On day 23 of their cohabitation, Barba was still sporting a full beard, but it hadn't yet reached Tom Hanks/Castaway status. Communication between them was improving, but was far from perfected. They'd already experienced the snafu with his "vacation", and she was still wary to participate in putting groceries away after his initial chastisement. Olivia had admitted her loneliness but had yet to voice her insecurities about the life she had built for Noah. There had been no dancing, and certainly no kissing: On day 23, Barba never would have allowed himself to be unguarded enough to initiate, and Olivia would still have been too in her head to reciprocate.
They couldn't have known that day 23 was still very early in the pandemic and their living arrangement. And they couldn't have known that day 23 would be a turning point that would make the later days and weeks and months easier, better, deeper and more intimate.
Day 23 had been for Olivia so full of scheduled meetings and remote press appearances that she'd made the decision to drive the rental car back to her own apartment. She said it was because she didn't want Barba and Noah to have to worry about being quiet or interrupting her, but she was also by that point hungry for a change of scenery.
She'd finished with her work responsibilities by 6, but had taken some extra time to deal (very carefully) with her mail, clean out the fridge of the few things she had left behind that were perishable, and gather some books, toys and clothes to take back with her. She also just spent some time in quiet reflection, letting the silence around her and the feeling of "home" chip away at some of the armor she'd built around herself in her attempt to keep things together for the sake of her son and her own pride.
It was after 8 p.m. when she finally returned, her armor more or less back in place, and it didn't surprise her when Barba greeted her from the couch with a bemused expression. She knew her expression must look very similar, as she'd made the mistake of turning on the radio for the drive home.
"I see you got started without me," she accused, referring to the drink in his hand.
"I'll take a break so you can catch up."
"Good." She took his glass from him and downed it in a gulp, the scotch burning her throat and making her eyes water. "You'll have to get a new glass now, in case I just gave this one the plague."
"No worries. I'll just shine a "very powerful light" up my ass; I'm sure that'll do the trick."
Day 23 was the day that particular bit of sound medical advice out of the White House had dominated the news cycle and they had both waited to watch it in its entirety so they could "enjoy" it together, along with the other news conferences they'd been putting off consuming until Barba had been able to arrange for more wine to be delivered. The decision to delay because alcohol was necessary for any attempt to make Trump's "word salad" palatable enough to keep them from choking on it was really a double-sided excuse: Barba's way of recognizing that Olivia needed a break from the news, and Olivia's concession that Barba needed the release valve of at least occasional tandem wallowing in what was going on outside these walls.
"I need to change. And shower. And maybe throw some things." But her intentions threatened to be derailed by the sound of Noah calling for her.
"He's in my room. I'll go," Barba told her. "You get out of your Corona-clothes and get cleaned up. But don't throw things without me."
"I make no promises."
Noah didn't seem to need anything, and was happy with the explanation that his mother was in the shower. Barba refused the request for a story, but laid down next to him and allowed the boy, still half asleep, to climb on top of him and settle there, his head tucked under Barba's chin. And during the time it took for Liv to shower and change and NOT throw things, Barba had to admit that the weight and steady breathing of the sleeping child made him feel just a little better. He was kind of disappointed when she appeared in the doorway, hair dripping onto a long nightshirt - an old T-shirt of his - that almost totally obscured the shorts she was wearing from view, and gestured that he should join her back in the living room.
They started at the Federal level, which led to them bitching and complaining about everything that had gone wrong and all the people that had screwed the pooch so very thoroughly, and throwing up their hands in absolute disbelief over the utter incompetence which was on display in new and troubling ways. Then a quick catch up for the city, to which they gave mixed reviews. Then to the State level, leading them to toast their Governor for what appeared to be a solid grasp of the situation and his reasonable attempts at a response.
At some point on the home stretch Olivia had noticed Barba digging into the muscles of his neck with his fingers, and had patted the place in front of her in an offer to take up the task.
"You don't have to." The fact that he hesitated at all, that he didn't want to bother her, burden her, was very much par for the course leading up to day 23.
The words she held herself back from saying - "It's the least I can do" - were equally par for the course, as she was still in the habit of trying to find ways to start balancing the ledger. Instead she just said "Come on" in an authoritative voice, and that was enough to see him sitting cross legged on the floor as she alternated her efforts between his neck and shoulders.
Finally, she said, "I can't take any more of the news today, and I'd say you shouldn't either based on how tense you are. Why don't we move to the bedroom so I can do this properly?"
A snarky comment about the double entendre died in this throat; since she'd moved in, there had been an unspoken moratorium on "flirty". "Only if you let me return the favour," he replied instead.
She wasn't going to say no to that; she knew if she did, he wouldn't allow her to continue. Well, maybe that wasn't the ONLY reason.
"Shirt off," she called after him as she detoured into the washroom to find some lotion. He obeyed immediately before flopping facedown with his head at the foot of her bed so she could face the TV while she worked. He was queuing up the show they'd started recently when she joined him, straddling him without announcement, resting her weight on his thighs. Then starting low, she did a long sweep with both hands up either side of his spine to his shoulders, then down each arm.
"Too much? I can go easier."
"Don't you dare."
It was nice to be able to touch him like this, she reflected. It wasn't that they didn't touch or weren't comfortable touching. They did and they were. It was true that they touched less now that they lived together, and she hadn't done much soul searching about why that might be. But back when they worked together, even in public, it was nothing for a hand to brush or clasp a shoulder, an arm, to guide from the small of a back, to wrap around an elbow to redirect. And in private they had always been in and out of each other's personal space without thought. Casual. Comfortable.
Outside of work, especially after his resignation, they were more demonstrative though generally more deliberate, using their physical interactions to make a statement, to offer comfort or solace or thanks or congratulations, to bring closure to particularly heavy moments between them. They'd even shared a bed more than once. But this seemed different to her, somehow more intimate. And she liked it a lot, liked the way it made her feel trusted and close. She also liked the way his smooth skin felt under her fingers, but that may have simply been the heady combination of wine and scotch.
Barba's reflections were less organized. He was just trying not to drool or make obscene noises.
When the first episode was over he found the inner fortitude to insist that they switch despite HER insistence that it wasn't necessary, that she could have her turn another night. But the speed and apparent lack of modesty with which she peeled off her shirt when she eventually relented was evidence that she hadn't really needed much convincing. "Where do you want me?"
With a beautiful, half-naked woman on a bed with him sporting such an eager expression, this time he couldn't help the joke: "Oh, I can think of a few positions if you're really open to suggestions."
"And... now you've made this gross. Thanks for that." But she was smiling as she allowed herself to be moved into place, using some pillows to prop herself comfortably before settling on her stomach. He unclasped her bra and allowed it to fall open, gently pushing the straps down her shoulders.
"How much pressure do you want?"
"You can't hurt me. Do your worst."
He was really good at this. "I've had some experience," he revealed cryptically when she drew attention to his obvious skill, but didn't elaborate. "Anywhere other than your back you want me to focus on?"
"Oh, I didn't know there was a "full-service" option."
"Now who's making it gross? If you're expecting a happy ending you'll need to buy me dinner first."
"I'll be happier if this DOESN'T end, thank you very much. But to answer your earlier question, I'll let you be creative. I trust you."
He moved down to her legs, stopping to focus anywhere that drew an audible response from her. "We're going to have to start buying more lotion," he remarked conversationally.
The idea that he apparently saw this as a repeatable activity made her almost giddy as his thumbs attacked the arch of her left foot. "We could use baby oil. We'd just need to put down towels or an old sheet or something."
"Do you HAVE baby oil?"
"Probably not here."
"Well then, we might as well just get massage oil."
"Not sure if that's something we can add to our grocery order."
"Baby oil it is." The episode ended, but Barba let it continue to the next and he kept going as well.
"You can stop," she told him.
"Do you want me to stop?"
"Well... no. But you must be getting tired."
"I've got strong thumbs; I can go for awhile. My legs, however, are another story." He'd shifted positions several times to save his knees, but he would soon need a more long-term solution.
"Let's stop then."
"No, I have a plan." He re-clasped her bra, then moved to the head of the bed and used pillows to make himself comfortable against the headboard, stretching his legs out in front of him slightly splayed. "Flip over and come lay up here."
She wasn't sure what he had in mind, but she hadn't been lying before -- she definitely trusted him. And even if there was any doubt of that, she was so blissed out she might have made allowances anyway. She used the nightshirt to cover her stomach but resisted the instinct to pull it higher, not wanting to discourage any potential source of relaxation.
He adjusted her ponytail so she could lay comfortably without a pillow, and when she was settled his fingers slid under her shoulders and then slowly ran up the back of her neck.
Olivia heard a proper curse word escape her lips before she even perceived the thought forming. But his hands didn't stop. Wave after wave of pleasure chasing pain, of stress and tension releasing from her muscles. And she was so focused on the sensations that for the first time in a long time she forgot about work, forgot about viruses and pandemics and politics, and was just able to enjoy the present moment.
Eventually his fingers and thumbs DID start to cramp up, but with about 10 minutes left of their show he transitioned to long, absent strokes with his palms, spreading lotion down her arms to her fingers, running his hands along her clavicle, and even lower.
It wasn't until his fingers brushed the top of her bra cup that his eyes darted from the TV screen; he'd been focused on the show but also wanting to make concessions to her modesty. He'd meant to just reorient, to determine his boundaries, but when he caught sight of the cigarette burn peeking out from the fabric he couldn't help himself, and did another sweep so his fingers could run over it, as though to sooth the long-healed skin.
Then he felt bad, assuming he must be drawing her attention to earlier trauma; he remembered the pictures at the trial, remembered her vivid descriptions of what William Lewis had done to her. But when he met her eyes to check in he realized that what he thought he saw there wasn't what he expected. And along with the relief that she hadn't noticed his focus, hadn't made the same connections, it brought a full, smug grin to his face. "Whoops. Sorry, partner. Didn't mean to be quite so handsy."
She crossed her arms over her chest, both to now cover the offending area and also to support her scowl. "I refuse to be shamed for having one stray lustful thought while an attractive shirtless man was touching my breasts."
"Just ONE stray lustful thought?"
"Shut up." She sat up and quickly pulled on her shirt before turning to face him.
Her hair was a mess, her cheeks were flushed, her eyes were bright, and her scowl was formidable. AND she smelled like strawberry lotion. Barba liked all of these things very much. Barba who had indulged on more scotch than usual liked these things a little TOO much. So when she added a raised eyebrow as she tried to read his expression, he was reaching for HIS shirt, and mumbling "Away from me, vile temptress" with a fake scowl of his own as he slid off the bed.
"Going somewhere, Barba?" She was teasing now, and that was a good sign. A sign of no harm done.
"You bet am I. Though to be clear I am bursting with manly pride right now to have gotten you all hot and bothered. You should just count your lucky stars that there's no way I'd risk messing this - " he gestured between them - "up for something as fleeting as an orgasm. Though to be clear..." He playfully leaned close to her and his voice dropped half an octave at least. "...I would have given you several, and they would have been sensational."
"Oh, my God." She was laughing now, a full belly laugh that might have been the most beautiful sound that he'd ever heard because of what it represented.
"I'll keep Noah with me tonight, so you can have your room to yourself to take care of - " He made a broad motion toward her. "- whatever you need to take care of."
"Barba!" she scolded, laughing all the more.
"I'll see you in the morning, Liv." And he smartly got the hell out of Dodge.
Just after 7:30 a.m., when he knew she usually be getting up, he let himself into her room after a quick knock, looking significantly less hungover than she felt. Closing the door behind him, he set a glass of water and a bottle of pain reliever on the bedside table before pulling up the desk chair and taking a seat. His pleased-with-himself smirk was bordering on obnoxious, but that might have been more a product of her headache. "So, Captain. Did you manage to have a fun night after I went to bed?"
Yes, things had definitely changed. If it had been day 22, she might have blushed. But it was now day 24, and she found she could take it just as easily as she could dish it out. Which she did. "Oh, you know. It wasn't quite "sensational", but it was alright."
They shared a chuckle.
"I'd thank you for not taking advantage of my momentary alcohol-fueled lapse if I thought it was necessary," she continued.
"And I'd thank you for not breaking my fingers over touching your breasts if I thought THAT was necessary. You feeling like breakfast?"
"I'm feeling like I got hit in the head with a plank. I think I'll be staying away from scotch for the near AND far future."
"More for me, then. Lightweight." But his smile was kind, compassionate. "Take a pill and have a lay-in. I'll keep Noah out of here until you're feeling better. What time do you have to work?"
"My first scheduled meeting isn't until 10. I might try to sleep a bit longer."
"I think that sounds like a splendid idea. Want me to take your phone so I can screen your calls?"
She was tempted, but ultimately declined.
"Suit yourself," he relented as he got up to leave. "Then you can text if you need anything."
"Thanks." A pause. "Hey, Rafa," she called after him as he reached for the doorknob.
He stopped and turned. "Yeah?"
"'Several' orgasms'?" she quoted.
"To start," he confirmed with a wink. And her laughter followed him as he went out into day 24, unaware of just how much things would begin to change between them.