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.
A/N - I spent the two days I didn't post this week plotting out the remainder. So now I know when it ends, yay!
Olivia had never really understood why Natalia seemed to enjoy cleaning. Perhaps it was all the time she'd spent living in the hotel, but to her cleaning was just an unpleasant chore that got taken care of sometime between the hours of eleven and three. It wasn't something she had to think about, much less do.
However, over the last few days she'd begun to develop, if not an admiration, at least a grudging respect for the virtues of housework. Washing dishes, doing laundry, vacuuming, scrubbing floors, weeding the garden, all of these physical and repetitive tasks were absolutely ideal for taking her mind off the fact that Natalia hadn't called her for three days. Over those three days she'd fallen into a routine - get up, take Emma to school, work at The Beacon, pick up Emma, cook her dinner, help her with homework, put her to bed, and then find as much as possible to do around the house so she wouldn't have to think, and so that she could get physically tired out enough to sleep.
She had toyed with the idea of just calling Natalia herself, but something kept holding her back. It might have been the distant understanding that the other woman was doubtlessly busy with funeral preparations. Maybe it was that word ditto still bouncing around inside her skull like shrapnel.
Or perhaps it was Doris Wolfe who'd taken every opportunity to needle her about Natalia's continued silence ever since Olivia had been silly enough to mention it to her. Olivia wasn't quite sure why she had confided in the woman. It was just that she always seemed to be around, and Olivia was so tired and frustrated and not very good at keeping her feelings to herself. Even when her love for Natalia was supposed to be this big secret she couldn't stop herself from telling people about it at every opportunity. Josh, Jeffrey, Mel, Bill and Doris herself had all been her confidantes at one time or another. No wonder Natalia hadn't been shocked at her confession. What was more surprising was that there was anyone left in town that didn't know that Olivia Spencer - man-eater extraordinaire - was now batting for the other team. Part time, at least.
Doris had told her once that taking this step with Natalia didn't have to mean giving up anything, that she might just find a whole new part of herself. She was discovering that was true. She still noticed attractive men, she could still turn on the charm that had led to five marriages, but lately she'd found herself occasionally looking at women too. At first it was just idle curiosity. She had never looked at any woman that way before Natalia after all, and it was only natural that she should try to compare her with others. Natalia's kindness and strength and spirit were why she loved her. But - and she had taken a long time to come to terms with this idea - it was her body that made Olivia want her. Her lips, which she couldn't stop staring at. Her hair, which she longed to touch and stroke and comb her fingers through. Her curves, so delightfully different from a man's body. And other women had those attributes too.
Olivia thrust her hands into the sink full of dishes, the hot water clearing her thoughts. She couldn't let her mind go there. Thoughts of kissing and touching and loving Natalia could only lead to frustration and heartbreak. The other woman was nowhere near ready for that step. Not if she couldn't bring herself to say I love you over the phone.
As of by magic, her phone began to ring the moment the thought crossed her mind. "Speak of the devil," she muttered as she glanced at the display.
"Olivia," Natalia exclaimed as soon as Olivia answered the call. "I've missed you so much."
Olivia closed her eyes. A lot of possible answers crossed her mind, some of them not exactly civil. She had been wounded by Natalia's distance and apparent rejection and when Olivia was hurt she tended to strike out. Only a colossal strength of will stopped her from doing so this time, although her voice was not as warm as it could have been as she replied. "How are things?"
Natalia hesitated. "Uh...things are OK," she said. "The funeral's the day after tomorrow."
Olivia nodded. "When do you think you'll be coming back?"
"I'm not sure," Natalia admitted. "Things with mom are...uhm...a little bit complicated."
Olivia's lips twitched in an unpleasant sneer. "Oh right, and she needs you I guess."
Natalia didn't speak for a moment. "What's that supposed to mean?" she said at last.
Olivia managed a bitter laugh. "Nothing at all Natalia. Duty calls, right? I know how important your family is to you. I mean when people have loved and supported you unconditionally they really deserve your time and consideration." Sarcasm dripped from every syllable. "Oh, wait," she said, smacking herself on the forehead with the flat of her hand. "I think I'm getting her confused with someone else."
A deep sigh was her response. "Why are you doing this?" Natalia said. "Don't you think this situation is difficult enough for me without you trying to make me feel guilty for wanting to look after my own mother?"
Olivia rolled her eyes. "When has she ever looked after you?" she demanded.
"That's not the point!" Natalia shouted. Olivia winced a little holding the phone away from her ear. "You don't treat people as they've treated you, you treat them how you would like to be treated. What kind of person do you think I am?"
Olivia ground her teeth, but couldn't bring herself to reply. Partly because she was angry and hurt, and partly because she knew Natalia was right and didn't want to admit it.
Natalia let out a small, defeated sound and sighed. "I don't want to fight with you," she said softly. "Please. I love you, Olivia."
Olivia didn't mean to say it. She didn't want to say it. She'd been waiting to hear those words for days and everything in her heart called out to say them back, to re-affirm the love and desire and tenderness that had drawn them so inexorably together. But the word was out of her mouth before she had a chance to think about it, born from a bitter core of pain that had been living in the pit of her stomach for as long as she could remember. "Ditto," she said, her voice cold and empty.
There was an intake of breath on the other end of the line. "I guess I deserved that," Natalia said. Olivia could hear the tears in her voice. She clenched her fist, digging her nails painfully into her palm. She longed to take the word back, to start again, but if there was one thing Natalia had taught her it was that there were some words you couldn't take back.
"Natalia," she began, her voice warmer now, but Natalia cut her off.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't want to say that, I really didn't, but she was just right there and...it would have led to so many questions..."
Olivia felt each word like a slap. "So she doesn't know?" she asked. "About us? You haven't told her?"
"N-no..." Natalia admitted. "I didn't think...I mean I don't see why it matters. I don't need her approval."
Olivia choked out a humourless laugh. "But you do fear her disapproval, that much is obvious."
Natalia sniffed, and Olivia imagined her wiping away tears. "I just think it would make things really complicated right now," she began, but Olivia didn't let her continue.
"Look, don't worry about it Natalia," she snapped. "I'm used to being a dirty little secret. Why break the habit of a lifetime?"
"Olivia!" Natalia gasped. "No! That's not-"
Olivia didn't give her a chance to finish. She stabbed at the disconnect button on her phone and tossed it onto the counter, not particularly caring when it slid to floor with a crash.
She leaned against the countertop for several long minutes, breathing deep and hard and fighting back tears. How foolish she had been, she thought. All her life she had been waiting to feel like this. Waiting for the fairy tale, the great love she'd read about in books and seen in movies. She'd jumped from man to man looking for it for years, always yearning, ever searching. Never anyone's first choice, always second best. How stupid she'd been to think this would be different. How crazy to think this could ever work. She'd tried to tell Natalia as much, back in the gazebo. And she'd been right. Natalia was ashamed of this.
But Natalia had been the one to pursue her. Olivia had never asked her for anything, never expected anything. She'd tried to walk away but Natalia wouldn't let her. That day at Emma's school there'd been such fire in her voice, such conviction. Natalia had been the one to convince her that they could make this work.
How could she do that and then break her heart?
Olivia allowed the pain to settle in, burrowing deep into her heart and taking up residence like a familiar friend. Then she bent down and collected her phone. The back had come off and the battery had scittered across the floor, so she had to put it back together before she could make the call.
"Hey," she said when Doris picked up. "It's me." She closed her eyes. "Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?"