It was a game teenagers played. Drawing with sharpies on their arms; stars, scribbles, little hearts. They shrieked and giggled when they got a response, another drawing in a different hand fading in on their skin, glowing gold for a second before fading out again. Never names or addresses, that was too real, instead they’d write out song lyrics, pretentious poetry, questions, and inappropriate comments their teachers would shout at them to wash off in class.
It wasn’t something adults did. Adults had jobs to do and groceries to buy and houses to pay for, there was no time to send silly secret messages to someone you’d likely never meet. That, and no one wanted a “u up?” to appear on their wrist in the middle of an important business dinner. Soulmates became an abstract concept for most people, particularly once smartphones came along and people stopped writing on their hands.
Of course, there were plenty of people who sought out their soulmates, especially after yet another soulmate themed romcom came out. The trouble was it didn’t always work out the way it did in the movies. Sometimes the failures were handled with tears, a shrug of disappointment, or a shouting match both parties would be too embarrassed to tell anyone about later. Other times it was worse. Rafael had seen more than enough of that over the years in the DA's office.
He’d be the first to admit he wasn’t the biggest fan of the concept. Or at least he’d be the first to admit it if he could work up the energy to snipe about it while Rollins smirked at the latest comment to appear along her arm. She was one of the rare people to accidentally stumble across her soulmate, in a bar while on a case in another state. She’d been writing her number on his hand when the digits suddenly glowed along her own skin. According to Sonny, they’d disappeared not long after that and he’d met her the next morning with a coffee and a knowing smile that had earned him a painful looking eye roll.
Separated by geography, they seemed to have decided that writing on various parts of themselves was the most efficient way to communicate. Rafael bit back about 100 comments as Rollins smiled at her shoulder and pushed Sonny away when he tried to look.
Sonny was a fan of soulmates.
“Hey, come on,” he laughed, dodging another shove from Rollins.
“Come on nothing. It’s private.”
“Then text,” Rafael muttered into his drink, wishing Liv had stuck around the bar longer so he could have had an adult conversation, and grateful for the scotch for blurring the edges of his impatience.
The tiniest crinkle of his eyes was the only indication Sonny at least had heard him, but he didn’t make a comment. He playfully bumped shoulders with Rollins. “I’m just basking in the romance.”
Rollins made a face that was probably quite similar to Rafael’s own. “It’s not romance. We’re just having fun.”
“Fun with your soulmate,” Sonny teased, a little slurred on the s.
“Who lives two states away.” She shivered, and brushed a thumb across her wrist where some words were already disappearing. “And since he’s my soulmate, he has pretty much the same outlook on this as I do.”
Sonny shook his head, clearly disappointed that she was treating the connection so lightly. Rafael looked away.
“Anyway,” Rollins said, downing her drink and pulling on her coat. “I have a babysitter to send home and a kid to put to bed.” She gestured at them both with the empty glass. “Night, guys.”
Sonny walked her to the door, because he was like that, then dropped back into the booth with a sigh. “That’s nice. I’m happy for her.”
Sonny snorted. “Right, right. Forgot who I was talking to. You’re not really into the whole soulmate thing, right?”
“Nor is Rollins,” he said dryly. “But you seem to be.”
“I’m Italian, romance is in my blood,” he said, his tone deliberately light. He gave Rafael a wary look like he was expecting some sarcastic comment in response, and he blinked in surprise when Rafael said nothing. “I like the idea of it. That there’s one perfect person out there just for you.”
Rafael leaned back in his seat. “Perfect isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” He tried to keep his tone light to match Sonny’s, but there was too much baggage dragging it down. He hadn’t really meant it as a challenge, didn’t particularly want to get dragged into the conversation, but Sonny had always liked to debate with him.
“Literally, by definition, it is.”
“Fine, then perfect is situational. It doesn’t always stand up to stress and 14 hour work days.”
Sonny eyed him carefully. “Speaking from experience, counselor?”
He sighed. “Not my own.”
Sonny kept looking at him, but any concern was belied by the smile that was tugging at the corner of his lips. “You have a real talent for bringing people down, you know that?”
Rafael laughed, surprised. “It’s a natural gift.”
Sonny grinned, and they sat in near comfortable silence while he pulled at a thread on his sleeve. He looked off towards the door before asking the question. “You, uh, you never met your soulmate?”
“No,” Rafael replied shortly.
Sonny nodded, and took another sip of his beer. “You never wanted to?”
Rafael had to tamp down a smirk that Sonny wouldn’t look directly at him. No eye contact for boys talk about soulmates over beer. “I don’t like having my decisions made for me.”
“No kidding,” Sonny muttered.
Rafael ignored that. “There’s nothing interesting about fate. I want to get to know someone, fall in love with them because I want to, not because it’s “meant to be”. I want it to be messy and imperfect and uncertain. Otherwise it's just...boring.” He lifted his glass to his lips and wondered how long it had been empty. He looked up and started. Sonny was looking back at him with an amused smile.
“Shit,” he said, on the verge of laughing. “And I always thought you were a cynic.”
“I am a cynic,” Rafael grumbled. He tipped the empty glass back and forth on the table. “Did you ever meet yours?”
He wasn’t looking at him, but he saw Sonny’s head turn away again. “Nah. I remember writing a few times when I was a kid, but it stopped pretty early on.”
Sonny frowned. “Why?”
“It means a lot to you. The soulmate thing.”
Sonny’s frown deepened. “It’s not…”
“Maybe you should try again,” he interrupted, nodding towards the pen Rollins had left on the table.
Sonny stared at him, then picked up the pen with a halfhearted laugh, and drew a wobbly squiggle on the back of his hand. "There."
Rafael snorted. “Oh yeah. That’ll do it.”
He didn’t miss the way Sonny’s eyes flicked down to the hand still wrapped around his empty glass, and he swallowed thickly. He already knew he wasn’t Sonny’s soulmate. He’d found that out during a particularly weak moment, a week after they’d kissed and six days after he’d awkwardly apologized for it. Sonny had looked at him like he’d wanted to say something, but instead he’d coughed and told him it was fine, that he’d forget all about it. They’d been working on a case in his office, too quiet, too tense, when Rafael had lightly scored a pen down his arm, and watched as Sonny’s remained bare. He’d clicked the pen a few times, blinked hard, and told himself it didn’t bother him.
He turned the glass so it was in front of his hand. Sonny’s eyes met his, and that look was back, something desperate and uncertain swirling in his glance. Neither of them said anything, and Sonny shook his head and the look was gone. “Well. It’s getting late.” He downed the rest of his beer and chuckled blandly at his hand. “Guess I should get home and wait for a reply.”
“Wait.” The pen was in Rafael’s hand before he realized what he was doing, and he quickly mirrored the line Sonny had drawn on the back of his own hand.
Sonny looked from his hand to Rafael’s hand, to his face and back again, and frowned.
Rafael rolled his eyes, nerves giving way to impatience. He grabbed Sonny’s arm and pushed up his sleeve. He could feel his pulse quicken where his thumb rested against his wrist. Pressing gently, he wrote a message.
Sonny drew his arm back and read what Rafael had written, and he gave a sharp intake of breath.
He rubbed a finger along the word, smudging the ink. He looked at Rafael with a smile, took the pen gently from his hand, putting the lid back on with a deliberate click.
“No,” he said softly, his hand reaching for Rafael’s, intertwining their fingers. “Let’s get out of here.”