Chapter 1: A Clean Blotter
The super had informed DI Eric Finch that he would be getting a junior partner newly transferred from information crimes, and the desk appeared before he arrived at work the next day. It felt like an intruder in his office, sitting there with the barest provisions needed by any competent officer of the law: a new computer, two monitors, a lamp, and a blotter. It was like someone has set up a mirror image of his own workspace without any of the hard work or accomplishment.
He was disgusted by the unseemly speed of the whole affair. Clearly the newly made DS Dominic Stone was a political favorite, and someone was lumping him with Finch to get him through the ranks and on to a bureaucratic job as soon as possible.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
Finch is well aware from the off that Stone’s going to be trouble. After years of quietly moving up the ranks to detective inspector, he’s learned to spot party favorites, politicians in disguise, and useless bullyboys. And Lord, but there are a lot of them anymore. He’s looked into Stone’s background of course. Can’t help being political, that one. He had it spoon-fed from birth, though it doesn’t make Finch feel any more charitable toward the lad. Circumstances of birth are something they all have to manage, for good or ill. It hasn’t been easy being Irish in the modern political climate. When people aren’t thinking he's a terrorist, they think he’s a Catholic. Finch isn’t certain which gets a worse reaction.
But Finch has worked his arse off to overcome any indication that he might show ‘Irish’ tendencies. He tells himself it’s not because of shame, just prudence. A good copper should recognize his biases and lay them aside for his career. He has, but he can’t expect some political hire riding on his father’s party status to do the same. And that makes Stone worse than useless.
One look is all it takes for his suspicions to seem vindicated. Stone’s young and almost ridiculously handsome. The ladies in the secretarial pool are all aflutter when he comes in, and Finch can see them peeking around the door into the CID offices. Finch thinks Stone looks twelve years old; the tailored suit and the shellacked hair not helping much. Nothing short of a bag over his head would have done.
Stone comes off like some great puppy, tripping over his own feet to get on with the business of being a copper, greeting his new coworkers with a grin and a personable attitude that Finch has never quite mastered. Stone will be one of the lads in no time. Finch, long since past eager and well into world-weary, rolls his eyes and silently wishes Stone on anyone but him. There are senior officers aplenty who would volunteer to take such a moldable young man under their wing. Finch prefers the people he works with to have minds of their own. One should understand dissent, because if one can’t understand another point of view, motive is impossible to determine. Without motive, all you have is the evidence to go off, and that makes you half a copper. Finch wonders if Stone will even be that much.
It’s not that Finch is a radical. He understood the way the wind was blowing all those years ago. When it became an unspoken rule that to keep your job you joined the Party, Finch joined the Party. He never does anything that directly contradicts any of the Articles of Allegiance. His will never be a verbose sort of objection to the status quo, certainly never enough to find himself on the receiving end of a black bag. The politicians don’t know what to do with men like Finch—his own super certainly never has—and so he’s given the worst cases and the least resources, in some vain hope that he’ll be shot and save everyone the trouble of figuring him out. More the fool the super. Men like Finch aren’t about to be so incautious as to get shot.
A desire for caution is another reason not to want some great puppy of a junior partner who’s probably still carrying about romantic notions of heroism. Romance and heroism are dead in modern society. They gave over to the exact qualities that keep Finch alive and working: distrust and caution. Sometimes, at his worst, Finch wonders if perhaps he should be thankful. It was only in this environment that he flourished as a copper. If things were easier he might have never been the rising star he has become. It’s an unsettling notion.
The door to his office rattles, startling him from his reverie. He looks up. Stone’s finally made his way through his throng of admirers. He smells faintly of cheap aftershave.
“Detective Inspector Finch?” he asks. His voice is harsher than expected, enough so that Finch wonders if he doesn’t indulge in black market cigarettes. His accent confirms the background check Finch did: Dominic Stone is a child of the Reclamation. He was saved by the Party, he and his family, from poverty. His father was given one of the jobs taken when the immigrants were carted off.
“Who wants to know?” Finch asks. His own voice sounds raspy to his ears, due in his case to scotch rather than any less than legal vice.
Stone’s expression sharpens into something questioning, and for an instant Finch thinks he sees something behind the good looks: an insatiable hunger to know and understand. Then it’s gone, and the pleasant mask is back. Stone steps forward, shifts the small box of his personal effects against his side, and extends his hand across both their desks. It’s a very small box. “Detective Sergeant Dominic Stone,” he says. “I thought the super told you about me.”
“He mentioned you,” Finch says. He gives the hand, still extended, and then its owner one very long, very thorough look. Stone wilts under the scrutiny, then grits his teeth and holds his hand forward with even more determination. There’s a glint in his eye that says he won’t be driven off that easily.
“Last three weeks here,” Finch says, “and then I’ll either shake your hand, or the super will send you to someone better suited to your particular circumstances.” He turns back to his computer and pretends to focus on the job. He watches Stone’s reaction out of the corner of his eye.
Stone scrutinizes him, his dark eyes intent again, and the mask doesn’t come up while he thinks himself unobserved. Finch wonders what Stone sees. A tired man with messy hair and a face losing the battle against gravity? A cop who should be put out to pasture in the next few years? An insomniac? An Irishman?
And then Stone says, “The super didn’t request this partnership, sir. I did.”
Finch stops typing. At last he asks, “Why?”
Stone sounds painfully earnest. “Because you’re the best, sir. Everyone says so. They say you’re slated to be the next chief inspector.”
“But not the next super,” Finch says, throwing out the bait to see how Stone reacts.
“I don’t want the next super,” Stone says. “I want someone interested in cases, not advancement.”
Finch scoffs. “This from a son of the Reclamation?”
He glances up to see Stone standing there, still clutching his box and looking determined and worried all at a time. He’s forgotten his pleasant mask entirely, Finch thinks, and enjoys his small victory.
“You read up on me,” Stone says.
“Of course I did.”
Stone puts his box down on his new desk and crosses his arms over his chest. “Look, I’m a Party member, all right? Wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t, but politics aren’t in it for me. I just want to do well at my work, and what I want to do—what I trained to do was to be a copper. And to do well, I need to work with the best. I need to work with you.”
Finch has never had a high tolerance for bullshit. “You weren’t hired on because you were good, or even expected to be so. You were hired to meet the Reclamation quota. You were hired so that young men who show real talent but have no Party status can get jobs without Creedy and his Fingermen black-bagging the lot of us. You were hired for reasons that were absolutely political, so don’t come it the good copper with me.” It’s fact, as far as he’s concerned. More than that, it’s a test. Some of what he’s said is incendiary and could get him in some trouble if it’s leaked. Stone’s the only one who knows what he’s said, and Finch is more than willing to give him the chance to tell the Super. He’ll even leave him alone long enough for a clear shot at it.
He rises and brushes past Stone on his way to the door. Over his shoulder he says, “So I’ll see you in three weeks. Then we can see if you have the makings of a good copper.”
He goes to the cafeteria and comes back two hours later to find that Stone has moved his things into the empty desk. It turns out that he has no personal effects, per se. He’s left the screensaver on his dual monitors in its basic insignia; he has no photographs or knickknacks. He has a drawer full of office supplies and two others left empty for case files. He has several small notebooks. He’s set a tray on top of his desk for the sake of organization. He might as well have not put anything there, for all that the desk still feels empty. Finch supposes it’s a herald of things to come, because Stone is made of cardboard, void of real purpose or meaning. He sits across from Finch, watching and waiting, but with no spark to recommend him, no extraordinary wit or intelligence. Just his good looks, his Party status, and a clean blotter.
Chapter 2: First Footnote
“Would it be so bad, do you think? Really?”
Finch looks up from his pint to see Delia watching him. They’ve been friends for years, the two of them, both content to keep their noses clean but not above the odd poke at the Party. They even tried dating once, but after a few tries Delia had laughed and called the whole thing off.
“When I leave the morgue,” she says in the present, and Finch realizes she’s echoing the exact reasons she gave when she broke it off between them, “I have to leave the work there. I have to. There’s too much pain and loss in a place like that to carry it about. But you do carry it. Everywhere you go, Eric, you’ve got the work following you like a black cloud. Would it be so bad to have a person to go with all that baggage?”
Just as he did when she said it before, right after kissing him on the cheek outside a pub much like this one, Finch doesn’t know what to say. Would it be so bad? Possibly. “He’s a political officer, Delia.”
“No, he’s a political appointment. There is a difference. From what you’ve said, the politics belong to his father. Stone may be entirely free of them.”
“You can’t know that,” Finch says.
“Nor can you. Has he done anything to indicate he’s going to put politics ahead of your work together?” It’s times like these, when she watches him with a measuring look and a certain detachment, that he realizes he doesn’t know her at all. Even when they were seeing one another they didn’t talk about their pasts. He thinks his is unbelievably boring, and always assumed she had the same reason for keeping quiet, but there are times when he thinks perhaps she has other motives entirely.
“Here now,” he says, “we’re not here to talk about my would-be partner. We’re here to celebrate your promotion. Chief coroner in only five years. Not bad for a botanist.”
She laughs it off into her brandy. “Plants and people, Eric. We’re not so terribly different. Both require certain conditions to thrive, and if denied we die. And there you are. Botany to cause of death in five easy steps.”
“How often did you see a geranium shot to death?”
Chapter 3: Case Files
Two weeks in and Finch realized he’d have to at least acknowledge Stone’s existence. They were on a case, a major case as things were shaping, and Finch couldn’t help but delegate responsibility. Stone was his partner, but more than that he was a sergeant with a great lot of constables who thought he was tops. It made sense to pass him some of the load.
It was one of the harder things Finch had to do as an inspector. They looked at one another when he handed Stone the case file. “I’m trusting you with the door to door and to chase down any leads you get off that,” Finch said. “Don’t bollocks it up.”
He left the office with his hands shoved deep in his pockets. “I won’t, sir!” he heard over his shoulder, but didn’t turn to acknowledge Stone or his shout. They’d both see in the next few days.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
“I may have something, Inspector!” Stone says, hurrying into their office. “I got a vague sort of description off the neighbors, sir; those who weren’t hiding away trying not to see anything.”
“I thought you might,” Finch says, not bothering to hide his dry tone. Even political appointments can be persuasive.
Stone chooses to ignore the sarcasm. Stone is rather good at selective ignorance. “So I ran the description and location past my friend at the Finger—”
“You’ve a friend at the Finger?” Finch leans across his desk. He didn’t know Stone was quite that connected.
Stone shrugs and has the decency to look uncomfortable. “No one special, sir. Just an assistant in the information department. We went through school together when we were lads.”
“And do you give him information in exchange for his help?” Finch asks.
“No, I just buy him the occasional pint. He says he always pulls girls better with me around to get them interested.”
“And you’re never interested back?” Finch is scoffing openly now. He doesn’t believe a word of this.
“Call me old-fashioned, sir, but I prefer to know a girl’s name and a bit about her before I go and hop into bed with her. But if it keeps him passing me bits and pieces every now and again, I don’t mind playing wingman a few times a month.” Stone frowns. “You don’t believe me.”
“It’s quite a lot of bullshit,” Finch says.
“It’s not, though. That’s what happens. I know it’s daft that he’d leak information for a few tries with a few girls, but he doesn’t have many friends, and he never gives me information that’s too sensitive.”
“And what did he give you this time?”
“That surveillance caught the sound of running footsteps.”
“We already know the killer fled the scene,” Finch says. Either Stone is an idiot or he’s stringing the story out to get a reaction. Either way, Finch doesn’t have time for it.
“Did we know he ran in, too?”
“What, away from something?”
“Probably, because two seconds later a few Fingermen happened along looking for a man who fits our killer’s description.”
It’s a good lead, if it’s true. “Did he give you their names?”
“No, that would be a step too far. But if we can find out who the Finger’s been after these past weeks we just might get an ID.”
Finch dislikes having to call the Finger for anything, but needs must. He picks up the phone with Stone standing there, looking a bit pleased. “It may well lead to nothing,” Finch says.
“I know, sir,” Stone says.
“Then why are you smiling?”
“It’s just good to finally work with you, sir.”
Finch rolls his eyes. “Don’t you play silly buggers with me, Sergeant. You’ve still got a week to go.”
Stone’s smile only dims a bit. “Of course, sir. Still good to work with you, to contribute to the case.”
After a second, Finch tucks the still-ringing phone against his shoulder and tosses Stone another folder. “There. Since you’ve such a winning streak going, why don’t you track down the names on that list? They’ve all got form, and they were all rumored to be in the area. See if any of them are in the Finger’s sights too.”
“Will do, Chief,” Stone says, and before Finch can correct that particular ridiculous nickname the other end of the line picks up.
Chapter 4: Antique Clock
After three weeks Stone stuck his hand out over their desks and waited. Grudgingly, Finch shook his hand. The next day Stone set a clock on his desk. It was a little thing, not digital, and probably dated from well before the Reclamation. Finch once caught a glimpse of words on the inside of the back face, but had no time to read them before the clock was shut up tight again.
Finch wondered where Stone had got such a lovely thing. Most antiques had vanished during the Reclamation, and Stone’s family didn’t seem the sort to have such elegant things about their little home. So to see something so obviously incompatible with everything Finch had read about him and his family made Stone a bit of a mystery. But only a bit. And really, Finch told himself, he didn’t care either way. It was just Stone trying to muddy his waters to make them look deep. Just because he wasn’t the political toady he looked to be didn’t make him interesting or particularly good at his job. Finch got back to work.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
“Police!” Stone shouts, vaulting a row of pipes as they try to run their suspect down. “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
The cracking of several gunshots and the wild clang of bullets on rusted piping dangerously close to Stone’s head is their only answer. Finch struggles to keep up with his athletic younger partner. The man they’ve been hunting is the dangerous sort, taken to killing young people out after curfew. Finch doesn’t trust Stone to take him down without bollocksing the whole affair or getting himself murdered. He’s just the type the killer might fancy: young, attractive, and far too confident in his own abilities.
Finch ducks under some low-hanging beams, Stone’s shape getting smaller as he pulls ahead. Finch curses his age, his physical condition, and the rash young man ahead of him in equal measure. Sometimes it takes a bullet to convince the younger coppers they aren’t invincible, and if they’re lucky—
Two guns thunder almost as one, and Finch’s thoughts lurch to a halt. He feels like he’s standing next to himself, observing the shaking grip on his gun as he sees the distant figure of his partner fall back against a wall. Stone slides down the bricks as one might fall off a cliff: slowly, but with inevitability.
If Finch was asked that morning how he might react if Stone was shot, he would perhaps have shrugged and said, “Be a bit concerned.”
It’s different when he’s drawing close enough to see the smear of blood on the bricks. Finch runs, his feet pounding in the echoing confines of the concrete tunnel. He sees the mad bastard they’ve been tracking step into view. They’ve not seen him before this. The Finger had refused to give them an ID. All they knew this morning was the general area in which he liked to hunt. His identity was easy enough to confirm when they saw him run away from the still-warm body of a young woman with long brown hair, dropping the knife when he went to do up his flies.
And now Finch is torn between charging in and lining up a careful shot. Either is a risk, and either could get Dominic killed. He weighs the options and tries to ignore the notion that, for the first time in their partnership, he’s slipped and thought of Stone by his first name.
The killer stands over Dominic—Finch can’t bring himself to change the name in the privacy of his own head—and seems to be waiting for something. There’s a wash of relief when Finch sees Dominic struggle back against the wall, his legs making some uncoordinated bid to get back on his feet.
It’s the hardest decision Finch can remember making to hang back, but the killer’s gun is lax at his side, and Finch is a cautious sort of copper. It’s safer not to startle a psychotic. It’s safer to line himself up and take one good shot rather than a few poor ones, during which Dominic might well get shot in a more fatal way. Finch has to believe that his current injury is non-fatal, though he can’t see it.
His mind is in a shambles, and he’s no good to anyone like this. He shuts off the feelings this whole fiasco has conjured up in him, and looks on the situation with all the dispassion he can muster. He squares himself and then raises his gun. The killer’s head lines up in his sights. The mad bastard is staring at Dominic, practically drooling over him. Finch doesn’t allow himself to check Dominic’s reaction.
“Lord, but you’re a sight,” the mad bastard says, faint at this distance but still audible. “They never told me the Met was putting out dishes like you, all dressed up and nowhere to go. Don’t worry. I’ll see to you. You saw that little bit back in the alleyway? You want a taste, copper? I'll give you a proper taste.”
The mad bastard unbuttons his flies. Out of the corner of his eye Finch can see Dominic lunge sideways. The killer’s gun comes up in a flash and Finch is out of time.
Finch fires. The shot goes wide. Finch doesn’t have time to panic.
The mad bastard grabs at Dominic, and Finch has no doubt the killer will use him as a human shield. He tries to get off another shot, but there’s too much movement and in the poor light he can’t be certain of his aim.
He runs forward. He needs the clarity of proximity. The killer has Dominic in his arms, and Finch can see metal between them, flashing and indistinct.
Another shot rings out.
“Dominic!” he shouts as the two figures collapse together.
He springs over the last branch of pipes in a burst of agility that he’ll never be able to duplicate. Someone's been shot, and with the amount of blood all over the huddle of men on the ground, one of them is dead. Finch grasps at the mad bastard, tossing him off Dominic with a heave.
Dominic lies there, covered in blood and gasping. His left arm is a mess, cut badly. Finch realizes that the bullet caught Dominic straight through the face of his watch, probably breaking his wrist and sending glass and workings scouring across his skin. For all that, he looks . . . he looks all right. He gives Finch a pained little grin. “Thanks for distracting him, sir. Couldn’t have got my gun if you didn’t. Daft twat should’ve shot me in the other arm.”
Finch is too busy calling in medical to reply. Now that the panic is gone he’s left with a vague rage that he has the good sense to know would be misdirected if he started shouting at Dominic.
“I’m all right, sir,” Dominic says. “Nothing that a few stitches and a cast won’t cure.”
“Shut it,” Finch orders.
“I’m fine, sir. My wrist is the worst of it, and you can’t do much about that. We need to identify the killer,” Dominic says.
“I need to see you on a stretcher.”
“That bastard had free run of the city after curfew, Chief!” Dominic sounds less like the puppy who’s been following Finch about and more like he sounds with the lads: rough and clever and unapologetic all at a time. It gives Finch pause, which Dominic takes as consideration. “I told you I’m fine, and I mean it. I appreciate the . . .” he cuts himself off before he says ‘concern’ and Finch is required to throttle him on principle. Dominic tries again, “I appreciate you looking after me, sir, but I’d feel much better knowing who he was and how he did it.” He jerks his chin toward the unmoving man behind Finch. “Go on then.”
Finch rolls his eyes, but has to admit that the same questions have gnawed at him. “Fine,” he says. “If it’ll shut you up and get you in an ambulance I’ll check. Enough?”
Dominic flashes him a grin that’s only perhaps half pained grimace. “All I ever wanted,” he says.
Finch rises with a huff and prods the bastard over with his foot. The killer’s eyes are open and fixed, and all of him is very dead, right down to the neat hole in his head. Even the exit’s quite clean: only the size of a pound coin. He has to admit, if only grudgingly and to himself, that Dominic has made a very neat job of the whole thing.
The killer is yellow: his teeth, his skin, even his hair. The dead take on a queer sort of yellow cast, but Finch thinks he’s an ugly fucker regardless, with his flies undone and his yellow cock hanging out against a wet stain. He pissed himself when he died. Most of the dead did that too.
Finch fishes inside the man’s pocket for a wallet, and instead happens upon a slim, rectangular flipper. His stomach lurches. He knows that shape. He pulls the black leather out, and he can feel Dominic’s eyes on him, eager for the result, for the answer. He wants to know. More than anything, they both want to know.
Finch flips the top and reveals the red double-cross.
“Oh, shit,” Dominic breathes. “Oh, fuck. He was a fingerman.”
Dominic tries to get up, only to strangle a yell in his throat and fall back. Finch drops the fingerman’s badge and catches Dominic before he can crack his head. Dominic must have put his weight on his wrist without thinking, the great idiot, and now his arm is bleeding more heavily and his wrist is swelling fast.
“I shot a fingerman,” Dominic whispers.
“You shot a murderer.” Finch’s tone brooks no argument. “You shot a rapist. And you shot him after he’d already put one in you.”
It doesn’t seem to comfort Dominic much. “Is the Finger going to launch an inquiry on me, sir?” he asks. He sounds worried.
“Why? Shouldn’t they?” Everyone has at least one interest or hobby or stupid moment that could damn them with the Finger, but Dominic seems more frightened than he ought to be if he’d just had a few cigarettes.
Dominic’s laughter is shaky. “Call me a cynic, but I got the feeling that didn’t matter all that much. If they want to find evidence, they will.”
Finch sheds his jacket and wraps Dominic’s arm with it, applying pressure. Dominic bites his lip so hard it bleeds, but he doesn’t shout. “You listen to me,” Finch says, surprised that he sounds so heated. How many years has it been since he used that tone of voice? Even with Delia he’s never got particularly worked up. Then again, Delia never gave him this much trouble. “We take care of our own, and you’re not going to be bagged for doing your job. Not even Creedy is mad enough to go to war with the Met. And it would be a war. I’d see to that.”
Dominic seems as startled as Finch. “Thank you, sir,” he whispers. “I . . .” He doesn’t seem to know what else to say, so he looks down at his arm. Finch unwraps it to check the slowed bleeding. “My poor watch,” Dominic says under his breath. “I don’t suppose you know what time it is.”
“I left my mobile in the car. You can check that lovely clock of yours once you get back to the office.” Finch doesn’t mention that he expects Dominic to take at least a week of medical leave. It isn’t yet the time for that fight. He’ll let his partner get his wrist into a cast first.
Dominic looks up at him and then away. “You never noticed, did you?” he asks.
“It doesn’t work. It never has.”
“Why would you keep a clock that can’t tell time?”
Dominic shrugs, and then winces as it jostles his arm. “I don’t know. I’ve always thought it looked nice, is all.”
“But it doesn’t work.” Finch likes practicality, and the notion of a clock that can’t keep time is ridiculous.
“It doesn’t have to.”
“Of course it does. It’s a clock, and you were cheated.”
Dominic’s eyes hold a glint of challenge. “And what if it was never meant to work? What if that’s not the point?”
“Then it should be a piece of statuary and not a clock. You never struck me as the sort who’d fancy form without function.”
“Guess I’m a mystery then, me and my clock.”
“No, you’re just defective, the both of you.”
For a second, Finch sees that same flash of worry in Dominic he saw when they realized the Finger were going to get involved in their case. He frowns a bit, wondering quite out of the blue about the writing inside the back face of the clock. Perhaps the shell itself is just a veneer, keeping something secret locked up inside its useless, false guts. Dominic, too, has some secret in him. Finch is a cop; he’ll puzzle Dominic out. He can’t do anything but.
His voice is gruff when he says, “I won’t be telling Creedy that you’re defective. Now hold your hand over your head while we wait, or they won’t be able to fit your wrist in the cast.”
He grips Dominic’s fingers gently, and helps support his arm. Dominic considers their hands and doesn’t say a word.
Chapter 5: Digital Clock
One week later, when Dominic returned to work after his medical leave with a cast on his wrist and stitches in his arm, he was brought up short by the three things Finch had set on his desk before he arrived. The first was his personnel file, which showed his status with the Finger as cleared of suspicion. There was also a new watch sitting on top of a new digital clock in the corner of the blotter.
Finch looked up and smiled at Dominic’s bewildered gratitude. “Now you can set your watch to something that works,” he said, then went back to his paperwork.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
“This is the second time Inspector Stone has shot one of my men,” Creedy says almost two years later. His hands are clasped before him and his face is bloodless. Dealing with the man always makes Finch feel like he needs a long shower. Dominic fidgets at his side.
Finch keeps his tone mild. It’s a trick of the trade, and one of the most useful in light of his promotion. It’s only been a week since the last chief inspector retired, and Finch feels as though the weight of the world has settled on his shoulders. He’s known for some time that a confrontation with Creedy was inevitable. The man has to know how far he can push Finch before he won’t budge. Creedy wants to see if Finch is the sort of Party pushover who’ll shop his own partner for a pat on the head. Finch refrains from saying that between the Party and his lads, he’ll choose his lads any day. That sort of thing just isn’t said, not if a man wants to keep his position.
He sounds tired and almost bored when he says, “If you hired fewer men with homicidal tendencies, perhaps my officers would stop shooting them.”
“I wasn’t talking about your officers as a body, Chief Inspector,” Creedy says. He looks at Dominic. “I was talking about Inspector Stone. Do you have something against fingermen, Inspector?”
“No, sir,” Dominic says, and has the good sense to bite back any further commentary. Finch has known him long enough to see it in his eyes. He’s angry; he resents this. Finch told him two years before that he’d take the Met to war with the Finger before he let Creedy punish his lads for doing their jobs, and he means it even more now that he’s the chief inspector and Dominic is his DI. His partner. Creedy will have to tear down the whole bleeding department before Finch lets him at Dominic. He doesn’t care to examine when he got so fiercely protective.
Creedy flips through his notebook, and Finch wonders how many of those little pages Dominic has managed to fill. Creedy doesn’t look up when he says, “You had a cousin who was detained some years back. Political dissent. Were you close to her, Inspector Stone?”
A muscle in Dominic’s jaw jumps. Finch touches his wrist and Dominic glances toward him with nothing but his eyes. There is a pleading look in them, which Finch answers with a steady gaze and a calm exterior.
Dominic turns his eyes front and Finch removes his hand. “Lizzie—Elizabeth—and I were friends, sir. We were the same age, or close enough, and we tended to spend family dinners together.”
Creedy smiles like a knife. Finch smothers any impulse to tangle his fingers up with Dominic’s and ensure that he’s not whisked away. Why didn’t he mention the cousin?
Creedy’s voice is a purr of satisfaction. “Were you angry when Elizabeth Stone was detained?” he asks.
Again the muscle jumps. “I was fifteen, sir, and a bit rebellious. Just about everything made me angry.”
“And what makes you angry now, Inspector?”
Dominic’s eyes flash, and before Finch can stop him, he says, “I didn’t shoot that man because he was with the Finger, sir.” He makes the honorific sound insulting. Finch tenses. “I shot him because he’d killed a ten-year-old girl and was threatening to shoot another child. I used necessary force.”
“Did you question his motives?”
“He’d a gun to an eight-year-old’s head. There wasn’t time.”
“And when you discovered that the girls’ family was being investigated for political dissent, the same charge that brought down your own cousin, did you still feel justified? Did you see her face when you looked at those little girls, Inspector?”
“I still felt justified because I was doing my job. And no, I didn’t see Elizabeth when I looked at them. I just saw two little girls. One dead and one near to. I don’t care what their parents were doing. He didn’t shoot the parents.”
Creedy never stops smiling as he stands. “I believe that’s all I need, Inspector,” he says, and walks out of the room.
Finch releases a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.
Dominic looks at him with wide eyes. “Creedy twisted that about, Chief! That wasn’t anything to do with my cousin. He’d just shot a kid!”
“I know,” Finch says and tries to be soothing. He’s never been particularly good at soothing.
“Shit,” Dominic says. “You’re not going to be able to protect me from this, are you?”
“I certainly am. I have a bit of pull too, you know, even if I don’t like to use it. You’re not getting detained, Dominic.”
“But,” Finch says, and holds up a hand to quiet his partner's protests, “you’ll be coming home with me tonight, just in case.”
Dominic looks startled. “What?”
“It’s best you not be alone for a few days.”
Dominic looks like he wants to protest, but doesn’t. Good. If there’s anything positive to come of his being targeted by Creedy, it will perhaps be that he gains a bit of common sense.
They leave together, and Dominic rides in Finch’s car. It isn’t one of the cars from the office, but Finch’s personal vehicle. Being the chief inspector does come with a few perks he’s willing to indulge.
The drive back to his flat is almost entirely silent. At one point Dominic says, “I don’t have extra clothes with me.”
“We’ll stop by your flat tomorrow morning,” Finch says.
When they get to Finch’s two-story brownstone he tells Dominic to take the couch, and then goes to find some linens to make it up. When he gets back he finds Dominic curled on the cushions, already asleep. It’s been a long few days.
Finch rolls his eyes and wants to be more disdainful than he feels. He takes off Dominic’s shoes, and then drapes a blanket over him. It’s nine o’clock in the evening. The clock on the mantle doesn’t chime. It’s digital.
Chapter 6: Second Footnote
“So, you’ve gone from hating him to living together. If I didn’t know you were both real, I’d say it’s a setup for a sitcom,” Delia says, sipping a whiskey. She always likes her liquor neat.
“Who says I’m real?” Finch asks. He loves these evenings, being allowed to unwind with someone outside his chain of command. Delia is great company, with no pressure for more. Maybe she needs the lack of complications as much as he does. He tries to imagine doing this with Dominic, but they would end up talking about work and defeating the purpose.
Her laughter is bright and deepens the lines around her eyes. “This is why I could never date you, Eric. You may be a cop to the rest of the world, but at your heart you are a philosopher.”
“No, at my heart I’m a pragmatist. I just wish I was a philosopher.”
“Very philosophical. And not a bad dodge from the original topic.”
“Yes, he’s staying with me, but that’s purely because I don’t want to lose a partner. He’s shot two fingermen in two years. Creedy is more than willing to snatch him at home, so I planted him in the one place even Creedy doesn’t have the stones to try for.”
“And how is he as a house guest?”
“Surprisingly unobtrusive. He’s taken over a single end-table and a bit of the bathroom, but otherwise you wouldn’t know he was there.”
“He’s been in your flat a week, and that’s it? Is the man a saint, or just shockingly tidy?” Delia orders another whiskey. They barely seem to affect her. Finch sticks to pints. He gets a bit bleary after too much liquor, and the relaxing part of the evening is the company and the conversation. He drinks liquor at home, and in turn, drinks liquor with Dominic. Beer and clarity are Delia’s.
“I think he’s still on his best behavior,” Finch says. “It’s all a bit strange for us, I suppose. We’ve worked together well enough since we got past the initials, but seeing someone while they’re asleep is something else.”
Delia’s smile says she’s teasing him. “If you aren’t careful he’ll end up being your friend. And then who would I drink with?”
“Something tells me I’ve room enough in my life for two drinking partners.” He doesn’t say he’s already drinking with Dominic. It seems unfair to deny that his friendship with Delia is unique. It is. He doesn’t have friends, as a rule, and before Delia he couldn’t imagine a friend who wasn’t also a cop. Delia isn’t a cop, and she’s certainly a friend. So he says nothing, and soon enough they’re chatting about Delia’s window box, and what she’s thinking of planting this year. It’s good to talk about something of so little consequence for a while.
Chapter 7: Key
Finch put his spare key on Dominic's desk two weeks into their enforced cohabitation. Dominic left it there, not to display it, but for convenience. It was not said aloud, but they both knew if he ever needed it when Finch wasn't around, he wouldn’t have time to search for it. It was a smart move. He could have put it on his keychain, but that would have sent the wrong message. They weren't living together, however some of the others might talk. Leaving the key on the desk made it accessible, while still conveying a sensible distance to the rest of the lads.
When Creedy had started to show an interest in Dominic, those lads had stopped showing theirs. It was nothing personal; they weren't particularly close to Dominic, just friendly. And friendly wasn't enough to risk your life and career for someone. Dominic started to stay in the office more, and while he was studying case files his fingers would play against the key hanging from the hook he'd screwed into the side of his desk. Sometimes he would lift it off. Once, when Finch glanced up to see Dominic deeply engrossed in the background of a suspected jewel thief, he slipped the tip of the key between his lips, a contemplative frown creasing his face.
Finch decided that, purely for selfish reasons, this tumult had been for the best. Dominic would come out of it wiser and more careful. Perhaps with a few less friends, but those still remaining would be the truest sort. He wasn’t certain what would become of the key once Creedy declared him cleared of suspicion and Dominic’s stay at his flat was ended, but he couldn’t think he would ask for it back.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
It’s the dead of night and Finch is thirsty. Sleep eludes him more nights than he cares to think about, but he’s usually very good about keeping himself to himself when it happens. There’s no point keeping them both awake.
Dominic has become a familiar presence in his front room, curled up under a sheet on his sofa in a gray t-shirt and flannel trousers. He looks young when he sleeps, and very still. Finch tries to pad by and get to his kitchen without drawing attention.
He treads on a loose board and Dominic startles at the creaking noise. Finch crosses the room to reassure him before Dominic makes for the gun on the end table.
“Sorry,” he whispers.
Dominic blinks up at him, and then a slow, hazy smile crosses his face. His eyes are black in the darkness. “Something wrong?” he asks, but sounds unconcerned. He’s got good at reading Finch’s moods.
“Just thirsty,” Finch says. “Go back to sleep.”
He makes for the kitchen. Behind him he hears Dominic’s sleep roughened voice call out, “Could you get me some as well?” He doesn’t even ask what Finch is drinking.
Finch pours them each a finger of whiskey and then brings them back to the couch. Dominic’s shifted to make room, and Finch sits next to him. The sheets pucker around him.
Dominic takes his glass and yawns.
“You should go back to sleep,” Finch says.
Dominic shakes his head and takes a drink. “Can’t. Every time I close my eyes, I think someone’s going to climb through the window and bag me.” He snorts a bit of a laugh, and Finch thinks it’s self-mocking. “Just a bit pathetic, me.”
“Seems like a perfectly reasonable fear,” Finch says.
“Yeah, I guess it is at that. You know what’s funny, Chief? There’s this part of me that thinks this must be my fault, that the Party doesn’t make this sort of mistake. I keep looking at what I did, trying to think of how I might have gone wrong without knowing it.” He takes another drink, and then swirls the glass. “When I was little, my da told me that the Party had saved us. He taught me that the Party was the best thing that ever happened to this country, that they had our best interests at heart.”
Finch makes his interjection as non-intrusive as possible. He doesn’t want to interrupt Dominic. He feels strange, like he’s looking through a window he didn’t know was there, and seeing something in Dominic he isn’t supposed to. “And then they took your cousin,” he says.
Dominic doesn’t look at him. “Lizzie. Yeah. No one would talk about her after she got took. I didn’t dare ask on it, but I kept wondering what she could have possibly done to get herself bagged. She was my age. What could a kid have done as bad as all that?” He frowns. There are lines around his eyes Finch can’t remember having seen before. “And now I wonder if maybe she didn’t do anything at all. They want to bag me, and all I did was my job. Maybe she never saw it coming: just going about, living her life one minute, and the next she’s nothing but a few whispers from the neighbors and a compact lying in the street.”
Finch doesn’t know what to say. He’s never been good in such personal situations when they matter. When it’s witnesses he’s fine, but when it’s someone he cares about—and he’s forced to admit that he does care about Dominic—he can’t find words.
He lays an awkward hand over Dominic’s in an attempt to comfort. Dominic looks up at him, startled. Then he sets down his whiskey and turns his hand over. There’s hesitation in that gesture, and Finch can’t say that he blames Dominic for being wary. They’re both in uncharted territory. Dominic spreads his fingers and presses his palm to Finch’s. It’s cold and clammy from the tumbler, but it’s warming fast. He moves his hand just a little and their fingers interlace. Dominic is staring at their hands like it’s a puzzle he’s only just figuring out. Or maybe like it’s the most incredible thing he’s ever seen.
Finch thinks he’s missing a part of this equation, but can’t imagine asking about it. This is already far too close to crossing a half-dozen professional and personal boundaries. All his resolutions to keep his coworkers at arm’s length—to steel himself against any possible betrayal—are falling apart under that grip. It feels wonderful to touch someone in any way after so many years. The world has discouraged touch to such an extent that even bumping into someone feels personal these days. And then there’s Dominic holding his hand, and it’s more intense than anything in recent memory.
“No one’s going to take you,” Finch says. He sounds confident enough even he believes it.
“Going to take your truncheon to them if they try, Eric?” Dominic asks. Neither of them mentions the slip. It’s just another crumbled professional boundary.
“You bet your arse,” Finch says, his voice warm. This is right, them sitting like this in the night with a bit of scotch. “You go back to sleep. I’ll keep an eye on the windows and my truncheon to hand.”
Chapter 8: Whiskey
Dominic stayed for another month after their conversation. Finch’s given name kept slipping into conversations until he heard it more than ‘sir’ or ‘Chief’ or ‘Inspector’. It was never said at work, of course. At work they were professional and cordial, and perhaps infused with just a bit more closeness than the other detectives could boast.
Dominic stayed at Finch’s flat long enough that when he was finally declared ‘free of suspicion’ and went home, Finch’s front room felt empty. He expected more late night conversations and drinks. His skin felt tight from lack of casual contact.
He started to make up excuses to have Dominic over. Casework was taken back to his flat and pored over until well enough past curfew that Dominic took the couch. The word ‘Eric’ again made itself prominent in their conversations. They always had results after, and these ‘all-nighters’ were looked on no more askance by the lads than their living together for a while had. And now that Dominic was cleared of suspicion they were friendly again; they had no desire to stick the knife in. The only jokes were about an unhealthy dedication to the job, and never about an unhealthy need to see one another at all hours.
For Finch, though, this was a revelation. He hadn’t had any friend but Delia since the rise of Norsefire, and their past failed relationship made home visits impossible. Drinks and chats were lovely, and more than he had without her comforting presence, but he would never presume far enough to invite her back to his flat. Dominic had managed to be that friend somehow. He’d made himself necessary. Finch hadn’t trusted anyone so far in decades. He didn’t know why his defenses were breached so late in the game. He just focused on his renewed passion for his work, and on those long evenings when he wasn’t alone in his flat, when someone wasn’t giving him impersonal monikers like ‘sir’.
He gave Dominic a good single malt when he moved out, in honor the occasion. Dominic didn’t drink it, but instead brought it in to work and stashed it in his desk. Finch couldn’t see it, but he knew it was there, and in exactly which drawer. He couldn’t imagine a situation bad enough to warrant breaking it out during the workday, but he did appreciate the forethought.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
“It was a shark that did it, I think,” Dominic says.
Finch snorts and almost sends whiskey up his nose. “You what?”
“The thing that drowned Moira Cauffman in her bath. We’ve been working under the assumption that it was a person.”
Finch knows this game. They’re both drunk enough that it’s fine to indulge. They’ve been coming at the drowning death of Mrs. Cauffman in her bathtub for hours. He can barely see the case notes on the coffee table any more, let alone something new and revelatory. And at times like this, if the mood strikes him, Dominic will start to come up with ‘alternative’ theories.
“Yes,” Finch says. “Those human handprints on her shoulders were really such weak evidence in retrospect.”
“A shark could get human hands anywhere, if it wanted them.”
“And I suppose it tacked those hands to the ends of its fins.”
“Naturally.” Dominic nods, and then leans over to catch his glass and drain the rest of its contents. His cheeks flush and he slews against Finch. When he rolls his head against Finch’s shoulder to look up at him, his expression is arranged in serious lines. “Sharks are very sneaky creatures, Eric. It would have been easy to press those hands against her shoulders as it drowned her.”
“And how does a shark go about drowning someone?”
“It lies on them until they drown. It’s like alligators.”
“Do alligators lay on things?”
“Well, they sort of roll, but I don’t think a shark has to roll. Not if it doesn’t want to.”
Finch is the first to crack, laughing hard enough that he has to set his glass down before he drops it. His fingers are tingling and he doesn’t trust them.
Dominic laughs too, his hands curling in Finch’s shirtfront, and Finch lets his head fall to the side. Dominic’s hair is soft under his cheek, and in his drunken state it seems natural to rub against that sensation like a cat. Dominic’s fingers smooth up his shirt to his open collar, and brush against the skin just above it. “Eric?” he asks quietly enough that Finch has no idea what that question really means.
“Eric, I ... I just ...” There is a bashful note to Dominic’s voice Finch has never heard before. His fingers are still playing against the skin of Finch’s throat, occasionally teasing at his ears or his jaw, and he’s turned his head to speak against Finch’s neck. There’s something between them, some tension pulled tight. Finch isn’t entirely certain that it’s just the alcohol making his fingers tingle.
They certainly seem to tingle more intensely when he brushes at Dominic’s hair. It’s fallen from whatever product he uses and lays across his forehead and over his ears. The folds of his ears are very interesting when Finch is terribly drunk. Dominic’s breath shudders.
Their eyes meet and those tingles are spreading throughout his body. Everything is slowed and it feels lovely. “You’re a dear friend, Dominic,” Finch says.
Dominic blinks, and for a second he looks disappointed. But Finch is drunk and he’s not reading signals well. He could have fooled himself, because Dominic’s voice is light again. “Do you think a shark is more likely, or a badger?”
The tension dissolves, and Finch chalks it up to the oddities of drink playing games with his head. “Definitely a shark. Badgers don’t like the water.”
Chapter 9: Paper Tiger
So they existed, constantly in one another’s periphery, moving in and out of close contact. Dominic’s smiles changed from eager to knowing, and the lines around his eyes deepened. When they were leaning over case notes together and the sides of their hands would touch, Dominic would look at Finch like he was the whole world.
Finch attributed it to the strength of their partnership. He felt something similar: people in the modern world seemed to be shadows, and Finch often wondered if he could walk straight through them. Dominic wasn’t a shadow, and that might make him the whole world too.
After five years working together Dominic came into the office with a tiger made of folded paper. He didn’t say anything, but he set it on the corner of his desk looking at him, gave Finch a smile, and then got back to work.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
It’s a gray day in October, and Finch can’t find Dominic. He came in to work, even spent several hours sitting across from Finch, but now he’s not in their office, nor in the main CID office, nor in the bathroom. No one else seems to know where he’s got to, either. They’re in the middle of a massive smuggling case, Finch needs a fresh set of eyes to go over the scene of crime reports, and Dominic’s gone and disappeared. It’s not like him to bugger off without telling anyone. It’s been years since they thought Dominic might get bagged, but there are moments when Finch worries things are not so settled as he would hope. He feels ill when he thinks of fingermen grabbing Dominic from behind, whisking that black bag over his head, and dragging him away past even Finch’s ability to find.
Finch is already in a sour mood. He hates the smuggling cases. Give him a good murder any day: something that won’t tax his moral compass. His lads don’t work for the Ministry of Objectionable Materials, and he dislikes when they’re treated as such. Does anyone really care about butter smugglers?
As Finch’s patience is running painfully thin and he’s imagining all the worst scenarios-leading him to wonder whether or not he’d get bagged himself for knocking Creedy on his smug arse-Constable Andrews gestures vaguely behind him and says, “I think he’s in evidence, sir. Sorting through the boxes, like, to see if there’s a lead. Been there hours, he has. Most boring job ever, you ask me, but he seems well enough with it.”
Of all the bollocksed-up ... Dominic should know better than to sort evidence from a smuggling case without other officers present. If he isn’t careful, the MOM and the Finger will come down on him for possession, and that’ll be all the excuse Creedy needs. He can’t imagine why Dominic wouldn’t ask for his help in the first place. Finch hasn't come it the chief inspector during cases. He’d be more than willing to sort.
He knocks his way through the doors into the evidence room, and finds exactly what he expected. There are stacks of homemade butter pats, each set down outside its crate after being looked at for some sort of identification. There are also tiny pots of honey that have received the same treatment. If Dominic so much as tasted the evidence, Finch will to kill him.
He wades around the tall shelves that separate their evidence room into narrow rows. He sees more opened boxes and more evidence in neat piles, but still no Dominic. Row after row, box after box. The MOM is going to throw a mad fit when they realize the boxes have been opened.
And then, near to the corner of the room, tucked away where no one is likely to see, Finch spies the one thing he isn’t prepared to see. Another box, yes, its contents spilled out over the floor, but this box isn’t filled with food. There are photographs spread about in little stacks, none of which are as carefully ordered as the stacks of butter or honey. Rather, Finch realizes with a jolt, they are all of them pictures of semi-clad to naked men having it off with one another, stacked quickly and without finesse.
And Dominic is kneeling in the heart of this pornographic hurricane. He probably sorted through one at a time, but he isn’t sorting now. Finch steps into the mouth of the aisle to see his junior partner on his knees, his lip caught between his teeth, two bright spots of color on his otherwise pale cheeks, peering intently at the image of some man rogering another man atop a desk, a ceramic tiger superimposing itself on the smooth metal corner in the foreground.
Finch freezes. Dominic’s expression isn’t one of dispassionate observation, but rather is one trapped in a bubble of realization and longing. He remembers his interrogation instructor at Academy telling him that all it takes to crack a suspect is a single unguarded moment. And Finch has just caught Dominic in his.
Every moment of their relationship plays itself back in Finch’s head, skewed and showing itself in a whole new light. All the casual touches; the rare moments when their fingers had reached out and grasped at one another for support and encouragement; all the nights drinking, sorting cases, and falling asleep on the couch. The smile Dominic gave him when Finch accidentally woke him in the middle of the night. The look on his face when Finch took his hand the first time. The drunken half-cuddles. Finch always felt that he missed something in those looks of Dominic’s, some ingredient to them that he couldn’t identify.
Now he knows. Everything slots itself so neatly into place with that last clue, like the turning point in any good case. Funny how Finch doesn’t feel victorious. He tries to wrap his brain about what’s happened.
Dominic has gone and fallen in love with him. And Finch should have known years ago.
He steps back, some vague thought running through his mind of putting distance between them while he works out how to handle this situation. He stumbles against one of the stacks, and the evidence rattles on its shelves. Dominic falls backward in an inelegant sprawl with his elbows supporting him in the middle of the deluge. His tie is askew, his eyes are wide and dilated, and there’s a bulge in his trousers. He looks pornographic himself. Finch is slapped with a moment of vertigo as his mind follows that notion to its logical conclusion, picturing Dominic on that desk instead of some anonymous bloke, his face twisted in something between pain and rapture-
Dominic sees him. “Sir!” Dominic gasps, then looks about him. His shock snaps Finch out of his own thoughts, leaving him feeling furious and ashamed and altogether disgusted by the situation. He can see to Dominic's unguarded heart in that moment, terrified and horribly hopeful. His hand starts to extend toward Finch, only to be pulled back when he realizes what he’s doing. “Oh, Christ. Sir, it’s not how it looks. I wasn’t—that is to say I didn’t—I was looking at the backgrounds! I thought—I thought there might be some indication of where they were shot.” He looks down at himself and scrambles into a tight huddle. He won’t meet Finch’s eye, and Finch remembers a moment when Dominic complained that guilty people ought to at least try not to be so obvious about it.
“Are you . . . are you going to report me, sir?” Dominic’s voice is small and shattered. They both know that Dominic’s career, not to mention his life, is in Finch’s hands. There’s more than enough evidence here to convict without trial. Looking for evidence he might have been, but he got caught up, and then he got caught. Creedy will jump at this. Dominic won’t survive more than two hours after a report, and they’ll find him sprawled in that untidy heap the suddenly dead always make, behind some nondescript building with the Finger’s calling card sitting on his chilled body. There will be a neat hole in his head and a not so nice exit out the back that will have splashed his brains all over the brick. He’ll also have two clean shots to the heart, because the Finger is thorough and Creedy does love a spot of irony.
Finch manages to think all these things with the dispassion of long experience, although that might be the shock at work. He doesn’t know himself if he intends to report Dominic. It’s one thing to defend him for doing his job, but this is unrelated to work. He should, by rights, shop Dominic to the Finger and save the rest of the unit from scandal. It would be easier. He wouldn’t have to deal with the awkwardness and the knowledge that the past three years have been something very different for the two of them. More than that, it’s his duty as the Chief Inspector to keep this sort of thing out of his ranks. Creedy could bag all the lads if he thinks they’ve been contaminated.
Dominic must have read all this in his expression, because he looks away with a jerk. He doesn’t say anything, but his fists clench white. Finch turns on his heel and leaves. He checks out with the desk sergeant and saying he’s going to try a new perspective on the case, and then he goes back to his flat. Once there he slaps the file down on the coffee table and goes about the business of taking his sofa out to the curb. He sits it there, and half-wishes he could leave the memories with it. He goes back inside, pours himself two fingers of whiskey, and then takes both glass and bottle to his chair. The room looks barren without the sofa, and the case file seems to blur in front of him.
He hears a car stop outside. He looks up, not altogether surprised to see Dominic at his curb. He’s staring at the sofa, his mouth hanging open and his skin blanched a ghastly white. For a moment Finch wonders if he’ll break down in the street, but Dominic sets his jaw, squares his shoulders and makes his way to the door instead.
Finch opens it when he knocks. Dominic lifts his chin, and the angle almost covered the suspicious moisture in his eyes. “If you’re going to shop me, at least tell me so I can call my parents. I don’t want them wondering. Not like my aunt and uncle.”
Finch isn’t feeling charitable. “And if I don’t think you deserve the courtesy?”
Dominic’s voice is strong in his anger. “For God’s sake, Eric—”
Finch jabs a finger in Stone’s direction. “Don’t you dare call me that. It’s ‘sir’ to you, Detective Inspector.”
Finch knows the expression on Stone’s face. It’s the same one he wore when he got shot. He flushes red for a second, and then goes quite white again. His voice is nothing more than a whisper. “I’m still me. I haven’t changed just because you found this out. I thought we were friends. I thought I could trust you.”
“Funny, I thought the same of you.”
“What was I supposed to do? Tell you? Yeah, and say what? ‘Interesting case, Eric. Oh, by the by, I know it’s highly illegal and could destroy both our careers, not to mention our lives, but I think I might fancy you’? That would have gone over well.”
“I told you not to call me that,” Finch says.
Stone seems to scarcely hear him. “And so I come over here, ready to apologize and assure you that I won’t do anything about it, nor have I ever done, only to find that you’re already scrubbing the place of me. What’s next? Breaking every dish I ever used? Bleaching the bathroom?”
“I have a career to watch out for!” Finch thunders back, and immediately feels like a hypocrite. How many times has he mocked and derided the men who would say such things? How many times has he accused them of being the worst sort of political officer?
Finch can see Stone gather his dignity and pride about him. “I guess I’ll leave you to it, then, sir.” He pulls a photo from his coat pocket and drops it on Finch’s coffee table.
Finch hesitates, and then picks up the photograph. Two men in bed. Nothing explicit there, but for their expressions and the position of their bodies. Over the shoulder of the man on top there’s a window, and through it he can see the ruins of a factory.
“I think it’s outside quarantine,” Stone says, his tone cold and professional. Finch has only ever heard him try that voice on Creedy.
It’s a good detail spotted, Finch has to admit. Not in London, he thinks. Perhaps Cardiff or one of the other broken cities. “I’ll run this down,” he says, “see if I can’t get a match to a location after I’ve cropped it down to just the window.”
Stone is awkward figure in a rumpled suit framed against his now barren front room. He shoves his hands into his pockets and stares at his feet. “I guess that’s me off, then. I know you don’t think I deserve it, but please do give me an hour before you report me. I’ve got to think of a gentle way to break this to my da.” Finch supposes he’s trying to sound gruff and unaffected, but his voice breaks on the last word and ruins the illusion. There’s a part of Finch that wants to reach out and reassure Dominic that everything will be fine, but it won’t be and there’s no use lying. Stone would know.
Stone turns away abruptly, and Finch doesn’t have to be a detective to know what he’s failing to cover. Again something in him wrenches and his palms itch, and again he stomps both impulses down. This is why he doesn’t do friendship. It costs too much.
“Don’t call him. I’m not reporting you,” Finch says. He didn’t know himself until that moment.
Stone turns to look at him, then turns away just as quickly, but not quick enough that Finch misses the glistening tracks on his cheeks. “I see,” Stone says. “You’ll ... you’ll let me know what this is going to cost me, then, sir.”
Finch’s eyes narrow. “You think I’m blackmailing you?” Doesn’t Stone know him well enough to know that he doesn’t go in for that sort of thing?
Stone turns back to him fully, no longer hiding his face or the bitter twist to his mouth. “Honestly, sir, I’ve no idea what you’re doing. All I do know is that when we were in evidence I knew you were going to shop me. And now out of nowhere you say you won’t. The only way it makes sense is if you think you’re likely to get something better out of keeping me alive. I’d rather like to know what that is up front, sir. So I can tell you whether you should save yourself the effort.”
It’s the defiance that surprises Finch. The fear is expected, the defeat and the sorrow are frankly mutual, but that cold sense that there are limits beyond which Stone would prefer his brains to adorn London brick is a painful reminder of why Finch started to like him in the first place. It makes it impossible to see him as nothing more than a deviant and a criminal. Stone’s words are in his head: ‘it’s still me’.
And it is, God help them.
“Be at the office. Do your job. Do nothing more than your job,” he said. “And never bring this up again.”
Stone looks at him for a long minute, and somehow this simple, easy demand seems to break him far more than when he thought this would be a matter of blackmail. He gives Finch a sharp nod and leaves, his face lit in profile from the streetlamp outside. His body is shaking, but his breathing is steady.
Chapter 10: Third Footnote
“You look like hell,” Delia says when he turns up at the pub not an hour later. He called her, asked for this. He needs a friend right now, and he’s down to one.
She offers to buy him a whiskey, but he declines. He can’t trust himself. Not with the horrid downward spiral his life has taken this day.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asks.
“Nothing to tell,” he says.
“It’s Dominic, isn’t it?”
He looks up at her, startled. Is he that obvious?
“You’re upset, Eric. You don’t get upset about cases, or about people you don’t know and care about. As I’m fine, that leaves him.” She looks at him steadily. “Is he all right?”
“No,” Finch bites, but backs off. “But in the sense you’re talking about, he’s fine.”
“Inspector Stone did something incredibly stupid,” he says, gritting it between his teeth.
She arches an eyebrow at him. “Unforgivably stupid, Eric?”
He says nothing, because he doesn’t know. He can’t imagine forgiving this, but he also knows that, considering the speed with which everything has come to light, he’s not in the most rational of moods. It’s possible that, given time, this won’t seem so bad.
Delia takes his silence as confirmation. “Reportably stupid?” she asks, her voice and her expression sharpened. She seems detached, suddenly, and he understands how easily she can slip into the persona of a coroner. She can shut herself off.
And there’s the choice to make. Delia is a better Party member than he has ever been, despite her occasional comments. She would make the report. If he tells her, he won’t have to say a thing; it will all be taken care of. He again conjures the image of Stone behind some building in a bad part of town, handsome face lax and dark eyes staring. He forces himself to rewind that imagining, picturing the bagging, and then the bag being ripped off in that alley; the shove that knocks Stone against the wall; his confusion and then his realization as he looks up and sees the gun. The Finger will ask him if he wants to say anything, perhaps give up the names of fellow homosexuals in the Force. He’ll tell them to piss off. He knows what’s coming anyway, and understands how this works well enough to know that he won’t stop it. So he’ll get in his spot of defiance, and then the gun will come up. Will he panic at that moment? Or will he stare down death? It doesn’t matter. The gun goes off. The end. Stone will hit the ground, twitching, but the two shots to the heart will still him.
Finch feels nauseous. Before he can stop himself he blurts out, “No, it’s nothing like that. Just Stone being an exceptional prat and me having to deal with the fallout.”
He’s lied. Delia must know he’s lied. He’s not good at it around people he likes, and she’s an excellent judge of character. He looks at her, trying to gauge her reaction. Will she report Stone even so? What can Finch do if that happens?
She shakes her head. “Don’t let this get out of hand, Eric. The lads look to you to keep things running smoothly in CID, and if the two of you are at odds the whole unit will suffer.”
“It won’t go that far. We can work together. We just might not be spending a lot of off-hours together for a time.”
Delia watches him, perceiving more than she ought, but that’s common. Funny how it’s never made him uncomfortable before. Then again, he’s never had anything to hide before.
Chapter 11: A Hollow
When Finch came to work the next morning, he found all the things cleared off Stone’s desk, and Finch’s spare key lying next to his keyboard. Every excruciatingly revealed inch of personality was gone. Stone sat in his chair, working steadily on leads for the smuggling case, and was buttoned into a suit so well ironed he might have been a poorly executed statue with no creases and no life. He was doing his best to make himself just another shadow in Finch’s periphery.
Finch wanted to shout at him, but there was nothing to say, and he did prefer things this way. Every other alternative was unthinkable. The hollow feeling that settled in his gut when he looked at Dominic and thought of the lie the past five years had been would pass with time. He went back to work.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
In the end they have to go outside quarantine. They take an armored truck along with several of the young lads to track down their lead on the outskirts of what used to be Manchester. Finch knows that Stone has never been outside quarantine and shoots glances at him as their armored van bounces along the old M-1. Stone is leaning toward the window, watching the scenery flash past.
Finch has long since learned that the country outside quarantine looks quite a bit like the country inside quarantine, if a bit more overgrown. There are vast tracts of land where no one lives, and the weeds have overrun the farmhouses and small villages. Some structures have fallen entirely, and their support struts look like ribcages against the early morning sky.
But everything is still green, and the sky is a pale, almost cloudless blue. “Funny how something so nice can give you the collywobbles, isn’t it?” Stone asks, shooting him a grin before looking away sharply. “Sorry, sir,” he mutters and stares out the window with even more resolution.
The constables exchange a look, but none seem overly concerned. Spats between superior officers aren’t unheard of, after all, and even partners like Finch and Stone might have the occasional falling out. They’re the only ones who know how far they’ve fallen.
“All right,” Finch says. “When we get to Manchester, we stay on our toes and we focus on the job. No one wanders off. We get in, we get the job done, and we go home. Decontamination is going to take long enough as things stand. Understood?”
He receives a chorus of ‘yes, sir’s from the constables, and the same from Stone, who still stares out the window. He does so throughout the rest of the trip, never sparing Finch so much as a glance after his initial slip-up.
Three hours later and the team steps out into clean air. London has a perpetual smog hanging over it, but after twenty years of no industrial works, Manchester is clear. One of the constables coughs a bit for the sharpness of it.
Stone has that keen look on his face that says he’s learning unexpected things. Finch has a momentary wonder if Stone intends to leg it into this very nice desolation.
They make their way in cautious file toward the warehouse triangulated by their computer experts. It isn’t much to look at, and half-fallen in, but the part that still stands looks sturdy. It would be shelter enough for smugglers.
The warehouse, when they search it, is empty, but still shows signs of its former occupants. Several rooms are done over for their photo-shoots, and Finch recognizes the desk and the bedroom. He does not look at Stone, and he knows Stone isn’t looking at him. This case is cutting too close to the knuckle by far.
The photographs recall too easily in his mind, painting pictures of men in intimate relations with one another. Only in each situation, his mind once again substitutes Stone: first the already-imagined image of him perched on the edge of the desk, legs wrapped around navy blue suiting of an unseen other man; then in the bed with some other man, gasping and clawing at the sheets as he's taken hard enough to cause the headboard to leave the ridges of paint Finch can see on the bricks. Finch can’t dislodge the press of images, each more heated than the last.
“Are you all right, sir?” Constable Burrows asks.
“Of course,” Finch says, more out of reflex than any conscious decision. “Just a bit of dust.”
“Too right,” Burrows says. “This place hasn’t seen people in at least two weeks.”
“No it hasn’t,” Finch says. He raises his voice so everyone can hear. “Looks like our smugglers have already scarpered. Spread out. If they've left any evidence of their present whereabouts, I want it found.”
The constables make their way into other rooms. After a moment of standing near Finch but not actually approaching him or mentioning the bed they're both still facing, Stone moves off as well.
Finch begins to go through the rooms one at a time. They're abandoned, although there are remaining crates, boxes and even the odd jar of honey. It’s a lonely, broken place, fit only for those whom society has rejected. The broken cities are full of people who’ve slipped the Finger’s net and are willing to risk the plagues for a chance at a decent span of years. He supposes it’s the safer bet for people like that.
People like Stone.
No, it’s not the time to think about his own problems. And it’s especially not the moment to think about how it’s only been four weeks, and he already misses Dominic like a fucking lost limb. It’s especially not the moment to think about how his hard stance against associating with a man so likely to get him bagged feels ready to fall apart under the slightest offer of friendship. Not that Stone has offered. He’s always been good at following orders, and he must be good at shutting himself off from people to have risen so far through the Met’s ranks without anyone knowing about him. He knows the conditions Finch has set for his life, and he will stick to them, no matter his own thoughts on the matter. Whatever they may be.
Damn Stone anyway. He was supposed to be a bit interesting at best. He was never supposed to have become a friend, and he was certainly never supposed to have been such a brilliant liar until he very suddenly wasn’t. And damn Finch for walking into that evidence room. If he hadn’t done, he never would have known. Stone wasn’t stupid enough to have ever acted on those impulses of his, and Finch would never have known, never had those damned images running through his head in a mocking loop. His couch would still be in his front room, and they would still be friends.
But that wouldn’t work, either. Because Finch is beholden to the truth, always, and their so-called ‘friendship’ was a lie. It was all some sort of masochistic exercise on Stone’s part to get close to another man without getting arrested for it. Precisely how many of their interactions had been a careful manipulation on Stone’s part? How far had Finch been duped?
This won’t do at all. Finch can scarcely concentrate on the evidence in the warehouse, let alone the intricacies of the case. In the span of moments he’s veered wildly between hating Stone and wanting Dominic back no matter the cost. He can recognize the signs of grief, having seen them in enough witnesses over the years. He shouldn’t be working in this condition, but there’s no choice. There’s no reason he can give for a leave of absence that won’t arouse suspicion. He’ll get over this. He will—
He hears a crunch behind him. Finch turns faster than he should and scans his gun across the room, searching in the shadows. It’s a bright day outside. He didn’t even think of bringing a torch. Not until he can’t see a thing in the corners.
Finch keeps his breathing steady and his hands from shaking. Adrenalin can be a powerful tool or the one slip-up a criminal needs to gain the upper hand. Finch makes for the door, knowing that a single egress will allow a safer vantage of the room. It’s likely a feral cat, but there are men out beyond quarantine who would be more than willing to kill him for his shoes.
Another noise has Finch turning toward the door itself, but there's still nothing there, no movement whatsoever.
No sound heralds the attack. He should have anticipated that.
It’s nothing fancy. It never is. Just a blinding strike across the back of his head from a two-by-four and an ungainly sprawl to the ground. His gun goes skittering away, and Finch goes scrambling after it. He doesn’t look at his assailant. There's no time. If his attacker has a gun, Finch will be dead in seconds. If it’s only the two-by-four, Finch can hope it doesn’t have nails in.
The board strikes him across the shoulders. No permanent damage, but the pain is intense, and if there aren’t nails there are certainly tacks. He feels the ends pierce his skin, but don’t get far. They hit his shoulder blade first. His arm goes numb.
“Shit,” he gasps, forcing himself through the pain and onward. It would be pathetic to die in this empty warehouse, killed by someone who likely isn’t even involved in his case. Just some damned crazy wild man out beyond quarantine.
Finch rolls over and manages to catch the next swing. The man does look wild, with an unkempt beard and long hair. He wears clothing that could easily date before the pandemic, and he wields his board with a single-minded intensity that has Finch worried.
Finch scrambles backward, his feet scrabbling for purchase on the cement floor, his elbows jockeying a path behind him. The man comes for him.
“Oi!” he hears from the doorway. The wild man does not turn either, but bolts from the room. Stone barrels past Finch’s prone form, but does not give chase as the wild man hops through the window and plunges into the bush. The tangled weeds are a tactical disadvantage to anyone who isn’t used to them.
Stone turns slowly, looking at Finch for a moment. His hands flutter, and then still. “Did he hurt you, sir?” he asks, his face and voice giving nothing away.
“Blow to the back of the head and a puncture to the back of my shoulder. I’ll need to be certain my tetanus jabs are up to date.”
Stone gives a nod. “Do you need my help, or shall I gather the lads?”
Finch gives a shake of his head. “I’ll get to the truck on my own. You finish the search.”
“Already done. The lads are just waiting for orders.”
As is Stone, Finch realizes. He isn’t going to take the initiative here. There was a time when Dominic would have been helping Finch out the door whether he wanted it or no, but Stone is distant and professional: exactly what Finch demanded he be.
Finch knows he should send Stone off to see to the lads, but there is something in this moment that tells him not to do. He’s weakened and an easy target. It makes sense to accept help where it’s offered. There are hundreds of perfectly legitimate reasons. None of them matter. It is the first time since their confrontation that he can bridge the gap in any way.
He holds out his hand. Stone regards it with caution. Finch wonders if he thinks it’s a trap. Finally he takes Finch’s hand and pulls him to his feet. The pain in his shoulder, even with the other arm being pulled, is excruciating, and Finch grits his teeth against the desire to scream.
Stone holds him steady, but his hands don’t stray from the positions they took up on Finch’s upper arms. There are no calming strokes, not even a reassuring pat. The grip might as well be for any victim of a crime, but particularly those who might not be entirely innocent themselves.
Finch allows himself to lean against his partner regardless, waiting for the dizzy spell to pass. It will do him no good to pass out by moving too soon.
Once he’s certain his feet can hold his weight, he shifts back. Stone lets him go without hesitation. “Come on, sir,” he says. He sounds gruff, and far too much like Finch to be good for either of them. “Follow me.”
Finch does, and tries to understand what he’s doing. Here he is, following his junior partner out of a crime scene in hopes that said junior partner, the same man he threw out of his flat and his life four weeks back, might show any signs of affection. He should transfer Stone before this gets worse and they both get bagged. He should take a vacation to get some perspective and gather his thoughts about how best to handle Stone on a long-term basis. He should get over the denial and ask Dominic to forget everything he said, to forgive him and maybe come over for drinks and case files.
He stumbles while trying to climb into the truck, but Dominic catches him before he can fall altogether. Dominic holds him steady. Finch looks at Stone, but can’t maintain eye contact. “Thank you,” he says.
Stone doesn’t say anything at all, but nor does he let go until Finch is safely in the vehicle. The driver starts it up, and they rattle away from the abandoned shell of the warehouse.
Chapter 12: Bridge
One case led to another, and that led to another. Some went cold while others were solved. It was the nature of police work. They returned to work the next day to find that someone was robbing convenience stores in well-to-do neighborhoods. The case was high profile. They would need to be on top form.
Finch set a tray over the gap between their desks, its legs finding each side. Stone looked at him like he was trying to divine a particularly obscure motive.
“This way,” Finch said, “both of us have easy access to files for cases we’re both working.”
Stone nodded and said nothing. They worked that case and the next with the tray sitting between them. Sometimes it contained files and sometimes it didn’t. Two cases then became eighteen, and eighteen became ninety. Cases never stopped. Crime never stopped. It became second nature for a plastic bridge to stand between their desks. Just as it became routine that Stone made an excellent copper, but the spark had gone from their partnership as though it had never been. Years passed in this strange stalemate, and Finch had begun to wonder if their closeness and those evenings on his couch had ever been there at all.
The desire for closeness only grew as the years passed. If Finch had hoped it would fade with time and lack of familiarity he had been wrong. He was getting soft as he got older. Every now and again he would look at the spot where his couch used to sit, and his mind would wander to ‘what if’s, but he would always pull himself back. There was no use hashing over potentialities that would never come to pass.
Finch didn’t deal with what could have been. He dealt with reality. He dealt with crime and arrests and a partner who respected professional distance. It had done Stone good, even. Any hint of the eager rookie was gone. He was jaded, smart and capable. He was still vigorous and tended to charge into dangerous situations, but with his prospects, who was he kidding? Death could come at any moment either way. He might as well die a hero instead of one more faceless criminal.
Finch took to chewing antacids in his spare time. Delia shot him worried looks. For once in his life, he tried not to puzzle out the problem at hand.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
Finch is sitting next to Dominic on the couch that should, by rights, have been sent off to the dump with the rest of the unwanted bits. But there it is in his front room, and Finch doesn’t think to question it, nor does he question the fact that his front window has been replaced by a painting of a ship being tossed on a stormy sea that the Ministry of Objectionable Materials would certainly look at askance. None of that matters, though, because he has Dominic’s hand in his and Dominic is giving him a very particular look.
“You know what day it is, Eric?” Dominic asks.
Finch knows. “It’s your birthday, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Thirty today, aren’t I?”
Finch knows Dominic is thirty-three in four weeks, but that doesn’t matter. They can certainly both be true. “Forgot to get you a present,” Finch says. He knows the response to this. He feels like he’s been here before, going through this same routine.
Dominic’s palm is warm on the side of his face. His mouth is inches away from Finch’s. “Funny, but I rather think you did remember after all.”
“Clever old me,” Finch says, and then Dominic kisses him.
Their mouths slide together easily, and it feels as though they’ve been doing this forever. He knows things about Dominic, things like how he enjoys having the tip of his tongue nipped at, and then dragged lightly between Finch’s teeth. He knows that Dominic likes getting a light tug at his hair, or a hand teasing at the back of his trousers. Dominic squirms on his side of the couch, his hands urgent against Finch’s sides. They’ve never gone further than this. There are reasons, although Finch can’t be arsed to figure them out at the moment. He pulls back a little, breathing the same air as Dominic. Their mouths keep brushing and clinging. Dominic doesn’t have a shirt. Didn’t he have one two seconds ago? Finch could have sworn he remembers cotton against his knuckles.
It’s better this way. Dominic’s skin is smooth, except where it’s broken by the myriad little scars that dot any policeman’s hide after so many years on the streets. Finch tries his hardest to find each scar in turn, running his fingers along the planes of Dominic’s back in methodical sweeps. His words are half-kisses when he says, “Come on, get over here.”
He doesn’t have to tell Dominic twice, and Finch feels the weight of another person settle on him. Dominic’s aroused. He can feel it press low against his belly, and it’s odd but wonderful. The pressure against his own groin has him grinding up against Dominic’s arse.
Dominic breaks away, his head falling back and his eyes closed. He bites his lip. That conjures the vaguest sense of a memory, but it’s not enough for Finch to worry about. Not with his arms about Dominic’s waist and his lips on Dominic’s throat. Dominic’s pulse is wild under his tongue.
“Oh, God,” Dominic groans, and Finch wants to hear that tone of voice on him much, much more. “Christ, yes.”
“Anything,” Finch says, and realizes that wasn’t as clear as it should have been. He tries again. “Tonight, anything you want.”
Dominic gives him a shocked, wondering look. He grabs Finch by the face and kisses him hard. They’re tangled together, one second kissing and the next Finch feels himself sliding into a slick, tight heat and he hears Dominic cry out.
He sees the expression of agonized pleasure on Dominic’s face, and then he wakes up.
He lays in bed, panting and hard and horrified by the realization that he was dreaming of Dominic—Stone. He was dreaming of Stone. Specifically he was dreaming of having sex with Stone, and it felt like the most perfect thing, far better, certainly, than any sex he can remember having with his incredibly infrequent girlfriends. More than that, he thinks he’s dreamed this before. He shivers at the thought.
He climbs out of bed, and hopes that a bit of a walk will work off the frustrated weight between his legs. He gets some water, and finds that his feet have carried him down the stairs to the front room. There are no divots in the carpet where the couch used to sit. The window is back in its place, looking out on a deserted street. No one in their right mind would be out at three in the morning.
He would have used that as an excuse to have Dominic stay the night. They would have had drinks, and maybe Finch would have got drunk enough to run his fingers over Dominic's ears again. Maybe it wouldn't be his fingers, but his mouth or his tongue. Maybe instead of breathing hard and covering up reactions which were only obvious in hindsight, Dominic would make ragged little noises and-
Finch shakes his head. It’s no good going back to bed in this state. He gets the whiskey and pours himself a glass, weighs the possibility of becoming an alcoholic but decides it isn’t worth the concern. At this rate something will certainly kill him sooner than booze, and he doesn’t drink on the job.
Maybe he should start. Today Stone said barely two words to him. There were hollows under his eyes, and he looked like he hadn’t slept. He kept his eyes to the computer screen. If Finch spoke to him he would reply, but any familiarity was gone. He’d been more personal his first day on the job. If Finch has been straining for some sort of renewal of closeness between them, Stone has been pushing all the harder to keep them apart.
Finch tells himself for the thousandth time that they’ll get past this. He tells himself this is for the best. The Finger would just love a hint that either of them shows homosexual tendencies, and Finch has no intention of seeing the inside of one of their detention centers. And he doesn’t have homosexual tendencies, anyway. People have all sorts of wild dreams and thoughts in the middle of the night that don’t reflect anything. He’s had Dominic on the brain of late, and his mind decided to play with the possibilities. That was it. Just one of those damnable ‘what if’s.
Finch isn’t a slave to his feelings or his hormones. He's excised or killed both over the years, and this is just a reminder of why. They’re dangerous, and they’ll just lead him to do stupid things. If he hadn’t reached out so far, Stone never would have got ideas. They would still be fine.
But Finch wouldn’t have memories of evenings spent with someone he cared about. He wouldn’t have the memory of those minute expressions as Dominic worked through a problem. He wouldn’t have the memory of Dominic’s sleepy, half-drunk weight pressed to his side over case notes until their vision blurred and Dominic started to come up with more and more ridiculous explanations for the crime, and they would both end up wheezing with laugher, Dominic holding onto him tightly to stay upright.
It’s so easy to realize how Dominic saw something more in those moments. Finch thinks of the dream, but refuses to wonder if maybe he’s the one who got it wrong. None of that matters, because they aren’t getting caught doing something stupid. Not while he’s got some say about it.
He’s wondering if perhaps alcoholism isn’t such a bad option after all when he hears the explosion.
Chapter 13: Gun
Everything they had on the demolition of the Old Bailey—including security photographs detailing the assault on their mystery girl and her rescue by that bloody weird man in the mask—was on Stone’s desk the next day. His Beretta, too, was laid out on the corner, newly cleaned and deadly, ready to be slipped back into his shoulder holster. As soon as Finch walked in, Stone transferred the files over to him and put his gun away.
“I’ve contacted a few of the lads I know in other divisions,” he said. “I’ve got someone in surveillance and my friend in the Finger on it. If that girl’s got an identity I’ll find it, sir.”
“Good work, Do—Inspector,” Finch said. He hated how easily the slip came, or the swiftly extinguished spark of hope he saw in Stone’s eyes.
“Thank you, sir,” he said, and his tone was as neutral as it was possible to be.
Finch resolutely returned to his desk. He didn’t think about that dream, or about a friendship between them. They had a case, and it was going to be a headache. Whoever had blown up the Old Bailey meant business, and wasn’t going to stop until the police stopped him. Or until Creedy did, but some niggling suspicion told Finch that Creedy wouldn’t. Not this time. There was something different about this case, though he couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
He pulled out his own gun and started to disassemble it. Stone watched him work as they waited for a call that would set everything into motion.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
Jordan Tower. Jordan bleeding Tower. So easy to track little Miss Hammond back to her job, what with her leaving a void ID in her home. Not the world’s great terrorist, her. Still, Finch thought it would be an easy job to find her, and to get to her before Creedy could.
Then there was the panic. She got lost in the crowd, and they had to deal with a madman on the loose—or maybe not entirely mad. Finch doesn’t want to think about that too soon. It’s easy to get swept up in rhetoric. He needs time. He needs to do his job.
It still seemed like a situation they could resolve with relatively little difficulty when he told Dominic to secure the elevators.
The second Finch hears the commotion in the hall, the gunshots ringing, he knows what’s happening. Silence descends, and there is no subsequent radio chatter. Finch is sprinting before he can think, out of the control booth and away from a startled Dascombe. It had been second nature in the heat of their pursuit of the Hammond girl to shout out ‘Dominic’ like nothing changed. When he sent Dominic off to secure the elevators, it was because of that same trust. Because he needed a sound lad covering the exit.
Finch almost slips in the blood. He catches himself against the wall and looks down. The constables lay dead, each stabbed or slashed and laying where they fell. There is a security guard for the Tower too, but Finch scarcely sees him.
A man with a knife did this, and he’s nowhere to be seen. A man with a knife killed five cops with guns, and that only leaves one final line of containment. God help him, Finch doesn’t even pause to see if any of the constables are still breathing. He radios for backup and medical, but he’s already pelting for the elevators. It’s like catching that killer at the beginning of their partnership when Dominic got shot, only far worse. Because he’s just seen those lads, all of them combat trained, lying in their own blood on the tile. The chances Dominic was able to take the terrorist down alone are—
Finch skids round the corner of the hall and what he sees sends his heart pounding so hard he can feel it under his tongue. The terrorist is disappearing into the elevator, little more than a glimpse of black boots and a cape, and Dominic lies unmoving on the floor. His gun is a few feet away, but he isn’t reaching for it.
Finch runs, and it seems to take far too long to skid to Dominic’s side and catch up his partner’s body. Finch cradles Dominic close without thought. He can feel the pulse in Dominic’s throat, steady. He has a gash across his cheek and a bruise blooming across his temple, but he’s alive. Finch can’t help but wonder what sort of providence moved the terrorist, who obviously holds no compunctions about killing, to do no more than knock Dominic unconscious.
Finch looks up to see the terrorist in that terrible, smiling mask. He’s holding Miss Hammond’s unconscious body to his own chest, and for a moment it feels as though they are reflections of one another, each clinging to someone so important that it forestalls other instincts. The terrorist doesn’t try to kill Finch, and Finch doesn’t go for his gun or try to jam the elevator. In fact, neither of them moves to do anything aside from stare at one another in that uncomfortable moment of understanding. The elevator door slides closed.
Chapter 14: The Key Again
Finch took Dominic home. He did this on instinct, without thinking of anything but the unconscious weight in the passenger seat of his car, and his insistence to Dascombe that Dominic didn’t need to go to hospital with the rest of the witnesses. He could well imagine who would be waiting to question them there.
When he got to his flat he didn’t quite know what to do with Dominic. Eventually he lugged him inside in a fireman’s carry, took him up the full flight of stairs and dropped him onto the bed. A bit of wrestling later, and he had Dominic out of his jacket, tie, belt, and shoes, and under the covers. He checked Dominic’s eyes, and the pupils were the same size. His pulse was steady.
Finch got the first aid kit out of his bathroom. He cleaned out the cut and then applied a gauze pad with a bit of surgical tape. He went to his kitchen, filled a plastic bag with ice, wrapped it in a dishtowel, and brought it upstairs. He laid it over the already-forming lump on Dominic’s head in hopes of keeping the swelling down. Finch settled into a chair next to the bed to wait out the unconsciousness. He set his house key on the bedside table without thinking about it. It only took him five minutes of coming down from the adrenalin high of almost getting bombed, almost having his partner killed by a terrorist in a Guy Fawkes mask, almost losing him to Creedy, and almost not getting him all the way up the stairs for Finch to fall into an exhausted, fitful sleep.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
Finch is awakened by a soft noise. Dominic is stirring, making muzzy noises in the back of his throat. Finch blinks open his eyes and sees Dominic’s hand rise toward his bandaged head. Finch can see the struggle through layers of unconsciousness play out in the lines around his eyes.
He gives himself a mental reprimand for falling asleep. Dominic could have slipped into a coma while Finch slept in an armchair not three feet distant. He pulls himself up and crosses the space between chair and bed to perch on the edge and feel the lump that’s showing its rather spectacular self even through the gauze.
Dominic groans a bit and his eyes flutter open. For a moment he smiles, unguarded, before he blinks and tries to draw back. Finch has never seen the resulting shade of green on him. He makes a grab for the bin, and the now-melted cold pack falls to the floor with a thump. Finch reaches to pick it up, but Dominic must have mistaken the gesture for something else and waves him off.
“No,” Dominic wheezes, “I’m okay. Where am I?”
Dominic looks about, and Finch wonders if the perspective is different from the bed. The only reason Dominic had to come upstairs was to use Finch’s shower. The room perhaps looks different supine after several months of absence. The memory distorts after that long. Any copper worth his salt knows not to trust eyewitness testimony after several months.
When he speaks again, Dominic sounds careful. “Sir, why am I in your flat?”
There was a time when that question would have been laughable, but that time is passed. After clutching his unconscious partner, he knows that he was wrong in driving the wedge between them. For once in Eric Finch's cautious life, he should have taken a chance. But instead of trusting his partner and friend, instead of working through it as they'd worked through so much before, he'd gone and ruined them. His life has become a wreck without him noticing. He's seeing parallels to himself in a terrorist, of all things, as though there might well be a deep chasm that’s not so wide between them.
Finch tries to shake off his odd mood. He mightn’t be the dew-eyed innocent who believes everything the Party tells him without question, but by and large Norsefire’s done all right by England. Crime is down, and they’ve been protected from biological attacks since St. Mary’s and Three Waters. That has to make some difference. Finch dislikes the plaintive way that thought rings in his head.
“Sir?” Dominic asks, quieter, more worried.
“I didn’t want to give Creedy a crack at you while you were out. I thought he’d be at the hospital.”
“So you took me to your flat?”
“Safe enough,” Finch says, and shrugged. They both ignore how similar and yet how different this is to the last time it happened.
Dominic’s expression shutters. “Of course, sir. Thank you. I’ll just—” He tries to lever himself up, and immediately curls up, groping for the bin that Finch presses into his hands. Dominic dry-heaves into it, shaking, and Finch puts an awkward hand on his back. “Son of a bitch,” Dominic groans between retches.
“Easy,” Finch says, as gentle as he can make his voice. “I think you may have concussion.”
Dominic groans a miserable agreement, and finally stops heaving. He leans over, wrung out. Finch can feel the tremors running through him. He picks up the cold pack. It’s barely cool now.
“You’re not going anywhere for a bit,” he says. “I don’t know much about concussion, but I know you shouldn’t be walking about. You stay here while I go and fill this bag with ice again, right? I’ll get you a glass of water.”
Dominic grits his teeth and has the good sense not to nod. Finch hurries downstairs, changes out his ice, gets a glass of water, and, after a second’s thought, two extra-strength painkillers. He takes his things upstairs and finds Dominic in much the same position.
He knows he’s fussing when he places the cold pack and gets Dominic to swallow down the two pain tablets. Dominic is giving him furtive glances, obviously trying to suss out what Finch is about. Finch says, “I need to call a doctor. I know a man who’ll come, and who won’t ask questions.”
“Backstreet doctor, sir? Aren’t you worried about the surveillance catching you?”
Finch shrugs. “Something tells me they’ll be looking elsewhere right now,” he says, and he goes for the phone. His contact agrees to come, particularly in light of the nausea, and he understands about not taking Dominic to hospital straight off. Most of his clients aren’t the sort who can set foot anywhere that would get their IDs swiped.
He settles back in next to the bed after he’s made the call. Dominic has relaxed a bit as the drugs kick in, and Finch is relieved to see that he’s kept them down. Surely that’s an encouraging sign.
Dominic still isn’t looking him in the eye. “I’ll clear off out of here as soon as I can, sir,” he says.
“Don’t worry about it,” Finch says. “I’ll have you running files from bed until you’re mobile, and I’ll need more than a bit of help then. You can stay—”
“The couch is gone, sir,” Dominic says, curt and almost angry. He slips back into neutrality with only that brief stutter. “I’d have nowhere to sleep. I’ll go home. I can review files there.”
Finch feels as if he’s reaching out over a very long drop, with a crosswind tearing at his balance. “The bed is large enough for two.”
Dominic looks at him, really looks at him, his dark eyes very wide. For a moment there is no way he could be a shadow in Finch’s periphery, and Finch understands how Dominic could look at their hands and think them to be the whole world.
Dominic shutters himself again and looks away. “No, Inspector,” he says, “I really don’t think it is.”
Chapter 15: Fourth Footnote
“Goodness, but it has been a while. Dare I hope that you’ve brought me whiskey?” Delia asks as he walks into the morgue. Her smile is light and teasing. He’s missed light and teasing.
“Sorry, Delia. Don’t suppose you’d take a body instead?”
She crosses her arms and leans back against the counter. “It doesn’t even have the benefit of originality. I thought you might try something a bit better than that.”
“Something in line with a single malt?”
“We can start there, yes.”
He jabs a finger in her direction and forces the smirk from his face. “You’re a corrupting influence, Delia Surridge. I blame the state of my liver on you.”
“But it’s so very easy,” she says, “and so much fun.” She sways forward, pushing away from the counter. “It’s good to see you smile again, Eric. I was starting to worry about you.”
“No need,” he says, and it’s an automatic response.
She sees through it without a second’s thought. “Twaddle. I for one am glad that you’re mending bridges with Dominic. You don’t have nearly enough friends to go about alienating the few you have.”
“Is that an order, Doctor?”
“It’s common sense, Inspector. I’m sure you’re acquainted with the concept.”
“I’m certain I’ve heard it mentioned in passing.”
Finch hears the squeak of the gurney wheels approaching and says, “Sounds like he’s here.”
The body comes in seconds later, and Delia unzips the bag with the easy finesse of the well acquainted. Then the zip stops halfway down and she stares. He wondered if she would react, and now that he sees her he feels that he should have warned her first.
“Good lord,” she whispers. “It’s Prothero.”
“Yeah,” he says.
Her breathing evens out and she shakes her head. “Well, this is a surprise. I can honestly say that I never expected to see this man on my table.”
“What? Did the Party convince you he’d never die?”
For a moment it looked like Delia wanted to say something very important, but then she smiled a little and said, “You’re terrible, Eric. You really are.” Finch hands her the file from the scene and she looks over it. Again there is that odd flicker of something in her expression, and he can’t help but wonder if perhaps Delia knew Prothero. He certainly can’t account for her behavior otherwise.
“Poison,” she says. “I’ll take samples. Come back in a few hours, Eric, and I should have more definitive answers for you.”
“If only the whole world worked like you do.”
She gives him a smile, but it’s tight and lost in thought.
Chapter 16: History Books
Weeks passed, and the country started to think that V had indeed disappeared or been killed. Finch couldn’t blame them. The madness of those few days faded quickly enough, lulled by the repetitive propaganda and tightly controlled message put out by the Party. The difference now, though, was that the seed had been planted. Everyone had seen the broadcast, and if those thoughts took root in even a quarter of the population the Party was looking at a problem.
Dascombe and the others seemed to relax after a while, their conferences with Sutler (perhaps the most difficult part of being the chief inspector was attempting to keep faith in the Party while talking to a giant, angry head) forgotten in the every-day bustle and business. But Finch didn’t forget. He couldn’t help but think that they were all sitting on a powder keg, and even as they acclimatized to it, the fuse was running short.
So he kept investigating. He set Dominic on researching Guy Fawkes, and planning out contingencies. He had to pull several strings, but the Ministry of Objectionable Material finally lent him several old textbooks that covered the subject extensively. They were delivered in discreet manila envelopes, which Dominic promptly tore open so he could settle the texts in a neat stack at the corner of his desk. Finch considered inviting him over for research and drinks, but he didn’t.
He spent his time digging into Prothero’s background, and uncovering not only a penchant for pharmecuticals, but a connection to Viadoxic and some detention facility called Larkhill. A facility that, conveniently enough, had no extant records. They had chased their leads to the army, but only uncovered something useful when they’d found a hardcopy of the tax records of the place. Prothero had been in charge, and the highest paid member of staff had been a preist. Bloody strange, that, and even stranger with the connection to Viadoxic. Finch had a sinking feeling he’d only felt once or twice in his career, and each time right before he stepped into a case so deep he had to get out before he drowned. Finch was finding it harder and harder to back out.
Then they got the call that a priest, now bishop, called Lilliman was dead. Finch grabbed his coat and Dominic, and left his papers and Dominic’s history books in a heap on their desks.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
Another day, another body. Another streamer of white foam, vomit and blood next to another head. Father Lilliman, this time. Priest once, also at Larkhill, and then Bishop. And now just another ugly corpse splayed out on the ground. Forensics found a small derringer near him, and confirmed it had been fired. He tried to defend himself before the end, but there is no sign of blood, nor of the bullet. It’s a mystery, and one Finch suspects he has an answer to. V had been carrying himself stiffly in Jordan Towers, and Finch would bet his pension it had been body armor that had caused such rigid posture.
“Run every name in that file,” he says, still staring at the body. “I want the whereabouts of all of them tonight.”
“Yes, sir,” he hears Dominic say, and can feel more than hear his shift to leave. He stills. When he leans in it causes Finch to keep himself from startling, but all Dominic does is whisper, “Pucker up. Here comes the Finger.”
One look confirms that it’s not only the Finger, but Creedy himself come to see the body. Again, Finch feels that drowning sensation. One look to Dominic reveals a clamoring panic behind a rigid mask of indifference.
It’s time for damage control on more than one front. Was there ever a time he considered shopping Dominic to Creepy Creedy and his boys? He can’t even imagine it as he mutters, “Yeah. Get going. I’ll handle him.”
Dominic, still obviously not past being terrified of Creedy and the threat he represents, doesn’t object. He just takes himself off to run down that list and try and stop the next killing. Finch straightens himself up as much as he can as Creedy glides in. He doesn’t comment as Creedy brushes past Dominic, his eyes finding and staring at him for one long second before finally transferring to the body. There’s a threat there. Finch knows it. The tension in Dominic’s shoulders says he knows it too.
“Creedy,” Finch says, “what are you doing here?”
“Several important Party members have been murdered, Chief Inspector,” Creedy says. His gaze doesn’t leave Lilliman’s body. “This is no ordinary situation, and requires more than your ordinary attention. The Chancellor demanded my immediate involvement.”
Finch knows what Creedy’s ‘involvement’ will entail. “It’ll be hard to run an investigation if you’re detaining all my witnesses,” he says. He does not mention his partner, but the knowledge of Dominic’s continued precarious position hangs over them both, making Finch bold and angry.
Creedy doesn’t bother looking at Finch. “The security of information is paramount. In these volatile times, mistakes like Jordan Tower cannot be tolerated.” He turns like a striking snake. “If indeed Jordan Tower was an accident.”
Everything in Finch stills at that. Creedy wouldn’t dare. “What does that mean?”
“The terrorist seems to have a rather intimate understanding of our system. The Chancellor suspects there might be an informer.”
“Are you saying I’m under surveillance, Mr. Creedy?” Finch asks.
“At this time it would behoove you to cease any investigation of matters that have long since passed and concentrate on the concerns of our present.”
“You mean Larkhill,” Finch says. Creedy already knows. The office must be bugged. Creedy’s seen the papers, the history books, the files they dug out of the tax records. Finch won’t deny and he won’t flinch under this particular gaze.
“Major Wilson is a friend of the High Chancellor,” Creedy says, which at least gives Finch an idea of when the surveillance likely started. “His loyalty is not in question.”
“But mine is.”
“Your mother was Irish, wasn’t she?” Creedy asks. He sounds casual. Finch stiffens at the implications. It has never been said to his face, never thrown at him like this. He thought he had long since reconciled his past, had put it all behind him. He was wrong. Creedy sounds silky as he says, “Terrible what Saint Mary’s did to Ireland, wasn’t it?” and all the insinuations in that statement, the knowledge that a fluke of his birth could bring his life to an abrupt halt hit Finch so hard he could barely breathe with fury.
“I’ve been a Party member for twenty-seven years,” he grates out, livid and, worse still, helpless against such a vague accusation.
Creedy smiles, and Finch knows he’s lost, knows Creedy can destroy him with a word. He has a newfound respect for his partner. The sort of anger and fear that has suddenly blindsided him has been a fact of Dominic’s life ever since he realized his tastes cut closer to home than was approved of by society. To live with that day after day and to do your job regardless … he’ll have to tell Dominic what an excellent copper he really is one of these days, presuming they aren’t both bagged and shot first.
“If I were you, Inspector, I’d find the terrorist. I’d find him soon.”
Chapter 17: Last Footnote
Delia is distant, now. Professional. Finch tries to draw her out when he delivers Lilliman’s body, but it’s the same as she was with Prothero only worse. There is something tired in her stance, something sad. He wants to ask, but they’re at work. He would never pry at work.
So they play at pretenses and Finch grinds his teeth.
“I’m sorry, Chief Inspector,” she says. “Same basic toxicology as Prothero. You could get these poisons from any house in London.”
“Thanks, Delia,” Finch says, and wonders if he should just leave. He turns to do so, but her voice stops him.
“Any leads on finding this guy?”
“Honestly, nothing yet.” He turns back and sees an opening. Maybe a bit of a friendly gesture will bring her around. “But there’s something else you can help me with.”
It seems strange, handing her a flower in an evidence bag like some romantic gesture gone awry. “You studied as a botanist, didn’t you?” Thy both know she did, but the prompting feels necessary at this point. He needs to reestablish a level of comfort and familiarity with her, even if he doesn’t know why it was lost in the first place.
She looks at the rose, but instead of her smile or a laugh or even some half-joking line about buying her affections with roses taken from crime scenes, she looks worse. She looks haunted. “It’s … it’s a Scarlet Carson,” she says, nearly choking on the words. “They’re believed to be extinct.”
Finch stares at her, trying to see the problem, trying to get his friend to open up enough to let him in. “He leaves them at the crime scenes.” She looks up at him and her professionalism is back so strongly that he dares not press. “I’d appreciate it if you could have a look at it. Any information could be helpful.”
“Of course,” she says, and she’s lying. They both know she’s lying, but Finch’s phone rings. It’s Dominic with new evidence. He’s been through the file. Finch has to go. He turns to say goodbye, and Delia is standing, her hands gloved and speckled with blood, with that rose clutched delicately between her fingers.
“Delia,” he says, and the weight of the years hangs between them.
Her smile is that of a woman already gone. “Go on, Eric,” she says, and for a moment she’s his friend again. “Give my love to Dominic. You two go and solve your mystery.”
Chapter 18: Red Rose
He should have known then and there. He should never have left her alone. He went up to the office, and he heard her name come out of Dominic’s mouth. They had run to the morgue, but she was already gone. The car ride was a blur of shock and information. The phone lines were cut. Surveillance heard nothing.
He went in first. He needed to go in first. He already knew what he would find.
She’d told him to go and solve his mystery. She’d told him to give her love to Dominic. Those moments in the morgue had been a goodbye. After so many years of drinks and laugher and discussion, that had been it. He burst into a bedroom he’d never been invited into and saw her sitting in the bed with a rose in her hands, just as she had in the morgue. In that moment, it didn’t matter what he’d known when. He had failed her, and Delia was dead.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
He takes the diary, of course. He could never resist a direct request from Delia, and this one is obvious for her. He knows her well enough to tell. Only he really doesn’t. She wasn’t even Delia, was she? A name a botanist would have picked for herself, that. Not like ‘Diana Stanton’. He never even met that woman. She was the distance in Delia’s eyes. She was the evasiveness. Had he known Delia at all? Had Delia even existed? He’d joked with her about not existing himself and she’d accused him of being a philosopher, but all the while she was the lie.
He doesn’t bother to bag the diary, just pockets it and watches as her own people load her into a bag. Dominic takes one look at him and then takes over the scene, watching over the assistant coroners as they take her out, passing the lads from SOCO coming in. It's a blur; a mess of dark and light and voices that don’t matter. Delia is dead. So is Diana Stanton, but it's the lie that Finch mourns, not the truth. He can see her so clearly, half expects her to open her eyes and wink at him, let him in on the grand joke at his expense. She had been a terrible practical joker when the mood struck. She once injected hot sauce into an apple he was eating, and had laughed for hours. She would look at him days after and start laughing again.
It’s only when he’s being bundled into the car that he realizes Dominic has led him out of Delia’s house. He starts to resist, feeling the need to go back and look over the scene one more time, but Dominic pushes. “Sit, sir,” he says. “Eric, sit.”
Finch sags back into the seat, hit by the grief and the anger of this senseless death. Delia saw it coming. Why didn’t she talk to him? They had been friends for so long; she had to know he would help. He would have protected her.
Dominic climbs into the driver’s seat, and Finch turns his head lest Dominic catch sight of the tears that are beginning to streak his cheeks. They don’t speak on the drive, and Finch only realizes he’s home when Dominic parks his car, gets out, and then helps Finch out as well.
“Sir …” Dominic says, and then seems to think better of it. He shakes his head.
After a stretch of silence, Dominic goes around the car again. Finch expects him to climb in and drive away, pick Finch up the next morning. Dominic gets in, but a second later the engine dies and the lights turn off. Dominic gets out of the car, and now Finch expects him to try something daft like walking home, or maybe radioing for a squad car to give him a ride.
Dominic walks over, takes Finch by the elbow, and leads him into the flat. Without the couch, there is nowhere in the front room to sit, so Dominic leads Finch upstairs to the bedroom, pushes him into the chair near his window, and says, “Stay.”
He leaves, and Finch expects to hear the front door. After a few moments of silence he gets up and starts making his way back downstairs. Dominic arrives at the bottom of the stairs when Finch is halfway down. He’s holding two glasses of scotch, and the sight of scotch, the reminder of Delia on all those nights at the pub, strikes Finch like a blow to the chest. He sits hard on the stair.
“Shit,” Dominic hisses, and sets both glasses down on the floor before vaulting up to Finch's side. “Jesus Christ, Eric, can’t you ever do what you’re told?” He pulls Finch to his feet, leads him up the stairs, and sits him down in the chair again. “Now stay there while I go and fetch the whiskey, yeah?”
Dominic stops. He tenses, uncertainty crossing his face in a wave, trailed by suspicion.
“Don’t think I can look at scotch right now,” Finch says.
Dominic looks from side to side and runs his hand through his hair. “All right,” he says, “what do you need?”
The question strikes Finch as hilarious and he starts to laugh. What does he need? He needs to rewind the world years back, to zig right when he zagged left. Maybe if he’d kept after Delia, even married her, she would have trusted him enough to tell him about her past. Maybe if he’d done that, Dominic wouldn’t have been attracted to him in the first place. It would have been perfect.
Only it wouldn’t. The rational part of him understands that Delia was a brilliant woman. Far more brilliant than he ever knew. She saw right through him. She had known—had to know—that he loved her, but he was never in love with her, and she wasn’t in love with him. The thing they’d both needed was a friend, and for that she’d been perfect. No telling if he was perfect for her, or if he’d been something she’d settled for after she became someone else. He needs to read the diary; he just can’t bring himself to do so. He can’t shatter the illusion of Delia tonight. Tomorrow he can learn about Diana.
He hasn’t stopped laughing, and Dominic has transitioned through several expressions of worry, becoming increasingly less guarded.
Finch manages to stifle the laughter, and the grief rushes back in. “You realize that’s a shit question, right?”
Dominic gives a half-shrug. “Yeah. Only thing I could think of, wasn’t it?”
“I want any number of things, but I don’t think you’re likely to be able to give me any of them.”
Dominic nods as though he’s been told something he expected to hear. “Right,” he says, “I’ll just go then, shall I?” He turns to do just that.
“No,” Finch says, and stands up. Dominic stops, but doesn’t turn around. If Finch were a more articulate man he would be able to think of a way to say what needed said. He would be able to explain that he had just lost one of his two friends, and he can’t lose the second. He would be able to explain that this chill between them isn’t doing either one of them any good, and nothing would make him happier than to have Dominic half-drunk and leaned up against him on the couch that isn’t there.
He would be able to explain that, from time to time, the one thing a man needs is someone to lean on, and an hour after realizing a dear friend was murdered definitely qualifies as one of those times. What he actually says is, “I’m exhausted, I’m in shock, and I cannot come up with any sort of coherent argument to ask you to stay, except that I want you to. Your choice.”
Dominic’s shoulders slump. He turns and makes his way back up the stairs. The numbness Finch has been feeling eases a bit at the sight, which unfortunately makes room for more guilt and grief. He squeezes his eyes closed against the wave of pain and waits for it to pass.
A hand settles on his shoulder. Finch opens his eyes to see Dominic standing a few steps below him, awkward but determined. His arm is outstretched to touch Finch’s shoulder like they’re children at a dance.
They look at one another. Neither is good at comforting or being comforted. Dominic looks everywhere but at Finch, and Finch can’t think of what to do that might lessen the sense of vertigo about this situation. He knows what he wants, but really can’t stoop to being quite that undignified in front of Stone.
So instead of an embrace, he rises and walks down the stairs and into the front room. Dominic has followed him. Finch's voice is gruff when he says, “I shouldn’t have binned the couch.”
“What?” Dominic is looking at Finch like he’s insane. Finch wraps his hand around Dominic’s elbow, fearing he might bolt if not held in place.
“That night … I didn’t … I shouldn’t have binned that couch.”
“It’s been four years, sir. It’s a bit of a moot point, isn’t it?”
Finch is already exhausted by the night’s events, and he has no desire to beat around the bush. The delicate dance they’ve done for years is too much, so he stomps right through all their neatly constructed boundaries. “Christ,” he says, “I hope not.”
Dominic freezes. His expression freezes; his entire body freezes. Finch can feel the tension in his hand. “Sir, I don’t—that is to say, I’m not—fuck, could you have picked a worse time for this?” Dominic wrenches himself away and drags both his hands through his hair. “I don’t even know what to say! You just … your friend’s dead, and that does things to people. I really can’t credit you with rational thought right now.” He crosses his arms over his chest and then uncrosses them, discomfort radiating from his shifting posture. “Look, I’m here. I need to help you, and God help me, I want to. But I can’t do more than that. I can’t talk about more than that. I just—no, I can’t.”
Finch holds up his hands. “Dominic,” he says, and the name brings his partner to a standstill. “I’m sorry. You’re right: my timing might not be the worst ever, but it’s certainly ranking. I just want to mend this thing between us. This investigation, it’s like a rabbit hole, and wherever it leads I’m going to need more than a partner. I’m going to need a friend, and I think you will too.”
He offers a hand, extended for a handshake, a clasp, anything to any degree. Dominic hesitates for several moments, but then he reaches out too. Finch feels something pass through their clasped hands like electricity, but won’t let himself dwell on it.
Chapter 19: Newspaper Articles
Finch refused to believe he’d done anything as daft as falling in love with Dominic years too late. The divots in the carpet where the couch used to be were gone, popped out by one ice cube apiece. Placed there by his own hands. Finch had Dominic well trained to never use his given name. He’d burned every bridge he could think of between them, save those that were purely professional. Finch was nothing if not thorough.
The night of Delia’s death had shifted them, but the gap between them was too wide to see any immediate change. Dominic would relax a bit, only to close up tighter than before. He would open up and close down in turns. Finch didn’t dare reach too far for fear of Dominic closing down entirely. He was like a witness, Finch thought: push too hard, and he folds up and turns to stone; don’t push enough and you never get results.
But Finch had made this situation, had forced it to come about, and he had to believe he could undo it. He needed to undo it. One night wasn’t enough, even though Dominic had been as supportive as he was able, and Finch had respected the distance he seemed to need. But more would be required to rebuild a friendship four years stagnant. He was trying, and between trying to reach out to Dominic and trying to crack the case, he was a bit worried the only thing cracking was him.
When he closed his eyes, he could see Delia, peaceful and dead with the rose in her hand. He could see Dominic surrounded by angry people who wanted him dead. Sometimes he saw other things, stray imaginings that made even less sense, like a platoon of men firing on V while he stood his ground and didn’t fall, or a mass of Vs surrounding Parliament, or strangest of all, Miss Hammond serving him—or was it Dominic?—or was it neither?—whiskey while wearing an old-fashioned blue dress in a house filled with Scarlet Carsons. She smiled. She was free. He felt as though he was intruding on someone else’s happiness whenever that particular imagining popped into his head.
He’d never claimed his imaginings made much sense, but they had been accurate in the past, his subconscious’ way of organizing evidence that his conscious mind was too slow to grasp. He tended to ignore the imaginings until more evidence came to light. Once things settled, once the case was closed and Dominic was his friend once more, or however those situations resolved themselves, Finch could puzzle out the intricacies of his own mind.
So he worked. Finch asked Dominic to collect every newspaper article referring to Viadoxic Pharmaceuticals, Saint Mary’s and Three Waters, and Dominic did it without question, placing them on the corner of his desk in a neat pile every day until Finch came in to collect them.
While Dominic ferreted out the conventional leads on Miss Hammond and tried to track down anyone else who might have information on the dwindling list of people connected to Larkhill, Finch was falling down a rabbit hole of information, discovering deeper and deeper layers. Things started to come into focus, and he knew for certain that he wasn’t drowning. He had already drowned. But he was a cop. He had to know.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
Finch just keeps pushing through the hours, looking over article after article and sinking deeper and deeper into this madness. And it feels like madness. The entire situation is impossible, but it isn’t. Because the facts fit. The trail of impossible coincidences is there, and all he has to do is follow it.
He needs to talk about this. He needs to get it off his chest. He hears the door to the office open and only half-hears Dominic’s greeting, immediately followed by his concerned enquiry after Finch’s health. Finch chokes down a laugh. No, he isn’t well. His only meaningful relationship is with his secretly homosexual partner, who he could destroy with a word, who he tossed out on his ear when he found out, and now has the awful feeling he just might fancy. His own career and life are in the hands of Creedy, and one whisper of Irishness will crush him in entirety. The Party to which he’s been a member for twenty-seven years may be more monstrous than anyone was willing to believe. And he’s decently certain he’s developed an ulcer.
He isn’t well at all.
He pulls out his suppressor, usually used for sensitive interviews with witnesses who would otherwise be detained by the Finger. He flips it open, and its low whine fills the room, blocking audio and video surveillance within twenty feet. The surveillance teams will break its field in about fifteen minutes, but that’s enough.
Dominic stares at the device, and then drags his gaze up to Finch. Finch wonders what he thinks they’ll be discussing. Obviously a sensitive topic, but he has the feeling Dominic’s imagination has never strayed this far. He knows his own never has. Funny how Irishness and homosexuality pale in the face of this.
Finch gets up then, feeling the clamoring need for a drink, but suppressing it and getting water instead. “I want to ask a question, Dominic. I don’t care if you answer me or not; I just want to say this aloud. But I need to know that this question will not leave this office.”
Dominic looks scared now, but clings to professionalism the way any other man might cling to God. “Yeah, of course, Inspector, but … is this because of the terrorist?”
It forces Finch to bark something like a laugh. No, Dominic hasn’t the imagination to reach his levels of madness. Bringing him into this particular fold suddenly seems cruel, but Finch needs someone on this raft with him, cast adrift of everything he believed in. And that night in his apartment, when he had reached out his hand, Dominic had taken it. “No.”
Now Dominic’s just cagey, but interested in spite of himself. “What is it, Chief? What’s going on?” He’ll go along willingly. He’ll go wherever Finch leads because he’s a cop too. After all these years, he’s a cop too and they’re both damned.
With this knowledge weighing down on him, Finch forces his words past lips that feel stiff and unwilling. “The question I want to ask,” he says, “is about Saint Mary’s and Three Waters. The question that’s kept me up for the last twenty-four hours, the question I have to ask is what if the worst—the most horrifying biological attack in this country’s history was not the work of religious extremists?”
“I don’t understand,” Dominic says, and he looks both more relaxed now that the subject has been established as professional rather than personal, but still deeply confused. “We know it was. They were caught. They confessed.”
“And they were executed, I know. And maybe that’s really what happened. But I see this chain of events—these ‘coincidences’—and I have to ask if that isn’t what happened. What if someone else unleashed that virus? What if someone else killed all those people? Would you really want to know who it was?”
Dominic is catching up. His expression has turned grave, but determined. “Sure,” he says.
“Even if it was someone working for this government?”
Dominic’s gaze jerks to the suppressor, but it’s still working its magic. He looks back up at Finch, his shock barely concealed.
Finch goes on as though compelled. “That’s my question. If our own government was responsible for what happened at Saint Mary’s and Three Waters—if our own government was responsible for the deaths of almost a hundred thousand people—would you really want to know?”
Silence stretches between them almost to the point of breaking, and suddenly Dominic blurts out, “Jesus Christ, Eric.” He looks away. “Sorry, sir.”
Finch’s laughter is shaky after such an abrupt catharsis. They’re reaching the end of the suppression, he’s certain. “I think it’s all right now, don’t you?”
“No, sir, I really don’t,” Dominic says. He learned that particular brand of stubbornness from Finch.
Finch looks at Dominic, the only person he’s dared share this with, and he knows that he can’t sit alone another night in his flat with nothing but his thoughts and that long string of conclusions. At the same time, he knows he ought not push this far this fast. He should let Dominic come to him, to allow him to work through all the confusion and anger of these past years. But Finch is a selfish bastard at heart, and he can’t be alone. “Come over tonight,” he says.
The response is automatic. Dominic is better at shutting him out than ever he was at shutting Dominic out. “I can’t,” Dominic says.
Finch steps around Dominic’s desk, and the newspaper articles flutter in his wake. Dominic stands abruptly, on the verge of bolting.
Finch takes his hand, and with almost no pressure he roots Dominic to the spot. It’s the same feeling he got the night Delia died, but something stronger. That was a mere jolt, but this is a steady, low-level tug. This is ridiculous and dangerous, but it’s more sane than anything else he’s experienced these past weeks. “Please come over tonight.”
“I can’t,” Dominic says, less convincing and more pleading this time. They’re on so many edges here, and they're both ready to fall with the smallest push. Creedy’s watching them both, and Finch knows how it will look, but they have an established precedent. There is a major case. They need time to crack it.
And there is no surveillance in Finch’s home. No matter how Creedy might push, he’s the chief inspector and he gets some privileges. And just in case someone decides to try something, he checks for bugs every evening.
“Sir,” Dominic says, looking at their hands and then at the suppressor. “Sir, the field’s going to fall any minute.”
“The whole world’s cracking, Dominic,” Finch says, needing this out without the Finger knowing about it. “Everything’s turned upside down, and I don’t have anywhere I can turn. I’m going to get lost if there’s not someone to keep me here tonight. Come over.”
Dominic looks down at him, scared and awkward. The suppressor goes dead and Dominic whispers, “Yes.”
Chapter 20: Couch
Dominic cleaned up his desk before he left, each piece of evidence grouped by lead. He packed up his file and took it with him as he went, giving Finch only one glance of confirmation.
Finch stayed behind, tying up loose ends on a few avenues of investigation, then setting his own desk in order and looking at Dominic’s. It was careful, now. There was little more personality than when it was completely blank. Everything there was about work. Finch wondered where all his things got to, particularly the clocks and the paper tiger.
He picked up a sheet of printer paper and folded it, but got little more than a jagged mess. He’d never bothered with anything like origami. Now it seemed a shame.
He pocketed his half-formed creation and made his way out, his own case file tucked under his arm.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
There is a knock at the door at five, an hour before curfew. Finch opens the door and Dominic is standing there, freshly shaven and nervous with his files in his hands. “Sir?” he asks.
“Come inside,” Finch says.
Dominic does. He’s awkward as he shrugs out of his overcoat and hangs it on the front hall tree. His suit is rumpled, and his hair looks like he’s run his hands through it too many times for product to hold. Finch leads him into the front room, and Dominic stops dead.
“You got a new couch,” he says.
“The front room seemed bare without one.”
“I don’t really know what to say,” Dominic says.
“Say you’ll sit. I’ll get us some whiskey.”
“I shouldn’t, sir,” Dominic says, his strain evident. “Not if we want to go through this file tonight.”
He’s standing in the middle of the room. The curtains are drawn over the windows, and not even their silhouettes will be visible outside. They are as alone as it is possible to be in this world.
So Finch takes the case file from Dominic’s hands, drops it on the coffee table with his own, and touches the side of Dominic’s face. He wants to say something profound or witty. Something to break Dominic’s terrified expression. He can’t think of a thing. He’s well off the map in his upside-down world, after everything that has happened to him and everything he knows. There is nothing right anymore, but this feels as right as it did before he knew about Dominic. There is a small, furious part of him that wants to tear down everything he ever believed in, but he doesn’t want to hurt his partner.
He wants to kiss him. It’s been longer than he cares to think since he had that simple anchor to the land of the living, and drifting as he is, he craves it. Their mouths are close, and he notices that Dominic brushed his teeth before coming over.
And then Dominic stumbles back and blurts out, “They executed Gordon Deitrich today.”
Finch knows. Everyone in the country knows. It was a fucking surprise to find out Deitrich had been arrested for possession of Muslim artifacts and homosexual erotica. Finch knew what would happen even before he’d heard Sutler hand down the expected orders, but it still came as a shock to read about it on the Interlink this morning. He knows this is a warning of sorts, the most Dominic can muster. And it’s well taken. What Finch has in mind right now is stupidly dangerous.
But Gordon Deitrich, who is already being deified by every budding revolutionary in the country, was not executed for his homosexual erotica. It was the Q’uran that had guaranteed the death sentence. And if Finch is also going to be killed, he expects his sentence to come from his current investigation. Sex with his partner will only be icing on a cake that’s already frosted.
“I know,” Finch says.
“Creedy would bag us, and every lad who’s ever worked with us. The Met has to stand apart from the Finger or there’s no point.”
“Creedy’s got his own concerns,” Finch says. He thinks of Creedy growing increasingly still during their recent meetings with Sutler. Creedy is taking more and more of the blame for the situation, even as Finch feels himself dismissed as unworthy of attention.
Dominic is not deterred. “We haven’t even talked about how stupid it is to sleep with someone in your chain of command. We can’t afford conflicts of interest here.”
Finch smiles at that. He realizes his cynicism has actually come full-circle into optimism. “You’re smart and you’re good in the field. You take orders when I give them, and you’re not afraid to debate me once we’re back at the office. How long’s it been since you had sex that you think it’s going to change any of that? I appreciate the compliment, but I can guarantee you it’s not going to be that earth-shattering.”
Dominic laughs, and Finch lets himself be drawn in by the sight. Dominic has smiled so rarely these past few years, and Finch knows he’s largely to blame. Seeing this smile, and hearing Dominic laugh as they stand next to the new couch makes Finch feel as if he’s been allowed to reset the entire situation. Without meaning to this time, Finch draws in until he can feel Dominic’s fading laughter on his mouth. Dominic goes quiet and still again.
Dominic will not make this move. He’s spent his whole life resisting this move. Finch runs his hands through Dominic’s hair and watches those dark eyes flutter closed. “Please say yes,” Finch says.
Dominic mouths the word. Finch kisses him.
Dominic lights up, and Finch feels a hand pressed between his shoulder blades, pulling him in close. The differences are obvious: the hands too big, the chest too flat, the waist too broad. Dominic isn’t aroused yet, but Finch imagines that will be more different than anything else has been. Finch’s hands settle on too-narrow hips and he drags his thumbnails against the crest of bone he can feel through Dominic’s trousers.
The kiss is harsh and clinging, tongues demanding, hands grabbing. They are too far-gone to be gentle or hesitant now. Finch knows that his legs can’t take this sort of strain long, but there’s a couch in the room again, and surely that means something. He backs up until his legs hit the cushions, and when he lets himself sink back against it Dominic comes with. The weight of him is different. Finch toys with the idea of being intimidated, but dismisses it after little consideration. Dominic has been many things to him over the years, but never intimidating.
When they come up for air Finch blinks up at Dominic, who blinks down at him. “Well,” Finch says after a moment’s consideration, “that was significantly less shocking than I thought it might be.”
Dominic laughs. “Speak for yourself. Spent all day with my guts tied in knots, didn’t I?” His grin is wide. Finch lays back and admires the view. “What?” Dominic asks when he notices the attention.
Finch shrugs. “Not actually sure what to do now. Or what I want to do. Or what you want to do.”
“Right,” Dominic says. He looks between them at rumpled ties and half-divested suit jackets. He seems to consider their position on the new couch. Finch knows his bemused, puzzled look from enough cases, but in this context it seems particularly accurate. It’s not that Finch hasn’t given thought to this, and certainly his dreams have had their way with the situation, but he is practical enough to know that what happens in dreams is rarely what happens in reality. Dominic has clearly come to the same conclusion, because he says, “You do know I’ve spent the majority of my life trying very hard to not think of exactly this, right?”
“I had guessed as much, yes.”
Dominic shoots Finch an irritated look. “Well, what about you? Unless I missed something, this isn’t exactly your usual, either. Or your ever. I was convinced there was something between you and Delia.”
Finch laughs, but the mere mention of her still hurts. “Oh, she was too smart by half for anything like that. We needed friends far more than lovers, the two of us.”
“But you were attracted.”
“Maybe. I don’t know. The alternative to being attracted to Delia isn’t the sort of thing that lets a man get along in the modern police force, so it just wasn’t there. I don’t know if it’s caught your notice, but I’m rather good at ignoring things outside work for an improbable amount of time.”
Dominic nods. Finch touches the side of his face to still him, to analyze the complex expression. It isn’t regret, but there are wistful shadows there, and some small traces of bitterness around his edges, sketched in chiaroscuro by an equally small amount of hope.
Finch sighs. “You’re not just convenient, if that’s what you’re worried about. You’ve never been sodding convenient.”
It earns him a chuckle. “Okay. That’s … this is all … right, fuck it. Fair warning, Eric: if you turf me out in another panic tomorrow, so help me Christ I will set fire to this couch.”
Finch opens his mouth for some sort of rejoinder, but he’s stopped by another kiss. Which is fine too. He groans softly and allows his mouth to fall open and his hands to tangle in Dominic’s hair.
It’s still different, but not the worlds apart Finch had feared. It’s more a step sideways, enough strength to pin him down but nothing new in technique. He disentangles one hand and drags it down Dominic’s back, feeling his shoulder blades moving under the rough texture of a cheap button-down. His hand gets tangled in Dominic’s jacket, and Dominic breaks away to sit up and strip it off. His shoulder-holster is stark against pale blue cotton, and would look good if Finch hadn’t investigated several accidental shootings in his career. Guns are only fun to play with before you know what they can do to you.
He reaches up to undo the buckles, and Dominic helps him shuck the holster. Dominic hesitates before giving it up, and the realization that they are doing this in the front room, with only a curtain between them and discovery, hits Finch hard. So does the strain of the couch’s arm compressing his head down toward his body.
“Can we continue this upstairs?” he asks. “Not that I’m not enjoying myself, mind, but I got too old for sex on the couch about twenty years ago.”
Dominic climbs off him, pulling off his tie as he goes. Finch stands up and shucks his coat and tie as well. He takes more care with his holster, laying it to the side. He considers taking the gun up with him, but knows better. If the Finger comes for him he won’t stand a chance of fighting them off. Creedy’s wanted to bag Dominic and him for years for no reason other than being there. Giving Creedy an actual crime only feels like vindication. Finch lays his gun on the coffee table and walks away.
Dominic precedes him up the stairs, and Finch trails behind. He watches his partner’s back, trying to memorize the play of light and shadow across him, trying to pin down the ‘why’ of this situation for himself. He’s been so busy thinking of doing this since the dream that he hasn’t bothered asking himself why he might want it. He just assumed he did and went from there.
Dominic isn’t built like a woman. He’s sleek and powerful, but is all straight lines and angles instead of curves. His face is classically handsome, but what Finch likes most about him are the lines around his eyes and mouth. Dominic has lived a life, both before Finch met him and in the years since. Some of that time they were close, and some of it they weren’t, but even at their most distant, Dominic has been alive to Finch in ways only Delia was for a long time. And there’s a quality to their interactions that wasn’t even there with Delia. It isn’t as comfortable, but it’s something that burns hotter, that gets Finch’s blood pumping. He’d thought it to be the thrill of the job kicking in after so long dormant; maybe his young partner infecting him with enthusiasm. And it is that, certainly. There’s no way to discount their partnership or their once-friendship in the face of this burgeoning attraction. It’s just another layer.
Maybe the reason he’s having such a hard time pinpointing the ‘why’ of this situation is how inevitable it all feels.
Dominic opens the door to the bedroom. Finch follows him. The bed is a sea of white, and only a few weeks ago Dominic turned down an invitation to stay. Finch turns in time to see Dominic tug off his second shoe and work to strip away the sock. “Nothing worse than socks and sex,” he says.
Finch is smiling when he pulls off his own shoes and socks. Dominic is fiddling with the buttons on his shirt, and Finch is seized by the need to undo them himself. It’s been years, but he can still remember enjoying that part.
He steps into Dominic’s space and bats away his hands. He hears Dominic suck in a surprised breath as he goes to work, but doesn’t look up from the task at hand. He works his way down, tugging the shirt out from Dominic’s trousers to get at the last button, and then runs his hand up against Dominic’s undershirt. His stomach is smooth, and Finch spares a hope that Dominic doesn’t mind terribly that his has long since lost that sort of tone. His chest is firm where Finch was used to soft, and the soft catch of nipples is farther apart than on a woman. Dominic hisses between his teeth, and Finch pushes Dominic’s shirt down his arms to tangle at his wrists. It’s like some bizarre form of handcuffs, and Finch takes advantage of the situation before he can think not to.
He has to reach up to kiss Dominic, and he lets his hands explore Dominic’s sides and his back, more clearly defined with only his vest on. Dominic is struggling to remove his shirt, and Finch pulls his undershirt from his trousers while he’s distracted. Dominic goes quite still when Finch explores him again under the cotton. He bends down and mouths at Dominic’s exposed collar bone as he traces vertebrae.
A shudder runs through Dominic and he almost tears out of his shirt. His fingers shake as they unbutton Finch’s shirt in turn, shoving it off with none of his usual grace. They break away from one another just long enough to strip down to the waist, and then Dominic is grabbing Finch and dragging him back in again.
His kisses have heated, and his hands rasp against Finch’s skin. The callouses are lovely, and Finch grabs Dominic around the waist. They press together, and, Dominic is hard against him now. Yes, that’s new. That’s very new and very strange. Finch finds his lack of shock equally strange, but welcome.
This, he decides, would be a good time to relocate to the bed. He backs up and Dominic comes with him. His knees bump against the side of the bed, and he’s more than willing to let Dominic push him down.
He is less willing when the back of his head finds no support at the foot of the bed and swings back hard enough to crack against the baseboard. He sits up, clutching at the back of his head and snarling, “Son of a bitch.”
He blinks open his eyes when he hears what sounds like stifled laughter. Sure enough, Dominic has a hand clapped over his mouth and his shoulders are shaking.
“Ha bleeding ha,” Finch grumbles. “Nearly gave myself concussion thanks to you.”
“Not my fault we aren’t terribly good at all this.”
Finch sighs. This is not the way he intended this night to go. He tries to think of some way to rekindle the mood, but it’s gone with the throbbing in his head. “What do you say we just go to sleep instead?” he asks. “Something we can’t get wrong.”
Dominic looks at him hard. He’s still kneeling on the bed in his trousers and little else. The part of Finch that isn’t busy nursing a rather impressive skull-and-ego-bruise is taken by the sight. Dominic keeps himself trim, Finch has known for years, but he’s never had the chance to admire the results so close.
“It’s been four years, Eric,” Dominic says, “four fucking years of being torn between wanting this and wanting to shoot you for holding my secret over my head. Four fucking years of mixed signals.” He moves fast, catching Finch and throwing him onto his back with Dominic straddling his hips. “The last thing I want to do with you right now is sleep.”
“You will show me how you did that just then, right?”
“In the morning, sir. As much as you’d like.”
“Right.” Finch pulls Dominic down to him, and kissing horizontally is even better than vertically. Dominic rubs against him, and Finch twists one hand in Dominic’s hair to pull his head to the side and kiss his way down his neck.
They aren’t gentle. They’re four years past gentle. Finch finds his hand at Dominic’s belt and doesn’t pause before he’s unbuckling. He doesn’t bother pulling it out, just tackles the next obstacle. He can hear Dominic’s breath harsh in his ear, and can feel Dominic’s hands at his own waist.
They shove clothing out of the way as soon as possible, and are pressed together again without bothering to get shot of it completely. Finch can’t be arsed to deal with trousers and pants around his knees when he’s processing the feeling of Dominic’s cock slick against his own.
It strikes him then, rutting against his partner, and getting jerked back up into a sloppy kiss that nearly splits his lip, that neither of them have the first clue what they’re doing. This is pure instinct. Finch flashes back to the pornography that had started this whole mess, but can’t pick out any particularly instructive imagery. There was sex, and it had seemed rather penetrative to him, but he has no idea how to translate that into convincing the human body that anal sex is a physiological possibility.
Oral sex. That was another popular theme, and more manageable. But while Dominic’s cock isn’t so bad rubbing against his stomach, Finch isn’t certain that belief would hold if he crawled down and got close.
That, and given how the night has gone thus far, he’d probably choke himself. Better to stick with something he’s certain about. He slides a hand between their bodies and closes it around Dominic. It isn’t an altogether odd feeling. He’s done this to himself all his life. He knows the texture, and having this cock the wrong way round doesn’t make much difference to his hand.
Dominic is all approval. He throws his head back and whispers, “Shit,” fervently enough it might as well be a prayer to God.
That sight drives Finch to do right by this act. He might well fail the case, might even be killed because of it. He can easily fail this relationship in the long term, but he can damn well get this one moment right.
He uses his shoulder and hip to roll Dominic under him. His partner is sprawled across the pillows and Finch watches his face as he wanks him, focusing on the play of expressions. Dominic catches his lower lip between his teeth, but loses it in a loud gasp. His eyes are squeezed closed, but when Finch uses his free hand to stroke Dominic’s disheveled hair back he opens them. They both stare at one another, gasping, and Finch can see the moment Dominic’s orgasm starts to build. His eyes go wide and Finch can feel his hips spasm hard, driving them together in such a way that Finch is abruptly reminded of his own arousal.
Dominic’s mouth clamps shut and his eyes close as his entire body arches. His groan is muffled in his mouth, and Finch can feel a familiar stickiness all over his hand. The reach for the towel in his bedside table is automatic, and as he wipes his hand clean he looks Dominic over.
His eyes are slow to blink open, his mouth lax as he gasps his way into aftermath. Sweat has popped up all over him, and he has a faint sheen in the moonlight that spills in through the window. Some consideration is in order, and he towels Dominic off as gently as he would himself. He should feel less accustomed to seeing this man naked in his bed, he thinks, but Dominic seems as though he’s always been there.
“I seem to have left you a bit behind, haven’t I?” Dominic murmurs. His voice is gravelly, and it makes Finch close his eyes against the sudden rush of want.
And then he’s on his back again, and Dominic is wanking him harder than he might handle himself, and with a much harsher twist against the head. The feeling is like the world has been pulled out from under his feet. He’s groaning softly, under his breath, grasping Dominic’s sides. He’s going to make enough noise to be heard by drive-by surveillance if he’s not careful, and he can’t imagine what this might be like with Dominic’s mouth on his cock. The image itself makes him quake and thrust harder into Dominic's hand.
He kisses Dominic to muffle himself, and the vibrations of his moans are met by Dominic’s own. They are frantic against one another again, Finch running his hands down Dominic’s back until he finds himself grasping at his arse. He kneads at it, and Dominic breaks the kiss to pant against his neck, “Christ, Eric, I’m not up for another go quite yet. Give us some time.”
Finch has no concept of time, and squeezes. His cock rubs against Dominic’s stomach every time it emerges from his hand, and he’s not going to last against this closeness. He lets his fingers tease at the cleft of Dominic's arse. "Fuck," Dominic snarls. "God, the things you do to me."
"The things I want to do to you," Finch says. Does he dare hint at something that still seems impossible to him? Apparently he does, because his fingers brush down and in, and then back and forth over a pucker of muscle. Dominic goes very still over him, his mouth falling open and letting out a soft, helpless noise.
"Not a clue how we would make this work, but it's something I'd love to figure out," Finch says. "If you would-"
Dominic ducks his head and mouths at Finch’s nipple. It’s a bizarre sensation, and not one he expects to tip him over into orgasm, but the sudden, sharp application of teeth drags a bark of sound from him, and all he can feel for the next ten seconds are the waves of pleasure crashing him into near-catatonia. His finger presses harder and just barely breaches the sphincter. Dominic lets out a sharp cry of his own, and Finch will never be certain whether or not he came again.
When he wakes up enough, Dominic is toweling them off with shaking hands. Finch is sensitive all over, and wants to draw back, but then it’s done and Dominic falls to his side like a felled tree. He struggles out of his trousers and pants as an afterthought, and Finch does the same with what little remains of his strength.
“Well,” Dominic whispers, “that was …”
“It was,” Finch agrees, not caring what he’s agreeing to. His body is going to go to sleep whether he wants it or not, and Dominic appears ready to do the same. The next morning will come, and bring with it the case, and conspiracies, and an endless tunnel of lies that Finch can’t hope to see the end of. This night, he wants something warm.
He tugs at Dominic’s arm, and feels his partner obligingly drape himself half-over Finch. Their legs are tangled, Dominic’s limp cock pressed against Finch’s hip, and Dominic’s arm wrapped around his middle. Finch fumbles at the covers and drags them up. They share the pillow, and at this close range Finch can almost see color in Dominic’s eyes.
“See you in the morning?” he asks, half-asleep already. His arm curls under Dominic and wraps around his back.
Chapter 21: Suppressor
They went to work the next day as though nothing was different. And really, while they were working it was easy to forget anything had changed. They were professional, and they were focused on the case. Dominic’s wingman-contact in the Finger came through again a few weeks later, and when he entered the office with a twirl of his finger Finch knew what he wanted. The suppressor had been used more and more during this investigation. The Finger must have known about their frequent blackouts. There would eventually be an investigation, but that was a foregone conclusion. The case was closing in on them from all sides. The use of the suppressor was a negligible offense compared to the things they talked about while it was on. The leads had piled up, and they’d had no time for anything personal since that first night but a few frantic kisses in the car when no-one was looking. It wasn’t prudent to spend too much time together while they were under such intense scrutiny, but it didn’t stop the notion driving Finch to distraction when he wasn’t focusing on the case.
Was Dominic different now at work? There was an ache in the air whenever they stepped too close to one another, but in all ways the rest of the lads could see they were the same as ever. When they were alone they stood perhaps a bit closer, but it was still nothing that would spark suspicion. There would be hours on end without even thinking about themselves, and then brief moments of intense want and considerations of utility closets before going back to work.
With the field up, Dominic didn’t bother with his own computer, but hovered close to Finch as he slipped a data disc into the drive and they started sifting through the details of three former fingermen who had died or gone missing the day after Saint Mary’s. One of the names was familiar. A look through Finch’s email inbox told him why. It was an invitation. An offer of information. It was a fucking trap was what it was, and Finch was too old and too careful not to know it.
Of course they had to go. They were cops, and they had to know. Finch folded up the suppressor and they left.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
Dominic is right, the Saint Mary’s memorial is fucking ominous. There’s no better way to describe the stark black walls with the names of the dead ringing the bronze statue of children playing. It's morbid, and worse in the dark.
Rookwood is already waiting for them. He’s got a bag, a cane for the blind, and his very own suppressor. Must be the week for them. Everyone has one. “That’s close enough, Inspector,” he says, and sets up the device.
The voice is familiar. Finch wonders if they haven’t met. The Finger and the Met don’t usually travel in the same circles, but paths do cross.
“We’re not wired,” Finch says.
“I’m sorry, but a man in my position survives by taking every precaution.”
“You’ve information for us.”
“No,” Rookwood says, “you already have the information. All the names and dates are inside your head. What you want, what you really need is a story.”
Finch knows this type. Slippery and smart, and not the sort he wants to play games with. He keeps his own statements direct and unambiguous. “Stories can be true or false.”
“I leave such judgments to you, Inspector.” Rookwood settles into his bench a bit. A born storyteller, this one, or at least a man who likes to hear the sound of his own voice. “Our story begins, as these stories often do, with a young up-and-coming politician. He’s a deeply religious man, and a member of the Conservative Party. He’s completely single-minded and has no regard for political process. The more power he attains, the more obvious his zealotry, and the more aggressive his supporters become. Eventually his party launches a special project in the name of national security. At first it’s believed to be a search for biological weapons, and it’s pursued without regard to its cost. However, the true goal of this project is power: complete and total hegemonic domination.
He shifts a bit, as though his back pains him, and continues, “The project, however, ends violently. But the efforts of those involved are not in vain. A new ability to wage war is born from the blood of one of the victims.” He leans forward, and he stares at Finch as though he can see and the glasses and cane are just a deception. “Imagine a virus, the most terrifying virus you can, and then imagine that you and you alone have the cure. If your ultimate goal is power, how best to use such a weapon?
“It’s at this point in our story that along comes a spider. He is a man seemingly without a conscience, for whom the ends always justify the means. It is he who suggests that their target should not be an enemy of the country, but rather the country itself. Three targets are chosen to maximize the effect: a school, a tube station and a water treatment plant. Several hundred die within the first few weeks. Fueled by the media, fear and panic spread quickly, fracturing and dividing the country until, at last, the true goal comes into view. Before the Saint Mary’s crisis, no one would have predicted the results of the election that year, no one. But not long after the election lo and behold a miracle! Some believed it was the work of God himself, but it was a pharmaceutical company controlled by certain Party members that made them all extremely rich. A year later, several extremists were tried, found guilty, and executed, while a memorial is built to canonize their victims.”
Finch looks around the memorial and feels as though he hasn’t seen it before. If Rookwood is even half right, Finch is standing in the midst of a travesty even greater than he’d let himself imagine. He’d thought this to be the work of someone inside the government, yes, but people so high up that they built their entire empire on these lives? He feels soiled and wants nothing more than to stop his ears and wait for the storm to pass. He doesn’t, of course.
And Rookwood keeps talking. “But the end result—the true genius of the plan was the fear. Fear became the ultimate tool of this government, and through it our politician was ultimately appointed to the newly-created position of high chancellor. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Finch can hear Dominic’s ragged breathing behind him, can feel himself shaking. To have all his fears confirmed and all his beliefs in the justice of his government destroyed in a single gesture is choking him. “Can you prove any of this?” he asks.
“Why do you think I’m still alive?” Rookwood asks, and Finch needs no other answer. Rookwood does have it. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, he has hard evidence.
Finch looks at Dominic, who appears simultaneously suspicious and worried under his professional mask. “All right,” Finch says, “we’d like to take you into protective custody, Mr. Rookwood.”
Rookwood laughs as he collects his things from the bench. “Oh, I’m sure you would. But if you want that recording you’ll do as I tell you to do: put Creedy under twenty-four hour surveillance. When I feel safe that he can’t pick his nose without you knowing I’ll contact you again.” All his things gathered, he ambles away, not bothering with the cane. “Until then, cheerio.”
“Rookwood!” Finch cries after him. Rookwood stops and turned around. Finch waits until he knows he has Rookwood’s attention before asking, “Why didn’t you come forward before? What were you waiting for?”
“Well, for you, Inspector. I needed you.”
Then he’s gone, and Finch is torn between the need to chase after him before he vanishes for good, and the desperate urge to leave this memorial behind him. But if Rookwood has been good enough to survive this long knowing what he knows, Finch will never catch him in this darkness. He walks away, Dominic trailing behind, covering his back while he’s lost in thought. They have so much work to do, and no guarantees. All he can do is follow through for Rookwood, and hope Rookwood will follow through for him. As for what will come after such a revelation hits their case and subsequently the media, he doesn’t dare think.
Chapter 22: Origami
Rookwood was dead. Not only that, Rookwood had been dead for twenty years. It had to have been V. Finch and Dominic had stood not ten feet from the man himself, and they’d been played for fools.
In his fury after finding out, knowing that any hope for real evidence of V’s story was in vain—if that story could be trusted at all—Finch did the only thing he could think of. He pursued the one lead he hadn’t dared follow, and went to Larkhill. He had to see it. He hoped against hope that if he went, all the pieces of this puzzle would finally make sense to him.
Before he left, he placed a folded piece of paper on Dominic’s desk. It was meant to be a tiger, but it looked a bit more like a whale. He hoped it would be recognized in the spirit it was intended, because he didn’t know if he’d ever muster the courage to say something aloud. There were lines, even now, that felt like they couldn’t be crossed.
He didn’t tell Dominic he was going. Dominic would have tried to go with him. He just slipped out and went. And then he had a revelation, or maybe he had nothing of the sort. He came back to the shock of his very own Guy Fawkes mask waiting for him in the post. He hurried back to the station, and the tiger-whale was still on Dominic’s desk.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
It makes a horrible kind of sense. Their peace has always been a fragile thing. Eight boxcars of masks, and the entire city is in an uproar. The station is flooded with calls. The Chancellor is going ballistic. Creedy is withdrawn and silent in his home, moving through his own halls like a ghost. It’s all falling apart, and that’s precisely what V has been after, isn’t it? To shake them out of their compliance and their unquestioning loyalty in any way necessary?
Sitting behind his desk across from Dominic, it’s easy to start talking, forgetting all about the need for the suppressor. What does it matter at this point, when the world is falling down around their ears? He’s just one more voice among thousands.
“The problem is,” he hears himself saying, “that he knows us better than we know ourselves. That’s why I went to Larkhill last night.”
“That’s outside quarantine.” Dominic’s voice is filled with reproach.
“I had to see it,” Finch says, not daring to meet Dominic’s eyes lest he lose his nerve or his train of thought. “There wasn’t much left, but when I was there it was strange. I suddenly had this feeling that everything was connected. It was like I could see the whole thing, one long chain of events that stretched all the way back before Larkhill. I felt like I could see everything that had happened, and everything that was going to happen. It was like a perfect pattern laid out in front of me, and I realized that we were all part of it, and all trapped by it.”
Dominic is watching him with those large, dark eyes. “So, do you know what’s going to happen?”
“No. It was a feeling.” Finch deflates under his own admission, but he’s still an investigator, and he can put pieces together without some revelation in the dead of night. All his imaginings over the past months have begun to make a sick sort of sense as his conscious mind finally begins to catch up and sort the clues into their proper places. “But I can guess. With so much chaos, someone will do something stupid, and when they do things will turn nasty. And then Sutler will be forced to do the only thing he knows how to do. At which point, all V needs to do is keep his word, and then …”
He doesn’t really need to finish that thought. Dominic stares at him across the desk, looking young and scared. Finch wants to comfort him, but he’s near to panic himself. The only thing stopping him tearing his hair out is the fatigue weighing him down. He wants to sleep for a week and let the world do as it will. And he wants Dominic next to him. He hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep since Dominic lay pressed against his side, and he hasn’t had a decent morning since they woke, exchanged kisses, and decided to pause their activities until they could brush their teeth.
He wants to ask Dominic over again. He wants that anchor of someone else's weight pressing him down, but he can’t. He’s seen fingermen about his flat, revenge for his surveillance on Creedy, and he knows that if Dominic comes over it’s finished for them. They have to hold off, contenting themselves with heated glances across desks, shared coffee pots, and the occasional brush of hands over the file box.
It will all be over soon. The one thing his imaginings and his extrapolations and every instinct tell him is that it will all be over soon.
Chapter 23: Abandonment
Finch had given up any pretext of going into the office. Every chance he got, he and Dominic were scouring the tunnels, and when the frustration inevitably overcame them, pressing one another up against the wall in those unmonitored depths and snogging until a different sort of frustration took over. They never dared take it further even there, because as private as it seemed, it was still a place other people might go. They weren't mad enough to risk exposure, even if they had the illusion of privacy. So before clothing started being removed they would stumble along and search more tunnels.
Finch was convinced, even if no one else was, that the key to V’s plot lay down there, just as it had four-hundred years prior. It was all down to him to stop this. Dominic was tense, but willing to help. If they had given up any pretext of going to the office, they had also given up attempting to go home to separate flats. For Finch’s sleep and sanity, they would end each grueling day at his flat.
They were so exhausted that their activities in that flat weren’t any more adventurous than their first night together had been. Less so, most nights. After so much frustration, they usually made it as far as the shower, during which they would end up pressed against a wall, rubbing against one another or wanking one another to quick, messy orgasms. They didn't have the energy for anything more involved, no matter how Finch told himself in the tunnels that this would be the night he'd drop to his knees and shock the hell out of his partner.
After depleting whatever energy reserves they had in the shower they would fall into bed together, twined up tightly as the situation became more and more desperate. Dominic would eventually fall asleep, and Finch, whose insominia was a persistent thing, would lay and watch him in some attempt to memorize his features until he finally managed to catch a few hours’ sleep. In the mornings they would rise, drag themselves into mostly-clean clothing, and repeat the process. Each and every day without fail.
The fourth of November came unheralded by the media, but everyone knew it for what it was. The night before had been tense for both Finch and Dominic. They hadn't done anything in the shower, but when they got out Finch shoved Dominic onto the bed and finally gave oral a go. Dominic's cock was indeed far more intimidating in close than it ever had been in Finch's hand, and the size of it in his mouth was difficult to manage. The taste was bitter, but the shocked, broken noises Dominic made as Finch did his best to take his partner to pieces were well worth any unpleasantness. He didn't fool himself into thinking he was any great shakes at giving head, but they were probably going to die the next day, so when Dominic came he swallowed it. Again, not a terribly pleasant experience but for how much it wrecked Dominic.
Finch wiped his mouth on the sheet and said, "Not awful for my first go, yeah?" At which point he found thier positions reversed, and Dominic returning the favor. Finch gasped and growled and tried very hard not to pull Dominic's hair, because even with the occasional scrape of teeth or pause to cough and swear, Dominic's mouth was fucking gorgeous. The heat and the wet suction were more intense than he could ever remember from those girlfriends who liked to do this sort of thing. Dominic kept trying to take him deeper, one hand dug into Finch's hip and the other ... 'Jesus on a bicycle' was the last thought Finch managed before he felt Dominic's fingertip penetrate him, and his mind whited out. Finch's orgasm felt ripped from him, and it was a good thing surveillance was tied up listening for coups, because they would have picked up his shout from down the block.
Afterward they brushed their teeth, still high on sex and nerves. They went back to bed and passed the rest of the night wide awake, staring at one another in the dark. There had been no proclamations of love aside from that ridiculous tiger-whale perched on Dominic's desk. At last, Dominic extracted himself and made for the kitchen to cook them some sort of proper food if they weren't going to sleep. Finch dressed and watched the clock until his alarm came on at seven. Then he looked out over the stillness of London and wondered aloud if anyone was ready for what was about to happen.
They were parting ways that night, Finch knew. Dominic hadn’t said anything, but he hadn’t needed to. It had been in the way that he held so tightly to Finch, the way his mouth had lingered everywhere. It was in the way Finch had seen the mask tucked into the drawer on Dominic’s side of the bed, nestled on top of that ridiculous hat and cape. There was nothing to say. Finch would search the tunnels one last time, and Dominic would make the only stand he had ever allowed himself to make against the Government that had robbed him of some large part of his happiness. If they were lucky they would see one another again the next morning. Finch had never considered himself particularly lucky.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
The air is still and close in the car as Dominic drives Finch to the tunnels, the box in the backseat a reminder of what he intends to do once Finch is off investigating again. They haven’t said anything since they climbed into the car. This is routine. Dominic doesn’t need to ask Finch where to drive.
Dominic suddenly breaks the silence as they near their destination. “I went by Parliament. I’ve never seen anything like it: tanks, anti-aircraft, infantry. Makes you wish no one would show up tonight.” He steals a glance at Finch. Finch doesn’t know what to say. He never knows what to say. He can hear Delia’s goodbye ringing in his ears.
Dominic keeps on, “But if they do, what do you think is going to happen?”
That’s the question, isn’t it? This is the one moment Finch can order Dominic out of this madness, only he knows that moment passed weeks ago. He can’t order Dominic to do anything, and there are so many reasons for that.
He remembers the helpless feeling in the wake of Delia’s death, and this is worse, because he knows the risks and he won’t stop it. Delia was a civilian, and it had been Finch’s duty to protect her. Dominic is his equal, and his death is nowhere near as certain as hers had been. She had chosen to die for what she had once been. Dominic is choosing to face his own potential death to stand up for what he is.
Finch crossed a line a long time ago. He can’t treat Dominic as the junior partner now. This is Dominic’s choice, and Dominic is going to make his stand. Who is Finch to say no?
The excuse rings hollow in his head, and he knows he isn’t letting himself admit everything. He knows the tunnels might just be as dangerous, if not more so. If V is down there, Finch may well be the one who doesn’t make it through the night. Maybe he’ll let Dominic face down the soldiers at Parliament because he might have a better chance surviving that mob than he will one lone terrorist.
Still a hollow excuse.
Finch answers Dominic’s question with facts, because it’s all he has left as each excuse falls away. “What usually happens when people without guns stand up to people with guns,” he says. “Pull over here.”
Dominic does as he’s told. “We’ve been searching these tunnels for weeks. What makes you think you’re going to find him now?”
Finch doesn’t answer. He doesn’t look back. He gets out of the car.
It tears at him when Dominic calls out, “Inspector!” rather than “Eric!”, but he deserves that. He’s a coward. He’s thought of so many reasons why he can’t argue with Dominic, why he can’t take him into the tunnels one last time.
As he stands with his back to Dominic, aching to turn and yet terrified to do so, his base reason is laid bare to him. He doesn’t want to see Dominic die. He can’t stop anyone he cares about from throwing themselves on the grenade. He can’t even stop himself from doing it, but he can guarantee that when they’re both killed he doesn’t have to see more than his own death.
He has to turn back one last time. Dominic looks at him, really looks, and then asks, “It’s all gone wrong, hasn’t it?”
It has. And it’s all gone right at the same time, but there’s no way to separate those two. Maybe in the morning it will all look different if he survives to see it. Maybe not.
Fuck it all. He’s not going to have one more goodbye he regrets for being all too little and all too late. He’s not going to feel about Dominic what he feels about Delia. He drops down a bit and catches Dominic’s hand in his. It’s the most he can allow himself under the circumstances, with Christ knows how many cameras watching them, and his own cowardice demanding he run away and minimize the pain. “Don’t you go off and die on me, Dominic,” he whispers, his voice harsh.
“I could say the same to you, Eric. I want to see you tomorrow. I want you to be there with me on that goddamned couch of yours for whatever happens.”
Finch nods. “Tomorrow,” he says, and then he has to walk away or he never will.
Chapter 24: Music
It was like a dream, just letting Miss Hammond throw the switch. He could have stopped her, but he knew his place in history. More than that, he knew what would happen if that damnable building didn’t go up that night: the military would open fire on the crowd, and that couldn’t happen. For history’s sake it couldn’t happen. For the sake of any future he might hope for it couldn’t.
He let her throw the switch. He let her take him by the arm and lead him up to the rooftop, a serene goddess with a shaved head and the look of a woman who has already passed through the storm. She spoke softly over the explosions and the music. She spoke of people he hadn’t heard of and a message he understood: it didn’t matter who V was in the end. He was, and maybe always had been, an idea. Now there was a sea of him below, and somewhere in that sea was Dominic. Parliament was a heap of rubble. The crowd still stood. After a while, he left Miss Hammond to her own memories and went down to join them. Maybe in a year or so, provided he made it through this with his skin intact, he would visit her again. Maybe he would take Dominic along. Maybe she would wear a blue dress and serve them both whiskey and the room would be filled with the smell of Scarlet Carsons. Maybe the world would turn and things would indeed get better for everyone.
He stepped out into the street. There were hundreds of people there, masks still on or just in their hands. He passed through them and they were too caught up to notice or recognize him. He walked through the throng toward the Parliament. He didn’t have a hope of finding Dominic, but wasn’t hope what this whole exercise had been about in the first place? Dominic was a brash man, for all his years on the force. He’d be near the blast radius. He couldn’t resist.
When Finch got close to the front, he stood and just watched the crowd. Some stood in mute remembrance, but others were beginning to cheer, or dance, or celebrate. A few of the soldiers had joined them. Others stood, looking around as though they, like he, worried that they would be lost in such a strange new world.
The crowd would break apart in celebration soon enough. He wouldn’t find Dominic that night. He turned to make his way back to his home. It was a distance, but he felt like a walk. He felt like thinking over what his options might be, and how best to go about the business of being a copper when he, like so many, represented a fallen regime.
He didn’t get the chance to think about any of that. Dominic stood right in front of him, a smile tugging at his lips. He looked ridiculous in his cheap black cape, with a hat in one hand and a Guy Fawkes mask in the other. “I thought we said tomorrow, Inspector,” he said, his tone light.
Finch shrugged. “I just stood by and watched a tiny, bald slip of a girl blow up Parliament. Tomorrow seemed a bit far away.”
Dominic’s smile could light up the whole square. His mask and hat fell to the ground when they reached for one another. They were kissing and clinging in the middle of a massive crowd in a public square. No one cared.
oOo oOo oOo oOo
Finch’s questions are answered, of course. In time, they are both questioned, avoid public trials thanks to Miss Hammond, who points out that her revolution would not have happened without the acquiescence of Chief Inspector Finch. That, combined with the rather embarrassing footage of the two of them kissing before the fallen Parliament, make them too difficult to convict. There are a few months of bureaucratic dithering, and then they're quietly demoted. Finch settles back to being a DI, and Dominic is once again his DS. The new super and the new chief inspector are revolutionaries both, and tend to lump the two ranking remnants of the past with all the worst cases. Finch doesn’t mind. Makes him a bit nostalgic, really, to be stuck with poor hours, bad cases, and Dominic getting soused on the couch.
Two years to the day after Parliament went up, and he finds himself fulfilling a half-promise made that night. He knocks on a door, Dominic in tow, and Miss Hammond lets them into her home. She’s wearing a blue dress.
The sun shines brightly through the windows, catching on shelves upon shelves of previously censored books. Miss Hammond’s hair has grown back, and it haloes her face in curls. She has a great box of Scarlet Carsons growing in her window. Dominic fidgets at Finch’s shoulder when she invites them to sit, but Finch knows this has to happen.
When they’re seated, she gives them tumblers of whiskey. Finch closes his eyes against the familiarity. He doesn’t know how to square this with his understanding of reality, but he can accept that it has happened and move on.
“We wanted to thank you,” he says. “We would have lost our jobs, and probably gone to prison, if you hadn’t spoken for us.”
Miss Hammond is holding her own tumbler, and he remembers Delia with a pang that will never truly fade. “I don’t know,” she says. “I think you would have done all right without me.”
Dominic snorts. When did he become the practical one? “How do you figure that?” he asks. “They were looking for any excuse to make examples of us.”
She looks at him, and Dominic squirms. People do that around Miss Hammond. She has an air of the untouchable to her. She smiles at Dominic then, and it’s something full of secrets and understandings. She crosses to an old, battered jukebox set up against the wall. “Tell me, Inspector Stone,” she says, “do you enjoy music?”
She presses a button, but the 1812 Overture doesn’t play. Instead, a soft, plaintive love song fills the room, smoky and quiet and terribly sad, but filled with hope. She turns away from the jukebox, a smile on her face. It’s the instant Finch has been waiting for, the instant that he hasn’t been able to get out of his head, when Evey Hammond, at peace with the world, turns and comes over to sit with him.
“Are you going to answer my question?” Dominic asks.
“I already have,” she says.
Finch lays a hand on Dominic’s knee to still him. Dominic understands, of course, but he likes the simplicity of a confession. Miss Hammond sips her whiskey and watches them over the rim of her tumbler. Finch leaves his hand where it is.
The world has turned.