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Rafael gazed in amazement, looking at Olivia as if she is his very own Mecca in the flesh. He couldn’t believe it’d been three months with this wonderful Godlike creature before him. Unsure of how to properly weave the complexity of his feelings into words, it’d been hard to say, easy to show, and essentially easier to feel, but from the moment he laid eyes on her…everything—every instance has been about her—she became his entire world—his everything.

Wedged between the interior siding of Olivia’s desk and the heat emanating off of her fervid skin, the smirk overtook the full expanse of his lips as he towers over her, leaning forward he presses his lips against her cheek, brushing them ever so lightly on the smoothness of her skin—and still, that light touch sent shivers through her nerves, shivers that made her whole body want to tremble. “If you want me to stop, tell me now,” he whispered. When Olivia said nothing, he brushed his mouth against the hollow of her temple. “Or now.” He traced the line of her cheekbone, with his pointer finger. “Or now.” His lips were a breath away from molding onto hers. “Or—“

But she’d had enough teasing, reaching up, she pulled him down to her, and the rest of his words were lost against her mouth. He kissed her gently, carefully, but it wasn’t gentleness she craved, not now, not after all the time wasted, she knotted her fists in his shirt, pulling him harder against her. He groaned softly, low in his throat, his arms circling her, gathering her against him. 

“Aye, Liv—“ the office door shot open without warning. “Oh, God!” Odafin shielded his eyes with the Prowler case file. Barba pulled away, swiftly wiping his swollen pink lips with the back of his hand. 

“You know,” Olivia leaned back in her seat as Barba awkwardly avoided eye contact with the sergeant, scratching the hair at the base of his neck. “There’s this great thing called knocking.” She crossed her arms, “You should try it.” Her annoyance was evident—stuck to her like a thick cotton hoodie on a humid summer’s day. 

“How the hell was I supposed to know you’d be playing seven minutes in heaven, in the precinct?”

“Behind a closed door in the privacy of my own office.”

“I think I’m going to go,” Rafael stood, erecting his spine, turning sharply on his heels, grabbing his briefcase off the corner of Olivia’s desk. 

“We were supposed to have lunch,” she crossed her arms over her chest, a petulant pout brews on her face. 

“Swappin’ spit wasn’t filling enough?” Fin rolled his eyes at his captain and her boyfriend.

“No—since we were rudely interrupted.” 

“Before ya sass me, there was a major break in the case.” Fin plopped down in the seat directly across from her, seated on the other side of the desk. 

“Seems like we weren’t going to be getting lunch after all,” Barba jests. Olivia’s sigh is deep and woeful. Apologetically glancing at her lover's unfathomably vivid and sympathetic greens. 

“I’m sorry,” he waves her off. 

“As long as you don’t miss the ‘prestigious’ Holiday Jubilee at my—“

“Yes, yes, I know. You’ve been pestering me about this all month. It’s only the most important event of the year. I’ll be there, don't worry.” Her eyes twinkle matching the warm love filled grin expanding across her lips. “If it’s important to you, it’s important to me. I promise I’ll be there.”

“See you later, mi amor.” With a final kiss on the cheek, he slipped out of her office with a contented grin on his face.

 


 

Rafael couldn’t wipe the smile off his face as he headed back to his apartment. Sure, he hadn’t managed to have lunch with his girlfriend of three months, but it didn’t matter when he knew he had the pleasure of her company at the Columbia University Law School’s annual Holiday Jubilee. 

Their relationship had taken off quickly after his return to New York City, she was a big reason that he’d accepted the teaching job in the first place. Olivia had really boosted his confidence, and he couldn’t wait to finally show his new colleagues his biggest inspiration and motivation for teaching: the empathetic, sensitive Manhattan SVU captain. He spent the rest of the afternoon picking out and preparing his outfit - a navy blue suit that he knew Olivia loved, with a festive-looking red and green tie to match. He usually dreaded holiday parties and would make up any possible excuse to give them a miss, but this was an exception.

She called when he was in the backseat of the Uber on the way. “Rafa? Are you on your way there now?”

“Yup. Are you off work yet?”

“I’m so sorry, but this Prowler case is really giving us a tough time. I’m going to be late. But I promise I’ll try to be there as soon as possible,” she said apologetically. He could hear the disappointment in her voice.

“It’s fine, mi amor. I know work is important. I’ll meet you at Columbia.”

“Thanks, Rafa. I love you.” Rafael felt a tinge of disappointment, but it was nothing new to him. The last thing he wanted was to get between Olivia and her work, her being a little late hardly mattered in the grander scheme of things.

By the time he arrived, the Holiday Jubilee was just getting started. He grabbed a glass of champagne, sipping it slowly, checking his phone once every few minutes to see if Olivia was on her way. A few of his new colleagues approached asking about her, he buffed his way through it, making casual conversation to pass the time. He was enjoying himself, yes, but something felt missing without Olivia by his side.

Half an hour ticked by and he still hadn’t heard from her. Dinner was just being served and he felt a ripple of annoyance looking at the empty seat next to him. She could at least call or text if she still couldn’t get off work. He ducked out quickly and dialed her number. “Liv, where are you?”

She sounded frazzled when she picked up. “Rafa, I’m so sorry. The suspect is being difficult and we really need to get something from him.” 

“Dinner has started, Liv. How much longer do you think you’ll need?” he pressed while trying to hide the frustration in his voice. 

“I think he’s close to breaking. I promise I’m going to be there. Just give me a little more time…”

Worries eased slightly, he returned to the venue and started chewing on his dinner to pass the time. At least she’d promised she’d make it. It was better than an outright rain check, he was going to take what he could get. However, that patience had almost disappeared by the time he next called her, a full hour after the party had started.

Rafael’s cheeks were flushed with a mix of embarrassment and anger. All week long he’d been telling his colleagues how excited he was to introduce them to Olivia Benson, she’d left him alone at the event like a fool. “Olivia, what the fuck, where are you? You said you’d be here!” 

She bit back when she heard the venom in his tone. “I will be, but I still have work to do here, what do you want me to do?”

“Fucking delegate Olivia! You’re the boss. You’re the commanding officer, Fin can handle it! He’s been a cop just as long as you have. He’s your #2 for a reason.” He paused briefly when he realized just how loud and heated the was, the sound ricocheting off the glass, causing an echo to ripple through the bitter cold of the night air.

She sighed deeply. “I’m coming, just stop!”

“Stop?” He didn’t even wait for a response and hung up. Dessert was next, he wasn’t going to let his anger get between him and his tiramisu that had just been served. Screw it. She probably can’t be bothered to leave work.

At the precinct, Olivia slammed the phone down when she realized that Rafael hung up. She stared at Fin, who was sitting across from her in the office as they listened to Amanda interrogate the suspect. “Fuck,” she muttered. Her dress was in a garment bag draped over the couch, next to a small Tiffany bag with a surprise from Rafael. She glanced at the clock and realized that it’d been over an hour since the start time of the party. No wonder Rafael sounded so mad. Guilt flooded her body. “I need to get going now.” She grabbed the garment bag and unzipped her boots to change into her heels. “Fin, you got this?”

“GO!” Fin replied. “We’ll be fine here, now get your ass to Columbia!”

Fifteen minutes later, now dressed in evening wear, simple make-up on her face, she raced uptown in her squad car. Why is Columbia so damn far from the precinct? She had at least twenty blocks to go and traffic was being uncooperative. 

"Shit," she muttered as her phone, which was balancing precariously on the passenger seat, rang. It definitely had to be Rafael. She reached for it with one hand, only for it to be knocked to the ground as she made a turn onto Amsterdam Avenue. It was too far from her for her to reach for it, and she wasn’t about to stop her car in the middle of the road to grab it. 

Rafael cursed under his breath when he realized that Olivia hadn’t picked up. Was she even going to try to make it to the party now? The music was playing and couples were pairing up on the dancefloor, and there he was, sulking in a corner for most of the party. Some holiday celebration this was.

“You’ve reached Olivia Benson. Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

He felt a fresh wave of anger flood him as he looked at his happy colleagues swaying to the jazz music that played. “You know what, Olivia, obviously what’s important to me isn’t important to you. If I have to beg and plead for you to come maybe I don’t want you here. Just stay at work — with the people you care about. Maybe I realize now we won’t work out because we no longer work together. It’s impossible to work around your schedule when you prioritize work over everything and evidently, you refuse to work with mine. Maybe we just got caught up with all the pining and this is it for us.”

He didn’t hesitate before pressing the red circle, ending the call, angrily he shoved his phone back into his jacket pocket.

Olivia pulled up at a traffic light and climbed out of her seat to retrieve her phone from the floor of the car. Rafael hadn’t tried to call again, but he’d left a voice message. With trembling fingers, she lifted her phone to listen to it.

Just stay at work — with the people you care about.

Maybe we just got caught up with all the pining and this is it for us

Olivia’s eyes filled with tears. She’d really screwed up. This was the first time in all the years she’d known Rafael that he sounded this angry at her; they’d never fought like this before. Hearing the venom in his voice shattered her heart. He was ending things with her, all because she didn’t have the balls to do her job and delegate work to Fin to attend an event that was so important to Rafael.

But voicemail. Rafael Barba was actually breaking up with her over voicemail? He didn’t even try to call her back and have a conversation about it. Sure, the Holiday Jubilee was important to him, but for him to dump her over her being late to one party? Olivia allowed the building rage to mix with her brewing sadness and guilt. They’d danced around each other’s feelings for years, finally got together after months of agony and distance, and here he was throwing all of it away just like that. Over voicemail. It was almost too ridiculous to believe. 

She was already dressed and ready. She was going to drive to that party and give him a piece of her mind.

Ten minutes had passed since he’d sent that voicemail and nothing from Olivia. He stared into his scotch and played it back in his head. Had she heard it? Maybe he’d gone too far with his anger… It suddenly seemed awfully petty of him to break up with Olivia Benson over her being late to a party, when she had a dangerous and uncooperative suspect in questioning. He’d worked with her for so many years and knew first-hand how dedicated she was to her work - her passion and drive was one of the reasons he’d fallen so deeply in love with her. For him to throw that love away would be utterly stupid. The anger that had been bubbling in him quickly turned to guilt. 

“Come on, come on, pick up…” he mumbled under his breath as the phone rang. No response. She had good reason to ignore him if she’d heard his message. Undaunted, he left another voice message. “Liv, I’m so sorry for saying all of that. I was so caught up in my anger and it was selfish of me. I don’t want this to be the end of us. Please call me back when you can. I love you.” For good measure, he sent her a few texts. Maybe she was driving and couldn’t answer his call.

Liv, I’m so sorry for being an asshole. I still hope I can see you tonight. 

You’re the best thing that’s happened to me this year. 

I love you so much. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. 

Olivia paused at a traffic light and sighed. She’d told herself to focus on navigating the terrible traffic and not her phone, but her phone had been vibrating non-stop for a full minute. Probably Rafael, but what if Fin or Amanda was calling with a problem? She reached over to the passenger seat and looked at the screen - multiple missed calls from Rafael, along with some voicemails and a few texts from him. At least it wasn’t work. She’d listen to them and confront him in person when she got to Columbia.

Out of the corner of her eye, the light turned green, she quickly silenced her phone - not needing any more distractions while driving. She moved to slide the phone into her cup holder, pressing down on the gas pedal, not noticing the truck that had run the red light coming directly at her.

Rafael  was the last thing she thought of before the crunch of metal and the blaring sound of screeching tires.

 


 

Rafael spent a restless half an hour staring at his phone, in no mood to partake in the holiday games. Surely Olivia would have arrived at Columbia by now, or acknowledged his messages, at the very least. Radio silence from her was unusual, no matter how angry she was at him, he was starting to get nervous. 

Maybe she’s still at the precinct, after all. He dialed Fin first. “Isn’t she with you? She left here over half an hour ago, all dressed for the party. She should have arrived by now.”

Shit. She really was intending to come to the party. He tried to suppress his nagging guilt and think logically. Maybe she’d stopped by her apartment on the way to the party to freshen up or grab a new pair of shoes since she didn’t live far from Columbia? That seemed entirely plausible, but it wasn’t like Olivia to ignore all his messages like that. Something was wrong, and he couldn’t bury that suspicion. Without any hesitation, he called an Uber, grabbed his jacket, and left the party. He dialed her number again in the backseat, but still nothing from her. The ride to her apartment felt endless. This could all turn out to be nothing, but he wasn’t going to let his mind rest until he was sure.

Rafael hopped off the Uber at 89th and Amsterdam, quickly scanning the street beside Olivia’s apartment block. There was no sign of her car, but the feeling of dread in his chest was so strong that he decided to buzz her apartment anyway. “Liv? It’s me…” he pleaded into the intercom, only to hear a vaguely familiar female voice in return.

“Barba, it’s Kat. Come up, we have a problem!” When he heard the panic in the junior detective’s voice, he dashed in and sprinted up the stairs, too impatient to wait for the elevator. What was Kat doing in Liv’s apartment? It couldn’t be good. He muttered a quick prayer and burst through the door, where a visibly distressed Kat was attempting to soothe a confused and sobbing Noah.

Rafael’s pulse accelerated, his palms growing clammy by the second. Whatever had happened, it couldn’t possibly be good. “What happened?”

“She got into a car accident, Barba. Her car got hit by a truck on Amsterdam, they’ve rushed her to Bellevue,” Kat said between sobs. “We need to go there, now.”

Rafael’s heart pounded in his chest. A car accident? Fuck, that argument they’d been having… He didn’t want the last thing Olivia heard to be him stupidly breaking up with her over a shitty voicemail. Voicemail, of all things! She was driving on Amsterdam - definitely on her way to Columbia. Hot tears trickled down his cheeks, but he had to focus. Noah ran into his arms, sobbing loudly. “Uncle Rafa!”

He had to be strong for Noah’s sake. “Come on Noah, let’s get your stuff so we go see momma. The overnight bag’s in the closet and Noah’s clothes are in the bottom drawer,” he turned to Kat mindlessly spitting instructions. She immediately dashed off to get his things while Rafael picked Eddie up from the couch, handing him to Noah. Within two minutes they were heading out her apartment door, en route to Bellevue in Kat’s squad car. Rafael was numb with shock and sadness. The thought of Olivia crumpled in a pile of metal, out cold thinking that he didn’t love her anymore...

It’s my fault. It’s all my fault. 

“We’re looking for Olivia Benson!” Rafael practically shouted at the nurses when they arrived at the hospital. Kat flashes her badge to spark urgency into the medical staff. 

“She’s still in surgery, sir. We should have an update on her condition very soon.”

“What on earth happened?”

“EMTs told us that her car was hit by a truck at a junction at the low 60s and Amsterdam. They found her phone inches from her hand. The driver in the car next to hers said she was looking at it right before the accident, but had put it down right before she took off, so she didn't notice the 16-wheeler who'd run the red light barreling toward her.”

Rafael was paralyzed, too stunned by the news to open his mouth. “How was she when she got here?” Kat asked.

“It wasn’t looking good, ma’am. She arrived conscious and breathing, but there was massive internal bleeding, multiple broken bones, and likely some head trauma. The doctors are trying to stabilize the bleeding now. We will let you know the instant we have an update.”

Rafael crumpled into a seat outside the emergency department, taking Noah in his arms. “Uncle Rafa, I’m scared. Is momma going to be okay?” Noah held onto Eddie tightly as tears streamed down his cheeks. “Why did the truck hit her car?”

He didn’t know what to tell the young boy. It was all my fault . He shouldn’t have done something as stupid and immature as breaking up with her over voicemail, especially when he didn’t mean it. What on earth would he say to Noah if Olivia didn’t make it? His head spinning just thinking about it all. He’d never be able to live with himself.

Fin and Amanda arrived at the hospital shortly after they did, followed by Sonny. Kat attempted to soothe a hysterical Noah by bringing him to the hospital cafeteria for a hot chocolate, leaving the rest of the squad and Rafael waiting in a tense silence in the waiting room. His heart sank thinking of all the times Olivia had sat in this very room, comforting families who’d lost loved ones. Now it was her turn to lie in a hospital bed, fighting for her life. 

Amanda noticed Rafael’s silent tears. “Liv’s a fighter, Barba.”

All he managed was a small smile. The sense of doom was too crushing. “This is all my fault,” Rafael muttered. “I got angry at her over the phone and tried to break up with her over fucking voicemail, and now this happens… It’s on me.”

“Don’t say that, Barba. It was an accident. Traffic told me that the truck that hit Liv’s car ran a red light. It definitely was on the truck driver,” Fin chimed in. Although he was trying his best to remain calm, everyone could tell that even he was unnerved by how serious Olivia’s injuries were. Mike Dodds had succumbed to his injury… but Rafael had to hang onto every ounce of hope he could. 

“Mr. Barba?” A doctor with bloodied scrubs approached them. His heart raced looking at him. Olivia’s blood . Blood that’s on my hands.

“Yes, that’s me.” Tears rushed to his eyes yet again. Was this going to be the end? He couldn't survive any bad news in his state.

“We’ve just finished surgery on Miss Benson. She’s stable for now, but it's touch and go. We’ve decided to keep her in a medically-induced coma due to the seriousness of her injuries. She’s lost a lot of blood has multiple broken ribs, but thankfully, her head trauma looks superficial. We’ll do a full CT, but she was very lucky.” Medically-induced coma. Oh, God. 

Rafael gulped when he entered the room and saw a sedated Olivia lying in the bed, almost unrecognizable from the combination of bandages and injuries, against a cacophony of beeps and humming from the countless machines by her bedside. The adults hesitated for a few seconds, wondering if they should let Noah see Olivia in this condition, but his soft cries persuaded them.

“Momma!” he wailed. “Please wake up. Uncle Rafa and I are here!” Rafael held onto the boy with one arm and caressed her fingertips with the other. 

“I’m so, so sorry, Liv. I was stupid; I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you like that. This is all my fault. I love you so much. Please wake up soon…” he implored as he looked at her feeble, motionless body. He wished he could embrace her, tell her how sorry he was, kiss her. For the next few hours, he stared blankly at her while the squad sat by her bedside. Even Donald Cragen and John Munch came to pay her a visit when they heard the news. Many tears were shed that evening, every single one felt like a knife in his heart. He’d caused all of them so much pain and misery…

Amanda had kindly offered to take Noah to her place for the next few nights, leaving Rafael alone with Olivia for the night. He took her hand as gently as he could and whispered, “Liv, Noah and I love you so much. I never should have gotten angry at you for being late to the celebration. It was just a stupid holiday party… I would give anything for you to be okay. I’m so sorry.” 

The next three nights went by in a blur. He sat by her bedside, barely sleeping or eating, apologizing to her for what felt like a million times, praying that he’d get through to her somehow. Every time Noah came into the room, fresh tears poured down his cheeks seeing his fear, hearing his trembling voice. Fuck, this is all on me. What on earth am I going to do if she doesn’t wake up? He couldn’t shake his feelings of hopelessness and despair as he watched the doctors check on an unconscious Olivia, day and night. She was pulling through, they said, but nowhere close to a full recovery yet, and they had to keep her sedated until she was strong enough. The bandages slowly came off and her bruises started to fade, but her eyes stayed shut. Could she hear everything he’d said? Did she know that he loved her? The uncertainty churned in his stomach, and the decorations in the hospital waiting room did nothing to lift his spirits. Nothing felt right, every waking minute was spent fretting about Olivia’s condition. 

The sun was rising, bathing the room in a soft glow, he rubbed his tired, tear-stained eyes. It wasn’t going to be a joyful Christmas - not without the love of his life by his side. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever have a festive Christmas again. All he could do was stare at her from her bedside and hang on to a sliver of hope that she’d come to quickly; his loving, tender, strong Olivia. Even with the injuries and machines strapped to her, she was as beautiful as the day he’d first laid eyes on her in the courthouse. Oh, how he wished she could see and hear him. 

“Merry Christmas, mi amor,” he whispered. “Not a minute goes by where I’m not hoping you’ll wake up. We’ve got so many plans for forever. I want to make them happen with you and Noah. He pressed a gentle kiss to her lips taking her hand in his, feeling their fingers interlace. “You being with me today would be my Christmas miracle, Liv. I can’t imagine life without you. I love you so, so much.”

Rafael scanned her face, knowing that he wouldn’t see her reaction like he’d been fervently wishing for, ever since he’d first arrived by her bedside.

But this time, he didn’t need that to know she’d heard him. 

It was so fleeting yet unmistakable. His heart fluttered as he felt her fingers wrap around his, squeezing back.