He's just starting on his third drink of the night when another glass clinks down on the bar just next to his.
"You don't text, you don't call," says the voice that he'd know anywhere, whether across a library table or a crowded courtroom. "You're fortunate that I remember your old haunts from before, Barba."
Rafael groans, half-heartedly cursing the day he ever agreed to becoming friends (ha) with this particular bane of his existence. "I'm not sure how this counts as 'fortunate' by any stretch of the word, Calhoun."
(In his defence, he'd had no idea what he was getting into. Neither of them had. It's one for the ages, really.)
Rita doesn't even prod him back – dear lord, he must look at least halfway as terrible as he feels, then – as she proceeds to commandeer the seat next to him without so much as a by-your-leave. "I went down to Manhattan SVU today."
"Really," Rafael says to that, and curses silently again because he knows, he knows that he hasn't managed to ruthlessly stamp the interest out of his voice after all.
"Indeed." Rita finishes off her drink, and he doesn't even need to glance over to know that she's not looking at him but staring straight ahead. "Detective Carisi's taken to half-floating around the squadroom like a ghost, and your Lieutenant almost burst into tears – "
"Liv wouldn't do that – "
" – when she realised that she was going to have to face me and my client with only that sorry excuse for an ADA at her side," Rita continues as if he hadn't spoken, her voice sharp and cutting as every inch what he deserves. "And you'd hardly know that, since you haven't contacted any of them since."
"You don't know that," Rafael argues right back just for the sake of it, although they're both aware that it's a moot point at best.
Rita raises a perfectly-plucked eyebrow at him anyway. "I have my sources."
Probably Carmen, maybe Fin, possibly just a well-evidenced guess from the circumstances, Rafael interprets from that, before he realises that he's let the silence run on too long – always a mistake with someone who knows him this well, even if it does run both ways.
He sets down his glass, shoves it down the counter towards her with a sigh. "What do you want, Calhoun?"
"The bane of my existence back," Rita answers blithely (and Rafael chokes on a slightly hysterical chuckle at the familiar echo of thought), "much as it seems counter-productive to my win-lose ratio. Destroying people in court just isn't the same without you pulling your ridiculous antics there."
Rafael does let himself laugh at that, a little. "Stone's a perfectly adequate replacement for me as ADA, I'm sure."
"Adequate," Rita repeats in the way she does, the word gaining thorns and a thousand inflections with her voice. "Well, that's one way of putting it."
Then she tosses back the rest of his drink, her silence speaking as pointedly loud as her words ever did, and Rafael should really be better than this, they know each other's tactics like every amendment to the Constitution and he really should –
He cracks first. "What do you want, Rita?"
She's looking at him now, and he wants to bristle at the attention but it's quiet and assessing instead of the sideways glances he's gotten all week when people recognised him and nothing when they hadn't. The latter is much more common now that he's got stubble on his face and skipped the gel on his hair and swapped out his suits for casual, but still.
Rafael wishes he hadn't given her his drink. Or perhaps that he'd had coffee instead. He's not... put together enough to deal with her, right now. "You know I can't go back to – to all that, Rita. I'm past that. I can't."
Rita still doesn't say anything to that, and Rafael's this close to blurting out anything to get her to stop when she stands, only to shed her suit jacket and roll up the sleeves of the blouse she's wearing before turning to lean on the tabletop next to him.
(Rafael pretends, as he does, that the sight of her doing that doesn't make him blink away a sudden heat behind his eyes. He'd forgotten this, forgotten how much of them was built on the other – isn't even sure whose habit it'd been to start with, really – and for a long moment it's hard to remember how or why he could've ever walked away from it in the first place.)
"This isn't working, Rafael," she says finally, brisk and matter-of-fact, prodding him none too gently in the side. "For one, I really thought that I'd gotten rid of this atrocious hoodie of yours for good when we graduated."
"Well." He shrugs – this much is old and familiar and easy, habit slipping onto his shoulders like worn cloth. It's the most certain he's felt of anything for far too long. "Should've burned it if you wanted to make sure, obviously."
Rita laughs. "And have you charge me for arson? I think not."
(They both pretend that her hand isn't still on his shoulder. It's rather nice, all told, even if the world could and would probably end before he admitted that.
It pretty much already had for him, after all.)
"Criminal damage to property at the very least," Rafael answers, though his heart suddenly isn't in it anymore.
The grip on his shoulder turns into a light shove. "Anyone ever tell you that you're too damn stubborn for your own good?"
"Learned from the best," he shoots back with a faint grin, and means it.
"Flatterer," she says, with a magnificent roll of her eyes. "Come on, I'll drive you home."
Rafael doesn't even need to fake his surprise. "What, are you doing me a favour?"
"Not you," Rita corrects, sharp but amused, gathering up her jacket in one arm. "Just the poor schmuck who would've ended up your Uber driver. Maybe you should put your newfound free time to good use, get that driver's licence at last."
Rafael leaves enough on the counter to pay for both of their drinks, and falls into step beside her as they walk down the street together. "Maybe," he repeats dubiously, and they both laugh at that because she knows that he won't.
"Shame," Rita says, sarcasm dripping from every word, as she unlocks her car and tosses her jacket in the backseat. "And here I was, looking forward to hiring you as my personal chauffeur."
"Don't be ridiculous," Rafael retorts, though he's momentarily distracted by the realisation that this is the longest single conversation he's had all week, "you couldn't afford me anyway."
Her lips curve into a smirk. "Oh, I really could, Rafael."
(As it turns out, he's forgotten one crucial fact: Rita Calhoun drives like a wannabe racer – or, if Rollins is to be believed, like the entire population of Atlanta once they hit the I-95.
"Let the record show that I've deeply objected to this, multiple times," Rafael bites out between gritted teeth, clinging onto his seat for dear life.
"Duly noted," Rita replies, amusement obvious in her voice, though at least she's stopped taking her eyes off the road. "It's really not that difficult, Barba, I'm just asking you to call anyone from SVU and inform them of your continued existence. Doesn't even have to be Benson," she adds, like she actually thinks that he'd reach out to anyone else first, if that.
Rafael forces his fingers to uncurl as they slow down to a red light. "And if I don't agree?"
"Then I'll just keep driving, won't I?" Rita flashes him a quick grin. "It's not like you haven't made a trademark out of talking incessantly, anyway. You have to admit, it's more generous than most of the deals you've offered me over the years."
"If this is some kind of revenge, Calhoun..." he mutters not quite under his breath, sinking into his seat.
They both fall silent as they wait for the lights to change. It's late enough that the intersection's relatively empty, but New York never sleeps anyway.
"Trust me," Rita says when they're driving again, though she drives slower this time, "you'd know vengeance a mile away if it were coming from me."
Rafael leans slightly on the window to stare out at the streetlights passing them by, the glass cool against his forehead, and finds that he can't really argue with that. He can feel Rita's gaze boring into the back of his head, but he's too tired to protest this time.
There's the sound of what is most likely Rita drumming her fingers lightly on the steering wheel – probably deliberate, since she's not any more in the habit of letting nervous tics show through than he is. "If I called Liv right now, would you hang up on her?"
Rafael spots the lights of a familiar park whizzing past – he'll be home soon. "I didn't know the two of you were that close," he says instead, which is pretty much as good as admitting that he has no idea anyway.
"Lieutenant Benson is surprisingly receptive to pictures of you overlaid with poorly-made law memes," Rita replies in a perfectly droll tone, the one that makes it impossible to tell if she's bluffing or not. "Are you more afraid that she'll forgive you, or that she won't?"
He does turn around this time, to stare at her in utter consternation. "Who are you, my therapist?"
Rita scoffs. "Like you could afford me."
Rafael pretends to consider that as they pull up to his building. "You're right, I'm not sure why I'd want to anyway," he says before promptly making good on his escape from her death trap of a car.
His phone pings with her texts as he's unlocking his door: Tomorrow, followed by I'll know if you don't, Barba.
Perhaps you should suggest that they teach driving as an interrogation tactic at the NYPD, he texts back, just to see if she'll let him have the last word this time.
Which she actually does, for once, though it doesn't feel like like much as he hovers over Liv's number, still on his speed dial, before putting his phone away again with a sigh.
Tomorrow, Rafael thinks. He'll call her tomorrow.)