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A Fresh Start

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Charlotte woke up extra early for her first day of work with Manhattan's Special Victims Unit. Truthfully she had been too wound up to sleep, she had always been a rather anxious person when it came to new situations. Once she adjusted, her anxiety would subside but for now she just had to push through and try to fake calmness. Due to the fact that she got up so early, Charlotte decided to stop at a little coffee shop down the street from her apartment for breakfast. She browsed the news on her phone while she ate her bagel and drank her coffee. It was a slow news day and nothing really grabbed her attention so she didn't actually select any articles to read. Despite the fact that she knew her phone hadn't gone off she checked her messages anyway to see if Max had texted. Nothing, of course, why would he bother to text her, call her, geese anything before she started her new job. She rolled her eyes when she realized he hadn't even responded to her last text and that was over a week ago.

She arrived at the precinct twenty minutes early and took a few deep breaths before she entered and headed to SVU. The bullpen was quiet so she walked over to the office she had interviewed in a few weeks back. "Lieutenant Benson?" Charlotte spoke assertively even though she was panicked on the inside. Olivia Benson looked up from her work and smiled. "Morning Charlie. Please call me Liv. Let me show you to your desk." Liv got up and joined Charlotte in the bullpen, guiding her to a desk close to the main entrance but not too far from where the other SVU detectives sat.

The desk faced the bullpen and had a wall behind it causing Charlotte to internally sigh with relief. It made her anxious to sit with her back to an open room and she was pleased to see she would be facing the entire room, this was one of her quirks that wouldn't go away no matter how comfortable she became. Hell, even when she went to eat at a restaurant she always tried to sit with her back to a wall. Charlotte never understood why she did this, nothing had ever happened to her but for as long as she can remember she's always felt uncomfortable sitting with her back to an open room.

"Hey Liv." A petit blond said as she hurried pasted them. Before she could respond a tall, well dressed, male detective walked past them. "Morning Liv." "Rollins. Carisi. Fin. Let me introduce you to Charlotte Daniels." Liv said causing the two that had just walked in and an older man who had been sitting at a desk to join her and Charlotte. "She will be an on staff victim advocate and will be helping with research on cases." Liv continued. "This is Amanda Rollins, Dominick Carisi, and Odafin Tutuola or Fin." Liv gestured to the detectives that had joined them. Charlotte gave them a small smile before stepping forward to shake their hands. "It's nice to meet you and please call me Charlie." "Charlie has a masters in social work, a masters psychology, and is currently working on her doctorate at Columbia. She has worked in rape crisis centers and has worked with police departments as a civilian investigator so please don't hesitate to utilize her during investigations." Liv added before heading back to her office.

"What police departments have you worked with?" Rollins asked as the group of detectives stood in front of her. "I worked with Brooklyn PD mostly while finishing my second masters at NYU." Charlotte replied. "How much do you have left on your doctorate?" Fin asked. "I've started my dissertation but I still have a year and a half to finish it. I feel like I've been researching it my entire adult life. If all things go according to plan I'll graduate in two years." Charlotte smiled. "You takin' evening classes or will you only be here part time?" Carisi asked. "We meet for class one weekend a month. The courses are designed for working professionals so we do a lot of work at home, e-mailing in assignments after the initial two day class. Then the next month we start the process over with a new class." Charlotte explained. "What's your dissertation on?" Rollins asked. "The social and psychological effects of rape on victims and the ever changing rape culture." Charlotte replied. She noticed Rollins eyebrows lift slightly so she added. "I don't use names and only use cases of those that give me permission." "You've got a lot on your plate." Carisi said. "I like to be busy." Charlotte smiled.

Her first day went smoothly. There was an ongoing case that the detectives had been working on that Charlotte had helped with by doing some research on the suspect. Later that afternoon she met the victim and started building a relationship with her. This aspect of the job had always come easy for her, people seemed to respond to her quickly in positive ways. She had always been a very calming and approachable person despite her own anxiety.

She still hadn't heard from Max when she returned home so she decided to call him. Millie, her black and white tabby cat, curled up beside her as the phone rang. Charlotte reached down and petted her as she listened to the rings. Great, voicemail, she thought. "Hey Max, it's me. Give me a call later." The relationship she had with Max had been going on for well over three years now, they were both busy but she didn’t understand his inability to communicate like a normal person.

The next morning she had a missed call and a voicemail from Max. "Charlie. Sorry I missed your call, I was out with some buddies from class. Hope your first day went well. I've got a break today, do you want to do lunch? Text me and let me know when your lunch is and I'll swing by." Charlotte smiled at his message and texted him to meet her at her work around twelve-thirty.

The bullpen was normally quiet at eight in the morning when she arrived but today the detectives who weren't scheduled to show until nine were already there quickly forming a plan to arrest the suspect Charlotte had helped them research yesterday. "Hey Charlie." Carisi smiled. "What's going on?" She asked. "DNA came back and it's a match with the suspect. Turns out he's in the system for a rape in Texas that never went to trial because the victim refused to testify. We're trying to locate him now so we can arrest him." Carisi said.

Before Charlotte had a chance to say anything else Rollins shouted. "Got him!" They were joined by Liv and Fin behind Rollins computer. "I've been looking through his online activity and he checks in at a coffee shop everyday around nine-thirty." Rollins said. "Alright, Rollins and Carisi, I'm going to have you two get to the coffee shop before nine if we can't locate him before then. Charlie, focus on finding his address. Even if we do get him at the coffee shop we are going to need to search his home for the missing jewelry." Liv said.

"Is John Peters in custody yet?" Charlotte turned to the familiar voice speaking behind her. "Not yet Barba. Rollins has a location he might be at around nine-thirty but we have yet to find his home address." Liv answered. Barba smiled when he saw Charlotte, a smile she happily returned having always found the snarky ADA amusing. "So you're just hoping he'll be somewhere around nine-thirty?" Barba asked sarcastically. "It's the best lead we have so far." Liv replied. "Fine," Barba huffed, "when are they heading out?" "We're going in ten minutes so that we can get in place before he arrives. Don't want to spook him." Carisi said.

Things started to calm down as Carisi and Rollins got ready to go. Barba walked closer to Charlotte who was standing next to Liv. "Oh Barba, this is Charlotte Daniels, she's..." Liv started to introduce them but Barba interrupted. "Charlie and I know each other from Brooklyn PD. You've got yourself a good addition to your team." "Woah, Barba actually praised someone?" Carisi said jokingly as he and Rollins joined them now that they were pretty much ready to go. "I do when it's deserved." Barba smirked. "You guys ready?" Liv asked Rollins. "Yep." She replied. "Go, we'll call if anything changes." Liv said.

"I'll see if I can find where he's living." Charlotte said, giving Barba one last little smile before heading to her desk. She began searching for family members in the area thinking that perhaps he was living with someone since they hadn't been able to find an address on file anywhere. No such luck. Then she looked through his work history but she couldn't find a current job for him and the last place he worked was in Nebraska. She found a number for his mother so she decided to give her a call. "Hi, Ms. Peters?" "Yes" Came the response on the other end of the call. "I'm sorry to bother you but I found a wallet for a John Peters and your number was inside. I'd like to mail it back to him, do you happen to have his current address?" Charlotte asked. "How sweet of you. I have it here somewhere. He just moved to New York and is staying with a friend, Phillip Thomas." Charlotte was already typing the friends name into her computer as Ms. Peters searched for the address. The address Ms. Peters rambled off matched the one she found confirming she had the correct address. "Thank you so much. I will get this in the mail this afternoon." Charlotte said and then hung up the phone.

"I've got his address," Charlotte said as she walked over to Liv, Fin, and Barba, "he's living with a friend in Queens." Charlotte handed Liv the address. Liv turned to Barba but he spoke before she could. "You'll have your warrant by the time you get there." He pulled out his phone to make a call stepping away from them. "You ready Fin?" Liv asked. He nodded. "Charlie if Rollins and Carisi return with Peters before we get back tell them to go ahead and question him, Barba can watch." With the last statement Liv and Fin rushed out the door leaving Charlotte and Barba.

"Thanks." Barba said as he hung up the phone. Charlotte had returned to her desk so he ventured over, pulling up a chair to sit. "Rafael Barba." She smirked. "I thought you left Brooklyn PD to work as a counselor at a middle school?" He asked. "I did for a few years but when I decided to get my doctorate I knew there wouldn't be enough time for school with that job so I left." Charlotte said. "You're getting your doctorate?" He had a twinkle in his eye as he asked. "In psychology. My dissertation is over the social and psychological effects of rape on victims and rape culture, so naturally I came back to New York's finest for work." She had forgotten how much she enjoyed talking to him or maybe it was just listening to him talk, his voice had always had an effect on her. The silly crush she had had on him when she worked for Brooklyn PD was coming back. She had met Max shortly before she quit or she probably would have asked Barba out after her last shift, you know when she wouldn't have to face him daily if he had rejected her. "You still dating that Max guy?" Barba asked. "Yes." Charlotte nodded. "Wow, that's been over what, three years now? Are you two getting serious?" He asked. Charlotte pursed her lips and looked down slightly. "Not really. We're both really busy and neither of us are in any rush so it's..." Barba lifted an eyebrow at her as she paused. "It is what it is." She half smiled and rolled her eyes slightly at her response. Barba leaned forward, resting his elbows on her desk. "He's an idiot." Charlotte smirked at Barba's statement. "How do you know I'm not setting the pace?" He smiled. "Because you once drunkenly told me you wanted someone to come home to everyday, to build a life with, not a person you saw when it was convenient."

She started to respond but was interrupted by Carisi and Rollins ushering John Peters into the bullpen. "Where's Liv." Carisi asked after they put Peters in interrogation. "She and Fin went to search his home. She said to go ahead and question him with Barba watching." Charlotte told them. "Sounds good." Carisi said as the three of them left Charlotte at her desk to go interrogate Peters.

Charlotte thought about the conversation she had just had with Barba. Was she just staying in this relationship because of convenience? She had always wanted a partner in life and Max definitely wasn't that. She wanted someone who didn't take a week to respond to her text or call her back. Someone she saw more than three to four times a month. After three years shouldn't their relationship be further along than that? What would have happened if she hadn't met Max and she had asked Barba out after she left Brooklyn PD? Would he have said yes? She liked Max but she hadn't expected those old feeling she had for Barba to still be so strong and why did they excited her? She had decided that she would talk to Max at lunch about their relationship. If he wanted to become serious and move their relationship forward then she would stay with him but if he refused then she felt it was time to move on.

"What do you want me to do Barba? He asked for a lawyer." Rollins was saying as they reentered the bullpen. Barba didn't respond to her but instead walked over to Charlotte‘s desk and sat back down across from her. "What time is it?" He asked. "Eleven-fifteen." She smiled. "Good. Maybe Liv will be back soon with something that will help us move forward with this case." He huffed. Charlotte covered her mouth to hide the smile spreading across her lips at his frustration. "You never were a patient man were you Barba?" Charlotte smirked at the face he gave her. "Soy más paciente de lo que jamás sabrás, cariño." (I'm more patient than you'll ever know sweetheart.) Charlotte furrowed her brow and pushed her bottom lip up slightly. "I knew I should've taken some Spanish classes when I went back to school." A satisfied smile spread across his face as he cross his arms over his chest and stared at her.

"We found Sara's necklace along with a few others in the room Peters is staying in at his friends house." Liv said as she and Fin returned. "They were each in their own individual bags with dates on them. Sara's date matched that of her assault." Fin added. Barba looked up at them as they walked in but didn't bother to get up. "Peters is in interrogation but he lawyered up so we are waiting." Carisi informed Liv. "Great. Charlie call Sara, see if she can come in for a line up around three this afternoon." Liv said. "Will do. Hey Liv?" Charlotte said. "Yes." Liv responded turning to look at her. "I have lunch plans at twelve-thirty, is that ok or should I reschedule?" Charlotte asked. "That shouldn't be a problem just make sure you're back by the time Sara gets here." Liv said. "I will be." Charlotte smiled.

Charlotte called Sara and then started looking for similar rapes reported that happened on the dates each bag had written on it as Barba put his feet up on her desk. "Really?" Charlotte said gesturing with her eyes to his feet. Barba shrugged and smiled at her but didn't remove his feet. Charlotte rolled her eyes and went back to work.

Charlotte printed up a list of reported rapes that matched Peters MO and the dates of the different necklaces. Barba hadn't moved but was now at least taking notes on the case on a legal pad as he set with his feet up on her desk. She was about to get up and take her list to Rollins when Max walked in. "Hey Charlie." She looked up. "Max. Is it twelve-thirty already?" "It is." He smiled at her and then looked at Barba who looked a little too comfortable at Charlotte's desk. "Hey Barba, aren't you Brooklyn's ADA?" Max asked. "I transferred to Manhattan two and a half years ago." Barba replied barely looking up from his work. Charlotte took her list to Rollins and then walked back over to Max. "You ready?" "Sure." Max said giving Barba an uneasy look and placing his arm around her waist.

"Who was that?" Carisi asked as Barba joined him at Rollins desk to go over Charlotte‘s list. "Charlie's boyfriend, Max." Barba huffed. "I take it you don't like the guy." Rollins smirked. "She deserves better." Barba replied. Rollins and Carisi glanced at each other. "How long did you work with Charlie in Brooklyn?" Carisi asked. "Four years, why?" Barba answered. "You seem close, that's all." Carisi said. "We were." Barba said as a smile hinted at the corner of his mouth.

Charlotte and Max went to a deli not too far from the precinct. "How's school going?" Charlotte asked. "It's going well. You should come out with me and my buddies from class sometime." Max said. "I'd like to if you would invite me before you were already out." Charlotte smiled as she said it. "I know, it's just most of the time we don't decide to go out until after class is over." Max said. "I know." She smiled and rested her hand on his arm.

They ate and chatted about school. As they were finishing and heading back to the station Charlotte finally built up the courage to ask. "Max? We've been together for over three years now, do you ever want more out of our relationship?" He paused and looked at her. "Eventually, but right now things are good the way they are." "Are they?" She asked. "I think so." He smiled and took her hand in his. "I always thought I'd have partner after three years not someone I only see three to four times a month." Charlotte said. "Why are you bringing this up now?" Max said irritably. "When would be a better time for me to bring it up? I don't even know the next time I'll get to see you." Charlotte's tone matched his. "Is this about Barba? You two were always hanging out together." Max accused. "What? No. It's about our relationship. How long are we going to keep doing the same thing? How many more years am I going to keep checking my phone to see if you've finally decided to respond to me. You may be content with things the way they are but I am not." Charlotte was calm but Max could tell she was upset. "I don't know Charlie but this is how I am. If you want to be with me then you'll be with me." Max bluntly stated. "Wow. Ok. So fuck what I want or how I feel. You're so fucking great that I should just put all that aside and just appreciate when you decided to grace me with your presence." Charlotte raised her voice slightly. "I don't know what you want me to say." Max said. "I think you've already said it." Charlotte started to walk faster. "Charlie wait." Max reached out and gently grabbed her arm causing her to stop and look at him, silently cursing the tears that were forming. "I can't keep doing what we're doing." "I don't want more right now." Max said pushing her hair behind her ear. "Then I can't do this anymore." Charlotte said as the tears began to run down her cheeks. Max pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her head. "We just want different things." She smiled and wiped her cheeks. "I guess you're right but I need someone who wants what I want out of a relationship." "I understand. I want you to be happy, even if it's not with me." Max smiled. "Why can't you want me to be happy with you?" Charlotte asked as tears threatened to form again. "Because what you want doesn't make me happy." Max said. "So this is it?" Charlotte whimpered. "It would seem so." Max replied.

Charlotte broke their embrace and continued her walk to the precinct alone. She was sad but she kept telling herself it wouldn't be that bad. Hell, it wouldn't be that different. They had barely seen each other so it's not like she'd be anymore alone than she had been before. Her eyes were still a little red when she arrived back at work but her tears had dried.

"So, that was your boyfriend?" Carisi asked as she walked back into the bullpen. "Was being the operative word." Charlotte deadpanned. Barba lifted his gaze up from case file he was reading. "You broke up with Max?" "You were right, I want more." Charlotte sighed sitting down at her desk and digging into work to take her mind off Max, not noticing the smile that tugged at the corners of Barba's mouth. It didn't go unnoticed by Rollins though.