Set sometime post-Season 16- Amaro's retirement is in effect
Rafael Barba has heard the rumors, stories of interrogations, the stuff of legends.
He has seen his picture, his name on plaques and old case files in the precinct.
But mostly, he comes to know of Elliot Stabler in far-off looks, momentary silences, and odd facial reactions to seemingly innocuous words and phrases, like Queens, Catholic, 'for better or worse' and partner.
He equally craves and dreads the moment when Elliot Stabler comes backs into Olivia's life.
Craves the closure it would bring her, and imagines he would leave that meeting with a bright red hand print on his left cheek.
Dreads the possibility that she has been harbouring Feelings for her former partner, and their seemingly inevitable reunion would end up in her bedroom.
So when he walks off the precinct elevator one sunny afternoon, buzzed on caffeine and the knowledge that their case is shaping up nicely, he is distracted and doesn't notice the unusual quiet of the squad room.
Not until he is almost to Liv's closed office door and Carisi rushes over to cut him off with a hissed, "I don't think you wanna go in there just now, Counselor."
He looks up from his phone and for the first time sees how every occupant of the squad room is not only silent, but staring at the CO's office, as if by collective will they would be able to see through the closed blinds.
"Who's in with Liv? We're meeting in...well, now actually. She get cornered by Dodds again?" Barba questions, his voice almost echoing in the eerie quiet.
Carisi looks to his fellow detectives for backup, but neither Fin nor Rollins is eager to jump in.
Rollins looks downright fascinated with the large viewing window; while Fin looks on the verge of punching something, flexing his right hand seemingly unconsciously.
Barba tries again, "Seriously guys? Who's in there? I didn't miss a call about a high profile case did I?"
Finally Carisi throws him a bone. "Uh...no case, it's not a celebrity. Or brass." He adds, before Barba can repeat that question.
"So then who is it? Is Liv okay? Everything all right with Noah?" With that thought, Barba's mind goes into overdrive and he starts backing towards the office door trying to force images of Noah in a hospital bed from his head.
"Noah's fine. The Sarge is...she has a visitor." Carisi rushes to get out in an attempt to keep Barba away from the door.
Barba's face shows his confusion, and he stops his movement toward the office saying, "Okay? So who is this important- visitor- that has her blinds closed and everyone acting like they just witnessed the Second Coming?"
Fin mutters something unintelligible under his breath.
"What was that, Fin?" Barba is really starting to get annoyed with the lack of information coming from the squad. All he had wanted was to swing by and grab Liv so they could share a cab to the restaurant for their lunch reservation, hopefully get all the shop talk out of the way before they ordered, and enjoy the company of his best friend. It was looking less and less like that scenario was going to happen today.
He tries not to get frustrated with her- is it too much to ask someone to keep their standing weekly lunch?- for all he knows, she hasn't requested this (hopefully impromptu) visit.
"I said, this place is fucking haunted. Ghosts coming out of the goddamn woodwork."
Barba tries to make sense of the detective's comment. Over the past few months there had been several retirement parties for members of the 1-6, most notably Nick Amaro- who according to Barba's Facebook feed was currently working on his tan in Southern California; not very ghost-like.
Parties like that tended to bring retirees out in droves- but since Barba only really knew Amaro, and had been in the middle of a trial during that particular festivity, he dropped by only long enough to give his best wishes and a recommendation for a great Cuban restaurant in San Diego.
So while Barba was wracking his brain as to what particular ghost would bring on a reaction like this, rumbling voices could be heard from the other side of the office door.
The voices slowly getting louder, Barba looked around to see if anyone else had- yes. Everyone else had noticed. And everyone but Fin was wide-eyed and looked a little nervous.
Fin just looked over it.
"Should we...?" Rollins hesitantly starts, but her partner shakes his head.
"No. Leave 'em alone. Liv can handle herself, and this isn't the first time they've had a screaming match in the precinct." Fin says quietly, his eyes never leaving the direction of the slatted blinds.
Screaming matches? In the precinct? That does not sound like the Olivia Benson he knows. But...and in the moment before his brain oh-so-helpfully supplies the contents of every conversation he has ever participated in containing something vaguely Stabler-like, his stomach drops to his knees, and he just Knows who is behind that door.
Second coming is an apt description.
Barba spins around and gives the office an almost betrayed look, as if he expected the walls to crumble in on someone who caused it's occupant so much heartache.
Raised voices continue to be heard, and Barba finally gathers himself enough to ask, "How long have they been in there?"
Fin, Rollins, and Carisi all answer at the same time.
"What? I happened to glance at the clock when she closed the blinds. Don't act like you aren't paying attention to this too!" Carisi defends his timekeeping, but Barba does not hear him, focusing on what they could possibly have been discussing for 19 minutes.
At the twenty one minute mark, a slightly muffled "Fuck you, Elliot!" followed by what can only be described as a slapping sound is heard and the door to the office is thrown open, the rattling of the blinds deafening in the shocked silence.
"Get back to work!" Sergeant Benson storms out of the office and down the hallway toward the interrogation rooms, leaving her subordinates stunned, and her ADA wondering if he should go after her or go into her office to...what?
Hit the guy? She already did that. Tell him to go to hell? Basically did that too.
After only a moment's hesitation, Barba is in pursuit, calling for Liv to wait for him.
He finds her in the back stairwell, leaning against the wall looking drained.
"Rain check on our lunch meeting? I have...stuff to catch up on here, if you don't mind." Olivia looks up at Barba when he doesn't answer.
Barba just looks at her for a long moment. "Seriously? That's it?"
"What do you mean? I haven't been very productive so far today and I just can't-"
Barba interrupts her rambling, "You aren't going to tell me why you just slapped someone you were unhealthily close to for over 12 years and just pretend it didn't happen?"
"No, I'm not. I don't owe you an explanation, just like I don't owe him one either!" Olivia grinds out, not making eye contact and crossing her arms defensively.
Barba notices she doesn't refute his description of her relationship with her former parter, and doesn't know whether to be proud he knows her so well, or sick at the thought that his fears may actually come true.
Back in the squad room, silence reigns as everyone continues to stare at the office door. Fin and Rollins are the only ones who can see into the office, but their angle is wrong to see the defeated figure of Elliot Stabler.
Carisi, torn between minding his own business and wanting to protect his Sergeant, is hovering outside the door, wondering whether he should go in and ask him to leave.
The decision is made for him however, when shuffling footsteps are heard approaching the threshold of the office. Carisi tries to force a hard look onto his face, and turns to glare at the older man.
Similar looks are found on faces around the room, which is starting to go back to business as usual. Officers are moving back to their desks, shuffling papers, and refilling coffee mugs while managing to keep one eye in the direction of the office.
When Stabler finally emerges, a red hand print visible on his left cheek, he keeps his head down and makes his way across the squad room, past a desk that he spent a good portion of his life sitting behind, and pauses momentarily next to his former colleague.
"I'm sorry. I don't...there's nothing else I can offer either of you." The apology is quiet but sincere.
"Yeah. That just about sums it up. See ya 'round, Stabler." Fin doesn't spare him a glance, just keeps watch on the hallway where Barba and Liv disappeared.
Elliot nods his head and resumes what feels like a funeral march out of the 1-6. He can't imagine a situation where he could come back here. His return did not go as he so naively envisioned.
"Are you going to sleep with him?" Barba's question hangs in the air between them. Air that is so thick with tension it could stop a bullet. Which he thinks might be helpful considering she is armed and looking at him like he is the scum they arrest daily.
"I...I...I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that," Barba hangs his head and desperately wishes he could take back those words.
Olivia just leans her head back against the wall, closes her eyes and let's out a defeated sigh. Shaking her right hand out, she says quietly, "I don't want to see him ever again, if that answers your question."
"Liv, you don't need to...you're right, you don't owe me an explanation," Barba returns just as quietly.
"Maybe not, but I want you to know where I stand with him. I don't want you thinking I'm just biding my time waiting for someone else," Olivia explains, making eye contact.
They look at each other for a few moments, the tension now gone.
Olivia takes a deep breath and pushes herself off the wall. "I really can't leave for lunch today, but if you were to bring back something I'm sure we could go over the case notes between bites."
The small grin she shoots him gives Barba the confidence to reach for her hand a give it a squeeze.
"Whatever you want, Liv."
As they walk back down the hallway, shoulders brushing, Barba gives her hand one more squeeze and lets go before they are in view of the squad room.
Barba heads for the elevator, mentally going through the closest take out joints for the quickest option; and as he hits the button for the lobby he realizes that while he isn't whisking her away from the precinct, he still gets to enjoy the company of his best friend.
He contemplates her mood over sandwiches from the deli on the corner.
And while she is perhaps a little less talkative than normal, there is an air of contentment and a light in her eyes that he hasn't seen before.
Barba can only hope that some of that comes from her current company, and the fact that he's not going anywhere.
"Even if you go, I know you'll come back," she answers.
Did he say that out loud?
Liv laughs, "Yeah, ya did. But I know you'd be back- we have some squabbling to attend to for the next forty years or so."
They share a smile that turns into a laugh when Barba adds, "Wouldn't that be nice."