Title: The Importance of Family
Fandom: Guiding Light
Characters: Olivia Spencer, Natalia Rivera, Ava Peralta, Emma Spencer, Jeffrey O'neil
Category: Angst, but the good kind. Romance, Drama.
Rating: R...I'm gonna say because there are some disturbing themes explored in here and some violence, although I don't think either is described in graphic detail.
Word count:
Summary: Life goes on. Sometimes it throws you a curveball and you never know what's coming your way on any given day.
Spoilers: Takes place around Thanksgiving '10, and includes the events of the finale.
Author's Note: This fic is solely for kelltwomyn. I was bemoaning the fact that I wasn't going to be able to afford a Venice subscription and she swooped in and got when for me when I said I'd be willing to offer fic in exchange. I hope this fic is both somewhat what you were hoping for and also worth your ten bucks and the wait. I really have enjoyed Venice so far. Thank you. :)
Beta: Many thanks to q_wordy13 for beta'ing this for me! Your insights, comments, suggestions and encouragement have all been very much appreciated! :D
Disclaimer: All characters (Olivia Spencer, Natalia Rivera, Emma Spencer, Ava Peralta, blah blah etc.) and situations belong to Guiding Light, Telenext, Proctor & Gamble, etc. I'm not them.
Warning: This story eventually deals with Olivia's rape. I don't think it's discussed graphically, but I don't want anyone to stumble upon it unaware either.

Part One

The "Welcome to Springfield" sign, barely noticed on most occasions, loomed large in Jeffrey's vision despite the cold, grey winter's day. It was dangerous being back here in Springfield, he knew that. At one time or another he had been both the DA and Mayor. There was no denying that he was a well known public figure and there was every chance that someone would recognize him.

Then, the moment that happened, it would all be over – everything he had worked so hard for over the past year, the time that he had been forced to spend away from his infant son, his wonderful, grown up daughter, and all the pain he had caused Reva – would all be for nothing. Yet there was no way that Jeffrey could just stop outside the city limits and turn around. No, he had spent over a year following Edmund and he wasn't about to stop now. His return to Springfield meant that it was time for this war they had been waging to come to an end. He was going to put a stop to Edmund's murderous, deranged intentions once and for all.

Edmund at large in the world was a constant threat, but Edmund in Springfield meant that those Jeffrey cared about most were in immediate danger. He wasn't going to let anything happen to them, not if he could prevent it. That was why he had finally come back to Springfield, hot on Edmund's trail.

Now that he was back, there were people that he should notify, people who needed to know that Edmund was alive, back in town and still intent on murder. Of course, he couldn't do it himself. Until he was exposed – and it seemed almost inevitable – he would do his best to stay out of sight and keep the knowledge that he was alive under wraps. He would worry about what he would say to family and friends later, after Edmund was dead.

Still, there were ways to warn the people who needed to know. Jeffrey knew that Jonathon was living here in Springfield and already knew that he was alive. A quick phone call and it would be done. Jonathon had spent enough years on the run to spin a believable story about how he knew that Edmund was back in town while spreading the word to Josh, Reva, Oliva and everyone else he need to know.

To talk to Jonathon, however, he would need a moment, and Jeffrey had learned early in his hunt for Edmund that all he needed to disappear was one moment. He certainly wasn't going to give Edmund that opportunity in the middle of Springfield where the losing sight of him for even five minutes could mean the death of someone he cared about.

That was why Jeffrey immediately took advantage of the opportunity that Edmund had provided him when he turned his car and parked in front of the Olivia Spencer Memorial Park. Pulling in well back from where Edmund had parked, Jeffrey took out his cell phone and watched as Edmund stepped out of the car, surveying the streets before tugging his coat into place and walking into the park.

Jeffrey quickly dialed, never taking his eyes off Edmund. The well landscaped park was feeling the effects of winter. The usually vibrant, thick grass had turned a brownish shade of green and thinned considerably since summer. Trees had lost their foliage, leaving only skeletons standing in their place. As dreary as it looked, Jeffrey was grateful for the greater visibility it provided him. It would be a hassle in a moment when he got out to follow Edmund, but for now it gave him time to contact Jonathon.

"Hello?" Jonathon's standard greeting was full of laughter. Where ever he was and whatever he was doing, he was clearly enjoying himself, probably with Sarah at this time of day. The thought provoked an unexpected tinge of jealousy within him. He missed his family.

"It's me," Jeffrey said curtly, forcing any hint of his previous thoughts to the back of his mind and firmly locking them away. There was no way for him to safely be with his family until this was settled. He didn't wait for Jonathon to respond, but continued on. "I'm back in town and so is Edmund. You need to let everyone know so that they can be prepared. I have him in sight and I am going to finish this here and now, but I'm not taking any chances. Can you spread the word?"

"Of course," Jonathon responded quickly. There was a moment's silence. "Do you need any backup?"

Jeffrey considered the offer. Edmund had managed to slip through his fingers so many times already. There was always the possibility that he could do it again. With Jonathon's help, he would have a better chance. Something about it, however, didn't feel right and Jeffrey had learned to trust his instincts in this job.

"No, I need a last line of defense if Edmund gets by me or something happens to me. You're it."

"Understood. I'll pass along your message," Jonathon said curtly.

"Thank you," Jeffrey said and found that he truly meant it, grateful that Jonathon would not only tell Reva, but watch out for her as well.

Flipping his cell phone shut, Jeffrey tucked it into his pocket and undid his seat belt. It was time to finish this. The weight of the gun tucked into its holster beneath his suit jacket was comforting. He couldn't wait to feel it in his hand. Then he could go and find Reva, throw himself on the weight of her tender mercies and see just how much his son had grown. Surely she would understand why he had been willing to do whatever was necessary to protect his family.

Ava Peralta was nervous. Like her mother, she disliked that feeling immensely and it annoyed her to no end that she was feeling that way now. After all, she was simply coming to her mother's home to celebrate the holidays as well as the birthday of her youngest sister. Only the place that she was going wasn't the familiarity of the Beacon, but a farmhouse - Natalia's farmhouse - where she had only been a handful of times. It was no longer just she and Olivia and Emma against the world. Olivia had managed to pull a completely new family around her and now the small tight-knit unit was verging on becoming a mid-size group with a wealth of extended family, connected by both blood and marriage, and friends. In that, Ava had no idea where she fit.

She had caught some glimpses this summer of just how much Olivia had changed since she had moved away, but Ava had a feeling that was nothing compared to how different Olivia was around Natalia. After all, if anyone had told Ava that her mother had forgiven the woman who had so obviously and with such devastation broken her heart only a month before, then moved back in with her a few scant weeks after her return and accepted her child - a child conceived with the man who had been her rival for Natalia's affections - with her whole heart, well Ava would have laughed and called them insane. That was not something Olivia Spencer did. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, was the motto that Olivia Spencer lived by and she was certainly no fool.

It made the knowledge that Olivia had taken Natalia back even more incomprehensible to her, but then Springfield had always been a bastion of strange, unpredictable and heartbreaking. Ava simply hoped that this trip didn't involve any of the latter. It was hard enough just being back here after losing Max.

She couldn't put it off any longer, however, and opened the screen door. Ava raised her hand to knock but her fist never connected with wood as the door was pulled wide open. She had a chance to catch a brief glimpse of her mother and a flash of dark blonde hair before her little sister slammed into her, thin arms wrapped tightly around her waist and clinging to her with surprising strength for such a tiny frame.

"How's it going, little sister?" She asked teasingly, a smile curving over her lips as she bent to embrace Emma. With it some of her unease disappeared. It was rare that Emma had ever failed to cheer her up, only in the darkest days after Max's death had Emma's smile ceased to ease the pain in her heart. She was nearly impossible to resist. Her mom was going to be in so much trouble when Emma started dating.

"Chessie's going to be one in a couple of days and Mom said that now that she's a little older, maybe we can think about getting a kitten." Emma's words spilled out with such speed that it took Ava a moment to decipher them, and then she laughed.

"That sounds like a lot of fun. I had a kitten when I was your age - Dutch."

Emma sucked in a deep breath, her little chest heaving with the motion, and Ava braced herself for another torrent of words. Only Olivia's light tug on her ponytail stopped her.

"Hey, Jellybean, give your sister a chance to breathe. She's going to be here a whole week. You two will have plenty of time to catch up."

Ava flashed an appreciate smile in Olivia's direction and stepped into her Mom's open arms. She tucked her head down to rest it on Olivia's shoulder.

"It's good to see you," she said quietly. Olivia's arms tightened around her shoulders and Ava felt the beginning of tears pricking at her eyes. She sniffled and swiped at her eyes as she stepped back, hoping that Olivia wouldn't notice the sudden rush of emotion that had overwhelmed her.

"I'm glad you came," Olivia said simply. "It wouldn't have been the same without you."

"Mom." Ava's voice broke over the word, partly from the emotion bubbling up within her - that sense of belonging that had somehow snuck up on her where Olivia was concerned - and partly from exasperation. "Now you're just trying to make me cry," she complained.

Olivia's rich laughter rang out through the room. "I would never." The glint in her eyes made a lie of that statement, but it did manage to draw a matching laugh from Ava, breaking the tension of the moment.

"I am glad you came," Olivia repeated, throwing one arm around Ava's shoulders. "Now come in here and meet your newest little sister."

Ava let herself be guided into the kitchen, taking note as she did of the small homey touches throughout the house. It was hard sometimes to imagine her mother living here, but she looked just as comfortable and relaxed in this house as she did in the blue jeans and t-shirt that she wore, so different from the skirts and business suites that had practically been her uniform when Ava was her assistant.

"Look who Emma and I found," Olivia called out, but it wasn't necessary. Having heard them in the living room, Natalia was already walking toward them.

"It's good to see you again, Ava," Natalia said smiling at the young woman.

"You too." Ava flashed a smile and hoped that the sudden awkwardness of the moment wouldn't linger. She knew Natalia a little, but they had never been close before she had left Springfield and now they were practically family. Were they supposed to hug? And if they did, just how weird would that be? She wasn't the touchy-feely type. She was spared from figuring out what was expected of her by Natalia, however.

Her brown eyes glinted with amusement and a hint of mischief. "So let me guess: she dragged you in here to show off Francesca, right?"

Oh yeah, Natalia had Olivia's number all right. Glancing back at Olivia with an amused grin, Ava turned back to Natalia. "I think that was the plan."

Natalia shook her head. "She brags so much, sometimes it seems like she was the one who spent sixteen hours in labor pushing Francesca out."

Olivia snorted. "Hardly, Sweetheart. That was all you." The tender look she directed at Natalia belied her teasing. "Twice was more than enough for me, thank you very much."

Her last sentence took Ava by surprise, the casual mention of her birth along with Emma's catching her off guard. Their relationship had improved vastly since its early days - it could hardly have gotten worse - and Ava called Olivia "Mom" as often as she used her given name. She had even managed to forgive Olivia for trying to kill her, knowing and believing that Olivia had gone a little insane when she thought that Ava had tried to kill Emma before she had learned that Ava was also her daughter. Still, she had never before heard Olivia so casually mention that time in her life - the nine months that Ava had grown inside her and the scant time they'd shared together before Olivia had given her up for adoption. It had always been as if Ava had never existed for Olivia before she had shown up in Springfield fully grown. It seemed as if Natalia really were good for Olivia, Ava mused.

"All right," Ava cut in, "Enough stalling. I want to see this little cutie I've been hearing so much about. Who could live up to the hype?"

"Francesca can too!" Emma piped up from beside her. Ava hadn't noticed her slip into the room, much less come to stand beside her and she'd jumped at the sudden exclamation.

"I guess I'll just have to see for myself. Lead on, little sister."

Emma didn't hesitate to take Ava's hand in her tinier one and drag her toward the small playpen that sat safely out of the way in the corner. Olivia and Natalia followed behind them, a little bit more slowly.

A contented smile tugged over Olivia's lips as she saw her three daughters together for the first time. If only Rafe were here, then this moment would be perfect. All of their children finally under one roof. She glanced over at Natalia and saw those thoughts echoed back to her. Natalia's bottom lip trembled for just a moment, and Olivia didn't need anyone to tell her that she was thinking of Rafe, so far away and impossible to know if he was safe. Instead she leaned over and pressed her lips gently to Natalia's cheek, lingering there for a moment to speak where only Natalia could hear her.

"I have faith," she whispered, the mantra familiar to both of them by now, a reassurance and comfort to Natalia that her son would truly be okay and that if he wasn't they would deal with it together.

Natalia squeezed her hand in return and tried a tremulous smile for Olivia. "I know," she said, just as softly. "Thank you," she added, a moment later, swiping surreptitiously at her eyes.

"Anytime," Olivia said simply, before she gently pulled Natalia back toward Emma, Ava and Francesca, all three too caught up in surveying one another to notice the exchange behind them.

"She's beautiful, Mom, Natalia," Ava said, glancing up from where she had crouched down next to the playpen to look back up at them.

Dark brown curls framed Francesca's small face, and even Ava could see Natalia in the rich brown eyes that were staring so intently back at her. Her little hands were pressed up against the cloth mesh of the sides of the playpen, tiny fingers dug into the sides to help hold herself up and maintain her unsteady balance.

"Hey there, Cutie," Ava cooed holding a finger out for Francesca to latch onto for balance if she was so inclined.

The look of intense concentration and focus - taking her measure, Ava would say, if she was more than a year old - slipped away from her face and was replaced by a horrible squashed up expression. Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut and she let out a dismayed, unhappy wail before letting go and holding her hands out beseechingly, not to Ava but to one of her two Mommies.

"Mama!" The little girl cried, the word shortly turning into a distressed babble of sound that made Ava feel like a horrible person. She knew intellectually that it was just a child's reaction to a new person in her environment, but that didn't stop the way it made her feel. "Sorry," she murmured, glancing back at Olivia and Natalia. "I didn't mean to upset her."

"Don't worry about it," Olivia said quickly, swooping in to scoop Francesca up into her arms. She held the little girl close for a moment, and then tipped her chin up until she was looking back at her. "I think somebody is just a little tired and needs a nap." The goofy look on Olivia's face and the familiarity of her voice were gradually calming Francesca, her tears subsiding. "She's been up for a while," Olivia continued, her free hand making soothing circles on Francesca's back. "I'll go put her down for a little while. She'll be less grumpy when she wakes up."

Ava rose, catching the edge of the playpen to help herself up and brushed her fingers down Francesca's tiny arm, unable to resist touching her soft, smooth skin. "Okay," she said softly, not wishing to frighten her again. Francesca was nothing - nothing - like her Max had been, but just seeing her, this beautiful baby girl was enough to make Ava's heart ache. She had learned to live without him, learned how to live again without the sadness of losing him overwhelming her, but there were still moments like this one where it just hurt.

A gentle touch on her wrist caught her attention, drawing her gaze away from Olivia's retreating form as she carried Francesca away to put her down for a nap. There was understanding and sympathy in Natalia's gaze when Ava looked back at her and unbidden she felt the first stirrings of anger at Natalia's presumption. She didn't want pity. She'd had far too much of that in the days after Max's death. Angry words grew on her tongue, but Ava held them back waiting for her to speak.

When she did however, Natalia surprised her again. "It's getting late. Would you like a sandwich? I was just about to fix lunch for the three of us."

Ava swallowed back the angry words pressing against her tongue. She had been expecting something else entirely - words of pity or a string of platitudes intended to cheer her up when it wasn't what she wanted or needed. Instead she nodded. "Thanks. That would be great." And if her voice sounded hoarse and not quite herself, Natalia didn't give any indication that she noticed it.

When Olivia re-entered the kitchen, Natalia immediately noticed the wild look in her eyes. She dropped the plate, unwashed back into dishwater and quickly dried her hands, letting the towel fall to the counter with a second glance.

"What's wrong?" She asked quickly, capturing Olivia's hands and pulling them to her, in a gesture that had become a comfort to both of them long before they had acknowledged their feelings to one another.

"Where are Emma and Ava?" Olivia asked, glancing around the small kitchen frantically as if she expected them to suddenly appear from the laundry room or climb out from under the table.

Natalia squeezed her hands gently, trying to catch Olivia's gaze with her own and steady her racing mind and heart. "We finished eating and Emma convinced Ava to take her to the park. I think Ava needed a break, anyway."

"Oh, God." Olivia breathed, her fear ratcheting upward at hearing that her daughters were no longer in the house instead of being calmed by Natalia's statement. One hand pulled free of Natalia's and flew to her mouth. "I have to call them."

"Tell me what's wrong," Natalia repeated more forcefully as Olivia fumbled for her cell phone.

"Jonathon called," Olivia said distractedly as she hit send and waited impatiently for Ava to answer. "Edmund's back in town and Jon doesn't know who he's after this time. They could be in danger. Damn it, Ava, pick up!" She swore into the phone.

For once Natalia didn't say anything about her language. Instead she simply hung onto Olivia and waited, praying silently for Ava to pick up the phone, now just as worried as Olivia.

"Hey, Mom!" Ava said cheerful, breathless with laughter as she answered. "When did Emma get so good at basketball? She's kicking my-"

"Ava, Sweetie, I need you to listen to me very carefully. Edmund's alive and he's in Springfield. He might try to come after you and Emma to get at me. I need you two to come home right now - straight home - and don't stop for anything."

"Mom?" Ava sounded confused. "Okay, we'll-" But whatever Ava was about to say was lost as Ava's startled yell cut into it. "Emma!"

At any other time, it would have had Olivia yanking the phone away from her ear, but she only pressed closer, desperate to hear what was going on at the other end.

"Ava?" She demanded. "Talk to me!"

But the only sounds that came over the line were gunshots and more screams.