FANDOM: Guiding Light
RATING: PG for this part
SUMMARY: Natalia is forced to come to terms with her feelings alone when Olivia is injured.
TIMELINE: Begins immediately after the episode on 17th of April and diverges from the canon storyline at that point.
Natalia's hands shot to her mouth as the Earth suddenly stopped turning. "Oh my God," she murmured. "Oh my God..."
"From the position of the injuries we suspect there could be damage to the temporal lobe," Rick continued, seemingly oblivious to the pieces of Natalia's world that were so obviously crashing down around her ears. "That means-"
Rick's next words were drowned out by the sounds of a scuffle and an argument outside the room. "Just tell me where my daughter is, Frank."
Natalia's head shot up. "Oh no. Not him." Philip arrived in the room seconds after the words left her lips, followed by Frank who seemed to be trying to hold him back. Philip came up short at the sight of his ex-wife in the bed, almost unrecognisable.
Natalia was on her feet in an instant, her eyes furious as she pushed him from the room. "Out," she snapped. "She doesn't want you here."
"Okay, okay," Philip replied, putting his hands in the air. "Calm down."
"Don't tell me to calm down! I have enough to deal with right now without you coming where you're not wanted." She punctuated each word with a shove to his chest so that by the time she was finished he was up against the wall.
"I'm just here for Emma!"
The blood drained from Natalia's face as she realised that she hadn't given a single thought to where Emma was after she'd been told she wasn't badly hurt. Oh my God, Emma, I'm so sorry! she castigated herself. It both amazed and terrified her how easily and readily her world had contracted to a tiny bubble whose length, breadth and volume was a hospital bed and the broken woman lying on it. Nothing else had mattered from the moment Frank told her about the accident. "Emma..."
"She's with my dad," Frank interrupted, rescuing her. "She's not hurt, Philip. Olivia made sure of that." Natalia flashed a grateful glance at him, trying to silently thank him both for taking care of Emma and for defending the unconscious woman in the room behind them. An image of what the accident may have looked like flashed suddenly before her eyes. The snow falling gently, roads covered in white. The squeal of brakes and Olivia's wide-eyed stare as headlights bore down on her. The crash and crunch of breaking bones. And finally, the white of the snow turning red as the blood of the person who meant everything in the world to her spilled onto an uncaring road.
"Well, I'll take her from here," Philip said, shocking Natalia back to reality.
"What?" she cried. "Are you insane? I mean, more than we always thought?"
His cheeks reddened. "She's my daughter!"
"And Olivia's! And I know for an absolute fact that she doesn't want you anywhere near Emma."
Philip drew himself up to his full height, trying to intimidate Natalia and failing. She looked up at him with clear, defiant eyes and raised eyebrows and Philip was suddenly struck by the resemblance to Olivia's mannerisms. "I'm her father-" he began.
"And you get supervised visits," she interrupted. "You'll get nothing else as long as I'm around."
Philip took in the determined faces arrayed before him, Frank, Rafe and even Rick lined up behind Natalia like bodyguards, and Natalia looking up at him fiercely and unblinkingly. "I'll be back," he said, knocking his shoulder harshly against Natalia's as he slipped past her. She stumbled backwards and Rafe caught her as Frank turned to chase after Philip's retreating form.
"No, leave him," Natalia said, smoothing her hair back from her face.
Frank couldn't hide the frustration creeping into his voice. "I should deal with him. He's gonna be a problem."
Natalia nodded. "Yeah," she said, anxiety colouring her tone. "He is."
* * * * * *
Natalia knew she needed to find Emma and get to The Beacon. Olivia had told her once where she kept her living trust and - Natalia fervently hoped - instructions concerning Emma's care. But there was one place she knew she needed to make time for so, leaving Frank and Rafe to watch over Olivia with instructions to call her the instant anything changed, she headed straight for the hospital chapel.
Natalia had always been proud of being a Catholic. It was a connection to her parents, her ancestors, her roots. It was what set her apart from most of the people around her, it gave her life definition and focus. All she'd ever had was Rafe and the church. Her faith allowed her to feel the presence of God, it allowed her to rise above the petty problems of each day, it allowed her to hope for better even when things seemed bleakest.
But what she most craved at that exact moment were the mysteries and rituals which would allow her to stop thinking for just a few minutes. She needed to escape into the silence and peace of time-honoured tradition, secure in the knowledge that God would be with her as she floundered and would catch her if she fell.
The chapel was empty and half lit as she entered, genuflected and made the sign of the cross. The scent of incense caressed her as she breathed deep. Her thoughts were swirling hopelessly like leaves in a storm, linking, breaking, leaving her unable to form her own words to pray. But that was fine. She needed to escape, she needed something routine and repetitive.
"Our Father," she began. "Who art in heaven..." She followed that up with ten Hail Marys and a Glory Be and when she breathed the last 'Amen' she felt a presence slide into the pew beside her.
"I thought I'd find you here."
Natalia didn't look up. "Hello Father."
They sat together in silence for a few minutes, Natalia contemplating the image of Jesus on the cross; Father Ray contemplating Natalia.
"Which mystery were you praying?" he asked finally, his tone gentle.
A deep breath. "The Agony in the Garden," she replied.
"The Sorrowful Mysteries."
"It's the day for them," she said. In more ways than one.
She heard his clothing rustle as he turned a little to face her. "I hear you're going through some agony of your own right now," he said softly. She turned her face to him then and was nearly undone by the gentle and understanding look on his face. "Maybe a little more agony than you've let people see, hmm?"
She turned away, unable to meet his eyes. She knew that if she continued this conversation she would lose control and she couldn't afford to do that, not now, not here. "Will you hear my confession?" she asked.
He paused. "Of course," he said at last, although his voice was hesitant.
Natalia made the sign of the cross. "Bless me Father, for I have sinned," she said, looking steadfastly forward. "It's been three days since my last confession."
Father Ray regarded her curiously. "And what sins have you committed in those three days?"
She paused for a moment before she found the words. "I know that thinking something can be just as much of a sin as doing it," she began. "That's what the Bible says, right?"
Father Ray nodded slowly. "It does say that," he replied.
"In that case I'm guilty of murder," she said, her voice tight. "Because when I heard that someone had hurt Olivia I wanted them dead. I wanted to kill them..."
Father Ray allowed her confession to sit in the stillness of the church for a moment before he continued. "Anything else?"
Natalia shook her head tightly. "No." Then she nodded. "Yes. I was dishonest. I promised someone something I couldn't ever give them."
"Why couldn't you give it to them?"
She looked at him suddenly through her eyelashes. "Because I'd already given it to someone else."
They lapsed into silence again, and then Father Ray made the sign of the cross on her forehead. "Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace. I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
Natalia felt tears pricking behind her eyes. "Thank you," she breathed.
"I haven't told you what your penance is yet," he reminded her softly.
"I want you to hear my confession," he replied.
Natalia's eyes snapped up to meet his. "But...I can't give you absolution, Father," she said, confusion colouring her voice.
"On the contrary Natalia, I think you're the only one who can. Just listen, please?"
Father Ray turned his face towards the cross. "I lied to a man today," he said. "I had promised to perform his wedding ceremony but I called him just before it was supposed to begin and gave an excuse."
Natalia couldn't quite control the surprised gasp that escaped her. "Why?" she asked.
He smiled at her. "Because I believe in the Sacrament of Matrimony," he said. "Because the marriage was not sacred."
Her heart thundered in her ears. "Why?" she asked again.
"Because," he said. "The bride had given her heart to another."
A breath. "She had." Not a question.
They sat together for an endless moment. Then she spoke. "What should I do?" Her voice was small and lost.
He seemed to consider the question for a moment before turning to her and folding her up in his arms. "God is love, Natalia," he whispered in her ear. "When you're confused, when you're lost, when you have doubts, just remember that."
He held her for long moments as she sobbed, feeling her shatter and then slowly put herself back together, piece by jagged piece..
"So what's my penance?" he asked with a grin as she finally pulled back. She smiled sadly.
"Go and sit with Olivia for me," she said. "I'd like her to have the Last Rites. She's already baptised, so..." she trailed off.
Father Ray nodded. "I can do that," he said. "But you know, it's called the Sacrament of the Sick these days."
Natalia managed another smile. "Oh I know, I know, it's just-"
"It's just that the Second Vatican Council is something that only happened to other people, right?"
And suddenly, improbably, wonderfully, Natalia found herself laughing. Father Ray stood and placed his hand on her head. "May God bless you, Natalia, and give you strength," he said, and then retreated, leaving her by herself in the dimly lit chapel. But not alone.
"I'm not alone," she breathed reverently and giddily, her eyes fixed on the cross. "Thank you."
With a final genuflection she left, new strength coursing through her as she went to find Emma. God help anyone who stood in her way.
Note: I'm very interested to know how much sense the second half of this made to anyone who doesn't have a Catholic background. Never quite sure how much of this stuff is common knowledge. Let me know if you need anything explained, and thanks for reading.