Noah on one hip, a diaper bag slung over one shoulder, Olivia Benson grapples with the door of ADA Barba's office in an attempt to join the meeting that's already started between Barba and her team. The look on her face is a mixture of exasperation and gratitude as Nick comes to her rescue- holding the door open for her.
"I'm so sorry guys" she says, as she sets the diaper bag down and readjusts Noah's position on her hip. "Babysitter had a family emergency, so I had to go get Noah and, of course, he hasn't had a nap so he's refusing to let me put him down".
As she speaks, Barba makes his way around the desk, giving the toddler an amused smirk. He scrunches his nose at him and asks, "That true, amigo? You a little cranky?" Noah looks up and mirrors Barba's expression-"I franky" the two year old agrees, not really knowing what he's agreeing to. Barba smiles- holds his hands out and Noah goes to him- amusing himself with Barba's suspenders. "Let's give Mom a break".
The entire team, save Olivia, is utterly flabbergasted, confused, maybe even- a bit concerned. It's all Rollins can do not to ask what the hell is going on.
Barba tries to ignore everyone's stares as he settles the two year old in his oversized office chair.
He'd be the first to admit his first few encounters with Noah had been a bit, awkward. It's not that he didn't like kids, he just didn't have much experience or reason to be around them. Barba didn't like things he wasn't good at- and in the dealing with kids area he could use some practice.
Over the past year though, with Olivia heading the team, she and Barba had spent more and more time together. At first just for work but more and more because they enjoyed each others company. After all, they had shared some pretty intense personal battles over the past couple years and they shared a passion for putting away the bad guys. Olivia was the only member of the 16th that didn't seem constantly irritated with him, though she did her fair share of being irritated with him. And he was the only person Olivia could talk to about the struggles of leading the team.
She'd made him see the victims as people not case numbers and he'd helped her find ways to bring cases they could win.
Sure, they often found themselves in intense sparing matches over cases as the rest of the team looked on- but always with the intention of reaching the same goal. They both knew the law better than anyone in the room and both shared a quick wit that made them the perfect opponent for each other. But most importantly, they shared a mutual respect and trust for each other that could only come from working through personal demons like William Lewis and Alex Munoz together.
So working dinners, simply became dinners and more and more they realized they didn't need the work excuse to meet up for a quick bite or drink.
If Barba was honest with himself, a bit of him hoped that at some point their friendship would evolve beyond just friendship. But he wasn't great at being honest with himself, and for now he was just happy to have someone to talk to. Barba didn't exactly have a plethora of friends and after helping send one to prison his stats weren't improving.
But spending more time with Olivia, eventually meant spending more time with Noah. The more Barba was around- the more Noah took to him- the man with the funny suspenders.
And Barba had to admit, after the initial awkwardness of not knowing how to handle the situation had passed, he liked having Noah around. Noah made Olivia happy, which made Barba happy. And after dealing with cases of abused children all day- it was nice to be reminded once in a while that there were kids with happy homes even if not at first.
It was more than that though. Barba wouldn't dare admit it- but he was quite taken with Noah. The boy was clever- regardless of his early childhood misfortunes he'd caught up in his development pretty quickly once in Olivia's care. He brought out a goofy side in Barba. A side that the ever proper attorney had hidden away long ago in order to further avoid the wrath of his father and the PS109 crowd. And since Noah was just learning English- he could speak to him in Spanish all he wanted and the boy would listen.
Having Noah here now made for a nice break in his day.
Barba puts Noah in his chair and spins towards his bookcase where the coffee maker sits. "I bet I've got something you like", Barba opens a cabinet to reveal goldfish crackers that he pulls out. "Goldfish!" Barba says excitedly.
One of the first things Barba and Noah had bonded over was their mutual love of snacks.
The rest of the team still looks on stunned. Olivia, un-fazed, rummages through the diaper bag.
Barba dumps a few goldfish onto his desk then grabs a handful for himself. Noah looks at the goldfish in front of him and whimpers as he looks at Barba and signs "more" in baby sign language.
Barba points at the fish in front of him, "You can have more as soon as you eat those". Noah pouts. Barba is unwavering- he feigns sympathy, "Oh I know, I'm such a monster". He reaches over pretending to steal one of Noah's goldfish- immediately, Noah begins eating them.
Barba looks up and decides to give the team something to do other than stare at him- is he that much of an asshole that being nice to a baby is unfathomable? "Alright, so where are we with the boyfriend?"
Fin is the first to get back into gear, "Says he was in his hotel room, alone, all night, not exactly a rock solid alibi."
Nick's the next to respond- while still keeping his eyes trained on the interaction between Noah and Barba. "We're going by after this to see if the hotel has security cams but it's not exactly the most upscale part of town."
Barba pulls out his iPad and shuttles through his apps, "You gotta get me something. If you think he did it, I need evidence, otherwise I have to move forward with the charges against Baker."
Olivia has finally found her son's sippy cup but it's filled with juice- not likely to promote napping. She semi-covertly hands it to Barba to avoid Noah seeing it. Barba quickly unscrews the top, dumps the juice and replaces it with milk from his mini-fridge. He sets it in front of Noah along with his iPad. "Que quieres ver? Peppa?" Noah nods a response, "Pep!".
Barba pulls up "Peppa Pig" on his iPad with surprising familiarity- he grabs a pair of headphones from his bookshelf, plugs in and gently places them over Noah's ears. The moment "Peppa Pig" begins playing, Noah is engrossed.
Barba rounds his desk to take his place beside Olivia, who has now turned her attention to her team. "OK, Fin and Amaro, you two go check out that hotel. Rollins, Carisi, why don't you take another run at the boyfriend."
The four detectives nod and head out the door. Carisi is the last one out- right before leaving he spins on his heels and gives Olivia and Barba his widest grin, "I just gotta say, personally, I think it's great. You two givin' it a go." He spins back and leaves, closing the door behind him.
Olivia and Barba turn and give each other a perplexed look.
Carisi catches up with the other detectives walking in silence down the hall. Finally, Rollins gives the side eye to the other three, "That was weird, right?". Carisi shoves his hands into his pockets and throws his head back, "Oh my God, so weird!"