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Hope is a ghost

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Whatever Rafael Barba had imagined when it came to the question of what his soulmate would be like, it never had been this. Dominick “call me Sonny” Carisi Jr. was nothing like Rafael had anticipated. He was very young, very blond, and sporting an ugly mustache, with a personality one might compare to an over-eager puppy dog.

The moment they touched for the first time, recognition coursed through Rafael, sharp and bright and gut wrenchingly beautiful. Rafael’s family had always been highly sensitive when it came to bonds, so it came to no surprise to him that he could actually physically feel the connection to his soulmate right away. Dominick, however, showed no sign of being affected in any way at all; he didn’t even give away the fact that he must have recognized Rafael’s name as the one that was written on the inside of his left wrist. Things didn’t bode well and Rafael realized that he was headed for bond-rejection.

Disappointment burned like fire in Rafael’s chest, and as he schooled his face into something resembling polite indifference, a wave of bitterness rushed through him. How naive he had been to hope that after having waited so many years to meet his soulmate for the first time, he at least wouldn’t get rejected. It was stupid, a foolish notion his common sense should have disabused him of years ago. The fact that Dominick had not registered with any soulmate-finding online sites should have clued Rafael in, should have made him realize that while Rafael had hoped and waited, his soulmate had been perfectly content without him. Dominick probably had no interest at all in being with his soulmate, or else he’d surely have spoken up by now.

Not that Rafael could really blame him. All of the SVU detectives, hell, everyone in law enforcement, had seen the uglier side of the whole soulbond issue plenty of times. People who raped, beat or murdered their soulmates for the sole reason that they were soulmates but had been denied a bond. In their minds no-one had the right to deny their soulmate anything, be it a bond, or sex, or anything else they wanted. He’d tried hundreds of those cases and all of them were as tragic as they were infuriating.

So, if Dominick chose to ignore that they were soulmates and possibly even never wanted to talk about it, Rafael would have to accept that. It didn’t matter how much it hurt, it didn’t matter how much Rafael had longed to be with the person he’d been destined to be with – consent was the most important factor when it came to soulbonds and Dominick had made it quite clear that he wasn’t giving his, simply by avoiding the topic altogether. Rafael was left with coming to terms with it. He might have been a romantic fool, having hoped to get a chance at a soulbond relationship when all around him soulbond pairings failed, but Rafael would have loved to get to give it a try at least.

Ashamed, Rafael admitted to himself that he’d hoped maybe being with Dominick, the person whose name he’d carried around with him since he had been a little boy, would mend some old wounds. But Rafael had been rejected. He’d deal with it. He’d deal with it the same way he dealt with losing emotionally trying cases and fighting losing battles. With alcohol and the solitude of his apartment. Licking his wounds in private. He wouldn’t make a scene, wouldn’t mention it or hint at it, or try to force Dominick to admit it. It would be up to Dominick to decide when he wanted to discuss the topic – if ever. Until then, they would be strictly colleagues. It would be enough.

It had to be enough.

Sonny felt uneasy in a way he wasn’t used to. Undercover ops were his thing, so why was he feeling so… restless? As if something was just that little bit off. He hadn’t had any problems getting into character in the past, and if it happened now it would be pretty fucking dangerous, so Sonny knew he needed to get his act together. Spuyten Duyvil might not seem like the most dangerous place to be on first glance, but Sonny knew better than to underestimate just how many things could go wrong.

Dominick “Smitty” Smith was the persona Sonny had the least in common with, so far, but then again, he was also the best developed of his undercover aliases as well. A man who got off on child porn. A man who didn’t care how much his young victims had suffered for a few photos or videos. A man who enjoyed himself watching tiny lives get destroyed. The thought alone made Sonny sick to his stomach.

Slowly he reached for his undercover clothes. Jeans first. The only times Sonny got to wear jeans any more was to law school, and then he made sure they were high end and classy. He wore suits to work – watching Barba strut around in those expensive, form fitting suits had prompted Sonny to go for higher quality as well, and not just in regards to his work clothes.

The jeans were washed soft and almost shabby, befitting the character Sonny was slipping into. Next came a ratty t-shirt and a light grey hoodie. Even freshly washed the items looked like they had seen better days. With each item Sonny put on, Smitty came a bit more to life and Sonny, the SVU detective, disappeared a bit more.

There was a grey jacket too, but Sonny didn’t put that one on just yet. Instead he reached for the last item: a wedding band. The gold warmed between his fingers as he toyed with it, reluctant to put it on. It was a symbol of something Sonny was reasonably sure he would never get to have. It was the one thing Sonny was envious of about “Smitty”. The guy was married to his soulmate; she’d stuck with him even though he’d been sent to prison for possession of child pornography. She loved him like only soulmates could.

And Sonny would never get to have his soulmate.

When he’d still worked in homicide, one of his colleagues had been very vocal about how stupid and irrational it was to believe in the whole soulmate system. That it was insanity to prescribe to the belief that God or fate or another entity of choice had decided to create that one perfect partner for you. That just because there was a name on your wrist didn’t mean it meant anything at all. He’d been cynical and angry, jaded from having seen too many soulbond-related bodies, too many families and lives destroyed.

But Sonny still longed.

He’d thought he had it under control, thought he’d dealt with the fact that he would never just get to sign up to one of those soulmate discovery sites, would never be able to decide for himself if his soulmate was someone Sonny wanted to be with. Apparently he’d deluded himself.

If it still hurt this badly, if the longing was still so strong that Sonny could feel envious of a fictional character, then he should probably take up therapy again. Talk it through with someone. Try to learn to accept that he was one of the few people who would never get to make that kind of decision for themselves. He needed to get a grip on that, and soon.

Right now the feelings of hopelessness and resentment were a hindrance as they kept “Smitty” from emerging fully. These were not Smitty’s problems, they were Sonny’s. Smitty had other problems of course, but not this. Whatever shit Smitty had been through at least he still had his soulmate by his side. To Sonny that sounded like he was a damn lucky guy.

With a heavy sigh, Sonny slipped the wedding band on his finger, grabbed the grey jacket, and headed out the door.

Admissible evidence, reliable witnesses, facts. When in court, these where the things Rafael built a case on. At court, there was no room for gut feeling; it wasn’t something the jury could base their vote on. Rafael prided himself on being level-headed and in control when working a case, without being ruled by his feelings. But sitting in Olivia’s office, discussing the fact that Carisi apparently had gone undercover and was currently living in a shelter among sex offenders, Rafael’s gut was telling him something was wrong. Seriously, seriously wrong. He just couldn’t shake the feeling.

It wasn’t that Rafael thought Carisi wasn’t a great, capable detective. It wasn’t the first time Carisi went undercover, either – even though the last time had ended up with him getting bashed in the face with a weapon, breaking his nose. It wasn’t even the fact that he was surrounded by criminals and in the focus of the less than friendly neighborhood. It was … something else. Something Rafael had no hope of deciphering.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on with you?” Olivia’s voice brought Rafael out of his musings. He resisted the urge to touch the soft black silicone band that sat snug around his left wrist, covering the neat script that spelled out his soulmate’s name. He couldn’t slip up and let her know. No one could know.

“Nothing is going on with me, Liv. I’m fine. Just drowning in work. Don’t worry about it.” It was a lie and they both knew it, but Rafael hoped his friend would leave the topic alone.

He had no such luck. Olivia raised her eyebrows and threw him a look. “You know, that would be more convincing if the file you’ve pretended to study for the past few minutes wasn’t upside down. Come on, Rafa. Just tell me what’s going on. Maybe I can help.”

Rollins chose that moment to open the door and poke her head in. “I got the guys from the shelter. Where do you want them?”

Rafael’s heart rate sped up. Carisi was there? If they had brought in the people from the shelter for questioning, surely Carisi would be among them. Rafael hoped he could maybe at least catch a glimpse of him from a distance.

Olivia rose from her desk and made her way to the door. “Just out of sight. The victim is in interview with her father.”

Rafael gathered his files and followed Olivia outside where she was standing with Rollins and Tutuola, who was just making a remark about roughing up Carisi, but Olivia reined him in. Tutuola left, but Rollins stayed and watched the men from the shelter being led into interrogation rooms, a worried look her face.

“Carisi does look like hell,” she commented, and Rafael couldn’t agree more. Carisi looked like death warmed over. His hair was in disarray, his hoodie and jacket shabby. His skin was paler than Rafael thought was healthy, and he looked like he’d been put through the wringer. Seeing him like this made Rafael’s gut twist up in knots. He tried to keep his face neutral and hoped the women wouldn’t notice his concern. For once, he got lucky. Olivia was focused on Rollins, who in turn was still staring in the direction the men from the shelter had been taken.

“Well, I think he’s just trying to fit in. Right? If he wants out, he’ll let me know himself.” Olivia sounded almost defensive.

Rafael didn’t agree with her. Carisi would see this through, no matter what the cost for himself. He wasn’t one to just throw the towel in when it got uncomfortable. Hell, he probably wouldn’t even say anything if he got outright threatened. Not when he wanted to catch that rapist so badly.

Apparently, Rollins didn’t agree with her Lieutenant either because she said, “See, I don’t think he would.”

Olivia shot her a look and Rollins dropped the topic with a “never mind”.

Rafael didn’t like this. Not one bit. So he wasn’t the only one who didn’t like the fact that one of their own, that Carisi, was in a dangerous situation and was about as likely to admit he needed to get out as a snowstorm in hell. Carisi just wasn’t the type.

He’d made himself at home at Manhattan SVU and he was working very hard to get along, fit in and contribute. He still acted like an overeager puppy at times but, along with getting rid of that ugly mustache, he had also proven himself to be a valuable member of the team. He was great with witnesses and victims alike, had a sharp mind and great instincts. When he also started to upgrade his wardrobe and spend more time with Rafael in order to learn, things had started to change between the two of them.

At times it seemed like Carisi was flirting with him or teasing him, trying to get a reaction out of Rafael. At other times it was more as if Carisi worshipped the ground Rafael walked on. The next moment it was like pigtail pulling in school. It drove Rafael completely crazy, especially since Carisi never once acknowledged that they were soulmates, or dropped a hint about the possibility of pursuing a bond.

Rafael had the irrational urge to go into that interrogation room and wrap Carisi up in his arms, keep him safe. Which was stupid, of course. Carisi might not ask for help, taking an unnecessary risk, but he was no pushover. He was a detective with lot of undercover experience under his belt. He didn’t need Rafael to be his knight in shining armor. He was perfectly capable of looking after himself.

At least in theory.

But that was no way to think. Rafael needed to cling to the fact that even though Carisi had rejected him as a bond mate, they still worked together, still had the teasing banter, still could be friends. As his friend, however, Carisi wouldn’t appreciate Rafael getting all overbearing and clingy on him – especially not when the success of his undercover mission and his continued well-being depended on it. Nothing would get Carisi faster in trouble than being made by a perp.

Noticing the curious looks Liv and Rollins gave him, Rafael shot them a glare and fled. He wasn’t of any use to Carisi right now, other than being prepared for all eventualities, so that’s what he would do. Maybe work would be able to take his thoughts off Carisi and all the worrying details of his undercover op. He at least had to try.

They attacked him just outside the shelter, and for a split second Sonny wasn’t sure he would make it out of there alive. Pain was radiating through his back, a bright hot burn that was travelling down his leg and up his spine, turning every movement into agony. He had a bruised kidney at least, maybe a cracked rib too.

Not that it would matter much if Nomaks or his goons actually managed to hit him over the head with one of their bats. Sonny knew he was in trouble. He was about to actually give up his cover and tell them he was police before they bashed in his head when suddenly Caskey showed up.

Together they managed to get rid of Nomaks and the others – at least one of them seemed to be a son – and Sonny all but collapsed with relief. That had been a close call. Nomaks wasn’t supposed to take matters in his own hands. What the hell had Benson told him that he thought vigilantism would be okay? Sure, he was trying to protect his daughter, but he couldn’t just run around bashing people’s heads in.

Sonny forced himself to make some small talk with Caskey, trying to find out more about him in the process. He had to admit, he liked the guy. He didn’t seem the type to attack anyone on the street randomly and the MO didn’t fit with what he had been arrested for, back in the day. Of course, being drunk off your ass was no excuse for raping anyone, but Caskey seemed like a poster boy for successful rehabilitation.

Sonny moved carefully, pain radiating through his back in huge waves. He needed to go in, talk to the Lieu and the others, he just hoped she wouldn’t insist on pulling him out. He hadn’t found out anything yet and he didn’t want to stop now that the others were just starting to warm up to “Smitty”.

Nomaks had just made Sonny’s job that much harder.

If the situation hadn’t been so dire, Rafael would have loved to say ‘told you so.’ He’d voiced his concerns for Carisi’s wellbeing to Olivia after all. Maybe not as strongly worded as Rollins had done it, but he’d carefully put it out there. That he thought Carisi was in danger at Spuyten Duyvil. But Liv hadn’t listened to him any more than to Rollins.

Now Carisi had been attacked and Rafael was boiling with anger. They might not be bonded, and he might not have any say in anything at all regarding the safety of his soulmate, but why weren’t the others more concerned for their colleague?

Carisi was still clutching his back where he had been beat in the kidneys, and Rafael knew enough of that kind of injury to suspect that Carisi would be pissing blood for the next couple of days. Not that he would admit to that. Predictably, Carisi was hell bent to see the op through no matter the personal cost.

Rafael cursed inwardly. Of course his soulmate had to be a stubborn, self-sacrificing jackass.

“Carisi, you’re holding your back. Are you sure you don’t need to go to the E.R.?” Liv sounded concerned for him for the first time since this whole thing had started, but Rafael doubted she would pull him out unless Sonny actually asked for it. It was frustrating as hell. Sonny obviously had no self-preservation and god only knew what would happen to him next.

“No, I’m fine, all right? It’s just a bruise, nothing’s broken. I think they were just trying to scare me.”

And there it was, the denial Rafael had expected. It was just so typical.

Rafael tuned out Rollins, who pointed out the obvious – that Sonny had been attacked by three men. And even though Caskey had showed up and helped Sonny out, that was no excuse for not taking his and Rollins’ warnings that Carisi wasn’t safe at Spuyten Duyvil seriously.

It was maddening. Rafael was tempted to say something drastic, something that might be viewed as inappropriate but he didn’t dare. It was a bad idea to mess with Carisi’s head now, risk exposing that they were soulmates when clearly that was the last thing Sonny wanted his colleagues to know. Rafael didn’t want to make Sonny’s life any harder than it already was, and him being distracted might well put him in mortal danger.

“I hate to keep saying it, but he’s a target. Inside the shelter, now outside the shelter.” Rollins made another attempt at making Carisi and Benson see reason, but Rafael already knew how that would end. His soulmate could out-stubborn them all.

“I’m fine, all right? And I think I’m getting somewhere.” And there it was, the magical phrase that would make sure Liv wouldn’t pull him out. I’m getting somewhere.

Rafael wanted that rapist behind bars as much as any of them, but he wasn’t willing to risk Sonny’s life to do so. The whole plan was completely crazy and had already gotten Sonny hurt once. There was no telling what else would happen to him in that place. But of course, Sonny had said the magic words. And he wasn’t finished yet.

“Somebody up there is committing rapes, and the odds are pretty good it’s one of my housemates.”

Rafael huffed, annoyed. Like that insight was anything new. That was why Sonny had been sent undercover to the shelter in the first place. Apparently Rollins wasn’t really happy with Sonny’s answer either, because she threw Rafael a look that said ‘thanks for the backup’ before getting into Sonny’s face.

“Well, are we at least gonna bring in Nomaks and his bat boys?”

Yes, that was a question Rafael would have loved the answer to, as well. They had tried to take matters in their own hands, had wounded a police officer, and should be held responsible for their actions. But somehow Rafael had a feeling that wouldn’t be happening, either.

Sonny is excited. He’s wearing his best clothes, the really nice ones he only gets to wear on special occasions. His mom is holding him by the hand, leading him towards their church. Mommy and Daddy said today would be a special day. An important day. That Father Jacob would make him whole again, make him pure.

Sonny doesn’t really know what that means, but it sounds like it’s sort of important. Maybe even as important as the christening of his baby sister. There had been a celebration. And presents for his sister. And Father Jacob had bathed her. She had cried at first but not for long and then everyone had been happy. Maybe his important day would be like that? Why else would he be wearing his best clothes if not for a party?

“Come on, honey. We don’t want to keep Father Jacob waiting.” His mommy is tugging at his arm, trying to hurry him up the stairs to church. His daddy is right behind them, looking grim. They’ve left his baby sister with one of his mommy’s friends. Sonny doesn’t know why she can’t be there with them for his important day. Maybe she’s still too little for the party. She’s only a baby, but Sonny is a big boy. He’s almost four already.

It’s cool inside the church, and dim. There are no people there, like there were for his sister’s christening, and Sonny frowns. How can there be a party for his important day when there are no guests? What’s going on? He wants to ask but he doesn’t dare. Whenever his mom talked about his important day, his dad would get that angry look on his face, like that time Sonny had accidentally knocked over his mommy’s good vase and broken it. Daddy had been very angry at Sonny then, and he had yelled and spanked him and sent him to bed without dinner.

Mommy said that after his important day, when Sonny is pure again, Daddy will be happy again. Sonny hopes she’s right. He doesn’t like it when Daddy is angry at him, even though Sonny doesn’t know what he’s done wrong this time. Maybe Daddy just doesn’t like Sonny having an important day.

Father Jacob greets them and shows them to a room in the back of the church Sonny has never been to before. Maybe this is a special room for important days. Sonny feels a little special being allowed into a special room in the church where no-one else is allowed to go. It’s a nice room, too. There are candles burning and the furniture is all shiny and polished. The only thing that surprises Sonny a little is that there’s a fire going in the fireplace.

It’s the middle of summer and there’s no need for a fire. Maybe Father Jacob is cold? Sonny had liked the coolness of the church when they had entered, but maybe Father Jacob has arthritis, like Sonny’s grandpa. He doesn’t like the cold, either. Always says it makes him hurt.

Father Jacob talks quietly to Sonny’s mommy and daddy, giving Sonny a moment to look around. There are things sitting on the big desk. A very big book that is already opened. A bowl made of shiny material. Little bottles with some sort of yellow-ish liquid in it. It looks a bit like the oil his mommy uses for the lettuce. Sonny doesn’t like lettuce.

There is a crucifix on the wall, of course, and a painting of the Holy Mother with baby Jesus in her arms. Candles in pretty, silvery looking holders are everywhere and it smells a bit of something. Sonny doesn’t know what it is. All he knows is that he is starting to feel hot because of the fire in the fireplace. He fidgets, not feeling special any more at all. Why are they here? When will the important thing happen? When will Father Jacob make him pure?

Suddenly Father Jacob leans down to him and says, “Show me your marking, son.”

Sonny freezes and looks at his mommy and daddy with fear. He’s not supposed to show his markings to anyone, ever. Mommy says that it’s bad to show them and that he must never let anyone see. Sonny wants to be a good boy for his mommy and so he hasn’t disobeyed. Daddy would get very mad at him and would spank him again, Sonny is sure of that. Daddy hates his markings. He says it’s the Devil’s work and that they make Sonny filthy.

Maybe Father Jacob can make Sonny pure when he looks at them?

“It’s all right, Sonny.” His mommy leans down as well and starts to undo the buttons on his shirt sleeve. Then she works on untying the knot that holds the leather band closed that covers Sonny’s marking. He doesn’t know what the neat black script says, he’s only three after all, but Sonny knows it must be something really, really bad since it makes his daddy so angry. But surely Father Jacob will make it all better and then his daddy doesn’t need to be angry any more. And Sonny won’t be filthy any more.

Father Jacob takes a look at his marking and a frown appears on his face. Will he get angry at Sonny, too? But his mommy said it would be okay to let Father Jacob have a look at it. Sonny’s heart begins to race. Will he be punished again? Did he do something wrong? This was supposed to be his special day. Did he ruin it?

“Don’t you worry, son. We will have this matter redeemed in no time. We won’t let Satan get his hands on you. I promise you that.” Father Jacob looks grim as he says that and Sonny is scared. Satan is out to get him? But he’s tried so hard to be a good boy. He’s said his prayers and he’s been nice and careful with his baby sister and he’s gone to bed on time …

“Please take a seat over here. Dominick can sit on your lap and you can hold him,” Father Jacob says to his mommy, and she walks over to the armchair and settles Sonny in her lap. Sonny feels strange. Excited, but not in a good way. Like something bad is about to happen. He’s scared, but neither mommy nor daddy seem to notice. They look upset now, too, and Sonny just wants to leave. But then Satan will get him, right?

Sonny tries to sit still and not fidget when mommy pulls him tightly against her, wrapping her right arm around his waist and pressing her other hand against his left arm. His daddy is now kneeling in front of the chair Sonny and his mommy are sitting in and he grips Sonny’s left hand really tightly, pulling at it. It hurts, and Sonny is really scared now because Daddy also holds his legs tightly and Sonny feels like he can’t breathe any more. He starts to cry from fear and pain. Why are Mommy and Daddy doing this to him? Why are they hurting him?

Then suddenly Father Jacob is there. He holds something that looks like a long metal stick and Sonny remembers that he saw it sitting in the fireplace earlier. It’s sort of glowing somehow and Sonny can’t breathe any more at all. He’s crying, he’s trying to kick his legs, but Daddy’s grip only grows tighter and it hurts when he squeezes Sonny’s wrist.

“Don’t worry, son, I will cleanse you from the Devil’s evil grasp,” Father Jacob says and he lifts the glowy stick thing in the direction of Sonny’s mark.

Sonny screams.

“No!” Sonny sat up in his bed in the shelter, panting, covered in sweat. His fingers found the branding mark on his left wrist, the one that had destroyed his soulbond mark completely. Nightmares like that had become a rarity nowadays – usually he couldn’t remember the events that led to the destruction of his bonding mark. Sonny cursed inwardly and rubbed his hands over his damp face. He thought he’d dealt with his soulbond-related envy for “Smitty” when he’d immersed himself in the persona.

Obviously not.

Sonny still didn’t know why it was happening. Why now? It wasn’t his first undercover mission by a long shot, and none of the previous ones had resulted in such horrible nightmares. Sonny was used to pretending to having been with his soulmate or at least knowing them. It wasn’t anything new that he talked about that, and by now Sonny had been starting up conversations with most of the other residents. It wasn’t always about whatever it was that had landed them there – they got plenty of that in therapy, thank you very much – but it was personal stuff all the same. Private lives, soulmates, any children of their own. Anything at all that would help Sonny find the rapist, close the case, and allow him to return home to his own apartment and his own bed.

Earlier, Sonny had talked to one of his roommates, Ricky, who was one of the youngest guys in the shelter. His case was one of those Sonny would have loved to see re-tried, and Ricky acquitted. Because from what he’d heard and seen, all Ricky was guilty of was a case of exceptionally bad luck. He’d spent the last six years of his life in prison for the statutory rape of his own soulmate, a young girl from a wealthy family who had been just as much in love with him as he had been with her. Only problem was that Ricky, who came from the wrong side of town, was not what the girl’s parents had had in mind for her. So they turned him in for the rape of a soulmate and, since the girl was a minor, no one could prove otherwise. It was all a huge mess and ended in the destruction of both of her and Ricky’s lives when she committed suicide while he was six months into his sentence.

Cases like those were the ones Sonny thought it might be worth being a lawyer for. Ricky wasn’t a bad person, he wasn’t even really a sex-offender, he was just a victim of his circumstances. Sonny felt sorry for him. He had lost his soulmate and gone to jail for something that wouldn’t have been classified as a crime had his girlfriend not been his soulmate, too. If her parents hadn’t ruined Ricky’s life.

Just like Sonny’s own parents had ruined his.

Sonny touched the raised flesh of the burn again. Bitterness welled up in him as he traced the cross shape that had been branded over his soulmate’s name; erased before he’d had the chance to know it. It just wasn’t fair.

That was the one thing Sonny was never going to be able to forgive his parents for.

Sonny thought about his sisters and their soulmates. Gina had met hers, but he was married to another woman and didn’t believe in soulmates or fate. Teresa had been stalked by her soulmate and had had to call the police to get him to leave her alone. And Bella, Bella had Tommy. They were happy, in love, but Bella had told him that their parents had tried to make her break up with Tommy because they thought he wasn’t good enough for her.

Just like Sonny’s soulmate had been deemed not good enough from the start.

At first, when he was still a child, Sonny had thought that maybe his parents had known his soulmate and that was the reason for them to do something drastic. But soon enough it had become abundantly clear that what had been done to him had been a sick act of supposed ‘purification’. A ritual designed to get rid of the name of a soulmate of one’s own gender. Sonny, who had been told all of his life that it was for his ‘own good’ that his soulname was gone, had been livid when he’d found out the truth. He’d moved out and never looked back. He hadn’t talked to his parents in sixteen years, the betrayal just ran too deep.

It didn’t matter that his parents had done what they had thought right, it didn’t matter that they had been pressured by their church. They should have protected him, should have stood by him. Instead they had robbed him of the chance to be with his soulmate. And even if it wouldn’t have worked out between them, even if they would have ended up one of those dysfunctional pairs who went their separate ways, it should have been Sonny’s decision. Sonny’s and that of his soulmate.

Tears burned in Sonny’s eyes and he wiped at them. Christ, what the hell was wrong with him? He wasn’t usually someone who wallowed in lost chances. He wasn’t someone who was brought down easily. He’d been through therapy and he thought he’d dealt with it for good. So why was it happening now? Why the dreams, now? Why the long-suppressed memories?

Sonny wished he could remember the name that had once been on his skin, that he could see it clearly in one of his more lucid dreams and remember. But his barely four-year-old self couldn’t recall the shapes of the letters, the words they had formed. It was just no use.

Wiping at his eyes helplessly, a small sob escaped Sonny. God, he was pathetic. What the hell was going on? If he couldn’t get a grip the whole op would be in danger. His life would be in danger. And it wouldn’t be an overeager father with a baseball bat who did him in next time.

“Are you okay?” Ricky’s hesitant voice asked in the dark, startling Sonny. The kid sounded as if he wasn’t sure he was overstepping a line, but worried enough to chance it.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Sorry for waking you,” Sonny replied, even if he was so far from fine that it wasn’t even in the same zip code any more.

“It’s okay,” Ricky assured him. He sounded young and small in the darkness of the room. “I used to have nightmares all the time. Especially after Gabrielle killed herself. And now I have nightmares of my time in prison, so … I get it. Did you have a hard time in there, too?” His voice was barely above a whisper and Sonny cursed inwardly. He had a pretty good idea what Ricky’s time in prison had been like. Soulmate assault and statutory rape were crimes that didn’t sit well with the general population. Only child rapists were treated worse. Sonny knew Ricky surely had been through a fair share of abuse himself while in prison.

“I’d rather not talk about it,” Sonny replied after a moment. He didn’t want to make that kind of stuff up.

Thankfully Ricky didn’t ask again.

Rafael was going stir crazy. It wasn’t like he had too much time on his hands or other cases that needed his full attention, but something in his gut still told him that Carisi was in danger. The irrational feeling might stem from the fact that Rafael had woken in the middle of the night from a nightmare he couldn’t quite remember but had definitely starred Carisi in some way. Something had happened to his soulmate in that dream and it left Rafael with a racing heart and the intense urge to call Carisi just to hear his voice. To make sure he was okay.

As predicted, Liv had sent Carisi back in without backup, and without any real consequences for Nomaks or the men that had been with him. They’d received a warning and been told to stay away from the shelter and the people living there, but Rafael doubted that had made any lasting impression. Something in his gut told him that they would try it again. Maybe they wouldn’t target Carisi next time, but someone was going to pay the price for Liv not taking harsher measures, of that Rafael was sure. The worry for Carisi was driving Rafael insane even though he knew he was being unreasonable. He wished he could reach out to him, touch him the way bonded pairs could, feel him, connect to him.

God, he really wanted to call Carisi and hear his voice.

Which of course he couldn’t. Not only was it a silly notion, he couldn’t call Carisi even if he wanted to, or had a good enough reason. Carisi was still undercover, still living in that group home, and contacting him would put him in some real danger – something Rafael would never risk, especially not just to set his own mind at ease. But the longing was there, deep and gnawing and so very hard to ignore.

Rafael didn’t know if it would have been any easier if they had actually been together, as a bonded pair, allowing him to feel what his mate was feeling. Allowing him to determine if his mate was in danger. It might have made things worse – Carisi absolutely was the kind of person who would worry about scaring his partner. If he’d even wanted to be with him in the first place, which was obviously not the case. Rafael groaned and scrubbed his hands over his face. Why the hell was he doing this to himself? Carisi didn’t want him. So why couldn’t Rafael get him out of his head?

Rafael sighed and tried to find a more comfortable position in bed, but it was no use. The t-shirt he’d gone to sleep in clung to his skin uncomfortably and his heart was still racing. There was a deep-seated ache in his chest, a sadness or longing he couldn’t quite understand, considering he’d just woken from a nightmare and the adrenalin hadn’t worn off yet.

With a frustrated huff Rafael sat up and pushed both hands through his sweat-damp hair. He needed a shower and a change of clothes and maybe then he would be able to go back to sleep. It was ridiculous what a simple nightmare was doing to him. He was a grown man, for god’s sake, he shouldn’t be so shaken from something he couldn’t even remember. Calling himself an idiot, Rafael flicked on the light on his bedside table and got out of bed to take a shower.

His thoughts drifted back to Carisi … Sonny, who was most certainly sleeping in his bed at the shelter, unaware of the worry he caused Rafael. It was ridiculous. He really had to stop pining after Sonny. Just because they were soulmates didn’t mean Rafael had the right to freak out or start making demands of him. Like not going undercover any more where he would be in mortal danger if discovered.

Then again, his everyday life was dangerous as well.

Maybe Rafael could make sure that Sonny not only passed the bar but actually started to work as an ADA , that way he at least wouldn’t be in harm’s way every single day. Rafael could live with that. Could live with not seeing him daily any more if it meant his soulmate was not being shot at, going undercover, or doing other dangerous, life-threatening things day in and day out.

Rafael shook his head at himself. It was ridiculous to think like that. He had no say, and would never get any say, in what Sonny did with his life. Sure, he was studying law, trying to pass the bar, but that didn’t mean he would pack up and go as soon as he was able to secure himself a job as an ADA. He seemed to have finally settled in with the SVU unit and not really inclined to leave, if Rafael had read the signs right.

Calling himself an idiot, Rafael finally stripped and stepped into the shower, turning the water as hot as he could stand it. He needed to relax and unwind, to calm down his mind and go back to bed. The aching sadness in his chest had dulled, leaving only a strange sense of absence Rafael couldn’t quite shake completely. Hopefully the shower would help with that, too.

Twenty minutes later Rafael caved and fixed himself a cup of hot milk with honey, then went to bed and stared at the ceiling like a fool.

Something really was wrong with him.

“… about to file a motion to dismiss. I-” The sudden, sharp pain at the back of his skull made Rafael stagger and drop to his knees. Vertigo and nausea swamped him and he gagged, trying to breathe through the agony and disorientation.

Vaguely Rafael could feel hands on his shoulders, on the side of his face, could hear Olivia talk through a thick fog of white noise and so much pain. He couldn’t make out any words, couldn’t understand what was happening other than the pain and terror and alarm he felt.

Olivia was still talking and she had been joined by Rollins and Tutuola, but Rafael still couldn’t understand any of them. He felt like someone had bashed his head in. Or maybe he was having a stroke or something. Either way, the floor beneath his fingers seemed to shake, the rushing in his ears was still loud and overwhelming, and the pain in this head was reaching new levels every second. Rafael was reasonably sure he would pass out any second now.

He dropped onto his side, ignoring the hands reaching for him, trying to steady him, and curled into a tight ball. Sonny. He needed Sonny. Sonny was important. Something about Sonny was very, very important. Sonny should be there to help. NO. Sonny needed help. Sonny. It was Sonny who needed help. How was it Sonny who needed help? Sonny needed help? Sonny was injured. It was Sonny who was injured. Sonny needed help.

But how did Rafael know that?

“Sonny,” Rafael rasped out. Or at least he was reasonably sure that was what he’d said – he couldn’t even hear himself over the rushing in his ears. “Sonny is in trouble. Sonny needs help. You need to find him. Sonny needs help.” The thought made itself at home in Rafael’s aching head and wouldn’t leave again. It kept tumbling around in his brain, over and over, until it was all Rafael could think, all he was focused on.

“Sonny needs help. Sonny needs help. Sonny needs help,” Rafael murmured over and over. His head still ached and things turned foggy, and keeping his eyes open seemed to take a lot of effort. Rollins and Tutuola were trying to get Rafael’s attention but he couldn’t understand them any more than he had been able to understand Olivia just a few moments ago.

But Olivia was gone. Where had she gone? They were in her office. Where would she have gone? Had she gone to help Sonny? Because Sonny needed help. That was the only thing Rafael knew for certain. Sonny needed help. He needed help right now. Rafael didn’t know how he knew, but he knew. Without a doubt.

Maybe it was a soulmates thing. Oh! Soulmates. Rafael fumbled for the black silicone band that sat snug against his left wrist, covering Sonny’s name. He tried to pull it off but it got stuck and Rafael’s fingers were uncoordinated and slow. Frustrated he gave up his attempt to pull the offending item off and let out a breath. He needed to concentrate. He needed to focus. But just thinking was getting harder by the second.

“Sonny needs help,” Rafael told the room in general one last time just as darkness began to creep into his field of vision, and a moment later there was nothing.

Pain was radiating through Sonny in sharp, biting waves. His vision was blurry and his head hurt so badly he was nauseous. But despite it all, Sonny stubbornly fought to stay conscious. He needed to stay awake. He needed to get help. He needed to find Rick. Rick had been with him when they’d been attacked again.

Breathing as slowly and carefully as possible to not upset his hurting ribs, Sonny tried to move a little. He was on the floor in the dirt, curled up on his side, but if he could get up, could call for help, maybe neither of them would bleed out and die in this side alley behind a few dumpsters.

It didn’t work. The moment Sonny tried to get his hands under himself, to push to his knees, his world began to spin around him wildly and the pain in his head turned to hot white agony. Black crept into the edges of his vision and he sank back, fighting once more to stay awake.

“Rick,” Sonny tried to call out, but his voice wouldn’t quite cooperate and all that he managed was a hoarse moan, nothing more.

With unsteady hands Sonny tried to get his cellphone out of the pocket of his jeans, praying it was still functional after his attackers has beaten and kicked him. Hopefully it wasn’t broken. He needed help and he didn’t know where exactly he was, his head hurt too badly to think straight.

“Dammit,” he mumbled as his fingers didn’t want to cooperate, all fumbling and shaking and wrong, and his vision blurred so badly he could hardly see any more. He needed help. And Ricky needed help. But he couldn’t get his fingers to work and his head hurt and everything around him was spinning.

Frustrated and utterly exhausted, Sonny dropped back onto the damp, dirty pavement and let darkness claim him.

Rafael came to on the couch in Olivia’s office, an ice pack on his head and a rolled up blanket underneath his knees. He was sore, but it was more like an echo of actual pain than anything else, and as he mentally pushed it aside the feeling vanished completely.

“You’re awake.” Olivia stated the obvious, her tone icy. She rose from behind her desk and came to stand in front of him, arms crossed in front of her chest. She seemed to be angrier than Rafael could remember seeing her in a very long time.

“We found Carisi. He’s been attacked again. But you already knew that, didn’t you?” she asked. “He’s been brought to the hospital and is still being treated. It looks like he has bruised ribs and possibly a fractured skull but he’ll make it. His roommate Ricky wasn’t so lucky. He’s dead. It’s only due to the fact that what you probably saved Carisi’s life that you’re not sitting in a cell already.”

“Carisi’s been attacked?” Rafael asked and jumped off the couch, blood rushing in his ears. “What the hell were you thinking sending him back? You knew he was in danger.” Fear gripped Rafael’s insides at the thought of his soulmate dying. Sonny had to be okay, he just had to.

“You’re not listening to me, are you?” Liv spat, her tone still cold. “You are going to face charges, serious charges for what you did, Rafael.”

“For what I did? What the hell are you talking about, Liv? I didn’t do anything. You’re the one who put Carisi in danger. You are the one who sent him back to that shelter without backup. You were the one who let Nomaks get away with a slap on the wrist and a warning after attacking a police officer. How the hell am I responsible for any of that, Lieutenant Benson?”

“That’s not what I’m talking about Rafael and you know it.” Olivia snapped, anger written all over her.

“No, I don’t know it; that’s my point. Why don’t you enlighten me?” Rafael was losing his patience. He wanted to go to the hospital and see Sonny, wanted to talk to him and see for himself that his soulmate would be fine.

“You and Carisi are soulmates, and you formed an unlawful, one-sided bond with my detective, latching on to him without his consent. I can’t believe you would do such a thing, Rafael. I thought you knew better. I thought you were a good man. An honorable man. You’ve been working with us for years now, did you really think we wouldn’t find out? Did you think we’d just ignore it?”

Rafael just stared at her, dumbfounded. It couldn’t be, could it? He hadn’t violated Sonny like that, hadn’t forced himself onto his poor, unsuspecting soulmate who didn’t want to have anything to do with being bonded to Rafael. It just wasn’t possible. Liv must have it wrong. “Why would you think that’s what I did?” Rafael forced out through clenched teeth and a burning throat.

“Because I talked to Carisi right before his undercover assignment started, Rafael,” Olivia snapped angrily. “He was unbonded. He even told me I didn’t have to worry about a thing. That he would most likely never bond so I didn’t have to worry about a potential soulmate or an op being at risk. He would never have consented to the bond you created, Rafael. I know it and you know it. That means you bonded yourself to him, to a police detective, without him even knowing you did it. I can’t believe that you’re trying to deny it. You collapsed from bond-feedback when he was hurt.”

Rafael’s head spun and his stomach roiled. He pressed his hand to his mouth, trying desperately to keep the nausea in check. Olivia was right. He had collapsed from bond-feedback. This was the only reasonable explanation for the fact that he had felt Sonny’s pain and had known that he was in danger. He might not have been aware that he had done it, sometime during the last few weeks when Sonny had been hurt and in danger, but that was what must have happened.

His mind, the part of him that had longed for his bondmate, had somehow latched onto Sonny, had created the one sided bond, like some creep grabbing at what he couldn’t have. He had done that to Sonny. He had violated his soulmate without even being aware of it. That explained the nightmare and the strange sense of absence left behind in his chest afterwards. Sonny most likely had had a nightmare, too.

“Oh my god, what have I done?” Rafael whispered and fought down another wave of nausea. “I didn’t know, Olivia. I honestly didn’t know I had done it.” Not that it mattered. There was no excuse for creating an unlawful, one-sided soulbond. None whatsoever.

There was something like regret on Olivia’s face when she looked him square in the eyes. “That’s unfortunate, Rafael, but not an excuse; you know that,” she said, voice still oddly cold and distant. “I can’t make this go away. You collapsed in my office. It’s on record. All I can do is give you three days to sort this out, settle your affairs, maybe go talk to Carisi once he is up to it. He deserves the courtesy of hearing it from you, Rafael.” Her voice was tight and the look in her eyes distant as she stared him down. “Should you fail to turn yourself in after the three days are up, I am going to report you myself and have you arrested. Please don’t make me do that.”

Rafael sat down heavily on the couch and buried his face in his hands. How the hell had his life spiraled out of control so quickly? How the hell was he supposed to live with the knowledge that he had violated his soulmate in such a way, even if he hadn’t meant to do it? The only thing about the whole sordid mess he didn’t regret was the fact that his connection to Sonny had probably saved his life. If he hadn’t collapsed from bond-feedback then no one would have known Sonny was in danger and he might have died.

“I won’t. Thank you, Lieutenant Benson,” Rafael said quietly and rose slowly. He felt old and weary and defeated. Hopeless. He’d do what Olivia had said, settle his affairs, talk to Sonny, and when he knew what to expect, he’d turn himself in.

His career and life as he knew it were over either way.

The doctors had warned him but still nothing they said could quite have prepared Rafael for the sight he was greeted with when he entered Carisi’s room. Sonny looked like some twisted sort of panda bear. His skin was pale but he had two blackish-purple bruises right around his eyes. Apparently the base skull fracture Sonny had sustained from the blow to the head, while uncomplicated and not life-threatening, had left a typical bilateral black eye pattern. Seeing him look like that sent a chill down Rafael’s spine. If the fracture had been more complicated, Sonny might have died.

With a heavy sigh Rafael sat down in the chair next to Sonny’s bed, feeling at a loss as to what to do. He didn’t dare touch Sonny in fear that the weak, one-sided, and completely unlawful bond they shared would solidify, and then not only Rafael would in trouble, but Sonny would need medication and counseling as well to stabilize him from the bond withdrawal. Rafael would never risk doing that. Sonny deserved better.

Rafael rubbed his face tiredly with both hands and closed his eyes for a second. The situation was weighing heavily on him and he knew he was living on borrowed time. Once Sonny decided what kind of action he wanted to take against Rafael for the unlawful bond, he’d know what to mentally prepare for. The end of his career at best, jail time at worst.

“God, I can’t believe I got us into this situation,” Rafael murmured ruefully. He didn’t regret for a single moment that he shared a bond with Sonny, sinceit had saved Sonny’s life. But the way it had happened, spontaneous and without Sonny’s consent, was completely unacceptable.

“You’re not even mine and I still almost lost you. What am I supposed to do now, Sonny? How do I make this up to you?

Sonny stirred and blinked sleepily before focusing on Rafael with a bit of difficulty. His smile was weak but still the best thing Rafael had seen in days. Sonny cleared his throat and asked, “Hey, Counselor, what are you doing here? Squad get tired of babysitting me?”

Rafael felt uncomfortable under his searching eyes and he shifted in his seat awkwardly, for once in his life lost for words. “No, ah, I’m here because I need to talk to you about something. I know it’s not the best time but unfortunately it can’t wait. I have forty-eight hours left to … sort things out with you before your team reports me.” Rafael dropped his gaze to his own, folded hands, unable to look at Sonny any longer. He felt ashamed at his lack of self-restraint in the soulbond matter and just hoped Sonny wouldn’t be too upset about it and ask for maximum penalty. It would be his right to do so, after all.

Sonny pushed himself into an even more upright position than his already elevated bed had given him and when Rafael glanced at him he wore an expression of utter bewilderment. “What? Did you just say me team will report you? What happened? What could you possibly have done that they would turn you in for and what does it have to do with me? I was undercover. We haven’t even seen each other in almost a week.”

Rafael sighed. So that was how Sonny wanted to play it. He still didn’t address the soulbond issue or the fact that it was the most likely reason to get someone written up for overstepping lines. Time to put the cards on the table and deal with the fallout. “When you were attacked yesterday, I was in Olivia’s office going over some files with her. The moment you received that blow to your head I collapsed from bond-feedback. I knew that you had just been badly injured.”

He took a deep breath to steel himself for the next part. “Since Olivia was fully aware of your unbonded status it didn’t take her any time at all to figure out that I formed an unlawful, one-sided soulbond connection to you. I can honestly say I wasn’t aware of that fact myself until that moment, which of course is no excuse. I’m here to discuss what legal action you would like to take against me before I turn myself in. I hope to get things in order at the office, for whoever gets this job after me.”

Rafael knew his little speech had sounded … cold, impassionate, maybe even bitter. But he couldn’t help it. His insides felt chafed raw from longing. His newfound awareness of the bond, one-sided as it was, left a burning feeling of shame and guilt in his chest. He’d unintentionally violated Sonny and that knowledge hurt more than the fact that he would lose his job and possibly his freedom.

Sonny looked shocked. “Whoa, whoa, hold on a second. What the hell are you talking about? Counselor … Rafael,” he amended, “what are you saying? Are you … are you my …?” His voice broke and he looked even paler than before.

For a split second Rafael thought that maybe the concussion from his skull fracture had given Sonny amnesia until he remembered that the doctors had ruled that out already. Sonny’s memory was fine. So, what was going on? Why did Sonny sound like Rafael had just pulled the ground from under his feet?

“Your soulmate, yes.” Rafael frowned. Something about the situation was clearly off and Rafael needed to find out what. Sonny looked about ready to cry and another wave of guilt washed over Rafael. He never wanted to see that look on Sonny’s face ever again, knowing he’d put it there. He dropped his gaze to the ground for a second before focusing on Sonny again. “I know you rejected me and I swear I never meant to bond myself to you – it just happened. Just …just let me know if you want to press charges. I’m going to hand in my resignation as soon as I leave here.” It was an admission of guilt as much as it was a desperate attempt at damage control.

“I didn’t reject you. I would never do that. I just-” Sonny swallowed hard and the tears Rafael had seen pooling in his eyes spilled over and rolled down his face. He wiped them away hastily. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know, Rafael. I’d never reject you. I thought you knew I’m into you. Everyone knows. They keep teasing me about it.” The little laugh that escaped him sounded wet and shaky, and now Rafael felt as if someone had pulled the ground from under his own feet.

“I don’t understand,” Rafael said, helplessly. Seeing Sonny like this was killing him inside. He wanted to wrap him up in his arms, hold him and tell him everything would be fine. But that would be a lie. Rafael didn’t know if anything at all would be fine. Nothing at all made sense any more. He took a shaky breath and looked Sonny square in the eyes. “I don’t know what you mean, Sonny. How could you not know? My name is on the inside of your wrist. I couldn’t have bonded to you if we weren’t soulmates. I don’t understand what’s going on.” There, he’d said it.

Something rushed over Sonny’s face, an emotion Rafael had no hope of deciphering. “I didn’t know because they took it from me. They took you from me,” Sonny whispered. He grabbed the black silicone band that sat against the skin of his left wrist – much like Rafael’s own – and pulled it off in one swift motion. Then he tilted his arm, offering his wrist to Rafael for inspection.

Rafael’s blood ran cold and he felt himself blanch. There, in the spot where Sonny’s soulbond name, Rafael’s name, should have been was a gnarled, old looking brand in the shape of a cross. Bile rose in Rafael’s throat as he touched the scar with shaking fingers. “When?” Rafael whispered around a burning throat and stinging eyes. “How old were you when they hurt you like this?”

“I was almost four when my parents took me to their church and had the priest ‘purify’ me. I’m so, so sorry Rafael. I didn’t know. I didn’t know it was you. I would never reject you, you gotta believe me. Please!” Sonny’s voice was small and pleading, his eyes still watery and red rimmed. It took Rafael a moment to wrap his head around the concept that Sonny was apologizing. To him. Even though he was the only one who wasn’t at fault at all.

Anger stirred in Rafael’s chest, bright and hot and all consuming. “Hey, no, Sonny, no!. You have nothing at all to apologize for, you hear me? Nothing! What happened to you wasn’t your fault and I’m not mad at you. I’m angry at them. And if I could, if this was something I could still prosecute them for, I’d put your parents away on charges of child abuse. And I’d win.” Rafael took a deep breath and steeled himself against the raw emotion he could see on Sonny’s face. There was so much pain in his eyes, but also hope and longing. It tore at Rafael’s heart to see his soulmate like that.

How stupid he had been to assume Sonny had rejected him when he had never actually said the words. Sonny needed to know that not only did Rafael believe him, but that they had a chance together, if Sonny wanted that. “I’m really sorry that I assumed instead of just talking to you. I could have just talked to you, neutrally, without trying to pressure you. I should have, really.” Rafael rubbed his hands over his face, feeling completely exhausted. This was all such a huge mess.

“You really should have, yeah,” Sonny agreed, softly and the warm look on his face did peculiar things to Rafael’s stomach. “But it’s okay. We’ve sorted it out now, right? I didn’t reject you and you didn’t unlawfully bond with me because if I have not previously rejected you, how can it be unlawful? So, you’re not going anywhere. Besides, you saved my life; that has to count for something, right?” Sonny’s voice sounded more happy and playful by the minute and Rafael watched in fascination how his demeanor changed from hopeless to the sunny personality Sonny was known for.

“You have no idea how grateful I was for that connection to you, when I learned what it was. I knew what I’d done was wrong but the bond let me know that you were hurt and that is something I can never regret having. You might have died, if I hadn’t known. I was so scared help wouldn’t come in time,” Rafael confessed.

Sonny smiled at him patiently. “Rafael?”

“Yes?” Rafael asked, thrown by the turn of events and the hope blooming in his chest. All of this was very surreal.

“Can we just … not talk about this anymore?” Sonny asked, sounding almost shy. “I kinda need to feel that this is real. That I’m not just dreaming. Would you-” he broke off, gaze dropping away. “Would you kiss me?”

“Are you sure? We’ll probably bond if we do. Theres a one-sided bond here, already. Kissing could seal the deal,” Rafael needed to give Sonny an out one last time. The consent issue still weighed heavy on his conscience and even if Sonny hadn’t truly rejected him in the first place, it still wasn’t right to form a bond without mutual consent.

“I’m absolutely sure, Rafael. I actually hope we’ll bond, once we kiss. But are you sure, too? You thought I’d rejected you. You thought you’d committed a crime and were willing to turn yourself in because of it. We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, Rafael. You don’t owe me anything. I won’t get you in trouble if that’s what you’re worried about. You can reject me, actually, if you don’t want to bond with me.”

Interesting. Sonny was trying to protect Rafael. Not that Rafael needed protection. He glared at Sonny as best as he could with his heart beating fast in anticipation. “Don’t be an idiot. That is probably the most stupid thing you have said in a long time, Carisi. Are you sure that blow to your head didn’t scramble your brain? Why would I want to reject you when I’ve waited for you my whole life?”

Sonny actually blushed and Rafael smiled at him, pleased.

“Come here, please?” Sonny said, softly. He opened his arms in invitation and Rafael stood and leaned over, letting himself be hugged. It was the most perfect feeling in the world.

“Hi there,” Sonny murmured, as he pressed his face into the crook of Rafael’s neck, breathing him in. “I have it on good authority that you are my soulmate. Wanna make out?”

Rafael couldn’t help it, he laughed at Sonny’s antics, reading them as the nervousness they were. “Considering that we are in a hospital room and you are still injured, I’d say let’s start with a kiss and leave the rest to the privacy of a bedroom once you’re released. We’ve waited so long to be together, what are a few more days compared to that?”

“You’re right. No need to rush when we have the rest of our lives together,” Sonny whispered and then slowly leaned in for a kiss.

The moment Sonny’s lips touched his, Rafael felt calm settle over him. The kiss was perfect – sweet and gentle and unhurried. The bond that had previously only existed on Rafael’s side sprang to life between them, warm and bright, glittering like snow in the sun. It wasn’t a full bond yet, those could only be achieved by having bonding sex, but it was a solid, stable preliminary bond. It felt way more durable than Rafael had expected.

“‘The rest of our lives’ sounds perfect to me,” Rafael said when they finally parted, Sonny’s head coming to rest in the crook of Rafael’s neck.

“Hmm, yeah,” Sonny sighed contentedly. “Sounds perfect to me, too.”

“Honey, I’m home!” Sonny called cheerfully and walked over to where Rafael was sitting on the couch, reading one of his files. Sonny didn’t need to see the eyeroll his words caused to know it was there. The medical check up to get his clean bill of health had run a little late and Rafael surely had been worried.

“Really, Carisi?” Rafael cocked a brow at Sonny. “That’s how you choose to greet me?”

Sonny grinned, giddy with happiness. “Yes, that is exactly how I choose to greet you, soulmate of mine. Because guess who’s been cleared by the doctors?” He snatched the file out of Rafael’s hands and dropped it carelessly onto the coffee table before straddling Rafael, not caring that he rumpled both of their suits.

Rafael’s voice was neutral but there was a little smirk curling around his lips as he grabbed Sonny’s hips, “Cleared for what?”

“Oh, I don't know,” Sonny huffed, “work, I guess.” He leaned down and placed a soft kiss against Rafael’s lips. “It’s not as if my mate has cut me off from the really good stuff or anything, claiming we can’t have sex because it’s too dangerous for my health. I didn’t even get to blow him. He's mean.”

“He’s not mean, he was worried for your well-being. Couldn’t risk making your injuries worse.” Rafael sounded partly defensive and partly amused. The charade was clearly as much fun for him as it was for Sonny. He leaned up and started to nip at Sonny’s neck, nosing right beneath Sonny’s ear.

“Well, I appreciate the concern, even if it’s been driving me completely crazy to have you so close and not get to have that bonding sex you promised me at the hospital.” Sonny groaned when Rafael hit an especially sensitive spot that sent shivers down his spine. He tilted his hips, grinding his growing erection into Rafael’s own hardness. “I expect you to make up for lost time, Rafa. I’m all healed up and I have the paperwork to prove it.”

Rafael groaned and shifted, his hands grabbing Sonny’s hips tighter as he tried to pull Sonny down even closer against his hard cock. His eyes closed and his breath hitched, body arching against Sonny. It was clear that Rafael was trying to take control, but Sonny would have none of that.

“Nuh uh. Nope. This is my show now, Rafa. You’ve made me wait long enough and now I get to do all the things you wouldn’t let me do before. I need to taste you, Rafa.” He ground his hips again. “I want to taste you and fuck you and bond with you in every possible way. I want to be as close to you as possible. Merge with you. The way soulmates are supposed to be. My mate.” Sonny leaned down and kissed Rafael again, but this time there was nothing chaste about it as he claimed Rafael’s mouth.

Sonny could feel Rafael’s cock twitch, could feel him grow impossibly harder as he rocked down once more, never breaking the kiss. Rafael pushed his hands into Sonny’s hair, massaging his scalp and it felt like heaven. Sonny could get lost in the closeness and the heat of the moment, but he wanted more. He wanted to bond. One of the hands in Sonny’s hair tightened and tugged gently as Rafael leaned up to nip and bite at Sonny’s neck once more, while Rafael’s other hand slipped underneath the hem of his shirt nails raking across Sonny’s back. Gooseflesh sprang up all over Sonny’s skin and he groaned, breath coming shorter.

“Bedroom, now. I’m not fucking you on this couch,” Sonny murmured as he tilted his head back to give Rafael better access to his neck. “Besides, we don’t have any lube out here.” Sonny’s mind was getting foggier by the second, their bond thrumming with excited energy. Sonny wondered in what ways it would change after they completed their physical bonding. It was pretty damn amazing already and way more than Sonny had ever dreamed of having. It was a small miracle that he’d found Rafael. Or Rafael had found him, rather.

“God yes,” Rafael moaned as he clawed at Sonny. “Let’s take this to bed.”

Sonny chuckled at Rafael’s apparent eagerness and he rose, slowly sliding off Rafael’s hips. Rafael’s gaze was like a caress on his skin as he walked towards the bedroom before glancing over his shoulder. “You coming?” he asked, all innocence.

Rafael smiled but didn’t answer. Instead he rose from the couch with deliberate movements and followed Sonny to the bedroom. There was a tension in the air, anticipation and longing coiling around them like a tangible thing. It was a heady feeling, completely intoxicating.

Sonny’s heart was racing in anticipation as he watched Rafael enter the bedroom. He still moved with intent, clearly putting on a show for Sonny. It was hot as hell. As Sonny watched Rafael got on the bed and lay down, legs spread apart slightly, arms loosely at his side. His whole posture screamed ‘come and get me’, the way he was spread out on the bed like an all you can eat buffet.

Sonny chucked his suit jacket to the side carelessly, took off his shoes and crawled onto the bed on all fours, ready to lower himself onto Rafael completely. “This okay, Rafi?” Sonny asked. He knew better than to just assume. In their line of work they came across consent issues so often Sonny would never just take it for granted that his partner was on the same page as him. “I need you to say it, Rafael. I need to know you want this as much as I do.”

Something rushed over Rafael’s face at the question, something soft and vulnerable and impossibly tender. Sonny smiled down at him, patiently, waiting for Rafael to speak. Waiting for his soulmate to tell him that they were finally going to take that last step that would bind them together for real.

“Yes,” Rafael’s answer was simple and softer than Sonny had expected. He reached out and pushed his hands into Sonny’s hair again, letting the strands glide through his fingers. A small smile curled Rafael’s mouth and an eyebrow rose as if to say ‘now what?’

Sonny leaned down and nosed the underside of Rafael’s chin. “Yes, what, Counselor?” he asked. “Use your words. You’re not usually that tongue tied,” Sonny nipped at the skin at Rafael’s throat before he slowly lowered his hips, slightly grinding his own erection into Rafael’s, teasing him.

Rafael just groaned, and arched up into Sonny, trying to get more friction. But Sonny would have none of it. Even though consent clearly had been given, he wanted Rafael to tell him what he wanted Sonny to do to him. Wanted to hear Rafael’s deep, smooth voice whisper and moan and beg. Sonny had always loved Rafael's voice but hearing him talk in bed was a special treat in itself.

“Yes, to anything you want Sonny,” Rafael’s voice was hoarse, his breath hitching as Sonny started to leave glancing touches all over his chest and arms. “Just … touch me, Sonny, please.”

Sonny smiled at him. He loved watching Rafael come undone beneath him. He loved the way Rafael’s voice dropped lower, huskier, and the need and want and lust that was easily readable on his face and in his eyes. Rafael’s pupils were blown wide, his body undulating gently against Sonny’s, seeking friction.

Sonny leaned down again and licked at Rafael’s earlobe before tracing it gently with his tongue. Rafael whined, startled and high pitched, body curling as if he had been hit with an electrical current. “Where?” he whispered, making sure to lean down far enough so his breath would ghost over Rafael’s skin.

His question prompted another whine, as if Sonny had reduced Rafael to near-incoherence with a few well placed touches. And maybe he had. It was a weirdly satisfying thought. And undeniably hot. But Sonny wanted Rafael to say it, wanted to hear him voice his needs, his desires. After having been denied for so long Sonny thought he deserved the words, deserved to hear what fantasies Rafael had kept hidden until they could make them come true. “Rafael, tell me where to touch you. Tell me where to put my hands and my mouth. My tongue. Let me hear how badly you want this,” he urged. “I want to make you feel so good.”

“Everywhere,” the word was barely more than a breathy exhale, the whispered plea of a man who was so desperate for contact he would gladly resort to begging if it would get him what he needed. “Please, Sonny. Mark me. Claim me. Fuck me so hard I can feel you for a week, just please, do it.” Rafael’s eyes sought his, his cock rubbing against Sonny’s own, seeking friction.

“Yeah, I can do that. No problem,” Sonny promised breathlessly. “I’m gonna fuck you so good, Rafael. Gonna mark you up. My mate. Everyone will know you belong to me. And I belong to you. But first I wanna taste you. You good with that?” Sonny reached between their bodies, rubbing his hand over the bulge in Rafael’s pants. Rafael’s right hand twisted the sheets.

“Oh god, yes,” Rafael groaned as he bucked into Sonny’s touch. “Please.”

Hearing Rafael beg sent another jolt of arousal through Sonny and he reached for Rafael’s belt, quickly undoing the clasp and pulling Rafael’s slacks and underwear off in one swift move. Rafael gasped as the cool air of the bedroom hit his heated skin and Sonny couldn’t hide a grin. God, Rafael was beautiful like that. He reached out and wrapped his hand around Rafael’s cock, tugging lightly. Rafael’s back arched and he panted.

“I need to see you too, Sonny,” he finally brought out.

“Patience, Rafael,” Sonny smirked. He planned on getting naked soon enough but for now the slight scratch of fabric against Rafael’s naked thighs would serve to add a different sensation. Sonny leaned down and gave the cock in his hand a long, slow lick from root to tip. At Rafael’s sharp intake of breath he sucked the head into his mouth enjoying his first taste of Rafael.

Rafael tried to buck his hips, but Sonny pinned him down. He knew his fingers were leaving bruises on Rafael’s skin but considering Rafael had asked him for marks, Sonny figured he wouldn’t mind. All Rafael did in response was groan. Sonny smiled around the cock in his mouth, taking him deep.

Time to make Rafael come undone.

He hummed in the back of his throat, prompting another shiver from Rafael before moving up again and tonguing the slit. Sonny loved the feeling of Rafael in his mouth. He loved giving blowjobs, always had, the intimacy of it all as much a turn on as the reactions of his partner. He carefully took Rafael deeper into his throat again, while keeping a steadying hand on his hip so Rafael wouldn't be able to thrust and choke him. While there were plenty of people who enjoyed that kind of thing, Sonny was not one of them. He moved up again until only the head remained, fascinated by the sounds Rafael made. Sonny could barely believe his luck. He was in bed with this gorgeous man, who happened to be his soulmate – something Sonny never thought he’d ever get to have. They were about to complete their bonding and the magnitude of it all threatened to overwhelm Sonny for a second.

“Sonny,” Rafael gasped just when Sonny was getting lost in the feel and taste and sound of Rafael. He hummed in response, unwilling to give his prize up just yet. Instead Sonny gave Rafael’s hip another little squeeze.

“Sonny!” Rafael said again and with a small sound of disappointment Sonny slowly pulled off Rafael’s cock. He threw Rafael a questioning look.


“Please stop teasing me. I need more,” Rafael sounded breathless and desperate, but oh so aroused. “I need you.”

Sonny smiled at Rafael. “You have me, Rafa. I’m all yours. For as long as you want me.” He knew it wasn't what Rafael had meant, knew the man impatiently writhing on the bed was asking to be fucked without so many words, but in that moment Sonny couldn’t help himself, his chest tight with so much love, gratitude and awe that it seemed to want to burst out of him.

Slowly, as if he had all the time in the world, Sonny lifted his weight off of Rafael and started to undress. He took his time, unbuttoning his shirt then stepping out of his pants. Sonny forced himself to keep going slowly, to give Rafael a bit of a show, and allow himself to get some semblance of control back. After being denied for so long, the fact that he was about to finally, finally get to have sex with Rafael brought him precariously close to the edge. He could use the short delay to cool down a bit, get his breathing and erratic heartbeat under control, while simultaneously letting Rafael enjoy the view. But apparently Rafael was about as impatient as Sonny was, judging by the look he gave Sonny before wrapping a hand around his own cock and starting to jack himself.

“Do you need a hand?” Rafael asked challengingly when Sonny just stood there, admiring the way Rafael was spread out on the bed for him instead of removing the last of his clothes.

“What I need is for you to stop touching yourself, Rafa. That’s for me to do. Tonight you’re mine, all mine.” Sonny had found his mental footing again and smirked at Rafael. “Aren’t you?” It was a challenge as much as it was one last request for confirmation that this was still what his mate wanted. Even though Rafael seemed eager to get on with the show, this thing between them, their first time, sealing their soul-bond for good, was huge.

After tonight it would take a whole lot of drugs, therapy and distance to break their bond again. It was a huge commitment. Tonight wasn’t just about getting off, about having some fun between the sheets. If they had unprotected sex, bonding sex, this thing between them would turn as permanent as it would get. More permanent even than marriage. They’d only been together for a few weeks and even though their existing bond was amazing and fulfilling and so much more than Sonny had ever dreamed of having, Sonny was no fool. Being soulmates and having a bond didn’t guarantee them a happily ever after, it just tipped the odds a little.

“If you’d rather not bond completely, I’m good with that, too, Rafa. I can get the condoms, make sure we don’t get locked into the bond completely,” Sonny clarified, when Rafael didn’t reply right away. “I’m more than happy to keep things as they are. I love you and our bond the way it is right now. I’m not gonna trap you into something you’re not ready for.”

Rafael had gone awfully quiet, his hand on his cock had stilled, too. Sonny just hoped he hadn't read Rafael wrong.

Something rushed over Rafael’s face, something soft and vulnerable. “I’m ready,” he said softly. “I need you, Sonny. Please.” It wasn’t the urgent plea it had been before but a quiet admission of something Sonny hadn’t dared to hope for. This wasn’t sex. This was about commitment and love and deliberately choosing each other.

A small smile curled around Rafael’s lips and he beckoned Sonny with a finger. “C’mere. I wanna feel you.”

Sonny pulled his underwear off, dropping it to the floor carelessly. The look Rafael gave him was like a caress on his skin. Sonny walked over to the bedside table and took out the lube they’d need but left the condoms. Rafael wanted to bond and they weren’t needed.

“You have me, Rafael.” Sonny repeated his earlier words. His heart was beating wildly in his chest and his cock was achingly hard. Sonny dropped the lube next to Rafael’s hip as he crawled onto the bed again and ran his hands up Rafael’s thighs. It earned him a sharp intake of breath. Sonny couldn’t believe how receptive Rafael was to this small touch even after having had Sonny’s mouth on him and stroking himself. He leaned down and pressed a soft kiss against the inside of Rafael’s left thigh.

“Open your legs a little for me, sweetheart,” Sonny murmured, unaware the endearment had slipped out until he felt Rafael’s small huff of breath at the word. He didn’t lift his head to see Rafael’s expression, though.

Rafael’s legs opened for him, allowing Sonny to settle between them comfortably. He pressed a kiss to the inside of Rafael’s thigh before gently spreading his cheeks. Rafael’s breath hitched and Sonny could feel how close he was to completion already. The bond between them thrummed with arousal.

Sonny breathed Rafael in, enjoying the wave of warmth, love and anticipation that seemed to travel along their existing bond. He’d need the lube to fuck Rafael properly but right now he just wanted to have this, feel him, taste him, get lost in him. At the first touch of his tongue to Rafael’s opening, Rafael’s body arched, his hands fisting the sheets. He groaned, a deep, wanton sound that went straight to Sonny’s cock. If Rafael reacted that way to everything Sonny did, he would have to cut the teasing short and go straight to prep because the sounds alone could surely drive Sonny to the brink.

Reaching a decision, Sonny snagged the lube and quickly coated a finger. He knew that Rafael couldn’t take much more and gently pushed into him, spreading lube around. Rafael groaned again, head thrown back, a fine tremor running through his body. Sonny couldn’t get enough of the sight.

“That’s it, sweetheart,” Sonny murmured, “God, Rafa, you feel so amazing. I can’t wait to get inside you, feel you wrapped around my cock. I’m gonna fuck you so good, Rafa. Gonna make you see stars.” He pulled out his finger and added more lube before returning with two fingers. Rafael’s body was tight, but opened up to Sonny’s gentle coaxing quickly. Another wave of love and affection and pure want coursed along their bond, making Sonny’s head spin.

“You’re perfect,” Sonny whispered. “My perfect soulmate.”

“It would be even more perfect if you would fuck me already,” Rafael said hoarsely, and Sonny knew he was right. He needed to fuck Rafael right now or it would all be over before it even started.

“Are you sure?” Sonny knew it was ridiculous but he needed to hear it one more time.

“Yes, please just get on with it,” Rafael replied with a hint of desperation in his voice, patience clearly having run out.

But Sonny would not be rushed. He leaned over and cupped Rafael’s face with his right hand. “I love you. Thank you for finding me.” Sonny's voice broke with emotion, overwhelmed by love and want and so much gratitude it took his breath away. He nudged at Rafael’s entrance gently, going slow so to not hurt Rafael. As he pressed into his soulmate's body for the first time, Sonny felt a strange calmness overcome him. Everything seemed to go quiet and still, frozen in time. It was a stark contrast to the burning desire he had felt just a second ago but it didn’t feel wrong or out of place, more like ... being welcomed home. A home Sonny hadn’t known in forever. A home he had never known, if he was perfectly honest.

It was belonging and acceptance and so, so much love.

Rafael gasped, going utterly still. For a split-second Sonny was worried that he had hurt him, that he’d gone too fast, hadn’t given Rafael enough time to adjust to his considerable girth. But there was no distress coming over their bond, no pain.

There was a look of utter wonder on Rafael’s face, as if he felt it too. Peace. Belonging. A sense of rightness like he’d never felt before.

Sonny’s control was slipping and he rolled his hips, prompting another moan from Rafael. Time seemed to stretch and snap like a rubber band, speeding up again as Sonny bottomed out inside of Rafael. He started to move in a languid pace that was meant to draw out their pleasure that was rolling over them like a tidal wave, but he also knew they wouldn’t last. Not this first time.

Already Sonny could feel a burning urge to complete their bond, to merge, coming from Rafael, but he didn’t want to give in just yet. This was their moment, their first time, the joining of not only their bodies but also their minds, their souls. This was what Sonny had been waiting for all of his life and now that he had it, had Rafael, he could hardly believe how good it felt. How absolutely right.

“Please, cariño,” Rafael begged. “Finish it. Please.”

Sonny reached between their bodies, jacking Rafael in time with his thrusts. Something in their bond shifted, solidified, pulled them together like magnets. Sonny could feel Rafael at the center of himself, the very core of his soul, and they tumbled over the edge together, neither of them able to tell where one began and the other ended.

The world whited out and went unfocussed for a while as they lay together, spent and panting, foreheads pressed together and closer than they had even been before. This was it. This was what Sonny had been longing for all of his life and he would do anything, anything at all, to never lose it again.

He was finally home.