DISCLAIMER: These characters don't belong to me. They belong to Guiding Light, TeleNext, Jill Lorie Hurst, Ellen Wheeler, etc.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for the ShatterStorm Productions Femslash Advent Calendar: Dog Days of Summer 2009. Thanks to AJ and Jenn for keeping this thing going! This is essentially alternate-universe now, as things have already played out differently on the show. Not that I have any particular complaints about that, but I started this after the 'There is no us' line that aired 4/17/09, and, well, I may be slow, but I still felt compelled to finish my own version. :) Completed May 24, 2009.
BETA: Thanks to my ever-faithful beta, Erin Bree, who not only put up with my fandom-pushing, but is now as, ahem, 'invested' as I am about this couple. Thanks for being a great sport!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Where You Belong
By Susan P.
Olivia grabbed her ringing cell phone off of the nightstand, smiling sadly at it for a moment. She wished she could bring herself to ignore it, but knew she couldn't. She sighed and answered it, bracing herself as she brought the phone to her ear.
Olivia squeezed her eyes shut and pinched the bridge of her nose. One word. Just one word from Natalia and she was about to cry. Again.
"Where are you?"
"I--" She looked over at Emma's sleeping form lying on the bed, and walked over to sit on the couch, so as not to disturb her. "We're at the Beacon."
She had managed to get her and Emma's things packed in record time, even in the midst of making preparations for the wedding that never happened, but everything had happened so quickly that she hadn't had time to actually get a new place. So, she and Emma had moved back into her old suite at her hotel. She knew she would have to work on getting a new place soon, if only for Emma's sake, but she found comfort in being in familiar surroundings, and right now she needed all the comfort she could find.
There was silence on the other end of the line for a second or two, but Olivia did nothing to try to fill it.
"Come home, Olivia. Please, just...come home."
Olivia leaned forward--almost doubling over--the plea in Natalia's voice tearing away at her resolve. Her body all but vibrated with the need to do just what Natalia had asked, but she just didn't see how it could work now.
"I want you here. I need you, Olivia."
"I--" Natalia sounded like she was on the verge of tears and Olivia already had tears streaming down her own face. She took a deep breath, trying desperately to keep from sobbing out loud. "Emma's already asleep, and I don't think I--"
"Then I'll come to the Beacon."
"No, no. You don't have to do that. I don't want you driving tonight. It was snowing again when Emma and I got here. I'll--I'll see you tomorrow."
Olivia had offered that up as though it were some sort of consolation prize for Natalia, but she really wasn't sure it was a promise she could keep. Just hearing her voice on the phone was like a knife to the heart, and she really wasn't sure she could bear actually seeing Natalia right now. What good was it knowing how they felt about each other--having it out in the open between them--if it could never be?
"Look, I know it's selfish, and I don't really want you driving tonight, either, but I... I need to see you. So, you come here, or I'll come find you. You know I will."
"Natalia..." she pleaded for mercy. Olivia had no doubts about whether or not Natalia would make good on her threat. She looked around the hotel suite, which was large enough, for a hotel suite, but the thought of the three of them, alone, in this room, with only one--very prominent--bed, was enough to make it feel as though the walls were closing in on her. There would be nowhere she could run.
"Olivia," Natalia prompted, her tone making it clear that Olivia would have to choose, or have the choice made for her.
"O--okay." Olivia clamped her eyes shut, hoping that, if she went to the farmhouse, she could at least retreat to her own room, eventually. "I'll--I'll get Emma ready. We'll see you later."
"Just, be careful, Olivia."
"Okay. I will." She hung up quickly--not even bothering to say goodbye--as she felt the tears start again. She clamped a hand over her mouth to muffle the sobs she couldn't quite contain. She rocked back and forth for several seconds, until she could get the tears under control, and then dropped her head into her hands until she could do the same with her breathing.
She looked over at Emma and was happy to see that she was still sound asleep. She got up and walked into the bathroom to try to compose herself before she had to face her daughter.
After she had washed her face thoroughly, she looked up into the mirror and studied her reflection closely. She thought about putting on makeup, but then decided against it. Natalia wouldn't care--she had certainly seen her in worse shape--and nothing she could do would really hide the evidence of her tears. Not from Natalia.
She took one last look at herself, took a deep breath, and went back into the room to hastily pack an overnight bag for Emma and herself. She put on her shoes and coat and slipped out to take the bag to her car.
When she came back, she took one last look around, to be sure she hadn't left anything they might need tomorrow--she wouldn't allow herself to think any farther in the future than that--and then stepped over to the bed to wake her daughter.
"Emma? Sweetie." She reached out to run a hand over her hair. "You need to wake up."
She kept stroking Emma's hair until the girl stirred and blinked up at her sleepily.
"Hey, Jellybean," she smiled down at her daughter. "I'm sorry to wake you, but... Natalia called. She wants to see us."
Emma pushed up on one elbow. "Is Natalia okay?"
"Yes, sweetie. I think she's...just a little sad."
"We can cheer her up!" the girl became more alert as she warmed up to the idea, and Olivia couldn't help but smile at her.
"Well, we need to get you back into bed when we get there, so you can get back to sleep. But I think just seeing you will cheer her up."
"And you can cheer her up, too."
Olivia smiled sadly. "I--I can try, Em." She leaned over to place a light kiss on Emma's temple. "Now, come on. You can stay in your pajamas. Just get your shoes, and your coat, hat and gloves on. It's cold outside."
She buttoned up her coat and put on her own scarf and hat before helping Emma finish getting ready.
Natalia had been pacing the room, listening for any signs of Olivia's car, and when she heard it, she made it out the door and over to the car to greet them just as Olivia managed to get Emma's door open.
"Here." Natalia placed her hand over Olivia's, trying not to notice the flinch that Olivia couldn't quite control. She tilted her head toward the car to indicate Emma. "Can I?"
Olivia nodded and stepped back, not-so-subtly slipping her hand out from under Natalia's. She looked away as she said, "Sure. She's a little out of it. The drive made her sleepy again."
"Okay. Were the roads bad?"
"Kind of, once we got out of town. There wasn't much traffic out, though. I just took it slowly."
"I'm so glad you made it here safely. I'm--I'm sorry, I just... I need you here."
Olivia wouldn't quite look at her, but mumbled a quiet, "It's okay."
Natalia stared at Olivia for a couple of seconds, but decided it would be best to see to Emma, first, before trying to get Olivia to respond to her. She turned toward the car and leaned in to unbuckle the seat belt. "Emma? Sweetie, you're home."
The girl stirred and looked up at her, her eyes going wide. "Natalia!"
"Hey, baby," she smiled back at her. "Come on. We need to get you inside." She took Emma into her arms and pulled her out of the car, hugging her tightly. She turned toward Olivia and looked at her a moment before looking back at Emma. "I'm glad you're here."
Emma leaned in to kiss her cheek, saying, "Me, too," before snuggling against her, laying her head on Natalia's shoulder. Natalia closed her eyes tightly a moment.
"Okay. Come on," Natalia said to Olivia, more than Emma, before moving off toward the house.
"I just need to get our bag. I'll be right there."
Natalia made it into the house with Emma, but turned to wait for Olivia, who came in shortly after they did, setting the bag down on the floor by the door.
"Natalia, Mommy says you're sad."
Natalia leaned her head over to rest it against Emma's. "I am. A little. I just... I feel bad for..." her eyes locked with Olivia's, "hurting people I care about."
"Not just Frank, sweetie. I have a lot to make up for."
"It'll be okay. Mommy can cheer you up."
"Yes," she rubbed Emma's back. "I'm sure she can."
Emma pulled back to look at her. "Maybe you can cheer up Mommy, too."
Natalia looked from Emma to Olivia, who was staring at Emma, looking utterly shocked by the comment. Olivia's eyes darted over to meet hers, for a second, before looking back at Emma. "Emma," she shook her head, "I'm fine!"
Emma looked back at her mother with a look that clearly said she wasn't fooled for a second. Olivia squirmed under that look, at first but, in the end, she couldn't quite keep up the façade. "Okay, but... I'll be...fine. Really." She nodded, then leaned over to cup Emma's cheek and kiss her forehead. "And we'll be okay. We will."
"I love you, Mommy."
"I love you, too, baby," Olivia smiled at Emma a moment before she took her hand away to wipe surreptitiously at a tear.
Natalia caught her lip between her teeth, wanting to reach out to Olivia, but knowing it wasn't the time. So she just hefted Emma in her arms, and said, "Come on, Emma. Let's get you to bed so you can get back to sleep. I'll tuck you in, okay?"
"'Night, Em," Olivia called out to them as Natalia headed up the stairs with Emma.
After she got Emma tucked in, Natalia sat down on the edge of the bed and asked her, "Would you like me to read to you? Until you fall asleep?"
"No, it's okay. You can go talk to Mommy, now."
Natalia smiled sweetly down at her. "You're such a good little girl." She reached out to stroke Emma's hair. "You know, you don't have to worry about your mother. Or me. We'll take care of each other, just like we always do."
"Are we gonna live here, again?"
"I don't know, Emma. Your mommy and I need to talk about that, but... I hope so. I want you to stay."
"Okay, now you," she grinned and wagged a finger at Emma, hoping she wouldn't notice the tears gathering in her eyes, "get some sleep. I'll see you in the morning." She leaned over to place a gentle kiss on the girl's forehead. "Good night."
"Good night, Natalia."
Natalia got up, turned the light off, and left the room, closing the door quietly behind her. She stood there a moment, before taking a deep breath and heading downstairs.
She found Olivia standing by the window, staring out at the snow. She walked over to stand quietly beside her.
"She's too smart, that kid."
Natalia smiled over at Olivia. "She gets that from you."
"Phillip says she gets it from both of us."
Natalia wanted to ask 'when?' She really did, but she decided that that little detail would have to wait until later. "Emma and Phillip barely know one another. She 'gets it' from you."
Olivia bowed her head a moment, but couldn't quite conceal a shy little smile. She looked back up and out the window again. "You've been busy." She canted her head to the side, indicating the pile of wedding gifts in the corner, covered up by a sheet.
"I couldn't... I'll have to start returning them tomorrow, but I--I didn't want to have to look at them any more. Not tonight."
"I'll help you with that, tomorrow, if you like."
"You don't..." Natalia shook her head. "You don't have to do that to yourself."
"I'd be doing it for you."
"But it's--" she sighed. "It's my mess. I'll--"
"Nooo," Olivia cut her off. "I'd say it's definitely...our mess. And the offer stands."
"Okay." Natalia looked at Olivia's reflection in the window while she tried to gather her thoughts.
"He, uh, called earlier. To check in. Said he wanted to take a walk. Take a look around town." She looked over at Olivia for a moment. "I think he just wanted to give me some time."
"Probably. And it might be good for him to...be out in the open spaces...right now."
"Yeah. I don't--I don't think he's gonna talk to me about...anything that happened to him in there."
"You're his mother, Natalia." Olivia didn't move, except to turn her head slightly to look at Natalia. "He...might not be able to."
"I know. And, honestly, I'm not sure I really want to know, but... I just want him to have someone he can talk to, if he needs that."
Olivia went back to staring out the window, and Natalia went back to staring at Olivia's reflection in it, trying to decipher the look in her eyes. Things were awkward between them now, and she dearly wished she knew how to make them less so. Saying the words had been a relief, in a way, but that didn't mean she knew what to say--or do--next.
"I'm glad you're here."
"And why am I here, Natalia?" Olivia brought a trembling hand up to her face. "What is this? What are we doing?"
"This is your home, Olivia."
"Not if I can't--" Olivia closed her eyes and wrapped her arms tightly around herself. "What I said to Emma back there. I can't...let that be a lie. And this is going to be so hard..." the last word came out as a sob and her shoulders shook with it.
Natalia turned toward Olivia and automatically started to reach out to her, but somehow knew the other woman wouldn't allow it. "Olivia."
Olivia took a deep, shaky breath. She wouldn't look at her, but nodded once and looked back out the window.
"You said you could finally look me in the eyes now, but you know what? You've barely looked at me since you got here. So, why don't you try it, now? Look at me."
Olivia hung her head a moment, but then turned to face her, finally looking up to meet her eyes.
"How can you have so little faith in me?"
"Faith? In you?" Olivia looked genuinely confused. "Of course I have faith in you."
"I'm not sure you do, if you can really believe I invited you back here just so we could... What? Go back to the way things were before? Not that I don't... I do want things to be the way they were between us. I really, really want things to be easy between us, again. But that's not all I want. Not anymore. I don't know what this is, or what happens next, but I... I want..." She sighed in frustration, trying to get her thoughts together. "I want... I want the matching jogging suits, Olivia!"
She smiled when she saw Olivia grin in response. "I want us here, together, fighting over the remote, and finishing each other's sentences, and raising Emma, together. I want us to grow old together, Olivia."
"I--" Olivia closed her eyes tightly. "I want all of that, too, Natalia." She opened her eyes again, to focus on her. "More than you know. But I don't think... Do you really have any idea about what you'd be getting into?"
"How can I? I'm not 'into' it yet!"
"I just... The world can be a cruel place, Natalia. This is a difficult...path, and I just don't want you to get hurt. I don't want you to wind up resenting me for it. I--I couldn't bear it if you wound up hating me."
"Olivia," Natalia took a step forward and took Olivia's hands into hers, relieved when Olivia didn't pull away. "I could never hate you--no matter what happened. And, you want to talk about difficult paths? I had a son, at sixteen, and I raised him, alone, without much help from...anyone. My son went to prison!" She shook her head. "You think I don't know how cruel the world can be?"
"I--" Olivia looked down a moment. "You're right," she looked back up at her. "You're right. I'm sorry."
Natalia pulled Olivia's hands up and cradled them in front of her chest. "You have spent so much time trying to convince me that I could be more. That I could do anything. Why don't you believe I can do this?"
"I don't..." Olivia shook her head. "I'm not--" She sighed, and looked away from Natalia. "What if--what if it's not you I'm worried about?"
"Then what? Tell me."
"What if I'm not enough for you?"
"I--" Natalia blinked a few times, and shook her head. "What? Not enough for me? Did you not hear me when I said 'you are everything to me?'"
"I...h-heard you. I m-may need to..." Olivia squeezed her eyes shut, "hear it again. A lot."
"So? What's the problem?"
Olivia looked back at her, for a moment, before her eyes started darting around the room. "I'm--I'm the problem. Natalia... Every relationship I've ever had has ended in..." She shrugged, and rolled her eyes. "Well, the word 'disaster' comes to mind..."
"Is this like any other relationship you've had?"
"Nooo..." Olivia's shook her head, eyes going wide. "Ours started in disaster," she joked.
Natalia chuckled, grateful for the slight break in the tension. "Yeah. It kinda did."
"And here we are."
"And here we are. I like where we are." At Olivia's skeptical look, she tried to explain, "I mean, it's a little...weird, right now. And confusing, and scary, but... You're here. I need you here."
"Natalia..." Olivia's voice was raw with emotion. She looked down, blinking rapidly. "You know, I can't... I can't give you a normal life. I can't give you m-more kids, if that's what you want."
Natalia sighed. She had thought, for a moment, that they were getting past some of Olivia's issues. "Kids? Really? You're...kinda jumping way ahead there."
"But it's something you might want, at some point, and I can't--"
"It's two-thousand nine, Olivia. If it's something we decide we want--at some point--then there are other options. As for a 'normal' life? What's not normal about our life?"
"I--" Olivia looked almost dumbfounded for a moment. "Honestly, this is...the most 'normal' my life has ever been. Since I was a kid, anyway."
Natalia smiled back at her. "Exactly. Mine, too. And you know, I got...so hung up on this ideal image of what a family was supposed to be that I couldn't quite see that I had everything I could possibly need right here. With you. I felt it. In my heart, I felt it, but I just... It took me a while to realize that that ideal image didn't really look all that different with you in the picture."
"No, it doesn't. It looks better, in fact. Looking back, I realized that you and I are already more married than Frank and I ever could have been. He doesn't really know me. And I realize now that he never really did, because I found out that most of what he seemed to know about me actually came from you."
"Oh." Olivia looked away guiltily.
"Yeah. Why would you do that?"
"I--at the time, I thought I was trying to help."
"Or, you thought that if you pushed me into Frank's arms, then you wouldn't have to deal with what you were feeling."
"I--Ye--kind of. I'm sorry."
"I wish I could be mad at you for that, but I--I was doing the same thing. Every time things would get weird between us, I'd run off to see him. I'm sorry, too."
Olivia sighed. "How did we make such a mess of things?"
"Because we were afraid. Olivia, I don't want to be afraid, anymore. I mean, I am, still, but I don't want to let that stop me. Stop us."
"But it's not just about 'us,' Natalia. What about the kids? We need to think about how they'll react. How this will affect them."
"I know, but we can find a way to deal with it, and to help them deal with it. I'm not afraid of a fight, Olivia, if that's what you're worried about. I don't...know if I'm ready to go all Amazon warrior, like you did with those women at Towers, but if you ever feel the need to do that, then I'll back you up."
"Oh, really? You weren't too thrilled about it at the time."
"Because you were lying to them. Baiting them. But even then, I went along with it, and I was okay with it until you called me a 'hottie.'" Natalia didn't want to pull a hand away to wag a finger at Olivia, so she let go of that urge and pulled Olivia's hands closer to her chest, instead. "And I didn't walk away until after they were gone."
"What?" Olivia looked genuinely confused. "Why did that comment bother you so much?"
"Because I am not a thing, Olivia! It was...dismissive."
"I--I didn't mean it like that. I mean, yeah, I was being a little flippant, but... Honestly? I just... You are...so beautiful, Natalia. That's--that's all I meant, really."
Natalia looked down, both pleased and embarrassed by Olivia's words.
"No, please. Look at me."
Natalia swallowed and met Olivia's gaze again.
"I wasn't lying to those women. I mean, yeah, I let them assume something that wasn't quite true, but not one word I said to them was a lie, Natalia."
Natalia thought back to that incident, remembering what Olivia had said then. Things like 'I have never been happier,' and 'she's smart, and funny,' and 'a great mom.'
She blinked up at Olivia, trying to understand what it all meant. "You--you were trying to tell me...even back then?"
"I don't--" Olivia shook her head. "I don't know that I...knew, then. I was trying to tell myself, I guess, but I wasn't sure..."
"All this time, this was...you were...and you never said anything? And even when you did tell me, you were going to..."
Natalia had been talking to herself, more than Olivia, trying to process everything out loud, but then she turned a keen eye back to Olivia and asked, "If I decided to go back to Frank right now, you would just let me go, wouldn't you?"
"Yes!" Olivia answered without hesitation.
"I just want what's best for you, Natalia. I want you to be happy."
"Even if it means you're miserable?"
Olivia tried to extricate her hands and back away, but when Natalia not only refused to let her go, but also pulled her back, she relented, shaking her head. "I just...I just wanted to love you enough to let you have what you needed, and I hoped that seeing you happy would help me...make peace with it."
"And how was that working out for you today?"
"Heh," Olivia actually grinned slightly, though there was no pleasure in it. "Not so well."
"You know, I was kind of hoping that Doris would talk some sense into you, so you could talk some sense into me."
"You knew what she was doing, huh?" Olivia asked, but she didn't sound all that surprised.
Natalia smirked, "She wasn't exactly being subtle with all the stalling and the pointed metaphors. You've been talking to her?"
"Yeah. A little. Look, don't be mad at her. I'll--"
"Mad? I want to thank her."
"For trying to ruin your wedding?"
"No. For being there for you." Natalia didn't add the 'when I couldn't.' She wanted to apologize, but wasn't sure what she could say that could possibly make up for it. She had seen how much pain Olivia was in, and still she had let Olivia and everyone else try to lead her down the aisle.
"Olivia, I've made so many mistakes, lately, trying to make everyone else happy. Everyone but the two of us. I had no right to sit back, hoping you would jump in and save me from myself, because I was the only one who could do that.
"And I did. I'm sorry it took me so long, but today, finally, I did the right thing. For everyone. Even Frank, though I'm sure he won't be able to see it that way, at first."
"He'll come around. Eventually." Olivia's look said she hoped he would.
"Olivia, I know I haven't really earned it, because of...everything I've done lately, but I really need you now. I need you to believe in us, Olivia. I need you to believe in me, and I really, really need you to believe in yourself. Because I can't do this alone. And I want this, Olivia. I want to be with you."
Olivia looked down for a moment, took a deep breath and tried to blink back her tears. She looked back up, and her voice was raw when she said, "You know you have me."
"Oh, thank God!" Natalia released Olivia's hands and surged forward into her arms, noting both Olivia's sharp intake of breath as their bodies made contact, and the slow sigh that followed it.
"Are you sure you want to bring God into this?"
Natalia pulled back just enough to look Olivia in the eyes. "God was always in this, Olivia. He loves us, and he has given us this gift of loving each other."
Olivia closed her eyes and nodded once. She smiled. It was small, and subtle, but her face lit up with it, and Natalia couldn't resist the urge to reach up and cup Olivia's cheek. Olivia drew in a sharp breath at the contact and opened her eyes, but said nothing.
"I feel like we've been so far apart. For days. Even when we were in the same room. Even when we were right next to each other."
"I know," Olivia swallowed. "Me, too."
"I--it was awful." Olivia nodded her agreement. "I don't want to feel that way any more. I don't ever want to feel that way again."
Olivia shook her head, slightly. "Neither do I."
"Good, because I want you to move back in. I want you and Emma home."
Olivia shook her head, slightly. "Oh, Natalia, I don't know if that's such a good idea--"
"Are we gonna start this again?" Natalia cut her off, and started to pull her hand away from Olivia's face, ready for a fight.
Olivia quickly reached up to grab Natalia's hand, "No, wait!" She brought Natalia's hand up to place a soft kiss on the palm before clasping it between her hands. "I just mean that--if we're really gonna...do this, that... Well, let's face it: it's going to be really awkward, for a while. While we figure things out. And, a little..." she swallowed and closed her eyes a moment, "physical distance might not be such a bad thing, until we're ready to..."
"To have sex, you mean."
For a moment, Olivia looked as if all the air had left her body, and her lips moved, but no sound came out. Finally, she managed to croak out, "That--" but her voice came out so raspy she had to clear her throat. "That...too."
"Did I shock you?" Natalia smiled up at Olivia, already knowing the answer.
"Um, yeah!" Olivia squeaked.
"That I said the word, or that I'm actually thinking about it, too?"
"You are? Thinking about it?" Olivia looked a little embarrassed, and more than a little hopeful.
"I'm thinking about it. I've been...thinking about it. I don't think I'm ready for it, yet, but... Sometimes it's all I can think about." So much so that she was a little breathless from just...talking about it.
"Good. That's..." Olivia closed her eyes, "good to know."
"You're thinking about it right now." Natalia was sure of it from the slack-jawed look on Olivia's face.
"I--" Olivia drew in a deep breath and opened her eyes, "am. And, you see, this is what I mean. This is...strange, and it's gonna be hard to deal with this...for a while."
"Yet here we are. Talking about it. And our world hasn't fallen apart."
"No," Olivia smiled, "I guess it hasn't."
"Would there be any less tension, or would it be any easier to deal with, if you were across town, instead of staying here?"
"I don't know. Maybe not."
"So? Come home."
"If--" Olivia looked away for a moment, took a deep breath, and then looked back at her. "If I do, there's something I'd like for you to consider."
"I--just listen to me for a second, okay?"
Olivia's tone had Natalia worried about what she was about to say, but she nodded in encouragement, and braced herself when Olivia continued.
Olivia squeezed her hand. "I know that you're used to taking care of yourself, and that you don't like accepting help from...anyone, but if I come back... If we're going to try to make this work, then I'd like to...contribute. I mean, not just pay room and board, like before, but really contribute, equally--not just on the bills, but on the house, too."
"Oh." Natalia wasn't sure what she had expected Olivia to say, but that wasn't it. "Olivia, I don't know if--"
Olivia cut her off, shaking her head slightly. "It's not a condition. It's just a request. Something I really hope you'll think about."
"Oh--okay. I--we can...talk about that."
"Good," Olivia smiled. "So, what do we do now?"
"Well, now? Right now, we need to go sit down, because I'm...really tired."
"Oh, of course. I'm sorry." Olivia led her over to the sofa, making sure Natalia was seated comfortably before she joined her. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"Well, we were a little busy..."
"Not too busy to sit down!" Olivia smiled over at her.
"I know, but... We had a lot we needed to talk about, and I was kind of afraid you'd try to bolt, if I gave you half a chance."
Olivia chuckled at herself. "You might have been right about that. Oh, wait a sec--" She got up just long enough to grab the blanket they kept within easy reach, and then settled back down next to Natalia, spreading it over them.
Natalia turned sideways, curling her knees up on the sofa and leaning into Olivia's body. When Olivia's arm came up to encircle her shoulders, she snuggled even more deeply into her body, wrapping an arm around her and resting her head on Olivia's shoulder, feeling more at home--more at peace--than she had in weeks.
"You've had a rough day, huh?" Olivia asked, her voice soft, and squeezed her shoulder gently.
"Mm-hmm," Natalia nodded against her shoulder. "You, too."
Natalia sighed softly when she felt Olivia's head come to rest against hers.
"You should go upstairs. Try to get some sleep."
Natalia murmured a negation, before managing a more coherent reply, "I will later."
"You need to get some rest, Natalia," Olivia coaxed.
She squeezed Olivia tighter for a moment. "Right now, I need this more."
"Okay, okay. Just rest here, then. I'll be here."
"Does that mean you're staying? I mean, really...staying?"
Olivia shifted slightly and placed a tender kiss against her hair. "I'm staying. The movers will think I'm insane, but I'll call them tomorrow."
"Good. This is where you belong. Here. With me."
They had settled deeper into the sofa cushions, and deeper into each other, content to just be together, and to be free of the weight of things left unsaid. There would be problems down the road, and tomorrow they would have to start dealing with them, separately and together, but in the moment, none of that existed for them. Nothing existed for each but the other.
Natalia drifted off to sleep first, and Olivia found herself craning her neck every so often, to try to get a look at her sleeping face. She must have eventually dropped off herself, however, because when she heard the back door close, she couldn't really react quickly, and was still blinking sleepily when Rafe came in from the kitchen.
She had a moment of blind panic, feeling Natalia's body resting against hers and imagining how it might look to him, but before she could even start to move, he put his hands up, palms out.
"No, don't," he whispered urgently, "Don't wake her." He moved a little closer and sat on the corner of the coffee table, studying his mother's face carefully, while Olivia studied his.
"She looks happy." Rafe looked back up at Olivia, keeping his voice low, "Happier than she did today."
Olivia tried to look nonchalant as she whispered, "She's sleeping, Rafe," as if that would explain everything.
"I've seen her before when she was asleep. She doesn't usually smile like that."
In spite of herself, Olivia craned her neck to try to get a good look at Natalia's face, but then looked up guiltily at Rafe, knowing she'd been caught at it.
"I just want her to be happy."
Olivia just nodded, not really knowing what she should say to that.
"You're gonna take care of her, right?"
"She can take care of herself, Rafe," Olivia answered immediately, but then felt compelled to add, "But, yes. I'd do anything for her. I'd...do anything for you, too."
"Good," Rafe nodded. "Thank you." He braced both hands against his knees and pushed himself back up. He stood there, looking down at her for a second before asking, "I'll see you tomorrow?"
Olivia nodded in return. "I'll be here."
Rafe just said, "Okay," before walking around the sofa and heading for the stairs.
Olivia turned her head to try to catch him. "Rafe?" When he turned back to look at her, she told him, "I meant what I said. I would do anything for you. So, if you need anything... Or if you ever want to talk...about...anything. You can come to me. I hope you know that."
Rafe just nodded once before heading up the stairs. Olivia watched his progress, but then stared off into space for a few seconds, trying to make sense of what had just happened. It had almost sounded as if Rafe had given some kind of endorsement for her and Natalia's relationship, but she wondered if that weren't just wishful thinking on her part. He could just as easily have been talking about their friendship, after all.
She was tempted to let Natalia sleep a little longer, but she knew Natalia would probably want to spend as much time with her son as possible, while he was home, so she began gently rubbing her back.
Natalia stirred slightly, snuggling against her and mumbling a quiet, "Hmm?" against her neck.
"Baby, wake up."
Natalia's movements became more purposeful, and she eventually raised her head to look at Olivia, blinking rapidly as if to clear her head. She kind of scrunched her face up a second before asking, "Did you just call me 'baby?'"
"Oh my God," Olivia hadn't even realized it, "I think I did. Is that--is that okay?"
Natalia smiled sweetly at her. "It's fine. I like it. A lot."
Olivia smiled helplessly back at her, knowing she was lost, but already too far gone to care.
"How long was I asleep?" Natalia asked.
"I don't really know. I think I dozed off for a while, myself."
"Oh, Rafe's home."
"He's home?" Natalia looked confused for a moment. "I didn't hear him come in..."
"You were pretty out of it. He asked me not to wake you, but I thought you might want to spend some time with him before you went to bed."
"I would." Natalia pulled back slightly, stretched her back a little, and looked around. "Where is he?"
"I guess I should go talk to him. I don't know how I'm going to tell him. What I'm going to say."
"You might not have to say much."
Natalia looked back at her, narrowing her eyes. "Why? What happened?"
"I'm not really sure," Olivia shrugged. "He came in and saw us like...this," Olivia kind of looked down to indicate the position they were in, and Natalia's eyes went wide as she realized what it must have looked like to him.
"Oh. What--what did he say?"
"He said you looked happy. Told me that he just wanted you to be happy. And then he kind of...asked me to take care of you."
Natalia turned to look upstairs, as if she could actually see her son, and then muttered a quiet, "Huh."
"But I don't really know that it means...what I'd like it to mean."
"Oh?" Natalia turned back to look at her, asking coyly, "And what would you like it to mean?"
"That he--that he'll be on our side."
"'Our' side, huh? You've come a long way since this afternoon. What happened to 'there is no us?'"
"I lied," Olivia shrugged, her face breaking into a small grin, for a moment. She was so relieved that Natalia apparently could joke about that comment. "Ugh, are you ever gonna forgive me for that?"
"It's done," Natalia shrugged. "You're here, now. That's all that really matters."
Natalia shifted around, dropping her feet to the floor before stretching her legs out in front of her for a second. "I'm going to go talk to my son."
"Okay." Olivia gathered the blanket in her hands, and they both stood up, stretching. She started to re-fold the blanket so she could put it back in its place. "You go ahead. I'll get the lights and look in on Emma before I go to bed."
Natalia stepped forward to wrap her arms around Olivia. "You'll still be here in the morning, right?"
Olivia returned the embrace and smoothed a hand across Natalia's hair. "I'll be here. Em, too."
Natalia smiled up at her. "Good. I'll see you then."
Natalia leaned in and gently kissed her on the cheek. "Good night."
"Good night," Olivia smiled back at Natalia, watching as she made her way up the stairs. She was still grinning madly by the time she made it up to her own room to prepare for bed.
Natalia knocked lightly on the door, calling out for her son. "Rafe?" She waited until she heard a faint, 'Come in,' from the other side before entering.
He had been stretched out on the bed, but moved to sit on the side of it when she came in.
Natalia took a deep breath. "Hi."
"Hi, Ma. Y'know, I told her not to wake you."
"She told me, but I think she knew I'd want to see you." She walked over to sit on the bed. "Rafe, I'm sorry. I know you were looking forward to having Frank in your life, and I--"
"Wait, Ma. You make it sound like you were gonna marry him for me."
"I--I liked the idea of being able to give you the kind of home and family you never really had growing up."
"The 'idea' of it?"
Rafe's tone said he thought she was crazy for thinking that way. She couldn't really disagree. "I--Frank's a good man. He's everything I always thought I wanted--everything I thought I should want. It was what everyone seemed to want for me."
"But it wasn't what you wanted."
"No. I...wanted to want it, but I never really did."
"Do you love her, Ma?"
Natalia closed her eyes and blew out a breath, relieved that she didn't have to figure out how to bring it up. "Yes. I do. I didn't expect it--neither of us did. At first, it was confusing, and scary, and I didn't want to deal with it. I hoped that if I just didn't acknowledge it that the feelings might go away, somehow. I guess that's why I managed to screw things up so badly with Frank. I should have told him a long time ago that I didn't have those feelings for him."
Natalia hung her head, once again weighed down by the knowledge of how much damage she had caused, and how much of it could have been avoided if only she had been honest with Frank--honest with herself--from the beginning. She looked back over at her son.
"I've made such a mess of things, Rafe, and I don't know how to fix it."
"Yeah, you do, Ma. You start by telling him what you just told me. Because right now he thinks he's still got a shot."
"I know. I know. I'm going to talk to him tomorrow. Give the ring back, and...try to explain."
"You...might not want to tell him about Olivia, at first. Guys can get weird about that stuff."
Natalia kind of snorted, saying, "Ya think?" Hearing herself, she felt a goofy grin spread across her face, which made Rafe look at her oddly. "It's noth--" she shrugged. "She says that."
Rafe's smile grew wider. "She makes you happy."
"She does make me happy. I love her so much, Rafe. Olivia and Emma: they're my family. As much as you are."
"Well, I guess I'd better tell Emma that we'll be brother and sister, after all, huh?"
Natalia leaned over to pull him into a fierce hug, which he returned equally. When she pulled back, she asked, "So, you're okay with...all of this?"
He shrugged. "Well, it is a little weird. A lot weird, I guess. It kinda sucks for Frank, and I feel sorry for him, but you're my mom. I just want you to be happy, and to have someone who will take care of you, for a change. If Olivia is that someone, then I guess that's all I need to know."
"Ma, can I ask you something?"
"Of course you can."
"Okay, so..." Rafe fidgeted, a little. "You knew how you felt about her before today, right?"
Natalia muttered a quiet, "Yeah," already certain about where he was headed.
"And you were still gonna go through with it?"
"I know," Natalia sighed. "I know. It was stupid, and selfish, and wrong, and I'm not even sure I can explain it."
Natalia stood up, paced for a few seconds, and then turned to face Rafe again. "She--we never even said the words to each other until today. I went by Gus' memorial. To say goodbye. And she was there, and she was crying, and upset, and I tried to get her to talk to me, and..." Natalia had been speaking faster, her voice getting higher with each word, so she forced herself to stop and take a breath to calm down. "And...she just kind of...blurted it, and I..."
Natalia made a vague gesture in the air with her hands. "That should have been enough. It should have been all I needed to step up, and stand up for what I wanted, and...be what she needed, but... I guess I wasn't strong enough, in that moment. And then she started talking about how she just wanted me to be happy, and how Frank could give me a safer--an easier--life than she could, and, and I...let her lead me back to the church."
"Wait. She brought you to the church?"
Natalia nodded sadly, again feeling the sense of loss she had felt in those moments--as though something precious had slipped through her fingers and she didn't know how to get it back.
"And she was gonna just let you--oh, man..."
"Yeah. She thought she was doing the right thing, for me. Plus, I think she was afraid, too, in her own way." Natalia shook her head, "I don't know why I just didn't call everything off then. I don't know if I was trying to do what she seemed to want, or if I still thought I could...make things work with Frank?" she questioned, still not really sure why she had gone along with it. She shrugged and blew out a breath. "All I know is that, when it came down to it, I just couldn't stand there before God, and Olivia, and Frank, and lie about how I felt."
"And what about God, Ma? What about the Church?"
"I believe that God still loves me, and that he would want me to be true to myself. I'm sure he's not too happy with...how I've behaved up until today. I've hurt Frank, and the Coopers, and I hurt Olivia, and I have a lot to make up for, but I--I know that God will forgive me for that. I'll just have to do everything I can to try to make things right. I hope that Frank will be able to forgive me, eventually."
"If he loves you as much as he says he does, he will."
"I hope so." Natalia rubbed a hand across her face. "As for the Church? I--" Natalia blinked back tears, already mourning the loss of the sense of community she had found in church, even as she hoped she would still be able to find a haven there. "You know what the..." she swallowed around the word, "official...stance is, so I don't..."
Natalia stopped, took a deep breath, and tried to articulate what she had been struggling with ever since she had acknowledged the change in her feelings for Olivia, and what that might mean for her spiritual life.
"My relationship with God won't change, but...my relationship with the Church might have to. I might have to...find my own path, now. Find my own way to worship. Hopefully, with my family by my side."
The sense of peace that washed over her at that thought belied the tears that were still sliding down her face.
Rafe got up and walked over to pull her into a hug. "Don't cry, Ma. It'll be okay."
She hugged him back tightly. "They're not bad tears. They're really not."
Rafe pulled back a little, but kept one arm around Natalia's shoulders. "That's good. This is really what you want, huh?"
"It is. She means everything to me, Rafe."
"Okay. Well, then...do you think Olivia would still be up?"
"Um, I guess... Why?" she asked in surprise.
"There's something I need to say to her, I guess."
Natalia was a little worried about what that 'something' might be, but Rafe seemed kind of shy about asking, so she didn't think it would be anything bad.
"I don't know... I could go check?"
"Yeah," Rafe prompted.
"Okay, I'll be right back." She walked out of Rafe's room, leaving the door open, and walked over to knock lightly on Olivia's. "Olivia?"
She heard a, "Yeah," from the other side of the door, and she turned the knob and pushed the door open slightly, ready to poke her head around it, but when she saw that Olivia was almost to the door, she just pushed it open a little further. Olivia was already dressed in her pajamas, and Natalia couldn't help the goofy grin that spread across her face. She got caught up, for a moment, in looking at Olivia, and in the way Olivia was looking at her.
"Hi," Olivia grinned back at her, but canted her head to one side, silently asking 'what?' with her eyes.
Natalia shook herself out of her reverie. "Um, you might want to grab your robe." Not that Olivia really needed it--she was modestly covered--but Natalia thought she might appreciate the extra layer of armor. "Rafe wants to talk to you."
"He does?" Olivia asked, looking worried.
"Mm-hmm," Natalia smiled back at her reassuringly.
"Ahm...okay?" She took a step forward, as if she were ready to go, but then stopped and went to grab her robe, pulling it on quickly.
When Olivia was ready and stepped over to her, their hands found each other naturally, and Natalia gently led her out into the hallway.
Rafe was leaning against his door and studied them carefully, for a moment, before he started walking over toward them. Olivia kept glancing over at her as he approached, clearly nervous.
"Rafe?" Olivia asked when he got close.
"Olivia, I, uhm... I just wanted to say..." he hesitated for a moment, then tried again. "I kinda..." he reached up to rub his neck, scrunching his face up and looking away for a second as he said, "hated you, at first, y'know?"
Natalia saw Olivia nod out of the corner of her eye, and she squeezed her hand in support.
Rafe shook his head a little, looked back at Olivia, and tilted his head slightly. "Because of Gus, and...because of the way you treated my Mom."
He shrugged and looked at them both squarely. "But I know that...a lot has changed, and I know that you've done a lot for her. You stepped up, and you stood up for her when she needed it. You stood up for her with me--a lot--and you were right to do that, and I..."
He shook his head, a little. "She loves you. I see that, and I can see that... Now that I know what I'm seeing," he waved a hand back and forth between them, "I--I can't believe I didn't see it before."
Rafe shook his head and shrugged. "Anyway, I guess all I wanted to say was: Welcome to the family." He stepped forward and pulled Olivia into a hug.
Olivia looked shocked, for a second, and cut her eyes over at Natalia, only releasing her hand to hug Rafe back fully when Natalia smiled back at her. Olivia sounded pretty choked up when said, "Thank you, Rafe. Likewise."
Natalia joined in the embrace, leaning in to place a light kiss on Rafe's cheek.
"Oh, Ma..." Rafe groused
"Don't 'oh, Ma' me." "Don't talk to your mother like that." Natalia and Olivia spoke over each other, and then laughed at themselves.
Rafe chuckled, too, then pulled back to look at them both. "Aww...'My two mommies,'" he joked, then looked at them oddly when he saw them look at each other, then look over at Emma's door, then back at each other, and then start laughing even harder.
"What?" he asked, "What did I say?"
Natalia and Olivia covered their own mouths and tried to shush each other while they tried to get their giggles under control. Rafe looked over at Emma's door, too, as if he might find answers there, since none were forthcoming from the two women.
When they finally both calmed down a little, and he thought they might be able to speak coherently again, Rafe asked, "Seriously, what did I say?"
It almost set them off again, but Olivia took a deep breath and cleared her throat, and said, "It's, um, kind of a long--"
"Funny--" Natalia spoke over her.
"Story," they finished together. Olivia looked over at Natalia and they smiled at each other.
"Funny..." Olivia said, "Yeah, I guess it is kind of...funny. Now."
"It'll be hilarious by the time we tell our grandkids." Natalia wasn't really surprised by the shocked look on Olivia's face at her words, but the joy she saw shining from her eyes and the small smile tugging at the corners of Olivia's lips almost took her breath away.
Rafe took a step back, drawing their attention away from each other when he said, "Okay, now. Enough of that," he waved a hand back and forth between them. "You two are gettin' a little...scary."
Natalia looked a little sheepish as she mumbled a half-hearted, "Sorry," but she made no move to put any distance between Olivia and herself.
"So, are you gonna tell me this story, or not?"
"We will," Olivia broke in, "but it's kind of late, and I know your mother's tired, so why don't we tell you all about it tomorrow?"
"Better yet, we can show you," Natalia grinned.
"Oh, yeah," Olivia chuckled, "Powerpoint presentation and all."
"Powerpoi--" Rafe looked from Olivia to his mother. "Is she kidding?"
"Not really," she smiled. "It's good, though; you'll laugh."
"Okay, I guess," Rafe still looked mystified, but seemed willing to let it go, for the moment. "So, um, I'll see you in the morning?"
"Yes," Natalia replied, then asked, "Oh, is there anything in particular you'd like for breakfast?"
"Um," he thought about it for a second, "pancakes?"
"Oh, pancakes!" Olivia added.
Natalia looked over at her and smiled when she saw Olivia looked just as excited about the idea as Rafe. She smiled even wider when Olivia tried to cover by claiming, "I'm sure Em...wouldn't refuse pancakes."
Natalia looked back over to Rafe, who was grinning at the two of them. "Pancakes it is!"
"Okay, well..." Rafe stepped forward again and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek, "Goodnight, Ma." He pulled back and hesitated for just a moment before leaning over to hug Olivia, too. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Rafe," Olivia choked out.
He walked back to his room and turned to take one last look at them before closing the door.
Natalia leaned into Olivia's body and slid an arm around her waist, resting her head against Olivia's shoulder. She smiled when Olivia returned the one-armed hug.
Olivia cleared her throat nervously, "I...wasn't expecting that."
"Yeah. I'm so proud of him. And I know that meant a lot to you," she rubbed Olivia's back and looked up at her.
"I--it did. It really did," Olivia smiled back at her. "Sooo...one down, then?"
Natalia saw the worried look that Olivia tried to hide. "Are you worried about...telling Emma and Ava. About how they'll react?"
"I'm worried about...how to tell Emma. But I don't... She loves you, Natalia. She loves us all being together--in this house. I'm not sure the 'why' of it will matter much to her. Ava? I don't--I don't know how she'll react. I mean I--I missed all those years with her... But that might not be such a bad thing, actually."
"Hey, don't do that. You're a good mother."
"Now. Now, I am. I'm not so sure I would have been then. I'm better, because of Emma. Loving her has made me better. Loving you has made me better, too," Olivia squeezed her tighter for a moment. "But back then? I don't know... Anyway, it's not like Ava and I have ever talked about...anything like this. I don't know...how she would feel about this, in general, or...what she'll think of me. Of us."
"Will it matter? How she reacts? Or how Emma takes it?"
"It won't change...what I feel. Or what I want," she shook her head.
"Then we'll find a way to tell them. We'll help them find a way to deal with it."
"And what about the rest of this town? The rest of the world?"
Natalia sighed, not at all ready to get into another heavy discussion just yet. She turned to embrace Olivia loosely, still looking up at her. "The rest of the world can wait 'til tomorrow, can't it?" she asked plaintively.
Olivia dipped her head. "Of course it can. I'm sorry," she smiled, "you should go get some rest."
They turned and walked back over to Olivia's door, still arm-in-arm. When they got there, Olivia turned to face Natalia, leaning against the doorframe. She looked suddenly shy and awkward, and Natalia couldn't help but smile at her in response.
"Sooo..." Olivia clasped her hands in front of her. "Um, sleep well?" she kind of shrugged and rolled her eyes at herself a little.
Natalia nodded once in sympathy, understanding the tension Olivia was feeling, perfectly, because she was feeling it, too. Tension from knowing, on some level, what she wanted to do next, but unable to get past her nervousness or her doubts long enough to ask for it, much less attempt it.
She glanced past Olivia, for a moment, at the bed in the background. She wanted nothing more than to be able to fall asleep in Olivia's arms, but just the thought of it was making her more tense, rather than less so. She suspected that trying to lie in each other's arms--and just sleep--would be a kind of torture for them both. And she knew she wasn't ready for anything more. Not yet.
Still, she felt the same desire to touch Olivia that she almost always did when they were close, and she wanted to reassure Olivia again that it was just a matter of 'when,' not 'if.'
She took a half-step forward to be even closer to Olivia, and placed a hand on her chest, over her heart. She felt it beating, strong and steady, against her palm, and she closed her eyes, sending a silent prayer of thanks to Gus for the gift he had given them.
She looked back up at Olivia and smiled. "I'll sleep just fine, knowing you're here."
Olivia made a little sound in the back of her throat before reaching up to cover Natalia's hand with her own. "Yeah. Me, too." She hesitated a moment before adding, "You were right about one thing..."
"Only one thing?" Natalia joked.
"Well..." Olivia smiled, joining in, "maybe a couple things."
"A couple things. Such as?"
"Such as..." Olivia turned serious again. "This is where I belong."
Natalia smiled widely and stepped into Olivia's body, keeping the one hand over Olivia's heart, and embracing her with the other arm. Olivia hugged her back with her free arm, and Natalia rested her head on Olivia's shoulder, lightly. "This is where we both belong."
They stood like that for several seconds, neither quite willing to let go of the other. Finally, Natalia pulled back slightly to look at Olivia. "I love you. I love you so much."
"Oh, I love you, too." Olivia's voice was filled with longing, and relief, and desire, and a million unspoken promises for the future, and Natalia thought her heart might burst from all the love she was feeling.
She felt a little guilty for feeling so insanely happy after making everyone else so miserable, but she couldn't help it. She could no more choose not to love Olivia than she could choose not to breathe. She was just sorry it had taken her so long to realize it.
She sighed, knowing she would have to walk away from Olivia now, or she wouldn't be able to, and she didn't want to risk moving too quickly and screwing things up. They still had a lot of things to figure out, and they needed to take the time to do that.
"So, I'll see you in the morning."
Olivia smiled back at her. "You will. Good night."
"Good night." Natalia gently slid her hand out from under Olivia's and walked over to her room, not daring to look back at Olivia until she opened her own door. Even then, just the sight of Olivia leaning against her door, her hand still resting over her heart, was almost enough to make Natalia throw caution to the wind and go back to her.
Instead, Natalia just smiled shyly and nodded at Olivia before going into her room, content in the knowledge that she and Olivia were on the right path. They were together, and they could face anything together.
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