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.
Chapter Two (NC-17)
Strains of music bled out through Emma's halfway open door, and as she strode past, Olivia could her hear daughter softly singing along, sounding more than a little bit like Natalia. It had become her new routine, to watch Saturday morning cartoons until about eleven, when she would take off for her bedroom to put on music and get ready for the day. A literal straddling of the line if there ever was one, it was Emma's way of staying a kid while peering into the scary world of teenagerdom. Olivia shook her head, not ready to even imagine those years that lie ahead.
"Everything okay at the hotel?" Natalia appeared in the bedroom doorway. She'd been called in at eight A.M. by a flustered morning crew.
Olivia nodded her head and mumbled something about the plumbing problem being fixed as they spoke. She brushed past Natalia with a squeeze of her shoulder, and went straight into the bathroom where she immediately set about scrubbing her teeth. Her strokes were hard and fast and almost angry.
"You're going to take the enamel right off 'em if you're not careful," Natalia teased, watching her from the bedroom as she gathered dirty laundry Olivia must've forgotten about off the floor.
The older woman spat into the sink and hung her head, her hands braced against the edges of the ceramic. "You a dentist now?"
Her words sounded cold and hollow, and even as she wiped a towel across her mouth, Olivia couldn't bare to look at herself in the mirror. When she turned to leave the bathroom, Natalia blocked her way, arms locked into the doorframe. She didn't say a word. She didn't have to.
"I'm sorry," Olivia said, meeting Natalia's glare. "I'm sorry. I've just got a headache, and between the toilets backing up at the Beacon, and Emma's... Miley-Swift-Montana-whatever that is..."
Natalia tried to keep the smile from her lips. "Taylor Swift? Hannah Montana?"
Olivia grabbed the smaller woman by the waist. "Yesss... that. Why can't she be listening to The Eagles or something?" Olivia groaned as she snuck past Natalia, and pulled her shirt off to change. Before she could replace her silk shirt with a tee, Natalia fell in behind her and slung an arm across Olivia's stomach.
"Hmm," she hummed into the other woman's shoulder. "When did you get so old and cranky?"
"I was born old and cranky."
She felt Natalia's laugh against her skin, and her instinct was to turn around in the embrace and return the love and adoration that Natalia so selfless heaped upon her. She almost did. Until Natalia spoke.
"I know you said we'd clear out the baby's things today," Natalia practically whispered. When Olivia's body stiffened, Natalia placed a neat kiss on her shoulder. "But with the Beacon and everything, if it has to wait, it's okay..."
"It's December, Natalia," Olivia wriggled out of her grasp and pulled the white v-neck over her head. She knew it had sounded harsh, and her mind raced for ways to soften the blow. "I know we were going to donate the furniture, and what better time than Christmas, you know?"
Natalia dropped onto the bed with a sigh. "You're right. Someone could really use it, right before the holidays. It would be a blessing."
In another time, another universe, Olivia would've sat right down next to Natalia, the love of her life, and made everything right. But she no longer knew how. She didn't have the vocabulary for a pain so deep and a loss so utterly permanent. All she felt was a dull ache, and a passing thought about when she'd be able to steal away for a drink.
"I'm going to go out the barn, and get a screwdriver or something to take the crib apart."
Natalia squeezed her eyes shut, her lips and nose pinching in an almost comical wince. "Okay," she managed. "I'm... I'll be okay. I'll help you get it out to the car when you're done."
Olivia leaned in and gave her a peck on the forehead. "Take your time, sweetheart."
Out in the barn, Olivia kicked over a rusty metal bucket and sat down. From the inside pocket of her jacket she pulled a small bottle of vodka, and took a sip. And another. And another. From the same pocket she pulled a travel-sized bottle of mouthwash, which she now never left the house without, and swished around a large mouthful. She stared at the dirt floor, and spit.
As she made her way across the yard in the bitter cold, she contemplated calling Frank. He'd been evasive and unreliable since the funeral, but as much as she hated him for it, right then she could've really used his help. She knew better than to ask Natalia about him, though, because every time she brought Frank up, Natalia would defend him, saying he was taking the loss exceptionally hard.
"We're all fucking miserable," she spoke to no one, her boots crackling against the frozen earth.
Inside Olivia struggled with the wooden crib. It was beautiful in its simplicity, the kind of design she imagined had remained unchanged in a hundred years. And the craftsmanship was first-rate, which made disassembling it a bit problematic. But after a few starts and stops, Olivia had managed to break it down into pieces small enough to fit in the car. She was about to start on the rocking chair when she saw Emma watching her from the hallway.
"Mommy NO!" Emma screeched. "What're you doing?" The little girl ran to the end of the hall, and into the would-be nursery.
"Emma wait! There are screws and stuff everywhere. Stay right there," Olivia pointed to the doorway, and Emma's stocking feet.
"What are you doing with Isabella's things? You can't! You can't get rid of them!" She was frantic, and sobbing.
Olivia tried to modulate her voice. "We're giving them away, Emma, so another family who needs them can use them."
"No! I don't want you to. I don't want somebody else to have them! I don't want--" Emma's voice had now reached a full-fledged scream, and her face was red and streaked with tears.
"Goddamn it, Emma!" Olivia screamed back, matching the little girl's volume and scaring her into a stiff, straight posture.
Over the little girl's shoulder, Natalia appeared. "Olivia!" Her face was a mix of shock and consternation.
There was a beat of silence, and Olivia could feel a familiar shaking in her hands. It traveled up her arms, into her chest, and down into her legs as she stay frozen, kneeling on the cold floor.
"I don't want to forget about her!" Emma turned and cried into Natalia's waist, until she bent down and picked up her up, the young girl's arms and legs a tangly mess around Natalia's frame.
"Emma..." Olivia called out to her daughter, but Natalia didn't turn back.
When Natalia hadn't returned after fifteen minutes, Olivia rose to her feet. Her joints ached and her head swam from the effort. She righted herself with a hand on the windowsill, and brushed the dust from her knees. She could hear them talking in Emma's room, so she approached, nudging the door open with her foot.
Natalia looked over her shoulder at her, and for the first time Olivia couldn't read the expression in her eyes. She stood there for a moment, waiting for the recognition to come. But it didn't. For as long as she could remember, Olivia prided herself on her ability to read every emotion, every thought etched on Natalia's face. And she knew Natalia could do the same for her. It was what made them them. It was what made them invincible. But what she was staring at right now was a blank slate, and it terrified her.
It was too much to bear. "I'm going out for a few. I'll take care of this stuff when I get back."
She hadn't meant for it sound so callous, but these days Olivia wasn't feeling like her usually articulate self. She grabbed her keys, walked down to the car, and drove off without even letting the engine warm.
"So I guess I've bored you guys enough," Olivia cocked a half-smile. "I think I'm the last speaker tonight, so... sorry if I held up anybody's smoke break or donut run." A rustle of laughter again filled the room, and people began shifting in their seats as Olivia drew her story to a close. "I think I'm ready, for what it's worth. I think this helped me clear that last hurdle, you know? So thank you, all of you, for letting me share. For letting me cry."
When her office door swung open without so much as a knock, Olivia quickly picked her head up. She guessed that she'd popped one too many Vicodin when she got in this morning, because she couldn't remember anything between hanging up the phone with Greg and the door rattling. She wasn't sure how much time had passed.
"There you are," Natalia breathed, her slender body wrapped in a light dress. She brought her hand to the olive skin just above the bust line. "You scared me."
Olivia stared at her for a second, unsure of herself. She straightened up in her chair, and twisted her neck with a crack.
"I went to the cemetery but you weren't there..." Natalia's eyebrow raised, offering Olivia the chance to finish her sentence with an explanation. When none was forthcoming, Natalia shook her head and pursed her lips. "You forgot. I should've guessed. Seems you can't remember anything these days."
The other woman did not speak. She couldn't. Her mouth was dry and her tongue felt swollen and weak. She raised her eyes to meet Natalia's. It was the least she could do.
"Have you had a drink today, Olivia?" Natalia slammed the door shut behind her. "I mean, it's only eleven, but... well, I know those 'lunch meetings' start early and run late."
Olivia found her voice. "No, I have not had a drink today. I just--" It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't the truth either. "It slipped my mind, and I'm sorry. Let's go, I'll clear the rest of my day." She started to stand up, her movements slow and slightly just off the mark.
"Stop doing that!" Her voice climbed an octave, sounding desperate and uncertain. "Stop trying to just... gloss everything over. We spoke about this this morning, you agreed, we hadn't been to Isabella's grave together since we buried her. It's been six months, Olivia. It's spring. Don't you want to--"
"Don't you dare," Olivia stood up with a start, sending her chair crashing against the wall. "I've been there. On my own time."
Natalia stared at her, the deepest, most penetrating gaze Olivia had ever felt. Her eyes watered, and silent tears fell. The sight of her wife, the mother of her child, once again in tears sent pinpricks of pain up and down Olivia's back, across her skin, in the pit of her stomach.
"You're lying," Natalia said weakly. "You're lying, and I know you're lying because every time I've been there, I've had to clear away the weeds. Clear away the snow. The only dead flowers I've ever picked up have been the ones that I left behind."
An unnerving feeling arose inside of Olivia. Between the desk and Natalia, there was no escape. Nowhere for her to go. She felt caged in; every muscle in her body twitched. She was at once tired and lethargic and jumpy and unsettled. But Natalia would not relent.
"I don't even know who you are anymore," the words dropped from her mouth as if of their own accord. Natalia looked surprised to even have said them. And then her eyes went wide, a realization dawning on her. "You've never even cried for her. All those nights you held me, and held Emma... you never once cried."
Olivia couldn't quite make sense of what she was feeling. At first panic, then relief. Relief that Natalia hadn't yet figured out that Olivia was drinking and medicating her way into oblivion. But she knew she should feel more, that she should be racing to explain to Natalia that her lack of tears hadn't meant that she cared any less. That she should be frantically trying to make Natalia understand that she had it all wrong. But she couldn't summon the right emotions. She was blind, feeling her way through a barbed wire maze.
Natalia took her non-response hard. "Does this mean anything to you, Olivia? Do you even care anymore? Did you ever?" Olivia could tell whatever she was about to say next pained Natalia in the most literal way possible. "Was Isabella just some... awful reminder you're happy to be rid of?"
All the right words to say screamed in Olivia's head. They pushed and clawed and fought their way to the front of her drug-addled brain. But the shaking inside her took over, and she couldn't stop what happened next. The gun had been cocked, and Olivia couldn't steady herself enough not to pull it.
"Maybe," she hissed. The words singed her lips as she spoke, and somewhere inside of her the lion broke free from its chains. She pushed past Natalia roughly, taking the smaller woman by surprise. She hurriedly tucked her shirt into her pants and shook her hair free from her collar. She stood at the door with her fingers on the handle. "You want me to go with you to her grave? You want me to sit and watch you cry, and know that there's nothing I can do to make it better? That nothing is ever going to be good again? Normal again? You want me to listen to you pray one more time to a god that, I hate to break it to you, isn't listening? Then let's go."
If it were at all possible, Olivia would've believed that Natalia's already petite frame had shrunk. She looked so small standing there, her tanned skin a perfect complement to the pale dress. Her shoulders rounded, her body folded in on itself, an instinctive protective measure. Long, slender fingers held on to opposite forearms, the sparkling diamond on her ring finger mocking Olivia with its beauty.
"I'm not going anywhere with you," Natalia whispered.
After the meeting was drawn to a close, Olivia found Pierce in the back of the room, pouring two cups of coffee.
"For you," she placed the mug in Olivia's hand. "Bravo, young grasshopper."
Olivia snorted, rolling her eyes at the younger woman. "Sweetheart, I could be your mother."
Pierce tossed her head back. "You wish. No seriously, great job up there. I'm so fuckin' proud of you, I could hug you. But I know you're not the 'hug it out' type."
Olivia watched as the woman who had become so close to her winced at the hot coffee. "For how much I paid to come to this place, you'd think they could manage a decent cup of coffee."
"And maybe throw some kickbacks to the dedicated volunteers," Pierce laughed, walking alongside Olivia down the hallway. "I was a junior counselor at summer camp for fat kids once that paid better. We at least got to use the pool tables at night... plus the keggers around the fire after the kids went to sleep."
Olivia raised an eyebrow. "Well we know how that turned out."
Howling a laugh, Pierce bumped her shoulder into Olivia's. "Touche, old friend." When they arrived at Olivia's room, the two women exchanged chin nods, the most sincere display of affection either could really manage. "You're really knocking out this early?"
"I'm a little nervous," Olivia admitted. "I want to be rested and refreshed when I see Natalia tomorrow."
"She's not bringing Emma?" Pierce asked, stopping her backward tread down the hall.
Olivia shook her head. "Doc suggested we take a little time to get... reacquainted with each other before we bring the kids in. But she'll be in town. Natalia will bring her by with Rafe on Sunday if everything goes well."
Pierce chewed her lip, and nodded. "And it will. Go well, that is. Then you've got two weeks more and you're outta here."
"I can leave whenever I want," Olivia shouted down the hall at Pierce's disappearing figure. "This shit is voluntary, remember?"
"So they say," Pierce turned around one last time, her arms spread wide. "Guess that makes you a glutton for punishment."