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 - So, I'm backtracking on the number of parts that this is going to be. I don't want to rush the resolution because it would become unbelievable. I'm not quite sure how long it'll be, but it'll be more than twenty parts. I've been fighting with it for a few days, but I think I'm back in my stride now. With thanks to shaych_03 for letting me bounce ideas off her, and for her suggestions.
The tears didn't come when she said goodbye. They didn't come in the elevator, though she could tell they were in the mail. They didn't come in the lobby. They came when she emerged into the crowds of North Michigan Avenue, and were swallowed up by the noise and the traffic and the thunder of the city sweeping past her as she stood there, hugging her own chest and cradling one of the hearts she had just broken. The other was ten floors up in the building she'd just left. Every fibre of her being cried out for her to go back and fix it, to think of something to say or do to make everything better, but she couldn't There was nothing she could think of that would make this better and even if inspiration were to suddenly strike her, would she have the courage to follow through?
With trembling fingers Natalia reached for her cellphone. She could feel a few stares and second glances as she hunted through her contacts, but for once she didn't care. Let them look. Hadn't they ever seen a devastated woman crying in the street before? Honestly.
"Natalia, hey!" Natalia could hear the smile in Selina's voice and it just made her want to cry harder.
"Hey," she whimpered.
Happiness turned to concern instantly. "What's wrong?" she asked.
Natalia swallowed. "Uhm," she began, swallowing hard. "I...something just happened."
"Where are you?" Selina's voice was strong and steady. Natalia clung to it like a life preserver.
"I'm outside the Omni, downtown," she said.
"Right...there's a Starbucks just down the street, about half a mile. Go there and wait for me. I'll be about twenty minutes. Okay?"
Natalia nodded, then suddenly realised that Selina couldn't see her. "Okay," she said and hung up.
She didn't remember anything about the ten minute walk to the coffee shop. One foot stepped in front of the other as if on autopilot until she arrived in front of the familiar plate glass and green lettering of Starbucks the world over. She made her way inside and ordered a latte for Selina and the largest, sweetest, coldest frappuccino on the menu for herself, with extra whipped cream and caramel. She needed to cool down. And she needed to be rescued from a pit of shock and despair - what better than an overdose of sugar?
Sinking down into a cool, comfortable leather chair with her drinks she sighed deeply and closed her eyes. She cast her mind back to all the previous standout momentous days of her life. Her confirmation, when she had been anointed and accepted into the Church. She had heard a howl of wind outside the church and felt the Holy Spirit's presence just as surely as she could feel the girl in the pew beside her or the bishop smearing a cross of oil onto her brow. The day Rafe was born and she'd known her world had changed forever. From that day to this she'd spent every waking moment thinking of him. The day Gus died and her dreams for the future along with him. The day she'd given his heart to a woman she could barely stand. A woman who had wormed her way into her life until suddenly, without conscious thought or choice, she'd found that she was her life.
And today. Her father's funeral. Olivia. And the realisation that she, Natalia, was not who she thought she was. That there was another person inside her straining at the ropes she'd spent a lifetime tying securely round her wrists.
"Hey," Selina said, collapsing heavily into the seat opposite her. "Is that for me?"
Natalia held out the latte without a word and took a quick sip of her own drink. "Hey," she said at last. "I'm sorry I dragged you down here..."
"Don't be silly," Selina replied, waving her hand dismissively. "Any excuse to get out of the office."
Natalia seemed to be very interested in her drink. The cream had begun to melt. Condensation had formed on the smooth plastic of the cup and now dripped down slowly onto the lapel of her dark jacket. She didn't appear to notice. "It was my dad's funeral today," she said in a faraway voice.
Selina nodded. "Yeah, you told me the other night," she replied gently
"I left early."
Selina frowned, then leaned forward and placed a hand on Natalia's knee. "Is it your mom?" she asked. "Did she say something?"
Natalia's lips twitched in a parody of a smile. "No, it's not my mom," she said. She took a deep breath. "It's Olivia. Olivia freakin' Spencer..."
Selina's frown deepened. "Should I know who-" she began, then sat up a little straighter. "Oh," she said. "Oh! The Olivia that guy was calling you about? Your boss?"
Natalia nodded tightly. "She's here."
Selina sat back in her chair and took a long sip of her cooling coffee. "She's not just your boss, is she?" she said. "She's your girlfriend, right?"
Natalia's face twisted in distaste. "Girlfriend?" she said. The word seemed wholly inadequate to describe the many, many things Olivia Spencer was to her. "We're not twelve."
Selina laughed, briefly and humourlessly, a little bit of anger creeping into her tone. "Yeah, well, I'm afraid one of the many, many consequences of our government being stuck in the dark ages is a problem of nomenclature. I've been in a committed relationship for twelve years. I'd have married her a hundred times over, but I can't. So she's my girlfriend. Sorry if that's a little sophomore for your tastes Natalia, but we queers have to take whatever scraps we can get."
Natalia remembered to blink after a few moments and snapped her jaw shut. "Sorry," she said. "I didn't think...I mean you didn't mention her the other night..."
Selina shrugged. "I would have done, but you were out of there so fast after you got that phone call I didn't get the chance."
Natalia flushed. She had beaten an indecently hasty retreat, that was true. "Sorry," she mumbled again, gripping her slippery cup a little tighter.
Selina's face softened. "It's okay," she said. "You're new at this, right?" Natalia nodded tightly. "I thought so."
Natalia managed a smile. "I guess I'm pretty obvious," she said.
"Just a bit." Selina returned the smile. "So, Olivia's here?" she prodded when no further information seemed to be forthcoming.
Natalia flushed a deep and very interesting shade of red. "She...I...we-" she tried, unsure of how to even begin.
Selina raised an eyebrow. "You've seen her," she guessed. Natalia nodded. "Did you fight?"
Another tight nod. "Yes," Natalia said.
Selina leaned forward. "Did you kiss and make up?" There was laughter in her voice now. Natalia groaned and buried her face in her hands.
"Oh my God," she muttered. If anything Selina's smile grew wider.
"Natalia Rivera," she said, amused shock written all over her face. "Did you just run out of your father's funeral to go to a hotel room and have sex with your girlfriend?"
A groan was her only reply and she laughed until she realised that Natalia was crying. She was out of her seat in an instant, kneeling in front of her friend and pulling her into her arms. "Oh my God," Natalia repeated as Selina's hands came up to clumsily pat her back. It really wasn't the best angle for this.
"What's wrong?" Selina asked, trying desperately to comfort the distraught woman in her arms.
"It was all wrong," Natalia murmured, burying her head in the crook of Selina's shoulder. "It was all wrong...and now she's leaving."
Selina caught the eyes of the few people staring at them, daring them silently to say something. They all looked away. "Was it your first time?" she asked gently. Natalia nodded and Selina sighed. "Yeah, well it's only to be expected that it wouldn't be very good the first time," she said. "If you've only been with men before...I mean it's new and different and you shouldn't beat yourself up if it wasn't everything you'd hoped for-"
Natalia cut off Selina's rambling monologue by raising her head. "Oh, you don't get it," she said. "It wasn't bad. It was good. Really, really good." She closed her eyes, wiping harshly at her tears. "That's why it was so wrong."
Selina rocked back on her heels, dumbfounded. "My God," she said at last. "I knew you were repressed, but this is ridiculous."
Natalia's eyes snapped open. "What?"
Selina laughed. "I can't believe I'm actually sitting here comforting a woman who's distraught because she just had good sex. Dear God, Natalia, what'll you be like when you have a real problem?"
There was a long pause, then Natalia looked away. "I don't see why you have to make fun of me," she mumbled, tears springing to her eyes again.
Selina sighed and ran her hands through her hair as she perched once again on the edge of her seat. "I'm not," she said, her voice gentling. "At least I don't mean to. Why don't we start again. Can you tell me exactly what the problem is?"
Natalia looked down at her trembling hands and took a breath. "It's me," she admitted. "I...it was so strange. I've never felt like that before, never acted like that before. It was like I just lost myself somehow..."
Selina frowned. "So..."
"So, I don't know what it means," Natalia explained, throwing her hands in the air. "Who am I now? What does it mean that I...that I enjoyed it so much?"
Selina sat back in her chair, fighting the urge to laugh. She didn't want Natalia to think she was making fun of her again. "I can think of one thing," she said.
Natalia shrugged. "What?"
Selina smiled. "Well...answer me a couple of questions first," she said. "How many men have you been with?"
Natalia flushed. "I don't see what that has to do-"
"Humour me," Selina interrupted. "How many?"
There was a pause as Natalia took a breath. "Two," she said at last. "But the second one didn't really count."
Selina raised an eyebrow. "How so?"
Natalia shrugged. "I was just using him," she admitted. "I was running away from my...my feelings...for Olivia. I'd hoped...I don't know what I'd hoped."
"That he'd straighten you out?" Selina ventured. Natalia shook her head at first and then slowly nodded, biting her lip. Selina chuckled softly. "Yeah, he did a real good job there, huh?" she said. Natalia flushed. "And the other one was Nicky Augustino, I suppose," Selina finished. "And we both know why you slept with him."
Natalia nodded. "I loved him," she said.
Selina shook her head, frowning. "No, I meant...you know, what happened with us," she said.
Natalia felt every muscle suddenly tense. "Nothing happened with us," she said coldly.
Selina did a double take. "But...the other night you said-"
"That doesn't mean anything," Natalia insisted. Selina laughed.
"I beg to differ," she replied. "Christina's party? December...no, January '91? That game of spin the bottle? Am I ringing any bells?"
Natalia's heart pounded as her mind flashed back to that night. A circle of giggling, slightly drunk teenagers gathered round an empty beer bottle. Selina had been there, and Nicky, along with five or six others whose faces had blended into one with the passage of time. She remembered Selina spinning the bottle, remembered how she had held her breath and thought she was going to die when it finished spinning and pointed at her. She remembered hesitant, unskilled lips and the hooting and cat-calls of the boys.
"That didn't count," she said, shaking her head.
Selina pinned her with a steady gaze. "It counted," she said. "Don't deny it."
Natalia looked away. "I'm not denying anything," she said. Selina cut her off with a laugh.
"You're denying everything," she said. "But I'm sure you haven't forgotten what else happened that night. After I kissed you...it was your turn. You got Nicky. You were all over him, remember? You really pushed for it." She leaned forward. "Is that the night your son was conceived?"
Natalia blushed. "Yes," she muttered. Selina snorted with laughter and if anything Natalia's blush deepened. "What exactly are you trying to say?"
Selina shrugged. "Just that it can't be a co-incidence that you've slept with two men in your life and you started it with both of them because you were scared of your feelings for another woman." She grasped her friend's hands. "Natalia," she murmured, kindly now. "Isn't all this even just a little suggestive to you? Don't you think you might be-"
"What?" Natalia asked breathlessly, not sure if she even wanted to hear what Selina was about to say.
"Well..." her friend continued, then rolled her eyes. Did she really need to be hit over the head with this? "I mean...oh come on! You're gay, Natalia. Really, really gay."
For a long moment there was silence and stillness, as if the world had stopped spinning. Then Natalia flinched and pulled her hands away from Selina's as if burned. She grabbed her purse and stood. "No," she muttered, unable to meet Selina's eyes. "You're wrong. I'm not...I can't be. I'm a mother. I make cookies for church bake sales. I have a normal life. I can't be...I can't."
"Natalia," Selina began, reaching out to her, but it was too late. Natalia was gone, sweeping out of the shop like a bat out of hell and all but running down the street.
Selina sighed deeply and punched the arm of her chair in frustration. "Oh, well done, very tactful," she said to herself bitterly. "That'll be another layer of repression welded on tight." She shook her head.
There was only one person who'd shown any success at getting through to her friend. A woman who'd managed to get the tightly controlled Natalia Rivera so worked up that she'd run out of her own father's funeral to be with her. Olivia "freakin'" Spencer. Who was at the Omni, a mere half a mile away.
Selina downed the last of her now cold coffee. It was time she and the intriguing Ms Spencer had a little chat...