“Hey, Carisi, you okay?”
Sonny gave Liv a half-hearted attempt at a smile, “Not really. That scene when we busted down the door and saw those girls huddling together in the corner of the bedroom...I'll never forget it. Their eyes looked as though they were expecting the worst, like a terrified animal that's been abused before. That was rough.”
“Yeah, this one was tough all right,” Rollins replied as the rest of the SVU team nodded in agreement.
“It's bad enough when people are taken advantage of, but when it involves children, that's what gets to me the most. But even so, it's days like these that remind me of how much SVU is needed in spite of the collateral damage.”
Liv nodded in agreement. “It would have been nice to catch the real bastards behind this sex trafficking ring, but at least we got the girls out when we did.”
“Did you hear from CPS (Child Protective Services) about what's going to happen to that baby we found during the raid?”
“They're attempting to contact any relatives willing to look after her, but so far no dice. Which is a real shame since her mother is going to be in the hospital for at least a week. A lot of the girls we found were suffering from multiple bruises, dehydration, and malnourishment. It's a wonder that the baby is healthy at all.”
“They were probably using her as blackmail to force her mother to work for them,” Fin surmised astutely. “That girl couldn't have been more than fifteen.”
Sonny shook his head in disbelief. “Geez louise. Fifteen years old with a baby. She was just a kid herself when she got pregnant. That's probably why she was working the streets in the first place.”
“What happens if CPS can't find anyone?”
“The baby will probably end up in a foster home for the time being. That is, unless you know a trusted friend who wouldn't mind being a good Samaritan?”
Fin held up his hands, “Hey, don't look at me. I gave up diapers years ago.”
“Um, you do remember that you have a grandson, right?”
“What do you think the parents are for?” Fin replied as a matter of fact. “That's one of the privileges of being a grandfather.”
“I'd take her if I could, but Jessie is all I can handle at the moment,” Rollins chimed in.
“I'll take her,” Sonny volunteered.
Liv, Rollins, and Fin all stared at the tall and lanky Staten Island native in stunned silence.
“Well, don't all look so surprised. I happen to be a great uncle. After all, I've babysat my niece hundreds of times since she was born.”
“But that was just for a few hours at a time. This would be a full time responsibility. You won't be feeling so confident when the baby cries for hours at a time in the middle of the night and you're basically feeling like the walking dead. You can't turn babies on and off like a switch, you know.”
“And here I thought I could use my charisma and charm,” Sonny replied sarcastically. “Look, I've got some vacation days coming up that I need to take anyway, and I'm caught up with all my paperwork. And you guys can handle things without me. I've got the time, the means, and the experience. And besides, I want to do it.”
“It's a big responsibility. Are you sure you can handle it?” Liv asked uncertainly.
“Well, I did grow up with three sisters. I'm sure I can hand an eight month old baby girl. And if there's any situation I can't handle, I can always lean on my mother for help. And I'm willing to bet that Lin would appreciate seeing her baby during her recovery. It's the only solution that makes sense.”
“He's got a point, Liv.”
“You're absolutely certain that you want to go through with this, Carisi?”
“Positive. Besides, the baby and I bonded while we were waiting for the EMT's to arrive. I think she trusts me.”
“Must be that famous Carisi charisma and charm I've heard so much about,” Fin quipped sarcastically. “It's no wonder Barba fell for you.”
“Speaking of Mr. Wonderful, how much do you want to bet that he's not going handle the news very well?”
“Hey, I'll have you know Raf loves kids and would make a great dad. This will be good practice for us.”
“Just how many kids are you planning on having?” Rollins teased.
“That falls under the category of 'none of your business',” Sonny fired back.
Despite his bravado, Sonny was unsure of how Barba would react. The Manhattan ADA absolutely hated surprises. And although Barba had never vehemently protested the idea in all the time he and Sonny had been together, the reality of having a family never came up. All things being said, there was a part of Sonny that was worried what would happen to them if Barba didn't want the same things that Sonny wanted for them. Perhaps he should have given this babysitting thing a little more thought before volunteering. But that was Sonny, always plunging headlong and acting with his heart instead of his head. And that's exactly why Barba adored him so much.
“Sonny, I'm home,” Barba announced as he sauntered into their shared apartment dropping his briefcase onto the bureau in the foyer. “I hope you've got dinner ready, because I've been thinking about your famous Carisi family lasagna all day.”
“I knew it. You only wanted me here to cook for you.”
Barba's green eyes widened in shock as his boyfriend came from the living room with a big smile on his face and carrying a baby upright in his arms. The child was small for her age, but seemed healthy in every other aspect. She was admittedly a cutie pie, from her big brown eyes, plump cheeks, and long black eyelashes to her raven colored ponytails sticking out from each side of her head. The most stunning feature was her fair skin, which was pale and delicate like a poreclain doll. Sonny looked so natural holding her.
“Who, is THAT?” Barba replied in a deadpan tone of voice.
“This young lady is a very special guest who's going to be staying with us for the time being. Rafael Barba, meet Jasmine Chao.”
“Charmed, I'm sure. Okay, the joke's over. You can return her to her family now. And what's with the elaborate charade?”
“This isn't a joke. Jasmine's mother, Lin, was one of the girls we rescued in that sex trafficking case in Chinatown that I was telling you about. She's in the hospital right now, recovering from her ordeal.”
“Fine. I get that, but how did you get involved in becoming Mr. Mom?”
“Lin doesn't have anyone to turn to. Her parents died when she was little and she's been bounced from one foster home to another. CPS couldn't locate any relatives to watch after her daughter at the moment and I couldn't let Jasmine go with a complete stranger and not allow her to see her mother during that whole time. She's only 8 months old.”
“Pardon me, but aren't you a stranger to her as well?”
“Not exactly. I was the one who found the baby when we raided the apartment complex. She was so scared and wouldn't let go of me after I picked her up in my arms. So really, in her eyes, I'm not a stranger.”
“It's nice to see you putting your law degree to good use,” Barba replied drily. “I suppose it didn't occur to you to call and let me know what you had planned on doing. Or did you think that it wouldn't disrupt our lives?”
“Raf,” Sonny replied in a pleading tone. “Please try and understand. I know it's an inconvenience and I'm sorry for the short notice, but I promised Lin that I would take care of her daughter in her absence. It wouldn't feel right putting Jasmine with anyone else. She needs me. She needs us.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. What's with this 'us' business? I don't mind sharing our apartment with a child in need, but don't go including me in your shenanigans. YOU made the promise. So she's YOUR responsibility. Leave me out of it.”
“She's just an 8 month old baby. She won't hurt you. What have you got against babies anyway?”
“Nothing in principle. But I learned a lot time ago that me and babies just don't agree. Until you came along, I had been a confirmed bachelor. Don't expect me to change my ways overnight for this.”
“But you're good with kids. I've seen how you are with Jessie and Noah. They love their Uncle Rafa.”
“They're older and I can at least communicate with them verbally. Plus, I've known them longer. I wouldn't know what to do when a baby cries.”
“Well, they're either hungry, have to burp, need changing, or just want a cuddle. It's not as hard as you're making it out to be.”
“So, now you're an expert on babies. You can barely take care of yourself. Why are you so adamant about this anyway?”
“I just...I just thought it would be good practice for the future. You know, in case we decide to have a family of our own.”
Barba sighed deeply. “It took me a very long time to accept that I was attracted to you, Sonny. I don't know if I'll be ready for that next step.”
Barba's heart dropped to the pit of his stomach when he saw the stricken look in Sonny's eyes. He hated whenever he saw that look. It was the one weakness in Barba's armor when it came to his emotions. Even worse, that look meant that Sonny was heartbroken. But it was to be somewhat expected. Sonny could never control his emotions when it came to the subject of family...or when it came to Barba, himself.
“Let's just say that I wouldn't hold my breath. This shouldn't come as a shock to you. You knew the kind of person I was when we first got together. And besides, you didn't exactly give me fair warning on the subject.”
“Okay, I admit that it wasn't fair to ambush you like this, but I didn't exactly plan on it happening this way. I thought you knew me long enough to understand how I feel about the subject of kids.”
“Pardon me if I don't come across as sympathetic, but I've just had a long hard day in court and the minute I walk through the door, you literally produce a baby in front of my eyes. How the hell do you expect me to feel, Sonny?”
Jasmine clutched Sonny's dark blue and white plaid shirt tightly with her little hands, sensing the tension in the room and began to whine fretfully. Sonny immediately turned his attention to the child and began cooing soothing words.
“It's okay Jasmine. It's okay. You don't have to be afraid. Uncle Raf wasn't mad at you. Right?”
Sonny silently implored Barba with his eyes to help calm the baby down.
“Yeah. I wasn't mad at you, chiquita (little girl, little one). Sorry I scared you,” Barba replied contritely.
Jasmine looked up uncertainly at Sonny. It was obvious that she trusted him implicitly.
“There, you see? All better. I'll just feed her while you get settled...if that's all right with you.”
“Sonny...” Barba implored in vain.
“I'm not mad. I just need some space right now. Okay?”
“Fine,” Barba replied with resignation.
Barba knew that Sonny was just putting on a brave face for his sake. It was times like these Barba wished he could put on that façade of indifference like he would do in court. But he couldn't do that with Sonny. Sonny deserved better than that. He deserved to be loved and cherished and to be showered with affection. And he deserved complete and total honesty. Why he wanted to be with Barba had everyone at SVU still scratching their heads in bewilderment. Barba used to wonder himself at the beginning. But it was no real mystery. Simply put, Sonny had always been attracted to the dynamic and flamoyant Manhattan ADA from the moment they met. But Barba had been in no position to even consider the possibility of a romantic relationship at the time. He had been too hell bent on his career and making a name for himself and he wasn't ready emotionally. Or so he thought.
Sonny however, had other plans. Somehow, he had wormed his way into Barba's life and eventually into his heart. He had brought out Barba's softer side and had given him hope for the future; something Barba hadn't felt in a very long time. Everything had been going so well for them even after their somewhat tumultuous courtship. How did it go off the rails so quickly?
Later that night as Sonny and Barba lay together in bed, sleep didn't come easily for either of them. In times past, they would argue, but they would rarely go to bed mad at each other. How could they stay angry when making up was so much more fun? But tonight was a different story. And although their personalities were like night and day, both of them could be as stubborn as a mule.
“You asleep?” Sonny asked softly as he turned in the direction of his boyfriend.
“Not really,” Barba replied in the same soft tone as he stared into Sonny's eyes.
“Yeah, me neither.”
“Raf...Sonny...” they both began to speak at the same time.
“What you said earlier, I've been thinking about it all night long,” Sonny replied carefully.
“So have I. And before you say another word, I want you to know that I didn't mean what I said.”
“Yes, you did. But that's beside the point. What I was going to say is that I was wrong. I had no right to ambush you with the idea of starting a family when you weren't emotionally prepared for it. I was being selfish and unfair, especially now that I know how you feel about the subject. I know that I can go overboard on things that I care about. But it was foolish of me to expect the same reaction from you. Can you ever forgive me?”
Barba reached over to pull the lanky detective into his arms, holding him closely. They spent the next few minutes just holding each other in silence before Barba finally spoke.
“Oh Sonny...What the hell is wrong with you, you dope?” Barba chastised angrily.
“What?!” the younger man bristled back hotly. “I came to you with an olive branch and this is how you respond?”
“You're a smart and talented detective, but sometimes you act like a space cadet. Don't you get it? There's no reason for you to apologize. It was my fault that I shut you down without even giving this fatherhood thing a chance. I could see how important it was to you, but all I could think about was my needs. I treated you like a stranger in your own home.”
Sonny's expression softened as his indignation disappeared as quickly as it came. Barba could be brusque, quick-tempered, and snarky. But he also was devoted, passionate, and nothing, if not reasonable and fair.
“I guess I was letting my past experiences cloud my judgment and I panicked. I'm still getting used to the fact that I have someone else's feelings to consider besides my own. I kind of acted like a spoiled brat, didn't I?”
“Well, I was doing a pretty good imitation of that myself,” Sonny replied ruefully.
“Honestly, I wasn't trying to hurt you, Sonny. I swear on my grandmother's grave. Can you ever forgive me?”
Sonny crossed the gap between them and kissed Barba soundly and convincingly.
“Why don't we just say that we're both even in this case?”
“I think I can accept that plea bargain.”
“But that would imply that one of us was the guilty party. And since you just allocuted, I guess that the guilty party would be you.”
Barba immediately tightened his hold in retribution. “Knock it off, smartass.”
Sonny laughed as he settled back into Barba's arms, snuggling his cheek against his boyfriend's chest. “So, where do we go from here?”
“You're not going to let this go, aren't you?” It was more of statement, rather than a question.
“I will, if that's what you want. But I'd feel better if you would talk to me about it. Is the idea of becoming a father really that distasteful to you?”
“Not for reasons you might think.” Barba was silent for what seemed to be an eternity. “The truth is...I'm afraid.”
Sonny turned to look into Barba's green eyes incredulously. “You're afraid of babies?”
“Yes, that it. You've discovered my deepest darkest secret,” Barba replied sarcastically before clarifying. “Of course, I'm not afraid of babies. If you really want to know, I'm afraid of being a bad father.”
“That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard come out of your mouth, Rafael Barba. You've never been afraid of anything or anyone in all the time that I've known you.”
“It's not ridiculous. It's the truth. I don't know the first thing about raising children. And I didn't exactly have the best role model growing up in the Bronx. My papi was old school and thought that showing your emotions was a sign of weakness, which people were all too willing to exploit. He was nothing like how your father is with you.”
“But my Pops' personality is different from your father's personality. We're Italian after all. If anything, we have too many emotions. And besides, our fathers were from different backgrounds and had different life experiences. Maybe it was harder for your father to show his feelings.”
“It's not the act of showing emotions, per se. I could live with that. He just seemed detached all the time. The only time he showed any emotion was when he was busting my chops. Nothing I ever did was good enough for the man. It was like he didn't even care.”
“Maybe he didn't know how to show you,” Sonny replied softly.
“What do you mean?”
“Being a parent is not as easy as it looks. The responsibility never shuts off. Maybe your father was overwhelmed, just like you are now. From what your mother told me, they got married at a very young age and because of that, his family disowned him for his decision. They thought that he was too young and was making a mistake. I can't imagine how difficult it was for him to be in a situation like that.”
“Whenever I asked him about my grandparents, my old man would always change the subject. Now I know why. It was probably because of me.”
“Raf, I know what you're thinking, and he didn't resent you.”
“And you know this because...”
“Because your mother told me so. Your father worked hard for many years at a job he wasn't crazy about, but he stuck with it because he loved his wife and son. And furthermore, he did the best he could to provide for his family, despite having a limited education. Maybe, just maybe, he envied the path you chose for yourself or that you even had an option in the first place to do something else with your life. He could have taken the easy way out, but he didn't. It probably cost him more than we'll ever really know.”
Barba crossed the gap between them and kissed Sonny's forehead. “I take back everything I said about you being a space cadet. How did you get to be so smart?”
“Practice,” Sonny replied smiling confidently.
Barba leaned back against the pillows staring up at the ceiling throwing his arm over his head in contemplation.
“You know, after all this time, it never occurred to me that there was another reason for my father's stoic demeanor. I just assumed that he didn't want me wasting time, energy, and valuable resources following a pipe dream like becoming a lawyer. He'd always call me a dreamer, reiterating time and time again that the chances of getting out of the barrios was next to impossible, which irritated me to no end. The man had absolutely no ambition in life. At least, that's what he led me to believe.”
“It sounds to me like he had plenty of dreams and ambitions, but he gave them up because he wanted to be there for his family.”
“I just...I just wish he would have told me all of this before he died.”
“I'm sure he regretted many things. You said he was old school, right? Maybe for him, that was his way of showing that he cared. I know that if I had a son like you, I would have been shouting your praises from the rooftops.”
Barba gave a soft chuckle as he turned to look at Sonny. “You might be just a tiny bit biased.”
“Perhaps. But it's the truth. You know, being a parent doesn't mean you're perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. And just because your father wasn't as open with his emotions as you would have liked, doesn't mean that he didn't love you or that he wasn't proud of you. And it doesn't mean that you'll turn out the same way as he did. It's not like it's an inherited trait from one generation to the next. He made his choice. Now it's up to you.”
“But what if I do turn out exactly the same way as he did? You can't guarantee that it won't happen.”
“No, I can't make that guarantee. Look, I don't know what the future holds. No one does. But we can shape it by the decisions we make right now in the present.”
“You sound like an after school tv special. And just as corny too.”
“Corny, but true.”
“Doesn't life ever get you down, Sonny?”
“Sometimes. After all, I'm only human.”
“But how do you manage to keep that positive attitude with the kind of work that you do in SVU? It can't be easy.”
“I didn't say it was easy. There are times when it's hardly worth the emotional strain. But it's part of the job, and the good that we do always outweighs the bad side of it. I guess it just comes down to counting my blessings and being grateful for what I have.”
“That's all. You, for instance, are one of those blessings.”
“Are you sure that isn't a curse?” Barba replied in a self-deprecating tone.
“Positive. You make me happy. That's why I'm sure that you're going to make an awesome dad. So what do you say, counselor? Want to give this fatherhood thing a chance?”
Barba was silent for few moments before answering. “I'm still on the fence about this. And I'm not making any promises...but I'll try.”
“Thank you, Raf. You don't know how much this means to me.”
“Would you like to show just how grateful you are?” Barba replied suggestively before bending down to nuzzle Sonny's throat before latching on to the pulsing vein on the side of Sonny's neck with his lips, feasting greedily on his favorite spot. That was going to leave a hickey for sure.
Sonny moaned softly, unable to contain his pleasure. Barba knew exactly how to drive his lover crazy with desire and had no qualms about using his weaknesses against him. It was a good thing that Sonny didn't mind.
“Raf, we can't do it with the baby sleeping nearby. You know that I can't keep my voice down. And besides, I have to get up early in the morning to take care of her,” Sonny protested lightly. “I gotta get some rest.”
“So that means, you're saying no?” Barba asked as he let his lips trail slowly and teasingly down Sonny's bare chest and along his abdomen, caressing all of his lover's sensitive areas and pleasure points. Sonny immediately arched his back in response when he felt Barba's tongue dart into his navel. His body was practically begging for Barba to continue. And like the tease he was, Barba purposely stopped just below Sonny's waist driving the younger man into a wild frenzy when he wanted more. Enough was enough.
“It means that you're wasting precious time,” Sonny replied snaking his fingers through Barba's hair holding him closely. “Hurry up and finish, before I burst into flames.”
Barba lips curved into a knowing smirk. It was no wonder that he adored this man.