.

As predicted, Emma wrinkles her nose at her mother's comment but runs off in the direction of the table where all of the food and drinks are being kept.  When Emma is out of earshot, Olivia reaches out to touch Natalia's wrist.  The gesture gets her attention immediately, as she glances away from watching Emma and turns her attention back to Olivia.

"I'm not really thirsty."  Natalia admits.

"I know."  Olivia shrugs.  "You do look hot though."  She can't resist the little emphasis on the next to last word.  She's Olivia Spencer.  Loving Natalia might have changed her in so many ways - mostly all for the good - but she's no saint.

Natalia flushes, and as much as Olivia might like to see how their conversation could progress further in this very pleasant direction, she knows that Emma will only be gone for so long. 

"Rafe was worried about you."  Olivia comments gently.  "He was upset that you were running the race in your condition."  Okay, so maybe she's paraphrasing a little bit, but what's important is that Rafe was concerned about Natalia, not how he spoke to her.  She can deal with that for now. 

Natalia is surprised.  "Really?" 

Olivia nods in confirmation. 

"I need to talk to him," Natalia says thoughtfully.  "Did he say anything about us?" 

There's a moment where she debates telling Natalia the rest.   There's not really a decision to make, however.  She doesn't want to lie to Natalia.  Not when she's ruined so many of the best things in her life with lies. 

"He was upset that I wasn't taking care of you better."

Natalia frowns, upset with her son's continued behavior toward Olivia.

"But it wasn't your fault.  I wanted to do it."

"I know.  He was just worried," Olivia soothes her.  "He's angry right now, and he doesn't know how to deal with it, so it's coming out at everyone."

Natalia gives her a startled look.  "When did you get so perceptive?"

Olivia lets out a slightly bitter laugh.  "This may come as a surprise to you, but I happen to know something about that kind of anger."

Her dry comment draws a small smile from Natalia just as she intended.  "So what do you think I should do then?"

Olivia takes a deep breath.  "I hate the way he's been talking to you.  If it were up to me..." she lets the words trail off.  She knows that Natalia will always be ready to forgive her son, no matter what he says to her.  It's just another part of who Natalia is and one that Olivia happens to love.  But she also wants Natalia to know that if it were up to her, no one would speak to her the way that Rafe has been.  "But it's not." She continues.  "I think you should give him time.  Whether he wants to admit it or not, he's coming around.  He can't stay angry at you forever, and today he was more worried than angry.  Before he knows it, he'll forget about being angry at all."

A shaky breath escapes Natalia at her words.  "Do you really think so?"

"I do," Olivia reassures her, hoping against hope that she's right and that this isn't all just some pleasant fiction that she's spinning for both of them.

"Okay." Natalia fits her hand into Olivia's.  "Then let's go see what Emma's getting into."

Olivia groans at the thought of the mischief Emma could have gotten into in their momentary absence.  There's no telling what her very bright and creative daughter has come up with now - and because she's Olivia's daughter, there's no doubt that she's come up with something.  Even if it's something as relatively innocent as hustling her big sister at a game of croquet.

Someone steps in front of her and Natalia looks up from where she's been staring into her drink, lost in thought.  Her automatic smile freezes as she realizes that it's Buzz standing there.

He, on the other hand is smiling broadly and Natalia realizes with an immediate sinking feeling that he knows. 

"Hi, Buzz," she says simply. There's no sense in pretending that they aren't going to have this conversation, but she isn't going to be the one to bring it up.  She hasn't had time to think about telling everyone yet or what she's going to tell them.

"Frank came by last night," Buzz says, still smiling and looking happier than she's seen him since before Coop's death. "He said I'm going to be a grandfather - again."  He's rocking back and forth on his feet almost bouncing up and down, full of the same incredible Cooper energy that Frank has and she once enjoyed being swept up in.  Natalia regrets not being comfortable with the Coopers anymore.  She misses their family.  Buzz has done so much for her. 

"It's going to be great," Buzz continues.  "You'll see, Natalia."

Natalia takes a deep breath. "I'm still getting used to the idea," she admits slowly.  "Honestly, I don't think it's completely sunk in yet."

He laughs.  "Isn't that always the way it is until the moment they're in your arms?  You might think that you're ready for anything, but you never quite are."  He sounds wistful and she wonders what he's remembering.  Perhaps getting to hold his own children for the first time?

"Hey, Buzz."  Olivia's warm greeting startles Natalia. 

"Olivia."  He glances between the two women.  "I was just congratulating Natalia.  It's great news."

Olivia glances quickly over at Natalia, a little bit surprised that the other woman told Buzz about them.  A smile tugs at her lips.  She's proud of Natalia for facing Buzz, and for braving his disapproval without her there, even if he doesn't seem upset right now.  She knows how much Buzz and the Coopers' good opinion means to Natalia.  She's never wanted to hurt any of them. 

"Olivia went with me to the hospital," Natalia confirms.  

"That's great," Buzz enthuses.  "Natalia is lucky to have you as a friend."

Olivia's smile falters for an instant as she realizes that this isn't the conversation she thought it was.  She pushes back her disappointment in the next moment.  Her smile grows confident again and she slips her arm around Natalia's waist.  "Actually, I think I'm the lucky one."  She sees Buzz's brow furrow.  His head tilts and he gives her a quizzical look.  It's the next instant when understanding blossoms in his eyes and he finally gets it. 

"You're-?"  He shakes his head as if he can't believe it. "This is why you've been so happy lately?"

Olivia nods, waiting to see how he's going to react.  Buzz has always been one of the people who knows and understands her the best, but this is different.  There's Frank's side to consider and of course, their own difficult history.  She knows he still feels guilty that she chose Frank over him. 

"I'm in love with her, Buzz."  Maybe it will make a difference, and maybe it won't. But Olivia wants him to know what she's feeling is real.  "You've seen how happy she makes me." 

"What about Frank, and this baby?"  Buzz asks. 

"I'm not stopping Frank from having a part in my baby's life," Natalia steps into the conversation.  "But he needs to understand how I feel about Olivia isn't going to change."  Her words hold a determination and strength that almost surprise Olivia.  

She knows this side of Natalia. It's the same side that kept her alive through the weeks in the hospital when she wanted to die, the one that pursued her when she was afraid this love would be too much for Natalia to handle.  But Olivia isn't used to seeing Natalia act like this with other people.  She really likes it. 

Buzz's smile has dimmed a little bit and his ceaseless motion has stilled.  Olivia straightens, tensing for the blow - emotional and verbal, rather than physical - that she's sure is about to come.  She won't let him hurt Natalia.  She'll step in before he can.

"I'm sorry that you're not going to marry Frank.  You would have made him a very lucky man."  He pauses and takes a deep breath before he continues on.  "I'll be honest; when I heard you were pregnant, I hoped you might reconsider marrying him.  He's a good man, Natalia."

"I know, Buzz."  

"But..." He drawls out the word.  "I guess I understand now why you couldn't.  If your heart belongs to someone else it wouldn't be right to be with him."

"No, it wouldn't.  That's why I couldn't go through with marrying him.  Whether I wanted to admit it or not, Olivia had already had my heart for a long time.  I didn't mean to lead Frank on.  I'm sorry that I hurt him, but I couldn't keep hurting Olivia."

It all feels surreal to Olivia.  She can't believe they're standing here having this conversation with Buzz.  She can't believe the things - wonderful things - that Natalia is saying.  She's heard them before.  She knows Natalia loves her, but hearing her say it to someone else makes it real in a way that nothing else has.  Olivia feels faint and lightheaded at the rush of emotion that revelation brings with it.

"She deserves that," Buzz says firmly, finding Olivia's eyes and holding her gaze.  "She deserves someone who knows her and loves her that much.  Don't hurt her," he adds warningly.  "She's already been hurt too many times in the past."  The warmth in his eyes is Olivia's undoing.  She can feel tears beginning to form.

"Buzz..."  She can't get anymore words out past the lump in her throat. 

He cups her cheek and pats it gently.  "You know I only want the best for you." 

She nods through the blurry haze of tears that have taken over her vision. 

"And I expect you to help this one," he gestures at Natalia. "Take good care of her and my grandchild."

"You know I will."

He nods.  "I do.  I know what a kind, generous heart that you keep under that mask you show the world."

The tears are flowing more freely down Olivia's face now and she wipes at them in aggravation, embarrassed that she's gotten this emotional.  Natalia catches her hand and gently pulls it back down to her side.  Then she begins to smooth the tears from Olivia's cheeks with the pad of her thumb, before she simply pulls Olivia into a full embrace.

"I think I'm the lucky one," Natalia says quietly, her mouth against Olivia's ear.

All Olivia can do is hold onto her tightly, because even with how things have progressed between them for the past few weeks, she never thought they would be here.  It's amazing and overwhelming.  She buries her face into the crook of Natalia's neck and hopes that she understands how important she is to her. 

Frank finds her when Olivia goes in search of food.  It's so well timed that even Natalia has no doubt that it was planned. Which means he's been watching them. She wishes she didn't feel so disturbed by that.  There is nothing wrong with them or their relationship and the thought of Frank staring at them and judging them makes her skin crawl.

"You, uh, left before I had a chance to say goodbye last night."

What is she supposed to say to that? Natalia wants to know. Does he want her to say that she was avoiding him? If she was Olivia that's exactly what she would say, and maybe she should say it. If she does, it will certainly surprise Frank.  But she is not Olivia, and she doesn't want to be.  They are the perfect balance for each other as they are.

"Are you enjoying the barbecue, Frank?"  It's not a particular subtle evasion, but it has the virtue of preventing her from lying to him which her other possible comments do not.

Frank sniffs, and looks down.  "Apparently not as much as you and Olivia."

Natalia wants to snap at him, to demand to know what that's supposed to mean.  They've been doing nothing wrong - nothing at all really, except for holding hands or the occasional embrace.  Her hands clench into fists at her sides and Natalia makes an effort to uncurl them.  She smiles, but it's forced, not real. 

"We are enjoying ourselves, actually.  It's a beautiful day for a barbecue."

"Natalia," Frank takes an urgent step toward her.  "I think you should take some time and think about this."

"Think about what, Frank?"

"What you really want to do now that you're pregnant."  He holds up a hand before she can speak. "I know you think you know how you feel, but it's different now.  You need to think about the baby and what's best for you and it."

A discreet cough from a few feet away catches their attention.  Phillip is smiling amiably, like he hasn't overheard most of their conversation and doesn't realize that he's interrupting an argument. 

"Frank." He greets the detective politely and then turns his attention to Natalia.  "Sorry.  I think Blake was looking for you just a minute ago. Something about wanting to ask if you'd confirmed some details for a luncheon?"  He raises his eyebrows and shrugs his shoulders, disclaiming any responsibility for the message he's brought.

Natalia glances between he and Frank.  "I should see what Blake needs," Natalia agrees.  She begins to walk away, but stops before she's gone more than a few feet and turns back.  "Frank?  I know what I want and what I need. Even now. I don't need to think about it."  She's trembling like a leaf caught in a winter gale when she turns away but she doesn't fall apart.

Phillip is silent as they walk away, silent until they're out of Frank's hearing.  "There was no message - from Blake," he clarifies, and then shrugs. "You just looked like you could use an excuse to get away."

Natalia looks over sharply, surprised by his gesture. "Thank you."

He nods and rubs a hand across his face. "What you said, when you came to my office that day about Olivia and Emma, it helped.  I owed you one."

Natalia shakes her head quickly. "It doesn't work that way. I didn't do it because I wanted something from you."

"I know," Phillip says amiably.  "You did it because you love them both."

Her words from that day, Natalia remembers.  She marvels at her boldness then and at how natural those words had felt when she said them.  She hadn't been panicked or stricken by nerves once she'd said it.  In that moment, she had meant it in any and every way that Phillip chose to take it.  It hadn't even required bravery.  She wishes for that strength and certainty every day.

"I do," she says simply.

"I'm happy for them - for Olivia.  She deserves to be loved like that."

She's not sure what to say to that, but she's spared from having to figure it out by Olivia approaching. 

"Hey!"  If she's a little bit surprised to see Phillip and Natalia standing together, she doesn't say it.  "I've been looking for you."


"Mmm-hmm.  Emma wants you to watch.  The water fight is about to start."

Natalia grins, smiling at both of them.  "Well, we can't miss that."

Olivia takes her hand and holds Natalia back, letting Phillip get ahead of them. 

"Phillip didn't say anything to you, did he?"  Olivia's concern is obvious.  "He said he was okay with us the other day, but..."

"No," Natalia jumps in quickly before Olivia can get the wrong impression.  "Actually he was being very nice.  He overheard Frank and I talking and he..."  Natalia trails off as Olivia rubs at the bridge of her nose.  It's definitely one of her tells, a sure sign that she's frustrated or angry or just needs another moment to collect her thoughts. "What's wrong?"

"Frank," Olivia says succinctly.  "Frank is what's wrong."

"Olivia, he has a right to be a part of his child's life."  

"But not to make your life miserable," Olivia counters.  "Tell me the baby was the only thing he was interested in."

But Natalia can't tell her that.  She won't lie to Olivia. Occasionally, or more than occasionally, they avoid the truth or simply don't discuss it.  They're good at denial; they've had lots of practice, but they don't lie to one another directly.  "I can't change what Frank thinks, or what he wants," Natalia says slowly, "But I can show him that we work."  She holds up their joined hands.  "And we'll keep showing him until he gets it, okay?"  

Olivia frowns, but Natalia can see the tension easing out of her body.  "It could take a while," Olivia points out.  She refrains from making any more comments about Frank, but she's starting to lose what sympathy she has for him.  She knows what it's like to be the one not chosen.  She knows how badly it hurts and how impossible it can seem to get over a broken heart, but she has certainly had to do it enough times.  If she can do it then Frank can certainly figure out how to man up and get over it.  He needs to move on with his life.  It's what's best for all of them.

"That's okay," Natalia replies with a smile, flashing both dimples at Olivia. "I don't mind.  I think we have plenty of time to keep showing him - and everyone else - how we feel."

Olivia feels dizzy and breathless because what Natalia just said sounds a lot like forever.  It's not that she doesn't want them to be forever, hasn't dreamed of them spending the rest of their lives together, but to hear it from Natalia's mouth is something else entirely.  It's wonderful, and something that she never believed could really happen.  

"So you're okay with this?" Olivia asks, rapidly trying to pull herself back together. It wouldn't do to ruin her image by falling apart at Natalia's feet. Only Natalia gets to see that, not the rest of Springfield.

"This?"  Natalia asks for clarification.

"Us, being here together, in front of all these people.  Frank, Father Ray, Rafe, Josh, Phillip.  Everyone."

Natalia stops walking, and cups Olivia's cheek in her hand.  "I told you before that I'm scared of everything."

Olivia nods, remembering that day on the bench.

"And I am," Natalia continues.  "But the thought of losing you...that scares me even more."

"You won't lose me," Olivia denies the possibility quickly.

"No," Natalia says slowly, "But I might break your heart.  No matter how scary standing out in the open with you is, I don't want to have to live in shadows and hide.  There is nothing wrong with the way I feel about you.  I love you, and I want to be with you.  I might forget that, and I might be scared sometimes, but I won't ever stop wanting what we have.  Showing that to people...I'm not loud. I don't make statements or attract attention. I'm good at keeping my head down and following the rules.  Today reminded me of the goodness in people.  It's so easy to be overwhelmed by everyone who's upset, that I forget about everyone else.  About Blake and Josh and Phillip."

Olivia laughs softly, a sound of wonder.  "You surprise me all the time, you know?  In the best way possible."

"Me?" Natalia demands.  "My life has been one big surprise since you walked into it!"

Olivia sighs.  "Everything is always my fault."

"Oh please," Natalia remains unimpressed with her dramatics. "You love every minute of it, you troublemaker."

"A girl has to stay busy somehow," Olivia admits with a laugh and a shrug.

"I guess I'll just have to think of something to keep you occupied then."

"Anything," Olivia says and this time it's Natalia who's left breathless by the honesty that she hears in Olivia's voice.

Darkness has fallen now and everything is gently illuminated by glowing lights dispersed throughout the patio and backyard.   Emma is darting around, full of impatience, in a group of children mostly her own age.  The fireworks are supposed to start any moment. 

Olivia and Natalia linger at the edge of the group, standing in shadow as they watch Emma play.  The heat of the day has slipped away and a soft breeze gently rifles through the trees.  Music drifts out across the yard from a radio someone turned on earlier in the day, presumably to check for late afternoon rain. It is the fourth of July after all, but there's none to be found. It's a perfect summer's night.

The first fireworks explode overhead and childish squeals follow adult laughter filling the night air.  No one is watching them.  Instead everyone is focused on the colorful displays of heat and light and sound in the air high above them.

Olivia holds out her hand to Natalia.  "Dance with me."   

Natalia laughs and puts her hand in Olivia's.  She can't help but look around at all of the other people.  Buzz and Lillian sitting a little bit too close together at a card table, their heads bent together, talking and not looking at the fireworks at all.  Beth and Phillip standing near to one another, but looking painfully separate.  Blake slapping Frank's shoulder playfully.  None of them are looking their way, all too involved with their own lives to be paying attention to anyone else.

"Are you serious?"  She asks with a smile playing over her face, bringing out her dimples.

"Of course, I'm serious!"  Olivia is trying to sound hurt, but Natalia can hear the playfulness in her voice as well. "I'm always serious."

At that Natalia does laugh.  "You're hardly ever serious."

"I'm always serious when it comes to you," Olivia counters softly.

The quiet statement takes Natalia's breath away and just that simply, she steps into Olivia's arms, draping her arms around Olivia's neck.  Olivia steps closer until their bodies are touching and her hands slip around Natalia's waist.  They sway together gently, paying no mind to the music or the fireworks overhead. 

"This day was perfect," Natalia whispers as she lays her head on Olivia's shoulder.

"You think?" Olivia asks, wonder in her voice.  How Natalia can say that after everything that's happened...

"We were together," Natalia tells her.  "Rafe was here, even if he didn't stay long.  Everyone knows for the most part and...nothing happened. The world didn't end. Frank is still angry."  She hesitates and Olivia's hand begins to run soothingly up and down her back.  She curls closer into Olivia.  "But there's nothing I can do that would make him happy except to agree to marry him and I'm not going to do that," she states definitively.  

"I'm glad."  

And Natalia holds Olivia just a little bit tighter, because that's the first time she's admitted that she doesn't want Natalia to marry Frank. Even when she confessed her love over Gus' grave, she's never asked Natalia to give anything up for her. In fact, she's discouraged it - discouraged her. She knows how much Olivia wants her. She has no doubt of that, but she also wants Olivia to be willing to fight for her, to believe that she's no less worthy or capable of giving Natalia what she needs and wants than Frank.

"I am too," Natalia agrees softly.  "You know," she continues as their soft swaying brings another group of people into her line of sight, and something occurs to her, "I saw Father Ray the other day."


"He told me that feeling sick was my body's way of telling me that there was something wrong in my life."

Olivia stiffens, almost stopping their gentle motion short. 

"I told him," Natalia adds, "That it had nothing to do with that.  And I was right.  It has nothing to do with my feelings for you being wrong."  She stops and steps back so that she can meet Olivia's eyes.  "You're the best thing in my life, right now.  You and Emma and Rafe."  She sniffles, emotion welling up in her as she speaks. "And I don't know what I would have done without you the past few days."  

"You would have been fine," Olivia says gently, as she wipes away Natalia's tears.  "You've done this before with no one's help and you could do it again.  But," Olivia adds quickly.  "You don't have to this time.  Because I want to be there for you and with you the whole time."

Her fingers stroke across Natalia's cheek, not in an effort to cheer her up, but simply because Olivia wants to touch her and now she has the freedom and permission to do so. 

"I'm glad."  Natalia pauses, turning her head into Olivia's touch as her eyes drift closed.  "I was so scared that this child would mean you wouldn't want me - want us."  She speaks so quietly that even standing in each other's arms, Olivia can barely hear her.

"No, Natalia. No." Olivia stops and takes a deep breath, her forehead pressing against Natalia's.  "Listen to me.  You could never do anything that would make me stop wanting you.  You didn't ask for this, but you know what?  This is life.  I didn't expect," Olivia continues softly, "to fall in love with you.  I never thought I would want to live on a farm out in the country more than anywhere else in the world.  I didn't expect to become the person that I am today, but all of that is because of you, and I don't regret a minute of it.  I want you to know that."

"Thank you," Natalia whispers, wrapping her arms more tightly around Olivia.  

"Oh, you're most definitely welcome."

Natalia laughs and tilts her head back to look up at Olivia.  Her eyes are shining and the sudden explosion over head throws red and green and blue highlights into her hair.  Olivia is smiling and looking at Natalia like she can't see anything else.  It's an expression that Natalia has seen too many times to count.  She's familiar with its intensity but it never fails to take her breath away. It never had - even before she knew what that look in Olivia's eyes meant.  Now she knows, and Natalia realizes, everyone else knows too.  There's nothing else that she has to hide.  Everything is out in the open and she can just let go. Today is their independence day after all. 

Natalia smiles. She can feel dimples tugging at her cheeks as she tilts her head and leans in.  Her eyes don't drift shut.  Instead her gaze stays locked with Olivia as their lips meet.  Only then does she fall into sensation.  Somehow until the moment that their lips touch, Natalia has forgotten just how soft Olivia's lips are, just how right they feel against her own.  This time, however, there is no need to pull away.  She can allow herself to full enjoy this moment.  Her fingers thread into Olivia's hair, holding her close as Olivia responds and slowly deepens their kiss. 

Most of all kissing Olivia feels right.  She doesn't feel any different than before. No one changes so completely in a single moment or even overnight.  Even as her lips cling and taste Olivia's again and again, Natalia can still feel nervous butterflies in her stomach, and she knows when this moment is over the first thing that she'll do is look around.  The thought of people watching them, judging them still makes her tremble. 

What is different are the little changes.  If someone is watching them and they may well be, Natalia will feel it and be aware of it, but she won't let it stop her.  She won't let it make her regret this moment, because Natalia is right where she wants to be, ending the night in Olivia's arms.


Part Seven

Natalia sinks down into the couch, letting out a relieved sigh as she does. It feels like the first time in a week that she's been able to sit down and simply relax, and it all has to do with the woman sitting beside her. There's a moment where she hesitates before she remembers that there is nothing that they have to hide anymore - not from themselves and not from anyone else. Then Natalia lets go and slides closer to Olivia.

"Thank you for going with me today."

Olivia smiles and slips her arm through Natalia's, getting even closer to her. "I'm glad you asked. I would have hated to miss it, and besides I missed you this week," she admits softly. "I can't believe Blake has been keeping you this busy."

"Her publishing business is really starting to take off," Natalia agrees. "You've been pretty busy yourself."

"The fourth of July, and summer. It's always a busy time for the hospitality industry." Olivia regrets it, but it's true. She has been busy with the Beacon, especially in Natalia's absence. She hadn't realized how much and how well Natalia had gotten things done. Without her to rely on, she's had to handle more of the small details herself and it's eating up her time. She really needs to get a new assistant, but she can't quite bring herself to do it. Whoever she hires won't be Natalia and she knows herself well enough to realize that she will be even harder to deal with than usual because of that.

"I missed you. And Emma," Natalia adds a moment later. "I missed both of you."

"Mmm," Olivia agrees, her fingers running up and down Natalia's arm. "We need to do something about that." She reaches up to tuck a piece of Natalia's bangs behind her ear so that she can see her better. "I want to see you more, not less."

"Me too."

Olivia's body is humming with Natalia's nearness. She can't help but be conscious of the scant places where they touch, skin against skin. Her lips tingle with the memory of Natalia's lips against hers. It's been five long days since that kiss. They've spent as much of that time together as they can, but there's been no repeat of that kiss. Not for lack of trying - on either of their parts - but it just never seems to happen. Something interrupts or the moment isn't right. They've waited too long to screw this up before their second, or technically, third kiss.

"Olivia..." The way that Natalia says her name, breathes it really, captures her attention immediately and Olivia looks up from where she's been watching her fingers caress Natalia's arm. When she does, Olivia is immediately transfixed by the look in Natalia's eyes. It's desperate and full of desire. She moves toward Natalia without making a conscious decision to do so.

Natalia matches her move, the tips of her fingers lightly brushing Olivia's hip to steady herself as she leans forward. They're so close that she can feel the warm puffs of their breath mingling and smell the faint, minty scent of the toothpaste that Olivia uses. The touch on Olivia's hip becomes more concrete as Natalia shifts her weight and sinks her other hand into Olivia's hair, cupping the back of her neck and pulling Olivia to her, closing the final centimeters between them.

It begins slowly, a lingering brush of lips that grows into something more because Natalia cannot stop with just one sweet kiss. She needs more of Olivia. For the first time in her life, she allows herself to simply want, and to indulge in what she wants.

Beneath her touch Olivia is almost frozen. She offers the barest response and the last part of Natalia's mind that is thinking clearly realizes that it's because Olivia is still afraid of pushing her too far. She presses their lips together more forcefully, deepening the kiss and trying to pour everything that she's feeling into it. Her fingers clench around the material of Olivia's shirt, even as the hand she has buried in Olivia's hair loosens its grip. Her hand falls along the side of Olivia's neck, and comes down to rest over her heart. She finds the raised texture of Olivia's scar without even looking, tracing its path down until it disappears under Olivia's camisole.

Olivia gasps at the gentle touch. Her arm wraps around Natalia's waist tightly, and Olivia pulls her closer, deepening their kiss as she does. She responds to Natalia now as deeply as she held herself back, falling hungrily into their kiss. They're so close that Natalia is practically in her lap. All she has to do is shift forward and around a little bit more.

Olivia reaches up blindly, putting her hand over Natalia's as it covers her heart. It's pounding so wildly in her chest that it can't possibly be good for a woman in her condition.

"You're going to kill me," Olivia murmurs as the urgency between them gradually begins to ease, broken by short, teasing kisses. They can't seem to stop completely. Olivia doesn't really want to. "Bad ticker, you know."

Natalia's hand presses a little bit harder against her chest. "That's not funny."

"But you love me anyway," Olivia teases her, unable to resist nipping at her bottom lip.

Natalia gets lost in the soft warmth of her again and moment passes before she can reply. She's shaking her head when she finally makes herself pull away. Her hand strokes down Olivia's face, brushing across her cheekbone.

"You know I do," she says with an impossibly charming smile.

Olivia tilts her head to press a kiss to Natalia's palm so tantalizingly close to her lips. "I do." She grins mischievously, "But I love hearing you say it even more."

Natalia laughs softly. "We are so sappy."

Olivia can't hold in her own rueful snort, as she sags back against the couch. Her hands drift from Natalia's back to rest just above Natalia's hips, and her thumbs begin to make aimless circles on her abdomen, just brushing the soft swell of Natalia's stomach where the baby is beginning to show.

"Can't let that get out. It might ruin my reputation."

Natalia just shakes her head. "I'm not worried about your reputation." Her impish grin makes Olivia think back to an innocent face and a hustled game of pool. Natalia does indeed have a little bit of the devil in her. It just comes out at the most unexpected moments.

"Why, Ms. Rivera is that a slight on my reputation?"

"Hardly. I think your reputation can take care of itself. Actually..." Natalia's smile widens. "I think your reputation has a reputation."


For a moment Natalia wonders if her teasing has gone a little too far. She means nothing by it, but she and Olivia both have insecurities that can appear in an instant, coming and going without the faintest indication. The smug smile that flashes over Olivia's face dispels her worries in an instant.

"That's the nicest thing you've said to me in...oh, an hour at least." Olivia's light, breezy tone draws her own laughter from Natalia.

"You're impossible," Natalia counters fondly.

"Thank you."

"Move in with me."

"I- what?" Olivia blinks and looks as if someone has hit over the head with a frying pan. A lot like Natalia imagines she looked after Olivia had kissed her for the very first time - to prove a point. Someday they will have to discuss that. Actually, there are many things she wants to discuss with Olivia someday. It's just one of the many reasons that she's asking Olivia to move in. Most of all she wants Olivia to move in because it's time - time for them to all be a family again.

She's not ignoring the obstacles. She knows that Rafe is still opposed to them, but she hasn't given up on her son yet. She'll wear him down eventually. She's stubborn and he can't outlast her. She's his mother and she loves him. But just because he isn't ready for them to be a family yet it doesn't mean that the rest of them should suffer for it. She and Olivia have waited long enough and Emma is certainly ready for them to move back in. She's been waiting anxiously for it since the day that she and Olivia moved out, after all. There's nothing else to stop them. The whole town knows - or will know just as soon as the gossip completes its circuit around town - and they aren't hiding anything about their relationship. They're free to be together and Natalia wants that.

"I asked you to move in with me," Natalia says slowly, laying her hands over Olivia's forearms and squeezing lightly.

Olivia remains speechless, and Natalia bites her lip. Maybe she should have waited for a better time to ask, but she couldn't keep the words from slipping out of her mouth. When it had occurred to her, it had felt so right that she had simply gone with it and asked. But maybe Olivia isn't ready to merge their lives together like that. Olivia has been wonderful about this baby, but Natalia knows how much she's asking. They'll only have a few months together before it's all midnight feedings and endless sleep deprivation, and no time for them to be truly alone. No one in their right mind would sign up for that.

"It's okay." Natalia says, trying to smile. "You don't have to say anything now." She shrugs. "You don't have to say anything at all. You can forget I asked."

She pats Olivia's arms gently and shifts away from Olivia so that she can stand. She's barely gotten to her feet when Olivia grabs both of her wrists.

"You want Em and I to move in with you?" Olivia speaks slowly, as if she's still processing what Natalia's said.

Natalia nods, waiting on pins and needles to hear what Olivia will say.

"Okay." Olivia agrees simply. "I want that too."

Natalia feels almost lightheaded, her relief is so intense. She sinks to a seat on the coffee table in front of Olivia and her eyes fall shut as she lets out a shaky breath. "Good." She says squeezing Olivia's hands. "Good."

Olivia's hand slides into Natalia's hair and she gasps when Olivia's lips cover her own, her eyes flying open again. The kiss lasts until they're both breathless.

"I can't wait until you move in," Natalia admits between shallow breaths, propping her arms on Olivia's shoulders and twining her fingers behind Olivia's neck.

"I'm pretty excited about that too." Olivia whispers. "Just wait until we tell Emma. She won't sleep for a week."

Natalia laughs, because she knows it's true. "Then I guess we should tell her tonight when she gets in from camp."

Olivia rests her forehead against Natalia's briefly. "Are you-" She takes a deep breath. "You're sure about this?"

Natalia winces because she knows she's given Olivia reasons to doubt her in the past, but she's confident in what she wants now. The barbecue has helped. Facing down her fears has given her the strength to do it again and again, and there's no doubt that she's ready to merge their lives back together.

She draws her hands back until she's holding Olivia's face in her hands and her arms are resting lightly on Olivia's upper body.

"I'm sure," she says softly. "I know this seems sudden, but it's not. Not really. We've lived together before. When we admitted how we really felt for each other, everything suddenly felt different. It was different and I didn't know how to be 'us' when everything was different. Now I do, and I want 'us' back...completely."

Olivia draws in a shaky breath. "I just don't want you to regret this," she admits quietly. "I know you want us to move in - someday. But I don't want you to feel pressured, like it has to be today." Her hand gently covers the swell of Natalia's abdomen. "Because of this."

Natalia covers Olivia's hand with her own. She starts to speak, and then hesitates before she begins again. "You're right. I probably wouldn't be asking you to move in today, if I hadn't found out that I was pregnant."

Olivia's hand jumps underneath her own, pulling away from Natalia as if she's suddenly realized she set it down on a hot stove instead of soft fabric covering Natalia's gently rounded body. "Exactly."

"But," Natalia counters just as quickly. "That doesn't mean this is the wrong choice. Finding out that I'm pregnant..." She takes a moment, searching for the words to explain to Olivia precisely how she feels. She has to get this right. For both of their sakes. "I think it made me see things more clearly. It made me look at what was really important, and you and Emma are a big part of that for me. Please?"

The slow, growing smile on Olivia's face makes Natalia's heart leap with joy. She knows what it means. It's the same smile that Olivia wore the last time she convinced her to move in with her. Inwardly, Natalia laughs at herself. She had no idea then about how completely her life was about to change and how Olivia would be responsible for so much of it - the best parts of it.

"Thank you," she says excitedly, reaching forward to take Olivia's hands in hers and pulling Olivia closer to her. She wraps her arms around Olivia and holds her tightly. "Thank you," she whispers again more softly.

Olivia picks up the glossy black-and-white photo from the coffee table where it's lain forgotten since they walked in. She smiles as she traces over the blurry curve of a cheek with the tip of her finger and finally looks over at Natalia.

"You're going to have a baby," Olivia whispers, her voice full of reverence and wonder.

Natalia takes her hand, and very deliberately intertwines their fingers before she meets Olivia's gaze again. "No, we're going to have a baby." She counters, her smile no less brilliant than Olivia's.

"Yeah, I guess we are."

"I-I've been thinking since we got back from the hospital," Natalia admits. "Since we saw her."

"What?" Olivia prompts her softly, content to savor this moment with Natalia and hear out anything she has to say.

"It's just that when I saw her, she was real for the first time. I was just pregnant, but when I saw her it was different. Suddenly I was having this baby, this little person who would be with me in just a few months. I couldn't help but try to picture what she would look like."

"Mmm. I hope she has your cheeks," Olivia can't help but run the back of her fingers along her striking cheekbones. "And dimples."

"Do you?" Natalia is surprised and charmed that Olivia has already been thinking about this. It's only a surprise because it's just now occurred to her; there's no reason Olivia wouldn't have been picturing her - their daughter.

"Uh-huh." Olivia laughs. "She'll have both of us wrapped around her little finger if she does." Her hand cups Natalia's jaw and her thumb rubs back and forth over one dimple. "Those are killer, you know?"

Natalia gives her a smile that's far from angelic. It would have shocked anyone else who knows her. Olivia just laughs and pulls her closer to steal another kiss.

Olivia rests her forehead against Natalia's, savoring their connection. She's close enough to feel it, but too close to look into Natalia's eyes when she asks this question. It makes it a little bit easier. She captures her lips one more time, building her confidence before she asks.

"Any regrets?"

Natalia sighs, and holds Olivia closer. "Only every moment I wasted being scared and miserable, every time I let something keep us apart."

Olivia lets out a relieved breath. "Don't. Please. I wouldn't change anything that brought us here."

"Not even..." Natalia isn't sure what she wants to ask about. Almost marrying Frank. Sleeping with Frank. All the doubts and uncertainty.

"None of it," Olivia tells her. "You're worth it. What we have together - this family is worth it."

"Yeah," Natalia agrees, marveling as she does at how she came to be this lucky to get to share this life with the woman sitting next to her. "Yeah, it is."

The End

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