This fic was written for kohee (notesfrome on tumblr) for the Secret Santa Exchange on tumblr.
It has some angst in it, but with a happy ending. It spans over five different days in the lives of Olivia and Barba, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
I hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas!
"I'm tired of keeping us a secret!"
Her words had overtaken him as the silence settled between them. His worst fear was coming to life, the one in which the future threatened their relationship.
And with eyes meeting, but bodies inches apart, he knew nothing good could come from the moment. It was too real. And life had a harsh way of reminding him how their jobs would never allow them to truly be together.
He sighed, wanting to give her any argument that could counter the truth of her words, but he failed to find any. "I understand." he whispered in agreement, his stance weakening by the mere thought of what was to come next.
They had made plans for their future, intent on making them all come true, but no real promises had been made. Their circumstances couldn't allow for their promises to be fulfilled, that much he knew. But despite the constant reminder, they had remained together.
Olivia turned away from him, needing a moment without his scrutinizing gaze falling upon her. Just months ago when their relationship had become intimate, he'd warned her of the risks of being together. Their relationship threatened their jobs if it ever became public knowledge, yet she had gone into it, aware of all risks involved.
Being with him had outweighed all the risks. In just a few months he had meant more than any other relationship before. Their friendship had given them a strong foundation to build upon, but the constant bump in the road were their careers, neither of them willing to truly bring up the problem to address it once and for all.
''That's all you have to say?'' she asked, turning to face him again.
Upon their eyes meeting, he felt a wave of emotions crashing into him. The ones he had been pushing to the surface for weeks in order to maintain their happiness. ''No, it's not all I have to say, Liv.'' he began. ''It all feels surreal to me,'' he told her. ''It's so incredible that I become dizzy just thinking about it and I don't know whether I am dreaming or not. Here you are, the most amazing woman I ever met, the heart of SVU, and here I am, a man who is the complete opposite of you. The differences are too great. And yet we love each other beyond explanation. Sometimes I let my feelings, my love for you, cloud everything and I see the future as a happy life. I forget the hardships and obstacles for a moment and allow our love to cloud everything. But it doesn't last too long. In the midst of my happiness, despair threatens to plunge me into darkness and almost chokes me. The realization is worse than a blow to the face. I know all at once that I have nothing to give you, but my heart, and maybe the chance of losing your job.'' he continued on, watching as her eyes began shining with tears.
''What can a woman like you see in me? Why don't you leave? How can I continue on into a future that holds no promise for us?'' he asked her, needing to get it all out. ''I truly love you too much to lead you on. I would never ask you to give up your job for me, or to even attempt to find another. Every time I argue about this with myself, and when I overcome the problems in our way, reality always rushes back. I really don't know where to go from here.'' he went on. ''I'm a paralyzed man, for you insist we will never be apart. But on the other hand, I know reality is very different.''
His words hit her all once, the emotion tearing through her immediately. She couldn't keep the tears at bay as she stared back at him. It had finally become apparent how much he'd been struggling as well, and now it almost felt too late. There was simply no going back into the past. Instead, they had arrived at an impasse where a major decision had to be made, one which would dictate their future together.
''I'm so sorry, Rafael.'' she whispered. ''But I love you more than anything, which is why we need to figure this out.'' she added. ''All I know is that I can't live with this secret anymore. We both have to want to be in this relationship, and until then, I just can't do this anymore.''
The pain in her eyes, mirrored his own, and despite revealing his worries and feelings, he had no way to keep her with him. The end was in sight, and in that moment he could think of nothing more that would change her mind. He didn't even feel the need to change her mind. He simply wanted her to be happy.
''Apologize to your mother for me, but Noah and I won't be making it on Christmas Eve after all.'' she told him painfully, her voice filled with anguish and fear. ''I'll see you at work, Rafael.''
Without another word, she walked out of his apartment, the door falling shut behind her. And with her exit came the question of what would happen for them next. Whether they'd ever rekindle their relationship, and if the future would ever allow them too.
He dropped down to his couch, his phone in his hand, contemplating what to do next. But he knew they both needed space. If they were in the same room they'd somehow convince each other there were no problems. It was the one real problem between them. The denial of the risks involved in being together, and now it had led them down a path of mutual destruction.
Even though he'd never enjoyed Christmas, he was hoping it would be different to spent it with Noah and Olivia. He had been looking forward to the end of the year ever since Olivia asked him to spend Christmas together. Despite his own lack of happiness during that specific time of year, he knew Olivia loved spending Christmas with the people she loved.
And now he was forced to wonder what his Christmas would look like without her. It would be like all the years before. He'd wonder about his own life, and his lack of family beside his mother. He'd often find himself looking back at his childhood, which was only more painful.
The Annual Christmas Charity Gala had come with many different emotions for Olivia. Just two weeks ago, she had hoped it to be her first public appearance with Barba, and thus making their relationship official in the public eye.
But due to their circumstances, she found herself on the arm of Tucker who had asked her to the Gala purely as friends. Since she didn't feel like attending on her own, she had agreed with his offer, hoping to enjoy the night in another way.
And as she made her way inside the building with Tucker by her side, she felt a pang of guilt at the knowledge that something was missing. Passing a large mirror, she looked at herself for a moment, wishing it was Barba by her side.
The occasion required dresses and suits, and the strapless long gown she wore had been meant to impress Barba. It hugged her figure perfectly as the heels added to her height, creating a sight for sore eyes. Even though dressing up had never been something she truly enjoyed, she'd been excited to spend that night with him, and his absence by her side, created a void she desperately wanted to fill with something else.
She turned to Tucker, spotting the bar across the beautifully decorated room. ''I'm going to get a drink.'' she announced abruptly, walking away before he had a chance to respond.
On her way to the bar, she nodded at a few familiar faces. She'd always believed the Gala to be filled with higher-ups only attending for politics and nothing else. And unfortunately her position as Lieutenant of SVU required her to be present, and remain friendly with her bosses.
She quickly ordered a glass of scotch, needing something strong to get her through the night. As she took the first sip, she suddenly recognized a familiar figure from the corner of her eye. Turning to get a full view, she felt her hold on the glass weaken, her body burning with jealousy. An emotion she never experienced before, at least not that intensely.
On her left, she watched Barba being accompanied by a beautiful young woman. They were standing close and their demeanors suggested they were enjoying their conversation.
Their conversation from days before echoed through her head. The emotion he had displayed had been real, but it hadn't changed anything. Their separation, even though spanning only five days, was painful. And seeing him with a date only added to that pain. Her hopes for their future seemed to be fading slowly with each passing day, especially since there was no indication of a reunion in the near future.
Her eyes remained on them, and a few moments later, Barba turned around with his gaze falling upon her immediately. She felt her heart stop as their eyes met, an ache of longing coursing through her body.
She breathed in deeply, and bringing the glass to her lips to take another sip. At the same time, she felt a hand coming to rest on the small of her back. She looked to her side to see Tucker standing next to her, a stoic expression across his face.
''What's going on with you and Barba?'' he asked directly.
Olivia's eyes widened and she turned to face Tucker, putting the scotch down in the process. ''Why would you say that?''
''Well, I saw you two looking at each other, and I wasn't sure if it was sexual tension or murderous rage.'' he said, smiling at her. ''It seems that something is going on between the two of you.''
''Ed,'' she warned. He was the last person she wanted to know about her relationship with Barba. Not only would it be awkward, but it could be a potential disaster. ''Let's not go there.''
He shrugged his shoulders at her words. ''We broke up a year ago. It's fine, Olivia.'' he reassured. ''If there's something between you and Barba, it wouldn't surprise me. You two have always been close.''
She was trying to come up with a solid response when she heard her phone vibrate in her clutch. She quickly retrieved her phone, staring in disbelief at the message that was displayed on her screen.
Barba: Can you meet me at the entrance?
She looked up to find that Barba had disappeared and his date had been left on her own among the guests. She quickly typed her response, on my way.
''I need a moment. Excuse me.'' she whispered as she left his side to get across the room.
She rushed through the crowd of people, pushing her way towards the entrance, hoping to find Barba quickly. She made it to the entrance where people were still coming inside, when a hand took a strong grip on her wrist pulling her away and into a nearby room.
She whirled around, knowing it had been Barba pulling her into the room with him. ''What are you doing?'' she questioned angrily.
He glared at her, the tension growing between them. ''What am I doing?'' he asked, his voice filling with confusion. ''What the hell are you doing with Tucker?'' he shot back.
She threw her hands up in the air in shock. ''This is about Tucker? Are you jealous, Barba?'' she went on. ''What about you and your date? It seems I'm not the only one alone here.''
''She's just a friend, Olivia. She was excited about the Gala, but had no invitation so I decided to take her since we had to go separately.'' he told her clearly. ''But Tucker? Coming here with your ex, really? You know I can't stand the man.''
Olivia took a step back, needing to keep space between them. ''Tucker and I are on good terms, and I won't apologize for that, Rafael.'' she said. ''What did you think?''
Although she had stepped away from him, he closed the distance between them by stepping forward. ''What did I think?'' he repeated. ''I was thinking that another man had his hands on you. I was thinking that I want everyone to know I'm yours, and you're mine. Yes, I am jealous, Liv. And I don't want to be. I don't want to argue with you over this.'' he rambled on in a raised voice. ''Being around you drives me mad, and not being with you drives me crazy.''
''I don't understand.'' she whispered. ''What do you want from me Rafael? There's no point in this if we're meant to be apart.''
He moved forward once again, their bodies nearly touching. The sight of her in a beautiful gown didn't help their circumstances. If anything it only multiplied the trouble. ''All I want is you. I just want you, nothing else.''
Before another word could be said, Barba leaned in, the distance evaporating as their lips crashed together in desperation. His arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her flush against him, their bodies melting together.
She moaned into the kiss and responded to him immediately. A wave of excitement flowed through her as her arms surrounded his neck, one hand gently pushing through his hair as his lips moved down to her neck. With each kiss against her skin, she felt her breathing intensify as her need for him grew.
His assault on her neck came to a stop when his attention returned to her lips. His hands gently drifted up and down her body. ''I missed you.'' he groaned against her lips, pulling away slightly to come up for air. ''You look so beautiful tonight. You always do.''
In that moment, Olivia didn't pull away. Instead, she leaned her head against his, listening to the sound of their breathing filling the room.
She rested her hands on his shoulders, squeezing them gently. For a few more seconds she wanted to remain in their bubble. In the place where the outside world didn't pose a threat to their relationship. ''I missed you, too.'' she mumbled, her heart beating fast.
He returned the sentiment by pressing his lips to hers passionately, feeling the moment coming to its end. ''Is this a mistake?'' he asked carefully.
She finally pulled away completely, taking a few steps back. ''I think we need some distance to figure things out for ourselves.'' she told. ''Because this is only making things worse.''
He nodded his head, moving to the direction of the door. ''I'm sorry.'' he said.
She was left with his apology as he left the room, leaving her behind. As soon as the door closed, she wrapped her arms around herself. ''I'm sorry too.''
He knew love shouldn't work like that. He knew that coming together in a moment of desperation would once again blur the lines between them. Their love for one another wasn't some magical fix to their problems.
It couldn't fix their struggles, it would only temporary make them forget their lives. So yes, he knew love shouldn't work like that. Yet he found himself pressed against the body of the woman he loved, only to feel human again. But he knew everything wouldn't suddenly be fixed because she was touching him like that. Like the heat of a fire coming in contact with his skin, and that was how her touch felt. Giving him a burning desire to feel only her, to only exist for her.
The moment was intense, her soft curves pressed against him, their feelings being represented intensely. If only to make them both feel for a moment. He touched the parts of her that came into contact with their suspect only hours before. He worshipped the parts that had yet to be mended, the bruising on her skin as a sign of the brokenness and hollowness between them. With each kiss on her body, he intended to make the evidence of her pain disappear.
Olivia gazed at him for a moment as his lips hovered above the bruising on her shoulder. The only thing which had separated her from further damage had been her training. And as she felt him trace the outline of her bruise, she felt the world disappear under his healing touch. No concern, no worry, only them together in that moment.
He pulled back, searching her eyes for any meaning to reassure himself of her presence. He missed her, and whenever he did, her eyes were the first thing he imagined of her. The deep brown shade, filled with compassion and strength. And because he didn't dare to imagine those eyes having been filled with terror and the need to survive just hours before. He couldn't entertain the idea of her having been harmed.
''Liv,'' he whispered, his voice gentle as their eyes connected.
She could read the question in his eyes, recognized his need of assurance from her in that moment, despite her showing him already. She curled her lips into a gentle curve, smiling back at him for a moment. ''I just want this.''
He stared back at her with unequivocal passion as he leaned down to capture her lips in a kiss. It was logical to him that she wanted this as much as him, their love for one another matching each other in intensity. So in that moment, her body underneath his, he continued the gentle and slow exploration of her body to rewrite the events of the day.
They breathed together, their bodies wrapped together in a tangle of limbs, as he moved within her gently. He lost himself in her eyes, looking for a sign of healing, for anything to indicate this was right. That their ignorance of the reality would somehow provide them with another chance.
But once again he was reminded love didn't work like that. Instead, he found himself focusing on the rise and fall of her chest, the moans escaping her mouth. The way they gauged each other for a sign of distress.
He told himself it didn't matter. She was hurt, and could've died. The imagination of losing one another was what drove them in that moment, chasing some inexplicable meaning which would soon come to an abrupt end. That moment was bittersweet, both of them living in the past, creating a better version of their own reality.
He had to remind himself that she was not his freedom, not his way out of an unbearable situation. That she was only there on her own terms to lose herself in him as well. That their moment was only predicated on the basic instinct out of fear of losing one another, and nothing more or less. It truly was that simple.
But when the moment reached its inevitable end, she pushed herself onto her elbows to stare into his eyes, he knew a simple act born out of love had only complicated everything for them.
She gently crawled against his body as they came down from their high together. She turned on her side, cupping his jaw, and kissing him deeply to prolong their moment, to make it last just a little longer.
He sighed as his arm wrapped around. ''Are you feeling better?'' he asked softly.
It felt like she was falling back into abyss, him following closely behind. ''A little.'' she mumbled, knowing what they'd just done would test their resolve in one way or another.
''Yeah, I know the feeling.'' he said, seeing the concern flash across her face. It mirrored his own as he remembered the events of the day. He'd only been that terrified when she'd been abducted by Lewis.
And those emotions had been the reason he'd shown up at her apartment and kissed her once again. He'd only intended to check on her, yet he had failed at such a simple task. ''The only time I ever so frightened as today was every time I had to imagine living without you. With Lewis, and at the townhouse.'' he confessed, his eyes trailing her body. He didn't know what to expect, whether she understood the significance behind his words. He could only hope she returned his feelings, or else he was going to feel like a complete fool.
She had tears in her eyes and he couldn't place the emotion behind them. If anything she looked sadder than he may have ever seen before, and it scared him a bit. He didn't know what to say so he stayed silent and hoped she would say something, anything would be better than the silence.
Olivia found herself a loss for words, not knowing if he had directed the enormity of his words at her or at the entire situation. Her safety had once again been in question and caused them to seek comfort in each other. ''Rafael?'' she asked.
''I know this is wrong, Liv.'' he began, ready to put his heart in her hands. In that moment he was going to give her everything he had, which was more than people had probably ever seen of him. ''But when you go out on a call I feel sick with worry, when I am home I can't stop thinking about you, and when Noah asks for me to come over I want to race across town to spend time with you both.'' he said, his voice soft and gentle. ''Do you remember asking me about my Christmas wish this year?''
She nodded her head at him, remaining silent for a moment longer. ''You told me you don't believe in and I quote – 'the magic of Christmas'.'' she remembered.
''My wish this year is to spent Christmas with you and Noah. I want to spend time as a family, and make memories of what Christmas should be like.'' he told her. ''My Christmas wish is you, Olivia.''
She moved to kiss him, her lips meeting his in a gentle but firm kiss. As she pulled away, she sighed, her body relaxing against his. ''I want you too, Raf.'' she whispered. ''But nothing has changed.''
''Then lets change it, for the better.'' he countered, knowing it was their only option or they might lose each other forever. ''If these past few days have showed us anything, it's that we can't be apart. We don't want to be. So please, Liv, let's just inform our superiors of our relationship.'' he added, seeing her eyes widen in shock as the words passed his lips. ''I can't be without you for another day. Seeing you on Tucker's arm at the Gala, and you getting hurt today, it killed me.'' he admitted openly. ''Olivia Benson, will you and Noah spend Christmas with me?''
A smile formed on Olivia's face as she looked at him with nothing but unconditional love. ''There's nothing I would like more than to spent Christmas with you.'' she responded, feeling his arms tightening around her body. ''Just promise me that this is forever.''
''This is forever and always.'' he whispered, lowering his head as his lips descended upon hers. He kissed her softly, pulling away after a few seconds, feeling nothing but bliss and happiness.
This was a promise. One he could actually fulfill and hold onto. For the first time in weeks, everything felt clear. It was clear because he was sure of one thing. He never wanted to lose her. Ever.
The room was filled with chatter and laughter as everyone sat around the dining room table. The mood among friends and family was one of happiness and joy, especially for the squad. Christmas was a time to spend with family and friends to celebrate the joys of life, and not the evil they faced on a daily basis.
Barba had his hand on Olivia's knee beneath the table as he gazed around at the people, knowing those were the people he cared for the most. The entire squad had been invited to dinner at his mother's on her insistence. And now his mother was seated at the head of the table with Noah in her lap, playing around with him.
When he stared to his side to look at Olivia, he realized there was nowhere else he'd rather be. Her face was filled with elation, and her smile was natural. Nothing throughout the evening had been forced. Instead, everyone had enjoyed the food and each other's company.
Carisi unexpectedly rose to his feet, holding his glass of wine in the air with a happy smile on his face. ''I would like to take a moment to thank Mrs. Barba for a wonderful evening and a delicious meal.'' he started. ''And I would also like to make a long awaited toast to a new couple among us.''
Olivia turned to Barba, shooting him a questioning look. ''Did you tell him?'' she mouthed at him.
He shook his head at her question. ''I didn't. I swear.'' he responded, watching the faces of everyone around the table light up.
''I overheard you talking to Dodds in your office this morning.'' Rollins revealed happily. ''I was so excited that I had to tell Carisi and Fin, and we're all so happy for you.''
Barba was about to respond when he realized the news was also new to his mother. He gazed across the table at her surprised but incredibly pleased expression. ''I guess it's too late to make the announcement ourselves now.'' he declared, taking Olivia's hand in his and holding onto it.
''To Olivia and Rafael!'' Fin said, raising his glass to avoid and further awkwardness.
Everyone followed him and raised their glass in the air. ''To Olivia and Rafael.'' they said in unison.
As the toast was being made, Olivia leaned closer to Barba, hovering next to his ear. ''There's no turning back now.''
''Good.'' he stated. ''Because there's nothing in the world that will change my mind.''
She leaned back in her chair, feeling overcome with contentment. There was nothing else she needed to make the evening perfect. She was surrounded by the people she loved the most, and there was nothing more she wanted.
Her relationship with Barba was back on track, the squad knew of their involvement and had responded positively. It was simply the best way to start Christmas.
After the table had been cleared, everyone had retreated to the living room where the evening continued on with comfortable conversations. Olivia and Fin reminisced about old times versus how much SVU had changed. And how despite all the changes, the feeling of family had never faded at SVU.
Barba had noticed his mother leaving the room, and in a moment of concern he followed her through the hallway into the direction of the bedroom. He stopped in the doorway from where he watched his mother standing close to her dresser.
''Thank you for having everyone over tonight. It's been a great night.'' he said.
''It's nice to see you surrounded by friends and family.'' she responded kindly. ''You've built a great life for yourself, and I think the only thing missing was Olivia.''
Barba smiled at the knowledge that his mother approved of his relationship. The relationships he'd had before had ended either on his terms or with a broken heart. But with Olivia it had always felt different, regardless of the obstacles standing in their way.
''Mijo, there's something I want to give you.'' Lucia said as she reached for a small jewelry box on the dresser. She opened it to reveal a beautiful vintage diamond ring, one which had been in her family for generations. ''I don't expect you to do anything with this, Rafi.''
In a state of shock, he took the small box from his mother's hand, staring down at the ring. ''Mami, this ring belongs to…''
''…your grandmother.'' she interjected. ''She never gave it to me because she believed that your father wasn't the right man for me, so she intended to pass it down to the woman you were going to marry one day.''
His jaw had dropped at the enormity of the moment. For a lawyer, he suddenly became oddly speechless. He'd never considered marriage. At least not until Olivia came into his life, and he caught himself thinking of marrying her. But oftentimes he'd pushed that imagination to the background, knowing to be content with the way his life was at certain times.
''I believe Olivia is the right woman for you, mijo. The way she looks at you says it all. She adores you, and loves you.'' Lucia told him. ''And I can see that you love her and Noah as well.''
''Mami…'' he whispered, still feeling utterly thunderstruck. ''…this is too much.''
Lucia approached her son, noticing him struggling with the meaning behind the ring. ''You deserve to be happy. And whenever the time comes that you want to ask her to marry you, I need you to know that you have my blessing.'' she encouraged. ''Mijo, you haven't been this happy in years. Allow yourself to trust that Olivia won't break your heart. Have faith that she truly loves you, and wants to spend her life with you.''
''Thank you. This means more than you will ever know.'' he said as he stepped forward to embrace her.
After a short moment, they pulled apart, and he gazed down at the ring in the box. All at once it filled him with hopes, dreams, and desires for his future. For the future he would surely share with Olivia and Noah. To him the ring represented commitment, a new step into a future he could've never hoped to have. In spite of it, he found himself considering a very new future. One he very much saw.
And as he returned to the living room to join everyone, he was met with the sight of Olivia interacting with his mother. The compassion and joy in her deep brown eyes still shook him to his very core each day. Despite all the horror in her life she had remained a good person, and he knew nothing could ever change that.
He walked over to her, noticing that it was just a few minutes away from midnight. He put his arm around her, and gently pulled her closer. ''Merry Christmas, mi amor.''
Olivia gazed back at him for a few seconds. ''Merry Christmas, Rafi.'' she whispered back to him as she let her head fall onto his shoulder, feeling more safe and loved than ever before in her life.
It would definitely be the best Christmas of her life. Of that she was certain.
Early in the morning, Olivia awoke to the feeling of a set of warm arms wrapped around her body as the morning light lit up her bedroom, announcing a new day. It was officially Christmas day and that excited her beyond belief.
Nothing special had been planned for the day, except to relax at home with Noah and Barba. But having a simple day was all she really wanted anyway. Together they were a family, her family, and that was something to be proud of.
Behind her she heard a low groan coming from Barba as she moved from his hold. She turned on her other side, facing toward him. In the process, she draped one leg over his as she moved closer to him. ''Good morning.'' she greeted.
He opened his eyes to hers, adjusting to the new brightness. ''Morning.'' he whispered back. ''How did you sleep?''
She extended her hand to cup his cheek lovingly. ''Amazingly.'' she replied. ''And you?''
''Better than I have in a very long time.'' he said as he moved even closer to her. He pushed himself up gently to hover above her as he pressed a kiss to her lips, moaning as she responded immediately by deepening the kiss. ''But this is even better.''
She moved to straddle him beneath the blankets, their lips connected. She felt his hands settle on her hips as she pulled back to straighten her back. And as she did, she caught a glimpse of something white through the curtains. ''Hold that thought.'' she stated absentmindedly while moving away from Barba.
She got onto her feet and walked over to the window, opening the curtains with one fluid motion to reveal the city blanketed by snow. She held her breath at the beautiful sight, looking at it with pure shock.
''This is amazing.'' she breathed out as she looked over her shoulder to see him getting up as well.
He moved in behind her, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her back against his chest. He kissed her neck, and then looked out at the view with her, enjoying the simple but meaningful moment with her. ''Yeah, this is magical.''
She leaned back against him, sighing at the ease of the moment. ''These are the moments that make me so unbelievably happy.'' she confided. ''I love you.''
''I love you, too.''
A silence fell between them as they enjoyed the beauty of the moment. It was simple, but filled with love and admiration. The moments in which their relationship was most defined. Its simplicity.
''Why don't we take Noah to Central Park after breakfast?'' he suggested. ''It would be nice to enjoy this beautiful day outside, even if it's for a short time.''
She broke away from his arms, to turn around and face him. She leaned forward and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. ''That sounds amazing. Let's do it.''
Several hours later, they had made it to Central Park to get some fresh air and enjoy the snow with Noah. They had reached a small playground which was completely empty, giving them the beautiful space all to themselves.
Olivia closed her eyes, concentrating on the sound of the snow cracking beneath her feet. The city was silent, and felt more peaceful to her than it had in a long time. Happiness and love was in the air, and life felt magical to her.
She set another foot forward when she felt something hit the back of her head. She turned around and was immediately unable to hold back the wide grin spreading across her face. Just behind her, she watched as Barba was teaching Noah how to make a snowball, and then throwing it into her direction.
''Why am I the target of your snowballs?'' she gasped, leaning down to grab a hand full of snow when she noticed that Barba had made another with the help of Noah.
Barba squatted down next to Noah, helping him take a big hand of snow and then creating a ball out of it. ''Looks like Mami is on to us, Noah.'' he whispered to the little boy as he smiled back at Olivia. He put the snowball in Noah's small hands. ''Hold onto it, buddy.''
He picked Noah up from the ground, and held him in his arms as he began to approach Olivia with a smirk on his face. ''We're close to Mami, Noah. When I turn around you throw it at her.'' he encouraged happily.
''Ahh, I see. You're pitting my own son against me!'' she screeched as Noah's snowball hit her arms in a soft throw, which only hit her because the distance was incredibly small. ''Two against one isn't fair!''
''Do you hear that, Noah?'' Barba said, smiling as Olivia revealed a hand full of snow directed at him. ''She doesn't like us working together.''
Olivia threw the hand full of snow into his face, and couldn't stop her laughter as he crinkled his nose when the snow had covered his entire face.
Noah looked between the adults with wonder as he watched his mother burst out in laughter. ''Rafa, loose. Mama, win.'' he exclaimed.
''Rafa certainly did loose, Noah.'' Olivia said as she took Noah from Barba, and held him in her arms. ''I think he is very observant.'' she teased.
Barba wiped the snow from his face, catching her smile immediately. ''If you weren't holding Noah, I would drown you in snow.'' he challenged her. ''You're lucky right now!''
She huffed at his words, unable to stop smiling. ''Sure, I am.'' she agreed jokingly. ''I accept the challenge. But we should do it some other time. It seems Noah has had enough excitement for today.''
''Sounds like you're scared, mi amor.'' he laughed.
As the day began winding down, they were seated on the couch in the living room while watching a Christmas movie. Olivia had Noah sleeping in her lap as her own head rested on Barba's shoulder for support, her eyes barely staying open.
Barba, however, was wide awake. His hand was in the pocket of his jeans where he had kept his grandmother's ring throughout the day. He had felt the strange need to carry it with him throughout the day, should a special moment present itself.
And although the idea of proposing to Olivia had only been brought up the day before, he'd never felt more sure of anything else. And looking at the two people beside him, he realized there was no better time than the present.
He gently moved forward on the couch, making sure Olivia wouldn't wake up immediately. He shifted to come down on one knee right before her, taking a hold of one of her hands. ''Liv, there's something I need to ask you.'' he whispered softly, his voice filled with anticipation.
She opened her eyes to the sound of his voice to find him kneeled down before her, not knowing what his intentions were. ''Yeah, I'm awake. What do you want to ask me?''
He took a deep breath to let the moment sink in before he continued on. But with one look at her face, he needed no more time. No more minutes to think it over. It was the only thing he wanted in his life. ''If there's anything I want to tell you today, it is that I love you.'' he began as he gazed back into her deep brown eyes. ''You are everything I never knew I needed until I was finally with you.'' he went on. ''You make me a better man, and despite our differences, we fell in love. And that love is something I want to hold onto forever.''
Her eyes widened with each word he said when she began to realize what he was truly doing. ''Rafael?'' she questioned.
''You're the kindest and warmest person I've ever met, and each day I'm astounded by your good heart. You never give up, you never back down, and you push me to be a better version of myself.'' he added as he took the ring from his pocket. ''Olivia, I want to spent the rest of my life with you. I want to sit on a porch when we're grey and wrinkly and watch our grandchildren play in the yard.''
She stared down at the ring, but couldn't look away from him for too long. The love in his eyes was all she needed. ''I have to be dreaming.'' she croaked out. ''But you had me at 'take your daughters to work day?', Rafael.''
He smiled through the tears that watered in his eyes. It seemed the answer had already been given, but it had yet to be official. ''Olivia Benson, will you marry me?''
A tear rolled down her cheek, the emotions overwhelming her completely. ''Yes, of course. Yes!'' she repeated happily.
With Noah still in her lap, she leaned forward to kiss him, one arm going around his neck. When she pulled back, she felt him take her hand and put the ring on her finger, sending a shiver of disbelief through her. ''I love you.''
He held onto her hand as he moved to sit on the couch beside her, pulling her close against him. ''And I love you.'' he whispered.
''This is the best Christmas I've ever had.''
And it was. It was a Christmas that solidified their relationship for the future. A moment in time where nothing else mattered but the love between. And that love would transcend all.