DISCLAIMER: I don't own Guiding Light and no copyright infringement is intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Post- Olivia moving into the Farmhouse.
FEEDBACK: To procrastinatingsith[at]gmail.com

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
By Jaina


Chapter 1

Natalia hesitated just inside her bedroom door, then turned and carefully pushed the door closed. She considered for a moment and then locked it. Emma was sound asleep, worn out from her day's activities, and she was unlikely to need them. If she did, well, she could knock. She was a bright little girl and if she needed them, she knew where to find them.

The sound of the shower running drew Natalia's attention. She couldn't help the smile that stole across her face. Olivia was really here - with her - in their bedroom. The thought made her giddy. When she had come back to Springfield and seen the damage that she had done with her absence, getting Olivia back had seemed nearly impossible. There had been days when it seemed like the yearning inside of her would never be answered. Now she was free to touch Olivia and hold her, be with her openly and freely as they had wanted.

Natalia took a step closer to the bathroom. Olivia had carefully given her privacy earlier when Natalia had said she was going up to get a shower after dinner. Almost too carefully, in Natalia's opinion. Not that she had expected anything with Emma still wide awake and running from room to room with her excitement, but she also hadn't expected Olivia to avoid her like the plague. She had been hoping for at least a kiss, a few quiet, breathless moments to themselves. Natalia wanted that desperately and now that Emma was in bed, there was nothing stopping her from going in there with Olivia.

Nothing but the fact that they had never even kissed. When Natalia thought about it, it really was like an old-fashioned marriage. Then she let out a little laugh at that thought. There was nothing traditional about them. They had also waited long enough, Natalia decided. She opened the bathroom door and was greeted by a thick wave of warm, damp air. She hurriedly ducked inside so she didn't let all the warm air out.

It was the middle of summer, but the air conditioning kept the house cool. In contrast, the the bathroom was like a sauna. Natalia took a moment to let her eyes grow accustomed to the slightly dimmer light and and blinked rapidly as she tried to see through the heavy steam that hung in the small room.

Olivia certainly liked her shower hot.

"Em, is that you?" Olivia called out, her voice startling Natalia out of her thoughts.

"No," Natalia called back. "It's me. Emma's in bed."

There was a moment of silence and then the water turned off.

"Natalia?" Olivia sounded worried. "Is everything okay?" The shower curtain was yanked back, revealing Olivia in all her glory. "Is it the ba-by..." She trailed off at the way Natalia's eyes had gone wide.

Natalia swallowed hard. "Uh, yeah, everything is fine." So not my most eloquent statement. What had she been thinking? This wasn't sexy or fun, it was just awkward. "I just..." Natalia shrugged and willed herself to find words. Olivia didn't need more of her fears; she needed certainty and reassurance. "I missed you," Natalia said, smiling because she knew how silly that sounded. "I missed you and I wanted to see you, so here I am. You don't mind, do you?"

Natalia was just proud of the fact that she had formed words and spoken them at the moment. Olivia was stunning - unimaginably gorgeous. It was more than any one part of her - ample breasts, soft tempting curves, well toned legs and sleek arms - it was all of her, her heart and soul and mind. Seeing Olivia this way for the first time, vulnerable and without the armor of a business suit or fuzzy pajamas or even casual, everyday clothes was shocking, life-changing. Never in her wildest dreams could Natalia have imagined that she would feel as much as she did at this moment. She felt an overwhelming desire to touch Olivia, hold her close, press her body up against Olivia's and never let go.

"Mind? no. Pfft," Olivia said with a dismissive wave of her hand, trying to regain her usual cool and not quite managing. Her heart was pounding in her chest. She was always amazed that Natalia didn't make the beeper for her pacemaker go off. "Can you hand me a towel?" Olivia asked after a moment of silence.

"Oh, sure," Natalia said, shaken out of her frozen state by Olivia's request. She pivoted to the cabinet and carefully selected the largest, fluffiest towel, a vestige of Olivia's previous residence. Instead of offering Olivia the towel, she held out her hand.

With a hesitant flick of her eyes up to meet Natalia's, Olivia accepted it and stepped out of the shower. Natalia thanked her with a brilliant smile and a hint of dimples, before she ducked her head and moved around behind Olivia. The soft terry cloth towel looked like a cape draped over Olivia's shoulders. Natalia rubbed briskly over Olivia's shoulders, feeling the knot of tense muscles beneath her hands. She ran the towel up the back of Olivia's neck, brushing the underside of Olivia's pinned-up hair and letting her hands linger there for a moment, massaging more than drying. Almost at once Olivia began to relax, her muscles loosening. She let her head loll, falling back toward Natalia and closing her eyes, only to open them again an instant later.

The mirror, fogged up with condensation, rendered them as nothing more than vague blurs. Olivia took a jerky step forward, leaned heavily against the sink and wiped at the mirror with her bare hand. Water droplets clung, formed, and grew into bigger drops. It wasn't exactly effective but when it was done, Olivia could see Natalia looking back at her. Olivia tried to smile, but the corners of her mouth were weak and fell back into a thin line.

Natalia bent and kissed the top of her shoulder, bared when the towel slipped down Olivia's back as she stepped forward. Natalia wasn't nervous; she was certain. She had a secret weapon: Olivia Spencer melted at her touch. It wasn't something Natalia had always known, but something she had just begun to discover that afternoon. Whenever she had brushed Olivia's side in passing, her fingertips barely drifting across Olivia's ribs, Olivia had leaned after her. Natalia had barely noticed it the first time, but it had happened again and again, until she was deliberately touching Olivia just to see her reaction. Not teasing her, never that - at least not yet - but curious. Natalia wanted to learn everything about Olivia and this was just the beginning.

She started drying where she had left off, rubbing her way down the small of Olivia's back. Natalia heard the small hitch in Olivia's breathing when she squatted down beside Olivia to dry first one leg and then the other, starting at the top and making her way methodically down smooth, toned legs, never stopping, but admiring along the way. Natalia glanced back up to see Olivia's knuckles whiten as she gripped both sides of the counter. She ducked her head and smiled a small, secretive smile hidden behind her hair as she put a hand on Olivia's hip to brace herself as she stood. It left Natalia pressed up against Olivia's side. Before - before the retreat, the baby, the wedding-that-wasn't where they had admitted their feelings for one another - Natalia would have never found herself in this position and if she had they would have both pretended so hard that it wasn't what it was.

This time neither of them was pretending or avoiding. Natalia was right where she wanted to be. With the towel firmly in hand, Natalia didn't hesitate. She let her hand slip from Olivia's hip down to the swell of her ass. It was clear by now that the drying was a pretense. The moisture on Olivia's skin had mostly either dripped off or air dried; by this point, but Natalia didn't care. She shifted so that she was pressed against Olivia's back and slipped her arms around Olivia's body, once across her chest just above her chest, the other down across her stomach.

"Natalia..." Olivia sounded tormented, torn. She let go of the counter with one hand and clutched at Natalia's hip, long fingers digging into her thigh. Natalia laid her cheek against Olivia's back, then tilted her head so that she could trail kisses up along Olivia's back and around the side of neck. "Oh, God," Olivia breathed. "What are you doing?"

"Drying you off," Natalia said simply.

Olivia laughed hoarsely. "Is this gonna be a nightly thing?"

Natalia's lips quirked upwards, but she wasn't joking when she replied. "Only forever."

Olivia tensed again and tried to make a joke. "The last time I remember being dried off I don't remember it going quite like this."

"Has anyone done this for you since you were a little girl?" Natalia wasn't sure she actually wanted to know the answer - especially if it was yes.

"Ah, no, actually," Olivia said, sounding a little bit stumped.

"Well then, see?" Natalia said. "This is how grown-ups do it."

Olivia snickered. "How grown-ups do it?" she repeated, glancing back over her shoulder to arch an eyebrow at Natalia. Her eyes sparkled with mischief. "I thought-"

Before she could finish that thought, Natalia clamped a hand over her lips. Her cheeks colored rosily. "I can't believe I said that," she said with a dismissive roll of her eyes. "I should have known better." But her tone was fond, not chastising. Seeing the amusement in Olivia's eyes, Natalia just shook her head. "You know, I can stop if you're not enjoying this."

"No," Olivia blurted out quickly, too quickly, leaning back from Natalia's playfully covering hand. "Don't stop. I'm sorry."

Natalia's eyes darkened, the playful moment falling away and guilt sinking like a rock to the pit of her stomach. "No, I'm sorry," she whispered. "I shouldn't have..." she shook her head and then leaned around Olivia's body a little bit more until she could tilt Olivia's chin up to meet her eyes. "I will never stop. I will never go anywhere, unless you ask me too. And maybe not even then."

Olivia nodded jerkily, but Natalia could see that she wasn't quite convinced. That was okay. She would have plenty of time to prove to Olivia that she meant exactly what she had said. Natalia raised a hand to stroke Olivia's cheek with her thumb and looked into her eyes, willing Olivia to see everything she felt for her. Instead Natalia found herself caught in Olivia's gaze, lost in the depth of emotion that she saw. There was fear yes, but there was also love and trust, tenderness and adoration. Beyond that there was the desire, the hunger for her that Olivia could no longer hide. There had been so many times before when Natalia had felt simply overwhelmed by the sight of Olivia's desire for her. It wasn't unwelcome, but foreign. She hadn't known what to do with it, so she had looked away. And each time she had looked away, she had hurt some essential part of Olivia.

No more.

Natalia's eyes flickered from Olivia's down to her lips and back up again. The moment stretched, the air almost humming with tension. Subconsciously Natalia licked her lips and leaned forward. The soft terry cloth of the towel pressed into her hand as she leaned forward, the towel still between them, as she tilted her head to find Olivia's lips. Her hand slipped away from Olivia's cheek and sank into her hair, curling around the back of Olivia's neck and holding her close.

Olivia gasped, her arms coming up to encircle Natalia's waist and then slipping upwards to cling to Natalia's back. She fell forward into Natalia, pressing their bodies together, separated only by a thin layer of clothes and the towel. The faint dampness of it soaked into Natalia's clothes, but she ignored it, intoxicated by the softness of Olivia's lips, intent only on consuming and being consumed by the kiss. It was a kiss to make up for every moment they should have kissed but didn't, every opportunity that had slipped through their fingers.

They were both panting, chests heaving when they broke apart, Natalia wild-eyed and Olivia's looking almost calm and sleepy, until Natalia looked again and realized they were hooded with need and desire. And something else that she couldn't quite identify.

"I don't think we need this anymore," Olivia breathed, leaning back just a fraction, enough to let gravity tug at the towel Natalia still held limply in one hand. But now, no longer pressed between them it was doing a very bad job of covering anything. Natalia looked down. She couldn't help it. Her mouth went dry at the sight - hard nipples standing out from still firm breasts. She swallowed involuntarily as her eyes fell further down.

"But I didn't get to finish." It was inane and irrelevant, but Natalia's mind wasn't really working at the moment. She had started a task with a goal - to touch as much of Olivia as possible, to get Olivia to lower some of the walls that Natalia knew had been rebuilt in her absence, and reassure Olivia that she wanted this just as much as Olivia did. She had succeeded on those counts, but somewhere along the way the task had replaced the goal in her frazzled mind, falling back on it when nothing else was available.

Olivia laughed, a deep throaty sound that Natalia felt all the way to center of her body and made her shiver. "Trust me," Olivia murmured almost under her breath. "You'll have your chance to finish. You don't need this ..." she raised her voice slightly as she tugged at the towel, "to touch me. You can do that anytime you want." Olivia smiled, but it was tremulous, touching her lips and falling away again as if she were making a joke, but she was serious.

"I do want you, Olivia," Natalia said softly. "I know I haven't always shown you that, but I do." Deliberately she let go of the towel, letting it fall to the floor between them. This time her eyes never left Olivia's as her hand slid the scant distance from the center of Olivia's chest to cover her breast. Natalia could feel the hard protuberance of Olivia's nipple beneath the palm of her hand. She rubbed her hand over it experimentally and then squeezed it between the side of her thumb and forefinger.

Olivia's jaw clenched and her knees buckled. "Natalia." She caught herself almost as soon as her body betrayed her, but it didn't matter. She couldn't hide the depth of her response from Natalia. Her stomach jerked and muscles clenched as Natalia wrapped an arm around her waist and bent her head, first placing a tentative kiss on her exposed nipple and then flicking her tongue back and forth over it. Olivia gasped, her fingers winding their way into Natalia's hair, needing something to hold on to. She almost cried when Natalia's lips latched firmly onto the nipple and sucked, cheeks hollowing.

"Oh God." Some distant part of Olivia's mind flinched at the blasphemy, knowing Natalia would hate it and hoping it wouldn't bother her so much that she would stop. That she would leave. Olivia gripped her tighter. Then Natalia had palmed her other breast with her free hand and Olivia had to stifle a whimper. Maybe, if she was lucky, Natalia hadn't heard her. That had to be it. She had never been this lucky before, but maybe this time she could finally get it right.

Olivia forced herself to relax and tentatively let her hands begin to wander, working their way down Natalia's sides, until they were resting on Natalia's hips and then moving around to cup her rear, pulling Natalia's hips against hers.

"Olivia." It was Natalia's turn to breath her name like a whisper, like a prayer, full of wonder and desire. Her lips no longer tending to their pleasant ministrations, her hands nonetheless never stilled - her thumb brushing over Olivia's nipple and sending a jolt straight to Olivia's groin or massaging just so with her fingers, leaving Olivia gasping and struggling to focus. She was like putty in Natalia's hands and she was woman enough to admit it. As long as she didn't think about how much it terrified her, how much power Natalia had over her. "I think we should..."

"Should what?" Olivia managed to croak out, trying not to think of the myriad things Natalia could say, like never do this again. Or, stop now.

"We should take this into the bedroom," Natalia finished, letting go to catch one of Olivia's hands and tug her gently in that direction.

Olivia swallowed hard and managed to nod. Natalia smiled sweetly and began to back up, never taking her eyes off Olivia.

"You are so beautiful," Natalia whispered. "I don't think I've told you that enough."

Olivia sucked in a sharp breath at Natalia's words, her tone, the look in her eyes. Olivia couldn't get enough of it. It wasn't that she didn't know that Natalia loved her. That wound - the one left by Natalia's six-week absence - was slowly healing, soothed by Natalia's determination to prove herself to Olivia. But Olivia had never quite been sure that Natalia wanted her. Oh, there had been the faintest hints, but Natalia could be so hard to read. Their relationship had been almost chaste before Natalia left, no kissing and hardly any touching. Olivia had told Natalia once that she would be okay if sex between them never happened. Natalia had assured her that she wanted that - sex - but the way she had said it... Olivia could still see the hesitance, the nervousness in her eyes. It wasn't the eager confidence that she was used to when it came to sex and when doubts arose it was a slippery answer to hold onto. She would wonder if Natalia was really saying that because she meant it or because she thought Olivia needed to hear it.

Tonight was going a long way to assuaging Olivia's doubts. She would never have expected Natalia to be so forthright as to walk in the bathroom while she was showering. Someday maybe, but not tonight. This whole day had been full of eye-opening experiences.

Olivia tried a cocky smile. "I don't know, but I could get used to hearing it."

"I'll keep that in mind," Natalia said, stopping just short of the bed, but pulling Olivia close, making sure she didn't stay at arms' length. She raised a hand to cup Olivia's cheek again. "You really are, you know? Absolutely gorgeous - inside and out," Natalia added, tilting her to press her lips against Olivia's once again.

The softness of Natalia's lips was unbelievable. For a moment, Olivia was content to let Natalia control the kiss, remaining passive as Natalia tasted her lips again and again, teasing and tantalizing her with every brush of her lips. She was no less patient in this than everything else; it was slowly driving Olivia crazy, despite her resolution to let Natalia make the first move, to come to her. When Olivia couldn't resist any longer, she tilted her head up, surging forward and capturing Natalia's lips, deepening the kiss.

Natalia whimpered and pressed further into her. The soft cotton of Natalia's blouse felt strange against her sensitized skin, while the rougher denim of her skirt pressed up against Olivia's thighs only served to remind her of what was separating her from Natalia. Olivia's hands were trembling as she broke the kiss and reached around behind Natalia, going for the zipper at the small of her back. Even without being able to see what she was looking for, it only took Olivia a moment to find the small metal tab. Natalia was watching her. Olivia could feel it. Yet she couldn't seem to make her hands work.

Natalia let go of her, reaching back to cover Olivia's hands with her own. Olivia glanced up sharply at the unexpected touch. Natalia was smiling at her shyly. Olivia felt her mouth go dry as Natalia began to ease their hands downward, bringing the zipper with them, until it had opened enough that the skirt dropped to the floor, lingering around Natalia's ankles. Natalia smiled up at Olivia and let go of her hands to grasp Olivia's arms, using them to balance herself as she stepped out of the skirt. It wasn't until another moment had passed that Olivia realized how tightly she was gripping Natalia in return.

"Sorry," she murmured as she loosened her grip.

Natalia smiled. "You have nothing to be sorry for," she said softly, giving Olivia's forearms a quick squeeze, before she reached behind her back again giving one of the ties that had been made into a bow a gentle tug. It was all that was necessary for them to come undone. Olivia watched, mesmerized as Natalia caught the hem of her shirt and pulled it up over her head, dropping it behind them. It hit the edge of the bed, and slid down onto the floor.

Natalia stood in front of Olivia, naked except for her bra and panties. She looked down, her hair falling forward to cover part of her face, only to glance back up and give Olivia a tremulous little smile. "This isn't how I imagined it, you know? Not how I thought about our first time."

Olivia could barely speak, swallow, breathe, much less form a coherent thought. "Oh?"

Natalia touched her abdomen and glanced away. Red tinted her cheeks. "I wanted to be perfect for you." Her admission was so quiet that Olivia could barely hear her.

The admission caught at Olivia's heart immediately, drawing her out of her own fears and internal monologue and bringing her back to Natalia. She hadn't even considered that the other woman might be feeling self-conscious because of the baby and how it was changing her body. It was a non-issue for Olivia. She had been far more worried, even now, that Natalia would change her mind. Period. Full stop. About everything. This was the reality, the natural continuation of the relationship that had first been addressed in a freezing cold graveyard. If Natalia had wanted to back out now, well that would be it. No more second - third - chances.

Olivia raised her hand, cupping Natalia's cheek and bringing her face up until she could meet her eyes again. "You are." She slid her arms around Natalia's waist and pulled her close again. Her eyes drifted shut for a moment as their bodies met. She forced them back open. Natalia needed to hear this. She could get lost in the feel of Natalia's body against hers later, if she was very lucky. "You are everything I've ever wanted." She stroked Natalia's cheek, savoring the smooth skin beneath her thumb.

For the first time, Olivia was the one to step forward, nudging Natalia backward until the back of her legs met the side of the bed. "You make me feel so much. I love you more than I ever thought possible." Olivia moved her hand, shifting it from behind Natalia's back until her fingers were splayed over Natalia's abdomen. "As for this little one," her lips curved upwards as Olivia slowly dropped to her knees and pressed her lips against Natalia's belly. She shifted, nuzzling against the skin stretched firmly over the clearly visible baby bump and couldn't resist dropping another kiss there. "How could I not love anything that's a part of you?" Olivia tilted her head back to look up at Natalia. "And as for this, how our little girl's changing your body... Haven't you seen it? You're practically glowing with it. I've never seen you look more beautiful."

Natalia flushed and looked away; Olivia watched it spread down her chest. "You're just saying that to make me feel better," Natalia murmured.

Olivia shook her head. "I wouldn't lie about something like this." She held Natalia's gaze purposefully. "You are breathtaking." Olivia laughed lightly, taking Natalia's hand and putting it on her chest. "Feel that? You make my heart race."

"Olivia," Natalia said, concern coloring her voice.

"Nope," Olivia countered quickly. "You don't get to fuss at me for that, not when you're responsible for it. Not when you've been making my heart do that for months now."

Natalia swallowed and nodded. "Okay." Her voice sounded small.

"Sit down," Olivia said, her voice low and husky. It was a slight non-sequitur but Natalia didn't hesitate. Olivia's hands slid down her sides as Natalia sat in front of her. They ended up almost at eye level, Olivia just below Natalia. Olivia smiled, pleased as she ran her hands down the outside of Natalia's thighs. "I want to show you just how beautiful I think you are - inside and out. Let me do that, Natalia."

Olivia was almost pleading and Natalia didn't understand it. Shouldn't she be the one on her knees pleading? Asking for forgiveness, to be let back in. And yet it was Olivia kneeling before her. The only thing Natalia could do was nod helplessly. How could she refuse Olivia anything?

Olivia seemed content with that, a look coming over her face that Natalia had always struggled to define. It was full of love and desire and something else. It always struck her the same way, with all the shock of a sucker punch and left her frozen and struggling to respond. This time she didn't have to. Olivia cupped both sides of Natalia's head, her fingers sliding into and through Natalia's loose hair, and pulled her down for deep, searing kiss.

Natalia's head fell forward, slumping against Olivia as Olivia turned her head to begin kissing her way down Natalia's neck, laving the delicate skin with careful attention. Natalia was acutely aware of all the ways Olivia was slowly starting to overwhelm her body as Olivia's hands slid down her back and undid the clasp of her bra. It fell loosely between them, dangling by Natalia's arms. She dropped her hands away from Olivia briefly to let it slide the rest of the way off. Almost immediately, Natalia felt a little bit more self-conscious and exposed. She wondered if this was how Olivia had been feeling all evening.

Olivia had stopped and looked up at Natalia, sensing some shift in her. Her gaze was questioning, but Natalia just shook her head. Olivia smiled as if she understood. She cocked her head to the side.

"You're beautiful, remember? Absolutely gorgeous."

"They're - the baby - they're not usually..."

Olivia caught her hand and brought it to her lips, kissing her knuckles gently. "That doesn't matter to me." She tucked Natalia's hand against her heart and raised her other to touch Natalia's breast gently, just cupping it in her hand. "Are they more sensitive? When I was pregnant with Emma..." She shook her head, dismissing whatever thought had arisen. "They were almost painful to touch."

"They're not that bad, but they are more...tender," Natalia said, finally settling on a word.

Olivia nodded, smiled at her. "I'll remember that." She leaned over - she didn't have far to go - and brushed a kiss just above Natalia's nipple. Natalia's hand tightened in her hair just at that faintest touch. "Tell me if you don't like something."

Natalia nodded but it was more rhetorical than anything else. Olivia had already turned her attention to the other breast, lavishing it with the same kind of attention she'd shown Natalia's neck earlier. But her lips were lighter, her touches more tender, all of it so fleeting and ephemeral that Natalia thought it might drive her crazy.

"Olivia," she whispered, coaxing, pleading, needing her beyond anything else.

Olivia shifted, answering her plea, turning her head aside as she stroked and caressed, her hands running gently across Natalia's thighs, back down the outside of her calves and then up the underside even as her lips trailed down Natalia's abdomen, leaving scattered butterfly kisses here and there or lingering longer to suck and nip at more sensitive skin. She found places that made Natalia squirm with unerring accuracy and seemed to take delight in driving Natalia to the brink, until she was clutching tightly to the handful of hair that she had wound her fingers through at the base of Olivia's skull.

Olivia didn't seem to mind though. She shifted her head, nuzzling the crease of Natalia's thigh where it met her upper body. With her hands curled under Natalia's thighs, she gently spread Natalia's legs wider, pulling her a little closer toward the edge of the bed as she did. Instinctively Natalia clutched at Olivia's other shoulder for balance.

The first stroke of Olivia's tongue at the apex of her thighs almost undid Natalia completely. She whimpered and she held even tighter to Olivia. It had to be almost painful for Olivia but it didn't seem to bother her. Natalia struggled to loosen her grip, conscious that her nails were digging into the tender skin of Olivia's back, but then Olivia stroked again and Natalia couldn't help it.

Olivia's hands were running up and down Natalia's legs now, pausing only to massage tensed muscles, soothing in contrast to the way that every stroke and kiss from luscious lips wound Natalia tighter. When Olivia stopped, her lips fastening on Natalia's most tender flesh and sucking, Natalia felt the muscles in her abdomen - her whole body - clench and tighten. Just when she thought that the sensation building within her couldn't grow anymore, it did. Natalia bit her lip but wasn't able to stifle the moan that tore through her as Olivia finally pushed her over the edge, the shuddering relief of her climax leaving her almost slumped over onto Olivia.

"I've got you, Sweetheart," Olivia whispered, turning her head so that her lips were beside Natalia's ear. She held her like that way for several long moments. Natalia lost track of time, drifting in a pleasant haze in the warmth of Olivia's arms until Olivia stirred. "C'mere," Olivia said softly, still holding Natalia as she used the edge of the bed to push herself up from her knees and crawl up beside Natalia on the bed.

She scooted them far enough up on the bed that they could sprawl out fully and then pulled a pillow down to them. Finally she drew the quilt that had been draped across the end of the bed up over them. Natalia hadn't realized that she was cold until she felt its comforting warmth. She had a sudden thought, glancing back over her shoulder.

"Olivia..." Natalia wasn't sure what to say after that. She could see the hint of fear and doubt in Olivia's eyes though. Natalia reached across them, touching Olivia's jaw, bringing her close enough that Natalia could kiss her, reassure her that she regretted absolutely nothing. The angle was all wrong though and her lips could barely brush Olivia's. Natalia let out a frustrated grunt and shifted again, rolling onto her back even as she reached for Olivia, pulling Olivia down on top of her. It felt so right as Olivia's body settled against hers, most of Olivia's weight taken by her hands planted on either side of Natalia's head.

"You don't have to-" Olivia started to say with a shake of her head.

But Natalia pressed a finger against her lips. "But I want to. Let me do this, Olivia. I need this too."

Olivia gave a jerky, hesitant nod. It was as much as Natalia could have hoped for; she took it before it could be taken back.

Her hands, which had been roaming over Olivia's body, exploring and caressing began to drift down Olivia's sides until they slipped past the small of Olivia's back and pulled her firmly her into Natalia, pressing them together. Olivia groaned and shifted restlessly against Natalia. Keeping one hand where it was, Natalia slid the other between them. Her fingers brushed against closely trimmed hair. The next thing she encountered was slick warmth. For a moment, Natalia felt a twinge of panic, not at what she was doing or who she was with, but at the sensation that she was flying blind. She knew Olivia's reputation well enough. Olivia's sexual exploits were something of an urban legend around Springfield - and she was just Natalia, with no particularly great sexual experience. The thought was more than a little intimidating.

And then Olivia groaned, shifting against Natalia's fingers, arching against Natalia's touch and pressing herself into it. The sight of Olivia like that, so undone by a touch, filled Natalia with something like awe. Not at the response she had managed to provoke but that Olivia was willing to bare herself to Natalia that completely, trust her that much after everything that Natalia had done. It was a thing of beauty and Natalia swore never to forget that - or to stop cherishing the gift that she'd been given.

It spurred her back into motion and she began to explore, first tentatively and then with more certainty. Each sound of pleasure that she drew from Olivia was its own reward.

"Please," Olivia begged, her voice sounded hoarse and shaky. Her arms trembled but Natalia didn't think that was what she was worried about. The heel of her palm brushed against Olivia's clit and Olivia's whole body shuddered. Olivia's eyes snapped close, almost wincing at the sensation. She was so sensitive. It had been so long since anyone else had touched her. Just the feel of Natalia's hand on her - and knowing that it was Natalia - was almost enough to make her come right then and there. But the more Natalia had touched her, the more the delicious tension in her body had begun to build until it was almost painful. Olivia squirmed and grimaced, pushing herself against Natalia, needing more desperately.

With any other lover she would show, command and demand. Whatever it took to get her satisfaction. She was far from afraid to ask for what she needed and wanted. But with Natalia it was different. This new Natalia seemed so determined. Her brazenness in inviting herself into the bathroom had been more than a little surprising - in a good way. But Olivia wouldn't forget that underneath it all, this was the same Natalia that she had fallen in love with - the one that she hadn't been certain would ever be willing to be with her this way. This was already so much more than she had thought would be possible some days. Asking for more would just be asking for trouble.

"Olivia," Natalia was rubbing soothing circles on her back with her free hand now. "Talk to me."

Oh, God. Now Natalia wanted her to talk - now when she was trying so hard to hold back, to be what Natalia could handle. It was too much. Olivia shook her head, refusing to open her eyes.

The first touch of Natalia's hand against her cheek was startling only because she hadn't seen it coming. Her fingers traced over Olivia's face, stroking her cheek and brushing across her forehead. Olivia couldn't stop herself from leaning into Natalia's hand.

"I know you're holding back," Natalia whispered. "I can feel it. Talk to me. Please."

Olivia shivered, this time from fear. She didn't know how much more of this she could take.

"I love you," Natalia continued. "So much. I know you're scared, but I'm not going anywhere. I promise."

"I want..." The words spilled out of Olivia's lips almost like a sob, in a heave of emotion, before she could take it back.

"What?" Natalia asked, jumping on the words quickly. "What do you want, Olivia? Tell me and I'll do anything."

Olivia gasped, ducking her head, her forehead dropping to rest against Natalia's shoulder as tears sprang to her eyes. "I don't want you to leave."

Tenderly Natalia cupped the back of her head and stroked her hair. "I won't."

"Even if I ask you for something I'm not sure you can..."

"Something you're not sure I can do?"

Olivia nodded slightly, refusing to look up.

"There isn't anything that I can think of that you could ask me that would make me leave."

Olivia stiffened. It wasn't the response Natalia had been expecting. "What?"

"I don't want you to do something that bothers you, because you think you, because you think if you don't..." Olivia blurted out. "I don't ever want you to do anything you don't want to do."

"Okay," Natalia said softly, reassuringly. "But you have to give me a chance before you decide what I'm capable of. Ask me. Tell me what you want."

Olivia hesitated. For a moment, Natalia wasn't sure whether she would speak or not. Olivia turned her head, nuzzling into Natalia's hand, her eyes still tightly closed. "I want your fingers inside me. I want you to fuck me." The softness of her declaration belied her words.

Natalia froze for an instant, struck by Olivia's words, instantly aroused by the idea. She felt like saying 'is that all?' But she didn't want to make light of Olivia's request and what it had taken her to ask. "Okay," Natalia said, turning her head so that she could kiss her way down Olivia's neck. She shifted so that could find a better angle, bracing her wrist against her own body and slid two fingers up into Olivia.

Olivia hissed and froze, clenching around Natalia's fingers. Natalia waited a moment for Olivia to move, breathe, give her some sign, but when she didn't, she withdrew slightly and began to move in and out. Olivia pressed into her hand, raising her head to look at Natalia. Her cheeks and chest was flushed with color, not from embarrassment but arousal, Natalia decided. She liked it. It gave Natalia a certain heady confidence and she pushed deeper, faster, more firmly. Olivia responded instantly, so quickly that Natalia knew for sure that this was what she had needed but been unwilling to ask for.

It didn't take long before she heard Olivia's gasp and Natalia felt her clench around her fingers, Olivia's entire body shuddering and collapsing down onto Natalia.

Natalia just kept stroking her hair and whispering in her ear. "You're so beautiful and I love you so much. I don't think I'll ever be able to tell you how much, but I want you to know. I want you to feel it every time we're together here in our bed - for the rest of our lives."

Tears fell silently down Olivia's cheeks. She knew the sudden lease of emotion was as much about her physical release after so long as the emotions Natalia had wrung from her, but it didn't make it any easier for her to stifle her tears. It seemed so wrong to be crying at what should be such a perfect moment.

"I love you too," Olivia whispered quietly, clinging to Natalia, refusing to move.

Natalia stroked her hair softly, asking nothing and giving the reassurance of her touch. When Olivia tried to push herself up, worried that she was getting too heavy for the pregnant woman , Natalia just pulled her back down.

"Stay. I like holding you like this," Natalia said, with a charmingly shy smile. "If you don't mind."

"I think I can handle this for a little while longer," Olivia said like it was a concession Natalia had torn from her. She sank back down into Natalia's body slowly and carefully. Olivia lay with her head on Natalia's chest, her emotional exhaustion giving way to a pleasantly lazy feeling as she listened to the staccato beat of Natalia's heart beneath her ear, her hand running up and down Natalia's side in a lazy motion until she heard Natalia's breathing deepen and heartbeat slow. Olivia was still awake long after Natalia had drifted off into sleep.

She couldn't remember every being happier or more contented and satisfied in her life. It was terrifying.

Even pressed up against Natalia's warmth, Olivia shivered. Sleep was a long time coming.

Chapter 2

Natalia woke to the soft familiarity of her own bed. It still felt like something to be savored after spending six weeks on a strange, hard institutional bed at the retreat. The sheets however, were an unfamiliar indulgence. They were Olivia's and Natalia had been determined to put them on the bed - their bed - from the moment that she'd unpacked them the day before. It was just a small thing but she wanted Olivia to feel how much she was cherished. Soft, silky sheets with a ridiculously high threadcount was just the beginning.

Natalia smiled, delighting in the fact that this was finally their bed and that they would spend the rest of their lives sharing it, if she had anything to say about it. That smile still lighting her face, Natalia rolled over, filled with a sudden urge to wake Olivia. She hadn't succeeded at making Olivia into a morning person before but she had a whole new arsenal of tricks at her disposal this time.

Olivia wasn't there.

The realization brought Natalia's plans crashing back down as quickly as they had formed. Puzzled, she reached out to touch the bed beside her. The slight indentations on the other side of the mattress made it clear that someone had shared the bed with her. The sore muscles in her abdomen and the stiffness in her thighs was her second indication that she hadn't just dreamed the wonders of the night before. But the sheets were cold and the bathroom door stood wide open, Olivia's discarded towel still plainly visible where they had let it fall to the floor. No one was in there either.

Natalia's enthusiasm only dimmed for a moment though. She smiled, thinking of finding Olivia downstairs in the kitchen staring grumpily at the coffee maker or sitting on the porch soaking in the early morning sun in silence. Her mind would be racing in a hundred different directions that Natalia would never been able to predict no matter how long they spent together. It was a thought that certainly appealed to Natalia.

Crossing the room naked felt strange. Another smile quirked her lips. Maybe with Olivia it would become commonplace, at least inside the four walls of this room. Retrieving her robe from the closet, Natalia pulled it on, belting it before she took one last glance around the room and started for the stairs. The house was quiet. The dull noise of the air-conditioning droned in the background, drowning out most other sounds but Natalia could hear the faint sounds of birds chirping outside. It was the perfect way to start a beautiful summer's day. It would be a good day for a wedding, Natalia decided, smiling at the thought. She only hoped that Billy and Vanessa could be as happy as she and Olivia.

Her smile faded slightly as she strode into the kitchen and realized that it too was empty. She glanced at the coffeemaker, but it was turned off. A quick touch told her that the carafe was cold. It hadn't been used that morning. Natalia was growing more puzzled by the minute. Surely Olivia hadn't changed so much that she would give up her coffee. It was an essential part of her morning routine.

Maybe it was a solidarity thing? Doing it for Natalia, while Natalia couldn't have any herself. It was possible. Olivia was the mistress of the grand gesture, sacrifices big and small to ensure Natalia's happiness. The thought made Natalia's heart twinge at her own foolishness. She had come so close to losing Olivia and she wouldn't let it happen again. Natalia retrieved the coffee and filters from the cabinet just above the coffeemaker and set about brewing a fresh pot. She wanted to bring Olivia a fresh cup herself, do something that would bring a delighted smile to her lover's face just because she could. Once upon a time she would have wondered how to pamper and spoil the woman who had everything - or could buy it if she wanted it - but Natalia had learned it was in the little things. The things that said 'I love you' better than any big, splashy gift ever could. That's what she gave Olivia, a hundred little reminders of her love every day.

Waiting patiently until the coffee had finished brewing, Natalia poured a cup, fixed just the way Olivia liked and crossed to the front door. She opened it with one hand and nudged it open with the other hip. She stepped out onto the porch, feeling the grit that clung to the concrete against her bare feet, then sagged and frowned. Olivia wasn't there either. She took a few steps further out onto the porch and took in the fact that Olivia's car was gone.

Worry was beginning to grow in her stomach and she wanted desperately to know where Olivia was. Most of all, Natalia didn't understand. The cup of coffee still in her hand, Natalia whirled on her heels and headed back inside, depositing the mug on the coffee table and heading up the stairs as quickly as she could manage, using the rail to pull herself up. Natalia hesitated outside Emma's door and then twisted the knob as quietly as she could, pushing the door open and looking inside. She breathed a sigh of relief, hand over heart, when she found Emma still in bed, dead to the world, sleeping the sleep of a little girl who'd just gotten everything she had ever wanted.

Natalia sagged against the doorframe and then slowly backed out of the room, drawing the door shut. Her moment of relief was short lived. Her next stop was her bedroom, snatching her cell phone up from the dresser where it was charging, thumbing through options until she brought up an empty text box.

The blinking cursor seemed to be taunting her. Where the hell are you? was the bluntest form of what she wanted to know, but not the spirit of it. What's wrong? was the second thing Natalia thought, but she didn't want Olivia to think she was hovering. Or blowing this out of proportion. Natalia didn't even know what this was.

She raised her hand to her mouth, chewing on her knuckle for a moment before dropping her hand back to her phone and quickly tapping out a message before she could change her mind. It was short and simple.

Are you okay? I miss you.

What else was there to say? Natalia wasn't sure. She wasn't sure how long she had stared at her phone before she realized that she was waiting for a response that might take who knew how long to come. If Olivia was involved in some emergency at the Beacon, her phone would most likely be on silent, buried somewhere in the depths of her purse, and it would probably be hours before she checked for any messages.

The screen had gone dark. She tapped a key to make the screen light back up just in case she had missed the small trilling sound of an incoming message. Nothing. She sighed, annoyed at her own impatience and even more annoyed at Olivia for not responding. The screen faded to black again and Natalia automatically hit the button again to bring it back to life.

She shook her head. This was ridiculous and she knew it. Was she a grown woman or some ridiculous teenager? Better not to answer that question. Carefully she folded the phone closed and slipped it into her pocket. She was up. She might as well fix breakfast for Emma - and Olivia when she got back. Surely it wouldn't be long. Natalia could keep a plate warm for her in the oven. She put a hand over her stomach, thinking of the little life growing so quickly within. Natalia needed to eat too, even if she didn't particularly feel like it at the moment.

It was with that in mind that Natalia started back downstairs, keeping her mind firmly on the goals that she had set for herself, rather than when Olivia would text her back or what had happened. It was easier said than done.

She had just gotten the griddle out and was deciding whether she should make pancakes or eggs when her phone beeped. She almost dropped the spatula in her haste to get her phone out of her pocket. All she could do when she flipped it open was stare.

I'm fine.

Two simple words that said nothing. Then there was the added bonus that Natalia didn't believe a word of it. If Olivia was fine, why wasn't she home? Why had she fled the morning after their first night together and why was she lying to Natalia now?

She thought back to the night before and the tender, reverent way that Olivia had touched her. It had seemed like a nearly perfect evening to Natalia, falling asleep wrapped around Olivia. She hadn't known what to expect exactly, only that she wanted to be with Olivia. What Natalia had gotten was a revelation. Olivia had shown her that what they could share was beautiful and not scary at all. Olivia had lifted her fears, smoothed them away and made her feel beautiful. Natalia had wanted to make Olivia feel the same way, to feel so very loved, and she had thought that she had. It scared Natalia more than anything that she could have missed something so fundamental that it would make Olivia leave the farmhouse.

It was something that Natalia would never have predicted that Olivia would do and it shook her to the core. Even when their arguments had been at their worst and their budding relationship at it's most nascent, fragile point, Olivia had never actually left the farmhouse. She had considered it several times, but in the end Natalia had always persuaded her to stay, won her over with offerings of home and family and worth - the promise of what they could share with Emma. It had always been enough - before. Right until the moment she had accepted Frank's proposal.

Things were different now. Natalia's first instinct was to grab her car keys and go. Only the realization that Emma was still sleeping upstairs and couldn't be left alone kept her from walking out the door at that moment. She thought for a moment and then dialed a number by memory. The phone rang and rang. Natalia waited patiently. It was early yet. She would be surprised if the phone had been picked up immediately. Eventually her persistence paid off. Natalia smiled tersely at the groggy greeting.

"Hi, Jane, it's Natalia." She pressed her lips together into a thin line. "I need a big favor."

Chapter 3

Doris' home wasn't what Natalia had expected. It was nice - domestic looking even. Flowers lined the walk up to the door with carefully tended flowerbeds on either side. Natalia wondered if she had a gardener. It was a ridiculous thought for a ridiculous morning.

She was trying very hard not to be scared sick, worried to death and pissed off. It wasn't working very well. With no clue where Olivia had gone - fled to, really - Natalia had been left with no choice but to search high and low throughout Springfield. The Beacon had been her first stop. The night clerk on duty had actually stopped her in the lobby, taking in her entrance and her disheveled appearance - pajama pants, shirt and slippers that she hadn't bothered to change out of on her way out the door - and asked what she was doing. It had taken a quick, discrete word from the day shift clerk who'd just come in and recognized Natalia for him to let her pass. But it had all been for nothing. Olivia wasn't there and Natalia had grown more frantic.

She went by Towers - closed - and Company, doubtful as it was that Olivia would be there. Natalia had crossed the park, the church, even the parking lot of Farley's off her list. Her fingers had itched to start calling people - Josh, maybe - and ask if he had seen Olivia, but she couldn't bring herself to. He had seen them happy the day before, known and understood what they shared. To admit that she had let that slip through her fingers so quickly... Natalia couldn't stand the thought of it.

So she went to the last place she could think of, because she needed help and advice. Doris wasn't her favorite person, but Natalia had caught glimpses of the friendship that she and Olivia seemed to share. If anyone could help her find Olivia, it would be Doris - after Doris had her fun and pointed out all the things Natalia had done wrong. Doris had done that before. Then Natalia couldn't deny Doris' words; she had been hiding from so much. Now it was different. Natalia was strong and true. She knew what she wanted and she wasn't afraid to admit it to anyone. She could face anything - would do anything - for Olivia. She just needed to know where she was.

And yet, when she had pulled into Doris' driveway, what Natalia saw made her breath hitch and sent tears of relief slipping down her cheeks - Olivia's car parked haphazardly, her front tire slipping off the pavement and into the grass. Natalia had bitten her lip in dismay, but didn't waste any time throwing her seatbelt off and getting out of the car.

When she knocked on Doris' door there was nothing demure about it. It was more like pounding. Then Natalia bit her lip, fidgeting as she waited for Doris to come to the door. It took long enough that Natalia was raising her hand to knock again when Doris opened the door.

Doris took one look at her and shook her head. "Figures." She stuck her head back inside the house. "Get your butt out here, Spencer. Your girlfriend's here."

Natalia blinked. Was that? ….it was? the first time someone had ever called Olivia her girlfriend? She liked it. Natalia smiled involuntarily. She was still smiling when Olivia came to the door. She was wearing a faded pair of blue jeans and a grey t-shirt. It clung to curves hidden by the way that Olivia's arms were wrapped tightly around her torso.

Doris looked between them, noting the silence, the way that they were staring at one another without moving or speaking. Part of her - the new romantic buoyed by coming clean to Ashlee and her developing friendship with Olivia - was saddened by the thought of these two not working. The more cynical part of her said that she should have known this would never work. As people they were too disparate and their relationship had been pushed too far to ever survive. She should never have become invested in what happened to them. But somehow she had. They had become important to her, and she wanted them to be happy. Even if she hadn't managed to find her own happiness yet.

Doris did sigh then. She felt like giving them advice, telling them not to mess this up. But she was Doris Wolfe. She settled for grumping. "You know, I was having a lovely morning before the two of you showed up."

Olivia glanced over at her, and rolled her eyes. Natalia never looked away from Olivia.

"I'm sorry, Doris."

"There is a gorgeous woman waiting for me upstairs - in my bed. And yet, for some reason I'm down here, with the two of you."

"You're a good friend, Doris," Natalia said softly, but her focus remained on Olivia. She was grateful to Doris for being there for Olivia but she wanted to have Olivia to herself, so she could find out what's wrong. The look on Olivia's face, the way she was holding herself so stiffly, was killing Natalia.

"Damn right I am," Doris agreed, except her heart wasn't really in it. Jamanda was waiting for her in bed, or at least she had been when Olivia had called, asking if she could come over, but she was worried. She didn't want to leave them alone quite yet, not when she had spent so much time in Natalia's absence trying to hold Olivia together. She gave Natalia a hard stare and then touched Olivia's shoulder, giving it a light, barely-there squeeze. "Be sure and lock up behind you when you leave." She grinned; it was more than a little predatory. "I don't want any more interruptions."

What she really meant was that she wanted them to get their asses home, where they belonged. But Doris had a suspicion that wasn't going to happen, not so easily. Then again, she was beginning to learn about betting against Natalia Rivera. That was part of the problem though, from what Olivia had told her before Natalia got there. It was a problem to have, if anyone had asked Doris - a woman who loved you and refused to let you leave.

"Thank you, Doris," Natalia said, using the same tone she had the whole time, calm and even, and not revealing a thing. Her focus still reserved for Olivia.

Still waters running deep, Doris thought, then snorted and turned her back on them. "Sure thing." She tried not to linger or go any slower than usual as she walked toward the back of the house and up the stairs to where Jamanda was waiting. As much as she wanted to see them get this right, Doris knew she could only do so much - and she had done it. It was up to them now. She sure as hell wasn't looking forward to dealing with Olivia if they messed it up again. The first time had been bad enough; she didn't even want to think about round two.

As if by mutual consent they waited until the sound of Doris' slippers scuffing along the floor had faded completely, like some silent signal that it was time for the conversation to begin.

"What are you doing here, Natalia?" Olivia asked, breaking their silence first. She sounded tense and weary. It made Natalia's heart ache. This wasn't how she had wanted to spend the first morning that they were really together.

Natalia took a step forward, touching Olivia's cheek, unable to stop herself from reaching out to Olivia. If she could just touch her, maybe she could erase this distance between them that was so much more than just the physical. "I was looking for you." A hopeful smile curved over her lips. "I found you. I was worried about you," she admitted.

Olivia closed her eyes and turned her head away from Natalia's touch before she reopened them. "Natalia." The slow drawl of her name wasn't a good sign; neither was the way Olivia pinched her brow. "Where's Emma?"

"At home," Natalia said. "With Jane."

Olivia sighed. "You shouldn't have come."

"Why?" Natalia demanded. As if she had needed confirmation, every bone in her body was telling her that something was badly wrong and she wasn't going to back down until she could fix it.

"Because I-" Olivia bit her own words off, looking down again. "I can't do this, Natalia. I can't." She was almost trembling with the intensity of her words.

"Tell me what's wrong, Olivia," Natalia urge her, stepping closer again. "Just...tell me. I need to know."

"Why? So you can make it better? You can't fix everything, Natalia," Olivia said with weary bitterness.

"How do you know that if you won't let me try?"

Olivia's jaw clenched. "Because broken hearts don't heal overnight. You can't just move me into your house and have sex with me and tell me you love me and expect it to make everything better. It doesn't work that way. You hurt me."

"I know that." Natalia's lip trembled. "But I thought-" She swallowed heavily. "I thought things were getting better. I thought moving back in meant you forgave me." In that moment, Natalia looked as lost as Olivia had ever seen her.

"It did; it does. But it doesn't erase everything that happened. I just - it's too much."

"Too much?" Natalia demanded, her voice starting to rise. "What does that mean, Olivia?"

"I don't know," Olivia said, slumping against the doorframe.

Natalia was at a loss for words. What did she say to that? She scrunched up her forehead. "Are you breaking up with me?" It was a ridiculous question, something she had never even allowed herself to consider, even when she had come back and found Olivia so very angry with her. It simply wasn't going to happen. They would be together. For the first time she felt shaken. She didn't understand how Olivia could hold her and touch her the way she had the night before and then be so cold and distant this morning. It made no sense.

Olivia hesitated. She opened her mouth and then closed it and Natalia couldn't believe it - couldn't believe that after everything they had been through that Olivia wasn't sure, didn't have a definitive answer for her. "Of course not. I just need time. You can understand that, can't you?"

It felt like Natalia didn't have any choice but to agree. She nodded dutifully. What did that even mean? She had thought they had passed the point of no return. She had devoted her life to Olivia and Olivia wasn't sure. She felt like she was going to throw up. Natalia swayed slightly on her feet and instinctively touched her belly, steadying herself.

Olivia's fingers caught the tip of her elbow, her grip firm and reassuring. Natalia wanted so badly just to sink into Olivia's embrace, but she wasn't sure that Olivia wouldn't push her away at this moment. The thought alone was unbearable. Natalia sniffled, ducking her head and trying to hide her sudden surge of emotion from Olivia.

"Will you be home tonight?" Natalia asked the floor, no longer able to meet Olivia's gaze as she had for so long with Doris in the room.

"I..." Olivia hesitated again. "No, I don't think I can, honey. I think I need to stay at the Beacon." The casual endearment was like a knife in Natalia's heart. "Emma-"

"No," Natalia said quickly - too quickly. "Please don't. Let her stay with me." She was holding on so hard. If she let Emma slip through her fingers, she wasn't sure Olivia would ever come back. Where was the solid ground that had been beneath her feet yesterday? The softly spoken promises that they had made to one another and the beautiful moments of the night before?

"Okay," Olivia said, reneging without further persuasion. "It's probably for the best. She just got settled."

Natalia nodded. It was a little too emphatic. "I don't know what I did, Olivia. But I'm sorry. I don't know how, but I want to fix this - whatever's wrong with us - so much. You mean so much to me, more than anyone else ever has. Please let me-" She stopped, biting her lip as Olivia flinched at her pleading words.

"I know," Olivia said softly. "I know you want to fix this, Natalia." She looked away. "But that doesn't make everything better."

"Then tell me what I can do."

Olivia just shrugged, looking frustrated and ready to cry. "I don't know. Don't you think I would-" She shook her head. "I need to go." She hesitated and then brushed a kiss across Natalia's cheek, so briefly and perfunctorily that it made Natalia want to cry even more.

"Fine," Natalia whispered. "I love you."

Olivia didn't respond as she stepped toward the door, pausing to let Natalia precede her and then closing the door behind them both. For a moment, it felt like they could be together. Then Olivia stepped away and headed toward her own car, leaving Natalia behind.

Natalia bit her lip, her nails digging into the skin of her forearm as she watched Olivia pull away. Every muscle in her body so tense, she felt rigid, almost immobile. She wanted to scream and protest and fight back, but she had thought they had declared a truce. The armor and determination that she had wrapped around her heart to keep her safe from the stinging words, the harsh scourge of Olivia's righteous anger when she had returned had dropped the moment it had no longer been necessary. She had wanted back into Olivia's arms - her heart - so badly and then, when she had gotten what she wanted, it was ripped away again.

If she hadn't seen how badly Olivia was hurting herself, she would have said it was revenge.

More than anything Natalia wanted to break down and cry, but she couldn't. If she did, it meant she had given in, given up, admitted that maybe Olivia was right. And she wasn't willing to let go yet.

With determination, Natalia straightened and marched over to her own car. She got in and pulled her phone out of her purse, tapping out a quick message and then hitting send before she could reconsider.

I'll give you as much space as you need, but I need you to know I'll be there. Whenever you're ready.

Natalia waited a moment for a reply she knew wouldn't come. She had declared her intentions and she wasn't backing down now. She had thought she could stop fighting. She was wrong, but that certainly didn't mean she was going to give up.

There was no doubt in her mind that Olivia was so worth it and she wasn't going to stop now. Not after she had tasted what loving Olivia was really like.

Chapter 4

Groggily Olivia opened her eyes. Overhead loomed the familiar ceiling of her suite at the Beacon. She blinked rapidly, not quite believing the other information that her eyes were providing - Natalia, standing at the foot of the bed. Olivia closed her eyes and opened them again. Yup, Natalia was still there. She let her head sag back onto the pillows.

"Is this what you call space?"

Natalia flinched and Olivia wanted to wince herself. The words had come out sharper than she had intended. So sue her. She wasn't at her best when woken from a deep sleep. It still didn't explain what the hell Natalia was doing here, not when she had been so explicitly clear about what she needed. But that was what Natalia excelled at, wasn't it? Pushing Olivia until she couldn't take it anymore, until she gave in to what Natalia - what they both wanted - just to make Natalia stop pushing. Not because she was ready. That was why she was here, wasn't it? Hiding in her safe haven, pitiful as it was.

Olivia could feel herself getting worked up, a head of steam building as she thought of all the ways, big and small that Natalia had been pushing her since she had come back to Springfield. Come live with me. Love my baby. Love me. Spend the rest of your life with me. Demand, demand, demand. She was Olivia Spencer. No one told her what to do.

Now Natalia looked annoyed. Olivia could read it all over her face, plain as day. It was also in the way her arms were folded tightly across her chest, her hands clutching at the opposite forearm. She knew Natalia, every quirk of her face, every minute shift in body language. Separation hadn't changed that, it had just introduced doubt into the equation. Olivia hated that too.

"No," Natalia said shortly.

Oh yeah, she's definitely annoyed now. Served Natalia right for barging in here. What did she expect? An opened-armed welcome? Not freaking likely. Not today.

"This has nothing to do with us," Natalia said, taking a step forward, her voice sounding tight and pinched. "You would know that if you'd been up and taking your calls." She looked unhappy about that too. "I thought you were coming to the wedding."

The extension of that, that they would be going together lingered unsaid.

Olivia gave her a pained smile and pushed herself up on her elbows. "I'm sure you managed just fine without me."

The wounded expression in Natalia's eyes made her want to suck the words back as soon as she had said them. But, damn it, it wasn't her fault that this conversation had gone from bad to worse the moment Olivia had woken up. Olivia had told Natalia that she needed time and space to deal with this, but here she was, back again and thinking that pushing would make everything fit perfectly into her little plans. Well, it wouldn't and Olivia was here to tell her that if no one else was.

"Just...listen to me," Natalia said. "Please."

"Why?" Olivia demanded, the irritation that had been growing from the moment she had woken up to Natalia hovering over her flaring suddenly to life, going from ember to full-fledged blaze in an instant. She threw the covers back and pushed herself to her feet in an instant, marching to the foot of the bed until she was face to face with Natalia. "Why should I listen to you, Natalia, when all you do is constantly run me over and tell me that I'm wrong? That I'm not feeling what I think I'm feeling? I'm tired of it. Why don't you listen to me for a change?"

"I will," Natalia said. "I just, I need to tell you this. Please, Olivia, let me-"

"No. You've had your chance. It's my turn now and-"

"Alan's dead." Natalia blurted it out so quickly that it took a moment for Olivia to process what she had said.

"What? I..." she trailed off, at a loss for words and sank back onto the bed. "What happened?"

"He was at the wedding," Natalia said, her voice softening in response to Olivia's shock. "I talked to him." She glanced away from Olivia. "He had heard about us. He said he hoped we were happy." Her gaze flicked back to Olivia. "They don't know what happened. Whether it was his heart, or...or some complication from the surgery, or... Phillip found him. He was just sitting on a bench." Her lips twisted into what might have been a smile. "He looked happy."

"Oh God," Olivia breathed the words, horror mingling with shock. Alan had had his fair share of health problems and she knew he was getting older, but she hadn't expected this. They'd had their battles; half the time she swore she hated the manipulative bastard. Sometimes she felt a little fond of him. He had given her Emma after all when he had replaced her birth control pills with placebos. Even if it hadn't worked out in the way he had intended when she'd had an affair with Phillip. She wasn't prepared for the fight to be over - just like that. She had thought there would be more time, more battles. In a way they had made their peace, written out their truce, but nothing was settled. She looked back to Natalia. "Phillip?"

Natalia shrugged, not looking any more comfortable now that the news had been broken. "I don't know. Beth is with him. He's the reason I'm here. They've been trying to call you, but they couldn't get a hold of you."

"I took the phone off the hook," Olivia said, trying not to sound guilty. "My cell was off."

"He thought you should be there for Emma." Natalia swallowed hard. "We went by the hospital before the wedding. She wanted to see him and thank him for saving her Daddy."

If it had been anyone but Natalia, Olivia would have been indignant - furious - that someone had taken her child to visit a Spaulding. But she trusted Natalia to protect Emma. She was the one that Natalia had never let down... never except for that six week absence, where she hadn't called or written or emailed. Olivia blinked, shoving that thought ruthlessly to the back of her mind. Now was so not the time for that.

"Of course," Olivia said, swallowing back the lump in her throat that was making it hard to speak. "I don't want her to find out from someone else." She glanced down at what she was wearing and then around the room. "I need to get changed and then I can go get her." She stopped. "Where is she?"

"With Jane." Natalia gave a little shrug. "Rafe is supposed to be leaving this afternoon. I don't know..." She shook her head. "I can't even think about it. Alan's dead and Rafe...he could... It would be so easy..." Natalia trembled and sank onto the bed. "He could just...die...and then it would be all over, wouldn't it? He would be gone and he would never have a chance to do so many things." She looked up at Olivia with hollow eyes. "Life is just so short, isn't it? You have all the time and then, just like that, it's gone."

Olivia froze in mid-motion, her t-shirt half off. Her jaw clenched and then slowly she pulled the shirt the rest of the way over her head and let it fall to the ground, each motion clear-cut and deliberate. "Don't," Olivia said, her voice low and warning. "Don't use what happened to Alan - or with Rafe - to manipulate me, Natalia. I won't let you do it and it has nothing to do with us."

Natalia gasped and shot to her feet, stepping forward until she was toe to toe with Olivia. "That was not what I was doing. How could you think..." She let her indignant words trail off. "But that's it, isn't it, Olivia? Since I came back that's all you can do - think the worst of me. But you don't get to make me feel like a horrible person for loving you. There's nothing wrong with it. Stop trying to use everything that you can to push me away. I love you. Don't you see that?"

"What I see," Olivia said sharply, "is that loving me is all about you - what you need, what you want, when you want it. It always has been. Why can't it be about me, Natalia? What I need?"

"It is!" Natalia said, her voice rising indignantly. "It has been since the moment that I came back. Everything is about you. You're my whole world, Olivia." She sounded well and truly pissed now, long since having moved past annoyed. Natalia's cheeks were flushed red, the emotions surging through her reflected on her face, and her chest heaved.

Olivia thought she had never looked more beautiful. It was frustrating as hell and she pushed the thought away. Natalia's beauty was a distraction she didn't need. She needed to hold onto her anger; she couldn't give in just because Alan had died. That wouldn't solve anything. She tried to pick up the thread of the argument where they had left off.

"Your world, Natalia," Olivia said, jabbing a finger at her. "Your rules and how you want it. Love your baby. Move in with you."

"Because I want you to be happy," Natalia exploded. "I want us to be together. Isn't that what you want?"

"Of course it is!" Olivia countered, her voice high pitched and getting more shrill by the minute.

"Then why won't you let us be happy? We could have that. I thought we did. But then you left..." She sounded so confused Olivia wanted to comfort her, but her indignation and frustration were still fueling her. She couldn't stop it even if she had wanted to.

"On your terms. The way you wanted."

"Then why didn't you tell me what you wanted?"

"I did! You...you pushed. I said I needed time and space and you just couldn't let it go. I had to move in with you right away."

"You said yes," Natalia said, the sharp edge of her anger deflating in an instant.

"Like I could say no to you when you were looking at me like that, touching me, smiling at me with those dimples... You knew exactly how to get what you wanted and you went after it."

"I thought you wanted it too."

"I did; I do." Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose to stop the throbbing - and to buy herself some time. "Don't look at me like that."

"Like what?" Natalia sounded more hurt now.

"With those big brown eyes, like I kicked your puppy. You can't just...just look at me and get your way. It won't work like that, Natalia." Even as she said it Olivia realized the irony of that statement. How many times had she used her own looks to get what she wanted? To flirt and persuade and cajole until she won a lover, a husband, or just a business connection over to her way of thinking? Hundreds.

"I'm not doing anything," Natalia protested.

"Stop," Olivia whispered.


But Olivia didn't let her finish, grabbing both sides of Natalia's face and pushing her lips against Natalia's, capturing them with hers and swallowing whatever Natalia had been about to say.

Natalia let out a startled whimper, her hands going to Olivia's shoulders, and Olivia had a sudden flash of another kiss, the first one they had ever shared. Natalia had been startled then too, shocked beyond belief, and she had pushed Olivia away, making her displeasure well known. Olivia tensed, preparing herself for the rejection that she was sure was about to follow, but it never came. Natalia sagged in her arms, melting into her, her arms slipping around Olivia's shoulders and pulling her closer.

The rough fabric of Natalia's dress brushed against Olivia's breasts, free from the bra she had never bothered with, on her way out of the farmhouse that morning, and Olivia shivered, almost forgetting how to breathe at the contact. Time seemed to freeze for a moment. Natalia hesitated, breaking the kiss, and Olivia thought she was about to pull away. Natalia just met her gaze with a steady one of her own. Olivia had no clue what was going through her mind, and then Natalia was reaching down for the hem of her own dress, tugging it up her thighs until the material was bunched in her hands and then dragging it up and over her head. She tossed it aside without a second glance and then stared at Olivia.

Olivia stared back at her. So much smooth skin exposed. The roundness of her belly. The matching bra and panties set. She had no idea where to look first. This was insane. What they were doing made no sense. But...she wanted Natalia. There was no denying that. She took a deep breath and then decided to hell with thinking. What had it gotten them so far?

She moved forward, practically lunging at Natalia. One hand cupped the base of Natalia's skull drawing her to Olivia for a kiss that melted lips against lips and sent her tongue plunging into Natalia's mouth, seeking and demanding. Her other hand fumbled at Natalia's breast over the plain black bra and then she was tugging at the strap, as she kissed her, pushing it down Natalia's shoulder just far enough that she could push the cup down, freeing Natalia's breast from its confines.

Olivia kneaded the soft flesh in her hand, not haltingly or tenderly, but firmly, taking what she wanted. Natalia moaned and squirmed against Olivia, pressing herself closer and clutching at Olivia's back, clenching her fingers around a handful of Olivia's hair. Part of Olivia couldn't believe they were doing this - that she was doing this to Natalia. Her blood rushed through her veins and it was more than just physical arousal. She felt strong and in control. Feeling this way for the first time in months, it was a heady feeling. She was no one's victim. She would show Natalia who she really was, what they could have.

Not wasting the time it would take to turn them around, Olivia pushed Natalia back against the wall, the small section of free space between the closet and what had been her bed. Natalia grunted as she landed against it with a thud but she never let go of Olivia. Supported by the wall, her leg came up, wrapping awkwardly around Olivia's calf, kept further apart than either of them would have liked by the swell of her belly between them.

Olivia let her hand slide down from Natalia's breast, brushing over the roundness of her stomach and then long, slender fingers were tucking between smooth skin and the thin cotton of Natalia's sensible black panties. Olivia didn't realize she had been mentally holding her breath until her fingers slid through the thatch of hair at the crux of her thighs and found Natalia wet and waiting for her. She stroked her fingers and watched as Natalia gasped and arched up into her, clutching at her.


She froze, hesitating. They seemed so out of sync lately, she couldn't be certain what Natalia was asking for, what she wanted from Olivia.

"Olivia." This time the note of pleading in her voice was obvious. "Don't stop," Natalia breathed.

So Olivia did it again, stroking Natalia just to watch her squirm, but Olivia couldn't stop there. One stroke led to another and another until Natalia's motion had ceased to be jerky and became a desperate rhythm of her hips pushing against Olivia's forearm, the apex of her against Olivia's fingers. Olivia kept going and going, refusing to relent, watching as Natalia bit her lip and whimpered and pleaded and came apart in her arms. Even when Olivia felt the tell-tale jerk and clench of Natalia as she came, she didn't stop, pressing and rubbing until Natalia was coming all over again, panting out quick sharp breaths, her nails digging into Olivia's back.

And then finally Olivia did stop, stilling the motion of her hand, but not taking it away, as Natalia's breathing finally began to slow. She sagged over onto Olivia. Her arms that had been clutching so tightly only a few moments before now just draped over Olivia's shoulders, helping to support her weight. She was at Olivia's mercy, boneless and incapable of moving. Her forehead rested against Olivia's shoulder until she managed to raise her head just enough to capture Olivia's lips in a sloppy kiss, not careless but undefined.

Unbidden Olivia pulled her closer, taking in the beat of Natalia's heart against her body and the soft puff of her breath against Olivia's shoulder. Despite everything that had come before it, Olivia felt strangely tender toward her, all her anger and frustration drained away.

"Come here," she said quietly. "Let's get you into bed. I've got you."

Natalia didn't resist, letting Olivia guide her toward the bed. Her legs felt heavy and weak, her muscles still spasming now and then. Once she stumbled, but Olivia was there to catch her before she could fall, her hand at the small of Natalia's back. Then Olivia was pulling back the cover on the bed and putting Natalia into it. Natalia looked so exhausted, so limp and wrung out, that Olivia half expected her to fall into sleep. The baby was draining her of much of her energy and the last few days had been far from easy.

Her eyes fluttered closed, but then Natalia pushed them open again. Olivia could see the effort it took. She held her hand out to Olivia.

"Come here."

There was no way that Olivia could resist that plea. Despite the way her body was throbbing she let Natalia draw her down to the bed, her back pressed against Natalia's front. Natalia wrapped her arms tightly around Olivia and clung to her even as her breathing began to even out. It sounded as if Natalia was falling into sleep.

Olivia closed her own eyes. To her keyed-up body, Natalia pressed up against her was sensory overload. Natalia's arms around her chest and abdomen felt like steel bands trapping her. She struggled to breathe. She forced her breathing to slow and remembered the way Natalia had come apart in her arms, so trustingly, never doubting that Olivia would be there to take care of her, when what they had shared just now was nothing like the beautiful act Natalia had always talked about.

Her jaw clenched and she resisted the urge to throw off Natalia's arms, knowing if she did it would wake the exhausted woman. She clenched her eyes more tightly shut. Maybe if she just stayed very still it would be okay.

Then she felt limp fingers stroking up and down her arm - Natalia's fingers. Her arm. Olivia tensed. So Natalia wasn't asleep after all. Olivia wondered what she wanted, if she was going to try to force Olivia to talk about things again. Olivia shifted, preparing to put her feet over the edge of the bed and flee again. Natalia felt her move and pulled her closer with surprising strength. Olivia was so startled she relented, stiff and tense against Natalia as Natalia pulled her down on top of her.

But all Natalia did when she finally had Olivia where she wanted her was stroke her face, lean up and kiss her. It was honestly the last thing Olivia had expected. That and the way Natalia was looking at her when she pulled away again, sadness mingling with desire. Olivia wanted to say something but anything she might say was stuck in her throat, trapped by all the other things she couldn't admit to.

Natalia didn't push though. She just let her hands began to wander over Olivia's skin with more urgency. Her lips found a sensitive spot just behind Olivia's ear and worked their way down her throat, lingering over a particular spot as Olivia tilted her head to grant her better access.

"Natalia," Olivia murmured. "What are you doing?"

Olivia heard her soft snort of amusement, felt it against her skin.

"What do you think I'm doing, Olivia? The same thing you were doing, hmmm."


"Shhh. Just let me..." Her hands began to wander, skating up and down Olivia's sides, skimming over bountiful curves. Her thumbs brushed against the side of Olivia's nipple. Olivia twitched and grunted, her jaw clenching.

Her irritation returned in a rush. Natalia was teasing, playing, torturing her as she drew this out. Olivia was tired of being Natalia's plaything. She didn't want to be at Natalia's mercy. She shuddered and it wasn't from pleasure but discomfort. She felt bare, flayed open. She had an urge to pull away, to roll off Natalia and shower until her skin felt clean again, until she could scrub this day and every part of it off her.

That was almost worse. Being around Natalia had never made her feel that way before. Her body throbbed and ached, demanding attention, demanding Natalia, even as her heart broke. Determination seized Olivia where uncertainty had held her in its grasp.

Olivia took Natalia's hand in hers, tugging it away from its gentle explorations and pushed it down to where Olivia needed it most. If Natalia was determined to do this then she wasn't going to hold back any longer. She was done with hiding who she was, pretending to be less for fear of frightening Natalia. She could take her or leave her. Natalia already had, once.

It wasn't fair. It was even less fair that she wasn't enjoying this, enjoying finally being with Natalia.

Natalia gasped, looking up at Olivia with wild eyes as Olivia began to roll her hips, pushing herself down on Natalia's fingers, grinding herself against the palm of Natalia's hand, struggling to feel something other than empty, angry and hurt.

Why couldn't she make this be what she needed it to be? What they needed it to be?

Olivia shifted her hips, pushing harder, moving faster, trying to drive Natalia deeper within her. She needed more.

"Olivia." The way Natalia said her name made her look up. Her eyes burned, but the tenderness with which Natalia stared back at her hurt worse.

Raising her other hand, Natalia wiped at Olivia's cheek. It came away wet. Olivia blinked. Tears, not sweat. She shook her head, refusing to stop, refusing to let go. She was so close now, if she could just push herself over the edge. Olivia let her eyes fall shut.

"Olivia." This time the way Natalia said her name hurt even worse.

"No," Olivia said, not sure what she was denying, but knowing she couldn't stop.

Natalia didn't say anything. Olivia refused to open her eyes, lost, struggling, concentrating so hard, trying to drive everything else out of her mind. She was so close to the edge but she couldn't push herself over it.

The hand that had touched her cheek, Natalia's strong, slender fingers, came up to cup her jaw, the back of her neck. Natalia's thumb stroked soothingly over her cheek. It was an unlikely touch, gentle and soothing, despite its unexpectedness. Olivia jerked, clenched; it sent her rushing over the edge, gasping and caught up in sensation until it began to ease, slowly letting her back down.

Olivia gasped, blindly letting her head fall forward. She felt Natalia's arms slip around her shoulders, pulling her into Natalia's body. She clung to her tightly, her face buried in the crook of Natalia's neck, not thinking just breathing, holding on.

She wanted to scream, beat her fist against the bed, cry some more. Even release hadn't brought relief. Olivia didn't know what to do with that. Or with the woman crying silent tears beneath her.

Olivia hadn't planned on falling asleep. Maybe she had been just as exhausted as Natalia. Somewhere in their brief respite they had shifted apart. Hollowness had replaced desperation. Now they were lying side by side on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. They had been that way for a while; Olivia wasn't sure how long they had been awake.

"I should go tell Emma," Olivia said out of the blue.

Natalia sighed. "I need to make sure Rafe is okay."

Olivia rolled her head over to look at Natalia. "We could tell them together."


It couldn't be that simple for them - nothing had been - but maybe all their arguments - or their energy for it - had drained away.

Olivia hesitated, then bit her lip. She didn't want Natalia to get the wrong idea and she had no idea what the other woman was thinking.

"This doesn't mean everything is okay." Olivia said it as gently as she could, but there was no way to make that phrase soft and easy to hear.

Natalia sniffed, looking over at Olivia with brave, wounded eyes. "Is this punishment for what I did to you?"

She looked so lost that it made Olivia's heart ache. Olivia hated that too.

"Is this what you need for us to be even?"

"No," Olivia said quickly, incapable of not leaping in to make things better when Natalia was hurting this badly. She ran her hands through her hair and sighed, rolling heavily over on her side so that she could look at Natalia better. "This - the way I feel - it has nothing to do with what you did." She pressed her fingers against the bridge of her nose. "I mean, it does, but not...not like that, Natalia. I just...I can't do this. I'm not ready. I want to be." Her voice cracked with frustration and desire. "I want it so much, but I can't."

The 'I'm sorry' was on the tip of Olivia's tongue but something held her back. She had fallen far and hard for Natalia, but she could not, would not apologize for the way she felt. In the end it wouldn't help either of them.

"Okay," Natalia said in a soft, broken voice that was anything but okay, and turned rapidly away from Olivia, sitting up and swinging her legs over the opposite side of the bed.

Her bare back was all that Olivia could see. She had the urge to run her hand down it, following its supple lines and slightly more-generous-than-usual curves.

Then Olivia heard it. The soft unmistakable sound of a hitching breath, a sob desperately trying to be stifled and hidden. Natalia was crying and she was the cause. Olivia reached out and then hesitated, her hand hovering just above Natalia's shoulder. She sighed again and pushed herself to a sitting position, scooting closer until she was pressed up against Natalia from behind. Olivia buried her face in Natalia's hair, tucked against the back of her neck and wrapped her arms around Natalia's chest.

"Don't cry," Olivia whispered, turning her head so that her lips were closer to Natalia's ear.

"Don't," Natalia said sharply, hoarsely through a choked throat. "You don't get to hold me and comfort me when you don't mean it."

Olivia flinched, stung by Natalia's comments. So many times she had been uncertain of touching Natalia, wary that one caress would finally push Natalia beyond what she could handle. But in the end it was a simple embrace that had Natalia pushing her away. She lifted her hands to either side of Natalia, palms out, and retreated to the other side of the bed in silence.

What could she say? Natalia had made her feelings plain and so had Olivia. The fact that her headache had returned, taking up residence just behind her eyes and throbbing with a vengeance, wasn't helping any. So Olivia rose and crossed the room, stopping to pick up her clothes as she went and going to the dresser, where a few odds and ends of clothing remained. She chose a bra and matching panties and began to dress. She couldn't help the way her gaze would flicker now and then to Natalia over her shoulder. Olivia couldn't see her face, of course, but she studied the line of her shoulders, the set of her body, hoping that Natalia had stopped crying.

When Natalia pushed herself up determinedly, Olivia knew that she had. Quickly she jerked her gaze around and refocused on getting dressed, both giving Natalia her privacy and not wanting to be caught looking. Natalia had made it clear that she didn't want Olivia's comfort. Olivia certainly wouldn't force it on her.

A handful of minutes passed in uneasy silence until Natalia stepped up beside Olivia to check herself in the mirror. Her hand trembled as she brushed a lock of hair away from her face.

"Can I borrow some concealer?" The question was asked as blandly as it could be, soft and quiet, commentary on nothing.

Olivia dug in her purse for a moment and then pulled out a small cosmetics bag, handing it to Natalia without comment. She retrieved her brush as Natalia rifled through it and began to work on her hair. It wasn't that she had an image to maintain or that she didn't feel she could go out looking a certain way - the transplant had taken her beyond that simple vanity - but she didn't want to worry Emma. Her little girl would have enough on her mind today without worrying about her mommy.

"Ready?" Olivia asked simply a few moments later. They both looked as presentable as they were going to get.

"Ready," Natalia agreed, although her heart wasn't in it.

Together they walked out of the room, Olivia lingering a little behind to pull the door shut behind Natalia. A few inches separated them on the way to the elevator; they never touched. To Olivia the distance felt like miles. She eyed Natalia's hand, just the slightest distance from hers. All it would take was the smallest twist of her wrist and she could claim Natalia's hand in hers. But. Natalia had stopped her before, rightfully so.

Olivia was hurting, but it wasn't fair to hurt Natalia, to push and pull and confuse her when Olivia couldn't sort out her own feelings. She would just have to deal with this yearning for Natalia inside of her until she could make sense of everything between them, of the things that she could and couldn't handle.

Chapter 5

"I should get Em back to the farmhouse, I think," Olivia said, looking around at the small group of people that lingered around the booth. Her gaze met Natalia's. "She's had a really long day."

Natalia's instant look of concern was yet another reason Olivia loved her. Olivia glanced down, refocusing her attention on Emma to avoid one more thing she couldn't deal with right then. She missed Natalia pushing herself out of the booth, but not the gentle fall of her footsteps coming toward them.

"Hey, Sweetie," Natalia said gently, cupping Emma's face and leaning down to kiss the little girl's brow immense tenderness, knowing Emma could use a little extra love and reassurance at the moment.

Natalia touched Olivia's forearm, signaling that they needed to talk. Olivia's gaze darted from Natalia's hand on her arm back up to Natalia's face and then away again to nothing at all.

"I have to go with Rafe," Natalia said, the regret plain in her voice. "He's my son, Olivia."

"I know he is." There had been a moment when Rafe had considered deferring his enlistment. Olivia was the only one who had caught the tiniest hitch in Natalia's breathing, the hope for a stay of execution. Olivia knew Natalia would be overjoyed to have more time with her son and she didn't begrudge her that. Although Olivia wasn't entirely comfortable with the his going off to join the army either, part of her wondered what would happen if he stayed. Would his miraculous change of heart change again? Their truce was so fragile and Natalia...Olivia wasn't sure what she was thinking and feeling. Or how she was holding up. "You should go and see him off," Olivia said, with certainty. "He needs you right now. Em and I will be fine, won't we, Em?"

Instead of her usual enthusiastic response, Emma just nodded sadly. Olivia knew that look on her daughter's face had to be killing Natalia, because it left her own heart aching.

"Just take care of Rafe," Olivia said as gently as she could.

"I wish..." Natalia began.

"It'll be okay," Olivia said, glancing behind Natalia at the booth where Rafe still sat, surrounded by Frank and Buzz. "You'll have Frank."

Natalia's gaze snapped up to meet hers, her eyes flashing. For a moment, Olivia thought Natalia would challenge her, would start berating her, but then Natalia faltered, the fire draining away from her eyes. She squeezed Olivia's arm again. "Frank isn't who I want," was all she said as she turned away, walking back to Frank and her son.

The simple words tore at Olivia's heart more than any impassioned plea could and for the briefest moment she toyed with the thought of leaving Emma with Buzz and going with Rafe and Frank and, most important of all, Natalia. Another glance at Emma and her sad eyes reminded Olivia that her little girl needed her right now, more than she ever. Her place was with Emma, just like Natalia's was with Rafe. It was an uncomfortable thought.

"Come on, Em. Let's go home," Olivia said with a little sigh, holding her hand out to her daughter. Emma took it and together they walked slowly toward the door. Olivia couldn't resist one last glance over her shoulder at Natalia as she fussed over Rafe. She hoped Natalia would be okay. It had been hard enough on her when Ava had moved to San Francisco. She could only imagine what Natalia was feeling.

Pulling out her phone, she quickly tapped out a simple message and then hit send before she could reconsider.

Call me if you need me.

There. That was done. The words stared mockingly back up at her. Olivia wondered if she was hoping Natalia would take her up on that or wishing that she wouldn't. She wasn't even sure.

Olivia opened the car door for Emma, waited until she was inside to shut it behind her and then pressed her the heel of her hand against her heart. It raced beneath her palm, all from sending Natalia a simple little message. It had hurt so much to cut Natalia out of her life, as badly as it had hurt to let her back in. Now she was undoing everything she had done. All she was doing was hurting them both in the smallest stages, making their pain last longer. There was no way that she couldn't reach out to Natalia when she was in distress though.

Not even when Natalia had already told her that she wouldn't accept Olivia's help or her love until Olivia was willing to do the same.

Olivia was drowsing on the couch. She hadn't gotten much sleep in the past twenty-four hours. Emma's feet were touching hers and a blanket covering them both. Ice Age 2 droned in the background. It had been what Emma had wanted to do when they got home - curl up on the couch together and watch a movie.

The intensity of Emma's focus on the movie had worried Olivia and she had spent most of the first part watching Emma out of the corner of her eye. It wasn't until Emma had snuggled into Olivia's side, pressing tightly against her without a word, that Olivia had begun to relax. That was more like the Emma that she knew. Open, not distant. That was more like Olivia herself, and honestly something Olivia hoped Emma would never be forced to adopt. How they had both ended up asleep, Olivia wasn't sure, but the day's events had certainly taken their toll.

Her cell phone vibrated in her jeans pocket and groggily Olivia stretched so that she could retrieve it. She put the phone to her ear and answered on autopilot.

"Spencer." Her voice was a little bit deeper and more gravelly than usual, but it was all the professionalism she could muster. She hadn't looked to see who was calling wanting to catch it before it woke Emma.


The sound of Natalia's voice brought Olivia up sharply, straightening quickly and not even noticing as her end of the blanket fell to the floor.

"What's wrong?" Olivia asked immediately. It was rare that she had ever heard Natalia that distressed.

"I need you," Natalia whispered, barely loud enough for Olivia to decipher the words. "Just, please..." She couldn't finish.

She didn't have to. Olivia only had an instant to make her decision and she chose then and there with her heart.

"Let me call Jane to stay with Emma, and I'll be right there."

Olivia barely made out Natalia's tiny "Okay" before Natalia hung up.

With a deep sigh, Olivia dropped the phone to the couch and wiped her face over hands. She needed to be awake for this. Pushing herself to her feet, Olivia collected her phone and then stopped to check on Emma, brushing a few stray strands of hair off Emma's cheek, stroking her hand over Emma's forehead and then leaning over to kiss her cheek. With a little time, rest and relaxation, Emma would be okay again. She was a very resilient little girl.

Straightening, Olivia headed for the kitchen to call Jane. When that was done, there was nothing left to do but pace the room awkwardly. The urge to get to Natalia and make sure everything was okay was an itch that wouldn't let her stand still. She considered making coffee, but discarded the notion. The little voice in the back of her head that sounded an awful lot like Natalia reminded that all it would do was make her more jittery, which was really the last thing she needed at the moment.

It seemed to take forever, but finally Jane arrived. Olivia barely stopped to thank her for coming over on such short notice on her way out the door, car keys and purse already in hand by the time Jane hit the porch. The sweltering heat of the summer's day hit her in the face the moment she stepped outside, but even that wasn't enough to slow Olivia.

The bus station was, like the farmhouse, located on the outskirts of Springfield, but unfortunately, all the way on the other side of town. Olivia made it there in half the time it would usually have taken. Usually it was the sort of thing Natalia would berate her for doing. Actions always had consequences, especially reckless ones. This time Olivia didn't care though. She parked her car haphazardly, taking up the better part of two spaces. She saw Natalia almost immediately, leaning up against the side of her car, her face buried in her hands.

Where the hell had Frank gone and why wasn't he with Natalia? Olivia wondered. She was the mother of his child and he couldn't spare five minutes from his busy day to make sure she was okay? Olivia's lips pursed into a thin line. It sounded like she may need to have a little chat with him. Olivia pushed her anger aside to focus on Natalia. She was so drawn in that Olivia wondered if Natalia even realized she was approaching. In deference to that Olivia slowed her steps, not wanting to frighten her.

"Hey, Sweetheart," Olivia said softly, reaching out as soon as she was close enough to touch Natalia's arms. She was standing close but not too close to Natalia, uncertain how she would respond. Olivia didn't have to wait long though, because the moment she touched Natalia, Natalia surged forward, almost falling into Olivia's arms. Olivia stumbled, startled and unprepared for just a moment, and then steadied them both. They stood frozen, jolted by the sudden contact after the distance that had stood between them.

Olivia hesitated, her hands on Natalia's waist. Then slowly Olivia slid her arms around Natalia's back, pulling her even closer. Natalia exhaled - the warmth of her breath brushing across Olivia's collarbone and making her shiver - and then sagged against Olivia, finally letting herself go. It let Olivia relax too, knowing that Natalia wasn't stiff or tense, but trusted Olivia to be there for her. It felt precious suddenly and Olivia couldn't help but bury her face against Natalia's hair and pull Natalia's head down against her shoulder, stroking her hair soothingly.

Natalia clung to her, letting out little hiccupping sobs as she cried. Olivia hated seeing her so distressed.

"Hey, it's going to be okay," Olivia whispered, putting every ounce of confidence she could summon into her words. "I promise." She winced, knowing as well as Natalia did the realities of war, all the things that could happen to Rafe between here and there. Simple everyday living could get a person killed - accidents happen every minute.

"How can you say that? No one knows..."

Olivia's hand was trembling slightly as she raised touched Natalia's chin, bringing her head up to meet Olivia's gaze. "You're right," she said with a little nod. "There's no way to be sure, but...I have faith." She gave a little shrug as if to dismiss the seriousness of what she had said, but it was clear by the way that Natalia was looking at her that she hadn't missed it.

For a moment, Natalia just shook her head and then she hugged Olivia tightly to her once again. "Thank you," she whispered, her lips against Olivia's ears. "For all of it, for being here for me." She straightened and wiped at her eyes. "I know it's hard and - and it's Rafe. No one would have blamed you if-"

"No, Natalia," Olivia cut in quickly, wanting to cut off that thought before it could be completed. "It has nothing to do with..." She started again. "I'm so scared. But Rafe is your son - your child - and I get that. I know what it's like to be terrified for your child and I'll do anything that I can to help you."

Natalia nodded. Olivia could almost see the question she was dying to ask, the statement that was on the tip of her tongue, but Natalia stifled it, dropping her eyes away. It was all Olivia could do not to let out a sigh of relief. She had come because Natalia had called, because she would always need to be there when Natalia needed her but she still wasn't ready to discuss them yet. This was something completely different.

"C'mon," Olivia said, taking a step back from Natalia, but holding her hand out to Natalia. "Let's get you home."

Natalia hesitated and Olivia froze. Would this be the moment? When Natalia would finally say she'd had enough; she didn't want to do this anymore. But then Natalia took her hand, putting her fingers between Olivia's, solidifying her hold on her. She squeezed gently and then gave Olivia a tremulous smile. "Thank you," she repeated. "That sounds good." She leaned into Olivia. "How's Emma?"

Olivia sighed at the mention of Emma, letting go of Natalia's hand and draping her arm over Natalia's shoulder, holding her close. "She's sad; she lost her grandfather; Rafe left. We watched a movie and fell asleep." Olivia's lips twisted into a slightly bitter smile. "I hate seeing my Jellybean hurt when I can't do anything about it," she admitted.

"I know," Natalia said. She smiled, managing it a little better now. "It might take some time. She needs to grieve, but we'll have our Emma back before you know it, happy as can be."

Olivia hesitated mid-step, her arm falling away from Natalia before Natalia realized what had happened. Natalia pivoted, her confusion written clearly on her face as she turned back to Olivia.

"What's wrong?" she asked, cocking her head.

"Nothing," Olivia answered. "Just...thank you for loving her."

"Of course. She's...I love her the same way I love Rafe. She's just as important to me."

"I know," Olivia whispered, feeling a little choked up. "It's never been like that before. There was always something that mattered more than she does. ."

Natalia shrugged. "I couldn't help it. That kid could get to anyone."

"No," Olivia countered. "I think we both got lucky with you."

"Olivia..." Natalia said, hesitating and unsure where to go from there. She understood this fragile truce. It was about Rafe. That was why Olivia had reached out to her and why Natalia had begged her to come, but it was just as hard for her to see Olivia hurting, to hear her say something like when she didn't know how to respond.

"I'm sorry," Olivia said, ducking her head. "I shouldn't have said-"

"No, no. It's fine," Natalia said hurriedly. "I just...I don't want to mess this up. I can't. That scares me so much and I don't know how to make this right. I will do...anything. Anything, Olivia. Just tell me."

Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose. This was the conversation she hadn't wanted to let happen, the reason she had been avoiding Natalia. "I can't...there's nothing..." she shrugged. "I just...I don't know what to say," she admitted, tears starting to well in her eyes.

Natalia must have seen something on her face because she straightened her shoulders. "Okay," she said. "Okay, let's just..." she smiled. "Take me home to Emma. I want to see our little girl."

This time she was the one who held her hand out and Olivia took it, grateful that Natalia was willing to let it go just for a little while, for Emma's sake, for all their sakes.

Dinner was a relatively quiet affair, far quieter than Olivia would ever have imagined for their second night back in the farmhouse. She had daydreamed about moving back in here often enough, getting lost in fantasies of what it would be like to really share a life with Natalia. Of course that had all been before Natalia had left and those fantasies hadn't included a baby on the way - especially not Frank's. But that wasn't so bad. In fact, the longer she had to get used to the idea the more Olivia found she liked the thought of having a little girl with dark, curly ringlets like her older brother's and big brown eyes like her mama's. And dimples. Olivia just had a feeling about those.

It didn't matter what she had imagined though, because this was what she had gotten. Thinking about it made Olivia uncomfortable and nervous, like she had drunk too much coffee before lunch. It was done now, settled for all intents and purposes - she was really and truly with Natalia. And yet she had never been more terrified. It was an effort just to sit quietly at the table with the woman she loved more than anything in the world and her daughter and push some chicken and veggies around on a plate.

"This is wonderful," Natalia said into the silence.

Olivia jerked her eyes over to Natalia, startled out of her thoughts by the compliment. She hadn't expected Natalia to notice, missing Rafe as she was. "Thank you," she said with a slight nod of her head, the tiniest smile brushing across her lips.

"I didn't know you could cook like this," Natalia admitted in a quiet voice, spearing a piece of broccoli. She tried a shy smile and Olivia tensed. She knew what Natalia was trying to do, trying to re-establish that connection, the one that usually jumped between them like lightening any time their eyes met.

Olivia dropped her gaze back to her food.

"Mommy used to be a chef," Emma chimed in, not quite with her usual exuberance, but with more enthusiasm than she had showed since she had heard about Alan.

Natalia turned a questioning gaze on Olivia; Olivia nudged a piece of chicken across her place. "It was at the palace - a lifetime ago." It felt like a completely different person actually but the skills were still there and the knowledge.

"Well, I think you should do it more often. This really is amazing, Olivia."

The way Natalia's voice caressed her name made Olivia shiver. "It's nothing." She wasn't sure what urge made her downplay what she'd done. It was true in a way - the meal Olivia had fixed was nothing compared the sumptuous delicacies that had been her specialty. But when had she ever turned down a compliment before? That got a person nowhere. "I couldn't let my three favorite girls starve." Olivia tried the sentence on for size. She meant it but it felt awkward, like a little kid playing dress up in her mom's clothes.

Emma brightened, tucking into her food a little more energetically.

Natalia's hand covered hers on the table. "You could have ordered take out."

Olivia gave a one-shouldered shrug - with her other shoulder. "It just didn't feel right tonight."

This time Natalia's smile was real and steady, flashing across her face too instantly to be forced. She leaned over, nudging Olivia. "See, I am wearing off on you. Sometimes a home-cooked meal just makes everyone feel better."

Part of that Olivia had to ignore. She couldn't think about the brilliance of Natalia's smile, or the love shining from her eyes. If she did, she might fall in again, and that had felt like drowning. She could only focus on the moment, the problem that needed to be solved. "And did it? Make you feel better?"

"It did." Natalia squeezed her fingers. "You did."

This was what Olivia could have if she let herself. She could come home to the warmth of Natalia's love every day, wrap herself in it and surrender to it. The ache in her heart was jarring and at odds with what was before her. Two days ago she had been stewing in devastation and misery, anger and hurt simmering inside of her anytime she thought of Natalia. She didn't know how to reconcile the difference. Before Natalia had always been there to show her the way and now she was floundering between here and there, then and now.

A quick flash of anger rose within Olivia. Why did this have to be so damn complicated? Why couldn't things just be right? But no matter how much she wanted them to be, Olivia couldn't stop feeling it - the pit of sickening dread and terror in her stomach whenever things got too easy, whenever Natalia's face lit up as their eyes met or their hands touched, lingering a little longer than they ever would have dared before. So many little reminders of what they did have, what could be.

Happily ever after wasn't as easy as it sounded.

Chapter 6

"Mommy?" Emma asked, sounding groggy as she tilted her head back to look up at Olivia.

"Yes, Jellybean?"

"You stopped reading."

"Oh," Olivia said, glancing down at the book in her hands. "Sorry, Em."

"It's okay," Emma said with a little shrug. "We can finish it tomorrow night. Maybe Natalia will read it with us."

"Sure," Olivia said, wincing a little internally. "I bet she'd like that." Olivia leaned over to kiss Emma's forehead and tried not to think about tomorrow night and what would happen then. They could only exist in this limbo for so long before something had to give. She didn't know how to fix this feeling inside of her though, the one that had driven her from Natalia's warm bed early that morning. "Sleep well, baby," Olivia whispered as she backed away from the bed toward the door. She kept her eyes on Emma until she pulled the door shut between them.

Olivia took the stairs with the ease of familiarity. Her steps faltered as she started through the living room, catching a glimpse of Natalia in the kitchen. From time to time Olivia still found herself caught off-guard by Natalia's strength and beauty. A smile curved over Olivia's lips and she forced herself to move again, until she was standing at the edge of the kitchen, leaning against the doorframe.

Olivia didn't take time to think, she just spoke before she could regret what she was about to say. "Hey, beautiful."

The heartfelt words startled Natalia. Her head shot up and she broke into a smile. "Hey," she sniffed. "Emma get settled in okay?"

"Yeah, I think she'll be out in just a few minutes. She even said it would be okay to finish her story tomorrow night."

"Oh wow," Natalia said with a tiny laugh, turning her back to Olivia for a moment to finishing cleaning out the sink. "She really must be exhausted."

"It's been a long day," Olivia said. "For all of us." She didn't miss the small hitch in Natalia's movements. Olivia grimaced and then straightened. "I should get back to the Beacon. If you're okay."

"You're leaving?" Natalia said, her face falling sharply as she turned toward Olivia. "But I thought-" Whatever she had been about to say, Natalia cut herself off.

"I told you this morning," Olivia said as gently as she could. "I need some time."

"You told me to call you if I need you," Natalia sounded tense, her voice tight and almost strangled.

"Of course," Olivia said, shoving down the urge to push away from the wall, go to Natalia and take her hands. "I want to be there for you whenever you need me." Her voice cracked. "I can't stand seeing you hurt."

Natalia turned an anguished glance on her but didn't say anything. She didn't need to. It was obvious that this hurt too and there was nothing Olivia could do about it, because it was Olivia's own fault. She hated herself for that too. Hurting Natalia had honestly been the last thing she had wanted to do, but her survival instinct was more powerful. When she had woken in Natalia's arms, feeling trapped and scared, gasping for short, tight breaths, the urge to flee was too strong. She had to keep moving until she had found a place where she could relax and take a deep breathe.


"You should go," Natalia said in a hoarse whisper. "Before it gets too late." She put her back to Olivia, facing the sink again but not lifting a hand to do anything. "Let me know when you get there?"

Because even now Natalia worried about her and wanted to make sure she was safe. It felt simultaneously comforting and stifling.

"Okay." She took a half-step forward, reaching out for Natalia, then drew her hand back, clenching it into a fist and pivoted onto her heel, making herself walk away before she could hurt Natalia any more. Damn it, why couldn't she just go back there and be what Natalia needed her to be? It was what she had spent months and months wishing for. And why she had spent six weeks drinking herself into oblivion when she'd thought she had lost it.

Olivia locked the door behind her when she stepped outside. Natalia always forgot to. It was a tiny thing, but she had done it because she wanted to, because she cared, and because some part of her still wanted Natalia to know that even if she couldn't make herself say it out loud.

"Hi." Olivia clung to the doorframe with one hand and the door with the other. "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same thing." Josh hefted the bottle of whiskey in his hand and gave her a charming smile. "Can I come in?"

Olivia laughed and stepped back. "With that? Anytime."

Josh was still smiling as he handed her the bottle and followed her inside.

"You want?" Olivia called over her shoulder as she headed toward the bar, already opening it to pour a generous helping for herself.

"I could use a shot," Josh said with an agreeable nod. "Actually I wanted to talk to you."

"Oh?" Only years of experience let Olivia keep her voice casual as every muscle in her body tensed. With her back to Josh she downed her shot and then refilled her glass before turning back toward him. She held his glass out to him and when he took it - not drinking it, but cradling the glass in both hands between his legs as he sat on the edge of the bed - she sat down beside him, folding one leg beneath the other.

The silk robe that Olivia had thrown on to answer the door gaped a little but Josh didn't seem to notice as he turned his head to look at her. "I'm leaving."

"You're...leaving?" All Olivia could do was parrot the words back to him. Leaving was the last thing she had expected from him. They had seen each other often enough recently that she would have at least expected to hear him mention something about going away for a while. She tried to smile and stalled by taking another sip of whiskey. It burned but she ignored it. "Where are you going?"

Josh shrugged. "Venezuela. I'm not sure." He took a hit of his own whiskey, more than her sip. "Away from here."

"What's Springfield done to you?" Olivia asked, eying him. She arched an eyebrow and added, "Recently."

Josh flashed a knowing grin with a hint of his usual boyish charm. "Nothing. But that's the point, isn't it?"

"I'm not sure I understand," Olivia admitted.

"I feel...unnecessary. Shayne's doing great. Dinah's gone but he's got something new and special with Marina and little Henry - a real family."

"Mmm," Olivia nodded. "But what about that? I'm sure Shayne could use some fatherly advice. And little Henry needs a grandpa."

Josh snorted and downed the rest of his drink. "He has Frank. And it still sounds sexy when you say it like that," Josh called over his shoulder as he crossed the room to the bar. He refilled his glass but brought the bottle back with him.

Olivia laughed, downing her drink as well, holding her glass out to him when he returned. He had a steady hand as he poured, but he sprawled a little when he sat down again, his upper body stretched out on the bed, curling toward her, but still far enough away that she'd have to stretch to touch him. He looked good. Josh always did, but Olivia felt no urge to push him onto his back and feel her body against his. Olivia thought that should have terrified her too, but it didn't. Somewhere along the way she had gotten used to Natalia and Natalia alone being the focus of her desire.

"And what about Reva?" Olivia asked, unable to keep a taunting lilt out of her voice as she said the other woman's name. "Hasn't she been calling you ten times a day with 'I-need-you-Josh's'?"

Josh's face tightened and he looked down. He didn't fidget, because that was just the kind of man he was, calm and centered, even when everything was falling apart around him - even when he was falling apart. "She doesn't really need me - not like that. Oh, I can fix things for her, but what Reva really needs is to learn how to stand by herself again."

Olivia took another sip of her drink and brought up knees up to just under chin. "That's awfully mature of you, Josh Lewis."

He gave her a rueful grin. "Or selfish. I want another chance with her, Olivia, and if I stay we'll ruin it. Again."

She nodded, considering what he'd said for a long moment. "Do you ever think...it's not worth it?"

"I have," Josh admitted. "Sometimes. You know," Josh started slowly, choosing his words with the utmost care. "This wasn't my first stop. I went looking for you out at the farmhouse - with Natalia. She said you were staying here."

Olivia looked up at him sharply, her eyes flashing as she waited, poised on a knife's edge to see what he would say. Her temper could just as easily go one way or another.

The gentle look in Josh's eyes never changed. "What are you doing, Olivia?"

"I don't know," she whispered. "Josh. I have this perfect thing in my life - the most beautiful love I've ever seen and I just...I can't. Losing her, it still hurts, even though she's back and she says she loves me. She wants to be with me and raise this baby with me. I can't just turn it off and go back to being blindly happy. It doesn't work that way."

"So you're staying here - at the Beacon?"

"For now," Olivia agreed. "Until I can figure something out." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "The things that I've done, Josh, they're not the kind of things you can take back. I didn't mean to hurt her, but I did. I have."

"Do you still want to be with her?" Josh asked. "You looked so happy together when you moved in."

"Of course," Olivia said immediately, her voice choked with emotion. "More than anything."

"Then do it," Josh said urgently, leaning closer to her. "Don't let yourself mess this up, Olivia. If she really is the love of your life you'll always regret it."

"'Don't mess it up, Olivia?' That's the best advice you've got for me? Did you ever stop to consider that it might not be my fault this time? I'm tired of everything being my fault, damn it. I've paid for the things I've done and Natalia was supposed to be different. She was never supposed to be the one who hurt me."

She snatched the bottle of whiskey from him, hating the knowing look in his eye. She hadn't done anything wrong, not this time and Natalia had left her anyway. Devastated her like nothing else ever had and now it was her fault because she wasn't making it work? How dare he!

She repeated it out loud. "How dare you?" Olivia pushed herself to her feet, swaying a little unsteadily at the sudden shift. "Get out."

Josh looked more bemused than hurt as he pushed himself to his feet as well. He leaned closer until she could smell the whiskey on his breath too, and then kissed her cheek. The stubble on his jaw was rough against her skin as he lingered.

"Goodbye, Olivia," he drawled her name out like a caress and she didn't hate it. She gave him a shove in the center of his chest, pushing him away toward the door.

"Goodbye, Josh." But it came out more tired and sad then angry. Olivia watched the door shut behind him with more regret than anything. Now Josh was leaving too. It wasn't fair.

Olivia flopped back onto the bed behind her, carefully keeping the whiskey bottle suspended so that it wouldn't spill. She raised her head enough that she could take another long pull, this time straight from the bottle.

What if Josh was right? What if this time was like all the others and she was the one destroying her own happiness? Could it really be that simple? Love her. Don't fuck it up. Just be there with Natalia, when it hurt and when it didn't. Wasn't that the scariest thing of all, that it might never stop hurting? Once upon a time she had believed it didn't matter what was going on in her life just as long as Natalia was with her. Maybe she could believe that again. With Natalia in her life. If she let herself.

Damn it, Olivia sighed heavily. Josh was right. Before she could talk herself out of it she rolled to the side and retrieved her phone from the bedside table.

Fine. You're right. Happy now? Olivia hesitated and then continued typing. Take care of yourself Lewis. She hit send.

Olivia flopped back into the prone position, not expecting an answer from Josh. She didn't really need one. They knew each other. He would understand what was behind her angry words and abrupt dismissal - fear - and the next time they saw each other all would be forgotten.

That just left Natalia. Olivia couldn't help the giddy smile that curved over her lips, but it disappeared almost as soon as it came. She had made a mess of things and Natalia would have every right to be hurt and angry with her. It was a sobering thought but one that Olivia wasn't willing to let hold her back.

Olivia tried to sit up and just that simple motion made her head spin. She bit her lip, nearly in tears at the thought that she was in no shape to start making this up to Natalia tonight. Drunken gestures were not the way she wanted to say 'I love you' - and she did love Natalia, no matter how much it hurt. She needed to tell Natalia that too. And that no matter how much she wanted to, when she was in Natalia's arms she couldn't forget how it had felt for all of the moments Natalia hadn't been here to hold her. If she let that define them though they would never survive. It was a delicate balance to walk and both of them would have to be willing to walk it. Olivia knew she was; she could only hope that Natalia would still be willing to give her a chance after everything Olivia had put her through.

Chapter 7

Olivia squinted against the light. It was just too damn bright. It had more to do with the pounding in her head and the sensitivity of her eyes than the actual amount of light; the sun was just barely starting to peek over the horizon. Oncoming headlights on the drive over had sent her digging through her purse for her sunglasses as quickly as she could. The fact that she was awake at all would have been astonishing to most of the people who knew her.

Olivia was not a morning person, but even knowing she'd be hung over, she had set her alarm to wake her up early. She wanted to be there when Natalia woke up. She had told Natalia once that when she did something, she did it big. This would be no exception. More than that, she needed it to be if she was going to show Natalia how she really felt. Olivia was aware that the past few days couldn't have been easy for Natalia, but she had never lashed out at Olivia, only pleaded for understanding. Coming back on her own terms meant that Olivia really was all in this time. There would be no holding back, even for the corners of her heart that were terrified. She wanted to make Natalia feel as special and loved as she had made Olivia feel. Hopefully she would get it right - hopefully Natalia would be willing to forgive her.

A nervous chuckle was the best Olivia could manage at that, a little dismissal to ward the thought off before it managed to latch on to her. She didn't really think that Natalia would run away on her again - not with a baby on the way. Breaking up with her was a different story though. It wasn't like being with her had exactly been a picnic for Natalia so far.

Swallowing her nerves, Olivia tested the door - the same one she had locked on the way out of the house the night before - and was not surprised to find it still locked. Fishing her keys out she unlocked it and let herself in. With the bags hanging off her wrists it was hard to get inside without making enough noise to wake up the whole house - and the ducks. Somehow Olivia managed, detouring into the kitchen to set her purchases down on the table before she headed upstairs.

Olivia took them one step at a time, carefully setting her feet just so to avoid making them creak or groan as she went up. This was supposed to be a surprise after all. Emma's room was her first stop. She pushed the door open carefully, wanting a glimpse of her little girl. She had no doubt that Emma was fine - or else Natalia would have called her - but she had missed Emma. She always did, anytime they were separated for more than a few hours.

To Olivia's surprise Emma wasn't in her bed. She felt a jolt of worry. Emma hadn't been downstairs watching cartoons, either. With her heart in her throat, Olivia started towards Natalia's room, hoping desperately that Emma was in there, even though she'd heard none of the tell-tale signs of the girl's presence - excited chatter and delighted giggles. Her worry for Emma was enough to bury any awkwardness that she might have otherwise had, going into Natalia's room uninvited. Olivia knew it was supposed to be their room now. They'd barely had a night to share it though and she still wasn't completely used to thinking of it as theirs rather than Natalia's.

Olivia caught sight of Natalia first, curled up on her side with the cover pulled up almost over her chin despite it being the middle of summer. Dark hair fell down over her shoulders. It took her a moment longer to locate Emma, pressed up against Natalia. She lay sprawled on the bed, arms and legs akimbo, with a small sheen of sweat dampening her face and matting her hair down. Emma had always been like a little heater. The sight of her two - no, three - favorite girls curled up in bed together sleeping soundly made Olivia smile.

Putting her plans aside for the moment, Olivia crossed to the other side of the bed and sat down on the edge nearest Emma. Without stopping to think about it, she slipped off her shoes and tucked her legs up close to her, rolling over until she was facing Emma and Natalia both. Olivia propped her head up on one hand and just watched them sleep. Part of her kept waiting for the fear to set in, the urge to run to take over again, but it never came. She could feel her heart racing but knew it was from nerves. She refused to let it stop her from doing what she had come here to do.

Emma shifted, her eyes flickering open. When she caught sight of Olivia, she blinked sleepily and pushed herself up on her elbows. "Mommy?"

"Hey, baby," Olivia whispered, reaching out to cup Emma's cheek. She wasn't prepared when Emma suddenly launched herself, throwing skinny arms around Olivia and squeezing as tightly as she could. "Oof," Olivia grunted from her new position on her back, bowled over by Emma's eagerness. She rubbed Emma's back soothingly. "What's wrong, Em?" she whispered, still trying to keep from waking Natalia.

"I had a nightmare," Emma said with more than a little indignation. "And then I came in here because I was scared and I couldn't sleep, but you weren't here." She squeezed Olivia a little tighter. "Natalia said I could stay with her," she said with a small pout.

Olivia stroked Emma's hair and raised her head to kiss Emma's brow. "I'm sorry I wasn't here for you, Jellybean. It was awfully nice of Natalia to let you stay with her though. Did that make you feel better?"

Emma shrugged, looking down and not quite meeting Olivia's eyes.

"You want to tell me about it?"

Emma shrugged again, but this time it was accompanied by the slightest nod.

"Okay," Olivia said, keeping her voice pitched low. She glanced over at Natalia. Either she was still sleeping or she was doing a very good job of faking it. "Let's go downstairs and you can tell me all about it." She cupped the back of Emma's head. "I don't want you to ever have to be scared of anything."

Emma buried her face against Olivia's chest for a moment and Olivia let her, never slowing the motion of her hand as she rubbed gentle circles on Emma's back. If Emma needed a moment she was more than happy to give it to her. Finally Emma let go and pushed herself off Olivia, who just managed to stifle another grunt. Emma tugged at her hand and Olivia let herself be pulled up from the bed. She followed Emma out of the room with a lingering glance over her shoulder at Natalia.

Olivia allowed Emma to lead her downstairs, but pulled Emma back to her when they reached the couch. She sank into it and then patted the seat beside her. When Emma sat down, she pulled the blanket out from behind her and wrapped it around them. It smelled faintly of Natalia.

"So what happened in your dream, Jellybean?" Olivia asked, sinking back into the couch and drawing Emma into her, letting her hand run up and down Emma's arm. She wanted to close her eyes but Olivia was afraid she would fall asleep.

Emma turned into Olivia abruptly, clinging tightly to Olivia again. Her face was hidden from Olivia. "Daddy died."

Olivia froze. She should have been expecting it, but she had just been hoping for something a little easier, like something with monsters or from a horror movie Emma had caught a glimpse of at a friend's house. Not this. "I'm sorry you had a dream about that, but you know he's going to be okay now, right, Em?"

Emma nodded but she still didn't raise her head. Worry began to build inside Olivia. It wasn't like Emma to be this quiet.

"You were dead too," Emma whispered.

Olivia's heart wrenched. Emma had been through so much in her short life - being kidnapped, thinking her father was dead, told she would lose her mother and then her father. It was a wonder that she coped as well as she did - just another thing that made her the brilliant little girl that Olivia loved with her whole heart. It tore Olivia up inside to see Emma hurting like that.

Olivia pulled Emma even closer to her, ignoring the twinge in her chest. "Look at me, Emma."

It took some gentle coaxing, but finally Olivia got Emma to raise her head. Her eyes were watery and her cheeks suspiciously damp.

"I'm not going anywhere," Olivia said firmly, meeting her gaze and not looking away. "Not for a very long time. And neither is your daddy. I promise you." Part of her winced and waited for lightning to strike. She was making promises left and right these days, ones that she might not be able to keep. Life had proven to Olivia that it was hard and unfair and horrible. But she didn't want Emma to live her life dreading what might happen - not when she could have Natalia's hope and optimism.

Emma started to protest and Olivia gently put a finger over her lips.

"But, in a long time, when you're much, much older, if anything does happen to me - or your Daddy - you know that Natalia will always be here for you, right? Natalia and your little sister. Rafe. Ava. Bill and Lizzie. They'll always be there for you, Jellybean, and Natalia loves you so much." Olivia swallowed. "She loves you just as much as I do."

Emma made a small whimpering sound and dove back into Olivia's arms, clinging to her. Olivia could hear that Emma was crying. Knowing she was overwhelmed, Olivia held her like she hadn't held Emma in a long time and made soothing nonsensical noises, just to keep from going silent more than anything.

Finally the sobbing turned to occasional sniffs and then Emma lifted her head. Olivia stroked her hair.

"Think you're going to be okay now?"

Emma nodded.

"Good," Olivia gave her a quick hug. "I love you so much and I hate it when you're sad."

"Me too, Mommy... when you are," Emma elaborated.

Olivia held back a sigh. "I know, Em," she chose her words carefully. "I'm sorry if I scared you while Natalia was gone, but things are better now. I'm better now and you don't have to worry any more."

"Okay," Emma said in a quiet voice.

Olivia wasn't quite sure if she could believe Emma's easy acceptance, but she hoped she could. She wanted better things for Emma; she wanted her to be happy. Olivia stroked Emma's hair again. "You know we haven't really talked since we told you we were moving back in. What do you think about having a little sister?" Emma was a warm, open-hearted little girl, but she had, for the most part, been an only child. Sure, there was Lizzie and James and Ava - and even Zack - but they were older and not an every day part of her life. There was no competition for Olivia's love.

To Olivia's surprise, Emma smiled and looked a little bit shy.

"I think it's great, Mommy," Emma ducked her head. "I've always wanted a little brother or sister, but a sister's best."

Olivia was a little stunned - and a little sad. She'd never known that Emma had even thought about it, but of course she would have. Emma was a very bright little girl. She wondered if Emma regretted that it had been just the two of them for so long.

"You never said anything," Olivia said, still a little dismayed.

Emma shrugged and looked a little sheepish. "You need a daddy for that."

"Oh." How to argue with that logic. But... "Not necessarily, Em. There are ways for two women who want to have children. Or two men."

"Like you and Natalia?"

"Kind of. Not really. Our situation is a little different. We didn't exactly plan... You know Frank's the baby's father, just like you're your daddy's."

"Oh," If anything Emma just seemed more confused. "Are you and Natalia going to have more babies? After this one, I mean."

For a moment Olivia was stunned. She had never really thought about it since it had actually been a possibility, though she'd once told Doris that was something Frank could give Natalia that she couldn't. The thought of having more children with Natalia someday... she wondered if Natalia had considered it. The thought drew a smile to her lips. She wasn't sure that they ever would or that she even really wanted to but...she liked the thought of it, raising children and building a life with Natalia. For now she had to answer Emma.

"I don't know. We haven't really talked about it." She ruffled Emma's hair. "Would you like that?"

This time Emma nodded vigorously and it was all Olivia could do not to laugh.

"Okay, Jellybean, but let's try to get through this one first before we worry about more, okay?"

"Okay, Mommy," Emma agreed, sounding a little disappointed this time.

"That's my girl," Olivia said with an approving smile. " Now...do you want help me fix breakfast for Natalia?"

Emma's face lit up and Olivia couldn't help but meet Emma's smile with one of her own. She hoped with all that she was worth that this would work, that Natalia would forgive her. Now that she could see how happy Emma was and how good their life could be, the pain and the utter fear of it seemed a small price to pay for getting to have this life and sharing it with Natalia.

Olivia nudged at the bedroom door with her foot. It refused to budge. In fact she was pretty sure that it had just closed a little tighter. Her hands were occupied with the tray of food that she was bringing to Natalia. Olivia grunted. She couldn't mess this up.

Twenty minutes ago she could have hollered downstairs for Emma's help. When Emma had begged and pleaded to go see her daddy, Olivia hadn't been able to resist. Not after the nightmare her little girl'd had. Olivia understood that desire, the need for reassurance that the person she loved was still there. So she had called Phillip and not long after Beth had picked up Emma.

Olivia swallowed hard. And besides, even if Emma had been there, calling down the stairs would have still woken Natalia. That wasn't how Olivia wanted to start this off. It took a few seconds of juggling but she finally managed to balance the tray and free up a hand long enough to get the door open and slip inside, shutting it quickly behind her. She hesitated just inside the door, needing a moment to collect herself. It was just a bonus that it gave her a chance to take Natalia in as she slept.

Finally Olivia crossed the room and carefully eased onto the bed beside Natalia. She didn't want to scare Natalia, waking her abruptly only to find someone looming over her. That and Olivia's hands were shaking as she gripped the tray. Olivia bit her lip and sat the tray down. Lifting one hand, she stopped just before she touched Natalia, jerking her fingers back and curling them into a fist. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe she needed to do something bigger. Olivia had put Natalia through so much. She grimaced and gave her head a quick shake. No, it was too late to back out. She needed to do this now.

Summoning her courage, Olivia raised her hand and touched Natalia's shoulder. Natalia didn't move. Olivia froze. She had no idea how long she stayed that way, just touching Natalia. Olivia could feel the warmth radiating from her skin through the thin t-shirt that Natalia was wearing. It made her want to nuzzle her face against Natalia's skin and breathe it in. Olivia sucked in a shaky breath at the thought and forced herself to move her hand. Gently she swept several locks of long dark hair back away from Natalia's face. She looked so peaceful lying there, younger and more innocent than Olivia knew she was.

How could she have run away from this? Olivia wondered. How could either of them? Maybe what she had done was worse. After all, she had known what she was losing when she had fled the farmhouse the day before. For all their promises and all their talking, their relationship had still been in the fledgling stages when Natalia had left, barely held together by the specter of what might be, rather than by what actually was. It wasn't, Olivia realized, that she hadn't wanted to be with Natalia. It was fear that had consumed her and made her flee. Just like Natalia.

Knowing that both of them could make mistakes did nothing to ease the lingering fear in Olivia's heart that Natalia still might leave, but it was a place to start. And she did want them to start over again. She wanted so many things with Natalia - only Natalia.

"Wake up, Sleeping Beauty," Olivia whispered, a teasing note in her voice to chase away the tightness in her suddenly-choked throat. She trailed the back of her fingers down Natalia's cheek, reveling in the softness. She let her hand fall away and bent to place a kiss on Natalia's jaw.

Natalia stirred, shifting so that she lay more on her back than her side, and opened her eyes. They widened when she saw Olivia sitting next to her. She reached out groggily for Olivia, her hand brushing Olivia's cheek.

"'Livia?" Natalia pushed herself up on her elbows and rubbed at her eyes. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to see you." Olivia remembered the tray sitting on her lap. "Emma and I made you breakfast in bed."

Natalia looked confused. Olivia thought the wrinkle in her brow was adorable.

"I don't understand."

"I know," Olivia said, instantly sobered by the hurt in Natalia's voice. "I'm sorry." She took Natalia's hand in both of hers and brought it to her lips. "Last night I told you that I still needed time - thank you for giving me that - but I realized that no matter how scared I am, how much it hurts, I still want to be with you. I need you more than I can ever tell you, and I'm so sorry that I hurt you."

She looked pleadingly at Natalia. "Can you understand? I didn't know what to do, how to make it stop. Everything was perfect, and my heart still ached."

"Olivia..." Natalia's voice was soft and broken, aching as much as the pain in Olivia's voice. She raised a hand to touch Olivia's cheek, stroking down it with two fingers. "Love..."

"I'm sorry I hurt you. I never meant to. I just didn't know what else to do. Do you believe me?"

"I...yes." Natalia frowned, her brow furrowing. "I wish you could have told me, talked to me. I hated not knowing what was going on. Waking up alone...I felt like." She bit her lip and looked down. "Just when I found out I was pregnant with Rafe and Gus...I couldn't find him either."

Tears sprang into Olivia's eyes. "I'm so sorry."

"You said that already." Natalia tried to smile.

"I meant it," Olivia said soberly. She took a deep breath "I wanted - I want - to give you everything. I didn't want to ruin things. I want us to be so happy." Tears began to slip down Natalia's cheeks. Olivia bit her lips and clenched her jaw. Seeing Natalia cry made her feel like crying too. She gripped Natalia's hand a little bit tighter as if that could ward off anything bad - like Natalia telling her to leave.

Natalia sniffled, as if she was trying to suck the tears back in and then gave Olivia a steady, searching look. It was a discomfiting gaze to meet and the guilt of her actions made Olivia want to look away, but somehow she held Natalia's gaze. She could only hope that Natalia would find what she was looking for, see what good Olivia had to offer in with the bad. If anyone could, it would be Natalia. Olivia just hoped that she wasn't too late, that she hadn't already destroyed something precious.

"You're really here?" Natalia whispered, sounding hoarse and choked.

"I am," Olivia said. "I promise you, I'm not going anywhere from now on, not without you."

"Okay," Natalia said. She let Olivia pull her forward into an embrace, but she still felt stiff in Olivia's arms.

Olivia felt tears begin to sting in her own eyes and blinked furiously to try and stop them, pressing her face into Natalia's neck. Olivia held her close until she could slow her breathing, until she didn't feel so shaky inside. Slowly the fear - new and old - that she would lose Natalia began to ease its grip on her heart. Gradually Olivia became more aware of Natalia, the scent of her and the closeness that they shared. She couldn't resist turning her head just a little and placing a soft kiss on the base of Natalia's neck, a tender gesture not meant to arouse. Olivia felt Natalia tense at the unexpected contact and winced, thankful that Natalia couldn't see her face. Regretfully she drew back, hating that she had hurt Natalia enough to make her wary.

Olivia gave her a weak smile. "You should eat. Your breakfast will get cold."

For the first time Natalia really seemed to look at the tray. She stared for a moment, taking in the picture-perfect - and delicious looking - omelet, two bagels smeared with a generous serving of cream cheese, three strips of bacon and a bowl of neatly sliced fruit. A sprig of ivy lay above everything else across the top of the tray. Natalia recognized the distinctive leaves and reached out to touch it. She sent a questioning glance up at Olivia.

Olivia shrugged. "I got the Beacon florist out of bed for it. I wanted to get it right. It means fidelity."

Natalia swallowed hard and lost the internal struggle to maintain her composure, tears slipping down her cheeks once again. Hesitantly Olivia reached for her, laying a light hand on her shoulder, uncertain if Natalia wanted to be touched. Instead of pulling away as Olivia had feared, Natalia leaned into her touch. Reassured by that, Olivia pulled Natalia closer, tucking her into the circle of her arms.

"You're being so nice to me."

The way Natalia said it, Olivia felt a ridiculous urge to apologize.

"Please don't cry," Olivia said instead, also sounding a little watery. "I hate it when you cry."


"Oh yeah," Olivia said with a nod. "Drives me crazy. Makes me want to..." she made a helpless gesture. "To do anything in my power to make it better. Or stop whoever's hurting you," she added. "Even when it's me."

"Hey," Natalia said, leaning back enough that she could see Olivia. "Don't." She touched Olivia's lips with her finger in a brief, halting gesture. Natalia looked down, fiddling with the edge of the tray. "This is beautiful, Olivia - wonderful, even. But..." Natalia frowned, struggling to find the right words. "It doesn't make everything right - for either of us. We've both hurt each other."

"I know," Olivia said, her regret plain. "And I'm still scared, but the alternative is to leave, to quit all this now, and I can't do that. I can't give up."

"So what do we do?" Natalia asked. Olivia heard the echo of her earlier question in it. "Then tell me what I can do." Neither of them had known then, but now, finally, Olivia was starting to think she understood.

"I've been thinking about that," Olivia admitted. "I think all we can do is try and have faith in each other." She closed her eyes and reached out blindly for Natalia's hand. The moment she felt Natalia's firm grip she felt calmer; grounded. "I will try to believe that you're really here." She gripped Natalia's hand tighter, so tight that it was almost painful. "That you're not going anywhere."

Olivia opened her eyes. "And I need you to try to believe that I'll be here too. You don't have try to atone for anything. I don't want that. I know I hurt you too, but I won't run away again, Natalia." She grinned ruefully. "I tried that and it didn't work. I missed you too much. I couldn't stay away."

"I'm glad," Natalia said in a heartfelt whisper. "So glad. And I'll try to believe that too. I do have faith in you, but I know what I did was so...I don't even have words for the way I hurt you. I'm back now though and the thought of losing you because of what I did... it terrifies me. That's why I try so hard to make everything okay."

"Yeah, I get that," Olivia said, her thoughts drifting to the past. "I've done that too, so many times. But sometimes the harder you hold onto things, the faster they slip through your fingers. I've ruined so many things because I've been determined to keep them. So trust me on this. I want to be here."

"Really?" Natalia asked, insecurity slipping into her voice.

Olivia cupped her cheek, holding her gaze. "Really."

Chapter 8

"This is really good, you know," Natalia said with a contented grin. "Amazing actually."

"It's not cold?" Olivia asked with a frown.

"Well, it's fruit," Natalia said with a mischievous look. "It's supposed to be chilled."

Olivia snorted and shook her head. "That's not what I meant and you know it."

"Oh, fine, but it's still good."

"There's nothing good about cold eggs," Olivia disagreed. "Let me fix you some more."

"You're going to spoil me," Natalia said with a grin that couldn't be more satisfied. "And don't you dare get up. They're still a little warm - and delicious. See!" she commanded, spooning up a forkful and eating it. Almost immediately she let out a satisfied moan and sank back against the pillows. "Oh, that is so good."

"Must be the pregnancy hormones," Olivia said dryly.

"Hey," Natalia protested, swatting her shoulder. "Don't be mean to me or I won't share."

"Oh?" Olivia said, sitting up a little straighter and looking hopeful. Natalia just shook her head, and picked up a strawberry, holding it out to Olivia.

Olivia smiled and made no move to reach for it. Instead she leaned forward and took it from Natalia's fingers with her teeth, her lips brushing over Natalia's fingertips. Natalia shivered as Olivia still looked out from beneath her lashes as she took a bite.

"Mmmm," Olivia said as she finished chewing. "I see what you mean. That was delicious."

"You want more?" Natalia offered, part instinctive politeness and part eagerness. She wanted Olivia to look at her that way again, as if it were her Olivia wanted to devour rather than the strawberry.

Olivia smiled up at her. "How could I refuse an offer like that?"

It wasn't Natalia's imagination that Olivia's voice had gotten a little bit deeper, that she sounded a little bit more flirty and coy. Matching her smile, Natalia just shook her head. "You can't."

"You got that right," Olivia said with a little nod, still grinning up at Natalia. She reached out and brushed her index finger across Natalia's dimple. "Especially when you look at me like that. You do know how dangerous these are, don't you? You could get me to do anything you want me to - just flash these babies at me."

"Olivia..." Natalia raised her hand to hold Olivia's to her cheek.

"Hmmm?" Olivia murmured when Natalia didn't say anything else.

Natalia's grin got a little bit wider, her smile tugging at the edges of her lips and deepening her dimples. She shook her head. "Has anyone ever told you you're distracting?"

Olivia's face lit up. "Maybe," she said, tugging her smile back under control as she reverted to looking coy. "Do I distract you, Natalia?" Her thumb slid out from beneath Natalia's hand and smoothed lightly across Natalia's lips.

Natalia snorted. "You know you do." It was meant to be a soft, teasing accusation, but instead her voice came out in a hoarse whisper.

It was a heady thought for Olivia that she could affect Natalia this way. Straight, uptight Natalia. Someone who Olivia wasn't even sure until recently was interested in having a sexual relationship. It jolted Olivia to the core. Knowing Natalia wanted her was a huge turn on. But thinking about sex made her think about leaving, about the painful encounter in her suite at the Beacon. This time though, Olivia didn't flinch away from the thought, but resolved to face it head on. Running away was what she was putting behind her. After all, Natalia was here.

"I love that I can do that to you," Olivia admitted, scooting closer to Natalia.

Obligingly Natalia let go of her to put the tray that was between them over on the nightstand and then reached back to take Olivia's hands in hers. "But?" Natalia prompted her.

"Did I mess this up?" Olivia blurted it out in a rush. Talking about issues directly wasn't really her style. Case in point; the past few days. She was much more a brood, sulk, and scheme kind of girl, really. But here she was - with Natalia - and this wouldn't work if she didn't turn over a new leaf. It was terrifying, but she had to try.

"This, what?" Natalia asked with a frown. "I thought we already talked about-"

"Right." Olivia squeezed the hands that held hers a little bit more tightly than she had intended to amidst her nerves. "We did, but...we never talked about the other night, yesterday at the Beacon, and how you feel about that."

Natalia sat back against the pile of pillows stacked up behind her. Only her hands, still holding onto Olivia's kept Olivia from panicking. She needed that connection with Natalia and right now Natalia's face was blank, revealing nothing. Olivia wished she prayed. If she did she could have asked God to please make this okay or at a minimum give her a clue as to what the hell was going through Natalia's mind. Erasing this whole conversation might not be a bad idea either.

Natalia let go of one of Olivia's hands and wrapped it around her abdomen, just above the swell of her belly. It was a tight, excluding gesture - Natalia huddling in on herself.

"We don't have to-" Olivia bit her words off as Natalia flashed a glance up at her. "Sorry," she murmured.

Natalia's thumb smoothed over the back of Olivia's hand. She was too tightly wound to appreciate it properly. "I'm not sure what to think," Natalia said at last, this time managing to hold Olivia's gaze. "I thought that we shared something really beautiful. It was so special to me, but..." She looked so doubtful that it made Olivia's heart ache. "Obviously it meant something different to you. I don't know how something can mean such a different thing to both us." Now Natalia looked like she was about to cry, but was fighting valiantly against it. "I thought we understood each other, knew each other so well, but if I thought we had this beautiful connection and it tore you up so badly, then what does that mean?"

"Oh, Natalia, no," Olivia said immediately, leaning forward to take the other woman into her arms. As Natalia tried to get her question out she had lost the battle and tears streamed down her face. Natalia didn't try to resist as Olivia pulled her into her arms. "No," Olivia repeated, more fervently than before. "It wasn't like that." Olivia stroked her hair and buried her face against Natalia's cheek, wondering how she had let things get this messed up. This wasn't supposed to happen. It was supposed to be their happily-ever-after, but she'd never been good at that.

"It was.... I never imagined it could be like that, Natalia. The way you made me feel.... I imagined and I hoped that one day...but I never thought it would be real. And when you came in there, when you sought me out, you touched me and held me and pulled me into your bedroom, it felt like so much more than I had ever imagined." She lowered her voice, and put her lips beside Natalia's ear. "And I have a very good imagination."

Olivia felt the shiver that went through Natalia's body and couldn't help but smile. She hated that she was going to be the one to ruin this perfectly good moment. Olivia wanted to focus on something else instead; to run her mouth over Natalia's skin, to taste and touch with more than just her fingers. But this was the drawback to trying to be a grown up about things, damn it. Talk, talk, talk. She was meant for actions, not just words. But this was important.

"Then why?" Natalia's fragment of a question was enough for Olivia to know what she meant.

Olivia closed her eyes, regretting the loss of the sensual - and frankly, much more fun - moment and wished that she had a better answer for Natalia. "I was scared." Olivia opened her eyes to Natalia's confused expression. She winced. "It was...I've never felt anything like that before. Not what we were doing - but how that, how you made me feel. I'd never imagined something could make me feel so safe, so loved. It was like for the first time since you left, I could see everything we could have, how amazing it could be. It was more, better, even than before... I felt so full that I couldn't contain it all. It was like I was going to burst from happiness...But then lying there in your arms, it was like I couldn't move, couldn't breathe.There was this other part of me that couldn't stop hurting. I couldn't think; I couldn't breathe. It was like this constant ache that I couldn't hold in. I was so terrified that I would lose you again. That it would be worse, now that I knew completely what I would be losing. It wasn't the sex. It was what it made me feel. God, Natalia, so many things. And I was so terrified and hurt and...the happiest I'd ever been? It was too much - and it hurt so badly. It was like one extreme and the other at the same time. I didn't know what to do."

Now it was Natalia's hand running up and down Olivia's arm in a comforting motion. Olivia was grateful for the touch and the sense of connection that came with it. She wanted to stop Natalia's hand and solidify that, but she knew Natalia would take it the wrong way and see it as an admonition or rejection.

"And now?" Natalia asked, her voice gentle.

Olivia swallowed and gave a little shrug. "I'm still scared. I told you that earlier, but...being with you will always be better than being without you."

Natalia sniffed. "I don't want to hurt you."

"Hey," Olivia said, immediately reaching out to touch Natalia's chin, bringing her face up. "You're not." She tried a smile. "You make me happy. Remember? Bursting."

Natalia's lips twitched. "You're sweet."

Olivia couldn't help but snort at that. "Remember who you're talking to, Sweetheart. I'm many things - sweet is not one of them."

"You are," Natalia insisted. "To me. All the time. The things you've done for me and for Rafe..."

Olivia shook her head. "You make it easy. You make me want to do things..." she smiled shyly.

"You make me want to do things too," Natalia murmured.

Olivia didn't miss the implication of her words. She swallowed. Hard.

"Kiss me, Olivia," Natalia purred.

For a moment, what Natalia had said stalled in Olivia's brain. She heard the words, but couldn't grasp their meaning. And then she did. Suddenly her palms were sweaty and her heart was racing inside her chest. Olivia brushed Natalia's chin with her thumb and leaned closer. Her gaze flicked up to Natalia one last time as she drew closer, checking to make sure that this was still what Natalia wanted. When she found no hesitation, she closed the distance between them.

Her lips closed over Natalia's and lingered until Natalia responded, sinking her hand into Olivia's hair behind her neck and pulling Olivia down to her. Olivia went willingly, stretching until she was forced to move. Then she braced her hands on either side of Natalia's shoulders and leaned over her. Natalia's delicate fingers ran down her neck and then slipped down her torso, brushing across her breast and making Olivia shiver, until Natalia's hand reached Olivia's hips. Natalia pulled Olivia closer without hesitation, dropping her head and burying her face against Olivia's neck.

For a moment, Olivia worried, but then Natalia's lips found her neck and she gasped, dropping her head back involuntarily to give Natalia better access. Feather-light kisses brushed against sensitive skin teasingly, never lingering long enough for the sensation to deepen, but tantalizing with their ephemeral nature.

Olivia groaned under Natalia's onslaught and shifted. The sound seemed to energize Natalia. She raised her head just long enough to speak.

"You taste so good." Natalia spoke in a low murmur.

The words alone sent a heady bolt of desire through Olivia and she was painfully aware of every brush of Natalia's lips and flick of her tongue against her own skin as she spoke.

"Natalia..." She clutched at the back of Natalia's neck with one hand, holding her in place, directing her loving attention until it was just so, where it would make Olivia writhe and squirm the most.

If nothing else, Natalia was a quick learner and before Olivia knew it, Natalia's hands were roaming her body, slipping beneath her shirt and finding bare skin, gliding over Olivia's taunt abdomen with a brief drag of her nails that made Olivia twitch at the sensation. Almost before Olivia could register it, Natalia had moved on, one hand slipping below the smooth material of Olivia's bra and cupping her breast, squeezing a nipple between thumb and forefinger then letting go to gently rolling it.

Olivia's hips began to rock involuntarily against Natalia, more turned on by this than she could have imagined, overwhelmed by the way Natalia was touching her and aching for more. As if Natalia could hear what Olivia was thinking, Natalia let go of Olivia's breast and let her hand trail back down Olivia's stomach until she was fumbling with the buttons on Olivia's jeans. Without fanfare, without stopping to push the zipper down she stuck her hand inside the thin material of Olivia's panties. She found Olivia wet and wanting.

Olivia bit her lip and pressed herself against Natalia's fingers. She was already so close to coming. Just being around Natalia was enough to leave her on edge and wanting. It didn't take much for Natalia to stoke the embers of her desire. Olivia gasped as Natalia pushed her hand further down and suddenly it all felt wrong. Not the consuming passion that gripped them, but the frantic rush of desire, the desperation that already had her arching into Natalia's hand. Olivia didn't want a repeat of the hurried, desperate sex at the Beacon - or even the slower, more tender coupling of their first night together. She wanted something that didn't leave either of them hurting.

"Wait," Olivia breathed, hating herself even as she clutched at Natalia's wrist, willing her to stop. "Just...wait a minute. Please." Her voice cracked. She was Olivia Spencer. She didn't turn down sex, not with Natalia, not when she wanted her this badly and Natalia wanted her just as much.

Her words penetrated the haze of Natalia's desire and she froze. "Olivia? What's wrong?" She sounded young and scared.

"Nothing." Olivia put her forehead against Natalia's, seeking connection and offering apology. "Nothing," she repeated herself. "I just...I think we need to slow down."

"Olivia," Natalia protested.

Olivia pulled her hand up, kissing the back of it, then the tips of her fingers, still damp. "I want to make love to you. Please. I want to show you that I'm done being driven by fear. I want this to be different. I want it to be..." she hesitated and then finished the thought. "I want it to be everything you thought it could be."

"It already is," Natalia said, her voice softening. "You make it that way for me."

"Really? Even what we did yesterday? At the Beacon."

Natalia let out a sigh. "You were hurting. So was I."

"That's no excuse, Natalia."

Natalia laid a hand on Olivia's chest, letting it trail down until it covered Olivia's heart. "I don't regret what happened."

"How can you not?" Olivia asked with a snort of disbelief.

"Because I was with you," Natalia stated as if it should have been obvious. "I will always love you - even when it hurts."

"I don't want to hurt you," Olivia said, the words tumbling quickly out of her mouth.

"Then don't. Be here with me, in this moment. Love me."

"I do," Olivia murmured, leaving no doubt in her heartfelt tone.

Some of the tension left Natalia and she sank back into the pillows behind her. "I know." She squeezed Olivia's hand. "Show me then, if you think I don't. I'm yours."

Olivia licked her lips and looked down at Natalia. Gently she let go of Natalia's hand and then reached down to take the hem of Natalia's t-shirt. "Help me?" she asked, flicking her eyes back up to meet Natalia's gaze.

Obligingly Natalia leaned forward a little and lifted her arms. Olivia pulled the shirt up and over her head and discarded it behind her without caring where it went. There was a time and a place for neatness - this wasn't it.

Just like the morning before at the Beacon, Natalia wasn't wearing a bra. Her upper body bared before Olivia, dusky nipples stood pert against the swell of Natalia's breasts. Below it was the firm, roundness of her belly. Olivia pressed her palm to it and felt nothing. She had half-hoped to feel the baby beneath her hand, but all she felt was Natalia. The thought and her own ridiculousness made her smile. She leaned over and brushed a kiss against the smooth skin just beside her hand.

"I want to get to know you," Olivia said. "To explore every part of your body until I know it better than the back of my hand."

Natalia swallowed and looked a little bit nervous, but nodded. "Okay."

Olivia smiled. "I've always loved your hands," she murmured, unable to resist, pressing another kiss against Natalia's skin. This time it was just to the left of her belly button. "You're so strong, but you have such delicate fingers."

"Tell me more?" Natalia whispered, her voice trembling.

And so Olivia worked her way up her body, commenting on this and that as she went, noting the crook of Natalia's elbow and the freckle just below her bottom rib. Sometimes making Natalia smile, charmed by what she had said or laughing at the ridiculousness of Olivia's comment. By the time Olivia had worked her way up to Natalia's shoulder, Natalia was trembling faintly.

Olivia stretched out fully on the bed, pressed up against Natalia. She ran her hand back and forth over the swell of Natalia's round belly and smiled, studying her. "You are so beautiful."

Natalia's hand covered hers, stilling it's gentle motion. Olivia gave her a questioning look. Natalia grinned and rolled closer to Olivia until she could capture her lips in a searing kiss. Their finger twined and slowly Natalia began to guide Olivia's hand downward.

Olivia needed no encouragement, smiling into the kiss.

"Off," Natalia said with urgency, tugging at Olivia's shirt.

Olivia was forced to move her hand from Natalia but being pressed up against her, bare-skin-to-bare-skin when her bra was gone, was worth it. Natalia's hands had barely even trembled as she undid the clasps.

A joke about Natalia becoming a pro at this died a quick death on Olivia's tongue. She wanted this to be perfect.

Olivia's hand trailed down its previous path alone this time. She lingered though, her hand drifting down the inside of Natalia's thigh and back up again. Natalia shifted, spreading her legs a little bit wider for Olivia.

With each pass of her hand Olivia's fingers rose a little bit higher until Natalia was biting her lip with anticipation.

"Olivia." The breathy, needy tone of Natalia's voice caught Olivia off-guard as she pleaded for more. It made her want to give in to Natalia and give her what she wanted immediately, and simultaneously the desire to draw the moment out longer; to win another soft, pleading noise like that from Natalia.

Natalia's fingers clamping down on her shoulder made Olivia's decision for her. There would be plenty of time later to see just how long she could drive Natalia to distraction. Now Olivia wanted to give Natalia everything she desired. Olivia bent closer, laying a kiss just above Natalia's nipple and let her hand slide upwards. Natalia made a small whimpering sound and pushed against Olivia's hand.

It was so different from before, from the first time that they'd had sex in this bed. Not the physical sensation of it. That was the same or maybe better. She had already started to learn Natalia's body, to know what Natalia liked. No, what was different this time was how it made her feel. Olivia wasn't worried or scared. She was fascinated, enraptured by Natalia. She wanted to be as close as she could to Natalia. It was a craving that only this woman could satisfy.

"I love you," the words spilled unbidden from Olivia's lips.

Natalia gasped and clung tighter to Olivia, their bodies moving in unison now to push her higher. They were lost in silence, the only sound the sounds of their bodies moving against one another. Everything else - worries, fears and uncertainties - dissipating into nothing. Their eyes locked and gazes held. Olivia shivered at the intensity of it all.

The look of concentration deepened on Natalia's face; her eyes fell shut. Olivia felt pistoning hips jerk and still, muscles clenching around her fingers at the same time. For a long moment Natalia seemed frozen in her arms, caught in the grip of something powerful and then she eased, sinking languid against Olivia, her face buried against Olivia's shoulder.

Olivia stroked Natalia's hair and pressed a light kiss against the top of her head. Natalia let out a soft snort. Olivia craned her head to look down at her.

"What's so funny?" Olivia asked, pushing long, slightly damp hair back from Natalia's face.

"Nothing," Natalia said on another soft huff of air.

Olivia looked at her askance.

"Nothing," Natalia repeated the word more gently, limply raising her hand to touch Olivia's cheek. "Did you ever imagine when we stood in that freezing cold gazebo and I told you that I loved you for the very first time that we would ever be here someday?"

"No," Olivia said with a rueful shake of her head, beginning to see where Natalia's amusement was coming from. It was like coming out of a fifteen car pile-up unscathed. It just didn't happen. "Never," Olivia added, a smile tugging at her lips. "Did you?"

"Oh no," Natalia said, not even having to think about her answer. "I could never have imagined anything like this." She covered Olivia's lips with her fingers. "I didn't think we had a chance."

An unseen eyebrow shot up. "You're the one who chased after me, who told me you knew what it meant to tell someone that you loved them."

Natalia pushed herself up on one elbow, tousled hair falling down around her shoulders in glorious, dark waves. "Because the moment you told me that there was no us I realized how much I wanted there to be an 'us'. I need you, Olivia."

"You have me," Olivia said, more tremulously than she had intended. She was all in - really she was - but admitting that, declaring it with no-holds-barred was still frightening. She was holding nothing back now.

"I do, don't I?" Natalia asked rhetorically, leaning over Olivia and kissing her gently.

The kiss was like a promise, one meant to ease Olivia's soul. She drank it in, deepening the kiss until she could get lost in it and slipped her arms around Natalia's waist, pulling Natalia down on top of her. Their bodies fit together as if they were meant to be, a slight shift to one side all that was necessary to accommodate Natalia's belly. Olivia loved the way that Natalia seemed to cover her with body and spirit, leaving nothing exposed.

The kiss lingered, even as Olivia's body ached, demanding to be seen, heard and dealt with. Olivia ignored it in favor of soaking in Natalia. It was all part of her desire to savor every moment of this, every second that she got to spend with this woman. All of it seeped into Olivia, filling the cold, lonely places left by Natalia's disappearance and slowly erasing the pain that had been her constant companion. Her legs came up, tucking her ankles behind Natalia's thigh and holding her in place above Olivia. Natalia didn't seem to mind.

Long dark hair spilled over Natalia's shoulders and fell around them both, like a dark cocoon, a world where only they existed. Olivia had never felt more connected to anyone, with Natalia's thigh pressing up against her. She felt Natalia's leg flex, deliberately pushing against her. She pushed back instinctively, the motion between them growing steadily more urgent. It left Olivia gasping, her breath coming in quick sharp pants. Her clit ached and she slid a hand down between them, the surge of Natalia's thigh not quite providing the aching relief she needed most.

To her surprise, Natalia's hand caught hers, pulling it away from Olivia's body and bringing it to Natalia's lips. A huff of displeasure found it's way past Olivia's lips.

"Natalia," she pleaded, the part of her brain that was still trying valiantly to form coherent thought wondering why Natalia was torturing her like this. It wasn't nice at all. Then Natalia let go of her hand and covered Olivia's clit with her own fingers. The sight of Natalia's hand on her, the thought of Natalia touching her, was far more of a turn-on for Olivia. The motion of her hips grew ever wilder and more urgent with every thrust, until with one final thrust she jerked and stilled, suspended in one long endless moment consisting only of Natalia - Natalia above and against her, with her in every way - and aching, blessed relief.

They lay that way for some time as the wild beating of Olivia's heart began to calm, returning to its usual state. When Natalia made to move off of Olivia, Olivia roused herself enough to shake her head and curl her arms around Natalia more tightly. "Uh-uh," she said firmly.

Natalia grinned and bit her lip at Olivia's adorable grumpiness, all too reminiscent of her usual early morning behavior. With a sigh, reality came back to Natalia as she remembered Emma and the rest of the world that awaited them outside the farmhouse doors. "We should get up," Natalia murmured. "Emma." She glanced down at Olivia. "She had a bad dream last night-"

"Shhh," Olivia said, a smile easing her tone. "I know." The mention of Emma seemed to sober her, forcing her to throw off the last of the fuzzy comfort that had been granted her. "I talked to her and she's fine. She's happy about us and the baby. She was a little worried about Phillip, so I let her go see him. But I promise she's fine." Gently she stroked hair back from Natalia's face, tracing the line of Natalia's cheek with her fingers. "Why don't you go back to sleep? It's still early. I know you and the baby need all the rest you can get."

Olivia saw the hesitant look on Natalia's face before she could contain it and hated that she was the one responsible for putting it there. "Sleep," Olivia said again. "I promise I'll be here when you wake up."

The End

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