Sonny walked down the street, collar turned up against the chill wind that ruffled his hair and sent him shivering. He kept his eyes peeled and did not think too deeply about why he was several blocks and almost a borough out of his way in search of a bar that he’d heard mentioned once months ago.
He honestly couldn’t say why he’d started walking in this direction after he left the precinct. He’d gotten on the subway as usual, but before he knew it, he’d bypassed his usual line and gotten on another one. His mind had been wonderfully blank as he walked the dark streets, single-mindedly focused on just finding that damn bar.
After thirty minutes of walking in the freezing wind, something like despair crept in. Just like it’d been creeping in for some time. His chest ached and it wasn’t from the cold. He hunched over, curling his shoulders in and the bitter thoughts that had been silent for the last hour slithered back inside.
Just as he considered giving up this particular fool’s errand, he saw the sign for the bar. With a sigh of relief, and without hesitation, he headed inside.
He unwrapped his scarf from around his neck and blinked, eyes adjusting to the dim lighting. Scanning the patrons, his breath caught when he saw who he’d been looking for.
Barba sat at the bar, scrolling through his iPad, a glass of something next to him. Sonny watched as he idly dragged his finger down the screen, then lifted his glass for a drink.
The fog that had been crowding the edges of Sonny’s vision for longer than he cared to contemplate, eased back slightly.
Unbuttoning his coat, he walked towards him.
“Counselor,” he said as he reached him.
Barba looked up and his eyes widened. “Detective. To what do I owe the honor?”
“Just in the neighborhood, remembered you mentioning this place once,” Sonny replied with a shrug.
Barba arched an eyebrow. “In the neighborhood?”
“Yeah.” Sonny chuckled and shook his head. “Actually, no, I wasn’t, but can we pretend that I was?”
“Of course,” Barba said, he gestured to the stool next to him. “Please.”
“Thanks.” Sonny took off his coat and sat down with a sigh. When the bartender approached, he just said, “Boilermaker, thanks.”
He looked over and found Barba watching him with narrowed eyes, his head propped up on his hand.
“You doing all right?” Sonny asked.
“Think I should be asking you that,” Barba replied. “I heard about Mia. I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah,” Sonny said looking away. “Yeah, so am I.”
His drink arrived and he threw the shot of whiskey back with a force that surprised him a little.
“How’s she doing?” Barba asked.
Sonny shrugged. “Okay. Joined a support group that she says is helping.” He huffed out a little laugh. “Started taking self-defense classes, too. Says that helps.”
“Good for her,” Barba said nodding. “Sounds like she’s trying.”
“I fucked up,” Sonny said quickly, the words exploding from somewhere deep inside. “The whole thing. I fucked up.”
“Consent can be revoked,” Sonny said staring into his beer. “It can be revoked and I… Christ.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I’m sorry. You don’t need to hear this. I don’t…”
“Keep going,” Barba said quietly and Sonny looked over at him, finding only compassion and a steady gaze. “Sounds like you need to say it, and I don’t mind hearing it.” He smirked a little. “It makes a change from dwelling in my own misery.”
“You saying you want some company, is that it?” Sonny asked.
“If you’re up for it, sure.”
Sonny stared at him a moment longer, then went back to contemplating his beer. “I should’ve told her that. At the start, when she told me about the first time. Consent can be revoked and I didn’t say it. I just barreled ahead and…” He sighed. “I heard this stuff coming out of my mouth and I don’t know where it came from.” He closed his eyes. “I think this job is killing me.”
He heard Barba suck in a breath and then take a drink. “Yeah,” he said eventually. “It does that.”
Sonny looked over at Barba to find him already looking at Sonny.
“Did you tell your niece what you’ve just told me?” he asked. “About consent?”
He nodded. “Yeah, a few days later. When I finally found my mind again after losing it.”
“You’re angry,” Barba said lightly.
Sonny frowned. “Of course I’m angry. That bastard hurt my—”
“Not just about that,” Barba said shaking his head. “You’ve been angry for months now, Carisi.”
The fog that had been slipping away came back in full force and Sonny just stared down at the bar. It was only when Barba touched the back of his hand that he realized he’d been digging his thumbnail into a groove in the woodgrain.
Sonny let out a breath. “Fuck.”
“I know.” Barba pressed Sonny’s hand and then pulled back to grab his drink and finish it, before gesturing to the bartender for another. “I hated putting a name to it, too. Makes it real. Makes it something you have to do something about, instead of just ignoring it and hoping for the best.”
“Yeah.” Sonny covered his face with his hands. “Seriously, though. Fuck. I don’t wanna be that guy, counselor.”
Sonny dropped his hands. “What?”
“It’s Rafael,” he said. “And you’re not that guy, Carisi.” He paused. “Not yet, anyway.”
“Thanks,” Sonny said laughing a little. “It’s just…easier, you know. To be angry.”
“Oh, I know,” Barb- Rafael, said. “Believe me, I know.”
Sonny looked over at him, taking in the lines and dark circles under his eyes. “How are you?”
Rafael made a face before taking a long sip of his drink. “Unemployed. In therapy. Drinking at a bar on a Wednesday night when I should probably be sleeping. You know – the usual.” He looked down. “Nice to have the company, though.”
“Glad to provide it,” Sonny said quietly. He worried his lower lip, then said, “We miss you. Ah hell, I miss you.”
Rafael smiled a little. “Miss you, too.” He furrowed his brow. “But not enough—”
“To come back?” Sonny offered.
Rafael tilted his head. “Something like that.” He glanced at Sonny. “Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it, though.”
“It’s there, in the back of my mind. Options, you know, and actually exploring them,” Sonny said. “But, something else always seems to happen. But that’s how it goes, right? There’ll always be another case, another victim, another gun pressed to my head.”
“What?” Rafael asked, thunking his glass on the bar and looking at Sonny. “What gun to your head? When was this?”
Sonny shook his head. “It’s fine. It was the Tom Cole thing. It was ages ago.”
Rafael blinked at him. “He held a gun to your head?”
“Yeah,” Sonny said slowly. “You didn’t hear about that?”
“I heard Liv had to shoot him,” he said. “I didn’t hear the circumstances.” He shook his head a little. “Are you saying that she shot him to stop him from shooting you?”
“Uh, yeah,” Sonny said looking away, not able to process the amount of sheer concern in Rafael’s eyes, It made his own eyes sting in response. He curled his hand around his beer glass. “I, uh, he had me on my knees, and uh, pressed his gun to my forehead. She shot him before he pulled the trigger. I mean, obviously, she shot him before he could do anything. But, uh, it was kinda close, you know. Got his blood all over me.” He winced. God, he hadn’t meant to say that. “It’s fine, though. I went to the sessions, got cleared, it’s fine. I-“
He looked over at Rafael who looked…wrecked. God, he looked fucking wrecked.
“Nothing that you’ve just said is ‘fine’,” Rafael said, his features moving from sad to determined in a matter of seconds. “And you know better than anyone that there’s a reason it’s called post traumatic stress. There’s no set timeline for these things. And clearly, as we’ve already established tonight, you’re angry, therefore, you are not fine.”
Sonny stared at him. Stared at him until the fog clouded his vision and the only thing he saw in perfect clarity were Rafael’s eyes.
“Well.” Sonny swallowed hard. “Fuck.”
“Eloquent and concise as always. But I’ll drink to that particular sentiment,” Rafael said.
He held up his half-finished scotch and Sonny tapped his beer glass to it.
“So…” Sonny took a drink. “What next?”
“I highly recommend therapy,” Rafael said. “It’s painful and awkward and you’ll probably hate it—No, wait, I take that back. You love to talk, so you’ll probably like it, actually.” He glanced at Sonny. “What are you doing on Friday? What’s your shift looking like?”
“I’ve got too much OT,” Sonny said. “As per usual. So, I’m off on Friday. Why?”
“There’s a convention I’m attending,” he said. “It’s focused primarily on volunteer opportunities around victim advocacy as well as civil liberty infringements and immigration reform. I’m interested in seeing my options.” He grimaced. “Such as they are.”
“So, like a job fair?” Sonny asked.
“Something like that. It’s...” He took a deep breath. “It’s the first time that I’ll be putting myself back out there.”
Rafael’s meaning pierced through the fog in Sonny’s head. He was trying. Rafael was trying to get back out there. To do some good again. And he was terrified.
Well, Sonny may have been on the verge of a serious depression, but he’d never been able to ignore someone in trouble. Especially not the man beside him.
“Sounds like a cool event,” Sonny said. “Send me the details?”
“If you want,” Rafael said far too casually.
Sonny grinned as he finished his beer. He glanced at his watch and made a face. “I should head home. At least make an effort to get some sleep.”
“I hear chamomile tea helps,” Rafael said, his voice as dry as the desert.
“Yeah? I heard valerian’s the way to go,” Sonny replied.
Rafael wrinkled his nose. “It tastes foul.”
Sonny chuckled. “That’s what sugar’s for, Rafael.”
“Are you suggesting that I’m not sweet enough on my own?” he asked, the corner of his mouth curved up.
“Oh, yeah,” Sonny said nodding. “You’re a peach. I’ve always thought so.”
Rafael snorted and Sonny grinned as Rafael said, “Go home, detective. Try to get some sleep. Rumor has it that it’s healthy.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sonny said getting to his feet and pulling on his coat. “Hey, I meant it. Send me the time and place for that convention. It sounds like a good thing.”
“I will.” He hesitated and then held out his hand. “It was good to see you, detective.”
“You, too, counsellor,” Sonny said taking his hand. At the touch of Rafael’s warm, dry palm against Sonny’s the fog eased from his vision again ever so slightly. He squeezed Rafael’s hand and smiled a little when Rafael returned the pressure.
“I’ll uh, see you Friday,” Sonny said finally letting go of his hand.
“See you, Sonny,” Rafael said.
Sonny nodded and then headed out into the night.
Later, as he unlocked the door to his apartment, his watch pinged with a message. He smiled down at the forwarded email from Rafael, complete with the convention program.
After stripping out of his suit and getting into bed, he read through the lists of attending organizations and started making a list.
Sonny spotted Rafael looking down at his phone where he stood by the entrance to the convention center and couldn’t help the smile that emerged. He jogged up the steps with more energy than usual and when Rafael saw him, Sonny just grinned.
“Detective,” Rafael said, putting his phone away.
“Counsellor,” Sonny replied. “Been here long?”
“You’re surprisingly on time, for once,” he said smiling a little. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “I took the liberty of writing down a few organizations that might be a good fit for you. I hope you don’t mind.”
Sonny’s heart thudded in his chest and as he took the paper from Rafael, he felt himself smile. Really, truly smile like he hadn’t in what felt like forever.
“Thanks,” he said looking over the list and noticing that Rafael had been amazingly spot on in his choices. “I, uh, may have taken the same liberty.”
He pulled out a similarly folded piece of paper and handed it to Rafael; who blinked and then smiled.
As Rafael unfolded the paper, he said, “You know, normal people exchange things like flowers.”
Sonny grinned. “Eh, normal’s overrated. Nothing says ‘I care’ like a list of potential career opportunities.”
“Indeed,” Rafael said smiling down at Sonny’s list. He looked up and once again, the fog in Sonny’s mind receded just that little bit more when he looked into Rafael’s eyes. “Well, shall we?”
“Lead the way, counsellor,” Sonny said and then he followed Rafael inside.