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For Good

Chapter Text

I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led to those who help us most to grow
If we let them and we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you...

Rafael Barba looked in the mirror and struggled to reconcile the face of the man looking back at him – a man with a scruffy growth of five days’ worth of beard stubble – with the well-groomed, well-dressed man he had been for the past 20 years.

When he’d first requested the lateral transfer to the Manhattan DA’s office, he’d had no intentions of staying in that position for long. He wanted to move up the ladder and felt that a position in Manhattan offered him more opportunities and more exposure. He’d been aggressive and ruthless, only taking cases that he knew he could win. He wasn’t likely to be promoted or become the judge his Abuela had been convinced he would be one day if he lost more cases than he won.

It was all worked out; he’d be elected to the office of district attorney within three years of his move. He’d had a plan.

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good

The one thing he hadn’t planned on, however, was the whirlwind that was Olivia Benson. From the moment he met her, he’d been blown away by her passion, and his professional admiration for her only grew as he got to know her, as he saw how she was with victims and their families. Oh, there were times she drove him crazy, as he was sure he did to her. They always managed to find their way past those, however, and built a successful professional partnership.

Working in such close proximity, dealing with the harrowing cases that they did, he supposed it was only inevitable that they’d develop a friendship too. There weren’t many people who could understand the stresses of their jobs, so they gravitated towards each other, taking solace in the small victories and sharing late night drinks together. Eventually, they’d began to turn to each other for comfort when facing personal struggles. She’d offered reassurance after he’d turned his childhood friend over to the authorities for the possession of child pornography. When his Abuelita had died, he’d sent her a text to let her know he’d be taking some time off and she’d been at his door within an hour, a bottle of his favourite scotch in hand and a shoulder to cry on.

When she’d found out the truth about Noah’s father, it had been his turn to provide reassurance. In the end, she’d ignored his pleas and promises, not wanting to start her life with Noah on a lie. As frustrating as it was, he’d understood. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe him, it was that she didn’t want to lie to her son.

He thinks it was around the time of his Abuelita’s passing that he began to realise his feelings for his friend had developed into something more. He hadn’t wanted to deal with them then; he was still grieving – and she had been, quite rightly, focused on Noah and the adoption. When he had come to terms with how he felt about her, just as he’d been working up the courage to act on them, he’d found out she was in a relationship with Tucker. That had been like a punch to the gut and their relationship, both the professional and personal facets, had taken a hit.

They’d just about returned to the level of familiarity and closeness they’d had before the church scandal when all hell had broken loose. And now it looked like their relationship was definitely over.

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me like a handprint on my heart

The threats against him had intensified over the past few months and, despite the best efforts of SVU and his security detail, there had been several attempts on his life. The latest had been a bomb under his car. A bomb that had taken out the male officer that had been assigned to protect him. He’d been quickly squirrelled away and hidden in a safe house. Time had dragged as he’d sat there in that sparsely decorated room with only two security agents for company, waiting for news. When the head of his security detail arrived, Barba’s relief was short lived. They had no leads. It was too risky to allow him to return to his life. Several people believed that he had perished in the explosion and their plan was to perpetuate the lie; to make everyone believe that he was dead. To put him into the witness protection program.

His first instinct had been to protest. He had a life; family, friends, a good job, a purpose. But it all fell on deaf ears. The agent in charge had merely scoffed and asked him what use all those things were to a dead man. He’d also pointed out that by not remaining ‘dead’, he was putting those he claimed to care about in danger. What if the perpetrators went after them. He thought about his mother and Olivia. The thought that something should happen to either of them or to Noah, was the final straw. He agreed to witness protection. On one condition…

And now whatever way our stories end I
know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...

The knock came shortly after 2 am. The agents had thought it best that this meeting took place well under the cover of darkness. Rafael sat ram-rod straight on the sofa as the two agents assigned to him moved to the front door, guns drawn. The meeting may have been planned, but you could never be too cautious in these situations. After some hushed conversation at the door, Olivia appeared; a little light on a dark day. He stood as she rushed him, wrapping her arms around him and pulling him into a hug. She buried her head in the crook of his neck as she tried unsuccessfully to stifle her tears.

Despite never having been this close to her before, instinct took over and Barba returned her hug, rubbing his hands up and down her back soothingly.

“I thought…” she began but found herself unable to say the words.

“I know. But I’m not. I’m here.”

She pulled back slightly – just enough that she could see his face but remain in his embrace. “Not for long though.”

Rafael glanced at the suitcase that stood by the door. “No, not for long.” They’d be leaving in a few hours, while it was still dark. He’d be taken out of the city, maybe never to return, and thrust into a new life as Rafael Diaz. But there were things he had to say to Olivia before that happened, things that he needed her to know. He turned to his security detail. “Can we have the room please?”

The three agents shared a look and their boss shook his head. “This is the main point of entry to the house, we need to maintain a presence by the door.” Rafael opened his mouth to protest, but the agent cut him off. “If you want privacy, you’re more than welcome to use one of the rooms upstairs, as long as one of us remains outside.”

Rafael led Olivia slowly towards the stairs, the female agent trailing behind. “You have two hours Mr Barba,” the agent called after them.

They settled in a bedroom at the far end of the hall, sitting next to each other on the edge of the bed. “I don’t know what to say,” whispered Olivia, unable to accept the fact that he was leaving, that she’d never see him again.

“Then don’t say anything. Just listen. There are some things I have to say.” He reached over and plucked her hands from her lap, enveloping them in his own. “Olivia, you are a strong woman, a brilliant police officer, an amazing mother and a loyal friend and I am honoured to have known you, to have had you in my life. I know I’m not the easiest person to work with and, in the beginning, I was arrogant and, well, quite frankly a bit of an ass-hole.”

Olivia smirked. “Just in the beginning?”

“Okay, so maybe I still am on occasion,” he conceded. “You know, I had all these plans about what I was going to do in New York. How the transfer was going to enable me to move up the political ladder, but somewhere along the line that stopped being important. It stopped driving me. It had been replaced by something else. By someone else. My plans, my life, had been rewritten. And I didn’t even care.”

Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good

I changed Liv. Because of you. You made me see that there was more to these cases than winning. That we had to advocate for the victim. That we had to take on people and organisations that thought they were above the law. You taught me that doing the right thing was more important than playing politics. You changed me, Liv.”

Olivia was speechless, shocked, and yet deeply moved at the same time. She was suddenly aware of the tears prickling at the corner of her eyes and held them back, trying to stay composed.

And just to clear the air
I ask forgiveness
For the things I've done, you blame me for
But then, I guess we know
There's blame to share
And none of it seems to matter anymore

“I know that I’ve done things that you haven’t agreed with and I’m sorry. For all of it. The way I handled the case with Alex Munöz, pushing you at the police shooting grand jury.” He swallowed before continuing, before broaching the subject that they had both skilfully avoided for the past 3 years. “For not being able to convict William Lewis the first time.” His gaze dropped to their joined hands. “For not being able to stop him.

Olivia grasped his hands. “I never blamed you for that Rafael.” He looked up as his first name fell from her lips. “Never. I’ve never told you this, but in the aftermath of what happened, you were the only one who didn’t treat me as if I was broken. You challenged me and argued with me just as you always had, and I will appreciate that more than you will ever know.”

“Still, it should never have happened.”

“You’re right, it shouldn’t have. But it isn’t on you.” She lifted a hand to wipe a stray tear from Rafael’s cheek. “But while we’re on the subject of things that we shouldn’t have done, I should apologise too. I know I brought you tough cases and sometimes I made them worse. I should have listened to you when you advised me not to reveal that I knew Johnny D was Noah’s biological father. It nearly monkey wrenched your case and I’m sorry. I’m sorry for-”

Rafael held up a hand to silence her. “I think it’s safe to say, we’ve both upset and annoyed each other several times over the years we’ve worked together, but it doesn’t matter now. It all pales into insignificance at the fact that I’m probably never going to see you again. I thought we’d have time… I never imagined…”

“Time for what?”

He hadn’t intended to tell her how he felt, but the words just tumbled out. He couldn’t stop them. “For us… I thought maybe there was… something between us. Something more.”

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood

At her silence, Rafael began to “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything. You’re with Tucker, I understand that. And I’m leaving.” He sighed. “I just…” Olivia ignored him and reached up to kiss his lips softly.

“There is something more,” she whispered, pulling him close. “I didn’t think you were interested. That was why I accepted Tucker’s invitation for drinks. But what I feel for him… it’s nothing compared to what I feel for you. And now you’re leaving, and we’ll never get to find out if...” She trailed off as her emotions spilt over and her tears flowed freely. “What am I going to do without you?” she choked out between sobs.

Rafael’s heart broke at the sight of her tears. “Oh, Liv.” He wished he could find the right words to give her comfort; wished that he could promise her that things would be okay. He wished she knew that she wasn’t alone in being afraid, but he didn’t know how to say it out loud.

Instead, he leaned down and captured her sweet lips with his own. They were warm and soft and trembled slightly at the contact. She ran her hand up along the length of his arm until she found the back of his neck. She threaded her fingers through the short hair they encountered there, pulling him even closer. When she felt his tongue's gentle prodding, she opened her mouth willingly, letting him in. Olivia wanted to taste him, to drink him.

His hands trailed a path up and down her spine, and she shivered underneath his gentle touch. They moved to her sides, brushing against her breasts through the thin layer of her cotton shirt. She gasped into his mouth, and he took the opportunity to deepen the kiss even further.

Her hands reached for the buttons on his shirt and he pulled from the kiss. “Liv, we can’t,” he whispered, glancing at the bedroom door. “There’s a US Marshall out there and…”

There were other reasons for not going down this road, but he didn’t want to sully the memory of this moment by speaking the name of the other man in her life. She understood. She knew. But she continued to her trail down the front of his shirt, unfastening the buttons as she went.

“I don’t care,” she insisted. “I may never see you again.” She cupped his face in her hands. “Please, Rafael. Make love to me."

He’d never been able to deny her anything in all the time they’d worked together. He certainly wasn’t going to start now, not when she was offering him everything he’d wanted for at least the last two years. His hands found the hem of her t-shirt and she shivered as he lifted it. They didn’t have much time. It wouldn’t be the slow, romantic seduction either of them had dreamt of, but it was all they had, and they would grasp it with both hands.

When they finally came together as one, a sense of peace and completion overcame them. They never wanted to let go. And with their release, came the knowledge that they were, in fact, one. No matter how far apart they would be.

Who can say if I've been
Changed for the better?
I do believe I have been
Changed for the better.

They stood in front of the door, locked in an embrace, both reluctant to let go. At a discreet cough from his security detail, he pulled back and held her face in his. “Liv, I have to go.” His eyes were wet and shining, gleaming shades of hazel, as he pressed a gentle kiss to her temple. He caressed her cheeks with his thumbs, then leaned in to place a gentle yet needy kiss on her lips. He inhaled her deeply, and her composure broke for a moment as her face clenched against his in agony. “I love you,” he whispered, before beginning to gather his things. He checked his pockets for the wallet they’d given him – packed full of cards and identification for his new identity. He ran a hand absent-mindedly through his hair, before picking up his jacket and small suitcase. With one look back at her, he walked to the door and opened it a few inches.

“Rafael!”

Her sudden breach of the pervading silence caused him to jump. He turned around swiftly, eyebrow raised. She came to him.

“Raf… I…” As he looked at her, the pain and grief in her eyes were startlingly evident. He wrapped his arms around her, hugging her tightly to him. She could barely hold herself together. Her body vibrated, struggling against the waves surging within it. “I love you too.”

“Look after yourself Liv. And Noah. Tell him I said hi. And for God’s sake, don’t let him go to Hudson.”

She smiled through her tears at the memory of the late-night conversation they’d shared after one of the many cases they’d dealt with involving that institution. “Don’t worry, it’ll be Harvard all the way.”

He returned her smile. “Thank you. For everything. I really am a better person for having known you, Olivia Benson.”

Her tears fell freely once more. “And I you, Rafael Barba.”

If that was the last time he ever heard his given name, he couldn’t have asked for it to be filled with more love and affection.

“If I can come back one day, I will. I promise. But don’t wait for me. Live your life. Enjoy it. Be happy.” He couldn’t bring himself to say that if she could be happy with Tucker then she should be. He didn’t know what was going to happen there now, and he didn’t want to add to her pain.

She took a step back. The steadiness of his voice calmed her and, finding balance in his eyes, she recomposed herself.

He turned again to the door, stopping short of stepping out, half expecting her to stop him. She didn’t and he crossed the threshold. Taking the knob in hand, he looked back to her, studying her face. She maintained eye contact. He smiled softly then pulled the door shut behind him.

Almost as soon as he'd closed it, she leapt forward and grasped the door handle. She began to turn it... but let her hand fall. Deep down she knew he had to go.

As she began to move away, she heard a sound -- a brushing noise on the outside of the door. She could hear the wood groan a bit as Rafael put his weight against it, leaning heavily into it. Several moments passed with no motion. Then, just as suddenly, she could hear the wood relax as his weight was removed from it.

And then nothing.

Because I knew you...
Because I knew you...
Because I knew you...
I have been changed for good.