Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me. They belong to Dick Wolf and NBC. We just play with them.

Chapter One

Foolish heart looks like we're here again

Same old game of plastic smile

Don't let anybody in.

-Natalie Grant, The Real Me

When the light hits a glass of scotch at a particular angle, the color becomes the shade of amber. If you've ever seen bugs trapped in amber, you know that the color is a mysterious brown-gold with tremendous depth. It's nothing like a simple brown or a dark gold. It's the color of autumn leaves when the light of late fall days strike them. If colors had scents, amber would be smoke and velvet and old books.

Rafael Barba kept staring at his glass, hypnotized by the colors swirling within it. His eyes were fixed on it, as if he thought he could coax the liquid to spill its secrets.

But it was silent. Like he had expected it to be.

Like people he had trusted had been.

His fingers tightened around the glass, careful to not hold it so hard he'd break it. It was Macallan 18 year, after all. $40 dollars a shot and that was on the cheap side.

He resisted the urge to drain the glass (because, oh god, did he want to drain it…anything to dull the pain of the fracture in his heart). The Tres Mosqueteros had once been so strong, so invincible. Never, in his wildest dreams, did he imagine that things would ever go down this way.

Alejandro, he thought, mi amigo, how could you do this? We were going to go places, all of us, los tres mosqueteros. Amigos para siempre.

But not anymore.

All that had changed in an instant.

With Alejandro's lies, his deception, his betrayal.

Barba's glass slipped from his fingers, spilling its contents on the scuffed floor of the smoky NYC bar, where he had spent so many times drinking with the squad after particularly painful defeats.

"Hijo de puta!" he swore, the glass shattering, like the illusions in his heart, in his soul.

"Barba," he heard a soft voice, like smoke-infused brandy, wafting near his ears, "are you all-right?"

He looked up from the fractured remains of his drink to see Olivia Benson standing there, hands tucked in the pockets of a long trench coat, her dark hair damp from the misty fog floating through the New York City night.

"I'm fine, Detective," he said abruptly, "I don't need someone to coddle me." His eyes looked into hers, sharply challenging.

"Goddammit, Barba," Liv's lips narrowed in a line, "you are a prickly bastard, aren't you?"

He shrugged. "I've always been known as a pendejo, I see no reason for that to change now, do you?"

Barba motioned to the bartender. "Another Macallan 18, please. Detective," he glanced at her, "are you going to get something or just stand there looking at me like my dog just died?"

Olivia sighed, internally debating the wisdom of staying around Barba when he was in such a mood. Then her eyes noted the way his eyes quickly left her direct gaze. She saw the flash of pain, so brief it could have been a trick of the light, quickly shuttered behind the walls of the tough, no-holds barred, balls-to-the wall prosecutor.

She sank onto the stool next to him. "Blanton's please, double shot, straight up."

He raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Whiskey, detective? I always had you pegged as a wine and beer person."

Liv grinned slightly. "Barba, I thought we'd gotten past the formalities by now. It's Olivia. And sometimes wine just doesn't get the job done."

The bartender slid Barba's Macallan 18 across the counter. "People never fail to surprise me." Barba said, in a voice so soft Olivia almost didn't hear them.

"We all have layers and masks, Barba." Olivia commented, "You know that better than anyone."

"Fantastico!" He snapped, "That will make me sleep better at night."

Olivia gave him a hard stare. "You're not in the courtroom now, Barba, and I'm not your enemy."

"You're right, detective….Olivia…and I apologize." Rafael Barba sighed, rubbing his face with his hand. "It's been a long week."

"I get that." she said softly. "I do."

Barba looked over at her and really looked at her for the first time. He noted the lines deepening around her eyes, the brackets of strain around her mouth. He noted her slight jump as strangers brushed past her, pushing towards the bar. The drawn look in her eyes, the hollows underneath them. She hadn't been sleeping, he guessed. Not since Lewis. Not since the squad had found her.

He wasn't the only one with his own pain, with his own demons.

Rather sharply, he asked, "Why are you here, Olivia?"

Tilting her head to one side, she looked at him calmly, "I thought that was obvious. I know this was difficult for you…"

"You know nothing." Barba's tone was brusque, his fingers clutching at his glass.

"You know what?" Olivia was a little irritated now. "You're right. This was a mistake." She got up from her chair.

"Wait." Barba said, sighing. "Sit." He looked at her, a slight smile appearing on his lips. "Smile. Drink."

Benson rolled her eyes but stayed.

"Is that your response for everything?"

"It worked, didn't it?"

She laughed.

"What kind of man are you, Rafael Barba?"

His lips turned up in a slight mockery of a smile. "What kind of man do you think I am?"

"Difficult to get to know." Olivia said honestly.

He shrugged. "I don't let everyone in. But I think that's true of everyone. Entiendes?"

"Yes, Rafael, I understand." She emphasized sharply. "Don't patronize me."

He ran his hand through his hair, mussing up his usually sleek locks. "I keep having to apologize to you. I'm sorry. I'm just…"

"I get it." Olivia said.

"Do you?"

"If you're going to constantly answer me with questions, we're gonna be here all night." Liv said, in slight exasperation.

"Maybe I want that." He shot back, with his quicksilver tongue.

"You do. I don't. I enjoy my sleep."

"Do you?" His eyes looked into her, scanning the dark circles only barely hidden by concealer, seeing the fragility beneath her strength, the slight tremor in her hands.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Her chin lifted as she glared at him.

Barba saw the walls slam down. He recognized them because they were as solid as his.

"I think you know." He said.

"Why don't you illuminate me?" She snapped back.

"We've never talked about what happened with Lewis…" he started off slowly, like he was talking to a slightly hostile witness.

"I don't believe that's any of your business." Benson's walls were unyielding.

"If he goes to trial, it will definitely be my business. You need to talk about it, Olivia."

"Under my terms, not yours." she snapped. "And definitely not tonight."

Barba shrugged as if he wasn't bothered.

"Tell me, detective…Olivia…what do you like to do for fun?"

Benson was thrown. "Barba, I think I just got whiplash from your change of subjects."

His lips quirked upwards in a smile. "Do you have a problem with that?"

"No…it's just…"

"Well, then, spill it, Olivia."

She laughed again, "Barba, do you ever let anyone else get in a word edgewise?"

"Rarely. So enjoy this." He smiled.

And she smiled back. Took a sip of the whiskey. Smooth, perfect, slid down her throat like water. And for a brief moment her thoughts didn't go as they usually did to the darkness. To the remembrance of hot keys against her skin, Lewis's heavy breathing against her throat, the vodka sliding down her throat as he forced her to drink…

Her hand started shaking and whiskey spilled on her plum shirt.


Her hand groped blindly for a cocktail napkin.

"Olivia." Barba's voice caught her attention. "Here." He handed her one of his fine handkerchiefs.

"No, I couldn't.."

"Olivia." He said, a bit more urgently. "Tomalo. Take it. I've got others."

She took the handkerchief, fingers shaking, avoiding Barba's eyes. Knowing that his perceptive eyes could spot any weakness, any vulnerability. She couldn't let him see any weakness. Didn't want to see a goddamned look of pity in his eyes.

She was Olivia fucking Benson. Not anyone's victim.

The silence had gone on too long. And she could feel his eyes on her, assessing and speculating. Even over a drink, Barba was ever the prosecutor. Talk, Olivia, talk….

She told a bad joke that Amaro had told her the previous day, trying to get her to laugh. It was silly and it was stupid but it had made her laugh. And laughter had been in short supply at the squad lately. They were too busy trying not to walk on eggshells around her.

Barba barked out a laugh. "Olivia, that's the worst joke I've ever heard. Who the hell was responsible for inflicting that on humanity?"

Oliva smiled. "That would be Amaro."

"Amaro needs better material."

They continued to talk about everything and nothing at all.

And Benson could see the tension ease from Barba's shoulders and the shuttered look slowly leave his eyes. And when he looked at her, there was no pity in his eyes.

He has a nice smile.