FINALLY, Noah was sleeping soundly. Olivia Benson's apartment was at last blissfully quiet. She dropped the last remaining building brick in the colourful toy box. Smiling sadly, the action reminding her of Barba's visit last week, when he had asked if the toy box was just for decoration. Its entire contents scattered across the living room floor, on the chairs, just about everywhere, none of course in the box itself.
She flopped down on to the couch, dragging a stray brown bunny out from under one of the cushions, and wondered how he was doing.
Olivia had, for want of a better word, handled grieving relatives and friends, as a matter of course during her time with the NYPD and Special Victims. Mother's whose children had been brutally murdered, husbands whose wives had been raped and in some cases killed in the most heinous of fashions. She took it all in her stride, she had no option. She had to intrude on their grief, it was part of the job, and she tried offer what little comfort and help she could at the most dreadful time in a person's life.
The last thing the veteran SVU detective wanted to do was intrude on a friend's grief. She had called with her condolences, and to offer her help if he needed it. Tears had streamed down her face at his distant and sad voice. Barba had thanked her and said he was fine, she didn't need to be a cop to deduce clearly he wasn't. She'd sent him a text the next day, simply saying she was there for him, anytime, whatever he needed. But he hadn't replied.
She cuddled Noah's big floppy eared bunny, her eyes drifting across the room to the bottle of cabernet sitting invitingly on the kitchen counter. After the exhausting day she'd had, it seemed such a long way away. The thought of relinquishing her comfy spot on the entire couch didn't appeal to her in the slightest. Still contemplating whether or not to get up, Olivia heard a knock on the door, so quiet she almost missed it. Maybe they would go away if she ignored it. There was a second tap, slightly louder this time. Conceding defeat she got up. Looking through the security viewer, Olivia flung open the door.
"Hey!" She said stepping aside to allow her unexpected visitor access.
"Hey. I'm sorry, it's late, and I should have called."
"Will you just come in, you look frozen."
A grateful, but brief smile lifted the lips of ADA Rafael Barba as he entered the apartment. Sitting on the couch where she had sat moments before, he picked up the same floppy eared rabbit.
"So the box isn't just for show after all." He mused.
Olivia remembered the laughter in his voice, and the cheeky sparkle in his eyes the previous week, when he had joked about the toys. Today his voice was flat, his beautiful green eyes, reddened and dulled by sadness.
"Funnily enough counsellor, every last colourful brick I dropped in there, reminded me of you." She tried her best to keep the conversation light, unsure of whether he really wanted to talk.
Another half-hearted smile lifted his lips, and Olivia watched as he ran his long elegant fingers over the soft material of the much loved bunny's ears. His line of sight firmly fixed on its face. She could honestly say she had never seen the feisty ADA look entirely relaxed, but tonight he looked like a coiled spring. He hadn't removed his jacket or his scarf and perched on the edge of her sofa, he looked as if he were about to dart from the room.
A combination of instincts took over in Olivia Benson.
Taking the stuffed animal from between his fingers she placed it on the coffee table. As her fingers brushed against his, she could feel they were still icy cold from the freezing weather outside. Dropping to her knees as if she were about to placate a small child, Olivia gently tugged on the zipper of his thick puffa jacket, stopping midway to remove the scarf he wore almost too tightly around his neck. The ADA brooked little resistance as the jacket slid from his shoulders and for the first time Rafael Barba's sad green eyes met her concerned brown ones. A burning lump hit her throat and her chest tightened as those beautiful expressive eyes filled with tears, a lone drop spilling onto his unusually stubbled cheek.
Olivia had seen Rafael Barba bite back emotion before. During his closing arguments in the Jolene Castille case, he had fought back tears. He had struggled with his feelings at Evie Barnes parents' harsh treatment of their daughter. But to see the hard-nosed ADA, her friend cry was heart-breaking.
A few hours earlier, Olivia had been sprawled on the couch. Noah had been lying across her, his head resting on her chest. A small foot wedged against her thigh, as his little body heaved with sobs. His hot tears had fallen onto the shirt, his tiny fingers gripped tightly. She had stroked his hair, its familiar baby scent filling her nostrils. She had cooed softly to him and he had eventually fallen asleep.
Although she couldn't see his face, Olivia Benson knew instinctively that Rafael Barba wasn't asleep. His head was resting on her chest, her legs were wrapped oddly and rather intimately around him as he nestled against her. The two of them sprawled on the couch, remaining exactly where they had fallen when she had taken him in her arms. She still stroked his soft wavy hair gently, its own familiar scent wafting to her nostrils, as his body warmed. His breathing was more even now, as the sobs which had racked his frame had gradually subsided, so had her tender assurances. Her shirt once more wet from tears. Still he didn't move. His now warm fingers were tightly wrapped around her free hand, the pad of his thumb slowly stroking the palm.
Rafael Barba finally raised his head to look at Olivia Benson's beautiful face. The hand that had been stroking his hair caressed his tear stained cheek with such tenderness, his heart lurched in his chest.
"I don't want to be squabbling with you when we are 85." He said softly almost inaudibly, taking her hand from his cheek and pressing it to his lips.