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the salt and the sea

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"I'll be your friend in the daylight again
There we will be, like an old enemy
Like the salt and the sea"

-"Salt and the Sea" by The Lumineers

 

He finds out by accident and that stings more than Sonny cares to admit. 

Like most days of late, he’s still in the office after most people have left. He’s already got his coat on and his bag over his shoulder, leafing through the paperwork for the third time to make sure everything is in order before he leaves for the night. Hadid wants it on her desk first thing tomorrow morning and she will not be pleased if it’s not perfect. He’s pretty sure he’s on thin ice with her as it is after his first case and while Olivia told him he always has a spot at SVU if he needs it, he doesn’t actually want to get fired before he’s even been here two months. 

It’s a good thing he checks again because he realizes Olivia missed a signature on one of the forms. He blames his sleep deprivation and the excessive nightmare that is bureaucratic paperwork for missing it the first two times around. He had thought SVU had a lot of paperwork. Christ. 

Sonny glances down at his watch. It’s almost eight-thirty, so Liv should be home and it’s only about a fifteen minute drive from One Hogan Place to her apartment. He’s slammed all day tomorrow with meetings, so he’d have to get up even earlier than he already does in the morning and swing by the precinct before coming back here. No doubt Amanda will be there and they haven't spoken since their blowout in front of everyone that weekend a couple of weeks ago about him leaving. Not to mention Kat, who he's not exactly fond of even though he’s self-aware enough to admit that has more to do with her replacing him (which was your choice, he reminds himself) than it does anything to do with her personally.

Yeah, no thanks. He’ll get the signature tonight and sleep in an extra thirty minutes tomorrow. 

He gets a taxi relatively quickly and calls Olivia on the way. She doesn’t pick up, but he figures she’s just busy getting Noah ready for bed. He shoots her a text. hey, i need to get a signature from you tonight. i’m heading your way now

He doesn’t get a reply, but he wasn’t really expecting one. He spends the ride to her apartment thinking idly about what he needs to get at the grocery store when he actually manages to make it there, Sunday dinner with his family coming up in a few days where he will no doubt get lectured about needing to get more sleep and what to get for dinner tonight. 

It’s a little after eight forty-five when they pull up in front of her building and he’s tentatively decided on the Chinese spot near his house. Tentatively only because he can hear his mother’s voice in his head, scolding him for how little he’s cooked lately, how living on takeout is not good for anyone, let alone someone his age. The argument plays out in his head as he makes his way into her building. He gets waved through as soon as he shows his ID since he’s one of her pre-approved visitors and the argument picks back up on the elevator, only stopping when he’s standing in front of her door and knocking.

It takes her only a handful of seconds to open the door, wearing pajamas and a surprised look on her face. “Sonny, hi,” she says. “Is everything alright?"

He holds up the folder of paperwork in his hand, giving her the bashful smile that used to get him out of trouble at Catholic school. Most the time, anyway. “Sorry about dropping in on you, but I’ve got something I need you to sign before tomorrow and I don’t have time to stop by the precinct in the morning. I hope I’m not disturbing you.” 

“No, no it’s...” she trails off, glancing back into her apartment for a second before turning back to him. She’s got a look on her face that he can’t quite decipher but makes him suspicious nonetheless. “Come on it.”

She widens the door and takes a step back, but her hesitation makes him hesitate. “Are you sure? I don’t have to come in if you’re busy. It’ll only take a second.”

“Really, it’s okay.” She gestures him in. “Come inside.” 

He opens the folder as he walks through the threshold. “You missed a signature on one of the forms from the Brewer case,” Sonny says, pulling out the one he needs. “Which does not surprise me at all considering how much–”

He halts mid-step, his muscles locking up on him as his brain tries to process what he’s seeing. 

Rafael Barba is sitting on Olivia’s sofa. 

Sonny blinks a few times in rapid succession just to make sure his brain hasn’t decided to punish him for the lack of sleep and excess of caffeine by making him hallucinate, but nope. Rafael really is there. 

He looks good, Sonny notices immediately. He’s going to hate himself for that later, but right now his brain is not functioning at peak performance and Rafael looks really good. He’s got a bit more gray in his hair than the last time they saw each other, but significantly less gel. It’s longer, curling around his ears in a way that makes Sonny’s stomach ache, and dark facial hair that isn’t quite a full beard but is pretty close to it. He’s wearing a soft looking green sweater pushed up to his elbows and he’s holding a glass of red wine, sitting on Olivia’s sofa like he didn’t disappear off the face of the planet for almost two years. 

Olivia shuts the door behind him and the sound is startlingly loud in the quiet of the room. 

“Carisi,” Rafael says, clearing his throat and looking extremely uncomfortable. He leans forward to sit his glass on the coffee table but doesn’t move to get up.

This is – a lot. Too much, actually. Way too much to deal with on a random night in the beginning of November, on the tail end of an exhausting day of an exhausting week of an exhausting month. He actually cannot handle this right now. 

A gentle hand touches his arm as Olivia comes to stand beside him and he jumps a little. It breaks the spell even if it is embarrassing and he shifts his gaze away from Rafael to Olivia, who manages to look both sympathetic and apologetic like she knows just how hard this is for him. Like she knows.

“Uh, right,” Sonny says, voice shockingly steady considering the maelstrom of emotion that’s currently tearing his insides apart. He clears his throat anyway. “Right. So like I was saying, I just need the one signature.” 

She looks like she wants to say something, but instead she takes the form he’s clenching in his hand and Sonny is so fucking thankful he could cry. He pulls the pen from his jacket and gives it to her, careful not to let his eyes stray to the other side of the room as she places the now crinkled piece of paper against the closed closet door beside the bookcase and signs it.

“Would you like to stay for a drink?” She asks once she’s done, holding the pen and paper out to him. “Raf and I opened a bottle awhile ago.”

Raf.

“No, thank you,” he says, pocketing the pen and carefully sliding the form back into its appropriate place in the folder. “It’s been a long day.”

“Maybe next time.”

“Sure.” He gives her a strained smile and continues to avoid looking at Rafael. “You two have a nice night.” 

Rafael doesn’t say anything while Olivia tells him to be safe and to have a good night as she lets him out the door, but that’s hardly anything new. 

 

The rest of the week and the weekend go by in a blur. The universe apparently takes pity on him and the general population of Manhattan because no major cases roll in and force him to go to the precinct. Instead, he spends the next few days stuck in meeting after meeting and catching up on paperwork he’s been neglecting from the beginning of the week. When he’s not drowning it the monotony of paperwork, Hadid has him doing social calls. Apparently everyone who’s someone in the legal field of New York City is interested in meeting the Staten Island patrol officer turned SVU detective turned Manhattan ADA. He goes to bars that are so upscale they probably shouldn’t even be called bars and restaurants with menus that don’t have prices on them to meet with district attorneys, other ADAs and anyone else Hadid wants to form a relationship with. After a few days of this, it seems less about introducing him to people and more about Hadid having chosen him as her social liaison. He has no clue why until Friday night when he’s eating dinner at a relatively new restaurant in the Upper West Side with a Queens ADA. 

Halfway through their meal, she leans back in her chair and takes a sip of white white. “You’re just as charming as Hadid promised, Mr. Carisi,” she says with a smile.

He smiles back, making sure his dimples are on full display, and changes the subject. 

Sunday dinner with his family is both not as bad as he expected and somehow worse. Gina is dating a new guy, which is nothing new, but Mia also tentatively announces that she’s dating someone, which is both new and makes everyone a little nervous. Sonny reminds himself it wasn’t his fault and he shouldn’t feel guilty. Mia doesn’t blame him for what happened, so he shouldn’t blame himself either. Of course, the subject of dating then turns on him and he ignores the clicking sound his mother makes with her tongue when he tells her he isn’t seeing anyone and vehemently avoids thinking of Rafael. The conversation devolves into his father telling a story about something someone at church said and no one even asks him if he’s been attending Sunday mass lately (he hasn’t). They do, however, comment on the bags under his eyes. 

By the time Monday rolls around and he’s called into the precinct to talk to a perp before he lawyers up, his shock at Rafael’s sudden reappearance has turned into righteous anger, which is a hell of a lot easier to deal with. He thought he was mostly over Rafael and his disappearing act, but seeing him the other night brought back all those feelings he spent months squashing down. He still wants answers, an explanation, but he knows he shouldn’t hold his breath on that one. Since when has Rafael ever done anything Sonny wanted?

The perp has made a full confession by the time he actually makes it down there – God, he loves stupid criminals – so all he has to do is sign off on some paperwork instead of go into the interrogation room himself and play nice with the scumbag.

Kat looks smug as she informs him of how the interview went down. “Man, I wish all criminals were so spineless. Five minutes of bad cop and I had him squealing like a pig.”

“Nice work in there,” he tells her. Both because it’s true and because the animosity between them is going to make work harder than it needs to be for both of them if they keep it up. And really, Kat is doing a good job, even if she is a little “shoot first, ask questions later” sometimes. She’s doing a better job than he was when he started, anyway.

Her face kind of pinches, like she’s trying to decide whether to be pleased with the compliment or tell him to shut up. She finally settles on, “Thanks” and then excuses herself to do something other than talk to him. 

Olivia is in her office on the phone, so he stops by Fin’s desk and catches up for a few minutes before he makes his way over to Amanda, who has been ignoring him since he got here. He feels awful for their fight even though he doesn’t feel like he’s entirely to blame here, but he wants his friend back more than he wants to be right. Fighting is something they’ve gotten very good at since he joined SVU, but it’s a lot easier to hold onto a grudge when you aren’t forced to work with them every day. He’s worried if this keeps dragging out it might not stop at all. 

“Hi.”

She turns her attention to him, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear and giving him an awkward smile. “Hi yourself.”

“So. You want to talk about it?” he asks, sitting on the edge of her desk. He’s careful to avoid knocking over the stack of files or the framed picture of the girls. 

“Not really.” That tracks. Amanda likes talking about her feelings almost as little as Rafael – and he’s stopping that line of thought right now. 

“Me either, but we probably should.”

“I’m happy for you,” she says with a shrug. “Really, I am. I’m just not so happy for me, is all.”

“Yeah, I get that.” He nudges her foot, smiling. Forgive and forget is kind of their slogan at this point. “I miss you too, you know?”

She rolls her eyes, but looks pleased. “Yeah, yeah. You should come by this weekend. The girls miss you.”

“I’d like that.” In the madness of quitting SVU and starting his position in the DA’s office, it hasn’t left a lot of time for social gatherings. He used to go to Amanda’s at least twice a month to see the girls and cook enormous amounts of food. He knows how guilty she feels that she isn’t always around to cook them homemade meals, so he always makes sure they’ll have enough for leftovers for a couple of days. He hasn’t seen the girls since Billie’s baptism and it’s been at least a month since he’s cooked for them. It makes him feel like his aunt just to think it, but every time he sees Jesse and Billie he can’t get over how big they’re getting. He remembers holding both of them just hours after they were born and now Jesse tells him about how she’s going to become an astronaut because she wants to see Mars and Billie is beginning to take her first steps. “I’ll even cook.”

“Hey, no objections here.”

Before he can reply, Olivia pops her head out of her office. “Carisi, I need to speak with you for a moment before you leave.”

“You know you’re not my boss anymore, right?” Sonny jokes, but he stands up, smoothing his tie down, and makes his way to her anyway. “You can’t tell me what to do anymore.”

“Sure I can,” she says good-naturedly, opening the door for him. 

Instead of going behind her desk, she sits down on the couch, so he follows suit. She takes her glasses off, cleans them on her shirt and puts them back on, fixing him with a pointed look that tells him he’s walked into a trap. “How are you?” she asks in a soft voice, the one she uses to make people feel more comfortable. Yeah, definitely not a work conversation. 

“Fine,” he says, resisting the urge to bolt.

“You seemed very surprised to see Rafael last week.” She says it casually, but she’s watching closely for his reaction.

“Yeah, well.” He does not like being on this end of the interrogation. “The guy disappeared on us for almost two years and then shows up out of the blue? Of course I was surprised.”

Her perfect composure cracks for just a split second, but it’s enough for him to get it and wow. He feels a little like he’s been punched in the chest. “But it wasn’t out of the blue, was it?” Sonny asks, swallowing down the hurt and anger that threaten to make his voice shake. “You two have been in contact this whole time.” 

“Not the whole time,” she says, looking almost sheepish. “He reached out to me about three months after he left.”

“Of course he did.”

“Sonny–” She reaches out her hand for his.

“No, it makes sense,” he says, pulling his hand away. He knows he’s acting like an ass, but he’s just so angry. At Rafael for leaving, at Olivia for not saying anything earlier, at himself for still being so affected by all of this. “You two were always close.”

“So were you.”

“No.” He’s not quite capable of keeping the hurt out of his voice this time. “We really weren’t.” 

She studies him carefully, but he remains silent. When he first got here, that look would have been enough to have him confessing all his sins, but things have changed since then. He’s changed since then.

Finally, she sighs, knowing an unwinnable battle when she sees one. “We’re all meeting with Rafael tonight for drinks. You should come, if Hadid doesn’t already have you busy.”

She doesn’t, but he can’t think of anything he’d rather do less than pretend in front of a bunch of detectives that his heart isn’t being ripped out of his chest every time he looks at Rafael. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“Well, I think it’s a great idea, but like you said. I can’t tell you what to do anymore so I’m asking you as a friend to come. We miss having you around.”

“Would you have ever thought when you first met that mustached, oversized suit wearing detective you’d be saying that to him all these years later?”

“You’re changing the subject,” she says, but she’s smiling.

“Nothing gets by you, Cap.” He stands up. “I’ll think about it.”

“Marino’s. Seven o’clock. Hope we see you there.”

 

It’s closer to eight by the time he shows up. He almost doesn’t show up at all. He spent ten minutes just sitting in his office chair, staring at the wall, trying to weigh the pros and cons. The pros are that he gets to spend time with the squad. The cons are that he has to spend time with Rafael. It’s not exactly a long list, but it still takes him another ten minutes before he finally decides he’s going. 

He doesn’t have anything pressing he has to do tonight in preparation for tomorrow and he misses spending time with everyone. He knew transitioning from detective to ADA was going to be hard, but he didn’t take into account how lonely it was going to be. Despite his less than stellar first impression on the squad when he first started at SVU, they still accepted him relatively quickly. It’s hard not to when you work so closely with people day in and day out, sharing meals and long nights and trauma with each other. It’s not that he doesn’t like his colleagues at the DA’s office, but there isn’t the same sense of camaraderie as there was at SVU.

He wants to catch up with his friends and he’s not going to let Rafael stop him from doing so. And anyway, there will be enough people there to act as a buffer that he’ll hardly have to talk to Rafael if he doesn’t want to. 

Marino’s isn’t one of their usual places and it takes longer than he expected to get there. It’s a ways out both from the precinct and the DA’s office, which Sonny figures might not have been an accident. Rafael likely isn’t eager to run into old colleagues or cops who may or may not have been part of the whole death threat debacle. By the time Rafael left, he didn’t have many friends left in either place. 

It’s a nice bar, all dark wood and ambient lighting and soft piano music. It’s a decent size considering it’s Manhattan, but there are enough wooden tables dotting the floor that he has to strategically twist and turn to avoid bumping into anyone. A grand baby piano is tucked into the front corner and a young woman is sitting in front of it, eyes closed as she plays. The bar itself is tucked into the back left corner and he makes his way toward it as he scans the room.

It only takes him a second to spot them, all crammed together at a table against the wall toward the back of the room across from the bar. Amanda seems to see him at the same time he sees her and she gestures him over, spilling a little of her drink onto the table in the process. He can’t hear her over the noise of the crowd and the music, but he sees the way her teeth sink into her bottom lip as her mouth shapes the "f" sound and she starts mopping up the mess with napkins.

As he approaches, he takes stock. Fin and Amanda are on the side of the table facing the door, Fin sitting against the wall and Amanda beside him. There’s an empty chair beside Amanda despite the fact that he didn’t let anyone know whether he was coming or not, which warms his heart enough that he almost doesn’t mind that he spots the back of Rafael’s head next. He’s sitting across from Amanda, Kat on his left across from the empty seat and Olivia on his right across from Fin. 

He stops at the table long enough to say hello to everyone and drop off his bag. They’ve all been here for awhile if the number of empty glasses and bottles on the table are anything to go by. “Sorry about being late,” he says, careful not to let his eyes wander toward Rafael. “Had to finish something at work.”

Olivia waves his apology away, looking pleased. “We’re just glad you made it.”

“I’m gonna grab a drink,” he says, gesturing to the bar. 

A couple of minutes later, as he’s sliding into the seat beside Amanda with a beer in hand, he hears Kat say, “–can’t believe that was you.” She’s turned to Rafael, who’s sipping a scotch and looking pleased with himself. “I mean, that was the stuff of legend. Did you know about this?”

It takes Sonny a second to realize the question was directed toward him. “Sorry, what are we talking about?” he asks, hyperaware of the way Rafael has shifted his focus away from Kat to him. They make eye contact for a split second before Sonny looks away.

“We were just telling Kat about Barba’s little stunt with the belt during his first case with SVU,” Fin says. “She was a fan, apparently.”

“Ah.” Sonny takes a sip of his beer and loosens his tie before replying. “Yeah, I think everyone knows about it at this point.”

He was still in Staten Island back then, but he was following the case just like everyone else in the country with cable or an internet connection. Before Rafael let Adam Caine choke him in open court with his belt, Sonny didn’t think there was any possible way to get a conviction. Jocelyn Paley had lied about writing the book and most times in the eyes of the jury, once a liar always a liar. But then Rafael pulled that stunt and it won them the case. Sonny had already started applying to law schools at that point and he remembers thinking to himself, “That’s the kind of lawyer I want to be.” 

He’s never told anyone that before. 

“Gotta say,” Amanda says. “In hindsight, it kinda makes Stone seem like a bit of a stick in the mud.”

“Hey, now,” Sonny says automatically. He liked Peter, all things considered. “He wasn’t that bad.”

“I’m with Amanda on this one,” Fin says, shrugging. “He was a nice guy, but I wasn’t shedding any tears when he left.”

“Who’s Stone?” Kat asks. 

“The ADA before me.”

“And while he was very good at his job,” Olivia chimes in, “his departure did allow our Carisi here to dust off that law degree and put it to good use. I can’t say I don’t miss having you at the station, but I’m proud that you’re our new ADA. And that you shaved the mustache. To Carisi.”

Olivia raises her glass in a toast and the others follow. All except for Kat, who looks delighted by this new piece of information and asks, “Wait, wait. What’s this about a mustache?”

“Alright, alright,” he says, holding up a hand. “Enough with that. Especially about the mustache. We don’t need to revisit that.”

Rafael snorts and Sonny finds himself smiling before he can stop himself. 

It gets easier after that. They bounce between conversations about work and family and that new movie that just came out with relative ease. Kat tells them stories about some of the outrageous things she’s seen on the beat and Amanda talks about how Jesse is going to bankrupt her with all the extracurriculars she wants to do. Olivia gets Fin talking about his grandson for awhile and Sonny finally caves and tells Kat about the mustache. Much to his horror, Amanda has a picture and Kat inhales her beer when she sees it. 

“I hate you,” Sonny says, covering his face as he feels his cheeks flush, and Amanda laughs harder than he’s heard her laugh in a long time. 

Rafael mostly stays quiet, but he looks like he’s enjoying himself. They either already played catch up before Sonny arrived or they’re purposely avoiding asking him what he’s been up to the last couple of years. Either way, he doesn’t volunteer any new information, but he does tell a few stories about his time as an ADA, both in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Sonny’s heard most of them, either because he was there or through the grapevine, but some of the Brooklyn stories are new. 

By the time Sonny is finishing his second beer, he feels good. He’s ditched the jacket and tie over the last hour and rolled his sleeves up to his elbow, the crowd and the start of a buzz making him sweat. It feels like old times, being at a bar with the squad after a long day, and it makes it easier to let a little of his anger toward Rafael go, even if it's just for tonight. 

Rafael really does look good. He noticed it last week, but he was in such a state of shock that it was hard to drink it all in. It’s not just the hair and the beard, which is definitely worthy of its title at this point. It’s not the clothes either – another sweater, dark blue this time around, and dark jeans Sonny spotted when Rafael got up awhile ago for another drink – but the way he’s holding himself. He seems relaxed, comfortable in a way Sonny doesn’t think he’s ever seen him. 

It’s only after Rafael raises an eyebrow at him while Olivia and Fin are telling a story about a guy named Munch that Sonny realizes he’s been staring. He should really look away, but he doesn’t, and neither does Rafael. They hold each others gaze for a handful of seconds before Olivia says something to Rafael and he turns his attention to her. 

Sonny gets up abruptly and makes his way to the bathroom. He looks like a mess, the gel in his hair starting to fall and his face flushed. He splashes his face with water and then combs his damp fingers through his hair in an attempt to fix it, but it doesn’t do much good. He stares at himself in the mirror for a few seconds, hands gripping either side of the sink, and thinks to himself, what in the hell are you doing?

He heads straight to the bar when he leaves the bathroom instead of rejoining the table. He really shouldn’t get another drink considering he’s got work tomorrow, but he needs it. He’s losing his buzz and that content nostalgic feeling right along with it, making it harder to forget that he’s still upset with Rafael for disappearing and reappearing with no explanation. Not for him, at least. 

The bar is a good bit more crowded now, so he takes a seat at one of the empty stools at the corner. As he waits for his drink, he feels someone slide up beside him, arm brushing up against his own. He knows it’s Rafael without even looking, keeping his eyes focused on the bartender as she mixes someone’s drink. Usually, he would be filling the silence with inane chatter. Nothing of any import, just talking for the sake of filling the quiet, but now he stays silent. 

“Are you going to ignore me all night?” Rafael asks.

“Turnabout is fair play.”

Another brief silence as Rafael slides into the empty stool next to his. “I have to say, I really wasn’t expecting you to leave SVU so soon, if at all. I could hardly believe it when Liv told me you were my replacement.” 

Sonny can tell just by the tone of his voice that he’s teasing, but that righteous anger he’s been nurturing the last several days comes back in full force and his jaw clenches involuntarily. “Stone replaced you, remember? I replaced him.” 

“Semantics.”

Instead of replying, he focuses on the bartender. She’s moved on from the last drink, now making something with gin and lemon and lime. Cocktails haven’t been his thing since Theresa snuck him multiple raspberry daiquiris at their cousin’s wedding when he was seventeen and he got sicker than he ever has been in his entire life, so he’s not sure what she’s making. Maybe that one Gina likes, a negroni? He’s pretty sure that has gin in it. 

“You’re angry.”

“What makes you say that?” 

She pulls out heavy cream and an egg from the mini fridge under the bar and any semblance of an idea about what she’s making goes out the window. 

“Sonny.”

“Don’t,” Sonny snaps, finally turning to look at him. “Don’t fucking – just don’t.” 

“Don’t what?” Rafael asks, raising an eyebrow. Under that mask of wide eyed innocence, he looks vaguely satisfied. Sonny recognizes that look well. He’s seen Rafael make it dozens of times in court after getting under a defendant’s skin, making them crack and finally say what he wants them to say. It used to impress Sonny, how good Rafael is at knowing just where to push to make someone break, but now it just makes him angrier. 

“Don’t come back here after two years and try to pick up where you left off with the – the banter and the smug looks like nothing happened. A lot has changed since you left.” For good measure, he adds, “I’ve changed” but it feels less true than he wants it to be. 

“I know.” For just a second, so briefly Sonny can’t be sure he’s not just imagining it, Rafael looks sad. And tired. So, so tired. Before he can think about forming a response, in a much lighter tone, Rafael adds, “Liv says you’re doing well at the DA’s office.”

Sonny snorts. “I’m drowning.” 

Much to his relief, the bartender comes over then, interrupting their conversation. Sonny orders a beer even though he doesn’t really want it and he stands up after she hands it to him. He takes a step back toward their table before a hand reaches out and grasps his forearm. 

“It gets better,” Rafael offers, dropping his hand when Sonny gives it a pointed look.

“Does it?” He thinks about the lines Peter crossed at the end, how he knew he had to quit or things would spiral even more out of control. Like it did with Rafael. Like it did with Alex Cabot. He doesn’t think the same thing will happen to him one day, but they probably never did either. “Because I’m pretty sure this position is cursed.”

Rafael laughs, sharp and surprised. “I think you’re right.”

 

Sonny downs about half of the beer on his way back to the table, the carbonation making his eyes water and his stomach protest. Everyone else is still sitting, talking and laughing, but Sonny’s good mood is long gone. Instead of sitting back down, he places the half empty bottle on the table and starts to gather his things.

“Ditching us already, Carisi?” Fin asks. 

“Yeah,” Sonny says, slipping on his jacket. “I’ve got a meeting in the morning I forgot about.”

Fin accepts his explanation with a shrug, as unfazed and disinterested as always, and Kat doesn’t seem like she cares either way, but Olivia and Amanda look a little less convinced. Amanda in particular glances behind him at the bar, where Sonny assumes Rafael is still sitting, and turns back to him with a suspicious look on her face. 

“You know what,” she says, pushing back her chair, “I think I’ll head out too. Share a cab with me?”

He opens his mouth to say no, both because he doesn’t want to talk about whatever she clearly wants to talk about and because they don’t really live close enough to warrant sharing a taxi, but the look she gives him makes him think twice. “Yeah, sure.”

Kat says something about subtly that both he and Amanda ignore as they say their goodbyes to Olivia and Fin. Amanda turns afterwards, scanning the bar. “Where’d Barba disappear to?”

“Think I saw him head toward the bathroom a minute ago,” Fin says. 

“Well, tell him we said it was nice to see him. And congratulations.” 

“Of course,” Olivia says. “Get home safe.”

Amanda is mostly quiet as they wait for a taxi, rubbing her hands together and mumbling under her breath about the cold. Even after years of being here, she still isn’t quite used to northern winters, no matter how thick the gloves she buys are or how many layers she wears. He hadn’t bothered to bring a coat to work today, so he’s starting to shiver too by the time they get into the taxi.

After they rattle off both their addresses, she turns to him with an expectant look.

“What?” he asks, trying not to sound defensive and mostly succeeding.

“What was that?”

“What do you mean?”

She raises an eyebrow, her expression turning incredulous. “Seriously, Carisi? You think I didn’t notice how you barely looked at Barba all night?”

“I talked to him at the bar,” he says weakly. If Amanda noticed, he’s sure Olivia and Fin did too. Sonny was never exactly subtle about his need for both Rafael’s approval and attention over the years, so his avoidance tonight must have been extremely obvious to them. 

“Yeah and you couldn’t get away fast enough afterwards.” The car it front of them hits their brakes, briefly lighting her face up red, and they slowly come to a halt as traffic jams up. “Listen, Sonny. I don’t agree with what Barba did either, but he was acquitted, remember? It’s not our job to punish him.”

“Wait wait wait,” Sonny says, holding a hand up. “That’s what you think I’m mad about it?”

Her eyebrows furrow. “Isn’t it?”

Sonny huffs out a laugh even though he doesn’t find anything about this remotely funny. “I’m not mad at him for pulling the plug on that kid,” he says honestly. He didn’t agree then and he doesn’t agree now with what Rafael did, but that’s because he broke the law. That poor kid was already dead and the only reason Rafael pulled the plug was because the mother couldn’t. As tragic as the entire situation was, Sonny never blamed him for his decision, even though he thinks Rafael made the wrong one. “I’m mad because afterwards he disappeared without a word to any of us.”

Amanda blinks a few times, clearly surprised by his answer. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, seriously.” He mostly thought they were done thinking he was some morally righteous asshole just because he was Catholic, but maybe not. “I mean, I thought we were all friends, you know? And then he goes off and does this insane thing that almost lands him in prison and then he just leaves without saying a word to anybody?”

The way her face softens with sympathy instantly makes him regret speaking. “You two were close.” 

“No, we weren’t.” The car lurches forward suddenly and he catches himself on the front seat. “Why does everyone keep saying that?”

“Uhuh,” she says, in that soft tone of voice he only ever hears her break out with victims and her kids. He must look really pitiful because she places a hand over his own. “Listen. Far be it from me to lecture anyone about their personal life, but I know you cared about Barba. I can understand why you’re angry at him for leaving the way he did, but he’s back now and he might not know that’s why you’re angry with him.”

“I don’t think Barba is losing any sleep over me being mad at him, regardless of the reason.”

“I think you underestimate how much he cares about your opinion.”

He doesn’t dignify that with a response and they fall silent. She pulls out her phone and he watches the city pass by through the window until he remembers something. “Hey, what were you congratulating him about?”

“Huh?”

“When we were leaving, you told them to tell Barba congratulations. What for?”

She looks up from her phone, confused. “His book?”

“What book?”

“The one he wrote.”

“Barba wrote a book?” he asks incredulously. “Rafael Barba wrote a book?”

She shrugs, shoving her phone back into her purse. “Rafael Diaz did, anyway. Liv said he doesn’t exactly want to advertise it, so he wrote under a pseudonym. The title has something to do with winter, I think. I bought a copy, but I haven’t started it yet.”

“What is it even about?”

Amanda leans forward a little and he follows suit like they’re sharing a secret. “A crime thriller,” she says, fighting against the smile threatening to break out on her face. “Liv said the main character is a New York detective. I thought she was pulling my leg when she first told me.”

Sonny leans back in his seat, stunned. “I cannot believe he wrote a book.”

She shrugs again. “He did tend to get pretty creative in the courtroom. Some of his summations sounded like they came straight out of a TV drama. Not to mention he probably had a lot of free time since he can’t practice anymore.”

The jovial feeling disappears as he’s reminded of that little fact. It’s not like it came as a great surprise that he lost his license, but to think about Rafael clawing his way out of the Bronx and into Harvard only to lose everything makes him impossibly sad. Regardless of how it ended, Rafael was an incredible ADA and the legal field is a worse place without him. Not for the first time, Sonny wishes he could go back in time and somehow prevent all of this from ever happening.

They reach Amanda’s place a few minutes later and he promises to call her in a couple of days to figure out which day is best for him to come over for dinner. There’s a good chance they’ll see each other before then anyway, but he can dream. He spends the remainder of the ride to his place focusing on what he wants to cook over the weekend. Amanda is partial to his antipasto pasta salad, but the last time he cooked it Jesse refused to eat about half the ingredients. He knows they both like his Bolognese sauce, but he made that last time. After a few minutes of deliberation, he decides on lasagna. It’s simple, but he knows Amanda and Jesse like it and its soft enough that Billie should be able to eat it too. He’ll pick up some fresh ciabatta from that bakery in Little Italy he likes to go with it. Maybe some cannoli too. Amanda doesn’t like the girls to have sweets, but he thinks he can convince her to break the rule for once. 

About two blocks from home, his stomach growls and he realizes he never ate dinner, too busy rushing to get to Marino’s to think about stopping for food. He tries to remember what’s currently in his fridge, but comes up blank. He’s pretty sure there’s an egg, but he can’t be sure. Takeout it is then.

Once the taxi drops him off, he orders a pizza for delivery. He should have plenty of time to get inside and shower before the pizza arrives, but he rushes up to the fourth floor just in case. His mind can’t help but replay the night as he showers, thinking back to the brush of Rafael’s arm against his at the bar and the feel of his hand around his forearm. Rafael has never been a tactile person, at least not with him. The only time Sonny can remember Rafael purposely touching him was after Dodds died, a brief pat on the shoulder for comfort. Maybe he’s mellowed out the last couple of years, away from the stress of the job. Maybe he moved to some secluded cabin in the woods upstate to write his book, growing his own vegetables and getting in touch with himself. 

Sonny snorts at the mental image. Rafael would probably rather pull out his own teeth than live in the woods and Sonny’s not sure he’s ever even seen him eat a vegetable. The thought of Rafael Barba, who spends his weekends on yachts and spends more money on suits than Sonny does in rent, tending to a garden is enough to make him laugh so hard he accidentally inhales water.

After a coughing fit that leaves his chest heaving and his eyes watering, he pushes all thoughts of Rafael from his mind and grabs the shampoo.

The pizza arrives ten minutes after he gets out of the shower and he spends the rest of the night lounging in front of the TV, working his way through the DVR list he’s been neglecting and trying not to think about anything. It mostly works and by the time he’s crawling into bed a little after eleven, he feels almost back to normal. 

He spends the next thirty minutes tossing and turning before he cracks and pulls up the Amazon app on him phone. He types in Rafael Diaz and sure enough, there it is. The book is called Risk of Winter and its number eleven on Amazon’s Top 20 Chart. It’s been on the chart for the last two months, almost since it was released. Sonny would be impressed if he wasn’t shocked that not only had Rafael written a book, he had apparently written a paranormal crime thriller. According to the summary, it's about a Manhatten detective who retires to a small town in Virginia after a case goes bad and the house he moves into ends up being haunted by one the past owner. The owner had died in the house after a fire accidentally started in the living room, but the detective begins to have suspicions about whether it was actually an accident as he digs deeper into what happened. Sonny scrolls down to the reviews, which are mostly four and five stars. The phrases “on the edge of my seat” and “read it all in one go” and “mind blowing” pop up several times, but there are also a few reviews calling it “overly depressing” with an “unsatisfying ending.”

He scrolls back up and hovers his thumb over the Add to Cart button, chewing on his lip. On the one hand, he wants to read it so bad he could actually die. On the other, that should be reason enough for him not to. Rafael chose to walk out of his life two years ago. He moved and changed his number and ceased to exist as far as Sonny could tell. If he had wanted Sonny in his life, he would have said something. As much as it pains him to admit, the relationship they had was more significant in Sonny’s head than it ever was in reality. For all the late nights and banter and teasing, he and Rafael rarely spent time with each other outside of a workplace setting. Even when they did, they were never without Olivia or Amanda or Fin. It wouldn’t be the first time in Sonny’s life he thought someone cared about him more than they actually did, but he sure as hell hopes its the last. 

He needs to let it go. Rafael made his choice and now it's time for him to make his. 

He locks his phone, places it on the nightstand and goes to sleep.  

 

He caves the next day and walks to the Barnes and Noble a couple of blocks away from the DA’s office on his lunch break. The book is on one of the tables at the front of the store and he grabs a copy and gets in line before he can convince himself not to. His resolve is truly pathetic, but he literally cannot not read it. 

“Good choice,” the cashier says as she rings him up. “Definitely one of the better crime thrillers, in my opinion. Apparently the author used to work in the law field, so it’s pretty accurate. Do you want a receipt?”

“No, thank you,” Sonny says. 

He reads the back cover as he walks to the office, bumping into a few people and getting dirty looks in the process. The summary is the same as it was on Amazon, but he’s more interested in the author’s description section. There’s no picture of Rafael and it’s as vague as he expected it to be.  

Rafael Diaz was born in New York, New York and is a graduate of Harvard University. His decades of work in the legal system both inspires and brings authenticity to his work. 

He desperately wants to go home and start reading, but that’s hardly an option. He shoves the book into its bag and stops by a hot dog cart on the way back. When he gets to his office twenty minutes later, he puts the book into his desk drawer and tells himself he’s not going to think about it until he’s home. 

 

Roughly seven hours later, he’s sitting on his couch and staring at the front cover. He’s already eaten dinner and showered, and there’s no pressing work he has to do, but he hesitates opening the cover. It feels like an invasion of Rafael’s privacy even though thousands of people have already read it if the reviews are anything to go by. Still, it’s one thing for strangers who don’t know you to read your book, but it’s entirely another for a former colleague to do so. Rafael had written under a pseudonym for a reason, after all. 

Not for the first time, he wishes he had asked Amanda more questions. She told him Liv had told her, but did the whole squad know? He can’t see Olivia telling Amanda if Rafael wasn’t okay with it, but that doesn’t mean everyone else knows. It wasn’t brought up last night at the bar, but maybe they just didn’t want to embarrass him. Or maybe they talked about it before Sonny arrived. 

He stares at it for another minute before his already weak resolve cracks and he opens it. He flips through the first couple of pages, but stops on the dedication page. It reads, For Liv, for everything. He wonders if she knew about the book from the beginning or if she was as surprised as he was when she found out.

He taps his fingers on the page in a rhythmic pattern, a nervous tic that drives everyone around him insane, before deciding screw it and flipping to the first chapter. 

It opens with a hostage situation. It was originally a DV call, but quickly escalated into a husband taking his wife and their daughter hostage in their home. Sonny knows ten pages in it’s going to end very badly, but that doesn’t stop him from wincing along as he reads. The main character, Detective – Sonny laughs, he can’t help it – James Smith is being too hasty and sure enough, it rapidly spirals out of control just a few pages later. It ends with the husband killing his wife, his daughter and himself before ESU can make it inside.

Jesus. Sonny snaps the book shut, rubbing a hand over his face. He knows all too well how easily something like that can happen. One wrong move and he had a gun against his forehead, only surviving because Olivia pulled the trigger a second before Cole did. Even years later he can remember the way the blood felt as it sprayed over his face, hot and wet. It took weeks before he stopped smelling blood and even longer than that before Cole’s face stopped making an appearance in his dreams every night. 

He opens it back up and continues to read.

Two things become abundantly clear as Sonny reads through the first couple of chapters. The first is that Olivia had to have helped Rafael with the procedural part of the police work because it’s too accurate to have been Googled and he can’t imagine Rafael asking anyone else. The second is that Rafael poured a lot of his own feelings into the character. Smith’s pain at the loss of the mother and her child is raw and all-consuming, a poignant kind of pain you have to experience to be able to describe. After years on the job, Sonny knows that kind of pain all too well and it makes his chest ache that apparently Rafael does too. It’s a pain that eats you alive from the inside out if you let it, which Smith does. In the span of six months he goes from one of the top detectives in the city to a borderline alcoholic who retires to Virginia not as a means of escape, but as self-imposed punishment for what happened. 

Hours tick by and Sonny continues to read. The paranormal stuff starts up after Smith moves into an old log cabin on the outskirts of town that had only recently gone on the market after nearly burning to the ground five years beforehand. It’s nothing major at first, flickering lights and cabinet doors being open in the morning despite being closed the night before, things that can be explained away by old wiring and too much to drink. A couple of weeks after moving in, he starts having a recurring nightmare of waking up, only to find a man lying in bed beside him. It’s the same man every time, and he reaches out to Smith and tries to speak, but Smith always wakes up before he says anything. It only escalates from there. Things like feeling someone's breath on the back of his neck and objects falling off of flat surfaces until he slowly becomes convinced that he’s losing his mind. 

The book is a little over four hundred pages and Sonny makes it to about one hundred and fifty before his eyes start to revolt and he has to call it a night. He leaves the book on the coffee table in his living room so he won’t be tempted and sinks into bed with a sigh.

He’s exhausted, but his mind is racing too fast for him to fall asleep. The thing is, the book is shockingly good. He shouldn’t be surprised because apparently Rafael excels at everything he does, but it’s hard to reconcile the image of the Rafael he has in his mind with the Rafael who wrote this book. There are certain parts that sound so much like Rafael Sonny can almost hear him saying it in his head, but other parts leave Sonny reeling that Rafael was the one to create this world. The characters are compelling, the prose is descriptive without being overwhelming, the paranormal aspects are downright eerie and the emotion is raw and honest. About fifty pages in, Sonny had gotten a pen and started to highlight certain passages, writing little notes in the margins like the book is Rafael speaking to him and Sonny is replying. 

It takes a long, long time for Sonny to fall asleep.

 

The rest of the week goes by much the same way. He focuses on work during the day and he reads at night. Sonny finds himself completely engrossed as Smith starts digging into the history of the house, growing more and more convinced that he’s not actually going crazy. After talking to the locals, he finds out that the house had nearly burned to the ground five years ago, only recently being fully repaired and put on the market. The owner at the time of the fire, a beloved school teacher named Jack Farraway, wasn’t so lucky. It takes page after page of rationalization, but Smith finally admits that his house is haunted when someone shows him a picture of Jack and he recognizes him as the man from his dreams. 

Sonny’s never been a big fan of horror – he’s got enough of it in his actual life, thanks – so he finds himself getting a little spooked. One scene in particular gets to him. It’s the cliche horror trope of wiping a steamed mirror and seeing someone behind you, but it’s a childhood fear that carried into adulthood. Rafael does a good job of balancing the horror with humor though, and there’s a scene involving Smith and a medium burning sage in the house to “rid it of ghostly energy” that has Sonny dying laughing. He can imagine the look on Rafael’s face, watching an eighty year old woman walk around his house burning a spice and commanding the spirits to leave. 

“Why sage?” Sonny can almost hear Rafael ask. “Why not basil or mint or a common tree leaf from outside?”

Sonny’s not sure when he started picturing Rafael as James Smith considering they share no physical similarities according to Rafael’s description, but Smith’s stubbornness and dry wit reminds Sonny so much of him that it’s hard to stop associating Rafael’s features with his character’s. 

A new character is introduced after Smith starts asking around town about the fire and Sonny likes her immediately. Her name is Katherine and she’s the daughter of Jack Farraway. Despite having moved to Pennsylvania, she hung onto the house for years before finally deciding to put it on the market, unwilling to let go of the last piece of her father she had left. She returns home after some of the locals called to let her know the guy who bought the property was asking around town about her father and the fire. She’s got a thick accent and a take no shit attitude that immediately reminds Sonny of Amanda. Her and Smith butt heads immediately, but in a way that tells Sonny they’re probably going to end up together. 

He stays up just as late Wednesday night reading as he did Tuesday, but Thursday night he has to work late and he crashes as soon as he gets home. He wakes up to a text from Amanda Friday morning, asking him to come over Saturday at six. She attached a video of Jesse shyly asking Uncle Sonny if he would bring those cream things she likes like last time and Sonny immediately saves it to his phone, sending back a yes!!!

You’re spoiling my children rotten

what are uncles for? Sonny replies, smiling. 

The pleasant mood doesn't last long. Olivia calls him around noon to come down to the station to discuss a plea deal with a perp accused of sexually assaulting his nephew. According to Olivia, the boy is terrified that people at school will find out what happened, so he refuses to testify. His parents back his play and Sonny’s not going to subpoena an already traumatized fourteen year old, so he spends an hour going back and forth with the smarmy defense attorney until they reach a deal. It’s not long enough – it never is – but he’s going to do hard time and he’ll be on the registry for the rest of his life, so Sonny tries to count it as a win. 

Afterwards, Sonny sits on the edge of Amanda’s desk, sipping a cup of terrible coffee he kind of misses and wondering why he does this job. “I just don’t understand how a person can do something so horrible to someone they’re supposed to love and protect.”

“If you did, we would be having a very different conversation.” She looks grim and exhausted, like she does after every case involving a child. 

Sonny goes back to the office and tries to push the case from his mind, but it's hard to. Any case involving a kid hits him hard, but the ones where the assailant is a family member even more so because so many times they get away with it. The kid is too afraid to tell their parents or their parents don’t believe them because no, my brother/sister/husband/wife would never do something like that. He’s glad this one turned out differently, that the kid immediately told his parents and his parents believed him, but he knows that family is probably never going to recover from what happened. It sends him spiraling, wondering about how many kids are out there that weren’t believed. 

He keeps himself busy, but his bad mood persists throughout the rest of the day and into the evening. After dinner, he FaceTimes with his niece for awhile. She talks a mile a minute like all the Carisis do, about school and a boy named Alex in her class and the new Frozen movie, all the while Bella gives him concerned looks in the background. She looks like she wants to grill him, but she doesn’t while her daughter is still in the room. Tommy is cooking dinner, so Sonny briefly says hello to him before hanging up. 

Afterwards, he picks up Rafael’s book. 

Last he left off, Smith and Katherine were growing closer as they continued to look into the fire. It happened a few days after Christmas and was deemed an accident once the source was determined to be the tree lights. A too dry Christmas tree and a spark is a deadly combination. According to the ME, Jack Farraway likely never knew what happened, dying of smoke inhalation while asleep in his bed. Katherine swore up and down to anyone who would listen at the time that the fire wasn’t an accident, claiming that the lights were brand new and her father would never leave them on overnight, but in the end the case was closed.

Smith is inclined to believe her, but he neglects to tell her that her father’s spirit has been trying to communicate with him since he moved in. She’s a smart woman though, and as their investigation into the fire continues, she grows more and more convinced he’s hiding something from her. Though their chemistry is nearly tangible, the secret creates a wedge between them. It all comes to a head when they discover a pattern of suspicious fires over the last ten years and he finally comes clean about why he was so interested to begin with. The reaction is explosive to say the least. 

In a nice turn of events, it’s Smith who’s taken hostage by the arsonist and Katherine who saves him. It turns out that one of the local firefighters had been starting fires for years so he could put them out. He’d mostly set them in vacant buildings so no one would get hurt, but he had decided that year to up the stakes. He’d broken into Jack Farraway’s home and tampered with the Christmas tree lights while Jack was out, figuring that saving such a prominent member of the community would make everyone view him as a hero. He hadn’t meant for Jack to die. 

When Smith returns home, Jack’s spirit has seemingly slid from existence now that the truth of his death has emerged. The arsonist goes to prison and Katherine forgives him for withholding the truth from him, but their relationship seems to be irreversibly damaged. Smith decides to remain in town, but Katherine returns to Pennsylvania. 

The ending scene is of Smith sitting on the front porch, sipping a beer and watching the sunset, wondering how many times Jack had done the same thing before he died. 

Sonny shuts the book and tosses it on his coffee table, sliding down the couch until he’s staring up at the ceiling. He’d read to distract himself, but he finds that he feels worse now than he did before. The book has had a melancholic tone to it since the very beginning, but it hits him harder after the day he’s had and he agrees with the review criticizing it for having an unsatisfying ending. They caught their bad guy and Katherine finally got closure, but Smith ended the book the same way he began it: as a depressed alcoholic who blames himself for what happened in New York. Alone and guilty. It’s arguably the biggest theme in the book, guilt. Smith’s guilt that he couldn’t save that family, Katherine’s guilt that she couldn’t save her father, guilt that no one noticed what was going on before it turned deadly. Guilt guilt guilt and more guilt. 

If this was somehow Rafael’s attempt at therapy, Sonny sincerely hopes he writes a sequel.

 

His bad mood persists throughout the night and most of the day Saturday. He’d slept in, which was a nice change for once, but going from so little sleep for days to so much sleep in one night means he wakes up with a pounding headache. He takes some ibuprofen and lounges around the house, watching TV and dozing, before it’s time to start prepping for dinner. 

It takes him a little over an hour to go to Little Italy for the ciabatta and cannoli and to stop at the grocery store for the lasagna ingredients, but he makes it back to his apartment in plenty of time to get the sauce put together and on the stove. He usually likes to make the noodles from scratch, but he doesn’t have the energy to today. He’d gotten the good noodles from the store though, so hopefully Amanda doesn’t notice the difference. 

After cleaning up the dishes, he does a much needed load of laundry and tidies up the apartment while the sauce simmers. He’s away more than he’s home lately and a fine layer of dust has started gathering on all the flat surfaces. His mother would be appalled if she saw the place, not that she’s been around lately. She hates the commute from Staten Island, much preferring to let Sonny come to her. It’s an arrangement that works well for both of them, especially as of late.

He boils the noodles as the sauce finishes up and spends the next fifteen minutes painstakingly layering the lasagna. At least, until he catches sight of what time it is and starts hurrying along, burning the tips of his fingers in the process. He curses, but powers through and covers it with aluminum foil once he’s done. It probably would have been easier to just cook everything at Amanda’s, but her kitchen is a mess and Sonny doesn’t want to have another argument with her about the proper way to organize a kitchen, so it’s a juggling act as he leaves his apartment with everything.

He texts Amanda once he’s in the taxi, telling her he’s on the way and asking her to preheat the oven. 

She doesn’t, but that’s okay because Jesse greets him with a big smile and an excited squeal when Amanda opens the door, Billie on her hip, and Sonny’s bad mood melts away like it was never there. Once Sonny sets everything down on the counter, he scoops up Jesse and tosses her up in the air, something that was much easier when she was still Billie’s size.

“Easy, easy,” Amanda says as she shifts Billie to her other hip and turns the oven on. “I don’t want to make an ER trip tonight.”

“Mom,” Jesse says, drawing out the word. “Uncle Sonny won’t drop me.”

“Yeah, mom,” Sonny says, tossing her up again. “Uncle Sonny won’t drop her.”

Jesse loses interest after a few minutes, so Sonny puts her down and she takes off to her room, telling him she has something to show him. In the meantime, he takes Billie from Amanda while she slides the lasagna into the oven, making funny faces at her while she pats her sticky fingers against his cheeks.

“You seem like you’re in a better mood,” Amanda comments after glancing around the corner to make sure Jesse is still in her room.

Sonny winces as Billie lands an impressively hard hit for someone still in diapers. “Jeez, kid. What’d I ever do to you?” He grabs a stuffed bear from the counter and hands it to her. She immediately smacks him in the face with it, but at least it’s a softer blow. 

When he turns his attention to Amanda, she’s leaning against the counter watching him.

Sonny sighs. “It’s just been a long week.”

“I hear you.” She gives him a grim smile and touches Billie’s foot. “Yesterday was a rough case.”

“Aren’t they all?”

Jesse comes back out into the kitchen then, holding a picture of the squad she drew at preschool the day before. “We were supposed to draw a picture of all our family,” she explains. She points to the tallest stick figure. “That’s you! I used a black and a white crayon for your hair.”

He laughs. “That is very impressive, Jess.”

Dinner is ready around six-thirty and no one seems to have any complaints about the store bought noodles. Sonny multitasks, feeding both himself and Billie so Amanda can have a meal in peace for once. Jesse keeps up a steady stream of chatter about preschool and friends and anything else that crosses her mind, so the topic of work doesn’t come up again for awhile.

Amanda reluctantly allows Jesse to have part of a cannolo once she finishes her lasagna and lets her play on the iPad for half an hour before bed. Apparently screen time trumps Uncle Sonny time, so Jesse disappears into her room shortly after dinner is over. After loading the dishwasher and putting away the leftovers, they retire to the living room with a glass of wine. Amanda curls up under a blanket on the couch, but Sonny sits on the floor with Billie while she plays with blocks. 

“I seriously needed this,” Sonny says, settling into a comfortable position. He hands Billie a block and she chews on it for a second before smacking his outstretched leg a couple of times with it. 

Amanda raises an eyebrow. “What? To cook dinner for us and be beat up by my baby?”

“To have some normalcy back in my life.”

She slowly sips her wine as she studies him for a few seconds. “You read Barba’s book yet?”

Billie starts reaching for the glass in his hand, so he sets it on the coffee table and starts building a block tower to distract her. He only makes it three pieces high before she tears it down, shrieking with laughter. “Yeah, I finished it last night.” He manages to not sound as sheepish as he feels. 

“I finished it this morning during Billie’s nap. It was good, but creepy as all hell, don’t you think?”

“Yeah.” Sonny laughs. “The mirror scene got me. “What’d you think about Katherine?”

“She seemed a bit familiar.”

“That’s what I thought.” He manages to make a five block high tower before Billie gets to it this time. “You think Barba had a secret crush on you?”

Amanda chokes out laughter and Sonny glances back at her, eyebrow raised. “What?”

“Sonny,” she says incredulously. “She’s a leggy, rough around the edges, heart of gold type with pretty blue eyes and a thick accent. Sound familiar?”

He rolls his eyes, turning his attention back to the blocks. “The exact same thing could be said about you.”

“Yeah, but Barba liked you way better than he ever liked me.”

Sonny doesn’t respond, focusing on Billie instead. She’s still playing, but she’s starting to flag a little, and he suspects it's nearing her bedtime. 

“It was kinda sad,” he says after a while. 

“I didn’t like the ending much.” She finishes off the last of her wine and puts the empty glass on the coffee table next to his mostly full one. 

“You think he wrote it to cope with everything?”

She shrugs. “You’d have to ask him."

They move onto lighter topics for awhile until Billie starts fussing and Amanda stands up, declaring it’s time for bed. Sonny stands too, scooping Billie up so Amanda can get Jesse ready to go to sleep. He walks her around the room, patting her on the back and talking to her, as she cries and rubs her little fists into her eyes.

Amanda and Jesse both come out after a few minutes, Amanda to take Billie from him and Jesse to give him a hug goodnight. He tells her he’ll visit again soon and leans down to whisper into her ear, “I’ll leave the rest of the cannoli here for you, but you gotta be good for your mom, okay?”

“Okay!”

Amanda gives him a suspicious look as Jesse runs back into her room with a noticeable spring in her step. “I don’t know what you just told my daughter, but I don’t think I like it.”

Sonny gives her his best “who, me?” look and glances down at his watch. “I should probably be heading out."

“You sure?” She looks down at Billie, who has laid her head down on Amanda’s chest. “It won’t take long to get her down.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. I need to catch up on some sleep.”

Amanda follows him to the door, swaying Billie back and forth while he grabs his coat off the rack. He gives her a half hug and rubs a gentle hand over Billie’s head. She doesn’t have as much hair as Jesse did at that age, but it's just as soft. “Thanks for having me over. I promise it won’t be so long next time.” 

“Thanks for cooking.” She opens the door and he slips his coat on as he walks through the threshold. “Hey, Sonny?”

He turns, adjusting his collar. “Yeah?”

She hesitates, resting her head on top of Billie’s, and gives him a half smile. “That book was filled with a lot of regret and I don’t think it all stemmed from pulling the plug on that baby.”

“Goodnight, Amanda.”

 

Amanda’s words echo in his head on the ride home. Not just about regret, but also what she’d said about Katherine. It hadn’t exactly escaped his notice they shared a few characteristics, but he’s read enough interviews of authors to understand they often take bits and pieces of people they know and put them into their characters. It doesn’t mean anything.

But there’s a quiet voice in the back of his head asking him what if it does.

The thing is, he’d thought for a long time he and Rafael were working toward something. Sonny knows that he hadn’t made the best first impression and for a long time Rafael wasn’t his biggest fan, but that started changing the longer Sonny stayed at SVU. Rafael never stopped giving Sonny shit, but over time his cutting remarks lost their edge until it was more playful teasing than anything else. He stopped rolling his eyes every time Sonny brought up law school and started actually listening to what he was saying, offering corrections when Sonny was wrong rather than just dismissing him. On the occasions he wasn’t wrong, he could see that Rafael was impressed under his carefully neutral mask of disinterest. 

There were the looks too. They were subtle, so subtle he barely noticed at first. For all Rafael liked to act like he couldn't be bothered to deal with Sonny, he sure seemed to look at him a lot. And yeah, at first they were mostly looks of irritation, but those too lost their edge over time. Irritation seemed to give way to curiosity and then to something else entirely. Sonny would be sitting at his desk, hunched over his computer or idly twirling a pen between his fingers while lost in thought, when he would suddenly feel the weight of someone’s gaze on him. Rafael wouldn’t look away immediately either, like he wasn’t willing to be embarrassed at having been caught. So they’d lock eyes for a few seconds before one of them – usually Sonny – finally broke eye contact. 

Those months after Sonny shadowed Rafael on the Hodda trial felt like the precipice of something, like they were both holding their breaths and waiting for the other to release first. 

Then Dodds died and Rafael came clean about the threats and everything went to hell. Sonny was so, so mad when he found out that Rafael had been getting threats since the Terrence Reynolds case. It’s not like he was unaware that there are a lot of shitty cops out there, but he’d been around good ones for so long it was easy to forget. Between the threats and the general rallying of law enforcement behind Munson, it was a stark reminder. It had been such a relief when they brought in Felipe Heredio, right up until they realized he wasn’t going to roll on whoever paid him to make the threats. Munson and Heredio were both behind bars where they belonged, but Dodds was still dead and Rafael’s life was still in danger, so it hadn't felt like a win at all. 

Rafael’s mood grew more and more caustic as he lost all semblance of normalcy under the security detail. The squad tried their best to put in as much time as possible, but SVU was stretched thin as it was and Rafael ended up having to spend a lot of time with officers he didn’t know. Olivia vouched for them, but Rafael’s patience grew thinner and thinner with each passing day. It took three weeks before it snapped and he refused to cooperate with the detail anymore. As far as he was concerned, the immediate threat to his life was over with Heredio in prison. 

“You’re probably never going to figure out who hired him,” Rafael had said to Sonny when he’d tried to make him see reason. “The threats have stopped and until they start back up again, I’m resuming my normal life. Get out of my office.”

Sonny did, but the worry remained. As much as he hated to admit it, Rafael was probably right. It was unlikely they would ever find out who did it without the threats starting again. They would either have to live in uncertainty from here on out or wait until the conspirators hired someone else. It was a paralyzing thought, one that kept him up at night along with the look on Olivia’s face in the hospital that told them all they needed to know about Dodds's fate.

It had taken another two weeks for Sonny to crack under the pressure of it all, hanging on by the skin of his teeth until he couldn’t anymore. One thing led to another and he found himself as drunk as he had been in a long time, pounding on Rafael’s front door at nearly midnight. 

“Have you lost your mind?” Rafael had asked when he opened the door, bleary eyed and wearing pajamas.

Sonny had leaned against the frame, both to look calmer than he felt and to keep himself from swaying. “I have to talk to you about something important.”

“A case?”

“No, not a case.”

“Then it can wait until tomorrow.”

“It can’t,” Sonny had said. He knew if he didn’t do it then, he probably never would. “Listen, Rafael. I–”

“Don’t.” The word was sharp and final, Rafael holding up a hand to silence him. “You’re drunk.”

“But–”

“Carisi, I’m serious.” He had looked it too. Gone was the appraising, weighted looks Sonny had grown so used to. Rafael looked irritated in a way he hadn’t in years, like Sonny’s presence was an inconvenience he couldn't be bothered to deal with. “You’re going to regret saying it and I don’t want to hear it.”

It took a few seconds before his alcohol soaked brain put two and two together and he realized Rafael knew exactly what he was trying to say. 

I don’t want to hear it.

“Right,” Sonny had said, feeling his face flush with embarrassment. He backed a few steps away from the door on wobbly legs. “I should go.”

Rafael made no protests, so Sonny left and that was that. 

Any and all progress they had made toward something resembling a relationship was gone, but they didn’t revert back to how things had been when they first met either. Sonny had tried to pretend like it never happened, to tease and push like he always had, but Rafael gave him nothing. No irritated looks, no sharp remarks. Sonny might as well have ceased to exist in Rafael’s mind as far as he could tell. 

By the time Rafael left, Sonny had long since gotten the message. Whatever he thought was between the two of them had existed strictly in his own head.