Olivia finds herself outside of Rafael Barba's apartment building some hours after he kissed her forehead and said goodbye.
She's not really sure why she's there, to be honest. After everything that had happened, she really just wanted to be home with Noah. But after having dinner with her son and reading too many bedtime stories, she found herself restless.
His parting words had stuck with her while she absentmindedly tidied the apartment, picking up and putting away Legos and toy trucks. She worked on autopilot for a few minutes, turning his words about shades of grey and colors over in her mind.
It was true, she realized upon thinking about it. Hell, she had told Jack McCoy much of the same. His time at SVU had changed Rafael. Her heart clenched at the memory of his broken answers to Stone's cross. The Rafael Barba she had met six years ago never would have been in the same position.
"Oh, Rafa," she muttered under her breath. What were they going to do without him? What was she going to do without him?
Olivia twisted Terry the turtle in her hands and made a decision quickly.
And so, she finds herself outside of his apartment building, cold wind biting at her face. She looks up at the facade, wondering what on Earth she's supposed to say.
Before she can think about it too much, Olivia steps forward and punches the intercom button. It gives off a staticky buzzing for a beat and then - "Hello?"
Olivia startles at the sound of his voice, her belly filling with a familiar warmth. "Rafa? It's me."
She chews the inside of her cheek while she waits a beat, two beats, three beats for his answer.
"Come on up, Liv," his voice sounds warmer now and the staticky buzz of the intercom is welcoming.
Olivia heads inside and makes a beeline for the elevator, taking off her gloves as she watches the numbers light up. Before she knows it, the doors slide open on the 6th floor and she's forced to step into the hallway, lest the doors close and she loses her nerve.
The door to apartment 613 opens right as she steps in front of it - as if Rafael had been waiting for her.
"Hi," she says, drinking in the sight of him relaxed.
His hair is mussed, soft and floppy over his forehead. Gone is his suit from earlier, replaced with jeans and a soft, worn out looking Harvard sweatshirt. He's smiling, but there's confusion creasing his forehead.
"Hi, Liv," he replies easily. It's startling - the difference now that he's left the office. The slope of his shoulders is less tense, Olivia notes.
"Hi," she says again, feeling stupid and clumsy. She's here, but the why of it all is elusive.
He chuckles and steps back a little, "come in?"
"I...yes, thank you," she smiles and the warmth of Rafael's apartment envelops her.
"Not that I'm not happy to see you," he gets right to the point, "but, why are you here, Liv?"
She shrugs a little helplessly, her palms turned up to the ceiling. "I'm not... I'm not sure, Rafa."
He gives her a little half smile and her insides flip. Oh, she knows why she's here, but she's not sure how to articulate it. Rafael runs a hand through his hair and gestures to the bottle of scotch on his kitchen island. "Maybe a drink? It's been ... a long day," he says, the understatement of the year.
Olivia laughs - finally feeling a little bit of equilibrium return. A drink with her dear friend, this is what she knows, what she can handle. He gestures again and she takes off her jacket. In another display of his new ease, Rafael drapes her coat over the back of a chair instead of hanging it on the coat rack.
Olivia quirks an eyebrow, "Civilian for less than 6 hours and you're already halfway to a slob."
Rafael barks a laugh as he pours their drinks. "Not quite," he hands her one tumbler. "The boxes of books from my office are alphabetized," he confesses with a wry grin.
"Old habits die hard," Olivia quips. She sips at the alcohol, warmth spreading to her toes.
Rafael lets out a heavy sigh. "Twenty one years of habits... they may never die."
He doesn't sound regretful, which is as much a comfort as it is a gut punch. It had been so easy for him to make his decision. With a not guilty verdict, he could have stayed. But …
"Why, Rafa?" she asks, "You could have stayed."
"Liv," Rafael says her name firmly and she can see the clear conviction in his eyes when he speaks. "No, I couldn't have. Yes, I was found not guilty. But my face was plastered on the papers; the story was out there. No judge would be able to take me seriously after this. I made my choice – it's time to move on."
"But you're leaving it all behind!" she responds, more vehemently than she intends. She's afraid that he can read the subtext – you're leaving me behind. She's seen DA's come and go, but this one hits her the hardest.
Rafael definitely reads the subtext – his face softens and he makes a little, disbelieving noise in the back of his throat. He makes an aborted gesture with his free hand and looks a little helpless for a minute. "Liv," her name is softer now, almost a plea. "I'm… I don't want to leave the city."
I don't want to leave you.
"Good," she says softly.
The air crackles between them – charged with familiar chemistry that comes from years of knowing a person. Olivia sets her glass down on the counter and twists her fingers together. She doesn't know what to do – it's an unusual position for her.
"I thought I would be bickering with you well into my old age," she jokes a little, breaking the short, charged silence.
"You still could," he says casually.
(Later, much later, he will tell her that there was no casual about it, that his heart nearly burst from his chest with three little words. He will tell her that saying those three words was harder than saying the more famous three words. She will laugh and kiss him and tell him that she was convinced of his casualness.)
Her heart stutters to a stop in her chest. Olivia's mouth drops open slightly and she blinks at him for what feels, to Rafael, like an interminable amount of time.
She doesn't know why she reacts with shock – it's nothing more than a promise to be friends, if she reads it a certain way. But. But the other way. Oh, it's the other way that stuns her.
"Rafa," she says slowly, still blinking at him.
He chuckles a bit – speechless Olivia Benson is quite a sight to behold, apparently. He knows her though, and can see the unasked question that her mind is grappling with.
"It means whatever you want it to mean, Liv," he says kindly, giving her an out even if it means a 50% chance of breaking his own heart.
She runs a shaky hand through her hair and nods, a slow smile finding its place on her face. "I was worried moving on meant moving on from me," she confesses on a short laugh, stepping closer to him.
"I don't think I ever could, Olivia," he sighs, smiling back at her. "You seem to be a habit that I can't quit."
"Good," she says emphatically and boldly reaches for his hand. He lets her take it, watches her twist their fingers together and grins as the colors in his world grow brighter.
A/N: Literally my first ever Barson fic written in maybe 12 hours after watching "The Undiscovered Country"
I sobbed when Barba left and I needed to write this for my own piece of mind lol.
I would much appreciate comments - suffering law student here :)