"Were you planning on leaving without even saying goodbye?"
Former Assistant District Attorney, Rafael Barba raised his gaze from his desk to see the somewhat familiar tall and lanky form of one Dominick "Sonny" Carisi Jr., SVU Detective from the other end of the room. His hands were shoved inside his trouser pockets as he stood at the doorway staring at Barba intently with those haunting blue eyes of his.
Barba let out a tired sigh as he continued packing the last of his belongings. "That was my plan."
Sonny's eyebrows creased together in a familiar frown as he crossed the gap between them and stood across from Barba with only the wide oak desk separating them.
"I thought we were friends, Rafael. I thought you respected me as a cop and as a lawyer. I thought..." Sonny stopped before he uttered something that he couldn't take back. "I thought we had an understanding."
Barba looked at the younger man solemnly. "Correct on all counts, detective. Look, I know why you're really here, and I appreciate you stopping by, but nothing you say will change my mind. What's done is done and we all have to move on...no matter how difficult it is."
"I don't believe what I'm hearing. It's not like you to give up without a fight. That's not the Rafael Barba I know."
"There's no use fighting. Sometimes, you have to know when to call it quits. Even if I could come back, it's too late for me."
"You were acquitted of all charges. No one will hold it against you. Even DA McCoy said that you didn't have to leave."
"Trust me, Carisi. It's better this way."
"For who?" Sonny demanded.
"Whatever. I can sympathize with your feelings, but you're a damn good lawyer. And it would be a travesty to lose someone with your abilities and vast experience. You don't have to give up being a lawyer because of one incident."
"Yes, I do. I made a promise to uphold the law. I failed everyone who trusted in me. I screwed up."
"You made a mistake. We all make mistakes. No one thinks any less of you because of it."
Barba rolled his eyes and replied in exasperation, "Don't you get it, yet? I let my personal feelings interfere with my job. I took the law into my hands, knowing the ramifications. How can I ask the public to put their faith in me after everything's that happened?"
"Twelve people on the jury put their faith in you enough to find you not guilty. Doesn't that count for something?"
"No offense Carisi, but you've always had this annoying habit of looking at the bright side. Face it, there IS no bright side. I've heard the news reports, talk shows, and social media updates. From the looks of it, I'm now officially worse than Hitler. That tells me all I need to know."
"We both know that what social media thinks is not representative of the entire population. And besides, you've never given a damn what anybody thinks about you. Why start now?"
"Because even if I took that approach, it won't change what happened," Barba replied solemnly. "The damage has already been done."
"You don't know that for sure."
"I think it's fairly obvious. It's true about that old saying that no good deed ever goes unpunished. Maybe this is karma for all my misdeeds."
"So, you're doing penance, is that it?"
"Something like that. Look, this isn't easy for me, okay? I'm walking away from something that I love. Something that actually gives my life meaning."
"Sounds to me like you're just running away."
"What about Liv? What about all the victims who need someone to fight for them to give them justice? What about me?"
"What are you talking about?" Barba asked in genuine confusion.
Sonny, bit his lower lip, silently cursing himself for allowing that little slip-up. "Nothing. Just forget it."
Barba went around his desk so that he could look deeply into Sonny's eyes. He saw sadness, confusion, and frustration reflecting back at him. But he also saw something that shook him to the very core of his being. Barba saw longing.
"Carisi, is there something you would like to tell me?"
"I...I'm just going to miss working with you, that's all."
"That's very flattering, but I'm sure the next ADA who takes over will be more than competent. I found out the hard way that I'm not irreplaceable."
"That, is a matter of opinion," Sonny replied softly. The younger man took a deep breath before continuing. He had nothing to lose now. "Do you remember when I told you how grateful I was for your help in preparing me for the bar exam and how much I admired you?"
"I recall something to the effect. But I'm sure that it was spoken under duress."
"I meant exactly what I said at the time. It wasn't just professional admiration. It was more than that.
"I see," Barba replied evenly. "Why didn't you tell me this earlier?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe because you always gave me grief about going to Fordham Law School whenever the opportunity presented itself," Sonny replied sarcastically making a small smile appear on Barba's lips as he was reminded of their earlier days initially working together. "Maybe, because it's the first time I've felt this way about anyone in my entire life. And maybe...maybe because I was afraid that you would laugh in my face if I told you the truth. Or even worse, that you would hate me."
Barba's expression softened as he reached up to cradle Sonny's cheek softly. Sonny almost flinched at the jolt of electricity he felt when Barba touched him. He never thought in a million years that this could happen.
"I don't hate you, Carisi. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't. In fact, what I feel for you is far from hate."
Sonny reached up to cover Barba's hand with his own, and held it against his cheek almost reverently. He had waited so long for this moment. It was such a relief when Barba didn't reject him.
"Then don't go," Sonny pleaded.
Barba lingered for several moments as he stared into Sonny's eyes. It broke his heart to see Sonny like this. Even though the loquacious Staten Island native appeared to be resilient and impervious to his own harrowing experiences at SVU, Sonny was still human.
Barba reluctantly pulled his hand away. "I'm sorry. As flattered as I am by your admission, it still doesn't change my decision. No matter what I do, people will always remember me as a baby killer."
"I don't care what other people think!" Sonny replied in frustration.
"Listen to me, Carisi. You've got your whole future ahead of you. I mean, you haven't even begun practicing law yet. Do you really want to start off your career being associated with someone like me?"
"If I could even be half the lawyer you are, I would consider it a major accomplishment."
"I can't allow my reputation to sully yours. I won't allow that to happen."
"Shouldn't I have a say it this? As far as your reputation is concerned, I'm not a child. And I'm not worried about other people's opinions."
"Well, you should be. There are malcontents in this world that wouldn't hesitate to take you down in a moment's notice. Or have you forgotten that some punk threatened to crack open my skull in front of the courthouse?"
"I haven't forgotten. Not a day goes by that I don't thank my lucky stars that we caught the perp behind those threats. If anything, that whole ordeal only confirmed my feelings for you, Rafael. I couldn't bear the thought of my life without you in it."
"Carisi, I'm not an easy person to get along with. You of all people, know that better than anyone."
"Then it goes without saying that I'm used to dealing with that side of your personality."
"And you also know that I've got a lot of baggage as well. I've just been through the wringer and escaped prison by the skin of my teeth. My reputation is shot to hell, and I'm leaving the job that I love. I can't think about a relationship with you or anyone else right now. Understand?"
Sonny's eyes reflected pain as he realized that Barba had every right to feel the way that he did.
The younger man sighed heavily before replying, "I'm not happy with your decision. But I understand and I respect you for it. Can I ask you something?"
"That's never stopped you before, but go ahead."
"If things had turned out differently, would you still feel the same way? I mean, about us?"
"That's a moot point, isn't it? There's no use in wondering about what might have been."
"Please, Rafael. I need to know. I don't want to spend the rest of my life wondering if I meant anything to you. Because you mean everything to me."
Barba suddenly cradled Sonny's face in between his hands before reaching up to press a firm, passionate kiss against Sonny's rosy pink lips. If this was going to be their final moment together, the least he could do was to give Sonny something to remember him by. Sonny was all too willing to reciprocate as he kissed Barba back just as passionately. By the time they separated for air, they were both breathing heavily, attempting to get a grip on their emotions. The attraction between them was palpable.
"I think we would have made some beautiful music together," Barba replied in a husky voice.
"You really know how to leave a memorable impression," Sonny replied, still in a slight daze after that earth-shattering kiss.
"Don't I always?"
Sonny reluctantly smiled. Even with his somber mood, Barba still managed to maintain his sassy ways.
"Does this mean that there's a chance for us in the not-so-distant future?"
"Carisi..." Barba began to protest, not wanting to give Sonny false hope.
"I know what you're going to say, but just humor me, will you? Just for the sake of argument."
"I can't give you a definitive answer right now, because I, myself don't know for certain. But it's not out of the realm of possibility."
"Then that's more than I could have hoped for. Promise me something."
"There's more?" Barba replied sarcastically.
"Last one. Promise me that you'll call me whenever you're ready to take that next step."
"In all honesty, I don't know how long it will take for me to get back to a place where I'm comfortable with who I am and what I want, as far as my career and personal life goes. It may be weeks, or months, or even years. It wouldn't be fair to leave you hanging when there's no guarantee of a lasting relationship."
"I'm a very patient person. I don't know whether you realize it or not, but I can be very stubborn and passionate when it comes to the people I care about. I'll wait for you for as long as it takes, Rafael Barba. You can't get rid of me that easily."
Barba's gaze softened as he looked up into Sonny's eyes. There was just something about Sonny that made Barba want to throw caution to the winds and listen to his heart. But after his ordeal being on trial, Barba was so emotionally drained that he had nothing left to give at the moment. But it didn't mean that things couldn't change. And Sonny was certainly worth the risk. That alone, gave Barba hope for the future.
"I suppose it would be useless to make any further arguments or protests."
"You got that right."
"All right then. I promise."
"I want you to know that I'm going to hold you to that promise."
"I had no doubt in the least that you would."
"Good. Well, I gotta get back to the station. You take care of yourself, do you hear?"
"Is that an order, detective?"
"Damn right, it is."
"As much as it pains me to admit it, I'm really going to miss you, Sonny. And if you tell anyone at SVU that I said that, I'll deny it completely."
Barba's face contorted in confusion as he regarded Sonny's reaction. "Okay, what's with that goofy look?"
"I wasn't laughing at you. It's just that in all the years that we've worked together, that's the first time you've ever called me Sonny."
"With any luck, it won't be the last."
Suddenly, Sonny reached forward to envelop Barba in a bear hug, nearly knocking the wind out of the smaller man. When he got his breath back, Barba reached around Sonny's lanky frame to return his embrace.
"Goodbye Rafael," Sonny blurted out, before tearing himself away and quickly making his exit.
Barba leaned back against his desk, letting out a heavy sigh as he stared after the younger man. The faint scent of Sonny's cologne lingered in the air and on Barba's suit. It was a subtle, faintly sweet scent that matched Sonny perfectly. Barba's office seemed even emptier than it already felt.
But even in the midst of Barba's inner turmoil, it was comforting to know that at the end of that long and winding road to putting his life back together, someone was going to be there to welcome him home with open arms whenever he was ready. It was more than Barba felt he deserved.
"I'll come back, Sonny," Barba vowed silently. "I promise."
All of sudden, the future seemed a little brighter than before.
Uploaded: 06 Oct 2018