* Finally, the last chapter of this story! Read and enjoy! *
Liv just barely opened her eyes, still half asleep as she heard the happy screams of her daughter coming down the hallway. She sighed, rolling over to see that it was already eight o'clock in the morning and the mom was surprised her early-rising daughter had held off this long before waking her up.
"Mama." Now the voice was in the room and sure enough within seconds Liv could feel the weight of Raegan's little body hopping up on the bed.
Olivia rolled onto her back, only to be greeted by her daughter's face just inches away from hers. "Well, hello there."
"You're wake!" Raegan announced it as if it was the most exciting thing she had ever seen.
"With you screaming, how could I ever be asleep?" She mumbled the question, knowing that her daughter wouldn't understand it to give her an answer anyway.
"Daddy's makin' waffles." Raegan announced, backing up so that she wasn't quite so close to her mom.
Liv yawned as she pushed herself a little more upright in bed. "And did he send you to come get me so that I could have some?"
"He said no wake you up." She smiled mischievously.
"So then why did you come wake me up?"
"Cause there's waffles." Raegan was two and a half going on twenty-two Rafael would always say. "And I missed you."
And somehow the always wild and sassy child could find a way to show how sweet she really was and melted her parents' hearts. "I missed you too, lovey. But next time you miss me, why don't you ask daddy to show you a picture of me and then I can stay sleeping."
"You silly mama." Raegan told her before she bounced off the bed and disappeared downstairs, Liv hearing the pitter patter of her feet.
Olivia couldn't help but laugh at her daughter as she rolled out of bed and padded into the bathroom, before she grabbed her robe from the back of the door, wrapping it around herself and joining the rest of the family downstairs. Rafael looked up and smiled as she came into the kitchen. She kissed him and sat down between Noah and Raegan at the table.
"I see that Raegan listened to me." Rafael joked, knowing that the little girl had gone up and woken up her mother.
Liv looked at him and simply rolled her eyes. "Next time tell her to go wake me and then she'll refuse."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"Where's Henry? He probably needs to be fed." Liv asked.
"He is fast asleep in the living room and I already gave him one of the bottles from in the fridge."
There sweet baby boy had rough couple of weeks in the NICU after contracting phenomena. It was a trying for the whole family as each parent had to strategically split their time between being at the hospital with Henry and at home with Noah and Raegan, on top of Olivia healing from her c-section. To look at them sitting around the table now, no one would ever know that there was a time when Olivia and Rafael thought their family would fall apart from the stress. However, they had pulled through and ever since, their now three-month-old son, was thriving.
"Was he still coughing this morning?"
"No, he was fine." Rafael assured her. "And stop worrying about it. Kids get coughs and that doesn't mean that they're sick."
"Yes, but your son is not just any kid. We have to watch him."
"I know we have to, but if we sit and watch his every move we'll never eat or sleep or stop worrying. He's fine Liv. He's a healthy baby, the doctor said so himself at his appointment yesterday."
"I guess you're right." Admitted Olivia.
"Excuse me. What was that?" Rafael looked at her in disbelief.
"So what inspired this breakfast this morning?" She asked, changing the subject. Liv eyed the table; there was a plate of waffles and one of bacon, a bowl filled with scrambled eggs, and Rafael had just set a fresh cup of coffee down in front of her.
"It's Saturday." He answered, but the look Rafael received from his wife said she didn't believe that was all. "And both of the kids were up, Noah asked for waffles, and I need to talk to you."
There it was.
"That doesn't sound good."
Rafael shrugged. "Good is a relative term."
"Rafi, that isn't helping your case."
He sighed and took a seat across from his wife. He took Raegan's plate and began cutting up a waffle for her. Liv watched him as he avoided whatever it was that he needed to talk to her about.
"Spit it out." Olivia pushed him.
"I'm changing units."
"What does that mean?"
"They've asked me to join the public integrity unit."
Liv just looked at him, trying to read his face. "Public integrity? Really?"
"I know, I know."
"Why do you want to change units?"
"Because it's more normal hours and less demanding."
Olivia sighed. She had a history with the public integrity unit, David Haden, Paula Foster. She respected the unit and understood what their job was, but she couldn't picture her husband there. "You really want this?"
"Not at first." He told her. "But then I got to thinking about and it started to sound better and better. I'll be making almost the same salary, but without the long hours and commitment. I mean they basically want me to run the unit, which means that I get to decide how much I take on."
"But you love being an ADA."
"I do and maybe someday, I'll go back to it. But this is a good opportunity and it means that I get to be home with you and the kids. You're going to go back to work next week and when we're both working, every day is unpredictable. And I want the kids to have some consistency. The DA's office can survive without me, SVU needs you and you need to be at SVU. But this way one of us will get to be here every night and that will be some peace of mind for both of us. No matter how much I love my job, I love these kids more and always will and I would rather be here with them than sitting in my office."
"You don't think you'll regret this decision?"
"You think that I'll regret getting to spend more time at home with the kids? With my wife?"
"That's not what I mean." She said, taking a sip of her coffee, cream no sugar. "I know you want more time with them, we both do, but someday in a few years what happens if you realize that you could have balanced being a DA and a father and you wished you had never made this change?"
"Then I go back to being a DA."
"It's that simple?"
"No probably not, but that wasn't my point. My point was that if I want to change, I have the connections and resources to do so. But right now, where we stand as a family, this is the decision I want to make."
Liv thought for a moment, letting what her husband was telling her sink in. She knew that Rafael was an adult and that he was making this decision after very careful consideration, but she just couldn't help but feel that her going back to work was part of why he was deciding what he was. She didn't want this to come back later and be something that tore them apart because Rafael blamed her for not giving anything up, while he changed his whole life for their family.
"Stop thinking whatever you are thinking and just know that I've decided and anything you say to me won't change that." Rafael pushed Raegan's plate back across the table. "This isn't your fault and I will never blame you."
"Why do you always know what I'm thinking?"
"I'm just that good." He smirked.
"You wish." Olivia chuckled. "So what are we doing today, super dad?"
"Oh you know, I thought we would go to the park maybe save a cat that's stuck in a tree, put out a few fires on the way." Rafael joked. "I don't know. I didn't really have any bright ideas beyond the waffles."
"Well we could go to the zoo, maybe?"
Noah perked up immediately at hearing his mama's suggestion. "Yes! The zoo. Let's go to the zoo."
"Like I thought that would be a hard sell." Liv smiled at Rafael.
Two hours later found Olivia and Rafael at the Bronx zoo. They usually wouldn't make the trip all the way out to the Bronx, but the zoo was so much bigger than in Central Park and they figured the kids deserved one really good big outing before their mom returned to work and it would be that much harder to guarantee any weekends completely free.
"Look the roar, daddy." Raegan's small finger pointed to the lion sitting in the African Plain's exhibit.
"That's a lion, Rae." Rafael tried to correct her, but since she could put two and two together, Raegan had been referring to lions as roars.
Olivia stifled a laugh at her little girl as she let Rafael lead her and Noah up to the glass, so they could get a better look at the giant animal. She took a step back and sat down on one of the many benches scattered around the zoo. Henry's little body lay gently against hers in the front-pack, his even breathing letting her know that he was asleep.
She leaned back against the wood bench and sighed contently, watching her husband and son and daughter stare in awe at the lion, then look at each other and laugh over something Rafael had said. No matter how many time she saw them all together, Liv could never stop herself from wondering how this had become her life. A few years ago, if someone had looked at her and said you're going to adopt a baby, get married to Rafael Barba, adopt another baby and then have a baby of her own, she would have laughed so hard the tears would have been streaming down her face in sheer disbelief. And now somehow, that's exactly what had happened and nothing had ever seemed more right.
"What are you thinking about?" Rafael was now standing next to her, keeping an eye on the kids, while also noticing the far off look in his wife's eyes.
"Just about how different life ends up to be."
"Who would have thought, right?"
"I mean we're married and we have three kids. I never in a million years would have even guessed or considered this to be a possibility. But now I can't imagine our lives being any different."
"Oh I can imagine them being different but certainly not any better."
"Daddy, daddy." Noah, holding his little sisters hand, ran back from the lion cage. "What's next?"
"Well what do you want to see next?"
"Do you think they have any elephants?" The little boy asked hopefully.
"Oh I think that they do!"
"I want to see the elephants!" Noah said excitedly.
"Me too!" Raegan added, copying her older brother's enthusiasm.
Rafael put out both of his hand, each child grabbing ahold of one. "Well, then let's go see some elephants."
Olivia pushed herself up off the bench, looking down at Henry who was still fast asleep. She watched as her husband and kids walked ahead of her, all of them seemingly having the best day ever and she couldn't stop the smile that spread across her own face.
Sometimes things ended up being better than expected.
* Cheesiest possible ending I could have imagined, but I love it, I hope you loved it, and it just seemed like the right way to end this story. A huge thank you to all the people who have followed along with this story and from Different Than Expected. I loved writing this, exploring Olivia and Rafael, and putting together this family. All the support, reviews, follows, favorites, meant so much. Thank you! *