DISCLAIMER: All characters and situations to belong to a bunch of different people and companies who are not me. Also I'm making no money off this.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
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Five Moments That Shaped The Strangest Moment of Francesca Rivera's Young Life
"Oh, golly, well it must be nice to know how you feel, must be nice to be so sure!" Olivia yelled the words, hurling them at Natalia's back, her chest heaving and her heart aching even as they left her mouth.
Natalia hesitated, and for a moment, Olivia wasn't even certain if Natalia would turn and look at her. Was this really it? Were they over before they'd even had a chance to begin? Anger had already begun to drain away from her, leaving her scared and shaky.
"I'm not sure about anything," Natalia said, her voice trembling as she dropped her hands and turned to face Olivia. It was clear that she was on the verge of tears.
Just as it always did, the tremble in Natalia's voice, the sound of her despair, crushed Olivia and the rest of her anger departed just as quickly as it had come, leaving behind only hurt and uncertainty.
"Why are we fighting?" Olivia asked in a trembling exhale of breath, wanting Natalia to tell her...something, to help them ease down from this precipice upon which they had found themselves.
"You tell me," Natalia said in a small voice, sounding just as sad and frightened as Olivia felt.
They stood there in silence for a moment staring at each other before Olivia shrugged, summoning an answer. It was hard; she felt vulnerable and flayed open. But anything was preferable to watching Natalia walk away. That was what she clung to.
"Because it's safe," Olivia said with a sigh. "Because if we get along we have to ask what's next." She couldn't quite manage to keep her voice even throughout. It broke several times, revealing just how much she cared, how deeply this affected her.
"Ok," Natalia said with a tiny nod and shrug. "You're probably right," she admitted, pushing her bangs back away from her face.
Olivia swallowed hard. "I don't want to fight with you," she said with with a quick, decisive shake of her head.
"I don't even - I don't either. Can we - could we just start over?" Natalia blurted the words out in a rush, so quickly that they tumbled over themselves.
"Uh-huh," Olivia breathed her agreement out just as quickly, relief starting to flood her that maybe this wasn't the end after all. "I think I know a way," she said, not quite able to meet Natalia's eyes. "I don't know if you're going to be up for it," she added hesitantly, almost stubbing her toe at the carpeting as she finally made herself bring her gaze up to Natalia.
If she thought she had been scared before, this was a whole new level. Her heart raced - why wasn't her pacemaker doing something about that? - and her palms felt sweaty. Natalia flashed her a brief smile and looked nervous. Olivia hoped that she didn't look as sick as she felt.
The nervousness that Natalia was displaying tugged at Olivia's heart. She wanted - but then she was even more terrified of pushing Natalia too far and frightening her away. She opened her mouth to suggest something - anything - besides what she wanted.
The first thing that flashed into her mind was a hike. The ridiculousness of that thought hit her a second later. Natalia would know something was wrong with her suggestion. She wasn't stupid, and she would have to be to fall for something like that. But Olivia had no idea how a kiss would help them deal with their issues - or face their fears about finding out what came next between them.
Most of all, she couldn't stand the thought of Natalia still looking at her like that. Olivia shook her head, tossing her hair.
"You know what? Just forget about it. It was a stupid idea," Olivia said dismissively, dropping her eyes and opening her hand to let her suitcase fall from her grasp. She didn't want to need it.
"No," Natalia said, raising her eyes sharply and taking a step toward Olivia. "I'm sure it wasn't. Tell me?" she requested, flashing Olivia another smile. This one was a little more certain.
It encouraged Olivia to take her own step closer to Natalia. "I - it's actually, I mean," Olivia took a deep breath, and forced herself to stop verbally stumbling around. It wouldn't help either of them if they spent the weekend acting like skittish rabbits. Hadn't they just been talking about being friends before they were anything else?
"What?" Natalia asked again, even more gently.
"Can I?" Olivia whispered.
She saw the uncertainty - and lack of understanding - in Natalia's eyes, but Natalia nodded anyway.
Olivia couldn't help but mimic the gesture back to Natalia. She couldn't believe what she was about to do. She wasn't even breathing as she took another step toward Natalia and then another until she was standing directly in front of her. Tentatively Olivia raised her hand, letting it hang in the air until it didn't look as if Natalia was going to flinch away. Then she brushed the tip of her fingers against Natalia's cheek.
Natalia let out a small gasp and Olivia froze, her eyes flashing up to Natalia's. She wasn't sure what she was was hoping to see but feared revulsion - and there was none.
"Olivia," Natalia breathed her name out, the single word full of uncertainty and something more. Something that gave Olivia hope and made her leave her hand where it was.
Olivia forced herself to swallow, and summoned words. "Yes..."
"What are you..." It seemed like Natalia couldn't complete a thought either.
All Olivia could do was shake her head. Anything could break this spell they were both under and Olivia wasn't ready for this moment to slip away.
"Just... please..." Olivia whispered, not knowing what she was asking for really, but hoping Natalia would trust her anyway.
Olivia felt Natalia relax, not holding herself taunt under Olivia's touch. It eased something inside Olivia, and she gave Natalia a tiny, hopeful smile. Her thumb stroked Natalia's cheek. She marveled briefly at the softness of Natalia's skin. She could get lost in the feel of her, stand here all day and do nothing but this.
It told Olivia just how far she was gone. So many times before, Olivia had thought she was truly in love, but it was nothing like this. She had more to lose than ever before. It was terrifying, even more so when she saw how skittish Natalia was and how easily she could lose all of this. Hadn't she already come so close to walking out in her anger?
"I don't want to be just your friend," Olivia admitted. She could feel the fine tremors in her hand and wondered if Natalia could too.
"Okay," Natalia whispered, sounding more than a little dazed. She hesitated and then bit her lip. "What does that mean-" - for us?
Olivia brushed her thumb across Natalia's lips. She knew the rest of that question and had no more answers to it than Natalia did. There was something else she knew though, that they wouldn't find answers by endlessly questioning. That could only coming from doing - and living.
Olivia gave her head a little shake and then bent down, sweeping her thumb down away from Natalia's lips, just as she covered them with her own. She felt Natalia gasp against her and she stiffened, steeling her heart for Natalia to push her away. It wouldn't be the first time, but the devastation would be worse now - and harder to hide from herself.
But to Olivia's surprise, she wasn't pushed away. It was hard, but Olivia forced herself to stop, holding herself to the softest brush of her lips against Natalia's, tasting briefly what she might someday have, if she were so very lucky, and then making herself pull back, easing away from Natalia. She didn't realize her eyes had fallen shut until she had to open them to look at Natalia.
Natalia, who looked a little wild-eyed. A deer in headlights. Olivia waited for her to explode, to push her away, for the world to end. But none of those things happened. Instead Natalia's hand came up and clutched at her forearm, holding Olivia firmly in place. Then Olivia didn't have time to breathe as Natalia tilted her head and leaned toward Olivia, a hesitant and yet yearning expression on her face. She seemed so uncertain that it broke Olivia's heart.
Their lips met again, and this time it was Olivia who was frozen, letting Natalia dictate the kiss, remaining still as Natalia's lips claimed hers. Then came back for more, tasting Olivia's lips slowly and gently.
Olivia toes curled and she swayed slightly, only Natalia's hand on her arm steadying her. It was overwhelming and she couldn't help responding, deepening the kiss, her hand sinking back into Natalia's hair.
Natalia whimpered against her lips but showed no sign of breaking the kiss. She matched each tentative move of Olivia's with growing certainty of her own. Olivia could hardly believe it - overwhelmed and turned on as she was, she could hardly think. A voice in her head screamed at her for them to stop before things went too far. The rest of her just wanted more, more, more of Natalia. Olivia didn't think she could ever get enough of this woman, the softness and warmth of her, the taste and sweetness of her. It was dizzying.
"Olivia," Natalia gasped, wrenching herself away from the kiss. Her lips looked kiss-swollen and her hair fell around her face in a disheveled state.
"Right," Olivia breathed, forcing herself to think and focus. "You're so right. We should stop - right." She had said it as mainly confirmation to herself, that she knew where this was heading. She had already pushed farther than she had intended, but hopefully not too far. Hopefully Natalia wouldn't regret this too much.
Then she saw the flash of bewilderment, the hint of hurt that flickered across Natalia's face.
Olivia weighed her options. Her head screamed at her to not push things and ruin them as she had so many times before. But her heart said something else entirely. Her heart ached and wanted more purely than it ever had before.
"Or not?" Olivia offered. She could hardly believe it when she saw Natalia's tiny nod. Slowly she slid a hand around Natalia's waist and pulled Natalia close. Natalia came without hesitation. Fabric crinkled loudly as they pressed together. Olivia ran her fingers through Natalia's hair gently. She didn't think it was possible but she was more terrified now than she had been before. What if Natalia didn't like it? What if it was bad - really bad? "Are you sure?" her voice quavered.
Natalia nodded, a combination of yes, no, and then a tilt of her head that seemed to say maybe.
"Hey," Olivia said, unable to resist smiling at how cute that was. "We don't have to do anything you don't want to do."
It was Natalia's turn to swallow at that. She shook her head slightly.
"I didn't bring you here to pressure you," Olivia whispered. "All I wanted was a chance to spend time with you, talk to you."
"Me too," Natalia said and for the first time since they had kissed Olivia believed her.
"Then let's talk," Olivia said, leading Natalia over to the couch and folding a leg beneath her as she sat.
Natalia sank down beside her, close enough that their knees touched. Part of Olivia couldn't believe that they were really there, sitting so close.
Olivia tilted her head and waited for Natalia to finish her thought.
"I don't know what to say," Natalia admitted. "I know we have so much to talk about, but..."
"Then tell me how you feel?" Olivia requested with a soft smile.
"Nervous," Natalia said immediately. "Scared. Like I have butterflies in my stomach."
Olivia hadn't expected the part about the butterflies. She reached a hand out to touch Natalia's cheek. "I feel the same way, you know. All those things you said."
"Really?" Natalia sounded more surprised than Olivia had expected. "But you seem so..."
"Hey, this is all new to me too. You make me feel things I've never felt before," Olivia admitted with a shy drop of her chin.
Natalia touched her knee, the warmth of her hand burning through Olivia's thin yoga pants. "Can I..."
"What?" Olivia encouraged.
"Kiss you again?" Natalia requested, speaking so softly Olivia almost couldn't hear her.
"Any time you want."
Olivia stayed still, letting Natalia take the lead. She couldn't help but lean forwards though as Natalia shifted closer, drawn to her like a moth to a flame.
Their lips met again and immediately Olivia felt the difference. Natalia's growing confidence was electric. It hit Olivia in a heady jolt. She moaned into the kiss and realized that she had already fallen too far, too fast. But Natalia showed no desire to relent, deepening the kiss, pulling Olivia closer, slipping her hand beneath Olivia's shirt. She touched bare skin and Olivia shivered. It had been so long since someone had touched her this intimately and to know that it was Natalia touching her this way was almost beyond belief.
"We need to stop," Olivia gasped, pulling away shakily.
"Why?" Natalia asked. "Isn't this what we came here to find out? Whether we fit?"
"What if we don't?" Olivia voiced her most closely held fear. "What if..."
Natalia caught Olivia's hand and brought it to her lips. "I think we do."
"I don't want to scare you," Olivia admitted.
"You won't," Natalia countered. "You love me."
"I really do."
"Then show me," Natalia urged her. "Show me what we can have."
Olivia couldn't resist anymore. She didn't even try. Natalia owned her heart, mind, and soul and Olivia would give her whatever she asked - even this.
They laid side by side in bed, Natalia's head tucked up against Olivia's shoulder. Olivia's hand ran idly up and down Natalia's side. Natalia tried to stifle a shiver - with no success. Olivia raised her head to look at her.
"You okay?" she asked, unwilling to break the silence of the room with even a normal conversational tone, afraid she would ruin this moment they were lingering in.
"Yeah," Natalia leaned back enough that she could meet Olivia's gaze, a smile breaking gentle over her face. She wiggled in Olivia's arms, managing to get closer to her. "That tickled."
"Oh," Olivia said, her own smile growing in return.
Natalia must have seen the mischievous look growing in Olivia's eyes, because she gave a little shriek and jerked back. "Don't you dare," she admonished Olivia.
"What?" Olivia asked, her voice deepening, almost purring as she shifted, pushing herself up on her hands until she was covering Natalia's body with her own, one leg between Natalia's thighs.
Natalia shivered again, but pulled Olivia closer, her arms draped over Olivia's shoulders, fingers intertwined behind Olivia's neck. "Please," Natalia whispered, squirming again, and then deliberately wrapped her legs around Olivia's waist.
Olivia froze, the mischievous grin sliding off her face, to be replaced with a more serious look as she stared down at Natalia. She shifted her weight until she could cup Natalia's cheek with one hand.
"Are you really okay...with this? With us?"
The smile gradually fell away from Natalia's face. "I'm not sure," she said slowly, clearly still thinking as she spoke. Olivia tensed and Natalia caught her biceps, refusing to let her move away. She turned her head and pressed a kiss against Olivia's forearm. "I don't know how to reconcile this with everything I've always believed, but..." She looked up into Olivia's eyes and touched Olivia's face. Immediately Olivia leaned into her. "...what I felt with you was right and sacred. What I always imagined it could be, even if you aren't who I imagined."
"Me?" Olivia asked with a tremulous voice. "Or..."
"A woman," Natalia clarified, with a tiny smile, still keeping contact with Olivia, needing the reassurance as much as Olivia needed to receive it. "You are who I love."
"Yeah?" Olivia said, a smile slipping across her lips and growing by the second.
"You know you are," Natalia said lightly.
Olivia was about to deliver an equally sappy reply but was interrupted by a knock on the door. "Damn. I didn't order anything. Did you?"
"No," Natalia said with an uncertain shake of her head.
Olivia looked down at Natalia and sighed. There was no way she was getting out of this bed. "Go away," she called over her shoulder, loudly enough to be heard outside.
"Olivia," Natalia protested. "It could be important!"
"Then they'll knock again," Olivia countered matter-of-factly. She had barely spoken before the knocking came again.
Natalia gave her a pointed look and Olivia sighed.
"Damn it," she swore again, reluctantly letting herself roll off Natalia and flop onto her back. With surprising energy, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and strode across the room. Natalia watched her retreating form every step of the way.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Natalia called after her.
Olivia looked down, only then remembering that she was naked. She tossed Natalia a sultry smile. "Oh, right." She detoured briefly to the closet pulling out one of the spa provided robes and putting it on, tossing the other one to Natalia. It landed on the end of the bed.
Natalia eyed it for a moment, reluctant to move, but if someone was at the door... She sat up enough to pull it around her and belted it. Just in time. She glanced up to see Emma flying through the door, darting past Olivia and throwing herself straight into Natalia's arms.
"Emma!" Natalia couldn't help but exclaim. "What are you doing here?" Her voice dropped and she took a more serious tone. "Did you run away again?"
Two years and some months later
"Olivia." Natalia caught her arm in a bruising grip and pulled her into a quick, tight embrace. "Thank God you're here. Emma? "
" -Is with Phillip. I'm sorry it took me so long to get here, Sweetheart," Olivia said, kissing the top of her head. She had flown out of the Beacon like a bat out of hell the moment Natalia had called her. "How is she?"
Natalia shrugged. "Rick wouldn't say. He looked worried."
"Shit," Olivia muttered. "I should have taken her to the doctor yesterday."
"Olivia, there was no way you could have known," Natalia murmured.
Olivia shot her a look that said differently - and would have withered anyone else. Natalia brushed it aside without a thought.
"Hey," Natalia said firmly. "Don't." She used a finger to pull Olivia's chin around toward her and stared her down. "We decided to wait and see if Chessy got better. She didn't. I brought her in. We did the right thing."
"I wasn't there," Olivia said through clenched teeth.
"No, you were at work. Where you should have been - providing for your family. I stayed home. Don't you trust me to take care of our daughter?" Natalia demanded.
"Of course I do," Olivia said, her frown melting as she glanced back at Natalia. "But-"
Natalia planted a finger over her lips, cutting her off. "No buts." She was saved from further argument by Rick bursting through the emergency room doors, coming toward them in a hurry.
It didn't look good. He wore a dour expression and his arms were folded over his chest.
"She's severely anemic right now." Rick held up his hand, forestalling them. "We're not sure what the cause is yet, but she needs blood. We're giving it to her but-"
"But what, Rick?" Olivia demanded, brushing past Natalia and stalking forward. "What's the problem?"
"Francesca has a rare blood type - O negative. And we're experiencing a shortage here at the hospital right now. We might need more."
"So get some," Olivia growled out.
"It's not that easy. There have to be donors." He shot Olivia a look. "Willing donors. And we'll call other blood banks in the area. Someone is already working on that."
Olivia stuck out her arm. Rick sighed and looked at her warily, before he scrubbed a hand over his face. "It's more likely that a blood relation would be a match."
Olivia's face froze; her jaw clenched. Natalia laid a hand on her arm. "Actually, Rick, Olivia is a match. Remember? From when they were doing all the blood typing and compatibility matching for her transplant?"
"Yes," he conceded. "But-"
"But, what?" Olivia demanded.
"You're a bad choice," Rick said, clearly reluctant to discuss it. "The blood thinners - you shouldn't even be a possibility."
"That's my kid, Rick. If I can do something to help her, I don't care what it means for me!"
"Until we know why she's anemic, it could just make it worse, Olivia."
"I know, but-"
"But, nothing," Natalia said as if that settled it. "I'll go get tested and then we'll see. It will be okay. We'll worry about it later - if it's necessary."
Rick nodded. "You should probably also call Frank - see if he'll come in. He's another possible match."
"He should be on his way. I called him earlier. But he's AB negative." Natalia shot a brief, apologetic glance at Olivia. "He mentioned it while we were engaged. Will that work?"
"No," Rick frowned. "No, it won't." He shook his head. "You should get that testing started as soon as possible." He gave Natalia a funny look but didn't say anything, walking away. "I need to go re-run some tests..."
Olivia's hand closed over his arm. "I want to see her - then we'll go."
Rick glanced down at his arm than back up at her. "Olivia, it would really be best if-"
It was Natalia who cut him off. "Rick. I'm going to get tested immediately. But we need to see her first."
Rick took one glance at Natalia's expression and nodded. "Right, of course. Follow me." He glanced back over his shoulder at them. "I should warn you-"
"Just take us to her." Olivia gritted out, taking her turn to cut him off. She couldn't stand anymore of this. She needed to see Francesca for herself.
Francesca looked so frail and tiny. Her usually well-tanned skin was pale and looked sickly in a way that no amount of sun could restore. Her eyes were closed and she was painfully still.
Olivia had to touch just her to make certain... She couldn't finish the thought, even to herself. This wasn't like Emma when she'd drunk a bottle of perfume in an unattended moment. That had been terrifying enough, but Olivia thought this was worse. At least then they had known what was wrong - and Rick had known how to fix it.
Natalia brushed hair back from Francesca's brow and leaned over to kiss her. The gesture made Olivia's heart clench. She put a steadying hand on Natalia's back - though she wasn't sure if it was for herself or Natalia.
"It's the sedative that's making her so sleepy," Natalia said. "Rick gave it to her so she wouldn't fight the IV. That's all."
Olivia flashed her a tiny smile. "How do you always know the right thing to say?"
Natalia gave a little shrug. "I was thinking the same thing. You know Rafe was about this same age when he was diagnosed. I just thought he was naturally calm and quiet. I didn't realize..." Natalia shook her head. "He was almost in a coma by the time I got him to the emergency room."
Olivia sighed and slipped her arm the rest of the way around Natalia's waist, leaning her head briefly against Natalia's shoulder.
"Our kids have been through so much."
"They have," Natalia agreed. "But they turned out okay and this will too."
Olivia shot her a look. "You have faith?"
Natalia gave her a fathomless look. "I don't have any reason not to."
Olivia looked away, unable to hold her gaze. "We should go get tested. We told Rick we'd only be a minute."
"Olivia," Natalia laid her hand against Olivia's cheek.
"I know, okay," Olivia said grumpily. "Just let me deal with this my way."
"Okay," Natalia agreed. "Just don't beat yourself up too badly."
Olivia wrinkled her nose and Natalia tried to stifle a smile. It would be okay - and so would Olivia - even if she wasn't happy about.
Olivia watched Natalia flex her arm up and down at the elbow, her fingers pressed against the bandage that was cutting tightly into her arm, the pressure keeping the bleeding down. She wished the bandage was on her arm, wished that she had already been able to give the blood that their little girl so desperately needed. It seemed so fucking unfair that Olivia was perfectly capable of giving Francesca what she needed, but was unable to because of the failings of her own body.
The technician had offered to wait until Natalia's blood had been typed to see if she was a match before she donated. Natalia had declined, insisting that even if she wasn't a match for Francesca she might be a match for someone else's little girl.
Olivia had rolled her eyes inwardly, in no mood for that kind of sentiment, but she had gone along with it anyway for far more practical reasons. If Natalia was a match than any step that took a second longer out of the delay was a welcome one. And if it made Natalia happy then that was even better.
"Natalia - I'm glad I found you," Rick said, striding into the room. "We need to talk."
"Good to see you too, Rick," Olivia muttered, not really under her breath.
He shot her a look but didn't comment, choosing instead to focus on Natalia. "Talk privately, I mean." He saw her glance at Olivia. "It's important. I wouldn't ask otherwise."
This time Natalia's focus didn't go anywhere but to him. The intensity of it was surprising. "Anything you have to say to me, Dr. Rick, you can say in front of Olivia."
"Ah, I'm not sure you want to do that."
Natalia's stare didn't relent - nor did she move.
"Fine," Rick said with a sigh. "If this is the way you want it... When you told me Frank's blood type was AB negative it set off some alarm bells for me. So I had the lab run some additional tests to confirm it. Frank isn't Francesca's father."
"Well then who the hell is? And what's going on here?" a voice demanded from behind them.
Natalia blinked, once and then again. Olivia looked ready to spit nails. Rick just looked tired and - if possible - even more depressed than usual.
Yet none of it compared to the thunderstruck look of absolute shock and righteous indignation on Frank Cooper's face.
"Answer my question, Rick," Frank said, taking a step closer to him, not threatening but certainly with the intent to intimidate.
Rick looked between Natalia and Frank. Natalia was still too caught in her own shock to recognize that Rick was looking to her for how to proceed. Olivia had no such issues. She stepped forward, her hand coming to rest at the small of Natalia's back in a gesture of reassurance. She had no idea what the hell was going on, but Rick couldn't just come into a room and drop a bomb like that with no further comment.
"Explain," Olivia said, the single, terse word doing plenty to convey her unhappiness with the situation and making it clear that upsetting Natalia the way that he had was unacceptable.
Rick's gaze shot over to Olivia and he gave a minute flinch - and then sighed. He had been exposed too often to Olivia's nastier side during her recovery from her heart transplant to be much phased by it.
"Your blood type is AB negative, right?" Rick asked, turning to Frank.
Frank gave a short nod, arms folded over his chest.
"Francesca's is O negative," Rick said as if that explained everything.
It did not.
Olivia's glare intensified.
"It means there's no possible way that Frank could be Francesca's father," Rick continued. "The blood types don't match. It just doesn't work that way."
Frank shot a startled, disbelieving glare at Natalia.
"Don't you dare, Frank," Olivia said in a voice that was just loud enough to be heard, the softness of it underscoring the threat it carried.
"Stay out of this, Olivia," Frank shot back. "This is none of your business and I have a right to know." He thrust a finger out a Natalia. "She was the one who told me Francesca was my daughter, but if she wasn't certain, then she should have told me that too. I have a right to know." He turned to Rick. "I want a paternity test."
"Don't talk to Olivia that way." It was the first time Natalia had re-entered the conversation and it drew everyone's attention. Natalia didn't falter under Frank's angry gaze, but rather met it with resoluteness. Her spine stiffened and she stood a little straighter. "Of course this is Olivia's business. Francesca is her daughter too." She held his gaze a moment longer to make certain that he understood her seriousness and then shifted her attention to Rick. "Your results are wrong. They have to be; Frank was the only person I slept with for months."
"Well, not the only person..." Olivia said, her voice low and for Natalia's ears alone.
"Not helping," Natalia shot back under her breath. Her gaze flicked over to Olivia beside her. For the first time she looked more worried than stunned. "You don't think I-"
"No," Olivia said, cutting her off before she could even fully vocalise the question. "I know you didn't sleep with anyone else during that time." Olivia quirked a tiny grin. The 'besides me' was fully implied.
Frank scoffed. "Well I'm not so sure about that - and I was the one you were engaged to marry."
"Frank," Natalia said with a sigh. "I would never have cheated on you-"
"-With anyone except for her? Why do I not find that reassuring? You could have been sleeping with half the town for all I know."
Olivia lunged for him, Frank dodged back a step and Rick lurched forward to jump between them as Natalia shouted, grabbing for Olivia's wrist to pull her back.
"Olivia, don't do this."
The moment Olivia felt Natalia's hand on her arm she stopped struggling, her body going rigid with the tension of conflicting impulses. Natalia slipped past her, still keeping a hand on Olivia, doing nothing in particular to restrain her but everything in general to maintain some connection to her.
"And you," Natalia declared, giving Frank a hard stare. "I know you're hurt and you're scared because you're worried about Francesca. But so are we. We're scared too, Frank. You don't get to take that out on me."
Frank continued to scowl but said nothing. Natalia let it go, refocusing on Rick.
"What does this have to do with Francesca? Because all I care about right now is finding out what's wrong with her and making sure she gets better?"
"It rules out Frank as a donor, for one thing. And we need to find another." Rick sighed. "Olivia is a match for Francesca, but given her condition, she isn't an ideal donor."
"My condition-" Olivia said hotly.
"-Is something we need to keep in mind."
"That's my kid in there, Rick," Olivia retorted. "And if she needs my blood-"
"It won't do her any good if you kill yourself," Rick said flatly.
Natalia's gasp froze them all.
"He's just exaggerating," Olivia murmured. "It's what he does."
"If you're not careful..." Rick shot back warningly.
Olivia just rolled her eyes.
"In the meantime," Frank cut in. "I want a paternity test."
"Frank, this is no time to be sticking more needles in Francesca. She's already had enough done to her today. It can wait," Natalia declared.
"And I say it can't," Frank retorted. "Isn't there some blood or something that you've already taken that could be used for the test, Rick?"
Rick cast a quick glance at Natalia. She looked unhappy but didn't object. "I'll talk to the technicians about the samples we have." He put a hand on Frank's shoulder. "Why don't you come over here, so we can draw your blood for a comparison."
Frank let himself to be led away, missing the glance that Rick shot back over his shoulder at Olivia and Natalia.
Natalia looked over at Olivia. They'd been sitting side-by-side in the waiting room's uncomfortable chairs for over an hour. Olivia's head leaned awkwardly back against the wall and her eyes were shut. She didn't look peaceful; she looked ready to spring into action at a moment's notice.
Natalia reached over and took Olivia's hand in hers, picking it up from the arm rest and kissing Olivia's knuckles, clutching it to her heart. Olivia smiled and rolled her head to face Natalia, though her eyes were still closed.
"You're quiet," Natalia noted.
With her free arm, Olivia gave a small one-shouldered shrug.
"Just thinking about Chessy."
"And about what Rick said?" Natalia suggested.
This time Olivia opened her eyes. "Is that what you're worried about?"
It was Natalia's turn to shrug. "I wouldn't blame you for-"
"Hey, Sweetheart, look at me," Olivia said, reaching up to touch Natalia's chin, her thumb brushing over soft skin. "Frank might doubt you, but I'm not Frank. If you say you didn't sleep with anyone but him - and me - it never crossed my mind. I know how upset you were about what happened with him. I will never forget that smell. So much bleach." She was hoping for a tiny smile but was only rewarded with a quirk of Natalia's lips. "I believe you. I don't know what's going on but Rick will figure it out."
"Huh." Natalia sank back in her seat. "Since when are you so calm about things?"
Olivia snorted. "I'm not or did you forget I almost took Frank's head off earlier?
"I didn't." Natalia scowled. "It's just so weird though. What Rick said. I don't understand it."
Olivia pressed her lips together then let out a little sigh. "Does it matter, really? We're here together. Francesca will be fine." Her tone left no doubt that anything else wasn't actually an option. "What else do we need?"
A tiny smile caught at the corner of Natalia's lips and brought with it a hint of dimples. "Nothing," Natalia said, smiling sweetly up at Olivia, leaning closer to kiss her.
A not-at-all-discrete-and-completely-fake cough interrupted them.
"Rick," Olivia said. She longed to ignore him, her forehead pressed to Natalia's and lose herself in this woman. At any other time she wouldn't have moved. But Rick might have information about Francesca. It was only when she pulled reluctantly away from Natalia that Olivia saw Frank standing behind Rick. He was scowling and unhappy. The most charitable part of Olivia thought he looked scared and she had a sudden pang for how he must be feeling. She knew well enough how sickening it felt to have one's place in Francesca's life in doubt.
"He wouldn't tell me anything," Frank said, crossing his arms over his chest. It was clear what he thought of Rick's decision.
Olivia hated the mournful look on Rick's face. She had seen it too many times.
"I got back the results from the paternity test."
"Do keep us in suspense, Rick," Olivia said when he didn't continue.
He sighed. "There was a match in the system. But it wasn't Frank."
Natalia gasped. Olivia reached for her hand without looking.
"Then who, damn it?" Frank demanded. "I deserve that if nothing else."
Rick sighed and looked even more uncomfortable. "I'm not sure how this is possible, but well after we got the test back the first time I had them run it again - three more times."
"Just tell us," Olivia growled.
"It's you," Rick said bluntly. "You're the father - mother. I don't even know. But DNA doesn't lie."
Frank blinked. "Be serious, Rick. It isn't funny. This is my daughter we're talking about."
"I am, Frank. I wouldn't joke about something like this."
"This isn't..." Natalia sounded shaky. "Rick just..."
Rick thrust out the sheath of papers he held. "Here. I knew you wouldn't believe me. This explains everything." He held the papers out.
Olivia took them before anyone else could move and scanned them quickly. "Are you sure the match was correct? That it wasn't some mistake?"
Rick nodded. "I'm sure. I made them check it again for errors."
Olivia handed the papers to Natalia without another word. She examined them for a moment and then passed them along to Frank.
His face clouded almost instantly; he balled the papers up and threw them aside. "Do the test again."
"Frank, it won't do any good. I checked it - I triple-checked it. . "
"It's not even possible!"
Rick shrugged. "How many impossible things have happened in Springfield?"
Frank glared. "You can't take my daughter away - not and give her to HER. She takes everything away from me. She's destroyed my entire life."
"Frank-" Natalia tried to cut in, but he turned on her.
"And you! At least she doesn't pretend to be anything other than what she is - pretend to care. You're worse than she is." He drew himself back momentarily, his eyes going cold and dark in a way Natalia had never seen before. "I'm glad she's not my daughter. Good riddance."
Natalia's eyes narrowed. "You would throw away a child that quickly - one you spent two years claiming that you loved - just because she doesn't have your blood? You don't know anything about love, Frank Cooper. And I don't know you." She took a step closer to him, her eyes almost glittering with fury and disappointment. "If that's how you love, then she's better off without you."
Without another word, Natalia turned on her heel and walked away, brisk, staccato steps echoing down the hallway. She never looked back.
"Okay, Rick," Olivia said, folding her arms over her chest. "We've been patient long enough. We need some answers."
"I, ah..." Rick shrugged. "This isn't something that happens every day, you know? As far as I know it's never happened before. I don't even know how it's possible. But I checked that test. I did it myself to make sure one of the technicians weren't altering something by accident - and the results were always the same."
"She was tiny."
It was the first time that Natalia had spoken since they had gathered in the doctor's small conference room.
"What?" Olivia asked, unable to make the leap between their conversation and where Natalia had gone.
"Remember?" Natalia beseeched, looking up at Olivia. "Francesca was so so tiny when she was born - but she was almost three weeks late. The pediatrician was worried that something was wrong with her because she looked like a preemie, but they couldn't find anything wrong with her. They just thought she was a slow developer or something," she added to Rick.
"So what are you saying?" Rick asked.
"The first time we ever, you know, at the spa..." Natalia gestured between she and Olivia. "It wasn't that long really after Frank and I. I mean, two months - it is for a baby, but... And Olivia was the only other person besides Frank."
Rick looked down. "You know, Natalia, just because you use protection or you don't think the person you're with can have children for whatever reason, nothing is certain. There's always a possibility-"
"Rick," Natalia cut him off, touching his arm. "Olivia was the only person besides Frank."
"Okay," Rick said with a shrug. "If that's what you say then I believe you. It's what the results say."
"That still doesn't explain how it happened," Olivia interjected.
Rick rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "I don't have anything for you there. We may never know how it happened. But - it's not a bad thing, is it? You both love Francesca. I may feel bad for Frank, but..."
"No, it's not bad," Natalia said slowly, sorting through what she was feeling to some extent as she spoke. "Just very unexpected and strange. We never expected..." She reached for Olivia's hand again and gave it a tight squeeze. "But she's our little girl and no matter how she came into our lives, we'll always love her."
"Just the way we always have," Olivia said, glancing away from Rick and catching Natalia's gaze, the intimacy of the moment all but forcing him out of the conversation.
"Always?" Natalia asked with a tiny quirk of her lips.
Olivia dipped her head in acknowledgement of Natalia's point, but her smile never wavered. In fact, it grew. She raised a hand to brush Natalia's chin with her thumb. "From the first moment I saw her."
Rick coughed such an obviously fake cough that Olivia rolled her eyes. Natalia's lips quirked upwards in a smile.
"Can you look into it for us, Rick?" Olivia asked, straightening and drawing herself back up and away from Natalia. "Just to make sure there's nothing to worry about. We're happy but it's strange."
"Of course," Rick nodded. "But you know, we may never know. I'll talk to the people at the spa you mentioned earlier, see if there's been anything strange going on there. Something in the water..."
Olivia arched an eyebrow. "Something in the water, Rick? That's the best you can come up with?"
He gave her a grimace. "Well, would you rather I said it was magic - or God?"
Olivia stiffened as his last comment drew a sharp look from Natalia.
"I appreciate everything you've done for us - and you're doing for Francesca - but you don't get to mock my beliefs. They're serious and important to me."
For a moment, Rick looked startled and then he shrugged. "There are more things in heaven and earth..."
Natalia tensed, but then realized Rick wasn't mocking her. If anything he was conceding the point. She relaxed with the thought echoing in her mind. A child for she and Olivia, of she and Olivia, God's gift to them? She wasn't sure that she trusted the thought. What had they done to be so deserving? But she wouldn't question it or struggle against it.
Or let the absolute surrealness of the notion ruin what should be a happy, joyous moment.
Instead she would hold it close and embrace it for the blessing their daughter was - no matter who she was borne of in flesh and blood.
"How is she?"
Frank's voice startled Olivia, enough to make her jerk in her chair. She hadn't heard him come in, caught up as she was with Francesca. They were still keeping her sedated until the transfusions could be completed. Still Francesca had wiggled and squirmed in her sleep, little fingers curled closing on air and toes jerking and twitching. Olivia had slipped a finger into Francesca's grasp; she had stilled almost immediately. That it left Olivia effectively immobilized for the time was of little importance. It was something useful that she could do.
"Rick says she'll be fine," Olivia said, keeping her voice low for Francesca's sake, though it was unlikely she'd be roused. "It's Celiac Disease. If we keep her away from gluten she'll be fine."
Olivia heard Frank's shoes squeak against the floor as he took a step closer. "That's all?"
"Yep," Olivia said curtly. "That's all." She wondered why he was here - he hadn't been when Rick had found them a few hours before and told them what was wrong. At the time it had seemed clear enough that Frank wouldn't be coming back. Now Olivia was just exhausted - tired of it all.
"Celiac's Disease? What is that? Some kind of allergy?"
"How do we fix it?" Natalia asked, cutting in on Olivia's question with a more practical one of her own. They were both tired, worry about Francesca and the surreal, dramatic events of the day combining to take their toll.
"Well, right now Francesca's biggest problem is the anemia that was caused by the disease - and we did find donor blood from another blood bank. It was a little outside our usual contact area, but once we explained the situation, they were happy to help. And once we have that under control, it's just a matter of altering her diet so that's free of any gluten - which is what's causing the problem. Her system can't absorb it properly so it's leading to malnutrition."
Natalia hissed; Olivia squeezed her hand harder.
"But that's it? Just no more gluten and she'll be fine?" Olivia demanded. She needed to know now whether it would be all right, whether she could finally let herself breathe again.
Rick nodded. "Right as rain. Good as new in no time."
"Any more clichés you want to throw at us?" Olivia asked, both dry and sharp.
Rick looked like he was seriously considering it, then shook his head. "No, I think I'm good."
"As long as you're happy," Olivia muttered under her breath. Natalia pinched her side. Olivia yelped and glared.
"Can we see her now, Rick?" Natalia asked, clearing her throat and redirecting her attention. It had been a very long day and seeing her little girl was what she needed most.
"Of course, you can stay as long as you want now. They'll keep monitoring her, but she should be improving steadily now - and I'll set up an appointment for you to meet with a dietitian for her."
"Thank you, Rick," Olivia said, speaking for both of them, even as she was already dragging Natalia toward Francesca's room. Neither of them would be able to relax until they had managed to reassure themselves that she really was okay.
"I bet you're happy about this," Frank accused.
"That our daughter is going to be okay? Damn right I am." Even keeping her voice low, Olivia couldn't manage to keep the intensity out of it.
"I know what you meant," Olivia said, with a sigh. She turned to look at him over her shoulder. "Do you really want to do this, Frank?"
He swallowed and stared at her - glared really. "I guess I do. I'm here, aren't I?"
Olivia sighed. "You're here because you're a good man - and you love your daughter."
"The things I said earlier, I didn't mean them."
Frank put a hand on her shoulder. Olivia felt the urge to throw it off and forced herself to remain perfectly still and relax.
"Is this the way you felt, these past few years?"
This. Because that clarified things. Men. Olivia snorted.
"What I feel right now? Is relief. Because she's okay."
Frank's hand fell from her shoulder. "Of course. I do too. That's why I came back - because I had to see."
"Yeah. But, Frankie - it doesn't matter to me." She stroked her thumb over the back of Francesca's hand. "Natalia's went down to the chapel. She needed to think. I think she's a little freaked out by the thought that I got her knocked up. Talk about against God and nature, you know?" She flashed him a smile that could incite an angel to commit a felony. "But me? It's strange, sure. Really strange. But when I look at Francesca I think...what does it matter? Sitting here, holding her hand, it doesn't feel any different than when I was trying to get her to eat her cheerios this morning and she kept throwing them at me."
"I feel like I don't belong, like there's no place for me in her life. In Natalia's life."
Olivia tensed. "Maybe that's the difference, Frankie. I've always seen myself as a guest in Natalia's life; you always thought you belonged."
Olivia didn't need to turn to know that she'd pissed him off. She could feel it in the air. Then he deflated.
"I still want to be a part of her life." Which her, he didn't clarify.
"We weren't the ones who said good riddance," Olivia said, sliding the words in as smoothly as a knife in butter.
"Are you ever going to let me forget that?"
"Were you ever planning to let me forget I wasn't Francesca's real mother?"
There was silence for a moment, then Frank said, "It's not fair."
"We don't always get what we want," Olivia said, but it was speculative rather than hurtful. She looked back over her shoulder at him again and held out her other hand palm up. "Come back in the morning to see her. I'll tell Natalia you stopped by."
Frank looked startled, speechless. Then he squeezed her hand. "Okay."
Olivia waited until she heard the door shut behind him before she pushed her hair back behind her ear and bent over Francesca.
"Now what are we gonna tell your Mama, baby? And how the hell do I keep ending up being the one to stick up for your Daddy?" Olivia shook her head and sighed. "So not fair."
But she would keep doing it anyways, because she had been the one before. She did know how Frank felt and she wouldn't push anyone out of Francesca's life who loved her this much.
Even if there were days when she could do with a little less Frank Cooper in her life.
The chapel was quiet.
Natalia couldn't stop thinking about what Rick had said - God or magic or science that seemed like magic. Something had done this, but she had no idea which one it was. And anyway it was more than the how it was the why that troubled her - why them, why this?
She pressed her hand against her stomach as she had so many times before while pregnant with Francesca. This time there was nothing. No movement or some greater sense of the life growing inside of her. She felt empty.
She and Olivia had created a baby together. Natalia turned the thought over in her mind and then added a new one. God had given them that gift. Wasn't that the point after all? Whether it was magic or science or an act of man, it didn't matter. It was all - every single possibility - a part of God's plan for them, for she and Olivia and this baby. Her fist clenched. And even for Frank.
The things he had said had made her blood boil, rage flashing through her body that he would throw their daughter aside so easily, love so capriciously. It didn't matter though. She had Olivia - they had Olivia. Now more than ever.
But then, in a way nothing had changed. Olivia had been there for them before, when Francesca could have been nothing more than a reminder that Natalia had been with Frank when she should have been with Olivia - instead of being the thing that had brought she and Olivia back together.
So this was God's plan. It wasn't what Natalia would have chosen for herself. Not something she would have ever considered as a possibility. But look how well that had worked out for her so far.
Natalia smiled. Pretty amazingly. And suddenly the last place that Natalia wanted to be was in the chapel alone, brooding over what it might all mean. She had found her answers and accepted them. Understanding why it had all happened seemed less important than being grateful for the things she had been given - like Olivia and all their children.
A sudden thought struck Natalia and she laughed out loud, clapping her hand over her mouth just as soon as she had.
If they had no idea how they had gotten pregnant in the first place...then it would be equally mysterious to prevent. Natalia laughed again, an edge of hysteria creeping in this time. What if God's plan was for her to have even more children? As a practicing Catholic it wasn't a foreign thought, but not one she had given any mind to since she had been with Olivia. How wrong she'd been. She wondered if Olivia would mind - or if she would think Natalia was crazy.
Then she laughed at herself, because they had just found out Francesca was their daughter and she was already thinking about the possibility of more children. It was ridiculous.
A thought crossed Natalia's mind and she sobered instantly. There was one tried and true method of preventing pregnancy - and there was no way that Natalia was going practice abstinence. Not when she had Olivia Spencer in her bed.
"So I was just thinking..." Olivia said, glancing over her shoulder at Natalia as she re-entered Francesca's room.
"Oh?" Natalia queried, giving Olivia a fond smile as she crossed the room to stand behind her, wrapping her arms around Olivia's waist and pressing her chin against Olivia's shoulder. "Should I be worried?"
Olivia snorted. "Well, really I was just wondering, now that we know she's going to be okay, do you think we still have to keep calling her Francesca? Is it too late to change her name? She's only two. Natalia, she'll never know!"
"Olivia! That's terrible," Natalia admonished, but even as she said it she was shaking her head and smiling at Olivia through the look of mild disbelief on her face. Natalia eased away far enough to turn Olivia around to face her, then caught Olivia's face in one hand, holding her still as she leaned over to kiss her, tasting the sweetness of Olivia's lips, savoring everything that made them exactly who they were - together and apart.
"Never change," Natalia whispered, pulling just far enough away from Olivia's lips so that she speak. "Promise me."
Wordlessly Olivia brushed her nose over Natalia, lightly, teasingly, just to make her smile and then dipped her head to capture Natalia's lips with her own, sealing it with a kiss.
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