Carisi just left the precinct. Good luck!
Barba couldn’t quite contain his grin as he looked down at the text message from Olivia. He wasn’t usually in the habit of grinning like an idiot at his phone just because Liv texted him, but today was special.
Today, he was going to propose.
He’d spent the last few weeks trying to figure out the best way to do it, once he had secured the blessing of Mr. and Mrs. Carisi, trekking all the way to Staten Island for that purpose. He’d toyed with a few different ideas, from their favorite hole-in-the-wall Italian joint to the steps of the courthouse to — for just a fleeting moment — the jumbotron at Yankee Stadium.
In the end, he’d decided on his office.
“Your office?” Olivia had asked with a raised eyebrow, when Barba filled her in on his plan. “That doesn’t...seem as romantic as I would’ve expected.”
“Sonny will find it romantic,” Barba had said with confidence.
At least, he hoped he would.
Because Barba could think of nowhere more special for them. His office was where their relationship had started, had grown, had blossomed from a mentor-type relationship to friends to, finally, after years of dancing around each other and towards each other, lovers.
And Barba knew it was where he wanted their forever to begin.
The time between Olivia’s text and Carisi’s arrival passed agonizingly slowly, and Barba stared unseeingly at the file open on his desk, practically vibrating out of his skin with a combination of excitement and nerves.
When Carisi finally pushed the door to Barba’s office open — without knocking, but Barba had come to terms with that a long time ago — Barba all but bounded out of his seat. “Finally,” he said, before he could stop himself.
Carisi blinked at him. “Huh?” he said, sounding tired.
“Nothing,” Barba said quickly, crossing around his desk to kiss him. “How was your day?”
Carisi looked at him suspiciously. “What, no snide comment about my tie?” he asked, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.
“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything,” Barba hedged, glancing at the truly atrocious goldenrod paisley tie that Carisi wore, “but now that you mentioned it, where did this monstrosity come from? I distinctly recall you leaving the apartment this morning in a very nice navy blue number with small white polka dots.”
“I spilled mustard on it at lunch,” Carisi sighed ruefully.
Barba cocked an eyebrow at him. “You do realize that was my tie, right?”
“I already sent it out to be dry cleaned,” Carisi told him.
Barba grinned, too soft to be a smirk. “And that’s why I love you,” he said, leaning in to kiss him once more. “And speaking of loving you…”
He took a step back from Carisi and slowly, carefully, lowered himself to one knee.
Carisi raised an eyebrow in surprise as he grinned down at Barba. “Getting on your knees for me?” he teased. “Here I thought you banned sex in your office after that incident with the coffeepot, but hey, I’m always game for a pre-dinner smoothie.”
“You have got to stop calling blowjobs smoothies,” Barba said, a touch exasperatedly. “Besides which, when I’m about to suck you off, I get down on both knees. I’m down on one knee, Sonny.”
Carisi’s grin disappeared so quickly that Barba could barely track the change, and he couldn’t help the chill that crept down his spine. Still, he pushed doggedly forward, pulling the ring box from his pocket. “I know that us getting together was a bumpy road, to say the least, but it’s led to the best possible destination, and I know that I can face everything life will throw at us with you by my side. So Sonny Carisi, will you marry me?”
Carisi stared at him, eyes wide and expression unreadable. Then, slowly, he licked his lips almost nervously before saying, “No.”
“No?” Barba repeated blankly, sure that he must have misheard him, or misunderstood or something, still holding the ring up. “What do you mean, no?”
“I mean,” Carisi started, before he huffed a sigh and grabbed Barba’s wrist, all but yanking him back up to his feet, “no. No, I can’t agree to marry you. Not — not yet anyway.”
“Yet?” Barba again repeated, his voice higher-pitched than usual, his stomach dropping so rapidly that he felt like he was going to be sick. He didn’t even realize that he had dropped the ring box to the floor, his hand closing around empty air.
Something flickered in Carisi’s expression. “I don’t think we’ve been together long enough—” he started, but Barba shook his head and cut him off.
“What exactly would you consider long enough?” he demanded, his bewilderment hardening as he tried to wrap his mind around what was happening. “We’ve known each other for five years, and been together for over a year. I’ve met your entire family and been to Christmas at your parents’ house and your sister’s wedding and your nephew’s baptism. I don’t...what more are you looking for?”
“It’s not a matter of more,” Carisi sighed. “It’s — Raf, we’ve only been living together a few months, and I just thought we’d have more time before this became, you know, an issue.”
Barba felt his heart pounding in his chest, every beat shooting pain throughout his entire body. “An issue?” he repeated, knowing that he sounded like an idiot for continuing to just repeat what Carisi said but having no better way to try to wrap his mind around any of it. “You think that the idea of marrying me is — an issue ?”
“You know how seriously I take marriage,” Carisi told him, almost angrily, not that Barba thought he had any right to be angry. “When I get married, I want to be sure that it’s forever.”
Barba stared up at him. “Meaning you don’t think this is forever,” he said hollowly.
Carisi sighed again. “That’s not—”
“I thought I made it clear when we started this that this was a forever thing for me,” Barba interrupted, hurt and anger battling in his voice as they tore through his chest.
“And I’m not saying that it’s not a forever thing for me,” Carisi shot back. “I’m just saying that I don’t know if it is or isn’t. Meaning I’m not ready to say yes to marrying you.”
“How—” Barba started, his voice cracking, and he flinched as if flinching away from his own weakness, from the vulnerability he was beginning to hate having ever allowed Carisi to see. “How can you not know?” Carisi just stared at him, defiance and regret and something unreadable mingled in his expression. “If this isn’t forever for you, then where do you see this going?” Carisi shook his head, but Barba refused to let him interrupt. “I’m serious. Where do you think this is headed, if not towards marriage and being together for the rest of our lives?”
Carisi sighed, his shoulders slumping, and he shook his head and ran a tired hand across his face. “I dunno,” he admitted quietly before looking back up at Barba. “I do know that I love you, and that you make me happy. And for me, right now, that’s enough.” Barba shook his head slowly and Carisi took a step towards him, reaching out to take both his hands in his own. “Can’t that be enough, Raf?” he asked, his voice soft, gentle.
There was a part of Barba that wanted to say yes, to tell Carisi that this could be enough.
But the far bigger part of him had felt his heart splinter when Carisi had said ‘no’.
So he shook his head, and he pulled his hands away from Carisi’s.
“Clearly you and I have different plans for our future,” he said coolly, his hands balled into fists to keep from trembling as he carefully made his way back around his desk, hoping that the physical barrier might help him rebuild the walls that he hadn’t let anyone before Carisi tear down in years. “In that I assumed we had one, and you clearly don’t.”
“Raf, please,” Carisi said urgently, making as if to follow him around the desk but stopping when Barba glared at him. “C’mon, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can still have a future together—”
“Really?” Barba snapped, his tone brittle. “So you can fuck around with me for a few more months or years, however long it takes for you to get bored, and then move on to whomever you decide you actually want to marry?”
Carisi flinched. “That’s not fair,” he said quietly. “I’m not just fucking around with you, Rafael. I love—”
“I don’t think you know what that word means.”
A muscle twitched in Carisi’s cheek. “I do know what it means,” he said. “And I do love you. Just because I don’t want to get married—”
“How do you not get it?” Barba interrupted, his fury reaching a boiling point as he practically shouted at Carisi. “It’s not about getting married! Do you think I care that I have a ring on my finger or some piece of paper we both signed?” Carisi just stared at him, seemingly at a loss for words. “I asked you to marry me because I want to spend the rest of my life with you! I want us to grow old together, to be a family! I want to know every day from now until eternity that you love me just as much then as you do now. I want—”
He bit his words off, trying to choke back the tears he could feel threatening to spill from his eyes and looked away from Carisi, bracing himself against his desk to stay upright. “No,” he said, after a long moment, his voice quiet, defeated. “I wanted all that.”
For a long moment, both men were silent, and Barba refused to look up at Carisi, refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing the pain and the heartbreak he was certain was written in every line of his face. Finally, Carisi sighed, and Barba’s heart clenched at the pain he could hear in Carisi’s voice when he said softly, “Rafael…”
“I won’t be coming back to the apartment tonight,” Barba said, his voice sounding far away and foreign as if coming from someone else. “You have until the end of the week to get your stuff out.”
“Rafael—” Carisi repeated, something like shock and a little bit of panic edging into his tone, but Barba just shook his head, finally looking up to meet his eyes squarely.
His shoulders were squared. His jaw was set. There were no tears left in Barba’s eyes as he looked at Carisi with every shred of dignity he had remaining.
“Now get out of my office, Detective.”
Carisi jerked back, his own expression twisting, and even though he took a step towards Barba’s door, he paused in his step, something determined in his voice when said quietly, “We’re not done, Rafael. This isn’t the end.”
“Yes,” Barba said dismissively. “It is.”
He sat down at his desk and stared unseeingly at the papers scattered in front of him, flinching only slightly when Carisi slammed the door to his office after him.
For a moment, the papers on his desk swam and blurred from the unshed tears that threatened again to fall, but then Barba took a deep, steadying breath, blinked a few times to clear his tears, and picked up a pen and a pad of paper.
Work would be his refuge, as it always had been. It would have to be, because it was all that he had left: the cold comfort of the law to try to distract from the fact that with one question and one very simple answer, his entire world had ended.