At 6:00AM, Barba's eyes snapped open.
After getting up at 5AM for thirty odd years, after countless all-nighters, after becoming far too familiar with the rising sun, Barba had forgotten what it was like to sleep in. There was never time for it. There was always an early court appearance, there was always a commitment, always a heavy course load. If he didn't thrive on the job's competitive nature and constant obstacles, he'd probably be interminably weary.
But for once, his brain was not buzzing. He didn't feel the adrenaline rush he usually got when he thought of all the things he needed to do, how long the day was going to be…
He felt content.
That was new.
Barba exhaled slowly, taking in his surroundings. He was in Liv's bedroom, sleeping in her bed—and she was curled next to his side, breathing peacefully. Noah's baby monitor was the only light in the room and he turned his head towards the window, noting the sun was still a long way off.
He was tempted to hunt for his phone, probably buried under the mass of hastily discarded clothing on the floor. But all thoughts of moving disappeared from his head as he brushed a stray lock of chestnut hair from Liv's face. He kissed the top of her head gently, wryly smiling.
He'd never been like this. Rafael Barba was not a man of sentimentality and he was far from a romantic. He liked sex, sure, he had the occasional one night stand. But anything more than that was generally impossible. He simply didn't have the time or energy to devote to another person and that other person never understood how important his job was, how he'd worked so hard to get where he was…
Barba relaxed a little, closing his eyes. There was something incredibly relaxing being here with her. For once in his life, maybe he'd be able to sleep in. He smiled when Olivia unconsciously snuggled into his warmth. His eyelids started to droop.
"In the heights, I flip the lights and start my day/There are fights and endless debts and bills to pay, in the heights, I can't survive without café (I serve café!)"
"What's that?" Olivia murmured sleepily.
"Shit," Barba swore. "Sorry—my phone's alarm. Hang on." He clambered out of bed and felt around for his pants. He retrieved his phone and switched the alarm off. 6:30AM…his late alarm, for weekends…
"What time is it?" Olivia stretched tiredly and Barba shuffled into his pants. She glanced at the baby monitor, which still reported Noah's undisturbed sleep.
"6:30AM," Barba answered, clearing his throat. "I have court at 10…"
They gazed at each other awkwardly and Barba cleared his throat. Olivia rested her chin on knee, looking contemplative.
"Why don't…" He cleared his throat again. "Why don't I make us some coffee?"
Coffee was a perfectly normal suggestion. Olivia offered him a tentative smile and nodded. He nodded back and exited her bedroom, silently kicking himself.
Stupid alarm. That was not how he'd wanted their first morning to go together. He should've kissed her gently awake, brought her breakfast in bed, they should be lazily making love as the sun rose…well, he did have court, it's not like he could spend the entire day in bed, though the idea was tempting…
His phone was buzzing. Sighing, he answered it. "Hello?"
Barba listened carefully as he searched Olivia's cabinets for coffee. He smirked in success as he removed a red tub of Folgers and began a hunt for coffee filters.
"All right, Carmen, thank you," He discovered them in one of the kitchen drawers. "Thank you for letting me know—I'll be there."
His lips twisted. "Yes, Carmen, in a few hours, I don't need to come into the office beforehand."
He tapped his foot impatiently as he prepped the coffee machine. "No, I'm not ill, but if I don't need to come into the office—what do you mean 'I always come in regardless'? I will see you in a few hours, Carmen."
Barba pressed END and shoved his phone on the counter. Olivia cautiously entered, Noah on her hip, breathing in the scent of coffee.
"Morning," She greeted him, almost shyly.
"Morning," He replied, feeling nervous. "Er—are you hungry?"
Olivia cocked her head, seating Noah in his highchair. "Yeah—but I don't really have much, aside from sliced fruit and cheerios."
Barba opened her fridge, noting its contents. "You have eggs, cheese, and milk. Want an omelet?"
She leaned against her counter, crossing her arms over her chest. He noted that she seemed to have usurped his shirt and that pleased him in a ridiculously possessive way.
"You're going to make an omelet?" Olivia's tone was doubtful.
"You think I can't cook?" Barba snorted.
"I have my doubts," Olivia's smile was pure glee, the same smile she utilized when she had a particularly ridiculous case she wanted him to take. It didn't matter the lack of evidence, witnesses, or obscurity, she knew if she challenged him in just the right way…
"Where's your skillet?" Barba demanded.
She pointed to the cabinet above the stove. As he started to retrieve his equipment, her phone rang. She sighed a little and glanced over at Barba, who was currently searching for basil.
"Could you give Noah his breakfast?" She requested. "Cheerios are in that pantry. Rollins is calling." Before he could answer, she stepped out of the kitchen, walking into the hallway.
Barba glanced nervously at Noah, who looked at him patiently. Swallowing, he retrieved a small bowl of cheerios and poured him a bowl. Olivia hadn't said anything about milk…did toddlers like milk with their cereal or was that a disaster waiting to happen? Noah didn't seem to mind his inexperience, and contentedly began to munch on the cereal.
"I'll be honest with you, Noah," Barba pulled a chair over, placing a sippy cup of juice in front of Noah as well. "I know nothing about children."
Noah blinked at him.
"I mean, I'm assuming Tucker has experience with this," Barba went on in disgust. "I think he has a daughter or something. But I know nothing. I have no experience. I have cousins with children but I generally avoid them at family gatherings."
Noah offered him a Cheerio. Barba sighed and took it.
"And despite my mother's constant requests, I never really planned to have kids," He crunched the cheerio thoughtfully. "They're a lot of work, you know. I have no idea how Liv balances it all."
"Mama," Noah replied wisely. "Baba?"
"Barba, yes, that's my name," He ruffled the toddler's hair affectionately. "All I'm asking is—if you're willing to give me a chance, I'll do my best. I'll screw it up. I'll make a lot of mistakes. But I promise I'll do my best—and I'll try if you will."
Noah giggled. Olivia reentered the kitchen and smiled at both of them. He raised an eyebrow in question.
"Everything okay?" He asked, gesturing at her phone.
"Yes," Olivia sighed. "Rape victim from a college party disclosed to Rollins. She and Carisi are handling it at the precinct now. I offered to come down, but they both know it's a Noah day, so they'll handle it and call if they need me. Oh, you found the juice? Thank you."
She kissed her son's cheek tenderly and Noah blew a raspberry at her. She chuckled and Barba returned to his original plan, to make an omelet.
"What about you?" Olivia poured herself a cup of coffee. "Do you have anything today?"
"I have to be at the courthouse at ten," Barba said reluctantly, cracking four eggs into a bowl. "But I won't be there all day."
He hesitated a moment, stirring his egg mixture.
"If you like," He said slowly. "I could come back…bring over some lunch. Unless you'd prefer it to be just you and Noah."
Olivia's face brightened. "I think that might be a good idea—as long as you don't mind cartoons. It looks like it's going to rain today, so that will probably mean we'll be watching Disney films and Steven Universe for the rest of the afternoon."
"I don't mind," Barba said quickly. "I'll bring over lunch."
They gazed at each other a little warily as butter sizzled on the skillet. Olivia sipped her coffee thoughtfully.
"It might be good," She said suddenly. "To—talk. About where to go from here. Once you get back. So we'll have time to think—and then talk."
Barba nodded slowly. "Of course…and I'll respect wherever you want to go."
Olivia blinked at him in confusion.
He looked her in the eye. "I'll be honest with you, Liv. I'm in. I'm all in. If you want there to be an us, then I have no reservations. I don't need to think about it. I want you. I've wanted you since the moment I laid eyes on you. But whatever you want us to be—friends, colleagues, lovers…it's your decision."
She shivered a little at his intensity. He felt incredibly raw, standing there in her kitchen, slowly folding eggs and cheese on a skillet. But it was a relief to tell her. It was a relief for her to know, for it not to be constantly weighing on him anymore.
"Okay," Olivia exhaled.
"Okay?" Barba questioned.
Her answer, like her smile, was simple. Direct. But despite the vagueness, he felt something warm settle in his stomach, and let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding.
The rest of their breakfast passed in amiable conversation, with Barba asking Liv how Noah's verbal skills were coming and Liv asking about his court case. She loved the omelet and seemed even more delighted that he could cook—he told her that when he was young, he hated seeing his mother stumble home from work and then slave over the stove for 45 minutes just to fix him something. He'd gotten in the habit of cooking for her when he got home from school, so she wouldn't have to. He didn't cook as often as he'd like to nowadays, as it was a time-consuming hobby and takeout was easier—but he was already planning several flashy meals he'd cook for her.
Eventually, he pointed out that he would need his shirt back to go into the courthouse and Olivia's smirk insinuated that he would have to remove it from her first…
Which of course led to Barba very nearly being late for the first time in his life. Thank God his Uber driver found a back street that avoided major traffic.
Still, he made it with about twelve seconds to spare and everything went smoothly. He was in an extraordinarily good mood by the time he'd finished, earning curious and slightly fearful looks from his assistant.
He'd texted Olivia, asking what she wanted from Fitz's, an old burger place around the corner that had excellent root beer floats, which he thought might please Noah. As he walked out of the courthouse, he heard a slightly sardonic voice comment, "Why the hell are you so chipper?"
Barba grinned at Calhoun. "Oh, Rita—I'm sorry, I didn't hear your broom pull up."
Rita Calhoun arched a brow at him regally. She snorted at his somewhat weak barb.
"You came out that door practically floating," She sneered a little, matching his pace easily. "What happened? Finally get laid after twenty years?"
Barba snorted. "Why the sudden interest in my personal life? Vying for a spot?"
"Oh please," Calhoun rolled her eyes. Barba's phone pinged and he checked it quickly—cheeseburger, two root beer floats, fries, chicken tenders. Simple enough.
"Well, look at that," Calhoun, who apparently didn't miss anything. "Was that a tender smile I saw? Who's the unfortunate lady—or gentleman?"
Barba rolled his eyes. "Honestly, Rita, is it so impossible that maybe my good mood could come from something other than my sex life?"
"Not for you," Calhoun chuckled. "Besides, I have money on this—it's Olivia, right?"
Barba channeled all of his years of poker faces, false charm, and stone-faced exteriors to give Rita Calhoun a vaguely puzzled yet slightly irritated glance.
"Olivia Benson?" He said coolly, like he'd only heard the name once, never breaking his stride. "You're serious?"
"As a heart attack," She gave him a glinting smile.
"You really think I'd jeopardize my career for a fling with Lieutenant Benson?"
"So you've thought about having a fling with Lieutenant Benson!" Calhoun said triumphantly.
"Rita, please go pester someone else, I have an extremely busy day," Barba said sardonically, turning a corner towards Fitz's. To his irritation, Calhoun continued to match his pace.
"I'm just saying," Calhoun said thoughtfully. "If you were seeing Olivia Benson and you were picking up lunch for her so you two could have a nauseatingly cute Saturday together—I wouldn't say anything. I'd keep it to myself."
Barba stopped at that and raised a brow. "Excuse me? As fun as your hypotheticals are—"
"Not for you," Calhoun interrupted. "I'd bury you the second I had a chance. But for Lieutenant Benson. I like her."
"You like her?" Barba snorted. "You have a funny way of showing it."
"I like any woman who has the ovaries to challenge me," Calhoun's smirk was positively maniacal. "If I needed her help—I know she'd help me, despite her personal antagonism towards me. I respect that."
"Mmm," Barba narrowed his eyes. "Well, despite your probing into my personal life, get used to disappointment. Now really—I have a lunch engagement. Go harass someone else."
Calhoun chuckled to herself and turned away, looking extraordinarily pleased with herself. He watched her, his lips twisting a little in agitation. He trusted Calhoun as far as he could throw her, but a hunch wasn't evidence. Anyway.
He went into Fitz's to pick up his order.
By the time he reached Olivia's apartment, Barba had returned to his good mood. There was no sense in worrying about Calhoun now. Not to say it wasn't something to be concerned about, but Barba was determined not to let her spoil this day. He had been waiting for this for years. He was going to enjoy every goddamned minute of it.
He was about to knock on her door when it suddenly opened—Ed Tucker was standing in the doorway.
Pure, wholesome, irrational and unadulterated rage flooded Barba's veins. His mind suggested several colorful Spanish phrases with which to describe Ed Tucker. But cool rationality quickly took over.
"Tucker," He said pleasantly. "How are you?"
"I'm well," Tucker responded warily. "You're here to see Olivia?"
"Yes," Barba replied easily. "We're reviewing a case together. I wasn't able to squeeze her into my schedule Monday, unfortunately."
"And you brought lunch."
"That's for us!" Sonny Carisi appeared out of nowhere. "Thanks for picking that up, Counselor. Hope you got extra fries."
"Lemme grab that for you," Amanda Rollins sidled up next to Barba, carefully grabbing his lunch. "Heya, Tucker. Thanks Barba, for coming over—we really need your insight on this case."
"Any time," Barba answered, hoping the bewilderment wasn't apparent in his voice.
At this, Tucker moved aside to let them through. Barba kept his expression bored and neutral, though he flicked a quick glance at Olivia. She looked nervous for a brief instant and then cleared her throat.
"Got everything you need?" She asked Tucker quietly.
"Yes," He nodded slowly. "Thanks. Sorry for the short notice." He bent over, picking up a large box. Barba was pleased to see that it was filled with some of Tucker's clothes and a few Jimmy Buffett CD's.
"Sure," Olivia nodded. "See you around."
Tucker leaned over and kissed her cheek. The four of them watched him exit the apartment, closing the door behind him.
Carisi exhaled loudly. "Whew! Close one, Lieutenant!"
"Thanks, Carisi," Olivia said in relief. "And thank you, Rollins—I really appreciate you both coming over."
She looked apologetically at Barba. "Sorry—Tucker texted me right after you did, said he was coming over to get the rest of his stuff. I didn't want him to see us having lunch on a weekend together—he is still in IAB—so I panicked. Had Carisi and Rollins come over as an alibi."
"Any time, Lieutenant," Carisi winked at them both. "We got your back." He helped himself to more fries.
Barba narrowed his eyes at her, his gaze flickering between Rollins and Carisi. Was it really a good idea for part of her squad to know?
"Don't worry, Counselor," Rollins caught his expression. "Let's just say—don't ask, don't tell."
She smiled at Carisi and suddenly Barba wondered if he and Liv weren't the only ones endangering their careers.
"Well," Carisi announced, finishing off the last of the fries. "This has been fun. But we got work to do. Ready, Rollins?"'
Rollins nodded and the two of them exited out the door. Barba's eyebrow rose when he noticed Carisi's hand reach for Rollins' as they made their way towards the elevator. Snorting, he shut the door, turning to face Olivia.
"Hm," He said thoughtfully. "Considering Carisi has purloined all our fries, maybe I should order delivery from Fitz's to replenish our supply."
"Sure," Olivia smiled at him, taking his hand. She leaned in and kissed him sweetly, a cool brushing of lips that was casual and ordinary, as if they did this every day. Barba briefly wondered why it wasn't an everyday occurrence.
"How was court?" She asked.
"Unending," Barba growled and pulled her into his arms, kissing her fiercely. It had been an entire three hours since he'd kissed her properly and that simply was unacceptable. He was going to savor every moment of this, memorize the taste of her, how it felt to entangle his hands in her hair. She had so many flavors…coffee and roses, cinnamon and Spearmint, cloves and autumn…he would learn every single one of them. She broke away from him, half-gasping a little at his enthusiasm, her dark eyes dancing.
"Lunch," She ordered. "I'm starving and so is Noah."
He helped her take down plates, silverware, and spread their banquet on the coffee table. Noah happily made a mess of his root beer float and Olivia flicked on Hulu, settling down with them both to watch some cartoon about aliens that had a great deal of singing.
After five or six episodes, Noah had fallen asleep. He was splayed across Olivia and Barba's laps, his head resting against her thigh, his legs occasionally twisting about on Barba's lap. Barba noted aloud in amusement that somehow, one of his favorite ties had gotten hot fudge all over it.
Olivia smiled at that. "He's a bit of a menace towards my scarves…and my makeup, come to that. So if you have any real personal attachment to those suits of yours, I'd be wary of him."
Barba snorted. "You know, I once told my mother that I would be so successful, I would never wear the same suit twice. Noah's just helping me honor my promise to my mother."
That made her laugh so loud it nearly woke Noah. Her son twisted his lips in a manner Barba had seen on Olivia's mouth more than once—but he turned over, his nap undisturbed.
"You're okay with this?" Olivia asked suddenly. "All of this?"
"More than okay," Barba told her, taking her hand and kissing it.
"Noah will always come first."
"I know," He kissed her palm again. "I'm not going to pretend I'm a genius with kids. But I'm a fast learner."
"And your job…" Her brow furrowed. "And my job…"
"Liv, I'm a lawyer," Barba said practically. "I make my living at talking my way in and out of things. We'll figure it out."
She rolled her eyes at his cockiness. But it seemed to relieve her, nonetheless. She leaned her head against his shoulder and he exhaled in a combination of relief and contentment.
They'd figure it out. Together.