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Afterglow

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Walking through the streets at 5AM, just as the sun began to reach the pavement, made Sonny feel like a beat cop again. It was being up in that that thin slice between night and day, when regrets came to the surface, as well as second winds, and dead bodies. The city’s gears had begun the daily grind, and whatever you’d done last night was either going to haunt you or comfort you. It was hard to forget things at 5AM.

He was a little sore and worn out, sure, but also still a little lit. It wasn’t just the booze and the endorphin release, the warm lingering effects of skin-on-skin contact, the catharsis. It was the acquisition of knowledge. Ignorance was highly overrated. Even if it hurt, Sonny would rather know more about his body, the truth behind his fears and desires, of his own heart, than not to know.

The original sin was the sin of knowledge. These days, Sonny looked at the Fall as a little more than cautionary tale that had got a little overblown in the retelling. Staying inside the boundaries was one method of keeping safe, and back in the Biblical days, that was one of the few things you could tell your kids. Still was. But then all the best stories were about people who knew the boundaries and broke them anyway. Generally they suffered a little for it, but ended up stronger and wiser. Eve may have had some regrets, sure, but to not know? To be stuck wondering about what that fruit tasted like? That wasn’t Paradise.

Stuck on this earthly plane, with Paradise not an immediate option, Sonny always chose knowledge.

The sun was in his eyes as he turned the corner. Blinking into it, he paused, holding off to the side of the pavement so no furious pedestrians would barrel into him. He had to decide where to go - back to Brooklyn to his apartment, to shower and change, or to the precinct where he had a spare set of clothes and would get the locker room facilities more or less to himself if he timed it right. Odds were that someone on the squad would spot him, but Sonny could shrug it off. He’d had a night out, crashed at a friend’s place, or gone to the gym early on.

What Sonny had learned about covering his tracks was to stay cool and act like it wasn’t a big deal. Like he wasn’t doing a Walk of Shame. Easier to pull off when you weren’t ashamed.

He decided to go to a favorite diner and treat himself to a bear claw and a coffee. That’s what he and his first partner used to get at the end of night shifts, if they’d made it that far with no dead bodies or regrets surfacing.

Sonny didn’t have any regrets this morning.

The shower water wasn’t quite hot enough, but it still picked up all the tender spots under Sonny’s skin. His fingertips moved over them, remembering where he’d been touched hard enough to leave the lingering impact. Some of the night was stuck on him, in his tissue, under the skin. Pressing his fingers down he closed his eyes and was almost back there, sheets under his back, his muscles wound tight, another body wrapped around him. Those hands had been there, clinging to Sonny like this. He crossed his arms to re-enact the grip on his shoulders.

Too much. He was getting hard again. His dick was oversensitive still, and he hissed at the impact as he flicked the water temperature over to cold. While it quietened down his body a little, it made those almost-bruises glow.

Breathing deeply to regulate his heartbeat, like they taught them in trauma recovery workshops, Sonny stepped out of the shower. Thinking deliberately about the most mundane things he could come up with, he was considering the pens in the top drawer of his desk as he wrapped a towel around his waist. Walking into the locker room he nodded at the two other men on the benches.

One of them was O’Laughlin, who gave Sonny hell whenever he had the chance. He always mangled Sonny’s last name, dragging it out like a Bronx Cheer. Sure enough, he took his opportunity to use his customary greeting.

“Ah, here’s Detective Carizzy, large as life and twice as ugly.”

Sonny nodded at him again. “Morning.”

“No ‘good’ morning? What, SVU that bad? You’re not triggered, are you, Carizzy?”

Toweling at his hair, Sonny stood in front of his locker and thought about socks, then shoelaces, then shoeboxes, which were unstimulating enough to keep him focused. “Nah, it’s a fine day. Just pissed that the hot water at my place was out when I got up.”

The other guy in the locker room made a small noise of sympathy. Sonny’s locker made a racket as he swung the door open and began pulling things out of it. Better to think about shoeboxes than clothes, clothes were too sensual, even socks could get him into trouble. Only a few hours ago he’d been rolling his socks off with shaking hands.

His hands weren’t shaking now. O’Laughlin was saying something, and Sonny tuned in to the end of his ramble, “...these dumbshit kids down in the pen, we’re working like that all night, and we get no help from brass, whereas SVU get their asses kissed by the powers that be when they so much as think about arresting someone - am I right, Gary?”

Gary was ignoring all of this as he folded up a t-shirt into a neat square. He was being particular about it, fussing at wrinkles in the corners, giving it all his attention as O’Laughlin kept huffing and puffing. Sonny didn’t look over for too long; he had memorised the rules of locker room etiquette after getting his ass beat as a thirteen-year-old who didn’t realise he was going to get caught sneaking looks. Turning back to his suit, he ran a finger down the lapels. It wasn’t pressed crisply, but it would do.

O’Laughlin was beginning to tire already, and let himself out with a final, “Guess I’ll be seeing you around, Carizzy, if you don’t get yourself shot, that is. Bang bang.”

“Bye,” Sonny replied automatically, thinking again of shoeboxes. Keeping them empty and boring in his head. Soon enough he’d be working, and his brain would have enough to keep him occupied. Those tender spots on his skin, the tightness of blood in his groin, the heat that stole all over him - that could all be tamped down without much maintenance.

There was paperwork he could get started on in the meantime. When Amanda arrived, Sonny was almost finished organising some reports he’d been meaning to get, and she read some of his work over his shoulder to say hello. “Record of arrest for John H. Doubet, June 11th. The guy who attacked the au pair, right?”

“Mmm, there were some similar cases in Boston, back in ‘08, ‘09. I told an investigator over there I’d send over what we had.”

“Was Doubet living in Boston back then?”

“No, but he had family there, a brother and some aunts and uncles.”

The two of them were speculating over DNA matches as the team came in. There were two open cases they were working, and the Lieu decided to move Rollins and Carisi from one to another. Usually Sonny would’ve felt rattled by this - he and Amanda had done the groundwork on the investigation, and it kind of sucked to be taken off before they’d closed it - but he saw Liv’s logic, and there was just more work to be done on the other case.

He was out in Red Hook for most of the morning, convincing a bar owner to hand over some timesheets. Back at the precinct he ate a sandwich at his desk and worked the phones, trying to establish which of their suspects had swapped shifts and, if so, who could place them at the crime scene. He’d just hung up on an uncommunicative landlord who said he didn’t know nothing about nothing when he overheard Barba’s name.

It was being said in passing by someone walking past. Not spluttered in haste or anger. Just dropped in some idle chatter about a recent trial. Yet his whole body reacted. It was like being dipped in quicksilver, a feeling of hot and cold all at once. He squirmed, sweat beading on his brow, and hoped no one had looked over him. Thinking about the buttons on his phone, he focused hard on the last number he had dialed, turning them over and over in his head until his skin didn’t feel so warm and his heartbeat dialled back down.

There were things he’d said last night. Stuff he couldn’t take back, not from himself, not when he’d had the shock of recognition when it tumbled out of his mouth, all that truth laid bare on the bedsheets. Going back to pick at the exact words, try to remember just how they’d landed, guess at what had gone on behind Barba’s eyes when he was staring so closely at them - that would have to wait until nightfall, or at least until his shift was over and he’d have some time to himself.

Mid-afternoon and Sonny was out from behind the desk and in the driver’s seat, next to Amanda, who had dug up a lead. The vic’s grandmother had been scammed by a fake salesman a few years back, and the scammer was the former roommate of one of their suspects. It was a good find, Sonny had told her, and they were both cautiously optimistic in the car.

Amanda was cautious because that was how she was when it came to things going her way; Sonny was cautious because his interest in closing the case keep being obscured by his body. It wasn’t much, just like a speck in the corner of his eye that would catch him unawares. His concentration would be derailed as his chest suddenly felt hollow, or his heartbeat thrummed a little harder than usual.

Out in Flushing, they got an positive ID of their suspect’s picture from Grandma June, who looked sweet as pie and cursed like a drunken sailor. “That one,” she’d pointed furiously at the photograph, “that’s the motherfucker who did it.”

Amanda called it in. Sonny made notes on his phone, and there was a moment before he turned the ignition on when his mind wandered to his evening plans. He didn’t have to be anywhere, could get some takeout, go straight home. It was like being a teenager again, plotting an elaborate jerk-off scenario. Except he wouldn’t be forced to hide in the basement den with a stack of stolen porno mags interspersed with his sister’s copies of Tiger Beat and Seventeen. He had his own apartment with blinds that could be drawn and a big bed of his own.

Mentally, he got out of bed and turned on the car. Amanda was sending a text message with urgent little stabs of her fingertips. Without looking up, she asked, “You wanna come around tonight? I downloaded a bunch of The Great British Baking Show.”

Inwardly he flinched, as if he’d been caught having dirty thoughts in church. “Nah, got to get some stuff done.”

“Your hot water’s out, right?”

As if he could say anything in the precinct and Amanda wouldn’t hear about it. He stayed casual, “I think the super might’ve fixed it by the time I get home, but I need to check. Otherwise I’ll be showing up at yours to use the shower at 7am.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so. You must have an uncle who’s a plumber.”

Course he did. “Uncle Quint. He’d be all too happy to show up in Brooklyn in his MAGA hat, complaining about all the immigrants who can’t drive, while he doubleparks outside the building. My neighbors would come after me with pitchforks. I’d never be welcome at the farmer’s market again.”

Amanda snorted. “I got one of those Uncles too. Guess you’ll have to make do with cold showers.”

Funny how a lie would come back to the truth so quickly. Sonny’s skin was prickly, he needed a shower. His system was too overworked. There had been too much sensation last night, which already felt like it was another country. One he didn’t quite know how he’d got to. Or if he’d ever get back. But his body remembered, and his body couldn’t be as easily diverted as his mind. Clammy hands on the steering wheel remembered other fingers being clenched around them, the shocking thump of a heartbeat under Rafael’s chest when he’d pressed his palm against it, the fizz of stubble against fingertips, the softness of lips.

And after lips, tongue, teeth. Sonny’s breath hitched, and he looked at the road markings intently. Amanda was taking a call. Fin had the perp in custody, he was sweating it out in the interrogation room waiting for the two of them to show up.

Once they were back and had briefed Liv, Amanda turned to Sonny and asked him if he wanted to lead the questioning. It had been her case, he said, she earned it. Sonny thought Amanda didn’t get the credit she deserved all of the time, and breaking this guy, it’d be some good advertising. She wasn’t sure at first, and he flipped open the case file to the photos of the nineteen-year-old girl that this guy had beaten to a pulp outside a nightclub where she’d just gone to dance.

Amanda rolled her eyes at him, and he knew she’d do just fine. He went into the interrogation room with her but hung back, watching her slowly unravel their perp’s story. When she laid out the photos of the beaten girl on the desk, Sonny watched the tilt of her head as she leaned forward. This a-hole was screaming at her, that it’d been an accident, that the girl shouldn’t have been there, that he knew her boyfriend and that she was a ho. Sonny knew the expression Amanda would have on her face, wide eyes, chin tilted down, as if she was buying this load of baloney.

Then she went for the kill. That they had video footage, a positive ID, and a motive. She mentioned that using a guy who you knew from running cons on old people as a fence wasn’t the best idea - “should’ve done your due diligence on that one. Don’t suppose you looked very hard at his resume?”

In return for her advice, their perp cursed out her, her family, her colleagues, and most of his own extended family. Amanda leaned back and cooly closed the case file. Sonny absolutely loved her some days.

After that performance, Sonny offered to write up the report and let her head home on time. She took congratulations from the rest of the team, and was walking out the door when Barba came in.

Liv greeted him, said that Amanda had broken the Sedakova case. Barba did a half turn on the spot to reach out his hand, smile broadly, say how grateful he was. Amanda said something wry, and Sonny probably would’ve found it funny if it had happened before last night. But he barely heard her reply over the blood rushing in his ears.

They exited in different directions, Amanda going out the front while Rafael followed Liv into her office. He didn’t glance in Sonny’s direction, for which Sonny was both profoundly grateful and irritated by. The irritation, he considered as he typed up the casefile, was more of a hangover from how he used to feel when Barba ignored him. Now he knew how good his full attention felt, Sonny didn’t think it was too smart to have it directed at him in the workplace. Not today, anyway.

He finished up. Report writing was one of Sonny’s unheralded skills. He’d often been stuck with doing it in other teams, as a kind of hazing. But even though he didn’t add a lot of polish to his words, he liked collecting the facts together and getting them down. He took it seriously, but there was no need to stretch it out like some cops did, frowning over their keyboards, like some kind of Charles Bukowski in blue. Fin, bless his heart, was almost the opposite - his reports were so brief they were jokingly called haikus.

On the subway home, he thumbed through messages on his phone. Bunch of GDPR emails he’d not got around to unsubscribing from, photos from a baby shower that Bella had been to, a reminder from his dentist that he needed to book an appointment.

Thinking about going to the dentist was enough to keep carnal thoughts at bay. He was almost home, and suddenly felt bone tired. Maybe all he’d do was stick some leftovers in the microwave and fall asleep on the couch in front of Narcos. His thumb was on the screen, about to slide over to the Martha Stewart Cookies app, when a message came through. It was from Barba.

How are you doing tonight?

Looking at the words floating on the screen, Sonny’s whole body was suddenly back in Rafael’s bed again, sweaty and wanting and hard. He jerked his head away and stared out the window, focusing on nothing but calming down.

There were messages he wanted to send. But he wouldn’t, not yet, maybe never. What Sonny wanted was to touch again. Touch was what connected bodies, not anything he could try and type out or say. Sonny’s not always so hot with his words, but his body can’t help but tell the truth. Bodies know when they’ve been hurt, and they know when they’ve been loved.

Touch was the ultimate expression of trust. That’s why it made him so sore at work when they met the victims, who’d had their bodies’ trust violated. That’s why it was so hard for him to face his own body’s desires, because he knew he’d be too easy to hurt.

One more stop to go until he got off the train. Be better not to look back at his phone, just shove it away until he got on the other side of his front door where he could be alone and ready to deal with this.

His traitorous eyes looked down at his screen again. There was another message, and he couldn’t stop his hand from moving to uncover it.

When I woke up, my sheets still smelled of you.

I wonder if when I get home, you’ll still be there

He should stop this. There were other things to think about, empty things like shoeboxes, and pens, and the windows of subway trains. Sonny could focus on glass, nothing but glass, clear and cold like water.

The words he tapped out were on the screen before he could even think them through. Resting his thumb on the backspace button, he waited for the cursor to move to the left and delete the letters. Instead, a smaller movement swiped from his thumb down the side of the keyboard. Message sent.

I can still feel you inside me

The ground under him shook. The train was juddering to a halt, and for a moment he panicked, wondering what was wrong. It was just a regular stop, with tired commuters lining up outside the door. As the door opened Sonny stared at them stepping in, lead by a pregnant woman sucking a lollipop and an old man holding some sort of radio antenna. He realised too late that this was his stop, stepping forward weakly as the doors closed in his face.

Turning to face the inside of the carriage, Sonny watched the pregnant woman get offered a seat.

There was already two more messages on his phone. He tried to stretch out the moment before reading them, bracing himself for disappointment.

I’ll be home in half an hour. Do you want to come over again?

Come around. Leave whatever you’re doing now

It was funny, Rafael had changed his tone between messages, as if he was feeling things, too, and couldn’t quite put them into words. Sonny could be led to believe that, if he had some time to think about it, to consider and weight every one of those words on his screen and compare them with things that were said last night. Those tender words that had slipped under Sonny's skin and down into his belly, and were waiting for him, like a slowly-detonating bomb.

He would need time to think it all through, what his body was telling him, what he remembered from last night, and what Rafael was saying when he demanded Sonny’s presence again.

The trip from Brooklyn back to Manhattan should be long enough.