It was a funny thing, Rafael thought, to fall for the man that had seemingly stolen everything from him. It wasn’t a fair assessment—Rafael knew he had been the cause of his own downfall—but for all intents and purposes, Peter Stone had literally stepped into his shoes and Rafael had fallen to the shadows.
And yet every time he set eyes on Peter his heart fluttered, filling him with warmth. Everyone seemed to pity his situation, having to work side by side with the man who had prosecuted him and then taken over his office as though he’d earned it. There were whispers about nepotism, about Jack McCoy’s golden child and a lack of gratitude from the younger Stone.
But Rafael knew that wasn’t the case. Rafael knew, having not only been cross-examined by him, but having also heard whispers of him, even when he’d worked in Chicago, a mysterious, unknown figure to be admired, revered.
More than that, as they worked together, Rafael had come to learn how humble Peter was. He was determined to do good and was unafraid to ask for help and guidance if he thought he needed it. He was shy when it came to his accomplishments, knowing he’d earned his position on his own merit, yet ashamed of the part his father may have played in his rise, nonetheless.
He had a big heart, a kind soul, a quick wit, and an intelligent mind, and that ember that had settled somewhere behind Rafael’s ribs, under all the darkness that had filled him after what he’d done, ignited, burning brighter and stronger each day they spent together poring over paperwork and legal textbooks.
“Here,” Peter muttered, passing his half-empty takeout container to Rafael. “I only really like the vegetables anyway.”
Rafael smirked, glancing down at the remnants of his own container, mostly consisting of vegetables now, before holding them out to Peter. “I knew there was a reason we worked well together.”
The grin Peter shot him as he took the container, plucking a piece of carrot from its contents, caused Rafael’s heart to stutter.
He’d entertained the idea of really, truly flirting with Peter. Of seducing him over late night drinks and taking him to bed, showing him how he could really put his mouth to good use. He’d imagined his hands roaming across Peter’s body, fingertips rising and falling over firm muscles, exploring every inch of him. He’d imagined what it would be like to taste him, to hold him, to be held.
He considered perhaps it was time. Their case was coming to a close, and Rafael would soon return to his small, stuffy office, surrounded by endless streams of paperwork and cases he could never take to trial without help, without funding. Desperate people and their desperate lives, no longer with the capability to help, to put someone behind bars.
He considered that, if Peter was interested, it could be a turning point. A way to build himself back up from nothing, with someone to keep him accountable. And if Peter wasn’t interested, if Peter turned him down, then dignity would be just one more item on the long list of things that Peter had unintentionally taken from him, and they would go their separate ways once more, and Rafael could nurse his bruised ego in private.
He was spared from either outcome, however, when Peter’s phone rang, face lighting up as he swiped to answer.
“Hey,” he practically cooed, voice far softer than it ever had been with Rafael. “I know. We’re almost done. I’ll be over soon.”
Rafael watched the multitude of emotions cross Peter’s face, but the affection was loud and clear as day the entire time, making him look unbearably young, and Rafael was suddenly struck by how silly he had been to think that someone so young, so full of potential, could be interested in someone who was on a downward trajectory, having already peaked and fallen.
“I love you too,” Peter murmured, and jealousy pooled hot in Rafael’s stomach, rising like bile, burning his insides on the way up.
Of course Peter had someone he loved, and who loved him. Of course he hadn’t ever stood a chance. Of course.
“Sorry,” Peter said as he hung up, turning to look at Rafael. “That was- what’s wrong.”
Rafael swallowed, working hard to school his expression, unaware he’d even let anything slip. But it was too late. His eyes were burning, face flushed, and Peter’s gaze, soft with concern, somehow made it worse.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Rafael said, surprised by how steady his voice sounded. “Although I’d say we’re done for the night, wouldn’t you?”
Without waiting for a response, he gathered his papers and briefcase in one swift motion, shoving his phone in his pocket as he headed for the door.
“Rafael,” Peter called after him, but he continued down the corridor, footsteps echoing on the bare linoleum, pulsating around him.
He knew it was stupid, knew it was an overreaction, knew he’d never had any reason to believe Peter would possibly be interested. And yet it still stung. It still left him feeling hollow, desperately lonely; a succinct summary of his existence since he’d flipped that switch.
For a second, as he burst through the door and onto the street, he wondered what could have been if he’d never done it. If he’d simply let things pan out as they were intended. If he hadn’t tried his hand at playing God. He wondered if, then, perhaps, he would be worthy of Peter Stone.
But of course, if he hadn’t, he may have never met Peter. He certainly would never have worked with him, not in such a close capacity. And Rafael would still be a bitter old man, damaged goods with no chance of moving up in the world, having already made too many enemies.
Peter had his whole life ahead of him; shiny career prospects, a happy family, all just within reach. He was bright, young, full of life and love and passion. In comparison, Rafael might as well not exist.
He sucked in a sharp breath of fresh air, giving himself a moment to stop, to think, to ground himself.
He regretted it almost instantly when a hand landed on his shoulder, causing him to recoil so hard he nearly tripped.
“Sorry,” Peter muttered, sounding a little breathless. Rafael figured he must have, quite literally, ran after him, which didn’t make sense in the slightest. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Short, sharp, to the point.
Though if he’d sold his story, Peter’s eyes wouldn’t still be so soft, so tender, as he offered a gentle smile, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“You sure? I’ve never seen you move so fast.” There was a glint in his eye, and Rafael couldn’t stop his lips from twitching upward.
“Then you’ve not been watching close enough.”
“Oh, but I have.” A light blush dusted Peter’s cheeks, and Rafael frowned, sure that somewhere in the back of his mind he understood Peter’s meaning, despite the nervous confusion swirling in his stomach.
He pushed past the thunderous pounding of his heart, the way it threatened to crack itself against his ribcage, determined to make Rafael feel, when all he wanted to do was escape, and quietly said, “It’s late.”
“It is.” Peter nodded. “But then, that’s not new.”
Rafael sighed, glancing down the street. “You should go home. I’m sure your partner’s waiting for you.”
Peter frowned for a moment, eyes cloudy with confusion, before realization dawned on his face and he chuckled. “Partner. Is that what this is about?”
“What what is about?” Rafael scowled, having the distinct feeling he was being mocked.
“It was my sister. On the phone before.”
Peter grinned, and Rafael suddenly felt terribly foolish. Embarrassment coursed through his veins, and he clenched his fist, willing it to not color his face.
“Well,” Rafael huffed, rolling his shoulders and making a show of pulling his coat around his body a little tighter.
There were words on the tip of his tongue, something about going home nonetheless, he was sure, but they fizzled out as Peter stepped closer, closing the distance, fingers brushing the side of Rafael’s hand.
“If I’ve misinterpreted something here, I’m sorry, but…” Peter hesitated, glancing down, hand still so close Rafael could imagine reaching out and taking hold of it, linking their fingers together. “Can I kiss you?”
“Can you...what?” Rafael spluttered, and he was distantly aware that he ought to feel ashamed of his sudden lack of coherency, but everything else had faded away behind a low buzzing in his ears.
“Sorry,” Peter muttered, and Rafael grabbed for his hand before he could even begin to turn away.
He didn’t ask. He wasn’t sure he could, even if he wanted to. He just reached up with his other hand, cupping the back of Peter’s head as he drew him in for a kiss. And as Peter melted into him, letting go of Rafael’s hand to hold him firmly by the waist, the buzzing in Rafael’s ears only intensified.
There was a heat building throughout his body, a desperate want, bordering on need, pooling in his belly as he deepened the kiss, tongue sliding against Peter’s, hot and heady.
When they eventually broke away, both panting for breath, Peter huffed out a laugh, and to Rafael it was quite possibly the most beautiful thing he’d ever heard.
“This whole time?” Peter asked breathlessly, letting his forehead fall to Rafael’s, still holding his waist, thumbs gently rubbing over the fabric of Rafael’s shirt.
Rafael huffed, closing his eyes. “I’m not going to dignify that with an answer.”
Peter laughed, and Rafael couldn’t help but follow suit, a boyish lightness filling him up in a way he was sure he hadn’t felt in years, quite possibly decades.
“I have to go visit my sister,” Peter said, sounding somewhat regretful. “But tomorrow...dinner, a drink? I’d like to continue...this.”
Rafael smiled, letting the warmth inside him shine through. “I’d like that.”
As he watched Peter hail a cab and climb in, offering him a wave and a smile before taking off into the night, Rafael felt something akin to hope begin to fill the hollowness he’d been carrying around for months. He didn’t dare hold onto it, didn’t dare cling to it in the way he so desperately wanted to, but he let it sit warm and solid behind his ribs, a possibility of something more.