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The Cuban

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The Cuban


Manhattan at sunset was something to behold.

Golden sun falling low in the sky, filtering through the accumulation of rain clouds in the distance.  Its light cast pink and purple over dark steel and glimmering glass, a glittering jewel at God’s feet.

Lucia Barba had grown up in New York City, had been born in this concrete jungle, but her trees were different than the lush fare she found here.  She knew chipped and faded brick, stained concrete. Graffiti and broken glass. Fire, seemingly endless while her world crumbled around her. Memories she’d held and kept and made a part of her, for better and for worse, even as she’d spent the better part of her life telling her son to leave them behind.  

He had.

Rafael, her smart boy, had left the Bronx behind a long time ago.  

A fact she occasionally ribbed him about, though it was with an underlying current of satisfaction.  It was less about this this city, less about wanting Rafael to find a status higher than the one Lucia had scrabbled together for herself, and more about knowing just what he was capable of.  At nine Rafael had looked around and asked how to leave. Because no one ever did, he’d realized. He’d been seeing the same faces his entire life and only just then realized that it wasn’t supposed to be that way.  That there was supposed to be a path upward, a path out , and there wasn’t anymore.  There hadn’t been for a long time.

“Work hard, mijito ,” she’d told him with a grim set of her jaw.  “Leave if ever you get the chance.”

“Where would I go?” he asked, brow furrowed in concentration.  His grandmother’s green eyes narrowed in concentration so he looked older than his nine years.  

“College,” she answered easily.  “You get good grades, good enough grades, and they pay for you to go.”

From then on, it was all Rafael thought about.

He talked about college the way his peers talked about other worlds and the stone castles in fairy tales.  He talked about it and looked through catalogs at the library and planned a different life for every Ivy League school there was.  He took practice exams from the age of fourteen, determined to have the highest score his school had ever seen - and he did. He’d scored higher than anyone in the history of the school, had won his place in the Ivy League, and now here she was - walking down a Manhattan sidewalk and into his building to see her son the prosecutor.

Her son the prosecutor, who was currently under security detail because gang members had threatened his life.

A circumstance she hadn’t predicted that day when he was nine, but neither was it new.  Rafael grew up in a rough neighborhood with a smart mouth - bullies knew who to target, who was vulnerable and unlikely to fight back, and Rafael was  a mostly quiet child in those days in addition to being small for his age. It was a surprise to them, then, that Rafael had never once let himself be backed into a corner without coming out swinging.  He knew how to fight back. Of course, his ability to fight back had also come with an unfortunate inability to ask for help. Something that had been rendered moot this time, as he had help who didn’t much care if he wanted it or not.

It had been nearly a month since he was placed under police protection and while they’d caught the man who made the threats, the officers he worked with felt there was the potential for more danger.  Normally, Lucia would have felt compelled to call competence into question. They have a suspect in custody, why not make him talk? What takes them so long? Do they not know how to do what the taxpayers are telling them to do?  Of course, now the words wouldn’t dare cross her lips and it wasn’t only because her son trusted the people in question - now it was because she knew them herself.

One, in particular, and she was certain there was nothing the Italian wouldn’t do to make sure this ordeal was over.  In a month she’d spent more than a few nights in his presence, couched between him and her son, and she was convinced he would single-handedly take Manhattan apart if it meant taking the stress and worry off Rafael’s shoulders.  There was little she was sure of in her life, but in the last month she’d become convinced of a single fact.

Dominick Carisi Jr. was in love with her son.

Head over heels, over the moon.

He looked at Rafael with his heart in his eyes and bared for everyone to see, even if most of the time they didn’t.  His boss was preoccupied and grieving, the pretty blonde had a new baby, and the eldest sergeant didn’t seem to have much interest in his colleagues outside of work.  And, of course, there was her son. Her emotionally stunted son, who was either caffeinated or liquored up or too busy and stressed out and entirely oblivious to the man bending over backwards for him.  Or at least not allowing himself to see it, for all the reasons Rafael had given her the day she’d first met the man in question. Because he was stubborn, because he was resolutely incapable of temptation away from a decision he’d already made.

Her son was her son, nothing to do be done about it.

At least she thought so, until she walked out of the elevator with a bag of groceries on one hip to the sound of raised voices emanating from the other side of his front door.

“Last I checked, I was still a grown man capable of making my own scheduling decisions.”

Rafael.

She’d know that petulant condescension anywhere, even without the benefit of context.

“Scheduling decisions?!” a voice cried back, “That’s what you call that stunt?!”

Dominick.

She may not have known him long, had certainly never heard him raise his voice, but knew the accent if nothing else.  Neither did she miss the tone of angry desperation thick in his words, which probably should have worried her because she’d never seen the Italian in any mood other than relaxed and happy.  

“Yes.  I do. Because a matter of a half hour of my time is an issue between myself and Carmen.  Not myself and half the NYPD.”

“It is when half the NYPD is trying to keep you safe.”

“No, you’re trying to keep me locked up.  I could go hold up the bodega on the corner and get the same level of concern.”  A dry, empty laugh sounded. “I might even have more freedom.  There’s no paperwork for prisoners, right?”

“You’re not funny, Barba.”

“I wasn’t trying to be, Carisi.”

Dominick’s voice was heated the next time he spoke, and Lucia could hear the hard drop of footsteps as the taller man paced across the floor.

"I've already given you more latitude than anyone else in your position—"

"More latitude?" Barba shot back. "You call this latitude? You're in my apartment, Detective. I can't walk down to the newspaper stand that's twenty feet from my own front door without five uniformed officers practically shutting down the entire street!"

"Don't exaggerate," Dominick told him, exasperated. "Besides, at least those five officers take this seriously. Any one of us would take a bullet for you, you realize."

The silence that stretched out was practically a physical presence that Lucia could feel from the hallway as she shifted her stance and debated knocking.

"And I didn't ask any of you to do that," Rafael spat finally and now Lucia could hear pain in her son’s voice. "I didn't ask for any of this."

“No, you didn’t,” Dominick agreed, “But we’re here and you have to— where are you going?”

The door flung open and suddenly Rafael was there.  

Still dressed for work, even if he’d lost the jacket and loosened his tie.  The corners of his mouth were pinched and his eyes were wild and it took him a second to recognize her, the realization doing nothing to ease the tension in his shoulders.  

“Mami,” he said breathlessly, hands on her shoulders as he pressed a hurried kiss to her cheek.  Perhaps it was her mother’s intuition, but she was sure she could hear his heart hammering in her ears.  “I’ll be right back. Make yourself at home.”

“Barba,” the detective called even as he ducked away from Lucia and marched toward the elevator.  “Barba! Damn it.”

The elevator doors closed and then he was gone, leaving the two of them standing on the inside and outside of his apartment without a word of explanation between them.  Lucia turned to look at Dominick, who was breathing hard and running long fingers through fair hair disheveled for the first time since meeting him. Before she had the chance to ask what happened Dominick reached for the radio hooked on his belt and brought it to his mouth.  

“Willmon, this is Detective Carisi.  ADA Barba is headed your way. Follow but keep your distance,” he said, rewarded with loud crackles before another man verbalized acknowledgement on the other end.  “Keep me updated.”

There was a garbled yes, sir and then the room was quiet.

“What has my son done now?” she asked finally, when the silence had stretched out long enough for it to grate on her.  

He didn’t answer, only sighed.

Ran a hand over his face.

The teacher in her recognized the guilt when she saw it, an old habit she guessed when he trained his eyes on the ground at his feet rather than on her.  

“He ditched his protective detail today,” he told her, sounding furious.  Sounding miserable. “For thirty minutes, we didn’t know where he was.”

It wasn’t hard to hear the fear under the anger.

“Where did he go?” she asked, walking into the apartment and shutting the door behind her.  Leaving the lock undone because Rafael had stormed out without his keys and would be coming back soon.  

“To get lunch,” he replied, laughing humorlessly.  “Thirty-three minutes later he waltzed back into the building with sandwiches for him and his assistant, without a care in the world.  Without giving a damn that we were about to put out an APB on him, thinking someone had taken him. I was- I mean, we all thought-”

“My son is a difficult man.”

Dominick looked up, surprised.

Maybe he’d been expecting her to defend him.

“I should know.  I’m a difficult woman and I raised him,” she continued and the policeman didn’t quite feel brave enough to attempt a smile, “And while he would never admit it to you, I will.  Rafael is incapable of asking for help, and he’s incapable of accepting it when it’s given. The fact that you are standing in his home is shocking to me.”

“I’m sorry, if you want me to go—”

“No, I don’t want you to go.”  She crossed the room, heels clicking on the hardwood floor.  “More than that, I’m sure my son doesn’t either.”

He scoffed.

“Yeah, uh… I think that’s where the two of you might differ in opinion.”

“No.  It isn’t.”

“Listen, Mrs. Barba-”

“Lucia,” she corrected, steel in her voice.  “In my son’s home you’ll call me Lucia.”

“Lucia,” he tried again, experimentally wrapping his mouth around the syllables in her name, “I realize that this is hard on him.  It would have to be and I’m not begrudging him that, but we’re just trying to protect him.”

“I know.  That’s the problem.”

He balked.  “What?”

“Rafael has been threatened before,” she told him and watched blue eyes widen in surprise.  “By bullies in our building, by gang members on our streets. By competitors at school, by friends when he touched on a nerve.  The rich gringos at Harvard didn’t like him there, tried more than once to run him off. He was sent threats multiple times in the Brooklyn DA’s office.”

“He didn’t tell me.”  Dominick cleared his throat.  “Us. He didn’t tell us.”

“No, he wouldn’t have.”

“Why?”

“Because he didn’t need to,” she argued.  “Because when even when he’s cornered, my Rafael knows how to fight for himself.  He knows how to survive. The difference here isn’t him, it’s you.”

“Me?” Dominick asked, taken aback.  

“You,” she agreed and stepped closer, dark eyes leveled on the detective’s.  “Until now, Rafael has only had himself to worry about. Now he has half the NYPD, as he put it, willing to put themselves in harm’s way.  Now he has you.

“We’re just trying to do our jobs,” he said and the desperation with which he said it made Lucia certain he was trying to convince himself more than he was trying to convince her.  “It’s the rules, how things are done. It’s protocol.”

“For them, maybe,” she said knowingly, “But not for you.”

Dominick swallowed, unable to bring himself to look away.

“I can’t- I mean, he can’t-”

“Rafael knows, just like you do.”

His eyes fell closed.  

“Shit.”

Lucia reached out and took his jaw in her hand, thin fingers over skin rough with the beginnings of stubble.  Dominick accepted the touch without complaint, docile and pliant in her grip, and Lucia was suddenly sure he’d had a lifetime of authoritative women telling him what to do.  Between motherhood and years of running a school, Lucia knew the obedient ones when she saw them.

“Rafael is not running because he’s afraid for himself.  For his career or for his life,” she told him frankly, “Rafael is running because he’s afraid for your team, because he’s afraid for you.  Risking himself is one thing, risking other people is another.”

“None of us are looking for a fight,” he insisted.  ”No one is here to instigate or use him as bait, even if that was something he suggested about a week ago.”  He huffed a laugh and for a moment Lucia was sure she could see the whole of Dominick Carisi in the blue of his eyes.  “I just want to be here. I need to be here.  If something happens, I mean.”

His meaning was heard, loud and clear.

If something happens… and even if something doesn’t.

At that, Lucia found her smile again.

“You’re a good boy, Dominick.”

“Everyone calls me Sonny,” he said ruefully, as though it were a defense against her shrewd eye.  It didn’t fool her. “You can too, if you want. Even if your son doesn’t.”

“Your mother calls you that?”

“Yeah.  Since about two minutes after I was born.”

“Well, I’m not your mother,” she shot back but it was too soft to be venomous.  “Your Christian name was good enough for your priest and it’s good enough for me.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Dominick was a good boy.

A good man, she corrected.  

“Come on,” she said finally, releasing his jaw and patting his shoulder.  “I’m not cooking these on my own and your hands aren’t broken. Let’s put them to work.”

Dominick nodded and the beginnings of a smile turned up the corners of his mouth.

Lucia thought the room seemed a little brighter for it.

He watched her hitch the bag on her hip.

“What are we making?”

“Pastelitos,” she answered as she took her paper sack to the kitchen, knowing already the detective would follow.  “It’s my mother’s birthday. Did Rafi tell you that?”

“No,” he replied but the slight flicker in his eyes made her think he did at least know about her.  Undoubtedly had heard of her passing, if not from Rafael then from Benson when Rafael took the week off to help her.  

It also probably did more than a little to cue Dominick into which Rafael might have been more prone to emotion today.

“No,” he finally sighed.  “No, he didn’t tell me.”

“He wouldn’t,” she said, unloading ingredients.  

“Were they her favorite?” Dominick asked, coming to stand next to her at Rafael’s kitchen counter.  He towered above her but it was nice, having a man to boss around other than her son.

“No.”

“No?”

“They’re Rafael’s,” she told him with a hint of a smile.  “My mother was obsessed with my son, only wanted to see him happy.  She insisted on having his favorite dessert for her birthday every year because he always got so excited and that was a better present than the coconut cake she actually would have preferred.”

“You must miss her,” the detective offered quietly and Lucia felt him step closer.  Just an inch or two, just enough for her to know that he was a comfort if she needed one.  Lucia wasn’t sure what kind of man was willing to have an old woman cry on his shoulder a few weeks after meeting her, but she imagined it was the same kind of man who would go toe to toe with her son if it meant keeping him safe.  

“I do,” she said and felt the phantom of that old pain well up in her chest.  “Every day, I do. But I’ll see her again, and I’d prefer to do it without having to answer for why her Rafaelito didn’t get his favorite on her birthday.”

Dominick laughed.  It was a nice sound.  

“She sounds great,” he said earnestly and took a jar of preserves in his hand.  “Alright, I’m in. What do you need from me?”

“Roll up your sleeves, detective,” she warned.  “This might get messy.”

 

 

“You know,” the detective said around a mouthful of pastry, “Maybe it’s a good thing your son is still blowing off steam.  There’s not going to be any of these left anyway.”

Lucia chuckled.

“That’s what he gets, for behaving the way he did.”  She pulled another cookie sheet from the oven, covered in golden brown pastries oozing sweet guava.  “First for making you worry, then for storming out of here like a child throwing a tantrum. I raised him better.”

“You’re going to have to tell me about that one day,” he said, clearly amused.  “Raising Rafael Barba, I mean. It couldn’t have been easy.”

“It could be,” Lucia allowed, “If you spoke his language.”

“Spanish?”

She scoffed.

“No.  Stubbornness.”  

Dominick barked out a laugh that reverberated around the kitchen.  

“No wonder he got along with SVU so well,” he marveled.  “Everybody is as hard-headed as he is.”

“Which would explain why his ulcers have started acting up again,” she said under her breath.  “I’ve heard more about all of you than I ever have any of his other coworkers, which probably a mixture of compliment and insult.”

“Yeah, that sounds right,” he chuckled.  

“Even you, Dominick?”

He grinned.

“Even me.”

“Good.  I like you more than I thought I did,” she said, looking over at him with the hint of a smirk.  He only grinned wider, because they both knew she liked him perfectly well before. “Where did you grow up, Dominick?”

“It’s not obvious?” he asked, surprised.  

“All you white New Yorkers sound the same to me,” she admitted and secretly delighted in his small snort of amusement.  “You’ll have to narrow it down.”

“Staten Island,” he said.  “Near Prince’s Bay.”

“Big family?”

“Very,” Dominick agreed and grabbed a white porcelain plate from the cabinet while Lucia rooted around a utensil can for a spatula.  “There’s four of us in my immediate family. Me and three sisters, two older and one younger. My parents have been together going on forty-five years.  My pops is one of three and my ma is one of four.”

Rafael deserved a big family.

He would fight and complain and bitch to high heaven, but he deserved the mess and acceptance and unconditional love that Lucia and her mother hadn’t been able to give on their own no matter how hard they’d tried.

“Grandchildren already, I assume.”

“A few,” he agreed and watched as Lucia lifted a pastry from the silicon mat.  “I have a niece in high school and one who’s just turned one.”

“None of your own?” she inquired innocently and the question didn’t seem to set him back.

“Nah,” he said, ducking his head.  “Never met the right person.”

Something told her the right person wasn’t interested.

“And if you don’t?”

He shrugged.

“Then I don’t.  All my sisters have plans for a dozen each so it’s not like I’ll be missing out,” he said.  “Besides, this job is crazy. Sometimes I sleep at the precinct because it means the difference between four hours of sleep and five.  I’m not really in a good position to take on another human being at the moment.”

“And if you were to take up law, like Rafi?”  He looked up, surprised. “He told me you passed the Bar.”

“Barba told you that?”

“Rafi tells me everything.  And I figure out whatever he doesn’t mention because he tells me everything,” she said matter-of-factly.  “I also know you like books and were one of the youngest officers to make detective in the NYPD.”

Dominick gaped at her.  

“He… he talks about me?”

Lucia put the spatula down and stared.

“Yes, Dominick, he does,” she said, put on hand on her hip.  “Are you surprised?”

“A little.  How much of it is insulting?”

“Not as much as you’d think.”

The detective looked shell-shocked but even if he hadn’t consciously processed it, he was smiling.  

“You’ll have to do something eventually,” she told him, jerking him out of his reverie.  “You’ll get grayer waiting for Rafael. He’d work himself to death before admitting he wanted a relationship.”

“Listen, Mrs. Barba, I’m not sure-”

“Lucia.”

Lucia … I’m not sure that’s something-”

“What are your intentions with my son, detective?” she asked pointedly and all at once his mouth snapped shut.  “Are you going to make moon eyes at him forever or are you going to do something about it?”

The man who had stood tall in front of her son now cowered, wide-eyed.

She liked Rafael’s boyfriends with a little fear in them.

“Ahem.  Um, see, actually-”

His stammering was interrupted by loud knocks at the door, a quick and clearly put-upon cadence that Lucia could only assume was her son.  Slinking back to the door after realizing he’d left his keys and had no way into his own home than to face the people’s he’d run out on.

“It’s unlocked, Rafi!” she called but didn’t take her eyes off Dominick, who very much looked like he was considering the fire escape.  Footsteps approached and she could almost hear his repentant greeting, apology at the ready.

Except it wasn’t Rafael.

She could tell the moment Dominick’s eyes flickered over and his hand went straight to the handgun at his side, drawing it faster than she could process the movement.  In the space of a heartbeat it was raised and aimed straight in front of him, over the breakfast bar and into the living room where they’d been talking earlier. She couldn’t see around the corner, not like Dominick obviously could, but she trusted the man next to her so she grabbed a chef’s knife from the block next to the sink and gripped it tight in both hands.

“Don’t move,” he told whoever was on the other side of the bar and he didn’t sound like himself anymore.  His voice was lower, threatening, and it hadn’t occurred to her until then that Rafael’s lovesick detective was actually a cop.  “Drop the gun.”

Her stomach gave a sick flop.  

“Where’s the lawyer?” a voice asked.  Deep, masculine. An accent that spoke more of her concrete jungle than of Manhattan.  

“Not here.  You get me instead.”

There was a small hallway just outside of Rafael’s kitchen.  To the left took you to the living room, to the right took you to the bedrooms and guest bathroom.  If Lucia could get into that few feet of hallway, she’d get the drop on whoever was there without them ever realizing there was another person in the apartment.

She sank to her knees.

Dominick’s eyes stayed carefully trained straight ahead and she lowered herself to all fours.  She could crawl between the detective’s legs and the kitchen island and be in the hallway in a minute or two, if she ignored the arthritis pain she in her left knee.  Easy, when the man on the other side of the wall wanted to hurt her son and didn’t seem to have any compunctions about hurting the detective either.

Like hell would he get the chance.

Lucia gripped the large knife tighter and moved.  Slowly, at first. Slow enough to fully appreciate the throb of pain when her knee bore her weight on the merciless tile floor.  It was surprising how fast she covered ground, slowed only when Dominick moved a foot back to rest against the island. Blocking her way, quite intentionally, even without words.  

So much for obedient.  

She reached up and pinched his leg, just behind the knee, and the muffled grunt of pain before he moved his leg was more than satisfying enough to make up for the attempt to stop her.  Crawling quickly, before he could have the chance to pin her in place, she cleared the path behind him and saw the haven of hallway in front of her. Behind her Dominick was talking again, a mixture of interrogation and banter to either kill time until backup arrived or to distract him from noticing Lucia.  

The soft carpet was a lifesaver, both on her knees and for the knowledge that she could stand without being noticed.  Willing her joints not to pop, she gripped the knife and pushed herself to her feet. The knife stayed in her hand but she stared at it for a long moment, wondering if she could truly kill a man.  She’d butchered animals in her mother’s kitchen for years, but a human being? How would she ever look her mother in the eye again if she held a man’s life on blood-stained hands?

She put the knife down.  

Instead she grabbed a painting down from the wall - something fancy, she was sure, that Rafael had picked with the same intention as the rest of his home - but it would at least be enough to serve her purposes.  Peering around the corner, she found a young Hispanic man with a small handgun. He had it aimed right at the detective’s chest and she felt temper flare up, a fine stand-in for fear until the adrenaline wore off and she realized what she was doing.  He was close. Close enough to reach, she realized, and took a deep breath before turning the corner.

He had time to notice movement, to notice someone there, before Lucia was swinging that painting down on his arms and knocking the gun from his grip.  Somewhere in the back of her mind Dominick was yelling something but she was deaf to it, too busy enjoying the crack of wood and bone together and the exclamations of pain to notice.  Then the painting was gone, the gun was on the floor, and he was looking at her like a bull given the electric prod one too many times.

She thought of Dominick, barking orders and trying to get to her.

Thought of Rafael, who might have been home and vulnerable if this man had shown up any other night.

Righteous fury lit in her chest and before she knew what she was doing her arm was pulled back and her hand was clenched tight.  Blood roared in her ears and in less time than it took for her heart to give another frantic beat, she was socking him so hard she felt something snap when her fist met his jaw.

 

 

Forty-five minutes later, Rafael’s apartment was overrun with police and she’d been sequestered to her son’s bedroom while everyone else was working.

Except for Dominick, who stayed close.  

He paced the floor and cursed under his breath about the one time Barba had to leave his phone and Lucia rolled her eyes, taking another long pull from her glass.  One of the uniformed officers had been kind enough to pour her some of Rafi’s scotch while she waited for an ambulance.  For nerves, she’d insisted - batting her innocent old lady lashes at the younger man until he’d brought her a drink and a blanket in the middle of June, just in case she was cold.  

She was still working on the drink when she heard a commotion from the front of the apartment.  Shouting, some chaos, and it was enough to stop Dominick’s pacing and have him moving in front of her.  Blocking her from whoever was coming through the door, at least until the door burst open and the person on the other side was revealed to be her son.  Eyes wide and breathing heavy, clearly one good surprise away from a heart attack as he took in the sight of the detective in his bedroom and his mother on his bed, drinking one of his better liquors with a blanket draped around her shoulders.

“Rafi,” she greeted sarcastically. “So good of you to come.”

“Mami, what happened?  Are you alright?” he asked, pushing past Dominick to stand in front of her and reach down.  First her face, then her shoulders. His eyes scoured every inch of her, undoubtedly looking for blood and coming up empty.  

“I’m fine,” she assured him, rather unnecessarily, and when his assessment turned up nothing out of place, he nodded and stood, still a little too pale and eyes still a little too wide.  “Dominick was there to protect me. Weren’t you, Detective?” she added, just a little too sweetly.

Dominick gaped at her, and Rafael turned to him, some of the color returning to his face.  “Of course,” he said, a little stiffly, and Lucia almost rolled her eyes. “Thank you, Detective.”

“It was nothing,” Dominick said, equally formal, and Lucia was tempted to knock their heads together and be done with it. At least, until he added, one corner of his mouth lifting just slightly, “Besides, your ma’s got a hell of a right hook.”

Rafael’s eyes widened and he glanced back at Lucia, for the first time noticing the soft splint the EMT had insisted on putting her hand in.  “What?” he managed, and Dominick was full on grinning now.

Lucia decided now would be a good time to have another sip of scotch.

“Your ma coldcocked him so hard that he was still unconscious when they slapped the cuffs on him,” Dominick informed him, and Rafael swore under his breath in Spanish.  “I mean, uh, I guess you can take the lady out of the Bronx, but…”

“Don’t finish that thought,” Rafael ground out through clenched teeth.  He grabbed the bar glass from Lucia’s hand and raised it to his lips to drain the remainder.  “Have you lost your mind? You could have been killed!”

“But I wasn’t,” Lucia pointed out evenly, and Dominick let out what sounded like a laugh hastily disguised as a cough.

Rafael rounded on him.  “And you ,” he said accusingly, and the amusement drained from Dominick’s face, “this is what you consider taking the job seriously?  You won’t let me take 30 minutes to buy myself a sandwich but you let my mother take on an armed perp single-handedly? I would expect that of Olivia, but I would never imagine that you would be so reckless.”

“Hang on,” Dominick tried to interject, but Rafael didn’t let him.

“Bad enough that you insist on hanging around here as often as you do, actively putting yourself in the line of fire, but now you let my mother get herself involved?  I swear to God, I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since this thing began, and now I’m going to have nightmares of someone attacking you and my mother!” Rafael let out what remained of his breath in a huff and Dominick opened his mouth as if to say something, but Rafael just shook his head and drew a hand across his face. “If anyone needs a protective detail, it’s clearly you two for insisting on putting yourselves in danger,” he muttered darkly. “And maybe that would let me sleep at night, knowing that I won’t lose you—”

“Hang on,” Dominick repeated, louder this time, and Rafael broke off, glaring at him.  Lucia wished Rafael hadn’t finished the scotch, if only to give her something else to look at besides Dominick and Rafael glaring at each other.

Popcorn might’ve done the job, too.

“I don’t think you’re giving your ma enough credit,” Dominick said evenly.  “She’s tough as nails, and besides which, she was never in danger.”

Rafael’s glare could’ve melted paint.  “There was a man with a gun,” he growled.

“And there was no way I would ever have let him take a shot,” Dominick said.  “If I’d’ve had to shield her with my own body, I would’ve. Never in a million years would I have let anything happen to her.  You have to know that—”

Whatever else he was going to say, whatever further assurances he was going to offer were cut off by Rafael crossing to him, grabbing him by his loosened tie and tugging him down to kiss him.  Dominick’s eyes went wide for a moment, shocked - and Lucia didn’t blame him, she was fairly surprised herself - before he melted into it, cradling Rafael’s cheek with one hand while the other pulled him closer.  Rafael rested a hand over the detective’s chest and slid it to his ribs. An embrace. Comfort and a declaration and nothing Lucia had any desire to be present for.

“Really, Rafael?” she tutted mildly, too tired now to be genuinely dismayed.  “In front of your mother?”

They weren’t paying attention to her - she wasn’t sure either of them even knew she was there anymore.

Just as well, because she needed another drink.

“I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re done,” she said and picked up the empty glass from Rafael’s dresser to carry it out the door with her.  “No rush.”

She smirked and closed the bedroom door behind her.

No rush at all.

“Lieutenant Benson!” she called and the brunette at the other end of the hall froze, shoulders tightening.  Lucia smiled for the first time in an hour. “Explain to me again how this man managed to get into my son’s home…”