"Barba, as in Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba?"
"Yes Nick. How many Rafael Barba's do know exactly?" Olivia Benson threw her hands up in exasperation at her partner.
"But, I mean, what's he going to do…?"
Olivia put her hand up in a gesture of silence. "Stop, just stop right there. I don't even want to think about it. He caught me totally off guard. I said yes of course. But you know what he's like when he's in full flight" She shook her head, raising her eyes heavenward.
"Maybe he juggles or does magic tricks in his spare time" Nick walked away to answer his ringing cell phone, his laughter still resonating around the squad room.
Olivia Benson did many things to support the victims she worked with on a daily basis. Adults and children alike. She had taken part in countless fundraisers, organised charity donations. She often volunteered to counsel victims and on the odd occasion had even been known to bake. She had therefore been both thrilled and a little daunted when one of the foundations she worked with particularly closely asked her if she would take on their Annual Gala Event. How difficult could it be to organise? She had pondered before willingly accepting the challenge. Apparently a lot harder than she had envisaged. However, after pulling in more favours than she cared to admit. Batting her eyelashes until they ached and grovelling more times than was ladylike, she was finally a week away from what looked like being a very memorable and profitable evening. Thanks to the friend of a friend, she had secured a prestigious and rather glamorous venue for the event and everything was on schedule. The remaining few days would be about any last minute details and finding herself something to wear. That was until Friday night when one of her "acts" had pulled out following a family bereavement, leaving a gaping hole in the programme just before the charity auction. Admittedly she could juggle things around, but she thought it would look sparse and people would feel let down. The thought of juggling brought Nick's comment back into her head: "Oh lord what was she going to do about Barba?"
She and the ADA had been discussing last minute preparation for the case she was testifying in on Monday when she had received the phone call. He knew how much time and effort she had put into making the evening a success and how much the foundation meant to her personally. He was the friend who had the friend. In fact, Rafael Barba had helped out quite a bit all around. The sharp tongued ADA knew some very well connected and rather rich people and was happy to do some eyelash batting or in his case arm twisting of his own. When he had offered to "do something" to help with the current predicament, Olivia had assumed if would involve making another phone call to yet another friend. It however transpired that he intended to "do something" himself. The notion put the fear of god in Olivia. Amaro was right what was he going to do? She certainly couldn't imagine him pulling rabbits out of a hat or sawing Rollins in half. She laughed out loud at the mere thought. Oh Barba could juggle glass balls alright, but that was his day job. And as for anything musical? A man she had never even heard whistle was hardly going to be a closet Pavarotti was he?
She would have to find out exactly what "something" Rafael Barba intended to do. Then gently persuade him not to! Then find someone else to do it! No pressure then!
The next time Olivia Benson encountered ADA Rafael Barba, she was not exactly in any position to cross examine him. In fact, it was the completely the opposite as he called her to the stand, his next witness on Monday. Unlike Olivia she struggled desperately to concentrate as he moved elegantly around the courtroom. Amaro had painted a picture in her head which refused to go away. The ADA's immaculately tailored grey three-piece suit was replaced by a black cape, the evidentiary picture he held up for the jury to see, morphed into a white rabbit. This had to stop. She needed to know what Barba intended to do at the gala and quickly.
The case wasn't going well for the ADA and at the lunchtime recess he wasn't happy, barking into his cell phone and scanning through files. No this was definitely not the time or place to discuss it, the conversation would have to wait until the end of the day, over a scotch and a glass of wine, or three, that would work, this wasn't going to be easy.
"Well?" Asked Amaro as he slid into the seat beside her.
She glanced at her amused partner. "I haven't exactly had the chance to ask him have I?" She practically hissed at him, gesturing the crowded courtroom before it was called back into session.
Amaro conveniently and quickly vanished when the judge called recess at the end of the day. She had actually been quite surprised. Certain he was as curious as she was and equally as certain he was going to enjoy watching her squirm as she "interrogated" Barba.
About to take a very large mouthful of Dutch courage Olivia's cell had rung and she had been called to a case. She was still on the call when Barba arrived. Trying to listen to Rollins and talk to him had been difficult. He had assured her a rain check was fine and that everything was sorted for Thursday. Her heart had sunk but she had smiled brightly and mouthed him her thanks.
Olivia was knee deep in her case the next day. Barba was presenting closing arguments. She left him a couple of voice messages regarding Thursday but they ended up playing telephone tag. He left her a couple back assuring her once more, it was fine he had it covered and that had cleared time in his diary for a rehearsal during the day and was looking forward to it.
Tomorrow was Wednesday; well that was it. She had a few hours' personal time to find something to wear and had Thursday for that last minute tweaking and any additional hitches. She downed the remainder of the wine in the glass very quickly. Whatever Rafael Barba was going to do, then he was going to do it. She wasn't his keeper. If he was going to make a complete ass of himself then so be it. Selfish as it might seem she just hoped it wouldn't reflect badly on the night and all of her hard work. She chastised herself for even thinking such things. Deep down she liked to think she knew him better than that, he had done so much to help her with all of this. He had been there for her the entire way she mused reflectively, refilling her glass from the almost empty bottle.
A lot of the people attending were his friends, people he worked with too, A little voice in the back of her head told her, no matter how much he wanted to help her he wouldn't leave himself open to ridicule, his position wouldn't allow that either. He must be confident in what he was going to do. It didn't stop a cold chill of apprehension coursing through her body.
Olivia smoothed down her dress. She had deliberated long and hard before purchasing the unusual knee length Grecian style pewter creation. The price tag was way above what she would normally spend on such an item of clothing but she felt good in it and despite everything she needed a little confidence boost. She didn't get to dress up very often or to feel so feminine. Tonight she was going to enjoy the opportunity to do both. To hell with the expense and what anyone thought.
"You scrub up very nicely Sargent"
A low familiar voice came from behind her. Butterflies tingled in her stomach and her heart beat a little faster. Nerves and what was ahead she told herself as she turned to face Rafael Barba.
As always he was immaculately dressed and groomed to perfection. His hair slightly less so than usual, her breath hitching at the effect. Despite the impeccably tailored suite, pristine white shirt, perfectly knotted patterned blue tie and ever present top pocket handkerchief he looked somehow more casual than usual. He was unnervingly relaxed. His beautiful green eyes twinkled appreciatively as they took in her appearance, a rare smile lifted his lips. Olivia struggled to drag her eyes away from them. He looked ridiculously handsome.
"Why thank you Liv. I think"
To her horror Olivia realised she had voiced her thoughts, she felt her face flush and toyed with the oversized necklace at her throat. Barba's eyes taking in her every move. Thankful when she heard someone call her name, she gave him a nervous smile and excused herself.
"You Ok Liv" Fin asked as he hugged her tight. Nick and Amanda flanking him.
"Just a little nervous I guess. Hoping everything goes alright and that we do ok for the Foundation" She was grateful for her SVU colleagues support and that they had given up their evening and hard earned cash to be here.
"Looks like everything is going just fine, it's a great turnout". Amanda rubbed her arm reassuringly.
"I know but it's not over till the fat lady sings" She said anxiously.
"Or the ADA" Amaro quipped
She threw her partner a drop dead look. "Don't even joke about it Nick, I feel sick enough as it is"
"Just kidding boss I know nothing" He smiled and gave Olivia a hug before the three colleagues left to find their table.
Everything was actually perfect. The room looked amazing, the stunning marble columns dominating the structure. The high ceiling giving the crowded room an airy feel. The tables were beautifully decorated, flowers and spectacular lighting adorned the room, no detail had been overlooked. The small stage area at the front of the room was set up and ready for the musicians to take their places. She couldn't have asked for more, her brown eyes instinctively seeking out the man who had a friend.
Rafael Barba was talking animatedly to someone she didn't actually recognise. As if sensing he was being watched he looked up, their eyes meeting across the crowded room. Some enchanted evening Olivia mused to herself the simple action reminding her of the line from the song. How true that was. Barba flashed her a devastating smile, her heart skipped a beat, adrenaline she assured herself.
The emcee was also someone Barba knew. Olivia had originally toyed with the idea of doing it herself, there wasn't really much to do just introduce a few things, a few people. Thank a few more people. But Barba had insisted saying it would be much more professional and it would give her a chance to relax and enjoy the evening too. She had succumbed gracefully to his greater knowledge of such events and as the evening progressed flawlessly, was grateful for his intervention.
The food, like everything else was faultless, as was the classic unobtrusive service. But Olivia ate very little, flitting between tables to check on the guests, say hello to people, thank people and generally be the perfect hostess. She would like to think once the short period of entertainment started before the big auction, she could relax. But as the emcee explained the slight change to the programme her heart was in her mouth. It was no good she just couldn't stay. She saw Nick watching her in amusement. She tried not to run from the room as the emcee announced Rafael Barba's name. Resisting the urge to hide in the ladies' she leant against the wall outside the opulent room. Grabbing a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. The silence that emanated from the room sent fear hurtling through Olivia's veins. She took a hefty swig of the cold pale liquid. The gentle tinkling of piano keys replaced the deathly silence.
A musical instrument of course that would follow Rafael Barba could play the piano. How stupid she hadn't considered this. She relaxed a little, her vice like grip on the delicate champagne flute slackened slightly. She heard a few bars of a strangely familiar tune before a beautiful voice drifted through the air.
"I've heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the lord. But you don't really care for music do you?"
No surely that! No it couldn't be. She turned slowly moving back from whence she had come.
"It goes like this the fourth the fifth. The minor fall the major lift. The baffled king composing Hallelujah. Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah"
The room was in total silence not a glass chinked, not a chair scraped on the hard inlaid floor. Not a waiter moved. Every set of eyes in the room was fixed on the man on the stage. His voice was incredible, soaring to Leonard Cohen's beautiful lyrics.
"Your faith was strong but you needed proof. You saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you. She tied you to a kitchen chair. She broke your throne and she cut your hair. And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah"
Olivia stood in her own marble arch that lead to into the magnificent room. She was totally mesmerized by the lone figure standing on the stage clutching the microphone. His jacket now undone, he had unbuttoned his shirt at the neck and loosened his tie.
Tears pricked her brown eyes at the raw emotion that emanated not only from his voice but from his entire body. Everyone in the room became a blur, the only person she could see was Rafael Barba. Amazing as that fact was. She took a small step forward frightened of making the slightest sound but desperately wanting to get closer. Ironically the seat she had vacated was about as close to the stage as you could get. She really should have had more faith.
His deep, lyrical voice caressed the emotive words. The piano still his only accompaniment. His long elegant fingers were wrapped around the microphone. His hand moving occasionally to accentuate a lyric. Olivia felt the tears that had been threatening to fall hit the back of her hand. Simple words couldn't describe the overwhelming emotions she felt right at this moment in time. He was totally lost in the song and in the words and Olivia was totally lost in the singer. She was engulfed in ludicrously overpowering sense of pride and love for this man who was her friend.
The song and its singer had totally wrung her emotions. Olivia sat alone on one of the huge sofas in quiet alcove trying desperately to regain her composure. She felt it dip under the weight of another, an arm draped over her shoulder. Instinctively she clutched his hand, smiling she rested her head against Rafael Barba's warm cheek. "That was so incredibly beautiful. You were amazing" She whispered.
"So are you Olivia Benson, on both counts"
At that moment nothing else existed but the two of them.