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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…”

Chapter Text

Rafael paced the hospital waiting room, drowning out the chatter and murmured concerns of Liv’s squad in favor of his own swirling thoughts. Fin and Carisi were with him, and Fin had tried in vain to comfort Carisi while Rollins was in surgery. He had vaguely heard something about her being hit in the stomach, and from what he could tell in his fear-addled state, Carisi seemed almost paler than he was. Rafael turned his thoughts back to Olivia, sitting down and putting his head in his hands. He let out a long sigh, looking at his watch for the third time in the last minute.

“She’s been in surgery for 3 hours,” he nearly barked, resting his elbows on his knees and hanging his head. “She and Rollins have both been in there for 3 hours. When is there going to be any sort of update?”

“Soon, Barba,” Fin replied, sitting next to him and putting a hand on his shoulder gently. “You aren’t in the courtroom now. The doctors run this place, you can’t talk your way out of this. We’re all worried.” He looked at him and squinted. “We’re all worried, but you’re acting awful strange. You good?”

“No I am not good,” he snapped, turning to face Fin. Fin jumped back slightly and Rafael’s voice softened as he spoke again. “I’m sorry. I’m not in a good state of mind right now.”

“It’s okay,” Fin muttered, leaning back in. “None of us are. Listen, I can’t imagine what it was like in there. But we gotta be strong for Liv’s sake. Noah’s asking where his mommy is, and we have to be strong for him too. She’ll be okay, Counselor. She’s Liv; she’s survived worse. I’m convinced she’s got nine lives.”

Rafael curled his hands into fists and closed his eyes as he remembered the shooting. The sounds of whizzing bullets, the screams, the sound of Olivia hitting the marble floor and the sight of her blood pooled around her. She was barely breathing as they got onto the ambulance, and her heart stopped once. She was resuscitated in moments, but he had nearly broken into pieces on that bus. She was in and out of consciousness after that, sometimes squeezing his hand weakly, sometimes opening her mouth to speak and failing. All he could hear was his own voice begging her to hold on, begging her to keep breathing, begging her to stay with him, because he loved her, he couldn’t lose her, Noah couldn’t lose her, not now, not when she had so much life left in her…

His eyes opened and he gasped sharply as he felt Fin’s hand on his shoulder again. “Counselor? Do you need a water, anything? You’re sweatin’ and shakin’ pretty bad.”

“I’m okay, I think,” Rafael responded in a shaky voice, intertwining his fingers and squeezing his hands together tightly. He was lying, of course; he could barely breathe anymore. In that ambulance, he had almost stopped breathing when Olivia did. He couldn’t handle that image, and every minute she was in surgery felt like ten hours of pure hell.

At that moment he looked up to see that Carisi was in a very similar state. He was pacing the room and threading his hands through his hair, checking his watch too many times.

“Carisi?” he called, standing up and walking towards him. “Listen, Rollins will be fine,” he said quietly, knowing exactly why he was in that state. He figured it would help him to focus on something or someone else. He had to stop thinking about Olivia, stop thinking about the gun, the screams…

“Yeah,” Carisi said sharply, turning to face him. He looks completely defeated, not unlike I probably do, Rafael thought, composing himself to comfort Carisi.

“Look,” he said, sticking his hands in his trouser pockets. “You and I are in similar situations, but Liv and Rollins are strong. They’ve got this,” he murmured, almost trying to convince himself more than he was trying to convince Carisi. He didn’t believe a word he was saying, but wasn’t this what people said when they were trying to comfort victims and families? Victims, he thought. The word echoed in his mind like the gunshots. There was no word that could describe the terror he felt as he thought of Liv becoming a victim.

“I hope you’re right, Counselor,” Carisi responded, running his fingers through his hair again. His forehead was covered in beads of sweat, and he looked like he might faint.

Rafael thought for a minute, then an idea popped into his head. “Come on. You want some coffee? Caffeine always helps me with stress. I could use some right about now.”

Carisi bit his lip slightly and looked down for a moment in thought before nodding sharply. “Can’t hurt,” he sighed, starting to walk towards the exit of the room. Barba followed suit, and hoped with every fiber of his being that when they got back, there would be good news.
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Rafael sipped on his coffee in the hospital waiting room. There had, unsurprisingly, been no news when he and Carisi had gotten back from the coffee shop, and so now they sat opposite each other at a table with their coffee and pastries. Rafael had taken about one bite of his muffin and felt sick, and it seemed Carisi had a similar lack of appetite.
They had been sitting in silence for about 15 minutes before Carisi piped up.

“So…Counselor…you’re pretty shaken up, huh?”

Rafael swallowed his sip of coffee and smiled sadly. “Yeah. Liv is…Liv is an amazing Lieutenant,” he said, stopping himself from admitting more than he needed to. “Smart, cunning, badass…everything SVU needs.”

“Not what I meant, but alright,” Carisi replied, smirking and sipping his cappuccino.

“You’re pretty beat up about Rollins too,” Rafael retorted, shooting him a grin. “You know everyone knows, right?”

“Knows what?”

“You love her.”

Carisi’s smile faded from his face in favor of a blush. “No I do-“

“Mhm, you do,” Rafael interrupted. “The squad is betting on you. Liv confided in me,” he said, his smile faltering as he thought of her.

Carisi sighed and closed his eyes. “Yeah. Yeah I do,” he said, folding his hands on the table. “I don’t want to lose her. I don’t want Jessie to lose her mother, or Fran to lose her…”

“I hear you,” Rafael replied. “I don’t want Noah to lose his mother either. And I don’t want to lose her.”

“You love her, Counselor?”

Rafael considered whether or not he should say anything. He’d already said it to Liv, he remembered. Might as well. “Yes. Yes, I do.”

“Well then it seems we have something in common, you and I.”

“What’s that?”

“Bad choices.”

Rafael laughed. “For our work, certainly. But I don’t regret my feelings for her in the slightest. You shouldn’t either, with Rollins.”

“Yeah,” Carisi sighed, sipping his coffee again and checking his watch. “4 and a half hours,” he said softly, his lip shaking. “Can’t be good.”

http://archiveofourown.org/works/11150940/chapters/24900342/edit#

“We don’t know that,” Rafael replied, mentally punching himself for lying. He didn’t believe that, not one bit. “We just have to wait, hm?”

“You’re right,” he said. “Hey. Life’s too short to deny this kind of thing. I say we tell them. Because as we’ve seen, we never know when we could lose them…” His voice trailed off, and his eyes became unfocused.

“I know,” Rafael whispered, nodding. “If – no, when they wake up, we have to. Deal?” he said, lifting his cup in a toast.

“Deal,” Carisi replied, his slight smile returning and his cup raising to Rafael’s. “Love is strange, huh Counselor?”

“Indeed,” he said, sipping his coffee.
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“Rafael Barba?”

Rafael opened his eyes and shook himself awake. He had dozed off after his coffee, and now scrambled to look at his watch. It had been 6 hours. “Yes?” he said, scanning the room for the source of his name. He found a doctor at the edge of the door with an exhausted and defeated look on his face. His stomach immediately flipped and he stopped breathing. He stood slowly and walked over to the door. “What’s going on? Where is she, is she alive?”

“Yes,” the doctor sighed, smiling slightly. “But she’s critical. Bullet to the arm didn’t hit any major arteries, and we were able to patch that up pretty quickly. But the one to her ribs…”

“I don’t want to know the details, not now,” he interrupted quickly, waving a hand dismissively. “What are her chances?”

“Pretty good I believe,” he replied, seeming a bit more hopeful than he had looked before. “She’s definitely a fighter. Heart stopped twice on the table, but we got her back. She’s alive, and stable, but critical.”

Rafael’s heart jumped in his chest, but he stopped himself from being too hopeful. He realized something and furrowed his brows. “Why did you call me over and not her squad?”

“She kept saying your name,” he replied. “As we wheeled her in for surgery, she regained consciousness long enough to say your name about four or five times. We assumed you two were together.”

Rafael sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “Can I see her?”

“Yes,” the doctor replied, his expression cautious. “But it may be a bit shocking. We’ve got her on a lot of machines and such.”

“I don’t care. Where is she?”

The doctor told him where she was, and he asked Fin to come with him if he wanted.

“Nah, Counselor,” he replied, though he seemed disappointed. “This is all you.” He paused for a moment, then looked up at him again. “We all knew, y'know.”

Rafael smiled at him weakly, then nodded and started walking towards Olivia’s room, every step bringing him closer to breaking down right then and there. He had no idea what to expect, but he prepared himself for the worst.
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He found her room and walked in very slowly, and what he saw made his stomach turn. Olivia was surrounded by nurses, and she looked broken. Her face was peaceful, but she was connected to so many machines, and she seemed so small to him. His eyes filled with tears without his permission, and he wanted to scream, but all he could do was stare in silent panic.

“Rafael Barba?” one of the nurses asked, and he was jolted out of his reverie.

“Yes.” His voice shook.

“We’ll leave you with her,” another nurse said, and she signaled for her colleagues to follow her out. Once they had left, Rafael walked over to the side of the bed and slumped down in a chair, putting his head in his hands. “God, Liv,” he whispered, though he knew she couldn’t hear him. “How did we get here?”

After a few moments, he slowly reached out to hold her hand. It was warm, but weak, and he squeezed it gently. Feeling her pulse put his mind slightly at ease, and he sighed a shaking breath.

Suddenly, anger became mixed in with the fear. The tears started falling and he bit his lip to keep from screaming. “Why?” he spat, staring at her face. He had memorized every feature of her face, and yet this was so foreign. She looked defeated, or maybe that was just his perception. Either way, he was so broken. “Why did you jump? That bullet was meant for me,” he breathed, trying not to sob. “You played hero, just like you wouldn’t let me do. You’re such a hypocrite,” he said, and he laughed weakly. “See? Even if I’m angry with you, you make me laugh,” he sighed, closing his eyes. “You’re not even here with me and you’re making me laugh.” He stopped talking for a few minutes, then continued. “You’re everything to me. Do you even realize that? And poor Noah doesn’t know where his mother is. I love you, Olivia Benson. You’re strong, you’re fearless, and you don’t give a fuck about offending anyone. You’re a fantastic Lieutenant, you’re amazing with victims. You’re empathetic, caring, and yet extremely strong and resolute, and…I don’t get how you can be everything at once,” he laughed. “But you are. For the love of God, Liv…please fight through.” He knew she couldn’t hear him, and he started crying again. “Live. For the love of God, live. You have so much left. You have to raise Noah, you have to lead your squad. We still have to squabble when we’re eighty-five. You can do it, Liv. For Noah, for the 16th, for me…pull through.”
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Rafael woke up later to the feeling of someone shaking his shoulder. He looked up to see Fin standing over him, smiling.

“Hey, Counselor. Just thought you should see somebody.”

Rafael was confused for a split second, but looked towards Liv’s bed to see her smiling back at him. He swore his heart jumped out of his chest and he bolted upright. “Olivia. Thank God,” he sighed, closing his eyes briefly.

“Hey, Barba,” she said, her voice raspy, but strong. “Hangin’ in there?”

“Me?” he scoffed, smiling at her widely. “What about you? You can’t be feeling great right now.”

“I’ll be fine,” she replied, her eyes shutting slightly. “…’m tired though. Drugged up.”

“They’ve got you on the good stuff,” Fin said, smiling. “You’re probably not feeling much of anything except giddy.”

“True that,” she replied, giggling for a bit. “Can’t even keep my eyes open. Hey, Fin? Rollins, how’s Rollins?”

“Amanda’s stable,” Fin replied. "She'll be fine." Good, Rafael thought. Carisi can sleep easy.

“Good,” Olivia sighed, closing her eyes and relaxing into the bed. “Hey, Fin, could you give us a minute?” she said, looking at Rafael for clarification.

Fin looked at the two of them and smiled. “Yeah,” he said, patting Rafael on the shoulder before quickly walking out of the room and shutting the door.

Rafael looked over at Olivia, his Olivia, sitting up in the bed. “Thank God you’re awake,” he said, unconsciously taking her hand and smiling. He didn’t care about being subtle anymore. “You’re feeling okay?”

“I’m feeling like I just got hit by a truck,” she said, smirking at him. “But the drugs are definitely helping. ‘M not really in pain, just exhausted…”

“I can let you sleep, y’know.”

“No, that’s okay. I want you here. I didn’t know what happened to you, I was worried…”

“Well don’t be,” he sighed, smiling wider. “I’m fine. Thanks to you jumping in front of that bullet, which I strongly wish you hadn’t.”

“You would have done the same.”

“You’re probably right,” he conceded, squeezing her hand. He felt her hand tighten around his at the same time. He remembered what he had said in the courtroom as she’d been wheeled out. “Liv…how much do you remember?”

“I remember what you said, if that’s what you’re asking,” she said, and he prepared himself for the worse. However, her smile didn’t falter; in fact, her smile grew and became gentler, and he began to hope.

“Oh, good,” he said sarcastically, putting his face in one hand. He sincerely hoped he was right in assuming that she was okay with it.

“Rafael,” she said. “It’s okay you know. I can’t believe you didn’t see it.”

He looked at her, puzzled. “What?”

“I’ve loved you for years. You’ve always been so observant, I’m surprised you didn’t see it.”

He laughed and looked down, feeling his face getting hot. “Oh yeah. I should have, but I suppose feelings cloud judgement. You can’t see what you don’t expect sometimes.”

“True,” she replied. “Listen…I don’t know what the doctors tell you, but screw ‘em. I’m gonna be fine, Barba. Trust me.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” he said, noticing that her eyes were closing. “You need sleep. I’m gonna go check on Carisi.”

“Hey, Raf…” she said, opening her eyes and looking at him. She hesitated before continuing. “Do you mind staying with me? Just until I go to sleep. I’m…afraid of the nightmares,” she whispered, her face twisting into fear for a moment.

His smile didn’t falter, and he squeezed her hand tighter. “Of course. I’ve got you. Get some sleep, Liv.”

She smiled and closed her eyes, and he stayed with her even after she fell asleep. He watched her face change expression and heard her whimper a few times, but he squeezed her hand through the nightmares. He wasn’t going to let her go, and Carisi could wait. Right now, he needed to keep her safe, and that was exactly what he’d do.

Chapter Text

Olivia had been through hell and back that day. Most of what she remembered, which was remarkably little, was searing pain and the urge to fall into oblivion. She feared death, of course, as any human would. Anyone who wasn’t afraid of dying was lying to themselves, she’d often thought. Regardless of that fear, her body relentlessly tried to drag her into sleep, and the pain only added to the ceaseless need to close her eyes and fade away. The only way she’d stayed awake were thoughts of her son and the man she loved. Her son needed her, she had to see him grow up, and she needed to see Rafael…she kept thinking of him, his panic, his complete terror, and she focused on that to stay awake. She had to stay with him; she couldn’t bear to see him like that and know she was causing it, and she had to tell him how much he meant to her, how much he’d done for her. She had to stay present, awake, alive.

When she began unwillingly to fade in and out of consciousness, she could hear the gunshots echoing in her mind, she could feel the burning, excruciating pain, hear the screams and Rafael’s voice grounding her. She saw Jameson’s eyes and Lewis reflected in his smile. Everything was a blur of lights and voices, light and dark; the next thing she knew, she had woken up in an unfamiliar bed with a dull ache in her side. It had taken her a moment to adjust, but when her eyes blinked open she turned to see Rafael sleeping peacefully next to her. Fin woke him up to see her, and she couldn’t have been happier to be alive, to be near him, to hear his voice. She also knew her son was safe, that she could hold him again, raise him, love him. These thoughts helped her drift asleep again, but the pleasantries didn’t last. She had had nightmares before, but now there was new material, and it only added to the horror and the swirling images in her mind. They were incredibly vivid and real, and for the millionth time it seemed, she heard gunshots, saw Jameson, heard the screams, felt the bullet, the pain ---

“Liv?” she heard, recognizing Rafael’s voice.

“Mm?”

“You’re safe, it’s okay. You can relax.”

She jolted awake and opened her eyes wide, whipping her head around towards the baritone of his voice. She saw his face, his features laced with concern, and immediately she felt a massive weight lift off her shoulders. The terror from the nightmare began to diminish. Thankfully, instead of Lewis or Jameson, there was Rafael looking back at her with those familiar blue eyes and soft smile.

“Thank you,” she breathed, her heart rate still racing. Luckily, she didn’t remember much other than the feeling it gave her, the panic and the fear. She was finally able to relax, and she closed her eyes and let out a soft hum. She slumped back onto her pillow, taking in a deep breath. “How long have I been asleep?” she breathed.

“ ‘Bout an hour,” Rafael replied, letting go of her hand and sitting back. She had barely even realized he’d been holding it. “They lowered your morphine while you were asleep. 1PP wants you awake and as lucid as possible for questioning. Are you feeling okay?” She noticed that he had some of the authority back in his voice, though it trembled ever so slightly.

Olivia took a moment to assess, and she did feel a dull but persistent pain in her right arm and left side. It was nothing she couldn’t handle, of course; years on the job had provided her with worse. “It does hurt a bit, but I’m less…out of it,” she told him matter-of-factly, shifting slightly.

“That’s good,” he said, seeming relieved. She smiled as she watched some of the tension leave his body.

Olivia suddenly found herself confused by his earlier statement. She furrowed her brows and spoke. “Why am I being questioned? I didn’t shoot Jameson.”

“No, you didn’t,” he confirmed, shifting in his seat. Olivia was suspicious, and cocked her head to the side.

“Then why?”

“Because you were next to me.”

Olivia’s expression changed from confusion to surprise and . “Why would that…matter…”

“Because I shot him,” Rafael replied quickly, looking down at his hands and bouncing his left leg.

Olivia widened her eyes at him, shocked but in awe. “You managed to get my gun, stand up again, turn around, and shoot Jameson before he could get another shot off?” she said, smiling minutely. How had Rafael managed to do that in the first place? She wasn’t even sure she’d have been able to do that, especially with the hold the man had had on her.

Rafael seemed puzzled. He waited for a moment and cleared his throat before replying, “I guess? Yes, I did.”

“Quite a maneuver,” she laughed, closing her eyes and humming softly. She was still a bit sleepy; she supposed that was quite normal, given the circumstances. Her mind turned back to Rafael, and she remembered suddenly that he wouldn’t be used to that. Her detectives had shot many a suspect, and they weren’t accustomed to it, but they could handle it. Rafael was an ADA. He fought people with his words, he put violent criminals in jail with facts. He rarely got into physical altercations with suspects, and she didn’t know if he’d ever shot, let alone killed, anyone before. She opened her eyes and turned to the ADA, furrowing her brows in concern. “Rafael…are you okay?”

Rafael continued to look down at the floor, and started to twiddle his thumbs in his lap. “I don’t know,” he replied honestly, looking up to her. He was trying his best to hide his emotions, she could tell, but she saw fear and sadness in his eyes. She had seen that in her detectives’ eyes after they’d incapacitated a suspect, and she gave him a weak yet understanding smile.

“Rafael,” she said, reaching her hand out and placing it on top of his restless hands. “You did well. I know it’s fucked up, but you did the right thing.”

“I hope you’re right,” he replied, smiling sadly and gripping her hand in his firmly. “At least that bastard can’t hurt anyone ever again.” He looked down again and sighed uncomfortably, changing the subject. “Would you mind if I checked on Carisi? He was pretty nervous when I left him.”

“About Rollins?”

“Of course, who else?”

“I knew it.”

“We all did.”

“Yeah, we did.” She laughed heartily, immediately regretting it. “Ouch.”

“Don’t strain yourself,” Rafael said, and she noticed his expression change to concern.

Olivia’s smile remained. “You look like a concerned mother.”

“Touché.”

“Yes,” she replied to his earlier question. She felt he needed some time away from her, away from the mess of it all. “You can go check on Carisi.”

“Sure?”

“Oh yeah,” she said softly. “I’ll be okay. Go on.”

As Rafael left, Olivia closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths to ground herself. She knew the next few weeks would be long and taxing, but she was ready to take them on, especially with her squad and Rafael behind her. Ironically, she felt invincible. She knew she wasn’t going to think that forever, but for now, she let herself feel it and gave in to sleep.
...............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
It was indeed a long 6 weeks. It hadn’t been without its complications; she had had an infection that scared Rafael half to death, but she’d pulled through. She’d been questioned about the shooting, and had been there for Rafael when he had to answer questions. It wasn’t easy, and there were some issues, but in the end, he was acquitted of any blame and Olivia was able to breathe easy. He had still needed help, however; he couldn’t cope very well with what he had done, even though the man he’d killed was a complete psychopath. Olivia had begged him to get therapy, and after weeks of convincing, he’d finally agreed to see a shrink. He’s fallen asleep in her hospital room more than once, and she’d had to comfort him after nightmares, which was something she was well-acquainted with. She was worried about him still, but he had gone back to work and was doing much better than he had been at first.

Now, multiple tests, tons of physical therapy, and a month and a half of treatment later, she was finally ready to go home. Rollins had gone back home a week earlier, and she was now in her hospital room helping her up out of the bed.

“Y’know, Lieutenant,” she started, handing her some clothes. “You’re damn resilient. I can’t believe you’re already going home.”

“Piece of cake,” Olivia joked, smiling at her. “How are you doing?”

“Alright,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “Still a little sore from time to time, but I’m doing alright with therapy.”

“I’m gonna go change,” Olivia said, turning and walking into the bathroom. She closed and locked the door behind her, and shrugged off her hospital gown. Looking in the mirror, she noticed the large scar on her left side and took a moment to reflect. As she traced it gently with one finger, she remembered the day clearly in her mind. Most people had begun to move on, but it was yesterday to her. She had been over it a million times in her mind, scenarios that could have been, the horrors that were. It was something she wanted to erase from her mind, but from experience, she knew that wasn’t possible. She could never forget Lewis, she could never forget Dodds, and she could never forget this. She had the scars to remind her, physical and emotional. The job never got easier, and it usually only got worse.

At the same time, this incident had brought out good things, as horrible as it was. She and Rafael had finally gotten over their teenage shyness about their feelings, and had been growing closer since. He had helped her in her therapy, snuck in the occasional hamburger when she was sick of hospital food, and had helped Lucy in babysitting Noah. Noah had grown pretty close to him in the last month, and Olivia was so proud of them both. She smiled into the mirror and put her clothes on, taking her time and being careful not to hurt herself too badly. Luckily, Amanda had brought her relatively loose-fitting things, so nothing would constrict her.

“Okay,” she said, stepping out of the bathroom. “Thank you for these. I feel so much better out of that thing. Shall we go?”

“Yep,” Rollins said, grinning. “Looks like the Counselor’s here. And Noah! Hey kiddo!”

“Hi ‘Manda!” Noah chirped, running into the room. “Mommy!”

“Hey Noah,” Olivia said, her smile widening as she leaned down to ruffle her son’s hair. “How are you sweetie? Have you eaten yet?”

“Yep! Baba made breakfast!”

“Barba,” she corrected, giggling. “Good for him,” she said as Rafael walked in. “Thanks for that, Raf.”

“No problem,” he replied, smiling proudly. He always liked to be of use. “Y’know he could just call me Rafael.”

“He’s so used to me calling you Barba over the phone that he doesn’t know better,” she said. “Just go with it.”

As she finished her sentence, Fin and Carisi walked in and over to Olivia. “How you feelin’, Lieutenant?” Carisi asked, putting his hands in his pockets.

“Wonderful, thank you,” she said, grabbing hold of one of Rafael’s hands and one of Noah’s. “Ready to go home. I hope Noah hasn’t managed to completely trash my apartment in my absence. He usually has a knack for that.”

“Ye of little faith,” Rafael retorted, raising an eyebrow at her. “Though I will admit, he managed to get stuffed animals and trucks in pretty much every corner of the house. I probably still haven’t gotten all of them.”

Olivia laughed and squeezed Noah’s hand. “Hope he didn’t give you too much trouble. Come on, let’s go home. Say bye bye Noah!”

“Bye!” said Noah, waving enthusiastically at the detectives, who waved back.

As they walked out of the room, Rafael turned to her. “How’re you doing?”

“Not perfect,” she admitted, finally able to speak her mind. She was far more comfortable with Rafael than she’d ever been with anyone, even Cassidy. In the last few months, he’d treated her normally and not like a china doll that would shatter with the gentlest touch. He had shown concern, but compassion, and let her do things on her own without seeing her as fragile. He had only treated her as someone he trusted, someone strong, and she’d never been happier. “I’m not hurting, but…the nightmares aren’t really letting up.”

“Neither are mine,” he admitted, running his free hand through his hair. “I had a horrible one last night. Didn’t get much sleep after that.”

Olivia squeezed his hand and smiled sadly. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly, leaning into him as they walked.

“It’s alright,” he replied. “At least now we’re safe. Noah’s safe. You’re safe. That’s what matters. Everything else is just noise.”

“Good point. Some persistent and frightening noise, though. How’s work been going?”

“The new Lieutenant is a pain, but works well with Carisi and Fin. The cases have gone well; haven’t lost one yet.”

“Good to hear.” She squeezed his hand and smiled sweetly towards him. “I’m glad you’ve been doing well at work; I’m constantly worried about you, you know.”

He scoffed at her sarcastically, raising an eyebrow. “Me? Nah, I’m fine. I will be, anyway,” he corrected himself, shrugging minutely and picking up his pace.

As soon as they walked through the automatic doors and into the sunlight, Olivia immediately felt calmer and more poised. She could breathe in the city again, all of its harshness and gentleness alike. She heard the sounds of cars honking and whizzing by, smelled street food, and felt completely at home. While the city often scared her, what with the cases leading her to dead bodies, victims, and perps, it was where she worked, where she spent all of her time, and where she felt somehow safe. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before turning to Rafael and grinning. “God, I missed this city.”

Rafael let go of her hand and hailed a cab, a small smile creeping along his features. “I missed seeing you in the city,” he pointed out, walking towards a cab that had stopped for them. “You always seem so confident, energetic. When you’re out on a case, I mean.”

“I certainly feel that way,” she replied, getting into the cab when Rafael opened the door for her. He picked up Noah and handed him to Olivia, who smiled and kissed the top of his head as she brought him into the cab to sit next to her.

“Well, good,” he replied, smirking and leaning on the cab door. “Because there’s a case you might be interested in at the precinct. I’m sending you what we have so far when I get back to the office. I figured you’d like to work from home.”

“You know me far too well. I’m on it,” she said as he closed the cab door, waving goodbye to them both. As Olivia leaned her head back and listened to the soft whir of the car’s engine, she smiled as she remembered her destination; finally, she’d be going home with her son, and as she closed her eyes, she thought of when she’d be inviting Rafael into that home with her.

Chapter Text

“Rafael, good to see you,” Olivia breathed, walking out of her office as she caught a glimpse of him walking down the precinct hallway. It was late, but she’d called him in, as she knew he’d be working still. He was nearly as invested in this as she was. “Do we have enough for a warrant?” Olivia’s tone was authoritative and hopeful, but it didn’t fool her ADA.

“No, not nearly,” he replied, scoffing at her as though it was one of the most preposterous things she’d ever implied. “He hasn’t had a single prior conviction, not even so much as a ticket. You don’t have DNA, fingerprints, witnesses – “

“No,” Olivia replied, raising her eyebrows and sighing as her spirits fell, closing her eyes in what she hoped wasn’t complete defeat. She turned slightly away from him as she continued. “But we have the victim’s statement and his family has told us that he tends to be impulsive – “

“Which he hasn’t shown us,” he reminded her, crossing his arms and furrowing his brow. “And impulsive doesn’t necessarily mean violent, Liv.”

“It does in this case!” she snapped, whipping back to face him fully, standing at attention with her hands balled into fists. She didn’t know why she’d yelled at him; it wasn’t his fault, he was doing his job. She shook the thought out of her mind and remained collected, though angry.

Suddenly, something in his face changed and a look of annoyed realization spread across his features. “You know we don’t have enough,” he said softly yet sharply, raising an eyebrow at her. “You knew that when you called me here. Why?”

“Because I want this bastard thrown in jail where he can’t hurt anyone anymore,” she spat, clenching her teeth as she pointed towards the interrogation room. “He beat her, raped her, tortured her. He can’t get away with this, and we both know it.” Her voice broke slightly as she described the crime and she prayed he hadn’t noticed. He had started to understand her better during the last few months since the shooting, and it was both a blessing and a curse.

“And he covered his tracks too well for us to arrest him yet,” Rafael replied, voice raised. He uncrossed his arms and threw his hands in both directions before letting them fall to his side. He was exasperated, exhausted, and quite frankly through with this whole case. The woman he had raped was brutalized, and had nearly lost an arm from her injuries. She was blinded from acid he had poured into her eyes, and had burns all over her body. He had cleaned up every bit of evidence; the only thing they had was the type of condom he had used based on spermicides found in her, but they couldn’t search his apartment because they didn’t have any grounds for a warrant other than the victim’s statement.

“Liv,” Rollins said from behind her, and Olivia barely registered her voice behind her. Her ears were ringing and her eyes were clouding.

“What?” she spat, spinning to face her detective.

Rollins looked frightened, though she remained calm. “You’ve got to calm down – “

“No,” she responded simply, her voice slightly softer this time but with no less poison. “There is no way in hell I’m letting that man out of this squad room. He cleaned up every shred of evidence, covered his tracks, even blinded her so she couldn’t ID him!”

“We’ll get him,” Rafael said softly, and as she faced him again, she noticed his demeanor had softened considerably. He was trying to calm her down, the bastard. “Liv, we’ll get him, we just don’t have enough yet.”

“Then we’ll keep digging,” she sighed, her shoulders slouching as she ran a hand through her hair haphazardly. “Fin, Rollins, tomorrow, you go to the hospital and look for any more witnesses who saw the car leaving the dump site. License plate, color, even the build of the car. “Carisi, you and I will go – “

“No,” Barba interrupted, facing Carisi. Olivia nearly growled when she realized he was trying to overrule her authority in her own squad room. She was the Lieutenant, not him. “You’ll go alone.”

“Like hell he will.”

“Liv, cribs, now,” Rafael nearly shouted, standing just as erect as she had been only moments ago. She saw anger in his eyes, pure unadulterated anger, and she nearly froze.

“Fine,” she sneered, trying to keep some of her composure as she faced Carisi again. “Talk to the girls’ roommate again and everyone in that building. Get more information, or we can’t get this guy. Understood?”

Everyone nodded their heads and grabbed their coats and squad car keys before heading out to go home. It was nearly 1 in the morning; they all needed to go home. Olivia turned on her heels to walk towards the cribs, not even taking a moment to look towards Rafael. She went into the room and all but slammed the door shut, running both her hands through her hair and sitting on one of the bunks. She rested her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands as she went over the last few weeks in her head.

Since the incident, she and Rafael had grown much closer. Somehow, though, even after their confessions in the hospital, they had both gone back to work and acted completely normally. Sure, they’d been closer, talked about cases more, had a drink or two outside of work, but never went any further. Both were so immersed in their work that they hadn’t had time, especially since they’d found out that Jameson had roots everywhere in the country, even beyond New York.

That was where they’d found this guy, after he’d raped and blinded the victim. They only knew he worked for Jameson because of a description that a victim of Jameson’s gave, but that was all they had to go on. The thing that had made him stand out was the scar on his left cheek, which the girl had described in detail all those months back; long and winding from his browbone to his chin, with another smaller one right to the left of it. Unfortunately, that witness had been killed by Jameson’s thugs, and they had no chance of identifying him without more proof.

Now, three weeks later, everything since then had seemed a blur, and this had finally been her snapping point. When she was interrogating the suspect – no, the perp, she reminded herself – she had only seen Jameson in him, and had nearly lost her temper with him. Rollins had to pull her out of interrogation to collect herself, and even then, she couldn’t control her anger. There were very few times that was the case, but this one was especially painful for her. All she could think of were the screams, the blood, the pain, Jameson’s eyes when he pulled the trigger –

“Liv?”

She was shaken from her thoughts by a hand on her shoulder and a soft but demanding voice sounding from in front her. She lifted her head out of her hands, and realized that her cheeks were wet. When had she started crying?

“Liv. What the fuck is going on?”

The sudden harshness in Rafael’s voice made Olivia flinch visibly, and she sat up straighter. She saw him on his knees in front of her, but didn’t meet his eyes for a long moment, fearing they would make her lose her composure more than she already had. She thought about her response carefully, not really knowing how to answer him. “I want this guy in prison,” she answered simply, surprised when her voice seemed to shatter. She was losing her stance, all because that psychopath had shot her and tried to shoot the man she loved. She couldn’t let go of the panic, and especially the look in his eyes when he had seen her bleeding on the floor. She couldn’t handle any more of this man in her life.
“We all do,” he responded simply, his lips forming a line as he stood up. She finally met his gaze and nearly broke. He was angry, that was clear, but he was worried, and that was what made her do what she did next.

“I’m not a sick puppy, Rafael,” she growled, standing to meet him and wiping her cheeks nonchalantly. “Yes, I’m feeling things right now. I can’t help that. What I can help,” she said, pausing for a moment and folding her arms across her chest. “Is whether that psychopath gets put in jail for what he’s done. For what his boss did to those girls.”

“For what he did to you, you mean,” Barba retorted, his tone icy and his gaze unwavering. It was a blow that was calculated and thought out to injure her. He had tried to help her and she had only made it worse, and so he did what he had to do.

Olivia’s entire demeanor shifted then. She was fucking angry at this man in front of her, and she lost it. How could he possibly say that after what they’d been through? She went through that ordeal for those girls that had been murdered, for his countless other victims, and she’d been shot for it. She had been shot defending the man she loved, who’d just told her she was being selfish. She took a step back and felt hot tears begin to flow again, and her teeth clenched. She reared back and slapped him hard across the face, almost enjoying the way he staggered back. Her blood was boiling and since her words had had no effect on him, she figured she should take matters in a different direction.

He didn’t seem surprised. In fact, he acted as though he knew that was coming. Though, as soon as her hand had cleared his face, Olivia noticed his face fall. He realized what he’d said, she figured out. He looked angry still, but had a slight bit of sadness that marred his features. She recognized that look. It showed in the courtroom when he lost a case, or in his office when he talked about his Abuelita with her over a drink. But this time, it was the worst she’d ever seen him. It was almost as though he was broken.

“How fucking dare you,” she spat, the tears still flowing down her cheeks. She would not let up. Not for a second. “I went through that case for those girls. They were murdered, raped, humiliated,” she began, sobbing now. “We won the case and he snapped. I took a bullet, and yes, that happened to me. I’m allowed to suffer! I’m allowed to feel! I was shot for the love of fuck, and I was shot because I didn’t want you hurt. I was shot because I love you and I didn’t want you to die.

“Every night I go over what could have happened had I not done that. I sometimes wish, God help me, that I hadn’t jumped in front of that bullet. It’s a selfish thought, but I’ve thought it nonetheless. It would have saved me the nightmares, the pain, the constant feeling of being watched or the way I jump every time I hear any loud noise. But then I think of another way that day could have gone. The sight of you bleeding on the floor, dying next to me, haunts every single dream and nightmare I have now. I can’t think of myself anymore, because all I can think about is what could have happened to you. And yes, I’m in pain because of what he did to me. He got to me. He got into my head, and it nearly cost you your life. I nearly killed you! And I can’t live with that, and I want every single man or woman connected to him dead or in jail!”

As she spoke, she could see his face draining of color and any anger he once had. As his features softened, her voice broke even more, the tears eventually clouding her vision completely. She began to see the Rafael she knew, she man she loved, the horrified man she’d seen in the courtroom and the panicked look in his eyes he’d had when she’d been in his arms bleeding. Once she finished, she stood with her mouth wide open as her brain caught up with what she’d just said. She’d just admitted every weakness she’d had in the past few months with reckless abandon to a man who she loved, and all of her barriers came crashing down around her. Her whole body started shaking and she sank back down onto the bunk, burying her face in her hands as sobs wracked her body.

She didn’t even register anything around her at that point. Everything was white noise, and she was only vaguely aware of her choked sobbing. She felt, at one point, arms encircling her and a calming voice whispering into her ears, but she didn’t care. She had finally let everything go, and she couldn’t handle it. She couldn’t believe what she’d done, and yet she could. She trusted Rafael, and he’d broken her, but not in the way she’d thought. She was so angry, and he had managed to break down her protection in only five minutes of banter. She couldn’t believe she could be that weak.

“Liv…I am so sorry…that was awful of me to say, I am so, so sorry, mi amor…”

Olivia looked up to him as her crying started to abate, and she wiped her cheeks quickly and sniffed. “I know,” she whispered, not trusting her voice to stay steady anymore. “I…I don’t know what to do anymore, because until these guys are caught, I won’t sleep at night…”

“I know,” he replied, stroking her hair and kissing the top of her head. He stood up then, offering a hand to her to help her up. “But we have to keep going. Stay level-headed, and we will catch them. I’m with you, always.”

She took his hand and stood, bringing him into a hug. He didn’t protest, squeezing her smaller frame and sighing. “We’ve got this,” Olivia said softly, trying to convince herself.

“We’ve got this,” he repeated to her, pulling back and smiling sweetly. “Listen to me. It’s late, we’re both tired, and it’s not doing the squad any good. Everyone’s gone home; let’s do the same.”

“Agreed,” she said, smiling weakly and pressing her forehead to his.

“My place,” he said, startling Olivia a bit. She hadn’t expected that from him. “You still owe me a drink.” She’d taken a raincheck last week, as Noah had had a fever.

“That’s true,” she replied. “Alright. Your place. But please tell me you own something other than scotch.”

Chapter Text

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by your décor, or rather lack thereof.”

Rafael smirked at Olivia’s comment as he closed the door behind them both. “Oh, come on, it isn’t that bad, surely,” he sighed, rolling his eyes for added drama.

“No, it’s just unbelievably you,” she chuckled, putting her hands in her pockets as she looked about the one-bedroom that the ADA called home. It was very monochromatically beige, with the only touch of color being his bookshelf, which was full to the brim with what she could only assume were law books. She glimpsed the title on the spine of an emerald green volume that confirmed that theory: New York Codes, Rules, And Regulations. He had a deep chocolate-colored leather sofa, a wooden coffee table stacked with even more books, a modern-looking kitchen (with as many Keurig pods as one could possibly need beside the coffee maker, she noted), and simple furnishings adorning the living area. It was everything she expected from Barba, yet she hadn’t quite prepared herself for the untidiness. It wasn’t messy, by any means, but it was certainly a bit undone; there were books and papers scattered here and there, a few pairs of shoes in odd places, a tie draped over one of the chairs, and too many dirty coffee mugs to count. She picked one up and examined it before turning to Rafael with a smirk. “One of these days this is going to send you into a cardiac arrest.”

“No it won’t,” he replied too quickly, swiping the mug from her and passing her to place it on the kitchen counter. She was sure plenty of people had told him that before. “The job will kill me before the caffeine does. Sit, I’ll grab the wine.”

“Oh thank God, you have wine,” she breathed dramatically, closing her eyes and clapping a hand over her chest. “And here I was thinking you only drank scotch. And coffee.”

“Oh, you’re not wrong,” he replied, smiling and grabbing a bottle from a wine rack. “I keep the occasional bottle for guests. Old habit, I suppose, from my university days.”

“Oh, don’t tell me you were a party person,” she scoffed, sitting down carefully on his sofa and leaning back a bit. She hadn’t realized how tense her shoulders had been until she sank into the leather and let them relax. Hopefully the wine would help with that, as well. “I pinned you more for the late-night study sessions and 2 hours of sleep a night kind of guy.”

“I was definitely that,” he confirmed as the cork popped out of the bottle and he began to pour them both a glass. It was a merlot that he hoped she would like. “But I wasn’t so much of a party person as I was a company person. I was friends with plenty of people in law school, believe it or not, and I did occasionally have them over for dinner.”

“Dinner,” she replied, smiling like an idiot as she watched him pour the wine. She was relieved when she saw the label; she absolutely loved that merlot. “You, in university, had your friends over for dinner. With wine. Wine. In college. Not a party. Dinner. You’re more of a nerd than I thought.”

“And a damn good cook, mind you,” he said in defense, raising an eyebrow as he walked over and handed her one of the glasses. “My mother taught me everything she knew. I haven’t in a long time though,” he admitted, sitting next to her on the sofa and sipping his own wine. “With the job, the stress, the constant case work…”

“Believe me, I know,” she stopped him, holding a finger up and smiling gently as she took a rather large gulp. She sighed softly as the liquid went down her throat, feeling the warmth of it as it settled into her stomach. She didn’t want to talk shop tonight, at least not for now. She was more relaxed than she’d been in weeks, she realized as she looked over at Rafael. The wine was helping, sure, but it was mostly Rafael’s presence next to her that had her relaxing into reality and settling her thoughts. His smile had a profound effect on her as well, as she’d come to find out within the last few months. Every time he smiled, she felt her muscles relax and her mood lift, or she felt the tension leave her mind and her thoughts still from the harshness of her day. She couldn’t believe how much had changed, and yet she couldn’t believe just how much it was the same as before.

“Well,” he continued, and she was jarred from her reverie. “I think I might pick it back up again. I don’t know…somehow, I’ve been more…myself lately. Tense, of course, as was witnessed today,” he sighed softly, biting his lip in embarrassment for a fleeting moment before running a hand through his hair. She saw his cheeks had gone red.

“I was far worse, Raf,” she reminded him, hoping the nickname would help to ease them both into a sense of familiarity. She hated seeing him uncomfortable, especially since they’d fought. “Listen, I’m…sorry, about today. I’m not in a good state of mind right now. Somehow, I let it all explode, and it was unfair of me to pin that all on you. I’m sorry.”

“No, Olivia,” he replied, taking a large swallow of wine. He set the glass down and turned towards her with a weak smile. “I was too hard on you. I was insensitive to you, and I shouldn’t have been. You were shot, for Christ’s sake, defending me I might add. I didn’t consider your feelings; I let the work cloud my judgement, and for that I apologize. Lo siento, Livi.”

She smiled at the nickname. Clearly, he was trying to do the same thing to ease both of their minds. “It’s alright,” she replied. “I don’t…know how I let my emotions get away from me like that.”

“I do,” he replied matter-of-factly, smiling and leaning a bit closer. “Because you’re human, and you’re vulnerable, as much as you hate it.”

She felt her stomach twist at those words, but he was right. She’d always hated that about herself; she tried so hard to be fine, or at least to make everyone think it. Even after Lewis – she shuddered at the memories that brought back – she tried so hard to be normal, and every time someone asked her if she was okay it took everything she had not to break. She would put another row of bricks in her walls then, make sure no one would get through next time.

But Rafael always, always did. And sometimes it made her lose her mind, lose her composure, as was witnessed only a few hours before. She had been so worked up and lost in her own mind she had spilled everything and slapped him for God’s sake, and she couldn’t let that happen again.

“You aren’t wrong,” she replied, shrugging and gulping her wine. “As much as I hate it, you’re right.”

“I know,” he replied, grinning. The bastard was getting cocky.

She swatted his arm and they both laughed, and it was one of the best feelings she’d had in a while. The wine was starting to get to her head and make her feel warm, and she felt like she was in high school again. She was giddy and strangely happy, even in a time of complete vulnerability. She never allowed people to see her turmoil, save her therapist of course, but she had been able to share so much with Rafael it scared her. She’d told him more about Lewis than she’d ever disclosed to even Cassidy, and while that was mostly due to the court case and her testimony, she’d felt strangely safe when telling him. He hadn’t judged her, hadn’t asked her if she was okay – though she did see him visibly flinch when he read her physician’s reports. She’d noticed him staring at her bruises and cuts once with a tenderness she’d never truly seen in him before, except maybe when he talked about his abuelita. She’d told him of her troubles with Noah and Child Services in the past, and could talk to him when something was eating at her mind. She trusted him, and it both scared and liberated her.

Once the laughter had faded, they both finished their glasses of wine in comfortable silence and smiled. As Olivia took her last sip and held her glass to him, he stood and took it from her and walked towards the kitchen to refill it.

“I’m good, actually,” Olivia said softly as he lifted the bottle, her brows furrowed. “I’m in a good place right now, I think. But thank you,” she finished with a smile.

“Olivia Benson saying no to wine,” he giggled, setting the glass on the counter and walking back towards the sofa to sit next to her again. “A sight I thought I’d never see.”

“Shut up,” she teased, swatting his arm again. When she put her hand down, he laid his on hers. A bold move, she thought, though she felt a comfortable warmth spreading from the point of contact. She brought her eyes down to where their hands were now intertwined for a short moment, smiling as she looked back up at his eyes. Had they always been that blue? She wondered, tightening her hand around his.

“Olivia,” he began, leaning forward. “What happened today…it’s okay,” he said softly but normally, and she could tell he was trying not to make her feel like a sick puppy. She appreciated that; she’d have to thank him later. “You’re human, and you’ve been through an ordeal. That sick psychopath got to you, mentally and physically, and he had power over you,” he whispered. “And I didn’t see that. I took my frustrations out on you today and vice versa, and we let it out. We probably needed to. But it’s over now, and I love you, and we’re both here. We’re both safe.

That scenario you said you’d considered, where you hadn’t jumped in front of the bullet. Honestly, I sometimes do the same thing. I wish I’d been the one to take it, to save you from the physical strain and from the agony of it all. I didn’t want him to get to you even more than he already had, and I wish to God I had taken that bullet. And at the same time,” he continued, taking a breath and looking her directly in the eyes with a kind intensity that almost killed her right then and there. “I’m so glad I didn’t. Because none of this would have come to pass. I could have died, and I never would have been able to hold you again, or comfort you, or tell you it was alright. You would have been broken by that man again, and we wouldn’t be here, now, doing this. And while I wish so much that I could have taken the pain for you, I’m glad that things have happened the way they have.”

Olivia felt wetness on her cheek, and reached up to wipe it away. She didn’t even know she’d started crying. She came back to her senses and felt the knot in her throat and the familiar tightness in her chest, and she wondered if she’d had more wine than she’d thought. She smiled weakly and tried to hide her face from him, turning it to the side and laughing breathily. “I am too,” she admitted. “I’m happy for the first time in a long time, even through all this shit that’s happened. I should be broken, and I am fucked up, but…I’m not. I’m okay. Because somehow, Rafael, you make me feel safe. And it frightens me, and it’s…weird,” she said casually, grinning. “But it’s the truth.”

Barba put his other hand over both of theirs firmly, and she felt that familiar tingle travel through her again, closing her eyes briefly and hoping that he hadn’t noticed her shudder minutely. “Liv,” he said softly, and she noticed his eyes were watering. “Te amo. Always.”

“I love you too,” she replied a moment later, cursing her voice for cracking. She noticed his eyes on her face, and her own wandered to his hair, his lips, back to his eyes again. She wanted to memorize everything about him, wanted to have him stored in her memory. She treasured him often more than she realized, and sometimes she couldn’t tear her eyes off of him for fear of it being the last time she’d ever do so, especially since…no. She needed to keep that day out of her thoughts. It was over. And they were both there, and safe, and with that thought in her mind, she made a hasty decision. She leaned forward, placed a hand on his jaw gently, and pressed her lips against his before she could regret the decision.

Chapter Text

Several hours and three-quarters of a bottle of wine later, Olivia opened her eyes to see soft light filtering through the blinds in Rafael’s living room windows, painting the room in a haze of pink. She yawned slightly, stretching her limbs ever so slightly so as not to wake the man sleeping beside her on the sofa. She opened her eyes again and focused them on the two wine glasses on the table, mesmerized by the way they delicately refracted the light. The bottle of Merlot she’d so quickly drained was laying on its side on the table, and she noticed with amusement a bit of the red liquid had dripped onto the table.

She heard the click and whir of the air conditioner switching on, and immediately felt the cool air on her shoulders from the vent above them. She felt the blanket near her feet and quickly moved to pull it up over her, careful not to too badly disturb the sleeping bear next to her. She snickered softly at that thought as she curled up tighter into him.

Last night had been a whir of emotions and intoxication, but she remembered the bulk of it as a warm haze in her memory. The kiss had led to more, much more, and that part wasn’t something she’d easily forget. They’d kissed each other, made love to each other for hours, and she was silently thanking God that it was Saturday and she could probably get away with going into work a bit late. Judging by the sunlight, it was probably about 6 o’ clock; she had another hour, maybe two before she had to leave. She then decided that Rafael probably needed to get up, as he’d told her that he usually went into work at around 7:30. She carefully turned around to face him, wrapping an arm around him and kissing his forehead before she spoke.

“Rafael, wake up.” She shook his shoulder lightly and held him tighter to her. She heard him hum lightly and watched as he lifted an eyebrow.

“It’s about 6 o’ clock, I think. Plus, I need to know how to work your coffee maker, because I have a massive headache,” she giggled, kissing his nose.

He stretched minutely before he opened his eyes, wrapping an arm around her in turn and pulling her closer to him. “I’m not surprised. I’ve never seen you drink that much in one sitting or quite that fast.”

“I know,” she murmured, scooting down and tucking her head underneath his chin. “I don’t know how I managed that. I just hope I wasn’t too sloppy.”

“I don’t think sloppy has ever been part of your personality, intoxicated or not,” he laughed, closing his eyes. “But I do remember you denying my offer of a glass before you downed the whole bottle.”

“Only about three-fourths,” she corrected. “And I think that was the point where I said, ‘fuck it’.”

“I think that was the point where you fucked me.”

Can it,” she whispered sharply, throwing the blanket off her in dramatic fashion and standing quickly. She realized, though, that she’d stood far too quickly, and her vision was spotty as she sat down quickly on the couch, her head pounding. “Shit,” she spat, holding her head in one hand and squeezing her eyes shut, watching patterns dance behind her eyelids. Moments later, she felt arms wrapping around her and lips on her neck.

“You alright?” she heard Rafael murmur, his grip tightening.

“Extremely hungover,” she replied, laughing weakly. “But other than that…”

“I’ll get the coffee going,” he said, and she felt his arms leave her. She cursed the lack of warmth until she felt the blanket wrapping around her and a hand gently shoving her to lie down. “For the moment, you lie down and get your bearings, hm?”

“Thank you,” she whispered as she watched his naked form walk towards the kitchen, thanking God that he wasn’t facing her as she watched him. He was a sight to see, she had to admit.

“Stop staring,” he said from the kitchen, turning to give her a sharp glance and a raised eyebrow. She should’ve known he’d guess where her eyes would be.

“Can you blame me?”

“Yes,” he laughed, turning his attention back to the task at hand. “You need to focus on feeling better.”

“And what if unashamedly staring at the man I love helps with that?”

He sighed and didn’t reply, defeated. She smirked and stretched out like a cat, pulling the blanket over her more securely.

She dozed off for a few minutes, relishing in how soft his blanket was before she felt a hand gently shaking her shoulder. “Coffee.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, sitting up and sipping it. “It should help with this headache. I appreciate it.”

He nodded his head in acknowledgment and stood up, finding his boxer shorts on the floor and slipping them on for modesty. She smiled a little at that. He was always the professional, civilized one, at work and in the bedroom, it would seem. “I need a shower,” he sighed, running his hand through his hair. “Do you mind?”

“Nope,” she replied, though as he started to walk away she added on to her statement. “Not if I can join you in a few minutes.”

She saw him stop dead in his tracks at that suggestion, and she couldn’t stop a snicker from escaping her throat. She did love to mess with him, but she didn’t think she’d ever actually seen him stop and think like that. She could practically see the gears turning in his head as he formulated a response.

“Alright,” he replied softly, his muscles relaxing as he turned to face her again, this time with a mischievous smile on his face. “Only if I can be the one in control this time.” He walked over to her, tilting her chin up with one hand so she had to look him in the eyes. “My turn, querida.”

Olivia audibly squeaked as he walked into the bathroom and turned on the water. This had the potential to be one of the most interesting mornings she’d had in a while.