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Amanda has just finished making mac and cheese for Noah and Jesse. Billie was sleeping and the other two were watching a movie. Noah had asked to have a sleepover with Jesse, and her captain had just looked so run down lately that of course she took the eight year old off her hands for one night.

“You guys, dinner’s ready. Pause the movie and come sit down.” Amanda set the two plates on the table as Noah and Jesse came running into the kitchen.

“Thanks Aunt ‘Manda.” Noah mumbled as he blew on his food trying to cool it off.

Now Amanda knew something was wrong, mac and cheese was Noah’s favorite and she didn’t have enough hands to count the times Liv had told her about how excited Noah had been when she told him that she was making that meal for dinner. Noah had seemed down all night and at first she thought it was still separation anxiety, sure it had been his idea to come but she knew from Olivia that it still took him a while to get comfortable, even if where he was going was with family. That damn Sheila Porter had really screwed them all over. Liv barely trusted anyone with her kid now and Noah was confused about who he was allowed to spend time with. The last person Amanda remembered Noah being over the top excited to see was Rafael Barba, but he’s been gone for two years, and to her, it seemed the Benson family hadn’t been the same since. “Noah, bud, you okay?” Amanda treaded lightly.

“Yeah I guess, and thanks for the mac and cheese, it’s my favorite.” Noah grinned, shoveling another forkful into his mouth. “I’m just worried about mommy.”

Shit. There it was. Amanda cleared her throat trying to find the best way to continue the conversation without pushing him. “What’s wrong with mom?” Amanda cursed herself. She knew Liv had been spiraling ever since her brother overdosed, and now with Tucker, it’s been even worse, but for it to be that bad where her eight year old knew something was up? Either Olivia was doing a terrible job masking her sadness, or it was just too much for her to handle and she couldn’t hide it. Amanda had given Jesse her phone to play with to keep her distracted.

“She cries a lot, at night. After she puts me to bed. Is it my fault?” Noah asked his aunt shyly. He was playing with his food now, not even bothering to eat it.

Amanda’s heart broke to hear that her captain, and someone who had become a confidante had this much sadness. She gathered the small child into her arms. “Oh darlin’, it’s not your fault at all. You know you make your mother so happy. She talks about you all the time at work, and has all of these pictures of you in her office. You make her very happy.” She kissed his forehead. “Mommy is just having a rough time right now.” Amanda tried to explain it as simply as she could, so as not to confuse him. “Two people your mom cared for very much passed away and she’s just a bit sad right now.”

Noah turned to face his aunt. “Like when Uncle Rafa left? Mommy cried a lot then too.”

Amanda sighed, she didn’t know how to answer him. She knew there had always been something more than a friendship between her captain and the ADA, but she didn’t know how to explain that to Noah. “Sweetie, your Uncle Rafa meant a lot to your mom just like these two men who died. She just needs some time to get happy again. But you keep doing what you’re doing because you’re helping her more than you know.”

Noah seemed to ponder her answer in his head for a moment before nodding and sitting back in his chair to finish eating.
Amanda had just gotten the kids to bed after the movie was over and she sat on her couch with a glass of wine. Her mind kept replaying the conversation she had had with Noah earlier. “She cries a lot. After she puts me to bed.” That comment had felt like a punch to the gut. Like when Uncle Rafa left? She cried a lot then too.” Amanda didn’t know what made her pick up her cell phone. Was it the wine that was making her a little tipsy? Maybe. Was is the overwhelming feeling of protectiveness and love she felt for one of her closest friends? Bingo.

Amanda scrolled through the contacts on her phone until she landed on one she hadn’t pressed in two years. She pressed the call button and put the phone to her ear.

“Amanda Rollins, it’s been a while. What can I do for you?”

Amanda could practically see the smirk on his face.

“Barba I think you should come back.”

And just like that the smirk was gone.

“What’s wrong? Is Olivia okay? The squad? Noah?”

“Actually no. It’s Olivia. She’s okay physically, but…”

She let him finish the rest of her sentence on his own.

“I’m on my way.”

And just like two years ago, he was gone again.

Amanda plugged her phone into the charger and went to bed, falling asleep easily knowing that she played a small role in helping her friend be happy, even if said friend may be a little upset with her for a while.
Olivia woke up to a knock on her door. She pulled the covers off of her as she looked at the clock next to her bed. 7:45 in the morning? Who the hell was knocking on her door at 7:45 in the morning on her day off? A groan escaped her lips as she slid out of bed, her only goal this early in the morning was to get whoever the hell was knocking on her door to stop. Liv passed a mirror on her way to the door and caught a glimpse of her appearance: her eyes were swolen from crying, and her hair was disheveled. Olivia didn’t feel like her usual self. In all honesty she couldn’t remember the last time she felt normal. She thought she could place it around the time before Rafael had left. But he probably wasn’t coming back. He had left, just like everyone else had after they “found themselves” or gotten as much out of her as they could to make themselves feel better before leaving. She’d just have to pick herself up on her own, like she did every time after everyone left. She had Noah now, and for his sake she couldn’t afford to lay in her bed or drink like she had in the past. She ran a hand through her hair and then rubbed her eyes and continued her path to the door. She looked through the peephole and immediately her breath was stolen from her. Opening the door slowly, she took a moment to look at the man standing before her. “Rafael.”

“Liv. Hi.” Barba smiled and leaned against the doorway.

“What are you doing here?” Olivia wasn’t totally sure about the way she wanted to handle this. Talking to him through a screen over a video chat was one thing. She could attempt to hide the sadness she felt whenever thinking about him for a couple minutes until he hung up, but seeing and talking to him in person? This was a whole other ballgame. He had left her after giving this beautiful speech and kissing her on the forehead, leaving her in front of the courthouse with a broken heart shattered on the ground around her feet.

“Can I come in?” Rafael asked her sheepishly, avoiding eye contact after seeing her face and realizing maybe he should have gone to Rollins’s first and plan out how he should approach the captain.

Olivia stepped to the side, opening the door wider, beckoning him to come in. She asked again, “Barba what are you doing here?”. She led him to the the kitchen and started brewing a pot of coffee.

Rafael decided to rip off the band-aid. He could take her being mad at him, but he hoped she wouldn’t be mad at Amanda. He knew that the blonde cared deeply for Liv, but she might take it as Rollins thinking she couldn’t do her job anymore, which he also knew was the last thing Amanda thought. “Rollins called me.”

Olivia’s head shot up.

“She said she was worried about you, and before you get mad and place her on desk duty,” Rafael joked, trying to lighten the mood, “it wasn’t because she’s doubting your ability to lead the squad, it was because she cares about you and just wants to see you happy.” He placed his hand on top of Olivia’s, all of a sudden being hit by all of these feelings he had tried so hard to push to the back of his mind when he had left her.

“Believe me, Amanda isn’t the one I’m upset with.” Liv muttered and poured each of them a cup of coffee.

There it was. That was what he had been waiting for her to say. He knew that if he had even a fraction of a chance of making her feel better and back to her normal self, he needed to lay everything out on the table. Not wanting to get interrupted by her son, he asked, “Is Noah still sleeping?”.

“Actually he slept at Amanda’s last night and is spending the day there. Why?” Olivia asked skeptically. As much as she knew Noah would be absolutely thrilled to see his Uncle Rafa, she knew how torn up he had been when she had had to tell him that Barba wouldn’t be coming around anymore. He had been inconsolable and if Rafael wasn’t staying, she didn’t know if it would be the best idea to let him see Noah.

“Well what I have to say may take a while and as much as I love Noah, I’d rather not be interrupted.” Rafael took a deep breath and continued, “I never should have left the way I did. I was only thinking of myself and I’ll never be able to get your face in that moment out of my mind. I said everything except what I wanted and should have said. You had become more than a friend to me and even though you had had my back throughout the whole trial, I was terrified of what would happen with us continuing forward.”.

Olivia started gnawing on her bottom lip, she didn’t even know how to respond. Finally she was able to pull together a complete thought. “Rafael, I once told you that I had absolute faith in your humanity. That never changed. Not during your trial, and definitely not after. My faith in your humanity never, ever wavered, and I wish you had trusted me enough to believe that.”

“Liv, please know that it had nothing to do with trust. I trusted you-still trust you more than anyone else in my entire life. You never once let me down, and I feel like I failed to return the favor and having you hate me, having someone you’ve fallen in love with hate you, is more painful than anything that I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. I felt I needed to leave before you had come to your senses and realized how big of a mistake it was to support me through the trial. I fell so hard for you and your son that I thought I needed to leave before you did. I didn’t realize how bad I had fucked up until I was in Iowa and found myself every day staring at a picture of you, Noah, and I that Carisi had taken.”

Olivia wiped the tears from her eyes, but that accomplished nothing because when she looked up and saw Rafael crying as well more tears sprang to her eyes. She went to speak when Barba interrupted her.

“I need to get this all out and then I promise you can yell at me as much as you want.”. He smiled when he heard a chuckle come from her and knew he was making progress. “I had been planning to come back after the primary just for our dinner, but then Amanda called last night and told me I needed to come back. I was in autopilot then. I hopped on the first plane as quick as I could, and came straight here. On the way here from the airport, I quit my job because I knew there was no way in hell I’d be able to leave you again after this.”

“Rafael!” Olivia said tearfully with the hint of a smile on her face. “You quit your job for me? Why?” The captain wasn’t comprehending the fact that this man in front of her was so head-over-heels in love with her. No one had ever done that for her and she was having a hard time understanding why anyone would.

“Olivia Benson, maybe I’m not making myself clear enough for you. I love you, so damn much, that being away from you was physically painful. Rollins called me, and my job was the last thing on my mind in that moment. So I hope its okay that I do this right now.” Rafael walked around to the side of the island she was standing on and brushed the tousled hair away from her face. He rubbed his thumb gently against her cheek and leaned in, pressing his lips against hers. He felt her freeze for a second and was scared she didn’t feel the same way, but when she pulled him closer by his suspenders, which he had never been so grateful for in that moment, and kissed him back, he felt like he had just won the lottery. He pulled back and rested his head against hers. “I’ve been waiting to do that probably since I met you, so you just made me the happiest man in the world, I hope you know that.”

Olivia wasn’t able to control the smile that grew on her face. When she looked deep into his eyes, all she could see was love. She led them over to the couch and sat down. Turning serious, she said to him, “Rafa, I love you too, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do this if you decide to leave again, I know you quit your job, but I don’t think I’d be able to pull myself together a second time. I’ve lost too many people recently and I can’t lose you again.” Olivia didn’t think she had enough tape and glue to piece together her heart that’s been broken over and over again and was just barely hanging on by a thread.

“Liv, I’m not going anywhere. I swear on my life. I’m staying with my mother right now, until I get a job and get back on-“

“Stay here. With me and Noah. He’ll be thrilled. Not as much as me though.” Olivia smiled as she leaned in to kiss him again. “I could get used to this.”

“Liv, I’ll stay but only if you’re absolutely sure.”

“I’ve never been more sure about anything in my entire life. Now come on.” Liv stood up and pulled Barba with her, and they made their way to her bedroom. “Someone knocked on my door at the crack of dawn and I’m a little tired.” She smirked as she pulled the blankets back and beckoned him to lay down with her. “Of course you’re in a suit.” She laughed as she thought about how many times he had complained about his suits getting wrinkled. “I do have a pair of men’s sweatpants that I bought for when I’m off so I can relax. You can change into them if you want to.”

Rafael laughed as he slipped his suit jacket, and shoes off and climbed into the bed next to her. He grinned and she moved closer to him, resting her head on his chest. “Despite what you and your squad may think,” he thought back to the times they would constantly ask him if he ever slept after getting them a search warrent in the middle of the night, “I do get tired, and I didn’t sleep at all last night so I can handle my suit getting a little wrinkly. You make it all worth it and more.” Rafael already sounded like he was seconds from falling asleep.

Olivia nestled in closer to him. It was almost as if she was scared that if she let him go or fell asleep, she’d wake up and it would all turn out to be a bittersweet dream. She listened as his breathing evened out and when she was sure he was sleeping, she grabbed her phone from her night table.
Amanda had just finished making breakfast for Jesse, Noah, and Billie. Billie had woken up crying, which of course woke up the two older children, and finally waking up Amanda. Jesse and Noah had begged her to make pancakes, and who was she to tell them no?

She set two plates down in front of Noah and Jesse and placed some small cut up pieces on Billie’s highchair tray. Amanda grabbed her cup of coffee from the countertop and sat down next to her daughter when her phone went off. She groaned as she unlocked it, the detective did not want to get called in on her day off. But the text she had just received was the exact opposite. She smiled at the text her captain had sent her, making her day.

The text only had two words: Thank you.