Disclaimer: Not my characters. They belong to Dick Wolf and NBC. Quotes from SVU in bold italics.
Author's note: Got writers block on my other stories but this one-shot was begging to be told. It's not a happy one so consider that my warning. Also, I know this type of story has been done before by others but I wanted to do it with my own spin. Lyrics are from "Freight Train" by Sara Holman-Jackson, "This Feels like the End" - by Mikky Ekko and "See You Again" by Carrie Underwood.
"Let me give my love to you.
Let me take your hand.
And as we walk in the dimming light
Oh darling understand
That everything ends..." -Death Cab for Cutie
It begins with pain, as too many things usually do.
It's not too bad, at first, more like a nuisance. Like one of those nagging headaches that refuses to go away. So you end up carrying ibuprofen around in your purse and popping them like candy but not more than every four to six hours or your liver would collapse.
The pain gets worse as time goes on and soon every four to six hours is not enough to ward it off. Like an exceptionally annoying neighbor that just doesn't get the message that I don't want to talk to you, the pain is with you when you wake up and when you sleep.
Sometimes it's so bad that it's all you can do to keep food in your stomach. And the pain's gone from your head, to your back, to your chest. It's everywhere and it's vicious.
"Liv, you doin' okay?" Fin asks, a frown on his face. Because your face is white and tight and pinched and you're pretty sure it's looked like this for days because the pain is always with you. Like the ghosts of things long remembered and which you just wanted to see die.
"Never been better." It's bullshit and Fin knows it but that's all you have to say. It's just a headache after all, and neck ache. And everywhere ache. No big deal, you've felt worse, had dealt with much worse and you can get through it. Like you always had.
Rafael knows there's something you're not saying. He can see it on your face because he's too damn observant. And he's made it his life's mission to read people, because that's his job. Spotting the lies and the things people leave untold.
Before you know it, he knows you almost as well as you know yourself. That can be awkward and embarrassing and, holy hell, you wish there were some things that he would just let be. On the other hand, when something really is weighing on you, he always seems to know and without prying or tricking you into spilling your guts, he somehow gets you to talk.
"Liv." He just looks at you. "How long have you been in pain?"
"I don't know." You lie. "Not very long."
Rafael simply gives you a steady stare. Just like that, you're caught.
"Fine," you sigh, "it's been months. But it's not bad. Just some aches and pains. Nothing to worry about it. See?" You show him your little white bottle. "I have something for it."
He says nothing but the look in his eyes conveys what he wants to say. Don't be so goddamned stubborn, Olivia. I know you.
"You forget." He says quietly. "I see you at night."
He hears the times you've rushed to the bathroom to empty the contents of your stomach. He's been the one to rub your back when nothing's left in your stomach and all you can do is dry heave, hunched on the cold floor next to the toilet. And he's the one that holds you in bed when you want to cry all the tears in the world because the pain is so bad but you can't because you've already cried them all.
He's seen you rub your chest when you think no one's watching, wondering why the fuck the pain won't go away.
Oh yes, he knows. All too well.
"See the doctor." He tells you. It's not a request.
You don't mind too much because you've gotten used to his manner. There's no changing Rafael Barba. Love's softened him but not too much, it's simply blurred the jagged edges.
And that's okay. Because you fell in love with the sharp-tongued, cynical terror of the courtroom. The one who has done everything and anything in the world to hide the fact that he actually has a heart. But you've seen it and it's beautiful.
And it takes your breath away... along with the pain that's become your constant companion.
"Okay." You say. For once you don't put up some kind of fight. Something flashes in his eyes a moment; it looks a little like worry and a lot like fear. And it scares you because he's never afraid. He can't be or what he sees each day would tear him apart.
So you given in and you go see your doctor, one you've been seeing for years. Doctor Lucius (Luke) Spencer is really the only one you feel comfortable with and refuse to go to anyone else. He's seen your body and your scars and treats you no differently because of them. And that's a relief.
He pokes and prods. Asks you questions about your symptoms. You try to blow it off as no big deal but like Rafael, Spencer's no fool. He's been doing this a long time and knows when people are pretending to themselves.. and to others.
"I want you to get a scan." He says seriously. "Immediately."
You start to laugh but the look in his eyes scares you. Like nothing has ever scared you before, not even the basement in Sealview or those days with Lewis. There's a hint of sadness behind them but he's professional enough to mask it enough to not be alarming.
He makes some calls and before you know it, you're at the local hospital, laying in one of those tube-like things that somehow make you think of a space movie. I wonder how many people have lain in here today. How many of them were told "we just need you to take a test?" 20, 50, 100?
You don't like these tubes, you have to stay perfectly still and, goddammit, claustrophobia is a bitch. The clinking noises don't bother you so much so you just count them while you're lying there. And it helps. Helps you not to think of the look in Spencer's eyes when he thought you couldn't see.
You are so scared.
Just keep counting.
The call comes 24 hours later. Spencer wants to see you. Immediately. So you apologize to your squad and inform Fin he has to take charge for the afternoon. He doesn't say a word, simply looks at you. He knows something's wrong, they all do. But all of them are doing you the courtesy of pretending that they don't see what's happening.
That they don't see you rushing to the bathroom several times a day.
That they don't see you taking five minutes here, ten minutes there, during the course of the day to sleep in the cribs because the fatigue and pain are unrelenting.
They pretend for you and you're grateful. You wouldn't be able to handle the pity. You never were good at that.
"Barba?" His voice is brusque and clear on the other end.
"Spencer wants to see me. He has my test results." You say.
For a moment, there's nothing but silence on the other end. Neither of you know what to say. So many possibilities lay heavy in the air but stay unarticulated.
"Do you want me to come with you?"
You ponder that for a moment. If it's nothing at all, you'll feel absolutely ridiculous. But you have a feeling that there's a large chance that it is not nothing. And do you really want to be alone to face that?
So many tears have already been cried in the darkness, away from people. And maybe it's time to lean on someone else for a change.
"Olivia?" His voice is questioning, slightly uncertain.
That decides it.
Next day – 2:00pm.
Spencer's late this morning, which is unlike him. You and Rafael have been sitting in the examination room for almost a half hour and your nails are almost bitten to the nubs. But you don't notice because you're trying to keep a good face on, the pain's come back with a vengeance and you haven't been able to keep much down. Rafael knows, he's been up late with you, stroking your hair, and trying to make you sip flat ginger ale.
The two of you lay in bed the night before, in between bouts of vomiting, talking about work and speculating if Rollins and Amaro would ever be able to repair that fragile thing that had been between them. Something had changed after the AJ Martin case and neither of them had been the same around each other. They were almost absurdly polite to each other and, fuck, if that doesn't drive you crazy.
"God, am I going to have to transfer one of them?" You groan, cuddled into Rafael's body, trying to absorb some of the heat of his body into yours. Sex has been mostly a non-issue lately, between the late night bouts of vomiting and agonizing bouts of pain. You smile as you remember the last time you felt his body slip into yours.
"Is it effecting their job performance?" He asks, his hand sliding up and down your arm, soothing you, helping you focus past the pain and the sour taste of bile in your mouth. Bile and ginger ale. God, what a fucking awful combination.
It's so godawful it almost makes you forget about sex.
But it's been a long time since you've felt cherished. And thoroughly fucked. As it turns out Rafael's tongue turns out to be just as devastating in the bedroom as it was in the courtroom. You find yourself wet as you remember one particularly hot encounter after work when everybody had left and their relationship was so new and neither of you could get enough of one another. You turn to him. He strokes your hair, damp with sweat, away from your face. His eyes are so soft, and he loves you, loves you so much that it humbles you. Neither of you really say the words much, it's never something you've been into because the moment you say those words, people have a bad habit of leaving.
So you're content to just look at the love in his eyes. Because it's beautiful.
"Nope." You say. "I think they'll be ok. It's just fucking irritating dealing with the tension. Do you think..." He puts a finger over your mouth and you almost bite it because you hate when he cuts you off like that.
"Liv, I'm in bed with the sexiest woman in the world." He sees your annoyance and smirks a little. "Maybe we should put the shop talk on the back burner."
No one words need to be said.
He knows what you want, what you desperately need. And slides closer to you, gently pulling you on top of him so he doesn't hurt you. He whispers words of endearment that you don't totally understand because your Spanish is still so godawful. And he makes you laugh when he tells you this joke he heard at work. Rafael knows, has always known, how to disarm you.
The kiss he gives you is beautiful, his fingers on your body devastating. He's been hard for a while now but he's been holding back because he hasn't wanted to hurt you. And for a brief moment, it's just the two of you, bodies locked together, him murmuring words of affection against your hair, you ignoring the pain in your body, holding back the tears. Trying not to cry because of the pain, trying not to cry because you don't know how much longer you'll have this.
"Do you want me to stop?" He says, scanning your face. Because he knows you hurt.
"I will fucking kill you if you do." You say and rock your hips a little. I'll be damned if I let this pain win.
He simply gives you that little smirk you've learned to love and puts his hands where he knows you like them.
"That's better." You say. And smile.
That's enough talk for awhile.
I'm so all over the place.
Back in Doctor Spencer's office
"I'm sorry I'm late." Dr. Spencer's finally here.
During the time you've been waiting, you let your walls down a little and leaned your head on Rafael's shoulder. You're so tired. So very tired. Each day has been getting harder and harder. And you just want to know what's going on so you can just take care of it. Because feeling like this is unacceptable.
You straighten up quickly, ignoring the jab of pain.
Spencer's face is very, very grave.
And you can't find the words to ask him what the tests say.
So Rafael does.
"It's cancer, Olivia." Spencer says the words like they taste of ashes. And, in reality, they do. "And it's serious."
The words all come out as a jumble and for a moment you're afraid that your mind is going too because it's all gibberish. Cancer. The word is so stark, so simple. Dr. Spencer's mouth is moving but you can't hear him.
Barba's asking questions but you can't hear them either because you're in shock.
It can't be cancer. Not me.
"Olivia?" Luke Spencer looks at you with compassion. And, God, you can't stand that. Pull yourself together, Olivia, dammit.
"Yes, yes, I'm listening." It's a lie and he knows it but he won't call you on it. Praise Jesus.
So you ask the next important question because enough has penetrated the fog of shock for you to grasp the seriousness of the situation.
"How long do I have?"
"Six months maybe." Luke's not going to lie to you. Over the years, he's gotten well acquainted with your distaste for white lies and subterfuge. Brutal honesty is best.
"Is there anything that we can do?" Rafael asks. You like it that he says we. The we in we has been around for awhile but hearing it here, in this place where you've been given your death sentence, was significant to you. And you're not sure why. But it was a good idea for him to come.
"Palliative care only." Spencer responds. And starts to explain to both of you the nature of the cancer. There are tumors in your lungs, in your back and the one near your spine is inoperable. He tells you chemotherapy might slow them down but he also explains the side effects.
They're not pleasant. Fuck, I'd rather the cancer kill me first. Which it just might.
"How much time would it buy me?" You ask. You are not going to break down. Not there. Not in front of him.
"To be honest, not a lot."
"Would it have made a difference if I had come and seen you sooner?"
Spencer looks at you with sympathy.
"No, Olivia. This type of cancer has no cure. It may have bought you some more time but not much. Days, weeks, maybe."
He crouches down so he can look you in the face.
"I know a good oncologist. I'm going to get you in to see her as soon as possible. You can discuss strategies with her. Get yourself a game plan. She's the best."
How do you develop a game plan for death? You wonder. You can't cheat it, you can't outrun it. You can't beat it.
It's the one thing no one wins against in the end.
But you can go out on your terms. And, in that moment, that's what you've decided to do.
Go out on your terms.
"Thank you, doctor." You say, barely managing the words. Your heart is heavy, so heavy. And you wonder how you're going to get through it all.
You're hanging on by a thread and Rafael sees it.
You walk out of the office, surprised to see that the sky is blue. That the sun is shining and people are just going about their daily business. The earth's still moving on its axis, the same entitled lowlifes are still arguing with the cops over expired meter tickets, life goes on.
Even when everything has stopped for you.
When you and Barba get home to your shared apartment, he takes one look at your face. Doesn't say a word. Merely pulls you into his embrace, kissing your hair. He always know what you need.
I love you, Olivia.
And, for the first time in weeks, you cry.
The first thing you've done is tell One PP. They need time to find a new CO for the squad. It's only fair.
It was short. And brutal. You tell them you will work as long as you can. They start to make the usual protests but you snap, "I'm not going to sue your asses. Just let me do my fucking job in the time I have left."
Which won't be long at all.
You've seen the oncologist. Her name is Nicole. She has red hair, a husband, two children and three cats. A dog bit her once so she doesn't want them. But her husband does so they fight about it a lot.
Like Dr. Spencer, she's no-nonsense.
You like her.
She tells you that radiation would be easier but that the amount of time chemo would give you wasn't worth the miserable side effects. Fuck that, you say.
So you pick the radiation and she also gives you strong pain pills.
"This will at least help you manage the pain."
You've got your plan, your pain pills, you can do this.
Now you have to tell the squad.
You do it on a Wednesday morning when the sky is a bit overcast and the case load is light. You summon them all into your office.
Over to work in the car, you've been rehearsing the best way to say it. Going it over and over in your mind. Just trying to find the right way to say it.
"I have cancer." You tell them.
Barba's there, a shadow in the corner. For support. As he has been for the last weeks. He goes where you go. And you've been so grateful because as strong as you are, you would not have been able to do it without him. He doesn't say a word, simply stands there.
I love you, Rafael.
The silence is thicker than a morning fog off the Fisher's Island coastline.
"That's why you've been so sick." Rollins points out the obvious.
"There's more, isn't there?" Fin asks, his eyes narrowed slightly. Fin knows. He's always known you. You've been friends, partners, for the past fifteen years. And he can read between the lines.
They all can, really, but Fin more than most. In some ways, he knows you better than Rafael.
"People get cancer all the time." Rollins says, slightly desperately. "If anyone can beat this, Liv, you can."
"Not this time." You say, smiling gratefully at the younger detective. "It's terminal."
Terminal. You weren't supposed to die like this. Not now. Not so soon.
"I've talked to One PP." You say. "I have told them I will work as long as I can – but, frankly, that may not be for much longer."
"How long?" Nick's face looks so old for someone so young.
"Six months. Maybe more, maybe less. I've met with the oncologist and we've reviewed treatment options but it's mostly palliative at this point."
All of them look like they've been slugged in the gut.
Fin is the first to pull himself together. "We've got your back, baby girl."
Rollins nods, not trusting herself to speak. And you can see that she wants to cry - which throws you off because Rollins is always so tough.
Nick's face is hard and you can't read him. You're a little afraid he might just go out and punch another locker. But there's nothing you can do about that except tell him that any further damages to squad equipment will come out of his salary. But you know that won't stop him. And part of you doesn't want to stop him.
After all, you've just told him that his partner, his sergeant, his friend, the one who has seen him through some of the toughest days of his life, is dying. And there's nothing anyone can do.
This monster you can't throw in jail. Can't toss the book at. Can't keep from hurting anyone else.
You see the devastation in his eyes and it hurts you more than you can stand but you know there's nothing you can say to make it better.
"Are we good?" You say.
"Sure, sergeant." Rollins mutters. Amaro and Fin both don't say a word.
None of them want to talk. What is there left to say? What can you say?
They all have too much respect for you - and you for them - to feed one another cliches and half-truths.
I'm dying and I have months left to live.
That night, both the vomiting and pain are worse than ever. And once again, Rafael's kneeling at your side.
As he always has been.
With that goddamned ginger ale.
A couple months later
You're at work, it's your last day, and you're packing up the last of your boxes. Your body has been giving you signals for weeks now that it's time to say farewell to the 16th, to the job that has been your entire life for over fifteen years.
So much more than a job, it's also been your home.
It's so hard to say goodbye.
One PP has brought back Captain Harris. He can be a pain in the ass but you trust him to do right for your people. Declan Murphy is long gone, Harris is at least bearable and even Cragen had given him some praise. Faint, but it was there.
You've gotten considerably weaker but this is the one thing you want to do for yourself. You don't want any help – you want them to see you walk out those doors for the last time under your own power. Carrying your own things.
Rafael's not there. This is between you and your squad. So many memories made in this place. For a moment, you pause and remember.
Nothing changes, except what has to.
You smile as you remember Cragen's advice to you, both when Munch left and then on his last day. And throughout the years. Tears fill your eyes as you remember your last call to him.
"Olivia?" Cragen's warm voice makes the knot in your heart just a little bit tighter. "It's good to hear from you."
"Thanks, Don. How are you and Eileen?"
"Doing well." You can hear the smile in his voice. Retirement has done well for him. "We just got back from another cruise."
"Anyone get Norovirus?" You joke teasingly.
"Not this time." Cragen laughs."How have you been, Olivia?"
You hesitate and he catches it.
"What's wrong, Olivia?"
"Don, I have cancer." You say. It's still so hard to say those words. They seem so final. Are so final.
For a long moment, there's nothing but silence. You almost think he may have hung up but he wouldn't do that.
"You can beat it, Olivia. You're a fighter. You always have been." He says quietly.
"Not this time, Don. It's terminal." You respond.
And you can see his kindly face in your mind's eye, almost can see the moisture in his eyes. You're really glad he isn't there because if he was, you would break.
"How are you doing?" He asks.
"Tired. Very tired." You say. "The pain is more manageable now. They have me on lots of drugs. And I've been doing radiation."
"Is there anything Eileen or I can do, Olivia?" The sympathy almost undoes you and you want to cry. But the tears won't come.
"Not at this moment. Rafael has...been...wonderful." You smile as you say his name. Because he really has been.
"I'm glad." Cragen says. And then you both start talking about inconsequential things because neither of you are ready to actually talk about...the end.
You come back to the present with a start. Harris is talking to you and you've completely tuned him out. He doesn't seem to care, simply makes some kind of crass joke as he often does and walks out.
For a moment, you consider suggesting he check out some empathy training but then you shrug. He's good at what he does, he doesn't have to be liked.
You pick up your coat, the box of remaining stuff and head toward the door. You turn around once more, memorizing this small room and its memories. Imprinting them on your brain. Maybe you can take them with you where you're going.
And you walk out.
The entire squad is there and they're all standing. There's no clapping because, oh God, that would be so cheesy. But there's love and you see it. And you pretend not to see the moisture in far too many eyes, to not hear the sniffling from a couple of them. You want to leave those tough New York cops their dignity. But you're grateful for it.
The cards, the letters, all the gifts from your squad have filled two boxes. And even though you fucking hate speeches you know you have to say something.
"It has been an honor and a privilege working with all of you. Don't let my successor bust your balls." You deliver it with a small smirk. God, Barba's rubbing off on me. "As an old friend once told me, fair winds and following seas...to all of you."
Tell everybody Godspeed.
Barba's waiting to drive you home.
To wait for the end to come.
Later that night
But you're bleeding alone...so, so, so alone...
Singing where does time go from here?
It feels like the end.
It feels like the end.
The two of you lie in your bed that night, simply talking. Because, really, doing much of anything else has taken too much energy.
"I'm sorry, Rafael." You roll on your side and look at him, trying to memorize every line of his face. You see with sorrow that the grooves are deeper there, that there are lines around his eyes and his mouth that hadn't been there before. And they are not smile lines. There's far more gray in his hair now and more often than not, he's foregone the hair gel that had been such a part of his daily routine.
Some things have just ceased to be that important anymore.
Although he still wears his dapper suits. Some things will never change - and you're grateful.
"What for, detective?" He still calls you that. Among many other things. Some of them not repeatable. Both of you are stubborn, you've had your fair share of fights.
But you've made it through them.
"For all of this. You don't deserve to be saddled with an invalid."
"Liv," he looks into your eyes, "you are the least "invalid" ish person I know. And even if you were, this is my choice to make."
"I know." Your voice is soft. "But you deserve someone you can show the world to, someone healthy, not someone who is about to die."
"Olivia Benson," Barba looks at you intensely. "You're all the world I could ever want."
"It's a bit of a fucked up world you've taken on." You laugh. And you hate that your laugh is shaky, the tears so close to the surface. As they often are these days.
"What world isn't?" He asks. And gently pulls you into his body.
He laughs. "Aren't we a pair?"
You look at him and smile. "I never thought when Harris brought us into your courtroom that this would happen."
"Hell, neither did I. I was such a smartass." He laughs.
"Was? Come on, Rafael...we both know better."
He simply smirks.
'Take your daughters to work day?'" You mock. "Not one of your best lines."
"I was an asshole." He admits.
"Still are, you jerk." You tease.
"Sometimes." His face grows serious. "Olivia, I want to tell you..."
"I already know." And you don't want to talk anymore. You kiss him. Feel him growing hard against your palm. And you touch him, wanting to hear the sounds he makes when you touch him right there. Because it's music to your ears. So you touch him there. And there too. Oh god, he's so warm under your hand. It, him, it all feels so good. And you don't want this to end.
"Liv..." he says warningly. Don't start what you can't finish.
"What?" You look at him teasingly. "I'm actually feeling good right now. Let me enjoy myself."
He groans as you move down his body, your mouth moving on him.
Many weeks later
Close your eyes
Take to the sky like a big blue kite
Leave your woes behind
Close my eyes
Try to remember what you said to me
Before you said goodbye
It won't be long now. The tumor in your spine has grown and started pressing on your lower back. The doctors have upped your pain meds and now they have home nurses come to visit you now. Because Rafael, as wonderful, as caring, as he is, can't handle it all.
You don't want him to, either. It's humiliating enough for strangers to witness your body losing control of its functions. Having strangers do for you what you can't do for yourself.
But it's much more humiliating when the witness is someone who loves you.
And you can't do that to him. You can't break his heart like that.
He says he doesn't mind but you've seen the exhaustion on his face, the grief, the pain...when he thinks you're not watching. Sometimes, in the night, when you're lying apart because you just hurt all over - even to be held - and you don't want to disturb his rest, you can hear him break things from time to time, and swear. And you hear his voice break and it tears you apart. Because you know he's weeping for you and he doesn't want you to see.
And you want it all to be over so you don't feel like such a burden.
But you don't mention that to him because you made that mistake once and he had gotten really angry. Almost as angry has he had been at Lewis but you weren't offended because you know the anger wasn't aimed at you.
"You are never a burden to me, Liv. And I never want to hear you say that again."
So on those mornings when when he comes in to bring you breakfast, you say nothing about the redness around his eyes and the circles that just seem to get darker each day.
You're not the only one who can't find rest.
Most days now you stay on the couch because moving is too uncomfortable. It takes you what seems forever to get from place to place. Taking a shower or a bath is exhausting and you sleep for hours afterwards.
And it seems like all you do all day is lay with the sun on your face. You relish in it because you know that you don't have much more time left and will there be sun where you go? You're really not sure. You've had some discussions about life after death with Munch but you're still unsettled.
You've faced the unknown before but now it's different. This is the biggest unknown of all. And there's no coming back from it.
Amaro, Rollins, Cragen, Munch... they've all visited. None of it feels entirely comfortable and natural, though, because none of them want to talk about the elephant in the room. All of them know when they leave your apartment, they might not see you again. And none of them want to say goodbye.
None of them are ready.
So they end up talking shop, telling bawdy jokes, and that feels right.
Fin comes often and is not afraid to be blunt with you when he catches you in moments of self-pity. "You're better than that, Olivia. Don't let that motherfucker take that away from you too. He might have dibs on your life but he doesn't get to take you." And, despite how weak you are, Fin's words give you strength.
I got you, baby girl.
Oh, how you'll miss Fin.
All of them.
But Rafael most of all. God, how you'll miss him. His sass, the bark and the bite, the sweetness. He's been your rock for so long.
You don't want to let go. Don't make me go. I don't want to go.
When the end finally comes, it doesn't come like a hurricane like you thought it would. It's like the gentle wind in spring, the evening breeze in autumn. And you know it's time because for the last few days you haven't been able to eat and you've been so tired. Rafael's had to carry you when you want to move. It doesn't bother him because of the weight you've lost, you've almost become a shadow of your former self.
Except for your spirit. That's the one thing the cancer cannot touch and you'd be damned if you were going to surrender that.
You cherish those moments he carries you in his arms. More than words, the gentle way he touches you tells you how much he loves you. How he would give you the moon and the world if he could.
But you realize you've fought long enough, hard enough, and, despite the trauma and pain you've gone through, you've had a good life.
Which is more than what's been allowed for many.
Rafael knows it's time too. Oddly enough, he's known longer than you have. He's seen the shadows gathering around you, the flame that is you getting smaller and smaller. And he's been by your side every single minute. Sometimes you joke, sometimes you cry, and sometimes you don't say anything at all. And most times he just holds you. And you talk. You talk about everything and nothing and it's good. In all your life, so many had told you they loved you but Rafael was the one who stayed when the others had walked away.
He's called your friends. It's time, he tells them.
And, somehow, somehow, he's tracked down Elliot. God knows how he did that when you couldn't. You've learned not to question some of Rafael's methods.
And after a blistering fight with your former partner, both of you break down into tears. And the years of silence, the years of no phone calls, all of those melt away. He and Kathy are doing well, Eli's growing like a weed, and the rest of the kids? All doing fine.
They've missed you, he says.
For a brief shining moment, it's like old times. And there is forgiveness. Finally, there is peace.
Goodbyes are brief but poignant. None of them really can find the words to say out loud. There's a lifetime of things to say and so little time in which to say them. How do you begin to even start?
So they don't even try but that's all-right.
Munch looks crumpled and tired...and old. Oh, John, take care of yourself.
Amaro's eyes are reddened and Rollins has a tough time keeping her composure. Cragen simply tells you once more how proud he is of you and, ever the wordsmith, Fin says, "We'll always have your back, baby girl. This shit ain't won because we'll never forget you."
You smile but don't speak because your strength is failing and it is so much effort to even say one word but they know you love them, you don't need to say it.
And when they're gone and it's just you and Rafael (and a hospice nurse in the corner), you look at him. He's completely disheveled, dark circles under his eyes, his sharply tailored clothes hanging loose and wrinkled on him. And he's devastated because he's about to lose you after fighting for you and with you for so long. This has been so hard on him. Oh, Rafael, I am so, so sorry.
All of a sudden you worry. Is he going to be all-right?
I don't want to leave you.
And you try to fight to hold on. For him. Because he needs you.
He holds your hand in his, and for the first time since this all has started, he lets his tears fall in front of you. At the end, he's finally let the last of his walls down. One final gift to you.
His voice is low but, through the daze of morphine, pain, and leaving, you hear him.
"I love you, Liv. I should have told you that more often."
You told me enough, Rafael.
"It will be all-right. I'll be okay. Don't stay for me, Liv." His voice cracks. Stay for me are the words he wants to say but he can't because he knows that's not what you need to hear.
And you know that he will be okay. Not now, not next week, not next month...maybe not even years from now. But he'll be okay. So you can go now.
There's still so much you want to say to him but there's only three words you can manage. Because it's getting harder to breathe. And the world is slipping, just slipping away.
But they're enough.
I love you.
It's a few months later and Rafael's standing in front of a tombstone. He's buried her next to her mother. It's what she wanted. Divided as they were in life, at least here, in death, they could be united.
The tombstone is simple and he's had inscribed on it an old Latin phrase he remembered from school and from church when he was young.
Rest In Peace, Olivia Benson
Ex tenebris lux.
Out of darkness, light.
Her grave is neatly tended and there are many flowers and plants lying near it. He notices the handwritten notes on them.
Miss you, Liv. Always will. - Brian
I miss you, old friend, most of all. - Munch
Keep it righteous up there, Sarge. - Rollins
Keep it strong, baby girl. - Fin
Partners for life. Not even death can erase that, Liv. Remember me. Dona tibi requiem aeternam. This one was simply signed, El.
That's right, Barba had forgotten Stabler was Catholic. God, you may be able to take the schoolboy out of the Catholic, but never the Catholic out of the schoolboy.
Notes from Cragen, too, and Eileen. Melinda. Jeffries. Casey Novak and Alex Cabot, both of whom shattered when Liv had died.
Many of these notes and floral tributes are from people whose lives she had saved. From people he didn't recognize.
Oh, Liv, I hope you know how much you were loved. And not just by me.
He lays jasmine down on her grave. She always loved them, would hold them to her face whenever he brought them home. They're bright and strong and remind him of her.
From his pocket, he takes out a scrap of paper from many, many months ago. Long before Olivia got cancer, they had talked about what their last words would be. He remembered a particular case had hit her rather hard... it was the death of a child...a child who was very loved. She had been raped and beaten so severely that she had eventually died of her injuries. Olivia had been the last to talk to her before she had died. And so she had been the one to talk to the parents. To tell them of how their child died.
She had to be the one to change their lives forever.
The mother had sobbed, "Did she remember us? Did she say anything before she died?"
Olivia had never forgotten that.
"What would you say if you were dying?"
He had responded with some smart-ass cutting phrase. He can't even remember what it was now but it was very typical of him, that he knew.
She had written hers down. And they were uncharacteristically serious. Almost as if she had known what was to come.
I love you, Rafael. If I'm gone before you, don't mourn for me forever. Be happy. Be happy for me.
He raises his face to the sun. It's a warm day and the sky is a brilliant blue. He bows his head and says a prayer for her.
Rest in peace, Olivia.
As he walks off, a soft breeze hits his face and he smells jasmine.
Folding the scrap of paper and putting it carefully back in his jacket pocket, Rafael Barba smiles.
I will see you again, oh
This is not where it ends
I will carry you with me, oh
Till I see you again