“Be careful, Carisi.”
He wasn’t. He can taste blood in his mouth. Sharp, metallic, not his. Sonny brings his hand to his face to wipe it away out of reflex before he stops, the movement aborted. His hands, when he sees them in front of him, are shaking. He drops them quickly, draws in a ragged breath, forces himself to try and focus.
Liv is already moving past him and he can hear Quinn crying; loud, gasping sobs that he knows he’ll be hearing in his sleep, paired with the sound of a gunshot. He should move. He needs to stand up, to go and make sure Quinn is okay. He needs to help Liv, he needs to call Rollins or Fin and tell the rest of the squad they’re okay, that Tom Cole is dead. Moving suddenly seems impossible though, in a way it never has before. His heart is racing and he can’t do anything but try and remember how to breathe, try to force air into his lungs slow and regular, push away the edges of panic.
After a moment he manages to stumble forward a little, push the gun out of Cole’s hands and flick it across the floor like the touch of metal burns. Cole is dead, he knows that, his blood is all over Sonny’s face, but he still has to make sure. Ridiculous, maybe, but he feels safer. That done, he falls back against the wall, and everything else passes in a blur.
It’s the first time he hears his name, but when he blinks to attention it’s painfully obvious it wasn’t the first time Rollins said it. She’s got her keys and her coat in her hand, halfway to the door but paused in front of his desk, an expectant look on her face. He hadn’t even noticed her getting up, can’t for the life of him remember what she’s asked him.
“It doesn’t have to end like this.”
“It’s too late for that.”
“Earth to Carisi? You coming or what?”
Over her shoulder he can see the clock on the wall, just past twelve, and it occurs to him that he agreed to get lunch. “What? Oh, right. Lunch, yeah.”
For a second Rollins looks like she’s going to say something but after a beat she lets it go, making a show of rolling her eyes a little. “Well come on, I’m starving.”
The thought of food right now makes his stomach flip a little. It’s come in waves over the last day or two, made him unable to stomach the prospect of even his favourite foods. He tastes something coppery in the back of his throat and he knows it’s just in his head but when he swallows it’s all he can think about. The excuse is already on the tip of his tongue, a quick “actually I’m not that hungry” and another smile, forced and apologetic but good enough. The kind of smile he’s starting to get good at, the kind he’s been painting on since the case wrapped.
“If you’re sure,” Amanda tries once more, and when he nods she shrugs and heads out alone, her coat thrown over her arm. The second she’s gone he feels something like relief creep into his skin and he lets out a breath, low and even.
It’s been two days and none of them have spoken about it aloud since the paperwork was filed and the case was closed. Sonny hasn’t invited it, hasn’t wanted to relive the details more than he already is, hasn’t wanted the rest of the squad questioning his mental state, his ability to get on with the job. He’s fine, he can do this. The last thing Sonny wants is to be benched, to have to sit behind his desk all day thinking about all the things he should have done differently, or all the ways things might have gone even worse. So they don’t talk about it. He tells them he’s fine, they let him be, and he knows that eventually it will be closer to the truth.
Once Amanda is gone however, Sonny realises he needs something. He needs to get away from his desk for an hour at least, get some fresh air and preoccupy his mind with something that isn’t Tom Cole or the press of cool gunmetal against his forehead. In a second he’s up and moving, grabbing his own coat and heading for the door.
In all honesty he hadn’t really had a destination in mind, but it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise when he finds himself standing outside the church. There’s no hesitation when he opens the door and walks inside. It’s near empty, only one or two others sitting in pews a little closer to the altar. Sonny slips in the back, sits and leans forward, his hands clasping together, elbows on his knees without even really thinking about it. He tips his head forward, closes his eyes, and at first he doesn’t pray, just tries to breathe.
The church has always had a calming effect on him, despite any shred of doubt or misgivings he might have harboured over the years. He sits and breathes, concentrates on inhaling and exhaling slow and even, lets the rest of his body relax with it. Only when he’s calmed the static tension in his shoulders does he fumble for the rosary in his pocket, crosses himself and prays.
In the end he prays for Tom Cole. He prays for strength, for forgiveness, for wisdom. If he thinks about it, he didn’t really expect to be confronted with this kind of jaded doubt so early in his career. Sonny’s not blind, he knows there are issues with the system, perps that get away and innocent men who don’t, but he believes in justice. He believes they’re doing a good thing, the right thing, believes in his fellow officers and the work they’re doing. But the doubt sits heavy on his heart, makes him wonder. If a cop with twenty years of good work under his belt could turn out to be this kind of monster, what then?
Being a cop didn’t change him, Liv had said, but Sonny had looked him in the eyes. Twenty years of seeing the worst of the worst, and that was where it brought him. Holding a gun against another cop’s head, a girl he had once helped rescue tied up and terrified for her life.
How do you come out of that clean?
There’s no answer that comes, but that’s okay. He knows, sitting here, that for once he’s not alone with his own thoughts, and that’s enough. Maybe the calm will shatter the minute he walks back into the precinct, but for now Sonny feels it settle over him, erasing the sharp edges of panic that have been there since he walked into that house.
“Thought you might be here.” The voice startles Sonny out of his head and he looks up, surprised to say the least to see Barba standing at the end of the pew. There’s an edge of a smile to his lips, a small quirk of amusement, and Sonny has half a second to wonder what the hell he’s doing here before Barba shifts to sit beside him. “I probably could have texted, but I was working on a hunch and I wanted to prove myself right. And here you are.”
There doesn’t seem to be much point in asking how or why. He hadn’t thought he was that much of an open book, but Sonny guesses he’s never tried hard to keep anything under lock and key, either. “What are you doing here?” he asks instead.
“I dropped by the precinct to get a case file. Liv mentioned you’d taken an extended lunch.”
Sonny glances down at his watch and balks. He’s been gone just under two hours, well and truly more than the quick walk for fresh air that he’d planned on. The fact that Liv hasn’t called and asked where he is is somewhat telling, but Sonny stands up anyway, smoothing wrinkles out of his pants and waiting for Barba to follow suit. He doesn’t, just sits with his eyes on the altar like he’s waiting for something. “I lost track of time, we should get back.”
“Relax,” Barba says, waving a hand dismissively. “You’ve got the rest of the day off. The rest of the week, actually.”
“I don’t need--”
“You do,” Barba cuts him off before he can properly start, turning now to look at him in a way that leaves no room for argument. Sonny shuts his mouth, more out of a loss for something to say rather than due to the interruption. He wants to argue that he doesn’t need coddling, that he can work without anybody fussing over him, but he knows the words would fall flat. If Liv has sent him home for the week, if she’s dispatched Barba to tell him, he knows there’s no arguing.
So instead he sits, trying not to think about the way Barba’s eyes track his movements, practically scrutinising him.
“You’re a good cop,” he says after a moment, and Sonny sighs, tips his head back and stares at the ceiling. It’s easier to look at the ornate painting above him than it is to meet Barba’s eyes, to know he can see right through him without even trying. “You did just fine.”
Sonny nods, a quick movement of his head just so that he can pretend he agrees. There was a lot he could have done better. He could have found a way to get through to Cole, talk him down instead of freezing up under the barrel of his gun, hardly able to breathe. He should have been able to handle it, should have known what to say, how to get him to put the weapon down and go quietly. Liv could have done it, he thinks. She would have found a way for everyone to get out of there alive, but Sonny froze and a person died.
“I should’ve…” Sonny stops, steels himself and meets Barba’s eyes. There’s no pity there, thank god, but there is something, and it almost gives him pause. “I should’ve done better.”
He expects an argument - Barba argues for a damn living, and he’s never let Sonny win if he can help it - but it doesn’t come. Instead, Barba reaches out to touch his arm briefly, a small gesture of comfort before he stands. “C’mon. Let’s get out of here.”
“You didn’t have to walk me home, I’m fine,” Sonny says for the fourth time as they arrive at his apartment. He fishes for his keys, glancing behind him just in time to see Barba roll his eyes.
“Bit late for that,” he retorts, like Sonny hadn’t already tried to talk him out of this before they even started walking. “Besides, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little curious about what kind of horribly clashing colour scheme you have going on in there.”
“You’ve seen my apartment before,” Sonny points out before he can stop himself, only realising the mistake once it’s out in the open.
Barba has seen his apartment before. Months before, when they’d stumbled through this very door and Sonny had pushed him insistently all the way to his bedroom, liberating him from his suit as they went. There had been more than a few drinks involved, plus the tension of those death threats looming and the grief of Dodds’ death. Barba had been a grounding presence then, his body real and solid under Sonny’s. But he’d been gone in a matter of hours and Sonny’s shitty apartment had been worse off for it. Sonny had been worse off for it.
“In the daylight,” Barba says, smooth as anything and without breaking stride. Sonny doesn’t blush, but he can’t find a response either, so he busies himself with unlocking the door and getting inside instead.
There’s no hesitation when Barba walks over the threshold, moving around Sonny’s apartment like he belongs there. “Sit,” he orders, pointing Sonny towards the couch and heading for the kitchen. Sonny’s fairly sure he’s not supposed to be ordered around like that in his own apartment, but it’s something of a relief to just do as he’s told, sinking onto his familiar couch.
He hadn’t realised how exhausted he was until he stopped moving, his bones practically melting into the couch. He hasn’t slept properly in days, his eyelids betraying him with flashbacks when he closes them, his mind too wired for sleep.
Barba is only gone for about five minutes, and when he returns he’s holding out a sandwich on a plate. Sonny almost laughs, exhaustion and tension bubbling over in his chest.
“You made me a sandwich?”
“You think nobody noticed you haven’t been eating, Carisi?”
There’s a brief moment of stalemate, Barba holding the plate out like he’s willing to stand there all damn day, until Sonny takes it and bites into a corner, chewing slowly. He doesn’t ask how Barba found his way around Sonny’s kitchen and Barba doesn’t volunteer the information, just watches him to make sure he’s eating, a triumphant look in his eyes.
“You think this job changes you?” He’s staring at the plate when he asks. Maybe Barba’s not a cop, but he sees the same horrors, sees the same monsters at trial, fights with everything he has to put them away. Maybe it’s even worse for an ADA, having to deal with the inevitable losses, watching guilty men walk free.
“Sonny--” Barba starts on a heavy exhale, and Sonny has only a minute to register that he called him by his given name before Barba sits on the couch beside him, close enough that their legs are touching. The closeness is nicer than Sonny will admit. The very fact that Barba is here, that he’s taken time out of his day to walk Sonny home and make sure he’s okay means more than he’ll probably ever be able to express. He’s gotten used to just getting on with his job even when things get bad, pushing away his own feelings and focusing on work. Truthfully, he can’t remember the last time anyone asked how he was holding up, but of all people, it’s Rafael Barba who’s sitting on his couch, watching him carefully.
“Maybe it does some people,” Barba allows, and it’s a different answer to the one Liv gave him, more controlled, maybe a little more jaded. “Maybe it even did Cole. But not you.” He stops and Sonny can feel his eyes on him, drilling into his damn soul, probably. “You’re too good for that. The fact that you’re sitting here having a damn crisis of conscience over somebody else’s crime should tell you that.”
Sonny swallows a mouthful of sandwich, setting the plate down on the coffee table in front of them. He wants to believe it, and he’s suddenly absurdly grateful for the man sitting beside him. He should tell him that, he thinks, because he deserves to know. Months ago, Sonny had whispered a string of desperate praises into Barba’s skin, pressed him into a mattress and tried to show him how much he meant, how much Sonny appreciated him, needed him. He’d been drunk and lost but he had meant all of it. Now, he looks at him and feels a pang of regret at the fact that he let Barba leave his bed before the morning, that he let both of them put up walls again, some unspoken agreement to never discuss it.
“Rafael,” he starts, and he means to follow it up with a thank you, but something flickers in Barba’s eyes at the sound of his name and Sonny can’t help it. He leans forward instead, braces one hand on Barba’s thigh and kisses him. It’s better sober, he thinks. Better when he can hear the tiny hitch in Barba’s breath, surprised at first before he relaxes, his fingers catching in Sonny’s vest and pulling him closer.
He doesn’t know how he went without this for so long, having tasted it the first time. This time, Sonny is already determined that he’s not letting go. He pulls back only enough to nose at Rafael’s jaw, drinking him in, quietly delighted in the way Rafael’s grip on him tightens. “I never should have let you leave,” he mumbles when he gets to the juncture of Rafael’s neck and shoulder, presses a kiss there.
He hears another quick intake of breath before Rafael is pulling him into a kiss again. He kisses him until Sonny is nearly consumed with it, and for the first time in days Tom Cole is far from his mind, the taste of blood replaced with Rafael. When he finally pulls back again Sonny makes a small noise of disappointment, already trying to chase Rafael’s lips with his own. He’s stopped by a hand against his chest and Sonny blinks in confusion. For a fleeting second he’s worried that this is over again before it even got a chance to start, but then Rafael curls a hand around his neck and looks him in the eyes, serious and intent. “I’m not going anywhere,” he says firmly, and Sonny nods, lets himself believe it.
Later, when Sonny falls asleep, the sheets tangled in his legs, it’s with Rafael’s warmth beside him, his arm a grounding weight around Sonny’s waist. This time when he closes his eyes, there’s nothing waiting for him but sleep, and the promise that Rafael will still be there in the morning.