FANDOM: Guiding Light
RATING: PG for this part
SUMMARY: Natalia needs to make a choice between her past and her future.
TIMELINE: Begins immediately after the episode on the 12th of May and goes off into its own little world at that point.
DEDICATION: This is dedicated to the memory of badtyler, a great writer and an even better friend.
Ava's apartment was large, bright, and airy with high ceilings and a view (if you stood on tiptoes and squinted a bit) of the bay in the distance. It was a lovely apartment. It was clean, and quiet, and in a good neighbourhood. And she was getting on with Ava. She should have been having a good time. But after two days Olivia had just about finished helping her daughter unpack her things and deal with hooking up water, power and internet and she was, quite frankly, champing at the bit to get home. She'd had a couple more conversations with Natalia but, far from soothing her lingering doubts, she'd just become more and more concerned. The other woman had seemed distant. It worried her.
"I wonder where your mind's wandered off to," Ava muttered, sitting down beside her mother on the couch.
"Huh?" Olivia glanced at her. It was clear that she hadn't actually heard what she'd said. "Say again?"
Ava rolled her eyes. "So, when were you planning to tell me?"
Olivia sat for a moment, perfectly still and quiet. Then she looked away. "How about now?"
A smirk twitched Ava's lips upwards. "You're just full of surprises, aren't you?"
Olivia blushed, then felt angry with herself for blushing and so blushed harder. "Apparently so," she said, standing and walking over to the window.
Ava got up and crossed the room quietly. She stood behind and a little to the side of her mother, placing a steadying hand between her shoulder blades. She felt tense and rigid. "What are you worried about?" she asked. "I live in San Fran-frickin'-sisco. I have plenty of gay friends."
A little of the tension seemed to drain out of Olivia's body as she chuckled softly. "Yeah, but it's not quite the same is it? I'm your mother," she said.
Ava shrugged. "So long as you're happy I really don't care what you do," she said. "Or who you do."
Olivia shot her a sharp sidelong look before she went back to staring out the window. "We're nowhere near that stage yet," she admitted, a frown ghosting across her face.
Ava saw it and mirrored her expression. "What's wrong?"
Olivia crossed her arms across her chest and walked away from the window. She paced restlessly for a few moments, Ava watching her with growing concern. "We went away together," she said at last, scraping her hands through her hair. "It was...really nice. Really nice, once we got over being so scared of being around each other." She stopped pacing. "I thought she was going to be okay with everything. You know, with us being together and people knowing and stuff?" She sat heavily back down on the sofa, pulling a cushion to her chest and resting her chin on it. "I told her...I told her...if she couldn't handle it she needed to tell me. I can't let myself go deeper into this if she's going to yank it all away again. I can't..."
Ava crossed the room in three strides and kneeled in front of her mother. "And do you think that's what she's going to do?"
Olivia's eyes were open and vulnerable as she glanced at her daughter and when she spoke dread dripped from every syllable.
"I think she's getting cold feet."
* * * * * *
Natalia woke slowly that morning and for a moment wasn't sure where she was. The light was coming through the window at an unusual angle. The colour of the walls was wrong. Even the bed felt different.
When she finally remembered that she'd fallen asleep the night before in Olivia's room she flushed crimson and quickly sat up. Her clothes were wrinkled and she felt vaguely grimy, like there was a layer of invisible dirt coating her skin. She hadn't meant to fall asleep there. She'd just wanted to feel close to the other woman, to curl up round one of her pillows and breathe in her scent.
Everywhere she went in Springfield she felt like people were staring at her. In the grocery store, in the bank, at Emma's school, eyes stuck to her like tics. She'd never caught anyone at it. Other things always seemed to be utterly fascinating to them when she spun round, anger painting her cheeks. But she knew they were doing it. She could feel their glances, their whispers, their disapproval like they were living things following her around and coiling round her ankles, trying to make her stumble.
And stumbling she was, with no Olivia there to hold her up. But she was due back that afternoon - thank God. All Natalia wanted to do was sink into her arms, feel those powerful yet gentle hands in her hair, those soft lips on her forehead. She longed to simply melt into the other woman and pretend nothing else existed. For a while, at least.
But no. She knew she couldn't do that. She couldn't use Olivia to calm her fears while still keeping those fears a secret. Her heart already burned with all that she was keeping from the other woman - she wouldn't add to that guilt.
With a deep sigh Natalia glanced at the clock, then sat up so fast that all the blood rushed to her head and she felt dizzy. Seven thirty-five. Shit. Emma was going to be late.
She was suddenly glad she was already dressed as she dashed into Emma's room to rouse the slumbering girl. After picking out some clothes, making sure she brushed her teeth and throwing together the least healthy lunch the girl had ever received from her, Natalia quickly made a peanut butter and banana sandwich and thrust it into Emma's hands. "Eat this in the car," she instructed, grabbing the girl's hand and dragging her out the door. Seven fifty-five. Double shit.
She broke at least five speed limits on the way to the school. Emma didn't speak once throughout the journey but Natalia was too distracted to notice. She was far too busy castigating herself for being a poor caretaker, for giving in to her selfish weakness the night before and falling asleep in the wrong room, for the chips and cookies she'd sent in Emma's lunch rather than her usual healthy choices.
When they pulled up outside the school - fifteen minutes late - Emma was almost on the point of tears. "Are you mad at me?" she asked in a small, trembling voice. Natalia turned to her in surprise.
"What? Oh sweetie, no," she replied, leaning over to hug the girl awkwardly.
"You seem mad," Emma insisted, her voice watery.
Natalia squeezed her eyes shut, another layer of guilt settling round her shoulders like a familiar blanket. "I'm mad at me," she admitted. "Not you baby. Not you."
They sat in the car clinging to each other for long minutes as the morning ticked away. Finally Natalia squeezed the little girl one last time and pulled away, a smile pasted onto her face. "Come on," she said. "I'll come in with you and explain to your teacher why you're late, okay?"
Emma nodded. Her eyes were sad, but Natalia didn't want to think about why.
* * * * * *
"Could I talk to you for a moment Miss Rivera?"
Natalia turned, a frown creasing her brow. Miss Jennings gently closed the classroom door and turned to her, a concerned smile on her face. "Look, I'm sorry again that Emma was late," she began, but the teacher held up her hands.
"Please, everyone's a little late sometimes," she said. "I actually wanted to talk to you about some...concerns...I have about Emma."
Natalia paled. "What's the matter? Is she okay?"
Miss Jennings nodded. "I don't think it's too much to worry about. I've just been hearing her talk recently...about her living arrangements."
Natalia suddenly felt a headache coming on. "Maybe you should be talking to Emma's mother," she began, but the teacher shook her head.
"It mostly concerns you," she said.
Natalia sighed. "Okay," she said. "What can I do for you?"
Miss Jennings led her down the hall and opened the door to the teacher's lounge. "Please have a seat," she said. Natalia sank into a chair gratefully. Miss Jennings remained standing, leaning her hip against a table, her arms crossed. "I understand that Emma isn't living with you anymore," she began.
Natalia pinched the bridge of her nose. "No," she said. "I'm looking after her for a few days while her mom's away."
There was a pause and Natalia got the sense that the teacher was choosing her words carefully. "I understand that the breakdown of a relationship - any kind of relationship - is especially difficult when a child is involved-"
"Breakdown?" Natalia interrupted, glaring at the teacher. "Who said anything about a breakdown?"
Miss Jennings paled. "I just assumed...I mean, since Emma and her mom have moved out-"
"You assumed what? That we'd broken up?" Natalia stood. "I thought I'd made myself pretty clear about this before."
"Yes," the other woman replied. "Yes you did. I do apologise Miss Rivera. Perhaps I should be speaking to Miss Spencer after all."
Natalia pressed her face into her palms. "No, wait," she said. She sat down again. "I'm sorry. My relationship with Olivia is...complicated at the moment." That's the understatement of the century, her mind remarked acidly. "What did you want to say about Emma?"
Miss Jennings moved away from the table and sat opposite her. "She's been unsettled," she explained gently. "And I think the last few days have confused her quite a bit. She doesn't understand why she and her mom aren't living with you anymore."
Natalia closed her eyes. "It's...the thing is...Olivia and I-"
"You don't owe me any explanations," Miss Jennings interrupted gently. "Whatever's happening in your private life is exactly that. I just thought you should know...Emma is quite confused right now."
Natalia opened tired eyes. "She's not the only one," she admitted. Miss Jennings smiled.
"I have to get back to my class," she said. "Please feel free to stay as long as you like."
Natalia sat back in the chair when she was gone, covering her face with her hands. She'd done it again. Given in to a gut reaction of anger in the face of an assumption that she and Olivia were in a relationship. Except this time the assumption was accurate and she wasn't sure what was worse - the dread that had rushed over her like a wave when she realised what the teacher was implying, or the shame flooding through her now as she thought of how easily the denial had sprung to her lips.
"Oh, Olivia," she murmured. "You were right. I'm not ready for this."
The realisation sat heavily in her stomach for a long moment before her cellphone rang, breaking into her thoughts. She frowned as she looked at the display. It was a Chicago number...she thought she vaguely recognised it but couldn't remember from where.
"Hello?" she said. The voice on the other end was familiar...a woman, with a slight accent. It took Natalia a moment to place it but when she did the blood drained from her face.