A/N Post s18e8 musings. The Benson/Tucker break up was on a par with the entire relationship but I can't decide if the silence that has followed it is a good or bad thing? A little one-shot on the matter that is more Benson/Barba friendship than anything else.
The End Of The Night (Is The Start Of The Day)
Glancing at her watch, Olivia sighed softly and sat back in her chair, pushing the file in front of her to one side. Removing her glasses, she let her gaze settle on the man seated opposite, his sleeves rolled up, tie loosened, jacket abandoned and engrossed in a file. It was pretty much exactly how she'd found Barba when she'd stopped by on her way home almost an hour ago. She hadn't intended to stay so long - she hadn't intended to stay at all - but they'd started squabbling over the case and before she knew it her coat had been discarded and she'd claimed a seat at the circular table in his office. This particular case had twisted and turned more times than a roller coaster; they both felt that the ride wasn't over just yet and now the trial was looming. As much as she'd like to, as much as she felt she should, stay a little longer, she had a three year old waiting for her at home and she'd promised herself that she'd make Noah her priority. It was just difficult finding the right balance. "I don't think we're going to get any further with this. Maybe we should call it a night?"
Barba made a noise that almost sounded like an agreement until he added on, his gaze never leaving the file as he spoke, "I want to run through all of this one more time but if you have plans with Tucker this evening, you should go."
Olivia stilled at the response. There'd been nothing unkind in either his words or his tone, and it wasn't unusual for him to conduct an entire conversation without looking up from a file or a laptop or even a phone, but the mention of Tucker had caught her off guard. The relationship had recently ended but it wasn't something that she'd advertised; she'd nailed her colours to the mast with Tucker, risking her job for him after a relatively short amount of time together, and now it had all fallen apart. It was a little embarrassing to say the least. It was also a little worrying, given that she worked with detectives, that no-one had put two and two together yet but no-one had realised that she was dating Tucker either, until events had forced her to come clean. And if that particular experience had taught her anything it was that honesty, especially where Barba was concerned, was more important than her own unease. "I'm not seeing Tucker any more."
His head shot up, eyes suddenly on hers and for a brief moment she revelled in the victory of rendering him speechless but then he found his voice and the sincerity that coloured every word cancelled out her silent celebration, "I'm sorry to hear that, Liv."
"You never liked Tucker."
"You never liked Tucker; things change," he argued back softly, making a point that she couldn't really refute but then he softened the blow somewhat. "And I thought that you were happy."
Those last seven words immediately warmed her, making her regret her previous, almost defensive, statement; she'd suspected that Barba had made an effort to accept her relationship with a man that he didn't like purely for her sake and he'd pretty much just confirmed that. She fiddled with the arm of her glasses for a beat, considering her response. Talking to Barba about her love life was something that she'd always tried to avoid, despite how close they'd become over the years. She still remembered with some discomfort the slightly awkward conversation she'd had to have with the ADA about her involvement with Brian - and that hadn't come close to the incredibly difficult and stilted discussion they'd had regarding her involvement with Tucker. Both of those admissions had been borne out of necessity but that wasn't the case this time. She could blow off his kind words, pick up her things and leave. He didn't need details; most likely, he didn't want them either.
"For a while I think I was happy," she said instead, his eyes, warm and focussed entirely upon her, helping to ease out her confession. She shrugged, mostly at herself because she hadn't ended this conversation when she'd had the chance and now she'd have to elaborate further. "Things change."
Barba smiled briefly at her, and maybe at her appropriation of his words, but he remained silent; it wasn't uncomfortable or demanding in any way, just a simple acceptance of her words that gave her the option of walking away without providing any more details.
"Tucker told me that he was thinking about retiring," she explained, completely ignoring the out he was offering. It wasn't her confidence to betray and she really should be on her way home but talking to Barba, to her friend, felt better than keeping it all inside had done. And maybe she was confiding in him because she knew that, of all people, he would understand just how momentous Tucker's announcement had been. If anyone was more dedicated to their job than her then it was Rafael Barba. She couldn't imagine him ever walking away from all of this; she couldn't imagine ever doing her job without him by her side.
"To do what?"
A small smile edged on to her lips; his response was just as she'd anticipated but she hadn't expected it to mirror her own, word for word. "To do nothing," she sighed, offering up part of Tucker's response with as much disappointment as she'd felt the night a pleasant, and increasingly difficult to arrange, dinner date had turned to talk of the future when the present had been problematic enough.
There was a small nod from Barba that, to her, spoke volumes: he got it; he got her. "And he wanted you to follow suit."
It wasn't a question but Barba's response was laced with disbelief, as if he thought that Tucker asking her to consider giving all of this up was the stupidest thing he'd ever heard. To be fair to Tucker, he hadn't pushed the idea but the fact that he'd thought it was a possibility suggested that he hadn't really known her at all. That was, to some degree, her own fault; she found it difficult to open up in a relationship and she'd become even more wary since Noah had come into her life. The notion that Tucker had thought he could change her, that he thought he could talk her round to fitting into his plans, had unsettled her more than the suggestion of retirement.
"Something like that," she agreed, wondering why she'd always been so hesitant to talk to him about her love life. She supposed that a part of her had always feared his reaction; he could tear people to shreds on the witness stand and the thought of Barba listing her boyfriends' faults, things she'd been willing to overlook in the hopes of that elusive happy ever after, had kept her silent. Yet that had never happened; he wasn't Brian's biggest fan but he'd said nothing about that relationship and his doubts about Tucker had been voiced before she'd admitted to anything. After that, he'd made an effort to be civil when Tucker had been around. "It wasn't the only reason it ended but it was the catalyst."
Again, Barba remained silent, offering her a sympathetic smile rather than words and furthering her regret that she'd not confided in him sooner.
"I tried so hard to make it work. We both did," she offered but stopped short of going any further than that. There were some things about her relationship with Tucker that she could barely admit to herself, never mind say out loud. She'd turned to Tucker during a low point in her life when she'd felt that she couldn't - and perhaps shouldn't - lean on or confide in the people around her; they might be, to varying degrees, her friends but she was also their Lieutenant. Tucker had been so far outside her circle that it'd been easier to tell him all about her fears; he had made her feel safe and she would always be grateful to him for that but she would always be ashamed of it, too. In a way, perhaps in many, she'd used him. And that had not been a good basis to try and build a relationship upon.
"Sometimes, these things just aren't meant to be," Barba suggested, understanding - and something else that she couldn't pin down - pooling in those green eyes of his, making her wonder if he was thinking about the woman who had chosen his oldest friend over him.
As hesitant as she'd always been to discuss her disaster area of a love life with him, Barba had shared some things about his own past relationships without any prompting on her part and his love life was no more successful than her own. They were, in many ways, kindred spirits and, not for the first time, the notion of testing the limits of that particular definition strayed into her thoughts. Their friendship would certainly give a relationship the solid foundation it needed and she'd be lying if she said that she wasn't attracted to him but no good would come from thinking that way because she was certain that Barba never did.
No doubt realising that she'd wandered off from the conversation, but mistaking the direction she'd taken, Barba gently interrupted her thoughts, "You're going to be okay, Liv."
"I am," she agreed, even though there was little for her to overcome. No hearts had been broken; they'd barely been touched. Her relationship with Tucker had been flat, and somewhat forced, from the outset and not even Paris had managed to inject any sort of spark. It had ended with as much passion as it had begun, a mixture of sadness and relief washing over her when he'd walked out of the door in quiet surrender. She had no idea why Tucker had persevered for so long when he'd known, perhaps for even longer than she'd been willing to admit, that they had no future together. In her darker moments she found herself wondering if his reasons had been as desperate as her own. "From now on," she continued, certainty lacing her voice, "Noah is going to be the most important man in my life."
He nodded his approval of her decision, "Then you should definitely call it a night."
A smile slipped onto her lips at his words; his support, from taking charge of the unit to adopting Noah, had always meant a great deal to her and that looked like it was going to continue. She picked up her glasses, preparing to heed his advice and finally leave but a last pang of guilt slowed her movements. She'd pushed for Barba to take this case on and now it had drifted way off course; the difficulties had been largely unforeseeable but that didn't make her feel any better about tipping her work/home balance in favour of the latter. "If you think of something, give me a call, okay?"
The word was accompanied by a cocky smirk that wasn't necessarily unwarranted; if anyone could find a way to win this case, to work some magic in the court room, then it was the man sitting across the table. Barba might be the latest in a long line of ADAs, some of whom were just as talented, but he was definitely her favourite prosecutor and one of the reasons why she could never imagine walking away from her job. As she headed home to Noah, feeling a little lighter for having confided in Barba and confident that the case was in very capable hands, she hoped that this would always be enough.