ADA Rafael Barba needed a shower. Actually ADA Rafael Barba needed two showers: A hot relaxing one in his ridiculously expensive gel, to wash away the physical and mental grime of a particularly ugly afternoon in court and a cold sobering one to extinguish his boiling rage. He also needed a drink. Actually he needed two drinks maybe more.
It was Friday, he had intended to work this weekend but after Judge Briggs overturned the jury's decision in the Evie Barnes case he was in no mood to work. His brain was too busy trying to comprehend the utter travesty that had just taken place in the courtroom. He should go back to his office and set the wheels in motion for an appeal but his head was spinning, he was quite simply too angry to think straight.
A couple of days earlier he had been quietly euphoric as the jury returned their guilty verdict on Daniel Prior. He'd almost been embarrassed when Olivia Benson had, with her hand on his shoulder smiled and praised him for his "Nice work".
Head bowed and with anger and frustration coursing through his veins, he left the courtroom. Judge Briggs had threatened him with contempt. Barba really couldn't decide which of the Judge's words had incensed him more the warning of a contempt citation or his ridiculous ruling. At this moment all Rafael Barba knew was the more he thought about either the more his blood boiled. He needed to get away from here, away from everyone. He needed to try and put everything that had happened from his mind before he did something he would regret. It wouldn't be easy he would require a serious distraction. A very large scotch would be a good place to start.
How had she gotten to his apartment before him? The traffic from Centre Street had been worse than the usual Friday gridlock. He guessed a flashing siren might have had something to do with it. She also had an uncanny knack of finding him. Under normal circumstances Barba would have been delighted, a little surprised maybe to find Olivia Benson sitting on the floor outside his door but not today. He had let her down, he should have fought harder. He had failed and the last thing he wanted to do was to pick over something that was outside both his control and his understanding. He didn't want to offend Olivia or be rude to her. Heaven knows she'd had a rough few weeks of her own. But a long post mortem on the events of today he simply didn't want.
"Liv" He paused as she rose to her feet. "Liv I…."
"Thought you could use a distraction Counsellor and a drink or several"
She held out her hand, her fingers grasping the neck of a bottle of Macallen. A particularly good bottle of Macallen at that.
He searched her face with his piercing green eyes. Over the last couple of years Rafael Barba had gotten to know the veteran SVU detective very well. They'd of course had their moments but as well as being colleagues they were friends. Those beautiful warm brown eyes of hers told him she was here as his friend not the SVU detective.
Opening the door to his apartment in silence he threw his keys on the console table, his briefcase hitting the floor at its base. He heard the door close quietly behind him as he went into the kitchen to get some glasses. His suit jacket hit the back of a chair, the tie he virtually yanked off met a similar fate. Two very expensive looking tumblers were removed from a glass fronted cupboard and practically smashed onto the breakfast bar.
"I feel dirty" he said speaking to Olivia for the first time.
She poured two ample measures of the almost amber liquid into the glasses: "I know" Her voice was soft and husky as she handed him one of the heavy tumblers.
He took a hefty swig and a deep breath. "I …." He began.
"Don't!" Moving around the counter she put a finger to his lips. "Let's not talk about it. Not now!"
Barba took another large mouthful of the 15 year old single malt almost draining the glass: "Truthfully, I don't want to. I didn't even want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to shower the filth of today off of me and have a few scotches."
Olivia replenished both of their now empty glasses.
From his outburst in court, his verbal attack on the judge and the fact he had left the court without speaking to anyone, Olivia Benson was under no illusion as to what frame of mind she would find the ADA in. But she also knew that beneath the anger her friend would be hurting and when Rafael Barba hurt; despite that hard, brash exterior, he hurt deeply. She had gotten to know the quite private man very well in the time they had worked together, more so since she had been acting squad commander. She was well aware, angry and hurt as he was, he wouldn't want to talk about what had happened. It was her cop's gut that told her he wouldn't go to his usual bar for a much needed drink. He clearly wanted to be alone when he left the courtroom. Being here now meant she might have to suffer his wrath but she was a big girl she could handle it. He would be blaming himself for what had happened, he would be feeling that he had let people down, her included. Olivia was determined she was not going to allow him to feel that way, it simply wasn't the case.
Of course she was angry, but not with him. When he had accused the Judge of giving men permission to assault women based on their sexual history and setting the rape laws back 50 years; Olivia had been so moved at his heartfelt and impassioned words.
Taking a step forward she took him in her arms and hugged him tightly. Her head resting on his shoulder her cheek brushing against his. She felt his surprisingly well muscled body tense at the unexpected closeness and unfamiliar gesture. Despite everything they had been through they had never shared body contact like this. As abruptly as the tension had engulfed his body Olivia felt him relax, almost sag into her embrace. After a few moments she stood back, looking into his slightly flushed and surprised face. She was unable to resist the urge to stroke his cheek, smiling as his flush deepened at her touch. Boyish vulnerability wasn't a side of the ADA she had seen before, it was strangely endearing, making Olivia feel warm and extraordinarily girlish. Beneath her fingers she felt the start of a slight stubble; musing for a moment at the prospect of a scruffy unkempt Barba wandering around his apartment barefoot in a pair of well-worn faded jeans, a soft t-shirt and a couple of day's growth on his face. It was a nice picture.
"What was that for?"
"Everything you did and said today counsellor."
"But…." He avoided her gaze, his eyes cast down to the floor.
Olivia wasn't having it. Touching him once more, this time to tilt his chin gently, bringing his eyes back up to meet her own. She had seen that profoundly wounded look only a couple of occasions before: When Alex Muñoz had betrayed their friendship and during William Lewis's trial.
"But absolutely nothing." Olivia took a deep breath measuring her words carefully. What she was about to say was a double edged sword, for both of them. "I know what you are thinking. This wasn't your fault. You didn't let anyone down" She paused her chocolate brown eyes not leaving his face for a moment. "Especially not me." She saw his green eyes flicker. "Not today…..not before, not ever."
It was strange in spite of everything that had happened today, over the last few days. Olivia felt that for both of them this was the right time to venture down this taboo path. Ironically she needed to tread carefully for his sake rather than her own.
Rafael Barba intuitively knew what Olivia Benson was alluding to. It made him feel even guiltier. Because of his actions and reactions today she felt the need to even think about it. He was about to speak, but something stopped him.
Olivia Benson didn't talk about what had happened with William Lewis.
Barba had spent hours prepping her for the trial. Had gone over her testimony time and time again both with her and reading through transcripts from her appearance before the grand jury the previous March. He could quote parts of it verbatim, it made him feel sick to his stomach. William Lewis's actions were abhorrent, beyond belief even. He could still recall with nauseating clarity the man offering to plead guilty to the multiple counts of rape and sodomy immediately before the trial just so he could stand up in open court and describe it in graphic detail. Things that Olivia adamantly denied he had done to her. Despite every intimate question Barba had been forced to ask, despite all of her statements; he knew she had only told him what he needed to hear. A little part of him resented that, she didn't trust him enough to tell him everything. There was a part of him that didn't want to know. The horror she had endured was unspeakable. The horror that she had endured because of him. She should never have suffered any of it. He should have put William Lewis behind bars the first time around.
She had to say it out loud it was that simple. She'd confronted all of her demons with William Lewis except this one. Because they weren't her demons alone, and truthfully it was only now she really felt both the need and the ability to do so. Barba was angry and Barba was hurting and it wasn't all just about today. Many long hours with her therapist had taught her that and she could see it reflected in his beautiful green eyes.
"Rafael" His given name not Counsellor or Barba sounded a little odd even to her own ears. "What happened with William Lewis it wasn't your fault. I need you to believe that."
She saw him flinch at her words. Olivia would never be comfortable talking about him or what had happened but it had been something she'd had to do; for the trial, for IAB, for the media and for her own sanity. Strangely feeling she wasn't doing this for herself somehow made it a little easier. If she was going to do it she needed to do it properly. But where the hell did she start? She remembered the warm Sunday in May that Rollins had brought William Lewis into the precinct and smiled suddenly.
Barba remained silent, but tilted his head questioningly. It was as if he were afraid to speak for fear of stopping her.
Despite the awful chain of events that had followed Rollins arresting William Lewis, something very silly had suddenly popped into Olivia's head about that day.
"I was trying to think where and how to start. I thought as the song says at the very beginning would be good. That Sunday when Rollins first brought him in?"
Barba nodded, he remembered that day all too well. He remembered being annoyed at Rollins for bringing him in for something so insignificant, a class B misdemeanour or so he thought at the time. If only it had been that simple. He guessed they would all remember with frightening clarity the day William Lewis entered their lives. None more so than Olivia.
"You were wearing the most… err colourful outfit, even by your standards. A bright pink polo shirt and a yellow jacket of sorts. For some strange reason it stuck in my head. I can see you standing there, hands in your pockets. You were real pissed at Rollins for dragging you in on a Sunday."
His face creased into a shy recollective smile lighting the flecks of gold in his eyes: "I remember" He spoke quietly "You made some wise ass remark about me being on my yacht".
"Yeah I did didn't I?" Olivia laughed as she rubbed her hand gently and reassuringly along his upper arm. The seriousness returned once more. "You know if I was playing the blame game. I could have laid it at Rollins door. She hauled his arse in in the first place. Or I could have blamed Captain Cragen for insisting Amaro and I question him. I've replayed so many things over so many times in my head and I ask myself the same question every time. Should I have goaded Lewis so much in that first interview? I didn't know then what he was capable of, none of us did. Still I never get the same answer twice. Some days I know I wouldn't have done anything differently and others, well, if I knew how it was going to turn out of course I wouldn't have. With every case there are things you would do differently, you know that. It's that old adage about hindsight being a wonderful thing. Most of the time however it doesn't involve you ending up being tied to a bed and having a gun shoved in your mouth or having to play Russian roulette in front of a child".
"Liv" His voice cracked. "Liv you don't have to do this". His resolve was crumbling. He wanted to take her in his arms, stroke her silky hair and make it all better; like you would a child who had grazed a knee or tumbled from their bike. He had listened to the degradation that William Lewis had put her through for the trial, it had made his skin crawl. But listening to her talk to him like this was heart-breaking. But something deep down inside told him she needed to do this.
For the second time she placed a finger to his soft lips. Her eyes bright with tears. "Yes… Yes I do. I should have done this a long time ago. You of all people deserve truth."
His large elegant hand came up to cover hers acquiescing his silence. He held it tightly as she continued.
"Do you remember during the trial, Fin, Amaro Rollins and I went for dinner across the road from the court house? You tore us off a strip".
He nodded once more in response.
"You came to speak to me about Viva and Luisa Núñez, ask me why I hadn't told you about them. I said I must have blanked on it. You snapped please don't lie to me" Olivia took a deep breath. "You don't know how much those words hurt." Olivia fought back the tears. "There were SO many times whilst we were prepping for the trial and during that I…that I just wanted to sit down with you, not the ADA, but with you and tell you everything. The truth. But I was so scared". It was Olivia's turn to look away, her brown eyes filling with hot tears, she cast them downwards as the tears spilled onto her cheeks.
Barba couldn't stand it any longer, emotion threatening to overwhelm him. Pulling her into his arms, he held her tight. "Oh Liv, you should have just told me. Whatever you said I would have been there for you. Nothing would have changed that."
In his embrace her mouth was pressed almost against his ear but her voice was barely audible. "I know that. But I also know how responsible you felt for everything that had happened. I didn't want to lie to you, but I was petrified telling you everything would make you beat yourself up even more. I didn't want to make you feel any worse."
Barba was incredulous, holding her arms he stood back. "You didn't want to make ME feel any worse! I felt such a dick for being so rough on you when you had gone through hell, were still going through hell. I had to push you hard and be tough on you, but when I think of some of the things I said to you. I had to say to you as an attorney, I hated myself" His voice dropped to a whisper "I still hate myself. I was terrified Lewis would walk again. I couldn't let that happen. I'd let you down once. It was a dreadful feeling. It still is." Barba drew a deep steadying breath, struggling with his own emotions. He heard Olivia sigh deeply, she was gently shaking her head.
"Oh Rafael, please believe me, it wasn't your fault. You didn't let me or anybody else down in anyway. No one could have known Lewis would fixate on me. He didn't discriminate between, men, women or children. Realistically it could have been any one of us in trouble, including you. I understand only too well the concept of doing what you have to do".
"Truthfully, until then I had never really thought much beyond a verdict before. What the consequences can be when I fail to do my job properly had never affected me so profoundly or so personally before."
They stood looking at each other in silence for a long time. Barba's hands still grasping her upper arms, although not so tightly now. Olivia could feel their warmth radiating through the jacket she still wore and the blouse beneath. His touch was like a current running from his body into hers, giving her the strength to do this. His handsome face was etched with concern, his green eyes clouded with pain.
"Murphy told the grand jury that my televised confession was a lie, that he told me to say what I did so we could lure Lewis out." Her voice faltered and she felt Barba's strong fingers tighten around her once more. "Every word of it was true. Lewis was handcuffed to the bed when I inflicted every last injury that he so vividly described in court. I wanted him dead. I wanted to put a bullet in his head"
Olivia worried her bottom lip. Barba was listening intently, the only movement he made was his thumb gently circling the top of her arm.
"I couldn't believe it when Fin told me he was still alive. I honestly didn't know how. The beating I gave him. Brutal didn't begin to describe it." She broke contact with Barba for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, reaching for the whisky that sat on the counter.
The mention of Fin's name reminded Barba of something the SVU detective had said to him days before the trial started. "Fin said they should have shot him when they arrived at the beach house. He said everyone was thinking it. I wished they had." He watched as Olivia picked up the glass and walked silently into his living room, perching on the edge the couch which dominated the space. She tucked an errant strand of her dark hair behind her ear and he recalled how she cut it much shorter after Lewis's attack. He liked it longer it framed her beautiful face perfectly. Another strand fell forward as she stared blindly into the glass. Transfixed by the amber liquid that she swirled slowly around.
Without looking up she spoke quietly: "He didn't rape or sodomise me. That was true."
Barba was beside her in an instant, slipping protective arm around her shoulders. He could feel her trembling. He didn't really know what to do. She didn't need to put herself through this again. Tears brimmed in his eyes, he fought to control them. His mouth was dry and his chest ached from fighting back them back. He didn't know what to say. Anything would be totally inadequate. He also got the distinct impression that he wasn't supposed to say much. Something had compelled her to go down this road today and he just needed listen.
"Liv please don't!"
His oh so familiar voice was firm but gentle. He'd come such a long way since his first SVU case. His sympathy and understanding with victims, the way he fought for them. She was ridiculously proud of him. Never in a million years would she have imagined they would become such good friends and so close.
Olivia shook her head. "Its Ok honestly" She said placing a shaky but reassuring hand on his leg. She could tell Barba was less than convinced but carried on. She wanted to be truthful with him, she needed to tell him.
"He'd had me tied up and duck taped for four days. He beat me, he burned me, he poured alcohol down my throat and made me watch as he raped Vanessa Mayer's mother. But sexually other than manhandling me he never touched me"
She felt Barba move closer, his body emanating warmth. She took comfort from his closeness and an odd reassurance from his subtle cologne. For some reason his scent always made her feel calm and safe.
"Once I knew I could get free I taunted him. I said he only liked little girls and old ladies and accused him of being afraid of me. That he was all talk and no action."
Barba saw her visibly pale and take a long shuddering breath. Her fingers tightening around the glass she was still holding, clearly determined to carry on. Still he remained silent.
"I needed to throw him off guard, get him closer. I told him he wasn't man enough to get it up for a real woman. He looked down briefly as he was unzipping his pants. I broke free and hit him the first time. He went down, but not hard, he got up and went for my gun I hit him again. I think I broke his arm. He slid to the ground and I kicked him in the groin as hard as I could and grabbed my gun."
Nausea washed over Olivia as she recounted the events. Barba's fingers almost bit into her flesh he held her so tightly. She couldn't look at him. She didn't want to see the pain and the pity in his eyes. But she couldn't stop, not now.
"He said if I wanted to be in control for a while he could play that game. I pistol whipped him and whilst he was out cold, that was when I handcuffed him to the bed. He'd tied up Viva and Luisa Núñez in another part of the house. I freed them and went back, he was still out cold."
Olivia paused casting a sidelong glance at Barba. He was staring directly ahead. His strong distinctive profile outlined in the now semi darkness.
"While I thought he was unconscious, I told him all the things I could to do him. Cut him and burn him, but he might enjoy that. Put a bullet in his brain and watch him bleed out, but that was too easy and he wouldn't suffer enough. I told him I didn't know what to do but that my old partner would know. He wouldn't have questioned himself like I did. Lewis wasn't unconscious. He mocked me with what I had said and when I told him to stop talking and threatened to shoot him he said I didn't have it in me."
Olivia swallowed hard. The moment when she had put her gun to William Lewis's head indelibly etched on her memory as was the moment when she had raised her gun and walked away from him. Only to catch sight of her bloodied and beaten reflection in the beach house mirror. Her face hardly recognisable, cut and beaten. Her hair matted with sweat, blood and alcohol.
"Just the sound of his voice was so aggravating. Like nails down a blackboard or a dripping faucet when you are trying to sleep. He wouldn't shut up, he was egging me on to pull the trigger, telling me it would feel SO good to do while I was angry. He taunted me that with his long history of winning streaks if it went to trial he would get off. But I walked away. I even put my gun down. I didn't recognise the person who looked back at me from that mirror on the wall. He laughed and said he knew it, he knew I didn't have the balls to do it. Something just snapped. I'd put my gun on the unit, it was next to a broken metal bar from the bed I picked it up and I just started hitting him harder and harder. Screaming with every blow louder and louder."
Bile rose in her throat at what might have been if she hadn't managed to subdue him. "May I use your bathroom?"
"Second door on the left" Barba pointed across the room, watching keenly as Olivia put her glass on the table and rose from the couch.
Touching him briefly on the shoulder she gave him a fragile smile "I owed you the truth."
She crossed the room her heels echoing on his polished wooden floor.
The cool water was like ice against her hot clammy skin. Breathing deeply she looked at her ashen face in the flawlessly polished glass and chrome mirror. Three reflections looked back at her. The beaten and blooded Olivia Benson from the beach house. The survivor who chopped off her hair in Cassidy's bathroom and the woman she was now. She was not going to allow William Lewis to still have power over her. Months of therapy had taught her that. She splashed more cold water on her face and took a deep breath reminding herself that she actually came here to help her friend. As she buried her damp face in one of Barba's astonishingly fluffy towels she recalled what he said when she had first arrived.
Leaning against the bathroom doorjamb Olivia watched him surreptitiously. The room was shrouded almost completely in darkness now. Barba was still on the couch, hunched over his whiskey, he ran a hand through his uncharacteristically dishevelled hair. It hadn't been her aim to distract him by going down this path. She had continuously wanted to tell him the truth, the whole story about what had happened. She had always intended to do so, how it had happened to be this evening she wasn't exactly certain. Looking at her friend now, Olivia wasn't entirely sure it had been the right thing to do. It may well have served the purpose of taking his mind of his lousy day, he definitely looked distracted but not necessarily for the right reasons. She wondered if the truth been such a good idea after all. She felt a little guilty and a little selfish. Despite everything, she did feel better for telling him, it had been tough and had brought back a lot of painful memories. Olivia had never out and out lied to him. She'd omitted things he didn't need to hear and had been liberal with the truth in places, Barba didn't deserve that.
She said dropped back down on the couch next to an anxious looking Barba. He covered one of her hands with his holding it tightly.
"Are you ok?" He asked his tone soft and low full of concern.
She nodded reassuringly and smiled. "I am now" She said the relief evident in her voice. "And I owe you an apology". She stated earnestly. Her free hand came to cover his, her thumb tracing a vein. Their eyes locked.
His expression changed from worry to confusion and he raised a quizzical eyebrow. Her demeanour had changed considerably. She was calm, composed and much more relaxed. Even in the darkness he could see the colour had returned to her cheeks. With his free hand he switched on a lamp behind the sofa, bathing the room in a warm glow.
"I deprived you of your shower." She said grinning at a clearly baffled Barba. "When I arrived you said all you wanted was to shower off the filth of today. I kind of got in the way of that and well this wasn't actually what I had in mind when I suggested a distraction."
Barba couldn't supress a laugh. "Aha, well I am not sure I can forgive you for curtailing my shower." Her words had lightened the mood, he kept it that way.
"And I must confess when you mentioned distracting me, I was thinking tales of Noah spitting up on Amaro or better still Carisi."
Her husky laugh was a beautiful and welcome sound filling his home. He pulled her close and hugged her tightly. Olivia's skin was silky smooth as it brushed against his cheek. Her hair smelt of citrus and her body was warm and pliant against him. They'd had more contact in the previous two hours than they had in the last two years. He smiled at the notion freeing her from his embrace and looking at her glowing face.
"What was that for?" She mimicked his earlier question. Her brown eyes twinkling a little mischievously.
This time it was Barba who was powerless to resist the urge to touch Olivia. Trailing his forefinger along the line of her jaw. His smile broadening as she leant into his tentative touch.
"Everything you said and did today Sargent." He followed suit with the mimicry with a heartfelt sincerity that needed no further words or explanation.
Olivia's hand came up to caress his cheek. Her lips were so soft as he brushed his own gently against them. He felt her breath hitch and he pulled back instantly: "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have….." He cursed himself silently for his stupidity and insensitivity.
Her kiss was less uncertain than his had been. Her lips firm and sweet against his own. His mouth opened instinctively to her tongue as it traced his bottom lip before seeking access. Barba felt her hand stroking the nape of his neck. The small intimate gesture heightening his entire body's awareness of her.
Barba's hand wound its way into Olivia's long dark hair and the kiss deepened. His lips moving softly and slowly against hers. He pulled her closer and they fell back on the couch, Olivia ending up sprawled across him.
"This is a far more welcome distraction Sargent" Barba said pushing a rogue strand of hair from her face.
Olivia cast him a beguiling and playful smile. Popping the buttons on the vest he still wore. "Didn't you want a shower Counsellor?"