Barba and Olivia had gotten very good at noticing or guessing what the other might need and doing their best to help. They'd always been good at it on some level, of course, but back when they worked together they had fewer appropriate tools at their disposal. Barba might have sensed 5 years ago that she was tense, but couldn't exactly offer a neck massage during a meeting of her detectives. Nor could Olivia pull him aside in the middle of trial to help him manage his frustration by reading aloud to him while he lay with his head in her lap.
Now that they were trapped in a confined space with no worries of conflict of interest to limit them, and - let's face it - with little else to do, making the other happy had become like sport.
What they still hadn't mastered was TAKING what they needed.
"You don't need to ask" had become a popular refrain, and Olivia had once admitted her hesitance stemmed from not wanting him to feel like she was using him.
"Use me," he had deadpanned immediately. "If this is what using me looks like, do it. I'll take it. It's my new favourite thing." And they had laughed together and tried to ask permission less.
Things weren't perfect, not by any stretch, but all three had found the rhythm of cohabitation. The Bensons no longer felt like guests, and had stumbled into the genuine freedom of "home" under Barba's roof. As weeks in lockdown stretched into months, boundaries had become lax, choices had become habits, and sleeping arrangements had become erratically rotational.
The adults had taken to watching TV in bed sometimes, whichever bed Noah hadn't fallen asleep in. Sometimes one or both would lounge on top of the covers, and sometimes one or both would be properly tucked in. Sometimes one of them would retire to the other bed when they started to fade, and sometimes they would give in to sleep before whatever they were watching was over.
What RARELY happened was for the TV to go off and for both parties, still awake, to stay where they were. It had in fact happened more times prior to the lockdown than since they had moved in together.
On this night, they were in what was technically Olivia's room, so it was Barba that might have left but didn't. And it was Olivia that might have bid him goodnight but had both initiated and sustained the conversation that had first kept him there.
She was especially tightly wound from the pressures of work, and uncharacteristically nervous about a virtual press conference that was scheduled for the next morning. They weren't talking about work but Barba certainly knew her well enough to recognize correlations in her stress and sadness across other topics.
It made him feel good to be there for her, to be trusted with her unfiltered thoughts. And this good feeling plus his sleepiness prompted him to gather her in his arms so she was fully spooned back against him.
She was wearing shorts, so his fingers found smooth skin as they glided along her leg where it curved over his. He was so tired that he got a little obsessive about this exploration as he was drifting off, more than once making her shiver.
When she shifted against him, he assumed that she was getting more comfortable so she could drop off to sleep, and he was glad because he was feeling comfortable and warm and he didn't want to her leave. So when his thigh came to rest more soundly under her, as though she was sitting on his lap, he wasn't sure if he was just imagining things when he thought he heard, or maybe just felt, her breath hitch ever so slightly at the momentary friction.
But now his imagination was in overdrive, making him observant, curious, wide awake, and yes, just a little turned on.
He waited, barely breathing, but she didn't move again, and he wondered if she'd felt him freeze and it had spooked her. He hoped not.
He'd told her a while back that he wasn't opposed to them having a "sensational evening" now and then, and he'd meant it. Not that he had any plans to escalate this encounter to anything remotely resembling "sensational", but he certainly didn't begrudge her seeking whatever she might need from him, even if it was just a way to release a little tension.
So now it was him shifting, wedging his leg more soundly between hers. If he was wrong, if it WAS his imagination, the move would seem innocuous. And if he WASN'T wrong, he hoped she would get the message, and feel free enough with him to act on it.
He wasn't wrong. The ever-so-slight roll of her hips confirmed it. But her feeling of freedom needed a little encouragement, perhaps held at bay by her uncertainty about whether he really understood what was happening, was really being deliberate. It was encouragement that he was happy to provide.
That said, he had no particular interest in directly adding to her arousal. He knew this wasn't really about sex and certainly wasn't about him, and he had no desire to try to make it about either. So his encouragement was a subtle sort. A hand sliding down her leg to nudge her into a better position before moving back up to brace her hip. His thigh pressing up, answering the thrusts that were slowly becoming more obvious. And eventually moving her hand that had covered his at her hip to her stomach before gently guiding it lower, giving permission.
He pressed a kiss to her shoulder when her body shuddered, then stilled. And he was pleased when she sighed a deep, contented sigh and he could feel her muscles relax.
Several minutes passed, and he thought she might have fallen asleep. But then she was turning in his arms, pushing him lightly onto his back so she could rest against him. She splayed a hand on his chest, but when it slipped under the covers and started to move lower, the trajectory was clear.
He intercepted her easily and firmly placed her hand back where it had started. He didn't want her to feel that this was something that needed to be reciprocated, that there was any selfish motive on his part. Nor did he want to dishonour her by excusing himself to the privacy of the bathroom to take care of things himself, because it would be difficult for him to separate his act from hers.
Heroically noble and organized thinking for a man who had very little blood getting to his brain just then.
She tried again, and again he stopped her, this time bringing her fingers to his mouth to brush with his lips before settling them back over his heart and holding her there firmly.
He chuckled at the disapproving noise that escaped the back of her throat, but he felt her relent, and only hoped that she understood, that she didn't feel a sense of rejection, that she didn't view reciprocation as necessary for equalization.
She DID understand, and she was deeply, deeply grateful.
That night was never spoken of aloud, never teased about in smirks and knowing looks, never fantasized about or made into more than it was. But that's not to say it didn't change things between them. His presence during what would normally be a very private act, despite having played only a minor supporting role, seemed to open the floodgates to a myriad of lesser intimacies, and ushered in a greater comfort around taking what they needed from the other without apology.