Of everything gained through their living arrangement, not the least of which being free childcare, the growing feeling of normalcy was what Olivia had come to appreciate the most. It wasn't that she never missed having her own space and being the one to make all the decisions about what happened in that space. But times of frustration and squabbling and tripping over each other had become normalized, too. This was just life now, and she felt settled and grounded by it.
Yes, they were essentially just playing house, to a ridiculous degree that in any other situation would never have stood; their collective pride and propriety wouldn't have allowed for it. But much could be forgiven -- of themselves and each other -- in the context of the global pandemic raging outside.
Barba's only wish beyond a vaccine or a miracle was that they could shut her work out more often and allow her to enjoy the normalcy as much as he was. But even when he went out of his way to make that happen, like the night he'd insisted he would act as her secretary so she could enjoy a bath without her cell in reach, it very rarely went as hoped.
Olivia's phone buzzed four times in quick succession - text notifications, Barba recognized - and then the vibration changed as a call came in. So Barba checked it and saw all the contacts were from what appeared to be a frantic rookie ADA. When it rang again in his hand he answered. "What's up, Carisi?"
"Barba? I uh - I was looking for the Captain."
"Obviously, since you called her phone. Is this really life or death, or something that can wait an hour until she gets out of the tub?"
"Um... yeah, it really can't wait."
He sighed. "Fine, give me a minute."
Carisi could hear a rustling sound, what he assumed was the phone being held against Barba's shirt while he walked, and then muted voices. "Liv? Phone for you. Apparently the world is ending because your ADA says it can't wait." "The door's unlocked." Carisi was being overloaded with new information.
Liv had pulled the shower curtain part way closed so Barba could see her face and shoulder but nothing else. "Can you stay?" she requested softly as she took the phone from him.
"Yeah, sure," he replied, curious but also amused that Liv showed no signs that she planned to have this bath cut short whether she had to work or not.
"Carisi, I'm going to put you on speaker. Barba might have some insight."
So Barba sat cross legged on the bathmat, his back leaning against the side of the tub. He did have a few things to add and he was glad to be helpful, but it was mostly Olivia who got his young "protege" sorted out. After she hung up, he reached back and she handed him the phone. But before he could move to stand, her fingers were running through his hair, evaluating. "You need a haircut."
"We all need haircuts." Noah's already unruly curls were becoming almost clownishly long, though when he didn't have it tied back they framed his face so cutely and were so soft to the touch that neither adult was too concerned. Olivia just needed to get rid of some split ends and dead weight. Barba was heading into 70s glam rock territory. "I have scissors in my clipper kit if you're feeling ambitious."
"That's a brave suggestion," Olivia remarked evenly.
"It's just hair. And you're the one who has to look at it, so I figure you'll be extra motivated to do a good job so you won't be face to face with your failure all day."
"You'd probably look rakish in a beanie, if it came to that." She shifted a bit so she could reach him with both hands, using her wet fingers to lengthen a strand and then make an imaginary cut. "We should do it," she announced suddenly. "Right now before I lose my nerve."
"You're not scared are you, Mister "It's Just Hair"? Go get a chair from the kitchen while I get out of the tub. We can do it in here."
"You're so bossy."
"You love it. Scoot."
He dawdled a bit with shutting things down for the night, letting her know his plans so she wouldn't feel rushed. By the time he returned with the chair as ordered and placed it in the middle of the room, she was dressed and sitting on the counter, focused on the iPad she'd retrieved from his bedside table. He picked the bathmat off the floor and hung it over the shower rod before finding the scissors and peeling off his shirt. "We doing this or not, woman? Quit scrolling and get over here."
"For your information, I'm looking for a tutorial, because I literally have no idea where to start."
"Please tell me you're looking on YouTube and not TikTok."
"Reddit," she admitted.
"I'm doomed." But he was still game, and was happy to let her find some guidance, regardless of the source. "Your hair is still wet, so why don't you keep searching and let me give this a whirl." She agreed distractedly and assumed the position. "I don't know how to layer," he warned her as he draped a towel around her shoulders. "I mean, I have some idea of the principle, but I'm fairly certain you don't want me to try."
"It's not necessary. Just take a couple of inches off in some semblance of a straight line and I'll be happy."
Once Olivia had selected what she felt would be a helpful guide, which DID end up being from YouTube, she eventually checked back in. "How's it going?"
But her attention was suddenly elsewhere and she didn't quite take in his reply. While she'd certainly seen him shirtless before, having his bare torso so close to her and available for examination as he measured out her long bangs was a new experience.
Noah had been watching lots of videos of kids around his age dancing, and one of his favourite channels was of a brother and sister who were dancers and gymnasts, and who both had incredibly toned stomachs to go along with their core strength. Noah had begun to idolize the boy, who was only a few years his senior, and had asked Barba if he could start doing targeted exercises during their "gym classes" that would help him build his own core. And of course he wanted Barba to do it with him.
Barba wasn't opposed. For years he'd had a habit of doing planks, crunches, and pushups before his morning shower. It was only the amount of cardio he was doing during any particular season of his adulthood that dictated whether the muscles of his arms, shoulders, chest and stomach were on display or covered by a layer of flab. But their cross-country treadmill relay and participating in Noah's quest for a stronger core, along with him being home and having the time to work with Noah on cooking healthy food most of the time, had trimmed him down considerably.
Olivia had watched and at times participated in their fitness efforts and benefited from the better diet, to modest outward results. But she'd definitely noticed the the changes in Barba, and while she'd always found him fun to look at, especially in his snappy suits, she'd found herself appreciating his physique more consciously these days.
"I think you might beat Noah to that six pack," she remarked.
"Your kid is the best personal trainer I've ever had; he gets all the credit." He paused to give a critical eye to the hair framing her face, deciding things weren't quite even and bracing to try again. "To be clear, I thought I was going first and it would be easier for cleanup if I wasn't wearing a shirt."
"I'm not judging. Or complaining."
"I'm feeling equal parts flattered and objectified... and I don't particularly mind either." He made a cut, and then another, and then stood back again to compare. It appeared to be a success. "However I'm well aware that being cooped up all this time you've been lacking in scenery. I'm going to take your reviews with a grain of salt considering I'm the only show in town."
There might have been a salt-and-pepper joke to be thrown in, as along with his abs the grey in his hair and beard had also become more pronounced. But that too would have ended up complementary because they both knew how well it suited him. And she could tell by the faint smirk on his face that his ego had already been sufficiently stoked.
"Okay, I think I'm done. Let me go grab the broom while you survey the damage and see if there's anything you want me to fix up."
She spotted a few jagged strands which he promptly took care of before receiving her stamp of approval and her thanks.
Now with Barba finally in the hot seat, Olivia took a long time with a spray bottle wetting his hair, combing, parting, re-parting.
"I know you're stalling. Honestly, Liv, it'll grow back. Just have at it."
"Okay. You asked for it." She leaned over and pressed play on the video she had queued up.
She was glad Barba was positioned too low to have a view of himself the mirror, though he was at just the right height to see the intense concentration on her face and the occasional grimace when she wasn't immediately happy with her work.
"Are you SURE you want me to do this?" she asked once. It was one of the only times she spoke during the whole ordeal.
"It seems a little late to be asking that now," he pointed out, gesturing to the floor already littered with her completed efforts.
The tutorial was only about 20 minutes long, but it was often paused and parts replayed. So it was almost 45 minutes later when she finally gave up. "Let me dry it for you," she insisted since the video had suggested it. "I want to see if it can be salvaged."
He allowed it because his verbal reassurances to that point had not been helpful. He knew she needed to see the finished product, no matter what it looked like.
In the end, it wasn't that bad. It DEFINITELY could have been worse. He was actually pretty impressed, though she didn't believe it when he expressed that to her. After shooing her off from making too many excessive corrections, he offered to use the clippers himself to clean up around his neck, but instead ended up walking her through it.
"I'll clean up," he told her when she finally felt satisfied enough to stop.
"You need to clean yourself up," she reminded him, "or you'll just keep dropping hair everywhere. Why don't you hop in the shower to rinse off?"
"Yes, ma'am." He slipped off the pajama pants he was wearing without ceremony, giving them a shake before tossing them in the laundry hamper. Then he adjusted the height of the shower head so his hair wouldn't get wet again before turning on the water and testing the temperature. With a quick peek to make sure that Olivia wasn't at an angle that would afford her a view too scandalous, he divested himself of his black boxer briefs and stepped under the water and out of her view.
Olivia had caught a glimpse of his naked behind in the mirror, and acknowledged to herself that he was even more fun to look at unclothed than clothed, which was saying a lot. But she also acknowledged that while her lack of experience had made it impossible to enjoy the act of cutting his hair, the domesticity that surrounded everything that night had been lovely, and more than worth the stress.
She was still in the process of putting the bathroom to rights when the water abruptly turned off. "Can you pass me a towel?"
Olivia placed one in the hand that was reaching around the shower curtain. He emerged soon with the towel tied around his waist, and she immediately moved into his space and started fluffing and smoothing his hair. "I wish I could say this wasn't my best work, but I don't think I'm cut out to be a stylist. I'll understand if you don't want to leave me a tip."
"Hey, I'm happy. I feel 10 pounds lighter and I look - " he paused and glance in the mirror - "well, not really younger. We may have to graduate you to colouring before I go completely grey."
"Home colours are much more in my wheelhouse."
"Well, I bet cutting will be much easier next time."
And though outwardly she cringed at the thought, inwardly she was unbothered by the idea that they may have to continuing playing house long enough for him to need another haircut. More than unbothered; she was happy, so happy that she was compelled to hug his damp and half naked body tightly - confusing and delighting him - before she bid him goodnight.