Nothing good could come of drinks with the squad tonight, Sonny decided as he strode quickly through the brisk night air. Especially if Barba showed up. Even if he didn't, Sonny's bad mood would likely lead him to stick his foot in his mouth. He had tried to beg off, but Rollins had laid on the guilt in response.
"I thought we would be pulling a double when the missing baby case came in today, so I asked the sitter to stay over with Jesse. Do you know what that means? This is the first time I can get responsibly drunk in ages. Are you really gonna ruin my night out Carisi?"
That was why Sonny was now walking to the bar to meet up with Rollins and the others, even though all he wanted was to go home and wallow in self-pity in bed. It had been that kind of a day
For starters there was his family. Sonny's parents and sisters were debating whether to attend his second cousin's baby shower that weekend. They kept changing their minds based on real and imagined family feuds. Sonny didn't much care either way, he just didn't want to be bothered about it at work. Yet he had been subjected to what felt like dozens of group texts about the issue.
Then there was the missing baby case. The squad had received the call mid-afternoon. Sonny spent an entire hour frantically scouring Central Park before Benson managed to get the hysterical mother to calm down enough to talk to her. It turned out that her "baby" was actually a six-month-old Pomeranian.
Finally, there had been the debacle of court that morning. None of them had really expected to win the case, but it was still crushing when the jury returned a not guilty verdict within half an hour. Sonny had subsequently lashed out at Barba, in front of the whole squad, about his cross-examination strategy. He didn't know what had come over him. Recently, everything between him and Barba seemed out of sorts.
It all went back to that case, months ago now, when Sonny and Barba had worked together through the night on an investigation. The saga had begun, thanks the the ADA's unanswered phone, with Sonny practically walking in on Barba and his boyfriend. By the end of the night, Sonny had both revealed to Barba that he was bi and acknowledged to himself that he harbored feelings for the ADA.
Following that night, their relationship had seemed to grow closer. Barba began treating Sonny as more of an equal, bouncing ideas off of him as if he were already a lawyer. When Barba confided in him about his break-up, Sonny felt an inner thrill of hope. Now he at least had a theoretical chance.
As time went on, Sonny could have sworn that Barba was flirting with him. But there was never anything overt, anything to prove that Barba's teasing and attention was more than collegiality. And so Sonny remained paralyzed, in a sort of limbo. The consequences of being wrong seemed too daunting to risk.
It was his own inability to take the next step with Barba that had turned Sonny's initial exhilaration to bitterness. Now every time he saw Barba, it was a reminder of the potential that he couldn't bring himself to explore. Every time he saw Barba, they seemed to clash.
Maybe Barba wouldn't be there tonight.
Of course Barba was there, sitting across from Fin and Rollins, who made up the rest of the group. Barba, clearly still peeved at Sonny's earlier outburst, didn't acknowledge him as he slid into the free seat.
Barba drank scotch while the rest had beer. Rollins and Fin carried the conversation. Even though Barba was wedged next to Sonny in the too-small booth, it felt like there was a gulf between them.
When Barba did finally address him, it was in annoyance. "Will you stop jiggling the table like that, Detective?"
Sonny hadn't even realized he'd been tapping his foot with nervous energy. "Sorry that my presence seems to bother you," he retorted before he could stop himself, though he stilled his leg.
"That's it," Rollins said, putting down her glass with a thud. "Come on Fin, let's go play some darts. The negative energy from the other side of the table is dragging me down."
"Ok but you're not going to beat me this time."
Once Fin and Rollins had gotten up, Barba started checking emails on his phone, pointedly ignoring Sonny.
Finally Sonny couldn't take the silence any longer. "Look, Counselor, I know I was a bit hard on you earlier. . . "
"A bit hard on me? Trying to tell me how to do my job is more like it. And last time I checked, Detective, legal strategy wasn't part of your job description."
"I wasn't trying to tell you how to do your job. I was just pointing out that if you had questioned him about - "
"Give me a break Carisi," Barba snapped at him. "God, do you need to get laid or something?"
"I said, do you need - "
"I heard what you said, Barba. I just can't believe you fucking asked me that."
"Well it would explain your foul mood recently."
Sonny shook his head while drumming his fingers against the tabletop. "You're making a lot of assumptions there Counselor. For all you know I could be seeing someone right now and getting laid on a daily basis."
"Oh so you're seeing someone then?" Barba asked casually.
"No. And I'm not interested in finding someone new, so don't even try matchmaking for me."
Sonny realized his unforced error too late. The prosecutor in Barba honed right in. "So if you're not interested in finding someone new, does that mean you're hung up over someone old? An ex perhaps?"
"No it's not an ex."
"Hmm." Sonny could practically hear the gears turning in Barba's head. "I'll take that to mean that you are hung up over someone, it's just not an ex."
Sonny's resounding silence seemed to be all the confirmation Barba needed. "Ah. So it's something serious then, if you're not going to sass me back about it. Look, I didn't mean to make light of the situation, Carisi. This is obviously weighing on you, given the way you've been acting."
"Your wounded demeanor would suggest otherwise. What went wrong?"
"Nothing went wrong. Nothing ever even happened. I just don't think they're interested," Sonny said sourly.
"Have they told you that?"
"Well have you asked?"
"Well then how do you know how they feel about you?"
"What is this, twenty questions? They haven't shown interest in me. Verifiable interest, anyway."
"I know it's really none of my business, Carisi - though that has certainly never stopped you from prying into my personal life - but if I can give you some advice, it might help to just tell them how you feel."
If only Barba would give it a rest. The last thing Sonny wanted was to be talking to Barba about Barba while pretending to be talking about someone else.
"He's a smart guy, I think he could've figured it out by now from all the evidence. I mean, I've been practically throwing myself at him."
Barba suddenly seemed very interested in a crack in the tabletop, which he traced with a finger as he spoke. "Someone can be smart - brilliant, even - at their job and in school, but still be dense about these things. If you haven't explicitly told him how you feel, you shouldn't assume that he's figured it out from the circumstantial evidence."
"Ok let's assume he doesn't know how I feel. Even so, if he were interested there's still nothing stopping him from telling me."
"You're projecting your own responsibility onto him," Barba said testily, finally looking up from his examination of the table. "You expect him to put himself out there when you're not willing to do so yourself. Sometimes taking responsibility for your own happiness means taking a leap into the unknown."
"Well the same could be said in reverse," Sonny replied crossly. "If he really does have feelings for me, why doesn't he take that risk?"
"Maybe he's scared. Maybe he doesn't believe that you could really have feelings for him."
"Then he's being ridiculous. In what fucking universe wouldn't I?!"
"My my, still bickering." Rollins slid into the other side of the booth bearing more drinks, with Fin right behind her. "I see that the alone time didn't help the two of you to make nice."
Sonny just shrugged at her, while Barba muttered something under his breath about an incorrigible detective being to blame.
Rollins shook her head as if at a lost cause and then changed the subject. "Hey can you believe that this one watches golf on TV?" she said, pointing at Fin.
"Amanda, the game involves a lot of finesse and skill."
"I'm not convinced. It's literally just whacking a ball with a stick. But even if I give you that, it doesn't change the fact that you can't see the tiny ball on the t.v. screen."
As Amanda and Fin continued debating the merits of golf as a sport, Sonny's phone buzzed in his pocket. He reached down between himself and Barba to draw it out, finding a text from his mother:
Aunt Elsie never apologized for insulting my pumpkin pie last Thanksgiving. We're not going to the baby shower.
"You have got to be kidding me," Sonny muttered.
"Is everything ok?" Barba asked. His face showed concern.
"Yeah it's just family stuff."
"I hope everyone's all right."
"They're fine, just aggravating the hell out of me."
Barba's features relaxed, and he gave a bemused smile. "And here I thought you were preternaturally enthusiastic about your boisterous family."
Sonny felt some of the tension between them ebb at Barba's familiar teasing. Only Barba could tease using six-syllable words.
"Most of the time. But sometimes they can be a bit much even for me. Don't tell anyone. I don't wanna ruin my reputation."
"Of course, Detective. Our secret."
Sonny switched his phone to silent. He couldn't stop the family drama, but he could at least mute it. He could also attempt to fix his self-created drama. And so he texted a brief message to Barba:
I'm sorry about before. I know that you gave the trial your all. I was out of line.
Barba glanced down at the incoming message on his phone where it lay on the table. He gave a small nod of acknowledgment.
Sonny slid his phone back into his pocket. On the way out his hand accidentally bumped into Barba's under the table. He started to move it away, then hesitated. What was it Barba had said - sometimes you just need to take a leap into the unknown?
Sonny took a deep breath and reached out to cover Barba's hand with his own.
Barba immediately stiffened beside him. Sonny could feel it where their thighs were pressed together.
Panicking, Sonny started to pull away. Then he felt Barba's hand grab his, turning it to lace their fingers together.
Sonny dared a glance sideways. Barba was sitting ramrod straight, eyes directly ahead as if he were listening intently to whatever it was Amanda and Fin were saying.
Sonny certainly wasn't listening. He was focused entirely on the warm weight of Barba's palm in his own and the tingling sensation that seemed to radiate from their connection.
It was only when he heard his name that Sonny tuned back in to the conversation.
"Carisi, I'm surprised you haven't weighed in yet," Fin was saying. "You must have an opinion on the best pizza places in New York."
Ok. Pizza places. Sonny could do that in his sleep. He managed to rattle off a half dozen names, along with some commentary on each, even as his brain cells continued combusting over the fact that Barba was currently holding his hand.
Somehow Sonny made it through an additional fifteen minutes or so of conversation. Eventually Fin made to leave.
"What, you've got a better offer than us?" Rollins asked.
"Yeah, my video games. No offense, but after a long week they're definitely better company than you guys."
And then there were three. Rollins, whose drinking had outpaced both Sonny's and Barba's, was now giving a rambling soliloquy on societal views of motherhood. "It's like, everyone thinks I'm a different person now. But I'm the same person, just a mom. What do you guys think?"
"I think you're still you, just with some extra kickass mom awesomeness," Sonny said.
Barba nodded in agreement. "And I also think it's time to call it a night," he added.
Sonny untangled his fingers from Barba's under the table before getting out of the booth.
As Barba put his coat on, his arm became caught in the sleeve. Without thinking, Sonny reached out to help him ease it through. He half-expected Barba to bat his arm away or scold him for offering unasked-for assistance, but the ADA just gave him a crooked smile.
Sonny fought the urge to smooth the black-trimmed collar where it lay a bit rumpled against Barba's neck. The close proximity of Rollins served as a deterrent to any such intimate gesture. Rollins, who Sonny noticed was currently looking a tad green.
"You doing ok there partner?"
"Yeah I'm just feeling a little queasy. I think my body's not used to drinking anymore."
Sonny contemplated her with some concern. Usually it was the other way around, with Rollins having to care for him after a night out. "How about I drop you off to make you get home all right?"
"Sure. Just give me a minute while I use the bathroom."
"Ok, text me if you get sick in there. I'll come in for you."
"Thanks Carisi but you can hold off on the cavalry for now."
As soon as Rollins had rounded the corner to the restrooms, Sonny grabbed Barba's hand again and pulled him towards the door. They scurried out into the night like two schoolchildren sneaking away from class. Coming to a stop in a dim spot away from the entrance, they leaned against the bar's brick facade face to face.
"Hi there," Sonny said, squeezing Barba's hand.
"Hi to you too," Barba replied, again flashing that shy smile that Sonny had never seen before tonight.
"For how long?"
"For how long what?"
"For how long have you, I dunno, wanted this?" What Sonny really meant was, how long have you wanted me? But that still seemed, even now, too presumptuous to say out loud.
"Since the Hodda trial."
"That was when I shadowed you."
"Good memory skills, Detective. Maybe you'll pass the bar yet."
Sonny thought back to that case. To Barba perched on the table in his shirtsleeves as they sorted prospective jurors. Barba coming by the squad room to check in with him, hand on hip and dressed to the nines.
"You were peacocking for me during that trial," he said slowly.
Barba reddened. "I don't know what you're talking about. Are you implying that I don't generally present myself well?"
"Of course you do. But there was something different about how you dressed, how you posed. At the time I thought maybe I was imagining it. Were you doing all that for me?"
Instead of answering one way or the other, Barba went for redirect.
"And me what?"
"When did you realize that you wanted, as you so eloquently put it, this?"
"During the Adams case."
"That was two months beforehand."
Sonny simply nodded.
"Wait, when you gifted me those chocolate-covered pretzels during the Hodda trial. . . was that you trying to court me?"
Sonny could feel his cheeks burn. "Well it worked, didn't it?"
Barba looked reflective. "The Adams case was when you showed up at my apartment looking for a warrant." He let out a laugh. "So I guess seeing me in my underwear that night did it for you."
Sonny shook his head vigorously. "No it wasn't like that."
"Oh really?" Barba raised an eyebrow.
"I mean, it was partially about that. But it was - is - about more than that. It's about who you are."
"Oh." Barba's eyes widened in surprise. Shit. Maybe Sonny had ruined this before it had even begun, by saying too much too soon and bringing feelings into it.
But Barba's expression quickly settled into a familiar smirk. Now they were back on solid ground. "I see. It's about who I am. How very wholesome of you, Detective."
"Well I may have had some decidedly unwholesome thoughts about you in those ankle cuffs. You still have those, or they belong to your ex?"
"No, they're mine." Barba took a step forward, bringing himself right up to Sonny. "They came with a matching wrist set, still in the box," he added informationally, as if he were telling Sonny about some new dishware that he had just purchased. The plates came with matching cups and saucers, but I just haven't had occasion to use them yet.
Sonny's throat went dry as his hands went clammy. "Are you inviting me to break them in with you?"
"More like inviting you to break them in on me." Barba's gaze faltered slightly. "That is, if you want to."
Sonny's chest tightened a bit at the thought that Barba trusted him enough to ask. "I'd love to. Maybe I'll break you in too while I'm at it."
"Give it your best shot, Detective."
Barba was going to be deliciously strong-willed in bed, Sonny could tell. He could picture Barba, raising his head off the mattress to demand a kiss, his efforts frustrated by the restraints that held his arms taut. Sonny would sit back on his heels as Barba flexed and strained and issued him ineffectual orders to come here, dammit. Until Barba finally caved and pleaded with him. Only then would Sonny relent and properly worship his body.
Suddenly remembering his inebriated partner, Sonny groaned and passed his free hand over his eyes. "Oh God, why do I have to take Rollins home tonight."
"Maybe it's for the best," Barba said in a reluctant tone. He took a step back, placing air and space between them once again. "This thing - you and me - it's complicated. Ethically complicated, because of work. It's best not to rush into things. I want us to do this right."
Before Sonny could formulate an argument as to why it really wasn't so complicated after all, or ponder the implications of Barba's caring enough to want to do things right, Rollins' drawl cut in.
"There you are, boys. I thought I'd lost you."
Sonny dropped Barba's hand reflexively, before Rollins could see.
Barba shoved both his hands in his pockets, as if to prove to Rollins that no part of him could possibly be touching a part of Sonny. It was a bit overkill. Obvious even. But then again, Barba wasn't schooled in the art of undercover acting. It was a good thing Rollins was drunk.
Speaking of which: "How are you feeling, Rollins?"
"Better, the queasiness passed. Come on Sonny-boy, I believe you're my chaperone home. Now Barba, don't you get up to any trouble tonight," she admonished the ADA with a wag of her finger.
"I'll try my best, Rollins."
Barba then turned to Sonny. "Goodnight, Detective," he said stiffly, holding out his hand for a formal handshake. Man, they were really going to need to work on this.
In the cab, Sonny leaned his head against the window. A single train of thought kept running through his mind: Barba likes me. He like likes me. He wants to be with me.
This infinite loop was rudely interrupted by Rollins' hand whacking him on the thigh. "Hey Carisi, well done."
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said diffidently, borrowing Barba's line from earlier.
Rollins, now somewhat sobered up, scoffed at him. "I know that you and Barba were holding hands under the table like a couple of middle-schoolers. Congratulations on finally getting the guy."
Well, so much for being discreet. Wait a minute - what did she mean by finally?
"So you knew that I like guys too?"
Rollins shrugged. "I suspected you liked one particular guy. You've been following him around like a puppy dog for years. But that's as much as I knew. I gotta say, Carisi, you keep this shit pretty close to the vest for someone who likes to talk about themselves all the time."
"I wasn't trying to hide anything from you, if that's what you're getting at." An assertion predicated on the theory that omission and concealment were sufficiently different things. Sonny only half-believed it himself.
"Sonny." Rollins' tone was gentle. "You don't have to get defensive about it. It's up to you what you want to share. All I'm saying is you can talk to me about this stuff if you want to."
"Thanks Amanda. Look, can you do me a favor and not tell anyone about me and Barba for now? Just until we figure things out."
"Of course. Do you think this thing with Barba is going to become serious enough to disclose?"
"Well Barba seems pretty by the book, so I feel like he's gonna make me sign disclosure forms before I even get to see him naked."
Rollins scrunched up her face. "Ew. Don't make me think about Barba naked."
"Hey are you saying something about his body?" Sonny asked sharply, turning towards his partner.
Rollins laughed. "Easy there Romeo, no need to defend Barba's honor. From what I can tell he has a perfectly fine body. It's just that he's, you know, Barba. I don't want to think about him that way. It kinda weirds me out."
Sonny sighed as he leaned back against the seat. "That's exactly how I used to think, and now look at me."
"Yeah, now you stare at Barba's ass every chance you get."
"It's not like it isn't true. Hey do you think he's been wearing those tight pants of his to show off for you?"
Sonny covered his face with his hands. "Oh God you're gonna tease me about this thing with Barba mercilessly, aren't you?"
Rollins paused to reflect. "Yes I am. Without a doubt. But just know that I'll be doing it with love."
"That's just great. And you wonder why I don't tell you things."
"Carisi, all joking aside, I'm really happy for you. I'm happy that Barba makes you happy. And now you can recite case law to one another to your hearts' content. You two nerds deserve each other."
Sonny smiled out the window of the cab, watching the lights of the city flash by. "Yeah, yeah we do."