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An Important Lunch Meeting

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"Here comes the airplane," Rita singsongs as she spins the spoon above Thomas's head and carefully slips it into his mouth when he squawks in happiness at the display. "Are you ever going to stop recording me doing this?" she asks in her usual, dry tone as she scoops more food onto the spoon.

Rafael, phone centered so he can capture every loop-d-loop Rita performs to get Thomas to open his mouth in excitement, shakes his head. "Of course not. Do you know how much it terrifies defense lawyers when they happen to walk in while I watch the videos of you doing this?"

Rita drops the spoon to the edge of Thomas's high chair tray. He reaches for it, hand opening and closing on nothing a few times before he gets a grip. "I did not agree to be used in this way."

"He's about to get sweet potato on your blouse," Rafael replies.

Rita snaps her attention back to Thomas. His hand is two inches from her cuff. "Thomas," she says softly. He looks up at her, gives her a huge, gummy smile, and then claps his hands when she sticks out her tongue. Tiny bits of mashed sweet potato go flying, but none of them land on Rita's blouse. "Hi," she trills and feeds him another bite. "You're so big!" She taps him on the nose with her index finger, and Thomas gurgles and kicks his feet.

"Okay, this is too much," Rafael says, stopping the video and tucking his phone back into his jacket. He picks up his napkin and manages to grab Thomas's tiny, waving arm. Thomas looks at him and babbles happily while Rafael wipes his hand clean. "I think she's nice, too," Rafael replies. Thomas giggles and kicks his feet again. Rafael can only grin and let the tight warmth in his chest work its way outwards.

"I am never going to get used to your proud dad face," Rita says as she caps the baby food and picks up her own napkin to wipe carefully at Thomas's face. Once she's done, she turns to her own lunch--a cobb salad--and mixes the greens with one hand while she taps the nails of her other hand on Thomas's tray to make him slap his little hands down in response.

Rafael watches Thomas try to catch Rita's hand and smiles when Rita keeps just out of his grip. Thomas babbles and tries again, and when it doesn't work, looks at Rafael and holds his arms straight out in his "please remove me from this chair" motion. Rafael unsnaps his bib and scoops him up, bouncing him on one knee as he eats his own lunch--a cranberry chicken salad--with one hand.

Thomas gets his hand around a dried cranberry and shoves it into his mouth. Rafael watches him. The dried cranberry should be small enough it won't affect Thomas's ability to swallow, but he's never had one, so Rafael doesn't have actual proof. After a few seconds, he sees Thomas swallow, and then his face twists in confusion and he turns to stare at Rafael like he's been tricked.

"Not a fan of cranberries, huh?" Rafael asks. Thomas sticks out his tongue and taps his hand against it like he's trying to get the taste out of his mouth.

"Oh, buddy," Rita says, looking equal parts sympathetic and delighted. "Got a little too brave, huh?"

Rafael reaches into the pocket of his coat, which is hanging over his chair, and finds the baggie of emergency Cheerios he always has. He opens the baggie and puts a few on the table just as Thomas screws up his face to cry. "Thomas," he says, jiggling him a little to get his attention. "Look. It's oh-ohs." He points at the Cheerios and watches Thomas's face get stuck in his pre-cry expression.

"Oh-ohs?!" Rita says with exaggerated excitement. She reaches out and touches one. "May I have one?" she asks.

Thomas looks at her, and his stuck expression undoes itself. He picks up one Cheerio and shoves it in his mouth. The next one he picks up very carefully between his thumb and forefinger and holds out to Rita.

"Thank you!" she says and makes a production of enjoying it.

Thomas picks up another Cheerio with the same, careful attention and holds it out to Rafael. He looks so much like Sonny with his bright blue eyes and like Chloe with the color of his hair, then Rafael realizes the slight frown of concentration is all him. He takes the Cheerio and blows a raspberry on Thomas's cheek. Thomas squeals. He bounces when Rafael lays out more Cheerios on the table.

"Where were we?" Rita asks when Thomas is fully engrossed in eating his Cheerios one by one, occasionally handing one to Rita or Rafael.

"You wanted to know if I had any thoughts on O'Neill."

"He didn't list you as a reference, but he was in your office long enough you must have heard something."

Rafael smoothes Thomas's hair and presses a quick kiss to his head. "I heard a few things," he says and fills her in as all three of them finish their lunch.