The man standing in front of Rafael is not the same one he used to know. Sure there are some familiarities, like the ungelled mess of blonde hair and the blue eyes inset with smile lines. Thin fingered pianist’s hands that move too quickly do the same thing now that they always have despite the fact that what they cause is nowhere near the same that it used to be. No stiff suit pressed flat with a matching tie and a neat coat, badge and gun on hip either. He’s dressed in heather sweatpants and a ratty well-loved maroon hoodie with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, barefoot on the concrete ledge. Soot stains his face and clothes like smears of pencil from a poor erase job. The skyline burns in the distance, reflecting back on his face in shades of orange and yellow from the mess that creeps out from the epicenter on the terrace of crumbling rocks and overgrown plants. Plants that haven’t been pruned in a month, maybe more, but still flourished under the rainy weather that the city is really missing now that the sky has dried up and has no relief to offer for the fire, destruction, utter chaos that has overrun the once bustling site.
Downstairs, outside the building, hostage negotiators stand with a fall pad at the ready in case someone falls, is pushed, or jumps. Not that either of the men up here would do any of those things. Rafael is lucky that he was allowed up here, because he knows that anyone else or a practiced phone call would have just angered the man standing and staring at what he’s done with nothing on his blank face. Apathy makes him even less the one Rafael used to know. Not too long ago, but what feels like an eternity, he had been one of the most empathetic people Rafael ever knew. He was sweet, innocent, perhaps even a bit naive. The kind of man who smiled wherever he went and brought food for his coworkers every Wednesday and tucked a blanket around Rafael when he fell asleep on the couch. He was a good man. Deep down, he still has to be. That all doesn’t just vanish, and there’s no way it was an act this entire time.
“Low of them to send you to execute me.”
“They don’t want you dead, Sonny. In fact, they’re a little scared you’re going to jump.”
Sonny tilts his head to the side in a gesture reminiscent of a golden retriever. Before all of this, he had said that he wanted one. He’s always been a dog person, had begged and said he would take care of her (it’ll be a her, Raf, I just know it), only to spend a week sulking over the reality that they just weren’t home enough to take care of a dog and give it the love and care it needs. Both worked late, sometimes unpredictable hours. There was a running joke that Sonny is basically a puppy anyways, excitable energy and doe eyes.
“Right, I forgot. They can’t experiment on me if I’m dead.”
He spits the word experiment out like it’s a vile thing tasting bitter in his mouth like the coffee he never liked. Rafael drinks too much of it and always has. Sometimes, Sonny complained about it. He said that subsequent kisses tasted too much like it. It’s been too long since Rafael has heard that gripe against his shoulder on the early morning of a rare day off. He misses those mornings, the easy ones where everything was okay, even if it was just for a little while. Asking for a kiss now is crass at best, dangerous at worst, but the temptation is there in full force. One more taste of the kisses that used to make getting out of bed in the morning worth it seem to be a fair trade for that of his life, which is practically over anyway. He was the catalyst that started the whole spiral, saying that he needed time apart because he had made such an irreparable mistake in that hospital room, acquitted or not.
“So who’s down there for me? FBI? ESU? NYPD? Who do I dedicate my suicide to?”
Deadpan humor sounds wrong in the Staten accent that Rafael has come to associate with home. While Sonny’s sense of humor has always been dry and sarcastic, it’s never been outright morbid or delivered in such a flat voice. The only way to tell he’s not serious is the step he takes away from the ledge. He doesn’t really want to die, not here, not now. All he wants is to fix the world. If he’s dead, he can’t watch it become okay. But still, he’d rather die than become a human guinea pig, Rafael knows that. It’s a discussion they had the night he learned about what Sonny is capable of.
The memory is so vivid. Sonny’s bare hand open in between the two of them, flames licking up and down his skin like something alive. No explanation between the two of them, but a childish grin on Sonny’s face at showing something he could never tell anyone but had always been proud of. They roasted marshmallows over it at his insistence, turning them to a goopy mess with a crunching brown shell that tasted like heaven in a s’more (it’s blasphemy you’ve never had one, Raf, really) or five. For forever, they sat there and played with it, cooking things and warming Rafael’s cold hands over it because winters in the city are brutal, especially at the turn of the year with the heating broken and the offices closed as scraps of Christmas were swept away to make room for frothy champagne. Back then, it had seemed like the craziest thing Rafael would ever experience.
“All three. Technically the FBI is in charge, but everyone else is on site to help.” Rafael takes a hesitant step closer to Sonny, but freezes at the animalistic expression it earns. Lips pulled back to expose angry, growling teeth. Feral, angry, damaged. “The squad are down there too. Liv, Amanda, Fin. Your family’s waiting at the police tape begging them not to hurt you.”
“If I wasn’t useful, they’d put me down like a dog.”
He hesitates because he promised once upon a time that he would never lie. “We can still walk away from this. Just take my hand, and we’ll walk downstairs together.”
His words must be the wrong ones, because Sonny turns away and pulls his sleeves down, letting the edges come over his hands. He purposefully bought the hoodie too big because it’s comfortable, he had explained, and then spent an entire movie marathon tucked up against Rafael’s side chewing on the sleeve. When upset, or anxious, he had a tendency to do that. But only in the one hoodie, too conscious of ruining his nice clothes. That must be why he’s wearing it now, because he needed the comfort and he didn’t want to damage his suits. As if he would ever be able to wear them after this. Rafael wants to reach for him and hold him, despite knowing that it would do more harm than good.
“What happened to you?”
“What happened to me? What happened to the world, Raf? It’s full of the kind of people who rape and murder and torture and abuse. Cartels and gangs and psychopaths. It’s a dirty place.” His eyes are a little crazed when he turns back to Rafael and comes so close that he can smell the traces of ash and sweat and faint detergent off of him. “I’m cleaning it up. It’ll be a fresh start, like Noah’s arc when God wiped the Earth clean of sin, right? I- I want- it’s not to late. We can start over together.”
The hand he holds out has dirt gathering in the creases from climbing the decrepit building that had once been beautiful and settling himself on the rooftop terrace, surrounded by the little remaining life. In the distance, if he listens hard, Rafael can hear a child crying. Young, maybe six or seven. Over and over, sobbing ‘Mommy’ and screaming for help. Must be from the apartment building next door, with smoke just beginning to pour out of the windows from what can only be Sonny’s handiwork. The people on the ground so dizzyingly far away have to see it, help that little kid whose voice grows weaker by the second. They don’t sound like they’ll survive very long unaided, a fact that reminds Rafael of the body toll he’s facing right now at Sonny’s hand.
Anger speaks before his brain does. “Do you think you’re some sort of God? You’re a murderer.”
Shock, then horror, then fury pass over Sonny’s face in a matter of seconds. He yanks his hand away from Rafael. Too upset now to argue, but undoubtedly not considering any good options anymore. “Rich, coming from you. What about Drew? The baby you killed? One murderer to another, Raf, don’t play the holier-than-thou card on me.”
“That was different. Don’t compare that to what you did.”
He remembers what it was like in that hospital room. If Sonny had been there, if he had seen. The flowers and the music and the weeping mother and the awful shudder-hitch of the machine that breathed for a baby that was brain dead from the moment it came into the world. That’s not something that can be understood without being there. But for Sonny to compare that to mindless slaughter of innocent people on the streets is unthinkable and makes Rafael even angrier. The man that he loved would never do this. Would never watch people die and have the corner of his mouth twist up in that infuriating smirk that used to be reserved for when he would correct Rafael something minute. A little smug, a little proud. They aren’t the same man anymore but some small part of him wants to believe that the Sonny he knew is still hiding behind the heaving ribcage and frigid words.
One small step forward that has Sonny taking one back. With the plants a cushion around him, he looks like a work of art. Despite it all, he’s still beautiful. Carved out of marble and ice and gifted with diamond inlays, he looks like someone who belongs in a museum. Rafael’s fascinated by the fire that slowly begins to glow from Sonny’s hands that curve like wicked claws now in their desire to produce a white hot burn that Rafael can feel caressing his face even at such a distance. An old animalistic desire to touch makes him almost reach forward before he stops himself. Cuts that away, just like the emotions that he realizes have taken control of him. Maybe that was part of Sonny’s plan the whole time. He’s here to talk Sonny down, not get into a spat that they should have settled when they stopped talking only a few short weeks ago.
“Sonny.” No reaction. “Sweetheart.” Bright eyes snap to his, seemingly pure white in the reflection of the fire in his hands that cuts through the warm colors the burning city has painted them. Despite the fact that it’s midday, the sky has gone an ugly orange-brown-black from the smoke. “I know you’re still in there.”
“This is who I am.”
This time, Sonny lets him come closer. Progress. Every little bit is something, especially when he’s fairly certain the authorities are coming closer and within minutes, will have reached the stairs up to the roof. They don’t trust him, not with his past and Sonny’s, but they were willing to give him leeway. Only so much, however. He knows they don’t have enough time, but he might be able to keep Sonny from resisting arrest. That way it’ll be easier for all of them. Rafael wants to touch, feel like he hasn’t in a very long time. Run his fingers through Sonny’s soft hair. Feel the smooth skin over his cheekbone. Hold him and never let go. Fantasies, dreams, little more than memories of what he used to do when Sonny was upset (you’re too good to me, Raf). Bad days used to be close calls on the job and blood speckling on temples, not standing so close to toppling off the roof.
“You’re not the monster you’ve tried to make yourself.”
He wraps his hands around Sonny’s wrists and holds them like he’s holding together a man built from scrap metal and a lot of hurt. Now that he can see Sonny up close, he sees that the only thing keeping Sonny in one place is anger because it’s all that’s stronger than pain. Rafael only has to look into his eyes and it’s over. He nearly loses his footing from the force with which Sonny falls into his arms, crying. Crying hard. The kind that has gut-wrenching sobs and makes him shake and shiver. A child, Rafael thinks. Sonny cries like a child, the one in the apartment building next door that has gone silent, now that he thinks about it. He shushes the broken man and tells him it’ll be just fine. It won’t, but he finds comfort in saying it anyways. Repetition made lullaby until police arrive and drag Sonny away in cuffs.
“Rafael, don’t let them take me!”
“You’ll be okay,” Rafael says.
But he isn’t so sure.I