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Rafael is late to lunch, but he is about to find out that he is going to be later than he was originally going to be. The phone call comes just after he leaves court that day, mid-afternoon. It isn’t a number he recognises, and for a few fleeting moments – as he often does – he considers letting it go to voicemail so he could go to lunch. Of course, he doesn’t.

“Hi, is this Rafael Barba?” a serious-sounding woman says before he even had a chance to say anything.

“Yes,” he answers.

“This is Helena Hopkins, child protective services,” she says. “Are you free to come in this afternoon?”

He stops walking down the courthouse steps. “Why? Is it about a case?”

“No,” Hopkins replies shortly. “I’m ringing to inform you of the death of Laura Farron.” Rafael’s silence as he racks his brain for who exactly that is leads her to elaborate, “The fiancée of your cousin, Lucas Garcia.”

Rafael frowns. He hasn’t seen his cousin properly in nearly 20 years, only in passing at his aunt’s funeral 8 years ago. “Okay, consider me informed. Why are you calling?”

She sighs over the phone. “Do you know where he is?”

“Last I heard he was in Argentina. I don’t know.”

She pauses, and Rafael assumes she was writing that down, and offers a long-suffering sigh. “Can you get to us today so we can talk to you?”

Rafael is the first – and usually not the last – to admit that he is an asshole, but he firmly believes that when it comes down to it, his heart is in the right place. It’s why he had gone into law in the first place (to help), and it’s why he takes the harder cases other ADAs view as unwinnable.

It is also why that afternoon he ends up with a lunch consisting of just coffee rather than the Thai he’d originally planned at the start of the day, and why he ends up in Hopkins’ office at child services.

Hopkins is a short woman, dark hair pulled back into a high ponytail and horn-rimmed glasses she pushes up her nose every time she looks back up from reading, with dark circles under her eyes which she had clearly tried to cover up.

As Rafael sits down on the opposite side of the desk to Hopkins, he is surprised to find his chair a couple of inches lower than hers, reminding him of the times he had been called into the principal’s office at school.

“Are you sure you don’t know where Lucas is?” she leads.

He nods. “I haven’t seen him in a long time. I didn’t even know he was getting married.”

Hopkins leans back in her chair. “He wasn’t. Not at Farron’s time of death, anyway. He and Farron were engaged for five years and he has been absent for the last four.”

“Why do you need to find him, then?”

“Farron has a sixth-month old daughter. Lucas is the legal guardian,” she replies. “It’s not his daughter, but according to her will, he is the one supposed to take her if anything happened.” His face must betray his confusion, and she adds, “Don’t ask me as to why. She died of a drug overdose, I doubt she was thinking rationally.”

“Look,” he says, “even if you do find him, Lucas was never the family type. I sincerely doubt he’ll take her unless there’s money involved.” Hopkins’ silence tells him everything he needs to know. “There’s money involved.”

She offers a nod. “I have the paperwork if you’d like to go through it. What we really need is to find a way to contact Lucas.”

“I’ve already told you I don’t know where he is,” he replies. “Where’s the baby now?”

“Child services, Manhattan,” she replies.

“And she’s okay there?”

“You’re the only family member Lucas has apart from your mother, and she hung up on us when I mentioned his name, and hasn’t responded since,” she says, and Rafael could almost see where the conversation was going.

Hopkins huffs. “We feel – we being child services – that as Rose, the daughter, is approaching an age where she is forming her primary attachments, it would be best for her to settle in with a more-permanent guardian, someone who can be there when she goes to Lucas,” she says. “Or, until we can find him, you.”

It’s to his credit he doesn’t laugh. “What?”

“Congratulations. You’re a father.”

*

Rafael somehow gets to his apartment early evening without panicking, but it doesn’t last particularly long once he’s in the door, and he soon finds himself pouring a glass of bourbon. He drinks it quickly and pours another.

He mulls the drink over. It’s fine, he won’t have to look after the baby for long anyway, they would find Lucas. Lucas had never been very good at avoiding attention anyway. The kid would be out of his hands as soon as she entered them, it’s temporary, Rafael thinks. And then she can settle into a permanent home, unless of course they don’t find Lucas or Lucas realises he can’t look after a baby or doesn’t need the money or–

Oh god, how the hell could he look after a child? He’s the epitome of a workaholic, and a borderline alcoholic to boot. He can’t emulate his behaviour on his own father, that’s a one-way track to a prison sentence. Does he even know any fathers? Rafael suddenly forgets everyone he knows.

He considers – very briefly – calling his mother.

He drains his glass and calls Liv instead.

She answers after one ring. “Rafael? Is everything okay?” She sounds worried.

“How do you baby-proof an apartment?”

“Rafael, what’s going on?” Liv sounds more confused than worried now. “Is there something you haven’t told me?”

“What?” he asks, before realising what she means, “Oh, god no. I just- can you help me out?”

“I’d love to, but I’m busy,” she replies. “Can you tell me what’s going on?”

“Do you know anyone else I could ask?” He ignores her question.

She sighs. “I’d suggest Amanda, but she’s gone out tonight. I doubt it’s Fin’s thing, either,” she responds. “Have you asked Carisi?”

“Carisi?”

“He loves all that baby stuff, I’m sure he’ll know what to do as good as I do,” she reasons, “Bella’s got a kid now, and he’s great with Jesse. And I’m sure he’d welcome a chance to help.”

Rafael runs a hand over his face. He agrees – Carisi is like an over-eager puppy, and some kind of weird uncle to both Noah and Jesse. Somewhere along the line he’s forgotten to find his enthusiasm annoying, and Rafael being who he is, he has been avoiding exploring just why that could be or giving any other opportunity for Carisi to endear himself to him.

Until now apparently, he thinks as he reluctantly says goodbye to Liv and hangs up, offering an agreement to let her know what was going on before scrolling through his contacts to Carisi’s name.

Carisi answers after several rings, so many that Rafael is expecting it to go to voicemail. “Counselor?” he answers, sounding rushed, and Rafael can hear the babble of conversation in the background. Carisi was out then, busy.

“Detective,” he greets, feeling uncharacteristically lost for words as he hears Carisi hushing the people he’s with. “Do you know anything about baby-proofing apartments?”

“Some. I helped Bella and Tommy out with theirs and that worked out pretty well,” Carisi replies, sounding on the verge of getting carried away with himself. “Wait, why?”

He pauses. “Do you think you could help me out?”

“With baby-proofing an apartment?” he sounds dubious.

“Yes,” Rafael answers shortly.

“Whose apartment?”

“Mine.”

“Whose baby?”

He rolls his eyes.

“Yours?”

He almost laughs at the scandal in Carisi’s voice. “No.”

The background noise dies down, like Carisi has moved somewhere quieter. “Whose? A girlfriend’s?”

“Cousin’s,” he clarifies, before frowning. “Kind of.”

“Why is it at your apartment?”

He paces a little. “Said cousin is not around. Child protective services contacted me earlier today,” Rafael replies. “It’s temporary. Until they can find him.”

“What?” Carisi echoes Rafael’s original sentiment. “Never mind. Yeah, sure. I can help out.”

Rafael feels his heart leap and he scowls at himself.

“When are you getting the baby?”

“Tomorrow evening,” he replies.

“Oh, that’s soon,” Carisi comments. “I’ll be over in an hour.”

He’s surprised. “Carisi, you don’t have to come over now-”

“When else am I going to do it? You’re in court tomorrow morning,” Rafael finds himself curious at why exactly Carisi knows that seeing as it isn’t an SVU case, but doesn’t ask. “Am I right, Counselor?” Rafael can hear the smirk in his voice.

“Like a stopped clock,” he says. “See you shortly,” he adds and hangs up, running his hand through his hair.

*

Carisi shows up about an hour later, raincoat slightly damp, hair dishevelled, but eyes bright as ever, a plastic bag in hand. As Rafael lets him in, he offers a warm smile, and he places the bag on the table.

He starts unloading it, naming everything as he takes them out. “Cupboard and draw locks, finger safe, socket covers, corner cushions, closestool locks, latches,” Carisi looks up, meeting Rafael’s eyes and Rafael is careful to quickly wipe the look of awe off his face, and Carisi grins like he knows a secret. “It’s what I used for Bella. I didn’t think it’d be much different here.”

Rafael lets Carisi just get on with it, and he follows him around his apartment, feeling a little useless.

“What’s the baby’s name?” Carisi asks as he affixes bumpers onto the corners of Rafael’s coffee table.

“Rose,” he replies.

“Nice name,” he says, before looking up at Rafael again. “Why is this happening, again?”

“My cousin’s girlfriend died, she left him the child, he’s missing in South America or something, and child services want the kid to settle in somewhere,” he abridges.

Carisi gives him a look. “Do you know how long you’ll have her?”

He shakes his head. “Not a clue.”

Rafael feels like a loose-end, following Carisi around his own apartment as he effectively does the whole job on his own, Rafael only there to occasionally hold things and stand by haplessly.

“You got things set up for her yet?”

“No,” he answers. “They’re bringing her things tomorrow, too.”

He isn’t usually useless, and he generally doesn’t appreciate being considered so, but given the context, Carisi’s clear assessment of his hopelessness is both accurate and a relief.

“You sure?”

He pauses, which betrays the answer.

“Look, if you like, I can come round tomorrow. Help out, get anything you’re short on.”

Rafael crosses his arms and huffs. “Carisi, you really don’t-”

“I want to help, Barba,” Carisi replies truthfully. “And I don’t want to be arrested for reckless endangerment by leaving you to fend for yourself.”

He does laugh at that, and Carisi brightens.

It’s nice, really. They talk a little, easy conversation Rafael can’t remember having with Carisi in a long time. Carisi talks about his family, especially about Bella and his niece, and Rafael wipes the earnest smile off his face as soon as he notices it. He doesn’t pry, which Rafael appreciates, any questions he isn’t immediately willing to answer brushed off as quickly as they are asked.

“Do you have anyone who could help you out?” he asks eventually, standing up from fixing the final corner cushion to the coffee table, Rafael perched on the arm of his couch.

He shrugs. “I could call my mother. Reluctantly.” Carisi chuckles, saying nothing in response, like he expects Rafael to elaborate. “She hasn’t brought up grandchildren in a while, suppose she’ll give that another shot.”

“Do you want kids?” Carisi asks casually, the back-tracks, as though he believes he’s overstepped. “Sorry, uh, I-”

As much as Rafael likes to watch Carisi stumble over himself, he quickly puts him out of his misery, holding up a hand. “It’s fine, Carisi,” he says. “I’ve always been rather neutral on the subject.”

Rafael doesn’t need to ask about Carisi. Carisi is staggeringly good with children, too caring for his own good, and broody. It’s too obvious an answer to warrant a question. He’s probably already named them.

“Hey, I get you,” Carisi says, “My mom’s been bothering me since I turned 30 to get my act together and settle down.”

Carisi’s sat on the coffee table now, and Rafael is more agitated by the fact he’s not annoyed at it than Carisi actually doing it.

“Why haven’t you?”

“What, settle down?” he asks, and Rafael nods. “No time. Haven’t found the right person. All that crap.”

Person, not girl, Rafael’s mind supplies uselessly.

Carisi checks his watch and stands, and Rafael does the same.

“Drink?” Rafael blurts out.

“What?”

He curses himself. “As a thank you. For not being completely without use. Stay for a bit.”

Carisi offers a half-smile before regret briefly flashes across his face. “I’d like to. But I’ve already had a couple, and it’s getting late. I need to be at work early tomorrow.”

Rafael feels an unfamiliar warmth inside him at the idea Carisi abandoned an evening out to help him out. They head to the door, and Carisi slips his coat on. “How much do I owe you?”

“For what?” he frowns.

“The baby stuff,” he says, gesturing vaguely.

Carisi waves a hand dismissively. “It’s no problem.”

“Carisi, I’m not-”

“Counselor,” he interrupts. “It’s fine. I’m glad you asked me.”

The look between them lingers a little too long, and Rafael’s reminded of the time Carisi thanked him after the bar exam, but he quickly buries any feelings he was having with the rest of his emotions.

Carisi opens the door and offers a smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He shuts the door behind him.

“Yeah,” Rafael replies to his empty apartment.

Chapter Text

When Rafael returns to his apartment late afternoon, he considers himself very lucky that the case he was working on was a piece of piss – the defendant was uncompliant, his lawyer astoundingly bad, and the defence shaky – because there was no way he was ever going to be focused that day.

He isn’t even focused when he gets back, a point proved by the fact that he spends a good thirty seconds struggling to open his fridge. He’s stressed and anxious, and he can’t turn to his usual solution (hard liquor) out of fear of making a bad impression.

By the time someone knocks at the door, he’s sat at his table and nearly jumps out of his skin. He goes to open the door, and the relief he feels when it’s Carisi rather than anyone else takes him by surprise.

Carisi looks tired, but again, happy. He’s wearing one of his few flattering suits – navy, burnt orange tie – with a camel coat, a little dishevelled from a long day, but still one of his better looks.

He doesn’t notice he’s been staring until Carisi comments.

“You going to let me in?”

“Oh, yeah,” he stands aside and ushers him in.

Carisi raises a stuffed bear and gives it a shake. “I brought this.”

Rafael nods, and a beat too late, offers, “Would you like a drink? Coffee?”

He hooks his coat over a chair and places the bear on the table, leaning up against a counter in Rafael’s kitchen, hands in his pockets. “No, I just had one. Thanks.”

He nods again and a slightly awkward silence descends.

“Do you know when…?” Carisi gestures vaguely. “You know.”

“No,” he replies, “I just know it’s this evening.”

“Nervous?” Carisi asks, his mouth turned up.

Rafael glares, but it has none of his usual scorn. “If I were, I believe I’d have good reason.”

“I suppose,” he says. “It makes a change to see you out of your comfort zone. Humanises you.”

He allows himself a smile at that. “Hard to do, I know.”

“I guess you’re lucky I’m here,” Carisi says. “Makes a change that I’m better at something than you.”

“Don’t get used to it,” he comments. “I’m sure there’s not going to be another opportunity.”

Carisi looks at him good-naturedly, and Rafael realises he’s missed this. Their almost-but-not-really vitriolic banter, when Carisi had just about earned his grudging respect and Carisi had taken him off the pedestal he’d been on for several months. Somewhere along the line, it’d gone wrong, and Carisi stopped taking it, metamorphosing into someone who wasn’t him, looking roughly the same but with a harsher tone and an angrier disposition. And in turn, he had turned back to his bitterness and ire.

It was unpleasant, and he didn’t know where it came from, but he was glad it was slipping away.

His thoughts were promptly interrupted by a knock at the door, and as he went to answer it, Carisi shot to his side, and his presence alleviated some of his unease as he answered.

Sure enough, there stands a jittery, exhausted, and clearly over-worked young man, a couple of bags strewn over one shoulder, a seat at his feet and a crying baby pressed to his chest. He bounces her to no avail.

“Rafael Barba?” he asks desperately.

Rafael nods, taken aback.

The man looks at Carisi pointedly.

“This is my-”

“Dominick Carisi. Call me Sonny,” Carisi says on cue.

Carisi offers to take the baby, and the man glances at Rafael, like he’s asking permission. Rafael nods. The man hands the infant over, and Carisi takes her and he leans her head on his shoulder. He bounces her, swaying softly and hushing. It’s the most natural thing Rafael’s ever seen the other man do.

“I have the crib in my car, and the wheels to the stroller,” the man says. “But that’s it. There’s not much, but you can pick some other things up.” He passes over the bags, before leaving hurriedly, and Rafael picks up the seat and follows Carisi back inside.

The man returns shortly after with the crib, and he takes a quick look around Rafael’s apartment.

“I think everything’s in order,” he says. “We’ll be in touch about Lucas and our progress. I’m sure you and your-” he glances at Carisi, “your- your Sonny,” he settles on and Rafael watches Carisi turn away to hide a grin, “will be fine.”

He leaves swiftly then, and that’s that.

God, there’s a baby in his apartment. And it’s staying there indefinitely.

The start of his crisis is interrupted by Carisi.

“Hey, can you take her? I want to take a look at the crib.”

Rafael doesn’t ask any questions, and Carisi hands him the baby. Rose, he corrects himself. Can’t refer to your temporary ward as the baby, or it. He holds her at an arm’s length, his hands hooked under her arms. She’s calmed down, and stares at him blankly with wide blue eyes.

“Hey,” he greets.

He watches Carisi stare at him in wonder at his incompetence. “You can’t hold her like that.” Carisi comes awfully close to him, taking her away for a moment. “She’s big enough to hold her own weight up, but she’s tired, so you’ll want to lean her on your shoulder.” He gently turns her around and leans her against Rafael’s shoulder. “Put your arm here,” he pulls Rafael’s arm under Rose so she’s effectively sat on his arm, and pulls the other to brace her back.

Rafael’s too distracted at the proximity and just how blue Carisi’s eyes were to really pay attention.

God, what was he, a 12-year-old girl with her middle school crush?

“Much better,” Carisi says with a smile.

Rafael’s still stiff, and he feels a little dazed when Carisi steps away and tends to the crib. Rafael supposes he’s not sure whether to trust its security. Eventually, he stands up straight again, seemingly satisfied.

“Where do you want this?” he asks. “I can move it while I’m here.”

“Guest bedroom,” Rafael replies. “It’s next to mine.” It takes him a couple of beats to realise that there’s no way Carisi would know where his bedroom was, or indeed the guest room, so he leads him towards it.

Carisi lifts the crib easily, and while Rafael doesn’t believe it would be overly heavily, he tries not to stare at his biceps, visible through his shirt. He switches the light on when they enter the room, and Rose hums a noise of protest into his shoulder. Carisi places the crib against the wall and the foot of the bed.

“Is there a blanket or something?” he asks.

“You can’t give a baby a blanket. I’ll go see if there’s something warmer in one of the bags.”

He leaves, and Rafael can hear him rummaging through a bag. There’s a pause, and soon he can hear him returning. In his hand is a one-piece sleeper. He places it on the bed, then wordlessly relieves Rafael of Rose. She makes another noise, this time like she’s about to cry again.

“I know, I know,” Carisi murmurs as he dresses her.

 Carisi puts her to bed soon after, Rafael watching as he lays her down and listening as he walks him through what he’s doing, no matter how basic. When they leave the room and turn the light off, Carisi looks a little unsure.

“Have you done any of this before?”

“Not in the slightest.”

Rafael feels like he’s hovering. The tables have turned, he thinks, the dynamic reminiscent of how Carisi used to hang around him at the courthouse.

Carisi checks his watch, and seems to think for a moment. “I can stay,” he offers, and knowing what Rafael is obviously going to say to that, he continues. “Only say no if you really don’t want me here. Not out of some misjudged pride.”

Part of him wants to say no, and Carisi’s right, it is mostly out of pride.

“I can go get some things, be back in forty minutes,” he says. It’s a question masquerading as a statement.

“Carisi, you don’t have to-”

“You’re right, I don’t have to,” Carisi replies. “I’m offering.”

Carisi’s too nice for his own good, Rafael has always thought.

“Okay.”

*

Carisi returns around an hour later, a duffel bag in one hand and a plastic bag in the other. His hair and his shoulders are slightly damp, the weather on the turn for the night. He brings with him a rush of cool air as he enters.

“What time do you call this?” Rafael deadpans as he lets him in.

“Sorry, I got us dinner,” Carisi says, placing the bag onto the table. “You like Thai, right?”

He nods. “Yeah. Which Thai?”

“That new place near the courthouse,” he replies, taking the food out of the bag. “They do take-out, and it was on the way.” He looks up to see a smile ghost Rafael’s lips. “What?”

“Nothing. I was just going to go yesterday for lunch before I got side-tracked.”

Fate, the unhelpful voice that has been chipping in over the past two days contributes.

“Fate,” Carisi says, and while he’s turned away, he can practically hear the grin in his voice.

Rafael snorts. “Hardly.”

They settle down into the evening then, splitting a bottle of wine between them and conversing with ease. It is, again, what Rafael has come to say of his recent time spent with Carisi more than anything: nice.

The conversation is quiet and easy, and he’s laughing, although he’s not sure at what, and Carisi’s face is bright and warm and-

Rafael really does not want to go down this rabbit hole.

“I never thought I’d see the day,” Carisi says, adding onto the conversation Rafael can hardly remember, “you asking me for help.”

He takes a sip of his wine. “I don’t recall asking you for help.”

“I distinctly remember yesterday’s phone call, Barba,” he counters.

“That was yesterday, Carisi. I didn’t ask tonight.”

“Why am I still here, then?” Carisi asks.

Rafael shrugs. “I don’t know, why are you?”

Carisi smiles again, and he realises he can’t remember Carisi smiling so much at him for years, especially when he was insulting him.

“I offered.”

“Yes, you offered,” he replies. “I didn’t ask.”

“It was implied.”

“I don’t think a jury would go for it,” Rafael comments. “You should know that Carisi, you have been to law school.” He’s curious then – Carisi and he haven’t spoken much about his ambitions for so long, he had no idea his plans. “Do you still want to be a lawyer?”

Carisi’s expression shifts to one that suggests he’s surprised Rafael’s interested, and it’s a pleased one at that. “Sometimes,” he says. “Maybe someday.”

“But not today?”

“I like being a cop,” he replies. “I mean, being a lawyer is a whole lot safer than that, so maybe when I settle down or something.” Carisi looks thoughtful for a moment. “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it in a while. I’m not leaving SVU just yet, so you’ll have to put up with me for a while longer.”

Rafael smiles. “Did you always want to be a cop?”

“I used to want to be a priest.”

“Of course you did,” he laughs.

“You always want to be a lawyer?” he replies.

“No.”

Carisi looks at him like he expects him to continue, but he doesn’t. It isn’t like he’s going to share that he wanted to be an actor (and before that, a frog, although he was 5 at the time).

“What did you want to be?”

When Rose starts crying, it’s a relief. Rafael doesn’t think he’s going to think that much more for the foreseeable future. The fact Carisi stands immediately and he’s the one to follow his lead shows how much more suitable he is for this than Rafael is.

They head to the guest room, and Carisi immediately lifts Rose out of the cot, hushing her and talking to her quietly under his breath.

“I think she’s hungry,” he tells him, and Rafael can’t argue because he has no clue. He feels a little stupid when he immediately follows Carisi out of the room. “Can you see if there’s any formula and a bottle in one of those bags?”

For once, Rafael does what he’s told without comment, already too lost on what he was supposed to do to snark his way through the situation. There is formula and a bottle, and he goes to wash the bottle as Carisi starts to boil some water. He bounces Rose on his shoulder and steps away from the water.

As he stands there with the bottle and watches Carisi completely preoccupied with the baby in his arms, waiting for the water to boil, he feels the warm feeling within him shift into something colder.

There’s something he’s feeling for his apartment which is suspiciously more homely, and it does nothing but serve to remind Rafael of how lonely he is.

Chapter Text

In hindsight, Sonny realises he should have known that when he both blew off Amanda the night he was at Barba’s and the night after to catch up on sleep, there were going to be questions.

Amanda had been side-eyeing him all morning and when they finally leave to grab lunch, she sidles up beside him.

“Where were you the other night?” she asks. “Hot date?”

He almost laughs. “Baby-sitting.” It isn’t completely untrue.

“Bella?”

Sonny considers lying to avoid questions, but his mouth is already saying words by the time he thinks of that. “No, just-” he pauses, unsure of how he would define Barba, “a friend.”

“A friend?” she says. “Do you have many of those?”

He shoves her shoulder jovially. “Some.”

They enter a coffee shop, picking out a couple of sandwiches and ordering coffees, before heading to sit down.

Amanda looks exasperated. “Come on, Carisi. You know I’m fishing for gossip.”

“My lips are sealed,” he says.

His phone, sat on the table between them, conveniently chooses that moment to buzz with a text from Barba. They both look down, and Sonny quickly covers his phone with his hand.

“Barba?” Amanda asks. “Something about the case?”

“No.”

For the second time, he wishes he had lied to avoid any more questions, as the way Amanda’s face brightens as she leans in instantly lets him know any discreteness he’d aimed to maintain was immediately lost.

Still, perhaps Amanda wouldn’t connect the dots.

“You were at Barba’s the other night?” She looks like she’s hit the jackpot.

Or not.

He shoves his phone into his pocket.

“Baby-sitting?” she asks. “Is that some new slang I haven’t heard yet?”

He supposes he should be grateful that, while she has made the incorrect leap that he and Barba had done a little more than hang around in each other’s company those nights before, Amanda was reacting to her perceived revelation of his sexuality positively.

“No, no, I-” he doesn’t want to out Barba’s newfound parenthood, but he would also rather Amanda didn’t think they were sleeping together, especially because it wasn’t true. “I was genuinely baby-sitting.”

Amanda gives him a look of confusion, but still appears interested. “Barba’s got a baby?”

Sonny doesn’t reply fast enough for the questions to stop.

“What? Why?” she frowns. “Is he seeing someone? Is it his? You know, I didn’t even think Barba was-”

“It’s his cousin’s,” he interrupts before she can go any further. “Child services gave her to him to look after until they can find the guy, who I think is in Brazil or something.” Amanda watches him blankly. “I didn’t really get it either.”

“Why were you there?”

“He asked for my help.”

She raises an eyebrow. “Barba asked you for help?”

He stares. “Twice.”

“Twice? Is this the Twilight Zone?” Amanda says.

He huffs a laugh. “I think Barba would say he only asked once. The second time I offered and he didn’t say no.”

“You offered?” she questions. “And gave up your whole night just like that?”

Truthfully, he hadn’t even thought twice. He’d wanted to go through some case files that night – nothing of particular necessity, but of probable benefit – and he had leapt at the opportunity to spend more time with Barba. While he did legitimately want to help, the offer was to some extent self-indulgent.

Sonny accepted his attraction to (what, if he was younger, he would have called crushing on) Barba semi-recently, following a sort of oh shit moment as he worked some things out because of it, going through the full five stages of grief for his heterosexuality.

While Sonny runs over this in his head, Amanda seems to have made several connections of her own, leaping several steps of the conversation and reading his mind.

“Oh my god,” she says.

“What?”

“Oh my god,” she repeats, and a sly smile spreads across her face. “You have a thing for him. God, that’s so obvious, I can’t believe I didn’t realise.”

Sonny feels his face heat up, and he takes a long sip of his coffee in some attempt to cover his reddening face.

“So are you doing this out of the good of your heart? Or as an in?”

“My intentions are nothing but wholesome,” he retorts drily, although he doesn’t really feel the confidence he tries to put behind it.

Amanda smirks like she knows something he doesn’t. He thinks she probably does.

“What did he text you?”

The text message completely slipped Sonny’s mind, and he fumbles in his pocket to take it back out.

I’m cooking tonight

It’s as much of an invitation he’s going to get, and Sonny realises it’s another coded message for help. He finds himself holding back a smile, both at the fact Rafael had obviously found himself helpless the night before, and that he was asking him again.

“You’re hopeless,” Amanda tells him. She stands and gestures for him to follow. “Come on, we should go.”

He follows her out of the shop staring at his phone.

*

Sonny heads straight to Barba’s after work, and when Barba answers the door he has his sleeves rolled up and he’s wearing a fucking apron. His hair is slightly askew, and he seems slightly flustered, but he looks damn good and the surprisingly warm gaze he is granted sets his heart fluttering in his chest.

“Are you coming in?” Barba asks.

He nods and pushes into the apartment, and he is greeted by the smell of risotto, warm and full, and he walks over to the stove where the pan is simmering. At the table, Rose sits in a high chair, looking decidedly unamused. Sonny thinks Barba probably ordered the high-chair online, rather be seen buying it in any store.

“What’s cooking?” Sonny asks.

“Chorizo and kale risotto,” Barba tells him.

Sonny doesn’t want to get his hopes up that Barba was cooking Italian specifically because of him, but he can’t shake the thought once it crosses his mind.

Over the last couple of years, he’s got increasingly better at working out how Barba really feels. He used to think the man had an impenetrable mask, instilled by both his career and his upbringing. Sonny knew now this was incorrect. The mask Barba wears is limited, false. He can’t always tell, but he finds him a lot easier to read now. Sonny could tell when Barba was stressed, angry, tired, sad, pleased, just by the small slips of his mask – behind his eyes, around his lips, small quirks and nods he’d never noticed before.

It was how he knew Barba was stressed during a particularly gruelling case.

It was how he knew he was scared when he was receiving death threats, no matter how nonchalant he had tried to appear.

It was how he knew that Barba had all but flinched when Sonny had blown up at him over what happened with Stein.

So it could be forgiven than Sonny keeps a small glimmer of hope that Barba’s choices for dinner are specifically tailored to him.

He realises he’s been staring into the pan when Barba practically shoves him out of the way.

“Something wrong with it, Carisi?” he asks as he takes to stirring it some more.

“Oh, no- I was just,” he pauses, “thinking.”

“Well, don’t strain yourself.”

Barba takes a sip of the glass of wine he’s left on the counter, and Sonny notices an empty one sat next to it, the bottle of wine itself a few inches away. He stares pointedly at it.

Barba practically glares at him. “Use your initiative, Carisi, I didn’t get the other glass out for Rosie.”

“Rosie?” Sonny questions teasingly as he moves past Barba to pour himself some wine.

The other man winces minutely, as he usually does when he’s been caught in the act of doing anything a normal human would do.

Sonny feels somewhat pleased that Barba’s given the child the closest thing to a nickname he can manage. He would be lying if he said he hadn’t been worried that Barba’s less-than-sunny and unemotional demeanour would lead to a detached sort of guardianship, something a six-month-old doesn’t really need.

He pours some wine and clinks his glass with Barba’s – sat once again on the worktop – as he passes behind him to go to the table, sitting by already set cutlery next to Rose.

“Hey,” he greets, “how you doing? He been treating you okay?” He’s raised the pitch of his voice a little and is talking softer than usual, but he remembers his mother telling him with one of his numerous cousins not to baby-talk.

Rose babbles in response.

“Really?” Sonny replies. “Wow.”

He can practically hear Barba roll his eyes behind him.

Sonny picks up the bear sat in the chair with her, which he proudly acknowledges as his own gift. She babbles more, reaching out when he pulls it away.

“You like this?”

She offers him more nonsenses and when he doesn’t give it back, she stares at him with what could only be described as exasperation.

“You’ve picked that look up quickly,” Sonny comments and hands the bear back.

“I’m glad you’ve finally found someone more your speed to have a conversation with,” Barba comments as he places one dish in front of him and one on the opposite side of the table before sitting down.

Barba is, as Sonny probably could have predicted, a great cook. They have that in common at least, he thinks.  The rice is cooked perfectly, and the slight bite of the chorizo complements the creaminess of what Sonny assumes is an obscene amount of cheese. It rivals some of his own family’s best, but he doesn’t plan to tell Barba that. He’s cocky enough already.

“You’ve succeeded in getting me over here,” he says. “Do you want to tell me why now? It’s not a thank you. You don’t do those.”

“Yesterday was,” Barba swills his wine in his glass as he looks for the right word, “a mess.”

Yesterday. Sonny had left in the morning, having slept in his clothes on top of the sheets in Barba’s guest bedroom, after Barba assured him he’d be fine, just needed someone to show him the ropes. He hadn’t seen or heard from him the rest of the day.

“Did you find a sitter okay?” Sonny asks.

“No,” Barba replies. “I tried asking Liv but she said she didn’t want me to steal her few good ones.”

“What did you do?”

“I wasn’t in court and I didn’t have much to do in the office that day,” he justifies before even answering. “I took her with me.”

It takes all Sonny’s willpower not to laugh when the image of an emphatically grumpy Barba wearing a baby carrier. Sonny imagines he isn’t doing a particularly good job at hiding his amusement.

“Don’t,” Barba warns. “I was there for a couple of hours, then I came back to my apartment and did the rest of my work here.”

“I mean, at least she’s pretty well-behaved,” Sonny makes the mistake of commenting. He’s right, and he knows it, having spent more than enough time around babies to know that Rose is pretty far from being a problem child.

Barba however, does not know this, and the way he stares is withering. Again, Sonny finds it funny. “Well-behaved?” he asks. “I haven’t had more than 8 hours sleep in total in the past two days.”

“That’s normal, Counselor.”

“Normal? Christ.” He drains his glass.

Sonny leans back in his chair. “Are you going to tell me why I’m here?”

“Look, the other night, you were…invaluable.” Barba says slowly. “You’re allowed to say no,” he starts, before he takes a deep breath, like the very idea of admitting defeat and asking for help is difficult.

He doesn’t say anything, and while Sonny is certainly enjoying watching him work his way around asking, he decides to put Barba out of his misery.

“Yes,” he answers the unasked question.

“I haven’t even asked the question yet, Carisi,” he says, but he looks relieved. “Thank you.”

The thanks take Sonny by surprise, especially because Barba sounds so relieved and grateful, and he doesn’t regret the unspoken offer to give up most of his free time at all.

Chapter Text

It takes a few days, but soon they’ve got a strange arrangement going on. They criticise and antagonise each other at work, Barba more than Sonny, as they always have, and anyone watching them would never have believed Barba even liked Sonny. Sometimes Sonny too had his doubts. And yet, every evening, they go back to the same apartment, and Sonny relieves the sitter while Barba reluctantly cooks for him. Sonny’s grateful to be cooked for and not be the one doing the cooking, as is usually the case when he’s helped both his sister and Amanda.

He usually goes to sleep on the couch, although Barba has suggested he sleeps in the guestroom, seeing as that is where he usually ends up sleeping once Rose wakes him and he’s gone to tend to her.

It’s the most domestic thing Sonny’s had in years.

It’s the most domestic thing Sonny’s had in years, and it’s fucking weird. The Barba at work and the Barba at the apartment are very different. At work, they clash, at the apartment, they complement each other. At work, Barba snaps and sneers, at the apartment, he speaks softly and kindly, any barbs purely in jest.

He’s surprised at how easily both of them have fallen into some form of routine. He’s also surprised at how in the space of a couple of weeks he’s effectively moved into Barba’s apartment.

It’s like they’re in a relationship, but with few of the benefits.

The problem, Sonny thinks, with spending most of his time with the man he had feelings for, a man who, prior to him actually needing something from Sonny, barely looked his way, is that it is spectacularly lonely, despite the fact he never seems to be alone anymore.

At work, he is surrounded by the team. Outside of work, he is usually with Barba. And in the dead of night, there’d still be Barba’s presence in the other room, and when Rose cried, there even then.

That’s one of the things that strikes him as unexpected – that despite the fact Barba could very easily let Sonny deal with whatever Rose was complaining about in the dead of night, he got up every time. Most of the time, he just stood in the doorway, sleep-addled and casually-dressed, backlit like some holy figure by the streetlights outside, as Sonny cradled and hushed Rose, as if he felt guilty about the whole thing, as if sleep deprivation made Barba less able to cover up any feelings, as if he thought Sonny would need some help.

Then again, Sonny supposes he shouldn’t be surprised, seeing as he apparently doesn’t know Barba at all well outside of his outward work persona.

Sonny had reached the conclusion that Barba was actually hopeless in regards to children pretty quickly. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been willing to learn, however unenthusiastic he was about it, it just genuinely didn’t seem to fit with him.

Sonny imagines that Barba is one of those people who excelled at everything. Where everything was so effortless, that although a challenge was motivating, when it didn’t come naturally, they were inclined to give up. Sonny’s never really seen him out of his depth. Even when he was receiving death threats, he took it all in his stride.

But this. This is something else. Barba approached the situation with apprehension and enough of it to actually ask for help. Sonny is quite proud that he’s the one Barba had chosen for that.

And while even after the worst case they’ve had in months, when he’s up at 4AM, bouncing a wailing child in his arms tiredly, he’s glad.

It takes Barba a grand total of two minutes to be stood at the doorway after Sonny is woken. He’s wearing a battered t-shirt, and sweatpants he probably put on when he’d got up. Sonny cares less about his decency and stands openly in his boxers and a t-shirt. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Barba in casual clothes before this whole thing started.

“You can go back to bed,” Sonny tells him, voice rough from sleep.

Barba shakes his head. “It’s fine.”

“The deposition’s tomorrow,” Sonny states, although it’s open-ended.

Rose shows no sign of shutting up.

“I think she’s hungry.”

Barba rubs his eyes. “I’ll make something up.”

He leaves immediately before Sonny can protest, and Sonny follows. He passes Rose to Barba to take over making the formula after Barba starts boiling the water. At least he’d improved at holding her in a manner that could be conveyed as anywhere near normal.

It’s moments like this, as they both stand half-dressed in the kitchen, working around each other in a way that reminded him of Bella and Tommy as new parents, that he wonders what the fuck he is doing.

When he’s made up the formula, Barba has already sat at the table. Sonny places the bottle on the table in front of him, and makes a move to take Rose out of his arms. Barba reaches out to grab the bottle, blocking him.

“I can-” he starts.

“It’s fine, Sonny.”

Sonny’s sure that’s the first time Barba’s called him by that name seriously. Sonny’s sure Barba realises it too, as he watches a whole selection of emotions – surprise, regret, discomfort – flash over his complexion in quick succession. Sonny lets a shit-eating grin spread across his face (or as much of one as he can manage, being how tired he is).

He considers briefly responding by calling Barba Rafael, but he doesn’t, because Barba looks like he’s threatening him against it, and because it’ll only come across as sarcastic, which is the only time he’s ever used Barba’s first name anyway.

Sonny just lets his grin grow wider at the sight of Barba’s scorn.

Barba seems to give up the death-glare once Rose begins drinking, and Sonny finds himself mesmerised by the gentleness of Barba’s movements, and the way he holds the child in his arms, and how his features are highlighted in the dully-lit kitchen.

Barba meets his gaze.

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer,” he says, a little harshly, before he softens, or as much as he ever did. “You are allowed to go back to bed, you know.” Barba looks thoughtful for a beat. “You’re also allowed to leave, if you didn’t realise that either. You’ve practically moved in.”

To Sonny’s ears, it surprisingly doesn’t sound like a criticism.

“It’s fine,” he tells him, and Barba seems unsure. Sonny has seen that look on his face more in the past few days than he had before, ever. “I want to be here,” he justifies.

“No you don’t,” Barba says matter-of-factly. “What thirty-something wants to spend his nights at the apartment of a man he works with to look after a child he has no investment in?”

“This one,” he replies. “Look,” he leans forward, “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be.”

Barba half-smiles. “Stockholm syndrome,” he says drolly.

He leans back again, laughing quietly, and they fall into silence as Rose finishes the bottle and Barba places it on the table.

“Go back to bed, I’ve got this,” Barba tells him, and it sounds a lot like an order even though his tone of voice is soft, and Sonny feels a little melancholic because he knows it’s Barba trying to get to a point where he feels he can deal with this alone.

Sonny reluctantly stands and heads to the couch. He sees Barba stand and lean Rose’s head on his shoulder as he put the bottle on the side counter.

Sonny doesn’t particularly like sleeping on couches. He’s a little too tall, a little too gangly for them to be comfortable, and he certainly wouldn’t like to sleep on the ratty old one in his apartment.

But Barba’s couch, that is something else. The fabric is soft, warm, and the couch stretches out just far enough for him to fit. It also, Sonny thinks embarrassingly, smells of Barba, which he is pitiably comforted by.

He pulls his arm under the pillow Barba gave him, and wraps the blanket over his shoulders, closing his eyes.

Sonny’s listening to Barba’s movements in the kitchen, which is probably him trying to wash the bottle with one hand, and move from the kitchen back to the bedroom, when he hears it.

He can’t hear it well – several doors between them, and it’s quiet anyway – but he thinks he can hear Barba singing quietly. He feels like he recognises the tune, and Barba’s voice is soft and melodic and although it’s muffled, Sonny can’t help but call it beautiful.

Sonny realises then, the difference between work-Barba and apartment-Barba.

Barba at work is brash and bold, confident, righteous. He works the courtroom like a performer works an audience, and it’s because the Barba at work is just that – a performance. He’s a persona, a persona that Rafael Barba puts out to fill that mammoth reputation he’s built for himself. He’s two-dimensional, and exactly what he’s supposed to be.

Barba in the apartment is a real person. He’s confident in what he knows, and he’s kinder and more down-to-Earth than Sonny ever expected. He’s still sarcastic, but he’s funny too. He’s flawed too, prideful and stubborn and hard, but most importantly, he’s real. Barba in the apartment is Rafael.

Sonny considers briefly getting up to listen closer to Rafael’s singing, but he’s soon drifting off to the hushed tones wandering through the apartment.

Chapter Text

It’s sixteen days after the first night Rose spends at his apartment that Rafael receives the phone call. It also coincides with the first night Carisi isn’t at his apartment, and the ring is so piercingly loud in his empty apartment he’s surprised Rose isn’t immediately woken.

He answers it as quickly as possible.

“Hello?” he says.

“Rafi!” It’s Lucas. He hasn’t heard his voice in years, but it’s distinctly him, and Rafael finds himself instantly irritated.

“Lucas,” he greets coldly. “Where are you?”

“Buenos Aires, qué onda, buddy?” Lucas is far too cheery for Rafael. “I hear you have something of mine.”

Lucas has always rubbed Rafael up the wrong way, and it’s unsurprising that nothing has changed. He doesn’t think Lucas is particularly referring to Rose either, more the insurance money.

“I have your dead girlfriend’s seven-month-old daughter, if that’s what you’re asking about,” he replies.

“Tomato tomahto,” he says. “Look, I can probably be in New York in a couple of weeks.”

He’s angling for an invitation, and Rafael is loath to give him one, although he knows he has to.

“Fine,” he says as he retrieves his planner from where it sits on his coffee table. He opens it to look at his schedule. “Friday 23rd work for you?”

“Are you looking at your calendar?” Lucas derides.

“No,” he lies.

Over the phone, Lucas huffs a laugh. “Yeah, I can do the 23rd. Hell, I’ll bring something to eat. We can make an evening of it. I haven’t seen you in so long, primo.”

For good reason, Rafael thinks. Lucas was – and likely still is, seeing as he’s been uncontactable in South America for at least three weeks, probably more – a deadbeat. Lucas was a few years younger in both age and conduct, unprofessional and jockish. He was also the last person who had punched Rafael, 8 years ago at Lucas’ mother’s wake. He doesn’t really remember why it happened, but he doesn’t think he deserved the broken nose.

“I look forward to it,” he says through a fake-smile.

“No you don’t,” Lucas comments, and hangs up.

Rafael feels a little dejected that he didn’t hang up first.

Before he can recognise what he’s doing, he’s pouring himself a glass of bourbon and his sat at his kitchen table. He takes a long sip and puts it down before he realises what he’s doing and frowns.

In his childhood, his abuelita always told him, when he had run away from his home and straight to her apartment when his parents were fighting, or his father was too angry for him to feel safe at home, that age would harden him up in response to his tears and upset at not fitting the macho male stereotype his father wanted out of him.

To an extent, she was right.

Throughout his late-twenties, his thirties and his early-forties, he had toughened, crafted his persona of suaveness, cynicism and bitterness, and kept the bare minimum of sentimentality buried deep inside.

And yet, there he sat, drinking over his impending loss of a child he hadn’t even been guardian of for a month.

Christ, age was getting to him.

He can probably blame his newfound sentimentality on the SVU team, who for some godforsaken reason actually seem to consider him a friend, and he them. Real friends too, not just remnants from his childhood, or status symbols, or rivals he occasionally grabs a drink with.

He’d blame Liv first and foremost. Liv, who will take his call at any time of the night, and he hers, who trusts him with her son, and who he’d be prepared to share almost anything with. Liv, who’s smart, and kind, and strong. Liv, who he loves and is not in love with except maybe he is a little bit, in a friendly and affable way. It works for their dynamic, and he’s pretty sure it’s mutual, as is the knowledge that it is never going to go anywhere.

Rafael remembers reading somewhere that falling in love wasn’t a choice, but staying in love was. Falling in love was irrational, uncontrollable. Staying in love was tough and messy and needed a lot of work, but enduring, persistent.

Rafael has fallen in love three times. Yelina, beautiful, tempestuous, overwhelming, and Alex, head-strong, fiercely loyal, passionate. Both were whirlwinds, rapid and consuming and left destruction in their wakes, and didn’t last long enough for Rafael to have any choice at all.

The third was different.

Rafael has stayed in love once. He fell in love as he did the others, but this time, it lasted. He loved and was loved, and when their love faded, as all feelings, as love, do sometimes, they worked on it, and fell in love all over again. He had choice after choice, and he chose to stay in love, until one day he didn’t. Until one day, he was offered a far better job in Manhattan and had to move, until one day, they fell out of love and never fell back in.

Sometimes, when he’s lying alone at night, and the other side of the bed is cold and empty, he regrets that.

As Rafael mulls over his whiskey and his thoughts, he has what he believes is generally referred to as an oh shit moment.

The feelings that launched him into love each time, the underlying glow and sense of connection weaving itself into his being, they’re there again. For the first time in years, his heart is foolishly and stupidly disobeying his common sense.

He is suddenly very glad Sonny– Carisi, he mentally corrects, isn’t there, because Christ, wouldn’t the look on his face be fun to explain?

He pours another drink.

*

Rafael jolts awake a few hours later, head having been resting on his arm on the table, to the sound of wailing. It is with great effort that he gets up, very aware of how much everything hurt, both unhappy at being woken, and grateful that he hadn’t been allowed to sleep the whole night in his clothes on his kitchen table.

He heads to the guestroom and picks Rose out of her crib, laying her head on his shoulder and bouncing from the knees as Sonny had done so many times.

“What is it?” he soothes quietly. She quietens slightly with his movement, and he hushes her.

Sonny has some sort of magical ability to – nine times out of ten – quieten a baby just by swaying them gently. Rafael has yet to work out how he manages it, as has, he realises, both Amanda and Liv, so he’s worked out another method.

Rafael’s abuelita used to sing to him throughout his childhood. She sang in Spanish and in English, sometimes even in French or Italian if she’d loved the song itself, and she was wonderful.

Rafael loved music growing up, not least because he could drown out his parents fighting - that is, after all, what a record player is for - but he could never sing at home, his father writing it off as something boys shouldn’t be interested in. He sang in church and he sang alone, but most importantly, he sang with his abuelita.

Whenever he was upset, or angry, or tired, or hurt, he would go to her, and she would cook him dinner and turn up the radio to a song he’d never heard, and she’d sing it to him and teach him the words.

Rafael was pretty sure he would never have had a calm moment if it wasn’t for her.

So he sings for Rose, quietly, under-his-breath, not for anyone else to hear but her.

By the time he finishes the song, she’s asleep, and he lays her back down. He leaves, goes to his room, and gets out of his suit to get into his own bed. He lays there for a while, staring up at the ceiling, before he gives in and grabs his phone from the bedside table and scrolls through his contacts to find Carisi.

‘December 23rd – Lucas coming over. You’re welcome at dinner.’

He stares at it longer than he’d like to admit before he sends it.

The reply comes quickly, and Rafael is taken aback, seeing as it was two in the morning.

‘sounds good’, is the response.

‘moral support?’ comes a few seconds later, and Rafael smiles to himself.

‘You could say that.’

Sonny doesn’t say anything in response to that, and Rafael can’t help but ask, ‘Why are you awake?’

He watches the three dots start and stop several times, before Carisi settles on, ‘couldn’t sleep’. ‘You?’ arrives soon after.

Rafael hopes the sarcasm lands when he replies, ‘Take a wild guess.’

‘coping without me ;)?’

Unusually, he isn’t annoyed at the emoticon.

‘We’re both still alive and only one of us has cried, so yes.’

‘what do you have to cry about?’

He snorts, before looking at the time.

‘Goodnight, Carisi.’ He ignores the fact that his predictive text suggests a kiss after he types Sonny’s name.

He has already locked his phone when ‘night counselor’ pops up, and he stares at it until the phone screen turns back to black.

Chapter Text

Sonny doesn’t see Barba for a few days after his last night at his apartment. They text a little, late at night (or early in the morning) when Sonny can’t sleep and he thinks Rafael is too tired to be completely aware of himself.

Although he should have been sleeping better, that hasn’t exactly been the case. While he’s been increasingly suffering from insomnia from things he’d seen or done on the job, he knows that his particular bout of sleeplessness was unrelated.

In the short time he’d spent at Barba’s apartment, he’d somehow fallen into the swing of being up at 2am, usually thanks to Rose herself, but other times just to check on her.

And it sounds corny, and it sounds embarrassing, but it has been staggeringly difficult to fall back asleep with no one else in his own apartment.

Sonny gets the call as he’s leaving the office.

“Barba,” he answers, reading the caller ID as he pulls it out of his pocket.

On the other end of the line, he can hear crying children, and for a moment Sonny believes Rafael is at a day-care centre. Then he hears beeps, people rushing around in the background, and he knows before Rafael says a word. He’s in a hospital.

“Sonny,” Barba sounds rushed, worried, and Sonny isn’t even taken aback by the use of his nickname. “I- I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m calling. I just- it’s-”

“Hey, hey,” he soothes, trying to sound calm although he can feel fear rising up within him. “What’s going on?”

“It’s Rosie,” he says, and he’s out of breath, but he seems to remember himself quickly, and Sonny hears him take a deep breath.

“Barba,” Sonny says, although he’s not sure where he’s going with it, and he hopes that he sounds reassuring, that he sounds like he’s not rushing downstairs, that his heart isn’t clenching in his chest.

“It’s Rose,” Rafael repeats, calmer, the type of voice Sonny’s heard when he’s been fighting a losing battle in court, the type of voice Sonny’s heard during the whole ordeal with the death threats, the type of voice Sonny’s heard when Barba’s been at his most vulnerable. “She’s got a rash, been running a fever for the past day. She hasn’t stopped crying.” He’s sounding increasingly stressed.

Rafael,” Sonny says firmly and repeats, “what’s going on?”

“She had a seizure, about an hour ago. I took her straight to Presbyterian,” Rafael says. “Look, I don’t know why I called you.”

“No, no,” he dismisses, “I’m on my way.”

Sonny rushes down the stairs out of the building onto the street, the evening dark and bitter, a distinct chill in the air which Sonny’s come to realise means snow is probably on the way.

Down the phone, he hears Rafael try to brush him off, tell him he had a lapse in judgement and he doesn’t need to go out of his way.

“It’s okay,” he says, “I’ll be there in ten minutes,” he says as he gets into a cab.

He hangs up before Barba can respond again, wringing his hands as he tells the driver his destination.

*

Rafael’s sat in the waiting room when Sonny arrives, hurriedly walking through the doors, coat billowing behind him. Sonny can see as he’s entering that he’s tense, clenching and unclenching his jaw and uncharacteristically fidgety. An empty carrier seat sits at his feet. He stands as soon as he sees Sonny, which is as soon as Sonny is in through the doors.

“Hey,” he greets.

“You okay?” Sonny asks immediately.

Barba gives him a funny look, like it wasn’t the question he was expecting. He opens his mouth once to respond, before immediately closing it, and Sonny changes the subject.

“You heard any more?” he takes a sit next to the chair Rafael just vacated, and Rafael follows suit.

He shakes his head. “No.”

Sonny somehow expects more – Barba always was one to talk too much rather than too little – but nothing comes. “You gonna tell me what happened?”

Barba leans back in the chair, leaning he head against the ugly blue wall. “Yeah. She hasn’t been well for the past couple of days, but this morning things kind of turned. I was off work anyway, so I didn’t have to pass things off to Ellen,” he says, “the sitter,” Rafael clarifies, although Sonny does already know that. “She had a seizure late-afternoon. I brought her straight in.”

Sonny considers putting his hand on Rafael’s knee in a comforting gesture, because the other man is clearly burnt out and running on anxiety alone, but decides against it. They instead sit in silence for a few moments.

“Lucas had a brother,” Rafael says out of nowhere. “Couple of years younger than me, couple of years older the Lucas. I don’t think I ever met him,” he tells Sonny, but the way he says it, it sounds like he isn’t really talking to him. “He died just after Lucas was born. Meningitis.”

“I’m sorry,” Sonny tries, although there isn’t really much he can say. He gets the impression the loss of his cousin 40 years ago isn’t really what’s bothering him.

He’s proved correct when Rafael waves him off. “As I said, I didn’t meet him.”

Sonny knows it’s probably what has triggered Rafael’s paranoia, and he can’t say he’d be any different if it were him. He is, however, surprised at how Rafael seemed to be exhibiting all signs of how new parents panicked over their children’s illnesses, as if he’d somehow become more attached to Rose than either of them had expected. Sonny can remember it for his youngest sister, his parents taking her to the hospital for much the same reason.

He wants to mention that, but he doesn’t think his going off on a tangent about his family will particularly comfort Rafael in any way.

It’s why he also doesn’t tell the anecdote about his cousin who lost limbs to meningitis.

Sonny considers getting up to get coffee – God knows he needs it, and Rafael always does – but as he repositions himself in the uncomfortable chair and his shoulder rests against Rafael’s, he hears the man next to him let out a deep breath and relax a little, like he was somehow subconsciously comforted by Sonny’s presence.

So he just sits there, and leans his shoulder against Rafael’s as some sort of grounding for them both as they sit and wait.

The wait, as it turns out, isn’t long. It’s probably been about eight minutes (Sonny knows this as he has been staring at the clock the whole time since they’d stopped talking) when a doctor walks into the vicinity of the waiting area. Sonny realises she must have spoken to Rafael before, because she walks straight towards him once she’s scanned the people sat there.

Sonny glances at her name badge – Dr Monroe.

“Mr Barba?” she asks.

They both stand, glancing at each other a little awkwardly, before they give her their full attention.

She looks between them and pauses for a second, before shaking her head a little, like she’s not going to comment. “It’s roseola.”

Sonny relaxes, and Rafael almost does the same, looking a little unsure. Sonny realises he doesn’t know what it is, and nudges him.

“That’s good,” he comments at him.

“Yes,” Dr Monroe agrees. “It’s pretty common. Most people get it at some point, usually before the age of three.”

“The seizure?” Rafael asks.

“Less common, but still happens. Side-effect of the fever,” she explains. “Your daughter can go home with you right away; it should pass on its own.”

Neither of them comment on the use of ‘daughter’.

“Keep her cool, keep her hydrated,” Dr Monroe says. “You only need to worry about the seizures if they last more than five minutes,” at what Sonny can only assume is the sight of their worried faces, she adds, “you and your partner will be fine.”

Neither of them comment on the use of ‘partner’, either.

“Thanks,” Rafael says.

“She’s in the neonatal unit, which is along the corridor on the left,” she says as she leaves.

Rafael doesn’t even glance at him as he heads off, and Sonny grabs the carrier and follows him.

*

The cab journey back to Rafael’s apartment is long, and neither of them say anything. Sonny can tell Rafael is particularly tired as they pull up to Rafael’s building. Sonny pays the driver as Rafael gets out of the back and unstraps the seat, careful not to disturb Rose.

When they get up to his apartment and Rafael unlocks the door, Sonny immediately takes the carrier out of his hands.

“I can do that,” Rafael comments, but doesn’t make a move to stop him as Sonny lifts Rosie out of the seat quietly before carrying her into the spare room.

She’s burnt out too, as Sonny realises when she goes straight back to sleep when she is woken by him laying her in her crib.

Rafael’s turning the thermostat down when Sonny leaves the room.

“I can stay,” Sonny says, not so much offering as just telling him.

“It’s okay, Carisi.”

“I’m staying,” he rephrases, and is contented when Rafael doesn’t argue.

He can see Rafael going to make coffee, and Sonny has no idea why because he’s clearly shattered, so he walks over and stops him.

“Go to bed,” he says.

“You’re not my mother, Sonny,” Rafael replies, a smile playing on his lips. He has this soft look in his eyes, and Sonny isn’t sure that’s all tiredness.

“No,” he agrees, “doesn’t mean I’m not right.”

They’re stood particularly close, face-to-face in front of Rafael’s coffee machine, talking in hushed tones as it pushes later and later into the night, and it feels incredibly intimate. In fact, he’s pretty sure Rafael’s eyes have dropped from meeting his to his lips, and he’s pretty sure he’s doing the same, and Christ they’re close, and-

Sonny turns away.

Coward, a voice inside him comments.

“I’m going to watch TV,” Rafael tells him after a moment. “No coffee,” he adds with a smile. “I need to take my mind off some things.”

And with that, he’s gone from Sonny’s personal space, and after a few seconds have standing alone, he follows Rafael and joins him on the couch.

Rafael’s chosen some historical documentary he probably doesn’t care about, and the hum of the impressively dreary voice of the narrator is sending even Sonny into drowsiness, even though he was sure he wasn’t that tired before.

He would consider commenting on it, only Rafael appears to already be asleep.

Sonny drifts for a while, the sound distant and his eyes drooping shut, and he’s sure he can feel the weight of someone’s head leant on his shoulder as he falls into sleep.  

Chapter Text

When Sonny wakes, he’s alone on the sofa, a blanket thrown over him. He squashes the unwelcome feeling of disappointment at the emptiness beside him and sits up, cracking his back following the uncomfortable night. He figures it must be fairly early still, as he can hear Rafael in the kitchen and smell cooking. He lets his nose lead him out of the room.

Rafael is already dressed, sleeves rolled up as he fries some eggs. Rose is sat in a highchair at the head of the table. He grants Sonny a look of pleasant surprise and softness, and while tiredness is etched into the creases on his face, he looks happy and Sonny feels like he’s been punched in the gut.

“Morning,” Rafael greets.

“Yeah,” Sonny says blankly before he recovers himself, scratching the back of his neck. “Uh. Morning.”

Sonny notes that Rafael has two plates beside him, with four slices of toast and four eggs in the pan, and unless Rafael is particularly hungry, he assumes one is his. He is pleasantly surprised, even though Barba did make some effort to cook for him when he’d stayed previously, though at the time Sonny thought that was some misguided way of payment for his help with Rose.

Rafael must have caught him staring because he raises an eyebrow and asks, “Did you think I’d only make myself breakfast and leave you to fend for yourself?”

 Sonny shakes his head, wondering if he’s somehow offended Rafael by underestimating his hospitality. “No, I-” he stutters as he blanches.

“Calm down,” Rafael says with the same easy grin as before. Sonny privately wonders how many people have seen that look on Barba’s face before, the man usually guarded and smug. “I made you coffee, too. Figured you’d need it.”

He is, of course, correct.

Sonny sits at the table, taking a long sip of the coffee. He’d been meaning to ask Rafael its brand, seeing as it was significantly nicer than both the sludge at the station and his own apartment. He’d also written that idea off as soon as he realised that it was probably senselessly expensive and Sonny wouldn’t want to impact his budgeting with coffee.

A plate is shoved in front of him, eggs – sunny side up – on toast. Not a culinary challenge, but Sonny is very grateful all the same.

“I’ve put some spare towels out in the bathroom. If you wanted a shower,” Rafael says.

“You trying to tell me I smell?” he jokes.

Rafael offers another smile. “Well,” he says open-endedly with a tilt of his head. “I might have some spare clothes if you wanted something to go home to get yourself some suitable work attire.”

Sonny glances down like he’s forgotten that he’s still wearing yesterday’s clothes. His shirt is creased and untucked, his tie still loosely around his neck. “Oh. Uh, thanks. I have some spare clothes in the office, anyway.”

“What time do you need to be in?”

“Nine,” he says, glancing at his watch. He’s still got an hour or so for him to be there with time enough to change. Although he would prefer to not walk into the bullpen in someone else’s clothes. With a room full of detectives, he’d be at the centre of attention. “But I’d like to get in earlier so I can change.”

Rafael nods. “The sitter’s coming in about fifteen minutes, which is when I’m going. I’m sure you’re capable of letting yourself out.”

“I think so,” he replies good-humouredly.

Rafael’s look lingers a little too long before he gets up and puts his plate in the dishwasher. Sonny finishes up his breakfast and Rafael removes the plate from in front of him. He stands, hesitant and a little awkwardly.

“I’ll just…” he trails off, “go shower, then.” He cringes at his own stiltedness.

Rafael continues clearing up and makes a noise of acknowledgement as he walks away.

Sonny enters the bathroom and locks the door behind him, before he strips off and turns the shower on. As he stands, he is distracted by the surprising array of shampoos and soaps in the caddy. He quickly pushes away a thought to rummage through them and smell them, scrunching his face up in disgust at himself.

Those thoughts are soon interrupted by a quick rap at the door.

“Hey, I’m off now,” Rafael says, “I’m leaving a key on the side to lock up, Ellen’s taking Rose for a walk.”

And with that he’s gone, and Sonny absent-mindedly realises he’s never had the key to someone else’s apartment before.

He switches the water to cold.

*

When Sonny arrives at the precinct before the rest of the squad (although he’s sure he’s seen Olivia in one of the hallways), he’s wearing both Rafael’s Harvard hoodie and Rafael’s sweatpants, the items apparently being oversized for Barba. His hair is messy and unstyled, and he’s only brushed his teeth because Rafael was kind enough to leave him a toothbrush still in its packaging atop the clothes he’d put on the guestroom bed. He hasn’t had the chance to shave, and he is ghosting a shadow of stubble.

As he heads into the locker room to retrieve a spare set of clothes – and hair gel – he is uninterrupted, and up until the point of shutting his locker and turning around, he thinks he’s gotten away with it.

There stands Amanda, a smug look on her face and arms crossed, as she leans against the doorframe. She’s dressed for work, looking fresh as usual, quite the juxtaposition to his scruffiness.

“Hey, sailor,” she says.

Sonny fumbles with the clothes he’s holding, although he isn’t entirely sure why, as of the clothes on his person, the ones he is wearing are the most incriminating.

“Uh, hi,” Sonny replies, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “Good morning, Amanda.”

The wry smile on her face doesn’t shift. “I can’t help but notice, Sonny, but those aren’t your clothes. Unless you’ve taken to buying branding from a university you didn’t go to.”

He stares blankly at her.

“Where were you last night?” Amanda’s prying and she knows it, not shifting from where she blocks the door as if she expects him to bolt if he got the chance.

“A- a friend’s.” It isn’t a lie. He thinks.

“That’s one thing to call it,” she replies, eyes scanning him. “Didn’t really take you as a walk of shame type of guy, Carisi.”

Sonny stares again, sure he isn’t going to get out of the room with time to hurry to the toilets to change and do his hair if he doesn’t give in. “I was at Raf- Barba’s last night.” He quickly corrects himself, but it’s too late and he cringes at his slip.

“’Rafael’?” she quotes, eyebrows raised. “You two on a first-name basis now?”

He doesn’t reply.

“Are you sleeping with him?” she asks, plain and simple.

Sonny does a spectacular imitation of a goldfish. “No. No! We’re just- I’m just-” he stumbles over his words, “I’m still-”

“Baby-sitting?” she suggests.

“Yes,” he replies, not wanting to admit out loud that it’s turned into something a little more than that for the both of them.

Sonny is a good detective. He’s a people person too, and he can read a lot of people like an open book. Sonny isn’t stupid. While historically he’s found Rafael a little more difficult to get a hold of than most people, he thinks he’s got a pretty good grasp of him now, and he thinks he probably has sufficient evidence to draw the conclusion that his feelings towards Rafael are not completely unrequited.

Rafael talks to him. Not just talks – Barba talks to everyone about everything – but actually says something. Sonny’s pretty sure that is reserved for only him and Liv. Rafael can swallow his pride enough to ask him for help, and he was the first person he called in an emergency. But what Sonny has noticed the most isn’t what Rafael says, or what Rafael asks, it’s what he does that let him know.

Rafael looks at him in a way Sonny doesn’t think he could ever deserve to be looked at. There’s something about those soft, lingering gazes that makes him feel like he’s glowing.

Sonny’s feelings are not unrequited, he’s sure of it.

About 90% sure. 80%.

65%.

Sonny’s feelings are feasibly maybe not unrequited, probably.

Sonny has never been much of a gambler, either. The risk of losing a friendship just months ago he could never have had with Barba, of losing the growing familial feeling towards both Rafael and Rose, it’s just too much for him.

He couldn’t deal with the consequences.

“Do you want to?” Amanda asks, snapping him out of his thoughts.

Sonny doesn’t answer for a beat, some part of him feeling like he should tell her to mind her own business. “You’ll have to get a few drinks in me for that one.”

She grins. “I’ll hold you to that.”

Amanda mercifully leaves then, putting him out of his misery, and he sags in relief.

Chapter Text

Sonny’s day had started well. Apart from the awkwardness of Amanda’s prying questions, they settled into easy banter when he’d returned from the bathroom, and they were in a fairly good mood by the time Benson left her office and began delegating.

The problem with police work was that it was very difficult to have a happy day at work.

They had been working on the same case for the past week, originally believed to be a child abduction case, the original victim a fifteen-year-old who had escaped from the back of a van and had wisely come straight to the police. They hadn’t really gotten anywhere, apart from a couple of witnesses and an uncooperative suspect who might have been driving the van.

It had gone nowhere, until Fin had had a breakthrough late the night before with the suspect – who had turned out to be a potential customer, not the driver – in interrogation of a location of a child prostitution ring, as well as a time that afternoon when the head of that ring should be there, in exchange for being entered into witness protection.

“According to Pinto,” Fin had said in the briefing, referring to the suspect, “nobody there knows what he looks like. It’s all been phone correspondence.”

“It’s short notice,” Liv had started, “but I think it’d make sense for Carisi to assume the identity of Pinto so we have solid evidence to prosecute those involved to the full extent of the law.”

Which is how Sonny ends up spending the rest of the morning going over Pinto’s story, with no time for a proper lunch before heading out to the address they were given.

Which is how Sonny ends up stood rather awkwardly in a room full of people that make him sick, trying to make awkward conversation with Danny Castro, the man Pinto told him was the boss and another man he did not know the name of stood next to him squinting at him suspiciously.

Which is how, in a roundabout way, Sonny ends up on the edge of the roof of the building in the early evening, Castro’s gun pressed against his forehead for the second time in his stint at Manhattan SVU.

Castro’s popping a vein in his forehead, and he’s shouting, but Sonny can’t really hear much of anything as he tries to regulate his breathing and keep the fear out of his eyes. He’s very aware of the half-wall pressing into the back of his legs and the steep drop behind it.

“Come on Danny,” he says, his own voice sounding far away. “I know you’re not a killer.”

Sonny knows full well that he doesn’t actually know that, but from their rushed research it didn’t look like Castro had killed anyone. He was smart, ruthless, a criminal and repulsive, but he didn’t seem like he did his own dirty work.

He hopes the fact that he hasn’t been shot yet means that he is right, but he can see Castro’s finger tightening on the trigger shakily and he lets out an unsteady breath and closes his eyes, believing that unlike last time, Liv – or anyone else – would be too late.

And he never really believed in the whole ‘life flashing before your eyes’ thing, but behind his closed eyelids, Sonny finds himself running through everyone he wants to apologise to in that moment.

His parents, his grandmother, his sisters, his niece, Amanda, the team. He can see their faces in his memories, can feel a warmth towards them grow in his chest and for a split second he is content.

Then, he thinks of Rafael. Of those soft looks. Of his surprising patience. Of Rose. Of what could have been. He feels the weight of the keys to Rafael’s apartment in his pocket. He opens his eyes again and stares into the eyes of his would-be executioner.

Sonny does not want to wonder what could have been.

Sonny does not want his friends, his family, his- whatever Rafael was to him, to mourn him.

Sonny does not want to miss anything.

Sonny is not ready to die.

Castro is staring at him with faltering anger, stalling over pulling the trigger as Sonny looks at him, and Sonny knows he was right.

“Put the gun down, Danny,” he says. “You don’t want to do this.”

The gun falls from his head as Sonny hears the door to the roof burst open, and shouts from his team, but he doesn’t look at them, continuing to stare at Castro as he turns in surprise. He turns back to Sonny, and Sonny can see a cavalcade of different emotions cross his face before it settles somewhere between defiance and distress as he stares Sonny directly in the eyes.

There are shouts telling Castro to drop the gun, but Castro’s aim flies to his own head and he shoots without hesitation.

Sonny stumbles back, forgetting the edge behind him.

A hand catches his arm as he topples, and as Sonny leans haphazardly over the edge he stares into Fin’s face before the other man pulls him back up to a standing position.

“You good?” he asks.

Sonny runs a hand over his face and nods.

*

Amanda takes him straight to a bar as soon as he’s written up his statement. It feels like a close call, he knows. Sonny can tell she’s relieved because she pays for both of their drinks.

They sit in a corner booth, and Amanda talks about Jesse, Sonny grateful for the distraction. She talks a lot, which is nothing out of the ordinary (although him not reciprocating is), but she doesn’t really say anything.

The idea that the reason she is buying his drinks is because she wants him to talk does cross Sonny’s mind, but he finds he doesn’t really care.

It takes two beers and three shots and another beer to reach enough of a pleasant buzz that he does talk.

They had quietened down, simply enjoying each other’s company when he breaks the silence that has settled between them.

“I don’t want to die,” Sonny says, and he realises as soon as he’s said it that he isn’t really articulating his thoughts particularly well.

Amanda looks at him steadily. “Good,” she replies, and it sounds a little confused and a little like a question, as if she wants him to elaborate.

“When Castro had his gun to my head,” he starts, “I saw…I thought of everyone I loved. Everyone who I’d want to say goodbye to.” He adds, “Sounds cheesy, I know.”

“Like a Hallmark Christmas movie,” Amanda replies with a smile.

“And when I thought of them, it was like…a comfort, and I was cool with it. Dying, I mean.”

She frowns. “You were cool with dying?”

“Kind of,” Sonny says. “But then I thought of Ra- Barba, and the kid he’s been looking after, and I knew I didn’t want to go. Like it was a missed opportunity.”

“What are you so afraid of?” Amanda asks.

He laughs and rubs his eyes. “I don’t know. How can I be afraid of losing someone who's not even mine to lose?”

“You’re not really helping your case of this sounding like a Hallmark movie,” she says. “What about Barba?”

“What about him?”

“Do you think he has…feelings,” she makes a vague gesture with her hands, “for you?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know,” he replies. “I mean, he’s nice to me, which is a rarity by his standards, and he always calls first. I don’t think he’s had anyone apart from me or the sitter in his apartment for weeks. And he keeps looking at me like,” he pauses while he tries to think of how to say it, but he never gets there.

“Like what?” Amanda tries.

He waves it off. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean anything, right?”

“Listen Sonny, you’ve been staying at his most nights because he has asked you. The reason we haven’t been spending as much time together is because he has called to spend time with you first. He’s the one who has called first, texted first, and he’s the one who goes to you before anyone else,” Amanda says. “If he hasn’t got feelings for you then he’s very self-centred.”

Sonny still feels unsure. He looks it too, he bets.

“And if you’re wrong, then what? You don’t have to work with him every hour of everyday, and I am sure both of you are capable of being professional. There are probably more pros than cons in trying, Sonny,” Amanda says. “Think of it as a cost-benefit analysis.”

He absent-mindedly fiddles with the keys in his pocket. Sonny realises he should probably return them. “I need to return his keys,” he thinks out loud.

“You have his keys?” she raises an eyebrow, before softening. “Go on, then.”

Sonny turns towards her. “What?”

“Go,” she tells him, and stands up from the booth.

He follows. “What about you?”

She eyes an objectively handsome man drinking alone at the bar. “I’m sure I’ll think of something to do.”

Amanda hugs him, and he hadn’t realised how in desperate need for some physical comfort he was.

“I’m glad you’re not dead,” she says as she pulls away. “Go get him.”

*

Sonny is pretty sure he overpays the taxi driver as he gets out, but he finds he doesn’t really care all that much. It’s late, and he walks briskly into Rafael’s building to escape the biting cold.

He fiddles obsessively with the ends of his scarf in the elevator as it goes up through the floors, feeling as if it is moving unbearably slowly.

The apartment’s dark when Sonny enters, but a lamp in the guestroom is on, and he shuts the door as quietly as he can. He listens closely, and he hears hushed singing carrying through the doorway. He doesn’t know the song, but it’s hushed and soothing and melancholic, and he feels drawn towards the room.

Rafael stands there, back turned to him and swaying gently, Rose’s head rested on his shoulder, the warm yellow light of the lamp softly illuminating them. Rafael sings quietly, almost under his breath, and Sonny is in awe. Rafael realises then he’s there, and his eyes meet Sonny’s, his singing dying and silence descending. Sonny feels like he’s intruding as Rafael carefully places Rose back into the crib.

Sonny’s exhaustion melts away, alcohol buzzing in his veins, blurring his senses as his eyes meet Rafael’s once again.

He looks ethereal. He’s clearly tired, Sonny can see it in his features, but somehow the typically ugly yellow light from the lamp in the corner irradiates him like the paintings in the galleries he frequented with his grandfather in Tuscany. He looks relieved, too, and Sonny distractedly wonders whether someone told him about what happened that day. There’s that soft, warm look again, and any worries of intrusion dissipate and he steps closer to Rafael.

The same feeling he had in the kitchen the night before in front of the coffee machine settles between them, and Sonny takes the risk.

Fuck the consequences.

Chapter Text

Sonny’s heart is pounding so hard that he can’t really get a grasp on how exactly it feels to kiss Rafael. It’s like the reception’s gone fuzzy between his brain and his body, and all that he’s aware of is that Rafael tastes of coffee – of course – and that he’s kissing back, and all Sonny can really feel is pressure. The pressure of Rafael’s lips against his own, of his jaw pressing against Sonny’s hand and his hands on Sonny’s hips.

It’s over far too quickly for Sonny’s unthinking brain, and when their lips part (Rafael’s doing) he makes an attempt to follow. Rafael presses his forehead against Sonny’s and he stops. Rafael’s hand makes it up to cup Sonny’s jaw.

“You’re drunk,” he murmurs, glancing at Sonny’s lips, still parted.

“I’m not,” Sonny protests.

“You taste of beer,” Rafael counters, and drops his hand and parts their touch, leaving Sonny a little lost without it. He doesn’t step away though, and they’re still too close for Sonny to lose hope.

“I’m not drunk, though.”

Rafael raises an eyebrow. “You’re not sober,” he counters.

“No,” he agrees, and his voice sounds small even to him.

It all comes crashing down then, great waves of tiredness and realisation and the feeling of everything being too much, and Sonny is drenched to the bone with exhaustion. Rafael regards him as one would regard a delicate china ornament balanced precariously on an unstable bookcase.

“You’re not okay,” he says, and Sonny knows then someone must have told him what happened earlier.

He doesn’t bother replying. It’d be a bit redundant, really.

Rafael bridges the gap between them again, this time taking his hand, and Sonny lets himself be led out of the room, and Rafael takes him to the ensuite connected to his own bedroom, handing him a washcloth and a spare razor.

He hears Rafael run some water into the sink, and he leans against the counter.

He morbidly wonders whether he would have felt the bullet as it passed through his skull, whether it would have hurt at all or if it would have just been an unstoppable weight of nothing.

He places the razor down on the side, and soaks the washcloth before he washes his face. Rafael’s still there, and hands him a bottle of shaving cream. He applies it to his face and stares into the mirror.

If he had fallen, he wonders, would he have had an open casket?

If Fin had been a second later to the edge of the roof, he would be dead.

There was no point fixating on the gun, Castro was never going to pull the trigger. The fall however, he thinks as he remembers the feeling of toppling over the edge, nearly did kill him.

He nearly died today.

Sonny stares at the razor in his shaking hands.

He turns to Rafael, clenching his jaw. “I- I can’t-” he starts.

Rafael’s hands are on his in a second. He takes the razor out of his hands, and Sonny leans back on the counter. Rafael is between his legs, and Sonny distractedly thinks that’s ironic and not exactly how he had pictured it. Rafael is remarkably gentle as he shaves the stubble Sonny hadn’t shaved that morning, and Sonny watches him as a focused look sets on his face.

Behind the focus, though, there’s something else, and Sonny can’t help but feel like he’s forgetting something as he identifies that it’s something akin to sorrow in Rafael’s features. It was there that morning, just barely, and he wants to ask but he can’t get the words out.

When he’s done, Rafael places the razor on the side of the sink and hands him the washcloth again. Sonny gingerly wipes the remaining shaving cream off his face.

Rafael hands him what Sonny recognises as the same toothbrush he had been given before. “I’m not doing this for you,” he says with no bite, and leaves the room.

After he brushes his teeth, Sonny enters the bedroom and is greeted by a t-shirt on the bed. It’s too big for Rafael, and it’s even a little too big for him, and Sonny assumes it used to be someone else’s. He puts it on, and folds his own clothes, placing them on the chair in the corner.

Rafael re-enters then, and Sonny feels bare in just his underwear and a shirt, even though Rafael is dressed in much the same.

“You can sleep in here,” he says. “The other room hasn’t got clean sheets.”

“What about you?” he asks.

“I’ll sleep on the couch,” Rafael replies.

Sonny frowns.

“We should…talk about this in the morning,” he says.

The silence that falls then is cold, and the room feels very unfamiliar.

“Stay,” Sonny says after a beat.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Sonny. Not right now.”

“No, no- I mean, just to sleep,” he specifies. “Please.”

Sonny knows Rafael has a great deal of willpower, but he can see him slipping, and he counts that as a victory. He doesn’t say anything, but Sonny knows he’s won.

They both slip into bed, and Sonny immediately feels more at peace.

In the darkness, Sonny stares at Rafael’s relaxed and unguarded face, his openness feeling particularly intimate, and he wants to ask Rafael what’s wrong again as even nearing sleep, there’s sadness.

“Go to sleep, Sonny,” Rafael says without opening his eyes.

*

Sonny is woken up at half-six the next morning by Rafael trying to untangle himself from Sonny’s gangly limbs without waking him. It is not, as evidenced by Sonny’s reluctant consciousness, a success.

“Sorry,” Rafael mumbles tiredly.

“Where are you going? You’re not working today.”

Rafael levels his gaze. “Have you memorised my work schedule?”

“…No.”

He sighs. “I’m checking on Rose. This is the first time she’s slept more than six hours. Then I’m going for a run.”

“Are we going to talk?”

“Yeah, of course,” Rafael says. “Just not now. Go back to sleep.”

Sonny wants to protest but he doesn’t, and as Rafael gets out of the bed, he is surprised at how easily he falls back asleep.

He drifts in and out of consciousness for some time, though Sonny has no idea of the exact amount of time that is, only that when he finally stumbles out of bed a while later, Rafael is back from his run, showered and breakfast is once again made for him. He’s wearing what Sonny assumes is his casual clothing, but is a lot smarter than the majority of Sonny’s wardrobe. He takes a seat to the right of Rafael, who sits at the head of the table.

They begin to eat in silence.

“Carisi,” Rafael starts. “Sonny,” he corrects, “last night. What was that?”

Sonny has his mouth full and splutters, “What do you mean?” and immediately regrets talking with so much toast in his mouth.

“Let me put it this way. Was it something you’d rather I remember or forget?”

Sonny swallows. “That depends on whether you’d rather remember or forget it.”

Rafael doesn’t reply, simply staring until Sonny breaks and gives a real answer.

“I’d rather you remembered it,” he says, before he feels he should quickly give a disclaimer. “Unless you don’t want to or anything, then you can forget it. And I can get out of your hair, if you want. I mean, if you want me to go, I can-”

“Sonny,” Rafael interrupts his rambling.

For one awful moment, Sonny feels as if he’s fucked it up.

Then a half-smile graces Rafael’s face, and there’s a hand on his jaw. “Shut up,” Rafael kisses him softly, intimately, domestically, like this has been how it’s always been, amplified by the fact that when Rafael sits back into his seat, he continues eating. Sonny gazes at him, a little dazed.

“What do we do now?” Sonny says dumbly and internally cringes after.

“Eat our breakfast,” Rafael replies. “I don’t know, Sonny. Do you usually fully plan out your relationships the second they start?”

Sonny thinks that’s a fair comment, and he eats his breakfast.

It feels blissful, for a few minutes, and they eat in silence and despite what is now between them being acutely fresh, it feels as if this is how it has always been.

Rose cries and the bliss is shattered. Rafael goes to retrieve her and returns with a funny look on his face as he cradles her against his shoulder, something sad and bittersweet, and Sonny is suddenly hit with the dawning realisation of what day it is.

The 23rd. Lucas was coming today.

Rafael would lose Rose today.

That’s what the sorrow was. How could he forget? Sonny chews the inside of his cheek.

“I was only gone thirty seconds, what did you do?” Rafael asks him.

“What?”

“You look guilty,” he says. “What is it?”

“When’s Lucas coming?” he asks quietly.

He watches Rafael clench his jaw, pressing Rose a little tighter to his chest subconsciously. “Five.”

Sonny looks at the clock. 9 o’clock. He makes a note to thank Liv for giving him the sympathy day off and he stands. “One minute,” he tells Rafael, and heads back to the bedroom. He pulls on his trousers, and rushes to the bathroom, brushing his teeth for what was definitely not a sufficient amount of time.

When he heads back out, Rafael is in the same place and is frowning at him. Sonny grabs his coat and scarf and slips his shoes on. He takes Rose out of Rafael’s hands and is happily surprised when he doesn’t protest.

“Get your coat,” he tells Rafael.

“Why?” Rafael asks, but he does so anyway.

 Sonny finds the stroller quickly, and he gently lies Rose in it before he puts the thick winter blanket in with her. “Come on.”

Rafael gives him a slightly deflated look. “Sonny.”

He holds up a hand. “I won’t hear it, Rafael.”

Rafael reluctantly follows as Sonny leaves the apartment, pushing the stroller.

*

Rafael reluctantly follows him the whole thirty-minute walk to the park.

“There’s a park right up the block from my building, Sonny,” Rafael tells him. “There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this one.”

Sonny huffs, his breath condensing in the cold air. “Just last week, I busted a suspect for drug-dealing in that park.”

“Just because you haven’t busted a drug-dealer in this park doesn’t mean there isn’t one,” Rafael complains.

“Besides,” Sonny continues pointedly, “there are a few good street vendors around here.”

Rafael simply rolls his eyes and shoves his hands into his pockets, shoulder brushing against Sonny’s as they walk through the park. They reach a bench, and Sonny pulls the stroller up against the side of it.

Rafael sits, staring at him when he doesn’t.

“I’ll be right back,” he tells him, and heads directly to where he knows one of his favourite street carts to be.

He queues behind two women for a couple of minutes before he comes face to face with the man behind the counter.

“Hey, Lou,” he greets with a smile.

“Sonny!” the older man welcomes. “How you keeping?”

“Not too bad,” Sonny replies. “You?”

“Good, thank you, Sonny. What can I do for you today?”

Sonny orders a box of three cannoli, and pays more than their actual price, before he heads back to the bench.

Rafael doesn’t look surprised. “This isn’t a suitable breakfast, Sonny,” he tells him as he approaches.

“We’ve eaten breakfast. This is brunch.”

“Brunch.”

Rafael looks him in the eyes once he’s sat down next to him.

“What?” Sonny asks as he opens the box.

“You’re very predictable, you know that?” Rafael tells him.

He smirks and picks up a cannolo, before shaking the box in front of Rafael before he gives in and takes one.

“These are good,” he comments after a moment.

Sonny preens a little at the praise of his choice. “I know.”

They sit in amicable silence for a while, both eating their food, shoulders and thighs touching. Even in the cold, it’s comfortable and pleasant. Sonny places the box containing the final cannolo onto the bench next to him.

“You don’t want her to go,” Sonny says, not necessarily expecting a reply.

“No,” Rafael agrees, looking at his hands.

They sit in silence a little longer.

“You know, I never used to get kids,” Rafael says. “Lots of work, little payoff. I’d rather just get a cat. Or sponsor a panda.”

Sonny huffs a laugh.

“But she…” he starts, and sighs. “She is everything.” He’s quiet for a moment. “I was never supposed to get attached. I didn’t think I could.”

“I hate to break it to you, Rafael, but you are human.”

“Don’t remind me,” Rafael replies sardonically.

Sonny begins to realise a lot of this conversation is composed of silences, as quiet settles between them again. Rafael will talk when he wants to, he reasons. That doesn’t mean Sonny doesn’t have anything to say.

“Do you think Lucas would let you keep her?”

Rafael laughs bitterly. “I don’t know; I haven’t seen him in years. But the Lucas I remember would probably take her just to spite me. Last time I saw him, he punched me. That was my aunt’s funeral.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Rafael,” he says, “but is that on you or him?”

Rafael smiles. “More than a little me.”

The smile leaves his face as quickly as it appeared, and Sonny watches as he glances at the pram and breathes out slowly. He doesn’t say anything else, but takes a quick glance at the empty park and puts his hand on top of Rafael’s where it sits between them.

Chapter Text

Sonny regrettably offers to cook as they walk back. He insists on it, and picks some things up in a store on the way to Rafael’s building. This decision proves to be regrettable because it gives Rafael nothing to take his mind off the impending visit, and the other man becomes increasingly agitated as the day progresses, which in turn makes Rose increasingly agitated, even as she watches whatever basic cartoon drivel that's been put on TV.

Sonny chooses a classic family recipe for lasagna, with arancini to start and some reasonably priced dessert from the store to finish. Rafael drinks most of the first bottle of wine before he can even pour it into the mix.

The knock at the door is a little later than the time Rafael had told him, and even Sonny was beginning to get a little agitated, the lasagna in the oven. When Rafael answers and ushers in the guest, Sonny stands to greet him, ever polite. Lucas’ smarmy face coupled with the fact he is old enough to remember that the clothes he is wearing weren’t cool the first time around give Lucas Garcia all the instant likeability of external haemorrhoids.

Lucas looks like a melted waxwork of Marco Rubio, and his friendly smile looks like it belongs on his face the same way in which that same waxwork of Marco Rubio belongs in Madame Tussauds, which is to say, it doesn’t. Sonny could tell instantly the smile was fake, plastered on for show.

It was safe to say Sonny disliked him on sight.

“This is Detective Carisi,” Rafael introduces, and the offense he feels at being introduced with his job is fleeting and stops as soon as Sonny realises that Rafael’s effectively boasting.

“Sonny,” he says, matching Lucas’ fake grin, and offers a hand for him to shake.

Lucas chooses to high-five him. Sonny watches Rafael make a look akin to disgust behind Lucas’ back and smirks to himself.

“Dinner should be soon,” Sonny says. “I made lasagna.”

Carisi,” Lucas emphasises, nodding like it’s an explanation. “Makes sense.”

‘Predictable’, Rafael mouths at him.

Lucas turns to look at Rafael. “So, Rafi,” he says, and Sonny meets Rafael’s warning glance with a dumb grin. “Where is the little…tyke?” The happiness in his voice sounds forced, like it’s coming out through gritted teeth.

Rafael begins to leave the room and gestures for Lucas to follow. He turns back to Sonny. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Not at all, Rafi,” Sonny replies and turns to begin to set the table before the death glare he is shot can have its full effect.

They return moment later, Rafael with Rose in his arms. Sonny is sure the way he seems to hold her as far from Lucas as he can is neither an accident nor something he’s doing consciously.

Rafael sits her into the high chair at the end of the table just as Sonny places the dish of lasagna in the centre of the table.

They sit in silence uncomfortably long, all eating. Usually Sonny would take silence in response to his food as a compliment – it’s always a good sign when your guests are too focused on your cooking to talk – but he’s certain that’s not the cause of the lack of conversation.

Rafael places his knife and fork on his plate with a clatter. “Excuse me,” he says and gets up, heading straight for the bathroom. Probably all the wine, Sonny thinks.

“So,” Sonny says to Lucas, not really sure what to say but wanting to break the silence anyway.

“So,” Lucas says to Sonny.

It’s quiet for a moment longer.

“Look, Sonny,” Lucas starts. “I know Rafael doesn’t like me much, but I’m not that bad. I’m even getting married next month.”

“Married?” he asks. “Well, congratulations.”

Lucas smiles. While the conversation is pleasant, Sonny can’t shake the discomfort. “Thank you. Carla’s a great girl. Brazilian,” he says. “In more ways than one,” he jokes.

Sonny doesn’t laugh. “How long you been seeing each other?”

“Eight weeks,” he says and Sonny almost winces. “I know it’s fast, but I know it’s right. Plus, she’s super hot.”

“God, I had hoped you’d changed,” Rafael says from the doorway, surprising them both.

Lucas looks affronted and Sonny remembers what Rafael told him about Lucas punching him the last time they met.

“Rafael, if Lucas thinks-” Sonny starts, trying to settle the rising tension.

“Yeah, well, Lucas is an idiot,” Rafael says. Sonny recognises that he’s stressed and upset and had a bit much too much to drink, but he still glares.

Lucas stands abruptly, confrontational. Sonny follows suit, partially because he’d feel awkward if he was the only one sitting, but also because something within him has a burning desire to stand in front of Rafael and punch Lucas square in the jaw before anything can happen. He doesn’t of course, and stays stood in one place.

“Don’t do this, Rafi,” Lucas warns.

“Why? Because it’s Christmas?” he mocks. “What do you plan to do with a baby, Lucas?”

“I don’t know, baby shit!” he counters, and Sonny thinks that Lucas thinks that saying it louder makes the point less weak. It doesn’t. “What does anyone do with a baby?”

“You can’t be responsible for a child, you’re barely responsible for yourself,” Rafael says, and Sonny makes a move so he’s no longer behind the table. “Why didn’t you get on a plane the moment you got the phone call?”

Lucas gestures broadly. “I did!”

Rafael’s exasperated stare is all the response required.

Lucas deflates a little and huffs, “I was gonna!”

Rafael rolls his eyes and sighs, placing his hands on his hips.

“Look, I needed some time to sort things out with Carla. You know, get on her level,” Lucas says like he’s insinuating something. Sonny realises he is.

“You mean with the insurance money?” Rafael replies, frowning.

“Oh, don’t do that, Rafael. You always do this,” Lucas says. “Don’t get all preachy, like you think you’re better than me.”

Rafael runs a hand over his face.

“You two,” Lucas gestures between them, “you two don’t know how lucky you are.”

It’s Sonny who frowns this time. “What are you talking about?”

“You’re gay,” he says, like it’s all the explanation needed.

Neither of them comment on the assumptions Lucas has made, and merely opt to stare at him for further enlightenments.

“You’re not going to be saddled with someone else’s kid and have to pay for it for the rest of your lives!” Lucas explains.

“You’ve never let yourself get saddled with anything in your life!” Rafael disputes. “You left when your mother was sick, you were nowhere to be seen when our abuelita died, you abandoned Laura for no apparent reason-”

“No apparent reason?” he questions. “She started using again! I think that’s a good enough reason.”

“Did you ever try to help her?” Rafael questions, and Sonny thinks it sounds like all the fight in him is sizzling out.

Lucas looks much the same, and when he speaks, his voice is quieter. “Look, Rafi, I didn’t want to get involved with all that. All the drugs and shit. I wanted out, like…I just kept thinking, ‘Wouldn’t that be weird? Me being the one in the family to get the AIDS’.”

“What was that?” Rafael says, voice low and dangerous.

Sonny straightens his back and stares at Lucas harshly, the same way he stares down the suspects he arrests.

Rafael chooses that exact moment to effectively chase Lucas around the table. Sonny lunges after Rafael.

“Rafael, come on!” he says, looping a hand around his wrist to stop him.

Lucas stands further back in the room and points. “You know what? I’m not-”

He’s cut off by a wailing baby. Sonny rushes to the end of the table and picks Rose up, bouncing her up and down as he tries to calm her. Rafael and Lucas stand on opposite sides of the kitchen, out of breath.

The dust settles.

Rose calms down and Sonny sits her back a little so she’s sat up in his arms, able to move her arms and look around. She sniffles a little.

Lucas takes a step closer, and the fact Rafael does the same does not go unnoticed by Sonny. “Hey, Rose,” he says softly. “I’m here to take you home.”

He goes to touch her, and she tries to move away.

“Okay, okay,” Sonny soothes.

Lucas drops his hand and stares at her. It’s awkwardly quiet again.

“I think Rose should stay here,” Rafael blurts.

Lucas turns. “What?” he questions. “No!”

Rafael isn’t confrontational anymore, and Sonny thinks he looks more tired than he has in all the time he’s known him.

“Lucas,” he says. “Come on.”

“We talked about this, Rafael. Hell, child services talked about this,” Lucas replies.

Sonny looks at Rafael and finds that he looks more lost than he has ever seen him.

“She belongs here, Lucas,” Sonny says quietly.

Lucas looks between them a couple of times, and he looks at Rose. He makes eye contact with Sonny, and Sonny levels it, not wanting to break it himself. After a moment, Lucas turns back to Rafael. “I’m the douchebag,” he says, like it’s a realisation. “If this is about-”

“It’s not about the money, Lucas,” Rafael tells him. “You can keep that for all I care.”

“Huh,” Lucas says. “Okay,” he murmurs. “I’ll uh…call you. To sort it all out.” He frowns, before he heads to the coat hook to retrieve his coat.

As he does, Sonny passes Rose into Rafael’s arms, stopping him in his tracks, and he stares at him blankly, almost as if he’s a little dazed. Sonny walks over to the door to open it and let Lucas out.

“Just like that?” Sonny asks as Lucas walks through the door.

“Just like that,” he confirms, sounding a little distracted. “It was nice to meet you, Sonny.”

“Yeah,” he replies and as soon as Lucas turns his back, he shuts the door and breathes a sigh of relief.

When he turns back around, he finds Rafael hasn’t moved. He’s still holding Rose in the same position as she had been in when Sonny handed her over, and he’s looking at her with something like awe. It makes Sonny’s heart swell and he grins as he walks over.

“Congratulations,” Sonny says, standing close. “Dad.”

A hint of a smile ghosts Rafael’s lips, like he’s only just realised. He glances between Sonny and Rose, before he frowns and looks at Sonny. “Don’t call me that.”

Sonny simply places a hand on the back of Rafael’s neck, and kisses him softly, before he pulls apart and looks down at Rose. She doesn’t look at him, no, that would be too perfect a moment, choosing to look at anything and everything in the room that wasn’t him or Rafael, hands balled into fists and mouth hung slightly open. It’s peaceful, the only sound from sirens outside, and the kitchen is lit by an ugly yellow bulb.

The moment isn’t flawless, nor particularly noteworthy or special, but Sonny can’t help but feel that it’s perfect all the same.