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The First of Thirty Days

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Olivia was at home when she got his text. In the living room with Noah, building a house from blocks, delighting in his delight. She hadn’t even been thinking of Rafael, or at least hadn’t thought she’d been thinking of him, and when her phone buzzed she picked it up assuming it would be work. When she unlocked it and saw his name, her heart leapt and then sank so fast she was almost dizzy. We may have seen our last case together, he’d said.

She opened the text.

< Suspension. One month. >

Before the relief was done filling her, the phone buzzed again.

< Dinner? >

< Come over, > she typed back without hardly thinking. < I’ll cook.> Then, quickly, the obvious: < Congratulations. >

< I’ll cook, > he responded, and she knew he was smiling and trying not to, even if he was alone. < Do you have cilantro? >

< I can get some. >

 

So now, after a half-hour of cooking fish tacos and conversation about nothing in particular, they’re sitting at her table, and he doesn’t really appear rested, but dressed in dark jeans, a simple white button-up shirt, and no tie, it seems like he might be getting there. Still, he ought to look more exhausted than he does, she thinks, if only because it's late enough that Noah has gone to bed and she's starting to feel tired herself. But she doesn't want to sleep. Not at all.

She wipes her fingers on her napkin and appraises him. “So when did the DA tell you?”

He's fiddling with the buttons at his wrist. “This morning.”

“And you didn't let me know right away?” She's a little angry -- when they were at Forlini’s he'd had her scared stiff with that talk of it all being over, and now he's waited a full day before telling her -- ?

“Sorry,” he says sheepishly. “I told my mother first. She didn't exactly give me much time. Or space. To discuss.”

Well, she thinks. “I'm glad it’s only thirty days,” she says instead, and her voice is softer than she'd planned.

“Yeah,” he says around a forkful of rice. Like he wants to sound casual. “Can you imagine?” He laughs. "Me, without that job?” He shakes his head like it's a joke, but she remembers what he's said last week: I love this job. Oh, I really do. But sometimes…

“No,” she admits. “I can't.”

He smiles, almost wistfully, down at his food. “Me neither.”

“You know, a while ago I was thinking about retiring,” she tells him. She’s a little embarrassed that she’d never even spoken to him about those few days when she’d wrestled with the idea, or with the idea of having the idea.

“And?” he asks quietly.

“And I decided I didn’t want to,” she answers. But that’s not the full story, so she explains: “I never really did. Ed suggested it, actually.”

Rafael chews his food slowly, sips his water. “Is that why you broke up with him?”

“I never said I was the one who broke up with him. It was --”

“Mutual. I remember that’s what you told me at the time.” He cocks an eyebrow at her. “Was it really?”

She flushes a bit. “We weren’t at the same point in our lives. He wanted to retire, he wanted me to retire, and I just…” She spreads her hands. “That’s not what I wanted. It still isn't. But he’s a good man.”

Rafael nods, and she appreciates that while he never quite came around to liking Tucker, he can at least acknowledge that truth.

“Well,” Rafael says, raising his glass, “here’s to us holding on to our jobs.”

She clinks her glass against his, then hesitates.

“What?”

She shakes her head. “Nothing. I was going to make a joke, but it’s not funny.”

He gives her a flat look.

“Fine.” She’s half-smiling. “Just -- something about them having to pry our jobs from our cold, dead hands.”

Rafael sighs. “That’s funny for me,” he says, “but in your line of work? Please, let’s not.” His eyes are soft and serious, and there’s a heaviness between them as they both think of all the many, many times she’s almost died on the job. Almost been killed.

A different, happier memory comes to her.

“No,” she agrees, “I plan to die of old age. I have get past 85, at least, to keep my promise.”

He grins wide and doesn’t miss a beat. “Squabbling with me?”

“Exactly.”

I’ll only be 78,” he smirks, and she rolls her eyes, reaches over to swat at him, and instead takes his hand in hers.

It’s a brief gesture and she doesn't think much of it in the moment -- just squeezes his hand, holds on for a few seconds, then lets go to stand and gather their dishes.

But the feeling stays with her: the warmth of his large hand; how his knuckles, having been chapped in the wind and the cold, were a bit rough; how he turned his hand palm-up the moment she touched it; how their fingers didn't quite lace but gripped each other with something between urgency and calm, between comfort and concern. The feeling lingers along with the warmth, but she doesn’t think about it much because it doesn’t need much thought. It was just simple. Nice. Right.

She puts their dishes in the sink and glances over her shoulder to ask whether he wants more wine. She’s surprised to see he's padded over -- quiet in his socks and his step -- and is now rolling up his shirtsleeves.

"You hosted. I'll wash."

He's got that insistent tone, so she doesn't protest. She didn't really want to wash the dishes anyway, but she doesn't tell him that. Let him think I'm being gracious.

"So what are you going to do with all this free time?" she asks, leaning against the opposite counter. She can't see his face, but there’s no denying that the rest of him looks good too.

"You mean what am I gonna tell people I'm doing?"

"No, I mean what are you actually going to do?"

He pauses, putting a plate on the drying rack. "I haven't decided whether I'm going to confirm I've been suspended or just say I'm taking a long-deserved vacation," he admits with an expressive shrug.

"You're considering telling people you've been suspended?" She doesn't bother to hide her surprise.

"Well I'm not going to shout it to the rooftops," he snips. "Or tell the Ledger. But it's an open secret at the DA's office. Denying it would only make it more humiliating."

She takes this in. That means he already feels humiliated, at least a little.

"You didn't do anything wrong," she reminds him.

"I know." He turns to face her -- there really weren't that many dishes. He mirrors her posture as he leans against the counter opposite her, drying his hands and forearms with her blue dish rag.

She kicks his shin gently. "But you haven't answered my real question."

He grins. "Well, I am a lawyer."

"That's not an answer either."

"Fine, Lieutenant, I'll confess." Contrary to his words, he hesitates. "I suppose I'm undecided on that too. There are only so many books you can read before going stir-crazy."

"You need a hobby."

"This, coming from you?" he protests, incredulous but fond.

She rolls her eyes but can't really contradict him; she doesn't do much outside of work and Noah, and she likes her life just fine that way.

"Maybe I should take up needlepoint," he muses -- teases, really. "Or… I don't know, what do people do for fun?"

She laughs. "I don't know either."

"We're hopeless," he says with a groan, but his lopsided smile is pleased.

For just a moment her mind catches pleasantly on that "we."

"You could actually go on vacation. Don't you miss Vail?"

"Gstaad," he corrects with a haughtiness she thinks is only part exaggeration.

She rolls her eyes. "Fine, Gstaad."

"I'm too old to ski anymore," he sighs, although they both know that's entirely untrue. "And I don't feel like being cold."

"It's cold here."

“I know.”

"Hawaii, then."

"Too far."

“D.C.”

“Too close. And too depressing.”

"Patagonia."

"Now you're just messing with me."

"I'm starting to get the feeling you don't actually don't want to leave New York at all," she counters, studying his face.

"I never said I did."

“Well, you’ll think of something. And thirty days isn't so long," she reasons.

He lets out another dramatic groan. "It feels awfully long when you're staring down the barrel of it. They're not even letting me keep my case files. Or visit the office. Or consult on anything," he adds, pointing at her, "so don't come over asking for my advice or we'll both be in trouble."

"I'm sure we’ll find other things to talk about,” she smiles.

“Case in point -- how’s Noah?” he asks. She’d laugh at his cautious, nervous tone -- the vocal equivalent of the way he looks terrified on the rare occasions he has to hold the boy -- but she’s touched at the overture.

“He’s good,” she answers, voice soft with love. “He’s growing so fast . And he’s learning quickly, too; his vocabulary is really expanding. Soon he’ll be talking as much as you.”

“God help you if he does.”

“Hey. I think I’ll be able to handle it.”

“You do put up with me well.”

“I do, although you make it very difficult.”

They’re both smiling.  

She doesn’t want to pull that smile from his face, but she has to ask -- “What about Ashtonja?”

Sure enough, Rafael's look turns serious. “She’s alright,” he answers slowly, considering his words, “but shaken, I think.”

“I’m sorry if we scared her,” Olivia says sincerely. She and Carisi hadn’t done anything wrong, and from all those eye rolls it didn’t seem like Ashtonja had been too fazed, but still.

“No, you were fine. It was more what Willard said to her. That she was like her mother, that the money was for…” He shakes his head, his face twisted with disgust at the very thought of what she -- and he -- had been accused of.

Olivia regrets bringing it up.

“But she’ll be alright,” he repeats. “She and her grandmother, they’re tough, and they’ve got each other.”

“Are you still -- ?” Olivia hesitates.

“Still sending them money?” he finishes, looking her in the eye. His voice is brisk. “Yes. There’s nothing criminal in that.”

She nods slowly, thinking of Ashtonja’s mother, when something occurs to her. “What happened -- that was about five years ago, when you were an ADA in the Bronx.” He nods. “Is that why you requested that lateral transfer?” she asks.

His mouth quirks into something like a smile. “That was part of it.”

“Well,” Olivia says, “I’m glad you came.”

“So am I.”

Rafael's shirtsleeves are still rolled up past his elbows, and he looks totally at ease, happy, leaning there against her counter. Smiling at her. Like he belongs here, fits right in. Which, she supposes, he does.

“Do you want another glass of wine?” she asks.

“Sure.”

They wander over to the couch, glasses in hand, and when they sit they just happen to be close enough that their legs touch.

“Cooking counts as a hobby,” she points out as he takes a sip.

“You know, I’ve already cooked more for myself in the past 48 hours than I did in the two weeks before getting suspended.”

“You didn’t cook for yourself more than twice? In two weeks?”

“As if you don’t have takeout every day.”

“Or Forlini’s.”

“Or both.”

“I cook more now that I have Noah,” she concedes, lifting her legs onto the couch and folding them beneath her. “It’s nice.”

“It is nice. I forgot how much I enjoy doing it, when I have the time.” He leans forward to put his glass on the coffee table, then lounges back again, loose and lazy and content. His left arm is draped along the back of the couch behind her.

“So do I have more home-cooked meals to look forward to, if you enjoy it so much?”

“Maybe.” She can hear the smirk in his voice.

“Thirty days,” she sighs happily. “That’s a lot of good food.”

“I’m thrilled my suspension is working out so well for you.”

She scoffs, leaning into him. “Excuse me for trying to look on the bright side.”

Rafael moves his arm from the back of the couch and wraps it around her, gathering her closer. “The bright side is that the DA didn’t fire me on the spot.”

She shakes her head. “He knew that if he did, Manhattan’s conviction rates would plummet.”

“‘Plummet’ is a strong word.”

“Really? When’s the last time you lost a case?”

“October,” he admits, and she doesn’t need to look at him to know he’s smiling.

“Well there you go.” Olivia leans her head on his shoulder, and they sit in silence for a minute or so. She’s aware of her heart beating loud and strong, but she’s not nervous at all. His fingers are tracing patterns gently across her shoulder and her upper arm, and then he lifts his hand to touch her hair. He bows his head as he does, lips brushing the top of her head, and she nestles in closer.  

She breaks the silence first. “It’ll be strange, working without you.”

“You’ll still see me.”

“Of course,” she says, and she pulls his right hand from where it’s resting on the arm of the couch, holds it in both of hers. “But still.”

“It’ll go by quickly,” he murmurs into her hair. “Don’t get too used to the home-cooked meals.”

“I won’t.” She shuts her eyes. “I could get used to this, though.”

“Mm,” he hums in agreement.

She knows that, sooner or later, she’s going to lift her head from her shoulder, and sit up, and kiss him. And at some point after that -- tomorrow, maybe, or the next day -- they’ll need to talk about it, because as natural as this feels, she can’t deny it’s not normal, not between two co-workers, or even two friends, and if they are going to do this -- whatever “this” is -- the DA and IAB won’t find it so simple as she feels, in this moment, it is, and she knows he knows this, that the same complications and calculations may be going through his mind at this very moment.

But for now -- for her -- those thoughts, while important, feel muted. Distant from the warmth of his weight beside her, the steady rise and fall of his breath. His left hand stroking her hair, his right in her hands. His cheek on her head, her head on his shoulder.

They’ll deal with the mess in thirty days.

For now, she just wants to kiss him.

So she does.