Fandom: Guiding Light
Rating: R to NC-17
Notes: PLEASE READ This is a dark, angst-filled story with ADULT themes. It is not graphically violent or gratuitous in nature, but it can be quite dark. For those of you who read and enjoyed "Whatever It Takes," this story takes place shortly after. Completely different tone, though, so be prepared. If you haven't read WIT, it's not necessary but it is helpful.
I'm not 100% sure, but I feel like this is entirely new territory for Olivia & Natalia. Your comments are greatly appreciated.
ETA: Thanks for the immense outpouring of support for this story. I was nervous, I'll admit, but you've been amazingly insightful and supportive. Thank you x1000.
Olivia stood outside the farmhouse, unable to move. An icy drizzle had just begun to fall, soaking the colored leaves scattered on the grass. The lights were still on inside. She looked at her watch. It was 7:15, and Emma should be upstairs in her room finishing her homework. Natalia should be in the kitchen, making dinner and singing softly to herself. And she should be flying through those doors right about now, to her perfect life and her perfect family after a busy day as her own boss.
But not this night.
Instead, Olivia played with the keys in her hand, searching for the right one but hoping secretly to never find it. When the lock turned in the door, it sounded different. It used to be golden gates swinging open wide; now it sounded like prison doors slamming shut. Inside, Olivia found everything as they had left it, just over twelve hours ago. Her coffee mug sat abandoned on the side table near the couch, the white cream forming unnatural ripples at the surface.
Earlier she had bounded up the stairs with an untapped energy. Now she found her legs heavy, each step a chore. For a second, she felt dizzy, and grasped the handrail for support. Her voice pierced the silent stillness, its depth and coarseness surprising her.
"Natalia..." she cried out, but she knew she was alone. This journey she had decided to take alone; she knew implicitly that she must take it alone. The more people offered to help her, the more adamant she became about handling this herself. After all, Natalia alone had carried a baby that had died inside of her, birthed that baby to an agonizing silence, and would bear the loss in the most brutally physical way. Surely Olivia could find enough strength to shoulder this particular burden on her own.
At the top of the stairs, Olivia stopped to gather a basket that had spilled in the hallway. Folded laundry lay overturned, and after she righted it, she saw the light still on in what would have become Isabella's room. Cautiously she approached, unsure of what her would reaction would be. The room was cold, colder than the rest of the house, and Olivia breathed a humorless laugh into the air. The crib and rocking chair sat covered in plastic, and she dared not touch them. Methodically, passionless, she moved to the window to make sure it was closed securely. Then she drew the blinds shut, turned off the light and closed the door with a click.
In their bedroom, Olivia searched the drawers for some of Natalia's things. Something comfortable for her to stay in while she remained at the hospital tonight and possibly tomorrow. A brush and a tie for her hair. Slippers. When Olivia's eyes traveled to the bathroom, she considered it for a moment. Knees shook nervously beneath her, but she bit back tears and went inside.
The blood had not serendipitously ran clean down the tub drain. It sat in dried smudges, diluted in some places from the shower's spray, dark red and ominous in others. The heart in her chest slowed, and slowed, until Olivia was certain it had stopped completely. She closed her eyes, but all she could see was Natalia's face, frightened and confused, and her lover's murmured prayers played over and over again in her mind. Taking a deep breath, Olivia crouched down to reach the cabinet beneath the sink, where she found a scrub brush and some abrasive cleaning powder. As she rose to her feet, her shoulder cracked hard against the sink's ceramic edge.
"Fuck!" Olivia screamed. Her voice seemed to echo in the empty house. "Goddamn it!" She threw the brush and its handle across the bathroom, and it landed in the tub with a clatter. Her anger still not satiated, she picked up a glass vase of dried flowers and hurled into the tub as well.
Finding her face in the mirror, red and veiny, she slid down against the wall in defeat, settling into a ball on the floor. She grunted and groaned and screamed until a thin stream of spit formed on her lips. Her face even contorted in the spasms of crying, but tears would not fall. She could not seem to manage a single tear for the death of her daughter.
When she could finally stand, Olivia composed herself and went downstairs into the kitchen, brought up a dustpan and broom, and swept the glass and flora from inside the tub. Then she turned the water to its hottest setting, ignoring the bursts of pain in her hands, and scrubbed every droplet of blood from the surface, from basin to wall. With a cloth she went on hands and knees from the bathroom, to the bedroom, to the hallway and down the stairs, retracing Natalia's anguished journey, until not a single bloody reminder could be found.
Exhausted from the task, Olivia sat on the floor in the entryway, and just stared.
"You have to call Rafe's command in the morning. Maybe Frank knows someone at the recruiting office, who knows the right person to call. Call the contractor, tell him you won't be needing him after all. Tell him not to call the house. Cancel the registry. Call Emma's school. Make... arrangements for a burial..."
She spoke out loud, and even though the words were hard to come by, she felt stronger with a clearer mission defined. She would do everything in her power to make the transition easier for Natalia, and for Emma, and with that single focus she might find escape from the profound sadness that poisoned the very marrow of her bones.
"I'm scared they won't forgive me for abandoning them. Sure, I was there. I was physically there. But it's kind of hard to be emotionally available when you're drinking from the moment you wake up until the time you pass out at night. And that's what I'd do, you know? I'd get up and go to work, where nobody dared ask me a damn thing about how I was spending my time. I'm the boss, for Christ's sake. If I wanted to sit in my office and drink vodka straight from the bottle, well then you better believe that's what I'd do."
Heads bobbed in the audience, a quiet understanding that only those who had struggled with addiction could relate to. Some sitting in front of her were conquering it every day; others had just begun their journey.
"Sometimes I'd get caught though. Natalia," Olivia smiled proudly. "She could always tell, if I slipped up and drank on the drive home, because I wouldn't have a chance to brush my teeth and chew down a pack of gum or whatever to squash the smell. But I don't think she knew the extent of it until it was too late." Her smile faded, replaced by a far-off look. "Well I mean plus there were the nights I couldn't walk straight or the nights I made a fucking fool out of myself at my daughter's school."
Olivia ran a hand through her long brown hair, which she'd taken to wearing in its natural state of half-curly, half-not. It felt right to be here in this place and let her body do whatever it needed to return to normal. "I'm afraid that Natalia won't... I'm afraid Natalia won't forgive me for lying to her. Once I ran out of excuses for the drinking, I started changing it up, having a few drinks early in the morning if I could, but popping painkillers the whole damn day. Lot less evidence that way. You can't smell 'em, you don't leave behind bottles everywhere... Until I got so damn caught up, so confused... I couldn't tell the difference between the two, to be honest with you."
When she turned to catch the eye of her sponsor standing off to her left, Olivia noticed just how much she'd been crying. Her hands were soaked from idle swipes at her face, and her lashes felt heavy and stuck together. Pierce just shook her head and smiled at Olivia, mouthing the word, "Finally."
Rafe was granted leave for the funeral, and when he arrived at the farmhouse, Natalia had swept him into an embrace and threatened to never let him go. A few weeks of boot camp under his belt, he laughed softly into her hair: he wouldn't argue with that. They'd decided on just a burial service, which would be only for the immediate family. Olivia had taken care of the arrangements, being careful to take the calls outside on the porch, or in her office at work. She didn't want to put any further stress on Natalia, who in five days had already begun shedding pounds off her diminutive frame.
It was as if her body wanted to forget as quickly as possible. Not that Olivia could blame it. Already her face had lost that round fullness, and her once-swollen belly made the most rapid retreat Olivia could ever remember seeing. But there was one part of Natalia's body that simply would not forget, and as they readied for the funeral, Olivia could hear Natalia struggling in the bathroom.
"You okay?" she said gently, peering into the doorway.
"Dammit," Natalia swore only sparingly, and she looked into the mirror at Olivia standing behind her and attempted a lighthearted guilty frown. She fussed with the bust of her shirt, and the bra beneath it. "It's the, uh... I keep--"
Olivia understood. "Say no more," she nodded, and stepped into the bathroom to help the other woman. But instead of being thankful for allowing her a dodge, Natalia threw her hands down at her sides.
"Why do you keep doing that?" she demanded sharply. "You keep cutting me off, every time I ... every time I try to tell you what's going on. With me, with my body, with my feelings. You keep saying 'gotcha' or 'say no more' like you don't wanna hear it!"
Olivia's face fell almost imperceptibly. "That's not it, Natalia. Jesus. I'm just trying to spare you... if I already know what's going on, why make you say it?"
Natalia shook her head. "Spare me? You're trying to spare me? It's unavoidable, Olivia. We might as well just say it out loud. Say everything out loud. I'm squeezing my breasts into a bra size I haven't worn since grade school to try and stop my body from producing milk because, oh yeah, there is no baby. I'm springing leaks faster than I can plug them. There! I said it. And I'm still here."
Her face had turned a bright red, and her hands shook. But Natalia was still indeed alive, still standing. And Olivia had her first inkling that maybe all the avoiding and the covering up and trailing off had not been purely for Natalia's sake. She didn't know quite what to say, so she just lowered her eyes and helped Natalia change the dressing inside her shirt.
When they finished in the bathroom, Olivia took a glance at herself in the mirror. She looked, to her surprise, exactly as she had a week earlier. A little tired, perhaps, but in her black hose, black skirt, and black suit jacket, she could've just as easily been going to work. But she was going to her baby daughter's funeral. It disturbed her what little difference it seemed to make on her appearance.
Natalia pulled her hair over one shoulder and stepped in front of Olivia, and without words Olivia reached around her neck to fasten the thin chain that held Natalia's cross. She didn't raise her eyes, but she could feel Natalia looking at herself in the mirror the same way Olivia just had. Only she knew Natalia's reflection had changed dramatically, painfully, from just a week ago. Her heart pounded in her chest, the beat so strong it almost hurt. She wanted more than anything to ask Natalia what she was feeling at that moment, but, afraid of the answer, Olivia remained silent. Instead, she placed her hands on the smaller woman's shoulders and simply whispered, "I love you."
Downstairs, Rafe had made sure that Emma was ready, and the two of them sat on the couch, playing a game of Uno. The little girl was quiet, but smiled easily with the young man she considered her brother. He left the cards in a stack on the coffee table. "We'll finish later, okay?"
When they arrived at the cemetery, the wind had picked up and it was colder than a typical October day. As they climbed out of the car, Natalia made sure to fasten Emma's scarf tightly around her, and slid gloves over her tiny fingers before Rafe extended his hand for the little girl to take. They made their way slowly across the green grass, and Natalia watched them as she waited for Olivia.
"Come here," Olivia spoke softly, tugging on Natalia's wool coat the way she'd just done for Emma. "You warm enough?"
Natalia's brown eyes watered just a bit, and she wiped at them absently. "Yes, I'm fine. Are you?"
"You keep me warm," Olivia's voice cracked. It wasn't that Olivia didn't know that Natalia needed her tenderness right now. It was that it was so damned hard to let some feelings show but not others. But her effort did not go unappreciated, as Natalia pressed up onto her tip-toes and kissed her cheek. Olivia gave a small smile, then pointed a thumb behind her. "I'm going to see what's keeping Frank."
Natalia nodded and walked towards the small tent where the priest was standing with Rafe, Emma, and Buzz, who stood next to a seated Lillian and Marina. In the parking lot, Frank stood staring off into the woods beyond the cemetery, alone.
"Frank," Olivia called out as she approached him from behind. He turned to look at her.
"I already sent my father away, Olivia. I'm not so sure you're going to have any better luck."
Olivia sighed, her breath clouding in front of her face. "You just gonna stand here, then?"
He bit back an angry grimace. "I can't do this."
A sarcastic laugh tore through the freezing air. "You can't do this? You-- you can't do this?! I thought we already covered this Frank? We're all suffering here. We're all dying inside. Are you going to make Natalia bury your daughter alone?!" Olivia threw an arm towards the cemetery.
"She'll have you," he spat out bitterly.
Olivia rushed towards him until her face was inches from his. "Fuck you, Frank. Put that shit aside." Her nostrils flared as she bore holes through Frank with her eyes. He held her gaze as long as he could, until he turned away, crying. "Oh you're fucking kidding me." Olivia spun away from him, and picked up her pace towards her waiting family.
By the time she reached the top of the hill, she was out of breath, and Natalia reached for Olivia's hand. "What's--?"
"We should begin. He's not coming," she glared at Buzz, who shook his head sorrowfully. Natalia looked as though she was considering protesting, but when she peered down the hill and saw Frank pacing with his arms crossed, she nodded.
The funeral was short, and as they lowered the tiny casket into the ground, Emma wept against Natalia's side, the little girl's arms laced around her waist. With her free hand, Natalia held Olivia's, and everyone bowed their heads as the priest said a prayer. When it was over, they retreated silently down the hill, where Frank had already driven off.
"Don't do this, Olivia," Buzz cut her off before she could begin, rushing to his side the moment they reached the parking lot.
"Don't do what, Buzz? Tell you what a piece of shit your son is for not--"
"He's grieving, Olivia," Buzz interrupted. "Can't you see that? We may not get it, you and I, we might think it's crazy but it's just how he's dealing."
Olivia's lips trembled as she searched for the right words. She was angry, so mad she could barely see, but she knew Buzz had a point. Still, she shook with rage. The shaking inside her threatened to bubble over before she felt Rafe's hand on her shoulder. He stood behind Olivia, and when she turned to face him, she saw an unsteady boy trying to be a man. And she knew she couldn't lose it and leave him to pick up the pieces. So when he whispered for her to come back to the car, she calmly obliged.
On the way back to the farmhouse, Phillip had called, wanting to see his daughter. When Emma seem to perk up at the suggestion, they made arrangements to have her spend the night, and Olivia turned the car in the other direction. As they arrived at his house, Emma climbed up from the back seat and kissed both of her mothers goodbye. Rafe volunteered to walk her up the drive.
Alone in the car, Natalia spoke first.
"I think I'd like to go and sit in church for a while," she said, looking down at her hands in her lap. "I know Rafe will join me, but... you could, too."
Olivia sighed. "It would be good for you to have some time with him." Then realizing how that sounded, she laughed lightly. "Him, your son, Rafe, I mean. But... I guess god too."
Natalia's cheeks dimpled into an adoring smile. "I knew what you meant." Unbuckling the seatbelt, she turned slightly in the passenger seat to look at Olivia. She took her hands from the steering wheel and pulled them into her lap. "You don't have to pray, you know. You could just sit there. And be... whatever it is your feeling, you could just... feel. I know you, and I know you aren't ready to talk to me about it. I'm sorry I snapped at you today. It's just so hard," Tears broke out, smearing the makeup Natalia had carefully applied. Olivia couldn't bear to watch her cry, so she turned her glance to some unknown speck out in the distance.
"I don't know quite how to say it, Natalia, but I just don't feel... up to..." She wanted to tear into Natalia's god, to ask her how on earth she could sit reverently before him when he did nothing to save their innocent child. But in her peripheral vision she saw the beautiful woman she loved propped up the very faith Olivia despised. "I just don't feel up to it right now. Would that be okay? I'll come get you whenever you'd like."
Natalia nodded, and when Rafe hopped back into the car, they went off in silence.
Back at the farmhouse, Olivia was alone again. She plodded up the stairs, and in the bedroom she stripped down completely naked. On the hottest setting it would allow, Olivia showered, letting the water run down her face until she felt she might drown. And when she was finished, she pulled on a pair of jeans and a simple black sweater, and went back downstairs.
She stopped in the living room, and looked around. She imagined the house at Christmas, how it would look with a real tree, and the stockings they would hang. There would be a tiny one for Isabella, and her cries would fill the room. Emma would play with her on the floor, and Natalia would hum Christmas carols just to annoy her. When the wind blew a shutter against the side of the house outside, Olivia was brutally ripped from her revelry. Her daydream was not meant to be, and she ran from it. Literally, she raced into the kitchen where she could finally breathe the breath she hadn't realize she'd been holding.
Without really even thinking about it, Olivia went to the cabinet on the far side of the kitchen, and stood on her tip-toes to reach the contents inside. Behind a seldom-used vase, she found a bottle of expensive vodka she'd received as a gift from a client at the Beacon. She considered the mixers she knew she could find in the refrigerator, but they held no appeal. She wanted to feel the burning of the alcohol down her throat. She wanted to feel the bite as she sipped it. So she grabbed a glass and filled it with ice, pulled a jacket from the hook near the back door, and went outside.
The cold air of the falling night felt right somehow, and Olivia breathed in deeply. She walked through the grass to the front of the house and sat on the bench there. For a second she smiled, remembering all the conversations she and Natalia had shared in that very spot. She remembered sitting on the steps near her feet, holding Natalia's hand in hers, dreaming about what their life together would be like. And she remembered the night before they lost the baby, when they stood out on the porch together and Natalia swayed in her arms to music only she could hear. Olivia had kissed her then, and promised her that they could face anything together.
And yet here she was, alone. She unscrewed the cap of the bottle and tilted it just enough, till its clear contents filled the glass in her hand. She closed her eyes, and drank.
"Where was I?" Olivia laughed genuinely, using one of the remaining dry spots on her shirt, her shoulder, to wipe her cheek. "Oh who the hell knows, the point is..." she walked slowly to the other side of the raised platform. "The point is, I did whatever I had to do. To mask the pain. To be strong, or at least that's what I told myself. I never did give Natalia, or for that matter my daughter Emma or her brother Rafe, enough credit. I kept telling myself that they were the ones ready to crumble at a moment's notice. That they were the ones who needed to be spared this agonizing pain. When really, it was me all along."
"Are you awake?" Natalia's breath smelled like peppermint and her body felt warm against Olivia's skin.
"Kinda," Olivia mumbled into the pillow, rolling over with a groan. "Sorry, I must've passed out." As she cleared the cobwebs of sleep, Olivia remembered the events that had led to her passing out in bed with all of her clothes on. She'd had a long day at the Beacon, a long day that, more and more lately, involved drinking at least a fifth of vodka. She had come home, eaten dinner with Natalia and Emma. Spoke to Rafe over the phone. They sat in front of the television together for a little while, watching Spongebob Squarepants and eating cookies Natalia had just baked. She'd excused herself to go to the bathroom upstairs, but then never returned. Olivia figured she must've laid down on the bed and never got up.
"It's okay," Natalia whispered. Olivia could feel the other woman's fingers undressing her, unbuttoning her shirt and sliding off her jeans. "Emma finished her homework and went to bed. I know you've been working really hard, and I didn't want to wake you. But," Natalia wrapped her arms around Olivia's now nearly naked body. "I can't fall asleep."
Olivia shook her head to wake herself more fully, and felt Natalia's lips pressed against hers. It wasn't like the other kisses they had shared in the weeks since they lost Isabella. Those had been comforting, protective, supportive kisses, usually borne out of sheer emotional exhaustion or sometimes even formality. But this kiss, with Natalia's gentle tugging and slippery tongue, awakened Olivia's senses that had gone dormant during their lack of use.
"You taste like booze," Natalia teased.
The older woman sighed into her lover's mouth. "I had a drink with dinner." It wasn't a lie.
"I know," Natalia wound her fingers into Olivia's dark hair, and scratched at the scalp beneath her fingers. "I just wanted to give you hard time."
The sensations wrought by Natalia's touch struggled for dominance over the groggy haze the alcohol had put Olivia under. The battle itself was exhausting, but it had been too damned long since they had felt each other this way. There were nights when they would lie together naked, waiting for arousal to come, but it never did. Almost involuntarily, Olivia felt her hands clutch roughly against Natalia's backside, desperate and wanting.
"It's been almost two months," Natalia whispered in her ear. "I think... I think I'm finally ready."
Her words were laced with a bit of daring, and the younger woman snaked her legs around Olivia's waist. She drove her body hard into her lover, and Olivia tasted the skin at her neck with lips and teeth and tongue. Sliding her hands up her sides, the body beneath Olivia's fingertips felt like a stranger's. Natalia's hip bones jutted out at sharp angles, her waist was narrow and her belly was flat. Her breasts still strained against the fabric of her thin white tank top, but they were no longer the outsized centerpiece of an engorged body. To be sure, Olivia found her new form arousing, but she couldn't shake the feeling that this was not the Natalia she had last made love to.
It felt at once unfamiliar and exciting and sad, and Olivia struggled with those competing emotions. Her body and soul needed Natalia, craved her, but she found herself unsure of just how to do it. Frustrated, Olivia took possession of her lover in the only way she could. She brusquely sought out the center of Natalia's desire and pressed her fingers inside of her, leaving Natalia gasping for air.
"You feel more than ready," Olivia growled, working so hard against Natalia that the veins bulged from her neck. For her part, Natalia did her best to remain quiet, knowing their daughter was asleep in her nearby bedroom, but she encouraged Olivia with whatever coherent words she managed to whisper.
"More," Natalia begged. "Harder. I need to. Feel you."
Olivia's breath grew ragged and sweat slicked the skin between them. The bed shook and seized until finally Natalia's fingers curled into two tight fists, taking with them the soft flesh of Olivia's back. For a while Olivia remained on top of Natalia, both too weary to move. In silent apology, Natalia caressed the expanse of Olivia's back with only the tips of her fingers, slowly and gently.
Olivia felt dizzy when she finally slid over to rest at Natalia's side, and her eyelids fluttered briefly. The younger woman pulled her face forward to nuzzle it against her own. "Don't go. Don't go away on me. I need you here."
But Olivia had already passed out.
"So that's why I'm up here, now, after all this time. I finally figured out that I wasn't drinking and popping pills because I was trying to deal with everyone else's profound depression. I was drinking and popping pills because of my own. I can't believe it took me almost a year to admit, you know, yeah... the death of our daughter got to me."
As she looked out at the faces in front of her, it struck Olivia how addiction truly did know no bounds. No one was immune, and everyone had to find their own way to climb back from it. She caught the eye of a woman she'd never seen before, who must've just arrived. She was about Olivia's age, but her face was sallow and her eyes red. She wondered if that's how she had looked when she first came.
"It's funny, because in business... I'm the hard-charger. I'm the go-getter. But I came here thinking I could just sit back and let them fix me. We all know that doesn't work... You can't get half-pregnant, and you sure as shit can't get half-rehabbed," Olivia chuckled lightly along with the audience. "You're either in or you're out, and I'm in. I'm so in. I miss my family. I miss my wife. Not that waking up and looking at your ugly mugs hasn't been fan-fuckin'-tastic," More laughter filled the room. "But my girl is hot."