Sonny Carisi should have known better than to walk through the doors of the 16th thinking it would be an easy day.
It’s been slow in the department recently, which is a good thing on so many different levels, and Sonny has to admit he’d gotten spoiled by the free time between cases. He’s been using most of it to keep up on case law, to send emails with ideas and suggestions on active cases to an ADA who never writes back, and even though he can hardly be considered the new guy anymore, he’s still the newest guy and that makes him the coffee lackey.
He’d chosen to act before asked this morning, strolling in with several cups of coffee, orders memorized by now, and when he’d rapped on Liv’s door to deliver hers, his Lieutenant had beckoned him inside with instructions to close the door behind him.
Now, as he sits slack-jawed and staring at Liv with his own coffee in hand, barely touched and getting colder by the minute, Sonny wishes he’d paid more attention to his horoscope this morning.
“An unexpected invitation will catch you off-guard,” it’d read. “Accepting may be your only option so be prepared to embrace it.”
He never actually takes the damn thing seriously but his younger sister had gotten him hooked on catching up with it every day, and he always gets a text from Bella anytime hers says something particularly intriguing. Just last weekend, she’d read that for Virgos, “children might prove to be a source of happiness and satisfaction." It'd been ridiculously broad, but Bella had written to him in all caps exclaiming that surely this was a sign of something because her Sofia brings her constant happiness and satisfaction, it's all right there in the horoscope.
Sonny had managed to refrain from pointing out that it’s nothing significant if it’s true all the time. When he tells her about what’s happened just now later, she’ll almost definitely start bouncing off the walls.
“Carisi, you still with me?”
Liv’s voice interrupts his thoughts and brings Sonny back to reality, a reality he just barely recognizes at this point because what she's just proposed to him somehow seems so surreal. He clears his throat, nodding, pausing to take a sip of his lukewarm coffee as he stalls to consider about how the hell he’s supposed to react to the assignment and coming up very much empty. “Yeah, Lieu, I guess. It’s just kind of hard to wrap my mind around the whole thing, you know?”
“I get it,” Liv says, leaning back in her chair with steepled fingers as she watches him over the rim over glasses. “But I’ve got confidence in you, I think you’re the best fit for this. I’ve discussed it at length with Dodds and the DA, we believe this is the best course of action to take if we want to try to bring this case to trial. There’s not enough to go on as it is, but I’m certain we can find something if we just have the right resources. You’re going to be that resource.”
“Going back to college, though,” Sonny says, letting out a low whistle. “I’m not even done paying off my student loans for the first time around.”
“That recent experience makes you an even better candidate. Besides, you’re not going to be deep undercover, you don’t have to blend in with the teens or twenty-somethings, you’ll be going in as Sonny Carisi. You’ll just be Sonny Carisi, first-year law student. We have a file prepared for you to study, some details about your personal life that are changed for the job, you know the drill.”
“Homework already,” he jokes, though Liv only humors him with a thin smile. “So all this just to catch one professor in the act?”
“This one professor has had multiple complaints made against him by both students and colleagues but nothing’s ever really come of any of them. They’ve always been withdrawn or barely pursued.” She nudges a file folder across her desk, and Sonny obligingly picks it up to flip through it. “John Buchanan. He’s been working at NYU for the better part of a decade, previously worked at Columbia. Had a number of buried complaints there, too.”
“Someone came into SVU about him?” Sonny asks, glancing up at her in surprise. “Why didn’t we investigate?”
“A student brought her roommate in to report coercion,” Liv explains, her expression hardening, “but a few minutes into the interview, the roommate decided she didn’t want to continue and left. It’s what got my attention in the first place. I believe Buchanan is trading sexual favors for grades, likely threatening to fail anyone who declines his advances. I don’t know how many young women he’s victimized but from what little I heard the day those girls came in to see me, it didn’t sound like it was a surprise he'd do it.”
“Real piece of work, this guy,” Sonny mutters, slapping the file back down on the desk with a sigh. “Okay, so I go in, pose a student, and what? Just keep an eye on him in his classes until he slips up?”
“Something like that. Here’s the deal: we’ve enrolled you in two of Buchanan’s classes, Criminal Law and Criminal Litigation. You’re to participate and observe but remember, you’re undercover. If you hear anything or get the sense that Buchanan’s targeted another student in the class, you’re not to intervene, you report straight back to us and we’ll handle it.”
Sonny purses his lips at that because it feels a lot like being sidelined, even if that’s not what the Lieu’s getting at here. It’s important work, he understands that, but going to law school in his thirties again? That’s not exactly his idea of putting his time to its best use. It is what it is, though, whining and moaning won’t get him out of this so all he can do is offer a tight smile and comprehending nod.
“Sit back and shut up, I hear you, Lieu.”
Liv looks entirely and rightfully unimpressed with his answer, but she graciously ignores him and continues, “You need 12 credits to be a full-time student at NYU Law,” she continues, “so we’ve also got you in for Criminal Procedure with a Professor Rita Calhoun and Elements of Criminal Justice with Professor Rafael Barba.”
Sonny narrows his eyes. “Barba. Why’s that name sound familiar?”
Something in Liv’s expressions twitches and Sonny doesn’t quite understand why, but her tone softens. “He was an ADA out of Brooklyn, worked sex crime cases. Quit about five or six years back after the family member of a perp he put away broke into his apartment and stabbed him while he was sleeping.”
“Right, right.” Sonny sits up a little straighter, his memory jogged. He’d caught most of the updates regarding that particular case in the papers so he can’t quite picture Barba’s face, but he does recall discussing it here and there with his sisters and previous co-workers. “I remember seeing that in the news, had no idea he became a teacher.”
“It’s a shame,” Liv says, “he was really good at what he did. Creative, got things done. He’s been to a couple of my seminars, too, he’s a good man. The reason we wanted you in with him is that he and Buchanan have apparently been known to butt heads on campus.”
“Nice to know he doesn’t get along with assholes, at least.”
Liv ignores that comment, too, and Sonny is already starting to feel like he’s back in school. “NYU’s dean is refusing to let us access the HR reports without a warrant, and we can’t get a warrant issued if we don’t want to blow your cover before you can even get started. Barba might know something, try to get to know him. He’s a little prickly, but he’s got every right to be and like I said, he’s a good man. If you can get him to trust you, you might be able to get him to talk about anything he knows about Buchanan. Whatever helps the case is worth the shot.”
It sounds a hell of a lot like using him, actually, but Sonny only shrugs because as good a guy as Barba might be and as much shit as he might’ve gone through, the most important thing here is making sure nobody else gets hurt. Nothing else matters.
A knock at the door interrupts them then and when Sonny glances over his shoulder, he sees Amanda's head poking through the space in the door, a wide, unbridled smile greeting him.
"Did you break the news yet?" Amanda asks, stepping through the threshold of Liv's office, and Sonny swears she's biting down on the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.
"What?" Sonny glances between Amanda and Liv with a slight sense of dismay, throwing his hands up in the air and letting them fall heavily back down on his lap. "Am I seriously the last to know about my own undercover assignment, is that how this works now?"
"Oh, come on, Carisi," Amanda says, giving him a light-hearted punch to the arm. "You're going back to college. If you thought Fin and I weren't going to have a field day with this, maybe you really do need to go back to school."
"Rollins," Liv warns, "this isn't a joke." The corners of her lips are just slightly turned upward, though, and she doesn't bite when Sonny squints suspiciously at her. "In any case, Carisi, it's just as well Rollins is here. You'll be giving her general updates on what you find out while you're undercover, anything major can come straight to me."
“Don’t worry, Lieu,” Sonny assures her, “I’ve got it handled.”
It’s more relieving to Sonny than it maybe should be to any reasonable person that Liv, and even Amanda, look like they believe him.
“You stop pacing.”
It’s a petulant response, Rafael Barba is entirely aware of that and furthermore, it doesn’t make a lick of sense because Rita is glaring at him from his couch with a half-empty glass of cab in hand.
“I don’t know what you’re so nervous about. Buchanan has no idea you’re the one who filed that report against him. You really think Dean Barth’s going to open that can of worms again after an entire summer has passed?”
“No, and I’m not nervous,” Rafael says, absently waving a hand before taking a sip from his own glass of wine, just narrowly missing a spill as he turns sharply to face his friend. “Not for myself, anyway. You know what he’s like, he has a whole class of first-year law students who are going to walk into his classroom tomorrow with no fucking clue what a monster their professor is and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”
Rita sighs, pushing off from the back of the couch so she can rest her elbows on her knees, watching Rafael intently until he goes quiet long enough for her to get another word in. “You still think the world is on your shoulders, Rafael. It’s not on you to prove every case, it hasn’t been for a long time.”
Rafael frowns, the crease between his brows deepening. “So you’re just okay with letting it happen, over and over? You’re fine with him victimizing his own students?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“I know,” Rafael snaps. He purses his lips, running a hand through his hair then letting his eyes slip shut as he tries to put into practice the breathing exercise his therapist had taught him long ago. It doesn’t always work, more often than not it takes a lot more than a few deep breaths to regain a sense of composure and control, but he’s relieved to find it helps him now. For her part, Rita stays silent, patient. She always does. “I’m sorry. I know that’s not what you said.” He blinks his eyes open again, offering a contrite smile. “It’s just that we both know what he’s doing but he’s too damn good and covering it up. These kids are too scared of what coming forward might mean for their transcripts, and I know I can’t force anyone to come forward but damn if I don’t wish they would.”
“Once an ADA, always an ADA,” Rita teases, her tone gentle, a little bit cautious. “I know it’s hard. I’m with you, you know I am. But until we have solid evidence to bring up against him or unless someone’s willing to talk, there’s nothing we can do.”
This isn’t the first time since they’d found out last semester what a piece of shit Buchanan is that Rita’s given him this speech, it’s not the first time she’s had to talk him down, and Rafael plops down on the couch beside her with a frustrated groan. “I hate the idea of just waiting for the next victim to come around, it almost feels like we’re letting him get away with it.”
“Hey,” she says, giving his thigh a reassuring squeeze, “we know to keep an eye on him this time. Hell, maybe this semester will be different. Maybe we’ll nail him this time.”
Rafael nods, though he can’t say he has high hopes. Buchanan’s a slimeball, but he’s a slimeball who knows what he’s doing. Rafael glances at Rita, taking another sip of wine before resting his head on Rita’s shoulder. “Yeah, maybe. And if the universe wants to send us a little help, I can’t say I’d be opposed.”
Just a little. He doesn’t think it’s too much to ask.