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It seems like Sonny can’t catch a break with the lights. Four bulbs burned out in three days, and he’s pretty sure they’re all from the same pack. If he didn’t think it would be a total waste of time, he would call and complain to the manufacturer. But he has better things to do. Like heating up dinner for Rafael when he walks through the door at half past midnight.

Leftovers from Sunday’s SVU family dinner. Which Sonny’s taken over whenever Liv doesn’t have enough time to get groceries enough to feed the handful of people Sonny sees as family. That’s one thing Sonny’s really loved over the past six months.

“So it’s these two and the one in the bathroom that are out?” Barba asks while he rinses off his dishes.

“And now the one on my side of the bedroom. Last time I buy bulbs from the grocery store. Guess I’ll take a hike to the hardware store tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll get them. There’s one on my way to the office anyway.”

One of the ways, Sonny thinks. He knows Rafael hasn’t taken the same route to work every day for months.

“That’d be swell.” He catches Rafael from behind, and smothers him with a few kisses over his cheek and neck.

“What’re you doing?” Rafael chuckles. “That tickles.”

“Hey, it ain’t a crime to show some love, is it? Cuz if it is, you can lock me up.”

“You should know I’m not into bondage by now.”

“Yeah, figured that out a while ago, counselor.” He catches Barba’s lips with his own for a moment, only to let go. “Come on, let’s get some sleep. I’m exhausted now that I’m back on the job.”

“You mean back do doing something besides desk duty.” Barba corrects, but follows Sonny to bed anyway. When they get into bed, Barba flicks off the lamp on his side, and soon they’re both out. What they wake to is the sounds of a thousand nightmares.

Sonny misses their door being opened, the lamp on the far side of their room- the one that’s used so little that the bulb is black, making everything a muted brown- being clicked on. What he hears is a loud smack, and it jolts him awake.

Everything’s blurry, distorted, and it takes a few seconds for Sonny to find his hands. And to realize what that hard-hitting sound is.

When it’s accompanied by Barba’s screams, he understands. He sees a hand, holding a gun, being raised. Only to land down on his boyfriend’s temple.

Sonny doesn’t talk, doesn’t think, just lunges at this intruder that’s striking Rafael. He grabs the guy by the arm holding the gun, only to have the other hand wrap around his throat. Whoever this man is, he’s strong. Strong enough to throw Sonny back into the wall above their bed, only to land on the floor next to their bed. A sharp pain shoots through the younger man while he hears a clatter, a hard struggle. For a moment, he can’t even breathe.

“HELP!” He hears Barba scream, and he hears a punch landed, followed by another blow from the pistol. “HELP! SOMEONE HELP!”

Sonny shakes when he, finally, pulls himself up. He yanks open his drawer and feels around, looking for what he needs. Then, he pulls himself up onto the empty mattress. There’s something wrong, Sonny thinks, because now everything is fuzzy around the edges. Still, he sees what’s happening. He sees a dark figure pinning down Rafael. The criminal is all black fabric and a shiny pistol, and he can see it’s against Barba’s head. It’s why he’s stopped screaming. And Sonny knows he only has one shot before the perp realizes Sonny is conscious.

But everything is getting fuzzier. He has a hard time making out what part of the intruder he’s aiming for. In a split second, his gun goes off, and Rafael screams again.

“Rafe? Rafe did I hit you?” Sonny asks, scrambling over to him. The smaller pushes the dead weight of the man off of himself just enough to get out from under him. Sonny’s heart skips a beat when he sees the blood stain on his shirt. And on the bare skin of his hips.

“Sonny.” He breathes, scrambling over to Carisi and clinging onto him, covering him in the perp’s blood. He feels sick when he realizes his pajama pants are gone, trapped under the dead body in their bedroom.

“Oh god…oh god, are you hurt?’ Sonny asks, and pulls back to look at Rafael. He’s bleeding, there’s an open wound in his face. But Sonny’s not quite sure how bad it is, he can’t tell where the cut ends and the blood begins. He can’t really see him. “You…you don’t look right…” Sonny says, and blinks hard a few times.

“Sonny?” Rafael asks in a shaky voice, the closest Sonny’s heard him to crying in a long while. He rests a hand on Sonny’s neck, only to yank it away. “Y-You’re bleeding! Oh my god, sit down.”

“W-What…?” Sonny asks, but he has to comply. His legs are wobbly, and he’s not sure. “Oh…oh, Rafe….oh man, we need to…call…”

Sonny lays back horizontally over their bed. Rafe trips over himself- and the dead body- to grab his phone, and dials 911.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Hello, hello” Rafale’s yelling into the phone, but he can’t help himself. “There’s a dead intruder in my home. My boyfriend is bleeding from the back of his skull. I was almost sexually assaulted.”

Everything tumbles out, a far cry from his normally eloquent sentences. He has to spit out their address, then grabs Sonny, shaking him to stay awake.

****

Amanda and Olivia come by to take the statement, even though it feels like a violation. Like they should recuse themselves, because this is someone who’s practically family. But still they go to Barba, because they know he needs someone he can trust with his statement. Rollins takes it hard, seeing Barba with his face bruising over, and the cut on his face needing a bandage.

“Hey Counselor.” Liv offers.  He glances at the pair of them, and clears his throat.

“Detectives. Here to take my statement even though you’re way too close to this case?”

“Relaxr, we’re just here to take your statement.” Rollins offers in a sympathetic voice. “Are you up to it?”

“Yes. Yes, let’s do it now, before I forget.”

Liv takes out a pad to write his statement on. For a moment he’s taken aback, realizing just how many times he’s dealt with people in the situation he’s in now: first violated, then stripped, now sitting with the two nice detectives while waiting for a rape kit to be done. If it weren’t for that kit, he would’ve showered before the police showed.

He takes a deep breath, and stares at the generic green curtain in the room, his words coming out slowly but evenly.. “Me and Sonny, we went to sleep around…one? A little after one, maybe? I was sound asleep. And then, I woke up to someone pistol whipping me. I tried yelling, tried to get away. Sonny…he tried to get the guy off me, but this guy was strong. He grabbed Sonny by the throat, and threw him back against the wall.”

His eyes squeeze shut, and he swallows hard. “God, I thought he was dead. The sound his head made when it broke through the wall…and then he just landed on the ground, with a thud. I tried to get away, ended up knocking over a lamp and a picture frame. He…he, uh…”

The two women wait for him to continue his steady flow of words. And, after a few deep breaths, he does.

“I kept yelling, until I felt the gun press to my head. Then…his free hand, reached down and pushed off my pants. Pushed them down to my knees. He was…he was ready. He managed to get himself out, and he was….erect.  Started humping against my leg, like a dog. He was…already leaking. Onto my thigh. And then I heard a shot, and his body went limp on top of me. I pushed him off, and I checked on Sonny, but he was bleeding…there was blood, everywhere. I got blood on my phone, when I called 911. I got blood on Sonny. Then…I put on, um, the pair of boxers that they’re processing. And I kept Sonny conscious, until EMS got to us.”

“They brought us here, took my clothes…I’ve been waiting twenty minutes.”

“Okay, that’s very good.” Liv says in her usual tending-to-victims voice. “Is there anything else?”

“No…not that I can remember.”

“You tell us if you remember anything new, though. You know that.” Rollins reassures him.

“I know the drill, detectives.” He says, just as a nurse comes in to start the kit.

“Should we step out?” Liv asks.

“No. No, one of you can stay.” He reassures. They share a look, before Rollins nods slightly.

“I’ll go…wait for Carisi to wake up, so I can take his statement.”

Her footsteps are light, like she’s trying to keep weight off her heels as she leaves. Liv takes a seat next to the exam table and waits with him. The nurse, she takes care of him, going through the process. Barba won’t look at her while they examine him, or at the nurse. He’s quiet, keeping his eyes on the floor or the ceiling, anywhere he won’t have to look someone in the eye and see them pity him.

It takes another hour for Carisi to wake up. But when he does, he sits up quick, and his pulse spikes.

“Woah, woah don’t do that.” Rollins chides, gently pushing him back into the bed. His bright blue eyes search for a second before realizing it’s her.

“Rollins…”

“Hey, Carisi. How’re you feeling?”

He lets out a sigh. “Where’s Barba?”

“He’s okay. I left him with Liv.” Her voice lowers. “They’re doing a rape kit. Should be done in a little while.”

Carisi’s face crumbles, and he tries to look everywhere but at his partner. “Oh god…oh god, oh god…”

“Hey, shh, shh it’ll be okay.” She tells him, resting a hand on his shoulder. “Breathe for me, Sonny. Take a few. He’s alive, he’s going to be okay.”

He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, his ID bracelet sliding down his lanky arm. It takes him a few good minutes before he can actually talk again.

“Amanda…this guy just opened a window, walked into our bedroom, turned on a fucking light, and I didn’t hear one damn thing. If…if I’d slept one second longer…” His breathing hitches again, and Rollins puts her hand on his shoulder.

“It’s okay Carisi, it’s okay. You took the shot when you needed to, and you saved him.”

“I-I’ve never shot that thing before, off the job. I-I…god, I couldn’t see straight, after I hit my head…I-I thought I hit him.”

“But you didn’t. You saved him. You stopped it. You trusted your cop instincts, and they won out.”

“Amanda. You know that those things can go both ways.” He wipes his face with the back of his hand. “I feel sick.”

“Just lay back, Carisi. Take it easy. When you’re feeling ready, I’ll take your statement.”

****

Olivia returns after an hour with some clothes for Rafael, and for Sonny. Just whatever she thought looked comfortable, and was easiest to grab with CSU still crawling around.

“Thanks Lieutenant.” Barba says, taking the bag with their clothes, but he doesn’t move from where he’s sitting on the gurney.

“Should I give you some space?” She asks. He looks at her, face blank.

“I…I don’t know what to do.”

“I’m sure if you wanted to shower first, I could find-“

“That’s not what I meant. But, if you could, I’d really appreciate it.”

“I’m sorry Barba, what did you mean?” She asks, stepping closer.

“Lieutenant…Olivia…how do you move past this? This man is dead, but I don’t know if there’s more of them out there. Or how many. I don’t know how to get closure on all of this. I’m not sure it’s even possible yet.”

“Well…I don’t know about all that. But I do know you have a support system. And you have Sonny.”

“I have Sonny…Sonny, who’s never going to forgive himself for this.”

She opens her mouth to protest, but stops herself. She knows better. A moment goes by before she speaks.

“You can come stay with me and Noah for a few days while your apartment is straightened out.”

“Detective Benson, I don’t think-“

“It’s settled. You’ll be safe at my place. Just one less thing for you to worry about. And we’ll probably get a security detail on you now.”

He sighs and looks down at the bag in his lap. These clothes, which he’s pretty sure he won’t wear again after today. “There’s too much…too much. Just too much.”

“Is there anything you need? Anything I can get you?” She asks after a minute of silence.

“Find out about that shower. Please.”

****

They let Rafael go once his kit is done. The shower, a shower in an empty post-op room a few floors up, is quick but necessary. Olivia waits outside his door on high alert, and sends a text to Rollins every few minutes. She knows Barba was right about not knowing who else is out there. Who knows, maybe someone had eyes on the ambulance when they brought them both in? Either way, she’s not risking something else happening.

When Barba comes out, he looks exhausted. Under the fluorescent lights his usual paleness is completely washed out, turning him blue.

“Any word?” He asks. She shakes her head.

“We’re waiting to hear back. ME should be getting in around 5, we’ll know after that who this guy was.”

His nods, his face tired.

“They’re letting you go now. And they’re letting Sonny go soon.”

“Can I see him?”

“Uh, I think so. I haven’t stopped by yet. Rollins is with him though.”

“Good. He’s safe.”

She nods, reassuring, leading him in the direction of the room number Rollins texted her. They get there, and Olivia’s not surprised when Barba falters. She walks the rest of the way to the door, and looks back at him, waiting for some sort of confirmation. She’s unnerved to see how worried he looks. And not the same kind of worried when a jury takes an afternoon instead of an hour on an open-and-shut worry. There’s actual fear in his eyes.

He takes a few long breaths before going into the room, stepping slowly. Carisi looks up, his eyes fixing on his boyfriend. The largest cut, the one above Barba’s left eye, is covered with a bandaid. But there’s nothing to cover the smaller cuts, or the bruises surfacing on his face.

Carisi doesn’t wait for Barba to get to the bed. He gets up, despite the head injury, and limps over to him, his hands cupping the older man’s face. His own face falls apart again, his lips and his eyes squishing closed to hold back cries. Barba leans into his touch, letting their foreheads touch. He can feel the tension in Carisi’s, and the pain in his own.

“I-I’m sorry.” Sonny breaths, his hands shaking. “I-I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Rafael can’t find his voice at first. It takes him a few attempts before he can push out, in an unfamiliarly high pitch “D-don’t be….I’m sorry.”

“No, n-no this isn’t your fault. This isn’t.” Sonny tries, but his tears come full force.

Barba shakes his head, but doesn’t lose contact with Sonny. “It is, it is”

This is the great and terrible thing they’ve been dreading since Rafael flippantly handed out his address to the man paid to stalk him. He had no way of knowing who got ahold of that address, until now. Barba’s sure of it. But Sonny won’t concede, especially not now.

“No, never. I-I should’ve heard…should’ve…you could’ve…” He chokes up for a minute on his sobs, and Rafael can’t help doing the same. “C-C-Can I h-hug you?” Sonny chokes out. Rafael tries to say yes, but even opening his mouth threatens to let out more cries. He purses his lips, shuts his eyes, and just nods instead. Sonny drops his hands from Rafael’s face, wrapping one around his waist and the other around his shoulders, completely encircling Barba, letting him cry against his hospital gown.

Amanda glances at her Lieutenant, only to quietly get out of her chair and take her post outside the room, closing the door for their privacy.

Chapter Text

Both men still have tears on their faces when the doctors discharge Sonny. They’re exhausted, in pain, and the sun is peeking through the poor excuse for hospital curtains.

“Um…the Lieutenant, she asked if I needed anything…I sent her to get us clothes.” Barba says when they’re alone again. Still, he keeps his voice low.

“Oh. That was nice of her.” Sonny says back, and he scans the room. “That them?” He asks, catching sight of the bag next to the door. Barba follows his gaze, then nods and retrieves it for him.

“There’s something else in there, too.”

“Huh?”

“They, um…they took your gun, for the investigation. And…just, with everything…” Barba hugs himself, looking at the bag instead of Sonny. “Your taser is in there.”

“Oh.” Sonny looks in the bag, and pulls out his clothes carefully now. Sure enough, inside his folded up sweatshirt is his stun gun. A little part of him is relieved that he doesn’t have his gun right now, but he won’t say that to Rafael.

“I gotta thank her later.” He mutters.

“You’ll have time. She’s putting us up for now.” Rafael adds, looking at the wall now instead. Again, Sonny looks at him.

“Oh…wow…”

“She offered. And insisted. I didn’t want to argue.”

“Yeah, of course not. Okay, so, we got that going for us.” The younger man nods to himself before stripping off his hospital gowns, then dresses himself. He slips his taser into the pocket of the sweatshirt it came wrapped in, then goes to Rafael. He meets his eye for a second, before looking at his face. The bruises are fully bloomed now, and they stoke Sonny’s low burning anger under his exhaustion.

“Okay?” Rafael asks. Sonny nods.

“Okay. Come on, let’s get outta here.”

****

The sun is risen by the time the four of them get back to Liv’s apartment, but its rays are hidden behind an overcast. Barba knows Liv’s apartment, he’s been there before, but his stomach twists when it comes into view. He’s not sure if Liv really thought about the logistics of having the two of them there if someone is out to get him. If she considered what could happen to Noah. The guy tried to kill Sonny, anybody around Barba would be collateral damage.

Rollins waits out in the car, keeping an eye out, while Liv leads the two of them up to her apartment.

“Alright, bedroom’s right through there, you two can have it.”

“Lieutenant-“ Sonny tries.

“No.” she protests. “You two need your rest. I can bunk with Noah. There’s food in the fridge, there’s going to be a patrol car outside. Lucy will be back with Noah around three today.” With that, Benson disappears into Noah’s room, and the two of them hear the hushed babysitter’s voice. It’s only a few seconds before she reappears, nonplussed. “I’ll let you know what I can when I can. Scout’s honor.”

“You’re leaving already?” Sonny asks.

“We have to get in, make sure everything goes through.”

“Wait, you’re telling me that Special Victim’s is handling this?” Barba cuts in.

“For the moment, yes. When we find someone we can trust with the case, we’ll turn it over.”

“Really? You need to build a case?” Sonny asks again, cocking his head.

“We gotta do this by the books. Make sure nothing happens that shouldn’t.” Olivia assures, and pats his arm. “We’ll be ready to have you back on the job in no time.”

“Thanks Lieu. I appreciate it.”

“It’s nothing, really. You two just….get some rest. Do what you need to. Help yourself, what’s mine is yours.”

“Thank you, Detective Benson.” Rafael says in earnest. They both watch her leave. They both wait for the click of the lock. After a minute of them just standing there, one of Sonny’s hands rests on Rafael’s back.

“Let’s get settled in.” He offers, voice low. Rafael just nods, letting himself be led. He doesn’t quite believe it when he’s standing in the Lieutenant’s bedroom. A surreal feeling washes through him, and he’s not quite sure what to do. But then his stomach doubles over in knots, and he suddenly feels more exposed when his brain reminds him that he’s hiding here. It forces him to sit on the edge of her bed and hide his head in his hands.

The night comes back so vivid. The cold metal slamming against his face, the sound of Sonny hitting the wall, the…

Rafael forces his eyes open, and stares at the carpet instead of the evening replaying behind his eyelids. He feels the bed dip next to him, and without checking, leans into Sonny. A lanky arms wraps around his shoulders.

“It’s too much.” Rafael murmurs. “It’s all too much.”

“I know, Rafe, I know.” Sonny murmurs against his hair, and pecks the top of his head. Barba reaches out, taking his free hand between his own and holds it tight.

There’s pain in their silence. Pain as they sit there, listening to Lucy get Noah ready on the other side of their door. Listening to her leave with him. Listening to their dead quiet.

“How’re you holding up?” Sonny finally asks, and squeezes his arm.

“I’m not sure.” Barba answers. “I’m tired. Very tired. And very numb.”

“Makes sense, though. I mean, you know, people go numb all the time after being assaulted.” Barba makes a small, incredulous noise. “What?”

“It seems so unreal that this happened to me.”

“Of course. How many times have we heard victims say the same thing?”

“You really think I’m a victim?”

Sonny quiets, pulls away, and looks at him incredulously. “You’re kidding.”

“I’m just saying, nothing happened.”

“No, not ‘nothing’ happened, ‘something’ happened. Enough ‘something’ was going to happen that this fuck turned on a light so he could see it happen.”

Those words make the panic rise in Rafael’s chest. He puts his head in his hands again. Then Sonny has a hand on his back, rubbing it gently.

“Shh, shh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you, I’m sorry.”

A few shuddering breaths later, Barba looks at him, his eyes full of fear. Sonny moves his hand, gently touching his face.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry. What can I do?”

“Stay with me. Please.”

“Okay, okay. You wanna try and sleep?”

“Sleep. Sure, why not, let’s give it a shot.”

The sarcasm makes things almost feel normal. Sonny pecks his cheek, and moves to get under the blanket. When Barba thinks how odd this all is, he’s reminded of how he got here, and it makes sleep that much more elusive. Still, he gets in bed with Sonny.

“If you want to talk, you know I’ll listen.” Sonny offers after a while spent staring at the ceiling. Barba makes a slight, noncommittal noise. Sonny is quiet, waiting, hoping that Rafael will talk to him about this.

“I felt better having Benson there. She knows how this goes, she’s seen it hundreds of times. She would know if something was happening that shouldn’t be, or vice versa.”

He swallows, and takes a breath. “While I was laying there, staring at the ceiling, letting them…poke, and prod at me…I felt like a living crime scene.”

His head turns to look at Sonny, and he can see how his blue eyes are pink around the edges. A hand comes over to Barba’s face, and rests gently against his uninjured cheek.

“Someone…someone hurt you. And they were gonna kill you…” Sonny quiets, realizing he doesn’t know why he’s talking. When the small distance between them hurts too much, Rafael rolls over onto his boyfriend. He’s careful where he places his head, his injuries still inflamed. Sonny’s arms are delicate the way they wrap around Barba.

“I…I’m going to need some time. Before I can be with you again.” Rafael murmurs. He feels like a teenager saying it the way he does. One of Sonny’s hands moves over his back, and down his arm before finding his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.

“Whatever it takes. It can be a day, a month, a year, a decade- doesn’t matter.” He brings Barba’s hand to his lips, and kisses it a few times. “You need to heal. Right now, I don’t care about any of that. I just care that you’re safe.”

With their bodies pressed so close, it makes them feel safe. The room is warm, the curtains block whatever light slips past the clouds, and Liv’s bed is incredibly soft. It’s enough to get Rafael to at least doze.

Until there’s a loud clatter, and both of them jolt upright. Carisi’s body becomes fixed, and he moves stiffly over to his discarded sweatshirt, pulling out his taser. He holds it like a gun, which it looks like at a quick glance, while slowly opening the door. Rafael watches, frozen, stuck to his place on the bed. He watches Sonny make his way out into the apartment. His ears burn from listening for his footsteps, and then there’s silence.

“Rafe, come on out.” Sonny calls after another minute. It’s a struggle to move, but he makes himself, and pulls his sweatshirt tighter around his body. He sees Sonny with his posture relaxed, leaning back on his good leg, taser down. He turns to look at Barba, then steps away to show him a heap of blocks. The way some are laid out makes it look like there was once a larger structure. “It’s okay, see?”

Rafael nods, and comes over to Sonny, hugging him tight. Sonny kisses the top of his head a few times, arms around Barba, the taser loose in his grip.

“Okay, we really need some sleep. But we can’t do it like this. You want some Benadryl or something?”

“Yeah.” He nods, too out of himself for real words.

“Okay.” Sonny tells him. That’s such a huge promise in one single word.

Chapter Text

It takes an entire day before the guys can get into their apartment again. That night, around seven, the two of them, plus Liv and Fin get out of the squad car they’ve borrowed, and head upstairs. The first thing Rafael notices is the overwhelming smell of bleach, and it makes his stomach turn.

“Let us know if you need help.” Fin offers. “We’ll be out here.”

“Thanks guys, really.” Carisi tells him. Liv nods, and shuts the door, leaving them alone together. Barba heads straight to their bedroom, keeping his head down and trying to avoid any deep breaths or mirrors. He doesn’t look up when he enters their bedroom, going straight for their closet. Sonny follows, grabbing clothes enough to last him a week or two. From the amount of carpet ripped off the floor, it’s going to be at least that much time until they can come back.

Barba is all business, going from the closet to their wardrobe, pulling things without even looking at them. He’s thinking the same way as Sonny, packing a week’s worth of clothes, including a pair of suits. He figures maybe if he has them then he’ll force himself to go to work. He zips his suitcase decisively, and for a second he just stands there, looking at the drawers, trying to decide something. When Sonny steps out of the closet with his duffel, he pauses.

“You okay, Rafe?”

“Yeah. I’m just thinking…I need my…you know what? I’ll buy a new phone charger.”

“Nah, nah don’t do that. I’ll go get it.” Sonny squeezes his boyfriend’s shoulder, before going over to his side of the bed. There’s a huge patch of bare flooring, reminding Sonny exactly of what he saw, exactly where it happened. He sorts through his bedside table, quickly, pulling out his charger and a few other things he think Rafael will want. His hands shake when they close the drawer. The lamp on top rattles, but without a bulb he’s not so worried about breaking it.

“Okay I’ve got your charger, keys, chapstick, mace, anything else you want out of that drawer?”

“No I’m okay.” Rafael doesn’t look at the items, shoving them in his pocket. “Can we go?”

“Sure, just a few more minutes and we can go. How about you wait in the living room?”

“No, no, I’ll just…” He takes an extra deep breath, only to regret it. “I’ll go wait in the living room.”

Five minutes and a bag of packed toiletries later, the two of them walk out, making both detectives turn.

“That was fast.” Fin comments.

“We knew what we needed. Shall we go?” Barba insists.

“Yeah, c’mon counselor, let’s get you guys back to Liv’s.”

Fin takes long strides to keep up with Barba, who’s practically running away. Carisi keeps pace with Liv, avoiding her glances and the questions they lead to.

He doesn’t look at her straight on until they’re back to the apartment, and even then it’s by accident, while she’s holding Noah. He makes a few funny faces at him, getting the little guy to giggle, before they look at each other.

“Alright Noah, sweet boy, go play in your room.” She says, and sets him down. He wanders off, and she waits until he’s gone before looking at Carisi. “So, how’re you handling things?”

He purses his lips, then shrugs. “If I’m honest? I’m glad I don’t have my gun.”

“Carisi…”

“I know, I know, it was a good shot. But still…I’ve never done that, before. Especially not off duty.” He pushes a hand through his un-slicked hair, but a few strands fall in his face. Liv is struck by how young he looks. She pats his shoulder.

“I know. Still, that was a good shot. With your sight messed up-“

“That’s the thing. I keep running it over, wondering what would’ve happened if I was just a little off-“

“Hey, you can’t play that game. That game is ugly. Just take a breath, and be glad for the people you still have.” She waits a moment, letting him chew on that. “How about Barba?”

“He…it’s what you’d expect. Rationalizing that it wasn’t that bad, or that it could’ve been worse, then realizing what it was supposed to be, then remembering it actually was...he keeps avoiding mirrors, doesn’t want any more reminders. Not that I blame him. Hell, I don’t want to remember that either.” He shudders and crosses his arms. “Just gettin’ through. He keeps saying he wants to get outta your way as soon as possible, but between you me and the floorboards, I think he feels better bein’ here.”

“You do?”

“And worse. Because he’s waiting for the next hit to go down. Doesn’t want something happening to you or Noah, y’know?”

“I understand.” She reassures. “You two stay as long as you need.”

“Thanks Lieu. Hey, you know anything yet?”

“Uh…Carisi, you know I can’t share that.”

“Alright.” He shrugs. “Worth a shot, anyway. Let me know when you’re all closed out.”

Chapter Text

It takes another four days to get Barba to go outside. Even with the constant patrol car and the reassurance that SVU is close to getting the case closed, it takes Noah to get him out of the house. Noah, who comes home the second night the men are with them with a drawing of a rainbow for Barba. Who, along with that picture, says he hopes his booboos heal fast and he feels better. That same kid asks ‘Rafe’ to go to the park with him and Lucy. They take the squad car to and from the park, and Noah thinks it’s a whole bunch of fun not having to walk.

Olivia’s heart swells a little at what she sees when she walks in: Noah asleep in Barba’s lap.

“Looks like someone had a good day.”

Barba looks up. “I guess so. Funny, how a good day for a kid is one that tires them right out.”

“He seems to love you.”

“I let him watch TV, I read him a story, and I gave him dessert before dinner, of course he loves me.” He says matter of factly, even with his arm still around the sleeping child.

“Well, still, it’s nice to see you two together. You look relaxed.”

“I don’t feel relaxed.” Barba says softly. Liv waits. “How do you still do this job after having a child? With all the filth we see every day, involving kids Noah’s age and younger. How can you still do it?”

She purses her lips, and runs a hand through her son’s hair. “I’m not sure. But I’ve managed this far.”

They sit in silence for a long while.

“Nobody would blame you, if you didn’t want to work with SVU anymore. If you transferred out of sex crimes”

“You should know me better than that, lieutenant.”

“Just know, it’s out there.”

“I know it is.” He says simply. They sit there for some time, just watching TV, letting Noah sleep. After a few minutes, Olivia gets up and goes into her room to change. She flicks on the light, then stops short when she sees Carisi asleep, sprawled out on the bed. Again, it pains her to notice how young he looks, especially while asleep. She turns the light back off and grabs a few things from her closet, and slowly makes her way into the bathroom. When she comes out, he’s awake and sat up, pulling a sweatshirt over his bare chest.

“Good morning.” She comments, making him look up. He yawns.

“Mornin’ Lieu.” He says past his yawn, and stretches his arms out in front of him, then relaxes. “W’time is it?”

“A little after six.”

“Oh. Wow. Guess I’ve been out all day. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything’s good. Noah roped Barba into going to the park.”

He laughs and rubs his eye. “Wow, that’s somethin’. How’d he get him to do that?”

“I guess he’s just that persuasive.”

“Well, that’s just damn adorable.” He stretches again, this time over his head, then drops his arms.

“So you’ve been asleep all day?” She asks. He shrugs.

“Just didn’t sleep last night, y’know? Haven’t really slept at night in…um…” he can’t tell what day it is. “Couple days. You, uh, you know anything yet Lieu? Anything you can tell me?”

She shakes her head. “Sorry. Soon, though. Very soon.”

“Very soon.” He murmurs and nods, then sighs. “Alright. Well. Guess I should do something. Just starin’ at a wall’s gonna drive me nuts.”

She nods and leaves him be. A few minutes later he comes out, dressed in jeans and an NYPD t-shirt. He plops next to Barba and kisses his cheek, putting an arm around him. Noah’s been moved to his bed.

“Welcome back to the land of the living.” Barba jokes, leaning into him.

“Glad to be here. You have an okay day?”

“I think so. Spent some of it with Noah. Spent the rest of it with the TV.”

“Good, means you’re taking it easy.”

“Something like that.”

“Hey, let’s go get a drink.” Sonny says, making Barba look at him.

“What?” He cracks an amused smile. It still looks wrong to Sonny, seeing that smile and those bruises on the same face.

“Yeah. I haven’t had a drink since this all started. C’mon, I know you could use a scotch.”

He shrugs. “I could go for one.”

“See? Come on, let’s go. There’s a cop bar not too far from here.”

Barba lets himself go along with it. Going out the second time is easier than the first. Barba lets Liv know they’re going out for a drink, and she gives a smirk, but doesn’t voice how interesting she finds it. Really, the place is very close to Liv’s apartment, and in the squad car it’s only a five minute ride. Barba keeps his head down, avoiding anyone’s eye. Sonny’s hand rests on his back, guiding him over to the bar where they sit.

For a moment, they’re normal. Just a couple guys getting a scotch and a beer and sitting together in companionable silence. Sonny won’t push him to talk here, around so many prying ears. It’s not a private place.

“Hey, Barba, Carisi” both their heads turn to see an officer they don’t know coming over to them. “We heard what happened, in your home. How they targeted you, just for doing your job. Just know that whatever happened with Munson, whatever happened with Reynolds, this is different from all that. We’ve got your back.”

Carisi look at Barba, but Barba doesn’t give himself away.

“Well, thus far the brothers in blue haven’t been the most reliable group for me” Barba offers “But I would like to believe you now.”

“Hey, I get it.” This stranger says again. “We can be a stubborn bunch. But someone tries to take down one of their own, in their own freaking bed, we can’t let that slide.”

“Good to know, man” Sonny holds his fist out for a bump, which he gets.

“Officer Lowsa, from the two-seven. Good to know you both.” The stranger introduces before taking off.

“Do you believe that?” Barba murmurs, his face focused on the liquor bottles while he sips.

“No.” Carisi answers, and sips his beer.

“What do you think?” Barba asks.

“I think I can count on one hand the number of people not trying to fuck us over, and that’s it.”

Barba sighs and drains his glass, then nods to the bar tender. Sonny puts a hand over his and squeezes gently. It’s a good thing too, because picking up his glass with his left hand makes Rafael drink slower. They sit in their own little bubble, with quite a few people working not to look at them.

“People are avoiding us.”

“You’re surprised?” Rafael asks. Sonny shrugs.

“Not really.”

“I prefer the not looking to the open staring. It was bad enough at the park. You know how many parents were gawking at me? Probably thinking I was a domestic case.”

“How do you know that’s what they thought? You can’t read minds.”

“I don’t have to. One of the moms came over to me when Lucy stepped away, and asked if ‘my son’ and I needed help.”

“Oh. Oh wow.” Sonny chuckles. “That’s not funny, I know that’s not funny. But it’s a little funny.”

“It was. I said Noah wasn’t my son and she commended me for staying, while reminding me that a parent has to take care of themselves before they can really help their child.”

“It’s good to know there are still decent people out there.”

“Something like that.”

“Counselor Barba?” An old voice cuts in. Both of them turn to look at the lanky man in glasses.

“Sergeant Munch.” Barba greets, but doesn’t move to let go of Sonny’s hand.

“Oh, I know you. The Lieu tells war stories about you.” Sonny sets his bottle down and shakes the older man’s hand. “Good to know you. Detective Carisi. Call me Sonny.”

“Good to know. Still, weird to think of Benson as a Lieutenant. I just know her as Liv.”

“You guys go way back like car seats, huh?”

“You know it. Listen, you guys, I know things are a bit…dicey right now” his voice drops, and he leans in, setting down the empty glass he’s holding “what with all that’s happening. You’re friends with Liv. If you guys need help, need backup, gimme a call.”

“Can do, Detective.” Barba nods.

“Please, just call me Munch. You two, take care of yourselves.” The old detective pats Carisi on the back, and Barba’s glad he doesn’t get the same treatment.

“I hope he’s part of your handful.” Barba adds, and takes another sip.

“Should he be?”

“Not only did he work with Benson for god knows how long, but he’s Detective Tutuola’s old partner.”

“Oh, wow.”

“Yeah. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him around more often.”

“If they think he’s trustworthy.”

“He is. He’s a DA investigator now.”

“Huh.” Sonny says, and sips his drink again, settling the uneasy feeling in his stomach. After his second beer, and Barba’s third scotch, it seems like a good time to go. They’ve been around just long enough to say they ‘went out’. Besides, the bar is filling up, and Barba’s feeling a bit claustrophobic. Sonny pays, and they leave hand in hand, Sonny refusing to let go of Barba’s as he follows along. The patrol car following them is still parked out front.

“Hey, thanks for waitin’ guys.” Sonny says once they’re moving. The woman in the driver’s seat laughs.

“Well we weren’t about to ditch you two.”

“Yeah, Lieutenant Benson would have our heads on platters for that.” Her rookie passenger adds. “Besides, it’s only just quitting time. Not gonna kill us to wait.”

“Well, still, glad you guys stuck around.”

“I might come back after this. A drink sounds like a good idea.”

“Hey, great minds, right?” Sonny jokes. She’s mid laugh when it happens.

A loud bang against a door, and then shattering glass.

Bullets.

Sonny throws himself over Barba, pulling them down onto the floor of the back seat. The car lurches to a stop.

More bullets.

Screaming.

More bullets.

Sonny’s crushing Barba so he can’t breathe. His chest hurts. His ears are pounding.

Even when the bullets stop, his pulse is still screaming. Sonny pulls away, twisting Barba around to look at him. “Are you hit? Did you get hit?”

Barba shakes his head, but he doesn’t feel like he’s moving. His neck is so stiff. The back door is thrown open, hitting the squad car next to them, but both of them cringe away from the sound.

“Detective, Counselor, are either of you hit?”

“No, no hits, no.” Carisi reassures. His voice is drowned out by sirens. The rookie has to yell over the sound.

“Come on, let’s get you two out.”

Sonny goes first, then helps Barba out of the back seat. Which is a good thing, since Rafael’s legs give out once he’s on solid ground. A chorus of ‘woah’s are heard, and Sonny guides Barba to sit on the sliver of asphalt between the two vehicles. A chill creeps over him when he feels at least four shell casings underneath him. His heart pounds. Sonny gets him to put his head between his knees, which only makes the pain in his face worse.

“Carisi! Barba!” Liv yells out over the din. Sonny pops up from the small space between the vehicles and runs over to her. He can’t believe she got here so fast, or what felt like so fast. She throws her arms around him for a moment. “What happened?”

“I-I dunno, I dunno, we were on our way back and they opened fire-“

“Okay, okay. Is Barba okay?”

“He’s fine, he can’t stand though. Oh god, oh god…” Sonny grips his hair, shaking his head. “Fuck, this is bad Lieu, this is so fucking bad.”

“Carisi, calm down, things are going to be okay…” she trails off, her eye following something. Sonny follows her gaze, only to feel woozy when he sees a woman being wheeled into an ambulance.

“Carisi, come on, bring me to Barba.” She repeats, and tugs his arm. He’s shaky on his feet too, and walks over to Barba, who’s being escorted to an ambulance. They stay there, the EMT’s checking them both over.

Rollins and Fin turn up too, standing guard at the ambulance. Barba won’t look straight at anything, won’t talk, and won’t move from Sonny’s side. And Sonny won’t let him go either. Not until Liv makes them so they can give their statements.

It’s slow goings with Barba. With the blanket wrapped around his shoulders and his voice small, Rollins has to drag details out of him.

Sonny falls over his words, gesticulating like usual when he talks. His unstyled hair keeps falling over his face.

“And this guy comes over to me and Barba, making a big deal of saying that the cops have our back despite what Barba did with Munson and all the other cop stuff. Dammit, this guy was slick too. But he said he was from the two-seven, that his name was Lowsa. Is it a coincidence that we come out of a cop bar and a minute later there’s open fire? And none of the cops in the freakin’ packed cop bar came to help?”

“Carisi, calm down. Did you talk to anyone else in there?”

“Just him and the bartender and one of your old guys. Munch.”

“Munch?”

“Yeah, ask Barba, he’ll tell you.”

“Wow. Okay, I’m not sure how much help that’ll be-“

“He said to call on him if we need help, if things go south. You don’t…you…”

“No, not a chance he’s mixed up in anything. Excuse me.”

“Lieu, where you-“

“I’ll be right back.” She yells over her shoulder. Sonny waits. Sonny waits for what feels like forever, but is really only five minutes, before she sees his Lieutenant with Munch in tow. He looks skinnier in the light of day. And older.

“Alright, Carisi, Fin and Munch are taking you and Barba home. Don’t go anywhere, don’t talk to anyone. Don’t open the door.”

“Yes Lieutenant.” Sonny gets out of the squad car he’s been sitting in the open back seat of. She gives him a pat on the back, and sends them on their way in a different car. One that someone else came in.

Barba is completely out of it. He actually needs his hand held to get into the car. Fin glances at Barba in his rearview, then at his old partner, who gives him a raised eyebrow, head shaking, ‘this is really fucking horrible, isn’t it?’ look.

They can’t be too careful. Fin goes into the apartment ahead of the three of them, checking things out, then signaling the all clear. Still, Barba’s out of himself. Sonny reassures him, gently telling him that they’re okay. It disturbs the old partners to see the ADA in such a state. It’s a relief when they go inside and the door closes, leaving the two of them in the hall.

“So, partner, can you fill me in on what we’re looking at here?” He asks, leaning back against the wall and facing the younger man. Fin lowers his voice.

“Kid that tried to kill Barba was BX9.”

“BX9? What do they want with Barba?”

“He busted a couple of their top guys last year. These dudes trafficked the babies from their prostitutes for use in kiddy porn. They’re each serving 25 to life, no chance of parole before then.”

“So, what’s the deal with cop involvement then? Liv thinks there’s some sort of crossover”

“We think BX9 has someone on their payroll, or maybe someone they’ve allied themselves with. We’re not totally sure yet.”

John shakes his head, and crosses his arms. “These people. Going after someone for doing their job.”

“As far as they care, his job gets in the way of their job.”

“I remember how it goes.” John sighs. They’re interrupted by a knock. It takes them a second before they realize it’s coming from inside Liv’s apartment. A moment later, the door unlocks and Sonny pokes his head out.

“Hey guys. Uh, I know this is kinda low on the priority list right now. But we’re outta milk, and Noah and Barba want cereal, so…”

The old partners share a look and a laugh.

“What kind?” Munch asks, straightening up.

“Whole. Here.” He pulls out his walled and hands over a $5. “Get the big thing. The Lieu’s getting a half gallon at a time and she wonders why we’re outta milk every other day.”

He won’t argue. If Barba wants to feel somewhat normal after being shot at, the least John can do is get him some damn milk.

Chapter Text

When Barba falls asleep, it’s usually on his side. But when he wakes up, he’s almost always on his back. Over the past two years, Rafael’s learned how to sleep in bed with another person without waking up twisted into him. Too many of their first nights turned into mornings with limbs asleep and half the pillows on the floor.

He wakes up now, not with his arm stuck under Sonny’s neck, but with the younger man’s arms wrapped around him loosely. And, a few inches away from his face, his Sonny’s stun gun. It takes him a long minute before he has it in himself to roll over and look at Sonny, who’s wide awake. He’s bare chested, and Rafael takes advantage of that, placing a hand over where his heart is.

“You didn’t sleep.”  Barba states.

“You did.” Sonny retorts. He’s pale as snow, but still warm to the touch.

“You need to sleep at night again.”

“When I go back to work.” Sonny pecks his forehead. “How you feelin’?”

“Numb. I’m back and forth between numb and shock. You know that.”

“I do. You had a nightmare last night.”

He blinks up at Sonny. “I did?”

“Uh huh. Woke up sayin’ you were scared, that you didn’t mean for it to happen, that you still loved me. You were some kind of freaked.”

Barba’s face creases in worry, and Sonny touches his forehead to make it stop. That looks painful with the way his face is still so dark. “I have no memory of that.”

“It’s better that way. That was…” he glances at the clock “about two hours ago. What’re you doin’ up?”

“I fell asleep early. Guess I’m up early, then.”

They don’t move to get up for a while. Barba clings onto him. If he wanted to, he could conk right out, but his stomach growls in protest. Rafael forces himself up, and Sonny’s arms release him easily. “Do you want anything?”

“Nah, thanks, I had a grilled cheese around three. Probably gonna sleep soon.”

“Okay. Have fun with that.” Rafael leans over and gives him a peck on the lips before leaving the room. What he finds in the living room is the lieutenant asleep, with her arms crossed and a blanket spread unevenly over her. But he doesn’t linger, instead going into the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. He’d rather be awake than asleep, when he could have another nightmare.

The sound of the Keurig is enough to wake up Liv, who takes a few minutes to get herself right before coming into the kitchen. Rafael notices a few things about her while he makes up his coffee, like the way her hair is pulled into a messy bun and how her holster stands out against her pink flannel pajamas.

“Do you always sleep in your holster?” he asks while she waits for her own drink. She just shrugs.

“Munch and Fin left around midnight. Fin got two beat cops he said are solid. But…” Again, she shrugs. “I didn’t have it in me to fight.”

Rafael looks down at his cup. “This…this is horrible. Two hits on my life, in one week. And I can’t do anything about it.”

“We’re on it, Barba. Trust me, this won’t last much longer. We won’t stop until you’re safe again.”

He gets why people testify when she asks them to. Her voice is so soothing and reassuring, even when you know there’s a lie in there somewhere.

“There’s a shift change soon. I’ll check them out before I leave.”

“Thanks.” He yawns and sips his coffee again.

“How are you holding up?” She asks, again with that gentle voice. He only half shrugs.

“I’m just trying to survive. I’ll worry about everything else later.”

“Fair enough. If you want to talk-“

“I know, Liv.” She’s glad for the use of her nickname, even though it sounds odd in his mouth. She’s also glad that there’s no deadly weapons left in the house after she leaves with her gun.

“Just lay low today. Stay inside, keep quiet, you know the drill.”

“Will do.” He agrees, and represses an eye roll. No way was he leaving the house unless he had to.

                Barba drinks his coffee while Liv goes into her room, gets ready for work. By the lack of conversation, he knows Sonny must be asleep.

Olivia leaves just before Lucy shows up. Barba is cordial to her, but doesn’t bother with conversation. He’s relieved when she’s gone, but it’s more to do with Noah being gone. With that, he double checks the lock on the door, then locks himself in the bedroom with Sonny. Sonny’s out, head buried in the pillows even though Liv’s curtains block out a lot of light. Rafael sits with him, watching him sleep. He turns on the TV, and the subtitles so it can stay on mute.

Despite the caffeine, the reading of subtitles is enough to lull him to sleep. Only to be woken by a commotion. The bed shakes under Barba, and he can hear banging on the front door. His heart leaps into his throat.

This is the end, he thinks.

Sonny springs out of bed, stun gun in hand. But he drops it to his side when he hears someone yell.

“Dominick Carisi Junior, police! Open up!”

Sonny leaves the bedroom door open, and pulls on a sweatshirt before answering the door. Four officers, at least, storm in. One grabs Sonny by the sweatshirt.

“Dominick Carisi Jr., you’re under arrest for the killing of Juan Somos.”

“What?! What the hell is going on-“

“Sonny?” Barba yells, and two officers hold him back.

“Mr. Barba, don’t make this harder-“

“You have the right-“

“Sonny, don’t say anything!” Rafael yells over the commotion.

“What’m I gonna say?”

“to remain silent.” The arresting officer punctuates his words with the click of handcuffs. Barba has no choice but watch him be dragged away. He’s frozen in place. Someone…they arrested Sonny? Someone arrested Sonny for killing their intruder? For killing the person that almost killed Barba?

Sonny…Sonny was arrested for protecting Barba.

He’s sure of it. The thought hits Barba in the gut, but he doesn’t let himself wait. When he can move again, he scrambles to find his phone.

“Benson.”

“T-They took Sonny, they took Sonny, what the fuck happened?! What’s going on over there?! You’re arresting your own now?”

“Barba, this isn’t us. Manhattan Homicide wrenched the case away from us this morning.”

“Homicide?! What the-“

“I know, I know. We’re left flailing. I tried to call you, warn you-“

“Warn me? Warn me police were going to be banging on the door? Is that it?”

“Barba, calm down. Wait at the apartment, we’ll get you to arraignment, post bail, we’ll be there soon.”

“What the hell are you going to do? Huh?”

“We have to protect you. There’s still someone out there who wants you dead, remember?”

Now he does. Now he slams the door shut and locks it.

“Get here now.”

“We’re on our way.”

****

An hour and a half later, Barba, Liv, Rollins, and Fin are all sat in arraignment court. Sonny’s waiting in line, handcuffed, unable to look at his friends. Barba can’t stop looking at the door. Just as Sonny’s charges are read, the doors bust open.

“Dominick Carisi Jr., on the charges of manslaughter in the first degree, how do you plead?”

“My client pleads not guilty, your honor.” Rita Calhoun’s voice takes up all the space in the courtroom. Sonny’s head snaps over to her, his eyes wide, before he looks back at his squad. Rollins has a sneer fixed on her face, but the rest of them aren’t looking his way.

“Your honor, Mr. Carisi is a police officer who was found with a stun gun in his possession, and resisted arrest.” The ADA, Jason DeLong, is someone Barba knows and has to resist spitting at now

“Mr. Carisi is a decorated police officer, well respected detective within Manhattan’s Special Victims’ Unit, and has significant ties to the community. Currently himself and his partner are under police protection, as there has been another attempt on both their lives since the night in question. His reputation is one that should exonerate him from any wrongdoings, and prove that his only crime was in protecting his home.”

“Save the rhetoric for trial Ms. Calhoun, if there is one.” The judge says pointedly to the ADA’s direction. Sonny still can’t help staring at her, and he can feel his face turning red. “People on bail.”

“Remand, your honor. The defendant has access to significant means, allowing him to flee, and is being sheltered by Manhatten SVU, who’s excessive handling of the case was only just rectified.“

“Your honor, my defendant is not a flight risk, He has family, he has close friends, he is a pillar to the community. We request ROR.”

“Two ends of the extreme. I’ll split the difference. Bail is set at $5,000.”

“Your honor-“ The ADA is cut off by a gavel.

“Next case.”

****

It takes nothing to get Sonny’s bail posted. When he gets out, everyone is waiting there for him, but he throws his arms around Barba. “What the hell is happening? What the hell is going on?”

“Carisi, we’re sorry-“ Fin tries, but Sonny shakes his head.

“Nah, nah don’t. This is so much worse now. Goddammit, they’re going to take me to trial. They’re going to throw me in prison. Holy fuck, they’re going to send me to prison-“

“Caris, even if they do send you there, you know cops are kept out of gen pop.”

“Rollins, would you shut it?” He’s cherry colored from neck to hairline. “It doesn’t matter if I’m not in gen pop, I’m too fucking pretty for jail!“

“Okay, okay let’s calm down.” Liv steps in, hands up. “It’s been a long, harrowing day. Let’s just-‘ She’s cut off by her own ringing phone. She picks it up. “Benson…yes, no I know Lucy, I’m with them now…yes, everything’s okay…yes, thank you, thank you, we’ll see you soon.”

Sonny shakes his head. “Fucking okay. I got Rita Calhoun defending me, how’s that okay, huh Lieu?”

“She’s guaranteed to keep you out of prison.” Barba finally talks.

“This is so bad, this is so fucking bad.”

“It’s not so bad-“

“Really? I got Rita fucking Calhoun helping me out here! The only thing that could’ve been worse is if you called Buchanan.”

“I would never give him the satisfaction. And besides, as much as victim blaming would be helpful here, we needed someone that wasn’t seen as a total joke.”

“Okay, you two calm down.” Liv tries again. “We need to get out of here, we’re taking you home-“

“Sonny?!”

He freezes when he hears his mother’s voice, his back stiffening.

“Mom?” Sonny turns. Along with his mom- hair a mess, tears streaming down his face- is his dad a few steps behind. She runs over to Sonny, and his colleagues step back, letting her throw her arms around him. “Oh god, ma, what’re you doing here?”

“I saw you! On the news! They arrested you, they arrested my baby boy.” She sobs against him.

“Hey, ma, c’mon, stop crying.”

“What did you do?” His dad asks over her head. “Sonny, what’d you do, huh?”

“Dad, I didn’t do anything. All I did was defend my home-“

“Mr. and Mrs. Carisi, I’m Lieutenant Benson. Today’s been a very trying day, and we have reason to believe your son shouldn’t be standing so out in the open. Come back to the apartment, you can speak there.”

“Uh, Lieu, you sure that’s a good idea?” Sonny asks.

“It’s better than leaving you here like this. Come on, me and Rollins will drive you back.”

“Oh, alright.” Dominick Sr. huffs, and Sonny rolls his eyes. He’s sure the media has sensationalized this, and that they got the most skewed version of this possible. He’s glad when they get put in a separate car from his parents. Sonny just hugs Barba, wanting nothing more than to fall asleep right there.

“God, I’m so fucking sorry, today’s been awful for you hasn’t it?”

“I managed.” Rafael shrugs. “I was just worried about you.”

“What the hell happened, Rafe? Why’d they pick me up, huh? How come I’m getting treated like a criminal?”

“Olivia said homicide took over.”

“Did she say who’s after us?”

Rafe swallows and shakes his head.

“I can’t believe this…I’m sorry I left you alone.”

“I wasn’t alone long. They picked me up and brought me…I’m sorry about Rita. But I had to. I couldn’t take any chances.”

“She better know that doesn’t buy her any good favors. What about my rep? Shouldn’t a cop lawyer taken this first?”

“Uh…if they did, they didn’t tell me.”

“Oh, fucking perfect, hanging me out to dry, huh? That’s just lovely.”

“We’re going to get this straightened out. You’re not going to go to prison, okay? Rita and everyone else is working to make sure of that.”

Sonny sighs, knowing that’s exactly true. He’s just not sure it’ll be enough.

Chapter Text

The Carisi parents get brought upstairs a few minutes after the couple, after Sonny gets a chance to put on a shirt and prepare himself for what will come next. Barba sits on the sofa, close to Liv, but Sonny can’t sit.

Valerie is still wiping tears from her face when Sonny sees her. Dominick doesn’t sit either. He stays standing, holding his arms crossed.

“Alright Son, you’ve got one shot to explain this to us, right here, right now. What the hell did you do? How the hell did this happen?”

“Dad, quit it with this high and mighty crap. Forget about what you heard on the local news and take it down a notch with the attitude and let me, your son, explain everything.”

“You should know better than to talk to me like that.”

“Yeah, and you should know better than to trust the local news when you should be listening to me. Now are you gonna let me explain or what?”

“I don’t think I need an explaining. Someone caught you in bed with another man” he throws a glare at Barba, “so you killed ‘em.”

Sonny just stares at his father for a few seconds. The older man stares back at Sonny, a waiting expression on his face. And then, he laughs, a very bad sign.

Liv picks up her son and goes to hide in his room, and Barba follows.

“Look at that, fucking coward, going to hide from me-“

“Wait. Wait, hang on here. So, someone breaks into my home, slams me into a wall so hard that I couldn’t see straight for a few hours, sexually assaults the person I’m in love with, and that’s what you hear? Really dad? Fucking really?”

“Oh yeah? And how long has it been ‘your home’?”

“The same amount of time it’s been Rafael’s home. About a year.”

 “Oh, c’mon, don’t be dramatic Sonny. You’re just doing it for attention. You haven’t been living with a man for a year.”

“Fuck off, if I was doing any of this for attention I would have bragged to you about having a boyfriend, wouldn’t I?”

“Don’t you tell your father to fuck off!”

“Don’t walk into my life and tell me I’m wrong for loving who I love! Honestly, ma.”

“Don’t disrespect your mother like that.”

“No, no don’t you dare, either of you. What the hell is your big problem anyway?”

“The big problem is that I had to find out about this on the news!” Valerie sobs. “Do you know how much of a shock that was for me? Huh?”

“Y’know, I was pretty sure the shocking part might be that I WAS ARRESTED for DEFENDING MYSELF. I would think that would be the bigger shock. Hell, I thought that was the part you two had yourselves in knots over.”

“And then there’s that.” His father starts in. “That you didn’t even talk to us.”

“No, stop it. Don’t bother with that because I already know just what all this is about, and it’s got nothing to do with me not talking to you guys.”

“That’s just it, Sonny! You don’t talk to us! You lied to us! How can we trust anything you say now?” Dominick goes on. It doesn’t matter that Noah, Liv, and Rafael hide in the toddlers room, they can hear it all. At pretty much full volume. The sound overwhelms Noah so much that he hides against Liv, covering his ears.

“To hell with that! You know exactly why I didn’t tell you. Because I knew that this was the reaction I would get.”

“How? How could you possibly know?” Valerie pleads.

“Ma, you remember when I got shot?”

“Sonny, don’t-“

“No, answer the question. Do you remember when I got shot?”

“Of course, it was horrible-“

“And you remember how Barba was there when you showed up?”

“Oh my god.” Dominick yells. “You made us look like fools-“

“No, shut the fuck up, this ain’t about you right now. You remember what you said to me?”

“I can’t remember everything I ever said-“ Valerie tries

“No. Answer this straight.” He emphasizes every few syllables when he talks. “Do you re-mem-ber what you said a-bout your neigh-bor?”

“No, what did I possibly say that gave you permission to lie to me?” 

“Fine, I’ll remind you then. You made a point of telling me and my sisters about your neighbors son, who got caught in bed with another guy. You remember now how you just went on and on about how glad you were to not have a kid like that? You fucking remember yet?”

“Yeah! I do! And now I really fucking envy Mrs. Rispolli right about now.” Dominick snaps back.

“Oh yeah? So your hero son is on the same level as your average 16 year old just trying to figure himself out? As if there’s anything wrong with that to begin with?”

“When they lie the same way, yeah!”

“Oh my god.” Sonny pulls at his own hair. “What the hell do you want me to do? Huh?”

****

When it finally ends, it ends with a slammed door. Noah’s cried himself to sleep, and Liv is still rocking him. Barba counts to a hundred before going out to the living room, where he finds Sonny still pacing the floor, his limp worse than usual.

“Sonny?” And he jumps at the sound of his name.

“Oh my god, oh my god. I’ve never yelled so much in my fucking life, oh my-“

“Hey, stop it, okay?” Barba cuts off, making Sonny stop short. Sonny looks at him, daring him to talk again, before his expression crumbles.

“I-I’ve never…ever, argued with em like that. Never ever. Oh god, it was so bad…”

“I know. I heard.”

“You…yeah, I guess you did.” Sonny swallows and rubs his eyes. “Jesus.”

Barba stops a moment. “I’m not the only one.”

Sonny’s eyebrows knit together for a moment, until he follows Barba’s gaze to where Liv is sanding, in the doorway of Noah’s room, with the little boy half awake and hidden behind his mother.

“Oh…oh man, Noah.” Sonny comes over to them, making the toddler hide further behind Liv’s legs. Sonny kneels down. “Hey, come on, it’s just me.”

The boy comes a little further out, his eyes still shining, face a red mess.

“Aw, Noah, Noah I’m so sorry I yelled like that, and that you heard it.”

“Y-You…you, were y-yelling.” The quiet boy sniffles, eyes welling.

“I know, I know little man, and I’m sorry.” He finds Noah’s hand and squeezes it, trying to hold his attention. Noah’s eyes are full of fear when they look at Sonny. And Sonny swallows hard.  “Listen, I’m…I’m sorry I scared you. Sometimes adults do stupid things like yell, even when they know better, because they’re so angry. But I’m still really really sorry I scared you.”

Noah looks at Sonny appraisingly, and Sonny waits, hoping he’ll say something reassuring. After a minute, Noah closes the distance between them and puts his arms around Sonny’s neck. Sonny’s gentle, carefully wrapping his arms around him.

“It’s okay.” He reassures. “We’re okay. You’re okay.”

“U-Uh huh” Noah sniffles, hiding his face in Sonny’s shoulder, making Sonny feel nine different kinds of awful. Liv watches all of this at her feet, and after a minute she ploys Noah away from him with the promise of Lucy taking him to Chuck E. Cheese. It works.

Sonny sighs and looks at Liv.

“I’m so sorry Lieu, I didn’t mean…you know…”

“I know.” She reassures and pats his arm. “Get some rest, okay?”

“Yeah…yeah, I’ll do that.” He clears his throat and looks away from her, obviously chagrinned.

Lucy comes by probably twenty minutes later, and Noah seems like his normal self again. He even says goodbye to Sonny without being asked to, which intensifies how awful he feels.

Barba doesn’t ask. He knows better. He just sits with Sonny on the couch, under his arm, trying to be a supportive presence. For the most part, even with the TV going, they’re all quiet. When a knock breaks that silence, all of them flinch.

“Who is it?” Carisi calls, realizing at the same time that he should have kept his mouth shut. His voice is so distinctive.

“It’s your sister.” Munch answers.

“Which one?”

“It’s Bella!” She calls out in a huff. The door wrenches open, and Sonny glares daggers at both her and Tommy.

“Get the hell in here.” He spits, and slams the door shut behind them, locking it. “Where the hell did you two come from?”

“We just came from Ma’s-“

“From Ma’s?”

“Well, yeah.” Tommy says, getting identical glares from the siblings. He clears his throat. “We dropped the baby of with her. She was in such a fit, I almost didn’t want to leave her there.”

“She was in tears, Sonny.”

“Oh, that’s great, that’s fuckin’ fantastic. Here we go, with the theatrics and the water works and cryin’ about how she’s so embarrassed.”

“Well she is embarrassed, Sonny.”

Sonny pauses, then turns to look at her head on. “Oh you gotta be kiddin’ me. You’re agreeing with her?”

“Well, I’m just saying, she had to find out that you’re shacked up with a guy on TV, how’s that supposed to make her feel?”

He takes a long breath and pushes his hand through his hair, then jerks his head towards the bedroom. “Get in there.”

She rolls her eyes but follows, and then the door is slammed shut. And then the yelling starts.

“Your neighbors must hate you after today.” Barba murmurs to Liv. She shrugs.

“Never knew ‘em well anyway.”

“Do you get it, Bella?” They hear Sonny scream. “Do you get that there’s someone trying to kill us? Or that I’ve got an ADA looking to bury me with a man two charge? Do any of you get that-“ his voice drops low. So they can’t hear.

“You want something to drink Tommy?” Liv offers. He clears his throat.

“Uh, some water, that’d work.” He says. Liv leaves the room, and Barba glances up from the book he’s reading. Tommy’s making an effort not to look at his face. “Hey, so, uh…sorry, about what happened to you…you know…I kinda get it.”

“I understand.” Barba says, gaze averted.

“…I don’t care if mom and dad are embarrassed! It’s not their lives that are in danger unless they keep coming around to see me like this!”

“Boy…they’re really going at it.” Tommy comments.

“You lied to us! You’ve been a liar for two years, Sonny!”

“Because I knew this would happen! I just thought, y’know, when the worst thing that ever happened to me was the thing to make ‘em find out, I’d get a little more sympathy. Didya ever think of that, Bells?”

“Sure are.” Barba agrees. “Never heard him like this before today.”

“Me either.” Tommy agrees, and takes the glass Liv gives him gratefully.

“What’re they supposed to tell the neighbors?”

“That their son’s a hero who took a bullet for a kid! That their son killed an intruder! That their son is hooked up with someone who isn’t a loser!”

“Don’t take it personally.” Barba cuts in, looking up from his book. “His parents were going on about him finding a decent girl ‘instead’. He didn’t take that well.”

“Oh.”

“Yes. And it’s pretty hard to explain to someone the complexity of human sexuality while they’re engaged in a screaming match. So that part ended there.” Liv adds.

“The complexity of…what now?”

Barba and Liv share a glance, and Barba closes his book.

“When Dominick called Sonny out on, and this is a direct quote ‘lying about being a major ‘mo’ Sonny tried to tell them that he was bisexual. At which point Valerie dropped that ‘decent girl’ comment. Like it’s a switch that can be turned on or off.”

“It’s a common mistake for people who don’t know any better. But it’s not an excuse.” Liv explains. “That launched a whole new round of angry accusations.”

“…and I could really use a supportive family for this goddamn show trial instead of one that’s embarrassed of me, y’know? Why’s that so damn hard?”

“Because it’s mom and dad. Y’know how they are.”

There’s not nearly as many rounds of screaming as before. When they come out of the room, both of them look substantially calmed. The last twenty minutes of the conversation they hadn’t heard.

“Everything okay?” Liv asks, looking up at them.

“Yeah, yeah we’re good.” Sonny reassures. His sister reaches over and squeezes his arm. “Man, I’m starving. We got anything, Lieu?”

“I think I’m out of everything. We could order in, though. There’s a good Chinese place up the block, they deliver.”

“Alright, sounds good. Hey, you wanna stay for dinner?” Sonny asks, looking between his sister and her husband.

“Uh, yeah, sure. Sounds good.” Bella agrees. Liv finds the menu for this place, and they go about marking it up, making sure to ask Fin and Munch what they want, too. Carisi offers up his credit card when Liv reaches for her wallet.

“Carisi, you don’t have to do that.”

“Hey, I’m livin’ in your house, eatin’ your food, endangering your lives, least I could do is spring for the takeout.” He says it all matter of factly, but she knows how much this matters to him, so she lets it go. When it’s time to call, Sonny’s the one holding the menu. He stalls though, and instead looks at Tommy.

“Hey, Tommy, can you do this?”

“What, order?”

“Yeah. Just…you know, in case.”

“In case of…”

“Look, we’ve all got pretty distinct voices. Even Bella sounds related to me. You, you sound like an average Joe. No suspicions. You mind?”

“Sure.” He says after a moment, and takes out his phone. “I probably owe you, like, a hundred favors anyway, I can handle this.”

Lucy brings home Noah just as the food shows up, and Fin follows Lucy on her heels into the apartment.

“Hey, look at you.” Liv says when she sees him. “So you and Munch are here for the night?”

“Sure am. We freaked out your delivery guy. He took one look at us and handed over the food, no questions asked. Didn’t even get a chance to tip the sorry guy.”

“Hey, means you’re gettin’ the job done.” Sonny comments, making the other man laugh.

“We’ll keep it up. You guys just chill out in here now. Sounded like someone was gonna have a heart attack.”

“Don’t worry Fin, we’re all good.” Sonny reassures. With that, Fin takes his and John’s food and heads back into the hallway. Liv’s table is big enough to hold them all, and it’s filled with takeout boxes galore.

“So, Lieu, can you fill us in on anything?” Sonny asks. Liv sighs, and nods, finally relenting. Since it’s now officially an unofficial investigation.

“Can I talk in front of you two?” She asks, looking at Tommy and Bella. Bella nods.

“We won’t say anything. We just want Sonny safe.”

Sonny gives her a sidelong glare, but she doesn’t see it, or doesn’t respond.

“Okay. So, the man who broke into your home was a low rank soldier for BX9. From the chatter we picked up on, they were under the impression only Barba would be there. If they’d known, they would’ve sent two, maybe three guys to do the job.”

Barba stops chewing for a moment. Sonny gives him a long, loving look, asking silently if he’s okay. He just takes a sip from his water.

“The shooting was definitely BX9 too, some more chatter was picked up there about how they hit a civilian instead of the ‘real target’.”

“Okay. This makes sense.” Barba says when he has his voice back. “After what happened two months ago, they’re angry.”

“What happened? Can I ask that?” Tommy pipes up. Barba wipes his mouth.

“We busted members of BX9 trafficking the children of prostitutes to be sold to known child pornographers. We intercepted, busted the operation, put six of their guys away for the next twenty five years.”

“Ok, wait, so BX9 is mad. But you’ve been threatened for way longer than that. Since the Reynolds case.” Sonny puts in.

“More than one person can have a vendetta against me.”

“I dunno, it would just make more sense. It seems like it’s all connected. What about at the cop bar?”

“The shooting just off from the cop bar could have been a threat to all cops for associating with me.”

Or it could have been that someone tipped that you were leaving and they went after you then. If they’d been tailing you, they wouldn’t have waited.”

“So…so you’re thinking cops are aligned with a dangerous street gang?” Barba asks, looking directly at Sonny. Sonny raises his eyebrows and nods.

“Or they could have cops on the take. Cops that you’d bust, so it’d be better they protect their source of income instead of, y’know, the law.”

Barba sighs. “This is all so disturbing. And what’s worse is I can’t say it’s unlikely.”

“Really?” Bella asks, sounding genuinely worried.

“Of course. I make enemies with all groups, legal or illegal, if they give cause. If it’s true that corrupt cops have banded together with BX9 to take me out, I wouldn’t surprise.”

“That’s horrible.”

He nods and sighs, then shrugs. “No good deed, right?”

“Right.” She agrees. “Is this the first time this has happened?”

“What, the threats?” He asks after swallowing another bite.

“Yeah. Does that happen often to you guys?”

“Oh, all the time.” Liv replies

“No, really?”

“Well, sure. Big cases garner some kind of backlash. Taking down prostitution rings, child pornography distributors, the church, people make threats. And often times they’re not afraid to follow through on them.”

“Oh my god. That’s horrible.”

“What’s worse” Liv continues “is it doesn’t stop there. Because what most of these groups know is that going after the person themselves is a good tactic, but you’re better off going after their loved ones. That’s how they get to you.”

“That’s what’s happening here.” Sonny agrees. Bella cocks her head at him, and he shrugs. “What? Of course they’re gonna go after me now that they know I exist. For the longest time, nobody knew Barba cared about anything. Now they realized ‘hey, we got a way bigger chink in the armor, let’s use it’, of course they’re gunnin’ for me. Like when we took down the whole Johnny Drake/Little Tino such-and-such case. They wanted to go after the Lieu, but they don’t shoot her or anyone on the team. Who do they go for?”

Bella looks blank. Sonny raises his eyebrows and leans his head slightly over towards where Noah’s sat in the living room. Her face pales. “O-Oh my god. Really?”

Liv nods. Bella shakes her head and sighs. “I don’t know what I’d do.”

“Well, you never do until you have to.” Liv adds.

“If it’s all so dangerous, why do it?”

“Because it’s what we’re trained to do.” Barba answers. “And, while I can’t speak for anyone else, it’s what I went to school to do. To do the right thing, because someone has to.”

“You went to law school to work on stuff like this?”

“I didn’t know that while I was there. Afterwards I figured it out.”

Sonny chuckles. Barba looks over. “What?”

“Nothing. Just usually don’t hear Harvard referred to as ‘there’.”

“Harvard?” Tommy and Bella ask in unison.

“Oh yeah.” Sonny goes on. “Full scholarship too. They wanted him so bad that they paid themselves the ridiculous price it is to go there.”

“Really?” Barba asks, cracking a smile. “You like embarrassing me?”

“If I can brag to someone who doesn’t know you about you, of course I’m going to brag.” Sonny punctuates his sentence with a kiss to Rafael’s cheek, and another to his temple. It makes the older man smile in a way none of them have seen that day. When Sonny looks up again, Bella’s staring at him. “What?”

“You’re so sensitive now.”

“What?” He makes an incredulous noise. “Nah, not really.”

“Hey, more than you used to be.”

“I don’t know about that. Really, I don’t think I’ve changed that much.”

“Please, Sonny. You must be the most sensitive person in that office.”

“No he’s not!” Munch calls clearly.

“Are you eaves dropping?” Liv calls back.

“Walls are thin, Liv. Think about it next time you move.” Fin adds. A moment later and all of them are a midst of laughs and shaking heads.

The longer Bella is there with her brother, watching him laugh and joke- watching him be himself- a painful conflict grows in her chest. She’d spent most of that day dealing with her outraged parents and her chiding sisters, but now sat at this dinner table she realizes how far they’ve all missed the mark on whatever life Sonny’s been leading. And she realizes, once again, how nuts the two sisters between her and Sonny are. When it’s time to go, probably an hour after when they should have left, she doesn’t really want to leave. She gives Sonny a quick hug, and Liv is by the door when she goes to leave.

“Thanks for having us, Lieutenant.”

“Please” she waves off the formality “call me Liv.”

“And…y’know, thanks for looking after my big brother.”

“He’s a good guy. He’s part of my squad. I wouldn’t leave him out to dry.”

“That’s really good to hear. He…he, um, seems real happy. With Barba and all. It’s good to know he’s got a good group here for him.”

“He does. But what he could really use is his family. Being there for him. Supporting him, while he sits through a trial for a crime that he shouldn’t be there for.”

She looks in the Lieutenant’s face, and she can see just how serious the older woman is. “Okay.” Bella concedes, and glances over at her brother and Tommy still in a hand shake, saying something about the Mets probably. “Okay, I’ll talk to them”

“Good. He’ll really appreciate that.” Liv says, and pats her on the shoulder, then opens the door. Fin stands to attention, waiting to take them and put them in a cab. Before leaving, Bella goes back to her brother, throwing her arms around his shoulders.

“Hey, you okay?” He asks, hugging her back anyway. She nods against his shoulder.

“I’m just glad, y’know, that you’re still here.”

“Yeah. Yeah, me too.” He says, still hugging her. “Be safe out there.”

After hearing everything they’ve said that evening, she takes those words to heart.

Chapter Text

There’s nothing they can do to keep the case from going to trial. DeLong makes the grand jury believe that Carisi is to blame for everything that happened, and everything Rita tries to counteract that is shot down. When she shows up at Liv’s apartment the night before trial, it’s obvious she’s running on fumes. Still, she goes through what will happen, talking about how they might frame Sonny. Ideas are thrown out, but nothing seems plausible enough to build a whole case on. Even the case made before the grand jury didn’t give them much clue about how they’d prosecute.

“So…what you’re sayin’ is, this freakin’ guy doesn’t have a clue how he’s going to prosecute me?” Sonny stops and asks.

“I’m saying” Rita tries again “that there have been multiple ideas put out on how to prosecute you, but none carry water. DeLong has very little idea about what he’s doing with solid cases, but this one is a wreck. I swear, I don’t know how he got this past a grand jury.”

“Oh well that’s just great. How am I supposed to put up a defense if I don’t know what I gotta defend myself against?” Sonny asks, and stops pacing in front of where Rita is on the couch. She looks up at him, and can see just how aggravated he is.

“You leave that to me. It’s why Rafael called me, after all.”

He sighs a laugh and shakes his head, going back to his pacing. She watches the way he’s covers the room, the way he puts more weight on his right leg than his left.

“When you walk into the courtroom tomorrow, emphasize your limp.”

He stops moving to glare at her again. “You want me to emphasize my limp? The thing I’ve been working so hard not to emphasize? The thing I’ve been working to outgrow for the past six months?”

“For tomorrow, and the next few days, it’ll help with the-“

“I know, I know, courtroom optics. Make me look more worthy of sympathy.” He sighs, again, and tugs at his hair. “How the hell did it get to this?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.” She says and looks at something in her heap of papers. “The most incriminating thing here is that SVU took the case. Conflict of interest. But even so, the argument is weak.”

“So what do I do tomorrow, then?”

She purses her lips, and pushes a piece of hair that won’t fit into her bun out of her eyes. “Honestly? You’re not good for this. We play up the angle of the cop simply protecting his home and lover, the jury will be sympathetic to that.”

“It’s not an angle, counselor. It’s the truth. So much as you’re not used to that from your clients, it’s the case this time.”

She huffs. “What I meant was we’ll work the trusted officer angle. Such as things are with the climate being poised to not trust police, Manhattan SVU has a rather noted record. We build up your character as a valued detective.”

“My ‘character’? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean your moral fiber, not as if this is some sort of act.”

“Good. Just so we’re on the same page.” Sonny says after a moment, and resumes his walking. He can’t sit still.

“You know, most of my clients aren’t so defensive, Detective Carisi.”

“Oh please, most of your clients are guilty scumbags glad they’ve got someone fighting tooth and nail to keep their sorry asses out of jail, even though you know they’re guilty.”

She lurches, and takes a long, deep breath, pushing back the offending strand once again. “What do you expect me to do Mr. Carisi?”

“I dunno. Something useful. Become a public defender, help out people who get screwed by the system. Or go back to the DA’s office, help put these fucks away. You’re like Rafe, you’re a pitbull and you don’t take anyone’s crap. And you’d get the satisfaction of actually bettering society. But, you know, not as much money in that, is there?”

When he looks at her again, she looks like she’s been slapped. He sighs, and shakes his head. “Look, I’m sorry or whatever. I’m lashing out because I’m sick of all this crap. Don’t look so shocked, counselor.”

“Nobody speaks that way to me. Least of all clients.”

“You’re not going to toss me to the wolves now, are you?”

She shakes her head, her eyes fixed on his uneven gait. “No. I’m not. I’m just a bit miffed is all.”

“Yeah, well, same here. You need a refill on that water?”

“No, I’m okay.” She replies, remembering the glass next to her and taking a long swig. Her lipstick is so far gone there’s no hint of transfer left on the rim.

“So…tomorrow.” Sonny summarizes as he walks, watching the ground beneath his feet. “Don’t make any faces, don’t make comments, sit up straight, limp on my way in, and remember that everything looks awful until the full picture comes together. Did I get everything?”

“Just about.” Rita agrees.

“And let you do the talking, right?” He asks. She realizes a moment late that it’s supposed to be a joke, and lets out an awkward chuckle.

“Pretty much.”

He nods and waits for her to say something else, still moving. A door opens, and they both look up to see Liv, a robe over her pajamas.

“Oh, sorry Lieutenant.” Sonny’s voice lowers from it’s usual talking volume. “Did I wake Noah?”

“No, not at all.” She closes the door so gently it doesn’t make a noise. “He’s been asleep for two hours. It’s me that can’t sleep.”

“Well, I’d suggest we do your trial prep now, but anything I say will be compromised by a lack of caffeine.” Rita babbles. Liv blinks rapidly, trying to catch up.

“Okay. We can worry about that tomorrow, maybe the day after. You know where I’ll be. Do you need some caffeine?”

“No, no, thank you though. I’ve had a dozen cups already today. If I have another, I’ll be awake the entire night.”

“You need the caffeine for that?” Sonny asks. “I’m gonna be awake anyway.”

“Good thing you’re not testifying tomorrow.” Rita says. “Still, get some sleep. Or maybe don’t, you’ll look wracked with guilt.”

“I am wracked with guilt. I’ve barely stopped thinking about the guy I killed since it happened. Even if it was the right thing to do.”

“There’s no ‘if’ there, Sonny.” Liv adds, resting a hand on his arm. “Juan Somos was a gangbanger, a known member of BX9. If you hadn’t taken him out, he would have been a part of the same activities we’ve seen them do time and time again.”

“Doesn’t make me feel any better, Lieu. Besides…it was so close…it was dark, my vision was blurry…”

“Let me be the one to mention that during questioning.” Rita puts in. Sonny nods and sighs, and cracks his bony fingers.

It’s silent for a moment, until Rafael comes out of the bedroom, dressed in his pajamas, hair damp. “Rita. I’d thought you would have left by now.”

“You know how the job is.”

Sonny goes over to Barba, putting an arm around his waist. “You doing okay?”

“I’m fine. Ready for bed.”

“You can sleep?” Sonny asks. Barba shrugs, but puts a hand over Sonny’s on his hip.

“I hope so. I feel tired enough.”

“If not we’ll just Benadryl ourselves to sleep.” Sonny adds, and kisses his boyfriend’s temple, avoiding any bruised skin. Barba glances up and catches Rita looking at them. It’s only a moment, but he sees in her something he’s only seen on her face a handful of times before.

Fear.

It’s not an expression she wears well. And it explains why she looks just so exhausted. For all the anger there is between the old friends, Rita is taking this very seriously and very personally.  She knows what an innocent man looks like, and she’s scared of fucking up and letting Sonny get sent to jail.

“You should all get some sleep.” She says after breaking their gaze, moving to collect her papers. “We’re going to need it for tomorrow.”

“That’s a good idea.” Sonny agrees. Their goodnights are dripping with exhaustion. The couple waits until they see Rollins take Rita down to get a cab before going into the room and shutting the door. Liv is glad for the privacy, so she doesn’t scare her friends by double checking the locks on the windows in the main living space, then dead-bolting the door. She’s not worried about her bedroom, those windows are never open. And, when all that’s done, she turns out the lights and grabs the blanket from the blow up bed in Noah’s room, and brings it out to the sofa.

When she takes off her robe, she double checks herself. She makes sure she knows just where her holster is, resting against her hip.

Chapter Text

The car ride to the courthouse is a toss of emotions. Sonny tries to focus on Barba where their bodies are pressed together, but nothing can keep him from panicking for too long.

The thought of prison, even separated from gen pop, makes Sonny’s stomach tumble over itself. He knows it’s going to be a hell of a time, because he knows how awful trials look for about 95% of the duration. It’s only near the end when things are clear that you can relax. Sonny’s not ready for what he’s going to hear about himself.

Sonny’s not ready to hear Rafael talk about their ordeal.

Sonny’s not ready to actually rely on Rita fucking Calhoun to defend him. That alone makes him nauseous.

And Sonny’s really not ready to let go of Rafael when they get there.

They pull up in front of the courthouse. But Sonny waits. Sonny waits until Fin is stood outside the car, only then trusting himself to get out. He holds onto Rafael’s hand, and looks around before stepping onto the sidewalk. Munch pulls away in the car, probably just to circle the block a few times before he has to drive Barba back. Rafael keeps his head down, holding Sonny’s hand all the way to the door. Their kiss is brief, but it’s what Sonny needs to get himself through that threshold.

Rita’s already there when Sonny enters, with only Fin watching his back. And Sonny’s expecting that. She’s not the one that makes Sonny want to disappear into the ground beneath him. It’s the fact that the prosecution’s half of the gallery is full of BX9 members, along with their girlfriends and families. Sonny averts his gaze, and says a silent prayer to himself before going to Rita. He can feel daggers being landed in his back.

“Ah. Would ya look at this? Courtroom all full of niners.” He mutters to her.

“I know, Mr. Carisi. I see.” She dismisses, going over her papers.

“You know I’m gonna be real pissed when I see you defending one of them again.”

She purses her lips, but says nothing. He drops the conversation and lets her finish her prep. Sonny sips at the water on their table. Even though he won’t need it for a few days, until he has to spend what he’s sure will be an hour testifying. Maybe more.

His head turns every time the door opens, and every time he catches Fin, whose sat right behind him, doing the same thing. More gang members. A few more strangers. And some not-so-strangers.

Sonny’s parents and sisters file in, and take their seats right behind the defense, forcing Fin to move in. Sonny doesn’t prolong his gaze at the group, just turns back and sips his water again. His mouth is a desert. Because he can hear his family making their little commotion, arguing about how to sit before just settling in. 

Sonny feels a whole new set of looks on his back. 

Bella takes the seat next to Fin, since she’s really the only one that knows him. When her parents aren’t looking she leans over talking near his ear, just comfortable enough to speak to him. “Who are those people on the other side of the courtroom?”

“You hear me okay?” He asks in a low murmur.

“Uh huh.”

“Don’t look at them. Those are people who, if you see them outside, you stay very, very far away. Don’t engage. Tell your family that, quietly. If you make a scene, this is going to be a problem.” He pauses, and she’s still waiting. “Tell them after. No chance of a scene. Just, don’t look.”

“Okay.” She says, and he sees her nod in his peripheral vision before she sits straight again.

The time spent waiting for Judge Briggs to show his face isn’t that long, but it feels like an eternity. The whole day, actually, is infuriatingly long. Sonny hears his family bristling as he’s made out to be the bad guy after Rita makes her glowing opening statement. He has to fold his hands together to focus on something besides the people called to make him out as a bad guy. Three cops, two former perps who were declared innocent, and someone Sonny knew from his week in Queens SVU.

Even hearing Rita rip away at their credibility isn’t so vindicating. As if it’s hard. Swiss cheese has fewer holes than their arguments (disgruntled lovers, unlawful use of Sonny’s gun, Sonny flying into a rage, that kind of nonsense.) Every small noise, every creak of a seat or floorboard or squeak from the doors opening makes him lurch. He’s just waiting for a gunshot to go off. For something horrible to happen.

So is Fin, who keeps getting nasty looks from the assembled group of gangbangers.

Rita does her job, and she does it well like always, but it makes Sonny think of Rafael. He thinks of the other man back at the apartment, alone, who’s probably agonizing about the trial. Wondering if Rita is doing the right things.

And Sonny’s relieved when their first day is closed, and he knows Rafael is waiting just outside the courtroom doors for him. On the defense’s side, everyone waits for the prosecution side to clear out. There’s been comings and goings, but still here’s a lot of them that leave. It’s not until they’re all gone that Sonny’s family makes their way out. And then Sonny and Fin, and Rita included.

Rollins, Liv, Munch, and Barba are all waiting for him when he comes out. Sonny throws his arms around Rafael while Fin talks about how unreliable all the prosecution’s witnesses are. Only then, once they feel relatively safe, do they notice someone else meander out of the courtroom. Quite the feat, for someone his size.

“Hello detectives. Aren’t we a sight for sore eyes?”

“What the hell are you doing here?” Carisi half yells at Buchanan, pulling away from Barba. He positions himself so he’s between them, as if he’s shielding Rafael from the man’s gravitational pull.

“Well I’m just here as a courtesy. The stakes are high, you might see it fitting to double down.” The plump man offers, looking directly at Barba. Sonny moves over some, blocking his view of the shorter man.

“Oh no, I am not working with him again.” Rita snaps when her brain catches up with the situation.

“The fuck if I am either. Even better, have two slithering snakes around.” Carisi’s voice is closer to a yell now.  

“I would tread lightly, Detective Carisi.” Buchanan chides. Carisi flushes even darker, and he can feel the pulse in his neck.

“No, how about you fucking tread lightly, Counselor” he snarls the word, “If the ice is thin, it surely can’t be good news for you.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Nah, its not John. But you know what? They’re gunning for us now. Me and Barba. I wouldn’t be seen too close to us. I’m not so sure you could outrun them if they decided they wanted to screw with you too.”

“Carisi.” Olivia cuts off.

“Yeah, fuck it. Sorry. Whatever.” Sonny turns on his heel, looking at a bewildered Rafael. “Did you call this fuck, too?”

“No, no I swear I wouldn’t.”

“You sure? The stakes aren’t high enough yet?”

“I would never work with him.” Rafael says firmly. Sonny stops, quiets, in the middle of the sidewalk with the hubbub going on around him. Sonny’s so angry, he hadn’t realized they were walking out of the building. And then, he starts to laugh. It’s a small chuckle that over the course of a minute grows into bubbling hysterics.

“Fuck this. We’re going home for the night.” Still laughing, now with tears coming down his face, he bangs on the window of the patrol car that’s appeared before him. The doors click open.

Munch- when did he even leave their group to get the car?- is in the driver’s seat, and Sonny looks at Barba. “Just us.”

The two lawyers, the other detective, and the lieutenant are left in the cold as the couple climbs into the back of the squad car. Fin glances at John after he gets in. John won’t look at him.

By the time they pull away, Sonny’s laughter has devolved into open weeping.

“How the hell did we get here, huh? How’d that happen?”

“I don’t know, Sonny. I don’t know.” Rafael murmurs and pulls him into a hug. Sonny’s arms tighten around him, and he sobs. It’s then that it really hits Sonny how close he is to being taken away from his squad.

His family.

His life.

And Rafael. Who shouldn’t be alone now, at all.

Chapter Text

When Liv makes it home, she finds a calm scene. Sonny sat on the couch, Noah tucked up under his arm, and Barba sat in the kitchen. Sonny glances up when she walks in, and averts his gaze. A bubble of embarrassment rises in his chest for acting so…childish. But he won’t say it. Not in front of Noah.

Noah goes to his mother and hugs her, and quietly tells her about his day. It takes Liv’s attention away from Carisi, but not long enough.

“So…” She tries when she sits next to him. Carisi mutes the TV and looks at her, and shrugs.

“So.”

“Rita should be by around 8.”

“That’s good. Earlier than yesterday. Maybe she’ll get some more sleep.”

“I’m not sure she is sleeping.”

Sonny sighs and looks down at his nails, remembering his childhood habit of gnawing on them when he was scared. “Can’t blame her. I slept, but I don’t think I really slept last night.”

“You’re still having trouble sleeping?”

“Yeah. Course. I get to the point where I want to sleep and then, boom, I remember what happened last time I slept like a log.”

“Carisi…”

“To think, if I’d woken up one minute earlier…or later…how things would change.”

“Don’t do that to yourself. It’s not worth it. You got through that night, now we need to get you through this. Which we can.”

He pushes a hand through his hand and looks at the door, then at Liv. “I hope so.”

“Did you eat yet?” She asks. He shrugs.

“Kinda nauseous.”

“Well, if you change your mind, let me know.” She says and pats his arm.

He doesn’t end up changing his mind, just munches on some saltine crackers before Rita shows up. There’s a knock, followed by Rollins announcing. “It’s Rita.”

Still, Sonny checks the peephole before opening the door, letting her in. She steps out of her shoes at the door, taking her down about four inches, before dropping her briefcase on the sofa. She gathers her hair up into a bun, again leaving out a few pieces, only today they get put back with a hairpin. Which she nearly stabs herself with when her phone rings.

She takes it out of her phone and tosses it onto the sofa without looking at the screen.

“Uh…you gonna answer that, Counselor?” Sonny asks.

“Gee, what part of me throwing off my phone said ‘boy, I should answer that’ Detective?” The word is an insult. He raises his eyebrows high but says nothing.

“What, you ducking someone?”

She stops and glares at him “Do you know how many calls I’ve gotten since I left the courthouse this afternoon? Nine. First two were from Buchanan, regarding your little freak out. I told him he could take his partnership idea for this case and shove it up his ass, and told him good luck with that since how can he possibly reach back there. But then the hang-up’s started. Again. You know what?”

She picks up her phone and holds down the power button, but really it seems like she’s trying to strangle whoever’s calling her.

“There. Now if someone wants to talk to me they can call you” she looks at Sonny “or you” to Liv “or you.” She says to Barba, who’s just come into the room. Barba’s eyes widen for a moment, then he shakes his head.

“Let me guess, someone’s harassing you?”

“I’ve been getting a dozen hangups every day the past four days. The same thing at my office. All from unknown numbers I can’t block.”

“Doesn’t that sound familiar?” Sonny says, shaking his head.

“What?” Rita asks, looking between the three of them. “Is someone going to fill me in?”

“You’re getting the same treatment I was.” Barba tells her. “The calls, the threats-“

“I never said anyone threatened me.”

“Don’t be surprised if it happens.”

She pauses for a moment, then shakes her head. “Alright. Whatever. Can we forget about this now? I have more pressing matters to deal with. Like prepping a character witness.”

Liv takes that as her cue to sit. Rita knows she has experience with this, but can’t let her go without being prepped. They go through a list of questions, but Rita doesn’t tweak any of her answers like usual.

“Good. You did well.” Rita says, and looks down at her legal pad. “I’m not sure what else I can do”

“I think you covered all your bases question wise.” Liv offers. The other woman sighs and shakes her head.

“I meant with cross. I don’t know what they’re going to try and pull out of you. DeLong was all over the place with his own witnesses today, you should have heard him. One minute he’s trying to make Carisi sound like a trigger happy nut, the next like…” she sighs. Again. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to prepare you. For that.”

“I’ll just stick to yes or no answers, let DeLong hang himself.”

“But why? Why is DeLong doing this? This isn’t a good case, it’s not even a political case. He’s just…”

Liv waits. “What are you saying, Rita?”  

She sighs, and rests her head in her hands for a moment, then uses them to smooth her hair out. “I’m saying I want to know why we’re here.”

“You mean…?”

“Why is DeLong taking this so far?”

“You mean what are they hiding?” Barba says, and she stares at him. He rarely sees her surprised. “Who did what to blackmail him into taking this case? BX9 is my guess. Just from the way things are going.”

“You…you really think?” She asks, though her surprise is from him getting to the same conclusion so quick.

“And what cops are in on it? There’s no way it’s just DeLong. I’d bet real money that some of those cops you had on the stand today were on their take.”

“So, you’re saying that Jason DeLong, along with some corrupt cops, are in cahoots with BX9? Do you hear yourself, Barba?” Do you really think it’s true, Barba?

“Does it sound that farfetched?” Barba asks. She folds her hands and looks down at the carpet.

“There’s no way we can prove that. Not with what we have.”

“No, there’s not.” Barba agrees.

They just sit there, silent, without an idea of what to do. They trade some glances, until finally Barba gets to his feet.

“Rita, do you want anything? Something to eat? Some coffee?”

She clears her throat and sits up straight. “Coffee, please. Same as always.”

He nods and trades a glance with Sonny before filing out of the room. They all hear the Keurig hiss, and the sound of the liquid hitting the cup. The cup is so hot that Barba had to carry it by the handle when he brings it to her.

“Here” he says gently, being careful not to drop thee mug while it changes hands. She takes a sip gratefully, and he waits until she has the cup to her face to speak. “Straight and black. Like all your old boyfriends.”

Both detectives stare at Barba. Rita pulls the cup away from her face, still careful not to spill, and clamps her free hand to her mouth. Barba has a smirk on his face while watching Rita set it down. When she looks at him, they’re shocked to see her smiling.

“You…you are so lucky that didn’t come out of my nose.”

“Oh really? And why’s that?”

“Because then I’d be the one on trial, that’s why.”

The lawyers share a laugh. Carisi glances at Liv, wearing his ‘where did that come from?’ expression. She shrugs.

That little quip is enough to break the icy reality of corruption being at the root of their problems. It keeps the idea at bay. But it raises its own battery of questions. Carisi waits, though. Until Rita is gone, and Liv has taken her place asleep in the living room.

“So what was with that comment that you made to Rita?” He asks while they get changed. Barba shrugs, and pulls on his oversized Harvard shirt.

“Merely a quip to break the ice. Plus, Rita needed a laugh. She’s devilishly stringent with her time, so this hang-up business is torture for her.”

“Yeah, okay.” Sonny casts his clothes into the backpack he’s using as a hamper. “But, like, is there any truth to that?”

“There is. Three of her last four boyfriends were black. Well, I suppose those numbers could be different now. But don’t bring it up to her, she’s sensitive about her past love affairs.”

“Uh huh, I needed to be reminded of that. But seriously, how do you even know her ex-boyfriend stats?”

“We were colleagues when she was still an ADA. Got closer when we realized we both went to Harvard.” He says and tosses his clothes in as well. “I’ll probably do laundry tomorrow, that bag is pretty full.”

“Yeah, yeah that’s great. But, so, you knew her pretty well?”

“We had something akin to a friendship. When she left I was furious. I yelled, she screamed, but once she knew the numbers involved there was nothing that could change her mind.”

“So you guys had a falling out is what you’re saying?”

“In essence. It’s probably why we go after each other so hard in court. Actually, that’s a bit personal. The real reason is because we know we’re up against formidable adversaries. But it’s cases like this, where she’s defending people who aren’t in with the dregs of humanity, that I’d like to think I see the real Rita.”

“Oh.” Sonny says. Barba looks over at Sonny where he’s sat on the bed, cross legged, on top of the covers, Barba clearly having his attention.

“That’s why, in my opinion anyway, Rita is running herself ragged on this case. She knows that what you did wasn’t a crime. On top of that, she’s using this case as a way of making amends, whether she’s aware she’s doing so or not.”

“Huh.” Sonny rubs his jaw and looks at the bedspread. Rafael takes his place next to Sonny.

“You sound surprised.”

“I just…y’know, you talked about working with her before. Just didn’t realize there was any history there.”

“Does that make you uncomfortable?”

“I’m not sure. Just…weird. But at least you know you can trust her with this.”

“I’m glad for that. And besides, she’s an exceedingly competent lawyer. I might have chosen her without knowing her first.” Rafael looks at him, and oh wow, Sonny is still taken aback when he sees Barba’s bruises. He doesn’t remember bruises ever taking this long to heal. Even when Lieutenant Murphy pistol whipped him, his black eye cleared up in a week or so.

“She’ll keep you out of prison.”

“I know she will.” Sonny nods. “You ready?”

“Sure” Rafael clicks the lamp off, and they find their way under the covers. A minute later, Sonny feels Barba press back against him, and he wraps his arms tight around the other man. He curls himself around Barba, putting himself as much as he can between Rafael and the door. Just in case.

Chapter Text

The first witness the defense calls is the one Sonny doesn’t expect. One, it seems, Rita pulled out of thin air.

“Would you mind introducing yourself to the court?” Rita asks the woman- more girl than woman- who flashes everyone a smile.

“Sure. Um, I’m Layla Davids. I live next door to Sonny and Rafael.”

“Ms. Davids, how long have you been the couple’s neighbor?”

“Um…I was already there when they moved in, so…a year? About a year. Maybe more now.”

“And how well did you know my client and his partner?”

“Ummmm” she drags out, and shifts in her seat. Actually she seems to keep moving in her seat, adjusting her hands or her legs under the stand. “Not super well. I saw them get their mail sometimes. Sometimes I would come home at the same time as one of them, and they’d say hi, but it was always just that. Um, I’m a night student, I’m going for my nursing degree, so I knew they were night people. I would always study right after class, so I’d come home at midnight and stay up studying. I could hear, um, their oven fan?” she points above herself. “Like, so I knew when one of them was making dinner. And I could hear if they were playing music, or watching TV, or talking. Um, usually they were asleep before me though. So.”

“Can you recall the events of the night in question?”

“Sure. So, I come home from school, and I was pretty pissed because I took a quiz that I thought I bombed- but surprise, I didn’t- so I made myself food and started reading. And then, when I got bored of my book, I turned on the TV. They were asleep then, I think, because I couldn’t hear anything coming from their apartment, so I put on my captions and watched the TV on low.”

“What happened next?”

“Uh…okay, so, an episode of Two and a Half Men had just ended, so it was 2:30. And then I heard someone shouting for help. So I muted my TV and waited for something else. I thought, y’know, maybe they’d turned on the TV and it came on really loud. But then I didn’t hear anything, so I thought it was all okay.” She wrings her hands.

“And then I heard the gun go off and I freaked out. I grabbed my phone and ran to my room and called 911. I hid until they knocked on my door, and then when I answered I saw there were cops there and that the lights were already on, and I thought one of them was dead. I almost started crying right there.”

“Thank you. No further questions.” Rita says, and takes her seat again. DeLong stands, and buttons his jacket.

“Thank you for coming here today, Ms. Davids. So, how well would you say you can hear into your neighbors’ apartment?”

“Hmm.” She thinks. “Pretty well.”

“How well is pretty well?” He asks, flashing a charming smile, which she returns.

“Um, well, a while back…I guess it was a couple months ago, one of them had a broken leg that kept them home. I know because I heard them having to clunk around, like they had crutches or a walker or something like that. And it kept them home all day because the TV was always on.”

“Ah, I see.” Jason says, and looks at the jury while he speaks. “Tell me, did you ever hear the two of them fight?”

She shakes her head while placing great emphasis on her words. “No, no never. In all the time I lived near them they never argued. I can’t think of a single time they even raised their voices at each other. And I know what arguing in those walls sounds like because my upstairs neighbors are veeery vocallll.”

“Alright, no arguments. What about any sexual activity?”

The girl’s face twists, grossed out. “Uh, can you ask th- can he ask that?” She turns to the judge.

“Yes, he can. Witness will answer the question.”

“Uh. Okay.” She huffs and folds her hands again. “Well, as weird as it is for you to ask me that, no, I didn’t. Our apartments shared a living room wall. So, whatever they did in their bedroom, I never heard.”

“And yet you claim you heard the evening’s activities, when in fact you just said you couldn’t hear what happened in their bedroom.”

“Because it wasn’t like they were just talking. They were shouting. And gun shots are super loud, I could hear that on the street too.”

“Did you hear the police arrive?”

“I…I heard sirens. But I didn’t hear the police in their apartment because I was hiding in my bathtub. I was scared of what I would hear next.”

“But you’re sure you heard a gunshot and some shouting.”

“I heard shouting for help, and then a gunshot. In that order.”

“Thank you. No further questions.”

Layla looks pissed, but steps down and sits in the gallery behind Sonny’s family, along with a collection of other odd-ball people. Rita is planning on dragging this out, bringing forward as many witnesses as possible. Witnesses that stand up to cross.

Carmen is there, telling everyone about the threats Barba received for months. She testifies to the hang-ups and the threatening letters he received with no return address, always typed, never leaving any fingerprints behind. Sonny’s fist clenches when Jason DeLong questions Carmen about why she took the threats seriously. And, if she took them so seriously, why didn’t they call the police?

But Carmen’s smart. She doesn’t take the bait. And Sonny’s sure that if Rafael saw her testimony, she’d get a raise. Still, she gives Sonny an ‘I did what I could’ look and raises her hands before letting them drop to her sides as she walks out. He gets why she doesn’t stay. She must be so overwhelmed without Barba there.

There’s the usual suspects, of course: two of the cops and two of the EMT’s that showed up at the scene, all reporting what they saw: blood, a dead body still somehow sporting an erection, and a pair of pajama pants trapped underneath it.

Rita doesn’t huff or sigh in court. She clutches her pen extra tight when DeLong tries to make what happened sound like a) a lover’s dispute where the man who was killed was someone Barba was having an affair with, or b) a trigger happy cop using a person as target practice.

It’s a good thing she’s using a solid pen, Carisi thinks, since she would have cracked a cheaper one by the time their day is over.

Sonny waits until the courtroom is empty before leaving it, and he finds Rafael just outside the door, Rollins and Liv flanking him. Sonny immediately pulls him into a hug, glad to see him there, and dressed like his old self for at least a little bit.

“How was it?” Rafael asks.

“Rita’s makin’ mincemeat out of DeLong’s arguments.”

“Plural?” He pulls back, looking at Sonny. Sonny shakes his head.

“I’ll explain later. C’mon, we should go.”

“Hi.” Layla bounds up to them before they can go, and Sonny flinches at how suddenly she appeared. Rafael blinks, and glances at the handful of detectives stood behind them, silently asking if he should feel threatened.

“Do we know you?” Rafael asks.

“Oh, I guess you might not. I’m Layla, your neighbor, I testified for you today.” She finds his hand and shakes it before looking at Sonny instead. “Listen, um, I’m sorry if I wasn’t the most help today. I’m running on, like, three hours of sleep and I needed two huge cups of coffee to get through that.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it.” Sonny answers, and puts a hand on Barba’s shoulder. “We both live off of coffee, we know how it works.”

She laughs, and Barba thinks it’s at least a little bit because of how Sonny’s accent twists the word coffee. “Okay, good, good. I hope this works out well for you guys, you know? It’s been weird without you around.”

“Thanks. Sorry we didn’t…well, ever know you existed.” Barba offers

“Yeah. If we did we would have had our TV quieter” Sonny adds, and again she laughs it off.

“It’s ok, really, I didn’t mind. It’s not like with my bedroom neighbors who blasted music unbearably loud. You guys are just…nice. You should know that you’ve been missed by, if nobody else, little old me. I hope you guys come back soon.”

“Thanks, Layla, really, for everything.” Barba offers. She smiles and nods.

“Yeah, of course. Well, I have to run, but hopefully I’ll see you guys soon. Good luck!” She offers, and then she’s off. Barba’s a little thrown, being touched by the outside world for the first time.

Sonny squeezes his shoulder. “Can we go?”

“Yeah, yeah we should go.” Barba agrees, pushing his hands further into his pockets.

 “Rollins, Munch, you go back with them.”

“When’re you coming back?” Barba asks. Liv shrugs.

“I don’t know. Late. Rita already prepped me, don’t have her wait for me. Tell me if you see anything suspicious though. Fin, let’s go.” She says, and then they’re off in the other direction. Sonny takes a deep breath before walking towards the exit.

His stomach lurches when he sees Valerie and Gina at the top of the courthouse steps, talking to the girl he now recognizes as Layla.

“Aw hell, fucking really?” Sonny huffs and heads off in their direction, with Rollins tailing him.

“Ma, Gee, what the hell are ya doin’ here?”

“Buzz off Sonny.” His sister spits. “We were just tryin’ to find out what you were really like. Y’know, since now we know you lie to your family.”

“Gee-“ He cuts off and looks at Layla. “Listen, I’m sorry about them. Go, now, before they get any crazier.”

“How dare you call me crazy!” His mother exclaims. Layla blinks rapidly and pats him on the arm.

“Good luck with them.” And then she’s running off. Gina tries to go after her, but Sonny grabs her by the arm.

“What the hell do you think you’re doin’ here, huh? Interrogating my neighbors? You know how much I gotta stress over you guys and your stupid stuff? And that’s on top of being accused of being a nut case cop, just so ya know.”

“Sonny-“

“No, Ma. Go. Just, go, okay? I gotta go, get home, away from the open. Watch your backs, okay?”

“C’mon Sonny-“ Gina tries. He holds up a hand stopping her, then waves them off and goes down to the car waiting for him. He catches a glimpse of himself when he sees Barba in the window, and he’s weirded out by how red his face is.

“What was that about?” Barba asks. Sonny shakes his head and puts an arm around Barba.

“My mom and sister bein’ stupid, interrogating our neighbor. It’s whatever now.”

“Okay.” Barba concedes, and just leans into Sonny. Sonny kisses his temple, avoiding any bruises. Amanda looks at them in the rearview, then at John in the passenger’s side. He just shrugs.

It creeps her out when Munch is at a loss for words.

****

It’s not Liv that Rita is there to prep for trial.

But Sonny doesn’t get why Rita comes over at seven, a whole hour earlier.

Like the day before, the woman walks right in, pushes off her shoes, and pulls her hair into an unsettlingly messy knot.

She must want to get home early, get some sleep Sonny thinks.

“Alright, motions court is tomorrow afternoon, after we adjourn.”

“Motion for?” Barba asks.

“To have the shooting admitted. Tomorrow afternoon was the earliest I could get, says Briggs anyway. If the motion is granted, it only bolsters our case that you two are being targeted. But, I’ll get to that.”

She pops her briefcase open, making some loose papers spill out over the floor. She gathers them, and drops them on the couch next to her, but she doesn’t seem to do more than make them straight and flat. Once that’s done, she pops up and raps hard on the door.

“Rollins, get in, you’re first.”

Carisi looks at Barba and raises his eyebrows, only to disappear into the bedroom. Rollins comes in just as the door closes, and she looks at Barba. Barba who looks between them, before joining Carisi. Everything about Rita’s demeanor says ‘don’t fuck with me today’, from the way she interrogates Rollins (as a preparation for cross, even though she’s not asking cross questions) to the way she makes herself a huge glass of coffee.

Not mug. Glass. She doesn’t have the patience to look for a mug, or the patience to wait for the scalding liquid to cool on its own, so she drops in a handful of ice cubes.

It’s maybe a half hour of volleying between the two women before there’s a tentative knock on the bedroom door. It opens after a moment, and both of them look up from the books they’ve been reading, and Sonny pulls out one of his headphones.

“Your turn, Counselor.” She offers. Barba sighs softly and marks his page, then pecks Sonny’s cheek before leaving the room. Sonny doesn’t want to hear anything, so he pops his headphones in again, and this time turns on some music to be sure and block it out. He goes through a single album twice and ends up finishing the book he’s reading, and he feels pretty good about himself. He closes his reading, and gets up, leaving it and his phone behind on the bed to go to the kitchen. When he stops at the door, he pauses a moment.

“…I kept Sonny awake until the EMT’s arrived, as I was afraid letting him sleep with his head injury would be dangerous.”

“What happened when you arrived at the hospital?”

“Sonny was taken to be examined and given stitches, I was set up for the rape kit…” There’s a long pause. Sonny waits, holding his breath.

“I gave my statement to detectives Benson and Rollins when they arrived, and detective Benson stayed with me while the exam was performed.”

“Detectives Benson and Rollins are from the Special Victims Unit of Manhattan, yes?”

“That’s correct.”

“The same unit which Detective Carisi works out of, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Did you think this was a conflict of interest for them?”

“Don’t phrase it that way. Objection, speculation.”

Sonny comes out into the living room and sees the two of them. Rita has two empty glasses and a mug next to her, and has a legal pad in her lap. Rafael is sat in a chair, but the coffee table in front of him holds a tissue box and a small pile of used tissues. They both look up when he comes in.

“You…you guys okay?”

“Just fine, Detective.” Rita says, and finishes whatever she was writing.

“It’s been over an hour since you guys started.”

Rafael glances at the clock. “Closer to two. What’s up?”

“I’m pretty hungry. Just wandered out to find something to eat.”

“There’s nothing in those cabinets.” Rita flicks through her pages, then drops them and looks at Sonny over her glasses. “You should order pizza. I take mine with mushrooms.”

“Oh. That sounds good, actually.” Rafael says, and sits up straighter. “Get two large pies. One with mushrooms the other however you want.”

“Sounds good to me.” Sonny lets it go, and turns right back around, calling in an order from the closest place he can find. Only, he’s still hungry, so he heads out, going straight through the living room to the kitchen.

Rita’s right. There’s nothing. Carisi settles on a half-empty bag of plantain chips, which he dips into the package of cream cheese in the fridge, even though there’s nothing to put it on. Hell, there isn’t even any bread left. Sonny pulls out his phone and sends Liv a message.

-Might want to send someone for groceries. There’s nothing here. I’ll pay you back.-

-Don’t worry about it. I’ll pick up groceries on the way home. Any requests?-

Sonny blinks at his phone. –You’re not home yet?-

-I’ll be leaving in fifteen minutes. Is Rita still there?-

-She is. She’s been prepping Barba for the past few hours, I don’t know why though.-

-They’re being thorough. It’s better that way-

He shrugs to himself, and puts his phone down.

“Alright. Take it from the top?” Rita asks in the next room.

“You start.” Rafael insists. Sonny stills, listening.

“Mr. Barba, can you tell me about the night the night in question?”

“I arrived home around half past midnight, a normal time for me, and Sonny was waiting for me.”

“Sonny is your nickname for the defendant, correct?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Okay. Continue.”

Sonny listens, quiet, while Rafael goes through the recount of the entire evening, and starts answering Rita’s interrogation questions. Which only stop when there’s a knock. Sonny crosses the room, answering for them. Munch is stood there, holding the boxes.

“I hope we can get in on this too.”

“Hey, that’s why we got two. Come in for a second. You too, Rollins.”

“Oh perfect, a break.” Rita says, and pushes her work aside. Rollins and Munch only come in long enough to take their food, then reclaim their post in the hall. The two lawyers dig in, not even waiting for plates. Sonny hangs back, waiting until they’ve both had two slices before talking.

“So, how many times you guys gonna go over this?”

“We’ve been through it…what, seven times already?” Rita asks.

“Eight.” Rafael answers past a mouthful.

“Why so many times?” Sonny asks. Rafael shrugs.

“Because” he wipes his mouth “I want to be able to testify without getting upset. You know how crying witnesses come off. I want to be as credible as possible without sounding rehearsed.”

“And the interrogation?”

“Courtroom tactic. And prep for dealing with DeLong.” Rita answers.

“Wait, you’re going to talk to him like that tomorrow?”

“For part of the time, anyway.” Rita answers. “Show the consistencies in the story, along with what everyone else on our side has testified. And, you know, mean lawyers make juries more sympathetic.”

“Just don’t cause a mistrial, okay?”

“That’s what we’ve been making sure of.” Rafael assures. “I’ll have a rock solid testimony. They’ll see you for who you really are.”

Sonny looks between the two of them, but lets it go. He knows he can trust them, since they’re on the same side. Still, he has to leave the room when they start up again.

Chapter Text

Sonny’s glad for the next day. Not because he wants to watch Jason DeLong slither over to his friends on the stand and try to tear apart his character, but because he knows that after the day is over, all of his loved ones will be sat behind him in the gallery. He’ll feel far less exposed.

Amanda comes up first. She tells the court, under Rita’s guidance, about Sonny’s life as a cop. She also mentions how his relationship with Barba was quiet until a few months before, emphasizing how they kept things professional. And she tells them something he never talked about with anyone else.

“You’re capable with a gun, aren’t you Detective Rollins?” Rita asks.

“Objection. Relevance?” DeLong asks.

“Relevant to the line of questioning, making a direct point.” Rita points out.

“Overruled.” He decides after a moment. Reluctantly.

“I’ve been commandeered on my shooting abilities before.”

“What about Detective Carisi? To your knowledge, is he capable with his gun?”

“He’s capable, accurate, but it’s his least favorite part of the job.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because he told me so. Several times.”

“Has this ever interfered with his police abilities?”

“I wouldn’t say so, in the time I’ve worked with him. Which is about four years. He just never gravitated towards it.”

“Do you know if he carried his weapon off-duty?”

“He did. We all do, at SVU anyway. But he’s never made a habit of reaching for it.”

“What would you make of Detective Carisi’s use of his gun on the night in question?”

“Objection. Speculation.”

“Rephrase. To your knowledge, as someone who’s worked closely with Detective Carisi, would he use his gun if he had any other option?”

“Well, no, he wouldn’t. I know he still carries a taser on his hip, something I gave up when I got promoted to detective. I’ve worked with him several times when he’s chosen that over his gun. It’s only when we’re under imminent danger that Carisi pulls his gun.”

“Thank you. No further questions.” Rita struts back to the table. Rollins glances at Sonny, before looking at DeLong stand.

“Ms. Rollins, would you say you’re close with Detective Carisi?”

“I would, yes.”

“Would you say you ‘have each other’s backs’ in tough situations?”

“Of course.”

“Would this form of trust extend so far as to lying for the other’s behalf?”

“Objection!”

“Sustained.”

“Rephrase. Detective Rollins, have you ever lied on behalf of Detective Carisi?”

“No.”

“And has he ever lied on your behalf?”

“Objection!”

“Sustain. Mr. DeLong, tread carefully.”

“I’m simply trying to ascertain the extent of these officers’ loyalty to one another, your honor.”

“Stick to the case at hand.” 

The lawyer raises his hands in defense, and retreats to his desk. “No further questions.”

Liv is easier to listen to. She slips through every jab DeLong throws at her. Carisi bristles at a few of Rita’s reasonable objections that get overruled. I mean really, who doesn’t see the problem with asking “Have you had a history of dealing with violent officers in your unit?”

Still, she dodges. She makes it off the stand, mostly unscathed, and joins the other cops sat behind him in the gallery.

Carisi’s glad he made his family sit in the second row of seats today.

Lunch comes around, but Sonny’s too nauseous to eat today. What he wants is for Barba to get his testifying over with. He knows, already, that it will be the hardest part of this case.

“You’re going to be okay?” Sonny asks, holding his lover’s hand tight. The older man nods.

“I’ll be fine. I practiced, remember?”

“I know, I know, just…don’t do anything too…you know.”

“Don’t cause a mistrial. I know.” Rafael leans up and kisses his cheek. “I’ll be okay. Go ahead in.”

Sonny nods and goes in, leaving him with Rita for a few more moments before she follows. Sonny’s stomach hurts while he watches Rafael make his way to the stand. He wonders why the marks on his face still look so severe.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Barba. Thank you so much for being here, despite how painful this must be for you. Would you please tell us what happened on the night in question?”

“The evening was normal. I arrived home after midnight, Sonny and I had dinner, and we went to sleep around one.”

“To be clear, Sonny is your nickname for the defendant, correct?”

“Correct.”

“Okay then. Continue.”

He takes a moment before going on. “I was disoriented when I woke up. I felt something hard hit me over the head. When I opened my eyes, I was…well, really, I was taken aback. There’s a lamp in our room that we never use, but I could tell it was on. I could see just enough to make out someone hanging over me.”

“Defense’s exhibit C through G your honor. Note the lamp at the crime scene, the only one which was on when the police arrived. Go on, Mr. Barba.”

“I tried to get up, but my attacker was straddling me, holding me down. Sonny, I could see that he tried to fight them off, but he ended up thrown back into a wall instead.” He stops. The courtroom is silent. “I…I was convinced he was dead, from the sound he made when he hit the wall.”

“Defense’s exhibit F, please note the indentation in the wall.” She points out, then looks at him to continue. Rafael clears his throat and sits up straighter.

“I tried hard to fight my attacker off, but he kept striking me. Even when I managed to get off the bed, we ended up on the floor. Somehow, he was still on top of me. I…I stopped screaming when I felt the barrel of the gun against my temple.”

He pauses again, and Rita gives him a few moments before speaking. “Mr. Barba, I know this is difficult for you. But I need you to tell the court what happened next.”

He takes another deep breath and nods. “My attacker pushed my pants down to my knees. And then he pulled out his erection, and started grinding against my thigh. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, I was petrified. I was sure I was going to be raped.”

“Objection. Speculation.”

“Your honor, there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that rape was imminent. See the Defense’s exhibit J, a bloody pair of pants found underneath the assailant, and K1, the results of the pre-ejaculate found in the rape kit matching that of Juan Somos, the man identified as the assailant.”

“Overruled. Continue, Ms. Calhoun.”

“What happened next?”

“I…I heard the shot before I realized what had happened. Then I felt the blood…running down over me. I pushed my way out from under the body, and got up to check on Sonny. I embraced him, covering him in blood. When I noticed his head wound, I called 911.”

“You were also bleeding, weren’t you Mr. Barba?”

“Yes, yes I was. The pistol had cut my face.” His hands twitch, pointing to the mark. “That was noted as part of the kit, I believe.”

“Defense’s exhibits K1 through K10, the rape kit and it’s evidence, including K2 and 3, the images of Mr. Barba’s injuries from the night in question. What happened after that?”

Sonny stares at the screen in the courtroom. He wants to cry, seeing Barba with his face so battered, pictured against a white hospital wall while wearing a white hospital gown. He’s seen a thousand pictures just like it, but never with Barba’s face. It was always someone else.

“We were taken to the hospital. Sonny and I, we were separated. Detectives Benson and Rollins took my statement, and Detective Benson stayed with me for the duration of the exam upon my request. When both of us were released, she invited us to stay in her own home.”

“As an attorney, did you see anything wrong with Detectives Benson and Rollins taking the case?”

“I told them as much when they came to speak with me. However, the sexual nature of the crime combined with their knowledge of prior threats made against me made the case suitable for them to take.”

She nods to that and looks at him. “Mr. Barba, I must ask, how long have you and Detective Carisi been involved?”

“We had our two year anniversary about a month ago.”

“And in all that time” she asks while looking at the jury “have you ever known Mr. Carisi to have a temper?”

“No, never.” He says with perfect timing. Not too fast, but with no hesitation.

“But Mr. Carisi does own a gun, right?”

“For his police work, yes.”

Rita turns to him, picking up steam. “Isn’t it possible that the injuries you sustained were doled out by Mr. Carisi’s gun rather than the ‘alleged’ assailant?”

“I would say so if forensics didn’t back it up.”

She stops and smiles, feigning chagrin. “Ah, yes, of course. Defense’s exhibit L1 and L2, the gun found at the scene of the crime and the report showing no trace of Mr. Carisi’s fingerprints or touch DNA, while the blood dried on the weapon was a perfect match to you. Mr. Barba, did you and Mr. Carisi ever have relationship troubles?”

“No more than the average couple.”

“So would you find it presumptuous for one to assume that you were having an affair?”

“Objection, speculation!”

“Sustained.”

“Fair enough. Mr. Barba, do you have a history of infidelity?”

“No.” He answers. He looks so relaxed, so prepared.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I’ve never had an affair.”

Rita doesn’t let up. She asks about his time working with SVU, about his life spent with Sonny, and about his integrity before looping back to the night in question.

“And you still maintain, under oath, with the full knowledge of the seriousness of perjury, that you were assaulted by the man who was found dead in your apartment?”

“Yes. I do.”

“And you also maintain that Dominick Carisi Jr, or Sonny as you call him, would never fire a gun so long as he thought he had another option?”

“Yes, I do.”

“And yet, you’ve gone after corrupt police officers for excessive use of their weapons, most notably in the case regarding the death of a Terrance Reynolds, is that not true?”

“That’s true, indeed.”

“Is it not also true that threats began on your life after said case?”

“Yes, they did, but they were escalated after I began prosecuting a Correctional Officer from Riker’s Island, Mr. Gary Munson.”

“So you were threatened severely, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Can you tell me about the incidents regarding one Felipe Heredio?”

“Objection!” DeLong calls out.

“Your honor, approach?” Rita asks, and they both step forward. There’s some hushed whispering, along with a few snaps from DeLong, before the judge calls out loud “Overruled.”

“So, Mr. Barba, please inform us about the incidents involving Mr. Heredio.”

“The first one occurred just after I made a court appearance related to the case of Gary Munson. Mr. Heredio, who I had never met before, came up to me and threatened to push me down the courthouse steps, cracking my skull open.”

“That’s…horrific. Tell me, Mr. Barba, how did you respond?”

“In the heat of the moment, I told Mr. Heredio that if he wanted a better shot at killing me without being captured, he should kill me in my own home. At which point I wrote my address on the back of one of my cards and pushed it against his chest.”

“What reason would you have for doing such a thing?”

“My ego got the best of me. I wasn’t thinking of anything besides my pride.”

“But you regret those actions now, do you not?”

“Of course I do. Though I didn’t understand the severity of the threat until the second one, which took place in an elevator. Once again, he threatened to kill me. I was terrified.”

“True, but that was in a public elevator. I mean, how would you have reacted if he showed up at your home?”

“Objection.” DeLong interrupts, standing up out of his seat. “Ms. Calhoun is badgering her own witness.”

“Your honor, I am simply looking to be thorough for the sake of the jury, a tactic which Mr. Barba would condone, I’m sure. Unless you’d like to ask him yourself.”

All three of the lawyers stare down the judge, but it’s Barba he looks at the most. “I…I won’t be doing that. I will, however, sustain the objection.” The older man clears his throat. “Ms. Calhoun, please hurry along with your testimony.”

“I have nothing further, your honor.” She says, and exchanges a glance with Barba before returning to her post next to Sonny. Rafael stares down Jason as he rises to his feet, but the other man avoids his gaze.

“Counselor Barba, I’m so sorry you have to be here today.” The man starts off in earnest. “But, still, there are some things I would like to clear up.”

“Fine by me.” Barba offers casually. DeLong flashes a smile at him, and glances at his notes before approaching.

“You say this first incident, with Mr. Heredio took place…some time ago, yes? Several months ago, in fact?”

Amanda bristles in her seat, while Liv squares her shoulders.

“What gives you reason to believe that there is a connection between his threats and your attack?”

Munch puffs a breath out of his nose at the word ‘attack’.

“Because both men are associated with the same gang, BX9.”

“Uh huh…and what gives you reason to think this?”

“Because I recently took on a formidable case against the gang which put away several high ranking members.”

“Is that the only case you’ve taken in the time span between that harassment and your assault?”

“No.”

“So it is possible that this attack on you is not necessarily connected to those cases.”

“Yes, it is possible, but unlikely given the pattern of threatening behavior this group has consistently shown me.” He gets out before DeLong can cut him off. The other lawyer grits his teeth before leaning against the jury box.

“That’s a very concise answer, Mr. Barba.”

“Is there a question there?” Rita asks, sounding bored. Jason looks over his shoulder at her.

“I’m getting there. What I would like to know is, how do you know your assault is connected to anything larger than just what it was?”

“Objection.”

“Overruled.”

“Rephrase. Mr. Barba, did you ever know Mr. Somos before you were attacked?”

“No.”

“So it’s not possible that this man was some jilted lover? Possibly a jilted admirer? I mean, you are someone who is highly esteemed, that always brings along the possibility of obsession.”

“Objection.”

“Overruled.”

Sonny leans forward in his seat. Barba looks Jason in the eye, and tilts his head.

“Of course it’s possible.”

“Is it possible that you might have inadvertently encouraged such admiration?”

“No.”

“So you deny any part you had in the night’s events?”

Barba sits up straighter, but his tone is even. “Are you asking if I wanted to be assaulted?”

“What I’m-“

Barba’s not done. “You know, counselor, I could see where you were getting that from, maybe, if it had been me coming home to the attack. But it wasn't. Didn't you read the reports? We were in bed. Asleep.”

“I understand that, Mr. Barba-“

“So you should also understand that, if you had any real case for thinking this man was a jilted lover, you would have produced some sort of damning piece of evidence, like messages or some other causal link. Which you would have found when Homicide tossed my apartment, looking for just that.”

“What I am saying, Mr. Barba, is that these cases are always fuzzy.”

“Right. Because victim’s aren’t a reliable source of evidence. They can lie to protect loved ones.”

“So as you would know from your work, Counselor.” 

“Except you know better, Mr. DeLong. You know rape kits don’t lie.”

“Objection!” Jason exclaims, standing straight up and glaring at Mr. Barba now. Rita looks up from her legal pad, her bored demeanor just barely masking her smug smirk.

“He’s your witness, counselor.”

Sonny hears chuckles behind him, but he’s sure not to let his own slip. The man shakes his head, then goes back to his table and sips his water, before looking at Barba again.

“Counselor, you’ve been very honest and very forthcoming with the court about such a personal trauma. And I commend you for that.”

“Thank you. Is there a question?”

“I’m getting there. I suppose my question is, how are you so capable of telling your story with such grace, such control, such…coldness? Did you practice your story or did you simply memorize it?”

“Objection!” Rita calls out. There’s more bristling from the four detectives, and muttering for a few seconds.

“Withdrawn. Nothing further.” Jason shakes his head and goes back to his seat. Rita’s out of her seat before he’s there.

“Redirect, your honor.”

“I’ll allow.”

“Mr. Barba, how many hours have you spent preparing for your testimony today?”

“About four.”

“And is this a normal amount of time to spend on trial prep?”

“I would call it an extensive amount of time, above the average.”

“And why did you put so much prep into your testimony?”

“When I gave my initial statement to the police, I was numb with shock. Later, when I tried to tell myself what had happened, I found myself wound up into near hysterics over it all. I know, from experience, that crying witnesses can have questionable credibility. I wanted to be sure, for the sake of…all involved, that there was no chance my story could be seen as inconsistent or incoherent.”

“Thank you. No further questions.” She nods and sits. There’s a beat of silence.

“Counselor DeLong, would you wish to re-cross?” The judge asks. Sonny’s eyebrows shoot up. Jason looks up from his legal pad.

“Uh, no your honor.”

“Very well. Mr. Barba, you may step down.”

Rita rises. “Your honor, I’d like to request a continuance, pending the results of today’s hearing in motion’s court.”

“Continuance granted. I shall remind the court that tomorrow’s session shall be adjourned noon but will begin at the same time as today. This courtroom is adjourned.” And the gavel bangs.

Like always, they wait until everyone else, especially the gang-banger half of the courtroom, to clear out before the little cluster makes their way out.

“That was beautiful, you tore him to shreds.” Rita says, keeping pace with Barba as they pass through the courtroom doors. Barba nods along, but then he stalls, and so does the cavalry around him. His face is hard, but his breathing changes, getting heavier.

“I’m sorry I grilled you so hard today, I didn’t want to leave any doubt, or let the prosecution do it. You performed exceedingly well.” Rita adds

“I know.” He says, and he pushes a hand through his fixed hair, his breath still heavy.

“Hey, you okay?” Sonny asks, breaking into his line of vision. Barba shakes his head, and Sonny takes his hand. “Okay, okay, let’s get some space.”

‘Get some space’ translates into the group of cops hovering around them hanging back, letting them walk alone to the conference room where Munch and Fin take their post as guards, being the intimidating presence. Rita looks at them sparingly, her face flushed under her makeup. When Rollins catcher her eye, the blond woman looks pissed.

“I’m sorry I was so hard on him.” She tries again. “It was meant to lend credibility, and make Barba look solid.”

“Hey, it’s okay.” Liv adds. “You didn’t do anything wrong. That was what you practiced all day yesterday. You worked on what to say to the tough questions. You battled back and forth. It’s just always different the day of.”

Both women look at her, and Rita nods slightly, a silent thank you. Rollins, doesn’t say anything, but keeps glancing at the door, and then at the area around them, on high alert. The group that comes for them isn’t the one she expected.

“Is he in there?” Valerie asks, going to knock. Munch steps in front of the bare patch of door, and gives her a silent look, making her withdraw her hand.

“Ugh, that boy.” Dominick shakes his head. “He’s been avoiding us all week.”

“Maybe because the last time you spoke with him it degenerated into a screaming match. Given the circumstances, he does not need that kind of angst or drama at the moment.”

Dominick gives the attorney a hard look. “Who is this?”

“Rita Calhoun.” Liv jumps in. “Your son’s lawyer. You should know, since you have been here all week.”

“I remember you now. He complained about you.”

“And now I’m his lawyer.” Rita retorts. “Now please, the two of them have had a very difficult day. It is taxing enough to relive one of the worst days, and most likely the worst night, of your life for all the world to see and judge you by. It does not need to be compounded my familial chaos. Respect this boundary. Give them their privacy.”

Fin and Rollins exchange a look, silently asking each other if this is the same Rita they know and hate. Mr. Carisi huffs, and Gina huffs, while Teresa holds a supportive arm around her mother’s shoulder. The only one showing any restraint is Bella.

“Ma, dad, why don’t we wait outside for them?” She implores.

“I’ll walk you out.” Rita adds, and takes to guiding the disgruntled family. 

It’s quiet, for a courthouse, while they wait for the pair. They don’t mean to overhear the snippets of conversation, but they hear Barba’s hysterics anyway. He’s not crying, but he’s on double speed.

“…could have caused a mistrial….”

“…non-credible….”

“…non-sympathetic…”

“…better judge would have…”

The ten minutes they stand there feels far longer. But they emerge, Barba looking red while Sonny looks paler than usual.

“Can we go?” Sonny asks.

“Sure. C’mon, I’ll go grab a car.” Fin offers, going ahead of them. Sonny makes sure to leave some space between the group, which drops off and lets them be semi-alone. Sonny's so focused he walks right by a group of Niners, and two break away from the pack to cut them off. 

"Well well, where you off in a rush to?"

"Hey guys, c'mon, back off." Sonny urges, but another guy joins them. 

"Didn't anyone ever tell you, homes? If you run it makes you look guilty." 

"I ain't running. And I ain't talking to you anymore, wise guy." Sonny says, putting himself between the group and Barba.

"Oh really?" One of them cocks their head at Sonny. Before he can say anything, Rollins pushes her way in between the two groups. 

"Alright fellas, leave them alone." Rollins demands. Two of the guys whistle, while the biggest one puts on a smile. 

"Aw, come on lil' mama, what're we doin’, huh?"

"How about threatening a police officer?"

"Aw, baby, he ain't got no shield right now. Tell you what, how 'bout we forget about these clowns and I show you a good time?"

"How about I tell you I'm not looking to spend time with people like you." She spits back. 

"Well can't let that happen, can we?" He says with a smirk. 

"Excuse me, boys" Munch jumps in, going chest to chest with the biggest one, who's shorter than him, getting them to move back. "Unless you want to be in the hook for intimidating two police officers and a Manhattan ADA, you better step back."

The big one laughs right in his face. 

"Man, who's this skeletor over here?"

And then his gun is out. Like a magnet, it repels the small group instantly. 

"This skeletor is the guy that's going to cap you if you don't get the hell out of here right now. You got that?"

"Damn, you a crazy motherfucker!" The big one calls before they all turn and run. When Munch looks again, Sonny is cherry red, while Barba is devoid of all color. Rollins is just staring at him. 

"Sorry that took so long." He apologizes, and holsters his gun. "Let the crazy motherfucker take you home, huh?"

The pair nod, and follow Munch to the car Fin’s in the driver’s seat of. Rollins walks backwards, watching out for them. Her eyes break away from the dispersed gang members long enough to see Sonny’s family staring in shock.

****

It’s not even an hour before Rita is back at Liv’s place. She looks as harried as the last few days, but there’s a glow in her face from more than just the large cup of coffee she’s holding.

“Good news. Motion hearing was successful, they’re going to admit the shooting as part of our case. Which means we’re going to have John testify and Liv go up again, and I’m going to meet up with the cop driving you that day later on.”

“Knew you could do it.” Barba says. Rita laughs and shakes her head before throwing her hair up in a bun.

“I could do it? What about you today. You took DeLong down a peg or two.”

“I tried. How long are you going to be here?”

“A few hours. Talk to Carisi, John, Liv, then go back to my office. Why, am I in your way in not-your-home?”

Barba smiles slightly and pulls on his coat. “No, Rita. I’m just going out, wondering if I should say goodbye now or save it for when I return.”

She looks at him, eyebrows raised. “You? Going out? After today?”

“Noah asked. I couldn’t say no.”

“Isn’t that precious.” She sounds distracted, already settling down with her papers. “Unless you’re out for two and a half hours, I wouldn’t expect me to be gone. It’s four now, I have to be at my office at seven, I’ll be glued here until then.”

****

“So, what you’re saying is, after today’s ‘lover’ angle fell through, DeLong is going for something else?” Sonny asks. Rita downs a handful of popcorn and flicks through her pages.

“I’m telling you, they’re going to try and plead some sort of police brutality case next. He doesn’t have a leg to stand on with anything else.”

 

“You wanna tell me that this was police brutality?” Sonny stops walking again, and stares at her.

“How about you go after guys who turn little black kids into Swiss cheese over a bag of skittles? Or how about we go after people who hand out wooden shampoos like they’re going outta style? Better yet, how about we go after corruption by going after judges like this Briggs fuck who’s probably either on BX9’s take, or he’s bein’ blackmailed. Why the fuck else is he letting easy objections be overruled? Huh? What the hell do you have to say to that?”

Rita opens her mouth to respond, just as the door opens. In steps Rafael, hand in hand with Noah, who has some chocolate stains around his mouth. Sonny straightens up, and puts on a smile.

“Hey, looks like my two favorite boys are back. How was the park?”

“Fun!” Noah exclaims. Sonny laughs. He knows what a sugared up kid looks like.

“Sure was.” Rafael adds. “And someone was so well behaved they got a little treat before dinner. Don’t tell Liv, though.” Rafael let’s go of Noah’s hand, and gently pats his back. “Go wash up, before your mother sees you.”

Noah runs off for the bathroom, and Sonny comes over to Rafael, wrapping him in a hug, and deadbolting the door.

“Everything okay?” Sonny asks into his ear.

“Just fine. We had fun. And by we I mean me, Noah, and Fin.”

“Oh yeah?” Sonny pulls back to look at him.

“The mom from a week ago, she saw me again today. Again, waited until I was alone before coming over and asking if I was ‘okay’ in the gentlest voice possible.”

“Sounds like the woman hasn’t been watching the news.”

“it’s probably best. And it made for a good story.”

“Sure did.” Sonny agrees, and pecks his lips. He waits for Barba to pull away completely, but he doesn’t.

“Yeah… I just couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder. Every five minutes. But I didn’t take my eyes off of Noah the whole time…” he shakes his head. “Everything okay here?”

Sonny scoffs. “I’m thinking about going up against a crooked ADA, a crooked judge, and trying not to flip my lid. How do you think?”

“I think you should probably lay down before you have a heart attack.”

“I will…” he looks at Barba again, and pulls him tighter. “I’m sorry. I’m not yelling at you. I’m not mad at you. I love you.”

“I know Sonny, I know. I love you too.”

“You can go now, Detective.” Rita pipes up. “I’m done with you. I’m going to talk to John now.”

“Thanks Rita.” He says and pulls away from Barba.

“I’ll come in in a minute.” Barba promises. Sonny nods, and disappears into Liv’s bedroom. Barba sits next to her, avoiding sitting on her papers, and takes a handful of pretzels from the bag on the table. “Looks like you’re having a snack-fest, Rita.”

“Well, he asked if I wanted something to eat. I said I wanted everything to eat.”

“So he aired on the side of caution and brought out four unopened bags of snack foods?”

“Pretty much. The trail mix isn’t half bad. Course, that’s probably because it’s diluted with a few bags of M&Ms.”

“It’s the only way it’s palatable. But at least Liv got the real chips now.” Barba says, and takes out a handful of taco chips, munching on them. They’re quiet for a few moments, just eating, and listening to Noah play in the next room.

“You really did well today, Barba.” Rita offers. He shrugs.

“I did the right thing. Or tried to, anyway.”

“Stop it, you did. You told the truth. And you were solid as a rock, nothing caught you off guard.”

“I was too solid. I didn’t look like a victim.”

“You took enough long pauses to make it believable.”

“Believable?” He looks over. She purses her lips.

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah…I do…”

“How’re you holding up now, though?”

“Fine, I suppose.”

“Barba, come on. It’s me.”

“I know who you are.” There’s a tinge of a threat to his voice. Her face falls, and she sighs, and takes another handful of trail mix.

“Well, if you want to talk, you know I’m around.”

He shrugs. “Good to know.”

Six years of friendship reduced to pats on the back and talking about snacks? Really? Rita thinks while she looks at his profile. Her stomach turns a little when she notices, once again, how bad the marks on his face still look. She’s sure the bruises should be yellower than they are.

Those made him look plenty sympathetic. They believed him. How could they not?

Barba looks over at her, and she doesn’t look away.

“Well, I’ll let you get to work with John. I’m sure he’s just outside.” He gets up, going over to the bedroom door.

“Barba.” She says, making him stop and turn to her, hand on the knob. “Talk to…someone.” She finishes, nodding. His face stays even when he disappears into the room.

Sonny’s laid out on the bed, dressed only in a pair of sweatpants. His hair has left dark patches on the bedspread, not too different from at home. When Sonny doesn’t move to hug him, Barba realizes he’s asleep.

Rafael takes to reading, even in the dying natural light. When that fails, he turns on the light on his side, and uses the dimmer to lower it. Sonny doesn’t budge.

In the time it takes him to get through a hundred pages, he hears John and Rita go over his testimony. Listening to her talk, it reminds him why he called Rita in the first place. In the part of his brain that isn’t focused on reading thinks how glad he is to have Rita in their corner.

She leaves, eventually, and Rafael sees her out before locking the door behind her and Munch.

Sonny’s still asleep. There’s not much for Barba to do besides eat and read and try to forget about how wound up he was after his testimony. And feed Noah, when he realizes he’s probably going to bed soon.

There’s a knock on the door, a little while later, and Rafael gets up to just check. Only to open the door because he’s so shocked.

“Oh, what a lovely surprise, Captain Tucker. To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”

The white haired man chuckles. “Don’t sound so happy to see me, Counselor.”

“Usually you’re the bearer of bad news. What is it this time?”

“Just telling you about a shift change.”

“Excuse me?”

“Liv said you guys have your guard up right now. She needed a couple more trustworthy cops to watch your back, and asked me if I could help. And of course I would-“

“Hey Rafe, who’s at the door?” Sonny calls while jogging out to see, only to groan. “Jesus, Tucker, what’d’ya think I did now, huh? I’m already going on trial for something I didn’t do.”

“Apparently he’s here at the Lieutenant’s behest.” Rafael answers, still sizing up Tucker. Tucker seems relaxed, hands in his pockets.

“Really?” Sonny sounds skeptical too.

“Best to not be too careful. We already slipped up once, and it almost got you both killed. And since we’re still not completely sure who’s doing this, you need only the most trustworthy people around you.” Tucker answers.

“Yeah, okay. Like you didn’t think I was good for that?” Sonny asks. Tucker sighs.

“Listen, Detective Carisi, if it were up to me I’d say you did nothing wrong. You were just protecting yourself in your own home from an intruder. I don’t have a clue what this ADA thinks they’re doing by going after you.”

The arm Sonny put around Rafael’s shoulders tightens. “Well, if the prosecution calls on you, you wanna tell ‘em that?”

“You know I will if they ask.”

“Sure do. G’bye Captain.” Sonny says finally, and waits for Tucker to at least step away, so he’s not closing the door and locking it right in his face. And then he hugs Barba, tight.

They’re still close, sat together on the sofa, when Liv comes home. The TV is on, but muted, and there’s a half-eaten sandwich on the coffee table.

“Everything okay here?” She asks, closing the door behind her.

“Did you tell Tucker you needed help looking out for us?” Barba asks, still under Sonny’s grasp.

“I asked him if there were any cops he knew that were mad at you. I told him we need to be extra careful, with all this, especially during trial.”

“So that’s a yes.”

“Is that wrong?” She asks, looking between them while she settles in. Sonny clears his throat.

“Look, Lieutenant, I know this is a guy who spent years going after cops, makin’ sure they weren’t crooked. But, you’re sure he can be trusted?”

“I’m sure. If for nothing else, he still cares about me and Noah. He wouldn’t let anything happen to us.”

Sonny chuckles and shakes his head. “Lieu, that’s a little manipulative for you.”

“If it means there’s a little less for you two to worry about, I don’t mind.”

Noah breaks up their conversation, coming out to greet his mom. He quietly rambles to her about the park and dinner, taking her attention away from them. There’s another sandwich, waiting for her on a plate on the counter, along with a mountain of chips. Which she gladly eats after getting Noah bathed and in bed, since she can’t put that off anymore. By the time he’s in bed, it’s ten.

She gives the couple their space, letting them cuddle up on the sofa. They both look ready to fall asleep right there. She overhears fragments of their talking, but can’t find words. At least they’re talking she thinks.

She keeps waiting for them to move, to go to bed, but they don’t. And she doesn’t have it in her to break them up.

When she leaves the room to check on Noah, there’s a light rap on the door. Rafael gets up, and checks the peephole just in case before opening it.

“Captain. Still here.”

“That I am.”

“Can I help you with something? Are you looking for something to eat?”

“No, nothing like that. Thanks though. You mind if f I come in, say hi to Liv and Noah?”

That’s a crock. It’s almost midnight, he knows Noah’s asleep.

“Sure, why not?” Barba lets the door open the rest of the way, then pokes his head out to check on Rollins.

“You’re okay out here?”

“I’m fine, Barba.” She pats her hip. “Don’t worry about me.”

“Guess I should be more worried about whoever startles you, huh?” He asks. She chuckles as he closes the door. Liv is still wearing the shirt with the wet spots on it, but that doesn’t stop Tucker from hugging her.

“I’ll leave you two be. Goodnight.” Barba offers, getting them to say it back. They pull away when the door closes. 

“So, how’s your ADA doing?” Tucker asks.

“I think…I think he’s somewhere between shock and denial.”

“Closer to shock than denial.” Barba responds through the wall

“Right, I forgot about his eagle ears.” Liv says, and shakes her head.

“Course he does. Is there somewhere else we can talk?” He asks. She nods towards Noah’s room, where he’s sound asleep. The nightlight is bright enough that they can still see each other.

“So you’re testifying again tomorrow?” He asks, their voices staying low. She nods. “I heard there was a little incident today.”

“A few BX9 members tried to mess with them. They’re okay now. Be on the look-out though.”

“Do you want me to be there tomorrow?”

“Don’t do that. You’re going to need some sleep after tonight.”

“Should I come back tomorrow night, too?”

“If you can. My team…the four of us are exhausted.”

“What, you’ve been keeping watch too?”

“I haven’t had a post, if that’s what you mean. But I’ve been awake half the night, sleeping in the living room, wearing my holster 24/7…” He can see how her head turns to Noah. “I couldn’t let anything happen. I’d never forgive myself.”

“You’re taking this seriously. And now you’ve got one more person in your corner. Two if I put in a call to Dodds.”

“Don’t bother calling Dodds.”

“Why haven’t you yet? Has anyone tried helping him yet? Union rep? Anything?”

“Nothing. Which…isn’t all that surprising.”

“If Dodds knew he wouldn’t let that go. After everything with Michael, he still thinks of your unit as akin to family.”

“He wasn’t with us long. Would explain why he’s still enjoying his vacation and not returning any of my calls.”

“I’m telling you, he doesn’t know. If he did, he wouldn’t have let it get this far.”

“How could he not know, Ed? How do you miss that? I know he has his phone on, he must. I’ve been calling non-stop.”

“I don’t know. Let me find out.”

“If you insist. You should go back out there. I don’t feel comfortable with someone alone out there.”

“Fine…I’m sorry, Liv.” He says. She holds back a sigh and just hugs him again.

“Me too.” She murmurs in his ear.

 

Chapter Text

Barba goes right into the courtroom, while the rest of the detectives linger around the doors. It’s unnerving, how quiet the space is with just him and Sonny. And Rita, who’s dutifully writing down something. It’s broken up, slowly, while people trickle in.

Rafael doesn’t look. He doesn’t want to see what he’s up against.

A hand rests on Rafael’s shoulder, making him turn around. And flinch away slightly.

“Hey.” Bella says, the only one of the family there yet.

“Hi Bella.”

“You doin’ okay? After yesterday?” She asks gently. Rafael nods, and sighs.

“As well as I can be. Thank you, for being here when I couldn’t for him. I wasn’t allowed to sit in the gallery before I testified.”

She nods at that. “Ah, okay. I was wonderin’ about that. But really? You’re okay?”

“Yes, really. I just had to get out of here, after that.”

“And then you had that run in outside with those people…”

“Thankfully John was there. And if he hadn’t been there, Rollins was already. And she’s the best shot in their whole precinct.”

That makes Bella laugh a little. “Well, that’s good. You guys, you’ve got a lot of good people working for you. Like…um…well, that lawyer. She’s…”

“Brutal?” He supplies.

“Just because you’re behind me doesn’t mean I can’t hear you, Barba.” She says, just loud enough for them to hear. He smirks.

‘Something like that.” Bella agrees.

“Well, she is. But I don’t mind. I trust her with him, and with this case.”

“Right, right. So, what, today and tomorrow and then that’s it?”

“Yes, today, tomorrow, that’s it.” He reassures. She nods, and pushes her hair back.

Rollins comes in, diverting their conversation with small talk. Then the rest of the family shows, ending any discussion.

“So, this is almost over?” Valerie asks. Rafael doesn’t realize he’s being addresseed until Bella taps him on the shoulder again, and he turns around.

“Sorry?”

“This thing is almost done, right?”

“Yes, yes we’re almost done here. Just today and tomorrow.”

“It’s a good thing you’re here now, for the end of it and all.”

“Ma, would ya stop? Ya’ can’t be in the gallery until after you’ve testified.” Bella huffs.

Both of Valerie’s eyebrows shoot up. “How do you possibly know that?”

“Because I asked. I asked and I got an answer. So now you know, all your snippy little comments? They were out of line.”

Valerie looks put off, looking between her daughter and Rafael, who turns around. While he turns, he sees Dominick Senior glaring at him.

Fin shows up, but he doesn’t say anything about the obvious tension between the two groups. It’s a relief when Judge Briggs enters, and the trial starts up once again. John’s the first one up, and answers Rita’s questions calmly. It’s when DeLong gets up that his back stiffens.

“Detective Munch, you’ve been in law enforcement for how many years now?”

“I worked in law enforcement for thirty years before retiring, and taking my current position with the D.A.’s office.”

“Did it strike you as odd, to see these two men in a bar, in public when you did?”

“Not particularly.”

“Very well. How about the fact that the shooting only took place after you saw these two at the bar?”

“Excuse me?”

“Detective, you’re a known conspiracy theorist, would it be outside your realm of paranoia to see the connection between your speaking to the two men and their near murder?”

“Objection, the witness is not the one on trial.”

“Really? Because that’s how you were treating your own witness just yesterday.”

“Counselors” Briggs cuts off “I’d like to remind you that you’re in a courtroom, not a schoolyard playground. Objection sustained. Counselor DeLong, if you have a legitimate question to ask, I encourage you to do so.”

DeLong smiles slightly and drops his head, shaking it slightly before slinking back to his seat. Only then does he say “No further questions, your honor.”

John looks at the jury and gives them a ‘can you believe this guy?’ look before stepping down, letting Liv take the stand again.

“Lieutenant Benson, just a few more questions. Can you tell the court about the sixth day after the initial incident?”

“Well, the two of them told me they were going out for a drink. I didn’t object, I thought it was a good idea for the two of them to at least try and act normal. Plus, the bar they were going to was only three blocks from my home. Probably a half hour went by when I got the call from an officer who had replied to the scene. They told me that a car full of men wearing BX9 colors had opened fire on the squad car the two of them were riding in, and that two civilians had been hit in the crossfire. I went to the scene, immediately checked on both of them to see if they were okay.”

“And were they?”

“They were as okay as can be expected. Detective Carisi was incredibly agitated, practically falling over himself to tell me what had happened. Counselor Barba was…in shock. He had a very hard time speaking. Neither response is uncommon.”

“Before the investigation was taken out of the Special Victims Unit’s hands, did you find any evidence of this connection to BX9?”

Bella breaks away from looking at Liv just long enough to notice Barba’s completely still shoulders. They’re not moving like they should for someone breathing normally. Her gaze then flicks to the other side of the gallery, but doesn’t stay there. She doesn’t risk catching any of their glaring looks.

“The car which was used in the incident was found several blocks over, abandoned. The car contained several shell casings consistent with those found at the scene. Furthermore, the car was one reported stolen about two weeks prior on the fringes of BX9 territory. Prints were collected from the car, but did not match anyone in our databases. It was at this point that ownership of the case was confiscated from us.”

“Back to the day in question, what did you do once you were at the scene?”

“I took my detective’s statement, and when it was clear that neither of them was physically injured, I sent the two of them home with one of my other detectives, and John Munch, who is an former colleague of mine.”

“Did you have any qualms about leaving the two, who you thought of as being in danger, in the care of John Munch?”

“Not at all.”

“Thank you. No further questions.”

There’s silence in the courtroom. A waiting silence.

“Mr. DeLong.” Judge Briggs puts in, making the man’s head lift. Still he doesn’t speak. “Are you going to cross examine this witness?”

He shrugs. “I see no reason. I’ve already cross examined this witness.”

“Be that as it may, this witness has been recalled on information formerly not admitted. Do you have any intention to cross examine?”

“No, I’m quite alright, your honor.”

“Very well. The witness will step down.”

****

Not one, but both of the officers who were driving them around are called to the stand. Carisi is glad for both of them being there, instead of just one. It gives him until after their brief break to gather his thoughts. Before the courtroom is reconvened, he feels a familiar hand squeeze his shoulder. He reaches back and squeezes it, even though that’s a fraction of what he wants.

What he wants is to get out of that courtroom with Rafael and go home. Or, if not home, back to Liv’s apartment. It’s starting to feel more like home than their own home will ever feel again.

Actually, what Sonny wants is to disappear into the floorboards at that exact moment. But he can’t. When the time comes, and he’s called to the stand, he rises to his feet. He remembers to limp up to the witness stand, like he’s been doing every other day in court.

It’s striking, the comparison of the two halves of the gallery from where he sits. On his side are his closest friends, his family, and the other people who’d been witnesses. That’s it. The other half is filled with mostly women, probably gangbanger baby-mamas, but there’s a few guys sprinkled in there as well. Still, he doesn’t look at them. He trains his sights on Rita.

“Detective Carisi…” Rita pauses and looks at the jury when she speaks again. “We’ve heard testimony from multiple witnesses about your moral character, your bravery as a police officer, and your acts as a dedicated lover. Tell me, tell us, how did we get here?”

“Objection.”

“…overruled.”

Carisi doesn’t miss the slight raise in Rita’s eyebrows. He takes a deep breath and sits up straighter. “Well, it all started, on the night of February 20. I…it was such a normal night. Rafael came home, we ate dinner, we talked for a little while, and we went to sleep. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“When did you realize this night was abnormal for you?”

“Uh…I woke up to the sound of something…something very hard hitting. I had a tough time figuring it all out. It took me a few seconds to realize there was someone there, hitting Rafael.”

His voice breaks a little. So does Barba’s heart

“I…When I realized that there was another person there, hitting him, I tried to take the guy out. I grabbed the hand he was using to hit him, but I couldn’t think straight. Before I could think, I felt myself hit the wall. And then the ground. I heard some struggling, I heard Rafael screaming. It took me a minute to get myself up, and I grabbed my gun.”

Sonny stops and takes a few deep breaths. He’s wishing he’d practiced this part more. He can’t look at anyone except Rita, who’s wearing her sympathetic face.

“I…I had some trouble seeing. You know, even though the light was pretty weak, it still hurt my eyes, because I’d just woken up. And the hit to the back of the head made my vision pretty fuzzy. I…I was so scared to shoot. But I know what was going to happen. I work at SVU, I mean come on, I know what sexual assault looks like. I took my shot because I didn’t have any other option.”

Sonny presses his eyes closed and wipes away his tears. He can feel the whole courtroom watching him, waiting for him to go on. The only sound he hears is his own sniffling and the ring of that shot in his ears.

“Do you need a moment, detective?”

“No, no I’m okay.” He sniffs again and picks his head up. He catches Rafael’s gaze: pained, soft with sadness, and framed by the marks on his face.

Sonny swallows, and looks at Rita again. “Sorry.”

“It’s quite alright. Can you explain what happened next?”

“Uh…I have to be honest, things are a little fuzzy after that. I remember that I was bleeding, and I remember them taking me to the hospital. They made me and Rafael separate so we could be looked after. And when they thought I was okay to, I fell asleep.”

“And how have you been coping since the incident?”

“Really I haven’t been. I’ve done a lot of sleeping, and spent a lot of time trying not to think about it.”

“We’ve heard numerous accounts that your actions, your ending the life of Juan Somos was in self-defense. Do you have any regrets about what happened?”

“I don’t regret for one second stopping that guy from killing Rafael. But, even so, I hate that I ended a life. I’m a good Catholic, I value life, and knowing that I ended another human being…it breaks me up inside, like you have no idea.”

The tears come again, and this time Rita finds him a few tissues. The tissues are rough against the sensitive skin of his eyes, but he uses them anyway.

“Thank you.” He manages, and clears his throat.

“You’re welcome.” She pauses. “Shall I proceed?”

“Yes, go ahead.”

She walks slowly over to the jury, and leans on the railing.

“Detective, are you fond of your gun?”

“Uh…no, not particularly.”

“Would you say it’s your first line of defense?”

“Well…what you learn when you become a cop, you learn when to reach for your weapon, when you have to. And sometimes you have to. But I’m never looking for a reason to use it.”

“You were shot in the line of duty rather recently, is that correct?” Rita asks. Rafael can't imagine how anyone could think wrong of Carisi, with his open face and sincere demeanor. It pisses him off when the prosecution objects.

“Overruled.” The judge says. Sonny folds his hands and his gaze flicks to Liv. Barba finds Liv’s hand, and she squeezes.

“Yes, I was.”

“Could you tell us about the incident?”

“Objection, relevance?”

“Witness credibility, your honor.”

“Overruled. The witness will answer.”

Sonny nods and rubs his nose. “Me and the Lieutenant, Olivia Benson, we responded to a call to remove an abused family from the home of the father. The mom brought the baby to the car, leaving Lieutenant Benson and I with the two kids when the father entered via the kitchen door. The situation became a hostage situation, lasting several hours. He was about to shoot one of the kids, I tackled him, and I was shot in the leg.”

“And for this heroic” she emphasizes the word “act, you were given a commendation, yes?”

“Indeed, I was.”

“But during this situation, you never fired your own gun?”

“No, the perpetrator forced me to surrender my gun.”

“Have you ever shot your gun in the line of duty?”

“I have. But that’s part of the job. I’ve never used it when I didn’t have to.”

“Was this the first time you’d used your gun while off duty?”

“Aside from target practice at a shooting range, yeah, this is the first time I’ve used my gun off-duty.”

“You said earlier that, as a Catholic-“

“Objection.”

“Rephrase. You morally value life, correct?”

“I do.”

“And in the situation as you described it, did you have reason to believe that lives other than your own and Mr. Barba’s were at risk?”

“Objection.”

“Sustained. Ms. Calhoun, proceed carefully.”

She nods and looks to the jury again.

“You saved the life of your lover. Who also spends his time saving lives.”

Barba cringes, his grip on Liv’s hand tightening. Rita, don’t fuck this up.

“Come again?” Carisi asks, sitting up straighter

“Would it be fair to say that, as an assistant district attorney, Mr. Barba has left a few enemies in his wake?”

“Objection! Speculation.”

“The only person who would know more about the types of enemies Mr. Barba has made is the man himself, I’m not going to recall him for this.”

“The both of you.” Judge Briggs cuts in, making them stop. “I’m going to overrule that objection. Witness will answer.”

“So, I’ll ask you again detective, would it be fair to say that Mr. Barba’s line of work has made him enemies?”

“Oh for sure. Legal and illegal, gangs, mobsters, politicians, cops, whoever.”

“Cops, you say?”

Sonny’s throat feels dry. “Well, yeah. And y’know, it’s so screwed up when that happens. When cops get mad at him for doing his job. I mean, come on, really? That’s who you’re gonna be mad at? Why don’t you get mad at the cops who are out there squeezin’ drug dealers? Huh? I swear when he prosecuted a CO at Rikers and they got all high and mighty, it really pissed me off. Seriously, why are you getting mad at him for? Be mad at your buddy raping women on the street and all that.”

“That’s enough of the theatrics, Mr. Carisi.” Judge Briggs cuts in.

“No, your Honor, this isn’t theatrics. It’s true. Cops gotta be trusted for people to come see us and tell us what happened. Especially at SVU, you gotta be trusted. Why’s someone gonna call the cops if they’re scared they’re gonna get shot in their own home when we show?”

Sonny feels himself turning red, his composure slipping.

Barba’s not breathing again, and his knuckles are white.

“Mr. Carisi, what exactly are you trying to say?”  The judge asks directly.

“I’m sayin’ that it’s really screwed up people are mad at the DA’s office, or a specific DA for trying to do the right thing. I mean, you don’t get mad at the fireman when they’re trying to put your house out, do ya? Look, all I know is at Manhattan SVU, getting people to trust you is one of the most important things for a case to go forward, so they’ll tell you who hurt ‘em. ”

“Your honor, objection. This entire rant has irreparably damaged the jury’s ability to decide between right and wrong, I move for an immediate mistrial.”

“I will allow for the objection, but the rest is an overreach. Stay on track with questioning, Ms. Calhoun.”

“Sorry, your Honor.” Sonny offers sincerely.

Bella notices the way Barba’s shoulders finally relax, and the way Rollins moves a hand to rub his back. Teresa huffs and rolls her eyes, then leans into her sister.

“They’re all frickin’ cuddling in front of us while he’s trying not to break-“

“Teresa, shut your mouth or leave.”

The older woman jerks away from her baby sister and looks at her hard, then gives another eye roll while she looks back to the line of questioning.

“Is there anything else you wish to tell the court?” Rita finally asks. Sonny clears his throat.

“No, no thank you.”

“Very well then. No further questions.” Rita says. Jason stands, but before he can speak the judge cuts in.

“This courtroom is adjourned, and will reconvene tomorrow at eight.”

“Your honor, he’s my witness.”

“Yes, and when the court reconvenes, you may cross examine. As for now, this courtroom is adjourned.”

A swift bang of the gavel shuts DeLong up. And just like every other day, they wait until everyone else is cleared out before leaving the courtroom, the detectives folding in around Barba, Carisi, and Rita.

 “I shouldn’t have said that.” He mutters to Barba while they walk out.

“Said what?”

“That. Any of that. About cops”

“Why? It’s true.”

“I know, I know, but I shouldn’t have said it. Someone’s gonna be pissed. Someone’s going to be mad. And I could’ve caused a fucking mistrial, started us all from scratch”

“Don’t worry.” Liv reassures, putting a hand on his back. “We’ll get you guys home safe.”

“Is my safety ever guaranteed again, Lieu? Now I gotta watch my back every time I work with another cop.”

“Not here you don’t.” Rollins stops him, and steps in front of him. She shoves a finger into his chest. “You said the right thing there. Even if it wasn’t easy. Trust me, you’ll never have to watch your back with us. Got it?”

He sighs and nods. “Yeah, I got it Rollins.” If I ever work again he thinks.

“Okay.” The Lieutenant says surely. “Rollins, Munch, you two take them back to my place.”

“What, you’re going back to work?” Barba asks. She shrugs.

“We’re still digging. I’ll let you know though, if we find anything out. Me and Fin are going back, see what we can do. You two, you need to rest.”

“Yes mom.” Barba taunts. She smiles and rolls her eyes before walking with the group to a squad car, a different one than the one they came in. The two of them watch the group drive away until they round the corner. Fin sighs.

“Back to the office.”

“Back to the office.” She agrees.

****

Sonny’s glad to be home, or what’s started to feel like his home, even though it’s jarringly early. It’s not even eleven. It gives him way too much time to agonize over what tomorrow will be like. Even once he’s out of his suit and into what are basically pajamas, he’s buzzing with worry.

“Sonny?” Barba breaks his train of thought. He looks away from the painting on Liv’s wall and sees Barba’s stolen his Fordham hoodie, and that makes him smile.

“You should really get your own of one of those.”

“Why? It’s not like you were using it.” He slips his hands into the pockets. A knot forms in Sonny’s throat when he realizes how small the maroon sweatshirt makes Barba look.

“No, guess I wasn’t. And possession really is nine-tenths of the law.”

They share a laugh, and Rafael takes the seat beside him, his face changing. “So, what do you suppose we do to keep from going crazy?”

“I dunno. Something. Something where we don’t have to think.”

“Let’s go sit in the living room, watch a couple of movies. I’m sure we can find something.”

“I’m fine with anything, really.” Sonny agrees, and turns to look at Barba. He reaches a hand up, touching where the bruises on his face have yellowed. “These are really takin’ a while, huh?”

“I guess they are.” Barba offers weakly. “But they’ll be gone soon enough.”

“Uh huh.” Just like me.

Sonny just sits back, letting Rafael pick through Liv’s DVD collection. He’s glad for the distraction of the humorous, if slightly generic, movie he picks. It’s enough to make him laugh a few times.

Still, they both jump when Sonny’s phone buzzes loudly against the coffee table. They exchange a short look before they both lean forward, Rafael to pause the movie and Sonny to pick up his phone.

“Bella, everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine. Just, y’know, checking in on you. You’re doing okay?”

“Uh, not really.” Sonny says, and puts his arm back around Rafael’s shoulders. “But I’m holding on.”

“Aw, Sonny I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’re goin’ through all this. I mean, really, they know you did nothing wrong, they have to say you’re not guilty.”

Sonny scoffs, and his free hand starts playing with the string on Barba’s sweatshirt.

“Don’t be like that. They heard you, they heard Barba, they heard everyone. They can’t convict you if you did nothing wrong.”

“Sure they can. People don’t really love cops right now, Bella. There’s probably a good two on that jury who think I did kill the guy for the wrong reason.”

“But the guy, he had no case. He kept changing the reason for why you killed that guy. And aren’t you the person who says there’s always people that think cops can do no wrong?”

“Sure, but I don’t know who’s voices are going to be louder in deliberation.”

“Shut the hell up. You should’ve heard yourself up there today, everyone’s gonna believe you over that jackass lawyer on the other side.”

“I hope so. But you know how cross goes, always makes the person look bad.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think he can screw with you up there. Not after what you said.”

“I shouldn’t have said any of that. I lost my cool and ended up flirting with a mistrial.”

“What would that have meant?”

“Start from scratch. Do this aaaaall again.”

Rafael nuzzles against his neck, drawing even closer. Sonny closes his eyes.

“You’re going to be okay though. They’re going to get you out of this. After tomorrow, you’ll never have to worry about this again.”

“I sure hope so.”

Rafael brings his hand up to Sonny’s, making it stop fidgeting, and squeezes it gently.

“Mom and dad are real worried about you.”

“Funny, they sure haven’t seemed like it.”

“They’re there, ain’t they?”

“Yeah, sure, but-“

“I’ve been keeping them at a distance. Your lawyer said that you guys didn’t need any more stress, so I’ve been keeping them off you. I know what they’re like, I know mom’s just gonna cry on you and dad’s gonna flip about something.”

Sonny sighs from deep in his gut. “Yeah. Probably.”

“You’re still their son. They love you.”

“Yeah, but they’re embarrassed of me.”

“They don’t know how to act.”

“Bella, c’mon, you’re gonna make excuses for them?”

“You know how they are. They don’t have a clue how to act around things like this.”

“Yeah they do, Bells. They’re people, they know other people don’t like being guilted and screamed at. They do know better than to treat me like I’m less than now that they know who I love. Fuck, I always knew it would be bad, I just had no idea it would be this horrible.”

“They’ll learn.”

“Fat chance.”

“I’ll keep talking to them, trying to get them on your side.”

“Thanks Bella. Man, it’s really nice to hear your voice. To know you’re okay. Nobody’s been giving you a hard time?”

“No, not really. Nobody’s bothering us. Well, except mom and dad’s neighbors, who keep asking passive aggressively how you’re doing and how they’re holding up with your ‘situation’.”

“Yeah, well, they can fuck themselves for all I care. How’s Tommy?”

“Good, doin’ good. He got off from work tomorrow.”

“For the trial?”

“Well yeah. Y’know, for support. Cuz you supported him so much.”

“That’s real good of him. Hope he doesn’t turn up just to watch me get convicted.”

“Shut up. You’re being negative and shit, it’s gonna come back to haunt you.”

“Fine, fine, whatever.” He goes on. He keeps talking, just glad to hear her. While he talks, him and Barba move closer until they’re laid on the sofa together, with Barba pretty much on top of Sonny, head in the crook of his neck. Sonny’s feet hang off the other arm of the sofa, and the way Barba is laid against Sonny keeps him from getting a full breath. Still, he keeps talking, and keeps a hold on him. For a while Rafael dozes, but he wakes when Sonny says goodbye to her.

“Sounds like she’s okay.” Rafael puts in. Sonny shrugs and wraps his other arm around Barba, holding him tighter.

“Okay as can be. But she loves me, and love makes people worry. You know.”

“I do.” He agrees, softer than before.

Before they can say anything else, the door of the apartment opens. Noah comes in with Lucy, both of them casting off their slickers to dry on the coat rack, and take the couple’s mind off their day.

****

The only sounds in the squad room are the sounds of clicking keys and heavy sighs, and the patter of rain over their heads. It’s alternated between heavy downpours and light drizzles all afternoon, now into the evening. Every so often, a peal of thunder drowns out the typing.

 The sound of small heels clicking on the ground brings up both of their heads. The first unique sound they’ve heard since everyone else left.

“Can I help you?” Olivia asks, standing up. The woman underneath the hood has caramel colored skin, with a baby just the same way.

“H-Hello? Is this M-Manhatten SVU?” Her voice is tinged with a Spanish accent, and tightened with shivers.

“This is. I’m Lieutenant Olivia Benson.”

She opens her mouth to speak, but stops herself. Instead, the woman drops the shoulder she’s been holding high, a backpack falling down her arm. She hands it over, her limb shaking. Olivia takes it, and realizes why her arm is trembling: the bag is heavy. Probably ten pounds. A chill runs through her.

“Ma’am, what is this?”

“I-I have…from…from BX9…that’s everything.”

Fin rises from his seat and comes over to the bag, opening it. They both look inside, then at the woman who’s clutching her son.

“How did you get these?”

“Everyone’s out…they’re already celebrating. T-they want that cop in jail to kill him, and make Barba go away. It’s all there, all of it.” She says, and points a shaking hand at the bag. “All of it.”

The two exchange a look, then Fin nods. “Okay. Ma’am, what’s your name?”

“Lydia.”

“Okay Lydia, I’m going to take you to our bunk room so you can put your baby down to rest. We’re going to want to talk to you. Right this way.”

When he comes back, Benson has her phone out and a box of gloves freshly opened. “Call chief Dodds again, call Tucker, call Rollins too, Munch can look out by himself. We need to get through these, find as much evidence as we can to take to a judge in the morning.”

****

Noah falls asleep so easily to the sound of the rain. Even with the thunder, it puts him right out. Sonny takes the toddler, sat between them on the couch, and puts him to bed in his room. He clicks on the night light just in case. He lingers, waiting to see if he’ll wake up. When he doesn’t, even from another round of thunder, Carisi leaves him be.

“Noah’s still asleep?” Barba asks. He nods.

“He’s all good. Too bad the Lieu isn’t home yet, he’s real precious when he sleeps.”

“I’m sure she knows. We should probably get our own sleep though, instead of waiting for her.”

“You sure about that?”

He shrugs. “We probably shouldn’t be tired for tomorrow. You shouldn’t be, anyway.”

“Right, right. Why make it easier on DeLong than it already is.”

“Don’t.” He gets off the couch and kisses Sonny’s cheek. A lanky arm slips around Rafael’s waist.

“Fine. Let’s go to bed.”

They go through their nightly washing-up routines. Rafael waits until after Sonny to shower. When he comes out of the bathroom, Sonny’s still awake, but laid back in bed, staring at the ceiling.

Barba stops and just stares at him for a long minute, watching the way his chest rises and falls with every breath. Something presses against his own chest, reminding him that this might be their last night together for a very long time.

Sonny doesn’t look at him until he comes to bed. He sits up just enough to click off his light, while Barba climbs in between the sheets with him. When the other light goes off, Sonny feels Barba cling to his side. He wraps an arm around him and squeezes him.

The rain patters on against the windows. Sonny mulls through some old memories involving rain, but they all feel very far away from the real peril he’s in. He’s a sitting duck in an apartment with his lover and a toddler not his own with two (or at least he thinks two) people outside his door the night before he goes off to quite possibly get convicted.

And, of course, he can’t sleep. He closes his eyes and listens to the white noise the rain brings, but it does nothing to weigh him down.

He can feel from the way Barba is breathing against his chest that he’s not asleep either.

“You’re going to be okay.” Sonny offers after who knows how long. He can’t see the digital clock, but he’s sure it’s after midnight by now.

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s true. You’ve got people here for you. You’ll get through this. You’ll be okay.”

His words make the darkness heavier and colder.

“How am I supposed to be okay without you?” Barba asks, but it comes out faster than he meant it to.

“You had a life before me. You’ll have a life after.”

Sonny feels him sit up and stare at him. “I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t have any life, period. Do you understand that? Do you understand that, without you, I’d be dead already?”

Sonny’s quiet. He knows what he says is true, but it still hits hard. He feels Barba shift, moving to straddle him, hanging over him and bringing their faces close.

“I don’t think you do. Not entirely. You’re…” his breath hitches “my hero, Sonny. You’re my hero.”

“Don’t-“

Rafael stops him with a kiss, making his lips quiet. It’s warm and loving, and it’s with more feeling than he’s felt in weeks. He melts into the kiss, letting his hands rest over Rafael’s hips, holding him in place.

It stops, and Sonny has a thought that they’ll be going to sleep now, until he feels those same lips against his jaw. Down the line of his jaw. Against his neck. And Sonny doesn’t stop it until he feels a hand pulling at his shirt. Sonny presses a hand against Barba’s chest, making him pull away.

“You don’t have to do this.” He murmurs. Barba finds his hand and presses it further into himself.

“I want to. Please, let me do this.”

“You’re sure? You’re really sure?”

“I’m sure. I just want to feel close to you.”

Sonny lets his arm go slack, and Barba leans in for another gentle kiss. “Okay?” The older man murmurs against his lips.

“Okay.” Sonny agrees. “Okay.”

They kiss. They keep kissing. Sonny lets his hands wander over his boyfriend’s body, gradually pushing away his clothes. Barba does the same, only removing Sonny’s shirt after spending a few minutes kissing his chest and stomach.

There’s no rush. Sonny lets Barba lead things, and if he wants to take it slow, they’re taking it slow. Lots of kissing, and a lot of benign touching before either of their hands dip below the waist.

Rafael’s hips press down against Sonny, slowly getting the both aroused.

The first hand to touch their lengths is Rafael’s, taking both of them in his grip and stroking them to full hardness. It makes them both shiver. Sonny’s hand presses down on Rafael’s back, bringing them closer together.

Sonny almost whines when Rafael leans away, reaching over to the table, grabbing the small bottle of hand lotion. Even though it’s not a great choice, Rafael knows not to try going with just saliva.

The younger man’s hands move over his body, encouraging him. His hands slide over Barba’s stomach and his chest, teasing his nipples. It makes Rafael shudder while he tries to press down onto his lover. When he does, finally, they both have to stop.

“Y-You’re okay?” Sonny asks, his hands cupping either side of Barba’s neck. He feels the older man nod.

“I’m okay.”

Sonny has to take a deep breath, trying to calm his arousal. He slides his hands down over his lover’s body until they’re resting on his hips again, steadying him. He brings his legs up so his feet are flat against the bed, giving Barba something to lean back against.

Barba’s hand grazes over Sonny’s thigh, the knot of tissue reminding him who he’s with.

Their hitching breath and soft, quiet moans are covered mostly with the rain picking up once again. It lets Barba let go of himself a little more, and feel a little more like his old self. He gets into a steady rhythm, while Sonny’s hands press against his hips or graze over his thigh

Their movements are stopped when Rafael freezes, his body going tense around Sonny, making the younger man groan. Barba’s quiet for a minute before letting out a few uneven breaths. All he can think about is the pleasure radiating from his prostate, making moving even harder than it was before. When he moves again it’s in a halted way, just slamming himself down onto Sonny’s hips. His legs quake, and he leans further back into the younger man’s thighs, pressing against his scar.

“Let me.” Sonny speaks, his grip tightening on Barba’s hips. “Let me?” 

“Okay.” Barba breathes. Sonny rolls them over without breaking their contact, making Barba shudder again around him. His hips start to move.

A hand slips into Carisi’s still damp hair.

They moan in each other’s ears, only loud enough for them to hear.

It’s Rafael’s orgasm that pulls Carisi over the edge, and leaves the two of them in a boneless heap on the bed.

“Love you. So much.” Is what Barba says, even though before this there were a million things he wanted to tell Carisi. Now he can’t remember any of them. “Te amo mucho.”

“Love you too.” Carisi manages, already half asleep. 

****

The backpack handed over to them is a gold mine.

Two computers, two dozen burner phones, a handful of pagers, and a couple of notebooks. All brought in in plastic bags. All being worked over.

“What are we finding?” Tucker calls out from where he’s working phones. He has seven of them hooked up to one of the computers with a bunch of tech software, compiling numbers called and messages sent.

“What are we not findng.” Rollins calls back. “I’ve got spreadsheets galore over here, detailed documentation of anyone who’s been paid for anything. Abbreviations for who’s a cop, who’s a-“

“Are judges on that list?” Benson asks, flicking through notebooks that list favor upon favor done for them by cops. She’s not sure how a street gang could be this organized, or this stupid.

“Not yet. There’s a hundred and fifty names on this list, with payments going back two, three years.”

“Keep digging.” Benson calls out.

“I got somethin’!’ Fin shouts over everyone. “Liv, look at this.”

What she finds looking over his shoulder is unnerving. Another spreadsheet. Two tabs. One labeled ‘C’ the other labeled ‘K’

“Look at this. This list labeled ‘C’ has a list of a few dozen names, all with dollar amounts, and names and addresses of loved ones.”

“Oh god…” She says, her eyes resting on Oscar Briggs’s name. And then Jason DeLong’s. “What’s the other list, the ‘K’ list.”

“Only got a few names there. But guess what one of them is.” He clicks on the tab. The first name on the list is Rafael Barba. The column next to it doesn’t have a dollar amount, but it does have several names. Dominick Carisi Jr., Olivia Benson, and Noah Benson. Liv feels her stomach turn over, and for a minute she thinks she’ll be sick. It takes her a moment to stand upright again.

She looks at the clock. Half past one. And then she looks at Tucker

“Go meet up with Munch. One of you take the front door, the other take the fire escape. Think of ten different cops you know, make sure they’re not on that list, and set up a perimeter on the block. If they figure out their stuff is gone, they’re going to be mad and they won’t care.”

“On it, Lieutenant.” He answers. He catches Captain Dodds’s eye for a moment, and he can see in the man’s face just how mortifying this all is.

A piece of Tucker wants to ream the man out for not knowing about all this, and for not having his phone on while off on his vacation.

But none of that will change where they are now.

Tucker saves his words for calling up real police officers instead.

Chapter Text

When the alarm goes off, neither Barba nor Carisi want to deal with it. It takes a good minute for either of them to wake up.

Carisi is the one to reach out and open his phone, though he almost drops it from his weak grip.

The first thing that comes to his mind is their bliss from their night before. The darkness around them. The sound of the rain. The feel of his lover’s breath against his neck and ear. The same breath that’s washing over a patch of skin on his chest.

When he finds the strength, Carisi moves his other hand up to rest against the back of Rafael’s head. The hair against his palm is soft, tickling between his fingers.

Barba pretends to be asleep for another few minutes, drinking in the sensation of Carisi’s hand touching his head, his neck, and running down his back before resting on his lumbar. Rafael doesn’t want to wake up and ruin the moment. He doesn’t want to face the day ahead of them. He doesn’t want to let go.

“Rafe?” Sonny murmurs over his head, while the hand on his back presses down. “Rafe, wake up.”

“Hmm?” He murmurs, nuzzling against the skin on his chest.

“Rafe…you okay?”

“Mhm.” He replies, his eyes still closed.

“Rafe…babe, wake up for me. C’mon, wake up.” He presses, rubbing his back now, forcing him to wake.

His eyes open, and he lets out a deep breath, sending a small shiver over Carisi’s skin.

“Morning.” He relents.

“Morning.” Sonny repeats. “You’re up?”

“I’m awake, for what it’s worth.”

“You…you okay?”

“I’m perfectly content, Sonny. I don’t want to move.”

That makes the younger man smile, in spite of himself. “Me either. Just, after last night, I want to be sure.”

“You have nothing to worry about. You did everything right.” Barba clutches him tighter. “You did everything I needed you to.”

“Good, good.” He lapses into silence, and moves a hand up to his neck again, tracing a circle over one of the bumps of Rafael’s spine.

“We should probably get up.” Rafael has to break up their moment, but still he presses closer.

“Probably.” Sonny agrees, but there’s no two ways about it. They have to get up. And they do, slowly, Rafael taking his time since he still feels a little wobbly. Sonny goes off to the bathroom while Rafael strips the bed, putting the sheets in the least offensive way possible next to the bed.

When Sonny comes out, Rafael is wearing a pair of boxer briefs, and is getting his clothes ready. There’s a pang in his chest over how normal this all seems, but his brain won’t let him forget what’s really happening. He closes the distance between them and pulls Rafael into a hug.

Rafael’s eyes close, and his head lean’s on Sonny’s shoulder. He hugs Sonny’s waist tight. He knows this might be one of the last times they feel this way for a while.

And just like that, Sonny lets go. Because, really, he can’t say anything. All that Fordham Law training gave him plenty of words, but none of them can explain this away. This can’t be talked out.

The only talking he does is when he sees himself dressed in his suit.

“Today’s the day.” Sonny mutters to himself, and straightens his tie. With his hair slicked back, and his suit a complementary grey color, he looks good. He looks, at least he thinks, like someone the jury would feel bad about convicting.

Sonny chugs a cup of coffee while they wait. Barba, after already having two, just sits in the living room. When there’s a knock, he knows it’s time for them to go. Rafael looks through the peep hole, then sighs before opening the door.

“Tucker. Taking us in today?”

Favor for a friend.” He says easily. He doesn’t sound like someone who was awake the entire night, sat on Liv’s fire escape in the pouring rain. Not one bit.

“Right. Well. I think it’s time.” Sonny adds and pulls his jacket on, following them out. John is waiting in the car for them, and pulls out the second the doors close.

The silence in the squad car is thick. None of them have the will to break it.

Rafael doesn’t miss the three other cop cars they pass while they leave Liv’s block, but he doesn’t bring it up. He’s sure they can’t tell him anyway.

Even with the two respected officers watching their back, Carisi feels exposed. When they enter the courtroom, his family is already there, but his squad isn’t.

Is this why the Lieu didn’t come home last night? Sonny asks himself while he takes his place next to Rita, who’s stoically penning something on her legal pad.

“Where are our guys?” Barba asks the two men next to him. Tucker gives him a reassuring look.

“They’ll be here.”

Barba blinks, and leans around to look at Munch on the other side of Tucker. Munch raises his eyebrows and shrugs. “What? I don’t know anything, I spent all night outside your door.”

Barba huffs a laugh. “Yes, of course. The one time I ask you a question you don’t know the answer to.”

Sonny bounces his leg under the table, and keeps looking over at Rita, who won’t look at him.

“Very empty gallery today.” He comments to her. She hums. Sonny swallows. “What, did you get the gang banger’s girlfriends banned from court?”

She glances at him, then shakes her head and goes back to writing. A knot forms in his stomach, and he looks over at the empty prosecution side of the courtroom. Empty of a prosecutor, too.

Empty, that is, until Kenneth O’Dwyer walks in. Sonny feels his brow furrow, and turns just enough to look at Barba, who’s also staring at him. They’re both so wrapped up in his surprise appearance that they barely notice when the bailiff calls the court to rise. Rita has to nudge Carisi to make him stand up.

Because it’s not Briggs that takes the bench.

“I apologize for the delay in today’s proceedings.” Judge Barth tells the court. Her red hair is pulled back with a large clip, and everything about the way her voice reads as ‘don’t make me have to call order.’ “Now, Counselor O’Dwyer, I understand you have a request?”

“Yes, your honor. The DA’s office would like to drop the charges against Mr. Carisi, as new evidence has shown certain aspects of the investigation to be compromised.”

“Are there any objections to this motion?” The judge asks. She makes an effort to look at Rita, and not her shocked defendant or the bewildered lawyer sat behind him.

“No, your honor.” Rita says evenly.

“Very well then. The motion is granted, all charges are dropped. Mr. Carisi, if there are no holds you are free to go. Members of the jury, the state of New York thanks you for your service. Case dismissed.”

And just like that, with the tap of a gavel, it’s over. Rita packs herself in, while Sonny’s family swarms around him, enveloping him in a group hug. Carisi doesn’t have it in himself to protest, still trying to figure out what happened. When O’Dwyer gets up to leave, Barba follows him.

“Ken.”

“Counselor. It seems congratulations are in order, finally getting this dog of a case dismissed.”

“Care to explain to me why?”

“As if you don’t already know.”

“No, I don’t actually. It seems to be standard practice to leave me out of the loop, at the moment.”  

That makes Ken stop, even though they’re in the middle of everyone’s walking space. He pulls Barba to the side.

“You really don’t know?”

“I know nothing. Now are you going to tell me the easy way or do I need to start pulling teeth?”

He purses his lips for a moment. “Talk to your detectives. With any luck, they’re still at the precinct.”

“And you won’t tell me because?”

“Because, frankly, I’ve been up since three thirty and I’m not sure I’m mentally equipped to explain what happened. They can tell you better than me, the after-the-fact guy.”

“Alright. Well, thanks O’Dwyer.”

“It’s the right thing to do. Feel better.” The other man offers, and shakes Barba’s hand before heading out. Barba just stands there, thinking, trying to put it all together. Only to be jarred out of his contemplation by Sonny enveloping him in a hug.

“It’s over. It’s over, Rafe, it’s finally over.”

“It really is.” He murmurs, again letting his head rest on Sonny’s shoulder, just for a minute. Just until Sonny pulls away to look at him.

“What happened? Why’d they let me go?”

“O’Dwyer wouldn’t tell me. Said to ask the squad.”

“Well let’s go see ‘em.”

“Right now? You’re not tired?”

“Look, I’m relieved, I’ve got a huge weight off my shoulders, I wanna go see ‘em if they’re still there. If that’s okay with you.”

“Fine by me. Let’s get the dye-needing duo to take us.”

“I sent ‘em to get the car already. See?” Sonny smiles, and it makes Barba’s heart soften. “Great minds think alike.”

“They really do.” He agrees, and starts walking. They make it outside, into the bright day. Despite the cold, the sun is high and warms their faces while they walk down the courthouse steps. Sonny clutches his lover close, arm tight around Rafael’s waist, ushering him away from the courthouse. Away from the media circus that Rita is commanding.

“Sonny!” A woman calls out, and he lurches. He turns and looks over his shoulder.

“Hi Bella.” He says, letting go of Rafael and closing the space between himself and his sister. He only leaves Rafael’s side to keep her from making him uncomfortable.

“Sonny, god this is so nuts. What are you doing?”

“What am I doing? I'm going home, away from all this.”

“You're joking right? Mom and dad wanna see you-“

“So?”

“So?! It's mom and dad!”

“Bella, listen to me. I love mom, I love dad, I love you guys, but I can't deal with their stupidity right now. I got places to be.”

“Where the hell do you think you’re goin’?” Teresa catches up with Bella, and passes her, getting a little too threateningly-close.

“Oh, look who’s joinin’ the guilt party. Could you not, right now? I gotta go meet up with my squad.”

“Oh, wow, reeeeeeal nice, Sonny. Those people ditch you for half your trial, can’t even keep you from going to trial, and now you wanna be with ‘em again?”

“Don’t talk about my squad like that.” His voice drops, and he gets in her face.

“Or are you just usin’ that as an excuse? I bet you’re just goin’ off with your man toy to ‘celebrate’.”

Sonny has to swallow and step back. Before he answers, he laughs. “Y’know what? You wanna stand here and argue with the pavement, that's fine by me Teresa. But I'm not gonna stand around and listen to it.”

“Coward!” She yells after them. Sonny just keeps walking, until they get to the squad car. But he doesn’t mention it. He just hugs Barba tight, letting it really settle in that he’s not going to prison. If it weren’t for the shock and anger he was harboring, he would’ve cried right there.

****

The first person to lay eyes on them is Liv. All the hard lines in her face soften, and she strides over to the two men, hugging them both close. She closes her eyes to hold back tears, but it only works for so long. When she pulls back, she see Carisi is in the same boat.

“What’d you do, huh?” He asks, tears coming despite his genuine smile. “What’d you guys do?”

“You won’t believe me if I tell you.”

“Try me, Lieu. I bet we can handle it.”

She chuckles and looks over at her office. A high pitched cry greets them. Sonny’s eyes land on the woman trying to soothe her child, but her quiet pleas are high and grating, only seem to make it worse.

“Woah, hey, it’s alright.” Sonny goes over to her. She looks up and stalls, going silent. “You mind?” He asks over the baby’s wailing. She doesn’t look away from him, just nods. Carisi takes the small child into his arms and gently starts to bounce, and it’s only a minute before he’s quieting.

Barba shoots Liv a look that very clearly reads as ‘explain this now.’ She should know, she’s seen it enough.

“See? Aw, isn’t that better. And so much quieter.” Sonny says, and sits next to the woman.

Liv looks at them before going to her desk, and picking up her phone. She clicks around a few times before handing it to him, showing a picture of their squadroom the night before. The notebooks, the phones, the computers, everything.

He looks at it, then the woman on the couch, and then at Liv.

“She came to us last night with a backpack full of basically all of BX9’s records.”

“Everything?” BX9 keeps records?

“Apparently they went out last night ‘celebrating’, whatever that entails. She shows up here around ten, and we spent all night going through it.”

“And?”

“We found records of people they were paying. Cops they were paying. Judges and lawyers being blackmailed with all manners of things.”

“Judge Briggs?”

“He picked up one of their girls, she was wearing a camera.

“And DeLong?”

“Went to a party with BX9 supplied girls. And I mean girls.”

Barba shakes his head.

“And you haven’t heard the best part. Guess what precinct a dozen of the dirty cops were from?”

“I don’t have to. I’m sure they’re all buddy buddy with Dumas and Co.”

“When you’re right you’re right. Gang unit rounded up every known associate of BX9 this morning, and IAB is doing their thing now.”

“So it’s done?” He asks with a sigh. She nods and pats his arm.

“It’s done. You’re safe now.”

He nods, and looks over at Sonny who’s still rocking the now sleeping baby.

“So, tell me, what’s this little guy’s name?” Sonny asks when he hands the boy back.

“Manuel.”

“Manuel.” Sonny says, like he’s testing the name. “That’s precious. Nice choice.”

“Thanks.” She says, and sets her baby in the spare carseat they keep around the precinct for just this kind of thing. When she looks at him head on, Sonny tilts his head.

“Do I know you?”

“You’ve seen me. At your trial.”

“At- oh. Ah. Okay, now I recognize you.” He says, and clears his throat. “So, what’re you doin’ here then?

“Honest? I thought you were just some dumb cop.”

“Thanks for the ego boost.”

She laughs and shakes her head. “I meant before seeing you, and hearing you. But you…what you said, about trusting cops. Doing the right thing. I wanted to do the right thing.”

“Hey, look at that. Instead of giving myself a mistrial I inspired someone to do the right thing.”

“You seem good. Like a good person. You don’t deserve that.”

“What? Having them kill me or somethin’?”

“There’s worse than death?” She quirks an eyebrow.

“I think so. After doin’ this, I’m pretty sure some lives are worse than death.”

She puts a hand on his arm, face pained. He puts his over hers, and squeezes it gently.

“You did the right thing, helping me out and putting all those guys away. I know it wasn’t easy for you, and you probably gotta lot of angry people waitin’ for you at home. But we’ll get someone to help you collect your things and put you up in a hotel for a few days while you figure out your next move. Right Lieu?”

“Of course.” She agrees. Sonny beams, and it’s enough to make the other woman smile back, her face lighting up.

“Alright then. You’re tough, I can tell.”

“Oh please, you can’t know that.”

“Sure I can. You’re a mom and you did the right thing, you’re strong. You’ll do the right thing. Oh.” he pulls out his wallet and hands her a card. “Here. You get in trouble, you know who to call.”

“Thank you.”

“Hey, thank you. I’m the one not going to jail.”

She laughs again and lets him hug her. When he lets go, he waves to the baby Manuel, who’s eyes are opening. “Be good little man. Listen to your mother, and don’t do anything stupid.”

“Carisi.” Liv says past a chuckle.

“Wha? Helps when they learn that lesson early.” He says and gets up to go. “Take care of yourself…”

“Lydia.”

“Lydia. And be safe out there.” He adds before stepping out with Barba. Waiting for them in the bullpen are Fin and Rollins, both looking like they just woke up but wearing smiles anyway.

“Look at you, free man walking.” Fin comments, and pulls Carisi into a hug.

“Aw hell, couldn’t have done it without you. You two look like hell.”

“Nice way to talk. You don’t look much better.” Rollins adds when it’s her turn.

“Ah stop.” Is all he gives her, rocking her back and forth. With the two of them, John and Ed standing by, and Liv coming out of her office, they have their happy little family reunion.

The nightmare has ended.

The storms have lifted.

For the moment, they’re safe again.

****

Liv goes to bed as soon as she gets home, leaving the two of them alone. Barba’s never been more happy to get out of a suit. He gets changed into some comfortable clothes, including Sonny’s Fordham sweatshirt. It’s still a shock, thinking that twelve hours ago Barba was sure this would be the closest link he would have to Sonny for a long time.

He catches Sonny, halfway between changing clothes, in a solid hug. Sonny hugs him back, his lank arms wrapping around Rafael’s torso, his nose nuzzling against the other man’s hair.

“You came home.” Rafael murmurs against his bare shoulder.

“I came home.” He repeats, and kisses the top of his head. “We did it.”

Rafael lifts his head, looking up into Sonny’s eyes. His face is sad, in pain, and Sonny’s pretty sure there’s more grey in his hair than before this ordeal began. Sonny cups his face, and leans in for a tender kiss.

There’s less heat than the night before. This kiss isn’t going anywhere. It’s just a nice, sweet kiss between two people sure this would be a kiss goodbye.

When they break, Sonny touches his lover’s temple. “I love you. So much.”

“I love you too.”

“We lived. We got through this stupidity. Now we can put ourselves back together.”

“Seems like a pretty tall order, don’t you think?” Barba cracks with a hint of a smile. Sonny scoffs and lets their foreheads rest together.

“Yeah. But we got each other to help. For what it’s worth.”

Rafael pecks his lips, and finds Sonny’s hand to hold between both of his own. “It’s worth a lot.”

“We’re gonna be ok. We’ll figure everything out.”

“Later though. Let’s just rest now.”

“Yeah. Rest.” Sonny agrees. Barba sits on the stripped bed, watching Carisi finish putting his clothes on.

“I gotta say, an easy place to start would probably be with some hair dye.”

“For you?”

“Eh, for both of us.”

“Don’t do that. I like your grey, you know that.”

“I still don’t get that. You like that I look prematurely old?”

“It doesn’t make you look old. It’s just…you. It’s a part of your image.”

“I’ll buy that.” Sonny comes over and takes his hand. “Fine. No hair dye. Just cuddles, huh?”

“Cuddling works.”

Sonny agrees and leads him to the living room, since the bed is still stripped bare. They settle down together, but even with the television going they feel incredibly close. It’s the closest they’ve felt in weeks, with the exception of the night before. Maybe.

The TV is low, playing an airing of Die Hard that they don’t really pay attention to. It’s starting when they sit down, so they know two hours have passed when there’s a knock, since the credits are rolling.

Sonny’s the one to get up, making Rafael flop over.

“Who is it?” Rafael asks when Sonny looks out the peep hole.

“Hell on wheels” he mutters, and opens the door. “Gina, what the hell are you doing here?”

“You're kiddin’, right?” She huffs and crosses her arms. “I'm here to see my big brother.”

“Seriously? Now?” He asks while Barba slips out of the room.

“Yeah, friggin’ now. You gonna let me in?”

“Whateva.” He says, and walks away from the door, leaving her to close it. He stalls when he sees Rafael’s gone, then notices the door to the bedroom is closed.

“So, gettin’ your life back now that you’re not on trial?”

“Tryin’ to.”

“But you’re still in your boss’s apartment.”

“Yeah because it’s comfortable right now and we haven’t figured out what we’re doing next.”

“Oh, ‘we’? As in you and your boyfriend?”

“Y’know what, Gina? I don’t need this crap from anybody but I sure as hell don’t need it from you of all people.”

“Please. You lied to mom and dad for two years, and then you’re shocked that they’re mad?”

“Oh yeah?” Sonny’s working to keep his voice down. “So, how exactly did I lie?”

“You’re joking, right? Every single time mom or dad asked you if you were seeing someone, what’d you say? Or how about if they asked you what you were up to? If they wanted to know how you spent your time outside of work? All of the answers you gave were lies.”

“No, actually, they weren’t. Because I just gave them run-around answers. I would say ‘can we talk about something else?’ or I would mention something I did with my friends outside of work. Or I’d just talk about work because, honestly, that’s most of my life.”

“Yeah, I know, you and that depressing as hell job. Is that where you hooked up with him?”

He gives his angry laugh. “Not that it’s any of your business, Gee, but yeah it is. I met him and we started workin’ together and he helped me get better with this whole lawyer thing. And it grew from there. And if you weren’t being such a bitch, I might actually tell you about it because really it’s a nice story.”

“Nice try. But seriously, you hurt mom and dad. It’s going to take so much for you to get right with them again.”

“Well maybe I don’t care.” Even though they’re not yelled, the words feel sharp and bitter leaving his mouth. They make his sister stall.

“Take that back. Right now.”

“No. I won’t. I’ve got people that love me that don’t think I’m an embarrassment or think I’m so much worse than I really am. And you know what? I’m happy. I’ve been happy only talking to mom and dad every other week. I love them, but I’ve been so much happier without that constant stress.”

“Take that back, you take that right back. Watch, now that you said that, something bad is going to happen.”

“Screw off, no it’s not. Besides, you of all people should understand what I’m going through.”

“Why the hell should I? I never did what you did.”

“Seriously? You were shacked up with that chick for how many months? And you never brought her around once.”

“Please, that wasn’t like that.”

“Then what was it, huh?”

“We weren’t serious!”

“Bullshit you weren’t serious, you were living together! The only reason you aren’t anymore is because I made you move out!”

“That was four months of my life, not two years.”

“Four months, two years. Whatever. The point is you’re the biggest fucking hypocrite in this whole family because you know exactly what it’s like to not tell mom and dad about who you love, because you know for a fact how bad it’s gonna be.”

“You fucking blow, you know that?”

“Is that a jab and me being bi?”

“Well it wasn’t gonna be but if it works-“

“God Gee, you know I really could’ve used your help with all that. Because, really, you hung me out to dry, didn’t try at all to help me out. I felt so fucking alone before I knew Bella was on my side.”

“Look, I love you, but this so wasn’t the way to do it.”

“Really? And how was it? Stay in a secret relationship until I have to call my brother in a panic because my lover lobbed a toaster at my head?”

“I just freaked out because it shattered the mirror, that’s all. God, you’re such a drama queen, Sonny.”

“But you still tell me stuff you wouldn’t dream of telling mom and dad.”

“Because I can trust you. But now mom and dad feel like they can’t trust you.”

“They can’t trust me? What about me? How am I supposed to trust them again?”

“They’re your parents, you have to trust them.”

“Again, I call bullshit. They flipped the fuck out on me after I was arrested. Do you get that I’ve never argued so hard with anyone in my life? I spent almost two hours screaming at them. And them screaming at me. I scared the fuck out of a kid I’ve known most of his life, along with my boss and Barba. But all they cared about is that they were embarrassed. You want something to drink?”

“Nah, I’m too pissed at you to bother.”

“Yeah yeah, whatever, shut up for a minute, will ya?”

She just follows him into the kitchen.

“You seriously don’t think you did anything wrong here, huh?”

“I think I did what anyone in my position would’ve done. You know, like what you did.”

He sets the first glass in front of her.

“Don’t even, you keep harping on that and it’s not even the same thing.”

“Yeah, it is, because I needed someone who understands keeping secrets from mom and dad and you said ‘nope, fuck you.”

He sips his own glass while she talks. “Sonny, so not the same thing. It wasn’t serious like you two are. And my chick wasn’t ten years older than me.”

“Oooooooh, so that’s it. You think I’m just a boy toy, don’t you?”

“Well-“

“No, honestly Gee? You can go fuck yourself.”

She rolls her eyes and takes a long glug from her drink.

“I’m serious, you’re such a fucking hypocrite. The age thing is no problem. Actually, pretty much none of this had been a problem until you all came around and made it one.”

“You mean you getting yourself outed.”

He gives another hard laugh and leaves the room, muttering “my fault, yeah, my fault. My fault for having a damn life. My fault for loving someone who can’t biologically have my babies All my damn fault.”

She follows him and stands in front of him, making him stop walking away.

“See? Drama queen again. Look, you just gotta work this out with them. Sooner you do that, sooner we can all go back to normal.”

“Oh thanks Einstein, what a brilliant idea. How the hell you suppose I ‘work this out’ then?”

“Just say you love them and that you’ll keep things low key-“

“And that’s it, right there. That’s totally it. Because it would mean never bringing him around, never talking about him. Having to pretend like the person who means the most to me doesn’t exist.”

“Okay, maybe it won’t be so bad. What if you bring him around but just don’t…y’know…like, touch him or anything.”

“Yeah, just say ‘fuck you’ to my actual relationship. Got it. That’s such a great plan, ain’t it? No matter what, my relationship will always be judged by them. It doesn’t matter how successful we are or how smart we make each other or how well behaved our kids are-“

“Woah, woah, woah, kids? Really?”

“Hey, what the fuck was that?”

“What?”

“That reaction? What the hell were all those ‘woah’s about?”

“Cuz, it’s one thing to fuck someone or play house with them, but kids? Seriously? And he really doesn’t seem like he can handle kids.”

“You know what? Maybe you should get the hell out.”

“What? What’d I say?”

“Seriously? The fact you don’t have a clue you said something wrong means you reeeeeally need to leave.”

“God, you’re being such a brat.”

“No, I’m being justifiably self-righteous. You don’t have a clue what the hell you’re talking about.”

“Oh yeah? Well you know-“

They both turn to look at Barba coming in from the bedroom. Gina stiffens, and glares at her brother.

“He’s been here the whole time?”

“Yes, I have. I just thought you two could use some privacy.” Barba answers instead.

“So you heard everything I said?”

“Every word. And so did Liv, probably, which is very rude.”

“Oh fuck, I forgot she was trying to sleep.” Sonny gasps.

“Y’know what? Fine? You guys get all the sleep or whatever you want. I’m leaving.”

“Really? It was that easy? Damn babe, I should’ve had you come out sooner.”

“Fucking bye.” She actually stomps towards the door. Sonny leans out the door and passive-aggressively waves.

“Bye sis! Good talk! Let’s do it again some time!”

“Bite me!” She calls back, and disappears around the corner. Sonny signs and shuts the door, then leans back against it. Rafael comes over, pulling the taller man into a hug.

“You okay?”

“I guess. Kinda wish we still had door guards.”

Rafael laughs, and hugs him tighter. “Still, I’m sorry about your sister.”

“Stop, you’ve got nothing to be sorry about. You make me happy.”

“I do?”

“Seriously, you know that.”

“I do, it’s just nice to be reminded of that.”

“I’m sorry she interrupted us. Let’s just go back to cuddling, okay?”

“Yes, please.”

****

“What’s the deal with Gina?” Barba brings it up hours and hours later, when they’re putting the bed back together for them to sleep in. Sonny holds the bottom corners while Barba tucks in one of the top ones.

“She’s nuts like the rest of ‘em.”

“That’s not what I mean.” Barba climbs over to the other side, tucking in the other corner.

Sonny thinks a moment. “Oh, you mean with the chick she hooked up with?”

Barba nods, and sits on the newly-sheeted mattress. Sonny sighs.

“Couple years back she calls me, says she’s moved in with someone she wants me to meet. I say ‘what’s his name’ and she responds ‘her name is Sandy.’” He groans. “Hell, woman was crazier than Gina.” He tosses a pillowcase at Barba.

“Were they happy?”

“Gina’s never happy for long. And y’know, I put up with this Sandy chick because I knew it wouldn’t last, since it never does. But she would do shit, throw things, make threats, abusive shit like that.”

Sonny stuffs one of the pillows into its case, then grabs another. “One day, Gee calls me up cryin’ and shit, sayin’ Sandy tried to hit her with a toaster. So, y’know, I come over to get her. Well I fuckin’ get there and they’re having dinner, and there’s an empty mirror frame on the wall.”

“So you made her leave?”

“Sure did.” Sonny tosses the other pillow on top of the first one, and picks up the comforter. “It was like pulling teeth. And of course I got this girl yelling at me that it’s none of my business, that I need to get out. Whatever, I got my sister outta there, talked some sense into her, they broke up. So glad this woman wasn’t the vengeful kind.”

“So your sister spent how long with this woman?”

“Four months. Four months of living with this broad, plus all the time before they moved in together so it’s more like seven months, telling mom and dad how she wasn’t seeing anyone. And she still can’t back me up. To this day she hasn’t told ‘em.”

“Sounds like quite the sister.”

“Yeah, well, whatever.” Sonny flattens the bedspread, even though Barba’s underneath it already. “Let’s just say, I’m not lookin’ to her for any favors.”

Barba puts an arm around Sonny when he joins him. “I’m sorry your family is-“

“They’ll learn to deal with it. I’m not worried about them. Right now I’m just thinkin’ how lucky I am to be alive, here, with you.” He punctuates his sentence with a kiss on Rafael’s cheek, and it makes him smile.

“No more worrying about prison for me. No more worrying for a good long while, period.”

“Well, maybe we should worry about some things. You know, like our home. Our lives.”

Sonny waves that off. “I’m not worried about any of that. We’re pretty bright guys, we can figure that out.”

“Still. We should probably get out of Olivia’s way. I think we’ve overstayed our welcome.”

“Nah, nah I don’t buy that.” Sonny shakes his head. “The Lieu’s not like that. She cares. She’d put us up forever if we asked.”

“Still, we should let her go back to her life now.”

Sonny quiets, thinking about her life. Because really, her life is so connected with their own lives. Which he still can’t fathom how to put back together. Rafael looks down at his hands. He only speaks when the silence drags on.

“So what now?”

“I guess we just try and go back to normal. Find a new apartment, get things settled out. Maybe take a week off to do that.”

Rafael nods, still staring down at his hands. A hand rests on his back. Sonny’s hand.

“You wanna talk?”

“What can I say?”

That keeps Sonny quiet for another long moment. Barba breaks the silence again.

“Do you want to talk?”

Again, Carisi is quiet. He pulls Barba closer, and Barba doesn’t resist. Or pull away when there’s a knock on the door.

“Come on in.”

Olivia enters, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Going to bed Liv?”

“In a little while.” She comes closer, and sits on the end of the bed. “Just thought I’d check on you guys.”

“We’re okay, Lieu. Just holding it together, you know.”

“I do.” She says, and they both know she does. “It’s why I want you guys to stay here.”

“Liv, come on-“

She holds up a hand. “Not forever. Just as long as you need to. I don’t want you feeling like you have to get out tomorrow.”

“We know.” Sonny says, rubbing Barba’s back again. “We know you’re not sick of us just yet.”

She chuckles. “Touching. But I’m telling you for Noah, too. He likes having you around.”

“Aw. I’m gonna miss the little guy when we leave. He’s precious.” Sonny’s face stretches into a smile.

“Yeah, he really is.” She agrees, looking between them. “But really, don’t worry about staying here. It’s no burden.”

“Thanks Liv.” Rafael says.

It’s a loaded word, and she knows it.

“Of course.” She agrees. “Well, I’m going to get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight.” They say in unison, watching her leave.

Sonny takes a deep, calming breath, and pecks Barba’s cheek.

“Think we can try for some sleep?” Carisi asks.

“I think we can.” Barba agrees, and clicks off the light. Sonny waits until he’s settled before his body wraps around Rafael’s, holding him close as possible. In the dark, with nothing but the ambient sounds outside the building, a calm descends over them. It seems like it’s really possible. Like their ordeal really is over.

Still, it doesn’t stop Carisi from murmuring against his boyfriend’s hair.

“I’ll protect you.” He breathes when he’s sure Barba’s asleep.

“Protect me? From what?” Barba asks. Sonny doesn’t miss a beat.

“I don’t know. Anything. I promise.”

And now that they’re through the nightmare, Barba can take enough comfort in those words that he can get some sleep.

Chapter Text

Despite Liv’s protests and insistence, Barba doesn’t want to linger. Three days after the end of the trial, he comes home with an armful of newspapers. The two of them sit together for over an hour, sifting through classifieds, the only sound being their pens and the flipping of pages.

Then it’s another hour of trading papers and crossing off the ones that won’t work for them. Part of Carisi wants to do this the 21st century way, but also knows they could miss something good.

They end up with three apartments that are near perfect matches for them, all of them being bigger than their old one. And of course, there’s no time like the present, so Rafael makes calls to go looking. And Carisi doesn’t protest because it’s better this way. Better than Barba staring at a wall or a TV all day.  At least he’s doing something.

Sonny makes sure to take his gun, now that he has it back. And he keeps a hand on Barba wherever they are. Not that Barba’s complaining. It gives him at least a little peace.

The second apartment- the one closest to both of their works with the most room- is the one for them. It’s perfect. A fresh start of sorts. Sonny says as much once they’re in a cab with his hand resting on Rafael’s knee.

“This is great. Look at us, moving up, getting a bigger place, getting a new start.”

Rafael puts his hand over Sonny’s. “It is. I just wish it was for better reasons.”

Sonny’s grin fades a little, and he squeezes his lover’s hand.

“Yeah. Me too.”

****

One perk of having such close friends, they never make you hire a moving team. Between the four of them, they manage to pack up their old apartment in three days.

Three days to erase a year of history. A year of dinners made after midnight and paperwork binges. Movie marathons and conversations about where to get suits dry-cleaned. All of that, packed up in three days.

The floor in the bedroom is still missing patches of carpet.

Barba stays out of the bedroom if he can avoid it.

It’s surreal for Sonny, having to leave this place. But the sting he feels when he enters the bedroom reminds him how necessary all this is.

I’ve got pictures of this place he tells himself before locking up the last time.

Rafael is waiting on the sidewalk with Liv when Sonny comes out. Amanda and Fin are in the truck, signaling to leave.

“Alright, I did one last sweep. Everything that’s ours is in the truck.”

“Good, good.” Rafael nods. “Guess all that’s left is to get our things from your place, right Liv?”

“Right, then you’ll head over. Fin and Rollins have keys to the place, so they’re going to start bringing things in whenever they get there.” Liv adds.

Somehow, leaving Liv’s apartment is more bittersweet than leaving behind their old home. Rafael realizes just how comfortable he’s become when he has to re-pack his suitcase. His things are everywhere, and so are Carisi’s. Their clothes are still in Liv’s laundry basket, their shoes are by her front door, and their books are left on her coffee table.

For all his talk, Barba’s not really ready to leave Liv’s home. He knows it felt like a prison cell the first few days, but somewhere along the line it started to feel like a safe haven. Nobody tried to break into Liv’s home. And even if they did, she slept in front of the door ready to take down any intruder that came through it.

But Barba also knew that he was going home with Sonny. Sonny, who had his gun and taser back. Sonny, who’d saved him from being raped and executed even though he couldn’t see straight.

Sonny, who promised to protect him. Who Barba had no problem believing, because he’d already proven he could.

And yet, once Barba has his bags packed, he can’t help getting just a little sentimental.

“Olivia, I can’t thank you enough for putting us up for the past few weeks, with everything that’s happened…I just have one thing left to ask of you.”

“Anything.” She says, sincere as ever.

“Do you have the number for a good therapist?”

Her face softens, and she nods. “Yes, I do, I’ll send you the number right after you leave.”

“Good, good.” He says, nodding. “Again, thanks.”

“No problem, really.” She says, and looks up at the sound of Noah padding into the room. “Noah, come say goodbye.”

“Goodbye Rafe.” He says, coming over to them and wrapping his arms around Rafael’s legs. “I’m gonna miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too, Noah.”

“Will I see you soon?” He asks, and the look Noah gives him feels a lot like Sonny’s puppy eyes.

“Of course. You’ll come see us at our new house, once it’s put together.”

“Okay.” Noah says, still holding onto him. Rafael spots Carisi come into the room with the rest of the bags on his arm, which he sets down. After a second of just staring at them with that big, dopey grin of his, Sonny swoops in and picks Noah up. The boy squeals, his arms wrapping around Sonny’s neck, but squirms away from the onslaught of kisses Sonny plants on his cheek.

“Oh, I’m gonna miss you so much little man.”

“I’m gonna miss you too.” Noah giggles, his grip tightening around Sonny’s neck. “But I get to see you soon?”

“Yeah, of course! You come see our new house, it’s just as nice as the old one.”

“Yeah?

“Yeah!”

“And you’ll make me my favorite dinner?”

“Sure, sure. What was that again? Lasagna?”

“No.” Noah shakes his head, still giggling.

“No? Oh, what was it then? Was it manicotti?”

“No!”

“Well what was it then?” Sonny asks, playing dumb.

“Shells! The shells!”

“Oh, thaaaat’s right, your favorite food is stuffed shells.” Sonny fake smacks his forehead, and looks at Olivia and Rafael instead of Noah. “How could I forget?”

“You’re silly, Sonny!”

That gets him to laugh. “Yeah, well, I’ll work on that.”  He plants another kiss on the boy’s forehead, and Noah squeezes onto him extra tight. “I’ll see you soon, big guy. Be good, listen to your mother, we’ll see you soon.”

“Soon.” Noah repeats, and Olivia takes Noah from Sonny’s arms so he can get the last of their things.

“Bye bye Sonny.” Noah calls, waving after them. “Bye bye Rafe.”

“Seeya Noah.” Sonny adds.

“Bye Noah.” Rafael adds, waving over his shoulder. And just like that, they’re gone. Their cab is still waiting for them, and Sonny gives the guy their new address.

“That was quiet the show with Noah back there.” Rafael smiles over at him. Sonny clasps a hand over his heart.

“Can I tell ya? I can see why the Lieutenant fell in love with that kid. Absolutely precious.”

“So were you, the way you were with him. Like you’re meant to be around kids.”

“Yeah, well, what about you?” Sonny teases back. “You were adorable nine ways to Sunday with that kid.”

“Oh stop.”

“I’m serious.” Sonny pokes his boyfriend’s arm. “You’ve got a soft spot for that kid.”

“He was good company. He didn’t want to talk about work. And he’s in that sweet spot where society hasn’t taught him how to lie yet, so he’s brutally honest.”

“You ain’t kidding. Last night he told me my lasagna needed my cheese. My lasagna! Who tells me that my lasagna needs more cheese, huh? I make the cheesiest friggin’ lasagna ever made.”

“You really do. There’s enough cheese in one of those things to stop an elephant’s heart.”

“I don’t hear you complainin’.” Sonny’s hand works its way into Rafael’s, and he squeezes. “You know you love my home cooking.”

“I do know that. Your cooking makes any place feel like home.”

“You mean that?”

“Of course I mean that.” Barba squeezes the hand in his own. “You and all your Italian cheesiness has a way of making things seem better.”

“Aw.” Sonny’s lips, the ones that almost always look like he always just finished sucking on a cherry popsicle, pull up into a smile. It’s the same smile that makes Carisi impossible to resist.

Rafael smiles back, leaning into him until they get to their place. The truck is parked in front of the building. They find Munch leaning against the truck, arms crossed, while Fin comes back out.

“What, you guys decide you needed a supervisor?” Sonny asks, laughing at his own joke. “I don’t see you helping.”

“I’m just the security. No heavy lifting.”

“How convenient.” Barba says.

“What do you expect? I can’t possibly damage these hands. They’re my living, with the way I fill out paperwork for the D.A.’s office.”

Fin laughs at that and shakes his head before grabbing a few more boxes. “He’s really here for entertainment, in case you can’t tell.”

“I’ll be here all week!” Munch calls after them while they head inside. Already Barba feels better in this place, even though it’s new and relatively unfamiliar.

Rollins is in the middle of sorting what boxes go where when they come up. All of the furniture they brought with them, and a good number of boxes, are already inside. Sonny offers to help with the boxes, but Rollins tells him to ‘chill out’ instead.

It gives them time to do the tedious part of moving: unpacking. Mainly the two of them unpack the kitchen, because it’s the only room where all the boxes are in for. Sonny unpacks the box with what’s left of their food, then moves on to putting things in cabinets. Barba unpacks items that go into drawers. All while listening to Fin and Amanda’s coming-and-goings

By the time all the boxes are in, they have the kitchen unpacked.

“You guys need anything?” Fin asks, poking his head into the kitchen.

“Nah, I think we’re good.” Sonny answers.

“You guys can go. Thank you, for all this.”

“Sure thing counselor. Take it easy, you two.”

Rollins pops in to wave goodbye before they leave, the door shutting firmly behind them.

Rafael and Sonny are alone. Sonny turns to Rafael, and that smile appears again. “Look at us. New place, all moved in.”

“New start for us.” Rafael agrees, and his hands find Sonny’s. “You like it here?”

“’Course I do. I’m here with you, aren’t I?” He pulls Rafael closer, and rests his lips on the shorter man’s forehead. The moment lingers, Sonny not pulling away, letting his eyes close. Rafael let’s go of his hands, instead wrapping his arms around Sonny’s waist, pulling himself closer. Rafael let’s his own eyes shut, while inhaling Sonny’s scent. He can still smell the cologne the other man put on this morning.

Like every other morning.

Sonny’s arms close around Rafael’s torso, removing what little space is left between them. “Rafe.” He murmurs, still against his skin. “We’re going to be okay. We’re safe now. You’re safe now.”

Rafael rests his head on Sonny’s shoulder, and takes a few long breaths.

“You’re safe now. I promise.” Carisi repeats. The words settle with Rafael, making him feel safe again. The words make him feel like maybe, just maybe, this nightmare is passed and he can finally let his guard down. He can believe that this won’t happen again.

‘This’ is what comes crashing back.

Worse than it has before. Worse than it did during trial prep, worse than it did the day Sonny was ripped out of their safe haven, worse than the hours following it even.

Everything comes back, clear as day. All too clearly, all too completely. And now that he’s seeing it all, he can’t look away.

Even when his eyes are open, he can barely see Carisi. It’s made even worse by the way his eyes are burning with tears. And how his heart is squeezing against his ribs, making his breathing more labored.

“Woah, hey it’s okay.” Carisi tries. Still, he sounds very far away. Carisi guides him to the couch, getting him to sit down, hoping that will bring him out of it.

Still, Barba is trapped. He feels it all at once: the cold metal of the gun, the metallic taste of fear, the prick in his ears when Carisi hit the wall, the other man pressed flush against his skin, the hot blood crawling down his legs, and the sense that his end wasn’t far off. He can’t keep from crying.

Even though he’s trying. Because if he starts crying, he won’t be able to breathe.

“Rafe, Rafe look at me.” Carisi pleads. He rests a hand on his lover’s cheek, and thumbs away his tears. “Please Rafe, just look at me.”

Rafael registers those words, but looking at him has little effect. He locks eyes with Carisi, yet still he seems distant. He can hear Carisi better than he can see him.

“Breathe with me.” Sonny tries. “Can you do that? Just breathe along with me. Come on.”

Sonny takes a breath, counting to 8 in his head before breathing out while counting to 9. Rafael can’t at first. His breathing hurts.

It’s the feel of Sonny that grounds him. When he feels both hands cupping his face, it anchors him to reality once again. His own hands reach up, resting over the other man’s. The hands attached to the man he was sure, for at least two minutes, was dead.

He gets into the breathing. When Rafael sees, really sees, Carisi again his heart slows back to normal. He blinks a few times, pushing the rest of his tears out of his eyes.

“You…you can cry.” Sonny offers. “If you need to, you can cry. You don’t have to hold it all in. Just don’t let it overwhelm you.”

Rafael still senses those memories, lingering on the fringes of his consciousness. Threatening to sweep him up again, and make a few minutes feel like an eternity. And he knows, from past experience, that crying it out really works.

Rafael’s distain for crying is met by his heart still trembling from adrenalin, and the feel of Sonny’s arms wrapping around him. Making him feel secure. Making him feel moored. That safe feeling is what wins, and what lets him let go. What lets him feel everything in a way he can manage. It’s not a tidal wave, it’s a stream, consistent and predictable. It’s a funnel, cutting down everything into a manageable flow.

All the while, Sonny’s hands rest against his back, reminding him that they’re both alive.

It takes Rafael a long while to cry himself out. He’s left with his head resting on Sonny’s shoulder, still inhaling his cologne. He pulls away when he thinks he’s strong enough, and looks at Sonny. His mouth opens before he knows what to say.

“I…I’m sorry…” he tries. Carisi shakes his head and touches his cheek again.

“Don’t. You don’t need to be sorry for anything.” He peck’s Rafael’s other cheek. “You’ve been strong for so long. You held it together through all the craziness. You just need to let it out.”

Rafael gazes into Sonny’s eyes, while his tongue is at a loss for words.

“You’re safe now.” Carisi goes on “If you need to cry, you can. If you need to…I dunno, whatever you need, you just do it.”

Rafael nods, and leans in for another hug.

“I love you. So much.” Rafael finally finds his words, murmuring against Sonny’s ear.

“I love you, too.” Sonny replies, holding him tight.

“Te adoro, Sonny. El amor de me vida.”

Sonny’s Spanish still sucks, but he’s heard those words enough to know what they mean.

Chapter Text

The day of the housewarming, about a week later, is an exciting day. And a busy one.

Sonny beats Rafael home from work, though it’s not a surprise since he comes home at four. Whatever’s not unpacked gets shoved away in their spare room, while the visible part of their home is cleaned up. And then there’s the food. Lasagna with meat sauce for the adults, stuffed shells for the kids.

Rafael comes home to the smell of Italian cooking, and briefly he feels like he’s walking into their old apartment. He shakes it off a few seconds later, and closes the door behind himself.

“Sonny?” Rafael calls out.

“Kitchen!” He calls back. Rafael makes his way over, and sees his boyfriend stirring a pot of sauce. He’s red from the heat in the kitchen, even though the oven fan is whirring, but still he breaks out in a smile.

“There you are.” He sets the spoon down on the spoon rest and closes the space between them, giving Rafael a lingering kiss. “Okay day?”

“Okay enough. Starting to feel some semblance of normal.”

“That’s good at least. Well we’ve got a while before company shows, so you can unwind a little.”

“Don’t you need help setting up?”

“Nah, I’m alright. I already cleaned and the food’s cooking. All that’s left is getting myself together, since you were nice enough to pick up the liquor.”

“It’s more for my benefit. You know how much easier I am to be around after a few.”

“Oh stop, these guys love you even at your normal level of cranky.” Sonny teases, and wipes his hands on his apron. The sleeves of his shirt, even though they’re rolled up, are dotted with bubbling sauce stains.

Rafael chuckles, even though he’s right. He puts away the alcohol without taking a drink for himself first.

When their company shows, Sonny is still wearing an apron. Only now, it’s covering a shirt and a pair of pants he didn’t spend all day at work in. He’s even thrown caution to the wind and gone without a tie.

Still he wears the apron when the buzzer goes off, signaling Bella and Tommy’s arrival. Rafael answers the door, smile on his face. Bella hugs him, lightly, and gives him a gift bag before asking “Where’s my brother?”

“Bella! Tommy!” Sonny comes out of the kitchen, a towel over his shoulder and a huge grin on his face. He sweeps his niece Veronica up in a hug and kisses the top of her head. “And there’s my favorite little bug! Look at you.”

The blonde toddler is all giggles, hugging him tight around the neck. “Uncle Sonny! I missed you!”

“Aw, I missed you too you brat.” He teases. “Hey, you wanna watch Toy Story?

“Yeah!”

“Okay, go through that door over there. And you can meet some new friends too.”

“Okay!” She exclaims and runs off to the room where Lucy is with Noah and Jesse. Sonny gives Tommy a handshake, then pulls Bella in for a hug.

“So glad you guys made it.”

“Wouldn’t miss it. What the hell are ya wearin’, huh?” She thumps his chest. “Since when do you get off wearin’ an apron?”

“Ah fuck off, I just don’t wanna screw up my nice clothes while I cook.”

“While you cook? I dunno I trust that.”

“You should.” Amanda chips in. “He’s the best cook outta the group of us.”

“Since when?” Bella looks at her brother.

“Since law school. Learn to cook or starve. Or, y’know, order takeout every night and go broke as hell. C’mon, check and see if I made nana’s recipe as well as she did.”

“Seriously? Nana’s recipe?” She asks, following him. The kitchen actually smells like their grandmother’s home, bringing back a thousand pleasant memories. Sonny offers her the spoon he pulls out of the pot, and she takes a bit of the stuff with her pinky. She makes a surprised noise at the taste.

“Damn. Look at you, knowing how to cook.”

“Ah, don’t sound so shocked.” He laughs and pushes a button on the oven, making the timer disappear. Carisi dawns a pair of oven gloves before opening the door and pulling out two huge trays. “See this? I cook for all of us, whenever I get the chance to. I love cooking.”

“Why the hell didn’t I know that?”

“Beats me. Now you do. You want something to drink? A beer or somethin’?”

“Gimme one for Tommy too.”

“Go ahead and grab ‘em from the fridge. And take out the tub of cheese that’s there too, willya?”

She does, and Sonny ditches his apron in a drawer when he’s just about finished. He leads the way back into the living room, where Tommy’s found his way to a chair, everyone still talking around him.

“A’right guys, food just came out of the oven.” Sonny announces. “Let’s give it ten so it’s not scalding when you bite in. In the meantime, Bella, Tommy, this guy over here is Munch” he gestures to the man sitting next to Fin. “You know everyone else.” 

“Sure do.” Bella agrees, and leans over to shake John’s hand. He does the same back to Tommy.

"Detective John Munch, Baltimore Homicide, Manhattan Special Victims Unit, and now private investigator for the DA's office. Good to know you."

“Oh wow.” Tommy comments. “You really know your stuff, huh?”

“You could say that” Fin answers. Munch rolls his eyes.

“You gotta love when your partner of a dozen years still wonders how much you know.”

“I know you scare the hell outta people.”

“Got any evidence to back that up?”

“Sure, look at the way Bella’s starin’ at you. Like you just sat up out of a coffin.”

"I’m not scared of him.” She laughs off. Fin shakes his head, a smirk on his face.

“I know you’re not. C’mon, look at the guy, he’s a twig, what’s to be afraid of?”

“I mean, now that you mention it, he freaked me out a little the first time I saw him.”

“When was that?” The old man asks, looking over at her.

“That one day in front of the courthouse, when you pulled a gun on those guys."

He sighs. “Yeah. Well. Guys like that, even when they see a woman pull a gun, it has little effect. But a white guy? An old white guy? They know I won't go to jail for killing a few gangbangers, they'd believe my self-defense story even if it was just a story."

“But they were threatening you. They were getting up in your faces.”

“Yes, yes of course, that was true. It really was in self-defense. But I’m saying, they know better than to challenge a guy who looks like me while I’m holding a gun. How many times we seen it before?”

“Too many.” Fin replies. “Happens all the time.”

“And of course, if a woman shoots one of them, someone can come up with the ‘asking for it’ routine as justification. Even though if they knew any better, they would have backed the hell off when Rollins showed up. Woman’s the best shot in the squad. No offense, Liv.”

“None taken. She’s probably the best shot in the whole precinct.”

“Guys, we’re doing that thing again.” The blonde woman speaks up. “Where we talk about me in front of me.”

“Aright, well, I think we can probably handle getting food now, right?”

The food is good, but the squad knew what they were in for. Sonny’s the go-to cook for their family dinners.

“This is amazing, Sonny. How did you do all of this?” Tommy asks once everyone’s back. Even with the bigger place, their kitchen table isn’t big enough for all of them, so they’re sat around in the living room.

Sonny shrugs. “Just, y’know, lots of love.”

“And tomatoes, don’t forget about the tomatoes.” Rafael pipes in between bites. Sonny laughs.

“Ah, would ya’ stop?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Bella asks.

“He’s just salty about when I made him help me make the sauce.”

“What? Today?”

“Nah, not today. Like, November. When I make my sauce.”

“What, like make make? Like, from scratch?”

“Well sure, it’s best that way.”

“And it leaves some people tomato stained for days.” Barba adds.

“You’re joking” Bella replies.

“Not a chance. The first time it happened was before we were living together, but it was on a night I stayed at his place. He comes back from church, and starts shaking me ‘wake up, rise and shine, get the hell up’ over and over again. Finally I sit up, probably looking like hell, asking what he wants from me on the one day I get to sleep in. Then he tells me he’s making sauce and he ‘needs help’ with the tomatoes. I swear I’ve never seen so many tomatoes in one place in my life. Every freaking kind you could imagine. And I spent four hours pureeing and chopping and mangling until I was relieved. My fingertips were red for two days after that.”

“Oh stop. The apartment smelled great and you sure as hell enjoyed dinner that night.”

“I didn’t say it was a bad sauce. But really, how does that amount of tomatoes get turned into thirty jars of sauce? They covered most of the counter.”

Sonny shrugs. “Evaporation is my best guess. And still that was with a couple cans of tomato paste.”

“Had you done that before?” Bella asks.

“Sure. Once a year since I moved out. One day and two hundred dollars later and I’ve got a year’s worth of sauce that I’ll actually want to eat. Plus, I think it’s fun. The making, the canning-“

“Canning.”

“Jarring. Whatever you wanna call it. It’s fun!”

She shakes her head. “Who knew you knew anything about food?”

“Everyone but you Bells. Don’t worry, now you’re in the loop.”

“Now you know your brother is a triple threat.” Fin says. “Cop, lawyer, and chef. Good to have around.”

That makes her laugh. “Hard to think about. But I’ll take your word for it.”

Despite how little Bella and Tommy know about police work, they fit right in. The conversation flows right around them, everyone talking, telling war stories.

“God, I can’t believe your insanity is actually good for something.” Bella says when there’s a lull between stories.

“He’s not so out there.” Liv reassures.

“Guess you’d know, huh Lieu? I hear your old partner was a nut. Have a feeling I’d get along with him, too.”

“You probably would. Let’s just hope you don’t meet him while you’re undercover. He just might kick the crap out of you.”

“Why would he do that?” Bella asks with renewed concern.

“Because I tend to be the perv undercover. Apparently people got no problem thinking I’m a pimp or a john or a plain ol’ creep. Course, after I come home from that I take a scalding shower, wash all the gross off of me.”

“It’s that bad?”

“Bells, you got no idea. Some of these guys, I swear, they’re the kind you wanna cut the balls off of and make ‘em watch while they get put through a blender.”

“Liv, I hear your favorite catchphrase.” Munch comments, getting a laugh from most of them, even Tommy. Bella still looks disturbed.

“God. Everything’s so…intense, with you guys.”

“True, but there’s never a dull moment. I spent almost two decades at SVU, still don’t know where all that time went.”

“He ain’t wrong. Goes by quick.” Rollins agrees. “Some days I still feel like I’m having my first week on the job. Course, job slows waaaaaay down when you get to deal with the other side.”

“What, like the criminals?” Bella asks.

“More like their lawyers. Some of the slimiest, most disgusting people I met doin’ this job were defense attorneys.” Fin says, his voice full of righteous disgust.

“Oh yeah. I can imagine.” Bella says.

“Course some of ‘em just make your skin crawl. Even if you didn’t know they were defense attorneys, they’d make you sick.”

“You talking about Buchanan?” Sonny asks.

“What, the guy with the 90 inch waist?” Munch snipes, getting a few ‘woah’s.

“Munch, that’s a cheap shot.” Fin puts in.

“I’m just saying, if the man had a little more discipline he wouldn’t need a boomerang to put on his belt, and wouldn’t act like the teenage boys he represents in court. Or the adult men he represents who never got told ‘boys will be boys’ isn’t an answer.” John goes off.

Munch looks right at Noah, just as him and the girls are coming out of the room to get their food. “Remember that, little man. Boys will be held accountable for their actions just like everyone else.”

“Ah, leave him alone Munch, the Lieu won’t let that happen.”

Noah just stands there for a moment, confused, before he comes over to Sonny and motions for him to lean down, which he does. The toddler whispers something in his ear, and then Sonny shrugs.

“Yeah, Munch is funny like that. But he’s just looking out for you.” He pats Noah’s shoulder. “Go, sit, eat.”

He smiles, amused, and goes off to the kitchen, where the kids are eating at the table.

“Poor kid.” Barba says. “Growing up around so many odd ball people.”

“I wouldn’t have him growing up around anyone else.” Liv says.

“He can’t turn out all that bad. And Liv’s already doing such a good job with him. Already teaching him how to subtly question authority.”

“I am?”

“Well sure you are. You don’t make him address every adult close to him in his life as ‘aunt this’ and ‘uncle that’, which serves to see them more as equals.”

“Not to mention there’s something weird about being called ‘Uncle Munch’.” Fin says.

“Yeah, not to mention that.”

“What did Elliot’s kids used to call you? Uncle Munchy?” Amanda asks.

“Yes, they did. He made me sound like the stoner of the group, I didn’t appreciate that.”

“Aw, c’mon John, like you weren’t at one point.” Fin says.

“Sure, at one point, just not that point.”

“Really?” Tommy asks, staring at the old man.

“Oh sure, back during the time when I was a thorn in the side of the American government, I smoked two, three joints a day.”

“No kidding.”

“Not at all. Of course, marijuana was weaker back then. Nowadays there’s so much variety, so many strains, it’s impossible to keep up. Back then it was just whatever your buddy had growing in his garden. We embraced marijuana because we didn’t give a damn about the paper industry feeling threatened by hemp. That’s the only reason marijuana isn’t treated with the same blasé as alcohol, even though it’s less dangerous.”

“Is it really?” Bella asks. “Because I read a thing about how the stuff rots your brain.”

“I wouldn’t believe FOX News if I were you, Bella. Or whatever media outlet you found that from. Marijuana use that begins after the age of 19 has less affect than that of alcohol. The government wants you to think that marijuana is the gateway drug to end all other gateway drugs, despite it not being proven so.”

“Nah, but the effect that stuff has on the streets is dangerous Munch.” Fin starts. “People kill each other over that shit.”

“The only reason marijuana has any place in street life is because the American government refuses to legalize it. And the only reason for that is- well there’s two reasons. One is that the best pot isn’t grown in America, though I’m sure if we put our heads to it we could make that great again too. The other, more pressing reason, is that marijuana is a mind expanding drug. Even though when the American government tried using both that and LSD on the public, they believed it to be a mind control drug. Boy did that backfire. That’s how we ended up with two dead Kennedys and one dead King.”

“Is…is all that true?” Tommy asks, sounding a little rattled.

“Would I lie to you?” Munch asks.

“He wouldn’t.” Rollins says.

“Huh” Tommy says, and just nods his head. Bella cocks her head at him.

“You’re a little paranoid, huh?”

“Not without reason. Besides, if the government has its eyes on me, I should have mine on them.”

“Is there…anything you just take at face value?” Bella asks. John doesn’t hesitate.

“Compliments.”

“No wonder you’re a skeptic.” Fin mutters.

“You know, Detective Monique Jeffries made that joke probably twenty years ago. It was funny when she did it, not so much when you do it.”

“You’re just mad because with me you can’t pretend I’m givin’ you a backhanded compliment the way you did with her.”

John scoffs. “Not a chance.”

“What, like you would’ve been so opposed?”

“Why would I have needed to add a fifth divorce to my list?”

Fifth?” Bella cuts in.

“Indeed. I’m at four now, I don’t trust myself going for lucky number five. Besides, you can’t take anyone from this job home with you.”

“Uh…Munch…” Liv says, and tilts her head towards the couple sat close together, just observing the conversation.

“That’s different. I mean someone on the front lines with you, day in and day out.”

Amanda bites her lip. Not like she can dispute that claim.

“I suppose.” She says. “I mean, it’s not easy even when you’re in different units.”

“Which breakup are we drawing that wisdom from? The Cassidy one or the Tucker one?”

She makes like she’s thinking, looking off at nothing for a moment. “Bit of both. More the latter than the former.”

“Tucker? Why does that name sound familiar?” Bella asks.

“Because he was at the trial the last day.” Sonny answers. “The other white haired guy?”

“Oh…oh, wow, okay. You...” she looks at Liv. “And him? Really?”

“You seem surprised.”

“It’s just…he’s so…he looks so old. I couldn’t imagine.”

“He looks older than he is.”

“Not like you’d know they were together.” Rafael cuts in. “They were very good at concealing their affair. Again, I’m at least a little sorry I blew up your relationship.”

She waves him off. “Be quiet, you didn’t blow anything up. I just panicked when he said the magic words.”

“What? I love you?” Bella asks.

“No, those didn’t scare me. More like ‘I’m retiring’. The ‘for you’ was implied.”

“Aw.” She says, a cross between saddened and endeared. “That’s something.”

“Sure was.” She nods. “It’s okay now, though. I have my sweet boy, I have my squad. I’m happy the way things are.”

“Yep, Liv doesn’t need no man to be happy.” Munch says. “Or woman. Or non binary person.”

“Non what-now?” Tommy asks. John sits up straighter.

“Nobody ever had this conversation with you?”

“Uhhhhh”

“Relax, nobody had this conversation with me before I landed here either.” Carisi says. John actually smiles at this.

“Oh boy. I get to explain something to people. This is always good. Someone get me a piece of paper, it’ll be a lot easier to explain with the charts.”

“Charts?” Tommy and Bella ask in unison.

“Well, they’re more graphs than charts.” John sets aside his plate, empty despite the amount he’s talked, and leans forward so he can rest the legal pad on the table when it’s handed to him. “So, I can explain sex, gender, sexual orientation, romantic orientation, or gender roles. Where should I start?”

“Uhh….” Bella says this time.

“Explain the difference between gender and sex first, it’ll make things a lot easier.” Carisi says.

“There’s not going to be a test, is there?” Tommy asks. Fin laughs.

“Nah man, but if we had a better sex education system you would have had one a long time ago.”

It’s rather entertaining, watching the two of them get the forward and backward explanation of human sexuality according to John Munch, though they all throw in their two cents to keep them from being too confused. John’s great at explaining though. Watching him explain, it’s akin to the way he used to talk to children when he’d talk about the difference between ‘good touching’ and ‘bad touching’.

Still, they’re both confused, but John tears off the charts and folds them up, handing them off to the couple.

“Honestly…I kinda get why mom and dad are confused. I mean, there’s so much to know. It never used to be this complicated.”

“It always was.” Rafael interrupts. “It’s just that, over the past few decades, people have put language to something other than heterosexuality. In English anyway. In other languages they’ve already had these concepts for centuries.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. Unfortunately, because we live in a patriarchy, where heteronormativity is king and toxic hyper-masculinity runs rampant, all too often this kind of concise explanation is viewed as being a product of the ‘snowflake’ movement. Which is total bullshit, if you ask me.”

“Huh.” Bella says, while Tommy murmurs the words “toxic hyper-masculinity?”

Rollins chuckles to herself, and pats Bella on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. I was new to the language when I came here too. You pick up on it.”

“Do I need to?”

“You’re better off not being ignorant, believe me.”

The buzzer interrupts their conversation, and Sonny gets up to answer it. “Hello?”

“It’s Tucker.”

“Oh, hey man! C’mon up.” Sonny says, and lets him in. Bella’s eyes widen.

“You dumbass, you invited her ex? The fuck’s the matter with you?”

“It’s okay, Bella.” Liv reassures. “I said he could come. He helped watch out for them during the trial, he should be allowed to participate in the less harrowing parts.”

“Wow. You’re a bigger person than me.” She says, and shakes her head. A minute later and the white haired man is welcomed through the door, a gift box in tow.

“Ed, c’mon, you didn’t have to.”

“Sure I did. Besides, I know this crowd, I didn’t want to look like the cheap one.”

Sonny laughs and takes the present, and slaps the guy on the back like they’re old buds. “Glad you made it. C’mon, strap on a feed bag, I’ll get you something to drink.”

John waits until the two men are in the kitchen before leaning over to Bella. “If you told me of the past that I’d be eating dinner with that guy, I would’ve called you a liar.”

“No kidding. He seems so….I dunno, like any other cop. What, bad breakup?”

“No, we hated him long before then. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

It’s a little unfortunate that the only spot open is the one next to Liv, but she doesn’t make a big deal about him sitting there.

“So, what’re we doing here?”

“Just telling war stories.” Liv offers.

“You’ve been railroaded in three of them. And counting.” Fin says. The older man laughs.

“I’m not surprised.”

“Why, you tend to piss people off?” Bella tilts her head. Again, Ed laughs.

“Somewhat. I spent a long time at IAB, which never wins you many fans.”

“IAB? What’s that?”

‘Internal Affairs Bureau. The police who police the police. Spent a lot of time being called a rat while trying to take dirty cops off the street. Made plenty of people hate me. Made others just mad at me.”

“Why?”

“Well, when you do that, you have to think that nobody’s above suspicion. Which can lead to some messy investigations, like the one against your boss.”

“You investigated Liv? Seriously?” She sounds shocked.

“No, no, no” he denies, and so does Liv.

“He means our old boss. Captain Cragen. Someone drugged him and put a dead hooker in his bed. Made for one hell of an investigation.”

“We had to be extra sure. I mean, Captain of Special Victims involved in a sex crime? That looks horrible. We couldn’t let it look like he could just get away with it. Spent a long time thinking every cop I talked to was lying to me.”

“Including Liv.” Fin puts in. He’s not about to let him forget that.

“Well now, that was different.” Tucker sips his beer. “The unit was handling the case of a man who’d been murdered. The story was leaked to the press that the man had been killed by his football-star husband, which caused something of a firestorm. Liv was dating a reporter at the time, so we had to be suspicious.”

“Of course, later it came out that the quarterback’s manager had leaked the story, since he was the one that actually did it.” Liv finishes. “No hard feelings on that one. You have to be sure.”

Munch and Fin exchange a look, confirming their own hard feelings.

“Yeah, I guess you would.” Bella says, nodding along.

“I’m sorry, I’ve been talking your ear off for the past few minutes and I don’t even know your names.”

“Oh, that’s okay. I’ve been listening to talk all night. I’m Bella, Sonny’s sister. This is my husband Tommy.”

“Ah, good to know you both.” He shakes both their hands. “Well, it seems the looks in the family are genetic.”

“You sure you want to flirt with him right in front of me?” Barba breaks his silence. Ed laughs, though it’s more nervous than before.

“Really Barba?”

“No, not really.  It’s just easy to screw with you.”

The two men laugh it off. The rest of the detectives can’t decide who has more balls.

The night goes on, and dinner is replaced with a cake made with cannoli filling that Sonny made the night before. The alcohol keeps flowing, and the stories seem endless. Even though they’re sat next to each other, Barba and Carisi don’t get a moment alone together until Barba goes to put some dishes in the kitchen. Sonny follows, putting down a stack of plates next to the already full sink.

“Paper plates. I always forget, paper plates.”

“We really need to stock up on them. Still, worth it.”

“Oh, absolutely.” Carisi pulls him closer and pecks his nose. “Tonight was a success.”

“Sure was.”

“We keep some pretty nice company, don’t we?”

“I think so. Most of the time, anyway.” Barba says.

Carisi laughs, then leans down and kisses him again, this time stealing one from his lips. “C’mon, let’s go for a walk.”

“A walk?”

“Yeah, a walk. Help us digest our meal or whatever. And, y’know, give us some privacy.”

It takes a moment before he nods, and takes Sonny’s hand.

‘We’re going for a walk.” Sonny tells them. “Be back soon.”

“Stay safe you two.” Munch chides, and Sonny waves him off.

The night is chilly, forcing Barba to stand closer to Sonny while they walk. Not that Sonny minds. He moves after the first block from holding his hand to wrapping his arm around Barba’s waist. They’re not going anywhere, just walking wherever they can walk without having to wait at stop lights. It’s a relief, and they both feel it, to be free of the squad car that was on their tail for two weeks.

Two weeks? Only? Sonny wonders as they walk, and glances down at Barba. The bruises on his face are almost gone, but there’s still a scab where he was cut. Reminders of what happened to Barba. And to Sonny.

His eye wanders from Barba down the city streets, catching sight of a thousand different things that draw his attention: a guy selling neon colored bags, a vertical sign with a French word he can’t say that’s probably the name of a restaurant, a painting in a window on the corner. Everything holds a story, or a possibility, or both.

And yet, it’s the subtlest place that catches his eye. He stops when they walk past, then looks at Barba. “Wanna go in?”

He thinks for a moment, sizing up the place before nodding. “Sure, why not.”

A little part of him wants to go back to the safety of their new home filled with loved ones and a half dozen guns. But Barba feels it too, that desire to exercise some freedom. Instead of sitting at the bar, a petite woman in a crisp black suit gives them a table that’s only big enough for their glasses and their arms to rest on.

“To drink?” She asks, looking between them. Before Rafael can ask for a glass of scotch, Sonny straightens up.

“You guys have champagne?”

She smiles, pleased. “Any vintage?”

Sonny looks at Rafael, who shrugs (because really, since when does he know about champagne of all things?) and says “Whatever’s best.”

“Coming right up.”

When she steps away, Rafael leans his chin in his hand and gazes at Sonny. “Champagne?”

“Why not? Tonight’s special.”

“Is it?”

“Sure it is. We survived. We got a new place. Somehow, all that feels real tonight. Y’know?”

“I’m not sure I do. But still, I appreciate the sentiment.”

A man in a suit, who looks like he knows what he’s doing, comes by with a cart, a bottle of champagne on ice, and two glasses. The two of them watch the silent man open the bottle, only exchanging an excited glance when the cork pops. The glasses are poured, placed in front of them, and they’re left with a bow. Sonny picks up his glass and offers it as a toast.

“To…” he pauses “us.”

“To us.” Rafael agrees and clinks his glass, without making the snide comment Sonny expects.

They look at each other past their glasses, and Barba’s relieved when he sees how pleased Sonny is. Sonny doesn’t look away though, even when his glass is lowered.

“What?” Rafael asks.

“Just you.” Sonny replies simply, the skin around his eyes crinkling. “I haven’t gotten a chance to just look at you in a while.”

“A couple weeks.”

“Eh. More than that. Even then I haven’t just gotten to look at you.”

“The champagne helps.”

“Oh stop, you’re beautiful without the alcohol.” He sips his drink again and just smiles. “Even now.”

“Sure, in the dim light. Makes things less noticeable.”

“Hey, come on, that doesn’t make you ugly. It just reminds me how strong you are. How much you’ve managed.”

“I didn’t do it alone.”

“Yeah, ya kinda did.”

“Don’t say that. You helped a lot, just by being there.”

“Please. Once I thought my sorry ass was going to jail, I was useless.”

Rafael rolls his eyes. “You have no perception, Sonny.”

“Don’t give me that.”

“It’s true. You stayed up all night the first four nights after. I know part of that was your biological clock being thrown off, and the other part was your anxiety, but I know it was also in part motivated by your desire to watch over me. You moved with me all night, so I woke up still in your arms. You can’t make that sound selfish.”

Sonny’s still looking at Rafael while he talks, taking in the way his face moves while he speaks. “I guess you could spin it that way. But you, you’re the one that helped me. You kept me from spiraling down, and you hired someone I couldn’t stand because you knew they could handle the case. And you paid for said person. And all while trying to deal with what you lived through.”

“What we lived through.” She did your case pro bono out of guilt.

“Well. Yeah, we both lived through it. Somehow. Hence the ‘to us’” He offers, and downs the rest of his glass, before topping them both up.

“I’ll drink to us.” Rafael agrees, giving his own tender smile, amplifying Sonny’s.

“Man, I haven’t had champagne since my parents’ last wedding anniversary.”

“You’ll patch things up with them.”

Sonny shrugs, his mood flattening. “Maybe. If my dad stops acting like it’s the end of the world.”

Barba’s not sure what to say to that. He just sips his champagne, because the bubbles tickle his nose and he doesn’t have any advice in the father-son department besides aim for the gut, because punching someone’s face hurts you more than it hurts them.

“I didn’t have any when I passed the bar. What with how things were.”

“No. You didn’t. That was such a sad time.”

“Yeah…that was one of those things. One of those really perspective-giving experiences.”

“Sure was.”

“Kinda like now. Actually, now is a much more extreme perception-giving moment. Like, after all this, this freaking nightmare of an ordeal, pulled everything into focus. Made me realize what’s really important.”

Rafael waits a moment. “Such as?”

And then he smiles. “My work. My friends, who’re my real family, and who proved I can rely on them for anything. My integrity. And you.”

Rafael almost snorts at how sappy that sounds. “Sonny, just listen to you.”

“Yeah, listen to me.” He takes Barba’s hand in his firm grasp. His blue eyes are fixed, serious. “You are so important to me. I knew that before but that night…in that room…and I was so sure, somewhere, in all that, that I’d lose you…”

He chokes up, his eyes glistening. Barba squeezes his hand. “It’s okay. I’m still here.”

“You are.” Sonny clears his throat. “I love you. So much. You don’t have a clue.”

“I think I do. I see it in the way you’re looking at me now. And I’ve seen it a lot in the past few weeks. You show that you love people, more than you realize, because that’s just how you are.”

“Well…let me be how I am.” Sonny lets go of his boyfriend’s hand and drops to his knee, so fluidly that it seems practiced. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a black velvet box, and opens it to reveal a set of engraved bands, each with a tiny diamond in the center.

“Listen, I know things have been insane lately, but I also know that you’re the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. Rafael Barba, Would you do me the honor of marrying me?”

It takes a minute for reality to catch up with Rafael. And, when he realizes it, his eyes begin to dampen. He’s nodding before he can find his words. At first, they come out a whisper.

“Yes.”

“Yes?” Sonny asks, a smile pulling over his face.

“Yes.” Rafael repeats, louder now.

“Yes? Really?” Sonny asks again, and he’s practically glowing. The energy that radiates from him makes Rafael laugh, and gives him the confidence to say it louder.

“Yes. Yes, really. I’ll marry you.”

It’s then that they’re reminded of the few people in the bar with them, clapping for them. Sonny springs up and pulls Rafael into a kiss. He has to lean his head down to reach Barba’s lips, but they’re only there for a moment. He pulls away and takes the ring from the top of the box out, and slips it onto the older man’s ring finger.

Rafael just stares at it for a minute, his smiling lip quivering while he holds back tears.

When he looks at Sonny again, he’s holding out the other ring. “Do the honors?”

Rafael sniffs and takes the piece of jewelry, slipping it onto Sonny’s long, bony finger.

“I love you.” Sonny murmurs, so quiet for such a big smile.

“I love you, too.” Rafael whispers back, and kisses him again, holding on tighter than before. Rafael’s heart feels ready to burst, and his mind is going a million miles an hour, but the lanky arm clasped around his waist keeps him anchored in their perfect bubble of a moment.