"Hey, you remember my sister Bella, right?"
Rafael looked at Carisi. "More or less." He knew who she was, of course. Tommy Sullivan's fiance and Carisi's sister. But that was pretty much all he knew about her. He wasn't confident he could even pick her out of a lineup anymore. "Why?"
"Yeah, she's pissed you didn't RSVP for the wedding," Carisi said. "She didn't notice until they went over the guest list again. You know it's in like a week, right?"
Rafael looked at him blankly. "I'm not going to the wedding."
"What? Why not?" Confusion and hurt spread quickly across Carisi's face. "I thought you liked her. I thought you even liked Tommy."
Rafael tried unsuccessfully to shove away a creeping sense of guilt. He remembered receiving the invitation, of course. It'd been delivered to his office. But it wasn't unheard of for the victims of people he'd successfully put behind bars to express gratitude to him. It hadn't even been the first wedding invitation he'd received, and he'd assumed it had been meant in the same way as the others: a token gesture, nothing more.
It had never crossed his mind that that case, as close as it'd been to someone he actually worked with, would be different. "I do," Rafael said. "I didn't realize she actually wanted me to come. I thought it was just meant as a thank you for the case."
"It's 'cause of the case, but that doesn't mean they didn't want you to come," Carisi replied, smiling again. "You'll come now, right? Don't make me tell my sister you said no. She's all Bridezilla right now and I promised I'd make sure you were coming."
Rafael hated being put on the spot and he didn't particularly care about going to a wedding for someone he barely knew. But he also hated letting people down, even though he tried not to let on about it. He sighed. "You said a week from now?"
"Next next Saturday," Carisi said. "I can email you the details. You'll come?"
"Isn't it too late? I must have missed the RSVP deadline by now."
Carisi shrugged, looking awkward for a brief moment. "Yeah, my plus one fell through so there's a space open. You can come with me."
Rafael hesitated. "Are you sure? I wouldn't want to intrude. I thought weddings were for family and friends." He was neither. He was just someone who'd been doing his job, like anyone else would have done.
Carisi rolled his eyes at him. "Don't be stupid," he said. "Of course I'm sure. I'm here asking you, aren't I?" He looked suddenly insecure. Some of the enthusiasm he always seemed to exhibit dimmed. "You don't have to if you really don't want to. Amaro said no and it was fine. I can tell Bella you're busy and mixed up the dates or something."
Nick Amaro had the excuses of being in California and being an asshole. Rafael was only the latter and he usually tried to pretend otherwise to people whose side he was on. "Rollins and Liv are going, aren't they," he said.
"Yep. C'mon, it'll be fun." Some of the playfulness left Carisi's face. It left him serious, sincere in a way Rafael wasn't used to seeing from him. "It'd mean a lot to Bella and Tommy. It'd mean a lot to me too. I know for you it might have been just another week at the office, but what happened, it was a big deal. It's their lives and she's my sister, you know? A lot of stuff would be different now if it wasn't for you and the team, and not in a good way. You and the others saved their relationship. Really."
That... was not something that had actually occurred to him. It was easy to remember the cases he'd lost, the names of the perpetrators who had gotten away with their crimes. But Rafael rarely thought about what it meant when he didn't lose and sometimes, some facsimile of justice was had. He rarely thought about what happened after when everything went right.
"Fine," he said, because after that, there was really nothing else he could say. "I'll be there. Send me anything I need to know."
Carisi beamed at him. "Great!" he said. He clapped Rafael on the shoulder. "I'll let Bella know. She'll be thrilled."
Rafael was not the type of person who would ever actually murder someone, but when he called Carisi so they could coordinate for the wedding and got "What? I don't know," for shirt and tie colors and "I was just gonna take a cab and try to get there a few minutes before it started" for when to meet, he seriously considered making death threats.
"Are you kidding me?" he said. "It's the day after tomorrow."
"Yeah," Carisi replied in the same tone of voice. "I've got all of tomorrow and all of the morning after that to figure it out."
It took several seconds for Rafael to wrap his mind around that enough for him to formulate a coherent response. "Your sister is getting married for the first time in her life and you're going to wing it?"
"Ooooh," Carisi drew out with dawning comprehension. Rafael had to give it to him; Carisi might be an idiot sometimes, but he usually only needed a gentle nudge to figure it out. "Okay," he said in a different voice, the one Rafael usually heard when Carisi was reporting on a case. "So, what do I wear? I've got a bunch of light stuff and white for shirts, and I have a lot of dark stuff for ties and some of them have patterns and some don't." There was a brief pause. "You want me to text you a picture?"
Rafael got the feeling this was not Carisi's first time asking someone else for help with his clothing. "That might be a good idea."
Carisi made Rafael wait outside his apartment door for five minutes, then answered it in a towel and nothing else. His hair was a tangled mess and there were droplets of water on his shoulders and arms. He'd clearly just gotten out of the shower.
Rafael gave him a look. "Seriously?"
"Sorry," Carisi answered. Rafael had never noticed before, but Carisi was surprisingly muscled. He was just lean enough that it was hidden by his clothes when he was dressed. "I'm running a little late." He stepped aside to let Rafael come in. "Make yourself at home, I'm gonna get dressed."
Carisi's apartment was small but clean, aside from the coffee table in front of the sofa, which was covered in half-open textbooks and sheets of paper. Must be an assignment for Fordham. His laptop, shut, was on one of the seats. Rafael picked up one of the textbooks and flipped through it curiously, then checked its cover again.
He recognized the authors, though the cover and edition number had changed, of course. They'd used it at Harvard too, when he'd been in school. He browsed through it for lack of anything better to do.
"How do I look?" Carisi asked some minutes later. Rafael had noticed him coming over out of the corner of his eye. "Does everything still fit enough?"
Rafael looked up. Carisi was dressed in in a suit Rafael had never seen before. It fit a far sight better than the ones he usually wore and the light blue shirt went well with the darker accents in his tie. Carisi turned slowly, showing the outfit from all angles, and Rafael was only a little bit embarrassed at himself when he realized he had dropped his gaze lower to idly appreciate the curve of Carisi's ass.
"You're missing cuff links and you need to adjust your collar, but other than that, it looks really good," Rafael said honestly. "Why don't you wear it more often?"
"Are you kidding me? It's way expensive. Every time I'm in it, I'm terrified I'm gonna do something clumsy and ruin it."
Rafael didn't really understand that mindset. What was the point of clothes that made you look good if you never wore them? "That's what dry cleaners are for. I'm sure you've heard of them."
Carisi laughed. "I'm going to get my cuff links and do my hair. I should be ready in a couple minutes." He turned to go.
"Skip the gel," Rafael said.
Carisi paused. He muttered something to himself, then said to Rafael, "What, really?"
"Yeah. It looks better like this."
"It makes me look young," Carisi protested. Some time when he'd been putting on the suit, he had combed out most of the tangles in his hair and as it'd began to dry, it had started to fluff up on top of his head. It made him look relaxed, even inviting. It was a good look on him, even if it did make Carisi look only a few years out of college at best.
"You are young," Rafael said. "It's a wedding. You're there as the bride's brother, not as a cop."
"You're almost as bad as my sisters," Carisi complained with no actual irritation in his voice. "Why does everyone have a problem with how I look? I thought it looked good."
But when he came out of his bedroom again, he was wearing the cuff links and no gel.
The tall, willowy woman who appeared to be in charge, standing just inside the front of the church and directing guests as they entered, took one look at Carisi, one look at Rafael, then said unerringly to Rafael, "Did you dress him? He doesn't normally look this good." She had similar features and the same bright enthusiasm in her eyes that Carisi did. "Was it hard to convince him not to," she motioned at her hair.
Rafael laughed, both at her words and at the indignant face Carisi pulled at her. He liked her already.
"Hey!" Carisi protested. He looked down at himself. "I could have picked this out myself. I know how to match colors."
"Yeah, Sonny," she said with enough condescension and amusement that Rafael could tell this was something she'd teased him about before. "But you never would have made sure you matched what he's wearing."
To put proof to that statement, brief confusion flickered across Carisi's face as he looked at Rafael's shirt and tie, then back at his own. "Oh, hey," he said, sounding as if he hadn't noticed until just now. "It does match."
Rafael shook her hand when she offered it. "I had to do some convincing," he said to her, "but it wasn't too hard. You must be Theresa," he said. Carisi had given him the short version of what to expect in the cab ride here, including the names of important family members. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm sorry again about not RSVPing in time. I didn't mean to cause any inconvenience."
"Oh, it's fine," she said. "We made it work and we're glad you were able to make it. You two are in the second row, between Gina and Aunt Carol." She turned to point it out.
Carisi groaned. "Aunt Carol, really?"
"Don't be a chicken," Theresa said, giving her younger brother a shove that had him dodging away from her. "Anyways, mom's already there with the baby, you'll be fine."
"What's wrong with Aunt Carol?" Rafael asked. He spotted Liv and Rollins at the groom's side of the pews and headed over to greet them. Carisi came with him.
"It's not that there's something wrong with Aunt Carol," Carisi explained on the way. "I love Aunt Carol. She always used to bring us treats whenever she came by. But ever since Bella got pregnant, she keeps asking when the rest of us are going to start having kids, and what can I even say to that, you know?"
"Hey, looking good, Sonny," Rollins said admiringly when they reached them. "I like the hair."
"Thanks," Carisi said. He reached up self-consciously to touch it, running his fingers through it with no discernable change in its appearance. "You too. You look really pretty."
Liv and Rollins were both in dresses for the occasion and already seated. It was far cry from what Rafael was used to seeing them in for work, but they both looked lovely. Liv in particular looked especially happy to be there, which didn't surprise him one bit. She asked after Bella and the baby by name.
Carisi bounced with excitement at the question, every inch the proud brother and uncle. "Yeah, Robbie's up there with our mom," he said, pointing. "I'll bring him by after the ceremony so you can say hi."
Rollins grinned at Rafael teasingly. "Looking forward to being Carisi's date all day?" She looked meaningfully at the bride's side of the pews, where he and Carisi would have to sit. There were a lot of people there of all ages. They all seemed to know each other, chatting comfortably in one large, slowly milling group.
Rafael most emphatically did not look forward to being in a social situation where he didn't know anyone, but he supposed he deserved it for not RSVPing in the first place and then agreeing to come anyways. "Wanna trade?" he joked. "You'll get a better view from there."
Rollins shook her head, eyes widening. "No way." She waved her copy of the program. They had been placed on all the seats. "Did you know there's going to be singing? Are we supposed to sing too? I don't know any of the words. No one told me there would be singing."
Rafael smothered the urge to laugh. "Don't worry about it," he said. "You're far enough from the front that no one's going to notice you. Just do what the people around you do. It's a wedding. They're supposed to be fun."
"Okay, I'm maybe a little chicken," Carisi admitted in an undertone when they got to their seats and he promptly sat down in the spot next to his sister, forcing Rafael between himself and an older woman. "Aunt Carol, this is Rafael. Rafael, Aunt Carol. She's my dad's sister."
"Please," she said. "Just call me Carol. It's so nice to finally meet you."
Rafael wasn't quite sure what she meant by that, but Carisi was already leaning over the row of pews in front of him, cooing at a baby held in the arms of the woman who was presumably Carisi's mother. "It's nice to meet you too, Carol," he said with a polite smile.
"Have you known Sonny long?"
Rafael shook his head. "Only a couple years," he answered, and when she continued to look at him expectantly, felt compelled to continue. He cast another look at Carisi.
"Have you met the baby yet? He's adorable, isn't he?" Carol prompted when it became clear Rafael didn't have anything else to say.
"Not yet, but I've seen pictures." Rafael admitted. "I think we were planning to spend some time with him after the ceremony."
"Good, that's good. Do you have any children of your own yet?"
"No," Rafael said after a brief pause. "I don't. I don't really have time for that right now." He had considered it briefly when Liv had adopted Noah. But for all that he liked children, Rafael was honestly not sure he liked them enough to commit to raising one himself. It would probably better for him to be a godfather or an uncle, he suspected.
"Sonny wants children," Carol said. "Has he talked to you about it yet?" Just then, as Rafael had begun to wonder why she thought Carisi would ever bother to tell him that, Carol twisted in her seat to wave her arm at an elderly man in the row in front of them. "Dad! Dad, come over here and meet Sonny's friend."
The elderly man who turned around to greet him must be Carisi's grandfather. He shook Rafael's hand firmly. "The lawyer, right?"
Rafael suspected that Carisi's family had gotten the wrong idea about their relationship, but he was a lawyer, so he nodded. "I'm a lawyer, yes. A prosecutor."
Carisi's grandfather looked him up and down. His brow furrowed, but he sounded confused instead of belligerent when he looked at Carisi, who was still playing with the baby while leaning in a way that was wreaking havoc on the crisp lines of his suit, and said, "Sonny, I thought your friend was a jap."
Carisi leaped up as if he'd been scalded. "Grandpa!" he hissed, shooting Rafael an apologetic look.
Grandpa Carisi was less apologetic. "What?" he said indignantly to his grandson, and to Rafael, "I'm sorry. I don't mean to say you can't be white and--"
"Oh my god, stop," Carisi interrupted. He'd abandoned the baby to wave his arms frantically between Rafael and his grandfather. "First of all, you can't say 'jap' anymore, Grandpa. It's racist. Secondly, James isn't Japanese, he's Korean. It's not the same." He covered his face with one hand. The tops of his ears and the side of his neck were starting to turn pink. "And he wasn't my friend, he was my boyfriend, because we were dating, but I guess that doesn't matter because we broke up and this is Rafael. I work with him."
Two seats over, Rafael noticed, Gina smirked as she tapped out a text message on her phone.
Carol said to Carisi, "Should you really be dating someone you work with? I thought that was against the rules."
Sonny made a helpless sputtering noise.
"We're not dating," Rafael offered, inexplicably amused by Carisi's utter and complete embarrassment. "I'm also a friend of the groom," he explained, deliberately keeping the details vague, "but there was a problem with my RSVP for the wedding and Sonny," he just barely managed to remember to call him by his first name in time, "had the extra plus one, so we decided it'd be easier if I just went as his guest."
They were mercifully saved from any further conversation by the priest motioning for them all to stand. The ceremony was about to begin.
Rafael had been to weddings before, but he hadn't been to a Catholic one since he'd been a child. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd been inside a church for something that wasn't a special occasion. But even when the congregation was largely unfamiliar, family of a man he only barely knew as a friend, a part of him still felt at home here.
This had been his life, once. Sonny shot him a surprised look when he started singing along softly to the Gloria but Rafael just raised his eyebrows at him and sang a little louder, letting his voice join with everyone else's. It felt good to be part of something like this again.
When it came time to sit again, Carol leaned closer and asked him approvingly, "Are you Catholic?"
"I was raised Catholic," Rafael responded, keeping his voice down. "My family's from Cuba." He looked around again, glanced at the bride and groom standing at the altar and everyone in the pews there to celebrate them, joyously radiant, and admitted with some regret, "I'm not good about going to church. But this is nice."
Things had been different, when he'd been growing up. When Rafael's father had lost his temper at his only child being a maricon, he'd still been nursing the black eye when the priest had told Rafael to pray harder for God's help in overcoming temptation. He had held onto that burning coal of resentment for a long time. He had been angry for a long time, until his father had passed and he had been able, eventually, to forgive his mother for being unable to protect them.
But somehow, Sonny had planned to bring a male date to the wedding – a boyfriend, in his own words, and the only notable thing about it appeared to be that Rafael was not said boyfriend. He made it look easy. What a strange new world he lived in.
Rafael liked it. He wished things had been more like this twenty years ago.
Sonny nudged him with his shoulder, companionable and friendly. "Hey, look at Amanda," he whispered.
He wasn't supposed to be whispering during the reading, and Rafael wasn't supposed to be fidgeting, but he turned to look over his shoulder anyways, just in time to watch Rollins very awkwardly try to prevent the small blond child sitting next to her from throwing a paper airplane into the pews in front of them. She succeeded, but only barely.
Rafael smothered his laugh in his fist.
The thing about weddings was that there was a lot of standing followed by sitting followed by kneeling. Rafael let the familiar movements and the words of the priest sink into him as he talked about love and faithfulness and two people becoming one.
It didn't feel strange anymore to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Sonny and watch his sister exchange vows with the father of her child, or to hear their voices break with the strength of their emotion as they professed their love. He even found himself tearing up a little, though not as much as Carol, who had to dry her eyes with a handkerchief, or Sonny, who in lieu of having a handkerchief had decided to wipe his eyes on the cuff of his shirt instead.
As it turned out, a good portion of the groom's side was not Catholic, which became apparent after they all finished saying the Lord's Prayer and Rafael got the chance to check on Liv and Rollins again, glancing over his shoulder as people stood to exchange signs of peace.
There was a lot of uncertain milling about going on and a lot of people looking around to try and figure out what they were expected to do. Several people exchanged tentative, uncomfortable hugs. Rollins hugged Liv easily, then turned to her other neighbor, a young man her own age. They both froze when they realized they didn't want to hug each other, then looked around for help before eventually settling on an awkward one-armed half-hug.
It was really funny, and clearly Sonny thought so too, because he followed Rafael's gaze and then started making strangled, conflicted noises, as if he really wanted to laugh but didn't want to be rude.
Rafael shook hands with the people in front of and behind him, then politely accepted a kiss on the cheek from Carol.
"Peace be with you," she said, eyes twinkling with merriment, so he returned her smile with a matching one of his own and brushed his lips against her cheek as well, murmuring the same.
Sonny hugged everyone around him until it was Rafael's turn, where he started to open his arms for a hug, then hesitated, then tried to switch that motion into reaching out for a handshake, then hesitated again until Rafael, still brimming with mirth and feeling generous, took mercy on him and pulled him into a tight hug.
"Peace be with you," Rafael said. Over Sonny's shoulder, he could see Gina laughing at them. Honestly, he didn't blame her.
"Yeah. I mean, peace be with you too," Sonny said, and let go. His cheeks were faintly pink.
Being in the second row meant they were second to get up to take communion. Rafael got up with all the others as the first row returned. Sonny's grandparents sat while his parents and their siblings knelt, joining the one man in the first row who'd stayed behind with the baby.
There was a bit more confusion on the groom's side, and a couple people standing up, hesitating, and kneeling again. This time, Rafael did laugh, but only a little. He received the wafer and sipped the wine, and when they filed back to their seats, he even took a few seconds to pray as it dissolved on his tongue, giving thanks for everything that had come together to bring him here.
"I didn't know you were gay," Rafael commented, voice lowered, when the ceremony ended and they were finally allowed to get up and speak freely.
"I'm not gay, I'm bisexual," Sonny corrected at a normal volume. He'd glanced at Rafael when he'd spoken, but now he was looking in front of them, scanning the small huddle that had formed in front of the pews. "It's not the same. Do you see who has the baby?"
Sonny's answer sparked the usual alertness in Rafael, the automatic glance around to see who was around to overhear them. On Carisi's other side, he caught Gina giving him an unimpressed look, as if to question how much he really knew Sonny, which admittedly Rafael was now wondering himself. Because it didn't matter if everyone heard, because everyone already knew.
"You never told me," Rafael said.
"It doesn't really come up at work," Sonny answered absently. He finally spotted the woman holding the baby and went to join their group, motioning for Rafael to come with him.
Rafael followed. Everyone was already chatting amongst themselves, but they shifted to make room for the two of them. After introductions, where Rafael was told too many names to actually keep track of, he remained mostly silent. Instead, he watched as Sonny inserted himself easily into the conversation as it picked back up again, laughing and jumping right in with no self-consciousness whatsoever.
It was obvious where Sonny had gotten his aggressive enthusiasm from. Normally, it slipped out at work in a way that made him seem just a little too eager to please, too overly familiar. It had rubbed Rafael the wrong way at first, for some reason he'd never fully understood. But as he watched Sonny now, he could see that it worked for him here. He matched the rhythm of his family and the flow of the conversation shifted easily to absorb what he had to say.
Everyone was different in different contexts, of course. Hell, it felt like every other month someone came to him with a case about a charming politician who had a penchant for beating prostitutes on the side. There were parts of himself that Rafael didn't easily share with others, things he knew would influence the image he cast in their minds.
This Sonny, Sonny with his family, was still a loudmouth who seemed to never stop talking. But he was also affectionate and relaxed and generous with himself in a way Rafael rarely saw. People normally held themselves back. Sonny didn't and here, nobody expected him to.
Rafael had never seen Sonny this open before. Seeing him now, so easy in his own skin, felt like seeing him clearly for the first time.
They met up with Liv and Rollins just outside the church. Sonny held the baby in his arms; he'd offered to let Rafael hold him, but Rafael had taken one look at how tiny and fragile he looked and emphatically passed.
"His name's Robbie," Sonny said proudly, turning partway so that Robbie's tiny face would be easier to see. "Hey Robbie," he said to the baby, "hey, you wanna meet Auntie Liv?"
Liv was instantly charmed, of course. She reached out to wave her fingers at the baby as she cooed at him. Her face broke into a wide grin when he grabbed at her fingers and babbled at her. "Hi Robbie!" she said to him and began to play with his hand, which he seemed to adore, then opened her arms to pick him up when Sonny offered him to her.
Rafael glanced at Rollins, who had held back a little and was watching the baby with slightly wider than usual eyes. "Not very maternal?" he commented.
She laughed and shook her head. "I like babies," she said. "But they're very... small. And grabby," she added, nodding pointedly at Robbie, who had just managed to successfully shove a fistful of Liv's hair into his mouth. He was apparently at the age where he had just figured out how to grab things. Sonny's tie was already a wrinkled, drooled-upon wreck, though the man didn't seem to mind.
Rafael had winced the first time it'd happened, but Sonny had just laughed and said, "Hey, as long as he can't choke on it, right?"
"I think I like them more when they can talk," Rafael admitted. "But he is very cute. What did you think of the ceremony?"
"Did you know non-Catholics are supposed to stay kneeling when it's time for communion?" Rollins asked, lips quirking. "Because someone really should have told everyone on our side that before it started."
Rafael laughed. "I saw that," he admitted. "Sorry. I would have let you know if I'd been there. Other than that?"
"It was great," she said. "It was really nice to see everyone so happy. We don't usually get that at work, you know?"
He knew what she meant. It had been part of the reason he'd agreed to come to the wedding in the first place, and he was grateful he had. He didn't even mind having to sit with Sonny instead of Liv and Rollins because it meant Rafael was seeing a side of him that he hadn't even known existed.
Until now, that is. Something about Sonny's demeanor had shifted slightly in the presence of his boss. He was still cheerful, still friendly, but he seemed almost subdued compared to how he'd been not ten minutes before. He held himself like a professional again. It made perfect sense but to his own surprise, Rafael still found himself disappointed by the change.
He never thought the day would come where he'd be wishing Sonny Carisi would act less professional. And yet, here he was.
"You look like you're thinking awfully hard for a Saturday," Rollins commented and Rafael snapped himself out of it. "What about?"
"Nothing important," he said, looking away.
Sonny checked his watch, then announced, "Hey, I'm gonna pick up some pastries. Anyone have any special requests?"
They had an hour until the reception started. According to Theresa, who was still making the rounds ensuring no one was confused about when and where the reception was, dinner was going to be served an hour and a half after that. When she'd stopped briefly to let Sonny and Rafael know, she had pointed at her younger brother and warned, "If you're late, I will end you."
She clearly knew him well.
"Is there time for that?' Rollins asked skeptically.
"Yeah, it's a fifteen minute walk. It's not far. I'll take a cab afterwards. You can come with, if you want."
Rollins looked down at her dress, then lifted a foot to display her heels. They looked lovely, expensive, and also impossible to walk in. "I'm not taking a fifteen minute walk through the city in these," she said flatly but still shot Sonny an excited grin. "But if you bring me a cannoli, I won't say no."
"Done," Sonny said, pointing at her. "One cannolo. Liv?'
"No thanks," Liv answered. "Aren't you worried about spoiling your appetite?"
"Pfft," Sonny scoffed. "I always have room for baked goods. Rafael? You want anything?"
Hearing his first name on Sonny's lips still felt odd, but not in a bad way. He wasn't sure he liked it. On the other hand, he didn't not like it. Maybe that was why Rafael said impulsively, "I'll come with you."
Sonny blinked in surprise. "Really?"
Even Liv seemed a little surprised at that. She shot Rafael a surprised look that he shrugged off. "I could use a walk. Besides," he said to Sonny, "if I'm going to be your plus one, we might as well stick together."
"Hey, Sonny!" the young woman at the counter said cheerily when they stepped inside the cheery and spacious Italian-style bakery. "Looking good! I like the hair."
Sonny ran a hand self-consciously through it. "Thanks," he said. "People keep saying that."
"Yeah, 'cause the way you normally wear it's ugly," she said, making Rafael wonder just how often Sonny came to this bakery for the employees to be so informal with him. "It makes you look like you're wearing a really stupid helmet. How was the wedding?"
"It was great!" Sonny gushed. "Bella looked beautiful and the baby didn't cry at all. We've actually got a bit until the reception so I figured I'd stop by and pick up some snacks for people."
"Sure, knock yourself out. It's been kinda slow today anyways," the cashier said. Only a handful of the tables were occupied right now, mostly by people on laptops or with a book. She looked curiously at Rafael then said, in a distinctly approving tone, "New boyfriend? Not bad."
Sonny responded before Rafael could do more than be surprised. "Nah," he explained. "He didn't RSVP on time so we made him my plus one. Jamie was supposed to go with me, but obviously that's not happening anymore, so it works out." He looked thoughtfully at the display cases. "Can you just pick out some of whatever you think is good today and throw it in a box for us? And a cannolo separate from that, and a zeppola for me, and," he looked at Rafael. "What do you want?"
"I wasn't planning on getting anything," he said. He had offered to walk with Sonny mostly to keep him company. And a little bit to see if Sonny would become more casual again once it was just the two of them, which he had, to Rafael's unexpected pleasure.
"You have to," Sonny insisted. "My mom owns the place. It's been in the family for decades. You're going to try something and then when you see her later tonight you're going to to tell her you came here and that whatever you got was absolutely delicious." He paused. "Unless you hate it. But don't worry, you won't. Promise." He flashed Rafael a charming smile that he had never seen before. It looked astonishingly good on his face.
"Well, then I'll have one of what you're having," Rafael said.
Sonny guided them to a table in the back to eat. The zeppola was surprisingly good and Rafael had to struggle not to wolf it down too quickly. "So," he asked between bites, licking at a bit of the custard, "does everyone you don't work with know you date men?"
"Well, it wasn't supposed to be a secret or anything. It's just really personal," Sonny explained a little uncomfortably. "I don't exactly talk about my dating life when I'm at work. Rollins might know. I didn't tell her but we go out sometimes. She might have noticed. People here know 'cause I come by on the weekend a lot to do homework and Jamie used to join me sometimes."
Rafael took another bite of the pastry as he tried to imagine Sonny hanging out in the cafe, books spread around him, laughing with his boyfriend. It would have been difficult to envision before, but Rafael could see it now that he'd seen Sonny off-duty, relaxed and playful.
"I'm sorry you and he didn't work out," he said politely, then grinned at Sonny. "But only a little. I appreciate being able to attend the wedding."
Sonny shrugged a shoulder. He didn't look too upset about the breakup, though it must have happened fairly recently for him to have included his ex in the wedding RSVP. "Yeah, we weren't gonna work out anyways. And thanks for agreeing to come, even if everyone keeps assuming we're together. Bella and Tommy were really glad you could make it. I am too," he added. For a second, he sounded almost shy.
Rafael felt a warm rush of affection. He looked away.
It wasn't hard to get rid of the pastries when they arrived at the reception. In fact, most of what Sonny did, while Rafael watched, was laughingly fend off children who jumped at him.
"Hey, hey," he chided one. "Don't make me drop these." He shoved the half-empty box at Rafael.
Rafael took it, then promptly took a step back when the little girl clinging to Sonny's waist turned her sights on him.
She looked at him consideringly. He could see the thoughts on her face. On the one hand, he was a stranger. On the other hand, he had the box of snacks she'd just been begging for. She let go of Sonny and stood up straight.
Politely, hands held behind her back, she said to Rafael, "May I have one, please?" She gave him a bright smile.
Rafael looked at Sonny, who nodded. "All right," he said. He lifted the cover of the box and lowered it so she could more easily reach.
She took two pastries, then smiled brightly at him again. "For my brother," she explained, then turned around and started to run, looking like she'd already had more than enough sugar to last the rest of the day.
"So, Abby's an only child," Sonny commented and raised his voice to shout after her, "Give the other one to your ma!"
Sonny had a lot of first cousins, aunts, and uncles. After his fourth time introducing Rafael – this time to an aunt whose name Rafael had already forgotten, Rafael leaned in and murmured, "You know I won't remember anyone's name, right?"
"Don't worry about it," Sonny said. He squeezed Rafael's shoulder as reassurance. "No one expects you to."
The aunt – a middle-aged woman with kind eyes, smiled at Rafael. "It's a pleasure to meet you," she said, giving Rafael her hand to shake. "I hear you're studying to be a lawyer?"
"No, I'm already a lawyer. I think you're thinking of someone else," Rafael answered. He glanced at Sonny, who covered his face with his hands.
"Oh my god," Sonny said, voice muffled. It was not the first time this had happened. "That was James. We were in law school together. This is Rafael, he's just a friend." At some point during the day, he'd given up trying to explain the whole situation that had led to Rafael coming as his date.
"I see he has a type," she said to Rafael, making him bark a startled laugh. She then proceeded to update Sonny on the social lives of a bunch of people Rafael knew nothing about but whose stories Sonny reacted to with delighted awe ("He did what? No way!").
When she left, Sonny nudged Rafael with his shoulder and said, "You know it's not gonna hurt my feelings if you leave to go hang out with Liv or something, right? I haven't seen a lot of these people in years, so I wanna catch up with them, but it's okay if you go."
Oh, thank God. "Oh, thank god," Rafael said, and fled to spend the rest of the cocktail hour with Liv, who laughed but made space for him all the same.
Rafael and Sonny were seated near the front again, at a round table next to the one shared by the newly-married couple and their parents and grandparents. Rafael took his seat next to Sonny and picked up the card that had his name on it, examining it curiously. He hadn't thought he'd agreed to go in time for his name to have been on the official lists used in decorations.
Sonny's shoulder brushed his own when he leaned into Rafael. "Theresa likes to do calligraphy," he explained. "She kept a few blank cards in case of last minute changes. Yours is done by hand but mine was printed. See?" He offered his own card and Rafael could see the difference now, the slight indentation in the letters of his name where the nib of a pen had scratched and the mechanical, perfectly uniform printing on Sonny's.
"Fascinating," he said. Sonny grinned at him.
Someone sat down in the empty seat next to Rafael. He bore a strong family resemblance to the rest of the Carisis. He glanced at the card in Rafael's hand and looked confused for a moment, as if he had been expecting to see a different name, but still smiled warmly at him. "Hi, I'm Bobby." He jerked his head to the side, indicating the handsome man in his mid-thirties who was taking a seat on his other side. The man offered Rafael a brief smile and wave. "This is Gene, my partner."
Rafael shook Bobby's hand, then Gene's. "Rafael," he said and tilted his head at Sonny, who had waved but not bothered to do the standing and reaching that would be necessary for handshakes. "I assume you already know Sonny."
"We're cousins. We grew up together," Bobby agreed affably and looked assessingly at the people sharing the table with him. He nodded to himself, then sighed dramatically. "We're never getting out of the kid's table, are we?"
"Theresa's sitting with Bella and our parents," Gina said. She had taken the napkin from her place setting and had begun to fold it.
"Great," Sonny complained. "So we're trapped at the kid's table unless we plan the wedding or are the ones getting married."
"Kid's table?" Rafael asked.
"Bobby and Jason," Sonny pointed at one of the two empty seats remaining at their table, "live in the city too. Their mom is my mom's sister. So whenever our parents used to get together and go out..." He trailed off meaningfully.
"Kid's table. Got it."
Jason and his wife, Natasha, joined them just as Theresa was motioning everyone to begin settling down in preparation for the newlyweds' arrival. They were older than Sonny and Bobby, closer in age to Rafael. "I'm sorry," Natasha said with an apologetic smile as they took their seats and introduced themselves; Gene and Rafael were the only ones who didn't know everyone already. "It took us longer than expected to get the kids in their seats."
Jason did the same thing Bobby had done. He looked at the guests at their table, then craned his neck to check who was sitting at the other tables. He exchanged a look with his brother. "I told you they'd make us be the kid's table again," he said, sounding neither surprised nor disappointed. "You owe me forty bucks."
Bobby took his wallet from the inside of his jacket and handed two bills to Jason, who promptly pocketed one and handed the other to Gina. She, in turn, tucked it into her purse with a pleased smile. The napkin on her plate had become a swan, Rafael noticed.
"Pleasure doing business with you," she said sweetly and ducked, laughing, when Bobby pretended to throw a spoon at her.
"Why am I getting something different from you?" Rafael asked Sonny when the entrees came out and a waiter placed a plate of lasagna in front of him instead of the pasta that had been given to everyone else.
Sonny looked at Rafael's plate for a second before his expression cleared. "Oh, yeah," he said. "Jamie was a vegetarian, sorry. Do you like carbonara more? We can go halfsies."
Rafael looked at him blankly. "I'm sorry?"
"If you want something that isn't vegetarian," Sonny explained, motioning to his own plate. "We can split. I'll trade you half of mine for half of yours."
Rafael glanced from his plate to Sonny's, considering it. Would it be strange to – but no one else at the table was paying attention to them and the carbonara did look good. "You don't mind?"
"Course not," Sonny said and when Rafael nodded his permission, proceeded to split their entrees across both plates, giving Rafael a pleased grin when he finished.
Rafael found himself returning it, feeling charmed, somehow, by what had just happened.
"So, Rafael," Bobby began casually after the best man's speech finished and they could speak again. "Does your family know about, you know," he twirled his fork between the two of them, then angled his head towards Gene. "You and men?"
At the edge of his peripheral vision, Sonny stopped eating, loaded fork suspended in midair. He looked at Rafael out of the corner of his eyes. Their eyes met briefly. He glanced quickly from Bobby back to Rafael then started to open his mouth, ready to interrupt the conversation.
But it seemed silly to dodge the question here, now, while sitting between two men who'd been perfectly willing to bring a boyfriend to a family wedding. Rafael wasn't usually open about his sexuality but it wasn't as if people didn't know.
"There's only my mother and me," he explained. "My father disapproved, but he passed a long time ago. My mother, she needed some time to adjust when I told her, but she accepts it now."
"Cool," Bobby said. If he'd noticed Rafael's initial pause, he was too polite to mention it. "It's good that she's still part of your life."
Sometimes, it felt more like resignation than acceptance but it had never seemed worthwhile to press his mother on the matter when he so rarely dated men to begin with. His abuelita had disapproved as well but in a different way, one that meant things were fine as long as they didn't talk about it.
It could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse, all things considered.
He laughed. "I think she takes comfort in the knowledge that I'm too busy with my job to actually meet men romantically."
Sonny looked at him curiously. "I didn't know you liked guys," he said. "Since when?"
"Since always." Rafael smirked at him. "It doesn't really come up at work."
The rest of the dinner went by quickly, punctuated by chitchat and lighthearted anecdotes about Bella that Sonny's cousins hadn't heard before either. Throughout it all, Sonny was surprisingly attentive to him, quietly providing explanations without having to be asked whenever the conversation turned to people Rafael didn't know or events that he'd never attended.
He didn't even seem to notice he was doing it.
As the wait staff cleared away the last of the dishes, Rafael finally caught Gina's eyes with his. He had noticed her scrutinizing him several times during dinner when Sonny was distracted, but every time he'd tried to silently ask her why, she'd looked away.
This time, she held his gaze for several seconds, then gave him a small nod. She poked her brother in the side. "Rafael's okay," she said to Sonny. "I like him."
Sonny glanced from her to Rafael in confusion. "Good," he said after a beat, then smiled at them both. "I like him too."
"Having fun?" Rollins asked as she took a seat in the empty chair next to him. She held a nearly full glass of wine in one hand.
"Yes," Rafael answered simply, because he was. Everything about today had been good so far: the church, the wedding, the chance to see Sonny in his element and be surrounded by so much unquestioning love and joy. Rafael spent most of his free time alone or in the presence of one or two close friends. It felt like a rare gift to be welcomed so readily by so many people he had never met before.
"That's good," she said and looked at the dance floor, where Sonny was teaching one of his younger nieces to dance. At the sight of the wide, happy grin on his face, Rafael didn't feel so bad about having flatly refused to dance. They were still having fun. "How's having to spend all day with Carisi? He's not being too annoying?"
"He's fine," Rafael answered, feeling inexplicably defensive. He knew Sonny had started off on the wrong foot when he'd joined the squad, but since then, he'd proven himself both professionally and personally. Rafael wouldn't go so far as to say Sonny wasn't annoying – because honestly, sometimes he was, but, "I like him."
Rollins gave him a pleased smile. "Good to hear," she said, and he realized then that she had been asking on Sonny's behalf, not his. "I know he can be a lot to deal with sometimes, but if he ever gets too annoying, just tell him to knock it off for a minute and he'll listen. He doesn't do it on purpose. He just gets overexcited." She paused thoughtfully. "I had a puppy like that once, when I was a little girl. He was dumber than a box of rocks, but he had a lot of heart. I cried for months when he died."
Rafael had already noticed Sonny's tendency to miss even the most blatant of hints to back off. It had become a lot less irritating once he'd realized Sonny was just eager to contribute, not trying to show off or imply that Rafael didn't know how to do his job. He just really wanted to be helpful and sometimes he even was.
"Carisi's not dumb," Rafael said, "but he does have a lot of heart."
Rollins' approval felt like a blanket draped over his shoulders. "Yeah. I'm happy you understand."
"What about you?" he asked. He tilted his head in the direction from which she'd come. "How's the groom's side of the wedding?"
"It's... interesting," Rollins said, lips pulling into a lopsided smile. "Tommy has some interesting friends. In a good way, but I kinda felt like being around someone I actually know."
Nearly all of Bella's side of the wedding was family, though Sonny had pointed out several of her childhood friends as well. "They're as good as family," he'd said and in fact, when they'd seen him, they'd recognized him easily and given him friendly waves. Tommy didn't have quite the ridiculous number of cousins that Bella had, though, so there were a lot more people their age on his side, his coworkers and friends.
Rafael looked around. "Where'd Liv get off to? She hasn't left yet, has she?" The cake hadn't even been cut yet.
Rollins laughed. "No, she's having a great time," she said. "She found a couple other moms with kids Noah's age. They were trying to set up a play date when I left."
A shout, followed by a crash and the explosive sound of breaking glass shattered the relaxed silence Rafael and Rollins had fallen into.
"What was that?" Rafael asked, startling. He was surprised when he looked for the source of the noise and saw Sonny, halfway across the room with his hand fisted in the collar of a man he'd slammed onto one of the banquet tables. Sonny's mouth was curled into an angry snarl. Another man their age, who seemed to also be involved, was talking rapidly, hands held up in a placating manner.
"Is that Carisi?" Rollins asked. She sounded as surprised as Rafael felt. He'd always thought of Sonny as one of the police officers less likely to lose his temper.
"Looks like it."
They weren't the only ones who had noticed the commotion. Seconds later, Sonny's sister Theresa marched right up to them. For a moment, Rafael thought she was going to grab him by his ear, but instead her hand went around his arm as she dragged Sonny off to the side, where they proceeded to have a conversation (or perhaps argument) in which Sonny flailed his arms a lot and Theresa poked him in the chest several times.
Rafael noticed unsurprised looks being exchanged between several older adults he recognized as Sonny's aunts and uncles, a barely noticeable ripple of understanding and then dismissal as the half-formed crowd dissolved when it became clear the situation was already well in hand.
After another minute or so, Theresa dragged Sonny back to the the man he'd assaulted by the wrist, pulling him along as if he were a reluctant child. There was another conversation Rafael and Rollins were too far away to hear, and then the two men exchanged handshakes – the other man wide-eyed and Sonny reluctant until his sister smacked him in the shoulder.
Rafael raised his arm when Sonny looked their way and waved him over. Rollins offered Sonny her glass of wine when he reached them. There was still half of it left. "You look like you could use a drink."
Sonny took it, examined the dark liquid inside for a moment, then emptied it in several large swallows. He gave her a small smile when he handed the glass back. "Thanks," he said. He pulled an empty chair next to theirs and threw himself into it.
"What was that about?" Rafael asked.
Sonny shook his head. "Nothing," he said, lips pursing. "Just stuff. What are you guys doing? Amanda, you scared of dancing too? Rafael keeps saying no." He held his hand out to her.
Rafael didn't buy it one bit. It hadn't been nothing. Sonny was still out of sorts, his ebullient mood dampened even if he was trying to pretend otherwise. He raised an eyebrow at Sonny as Amanda laughingly protested, but still took his hand and let herself be pulled to the dance floor.
Sonny met his eyes over Amanda's shoulder. I'll tell you later, he mouthed.
Rafael was definitely too old to be bouncing around in public on the dance floor like a teenager. The two were still dancing when Liv joined him.
"Don't want to dance?" she asked.
"I don't see you out there," he said. "Besides, it's undignified."
"It's a wedding," she said. "You can't always be dignified. Come on, Barba. Live a little. I will if you will." She gave him a persuasive smile that he found himself returning. He knew if he refused, she'd wait until he changed his mind and suddenly, his initial refusals felt silly in the face of her easy affection.
"Well, since you asked so nicely," he said finally, which was how he and Liv found themselves on the dance floor, joining Amanda and Sonny just as the current song ended and the new one started, a slow, romantic song that had half their fellow dancers drifting back to the sidelines.
Liv was a pleasure to dance with and graceful on her feet. When the song ended, they broke apart and she grinned at him, open and pleased, as if to say, See? I knew you'd have fun, and he had to admit that she'd been right.
The DJ cued up another slow song, right after the first. The four of them exchanged glances. Rafael looked expectantly at Amanda, but Liv cut in to claim her first, wearing an impish grin that Amanda quickly ended up mirroring. Sonny looked at them, then shrugged.
"I'd rather dance with you than my boss," Sonny admitted. "No offense, Liv." He opened his arms slightly in an invitation to Rafael.
"None taken," Liv answered, already moving to the music with Amanda. Their dresses didn't match, Rafael noticed absently.
Rafael glanced around, wariness automatically prickling up his spine, but the only people looking at them were the little girl who'd conned him out of an extra pastry (she beamed and waved at him) and Sonny's Aunt Carol, who did the same over her husband's shoulder. Now that he was looking, he could spot several same-sex couples on the dance floor together, including the cousin Rafael had met at dinner, swaying to the music.
"Don't worry," Sonny teased. "It won't be weird unless you make it weird."
So, with a shrug, Rafael stepped into Sonny's personal space and put his hands on Sonny's waist while Sonny did the same to him. They barely managed two steps before tripping over each other's feet. Rafael looked down in surprise; he was normally much better at this.
"I though I was leading," Sonny said. He frowned at their feet.
That explained it because, "I thought I was leading," Rafael said. They paused.
"You can lead," Sonny said and this time when they started moving again, it went more smoothly.
"Saving some room for Jesus?" Rollins teased. She looked pointedly at the good foot of space between Rafael and Sonny. It wasn't not reminiscent of middle school dances. There was much less space between her and Liv.
"What can I say? I'm a good Catholic boy," Sonny answered easily. "It's what they teach us in school." But he pulled Rafael a little closer, until his arms closed around Rafael's back and their chests brushed against each other. He was warm. He smelled nice, spices and sandalwood under the clean, faint scent of sweat.
"Were you wearing cologne this morning?"
"Nah, my sister ambushed me earlier. You like it?"
Rafael took another deep breath, considering. "It's all right. I might know one that'd suit you more." He hesitated, then said, "I have some scents at home. I could bring some by sometime."
Sonny looked surprised at the offer. "Sure," he said. "I'd like that."
When the music changed again, switching to something with a faster beat, Sonny let go. "Okay," he said, stepping away. "I'm tired. I'm gonna take a breather and hang with my cousins for a bit."
Rafael stayed a while longer with Rollins and Liv, but his suit was warm and it didn't take long for him to start feeling overheated. "Okay, okay," he said finally, panting for breath. "I need a break."
He was sipping water by the bar when Sonny found him. He was holding a bottle of beer. He took a drink from it, then offered it to Rafael. "You wanna try it? It's really good."
Rafael took it curiously. It wasn't one of the ones on offer at the bar. He took a sip, then a larger gulp when it turned out to be still cold and surprisingly decent. He handed it back. "Where'd you get this?" he asked.
"One of my cousins has a cooler full in the back of his car," Sonny said.
Rafael stared at him. "You're aware they serve alcohol at these things," he said. He looked pointedly at the bar.
"It's not the same as hanging out in the parking lot with your bros," Sonny said. "It's kind of a tradition, whenever there's a family thing. It's a good way to unwind."
"And you needed to unwind," Rafael said. Sonny still wasn't quite as cheery as he'd been at the start of the reception, but much of his stormy anger was gone now. "Are you okay?"
Sonny frowned a bit. "I'm fine," he said. "He found me a few minutes ago, we talked it out, he said he was sorry, so I guess we're good. I think Tommy talked to him. Tommy's a good guy."
Rafael was still not quite sure what 'it' was. "Do you want to fill me in now?"
Sonny looked around the room. On the dance floor, the music had stopped and Theresa, microphone in hand, was starting to corral people into the right places for the bouquet toss. No one would miss them if they ducked out for a while.
"Sure," Sonny said. He looked thoughtfully at the amount of beer he had left, then downed it and set the empty bottle on the table. "Let's take a walk."
Once they left the reception area, Sonny took them down several hallways at a slow, leisurely pace. By their third seemingly random turn, Rafael wasn't sure they were supposed to be wherever they were, but at the same time, there wasn't any sign they weren't allowed to be there, so he supposed it was harmless enough.
"So," Sonny began, when they had wandered for several minutes, "he called my sister a shemale and I told him if he ever said that shit again I was going to break his nose."
Rafael considered this. "Your sister Theresa?" He had noticed on meeting her that she'd had a more masculine physique than Sonny's other sisters. In heels, she'd been taller than Sonny and just as broad. He'd wondered, briefly, if there was more to it than that, but it hadn't been any of his business and he'd dropped that train of thought where it'd started.
"Yeah." Sonny, dragging his fingertips along the patterns in the wallpaper. He glanced at Rafael briefly, looking wary but resolute. "Because she's transgender."
Rafael nodded. "Did you actually hit him?"
"Nah, I just knocked him into the table," Sonny said, which was a rather mild way of saying 'slammed him into a table by the collar'. He rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't think he was trying to start a fight."
"Probably shouldn't have used a slur then," Rafael observed. He didn't know other transgender women, not on any sort of personal level, but he was pretty sure what Sonny had just told him wasn't the sort of thing strangers were meant to know about. "Are you supposed to be telling me that? About her?"
Sonny looked momentarily surprised at the question. "Sure," he said. "You've met her, she likes you. Besides," he added, "it's not like you're a stranger and it's not really a secret here."
Rafael wasn't sure what to make of Sonny saying he wasn't a stranger, but the latter comment made sense. Everyone on Bella's side of the wedding had known each other their entire lives. It wasn't exactly something that could be kept secret from everyone who had known her before.
"She didn't look too pleased about having you start fights on her behalf," he said.
"If they didn't want a fight, they shouldn't have started shit," Sonny complained. It sounded like a phrase he was used to saying. "Besides, her being a girl means I'm the man of the family now. So it's my job to stand up for her. No one's gonna get in a fight with a cop."
Rafael saw now why Theresa had been so annoyed with him. But he already knew Sonny was hotheaded when it came to his family. There were worse sins, he supposed, and at least Sonny hadn't actually hit anyone.
"Anyways," Sonny said, "he came back later and said he was sorry. So I guess as long as he doesn't do it again, we're good." He wore a slight scowl on his face.
Sonny stopped walking as they neared an unobtrusive door marked as a fire exit. He pushed it open, then inclined his head towards the stairwell and looked at Rafael in invitation. Rafael followed him in. Sonny led them halfway up to the next floor, then sat on the steps. He patted the space next to him. Rafael sat.
"You're very protective of your family," Rafael said, continuing the thread of conversation. "It's obvious you love them a lot."
Rafael was an only child. Sonny's closeness to his sisters and the ease with which he assumed they would always be there for each other, was utterly alien to him. Rafael had drifted away from everyone he had known in the projects and when he met them now, he could tell they no longer had anything in common. They weren't a part of each other's lives anymore, not really, and once they got past reminiscing over the old days, their conversations were stilted and awkward. There was no one who was to him what his sisters were to Sonny.
"Yeah, but we weren't," Sonny began. He looked at Rafael for a moment, then looked away. "We didn't always." He stopped again, then frowned. He looked at the floor. "When we were younger we were pretty shitty, so there's a lot to make up for."
He looked like he wanted to say more. Rafael bumped his knee against Sonny's then let it stay there, quietly encouraging.
"Theresa came out when I was still in high school. It was after she moved out, but the rest of us were still living at home. Our parents..." For someone who so rarely seemed to think twice about the things that came out of his mouth, watching Sonny hesitate and bite his lower lip as he tried to find the right words was an entirely new experience. "I mean, it was a long time ago, back when even being gay was a big deal. Especially if you were a good Catholic family. So when your firstborn son, your pride and joy, tells the family he wants to become a woman..."
"I take it they didn't react well."
"Yeah, they flipped their shit. It was a huge deal. Screaming, crying, all sorts of drama. She came out before Bobby too, so it was really bad, cause everyone thought she was the only queer one, you know?"
"Well, for a few years, it was like she didn't exist. She didn't come home for family stuff, we didn't talk to her or about her, if anyone asked my parents would say she was too busy at work to come home, stuff like that. No one else knew. Our parents still talked to her a little, on the phone, but they didn't want her around us because they didn't want her being a bad influence, and we ended up siding with them instead of her." Sonny's face twisted with shame. "I'm not proud of it. It's actually really fucked up."
High school, god. Rafael remembered being in high school. He'd been an idiot and an asshole. He put a hand on Sonny's shoulder, squeezing gently. "What changed?"
"A lot of things," Sonny said. "We started growing up. Bobby figured out he was gay. He told us but swore us to secrecy so we kept it a secret from the grownups. And then I was in college and figured out that I liked dudes too, and that trans people aren't freaks or whatever and I don't need my parents' permission to talk to whoever I want.
"So I started talking to Theresa again and it turned out Gina had had pretty much the same idea. And when Bobby's parents said they wouldn't see him anymore when they found out he was gay, Jason said that if Bobby wasn't welcome then he wasn't either and he wasn't going to bring his kids over anymore." Sonny paused. "That was another big family drama thing, but you know how everyone has that unmarried uncle who's been roommates with his 'best friend' for like forty years, so it wasn't as big a deal as Theresa. It lasted for maybe one Christmas before they caved."
Rafael suspected he could see where this was going. "So you did the same?"
Sonny nodded. His smile was quick and proud. "It was Gina's idea. Bella'd moved out by then too, so the three of us basically just told them that if they wouldn't accept Theresa then they couldn't have us either."
"Did it work?"
"Yeah, they were already starting to come around, so this was really just the last straw to make them get over it. It was a long time ago. We figured it out. We're all good now." The corners of his mouth turned down. "But we still weren't there for her when it mattered. She helped me and Bobby by being the first and by being there for us, but she had to go it alone. I owe her a lot."
Rafael was still touching Sonny's shoulder. He pulled back his hand. He didn't know what to say but he was reminded again of the comfortable closeness between Sonny and his family. It was all the more impressive knowing it had been hard-earned and fought for.
"Anyways, so that's me and all my weird family drama, ," Sonny said, dispelling the almost-somber mood. He stuck his head into the center of the stairwell and looked straight up. "You think this thing goes all the way to the roof?"
"There's one way to find out," Rafael said, rising to his feet.
The door to the roof wasn't locked. There wasn't much up there. All Rafael spotted was a lot of bare concrete and a single, rickety plastic chair next to a handful of scattered cigarette butts. It must be a popular place for employees to take a smoke break.
"I thought it'd be fancier," Sonny said. He stripped off his jacket and draped it over the back of his chair, then shook himself all over and swung his arms in the air. "But it's nice to be outside."
"The view's good." Rafael looked down at the sidewalk. He could see people walking down the street, going about their day. When he turned around again, it was just in time to see Sonny heft himself onto something Rafael was pretty sure he shouldn't be climbing on. "Should you be doing that?"
"Live a little," Sonny said, grinning. He beckoned at Rafael. He had dirt on his knees, visible against the dark fabric. Rafael looked at him. Sonny looked back expectantly. "Come on."
"I regret this already," Rafael muttered when he put his hands on the cold concrete surface next to Sonny and tried to climb up without ruining his clothes. At least it was nothing his usual dry cleaners wouldn't be able to take care of. "I thought you were worried about ruining your nice suit," he reminded Sonny.
"Too late now. Anyways, I'd rather have fun than look good."
"Well, you seem to be managing both so far," Rafael said absently.
Sonny shot him a surprised, pleased grin. He always looked a little surprised when he received a compliment. "Thanks."
It had been years since Rafael had gone somewhere with no greater purpose than to see what was there. Being on the roof with Sonny, where they obviously weren't expected to be, was surprisingly enjoyable. It felt intimate and almost conspiratory, as if they were claiming the roof for themselves. They spent several minutes taking in the view, occasionally pointing out things of interest – a rooftop garden or a particularly interesting bit of architecture. They even caught a glimpse of a hawk in flight that had Sonny bouncing excitedly and clutching at Rafael's arm.
Some time later, in the middle of a slow, meandering conversation about nothing in particular, Sonny hunched his shoulders and scooted so close to Rafael that their legs pressed together and their elbows bumped.
Rafael paused in the middle of the description of his favorite sushi place in the city. "Hello?"
"Sorry," Sonny said. "It's starting to get kinda chilly up here. You don't mind, do you?"
Rafael had noticed the temperature starting to drop as the sun got lower in the sky. The wind had picked up as well, but the direction it was blowing in meant that Sonny's body shielded Rafael from most of it. "You wouldn't rather get your jacket?" It was still on the chair by the stairs.
Sonny looked longingly in its direction but made no move to get up. "I don't think I'm cold enough to get down, grab it, and come back up," he admitted.
Rafael looked at him consideringly. "I'm not cold," he said. "Do you want to borrow mine? You're blocking the wind for me so I don't expect I'll need it."
"Are you sure?"
In answer, Rafael shrugged out of his jacket and handed it over. Sonny draped it over his shoulders, then gave him a pleased grin. "Better?" Rafael asked.
"Yeah, thanks," Sonny said, then ducked his head as his smile widened. His ears were pink. When he glanced up at Rafael through his lashes, there was something in his expression, uncharacteristically soft, that Rafael could feel echoed in his own chest, caught in the base of his throat.
Rafael found himself leaning slowly in. Sonny's eyes widened a fraction, but he drew closer too. The tip of his tongue darted out to wet his lips and his head tilted, just slightly, to put them in alignment. His fingers brushed against Rafael's.
A sudden, loud burst of music had them startling apart.
"Shit," Sonny said. He began patting himself. He hopped down to better extract his ringing phone from his pocket and stared at the screen for a moment. He looked from the screen to Rafael, expression complicated, looking almost for a moment like he was going to reject the call. But after another second of music, he answered it, striding several steps away. "Hey. What? No, no, we didn't leave, we're just," he turned in a slow circle, "hanging out."
Rafael's jacket fluttered as it was caught by the wind. Sonny pulled it closer around himself with his free hand. Rafael found himself enjoying the way it looked on him, even though he wasn't wearing it properly and it was the wrong size, to boot.
"Yeah, we're on the roof," Sonny continued, then paused as he listened to the person on the other end of the line. "Okay, okay, yeah, we'll be there in a couple minutes. Bye." He hung up and dropped the phone back in his pocket. "That was Theresa," he said to Rafael and gestured at the entrance to the stairs. Rafael's gaze was drawn to the brief glimpse of teeth as Sonny bit his lower lip. "We better –"
"Head back," Rafael finished for him. He climbed off the thing they'd been sitting on and brushed the dirt from his pants. He gave himself a mental shake, a sudden awareness of the outside world rushing into his thoughts. There were people, obligations. "I heard."
There was a moment, just briefly, when Sonny grabbed his jacket and handed back Rafael's, where their fingers brushed. Rafael's focus narrowed to Sonny's eyes and his warmth and the quiet memory of his breath brushing against Rafael's lips.
Sonny pulled away deliberately this time. His cheeks were pink, but all he did was open the door back into the building. He held it open behind him for Rafael to take, glancing back after a few steps to make sure he was being followed.
Before Rafael let the door fall shut behind him, he paused, looking back. Streaks of orange had just begun to appear in the sky, casting the world in a beautiful glow.
They had missed the cake cutting, but when they made their way back to the reception area, Theresa presented them each with a plate that had a generous slice on it. The other guests were already eating, gathered together in small clusters. She smiled warmly at Rafael and looked at Sonny expectantly when he took his.
"Yeah, yeah, you're my favorite sister, the best sister, no one else can ever be as cool and great as you. Love you," Sonny said good-naturedly. He beamed at her when she ruffled his hair as he took a large bite of cake. "S'good," he mumbled around a full mouth, spraying crumbs over his plate. Rafael silently despaired at his manners. "T'nks."
Rafael was hit with the unexpected impulse to suggest they somewhere private to sit, but he knew that was selfish. Sonny knew many of the guests here and it wouldn't do to monopolize him any more than it was obvious he already had. He cast his eyes around until his attention was caught by Liv waving at him from her table with Rollins. They'd saved two seats for them.
"Hey," Rollins said to Sonny when they joined them. "Where'd you two get off to? I didn't see you when they were cutting the cake."
Liv looked at Rafael, a question in his eyes. She'd noticed their disappearance as well. He shrugged at her, not sure what to say.
"We were just looking around," Sonny said casually. He glanced at Rafael and a corner of his mouth pulled into a brief, private smile before he shifted his attention to Rollins and distracted her with a question about the bouquet toss.
"Barba, you want to split a cab?" Liv asked at the end of the night, when the newlyweds finally made their exit and people began to gather their things. He could tell from the way she'd been watching the children, subtly wistful, that she missed Noah. There was no doubt that the reception was winding to a close. Rollins was ready to go as well, final drink finished and purse slung over her shoulder. She looked expectantly at him.
"Sure," Rafael said. "Let me just tell Carisi."
Sonny had disappeared sometime during the last dance to catch up with family. "You can come with me if you want," he'd offered apologetically, "but it'll probably be really boring for you and you look like you're having fun here." Rafael had waved him off, reassuring him he'd be fine with Liv and Rollins.
It took several minutes of looking, but Rafael finally found him sitting with one of his older aunts, earnestly listening to her talk about her grandchildren. He put his hand on Sonny's shoulder. Sonny turned with a friendly smile and when he saw it was Rafael, his smile widened even further. "Hey," he said and rose from his seat to meet him.
"I just wanted to let you know I'm going home now," Rafael said. "But I had a good time."
"Yeah, me too," Sonny said. He squeezed Rafael in a brief hug, but when he pulled away his hand traced lightly down the outside Rafael's arm and tangled their fingers together. His hand was calloused, warm. "I'm glad you came," he said and when he finally let go, his cheeks were pink.
Later, in the cab, Liv turned to him and asked with a teasing grin and just a hint of playfulness in her voice, "So how was being Carisi's date?"
"You know," Rafael began as he leaned back in his seat, thinking again about Sonny's mouth, his laugh, the breathless anticipation of their near-kiss on the roof. He let the memory settle safely in his chest like a light cupped between his hands. "As far as first dates go, I think that was the best one I've had in years."