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Rafael doesn’t want to go home. He doesn’t want to face questions. He also doesn’t want to sleep, because he knows sleeping will mean nightmares which will also lead to questions. His therapist would probably tell him avoiding the topic won’t solve anything. He can almost hear her in his head. You need to talk to your husband, Rafael. Trevor needs to know. He’ll be able to help you. But Rafael doesn’t want Trevor to know. He’s kept the demons of the past securely locked up so far, he’s not about to let them run free now.

Only, Rafael knows he might not get a say. His past will eventually rear its ugly head and there’s nothing he can do about it. But for now, he’ll just drown it all with another drink.

He can’t breathe. The harsh leather of the belt is wrapped around his throat tightly, cutting off his air. He claws at it, the burning of his lungs becoming unbearable and spots dancing in front of his eyes. Panic grips him and his heart is racing as he desperately tries to get some oxygen, but it’s no use. The belt is too tight, the hurtful, hateful words being drowned out by the rushing in his ears and Rafael’s attempts at freeing himself grow weaker as darkness creeps into his field of vision. Soon he will be-

Rafael sits up in bed, gulping air into his lungs, his hands instinctively going to his throat where a second ago the belt had been wrapped around his neck. Tears sting in his eyes and he wipes at them, his hands coming away wet. He’s heaving, deep, painful sobs that seem to burn in his chest and throat, the ghost pain of a hand fisted in his hair while the other one pulls the belt tight.

With another half-suppressed sob Rafael scrambles out of bed, aware of the fact that he has woken Trevor with his nightmare. He flees into the ensuite bathroom and locks the door behind himself. His reflection in the mirror above the sink seems to mock him. There’s no mark on his neck, just as he knew there wouldn’t be. Cain hadn’t pulled nearly tight enough to leave a ligature mark; Rafael had counted on security in the courtroom not letting it get that far. But that doesn’t mean it had been harmless.

“I’m an idiot,” Rafael tells his reflection. “What the hell was I thinking?” The man in the mirror doesn’t seem to have an answer; he just looks like someone put him through the wringer. With a sigh Rafael splashes some water on his face and concentrates on the feeling of his bare feet on the bathroom floor, grounding himself the way his therapist has taught him to. It helps a little to push the panic back that is still threatening to overwhelm him.

A light knock sounds on the bathroom door. “Rafael, are you okay? Can I come in?” Trevor’s voice is warm but tinged with worry.

“I’ll be right out,” Rafael answers in a low voice, buying himself a few more seconds before he has to face Trevor and his quiet worry. Rafael knows that there is very little he would deny his husband and chances are, if Trevor asks, Rafael will break down and tell him all the sordid details of his past. But maybe it won’t be too bad. Maybe his therapist is right and letting go of that old pain, sharing it, will lessen it.

With a heavy sigh Rafael unlocks the door and leaves the bathroom. Trevor has switched on the lamp on his night table, bathing the room in amber light. He’s sitting on the bed, watching Rafael curiously, but stays quiet.

Rafael makes a decision then and there. He’ll come clean, tell Trevor the truth, and maybe then he can put the demons of the past to rest. “I need to get something, I’ll be right back,” Rafael says before Trevor can speak. He walks to the study and fetches the file he has hidden there, confident Trevor would never have found it on his own. He carries the folder back to the bedroom and hesitantly sits down next to Trevor on the bed.

“What happened? What’s going on? Please talk to me, Rafael,” Trevor finally says when Rafael takes just that little bit too long to start speaking.

“I did something stupid in court today,” Rafael starts. “I handed the defendant a belt and made him choke me with it. I did it to prove a point. It worked. We won.”

Trevor nods slowly. “Yes, I heard about that. Rather spectacular entrance into working with SVU.” He frowns a little, giving Rafael a closer look. “Did he hurt you?”

“Physically? No, nothing I can’t handle. But-” Rafael breaks off, searching for a way to say what he needs to say. “Do you ever wonder why I wear suspenders instead of belts?”

Trevor frowns again. “Not really, no. Personal preference I assumed.”

Rafael smiles ruefully. “Yeah, no, that’s not it. Do you remember how I asked you to never mention my dad? That he died years ago and I didn’t want to talk about him?” Rafael knows he is confusing Trevor, can see it in his face, the way he holds himself.

“Yes and I respected that. Rafael, what is going on? What are you trying to tell me?” There is desperation in his voice now, and a hint of impatience. He’s worried for Rafael.

Rafael wordlessly hands him the file. His throat is tight with fear and shame. Trevor takes it from him, but doesn’t open it.

“What’s this?” Trevor asks and he sounds somehow scared all of a sudden.

“That’s my medical record. From when I was a kid,” Rafael chokes out around the lump in his throat. “My … ah … my father beat my mother and me. He-” Rafael breaks off unable to make the words leave his mouth. About how his father would fold up his belt and hit Rafael with it, raising welt after welt on his skin. About the times when his father would choke him with it, pull it tight and not let go. About the night he had almost killed Rafael in a fit of anger when he’d pulled too hard and Rafael had lost consciousness.

Child services had almost taken him away after that. Only his mother’s pleas and his father’s promise to get help had prevented it. But that didn’t mean life hadn’t been hell anyway. “Just… just look at the file.” Rafael whispers and avoids Trevor’s eyes. He doesn’t want to watch the man he loves discovering the truth about his childhood. He doesn’t want to watch him when he sees the pictures, either.

Rafael can hear him flip open the file and the sharp intake of breath that follows tells him that Trevor has seen the pictures taken at the hospital. The pictures that show Rafael, aged eight, bruised and bloodied, with purple welts all over his body, ligature marks around his neck, a black eye almost swollen shut. He sees Rafael at his weakest.

“Jesus Christ, Rafael, that’s-” he breaks off, voice wavering. “How could he do that to you? How could he hurt you? He was your father. He was supposed to protect you.” Rafael can hear the tears in his voice, even if he still hasn’t found the courage to look at him.

“Yeah well, I don’t think he got that memo,” Rafael says humorlessly. He feels so utterly exhausted now. Chafed raw from the inside out. He’d like a hug now, and to stop talking. To forget about belts and medical records and just how much the knowledge of how to push Cain over the edge had cost him.

“You knew this would happen, didn’t you?” Trevor’s voice is quiet, full of anguish and tears and a horrible understanding of all of Rafael’s fears. “You knew that you could push him far enough to show his true colors. You knew you could make the jury see him for who he really is. And you also knew that it would bring back all of this.” He waves the file around before dropping it to the floor as if it’d burned him.

Rafael wants to deny it. He wants to say it’s not true, that he didn’t think it would be that bad. That he did what was needed, to get justice. That he thought he could deal with it, the way he had dealt with it all this time – with alcohol and denial. But the words won’t leave his mouth. It would be a lie anyway. He’d walked into this with his eyes wide open. He knew that there would be fallout from letting a sadistic pervert choke him in open court with the one item he has avoided all of his adult life as best as he can.

“I’m sorry,” Rafael says and it comes out like a sob. “I’m sorry for dumping this on you. I should have found another way to get him. I should have never let him … do that … to me. I should have known better. It messed with my head and now I’m lost and I … I’m so sorry.” Rafael buries his face in his hands, pressing the heels against his eyes to keep from crying. Trevor doesn’t deserve any of this shit. He doesn’t deserve to walk into the emotional minefield that is Rafael Barba on a bad day. Even though they’re married, this isn’t what Trevor signed up for.

“Hey, no Rafael, no!” There is movement next to him and a second later Trevor’s arms wrap around Rafael, holding him close. “There is nothing to be sorry for, all right?” Trevor’s voice grows stronger and more confident by the second. His hand cups Rafael’s chin, tilting his head to make him look at Trevor. “Look at me, please.” The request is soft and warm like a caress. “I need to you to understand something, Rafael. Are you listening?”

Trevor’s thumb is stroking reassurance into Rafael’s skin. He ducks his head a little to look at Rafael properly, searching his eyes. Trevor’s eyes are red rimmed and moist, remnants of the tears Rafael could hear in his voice clinging to his lashes. There is something utterly vulnerable yet infinitely strong about him that has Rafael reeling with so many emotions he can’t sort them all.

“Yes, I’m listening,” Rafael finally replies. He doesn’t know what Trevor wants from him; he’s feeling so out of his depth. The emotional rollercoaster of the last half hour is catching up with Rafael for real and he just wants it all to be over. To hide away in his bed for a week and lick his wounds or curl up with his husband, if he hasn’t dented their relationship too badly with this act of stupidity.
“I love you, Rafael. More than I can put into words. And I want you to know that you can tell me anything. I want you to tell me these things. I want you to ‘dump it on me’.” Trevor’s laugh is shy and a little self-conscious, but his hands are gentle as they cup Rafael’s shoulders.

“I want to help you fight your demons. You’re my husband. I’m by your side – for better or worse, right? And a secret like this? Carrying that kind of pain on your own is hard. I’m here to help. I want to help.” His voice is strong now, determined, and a little bit frantic. As if the thought of Rafael shutting him out is terrifying him.

“Please, let me help you. I’m sorry if I’ve done something to make you feel like you couldn’t come to me for support. I’m here. I promise. I’m not going anywhere and you don’t have to get through this alone.” Trevor leans in and presses a soft kiss against Rafael’s lips, then his chin, his neck.

Rafael closes his eyes and allows himself to just feel for a moment. Trevor is warm and solid, his big hands gentle as they hold Rafael securely without caging him in. Rafael leans into him instinctively, seeking out the sensation of being safe and cared for.

“Come to a therapy session with me, soon?” Rafael asks, unsure of how his request will be received but Trevor just runs his hands down Rafael’s back in a soothing manner.

“Of course. Just tell me when and I’ll be there. I mean it; you don’t have to do this alone.” Trevor’s voice is soft and filled with so much emotion it makes Rafael’s eyes sting again.

“Thank you!” Rafael whispers. He’s feeling so exhausted now that he can barely keep his eyes open. Trevor’s warmth, his gentleness is drowning out the panic that has been lurking in the back of Rafael’s mind. He can’t quite believe it, but Rafael finds himself getting drowsy.

Trevor presses a gentle kiss to Rafael’s forehead, amusement and affection clearly audible in his voice as he says, “Let’s go back to sleep, baby. You look like you’re about to fall over. I think we’ve done enough talking for one night.”

Rafael lets himself be put back to bed, watches as Trevor takes off the t-shirt he slept in and gets into bed, too. He instantly reaches for Rafael, taking him in his arms and arranging him until Rafael is resting comfortably on his bare chest.

Rafael mumbles a tired, “I love you, mi vida.” before he allows the steady beat of Trevor’s heart to lull him to sleep.