Rafael hated this case. He wanted it to go the hell away.
First, the political tinge, as the man had connections what with a better-off sister. Then, it turned out he had a history with young girls in the middle school classes he taught. It shouldn't be too difficult to get a conviction, but it was going to take a toll on him.
He needed to talk to Liv about something, but you were in her office, the door open a crack. She had picked you up, a fresh face from Boston’s homicide department. You were barely 25, still optimistic, but you were stoic, reserved, quiet, beautiful (although he'd try to ignore that and ultimately failed). You’d been here a couple of months, hadn’t talked to him too much, save for the snarky comments you’d exchange when he was being a dick. There was one time, however, when he saw you talking to a victim, trying to help her be able to go on the stand, and you were able to talk her down from hysterics when no one else could. That was as close to a rapport as you’d gotten since he asked you why you didn’t choose to be a psychiatrist instead. You'd laughed, said you double-majored in college - criminal justice and psychology - but you never quite knew what to do with the psychology major.
“You thought I was good with her, Counselor?” you’d asked.
“Good? That was great. You saved my whole case. If she didn’t testify, her rapist would walk.”
You had shrugged, given him a tight-lipped smile. “I don’t know. I just thought this would be a better way for me to help.”
Since then, things had been smoother between you two, and you’d talk to him, exchange niceties when he came in the office, talk about Boston, but you weren't friendly, per se.
He didn’t mean to stay and listen to your conversation with Olivia, now, but you kept talking, not knowing he was there what with your back turned. "You don't need to take me off the case!" He'd never heard you so riled up, so upset.
"Detective (L/N)... If you don't think this is good for your mental health, I want you to step back. You haven't been doing well since we got her confession."
"This is why I wanted to join this squad, Sergeant. To help people. I can't do that if you sideline me every time there's a case that might be similar to my own. What you don't get... they're all similar to what happened to me. Are you going to take me off all of them? It's always about control."
He hears Liv sigh, and she says, "I know. I do get it." She makes eye contact with him then, and he coughs, knocking on the door.
"Do you have a second?"
"Yeah. She's all yours," you say, standing up abruptly, quickly walking past him. "I was just leaving."
Rafael looks at Olivia knowingly. "How much of that did you hear?" she asks once you're out of earshot.
"Enough," he says. "I wouldn't let her question the suspect."
Olivia leans back in the chair. "I can't do that. She's the newest addition to the team. If I keep the training wheels on too long, she's going to resent me."
"She can't be leading him to confess, or..."
"I don't see that in her. You know her style." He did, when he was witness to it. It was interesting. You were better at getting the full stories from victims and witnesses, as you really played on the empathy and fear card. He realized now you empathized with it more than he thought, and that you weren't just playing it up to get facts. When you tried to get perpetrator confessions, though, you empathized with them, too, but you never did lead them on. You got them to give you the truth, inch by inch.
“Well, don’t let her go rogue. I can’t have anything she does possibly come up in court.”
That was all he was ever worried about, wasn’t it?
Rafael is startled to see you pacing outside the precinct, a cigarette in your hand. You smoked? Of all people? He has half the sense to knock it out of your hand. He comes up to you instead, looking at you cautiously. "Detective (L/N)? Are you doing okay?"
You laugh sarcastically, bringing the cigarette up to your lips and taking a drag, blowing the smoke out of the corner of your mouth, directing it away from him. "What do you think? You heard my conversation with Searge."
"I...I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--"
"You want me off the case, too? Am I going to mess up your confession?”
"No. I just want you to be careful," he says, stepping a little closer. He takes the cigarette out of your hand and throws it in the ashtray you were standing near. "Awful habit. You should stop."
"I only smoke when I'm stressed. I should've thrown these out. They're bad. They're from... God, these are Massachusetts cigarettes," you say, laughing despite feeling miserable.
He chuckles, too. “Well, make me a promise. You don’t buy any cigarettes in New York.”
“I don’t know if I can keep my end of the bargain up on that one, Counselor. Searge was right. It is getting to me,” you say, sighing, then look up quickly. “Don’t tell her I said that.”
“No one is going to judge you if you need to step off the case,” he says.
“You ever have to?”
“Yes,” he says but doesn’t elaborate. He doesn’t need to. This isn’t about him. “And I will again. We all have breaking points.”
“Well. I’ve met mine enough to know this isn’t it. I just want him in jail,” you say, anger setting in your tone.
“What do you need?” Rafael asks you, quietly, after letting you settle with your thoughts for a few minutes. “I can tell Olivia you need—“
“I need you to put him away. I’m counting on you,” you cut him off, staring at him with a fire in your eyes he didn’t know you had in you.
Rafael nods gravely. “You know I’m going to do everything in my power.”
You’re looping your arms around him, and he realizes you’re...hugging him. Holding him too close. He doesn’t hate this, he doesn’t hate you, but he hates what it means. When’s the last time a woman hugged him aside from his mom, or maybe Olivia? Of course you're a hugger, though, it made sense. You're a bleeding heart if there ever was one.
“You always do,” you tell him, and he feels a sense of warmth at the recognition. “You’re an excellent A.D.A.”
“Thank you,” he says. “I knew that already, but it’s nice hearing it.”
You laugh, and he can tell you need it. “Yeah. I was thinking I didn’t have to tell you. But you win this one for me, okay?”
“Of course,” he says, hoping he has a good jury, looking at you cautiously. "You okay to go back in there?"
"Yeah. I will in a few minutes."
"No...Since I took your cigarette, let me buy you a coffee," he offers.
You smile. "I don't think either of us need any more caffeine today, Counselor. I'll let you buy me a tea, though."
Rafael did feel bad for you; he'd seen it before, young detectives getting in over their head. You weren't like the others, headed for a burnout, although you could be, if you weren't careful. You did your due diligence, worked hard, asked the right questions. For whatever reason, you had wanted this job and fought like hell to get it, and that, well that, he could respect. He just hoped you didn't drive yourself to the ground.
Rafael lets out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. Guilty. On all counts. Usually, juries would throw out one of the random ones he'd try and slip in there to extend jail time, but not today. He'd truly won. And thank God, too. He didn't think he could bear walking up to you with his tail between his legs after promising you he'd win.
"Thanks for keeping your promise, Counselor," you say, hugging him lightly as he meets the squad outside the courthouse. Evidently, it was still too close, since Rollins mutters, "Down girl. Give the man some space."
You're blushing as you pull away. "Sorry. This one just meant a lot to me."
"I know," he says, maintaining eye contact with you a beat too long, your blush deepening. "Jury was good."
"Yeah. So were you," you say, grinning. "Closing statement? Jury would have to be a bunch of sociopaths to not convict."
"Don't feed his ego," Olivia laughs. "He doesn't need it."
"Nice to hear praise from my adoring fanclub, sometimes," he says, smirking, turning his gaze from Olivia to you again.
"Pretty sure that's just (y/n)," Rollins snickers. “She talks about you all the time.”
Wait... it couldn’t be. No. Amanda was just a snarker, liked to make people uncomfortable to take the edge off herself.
"Shut up, Amanda," you chide, glaring at her before turning back to him. "Thank you, Barba."
"Just doing my job, Detective," he says, but it didn't quite feel like that was all he was doing anymore. You’d said to win...for you. And what with Amanda’s comments, he couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more to that.
You were too young for him, too pretty, too kind. You wouldn’t want an old man like himself, and that ship had sailed long ago, anyway, because Rafael had ultimately given up on that part of his life. Dating was just something that never worked out for him, as evidenced by his long list of ex-lovers and the even longer list of reasons why they didn’t stay together.
It didn’t matter, anyway. You didn’t see anything in him. he’d seen you hug Amanda, rub her shoulders, even braid her hair. Evidently you’d gotten comfortable enough with him to do the same, to hold him what could be perceived as too close because he was a man and the A.D.A. and not a woman or your partner. That was all it was, that was all it could be.
But that glint in your eye? The way you were still blushing?
He’s a damn fool for even thinking about it and he's an even stupider man for asking you if you wanted to get a coffee as the rest of the squad trickles forward down the courthouse steps, leaving the two of you behind. But you agree, again, as a surprise to him. God, it's been so long since he's done this, it's so hard to read any signals. And even if there were any, what could he do with them? He couldn't just sleep with you - that's the way messes within a workplace started - and anyway, Rafael didn't do hookups anymore. He was far too old for that, but he was also far too old to be thinking about starting anything serious with a 25-year-old. No, you would just be friends. Friends went out for coffee, even if he thought you were the most beautiful woman he'd met in quite a long time.
You're exchanging a look with Amanda, who laughs and rolls her eyes, and again, he wonders again if there's something more to the banter both of you engage in or if you're making fun of him the way the girls used to in high school because he thought he had a chance with one who was far out of his league.
You order a coffee this time - iced, with far too much cream and sugar. "Why don't you just order milk next time?" he teases, covering the bill despite your protest that you could pay for your own drink.
"I don't know how you can drink it black. You ever have coffee milk?"
"No," he says. "Is that it?"
"You went to school in Massachusetts for three years and never had coffee milk?" you ask, sipping at your coffee, chewing a little on the straw before your lips purse around it again. Well, that wasn't distracting...at all.
"No. Enlighten me in how it's different from what you just ordered."
You roll your eyes, but you tell him, and the conversation flows easily as you talk about Massachusetts again. Again, you don't tell him much in the way of personal details, you mostly talk about places and ask him if he's been there (most of the time he has no idea what you're talking about, and he'll tell you he went there to study, not sightsee).
"Thanks for the coffee, Barba," you tell him, smiling. "But I should probably head back to the precinct and make sure Amanda took care of the paperwork."
"No problem, Detective," he says, smiling back.
As you head out the door, you reach for his hand, squeezing it gently before letting go. He could probably never get used to you being this close, the scent of your lilac perfume enveloping him. "I just wanna thank you again."
"You don't have to, Detective."
"No, you don't get it. Cases like this, cases that affect children... this is why I chose SVU. I need to see cases like that through and I need to know I did my job so you can do yours. All the cases matter, but these... I'll tell you why someday. But not today," you say, your lips turned down in a slight frown.
"You did an excellent job," he assures you, smiling in a way he hopes is reassuring.
You smile back, and that strawberry lipstick-stained mouth is guaranteed to haunt his dreams tonight. You hug him again, more awkwardly this time, and say, "Thank you. I'll see you tomorrow. Have a good one, Barba."
And you're gone, heading for your car, leaving the faint notes of your perfume in the air and on his suit jacket. He wants to wash it off, but he also wants it to bleed into the fabric so it never leaves. This was the opposite of a sure thing, the opposite of a thing to bet on.
So he swallows down his resignation to his solitude with a swig of coffee, needing the bitterness to assuage him that that was all his life would ever be. Because that's how it always was, wasn't it?