Rafael Barba hated tea.
He’d been a coffee man with his first taste at the age of fifteen. A dark cup of simple brewed coffee, steaming in a lilac porcelain mug snuck to him by his abuelita. Her dark eyes were quick and playful as she mimed for him to be quiet, both of them fully aware how his mother would feel about her son getting caffeine at such a young age. It had been closing in on midnight, he was prepping for his PSATs - the first of dozens of tests that would get him into the Ivy League, out of the Bronx. The cup of coffee was just another facet of his abuelita’s support - a blaring neon sign that advertised her love for him, her belief in the mouthy teenager who rolled his eyes too much and believed he was smarter than everyone else.
The first sip was a revelation, the second a breath of fresh air.
He’d never been the same.
That was thirty years ago and here he was, ordering his fifth cup of tea in two weeks. English breakfast tea, this time, brewed strong. This was a shot in the dark, honestly, after more than one failed rendezvous with other brews. Black, green, white - all terrible. Rooibos made him grimace. Chai was better but made him sneeze half the morning, much to Carmen’s amusement. All fell flat, none of them stoked the same fire that coffee did. Which didn’t do much to explain why he was standing in line now, placing his order with a slim, blue-eyed blonde from Staten Island.
“What’s your name?” she asked him, smiling but brusque because the shop was packed and it didn’t look like business was going to lighten up any time soon.
Gina Carisi, the owner.
“Rafael,” he replied, signing his credit card receipt as she marked it down on the cup and handed it off to a taller, similarly slender blue-eyed blond from Staten Island. One with swept back hair and a narrow waist and dimples that could render him mute. Gina Carisi’s younger brother, the closest thing he’d managed to find to a streak of human sunshine.
“Got it, Gina,” the man replied with a grin in Rafael’s direction.
“Thanks,” he breathed, moving to the side to let the next customer come forward.
Maybe also to improve the view without the cash register in the way.
Maggie’s had opened a month ago to rave reviews, a bright and modern tea shop to combat the ever-encroaching plague of Starbucks on every corner. He passed it almost every morning but never would have stepped inside were it not for Rita, who was trying to make the switch to green tea because it was healthier than coffee, supposedly. Remarkably, it had done so very little for her mood that Rafael doubted it was healthier in any sense of the word.
He wanted to mock her but had been struck mute once Rita’s cup had been handed off to a statuesque blond with pink lips and a loud laugh who made such direct eye contact with Rafael that his whole body flushed hot and he stammered the rest of his sentence. It lasted only a moment, his life had jumpstarted again once Rita thanked the man for her drink and headed for the door, but the damage was done.
That was two weeks ago, and the situation hadn’t improved at all.
Rafael now let his eyes follow the curve of the man’s broad shoulders as he worked, admiring slender muscles and pale forearms. If he stared a little long at the black apron slung low on his hips, well. He could hardly be blamed. Not with the way those hips seemed to jut of their own accord, keeping Rafael’s eyes well and truly glued.
His name is Sonny.
Rafael hears the owner say it a lot. In thanks, in aggravation. In affection when she asks him to grab the phone. In ordering him to get out of her way behind the bar. It’s ridiculous that Rafael paid such close attention but here he was. Waiting on a drink he won’t ingest just for a smile.
Maybe his life was sad.
Maybe it was time he found some other source of fulfillment in his life, so that he wasn’t forced to pay for drinks he wouldn’t enjoy if it meant a five-second interaction with a man ten years his junior. A gorgeous man. A gorgeous man with a wide smile and a loud laugh who gets bossed around by his sister nearly constantly and still manages to look at her like she’s his hero and Jesus Christ he needed a hobby.
“Here you go,” Sonny said, breaking him out of his traitorous thoughts.
The man reached over the bar, labeled cup in hand, sinew pulled taut and long fingers wrapped over the dark scrawl of his name and Rafael feels his pulse thud heavily. They made a second or two of eye contact and Rafael’s stomach swooped low, breath unsteady. Sonny smiled like he knew. He handed over the cup with one of those wide grins and Rafael didn’t know if he smiled or nodded or what because suddenly the cup is in his hand and he was headed out the door, straight white teeth flashing behind his eyes.
He needed hobbies.
He took a sip from the cup, encouraged by the dark scent wafting from the top. It was scalding hot but it still managed to taste like leaves boiled in water… which it was. It was bolder than his other choices but still not anything that appealed to him.
“Rafael!” he heard when he was almost halfway down the block and he turned to see the object of his recent obsession jogging down the sidewalk, other pedestrians parting to make way. His unfortunate heart was forced to pick up its pace again without even having the opportunity to recover from the last time he’d laid eyes on the man.
“Hey, sorry,” Sonny gasped, catching up to him. His thin white Henley was clinging to his shoulders and Rafael had a hard time looking up, “I know we never really had an actual introduction but with your name written on the cup…”
“It was a safe assumption,” Rafael agreed.
“I’m Sonny,” he said, offering a hand that Rafael took. He tried not to get off on the warm skin of Sonny’s palm as it met his because there was sad and then there was sad.
“So, uh… you don’t like tea at all, do you?”
Sonny looked at him knowingly.
“No,” he finally sighed. “Not really.”
“I figured. You make the same face every time,” Sonny noted and Rafael had the good grace to look ashamed.
“Look, it’s not you-”
“No, I know. I took you for a coffee guy the first time you walked in the door.”
He noticed him the first time he walked in the door?
“You’re, uh… you’re not wrong.”
“So, what?” Sonny asked playfully, “Just come in for the atmosphere?”
Rafael smirked and let his eyes drift over him.
“Something like that.”
Sonny flushed the most beautiful pink he’d ever seen and huffed a nervous laugh.
“Hey, uh, can you wait here just a second?”
“Yes. I- yes.”
He couldn’t, really.
He had court in an hour.
But there he stayed, on the sidewalk, because a smiling pair of blue eyes asked him to.
That was his problem.
A lack of hobbies.
True to his word, Sonny came back out a little over five minutes later, a new cup in hand. Rafael balked at first, about to insist that he didn’t need his drink replaced, but Sonny’s grin was wide and his eyes were bordering on flirtatious so he just handed over the cooling breakfast tea without a fight and accepted the new cup.
The new cup that smelled like coffee, deep and dark.
He took a sip and if the pleased look on Sonny’s face wasn’t enough to make his knees go weak the latte in his hands definitely was.
A bold espresso roasted beautifully, tempered with steamed milk with what tasted like the barest hint of vanilla to round it off. It was… it was perfect. His blood sang with it, his taste buds swooned. If his mouth hadn’t been full he might have done something stupid and proposed to Sonny Carisi on the spot.
“Oh, my God.”
It was the best he could do.
Sonny ducked his head, pleased.
“Yes,” Rafael said emphatically. “I didn’t realize you made coffee, too.”
“You would have if you’d looked at the menu even once,” Sonny teased and he smirked in response.
“I had my eyes on something better,” Rafael assured him and that blush was back. It might be the death of him. “Still… this is amazing. Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” he said honestly and Rafael took another drink, maintaining eye contact so the next time he moaned at the taste of the latte on his tongue he got to see Sonny’s eyes widen in surprise and darken in interest.
“I’ll, uh- I’ll let you go. I’m sure you’re probably busy,” Sonny said, pulling his eyes up from Rafael’s mouth to smile. “You have a good day, okay?”
“I will. Thank you,” he said and watched Sonny turn back toward the entrance of his sister’s store. He had almost let Sonny get away before a thought gripped him and he yelled out, “How do I order this again?!”
Sonny turned, still walking.
“Check the cup!” he called back and then disappeared.
Rafael looked down at the plain white cup, seeing a name other than his own printed on the side. Below that, a series of seven digits that had his mouth turning up in a smile.
Maybe he didn’t need hobbies after all.