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)
The ringing on the other end of the line sounded tinny and shrill. It was so sharp that she had to pull the phone away from her ear, and as she fumbled with the volume button, Olivia could hear someone finally pick up.
"It's perfectly normal to be having dreams about me, Spencer. I just have that effect on people. Now go back to bed."
Olivia smiled at the sleepy voice on the phone. "Your ego is a thing of beauty, Pierce."
The other woman let out a dramatic sigh, but then cleared her throat. "What's up? Everything okay?"
"I'm..." Olivia clenched her teeth in the darkness of her tiny room, and climbed out of the bedsheets.
"Articulate," Pierce commanded. It had been one of Olivia's biggest problems since coming to the rehabilitation facility. She'd taken to trailing off, leaving incomplete thoughts blowing in the wind, waiting for someone to either fill in the rest behind her, or let her off the hook completely.
"Fuck, I'm nervous, Pierce. Don't work me over like the goddamn shrink. Can you just be my friend for three seconds?" Olivia moved to the window, where she pulled back the blinds. Moonlight swirled and blinked back at her, bouncing off the Pacific Ocean.
She could hear Pierce rolling over in the sheets. "As your friend," she sighed again. "I can tell you that I'd be worried if you weren't nervous."
"Yup. I've watched a lot of people come in and out of rehab in the last two, three years. Some of them, you look at them and you just know they aren't ready. Most of the time, it's because they didn't take their treatment seriously. They dried out, sure, but the underlying cause is still there. Whatever drove 'em to drink, or shoot up, or whatever... it's still there because they were too afraid, or too cavalier about it, to tackle it head-on. Not with you," Pierce chuckled a little bit. "Yeah, you bucked and gave us hell, but once we got you used to the saddle and bit, damned if you didn't fire like a thoroughbred filly."
"Your continued use of sports metaphors bores me," Olivia groaned. "But I think I get what you're saying, and... I appreciate it. I know I wasn't exactly a joy to deal with two and a half months ago."
"The fuck are you kidding, Spencer? You're still a nightmare to deal with."
"I knew calling you was a bad idea," Olivia smiled once again, and then yawned. "I'm going to try and fall asleep. And Pierce?"
The woman on the other line grunted an acknowledgement.
"Thank you for pushing me."
In the days since Olivia's blowout in the office, she and Natalia had made an art of avoiding each other. They were civil around Emma, but at night Natalia slept alone. Olivia had taken to sleeping in her old bedroom, which now held a bunch of Rafe's things while he was away. She'd hidden a bottle of vodka behind his video game console, and two bottles of pills in a box of his marked "Summer Clothes". It felt odd and perverse, and she hated it, but the nights were long, and being alone frightened her more than she knew how to express.
She could tell Natalia was ruminating on something, but she dared not asked her. Instead, Olivia just lived in fear. Fear that she was losing her grip on everything she tried so hard to balance. Fear that she was one pill away from stopping her heart. Fear that Natalia would leave her and never look back.
Five nights after Olivia's words had stung Natalia in a way she never meant to, Olivia arrived home to a seemingly empty house.
"Natalia?" Olivia's voice sounded foreign, and it bounced off the walls of the farmhouse unforgivingly. "Emma?"
She made her way up the stairs, a task she was finding more and more difficult, and searched the rooms there. No one.
Back downstairs, she double-checked outside. Natalia's car was in the driveway, but no one answered her shouts. Where there should have been panic, a dull ache simply took over Olivia's body. When she found Natalia at the kitchen table, she could tell she'd been crying.
"You didn't answer. Thought no one was here. Where's Emma?"
Natalia looked at the older woman, and Olivia could swear she still saw love there. "She's with Jane. I asked her to take her for the night." When she started to protest, Natalia waved her off with a shake of her head. "Just sit down, Olivia. We need to talk."
There it was. The panic and dread that had failed her just a few moments ago. Churning in her stomach, threatening to paralyze her. Olivia absently noticed that she could only summon those feelings when it was her own safety on the line. Her own secrets. She hated herself for putting her love and adoration for Natalia in that wooden cabinet where that first bottle of vodka belonged. She must've worn it on her face, because Natalia frowned.
"You look like you already know where this is going, so I'll spare you the beating around the bush," Natalia took a deep breath, and placed her hands flat on the table. She stared at them. "This hasn't been easy on any of us. Losing Isabella... I thought I was going to die. Literally, I felt the life drain out of me. And I leaned on you to keep going. Perhaps too much. Maybe I didn't see it then but--"
Olivia tried to interrupt her. "Natalia, you don't have to--"
"Let me finish. Just... let me finish," Natalia's brown eyes lifted to meet Olivia's, and her brow softened. "Maybe I didn't see it right away, but I'm not some babe in the woods you can fool forever. I know about the drinking. I know it's gotten bad. I don't know how bad, but it must be some kind of awful if you honestly think you're fooling anyone anymore."
Olivia shook in her chair. She tried to focus and hold Natalia's gaze, but it was tiring and difficult. She did what she could to steady herself.
"And I found your pills. Upstairs." As she inhaled, sobs overtook her, and Natalia fought hard against them. Olivia admired her bravery. Finally, she pulled an envelope off the chair next to her. She pushed it across the table, and Olivia reached a shaky hand out to see what was inside.
"Everything is arranged already, if you're willing to go. The flight, the reservations. I would've done it sooner, but I had to be sure. It's a rehabilitation center, Olivia, and I think--"
Olivia laughed. The sound curdled in the air. "Natalia, I'm not--"
"If you don't go and get some help, I'm not going to be around to pick up the pieces and enable you. I love you, Olivia," Natalia tried to bite back the tears but they came anyway. Her voice shook but she remained firm. "I love you more than I have ever loved anyone in my entire life. But I don't know how to help you. I can't do it for you."
This was it. This was the moment Olivia had imagined in her head but never saw through to the end. There wasn't a script she could follow, so she simply sat there, mouth slightly agape.
"Our daughter died, Olivia. And I know you... I know you thought you were being strong by pushing your feelings down deep and trying to forget all about them. So be strong now. Admit that you need help, and I will stand by you for as long as it takes. Whatever it takes."
She looked so beautiful that it broke Olivia's heart. Olivia had always joked about Natalia being her angel, her saint, but at that moment she looked every bit the part. She had handed Olivia her salvation, wrapped in a bow and tied with string. It wasn't the first time, and Olivia instinctively clutched at her heart. When she could feel it still beating in her chest, she bowed her head.
Olivia paced back and forth in her room for a few minutes, looking at the mirror with a sideways glance every now and again. Natalia hadn't packed her a whole hell of a lot of clothes when she initially left for rehab, and she'd only acquired one or two new things since then. A bathing suit when she found the sprawling Northern California facility had a hot tub and a pool, and a pair of jeans when she gained a little weight and couldn't fit into the pairs she'd arrived with. So when she looked at her reflection, she couldn't decide what to do. A simple white v-neck t-shirt and distressed jeans, fitting a little looser than she would've worn around Springfield. No necklace, no earrings, and a pair of leather flip flops on her feet. Her skin was tan from the California sun.
"I either look like shit, or a million bucks. I don't even know anymore," Olivia laughed nervously to herself. She knelt down and rolled the hem of her jeans up just a little bit, and surveyed herself one last time. "Better."
The complex was a cluster of bungalows connected by a breezeway to a main building, and the grounds sat on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. To the casual observer, it would've looked like the perfect place to vacation. Except there were no bars, no calypso band, and there was an occasional screaming match at the check-in desk. Olivia found a spot on the second floor balcony of the main building, and waited. When she sat with one leg on the railing and turned her head, she could see the visitors' parking lot. If anyone asked, she would pretend it was a serendipitous coincidence, but in truth she had been staking out this spot for weeks, imagining what it would be like to see Natalia there, coming for her.
When a slender figure with brown hair stepped out of a white rental car, Olivia's heart rate quickened. She didn't have to imagine anymore.
She watched as Natalia, whose hair was pin-straight and cut into an angle across her face, exited the car and fumbled with something in her purse. She looked around the lot and when she stepped out from behind the car, Olivia's breath hitched. Natalia wore a high-waisted black pencil skirt that stopped just above her knees. A light oxford shirt that fit her as though it had been tailored precisely for her body. Slingback heels that, even from far away, Olivia could hear clacking against the pavement. The mountain breeze blew her hair into her face, and Olivia had to laugh as she watched the otherwise gracious woman swatting at it, annoyed.
It took a few minutes, but eventually she heard the same click of Natalia's heels on the tile steps near Olivia's perch. When their eyes met, Olivia felt a huge smile cross her face. Natalia stopped at the top of the stairs, and smiled back.
"The woman downstairs told me I would find you here," Natalia's voice was calm and even, but her eyes watered. One arm held her purse tightly over her shoulder. "Are you Olivia Spencer?"
Olivia laughed and slid off the railing, meeting her halfway. "That's me."
They met in a kiss so unbridled it took Olivia by surprise. She had sat up at night, reminding herself of the hurt she had caused Natalia, and that, despite their conversations on the phone, and letters and emails, her wife might be hesitant to welcome her back into her heart with open arms. "I should've known better," Olivia whispered against Natalia's lips.
Tears streamed down both of their faces as Olivia held Natalia's face in her hands. "About what?" Natalia whispered back.
"Everything. Just... everything," Olivia used her thumbs to wipe the tears from Natalia's cheeks. "You look..." Breath rushed out of her lungs in a whoosh. "Amazing." It was true. Natalia looked at once older and more refined, yet younger and fresh-faced. Her skin was flawless, her eyes sparkled, and she exuded strength. Olivia held her and refused to let go.
"You too, Olivia," Natalia blushed a little and deep-set dimples appeared. "You look so healthy... I'm so... you're you again."
They stayed like that for a few minutes, in each other's arms, kissing and not kissing, taking in the breathtaking views around them.
"So um... you need a drink or anything? Some water, some fruit...?" Olivia took her hand as they went back downstairs, and into the main building.
Natalia shook her head. "I'm fine." She clutched Olivia's hand more tightly, as the older woman waved hello to people she knew, and watched as they winked or nodded their approval. "Friends of yours?"
Olivia smiled. "Some are. Some I can't stand, but I'll be damned if I'm going to miss a chance to show you off."
"Some things never change, do they?"
As they sat in the counselor's office, Olivia felt antsy and couldn't wait for his introduction to be over with, so they could get to the real stuff and move on. He was explaining to Natalia his role in Olivia's recovery, and the different elements the facility used to tailor each individual's treatment to fit their needs. Natalia nodded and seemed genuinely interested, but Olivia made no secret of the fact that she didn't enjoy being talked about as though she weren't in the room.
"Gee doc, I keep waiting for you to tell her all I need is an oil change and I'll be ready to hit the road," Olivia rolled her eyes.
The doctor smiled at Natalia. "As you can see, some things even rehabilitation cannot fix." They shared a laugh, but Natalia squeezed Olivia's hand in her lap.
"So now, generally what we do with two weeks left until a client leaves us, we try to facilitate that transition as best we can by inviting the family to join us here, where we can remediate any problems together. We've found this gives folks the best chance for success once they leave the stability of a closed environment." He smiled at the two women, who looked at each other before looking back at him.
Olivia was about to make another joke until she remembered what Pierce had told her, about addicts being too cavalier about their disease. "I'm scared about a lot of things."
Natalia did a bit of a double-take, clearly surprised by Olivia's admission. The doctor nodded, and encouraged Olivia to continue.
Her green eyes searched Natalia's, and she pursed her lips tightly, thinking. "Out of all the things I said and did since... since we lost the baby... it's the things I didn't do that I regret the most. I can't go back in time and make it right. So there's a part of me that wouldn't blame Natalia if she could never forgive me."
When Natalia started to reassure Olivia, the doctor stopped her. "It's important that she articulates the things she feels she needs forgiveness for. It's been one of her biggest hurdles," He reached an upturned palm in Olivia's direction. "Agree or disagree?"
"I agree," Olivia nodded, dropped her glance to her lap. "I need to, um..." she turned her head to meet Natalia's gaze again. "I need you to know that I didn't cry for Isabella... because I was afraid that once I started, I would never stop. I felt like... I felt powerless to stop what was happening to you. Watching you... give birth to our daughter when you knew she was already gone. It tore me up inside because I couldn't do a goddamned thing about it, so I vowed that I wouldn't put any more burden on you. If I couldn't fix it, the least I could do was not make it any worse."
Olivia cried without a sound, and she felt lighter as each tiny drop fell. Natalia never let go of her hand.
"But I did make it worse, Natalia. I... fucked up," she breathed, then gave a half-smile in apology for her language. "I shut you out. I shut Emma out. I thought I was being your rock, you know? But you didn't need that. You needed your partner and I failed you. Remember that night on the couch? When we..." Olivia's eyes made a loop and the doctor fidgeted in his chair.
"Which time?" Natalia teased her through her tears, a guilty smile creasing her face. When Olivia spun her wheels, Natalia relented. "I know when."
"Yeah well I told you I would do anything for you and Isabella. I told you I would do whatever it took, to keep you safe, to love you, to give you everything in the world. And when it was taken out of my hands... I just lost it. I lost it completely. And then I said that awful thing," Olivia dropped her head into her hands, her fingers curling around her long hair.
Natalia reached for her and stroked Olivia's back. "I know you didn't mean that. I know you loved Isabella."
Olivia sat up and stared at her, lips quivering. She knew she had to say it, but she couldn't be certain her tongue wouldn't fail her. "What if..." she sucked in some tears that fell across her lips. "When you first showed back up in Springfield, and you were pregnant, I... I resented that baby. I tried to wish it away."
The younger woman's body tensed, as though Olivia had slapped her straight across the face. Olivia recognized the feeling in her gut, a feeling she'd had many times since their daughter's death. A feeling of wanting to run, wanting desperately not to confront the pain. These were the moments recovering addicts spoke of from the dais in the great room down the hall. These were the moments upon which one's recovery hinged.
"And then I remembered," Olivia's voice broke, climbing higher as sobs choked her throat. "I remembered that baby was a part of you. And I loved it. Right then, I knew I had been wrong. I knew that anything that grew inside of you, that came from you, the love of my life, could never be wrong. Could never be anything less than perfect. I would give my life to bring Isabella back to you."
Her cries were deep and reverberating, filling every space in the tiny room. To Olivia, it felt like an eternity before Natalia finally turned in her chair.
While she knew she couldn't stay that way forever, Olivia was hesitant to look Natalia in the eyes. So she steadied her breathing, willed her heart to slow down, and took it one step at a time. She took in the angular bend of Natalia's knees. The skin there was smooth and unblemished, except for a tiny scar. Olivia wondered where she'd gotten it, and stored the question away for another time. The fabric of her skirt was pulled taut over her thighs, and the buttons of her shirt created a trail for Olivia's eyes to follow. From the center of her torso to the curve of her breasts, Olivia blinked back tears. At her collarbone she was finally able to dry her eyes, and by the time she lifted her face to her lover, Olivia prepared herself for whatever she might say.
"I forgive you," Natalia whispered. And Olivia slumped into her lap, exhausted.
Having survived the counselor's office, shaken but with their love reaffirmed, Olivia escorted Natalia to her private room, so she could change out of the shirt she had sweat and cried clear through. The younger woman looked around while Olivia went to the bathroom. On a mirror above the dresser, Natalia found a photo of the three of them, she, Olivia, and Emma, that she'd shoved inside Olivia's suitcase the day she left. Its edges were curled and worn, and when she plucked it from its perch, it felt soft, like it had been handled a thousand times before.
"Oh, my skinny days," Olivia quipped as she returned from the bathroom. She was buttoning up a white linen shirt when Natalia stood up, taking over for her. The younger woman's fingers made neat work of the buttons.
"You look fantastic, Olivia. Better than you ever have."
Olivia smiled as Natalia looked up at her, stopping with two or three buttons left undone. "So do you. What's..." Olivia ran her hands down Natalia's upper arms. "What's all this about? You feel pretty strong under there, Rivera."
"Rivera-Spencer," Natalia corrected her, placing a light kiss against Olivia's mouth. "And it's yoga. I took up yoga while you were gone."
"Aw man, that's so new-agey, I'm not sure if I like that," Olivia wrinkled her nose at the other woman, and smiled. Natalia simply stared back at her, brown eyes melting Olivia's resolve. She had missed her wife in so many ways, but nothing could compare to the smoldering ache she felt when she remembered what it felt like to touch Natalia's naked flesh.
Breaking the tension, Natalia turned and swept her hair as she went, placing her hand on the door. "Oh you will. You will."
Olivia feigned collapsing to the floor, and Natalia laughed heartily. The sound filled Olivia with hope, and she motioned for Natalia to follow her. "Let's get something to eat."
As they made their way through the complex, Olivia gave Natalia the ten-cent tour, showing her the little world she'd called home for the past two months. It was nothing to scoff at, nestled high above the pristine Pacific, covered in green and basked in sunlight. When they reached the cafeteria, Natalia laughed softly.
"I've worked in cafeterias, Olivia," she looked around the swanky set-up. "And this is not a cafeteria."
"You're the one who put me up here, remember?" Olivia squeezed her side as they shared a tray.
Natalia pulled a dish of fresh-cut fruit from the buffet line. "Like you'd have stayed if it was anything less than four-star."
Olivia just shrugged, and when their tray was full, they found a table outside on the patio, a large tree providing some shade.
Their meal was a quiet one, with Olivia answering whatever questions Natalia had about her treatment. There were a few awkward starts and stops, but for the most part, Olivia felt relieved to share her journey with the other woman. She knew she had trust to earn back, and she made it clear that she was now an open book.
Finally, Olivia took a break in the conversation to ask about her daughter. "How's Emma?"
Natalia sighed. "She's... okay. She misses you, and she's drawn about seven thousand pictures for you." They shared a smile. "She'll be okay, Olivia, but I have to tell you. I've been completely honest with her. I told her that Isabella's death made things very hard for you. And that you... did things... to try and make the pain go away. And god bless her, I think she understands. As best a ten year old can understand."
"God, she's going to be ten," Olivia drew in a breath. "I can't believe--"
A figure bounding towards them caught Olivia's eye, and she let her fork hit the plate. "Ah, I'm going to kill her."
Natalia looked confused, her eyes darting from the Olivia to the approaching stranger.
"Natalia, this is Pierce... my sponsor," she waved at the young woman who crouched besides their table.
"Whoa, Natalia Rivera-Spencer, in the flesh," Pierce smiled broadly, shaking Natalia's hand fervently. "I've heard so much about you and, damn, it's all true."
Olivia shot her a look. Pierce mimed a look of innocence, and continued. "I don't want to interrupt anything but I just had to meet you. Olivia's been a real dream, and I'll be sorry to see her go."
"That's funny, I haven't heard a single thing about you, Pierce," Natalia looked disapprovingly at Olivia, who suddenly felt like a kid in the principal's office.
"Not surprised," Pierce replied. "But I won't hold it against you, Spence," the young woman stood up and squinted in the sun. "Alright, I gotta run, but it was wonderful to finally put a face to the name."
She turned and left the table, but then smacked her hands in the air and spun back around. "Oh, and I almost forgot," she put her hand over Olivia's on the table. "You know the bungalow? Down on the beach? Reserved for you tonight, buddy. Don't make me waste the six weeks of salary a place like that costs me."
Before Olivia could say anything, Pierce was gone in a whoosh of torn jeans and Converse sneakers. Natalia had a wry smile on her face. "Was that what I think it was?"
Olivia nodded her head, unable to keep from smiling. "Yeah, just when I want to hate her, she goes and does something nice," Olivia reached across the table and brushed a stray hair from Natalia's face. "Think Rafe would mind staying with Emma overnight and bringing her here in the morning?"
Natalia looked at Olivia through long lashes, her tone playful. "We'll just have to ask him and see."