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Barba had witnessed both Olivia and Lucy carry out what was apparently the preferred discipline regimen more than once, and had always been amazed by how calm they generally remained, often in the face of Noah having a total meltdown.

And yet when Barba finally found himself alone with a first sassy, then defiant, then literally kicking-and-screaming child, he was surprised that he too managed to keep a level head as he did his best to follow the examples he'd filed away out of interest without it ever quite occurring to him that he might someday be called upon to enact the ritual.

Olivia's noise cancelling headphones had blocked out the bulk of it, so she was surprised when she stepped out of her room/office to find Noah nowhere in sight, and Barba reclined and reading on the couch surrounded by scattered toys.  All of this was unusual, because Noah and Barba were generally joined at the hip, and Barba had strict rules about tidying up.  

"Hey, you," she greeted, not quite able to keep the curiosity out of her voice. "Where's Noah?"

"In my room. He needed some cool down time." He set his phone on the coffee table. "There's a plate for you in the fridge. Want me to heat it up for you?"

"I'll grab it later, thanks." She glanced down the hallway and saw the egg timer just outside the closed bedroom door. "I was going to hop in the shower. How much time does he have left?" She was trying to draw out the details, inferring she could take over, feeling bad that he'd been stuck with her misbehaving child.

"Not long. But go take your shower; I've got it covered."

Olivia hesitated. It hadn't surprised her that Noah was having a bad day, suspecting that the reason he might be acting out was that the night before he'd been playing on the floor in front of the TV which had the news muted but with captions.  At some point he'd looked up and been able to read the headline about the most recent death toll numbers, which led to him asking some hard questions.  Noah had seemed to take it well then, but he'd had almost 24 hours to mull and process now. This type of reaction would fit his pattern to a T, and Barba wouldn't necessarily be aware of that dynamic.

In the end, Barba's nonchalance and relaxed smile convinced her to head back to her room to prepare a change of clothes, but when she heard the "ding" from the timer, heard a door open and soft footfalls headed toward the living room, she couldn't help herself.

"Hi, Noah. Feeling better? Ready to talk through this?"

Olivia stood just out of sight and listened to Barba have a calm discussion with Noah about what factors and feelings had led to the meltdown, and what they could do differently next time to avoid it. Then she heard a genuine apology, words of affection exchanged, and an agreement that they should pick up his toys together so that when Liv got out of the shower she'd be happy to have a clean house.

Her heart was full as she snuck to the bathroom. But it would have burst if she'd been privy to the conversation that followed.

"Rafa?"  Noah was curled up on his lap now, fiddling absently with the ear of the stuffed elephant that had been part of the mess they'd just put to rights.

"Yeah, bud?"

"When the virus goes away, are you going to leave again?"

"Hmm."  He wanted to choose his words carefully.  "How would it make you feel if I DID have to leave again?"


"Yeah, me too."  Barba pressed a kiss to the top of his head.  "Well, Noah, I can't guarantee that I won't have to travel sometimes.  But I've been thinking that I'm going to try to find some work around here so I can be home more."


"Of course."

There was a long pause as Noah organized his thoughts.  "But we still can't stay."

"Stay here, you mean?  At my place?"

"Yeah."  And then Noah shifted so he could wrap his arms around Barba's neck.  "I wish we could live here."

Barba had to stop himself from saying "Me, too", though in that moment -- and in many moments those days -- it was how he felt.  Instead, he told him, "Some things will go back to normal; you'll be going back to your apartment, your mom will ge going back to work, you'll be spending time with Lucy again.  But that doesn't mean that WE have to change, not really.  Not in the ways that really matter.  Things will always be different for us now that we've had this experience.  And you and your mom will ALWAYS be welcome here.  Always." 

Noah hugged him even tighter, and Barba hoped that meant the boy believed his words, because he had certainly meant them.

Several days later, Barba returned from tucking Noah in to find Olivia on the couch with her phone in hand, feet propped up on the coffee table.  Without warning, he climbed over the back of the couch and stretched out, putting a throw pillow on her lap and his head on the pillow.

"Well, hello," was all she said, chuckling as he got comfortable.

"Hello.  Are you working?"


"Excellent."  He plucked her phone from her hand and tossed it by his feet, out of her reach.

"Alright.  I guess I was done with that anyway."  They hadn't really connected much that day and she couldn't quite get a read on him, though the way he sighed when she laid a hand on his chest seemed like contentment.  "Everything okay?"

"Yup.  I just love your kid."

Contentment it was.  And it was suddenly spreading.  "You do, huh?"

"I really do."

"Good bedtime?"

"Great bedtime.  Great DAY."  And he went on to tell her all about it.  Finally:  "I never would have thought I was cut out for...whatever we're calling what I'm doing.  But yeah.  I just love your kid."

"I know," she said, her free hand running affectionately through his hair.  "And he loves you, too.  We both do."

"I know."  There was that contented sigh again, and one from her to match.  "Want to watch our show?"

"Sure."  She retrieved the remote from the armrest and offered it to him. 

"Good."  A pause.  "Can I stay here?"

"Of course."

"Good," he repeated, and he switched on the TV.