DISCLAIMER: These characters don't belong to me. They belong to GL and whoever's running the show over there (Wheeler, et al.).
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I don't know how much, if any, show canon I'll be incorporating into this series (and there will probably be at least one more story, if/when I have time to write it). I may use some of the major plot points, but I don't feel all that obligated to incorporate soapy plot-contrivances to keep them apart. Just sayin.' Thanks to ErinBree, who put up with my fandom-pushing enough to give this a read-through. :) Anyone who spots any mistakes or anything that seems out-of-character should feel free to let me know so I can make corrections.
SPOILERS: Up through the FoD that took place on the show during the week of February 23, 2009. There's nothing else in this that is specific to show canon as of yet.
SEQUEL: This is a follow-up to Uncomfortable Truths, and begins later the same day in that timeline.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Steps on the Road to Us
By Susan P.
Olivia took a deep breath before pushing her key into the lock, both grateful to be home after a long day, and yet already weary, knowing how difficult it was going to be to maintain her composure in front of Emma and Natalia.
She steeled herself for the coming ordeal and unlocked the door. She wasn't really surprised to see Natalia sitting on the couch when she came in.
"Hi," Natalia replied, standing up to greet her.
Olivia put her purse down and removed her coat. She went to hang it up, and when she turned around, she was startled to see Natalia right there, looking up at her with an odd mixture of emotions on her face, worry being chief among them.
"Is Emma okay?"
"Yes," Natalia answered immediately. "She's upstairs doing her homework."
"Okay." It was all Olivia could think to say.
"Dinner will be ready soon."
Olivia nodded, still at a loss as to what, specifically, might be troubling Natalia. She gave her a searching look, trying for the hundredth time to figure out what was going on behind those beautiful brown eyes. 'Ugh, stop it with the beautiful,' she chastised herself, trying to control her emotional responses to the other woman.
Something in her look seemed to cause the frown lines to deepen on Natalia's face, and Olivia couldn't take it any longer.
"Is something wrong, Natalia?"
"No," Natalia replied quickly, then rolled her eyes a little as if she didn't believe her own answer. "It's just... I... I know things are...weird, right now, and I... I shouldn't ask, but..." Natalia stepped well into Olivia's personal space.
Olivia swayed back slightly, realizing what Natalia wanted, and caught between refusal and surrender.
"Please? I just need..." Natalia took another step forward, staring into Olivia's eyes.
Olivia just nodded once, not trusting herself to speak. She closed her eyes tightly as Natalia's arms slid around her and their bodies made contact. Natalia was firmly wrapped around her before Olivia allowed herself to return the embrace.
Natalia sighed when she felt Olivia's arms close around her. "I'm glad you're home."
They stood there, just holding one another, for what seemed like a very long time, but probably wasn't. Eventually, Natalia spoke again.
"I don't want to lose you."
"I know." She rubbed Natalia's back gently. "You won't." Olivia knew it was true as she said it. No matter what happened, she could no more walk away from Natalia than she could stop breathing. It scared the hell out of her, but she tried to hold on to the fact that Natalia seemed to be feeling something for her, even if it might not be quite the same thing.
Natalia held her more tightly for a moment, before she said, "I should...probably go check on dinner," though she sounded reluctant and made no moves to follow through on it.
Olivia relaxed her hold fractionally, giving Natalia tacit permission to do the same. "Okay. I'll go check on Emma."
They parted slowly, neither eager to let go of the sense of peace and closeness they found in each other's arms. Each woman smiled shyly at the other before heading off on their respective errands.
Oddly enough, their embrace had relieved some of the tension between them, rather than exacerbating it. Olivia headed up the stairs, more grateful than she could have expressed to not only be at home, but also to feel at home.
Olivia had originally planned to make her excuses and retreat up to her room at the first opportunity, but in the end it hadn't been necessary. The moment with Natalia had left her feeling renewed, in some way.
She was helping Emma with her homework when Natalia came up to get them for dinner.
"Almost done," Emma called out. Olivia looked over Emma's shoulder to confirm the assertion before nodding to Natalia and saying, "We'll be down in a minute."
They had dinner and things were almost normal. Almost. There were a few looks between them that lasted a little too long or became a little too intense, but Emma's presence was a welcome distraction, providing a kind of buffer between them.
As they were finishing dinner, Emma asked permission to watch a movie.
Olivia smiled down at her daughter as she began to help Natalia clear the table. "Well, since you've finished your homework, sure." She nodded toward the living room. "Go pick one out."
As Emma trotted off, Olivia met Natalia at the sink, grabbing a dishtowel off the counter and twirling it in the air. "You wash, I'll dry?"
"Nope," Natalia smiled back at her, took the towel from Olivia's hand and flung it over her own shoulder. "I've got this."
"I'm perfectly capable..." Olivia started to protest.
"I know you are, but..." Natalia tenderly grasped her shoulders, turned her toward the door, and gave her a gentle push. "You should go spend time with Emma."
Olivia looked back over her shoulder at a smiling Natalia. "Okay, but tomorrow, I've got this."
Natalia nodded once. "Deal."
After Natalia finished with the dishes, she went into the living room to find mother and daughter stretched out and spooned together on the couch, and her heart skipped a beat. She stood there a moment, smiling at the sight, before Olivia sensed her presence and looked up at her.
"Natalia?" She moved to shift her legs so that Natalia could join them on the couch, but Natalia held up a hand to stop her.
"No, that's okay. I was just going to...go over your schedule and make sure you've got everything you need for tomorrow's staff meeting." She'd been touched by Olivia's gesture, and a part of her really did want to join them. But, it was obvious that Emma was already fighting sleep, and she didn't want to disturb her in any way.
"Need any help?" Olivia seemed ready to push up off the couch.
"No, no," Natalia gestured for her to stay where she was. "It won't take long."
Natalia headed back toward the kitchen, but she couldn't resist one last look back and she lingered in the doorway, watching as Olivia tenderly stroked Emma's hair before wrapping an arm around her.
Natalia reached out to grip the doorframe as she stepped through it and as soon as she had, she slumped against the nearest wall as her legs threatened to buckle under her.
She could have lost this. She had everything she could want--well, almost everything she could want, except having Rafe safe at home. All right here, in this house, and she could have lost it. Her stupid...indiscretion with Frank could have cost her her family.
It was only because Olivia had seemingly forgiven her for sleeping with Frank, despite the fact that she'd been so obviously hurt by it, that Natalia wasn't sitting alone in an empty house.
All the feelings she'd been trying so hard to keep at bay came surging to the surface and she clamped a hand over her mouth as if that would keep them from escaping. It was too much, and she didn't know what to do with all of it. It was still too hard to separate who she had been and what she had wanted from all these new, and confusing, and...intense feelings that were swirling within her now. For Olivia.
She could admit that, now. If only she could have admitted it to herself twenty-four hours ago, she might have avoided making a horrible mistake. Nothing she had ever felt with Frank had come anywhere close to what she had felt tonight, in Olivia's arms. And the kiss. God, that kiss. It hadn't even been a real kiss, and yet, it had awakened something in her. Something that refused to be left behind no matter how hard or how fast she had tried to run from it.
Thinking about the kiss, she moved the hand that was over her mouth, sliding her fingers across her lips, remembering the feel of Olivia's lips and imagining what it would be like to feel them again, this time moving against hers with intent and...love.
The desire that shot through her was overwhelming--almost heartbreaking in its intensity--and so much more than physical. For a moment, she thought she would fall. The fear of Olivia hearing her and coming in to find her sprawled on the floor--and in this state--was the only thing that kept her upright. Because she knew she couldn't explain. Not to Olivia. Not to herself. Not yet.
She took a few deep breaths, willing her legs to work as she staggered over to sit down at the kitchen table. She put her elbows on the table and buried her head in her hands for several minutes, until she had regained some degree of control.
She sat back in her chair and ran a hand through her hair. One thing was clear to her, at least. She now knew what she had to do about Frank. Assuming, of course, that she could manage to face him again and apologize for the way she had used him. Except admitting she'd used him would require admitting...other things. Things she wasn't sure she was ready to admit to anyone else yet--least of all Frank--which meant she would have to think very carefully about what to tell him. She had to find a way to let him down easy, but without leaving any room for doubt, or false hope.
She sighed heavily, realizing that she would have to hurt him. The Coopers had lost Coop, they were losing Company, Buzz seemed to be on a dark, dark path, and she would have to take away the only thing that had given Frank a reason to smile in weeks.
"What have I done?" she whispered to the empty room, newly horrified at the magnitude of her mistake.
She had hurt Olivia, and now she would have to hurt Frank. One selfish, stupid moment, and it could have cost her everything she cared about most. She turned to look at the wall, as if by staring hard enough she might be able to see through to the other side of it and catch a glimpse of Olivia and Emma.
It was comforting, knowing they were there. Olivia had come home. Olivia had promised that she would be there, and that meant... Everything. No matter what she had to sort through, whatever decisions she had to make regarding her feelings for Olivia, she was relieved to know that Olivia wouldn't walk away.
She would have to be careful, and very, very aware of Olivia's feelings, but she could do that. She had to do that. The pain she had seen in Olivia's eyes that morning had been devastating for her, and she didn't ever, ever want to see a look like that in Olivia's eyes again.
But she would have time. Olivia would give her time. She would have to make the best of that time, but it was all still too much to deal with in one night. For now, she needed a distraction--something to keep the confusion at bay for a while.
Work. She had come in here to work. Work was good. Work was safe. She forced herself to get up long enough to grab the laptop and bring it back to the table. There really wasn't much to do. The notes for the staff meeting were more or less complete, but she had wanted to go over them once more, and doing so would give her something else to focus on, and a little time to compose herself before she faced Olivia again. So, she took more time with it than was strictly necessary.
After she had lingered over the notes for the staff meeting, checked Olivia's schedule, again, and even reviewed budget proposals for the next month, she was beginning to feel a little tired, but also more centered than she had earlier. She shut down the laptop and headed back to the living room.
Olivia and Emma were still on the couch in much the same position, but now both were sound asleep. Natalia walked over and grabbed the remotes to stop the movie and turn the television off, before stepping in front of the couch and bending down to lift Emma so that she could carry her upstairs and put her to bed. The only problem was that Olivia seemed reluctant to let Emma go. She mumbled something unintelligible in her sleep, frowned and tightened her hold on the girl. Meanwhile, Emma began to stir a little.
"Olivia," she coaxed gently, "it's okay. I'm just going to take Emma upstairs to bed." Her voice seemed to calm Olivia almost immediately, and while Olivia showed no signs of waking, she relaxed her grip on her daughter, making it easier for Natalia to gather Emma into her arms. The girl stirred just enough to wrap herself around Natalia, which helped with the process. Natalia made her way up the stairs very carefully and got Emma into bed with little trouble.
When Natalia came back down, her eyes went straight to Olivia's sleeping form. She made her way around the front of the couch and sat gingerly on the corner of the coffee table, facing her. She leaned forward to study Olivia carefully, feeling a little guilty for taking advantage of Olivia's unguarded state, but unable to stop herself from drinking in every detail.
Olivia was a beautiful woman. She had always known that, on some level, but it had never affected her so viscerally before. It had never made her heart beat faster. It had never made her ache with love. It had never made her want to reach out, gather up all that beauty, and absorb it into herself. It had never made her want.
She reached out a hand toward Olivia's face, wanting to touch her, but knowing that doing so would almost certainly end the moment. Finally, unable to stand the tingling in her fingertips any longer, she reached out to very slowly and very carefully lift a lock of Olivia's hair and push it out of her face.
She took one last, longing look at Olivia, then sat back a little, clasping her hands together on her knees.
"Olivia?" she called softly. When Olivia did nothing more than scrunch her face up and snuggle deeper into the cushions, Natalia tried again, a little louder this time. "Olivia."
"Mhm?" she groaned softly, eyes still shut tightly.
After the third try, Olivia showed signs of waking, eventually blinking rapidly and focusing on her. "Natalia?"
Olivia roused a little more and pushed up on one elbow. "Mhm. What time is it?" she mumbled, still a little groggy.
"Uhm..." Natalia, unable to look away, didn't bother checking her watch. "It's not that late, actually. I just thought you might be more comfortable sleeping in your own bed."
"Oh." Olivia pushed herself up into a sitting position and rubbed her hands over her face. "Emma?"
"Already tucked in."
"Okay." Olivia sank back into the cushions, still trying to wake up. "I didn't know I was that tired."
"It's been a long day."
Olivia chuckled a little. "Yeah."
"Why don't you go on up? Get some rest."
"Mhm," she tilted her head to look at Natalia. "What about you?"
Natalia smiled. "I won't be far behind. I'll just...check the doors and get the lights." She stood up and reached out a hand to help Olivia up.
Olivia didn't really need the help, but she only hesitated a moment before taking Natalia's hand. Once she was standing, Olivia found her hand enveloped in both of Natalia's, and she looked down at their hands briefly before looking up at her.
"Olivia. I... I'm very glad that you're here."
Olivia met Natalia's watery gaze and felt the tears form as she choked out, "Me too."
Natalia rubbed her hand once more before releasing it and watching as Olivia turned to go up the stairs.
Olivia had just stepped out of the shower and was toweling her hair when she heard what sounded like a knock on her bedroom door. She quickly wrapped the towel around her still-wet body and pulled open the bathroom door. She was making sure the towel was secure and moving toward the door as Natalia pushed it open and peered around it.
"Olivia, are you oka--Oh!" Natalia's face went slack for a moment when she saw her, but then her eyes flicked downward as she mumbled, "Sorry."
"It's okay," Olivia replied, not seeing what the problem was. "I just decided to take a quick shower."
Natalia looked up at her again, still clutching the door in front of her. "But you normally..."
"Yeah. I didn't really...take time for one this morning."
"Oh." Natalia had been looking into her eyes, at first, but then her eyes drifted downward, raking over Olivia's form slowly.
Olivia's hand tightened on the towel, suddenly very grateful that it was thick. Her nipples, already standing at attention from the cool air in the bathroom, tightened painfully as she recognized the desire in Natalia's eyes.
Trouble was, she also recognized the rising panic in them, before Natalia seemed to realize what she was doing and her eyes darted away again.
"Did you, uhm..." Olivia tried to break the moment, knowing it was way too soon to deal with the implications of that look. "Did you need something?"
"Oh," Natalia looked at her then, looking more than a little grateful for the distraction. She stepped fully into the room, then, and gestured with the laptop that was tucked under her other arm. "I, uh... I thought you...might want to look over the agenda for the meeting tomorrow."
"Oh, yeah. That's...good." Olivia ran a hand through her wet hair, nervously. The change in topic wasn't really doing much to ease the tension between them.
Natalia seemed to feel that too. "I'll just, uh," she moved over to Olivia's bed and set the laptop down on it.
"Okay," Olivia tried to keep her tone light.
Natalia turned and gestured vaguely in the air. "I'll, uh," she was trying to keep her eyes off of Olivia, without much success, until she finally nodded at some internal debate and walked back toward the door. When she reached it, she met Olivia's eyes. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Yeah," Olivia replied, sounding entirely too chipper for her own ears.
When the door closed behind Natalia, Olivia blew out a breath and staggered over to the bed on rubbery legs. If just a look from Natalia could make her feel this undone, she didn't know how she would survive it if anything actually happened between them.
She moved to sit on the bed, but she was so shaky and distracted that she kind of missed the mark and slid off the edge. She had enough presence of mind to turn and push the laptop further in toward the center of the bed to keep it from following her to the floor, but that just left her all the more unbalanced--until her bare butt connected solidly with the floor, of course.
"Olivia?" came Natalia's muffled voice through the door.
"I'm fine," Olivia called out quickly, grasping desperately at a corner of the towel--which was now bunched up and trapped between her upper back and the bed frame--to try to cover herself better, just in case Natalia decided to check. "I just...dropped something."
"Ok," Natalia called back, and Olivia was relieved when that seemed to be the end of it.
She leaned forward and gingerly reached back to feel the spot on her lower back where it had scraped against the bed frame on the way down. She felt all around it carefully. The skin was abraded and sore, but apparently not broken, because when she brought her hand up to look at her fingers, she saw no evidence of blood. She looked down at the ungainly position she'd landed in, unreasonably grateful for the fact that, embarrassing as it was, she had been the only witness to it. That it had been very effective as a mood-killer was an added bonus, because it meant that she wouldn't have to try to sleep with all of her senses buzzing from thoughts of Natalia.
She used the bed to push herself off of the floor, removing the towel on the way to the bathroom. She threw it over the shower rod, then grabbed her used washcloth and wiped gently at the spot on her back while craning over her shoulder to look at it in the mirror. Yep. Not serious, just a little painful. She grabbed the towel again and dried herself off thoroughly before changing into her pajamas.
She went back to the bed, sitting on it carefully before pulling the laptop to her and taking a few minutes to look over the notes that Natalia had prepared for the staff meeting. She made a couple of minor changes, but Natalia had been thorough enough that she didn't have to spend much time on it. Still, the shift in focus, temporary though it was, was enough to settle her nerves and she decided to call it a night.
She shut down the laptop and set it on the nightstand before turning in. As she settled into bed, she couldn't quite stop the thoughts of Natalia, but they left her feeling more hopeful than discouraged, and sleep claimed her easily.
The next morning, everything was going well. Things between her and Natalia were easy, almost normal. No odd looks, no charged moments. It was just the three of them, being a family. It was nice. Comfortable. They got Emma off to school with no trouble and Olivia took a few minutes to finish up her coffee, after which she took her cup to the sink and rinsed it out. She was startled a little when she turned back around to find Natalia right behind her, about to do the same with her cup. She took a step back and her back impacted the counter.
And that was when everything began to spin out of control.
Olivia grunted softly and reached around to grab the sore spot on her back, more surprised that it still hurt than by the pain itself.
Natalia, of course, didn't miss a thing. "What? What's wrong?"
Olivia shook her head and gestured vaguely. "Oh, it's nothing."
"It's not nothing. You were just..." Natalia pointed at her.
"No, it's really...nothing. I just...banged into something last night and got a little...scrape. I was just kinda--"
"Scrape? Let me see."
"Natalia. Really. It didn't even break the skin! It's just a little sore, that's all."
"Uh-huh. Let me be the judge of that."
"Ugh," Olivia looked disgusted, "I am not a five-year-old. I don't need you to nurse my boo-boos."
Natalia took one step back and crossed her arms. "Uh-huh. Show me."
Olivia sighed and ran a hand across her face. "You're not going to let this go, are you?"
"Nope," Natalia shook her head.
"Okay," Olivia gave in and turned around. "Okay, but..." she lifted her jacket and un-tucked her shirt from her slacks and pushed them both aside. "Just look, okay. Don't touch." Olivia clamped her eyes shut, not believing she actually spoke that thought aloud.
Thankfully, the comment didn't seem to register with Natalia, at first, because she was already bending down to look at the spot on Olivia's back.
"Okay, it doesn't... Wait--"
Olivia knew from the change in Natalia's tone that she had finally caught on to her comment. Natalia straightened and tried to catch her eye, but Olivia couldn't risk more than a sidelong glance at her.
"You don't... You don't want me to touch you?"
"Oh, I want it! That the problem," Olivia blurted out, blaming the hurt tone in Natalia's voice for her inability to censor herself. She clamped a hand over her mouth and immediately started looking for some escape, but she was right in front of the counter, so she had to do an awkward little side-step to get away from Natalia before she backed up into the counter next to the stove, wincing when she, once again, hit the spot on her back unexpectedly.
Natalia turned toward her, looking shell-shocked, and Olivia reached back with one hand to grip the counter behind her for support. She closed her eyes tightly for a moment, knowing that it really wasn't the right time for this discussion, but realizing that, since she had bulldozed the door open, there were some things she really needed to say.
She waved her other hand in front of her wildly for a moment. "I don't... I don't expect... Anything. And I don't want you to ever think that...what we have here...isn't enough. Because it's already so much more than I ever thought I'd find--with anyone." She took a shaky breath. "If there's never anything more than this, it would be enough. It would."
Olivia blinked rapidly, trying to keep the tears from falling. Natalia's features had softened considerably, but it was too hard to look at her, and Olivia had to close her eyes a moment in order to get the next bit out.
"But I do...want more. I want everything. I want you to touch me. And I want to touch you." She forced herself to look at Natalia then. "And I want you to want...all of that, too. But..." Olivia broke off when she saw a tear roll down Natalia's cheek and swallowed convulsively, not daring to speculate about what Natalia might be feeling at hearing all this.
Natalia took a step closer to her and Olivia reached out both hands toward her, palms up, in invitation. She couldn't look at Natalia's face, so she just stared down at her hands as Natalia's slid into them. She closed her eyes tightly a moment as her hands gripped Natalia's, needing the contact to ground her. She took a deep breath before she looked up to meet Natalia's teary eyes.
"Natalia. You need to understand that nothing can happen between us that you can't...live with. I don't want anything from you that you can't give freely." She took another deep breath. "Because I don't want to be with you if it's going to make you feel guilty, or ashamed--"
Olivia's voice had been getting steadily higher with each word and she broke into a sob on the last syllable, unable to contain it any longer. She tried to free one of her hands from Natalia's grip so she could cover her face and try to regain her composure, but Natalia would not let go. In fact, she gripped Olivia's hands more tightly.
Tears were streaming down Olivia's face freely now, and she could see the tear-tracks on Natalia's face when she stepped closer. Unable to hide anything from Natalia, she took in a quick, shuddering breath before finishing with, "Because that would kill me."
Natalia took another step toward her. Once they were toe-to-toe, Natalia spread their arms out wider and only then relaxed her grip on Olivia's hands as she gently commanded Olivia to, "Come here."
Unable to do otherwise, Olivia released Natalia's hands and surged forward into her arms, sobbing even harder once Natalia's arms closed around her.
"It's okay," Natalia reassured her, rubbing her back soothingly. "And I'm sorry, I know this counts as touching..."
Olivia chuckled a little in spite of herself, even as the tears kept flowing. "It's okay."
"You'll forgive me? Just this once?" Natalia teased her gently, obviously trying to lighten the mood.
"Mhm-hmm," Olivia smiled, already feeling calmer. Natalia's embrace was healing. It was home. She reached up to wipe some of the tears away, but made no move to release Natalia until the other woman pulled back slightly, just enough that they could look at each other, but with her arms still firmly around Olivia's waist.
"Feel better?" Natalia smiled sweetly up at her. Olivia sniffled and nodded in reply.
"My turn, now?"
Olivia nodded, sobering immediately, but knowing she would have to listen to whatever Natalia had to say, even if it wasn't what she wanted to hear.
"I love what we have, Olivia. I don't want to lose it. And I realized yesterday that I could have. I could have lost you, and Emma, and everything that makes this house a home."
"I told you, Natalia, you're not going to lose me."
"I know," Natalia's smile grew wider for a moment, then she turned serious again as she reached up to wipe Olivia's tears away. "I know, but I hurt you, and that was the last thing I ever wanted to do."
Natalia looked away slightly, talking more to herself than Olivia. "I've been having these...feelings for a while. Feelings that are confusing, and intense, and...pretty scary."
Olivia nodded, understanding perfectly.
"And I don't know...what to do with all of...this, yet. But I know these feelings are not going away. And I know that...running away from them hasn't...fixed anything. So, I won't..."
Natalia looked back at Olivia, meeting her gaze evenly. "You're not going to lose me, either."
Olivia blew out a relieved breath, nodding once. "Good. That's...good."
Natalia settled back into their embrace, resting her head on Olivia's shoulder, and Olivia couldn't stop the goofy grin that bloomed on her face. She tightened her hold on the other woman with one arm and reached up cradle Natalia's head, idly sifting her fingers through her hair.
They stood like that for several minutes, quietly drinking one another in, willing the moment to last.
"Have I really been touching you more than usual, lately?" Natalia asked eventually, sounding genuinely curious.
Olivia chuckled. "I don't know, it seemed that way, but it could just be that I noticed it more, because I... Well, I've been struggling with my feelings, too, and I've just been so afraid that you'd see right through me, and that you...wouldn't like what you saw."
Natalia squeezed her harder a moment. "I've been afraid of the same thing."
"You don't have anything to worry about there," Olivia reassured her. "And I wasn't exactly...complaining. About the touching."
"So, touching is good?" Natalia teased.
"Generally speaking, I'm in favor of it," Olivia smiled, joining in the fun.
"And..." Natalia pulled back slightly to look at Olivia as she asked, "kissing?"
Turning serious again, Olivia reached up to gently cup Natalia's cheek in her palm. "Whatever you're ready for, whenever you're ready for it."
"What about what you're ready for, and when you're ready for it?"
"Natalia, I can't be ready until you are." Natalia looked as though she didn't quite believe that, so Olivia added, "Besides, even if it were a possibility... I'm not exactly ready to jump into bed right now, anyway. Well..." she rolled her eyes at having to admit, "part of me is," she smirked, but then turned serious again. "But...this is about so much more than that...."
Olivia hesitated, not at all sure she was ready to lay all her cards on the table. She stroked her thumb across Natalia's cheek and took a deep breath. "Okay. Are you ready for the big one?"
Natalia's eyes went wide and she looked a little worried, but she nodded her assent.
"I love you, Natalia. I've..." Olivia swallowed past the lump in her throat. "I've fallen in love with you. And I realize now that I never really knew what that meant...before--not really, and that... It scares the hell out of me."
Natalia looked up at her, blinking rapidly as fresh tears spilled out of her eyes. She reached up to brush her fingers across Olivia's cheek, and her facial features hardened into a look of determination. "Kiss me."
Olivia might have smiled at the confused frustration in Natalia's voice if the situation had been different, but she was fighting so hard for the both of them that she couldn't quite see the humor.
"No," She shook her head. "Not like this. You need to be sure, Natalia. I need to know that you're sure.
"I just laid a lot of...stuff on you, and..." she ran a hand through her hair. "I really didn't mean to...tell you all this. Not now."
"I'm not sorry you did!" Natalia insisted.
That comment derailed Olivia for a moment, but she had to acknowledge it. "Well, then, I'm glad." 'Glad' was a colossal understatement, but she was afraid to reveal the enormity of her relief, so she just took a deep breath and got back on track. "But, it's a lot. It's...a lot, and you can't respond to me based on that. Not right now. You're trying to convince yourself, or rush...something. I can see it in your eyes, Natalia. And I don't want that. For either of us. Can you understand?"
Natalia looked deflated, and more than a little guilty. "You're right. I'm sorry. You deserve better than that."
"I don't..." Olivia pulled the other woman back into her embrace, gently guiding Natalia's head down to rest against her chest. "You don't have to apologize. That's not what I want. It's just... We don't have to rush anything. You need to take some time, and think about what you want, and what you need. Whatever you decide, I'm not going anywhere, unless..." she swallowed convulsively, "Unless that is what you decide you want."
"That's not gonna happen." Natalia sniffled and pulled back to look at her. "You're not going to get rid of me that easily," Natalia grinned.
Just that quickly, they were back to teasing.
"For once, I'm not complaining about that," Olivia smiled back at her, reaching out to wipe the remnants of tears from Natalia's face.
"Ugh, we're a mess, huh?"
Olivia ran a hand across her own face. "Yeah. I'm going to have to wash my face and re-do my makeup before I go in."
"Yeah. Me, too. Unless..." Natalia looked serious again. "Do you want me to stay away from the Beacon today?"
"No," Olivia's answer was immediate. "I was miserable yesterday without you there."
Natalia smiled shyly at her. "I was miserable here without you."
"You're my assistant. We work well... It works, and I..." Olivia didn't even try to hide her smile at the thought, "I like it. I don't want that to change."
Natalia shook her head. "Neither do I."
"So, we're going to have to figure out how to go to work and do the things we normally do without it...being awkward."
"And we might as well start today," Natalia nodded.
"Yeah," Olivia grinned at the way Natalia finished her thought. "Sooo... I guess we should go finish getting ready, huh?"
She didn't really want to let Natalia go, and Natalia didn't seem any more eager to separate than she was. They stood there staring at one another for few precious seconds, reveling in the sense of belonging each had found in the other.
Finally, Natalia uttered a quiet, "Okay," before putting on what Olivia thought of as her 'resolve-face' and pulling back a little. "We can do this."
"Yes, we can," Olivia replied, surprised to realize that she meant so much more than just 'let's go to work,' and that she actually meant it. They released each other slowly and each leaned back, but didn't step away.
Olivia had looked away, mentally preparing herself to go upstairs and fix her face, when Natalia's "Olivia?" brought her focus squarely back to the other woman's face.
Natalia reached up to cup Olivia's cheek. "I..." she started, then looked away and smiled sadly to herself. When she looked back up at Olivia, she shook her head once and said, "If I say it now...I don't think you'll believe me, but I just... I'm not sorry you told me. You've made... You make me...ha-happy."
Olivia closed her eyes tightly for a moment, feeling the sting of tears yet again. "You're gonna make me cry," she opened her eyes to focus on Natalia, "again."
Natalia shook her head. "And if you start, then I'll start. So, no." She leaned back and pushed both hands out in front of her body. "No more crying." She stepped to the side a little and placed her hands on Olivia's shoulders, gently turning her toward the door. "Go. You go get ready, and I'll go get ready, and we'll go."
Olivia took a deep breath as they both started walking into the living room and toward the stairs. "Ok. Yeah. Staff meeting."
"Oh, yeah," Natalia replied, as if just remembering their work agenda for the day. "Did you, um, get the chance to look over my notes?"
"Yeah, they were great. I just made a couple small changes--"
"Something I missed?"
Olivia paused in her progress up the stairs and turned back to look at Natalia. "No, of course not." She then went back to climbing the stairs. "Just a couple of things I thought about while looking over it again. You can take a look at it again before the meeting, if you like."
"No, that's fine."
They paused at Olivia's door, and Olivia gestured with her thumb. "I won't be long."
"Okay, I'll be quick, too."
They shared a shy smile before turning away to finish preparing for the day.
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