"You should have told me this was here! I didn't think to pack my swimsuit!"
"Actually, it's a new addition that I wasn't aware of. But we don't need swimsuits anyway; there's no one for miles."
The look she gave him was... versatile.
"Oh, get over yourself, Benson. I've seen you mostly naked anyway."
"Even if that were true - "
"Which it is."
"- there's a big difference between mostly naked and actually naked."
It was true that Barba had seen Olivia in various states of undress not once but twice, the first with permission the second accidental due to a failure to announce his presence when entering a room. He'd seen a lot of skin. He'd seen a lot of scars. But mostly because of the precautions she'd learned to take having a son who also tended not to knock, Barba had never seen her "good bits", as he had jokingly called them that day. And in that moment it was obvious that Olivia felt it was going to take more than the hot tub they'd discovered to change that.
"More room for me, then," Barba said casually while reading the laminated instructions for winter use that were affixed to the cover. He knew that naked or no she'd end up in there with him by the end of the night. "It should be usable; they've kept it maintained. I'm going to call the building manager just to make sure it's all kosher." The idea of a Sunday evening in the hot tub under the stars seemed like an enjoyable way to cap off what was already shaping up to be a pretty nice day.
They'd both managed to sleep in, Barba because of recent practice and Olivia because she hadn't been quite as successful as him at letting go of their conversation and had had some trouble finally dropping off.
As it was, her fear of not being able to look him in the eye hadn't actually materialized; with the light had come perspective. But when she joined him in the living room just after 10, fully dressed and ready for the day, he cutely grabbed her face in his hands and held her stare. She immediately understood and tried to match his feigned intensity, but couldn't help smiling when he dropped a tiny kiss on the end of her nose and said with a smirk, "I told you it could be done. Ready for brunch?"
The restaurant they chose seemed to be between the pre-church breakfast and the post-church lunch crowds, so they had their pick of booths and their server had the time to be attentive. And because they were mostly alone Olivia didn't feel bad about taking a call from Noah when Barba handed her his cell.
"Mommy! I went to Sunday School!" Apparently Lucia had taken him to early Mass and then to the 9 a.m. children's program, which he excitedly described. "And I have a new friend named Leah and it's her birthday and her mom invited me to her party and it's TODAY! Can I go?"
"Well, how about you hand the phone to Miss Lucia and we'll talk about."
There was some muffled conversation and some rustling and then Lucia was saying good morning. "Sorry, I should have spoken to you first, but Noah was insistent."
"No problem! I'm so glad he's having such a wonderful time!"
"He's not the only one, truly. Anyway, what he failed to mention is that he and I were BOTH invited to this party, so he wouldn't be going there alone. But I still wanted to clear it with you first." Olivia knew that Barba had shared with his mother, at least in generalities, about Noah's history and recent events with Sheila. Obviously Lucia was sensitive to the fact that Olivia's trust in her to care for her son would not have come easily, and wanted to honour it by running things by her. "It's a family who's been going to the church for a long time, but admittedly not one I know well so I'd be sure to keep a close eye."
"Lucia, if you don't mind taking him, I'm all for it. Though I hope it's not putting you out too much; I already owe you big time!"
"I confess I've been sleeping well at night after trying to keep up with this ball of energy! But it's only a fair trade, isn't it?"
"What do you mean?"
"Me taking care of your son while you take care of mine. And you've been at it for much longer than me. I'd say I owe YOU!"
Olivia laughed loudly with delight at the thought, causing Barba to give her a curious look, obviously wishing he could hear both sides of the conversation. "I like to think we take care of each other," she said warmly. "Would you like to speak with him?"
A rapid exchange in Spanish with lots of huffing and eye rolling on Barba's part had Olivia grinning into her coffee. And when he signed off she couldn't help but goad him about how his mom obviously had his number to be able to get under his skin like she did. "But you know you love it."
"I love her," he clarified with a scowl. "At least most of the the time." But his eyes softened affectionately and Olivia was glad for him that, as much as Lucia might infuriate him, they had each other and cared so deeply. "I might as well apologise in advance about the fact that Noah is now calling my mother "Abuelita"; I heard him in the background."
"THAT'S what you were after her about?" She'd heard his side of the conversation, but without the context hadn't understood.
"She maintains that she was just following the 'family tree' up from 'Uncle Rafa' when she suggested it. She was in labour with me for over 27 hours and yet she still apparently thinks I was born yesterday."
Olivia laughed. "I don't care what he calls her. You know my penchant to create family names; we'd probably have graduated to 'Auntie Lucia' eventually anyway. If she prefers 'grandma', no matter her motivations, who am I to argue?"
Barba just smiled and shook his head.
The food arrived and they dug in with gusto, their appetites fueled by having waited so long to eat and from the exercise on the dance floor the night before.
"It means a lot to her, you know, that you let her take Noah," Barba offered after they'd spoken of Lucia a little more. "And to me too. I know it must have been hard for you after everything that's happened. And since you really don't know her that well."
"I considered changing my mind several times leading up to this trip," she confessed. "But I just kept reminding myself that I trust you to do what's best for Noah."
Barba was struck dumb by her simple, offhanded proclamation, to hear that her confidence wasn't in Lucia but in Barba himself making the decision that Noah would be safe in her care. He tried to distract from his reaction by taking a mouthful of food, but it was too little, too late.
"Who would have thought that vacation-Barba would be such a mushy old thing?" she said with a smirk. "Unless that was just ego you were trying to hide under scrambled eggs."
He glared at her and look a sip of water. "It's not my fault Vacation-Benson keeps pushing out this ridiculous sentimentality. Besides, maybe I've always been a 'mushy old thing', as you so lovingly describe it, and you're just so mean to me in real life you've failed to notice."
"Oh, I've noticed," she said, teasing in her voice and a fond expression on her face.
After a drawn-out brunch they visited the Guild Hall Museum, strolling through the exhibits before they headed to Montauk Point and from the lighthouse felt as though they were at the edge of the world. And on their drives between locations they listened to music from his old iPod and sang along.
It was well above freezing with sunny clear skies when they returned to Sagaponack, so Olivia had requested they walk on the beach. It was on their way to the shore that they'd discovered the hot tub just off the back of the house. And after following the instructions of the property manager to ensure it would be ready for their use that evening, they continued on their way.
The cold wind coming off the water was biting at times but worth it. Olivia just pulled her collar up tighter and putting on her gloves. The tide was on its way out and so they were walking on what had recently been the ocean floor, crunching shells beneath their shoes and stepping over rocks and seaweed.
They didn't say much, the silence filled by the sound of the waves. And when it occurred to Olivia how lovely it was to spend time with someone with whom silence could be so comfortable, it was she that got a bit mushy about it, looping her arm through his and keeping him close.
When they returned to the house, they shed their outerwear and brought their books to the sunroom, Olivia back in the swing and Barba in a chair, entertaining one another by reading out loud the cheesiest parts of the stories as they were encountered. "I notice you're going all 'cheese' and no 'sauce'," Barba pointed out at one point. "A little prudish for an SVU detective to have trouble sharing the sex scenes, isn't it?"
"I just didn't want to make you uncomfortable, Counselor," she assured him with a smile in her voice. "Though admittedly it's uncommon to use phrases like 'heaving bosom' and 'engorged manhood' in my squad briefings."
Barba barked out a laugh. "I think you made the right choice. I'm uncomfortable already."
They worked together on a simple dinner, opting once again to enjoy their meal from the couch in front of the TV. They stayed there long after they'd finished eating, happy to allow Netflix to keep advancing to the next episode of the program they'd chosen.
Eventually Barba glanced out the window and then at his watch. "The sun's going to set soon. Want to watch it from the hot tub?"
"If you're going to insist on my nudity, I'd rather wait until after dark if you don't mind," she joked. So they turned off all the lights in the house and watched the sun fall below the horizon from the swing sofa instead. They stayed there until long after last light.
Finally he spoke. "You're not falling asleep, are you?"
"Nope." She was wide awake.
"Just thinking, then?"
"Actually, not really." That wasn't quite true. She'd been thinking about the stars, how beautiful they were. The lights of the city never allowed for a view like this. She was being reminded of the vastness of the universe, and how small and inconsequential she really was. It was humbling. It was also comforting.
So yes, she was thinking. But not in the way he'd meant when he'd asked. She knew he was afraid her mind was already returning to real life, to the stress of her work and the responsibilities of her home. And she knew this more existential reflection would pass muster, so she didn't bother to clarify.
"And what about you? What deep thoughts have lulled you into such uncharacteristic quiet? Mushy ones, I suppose."
"Oh, you know. Football. Power tools. 'Heaving bosoms'."
"Well, that's about as un-mushy as it gets."
Really he'd been thinking about how he might broach the idea of staying an extra day, rehearsing different options in his mind. Their plan had been to drive home late tomorrow so Olivia would have a full day on Tuesday to transition back into real life and catch up on household tasks before returning to work. But this getaway had turned out so much more simple and uncomplicated and grounding than he could have hoped, and while he could try to tell himself it was for her benefit, he was also being selfish in wishing to extend their time for just a little longer.
And it was because of that selfishness that he couldn't bring himself to ask. They'd just have to enjoy the time they had left to the best of their abilities.
"Almost ready for the hot tub?"
"I find it suspicious that you jumped from 'heaving bosoms' to getting me naked."
He stood, knees cracking. "You seem really caught up on the nudity aspect of this experience. I'm guessing you've never enjoyed an outdoor hot tub on a cold barely-post-winter's night."
"Actually I have once before... but that time nudity was definitely an overriding focus."
Past sexual experiences were something they'd never shared about, and Barba was hoping to keep it that way so he didn't let the conversation linger there. "Well, get your mind out of the gutter, Lieutenant. I assure you my focus will be on the stars and not your 'bosoms', heaving or otherwise." He grabbed the rope of the swing and gave it a little tug as though he was about to upend her. "I'm going to go check to make sure everything's in working order and ready for us. The property manager said there should be robes folded in one of the linen closets if you want to try to find them."
About a half hour later they were robed and ready, the tub steaming and bubbling in invitation, two very full glasses of wine and a pile of towels placed within reach. "Why don't you go hop in, and once you're settled I'll join you?" Barba suggested, turning to face the house.
"Such a gentleman."
When she announced it was safe, he turned and slipped out of his robe so quickly she didn't have time to shield her eyes. "Hey! No fair!" she exclaimed when she realized he was wearing boxers.
"Problem?" he asked cheekily. "Perhaps because of your assertion that there's a big difference between 'mostly naked' and "actually naked'? I'd remind you that I never said I subscribe to that point of view."
She was having none of it. "Drop your pants, Counselor."
"Well, since you asked so nicely." He gestured for her to turn her head. "Would you mind?"
"What? If I've seen you mostly naked, what's the difference, right?"
He had to give her points for the clever turnabout. But when he answered with a slightly stronger, one-fingered gesture, she laughed and made a show of covering her eyes. "No peeking."
"Says the man I caught trying to get a look at my boobs at least twice in the last 45 seconds or so."
She was rewarded for her accusation with a splash in her direction as he sunk down into the water beside her.
As beautiful as the stars had been from the inside, it was nothing compared to being under them in the open air. And instead of getting emotional about it Olivia felt positively giddy. "Did I mention 'best vacation ever'?"
They talked and admired and drank and occasionally splashed until Barba thought to ask, "How long can we safely stay in here for? I feel like that's something we should have Googled."
"If they discover us cooked, hopefully they'll tell our loved ones we died relaxed and happy."
"I'll drink to that." They clinked their glasses and downed the rest of the wine.
But as they fell quiet and turned their attention back to the stars, Olivia found herself growing reflective, and the wine made her brave. "Hey, Rafa? You know, we still haven't really talked about what happened. With Drew."
He was caught off guard but still managed a quick response. "You bring this up now? While we're naked?" he asked dryly.
"Well, we can actually have the conversation when we're less naked, if you'd feel more comfortable," she replied, okay with him trying to lighten the mood. "I'm not trying to put a damper on things. And I know I should have asked a long time ago, but things have just been so…good."
He couldn't deny that. "So what's changed? Are things not 'good' anymore?"
"Don't be an idiot. You know things are great. This is great. This whole weekend – it's been just what I needed. But I feel like maybe talking about it might be what you need. Whether you'll admit it to me or not. Or to yourself." Their eyes met, and she could tell he was deep in thought. Then came a nearly imperceptible nod. "Good," she affirmed with a smile. "If you'd avert your eyes, I'll go… get less naked."
But as she shifted forward and lifted her hand from the water intending to find leverage to hoist herself up, he intercepted it and held it instead. "There's no hurry. We can be naked for a little while longer."
She didn't perceive it as stalling, guessing that he really just wanted some time to try to collect his thoughts in preparation. So she settled back again, dropping his hand but leaning slightly against him so that their arms were touching, a silent show of support.
Later when he got out of the shower she was waiting for him in his room, atop the covers but laying down on her back, her hands folded across her stomach, staring at the ceiling.
He climbed up beside her and unconsciously mirrored her position.
"So," she repeated.
"What do you want to know?'
"It's not what I want to know. This isn't about curiosity. I just..." She sighed, trying to order her thoughts. "I guess it's just, what do you need to say? Have you been talking to anyone?"
"No," he told her, not quite sheepish but perhaps realizing he should be. "I mean, not really. Not since my lawyer, since the trial."
He turned his head, looking at her critically. "Why are you sorry?"
"I should have forced the issue long before now."
"Hey, don't do that. Look at me." She did. "Olivia, you never needed to push. I know I can talk to you about anything."
"Then why haven't you?"
"I don't know. I just... I'm used to processing out loud and on paper. But now I've been stuck in my own head about it for so long I don't even know that I could really articulate what's going on."
"So process out loud. We've got all the time in the world. You'll find the words eventually. Just start talking."
And so he did.
He talked about the night it happened, standing over the child's hospital bed, seeing and feeling the mother's anguish. The split second decision. The aftermath. And after circling around it for awhile, he found himself admitting something he hadn't yet admitted fully to himself: his shame for not feeling guilty, or really even all that bothered by what he had done.
"I feel like I should be a wreck, you know? Like I should have fallen apart. But I truly believe that what happened was the moral, humane outcome. It's not something I've had to wrestle with. I've only TRIED to, because I felt like I should."
They were facing each other now, and Olivia studied his face. "But you are bothered by something."
"I'm bothered by the fact that I acted so rashly, without taking the time to weigh the consequences. I mean, I just as easily could have gone home that night, thought about it, and then gone back the next day and made the same choice. Or not. I mean, yes, I believe that it was the moral, humane outcome. But was it my place to bring it about? Was it my right? My responsibility?"
He may have been looking for her to provide an answer, but she said nothing, just waiting for him to continue.
"I would have had a hard time prosecuting someone else who did what I did, because I would understand the choice and believe it was ultimately the right one. But to have done it myself..." He looked away, his teeth gnawing on his lower lip. Then, "I could have ended my career, any chance of a career in the future. Jesus, I could have gone to PRISON, Olivia. What the hell was I thinking?"
This time he was looking for a response, one of agreement, perhaps one of absolution. What he got instead was a non-judgemental smile and a look of expectancy.
Looking back later, he would appreciate how this was so different than he'd seen her act with victims, where she would offer so much verbal affirmation, ask so many questions to help them open up. Her patience, her silence, was how she honoured him and his ability, his need, to work things out for himself.
He talked for awhile longer, having so much more to say than he thought he would. And when he had talked himself out, he didn't feel different, per say. Didn't feel better, really. What he felt was heard, and understood, and validated by that understanding. And now that he had brought his innermost feelings into the light, he felt like he was better equipped to face them in the days, weeks and months to come.
"Thank you," he said finally, simply.
Her grin was subtle yet somehow radiant as she brought a hand to rest against his cheek before she leaned in to seal the moment with a sweet, chaste, lingering kiss.
He couldn't help but smirk against her lips. "Stop trying to make out with me."
She scoffed, and the hand that had cradled his face so tenderly now squished him sideways into his pillow in retaliation. "In your dreams, Barba."
To which he replied in the flirtiest tone he had in his arsenal, "More often than you know."
And then they were both chuckling as she rolled away from him to switch off the light. There was a momentary pause, and then she lifted her body so she could push down the covers and get beneath them. He wordlessly followed suit, deeply grateful that she'd chosen not to leave him alone with his thoughts that night.
She settled on her side, facing away, but inched back toward him until her body pressed against his.
"Are you vying to get spooned, Lieutenant?"
"I thought this was a judgement-free zone. Or does that only apply to our reading material?"
"No judgement. Just looking for affirmative consent."
"Very socially responsible of you. By all means, spoon away."
Barba didn't need to be told twice. He slid one arm under her pillow and with the other drew her flush against him. Their legs tangled, and his hips cradled hers. As his face nuzzled into her shoulder, she couldn't - or didn't - fight a heavy, contented sigh.
And as he gave into sleep, which overtook him much more easily then he'd expected or felt he deserved, he held her tighter and hoped she'd still be there in the morning.