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.
[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]
Olivia slid into the driver's seat of her rented Nissan with a sigh. It had been...well, quite a morning to put it mildly. And it was barely ten am.
She'd woken at eight with a headache and a tangle of tension rolling around in her gut. Sleep had come the night before only after three shots of whisky from the horrendously overpriced mini bar. She'd needed them after her conversation with Selina, which had left her more than a little disturbed. The knowledge that Natalia had always felt ashamed or dirty after sex - and that she, Olivia, had done nothing to break the cycle - was nothing short of heartbreaking. She'd spent at least half an hour after Selina had hung up berating herself for her selfishness and weakness at giving in to Natalia's advances. Because she'd known it wasn't right. She'd known it wasn't what either of them wanted their first time to be - rushed and heated and angry. She'd had her fair share of sex like that and she was tired of it. She'd never wanted to taint Natalia, or their delicate, fledgeling love, with that side of her.
When sleep had finally come it had been filled with the faces of all the men that had meandered through her life...Jeffrey, Richard, Josh, Alan, Phillip, Bill, Buzz, Frank...their faces merging together into one homogenous mass, circling round her head as she wallowed in a deep. dark hole. And then, suddenly, from above, there was Natalia. Sweet, beautiful, pure Natalia; dark hair, dark eyes, surrounded by soft, white light. Her salvation. Her salvation, that is, if she had the strength to pull Olivia up into that light with her instead of allowing Olivia to drag her into the dark pit she'd been living in for half her life. In her dream she'd reached out to take her hand, trusting both their fates to the strength in her arms, the determination in her eyes. She'd woken up just as their hands clasped together. She'd tried desperately to go back to sleep, to cling to the dream for as long as possible. She needed to know. Was Natalia strong enough? Could she save her?
The incessant pounding in her head had prevented her from finding out. With a groan she'd finally opened her eyes, with no more insight than she'd fallen asleep with, and a bad feeling that the day was only going to get worse.
Which of course it had, when her phone had rung at 9.15am. An unknown number. She'd answered, and had immediately been assaulted with a high pitched screech that had forced her to pull the phone several inches away from her ear.
"Where is my daughter?" the voice had eventually demanded. At least, those were the first words Olivia had understood out of the barrage of half formed Spanish and English phrases that the other woman was spitting down the phone like bullets.
"Mrs Rivera," she'd said, rolling her eyes. "How delightful to hear from you again. I'm just on my way to pick up Natalia now, as it happens. We have some business together today."
"I know what kind of business you do together."
Her eyebrow had raised of its own accord. "Hotel business?"
"Ha! You think I'm stupid? You think I was born yesterday?"
"No-one could ever accuse you of that," Olivia had remarked acidly, smiling to herself when Josephine took in a deep breath.
"When you see her, tell Natalia to come home," she had ordered, and then hung up.
Olivia looked up, startled out of her internal replay of the morning's events by the sound of the passenger door thudding shut. Natalia looked over at her and smiled. "Thanks," she said. "I just wanted to say goodbye to Father Joe. He's been...extremely helpful."
Olivia nodded, casting her eyes over Natalia's shoulder to glance at the priest, who was heading back into the church. "Helpful 'reminding you about the fire and brimstone' helpful or...?" Olivia trailed off as a warm hand came to rest on top of hers and threaded their fingers together.
"The other kind of helpful," Natalia said softly.
Olivia felt one of the knots in her stomach untangle and she closed her eyes in relief. The feeling of safety, warmth, security and love she'd experienced in Natalia's arms had gone a long way to improving her mood. But this? Holding hands in the car, just the two of them, no onlookers, no disapproving mothers, no curious children, no passers by, just them, like it was always supposed to be? This was almost better. She smiled, and regretfully pulled her hand away so she could put the car into drive. "Where am I going?" she asked, her voice slightly husky.
"Mount Olivet cemetery," Natalia replied. "Just get on the I-94 heading east, I'll direct you from there."
Olivia nodded. "Okie dokie," she said as she pulled out into traffic. Natalia laughed softly as she reached out to take her hand again.
"You're being whimsical," she said, love seeping into every syllable.
"Part of my charm, remember?" Olivia replied, feeling her heart sprout some tiny, experimental wings.
"I do," Natalia said, squeezing her hand. "I do."
Olivia swallowed, trying to concentrate on the road. Natalia didn't let go of her hand the whole way, and Olivia thanked her long discarded God for Natalia Rivera, Chicago traffic, and automatic transmission.
* * * * * *
Natalia was quiet when they finally reached the graveyard. Olivia turned the engine off and they sat silently together for long minutes, listening to the leftover ticks from the engine and the faded bustle of everyday life on the street. Eventually Olivia coughed, drawing Natalia's attention. "Do you want me to wait for you here?" she asked softly, caressing Natalia's knuckles with her thumb. Natalia looked away, gazing out of the window and into space.
"I want you with me," she said at last. Always was left unsaid, but it hung in the space between them nonetheless, like a living thing.
"Okay," Olivia replied, trying not to let too much happiness leak into her voice. They were at a graveyard after all. "Whenever you're ready."
They lapsed into silence again and Natalia closed her eyes. She was still for so long that Olivia almost began to believe she'd fallen asleep and was on the point of whispering her name, when she felt her hand being squeezed. Natalia opened her eyes slowly. "Okay, let's go," she said, finally releasing Olivia's hand as she reached for the door handle.
The moment they walked through the gates the noise of the rest of the world seemed to melt away. Natalia began to walk among the headstones, seemingly at random, occasionally stopping to read one or make some comment.
"I thought we were going to visit your father's grave," Olivia said gently, when Natalia paused at yet another stranger's headstone. Natalia shrugged.
"I like graveyards," she murmured. "All these headstones...layers and layers of people's lives, generation upon generation." She pointed at one stone. "Look," she said. "That woman there. She was born, she lived, she died. She was married. She left behind children who loved her." She pointed again, this time at a man's headstone. "And him," she said. "Someone's son; someone's husband." Olivia smiled, but it was a confused smile.
"I don't understand," she admitted. Natalia reached out and took her hand, knotting their fingers together as they continued to walk.
"Haven't you ever thought about how wonderful it is?" she asked. "What gets written on headstones isn't flashy or boastful. It isn't how much money we made or how high up the corporate ladder we climbed. It's how much we were loved." They stopped at another headstone and Natalia smiled. "Like this lady for example," she said, nodding towards the inscription. Olivia turned her head, and gasped.
Natalia Rosa Rivera
born 25th December 1928
died 10th July 1990
Beloved wife, mother and grandmother
He has redeemed my soul from going to the pit,
And my life shall see the light.
"Sorry," Natalia said, wincing a little at the way Olivia had paled. "She's my abuela. I was named after her."
Olivia nodded feebly. "It's okay," she said. "Just...I never want to look at a headstone with your name on it, okay?"
"All right," Natalia replied gently. She smiled and pressed herself against Olivia's side, wrapping her arm round her waist and resting her head on her shoulder. Olivia curled her own arm round Natalia's shoulders automatically, pulling her closer and sighing softly.
"Your grandmother was born on Christmas day," she said. Natalia nodded.
"That's what our name means," she explained.
"I know," Olivia replied. "I wondered a few times you know...why you were called Natalia when your birthday's in October."
They lapsed into silence again, holding onto each other as they stood before the grave. Eventually Olivia noticed that Natalia was mumbling a prayer in Spanish under her breath. "Amen," she said softly as Natalia finished, and was rewarded with a dazzling smile.
"You are so wonderful," Natalia breathed, a mixture of surprised and delighted. She cupped her face between her hands and pulled her down for the lightest and chastest of kisses before continuing to walk. Olivia stood still for a long moment, her lips tingling and heart racing, and then followed her as far as the next grave. This one was fresh and had no headstone yet. Olivia knew immediately that they had arrived at their destination.
Natalia sank the ground, kneeling before the grave and resting her hands on her thighs. Olivia stood behind her. Her fingers ran slowly through the waves of her hair, then came to a stop on her shoulders.
"This is it, huh?" she said quietly. Natalia nodded.
"Yes," she replied. "This is where my father is buried." Olivia squeezed her shoulders but said nothing, and after a moment Natalia continued. "I was always a daddy's girl," she said, a small smile dusting over her lips. "I used to ride up on his shoulders everywhere we went. I always thought he was so strong and tall and perfect. Like he could do no wrong." Her eyes fluttered closed as her mind went back again to that night; the night her illusions had been shattered and she'd realised that her father was just a man after all. A fallible human being capable of making mistakes just like anyone else.
Olivia sighed and gracefully dropped down to Natalia's side. "I guess he did do something wrong eventually though, right?" she said. Natalia shrugged.
"Maybe," she allowed. "Or maybe I...maybe it was me."
Olivia frowned. "You? What do you mean?"
Natalia looked away, hot tears glittering in her eyes. "I've been so afraid all my life," she gasped. "Afraid of being a disappointment. Afraid of letting my family down after they gave up so much to come to this country so I could have a better life. Afraid of doing or saying something to make everyone realise that I'm not worthy of all that love." She covered her face with her hands, then felt herself being wrapped up in strong arms.
"You are," Olivia whispered fiercely. "You deserve so much. You deserve everything good in this world." Natalia shook her head and tried to pull away, but Olivia stopped her. "No!" she cried, holding her tighter. "It's true, Natalia. You're good. You're warm. You're decent. You're beautiful." She broke off, pulling back slightly to run her trembling fingers over the lovely face she so adored. "And I'm not just talking about this," she whispered. "Natalia...I love you more than anyone I've ever known. You saved my life."
Natalia looked away. Tears hung suspended on her eyelashes. Olivia longed to lean close and kiss them away, but she held back, waiting to hear what Natalia would say. "I gave you Nicky's heart," she whispered. Olivia shook her head.
"That's not what I meant," she said earnestly. "You did save me that way. But you also saved me...with your smile. With your eyes. With your stubbornness and your single-mindedness and your loyalty." She blinked away a few stray tears, then leaned forward to press her lips to Natalia's forehead and, after only a brief hesitation, Natalia crumpled against her, wrapping her arms round her waist and resting her head above her thundering heartbeat.
"I am stubborn," Natalia murmured. "You've said it before and I probably tried to deny it, but it's true. I make decisions and I stick to them, whether they're right or not. Because I have this idea in my head that perception is reality. So I do stupid things sometimes. Like agreeing to marry Frank. Like raising Rafe alone instead of trying to get help. And I...I'm proud."
Olivia nuzzled her hair. "You have a lot to be proud of," she said, but Natalia shook her head.
"Stubbornness and pride and fear have stopped me doing a lot of things I should have done," she said. "Calling my mother and father years ago, for one. Letting Rafe know his grandparents. Looking for Nicky when Rafe was still young enough to really be shaped by his father." She looked up, a tremble entering her voice. "And loving you," she whispered. "Most importantly...loving you the way you deserve to be loved."
Olivia swallowed hard, tears prickling at her eyes. "Natalia," she began, but the other woman cut her off.
"I've been so afraid," she murmured, stroking her fingers rhythmically through Olivia's hair. "Of you, of the future, of what Rafe would think or what people might say. But I think I've realised...what I've really been afraid of is me. Of what this means for who I am."
"And who are you?" The question left Olivia's lips on a breath, barely audible. Natalia managed a small smile.
"I only know one way to answer that," she said, turning her head to look at the warm brown earth of her father's fresh grave. "I'm Natalia Rivera. I'm Emilio and Josephine's daughter. I'm Rafe's mother. And I'm Olivia Spencer's..." she trailed off, biting her lip. Olivia took in a quick breath, realising suddenly that she had forgotten to breathe for what felt like minutes.
"Olivia Spencer's what?" she whispered, her heart in her mouth. Natalia closed her eyes.
"Anything and everything she wants me to be," she breathed, then looked away, suddenly shy. "That is...if she still wants me."
Time seemed to stop. Olivia was frozen, listening to the breeze rustling through the trees, the chirp of bird song, the distant hum of traffic. She was suddenly struck with the awful realisation that she was about to cry. She swallowed against the lump in her throat, but nothing could stop the inevitable. She barked out a short, almost hysterical laugh, her hand flying to her mouth as the tears finally spilled onto her cheeks. "She still wants you," she gasped. "God, Natalia..."
Anything else she might have said was smothered by Natalia's lips as she surged forward and kissed her; hungrily, desperately, like she'd been waiting all her life to kiss her like this instead of just two days. But there was no anger this time, no jealousy, no fire. This kiss was about none of those things. It was about love, devotion, tenderness, homecoming. When it ended Olivia collapsed against the other woman, weeping like a lost child as she clung to her. Natalia clutched her as close as she could, like a drowning woman clinging on to the last piece of driftwood. "I love you," she whispered, over and over, almost as if she wasn't fully aware she was saying it. "I love you so much and I'm so, so sorry." Her lips roamed over every piece of skin she could reach; her forehead, her cheeks, her eyelids, the bridge of her nose.
"Don't be sorry," Olivia breathed. "You don't ever have to be sorry." Natalia shook her head.
"I do," she insisted. "I hurt you. I hid from you and I used you and I let you believe that my fears were your fault. You've done nothing but love me, and I haven't lived up to that love. But I promise you...I promise you...I'm going be better. From now on, I'm going to give you everything you deserve."
"But I don't deserve you," Olivia whispered through the last of her tears, reaching up to wipe at her raw eyes. Natalia grabbed her hands.
"You deserve the best," she said fiercely. "You know why? Because you're good. You're warm. You're decent. You're beautiful. And you saved me too." She nodded at Olivia's incredulous look. "You gave me a home. A family. You gave me your love. And you showed me I don't have to be scared all the time."
Olivia's mind flashed back suddenly to a picnic table what felt like lifetimes ago, and Natalia saying: "I'm so scared; I'm always scared." She'd held her then, not for the first time, but the first time she'd done it with genuine affection. There was more than affection between them now. There was family, and love, and a beautiful shared dream of an intertwined life. She opened her arms and pulled Natalia close again, wishing there was some way she could just crawl inside her and never come out.
"I love you," she whispered into her ear. "I don't think I can ever tell you how much." Natalia let out a small noise that Olivia couldn't quite identify - pleasure, or delight. Maybe even surrender. Whatever it was, it made her heart clench. "But listen," she continued, pulling back a little so she could look into her eyes. "What you said before...about being someone's daughter, or someone's mother...there's more to you than that. You're not just an adjunct to other people. You're your own person, Natalia." She trailed her fingers through soft dark hair, her heart lifting when the other woman smiled.
"I know that," she said. "I think I know that now for the first time in my life. You know...being a daughter or a mother...those aren't things I chose for myself. Most of my life I've been content just to accept whatever roles I was given, because it was easy and it was safe. But being yours..." she trailed off, her eyes shining. "Your partner, your...your lover." Her eyes fluttered closed. Olivia found herself transfixed by the thundering pulse visibly fluttering in her throat. "That's something I choose for myself," Natalia whispered at last. "I choose you."
Olivia swallowed hard. "I choose you too." Natalia opened her eyes and smiled, that rare, beautiful, beatific smile that always made Olivia's stomach drop through the floor. She leaned forward, sealing the promise with a soft, tender kiss.
They held each other for long moments, silent save for the occasional soft sigh. "There's just one problem," Olivia said eventually. Natalia pulled back, frowning.
Olivia grimaced. "Oh God, I can't believe I'm saying this," she muttered, rubbing her forehead as if against a sudden headache. "We're in a bubble here, Natalia." She shrugged helplessly. "Just you and me and the headstones. No one looking or judging or whispering." Her voice softened. "If I can have you, and our home, and our family...I can accept anything." She took Natalia's hands. "But I need something from you."
"Anything," Natalia replied firmly. "Anything."
Olivia's eyes misted over. "I need you to say all of this again, just one more time," she said softly. "Not in Chicago. In Springfield. I need you to mean all this, when we're back in our everyday world, with nosy neighbours and gossips and people watching our every move. I need..." She trailed off, looking down at their joined hands.
"You need the grand gesture," Natalia finished for her, with a small smile. Gently she reached up and nudged Olivia's chin until their eyes met. "I can do that."
Hope and fear fought frantically for dominance in Olivia's eyes. Natalia tried not to think of all the times she'd allowed Olivia to hope before, only to disappoint her. This would be different. She'd make sure of it. "I'd really like to kiss you now," Natalia whispered. "But I think I'll save it for when we go home. When I can have all of you and you can have all of me."
Olivia nodded. "Okay," she said.
A car honked loudly somewhere in the distance, making them both jump. They looked around blearily, as if surprised to discover that there was still a world around them and that it was going on about its business. "Wow," Natalia murmured, then laughed a little. "What is it with us and intense graveside conversations?"
Olivia barked with laughter. "Don't ask me," she replied. Natalia smiled, showing her teeth and her dimples.
"Take me back to my mom's, would you?" she said. "I'm going to get my suitcase and my son and go home."
Olivia nodded. "All right." She struggled to her feet with a little groan. "Ow...my foot's asleep. Ugh, I'm getting old."
Natalia giggled a little as she watched the other woman hop around, trying to regain sensation. Then her eyes turned to the fresh grave before her and the smile faded from her lips. She reached out a hand and laid it on the cool, damp earth.
"Goodbye daddy," she whispered. "I'm sorry we lost each other. I'm sorry you didn't talk to me and I'm sorry I didn't believe in you. I'm sorry you never knew your grandson. I love you. And I'm sorry I let fear stand in the way of that love for so many years." She clenched her eyes shut. "I will never make that mistake again," she vowed, and then felt a warm hand closing on her shoulder. She looked up into Olivia's gently smiling face and felt her whole being flood with love.
"You ready?" Olivia said softly.
Natalia smiled and held out her hand. Olivia took it and pulled her up onto her feet and into a loose, one armed hug. They stood together looking down at the grave for long minutes before Natalia nodded.
"Yes," she said. "I'm ready. I'm finally ready."
A/N - Thank you to ndasky1 on Twitter for the idea of naming Natalia after her grandmother. girlskout provided the middle name.