Barba swaggered into the precinct with his usual panache, in a good mood despite whatever fresh hell SVU had waited for him. He nodded a greeting at Olivia. “Sergeant,” he said, scanning the precinct and pausing when he realized something — or rather someone — wasn’t there. “Your merry band of miscreants seems to be one short.” He arched an eyebrow at Olivia. “Don’t tell me your newest detective quit already. I hadn’t even gotten to the good torture yet.”
Rollins snorted a laugh. “Carisi has the day off,” she informed him.
Barba blinked. “You get days off in your line of work?” he asked. “Since when?”
“Funny,” Rollins said, raising an eyebrow of her own as she added coolly, “I’ll be sure to tell Carisi that you missed him, though.”
Barba’s eyes narrowed. “Please do,” he said, matching her tone. “He’ll never believe you.”
Olivia cleared her throat. “If we can get to the case,” she said pointedly, and Barba turned his attention to her, periodically sipping his coffee as he listened to Olivia — with the occasional assist from Rollins — explain the case.
“I’ll get the warrant for the cell phone records,” he said when she was done. “Let’s just hope it proves fruitful. Anything else I can do for SVU?”
“No, but I’ll walk you out,” Olivia told him.
“And they say chivalry’s dead,” Barba said with a smirk.
Olivia laughed lightly, walking with him to the elevator. “What can I say, I’m in need of more coffee and the coffee cart just happens to be on the way.”
Barba laughed as well, giving her a sideways look as they got on the elevator. “Clearly you need more coffee if you’re approving time off for Carisi already,” he said. “Has he even been working here long enough to accrue time off?”
Olivia just gave him a look. “Actually, our earned time off follows us when we switch units and precincts,” she said, not rising to the bait, and Barba sighed dramatically.
“That’s it,” he said, draining his coffee. “I’m quitting my job and becoming a cop. The benefits alone would be worth it.”
Olivia laughed at that, and Barba went on his way, resolving to put it from his mind. It’s not like he actually cared that SVU’s newest detective had the day off. It’s not like he actually cared about SVU’s newest detective at all.
But just like the great many things he tried — and failed — to not pay attention to regarding Carisi as they worked together over the next few years, he couldn’t help but realize that it was a thing. Every year, on the same day, Carisi disappeared, taking the day off without one word about where he was going.
Or at least, without one word to Barba. Which, shouldn’t really surprise him, since it’s not like he and Carisi were close enough to merit that.
So he told himself, anyway.
Luckily, the third such disappearance, when he pegged it as a pattern (twice was a coincidence, after all, but three times was definitely a pattern), happened to correspond with the small matter of the death threats that Barba had been receiving, and he was nothing if not one to seize on a golden opportunity.
“Do you have any idea,” he said with preamble as he walked into Olivia’s office, “what it’s like to be greeted at your door not by the cheerful detective who you expected and who always brings you coffee in the morning but rather by a particularly sullen Det. Tutuola?”
Olivia sighed and glanced up at him over her reading glasses. “No,” she said, “but I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.”
“I’ll let you know when I’ve recovered from the trauma,” Barba snapped, sinking into the chair across from her. “Is there a particular reason why the lead on my case has the day off? Because last time I checked, whoever’s threatening my life certainly wasn’t taking the day off.”
“You’re being a little dramatic,” Olivia said, seemingly unconcerned by his tone. “Carisi made sure that someone he trusts was covering you at all times, and given how thin our resources are stretched lately, that’s saying something.”
Her words were just pointed enough that Barba almost felt bad about the line of questioning.
Emphasis on almost.
“Yes, your resources are stretched thin, and believe me, I will be using this as reasoning for getting my 24/7 security detail curtailed, but more importantly, your resources are stretched thin and yet Carisi still somehow has the day off?” Olivia sighed and looked back down at her paperwork, but Barba wasn’t done. “He disappears on the same day every year, and you’re not even a little curious as to why?”
“Not particularly,” Olivia said honestly.
Barba’s brow furrowed. “Because you already know why,” he realized. “Of course, you approve his time off, so he must have some compelling reason — compelling enough for him to put my life at risk.”
Olivia rolled her eyes. “Your life was never at risk, Rafa,” she said dryly. “Besides which, I didn’t realize you paid so much attention to what days off my detectives take.” She arched an eyebrow. “Or my detective, at least — or do you have Amanda and Fin’s schedules memorized as well?”
Barba refused to dignify that with an answer and settled for sulking in silence for a moment until Olivia took pity on him. “It is a compelling reason. It’s also not my reason to tell. So if you want to know why Carisi has the day off, I suggest you take it up with him.”
“I’ll be sure to do that,” Barba sniped, and Olivia just rolled her eyes again before changing the subject.
He didn’t, though — whether it was because he never found a good time to do so, or because he didn’t want to ruin what tentative and tenuous friendship he had left with the detective, Barba settled for chalking it up as one of Carisi’s idiosyncrasies and moving on.
But when they finally stopped dancing around each other and got together, Barba figured it might finally be time he asked. After all, they were living together and building a life together and while Barba had grown enough in how he trusted Carisi to not feel he was owed an explanation, he nonetheless hoped that Carisi might finally trust him enough to offer one.
So on the morning in question, he rolled over in bed and watched as Carisi got dressed. “You have the day off today.”
He didn’t pitch it as a question but Carisi still looked up, halfway through buttoning his shirt. “Yep,” he said, his own inflection rising just slightly as he waited for Barba to get to what he was really after.
“May I ask why?”
Carisi snorted and glanced down as he finished buttoning his shirt. “You can always ask,” he said. “Doesn’t mean I’m gonna answer.” He leaned over and kissed Barba lightly. “And definitely doesn’t mean you’re gonna like my answer.”
Barba grabbed his wrist before he could pull away. “What happened on today’s date?” he asked, searching Carisi’s face for some kind of clue. “Because that’s the only thing that I can think of, that something happened today and that it’s the reason you take this day off every year.”
“Raf—” Carisi started, but Barba cut him off.
“I haven’t asked before now because I didn’t think that I really had the right, but after all we’ve been through together, I just thought…”
He trailed off and Carisi gave him a look. “What, you just thought you should be rewarded because you managed to contain your curiosity until now?” he scoffed.
Barba rolled his eyes. “That’s not what I meant,” he started impatiently, but Carisi just shook his head, glancing down at his watch.
“As much as I’d love to satisfy your curiosity, I gotta go. We can finish this conversation tonight.”
“What’s there to finish?” Barba asked sourly. “You clearly don’t want to tell me—”
“God, Rafael,” Carisi snapped, yanking his arm out of Barba’s grasp. “Does it seriously bother you that much that I have one thing in my life that doesn’t involve you?” Barba stared up at him and Carisi sighed, running a tired hand across his face. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I didn’t mean—”
“It’s fine,” Barba said shortly. “Go. You’re going to be late.”
“Just go, Sonny.”
Carisi stared at him for a moment more before sighing heavily and leaving, closing the apartment door after him with a bit more force than was entirely necessary.
Barba just stared up at the ceiling, his stomach in knots.
It was the first time in longer than cared to think about that Carisi had left without telling him ‘I love you’. Or without Barba returning the sentiment.
And Barba knew he had no one to blame but himself, and his curiosity, and his inability to just let things go.
He stared up at the ceiling for a moment longer before sighing and sitting up. He ran a hand through his hair and picked up his Blackberry, pausing before sending Carmen a text: Cancel my appointments. I’m not coming in to the office today .
Within seconds, she had texted back: Are you ok??
Just something I have to take care of .
After all, Rafael thought, tossing his phone onto the bed as he stood, in for a penny, in for a pound.
Barba strolled slowly across the uneven ground of a small, unassuming cemetery on Staten Island. Carisi didn’t look over at him as he approached, not looking away from the small, gray headstone he stood in front of. “So who told you?” Carisi asked.
“Your sister,” Barba said, his hands in his pockets.
Carisi snorted. “Which one?”
Barba shrugged. “I plead the Fifth.”
“This doesn’t fall under self-incrimination, Counselor,” Carisi said mildly. “You should know better.”
Though Barba managed a small smile, it was short-lived. “I told her that I wanted to apologize to you,” he said quietly. “She said it was past time I pulled my head out of my ass and just asked.”
Carisi cracked a smile. “So it was Bella,” he said, more rhetorically than anything. “Shoulda known. She likes you better than me.”
Barba didn’t say anything to that, just walking a little closer. “I am sorry,” he said, his voice low. “I know that whatever today is to you, it’s important, and it’s personal, and I should’ve known better than to try to make it about me and you. That’s all I wanted to say.”
He turned to leave but Carisi caught his arm. “You don’t have to go,” he said softly.
Barba nodded and laced his fingers with Carisi’s before taking another step toward him so that they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, looking down at the small, nondescript grave. “So who was she?” he asked. Carisi took a deep breath and Barba quickly added, “You don’t have to tell me, not if you don’t want—”
“No, it’s ok,” Carisi told him, though he was quiet for a long moment afterwards, long enough that Barba almost apologized again before Carisi sighed. “She was my first solo call when I was still a beat cop. Call came in requesting an officer at the scene and, uh, my desk sergeant sent me.”
He paused and Barba nodded slowly, already having a sense of where this was likely headed. “Murdered?” he asked softly.
“No,” Carisi said, his shoulders tense. “Suicide.” He reached out with his free hand to touch the cold gray stone as if grounding himself. “They just needed me to take her husband’s statement.” He shook his head slowly. “She was 31 years old. She’d be—” His voice cracked. “She’d be your age now.”
Barba swallowed, hard, but couldn’t seem to find anything to say to that, just gripping Carisi’s hand tighter. “It was my first time seeing someone like that,” Carisi continued, staring off into the distance. “And I’ll never — I’ll never forget her husband. He was the one who found her, and he—”
He choked up and Barba held his hand between both of his own, trying to put as much comfort as he could into the gesture. After a long moment, Carisi cleared his throat. “She went to the same parish as my family did,” he said. “I had probably met her a handful of times, but never anything beyond passing the peace, you know? And I didn’t — I didn’t know that she was— I mean, no one did.”
“There wasn’t anything you could have done,” Barba told him, even though he was certain that Carisi knew that.
Carisi just shook his head. “I just couldn’t stop thinking about the dog,” he said, and Barba glanced up at him.
“The dog?” he repeated gently.
“Yeah, she and her husband had this dog, this little yappy thing that wouldn’t stop barking when I was taking her husband’s statement, and, uh...I dunno, it was like the dog was almost as distraught as the husband, and I couldn’t stop thinking — how do you explain this to a dog? How do you tell a dog that their owner is never coming back? Did — did the dog wait by the door, everyday, waiting for her to come home?”
Carisi’s voice was bleak and pained and Barba felt tears prick in his own eyes, and he couldn’t seem to speak around the unexpected lump in his throat. Carisi shook his head and looked away from the headstone. “I know it’s stupid—”
“It’s not,” Barba said, a bit more fiercely than he probably should. “It’s not stupid.”
“It was just a dog—”
Barba squeezed his hand. “You and I both know this is not just about the dog, Sonny.”
Carisi was silent for a long moment before he shrugged. “I decided I wanted to work homicide after that,” he said. “Because at least then, there’s someone to blame. Someone to arrest.” He shook his head. “I mean, you can’t really arrest the demons in someone’s head, you know?”
Barba didn’t have an answer for that. This entire conversation hadn’t gone in any direction that he had expected, and it took him a moment before he was able to speak. “And so you come here every year?” he asked quietly, verifying what he had already figured out, understanding even more about the man who stood in front of him than he had hoped to learn by coming out here.
Because Sonny would.
Because most cops Barba had met in his career would put it from their minds, would chalk it up to just a suicide, just one of innumerable tragedies they encountered in their jobs, but Sonny wouldn’t do that.
He couldn’t do that.
Carisi nodded slowly. “Yeah,” he said, his voice a little rough. “I know that in the grand scheme of everything we do on this job, it doesn’t really matter, but…” He shrugged. “I just don’t want her to be forgotten.”
“She won’t be,” Barba promised, his voice low, fervent.
Because she wouldn’t be.
Her husband would never forget her, Barba had no doubt of that. And Carisi, of course, would never forget her.
And there were two people who had never met her who would carry her memory with them always.
Because surely Olivia, who approved Carisi’s time off request for this day every year, regardless of how thin they were stretched, how understaffed they were, surely she would never forget the woman whose death had touched Carisi this way.
And now Barba, who stood in a graveyard surrounded by names of people he didn’t know and had never met, would never forget her, or this moment.
He would never forget this moment of learning, once again, just how deep and how big and how much Carisi loved.
And how he would fight, every single day in every way he could, to make sure that Carisi never lost that.
He knew that it was past the point of comfort for this woman’s family, for those she had left behind, and far past the point of comfort for her, wherever she now was, but Barba couldn’t help but wish she had known just what a profound impact she had had on the best man he had ever known.
“Thank you,” Carisi said softly, and Barba looked over at him.
Carisi shrugged. “For not letting it go, I guess,” he said, with a small half-smile. “For knowing me better than to listen to me when I yelled at you.”
Barba cocked his head, just slightly. “Not entirely sure you should be thanking me for that.”
Carisi laughed lightly. “Maybe not,” he admitted. “But still.”
“In that case, you’re welcome,” Barba said, squeezing his hand once more.
Carisi put an arm around Barba’s shoulders and pulled him close, turning to press a kiss to his temple. “C’mon,” he said. “Let’s go home.”
Barba glanced up at him. “You don’t have to leave because of me,” he said.
“I’m not,” Carisi told him simply. “I just said all I needed to.”
“She won’t be forgotten, Sonny,” Barba told him softly, because he didn’t think it would hurt for Carisi to hear it once more.
“I know,” Carisi said softly. “I know.”