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Detective Carisi, Rafael concluded, was a distraction.  

Case in point: at this very moment, Rafael was supposed to be preparing for his afternoon meetings, of which he had four.  Instead, he was sitting in a booth at a pizzeria while Carisi was at the counter, ordering slices of artisanal pizza for them.  

The detective had managed to commandeer Rafael's lunch hour so that they could debrief from the morning's motion hearing.  A hearing that Carisi wasn't even supposed to be at. Yet somehow he had convinced Rafael, in a moment of weakness, to let the detective shadow him for the entire trial.

Rafael must be growing soft in his middle age.  Otherwise how to explain that he had caved twice in one day to the detective's requests.

So now he was going to be spending his lunchtime answering Carisi's incessant legal questions.  Rafael had a feeling there might be some personal questions thrown in as well.  After all, this was the first time he and the inquisitive detective had ended up alone together since Carisi's warrant-seeking visit to his apartment.  

Though he had tried to act nonchalant about it at the time, Rafael had been mortified to be discovered in his underwear by Carisi that night.  Not to mention the fact that he was in ankle cuffs and marked like a piece of goddamn property.

But Carisi had been surprising in his response.  He seemed to accept it all without question or judgment: The fact that Rafael was with a man.  His state of undress. The clear evidence that he had been restrained, of his own volition. Ok, maybe Carisi had engaged in some good-natured teasing on that last point.  But there had been no malice.

And then there was Carisi's own disclosure that he was bi, perhaps the biggest surprise of all.  Rafael had always presumed Carisi's straightness, to the extent that he considered the matter at all.  But for the most part he had remained unconcerned with the detective's romantic preferences. And he had certainly never pondered Carisi as a sexual being.  It was Carisi after all.

Carisi in bed was probably like Carisi in life, eager to please and fully invested. He would be all long limbs and bundled energy, somehow both rough and tender at the same time.  Whereas Brett had preferred Rafael ass up and face down, a willing body to meet his needs, Carisi would ask to make love face-to-face.

Not that it was himself that Rafael was imagining with Carisi.  That would be absurd.

"Hey Counselor?  You lost in thought there?"

Rafael looked up, startled.  Carisi was back, sliding into the other side of the booth with a large tray.  His knees jostled the table slightly as he folded his legs in after himself.

The detective placed two slices of pizza in front of Rafael.  "This one's eggplant and ricotta. Classic. And this one's pulled pork and mango."

"It smells good.  But what exactly makes it artisanal?"

"I dunno.  The fact that it's better than your average pizza, I guess.  But I don't think any of this stuff's organic, so you might not want to tell Brett."

Rafael paused to take a bite of the eggplant and ricotta.  It was delicious. "Brett and I broke up a few weeks ago, actually."

"Oh."  Carisi's expression was neutral.  "I'm sorry to hear that. I mean, I'm sorry if you're sorry about it.  These things are often difficult . . ."

"No one died, Carisi, you don't have to act so morose about it.  We both just decided it wasn't working."

Rafael had been the one to broach the subject.  Brett had responded with relief that he felt the same way.  Turns out he was too fucking polite to bring it up himself. Then he had asked, politely, to fuck Rafael one last time.  That had been a no.

"So are you ready to get back out there, Counselor? My sisters always say that's the best way to get over a break up. Well, that and getting drunk."

"Get back out there?  Honestly, I don't think I should be taking dating advice from the Carisi sisters."

Carisi shrugged as he ate his own pizza, seemingly unperturbed by the put-down.  "Well that's just what my sisters say. As for me, I think there can be some benefit to not rushing into anything new.  You know, focus on yourself. Take stock of the things and people that are in your life already."

"Yes, well, I think that by default I'm not going to be rushing into anything new.  I'm certainly not about to use my nonexistent free time to go trolling for men in clubs, if that's what your sisters mean about getting back out there."

Carisi laughed at that.  "Yeah, no offense, Counselor, but I can't really picture it.  You in a club, picking up guys." He paused, as if reflecting.  "I mean, we can't all be smooth at everything."

Annoyed at the implicit criticism, Rafael drew himself up to his full (seated) height.  "I'll have you know, Carisi, that two decades ago I was quite a catch. I could get any guy in any club I went into."

"I knew it!"  There was a twinkle in Carisi's eye.  "I knew you would've been a player."

Rafael scowled, realizing he'd just been played by the detective.  "Well, even back then clubs weren't really my scene, so don't let your imagination run too wild."

"How did you and Brett meet, anyway?"

"At a Bar Association event."

"Figures.  A legal gathering definitely seems more your scene."

Rafael felt like he was rapidly losing control of the conversation, and once again sharing far more of his personal life than he intended to with a colleague.

"Carisi, I believe that the point of this working lunch was to discuss today's hearing, not my dating history."

"Ok ok, you're right.  I gotta say, Barba, the hearing was really awesome."

"The judge prohibited any mention of the Wyatt Morris kidnapping, which we needed to get in because our evidence is circumstantial at best. Honestly, that feels like the opposite of awesome to me."

It was true.  Lisa Hassler was a worthy opponent, and she had won a big one today.  Rafael moved on to the pork and mango slice. It was also delicious. Carisi knew how to pick his pizza.

"We definitely took a hit Counselor.  But you kept Hoda's confession in. And the back and forth between you and Hassler, it was like watching a pro tennis match."

"A tennis match."

"Yeah, like . . . each of the arguments was like the ball ricocheting back and forth."  Carisi scratched his head, blushing slightly. "I guess the analogy made more sense in my head than when I said it out loud."

Rafael smiled in spite of himself.  "You certainly have your own take on things Carisi."

"You could even say I put my own 'spin' on things."  Carisi was clearly pleased with himself for that one.  "See what I did there, Counselor? Spin? Like a tennis ball?"

Carisi was leaning forward on his elbows now, gesturing with his free hand.  His gregariousness was such a marked contrast to Brett's WASPish reserve. It was almost refreshing.

"So Counselor, how's your strategy gonna change now that you can't bring in the Morris kidnapping?"

"Well I can't argue pattern and practice anymore, so I'll have to focus even more on the specific connections between Hoda and Hector's death.  It would be really helpful if we had something - anything - linking Hoda to Hector while he was still alive."

"I can tell the squad that.  We can see if there's any evidence that was missed."

"You know Carisi, once you start practicing law yourself, motion hearings will rapidly lose their charm."

"That's if I start practicing," Carisi said as he started in on his third slice.

"If you start practicing?"  Rafael carefully blotted his mouth with a napkin before addressing the detective in his mentor tone.  "Look Carisi, I know that I, more than anyone, have been hard on you. But I have faith that you can make it as a lawyer.   You've seen some of these idiots who stand up in court. If they can do it, you surely can."

"Gee thanks, Counselor.  You think I have more sense than an idiot, that's high praise."

"You know what I mean."

"Yeah I do.  Look Barba, it's not so much that I doubt my abilities.  But I don't know that I want to give up being a detective.  At least for now. Even when I started law school, I wasn't sure that I wanted to practice right away."

Barba stared at Carisi in astonishment.  "If you weren't sure you wanted to be a practicing attorney, why in the world did you decide to go to law school?"

Now Carisi was looking at Barba like he was the one who was being obtuse.  "To learn," he said simply, like it was the most obvious thing. "You're the academic one here, Counselor - isn't learning the reason that you went to law school?"

"Well yes, but I also had a host of more tangible, not to mention practical, reasons."  Chief among them being a way out and a path towards respectability and security. But Carisi didn't need to know all that.

"Well I guess I had a practical reason as well.  I think it'll make me a better detective if I can understand things from the legal perspective.  And honestly I haven't ruled out practicing law. I'm just keeping my options open at this point."

Barba shook his head, but he felt an unexpected respect for Carisi's decisions.

"Well I don't know what to say, Detective.  You went to law school because you want to learn.  That's commendable of you. Extremely foolish, perhaps, but commendable."

Carisi just smiled broadly in response.

It was past six o'clock by the time Rafael made it back to his office after his final meeting.  Carmen was packing up to leave for the day. She paused to give him his phone messages and mail.

"Oh, and Detective Carisi dropped this off for you this afternoon."  She handed him a small brown bag, then hovered. It was not usual for Rafael's detectives to leave him gifts, and she was clearly curious.

"Thanks for everything Carmen, have a good night."

Carmen's eyes narrowed slightly at the dismissal, but she bid Rafael goodnight, accepting that she was not going to find out what was in the bag.

Rafael retreated to his desk chair with the paper bag, pondering it for a moment before reaching inside.  He pulled out a package of chocolate-covered pretzels. A post-it note in Carisi's scrawling hand was stuck to the top:

"Thanks for letting me shadow you, Counselor!"

And below it, another post-it:

"Now that you're liberated from the snack police, go nuts! (or pretzels!)"

Rafael chuckled to himself, then opened the package and began to eat the pretzels.  He returned to an earlier train of thought about Carisi.

Yes, the detective was most certainly a distraction.  Had been for awhile now, ever since he first burst into the precinct like an extra out of some '70's buddy cop movie.

Those early distractions, including the facial hair and the bad suits, had dissipated over time.  Rafael liked to think that he had had a moderating influence on Carisi's fashion sense.

Whatever distraction remained was . . . amorphous and undefined.  Maybe if Rafael could narrow it down, he could come up with an appropriate solution that would keep the detective from interfering with his focus.  For example, he could limit Carisi to two legal questions a day.

Rafael decided to do what he always did when he was stuck on a puzzle with a case.  He went to Forlini's to work it through on a legal pad.

Scotch in hand, Rafael settled into the privacy of a booth rather than his customary spot at the bar.  He opened his leather portfolio and wrote out the question at issue at the top of the page:

"Why Is Detective Carisi Distracting?"

Rafael started writing out potential answers:

- he's loud

- he's tall

- he talks about his family all the time

- he's always bringing the squad Italian pastries

- he cares about the squad like they're his family

- he's always asking random legal questions

- he convinces me to let him shadow me --> I'm subjected to his questions all day

- he argues with me about cases

- he tries to impress me

- he can hold his own with me

- he makes really bad puns

- his eyes crinkle when he says them

- he fucking knows the puns are bad

- he's easy to tease and make fun of

- he doesn't take the teasing too seriously

- he's going to law school just because he wants to learn

- he's insightful

- he brings me snacks as a gift

Rafael analyzed his list, trying to make sense of it.  Then he took a sharp intake of breath and wrote a single word at the bottom, circling it.

He closed his portfolio to shield the writing from prying eyes and made his way to the bar.  He definitely needed more alcohol to deal with this.

Rafael returned to his booth with another scotch.  He reopened the portfolio and stared at the word he had just written in capital letters:


Rafael had feelings for Detective Carisi.  That was the ultimate explanation for, and source of, his distraction.

This was not good.  Not good at all. Rafael started making another list, this time in his head.  Firstly, Carisi worked on all his cases. Even thinking about this was practically a conflict of interest.  Secondly, Carisi was ten years younger and fitter than him. What reciprocal interest, aside from hero worship, could the detective possibly hold for him?  Thirdly, for all he knew Carisi was already in a relationship.

For all he knew.  Truth be told, there were a lot of things that Rafael didn't know about Carisi.  And it was his own fault, really. He was always keeping the detective at arm's length and cutting him off.

Rafael fiddled with his pen. This was not a quandary that would be solved tonight, not even with all the scotch in the world.  And he had other issues to work through on his legal pad, such as how he was going to find a way forward on the Rodriguez case.  

But he found he liked the idea that Carisi was going to be shadowing him.  That Carisi would be there with his smile, and his questions, and his awful jokes.  Of course Rafael's focus would have to be strictly on the trial, for now. But later on, maybe, there would be the possibility for something more.