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keeping the time of day

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One of the Auror trainees brings it in during the annual Christmas party, just a little sprig of it, small enough to fit in her palm. “The symbol of good luck, protection, and fertility,” she chirps, hanging the mistletoe with a wave of her wand up on one of the low-hanging rafters, a random spot in the squad-room.

“It’s the spelled kind, isn’t it?” Across from where Sonny’s sitting, nursing his first Butterbeer, Fin snorts. “Don’t let the Head Auror catch you with that.”

“Too late.” Benson, seemingly appearing out of nowhere, gives the trainees a look. Sonny ducks his head to hide his amusement at their sudden, hasty posturing, backs straight and heads up. “At ease, Aurors. It’s Christmas. Just don’t leave that up past December.”

The trainees relax. A little bit of fun won’t hurt, thinks Sonny, tipping his bottle back. The mistletoe is harmless, with just a tiny charm to stick a person under it that lifts only when someone else gives them a kiss. Good ol’ Christmas cheer. Improving office relations and all that, right?

“Wonder who’s gonna get caught first,” Sonny whispers to Amanda, who just grins, and motions towards the doorway with the bottle that’s in her hand. Sonny glances over, and Nick’s tugging his coat off, walking right towards the direction of the hanging mistletoe without any knowledge whatsoever.

It’s hilarious to see the change in Nick’s face when he finds himself unable to move a single step, first confused, then unamused once he sees where everyone’s looking, and finally exasperated when he says, “Alright, so, is someone gonna help me out here?”

There’s a bit of giggling from the trainee side, and some whispered discussion. Sonny laughs, and calls, “Eh, Amaro, looks like you’re gonna get more than a few takers!”

“Oh, come on,” groans Nick, and it’s about a minute before one of the Auror trainees slides up to give him a kiss. Nick ducks out the second the spell breaks, and heads straight for the drinks.

Amanda raises her bottle in greeting when he walks past them. “What, no tongue?” she calls after him, teasing.

Sonny settles back into his seat, and finishes off the last of his Butterbeer. The night is cold, but the drinks are starting to warm him from the inside, and the sound of the department having a good time washes over his senses easily. The chattering, the laughter, the clinking of glass.

He’s always loved Christmas.

Barba appears through the doorway to the squad-room, and stops right before he can take another step, glancing up at the ceiling. “Really,” he says flatly, raising an eyebrow, “charmed mistletoe.”

“Come right on in, Counselor,” Nick says cheerfully, and Sonny knows he’s just dying to have someone else suffer the same fate as him.

Too bad Barba’s much too aware of his surroundings. “And fall into that trap? No thanks. Sorry, Liv, but looks like I’ll be avoiding DMLE for the next two weeks.” Barba sidesteps the mistletoe, giving it a wide berth, and heads across the room towards where Benson is standing. “Happy Christmas, Aurors.”

“A drink, Barba?”

“Later.” Barba smiles politely. “Thanks for the offer. I’ve got plans, but I wanted to drop off some files before I forget.” He slips away from the main room into one of the side corridors.

Sonny’s gaze drops the moment he turns the corner, and he turns his own attention back towards the others, swirling his bottle absently. He wonders where Barba has plans, this late into the night. Almost ten, but he seems dressed up to go places. Dark overcoat, waistcoat, a bright blue tie.

He clears his throat, and clears his thoughts before they can start to go anywhere else, and he gets up to watch the game of gin rummy that’s happening on the other side of the room.

Sonny’s clapping one of the men on the shoulder when out of the corner of his eye, he sees Barba reenter the room, step over to the snack table, and surreptitiously attempt to clean the remainder of the plate of Ginger Newts before he leaves.

Sonny sidles over, in the pretense of grabbing something to eat, and says, “Skipped dinner, Barba?” The background noise intensifies momentarily, so Sonny steps a little closer, the side of his arm brushing against Barba’s as he leans in to pinch an Every Flavour Bean from the bowl next to the biscuits.

“Less of hunger, and more of a craving for ginger biscuits that doesn’t seem to ever end.” Barba brushes a crumb off his tie. Sonny resists letting his eyes follow the motion of his fingers too closely. “I blame these parties. Benson knows exactly how to tempt me into staying longer than I need to.”

“Guess I know what to get you for Christmas, then.”

The corner of Barba’s mouth quirks up. “Should I look out for a box of these on my desk next Monday?”

“Well, we’ll see.”

“Oh, will we?” Barba considers him for a moment, leaning his hip against the table. “Full of intrigue, aren’t you, Carisi?”

Sonny can’t help the slight grin that comes on at the fact that Barba’s returning conversation without a single jab at him. Barba almost never makes nice with him, and when he does, Sonny can barely believe it. It’s friendly. It’s almost—flirty. “You don’t know the half of it.”

Barba looks amused. “I look forward to finding out, then.”

They’ve been standing close together for the past couple of minutes, but when Barba straightens up properly, they’re just a little too close. Sonny makes to step back, but there’s a little something in Barba’s face that almost makes him want to stay put, right there. Perhaps, move in the opposite direction he’d been originally intending.

There’s a pause. The look that passes between them seems to go on.

The warmth of Barba’s arm against his disappears when Barba takes a step back, patting down his tie and glancing away. Sonny does the same, shoving his hands into his pockets to avoid fidgeting like a kid the night before their Trace gets removed.

“Goodnight, Counselor.” Sonny’s throat feels a little dry. Maybe he needs another Butterbeer.

“Goodnight, Auror.” His voice sounds lower than usual. Barba tilts his head in greeting, and makes his way out, remembering to avoid the mistletoe as he does. The heels of his shoes click against the floor; Sonny bites his lip, admiring the way the coat hangs off Barba’s frame. Thinking about the fabric brushing against his sleeve, just a few moments earlier. Just two layers between skin.

He finds himself wishing that Barba hadn’t noticed the mistletoe. Maybe, if he’d just—

“Hey,” Fin says, and Sonny snaps back to reality, finally noticing that Fin’s standing there, a solo cup in his hand. “What’s got you thinking so deep, Carisi?”

“Nothin’,” he answers, still looking at the doorway. “S’nothin’.”

Over the next week or so, the new addition to the office remains up on the rafter, catching people left and right as they walk into the room. Aurors, people from other Departments, sometimes a Ministry official or two.

Sonny’s favourite was when Auror Tucker from Internal Affairs got stuck for fifteen whole minutes, and had just glared at people as they made their way around him hastily. Benson had walked in right behind him, laughed, and given him a chaste kiss on the cheek as she passed him on the way to her office. Sonny had nearly choked on his coffee when Fin mock-gagged where Tucker couldn’t see him.

It’s Sunday, and Barba’s still avoiding it at all costs. It’s almost impressive to see the way he just completely bypasses it without even checking to see where it is on the ceiling. Amanda thinks it’s a Tracking Spell. Sonny calls it natural instinct. Nick just wants to see someone other than him get got.

Night comes, and wrapping up their latest case feels good. “You got this, Carisi?” Benson asks, referring to the stack of papers on Sonny’s desk. The rest have already finished their reports, and are getting ready to go home. Sonny’s stuck with delivery boy status again.

“Yeah, boss,” he answers, waving them off. “No problem. See you tomorrow.”

He loses track of time pretty quickly after that, not noticing the hands on the clock go from seven to eight to nine, and it’s about a quarter past nine when Barba walks in, obviously dressed to leave for the night, and stops right in his tracks.

Sonny glances up, quill in hand. “Barba. Something wrong?”

Barba just exhales, and presses a finger against his temple. “Please tell me it’s not still up there.”

Sonny’s gaze lifts almost immediately, and yep, it sure is. He looks back down, and there Barba is, standing there. Just standing there. “You’re stuck,” Sonny points out, refraining from laughing, because Barba probably wouldn’t appreciate it if he did.

“I’m quite aware of that, Carisi, thank you for the astute observation.” Barba pulls out his wand, and mutters something under his breath. If it had been an attempt at a counter-spell, nothing happened.

“Only the caster can remove it.” Sonny leans back in his chair, reports completely forgotten now. “You need some help there, Counselor?”

Barba tucks his wand back into his holster. “Yes, Carisi,” he says eventually, and Sonny tells himself that it doesn’t mean what he thinks it means, that it’s just going to be a friendly peck on the cheek, probably, and his pulse shouldn’t be thumping like this.

Sonny pushes his chair back, and walks over to where Barba is. “Never figured we’d end up in this position,” he jokes lightly, standing close enough to see the tiredness that lines his eyes. Probably why he’d forgotten about the charm in the first place.

“You hadn’t?” Barba murmurs, and it’s when he flicks his eyes upwards to meet Sonny’s that it stops being a joke, or a wish, or a stray thought that neither of them had figured to properly contain. Sonny absentmindedly licks his lip, and Barba’s gaze follows the motion.

Barba’s been thinking about this, too.

Jesus. Sonny leans in a little closer. “I lied,” he answers, voice barely above a whisper, even though there’s nobody in the office to see them.

“Good.”

It doesn’t take anything else to close the space, the scant inches between their faces. Sonny presses their lips together, something close-mouthed and soft, but Barba is the one who tilts his head and licks Sonny’s lower lip, coaxing his mouth open just enough for the kiss to go deep.

He isn’t sure when he lets his hand rise from where it had been by his side, but his thumb brushes over Barba’s jawline, feeling the soft scruff of the barest hint of stubble against his skin. Barba’s teeth catch on Sonny’s lower lip, and Sonny feels like there’s a fire burning under his skin, his breath hitching in his throat.

They pull apart momentarily, and Sonny breathes, “Think the charm’s broken, now.”

“Just to be sure,” Barba answers, just as breathy, and god, Sonny never thought he’d hear Barba’s voice like this. Rough around the edges, a little softer than usual. Barba kisses him this time, one hand curling into Sonny’s shirt, tugging him just a tiny bit closer, licking into Sonny’s mouth as if he’s been thinking about kissing Sonny for ages. Maybe he has.

It’s a whole life later when they finally pull apart. Sonny’s stomach does flips when he sees Barba’s mouth, a little red, and the way Barba’s looking at Sonny himself. I did that, he thinks.

“Goodnight, Auror,” exhales Barba, and he extracts himself from Sonny, stepping away and adjusting his tie, his vest, his composure. He turns, and breathes out again, before walking away.

“Goodnight, Counselor.” Sonny watches him go, still a little disbelieving of what’s just happened. He might have to go back and review that memory in a Pensieve another five times. God.

Barba barely takes three steps, before he says, “Carisi?”

Sonny perks back up. “Yeah?”

“The Ministry’s New Year’s event.” Barba shifts to face Sonny again. “Will you be attending?”

“Can’t,” Sonny answers, and it’s true. He’s been put on the roster for that night, but it’s not a huge loss. He hadn’t been planning on going anyway. “On call.”

Barba nods in acknowledgment, and continues, “Well, it just so happens that my office has a backlog of documentation to go over, this month. I hope you won’t mind the company, if perhaps I finish up my work down here. Maybe—we could get dinner after.”

So, this is real. This is happening. Sonny smiles, ignoring the way his heart is racing. “I wouldn’t mind at all.” He’d love it.

Barba smiles, something genuine. “Can’t wait,” he says.

It’s only after Barba’s left, and Sonny’s returned to his desk, that he glances up at the mistletoe on the ceiling, those innocent-looking white berries and its green leaves, and he says, “Thanks.”

The magic surrounding the sprig hums cheerfully.

Sonny grins, and makes a mental reminder to stop by that bakery down the street from his apartment tomorrow morning for a box of gingersnaps. Maybe some for the rest of the squad, too.

Happy Christmas it has been, indeed.