After about three weeks of obsessing over the engagement ring he’d bought, Sonny had to admit to himself that it wasn’t the real problem. Okay, so it was a little bit. After all, this was Rafael Barba he had bought an accessory for. Sonny didn’t have terrible fashion sense, if he said so himself, but he’d even bailed out of getting him cufflinks for his birthday in favour of a book and some chocolate which Rafael would be less likely to find secretly awful; and Rafael wouldn’t have had to wear these cufflinks everyday for months, in contrast to the engagement ring.
However, though he wasn’t sure whether Rafael would think the white gold was old-fashioned (as Sonny’s mom had claimed when he breached the general topic) or the diamond set into the ring too feminine (Bella swore it was, but Sonny thought it was subtle enough, or he hoped, anyway, it didn’t even poke out over the edges of the band), his main concern was that he didn’t know whether Rafael wanted Sonny attached to his side for the next years, let alone the rest of his life.
Rafael, as he’d told him sometime early in their relationship, had never seriously thought about getting married and the topic hadn’t come up since then. They sort of lived together, but Sonny still had his apartment. They’d only been with each other for one year, seven months (Sonny knew how many weeks, too, but he was too proud to admit it to himself) and considering how busy they both were, they hadn’t spent most of that time together.
It didn’t help that people kept being surprised they hadn’t broken up yet: his co-workers, his friends, even his sisters. They made good-natured jokes, but Sonny did wonder. Wasn’t like he didn’t know he was a bit of, okay, a real loud-mouth who tended to test some people’s patience; and that Rafael was a harsh man who would frequently forget his private life in favour of a case. Neither of them minced their words and yeah, that meant they fought. They weren’t a fairytale romance.
But wasn’t it a good sign they never stayed mad at each other? Wasn’t it great they could disagree and still like each other? If he didn’t believe that, he wouldn’t have bought this ring. Given that he couldn’t look into Rafael’s head, though (and much as he loved the guy, Rafael clamped up like a fly trap around an insect when you tried to make him talk about his feelings), he couldn’t say for sure that Rafael didn’t think that, long-term, they would drive each other crazy. Also, despite his own optimism, it wasn’t like he’d never had that thought.
So when the evening came that Sonny had made the reservation at the that flashy restaurant Dodds had recommended, obviously he completely chickened out. Rafael looked great in his black three-piece suit with the red tie. He had a weekend off for once so he was in a good mood, running at his incredible two-thousand-words-per-minute speed to tell Sonny about some of the antics in the D.A.’s office, his biting sarcasm turning idle office politics into real entertainment. Sonny had so much fun that he couldn’t get himself to open his mouth and potentially ruin the moment. The very last thing in the world he wanted to see was Rafael freeze as Sonny posed the question, fingers tight around his wine glass, green eyes nervously glancing aside for just that brief moment he needed to collect himself after the worst blows, trying to think of a way to turn Sonny down gently.
“What was this for?” Rafael asked, as they left the restaurant. Sonny had grabbed his hand and Rafael squeezed it, although he usually protested they were both ‘way too old’ to be holding hands. “Did you cheat on me? Drop the books I lent you for your mock exams in the tub?”
“No,” Sonny said, feeling the box in the pocket of his coat like a hot piece of coal. “Can’t I be nice without a reason?”
Rafael made a show of looking doubtful before he shrugged his shoulders. “Most people, no. You... maybe.”
Sonny smiled and, in his head, cursed himself.
“You’re the only person I know who regularly wears suspenders.”
Rafael swallowed his tuna maki.
“I’m the only person you undress that regularly wears suspenders – or at least I hope so.” The theatrically icy look Rafael threw him made Sonny grin. “Chances are that otherwise, you just don’t see them under the suit jackets.”
With a lazy movement of his hand, Sonny switched channels from the tail end of the news to a political talk show, then a music video, then some animated cartoon.
“Damn, you might be right. I’ll have to start cheating on you with classier guys.”
“I suppose so,” Rafael said, frowning.
Immediately, Sonny felt like a dick, even if Rafael was the one who had started the joke. Sliding his legs down from the armrest of the sofa, he sat up to pull Rafael into his arms. Rafael almost dropped his next piece of sushi into his lap. His frown deepened.
“Hey, you know I wouldn’t like anyone’s suspenders as much as yours.”
“I didn’t mean to make you angry.”
Rafael seemed puzzled for a moment, but then his face cleared up with understanding. “Your worry is appreciated, but I was actually just concerned that the tuna tasted iffy,” Rafael clarified, gesturing with the chopsticks. “But now that we’re on the topic, if I ever find suspenders around the house that aren’t either mine or a sign of you updating your wardrobe, I’ll tie the rest of your clothes into a neat little package with them and throw them out the window.”
“You’re a revengeful ex?”
“If you give me a reason? I might think of a thing or two.” Rafael smiled and squeezed Sonny’s arm with one hand. “But don’t worry. We probably have a good two or three years left before you meet a nice lawyer at your first job after the bar and break up with me.”
It was just a little too matter-of-fact for a joke.
“That’s not funny,” Sonny said.
“No,” Rafael agreed, looking at the TV, “it wouldn’t be.”
Straightening up, it was Sonny’s turn to look displeased.
“The hell would make you say that?”
“Bad fish. Bad cases.” Rafael shook his head. “Nothing you said.”
That was believable, Sonny decided. Rafael had been handed a case by homicide that had left him morose all week. Still, Sonny wondered if he should get the box sitting on the bottom of his dresser and show Rafael he had no plans of leaving him; that even if things got rough like they were tonight, he could count on Sonny being by his side.
When he was about to get to his feet, however, Rafael had already gotten up to clean up the plastic take-out boxes and glasses. “Do you want coffee? Or a drink?” he asked, from the kitchen, clearly trying to make good in his own pragmatic way.
Over his shoulder, Sonny saw Rafael noticing his own briefcase on the table and pull out a folder, which he waved in Sonny’s general direction. “Liv wanted me to give this to you so you can hand it on to your sister. Something to do with kindergarten applications. I confess I tuned out, but Bella will know what to do with it.”
Sonny came into the kitchen to collect the papers and watch Rafael fix his drink and work on the coffee machine. He opened his mouth, but realised that if he ran off now to get the box, the moment would have well and truly passed. Instead, he sidled up next to him, kissing Rafael’s neck, getting in the way of him trying to find a coffee mug.
“If you’re already here, you could help,” Rafael pointed out, but he was trying to hide a smile.
“I could,” Sonny said, not moving from his spot.
Rafael’s body was solid and warm as he put his arm around his middle. He could smell his expensive cologne, and saw the muscles working in his corded arm as he stretched to pull a mug out of the kitchen cabinet. This was great, wasn’t it? This was all he needed. Rafael didn’t need promises to feel better, he only needed Sonny. Marriage was antiquated, anyway, right? He should enjoy things as they were.
Or was it just that he was worried that in ten years time, he wouldn’t deal with Rafael’s bad moods so cordially? It was no secret he wanted to strangle him with his expensive ties sometimes. And maybe, someday, Sonny acting lovestruck wouldn’t be enough to make Rafael happy anymore.
It pissed him off, anyway, that the ring weighed on his soul at all times, like an obligation. Maybe he just needed to take it slow. Rafael didn’t wait for it, after all, and besides, wouldn’t it be cheap to just propose to him in their apartment? He shouldn’t have blown it in that restaurant, that was the truth of it, but if he invited him out again next weekend, Rafael would immediately realise what had happened, that Sonny had dropped the ball, which just wasn’t compatible with Sonny’s dignity. Besides, it’d cheapen the moment. No, he could wait – he basically had to wait now.
“For the last time, Dominick, I’m not bringing him to court like this! We can waste everyone’s time more productively. The way the evidence is now, he’ll get away with it.”
“He’ll get away if we do nothing! He’ll be out of the country by next week!”
With long strides, Sonny caught up with Rafael, blocking his way.
“What?” Rafael said, barely containing his anger.
“You have to help us.”
“Do you know how many government officials I’ve taken on since I’ve started working with the SVU? One more misstep and the D.A. will demote me to spend my life with traffic misdemeanours. I can’t just blindly take a shot at anyone.”
“He isn’t anyone, you know he’s guilty as well as I do!” Sonny snapped. Like Rafael could get him with that career talk. He’d personally seen him drag a Parole Officer and the whole local office of Social Services to court. When Rafael was convinced he was doing the right thing, hell and high water couldn’t stop him.
Rafael stepped around Sonny with a glower. “Obviously I won’t just let the matter rest. I’ll try again to get a warrant on his social media accounts and maybe – we have Jenkins in custody, right? He is a coward, he will make a deal.”
By the end, Sonny thought Rafael was more or less talking to himself. He took a deep breath to calm himself. Okay, that was a start. They might not get that warrant, but the deal, they could work with that.
Rafael looked tired and older than usual in the sickly white light of the underground garage, fumbling for his keys one-handed. His mouth was set in a tight line. They wouldn’t have the evening to make up, Sonny knew that much. Rafael would be working into the night on some sort of compromise he could offer that other dirtbag without making the whole thing feel like letting someone get away with less than they deserved. He wouldn’t do it for Sonny, but because, just like him, he knew it was what he had to do. It was the first thing Sonny had known about him, when he’d still thought Rafael was a bastard with a spiky ball of steel where his heart should be, and the one thing responsible for him never shutting Rafael's comments out even then – deep inside, Rafael was and always would be a good man.
Sonny stepped forward, thinking nothing at all because he realised clear as daylight that he’d made his decision long ago.
“Rafael,” he said, grasping his shoulder.
“What is it now?”
Without a word, Sonny dropped to one knee on the dirty concrete ground.
Rafael stared at him.
Sonny had taken the ring to work last Friday because Rafael had talked about going through the wardrobe during the weekend, and had taken it out of his desk this morning to put it back there. With a flick of his thumb, he now revealed the ring to Rafael, white gold with the small diamond.
“Will you marry me, Rafael?”
You couldn’t blame Rafael for having trouble switching gears. The pause stretched on. Somewhere in the distance, he heard a motor running and smelled the exhaust fumes, another workaholic leaving the building past nine pm. The ground was cold through the thin fabric over his knee.
“I, yes,” Rafael managed.
He switched his briefcase into the left hand, back into the right, back into the left, and Sonny realised he wasn’t sure which of his hands the ring went onto, and much too damn nervous to make a decision. He’d never seen Rafael’s eyes quite that wide.
Suddenly, he laughed. Grabbing Rafael’s left, he slid the ring onto his finger and pulled himself up on Rafael’s wrists, right into a kiss, wrapping his arms around Rafael’s ribcage and almost lifting him off his feet. The gallon of adrenaline came belated, like ice water in his veins.
With a deep exhale, Sonny nuzzled Rafael’s neck. Rafael’s fingers carded through his hair.
“You’ll have to enlighten me how this tedious twenty minute debate lead to a proposal,” Rafael demanded.
Sonny didn’t say anything. For how easy it had been, his reasons were convoluted. “I love you,” he said.
Rafael smirked at him, but even that couldn’t hide the fact that his cheeks were flushed and that he seemed torn between staring at the ring and Sonny in turn, no eyes for anything else. Sonny kissed him and took the keys from his hand.
Because Sonny didn’t know what came after the proposal, either, and Rafael still seemed vaguely shell-shocked, there was silence as he pulled out of the garage into New York traffic, still vicious enough even at this hour of the night. Stuck behind a creeping SUV, Sonny took his eyes off the road and looked at the ring around Rafael’s finger, his heart still racing.
“So we’ll be Misters Carisi-Barba.”
“Carisi-Barba?” Rafael looked up.
“Barba-Carisi, then,” he yielded, with a chuckle, but Rafael just kept looking at him. “What?”
“Nothing, really. I guess I’m a little old-fashioned. I quite like it when spouses have just one last name. But – we’ll see.”
Sonny pulled the car around a corner.
“I guess Sonny Barba sounds good, too,” Sonny said haltingly. “Would I have to drop the Jr., then?” The thought of not being called Carisi anymore was strange, just because he was so close to his family, and because the whole reason that he’d grown up as Sonny was that he had the exact same name as his dad. Still, if that was what it took to make Rafael happy... it was seldom he said something so sentimental, which made it hard for Sonny to turn him down.
“If you’d like to avoid that dilemma, I wouldn’t mind taking your name, either.”
Suddenly, Sonny was in serious danger of running the car into a lamp post. He hit the brakes hard at the next red light, turning to Rafael.
“Yes, seriously,” Rafael said, rolling his eyes. “Besides, I know your father would never truly forgive me if I renamed his one and only son.”
“You don’t have to do it for my dad,” Sonny said, knowing Rafael was right. Dominick Carisi Sr. was a bit of a traditionalist that way. He had come to terms with the fact that Sonny loved a man and that his children would be adopted, but if Rafael became a Carisi instead of Sonny a Barba, he’d be a lot happier at the wedding, and like the next thirty Christmases to come.
“I’m not.” Rafael glanced out the window towards a collection of blinking signs advertising bars, shops, a laundry hall. “‘Barba’ is my father’s name. I don’t dislike it for that, but I don’t feel protective of it, either.” He turned back. “Of course, if you don’t like the idea-”
“No! No, that’s not it!” Sonny sputtered. “I’d love for you to be Mr. Rafael Carisi. That sounds amazing! It’s just that I didn’t even think you’d agree to marry me.”
Perplexed, Rafael cocked his head. “Why wouldn’t I?”
That was a great thing to hear for Sonny’s ego, truth be told. Just the honest confusion on Rafael’s face – what would make you think I wouldn’t I want to marry you, Dominick? Yeah, he’d remind himself of that the next time they got into a fight.
“Well, it’s not... well-thought out or anything. I just proposed to you in a garage, which by the way, that wasn’t the plan, I mean...” Sonny was usually pretty good at this stuff, date nights and important anniversaries and such.
“If I based this relationship on what was well-thought out, I wouldn’t be with a man who is twelve years my junior and has a personality that is the direct opposite of mine.” Another brief pause. Sarcasm came easy, accentuating the negative, always did for Rafael, but he seemed to be working on the next part. “I love you, Dominick. I can’t give you more assurance than saying that I think I always will, unless you completely change who you are from the very ground up, because I think you are an exceptional person and I can’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t be able to see that. I’m sure there’s better reasons to marry someone. To be honest, five years ago I might have told myself that thinking love is all you need is for high schoolers. But spending the rest my live with you...” For once, eloquent Rafael failed to finish his sentence properly. “I want that,” he said, finally.
Sonny thought these words over, then pulled the car into an empty spot and turned around, grasping Rafael’s arms and kissing him again, slowly, deeply. It must have shown on his face how much Rafael’s words had touched him, since his boyfriend (fiancé!) suddenly looked a little sheepish and refused to meet his eyes.
“You’re not supposed to park here, Detective,” Rafael said, feigning innocence at the completely inappropriate nature of the remark, and pointing over his shoulder at a fire-hydrant. Dominick nipped Rafael’s lip, pushing in again for another kiss, and forced Rafael to stay quiet and accept the fact that he’d been romantic.
When they drove on, Rafael turned the ring on his finger, looking at it from all sides. He smiled slightly. Sonny forced himself to keep his eyes on the road.
“Right – so I’m warning you now, I grew up with three sisters and they’ve had my wedding pretty much planned out when I was seven,” he told him. “We probably won’t get much of a say.”
“I doubt the dress they have picked out for your future bride will really accentuate my good side. I have a very particular sense of style.”
“Fair enough. Uh,” that reminded him, “do you like the ring? I wasn’t sure you would want it. I mean, we can probably exchange it.”
“Well, you know, white gold isn’t in this season...” Rafael said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “It’s beautiful and also beside the point. You could have proposed with a plastic ring and I would have accepted it. Please have a little more faith in my good judgement.”
“Marrying me is good judgement?” Now Sonny couldn’t help but grin, ear to ear. “I wonder what would’ve happened if someone had told you you’d say that a couple years ago.”
“Don’t make me doubt it,” Rafael warned, slight amusement in his voice. Sonny noticed he curled the fingers of his right over his left hand, almost protectively, thumb resting against the ring. “I like the ring. Maybe some of my good taste has rubbed off on you – it took long enough.”
“You’re an ass,” Sonny said.
“Regretting the proposal yet?”
“Nah. You won’t get out of it that easy, Mr. Carisi.”
They smiled at each other.