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Captive Heart

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At first, he insists he’s going to fight this – refuses any and all deals offered to him, intent on proving his innocence. In the end, it’s Olivia who convinces him: a guilty verdict could mean the rest of his life spent behind bars. The offer from the DA’s office is, frankly, stunningly generous: a guilty plea to a charge of voluntary manslaughter, a class B felony, in exchange for a sentence of five years, with the possibility of parole after three.

 

“A guilty plea means I lose everything, Liv,” he argues, tired and harrowed like she’s never seen him before, late one night sitting cross-legged on her living room floor, a nearly empty glass in his hand as he rubs one hand across his eyes. “A felony, any felony, costs me my license… I’d never practice law again.”

 

“If they find you guilty of first degree murder, you could never breathe free air again,” she points out, reaching out to take his hand, urgency in her voice as she pleads with him. “It’s three years, compared to the rest of your life!” She’s quiet for a moment, waiting until he reluctantly meets her eyes to deliver the finishing blow. “I don’t want to lose you.”

 

He stares at her for a long moment, and she sees surrender in his eyes, a moment before he drops his head against their joined hands, then leans in to rest against her knees. In the hushed, safe privacy of her dimly lit living room, the reality is slowly sinking in, for both of them – how this may be the last time they’re here, together, for a very long time.

 

 He won’t lift his head for several minutes, and she doesn’t try to find out if it’s because his face, like hers, is streaked with tears. She just runs her fingers through his hair, comforting herself as much as him with the reassurance of his presence. He’s still here, with her, for the moment – and she’ll hold on as long as she can, to as much as she can.

 

Three years is a long time, but it’s not a lifetime; she’s not willing to gamble with all that’s left of his life.

 

In the years to come, she’ll learn just how long three years can be, and she’ll wonder again and again how things might have been different had she not pressed him into this choice – but for tonight, it’s enough to know that the days he’ll be away are not countless, that her best friend in all the world will come home to her.

 

She has no way of knowing that he’ll hardly be the same man when he does.

 

********************************************************************

 

They won’t let her visit him for the first three days – something about processing and security protocol. She spends those days wrapped in a haze of frustrated tension, distracted with worry that she knows will dissipate as soon as she can see his face, can reassure herself that he’s as all right as he could be, given his circumstances.

 

Her position earns them a private visitation room. She’s relieved to see that Rafael looks all right, as he enters the room, escorted by a guard. He’s not limping, no visible bruises on his face or arms as he’s led to the large metal table in the center of the room and seated across from her. She can’t help casting a resentful glare toward the guard as he cuffs Rafael’s wrists to the table, before moving to stand just inside the door.

 

“Are those really necessary?” she asks, reaching out to touch his wrist, studying his skin for any sign of injury. The skin is barely red from the irritation of the metal.

 

“Yes, Lieutenant Benson,” the guard replies, apologetic, but frowning and taking a step forward. “No physical contact, please.”

 

Rafael pulls his hands back first, the short distance that he can, his eyes focused on the table, and Olivia fights down her smoldering indignation at the sheer indignity of it. She’s never seen him so subdued and obedient, and while she knows it’s best that he is, in here – it still fills her with a quiet, protective fury. She sits back in her seat, folding her hands on the table in front of her.

 

“He’s not dangerous,” she argues. “And if he was, I’m more than capable…”

 

Liv.” His quiet voice, breaking his silence, silences her. He looks up at her at last, sorrow and affection mingled in his eyes, belying the rueful smile on his lips. “It’s the price for privacy,” he points out, his voice quiet and careful. “This is a maximum security prison. At least we’re not talking to each other through a sheet of glass.”

 

She’s quiet for a moment, torn between her protective instinct, and the knowledge that he’s right.

 

 Trust Rafael Barba to be as pragmatic and rational as ever, even here…

 

“There is that,” she concedes at last with a sigh, returning his smile, drinking in the warmth in his eyes. She commits it to memory, knowing she’ll have to make it last.

 

********************************************************************

 

It’s a week before she can visit him again.

 

“What the hell?” she protests, rising to her feet at the sight of the dark bruise across his cheek, the blackened curl around his left eye. “What happened?”

 

“A couple of my fellow inmates were offended by my, ah…  existing near them, apparently,” Rafael sighs as he sits down across from her, holding out his wrists to be fastened to the table. He doesn’t look at her, and she hates the trace of shame she hears in his voice, his hesitation before admitting, “I expected a difficult transition. I’m not exactly the most popular guy in here, Liv.” He swallows slowly, his voice soft. “I’m a former ADA convicted of child murder...”

 

She doesn’t try to contest the accuracy of his words. They’ve had enough discussions about the choices that have led him here for her to know that Rafael does not feel that what he did was murder – and also to know that he’s haunted by his actions that night. She focuses instead on the most immediate problem.

 

“You’re supposed to be in protective custody.”

 

“I am,” he assures her, his tone mild, his gaze not quite meeting hers. “And the protective custody unit is filled with the sorts of other prisoners who’d be likely targets in gen pop – people like rapists and child molesters and other sex criminals that… I put here.”

 

Olivia’s stomach drops; she hadn’t considered that particular side of Rafael’s situation. She shakes her head in alarm. “That – no, there has to be some alternative…”

 

He does meet her eyes then, sharp and certain. “There isn’t. Gen pop would be worse. The only alternative is solitary confinement, and…” He swallows slowly, glancing away before meeting and holding her gaze. “You know I can’t live like that, not for five years, Liv.” He’s quiet for a moment, his voice softened as he reassures her, “The PC unit is the best option. The guards keep a closer eye on things there. They just – can’t be everywhere at once. Someone got to me, just for a minute, and then they saw and broke it up. That’s all.”

 

Olivia can’t help thinking about what might have happened if the “someone” who “got to” Rafael had had some kind of a weapon besides their fists.

 

********************************************************************

 

When she returns to visit him again the following week, the bruises have started to fade.

 

So has Rafael.

 

He’s quiet. His smile is hollow, brittle, and doesn’t touch his shadowed, evasive eyes.

 

For the first time, he’s the one to end the visit, claiming exhaustion. She frowns when he flinches – just slightly, almost imperceptibly – as the guard reaches for his wrists to unfasten the cuffs from the table. She watches as he walks away, trying to decide if he’s plodding a bit because he’s tired, or doing a remarkable job of concealing a limp.

 

She’s troubled as she drives away, realizing – during the entire visit, he didn’t meet her eyes once.

 

***************************************************************************

 

The visits that follow do nothing to assuage Olivia’s fears; in fact, she’s more and more worried, unsettled by Rafael’s increasingly withdrawn demeanor, and the fresh bruises she sees each time he enters the visitation room.

 

He insists that it’s nothing he can’t handle, nothing that isn’t to be expected. There’s always a story, some reason or excuse for why his “protective custody” wasn’t quite protective enough.

 

“We knew I was going to be a target,” he reminds her. Then a moment later, weary and defeated, “… I brought this on myself.”

 

Her heart just stops for a moment… then is overwhelmed with a deep ache at the shame in his voice… the quiet acceptance, as if this is something he deserves.

 

“This has to stop,” she declares, quiet but fierce. “This is going to stop.”

 

***********************************************************************

 

The next time she goes to visit Rafael, a few days later – she’s turned away.

 

“I’m sorry, ma’am, Mr. Barba has taken you off his approved visitors list,” the woman at the counter informs her, detached and disinterested behind the glass barrier through which she speaks.

 

“He what?” Olivia is stunned. “No, there has to be a mistake…”

 

“No mistake,” the woman insists, glancing back at her computer screen. “It says right here, ‘prisoner requests Olivia Benson be removed from approved visitors list’, lists the date of the request and everything.”

 

Olivia notes the date with a sinking heart.

 

Rafael requested that she not be allowed to see him anymore, the day of her last visit.

 

*****************************************************************

 

It isn’t hard to find a way around the rule – takes her a week or two to work it out, but then she knows what to do.

 

She picks a cold case, one they’d worked on together, and uses it as her ticket inside. Doesn’t matter if the prisoner wants to see her, not if he may have crucial information that just might lead to a break in her case. It isn’t a visit, it’s an interview. She’s there in an official capacity.

 

She tosses the folder in her hand down on the table and doesn’t pick it up again for the rest of the visit. Instead, she focuses on Rafael, taking in the fresh bruises on his face, and more disturbingly, around his wrists.

 

“What happened this time?” she asks, her tone cool and careful, trying to mask her rising fear and frustration.

 

He doesn’t answer, doesn’t look at her. His hands tremble a little on the table, until he notices and folds them tightly together, an anxious swallow visible in his throat.

 

“Rafa, what the hell?” she asks, her voice hushed, leaning across the table and seeking his eyes. “Come on, talk to me.”

 

He’s leaning back as far as he can in his chair, eyes steadily downcast.

 

“Why did you take me off your list?” she asks, barely managing to mask the hurt she feels. “Why are you – pushing me away?”

 

He swallows slowly, his jaw clenching, eyes averted as he finally responds, slow and clipped. “Because I do not want you here.”

 

It feels like a slap in her face.

 

“Why not?” she demands. “Rafael, you need your friends to get through this…”

 

“No, I don’t,” he snaps, glaring up at her for a moment, his eyes shining with unshed tears. “You’re the only one who comes to see me, anyway – and I wish you wouldn’t. I asked that you wouldn’t.”

 

Why?” she repeats, desperate, confused.

 

“Because you’re only making this harder.” His voice is thick, hoarse, and he stares down at the table again. “Seeing you,” he clarifies, his voice rising with bitter resentment as he goes along. “It just – makes this all – harder, and – and I know what I have to do to get through this, and I know how long I have to get through it, and I don’t need you showing up on one more of your righteous hero crusades, just… fucking things up even worse.”

 

Olivia flinches, stunned by the harsh, accusing words. “Rafael, I – I’m not…”

 

“I don’t… want you here,” he repeats. “Please leave.”

 

She stares at him in disbelieving confusion for a long moment. “Rafael – Rafa, no…”

 

“Fine.” He cuts her off sharply, rising to his feet, though he’s brought up short by the chains that bind his hands to the table. He closes his eyes for a moment, visibly swallows back his frustration, and then turns to the guard, voice quiet and submissive. “I’d like to go back to my cell now, please.”

 

The guard complies with Rafael’s wishes, over Olivia’s protests, and he disappears without another word to her – definitely limping, this time, she notices.

 

But there’s nothing she can do.

 

He’s shut her out, far more effectively than he ever could have done if he was free. She can’t call him, she can’t come to see him without manufactured motives – and she knows there’s nothing to be gained by blatantly disregarding his wishes. She could come back the next week with another cold case, if she wanted to – but she knows it would just push him farther away.

 

She talks to the captain about her concerns, but he brushes them off – clearly utterly disinterested in what may or may not be happening to the ADA who’s recently shamed the district attorney’s office and, as far as he’s concerned, the entire law enforcement system of New York City. She does a little asking around, tries to find someone who might be able to get more information – but gets shut down at every turn.

 

She seems to be the only person in the city who’s at all concerned with the safety and well-being of ex-ADA Rafael Barba.

 

*************************************************************************

 

About a year into his sentence, he calls her.

 

She only knows it’s him by the electronic voice, informing her she has a collect call from a prisoner at Riker’s Island Correctional Facility, and asking her if she wishes to accept the charges. She doesn’t hesitate, heart racing in alarm and anticipation.

 

But she doesn’t hear his voice.

 

There’s dead air on the line, maybe a soft intake of breath? She can’t be sure.

 

He doesn’t say anything – but the call hasn’t been disconnected, so she knows he’s listening.

 

She fills the allowed five minutes that follow with everything she’s stored up in her heart for the past year – telling him how she loves and misses him, promising help and support in any way he needs, any way she can possibly offer it. She tells him he’s strong, tells him he’s good, tells him he doesn’t deserve to suffer alone, or at all.

 

She begs him to speak to her.

 

He doesn’t.

 

****************************************************************

 

She doesn’t see him or hear from him again for two years.

 

She thinks of him often, worries about him, and reassures herself with the cold comfort that if he’d been killed, or even hurt too badly, she’d have heard about it on the news. He’s still a household name in local circles, and she hopes it’s enough to offer him some measure of protection – the protection she wanted to give him, but has been rendered incapable of doing so.

 

Her phone rings, and she answers… nearly dropping the phone when she hears that same tinny, recorded message once again, from Riker’s Island. When the call connects, she swallows, her mouth suddenly dry, before managing to get out his name in a hoarse whisper.

 

“Rafael?”

 

“Hey, Liv.” His voice is soft, hesitant. “I – I know it’s been a long time, but – I’m calling to ask you for – a ride. In a couple of days.” He’s quiet for a long moment, her heart racing with hope, thoughts racing with confusion, before he explains, “My parole was approved today. I – I’m coming home.”