"I'll be right back," Liv called out as she breezed by the living room where her son and her friend were building lego before dinner. She'd had her hands full on the way up after work and hadn't been able to check her mail for a letter she'd been waiting for, so she'd decided to take advantage of Barba's presence while it was on her mind. "Babe, can you stir the sauce in a minute?"
Noah and Barba both paused and looked at each other. After a beat, Barba's brow furrowed and he pointed to Noah in confusion.
Noah shook his head. "I'm not allowed to use the stove by myself."
When there was no reply Olivia assumed she hadn't been heard so she tried again from halfway out the door. "Rafa? Okay for the sauce?"
"Mommy, you called Ra -"
Barba clapped a hand over the boy's month. "Sauce. Got it covered. Let's go, kid - you can help me." He picked him up under one arm and carried him laughing to the kitchen.
Later, they were playing an intense game of Go Fish around the coffee table when Olivia's phone buzzed. "I'm sorry, guys, but Fin's about to call and I need to take this. Rafa, would you mind helping Noah with his bath?"
Spaghetti night usually wasn't bath night, but things had gotten shifted around that week for reasons that were partly his fault. Of course, even if that hadn't been the case Barba was more than happy to help out. "Sure," he answered agreeably, then shot a conspiratorial look at Noah. "I can do that. Babe."
"I beg your pardon?"
And then Noah lost it, dissolving into giggles as though it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. Barba wasn't far behind him.
For her part, Olivia had no idea what was going on. But her phone rang and there wasn't time to find out.
The call and the tasks that were needed following it took much longer than she'd anticipated, so it wasn't until after Noah's bath was over and Barba had put him to bed without being asked so as not to disturb her that she finally got to question him.
"I've gotta run, Liv. Noah's all settled for night. Thanks for dinner!"
"Hold on, mister." She stopped him at the door as he was putting on his shoes. "Do I get to be let in on the joke?"
With his usual smirk, he revealed, "You called me 'babe' earlier today."
"I did no such thing!" Olivia looked positively scandalized, which made it all the more amusing to Barba.
"Oh, but you definitely did. Noah and I had to try to figure out which one of us you were talking to."
Liv wracked her brain to try to remember saying it, but to no avail. And since he had no reason to lie about it, she had to resign herself to the slip. "Well. That's a bit mortifying."
Seeing the colour rise to her cheeks in an uncharacteristic blush, Barba chose to let her off the hook rather than tease further. "Olivia, I've come to accept you as a woman of a million mindless nicknames when it comes to your son. Frankly I'm kind of surprised I don't get caught in the crossfire more often."
"I remember calling a teacher 'mom' more than once," she admitted. "I suppose it's the same thing. Though no less embarrassing."
"As long as you don't call ME 'mom', we're probably okay." With a smile, he gave her shoulder an affectionate squeeze... and found that despite his initial intentions he just couldn't help himself. "Well, princess, enjoy your night."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, my God."
"See you tomorrow, pookie."
"Sweet dreams, sugar plum."
"I. Will. End. You." She punctuated each word with a slap on his arm, effectively driving him out the door even as she joined in his laughter.
The next day she texted him to ask him to stop by the precinct regarding a case, their first contact since the previous night's foolishness. In her office, surrounded by her squad, his response caught her off guard and caused a giggle to slip out, a reaction that would have been inappropriate even if they WEREN'T in the middle of a discussion about a brutal assault: "Sorry, *babe*. No can do. In court 'til at least 4."
She was quick to school her features but the damage was done. "Uh, Barba can't make it." Carisi and Rollins exchanged glances. Fin raised an eyebrow. And Olivia hoped that no one noticed the effects of the heat she felt in her cheeks. She tapped out a quick response - "I hate you." - before putting her phone away and ignoring the response that chimed about 30 seconds later.
When she finally did check her messages much later in the afternoon, she was glad she had left it until she was alone, because she probably would have blushed again when she read his reply: "Anyone ever told you that you're pretty cute when you're embarrassed?"