A late Christmas fic (oops). Looking forward to getting more stories finished and posted soon!
Olivia and Lucia were sitting in the back of an Uber, Noah buckled into a car seat between them sound asleep. All was quiet, each woman lost in their own thoughts about the same man.
Lucia was thinking of how this would be the first year she would be spending Christmas without her son. Even when living in Boston, Rafael always made it home for Christmas Eve mass. They would have a nap in the evening and then leave for the cathedral after 11. Most years they would walk home together through the snow, singing quietly about a 'White Christmas'.
Tonight she lit a candle for him with a shaky hand. It was still so hard to believe he was gone even all these months later.
Liv sat absently stroking Noah's hair, soothing herself with the reassurance that he is alive and well, and that his greatest worry is that Santa will remember which toy he wants for Christmas. It's a nice change for her four year old to be worried about normal things. Losing his Papì had hit Noah hard, and for months he had trouble when Liv would leave for work. He was terrified she would never come home. In the past few weeks things were getting slightly easier; Olivia at least could see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
The car pulling up outside her building pulled her out of her thoughts and she looked over to see Lucia was white as a ghost. "Lucia, is everything alright?"
The older woman shook her head and started gathering her purse and Noah's backpack. "I thought I saw... someone I knew... going into the building, but I must be seeing things." She forced a smile onto her face and laughed unconvincingly. "It's late, I just need some sleep."
Liv paused but nodded, unbuckling Noah and thanking the driver. The trio made their way inside and up to Olivia and Noah's apartment. Lucia would be staying with them for the holiday; even though Olivia and Rafael had never gotten married they were family.
As they stepped off the elevator on the third floor Olivia immediately noticed a figure outside her door. The sound of their footsteps caused the person to look up. Lucia gasped and Olivia's knees went weak.
Rafael Barba stood rooted in place, surprised to see his mother in the company of both his girlfriend and the boy he saw as a son. His face showed a myriad of emotions, and tears clouded his vision.
"Rafi! Oh mijo, it's a miracle!" Lucia rushed down the hallway, pulling him into a hug then kissing both his cheeks.
Olivia shifted Noah in her arms to pull the apartment keys from her pocket. Barely sparing a glance at Barba, she muttered something about it being late and putting Noah to bed before entering the apartment in a rush. Of course she felt relieved and happy; the love of her life is alive. But she also felt hurt, angry, confused, and a dozen other emotions all at once.
Rafael's face fell at Olivia's actions. He shouldn't have expected her to fall at his feet. He had no idea the specifics of what happened while he was gone, but he could imagine how he would feel in her place and it wouldn't be good.
Lucia pulled her son into another embrace and whispered, "Just be patient mijo. It has been a tough time for Olivia with you... gone. But she still loves you."
He squeezed her tight and nodded. "I love you, Mamí. I promise I'll explain everything soon."
They quietly entered the apartment and Lucia gave Rafael another hug before she excused herself to the guest room. "No more disappearing acts Rafael."
He forced a smile. "Yes, Mamí."
"Now go make things right with Olivia."
Not wanting to push, Rafael waited as long as possible before he just couldn't wait any longer. It had been months since he had seen them too.
He quietly made his way to Noah's room, peeking around the door. Olivia sat on the side of the twin bed, rubbing the four year old's back gently. He was clearly asleep: little snores could be heard from Rafael's position in the doorway. It took all his restraint not to scoop Noah up into his arms and hold him close. He'd missed him terribly. The only things holding him back were the late hour and Liv's reaction- he didn't know if she would welcome such an act at this point.
"Witness protection?" Her quiet voice cut into his thoughts.
His eyes snapped to her, but she still faced away from him looking at her son.
She turned to look at him and his heart broke. Tears were sliding down her cheeks. He stepped forward intending to join her on the bed but she stood up abruptly and turned off the lamp next to Noah's bed.
"I can't do this right now," she whispered harshly, stepping past him through the doorway.
He vividly remembered the feeling of being shot twice in the chest. He would rather have that pain than this one: being so close to a hurting Olivia and not able to comfort her. He's the one causing her pain after all.
She moved quickly across the hall into her bedroom. The bedroom they had shared for a year. Rafael let her go without protest, even though the sound of the door clicking shut went straight to his heart. Rubbing his hands over his face, he took a moment to gather himself before dropping a kiss on Noah's head. He straightened the blankets then took leave of the room not wanting to disturb the boy's slumber.
Standing in the hallway he weighed his options. He could go into her room, remind her of everything that they were and could have again; remind her that he didn't choose witness protection. Or, he could give her time and space to process.
Going against his own wants (to hold her close as soon as possible) he headed to the living area. A brightly lit Christmas tree takes up one side of the living room. Rafael stepped closer to look at the ornaments. Some he recognized from the previous year; others are new. Noah had clearly crafted several this year- a handprint snowman one was featured prominently as was as a popsicle stick reindeer.
Santa's snack was sitting on a colourful plate on the coffee table. He assumed that they set it out before leaving for church. Chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk accompanied by a few baby carrots.
Barba sat heavily on the couch. Three empty stockings hang on the front of the television stand. Tears pricked his eyes at the thought of Liv doing all of this on her own: last year they had so much fun doing everything together.
Their personal relationship mimicked their professional one in that they approached things as partners. Equal. Even from their first dates she encouraged his willingness to bond with her son and welcomed him as a co-parent. Noah called him 'daddy' once after they had been together around three months. Olivia and Rafael were both equally shocked and happy at the toddler's word.
Barba's heart skipped a beat as he remembered the feeling of that day. He was so honoured Noah loved him. Eventually 'daddy' turned into 'papí', mostly after Lucia started spending time with them as well.
The tears that had been threatening start to fall and Barba put his head back and let them go. It had been a whirlwind of a few days; the trial had been pushed up unexpectedly. He had given his testimony on December 20, but was told he wouldn't be able to leave the program before January due to bureaucratic red tape and possible security issues. He was moved to a safe house upstate, resigned to missing the holidays with his family.
The knock on his door on the morning of Christmas Eve changed everything. The trial was over: no security issues remained. He would need to be debriefed and then he was free to go. Home.
Now 18 hours later he wondered if everything he had sacrificed over the last six months was in vain. 'Don't be an idiot,' he chided himself silently. 'Olivia and Noah and Mamí are safe. That's all that matters.'
"Why?" Olivia's voice cut through the silence and startled him.
Barba looked at her, trying not to panic when he was unable to read her. He was still unsure as to why she was so angry with him.
"I...to keep you and Noah safe. Why else would I leave?"
She shook her head, frustrated. "No. I mean, obviously that's why you went into protective custody. Why didn't you tell me? Why did you let me believe you were dead? Do you have any idea how hard the last six months have been?"
There was an edge to her words that he hadn't ever heard directed at him outside the office.
He just stared at her for a moment. When he did speak, his voice was pained and hushed. "Olivia- I couldn't. They made it clear that any contact would put the whole operation in jeopardy. Which would put you two in harm's way. Again. Because of me. If anything happened to you-"
"Something did happen to me!" She cut him off angrily. "I lost you! Do you think that hurt me less than a bullet would have?"
Tears streamed down her face and Rafael couldn't hold back a moment longer. He stepped toward her and raised his arms. She took two big steps to meet him halfway and they cling to each other.
"I'm so sorry Liv," he murmured. "I was trying to keep you safe. You and Noah are everything to me. You have to know that."
She nodded her agreement into his neck, then tightened her hold on him. Through her tears she tried to explain. "I know, but you don't understand how hard it was. I had to say goodbye to you forever. I watched your casket be lowered into the ground. I still visit your grave almost every day."
He held her closer, a physical reminder that he's there and alive.
She straightened in his arms and pulled back enough so she could see his face.
"Please. Please don't leave again. We can come with you...or set up a safe house here... something. Anything. I don't want to lose any more time with you and I don't think I could say goodbye."
"I'm not going anywhere- the case is over. I'm home now Liv." His gravelly voice was choked with emotion.
Hope sparkled in her eyes at his words. "Really?"
Rafael just nodded in response, and slid one hand up her back to cup the back of her neck. He looked deep into her eyes and whispered, "Can I kiss you now?"
Olivia smiled for the first time all night and leaned in, brushing his lips gently with her own. The passion quickly ignited, and before long they were completely wrapped up in each other.
After what felt like an instant and an eternity all at once they pulled apart, breathless. Their foreheads resting against each other. Rafael opened his eyes when he heard Liv sniffling.
"What is it?" he asked, quietly stroking his fingers through her hair.
"Is this a dream? Am I going to wake up and you'll be gone?"
"This is real Liv. The nightmare is over, now we can live our lives again. Together."
"Wouldn't that be nice."