It could have been considered a typical day at the precinct: stacks of paperwork, playful banter, Olivia and Barba disagreeing in her office.
"So what, you just want me to drop it?" Olivia threw her hands up and turned away.
"Liv, you have nothing for me to go on. I can't make a case."
"She was brutalized." Olivia said, impassioned. "And you want him to walk."
"I don't want him to walk, Olivia. You know me better than that."
"Do I?" Olivia quipped, turning around to face him again. "Because I thought we were past the days when you cared more about winning than people."
He had been trying for months to better himself, to put his ego aside and do the right thing. But apparently she hasn't noticed.
Barba's face suddenly showcased hurt, but then it dissipated again. "The next time you talk to me, you better have something I can build a case on." Barba's eyes flicked away from Olivia and didn't return. She sighed as he walked out of her office.
A few moments later, there was a light knock on her door accompanied by a nervous-looking Carisi.
"Hey, Lieu... got a minute?"
"Of course, Carisi." Olivia smiled pleasantly, nearing calm again after her spat with Barba. "What's up?"
"Yeah this is a... little more personal, I guess. I hope I'm not overstepping here, Lieu, but uh..."
Olivia looked concerned. "What is it?"
"I was, uh, in the squad room just now and was thinking that maybe you should go a little easy on Barba. I mean, if you look at his cases recently, he has picked up a lot for us. You know, tough cases. Stuff he never would've picked up in the past. I just think that he has grown, you know, morally and professionally. And I just, you know, saw his face when he walked out of your office and..."
"Carisi, Barba and I argue, but he knows that I appreciate all he does." Olivia interrupted when Carisi started to fade out.
"Are you sure he does?" Carisi asked, doubt sketched over his face.
"I think so." Olivia nodded. Maybe she had gone a little hard on him just now, but she didn't mean it. They argued sometimes, but they never actually wanted to hurt each other.
"The thing is, Liv, I'm not sure you realize how much power you have to hurt him."
Olivia's face shifted to confusion. "I know I'm in charge here and sometimes need to get things done, but I try to treat everyone well. I care about you guys. You know that, right?"
"Yeah, I do. But with Rafael, it's more than that, Lieu."
"What does that mean?" Olivia asked, looking puzzled.
"There's a reason he's always jumping out of his comfort zone and doing everything he can to get your approval." Carisi paused. Then he took a breath. "He has feelings for you, Liv."
Carisi knew that Olivia wasn't always the prime example of how to handle emotional relationships, but he wasn't expecting her to look completely dumbfounded. He was sure she at least had an idea.
"That can't be right," she said lingeringly, clearly taking inventory on every encounter she had had with Barba recently.
"You really had no idea?"
"He told you that?" Olivia asked, trying to gather proof.
"Well, no. He didn't. But I notice things. You have a room full of detectives, Lieu. One of them is bound to be looking at you... And Amanda thinks so, too. She was afraid to bring it up to me, but she finally did the other day."
"Carisi," Olivia started, sounding hesitant. "I'm not really sure that I should be saying this. I usually try to stay out of things like this, but Rafael flirts with you. I think you might've missed some things, or misinterpreted them. He doesn't act that way with me."
"Yeah, that's the thing." Carisi continued. "Rafael does flirt with me. He teases me and pushes to see how far he can go. But what he does with you is the real stuff. He admires you; he cares about you; he--"
Carisi cut himself off and looked down, hurt written all over his face. Olivia didn't need him to finish his sentence: she knew what word was about to come out of his mouth next.
"No, he doesn't." Olivia said simply, gently.
"Yeah, he does, Liv," Carisi continued. He was getting worked up and emotional and Olivia was starting to feel his pain with him. "I know because I've been watching him for months. I was paying attention because I thought maybe there was a chance that.. that he would eventually break down and tell me the flirting was serious. Tell me every time he made fun of my legal talk or made some sharp comment about me, that he actually was fond of me. I thought maybe his eyes would tell me that I meant something to him." He paused. "And eventually I did start seeing that admiration and fondness and dedication in his eyes that I was searching for... But he was never looking at me. He was looking at you." He looked up at Olivia, who gave him an empathetic half smile. His eyes were filled with tears as he said through obvious pain, "Liv, he loves you." And it sounded like his heart broke.
"Sonny..." Olivia said gently, standing up and pulling him into a hug.
He didn't turn it down. Normally, he would have quickly pulled away after a moment, but he felt broken inside. That was the first time he had ever said any of this aloud, and it had been a long time coming. He had developed feelings for Barba a long time ago, and he spent months pining and hoping before eventually struggling to accept all he had was a pathetic, one-sided crush.
"I should've expected this," Sonny whispered through tears, arms still wrapped around Olivia. "Why did I let myself think that he would ever--"
Olivia pulled him back so she could look at him, hands holding on to his shoulders. "Sonny, you're an incredibly kind, intelligent, fascinating person. Anyone would be so lucky to have you."
"Thanks, Liv." Sonny said, seeming to pull himself together a bit.
She put her hand on his arm, looking concerned. "You okay?"
But instead of answering, Carisi quietly asked a question of his own. "So do you feel the same way?"
The question took Olivia off guard. She tilted her head and looked at Sonny for a moment before responding, voice low. "You know, Sonny. It doesn't matter. I dated a lawyer once, and it was a conflict of interest, and it left me so broken."
"All you would have to do is disclose this time. You deserve to be happy, Lieu. And so does Rafael."
Sonny had effectively gone from crying in pain to trying to make Olivia and Rafael both happy, and if that wasn't the perfect testament to his character, nothing was.
"Sonny, you're a good cop, a better friend, and an even better person," Olivia smiled at him weakly.
Sonny gave Olivia a half smile before saying, "So, about what I came in here to ask you?"
"I suppose I can be a bit easier on Barba," Olivia said with a gentle smile. "He is, after all, our friend."
The emphasis on the word "friend" eased Sonny's aching heart just a little bit, although he would never admit it. He turned to return to his desk.