A/N: So this is completely separate to the post-ep universe I've created in my other story, Finding Peace, as that one has no been confirmed as non-canonical, following last night's episode. I may still continue with it though. We'll see.
This one is an extension of the scene in Liv's office, where she confides in Barba about what's happening with Noah. It was conceived, written and posted in less than 24 hours and isunbetad. Please forgive any mistakes.
"Emma Lawrence may not be Emma Lawrence."
Rafael sighed. That was not what he wanted to hear from Olivia. This was the biggest 'good news' story New York had had in months. It couldn't just as simple as it seemed, there had to be more to it. He could feel a headache coming on. "Talk to me."
"The surveillance footage that we found in the park doesn't match her story," Olivia informed him.
"But the family swears it's her." Surely, they'd know their own child, their own flesh and blood.
"Yes, they do. And the age-progression photo is convincing, but you know as well as I do that age-progression isn't the gold standard."
"You assumed this girl was telling you the truth. Why wouldn't you?"
"And she still might be. Either way, something happened to her. There's definitely signs of abuse. I just… I just don't know what to think…" her shoulders dropped in defeat, "…about anything."
Rafael regarded her closely, tilting his head. Something in her tone combined with the despondent look in her eye and the lack of her usual self-confidence suggested that all was not well with Olivia. "You okay?" he asked gently, forgetting his own worries about the investigation.
She moved passed him to the door and, for a brief moment, Rafael was thought she was walking out; that she was going to brush off his worry and concern, and leave him standing in the middle of her office. The sounds of the door closing allayed his fears, however, and he turned to face her. Ready to listen to whatever she had to say and help in any way he could.
"Ellie Porter's mother showed up at my doorstep. It turns out, Noah has a Grandmother."
"I- I'm sorry?" That was not something he'd ever expected to come out of her mouth. His brain was still trying to catch-up. Ellie Porter's mother was supposed to be dead, wasn't she? That's what she'd told them during the investigation if he recalled correctly.
"Yeah," Olivia continued, sitting down. "Her first move was to try to vacate the adoption. I spent the entire morning yesterday in family court."
Rafael had crossed the office as she was speaking. He joined her on the sofa. "Okay, I can tell you," he began, falling back onto the legalities of the justice system that he knew so well, "that you cannot vacate an adoption, not after three years."
"I know. The law is on my side, but the judge let her file for visitation."
Rafael sighed. New York was one of only a couple of states to biological grandparents to seek visitation after an adoption. It was a contentious law, for obvious reasons, and judges could be unpredictable when ruling on it. But Olivia didn't need a lecture about the imperfections of the law, what she needed was someone to talk to about what was happening and how it was affecting her. She needed him to be her friend, not a lawyer. "What do you feel about that?"
"My first instinct is no," she told him, vehemently.
"Right," he quickly agreed. "You want to protect Noah." It was a mother's nature and Liv was one of the most maternal people he knew. He knew how much she'd longed for a child and he'd seen how adopting Noah had changed her, completed her.
"But is my instinct right?" she questioned. "Am I preventing this little boy from having a relationship with the only living blood relative that he has? With his only connection to Ellie?" Tears pooled in her eyes and her voice dropped to a whisper. "I used to be so sure that I knew what was best for Noah. And now, as he gets older, I'm just doubting myself at every turn."
"Well, from what I've heard about raising kids it never gets any easier." Olivia raised her eyebrows at his comment; that was the understatement of the century. "You can trust your instincts," he assured. She turned to look at him. "You can," he repeated.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Her eyes were red, and she was barely keeping her tears at bay. In that moment, Rafael wanting nothing more than to gather her up in his arms and never let her go. The impulses to be close to her had increased both in number and intensity over the past few months, and they were getting harder and harder to fight. He reached for her hand, stroking his thumb across her skin. "You are the best mother I know, Liv. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
At Rafael's words, Olivia crumbled and her the tears began to fall. She was powerless to stop them. Olivia rarely let anyone see her lose control, preferring to have her emotional outburst in private. Usually in the shower where the hot water could disguise her tears and serve as a comforting embrace. But she was tired, and the emotional rollercoaster of the past few weeks was finally catching up with her.
She trusted Rafael. If it had been any other member of her squad, Olivia would have forced herself to hold it together, even with Fin, who she'd worked with for almost 18 years. But with Rafael it was different. She could be vulnerable with him, knowing that he wouldn't hold it against her. That was their beauty of their relationship. They were there for each other, through thick or thin, no matter what.
He squeezed her hand gently, letting her know it was okay. Nothing else needed to be said. She gave him a weak smile. "People always said being a mother would be hard," she whispered. "I guess I just never realised it would be like this."
"You don't have to do it alone, you know?"
She nodded. "I know the squad have got my back."
He lifted his free hand and tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. He smiled gently, cupping her cheek "Not just the squad," his voice rasped quietly. He hadn't intended to be so open with her.
Olivia drew in a small breath, startled by the warmth and affection in his gaze. Suddenly, she was struck by a moment of clarity. This man sitting beside her loved her, she was sure of it. She couldn't understand why she'd never seen it before. Memory after memory assuaged her consciousness and his feelings seemed so obvious.
As did hers in retrospect. How could she have been so blind? Somewhere along the line, her feelings towards her best friend had shifted without her realising it. She loved him. Of that she was certain.
As soon as his words left his mouth, Rafael was kicking himself. Olivia had enough on her plate at the moment without him adding the complication of his feelings. She needed him to push those aside and just be her friend. He tried to move his hand away, ready to brush the moment off, but her fingers curled around his wrist, stopping him.
Olivia shook her head. "Rafa." She moved closer, drawn to him. She stopped only scant inches away from him. His gaze lifted toward her and she found herself lost in his eyes again. Their breaths mingled. Olivia lifted a hand and lay it against his chest and felt the rapid beating of his heart. Her own was fluttering maddeningly in her chest. She drew a shaking breath and found herself surrounded by the scent of him. It was familiar and comforting; something that was uniquely him. Her fingers curled in his shirt.
Rafael watched as she dragged her teeth across her bottom lip, and he couldn't fight his impulses anymore. Their proximity, the smell of her perfume, the feel of her breath on his lips, it was all too much. He raised his gaze to meet her eyes as he leaned in and touched his lips to hers.
The kiss was sweet and gentle, a bare brush of skin, but it burned through them like wildfire. In the moment the rest of the world ceased to exist. No stresses, no insecurities, only the two of them. Together.
Rafael pulled away reluctantly, his hand not leaving her face. "Liv," he breathed. "As enjoyable as this is, is it really a good idea right now? You've got a lot going on and-"
She silenced him with a finger on his lips. "This, with you," she whispered, "is the calmest I've felt since this whole nightmare started."
"I'm here." He stroked her cheek, wiping away a stray tear. "Whatever you need."
"I know." She leant forward, pressing her forehead to his. "And I'm grateful. I want this Rafa. My instincts are telling me to go with it... and I want to trust them."
They shared a smile.
"I'm just not sure how we get there without losing what we already have," she admitted. She wanted to explore this new side of their relationship, but making that transition from friends to lovers could be tricky, no matter how deep a person's feelings.
"There's no pressure. Underneath all this," he gestured between them, "we're still friends. Whatever comes next, we'll just take it one step at a time, okay?"
She nodded. "Okay." His assurances calmed the butterflies in her stomach. Their friendship would be the basis of this romance. She didn't need to be afraid. "How about we start with dinner tonight?" she suggested. "Casual? My place? With Noah?" It was something they'd done plenty of times in the past. It was comfortable and familiar. Yet there was the promise of something more.
He kissed her head. "Sounds perfect."
Olivia smiled. There was still a question of what to do about Noah and his grandmother, but now she felt confident that she would make the right decision for her son. Whatever that ended up being. She had the support of her friends and colleagues. And she had Rafael, in a way that she never imagined or expected, but one that was very much wanted.