an: okay so I actually cried during that episode, because I'm overly attached to fictional characters and I know y'all are too so this is a little extension. Because I cannot let it end like that. Because Rafael Barba does not just get to walk out of my life like that without a proper good-bye. I apologize for any typos and grammar issues because I wrote this in a fit of passion and posted it without even reading it through, but I needed this, and I hope y'all like it. Reviews are always appreciated.
"You opened my heart, and I thank you for it. I'm you, Liv. And I need to move on."
The days and weeks that followed his departure from the Manhattan Special Victims Unit bled together in an array of colors around him like paints on a palette. A few offers had presented themselves, but he had yet to accept any job positions. It wasn't the right time; not yet, at least.
He needed to take it in, to cope with the gravity of his action—to go to church. Rafael Barba had always done his best to sit in the pew on Sunday, fumble along with the lyrics in the hymnal, say a few Hail Mary's and leave feeling okay with himself. Decent.
These last few weeks, though, Rafael began to pray. To really pray. Not because he was particularly religious or enlightened, but because, while he felt like a free man, leaving SVU also made him feel utterly lost. The child, Drew, haunted his days and his nights. In that moment he did what he believed was right. Why, then, did he still feel so guilty?
He drank more scotch than his mother would approve of, especially on nights when his dreams were immersed in the melodies of Bach, the faint sound of the ventilator lulling him to a restless sleep.
It would take a lot of time and dark whiskey to forgive himself, to trust that the man upstairs—despite the power of the U.S. Legal System—was the end-all-be-all when it came to judgment. He did not need absolution or an affirmation that he made the right choice. He made the decision, and he could not take it back. He wouldn't take it back.
Rafael didn't want to forget, but he needed to learn to live with it. To take his life and do exactly what he told Olivia: move on.
There was no going away party when he left, no whipped-icing cake from the bodega down the street and certainly no tears. At least, not in public.
Rollins and Carisi stopped at his apartment together a few days after they heard the news. Amanda offered a smile, a one-armed hug, and a bottle of red wine. They talked about the new case SVU was taking on, Amanda asked about his future. Carisi was uncharacteristically quiet. Every time he had an urge to speak the words got stuck in the back of his burning throat.
It was hard for Sonny, especially at first, to understand what Barba had done and to accept it. Drew's case tested the tight-rope balance between Carisi's religious and legal convictions, but he stood by Barba. After all, he was the one who pushed Carisi to give himself up to the beautiful intricacies and technicalities of the law; he showed him what it meant to live and breathe and fight for what he believed in. The ADA was his friend, his mentor.
When he found out Barba was leaving SVU, his stomach dropped. It was the same feeling he had on his first night at college, feet hanging over his bed, realizing that he had to fend for himself now. The safety net was gone, the training phase over. Sure, he still saw his parents every now and then but the relationship had forever changed.
And so, when Amanda said goodbye and offered another hug, Carisi asked if she could give them a minute.
"Look, Counselor," he started, and Barba opened his mouth to speak.
"Nah, Barba, for once in your life just shut that mouth of yours." Barba was stunned for a second, until the corner of Carisi's mouth turned up in that goofy Staten-island grin.
There were a million things he wanted to say in that moment, pages of unspoken words scrolling through his head.
In the end, he settled on just two.
Barba nodded his head and smiled, and Carisi knew that Barba had heard everything else left in the silence. And then he stuck his hand out, and Carisi shook it, and just like the 'thank you' it was more than just a handshake—it was an acknowledgment of equality. Of respect.
Rafael's hand clapped Carisi's shoulder, and he said in his ear, "You know, annoying as you are sometimes, I couldn't have asked for a better student."
And then the goofy smile was back and Carisi left to join Amanda in the car and it felt foreign and scary to close the door to the ADA's apartment, but he also knew that it wasn't the end. Rafael Barba was always a phone call or a text away, he just had to say the word.
Rafael hadn't reached out to Olivia since the day he walked away from her in front of that courthouse. All had been quiet on her front as well.
She drank a little more wine lately, hugged her son a little tighter. Missing Rafael came in waves. She could feel the empty spot that he once occupied at her side, the chill in the small of her back where the warmth of his hand once burned. It felt like a jacket had been ripped from her shoulders, leaving her cold and exposed to the elements.
Olivia was okay; she would always be okay. People had come into and out of her life for years. She knew how to cope, how to be grateful for the moments she shared with someone even after they were gone.
But that didn't mean she wasn't hurting.
He'd needed time and space, and she knew that. Still, it was difficult for her to fight the impulse to stop at his still-empty office, to dial someone else's number when they got a new case, to stop expecting to see his face barging through the door of her office.
So, when she heard a knock on her door at eleven-o'clock in the evening, she smiled.
A five-o'clock shadow darkened the edges of his face, and he wore the same maroon sweater he had on when she got Noah back.
She wanted to reach out and hug him and hold him there because he was right there, right there, and for a second it was like everything was still the same. Like the trial never happened; like he never left.
But reality came back to bite her in the ass and all she could do was turn her body and invite him in.
He'd been in her apartment many times before. This time, though, there was no underlying work reason, no semblance of an excuse for showing up at her doorstep, just an unadulterated desire to see his best friend.
She looked the same and different all at once. He knew her with an intimate familiarity, and yet, without the shadow of their jobs casting an ever-present shadow on their friendship, she was wholly unfamiliar.
Olivia would be lying if she said she hadn't expected him to tell her he loved her that day. She'd dared him, willing him to just say the words, but the ones that came out of his mouth were pulled from a tragedy instead of a fairytale.
He needed to move on. Barba knew that, deep in his heart, his time at SVU was over. He had done all he could, given every ounce of himself to that unit, and now it was time to move on. There was no animosity, just a profound sense of completion—closure.
He didn't know where he wanted to go; he only knew what he had to leave behind to get there. But seeing her again, it was like being home. If walking away from SVU was hard, walking away from her was impossible.
He wanted to say it, to put it in the open, an undeniable truth. Somewhere along the line, Rafael had fallen in love with Olivia. He knew it, and he was pretty sure she knew it too. But she had Noah, and her future was at SVU, and his was God knows where, so he didn't say it. Rafael Barba had two rules in life; he never asked questions he didn't know the answer to and he never made promises he couldn't keep.
He would not tell her he loved her and that he would stay and that they would create a life together. Hell, they were in their fifties with careers and lives and paths of their own. Neither of them had time to put their lives on hold for the other.
They stood face-to-face, basking in the palpable affection. His eyes scanned her face, taking in the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, the dimples at the apples of her cheeks.
Olivia didn't want or need any of the traditional 'perfect family' bullshit—date, get married in a big white wedding dress and then have two-point-five kids.
She already had a beautiful child, and a best friend that would take a bullet for her, and she felt safe and warm around him. Olivia didn't need Rafael, and he didn't need her, but they were happy with each other, and if he was around to squabble with her when she was eighty-five then she sure as hell wouldn't mind. If that wasn't love, she really wasn't sure what was.
She took the first step, wrapping her arms around his torso and they stayed like that for a second, his hands gently brushing against her hair and his lips against the top of her head.
"Liv," he whispered, but she just pulled him tighter.
"I know," she said with a calm certainty. And she didn't know where they would be in twenty years or five years or even where they'd be in the next five minutes, but she did know. She knew that he was here right now, that he loved her and Noah and that he'd changed her world just as much as she'd changed his.
Olivia lifted her head from its place on his shoulder, and pressed her lips against his. It was soft and patient and gentle and burning at the same time.
For a few minutes or hours—neither was sure—they sat and talked and created a bubble for themselves, existing in a beautiful present outside the laws of time and space and the criminal justice system.
Before he left, he dropped a stuffed animal and a note off for Noah explaining that he'd be back to cook spaghetti soon and to be good to his mamí, like the sweet boy Rafael knew he was.
He kissed her once more at the door, and the bubble they had created for themselves seemed to finally burst. But, she thought, if you love something you have to let it go. Her eyes stung and his were fighting back tears again as she breathed, "Goodnight Rafa."
When the door closed that night, neither of them was sure where he'd go or when he'd come back, but they knew he would—somewhere, somehow, sometime—and if this was really what he and she knew it was, if he loved her half as much as she did him, that would be enough.