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“Pursuing Karen seems like a terrible idea.”

 

“Why? She’s nice once you get to know her,” Sonny says, shoveling more eggs into his mouth, careful to keep the food over the styrofoam container so it wouldn’t get onto his 64 controller.

 

“I wasn’t saying she wouldn’t be,” Rafe sips from his coffee, cupping the steaming mug in both hands in a way that screams contentment.

 

“Then why is it a terrible idea?” He sets the container on the coffee table in front of him, hitting start on the controller to unpause the game.

 

“She’s clearly unhappy living in a small, rural town, she wants to move to the big city, and you want to tie her down to a farm and a kid? That’s just asking for a broken home and messy divorce.”

 

Sonny watches Rafe gesture passionately, and he has to hide his grin.

 

“Not to mention completely selfish on your part. Why does she have to be the one to give up her dreams? Why don’t you sell the farm and go with her? Why--I can see that you’re laughing.”

 

“Sorry, Rafe, it's just...cute.”

 

“Cute?”

 

“Yeah, you're sweet for caring so much about a fictional character in an eighteen-year-old video game.”

 

Rafe ponders that for a minute.

 

“I’m not sure ‘cute’ and ‘sweet’ are words that anyone has ever used to describe me.”

 

“Aw, c’mon,” Sonny bumps Rafe’s knee, behind him on the couch, with his shoulder. “I’m sure that someone--actually, yeah, you were probably always a serious, sharp-tongued guy, weren’t you?”

 

“I think the phrase you’re tactfully avoiding is ‘little shit’,” Rafe smirks. “But yes, Mami says I wouldn’t take any shit from anyone, even as an infant.”

 

Sonny laughs at the mental image of a young Rafael Barba going through his terrible twos, and of him driving his kindergarten teacher crazy. They lapse into an easy silence and Sonny goes back to watering his turnips one by one.

 

That Rafe is so open and at ease with him is a mark of how close they’ve gotten over the past three months, ever since Rafe had invited him out to dinner one night at the conclusion of a particularly long case. Sonny had been pleasantly surprised when Rafe had steered their conversations away from their normal topic of work to more personal areas.

 

Their friendship had only blossomed from there; Rafe kept taking him out for dinner, coffee, sometimes lunch, or Sonny would make them something. When Rafe had to go to some big party for the mayor he’d invited Sonny along, and he was able to make several professional acquaintances he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. And despite how small his shoebox of an apartment was, Rafe seemed to have no qualms about coming over to hang out on his futon and watch him play video games, his three piece suit looking completely at odds with the Space Jam poster behind him.

 

Well, one video game, to be precise: Harvest Moon 64 .

 

It was his fifty-some-odd play through, and while he never gets tired of it, he’d offered to play something more entertaining to watch, to which Rafe had shrugged and said he didn’t mind it. In fact, he’d said he was just relieved it wasn’t some violent thing with zombies or soldiers. Sonny can’t understand how someone could spend all day surrounded by guns and violence and go home and purposefully seek out more, but that’s beside the point.

 

They became so close that even Liv seemed to notice; whenever she needed to get something to Rafe, she’d give it to Sonny with a comment along the lines of “when you see Barba”, as if it was a guarantee that he would.

 

Last week they’d passed their third month of this new relationship, and Sonny had half-jokingly made them a cake with an inordinate amount of chocolate and caramel to celebrate; Rafe had been so overjoyed at the gesture that Sonny had thought he might kiss him. At that moment, Amanda and the rest of the squad had come through the door and saw the cake, and Sonny had to quickly promise Rafe to come over and make him another one that night in order to save Amanda from having to file assault charges.

 

Then work had picked up and he’d had to work overtime while two of Rafe’s former cases somehow made their way into appeals and the A.D.A. had to work on putting out those fires along with his current caseload.

 

It wasn’t until this morning, when his phone had vibrated against his side table and woken him up, that Sonny had heard from him outside of work for the first time in a week.

 

‘Are you up? Need to take the day for some R&R, want to come over? Bring your 64 and stay in sweats so I don’t feel self-conscious.’

 

Seven A.M. on a Sunday morning meant that Rafe was still focused solely on consuming coffee, so Sonny had grabbed some breakfast for them on the way, and the delight on the counselor’s face was well worth the disgruntled cabbie and the twenty he had had to part with to make him wait outside the diner for him.

 

“I didn’t mean to tell you how to play your game,” Rafe says, breaking him out of his thoughts.

 

“Hm?” He pauses the game so he can look up at Rafe, leaning his head back against one of Rafe’s legs. “Oh, you’re fine. I usually pick Elli anyways.”

 

“That’s the girl from the bakery, correct?”

 

Sonny smiles and nods; this confirmation that he’d been paying attention when Sonny played makes him happier than he's been in a long time.

 

At least, before Rafe had become the best friend he'd ever had.

 

“So the way to your heart is someone who can make you food?”

 

“No,” Sonny laughs.

 

“Well, mine is.” Rafe hums, sipping from his coffee.

 

“Then you’re going to love me.”

 

Rafe smiles and cocks an eyebrow. “Oh?”

 

“Yeah, I brought stuff to make raspberry cream cheese coffee cake later.”

 

Rafe’s mouth drops open.

 

“It is going to be extremely easy to love you...and to get fat.”

 

Sonny finds himself laughing again, and Rafe’s face turns soft. Even after his mirth has subsided, he can’t bring himself to raise his head from Rafe’s warm, solid leg. He had a therapist tell him once that, in addition to his autism not affording him an innate sense of personal space, he was touch-starved, and he believed her, especially now with the immense pleasure such simple contact is evoking in him. It doesn’t hurt that the other man is his best friend.

 

“We’ll have to find a way to--hey!”

 

“Yes?” Rafe raises a perfectly shaped eyebrow and tries to school his features into his, ‘I’m listening and judging you but I also don’t really care about what you’re saying’   face, but Sonny can see the edges of his lips quivering upwards.

 

“We could start a garden!”

 

“...A garden?”

 

“Yeah, you know, obviously not,” Sonny gestures widely at the tv, “a huge one, but I saw a community garden only about a block from here on my way this morning. We could see about setting something up in there.”

 

Rafe drops the pretend sass and his face slowly lights up, which Sonny takes as a sign to keep going.

 

“Yeah, we could order some from the Seed Savers Exchange out in Iowa, they’re a non-profit that does amazing work trying to keep all these seeds that have been around forever from going extinct-- they’re non-GMO, I mean, obviously , kinda implied there--oh, and I can get some real good fertilizer from a cousin upstate. We could make our own, but that can be kinda a hassle, especially smell-wise.”

 

“Sounds wonderful, Sonny.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah. Just, not today. Not sure I feel up to being bent over for that long or carrying anything.”

 

“Nah, not today. I’ll send my cousin a message later. I can order us some tools real quick if you’re serious about this.”

 

His pillow props a cheek up with a fist and smiles down at Sonny.

 

“I am.”

 

Head swimming with happiness and excitement, Sonny flicks through his phone and starts adding things into his cart. When he’s pretty sure he’s got everything that they’ll need to start out with, he hovers his finger over the checkout button.

 

“Are you sure?” He grins. “When I committ to something, I don’t back out, I see it through, so I need you to mean really sure. ‘Cause this is Prime, so if you say yes, in two days we’re going to be starting our own little Barba-Carisi farm.”

 

“Don’t you have to order the seeds, too?”

 

“...”

 

“And isn't it too early to start planting anyways?”

 

“...Okay, in two days we’re going to be halfway to starting the Barba-Carisi farm.”

 

The sound of Rafe’s laughter, whether in full belly laughs or low chuckles, as it is now, never gets old to Sonny’s ears.

 

“I’m sure, Farmer Dominick. Though if you think you’re going to get me into coveralls you’ve got another thing coming, faster than Prime.”

 

“Alright then, Farmer Rafael, they’re on their way!” Sonny tosses his phone back up on the coffee table.

 

“You do realize,” Rafe says, a teasing glint in his eye, “that you’re going to have to start spending some nights here in order to get up early enough to take care of the plot before work.”

 

The kid in him, the kid who he can never seem to quite get rid of and has become more prevalent when he’s with the A.D.A., shrieks in delight, imagining the two of them staying up late talking; of desserts and warm drinks, card or board games, of waking up and being able to see each other first thing, of having a sleepover.

 

The fact that he’s in his thirties has apparently not dampened his desire for such childish bonding activities. He vaguely wonders that if he told his ma about Rafe, she’d be saddened that it took him this long to make a real friend, or if she’d be as excited as he was that he finally had -- and with someone who was so good to him, at that.

 

“Putting up with your grumpy ass in the morning sounds like a worthy sacrifice for the food. I mean, the best thing about the whole thing will not only be the great food we’re gonna get, but also the exercise. ‘Cause it’s surprisingly hard work. I should know, I used to work in our neighbor’s backyard garden in exchange for piano lessons. And before you ask: no, I can’t play, my fingers get ahead of each other. It’s fun,” he shrugs, staring unseeing at the far wall, lost in the discoloured keys of the Gismondis’ upright and the terrified birds of their wallpaper. “But only for me. Teresa kept threatening to glue my hands shut. You know, if we get a good enough yield, I’ll take some home for Thanksgiving dinner, and you and your ma should come. There’s always more than enough room.”

 

He's startled by long fingers combing through his hair. It feels good -- wonderful, even -- and he lets his eyes drift shut as the feeling of his scalp being gently tugged begins to lull him into a sense of complete calm and contentment, warming him from the inside out. Briefly he wonders if this is something friends, especially men, do with each other, but Rafe isn't just any man. And anyways, how would he know how close friends interact in these situations? He's certainly never had any, other than work friends like Amanda.

 

That thought in mind, he brushes aside his confusion and settles into the here and now.

 

And in this moment, there's nowhere else on Earth he'd rather be than on the floor in Rafe's living room, in front of his couch, resting his head against Rafe's leg as Rafe runs his fingers through the hair draped over his knee.

 

“When I said not to get dressed, I didn't mean you didn't have to fix your hair,” Rafe says with teasing in his voice. Sonny is too zoned out to respond with anything other than a smile. “I think you should change the products you're using. If you'd like, I have some you can try.”

 

Sonny hums his agreement.

 

“There’s room up here on the couch…” Rafe trails off, the invitation unspoken but clear.

 

“Nah, I don't wanna crowd you.” It's not even really a couch, more of a loveseat due to the small living room.

 

“Sonny, you won't crowd me. Come on up.”

 

Those magic fingers leave his hair, forcing him out of his daze. Rafe is looking down at him with such a kind, open expression that he finds himself nodding and untangling his legs to stand up.

 

“I'll move,” Rafe shifts to let his legs fall off the couch, but Sonny gently, yet firmly grabs them and places them in his lap.

 

“We can both be comfortable,” he says, sighing in contentment as he hits the button to recline.

 

You're the sweetheart.”

 

Sonny blushes and turns away.

 

One of the things he loves and admires most about Rafe is how vibrant he is -- from the way he can walk into a room and immediately command attention without having to say a word, to the meticulous, colorful way he dresses, all the way down to the socks he wears. The ones on his feet this morning are a pair from his gag-gifts-collection: yellow leopard print. They aren’t exactly thin, but Sonny can still feel the coldness of the skin beneath them.

 

“You should wear thicker socks,” he says, absentmindedly rubbing them to try and warm them up.

 

You gave me these.”

 

“And they were meant more for the beginning of summer in a few months, not the tail end of winter.”

 

“March is hardly winter.”

 

Rafe's feet slowly start to warm up beneath his hands and he begins really digging into the muscles.

 

“You know, I've got a cousin in Jersey who just took up knitting this past year. She's absolute crap at it, but she had her husband try it with her and he has a knack for it, and let me tell you, he makes the nicest, thickest, warmest socks you'll ever find. I can get you a pair if you want, more if you end up liking them.”

 

There's no response from the other end of the couch. Sonny looks up and Rafe is staring at him with this open look of...it looks like adoration, but he's never seen it directed at him before, and Rafe would certainly be the last person he'd expect it from. He must must be confu--

 

“What did I do to deserve you?”

 

Sonny's blush comes back tenfold, and he throws his attention back to the impromptu foot massage.

 

“How did you like your omelette? We've never had breakfast together before, so I wasn't quite sure what you liked, and I didn't want to call and ruin the surprise, so I just went by what I've seen you order before--” he's rambling, and he knows he is, but he can't seem to stop himself, “--provolone on your chicken sandwich and--”

 

“Sonny.”

 

He looks up; Rafe is holding open an empty styrofoam box.

 

“You liked it?”

 

“No, I ate it cause it tasted like mi abuelita’s old shoes.”

 

“Hey, I once saw you drink an entire cup of coffee that you said 'tasted like someone had ground up rusty car parts, sprinkled them with the ashes of a bitter old man, and brewed them in monkey's piss.’”

 

“...That was coffee , first of all, secondly, you remembered all that?”

 

Sonny smiles easily and shrugs.

 

“I remember a lot of the things you say. Listening to you is one of my favorite things.”

 

And there it is again, the softening of green eyes, that small, sweet smile. Rafe sets the box down on top of Sonny's on the coffee table and leans across his legs. Sonny isn't quite sure what he's doing, but he doesn't move; he trusts him.

 

Rafe brings up his hand to gently cup the back of his head, long fingers threading through the hair there. His other hand rests on the side of Sonny's neck, his thumb rubbing little circles into his cheek. Sonny has absolutely no idea where this is headed, but they're so close to each other, and his insides are starting to clench at how thrilling it is and he can smell the expensive coffee on Rafe's breath, and yes , his eyes are most definitely green, and there's little lines at the edges of them from his smile, and Rafe is leaning in even closer, his hands guiding Sonny to do the same and--

 

Oh.

 

Oh.

 

He'd be lying if he said he hadn't imagined what it would be like to kiss Rafe, but from the moment Rafe's lips softly touch his own, he can't even begin to recall what he expected. It isn’t an explosion of passion and lust (though there were tinges of it), there aren’t any tongues involved; it’s just light presses of their lips to one another’s. Or, rather, Rafe doing the pressing -- Sonny can barely hold onto reality with the way his stomach is doing flips and how his brain keeps trying to fizzle out.

 

Rafe pulls back, taking the smell of aftershave and the feeling of smooth skin with him. It takes a moment for Sonny to realize he’s still got his eyes closed, and he’s yet to resume steady breathing.

 

“What was that for?” Sonny internally winces at how accusatory that sounds, but Rafe merely grins and shrugs.

 

“I like kissing pretty boys. Especially sweet, adorable ones that bring me breakfast."

 

Sonny gulps as his face begins burning again.

 

“I’m sorry if that was--”

 

“It was fine,” Sonny assures him.

 

“I didn’t make you feel uncomfortable?”

 

“Nope, I’m good.” And he is, flushed face aside. That was probably, no, definitely the best kiss he’d ever had. Which probably wasn’t saying much given his extremely limited experiences, but he felt confident in assuming Rafe was the best at it. After all, he’s the best at so many things.

 

He tries returning to the game, to picking out seeds, but he can’t seem to get his eyes to focus on any of the words. All he can think about is that kiss.

 

Can they do that again?

 

How?

 

And wouldn’t they have to start dating to do things like that on a regular basis?

 

Dating and kissing leads to sex...and he knows Rafe won’t want him when he finds out he’s trans. Let alone autistic.

 

Rafe's foot nudges him out of his trance.

 

His frown immediately puts Sonny on alert trying to figure out what he did wrong and how he can fix it. Was there some sort of proper response to being kissed that he didn’t know about?

 

“I did push too much.”

 

“What? No! I’m fine! Really!”

 

“Sonny, you've been staring at the screen for seven minutes just repeating the same conversation again and again. And while I enjoy discourse on the economic benefits of potatoes as much as the next person, that’s a bit much.”

 

“I’m fine, Rafe, I promise,” Sonny assures him, but the skeptical look remains on Rafe’s face.

 

“You know you can be honest with me and I won't judge you for it, right?”

 

He hesitates, but only for a moment, because he can still feel the ghost of Rafe’s lips on his, and something in him burns for more.

 

“I was just thinking about the, you know,” he gestures between them.

 

“The kiss, right.”

 

Sonny hesitates again.

 

“It's...I liked it.”

 

“Okay,” Rafe says, indicating for Sonny to keep going.

 

He bites his lower lip, the taste of the other man still there, if faint.

 

“I just was wondering if there was any way we could do that again sometime,” he blurts out, wincing.

 

Rafe startles him by laughing, and he’s both entranced by the open display of mirth and embarrassed that he’s being laughed at for thinking he could get more. He decides to save face by backtracking.

 

“That was a really forward thing to ask, I’m sorry, we can forget I ever said it.”

 

Rafe calms himself down, waving his hands and scooting closer to Sonny on the couch, grinning.

 

“I thought it was something more serious, like you having some sort of crisis of faith.”

 

Sonny scoffs.

 

“Well I am now, aren’t I,” he says, grinning so that Rafe knows he isn’t being serious. After all, he’d dealt with religious concerns back when he’d first started transitioning.

 

Rafe leans in again, and before he can blink, kisses him lightly and quickly on the lips, drawing out a happy little noise from him before going back to the other end of the loveseat.

 

“You can kiss me anytime you’d like, no permission needed,” Rafe says. “Though maybe not while I’m in court.”

 

“What, you don’t want a conciliatory kiss when you’re overruled?”

 

“Is that your way of agreeing that you won’t be trying to make out with me during the middle of open court?”

 

It’s Sonny’s turn to laugh, his stomach now settling into something warm and fuzzy feeling.

 

“Either way, I’m glad that went well,” Rafe says, sounding genuinely relieved as he rises from the couch, gathering up their trash from breakfast and taking it into the kitchen.

 

“Why? Have you been wanting to do that?” Sonny teases. He can hear him rustle around out of sight, the tell-tale sound of liquid being poured into a mug telling him Rafe’s moving on to his second cup of coffee.

 

“Since our third date, but if I’m honest, probably long before that.”

 

Blood rushes to Sonny’s head, and he can’t hear Rafe asking if he wants another cup himself.

 

Date?! Since when--

 

A large, heavy hand settles on his shoulders, anchoring him to the here and now.

 

“Sonny? Are you alright? I--”

 

“Third date?”

 

Rafe frowns, says, “yes, when we went to that Islanders game, and you were so excited through the whole thing, screaming at the players and umpires--”

 

“Referees,” Sonny says, numbly and automatically.

 

“Yes, that,” Rafe agrees. “...Would you like some coffee?”

 

“What was the first one?”

 

Rafe looks down at him, confusion creasing his brows.

 

“The first what?”

 

“The first date !”

 

Rafe's look of confusion morphs into understanding, then mortification, and his hand falls from his shoulder.

 

“You didn't--how did you not--you didn't know we were dating?!”

 

“What was the first one?” Sonny asks again. Unable to contain all of the nervous energy inside of him, he stands up and begins pacing in front of the TV.

 

Rafe stands in silence before quietly saying, “when I asked you out to dinner after we closed the Hodgkins case.”

 

Sonny's mind grabs at this new information, turning it over and over again.

 

“Jesus, that means-- three months?!

 

Rafe, almost as if pulled down by an invisible, substantial weight, sits down heavily on the arm of the couch.

 

“You never said that was a date,” Sonny argues. ‘He probably didn't think he had to!’ , his mind screams at him. Sonny puts his back to him, resolutely not looking at the room’s other occupant.

 

The loud, cheerful music from his game stabs at the wounds opening up inside his soul, but the console and remote are behind him, and he’s not sure if he can face Rafe any time soon. Not with the shame welling up inside him. He's sure, especially given Rafe's reaction, that any normal person would've immediately known that they were being asked out on a date.

 

Any normal person would know that friends don't smile at each other like that, don't sit so close, don't run their fingers through each other's hair. He simultaneously wants to puke and hit himself repeatedly in the head for being so stupid , so oblivious .

 

There's a small voice in his head saying that he shouldn't be so harsh on himself, given that he's never had a real friend before coming to work with the Manhattan SVU, let alone a boyfriend or girlfriend -- how could he be expected to know what either one of those relationships were like, let alone the difference between them? Not to mention this is very likely a misunderstanding brought on by his autism.

 

That voice sounds a lot like a combination of his mother and Rafe, which does nothing to soothe him.

 

After all, what kind of loser goes over thirty years without making any friends, autistic or not?

 

This loser, this pathetic excuse for a detective who couldn't even detect he was dating his colleague. He wasn't worthy of being Rafe's anything.

 

Could he escape the apartment without having to make eye contact? Eye contact with someone who's come to mean so much to him, someone he looks forward to hearing from every day, who's the first person he goes to for advice or to vent? No, someone like that deserves more than to be abandoned. Especially when that someone was Rafe.

 

“Clearly,” Rafe says, in a tone Sonny's never heard from him before.

 

The room goes silent and cold as the TV is muted. Sonny fights with everything he has to not cry. Cry because their friendship was clearly an illusion, that everything they’ve had together is now gone, cry because the best friend he’s ever had, in his entire life, is probably never going to want to spend another minute with him alone. All their late night phone calls, lunches and dinners, random texts throughout the day, inside jokes, smiles, touches--Sonny really thinks he could throw up.

 

“We can forget all of this,” Rafe says in that same, deadly quiet voice. “Can forget about the dates, all of that.”

 

Tears immediately well up in Sonny’s eyes and his body tenses as he fights back a sob. Of course Rafe would want to forget everything. Can he blame him? He grits his teeth and squeezes his eyes shut.

 

He only has himself to blame. Not Rafe.

 

...He should start calling him Barba again, shouldn’t he.

 

“We can pretend like they never happened.”

 

Sonny crosses his arms tight over his chest, bringing his chin down into his chest.

 

“But…”

 

But? But what? But they should stop seeing each other period? Even at work? Has he hurt Raf-- Barba that much?

 

“...Can we start over?”

 

Wait, what ?

 

“We can leave out the dating part entirely, I’m okay with that. But can we keep everything else?”

 

Now Sonny knows what's in Rafe's voice: it's hurt, and pain.

 

Sonny wipes at his eyes, sucks in a deep breath, and turns around.

 

The sight of Rafe, staring up at him, concerned, and wounded, but trying to hide it, punches him in the gut.

 

“And what?” He chokes out. “You think you could want to just be friends? People don’t try to date people they want to be friends with, even I know that.”

 

“Sonny, that’s not what’s happening here.” In one, smooth motion, he’s off of the arm of the couch and crossing the small living room to stand within arm's reach, hands up with palms towards Sonny in a calming gesture. “I don’t want us to be friends because we were dating. I wanted to go out with you because we were friends, because we’d grown so close that I wanted to be even closer to you. Because I wanted to not only see you at work, and once in awhile at the occasional dinner, but because I wanted to see and talk to you every day , about anything and everything. Because I wanted you in my life and in my…”

 

He trails off, looking down at his own spread arms.

 

It’s getting harder and harder for Sonny to keep his tears at bay, and it makes him feel like a little kid. Like the little kid who used to watch out the front window for ‘friends’ who promised to come over but never did. Before he can stop it, his diaphragm is spasming, causing him to suck in quick, deep breaths with ugly snot-filled, pathetic sounds.

 

Rafe's hand reaches out towards him, but stops short. Sonny wants nothing more than to feel his kind touch, to feel that gentle hand on his face again, feel the long fingers carding through his hair.

 

“I want to,” he whispers brokenly, “But I can't.”

 

Rafe nods and turns away, the slump of his broad shoulders screaming of despair. Sonny's heart screams back to it.

 

“I understand. I was ho--I understand. I won't hold this against you. I'll understand if you need space at work, too.”

 

Sonny shakes his head, fisting his hands uselessly in front of himself.

 

“I want to, but I can't. I want to kiss you and hold you, but I can’t .”

 

Rafe looks at him sharply.

 

“That's not what you said earlier.”

 

“It's different.”

 

“How is it different? What's the difference between kissing as friends or as lovers? What’s the difference between what you’ve seen as us being friends, and what I've seen as us being lovers?”

 

Rafe closes the space between them even more with a single step. The rational part of Sonny thinks he should back up, but he can't will his body to move.

 

“It’s clearly not a religious issue because you wouldn't have asked for more, period. Is it that I'm a man?” Rafe pauses, and continues in a too-quiet voice that pierces his intestines and grabs tightly onto the base of his spine, “or that I'm...me?”

 

Sonny's eyes widen and he leans closer, needing Rafe to understand . They’re so close that he can feel the ghost of Rafe’s breath, can see every tiny freckle, every dark eyelash framing wide green eyes swimming with a flicker of emotion that he’s only ever seen once before, on a dog he’d found in the alley of a homicide, peeking out at him from behind the dumpster it was chained to.

 

He might not be the only one here who’s been beaten, neglected, and abandoned.

 

Rafe’s hands are slightly cold, just like his feet, when Sonny takes them in his own and draws them close, into the warmth of his own chest. How is he supposed to--what can he do? How can he keep this man from being hurt? He doesn’t know. He doesn’t even know if pressing their hands into the thin cotton of the ‘Harvard Law (Just Kidding)’ shirt he’d bought and worn to (successfully) make Rafe laugh is the right thing to do.

 

It's not you, ” he insists, staring intently right into Rafe’s eyes, needing him to understand like he hasn’t needed anything in a long, long time. “It's me .”

 

Rafe scoffs, but doesn't try to remove himself from Sonny's grasp.

 

“For three months, you didn't realize we were dating, as if you couldn't even fathom me as an option, and the moment you figure out what's going on, you try to rush out of here! How am I supposed to take that?”

 

“Hey, hey, hey, I never thought of you as an option because I didn’t think you’d ever want to be one!”

 

“Sonny--” Rafe pauses, studying him. “When was the last time a friend came over when you’re in the middle of losing your lunch from the flu, and held you on the couch for the rest of the day?”

 

He remembers that day, how miserable he’d been, and how warm and solid and comfortable Rafe’s chest was. How the man had patiently cleaned out his trash can every time he’d threw up in it, and made sure he’d kept up on water. How wonderful it felt, even in the grip of fever, to have Rafe’s arms around him, fingers tracing random, soothing patterns in the back of his oversized sweater.

 

“When was the last time a friend color-coordinated their outfits with yours? I know that started off as a joke but…”

 

When they’d walked into the courtroom together, the subtle blues in Rafe’s tie matching with Sonny’s shirt, and his own tie reminiscent of Rafe’s blazer, he hadn’t been able to help holding his head up high. And the look Rafe had given him later, returning to the prosecution’s table after a cross, said that he was proud to be visually tied to Sonny as well.

 

Rafe had sent him a teasing text the next morning, a description of what he was wearing with suggestions for Sonny’s outfit so as not to “visually clash so horribly with me that you scare off Carmen”, and they'd just been doing it ever since. Not unnoticed, either; it prompted several teasing nicknames for the two of them from Fin and Amanda.

 

She probably still has them listed as Bert and Ernie in her contacts.

 

“...Sonny?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Rafe’s hands turn in his, to softly return his grip.

 

“When was the last time...when was the last time you had a friend?”

 

There it is. Rafe knows. He knows how pathetic he is. Tears cloud his vision as he tries to tug his hands free.

 

“No,” Rafe says in a hushed voice, “Don’t go, come here.”

 

Those hands draw him in and let go, only to quickly reappear on his back, pressing him tight into that solid chest. It’s too much, all too, too much, and Sonny can no longer keep his tears at bay. He knows that he shouldn’t, shouldn’t be sending any more mixed signals, but his body moves of its own accord, accepting and returning the embrace with fervor, burying his face into the crook where soft cotton meets even softer skin.

 

“Rafe,” he says, when he’s finally calmed down to nothing more than a stray hiccup. He doesn’t, however, remove himself from the press of Rafe’s body; touch starved -- he believes it. “There’s things about me you don’t know, that if you knew, you wouldn't want me.”

 

“Sonny, look at me, please.”

 

With so little room between them they end up with foreheads pressed together.

 

“I've dated you--I repeat- -for three months . And I've known you, worked closely with you, for over two years. I know you. I can't imagine anything that would make my opinion of you change so drastically that I don't want to be with you. Are there things I don’t know about you? Yes. Are there going to be things I don’t like? Of course. But!” He goes to turn away again, but long fingers are suddenly there, splayed over the sides of his neck and face, preventing him from moving.

 

“I know you could say the same about me. And--” Rafe gives a frustrated sigh, closing his eyes. “I didn’t want to tell you this so soon because I didn’t want to scare you off, but...I thought long and hard before asking you out. Not for the reasons you think, but because I don’t do fly-by-night, here today, gone tomorrow arrangements. I do stability, longevity, permanence. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

 

He does. Rafe wants him . Rafe wants him. Rafe wants him. No matter how he repeats it, it's still hard to believe.

 

“You don't have to make a decision right now.” Rafe's hands drop to his upper arms, rubbing lightly up and down. “Take your time. In the meanwhile, would you like to sit back down? Keep playing? I can order us some lunch soon.”

 

A quick glance to the little, scuffed up Lord's prayer clock that looked out of place on the wall next to an expensive painting from someone Sonny could never remember the name of told him that it had been a couple hours since they'd finished eating.

 

It seemed simultaneously forever and just a minute ago.

 

“Yeah, that sounds good.”

 

They stand that way for a moment longer, forehead to forehead -- Rafe's hands on his arms and Sonny's on Rafe's hips, every point where their bodies touch humming with electricity.

 

How they make it to the couch he doesn't know.

 

“Would you like to do something else?”

 

“What?”

 

“You've been staring at the screen again.”

 

“I guess,” Sonny shrugs. “I guess I just can't get my head into it. D’you wanna try?”

 

Rafe's eyes widen.

 

“You want me to start a file on here?”

 

“You've watched me long enough, I think you can be trusted with it,” Sonny says, trying for a teasing tone and only partially succeeding.

 

“I'll make sure not to name it anything untoward.” Rafe's own falls a little flat, but the reference to the ‘Butts’ file cheekily named by a young Bella, makes him laugh a little anyways.

 

The apartment falls quiet again save for the upbeat music from the game. Rafe, it turns out, is one of those people who spends an inordinate amount of time naming things. His own character’s name is quick, the farm he names Diaz (“my abuelita’s last name”) after Barba doesn’t fit, but he sits on the screen for the dog’s name, stumped.

 

“Never had a dog?”

 

“No, not even a cat, though Mami used to joke that we had enough mice that we could've afforded to feed one.”

 

It’s the casual mention of his mother, of insight into his childhood, that slams Sonny’s mind back into gear towards solving their situation.

 

“Would you like me to give you some space for a bit?” He says, repeating Rafe’s earlier offer. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

 

Rafe smiles a tight little smile, eyes shiny as he looks at some point past Sonny.

 

“Take it from me, you could leave for twenty years, come back with a husband and kids, and it would still hurt.”

 

Reading people does not come easily to Sonny, never has, and he’s had to work hard to make up for it. Between therapy and the countless hours spent observing people and reading books on body language and similar topics, he’s been able to do pretty well. More than well, some of his captains from previous precincts have said, as he’s had moments where he’s been the only one able to get inside a suspect’s head in interrogation and get them to reveal important information.

 

He does pretty well at it, but that’s only when he has those skills actively engaged, and keeping them on for too long of a stretch was mentally exhausting. But if he’s not focusing on reading the people around him, he quite easily misses social cues and things people are trying to subtly tell him.

 

Every now and then, though, something buzzes in the back of his head, telling him there’s some important information he’s missing out on.

 

Such as now.

 

Rafe must be speaking from experience, Sonny guesses. Of some person before who left him behind. Now, Sonny's no savant when it comes to romantic entanglements, but he's pretty sure that people don't still feel pain from a relationship after that long if there wasn't some serious feelings involved at the start. And what had Rafe said about only pursuing someone if he knew there was a chance of a future with them? The idea of someone knowing all that and throwing it aside like it was nothing, like this man was nothing--

 

--Like Sonny is doing. Only, there are extenuating circumstances here, because if there weren’t, Sonny wouldn't hesitate for a second…

 

...Wait.

 

Rafe had compared what he had with Sonny to that relationship, had...had…

 

“You love me.”

 

Silence is his answer. As Rafe swallows, but keeps his eyes averted, Sonny dimly realizes this is probably one of those “open mouth, insert foot” moments he has too many of, but, fuck , talk about some extenuating circumstances .

 

“You love me?”

 

Rafe shifts, but still refuses to face him head on.

 

“This shouldn't affect your decision, whatever it may be, and you shouldn't feel pressured or guilty--”

 

His body is thrumming with too much energy to sit still anymore. He jumps off of the loveseat (and ha, wasn't that a nice play on words) and begins pacing a furious little circle on the other side of the coffee table again.

 

That was quite clearly not a “no.”

 

That was not a “no I don't love you.”

 

Wasn't a “are you fucking insane?”

 

Wasn't even a “look, Sonny, I like you, but that's a little too far, a little too much, too soon.”

 

Rafael Barba, Manhattan assistant district attorney, Harvard full-ride graduate, the most intelligent, kindest, sweetest, most gorgeous man he's ever known, loves him.

 

Loves.

 

Him.

 

What are you supposed to do in these situations?!

 

And would Rafe still love him when he found out the truth about him? When he really got to know him? Rafe seemed convinced of it earlier.

 

...Maybe he should trust his judgement.

 

Maybe, just maybe, with Rafe loving him already, they could make it work? Maybe Rafe could look past all his baggage? Look past the autism, the gender identity? Because being in love meant being okay with things like that, right?

 

Something small and dangerous is twisting around beneath his breastbone, something that feels a lot like hope.

 

“Rafe?”

 

His eyes, lost somewhere in the wall separating them from the kitchen, snap to Sonny as if on a rubber band.

 

“What if,” Sonny bites his lip. How can he phrase this? He’s not sure he wants to come out right this moment. Baby steps. “What if we never have sex?”

 

In the time it takes him to blink, Rafe is standing back in front of him, hands resting on the elbows of his crossed arms.

 

“Sonny, I...I love you. You. Not some action I do with you, you. I want to stay with you, work these things out, and if that means abstaining because you’re not comfortable with it, then so be it, alright?”

 

“How long can you actually be okay with that, though?”

 

“For as long as you'll have me.” And for the second time that day, in a voice raw with emotion, he hears a word spoken from Rafe's lips that he's only heard a handful of times before: "Please."

 

The little clock behind him chimes brokenly.

 

“I'm sorry.” Rafe steps backwards, dropping his hands. “I said I wasn't going to pressure you, and I'm not. Take your time.”

 

You're not , he wants to say, don't let go .

 

There's so much racing around in his head, filling it up, that he can't get his mouth to move. Rafe is putting space between them again, and Sonny hates that of all the times his brain decides to go nonverbal, it picks now. The skin underneath his shirt just feels wrong without Rafe's touch, and he longs to go after it like a dying fish jumping back into the water.

 

Mutely, he follows Rafe to the couch, carefully sitting down next to him, his silent, slow movements at complete odds with his inner turmoil.

 

Because no matter how much they both might want this, it'll just hurt them in the end.

 

...But wasn't it hurting Rafe now?

 

Wouldn't it hurt more for him to have his heart broken now rather than him merely falling out of love with Sonny later down the road?

 

A quick glance at the man next to him solidifies this.

 

“Okay.”

 

“Okay?” Rafe searches his face, but Sonny has already reached a decision, and there’s no going back now, no matter what happens.

 

Wordlessly, he leans over, lightly pressing his lips against Rafe’s.

 

“Not that I'm complaining, but I think you should clarify what 'okay’ means in this context.”

 

“It means I want to take you out on a date, to call you my boyfriend, to do everything we've been doing but with more making out.”

 

The only response he gets is a short burst of delighted laughter, more puffs of air against his face than anything else.

 

“You really love me, huh?”

 

“Yes.” There's a firmness in those green eyes so close to his.

 

Blood must be rushing to his head, because he’s feeling weightless, like any sudden movement he'll be floating around the room.

 

“I do,” Rafe adds, smiling into the corner of his mouth. “I love every inch of you, even the Confederate flag tramp stamp you’re trying to hide from me.”

 

“Wait, what?” He guffaws, nearly falling backwards and off the couch in his shock and humor.

 

“The tattoo you’re clearly trying to hide from me. It’s okay,” Rafe soothes, mirth wavering in the lines on his face, “I’m sure it was just a folly of youth. I can help you afford the removal.”

 

“But what if I don't want it removed?” Sonny says, trying to stifle his giggles.

 

“Why wouldn't you?”

 

“It's a beaut!”

 

“Do tell.”

 

“Well, it's got an edgy looking cross in the middle--”

 

“Naturally.”

 

“--with that ‘don't tread on me’ snake wrapped around it--”

 

“Nice touch.”

 

“--an American flag on the left of it, and a Confederate on the right--”

 

“Not at all contradictory.”

 

“--with one of those mudflap silhouettes behind the American flag, and a large AR-15 behind the Confederate--”

 

“Sounds good, but not impressive.”

 

“--and lastly, under the cross, right above the ass crack--”

 

“On the edge of my seat.”

 

“--is a Monster energy drink logo.”

 

“Damn,” Rafe, the picture of mock awe, slowly claps his hands. “That is a national treasure that needs to be preserved .”

 

Sonny snickers, and they sit there, smiling at each other and revelling in the other’s presence.

 

“In all seriousness, Sonny, I want you to know that I mean what I said. I'm not going to turn my back on you.”

 

Some of the giddiness crumbles.

 

“What if--”

 

“Sonny, I've seen you perform a rendition of 'come come, my lady’ into a wooden spoon. I'm not sure it can get much worse than that.”

 

“Hey, I do pretty good with that song! And--”

 

“Your taste was the objectionable part, not the performance.”

 

“It's 'Butterfly’, by the way.”

 

“I refuse to dignify that song with the respect of using its proper name.”

 

“So if I have objectionable taste, what does that mean about me liking you then?”

 

“...Play that funky music, white boy.”

 

Sonny laughs again.

 

“Joke’s on you, I like that song too.”

 

Rafe hums. “I figured.”

 

“Better get used to it, ‘cause if I'm your boyfriend, I'm totally gonna have to serenade you like that all the time.”

 

“Lucky me,” Rafe says in mock horror.

 

Sonny tries keeping a serious face but can't quite keep the corners of his mouth from creeping up.

 

“I believe in miracles, where you from, you sexy thing, sexy thing you,” he sings, trying to copy the original singer’s voice and failing, shimmying his shoulders to the imaginary beat.

 

“Oh my God.”

 

“I believe in miracles, since you came along, you sexy thing,” he continues, adding his arms to it.

 

“Please stop.”

 

“I can't stop, Rafe, not now now that I've started.”

 

Rafe stares at him in disbelief. “What have I gotten myself into?”

 

“Where did you come from, baby? How did you know I needed you?”

 

Rafe reaches for him and Sonny scoots out of reach and off of the couch, bouncing and dancing.

 

“How did you know I needed you so badly?”

 

He manages to evade Rafe's grasp as Rafe begins following him around the room.

 

“How did you know I'd give my heart gladly? Yesterday I was one of the lonely people. Now you're lying close to me, making lov--mmph!”

 

He gets too cocky, shaking his head, and misses Rafe closing the gap between them and pushing him up against the wall to kiss him soundly. The heat coming off of him, the way his hands bracket his shoulders and back, pulling him close -- Sonny melts.

 

He hums a happy noise as they separate, their foreheads pressed together. They stand in silence, wrapped in each other's arms for a few minutes before Rafe gives him another peck on the lips.

 

“Distract you enough?”

 

Sonny blinks, then chuckles.

 

“From that song, yes, but now I've got another one in my head.”

 

Rafe pulls back to look at him skeptically.

 

“Bah, bah-bah, bah, bah-bah,” Sonny begins singing, swaying his hips.

 

Rafe groans and tries to pull away, but Sonny keeps his arms around his middle, so Rafe only successfully manages to turn around. Sonny uses their new position to hook his chin over Rafe's shoulder and swing their hips together. All this intimate, physical contact between them is giving him a serious head rush.

 

“It's not unusual to be loved by anyone. It's not unusual to have fun with anyone.”

 

“You're lucky I love you,” Rafe grouses, but despite his tone, he merely settles his hands over Sonny's and allows him to move their bodies back and forth.

 

“What do you have against classic Tom Jones?” Sonny nuzzles into his neck, enjoying the smell of shaving cream and cologne, with the smell that's just Rafe underneath. He wonders how long he'd have to hold him before it rubs off on him.

 

The thought of walking around, smelling like Rafe makes his lips spread uncontrollably from ear to ear.

 

“Besides it being a ridiculous song?”

 

“Alright, how about something else?”

 

“... I'd say it can't get any worse, but you constantly exceed all my expectations.”

 

If possible, the grin on Sonny's face and the warmth in his chest grow greater. He mentally goes through his catalogue of known songs to try and find one that Rafe won't find as annoying.

 

With one in mind, he spins Rafe back around, pressing their palms together and waving them around, making Rafe step in time with him to an imaginary beat.

 

“Clock strikes upon the hour and the sun begins to fade, still enough time to figure out how to chase my blues away.”

 

“Much better.”

 

As the music picks up in his head, he begins moving them faster, swinging side to side in more exaggerated sweeps.

 

“Oh, I wanna dance with somebody!”

 

“Sonny.”

 

“I wanna feel the heat with somebody!” He bumps their hips together.

 

“Sonny.”

 

Sonny is giddy, all the laughing and joking and teasing getting him so happy and excited that he isn't thinking clearly. When he gets this way, he has a tendency to speak and act without thinking, and to completely miss signals that other people are sending him.

 

He theorizes that this has a lot to do with why people don't ever ask him out, platonically or otherwise.

 

“Yeah, I wanna dance with somebody!”

 

Why he doesn't process that Rafe's trying to talk to him, to warn him.

 

“With somebody who loves me!”

 

Why he spins the shorter man around too quickly.

 

Why Rafe cries out and almost collapses, Sonny's hold on him the only thing keeping him up. Rafe’s pained yelp cuts through the happy haze clouding his mind, and guilt rushes in to take its place as he gingerly cradles Rafe, all humor out like a candle doused by a sudden rainstorm.

 

“Can you take me to the couch,” Rafe says through gritted teeth.

 

“Yeah, yeah.” There's lines all over Rafe's face and he's barely moving. Sonny slowly lowers him onto the cushions, every muscle under his hands tense. “Can I get you anything? Ice? Medicine?”

 

“I just need a minute.”

 

They sit quietly, Sonny careful to keep some distance between them, lest he accidentally hurt him again. Rafe pants, slumped sideways over the couch’s arm.

 

He just alternates between staring at his hands and at the man next to him, feeling equal parts useless and worthless.

 

“I'm sorry.”

 

“Don't worry about it.” Rafe shifts, leaning tentatively against the back of the loveseat. “I got knocked down yesterday and must've pulled something and it hasn't healed yet. I should've told you when we started dancing.”

 

“No, it's my fault,” and before Rafe can protest he continues, “what happened?”

 

Rafe's mouth twitches downwards, and he looks ready to argue Sonny’s culpability for his injury, but thankfully lets it slide.

 

“If you can believe the clich é , it was some dumbass who stole a woman’s purse, in front of the courthouse , nonetheless. They caught him, but not before he'd rammed through myself, a judge, and channel three's weatherman.”

 

“Bailey was there?”

 

“Some traffic violation.”

 

Sonny chews on his bottom lip, unsure what to say.

“Feelin’ any better?” He asks after a few minutes more have passed.

“It's down to a dull ache, which is definitely an improvement over 'I feel like I'm dying’.”

“Good. Listen,” Sonny begins, his jaw tensing. “I'm an idiot, I know I am--”, and he expects Rafe to interject, but when he doesn't, Sonny has to take a deep breath to steady himself. “--so you gotta treat me like one and tell me things flat-out, like, 'hey, stop, let me go’, you know? I mean, it's not your job to, I guess, babysit me or whatever, and I'll definitely work on not being such a pain in the ass, or back, in this case.”


No laughter meets his pitiful attempt at humor. Getting more uncomfortable by the minute, he picks up an errant pen off of the coffee table and begins fiddling with it.

“But even though I try and work on this stuff all the time, I'm going to screw up, I always do. Everyone tells me I'm too much all the time, and I can't seem to stop it.”

 

I'm broken , he thinks. I'm not worthy of you .

 

I'll hurt you again, but I won't mean to. I never mean to; I only want to make you happy, make you want to keep me around .

All of his time in therapy has never seemed to quite get rid of that internal dialogue, no matter how much he tries.

He just can't stop it.

“So, just--just hit me over the head with a book or something next time, okay?” He forces a strained grin.

Rafe doesn't even attempt to match it, and Sonny feels his slide off of his face.

“You think you're an idiot?”

“Okay, yeah, I know, I've been to college, passed the Bar, I'm not an idiot in that sense, but as far as everything else? I mean, c’mon, you have to admit that on a social level, I'm a complete mess.”

 

“Who told you that.” Rafe's voice is deadly calm. "Who told you those--those things."

"Well no one had to tell me, it's pretty obvious, just look at me--I know you thought I was annoying all the time."

He regrets it as soon as he says it; Rafe looks like he's been slapped.

"First of all, you are one of the least annoying people I've ever known, and if you weren't, why would I choose to spend so much of my time with you? Both in and out of work? Even before I asked you out? Secondly, I'm frequently an ass--”

 

"No you're not," Sonny says firmly.

"And you're not an idiot." Rafe's eyes meet his, challenging him to disagree.

"It's just--you know you thought I was annoying, Rafe. And that's okay, that's not your fault. I said a lot of stupid stuff, did a lot of stupid things."

"Some of the things you did and said, I did find...mildly irritating when I first met you. But that was before I got to know you, Sonny, know how intelligent, kind, and sincere you are. You are certainly not an idiot."

Sonny clicks the pen more aggressively. How can he make Rafe understand?

 

"I've never had friends before!" He blurts out.

Rafe's eyes widen and his mouth snaps shut.

"Uh, that is, before you," Sonny amends weakly. There. Cat's out of the bag. At least, on this.

 

“You've... you've never…?”

He shrugs in an attempt to downplay it.


“Nah, I--I thought I did every now and then, you know? But when no one ever seems to have time to come over, when no one shows up even though you passed out birthday party invitations to everyone in the class…”



He can still feel the deep ache that had settled into his ten-year-old chest as he sat on the front stoop, refusing to leave lest one of his classmates accidentally miss his house. He shrugs again. “I may be slow to take a hint but I'm not that slow.”

 

Despite the clear pain his back is still giving him--if the hiss that escapes is anything to go by--Rafe slides over and closes the gap between them. Sonny is torn between retreating and falling into his arms.

 

“Sonny,” he says, and the one word is loaded with so much weight that releasing it seems to set Rafe in motion. His eyes, shiny with bridled emotion, bounce around Sonny’s face, his hands reaching up to cup Sonny’s cheeks, fingers rubbing small circles on his skin. His mouth can’t seem to decide if it wants to turn up or down, so it twitches first one direction, then another.

 

“People are idiots, Sonny.” It’s said so authoritatively, as if it both explains and solves all of life’s problems.

 

“But--”

 

“But what? Do you think just because every other imbecile passed you over, I should, too?”

 

He doesn’t reply -- he knows his answer will just upset Rafe further.

 

“Do you think I’m intelligent?”

 

“Of course!”

 

What kind of question was that?

 

“Do you think my decisions are sound?”

 

“Yes.”

 

He thinks he can see where this is going.

 

“Despite the fact that my decisions are often against the grain?”

 

“‘Course, but Rafe, this isn’t about--about intellect, you’re talking feelings, and that’s not something you can control with logic.”

 

“True, my love for you I couldn’t change even if I wanted to,” Sonny’s stomach twists not altogether pleasantly. “But my decision to be with you is. And I will choose you every single time, as long as you’ll have me.”

 

He sags, bringing his forehead down onto Rafe’s for the second time that morning.

 

“You’ve clearly been hurt, and think that you don’t deserve to be loved because of that. And I get that, I do,” Rafe grins self-deprecatingly. “But I love you, and I will work to make you realize that you are deserving of love, and adoration, and kindness, because you are all of those things and more. I will do that, and will love you, even if we’re not together.”

 

Words fail him again. Rafe doesn’t appear to need a response, though, so they sit huddled together, Rafe still cupping his face.

 

“How’s your back?”

 

“Mm, most of it’s faded, but this position is beginning to become unbearable, as much as I’m loathe to move.”

 

“Here,” Sonny says quietly as he gently pulls Rafe so that he’s nestled with his back against Sonny’s chest. His arms naturally embrace him and his nose again finds its way back to that spot on Rafe’s neck, smiling despite himself as he feels the A.D.A. relax into him.

 

“Sonny, can I ask a question?” He can feel Rafe’s fingers tracing idyllic patterns on his sleeve.

 

“Hm?” It’s so warm, so comfortable, so right to be here, like this, with Rafe that his eyes have already drifted closed.

 

“I’m probably not going to ask this right, so feel free to correct me, but are you autistic?”

 

Suddenly sleep couldn’t be further away.

 

“What makes you say that?” Stall for time, maybe they can get distracted by something else.

 

“You...don't seem to pick up on social cues and…”

 

“Maybe I'm just socially illiterate?”

 

He knows he just answered the question. Knows it from the way all the muscles pressed against Rafe’s chest tense up. Knows it from the way Rafe slowly, carefully extracts himself from Sonny's arms to move to the edge of the couch, knows it from the look he gives him. He hates that look -- pity, and concern, and an undercurrent of regret.

 

“I'm sorry.”

 

Yeah, he knows, sorry for getting involved with him. He knew it would end this way.

 

“I'm sorry for the way I've treated you in the past.”

 

What?

 

“What?”

 

“Had I known that you weren't being intentionally...condescending...I wouldn't have reacted the way I did. I would've been much more understanding.”

 

Oh.

 

“I was a bully, and you were far too nice to not put me in my place.”

 

Too nice? As if he couldn't think for himself or stand up for himself? He was many things, and autistic--high-functioning or not--was one of them, but he was not a dumb doormat.

 

“Don’t,” he says as firmly as he can.

 

“But--”

 

“No. Don’t. I’m not some delicate flower, or pathetic idiot, okay? I can take care of myself.”

 

“You’re not an idiot,” Rafe says automatically. “And I know you can, Sonny. I’ve never doubted that.”

 

“Then why would you imply that I couldn’t have told you to fuck off if you were being an asshole or a bully?”

 

Rafe winces.

 

“Look,” Sonny sighs, “I don’t want special treatment, alright? Not then, and not now. Especially not from you.”

 

“If you were in a wheelchair, would you consider ramps special treatment? Sonny, I don’t see how I can look back on the way I treated you, knowing about all this, and not feel like shit? And to think how you must’ve felt--”

 

“But I’ve already told you that it didn’t-- doesn’t bother me!”

 

“It does me.

 

Sonny throws his hands into the air and flops backwards. The line of Rafe’s back is tense, and after staring at it for a moment, he can’t resist rubbing at its muscles.

 

“You’re not a bully.”

 

Rafe’s head pivots towards him, but he doesn’t move or speak. There’s disgust twisting his face, but Sonny’s almost positive it’s not aimed at him, so he beats down the squirming in his stomach.

 

“I know what bullies are. I know how they act, how it feels when they come at me.”

 

His fingers splay across the ribs under Rafe’s right shoulder, feeling them shift with each breath.

 

“You know, when I got promoted to detective, I’d already been in law school for a couple of years. So after this promotion, I think, hey, I’ve got some hair on my chest now, you know? I’m not just some dumb beat cop anymore, people are going to start taking me seriously. So you know what I do? I wait until we have a case where I think I can help on the legal side of things. But as soon as I open my mouth, the A.D.A. throws me out of his office.”

 

“So they can watch you leave? It is a pleasing sight.”

 

Rafe’s trying to lighten the mood a little, make him feel better, he can tell, but all he can offer is a humorless laugh.

 

“Next one told me to ‘stay in my lane’ and shut the fuck up. Well, not in those exact words. And...they were all like that, more or less, except one of the Bronx ones actually went outta his way to shit on me, like he had a homing target locked on me. I’d just be sitting there, quietly filling out paperwork and he’d come up and say...ugh, just sounds so stupid now.”

 

“What?”

 

“Just stupid shit, like walking up and trying to tell me what stuff on the forms meant, like I couldn’t read or something, and I--I can’t even remember all of it. Really...really stupid and, yeah, I guess I am a delicate flower, huh?”

 

A large hand settles over his left knee, the warmth and weight of it immediately calming him.

 

“He’s the reason I put in for a transfer to Queens. Only lasted there a week before they shipped me over here. Couldn’t get rid of me fast enough, I guess.” Idly, he pulls a piece of lint off of Rafe’s shirt, flicking it away. “I mean, that--that was a bully. Though I’ve had worse. When I was in fifth grade, I still had a hard time speaking, you know, getting my words in the right order and explaining myself. And the other kids…”

 

He can still hear their chanting in the halls, the teachers ignoring it because he needed to “toughen up”.

 

That hand squeezes, bringing him back to the present.

 

“Point is, I know what a bully is -- should tell you about the Academy sometime -- but you’re not one.”

 

“Sonny,” the disgust is gone, replaced with a look of concentrated seriousness. “As abhorrent as others’ behavior has been, it doesn’t make mine better.

 

His fingers tangle in fabric, absently tugging. How can he explain that Rafe isn’t even in the same zipcode as his past tormentors?

 

He’s suddenly extremely tired, wishing he could curl up against Rafe’s broad back and forget about all the things driving a wedge between them. Right now, Rafe is probably regretting getting tangled up in all of this, getting involved with Sonny and all his problems. Right now Rafe is probably thinking--

 

“Hey,” he says, pulling at Rafe’s shirt with purpose now. “When you were saying all those things, what were you thinking?”

 

“Thinking?”

 

“Yeah, what were you trying to do, were you, uh,” he casts around for the specific language from his classes. “Trying to intentionally inflict emotional distress?”

 

“Of course not,” Rafe says. He pulls up a knee onto the couch, effectively angling himself more towards Sonny.

 

Sonny counts this as a small win.

 

“Then you lack mens rea, so there’s no intent, therefore no wrongdoing!” Sonny proclaims proudly.

 

Rafe scoffs, but his lips quirk upwards.

 

“Maybe no specific intent, but that doesn’t exclude a general intent crime.”

 

“Then in that case, my client pleads not guilty, for duress and mistake of fact.”

 

“Oh?” Rafe scoots closer until his side is pressed against the back of the loveseat, his knee almost in Sonny’s lap. “What were the conditions of duress?”

 

It’s Sonny’s turn to rest his hand on Rafe’s knee, rubbing it lightly through the soft fabric with his thumb.

 

“A third year law student treating the defendant, a Harvard graduate with twenty years experience on the ‘victim’, like he didn’t know the first thing about law.”

 

“Now who lacks mens rea?” Rafe’s hand covers Sonny’s, lightly squeezing. All of this physical contact is starting to warm him back up from the inside out. “Being autistic--”

 

“Which brings us to the mistake of fact,” Sonny interrupts. “‘Cause I happen to know for a fact that my client, had he been aware of that, would not have acted the way he did.”

 

“You do, do you? What’s your evidence?”

 

“My evidence,” Sonny leans into Rafe’s personal space, “is that he’s a good, just man.”

 

“Is that right?” Rafe murmurs, leaning in as well.

 

“Yeah.”

 

There’s less than an inch between their faces, and Sonny can almost taste his lips.

 

“Hm, how about we let your client off with some community... service ?”

“Yeah?” The heat is building to an almost unbearable level, making it hard to see, think, or even breathe. He really wishes Rafe would end their game and just--

 

The electricity that sparks in his lips quickly shoots through his nerves from head to toe as he digs his fingers into Rafe’s shirt, using his grip to keep as little space between them as possible. It’s unnecessary, as Rafe has his torso in an iron vice, one hand twisted into the hair on the back of Sonny’s head, keeping him in place so that he can be devoured mouth-first.

 

God damn.

 

Since when was kissing this fucking good?!

 

Eventually they have to come up for air, but Rafe doesn’t let him move away, instead keeping them nose to nose, lips brushing as they pant, sending shivers up and down Sonny’s spine. Rafe catches his breath first, pressing a hard kiss to Sonny’s bottom lip, which does nothing to stop his wild panting. His lip is sucked into Rafe’s mouth, rolled between teeth as Rafe’s unfairly talented tongue teases it. Sonny’s legs clap together and squeeze, as if Rafe just found a remote control for them.

 

For the first time in his life, he understands what it means to ‘get wet’.

 

Apparently satisfied with how red and plump he’s made it, Rafe presses one last kiss to the lip, further rubbing in the saliva coating it before moving on to his jaw, behind his ear, down his neck.

 

Rafe, ” he moans, mind so fried from burning synapses that he’s completely incapable of doing anything other than holding on for dear life to the solid man half on top of him. That, and squirm, his legs rubbing together -- God , he needs to be touched or he thinks he’ll die .

 

“Love you,” Rafe whispers fiercely into his ear before nibbling at the lobe.

 

There’s no other explanation for how that simple act causes his knees to rise up off of the couch with the seams of his sweat pants embedded into his inner thighs, then that his body was clearly wired for Rafe, and Rafe must’ve had the instruction manual given to him.

 

Which he’d clearly studied.

 

His crotch is throbbing to the point of pain, throbbing with need , need to be touched, need to hump something -- Rafe’s leg, hand, anything.

 

“That’s it, baby, I’ve got you.” Rafe is still whispering into his ear, and Sonny swears he could get off solely on that voice murmuring soft, sweet nothings to him. “Tell me what you want and I’ll do it. God, you look amazing like this, can’t wait to touch you, make you scream, whatever you want, baby.”

 

Wandering fingers are trailing up one of his trembling legs, teasing the skin through the fabric, making the hairs stand up.

 

“Wanna spread these for me, baby?”

 

Sonny nods wordlessly. Anything Rafe wanted, he’d give him.

 

“I want to touch you.”

 

This man is quite clearly as brilliant as he’d originally thought, because that’s the best idea he’s ever heard.

 

“And then we can see if my deepthroating skills have atrophied.”

 

For the first time in his life, he understands what a ‘cold shower’ is. He freezes, and Rafe instantly picks up on this and is up and off of him, not touching him at all.

 

Sonny is both frustrated and grateful for that.

 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Rafe looks genuinely concerned and he immediately feels guilty. “I lost control.”

 

“It’s fine.”

 

Except it isn’t -- Sonny wants his body on him, touching him, caressing him, in-- Sonny blinks and focuses inward at the buzzing through his body to discover yes, he does want Rafe to fuck him. He squirms on the cushion as the mental image takes over his vision.

 

“Are you going to be alright? Would you like me to call a cab, or give you some space?”

 

“No!” He winces -- he hadn’t meant to shout, but every cell is still vibrating with a primal need for the man sitting next to him, despite the frigid current of fear flowing through him. He takes a deep breath, steadying himself. “No, you don’t need to go, I don’t want you to, I’m…” He clenches his jaw, frustration mounting as words fail him again.

 

“Alright,” Rafe says, sounding unconvinced.

 

They lapse into an awkward silence. Repeatedly, Sonny tries speaking, wanting to tell him everything, or at the very least something so that he doesn’t think it’s his fault, but he can’t push anything out. Finally, he gives up and settles for something easier: their conversation from before.

 

“Seriously, though, Rafe, I always knew you didn’t mean those things, not with the way you said them. They were just your way of communicating. Yeah, it was a little…” he casts around for the right word, biting his lower lip, enjoying the feeling of teasing the already swollen flesh. “Sassy, and biting, and all, but you just like to keep people at arm's length so they don’t know you’re all soft and sweet and gooey on the inside.”

 

“Gooey?”

 

“Yeah,” he grins and goes for another kiss. He only intends for something short, but it’s terrifyingly hard to pull himself away from those smooth, almost silky lips.

 

“You’re really okay with all that?” Rafe asks once they manage to part.

 

Sonny knows he’s referring to more than just his pre-dating behavior.

 

“Yup. The apology was nice, though.”

“Hm, don’t get used to it.”

 

One more kiss, this time with just a hint of tongue from Rafe, making Sonny squeeze his legs together again.

 

“Sorry,” Rafe hastily retreats. “I’ll work on getting myself under control.”

 

“The great Rafael Barba, not perfectly in control? Over little ol’ me?” He’s beginning to feel happy and loose again, the tail end of endorphins still flitting around his head.

 

“Sonny, you have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that.”

 

The words, and the intensity with which they’re spoken, make Sonny swallow.

 

Rafe breaks eye contact first, running a hand over his mouth.

 

“So, was that why you didn’t think we should be together?”

 

“Well, partly…”

 

“And you seriously thought I’d leave you for something like that?”

 

Sonny shifts uncomfortably. Yeah, saying it aloud kinda makes it sound like he assumed Rafe would be a jackass. Which kinda negates everything they just talked about.

 

Still, though…

 

“I’m gonna embarrass you. I won’t mean to, but I will. It’s a proven fact.”

 

“I’ll grant you that your pornstache was an embarrassment to even Tom Selleck.” Sonny’s mouth pinches into an amused little grin despite himself. “But even if you grew that back, I’d still stand by you, proudly.”

 

“You’re proud of me?” The roller coaster of emotions swinging back and forth in his chest almost hurts at this point; a warmth comes on so quickly and strongly that his sternum aches.

 

“Always. You’re my pride and joy, Sonny.”

 

That heat propels him forwards, crashing into waiting lips.

 

“You’re the man I love,” Rafe continues after they separate, “and if I have to reassure you of that everyday, I will. I love you.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah, baby -- shit, I’m sorry.”

 

Baby? He'd called him that before, while they were getting hot and heavy, but his brain had been too preoccupied to process it until now. No one but his mother and a few older women in his family have ever called him by a term of endearment, and it’s doing strange things to his already raw insides.

 

“Sorry?”

 

“We haven’t discussed nicknames yet. Sorry if that came across as patronizing, or made you uncomfortable.”

 

“No, no, call me anything you’d like,” Sonny says, still in awe.

 

“...You sure?”

 

“You know, one of these days you’re going to realize that I say what I mean.” He grins cheekily.

 

Rafe grins back and moves forward. They’re nose to nose, smile to smile, when a huff of air brushes over Sonny.

 

“What?”

 

“I hesitate to say.”

 

Rafe must know that Sonny won’t be able to let it go until an explanation is given, what with the sparkle in his eye.

 

“C’mon,” Sonny cajoles, poking him lightly and playfully in his ribs. “I’m your boyfriend, you can tell me anything.” The thrill of using that noun for the first time to describe himself, Rafael Barba’s boyfriend... he almost can’t believe this is all happening.

 

The effect is clearly felt by Rafe as well; from their close proximity, Sonny can see his pupils dilate, can feel the sharp intake of breath.

 

“It’s nothing, I just thought of my own song.”

 

Okay, well, he’s definitely not letting this go.

 

“What? What is it?” He just barely resists the childish urge to say tellmetellmetellme .

 

“I’m not singing it,” Rafe warns, but there’s only mirth in his tone. Sonny nods eagerly, pulling up his legs onto the couch and turning his entire body towards his boyfriend.

 

A clearing of his throat, another short, self-deprecating, quiet laugh, and Rafe begins, his voice carefully keeping monotone, but from the first few words Sonny can still hear the music.

 

“Well you've heard about love givin' sight to the blind, my baby's lovin' cause the sun to shine, he's my sweet little thang, he's my pride and joy, he's my sweet little baby, I'm his little lover boy.”

 

Questions and proclamations build in his throat -- Rafe listens to this kind of music? He loves this song. What would Rafe sound like singing it? Could he get away with recording him so he has a verbal record of Rafe saying ‘thang’?

 

He keeps silent, though, not wanting to disrupt Rafe and make him stop.

“Yeah I love my baby, heart and soul, love like ours won't never grow old; he's my sweet little thang, he's my pride and joy, he's my sweet little baby, I'm his little lover boy.”

 

Rafe is staring intently at him, but Sonny only offers a sweet and probably sappy smile, one which threatens to mirror on Rafe’s face.


“Yeah I love my baby, he's long and lean, you mess with him, you'll see a man get mean.”

 

Sonny doesn’t miss the steel in Rafe’s eyes, and he can easily imagine the man defending him. He also knows without a doubt that he wouldn’t hesitate to do the same.

 

“He's my sweet little thang, he's my pride and joy, he's my sweet little baby, I'm his little lover boy. Well I love my baby, like the finest wine, stick with him until the end of time. He's my sweet little thang, he's my pride and joy, he's my sweet little baby, I'm his little lover boy.”

 

His hands are scooped up into Rafe’s larger ones, and pressed firmly to lips. Sonny can feel the promise in those words and it steals the air from his lungs, leaving them burning.

 

“Love you,” Rafe tells him again, that fierceness still in his gaze. Sonny just swallows and nods, still overwhelmed.

 

“You really think that way? About me? That I’m your...baby?”

 

Growing up, they’d used to watch romantic movies, and they’d always include scenes where the male love interest had swept the woman into his arms and called her his baby. There was always heated discussions afterwards among his sisters as to whether or not parts of the film, including those scenes, objectified and infantilized women. Sonny usually kept his opinions to himself, especially after he started transitioning, because he didn’t think he was allowed to have a dog in that fight.

 

After all, he couldn’t ever see anyone even thinking about calling him that.

 

But now, now he wants nothing more than to curl up in Rafe’s lap and be called all the sweet pet names that Rafe can think of, his sisters’ upturned noses be damned; it just made him feel safe .

 

“Of course.” Rafe uses his grip on Sonny’s hands to pull him closer so he can speak into his ear in a low, quiet voice. “You’re my beautiful, brilliant, blue-eyed baby boy.” He punctuates the declaration with a kiss to the area where cheek and ear meet, and dear Lord , Sonny’s going to need a new pair of underwear soon.

 

“C’mere,” Rafe says in that same sultry tone. Sonny allows himself to be turned and repositioned until they’re sitting across the length of the loveseat, Sonny nestled in Rafe’s arms and legs.

 

His chest feels like it’ll simultaneously melt and burst.

 

“I love you, Sonny.”

 

His chest chooses to melt into Rafe’s embrace, eyes drifting closed, nose filled with that familiar scent.

 

There’s humming in his ear and fingers in his hair when he opens his eyes next.

 

“Hey, sweetheart.”

 

“Mmm,” he moans, twisting and stretching. “Did I fall asleep?”

 

“Only for twenty minutes.”

 

“Sorry.”

 

Rafe presses two fingers under his chin and tilts his head so he can give Sonny a peck on the lips.

 

“No, I’m sorry.”

 

“Please don’t tell me--”

 

“No, not that. I’m sorry for the way I handled that earlier. You’re right, it was disrespectful of me to act like you can’t think for yourself or make your own decisions.”

 

There’s those warm and fuzzy feelings again, making his toes curl into the armrest and his mouth split into a smile from ear to ear.

 

“One ‘I’m right’ and several apologies from Rafael Barba in one day? Did I wake up in the right universe?”

 

“You’re right more than just once in awhile, Sonny.” Rafe gently pushes his bangs back and out of his eyes. Sonny’s smile grows softer. “You’re an extremely intelligent man.”

 

“You just can’t help it, can you?”

 

Rafe blinks down at him in confusion.

 

“Now that you’ve started letting out your sweetness, it’s opened this floodgate, and now it’s all spilling out. Oh, hey, it’s okay,” Sonny says soothingly as Rafe shifts uncomfortably and avoids meeting his eyes. “I love it. I love all of it, please don’t put up walls again.” He kisses across the stubble lining Rafe’s jaw. “Love the mushiness, and sentimentality, and everything.”

 

Lips catch his own and they slowly dance together, a trace of passion still burning between them but overshadowed by a more gentle warmth.

 

“I love you, Sonny,” Rafe whispers into his mouth, voice filled with awe.

 

They lay there in each other’s arms, lazily kissing, noses brushing. Sonny feels like he’s draped in a heavy blanket of contentment.

 

“How do you know you love me?”

 

The question is rolling off of his tongue before he even realizes it might exist.

 

Rafe doesn't get upset, doesn't bat an eye at the rude question, and Sonny has to wonder how much of that is him being used to Sonny's social quaffs, or him now knowing that his bluntness and lack of finesse is often beyond his control.

 

“Now, or when I first realized it?”

 

His chin digs into Rafe's sternum as he answers.

 

“Um, either? Both?”

 

“Well, do you remember when you told me you'd taken the Bar?”

 

“Yeah...that was what, a year ago?”

 

“Yes. And for a moment there I thought you were going to chew me out, or say adiós or something--”

 

“What, like I was using you?”

 

“...”

 

“You thought I was using you that whole time?” Sonny rises up off of Rafe's chest, holding his gaze with furrowed brows, though he can tell Rafe would rather look away.

 

“I'd always considered it a possibility.”

 

Pieces are clicking together in his mind, pieces of a puzzle he wasn't even aware he'd been trying to solve.

 

“You hold everyone at arm's length and try to push us away because...because you're so sweet on the inside you think people will use you, and run you over, and spit you back out.”

 

The muscles beneath his arms tense up.

 

“People have, haven't they?”

 

“Haven't they done so to you as well?” Rafe shoots back. “And you didn't let it effect you like that.”

 

He shrugs, relaxing and snuggling back up to Rafe.

 

“‘Cause I'm me and you're you. I have my dad, and mom, and sisters, and a boatload of aunts and uncles and cousins who I know are always on my side.”

 

“I'm not bereft of loved ones, Sonny.”

 

“‘Course not. But even when you've had your ma and grandma, you kept a lot of this stuff to yourself ‘cause you don't wanna burden them, right? And I know you,” Sonny pokes him lightly in the ribs, “you wanna be the strong one taking care of everybody else.”

 

“Should I be expecting to see letters to Fordham Medical School sometime soon, Dr. Carisi.”

 

That’s bait to change the subject, and while he doesn’t want to let it go, Sonny decides to put a pin in it until Rafe feels comfortable opening up to him about it.

 

“Fordham doesn’t have a medical program,” he says. “Though they do have a post-baccalaureate pre-health program. Speaking of health, how’s your back? Am I hurting it by laying on you?”

 

“So long as you don’t go slinging me around the living room again any time soon, I’ll be fine,” Rafe smirks.

 

Sonny smirks back.

 

“Just let me know when I can, then.”

 

“I hate to disappoint you, Sonny, but I’m not much of a dancer.”

 

“That’s alright, I won’t judge.” He puts extra weight into his words, hoping to convey to Rafe that he’s free to be himself around Sonny.

 

“...You really wouldn’t, would you,” Rafe says, gently running the back of a hand down the side of Sonny’s face.

 

Sonny preens both from the physical contact and the knowledge that Rafe heard his message.

 

“Here,” Rafe nudges him to get up. He acquiesces, watching Rafe stand and cross to the entertainment center, phone in hand. Rafe fiddles with something out of view, then the sounds of soft guitars floods the apartment.

 

He instantly recognizes it as the tune Rafe was humming to him while he slept not ten minutes ago.

 

“C’mere.”

 

Numbly, he takes the hand held out to him, allowing it to pull him off the couch and in close to Rafe’s solid warmth, arms arranged into what he instantly recognizes as a ballroom dancing position: his right hand entwined with Rafe’s and raised up level to his shoulder, left placed on Rafe’s shoulder while Rafe wraps his right arm around Sonny’s waist, settling the hand on Sonny’s lower back.

 

With Rafe’s eyes burning into his, his back tingling underneath Rafe’s palm, the shorter man begins leading them in a slow, steady dance that’s mostly just rocking side to side.

 

Sonny’s been to dances -- alone -- before, even prom his senior year, but he’s never danced . That he’s getting to experience a first on a day where he’s had so many already, with the same wondrous man, is almost too much. Almost too magical.

 

Then Rafe opens his mouth and begins singing along with the calm voice coming from the speakers, and Sonny thinks he could cry.

 

Who really is the sap in this relationship?

 

“Come a little bit closer, hear what I have to say. Just like children sleepin', we could dream this night away.”

 

Damn, Rafe can sing , is his first thought.

“But there's a full moon risin', let's go dancin' in the light. We know where the music's playin', let's go out and feel the night.”

 

He never would’ve pegged this kind of slow, nearly folksy song as their brash, colorful ADA’s type of music, but hearing it now, he can’t see how it wouldn’t be, is his second.

“Because I'm still in love with you, I want to see you dance again, because I'm still in love with you, on this harvest moon.”

 

He’s too busy trying to remember how to breathe to have a third.

 

“When we were strangers, I watched you from afar.”

 

Sonny’s heart clenches. Had he really watched Sonny from afar? He’d watched Rafe, that’s for sure, but the idea that Sonny had been good enough to catch Rafe’s eye even before they’d gotten to know one another?

 

It’s probably just a song lyric, but, still...

 

“When we were lovers, I loved you with all my heart.”

 

Don’t cry, he orders himself, but he can feel the tears gathering anyways.

“But now it's gettin' late, and the moon is climbin' high; I want to celebrate, see it shinin' in your eye.”

 

His head falls forward, coming to rest against Rafe’s, all the while never breaking eye contact.

 

“Because I'm still in love with you, I want to see you dance again. Because I'm still in love with you, on this harvest moon.”

 

This must be what love feels like, he decides. Rafael Barba holding him close as they sway softly to music on a Sunday morning: love.


“Because I'm still in love with you, I want to see you dance again. Because I'm still in love with you, on this harvest moon.”


The music continues for a moment longer before coming to an end, but while they come to a standstill, they keep their position.


“I love you.”

 

No matter how much work he puts into trying to fix it, his mouth randomly, and without his permission, often spouts off phrases he didn’t even know his brain had put together, usually earning him either consternation or reproach; once in the form of a memorable ‘ booyah ’.

 

But everything he says in those moments is true, at least to Sonny.

 

So when those three little words he’s said so many thousands of times to family, but only ever dreamed of speaking in a relationship slip out, he doesn’t question them; he knows.

 

He loves Rafael Barba, son of Lucia Barba, Harvard Graduate and A.D.A. for Manhattan SVU.

 

“I love you,” he repeats.

 

Rafe doesn't respond, just stares at him with wide eyes.

 

“I love you, Rafe.”

 

“Sonny, you don't have to…”

 

“Don't have to what? Love you?” Sonny shrugs and pulls Rafe closer. “Kinda too late for that, eh counselor?”

 

“Don’t feel pressured--”

 

“Hey, what’d we already discuss about me being a big boy, capable of making his own decisions?”

 

The tension in Rafe’s frame fades away and he allows himself to be drawn into another, all too short kiss.

 

“Mi amor,” he says lowly as they part.

 

Whatever response Sonny’s mind is cooking up is interrupted by the loud rumbling of Rafe’s stomach, and the delighted laughter from Sonny that soon follows it.

 

“What say we order something, stuff ourselves, have a midday snooze, and then I’ll make you that raspberry cake.”

 

“God, I love you.”

 

Rafe yanks him in for a brief, passionate make-out, giving him a smolder -- and yeah, he definitely needs new underwear now -- on the way to his drawer of takeout menus in the kitchen. When Rafe returns, Sonny is back on the loveseat, long, gangly legs stretched out onto the coffee table, controller in hand.

 

“Pizza will be here in twenty,” Rafe announces, gracefully dropping onto the couch right next to Sonny.

 

“Awesome. So were you still playing this?” He waves the controller in the air in front of them.

 

“With you asleep on top of me I was stuck, wasn’t anything else to do. You can take it back if you want.”

 

“Nah, I'm good,” Sonny says, a happy little bubble bursting inside him that his boyfriend -- will he ever get used to calling him that? -- actually enjoys his video game. “Hey, does it bother you that I don’t use nicknames?”

 

Rafe raises an eyebrow.

 

“Okay, not nicknames , but, like, pet names, I guess.”

 

“Not at all. Some people use them, some don’t. Why, does it bother you that I do?”

 

Hell no!”

 

The vehement denial startles a laugh out of Rafe.

 

“Okay, baby,” he grins, then blinks, and the grin becomes mischievous.

 

Sonny loves it when he gets to see how devious Rafe can be.

 

“You could always use the stereotypical, gay-younger-man-addressing-an-older-man term.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“...Daddy.”

 

He doubles over, grabbing on to Rafe’s knees to keep from falling to the floor. When he sits back up, wiping tears out of his eyes, Rafe is still grinning, clearly proud of himself.

 

“I don’t even call my actual Dad that,” Sonny chuckles, leaning into Rafe’s space and adopting a absurd, faux-seductive air. “But for you, Daddy , I’ll do anything.

 

Rafe’s lips drop from their self-satisfied smile into an ‘o’, and Sonny knows why: calling Rafe that, aloud, hadn’t been the silly thing they’d both thought it’d be.

 

“You want me to call you that, Daddy?” He’s still speaking in a low, seductive voice, but there’s nothing fake about it now.

 

“Yeah, baby, yeah,” Rafe can’t take his eyes, darkening with arousal, off of him.

 

It makes Sonny feel powerful.

 

“Can I sit in your lap, Daddy?”

 

A wounded noise escapes from somewhere in Rafe’s throat.

 

“Anything you want, baby.”

 

Slowly, carefully, he slings a leg up and over his boyfriend’s, unceremoniously plopping down on top of him. In the back of his mind, he wonders if he’s actually pulling off this whole ‘sexy’ thing -- he’s pretty sure he’s being more ridiculous than anything (like usual), but Rafe doesn’t seem to be complaining, so he’s not going to worry about it...too much, anyways.

 

“Can I touch you?” The awe in his voice, the wide eyes drinking in every detail of him like he’s about to disappear at any second, the hands hovering over his waist…apparently Rafe finds his dorkiness alluring, finds Sonny himself captivating.

 

Maybe his Ma was right, that God hadn’t made him ‘the sweetest, most loving angel’ and left him without someone to love and cherish, someone to cherish him back.

 

And when his dad said that, while there’d always be people who would use, abuse, and leave him, people who’d leave him on the outskirts of their lives, he shouldn’t give up on finding someone who valued him, saw him, put his needs ahead of their own -- well, he must’ve been talking about the man underneath him.

 

Soulmates were a pagan idea, a nun had taught him once, heralding back to Zeus and the ancient Greeks, and was therefore of the devil. But, she’d amended, that didn’t mean the Lord’s plan for each of them didn’t include someone with whom they could show the world God’s love. So Rafe wasn’t his soulmate, his other half, but...maybe...he was his gift from the Heavenly Father.

 

Which would mean he’s Rafe’s.

 

Will he want Sonny once he takes off the gift-wrapping and discovers that he isn’t what he thought he’d be?

 

“Sonny?”

 

He snaps out of his thoughts, decision made.

 

“Sorry.” He guides Rafe’s hands to his body where they automatically curl securely around him, making him feel as safe and secure as he does every time he pulls his weighted blanket over him at night. “I need to tell you something before we go any further, something about me you should know.”

 

“Alright,” Rafe agrees easily, the green in his eyes more readily visible as he moves from arousal to calm openness.

 

“I…” And there’s that block in his head, the thing that shuts down his tongue, that makes him feel like he’s trying to fight his way through some strong, invisible rubber membrane. He tries again, but this time barely a puff of air comes out. Groaning in frustration, he squeezes his eyes shut, concentrating, fighting.

 

“Sonny.” Rafe’s thumbs rub soothing little circles into his sides, bringing him back to the present. “Sonny, it’s alright.”

 

“But…”

 

“I’ll be here when you’re ready to tell me. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

There’s still a niggling in the back of his head that whispers that Rafe won’t want him once he knows, that every moment in their relationship where he doesn’t know will just compound how angry Rafe will be at discovering Sonny’s wasted his time.

 

“I love you,” Rafe says with such certainty and finality that it pushes those thoughts back into the dark recesses of his mind.

 

“I love you, too,” he replies, suddenly overcome with exhaustion again.

 

“Would you like to watch me keep playing while we wait for pizza?”

 

“Yeah,” Sonny nods, sliding off of Rafe’s lap as his boyfriend turns the TV back on. A thought hits him, and he nudges Rafe with his elbow. “Hey.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“If gay men call each other 'Daddy’, do gay women call each other 'Mommy’?”

 

Rafe erupts into a fit of laughter that seems to fill up the entire apartment. Sonny can't help but grin himself, pleased that he's able to elicit such a reaction.

 

“You're asking the wrong person,” Rafe says when he gets himself back under control.

 

“I'll Google it later.”

 

“Thanks for that, though.” Rafe stretches his neck to plant a short peck on Sonny's cheek.

 

“Anytime.”

 

They stare happily into one another's eyes for a moment longer before the sound of Sonny's video game breaks through his thoughts.

 

“Your farm's waiting,” he reminds Rafe, though he doesn't tear his gaze away just yet. And yeah, he's sentimental, too, cause he's pretty sure he can see a future in those green eyes.

 

A future of dinners, and cab rides, and gardening, and bickering, and kisses, and lazy mornings spent napping, and playing Harvest--

 

“You still haven't named the dog yet?! I thought you were playing while I was asleep?!”

 

“I was , I just couldn't decide!”

 

“Rafe, it's just the dog --”

 

“That I'll have for the entire game.”

 

“...You're lucky I love you. Now please, just name him. Name him Sonny for all I care.”

 

“Fine, I’ll name him Baby.”

 

“That works too. Dear Lord , what are you gonna do when you get to the horse?”

 

“There's a horse?”

 

“Please, for the love of all that's holy, please let me pick names from now on?”

 

“As long as you don't name the horse 'Daddy’.”

 

“...”

 

“You were, weren't you?”

 

“I love you, Rafe.”

 

“No you are not--mmph--distracting--mmph--me--mmph--from--mmm--come here, you ridiculous man.”

 

Silently he prays, prays to whatever Saint is listening, that this, here in Rafe's arms, will indeed be his future.