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Too Late

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Lieutenant Olivia Benson has been in the New York Supreme Courthouse so many times that she knew it like the back of her hand. She had archived in her brain every crack in the windows, every vein in the marble, where the benches creaked if you sat on them. She had seen hundreds of cases through to the end, wins and loses, deals and plea bargains alike, yet somehow, she always felt uneasy even entering the building. Even if they had a strong case with evidence, testimony, and even DNA, she always feared the defense’s tactics that would poison the witnesses, every sigh or eye-roll of a juror, and every minute of cross-examination and objections that felt like hours. Her anxiety doubled if she herself was testifying, as she knew that the defense’s tricks could sometimes throw her off, even after nearly twenty years on the job. She knew the courthouse, and yet she didn’t know it at all; each time she was there, the building was the same but the people were always different. She supposed that was obvious but in every case the testimonies, the verdicts, the jurors, and the judges were always varied and sometimes unexpected, foreign to even her.

The only constants she had in that courtroom were, of course, her detectives, and ADA Barba. Somehow his unwavering skill in both questioning the witnesses and maintaining his position kept her mind at ease. The way he shifted in his seat when he saw a weak point or loophole in the defense, the way he floated around the courtroom during the questioning, the way the confidence in his voice flowed with such an intensity it sometimes made her shiver – these were the things that kept her more anxious thoughts in the back of her mind, keeping her from twiddling her thumbs in nervous anticipation. In truth, she had done that quite a bit when Cabot and Novak had been her colleagues but there was something about Barba that calmed her nerves during the toughest of cases.

The case being tried today involved a pimp who had brutally killed three of his girls, one of whom was three months pregnant. It was one of the more grisly cases she’d faced that year; he’d raped, brutalized, tortured and killed each of these girls, showing little to no remorse. Worst of all, he had the nerve to plead not guilty due to insanity. This insanity plea was completely disproved and unfounded but the audacity of the defense lawyer to do this shocked her. Just to add on to the horror, all of the victims were under 15 years old. It wasn’t that she hadn’t seen the same things before but there was something especially disturbing about him. He tended to act out during the interrogation process, hurling evidence bags and clipboards at her and Rollins, even throwing a chair or two as well. After he was remanded to Rikers, he punched two of the wardens and beat one of his cellmates. He was the definition of anger issues, and on top of that he was being tried for murder. She had never felt truly in control when questioning him, which was extremely rare for her. He was the kind of sociopath that could not only disgust her but truly scare her. In 20 years, she had only seen a handful of those and he was especially disturbing.

Worst of all, he had sent men to threaten Barba throughout the entire case. Nothing ever came of the threats but she was still extremely on edge. He had been extremely cautious and jumpy for a good few months, as someone usually threatened him once a week. They always caught the perps but this time it seemed extremely suspicious and overall dangerous. She had even offered him a police presence at his apartment, which he’d respectfully, and rather stupidly she thought, declined. Now, however, the man was finally sentenced, and would be going away for a long time.

After hours of sitting quietly and waiting, the jury passed on a guilty verdict on three counts of murder one, three counts of rape one, and numerous other assault charges. She looked to Barba, who immediately shot her a victory grin and a wink, both of which she had become used to and rather fond of in the last few years. He quickly turned around to face the judge as he finished with the sentencing, and when the sound of the gavel echoed through the room, everyone shuffled around and began congratulating each other. Olivia smirked when she saw the defeat on the face of the man’s defense attorney.

Olivia walked up to Barba and patted his shoulder as he packed his briefcase. “Congratulations,” she said, giving him a sweet smile. In the corner of her eye, she watched the defendant being lifted out of his chair and taken into custody once again. Something about the way he turned to look at Barba made her shiver.

“Oh, don’t act so humble, this victory was all you,” he replied, smiling right back. He was always in a wonderful mood after he won a case and this day was no exception. In fact, he may have been especially proud that he’d put that scumbag in jail. “You provided the testimony that won the case. Good on you for getting the witness to talk.”

Olivia opened her mouth to respond but before she could she heard a loud gasp behind her. She instinctively turned around to see that Jameson, the pimp, had grabbed one of the officer’s guns in a struggle to free himself from his grip. He was a strong man, managing to knock the officer out with one hit before a shot rang out in the courtroom. The officer was dead before he hit the ground. He shot a few more times, dropping many officers and other personnel with guns. He found every target in the room, the bastard, Olivia thought. She realized that Rollins, who had accompanied her to the trial, had been hit as well. The courtroom went into a blind panic, everyone shuffling to get out, screaming in pure terror. Jameson turned and looked her directly in the eyes with his own that sparked with rage, pointing the gun in her direction. Olivia’s first instinct was to grab Barba and pull him down behind the prosecution bench, as she knew that bullet was meant for him, and she shielded him with her body and flipped the table to shield them both. She heard a shot ring out once again, hearing the bullet whiz by above her. She pulled her gun out of her waistband and put her back to the table, her breathing becoming more and more shaky as her brain caught up with her racing heartbeat. She turned to Barba, who was bracing himself against the table and looking to her.

“You okay, Rafael?” she breathed.

“Sure,” he replied, swallowing thickly and loosening his tie a bit. She could tell he knew Jameson’s intention was to kill him, not that officer, and this wasn’t a man who backed down. Barba was more than frightened, and rightfully so. Jameson was a cold-blooded psychopath and they both knew he wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet in both of their heads. Some of the screams from the courtroom had died down, she assumed that many had gotten out safely.

“Liv?”

Olivia turned to face Rafael, who she noticed was breathing fast and heavily. She sighed sadly as she realized his panic, then regained her composure, no matter difficult it was. “Mm?”

“He’s after me. Drop your gun. He’s just going to keep shooting unless I give myself up.”

Olivia opened her mouth in shock and scoffed at him. “Is this your way of trying to be heroic? You can’t be telling me that, absolutely not,” she argued, shaking her head firmly. “I won’t let that happen. You must be really fucking stupid if you think –”

“I know,” he interjected, running a hand through his hair. Jameson was shouting incoherently as another shot rang out, making Barba jump, gasping through his teeth. Olivia heard a another scream, closing her eyes as Barba continued. “What do we do?” he sighed, terror filling his voice.

Olivia thought for a moment, mind racing as she searched for a solution, tightening her shaking grip on her pistol, staring at the barrel of it to concentrate. The first option was to stand and shoot but that was unnecessarily dangerous; she didn’t know where he was in the courtroom, and she would likely only have a second to shoot. He had a high probability of getting her first. She sighed as she thought of her second option, talking. She’d always been good with hostage negotiation and she’d seen this man’s psyche inside and out, though he usually had an advantage over her in some way, whether it be psychologically, physically, or, in this case, both. She knew that was the easiest option and she had to act fast. She turned to Barba and grabbed one of his shoulders. “Don’t move,” she instructed him, quickly letting go to clutch her pistol in both hands.

She first shouted to Rollins, who she could now hear whimpering behind the bench. “Rollins? Where are you hit?”

There was no response, making Olivia think she had gone into shock. She put her head in one hand, then composed herself as she began to speak.

She turned her head to the right and took a breath. “Jameson? It’s Detective Benson – “

“I know who you are, bitch!” he spat in reply, and she heard the gun click. “You’re the one who got me sentenced for life because you got that stupid whore to talk!”

“Jameson, listen to me,” she replied, her voice shaking. “You know how this will end, you know how this goes. You have to stop this. I will shoot you, you know I will.”

“No you won’t, coward bitch,” he snarled. “If you stand, I’ll shoot you before you can blink. But it’s not you I want.”

Olivia’s heart sank to her stomach at that confirmation of her fear. She lowered her gun, laying her head against the table. She was completely out of her depth here; she had no idea how to deal with him, she realized. In the interrogation room, he had completely played her. Now she wasn’t sure how the hell she could get out of this. “You know I can’t do that,” she said, knowing exactly what he meant. “Surrender yourself. There’s no way out of this. If you shoot me, or Barba, someone will kill you. I promise you there’s backup on the way – “

“SHUT UP!” he growled, firing a warning shot into the air. “Don’t try that shit with me. You love that little boy of yours, huh? I got somebody on his babysitter’s trail right now. You shoot me, he dies.”

Olivia gasped quietly and her blood boiled as she thought of the man who was supposedly tracking her son. She should have known he’d go after something she loved, and she gritted her teeth in both anger and total fear. She closed her eyes and sighed. “Jameson, it doesn’t matter right now. All that matters is you’re not getting out of here alive if you don’t put the damn gun down.” Finally, she decided that enough was enough. She took a deep breath before slowly letting it out, she looked towards Rafael. As they had both done when they had both thought his career was over, she put her hand over her heart smiling weakly. She felt her throat catch as he returned the gesture with widened eyes.

“Liv, don’t,” he whispered.

Without replying, Olivia jumped up and flipped around, luckily able to locate Jameson and point the gun directly at him. Jameson reacted, but he didn’t shoot. She raised an eyebrow her heart sinking to her stomach, why wasn’t he shooting? He smiled cynically, a smile she hadn’t seen since Lewis. He laughed slightly and put his other hand on his pistol.

“Make the lawyer stand up,” he said.

“Not gonna happen.” She swallowed thickly and ran her thumb along the side of her pistol.

“If he doesn’t stand up, I will shoot everyone in this goddamn room right now.”

“No you won’t, because I’ll shoot you before you can get a shot out.” She didn’t know why she hadn’t shot him yet. Her brain was screaming at her to shoot, but she just...didn’t. He had gotten to her.

“Really? No, I don’t think so,” he said, immediately pulling the trigger.

The bullet hit Olivia’s arm. She dropped the pistol and it hit the edge of the table, falling to the side of them. She cried out in pain dropping to the ground, hitting her head on the table and slumping down where she’d been before. The initial pain was a burning, white hot sensation that coursed through every vein her arm. “Fuck!” she shouted, holding her arm. She could feel her blood spilling in between the cracks of her fingers, she gritted her teeth in pain. She kicked herself mentally for allowing this to happen, she‘d been on the job for 20 years and she let a perp scare her enough that she didn’t shoot.

Barba took off his tie immediately wrapping it around Olivia’s arm, tight. Olivia groaned in pain at the movement of her arm, she looked at Barba, whose eyes glowed with anger.

“Barba,” she said, breathing heavily. “Don’t give yourself up.”

“I already have,” he said. “I did that when I took this case.” He turned around and stood up, putting his hands up in the air. She heard Jameson laugh, and she immediately threw herself in front of him, without thinking. She knew he would shoot, Barba wasn’t armed. She couldn’t let that happen, she couldn’t let Barba get hurt, not him. Protect and serve, she reminded herself, at any cost.

She felt the bullet as soon as it broke through the skin below her ribcage. It wasn’t the sharp, excruciating pain she expected. It was a hot, searing pain through her left side, and she didn’t scream or make a single sound. She simply fell, hitting the ground hard, crushing one of the legs of the table underneath her. As time passed, the pain grew, it started to override her senses. She was vaguely aware of someone saying her name but she could barely hear her own breathing. She was aware of another shot, another scream, and then dead silence.

“Target down! Go, go, go!”

She heard doors opening, men rushing in, the echo of sirens. The backup was too late. She was aware of the pain spreading through her body, aware of the warmth of the blood pouring rapidly out of her, wincing and groaning as it intensified.

“Liv. Liv!”

Barba’s voice rang in her ears like a dissonant bell and she opened her eyes slightly. Everything rushed to her in a blinding wave and she recognized his face leaning over her.

“Rafael, get the hell out of here…help Rollins…”

“No, Liv, listen you need to stay with me. Do you hear me? You took a bullet for me, I’m not leaving you. I’m not.” From what she could tell, he was horrified. There were tears in his eyes and he was directing police officers and demanding a bus. She had seen him this authoritative in court before but never this frightened and panicked. He looked broken, afraid, helpless - his eyes were filled with something she couldn’t place, something deeper than she’d ever seen in him before.

Olivia fought to keep her eyes open and blinked away tears, feeling one of his arms wrap around her back and put her on his knees, the other pressed to the bullet wound. She whined at the pressure before looking up at him, dazed. Her head lolled towards him and she opened her mouth to speak but she choked on her words. She could barely breathe and it was becoming increasingly difficult speak. The taste of blood sat in the back of her throat. She smiled sadly looking into his eyes, trying to focus on their deep shade of blue. She wanted to memorize it, stormy but vibrant, and, in this moment, brimming with fear and panic. “Barba…we may have seen our last case,” she managed, coughing slightly the taste of blood sitting on her tongue. “I can’t…win this one…”

“Yes you can, Liv,” he nearly shouted, pressing harder on her ribs. She winced visibly but relaxed back into his arms. “Jesus Christ don’t give up on me! You’re the strongest detective I’ve ever known and you sure as hell wouldn’t let this stop you! You know that! C’mon Liv, look at me…”

She did just that, raising her good arm to intertwine her fingers with the hand pressed against her. “Listen to me…you’ve done so much…for me…thank you, Rafael…”

“You’ve done everything,” he replied, shaking his head. “I’ve just used what you’ve provided me with. You’re the geniuses behind it, you and your squad.”

“Not the cases,” she tried to laugh, though it turned into a cough. Once she’d recovered, she spoke again. “My life. By being…my friend.” She took a moment to breathe and focus on staying awake. “By being someone I trusted…I admire you, Rafael Barba,” she breathed, squeezing his hand.

His face twisted into something she could only describe as complete defeat, before quickly changing back to fear and panic. “Liv do not give up on me,” he said, noticing her eyes closing. “Liv…Liv!”

Olivia was barely aware of anything at that point. She heard Barba’s voice, the EMTs coming in with their gurneys, but everything became hazy. She couldn’t feel pain, her body becoming numb. She vaguely remembered being lifted onto a gurney and rushed out of the courthouse, feeling the warmth of the sunlight hitting her skin. She heard Barba barking orders that she couldn’t make out, except for one.

“That’s Olivia Benson, the Lieutenant of the 16th precinct and Special Victims Unit. For the love of God, keep her alive!”

Barba gripped Olivia's hand tightly, tears rushing down his face as he sat by her side in the ambulance. “Olivia,” he spoke, “I can’t lose you...Not now, not ever...I love you. Don’t you dare let go, te amo…”