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: *sigh* I swore I'd never get sucked into another soap (much less another soap fandom) after the crapfest that AMC turned Lianca into. But, what can I say? These two have me obsessed. This is unbeta'd, so any mistakes are all mine, but I would appreciate it if anyone spotting mistakes would let me know so I can make corrections. This almost certainly will differ from the show's handling of the FoD aftermath (acronym courtesy of the Big Purple Dreams board), and it isn't entirely resolved in my version, either. I honestly don't know whether I have a sequel in me, or not. It may depend on how things play out on the show next week...
SPOILERS: Please note, that this is my own speculation regarding the spoilers for the week of FEB 23, 2009. Please stop now if you'd rather watch the show's version first.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Susan P.
Olivia was still a little bleary-eyed from sleep when she went down to the kitchen to start the coffee and Emma's breakfast, so she stood there a moment, blinking owlishly at the shadow that wasn't a shadow.
"Yeah," the other woman answered too quickly, and without looking at her. She was sitting at the kitchen table, fully clothed, and with her coat still on.
"Um...when did you get in?" Olivia didn't really want to know, but couldn't think of anything else to say.
"A while ago."
"Ohh-kay," Olivia drew the word out, not at all sure what to make of Natalia's demeanor. "And you've just been sitting here, in the dark?"
"Hours, huh?" Olivia mumbled to herself. Something was definitely bothering Natalia.
Olivia flipped the light switch, wincing along with Natalia in the suddenly too-bright room. She walked over to the table and pulled up a chair next to Natalia, almost reaching out to touch her arm before she thought better of it and placed her hand on the table instead.
"Are you okay?"
"Okay?" It was another non-answer. Natalia was getting good at those. She sat there for a moment, looking down at her hands and fidgeting, before she finally looked over at Olivia. "I was with Frank."
"Oh," was all Olivia could manage, at first. She'd suspected, of course, but hearing it confirmed hit her almost like a physical blow, and she sat back in the chair, trying to recover her breath and her composure. She pushed a lock of hair behind her ear before forcing herself to ask. "How's, um...how's he doing?"
"Not... Not good." Her eyes swung away from Olivia's. "He, uh..." she swallowed, hard. "We..."
"Oh, uh..." Olivia stumbled back out of the chair, almost tripping herself in the process. She was suddenly very afraid she knew what Natalia was going to say, and she couldn't do it. She couldn't sit there and be sister, confessor, or supportive friend. Not now. Not yet.
"Sorry," Olivia mumbled, backing away with her hands held in front of her as if to shield herself. "I, uh, have to go check on Emma, and...make sure she's...getting ready," she added the last almost as an afterthought as she finally made it to the door.
Natalia sat there, eyes riveted on Olivia while she made her escape. Her heart clenched in sympathy, and she felt a stab of guilt at having caused the obvious pain in Olivia's eyes. Once Olivia stepped out of the room, she got up, took off her coat and laid it across the back of the chair before quietly following Olivia upstairs. As she neared the top of the stairs, she wasn't really surprised to see Liv's bedroom door swing closed.
Olivia made it to her bedroom, collapsing against the door once she'd closed it. "Stupid," she growled at herself through the tears. She had all but pushed those two together and now she had no one but herself to blame. She bent forward and clamped a hand across her mouth to muffle the sobs she couldn't manage to contain.
She'd loved and lost more times than she cared to count, but it had never hurt like this. Like everything else she was feeling for Natalia, this was new, and sharp, and almost too much to hold inside.
But she would have to. She had to, for Natalia's sake. Olivia wanted her to be happy. She deserved to be happy, after all she'd been through, and if Frank could make her happy, then Olivia would just have to find a way to plaster a supportive, if utterly fake, smile on her face and be there for her friend.
If only she could figure out how to do that when every word, every look, every touch from Natalia threatened to undo her.
Natalia crept up to Olivia's door, placing her palm on it before gently resting her ear against it, as well--wanting and needing to feel some connection to the woman on the other side.
She heard the muffled sobs and sniffles through the door and they tore at her heart. They battered her conscience so much more than any direct accusation could have. She'd just made everything worse, and now she had to find a way to make things right.
If only she knew what 'right' was, in this case.
She had just closed her other hand around the doorknob when she heard Emma's still-sleepy voice.
She immediately turned to look up the hallway to see a half-dressed Emma standing in her bedroom doorway.
"Yes, sweetie?" she almost whispered.
"I can't find my other shoe."
"Oh, okay." Natalia took one last, longing look at Olivia's door, before pushing away from it. "I'll help you look for it."
"Is Mom okay?"
"Yeah," she answered quickly. Really, this child was just way too perceptive. "I think she's just getting ready for work, sweetie," she attempted a little white lie she hoped would be convincing.
Olivia struggled to get a grip on her emotions, knowing that she couldn't face Emma or Natalia until she did. Emma didn't need any more reasons to worry about her, not after what they'd been through this past year.
She gradually got her breathing and the tears under control. She let her head fall back against the door for a second and took a deep breath, before running a hand through her hair and pushing herself off of the door. She stepped over in front of the mirror, not surprised by the mess she saw reflected in it. She leaned in and wagged a finger at herself. "You need to get it together and help your daughter get ready for school." She grabbed a tissue and wiped away the remnants of her tears, looking closely at her still-red eyes and the dark circles under them.
Well, first things first. She headed for the bathroom in search of some eye drops, hoping it would help enough to keep Emma from noticing that she'd been crying. She splashed some cold water on her face for good measure. Makeup would have to wait until she was sure Emma was up and getting ready.
She threw on a blouse and a pair of slacks quickly, then grabbed the matching jacket and slipped into a pair of shoes. She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders before opening her door and crossing over to Emma's room, only to find it empty. A quick look down the hall confirmed that Natalia's door was open, and she took another deep breath to steel herself to face the two of them.
All she had to do was hang on long enough to get Emma on the bus to school and then she could escape to work and try to bury herself under a mound of paperwork.
"I can do this," she mumbled to herself as she gripped the banister and headed downstairs.
The smell of coffee brewing hit her long before she made it to the kitchen, and she wasn't surprised to see Emma already seated at the table with a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice. Natalia's back was to her, and she was pouring the coffee.
"Morning, Em," Olivia said in a voice that was too high-pitched even for her own ears. She cleared her throat as she walked over to the refrigerator. "Any preferences for lunch?"
"Peanut butter and jelly," Emma mumbled around a mouthful of cereal.
"Okay," Olivia chuckled, "but don't talk with your mouth full, sweetie."
"Sorry," came the guilty reply.
Olivia couldn't help it, she closed the fridge, walked over and leaned in to kiss her daughter's cheek. "Well...it's not such a big deal when it's just us, I guess." The smile she bestowed on Emma was genuine, this time. "But it's still a bad habit."
She moved away quickly, not wanting Emma to look too closely at her. Also, she needed the activity to distract herself from the elephant in the room. She grabbed what she needed from the refrigerator and the cabinets and set about making Em's lunch, packing up the sandwich, a juice box and a small bag of grapes, debating silently with herself about whether to give in and include a cookie when Natalia suddenly passed the bag to her.
Her eyes shot up to connect with Natalia's for a moment, but it was just too much. Too damned much. She took the bag gingerly and looked away quickly, taking a shaky breath. The cookies were small, so she put a couple of them in a baggie and then packed it all up into Emma's lunch box.
She put the box down next to Emma's backpack and nodded toward it as she sat down next to her daughter. "You've got your homework and all the books you need?"
Natalia set a cup of coffee in front of her, and she turned her head slightly in acknowledgement, mumbling, "Thanks," before returning her focus to Emma, who was finishing up her breakfast.
She could feel Natalia's eyes on her, had felt them most of the time she'd been in the kitchen, but she couldn't bring herself to return the gaze. It was too dangerous. Keeping her focus on Emma was safe, and she needed safe, right now.
Olivia took a sip of her coffee, wincing slightly for no other reason than that it was just the way she liked it. She glanced at her watch, grateful when she saw that it was almost time for the bus and that she wouldn't have to keep up the charade much longer.
"Are you okay, Mom?"
Olivia looked over at her daughter, thinking she was going to have a very hard time fooling her if she couldn't manage to get her emotions under control.
She reached over to cup Emma's cheek. "I'm fine, Em. I just didn't get much sleep last night." It was true enough, in its way. No need to tell Em that she'd lain awake for hours hoping to hear Natalia come in. No need to tell anyone else, either.
"Well, kind of." It was as good an explanation as any, and one that Emma could understand easily. "But it's okay now. So," she changed the subject, not wanting to worry her daughter, "with PB & J for lunch, I guess you'll need some money for milk, huh?"
"Oh, can I get chocolate milk?"
Emma's innocent enthusiasm warmed her battered heart and she couldn't help but give in. "Well, okay. This time." She got up and fished around in her purse for a dollar, handing it to Emma. "Now, be sure to keep up with this."
"I will, Mom." Olivia smiled as Emma very carefully folded the bill and placed it in her pocket.
She checked her watch again. "It's almost time, sweetie." She opened her arms and Emma launched herself into them. She hugged her daughter fiercely, needing all the comfort she could get.
"Emma," Natalia broke in, startling Olivia, "why don't I walk you to the bus?"
"Okay," Emma said as she pulled away slightly before kissing her mother's cheek. "Bye, Mom."
Olivia smiled back at her, "Have a good day, sweetie."
Emma grabbed her stuff and took Natalia's hand, following her out the front door. Olivia trailed behind them, taking a moment to watch as Emma got on the bus, before retreating back upstairs to finish getting ready for work.
When Olivia made it back downstairs, she found Natalia waiting for her. She only hesitated a moment before heading to the kitchen to grab her purse. When she came back, she nodded once in Natalia's direction.
"I've, uh, gotta get to work."
"No, you don't."
Olivia's head snapped around to look at Natalia, and she almost growled in frustration. "What?"
"I checked your schedule, you don't have anything pressing until ten-thirty."
Olivia reached up to pinch the bridge of her nose between her fingers and took in a deep, steadying breath, trying to rein in her temper. Natalia was her assistant, after all. She had every right to look at her schedule--hell, Natalia scheduled most of her schedule.
"That doesn't mean I don't have things I need to do, Natalia."
"I know," Natalia conceded, knowing she was on thin ice. "I know, but they can wait, a little while." She took a step toward Olivia, wanting, and yet unable, to reach out to her. "We need to talk."
"Do we?" Olivia whimpered before she could stop herself, looking up at Natalia helplessly.
Natalia swallowed, knowing how difficult this conversation would be, but also knowing that it was necessary. "Okay. I need to talk."
Olivia looked like she would rather do anything else, be anywhere else, so Natalia brought out the big guns. "Please? I need..."
"Okay." Olivia's shoulders slumped in defeat as she realized she wasn't going to be able to get out of this gracefully. "Okay."
Natalia moved over to sit on the couch, and Olivia followed, hoping to get it over with quickly. She sat down next to Natalia, but not too close. She turned toward her, slightly, but couldn't quite look at her.
"Olivia," Natalia began, gratified when Olivia's eyes met hers. "I need you to listen to me. I...I need you to hear me out..."
"Okay," Olivia swallowed convulsively.
"And...then I need to know whether you can forgive me?"
"Forgive you? For what?"
Natalia breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that Olivia looked genuinely confused. There might still be hope that Olivia wouldn't blame her. Still, it wasn't an easy admission, and she stared down at her hands a few seconds before continuing.
"I...I slept with Frank."
Olivia clamped her eyes shut tightly a moment, both grateful and...not...that Natalia had chosen not to drag things out.
"Say something," Natalia pleaded, looking back at Olivia.
"I, uh..." Olivia took a deep breath and did what she knew she had to do. "What do you want me to say? You're a grown woman, Natalia. It's not a sin.... Oh. Is that what this is about?"
"Yes," she answered quickly, then shook her head. "No. This isn't about..." Natalia stopped short of saying it wasn't about her faith, because it really wasn't that simple. Nothing was simple anymore.
Olivia clenched her hands together in her lap and made another attempt at doing the right thing. "Then what is it about, Natalia? You deserve to be happy. After everything you've been through, you deserve...to be happy." She gritted her teeth and pressed on, "And if Frank can..."
"He can't!" Natalia all but screamed.
Olivia just gaped at her, a part of her secretly glad about the absolute certainty in Natalia's voice, but torn by the obvious pain and confusion in her face.
"Frank is sweet, and kind, and he's been so supportive. He's everything I should want, I guess, but..."
She took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts, trying to explain things to herself as much as to Olivia. "It was all wrong, Olivia. It was so... So wrong. For so many reasons.
"I... Frank was miserable... And I was thinking about Gus... And I...let it happen, and I shouldn't have let it happen. It was--"
Olivia cut her off, begging, "No details. Please?" her voice small, and sad.
"No, I'm not... I wouldn't," she tried desperately to reassure Olivia. Of what, even she wasn't quite sure.
"I just..." Natalia shook her head, "I don't know what I was thinking." She looked away from Olivia, mumbling to herself, "Maybe I wasn't thinking. Maybe I was trying not to think."
She turned to focus on Olivia again. "I just... I felt like I was betraying something..." she took a deep breath, "someone else."
Olivia dropped her gaze to her hands. "Gus."
"No." Natalia reached out with her right hand, fingertips connecting with Olivia's chin long enough to guide her face up. Olivia shied away from the touch as though it pained her, and Natalia winced in sympathy, and loss.
Undeterred, she reached out with both hands to capture Olivia's face, gently trapping it between her palms.
Olivia drew in a shaky breath and closed her eyes tightly against the sensation. Natalia simply held on, waiting until Olivia finally opened her eyes. Once she was sure she had Olivia's full attention, she very slowly and very carefully said, "Not. Gus."
Olivia's eyes grew wide at the implications of Natalia's statement, but she was still wary. She dare not let herself hope, especially since Natalia had done nothing more than imply whatever she might be feeling. Frank was already an unknowing casualty of whatever Natalia was working through--or would be, if she hadn't yet explained things to him. While she couldn't spare much sympathy for Frank, at the moment, she also didn't want to wind up in his shoes.
"Have you told Frank...any of this?"
The question was enough to get Natalia to release her face and Olivia fought against the urge to replace Natalia's hands with her own.
Natalia ran a hand across her face. "Not...exactly. I...um..." she dropped her head into her hands and mumbled, "burst into tears, after, and..."
"Oh. Ouch." Well, it seemed that she could manage a little sympathy for Frank, after all. That had to have been rough.
Natalia looked back up at her, guilt written all over her face. "Yeah. But he kind of assumed...what you just did. And I..."
Natalia looked away, staring at nothing. "I didn't... How can I explain it to him when I don't really understand it myself?" She turned back to meet Olivia's eyes. "I need time, Olivia. I...have a lot to think about."
"Yeah." Olivia swallowed, uncomfortably certain that Natalia wasn't talking about Frank any more, and not at all certain that that was a good thing.
They sat there in silence for a couple of minutes, each lost in her own thoughts, before Olivia spoke again. "Natalia, you're right. Frank is a sweet guy, but he's not..." She stopped short of saying something unnecessarily cruel, and tried another tack. "Whatever it is you're feeling, or...not feeling. You're probably going to have to spell it out for him."
You're definitely going to need to spell it out for me, Olivia thought.
"Yeah," Natalia whimpered. "I know."
Something occurred to Olivia and she mumbled to herself, "Oh, God. I can't be alone with him for a while. I can't give him advice on this."
Natalia's head snapped up at hearing that. "Wait. What?"
Oh, crap, Olivia thought to herself, knowing that saying that out loud wasn't the smartest thing she could have done.
"You gave Frank advice? About me?"
Olivia winced and pushed a lock of hair out of her face. "Um. A little?"
"What did you tell him, exactly?"
Natalia didn't sound too angry, yet, but Olivia knew she had to be very careful in her answer. "Nothing bad. Really!" she swore.
"This was all before..." Olivia took a deep breath. "Before. And I...thought I was...helping." Olivia had hoped she might get away with that evasion, but the look on Natalia's face said it wouldn't be that easy.
"I just... I told him that you...needed to be challenged--even though you wouldn't want to be--and that he should look at not just who you are, but who you could be."
"Uh-huh," Natalia's tone was flat, her face unreadable. "What else?"
"Um, nothing else, really. Just...one day you were having kind of a rough time, and I... I went by Company to order food for you, and Frank was there..." Natalia's eyes were suddenly riveted on hers, and Olivia faltered a second. "And I...thought it would be nice, if...he..."
"That was you?" Natalia suddenly looked as if she'd suffered a blow, and she leaned forward and dropped her head into her hands, whispering, "Of course it was you. All my favorite foods..."
Natalia looked back up at her. "Were the wine and candles your idea, too?"
"But you did...set Frank and I up on a...date."
Olivia couldn't contain a short, bitter laugh at her own expense. "Uh, yeah."
"Uh-huh." Natalia sighed and then wagged a finger at her, "Yeah, no more talking to Frank about me."
Olivia raised both hands up in a 'stop' gesture, thinking she'd gotten off easy, all things considered. "Oh, don't worry. I won't. Trust me, if I had it to do all over again, I...wouldn't."
Natalia slumped back against the couch. Olivia sank back into the cushions as well, feeling like she'd just gone ten rounds in the ring with some guy nicknamed 'Crusher.'
"I don't... How did we get here?" Natalia's voice sounded so lost, and Olivia wished she could say or do something that might actually help, but she was feeling a little lost herself.
"I don't..." Olivia shook her head and shrugged helplessly, "I don't know." She looked over at Natalia, who was just staring straight ahead, lost in her own thoughts.
Neither of them had said anything they couldn't take back, yet, and Olivia thought it might be best if she left before she did. It was obvious that Natalia was still very confused about her feelings, and if there were even a chance that Natalia might be feeling anything more than simple friendship for her, then she would still have years of indoctrination to overcome before she might consider acting on those feelings. If she would even consider acting on those feelings.
Olivia was hit by a wave of melancholy as she realized how difficult a road this would be for Natalia. For both of them. Having the Spauldings against them--hell, having the whole damned town against them--would be nothing compared to the barrier presented by Natalia's beliefs. No matter what Natalia might feel for her, how she might choose to deal with those feelings, or not, was far from certain.
She had to get out of there, soon, before the cracks in her façade became too obvious. Just looking at Natalia hurt. She needed a little time, and distance, herself, so that she could try to regain her equilibrium.
"I, uh... I should get to work." Olivia pushed herself off the couch and grabbed her purse.
She could feel Natalia's eyes on her, but she didn't turn around.
"Olivia. I...I'm sorry. I just need..."
"Time. I know. Should I..." Olivia's voice almost broke then, because she couldn't bring herself to say, 'move out.' She took an uneven breath, straightened her shoulders and tried again. "Should I...take Emma and stay at the Beacon...for a while?"
"No!" Natalia's reply was immediate, and emphatic. She stood and moved toward Olivia, a hand reaching out to hover just inches from Olivia's back, but when she saw Olivia tense up, she stopped short of making contact.
"I don't... I don't want you to go."
Olivia almost sobbed in relief, though it was mixed with a healthy dose of frustration. She really didn't want to leave, but it might be easier if she did, temporarily. She kept her back turned to Natalia, needing to hide the tears gathering in her eyes. "Okay. Look, take some time off, if you need to. I can handle things at the Beacon."
"Okay, but call me if you need my help with...anything. I'll...I'll pick up Emma from school and take care of things around here."
"Thanks. I'd appreciate that." Olivia reached up to wipe the tears from her eyes before giving Natalia a sidelong glance. "I'll see you later."
She had made it to the door and was reaching for the handle when Natalia called out, "Olivia?"
Olivia closed her eyes a moment. "Yeah?"
Olivia waited a few seconds, but Natalia didn't elaborate, so she turned toward her and raised her eyebrows quizzically.
Natalia swallowed and asked, "Forgive me?"
"Oh." Olivia thought back to her almost-folly with--what was his name?--a week or so ago.
"For Frank, yes." It hurt. Of course it hurt. A lot. She had almost made a similar mistake herself, but the fact that she'd stopped herself didn't exactly make her blameless.
Natalia relaxed noticeably. "Thank you."
Olivia knew she shouldn't say anything else, but she couldn't quite stop herself from adding, "Just. Next time... You need to be sure...about what you want. For...everyone's sake." It was the closest she could come to pleading that Natalia be careful with her heart.
Natalia took a couple of steps toward her, but stopped short of reaching out to her, hating how awkward things had become between them. She stared into Olivia's eyes, hoping to convey all the things she couldn't say as she replied, "I know. I know."
Olivia just nodded before closing her hand on the doorknob. "I'll see you tonight."
Olivia pulled the door open and stepped through it, both relieved and still somehow missing Natalia already. She turned to look back at the door, unaware that Natalia was in a similar position on the other side of it.
Olivia didn't know how she was going to manage to stay in the same house with Natalia, and Emma, and still keep everything she was feeling from spilling out of her. She just knew that she had to find a way to keep herself together, or it was going to make everything that much more awkward between them.
She turned away again and headed for her car, hoping that there might be some crisis at work today, or some vendor she could yell at, at least. She looked at her watch. Way too early to start drinking, but maybe she could stop somewhere and get a nice, strong cup of coffee, Irish it up a bit, and let the caffeine and alcohol fight it out in her system.
At least that would give her some legitimate reason for the jittery feeling that she couldn't seem to shake.
"Ugh," she groaned to herself as she started the car. "It's going to be a long day."
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