FANDOM: Guiding Light
RATING: Back to PG.
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.
A/N - So, I started this on the 18th of April and now, three weeks, two days and about 43,500 words later we've reached the end. Thanks to everyone who has read, and especially to those who've commented - if you have enjoyed this story and the daily updates you have yourselves to thank. I wouldn't have done it without your encouragement.
WARNING: Again, insulin at the ready...
[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11] [Part 12] [Part 13] [Part 14] [Part 15] [Part 16] [Part 17] [Part 18] [Part 19] [Part 20] [Part 21] [Part 22] [Part 23] [Part 24] [Part 25] [Part 26]
"You're trying to kill me," Olivia grunted, sweat breaking out on her brow.
Natalia shook her head. "I keep telling you, I need your rent money," she said, smirking.
"Hmmph. You know, I really think I should get a discount on that. I'm not renting a whole room anymore."
Natalia grinned. "No, but you're still getting full time care. In more ways than one."
Olivia thought of several replies she could make to that; unfortunately they all led to her sleeping on the couch that night so she held her tongue. "You call this care?" she muttered. "This is torture."
Natalia smoothed her hands over Olivia's calf, massaging tired and aching muscles. "Do you want to be able to walk without a limp or not?"
Eyebrows twitched. "Depends. Is the limp sexy?"
Natalia's hands moved up as she stood, sliding over firm thighs and curling round Olivia's hips. "Excruciatingly," she murmured. "But I'd like you one hundred percent healthy again. There are some things I'd like to do to you that will require all your strength."
The thermostat raised at least ten degrees and Olivia grinned wolfishly as she grabbed Natalia and pressed their bodies together. "Is that so?" she growled, nipping at her lover's throat.
"Mmm," Natalia replied, tangling her fingers in Olivia's hair.
"Oh God...could you two get a room please?"
Natalia turned to see Rafe descending the stairs, a traumatised look on his face. Poor boy, Natalia thought. This was at least the tenth time that week he'd walked in on them in a compromising position. It was Olivia's fault, of course. There was something about her that made Natalia lose all sense of propriety. Strangely enough, she didn't really mind.
"Do I have to remind you who owns this house?" she teased her son, but pulled away from Olivia's embrace nonetheless.
Rafe rolled his eyes. "Emma's in bed," he said, turning to Olivia. "But she wants you to read her a story. I offered, but she said it had to be you." He shrugged.
Olivia grabbed her cane. "Then I guess I have some reading to do," she said.
"I'll be up in a minute," Natalia said and, just to make Rafe groan, patted her lover on the butt as she walked away.
"Aw Jeez, ma!" Rafe whined, right on cue.
Natalia laughed, and Olivia's low chuckle merged with hers as she climbed the stairs. "I thought you were happy for us?" she said, smiling.
"Oh, I am," Rafe replied, holding up his hands. "But there are some things I don't need to see. Or hear. Or imagine." He shuddered. "Speaking of which - can I move into Olivia's old room?"
Natalia frowned. "But...why? It's smaller."
Rafe rolled his eyes and cupped his mother's face in his hands. "Maybe so ma, but it doesn't share a wall with yours." Having finally succeeded in making his mother blush he laughed and released her. "Come with me," he said, leading her into the kitchen.
"You want me to make you a snack?" she asked.
Rafe shook his head as he stopped before the cross on the wall, the only one still hanging in the shared part of the house, although other little trinkets were sneaking back in. "I want you to pray with me," he said.
Natalia's lips parted. "Oh..." she breathed, and smiled. "Rafe..."
Rafe looked away. "You know," he began hesitantly. "When I was in prison...you, and your faith, was the only thing that really got me through everything. And I know that...being with Olivia maybe made you question some things? But that's why you're so amazing, ma - you still believe and you still try to be the best person you can." He coughed. "I admire that," he admitted. "And, you know...I want to be more like you."
He looked up and she was crying, as he'd known she would be. "Oh Rafe," she managed to choke out, and he found himself enveloped in a breath-stealing, bone-shattering hug. Then she took his hand and turned to the cross. "Dear God," she prayed. "Thank you...for my son. Thank you for helping me raise him to be such a good, good man. I know I couldn't have done it without your help."
"Ma-" Rafe interrupted, but she shushed him with a finger over his lips.
"Thank you for Olivia and Emma," she continued. "Thank you for helping us to find our family. And above all, God, thank you for the gift of your love, revealed to us through the wonderful people you have sent to share our lives." She stopped, unable to say the last word of the prayer, lost in a memory of praying to this cross what seemed like forever ago, when she'd been filled with such despair and hopelessness. But she had felt God's presence then...and she felt it again now.
"Amen," said Rafe quietly.
* * * * * *
When Olivia finally made her way up the stairs she was out of breath and her leg ached but, and she hated to admit it, the exercises Natalia had been putting her through did seem to be helping. She felt like she was getting stronger day by day, like a sickly plant brought back to life with careful watering.
"Hey Jellybean," she said, grinning as she entered her daughter's room and limped over to her bed.
"Mommy!" The little girl grabbed her for a hug and a kiss as she flopped down beside her, and Olivia felt her heart swell with a love so deep and pure it almost took her breath away.
She smiled. "So," she said. "I hear that someone wants a story. Do you have one picked out?"
Emma nodded eagerly and handed her a thin book. "Bunny wants this one," she said, squeezing the plush rabbit that had been her near constant bedtime companion since she'd been given it at Christmas. "Because it's about a bunny too."
Olivia looked down at the book. The Velveteen Rabbit. "Okay," she said. "I like this one too." She decided not to mention that it always made her cry. She hoped she could make it through this time without blubbing like a baby.
For long moments she read softly to her child, her voice low and steady. "'What is REAL?' asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. 'Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?'"
Emma giggled. "Silly rabbit..." she mumbled sleepily.
Olivia nodded. "Very silly," she agreed and continued reading. "'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'"
"Like Bunny," Emma said, kissing the top of her rabbit's furry head.
"Uh huh," Olivia replied. She could feel the tears coming already. Olivia Spencer, reduced to tears over a children's book - she'd never live it down. "'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.'" The words began to swim before her eyes and she blinked quickly to clear her vision.
"Why are you crying mommy?" Emma asked, reaching out to touch her mother's face.
Olivia managed a trembling smile. "Well...can I tell you a little secret?" She bent her head to whisper conspiratorially.
"Uh huh." Emma's eyes danced with excitement.
Olivia bent down even closer. "I never used to be Real," she said softly. "I had to become Real, just like the rabbit in the story."
Emma's eyes were wide as saucers. "It can happen to people too?" she gasped. "Not just toys?"
Olivia nodded and gestured to herself. "I'm living proof, aren't I?" She smiled. "And you know, what the horse said is right. It did take a really long time but it was all worth it. Every step."
Emma squeezed her bunny tighter. "How does it happen?"
There was a pause before Olivia spoke. "It's love," she explained. "When someone loves you for exactly who you are. When they're there for you no-matter what happens. When they give you everything without wanting anything in return. When you know that it doesn't matter what you look like or what you do - you'll always have a home with someone who only sees the beautiful in you. That's what makes you Real." She tucked the blankets round her daughter's shoulders. "And I never had that before I had you and our family here, baby."
Emma looked up at her with sleepy eyes. "Am I Real?" she asked softly, her eyes fluttering shut.
Olivia nodded and kissed her forehead. "You've been Real since the day you were born," she assured her. "Because I love you. And I'll always love you. There's nothing you could do, say or be that would ever make me stop." She took a breath. "And that goes for your mama too."
A gasp from behind her made her turn her head sharply Natalia was there in the doorway, a hand covering her mouth, tears streaming down her face as she locked eyes with Olivia. "You've never," she began, wiping her eyes, "you've never called me that before."
Olivia nodded, and turned back to Emma who was already asleep. "I may not remember exactly how we became a family," she said softly, regret creeping into her voice. "But I do know why we are." She looked up at Natalia. "Because we love each other."
Natalia nodded, smiling and crying simultaneously as she crossed the room in two strides and wrapped her arm round Olivia's shoulder. Olivia's arm curled round her waist as her head nestled against her stomach. "We do," Natalia agreed, stroking her free hand through her lover's hair.
For a long time they rested together in silence, listening to the sounds of Emma's deep, regular breathing. "I'm sorry," Olivia said at last. "That I'm probably not going to remember everything...about us...how we fell in love..."
Natalia hushed her with a kiss. "Sssh," she said. "Who cares about the past?" she murmured. "We have the future. And I'd trade a million yesterdays for one tomorrow with you."
Olivia's breath escaped her in a ragged sigh. "Me too," she said softly, and stood. "And you know...even if I never get all my memories back-"
"-we can make new ones," Natalia finished for her.
Olivia laughed, but quietly so as not to wake her daughter. "Finishing each other's thoughts now? Before you know it we'll be wearing matching jogging suits and fighting over the remote like an old married couple."
Natalia knew she meant it as a joke, but she couldn't help but sound serious as she replied. "Sounds good to me," she said, and held out her hand.
Olivia took it.
A/N - The probably obnoxious quotes are (obviously) from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams which does, in fact, always make me cry.