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33 Hours and a Cabernet

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“Lieutenant? You goin’ home? It’s late, y’know. It’s almost 2 in the morning.”

Olivia blinked out of a deep concentration and looked up from her paperwork, taking her glasses off to look at the time on her desktop monitor. She squinted as her eyes adjusted to the light, and read the numbers on the corner of the screen: 1:49. “So it is,” she confirmed, leaning back in her chair and swiveling to look towards Rollins. “Yeah, probably. This case, it has my skin crawling…I’ve been trying to focus on something else,” she sighed, holding up the clipboard that she had been focused on for the last hour and a half as evidence. “I’ve gone over the statements a hundred times, second guessed myself – “

“Hey,” Rollins interrupted, sitting on the edge of Olivia’s desk. She smiled weakly and shook her head lightly. “Don’t let this one get to you. You’re really involved in this, and I get why, but…you gotta go home and get some rest so you can fight it with all your strength. We’ll get this guy.”

Olivia sighed, folding her glasses and placing them in their case. “I know,” she lied, biting her lip and tossing the clipboard onto her desk. Still leaned back, she picked up her hairclip from the edge of her desk and threw her hair up into a messy twist. “I just…need to get it over with. I need Rachel to realize it wasn’t her fault and that he can’t hurt her anymore. He’s in custody, and all she has to do is testify, but she’s so terrified…”

“There you go again, Lieutenant,” Rollins scolded, standing up and grabbing her coat off a nearby chair. “No disrespect, but you’re not thinking clearly right now. You’ve been awake for close to, what, 30 hours now?”

“33,” Olivia corrected, shoulders slumping in defeat. “You’re right,” she admitted, standing slowly and picking up her own coat and bag. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Rollins.”
“’Night Lieutenant,” she replied, giving a small salute and walking towards the door of the squad room.

Olivia watched her go, sighing as she walked out of sight. She slumped back down in her chair, her coat forgotten, her head buried in one of her hands. How could she be this involved in a case? She had been involved with others, and she was used to it, but every time it happened it somehow caught her off guard. This girl had been tortured, raped, beaten, humiliated, and the man had managed to manipulate her into complete and total compliance to keep some sort of control over her, however fleeting it was. She wondered how Amanda was so calm, so collected, and why she was so worrisome and terrified. She shook her head minutely and stood up once more, grabbing her coat and swinging it over her shoulders. As she turned around, she heard footsteps and saw Rafael Barba walking towards her with his hands in his coat pockets. He looked…well, just about as bad as she supposed she did.

“Barba. What’s going on?”

“Can’t focus,” he sighed, smiling unconvincingly back at her. “This case has me in knots. As an ADA, I’m trying to keep my eyes on one track, but my concentration keeps slipping.” He opened his mouth to say something else, but closed it to stop himself. She saw a twinge of embarrassment in his eyes. He usually wasn’t open with anyone, she knew, and he had probably already said too much for his liking. “What about you? You’re here at nearly 2 am; I’m assuming you’re not detached from this case either.”

“On the contrary,” she sighed, smiling a bit. “I’m completely involved. It’s nothing new, but it still gets to me.” She looked into his face and saw both defeat and worry, which she hated to see in the ADA. He was always confident in and out of the courtroom, his gaze piercing, his words sharp, his thoughts seeming to race. When his confidence slipped and his gaze was hazy, it was always shocking to her and the rest of the squad. Then again, she was usually able to spot it a lot faster. She considered an idea for a moment, then decided it was worth proposing. “Can I take you up on that drink? You look like you could use one.”

“I could say the same for you,” he replied, his face lighting up at her request and his hands slipping out of his pockets. “I suppose we’ve already established that. But yes, I’d love one. It’s sort of late, though…” he murmured, furrowing his brows and thinking for a moment. “My place?” he suggested calmly, raising a brow. “I’ve got a nice cabernet that you might like.”

“I didn’t take you for the cabernet type,” she teased, beginning to walk towards the squad room door and towards the elevator. Barba quickly followed suit.

“I’m not,” he replied, smiling in a way Olivia could only describe as mischievous. It was the smile he wore when he had a trick up his sleeve in the courtroom. “I got it as a gift from a colleague not long ago, and haven’t opened it.”

“Perfect,” she replied, pressing the down button on the elevator panel. She put her hands in her pockets and leaned on the wall to face him. “You did well during the arraignment,” she said, trying to initiate some small talk to break the silence. They were both on edge; the last thing either of them needed was an awkward, empty silence.

“Thank you,” he replied, his chest puffing up a bit. He always did enjoy praise. “Piece of cake, really. You got the evidence we needed to arrest him. You and your squad do all of the hard work; I just take care of the technical details.”

“Bullshit,” she laughed as the elevator dinged and the doors slid open. She stepped in and leaned against the back wall. “Your demeanor in the courtroom, your smart mouth…we just get the evidence. You win the cases against those elite defense lawyers and manipulative, screwed up tactics the defendants use to try and get in the jury’s’ heads. You’re the brains of the operation, always have been.”

Barba smiled back at her, seeming far more relaxed than he had been when he’d walked into her squad room. “Well, sure I have the brains…but you guys have the guts,” he explained, leaning against the wall next to her and holding onto the bar.

“Not always,” she replied, raising an eyebrow. “Sometimes we falter. But my team is one of the best. I’m so proud of them all the time, for what they do, what the accomplish.”

“As you should be,” he sighed as the elevator opened. They walked out of the building in silence, but both smiling as Barba started to hail a cab.

“Barba,” she said, lowering his hand with her own. “I have a squad car.”

“Right,” he said, blinking. “Sorry. Out of it.”

“I could tell,” she teased, smirking and grabbing her keys out of her bag. She swung them around on her fingers and walked towards the car, unlocking it and getting in. He got in next to her, put in the directions to his apartment, and they were there in 10 minutes.

They walked into the building in total silence and side by side, the awkward tension palpable as they stepped into his apartment. It was decorated tastefully, she noted. He had deep brown leather sofas, beige walls, a modern kitchen – everything she expected from him. It looked like his office, only more like a home.

“Should have known you’d bring your work home with you,” she remarked, noticing a pile of rather messily-arranged folders and papers on his coffee table. Her words dropped into the silence, and Barba welcomed the reprieve.

“Don’t you?” he responded, already knowing the answer to that question as he set off towards the kitchen. “I know we both do emotionally.”

“That’s true,” she said, sitting on one of the couches and sprawling out a bit. She was absolutely exhausted, and somehow felt comfortable around Barba. It wasn’t really a surprise to her, as Barba was one of her colleagues and closest friends, but there was certainly more to it than that. There had been more for a long while, at least on her end. “Physically, I usually leave my paperwork at home, but I take casefiles now and again.”

She let her eyes close as she heard the pop of a cork and Barba pouring wine into a glass. He had fallen into a silent concentration while he opened the bottle. She noticed that the pouring had stopped, but she didn’t hear him moving. She opened her eyes and turned to see him…was he staring? she thought, raising an eyebrow at him. His eyes were certainly wider than usual, and his stance was rigid. “Barba?” she propositioned, smiling.

Barba shook his head and blinked a few times, going back to his work. “Apologies,” he muttered, turning to pick up a decanter on his counter behind him. “Staring into space,” he said, which Olivia knew was an excuse. She shrugged and leaned back again as Barba poured golden liquid into a short glass for himself, filling it probably more than was necessary. She giggled at that.

“What?” he said sharply, though with no malice.

“Nothing,” she said quickly, waving a hand dismissively. Out of the corner of her eye she saw him handing her the glass of wine, and she sat up and took it from him gently. “Thank you,” she said, grinning and taking a sip of it. She draped one arm over the back of the sofa as he sat down next to her, lifting her drink to her lips and taking a long sip. “So…”

“So,” he replied matter-of-factly, looking at her with a rather confused and embarrassed expression. “I honestly don’t know what we’re doing here,” he admitted, laughing a bit.

“Neither do I, in truth,” she responded, taking another smaller sip of the cabernet. “This is delicious,” she commented, holding the deep red liquid up against the warm light of a lamp beside her.

“I’m glad you like it,” he said softly, leaning back and taking a swig of what she assumed was scotch. It was pretty much all he ever drank, at least that she had seen.

“Have you ever had anything other than scotch?”

“I could say the same thing of you with red wines,” he retorted, chuckling and taking another sip.

“Touché,” she responded in defeat. She swirled her wine around in the glass, enjoying the way the light caught the rich color of it and sparkled. She realized in that moment just how tired she was, but not in a sleepy way. She was mentally exhausted, emotionally wrecked, and focused on literally anything else other than her obtrusive, racing thoughts. There was a reason she didn’t like the silence between her and Barba, a reason she was so tentative; she was attracted to him, of course, but she had come to his apartment to have someone to talk to. Someone who would listen. She had accepted his offer of drinks after weeks because she knew she needed to talk, to be able to breathe. She knew he would listen, but she was afraid to tell him everything. She had no way of knowing how he would take the information, or whether he would acknowledge it as weakness rather than anything else.

“Liv?”
His soft voice laced with concern shook her out of her unfocused reverie. “Hm?” she murmured, sipping her wine.

“You looked upset for a moment there. You alright?”

Olivia very carefully considered her response. She tried to keep her face as neutral as possible while she did. She couldn’t vent to him, she couldn’t tell him everything she was feeling, even though she felt like she was about to burst with the intensity of it all. She also didn’t want to lie, to bottle it all up, but what choice did she have? “I’m fine,” she sighed, smiling as convincingly as she could.

“Bullshit. I know you better than that. I can see when you’re stressed.” He sipped his drink, a thoughtful expression spreading across his face. “What’s going on?” He paused for a moment, and Olivia felt, rather than saw, his hand covering hers between them. She supposed she was too focused on his eyes.

“I’m…not sure,” she lied, taking a large gulp of her wine. “I’m…I don’t know. I’m just really tired,” she explained, her eyes watering without her say so. She didn’t even feel the tears coming when they’d been talking earlier. With his touch and his words, he’d somehow pulled a brick out of her very carefully constructed walls, and she was beginning to falter. Damn my lack of sleep, she thought, cursing her own insomnia and anxiety.

Barba’s face immediately went from pensive to concerned, and he tentatively closed his hand around hers. “I know,” he said, a bit out of his depth but willing to help. “You can talk, if you need to. There’s a reason I invited you out for drinks a while back, y’know.”

“What do you mean?”

“I wanted to talk to you,” he explained, smiling weakly. “Not as colleagues, but as friends. Rant, talk about our lives…etcetera,” he explained, seeming to have something else to say but neglecting to say it.

“Wish I’d said yes earlier,” she said, a tear falling from her eye, which she quickly wiped away with the hand holding her glass. “Damn,” she whispered, turning away from him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean – “

“Liv, it’s okay,” he replied, squeezing her hand tighter. “I pushed you, I’m sorry – “

“No, it’s not that,” she replied, tears starting to fall faster. She cursed her own lack of self-control. Usually she could be so collected, so professional, but something slipped, there was a crack in the lens and she couldn’t fix it. “I hate sometimes that I’m so comfortable around you. Every time you talk to me I’m…somehow calmer, more relaxed, more at home. Your confidence is what gives me balance, especially in our work. You always manage to stay calm and collected, and you give me something to hold onto, to believe in. And sometimes my emotions just…” she faltered, choking slightly. “I’m sorry, Rafael.”

She expected him to shift, to stiffen, to back away. Instead, infuriatingly, he moved closer, downing the rest of his scotch and placing the glass on the table with a thump. “Liv, it’s okay. It’s okay,” he cooed, squeezing her hand tighter still and turning to face her. “It’s okay to cry now and again. Hell, if I had your job, I’d cry practically every day. The things you see, the things you do…you’re the bravest person I’ve ever known. And I’m grounded by you half the time. In the courtroom, out of it…your confidence when you walk into a room, the way you interrogate a witness to get into his head, the limits you’ll go to to win a case and put a psychopath in jail where he belongs…you ground me, Olivia Benson. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have emotion, or cry, or even have a breakdown now and again. We are all human, especially you.”

The entire time he’d been speaking, she’d been staring directly into his eyes. The shade of blue was overwhelmingly calming to her somehow, and every word he spoke sent her brain flying onto a different plane. She grounded him? She had always seen it in the exact opposite direction, and to know that someone she cared about, someone she knew, saw her as something good and something strong, was almost too much. She smiled at him weakly and looked down at their hands. “I don’t know what to say to that,” she said simply and truthfully, gulping down the rest of her wine and setting the glass on the table. “I really don’t.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” he said, smiling the sweetest smile she’d ever seen from him. It was caring, and his eyes sparkled with kindness in a way she’d never seen before. It was a completely different side of him, and she felt honored to be able to see it, to be able to see him.

And at that moment, she realized he was completely right. She didn’t have to say anything, but she could do something else. She leaned forward before thinking about it too much and pressed her lips to his chastely, closing her eyes and praying to whatever god was out there that he would reciprocate, or at least not kill her. And reciprocate he did; he returned the kiss with fervor, and she melted into him as he wrapped an arm around her, letting go of everything in favor of this one moment. She had finally given in; she was completely, undeniably, and unbelievably fucked.