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[Guiding Light, Otalia] Fic: In the Sun (6A/12?)

Title: In the Sun (6A/12?)
Pairing: Olivia Spencer/Natalia Rivera.
Rating: R.
Summary: Natalia finds that she massively miscalculated the effect of her departure, and has to deal with the consequences.
Disclaimer: Definitely not mine; I would be taking waaaaaay better care of them, I assure you.
Spoilers: None; branches off of canon pretty much once one Natalia comes back to Springfield.
Author's Note: As usual, thanks to seftiri for the beta!

I'm sorry this part took so long! RL got hectic. The next part should be up sooner. They should also be getting shorter. This, at least, is what you've all been looking forward to (I think)...the girls having it out. Again.

Parts 1-2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5A. Part 5B.

VI
“Alright, who wants popcorn?” Natalia asks, entering the living room somehow juggling an enormous bucket of popcorn and several drinks (guess the belly’s good for something, she thinks dryly as she braces the popcorn against it, and wonders again when her snarkier thoughts started taking on Olivia’s voice).

Suddenly, the woman herself is beside Natalia. “Here, give me that,” Olivia says, wrestling the drinks away from Natalia, not giving up when Natalia holds them away. Finally, Olivia wins, mostly because Natalia lets her.

Their eyes connect, and for a moment it’s just like it used to be, and Natalia is so in love with Olivia it almost hurts. (And so turned on by Olivia’s hands over and around her, by Olivia’s lips so close to her own, that she’s trembling, just a little.)

Their eyes break, and Natalia laughs, and if it’s shaky no one comments. “Olivia, stop, I’ve got those,” she says, grabbing for the drinks. But Olivia backs away, shaking her head, face serious.

“Natalia, no. I don’t want you to overstrain yourself and hurt yourself or him,” she nods in the direction of Natalia’s belly. Her eyes meet Natalia’s for a moment and Natalia feels another piece of her heart just melt. Olivia is still angry, so angry, but she’s putting that all aside for Natalia and her health, to make sure Natalia’s okay.

Just like she always does.

“Mommy, what do you mean?” Emma’s innocent voice breaks in on Natalia’s thoughts, on the tidal wave of guilt swamping her, and she blinks. Her eyes are misty.

“Well, honey, when mommies have babies inside their tummies, they have to be very careful,” Olivia explains as she steals the popcorn bowl from Natalia, too. This time, Natalia doesn’t fight, although she mock-glares as Olivia blithely plumps the cushions beside Emma for her. Olivia really is a mother hen in her own right. There’s a mountain of blankets next to the couch, an even bigger mountain of pillows on the floor, an ottoman...it just goes on and on. “It’s easy to hurt the baby or the mommy. So you know what we have to do to make sure Natalia and the baby are okay?”

“What?” Emma is raptly paying attention to Olivia, even as Natalia sinks down beside her with a grateful sigh (the fuss aside, it is nice to have so many blankets and pillows, and someone arranging them so thoughtfully for her). Emma snuggles into her side without a second thought, and Olivia’s flinch is well-hidden, and Natalia can almost, almost pretend that the last month didn’t happen and things are normal. Emma places a fascinated hand on Natalia’s stomach. She loves doing that, Natalia thinks idly. Maybe she’ll be a doctor one day....

“We have to be really nice to Natalia until the baby decides he wants to come out, okay? We have to help her out. If the bowl is empty, we have to go get more popcorn, not Natalia, okay? Can you help me with that, Jellybean?”

Emma nods vigorously, and Olivia smiles, reaching out and tousling her hair.

“Olivia,” Natalia can’t decide if she should be laughing or crying. “I’m pregnant. I’ve been pregnant before. You’ve been pregnant. You know that I’m not fragile.”

Olivia looks at her, then, and for the first time since Natalia returned, Olivia’s eyes are soft and open. “I don’t want to take any chances with you or him,” she says, a wealth of emotion in her voice.

Natalia feels tears sting her eyes. She takes a deep shuddering breath, realizes she has absolutely nothing to say, and lets it out in a whoosh. Definitely crying, she thinks distantly, and is thankful that Emma seems to understand, that the little girl just snuggles closer. Olivia curls up on the other end of the couch, away from them but her curled legs brushing Emma’s, and Natalia cannot concentrate on the movie.

What are we doing? She almost wants to ask. Dinner had been so—awkward. So darn awkward. The three of them at Company, and everyone in town, it seemed, had stopped by and said something, insinuated something, had given congratulations, had generally just assumed that fences were mended and the two were back together.

And it’s not that Natalia cares about the assumption that she and Olivia are together—well, she does, but not because Olivia’s a woman. She thought long and hard about that on her retreat, and she’s made her peace with her faith and with her church. She knows, she knows, now, that God meant her for this woman, and she’s not going anywhere ever again.

No, the awkward part was that, well, everyone seemed to assume they were together, and they’re not. They’re not, and it kills her a little bit inside to realize this, and every comment about had been like salt in an open wound. She’s just thankful that Olivia hadn’t snapped at any point, because the public humiliation on top of everything else probably would have sent her to the bathroom, sobbing.

And she’s thankful that Frank is being, well, better. She’d had a long couple talks with him when she first returned, and if things still aren’t ideal, they’re at least better. She had told him flatly—in no uncertain terms—that if she wasn’t raising the baby with Olivia, she wasn’t raising him with anyone at all. He could be involved, but he would not be a co-parent. He was frustrated, and probably still doesn’t understand, but he’s accepted it, at least. She’s just grateful he and Blake are together now. If Blake wasn’t in the picture, she’s well aware she could have had one heck of a fight on her hands there.

And she doesn’t have the energy to waste on him when she’s going to need every ounce of it to get Olivia back. (Not to mention placate Rafe and Doris.)

Dinner had been nice, though, too. It had been just like it had been, and Olivia had thawed some, teasing Emma good-naturedly and looking at Natalia gently. Once, she’d caught Olivia gazing at her with a furrow between her brows, although Olivia had immediately looked away once their eyes had met....

Suddenly, she swallows hard. Olivia’s hand has drifted across Emma to lightly rub Natalia’s forearm for a moment. Olivia’s hand is gone almost as soon as it arrives, but Natalia feels like she’s been branded. Marked.

She gazes at Olivia, but Olivia’s eyes are locked on the TV screen. Eventually, she looks away, but she can’t concentrate on the movie over the roaring in her ears.

--

“Emma’s down,” Natalia says softly, coming down the stairs. Olivia, fidgeting, puts the picture frame down and turns to Natalia.

God, this is awkward.

“She’s okay? No pain or anything?” she asks, crossing her arms in front of her (for protection, she thinks). Natalia shakes her head, crosses the room to lean against the couch.

“I made sure she took her pills and everything before she brushed her teeth,” Natalia says. Then she smiles sadly, focusing on the picture Olivia had been holding.

“That’s my favorite picture of you,” she murmurs, and Olivia flinches, flushes. It’s that picture of her from Henry’s christening, months and months ago. The one that Natalia had taken herself. The one in which she had called Olivia “so beautiful.”

It isn’t lost on Olivia that the picture is framed, that it’s side-by-side with a framed picture of Rafe, and the framed picture of them with Emma from New Year’s, and that the glass has clear smudge marks from being touched constantly with fingertips.

She has no response, so she looks at Natalia, and Natalia looks at her, and distantly she thinks that the ground could open up between them and she wouldn’t notice.

Finally, she clears her head. “I, uh. Can I have something to drink?” she asks, edging away from the table.

Natalia nods, disappearing into the kitchen silently. A moment later, she returns, a small bottle of apple juice in each hand.

Olivia frowns. “You don’t have anything harder?” She’s not sure she can make it through until bedtime without the help of alcohol. Not when she’s trapped here, alone, with Natalia and a couch and a stomach full of traitorous, warring emotions. (And unfortunately, 8 pm is a little too early to believably turn in for the night. Dammit.)

Natalia frowns in response. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she disagrees, shaking her head. “I don’t like it when you drive after you’ve been drinking, even if it’s only one glass.”

Olivia stiffens. “Excuse me?” She couldn’t have heard that right. No way.

Natalia blinks. “What?”

Suddenly, Olivia’s angry again. Not the sharp, boiling anger of the fight outside company, but a slow burn in her stomach nevertheless. “You can’t be serious.”

Natalia snorts. “I heard about what you got up to while I was gone,” she accuses, stabbing her finger at Olivia. “I don’t ever want to hear about you drinking and driving ever again. You do not get to kill yourself on my watch! Do you hear me?” Her tone is fierce, now, and there is anger in her eyes.

“Who said anything about driving?” Olivia demands, and then goes on before Natalia can interrupt. “And I’m pretty sure nothing I did while you were gone is any of your concern!”

“Well, I’m not driving you back to the Beacon because you decided you couldn’t live without a glass of wine!” Natalia hisses back, color high on her cheeks. “And everything you do is my concern!”

“The Beacon?” Olivia’s attention is wrenched away from the second part of Natalia’s statement. “Are you serious?” There is disbelief in her voice.

Natalia laughs sardonically, throwing her hands up. “It’s not like you were going to stay here!” she bites out. Olivia rears back.

“You’re kicking me out?” she demands, low and incredulous and angry and hurt. “Are you fucking kidding me? I’m not going anywhere. I’m not leaving Emma here alone! What if she needs something in the middle of the night?”

Natalia pales, suddenly, and despite her anger Olivia takes a step toward her, concerned she might actually faint. The worry is a cooling balm, and Olivia takes a deep breath, tamps down on her anger. Indifference is preferable. “Is that what you think?” Natalia asks in a haunted whisper, no longer angry, but sounding…broken. “Is that really what you think of me?”

Olivia’s lost. She thought she knew where this conversation was headed, but it took a sharp right turn somewhere. “I—what?”

Natalia inflates, suddenly, and her eyes are blazing. “I would never do that to Emma!” she hisses. “God, Olivia!” Then she shuts down, completely shuts down and turns her back to Olivia, hugging herself and shaking.

Olivia blinks, dumbfounded that Natalia’s taking the Lord’s name is vain, and that she’s so upset. Her anger is mostly gone in the face of this confusion, because clearly something’s not right, clearly they’re not communicating (shocking, that). “What?” She sounds like a fucking broken record.

Natalia is quaking, now, hard, and the remnants of Olivia’s anger dissipate in the rush of worry that pounds through her veins. “Here, come here, sit down,” and she places a gentle hand on Natalia’s hip without thinking about it. Natalia leans into her touch, and Olivia leads the younger woman to the couch, where they settle down side by side. She opens one of the almost-forgotten bottles of apple juice and presses it into Natalia’s hands.

“Here, drink,” she says softly, and Natalia does, mechanically. Without letting herself think about it, Olivia caresses her thumb gently.

When Natalia’s done, she puts the lid back on the juice with still-shaking hands and puts it on the table.

“Are you okay?” Olivia asks. There’s still a lot they need to talk about, but her concern for Natalia’s health overrides everything else. Her eyes rake over Natalia worriedly. “You don’t look okay.”

But then Natalia turns to her, eyes open and vulnerable and desperate, as she takes Olivia’s hands and holds them tightly.

“Olivia, I don’t—I don’t know what you think of me, but I would never do that to Emma. Never,” she vows, low and intense, and Olivia feels a completely inappropriate thrill shoot down her spine.

“Natalia, that’s great and all, but it might help if I had some idea what the hell you’re talking about,” she says, somehow unable to extricate her hands from Natalia’s grip. Natalia’s own hands tighten, and Olivia fights a wince.

“I would never leave Emma here alone,” Natalia says, sounding broken again. “I—I know you don’t have a lot of reason to trust me, Olivia, that you still think I’m just going to leave again, but do you really think that I would leave Emma alone when she’s in pain and needs to be monitored and needs someone to make sure she takes her pills? Do you really think I would do that?”

Natalia’s near tears by the end, and Olivia can’t fight the instinctual horror that Natalia’s tears never fail to rouse in her. Moreover, she’s absolutely shocked at what Natalia is saying.

“What? Natalia, I—no, not at all!” she exclaims. “Why would you think that?”

Natalia looks away. The tears are running down her face, now, and she’s bravely fighting the sniffles. It makes Olivia want to wrap Natalia in her arms and never, ever let her go, never let anything hurtful get to her.

“I just—you insisted on staying,” Natalia whispers miserably. “The way you said it...I...I thought you didn’t trust me to take care of Emma. That you thought I would leave her here alone.”

Olivia blinks. “I don’t—why would you think that? I mean, why wouldn’t I stay here?” she asks, voice reasonable, completely thrown. “Emma’s here. I want—I need—to be here to take care of her, in case she needs me.”

Natalia sighs, pain lacing every word, every movement. “Because I’m here,” she says tiredly, self-loathing and guilt threading her voice. “I just—“ she looks away, and Olivia can hear the threatening tears in her voice. “I figured with the way things are, you’d want to stay at the Beacon instead of here.” She pauses. “And I thought—I thought you were implying that I would leave again, just leave Emma here alone.” The tears start to fall. “And I would never, ever do that. Not ever.”

“Oh.” Olivia’s stunned. She leans back, nonplussed. This is the second time today Natalia’s fried her brain. “No, I—“ she tries again and can’t get it out. She shakes her head to clear it, as Natalia’s tear-stained face looks up to meet hers. Olivia gently removes her right hand from Natalia’s, runs it across her own face, and sighs, marshalling her thoughts.

“Natalia.” She waits until Natalia’s eyes, glittering with tears, meet hers. “That’s not at all what I was saying,” she says, making an effort to gentle her tone. “I don’t want to leave Emma here because I’m worried and I want--need--to be around her. I won’t be able to sleep if I go back to the Beacon. I didn’t mean anything else. I don’t think you would run away and leave Emma alone. I know you would never do that. It...” Olivia trails off, before she gives a crooked grin, a helpless little shrug. “There’s no one else I trust more to take care of Emma than you,” she says, and means it.

And it’s true. Natalia is Emma’s other mommy. Yes, she’s fucked up. But who hasn’t? Olivia had heard her in Emma’s hospital room before, and it had assuaged the last of her doubts. Moreover, the last time Natalia left, she knew Emma was well taken care of. Olivia knows, with a deep certainty that she’s never felt before, that Natalia would never, ever leave Emma in need. Ever.

If Olivia was dying again, there is absolutely no question in her mind as to who she’d want taking care of her daughter. None.

Natalia sighs, a long shuddering sigh, and is quiet for a few moments. “Thank you,” she finally says, and their hands break apart gently. Olivia wishes she didn’t have that sense of loss when their skin no longer touches.

“But Olivia, I’m serious,” Natalia says, and Olivia sighs.

“Not again,” she half-whines, and Natalia snorts before pinning her with those dark eyes.

They are very close.

“I heard about some of what you did while I was gone,” Natalia says. “Drinking and driving and—and like I said, everything you do is my concern. I don’t ever want you to do those things again, okay? Please promise me? I can’t...I couldn’t take it if something happened to you. And your heart can’t take all of that.”

“Gus’ heart,” Olivia scoffs, looking away. This is getting far too close to a place she fears to tread, and she knows the best way to derail the conversation is to make Natalia angry. Again.

“No, your heart,” Natalia snaps, actually poking Olivia in the chest. Olivia leans back.

“You got handsy while you were gone!” she complains, and Natalia smirks victoriously. Apparently she’s wise to Olivia’s tricks. Dammit.

It brings up another concern, though, something that has been eating at the back of Olivia’s mind since Natalia left, something she can’t stop herself from voicing.

“Was it—was it always about the heart?” The question comes out, desperate and pained, before she can stop it. Mortified, she looks down and away, feeling the blush spreading across her cheeks.

“Oh, Olivia,” Natalia breathes, and Olivia shuts her eyes tight.

Natalia grabs her hands, even harder than before. She shifts closer. “Olivia. Olivia Spencer, look at me,” she commands. Olivia doesn’t want to, and Natalia squeezes her hands. (Olivia’s not sure she’s going to have any bones left after tonight.)

But she is silent, and they breathe together for long moments. She waits until Olivia finally, timidly, looks up. “No,” she says decisively, face only inches from Olivia’s. “It was— it is—not about Gus’ heart. Not ever. It’s been your heart for a long, long time.”

Olivia swallows hard. “Okay,” she whispers. They gaze at each other, until she can’t help asking the next question, the biggest, the elephant on steroids that’s been in the room since Natalia returned, the question that has been choking her since she saw Natalia in Company weeks ago.

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” Olivia whispers, and Natalia makes a small sound, like she’s in pain. “Why did you leave without a word?”

--

The pain and anger in Olivia’s voice just make Natalia feel so much worse than she already does.

She literally feels like the worst person on the face of the earth right now.

Numb, she pulls her hands from Olivia’s and clasps them tightly, places them in her lap. She drops her eyes to focus on her hands, wringing together.

She’s not sure if she can do this and look at Olivia. But she knows that Olivia deserves an answer. She shuts her eyes. There is total silence as Natalia gathers her thoughts. She can feel Olivia’s laser stare boring into her head.

“I can’t...there’s not a good reason,” she finally admits in a whisper, opening her eyes and focusing on her hands. “I wish...I wish I could tell you there was, Olivia. I wish I had a good reason. But...I don’t.” She feels the burn of tears in the back of her eyes, and she fights them again.

“I don’t,” she whispers.

In her peripheral vision, she can just see Olivia’s hands tensing faintly.

“Well, can you tell me your bad reasons?” Olivia finally says, and by her tone Natalia knows it’s not a question.

Suddenly, she is terrified. With a certainty born of intuition, she knows that what she says now could determine her future with Olivia. Could determine if she even has a chance at one.

Honesty, she reminds herself, and sighs, gathering her thoughts.

“I didn’t figure out I was pregnant until the day before the barbecue,” she says softly, staring at her hands. “I was so…I think on some level, I knew. I knew. But I didn’t want it to be true, so I just....” She sighs. “And it was so stupid. I felt so stupid. I was so embarrassed, Olivia. So ashamed and so embarrassed, after what happened with Nicky, and...I mean, who doesn’t realize that they’re pregnant until four and a half months later?”

She feels Olivia jerk next to her. “Four and a half months?” Olivia demands, and her tone is incredulous. Disbelieving. It forces Natalia’s head up, although she doesn’t meet Olivia’s eyes. Olivia’s mouth is hanging open. It’s almost comical.

“Yes. I slept with Frank at the end of February,” she confirms, voice miserable. Oh, God. If there is one thing in her life that she would re-do, she can honestly say that having sex with Frank that day would be at the top of the list. “I’m sure you remember the bleach.”

Olivia snorts softly. “I did think we were all going to die in our sleep from the fumes, along with the rest of Springfield,” she mutters, and Natalia has to cackle a little. It’s pained, but it’s some kind of laughter.

“Yeah,” she says. Then she laughs, darkly. “What are the chances, right? The two times in my life....” She buries her face in her hands and tries not to cry.

Olivia puts a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Are you sure it was, um, that time with Frank....” She trails off, unable to get it out. At first, Natalia blinks, but as Olivia fidgets, jaw tensing, and looks away, realization dawns on her. She can’t blame Olivia for wondering, but Natalia is horrified just the same.

“Olivia,” she says softly, covering Olivia’s hand with one of her own. “With Frank, it was only once. I swear to you. I swear,” she says, and almost wants to cry again, “it was just that one time. I couldn’t...I couldn’t have done it again.” Another burst of almost-hysterical laughter escapes her. “I don’t know what I would have done if we’d gotten married.” The prospect barely warranted thinking about. You probably would have been able to smell the bleach for miles.

Olivia, she notices, had exhaled in relief when she’d said it was just the one time. Natalia’s heart aches anew at the thought that Olivia thought....

“The wedding,” Natalia says, resuming her story. She drops her hand from Olivia’s and Olivia removes her hand from Natalia’s. “You told me I never apologized...and I didn’t...but I want you to know now that I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry for that whole mess.” She starts crying softly. “If I’d just...I was weak. And you paid the price for it. And I am so, so sorry.”

Olivia lets out a shuddering breath. “Thank you,” she whispers heavily. Then she swallows. “That was partially my fault, too. I know I pushed you away...I pushed you toward him...I made you feel like I didn’t want to be with you, or I didn’t think we could....”

Natalia swallows. “Yes,” she acknowledges. It might hurt, but the truth needs to be out there for them, between them. Has to. “That’s true. But ultimately, I said yes to his proposal. It’s all on me. I am responsible. And I know—I didn’t realize at the time how focused I was on Frank, after. How much I was trying to spare his feelings, and how much I hurt yours by doing so. And I’m sorry for that, too.” Another hard but necessary admission.

Olivia sighs. “Yeah. And then?” she prompts softly.

“And so when I realized that I was pregnant, I didn’t know how I could ask you to do one more thing for me that was tied to Frank,” Natalia rasps out. “After everything you did for me, after everything you went through and put up with for me, how could I go to you and say ‘I’m going to have a child, Frank’s child, and I need you with me’? I couldn’t. I just couldn’t do that to you. Not after everything I put you through. It was...it would have been so selfish. You wouldn’t have said no, but...I didn’t want you to feel trapped, like Nicky.” Tears burn her eyes again. “I didn’t want you to wind up hating me. I couldn’t live with that.”

Olivia’s crying now, too. “I would have said yes,” Olivia whispered. “In a heartbeat. I wouldn’t have cared about the father. I would have raised him with you without any questions, and loved him like I love Emma, and I would have been more excited than anyone.”

Natalia’s breathing hard. The guilt and the shame and Olivia’s tears and her own tears are threatening to pull her under, but going under is what got them all to this place. She’s done with that. She's done being weak. She needs to be better, stronger, not just for herself and the child she's carrying, but for the rest of her family--Olivia, Rafe, Emma.

“I know that. But I couldn’t ask you to. I mean, I know all that...now,” she emphasizes, taking Olivia’s hand and darting a glance into Olivia’s eyes. “But I...it was like I was sixteen again, Olivia,” and her voice is haunted. “I can’t explain it to you. It was like a flashback, only it didn’t end for weeks. I—I was sixteen and I was Catholic and pregnant and unmarried and all I could think about was how scared I was, and the shame, and the guilt, and how stupid I was. And I...I was terrified that I would lose you, just like I lost Nicky when I got pregnant with Rafe. And I couldn’t go through that, Olivia. I couldn’t survive that with you. I couldn’t stand the thought of not being with you. I couldn’t....” And she’s crying again, now, gasping for breath, remembering that soul-stealing terror, that Olivia might decide that it was finally too much, that she was better off alone and without this mess of a woman, that she might just leave and never ever come back. “I couldn’t take that chance, Olivia. I couldn’t take the chance that you’d leave.”

“Oh, Natalia,” Olivia breathes. A gentle hand runs through her hair.

And there’s more. The last, shameful thing. The thing that kept her away for so long; the thing she can never, ever forgive herself for. Natalia returns her gaze to her hands.

“And I...do you know what my first thought was when I found out I was pregnant?”

“No,” Olivia says very softly.

“I thought about an abortion, Olivia. An abortion. Because I didn’t want the baby that much. Because I thought it might cost me you.”

Olivia’s hand stills in her hair as a wave of fresh tears courses down Natalia’s face, as Natalia buries her face in her hands. Olivia resumes the gentle touch after a long pause.

Natalia feels so unworthy of it.

“What kind of person am I?” Natalia demands in a tortured whisper.

--

It’ll ask you to change who you are and what you believe, and that’d make this whole thing a lie, wouldn’t it?

Olivia is numb.

“Because of me,” Olivia says, pulling away. Her voice is dull, and there’s a faint buzzing in her ears.

At this moment, she hates herself.

--

“No,” the denial comes swift and sure, and Natalia shifts closer to Olivia, until their shoulders and arms and thighs are touching. “Because of me. Because I couldn’t see a way that we could survive a baby...and that was all in my head, Olivia. I know that now. But then, I didn’t know...I couldn’t reconcile us and a baby and my religion. I couldn’t see how I could pick and choose, and I didn’t...I didn’t see, didn’t know what it would do to me. To my sense of right and wrong.” Groping. She’s groping for words, but this is still so fuzzy in her head. It had been fuzzy, at the time, and a month of thinking about it hadn’t helped. Probably because it was illogical, so illogical, had never been logical. She knows that, now, too.

She knows lots of things now.

“I’ve never wanted anyone—anything—like I want you,” she finally chokes out. “I didn’t know how to deal with it. And it scared me that I…that I wanted you that much.”

Olivia lets out a hard exhale, looks away. “That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement,” she says after a moment.

“I said it scared me,” Natalia whispers. “Not that it still scares me.”

Olivia bites her lip. “It still doesn’t explain why you didn’t at least tell me you were leaving. Why you asked Blake and Father Ray, of all people, to deliver a message.” Her voice is getting louder. “Why you couldn’t just send me a text message or a letter or a carrier pigeon or fucking smoke signals to let me know you were leaving, at least.”

Natalia winces. This, she knows, is the heart of the matter, more important than anything else. This is what she’d prefer not to say; this is what she wishes Olivia had never thought to ask; this is what is going to make or break them. And Olivia is not going to like her response.

“Because...because I thought God was sending me a message, and I knew I needed to go away and figure out what it was, and I was afraid that I couldn’t look you in the eye and say that and have the strength to leave you, and I was terrified that God might want me to give you up.” She gets it out in one breath, words tripping over each other in her rush, and looks at Olivia, heart in her throat.

Olivia stares at her. Actually stares and then, in one fluid movement, gets up and heads for the door.

“Olivia, stop!” Natalia scrambles after her, horror rising in her throat. She feels nauseous. She claws at Olivia’s shoulder, and Olivia shrugs her off sharply, spinning around to face her and backing away. If Natalia wasn’t pregnant, she thinks Olivia might have actually shoved her away.

“You thought God was sending you a message? A message that being with me was wrong?” Olivia demands incredulously.

Natalia swallows. “Olivia, I—“

“If God was sending you a fucking message, Natalia, it was that when you have sex without a condom you get pregnant!” Olivia yells, absolutely at the top of her lungs, and Natalia winces, praying fervently that Emma is still sound asleep under the influence of her painkillers.

“Olivia—“

“No, I can’t believe this. I’m going for a walk.” Olivia spins on her heel.

“But Emma—“ Natalia tries, and Olivia cuts her off, turning back around, and taking two long strides toward her. Olivia grabs her shoulders—not hard enough to bruise, but forceful nonetheless—and her face is inches from Natalia’s. She is breathing hard and deep, and her lips are drawn back from her teeth. Natalia can feel a low growl vibrating through her.

Natalia wants to kiss her so badly she can’t breathe.

“Don’t you dare,” Olivia hisses. “Don’t you dare try to use my daughter as a way to get to me. I’ve tolerated it before now because she loves you and you love her. But don’t. You. Dare.”

“I love you, too,” Natalia breathes, and Olivia makes a sound in the back of her throat, like a kicked puppy. It hurts Natalia to hear it. Olivia withdraws, so suddenly that it’s almost painful. She paces.

Natalia watches her. “Olivia, please,” she begs. “Please. Just stay and listen to me. Please. If you want to go after that, you can, but...please just hear me out.”

Olivia stares at her, so hard Natalia’s wondering if a hole is appearing in her head. She doesn’t flinch, though; she stares resolutely back. Finally Olivia gives a short, terse nod. She crosses her arms and leans on the wall next to the door.

Natalia suppresses a sigh. She’s so tired, suddenly.

“Olivia, can you come sit down?” she requests softly. “You’re giving me a crick in my neck.”

Olivia glares, pursing her lips, but takes a few sharp strides and sinks into the armchair next to the couch. Natalia tries to ignore the hurt the little gesture causes.

“Talk,” Olivia spits out, still furious. Natalia takes a deep breath.

“Olivia, I thought I had reconciled my faith and my love for you. I really thought I had. I don’t know if I just wanted to believe it, so I convinced myself of it, but...I want you to know that when I said that to you, before, I wasn’t knowingly lying to you,” she says softly.

Olivia’s face doesn’t move, and she feels her stomach drop.

“But when I found out I was pregnant...I already told you I thought the baby was a curse. That didn’t help my state of mind any.” She drops her head to her hands, wearily rubbing her temples. “And I thought...if the baby was a curse...I didn’t know if God was punishing me for sleeping with Frank, or loving you, or both. And I was terrified that if it was a punishment for loving you, I’d have to leave you.” She gives a hollow laugh. “And I didn’t want that. I didn’t want that more than anything. I had just gotten you, after so long. I didn't think I would be strong enough to do it.”

She stares sightlessly at the ground, remembering all those hours she spent on her knees at the monastery, trying to reconcile her feelings of dread with her natural maternal instinct and everything that taught her that babies were always, always a blessing.

“And now?” Oliva’s voice pulls her out of her reverie. It is ever so slightly less harsh, and Natalia takes comfort in that fact.

“Now I know this baby is a blessing,” she says firmly, meeting Olivia’s eyes, letting her own confidence shine forth. “A blessing for our love. A little brother for Emma, Ava, and Rafe.”

Olivia sneers. “You believe that now. What are you going to believe tomorrow, when a dead cat shows up on your porch and you think it’s another sign from God?” she spits out. “How can you be so sure this time? And how can I trust you? You just admitted that you were wrong last time.”

Natalia has to shut her eyes. “I know,” she whispers. She opens them again, looking to Olivia, but the older woman won’t meet her eyes. “I know you don’t, you can’t, trust me, at least right now. All I can tell you is that I’m sure this time, Olivia. I went over every inch of my faith at that retreat. Every. Single. Inch. And I know it’s okay. Because God has given me a peace in my soul that I’ve never felt before. I know it’s right, Olivia. I know.”

Their gazes lock again. Olivia’s eyes are unfathomable.

Something shifts between them.

“Olivia,” she breathes. She shifts, sliding across the couch to be as close to Olivia as possible. If she wasn’t pregnant, she’d kneel in front of Olivia. She reaches out for Olivia’s hand, their eyes still locked.

“Olivia, I blame myself for everything you did while I was gone, everything that happened to you. Everything. Because you shouldn’t have had to go through everything alone. And I...I have to live with that guilt for the rest of my life. And believe me, that’s some serious guilt,” she tries to joke. Her attempt at a smile falls off her face. “But I meant what I said when I said that everything about you is my business. You can come to me with anything, Olivia, anything, and I will never betray you. But I want you to promise me that you will never drink and drive again, and that you’ll try to cut back your drinking. Please, Olivia,” she rasps out, fighting tears. “I couldn’t live if I lost you.” She dares to lift her hand to Olivia’s jaw, stroking it gently. Olivia’s eyes are on her, calculating and wary.

Olivia finally exhales hard. “Anything?” she asks, her tone deceptively mild.

“Anything,” Natalia says, with the kind of sincerity she’s only used when she said her wedding vows to Gus and when she tells Olivia she loves her.

“What if I told you I slept with Josh while you were gone?”
Tags: guiding light
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