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Before the storm

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It’s the afternoon of what is shaping up to be a long day. Outside it’s dark and humid, ahead of what promises to be a vehement winter storm. Inside, an overcrowded bullpen has driven Olivia and Barba into her office to go over the latest paperwork. Door and blinds are closed to shut out some of the noise, but most of the squad has drifted away to their homes and families, and it's almost quiet. As they start to wrap things up she can let her mind drift from the case a little, and it goes, inevitably, to the night before. She wants to talk – needs to, really – but starting the conversation is not that simple. It never is.

He gets up and starts packing up his papers from her desk. “You talk to Katie again, I’ll take the school.”

She stands too and comes around her desk to his side, and as he heads towards the door, she manages to spit it out.

“Tucker asked me to marry him.”

He stops with his hand still resting on the door handle. After a beat looks over his shoulder at her, his face neutral, stoic. “And … what did you say?”

She can’t hold his gaze for long. “I told him I would think about it.”

He takes that in, methodically putting down his briefcase and coat before he moves to sit on the arm of the couch. After a moment, he manages to ask, quietly, “Do you love him?”

She tilts her head with a lopsided smile, as if she knew he’d ask that. But ultimately, all she can say is, “There are a lot of things I love about him.”

He nods, and the insufficiency of her words sink into the quiet. Then with a raised eyebrow and a tilted head, he asks gently, “Are you wanting me to talk you out of it?”

She can’t even get annoyed – he’s genuinely asking, and the fact is … she makes a gesture of helplessness, and leans back against her desk. “Maybe,” she says softly.

He straightens up and walks over to her. She shifts automatically along, and he moves into the space provided, resting against the desk next to her. She lets out a sigh.

“The other day I took my eyes off Noah and the next thing I know he’s climbed up on the kitchen bench.”

He smiles a little. “I once broke my wrist sliding down a bannister in high school. Boys are stupid like that.”

She can’t help but laugh, appreciating his effort at cheering her up, even though they both know this could have ended far worse. “Thanks.”

He shrugs, watching her as she gives a heavy sigh. “The thing is,” she says after a beat, “I just don’t have it in me to give 100 per cent to Noah, and to the job, and to someone else,” she says quietly. “And if I try …”

He looks at her, nods. “You’re worried you’ll both end up resenting each other. I get it.”

She nods, chews her lip, thinking. He watches, seeing her building up to something. Sure enough …

“Do you ever get … I don’t know … afraid? That there might not be many more chances out there?”

Looking at her, he says softly, “Sometimes.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I mean, I love my life. I love my son, I love my work … but sometimes I wonder if I’m doing it all wrong. That if I keep saving all that for later … it might never come around again.”

He watches as she chews her lip. “I’ll tell you what I do know,” he says, and she looks up at him. “Marriages that start from a basis of fear?” He shakes his head a little and smiles sadly. “They don’t work. Not for anyone involved.”

She nods and leans her head back, raising her eyes to the ceiling. “You’re right.”

He’s watching the turmoil in her face and can’t leave her like that. “But I don’t think it’s too much to want … passion with someone. Call me a romantic, but given the choice I’d rather be –” just here he drops his eyes from her face “– madly in love.”

She draws in a slow, deep breath. She whispers, “Me too.”

He smiles softly, and even though they’re not looking at each other the air between them is charged with a humming kind of energy. Finally, she looks up at him and he does likewise. She opens her mouth to speak but closes it again, just searching his eyes. He looks back at her, steady. After a lengthy moment she smiles and drops her gaze again.

Still smiling softly, he says, “You’re wrong about one thing, by the way …” He waits until she looks up at him again, and says, “you’re not alone.”

This makes her smile despite the moistness in her eyes. She bumps his shoulder gently with her own. He bumps hers back.