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New Year

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He was frantic, had been for days. The mere idea that Liv could go into the new year resenting him, hating him, had him on the verge of tearing his hair out. He couldn’t stand it, couldn’t bear to not explain himself, his actions, to her. There was no way their friendship could get back on track if he couldn’t make her listen and understand where he was coming from, where he stands.

And if that meant he had to show up at her door at 11 o’clock on new year’s eve? He had no qualms about it in the least. Or he didn’t in theory, but he couldn’t stop the nerves from wracking his system as he stood outside her door, bottle of red wine in hand. He figured it would be harder for her to slam the door on him if he brought a peace offering. That is, if she opened the door in the first place.

His heart hammered in his ears as he heard her footsteps come closer and he shifted his weight nervously. This wasn’t him, he wasn’t usually like this. At least, he wasn’t like this outwardly, letting people see. He kept his nerves and his anxieties to himself, in the comfort and safety of his own apartment. But here in the hallway of Olivia’s apartment building, fluorescent lights harsh above him, he felt overly exposed, like a child in a too-large suit pretending to be an adult.

Before his nerves could get the best of him, the door opened and Liv’s eyes narrowed as they met his.

“Barba,” she said coolly, door slipping closed a fraction. “It’s late.”

“Liv, please,” Rafael felt like he was close to begging already, his carefully planned speech already forgotten. “I have to explain myself, I can’t let the new year begin with you hating me. I can’t do that.”

The silence stretched between them for what felt like hours, Rafael’s palms sweaty as he waited for her answer. Finally he lifted the hand holding the wine bottle, drawing Liv’s attention to it away from his face. She gestured him inside halfheartedly, plucking the bottle from his grasp as he stepped through the doorway.

“Where’s Noah?” Rafael asked as he followed Liv to her kitchen, propping his hip against the counter. Feigning comfort and ease, that’s what he was good at, even with his mind racing a mile a minute as he watched Liv open the wine, pouring two glasses and shoving one in his direction. At least she wasn’t angry enough with him to withhold the wine.

“He’s over at Amanda’s. She had some new year’s eve activities planned for the girls and figured Noah would want to be there, too.” Her eyes met his over her wine glass as they both took hearty sips. Part of Rafael wished he had brought over some scotch, to really give him the boost of confidence and comfort he needed, but there was no way bringing Liv a bottle of scotch could be seen as a gift for her. Instead, he swallowed another gulp of the wine before placing his glass down on the counter and turning to face Liv fully.

“I need to explain myself, Liv. I know you hate me, and I understand if you still do after tonight. But I can’t go into this new year without you hearing me, really hearing me.” Rafael took a deep breath, steadying himself under Liv’s intense gaze. As she gave an imperceptible nod of her head, he continued. “You don’t understand how much danger you were in, Liv. How much danger your job was in. I couldn’t let Wheatley take that away from you, couldn’t let him hurt you. If he hadn’t hired me, he would’ve hired someone like Buchanan, or worse. Someone who wouldn’t have stopped attacking you on the stand. By the time they were through with you, you’d be out of a job and your reputation would have been ruined. You’d be too vulnerable. I couldn’t let that happen, Liv.”

“I’m a grown up, Rafael. I can take care of myself,” Liv cut in, taking another sip of wine before refilling her glass. At least now she was using his first name instead of his last name. He could count that as progress, no matter how slight it was.

“You are, and I don’t want it to sound like you need someone to protect you but Liv, you deserve someone to protect you. You deserve someone to be there and save you, even though you can save yourself. And I know the kind of stress you’ve been under recently, how many obstacles you’ve had to overcome. If there was even one little thing I could do to help alleviate the pressure you’re under, I would do it. And you know it.”

Rafael’s breath was coming harder now, face flushing under the heat of Liv’s gaze, the emotion behind his words, and the wine he’d had earlier. But he couldn’t stop himself now, he had to lay it all out on the table. There was no way he could let his thoughts weigh so heavily on him when the new year was mere minutes away at this point. No, he had to be an adult about this.

“You know how I feel about you, Liv. I told you all those years ago, you brought color into my black and white world and changed me forever. I can’t ever regress from that, Liv, and I don’t want to. I love you, I’ll probably always love you, and I had to take this Wheatley case to protect you. He wanted to ruin you, hell he probably still does. And I couldn’t let you take the fall for Stabler’s issues with that case.” Her eyes narrowed at the mention of Elliot, and Rafael flinched internally. He knew bringing that up would be a sore spot, would surely cause an issue. But he couldn’t leave any stone unturned. “I’m not saying Wheatley isn’t a bad guy, but in this case? He deserved a solid defense, and I could give it to him while keeping you safe. And that’s all that mattered to me. You’re all that matters to me.”

“Elliot didn’t do anything wrong,” Liv said, voice tight. Her eyes were still narrowed at Rafael as she finished off her glass of wine, tension in her shoulders.

“I know you think that right now, Liv, because he’s your friend. He’s your partner. But when the fog clears around this and things settle down, you’ll be able to look at this with a clear head and you’ll know I did what I had to do. And I hope it clears up for you soon, Liv, because I just told you I love you and your only concern is whether or not Stabler did anything wrong.” Rafael pushed off the counter, inching his half full glass closer to Liv. He grabbed his coat from the counter next to him and turned to leave the kitchen, leaving Liv alone in the quiet.

Liv didn’t say a word as he walked to the front door, pulling his coat onto his shoulders. He could hear her breath coming a little louder, could feel the stress and tension in the air, but he had to get out of there. He had done what he came to do, explained himself to her. If she didn’t believe him, at least not right now, that wasn’t his issue. After all, he knew her, knew it would take her some time to come to terms with what all he told her tonight.

Still, as the door closed behind him, he heard a countdown to the new year from the apartment door down the hallway. As the group behind the door reached one, he felt the weight come off of his shoulders. Rafael was entering the new year lighter than he could have ever thought possible.

And when his phone buzzed with a text from Liv when he stepped out into the street from her apartment building, a simple ‘happy new year,’ he knew things could only get better from here.