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27 Bowties

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When Sonny had received his invitation, splashed in rainbows and requesting he wear an abundance of color to ‘The Gay Wedding of the Year’, he’d rolled his eyes, but otherwise hadn’t given it much thought.

As he stepped into the hall, however, the term ‘Gay Wedding of the Year’ took on an entirely new meaning, and he felt his eyes widen against his will at the onslaught of color. The rows of chairs were bright, vibrant hues, the groups of rows making up the rainbow flag, and the ceiling above had been strung with so much colour it made his eyes hurt. Instantly, he thought of his partially abandoned blog, and how much it could probably do with a lighthearted splash of color amongst the articles on law and the criminal justice system. He fished out his phone, snapping a couple of photos as he made his way to his allocated seat.

Sonny had come because he felt he had to, not because he necessarily wanted to. He knew next to no one, and the people he did know seemed to know everyone else, which left him mingling with other hangers-on, the people who didn’t really belong. The moment he took his seat in the hall, he found himself wishing he was anywhere but, blog post be damned.

That was until he saw Rafael Barba dash in, just as the wedding march was beginning, polka-dot rainbow bowtie just a little crooked, and completely clashing with the bright blue suit that he was sure, under normal circumstances, Rafael wouldn’t be caught dead in.

He clamped his hand over his mouth, stifling a laugh as Rafael swept a shaky hand through his hair, muttering something that was likely an apology into one of the groom’s ears, before smoothing down the front of his suit, schooling his expression into something bordering on happiness. As Rafael’s expression softened, Sonny felt his own follow suit.

Once the ceremony was over, Sonny shot up, desperate to hit Rafael with some kind of remark about his suit, knowing full well that under his cool exterior it would be somewhat of a sore point for him to be seen in public, by a colleague no less, in anything less than becoming. But as he looked around, he couldn’t see Rafael at all.

He felt his shoulders slump, an odd sense of disappointment filling him up as he followed the rest of the wedding outside for champagne while they set up the hall for dinner. He always enjoyed their banter, their casual back-and-forth, and he would have relished the opportunity to finally have the upper hand. But more than that, he would have loved to simply see Rafael outside of work, away from their usual dynamic, in the open, casual and carefree, or at least as carefree as Rafael Barba was capable of.

It wasn’t until they were seated and waiting, the wedding party having already made their grand entrance sans Rafael, that Sonny saw him again, awkwardly taking his place at the large table at the head of the room, cheeks a little flushed.

Still, after a few deep breaths and a drink or two while others gave speeches, Rafael stood, beaming as he called everyone to attention and delivered his best man speech.

A speech that, if Sonny was being completely honest, he hadn’t listened to a word of. The soft look in Rafael’s eye made it impossible for Sonny to hear his words. It was a look he’d seen fleetingly before, more than once, but had always thought he’d imagined. He couldn’t quite believe the look of pure joy on Rafael’s face as he spoke, as he looked at his friend and his friend’s new husband, wishing them well.

It wasn’t until applause broke out around him that he realized he had been staring. He swallowed hard, blinking a few times as he joined in the applause around him, feeling a little dazed.

And then Rafael was gone again, disappearing as the noise around them began, soft music mingling with the rising hum of voices and clanging of cutlery as everyone began eating. He glanced at the people either side of him, busy in conversation with somebody else, and sighed softly. What he wanted suddenly, more than anything else, was to have Rafael beside him, someone to talk to, and for a moment he forgot that the sole purpose of seeing Rafael out was to tease him.

The moment he could escape, Sonny slipped outside, leaning against the cool brick of the building as he fished out his phone, desperate for a reason to leave the wedding and the people he’d been sat with. He’d accepted the fact that he likely wouldn’t see Rafael again, and there was nothing else holding him here. He’d seen his childhood friend get married, he’d done his part, and now he wanted comfortable clothes, a beer, and an 80s action film to send him to sleep.

He glanced up at the slamming of a car door and caught sight of Rafael running towards the building, a sheen of sweat coating his forehead as his chest heaved.

“Counselor,” Sonny muttered, causing Rafael to pause in his steps, having seemingly not even noticed Sonny standing there. He didn’t even bother to hide his smirk as he raked his eyes up and down Rafael’s form, gaze resting on his neck. “I see you’ve ditched the polka-dot tie in favor of something a little more...classy.”

Rafael glanced down at his own attire and groaned, an honest-to-God primal sounding thing that seemed to tear its way from his throat and into existence. He hung his head, taking a deep breath, before heading back to the taxi that had dropped him off, rummaging around in the back seat.

“Thank you, Carisi,” Rafael said stiffly, keeping his gaze down, avoiding eye contact as he re-emerged, tugging at the slick black tie around his neck.

His fingers fumbled with the fabric, hands shaking, and Sonny took pity immediately, stepping forward to undo the tie, draping it over his arm before taking the bowtie from Rafael’s still-trembling hands.

As he fixed the knot as best he could -- though, he supposed, probably not to Rafael’s standards -- he stepped back, offering a wary smile, all teasing gone. “You okay?”

“Peachy,” Rafael deadpanned with a grimace.

“Yeah, that was believable,” Sonny deadpanned with a roll of his eyes.

Rafael stared at him for a moment, seemingly dazed, and Sonny couldn’t fight the urge to reach out and straighten his jacket before smoothing his hands down Rafael’s chest. He was sure Rafael shivered at the touch, and his breath hitched in his throat as he felt Rafael’s heart beat beneath his palm, wild and erratic when it had been calm moments before.

Sonny quickly pulled his hands away as heat pooled low in his belly, and he cleared his throat, glancing away for a moment. But when he finally let his eyes rest back on Rafael’s, Rafael’s lips were quirked upwards in a soft smile, and he felt himself smiling back, his heart momentarily skipping a beat before he shook his head and took another step back, breaking all contact.

Rafael gave him a knowing look, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth, before he headed for the front door. “I’m too old for this,” he muttered to no one in particular before pushing through the glass doors.

Sonny breathed out a small sigh before following him in. He told himself it was his duty, to his friend on his big day, but it was something else that drove him back through those doors and into the reception hall, right on Rafael’s tail.

It was something else that made Sonny take Rafael’s arm and lead him to the bar, grabbing them both a drink before sitting down.

It was something else that made Sonny lean in, hand on Rafael’s arm for just a moment, before asking, “Are you sure you’re alright?”

Rafael huffed out a laugh, downing his scotch in one go before letting his eyes rest on Sonny. “I’m fine. Though your concern is touching.”

Despite his words being laced with their usual sarcasm, there was a softness in his eyes, underlined by a tiredness that seemed out of place at what was supposed to be a fun event. Sonny tracked the movement of his fingers tracing the rim of his empty glass, eyes having flitted to where the happy couple were dancing together.

“Okay,” Sonny said with a small shrug. “You got somewhere more important to be, then?”

Rafael’s eyes shot back to Sonny’s, a light rage flickering behind his piercing gaze. “What?”

“Well, you’ve barely been here all night. And when you have, it’s been for all of five seconds. And just now I saw you coming out of a taxi, back to the wedding you’re supposed to be best man at, with the wrong tie on.” Sonny stared him down, refusing to break eye contact or wilt under Rafael’s glare. “So, you got somethin’ on you don’t want anyone to know about?”

Sonny’s tone was teasing, light, but after a beat, Rafael’s shoulders slumped in defeat, the fire gone from his eyes in an instant as he stared into his empty glass, as though willing it to be full.

“I’m making a mess of this,” Rafael sighed, sounding so dejected it took Sonny by surprise. “I thought I could handle this, but I can’t. Billy deserves better. Lincoln deserves better.”

“Woah,” Sonny said quietly, reaching out to lay his hand on Rafael’s arm once more, this time with intent. “I wasn’t asking to make you feel guilty.”

Rafael huffed a humorless laugh. “I’m aware of that, Carisi.”

“You’re Billy’s best man, yeah?” Rafael nodded. “So he obviously chose you for a reason. You must be close. Surely if something’s come up--”

“I can’t tell him,” Rafael said quietly, and Sonny was shocked at the admission. They’d never talked about their personal lives, never had any kind of serious conversation unrelated to the law. He felt something warm bloom in his chest at the thought of Rafael feeling comfortable enough to talk to him. “It’s his special night. What kind of friend would I be if I wasn’t 100% there on his wedding night?”

Sonny tried to cover his snort with a cough, but the glare Rafael shot him told him he’d failed. “You’ve not really been here, though, have you?”

Rafael sighed and glanced down at his watch before shooting out of his chair, knocking it over in the process.

“Christ,” Rafael muttered, patting his pockets. “I-I need to be...I’ve gotta...Lincoln.”

“Woah, okay,” Sonny said softly, taking Rafael by the arm. “You need to calm down, that’s what you’ve gotta do.”

“No, you don’t understand, Lincoln needs--”

“Whatever Lincoln needs, whoever he is, it can wait. You look dead on your feet. I’m taking you home.” Sonny wound an arm around Rafael’s waist, leading him towards the door.

“Carisi, stop. Carisi--”

Rafael pulled out of his grasp quickly, so quickly he lost his footing, grabbing at air. Sonny watched, seemingly in slow motion, as Rafael fell backward, the back of his head landing solidly on the edge of a table. The crack of the impact made Sonny’s stomach turn. He kneeled down beside Rafael on the floor, hand cupping the back of his head, relieved when there wasn’t any blood.

“Hey. Rafael, look at me.” Rafael’s eyes fluttered open, settling on Sonny’s, a little dazed but as vibrant as ever. “Can you stand?”

Rafael muttered something Sonny couldn’t hear, tips of his ears going red as he hauled himself off the ground, eyes purposely angled downward, avoiding eye contact with anyone who saw. Rafael took a couple of steps before swaying, and Sonny was beside him instantly, arm back around his waist, hand on his shoulder.

“C’mon, let’s get you home.”

He was surprised Rafael didn’t protest again. He simply let Sonny lead him out to the cab that was still waiting for him.

“You need a hospital?” Sonny asked softly, prompting Rafael to scoff.

“Of course not. A couple of Tylenol and bed will do just fine.”

Sonny watched Rafael climb into the cab, hovering in case he lost his footing. Once Rafael was safely seated, he closed the door and got in the other side. He glanced across the space between them, eyes tracing Rafael’s jaw, down the line of his exposed neck, before swallowing hard. Whether consciously or not, Rafael had himself pressed as close as he could to the door, looking out the window, body turned away ever so slightly, and Sonny knew how to take a hint.

They drove in silence for what felt like an age, Sonny watching Rafael while Rafael stared out the window. Sonny sighed, finally turning his gaze away, and his eyes instantly caught the suit hanging beside his head, a slick black number coated in plastic, a little rumpled at the cuffs, but otherwise pristine.

“Hoping to wear this tonight instead?” Sonny prompted with a grin, remembering the whole reason he’d sought Rafael out in the first place.

“I did wear that tonight,” Rafael mumbled, resting his chin on his hand, body shifting towards Sonny just slightly, likely another unconscious move.

Sonny felt himself smirk. “Oh yeah, your secret hot--”

“I was at another wedding,” Rafael cut him off, turning to look at him, eyes daring him to comment.

“You’re kidding?”

Rafael shook his head, and Sonny felt himself laugh, relaxing back in the seat, letting his head fall against the worn leather. “Jesus. Why not say you couldn’t go? Surely they’d understand if you were best man at--”

“I was best man at both weddings,” Rafael said, voice a little strained.

“Christ,” Sonny breathed out with a shake of his head. “How miserable.”

“What?” A look of confusion flitted across Rafael’s face as he tilted his head. “They’re both close friends, and they both asked. What was I supposed to do?”

Sonny snorted. “From a man who seems to have no problems telling people no, I think you know exactly what you could have done.”

Rafael shook his head. “No. No, they trusted me enough to ask. You’re telling me you wouldn’t?”

“Not two weddings in one night.” Sonny shook his head in disbelief. “That’s insane. Hell, that’s depressing. One wedding’s bad enough, but two?”

It was Rafael’s turn to snort, staring at Sonny in disbelief.

“You’re kidding, right? Detective Dominick 'Call Me Sonny' Carisi, Jr., who literally oozes over-eager happiness, doesn’t like weddings?” When Sonny didn’t dignify that with a response beyond a raised eyebrow, Rafael rolled his eyes, turning his head away again. “Well, I enjoy them.”

“Which part?” Sonny couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice. “The inevitability that it will end, the food that’s cold by the time it gets to you, or the cheap alcohol?”

“Cheap, free alcohol,” Rafael corrected him with a grin before it faltered.

“What?” Sonny prompted with a smirk, almost certain Rafael simply didn’t want to admit he was right.

Rafael muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, “I thought you were better than that,” before the car came to a stop outside Rafael’s apartment.

Before Sonny could protest, Rafael had paid and was already exiting the cab, leaving Sonny to scramble behind him with his spare suit.

“Surely, statistically, you know how many marriages end in divorce,” Sonny pressed as he held the suit out for Rafael to take.

Rafael snatched it from him, looking him up and down with narrowed eyes before saying, “And I suppose you go around telling small children that Santa isn’t real, too?”

Sonny couldn’t help himself. A grin was taking over his face, and he was sure he looked smug if the scowl Rafael was giving him was anything to go by, but he couldn’t seem to care as absolute glee took over. “You basically just admitted that believing in marriage is like believing in Santa, Counsellor.”

“No, I didn’t,” Rafael snapped, entering his building, leaving the door to slam behind him before Sonny could compute his response.

He’d been hoping for a fight, that familiar quirk of his lips when he knew an interesting argument was beginning. Rafael always won, and Sonny didn’t mind so much. It was getting Rafael riled up that Sonny loved so much.

But this time he’d been left waiting, and an odd hollowness filled him up, wiping the grin from his face as he made his way back to the waiting cab.

It struck him on the way to his apartment just how much of a romantic Rafael was, underneath all those layers of snark and cynicism and the walls he put up to protect himself. Underneath all that bravado, Rafael Barba was soft. He believed in true love and being there for his friends, even at the expense of himself, and Sonny well and truly felt like an ass.

As they rounded a particularly sharp corner, something hit Sonny’s boot, tumbling seemingly from nowhere, forcing him to look down.

At his feet was a brown leather planner, not a single scratch on it, meticulous in all the ways he knew Rafael to be. He picked it up with no intention of looking inside, but a small card fell out, and as he moved to slide it back between the pages he realized it was a wedding invitation. Not one of the two from tonight, but one from a few weeks prior.

He knew it was wrong, but curiosity won out as he opened the pages and began reading. He had been expecting it to be mostly work related, but instead, there were meticulous notes with dates for cake tasting, suit fitting, bachelor party plans including when he had to pick things up and from where. Sonny flipped from page to page, unable to stop himself as he read through every date for every wedding event Rafael Barba had been a part of that year.

As he closed the planner and tucked it into the pocket inside his jacket, he couldn’t help but think what a great story Rafael would make for his blog.

By the time the cab had pulled up outside his apartment building, he already had the bulk of the post planned out, and though he felt a flicker of guilt in the back of his mind, the overriding feeling was excitement. It had been too long since he’d written anything light and fun for his blog. Most of his posts over the past years had been about the law, and the things he had learned, and while people seemed to enjoy them enough, he knew this would be an absolute hit.