Ten minutes after checking in for their reservation at Max Brenner, Rafael starts to get impatient.
No, that’s not quite right. He just gives up on pretending he’s not impatient.
It’s exceptionally busy tonight, which is honestly to be expected considering it’s Christmas Eve, but Rafael still wrinkles his nose at the guy who shoulder checks him just to reach for one of the free chocolate malt balls being handed out as a disguised apology for the wait.
“Remember when having a reservation used to mean something?” Rafael mutters, crossing his arms over his chest, scowling when Sonny looks over to smirk at him.
“Not really. I didn’t start making reservations anywhere until I started dating you.”
“Yeah, well, you’re welcome.”
“Okay, hey, come over here.” Sonny leads him to the one empty corner of the waiting area, glancing over his shoulder to make sure the hosts aren’t calling his name before returning his full attention to his boyfriend. “What’s going on with you? You’ve been complaining about everything since we left your office.”
“That’s not true,” Rafael argues, even though it’s definitely true.
“Yes, it is. You were mad the Uber took six minutes instead of four.”
“If the app says four minutes, it should only take four minutes.”
Sonny anchors his hands over Rafael’s shoulders, squeezing gently. “Come on. It’s Christmas Eve, what’s with the Grinchy attitude?”
Rafael lowers his gaze to the ground between them, focusing on the tips of his shoes as he shifts on his feet. It’s not that he’s upset about the accusation; he’s upset Sonny is right. His cheeks flush red and hot even as Sonny runs soothing hands down his arms. Willing the knots in his stomach to fade away, Rafael finally lifts his eyes to meet Sonny’s. “I’m sorry. It’s our first Christmas together.”
They’d spent Thanksgiving Day apart so Sonny could be with his family and Rafael could be with his mother. It’d been at Sonny’s insistence that they spend this particular holiday together, their first real holiday as a couple, and even after just over six months together, Rafael still finds himself wondering when all of this will come to a screeching halt. He’s never worried so much in a relationship before; but then again, his last “relationship” hadn’t lasted longer than a few weeks and there had been absolutely no love lost there.
With Sonny, he risks losing more than he’d ever expected to gain.
“Isn’t that a good thing?” Sonny asks. “I thought it would be a good thing.”
“It is,” Rafael answers, albeit weakly. His chest tightens as he watches Sonny try not to let his disappointment show through the slight downturn of his smile. “I just didn’t think we’d get this far.”
The words don’t come out the way he’d wanted and as soon as he says them, Rafael wishes he hadn’t said anything at all.
“Oh.” Sonny’s hands fall to his sides then into his pockets and he takes a slight step back, looking mildly embarrassed.
Rafael groans, shaking his head. “No, Sonny, that’s not what I--”
“--party of two! Sonny, party of two!”
“Do you still want to do dinner?” Sonny can barely meet his eyes. Rafael hates himself for it.
“Of course I do.” Rafael reaches for Sonny’s hand. “Listen, please--”
Turning on his heels, Sonny steps just out of Rafael’s reach, nodding toward the host stand. “Then we better go before we lose our spot.”
For a moment, Rafael can’t remember how to move, his hand still held out, grasping at nothing as he stares at the back of his boyfriend’s head as Sonny makes his way through the crowd to claim their table. He should have known he’d find a way to screw this up, to self-sabotage, he’s basically become an expert at that over the years. It isn’t until Sonny beckons at him to follow that Rafael takes a step forward, patting at his pocket to make sure the gift he’d brought along is still there, in spite of the fact he’s not sure he’ll be given the chance to hand it over anymore.
It’s just a misunderstanding, that’s what the voice of reason in the back of his mind whispers to him. All he needs to do is take half a minute to explain and Sonny will understand. Sonny always understands.
But Sonny doesn’t want to talk about it. Rafael’s second and last attempt to explain himself over dinner is dismissed almost immediately with talk of what the Carisi family has planned for Christmas tomorrow.
“My dad’s kind of pissed I told him I wasn’t coming this year,” Sonny admits, almost pointedly as he watches Rafael over the rim of his chocolate martini. They’d both indulged in the sweet cocktail, neither of them had been able to resist, but every sip sits heavy with Rafael; or maybe that’s just the guilt he can’t shake weighing him down.
“If you’d rather be with them tomorrow…” Rafael trails off, poking at his steak, quietly terrified of what answer he might get.
“Is that what you want?” Sonny sets his fork down, dabbing at the corner of his mouth with his napkin as he sits back in his chair. “You want me to go home for Christmas instead of doing what planned?”
“It’s your decision, not mine.” Rafael tries not to wince when Sonny scoffs at that. He could make it so much easier on himself, it would take hardly any effort at all, but Rafael is used to putting up a fight. It’s what he’s always done, and he’s gotten better at it since being with Sonny but tonight, he can’t seem to stop putting his foot in his mouth.
“You know what, forget it. Did I show you the picture Bella sent me of her latest ultrasound yet?”
The rest of dinner is miserable. They both laugh and smile at all the right places but Sonny doesn’t hold his hand over the table like he usually does and doesn’t try to feed him bites of their dessert, which is something Rafael always complains about because it’s embarrassing and yet, he misses it when they both take their last forkfuls of chocolate mud cake.
By the time they’ve paid their bill and are wandering through the Union Square Holiday Market with cups of hot apple cider in hand, Rafael is biting at the inside of his cheek just to distract himself from the tears of sheer frustration welling in his eyes. He could pass it off as a reaction to the cold if Sonny were to ask; but Sonny doesn’t, Sonny barely looks in his direction, instead pretending to be overly fascinated by every booth they pass even though Rafael has never once known him to care about candles or aromatherapy.
It isn’t until Sonny very nearly gets talked into buying an $85 sweater for the dog he doesn’t own that Rafael decides he can’t take it anymore.
“We’re good, thanks,” he says to the vendor, taking Sonny by the arm and pulling him along toward the row of lit trees that’s as clear of people as they’re going to get.
“What’s your problem?” Sonny asks, and it stings when he shrugs out of Rafael’s grip but Rafael squares his shoulders and lifts his chin, puffing out a burst of air as he scrambles to figure out what he wants to say.
“You don’t have to explain,” Sonny interrupts, “and I don’t think I want to hear it, anyway.”
“I do have to explain. I really do. Look, this isn’t easy for me.”
Sonny frowns. “What, being with me?”
“Yes! No. God, yes and no, Sonny, please try to understand. I haven’t let someone in like this in years. Decades, even. When I say I didn’t think we’d get this far, it’s because I thought I was done. I thought I was done with the dating thing, done being envious of people who’ve found someone to share their lives with, done with all of that. I was okay with it, I really was. Then you…”
Rafael finds he can’t quite finish his sentence, biting down hard on his bottom lip, blinking up at the bright lights of buildings above them as he waits for the hot tears pooling in the corners of his eyes to settle. Finishing that sentence means confessing what neither of them have said yet but what Rafael is certain, deep within his bones, is true for them both. Maybe that’s the scariest part.
“Me?” Sonny prompts softly, inching a step closer so they’re toe-to-toe, one gloved hand brushing against Rafael’s.
Rafael is quick to grab his hand, grateful for the contact. It gives him a surge of confidence to keep going. Sonny often does have that effect on him. “You changed things for me. You gave me a reason to want more, you even made me believe maybe I deserved it. Deserved you.” He doesn’t, Rafael knows that, he’s quite sure nobody deserves to have a man like Sonny’s love; but he’s the one who’d lucked out somehow. “I’m in love with you, okay? Deeply, deeply in love and it’s terrifying because I don’t know how this is going to end.”
Sonny’s lips part and for a moment, he’s speechless and Rafael is sure his heart has skipped approximately a hundred beats in the fifty years it takes his boyfriend to come up with a response.
“It ends with you and me, Raf,” Sonny says, his eyes wide but bright and his dimples starting to show. “It’s that simple.”
“But it’s not. You say that now. What happens when you get tired of dealing with the Grinchy attitude or realize there are so many other people out there who’d be so much better for you or--”
Sonny silences him with a kiss. Lean arms wrap tightly around Rafael’s waist and Rafael lifts himself up onto his toes, leaning into the warm of the embrace with a contented moan. When their lips part, Sonny holds Rafael in place, letting their foreheads rest against each other.
“It’s that simple,” he says again. “I love you, too. I’ve wanted to say it so many times, Rafael, and I’ll say it as many times a day as you need to hear it. I love you. It doesn’t stop, not for anything, not for anyone. You changed things for me, too. Hey, don’t give me that look, I’m serious.”
Rafael rolls his eyes but a pleased laugh escapes him. “You know I’m going to need to hear all the ways I did that, right? I hope it’s a long list, I’m very needy.”
“You don’t say,” Sonny teases, tugging lightly at Rafael’s scarf so their lips meet again. “We can do that tomorrow, spend the whole day trading all the reasons why we love each other.”
“You’re getting sappy,” Rafael says. His grins betrays his words. “Speaking of tomorrow, I have presents for you to open but I brought something to give you tonight. I wanted you to open it over dinner but I obviously messed that up.”
“Don’t,” Sonny says. “Don’t say that, we’re good. We’re so good.”
“Good,” Rafael echoes, nodding. Taking a deep breath, he reaches into his pocket to retrieve a small, flat box with a red ribbon wrapped around it, holding it out for Sonny with a slightly trembling hand. “Here. I hope you like it.”
Sonny takes the box and lifts a brow. Rafael lets out a long, dramatic sigh as Sonny shakes the box, holds it up to his ear, sniffs it. “What is it, new car?”
“Jesus, just open it, will you?”
So Sonny does, with a smile that only grows wider once he’s lifted the lid of the box to find a key nestled in tissue paper. His head snaps up, excitement flashing in his eyes, and Rafael feels a wave of warmth and affection and above all, a distinct sense of relief wash over him. “Rafael, I-- This is a key to your place?”
“Well, it’s definitely not a key to a new car.”
Sonny ignores that, returning his awed gaze to the key. “I don’t know what to say. Thank you. God, I really do love you, you know that?”
“I do know that,” Rafael says. He means it. He can’t believe he means it. “I love you, too.”
They share another kiss, share in each other’s warmth, and Rafael is certain he’s never been this happy.
“Merry Christmas, Rafael,” Sonny says, whispering the words in Rafael’s ear.
It sends a welcome shiver down his spine and Rafael lets his eyes flutter shut, basking in this moment. He’s loved, so loved, and there are gifts waiting for him at home but they only thing he wants is standing in his arms right now. How could he ever ask for more?
“Merry Christmas, Sonny.”