FANDOM: Guiding Light
SUMMARY: On their first Christmas as a couple, Olivia and Natalia experience the first, best miracle.
A/N: One day, if I carry on like this, I'll have quoted every word of Margery Williams' The Velveteen Rabbit.
It was always impossible to get Emma to go to sleep on Christmas Eve, and this year – their first in the farmhouse with Natalia and Francesca – was no exception. She was alive with excitement: wriggling away as Olivia tried to put her in pyjamas; bouncing on the bed as Natalia tried to tuck her in; begging for a story as they both tried to turn off the light.
“Baby, you’ve had three stories already,” Olivia protested, thinking of all the work that still had to be done downstairs – the preparations for tomorrow’s meal, the last minute touches to the decorations, the mountain of gifts still to be wrapped and labeled From Santa.
“But none of them were Christmas stories,” Emma reminded her. Natalia looked from daughter to mother with an indulgent smile.
“She’s got you there,” she said. Olivia nudged her in the ribs.
“Whose side are you on?” she hissed, sotto voce. Natalia simply laughed.
“I’ll handle this one,” she said, leaning up for a quick kiss before returning to Emma’s bedside. “Now,” she began, lifting a book from the shelf, “this story begins at Christmas, and that’s enough to make it a Christmas story. But that’s not all.” She lowered her voice, as if imparting a great secret. “It’s really about the miracle of love,” she said, leaning forward so that her nose and Emma’s were nearly touching. “The first, best miracle. And that’s what Christmas is all about.”
Emma settled back against the pillows expectantly. Olivia watched them both for a moment – two of the people she loved most in all the world, together, bathed in the golden glow of the night light, and knew with a certainty she would never be able to explain that this was a moment she’d remember in perfect clarity for as long as she lived. She watched Natalia open the book, and closed her eyes briefly to listen.
“There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy's stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.”
Olivia smiled. Natalia had chosen well – this was one of Emma’s favourites, and it always put her to sleep. Pushing herself off the doorframe, she headed downstairs, confident that the combination of Natalia’s soft voice and her favourite story would soon lead her daughter into the land of dreams.
She had managed to wrap five presents by the time Natalia followed her downstairs. “Out like a light,” the younger woman murmured, wrapping her arms around Olivia’s waist as she settled onto the couch beside her. Olivia couldn’t resist turning and pressing a soft, brief kiss to her forehead.
“It’s a Christmas miracle,” she muttered, and Natalia laughed.
“So, we have three hours to finish wrapping all this,” she said, gesturing to the mountain of presents that had been quietly retrieved from their hiding places after Emma had gone to bed.
“Yup,” Olivia replied happily. She thrust a roll of icy blue wrapping paper dotted with penguins into Natalia’s arms. “This is for Emma’s stuff,” she explained. “I’ll use this other roll,” she picked up some red and gold paper, “for Francesca’s.”
Natalia narrowed her eyes. “It hasn’t escaped my notice that Emma has more presents than our one month old baby,” she said. Olivia chuckled.
“It’s not my fault you’re so much better than me at this,” she said. “I’ve always paid the stores to do this part for me, you know.”
“Oh, I know,” Natalia replied indulgently. “But this is much better, isn’t it? Christmas Eve, together in front of the fire, wrapping presents for our children sleeping upstairs...” She trailed off as a dreamy smile spread over her face and Olivia couldn’t help but think that her lover’s expression was glowing brighter than the Christmas tree.
“Much, much better,” she said, and if her voice was a little huskier than normal, Natalia pretended not to notice.
This was the first time that either of them had ever undergone this little ritual - familiar to parents everywhere - with another person. Olivia had, as she’d said, always got the stores to wrap gifts for her, and Natalia had simply never had the opportunity to share this time with a loved one. The only Christmas Eve she’d spent with Gus had not been spent with him at all – he’d ended up locked in Springfield Mall with Olivia and she’d spent the evening wrapping Rafe’s presents by herself. But this night was for the two of them; their first Christmas Eve as a couple, as a family.
“Oh, I can’t wait to see her face when she opens that,” Olivia gushed as Natalia picked up Emma’s last gift - the kids’ digital camera that Emma had been dropping anvil-like hints about for weeks.
“Yeah, she’ll be able to document all her little wanderings now,” Natalia replied.
Olivia laughed. “Oh God, remember last Christmas? When she sneaked out?” Natalia grinned.
“And she wrapped toys down at the precinct until we picked her up?”
They shared a laugh, and then Olivia’s smile changed into something just as happy, but serious too. “Remember what you said?” she asked. “When I told you she was missing?”
Natalia nodded slowly. “I do,” she said softly. Olivia took her hand and kissed her knuckles gently.
“That’s when I knew,” she said. “Of all the people over the all the years who tried to be a parent to her...you’re the only one who ever really got what that means. I knew then...you’re the one she needs. And after I understood that...it wasn’t long before I realised that you’re the one I need.”
Natalia blinked away sudden tears. “I need you too,” she replied, her voice choked. “I love you, Olivia.”
By way of reply, Olivia pulled her lover close and kissed her sweetly, almost chastely, as if to sanctify some unspoken promise.
“I think you have to go soon,” Olivia murmured when the kiss broke. Natalia glanced at the clock on the mantle and sighed, running her fingers through Olivia’s hair.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “It’s almost eleven thirty.” Olivia’s lips twitched.
“Do you have to go?” she said, in the voice of a whining child. Natalia swatted her on the arm.
“Yes,” she said. “I do. But I’ll be back before you know it.”
“Impossible,” Olivia replied. “My heart aches with longing every instant you’re away from my side.”
“Yeah yeah,” Natalia said, grinning at Olivia’s antics. “I’ll be back by one thirty. Will you wait up or go to bed?”
“I’ll wait up,” Olivia said, and dragged herself up from the couch. “Say hi to Father Ray from me; you know how he loves being reminded that I exist.” Natalia rolled her eyes.
“His Christmas card and cookies are signed from the Spencer-Rivera family,” she said. “And if he doesn’t like it he can go...” She stopped herself before her sentence could turn into a rant and smiled sweetly. “He can go pray about it,” she finally said. “Long and hard and quietly. Far away from here.”
Olivia barked out a laugh. “I love that you’re so bad,” she murmured as she leaned down for a goodbye kiss. “I bet no-one else in the whole world knows that you’re so bad.”
Natalia raised one eyebrow. “If you’re very lucky I might just show you how bad I can be a little later tonight.”
“Oooh.” Olivia grinned wolfishly. “Keep up talk like that and you’ll never make it to Mass.”
Natalia stepped back onto the porch, narrowly avoiding Olivia’s grabby hands that had been trying to pull her back into the warmth of the farmhouse. “I’ll see you in a couple of hours,” she said, smiling. “Love you.” She trotted to the car, and blew her lover a final kiss before she set off. Olivia watched the lights of the car disappear down the drive before reluctantly closing the door against the mid-winter chill.
She spent a happy half hour finishing the wrapping that she and Natalia hadn’t managed before the younger woman had had to leave, and a further half hour laying all the gifts out under the tree, Francesca’s right under the branches and Emma’s a little farther away. She then quickly retrieved her own gifts to Natalia and placed them under the tree, first in one position, then another until she’d found the perfect place.
That left another hour to kill. Momentarily at a loss, Olivia stood in the middle of the living room and looked around. How different this place was from what she had always imagined would bring her happiness. Not a palace, or a mansion, or even a luxury condo, but a humble farmhouse, with an even humbler woman at its heart. A woman with whom she had built, slowly and surely, the foundations of the kind of relationship she had once believed didn’t exist in the real world. The kind to which people sometimes attached the phrase And They All Lived Happily Ever After. The kind that endured.
Humming to herself, she headed to the kitchen to make some hot chocolate. The blinds hadn’t yet been drawn there, and what she saw pulled her up short. It was snowing, not gently, but not terribly hard either. It was falling steadily, gradually turning the world white. She smiled, knowing that Emma would be so excited in the morning when she woke up to discover that snow had come in the night. But her smile faltered as she remembered that her lover was out in that, and somehow had to get back.
She took her hot chocolate into the living room, opened the curtains, and watched with growing trepidation as the snow continued to fall, and fall, and fall. At around one twenty she pulled on her coat and boots and went out to see how bad it was.
The porch was okay, protected as it was by an awning, but the grass and driveway beyond that were buried under a layer of snow four inches thick. Worse than that, there seemed to be no sign that the snow was even letting up, let alone stopping.
The phone was ringing when she let herself back in to the house. “Hello,” she said into the receiver, brushing snow from her shoulders as she did so.
Her lover’s welcome voice washed over her like a wave of warm water, and it was only then that she realised she had been worried. “Hey,” she said, unbuttoning her coat and hanging it on the hook. “Where are you sweetie?”
“Still at the church,” Natalia replied. There was a little crackling on the line. “I’m trying to get out of the parking lot.” Olivia heard the engine revving, then squealing. “The wheels are spinning and spinning but I’m not moving. There’s too much snow.”
Olivia shook her head. “Don’t even try, sweetie,” she advised. “You’ll only wear down the tyres and damage the engine.” She bit down on the bitter disappointment threatening to seep into her tone.
“But...how am I supposed to get home?” Natalia asked in a small voice. Olivia was sure her lover was close to tears.
“Go to the Beacon,” she said. “It’s not too far to walk, and it’s warm. Get a room for the night and we’ll find a way to get you home in the morning.”
There was silence on the other end of the line for a long moment, so long that Olivia actually checked the display to make sure they hadn’t been disconnected. Finally there was a tiny sound that might have been a sob. “I’m going to miss Christmas morning with you and the kids,” Natalia said miserably. Olivia closed her eyes.
“Honey, we’re going to have so many Christmas mornings,” she said, trying to be cheerful for Natalia’s sake. “We have a lifetime’s worth of Christmas mornings to look forward to.” She squeezed her eyes more tightly closed, because she knew what little comfort she was providing – none of those mornings would be the one they’d been anticipating so much: their first as a couple, their first with Francesca, the first of all the ones they hoped were to follow.
“I know, but...” Natalia trailed off. There was nothing to be said, after all.
“I just need you to be safe,” Olivia said, her voice trembling a little. “That’s what matters, okay? So go to the Beacon, be warm, be safe, and I’ll come get you as soon as I can. All right? I love you.”
“I love you too.”
When Natalia hung up Olivia called ahead to the Beacon and instructed them to make sure Natalia had the best available room, along with all her favourite foods delivered as soon as she arrived.
With that there was nothing left to do but trail miserably up to bed, ducking her head into Emma’s and Francesca’s rooms as she passed. Both her girls were fast asleep, peaceful and angelic in the darkness of the early morning. Francesca, she knew, would need to be fed in a few hours. Formula would have to do for now, until Natalia made it back. Whenever that would be.
Her own bedroom was cold, and depressingly empty. She changed into her warmest pyjamas and stared hesitantly at the bed for a few moments.
“Screw it,” she said to herself. “I’ve never slept alone in our bed and I’m not starting now.”
She grabbed a blanket and couple of spare pillows from the chest at the foot of the bed and, taking Francesca’s baby monitor, headed back downstairs. The couch wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it was preferable to the cold loneliness of the bed, and the vast desert of empty space where Natalia should be.
“Merry Christmas Olivia,” she mumbled unhappily as she settled onto the couch. The lights on the tree twinkled, and outside the snow continued to fall, inexorably and silently, burying the world in white.
She wasn’t sure exactly when she fell asleep, but when she woke up the room was bathed in a pale, silvery light. She blinked hard, and noticed that the snow had stopped. The clouds had rolled back enough to reveal a waxing moon beaming down from the heavens and reflecting off the white carpet below.
The next thing she noticed was a noise, preternaturally loud in the silence. Instantly she was alert, springing upright on the couch. She reached blindly beside her, grabbing the first thing she laid her hand on. “Who’s there?” she called warily.
There was no reply, but the noises got louder and more odd. Olivia tensed and gripped her makeshift weapon harder. There was a scraping noise, and then the door swung open.
“Honey, I’m home.”
Natalia stood in the doorway like a dream, silhouetted against snow and moonlight. Olivia drew in a deep, cold breath. “Natalia...how?”
Natalia stepped inside and closed the door, peeling off her coat and brushing snow from her boots. “Sorry I’m late,” she said with a grin.
“Late...Natalia...” Olivia choked out a laugh. “Jesus Natalia, I nearly brained you with a fire poker!”
Natalia laughed, gliding over to her lover and making a space for herself on the sofa. “Aren’t you happy to see me?” she asked playfully. Olivia dropped the poker and surged forward, wrapping Natalia up in her arms.
“You’re so cold,” she murmured, rubbing her hands up and down Natalia’s arms and back. “Honey, how did you get here?”
Natalia snuggled close to her lover, drawing comfort and warmth from the strength in her arms. Olivia wrapped the discarded blanket around them both, pulling her down so she was lying half on top of her on the couch. “I went to the Beacon, like you said,” she began. “And I ate some of the food you sent – thank you, by the way.” Olivia shook her head.
“It was nothing,” she murmured.
“It was something,” Natalia insisted. “It was consideration. Thoughtfulness. Love. That’s never nothing.”
Olivia blushed, unseen in the half light. “But how did you get home, sweetie?” she asked again. She felt Natalia’s lips pressing against the hollow of her throat and she shivered.
“I sat by the window and watched the snow,” Natalia said softly. “I watched it falling and I hated it for keeping me from you. I watched it for an hour and a half or so before it began to slow down. And when it finally stopped, I called Doris.”
Olivia’s laugh was abrupt and joyful. “You woke Doris up at three o’clock in the morning on Christmas?” she asked incredulously. Natalia just nodded.
“Uh huh,” she confirmed. “And I promised her the conference suite at the Beacon free of charge for a week when she launches her re-election campaign, in exchange for the use of one of the city’s snow ploughs and a driver.”
Olivia laughed. “Oh sweetie, you’re brilliant,” she murmured, leaning down to kiss her lover’s smooth, cool forehead.
Natalia smiled against Olivia’s neck. “So then I commandeered one of the Beacon’s four by fours and followed the plough all the way here. Well, as far as the drive anyway. Doris drew the line at using a city plough to clear a private driveway.” Natalia pushed herself up onto her elbows so she could look down into Olivia’s eyes. “So I walked.”
“You walked,” Olivia repeated. “From the road? That’s a mile, honey. And there must be half a foot of snow at least.”
Natalia just smiled. “It’s Christmas,” she said simply, as if it were obvious. “I’d move Heaven and Earth to be with you today. A little snow? It’s nothing.”
Olivia blinked once, then twice, and then gave up trying to hold back the happy tears springing up from a core of joy deep inside. “Oh God, I love you so much,” she murmured, taking Natalia’s face between her palms and kissing her over and over: first sweetly, then desperately, and at last passionately, until the cold Natalia had brought in with her from outside had been all but forgotten.
“I love you too,” Natalia replied at last when she had breath to speak. “I...Olivia...” She closed her eyes, and turned her head into the touch when Olivia trailed her fingers reverently across her cheek.
“I can’t believe you got here,” Olivia whispered. “Natalia...you’re a miracle. My miracle.”
Natalia shook her head. “Not me,” she said softly. “You...us. All the things we’ve been through...all the pain, all the doubt, all the heartache. And yet here we are. Together, finally. Happy.” Her lips sought Olivia’s for a kiss. “We’re the miracle,” she murmured against her lover’s lips, then placed a gentle kiss just below her ear, and spoke again in a whisper. “The first and best.”
Olivia was silent for a moment and then she nodded, pulling Natalia back into her arms. “The best,” she agreed. “The best...”
They lay together quietly for a moment, warm, comfortable, safe and loved. Soon Francesca would need to be fed. After that Emma would be awake, excited by presents and snow and food and all the paraphernalia of Christmas day. Somehow they would have to clear the driveway before they ran out of essentials.
But this moment...this moment of miracles was theirs. This quiet moment alone together, hard won, treasured, more precious than any of the gifts under the tree. Olivia breathed deeply through her nose, drawing in the scent of snow and pine needles and cinnamon and Natalia, and knew that this singular combination of scents would forever evoke this moment of perfection: lying in her lover’s arms in the stillness and silence of Christmas night.