"Why didn't you tell me you were being threatened?"
Rafael Barba looked up to see Olivia Benson storming into his office, shutting the door behind her with a resounding slam. Her deep brown eyes flashed with thunder and for a brief moment, he felt a bit panicked. Benson had a way of unnerving him at times.
"I did," He replied coolly. "I let your detectives know—"
"Fin told me you received multiple threats over the phone, before you were approached in the elevator," Olivia undercut him. "But it wasn't until after that you saw fit to inform us!"
"I am ADA," Barba reminded her coldly. "I'm not a stranger to people making threats."
"But police unions, Barba! Don't you think that's something I should have known about?" She folded her arms across her chest. "What, did you not trust me enough to deal with it?"
Something about her tone infuriated him. "Like you trusted me enough to tell me you were involved with Ed Tucker, during his investigations?"
His voice was snappish. Almost adolescent. He hated the way he sounded and reminded himself for the thousandth time that he was completely in the right here. What Liv had done was unprofessional. She'd failed to disclose her relationship to him. There was nothing personal about it, it was pure professional misconduct. And he would not stand for it.
"This again," Olivia looked as though she was trying to resist the urge to roll her eyes. "As you'll recall, Tucker was not involved and was being set up."
"I was still perfectly within my rights to question your judgment on the matter," Barba retorted.
"Excuse me?" Olivia's tone was dangerous now.
"You know it's true," Barba snarled. "And of all the people in the world—Ed Tucker?! Are you out of your mind?! The amount of times that man has tried to destroy your career and mine—"
"He does his job, Barba, just like you and just like me. Why are you so furious about this anyway?"
He didn't have an answer for her. But something about the idea of Ed Tucker and Olivia Benson together made his hackles rise. It felt like betrayal.
""You get too emotionally involved, Liv," Barba said finally. "You let that cloud your instincts."
"I let my emotions cloud my instincts? Says the man who refused to tell me he was receiving death threats because of a stupid grudge!"
"We're done talking about this," Barba stood, beginning to pack up his suitcase, closing it with a decisive snap. "I identified the man who threatened me. He's been taken in. It's been handled, without you."
She stiffened and he watched with a shameful satisfaction that his words seemed to hurt her. Good. He wanted them to hurt, wanted her to know that he was perfectly capable of dealing with these kind of matters without her. He did not need her.
"And you think that'll be the end of it?" Olivia recovered quickly, seemingly oblivious to his subtle motions that she should leave his office. "That you're not going to deal with any more of threats? You said you received multiple hang-ups, from different numbers. The man we arrested said he was paid $250 every time he talked to you. You have to know there are others out for your blood."
"Maybe so," Barba acknowledged, walking past her, opening the door to his office. "But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."
"Oh, you will, will you?" Olivia made no move to leave his office. "I thought we were closer than this, Rafael. I thought you trusted me more."
He hated how his first name sounded on her lips.
"So did I," His voice was low. "But apparently we don't trust each other. And maybe that's for the best. Maybe a professional distrust is exactly what we need."
He'd hurt her again, he could tell. The little line between her eyebrows appeared, the mahogany of her eyes deepened, and her mouth set in a firm line. For a moment, he regretted his words.
"If that's how you feel," Her tone was clipped. "Then we'll do what you think is best."
Olivia walked past him and headed towards the elevators. He locked the door behind him and headed toward the stairwell. He would not be trapped in a confined space with Olivia for more than fifteen seconds. It would break his resolve.
Barba spent the rest of his evening attempting to wind down his fraught nerves. A dinner at his favorite restaurant, a phone call from an old friend in Maine, and finally a nightcap at his favorite bar—but nothing seemed to calm his nerves. He was furious and couldn't exactly figure out why.
As he usually did on Friday nights, he stopped by his mother's apartment, greeting her warmly. She took one look at his expression and clucked sympathetically.
"Oh no," Lucia murmured. "What's the matter?"
Hearing his mother tongue was comforting. He smiled at her.
"Nothing, mami," He said pleasantly. "Just wanted to see your face. How are you feeling? Do you need anything?"
"No," Lucia waved his concern away. "Headaches, as usual. But nothing else. Meanwhile, you are upset. What is the matter? Did you lose a court case?"
Barba grimaced slightly. "Not exactly."
"You always hated losing," His mother sighed. "Ever since you were a little boy. You never threw tantrums or lost your temper, but oh how you would glower for the next month! You have the same thunderclouds over your head. What is the matter? What did you lose?"
"It isn't that, mami," He let out a chuckle, recalling his youthful competitiveness. He had been a trial, certainly.
"I haven't lost anything," Barba said slowly. "Maybe a friendship. But maybe it's better that way."
"Ah, I see now," Lucia's expression brightened. "It is Olivia Benson, yes? She is always driving you crazy."
"To put it mildly," Barba grumbled. His mother reached across the coffee table, pressing her hand over his.
"Tell me everything," She requested.
So he did. At least, as much as he was legally obligated to share. He gave her a shortened rundown, explaining the case in vague terms, who Ed Tucker was, Olivia's clear conflict of interest, and the professional liability. He left out the part about his threats, deciding he didn't want to worry his mother unnecessarily.
Lucia listened quietly and attentively. When he'd finished, she stretched a little and sighed, a soft smile on her face.
"What?" He asked, a little disconcerted at his mother's reaction.
"It's my fault," She sighed again. "I'm so sorry, my son."
"Your fault?" Barba was baffled.
"Yes," She took a sip of tea. "You inherited my blood, you see. My temper. My jealous heart."
"Jealous?!" Barba half-yelped. "Did you say jealous? Mami, I am not jealous."
"Of course not!" He glared at his mother's warm, wise eyes. "This is about our careers, Mami. The cases we've worked together. Our working relationship—"
"Then why does her personal relationships bother you so?"
"They don't bother me until they interfere with—with—"
"With your relationship with Olivia?"
Barba blinked at her. It was impossible. His mother had to be teasing him. He couldn't possibly feel that way towards Olivia Benson. She irritated him more often than not and it seemed that they were always trading jabs. It was ridiculous!
"Mami, please," Barba took a deep breath. "That's ridiculous."
"I don't think so," His mother intoned. "You did the same thing when you were little. You were such a possessive little boy. It took you a long time to learn how to share."
"There's nothing—it's not—I am not jealous," Barba spluttered.
His mother said nothing, just smiled knowingly. She didn't bring the matter up again, perhaps sensing that Barba would pull back further if pressed.
They watched a trashy reality show together before Barba finally kissed his mother good night and snagged a cab.
He couldn't help but brood on the matter. His mother actually thought he was jealous over Lieutenant Olivia Benson and Ed Tucker. Jealous. What on earth did he have to be jealous for, particularly considering his supposed competition? Ed Tucker? The man was more straight laced than a straightjacket and had the personality of stale white bread. Barba had never liked the man and it was beyond comprehension why Olivia would want to…
Barba shook himself briskly. That was her affair. It didn't concern him. His mother was wrong, he had no feelings for Olivia Benson outside of professional.
She wasn't at all his type, after all. Hell, she was taller than him. Well, not really. They were about the same height—he'd noticed once when he went over to her house. She'd been barefoot, distractedly giving him Noah while she cleared a space for them to sit. Nevertheless, she favored heels or boots, giving her another inch over him. He'd always liked petite girls, probably since his own frame was far from imposing.
Barba continued to think of other reasons he disliked her. They were always arguing, always bantering back and forth. She was stubborn, more stubborn than he, and had this annoying faith in him—no matter how impossible the case, how little the evidence, she had this unreserved faith that he would win for justice.
Not to mention the way her hair framed her face…how her eyes flashed darker shades of brown when she was angry…her loyalty to her team, her fearlessness…the way her hardness melted away when she looked at her son. He'd only ever seen real fear on her face the day she told him who Noah's biological father was.
The cab had stopped. Barba shook himself away from his thoughts, feeling slightly disturbed. He paid the cabdriver and exited, walking towards his building. A clap of thunder broke overhead and he glanced at the sky musingly.
He'd run out of things he disliked about Olivia Benson. Worse still, somehow his list had morphed into something far more distressing…
Damn it to hell. What did his mother always have to be right?
"Wait," Barba turned back towards his cab, stopping it. "I need you to take me somewhere else."
The thunder had become a deluge of rain by the time he exited the cab. He stood outside Liv's building, trying to work out how he'd gotten here. Lighting crashed above him, but he barely heard it, letting the rain soak him completely.
Go home Rafael. What the hell are you doing here? Why did you come here? You have no reason to be here. The only thing you're going to get out of this is pneumonia.
He pressed the buzzer.
After a moment, he heard Liv's voice. "Yes?"
"It's Barba," He said loudly. "I'm outside your building."
Another pause. "You're outside?"
"Yes," He said impatiently. "May I speak with you? Please?"
The door unlocked and he entered, feeling slightly relieved. The doorman raised a brow as he passed by, marking his expensive, now possibly ruined suit. He could hear himself tracking water into the lobby and twisted his lips unpleasantly.
Of all the days it had to rain…
He knocked on Liv's door and she opened it, her eyes widening at his bedraggled appearance. She looked beautifully casual—black leggings, her hair in a messy bun, an old Siena College sweatshirt. She opened her door wider, letting him enter.
"I just put Noah to bed," Olivia shut the door behind him as he attempted not to drip over any of Noah's scattered toys. "Is…everything okay?"
For the first time in his life, Barba had nothing to say. No quick rejoinder, no snark, no sarcasm. His mind went blank.
Barba shook himself. "I…came to apologize," He said slowly. "I shouldn't have said…the things I said. I don't want distance between us. Far from it."
Olivia looked shocked. He couldn't blame her. He couldn't recall the last time he'd ever apologized to a colleague, even if he was in the wrong.
"Let me take your coat," Olivia said finally. "Geez, you are drenched…you'll be lucky if you don't catch a nasty cold." She helped him slide out of his trench and she carefully draped it over the kitchen counter.
"I should have told you about the death threats," Barba told her. "I should've come to you instead of Rollins and Tutuola. I acted…spitefully."
Olivia flicked her electric kettle on and sighed. She turned towards him and gave him a small, imperceptible nod.
"But you should have told me about your involvement with Tucker," Barba finished. "The moment it happened."
Her eyes flashed and for a moment, Barba braced himself, expecting a fight. But her shoulders sagged a little and she turned away from her kettle.
"You should really get that shirt off," She told him. "It's soaked. Pop it on the counter next to your shirt. Hang on a second."
She disappeared down the hallway and he touched his sleeves faintly. Liv was right, they were sopping. He slowly unbuttoned it, feeling a small relief as he peeled it off his wet skin. His undershirt was damp. Barba sighed and pulled it off as well. This wasn't going at all how he'd planned. Damn the storm…
Olivia returned with a white shirt, much larger than her size. Barba narrowed his eyes. This was a man's shirt.
"Here," She tossed him the shirt. "Tucker left it behind."
"I'm not wearing that," Barba said flatly.
Olivia glared at him. "Why one earth not?"
The fact was, Barba knew on sight that Ed Tucker was at least a head taller than him and probably several shirt sizes larger. Barba had no wish to emphasize this. But there didn't seem to be a way to express this without it sounding ridiculously petty.
"I'm not wearing it," He repeated stubbornly.
"So you're just going stand there half-naked in my kitchen?" Olivia wanted to know.
"I guess so!" He retorted.
They glared at each other and Barba tried retain his usual sense of dignity. Trouble was, he felt a lot more confident in a three-piece suit than he did shirtless with wet hair.
The kettle whistled and Olivia rolled her eyes, turning towards it and pouring boiling water into two mugs. She popped a teabag in each and handed the mug to Barba, who inhaled the steam gratefully.
"Nevertheless," Barba decided to break the silence. "Nevertheless—despite the fact that Tucker has on multiple occasions tried to sabotage you and your team's careers and the professional liability a relationship with him entails…if he makes you happy, then…then barring any conflicts of interest, I'm happy for you."
He took a large gulp of tea, burning his tongue in the process, but stubbornly kept staring at her. He felt rather proud of his little proclamation, though Liv seemed a little irritated at the reminder of Tucker's history.
"You don't need to worry about conflicts of interest between Tucker and me," Olivia said finally, stirring sugar and cream into her own mug. "You actually just missed him. We broke up this evening."
Barba stared at her in astonishment. "What?"
"We broke up," Olivia repeated, leaning against her counter with a sigh. "Don't get me wrong, we still care about each other…but it was never quite right between me and him. There was always something…out of place. It should have been right, it should've made sense…but it didn't."
She glanced up at him critically. "Not that my dating life is or ever was any of your business."
Barba half-heard her. He was overwhelmed with the intoxicating feeling of relief, closely followed by intense irritation that he felt that way. This was causing a whole host of problems tonight.
"I'm…sorry," He exhaled. "Again."
Olivia shrugged. "It's fine. Really. Honestly, I feel more guilty than anything else. Noah was starting to get used to Ed and, well…looks like I'm going it alone after all." She took another meditative sip of tea, staring off into the distance. Barba watched her.
She was thinking that for a brief moment, she'd finally got it right. She'd finally found that someone. Someone to laugh with, someone to work with—a partner in every sense of the word, professionally and personally. Only to have it ripped away from her at the last second.
"You're not alone," He said quietly.
Olivia blinked. "What?"
"You're not alone," He returned. "What was it you said to me? That when you were 85 you hoped to still be bickering with me?"
She gave him that smirking little half-smile he privately adored. She finished her tea and placed her mug in the sink, seemingly looking lost in thought. Finally, she glanced towards him with an exasperated sigh.
"You're shivering," She noted. "You really should put on that shirt."
"I will not," Barba crossed his arms.
"Fine," Olivia rolled her eyes. She snagged a blanket off the couch and walked over to him, wrapping it around his bare shoulders. Her fingers grazed his bare skin and he noticed her breath hitch a little. Olivia's eyes met his.
She's barefoot. He thought to himself. Their gaze was completely level.
Her hands drifted off of his shoulders and without thinking, he lightly caught her wrists. Her brown eyes widened.
"Rafael?" She breathed.
"Olivia," Barba said seriously, calculating quickly. "In about…32 seconds I'm about to do something incredibly stupid. I'm going to lean in…and kiss you. Unless you say no. Unless you push me away, tell me to get away from you, tell me to call an Uber, and take myself home. Which I will. Unless…"
Olivia was statue still and seemed to be at a loss for words. He swallowed hard.
He brushed his lips against hers. Every nerve tensed in agonized anticipation, ready to spring away from her, apologize profusely, blame scotch, caffeinated tea, the blue moon…
But her lips clung to his and she stepped into his embrace.
The blanket slid off his shoulders. To his utter shock, Liv was responding. When he released her wrists, she wrapped her arms around his neck. Her lips were sweet and her mouth opened to his kiss, cautiously allowing him to venture further. He feverishly kissed her harder, his mind screaming the terrible implications this all meant. But somehow, with her sighing into his mouth, with him memorizing her lips, the taste of rain, of flowers, of surprise and an unexpected promise…
They were rudely interrupted by the sound of Noah crying.
Her son's wails snapped her out of their reverie. Pulling away from him, she murmured that she would be right back, and swept away to her Noah's room. Barba watched her, feeling faintly dazed.