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Intimate

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When the jury handed down the verdict, the courtroom erupted. Yelling. Sobbing. Everyone on their feet. The bailiffs on their radios calling for reinforcements as the judge demanded the gallery be cleared.

The chaos in the room mirrored the chaos Barba felt internally, and instinctively he turned where he stood to seek out Olivia. Their eyes met only for a moment before she was lost in the crowd being herded out the door.

They'd had dinner the night before at her invitation, a pre-verdict celebration after a brilliant closing, as she'd described it. She wasn't even involved directly in the case, though certainly she had some skin in the game as the conviction of a "big fish" such as this would trickle down and open the door to catching some of the smaller fish on her own radar.

She hadn't spent any time in court until the closing arguments, but he'd kept her updated over takeout lunches in his or her office and the occasional drink after work. It had been a very long trial and an incredibly long lead-up, and while he'd had other cases to worry about, this one had occupied much of his time and thoughts for several months. So when they had literally bumped into each other in the busy courthouse, Olivia having just sat in for a sentencing hearing and Barba on his way to deliver his closing, their brief conversation had revealed he was full of energy that - uncharacteristically for him - bordered on nervous.

What surprised her more than the nervousness was that he wore it on his sleeve, asking her if she'd mind being there. In another situation she might have teased him a bit, but instead she just wrapped her fingers around his elbow and told him to lead the way.

The gallery was full, and Olivia had been forced to squeeze in the middle of the 6th row with some of the cops that HAD been involved in the case and who recognised her as one of their own. Before Barba had sat down he'd looked for her to see where she'd landed, and at her encouraging smile the corners of his own mouth turned up slightly.

She hadn't been exaggerating about the quality of his closing arguments. By the time he got started all of his nervous energy - which wouldn't have been picked up on by anyone who didn't know him well - was completely under his control and he easily hit his stride.

Olivia loved watching him like this, so confident and strong, every word and phrase and inflection carefully and perfectly crafted. But not like an actor in a play, because what he said he meant, and that's where his words really gained their power: Whether or not you believed that what he said was true, there was no doubting that HE believed it was true.

When it was over he was immediately surrounded, and she'd chosen to slip out rather than join the line waiting to congratulate him. She'd texted instead. "A thing of beauty, Counselor. Buy you dinner?" She was already back in her office by the time he'd had a chance to check his phone and accept the invitation.

It was just after 6 when they'd met at their usual spot. He wasn't nervous anymore, but the confident half-smirk that was practically his resting expression was transformed to a more humble and sincere "aww, shucks" grin when Olivia had slipped out of the booth where she'd been waiting and wrapped him in a tight embrace, so quick and unexpected that he hadn't even had time to return it before it was over.

It was then that his closing had been labelled "brilliant" and she'd given in to sentiment just long enough to express that seeing him in his element like that had made her feel so proud to know him. His cheeks turned pink, not embarrassment but a flush of happiness at being on the receiving end of her affirmation and affection.

Now, nearly 24 hours later, his cheeks were not pink but red, the heat drawing the colour down his neck as he fought to control his own reaction to the unexpected verdict not in their favour. Upon adjournment he was swarmed outside the courtroom, eventually drawn aside by his boss, the chief of police, and the mayor's press secretary who were talking at him and over each other about how things were to be handled when he left the courthouse and was swarmed again, this time by the reporters.

Barba couldn't see Olivia during this time, but she could see him from where she stood leaning against the hallway wall. She'd hoped she would at least be able to make her presence known as a show of support, but Barba's focus was being pulled in every direction, it seemed, but hers. So she just waited and watched for awhile, and noticed.

Noticed the tension in his neck, and the stiffness of his posture. Noticed the muscles of his jaw working under his skin. Noticed the way his hand was gripping his briefcase. Noticed his barely controlled expression.

And when the crowd had thinned a bit and his eyes did finally flick in her direction before locking on hers, she could tell he needed an intervention.

"Excuse me, gentlemen. I need to speak with Mr. Barba for a moment."

"Not a good time, Lieutenant," the mayor's press secretary barked.

"I'm aware, and this won't take long, but it is urgent and time sensitive."

She looked to the chief of police for backup, and he nodded tersely. "You have five minutes, Lieutenant."

"That should be plenty."

Olivia led Barba to a consultation room just down the hall, one of the four tiny rooms right in a row that were available to lawyers and their clients to meet or wait before court. She slid the placard on the door from "Unoccupied" to "Occupied" so they wouldn't be disturbed, and closed them in.

At that point, Benson could have offered sympathy, offered a pep talk, offered commiseration, offered an ear to let him express what he was thinking and feeling. But there would be time for that later. In the now four and a half minutes they had, she sensed what he really needed was time to collect himself, so she didn't say a word as she leaned against the wall by the door and once again just watched him.

He had slammed his briefcase down on the small table and remained standing, facing away from her and toward the opposite wall, his hands gripping the back of the chair he was using to support himself. Still as a statue.

But she could see the moment when, having been given the space to simply breathe and reflect without interruption, his "next step" had been able to click into place. His head dropped as the tension left his neck, and it was like he could breathe again as his whole body seemed to relax just a bit.

It was like she could breathe again, too.

And then his briefcase was back in his hand and he'd turned towards her, indicating with a slight nod that he was ready to face the music. In the zone and all business, or so she thought. But before he walked through the door she'd opened, it was his turn to embrace her with his free arm, again tight and quick with no time for real reciprocation.

The look in his eye as he pulled away, before he reset his expression and strode from the room, was a clear reflection of her sentiment from the day before: He was labelling her intervention as "brilliant". And when her cheeks turned pink, it was with pleasure that she'd been able to help him in her own small way, and that it had meant enough to him that he'd paused in the middle of a huge mess to let her know.