Carisi watches Barba stroll out of Olivia’s office, but for once, he hopes that Barba just keeps right on walking. It’s been a long day — a long week, really (a long year if he’s being truly honest) — and the last thing he has the mental capacity for right now is to go twelve rounds with Barba over whatever inane thing the man’s picked to be up Carisi’s ass about today.
But like a heat-seeking missile, Barba makes eye contact and changes direction to head instead towards his desk. “Detective,” Barba says in greeting, and Carisi sighs.
He waits, mentally bracing for what’s coming but instead, Barba perches on the edge of his desk. “You look tired,” he comments, and ordinarily Carisi would bristle at that except that Barba actually sounds slightly concerned.
Which was a pretty pleasant change of pace.
He sighs and draws a tired across his face, leaning back in his chair as he acknowledges, “Yeah. I am. Tired, I mean.”
“Clearly, since you’ve already lost the ability to speak in complete sentences,” Barba says, but it’s gentle, not his usual pointed snark. “What’s going on?” Carisi shrugs and Barba presses, “Is it the Conway case?”
Carisi jerks a second shrug, pointedly looking away from Barba. “It’s a lot of things,” he says quietly.
Barba’s silent for a moment but Carisi can’t seem to bring himself to look over at him. “You know that what happened with Sam isn’t your fault, right?” he asks finally, and Carisi does glance over then. “I mean, I know Stone’s already embracing the self-flagellation over the shooting and I do know how you love to emulate your favorite ADAs, but—”
“Funny,” Carisi snaps, a muscle twitching in his jaw. “But in case you didn’t realize, Stone and I are both capable of feeling guilt over the same thing.”
“And in case you didn’t realize, you have nothing to feel guilty over,” Barba says calmly. “Which was more my point.”
Carisi looks at him sharply. “But Stone does?”
Barba arches an eyebrow. “I didn’t say that,” he says. “I just don’t particularly care if Stone feels guilty or not.”
Carisi huffs a laugh. “But you care if I do?”
Barba half-smiles and stands without answering the question. “How about drinks tonight?” he asks instead, rapping his knuckles lightly on Carisi’s desk. “It might help take your mind off things, and at the very least, you can talk to me about whatever is going on. I’m an excellent listener, especially when distracted by a delightful single malt.”
Almost despite himself, Carisi manages a smile. “Thanks,” he says. “That sounds like a great—”
Carisi snaps awake from where he’d fallen asleep at his desk, blinking up at Fin, who looks amused. “Good morning, Sleeping Beauty,” Fin says with a chuckle, sitting down at his desk. “Be glad I caught you sleeping and not Liv.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time the Lieu’s caught me nodding off at my desk,” Carisi mutters, running a hand across his face and glancing down at his watch.
“Looks like you were doing more than nodding off,” Fin notes, taking a sip of coffee. “You were dreaming about something that sure put a smile on your face.”
Carisi can feel his face flush and he busies himself with the pile of papers on his desk. “It was nothing,” he mumbles, deliberately avoiding Fin’s gaze. “Just work.”
“As many hours as you’ve been pulling, and now you’re dreaming about work?” Fin asks, shaking his head. “You better take a break soon or you’re gonna lose it — if you haven’t already.”
He sniggers slightly at his own joke and Carisi rolls his eyes. “Oh, sure, I’ll take a break, and what, let Amanda pick up my slack now that she’s pregnant again?” he scoffs. “C’mon. Amanda needs to take it easy, and besides, I’m fine.”
Seeing his ex-boyfriend everywhere, including in his dreams, but otherwise fine.
Because seriously, he sees Barba everywhere, or at least he keeps thinking that he does: in the courthouse, on a crowded sidewalk, at Forlini’s, all the places he might’ve expected to see Barba...before.
Before Barba left the DA’s office.
Before Carisi and Barba broke up after only a few short months of being together.
Before Carisi ruined what may very well have been his one shot at happiness.
But seeing Barba in all the places that Carisi still half-expects to, even after all this time, is one thing. He’s man enough to admit that he misses Barba, misses their easy rapport, misses the teasing and the snark, and it makes sense that he’d see it where he most longs to.
Seeing him constantly in his dreams is a whole other thing.
Then again, it’s better than the alternative.
When the dreams started, they were always the same: always him and Sam Conway on that baseball field at Sam’s highschool, Sam’s shaking hand holding the gun to his head. Everytime, Carisi would try to talk him down, just like he did that day.
“I talked to your dad and he’s worried about you, Sam, he’s worried sick. But hey, go ahead, kill yourself. Then he’s gonna know how much you really hate him.”
“I don’t — I don’t hate him! I love him!”
“You love him. Alright, then maybe you oughtta tell him that yourself, huh? Maybe he wants to tell you that, Sam.”
And every time, in the dream, Sam shook his head, and closed his eyes, and pulled the trigger instead of lowering the gun, and Carisi was left to watch a kid bleed out on a high school baseball diamond because he couldn’t save him.
Carisi would wake in a cold sweat and stare at his ceiling for hours before he finally got up and went to work and pretended like he wasn’t being haunted by what could’ve been.
He half-heartedly considered telling Fin or Amanda about it, but the last thing he wanted was to make this about him, because it wasn’t. Sure, he knows a little bit about what it’s like to stand on your high school baseball field and want to kill yourself, but that was a long time ago, and besides, he decided to become a cop and help people, not shoot up his classmates.
So he told no one, and every night dreamed the same dream.
Until one day, when the dream changed.
Carisi woke with a start, his chest heaving, and it took him a moment to realize someone was saying his name over and over again. “Sonny, you’re ok. You’re ok, Sonny, I’m here, I’ve got you.”
He rolled over to see Barba sitting up, staring at him, eyes wide. “Nightmare?” Barba asked, his voice tight, and Carisi nodded. “Same as before?”
“Same as always,” Carisi said, his voice hoarse.
Barba sighed, his expression pinched with worry, even as he rubbed Carisi’s arm soothingly. “This isn’t good,” he said softly. “You can’t keep going through this every night.”
“I know,” Carisi sighed, rolling over to lay on his back before reaching out to pull Barba to him.
The other man moved reluctantly at first. “You know that you need to talk to someone,” he said, even as he nestled against Carisi’s side.
Carisi glanced over at him. “You’ve said that before,” he said, managing a small smile, though it was short-lived.
It had been exactly that which had caused their breakup, after all.
After the Tom Cole incident, Barba had told Carisi that he needed help, but Carisi had told him he was fine. Because he was. He had been. It wasn’t until he woke up even earlier than usual one night to realize that Barba was sleeping on the couch instead of in bed next to him. When asked why, Barba had told him simply, “It hurts too much to see you like that. In that much pain. When you relive it while you sleep.”
And Carisi had promised he would do something about it, but then he...didn’t. He’d had a lot of reasons for not doing so, but they didn’t really matter. Barba had told him, his voice soft, and pained, that he was scared of losing Carisi, and in the end, he had anyway because Carisi ended things rather than try to fix what was broken.
But here, now, he settled for brushing the hair off of Barba’s forehead and pressing a kiss to his temple. “I am talking to someone,” he said lightly. “I’m talking to you.”
Barba sighed. “That’s not what I meant,” he said, but Carisi forestalled any further protest by kissing him.
“I know,” Carisi said softly. “But I’m fine.”
Barba stared at him, green eyes searching blue, before starting, “You know that I’m not—”
Then Carisi’s alarm goes off and wakes him for real.
And he’s alone.
And as Carisi gathers his things to follow Fin out to a new crime scene, he can’t help but wonder if maybe the Barba in his dreams — the one who said the same thing well over a year ago now — is onto something.
Maybe he does need to talk to someone.
“Earth to Carisi,” Amanda says and Carisi blinks up at her from where he’s been nodding off, his chin propped in his hand. Amanda’s easy grin fades slightly. “You ok?” she asks with something like concern.
“Fine,” Carisi tells her, glancing down at his watch and groaning when he sees it’s not even noon yet. “I just need some coffee.”
Amanda’s still looking at him with worry pinching her expression but Fin snorts and says, “You just need to get laid.”
Carisi rolls his eyes but Amanda laughs, her concern dissipating. “Yeah, I’m sure that’ll solve everything,” Carisi huffs, standing. “Anyone want anything while I’m out?”
“Nah,” Fin says, waving him off, and Amanda just shakes her head, already heading back to her desk, her apparent concern for Carisi forgotten.
Carisi heads to the coffeeshop in a haze, forgoing the cart outside the precinct because he figures he could use something extra strong and extra sweet, and he’s not paying any attention as he turns to head back to the precinct, large coffee in hand, when he runs smack into someone, dumping his coffee all down their shirt.
“Oh, shit,” Carisi says, eyes wide. “I am so, so sorry, here let me—”
He starts trying to blot at the guys shirt with a napkin when an all too familiar voice causes him to freeze.
And he looks up and it’s Barba, dressed simply in jeans — jeans, when the entire time they were dating Carisi could count on one hand the number of times Barba wore jeans — and a button-down shirt that would’ve looked pristine if it weren’t for the dull brown coffee stain now spread across it.
“Barba?” Carisi says, because he can’t quite believe it.
And then, before he can stop himself, he stumbles forward and pulls Barba into a hug, sagging against him as if all his strength has been sapped completely. “Sonny?” Barba says, startled, wrapping a steady arm around his waist just to hold him up. “Sonny, sweetheart, are you ok?”
It’s been so long since Barba called him sweetheart.
He’s not sure his heart can take it.
He doesn’t know if he’s laughing or crying or some combination of the two, but Barba takes him by the elbow and steers him to a table in the back of the cafe and then must’ve gone to get Carisi a new coffee because the next thing he knows, Barba is pressing a full cup into his hand. “Here,” he says, somewhat gruffly. “Are you ok?”
Carisi shakes his head, staring down at the cup of coffee. “I think I’m losing it,” he admits softly.
“Pretty sure you’ve already lost it,” Barba says, but his teasing is gentle, as is his smile, though it doesn’t quite hide the concern still clear in his expression.
Carisi huffs a laugh and drags a hand across his face. “More than normal,” he says. “I keep — I keep seeing you.” Barba’s expression doesn’t flicker but Carisi has to swallow around the lump of emotion in his throat. “In court, at the precinct, walking down the street — and I’ve been dreaming about you. Constantly.”
Something tightens in Barba’s expression. “Sonny—” he starts softly, but Carisi doesn’t let him finish.
“I know you’re not there,” he says. “I know that, but I just — I want you to be. And I know it’s my fault that you’re not—”
“It’s not,” Barba interrupts sharply, reaching out to rest a hand on top of Carisi’s. “Me leaving the DA’s office had nothing to do with you.”
“Maybe not,” Carisi says, though privately he thinks that if he and Barba had still been together, the chances of Barba making the decision he did would’ve at least been much slimmer. “But you not being in my apartment and sleeping in my bed is.”
Barba winces, but he also doesn’t deny it, and Carisi shakes his head, barrelling onward. “And I thought I’d be fine on my own, you know? I thought that I could do this but I—” His voice cracks. “But I can’t. I am so tired and all I want is the little piece of sanity I had with you, you know?”
“I know,” Barba says softly, moving his chair closer to Carisi so that he can reach out and rub his back, the gesture so comforting that Carisi almost loses it at that gentle touch alone. “I know. And that doesn’t make you crazy.” Carisi shakes his head again and Barba leans forward, forcing him to meet his eyes. “Needing help doesn’t make you crazy, Sonny.”
“I don’t need help,” Carisi tells him. “I just need you.”
Barba shakes his head, something sad in his expression. “I can’t help you, Sonny. Not in the way you need.” Carisi tries to interrupt but Barba doesn’t let him. “I will always, always be here for you, but you need help. And I can’t give it to you.”
“Why not?” Carisi whispers.
“Because,” Barba says, reaching up to cup Carisi’s cheek with his hand, smoothing his thumb across Carisi’s cheekbone, “I’m not—”
Sonny jerks awake to find Olivia standing over his desk, looking concerned. “Oh, shit, Lieu, sorry,” he stammers, quickly sitting upright and looking wildly around for whatever he’s supposed to be working on.
Olivia’s frown deepens. “Carisi, are you feeling ok?” she asks, her voice gentle, soothing.
It’s the voice she uses with victims, and Carisi flinches against the sound of it aimed at him. “I’m fine, Lieu,” he tells her, his voice rough. “I, uh, I’ve had a couple long nights, that’s all. It’s won’t happen again."
Olivia purses her lips, a look of disbelief clear in her expression, but before she can question him further, Amanda strides into the precinct, looking frazzled. “We got a case,” she tells them, grabbing her coat from where it’s slung over the back of her chair. “Precinct in midtown bumped a complaint to us about a teacher assaulting kids.”
Olivia sighs. “I’ll call Fin,” she says, before glancing back at Carisi. “Sonny—”
“I’m fine, Liv,” Carisi tells her. “Seriously.”
For one moment, it looks like Olivia’s going to argue further with him but instead she shrugs and disappears back into her office.
Carisi lets out a breath he didn’t even realize he’d been holding and grabs his suit jacket from the back of his chair, pulling it on. He glances down at his cellphone sitting on his desk and for one brief, absurd moment, he’s tempted to text Barba.
He doesn’t know what he would say, exactly. You were right, maybe, or, I’m sorry, or even just, Can we talk?
His fingers twitch towards the phone but before they can so much as touch the screen, Amanda pops her head back into the bullpen. “Carisi, you coming or what?” she calls, and Carisi shakes his head and slips his phone into his pocket.
“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I’m coming.”
After all, he’s fine.
He has to be.