DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: What began as a Five Things type of story about Natalia morphed into this single story. I had the first two done and then began writing this. As you can see, it took on a life of its own. I hope that it stands alone. It's how I wish this scene would have gone. Yes, I know wishes and horses and beggars. Still, it is my own attempt to give back to Natalia the spirit and the spine she once had. Eternal gratitude to Darandkerry for catching my dropped words and empty spaces and always putting up with me. You are a true gem, my dearest! Most sincere and abiding thanks to Kelinswriter, for her insights, her advice, and her encouragement. My Bossy thinks your Bossy rocks! She thinks you're okay, too.
SPOILERS: The WoD. Set in the gazebo in the aftermath of the wedding that almost was. My take on what should have happened. Quote from Psalms 131:1.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"There is no us. You love me, but you're going to hate me one day. I can't live with that I can't live with that."
She's spent the last few weeks praying. Weeks? Months is more like it. This morning, watching as the last of Olivia and Emma's things were loaded onto the moving van, she prayed for the strength to let them go. Standing in front of the mirror fixing her hair, getting ready for her wedding, she'd been so overcome with doubt and fear that she'd fallen to her knees, the wood floor like iron under the tender bones of her legs, and prayed again: prayed not to feel, not to love. Prayed to do the right thing.
Now, standing here as the wind sends sheets of snow billowing like spray off an ocean of white, she knows that none of those prayers have been answered. The tears are sliding like a slow river of ice down her cheeks, her breath is lost somewhere beneath her sternum, and her vision is clouding with tears and snow and the knowledge that her world is walking away from her with the crunch of every footstep on the frozen ground. And suddenly, in a flash of stunning clarity, she knows that the offense she's been so certain she's committing against God and against her beliefs is, in fact, real and profound and undeniable.
She's offended God, but not in the way she's been thinking. Her sin isn't walking away from Frank. It isn't wanting to keep the family that she and Olivia and Emma have made. Her real sin isn't loving Olivia. It's never, ever been loving Olivia. This sin is one of pride, of hubris, of such astonishing ingratitude that she feels the muscles in her legs tremble as she tries not to fall to her knees in contrite supplication.
She's had the temerity, the gall, the absolute impertinence to ask God to take back the gift He has given her: the gift of love for, and from, this amazing woman. She's taken this impossibly precious, immeasurably fragile thing and begged God to remove it from her heart because the power and the depth of it terrifies her.
How could she be so blind, so proud and fearful as to question God's will for her?
And now, that fear, that pride is holding her hostage, forcing her to watch Olivia walk away from her, head down against the stinging pellets of blowing snow. Stepping forward, a cold rush of air and snow swirling around her, she murmurs, "Lord, help me to be strong and accept this gift you have given me."
"You stop!!" Her words, carried on the wind, bring Olivia up short.
She turns to meet Natalia's eyes, and even with the distance between them and the harsh eddy of snow, Natalia can see the pain and longing in those green depths.
"Natalia, don't, okay? The best thing you can do is just forget you ever said anything. Talk to Frank, just tell him you had cold feet. He'll understand. Please, for both our sakes, just forget this ever happened."
"Olivia, do you really think I can do that?" She's moved closer to Olivia now, close enough to reach out, trying to grasp Olivia's hands between her own, but Olivia pulls away from her with the same frantic motion that she had long moments before. "Olivia, please, I know I didn't say things the way I should have "
"I love you, Olivia, but just saying that makes me miserable." Olivia's words, harsh and agonized, come out in an exhaled cloud of frost that seems to linger in the air between them, her face a stoic mask. Only the hurt in her eyes shows through for a moment before she closes them, steel doors clanging shut, leaving no vulnerable point of entry.
"Don't put words in my mouth," Natalia protests, all the while knowing in her heart that she deserves the indictment.
"It's what I heard, Natalia." The sorrow in Olivia's voice melds in a mournful two part harmony with the icy moan of the wind.
"I know it's what you heard. I know that. I'm sorry. I'm not I'm not good at this. I'm not good at explaining my feelings," she acquiesces, a shiver snaking along her spine as a fresh shower of snow twirls about them. "Come back in the gazebo, out of the wind. Please? Just let me try and explain?"
She sees Olivia's hesitance, sees the overwhelming need to flee written in every line of that slender body. God knows, it's easy to recognize. She's seen it enough in the mirror for the last few months.
"Natalia, you need to listen to me," Olivia begins, before being brought up short by the vehemence in Natalia's retort.
"No, you need to listen to me! Please, Olivia!" She doesn't mean to sound so frustrated, but it seems to work, as Olivia moves slowly back up the stairs to the gazebo.
She follows, trying with each step to marshal her thoughts, to try and find the words she knows she needs to say. The words Olivia needs to hear.
Olivia stands near the center of the gazebo, her gaze fixed on the chaotic pattern of snow left by their footprints on the gray wood floor. Natalia moves toward her, her movements cautious as she slowly snakes out a hand and takes one of Olivia's, willing the older woman to meet her eyes.
"Olivia? Look at me." She can't help the rush of gratitude as Olivia glances up, gratitude that disperses with the speed of the blowing snow at the disconsolate expression gracing that beautiful face.
"Natalia, don't say anything else. Don't make this any harder. I don't know if I can take any more."
She knows that this is her one chance to make this right, not only to Olivia, but to God. This is her opportunity to graciously accept this gift, but more importantly, to offer up her own sacrifice as payment, the sacrifice of her fears and her doubts and her guilt. She just hopes that she is strong enough to bear the cost.
"I know when I said I love you, I just blurted it out. I think that's what happens sometimes with the truth, it just comes out. But I'm not that naïve, Olivia. I knew exactly what I was saying," she states firmly, willing Olivia to hear her, willing the words to take root inside her, small seeds of assurance, of belief. "I know what it means when you tell someone that you love them."
"What about 'what good is that kind of love?', what about all the other things you said, about hurting people and being selfish? What about Frank? What about God, Natalia, what does he have to say about all this?" She can practically see the walls Olivia is erecting, see each individual brick slot into place with each question posed, and for an instant, she feels her resolve waver.
"I know I said that, Olivia. I just this is all so new and " Her words begin to trail off, shying away like a feral animal from the intense pain in Olivia's eyes.
"I can't do this, Natalia. I can't stand the thought of losing you completely. Of you hating me." She can feel each word that leaves Olivia's lips like small daggers piercing her skin.
"Please, Olivia, just listen to me. Just hear me out, okay? I'm not good at explaining my feelings, even to myself, but I need to make you understand. I'll try and answer all your questions, okay?"
"Okay." The word flows out with a muted sigh.
"The thing is, I'm scared. I'm scared of everything. I always have been. I've spent most of my life being afraid of something: of not being able to pay my bills, of losing my job, of not being a good mother. I learned a long time ago to keep my head down and not draw attention to myself. To just accept what's offered and not want anything for myself. And that worked for a long time. Until I met you." As she speaks, Natalia draws Olivia to the snow coated bench that lines the gazebo. Pulling her down beside her, Olivia's hand still gripped tightly in her own, she gulps in a lungful of frigid air.
"You challenged everything I ever thought about myself. You made me believe that I could be more, that I could have more. But when I realized that what I wanted what I want is you, I was terrified. I am terrified. And confused. And I feel so much guilt that it's hard to breathe sometimes."
She's so intent on what she's saying that it takes her a moment to realize that she's muddied the waters she's trying so desperately to clear. One glance at Olivia's face tells her that the only words that registered are fear and confusion and guilt.
"Olivia. Olivia?" She finally reaches out a hand and gently cups Olivia's cheek, tilting her face up so that she can meet clouded green eyes. "I didn't mean I'm not confused about the way I feel about you. I love you, Olivia and nothing is going to change that. I don't feel guilty about that, about us. I feel guilty because I was so worried about everyone else, about Rafe and Frank and what everyone would think that I let a good man believe that I loved him. I let this all get so far out of hand that I almost married him, almost destroyed three lives because I allowed my fear to control me. Because I was too much of a coward to admit to myself that the only person I want to stand before God and vow to love forever is you."
The look in Olivia's eye is worth every ounce of fear and guilt that she's feeling. No one, not even Nicky, has ever gazed at her with such tenderness and adoration and Natalia knows, in that instant, that if this moment is all she ever has, it will be enough. A single tear treks slowly down Olivia's cheek and without thinking, Natalia leans forward, capturing the moisture, her lips warm against Olivia's cold skin.
"But more than anything, I feel so guilty that I hurt you. I saw it, saw the pain in your eyes every time you looked at me and I was too afraid to try and fix it. Too afraid to tell you how I feel. The only time I've ever felt completely safe and fearless is when you were holding me," she whispers, her lips still brushing along Olivia's cheek. "That should have told me everything I needed to know. I guess, I'm a slow learner."
Turning her face so that her lips are mere centimeters from Natalia's, her breath soft, warm puffs against her skin, Olivia whispers, "I think we both are," before gently claiming Natalia's lips.
Natalia can't stop the soft moan that rises, unbidden, from the back of her throat. She doesn't try to stop the hand that slips along the edge of Olivia's collar, her fingers tracing a line along the silken skin protected by the thick wool. Her other hand is still clutching Olivia's, trapped now in the warmth between their bodies. She's never felt anything as soft as Olivia's lips, never imagined that one kiss could hold the taste of a late winter's day. And yet it does.
She offers a murmur of protest as Olivia raises her head. "You aren't the only one who's been too afraid to say anything. I tried so many times, but I could never get the words out. Sometimes it seemed like you knew what I was going to say and changed the subject or ran off to see Frank. I finally convinced myself that you didn't want to hear it. It made it easier to push you to marry him. I thought it was what you wanted, what would make you happy."
She had known, had tried to avoid hearing those words. She feels a flood of shame surge over her.
"I'm sorry, Olivia. I've been incredibly blind. I was so caught up in my own struggle. I spent such a long time praying for these feelings to go away, and all I did was make things harder for you."
Olivia compresses her lips, her eyes dropping to the closeness of their bodies and Natalia realizes that, once again, she's made things worse instead of better.
"What about God?" Olivia asks quietly, her gaze still focused downward. "You never did answer that question. How does He feel about all of this?"
"My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty," Natalia intones just as quietly, not surprised at the puzzled expression on Olivia's face. "I was so worried that I was committing some terrible sin in loving you. I prayed and prayed for God to take these feelings away because the church teaches that they're wrong. It wasn't until I was standing here, watching you walk away from me, that I realized that my only sin was pride."
"I don't know that I understand."
"Pride is the first, the greatest of all sins. It's why Lucifer was cast out of Heaven: for pride. I've always believed that God is love, that the love we experience is given to us by God so that we can truly know Him. And yet, there I was, trying to give away this gift He has sent me, because I thought I knew better. That following the dictates of the church is more important than following my heart, following the love that God gave me. Gave us. Does that make sense?" Natalia wills Olivia to understand, her voice holding every ounce of sincerity she can muster.
She watches as Olivia processes her words, watches as the doubt and the turmoil behind those green eyes fades.
"So loving me isn't a sin in your book?" The brief glimpse of hope peering out of Olivia's eyes nearly breaks Natalia's heart.
"No. God is love and He sent this love to us. He sent you to me. The only sin I could ever be guilty of is not accepting that gift."
"That's not what your church says though. Not what Father Ray would say, is it?" The shadow of hope is gone again, routed once more by every doubt and fear that Natalia knows she has helped to grow and thrive in Olivia's heart.
"No, it isn't. I don't know for sure what Father Ray would say, but I have a feeling it would follow church doctrine."
"Would or will?" There's a tone of defeat in Olivia's voice that Natalia is desperate to put to rest.
"Probably will. But it doesn't matter. I know that God intends for us to be together. If the church or Father Ray can't condone that, then I may have to find another church " Her next words are cut short as Olivia rises suddenly, shoulders hunched as she paces across the now snow covered floor of the gazebo.
She can see Olivia withdrawing into herself, see her shutting down as the implications of Natalia's words sink in.
"No. I can't. I can't be responsible for you losing your church. And what about Rafe? How's he going to handle this? He obviously likes Frank. He was looking forward to having a father figure. What about that?" Natalia can hear as Olivia's fear is ratcheted up, her voice sounding so like Emma's when she's worried and anxious that it's all Natalia can do not to swoop Olivia into her arms and murmur soothing words of comfort.
But that isn't what Olivia needs. Not right now.
"Olivia, stop. Just stop. Stop trying to find reasons that this won't work, because it will. It does. We work. You know we do," Natalia says sternly, rising to cross to Olivia's side. "If I choose to leave the church, it will be just that: my choice and I need you to respect that. As for Rafe, I have faith in my son, just as I have faith in God. Yes, he may be a little disappointed. But he told me he just wants me to be happy. And you make me happy, Olivia. So stop trying to push me away by embracing all my fears."
"You're sure? You're sure that God is okay with this and that Rafe isn't going to hate my guts and that you're not going to regret loving me?" Olivia looks so fragile that Natalia is certain that another strong gust will send her scattering to the four winds.
She slips her arms around Olivia's waist, draws her slowly toward her until their bodies come together, hips and breasts pressed tightly through the layers of cloth.
"I know in my heart that God sent us this love, Olivia, so yes, I'm sure He's okay with this. As for Rafe, I can't promise that he won't be upset or confused by this, but if he is, then we'll deal with it together, okay?" At Olivia's hesitant nod, she continues. "As for loving you? I could just as easily regret loving Rafe. Or loving God. Never going to happen, my love. Never."
At her words, the dam that has been holding back all of Olivia's doubts and insecurities gives way, as tears begin to slide soundlessly down her cheeks. Natalia wipes them away, pulling Olivia closer, murmuring those soothing words now into her ear as Olivia buries her face in Natalia's neck.
"It's freezing out here," Olivia mutters, a shiver running along the spine that lays beneath Natalia's hands. "We should go. I need to pick up Emma from the church. I left her with Buzz. She's probably worried by now."
"That sounds good. Would you mind taking me home? I really want to get out of this dress," Natalia agrees, pulling back just a little to meet Olivia's tear reddened eyes, loathe to move from the safety of her arms.
The implications of her words hit her as a teasing grin touches Olivia's full lips.
"Oh, really. Well, I'm sure we can do something about that, Ms. Rivera."
Natalia knows her face must be the color of ripened beets at the moment. "Olivia! Behave!"
With a cheeky grin, Olivia says, "Come on, let's get Emma and get you home before we both catch pneumonia. You can call Rafe in the car and let him know you're alright."
"Before we go, there's just one more thing I need to do."
Pushing up on tiptoe, Natalia leans forward, their lips meeting again, this time with no hesitancy. What begins as the lightest brush of lips transforms like quicksilver into something much more intense. Natalia's right hand snakes up around Olivia's neck, urging her closer, a groan escaping her as she tastes the richness of Olivia's lips. Her left hand comes up, grasping the collar of Olivia's brown coat, her fingers slipping under the edge to rest once more against the warm silk of her skin.
Olivia's lips are full and incredibly soft and Natalia devours them, her hand behind Olivia's head pulling her ever closer, the feel of Olivia's hands skimming along the edge of her hairline dragging a soft whimper from her throat.
She loses track of time as their kisses became slower and deeper, her hands moving of their own volition to seek out warm skin hidden under layers of wool, slipping under the scarf tucked into Olivia's coat, her own body reveling in the touch of Olivia's fingers along her throat and in the fine hairs along her temple. The silence is broken only by the somewhat labored sound of their breathing and the low moan of the wind.
As a fierce heat spreads through her body, driving away each last chill from her skin and her soul, Natalia offers up one final fervent appeal, willing it skyward: one of thanks for God's love, for Olivia's love and for all of her unanswered prayers.
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