Sonny breathed out a sigh, drumming his fingers on the top of the steering wheel. He’d thought spending a day with Rafael would have been great. He’d imagined all the questions he could ask, all the different ways he could get to know their enigmatic ADA a little better.
He knew how Rafael liked his coffee, he knew he’d been close with his grandmother who had died a couple of years ago, and he knew he had gone to Harvard. Those were the only bits of information he could remember Rafael ever explicitly giving him.
Everything else he knew was instinctual.
He knew the way Rafael withdrew when a case got to him, he knew the way he snapped when he hadn’t had coffee or food for a few hours. And he knew that underneath the sharp wit and harsh barbs, Rafael Barba had a heart of gold. He knew these things, but they didn’t help him know Rafael as a person. Not really. Not the way he wanted.
But apparently reality had other ideas. While Rafael didn’t seem to mind Sonny’s company, he certainly had made no effort to make conversation, actively blocking Sonny out by turning the music up and focussing on answering texts and emails for the entire drive to and from their potential suspect.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, Sonny cast his eyes over to Rafael who had dozed off in the passenger seat. His face was bathed in a purple hue, illuminated by the last light of the day. He felt something soften in him, then, his irritation at Rafael’s sullenness easing somewhat.
“There is a major delay ahead,” the GPS chimed, interrupting their music. “You are no longer on the fastest route.”
Sonny suppressed a sigh, tapping at the screen on his watch to search for an alternate route.
Rafael leaned forward, face scrunched up with sleep as he turned the music down. “You’re not going off the highway.”
“If I take the next exit and use the back roads it’ll save us an hour or longer of sitting in traffic,” Sonny explained, accepting the new route.
Rafael pinched the bridge of his nose. “With all due respect to your beloved watch, I don’t trust it.”
Sonny laughed. “Barba, it’s Google maps. It knows what it’s doing. It’s literally a live traffic report.”
“And I’m saying stay on the highway.” Rafael was attempting to stare him down, but his hair was a little ruffled and his face was puffy with sleep, and Sonny couldn’t help the grin that broke out across his face.
“I’m following the GPS, Barba,” he said quietly, merging to the far right lane as the traffic slowed down, ready to take the exit.
“Fine,” Rafael muttered, resting back in his seat, arms folded across his chest.
“Hey, maybe when you drive you can call the shots,” Sonny teased. He was half-disappointed when Rafael didn’t bite back.
As they drove on in silence, the tree’s around them grew thicker, blocking out any natural light from the moon. It was pitch black, and even with his high beams on he couldn’t see much.
“Great,” Rafael muttered, tossing his phone down on his lap. “No reception. Thank you, Carisi.”
“You know, you could try actually talking to me,” Sonny suggested, not bothering to hide his irritation.
Rafael sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He was quiet for a small moment before he looked at Sonny, sheepish smile on his face. “You’re right. I’m an ass.”
Sonny grinned. He couldn’t help it. Not only had Rafael admitted Sonny was right, but he had insulted himself, too.
“Don’t look so happy about it, I may take it back,” Rafael muttered, but there was no bite to his words this time.
“I should’ve recorded that. I wonder if this dash cam actually works,” he teased, nudging Rafael with his elbow lightly.
Rafael rolled his eyes, but there was a hint of a smile on his face nonetheless.
“It was a bad day for it,” Rafael said softly, staring straight ahead. “Not your fault. I shouldn’t take it out on you.”
“You wanna talk about it?” He asked, angling his head towards Rafael.
“Just...politics,” Rafael said with a dry laugh, shaking his head. “I love my job, but Christ, I hate politics.”
Sonny laughed. “What? Nah, I can totally see you running for Mayor, schmoozing with all the politicians and their wives.”
“Only if I had someone on my arm to keep me in line,” he said with a smirk, teasing glint in his eye.
Sonny was about to say something back, flirt a little, but he was cut off by the car beeping at him before stuttering.
“Shit,” he whispered as the engine light, oil light, and another light he was unsure of all started blinking at him.
The car stuttered again before coming to a stop.
“That’s not funny, Carisi,” Rafael warned, ghost of a smile still on his face, like he really wanted to believe this was a joke.
Sonny turned the key in the ignition a few times, but nothing happened
“Carisi?” Rafael’s voice sounded the most uncertain he’d ever heard it, and he felt his heart sink.
“I’m sure it’s a quick fix.” He popped the hood before sliding out of the car, phone light lit up as a torch.
He frowned as he glanced around underneath the hood, but it was no use. None of it meant anything to him. He checked the engine fluid and it seemed fine, but beyond that, he had absolutely no idea. He heaved a sigh, hanging his head as he slammed the hood of the car shut again, not willing to look at Rafael.
“Excellent,” Rafael muttered as Sonny climbed back into the car. “You didn’t want to take the highway, and now look what’s happened.”
“I thought this was preferable to sitting in traffic for hours not moving,” Sonny grit out, staring at the steering wheel as he tightened his grip on it.
“Well now we’re stuck here and I can’t even check my emails.”
Sonny rolled his eyes, turning to look at Rafael. “Really? You’re worried about your emails?”
“Yes, I’m worried about my emails,” Rafael snapped, expression fierce as he stared Sonny down.
“Jeez,” Sonny breathed out. “Talk about first world problems.”
He sat back in his seat, ignoring the glare Rafael was most certainly giving him in favor of checking his watch. It dawned on him then, that not only was he stuck without a signal to find help, but his watch was sitting at 9% battery.
“Shit,” he muttered, tapping at the google maps app before switching to his phone to do the same. When neither would update with a location, he felt a vague sense of panic fill him up. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone tech-free. “Shit.”
“And you think I have first world problems,” Rafael muttered, rolling his eyes as he sat back in his own seat, arms folded across his chest.
“Yeah, very helpful, Rafael.”
Sonny sighed, reaching for the police radio. As he played with the dial, receiving only silence from every channel, he had to hold back the laughter that bubbled up inside him. The battery to his police scanner was dead, too. He felt like he was in a sitcom. Cursing, he tossed it aside, ignoring the look Rafael threw him in favor of folding his arms across his chest.
They sat in silence for what felt like ages, his irritation slowly fading away to guilt. This was his fault. He’d put them in this situation, and now they had no real idea of where they were or how far away help of any kind was.
He heard Rafael sigh beside him, and he watched out of the corner of his eye as the ADA rested his feet up on the console, making himself comfortable.
“Surely you were a boy scout,” Rafael said, tone far lighter than before. “You can work something out.”
“And you’re just gonna sit here, and, what? Not check your emails?” Sonny asked, satisfied with the side eye Rafael gave him in response.
He stared Rafael down until the man visibly deflated before him. “Fine, I’ll walk with you to find someone. Happy?”
“Couldn’t be happier,” Sonny snarked.
Still, as Rafael tucked his chin inside the top of his coat, shuffling closer to Sonny as they wandered down the road he couldn’t help the small smile that broke out on his face.
Every time their arms bumped together as they walked, Sonny felt his stomach flutter. He felt ridiculous for it, but it had always been that way for as long as he had worked at Manhattan SVU. Every little touch, every little look the ADA gave him made his stomach swoop and his heart soar. He knew it was pathetic, but it made him too happy to care. Sometimes he thought that maybe, just maybe, he was in with a chance.
A gust of wind blew through them, and Rafael stepped so impossibly close that Sonny had to resist the urge to wrap his arm around the shorter man. It was so cold he could hear Rafael’s teeth chattering, could feel him trembling beside him as they walked.
It felt like they had been walking for hours, but when Sonny glanced at his watch, now at 5%, it told him they had only been walking for 20 minutes. A sense of dread slowly filled him up, sending a shiver down his spine that had nothing to do with the external temperature. He didn’t want to go off-road, didn’t want to steer them away from a clear path, but he was beginning to think they weren’t going to find anyone for miles.
Something cracked and rustled in the trees beside them. He felt Rafael jump instantly, pausing to eye the trees warily.
“I think we should go back to the car,” Rafael said quietly, not tearing his eyes from the thick mass of trees beside them.
“Scared of the dark?” Sonny teased.
“Yes. Terrified,” Rafael deadpanned, rolling his eyes. “Look, we’ve been walking for ages and we can’t see anything and it’s freezing and--”
“How about I keep walking and you go back to the car?” Sonny suggested, though he honestly wasn’t sure how much good it would do at this point.
Rafael’s eyes went comically wide. “You can’t go on your own.”
“Armed and dangerous,” he waggled his eyebrows suggestively as he gestured to the holster on his belt.
“Fine,” Rafael huffed out, shoving his chin further into his coat. “Fine, we’ll keep walking.”
As Rafael glanced around them again, peering into the pitch black of the trees beside them, Sonny realized Rafael might actually be a little scared. He felt himself soften a little at that, his irritation at Rafael’s constant unwillingness to cooperate disappearing almost instantly.
“We’ll walk for another ten minutes,” he suggested softly, nudging Rafael lightly. “If we can’t see anything, then we’ll go back.”
As they walked a little further, Sonny had to acknowledge it was a little eerie, with only darkness and silence surrounding them, pierced by the odd crow or a rustle of leaves. Sonny didn’t scare easily, he was used to being on guard, but he understood it. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end, and he was alert, hand ready to go to his holster at any moment.
“I told you we should have gone back,” Rafael muttered into his coat as snow started falling between them, fluttering in the limited light cast by their phones.
“Yeah, okay, you win,” Sonny relented with a soft smile, which Rafael surprisingly matched. “As always.”
Rafael rolled his eyes, but there was an unmistakable fondness on his face as he turned around.
As they walked back to the car, Sonny itched to reach out, to touch Rafael. He could see how cold he was, could still see him trembling even in the barely-there light they had provided themselves. He wanted to brush away the snow settling in Rafael’s hair, warm his hands between his own. But those were boundaries they hadn’t yet crossed, probably never would cross, though for the life of him he couldn’t work out why.
As they slid back into the car, Sonny decided to try the ignition again, just in case. He hadn’t thought it would work, but proving himself right didn’t stop the frustrated sigh that escaped his lips.
“Fuck,” Rafael muttered, rubbing his hands together. “What are we meant to do now?”
Sonny shrugged, turning to look at Rafael as apprehension filled him up. “I guess we’ve gotta sleep here and wait till it’s light out.
“Sleep here?” Rafael asked, voice rising in both pitch and volume as his eyes went wide. “In a car?”
Sonny snorted. “No, in the nice cabin that’s just through those trees.” Rafael rolled his eyes, prompting Sonny to smile involuntarily. “Yes, in a car.”
They fell into an uncomfortable silence, both fiddling with their phones, though there was no hope of reception. Sonny glanced over, frowning when he realized Rafael was reading over old emails. Every time he looked, Rafael seemed to have gone further and further back, reading aimlessly.
“Isn’t that, you know,” Sonny gestured lazily, “kind of boring?”
“What else am I meant to do?” Rafael snapped through clenched teeth.
Sonny pocketed his phone in favor of turning his body towards Rafael, giving him his full attention. “I’m capable of listening as well as talking. Try me.”
“Appealing.” Rafael deadpanned, but Sonny noticed he’d pocketed his phone, too.
“How about we make more room?” Sonny suggested, gesturing to the back seat. “We can lay the seats down, use the boot to spread out.”
Rafael raised his eyebrow, smirk tugging at his lips. “As long as I don’t have to get out of the car again.”
“Nah,” Sonny said with a grin before climbing over the console and into the back seat.
He laid the seats down before climbing into the large boot of the SUV, gesturing for Rafael to follow. He received an eye-roll in return, but then slowly Rafael climbed in after him, stretching his legs briefly before propping himself up against the side of the car.
Sonny grinned, sprawling out on his stomach, taking up as much space as he could once he was sure Rafael wasn’t going to spread out any further. He watched for a moment, noticing the way Rafael still shook, his whole body tense as he tried to suppress the tremors running through his body.
“You okay?” He asked softly, nudging Rafael’s foot.
“How are you not cold?” Rafael asked, body shuddering as he relaxed for a brief moment.
“I mean, I am. But not as cold as you, apparently.”
Rafael huffed, crossing his arms tight across his chest. Short of physically holding the man, Sonny didn’t quite know what to do, so he figured the next best thing would be to take his mind off it.
They lapsed into easy conversation, about work mostly, dull but comfortable, common ground. But Sonny wanted more. This was his chance to ask, his chance to finally try and dig a little deeper, learn something new about the man he’d grown so fond of.
“What did you get up to as a kid, then?” He asked, rolling onto his back, head lolled to the side so he could watch the ADA.
Rafael snorted. “Getting in trouble, like most kids.”
“Really?” Sonny laughed. “You? Seriously?”
“I grew up in the Bronx, Carisi. I haven’t always been…” He gestured toward himself, “this.”
“Mmm,” Sonny hummed in agreement, unable to stop the grin that broke out across his face at that piece of information. “I bet you were mouthy, though. How did your parents keep up with you?”
Something in Rafael’s expression shifted. It was so minor he almost missed it, but he could see the way Rafael’s jaw twitched just slightly as he tensed.
“As I said, I got myself into trouble,” Rafael said, voice a little sharper than it had been before.
There was an uneasy beat of silence, and Sonny felt his heart sink. He could feel Rafael pulling away from him, could feel the turn in the conversation was unwanted. He breathed out a silent sigh before forcing himself to smile.
“My sisters were always getting me into trouble. Telling me to do things, convincing me it was a good idea when they knew I would get my ass kicked. It was like their favorite game, but I always played along.” He laughed, staring up at the roof of the car. “But Pops--”
“My dad was...we were his punching bag,” Rafael said suddenly, like he was forcing the words out. He gave a small shrug, trying to appear less affected than he was. “I spent a lot of time with my Abuela.”
Sonny nodded slowly. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t my place to ask.
“No,” Rafael shook his head. “You didn’t know.” An uncomfortable silence fell over them while Sonny thought on a young Rafael terrified of his own home. Then Rafael added, “It’s funny how you can still hate someone so long after they’ve gone.”
Sonny smiled sadly, inching just a little bit closer to Rafael, so they were just touching but not quite. Rafael returned the smile half-heartedly, and Sonny felt his chest ache with the desire to reach out, to offer some kind of comfort.
Instead, he did what he knew best. He talked. He told stories of his sisters, of cooking with his Nonna. He told Rafael about the childhood dog he’d begged his parents to buy him, and the way his father had always grumbled about it but secretly loved the tiny, energetic ball of fluff. He spoke until he noticed Rafael stifling a yawn, eyes looking heavy.
“Make yourself comfortable,” he said quietly, moving away to make a little more room.
Rafael huffed. “I’m not going to sleep.”
Rafael didn’t answer, just crossed his arms a little tighter, the tension returning to his entire body. He was surprised he hadn’t felt it before, the way fear and uncertainty suddenly radiated off Rafael in waves.
“Hey,” he said softly, sitting up so he could move beside Rafael properly. “We’re gonna be okay. You know that, right?”
Rafael didn’t respond, but the way he looked away, casting his eyes out into the never-ending darkness, lips pulling downward, was answer enough for Sonny. He felt his stomach swoop at the realization that all this time Rafael had been properly scared. He knew he’d been spooked wandering in the dark, but he hadn’t realized he was actually scared.
“Rafael,” he said, moving a little closer so that their knees were brushing. “You've got me. I’d never let anything happen to you.”
“I’m not worried,” Rafael muttered, but he didn’t sound convincing. After a beat of silence, he added, “But you realize this is the start of every horror movie ever, right?”
“Or every rom-com ever,” Sonny said, waggling his eyebrows in an attempt to make Rafael laugh. “Didn’t take you for the horror movie type.”
“Didn’t take you for the rom-com type,” Rafael countered, hint of a smile on his face.
“Seriously?” Sonny asked, feigning offense. “Everyone loves romcoms.”
Rafael sniffed, like the very thought offended him, but he didn’t deny it. Sonny studied him for a moment, watching his body tense with every shiver that ran through him, watching the way his jaw clenched and unclenched, and he felt guilt set low in the pit of his stomach.
He inched just that little bit closer, so they were pressed right up against each other, and cautiously draped his arm across Rafael’s shoulders. He held his breath, waiting for rejection, but instead, Rafael leaned into him, sighing heavily, like he’d been holding it in for ages. Sonny released his own breath slowly, a warmth filling him up at the feel of Rafael pressed up against him.
Now he couldn’t just see Rafael trembling, he could feel it, and though it seemed to have eased somewhat, it still tugged at Sonny’s heart.
“Hey,” he said with a grin, fishing his phone out of his pocket with his free hand. “How about we watch a movie?”
“Oh, yeah, why didn’t I think of that?” Rafael asked, voice dripping with sarcasm. He shifted so he could look up at Sonny for emphasis. “Have you forgotten where we are?”
“I have PS I Love You downloaded on Netflix,” he explained, flicking through his mess of apps. “My phone has 41%. We can just watch until it dies. But you should turn your phone off now so we have a phone tomorrow.”
“I am not watching PS I Love You,” Rafael grumbled, pressing his face into Sonny’s shoulder.
A fondness bloomed in Sonny’s chest at the way Rafael buried into him. He knew it was more for warmth than anything else, but it still made his heart flutter.
“Well, I am,” Sonny said with a half-shrug, loading the movie up on his screen.
After the first five minutes, he could feel Rafael shifting, angling himself so he could see the phone better. Sonny smirked, satisfaction filling him up as he lowered the phone so Rafael could see better.
“You look a bit like Gerard Butler,” Sonny commented quietly, glancing down at the top of Rafael’s head.
Rafael huffed out a laugh. “Sure, if you say so.”
“I’m serious,” Sonny insisted, nudging him in the side. “Less ruggedly handsome, but still…” he trailed off, trying to find the right words before awkwardly settling on, “handsome.”
“Oh, I’m handsome, am I?”
Sonny could practically hear the smirk in the prosecutor's voice, and he felt himself flush. “Sure.”
Rafael laughed quietly, but said nothing, lapsing back into silence. Sonny noticed he was trembling less, perhaps from the body heat, perhaps from the distraction, perhaps a mix of both. Still, he felt satisfied. He couldn’t help but study him, attention drifting from the movie at irregular intervals to focus on the rise and fall of Rafael’s breath, the way he shifted every now and again, pressing himself further into Sonny.
Just as he was sure Rafael had fallen asleep he heard a small sniffle.
“Are you crying?” He asked, unable to hide the glee from his voice as he shifted, trying to catch a glimpse of Rafael’s face.
“No,” Rafael said a little too quickly, wiping at his eyes.
“Well, I am,” Sonny lied nonchalantly, smiling to himself as he rested his head on top of Rafael’s.
At first, Sonny wasn’t sure what woke him. Then he heard it, a tapping on the window. He scrunched his face up, squinting against the light streaming in as he reached out to soothe Rafael. Rafael, who had fallen asleep in his arms. He couldn’t remember falling asleep, couldn’t remember finishing the movie. But he could remember the warmth, the comfort of a body pressed against his as he slept, arm draped protectively over their chest.
As his eyes adjusted, the first thing he could see was Amanda’s face through the back window, grinning from ear to ear like a child on Christmas. He felt his face grow hot as everything caught up with him. Slowly, the rest of the world came into focus, and he could hear the crackling of police radios and the helicopters overhead, and he groaned, covering his face.
Rafael inched away from him, opening the passenger door to slide out, looking ruffled and just as sheepish as Sonny felt. Despite everything, what Sonny wanted more than anything else was to pull Rafael back inside, pull him close, hold him again and wish the rest of the world away.
“Nice night, boys?” Amanda asked gleefully as Sonny followed Rafael out, running a hand through his hair.
“Not particularly,” Rafael grumbled as he pushed past Amanda. However, he turned to flash Sonny a quick, soft smile that sent his heart into a frenzy.
“Half of the NYPD was out looking for you, but you two were just enjoying a romantic getaway in the woods, huh?” Amanda teased.
Sonny and Rafael rolled their eyes in unison, which only made Amanda smile wider.
“Sorry, Lieu,” Sonny muttered as he passed Liv, but even she was fighting a smile.
As Sonny climbed into the front seat of Amanda’s car, he was surprised Rafael climbed into the back seat instead of heading back with Liv, though when he saw how red Rafael had gone he figured it was probably to avoid teasing from his friend more than anything else.
He could feel Amanda watching him as they drove, could almost sense her smiling, but he kept his eyes fixed out the window, stealing glances at Rafael through the side mirror every now and again. Every time they locked eyes in the mirror Sonny felt sure there was an extra level of fondness in the smirk he received.
“Thank you, Rollins,” Rafael mutters politely as they pull up outside his apartment building.
Before he’d even thought about it, Sonny had his seatbelt removed, ready to follow Rafael outside.
“Just...gimme a moment,” he muttered to Amanda, ignoring the knowing grin she threw his way.
He fell into step beside Rafael, walking him to the front door before they both paused, turning to look at each other.
“I’m sure I could have made it the five or so paces from the road to here on my own, Detective.” Rafael sounded sarcastic, but his smile was soft.
Sonny rubbed the back of his neck, glancing back at the car. “Yeah, well…”
“Thank you, Sonny,” Rafael said, expression turning serious for just a moment.
Sonny laughed. “What for?”
Rafael just raised his eyebrows in response, face plastered with the biggest ‘are you kidding me’ look Sonny had ever seen, which made him laugh again.
“Listen,” Sonny said quickly, touching Rafael’s arm lightly as he turned back toward the door. “I’d...erm...like to take you to dinner some time, if that’s okay?”
Rafael smirked, eyes raking up Sonny’s body slowly before resting on his eyes. “We just slept together, and now you ask me out on a date?”
Sonny felt his face go red as he let go of Rafael’s arm, shoving both his hands in his pockets. “I didn’t...I just…” he stammered, prompting a laugh from the ADA.
“Friday, eight o’clock,” Rafael said quietly as he turned back towards the door once more. “I’ll text you the address.”
Sonny gaped at him long after he’d disappeared, surprised the man had actually said yes. If he’d known asking Rafael out on a date would be so easy he would have done it months, maybe years ago.
“You alright?” Amanda asked, frowning as he hopped back in the car.
“Yeah,” Sonny breathed out, smile slowly forming on his face as the shock wore off. “I’m goin’ on a date with Barba.”
Amanda snorted as she started the car. “Good for you.”
As Sonny let his gaze fall out the window a fluttering warmth settled in the pit of his stomach setting his heart alight. Finally, he had a date with Rafael Barba.