Ask any criminal defense attorney in Manhattan, and they’d probably give you a litany of things that ADA Rafael Barba hated: defense attorneys, for one; casual clothing, for another; sports bars, domestic lagers, green tea…
The list went on and on.
In reality, there were just two things that Rafael Barba hated, at least as far as the month of December was concerned: soulmates, and mistletoe.
Mainly because the rate of soulmate assault soared right around the time when people started hanging mistletoe everywhere, and Barba’s workload more than quadrupled. While friends and family were preparing for Christmas vacations, he was preparing for the next dozen arraignments of idiots who thought that by grabbing anyone they wanted and using mistletoe as an excuse to kiss them, they might actually find their soulmate.
Barba sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose in a desperate attempt to stave off the headache he could already feel forming, and it wasn’t even ten o’clock yet. Whoever decided that you could only find your soulmate by kissing them deserved to be shot.
“Jeez, Barba, that’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?”
Barba hadn’t even realized he had spoken out loud until greeted by the ever-grating tone of Det. Carisi, who seemed to have a knack for showing up at Barba’s office when he was least welcome.
“If you’ve come to dump another case on my desk, it’s you who deserves to be shot,” Barba grumbled.
Carisi didn’t look remotely fazed by Barba’s dour attitude, but then again, this was his fourth Christmas working at SVU, so perhaps he had finally gotten accustomed to what a nightmare the holiday usually ended up being, and Barba’s attitude therein. “I think it’s unfortunate,” Carisi said, strolling into Barba’s office like he belonged there and setting the case file in hand down on Barba’s desk. “It should be romantic, only learning who your soulmate is by kissing them.”
Barba scoffed as he grabbed the casefile and flipped it open. “Romantic,” he muttered, shaking his head as he scanned the now all-too familiar description of the assault in the file. “The entire idea of soulmates is the opposite of romantic. One person who fate designed for you, and you can only find them by kissing them? Better hope that you’re geographically close to your soulmate or you’ll be out of luck.”
Carisi rolled his eyes. “I’m not saying it’s not a system without flaws,” he said, settling down into the seat across from Barba and ignoring the baleful look Barba shot him at his presumption. “Just that, in theory, it’s kinda romantic to think about. Even if you never meet ‘em.”
“Yes, well, tell that to our unfortunate parcel of victims who’ve been groped under mistletoe,” Barba grumbled, mostly to avoid thinking about Carisi’s point.
Wide-eyed optimism wasn’t exactly something Barba found endearing.
At least, it wasn’t something he found endearing until a certain blue-eyed, dimpled detective started making himself at home in Barba’s office.
But like so many other things that Barba had never once found endearing — youth, exuberance, a grating Staten Island accent, wheat-colored hair slowly turning to silver — Sonny Carisi had somehow managed to change Barba’s stance.
At first, Barba had found Carisi a pleasant-enough distraction, easy on the eyes and worth the treks he routinely had to make to the 16th Precinct to deal with some crisis or another. But somehow, between late nights working together in Barba’s office and early morning meetings at the courthouse, Carisi had grown into so much more than a distraction.
Which made it all the worse that Carisi was clearly a romantic in search of his soulmate.
And Barba had long since given up hope of ever finding his.
So he ignored the soft, almost hopeful smile that Carisi was shooting him and instead stared determinedly at the case file, even if he wasn’t really paying it any attention, his headache growing stronger.
He hated Christmas.
Carisi jolted out of his reverie when a small ball of paper bounced off his forehead. “Earth to Carisi,” Amanda laughed. “If you stare any harder, you’re gonna burn a hole in Liv’s door.”
Rolling his eyes, Carisi purposefully looked away from Olivia’s closed office door, shuffling some papers around on his desk. “I was just lost in thought,” he told Amanda, who gave him a look.
“Yeah, lost in thoughts of Barba,” she returned, saccharine sweet, and he glared at her, even as he blushed. “Are you ever gonna stop mooning over Barba and just make a move already?”
“I dunno what you’re talking about,” Carisi sniped, though he was pretty sure he hadn’t exactly spent the last four years being subtle. “Even if I had a thing for Barba, I value our friendship. Do you know how long it took for me to get him to stop openly mocking me every change he got? Maybe I don’t wanna ruin that.”
Amanda rolled her eyes. “I’m not telling you to propose,” she said. “But maybe you could, I don’t know, taking a stab in the dark here, ask him on a date? I mean, what’s the worst he could say?”
“That he’s reporting me to 1PP for sexual harassment and getting a TRO against me,” Carisi said moodily, and Amanda rolled her eyes and threw another paper ball at him. This time, he managed to dodge it, and he retaliated by flicking a paperclip at her.
“Barba wouldn’t do that,” she told him, and even though Carisi knew that, he wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of acknowledging that. “Come on, ask him on a date, put us all out of our misery.”
Carisi just shook his head, watching as Barba left Olivia’s office. “Well, maybe,” he muttered.
“How about tonight?” Amanda asked brightly. “We’re all getting Christmas drinks at Forlini’s. It’s the perfect opportunity.”
Carisi shook his head again but involuntarily smiled when Barba made eye contact with him for a moment before getting on the elevator. “Well,” he said, “maybe.”
Forlini’s was perhaps a bit small a venue for the amount of people that turned out, but the drinks were flowing and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Barba was surprised that even he was managing to relax and loosen up a little, though the scotch certainly didn’t hurt in that regard.
Carisi slid onto the barstool next to him and nudged him companionably with his elbow. “You look like you’re having a good time,” he told Barba, over the opening strains of Mariah Carey playing on the radio.
“You know what?” Barba said, taking a sip of scotch. “I am, surprisingly.”
“Surprisingly?” Carisi repeated with an easy smile. “When have you ever gone out with us and not had a good time?”
Barba shook his head and laughed. “Touché,” he said.
They made idle chit chat for a moment as Barba drank his scotch and Carisi his beer, mostly sticking to talking shop, but before the conversation could shift to better topics, Amanda interrupted, leaning against the bar and laughing. “C’mon,” she said, tugging on Carisi’s arm. “We’re trying to get a dance floor started.”
“This place isn’t big enough for a dance floor,” Carisi pointed out, giving Barba a wide-eyed look as if pleading for him to somehow get him out of this.
Barba just laughed and drained his drink. “Go on,” he said, smirking. “Have fun, kids.”
“Oh no,” Amanda said, seizing him as well and pulling them both out of their seats. “C’mon.”
She practically shoved Barba into Carisi, and he would’ve stumbled and fallen flat on his face if not for Carisi catching him, almost on instinct. For a moment, Barba just stared up at Carisi, trying desperately not to think of how nice it felt to be supported by Carisi’s strong arms, but then Amanda nudged them, promptly ruining the moment. “C’mon,” she giggled.
Barba rolled his eyes and glanced back at Carisi. “Shall I twirl?” he asked sarcastically. “Do a pirouette?”
Carisi grinned and was about to respond when the song on the radio changed from Mariah to Frank Sinatra singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and they both took an almost automatic step towards each other. Carisi hesitated before offering Barba his hand, which Barba took after only a moment’s hesitation of his own before resting his other hand against the small of Carisi’s back. Carisi swallowed, hard, before asking, almost nervously, “Uh, which one of us is supposed to lead?”
“If you have to ask, it’s clearly not you,” Barba told him with a smirk that was just a little too soft to be genuine.
Carisi rolled his eyes and placed a hand lightly on Barba’s upper back, and together they swayed slowly in time to the music, both doing their best to ignore Amanda and Fin’s far more ostentatious dancing for the onlookers’ amusement.
“So,” Carisi started, and Barba looked up at him.
“So,” he echoed, with a small smile.
Carisi looked nervous and took a deep breath. “So, I, uh, I was thinking. About, uh, about you and me. And I, uh, I—”
Before he could get whatever he was thinking actually out, Fin let out a wolf-whistle and Amanda crowed, “Oops, looks like you two danced your way under some mistletoe.”
Carisi glared at Amanda, who just smirked back at him, and Barba sighed, glaring up at the offending plant. “I hate mistletoe,” he muttered.
“We don’t have to—” Carisi started. “I mean, I wouldn’t. Not, you know, not unless you wanted to. Explicit consent and all.”
Barba’s initial instinct was to of course tell him that he absolutely didn’t want to, to push him away and to return to his scotch and his previously enjoyable evening. But he and Carisi had been doing this dance — well, this metaphoric dance, at least, not so much the literal one — for four years now, and the truth was, he was beginning to wonder why they hadn’t done this sooner.
So instead, he reached up and cupped Carisi’s cheek, effectively cutting off his increasingly distressed rambling. “Merry Christmas, Sonny,” he said quietly, and leaned in to kiss him.
It was instant, the moment his lips touched Carisi’s: this feeling of utter euphoria, of the stars and the planets and the fates themselves aligning, as if every decision in Barba’s life had brought him here to where he was meant to be, here kissing Sonny underneath the mistletoe.
No, not just kissing Sonny — kissing his soulmate.
Every puzzle piece had fallen into place, and Barba was left wondering why he hadn’t put it together sooner. Of course it was Sonny — who else could it ever have been?
Sonny’s eyes widened before he kissed Barba back in earnest, and Barba could only imagine what Sonny felt as he pulled him closer and licked his way into Sonny’s mouth. Sonny opened his mouth against his with a sigh, those blue eyes that Barba loved so much fluttering closed as if he wanted to savor the moment for eternity.
Barba couldn’t blame him.
Now that he knew, now that he had found Sonny — he never wanted to let him go.
But all too soon, Liv called, laughter in her voice, “Get a room, you two,” and Sonny reluctantly pulled away, his eyes shining.
“It’s you,” he said, with that crooked grin that Barba loved so much.
“And it’s you,” Barba returned, his own voice husky. “Of course it’s you.”
Sonny’s smile widened. “So you’re not, uh, not disappointed that it’s me?” he asked.
“Oh, infinitely,” Barba assured him, and Sonny laughed lightly. “But luckily I’ve had four years to reign in my disappointment.”
Sonny leaned in and kissed him once more, a short, sweet kiss before asking, “Is it too much if I call this a Christmas miracle?” Barba rolled his eyes and Sonny laughed once more. “Alright, alright, don’t hurt yourself. Just wanted to check.”
Barba glared at him. “Christmas miracle,” he scoffed. “I swear to God—”
Sonny cut him off by kissing him, and Barba melted into the kiss, his words dying in his throat and replaced by far sweeter words that he wanted to say.
Not right now, though. Right now, he was kissing Sonny Carisi, his soulmate, under the mistletoe, and Barba was pretty sure nothing would ever feel this perfect.
As it turned out, maybe Rafael Barba didn’t hate mistletoe or soulmates after all.