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)
Chapter Five - (NC-17)
In the morning Natalia woke Olivia with a kiss, and the two fell in step as though they'd never been apart. They took a walk along the beach, hand in hand, and tried to make the most of their time in such a secluded, peaceful place. They saw a few others from the facility at the top of the cliffs, far down the beach near the stone steps, taking advantage of the early hour to run or meditate. But no one bothered them down at the narrow end where the squat little cottage sat, and they idly tossed stranded seashells back into the foamy sea, barely saying a word.
"Have you spoken to Ava?" Natalia asked, brushing her hair out of her face with the back of her hand.
Olivia nodded. "Yeah, she knows I'm here. She wanted to come and visit, too... but I told her not to."
"Why?" Natalia turned to the other woman, and Olivia noticed the tiny vertical line that always appeared between her eyebrows when she was concerned. "She lives so close, I guess I figured..."
"Mm, nah. Didn't want her to see me the way I was, Natalia. You know, all... washed up and surly." Olivia smiled ruefully. "Bad enough Emma had to see it. I still can't believe I did that to her."
She thought it odd that Natalia didn't say anything in response, anything to allay her fears or soften the blow. But it was a moot point anyway; in an hour's time, her youngest daughter would be here, and whatever hurt or confusion she felt would be Olivia's to deal with. A familiar feeling crept up on her, slinking its way through her belly and up her spine, and Olivia reached out for Natalia's hand instinctively.
"We should probably go up," she said as she wove her fingers into Natalia's. "Have a cup of coffee before Rafe and Emma get here."
Natalia dusted her other hand off against her skirt, sand flying in the wind. "Sounds good."
They quietly made their way back to the cabin and gathered their things. Natalia retreated to the bathroom and came out a few minutes later, her hair pulled back and makeup retouched. Silently, Olivia slid past her and took her own turn, washing her salty hands and feet in the bathroom and running a brush through her hair. In the mirror she noted that she did indeed look better than she had three months ago. Her face was not as ruddy and bloated as it had been, and her eyes were clear and bright. Even though she'd put on weight, it was a healthy few pounds, spread out across her body instead of confined to her face and swollen hands and feet. She shook her shoulders a bit, and forced a smile.
"You look beautiful," Natalia surprised her from the doorway. She stood behind Olivia and rubbed her shoulders with hands so deceptively strong, Olivia found herself looking down at one shoulder, to reaffirm they did indeed belong to Natalia. When she saw that they did, she closed her eyes for a moment and enjoyed the sensation. "Anything you wanna share?"
Olivia spun around slowly, not eager to end the impromptu massage. "Nothing you don't already know. I'm getting repetitive now. Just nervous."
"I never get tired of hearing how you feel," Natalia cocked her head to the side, eyes sparkling. "I need to... you know, know how you feel. A lot. Because not knowing..." Olivia knew where she was going with this. "Scares me. You think you can put up with me asking a hundred times a day?"
"For now," Olivia pinched a wry smile. "As long as you don't mind that I'm not terribly original."
Natalia sighed. "Are you kidding? Everything about this relationship has been a little too original. I welcome the change of pace."
Back at the top of the hill, Olivia sat next to Natalia on a stone bench overlooking the ocean, trees shading them from the quickly warming morning sun. She was on her cell phone, one finger in her ear in attempt to press out the sounds of the wind.
"Just park in the visitors' lot and we'll meet you at the front desk," she smiled at Olivia. "Great. See you in a sec," Natalia clicked the end button on her phone and stood up. "Why don't I get them and bring them back here? It's so nice. We could eat on the terrace again."
Olivia frowned. Natalia wanted to gauge Emma and Rafe's disposition for herself, before exposing Olivia to it. "If you think that's best."
Natalia picked Olivia's chin up with a gentle finger. "Just sit tight."
She watched the other woman cross the grassy courtyard, her hips swaying just slightly. The very sight of her made Olivia's breath hitch, and made it that much harder for her to believe she could've ever been so selfish as to leave Natalia alone, to raise her child, to take care of their home, while she got schooled in a private paradise on lessons she really ought to already have known. This particular feeling, this particular guilt, was new territory for Olivia. She'd been so focused on earning Natalia's forgiveness for what she'd done while she was home, she hadn't really thought about things she hadn't been there for during in her absence. But objectively, Olivia knew that if Natalia harbored any feelings about it, she would've said something. Or at least she hoped.
In her mind's eye, Olivia imagined Emma's tiny form appearing at any moment from the shady archway, nearly tumbling over herself to run into her mother's arms. The thought made her smile, and that smile remained frozen on her face as her family finally did appear.
Emma was wearing a denim skirt and pink t-shirt, with something Olivia couldn't quite make out emblazoned on the front. She held tightly to Natalia's hand, and on the other side, to Rafe's. Rafe looked older somehow, the same trim boy he'd always been except with a slight edge. Still, he smiled warmly at Emma.
Olivia stood up from the bench as they joined her, then squatted back down to be at Emma's height. "Hey there Jellybean!" Her voice was excited but tight, not wanting to confuse Emma with tears, even if they were good ones.
"Hi Mommy," Emma said softly, letting go of Natalia's hand long enough to put her arms around Olivia's neck in a hug.
"Look at you!" Olivia exclaimed. "What are you, six feet tall? And what's this?" She tugged at the t-shirt, which in white script letters read 'Pirouettes'.
Emma looked up at Natalia, deferring to her. Natalia waited a beat, clearly hoping Emma would answer Olivia directly. But when she didn't, she smiled. "It's a dance studio. Emma joined a dance troupe this summer... didn't you, Jellybean?"
The little girl just nodded, then buried her head against Natalia's side. Olivia waved off Natalia's apologetic glance, smiling as she stood. "And Rafe," she pushed her hand into the pocket of her jeans. "I see those Army folks gave you a haircut. They didn't take your tongue too, did they?" Her eyes dropped to the silent Emma.
"Nah," Rafe smiled genuinely back. "They didn't. You look really good, Olivia. It's good to see you." He opened his arms and Olivia, her arched eyebrows betraying her surprise, stepped into the embrace. He hugged her tightly, and couldn't help a laugh. "Hey, I'm as surprised as you are."
Natalia beamed with pride. "I think the army made him rethink how bad he really has it back in Springfield."
"Sure did," Rafe sighed. "As long as you don't ask me to do any push-ups or wash the floor with my toothbrush, I'm freakin' thrilled to see you."
Olivia smiled, but she was undeniably a little disappointed. The role reversal, with Rafe as the accepting, loving son and Emma as the estranged daughter, unnerved her deeply. She had no one to blame but herself, though, so she simply reminded herself that this process, her daughter's trust and forgiveness, would take time. "I'm sorry I missed your graduation, Rafe. I really would've like to have been there."
She could tell by Rafe's face that he knew she meant it. "No worries, Olivia. It was just long and boring and..."
"Hot," Emma chimed in from her perch halfway behind Natalia's leg. This drew a laugh from all four of them.
"Yeah, it was like... a hundred degrees out there," Rafe shrugged. "That's the south in July though, I guess."
The small talk continued as they made their way to the restaurant. On Olivia's suggestion, they opted for the one with proper service instead of the cafeteria, noting that they served pancakes and muffins there.
"I want scrambled eggs," Emma stated with a subtle defiance.
Natalia patted her on the head. "I'm sure they have those too, sweetie. Why don't you go sit down next to your mom? Best seat in the house, and you can see the ocean and the whole beach from there."
Emma begrudgingly sat down next to Olivia, apparently unable to resist the appeal of the awe-inspiring view.
After the waitress took their order, including Emma's scrambled eggs, Rafe told Olivia about his training, what boot camp was like, and the people he'd met there. "It sounds crazy, but as much as it sucked," he batted his eyelashes at his mother, willing her to remain quiet about his choice of words, "I totally miss it. The way it, like, forced us to depend on each other. I've never bonded with any friends like that."
"That's great, Rafe," Olivia smiled over her coffee mug. "I'm sure you already know, but your mom is over the moon with pride. I mean, it's enough to make you gag."
Rafe laughed. "I know, I know," he slung an arm around Natalia's shoulder, and she leaned into him affectionately. "But I'm glad you'll be back, you know, soon. 'Cause I ship out next month. For Afghanistan."
Natalia drew a hand to her mouth, and her eyes dipped. "I hate thinking about that part, though."
Olivia reached across the table for her hand. "He'll be okay. Right Emma?"
Emma looked up her mother with the most bewildered eyes. It pained Olivia to look, but she held her gaze. The little girl recovered with a sip of her orange juice. "Yup. Rafe is like G.I. Joe, but cooler."
That broke some of the tension at the table, and the rest of the meal proceeded as smoothly as Olivia could've expected. When it was time to meet the psychologist again, Natalia offered her hand to Olivia and she took it, and for a fleeting second she forgot that she was in rehab, that she'd torn her family's life apart with her disease, and that their baby daughter lie in the ground thousands of miles away. They were just a family, walking down a breezy, sunlit hallway, talking and laughing.
"I think I'll go and, um, shoot some pool in that rec room over there," Rafe stated plainly as they reached the doctor's office door.
Olivia's brow furrowed, confused. "Rafe thought it'd be best if the three of us got to talk to the doctor alone, and I agreed," Natalia bit a tight smile, and Olivia's face went blank. She wasn't wild about the idea of them making decisions without her, but she also knew she'd set that train in motion the moment she reached for the bottle that first time.
"Okay, yeah," Olivia nodded, compliant. "We'll come get you when we're done."
The shrink's office was bright and airy, but once again it felt small and cramped to Olivia. Emma sat in between them on a couch, and the doctor pulled up a chair to be closer to them.
"So, Emma... Your mom tells me so much about you," he began. "She says you're gonna be ten this year."
Emma nodded, and twisted the hem of her t-shirt with nervous fingers. "Double digits," she practically whispered. Olivia's eyes welled with tears.
For the first few minutes, the doctor asked Emma about herself, and Olivia knew he was just trying to make the little girl feel comfortable. After all, he knew every detail of Emma's life, down to the last detail, because Olivia had told him. Many days, Emma was all Olivia could talk about. Early on, it was the only thing she could manage.
"So, are you excited for your mom to come home?" His eyes were expectant over his glasses.
Emma looked to Natalia, who stroked her hair. The diamonds on her ring finger caught Olivia's eye, and she remembered the day she'd given the rings to Natalia. The meal the three of them had shared, the closeness she felt, and Emma's unadulterated bliss at the prospect of her family finally coming together. The tears that had held tight to Olivia's eyes now fell unfettered.
"Maybe we don't need to--" Olivia began.
"Olivia," Natalia stopped her. "Don't you think she should..." She let her words trail off, and she and Olivia shared a brief, tense gaze.
"I don't mind talking to the doctor," Emma said, matter-of-fact. Olivia couldn't help but roll her eyes and smile. She was her daughter after all. And right now, Olivia could've offered her a pony and she would've refused without blinking. "Your shoes are funny," she spoke directly to the doctor.
Everyone's eyes moved to his two-toned sneakers. He bellowed a little bit. "Well, yeah, Emma. They aren't very 'doctor-like', are they?" When the little girl shook her head, the man continued. "We're kind of a different place here. We like to let people be who they are, and for me that means wearing my fun sneakers, even to work."
"What kind of doctor are you?" Emma asked.
He leaned back in his chair. "I'm a feelings doctor. I help people deal with their feelings. Feelings that sometimes scare people, or make them do things they wouldn't ordinarily do. Does that make sense?"
"So my mom is here because she has bad feelings? She's not sick?"
Olivia began to speak but the doctor quieted her with a genuine smile. "That depends. Are you worried that your mom is sick? Sick like she was when she had to get a new heart?"
Emma looked off, appearing to consider the question. Then she nodded.
"Well she's not sick, not in that sense of the word. She's not going to leave you, Emma. She's not dying. Your mom was very sad. Very sad. And sometimes adults get so sad," he pushed his hands against his knees, catching Emma's gaze. "They get so sad, that they need help feeling better. So that they can get back to being healthy and happy and--"
Emma's tiny shrill voice cut through the doctor's words. "But we were all sad! We were all sad but she's the only one who left! She made everyone hate me at school, and then she left! And she wasn't even sick!"
And with that, the little girl fled the room, her ponytail bouncing behind her. Both Natalia and Olivia rose to their feet instantly and the doctor stopped them with a hand to Olivia's wrist. "It's okay, this isn't uncommon. These things tend to go one of two ways. Either the child is so afraid that their parent is physically sick or--"
"Or they're resentful because they're not. I get it, Doctor, thank you. Maybe I should've consulted a psychic instead of trusting your--"
"Olivia," Natalia's voice sounded soft and pleading, and its effect wasn't lost on the other woman. She always did have a way of pulling Olivia back when she was ready to go off. "Let's just go get her, and take this one step at a time, okay?"
The doctor pulled at his beard, and nodded, effectively dismissing them. Emma hadn't gone far, just down the hall where Rafe was playing pool with a young man a few years his senior. She wasn't crying, but she sat as stiff as a board, watching the two men play, her hands pressed firmly against the seat of the chair she was perched on.
Natalia held Olivia back in the doorway with a palm flat against her belly. "Please just take a breath," she begged. "I know this is upsetting, but it's perfectly natural..."
Olivia's eyes narrowed to thin slits. "There is nothing natural about my daughter despising me. I'm not just going to be led around by the doctor, by you... I've lost enough time already."
Natalia straightened up. "Well you may have decided that you've done enough penance here, here in this place, but you're going to have to work a little harder for your daughter. I love you, Olivia, but honestly. Listen to yourself."
Her jaw clenched, staring at the woman she loved and knowing she was absolutely right. A tremble began deep within her, and for a second Olivia feared she might tip right over into Natalia's arms. But then, her features softened. "I know. I know. You're--"
Natalia waved a hand in her face. "It's not about who's right or wrong." The young woman was steadfast and firm, but loving. Olivia was awed.
"Did yoga do this?" Olivia's eyes glinted, a proud, sad smile on her face. "Did yoga make you so strong? So steady?"
The younger woman dropped her chin, and looked through her eyelashes at Olivia. "No, honey. Isabella did."
Olivia had managed to coax Emma from her spot on the billiard-room stool, with the promise of a scoop of ice cream and a walk by the sea. Negotiating with her mother, Emma agreed only to go if Natalia came with them, and as much as it stung Olivia, it also moved her. The woman she loved, the woman who'd been crazy enough to want to spend the rest of her life with Olivia, had truly become Emma's second mommy. In every sense of the word. The circumstances made it bittersweet, but it was wonderful to see them so close.
Rafe had made fast friends with a young guest at the rehabilitation facility, so he agreed to stay on the grounds, and await their return. Natalia gave him a kiss on the cheek before they left to take Emma outside, and Olivia could've sworn she heard the young man comment on Rafe's wicked hot mom. Despite everything else, it made her chuckle inwardly.
Ice cream cone in hand, Emma raced down the stone steps to the beach, ignoring Olivia and Natalia's warnings for her to be careful. The two followed close behind, letting the girl kick off her shoes and flop down near the water's edge.
"It's dripping everywhere!" Emma squealed, licking her hand and her fingers around the cone. "Natalia, come take a bite so that it doesn't fall off!"
Natalia's eyes sought Olivia's permission, and Olivia simply smiled. "Go on. Help her, Mama."
The two made light, albeit messy, work of the remainder of the ice cream cone, and Olivia lowered herself down onto the sand next to them. "Was it good?"
Emma nodded, and Olivia swore she saw faint etchings of guilt on her daughter's face. She thought she'd be relieved, knowing Emma had a least a twinge of remorse for shunning her mother, but it only made her feel worse. She preferred the carefree Emma of old. "You didn't have tons of ice cream while you stayed here?"
Olivia was grateful Emma was speaking to her, even if it was about snack foods. "Nope, not once. Can you believe it?"
"Why not? If I had an ice cream buffet at our house, I would eat it every day." Emma started in on the makings of a sand castle, and Olivia and Natalia helped.
"I didn't really want ice cream, or cupcakes, or cookies. They don't taste very good when I don't have you and Natalia to share them with," Olivia squinted in the sun, but she could feel Emma's eyes turn to her.
"You stopped sharing ice cream with us even before you left."
Her words hung in the air, an oddly astute observation for a ten year old, cutting Olivia to the bone in a way she knew she deserved. She watched Natalia, who wiped a few stray tears from her face.
"I was... oh god, Emma. I love you so much, and I'm so sorry..."
"Can I go play in the water? I won't get my clothes wet, I promise," Emma stood up and looked to Natalia for the answer. Natalia looked around Emma's tiny frame, to Olivia, whose face was pulled into a hard grimace, fighting back tears. Olivia had to love her wife for trying to include her in the decision.
"Of course, Jellybean. Go ahead but stay where we can see you," Olivia croaked.
When the little girl spun away, she danced and squealed and splashed in the water. She was seemingly in her own world, and Olivia was glad of it. She couldn't bully her daughter into accepting her. She couldn't rationalize it. She'd just have to wait for it to come, and better that the little girl wasn't plagued any further by her mother's series of dubious decisions.
"She'll warm up, Olivia," Natalia scooted closer to her and rested her head against Olivia's shoulder.
Olivia clucked her tongue. "I dunno, Natalia. I can't blame her. I can't even remember... I can't even remember half the shit I did those last few weeks."
It was true. The weeks immediately preceding her entry into the rehab program were like a blur to her. She of course remembered the meltdown in her office with Natalia, and she had a few spotty memories of running into Josh and others around town here and there. But what had she been like? Who was the Olivia Spencer that Springfield saw last? She knew she'd done enough in the last month of her downward spiral to erase any notion that Olivia Spencer was the strong, silent pillar for her grieving family. That image had lasted only briefly.
"There were... there were only a few times. Just a few, when you'd clearly lost control of your... drinking... that Emma saw you that way. Most of the time, you just weren't around. Like you knew it was better that way."
"Was it?" Olivia's voice broke, and a strong wind blew saline tears across the bridge of her nose. "Was it?"
Natalia cleared her throat. "Probably. It hurt that you were gone all the time, yes, but you did manage to hold it together for the funeral. More than I can say for Frank."
It'd been literally months since Olivia had even thought of that man, the baby's father, the coward who avoided all of them for months after the baby's death. But in retrospect, at least he allowed himself to grieve. "Never thought I'd say this but... kinda wish I would've went that route."
Natalia bumped against Olivia lightly. "You thought you were doing the right thing. I haven't lost sight of that, so don't you, okay?"
Olivia nodded. "What did she mean, when she said... I made everyone at school hate her? I feel like I remember, but I can't..."
"Um," Natalia sighed. Clearly she was weighing what to say.
"Just... I need to hear it. What the hell did I do?"
"Oh Christ," Olivia moaned, laughing a little now at the sheer unbelievability of it all. "There was more than once?"
Natalia bit her upper lip, and nodded. There was pained sympathy on her face. "Valentine's Day... do you remember the after-school party?"
"No," Olivia ran her hand through her hair, agitation rising in her stomach.
"You kind of..." Natalia hedged. "You kind of went off on everybody who you thought was looking at you funny. Looking at us. Looking at Emma."
"Fucking brilliant, Spencer..."
Natalia reached for Olivia's arm. "You were drunk, I guess, but I didn't really realize it until it was too late. You're... you were very good at hiding it sometimes." She shook her head. "I was doing a very good job of not seeing it, too. And you were totally wrong, that's the thing. It was the strangest thing. Everyone, all the parents and the teachers, they'd been so supportive ever since we lost Isabella. Parents brought over food all the time, and invited Emma all kinds of places. You know, to get her out of the house, let her have some fun, things like that."
"And I told them all to go to hell, I suppose?" Olivia looked at Natalia from the corner of her eye.
"Something like that."
"The fuck are you all staring at? Oh, that's right. Emma has two mommies. Two mommies and a dead sister. I bet you're all thrilled that the depraved dykes of Springfield got what they deserved..."
"Fuck," Olivia whispered into the wind. Emma was still frolicking in the surf, her denim skirt wet at the hem despite her earlier promise. "And?"
Natalia looked confused. "You said there was more?" Olivia pressed.
"Oh I don't think we need to--"
Olivia stopped her with a cocked eyebrow. "Really, at this point? What's the difference? If you have to live with the shame, I should too."
Her wife's eyes softened, but her expression was serious. "I have never, ever been ashamed of you, Olivia. A little surprised at your passion for fact-finding when it concerns Betsy Ross and the American Revolution but--"
"Oh God, I remember that. Jesus," Olivia laughed again, this time a bit more genuinely. "I stand by that, though. Sure, maybe I shouldn't have stood up in the middle of the play but--"
"But what, Olivia?" Natalia leaned back now, her arms locked against Olivia's shoulder. Her face was a smiling mix of incredulity and morbid curiosity. "It was a grade school play!"
"That's romanticized, revisionist history, Natalia. Many women were working on flags at the time. Most historians--"
Natalia shot her palm straight up, fingers like soldiers at attention. "Most historians don't have daughters on stage playing Betsy Ross when they make the argument, Olivia."
The older woman looked away, the humor quickly stricken from her face. "I see your point."
They sat there, not speaking, for several more minutes until Emma came running up, out of breath and more than a little wet.
"That your idea of staying dry, little lady?" Natalia asked, winking.
Before she could answer, Olivia stood up, shaking sand from the bottom of her jeans. "Aww, come on, Natalia. She didn't do so bad," Olivia smiled at the little girl, then leaned in to whisper in her ear. "Watch this."
With one swift movement, Olivia swept her daughter into her arms and up over her shoulder, and the little girl screamed with delight. Before Natalia could protest, mother and daughter went scampering through the surf and into the water, completely submerged save for two bobbing heads.
In Olivia's arms, Emma forgot the troubles of the past few months, and they played in the water joyfully, splashing and slapping at surf. When they dragged themselves back to shore, wet, heavy clothes hanging off of them, Natalia had her hands over her eyes.
"You two... are a wreck!" But she laughed and Emma plopped down in the sand once more, catching her breath.
Olivia could feel Natalia's eyes on her. Shaking her head but fighting a smile, Natalia pointed up and down at Olivia's body. "You're, um... you're very..." But she was backing up, matching every step Olivia took towards her with a step back of her own.
"What?" Olivia laughed. "Natalia..." And with that Olivia reached out to close the last bit of distance between them, and pulled the other woman against her hard. She locked her hands around Natalia's waist, and she immediately fought it.
"Oh no you don't," Natalia squeaked, fighting as best she could until Olivia had dragged her into knee-high water. "But I--"
And then they were both in the water, Natalia's skirt floating up to the surface and blooming outward. She held on to Olivia as though her life depended on it, and Emma howled with laughter from the shore.
"Olivia! I can't swim!" she whimpered, digging her nails into the skin of Olivia's strong shoulders. The water lapped at their lips, salty and stinging.
The older woman looked at her, panicked and out of breath. Then her face fell, and her breathing quieted. "Then put your feet down."
Natalia loosened her death grip and examined Olivia's terribly self-satisfied grin. Olivia could feel two feet tangle with her own on the sandy ocean floor. "I hate you," Natalia pushed off her, and began the slow trudge back to shore.
The three of them sat on the beach, soaked to the bone and tired. Aside from Natalia's muttering, there wasn't much sound. Olivia stood up first, and put out a hand which Natalia begrudgingly took. Then she helped her daughter to her feet as well, and they walked slowly back towards the buildings on the cliffs above them. Finally, Emma spoke.
"That was so cool."