Until the second-to-last day of Barba’s murder trial, the possibility of jail time, of a 3-5 year sentence, didn’t seem real. Maybe, both he and Benson rationalized, McCoy was putting him through the wringer to placate a politician, or to answer the Ledger’s tabloidy calls to prosecute the “Baby Killer ADA”: good headlines, bad justice. Maybe McCoy would reduce the charges at the last minute, plead Barba out on probation. The charges seemed so unreasonable that they thought, until that second-to-last day, that there was almost no way McCoy would wait on a jury verdict that would send Barba to prison for a minimum of 3 years.
When Benson saw Stone question Barba on the stand, when she saw him badger her friend until he admitted that he felt guilty, she realized that McCoy was going to take the charges all the way. And for the first time, she saw Barba terrified: not worried, but genuinely terrified. The ADA who’d once handed his home address to a man who’d threatened his life on the courthouse steps was scared for his freedom, his well-being, his life.
“They’re not offering a plea deal?” Benson asked Dworkin in the hall outside the courtroom. “They’re really going to let this go to a jury verdict tomorrow?”
Dworkin shook his head. “McCoy’s an asshole. But I’ve got a killer closing statement.”
“Honestly, what are the chances they’ll convict?”
Dworkin opened his mouth to say something, but quickly stopped himself, an unusual move on his part. “Fifty-fifty,” he said, resigned.
Benson let out a worried, open-mouthed sigh. “I don’t know why he didn’t ask Rita Calhoun to represent him.”
“They’re B-F-Fs,” he said, the term rolling awkwardly, sarcastically, off his tongue. “You don’t put your friend through that, you don’t make your friend represent you at your murder trial.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Barba, wrapped up in his long tan coat, arms folded against his chest, hurrying from the bathroom to the back exit, which the press, particularly the Ledger, usually avoided. “See you tomorrow,” she told Dworkin, and she rushed off after Barba.
“Rafa, Rafa,” she called when they were together on the sidewalk.
“What,” he said flatly, not even a question, without looking at her.
She moved a few steps closer, until she could touch his arm through his coat. “I don’t want you to be alone tonight,” she said. “Go get your things for tomorrow, come stay with me.”
“Liv.” He swallowed, hard. “I might be going to prison for years. I’ve already broken my mother’s heart. Transferred all my savings into her name, put my apartment on the market, I’m not, I’m not expecting … I’m prepared if this doesn’t turn out well.”
“No.” He took a deep breath. “Yes. Very. I don’t want to have to put Noah through —”
“Stop. Please, have dinner with us, and stay the night. I don’t want you to be alone.” She linked her arm with his as they walked toward the subway.
“Don’t do that,” he said. “Someone from the Ledger’ll take a picture and drag you right down with me.”
“What,” she said, leaning closer, “they’ll think we’re sleeping together?”
“What more can the Ledger do to you, really?”
He picked up a clean white shirt, a new tie, socks, underwear, and pajama bottoms at his place — where he asked Benson to stand outside the door, telling her “you don’t want to see this,” meaning that he’d already packed the place up in preparation for 3-5 years at Ossining for interfering in a family's right-to-die case — and went home with Benson. They ate dinner, chatted as if it was any other winter night when Barba came over to work, and got Noah ready for bed. Before he went to bed, Barba hugged Noah, tightly, like he’d miss the kid desperately, and that was what finally got to him.
When Benson came out of Noah’s room, she found Barba in her kitchen, sobbing silently into his hand.
“Rafa.” She hurried over and threw her arms around him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I never should have called you that night. You almost never work our cases involving kids under 14, and I knew, I knew your issues with right-to-die and I called you anyway.”
He was crying into her shoulder, into the crook of her neck. His cheeks were hot but his forehead, and his hands, and the arms he’d wrapped around her, were ice-cold. He was scared. Terrified.
When he stopped, he looked at her sideways, red-eyed. “I should go home,” he said hoarsely.
“No. No, you’ll stay here, you will not be alone tonight.”
“You’re too good a person. It shouldn’t be on you to make it better for me, to fix my mistakes, my criminal mistakes.”
“Rafa, shut up,” she said, drawing him close, this time whispering a feather-light kiss across his lips, because if he was found guilty, tomorrow was yet another ending.
He kissed her back, a little more intensity, his tongue finally darting between her lips. “This is why you wanted me to stay?” he asked, raising an eyebrow, looking — for a moment — like Rafael Barba again. “I’ve been flirting with you for years,” he added, a half-teasing comment as he pressed a few more kisses to her neck and shoulder. “Knew it was never going anywhere because of the number of cases we worked together, but … oh.” Her thumb and forefinger were on his zipper, the other three fingers on his crotch. “Hey, now, don’t feel like just because the apocalypse is tomorrow —”
“Did I saw I “feel like just because” anything?” she asked in a low voice, eliciting a groan from him. She removed her hand without undoing the zipper, running it through his hair instead. “It’s been so many years between us, I —”
“No, honey, I don’t want you to stop,” he assured her, kissing her again. “If it’s my … my last night of freedom, this is where I want to be.”
She led him to the bedroom. He confessed to her that when he started with the Manhattan ADA, he was just coming out of a long-term relationship, and that somehow, he hadn’t been with anyone since then. “It’s like riding a bicycle,” she whispered, and for the first time in weeks, she heard her friend laugh, a delightful, wicked laugh.
He apparently hadn’t lost his touch, working her with his lips, and his tongue, and his fingers, until she cried for more, and more, and more, and her body shook from her scalp to toenails, like it hadn’t in years, three times in what must have been half an hour — but who could keep track when his courtroom talents really did translate that well to the bedroom — before he breathlessly asked her for a condom.
She threw her head back onto the pillow. “Don’t have any. You should carry one in your wallet,” she joked.
“Right, because this happens all the time, gorgeous lieutenant I’m in love with drags me into her bedroom.” He cleared his throat. “You didn’t hear me say that.”
“Nooo,” she teased, “I did not. So, not to be a bummer, but my hormone markers on my last two doctor’s visits said there’s no way I can get pregnant. If you’re clean —”
He nodded, forgetting himself, forgetting his situation, for a split second, exactly what he needed. He forgot himself as he came with her in his lap, groaning “I need you, Olivia,” through gritted teeth.
At three, he woke up from a nightmare that he feared would come true in a matter of hours. She held him. He apologized for his all-the-blood-rushed-away-from-his-head declaration. “No,” she whispered, “please don’t apologize for that, please.”
“I can’t say I love you to someone who I care about so much, who — who I’ve put in such a terrible position, who —”
“I love you, Rafael.”
He still wouldn’t say it. In that moment, she understood.
She held him.
When the verdict came down the next morning, when he was found not guilty, he embraced her in the courtroom, buried his head in her shoulder for a few seconds, and then disappeared for three days, returning to tell her he’d resigned, and that she’d changed his life, and he was leaving.
With a forehead kiss, he betrayed her.
Six weeks after Barba’s trial, when most of the fury in Benson’s soul had been converted to numbness, she and Rollins took the kids to visit Carisi, who was recovering from his injuries after he tried and failed to intercept the hit on Jules Hunter. Between Alex Cabot’s brief improprietous return and the murder of a good woman who’d deserved better, Benson was overwhelmed. Numb, but overwhelmed. She talked with Rollins and Carisi about retirement.
“I’ve given NYPD 28 years,” she explained. “I could retire, collect my pension, get a 9-5 consulting for a lab —”
“Sleep on that for a couple months, all right, Lieu?” Carisi said. “We need you.”
Everybody who needed her left eventually.
Stabler. Cabot. Novak. Hayden, Cassidy, Tucker. Amaro. So many others who’d come into her life, changed it, and then disappeared.
It wasn’t an overdramatic play for affection and attention, just a realistic assessment of the last 15 years.
Feeling an awkward twinge in her back and a long-unfamiliar heaviness in her belly, she excused herself to the bathroom. On returning, she excused herself again, this time to drag Rollins into Carisi’s kitchen.
“Hey, Amanda, you have a pad on you?” she said, under her breath.
“Yeah, let me get my purse.” She started to turn, but then grabbed Benson’s arm. “Liv, your hands are shaking.”
“I was a little startled.”
Now Rollins had one of Benson’s hands in each of hers. “You okay?” she asked earnestly.
“Haven’t had one in two years,” Benson said, covering the shakiness in her voice with laughter.
“You want me to take you to the doctor?”
“Why? Happens once in a while during menopause.”
“You don’t give me enough credit as a detective,” Rollins said. “I know why you’re shaking, I know why you’re startled, and if that’s it, you need to call your doctor.”
Benson opened her eyes wide to stave off the tears hiding behind them, all the result of being so genuinely startled. “I will,” she said.
“Okay.” Rollins patted Benson’s arm. “I’ve got a pad in my purse. Call your doctor.”
“Watch Noah for a second. I’ll do that now.”
On Monday morning, she called in sick and went to her gynecologist, who’d said she could wait out the weekend as long as she didn’t have extraordinarily bad cramps or a fever. To her incredible relief, the doctor said she appeared to have ovulated on a fluke and had not been pregnant, which was confirmed the next day when a nurse called her with the results of her blood tests.
Lucky her, the fluke egg must have been released a month after the night she’d spent with Barba.
She shuddered at all the possible alternate universes that the unexpected egg made her consider.
She shuddered, and she moved on.