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Like I Can

  

 

Rafael Barba was having pains.  

Chest pains, to be exact.

As much as he would love to blame four decades of Cuban cuisine, his pain had less to do with his mother’s cooking and his penchant for dark chocolate than it had to do with the fact that Carisi was in his gray shirt again.   That gray shirt, the one that balanced on a knife’s edge between slate and indigo and made his eyes look like a clear December sky.  

God help him.  His chest pain had progressed to the point that he was waxing poetic.    

It was his own fault, of course.  Both his pain and Carisi’s blatant refusal to regard him with anything other than bland professionalism. Gone were the taunts and barbs, the scoffs and eye rolls.  The verbal sparring that doubled so effectively as foreplay.  Carisi still shadowed him, still made himself much more present than was required - foremost because Rafael had correctly assumed Carisi wasn’t an idiot, wouldn’t pass up a chance to learn from the best.  Secondly because Rafael liked to think he wasn’t able to walk away completely.  An assertion that was as arrogant as it was hopeful, because yes Rafael had sent him away but Rafael had also wanted to call him back every day since.

It had been ten months.

Ten months since Rafael had poured one finger too many into his glass, relying on expensive scotch to sear away the looming headache at the base of his skull.  Ten months since Carisi had brought in yet another heavy box of files from the basement, sleeves rolled to his elbow and slender forearms pulled taut with strain.  They were tired and stressed and sitting too close.  Rafael was too weak and Carisi was too beautiful so when one of his sarcastic daggers slipped into his willing target, instead of firing back Carisi incinerated them both.

Carisi kissed him.

He wrapped lean fingers around Rafael’s favorite abstract vermillion tie and pulled until their lips met.  Rafael tasted the love of his life for the first time and for a long minute it felt as though his life had ended, chest cracked open and heart exposed for everyone to see.  Because Carisi could.  He knew Carisi could see all of him, could feel every aching breath as it left his lungs, and could feel every rush of blood through his veins as it cried out Carisi’s name.

Lying had never been an option.

So when Carisi had pulled away with that cocky smile and a flush high on his cheekbones, Rafael had to tell the truth.

That it was a mistake.

He was thinking of Carisi - the beautiful, strong man.  The terrific cop.  The promising lawyer.  The man who would never been seen through anything other than the lens of his older lover if Rafael had given in.  He would only be the prick ADA’s boytoy.  The kindness wouldn’t be noticed, the intellect would be dismissed.  That irrepressible heart would be outright ignored and Rafael refused to play a part in that.  He wouldn’t be the one to cast Carisi into the shadows, even if it meant having to stay in them alone.

“I’m sorry,” Rafael said and Carisi would never know how much he had meant it but the other man waved him off, touching his lips without realizing it as he turned and left the room.  

It’s fine , he told himself while his heart rioted in protest.

It’s fine.

He’ll find someone better now.

Someone who can love him better.  

Someone who can give him a life, who can treat him better than an old man with a thorny heart and an acid tongue.  

That was the mantra he repeated as he went about his life for the next week, trying to pretend that it hadn’t been painful to not see Sonny waiting by his office in the morning.  Carmen tolerated his lovesick moodiness and neglected to answer if Rafael bitched about not hearing from SVU.  

That was when it started.

That was when he met Carisi’s lovers.

 

 

The first is just under two weeks later, after pain and embarrassment have collided into the perfect storm of alcohol and rash decisions.  

Rafael is approaching the precinct door as a speeding car screeches to a stop in front of the precinct.  It was some new model of supercar, one that most likely wasn’t even street-legal. There was no reason for him to even notice it, nor for him to sit and watch, but something in him knew.  Knew he would see Carisi unfold himself from behind the steering wheel and run around to the other side to open the door for a woman in a short skirt and high heels.  She was nearly as tall as Carisi, all long legs and longer blonde hair.  As pointedly far from Rafael as he could get, he thought bitterly as he watched Carisi walk her around to the driver’s seat and send her off with a sloppy kiss and a wave.  No call you later .  Only a hasty thanks for the ride and a fairly neutral direction to drive safe.

Then the car sped off into traffic and Carisi was straightening his wrinkled suit, running a hand over his hair to make sure it was in place.

A one night stand.

For one night the leggy blonde had held Carisi close and whispered things into his ear, had tasted the mint and coffee on his breath and had felt his lips on her skin.  Had taken him into her body, had seen his face when he came.  

She now possessed more of Sonny than Rafael ever had.

The realization was a sharp whip across his back, threatening to double him over and send him splaying onto the precinct steps.  He felt the oddest agony hovering between jealousy and anger and betrayal, but betrayal was a lover’s word and he hadn’t allowed them to become lovers.  His feelings were invalid and they were only going to kill him if he kept giving them license to hang around.

“Counselor,” Carisi acknowledged as he walked past, seemingly immune to Rafael’s sullen gawking.  “Problem?”

He forced himself to roll his eyes and follow Carisi into the precinct, rattling about the case at hand even as his mind wandered back to the blonde.

Did she even know what she had?

Rafael did.

 

 

His next lover was a terrible idea.  

First of all he was a witness, second of all Carisi was tentatively working lead for the first time, and third of all the kid was barely holding it together.

Rafael said kid because at his age, the late twenties felt like infancy.  

Daniel Mercer was a teacher with a Master’s degree so new the ink hadn’t yet dried on the diploma, trying to raise a ten-year-old sister after the death of their parents two years before.  He was stressed, exhausted, trying to be a parent and a professional and a twenty-something with a life.  When a colleague offered to watch his sister during the evenings while he graded papers, it felt like a blessing.  Now he knew it wasn’t.  Now he had depositions and trial preparation, mostly with Carisi because he required a softer touch that Rafael just didn’t have in him.  

Maybe Carisi’s touch was too soft.

Maybe Carisi had been so good, so encouraging and understanding, that Daniel Mercer now gazed at him with dark eyes gone wide and a tremble in his hand.  Rafael started to scoff in amusement - the one night stand was firmly in the rearview mirror, the blonde never seen again - but he unwittingly looks up at the wrong moment and sees Carisi’s devastating blue eyes widen a little, too.  

No.

It hits him like a packed bus coming around the corner too quickly, and maybe he wishes one really would hit him because Carisi’s slow smile is there and he leans too close.  Rafael knows because once that was him - him getting superfluous touches, getting extravagant amounts of eye contact that felt more like touching than most sex he’s had.  Him having all of Carisi’s undivided attention and him feeling the unbearable lightness in his chest.  But Daniel is young and is looking at Carisi like he hung the stars and he understands the pull Carisi is feeling.  He knows it’s because Carisi older and more experienced and the balance of power is ever so slightly shifted in his favor.

He knows because once it was him.

They manage to keep it professional until after the trial, until after Daniel’s sister has put her abuser behind bars and Benson is begrudgingly admitting that Carisi had done good work.  Rafael congratulates Daniel in spite of his baser instincts telling him to lash out, to draw blood if only with his tongue.  Instead he wishes the him and his sister luck and healing, and steps aside when Carisi steps closer.  Later, in the hall after everyone has left and Rafael is leaving the restroom, he hears them making plans to run into each other at a diner in Daniel’s neighborhood.

It doesn’t last long.

He overhears Carisi a month later, complaining to Rollins about how his current fling keeps wanting something “fiery, because what does that even mean?” - a torrid affair, Rafael guesses, because life had gotten much harder in the time since they’d met and Daniel wants to feel something other than stress and guilt.  Something that burns him from the inside out, that sears away the rest of the world.  Carisi is too soft, too kind.  Too willing to accept vulnerability and too willing to address the ugly things in the room, even when someone would have them forgotten.

Daniel Mercer has mistaken Sonny’s tender warmth for a lack of passion.

Rafael doesn’t.

 

 

Three months later, they’re embroiled in a bitter high-profile dispute between spouses and a wicked layer of ice has coated the city.  Rafael is cold and tired and sober and he’s too quick to accept a reporter’s unimaginative attempts at riling him up.  He succeeds only at giving them a soundbite decrying the State’s firm upholding of domestic violence laws, which apply regardless of the sexual orientation of the spouses.  Which was true, but it also could - and would - be used to spin that the State doesn’t care about lesbians being abused, even if it’s by their wives.  

God help him.

There’s about eighteen reporters who jump at the chance to hang him with his own words but they don’t know he has Carisi at his back, gloved hand warm and guiding as he wordlessly urges him into silence and leads him down the steps and away from the swarm.  Carisi has better sense than he does in this weather, apparently.  He turns to thank him, to at least offer some semblance of normality between them, but then he hears some noises of distress a few feet away and Carisi is sprinting off to help a woman slipping on a patch of ice.

Rafael sees her dark hair tucked under a red knit hat that matches her coat as Carisi steadies her and offers her a hand.  The same hand that was touching him a few seconds before was now tucked into this woman’s while the two of them share a nervous laugh.  She’s happy to accept his help but looks down bashfully when he takes his sweet time letting go.  Rafael is unsure if the color in the woman’s cheeks is from the intense cold or from Carisi’s devoted attention, but the damage is done.  Carisi is leaning in, making eye contact.

When she turns Rafael recognizes her - she’s a crime reporter for one of the city’s struggling newspapers, and there’s nothing that’s ever been nervous or shy about her in the year since she’d made a living from hounding Rafael’s office for information she knew she wouldn’t get.  He has an ugly thought that Carisi is being taken advantage of but he’d rather die than point that out so he stays quiet, even when Carisi is offering his number and Araceli Hernandez is countering with an offer for coffee across the street.  

In for a penny, in for a pound.

Rafael watches silently as he accepts and they head to a crosswalk, thoughts brought to a halt only when Olivia catches up to him and tries to commiserate about bloodthirsty press.  

“Yes, well,” he responds, eyes still on Carisi’s back, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

“Does that mean we’re bleeding?”

“No,” he answers shortly, finally having mercy on himself and looking away.  “Buy me a coffee, Lieutenant?”

“You’re getting forward these days, Barba,” Olivia says and smiles, “I like it.  Diner across the street?”

“No,” he answers quickly, too quickly, and suggests somewhere farther.

Somewhere much farther.

A week later Araceli’s paper has an attention-grabbing headline but not much story.  Carisi comes in looking murderous, slamming the paper down on his desk.  There’s not a hint of guilt on his face so Rafael knows he didn’t tell her anything, just like he knows that the crumb of false information in there was given as a test.  Araceli failed.  He wasn’t an idiot, not like she’d assumed him to be.  She thought a blinding smile and a generally happy disposition made him a sucker - that he we was easy prey for someone with fangs and ambition enough to use them.  

Araceli Hernandez has mistaken Sonny’s bright optimism for naivete.  

Rafael doesn’t.

 

 

This lover is the worst.

Or so Rafael thinks as he watches Carisi in his not-quite-gray, not-quite-blue shirt that makes his eyes look so blue and catches the flecks of silver in his blond hair.  The shirt has pulled tight across his chest, dark tie swinging as he reaches for his jacket, because he’s on his way to a date and he’s trying to get out the door.  

This lover is the worst because he’s still there - still coming around three months in, still having the gall to show his face to Carisi’s coworkers without a hint of shame or reluctance.  Like they should all be so lucky to see him, lucky to share him with Carisi and listen to his ridiculous stories.  John Conrad has a loud voice and an accent straight out of south Boston, reminding Rafael that there was always something worse than Staten Island.  Something less couth, something less suitable.  

Less everything.

Everything is less than Sonny.

He’s a banker or some such thing.  Rich, older, with no small amount of political pull.  God only knew how they met.  God, because Rafael couldn’t bear to ask.  Almost everyone had tried to tell him by now but after the murderous looks he gave them they’ve now stopped trying.  He’s sure that his suffering is written across his face; gouged into the furrow of his brow, tattooed into the lines of his scowl.  Scotch keeps him company every night now and while he would never let his drinking impact his work, it certainly has impacted everything else.

Liv stopped calling a month ago.

His mother would never stop, but she has slowed down.

And that’s it , he realizes as another pang in his chest reverberates off his ribcage.

That’s the end of his list, the end of his life outside of professional connections.  Once he may have added Carisi in there, if for no other reason than his perpetual juvenile text-speak messages and a seemingly indefatigable desire to make sure that Rafael was eating and sleeping and talking to his mother.  

Also because he loved him.

But that time was gone because John Conrad was here now, taking Carisi to shows even Rafael couldn’t get tickets to and even seemed to be able to stomach baseball games if only for Carisi’s sake.  He ate like crazy and always called his mother and while Rafael hadn’t heard anything about John meeting the family, his gut told him it wasn’t far away.  It couldn’t be.  Carisi was crazy about his family and wouldn’t hide a long-term partner from them, not when things were still going well three months in.  

Rafael said no, he had to remind himself.

Rafael had his chance, had his kiss, had his opportunity to be the one to take Carisi out to nice Italian places that he would swear weren’t as good as his mother’s cooking.

He had his chance, and he said no.

Because someone else could love him better, he thought miserably as he headed back to his office.

No one could possibly , his traitorous heart whispered.

“Counselor!”

Rafael halted on the sidewalk, recognizing the voice instantly.  Even if his mind had wanted him to sprint in the opposite direction his ridiculous cardiac muscle kept him in place.  

“Detective,” he said in return, breathing through his nose as Carisi jogged around to face him.  “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“What?  Oh,  yeah, I’m going to leave here in a minute,” he said and shoved his hands in pocket.  “I just, uh… I just wanted to thank you.”

“Thank me?”

“Yeah.  I know the last couple of months have been weird but I really like that things are getting back to normal.  You know, me and you,” he said, gesturing vaguely between them.  “Working.  Doin’ legal stuff.”

“Legal stuff?” Rafael repeated incredulously.  “Tell me, was that your first or second course over at Fordham Law?”

Carisi snorted.  

“You know what I mean,” he continued, braving a look into Rafael’s eyes.  God only knew what he saw there but his face grew pinched and he looked down again.

Not as pretty as he used to be, apparently.

“Yes, I do,” Rafael sighed.  “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go do some legal stuff.”

“Yeah, sure,” Carisi said and stepped out of his way.  “Have a good night, Counselor.”

Rafael sincerely doubted it.

 

 

Rafael lets another month pass through the bottom of his glass.

John Conrad is still there, goddamn it.  

Still showing up at SVU randomly, with coffee and food for the entire squad.  Still making Rollins laugh, still earning encouraging nods from Olivia.  The only one reserving judgment seemed to be Sergeant Tutuola, who regards Conrad with little more than passing interest.  For that Rafael owed him a drink, because that was one less person he had to pretend to be fine around.  Fin asked no questions, made no observations.  If he could tell that their ADA was miserable he had the considerable grace and tact not to bring it up.

“He’s a jackass,” Fin told him suddenly one evening as they watched Carisi walking his boyfriend to a cab.  There was a police charity event that night and Conrad had made a point of announcing his tickets, as though the rest of the precinct would drop what they were doing to fawn over him.

“Oh, he’s not so bad,” Rafael replied, “At least he ditched the mustache.”

Fin wasn’t going for it.

“You going to that thing tonight?”

“No,” Rafael answered, shaking his head.  “I’m hardly good company on my best day, much less on a Friday night after a long trial with a less than favorable verdict.”

Or when Carisi would be there on someone else’s arm.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Fin scoffed, “An hour with you and the charity would have to offer refunds.”

He couldn’t help it, he laughed.  

“I wanted another pair of eyes on the kid,” the other man continued, scowling and crossing his arms over his chest.  “I just don’t like it.  Would’ve been interesting to see how they act when we’re not here to watch them.”

“Are you thinking something in particular, Sergeant?”

“He thinks he’s being cute, sliding those little insults at Carisi,” he told Rafael, “But it’s not the same.  Not like how the two of you used to be.”

“Insults?” he asked, sitting up a little straighter in his chair.  He didn’t bother to dispute that he and Carisi had a… a thing.

“Yeah, implying he’s dumb or uneducated or whatever,” Fin said, shaking his head.  “Making cracks about him being a cop and not a brain surgeon.”

“You’re mistaken.  That’s exactly like what Carisi and I used to do.”

“You were yanking the kid’s chain.  That asshole is serious.”

“What makes you think that?” Rafael asks and mentally makes a note that he owes Fin a lot more than a drink.

“He’s trying to keep Carisi in his place,” the man replies, “Those little jabs only come if Carisi does something good.  If he looks good, if he tells a good joke, if he makes a connection that the rest of us missed.  It’s like he doesn’t want Carisi to think too much of himself.”

Something hot and ugly curled up inside him.  

Someone else was supposed to love him better .

“If anyone can get away with murder it’d be you,” the detective points out with a half-smile, seemingly reading Rafael’s mind.  

“Only with your help,” Rafael offered in return with a smile, “Have a good night, Sergeant.”

“You do the same, Barba.”

Rafael hurried from the precinct and caught a cab back to his place, offering an outlandish tip if the driver broke the speed limit as often as possible.  He had a tux in the back of his closet that was wearable, if not pressed and recently tailored.  Luckily he’s only lost weight in the last few months - one of the benefits of a mostly liquid diet, he expected.  Coffee and scotch, in varying amounts.

An hour later he’s dressed and ready, knocking back a finger of the good stuff for courage.

Or so he tells himself.

The charity gala is taking place at one of the many art museums the city has to offer, inviting guests inside with cheap champagne and the promise of a clear conscience until this time next year.  This event typically brought in a few million a year toward police charities.  Rafael donated every year but rarely attended, as donors typically gave better when New York’s finest were giving G-rated war stories instead of bitter ADA’s complaining about the lack of enforcement for cyber security laws and the delay in implementation.

He couldn’t imagine why.

Rafael paced anxiously as his invitation was taken at the door and he made his way through security.  His eyes were on the lookout already, bracing against the pain of seeing Carisi with Conrad and masochistically hoping for it.  He wanted to see what Fin did - wanted to find what was wrong with Conrad, why he didn’t deserve to be there with Carisi.  

Why Rafael did.

He stalked through rooms, shoved hors d'oeuvres down his unbelievably dry throat, and made idle chit-chat with various strangers as he made his way around the event.   There wasn’t a sign of Carisi anywhere.  No loud Staten Island accent pinging off of the marble floors, no wild gesticulating threatening to turn over a serving tray.  If he didn’t know any better, Rafael would say he wasn’t there.

Because he wasn’t.

Because when Rafael finally got his eyes on John Conrad, Carisi wasn’t the one next to him.  In his place there was another man, painfully young and obviously unaccustomed to an open bar at a party.  The young man could hardly be blamed, not when it looked like he was barely out of college.  Still, Conrad kept him plied with drinks and adoring looks.  The man was young and pretty and probably went along with anything Conrad suggested.  He was currently regaling a small group of donors about his five-minute visits to SVU, which was as close to being a cop as the man had ever been.

“Mr. Conrad,” Rafael started before he’d had a chance to talk himself out of it, “Happy to see you made it.”

“Of course I would, Barba,” he said, the use of Rafael’s last name an affront to the camaraderie he shared with the detectives who used it frequently.  “I’m surprised to see you here, of all places.  I was told you were notorious for passing up these kinds of things.”

“Yes, well, we can’t be hermits all the time,” he replied and accepted a small plastic champagne flute when one was offered.  “Who’s your guest?”

“This is Aramis.  He’s an actor.”  Conrad nudged the actor in the side to get him to pay attention.  “Aramis, this is Rafi Barba.  He’s a prosecutor.”

“Charmed,” Rafael said dismissively, sipping at his champagne and purposefully ignoring the inappropriate nickname, “Forgive me if I’m wrong, Mr. Conrad, but I assumed you would be bringing someone else.”

“Oh, you mean Dominick?” he said and nodded knowingly, as though he’d already answered his own question.  Rafael braced himself against the use of Carisi’s first name, knowing how much he preferred to be called anything else.  “He’s at home.  Migraine, he said.  Couldn’t deal with all the lights, supposedly.”

“That’s a shame.”  Rafael knocked back another drink.  “But it’s good that you have Aramis to keep you company in the meantime.”

“Yeah,” Conrad replied simply, maybe sensing a trap but not smart enough to hide that the pretty actor wasn’t there for company .

“Detective Carisi doesn’t strike me as the type to be interchangeable,” Rafael ventured icily.  He knew the answer to that assertion already - Sonny definitely wasn’t the type to be cheated on, and he sure as hell wouldn’t agree to being the other man in the relationship.  Rafael knew how Sonny felt about marriage and family and that didn’t leave a great deal of room for infidelity on either side.

“What’s he going to do?” Conrad laughed, “Ask me nicely?”

Everyone else in the group tittered good-naturedly but Rafael was incensed.  Conrad reached out to nudge Rafael playfully - because they were all in the boys’ club, weren’t they, and boys in the club learned how to play along.  What was a mere indiscretion among acquaintances?  In the realm of things worth hiding from the people in this room, another boyfriend was nowhere near the most salacious.  

“You know how he is, Barba,” Conrad continued.  “So eager to please!  Migraine or not, he wouldn’t have wanted me to miss out on tonight or to be lonely while he sits at home and takes a pain pill.”

And there it is.

John Conrad has mistaken Sonny’s humility for a willingness to be abused.

Rafael doesn’t.

Rafael would never.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Rafael told the small group, setting an empty champagne flute aside.  “Legal stuff, you know how it goes.  Enjoy your night.”

Conrad tries to bluster but in a second he’s back to talking to the rest of the group, probably an ugly story about how rude and uppity Rafael had been at one of their five-second introductions over the course of the last four months.  It didn’t matter.  None of this did.  Not when he knew Carisi was at home and that no one - no one - was ever going to love him like Rafael wanted them to.

Like Rafael did.

He was just going to have to do it himself.

 

 

Carisi lives on the seventh floor, because of course he does.

The elevator is broken, because of course it is.

By the time Rafael gets to his door he’s lost his jacket and pulled loose his bowtie, even going so far as to unbutton the top two buttons on his dress shirt.  The idea had been valiant, he thought at the time.  He was going to show up in all his splendor - dressed to the nines and ready to sweep Carisi off his feet - but that was four floors ago and now he’s tired and that ache in his knee that he’s had since college is starting to flare up.  

Christ, he’s too old for this.

Too old for dramatic declarations and infatuations with pretty boys with blue eyes and yet here he was, standing at the door and praying that Carisi didn’t just push him back down the stairs and call it a night.

Carisi answered less than ten seconds after the first knock, looking wild eyed and nervous at seeing Rafael at the door.

“Counselor?” he asked, surprised.  “Is everything okay?  Did something happen?”

“No,” Rafael answered easily.  “No, everything is fine.”

Well, mostly.

“I, uh, I just came from the charity gala.”

“That explains the fancy suit,” Carisi pointed out helpfully, “Well, fancier than usual.”

“I wanted to see you there,” Rafael told him, even as his stomach clenched in fear and every bit of his naturally acquired armor told him to run.  “I found John but he, uh… he was with someone else.”

“You wanted to see me?” Carisi asked, skipping over the more important half of that sentence fairly easily.

“No.  Yes!  Yes, I wanted to see you,” Rafael corrected and tried to shake his thoughts clear.  “I always want to see you.  But you weren’t there, Carisi.  Someone else was with John.”

“Was it the actor or the model?”

Rafael blinked.

“What?”

“The actor is small but good-looking.  Kind of a lush,” he told him nonchalantly.  “The model is well-spoken but pretty shy.  Just stands there and lets John do all the talking.”

“You’re okay with this?!” Rafael cried, feeling part of his heart chip off.  The Sonny he knew would never have consented to being one of many.

“Of course not,” he answered easily, “But after four months you hear things and those were the most common rumors that got back to me.  I told him tonight that I wasn’t playing second string for nobody but he just laughed and said he’d talk to me tomorrow.  Doesn’t think I’m serious at all and holy shit you probably don’t want to hear any of this.”

“What?”

“I’m sorry,” Carisi said and Rafael could see him physically backpedal, “I’m sorry, Counselor, I didn’t mean to unload all this on you.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“So, why are you here?”

“Because I want you to play first string,” Rafael said seriously, meeting his eyes.  Carisi looked surprised but he didn’t look like he was about to slam the door in his face so he was still considering this a win.

“You said…”

“I know what I said,” Rafael interrupted, partly because he was a rude son of a bitch and partly because it would be too painful for him to have those words thrown back at him.  “I said that because I’m a terrible person.  I barely pass for human most days and you’re the best person I’ve ever known.  You can do better than me, Carisi.  I thought someone out there could be better for you than I could ever hope to be.”

“Don’t you think that oughtta be my choice?”

“Yes,” Rafael sighed.  “Yes, it should have been.  And I’m sorry for taking that away from you.”

“I’d made my choice already, Barba.  I wanted you.  I've spent years wanting you."

"I'm sorry."

"I've spent the last ten months watching you be miserable, watching you hurt, and telling myself that you didn't want me," he told him but there was a surprising lack of bitterness in his voice.  "Kissing you was the bravest thing I'd ever done, and you said it was a mistake.”

“I was wrong,” Rafael told him breathlessly, “I want you, Sonny.  I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anything.  My job, my office, Harvard-”

Carisi kisses him before he can finish the thought, slanting those perfect lips over his own and cradling his face in his hands.  Rafael clenches his fists in Carisi’s shirt, bringing him impossibly closer, until he can feel his body heat and the pounding of his heart under his fingers.  He takes and gives and loses himself for several long moments.  Carisi tastes like red wine and something sweet, some Italian pastry Rafael wouldn’t know.  It was the closest thing he’s had to a meal all day and suddenly he was starving, needing more of the man in his arms.  Drowning and needing the air from Sonny's lungs.

Sonny’s tongue brushes the top of his mouth, nothing more than a sweet slide against him, but still it sends his heart through the roof and every ounce of blood in his body raging south.  Could wanting someone kill you?  If it could, Rafael was in mortal danger.  The good news was that he would die a very, very happy man.

Carisi pulls away but doesn’t let Rafael go, holding him close enough that he can map every fleck in his clear blue eyes.  His voice is rough when he speaks against Rafael’s lips, his long fingers trembling slightly.  

“Say it again,” he pleaded and Rafael nodded.

“I want you, Sonny.”

He chuckles appreciatively.

“No, not that.  The other thing.”

Rafael paused, swimming through the fog in his brain to locate the first part of the sentence.

“I was wrong?”

Sonny grins.

His eye roll is severe enough that it may have altered earth’s rotation but still Carisi beams at him like he’s reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets on bended knee.  

Maybe he is.

Maybe this is the only sonnet he can offer the love of his life, swearing relentlessly that he was at fault for months of shared misery.

“I was wrong,” he repeats, letting the words slip from his lips slowly.  Deliberately.  So pointed that he was able to watch as each one of them landed and sunk into Carisi, lighting him up and painting his beautifully pale skin with rushes of color.  Rafael allowed himself to be pulled closer, barely withholding a groan as Carisi rolled those narrow hips into his own.  His desire was unmistakable when it was pressed so insistently into his own.  

“I was wrong, Sonny,” he said again as Carisi pulled him closer, “I was wrong.”

So wrong.  

“Mmm,” Carisi groaned, voice rough, “Go to dinner with me, Rafael.”

“Yes.”

“Italian?”

“Yes.”

“I know a great guy just down the street.  Chef Boyardee.”

Rafael scoffs but still answers, “Yes.”

“You’re easier to please than I thought you’d be,” Carisi teased, giving him another long kiss that Rafael could have sworn sent smoke curling from his ears.

“I think I’ve said no enough for one lifetime,” Rafael confessed against his lips.  “The only thing you’ll ever hear from me is a yes, Sonny.  For as long as you want me.”

“That’s a problem.”

“What is?”

“I’m always going to want you,” Sonny said with a grin, confidence soaring now with the knowledge that Rafael was so thoroughly smitten.  “That’s going to be a whole lot of yes’s over a whole lot of years.”

Rafael felt lighter than air.  

“Yes,” he murmured against Sonny’s lips.  “Yes.”

“And here I thought that mouth was only good at arguing.”

“Arguing is probably the least imaginative of my mouth’s myriad uses,” Rafael rasped against Carisi’s jaw, “I’d be happy to demonstrate, if you’d like.”

His mouth opened slightly, jaw slack and eyes vacant, and then he was back from whatever daydream he’d disappeared into.

“Screw dinner,” he replied suddenly, hauling Rafael over the threshold and slamming the door behind them before pinning him against it, “I’ll cook for you in the morning.”