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In Vino Veritas

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"Hey," Sonny said during a lull in the day when it seemed like a good idea to ask the question he'd been pondering for a while now. "If two dudes get married, like, to each other. How many bachelor's parties do they throw?"

Rollins shot him an annoyed look from her desk. "What's that supposed to mean?"

He matched her look. "What do you mean, what's that supposed to mean? It means exactly what it sounds like. If two dudes get gay married, how many bachelor's parties do they throw?"

"Not funny, Carisi," Fin said in a warning tone. "Knock it off."

It wasn't supposed to be funny. He just wanted to know. But he'd obviously said something dumb and now Fin and Rollins were glaring daggers at him. "Fine, whatever," he muttered. "I'll ask someone else."

As it turned out, the answer was two, but held at the same time so that one bachelor's party could crash the venue of the other one.

"Wait," Sonny said, taking another gulp of his beer. They had half a pitcher left to get through and he wasn't gonna let anyone think he was a lightweight. "I thought you were supposed to keep the bride and the groom, I mean, the groom and the groom, separate. So they could party and get it outta their systems or something."

"Yeah, but Tony made us promise not to take him to any strip clubs," James answered. He was Sam's best man. Sonny had met him before, when he and Sam had still been partners, before Sam had transferred to Chicago. Good guy. Keen sense of fun. "And I know for a fact that his party's got some 'sexy cops' showing up which is just not fair."

"Strip clubs suck anyways," another one of Sam's friends said. "They're so depressing. Come on. Let's just buy a couple handles and go play with the other boys. If they're really at the Ritz, I bet they have a hot tub."

"Okay, okay," Sonny said, convinced. "But someone's gotta help me finish this pitcher before we go."

Backed by a dozen drunk, giggling grown men, Sonny took several deeps breaths and pounded his fist on the door of the hotel suite. "Police!" he shouted as officiously as he could. It came out pretty good – the walk they'd taken had started to sober him up, just enough that if he was careful, he didn't slur his words. "Open up!"

It didn't take long for someone Sonny didn't recognize to open the door. The man was handsome in a clean-cut sort of way and looked like he was in his thirties. His shirt was half-unbuttoned and he smelled like alcohol (or maybe that was Sonny). He wasn't wearing shoes but he didn't look spooked at the police coming to his door at midnight, either. He could definitely be friends with the hotshot lawyer Sam was marrying.

The man scrutinized him just as closely. His expectant grin had turned puzzled when he'd seen Sonny at the door, but eventually he decided that Sonny wasn't really here on police business. "You're not the sexy cop we ordered," he said.

"No, but I'm a sexy cop," Sonny said, striking a pose that unbalanced him and sent him stumbling sideways into one of the others, who laughed and pushed him back in front of the doorway. "We're with Sam," he explained with a laugh. "Let us in before someone calls security." No one had stopped them, but they'd gotten several dirty looks on their way in.

That worked. The man's demeanor warmed instantly and Sonny even got a hug when he saw the bottles of liquor and mixers they'd brought. "Tommy," he said. "I'm Tony's best man so I guess I'm in charge of this little shindig here. Nice to meet you."

"Sonny. James is in charge," Sonny answered, pointing at the man in question before making his way into the rest of the suite.

He let out a low whistle. Tony's crew was a couple ticks fancier than they were and they almost looked like they were going to some kind of froufrou social event instead of getting plastered to mourn their boy willingly entering the shackles of matrimony. Or celebrate. Whatever.

And then Tony's crew got up to greet them and Sonny just about choked on his tongue.

Because there, a little bit off to the side, wearing a shirt and loose tie that Sonny recognized, was Barba, loose-limbed and relaxed right up until the point where their eyes met and he went tense. He was wearing his hair differently, not quite so smoothed and neat, and in comparison to Sonny's mental image of him, it made him look almost savage. He looked like a man who knew how to have fun.

Tommy didn't miss the look they'd exchanged. "What's up?" he asked in an undertone as Sonny shook hands with the others and accepted sloppy hugs when they were offered. "You and Rafi know each other?"

Barba seemed equally confused, though maybe less drunk than he was. "We work together," he said. "What're you doing here Carisi?"

Sonny stared. "Wow," he said, stopping just short of going in for another hug. You weren't supposed to hug people you work with. "You look good when you're not so stiff. Me and Sam were partners back in the day, before he transferred to Chicago. Whassit look like we're doing here? What are you doing here?"

"I went to law school with Tony," Barba said. "We keep in touch." He paused. "Is this weird?"

"This is really weird," Sonny agreed with an answering nod. He wheeled towards the counter everyone had set the bottles on. "C'mon, let's do some shots or something. We'll unweird it with more alcohol."

Barba followed.

By the time the sexy cops arrived and Sonny had talked people into taking several more shots of tequila with him, it had stopped being weird. This Barba was relaxed and friendly and Sonny kept having to sit on his hands to keep from reaching out and running his fingers through Barba's hair, just to see what it felt like. They'd gone through another handle between everyone and right now, watching a stripper in a police hat and a speedo give Sam's fiance a lap dance was equal parts awesome and annoying.

Barba's shoulder pressed warmly against his own. Sonny let his head loll onto it. Tony's bachelor's party had started more boring than theirs, but they were working on that and now, even the fancy lawyers were starting to properly unwind. Sonny felt a warm glow of accomplishment.

"Are you okay?" Barba asked in a soft voice that sent a warm thrum down Sonny's body. "You look like you're a little uncomfortable with," he waved a lazy hand at the stripper, who winked at them and twirled his gun on his finger.

Sonny winced. Barba nodded and the movement sent his jaw rubbing nicely against the top of Sonny's head. "Yeah," he said. "The uh, the --" He lifted his hand and twiddled it. "You know?"

"I have no idea what that means," Barba said.

Sonny waved his hand again. The right words came to him in a flash. "Trigger discipline! He hasn't got any and it hurts. Hurts," he repeated, rolling the side of his face a little more comfortably against Barba's warm shoulder. He lifted his head a little. "You can tell the cops here," he said. His lips brushed against the shell of Barba's ear and they had never been this close before, or else he'd have known how good he smelled, underneath the alcohol. "They're the ones flinching every time he does a gun trick. They're really bad gun tricks." Him and Sam and the ripped Japanese dude whose name he'd already forgot.

"Oh, is that why," Barba said. He was slurring a little. "I thought it was a thing, you know." He motioned at the stripper. "A gay thing. Tony said most of you guys were straight."

Yeah. That made sense, because they were. But. "I can't believe you guys got him a sexy cop. He's about to marry a sexy cop. Shoulda been a sexy pirate," he joked, curling his fingers into the shape of a hook. "Arrr. A butt pirate." It's what they would have done.

Barba laughed and in that moment when his face lit up and their eyes caught, Sonny could feel a pull, magnetic, that drew their mouths together.

They startled apart a moment later, Sonny barely registering the warm press of Barba's mouth against his, when the room started to laugh and clap. But it was only the end of the song and the stripper, wearing a saucy grin, asking who was next. No one was looking at them.

The noise was making him dizzy. "Shit," he muttered. "I should drink some water." He stumbled unsteadily to his feet and grabbed a cupful from the sink, then downed it and two more before heading back.

He got distracted rinsing his face, going to the bathroom, and telling the butt pirate joke to Sam and the ripped Japanese guy (whose name turned out to be Andrew), who found it just as hilarious as he did. By the time he got back, Barba was in another part of the room, talking with someone else and Sonny didn't want to be weird or anything, so he went to help some of the other guys set up for beer pong.

Everything after beer pong was a blur of disjointed memories in no particular order – the sudden pain of the counter top in his side, the burn of liquor going down his throat, drunken play-fighting, the splash of someone shoving him into the hot tub and plastic under his hands as he climbed out.

And again, a mouth, hot and wet against his, followed by bare skin beneath his fingers and the puff of warm breath against his face.

All in all, a fucking fantastic bachelor's party.

"Do you have a minute, detective?" Barba asked at the end of day's proceedings as the others began to pack up and wander out of the courtroom. Day two of testimony and it'd gone well enough, Sonny figured.

Sonny shrugged. "Sure, what's up?"

Barba lowered his voice. He glanced quickly around the room, but no one was paying attention to them. "Is Chicago going to be a problem?"

Alarm spiked through him. The victim's parents lived in Chicago but he hadn't heard anything about anything from that direction. "What?" he asked, suddenly wondering if they'd missed something or someone had gone over their heads to the DA's office. "We don't have anything about Chicago. I thought you said this was an open and shut case."

"I'm not talking about the case," Barba said. "You've been staring at me. Is Chicago going to be a problem?"

Oh, that Chicago.

He knew he'd been looking at Barba more than usual, trying to reconcile the two versions of him in his head, but he didn't think he'd been weird about it. But he realized now that he had, because he knew what Barba's hands looked like when they rolled up his sleeves, recognized the way his shoulders filled out his shirt, noticed the barest hint of stubble on his jaw when it got late in the day. Sonny had never seen it before but he saw it all now. It was interesting.

Sonny flushed. "Hey," he said defensively. "It's not every day you realize your ADA knows how to have fun. I didn't mean to be weird about it. I'll knock it off, sorry."

Barba looked at him for several seconds, then looked away. "Right," he said abruptly. "See to it that you do."

It was easier said than done. It wasn't like he thought about Barba much when he wasn't around, because he wasn't that weird. But when Barba was around, Sonny couldn't help but notice the stupidest things, little details he'd never paid attention to before. It was like being told not to think about pink elephants.

Barba had to have noticed that Sonny was still looking at him a lot more, but Sonny guessed he didn't care anymore now that it was out in the open. Barba didn't bring it up again and he still treated Sonny the same during prep, so he figured they were good.

"What's with you and Barba anyways?" Rollins asked after one of the times where Sonny absently watched Barba walk out of the precinct until the elevator doors shut behind him. "You think you'll do better in your classes if you watch him like a hawk?"

Sonny shrugged. "I dunno, maybe. He's not ADA for nothing."

Sam's actual wedding was great. They'd rented out space in a nice hotel, the food had been great, and yeah, maybe Sonny had teared up a little when Sam and his husband had said their vows, but hey, they'd been best friends for a while there. It was allowed.

It'd also been gay, really gay, but Sonny knew it was meant as a big "fuck you" to Sam's parents who still didn't approve of him getting married to a dude. He put up only a token protest before letting some more of Sam's people pull him out of his suit and shove him into an ugly white dress for the after party. It pinched in all the wrong places but he mugged for the cameras like it was his idea in the first place, giving them his biggest eat shit and die grin.

He stayed on his feet just long enough to outlast most of the other guys (and he had his suspicions about the remaining ones) before he collapsed into the nearest chair and kicked off the cheap heels they'd given him. How the hell was he supposed to walk in those things, anyways? He hadn't even known they made 'em in his size.

He brightened in his chair when he saw Barba walk by, notice him, then do a double-take that had him choking on his drink and stumbling over his own feet. "Interesting choice of attire," Barba said finally, after staring long enough that Sonny started to feel self-conscious. It was not a flattering dress.

Whatever. Sonny didn't get embarrassed at helping out his friends. He shrugged and rubbed at some of the lipstick the makeup person had sloppily applied to his mouth. His fingertips came back tacky and pink. "Sam's grandma said she was gonna write him out of her will if he got married to a dude," he explained. "And his mom ain't so happy either." He patted the empty seat next to him.

Barba sat. He looked prim and proper in his fancy suit. Sonny wondered how many drinks in Barba would need to be before he'd be willing to relax a little and unbutton. "I noticed their lack at the ceremony," Barba said.

"Yeah, fuck them," Sonny said. The only blood family on Sam's side had been some cousins and Sonny still harbored some lingering resentment on his behalf. "If they can't be bothered to come to their only son's wedding, then who needs them? We're gonna mail 'em a copy of the DVD, turn the pictures into a book and mail that too, the whole nine yards. We already bought the wedding announcement in their local paper."

Barba stared at his legs. Sonny had drawn the line at letting them shave him. "I didn't know you were in the wedding party."

"Like I said, partners." He got to his feet and picked up the heels, letting them dangle from his fingers. "Where'd you find that drink? If I'm gonna be wearing this thing, I better be getting some free booze to go with it."

Open bars were a beautiful thing.

"You know, I think I saw that guy doing lines in the bathroom," Barba commented, nodding at the man that had just passed them with a brightly-colored drink in a tall glass. They'd taken seats at table near the bar where they had a good view of the party without actually being in the middle of it.

Sonny groaned. "Should I stop them? Technically, I'm still a cop."

"Not our jurisdiction," Barba said cheerfully. "I'd advise against it."

"Thank god," he muttered and made eye contact with the bartender again. He held up two fingers and gave a hopeful grin. The bartender nodded and grinned back. Several minutes later, in a brief lull between customers, he dropped by their table with two more drinks and a business card he handed to Sonny with a wink.

Sonny turned it over. There was a cell phone number scrawled on the back. He groaned.

Barba laughed. "You're popular tonight," he said. He'd loosened up a little after the fourth drink. He was a lot of fun when he wasn't too busy being serious and uptight. "What is that, four in three hours?"

"I wish I was this popular with the ladies," Sonny commented. He didn't have anywhere to put the card – where did people think he was going to put a card? He didn't even have his phone with him anymore because the dress didn't have pockets. He dropped it on the table and laughed. "You know, Fin asked me where I was going this weekend? I told him I was going to a wedding and that I'd try to bang a hot bridesmaid." He adjusted the straps of the dress. It didn't work. It was a lost cause; he didn't have the rack to make it work. "I guess I'm the hot bridesmaid now."

Knocked by a slightly overenthusiastic motion during Barba's explanation of why all lawyers were burgeoning alcoholics, the glass tipped over, sending his whiskey ginger all over the table and into Sonny's lap. "Fuck! Sorry."

Sonny jumped to his feet but it was too late. He was soaked and he could feel the drink seeping through the thin fabric of the dress and into his boxers, cold and unpleasant around his balls. He plucked at himself futilely. "Oh, come on," he said. He could see the line of his boxers through the dress. "Now I feel like a cheap hooker."

"You look like one," Barba agreed and the way his eyes widened in surprise when he said it made Sonny laugh so hard it made his stomach hurt. "Where're your clothes? It's almost last call."

Real clothes were a great idea. Yes. He could find his clothes and put them on and be warm and dry again. Where were they? "I dunno."

It took a while but they finally found the bag of his clothes at coat check. "You can keep the dress," the woman said when she handed Sonny the bag and his shoes. "We don't want it back."

Sonny crouched down to put his shoes back on (his feet weren't cold anymore!). "I lost the heels anyways," he admitted. "Couldn't walk in them." He wobbled on the way up. "Where can I change?"

"Not here," she said.

Barba nudged him. "What's your room number?"

They were all at the same hotel for the wedding. Sonny pawed through his pants until he could pull out his wallet, then checked the keycard. "Doesn't say. Six-something," he remembered. "On the left."

"We can use mine," Barba said. "I wrote down my number."

Sonny reached behind himself but his fingertips didn't even brush against the zipper's tab. He tried again with his other arm, but no luck. Behind him, Barba leaned against the door and laughed like a fucking hyena as Sonny twisted and turned to try and get the zipper within reach.

"Stop, stop, I can't breathe," Barba gasped between laughs. "Your face. You are so confused. Try again, please. I'm going to record it."

Sonny shoved him, then turned his back. "Here, you do it," he demanded.

The laughter slowed, then stopped altogether. The atmosphere in the room shifted.

Sonny's spine tingled as Barba cupped a hand over Sonny's shoulder and he felt the brief of the zipper being grasped. His heart pounded and the room wobbled. Sonny was reminded, vividly, of senior prom night and the sound Maria Fernandez's dress had made as he'd pulled her zipper down. He hadn't thought about her in years.

Barba slipped soft, uncalloused hands under the straps of the dress and pushed it off of Sonny's shoulders from behind. Sonny heard him take a slow, deep breath. His hands followed a path down Sonny's arms and settled at Sonny's waist, fingers brushing just barely against his hipbones. They curled slightly.

Sonny turned around.

He and Barba looked at each other. Sonny wet his lips with his tongue. His breath caught as Barba's gaze lowered, eyes half-lidded, to Sonny's mouth. Barba's lips parted and his mouth tilted up a fraction, slow and gentle.

Sonny could feel the pull between them unfurl in his chest, caught between them like a held breath, made up of the anticipation and certainty that if something was going to happen, it had to happen right now, at this very instant, and that if he didn't want it to happen he had to break it and look away, but instead he was leaning closer and lowering his head and –

Their mouths slotted easily together in a warm, brief press.

Sonny had only a second to savor his enjoyment and another glimpse of Barba's mouth, wet, before they were kissing again, deeper this time, such that Sonny could notice the lingering taste of alcohol in Barba's mouth and on his tongue. He made a pleased noise against Barba's mouth and Barba's fingers clenched against his hips, making him jerk in something that was either surprise or pleasure.

He groaned against Barba's mouth and ran his hands hungrily, greedily over Barba's shirt, tugging it free from his pants so he could press his hands against bare skin. Barba shoved the rest of the dress down Sonny's hips and cupped his ass with both hands, pulling Sonny against him.

"Yeah," Sonny muttered between the glide of their mouths against each other, "yeah, okay." He rubbed his body against Barba's, enjoying the rough scrape of clothing against his bare chest. Barba broke their kiss to drag his mouth along the side of Sonny's jaw and to his throat, sending a hot rush of pleasure through his body. He gasped when Sonny mouthed the shell of his ear.

Sonny lost track of how long they made out like teenagers against the wall, but it was long enough for his mouth to feel tender and swollen when Barba finally pulled away and stayed away, breathing heavily. His arms on either side of Sonny bracketed him against the wall.

"You're too drunk for this," Barba said. He laughed a little. There were traces of lipstick smeared messily across his mouth and jaw. Sonny had put those there. "I'm too drunk for this."

Sonny nodded. "Yeah," he said, rubbing his palm over Barba's soft cock through his pants. Neither of them were going to be getting it up anytime soon. He tried to take a deep breath but it turned into a huge yawn and the sudden realization that he was exhausted and about ready to collapse where he stood. "I should get back to my room."

Barba stepped away. "You going to be okay getting back?"

Sonny waved a hand. "Yeah, yeah." Sixth floor, on the left. He got it.

"How was the wedding?" Fin asked when Sonny came into work and went straight for the coffee.

Sonny groaned. "Remind me never to get on a plane with a hangover ever again. I thought I was going to die. Or hurl." It was a small miracle he hadn't. He normally wasn't okay with child murder but the screaming kid three rows behind him had made him seriously reconsider. "But the wedding was great. I had a blast."

Fin glanced around the break room. Just them. He lowered his voice a bit anyways and shot him a conspiratory look. "So does that mean you ended up hooking up with a hot bridesmaid?"

"Nah, none of them were much to look at," he answered with a dismissive shrug.

"Well, that was easier than I thought it'd be," Sonny commented when he and Fin exited Interrogation 1 with not only a full confession from the suspect, but also admissible testimony against his two friends. He'd honestly expected it to be harder. Then again, frat brothers weren't exactly the brightest crayons in the box.

"I can't believe he actually believed you when you said it couldn't be rape if she didn't say no," Rollins said. She hadn't gotten anything out of the suspect when she and the sarge had gone to bring him in for questioning, but of course they wouldn't. Guys like that, they didn't exactly get along with women.

Sonny shrugged. "I look like him. Why wouldn't he believe me?" He'd even taken off his tie and mussed his hair a little to look extra relatable. They hadn't wanted to risk the suspect lawyering up, not when they hadn't had any actual evidence to speak of.

"Having a young white guy on SVU," Fin mused out loud. "It's surprisingly convenient."

"Thank god for stupid criminals," Barba commented. He must have come in while Sonny was interrogating the perp. His eyes flicked to Sonny's hair, then to his forearms, then away. "Now we have a case. Good work, detectives."

Sonny beamed.

The entire department felt the loss of Amaro keenly, but Rollins was definitely taking it the hardest. Sonny waited, because they all missed him, but when Rollins' mood failed to ease up even after a couple months, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He had three sisters. He knew how to deal with breakup angst.

He flanked her when she headed out for the night. "Hey," he said. "Let's get drinks. I'm buying."

She looked skeptically at him. "Really?"

"You've been down lately and it's Friday," he said. "Yeah, really."

She grinned a little. "Well," she answered. "As long as you're buying."

After three drinks and two orders of fries, Rollins stared at the row of her empty beer glasses for five minutes straight without saying a single word.

Sonny stretched out along his side of the booth and let his attention slip from the game playing on the TV. They'd arrived early enough for him to get one of the good seats but none of his teams were playing. "You wanna talk about it?" he asked.

Rollins shook her head. "Not really."

He shrugged. "Okay. You want another beer?"

She pushed the glasses into the shape of a triangle. "Yeah, sure."

"It was a good career choice," she burst out after another twenty minutes of mostly silence. "I'm not mad at him for doing what's best for him. It's just that he didn't even tell me he was thinking about it. He's going to retire and move across the country and the first person he tells? Liv! I found out the day before she told everyone else."

"That sucks," Sonny said.

"I mean, we weren't dating or anything," she continued into her latest beer. "It wasn't like that." She stopped, then started again. "But I thought we were close."

"He's a jerk."

She looked at him. "Did you know? That we were, you know."

"I wondered about it," Sonny admitted. "But I wasn't gonna ask." He knew better than to ask that sort of thing around a police station. He wasn't that guy.

"Well, now you know," she said. She lay her head on the table. "He's talking to his ex-wife again. You know she asked him to come with her when she moved? He said no."

"I'm sorry."

"I didn't expect anything, really," she continued disconsolately. "I just – California's so far. And he's getting out of the business. I'm probably never going to see him again. He's going to make a new life and it's going to be a better one where he gets his marriage back and no one tries to shoot him."

"You'll find someone else," he said reassuringly. "Someone who'll put you first."

"What if I don't? What if he was the one?"

"You don't really think that," he pointed out. "You miss him but you're not that cut up about it, c'mon. You already said the two of you weren't serious."

"I know." She groaned. "I just can't believe he told Liv first."

He walked her home at the end of the night. She hesitated when he asked if he could come up to use her bathroom and he could see, clear as day, the way she was suddenly wondering if they were on the same page here. Before he'd worked in SVU, he'd have been offended. Now, he was mostly just disappointed in the rest of the world.

"No shenanigans, Rollins," he promised, putting his hand over his heart. "I have three sisters and right now you remind me of all of them. I just really gotta take a piss."

She let him in. Mostly on autopilot, he pet the dog, went to the bathroom, drank a glass of water, then made her drink some water too and rifled through her medicine cabinet in search of Tylenol.

"You're good at this," she said when he put the painkillers on her nightstand with another glass of water and looked around to see if there was anything else he'd missed.

He shrugged. Maybe it was dumb, but he really liked being there for people he cared about. He was a sensitive guy like that, okay. "Like I said. Three sisters. At least you didn't cry all over one of my good shirts. You feeling any better?"

She gave him a small smile. "Yeah," she said, sounding surprised. "Actually, I think I am."

"Good. I'm glad."

"You know, you can call me Amanda when we're not at work. I don't mind."

"Alright. Amanda. I'm going home now. Gimme a hug," he said and when he squeezed her in his arms he had to bite his tongue to keep from adding, automatically, Be good. I love you. Don't tell mom I got you drunk.

The legs of the chair scratched across the bullpen floor as Sonny dragged it to Fin's desk. "Hey," he said. "You mind if I ask you a question? A personal one?"

They were the only two left in the office. Everyone else had gone home for the night. Fin leveled on him a suspicious squint. "That depends," he said. "How personal is this question?"

"A little personal. Not a lot. C'mon man, you're killing me here," Sonny wheedled. How hard could it be to answer a simple question? "I just want some advice."

"Fine," Fin said, expression easing. He was always nicer with a little flattery thrown into the mix. "Hit me."

"Okay so, straight guy to straight guy --"

"Whoa," Fin interrupted quickly. "Is this another gay thing? No homophobic stuff in the office, that's a rule. You have a problem with gay dudes, you can keep it to yourself."

"I don't have a problem with gay dudes," Sonny snapped, resisting the urge to tear at his hair. "Why does everyone think that?"

"You totally have a problem with gay dudes."

"I think I'd know if I did," Sonny said. "But whatever, nevermind." He sighed. Sometimes he wondered why he even bothered. He always seemed to end up saying something that ended up making people think he was an asshole.

But before Sonny could get up to go, Fin shifted, leaning forwards in his chair. "No, wait, now I'm curious. Hit me."

"Okay, fine," he said. He really wanted to know. "So, there's a guy and you like him a lot. He's smart, he looks good, he's fun to get a beer with. You wanna be his friend."

Fin nodded slowly. "Okay. And what, he's gay? Is this someone I know?"

"Nah, he's not from work." Sonny shook his head, then shrugged. "But I dunno, maybe he gives off a gay vibe sometimes, yeah. But you're not sure."

"And you don't want to be his friend if he turns out to be gay?"

"No, I already said, he's great and you like him a lot. You wanna be his friend. But you don't want, you know, for him to get the wrong impression. You don't wanna lead him on." The kissing, Sonny could see how that could be confusing to a gay dude. But he wasn't gay and anyways, everyone knew that kissing just felt nice no matter who you were with. It was just what people did when they were drunk and horny.

But he didn't want Barba to be his boyfriend or anything and it would be great, really great, if Barba never asked him out and he never had to say it out loud because Sonny hated turning down people he liked. He couldn't do it but he'd have to and then it'd mess things up and that would suck.

Fin laughed at him, a belly-laugh that shook his entire body. "I don't think you have to worry about leading anyone on," he said.

Sonny frowned indignantly. "Hey, I'll have you know, I'm a catch. I've got a good job and I'm a handsome guy. Loads of guys want to get a piece of this."

Fin laughed again. "Until you open your mouth, maybe. But really, don't worry about it. Gay dudes aren't into straight guys. That's just what homophobes want you to think."

Barba was still at his office the next time Sonny had to drop by to drop off another set of photos for the ongoing Van Meer case. He was red-eyed and haggard around the edges. "What, again?" he asked. "Of course there's more." He cleared out a spot on the table. "Leave them here. I'll take a look at them tomorrow."

Sonny did so. He turned Fin's earlier words around in his head. "So," he said. "It's almost ten. You eat yet?"

Barba looked at him blankly. "I'm sorry, what?'

"It's almost ten," Sonny said. "Did you eat dinner yet?"

Barba glanced at his watch. "So it is," he murmured. "I lost track of the time."

"Well, there's this bar that just opened up that does a burger that isn't half bad," Sonny said. "You done yet? Let's go." He jerked his head in the direction of the door and waited expectantly.

"I – are you –" Barba cut himself off with a slight, confused frown. He hesitated, expression growing cautious, then gestured slowly from Sonny to himself and then back again. "You aren't..."

Sonny rolled his eyes. Of course not. "No homo, I promise. C'mon, I just don't like to drink alone and you look like you need some food in you."

After another hesitation, Barba grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair. "Well, I have to eat sometime," he said.

"Good man."

"So, how's night school going?" Barba asked between bites of his burger. He was eating it with a knife and fork while Sonny tried very hard not to laugh at him for it.

"It's going really good, actually," he said. "It's not as bad as I thought it'd be." Even though he didn't actually do lawyer stuff at work, he was exposed to enough of it and testified often enough in court that he had a real advantage over the other students. It made up for all the times he turned his homework in late because real work intervened. "What about you? What do you get up to when you're not at work?"

Barba quirked an eyebrow. "Mostly, more work."

"Is that why you're so high-strung?"

"I'm not --" He stopped himself at Sonny's look, ducking his head to hide an embarrassed grin. "Okay, I might be a little high strung."

"You get twitchy when you're mad, too." It was actually pretty fun to watch, when it wasn't about whatever new disaster was happening to one of Sonny's cases. "Like," he didn't really have the words to describe it. "When someone fucks up real bad. You don't yell or hit things. You just get really twitchy."

"Is there a point to this train of thought?"

Sonny kicked Barba's leg under the table. "I'm off duty. There's no points to any of my trains of thought anymore. I'm gonna get another beer. You want one?" Barba's eyes flickered to Sonny's mouth as he cleaned the last of the burger juice from his hand, then back up.

"No, I'm good."

Sonny glanced back at the bar. Suddenly, that next beer didn't sound so appealing. He didn't bother getting up. "Maybe another time, then. Hey, you think I should get a dog? Rollins has one and it's really cute."

Then there was the disastrous case where nothing went their way and a serial rapist walked free because of a goddamn invalid search and a sly, smirking lawyer Sonny was frankly starting to scare himself with how badly he wanted to strangle the man. They'd lost in trial despite everyone's best efforts and it was – well. They'd all been having a pretty shitty month because of it.

"I'm going home," the sergeant said curtly as the rest of them exchanged frustrated looks just outside the courtroom door.

"Same," Fin said darkly. "I'm gonna go shoot some fake bad guys before I get too tempted to shoot a real one."

Rollins met Sonny's querying look. She considered, then shook her head. "I don't want to be around anyone right now. Sorry."

"I have scotch in my office," Barba said, looking straight at him. His hair was disheveled from how many times he'd run his hands through it arguing with the judge when their evidence had first gotten tossed.

"Yes, please," Sonny said with feeling and turned left with him when the others turned right. Most of the time, he loved his job. But sometimes, on days like this, he wished he had never made the decision to take a job where a single fuck up could ruin people's lives forever.

"Don't beat yourself up too much," Barba offered, gentler than Sonny was used to being addressed. "It had to happen eventually."

Sonny knew that. He knew that. Of course shit was going to go sideways at some point. But even if he knew it, that didn't change the way his entire body wanted to cringe, or the way the thoughts kept circling in his head: if they'd done something differently, if they'd found more evidence, if they'd asked better questions in interrogation.

Barba pressed a tumbler of amber liquid into his hand. Sonny looked at it for a moment, rotating the glass to watch it catch the light, then poured its entire contents down his throat in one go. He gasped and shook his head to clear the hot burn of the liquor as it traveled to his stomach.

Barba raised his eyebrows. The sip he took of his own drink was restrained only in comparison to what Sonny had done. "If I knew you were going to shoot my nice scotch, I'd have given you the cheap stuff instead."

Sonny considered this. There had been fifteen different girls on those tapes, and not one of those tapes had been admissible. One of them had looked sort of like a younger version of Theresa. "Let's break out the cheap stuff."

After they consumed the majority of what was in the second bottle Barba had retrieved from his desk, Sonny felt – not good, really, but less bad. It felt more removed now, just knowledge that they had fucked up and if he didn't want to think about it, he didn't have to think about it.

"Hey," he said. "Can I ask you something that's none of my business?" They had migrated to the floor a while ago, too dispirited to bother with chairs. Sonny had propped his back against the side of the desk, but Barba lay back against Sonny's raised knees, almost in his lap. His shirt felt very soft beneath Sonny's fingertips.

"If you want. What is it?"

"You and the sergeant," he said. "Were you two ever a thing?" He didn't want to know. He really wanted to know. It wasn't a good question to ask. She was his boss. "You don't have to answer."

"No, we never did," Barba said. "I love her, but not like that. Can I ask you a question?"

"Okay." He tugged gently at Barba's tie, feeling the smooth silk slip between his fingers.

"You and Sam? From the wedding."

"We stopped when he got transferred," Sonny said. But before that, they'd been partners and best friends, practically living in each other's pockets. They'd spent a lot of time together. Sometimes, things happened. "I mean, we're still friends, obviously. But we can't really hang out anymore."

"Hmm." Barba shifted, turning so that he and Sonny were facing each other. His eyes were very grey and very intense. "I don't understand you," Barba said.

Sonny quirked a smile and ducked his head. "What's there to understand? What you see is what you get."

"No," Barba said. "It isn't." He put his hand on Sonny's thigh, stroking lightly. It sent a warm thrum of pleasure through Sonny's body. Sonny made a soft sound of appreciation.

Barba kissed him. He tasted like scotch. His cheek, when Sonny cupped it, was rough with stubble. They kissed, stretching out on the floor, until Sonny couldn't taste the scotch anymore, until their breaths were ragged and his heart pounded in his chest. He was hard this time; they both were. The press of Barba's cock against Sonny's waist was shockingly, electrifyingly hot.

He dragged his mouth along Barba's throat and Barba moaned, low and breathy, into his ear. His hips stuttered when Sonny sucked on his pulse point. His hand, on Sonny's side, tugged his shirt free from his pants and shoved it up, exposing his torso. Sonny slid his hand between them to cup the front of Barba's pants and ground the heel of his palm, deliberately, against Barba's cock.

"Yeah," Sonny breathed. "C'mon." He pressed another open-mouthed kiss to Barba's throat and dragged his tongue against the sensitive skin. He was careful not to bite down even though part of him wanted to. He knew not to leave a mark, not anywhere that showed.

"Fuck," Barba said. He rubbed himself against Sonny's hand. Sonny could feel the shape of him, outlined clearly through his pants. Sonny rubbed his hand down its length, then worked his hand down the front of Barba's pants.

Barba gasped as Sonny grasped his cock. He thrust several times into the loose circle of Sonny's fingers. His arousal smeared wetly against Sonny's palm as he panted. Sonny fumbled with the button of Barba's pants. At the sound the zipper made when Sonny tugged it down, Barba broke abruptly away from him. He sat back on his heels and laughed incredulously. It had a hysterical edge to it.

"Wait. We shouldn't be doing this," he said.

Sonny propped himself up on his elbows. "What? What's wrong?"

Barba laughed again, more a huff of breath than anything else. He took several deep breaths. The tops of his ears were bright pink. He was flushed from his face to halfway down his chest, shirt unbuttoned. Sonny had a vague, warm sense memory of the popping the buttons open and dragging both hands over the hair on Barba's chest. "I think this is the worst idea I've had in years."

"Hey, you don't mean that," Sonny said gently. He rolled to his knees and started to reach for him. Barba stopped him with a raised hand.

"You're straight," Barba said. "And also drunk. You don't want this when you're sober, do you think I can't tell? There is a line and I'm drawing it here." He ran his hand through his hair, agitated, and began to button his clothes back up. He muttered something to himself in Spanish.

Sonny shrugged a shoulder. "I'm not that drunk," he tried, which was probably a lie.

The look Barba shot him was entirely unamused.

"Y'wanna go back to just kissing?" Sonny offered but he could sense neither of them were really in the mood anymore. He straightened his clothing and made himself presentable. He didn't feel presentable, but by the time he got his shoes on and smoothed his hair back, he was pretty sure he just looked drunk and not anything else.

Barba tensed when Sonny closed the space between them but all Sonny did was bump against him companionably and say, "I'm going home. I'll see you later."

"No," Barba said when Sonny came by to see if he wanted to try out the new Thai place that had opened up near Chinatown on Friday.

He leaned against Barba's desk and tried a persuasive smile. "Come on," he said. "I hear it's really good. I heard some people talking about it after class and the line shouldn't be too long if we get there when it opens for dinner."

Barba looked away from him. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"Not feeling Thai? We can go somewhere else."

"You know what I'm talking about," Barba said. "I think we should stop." He looked at Sonny meaningfully.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Sonny insisted defensively.

Barba stood up. He walked up to Sonny and then advanced. Sonny had to backpedal to remain a comfortable distance away. He was forced to a stop when his back collided with the bookshelf. He froze when Barba cupped a hand over the back of his neck and couldn't stop himself from twisting and ducking away when Barba leaned in. His lips missed Sonny completely.

Barba let go. He stepped back and waited for Sonny to compose himself. It was Sonny's turn to be unable to make eye contact, face burning with some horrible mix of unhappiness and shame that he didn't want to tease apart any further. He had aborted his automatic, indignant response when Barba had gone for him, but that hadn't been enough. Barba's point had been made.

"I think we both know what I'm talking about," Barba said.

"Okay, spill," Amanda said, leaning forward on the table. "What's going on?"

"Nothing's going on," Sonny insisted.

They both knew that wasn't true. Sonny could take a hint and he and Barba were back to being whatever it was they'd been before they'd been, almost, friends. They still saw each other during work. He still needled and Barba still got snappish, and it wasn't even bad, really, because Barba was like that with everyone and Sonny knew he still had a tendency to rub people the wrong way.

Even so, he felt kinda down.

"Yeah, I don't believe that," Amanda said. "Did something happen? You've been less perky than normal. Even Fin's noticed. Are you okay?"

He shrugged and plucked at a fry in the basket between them. "I'm fine. Just some personal stuff. I need a little while to get it out of my system."

"You wanna talk about it? You listened to me when I needed it."

"No," he said. He couldn't imagine talking about what had happened with anyone, let alone a woman, let alone Amanda. She wouldn't understand.

"Okay. You want another drink?"

He shook his head. "Not really."

Amanda considered this. "You wanna come over and see the new trick I taught Frannie? I found a guide on Youtube."

Sonny found himself smiling unexpectedly. "Sure," he said. "That sounds fun."

"I don't remember," Rick Halbrecht said for the tenth time. He was a broad, healthy-looking sixteen year old boy. His mother had come home early from work and found him in bed with another boy. She'd called the police to report it as rape.

Rick had blown a .12 on the breathalyzer and judging by how out of it he looked, Sonny would bet his right arm that the tox screen came back positive for something else, too.

"Okay, is there anything you can remember?" the sergeant asked gently. "Do you remember getting out of school?"

Rick stole a quick, furtive glance at his dad. He bit his lip. "Yeah," he said slowly, as if the words were being dragged out of him. "I got out of school and went home."

Mrs. Halbrecht put her hand on the table. "Do we really have to do this?' she asked. "I was there. I saw everything and I already talked to the other detectives."

"I'm sorry, but it's important to get statements from everyone involved, especially your son," the sergeant said, but Sonny wasn't focusing on her.

He was focusing on Rick. It was hard to tell since he'd been crying and wasn't saying much, but something felt funny. "Mr. and Mrs. Halbrecht," Sonny said. "Would it be alright if we talked to your son alone?" Immediately, the boy's eyes snapped up to look at him.

Mr. Halbrecht, a tall, skinny twig of a man, glowered at him. He put a hand on Rick's shoulder. "We don't keep secrets in this family," he said with a stern frown of disapproval. "Anything he has to say, he can say in front of us.

The sergeant shot him a look. "That's fine. Rick, do you want to tell me what happened after you got home?"

Rick shook his head. He took another quick look at his parents. "I don't remember." There was a stubborn set to his jaw and Sonny knew, from the defiant glint in his eye, that while he was lying, he had chosen his story and was going to stick to it. The question was, why.

The sergeant clearly hadn't expected borderline defiance as an answer. Not from the victim, anyways. "Do you remember drinking? Do you remember how you got the alcohol?"

The father spoke up. "It's from my liquor cabinet. I lock it but he must have found the key." To his son he berated, "I told you that boy was trouble. Now look what's happened to you."

Rick hunched miserably into himself. Sonny exchanged a meaningful look with the sergeant.

"Please," she tried again. "Do you remember seeing Ken today?"

Rick shook his head again. He took a shaky breath and gave his mom a pleading look. "I don't feel good," he said. "Can we just go home?"

They could take his statement another time. Sonny nodded and stood up. "Of course," he said. "You can call and schedule an appointment whenever Rick's ready to give his statement. I'll give you a card."

Fin was walking in a weedy teenager while Sonny and the sarge wrapped things up with the victim. He was still looking at Rick, trying to figure out why he was lying, and that was what let him notice the way the two boys locked eyes. Rick watched the other boy with an unreadable expression on his face, turning to keep him in view even as his parents firmly bustled him away.

"Ken doesn't deny the sex but he says it was consensual," Fin reported. "He admits they smoked a joint and Rick had a couple drinks to loosen up, but Ken says the booze was Rick's idea."

"Rick says he doesn't remember anything that happened after he went home," the sergeant said.

"That's before he smokes the joint," Fin said. "And Ken swears they didn't take anything else."

"He's lying about not remembering," Sonny said. "His dad's a pastor and he's afraid to say anything that'll disappoint him. We need to talk to him alone."

"So what are we looking at? How old is Ken?"

"Seventeen. He's a senior. They're on the track team together. He started tutoring Rick several months ago."

"The parents want to press charges," the sarge said.

Something felt funny. "Something feels funny, though. It's not just me, right?" Sonny asked. He got a slew of skeptical looks in response. "Rick doesn't wanna testify."

"Well, it can be difficult to talk about an assault," the sarge said. "Especially for boys. There's a lot of shame there."

"The mom caught them in the act," Rollins said. "And he was intoxicated. .12's a lot for a sixteen-year-old."

"Yeah, but something feels funny," Sonny repeated. "How do we know it wasn't consensual?"

"Well, he was drunk. That's a start," the sarge said.

"Yeah," Fin said. "Gay guy gets his straight friend drunk, then decides to take advantage. It doesn't make sense that only one of them was drinking."

"Drunk people can't consent," Rollins pointed out. "Even if Rick was okay with it during the act, he's obviously not anymore. That makes it rape."

They were right. Sonny knew they were right. But something felt funny. They were being stonewalled by the victim and something in that, in the way he looked at his parents and the way he looked at the perp, didn't make sense.

"So, he's," Barba pressed a finger to Ken Tracy's junior year yearbook photo, "openly gay, seventeen years old, and he got drunk and high and then had sex with," cue Rick Halbrecht's sophomore yearbook photo, "sixteen-year-old Richard Halbrecht, who says he has no memory of the event or the events leading up to it. Mom gets home early from work and walks in on it. Is that the gist?"

"Rick was crossfaded. Ken was just high." Sonny looked into two pairs of blank stares. "Crossfaded," he repeated. "It's when you're drunk and high at the same time."

"So one party was clearly more incapacitated than the other. Did the lawyers come out yet?"

"That's where it gets tricky," the sarge said. "Ken's parents aren't supportive of his homosexuality, so they aren't springing for a lawyer. He has a public defender. But they aren't getting along."

"Not getting along?" Barba asked.

"His only defense is that it was consensual, but he doesn't wanna put Rick through a trial. And Rick doesn't want to testify," she explained.

Barba tilted his head. "Makes sense," he acknowledged. It wasn't exactly a secret that trials could be stressful on the victims. "But how are we expected to press charges?"

"The parents insist," the sarge said.

"And the boy?"

"We're still working on getting a statement."

"He doesn't wanna talk," Sonny explained at Barba's baffled look. "He remembers more than he's letting on, but all he says when his parents are around is that he's not gay and he doesn't remember anything that happened."

Barba tapped Ken Tracy's yearbook photo again. "If he doesn't want a trial, we can offer him a deal. A guilty plea in exchange for probation."

"But he says it was consensual." Sonny protested.

Barba gave him a look. "They all say that, detective."

"But I believe him," Sonny said. The sarge rolled her eyes but Sonny had gone over it with her already and she'd already agreed to let him make his case. She motioned for him to keep going.

"The victim's straight. He got him intoxicated and took advantage when he couldn't say no. The mom caught him in the act. How can that possibly be consensual? A plea bargain's going easy on him. He could be looking at serious jail time instead," Barba said.

"Are you sure he didn't want it?" Sonny asked. He winced as soon as the words were out of his mouth. "I just mean maybe he is a queer but he doesn't want his parents to know and the drinking really was because of nerves. We talked to the school. His grades started going up around the time Tracy got accepted to Berkeley."

"Which is also the time juniors start thinking about going to college," the sarge said.

"But he's not acting traumatized, just scared of his parents," Sonny argued. "C'mon, straight guy with a homophobic dad has a few drinks, gets caught sleeping with a dude, refuses to say anything when questioned? That's not rape. That's being a teenager. It happens all the time."

Barba stared at him. Sonny felt suddenly, uncomfortably, exposed. He jumped when Barba snapped the folder shut.

"If you have so much faith in your theory, then get me some evidence."

With a scholarship to college on the line, Ken Tracy's defense finally found its teeth. They claimed a consensual secret relationship that had been going on for months. No evidence yet, but Sonny wasn't going to bet on it staying that way for long.

Rick Halbrecht came in with his father to give another statement, which took responsibility for the weed and alcohol (the tox screen had come back positive on both, as expected) but claimed he'd been coerced. It collaborated his mother's statement and denied the secret relationship.

The sarge managed to talk the father into letting Rick to talk to them alone, but he clammed up when she tried to talk to him.

It could have been a better couple of weeks.

"Hey, let me take a shot at him," Sonny said.

Rollins made a face at him. "You don't take shots at victims," she said.

"He's not a victim," Sonny said. "He's just scared."

"If he's not a victim, there's no reason for him to be scared," the sarge said.

"He's a teenager and he's probably gay," Sonny retorted. "He has every reason to be scared. Just let me talk to him. We already know something's up."

"I'm not gay," Rick said as soon as Sonny walked in.

"I know," Sonny said. "You already said that. The girls talk to you?"

Rick made a face. He nodded. "They think I was, you know..." He trailed off.

"Hey, they're girls," Sonny said with a shrug. "You know how they are, if they have to much to drink and stuff. You can't sleep with drunk girls or else they might say you raped 'em later, right?"

Rick laughed a little. "Yeah," he said. He relaxed a little.

"But with us, you know, it's different," Sonny said. "You have a few drinks, you're feeling pretty good. Sometimes things happen even though you'd never do 'em if you hadn't been drinking. But it's not like anyone made you do anything you didn't want to, at the time."

Rick, who had been half-unconsciously nodded along, gave him a suspicious look. "I don't remember what happened," he said, then apparently remembered the revised statement he'd left with his father. "I didn't want it. I said no."

Sonny nodded agreeably. "Okay," he said. "Sometimes guys don't want it either. And, you know, when you both want it, it's just having too much to drink and having a good time. It's normal. But if you say no, it becomes a crime. Ken's in a lot of trouble now. We're going to prosecute. He could be looking at jail time," he said, and didn't miss the way that reminder drew Rick's brows together or put a tense, troubled frown on his face.

"I'm not lying," Rick said, but he didn't sound certain.

"It's okay even if you are," Sonny said. "You're not in any trouble. We don't prosecute false accusations in these cases. I'm just letting you know what's going to happen next."

"What the fuck was that?" Rollins demanded.

"What? I just talked to him."

"You were victim-blaming!"

"I wasn't! I was just telling him what was going to happen to his friend if he kept it up. That's assuming Barba even gets the other kid to accept a plea deal and give up his scholarship." Sonny didn't have a good feeling about any of that. It was just waiting to blow up in their faces. They could lean on him one way or the other, but either way, someone would get hurt. They couldn't take this to trial.

"You said it was his fault for getting drunk and then you guilt-tripped him for reporting it!"

"You know he's lying," Sonny exclaimed, frustrated. "He gave two statements! They can't both be true."

"That doesn't mean he wasn't assaulted," she insisted.

"Yeah? Do you believe the dad? Do you believe the mom? 'Cause Rick, he's still just saying what his parents want him to say. You think we can put him on the stand and the defense won't rip him to shreds? They'll call him if this ever reaches trial. They'll ask him what he was doing in his bedroom alone with him, what really happened during their tutoring sessions, all that shit."

She hesitated. "You could still show him a little compassion."

"I am showing him compassion," Sonny said. "You just can't see it yet."

When Sonny was seventeen, he lost his virginity to Maria Fernandez in the back of her dad's car. It had been the highlight of his senior year of high school.

But when he was fifteen, he and George Evans had spent two months jerking each other off to Sonny's dad's stash of dirty magazines, until George had gotten caught kissing a boy at some hockey rink and everyone, including Sonny, had stopped talking to him.

Sonny hadn't gotten caught, but he'd remembered that haze of fear, the terror that it was contagious, that someone would say something to someone else and suddenly he'd be in the crossfire too: psst! Sonny's a faggot, pass it on.

"Hey, Rick Halbrecht's waiting for you in Interrogation 2," the sergeant reported. "I think he wants to revise his statement. His parents aren't here this time."

Sonny resisted the urge to say what, again? He looked at her blankly. "I thought you and Rollins were going to handle that," he said. He'd gotten the text half an hour ago, while he was still following up on another case.

She shrugged. "He didn't wanna talk to us. He wants to talk to you."

"Hey," Sonny said as he entered the room. He nudged the door shut with his elbow and held up the contents of his hands. "Candy bar or chips?" he asked.

Rick gave him a startled look. "Uh, the Snickers," he said. Sonny handed it over. "Thanks."

Sonny sat in the seat next to Rick, not looking at him. He opened the bag of chips for himself. "Yeah, no problem. How's it going?"

"Uh, okay, I guess," Rick said hesitantly. He still sounded pretty freaked out at being there.

Sonny nodded. "That's cool," he said casually. "You wanna just hang out for a bit? I know the girls were kinda hounding you for a statement, but you don't actually have to say anything if you don't wanna. Just relax. You're not in trouble here."

They sat in silence for several minutes. Rick still looked like he was fantasizing about being anywhere but there by the time Sonny finished the chips, so he pulled out his phone and started playing one of the games Fin had shown him, a zen, peaceful little thing with birds and hills. By the time the repetitiveness of it started to get on Sonny's nerves, Rick had forgotten to be scared and was watching his screen with some curiosity.

Sonny started up another game. Eyes on the screen, he commented, "I know you're not gay, but you know Ken is, right?"


"Y'know he got into Berkeley too? That's pretty far away." In the reflection of the screen, he could see Rick's eyes quickly look at him, then away. "And a three hour time difference, too."

"Yeah," Rick said. He wasn't looking at Sonny or the phone screen anymore.

"Yeah," Sonny said. He waited a beat. "Sucks, huh."

Rick nodded a little, then seemed to catch himself. He tensed. "I'm not gay," he said.

Sonny glanced at him and then deliberately back to the phone. He started up another level. "Yeah, I know," he said. "I'm just saying, he is. There's a lot of gay guys in Berkeley. And he'll be in college. It's not the same as high school, you know, where you've got a curfew and parents breathing down the back of your neck every time you want to go to a party."

"Ken doesn't really go to parties," Rick said. "He's not... they don't really like him at school."

Sonny shrugged. "You think he'd fit in better in college? A lot of people, they remake themselves in college. Y'know, like when the plain looking girl gets a makeover and suddenly she's the prettiest one at the dance."

"Why are you telling me this?" Rick asked.

Sonny slept his phone and put it in his pocket. He looked at Rick, who looked back, confused, suspicious, and maybe a little bit hurt. But mostly he looked scared, like he was holding a fear he didn't know how to recognize and didn't know how to put into words. But Sonny recognized it and he even knew what it felt like, so terrifying and choking that it was better not to think of it at all. It was better to pretend it didn't exist.

But there were criminal charges on the line here.

"Because," Sonny said deliberately. "I know you're not gay but Ken is, and he's going off to college real soon. And when he's there, he's going to find people who accept him for who he is, and accept themselves for who they are, and he's probably going to get himself a boyfriend, someone who can go outside and hold hands with him, and go on dates with him, and introduce him to his parents, the whole nine yards. And you're going to lose him, because you're going to be just his straight friend who he maybe fooled around with back when he was a kid."

It wasn't something Sonny thought about. It was done and it didn't matter. But sometimes, a part of him still missed Sam, missed the moment when he was half-awake and there was a another body next to him, before he realized what had happened and the fear, reflexive, shot him awake faster than caffeine ever could.

Sonny wasn't gay. He really, really wasn't. But sometimes, when he'd been with Sam, he remembered wishing that he was, wishing that maybe he could be brave too.

Rick burst into tears.

Fuck. Sonny shot a helpless look around the room, then gave himself a mental shake and put his hand on Rick's back, rubbing gently. "Hey," he said softly. "Hey, it's okay. It's gonna be okay."

"No it's not," Rick said between breaths. He was rubbing away his tears with the back of his hand, but Sonny could tell that wasn't going to work for long. "They're gonna kick me out. I'm gonna get kicked out."

"That's not gonna happen," Sonny reassured. "They're not allowed to do that."

Rick just shook his head and cried harder. Sonny put his arm around Rick's shoulders and Rick curled into him, still crying, arms pulled defensively to his chest. He pressed his face against Sonny's shoulder. "They're going to hate me," he sobbed. "I don't – I don't want them to hate me."

"I know. I'm sorry."

Once the dam burst, Rick had a lot to say. That everyone would hate him, that Ken would forget him while he was in college. That his parents wouldn't pay for his tuition and that he wasn't good enough for Berkeley but Davis was so far. That they should have gone to Ken's place, that they should have gotten a hotel room, that they never should have done it in the first place. That a year was so long, that he was going to lose all his friends, that he wished he could have been normal instead.

He had a lot to lose and he was going to lose most of it. Sonny sort of regretted being right.

He let Rick cry himself out on his shoulder, until the sobs became hiccups became miserable sniffles. It took a really long time.

"Yeah," he said softly, patting Rick on the back. "I know it's scary. But it's gonna be okay. Everything's gonna be okay."

"I'm going to go change into a dry shirt," Sonny said when he finally finished taking a new statement from Rick and emerged from the room. "Can someone get him a, I don't know, a PFLAG pamphlet or something? We have those, right?" Sonny had never paid much attention to the table of pamphlets they had for people, but they had to have a PFLAG one somewhere.

By the time he got back from the bathroom, wearing his backup shirt, the whole squad was waiting for him. He looked at them awkwardly. "What," he said. "Is he okay? I didn't mean to make him cry."

"He'll be fine," the sergeant said. "We gave him something to drink and he's just sitting here a while until he feels up to going back home and facing his parents."

"I'll be the first to say it because I was the one who thought you were full of shit the most," Rollins said. "You were right and I was wrong. Sorry."

Fin nodded. "Yeah, that was a good call."

"Yeah, well," Sonny said, a little surprised at being put on the spot. "It didn't really matter. He would have fallen apart in court if the defense even looked at him funny."

"It mattered to him," the sarge said. "Really, Carisi. That was impressive work and I'm glad you're on the team. I wouldn't have been able to do that."

Sonny basked in the glow of their approval. It felt good, damn good, to pull something off when everyone else had thought he'd been barking up the wrong tree. He couldn't stop the smile that spread on his face. "Yeah, it was pretty good, wasn't it?"

By the time they were done for the day, a feeling of unease had settled just below the surface of Sonny's skin. Talking to Rick had put him on edge, bringing up things he usually never thought or spoke about. He felt afraid, anxious, and like a coward. But he didn't want to too closely examine why, and that just made him feel even more like a coward. He didn't like it.

He caught up with Amanda in the elevator. "Hey," he said. "Can we talk? I got something I need to tell you."

She cast him a strange, somewhat concerned look. "Yeah," she said. "Sure. Is everything okay?"

Sonny shrugged.

"Easy there, tiger," Amanda exclaimed when they reached a bar and Sonny ordered five shots and downed them all at once, one after the other. "You got a drinking problem I need to know about?" She put a hand on his wrist but didn't look like she knew what to do next, now that he'd finished the last one and hadn't made a move to order any more.

He shook his head. "No, I'm good, don't worry. I don't do this all the time, I just." He stopped when the words wouldn't come to him. "Just give me a minute, hang on. I needed that."

Amanda got herself a beer and nursed it. She watched Sonny with concerned eyes. "You know I'm here for you, right?" she asked.

"Yeah, I know," Sonny said. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Just. I think I need to be a little drunk for this. Hang on."

Several minutes later, when the warmth in his belly had spread to the rest of his body, the world didn't feel quite so scary anymore. Sonny stared at his hands on the bar. "So, I'm pretty sure I'm gay. Or bisexual I guess, whatever."

In his peripheral vision, Amanda froze. Then, Sonny's shoulder exploded in sudden pain.

"Ow!" he cried out, nearly falling off his seat, "what the hell was that for?"

"You asshole, you scared the shit out of me!" Amanda said, nearly shouting. "I thought you were thinking of leaving the force, and then when you started to drink I thought you were dying! I thought you just found out you had a brain tumor or something. 'I have something I need to tell you', what the hell, Carisi."

Oh. He uh, hadn't thought about that. "Sorry," he said. He felt bad for having scared her. "I'm not quitting and I'm not dying."

She laughed. It came out a little shaky. "No shit," she said. "Now I need another drink. Promise me you won't tell your sisters like that. Just slip it into a normal conversation like a normal person, okay?"

Amanda relaxed by the time she finished her first beer and got a good start on her second. Sonny waited. "So, that's all you wanted to tell me, that scared you so bad you had to drink five shots before you could say it? That you like boys too?"

Sonny lay his head on his arms. "This is the least homophobic team I've ever been on," he said. "Anywhere else, when something like this gets found out, it doesn't really go down so well."

Amanda nodded. She gave Sonny's shoulder a squeeze. "Yeah, Liv's great like that."

Sonny nodded. She really was. Sometimes, she kinda scared the crap out of him, but she was the best sergeant he'd ever worked under and he liked the way she ran things, even though it meant his rough edges sometimes stuck out. He was working on it though, and part of him liked that he could.

"Does this have anything to do with the personal stuff that had you so down a while ago?" Amanda asked.

He sighed. "Yeah," he said. "There was a guy. We had, you know, a thing, I guess. But only when I was drinking, and I guess he wasn't into that, so he called it off."

"I can't imagine why," she said dryly.

"I don't want to be gay," he said morosely. "But I want – him."

She patted him on the shoulder. "Well, I'm here for you," she said. "And the others will be too. Nothing bad's gonna happen, Sonny. You don't have to freak out over it."

"Yeah," he breathed. "I'm working on it."

Sonny picked up and put down his phone something like ten times, ticking through every person he couldn't tell. His parents didn't need to know. His sisters didn't need to know. No one else at work needed to know. He didn't want to "come out" to people or any of that. He didn't want to talk to his law school friends about it. But part of him wanted to talk to someone, he just didn't want to –

The name that caught his eye was so obvious that Sonny honestly felt a little stupid it hadn't occurred to him in the first place.


Sam knew exactly what he was going through. He was gay and it was working out just fine for him. Sonny pushed the call button and settled himself comfortably on his couch.

Sam picked up after only a few rings. "Sonny," he said warmly. "Hey, how's it going? How's SVU?"

"Oh, it's great," Sonny answered. They chatted for several minutes, just catching up on small talk and the ongoing saga of Sam's parents slowly getting used to the idea that their son was still married to a man and that wasn't going to change anytime soon. Sonny would be surprised at the amount of drama involved, except that he knew Sam had been fanning the flames deliberately out of a perverse sense of fun.

"So, why are you really calling?" Sam asked once they reached a gap in the conversation. "It's late where you are and it sounds like you've been drinking."

"I'm sobering up," Sonny said. "I got drinks with Rollins earlier."

"Okay," Sam said. He prompted, when Sonny didn't say anything, "So?"

"So," Sonny said. He took a slow breath. "You remember when we were partners, in New York?"

"When we were homicide, yeah," Sam said. "Of course I remember."

"We were really close," Sonny said. "You were my best friend."

"Yeah," Sam said. "We were good together."

Yeah. They'd been good together. They'd been real good, the sort of good where they could have conversations without needing words and they were always on the same page. They'd been great, really, until Sam had gotten caught in Chelsea when he'd had no business being there. It hadn't gone well.

Sam had taken the first transfer out of New York he could get. Sonny, even though no one had targeted or even suspected him, had switched out of homicide. He hadn't wanted to work anymore with the kind of guys they had in homicide.

"Is everything okay?" Sam had the softest voice Sonny had ever heard, when he was trying not to spook someone. Barba's was like that too, though Sonny had never heard it directed that way to himself. Gentle.

"You're happy now, right? With everything. Even though your family's still barely talking to you and you got chased out of the department and had to move to Chicago and all that crap. You're happy, being gay?"

"You know I am," Sam said. "I married the love of my life. It's not all roses, but I'm happy. It's who I am, Sonny. I can't change it and I'm glad I'm not trying to anymore."

Sonny took a deep breath. His heart pounded in his ears and adrenaline made his hands shake. "You and me," he said. "The stuff we did. Together."

They'd never had sex. But they'd done a lot of other things. Sonny would come over and they'd split a six-pack, maybe end up watching porn and jerking off together. Or other stuff, hands and mouths and sometimes just sitting too close, closer than they could sit in public, their sides pressed flush against each other. They'd never really talked about it. They hadn't had to.

"What about it?"

Sonny laughed a little hysterically. Now that he was thinking about it, examining it for reasons instead of just following impulses, it all seemed pretty gay. "I guess you won't be surprised if I tell you I'm gay, huh."

"Actually, I thought you were bisexual," Sam said. "And so deep in the closet you could see Narnia."

"Yeah, bisexual, whatever," Sonny said. "And I guess not so in the closet anymore either." He took a breath. "I told someone. Someone I work with."

"Rollins?" Sam always was a perceptive son of a bitch.

"Yeah. There was a case," Sonny explained. "I guess it hit a little too close to home. And there's a guy. Well, the guy was first. And then it ended before it really started."

"Okay, okay, hang on," Sam said. "Why don't I make myself a drink to catch up and you can start from the beginning?"

Sonny stretched out on the couch. "Yeah, alright, that sounds good. Lemme know when you're ready."

"Hey," Sonny said when he walked into Barba's office. "The kid revised his statement again. We're pretty sure he's sticking to it this time. I bet you anything that it gets the parents to stop caring about pressing charges." He knocked the folder with the new statement against the frame of the door.

Barba looked up from his desk. "The Halbrecht case?" he asked. "I heard. Liv called me earlier. You didn't have to hand-deliver it. A fax would have been just as good."

Sonny handed the file over to Barba, who put it on his desk without reading it. "Yeah," he said. "That's not the only reason I came here. I, uh. I wanted to talk to you."

Barba's gaze became guarded. "What about?"

Sonny looked away. It was easier when he wasn't looking at anything. "Sometimes," he began. "If I want to do something, but I'm scared, I'll have a couple drinks first so I won't be scared anymore." He took a deep breath. "It's not that I didn't want to do it or that I didn't know what I was doing. I was just scared. Of, you know, myself. Wanting what I want. That sort of thing. But that doesn't mean it wasn't a shit thing to do to you. So, I'm sorry."

Barba was completely silent. Sonny stole a glance at him, nerves jangling, but Barba didn't look upset, just thoughtful. "Sometimes I forget how much younger than me you are," he said, "but it wasn't like that for me, even when I was your age. Harvard didn't have queer lawyers when I was in school, but even when I pretended, I never believed I was something I'm not."

"It's different now anyways," Sonny said. SVU was different from any of the other departments he'd been in. He'd told Amanda and the world hadn't ended. Fin, if he eventually found out, wasn't the sort of person who would cross-check him face-first into the lockers. The sarge wouldn't put him on all the shit tasks until he broke and transferred out.

"In a good way," Barba agreed. Some time when Sonny had been talking, he'd moved from his desk to stand next to Sonny, close enough for their shoulders to brush.

Sonny wanted to touch him.

"Hey," he said. "You wanna try again, maybe? The right way this time. You, me, a nice dinner or something."

Barba's smile eased away the last of his nervousness. Sonny's heart skipped a beat. "I'd like that very much."