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“Is it ever okay to settle?”

Olivia looks up from her paperwork, staring at Barba from across her desk. She’s got a look on her face that’s usually reserved for people cuffed to a table, people she’s interrogating and trying to pry the messy, sticky truth from. She’s got a look on her face like she’s trying to see through his skin and peer right into his secrets. “Why do you ask?” she hums, folding her arms on top of her files. “Something’s bothering you.”

Barba smirks, raising an eyebrow. “Something is always bothering me. You know that.”

Olivia nods, sipping cheap coffee from a paper cup. He asked her once why she never drank the good stuff; her response was a casual shrug and a, “Just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s better.” Thoroughly chastised, he dropped the subject quickly. Now whenever he brings her coffee it’s from the little mom and pop place between his office and hers.

She’s clearly turning his question over in her mind, tapping the rim of her cup against her lips. “I don’t think settling is always a bad thing. I think when we’re young and idealistic we tell ourselves we’ll never, ever give up on our dreams, but then we grow up and realize that our dreams aren’t always the best choice for us. Or our dreams change,” she said thoughtfully. “So I think as long as you’re not giving up on the only thing that will make you happy it’s okay to settle. Sometimes settling for one area in your life gives you access to something better in another area, you know?”

He can see the turn her thoughts are taking in her own head, the way she is clearly thinking of Noah and all the sacrifices she’s making for him, how she wouldn’t give any of that up for the world.

Olivia Benson always has a way of genuinely making him feel better.

“Thanks,” he says softly, sipping his own, much more expensive coffee. “Thanks a lot, Liv.”

*

The first time he meets Dominick Carisi - Sonny, he’s told emphatically as a zeppoli is brandished at him - he’s not exactly impressed. The guy is a walking stereotype of a thug New York cop. His awful mustache makes him look like a greasy eighties porn star, and he could use a good trip to Barney’s to update his suit. Still, he puts in the work and he’s eager to please his new co-workers. He’s not afraid of doing the dirty deeds and readily signs up to do the things that make everyone else groan from boredom and run in the other direction.

Barba has to admit, he’s pretty hard on the guy at first. Carisi just...rubs him the wrong way. His accent is everything he hates about Brooklyn, he runs his mouth a bit too long sometimes, and he seems to think he’s much closer than he really is to the people around him. Barba can’t help but snap at him, get in little digs here and there when Carisi mentions Fordham law or something else that makes Barba want to roll his eyes right out of his head. Carisi either doesn’t notice or pretends not to, and keeps pushing to be accepted by everyone he comes in contact with. It’s a little sad.

He walks into the precinct on a surprisingly quiet Tuesday morning to find the place nearly empty, save for Carisi bent over his desk. The first thing Barba notices is that he’s shaved; the horrible mustache is gone, and Carisi looks about ten years younger for it. He notices for the first time just how blue his eyes are, how soft and clear his skin looks. How young he actually is. If Carisi has hit thirty yet then Barba is twenty-five.

He also appears to have updated his wardrobe a bit. He’s in a simple white button up and black slacks, but they fit him much better than anything Barba has seen on him so far. It shows off the long lean body underneath, the endless stretch of legs and long lanky arms hanging at his sides.

Damnit. He’s gorgeous.

Luckily it’s not hard for Barba to ignore the fact and get straight to work. Carisi starts making apologies for the absence of the rest of the team, but there’s been some sort of ruckus downtown involving a suspect and they’ve all rushed out to get to the scene. Carisi has been left behind to update Barba on the case so far and to submit some of the necessary paperwork for a warrant they’re trying to obtain.

Walking to Carisi’s desk, Barba rests his hand on a stack of papers nearly four inches high. “What’s all this?”

Carisi eyes the stack, pursing his lips. “Transcripts of Morrelli’s emails, chat conversations, saved files, everything they got off of his computer. I started looking through it already, so far it’s been a whole lotta nothing. But until I’ve highlighted every potentially useful bit of information I’m stuck here. OT’s already been approved for me for the rest of the week.”

“Wow,” Barba says with a low whistle. “Who did you piss off?”

“Everyone,” Carisi replies honestly, grinning and shrugging his shoulders.

Barba can’t help but admire the way he admits to that little issue. He’s really been wondering about Carisi’s level of awareness, if he notices that the rest of the team treat him like the younger sibling who’s a little too excited to be tagging along. Seeing Carisi acknowledge the way he’s treated makes a little knot of guilt form in his stomach - a small, insignificant thing, but it’s there none the less. Barba knows he can be a bit of a bitch, it’s his thing. Maybe he doesn’t have to be so quick to show that side of himself, though.

Barba thinks of the plans he’s made for the rest of the day; he was going to take off early, grab lunch at his favorite sushi place, and then go home for a relaxing night of reading and red wine. It’s been his promise to himself for a week now, a night of unplugging and letting himself actually be calm and complacent for a few hours.

But he looks at Carisi and all he can see is him working late into the night, surrounded by paperwork and containers of shitty fast food. He can see him stopping to stretch, reaching behind himself to try and massage a kink out of his neck from hours of hunching over his work. Carisi is an SVU detective; Barba wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the norm for him, but it still doesn’t feel right.

So he reaches across the younger man, plucking a highlighter from his pen cup and pulling up a chair. Carisi looks up, raising an eyebrow. “Counselor?”

“These interest me as well, since they may be relevant to my case,” Barba says indifferently, drawing a vivid yellow stripe over some text.

Carisi looks like he’s going to ask another question, but thinks better of it. “Alright, but dinner’s on me. I’ll order us Chinese or something.” His blue eyes are sparkling, and for some reason they make Barba think of the ocean; glittering and endless.

Barba chuckles, highlighting another passage. “I’ll get dinner, and we’re getting sushi. I may be giving up my night for you, but I’m not giving up my food.”

*

Going to Annisa for lunch. Table for two?

Barba is walking through Central Park, reading the text and sipping a latte. He’d met the man at a bar last week; the conversation had been good enough for him to write his number on a napkin and slide it across polished wood into a waiting hand. A doctor. Cardiologist more specifically, his lazy twang gave him away as a southern boy and a recent transplant to the city. They’d hit it off pretty quickly, and this is his first move towards something vaguely resembling a date.

His thumb is poised to ask for a time to meet up when he hears his name being shouted across the park. He turns, eyes wide as he sees Carisi bounding up to him. “Counselor! Hey, hi. Good morning,” he says breathlessly. His eyes are even brighter than normal, cheeks rosy in the cold and smile about a mile wide plastered across his face.

“Carisi,” Barba says with a bemused smile, nodding towards him. “What’s got you looking so excited?”

“Just found out I’m going to be an uncle,” he responds, looking ready to burst out of his skin. “I just saw my sister Bella, she just found out yesterday. Says I’m the first one she told. How great it that? She’s going to make a great mom, she always took care’a me when I got into trouble as a kid. She’s a few years younger but a lot more mature than I ever was.”

Barba blinks, taking in the onslaught of words. When Carisi finally goes silent he sips his coffee slowly before speaking. “Congratulations, detective. You must be fairly excited, you look like you’re going to explode.”

“I’m thrilled, real thrilled,” Carisi nods, eyes wide. “I’m not too sure about her fiance, but a baby will be good for her. She deserves this, she’s had it real rough for a while.” The glow in his cheeks hasn’t gone away, instead spreading a bit down to his neck. Barba can’t help but wonder how much farther the flush goes, if it reaches all the way down his chest.

“Well I’m happy for you then. And for her. Does she know when she’s due?”

“September,” Carisi says after a moment’s thought. “September eighth. I can’t wait to see if it’s a boy or a girl. This kids gonna be real spoiled, my family is huge and pretty crazy.” Carisi falls silent again, noticing the way Barba is looking at him. “What, what is it? Is there something on my face?”

“No, no, not at all,’ Barba says, motioning to the park bench a few feet away. They brush snow off of it before sitting. “I’m just always curious what SVU detectives’ attitudes are towards children and families. You see some fairly awful things, it almost makes me wary to want to bring a child into this world.”

Carisi considers the admission, watching two boys play a clumsy game of tag in the snow. Their feet sink into the white powder with each step, their laughter bouncing off the barren trees as they topple over again and again. “I get that, sure. But I also know there's plenty of good things too. Birthdays and weddings and new babies and Giants games. I feel like you're cheating your potential kid if you make their decision for them based on the bad stuff." Carisi sips his coffee, clutching the steaming travel mug between his hands for warmth. "I've had some bad days, but I've had some awesome ones too. I couldn't cheat someone out of that."

Without realizing it has happened, Barba finds himself smiling softly as Carisi rambles on. He always seemed so boyish, but maybe there’s a sort of wisdom he's never noticed. "Well said, detective Carisi."

Carisi blushes, shrugging and looking at his shoes. They’re smudged with salt and slush, in need of a good polish. "Just what's in my heart, you know?" He looks up, smiling wide. "Hey, why don't you let me buy you lunch? I know this great pizza place nearby, the owner and I used to play baseball together. We'll celebrate Bella's good news."

Barba considers the offer, thinking of the text waiting on his phone for a response, of a cardiologist with a Lexus and a penthouse in SoHo. Then he thinks of honest blue eyes and warm, comfortable conversation, beer and pizza and other things definitely not on his current diet.

"I'd love to," he says, even more sure of his decision as Carisi lights up. "Lead the way, I just need to send a quick message on my phone."

*

The cardiologist finally gives up on him about two months later, which is around the same time Barba lets Sonny take him on a legitimate date. One date leads to another, which leads to a third, which leads to his first New Year’s Eve in a while where he might actually have someone to kiss at midnight.

It would be a first kiss for them, actually. Sonny had never really been comfortable exploring his own bisexuality in the past, so they agree to take the physical side of it slow and give themselves plenty of time to get comfortable with each other. It’s easy to do; for all his eagerness to fit in, Sonny goes to extra lengths to make sure no-one around him feels left out. He’s always making sure Barba is having fun, always checking in on him to make sure he’s planning dates they’re both interested in. It’s refreshing not having someone try to assume he wants nothing but expensive dinners and Broadway shows.

Well, those are great too. But sometimes a guy just wants a beer in a dark pub with a gorgeous set of blue eyes sparking at you in the dim light.

They haven’t mentioned New Year’s Eve yet, but Barba can’t see any reason they wouldn’t spend it together. Sonny has dropped a few hints here and there; thankfully lawyers are good at picking up hints. So he starts looking into restaurants near Time’s Square, somewhere he can treat Sonny before they both experience their first ball drop together. Most New Yorkers avoid that nonsense like the plague, but the idea of playing tourist with the detective makes him feel giddy and young.

So the invite he gets in the mail that Friday comes as a shock and a drag.

One ticket, gilded and written in precise calligraphy, inviting him to a New Year’s Eve party thrown by the governor. He holds it in his hands, rubbing his thumb lightly along the embossed border and considering his ill-luck. This isn’t the type of thing you just decline, not when you’re a man working to drop the “A” off of “ADA.” He’ll have to go, and the one ticket makes it clear that he won’t be bringing a date along. So no midnight kiss.

He’s trying to think of how to break the news when Sonny calls him, excitement in his voice abundantly clear over the phone. “Rafe?” Rafael has always hated shortened versions of his name, but it’s so affectionate and easy coming from Sonny that he’s beginning to prefer it. Only from him, of course. “So I know we hadn’t mentioned New Year’s plans or anything, I don’t know if you have some swank party you’ve gotta go to, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask right? My sister Bella throws a thing every year...you remember Bella, right? Well, she’s really eager to meet you outside of you getting her fiance off of a drug charge. So she asked me to specifically ask you to come. It’s nothing huge, we eat and watch the ball drop and usually we get in a huge fight over a game of Scattergories. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds, I swear.”

There’s a moment of silence before he continues, this time sounding slightly anxious. “Unless that’s too soon. I mean, I know that might be too soon for family stuff. Don’t worry about me being disappointed if you say no, I just want you to have fun wherever you are.”

Rafael is silent, dumb-struck. He’s never dated someone with much of a family to meet before. Most of his previous boyfriends had turned their backs on their family for one reason or another, some Rafael can agree with and some so crass that he called the whole thing off as soon as he found out. The idea of being taken to a family function, of being shown off by someone proud to be dating him...it’s a little dizzying.

“Oh, and heads up...my older sisters Gina and Theresa will probably be there because they’re nosy as hell and want to meet this big shot lawyer I’m dating...good thing is you could out-sass them both with your hands tied behind your back, so I’m not too worried.”

Three sisters, all eager to get a look at him and see how he fits in with the family. Three women ready to judge him for better or for worse, while Sonny holds his hand tightly and steps in when they’re asking too many questions. Beer and cheap home-made food and four thick New York accents, and the chance to finally get his lips on the ones he’s been dreaming about for weeks now.

The governor’s a bit of a prick, anyway.

“Rafe you’re kinda quiet over there, you’re making me nervous,” Sonny says, chuckling anxiously.

Rafael laughs, warm and happy. “Sonny. Relax. I’d love to be there. I’m not afraid of your sisters.”

“I’m glad one of us isn’t,” Sonny says with a sigh of relief, clearly thrilled. “I’ll pick you up at six on Wednesday then?”

“Can’t wait,” Rafael agrees, hanging up and tossing the invitation on the counter so he remembers to decline it later.

*

New Year’s Eve kisses turn to kisses hello, goodbye, good luck at work today, Counselor. Sonny’s lips are soft, plush; Rafael can’t stop thinking of them when he jerks off in the shower at night, keeping his desire at bay until Sonny is ready to pursue it himself.

He finds he’s more than happy to wait. Sonny is so generous with his affection, never afraid of holding hands or stealing kisses or wrapping a casual arm around Rafael’s waist while they wait in line for popcorn at the movie theater. Rafael isn’t afraid of asking for it either. When they’re curled together on the couch watching Breaking Bad on Netflix he’ll take Sonny’s arm and wrap it around his own body, getting his human contact just how he wants it before he settles down. Sonny will just chuckle, kiss his hair and give his hip an affectionate squeeze.

It’s easy to talk about, easy to see how Sonny’s feeling about this foray into exploring his queer side. Rafael will ask how he’s feeling about everything, ask if he’s comfortable when they kiss or touch or lay together with their legs tangled together in Rafael’s oversized bed.

“I feel fine. Real good, actually,” Sonny will say, affectionately rubbing their noses together as Rafael strokes his side. “I’m not afraid to have sex with you, I’m not afraid of sex with a guy. I just feel like a kid, you know? Like I’ve got no experience and I want to at least learn you a bit more so I have some idea as to what makes you feel good.” He blushes, suddenly distracted by a bit of fuzz clinging to Rafael’s eyelash. “It’ll be real good, Rafe. I just gotta get there, you know?”

“I know,” Rafael smiles, charmed by Sonny’s blush. “You believe me when I say I’m in no rush, right?”

“I do,” Sonny says, grin returning as he meets Rafael’s eyes. “You don’t have the time or patience to lie to people.”

Rafael smirks, rubbing his thumb over Sonny’s cheek. “You get me. I like that.”

As it turns out, the moment comes a week later after they have dinner with some of Rafael’s friends. He’s not worried at all about them liking his new(ish) boyfriend. If they don’t like Sonny’s thick accent or casual manner they can either get over it or fuck off. He’s not going to train Sonny to be someone else for the benefit of rich assholes that Rafael barely likes anyway; the thought makes him sick, even more so when he realizes that Sonny would genuinely pretend to be someone else if it would make him happy. He’s too eager to please to fight it, so Rafael decides right then and there he’ll always fight it for him.

The dinner actually goes off almost without a hitch. His friends, upper crust types with deep roots in New York, get into an animated discussion with Sonny about the history of Coney Island and how great it used to be, before safety codes made them shut down all the good rides. They reminisce over funnel cake and cotton candy, Sonny talking eagerly about the Gravitron and how he and his sisters used to turn upside down on it and how he got a concussion on his sixteenth birthday because he didn’t flip back around before the ride stopped and gravity set back in.

It’s going well. It’s going great. And then their waiter drops a plate of lasagna straight onto Sonny’s lap.

Rafael is ready to go off in his usual manner, but Sonny is quick to comfort the shaking girl. He jokes that he hates the shirt anyway, that it’s a gift from his sister that he only wears out of love and affection and she’s really done him a favor. By the time they’re leaving he’s convinced Rafael to leave a hefty tip so she doesn’t go home feeling like a failure that night.

They go back to Rafael’s apartment, Sonny heading right for the shower in the master bath. While Sonny cleans tomato sauce and ricotta off of himself Rafael changes out of his suit and tie, pulling on a pair of sweatpants and messing up his perfectly coiffed hair. He passes on a shirt, the apartment is warm enough and he always sleeps in as little as possible anyways.

He’s sitting on the couch flipping through his DVR when a pair of large, bony hands with delicate wrists and long fingers slide over his shoulders from behind before venturing down his chest. The touch immediately sets him on edge, a twist of desire coiling low in his stomach like a monster hidden in the darkness. “Ah, hello…”

“Counselor,” Sonny says, the grin evident in his voice. “I’m nice and clean, come mess me up again.”

Rafael whirls around, fairly sure he looks like a stunned deer at the request. “You’re sure?”

Sonny looks good enough to eat. The pajama pants Rafael has lent him settle low on bony hips, exposing his flat stomach and just the barest trail of hair leading below the waistband. His hair, free of it’s usual ridiculous amount of gel, falls in his eyes and curls gently. His cheeks are pink from the heat of the water, skin glowing and clean. “If I recall, this is not your bedroom.”

“You recall correctly,” Rafael said, nearly jumping off of the couch to follow him down the hall. There’s a moment, a soft, silent, holy moment as they regard each other. Sonny looks for all the world like he’s being given some great gift, like Rafael’s the one who’s wanted to wait and is finally opening his body up to him. He’s eager, excited; his cheeks are flushed, eyes drinking in Rafael’s face eagerly as he waits for him to make the first move.

So Rafael does.

With a soft smile and a softer “c’mere,” he offers his hand to Sonny and uses it to pull him close. Their lips meet eagerly, soft brushes and gentle pulls as they reacquaint with each other’s mouths. Rafael finds that they fit together beautifully. The way his face tilts up to meet Sonny’s, tilted down, it’s so easy to find a halfway point that works for both of them. Long arms slip around his waist, and soon he’s pressed to the hard planes of a young body that’s burning up for his softness and give and experience.

“Come on, let’s lay down. I need to spend a decent amount of time kissing you,” Rafael murmurs, letting Sonny crawl onto the mattress before following his lead. They tangle together, Sonny on his back and sprawled out while Rafael leans over him, hand cupping his cheek, stroking his neck, exploring his bare chest. Sonny is so tall and long, there’s so much to touch. Rafael wants to leave no spot unexplored, to see how every inch of Sonny responds to his touch. He wants to feel him from the inside out, to stroke deep into places that Sonny himself has never explored, to see the curious and amazed look on his face as he comes with fingers deep and insistent against his prostate.

His mind is getting ahead of him.

“I’m going to write that waitress a thank you letter,” Rafael murmurs against smiling lips, moving to kiss along a sharp jaw. His hand slides up, letting itself weave through hair that rarely has the chance to be this soft and yielding. Sonny really ought to wear it down more. “Sonny,” he breathes, heart warm and full in his chest. “Are you good? Is it okay?”

Thin fingers wrap around his wrist, guiding his hand down and over the front of Sonny’s pants. He can feel the beginning of his erection, the way his cock is twitching eagerly as it fills and lengthens. Oh yeah. He’s good.

“Fuck, Sonny, I want you so bad,” Rafael moans, stroking his length lightly through the fabric. Sonny lets out a stuttering moan, hips tilting up to encourage the touch. “There’s so much I want to do to you, so much I want to give you.” He sucks at a swollen bottom lip, tugging it between his teeth before letting go. “God, I want to fuck you…”

Which is apparently the wrong thing to say. Sonny tenses, pulling away slightly.

“What?” Rafael asks, eyes wide. “Fuck, are you okay? Too fast?”

“No, no, I’m fine,” Sonny laughs, blushing and looking away. “I just...does it hurt?”

It strikes Barba that Sonny has never had a queer community, never had a gay uncle or a pan best friend to fill him in. This is a side of himself he’s never looked into, so he genuinely doesn’t know what to expect. The realization tugs at his heart a bit. He pulls Sonny close, stroking a soothing palm down his chest. “No, of course not. Not if you do it right, and you’re super into it.” He kisses along his cheekbone and to his ear, swirling his tongue along the shell before tugging at his earlobe. “And trust me, I’ll make sure you’re super into it. Why don’t we save that part though? We can watch some videos together, play around a little bit, see what you like…” His breath his hot against Sonny’s cheek, and soon the detective is breathing hard.

“But tonight, I want to give you something tonight…”

“There’s plenty we can do tonight,” Rafael moans, pressing their lips together again and again. “And I will be more than thrilled with whatever we decide on. But I want to know, what do you want to try?”

Sonny pulls him close, moaning as he feels Rafael’s thick length through his sweatpants. “I’d love to touch you,” he breathes, blue eyes dark like a stormy sea. “Jerk you off, hear all the noises you make while you’re falling apart…”

So that’s exactly what they do. Rafael lays back and lets Sonny explore. Let’s him taste and touch where he wishes. He points out his sensitive spots and all the things he really likes, shivering and moaning and making sure to verbalize his pleasure to give Sonny an idea of just how good it all feels. When Sonny’s hand is finally on his dick he’s aching, precome leaking from his tip and making it that much easier for Sonny’s hand to slide along his shaft. He comes with a shout, blue eyes glued to his face and taking in every small change in his expression, every tortured and blissful look that he gives.

When he returns the favor he’s fairly sure he’s going to die of a heart attack. Sonny is like an over-tight bow-string, taut and responsive like he’s been waiting for this since the first moment they locked eyes one each other. Rafael is caught up in how fucking lovely his cock is, something he’d never thought biologically possible. He’s thick, so wonderfully thick, a solid weight in Rafael’s hand as he twists his wrist with each upstroke.

And the fucking noises he makes. It starts with a stuttering “ah! ah!” and progress into wanton, slutty moans that make Rafael’s toes curl. When he comes it’s with a broken “Rafael!” that Rafael knows he will need to personally thank St. Jude for later. He’s not entirely sure the saints want to hear about his sex life, but it would be rude not to express his gratitude for that voice, that accent, that man.

Once they’re sated and cleaned up they cuddle together, Rafael on his back and Sonny curled around him with a thigh slung over his hip.

“Was it good?” Rafael asks, face soft as he looks to the man wrapped around her.

Sonny grins, looking sleepy and happy and in love, Rafael thinks with a thrill. “It was friggin’ awesome, is what it was.”

The highest praise, Rafael thinks with satisfaction as they both slip off to sleep.

*

“I’m sorry, Seattle? They want you to move to fucking Seattle?”

This is the closest thing Rafael has ever seen to Sonny panicking. His cheeks are pink, and not in that sweet, flushed sort of way; they’re blotchy, he almost looks like he has a fever. “I’m not entirely sure if you know this Rafael, but Seattle is on the other side of the country.”

“Ah, thank you for the geography lesson,” Rafael says quietly. He’s not in the mood to fight, but that doesn’t mean he’s not himself. In front of him on the table is a letter, typed in unforgiving black and white that’s offering him everything he’s ever worked for. It’s not a DA position, not yet, but it’s a significant pay raise and a step in the right direction. He thinks.

Sonny, sweet Sonny, dressed in jeans and a Ramones tee, stands in front of him gaping. He didn’t bother asking if Sonny would ever consider relocating to Washington. His life is here. His success is here. His sisters, who worry over him like mother hens but love him fiercely, would not be a fixture in his life on the West coast. Bella’s baby, growing bigger and bigger inside of her, wouldn’t be a few blocks away to spoil and love on the West coast. His job, his friends, his school, it’s all here in New York. It wouldn’t be fair to ask him to give up on that.

“I just...fuck, I told you I love you! And I do!” he exclaims, throwing his hand up. “And now Seattle? What the hell did I do to piss God off, huh? Cause this seems like a pretty sick joke, and I’m not in the mood for some sorta test.” His accent is getting thicker and thicker the more he works himself into a lather, words tumbling together and spilling out of his mouth in a jumble.

“Sonny, you need to stop. Can you please just stop for a second?” Rafael snaps, looking up. “I need to think and I legitimately can’t do that with you freaking out and pacing around my kitchen. So please, just...just shut the fuck up.”

Sonny looks wounded, sinking into a chair and sitting in silence. “I just..fuck, Rafael,” he chokes, and are those tears in his eyes? Jesus. “I love you, but this ain’t no Molly Ringwald movie. If you tell me you’re leaving I’m going to respect that, I’m not going to chase you to the airport and catch you just in time to beg you to stay with me.” His eyes are honest, terrified. “If you say you’re leaving I’m going to respect that, okay? I’m not going to try and change your mind if you tell me you’re going.”

Rafael is silent, staring at him with the letter held uselessly in his hand.

“But...but I am going to try once, just once, before you tell me you’re going,” Sonny rasps, voice thick with emotion. “Just once, and from then on the choice is yours and I ain’t saying another word. Don’t go, Rafael. We’re good together, you know we are. I know I’m not everything you ever wanted, but maybe I can still be good enough to make it worth staying, to keep you happy.” He looks down, swallowing hard. “I’m never going to be able to give you some fancy life, or a fancy boyfriend with tons of cash and a Lexus in the garage. I don’t even know if I’ll make it to passing the Bar, who knows if I’m cut out for that? I’m loud, my family is insane, I’d rather spend my Sundays watching football and drinking beer than going to some fancy art gallery downtown. But we got chemistry, you know? And that’s gotta amount to something.”

He moved to kneel in front of Rafael, eyes wide and terrified as he looked up at him. “I know that in the grand scheme of things I’m plan B, that you’ve been hoping and planning for this since you went into law. I’m the next best thing. But maybe, just this once, settle for next best. Stay with me.”

For a long moment Rafael can’t manage more than staring, staring at the deep frown lines on Sonny’s face and the way his eyes are wet and hopeful. The silence in the kitchen screams between them, and after a minute Sonny’s hands go limp at his sides and his head hangs low, face tilted to the floor.

“Second best?”

Sonny looks up, eyebrow raised. “Huh?”

“Second best? You think you’re my fall back?” Rafael asks, incredulous.

“I’m not a fancy job or some fancy office in Seattle,” he muttered, shrugging.

“Well that doesn’t make you second best!” Rafael nearly shouted, twisting his hand in Sonny’s shirt to pull him close. “God damn it, you’re wonderful. You’re bright, and smart, and funny, and sweet, and no matter how much shit I give you you’re going to make an amazing lawyer, do you understand me? I have never, ever, once in our relationship, settled for you. I have chosen you, yes. Every time I chose you over something or someone else it was a decision I made, a decision that you are my first choice and my plan A. You are not what I fall back on when my original goal falls through. Because you’re a god damn treasure and probably too good for me, but I’m not going to worry about that.”

He uses the hand twisted in Sonny’s faded old shirt to pull him close, crushing their lips together.

“And furthermore, “ he continues after he gasps for air, “I love you. I think you’re an idiot sometimes, and your football team sucks so I don’t understand why you watch them every Sunday, and you can’t cook, and all of those things make me love you even more. So fuck Seattle. I will put in my time here until I claw my way to the top, and I will be glad for it every moment because it means you’re at home waiting for me. And on that note you’re moving in and I won’t hear another word on the subject.”

Sonny looks up at him, stunned. “So...so wait. What just happened? What are you saying?”

Rafael rolls his eyes, sighing. “I am saying that this is my home, I am saying that you are on top of the list of Rafael Barba’s wants and needs, so I am going to indulge myself and go with my first choice. I also said that you can’t cook and you’re moving in.”

Sonny looks like he’s having a hard time processing this, so Rafael pulls him in for another kiss. “Say, ‘yes Rafe, I’ll move in with you.’”

“Yes Rafe, I’ll move in with you,” Sonny repeats dutifully. “No Seattle?”

“No Seattle. I hate the rain anyway.”

Sonny finally catches up, beaming and gathering Rafael into his arms, “Oh man. This is great. This is too good. I gotta call Bella. And we’re celebrating, I’m making dinner for you, alright? This is big, this is awesome.” He kisses him again, standing and jogging to the bedroom for his phone.

Rafael watches him go, mentally figuring out where they’ll order from when Sonny manages to burn whatever it is he decides to make. He’s thinking Italian...but he could settle for Chinese. If that’s what Sonny wants.