“You can't keep calling me that,” Carisi says sleepily one night as they lie, sweat-slicked and panting, on Barba’s bed.
Barba tries to give him an inquisitive look, but all his muscles are still like Jell-O from what feels like one of the best orgasms of his life. “Can't keep calling you what?”
“Carisi,” Carisi says, rolling over to prop himself up on his elbow, and for a split second, Barba envies him his youthful ability to recover so quickly. “In bed. It's weird.”
“You're weird,” Barba mutters, too happily exhausted to come up with any sort of snappy comeback, and Carisi just laughs almost delightedly at his pitiful attempt at snark.
Carisi snuggles in against Barba and kisses his cheek. “I mean it, though,” he says, yawning widely. “You gotta find something else to call me.”
The worst part is, Barba knows he’s right.
He needs to find something to call Carisi besides, well, Carisi. Or detective. Or, heaven forbid, as he has done exactly one time in public to his eternal mortification, babe.
He's tried every variation of Spanish pet names that he can think of, cariño or corazón or amor, but it reminds him too much of what his father used to call his mother when he would try to wheedle his way back into her good graces, and whatever this is with Carisi, Barba doesn't want to taint it by association with his father.
He tries Dominick one time, but Carisi just stares at him, eyes wide and a frown turning down the edges of his mouth. “Am I in trouble?” he asks.
“What? Of course not,” Barba says, confused. “Why would you think that?”
“Because the only time someone calls me ‘Dominick’, I'm normally being sent to my room without supper.” And there it is, that smirk that Barba loves to kiss off Carisi’s face, making a triumphant reappearance as Carisi adds, “You gonna punish me that way, too, Daddy?”
Barba doesn't dignify that with a response, and punishes Carisi by withholding sex rather than food for the evening (though in reality he ends up punishing himself just as much by not getting laid).
“You could just call him Sonny,” Olivia suggests over drinks one evening when Barba makes the mistake of bringing his quandary up after she asks how things were going with Carisi. “That is what he claims he prefers to be called, after all.”
Barba gives her a look. “I'm a grown man, very successful in my career, and there is no way in hell I’m going to call my boyfriend, who is also a grown man, ‘Sonny’.”
Olivia shrugs and takes a sip of wine. “I suppose you wouldn't want the reminder that you're practically robbing the cradle,” she says sweetly.
If it isn't for the scotch left in Barba’s glass, he would’ve left then and there.
Fin offers his own advice, though it's not like Barba’s asked for it. “You could just keep calling him Carisi,” he says one day when they're ostensibly meant to be working on trial prep.
“In bed, Sergeant?” Barba asks, bemused. “I'm afraid Carisi is right about that — it takes away from the moment just a little bit.”
Fin shrugs, not looking up from the case file. “Honestly, if you're still able to use words in bed, clearly you're not doing something right.”
Barba just chokes on his sip of coffee.
Rollins doesn't bother offering suggestions, though she pointedly calls Carisi by all manner of nicknames, as if trying to prove how easy it is: “Hey there, sweetie,” she’ll say, fluttering her eyelashes at Carisi before looking over at Barba, something in her expression souring. “Counselor.”
“Please don't call my boyfriend ‘sweetie’,” Barba sighs, though he knows a lost cause when he sees one.
“If you don't, I will,” Rollins says, like it's a threat.
And coming from her, it probably is.
Even Carisi gets in on the action. “This is my boyfriend, Det. Dominick Carisi of the NYPD,” Barba says, introducing Carisi to a city councilman at some fundraiser or other.
“Call me Sonny,” Carisi says with an easy smile, holding his hand out for the councilman to shake. “Everyone besides Rafael does.”
“You know why I don't call you that, right?” Barba asks later that night, when he and Carisi are cuddling in bed together.
“Because it makes you feel old?” Carisi hazards, pressing a kiss to the latest patch of gray hairs to appear at Barba’s temple.
Barba considers that for a moment. “Yes,” he says finally. “But it's more than that. You’re more than that. Sonny Carisi is a cop from Staten Island who bounced from borough to borough before he figured out where he belonged. You are an accomplished detective who graduated from law school and passed the Bar and who makes me very, very happy.” He pauses to kiss Carisi on the corner of his mouth. “I want a name that reflects that, something to call you that's ours, yours and mine, and doesn't infantilize you or anything like that.”
He considers elaborating, but Carisi’s looking at him with wide eyes like he’s never heard Barba say something so sweet about him, and Barba decides he’d much rather take advantage of the moment. Which he does. Three times that night.
But finding something that theirs, a nickname for just Barba that somehow encapsulates everything that Carisi is to him, is far easier said than done. Still, Barba’s a patient man, and maybe Sgt. Tutuola had a point — he doesn’t have to call Carisi anything in bed if his mouth is being used for other things.
Then, one day, inspiration strikes in the least-expected place. Barba’s been dragged to a Carisi family barbeque, all the way out on Staten Island, after his usual litany of excuses has failed him. Carisi always seems magnified at family events like these, his laugh louder, his accent thicker, his speech more rambling. Barba always feels like he shrinks.
He quickly stakes out a spot that’s close enough to the food and beer, but not so close that he’d be expected to make polite conversation, and has just pulled out his phone to try to make his time productive when Sonny’s youngest sister Bella plops down next to him. “Rafael, are you hiding?” she asks.
“Of course not,” Barba tells her, a little too quickly, and the smile she gives him in response is knowing.
“Sure you are,” she says, with something of Carisi’s easy grin on her face. “You’re going to have to learn to handle us Carisis eventually, you know. Since I have a feeling you’re gonna be in Sonny’s life for the long-haul.”
Barba gives her an attempt at a disinterested glance, as if his heart hasn’t started beating erratically at the very thought. “Is that so?” he murmurs politely, automatically seeking Carisi out in the crowd of relatives.
Bella follows his gaze and her smile widens. “Yeah,” she says. “Cuz he looks at you like you’re the center of his whole universe.”
Barba looks over at her, startled, and it takes him a moment before he can respond. “And I suppose I look at your brother the same way?” he asks, aiming for a joke.
But Bella cocks her head like she’s actually considering it. “Maybe not your whole universe,” she allows. “But at least the center of your solar system. Like he’s your sun.”
Whatever Barba might possibly find to reply to that is lost when one of Bella’s aunts calls her over, but Barba doesn’t think he’d manage to say anything anyway.
The thought is absurd. Barba’s world does not revolve around Carisi, regardless of what his sister might think. Even if Barba could think of very few plans he'd made recently that didn't involve Carisi. Even if more and more of his apartment was being taken over by Carisi’s clothes and books and mess. Even if Barba couldn't remember the last time he slept alone.
Even if he never again wanted to.
But while the prospect may be ridiculous, the thought has at least given him an idea, something that he probably should have thought of from the beginning.
And so he weaves his way through various Carisi relations until he finds his place at Carisi's side, smiling widely when Carisi breaks off mid-sentence to wrap an arm around Barba’s waist and plant a kiss on his cheek. “I missed you,” Carisi tells him, clearing not caring that he sounds like a lovesick idiot.
Barba rolls his eyes. “I was barely gone for more than ten minutes, Soleado,” he says, trying out the nickname, half-wondering if Carisi will catch it and be able to translate it if he does.
But if Carisi recognizes what Barba called him, he makes no mention of it, just squeezing Barba’s waist and returning to his previous conversation. And Barba has to admit that he likes the way the word ‘Soleado’ tumbled off his tongue. Sure, it’s a whole syllable longer than ‘Carisi’, which probably defeats the purpose of a nickname, but it also feels so right.
He makes the mistake of referring to Carisi as such during a phone conversation with his mother, the kind of rambling conversation that switches back from Spanish to English so many times in a single run-on sentence that Barba doesn’t even notice that he’s said it. “Anyway, as I was just telling Soleado esta mañana—”
“Soleado?” Lucia repeats, something almost gleeful in her tone, and Barba bites back a groan because he is never going to live this down. “Mijo, you’ve got it bad si le has dado un apodo. Especially one so dulce.”
“He didn’t want me to keep calling him Carisi,” Barba mutters, a little stiffly, because he’s embarrassed the way that only a son can be embarrassed by his mother. “And I figured, since I’m hardly going to call him Sonny…”
Lucia laughs. “No, no, I get it.” He can tell she’s smirking and rolls his eyes when she tells him, “Be sure to give your pequeño sol a kiss from me.”
“Goodbye, Mami,” Barba says, in lieu of dignifying it with any kind of response.
But the name just fits, absurdly, the way that Carisi’s hand fits so nicely in his, the way his body tucks perfectly against Carisi’s, the way Carisi matches Barba’s snark and snipes, the way that Carisi has somehow found the way to fit into every aspect of Barba’s life, where he never would have thought another person could.
So he keeps calling Carisi ‘Soleado’. In bed, in the office, walking down the street together.
He can’t seem to stop himself.
He’s not sure that he wants to.
And one day, Carisi rolls over in bed and pillows his head against Barba’s chest. “What does that mean?” he asks.
“Well, normally when I say ‘fuck me harder’, what I mean is—”
Carisi rolls his eyes and digs an elbow into Barba’s stomach, smirking when Barba lets out his breath in a whoosh. “You know what I mean,” Carisi says, undeterred.
“You’re the one who wanted a nickname,” Barba reminds him. “If you want me to go back to calling you ‘Carisi’ in bed, I’d be fine with that.”
He says it nonchalantly because he'd never, even under threat of death, admit just how much he likes calling Carisi ‘Soleado’. “That didn’t answer my question,” Carisi says.
Barba hums in mild agreement and Carisi rolls his eyes again, rolling half on top of Barba to snag his cellphone off of the nightstand. “What are you doing?” Barba wheezes, scowling at Carisi until he settles back in against Barba’s chest.
“Google translate,” Carisi tells him, and Barba can’t stop his smirk at the thought of what Carisi’s reaction is going to be when he figures it out.
And Carisi does not disappoint, letting out a squawk as he drops his phone on Barba. “Sunny?” he demands. “This entire freakin’ time, you’ve been calling me sunny?”
“That’s what you tell everyone to call you, isn’t it?” Barba asks, feeling inordinately pleased with himself.
“Yeah, but in English,” Carisi says, but he’s unable to stop the smile that creeps across his face as he props himself up on Barba, ignoring the way he winces at Carisi’s weight. “You’ve really been calling me sunny this entire time? And you’re ok with that?”
For a moment, Barba’s expression softens, and he starts to say something before cutting himself off and shrugging. “I feel far better calling you ‘sunny’ in Spanish than in English,” he says instead.
Carisi narrows his eyes at him. “That’s not what you were gonna say.”
Barba blushes slightly and instantly wishes that the bed would swallow him whole. “It’s nothing,” he mutters, avoiding Carisi’s gaze. “It was going to be stupid.”
“Well now you have to tell me,” Carisi says, and when Barba just shrugs again, Carisi presses a series of kisses to Barba’s jawline before capturing his lips with his own. “C’mon. Tell me.”
“I was just going to make some thoroughly sarcastic comment about you being my sunshine,” Barba says in a vain attempt to keep his dignity intact.
It didn’t matter anyway. Carisi lights up like a firefly, and Barba has the sudden realization that no amount of dignity would be worth holding onto if it meant never seeing the look on Carisi’s face. Carisi’s smile lights up his entire face and he just beams at Barba, and Barba can practically feel the warmth radiating from him and the sunshine metaphor has never felt so apt.
Carisi starts to say something but can’t seem to manage any words, instead settling for kissing Barba, for cupping his face with both hands and kissing him like he never wants to let him go. And then, because Carisi is ridiculous and can never seem to stop himself, when he lays his head back on Barba’s chest, he starts humming, absurdly off-key, “You are my Sunshine.”
Barba rolls his eyes but his expression is soft and his smile is fond, and as Carisi falls asleep against him, Barba cards his fingers through Carisi’s hair and finds himself singing along, though he’d never admit that he does. “You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you…”
And maybe Carisi never would. But if the look on his face was any indication, calling Carisi ‘Soleado’ is one hell of a way to try.