Rafael looked up from his papers just as a coat and backpack dropped onto the seat next to him, making the man’s question unnecessary. He bit back a sigh and moved his briefcase underneath his feet.
The other man took his time settling into his seat, pulling out an excessive number of pens and paper for a two-hour law lecture. As soon as he was satisfied he was sufficiently prepared, he leaned over to Rafael. “Hey,” he whispered. “I’m Sonny.”
Rafael dutifully shook his hand. “Rafael.”
“Rafael,” Sonny repeated with a smile. “Are you with the firm?”
He gave a derisive shake of his head. The lecture was being given by a former partner with Folsom & Klein, and from what Rafael could pick up, he seemed to have brought half the firm with him. He was familiar with the firm from when he worked in Manhattan, and he didn't have a high opinion of it. “I’m an ADA, with the Brooklyn DA’s office.”
Sonny brightened. “An ADA? I’ve been thinking about becoming an ADA, I’ll have to catch up with you later, find out some more.”
Rafael hummed non-committedly. He was hoping that once the lecture was over, he’d be talking with more important people than an over-eager kid who looked like he was barely out of college.
Sonny looked like he was about to say more, but fortunately the lecturer arrived and Rafael was spared the torture of more small talk.
Rafael grabbed another glass of wine from the table, ignoring the judgmental look the waiter cast him. Really, he couldn’t be blamed. The only thing drier than the cheap wine had been the lecture itself, and the audience of lower tier defense attorneys that had filtered out into the drinks reception offered little chance for networking. If nothing else, he could at least try to numb his bad mood for free.
He was about halfway through the glass when it was snatched from his hand, and Rita crossed in front of him with a smirk, tipping his own glass at him before taking a sip and grimacing.
“Typical,” she muttered, handing it back to him. “So, what did you think?”
He felt a snort effectively communicated his thoughts.
She chuckled. “I have to agree. I was this close to walking out, but I was promised a free drink.”
“It’s not worth the price,” he said, taking a harsh gulp of wine.
“Doesn’t seem to be slowing you down.”
They shared a grin, and in the moment he felt a familiar twist of regret that their career paths had caused something of a rift between them. His gaze slipped away, and he hid his fading smile behind another sip of bad wine.
Rita shifted away in response, almost automatically, subtly increasing the distance between them. “So, why are you lurking silently in a corner?” She asked, after a brief silence. “I thought you’d be out there, shaking hands and making sure everyone knows your name.”
“There’s nobody out there worth making the effort for.”
He shrugged. “What about you? Shouldn’t you be handing your card to anyone who looks rich and capable of violence?”
“Everyone is capable of violence,” she said in a low tone, looking at him out of the side of her eye. “But I already made the rounds while you were over here scowling. Actually, I met someone you might...” She trailed off as she looked around the room until her eyes landed on someone standing on the edges of a group in the middle of the room. “Mr. Carisi!”
“Oh, Jesus,” Rafael muttered, recognizing him as his seatmate from the lecture.
Sonny made his way over to them, a brief look of surprise crossing his face when he saw Rafael. “Miss Calhoun?”
Rita glanced at him with a sly smile that Rafael recognized as the one she used when she was about to blindside him, and his eyes narrowed.
“I just wanted to introduce you to someone. You mentioned an interest in the District Attorney’s office?”
“Yeah. I mean, I’m interested in everything, but…”
“Great.” Rita cut him off, turning back to Rafael with that smile. “This is my friend Rafael Barba, he works for the Brooklyn DA’s office. I’m sure he’d be thrilled to answer any questions you might have.”
“Oh, we’ve met, actually,” Sonny said, arching an eyebrow at Rafael.
“Perfect!” Rita said brightly. “Then I should leave you both to it.”
Rafael stared at her with all the restrained hatred he could muster. She smiled back sweetly, then walked off without a backward glance, leaving Rafael with his wide eyed new companion.
He took another gulp of wine. The burn would suggest it really wasn’t made to be drunk that way.
“So,” he said, making a reluctant attempt to be genial. “Carisi, was it?”
“Sonny, please.” He grinned and held out his hand. “It’s nice to meet you properly, counselor.”
Rafael forced a smile and took his hand.
“My friend was just telling me about you, actually.” Sonny glanced over his shoulder, still holding Rafael’s hand. “About your work. You have a pretty impressive reputation.” He was leaning a little too close into Rafael’s space, close enough that Rafael could see the slight flush in his cheeks from the wine. He dropped his hand and took a deliberate step back.
“Thank you,” he said blandly. “What did you think of the lecture?”
“Oh, it was great! Really interesting.” He must have caught the look in Rafael’s eye because his smile faltered. “I don’t get many chances to go to things like this.”
"What brought you to this one?"
"A friend. He thought I'd be interested."
"He didn't sit with you?"
"No, he was sitting with some colleagues. He - I didn't think it would be appropriate."
"Oh." It was odd, but Rafael wasn't interested in examining the dynamics of two strangers. "Well, if he suggests anything like this again I suggest you ignore him."
Sonny frowned. “You didn't think the lecture was good? I thought he sounded like he knew his stuff.”
“He did,” Rafael acknowledged. “For the most part, anyway. It was the delivery.”
“Oh, so you’re a drama critic?”
Rafael bristled. “It’s not drama, it’s part of the job to be able to speak well, to be engaging. You can’t win round a jury by boring them to death.”
“Shouldn’t you be winning them round with the law?”
Something in his tone made Rafael feel like he was being teased, but he wasn’t in the mood to play along. “Of course. But sometimes the law is open to interpretation.”
Sonny nodded thoughtfully, and Rafael thought he was about to whip out a notepad.
“Where do you study, Sonny?”
“Oh, I don’t, not yet. I’m actually a cop.” He laughed at Rafael’s expression. “Don’t worry, I’m not here to bust anyone. I’ve always been interested in the law. It’s part of the reason I became a cop, though directing traffic isn’t exactly the dream. I’m planning to take a few years to work my way up to detective, then go to night school for my law degree.”
“That’s ambitious.” Rafael said, impressed more than anything by his confidence.
Sonny shrugged. It was deliberately self-effacing and didn’t quite hide his pride at the compliment. “I might have done it in a more straightforward way if things were different, but we can’t all rely on mommy and daddy to pay our school fees.”
The comment was aimed generally, and Rafael was sure that Sonny didn’t have the gall to be quite so passive aggressive to his face, but it was a sensitive point, and it riled him all the same.
“No, we can’t. In fact, some of us were good enough to get full scholarships.”
Sonny smirked, like this was banter, though Rafael certainly wasn’t engaging. “Good for some of us.”
“Right,” he muttered. He turned his back sharply, putting his now empty glass on the bar. “I should be going.”
“No, wait.” Sonny stepped forward, putting a hand up but stopping short of touching him. “I said something wrong, didn’t I?” He smiled apologetically when Rafael simply raised an eyebrow. “Let me buy you a drink.”
“The drinks are free.”
“Okay.” He stretched out the word with just a touch of irritation. “Then let me hand you a free drink as a gesture.”
Rafael sighed with deliberate impatience. “There’s really no need.”
“Right. Okay.” Sonny looked a little relieved, but his seemingly permanent smile remained. “Well, maybe we can catch up some other time, talk more about working for the District Attorney.”
Rafael nodded and sidled past him. “I’d be happy to,” he muttered, confident that he was unlikely to cross paths with Sonny Carisi again.
Someone was staring at him. Normally he would have brushed it off, but he’d caught the guy’s eye a few times and he could swear he knew him. He just couldn’t place his face. He hoped it wasn't from court.
“You should be drinking something a little gentler on the throat.”
Rafael didn’t try to hold back his smug smile. “Hello, Rita.”
“Rafael. That was certainly a bold play.”
“I like to make an impression.”
She sat down opposite him with an exaggerated sigh. “Well, impress on me a drink. I need to get rid of the image of you getting choked out with a belt.” She followed his eyes over her shoulder. “What are you looking at?”
He tutted at her obviousness. “I recognize that guy, the one in the henley. I’m trying to figure out how.”
“We met him at a lecture five years ago.”
Rafael frowned. “How in God’s name do you remember that?”
“That’s what happens when you make an effort to engage with people, Rafael. Maybe if you tried to make conversation with the little folk…”
“He did some work with my old firm a few years ago. Mostly photocopying, but he knew one of the higher ups and sat in on a few meetings. I think he was a law student. Very keen, if I remember correctly.”
Rafael paused, thinking back. “Is he from Staten Island?”
Rita shrugged. “Somewhere with an accent. I notice I still don’t have a drink.”
Rafael rolled his eyes and drained his drink before standing up and heading to the bar. He ordered and was waiting for the barman to return when someone dropped onto the stool next to him.
“I know you, don’t I?”
Rafael fixed Sonny with a stare. He would like to think he was memorable. “Rafael Barba,” he said, his tone cold. “I'm reliably informed that we met at a lecture several years ago.”
Rafael tried to hide his offence. “About ethics in justice. You sat next to me, there was bad wine.”
“I don’t…oh.” A smirk broadened slowly across his face. “Rafael Barba, ADA from Brooklyn.” He leaned back in his stool, squinting at him. “If I remember correctly, you were kind of a dick.”
“If I remember correctly, you didn’t seem that upset. In fact." He hesitated before continuing, but he was never one to dance around what he wanted to say. "In fact at one point I thought you might have been flirting with me.”
Sonny's eyes grew wide. “Oh, shit.” He dropped his head into his hands and laughed. “I forgot about that."
"I barely remember it myself," Rafael sniffed.
"Good, because no offence, counselor, but that wasn’t really about you.”
Sonny ran a hand through his hair and continued to chuckle. “Okay, this is embarrassing.” He put his beer down with a clunk on the bar. “There was a guy there, I wanted him to pay more attention to me than he was, I thought flirting my way around the room might help.” He got it all out in one breath, and looked up at Rafael from under his lashes. “In my defence, I was in my 20s and probably more than a little tipsy.”
Rafael didn’t know whether to be flattered that he really had been flirting with him or offended that he seemed so embarrassed by it. He settled for a more neutral response. “Did it work?”
The barman arrived with his drinks, and before Rafael could pay, Sonny reached across the bar. “Hey, let me get those. I never did buy you that drink, and I feel like I owe you an apology.”
Rafael almost refused, but Sonny was looking at him so earnestly he didn't feel he could. He nodded and Sonny smiled, handing over his card.
“So your 'guy',” Rafael asked, figuring it was only fair to continue the conversation while they waited on the payment going through. “He wasn't interested?”
“He said he just wanted to be friends.” He put air quotes around the last word, said with disdain.
Rafael raised an eyebrow. He thought Sonny would be the type to welcome new friends until they regretted making the suggestion in the first place. “That’s bad?”
“Just pointless,” Sonny said with a shrug. “You can’t be friends with someone you find attractive.”
That surprised a laugh out of Rafael. “That’s a very broad rule.”
“It’s true though. Sex always gets in the way. You want more, you get jealous, you get your heart broken. Boom, friendship ruined.”
Rafael couldn't help but smile. “Not to poke holes in your theory, Sonny, but you’re not talking about sex. You’re talking about feelings.”
Sonny stopped to for a moment to consider that. ”Well, they’re not always mutually exclusive.”
“Of course not.” He tipped his glass towards him. “You’re a romantic.”
Sonny frowned like he didn't know if he was being insulted. “So? What’s wrong with that?”
Nothing. It’s very sweet, Sonny.” He took a sip of his drink to cover his confusion that his reply had slipped out as genuine rather than patronizing. “My opinion on that aspect notwithstanding, I think you’re being ridiculous. It’s perfectly possible to be friends with someone you find attractive without turning into some kind of lovesick teenager.”
Sonny rolled his eyes, though a faint smile tugged at his lips. “Maybe for someone like you.”
Rafael would have responded with something appropriately cutting, he was sure, but he was interrupted by Rita who slapped a hand on his back and picked up the glass sitting on the bar in front of him. “Excuse me. If I’d realized it was self-service I would have gotten up several hours ago.”
“Sorry,” Sonny said. “My fault.” He slid off the stool and gave them both a short wave. “Good to see you again, counselor.”
Rafael watched him go back to his booth. When he turned back, Rita was watching him over the rim of her glass. “He seems nice.”
He lifted his glass and walked back to the table. “If you say so.”
It took a day for Sonny to approach him, after the case was finished and everything had calmed down. He wasn’t surprised to walk into his office to find him sitting uneasily opposite Carmen, but then he hadn’t been hugely surprised to find him at the precinct in the first place. He was beginning to feel a sense of inevitability when it came to Sonny Carisi.
“Detective. Please come in.” He nodded to Carmen. “I won’t be long.”
He closed the door behind himself and sat down behind his desk. Sonny remained standing. “So. Manhattan SVU.”
“Not a lawyer yet?”
“Working on it. Night school.”
“Like you planned.” He smiled, but Sonny was looking at the floor. “What can I do for you, Detective?”
Sonny crossed his arms across his chest, still not meeting his eyes. “I wanted to say thanks, for not bringing up that we knew each other.”
“It was hardly the time.”
“I know. And I wanted to ask - could you maybe... I mean, could you…” He ran a hand through his hair, his movements stiff and jerky. “If you wouldn’t mind not telling the squad about our past conversations, I’d really appreciate it.”
Rafael frowned. They’d shared about a minute of conversation over seven years, and he didn’t think there was anything particularly incriminating in it. Sonny suddenly looked up at him, and realization dawned at the look in his eyes. “You’re not out.”
Sonny looked down again and shifted on his feet. “I was. Then I wasn’t. Now…” He shook his head. “Look, I’d just like to get my feet under the table first, let everyone see me as a cop before I’m the gay cop, you know what I mean?”
Rafael continued to frown. “Sonny, you know if anyone has said anything…”
“I know, Rafael. Counselor.” He corrected himself with a soft smile. “I know. It’s not a big deal, really. I’d just rather focus on the work right now, okay?”
“Is this why you have the...” He indicated his top lip.
“Nothing.” He sat back in his chair and took Sonny in, the slicked back hair and moustache making him look older than Rafael knew him to be, the awkwardness in his stance completely different to the relaxed and outgoing man Rafael had met previously. But then he’d only ever known Sonny as a friendly face in a bar, a cheerful stranger. Never as a cop. “I wouldn’t have said anything. I won’t.”
Sonny breathed a sigh of relief that only made Rafael feel more concerned. “Thank you.”
“Of course.” He paused, knowing that whatever he said wouldn’t help much at this point. “For what it’s worth, Sonny, I know that squad. I know Liv. They won’t care.”
Sonny chuckled bitterly. “Yeah. I’ve thought that before too.”
Rafael swallowed past a heavy feeling in his chest as Sonny turned away.
“Sonny? Detective, I mean.”
Sonny smiled weakly at him. “You can call me Sonny, counselor, I think we can get away with that.”
Rafael huffed a laugh. “Okay then. Sonny. Do you want to grab some lunch?”
“Think of it as a catch up with an old friend.” He grabbed his coat from where he had left it and brushed past Sonny to open the door, leaving him no time to protest. “Anyway, I’m starving.”