DISCLAIMER: All characters (Olivia Spencer, Natalia Rivera, Emma Spencer & Fetus Rivera) and situations belong to Guiding Light, Telenext, Proctor & Gamble, etc. I'm not them.
SPOILERS: Veers off from canon during the week ending 4/17/09. No spoilers for anything that occurs after that. Mostly just my own little AU.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Even If It Killed Her
By Jaina


Part One

"What kind of bitch are you?"  

Olivia's head snapped up from her desk, her eyes narrowing even before she had focused in on her intruder. "Well good morning to you too, Frankie." She let her pen fall from her fingers and leaned back in her chair, steeple-ing them under her chin. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" 

"You know damn well why I'm here." Frank retorted, looming over her as he attempted to be intimidating. 

Frank was not the first person to have stormed into her office in a rage, making insulting accusations, and occasionally she had even been uncertain where those accusations were coming from. Usually it had been because she had too many schemes going to remember which one in particular had pissed the person off. This time she genuinely had no clue.  She hadn't done anything lately, nothing besides work and take care of her daughter and try to ignore her broken heart. She wasn't about to sound clueless in front of Frank though, not after he had come into her office with a chip on his shoulder. Nobody got to tear into her and just watch as she let it slide. Even if he was married to Natalia. 

"Pretend I don't," she said with a smile designed to be infuriating. "Enlighten me."

Frank slammed his palm down onto her desk; she felt the way it shuddered beneath him and shot to her feet. 

"I've been nice so far, Frank, but you don't get to push much further. Now tell me what the problem is."

"The problem is that you won't let Natalia out of her contract." He seemed to deflate a little. "How could you after everything she's done for you, Olivia? For the first time in her life, she doesn't have to work any more. She can stay at home and take care of her family like she wants." 

Olivia recoiled and stiffened her knees, fighting the urge to sink back into her chair. Frank would have startled her less if he had slapped her. This was the first she had heard of Natalia wanting to quit - not that she would share that information with Frank. Let him think whatever he wanted. He was going to anyway no matter what she said. The thought of Natalia quitting though... She shied away from it, ignoring it in favor of dealing with the situation at hand. Losing Natalia - losing the last little pieces of her that she was holding on to - would be unbearable and she was not going to give Frank the satisfaction of crying in front of him. 

"A contract is a contract, Frank. I'm well within my rights to hold her to it. She signed it and she knew what she was getting into. Stop treating her-" She bit off the rest of her sentence. She wasn't going to do it anymore - give Frank advice about Natalia. She had married him after all. Obviously he was what she wanted - not Olivia. She had to just let it go, let Natalia go and let Frank be her husband. Olivia squared her shoulders as she straightened. "If Natalia wants to discuss this further, she knows where to find me, but this is none of your business, Frank, so get out of my office." 

Frank snorted. "Of course, this is my business. She's my wife." 

For a moment Olivia couldn't help but stare at him. He just didn't get it. "No, Frank," she said softly. "It really isn't." Seeing the look of determination on Frank's face, Olivia realized he wasn't going to give up so easily. She sighed and tried again. "Did she ask you to come here and talk to me about this?" How she hoped the answer to that wasn't 'yes'. She had no idea what she would say if it was, not to mention the thought that Natalia was so worried about seeing her that she had sent Frank in her place. 

"No," Frank admitted. "But-"

Olivia cut him off. "No, buts, Frankie. This is between me and Natalia. Stay out of it." She almost laughed at the irony of that line. How she wished she had said that to him months ago. How she wished there really was a 'me and Natalia'. 

"You know what I can't figure out, Olivia?" He didn't wait for her answer. "What are you getting out of this? Besides getting your every whim catered to." He scowled at her as if he expected her to be cowed by the accusation. "Is it just that you enjoy watching a humble, hardworking woman like Natalia breaking her back for you? Is that how you get your jollies?" 

Olivia stiffened, her hands trembling at her sides, not from fear but from the anger that was boiling up inside her. It took everything in her not to slug him in the jaw. Only the thought of the look of disappointment on Natalia's face kept her from doing it. Instead she took a deep breath and forced it out again. "Get out of my office and my hotel, Frank, or I will call security and have them throw you out." 

"I won't forget this," Frank warned. 

"Oh, I'm shaking in my stilettos," Olivia almost snarled, sinking down into her chair as he turned on his heel and stormed out of her office. She pinched the bridge of her nose between two fingers and winced as she suddenly became aware of a pounding headache. "Damn it, Natalia," she whispered and then flinched, wishing she could suck the words back in as soon as they left her mouth. Even angry, frustrated, broken hearted and facing the prospect that Natalia would soon be quitting her job, Olivia didn't mean those words. She truly wanted Natalia to be happy and if that meant breaking the remaining shreds of her heart again by letting Natalia slip away for the last time then so be it. She would do that for her. Even if it killed her.


Part Two

Olivia had been avoiding Natalia. It was undeniable. First, she had given her the week after her wedding off from work and offered her more time than that if she wanted it. She both had and hadn't been surprised at Natalia's refusal. She was a hard working woman, after all, but since the wedding and Olivia's admission of love over Gus' grave things had been understandably awkward between them. Natalia couldn't seem to look Olivia in the eye and she always looked guilty and uncomfortable. For her part, Olivia hated being the cause of those looks and cursed herself for being so weak and blurting everything out at the worst possible moment. She had wanted Natalia to be happy, not this wan shadow of herself that she had seemed to be the few times Olivia had seen her since she returned to work at the beginning of the week. Mostly Olivia had kept herself holed up in her office or out running errands, trying to be wherever Natalia wasn't. It hurt just to be in the same room with her. She needed time to lick her wounds and rebuild her heart before she could even imagine being around Natalia without feeling like her heart was breaking again. 

And now, if Frank was right, she was going to be losing that last little bit of connection with Natalia, too. She clenched her hand into a fist and ignored the way her long, expertly manicured nails bit into her palm, leaving crescent shaped indentations. No, what she needed now was to rip the band aid off and just finish this. She couldn't stand wondering, dragging this out any longer. If Natalia really wanted to quit working for her, then she would make it easy on her. Natalia was always nice to people - too nice, sometimes - and if niceness was what was keeping Natalia from taking this step then she would take it for her. No one had ever accused Olivia of being nice, after all. 

Olivia picked up her Blackberry and fired off a quick text. It was so much easier than talking to Natalia face to face. Unfortunately Olivia wasn't going to be able to avoid talking to Natalia much longer. Then Olivia looked down at the text she had just sent and she wondered, for the first time, if Natalia would come. If she did, it would be the last time. 

I need you. I'm in my office.

She was pacing back and forth, covering the distance between desk and window across to the couch and then back again. Waiting had never been her forte and this was proving to be no exception. Fortunately she didn't have to wait long before she heard a single knock at the door. Her head snapped around as if drawn by some magnetic force as Natalia stepped inside without waiting for an answer. What she saw startled her more than Frank's unexpected intrusion had earlier. 

Natalia might not have loved her back - clearly did not love her - but that didn't mean the reverse wasn't true and she had learned every nuance of the woman in front of her in an effort to understand her better. Natalia wasn't one to share her feelings. Oh, happiness and joy, a ready smile for everyone, those were easily available, but the dark things, the serious things, her worries and fears, those she kept hidden from nearly everyone. Occasionally she had let Olivia see them and each time she had felt honored that Natalia would trust her that completely, but it hadn't happened often. To others, Natalia might have seemed happy. There was a smile on her face, despite the slightly worried furrow of her brow, but it was her eyes that gave her away and the slight droop of her shoulders. They screamed that Natalia was not happy, that, in fact, she was very sad. The thought that she might have been the source of Natalia's sadness twisted something painfully inside of Olivia and she blurted out her next words like an antidote to that feeling. 

"You're fired." 

"What?" If lifting that burden off Natalia had been her intention, it had gone badly wrong. Tears filled Natalia's eyes and she looked like a defenseless puppy Olivia had just kicked. "Is it something I did? Or, or..." She shook her head. "Why are you doing this?" She pleaded. The way she said it made Olivia feel lower than she had in years, worse than she had since she had demanded Gus' rings from Natalia. 

"Look, I'm doing you a favor here," Olivia bit out, trying to keep her instinctive angry response from spilling out. "Frank came by earlier. I know you want to quit, so I'm making it easy for you. Now get out of here so you can go start your new, happy life as a housewife with him." She couldn't keep the bitter twist out of the last syllable. She was trying her best here, but she was no saint. 

"Frank...was here?" Natalia sounded confused. Apparently she hadn't known he was coming either. But was that just confusion or was she glad that her champion had come to fight her battles for her? Funny she would allow Frank that privilege, but never Olivia, even when she had already stepped up to the plate, even when it had been for the three of them. But then she didn't need any  more proof that Natalia didn't see their little family the same way she had. "Oh, God, Olivia." Her hand covered her mouth for a brief instant before she reached out to Olivia, stopping herself just before she touched her. Olivia tried not to be bitter about that too. "I'm so sorry," Natalia continued. "I had no idea he was going to do that."

"It doesn't really matter, does it?" Olivia asked, softening to Natalia despite herself, still unable to stand seeing Natalia in pain. That was what this was supposed to be about anyway, making things easier for Natalia. "He did and now I know. I'm sorry that you didn't feel like you could come to me about it yourself." She looked down at her desk, unable to hold back the tears that were welling in her eyes. "I just want you to be happy." The words came out so softly that Natalia could barely hear them. "If this is what you want, then of course I'll let you quit." She forced herself to focus on the details instead of what she was feeling. Maybe that would help. "The severance package is excellent." Except for the part where there wasn't one, where even now she couldn't stop trying to take care of Natalia, even when it wasn't hers to do anymore. "And I'll write you a glowing letter of recommendation in case you ever decide you want to start working again." She took a deep breath. "Frankie is a really good guy, Natalia. I know he'll take care of you the way you deserve to be taken care of." 

Silence descended on them, but still Olivia couldn't bring herself to raise her eyes and look at Natalia. She didn't want to see the pity in them, or worse - revulsion. 

"But I don't want to quit." 

Natalia's words exploded like a bomb inside her head, sending shrapnel in every direction. 


Part Three

"You-" Olivia's voice broke and she had to swallow before she could try again. "You don't want to quit?" 

"No," Natalia said with a firm shake of her head. She sank down onto the chair in front of Olivia's desk without looking, twisting the small diamond on her finger around almost ruthlessly. "Frank wants me to, but I don't." 

"So what are you going to do?" Olivia hoped she didn't sound as pathetic and hopeful as she felt asking that question. "And why did Frank come in here like that if that's how you felt?" 

Natalia grimaced and looked down, a hint of red flushing her cheeks. "I might have told Frank that you were the one stopping me from quitting, insisting that I finish out what I had committed to, because I didn't know what to say to him." 

Olivia felt almost dizzy with relief. Natalia didn't want to quit. Then she sobered. Of course, she hadn't said she wasn't going to, just that she didn't want to. How set on obeying her husband was Natalia, even if it went against what she herself wanted? Olivia felt a sharp stab of panic. She already knew the answer to that question. Natalia would do anything to make the people that she cared about happy. 

"Well, I am good at being a bitch. Everyone knows that." She forced herself to smile and pretend like this wasn't killing her. "But what were you going to do when your time was up? It would run out eventually." 

"I was hoping that once Frank got used to it, he might stop pushing about me staying home." 

"What about...telling him?" Call her crazy, but Olivia had never let any of her husbands - or anyone else for that matter - dictate what she was going to do. Except, of course, for Natalia. "That you don't want to quit, I mean." 

Natalia shrugged weakly. "I tried, but he just kept insisting that it was really okay, that I didn't understand. It was okay now and he was going to take care of me." 

Sentiments Olivia approved of, but Frank was screwing it up already, damn it, going about things the wrong way. Natalia didn't need someone to provide for her, she needed someone to challenge her, to make her see that she could be more, was already more, than what she thought she was. She had already told herself that she was done giving Frank advice though and this time she meant it. 

Trying to hold on to what was left of her dignity, Olivia pulled herself together. "It's your choice, Natalia." It always had been, she thought sadly. "I'll support whatever decision you make." She took a deep breath and considered what she wanted to say. Why did you marry him, wasn't really an option, and besides she already knew the answer. Frank was safe and good and easy. With him it wasn't hard and complicated. It wouldn't inspire strangers to murmur behind their backs and look at them with hatred. There were no risks involved, no chance that Olivia would finally do something that Natalia couldn't forgive. 

"I'm not quitting," Natalia said firmly, and then her lip trembled. "Unless it would be easier. For you." 

It was the first time the subject had been raised between them since they had stood over Gus' grave and it shocked Olivia. She had expected them to keep dancing around it until it had become such a part of their routine that it was barely noticed. Natalia was very good at that sort of thing, even if she wasn't. 

"No," Olivia blurted out, too quickly, she realized immediately, especially for a woman who was in love with her married best friend. "Please stay," she said more slowly. "If you're not uncomfortable here, knowing how I feel." 

Oh, right. This was why she avoided having mature, adult discussions about her relationship failures - because it hurt worse than she could have ever imagined, seeing this distance between the two of them. 

In front of her, Natalia crumpled, her shoulders folding inwards and tears streamed down her cheeks. "Olivia. I'm so sorry. I put you in the middle of this and Frank...I can't believe he came here. I didn't mean to put you through anything else. I hurt you enough." 

"Hey," Olivia whispered, aching to see Natalia hurting so badly. She dropped to a crouch in front of Natalia's chair and resisted the urge to fold her into an embrace as she would have done just a week ago. Instead she put her hands on the arms of the chair to either side of Natalia and dipped her head until she was able to catch Natalia's eye. "I know you didn't. You don't have a malicious bone in your body." She gave a rueful snort. "That's more my style." 

Natalia shook her head quickly. "It isn't. You've been nothing but good to me, Rafe." 

"I was a raving bitch." 

That startled a laugh out of Natalia and made her lift her head. "Only for a little while." She reached out to Olivia, her hand stopping just short of Olivia's cheek, close enough that Olivia could feel the warmth radiating out from Natalia. "The things you've done for me. More than anyone else ever has," Natalia said with a shaky voice. 

"Natalia," Olivia whispered, caught despite herself in the words Natalia was saying, in the nearness of their bodies. Natalia had made her wishes clear and she should honor that. She wanted to, but Natalia was just making it so damn hard. She turned her head, unable to resist, nuzzling into Natalia's palm. It felt so good. She reveled in the sensation. Even that brief connection eased the ache within her, soothing her wounds and calming her like nothing else could. "Go home," she whispered. "I'm giving you the rest of the day off. Talk to him; he'll understand." Even if I have to have a word with him.

"Okay," Natalia whispered just as quietly, but neither woman moved, not for a long time, until Olivia's protesting knees could no longer take it and even then it was only when they gave out completely leaving her sprawled in an ignoble heap at Natalia's feet that either of them finally moved.


Part Four

Frank was sitting on her couch, beer in hand and feet propped up on the coffee table. His shoes had been kicked off on to the floor and Natalia could see a hole in the heel of his sock. The noise of a distant cheering crowd droned in the background indicating that he was watching the game. It still startled her to see him on her couch, in her house, instead of Olivia and Emma. 

"Hey, Baby," Frank said with the biggest smile she had seen. "You're home." 

Natalia tried to smile. "I am." 

Neither of them seemed to know what to say to one another after that and the moment stretched just a little bit too long, spilling over into awkward silence. Natalia was racking her brain for an excuse to leave the room, when Frank held his arm out to her. There was no reason for her to turn away, at least none she could explain, and she should be happy to see him. 

She forced her smile a little bit wider and crossed the distance to the couch, slipping down beside him. One hand pressed over his heart, keeping some distance between them. Frank's grin grew bigger and he tipped his head down to kiss her.  Natalia let him. It wasn't the first time and now that she was married to him it wouldn't be the last. He wasn't a bad kisser. She responded to the pressure of his lips on hers and let her eyes drift closed. The problem was the lips she imagined against hers were softer and sweeter than the chapped reality. Stubble grated against her cheek instead of the soft touch of exquisitely smooth skin. Her eyes snapped open, pushing her back to the here and now. This was what she had chosen. Now she just had to live with it. It was easier somehow when it was staring her in the face and she wasn't free to imagine anything else. 

When Frank finally broke the kiss he was looking at her with something she had never seen in his eyes before and a hopefulness that was all too familiar. "You know," he said in a breathless whisper. "I'm really glad you're home." 

Natalia wasn't sure what to say to that, not wanting to reopen the discussion of what had happened today even if she was angry with him for just barging into Olivia's life. It was her own fault. She hadn't told Frank she wanted to keep working and stood by it. He only thought he was helping to give her what she wanted. Only he didn't know what she really wanted. No one did, except maybe... But now wasn't the time to be thinking about that. She was here with Frank, her husband, and he was still talking. 

"This is the first time we've really had a chance to be alone together. Isn't it great?" 

"Mmm," she murmured noncommittally. 

Frank's hand was trailing up and down her arm and his other hand had slipped around her waist. "I was thinking," he said in a conspiratorial tone. "Maybe dinner could wait a while?" 

And suddenly Natalia realized where this was going. With Rafe in the house their wedding night had been more of a family celebration, her celebration of finally having her son back home where he belonged, even if it was only for a week. When they had gone to bed that first night it had been late and Frank hadn't pushed, content to have her in his arms, and she had been grateful for that. Now that Rafe was gone it seemed like he didn't want to wait anymore. Natalia couldn't blame him. After all, how many men would have put aside their wedding night for a week because her teenage son was finally home from prison. Not many. It was only fair. She should have been expecting it actually; it wasn't like she didn't know what happened when someone got married. She had certainly been looking forward to it when she married Gus. The only thing she could think about though was the way she had felt so disturbed and dirty after she had slept with Frank for the first time. That had been for all the wrong reasons though and went directly against what she believed in, that sex was a sacred act to be undertaken only under the sacraments of marriage. Without that guilt hanging over her head, maybe this time it would be better, maybe this time it would feel right, giving herself to her husband. 

She smiled tremulously up at him, hoping he would think it was from nerves and her natural reserve, rather than what she was really feeling. Because she was going to do this. She had made up her mind. "I think that sounds like a great idea," Natalia said, leaning forward and erasing the distance between them. 

Frank let out a delighted, booming laugh and before she could say anything else he scooped her up off the couch and carried her toward the stairs. 

"Frank," she practically shrieked, grabbing at his arm. "Put me down," she said, lowering her voice with an effort.  

"It's okay, Baby," he said with a smile. "I'm not going to drop you. I work out all the time and you don't weigh a thing." 

She was glad when they reached the bedroom that after an awkward moment of indecision he put her down on her feet instead of setting her on the bed. She didn't think she was ready for that. 

Frank pulled her close, slipping one hand into her hair and kissed her again. She let him kiss her and touch her and tried her best not to think at all because every time her eyes slipped closed her mind and heart betrayed her. 

She tried, she really did. Maybe it would be different; maybe she was just a naturally reserved person and she needed to try harder, to let Frank break through the shell around her heart. She got bolder, slipping her hands under Frank's shirt and pulling it up over his head. She hardly noticed him tugging at her blouse and palming her breast in his hand as she worked the fly of his pants. 

But even when she was on her knees in front of him, drawing out nothing but incoherent groans and "Oh, God, Baby's", the only thing she could feel was empty. 


Part Five

Frank lay next to her, his breathing relaxed and even, but not sleeping.  He had one arm behind his head and the other wrapped possessively around her shoulders. Natalia lay as still as possible. Even breathing felt like too much. She just wanted to stop, to forget, to go back to how it had been before the wedding. It wasn't an option though; that bridge had already burned behind her. She had to go forward now, whatever that meant. 

She felt like crying, but her eyes were dry. Natalia blinked again and then rolled away from Frank, sitting on the edge of the bed until she regained her balance and then walked toward the closet, her arms wrapped around herself. Against the chill of the room was what she told herself, but Frank's eyes on her back felt like an intrusion, not like she was the most beautiful woman in the world. 

Without a word, Natalia grabbed clothes from the closet and headed for the bathroom. The water was hot and the shower sent steam billowing up from the cool porcelain of the tub. She let the water rain over her and tried to forget about everything, tried to forget about Frank's hands on her, his skin against hers. It wasn't that the sex had been bad, but the truth that she could no longer deny was that it had all felt so wrong. 

Natalia knew marriages took work. Despite her lack of familiarity with the institution she had never been blind to that fact or had rosy expectations that married life would be one big honeymoon. Life had its hardships and all marriage meant was that there was someone to weather the rocky moments with - that was if both people agreed on a course of action. There were always temptations: more beautiful people, lives that looked easier from the outside, morals that didn't quite match or arguments about money. She had always been determined that she would stick it out if she ever got married, no matter what. She was a good Catholic girl. She didn't do divorce. Whatever it was, she would find a way through. 

But, this...this she didn't know how to change. She looked into the future and all she could see was a lifetime of awkward silences and what was quickly growing into revulsion every time Frank touched her. She didn't want it to be that way, but each time she couldn't help but compare it and by comparison, Frank always came up short. Of course, there were benefits: Rafe would have a stable two-parent home to come back to for the first time in his life and Frank would do his best to support her and care for her.  It would also mean having someone to grow old with, a person she could always depend upon, to be there when she needed a shoulder to cry on or someone to celebrate with. 

Her mind told her to wait and give this marriage time, give herself time to settle in and grow used to Frank and his ways. That was all it would take to get comfortable with him. Her heart screamed that she might get used to it in time, but that she would never truly be happy like this. The voice that was Olivia's in the back of her mind simply asked, But don't you want more? 

She didn't know what to say. 

There was a sharp knock on the bathroom door. It startled her so badly that she jumped, almost losing her balance and slipping in the slick tub. 

"You okay, Baby? You've been in there quite a while."

"I'm..." She struggled to find an appropriate word. "Fine." Not really true, but it would work, and it wasn't as if Frank could help her with her current dilemma.  That thought startled her and she hesitated, standing in the shower with the spray turned off and growing cold as she let it sink in. Frank, her husband, the person who was supposed to be her partner in life, couldn't help her. Not with this problem and there was no way that he would ever be able to because he wasn't Olivia. It was more than that though. It wasn't that she loved Olivia more, but that she didn't love Frank, not the way she should. In that instant Natalia knew with complete clarity that marrying Frank had been a mistake, the biggest one she had made in her life, bigger than gambling away the eighty thousand dollars she had gotten from the sale of Gus' house, even bigger than costing Olivia a heart to ensure she got married. 

She was a woman who didn't give up; she had hung onto her first love for eighteen years and she could hang onto this marriage too. In time she could even grow comfortable with Frank, but would she ever love him the way he deserved to be loved? Settling for just okay was what she had done her whole life. The question was: was she ready to take a risk that could cost her everything - her son, her Church, the life she had so painstakingly built, one that was above reproach, even if her son was born out of wedlock - if it didn't work out?  But it was more than that. She was stronger than that now. Olivia had shown her that she could do more than she had ever imagined. There was no reason she had to settle for a loveless marriage, no reason except she was terrified by something so powerful, a love that was more than she had ever imagined, and it was forcing her to contemplate something outside of the comfortable familiarity that had come to define her life. 

It was overwhelming to think about everything, all the ways her life would change, the simplest things suddenly becoming harder, but...she had dealt with difficult before. It hadn't exactly been easy raising Rafael by herself and difficult didn't mean it wasn't worth doing. 

Natalia took a shuddering breath and tried to pull herself together. One thing at a time. Olivia was right; she needed to talk to Frank.


Part Six

Stepping out of the bathroom, Natalia found Frank sitting on the edge of the bed, hands clasped between his legs. Hearing her come out, he glanced up at her and for the first time there wasn't blind adoration or that breathless hopefulness in his eyes. Finally Frank was really looking at her and she had to look away. There was too much that she couldn't tell him, that she didn't want him - or, maybe anyone else - to see. 

Natalia tried a thin smile. "I think we need to talk, Frank."

He laughed nervously. "The six words every man loves to hear." 

Instantly guilt spread, flooding through her like a dam bursting. She bit her lip and then opened her mouth, knowing if she didn't say it then, she wasn't going to be able to say it at all. "I'm not quitting my job, Frank." Okay, those weren't the words that she had planned. They had the benefit of being true, but they weren't what she had wanted to say. Saying it though, would make it real, and how could she do that when she barely understood it herself? Right and wrong, oh, she understood how that felt, but putting those feelings into words, explaining them to Frank, facing his anger in defense of them, that was hard and terrifying. 

And somehow, this conversation, the one she had been avoiding, was now the easier of the two. 

"Is that all, Baby?" Frank looked instantly relieved. "I was getting worried that it was something serious." He laughed again. "The look on your face..." He shook his head and reached for her, his hands coming to rest on her hips. She allowed herself to be pulled forward into his embrace, her hands resting lightly on his shoulders. He looked up at her, adoration back in his eyes. She tried to ignore the tug of guilt in her heart. "You know," Frank whispered softly. "There was another reason I was hoping you would be open to quitting." 

Natalia's fingers clenched a little bit tighter until she realized what she was doing and forced herself to relax. "What's that?" 

"Well," Frank said slowly, a grin forming on his face. "I was hoping if you were here, home, all day, you might, you know, get bored." He shrugged. "And maybe start thinking about filling this big empty farmhouse up again." 

"Filling-" Natalia froze as she suddenly realized what Frank was talking about. "Kids? You want to..."

"Sure!" Frank said, enthusiastically. "I know we both want a big family, and the sooner the better, right? Neither of us is getting any younger." 

"Frank..." There were so many things to say to that she didn't even know where to start. 

It only took a second for Frank to catch on. "You don't want to-"

"It's not that," Natalia said quickly, jumping back into the conversation, hating herself for the devastated look on his face. "I would love to have more children some day." She didn't have to fake the enthusiasm for what she had said because she meant it. She had always dreamed of giving Rafe a big family, brothers and sisters to surround him with, a house like this farmhouse filled with love and laughter and life. But the moment Frank had mentioned children, her heart had sunk into her stomach. Making mistakes with her own life was one thing, bringing a child or children into it was another entirely and until she was sure and certain in her marriage and in her own heart, she wouldn't bring another child into this. "I'm just not ready...yet." She touched her hand to his cheek. "This is still so new and we need time. Children are a huge responsibility and I want to be sure we're ready before we take that step."

Frank was silent and Natalia wondered what he was thinking, wondered when lies had started to come so easily to her lips. The things she told Frank were true, but oh, the reasons behind them - those she was keeping firmly to herself. Just long enough, she promised herself, for her to figure everything out and then she would be honest, not just with Frank but with everyone. She just needed time. 

"I understand," Frank said, deflated. "I guess." He smiled a little. "Is that why you want to keep your job? So you don't have to sit around at home all day and think about our future? How many rugrats we'll have running around this place?" 

She could tell he was teasing, trying to lift them both out of the uncomfortable mood that had settled over them, but she didn't think it was funny at all. "No, Frank," she said firmly, stepping back from him. "I want to keep my job because I like what I do and I'm good at it. I like working for Olivia."

"Really?" At her puzzled look he continued. "I mean, I know you've said that, but come on: it's Olivia. She can be a little, well, demanding, even on a good day. Much less the bad ones." 

"You're right, Frank. Olivia can be demanding. She demands that people do the job that she's paying them for and do it well - how horrible." 

"Natalia..." Now Frank's voice was cajoling. "I didn't mean anything by it." 

"Yes, you did." She said firmly. "She's not some villain, Frank. She's a good woman. I don't know how I would have gotten through the last year without her." 

Immediately Frank's eyes softened. "I'm sorry," he said, truly apologetic this time and Natalia didn't resist when he pulled her into his arms again. Let him think her tears were for Gus, or about work or their argument or anything really, as long as he didn't know the real reason for them. It was easier for everyone. 


Part Seven

Natalia hesitated outside the door to Olivia's suite, her hand half-raised to knock before she let it drop back to her side. She had already been by Olivia's office and she wasn't in yet. It was late enough in the morning that Olivia should be up and running, and, of course, during her recovery and even after they had spent plenty of time working out of Olivia's suite. Sometimes it was just easier and she had never hesitated to enter before, even when Olivia had been demanding that she get out and not come back. Things were different now though. She and Olivia were walking the thin line of acknowledging that things were different between them, but struggling not to change how they acted around one another. Knocking would mean that things had changed, but not knocking felt like she was presuming too much.  In the end, Natalia just knocked and tried to pretend she didn't noticed the startled look on Olivia's face when she opened the door. 

"Hi," Olivia said, standing in the doorway like she wasn't sure what came next. 

"You, uh, weren't in your office this morning." Natalia explained quickly, not wanting to create any kind of misunderstanding here. This was her job and she was trying to be as professional as possible, no matter how odd it seemed in the circumstances. 

"Oh, right," Olivia blurted out quickly. "Emma didn't want to go to school this morning and I had a hard time getting her ready and then I almost forgot her lunch..." She trailed off with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Not important. I'm just running a little late. Did you need something?" 

"Greg had a few questions and I wanted to go over your schedule." Natalia knew she shouldn't ask, but she couldn't help herself. "What's wrong with Emma? She loves school." 

Olivia glanced away, stepping out of the doorway and motioned for Natalia to come inside. She shut the door behind her and used it as an excuse to continue avoiding making eye contact with Natalia. "She's just upset right now. She'll get over it eventually." Although her statement lacked Olivia's usual confidence and Natalia could hear the sadness behind it. 

"What is she upset about?" 

Olivia gave her a pained smile. "You know, the farmhouse was her first real home, not just a place to live, like the Beacon. But she'll get over it." Now she sounded determined. "We'll make a new home. Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that: I need you to clear my afternoon." 

"Oh?" Natalia asked, allowing the conversation to shift back to business mode. It was easier to resort to that and not think about why Emma was so upset. She pulled out her planner and scanned it quickly, deciding which appointments could be canceled all together, which ones needed to be shifted and to where. There was only one meeting that was really important and she could easily fit it into Olivia's morning, even with her running late. 

"I talked to Blake yesterday and she has a few places to show us." 

"For the Beacon?" Natalia asked, startled. She knew that Blake sold real estate on the side. Working at Company didn't deliver the world's greatest paychecks although the intangibles were nice. She hadn't ever heard of Blake dealing with commercial properties or any properties outside of the immediate area, and there was no way that Olivia was going to bring another hotel into Springfield. The only thing she would be competing with was herself. 

"No," Olivia said, with an expression that Natalia realized meant that she wished Natalia would just understand what she was trying to say already instead of forcing her to spell it out. "It's for me and Emma. I promised her when we left the farmhouse that this-" She gestured around the room "-would only be temporary. I'm going to buy a house for us."

It was only logical, Natalia knew, that Olivia would do that, would want that for Emma. The Beacon would never really feel like home. No matter how long they lived there, it would always have a temporary, transitory feel. Emma was a little girl who had already lost too much in her life. Her father had never been a constant presence and her mother had almost died on her twice over the past two years. It was a lot for anyone to take in much less a child. She needed the stability that having a real house to come home to would provide. Understanding all of that didn't make it hurt any less though. 

Buying a house was a commitment, even for someone as wealthy as Olivia. It meant, in a way that nothing else had, that what they had shared in the farmhouse was really over. It would never be the same again. Natalia felt like crying, but pushed the tears back. They were selfish tears. She couldn't demand Olivia to stay here in the Beacon, not when she had already changed everything. 

"Say something," Olivia said quietly. 

Natalia swallowed. "I think it's great. I hope you and Emma find a place that you really like." Each word was almost painful to say. She wondered if this was how Olivia had felt when she was encouraging her to marry Frank. 

Olivia looked down, flipping through a folder without really seeing its contents, not meeting her eyes. "It'll be hard." 


"To find a place that measures up." 

"To Spaulding Mansion?" Natalia asked with a slight grin, trying to lighten the moment. 

Olivia shot her a puzzled looked as she shook her head. "To the farmhouse." 

"Olivia..." Her name was a mere whisper on Natalia's tongue and her heart ached at Olivia's admission. "I'm sorry." She couldn't stop the words from spilling out, as much as she knew she shouldn't say them. She was getting dangerously close to everything they were trying to pretend didn't exist. 

But Olivia had already straightened, her all business facade firmly back in place. "Don't," She said, cutting Natalia off sharply. "You shouldn't apologize," Olivia added more gently. "All I wanted was for you to be happy. If Frank...I just want you to be happy." 

Natalia nodded and looked away, but happy was the last word she would use to describe herself right now. 


Part Eight

"Emma?"  Natalia gasped with surprise, her voice tinged with worry as she glanced down at her watch. It was still early yet for the little girl to be out of school. "What are you doing here? It's only noon. Is everything okay at school?" 

"Natalia!" Emma ignored her questions to fly across the room, practically tackling her with a hug, arms wrapped tightly around Natalia's waist. "You're here!" 

Despite her worry, Natalia couldn't help but smile. It was so good to see Emma again. She had missed the little girl as much as she had Olivia. "I'm glad to see you too, Sweetie." She crouched down so that she could wrap her arms around Emma just as tightly as Emma was holding her. She allowed herself to press a kiss to her hair and then looked up, noting Jane hanging back at the doorway. At least she knew that Emma hadn't runaway again. 

"Oh good, you're here," Olivia said as she swept back into the room. "Thank you for picking her up from school, Jane. You saved me a trip across town." 

"No problem, Ms. Spencer." Jane smiled. "Will there be anything else?" 

"No, this is fine. Why don't you take the rest of the day off?" 

Jane's face lit up. "Thank you, Ms. Spencer." 

Olivia nodded. Jane was a good nanny, most of the time, if not as fast to catch on to some of Emma's schemes as she would have preferred, but she was also a young woman and Olivia was sure she could find something to occupy her time on a work-free afternoon. She turned to Natalia as Jane headed out the door. "Why don't you take the afternoon off too?" 

"What?" Natalia looked up from Emma in surprise and immediately dismissed the idea. "No, I couldn't. I still have some things to finish up and this will give me a chance to catch up," Natalia said, as she pushed herself to her feet and tried to look more business like. 

"Em, why don't you get ready to go?" Olivia suggested, never taking her eyes off Natalia. "We need to leave for our appointment with Blake in just a few minutes. Did you have lunch already?" 

"Yes, Mommy. Jane brought me something."

"Good girl," Olivia said approvingly, as Emma headed for the door that led to her own room in the suite. She waited until Emma was out of earshot before she spoke again. "C'mon, Natalia, you're a newlywed." She gave a faint smile. "I remember what that's like. You don't have to pretend that you wouldn't rather be at home with Frank. So take the afternoon." 

Everything inside of Natalia protested. She didn't want to go home and especially not to Frank. She needed time and space to just think and be without having to be what Frank expected of her. And the tiny part in the back of her mind that she was trying to ignore with all her heart and soul hated that tiny smile on Olivia's face, hated imagining Olivia enjoying newly wedded bliss with any of her husbands. 

"I-" Natalia wasn't sure what she was going to say. She couldn't protest that she didn't want to go home and her excuse for staying was awfully thin and she knew it. 

"Mommy," Emma popped back around the corner, her eyes all lit up as if something had just occurred to her. "Can Natalia go with us to look at houses?"

"Oh, Baby," Olivia said regretfully. "I'm not sure that's a good idea. Natalia has her own life now and we can't be selfish. We have to let her have her life." 

As painful as the idea of Olivia and Emma going house hunting had been, suddenly being excluded from it hurt worse. "Well, you did give me the afternoon off, didn't you?" Natalia said, summoning a cheerful smile. "Why shouldn't I go with you two?  Frank won't be home until tonight anyway." No matter that he had told her this morning that this was one of his day's off this week. It wasn't like he had been expecting her at home this afternoon.  

Olivia's incredulous look said that she knew damn well why it was a bad idea and demanded to know what the hell she was thinking. 

Emma, however, had missed her mother's expression, catching her hand instead and was practically bouncing up and down with excitement. "Can she come, Mommy? Can she?"

Faced with Emma's pleading and Natalia's apparent determination there was nothing else Olivia could do but nod weakly. This was so not her day. 

Olivia could feel Natalia behind her in the narrow hallway. She didn't need to say a word to make her presence known. 

"It's a lovely house," Natalia spoke quietly. 

Olivia tried not to wince. Natalia had been mostly silent throughout their tour of houses, sticking with Emma and keeping her entertained when staring at furniture and exploring the nooks and crannies of whichever house they were in at the moment got to be too boring, but Olivia had never forgotten that Natalia was there with them.  "It is," Olivia agreed. 

"Are you-" Natalia swallowed and then struggled to start again. "Are you going to buy it?" 

"Don't know," Olivia said with a wry smile. She shrugged, looking around. "Why not?"  

"Just because you can't think of a reason why you don't want to buy it, that isn't a good reason to buy it." 

Olivia arched an eyebrow. "You tell me, Natalia. What should I hold out for? This place is nice, well built and spacious. There's plenty of room to entertain company and there's an amazing playroom upstairs that Emma will love." 

"Does it feel like home?" 

"What?" Olivia asked, feeling caught off guard. 

"Does it feel like home?" Natalia repeated. "The first time you took me inside the farmhouse, it just felt right, like I belonged there."

It was funny, she did remember the first time she had brought Natalia to the farmhouse for dinner with the Xiaos, but she hadn't felt anything special. It was just Cassie's old farmhouse, a rustic building that she had been in enough times to no longer take any particular notice of it. It hadn't been until after Christmas and arguing with Natalia over practically everything, after she had seen Natalia's face light up at the sight of her gift and Natalia had oh-so-formally given her a key that she had truly felt at home. That was when she had discovered that it wasn't about the place for her, but about what she found inside. Before she and Emma had always been enough and Emma was still all she needed, but now, without Natalia, for the first time she was aware of what she was missing. 

"It's just a house, Natalia," Olivia said as gently as she could knowing that the other woman wouldn't believe it for a moment either. "It will be an adjustment but I'm sure Em and I will get used to it. Don't worry about it." 

From behind them, Blake coughed discretely. "Do you have any questions about the place?" 

Olivia glanced around the room, giving it one last casual survey. "No, I don't think so. But I would like to get someone out here for an inspection of the house."

Blake's eyebrows shot up. "Really? I didn't think you were interested." 

Olivia snorted. "Try not to sound so surprised, Blake. You'll make me wonder if something's wrong with the place." 

"Oh," Blake recovered quickly. "No, it's great, really. I mean, if I could afford it... I just didn't think you looked very interested." 

"You can't always wait for everything to be perfect. Sometimes you have to seize the moment and make the best of what you have. That's what I'm doing." 

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Natalia freeze, going unnaturally still. 

"Great," Blake said, her enthusiasm returning in full force. "I'm due for my shift at Company in..." She glanced down at her watch. "...Just a few minutes actually, but I'll get back to you about the inspection as soon as possible." 

"Sounds great," Olivia said. "Doesn't it, Em?" 

"Hey!" Frank's voice boomed out across the dining room. "What are you ladies doing here?" He crossed the room with a happy smile and wrapped an arm around Natalia, pulling her close and kissing her in greeting. 

"Hi, Frank," Blake said, patting his arm distractedly as she rushed past him. "I was showing Olivia some houses today and my car broke down," She explained as she searched for a spare apron under the counter and quickly slipped it on. "They gave me a ride back to town so I wouldn't be late for my shift." 

"It was no big deal," Natalia demurred. "We were coming this direction anyway." 

"You went with them?" Frank asked, surprised. He knew Olivia relied on Natalia for a lot of things, but going house hunting was a little bit outside of a normal assistant's purview. 

"It sounded like fun," Natalia said with a smile and a nod, the lie falling from her lips without the slightest bit of hesitation. It had been anything but fun watching Olivia today. More like torture. 

"So much fun," Olivia agreed. 

Natalia looked away. She couldn't bring herself to meet Olivia's eyes, not when she was so obviously in pain and it was her fault. Every inch of her being screamed at her to leave, to take Olivia and go. Anything that would get her out of that place and remove the strained smile from Olivia's face. Natalia put her hand on Frank's chest, easing away from him a little. "So, we should probably get going." She smiled. "We still have some things at the office to finish up."

"No!" Olivia blurted out her response before she could consider how it would sound. "I gave you the afternoon off, remember? You're not going back to finish that paperwork up. You can always get it tomorrow. It's not a big deal." 

"It's a big deal to me," Natalia countered, hurt by Olivia's dismissal. 

"You know, Olivia," Frank interrupted. "I think I was too hard on you the other day." 

Her eyes swept over to him for the first time since they had come into Company. She had been trying to look anywhere but at him and Natalia. It was just too hard to see them together. "Oh?" The disinterest in her voice was genuine. What Frank thought of her these days didn't give her a moment's concern. 

"Yeah," Frank said, the excitement in his voice growing with every word. "You know, I have an idea. I know Natalia has missed having the two of you around the house. Why don't you two come over for dinner tonight at the farmhouse? It will be great - just the four of us." 


Part Nine

"Why don't you two come over for dinner tonight at the farmhouse? It will be great - just the four of us." 

In all honesty, a root canal, sans any numbing, sounded more appealing to Olivia at the moment. Spending the day around Natalia had been awkward enough. The mix of emotions she felt around Natalia was disorienting: a sense of joy that couldn't be suppressed, followed by a chaser of guilt for having feelings Natalia clearly didn't share, with a dash of lust for some extra awkwardness, and a deep sense of sadness because now she finally knew for certain that Natalia didn't love her, not the way she loved Natalia. Having to watch Frank and Natalia act like a happy, just-married couple was hard enough, having to do it within the familiar, welcoming confines of the home that was no longer theirs would just be too much.

"Frank," Natalia spoke admonishingly before Olivia could begin to frame a polite refusal. "I'm sure they already have plans for tonight. Maybe another time."

Olivia did not, in fact, have plans for that evening but she wasn't about to let the truth get in the way of a perfectly good excuse, not when Natalia had so gracefully handed it to her.

"Yeah, I'm sorry, Frank," she agreed, trying to muster an apologetic smile when all she felt was relieved. "But I don't think we're going to be able to make it. Like you said," she added with a tip of her head to Natalia. "Maybe we can do it another time."

"But, Mommy," Emma cut in, tugging at her mother's hand. "All we were going to do tonight was order room service and watch TV and we do that every night. Can't we go to Natalia's and eat dinner, just this once?" She gave Olivia her best pleading look. "I really miss the ducks. I haven't seen them in forever."

Forever being a week and a half.

Olivia flushed, resisting the urge to be angry at Emma. It wasn't fair to her. She didn't realize her Mommy was in love with her best friend and that it was practically torment to be around her. All Emma knew was that she missed her other Mommy and the first home that she had ever known. Olivia couldn't blame her for that; she understood how Emma felt perfectly.

"You really want to, Em?" She tried one last time to get out of it, knowing even as she asked what the answer would be.

"Yes, please, Mommy!"

"Okay," Olivia relented, giving in to the inevitable and turning her attention back to Natalia and Frank. Or rather a point just over Frank's other shoulder, not quite meeting his eyes and on the other side from Natalia. "I guess if the offer's still open we would love to take you up on it."

Frank grinned, clearly pleased with the events that he had orchestrated. "Absolutely. You're welcome any time."

Olivia almost snorted. She wondered how Frank would feel if she really did take him up on that. Probably not so happy, but then they wouldn't get to find out because there was no way that she was putting herself through this on a regular basis.

"Great. I'll bring the Goose."

"Olivia," Natalia admonished her gently.

"What? It's not polite to show up empty handed." 

Olivia thought she saw Natalia roll her eyes and wondered if Frank had caught that little gesture. How surprised would he be if she kept pushing Natalia's buttons? She knew Natalia wasn't in love with her, but it didn't mean she couldn't get under Natalia's skin faster than anyone else she had ever seen, and Natalia's reactions had always been a thing of beauty, when she had deigned to respond. But Olivia wasn't going to play games with Natalia. Olivia had sworn that when she fell in love again she would do it all differently, and she had meant it. She would let Natalia go and refrain from punching her shoulder like a little boy on a playground who didn't know any other way to express his feelings. 

"Have a seat anywhere," Frank said, gesturing at the couch and easy chairs spread across the living room. "Can I get you anything? How about a beer?"

Beer sounded good. A martini sounded better. Punching Frank in the face for treating her like this hadn't been her home just a short time ago sounded like the best idea she'd had all night.

Unfortunately she didn't think Natalia would approve.

"No." Olivia said with a forced smile. "I'm good."  She sat down on the couch, perching gingerly on the edge and crossing her legs. She tried not to think about sitting in this very spot and holding Natalia as she cried her heart out over sleeping with Frank. That way lay madness.

"Good, good." Frank said, dropping into the nearest easy chair, his hand automatically going to the remote that rested on the arm of the chair.

Olivia wished that Emma would hurry back down soon. She had insisted on going upstairs to check on her old room and Olivia missed her presence already. This was more excruciating than the dinner with the Xiaos and Decker before Natalia had worked her miracles.

"Looking for a house, huh?" Frank asked rhetorically.

"I like living at the Beacon," Olivia said, and once upon a time that had even been true, but now…now it was a different story. Not that she expected to feel differently in a new house. "If it was just me, I wouldn't bother, but Emma's gotten used to having a house and yard to run around in."

Frank grinned. "Every kid should have a yard," he agreed. "I'm sorry the two of you had to move out so quickly, but you know how it is when you love someone so much. You just have to be with them."

She couldn't do this. If she had to sit here and listen to Frank rhapsodize about Natalia all night there would be vomit and homicide. Probably in that order. Damn it, did he have to rub it in? If it had been anyone but Frank, she would have sworn that he knew and he was torturing her on purpose. As it was, it was just an unhappy coincidence, the sort of thing that only happened to Olivia Spencer. Wasn't she just the luckiest girl in the whole world?

Biting back the hurt that welled up within her and the old familiar habits that it brought with it, Olivia forced herself to smile at him. "I remember how it is." She hesitated. "You're a very lucky man, Frankie. Don't forget it." She said it calmly and quietly, but there was no mistaking the subtle threat in her words.

If she couldn't have Natalia, then she would make damn sure that Frank didn't screw this up.


Part Ten

The silence in the living room had grown from uncomfortable to almost unbearable after her and Frank's brief exchange. It wasn't that she couldn't make polite conversation, after all she was the master of meaningless chit-chat, but her heart wasn't in it tonight and talking to Frank only seemed to make him say things that twisted the knife in her heart just a little bit more.

Finally it was too much. If she sat there a moment longer, she was going to say or do something she would regret later, or probably should regret anyway. Olivia rose from the couch. "I think I'm going to go check on Natalia. See how dinner's coming and if, you know, she needs any help."

Like Natalia would allow Olivia to do more than watch in her beloved kitchen, but even the ever-present awkwardness with Natalia was better than the conflicting stew of emotions that she felt whenever she was around Frank. Natalia brought out the best in her, Frank resurrected her desire to return to her former self. Since she was far from a saint, it was time to remove herself from temptation.

When she entered the kitchen, Natalia was standing in front of the stove, her back to Olivia, tending to the pots on the burners. Everything about the way she stood there, the angle of her hips, the slight hunch of her shoulders and the fall of her hair, was achingly familiar. How many times had she stood here and imagined slipping up behind Natalia, wrapping her arms around Natalia's waist and laying her head against Natalia's shoulder, only to have Natalia turn and greet her with a kiss?

Olivia shook her head, running her hand through her hair and pushing it back out of her face. She had to break herself out of the spell that was falling back over her with cascading intensity the longer that she spent here.

"Whatcha cooking?" She asked quietly, trying not to startle Natalia.

She didn't quite succeed as Natalia whipped around, a smile flashing across her face as she saw Olivia standing there. "Emma's favorite: Spaghetti and meatballs."

"Easy to whip up too." Olivia said agreeably. She stepped further into the kitchen until only the small table was separating her from Natalia. "I'm sorry you didn't have any warning about the extra company."

Natalia shrugged. "I'm not. I'm glad you and Emma came over."

Olivia edged a little bit closer. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"You and Emma could come over more often."

The snort of laughter spilled out of her lips before she could hold it back, but it still felt good to be able to laugh. At Natalia's look, she explained. "I didn't mean that; I meant with dinner."

"Oh." Natalia flushed, red spreading across her cheeks and down onto her neck. Olivia resolutely refused to see if it continued down her chest. "Well, how was I supposed to know! You've never offered to help with dinner before."

"There's a first time for everything," Olivia said, not having to try hard to summon an air of injured pride. "But I can rescind my offer if that would make you feel better."

"Oh, no," Natalia cut in quickly. "You're not getting out of it that easily, Missy. You volunteered."

Whatever else she had been about to say never made it out of her mouth as Olivia glanced up sharply to reply, but the rebuttal on her lips died an instant death when her gaze caught Natalia's and held. The good humor and ease that had flowed between them vanished just as quickly. Natalia felt like a rabbit caught in headlights, immobilized by the overwhelming nature of what she saw.

How many times had she caught Olivia looking at her like this and refused to see what it meant? The power of it was breathtaking and now that she was sure of what she was seeing the adoration and want in Olivia's eyes made her weak in the knees. This was what she had given up when she married Frank. This was what she could have had every day for the rest of her life, if she had just been brave enough to reach out and take it. But she hadn't been. She had allowed her fear to control her and now they were here, in her kitchen, trapped in this moment that she didn't ever want to end.

And then Olivia dropped her head, her gaze falling away from Natalia and breaking the connection between them. Olivia was playing with fire and that hadn't been her intention. Natalia had made her decision, not once, but twice when she had allowed Olivia to pull her away from Gus' grave and then when she had said her vows to Frank. There was nothing Natalia could to do make it any clearer that Olivia wasn't what she wanted and she was going to respect that decision even if it killed. Oh, she was fairly confident that if she wanted to she could seduce Natalia, drawing her in like a moth to flame, but just like the moth, Natalia would be destroyed and doing that would her hurt even worse than watching Natalia with Frank.

"I, um…" Natalia stammered blindly, trying to find words that made sense, trying to grasp on to what she wanted to say. "Actually, I think dinner is ready. Why don't you just…" She gestured loosely with her hands. "I'll go call Emma and Frank."

"And she flees the scene of the crime," Olivia murmured under her breath as she watched Natalia practically sprint from the kitchen and into the living room. She glanced down at the table set for four and rolled her eyes for the second time that night. "Oh, this is going to be delightful."

This, Emma decided, was not how it was supposed to have gone. She had finally gotten to come back to the farmhouse, but nothing was the same. Frank was sitting in Olivia's spot at the table, forcing her to sit across from Natalia instead of just beside her like Olivia always did. He hadn't even asked, he had just done it. Emma had even seen the brief moment of disorientation when Natalia went to lay the plates on the table. 

The biggest change came a few minutes later after everyone was seated. Frank grabbed a fork and dove in. Part of Emma didn't blame him. The spaghetti and meatballs smelled so good they were making her mouth water. The other part of her was aghast. Natalia always had them say grace before they began eating, no matter what. She said there was no good excuse for forgetting to thank the Lord for the blessings you had received. 

The moment after Frank took his first bite something even stranger happened. Emma looked from Frank to Olivia, only to find her looking expectantly at Natalia. Following her mother's gaze, Emma caught the brief shake of Natalia's head and the way her Mommy's lips pursed into a thin line of displeasure. They had only been living at the farmhouse for a few weeks before Emma had started noticing these silent communications between her Mommy and Natalia. She hadn't always understood them, but she rarely missed them and sometimes she thought she saw more than either woman intended. 

"Frank." Olivia's voice cut into the silence that was only being broken by the clink of fork against spoon as Frank twirled another bite of noodles onto his silverware. 

Frank looked up from his plate only then noticing the absolute silence and stillness of the others at the table. 

"Natalia usually says grace before we eat." 

"Oh." He flushed, looking embarrassed. "Sorry," he murmured. "Bachelor. Got out of the habit." 

"Didn't you and Natalia say grace when Rafe was here?" Emma asked, curiosity taking over. 

"We did," Frank agreed. "I just forgot. Sorry, Ladies." He touched Natalia's arm. "Sorry, Baby." 

Natalia shook her head mutely. Out of the corner of her eye, Emma caught her mother rolling her eyes. She giggled before she could help herself, clapping her hand over her mouth, knowing that it wasn't the right moment even as she did. 

"What's so funny, you?" Natalia asked scrunching up her nose and looking over at Emma. 

She wasn't allowed to lie, Emma knew that, but she didn't want to get her mom in trouble either. If Uncle Frank hadn't been there she would have just said it, but somehow it didn't seem right with him there. Mutely, Emma just shook her head. 

"Uh-huh," Natalia said knowingly and let it go, but Emma didn't miss the way she glanced over at Olivia. Somehow Natalia always seemed to just know.

"Uh, I could say grace now unless you would rather..." Frank trailed off, looking over at Natalia. 

"No, go ahead," Natalia said, automatically holding her hands out to Emma and Frank on either side of her. She missed the feel of Olivia's hand in hers and some perverse part of Natalia made her stare across the table, trying to catch Olivia's eye. But despite the fact that she was directly across from her, Olivia wouldn't meet her eyes. 

Irritation began to build under her skin, the kind of reaction that only Olivia could provoke in her. She knew why Olivia wasn't meeting her eyes, or at least what she would say if they weren't having this dinner that was quickly becoming excruciating in its awkwardness. Olivia was disappointed in her because she hadn't spoken up, hadn't been willing to remind Frank of the traditions of her home, the rituals of her faith. She had been stunned though when Olivia had done it for her. Natalia was well aware of Olivia's feelings about religion. Olivia had always pushed her to be stronger though and she expected so much more from Natalia than what she felt capable of at times. The thing that irritated Natalia the most was that Olivia had been right. If it had been anyone else sitting at her table, Natalia would have spoken up, not rudely, but gently and politely. Instead she had backed down, refusing to say anything to Frank and she wasn't sure why, but she didn't like it. 

Her responses grew shorter as the conversation continued, with Frank trying to draw her out to no success, leaving him bewildered, while Olivia remained almost mute on her side of the table. Natalia didn't think she had spoken again after her reminder to Frank, except for monosyllabic responses when it was absolutely required. Even Emma looked subdued. 

When Frank shot her a hopeful, reassuring smile, Natalia felt sick. This was nothing like the evenings the three of them used to share in this same kitchen. It was tense and stilted where before it had been warm and full of free flowing conversation and high-pitched giggles. Every part of her heart ached for Olivia who had withdrawn more and more throughout the evening. Natalia was almost desperate to reach out to her, to lift the depression from her shoulders and tease a smile from her lips. It was something she was usually good at, but tonight everything she wanted to say seemed to be trapped inside of her and unable to get out. If only... If only a thousand things, a hundred decisions that she could have made differently. Wishing, hoping, praying wouldn't make this moment any different or any more bearable. But she hadn't chosen differently, every decision she had made had brought her right here to this table, with these people, exactly where she thought she had wanted to be. Only it wasn't. Or not completely, and now she wasn't even sure how to get back to what she wanted, or what exactly she did want. 

"It's getting late." Olivia's voice jerked her sharply out of her thoughts and her focus snapped upward as she realized that Olivia was already standing and holding a hand out to Emma. "We should get going, but this has been a really great...meal." 

Natalia was almost grateful for it to come to an end. It didn't make it any easier to accept Olivia's continued refusal to even look at her as she walked the two of them out to Olivia's car. It only intensified the ache in her heart. 


Part Eleven 

"Mommy?" Emma's plaintive tone was serious enough to jerk Olivia out of her brooding thoughts. Her gaze flicked upward to catch a glimpse of Emma in the rear view mirror to make certain that she was all right. 

"Yes, Em?" She prompted, with as light of a voice as she could manage at the moment. Leaving the farmhouse had been a relief in its own way, except part of her couldn't help but picture what would happen after they left, Natalia snuggling up beside Frank on the couch and then later, because she hadn't already tortured herself enough apparently. Her relief had been overshadowed by the realities that she could no longer deny or try to wish away now that she had seen it first hand. Natalia really was married to Frank, as happy as a woman in love could be with her perfect man. She had to accept that fact and move on, or if not move on, then at least accept it for her sake and Natalia's. It would be easier on all of them if she could do that, but she wasn't capable of it, not yet. She still felt like she was trying to swim through rapidly drying concrete, everything closing in around her and locking her into someplace she desperately did not want to be even as she struggled to keep her head above water. 

"Is being married supposed to make you happy?" 

Olivia snorted. She couldn't help it. "I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer that, Jellybean," she said wryly. 

Emma frowned, tiny wrinkles creasing her forehead. "But you've been married five times, haven't you, Mommy?" 

"Well, I haven't been doing it right, if I've done it that many times, now have I?" Olivia said with rueful amusement. Then she sobered, a thought crossing her mind - not for the first time - of what if it hadn't been Frank standing at the end of that aisle waiting for Natalia, but herself? It was a thought full of too many impossibilities to mention, but every time she had it, her breath caught at the idea of it all. "But," she said more slowly. "I think that if you find the right person, then being married can make you very, very happy." She darted another quick glance at the rear view mirror and Emma's expression in it. "Is that what you wanted to know?" 

Emma nodded without speaking but her expression didn't lighten and the small furrow between her brows only deepened. "But I don't think Natalia is happy." 

"Oh, Baby," Olivia said, her voice full of compassion, touched that Emma would be so concerned about Natalia. "You don't have to worry about Natalia. Frank is a very good man and he's going to spend the rest of his life taking care of her and making sure she has everything she needs or wants." She tried to smile. "Besides, now Natalia has what she's always wanted - a home and a family - for her and for Rafe, a devoted husband and a great father figure. She is so happy because she's right where she's always wanted to be, and we should be happy for her too." 

Should be, not was. Well, okay, she was trying to be happy for Natalia. All she wanted was for Natalia to be happy after all and if Frank was what she needed to make that happen, then Olivia wouldn't let anything get in the way of that, not even herself. She had already made that promise to herself, but it was good to be reminded before the sadness that lingered inside her made her consider doing something crazy. She was better than crazy now, stronger than that. Natalia had made her that way and she wouldn't slide back into being the old Olivia, the one who would do whatever it took - damn the consequences - to get whatever she wanted. 

"She is not," Emma countered defiantly. "Didn't you see the look on her face tonight? She was so sad. She hated it! Especially when Uncle Frank forgot to say Grace." 

"Emma," Olivia exclaimed, her voice colored by surprise. "That's not true. Natalia may have been..." She searched for a good word and then gave a mental shrug. "Surprised when Frank forgot, but that's all. She didn't mind, and we reminded him, remember? It was no big deal." 

"Was too..." Emma murmured but she said it quietly enough that Olivia could pretend that she hadn't heard it. 

"Hey," Olivia said, filling her voice with way too much enthusiasm as she attempted to change the subject. "What did you think of those houses today? Did you like any of them?" 

"No," Emma said shortly, staring out the side window at the darkened scenery flashing past. She didn't want to talk about this right now, especially if Mommy wasn't going to believe her about Natalia. She was a kid, not stupid. She knew what it looked like when Natalia was sad. She had seen it often enough recently, even if her Mommy was always refusing to believe her about it. 

"None of them?" Olivia asked with exaggerated disbelief. "Not even the one with the bedroom painted in princess pink, a huge bay window and a gigantic canopy bed?" 

Emma folded her arms over her chest and scowled, shaking her head. "I didn't like it." She hesitated for a moment and then slumped into her seat, letting her arms fall down to her sides. "Can't we just move back into the farmhouse?" She blurted out quickly. "I know that we would make Natalia so happy. Please, Mommy. Please." She begged, leaning forward with her hands clasped together. 

Olivia sighed heavily and Emma's hopes were dashed without Olivia ever having said a word. Emma felt the car come to a stop as Olivia pulled off onto the side of the road and put it in park. Olivia's eyes fell shut and she took a deep breath before she slipped off her seatbelt and turned around in her seat until she was facing Emma. She held out her hand until Emma took it and gently turned it over in her own, studying the thin lines of Emma's tiny palm. 

"You really miss Natalia, huh?" She asked gently. 

Emma knew that she didn't have to answer, that Olivia already knew the answer to that question, but she nodded anyway, barely able to choke back the lump in her throat and keep from crying. 

"I'm sorry," Olivia whispered. "I know how much you loved the farmhouse and Natalia. It was our first real home." She bit her lip and her gaze dropped from Emma's back down to the tiny hand that she still held in her own. "I'm so sorry we had to leave it, but we can't go back. It's just not possible."

It hurt worse, hearing her mother say it so gently because it gave it a sense of finality that Emma knew meant there would be no way of getting around this one, no matter how many times she begged, pleaded, schemed or cajoled. The answer would still be no and that sucked. 

"I promise you this, though, Jellybean," Olivia said, lifting her gaze to meet Emma's. "One day we are going to have a real home. It will be different, just the two of us, not like the farmhouse, but still a home. You'd like that, wouldn't you?" 

For a heart-wrenching moment, Olivia didn't think Emma would even answer and then she gave a quick, teary nod. It was all Olivia could take. She quickly unsnapped Emma's seatbelt and pulled her forward until she could wrap her in an awkward but crushing hug over the center console. 

The last thing she had wanted was for Emma to get hurt in all of this. It was why she had clung so carefully to her denials of what was happening between she and Natalia, and now it didn't matter anyway. Emma was hurting almost as badly as she was. Worst of all, she couldn't get what Emma had said about Natalia being sad out of her mind. The whole reason she had been content to walk away, had forced herself to play nicely with Frank was because she had thought that was what Natalia wanted, what she needed to be happy. If that wasn't the case... well, it had to be, because she couldn't bear to think about any other possibility. 


Part Twelve

"I feel so blessed. This is a dream that I've cherished since I was a little girl. Standing here in a beautiful church, marrying a man who loves me." It felt like a dream, Natalia thought. A dream that she couldn't wake up from. She had waited so long to discover if Olivia felt the same way that she did, only to have her confirmation come at the worst possible moment, just a short time before she was supposed to marry a man. 

"Even though I held onto that dream for my entire life, I never thought it could happen for me, but here I am. God must love me very much," Natalia said the words because she believed them to be true. She had been presented with an undeniable variety of riches: a beautiful home on a farm, the likes of which she had never imagined owning and Rafe was so close to being out of prison. He just had to hold on a little bit longer and then he could pull his life back together and do whatever he wanted. She had a good job that paid well enough that she didn't have to work two or three others just to make ends meet. Her life was better than it had ever been. She was lucky to be standing where she was now. There were hundreds of people who would give anything to be in her place. 

"I believe in God. I believe that God is all about love and when you feel love you are experiencing...that love through God and...you're allowed to feel what He feels...and that's what's so wonderful about it. And when you feel that direct gift from God...when you feel that...when you feel that love...you...you have to cherish that with all your heart. And I do feel love." 

Natalia wavered. Olivia was ever present in her peripheral vision, but she had focused on Frank, giving him all of her attention so that she didn't have to imagine what Olivia was going through. It was in a moment of weakness that she had glanced over at Olivia. She couldn't help it. There were some things she couldn't hide, even if it was only in a glance. The look on Olivia's face, seeing the pain she was causing Olivia, had almost broken Natalia. She had forced herself to look back at Frank, reminding herself that she was here because Olivia had encouraged her to marry Frank, had brought her back to the Church when all she needed was a moment - just a moment - to clear her head and figure out what she wanted to say to Olivia.  Because even after Olivia had confessed that she loved her, Olivia had stopped Natalia from saying the same and instead brought her back to the Church. Did it mean that even though Olivia loved her she didn't want to be with her? Natalia didn't know. 

"I want to devote my life to you. I want to pledge my heart to you-" Out of the corner of her eye, Natalia could see tears slipping down Olivia's cheek and the subtle swipe of her hand as she tried to wipe them away without anyone noticing. "-and so I stand here in front of all our friends and family-" Frank was beaming at her, looking at her with same adoration she saw in his gaze whenever they were together. It was so innocent and completely trusting. If she left, that trust and innocence would be cruelly crushed. "-...and before God...I stand here before God...." And if she didn't leave, Natalia would crush Olivia's heart just as completely. 

Natalia stood frozen, unable to decide. She didn't want to be here. She couldn't do this to Olivia. Could not do it. Her heart was racing, fear and anxiety were rising up in her throat, making it hard to breathe, much less speak. How had she gotten here? She glanced away from them both, a quick longing glance toward the door. She caught a glimpse of Rafe, smiling and happy, sandwiched between Ashley and Emma. What would he say if she ran? There was no way that he would understand. She barely understood the way she was feeling herself.

But if she did this - if she married Frank - then Rafe would finally have the father figure she had wanted for him his whole life, and there wasn't a better man than Frank to be there for him. She had already seen how much Frank cared about them both. 

Rafe's gaze found hers and he smiled, looking not like the tough, hardened man he had tried so hard to be, but like the smiling, sensitive boy that she had raised to be kind and happy, not scared and angry the way he so often was now. She couldn't meet his eyes any longer, forced to look away by the fear and doubt that she was carrying. Would she be letting him down if she just ran away now?  

Natalia's gaze landed on Buzz, standing behind Frank, looking at her with a proud smile. For a moment, her heart melted as it always did when she thought of Buzz, but she could imagine just as easily the look on his face if she betrayed Frank, the proud smile vanishing in an instant to be replaced with anger and disappointment just as her father's had when she had told him that she was pregnant with Rafe.  And there in front of Buzz stood Frank, still watching her expectantly, waiting breathlessly for her to make him the happiest man in Springfield. 

Natalia gave a little gasp, unable to catch her breath. She couldn't do this. She couldn't. 

And then she was speaking the words that would complete her vows, binding her once and forever to Frank Cooper. 

She felt like a completely different person. It was as if she were standing outside and watching herself as Doris finished the ceremony. It felt like nothing at all. Natalia barely noticed when Frank kissed her and she pretended not to notice that Olivia was crying far too much for a happy best friend. 

Natalia jerked upright, the covers straining against her sudden movement and pulling tight against her chest and abdomen.  Her heart was pounding wildly and her breath was coming in quick jerky pants. Even her bedroom looked unfamiliar for a few bewildering seconds as she glanced wildly around, trying to force her mind through its paces and bring it back up to speed. 

She felt like she had been having a nightmare, but it was only a dream - a dream about the day of her wedding. It felt like a nightmare though. She couldn't get the way Olivia had looked that day out of her mind. Not the gorgeous red dress she had been wearing, but the anguish that she had tried so hard to hide. Natalia had been aware of each little glance Olivia had flicked her way every time she paused in her vows, hoping despite herself that Natalia wouldn't do this. Olivia had already said everything she was going to, however. Her very clear "No" when Doris had asked if anyone objected had told Natalia that Olivia wasn't going to interrupt this, wasn't going to put a stop to this like Olivia had done so many other times for her. The one time she had actually wanted her too... Natalia bit that thought off ruthlessly. It wasn't fair to any of them - not her, not Frank and certainly not Olivia. 

A quick glance at the clock told her that she had overslept by a half hour. Natalia never cursed, but at that moment she understood the impulse. With a quick shake of her head, she forced the thought away. She couldn't change the fact that she was running late, so there was no point in being upset about it. All she could try to do was get out the door faster. 

When she got downstairs, Frank was still in the kitchen.  He smiled and gave her a quick 'good morning' kiss.  

"Do you want some breakfast?" Frank asked, stepping toward the stove. "I was going to make my famous omelets." 

Natalia shook her head. "I can't. I'm running late." She flicked the switch on the coffee maker and turned away. She had gotten into a habit of setting it up the night before while Olivia still lived at the farmhouse. She had learned the hard way that on the very rare occasions where Olivia was up before she was that it was far easier to just have the switch ready to flip on than to clean up the mess Olivia made trying to fix the coffee while still mostly asleep. 

"You sure? Everyone needs a good breakfast to start the day off right," Frank added cheerfully. 

"I'm sure," Natalia said, holding back her irritation. It wasn't his fault that she had somehow slept through her alarm. "I just need some..." She turned back to the coffee maker only to see it still standing empty. Then she caught a whiff of something burning and realized what had happened. "You already drank the coffee," she stated the obvious with a tight smile. 

Frank looked immediately contrite. "I'm so sorry, Baby. I guess I must have drunk more than I thought I did. I can fix another pot. It will just take a second." 

A quick glance at her watch showed that she couldn't wait any longer. Natalia shook her head. "I don't have time." She tried to smile for Frank, while she wished that she could just go back to bed and start over again. If this was the way her entire day was going to go... And to top it off, she could feel a headache building behind her eyes. 

She tried to ignore the disappointed look on Frank's face as she stepped out the door. 

"Hey you," Olivia's cheerful greeting was the last thing Natalia had expected. Olivia was never cheery and especially not at this hour of the morning. 

"Have you been replaced by an impostor?" Natalia asked, squinting up at Olivia from her small desk. 

Olivia arched an eyebrow. "I could ask you the same thing." 

Natalia grimaced. "I'm sorry. I overslept this morning and then..." She waved her hand with a wince, dismissing the rest of what she had been about to say. She was sure that Olivia wouldn't want to hear about her domestic issues. It wasn't fair of her to rub it in Olivia's face. Natalia bit her lip. Besides that, it was almost hard to look at Olivia, her dream that morning having reminded her of just how pained and heartbroken she had looked throughout the wedding. 

"Maybe this will help then," Olivia said, setting a steaming hot cup of coffee down on Natalia's desk. "Just how you like it." 

Natalia blinked up at her, her lip trembling at the offering. "Did Frank call you?" She asked in confusion. 

"Hmm?" It was Olivia's turn to look lost. "No. I haven't talked to Frank since last night. Was he supposed to?" 

"No," Natalia said quickly. "It was-" She bit her words off, reconsidering. "It was nothing." She tried to smile. "Thank you for the coffee." 

"No big deal," Olivia said, her smile a little too stiff. 

"Yes, it is," Natalia said, thinking of far more than just the coffee, and that was all she could take. Hot tears began to rush down her cheeks and no matter how much she wanted to, she couldn't stop them. 

"Hey," Olivia said, immediately squatting down beside her. "Tell me what's wrong." 

Through her tears, all Natalia could manage to do was shake her head in denial. She didn't want Olivia to see her crying over this. There was nothing she could do by mentioning it but hurt both of them more. 

Olivia rose, glancing around the office and then held her hand out to Natalia. "C'mon, let's go." 

Natalia blinked up at her in confusion. 

"Whatever's wrong, I don't think either of us wants to have this conversation here where anyone can come in." 

On autopilot, Natalia took her hand and rose from her chair. Olivia was right. She didn't want to talk about her crappy day - or anything else - down here outside Olivia's office where staff came through all the time to speak to her. 

The elevator came quickly when Olivia hit the call button, but the ride up to Olivia's suite seemed to take forever. Three times they had to stop as people got on and off. Slowly Natalia became aware that Olivia had never let go of her hand and then she couldn't not notice. Olivia's skin was so soft and the way their fingers laced together felt so right. They fit together perfectly. Before Natalia could stop herself or think twice about it, she slid her thumb over the back of Olivia's hand. 

Olivia's head whipped around as if Natalia had done something far more risqué and she dropped Natalia's hand from hers like it was on fire.  The elevator slid to a stop and the door opened a second later sparing her from having to say anything. 

They walked side-by-side to Olivia's suite, neither one willing to break the silence just yet. Olivia slid her passkey through the door and held it open for Natalia, gesturing her inside first. Almost as soon as they were inside, Olivia began to pace back and forth across the living area. Natalia stayed standing by the door. For the first time, she felt awkward inside of Olivia's suite. She hadn't even felt like this when Olivia was just beginning her recovery and constantly trying to kick her out of her life and her hotel room. 

"Emma said something to me last night," Olivia blurted out, coming to a stop in front of Natalia. "And I can't get it out of my mind. She said she didn't think you were happy with Frank." 

Natalia made a sound. She couldn't keep it in, but she didn't know what to say. 

"I don't know," Olivia began more slowly as if she were evaluating each word before she said it. "If what Emma said is true or not. I do hope you're happy. But you know how I feel about you. I still feel that way and it's okay if you don't feel that way back. I never expected you too, but please don't toy with me. Just let me go if you don't..." 

"I'm sorry," Natalia whispered, guilt piling on top of everything else. "I never meant to..." 

"I know." Olivia hesitated and Natalia could see her weighing something in her mind. "Are you happy?" 

"I'm...not sure." How could she be happy when everything around her was such a mess? She was just trying to do the right thing, but now she wasn't sure what that was, and she hadn't expected it to hurt so badly. She had thought it would be easier, being married to Frank. It was everything she had ever dreamed about, right? She should be happy. She had all the right ingredients for it, and yet...

"Okay," Olivia said, her confirmation almost devoid of tone. "But I am sure. I know how I feel about you, Natalia and it isn't going to change. I've tried to forget about you and move on, but it hasn't worked. And I know you didn't ask for this. You didn't want any of this and I respect that." She took a step closer, willing Natalia to see her sincerity. "I made a promise that the next time I fell in love, it would be different. I wouldn't lie or cheat or steal to get what I wanted. I would do it right. You make me want to be a better person." Slowly, Olivia reached out and took Natalia's hand, waiting to see if she would flinch or pull away. When she didn't, Olivia began speaking again. "I love you, but I can't fight for you because I want what's best for you." She took a deep breath. "If you...decide that you do want me, then it's going to have to be your choice. I can't be a part of your decision." 


Part Thirteen 

Natalia's head was spinning. The only thing anchoring her was her hand in Olivia's. She couldn't believe Olivia had done it again. Hearing her state so plainly that she loved her made her heart leap. In the very back of her mind, the part that she didn't like to acknowledge even existed, she had wondered if Olivia still loved her after she had married Frank, after she had turned her down. It would be completely understandable. She had betrayed everything they had shared and written it off as nothing. 

But Natalia was married now and despite what she may want, it wasn't something she could just forget or brush off. It meant something to her. She wasn't sure what to say. This was all happening to fast. She needed time, to think and to understand what Olivia was saying. 

"You don't have to say anything," Olivia said softly. "It's okay." 


There was a loud knock, interrupting Natalia. She was almost grateful for it, because she wasn't sure what she had been about to say. 

Reluctantly Olivia let go of Natalia's hand and went to the door. She opened it up just enough to catch a glimpse of Greg standing outside the door. 

"I'm sorry," were the first words out of his mouth. "You weren't answering your cell, Ms. Spencer." 

"What's going on?" Olivia asked, struggling to rein in her irritation at the interruption. 

"Mr. Cooper is down in the lobby."

Olivia stepped back, swinging the door open wider, knowing that Natalia would have heard Greg. She had meant what she said to Natalia. She wasn't going to try to interfere with them in any way. 

"Not for Ms. Ri-, I mean, Mrs. Cooper. He said he wanted to speak to you, Ms. Spencer," Greg interjected quickly, not looking at all surprised to see Natalia in her suite. 

Her raised eyebrow was the only indication of her surprise. She just hoped his intentions for this visit were more pleasant than the last one. 

"Okay." Her gaze flicked over to Natalia before she could stop herself and then back to Greg. "I'll meet him down in my office, Greg." 

He nodded and spun on his heel, disappearing as she shut the door behind him. It left them in an uncomfortable silence that neither of them knew how to break. 

"I should go see what Frank wants," Olivia offered, finally breaking the silence. "You can stay here or...go home...or do whatever you want." 

Natalia made a soft noise in the back of her throat. Olivia didn't even think she was conscious of doing it, but it reverberated through her body like an electric shock. She didn't dare ask what it meant or what had drawn it from Natalia. She needed desperately to stop thinking about it at all. It held her frozen there for another long moment until she was sure that Natalia wasn't going to do anything else. 

"Okay, I'll just..." She motioned toward the door. "Go." 

Outside her office, Olivia took a deep breath, holding the door handle but not opening it. She just needed a moment. Being with Natalia stripped away her armor and left her feeling soft, vulnerable and oh-so-very exposed. Each time she stepped back out into the world, she had to pull that armor back on again. Walking into her office with Frank Cooper waiting for her inside it represented even more of a challenge. Not only was it necessary for her to be able to dismiss the words he would surely say as if they were nothing, as if it didn't feel like someone was ripping her heart out whenever he said her name, but she also had to struggle to keep things inside, all the things she couldn't say, like how much she loved Natalia. 

She let out the breath that she had been holding and turned the handle with more force than was strictly necessary, fairly blowing into the room. 

"What can I do for you, Frank?" Olivia asked, settling behind her desk and rearranging a stack of papers. In truth, she hadn't looked at her schedule so far that day, and seeing Natalia hadn't helped her focus. It was almost disorienting to step back into her usual professional persona after the intense emotional connection that she had shared with Natalia just moments before. 

"Uh, nothing, actually." His words surprised Olivia enough to make her look up at him. 

"Just a friendly visit?" She asked with an imitation of good cheer. The last thing she wanted to do was just sit and chat with him. She'd rather go have lunch with Alan and Phillip. 

"A little more than that," Frank said, looking down at his hands, and Olivia realized he was uncomfortable. Instead of making her more understanding, she just felt irritated. "I wanted to apologize for the other day. I was, uh, out of line, and I shouldn't have yelled at you, or called you a bitch, and..." 

Olivia held up her hand quickly. "You don't need to repeat everything you said, Frank. In fact," she added with a grimace. "It would probably be better if you stopped now. While you're ahead." Or not so behind. It was an uncharitable thought, but damn it, she should already qualify for one of those pearly white clouds when she bit the dust for her behavior the past month alone. 

"Right." He paused. "So, that's it. What I came to say." He gestured toward the door. "I'll just be-" 

"Wait." Olivia blurted it out before she could stop herself. "How's everything going, Frank?" 

If he looked startled at her inquiry, she didn't acknowledge it. The broad grin that spread across his face a moment later said all she needed to hear. 

"Good. Really good, actually. It's been amazing, this last week with Natalia. I didn't think it could be this good. I had forgotten how happy something can make you." 

Her expression - not really much of a smile to begin with - froze on her face. "That's great," she forced the words out, wondering what masochistic impulse had made her ask, but she already knew. It had been Emma's comment from the night before. Despite her grand proclamation to Natalia she couldn't help but hope that there was still some chance for them. What Frank had said had just obliterated any hope she might have had. Unless of course Frank didn't really know how Natalia was feeling. The last thing she wanted though was for Natalia to be unhappy, and that was the only thing she could give Natalia. In a strange way she was almost grateful that Natalia had decided not to put both of them through that. It would kill her to see Natalia look at her with anger and resentment. How times had changed. 

"Actually, that's really great, Frankie. I'm so happy for you, both of you. Natalia is...an amazing assistant. The best I've ever had. She's smart and kind and has a way with people. But she's more than just that: she's my friend, my best friend.  I don't know what I would have done without her the past year. I owe her so much. I just want her to be happy. You can do that right, Frank? Make her happy?" 

"Natalia?" Olivia couldn't help but call out for her when she re-entered her suite, despite not seeing Natalia when she entered. She went through the motions, searching the rest of the suite, and even glancing inside Emma's room before she gave up. 

It was no use though. Natalia was really gone and it didn't take a genius to see what had sent her running from Olivia's room. Apparently it only took getting shot down twice for the way Natalia really felt about her to sink in. 

Olivia laughed bitterly and glanced down at her watch. Only 10:08 in the morning. And yet not too early for the biggest drink she could pour. 


Part Fourteen 

When she had left Olivia's suite, Natalia hadn't had a specific destination in mind, but it had been no surprise when she found herself in front of the church. It was where she always went when she didn't know what to do, when she couldn't figure out what was right or wrong. She had sat here the day that she had decided to marry Frank, in this very same pew, when she had finally chosen to take off Gus' rings.  Now another man's ring sat on that same finger.  

It was hard to forget what she had been thinking about that day. She had almost kissed Olivia, not just on the cheek or forehead, but on her lips. In the end Olivia had woken up before Natalia could kiss her but it had been impossible to deny what she had been about to do. It had forced Natalia to examine her recent thoughts and feelings in a way she had managed to avoid until then. She had prayed then for God to protect her friendship with Olivia as she had slipped off Gus' rings, but that hadn't been what she had really meant. It was more like, don't let me screw this up. I can't afford to lose her. And losing Olivia was not an option. 

Natalia knew all about doing without. Raising Rafe there were so many things that people deemed necessary that they hadn't had. There had been no brand names or fancy video games and very rarely new anything. There were things that would have made her life so much easier - a car that was fixed more than it was broken- but she had told herself that the bus was okay. They could get by. They didn't really need it.  But Natalia had discovered that she needed Olivia in her life. The way she felt about the other woman wasn't optional. It was essential and when she had gone home to the farmhouse, it had been with a new sense of certainty. She would tell Olivia how she felt. 

It was scary and she was nervous because new things were always scary and there was the even more terrifying possibility that Olivia didn't feel the same way, that she only wanted Natalia as a friend. When she had gotten home though, before she could say anything Olivia was pulling Frank's ring out from the drawer where she had kept it and handing it over to her, urging her to marry him. All Natalia had been able to do was stare at her and take it as a sign that Olivia didn't feel the same way that she did. It didn't change anything though because she still felt the same way: she needed Olivia. If the only way she could keep Olivia in her life was different than what she had hoped for, well that was how it would be. So she had said yes, and now here she was back in the very same place she had been before only this time she did know that Olivia loved her. Only this time the ring on her finger was not one she could so easily slip off to go after her love. 

"Is this seat taken?" 

Natalia tried to smile but couldn't summon the energy. "Please, Father."

"It's good to see you, Natalia," Father Ray said as he sat down next to her. "I'm sorry I was unable to be at your wedding, but I wanted to congratulate you. It's a very sacred and joyous thing when two people join their lives together." 

Natalia couldn't help but agree. It was a beautiful thing when two people were joined together in truth, but then that was her problem, truth. 

"Can I ask you a question, Father?" 

He looked a little bit surprised at the morose sound of her voice. "Of course." 

"I've been thinking," she said slowly. "And I don't know what to do." She looked up at him, forcing herself to meet his eyes. "Is it worse to lie to someone, if the truth is a sin? Or...or just lie and do what seems to be right?" 

His eyebrows shot up. "That is a very serious question." 

Natalia let out a strained laugh. "Well, I'm not asking lightly, Father." 

"Of course," he said quickly, unwilling to make it seem like he was dismissing her concerns, but worried for both her state of mind and what was going on in her life. She should be happy in her newly wedded bliss and it worried him that she seemed this sad and frightened. Questions like this did not make for easy answers. "I would say that the truth, no matter how it may seem, is always a better decision. Lying only makes things worse." And it was a sin, but he didn't mention that. There was no need to. She already knew that. 

Natalia smiled at that but it was a bitter smile. "Thank you, Father." 

Somehow he wasn't reassured by her response. "Any time." He hesitated. "Natalia, if there is anything else you need to discuss, my door is always open." 

"Thank you," Natalia repeated. "But I don't think this is something I can talk to you about, at least not yet. There are...other people I need to talk to first." 

"Well, if you're certain...." But he let the words drift off, knowing that she wasn't yet at peace and leaving the door open in case she changed her mind. 

"I am," Natalia said firmly, rising from her seat. "And I should be going. I need to..." She trailed off for a moment and then squared her shoulders. "There are things I need to do." 


Part Fifteen

She was sitting at the kitchen table, eyeing the Virgin Mary statue that stood on the counter on the opposite side of the room, when Frank got home. She heard the front door open and then close, but she didn't bother to call out to him or look up. She knew he would find her in just a moment. The farmhouse wasn't that big and he had to have seen her car in the drive when he pulled up. 

"Hey!" Frank sounded delighted when he walked into the kitchen, his eyes lighting up when he saw her sitting there waiting for him. "You're home early. Did Olivia give you the afternoon off?" He leaned over to kiss her as he dropped his jacket on the back of the chair. She didn't turn away from his kiss, but she didn't turn toward him either. 

Apparently Frank took her silence as an affirmative because when he stood up he was still grinning. "What's for dinner?" He added, as he glanced around the room. "I've been starving all day, thinking about one of your home-cooked meals tonight." 

"Frank," Natalia said quiet in contrast to his eager enthusiasm. "We need to talk." 

"Oh, okay." He sounded a little bit surprised as he looked down at her, but he didn't seem too worried as he sat. "Is this about your job?" 

"What?" Work was the last thing on Natalia's mind at the moment. "No." 

"I just thought...I mean, the other day when you said we needed to talk..." 

"No, this is about...something else, Frank." How did someone start a conversation like this? Natalia wasn't sure. There was no good way that she could think of, no pleasant way for this to end. They were long past the point where she could get off this ride without anyone getting hurt, herself included. It was just a matter of minimizing the damage and deciding who would hurt now instead of being hurt even more later. At the moment, Natalia could hardly stand herself, but in the end she had realized that Father Ray was right. Telling the truth was always the right thing to do. "I'm sorry." It was the first, the only thing that Natalia could say. She knew it wouldn't mean anything to Frank when she was done, but she had to say it. She still cared about Frank as a friend and what she was about to do would hurt him badly. 

"For what?" Frank asked, worry furrowing his brow as he reached forward and took her hand. 

"I can't do this, Frank." She had started crying, tears running almost silent down her cheek even as she tried to hold them back. 

"Can't do what, Baby? Make dinner? Because I can...it's not a big deal." 

"Not that," Natalia broke in quickly. "This." She gestured between them. "Us. I can't be married to you." She hated herself for saying the words, but even as she said them it felt surreal. Never in her whole life had she imagined being a person who would say that. 

"What?" Frank shook his head, still looking confused. "What are you saying?" 

"I'm sorry, Frank." No matter how much she knew it wouldn't help, she couldn't stop saying it. "I'm so sorry. I should never have agreed to marry you in the first place. I made a horrible decision and I didn't mean to hurt you. You're a good man. You don't deserve this, but I can't be married to you." 

"But...I thought you were happy." Frank blurted out in hurt confusion. "I thought you wanted to be with me. You said you loved me. We were happy." 

But she never had. That was one lie she hadn't told, but it would be cruel even beyond what she was already doing to him to point that out to him now when she was finally telling the truth. 

"I was happy. I was so happy having Rafe home - with me - for the first time in months, and I am so grateful to you for giving me that. You have no idea how much that means to me." 

The blank shock in Frank's face subsided and Natalia could almost see him latch on to something else. "Maybe it's just Rafe. I mean, Rafe being gone. You're sad because he's your son and you miss him. That's natural, Natalia, but it will pass. You just need to give it some time. Give me more time to prove how happy I can make you." 

"Frank..." Natalia's said pleadingly, begging him silently not to do this, not to make this any harder on either of them. "It's not just Rafe. It has nothing to do with Rafe. I shouldn't have said 'yes' to your proposal. It was a mistake. I was wrong and I am so sorry that I did that to you." 

"You weren't wrong," he insisted. "We can be so good together, Natalia. I know it." 

"Frank...no matter how much I want us to be, I can't. I tried." She was crying even harder now. "I wanted this to work so badly." 

"So, what? You're telling me this is it?" He demanded. "This can't be it, Natalia. We haven't even gotten started yet. Tell me what it is. Is it something I've said or done? Why are you talking like this?" 

"Frank, it's not you. It's me." She winced as soon as the words were out of her mouth. They were so ridiculous she couldn't believe she had said them. 

His expression of disbelief said it all. 

"I don't love you the way a wife should love her husband," Natalia blurted the words out in a rush while she still had the courage. She had waited too long to tell Frank all of these things, because she was scared, because it was hard and it hurt both of them. But her cowardice had only made this worse and succeeded in hurting Frank more when she had never wanted to hurt him at all. She owed it to him now to be completely honest with him before she made it even worse. He deserved a lot of things from her - to be the wife she had vowed she would be, for starters - but that was one promise she couldn't make good on. So she would give him this instead, the absolute truth. 

"That will come," Frank insisted, reaching out to fold her small hands inside his larger ones. "I know we haven't been together very long, Natalia, but I promise it will be everything you think it should be. Just give us time to settle into things." 

"Frank, it won't work." 

"Why, Natalia? How can you be so sure?" 

"Because I love someone else!" 

The room sank into stunned silence, Frank because of her words and Natalia because she couldn't believe she had actually said it. For a moment Frank struggled visibly with what she had said and then a strange calm seemed to come over him. 

"It's okay, Natalia." 

"What?" That was the last thing she had expected him to say and it made no sense. There was no way that he could be okay with this. 

"It's okay that you're still in love with Gus, Natalia. I get it. I still love Eleni, but you can't spend your whole life pining for someone who won't ever come back. It's no good. You have to learn how to love again and I want to do that with you. Please. Just give me a chance. If you do, you won't regret it." 

"It's not Gus," Natalia whispered. 

Frank recoiled as if she had slapped him. "Who?" 



Part Sixteen

Frank laughed. It was not a pleasant sound. "Olivia. You're in love with Olivia?" 

Natalia nodded carefully. Frank was scaring her. She didn't think he would actually do anything. It was Frank, after all, the man who had been there for her so many times after Gus' death, but it would have been more reassuring if he had been loud and angry, instead of laughing. She had worked in enough bars to know that it wasn't always the loud disruptive drunk who was the one to worry about. 

"Why the hell not? Everyone falls for her. Even when they know better." 

Natalia was suddenly caught between apologizing again and springing to Olivia's defense. 

"It- this doesn't even make sense, Natalia. You're...you, and she's...Olivia...a woman." 

"I love her because of who she is, not in spite of it." 

Frank looked at her as if he had never seen her before. "I don't even know you. Why did you marry me?" 

Natalia swallowed, but she couldn't stop now. She had to keep being strong just for a little while longer. She needed to finish this while she still could before guilt could overwhelm her again and weaken her resolve. "I married you because I was scared. You're the kind of man any woman would be lucky to spend their life with, Frank, and I thought I could love you the way you deserved to be loved. But I can't." 

"So, what are you saying, Natalia?" Frank asked after a long moment. "You want a divorce?" He said the last word scornfully. "I thought you didn't believe in that." 

Just hearing the word took her breath away. It instantly recalled the way her mother had looked at her when Natalia had revealed that she was pregnant with Rafe. It was everything she could do to keep from crumpling back from the weight of that word. "I don't," Natalia admitted. "But this, what we have between us, Frank, it's not what a real marriage should be. I'm so sorry." She couldn't help but say it one more time. If only...so many things. If only she hadn't agreed to marry him. It would have saved everyone so much heartache. If only she had been stronger then, but it had taken getting to this point where she couldn't pretend anymore for her to find her strength. She prayed it was a lesson she didn't forget. The easy way wasn't always the right one. She had learned that for the first time with Rafe, but somehow along the way she had forgotten it. Never again. 

"I can't..." Frank turned his back on her and stalked to the far side of the kitchen, controlled fury etched in every line of his body. "This is crazy, Natalia. Do you understand? You can't do this." 

"I have to." She waited for him to turn back around, to acknowledge her in any way, but he wouldn't look at her. Finally she got up as well, walking out of the kitchen on autopilot. Her living room looked foreign and out of proportion, not right somehow and definitely not hers. She thought about going upstairs and crawling into bed, but the thought of sharing a bed with Frank that night, a bed filled with stiff angry silences or loud demanding exchanges was just more than she could face. 

Her keys were in the pocket of her coat. She was still wearing it, having been so distracted when she had entered the house that she never took it off. Clenching her fingers around her keys, Natalia walked out the front door and headed for the only place she could think to go. 

"Anything I need to know about, Joel?" Olivia asked, hoping mightily that the answer was no. Sick of room service and being cramped up inside of the suite after the previous evenings dinner at the farmhouse, Emma had persuaded Olivia to go out for dinner, despite the headache that had been growing more and more insistent since that morning. Company was out of the question, no matter how much Emma begged for a Buzz Burger and an Ice Cream Sundae, but they had eventually compromised on Towers. If Olivia had been forced to throw in a bribe in the form of one of Tower's sundaes, something she normally wouldn't have allowed Emma to have that late on a school night, then she wouldn't admit it to anyone. She had a reputation to protect after all. Now all she wanted was to go back to her room, get Emma tucked into bed, and pass out into some form of oblivion that wasn't consumed with thoughts of Natalia. 

"No, everything's been quiet tonight, Ms. Spencer." 

"Good," Olivia said shortly, turning away from the concierge desk and heading toward the elevator, Emma's hand firmly tucked inside her own. 

"Actually, Ms. Spencer, there was one thing?" 

Olivia froze, taking a deep breath before she slowly pivoted to face him. He didn't know how lucky he was that Emma was there with her at the moment, otherwise she would have simply let him have it. "What?" And if the tone of her question was shorter than what was polite, it only made Joel spit it out faster. 

"It's not a problem," he elaborated quickly. "I just thought you would want to know - Mrs. Cooper came in about an hour ago. She requested a room for the night."

It was amazing how much she hated hearing Natalia called that. That was Olivia's first thought. Her second was to wonder what the hell Natalia was doing at her hotel when she had a wonderful home of her own. It made no sense. "Was-" she almost choked on her next words - "Mr. Cooper with her?" 

"No, he wasn't. At least he didn't come in with her," Joel amended. 

"Okay, thank you." Olivia turned away, once again heading toward the elevator, her mind slowly beginning to turn over this new development as her body went about the mundane practicalities of getting her daughter to bed. This time it was Emma who stopped her, tugging on her hand until she looked down at her. 

"Are we going to go check on Natalia, Mommy?" 

"I don't think so, Jellybean," Olivia answered as gently as she could. "Not tonight." 

"Why not? She came here, didn't she?" 

"True," And one half of Olivia's heart was currently rejoicing over that fact while wondering what the hell was going on. "But she didn't come to see us," Olivia reminded her, echoing the disappointment and confusion she was also feeling. "She's just staying in the hotel, so we should respect her privacy." 

"But why is she staying here if she doesn't want to see us? Why isn't she at the farmhouse with Uncle Frank?" 

"I don't know, but I'm sure she's okay." Except she wasn't sure of that at all. 

"You have to go check on her, Mommy. Please!" 

Maybe Olivia had just finally reached the limits of her tolerance for Emma's begging after being exposed to large doses of it earlier in the evening. Maybe it was because Emma had asked for what she most wanted to do. Whatever it was, Olivia Spencer caved like a soufflé in a stampede. 

"Okay." She tried to ignore Emma's triumphant exclamation. "But we have to wait and see if Jane can come over for a little while. And you have to promise and be good for her - brush your teeth and go to bed when she tells you to, no negotiating." It was all too easy for Emma to persuade Jane sometimes. 

"I will, Mommy. I swear." 

Even as conflicted and wrapped up in a dizzying array of emotions as she was at that moment, Olivia had to laugh at the earnest, innocent expression on her daughter's face.  Impulsively she wrapped her arms around Emma, pulling her into a tight hug. "I love you so much, Em. Don't ever forget that." 

There was no answer when she knocked on the door to Natalia's room. She could just go away, satisfying Emma's concern by saying that she had tried. Then there was the key card in her pocket - the master that could get her into any room in her hotel. But if Natalia wasn't answering her door, it was probably for a good reason. Opening her door without permission or a damn good reason would be a massive invasion of her privacy, no matter what her intentions. 

In the end Olivia settled for something that fell in between the two. She knocked again, louder this time and called out: "Room service!" 

The silence stretched out for so long that Olivia thought this wasn't going to work either. She was just about to give up when she thought she heard something and froze, waiting to see if she was mistaken. She wasn't disappointed. A moment later the door swung open just enough for her to catch a glimpse of Natalia as the security chain kept it from opening wide. 

"I didn't-" Natalia trailed off when she saw Olivia standing outside her room instead of a member of the Beacon's wait-staff. 

The door shut in Olivia's face. Of all the possibilities that had run through her mind on the way up, Natalia slamming the door in her face without a word had simply never occurred to her. Olivia was so stunned that it took a moment before she realized that it was actually the tears welling in her eyes that were blurring her vision. 

Then Natalia opened the door and this time it was completely free of the chain that had stopped her from entering before. 

Immediately Olivia forgot about what she was feeling when she caught sight of Natalia. She was turned slightly away from Olivia as she stood holding the door open and her hair was falling down across her face, obscuring most of her expression. 

"May I come in?" Olivia asked, trying not to be too presumptuous.  

Natalia stepped back a little bit further and Olivia took it as invitation enough, following her inside. She remained rooted to the spot, her hands shoved into her pockets as Natalia shut the door behind her. A glimpse of puffy eyes and red cheeks made Olivia's hand shoot out, stopping Natalia with a touch. 

"Tell me what's wrong." 

Natalia sniffled but wouldn't look her in the eye. "Frank and I had a fight." 

A fight. Olivia took a moment to process those words. She couldn't imagine Frank and Natalia fighting about anything. She had never even seen them bicker in the nauseating way that most new couples usually did. A horrible thought hit her and involuntarily her fingers tightened on Natalia's arm. "Did he-"

But Natalia seemed to read the look in her eyes and the coldness in her voice because she was already shaking her head, cutting off Olivia's question. "No. Frank would never." She sounded scandalized and hurt, so wounded that all Olivia wanted to do was pull her into her arms and hold her until it was better. "I just needed to get out of the house for a little while and this was the only place I could think to come. I hope you don't mind." 

"Of course not," Olivia dismissed that as ridiculous. "I'll have Joel comp your room in the morning." 

Natalia immediately looked defensive. "I wasn't looking for..." 

"Charity? A hand out?" Olivia countered. "I'm not offering. But I don't have a spare bedroom where you can crash at my place." She jerked her head up toward the upper floor that contained her suite. "If I did though, you wouldn't pay me to let you spend the night in a friend's spare room, would you?" 

When Natalia reluctantly shook her head, Olivia nodded. 

"Then just consider this my spare room." 

"Thank you."  

"No thanks necessary," Olivia corrected her gently. She hesitated and then lifted a hand to tilt Natalia's chin up, sending dark hair cascading away from her face. "You can tell me what happened. I promise it will be okay." And she knew it would be. In this moment she was here for Natalia, like she had been once before. She had been upset over Frank that time, too, but it had taught Olivia that she could handle it, putting her pain aside to comfort Natalia until she had a moment alone where she could cry out her own tears. 

"I told Frank I wanted a divorce." 

"No." Her hand fell away from Natalia's face as if the muscles and ligaments holding it in place had been cut. "I'm pretty sure I know how you feel about divorce and you do not get to do this. He can make you happy." By her last statement she was almost pleading with Natalia to tell her that this was true, that she hadn't ruined this for Natalia too. 

"He can't." Natalia countered, hurt flashing across her face and disappearing in an instant behind a stubborn facade. "I made a mistake, Olivia. I did. I don't love Frank." 

"You're wrong." There was no doubt in Olivia's voice. She may as well have been stating that the earth was round or the sun was hot. "You do. You're just scared or still adjusting to being married or something." 

"I'm not," Natalia said stubbornly. "I'm not scared and I don't love him." 

"Don't be ridiculous, Natalia. He's everything you've ever wanted, everything you deserve. Of course you love him." 

"But I don't," Natalia protested. "I don't love him. I love you!" 


Part Seventeen

They were close, sitting barely inches away from one another on the floor, leaning up against the perfectly made bed. Both stared straight ahead, although Natalia kept taking quick glances at Olivia out of the corner of her eye. 

"What does that mean, Natalia?" Olivia finally asked. 

It seemed like a simple question, Natalia thought, but the answer to it was far from simple. She didn't know what the future would bring and she certainly didn't have everything worked out. There were still so many things that scared her. The last thing Olivia needed though was another reason to doubt her, not if she wanted to prove that she truly did love Olivia and that she was capable of being the person that Olivia deserved. "It means that I need you in my life."

"You already have that," Olivia pointed out. "I'm not going anywhere. No matter how hard this is." 

But Olivia meant that as friends, Natalia realized immediately. She was still refusing to believe that it was possible that Natalia loved her the same way that she loved Natalia. She couldn't blame Olivia for that. In the past, her actions had done everything to encourage that. There was no way to excuse that she had married a man, knowing that Olivia loved her and that she didn't love him the way a wife should love her husband. 

She had already come so close to pushing Olivia away completely. Only some inner strength, some bloody-minded sense of stubbornness had kept Olivia hanging on this long, past the point where any other person would have walked away. Natalia would always be grateful for that, but it was time to stop relying on Olivia's strength. It wasn't fair to make her carry that burden all of the time. If she continued to rely on that, there would eventually come a day when even Olivia's legendary persistence wasn't enough to keep her holding on and then Natalia truly would lose her. No matter what Olivia said, Natalia knew she had already come so close to losing her already. It was worse because the only person she had to blame for that was herself. 

"I'm sorry," Natalia whispered, regret choking her. Her fingers dug into Olivia's leg. 

"For what?" Olivia asked. "You haven't done anything." 

"That's not true," Natalia corrected her. "You know that." 


"No," Natalia cut her off, pulling her legs up underneath her as she struggled to sit up straighter. "I need to say this to you." She closed her eyes, and then forced herself to open them again, looking directly into Olivia's vivid green eyes, refusing to allow herself to look away from them - and from what she saw in them - again. "I'm sorry I married Frank. I'm sorry I hurt you. I knew...you told me how you felt and I went through with that anyway and that was unforgivable." 

"I already forgave you." Olivia's voice was barely above a whisper and Natalia could see her eyes brimming with unshed tears again. 

"I know you did," Natalia murmured. "And I have no idea why you have this wonderful capacity to forgive me but I'm so glad that you do. Even if I don't deserve it." 

"You do." 

Natalia snorted ruefully. There was no way she could believe that. "You deserve more than the way that I've been treating you. You deserve someone who wouldn't have completed that vow." She could see that moment in her mind so clearly. ...I stand here before God... She had known then that finishing that vow was wrong, a betrayal of everything she and Olivia had shared and massively unfair to Frank. Everything inside of her had screamed at her to stop it, to run away, to do whatever she had to, to ensure that she didn't go through with this travesty. 

But she hadn't been strong enough to do it. She had let Rafe's and Buzz's and Frank's expectations weigh her down and dictate what she should do instead of following her heart and doing what she needed to do. She had taken the easy path, instead of the right one and she had hurt Olivia horribly in the process. 

Natalia glanced away, unable to keep looking at Olivia in the face of her own actions. "You deserve someone who wouldn't have said 'yes' to Frank in the first place. But I'm not that person," Natalia continued. "I was weak." 

"You were doing what you thought was best for everyone," Olivia corrected Natalia through her own tears. 

"No, I was being a hypocrite," Natalia said with a pained look. "Did you know that as I stood there with Frank I was praying that someone would stop the wedding? That you would do something - anything - to keep it from happening."

"You could have said something." It was the closest to an accusation that Olivia had come and Natalia was almost glad that Olivia was finally allowing her to shoulder some of the blame for this, the blame that was rightfully all hers. 

"I almost did," Natalia admitted. "Standing there, I was so close to just.... I almost turned and ran right out those doors." 

"But you didn't," Olivia pointed out. 

"I couldn't. Everything was so surreal. It happened so fast and I almost couldn't believe it. It was everything that I had ever wanted but I was horrified. You had just told me how you felt and I was so excited and scared and confused. I just needed some time and then I was walking down the aisle toward Frank and you were standing there waiting for me. It seemed like everyone was pushing me toward Frank and I just couldn't make it stop, no matter which way I turned, there was someone congratulating me or telling me how lucky I was or happy I should be. I couldn't disappoint all of them." 

"So you married him," Olivia said flatly. "I get it." 

"No, you don't." Natalia contradicted her immediately. "What I did was wrong. I should have fought for you because you mean so much more to me, more than anyone else except for our children. I know I broke your heart," Natalia said slowly. "But I promise you, if you give me a chance, I will never do that again." 

Natalia didn't miss Olivia's slight gasp as she heard those words. She pressed on, knowing that she wasn't done yet. If she was going to do this, she needed to lay everything out on the table for Olivia, the way Olivia had for her. Natalia raised her hand from Olivia's thigh, ignoring the way it trembled with nerves, and tentatively touched Olivia's cheek. "I've seen what life without you would be like and I don't want that. I want to fight with you every morning about the right way to put away the dishes and bicker about who gets to eat the last cookie. I want to kiss you and hold you and...and..." Even now she couldn't quite say it. "...And more. I want a life with you. I love you more than I have ever loved anyone. Just give me a chance to prove it to you." 

"I've seen that look before." The sudden change of subject startled Natalia. She had no idea what to make of it or of the slightly distracted look on Olivia's face, as her eyes seemed to bore into Natalia searching for something Natalia couldn't quite define. 

"What?" She was still struggling to catch up with Olivia. 

"The look on your face, just now." Olivia's eyes lit with understanding an instant later. "When I was in the hospital. I had just woken up and you were talking to me. You kissed my forehead and, and..." She seemed to realize that her words had out run her thoughts and she had said too much. 

"You were awake?" Natalia asked, disbelief warring with hurt. 

"Sort of," Olivia admitted. 

"But you-" Natalia bit her own words off, confusion warring with her natural urge to not push past the point people were willing to go. 

"Stopped you?" Olivia supplied the words for her instead. 


"I know." She looked away. "God, I wish I hadn't." 

For once, Natalia let the blasphemy slide. It almost sounded like a prayer and there were bigger things that they needed to discuss. "Why did you?" Olivia's tacit approval had given her the courage to press forward where she had held back a moment before. 

"Because I was scared," Olivia admitted. 

"Scared?" It was the last thing she had expected Olivia to say. 

"I do get scared, you know." Olivia said tartly. 

"I know you do," Natalia said simply, reaching over to touch her hand. "It's just, you were so brave when you told me how you felt in the cemetery that I didn't realize you were afraid before."

"I am," Olivia whispered. "I'm scared too. You make me feel things that no one else ever has. You hold my heart in your hand and you could crush it so easily. That's terrifying, Natalia." 

"I don't want to hurt you," Natalia said. "I just want to love you. I want to make you happy."

Olivia remained silent and fear began to creep back into Natalia's heart. Olivia hadn't moved but she felt farther away now. Maybe rehashing the past wasn't the best idea just yet, but she wasn't going to let Olivia go, especially not when it was Olivia's own fears trying to reclaim her. 

"That day, after I left the hospital, I went to the Church." That got Olivia's attention, drawing her eyes up to Natalia's. 

"Confession?" Olivia barely breathed the word, trying to keep the bitter disappointment from her voice. This was exactly why she hadn't wanted to get involved with Natalia. Having Natalia view what they shared, the way they felt, as a sin was worse than never having acknowledged it. 

"No," Natalia said clearly and firmly, one hand searching blindly for Olivia's and giving it a reassuring squeeze when she found it. "Not confession. Prayer. You see, after I almost kissed you I couldn't deny what I was feeling any longer. I was scared. I didn't want to lose you, but I finally admitted to myself that I loved you and I wanted you as more than just a friend. That day, when I took Gus' rings off, I didn't do it with the intention of agreeing to marry Frank. I took them off because I was finally ready to talk to you, to let you talk to me." 

Olivia trembled under Natalia's hands. Tears began to stream down her face, first one and then another, more and more. "I didn't know. I was so scared. I thought you would be happier with him. I thought I was doing the right thing," Olivia blurted the words out, her breath hitching around sobs. 

"Hey, shhh," Natalia comforted her, as Olivia began to fall apart. "It's okay." Without hesitation, Natalia pulled her closer, holding her as Olivia had held her when she had felt as if the world would never be right again. Gently she began to wipe the tears from Olivia's cheek with the pad of her thumb. "I'm sorry I said yes. I'm sorry I hurt you. I love you." The words turned into a litany as Olivia's sobs began to ease until finally she wasn't crying anymore. 

Natalia fell silent as Olivia composed herself and straightened so that she could see her again. Natalia didn't think she had ever seen anyone look so vulnerable or so heart-achingly beautiful before. She opened her mouth to say so, but something stopped her. Instead she felt herself drawn forward, leaning over into Olivia's space, steadying herself with one hand on the floor. Her heart pounded wildly inside her chest and she hoped what she was about to do was okay, that it wouldn't be horrible or ruin anything. And then she kissed Olivia. 

Lips met gently, chastely, and then Olivia's hand was on her hip, pulling her closer into Olivia's body. Natalia went willingly, never breaking contact with her as she did. Then Olivia was kissing her back, taking control of the kiss, sucking on Natalia's bottom lip. She whimpered. She couldn't help the wanton sound from coming out, even as embarrassment coursed through her. She had never wanted anyone this much before. 


Part Eighteen 

Natalia fell silent as Olivia composed herself and straightened so that she could see her again. Natalia didn't think she had ever seen anyone look so vulnerable or so heart-achingly beautiful before. She opened her mouth to say so, but something stopped her. Instead she felt herself drawn forward, leaning over into Olivia's space, steadying herself with one hand on the floor. Her heart pounded wildly inside her chest and she hoped what she was about to do was okay, that it wouldn't be horrible or ruin anything. And then she kissed Olivia. 


Lips met gently, chastely, and then Olivia's hand was on her hip, pulling her closer into Olivia's body. Natalia went willingly, never breaking contact with her as she did. Then Olivia was kissing her back, taking control of the kiss, sucking on Natalia's bottom lip. Natalia whimpered. She couldn't help the wanton sound from coming out, even as embarrassment coursed through her. She had never wanted anyone this much before. 

Olivia pushed against her and Natalia fell back willingly, pulling Olivia with her, but Olivia didn't come. Natalia felt disoriented and suddenly bereft. 

"What's wrong? Did I do something..." 

"No!" Olivia reassured her instantly. "Believe me, Sweetheart, you were doing everything just right." 

"Then..." Natalia was only more confused. 

"Aren't you forgetting something?" Olivia asked, picking up Natalia's left hand, her thumb touching the small diamond still adorning Natalia's third finger. "You're still married to Frank." 

"I told you. We're getting a divorce. I'm not going to change my mind, Olivia. I know what I want. I want to be with you." 

"That's good." A smile spread briefly over Olivia's lips. "That's the best news I've heard all day." She hesitated. "But I don't want you to have any regrets, Natalia. I know how you feel about marriage and divorce." 

"You keep saying that," Natalia said, irritation coloring her voice. "But I'm the one who made this mistake, and I'm the one who made this decision. I already talked to Frank. Even if..." She wavered as she struggled to give voice to a thought she didn't even want to contemplate. "Even if we never happen, I would still divorce Frank. What I felt for him, my reasons for marrying him were wrong. What we had isn't a real marriage. It should have never happened."

Olivia sat in silence for a moment as Natalia hoped that what she had said had finally gotten through to her.

"What about us?"

Natalia frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Your Church would never marry us. You have to know that."

Natalia suddenly felt dizzy at Olivia's words. Something must have shown on her face, because Olivia abruptly let go of her hand and began to rise. Scrambling to stop her, Natalia caught her hands to pull her back down. She was shocked all right, but not for the reasons that Olivia would think. It was the casual way Olivia had spoken of them getting married. It wasn't a proposal, Natalia knew that, but the sentiment was there. That Olivia had even thought of it meant more than she could ever express. And that was just one reason why Natalia loved her, because Olivia was always thinking about her, putting her first. She just wished Olivia would stop long enough for them to be together.

"You're right," Natalia said slowly. "But I don't need that with you."

Olivia laughed bitterly. "You say that now, but what about in a few years? What happens in just a few months when you aren't allowed to receive the Sacraments?"

Natalia blinked, more than a little startled by Olivia's knowledge of Catholicism. It wasn't the moment to ask though.

"Did you know that my marriage isn't valid in the eyes of the Church? That, in fact, I'm already in a state of sin?"


"Father Ray was supposed to be there to perform the ceremony. You know that. But if you want someone else to marry you, you have to get a special dispensation from the Church and there was no time for that when Frank and I got married."

"What are you saying?"

Natalia shrugged. "I don't know. I don't have all the answers, Olivia. I just know that I want to be with you." She hesitated. "And I don't feel like loving you is a sin."

"But acting on those feelings is."

"Why do you keep fighting this?" Natalia asked, tears of hurt and frustration welling in her eyes.

"Don't you know?" Olivia asked, one hand reaching out to brush Natalia's cheek. "It would be bad enough if I lost you now, but if we got closer and I lost you then, I wouldn't be able to stand it."

"Oh, Olivia," Natalia said softly, understanding coming in an instant. "I'm never going to leave you again."

Olivia's chin trembled. "Promise?"

"I promise," Natalia vowed, as she pulled Olivia into her arms and held on tightly. Tears streamed freely down their faces and neither one of them made a move to let go.

"So what now?" Natalia whispered, still holding Olivia close.

"Now we do this right," Olivia said firmly.

As exhausted and emotionally drained as she felt, a smile still crept across Natalia's face. "Oh?"

"If you're sure-"

"And I am." She was rewarded by an answering smile on Olivia's face as she pulled back enough that she could see Natalia.

"-Then we'll wait until your divorce is final." Even as she said it, Olivia looked as if she were holding her breath and waiting for Natalia to change her mind, as if merely saying the word divorce might be enough to scare her back into Frank's arms.

"And then what?" Natalia asked, her question seeming to reassure Olivia by its nature alone.

Olivia grinned with just a hint of the knowing certainty that could be so infuriating at times. "I guess you'll just have to wait and find out."

"Tease." The word slipped out before Natalia could be embarrassed or hold herself back. It was just a natural extension of the challenging relationship that she and Olivia had already developed.

The look that Olivia gave her made Natalia feel dizzy again. There was something in it that was so powerful that it rocked her to the core. "Never when it comes to you," was all Olivia said.

It was as if Olivia's words were an invitation, reminding her of what had started this conversation in the first place. Her eyes dropped to Olivia's lips and although she knew she was staring, she couldn't look away either.

"Natalia…" Her name slipped out of Olivia's mouth like an agonized groan.

Olivia bit her lip and all Natalia could think about was capturing that lip with hers.

"I can't believe I'm going to say this – can not," Olivia stressed. "But I don't think we should keep doing this."

Natalia looked so hurt that she immediately amended her statement.

"Yet. Do this yet. I respect you too much, to just rush into this. I want to do this right. We should…" She shook her head as if she couldn't believe she was saying this. "I think we should wait until your divorce is final."

Natalia did not want to wait. Everything in her was screaming to not let Olivia go now that she had her. Unfortunately she also knew that Olivia was right. She had already betrayed Frank enough. He had done nothing wrong and she had hurt him in a way that she would never be able to make up for. The least she could do was keep her distance from Olivia until after her divorce was official. 

"You're right," Natalia finally admitted. "I hate that." 

"That I'm right, or that..." Olivia trailed off, teasing her gently. 

"Both," Natalia declared firmly. But despite knowing that Olivia was right, she couldn't help the way she felt. The desire to kiss Olivia again, to reassure them both that this was real and not some sweet fantasy that would vanish like fog in the noonday sun, was an ache that couldn't be silenced. "I just..." Natalia blushed, not used to feeling this way, and embarrassed by its intensity. 

"What?" Olivia asked, gently. "You can tell me anything," she added when Natalia remained silent. 

"I want to kiss you again, so badly." Her words' effect on Olivia was obvious. Natalia could see her resolve wavering, so she pushed just a little bit harder, looking up at Olivia from under dark lashes. "Please? Just one more time, and then I swear we'll wait." 

Olivia's hand cupped her chin, her thumb brushing over Natalia's bottom lip. "You know, don't you, that I don't want to wait? Everything in me wants to kiss you and hold you and never let you go again." 


Olivia nodded slowly, her head tilting to match Natalia's as she leaned forward. "Really," she murmured and then she was kissing her, trying to pour months of longing and weeks of anticipation into a single kiss, hoping that it would be enough to tide them both over until they could do this whenever they wanted.

"So now we go back to work in the morning like nothing has changed?" Natalia asked, the whole concept seeming surreal. She could hardly believe she had finally admitted how she felt to Olivia. 

"Yes," Olivia agreed, turning a fond smile on Natalia. "But now we both know how we feel about each other, so it will be completely different." 

"It will, won't it?" Natalia agreed, her thoughts already drifting ahead to the next day. They might not be able to kiss or touch, but when Olivia looked at her, she would know that Olivia loved her. And she would be free to look at Olivia as much as she wanted, in the same way. It changed everything. 


Part Nineteen

Two months later.

Rafe was sitting at the small table in the kitchen waiting for her when Natalia came down the stairs. Two plates of steaming eggs, crispy bacon and re-heated muffins sat on the plates, but Rafe was watching her - not eating. Which was very strange for the boy who had declared prison food to be crap - drawing a pointed look from her - and eaten everything in her house that hadn't been nailed down almost from the moment he had gotten out of the halfway house.

Natalia watched him out of the corner of her eye as she went around the table and poured herself a cup of coffee. Rafe didn't drink it, so he must have turned it on for her. Her son was being especially thoughtful this morning and while that made her happy, it also made her wary.

Rafe knew what today was just as well as she did. Even if, Natalia thought with a pang of regret, Olivia didn't know. She had done it on purpose, holding back the details of her divorce from Olivia once Natalia realized the fear and uncertainty that it drew out of Olivia every time the subject came up. She knew Olivia was still afraid that she wouldn't go through with it or that any one of Frank's determined tactics would actually work to win her back or dissuade her from going through with the divorce, and Natalia couldn't blame her for that. She had put Olivia through so much, but the moment she had decided to ask Frank for a divorce, everything had changed. She had gained absolute certainty and with it, unshakable determination, even if that unshakable determination sometimes came with shaking hands and trembling knees.

So Natalia had been keeping the details of her divorce from Olivia, only sharing with her in the most general sense what was going on. Olivia knew that it would all be over soon, but she didn't know that today was the day that it would officially be over if Frank didn't do anything else...stubborn. Natalia thought she had convinced him the last time, had made him see that it really was Olivia she wanted to be with no matter how he begged, pleaded or railed at her. But Frank had already put finalizing it off once, having his lawyer make a specious claim to drag things out and Natalia didn't want to have to raise Olivia's hopes again only to have them dashed.

Natalia put her coffee down and took a seat at the table. She smiled at Rafe, but didn't pick up her fork.

"It looks good."

Rafe moved for the first time, folding his arms over his chest and leaning back in his chair.

"Why are you doing this, Ma? I don't understand."

And there it was, the question she had been waiting for. Rafe had been asking some version of it since he had come home and found Frank gone. She had always told him the same thing, even as she struggled for a way to make him understand, to find a way to tell him that she had fallen in love with her best friend.

"I don't love Frank, Rafe. It wasn't right."

Natalia had struggled with the words she wanted to say to him each day until now, when she had finally run out of time. She was still waiting for the perfect moment, but now she had to find the words because he deserved to know before things went any further with Olivia. Natalia wasn't planning on holding back any longer, not after this final barrier keeping them apart was gone.

Rafe snorted. "So why'd you marry him then? You looked happy." He said, flinging an arm out her in a bewildered accusation.

Natalia shook her head, feeling the words choking her. "This isn't about Frank," she whispered.

"Then what is it about, Ma?" Rafe asked, running his hands through his hair, tugging at tight curls.

The gesture made her smile. Rafe had done that since he was a little boy. Some days it felt as if she hardly knew him anymore. Natalia straightened, picking up her fork and taking a bite of her eggs. They were rubbery. She smiled a little bit more and chewed.

"It's about me, Raphael," Natalia said slowly, but gently. "I should never have agreed to marry Frank." A pang of guilt tugged at her heart, not doubt about her decision, but regret that she had let things go so far. "I let what I was afraid other people would think dictate my actions." She looked up at him, knowing he had no idea what she was talking about but hoping that he understood anyway. "I was scared, so I agreed to marry Frank because he was a good man. I knew he would be good for us."

The chair scraped loudly as Rafe pushed away from the table, stumbling to his feet. "Scared of what? What aren't you telling me, Ma? Has someone threatened you, or...or tried you make you do something?"

"No," Natalia said quickly, instantly cutting off that line of thought. "Nothing like that." She was doing this badly. She should have talked to Olivia, but they were barely talking. It was hard enough to restrain themselves around each other all day, without discussing the elephant that they both knew was in the room. Every look felt like so much more than a look. Their arms had brushed once and just that had sent a shiver through her entire body. No, by mutual, if unspoken consent they were both trying so very hard to wait until they were finally free to be together in every way because anything else was just too much. They pretended for their own sanity.

"Just..." she swallowed. "Just listen to me, Raphael. Hear me out." And then she told him, in stumbling, halting phrases interspersed with longer sentences full of passion and conviction as she tried to tell him everything about Olivia in a rush, pouring out all of the good things as she tried to make certain that he heard what she was really saying.

Rafe was shaking his head before she could finish speaking. "What are you saying?" He tilted his head as if he had never seen her before. "You and Olivia?"

Knowing it wasn't the answer he wanted to hear, Natalia said it anyway. She refused to lie about this any longer. "Yes."

"No!" Rafe exclaimed, his voice booming out harshly in the small space of the kitchen. "Why? What are you... This is crazy, Ma! It's Olivia. Don't you remember what she did to you - to us? She took his heart." He said it like he couldn't believe she had forgotten.

"She didn't take anything," Natalia said. "I gave it to her."

"It's not right. The way she treats you is wrong. She takes advantage of you."

"She doesn't. She hasn't," Natalia shook her head in a quick denial. "Olivia hasn't taken anything away from me that I haven't been willing to give. And she's given us so much."

Rafe scoffed, but Natalia continued.

"She gave us this house and when I decided that I wanted to marry Frank." Natalia had to pause and catch her breath at the words. How could she have been so foolish? How could something so wrong have seemed like the only option? "When I decided I wanted to marry Frank, she stood by me. She got me a beautiful wedding dress-" and Natalia still wasn't certain Olivia hadn't bought it for her, no matter what Olivia said "-and gave me a wedding like I had dreamed about my whole life. She stood with me and supported me, even though her heart was breaking. She encouraged me to marry Frank because she thought that was what I wanted. She did all that, Rafe. For me."

"It's not..." He turned away. "She doesn't mean it, Ma. Don't you see, it's just one of her games. She's messing with your head."

"Why?" Natalia said plainly. "Why would she do that, Rafe?"

"Who knows?" He blurted out in frustration. "Why does she do anything? It's Olivia. She doesn't change. She just uses people until she can't get anything else from them and then she throws them away."

"Then why didn't she throw me away?" The thought was almost physically painful for her, but if ever Olivia had been so inclined, marrying a man and denying everything that was between them was a reason no one could blame her for.

Rafe stared at her. He didn't have an explanation, but he didn't need one either. "It doesn't make sense," he finally blurted out, his words part-denial, part plea to tell him it wasn't true. "Don't do this. It isn't you."

"But it is me," Natalia said simply. "I love her, Raphael, and she loves me. I need her and you are going to have to accept that. She is a part of my family, just like you. Just like your father. And some day she and Emma are going to move back into this house - God willing. We're all going to be a family." Her voice lowered to whisper. "You know it's what I've always wanted for us." Begging him for his understanding.

Rafe looked small, his body folded in on itself as he stood across from her in the kitchen. Even in prison, he had never felt this far away from her. "What if I can't live with that?"

His words hit her like a gut punch. For a moment, Natalia couldn't breathe, but she had faith, faith that God wouldn't have given her this love, wouldn't have brought them together like this just to rip her family apart. Natalia just needed to hold on until Rafe could see that having Olivia in their lives didn't meaning losing something, but gaining everything.

"No," Natalia said firmly, turning away from him to take her plate to the sink. She had to leave for work in just a few minutes and she didn't want to be late. Natalia knew Olivia would worry, even if Natalia was only a little bit late, that she hadn't showed up because she wasn't coming. "You are my son, Raphael and you're not going anywhere." She glanced back over at him. "I just got you back home." She held up a hand. "And I'm not letting you go just because you can't see how good this is yet." She smiled. "But you will, one day and then you'll understand. Thank you for cooking breakfast." Natalia brushed his cheek with her hand and gently kissed his forehead before she walked away, leaving him slightly stunned in her wake.

As soon as she was out of sight, Natalia let out a deep shuddering breath. Telling Rafe had been terrifying but the reason for all of it - Olivia - was well worth it. It would all be worth it when they were finally a family, and today when she and Frank finalized their divorce, that was what it would be - the beginning of a new family, instead of the sundering of one. What she and Frank had shared had been a parody of a union, what she and Olivia would soon share would be the real thing, of that Natalia was certain.


Part Twenty

Natalia knocked lightly on the door to Olivia's office and then stepped inside. It was more of a formality really. As Olivia's assistant, she knew that no one was in there at the moment, and having a spectacularly uneventful day, Olivia was probably just playing solitaire on her computer. 

Olivia smiled as she saw Natalia and leaned back into her chair. "Hey. Something come up?" 

"No," Natalia said with a shake of her head. 

"Damn," Olivia said, her bland tone at odds with the explicative. "This computer is kicking my ass." 

"I could probably manufacture a crisis for you," Natalia volunteered, with faux-helpfulness. 

Olivia casually waved the suggestion away. "Maybe if we're still this slow tomorrow." She leaned forward again. "So what did you need?" She knew that Natalia's day would be almost as slow as hers and she was hoping that Natalia had come in just because she wanted to see her. Touching and kissing might be out but it didn't mean that they couldn't spend time together. It was such a relief not to feel like she had to hide something every time she looked at Natalia. 

"I, uh, need the afternoon off." 

Olivia's brow furrowed and she rose quickly from her chair, coming around the desk. "Is everything okay? Rafe's not-"

"No," Natalia reassured her quickly. "Everything's fine. This afternoon is the hearing to finalize my divorce." 

"Oh. Of course," Olivia agreed, but even though she hadn't moved, she seemed further away to Natalia. 

"What's wrong?" 

"Are you sure this is what you want?" Olivia asked. "Really sure?" 

Natalia resisted the urge to point out that even if she wasn't, there was no way that Frank would take her back. They were barely managing civility these days, not that she blamed him. She was just trying to get through this without hurting him any more than she already had. But all of that wasn't what Olivia needed to hear at the moment. Natalia moved close enough that she could take Olivia's hands in hers. 

"I am sure that there's no where else that I would rather be than with you. You are who makes me happy, not Frank." 

"Okay," Olivia finally said, in a quiet voice. 

Natalia knew she didn't quite believe her yet, but this was the last day that she would have to hold back. Then she could spend the rest of her life proving to Olivia just how she felt about her. 

"There is one thing you could do for me?" Natalia prompted her. 

"Anything," Olivia answered reflexively and just as Natalia had hoped she would. 

"Go out on a date with me tonight?" 

Olivia looked startled but delighted. "I would love that." 

"Good," Natalia said firmly. "Then it's a date." Just the thought of it made her feel like the giddy teenager that she had never really had a chance to be. 

Olivia bit back the urge to fidget, stuffing her hands in her pockets so they wouldn't betray her nervousness. There was one more question that she needed to ask, but she hated having to ask it now, not when things were so close to being perfect. 

"What about Rafe?" 

Natalia laughed gently, her eyes sparkling. "He's almost nineteen. I think he can handle one night on his own. What about Emma? Do you think you can get Jane to watch her?" 

Olivia winced. That wasn't what she had meant at all. "Does he know you won't be there because we're going on a date?" 

Silence reigned for a brief moment. It felt like an eternity as Olivia held her breath, waiting to see what Natalia would have to say to that. 

"No." Natalia smiled tightly. "Actually asking you was kind of a spur of the moment thing." She looked down, her hair falling in front of her face, covering the faint hint of red that spread across her cheeks. "I wanted to see you afterwards." 

Ordinarily, Natalia's words would have had the same affect on Olivia as a gentle caress on a well contented Tabby cat. Instead she felt more uncertain than before. She and Natalia weren't officially anything to one another. As Natalia's invitation had pointed out, they hadn't even been on a single date yet. She had no right to ask that Natalia tell her son about them, yet she was so scared that Rafe would be another obstacle between them whenever he found out. She couldn't let herself go when it felt like Rafe was still hanging over them, waiting for the worst possible moment to cause a problem.

Olivia took a deep breath, resolving as she had so many times before not to push Natalia into anything she wasn't ready for. She just needed to be patient and let Natalia tell Rafe in her own time. It was too bad she sucked at patient. Swallowing her worry down and pushing it away for another time, Olivia summoned a smile. 

"You can see me whenever you want." 

"If I want to see you every day?" Outside of work, was implicit in Natalia's words. The time they spent inside the Beacon, while wonderful and fulfilling in its own way, just didn't seem to count anymore. 

"I guess we'll just have to work on that," Olivia said agreeably, almost holding her breath as she struggled not to interpret Natalia's words as more than she might have intended for them to mean. 

"I'd like that," Natalia answered, her smile growing, happy just to be in the same room with Olivia. "Actually, there's something I need to tell you." 

Those simple words were enough to make Olivia freeze where she stood. It sounded ominous the way Natalia had said it, even as she kept smiling. 

"Oh?" It was the only sound Olivia could push out past the tension rising within her. 

"When Rafe got out of prison..." Natalia explained slowly, as if choosing each word with care. "He was surprised when he found out I was divorcing Frank." Surprised was, in fact, a pretty large understatement. He had been shocked, dumbfounded and a little bit angry. Divorce happened to other people, not his mother. It wasn't that he had anything against it, but he knew the consequences for his mother in the Church if she got a divorce and he couldn't imagine her going through with it. It had left him reeling when he needed the world to be solid and at its most consistent. Instead he got handed a mother he didn't understand any more and lost another man who could have been a father figure to him. "He didn't understand why I was doing it. It didn't make sense to him. So, this morning I told him why." 

"You told him...what?" Olivia asked carefully. 

"That I couldn't stay married to Frank because I didn't love him the way I should." She hesitated and gave Olivia a nervous smile. "I told him that I loved you - as more than a friend." 

"What..." Olivia swallowed - her throat was so dry - and tried again. "What did Rafe say?" 

"He wasn't very happy about it," Natalia acknowledged grimly. "He didn't understand a lot of things. He said things..." She shook her head, raising her eyes to look at Olivia again. "He didn't mean them."


But Natalia held up her hand, stopping Olivia before she could start. "It's okay. He doesn't have anywhere else to go. With James back in town, Alan isn't really interested in Rafe at the moment. So, he had no where else to go. He needed me to give him a ride to work. He can't afford to get fired. Part of his parole is that he has to have a job. Anyway," Natalia continued a moment later. "He doesn't have a choice, because I'm not giving you up. It might be a little uncomfortable, at first, but I want you and Emma around and I want Rafe there too." She said it firmly as if she refused to accept anything else, it would make it so. 

Olivia admired her determination, pig-pigheadedness some would call it if they were less charitable. To Olivia, it was just another part of Natalia that she loved. She knew a thing or two about unhappy step-children though and as much as she loved Natalia, she couldn't quite gloss over the realities of the situation. 

"I want that too. But, Natalia, you know there's a possibility that Rafe won't come around." It was easier to face it now, Olivia told herself. Now rather than later, when she had fallen any harder. 

"I know that," Natalia said, not backing down an inch. "But he will. I know my son, Olivia. He might be angry now, but he won't be able to hold onto it. You'll see. Not when he sees how happy you make me."

"I don't want you to get hurt," Olivia whispered. 

"Then don't run away from me," Natalia said simply. "Nothing can hurt me as long as you're with me." 

The complete devotion and trust in her voice was Olivia's undoing. "You've missed some of my more spectacular relationship disasters." 

But Natalia shook her head. "I haven't missed anything," she countered. "I know you, Olivia Spencer. I love you and I'm going to spend the rest of my life proving it to you."

And finally, Olivia gave into the inevitable, into Natalia who was finally showing all the strength and determination that she had ever needed to see. "Okay."


Part Twenty-One

Olivia was five minutes early when she pulled into the farmhouse's driveway. In truth she had first pulled up to the driveway almost an hour before, unaccustomed jitters driving her out of the Beacon well before she should have left. She had spent the intervening time driving around out in the general vicinity of the farmhouse, staring at fallow fields and brown pastures until she couldn't stand it any longer and had gone back to Natalia's. 

The short walk from her car to the porch seemed to take forever. Her palms were sweating, which was odd considering that it was still cold out, and her heart was beating wildly. She pressed her hand against her chest, willing it to slow. She hated the panic-y out of control feeling that it brought with it. She hated showing this weakness, even to Natalia who had seen it - seen her - more than anyone. 

The cold, jagged edges of the keys on her key ring bit into her palm as her hand clenched rhythmically around them. Among them was a key to the door in front of her. She had never given it back when she and Emma had moved out, keeping it as some small act of defiance. Natalia had never asked for it back. Olivia had wondered if that was on purpose or if Natalia had simply forgotten that she had it. 

It would be so much easier to use it now to unlock the door and let herself in than to knock and wait for Natalia to come and answer the door. Coming in without Natalia's express permission didn't feel right this time though, like it broke some unwritten rule of dating, no matter that she had lived here for months. Maybe that was why this felt so awkward. They had done this all backwards. Most people started dating before they knew one another well. She and Natalia had grown almost as close as it was possible for two people to be without taking their relationship to that next level and now, here they were starting over again. It felt strange and nerve-racking because they were changing things and if not looking at each other in new ways - then admitting that there was more between them than just friendship. That changed everything.

Olivia forced herself to raise her hand and knock, and then to not pace the length of the porch until Natalia answered the door. But Natalia didn't come. There was no sound of approaching footsteps and the door didn't swing open. She was gripped with a split-second of panic of a totally different kind. She hadn't heard anything from Natalia since that morning, since before she had gone to the courthouse to face Frank for a final time. So many things could have changed between then and now. Rafe could have begged Natalia to reconsider. Natalia could have decided what she was getting herself into was just too much to deal with. 

"Come on in!" The words were muted by the distance and the door standing between them, but they were more than enough to jerk Olivia out of her fear-induced stupor. Her hand went to the door and she let herself in as Natalia's voice drifted down the stairs again. "I'll be down in just a minute." 

Olivia's relief was so great that she almost didn't mind being forced to wait again to see Natalia. She took in the familiar living room, her attention drawn to the little changes almost immediately. A pair of shoes, too large, dirty, and manly to be Natalia's were dumped in front of the couch. A set of keys on an unfamiliar key chain lay on the coffee table next to an equally unfamiliar cell phone. All Rafe's things, Olivia presumed. She had never seen any of Frank's influence there and she was glad of it now. 

The heavy thud of feet rushing down the stairs jerked her attention away. She knew immediately that it wasn't Natalia coming down the stairs, no matter how her heart had leaped for that initial second before her mind had caught up. 

Rafe slowed as he reached the bottom of the steps, swinging around to give her a look that wasn't quite a glare. Olivia smiled. She had years of practice at showing emotions that she didn't actually feel. 


He didn't respond at first and she thought he might not at all. It was juvenile and petty, even for Rafe, but finally he looked up at her. 

"What do you want?" He was trying to sound mean and tough, but she had never been afraid of Rafe, not even when he had been at his angriest. He might have gone to prison on charges of attempted murder but he wasn't the most dangerous person in the room. 

She had a feeling - to take your mother out on a date - wasn't what he wanted to hear. Then Olivia caught on. She raised an eyebrow and tried to stifle her amusement. Rafe wouldn't think it was funny at all. 

"Are you asking about my intentions toward your mother?" 

He shrugged roughly. "What do you want from her? It doesn't make sense." He wrapped his arms around his chest, tucking his hands under his arms. 

"What doesn't?" Olivia asked. 

"She doesn't have anything you could want," Rafe exclaimed. "She doesn't have any money or power or, or anything! You already took everything else she had from her. Now you want her...why?"

"I don't need any of that. I already have money and power." She debated for a moment about whether to continue, but this was Rafe, Natalia's son. "All I want is for her to be happy." 

Rafe snorted, scoffing in disbelief. "Yeah, right. And I'm a friggin' saint." 

Involuntarily Olivia's jaw clenched. "Don't let her hear you talking like that," Olivia said with deceptive casualness and a nod of her head toward the stairs.  

"What do you care?" Rafe retorted. 

"Because she won't like it and she raised you better than that." 

"Still none of your business," Rafe said, belligerently. 

"You're right," Olivia said with a small nod. Then she sighed. She was already getting tired of doing this dance with Rafe. She glanced up the stairs, listening intently for a moment. When she heard and saw nothing she took a step closer to Rafe. "You have a problem with me. Why don't you go ahead and say what you want to say?" 

Rafe stared at her warily. 

"One time only offer, Rafe, and it runs out when your mother gets down those stairs." Surely it had been five minutes already. Surely Natalia would be ready soon. 

"You're using her, and one day when you have what you want you're going to throw her away. You're going to hurt her and I hate that. I won't let it happen. You hear me, Olivia?" 

Instead of angry, all Olivia felt was deflated. "I hear you, Rafe." All she saw when she looked at him was Gus. It was too bad all he saw when he looked at her was the enemy. She would change that though. She would spend the rest of her life proving to him just how much she loved Natalia and eventually she hoped he would see just how wrong he was. "But I'm not going to stop." Every word was filled with certainty. "As long as Natalia wants me here, I won't be anywhere else."

Rafe looked as if he was about to make another angry retort when they both heard Natalia coming down the stairs. He turned away scooping the keys and phone up off the coffee table and then caught a glimpse of Natalia as she reached the bottom. 

"Ma...you look..." He shook his head. He had seen his mother dressed up plenty of times before, but he could never remember seeing the glow of happiness around her like this, not even when she had married Gus. Anger flashed through him again as he thought of Olivia standing behind him. There was nothing he could do now, nothing that wouldn't result in Natalia being angry at him and defending Olivia. The only thing he could do was hope that Olivia wasn't lying, that for just one time in her life she was actually telling the truth, because it was undeniable. Natalia was happier than he had ever seen her. Happy enough that he almost hoped he was wrong about Olivia. "Can I take your car tonight? I'm supposed to meet up with Daisy and Ash." 

Worry flitted over Natalia's face and Rafe felt a familiar sense of irritation. "I'm not going to get in trouble," he said indignantly. "What do you think I'm stupid? We're just gonna watch a movie and hang out." He stepped forward to kiss Natalia on the cheek. "I'll be an angel. Promise." He flashed her a smile and he could almost see the moment she relented with a nod of her head. 

"Don't stay out too late." Natalia called after him, but he was already practically out the door. 

Then she turned to face Olivia.


Part Twenty-Two

"Hi." Olivia said softly. She had waited, letting Natalia have a final moment with Rafe before he raced out the door, but now she had Natalia all to herself. It was a wonderful thought. 

Natalia smiled, the bright, impossibly happy smile that flashed dimples and made everyone around her want to smile back in response. Olivia loved it. Like an addict jonesing for a fix, she couldn't get enough of it.

"Hey, yourself." Natalia said lightly as she descended the final step and came around the banister. 

Olivia was suddenly very aware of her hands and equally unsure what to do with them. 

"I'm sorry," Natalia said abruptly, gesturing toward the stairs and the second floor. "I was running a little bit late." She blushed charmingly. "I wasn't sure what to wear." 

"You look gorgeous in anything." Olivia spoke before she could censor herself, and then winced internally. She didn't know yet, just how much Natalia was comfortable with. So many things between them were new now. They had shared so much before, a knowing solidified by glances of mutual longing and lingering looks that conveyed more than either one could ever say, but there was something different about acknowledging it and saying it out loud. She had told Natalia she was beautiful before, but that had been under the guise of friendship. Now it meant so much more. 

"Right," Natalia said, her voice full of disbelief. 

But Olivia was already shaking her head. "No, I mean it. You might not always wear the fanciest clothes or follow the latest trends, but you always look breathtaking." 

"Olivia..." Natalia's voice was breathy and full of some emotion that Olivia couldn't quite place. It was both pleading and doubtful. 

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," Olivia apologized quickly, wanting nothing to put a damper on their evening. She wanted tonight to be perfect, not ruined by her inability to keep herself in check where Natalia was concerned. 

"You didn't," Natalia jumped in quickly. "At least, not the way you're thinking. No one has ever said something like that to me before." 

"Right," Olivia said knowingly. "You've waitressed and worked in bars, Natalia. I can't have been the only one telling you how gorgeous you are." 

Natalia rolled her eyes. "There were men who asked me out, or...said things, but none of them ever made me feel like they meant it. It was just something they said to get what they wanted. It wasn't about me; they could have been saying it to anyone."

"I didn't mean to upset you," Olivia said softly. 

"I know," Natalia reassured her. "I just..." She shook her head and smiled again, less brightly but just as sincerely. "Thank you. Can we just start over again?" 

Olivia couldn't help but smirk. "Want me to run back outside and knock?" 

Natalia tried not to let her amusement show, but she couldn't help it. "Oh, I don't think that'll be necessary." 

"Good, because I don't want to miss a second with you." 

"You keep saying things like that..." Natalia said in a breathy whisper. 

Olivia laughed. She couldn't help it. She had been storing things like that up inside for so many months now that it felt wonderful to actually be able to say them aloud. "I mean every word." She let that sink in for a moment and then changed the subject in an attempt to lighten the moment. "Ready to go?" 

"I am." 

"Good. Then let's get this show on the road." 

Natalia wrinkled her nose. "Has anyone ever told you, you talk funny?" 

"I'm whimsical," Olivia declared. "It's part of my charm." 

Olivia was having more fun than she'd had in years. It wasn't as if they were doing something special. As dates went, this one was fairly normal, even boring one might say, if one were Olivia Spencer circa 2007. They were having dinner at a nice restaurant, wearing clothes only slightly nicer and more revealing than what they saw each other in every day. After dinner, they might go for an early evening walk in the park and then Olivia would return Natalia home. What made it so wonderful was that she was on the date with Natalia. What had once been impossible was now reality and Olivia couldn't stop smiling. She was as giddy as a school girl on her first date. 

And that was the problem. She was sitting here, wondering what Natalia would do if she reached across the table and held her hand. It was laying invitingly out on the table, her fingers curled open just so, and it was all Olivia could do not to reach out and take her hand. Was hand-holding allowed, and if so would Natalia let her hold her hand in a public place like this one? Why the hell was she even thinking about hand-holding? She was Olivia Spencer. She didn't hold hands. She did things like having mind-blowing sex in cramped bathroom stalls where there was every chance of being caught, not worry about a little harmless public display of affection that no one was even likely to notice. 

"Olivia?" Natalia sounded worried and that immediately caught Olivia's attention, pulling her out of the fog of irritation that surrounded her. 

"Sorry? What was that?" Olivia couldn't believe she'd let her attention drift so far that she'd missed what Natalia was saying. Damn tempting hand. 

"I called your name several times. You didn't hear me. I was starting to get worried. Is everything okay?" Natalia looked so serious that Olivia immediately regretted worrying her.

"Everything's fine. Wonderful, actually. I just got lost in thought." 

"Penny for your thoughts?" Natalia asked quietly. 

Olivia hesitated. There was no way she could tell Natalia what she was really thinking about. It was too ridiculous to admit to. 

"You don't have to," Natalia added as the silence grew. "I was just-"

"No," Olivia said quickly. To hell with dignity. "It wasn't anything bad." She looked down. "I was just thinking how much I'd like to hold your hand." 

"Really?" And once again there was that faint hint of disbelief in Natalia's voice. 

This time Olivia didn't try to convince her otherwise, she just nodded. "Really," she agreed softly, putting every ounce of certainty that she possessed into it. 

"You could, you know. Hold my hand," Natalia added as Olivia raised a questioning eyebrow. "I would like that very much." 

Olivia reached out taking Natalia's fingers in her hand, rubbing her thumb over the back of them tenderly. A faint smirk tugged at her lips, relief turning into a hint of mischief. "You could have taken my hand," she pointed out. 

"I wanted to," Natalia said with a smile. 

"But you didn't," Olivia pointed out. 

"I wasn't sure..." Natalia trailed off. "It seemed silly, wanting to hold your hand," she admitted in a small voice. 

"Not silly at all," Olivia corrected her, squeezing her hand again. "You can hold my hand any time you want." 

"Yeah?" Natalia asked quietly, something else in her voice, in the look in her eyes than just the question she was asking. 

"Yeah," Olivia responded, unable to keep her voice from dropping into a smoky purr. If Natalia kept looking at her like that... She banished the thought with effort. Someday. She could wait as long as she needed to now that she knew there would be a someday. 

"It's getting late," Olivia said softly, and it was. 

They had never made it to that walk in the park, lingering instead over dessert. Natalia had hesitated when the waiter had asked if they wanted some, glancing over at Olivia to see if she was interested. In the end they had compromised, ordering the most decadent chocolate cake on the menu, but sharing it instead of getting two pieces. 

There had been some mistake because when the waiter had returned with their coffee and dessert, he had brought only one fork, not two. Olivia had opened her mouth to say something when she felt Natalia touch her wrist lightly. She had looked up to a faint shake of Natalia's head and paused long enough for the waiter to leave again. For a second she wondered what Natalia was thinking and then Natalia had picked up the fork and cut off a small corner, gooey, still-warm frosting clinging to the fork as she lifted it up toward Olivia. 

It had taken a second for Natalia's actions to sink in, and then Olivia had leaned forward and accepted the proffered bite. Her eyes had closed with a dreamy smile, less at the taste of the cake - although it was delicious - and more at the thought that Natalia had been willing to play like this. It might have just been a bite of cake, but it was also a little bit of seduction and Olivia was more than willing to bite. Eyes still closed, Olivia let out a small groan. Okay, maybe she was playing it up a little, but this was only the smallest taste of what Natalia did to her without even realizing it. 

When her eyes had opened, Natalia was blushing, her eyes downcast and for a heart-stopping moment Olivia wondered if she had pushed Natalia too far, too fast outside of her comfort zone. 

Then Natalia looked back up at her, her eyes blazing and Olivia had swallowed, her throat suddenly dry from what she saw. 

"My turn," Natalia had said, holding the fork out to Olivia and Olivia wondered how she could sound so seductive when it didn't even look as if she was trying. 

From there, they had taken turns eating the cake, sharing a bite back and forth. Olivia had thought she was going to die when Natalia licked a stray smudge of frosting from one of her fingers, but now they were finished, both with dessert and their coffee and there was no good excuse to stay any longer. 

"It is getting late," Natalia agreed, finally reaching for the bill that lay between them. Olivia was just as quick, laying her hand over top of Natalia's. "No." Natalia cut her off quickly before she could even speak. "I asked, my treat." 

Part of Olivia rebelled at the thought. She made so much more than Natalia and she wanted to take care of her, give her everything she hadn't even thought about wanting. Fair was fair though, and she couldn't see a way out of this conversation without an argument. Not that she was adverse to a good conflict. It could be an excellent way to get the blood flowing, but she had high hopes for winning a kiss from Natalia before the end of the night and a squabble over the bill would not improve her chances. So she would retreat to fight another day. 

"Fine," she conceded aloud. "But next time, I'm buying." 

"Fair enough," Natalia agreed, with a smile and just as quickly the tension eased. 

With her other hand, she slipped the bill out from beneath their joined hands and began to work on it. Olivia's smirk resurfaced as she began to run two fingers lightly over the back of Natalia's hand where it lay underneath hers, and gently played with her fingers. She could see Natalia growing more flustered and distracted with each passing moment. 

"Stop it!" Natalia finally burst out an instant later, unable to contain it any longer. 

"Stop what?" Olivia asked, summoning her most innocent expression. 

Natalia, however, wasn't buying it. "You know what," she murmured, just a little bit grumpily. 

Olivia didn't comment but her teasing motions stopped long enough for Natalia to pay the bill and get them out of there. 


Part Twenty-Three

Much to Olivia's disappointment, the drive back out to the farmhouse seemed to take no time at all. She wasn't ready to drop Natalia off at home and return to her empty suite at the Beacon for the night. At the last moment, Emma had gotten invited to a sleepover, so Jane's assistance hadn't been necessary, but now it meant she wouldn't even have Emma there to cheer her up. 

When the car finally slowed to a stop, they both took their time getting out and walking hand-in-hand to the porch. Natalia let her hand go when they reached the door and fumbled in her purse for her key. Olivia was grinning by the time Natalia got it out. 

"Do I make you nervous, Natalia?" Olivia asked, leaning in close enough that she was almost pressed up against Natalia's back. 

Natalia shivered and Olivia chuckled. 

"You're being mean," Natalia protested. 

Olivia gasped and put a hand over her heart. "Me? Mean? But everyone always says I'm the picture of sweetness." 

Now it was Natalia's turn to snort. "Everyone doesn't know you very well." 

"And you do," Olivia said simply. 

Natalia nodded and bit her lip. Olivia didn't push, giving her time to say whatever she was thinking. Natalia stepped back further into the house, holding the door open wide. 

"Do you want to come in?" 

Olivia thought her heart might stop. Was Natalia asking what she thought Natalia was asking? Or something far more innocent. Giving herself a mental shake, Olivia pushed that thought away. Of course, Natalia didn't mean what she had hoped Natalia meant. She was just inviting her in for coffee. Just coffee, she told her overactive mind and eager body. Nothing more. 

"I would love to." She stepped inside and was immediately enveloped in the familiar warmth of the farmhouse. Olivia smiled involuntarily as she shrugged out of her coat, hanging it in the small closet by the entrance out of habit. 

Natalia was standing there watching her when Olivia turned back around. Her smile grew when she caught Natalia looking. Olivia held her gaze for a moment until Natalia flushed and looked away. 

"Would you like.... I could make some coffee?" 

"Coffee sounds great," Olivia said softly. 

"Great," Natalia echoed back. 

Olivia followed her into the kitchen, sliding into a seat at the table as she watched Natalia start the coffee. When she was finished, Natalia turned back to face her. Olivia could see the nervousness in her eyes, the way her gaze couldn't seem to settle, jumping from one thing to another in the room. Olivia opened her mouth to say something. She wasn't sure what, but the silence in the room wasn't like the silences that they usually shared. It was heavy and tense and demanded something to fill it, even if it was just an anecdote about something Emma had done at school the previous day. 

But Natalia was walking toward her with determination. Olivia couldn't help a bemused smile as she waited to see what Natalia would do. The smile fell away from her lips as Natalia leaned down, one hand sliding through Olivia's hair and cupping the back of her neck as Natalia pulled her into a kiss. It was so unexpected Olivia almost forgot to breathe. She made a sound of surprise, but it was muffled by Natalia's mouth covering hers. Not that she was complaining. Oh-so-definitely not complaining. It only took her a second to catch up with Natalia, her hands greedily finding Natalia's hips and tugging her closer. 

Never breaking contact with her, Natalia shuffled closer, following Olivia's lead willingly. She wanted to be closer, as close as she could get to Olivia. It wasn't the image she projected. She was supposed to be the good girl, the one who would wait until after she was married. But she had already proven that she wasn't a "good girl", time and again, and there would be no marriage for them. Natalia wasn't waiting any longer. She had decided that before she left the house earlier that evening - a month ago in a room at the Beacon. She'd had time to think about it, to process what it would mean for them and for her. Now she just wanted. 

Natalia had never been so bold before except with Frank and that she had ended up regretting. This time would be different, because it was with Olivia. There were no more reasons why they shouldn't be together now. She wondered if Olivia could feel the way her hands were trembling? Excitement and uncertainty were mixing together into a heady rush. It felt like standing at the top of a waterfall and jumping off, hoping...hoping that the water would be there for her landing and not sharp, deadly rocks. 

"Natalia?" She jumped, so lost in her thoughts and what she was feeling that she was startled when Olivia spoke. 


"I don't..." Olivia shook her head, looking tenderly at Natalia. "We don't have to do this." It was a delicate balance that she was walking, just like she always was with Natalia. She didn't want to presume too much, but it was Natalia who had kissed her, who was somehow now sitting on her lap. She wanted Natalia, had, in fact, been aching to touch Natalia like this for months, but she didn't want Natalia to feel like this was something she had to do. Olivia knew her reputation. It wasn't one of hand-holding and chaste kisses, but with Natalia it was different. With Natalia she would take whatever she could get, just to keep Natalia in her life. She had already proven that, hadn't she?

Natalia laid a finger over her lips, silencing her. "I know. But...I want to." She spoke slowly and firmly, forcing herself to hold Olivia's gaze and not look away. "I want to be with you," she said, emphasizing each word carefully. 

Olivia was silent a moment and then her smile began to grow. She lifted a hand to tuck a lock of hair back behind Natalia's ear. "You do, huh?" 

"You know I do," Natalia whispered.

"I might have some idea," Olivia admitted.  

"Then let me show you. Just so we're clear." 

Olivia smiled, steadying Natalia as she stood. "Sounds good to me." She let Natalia pull her to her feet and followed her a few steps as Natalia drew her toward the stairs. "But promise me," Olivia interjected. "Promise me that if you change your mind or decide you can't do this, or anything.... Promise me that you'll tell me if this is too much, too soon. Because I couldn't handle it if you regretted this, okay?" She was trying to hold back the tears that were threatening to spill out as she said it, but it was hard. She had seen Natalia after the first time she had slept with Frank and she knew how distraught Natalia had been then. The thought of being responsible for making Natalia feel that way was horrible. 

Natalia cupped her cheek gently. "I promise.  But I don't think that's going to be a problem. You're all I can think about lately."  She kissed Olivia, deeply, hungrily, trying to show her that she meant every word. "Come on," Natalia said softly as they separated, once again pulling Olivia toward the stairs. 

Olivia followed willingly. They rushed up the stairs, Natalia taking them two at a time and Olivia right behind her. They slowed when they reached Natalia's bedroom door. Natalia pulled her inside and then shut it behind them, twisting the lock before she stepped away. 

When she turned back to Olivia, her breath caught at the look in Olivia's eyes. For the first time that evening, she faltered. Not from lack of desire, but because she was overwhelmed by it. 

"Olivia..." Her name came out in a breathy, desperate whisper. 

"I know," Olivia said. She stepped forward slowly, watching Natalia as Natalia watched her. Olivia slipped Natalia's dress off one shoulder and kissed the skin she had bared reverently. Then she repeated the motion on the other side and Natalia's dress pooled at her feet. She lifted her head to make certain that Natalia was still okay with this. The small nod that she got in return for her questioning look was enough. Her eyes drifted away from Natalia's face to take all of her in, standing there in front of her. 

"You're so beautiful." Olivia said the only thing she could think. "I want to touch you."

Natalia took Olivia's hand in her own and raised it to her lips, gently kissing the back of it. Then she opened Olivia's hand, turned it and placed it on her breast. Even under the smooth fabric of her bra, Olivia could feel the slight bump of her nipple beneath. It was as if Natalia's gesture had given her permission to do what she wanted. Olivia moved closer, pressing her body up against Natalia's, and felt soft curves meet. Her thumb began to move in a slow circle and Natalia whimpered. It was better and more intoxicating than any drink ever had been. All Olivia needed now was more. 

She began nudging Natalia gently backward until the back of her knees hit the bed. Natalia fell back onto it, as if she had suddenly gone boneless. She had only meant to sit down, but she was already a little off balance and her momentum sent her sprawling. Natalia had a moment to flush at how not smooth it all was, but then Olivia was standing over her, looking down at her with something undefinable in her eyes. Natalia couldn't help but smile back up at her. Then before the moment was lost, she scooted a little further back onto the bed so that she was in no danger of sliding off and held out a hand to Olivia. 

Olivia took it and stepped forward slowly, easing one knee up onto the bed and then the other, almost slinking toward Natalia. As soon as she was close enough, Natalia slipped her arms around Olivia, needing to touch her and hold her. 

Ducking her head, Olivia leaned down and kissed her, not desperately, but hello again. Natalia responded tilting her head up, trying to turn the kiss into something more, but Olivia wouldn't allow it. Natalia was about to get frustrated when Olivia pulled away so that she could look at her. She put her finger over Natalia's lips before she could say anything. 

But Olivia couldn't hold Natalia's gaze, looking at something just past her ear. "I haven't been with anyone in..." She shook her head and gave a twisted little smile. "A while. Months. Since before." She touched her own chest just above the scar that Natalia couldn't yet see but knew was there. She glanced back at Natalia. "Should we... do we need to use protection?" 

Natalia felt her cheeks flush and grow warm. She shook her head, swallowing until she could get words out. "No. Uh, Frank...we always used condoms." She winced inwardly. She hadn't meant to say his name now. She didn't want to bring anyone in to this bed but the two of them. 

Gently, Natalia touched Olivia's cheek, bringing Olivia back to look at her. Hearing that Olivia hadn't been with anyone since before the heart transplant both had and hadn't been a surprise. She hadn't heard of Olivia being with anyone since they had started living together, but she knew that Olivia had certainly had offers. The thought that Olivia might have been waiting for something crossed Natalia's mind, waiting for her, maybe. It felt egotistical to think it. There were plenty of other explanations, not least of all Olivia's health. But somehow she knew that while it may not have started that way, she was part of the reason why it had been so long for Olivia. 

She flushed for an entirely different reason thinking of how unfaithful she had been during that same period of time. Sleeping with Frank on a whim, or as she could admit to herself now, in an effort to get Olivia off her mind. And then there had been her biggest betrayal of all - her wedding. 

"What's wrong?" Olivia asked, seeing the discomfort cross Natalia's features, but Natalia shook her head. She didn't want this to become about her. It already had been for too long. She wanted this to be about Olivia, about both of them and how much they loved each other. 

Her fingers trailed down Olivia's cheek and then back up again. "I love you, you know?" Natalia said simply, redirecting the focus of the moment in a far more pleasant direction. 

Just as she had hoped, a bright smile flashed over Olivia's face. "I can't get enough of hearing you say that." 

"Then I'll say it again: I love you." 

Olivia dipped her head, hungrily capturing Natalia's lips, spurred on by her words. Her hands were moving, straying away from the respectful - safe - places where they had lingered on Natalia's body. One hand sliding up to now familiar territory, covering Natalia's breast as the other slipped down her side, grabbing the back of her thigh and pulling it up. Natalia needed no more encouragement wrapping her leg around the back of Olivia's and using it to pull them closer together. 

Olivia's eyes fluttered briefly shut, her heart pounding wildly. The languid kiss she shared with Natalia shifted, changing to brief brushes of her lips that gradually moved away, trailing across the line of her jaw and then down Natalia's neck. Olivia flicked her tongue out against sensitive skin and then grazed it lightly with her teeth. Natalia shivered beneath her. 

"Wait," Natalia breathed. "Wait." 

It took a second for what she had said to penetrate the haze of desire that was clouding Olivia's mind, but when it did she froze immediately. 

"What?" Olivia didn't mean to sound so harsh, but Natalia had startled her and she was suddenly frightened that she had done something wrong. 

"Off," Natalia said firmly. It took Olivia another second to realize that Natalia was tugging at the hem of her shirt, lifting it upward. Then she laughed. 

"So impatient," Olivia said as her hands joined Natalia's pulling the shirt over her head and tossing it...elsewhere. She made quick work of her pants and the thong beneath them and then leaned back on her heels, nestled between the vee of Natalia's thighs. Her gaze never left Natalia's as she slipped her bra straps first off one shoulder and then the other, slipping her arms out and undoing the front clasp to let the bra fall away completely. 

Olivia wasn't sure what Natalia's reaction would be so she sat still and waited. Natalia had moved this along to second base, but her bra was still on. Olivia had just upped the ante as she was want to do, and to mix her metaphors dreadfully, the ball was now in Natalia's court. 

Natalia sat up, grabbing pillows from behind them to prop herself up without looking away. She reached out, cupping Olivia's breasts in her hands, feeling the weight and texture of them. Delicate fingers traced over sensitive skin and the palm of her hand brushed over nipples already standing at attention. One hand disappeared and Olivia almost whimpered at the loss, her eyes snapping back open when she hadn't even realized they had fallen shut. It had been so long.... Suddenly the lost sensation was replaced by wet warmth, the velvet of Natalia's tongue laving tentatively, then more confidently, the pressure of her lips sucking and Olivia was undone. 

In that moment, almost all coherent thought was lost. Olivia grabbed for Natalia, her hand going to the back of her neck, supporting her and holding her where she was. It felt so good. The attention from Natalia, the sight of what she was doing to Olivia, was almost better than the actual physical sensation of it. 

"God..." Olivia moaned. She realized distantly that Natalia's free hand was sliding down her body, over her ribcage and down her abdomen. It wasn't until Natalia's fingers skimmed across neatly trimmed curls that Olivia knew what Natalia was doing. For an instant, Olivia considered stopping her, insisting that she give Natalia her pleasure first. She had wanted so much to show Natalia how much she loved her. But Natalia's fingers were already trailing over damp folds and it was too late. It had been a long time and she wanted this so badly. 

Olivia whimpered as Natalia stroked more firmly, squirming as she searched for something more substantial. Natalia pressed and Olivia squeaked, grinding herself down into Natalia's hand. 

"Please." Olivia was already begging and this had hardly begun, but she had waited so long and wanted it so badly. It was so unlike her. In bed, just as out of it, she usually demanded and commanded. Pleading was something lesser mortals did, not Olivia Spencer. But with Natalia it was as if all the usual rules had been erased. There was no hidden agenda, no game to be played or power to be won. There was just the two of them. 

Natalia didn't disappoint. Her touches grew more certain as she began to discover what Olivia liked, what she needed. Every whimper and groan seemed to increase her desire to draw more sounds like that from Olivia. 

The steady build of sensation had grown so that when Olivia came it almost caught her by surprise. She collapsed limply into Natalia's embrace, trusting her to catch them both and ease them back down to the bed. 

Natalia held her, her hands roaming over Olivia's body, bringing her back down gently. Olivia lay content against Natalia's chest as she waited for her heartbeat to slow and to catch her breath. A familiar feeling, both languid and euphoric began to slip over her. Olivia nuzzled her cheek against the top of Natalia's breast and slipped her hand under Natalia's back, running her fingers up Natalia's spine until she found the clasp of her bra. She raised her head enough that she could look at Natalia. 

Natalia responded by arching her back off the bed to give Olivia better access. A moment later, Olivia had it undone. She pushed herself up on one elbow until she could draw the bra down Natalia's arms and then tossed it off the bed behind them. Olivia took a moment to simply look at the woman stretched out beside her. Natalia was gorgeous, with dark, mussed hair splayed out behind her on the pillow and a curious smile on her face. She was content to just watch Olivia and see what she would do next. 

Olivia smirked and bent to lick newly bared skin. She felt Natalia jerk underneath her at the unexpected sensation. It was a heady feeling, making Natalia who was always so calm begin to lose it. Olivia licked again, flicking her tongue back and forth until she didn't think Natalia's nipple could get any harder. Natalia's hands sank into her hair, her back once again arching off the bed and into Olivia's touch. Unlike Natalia, however, Olivia wasn't content to stay where she was. She wanted something else. 

Olivia shifted, using knees and elbows to push herself down Natalia's body, dropping a kiss on the side of her breast and then trailing down Natalia's stomach. Her tongue darted out to catch Natalia's belly button and Natalia jumped, her hands clenching in Olivia's hair. 

"Ticklish?" Olivia teased, doing it again just because she could. 

"Olivia." Natalia sounded aggrieved and petulant. Olivia relented before she could get herself in trouble, although that was a thought for another time. 

But her momentary playfulness ceased as she slipped a little bit further down Natalia's body and placed a kiss just above the lace of Natalia's panties. Olivia sat up and scooted back a little bit further, tucking her fingers under the edges of flimsy fabric. Slowly she eased them down Natalia's legs and discarded them, not caring where they went. This time she worked her way back up Natalia's body, massaging her calf, pressing a kiss to the back of her knee and trailing fingers up her inner thigh until she had reached her destination. 

Olivia eased Natalia's legs up over her shoulders, loving the firm weight of them as her heels pressed into the small of Olivia's back. How many times had Olivia done this with men? She had always loved the power of it. The way their eyes rolled back in their heads and how helpless they had seemed in her grasp. Now she just wanted to give this to Natalia. Olivia dipped her head and pressed her tongue flat against Natalia, drawing it upward. She wasn't prepared for the way that Natalia's hips jerked. Natalia's hand was back in her hair again, drawing her closer and Olivia didn't resist. 

She licked and sucked, her arms wrapped around Natalia's waist to still her motions and make it easier for Olivia to keep contact with her. 

"Olivia." Natalia called her name again, but this time it was different, not annoyed but expectant. It was a good sound, a sound Olivia immediately loved hearing. 

She sucked harder, stroking with her tongue as she did until Natalia came, her hand digging into the sheet, scrabbling for something to hold onto, the fingers in Olivia's hair, clenching and twisting tightly. Olivia winced, the angle required to keep Natalia's grip from pulling painfully at her scalp was awkward to maintain for more than a moment. When her grip eased, Olivia contented herself with one final stroke of her tongue before she pushed herself back up next to Natalia. She ran her fingers up and down Natalia's side as she waited for her to say something. 

Natalia's gaze found hers almost immediately and she smiled, raising one arm to limply touch Olivia's face. Olivia caught her wrist and pressed a kiss to her palm. Natalia's fingers hooked behind her jaw and drew her down until she could kiss her without having to move. For a second Olivia hesitated, uncertain how Natalia would react to kissing her when her lips were still damp from Natalia's own wetness, but Natalia was insistent and finally Olivia gave in. 

It was a surprisingly tender kiss that shouldn't have surprised Olivia at all. This was Natalia after all. 

"How was that for you?" Olivia asked quietly after they separated, her cheek still close enough to brush against Natalia's. 

Natalia snorted, a puff of air against her ear. "You have to ask?" She relented and stroked Olivia's cheek. "It was everything I hoped it would be." She hesitated again. "It was better than I imagined." 

Olivia laughed softly. "I'm a better lover than fantasy-me?" 

"The real you is always better than any other you," Natalia said gently. 

Her simple statement caught Olivia off guard and she sank back down, her head hitting the pillow beside Natalia's. She recognized that there was more to Natalia's statement than the obvious and it touched her in a way that she hadn't expected. Without a word, she snuggled closer to Natalia, laying her head on Natalia's shoulder and putting an arm across her waist. 

She could live with that. 


Part Twenty-Four

When Olivia awoke, blinking sleepily until her vision cleared, the first thing that she saw was Natalia, her chin propped up on her fist as she watched Olivia. Her heart sped up just at the sight of Natalia. 

Natalia reached over, brushing Olivia's hair out of her eyes. The gesture lingered, becoming a caress. Olivia's eyes fell closed as she soaked in every detail of Natalia's touch. She felt almost euphoric with relief that not only was Natalia still here in bed with her, she was actually touching Olivia and didn't seem upset at all by what they had done. It had only been a faint worry after the events of the night before, but still a worry nonetheless. 

"I love you," Olivia whispered the heartfelt words as she curled into Natalia's touch. She intended to savor every moment that she got to be this close to Natalia. She knew what it was like to be without Natalia and this was infinitely better. 

"I love you, too," Natalia replied, a smile spreading across her face. They lay together for several more moments without saying a word, happy just to be together, enjoying the fact that they were finally free to be together like this now. 

"Rafe's up. I can hear him moving around downstairs." Olivia sounded more practical as she let reality back into the safe haven of Natalia's bedroom. 

"I know," Natalia said calmly. 

"Want me to duck out the window?" Olivia asked, joking, but not. It was a little ridiculous to be contemplating sneaking out of a lover's bedroom window at her age, but her experiences with her step-children had never been pleasant or easy. 

Natalia shook her head. "No, I want you to come downstairs and have breakfast with me before you have to go pick up Emma from her sleepover." 

"Rafe is not going to like that," Olivia reminded her. 

"Well, he's just going to have to get used to it," Natalia said firmly. "Because I want this to happen a whole lot more." 

Olivia couldn't help the smug smile that slipped over her face. She reached for Natalia, running the back of her finger down her cheek. "Oh? Enjoyed yourself, did you?" 

"I did," Natalia said without a hint of teasing. "I enjoyed myself very much. If it were up to me, I would never let you leave this room." 

Olivia couldn't help but move closer to her. "You mean that?" 

Natalia nodded. 

Olivia let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding, and sank into Natalia, slowly wrapping her arms around Natalia's waist and burying her face in the crook of Natalia's neck. 

"Hey, what's wrong?" Natalia whispered, one hand going to the back of Olivia's neck to hold her close as the other rubbed soothing circles on the bare skin of her back. 

"Nothing," Olivia admitted, the word bubbling out of her as an almost hysterical half-laugh. "Nothing's wrong. I'm just so happy to be here with you." 

"Okay," Natalia said gently, as if she understood, and maybe she did. 

Natalia's hand on Olivia's back dipped lower, brushing the dimple at the small of her back. Olivia squirmed, her body still sensitized to Natalia's touch. Natalia did it again and Olivia realized she was doing it on purpose, teasing her with her touch. She retaliated, turning her head just enough that she could find the pulse point on Natalia's neck and lightly grazed her teeth over it. Natalia hissed and her hands tightened their grip on Olivia.

"Don't start something you're not prepared to finish," Olivia warned. 

"Who said I'm not prepared?" Natalia asked lightly. 

"Rafe is downstairs. In the kitchen." Olivia reminded her. 

Natalia pouted. There was no other word for it. Olivia couldn't help it. She kissed her, intent on erasing that look from Natalia's face. She had been helpless against that look in Natalia's eyes so many times before, but now Olivia finally had the means to do away with it. That, and she really wanted to kiss Natalia again. 

"You're pretty good at that, you know?" Natalia murmured when she finally eased away. 

"I know," Olivia agreed with absolute certainty. 

Natalia shook her head. "Has anyone ever told you that you're annoyingly smug and self-confident?"

"Maybe." Olivia shrugged. "But I prefer to think you bring out the best in me." 

Natalia laughed. She couldn't help it, not when Olivia was in this good of a mood. It was nice just to be able to relax around Olivia again and be herself. "What am I going to do with you?" Natalia asked, bringing a hand to Olivia's cheek, cupping it tenderly. 

"You're going to keep me," Olivia said firmly. 

"Yes," Natalia agreed. "I think you're right." 

Olivia pulled back, gasping with mock-shock, her hand going to her heart. "I'm right? You never admit that I'm right! Quick! Write it down. No one will believe me." 

"Oh, hush you," Natalia said shushing her teasingly and then Natalia kissed her. 

Oh yes, Olivia thought as she shifted, bringing Natalia with her until their positions were reversed and Natalia lay on top of her. She could certainly get used to this. She and Natalia were together and they were going to be happy, even if it killed her. After all, death by happiness was certainly preferable to wasting away from a broken heart. 

The End

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