Finley’s been back with Erica for almost four months, and no matter how shit things at work can get, at least that’s going great.
Things were already moving quickly between them before the whole disaster with Kent (and Finley’s let that go, Emerson’s his partner anyway and he already hit him and besides, he’s learned exactly how crazy Emerson was just then and that it’s not the first time he’s been that off), and they get on really well. Erica’s different from any other girl Finley’s ever been with. She’s funny and whip-smart and she doesn’t put up with his shit. Of course, he never thought that would be something he liked about a girl, but hey, life’s full of surprises.
There’s something about her that makes Finley feel comfortable and happy, something about her that makes her easy to talk to, like he doesn’t always have to put on a front of not really caring about things, of just being fun and easy to be around, easy to swallow (ha).
Finley’s made a lot of mistakes when it comes to romance, but it seems like he’s less likely to make those mistakes here.
That’s thanks to Erica, though. She’s the one who, after they got back together, admitted that it’s not like she hasn’t cheated before (the whole reason she broke up with him was mostly because she figured he wasn’t really interested in an actual relationship and was another man who’d disappoint her, and since she liked him so much she decided to cut out early so nobody’d get hurt, an admission that was a relief to Finley, and maybe a bit of an ego boost) and floated the idea that maybe they wouldn’t have to worry too much about wanting to fuck other people if they just went ahead and had an open relationship.
He’d never even heard of that before.
(“Wait, so it’s like cheating but you’re okay with it?” Finley asks, brightening.
“No,” Erica says.
Finley’s face falls.
“Well…a little. But the idea’s that it’s just sex with other people, not anything else. Feeling anything past friendship for whoever and acting on that, that’s cheating here. And you still have to tell me when you…well, y’know…and I’ll tell you, and you have to be okay with me using the open relationship thing too.”
Finley thinks about that for a moment. Well, when he goes out and finds someone he usually doesn’t really have any special feelings for them. Well, feelings that aren’t physical. And he thinks he’d have to try to fall in love with someone who wasn’t Erica, and he doesn’t think he’d want to because he likes being with her.
For a bit he wonders if it would bother him if Erica went out and slept with someone she didn’t care much about, and then he thinks it wouldn’t, because he knows that sex doesn’t mean all that much in the end. Just some fun. If she wants to have some fun with people who aren’t him, well, he’s fine with that. Not that he understands why she would, because he’s fantastic in bed, but he’s fine with that.
“Great!” he says.
“Thought that might be a good compromise,” Erica says, grinning smugly.)
Finley’s more willing to try with Erica, as in, she’s a person who actually makes him want to try, and he’s never had that with someone who was more than a friend before. It’s because he really is in love with her, he really did like her from the start, really was interested in a relationship that wouldn’t end so quickly. He’s in love with her even though he’s passed the point where he usually gets bored and falls out of love and realizes that he just wanted someone to be with for a bit. Besides, she’s actually willing to deal with him even when he’s not at his best and it seems like she might love him back, especially since they’ve practically moved in together.
He spends most of his time at her flat because his is a mess and he hasn’t bothered to buy real food in months, is the thing.
They’re happy together, despite the occasional argument (that’s usually resolved in rather excellent post-argument sex, he’s pleased to say) and the fact that even though Finley does feel like he can be more himself around her, he’s not quite willing to be all himself around her, because all himself is usually the point where people he actually likes leave. Or they have before. The only person he’s been all himself with for years is Riley, and she’s got the patience of a goddamn saint. Erica’s got lots of good parts, but the patience of a saint definitely isn’t one of them, even when it’s just waiting for food at restaurants.
But things are good. Things are better than they’ve ever been with a girl.
So of course he goes and fucks it up.
It’s because one night they’re eating dinner at Erica’s flat and he’s kind of got into the groove of complaining about things at work, all the small things, and he mentions Riley’s goddamn mothering and how no one can mind their own damn business.
The thing is there’s some gossip going around the station, mostly the uniforms talking right now, but enough that Riley’s heard a thing or two, that someone tried to kill themselves by jumping off the roof a while back.
See, at the time he hadn’t really been thinking of the security cameras on the roof. He was going to die, so he figured people would know he’d been up there anyway.
But apparently now there’s talk of a security video with a bit of footage of what looks like a detective type being talked down from the ledge. Finley doesn’t know what kind of rotten fucking luck he’s got to have for the whole thing to suddenly be noticed a good shitload of weeks after it actually happened. He’d been nervous about that for a while, been wondering when the whole thing would come up, since he figured that someone would check the CCTV from up there and it’d be a whole thing, but then nothing had happened. He’d thought that for once, someone from his cursed team had a stroke of good luck, and he’d been pleased that it’d been him.
So for the past two days, ever since Riley found out about that little piece of gossip (because Riley knows all the gossip, of course she does, usually he does too, actually, but this one slipped by) she’s been watching him and asking him how he is and mollycoddling him almost as badly as she did the first couple of weeks after that unfortunate moment.
Of course, considering that he’d immediately considered finding some rat poison to drink to avoid any kind of confrontation about the suicide thing if someone other than Riley tried to talk to him about it, he thinks she may have a point with all the ‘I’m-worried-about-you-Mansell-here’s-my-sad-concerned-face-to-show-how-worried-I-am’.
He’s always been like that, though. A mood swinger. And he will admit that he’s got a few pretty foolproof techniques to commit suicide stored in his brain if he ever needs it.
Riley’s usually good about it, she’ll help him out if he’s having bad days, bring him back if he’s spiraling, give him the worried-face every once in a while and check in on him if he seems ‘off’, but mostly she’ll be herself, calling him a dickhead and shoving him and laughing at his dumb jokes and making equally dumb jokes.
But no, apparently actually witnessing a suicide attempt makes the worried-face and the checking in on him and the asking him how’ve-you-been-feeling-you-done-anything-stupid-well-stupider-than-usual-don’t-you-dare-lie-to-me-Finley-Mansell go into overdrive. Jesus.
Anyway. “Problem with a small place like the station is, well,” he says, digging his own grave. “Nobody minds their own damn business. I mean, look at everything going ‘round about Emerson and the boss, the security video of…nothing, whoever’s fucking or pregnant or got someone pregnant now. Not to mention Riley’s over there making a worried mother eyes at me and treating me like I’ll go spare any second. Not that she hasn’t been doing that on and off for ages, but she’d backed off, except now that she’s been reminded of the damn thing, she—”
That’s when he stops himself, realizing that he’s rambling about something Erica knows nothing about while assuming she’s magically following whatever he’s saying, and that the thing Erica knows nothing about is actually something that he wants her to know nothing about.
He’s pretty sure any girl would run far away in the other direction if they’d heard their boyfriend had nearly tossed himself off a roof a couple of months ago. Over them.
So Finley goes completely quiet, trying to get himself back in order, looking down and feeling his face twist with guilt while he’s doing his best to school it into an expression that doesn’t say ‘leave me, I’m completely mental’.
“Wait,” Erica says, spearing her last bite of chicken with her fork but not really doing anything with it, just smearing it around the plate. She gives him a wry, puzzled smile, the kind she uses when his words are running away from him, and asks, “What are you talking about, Finley?”
Finley clears his throat and laughs, hoping it doesn’t sound as forced as it feels. “Nothing important, just got scattered again.”
It happens. He tends to forget things, ramble, lose words, say or do things he doesn’t want to or doesn’t even mean to, get confused about getting through his normal life, all the things that don’t have to do with violent crime. It’s not how the boss is, or Ed, he doesn’t get confused about people, he’s good with people, he just…well, things like shopping or eating or turning the stove off tend to slip his mind.
Erica frowns like she knows that Finley’s said something important without realizing it. Erica knows him far too well for someone he’s only known for a few months. “Reminded of what damn thing?”
“Huh?” Finley asks, deciding to act as confused as possible, lovably dumb, he does this one really well, and it usually works on girls. Well, it’s true that his acts don’t work as well on Erica as they do on other girls, but there’s no harm in trying. “Not sure what you’re talking about, pet, don’t remember a thing I said, my mind wandered there.”
“Yeah, right,” Erica says. She puts down her fork. “There’s something important you don’t want to tell me.”
“What? No!” Finley gives her his best smile. “I wouldn’t lie to you.”
“You know what’s funny about you saying that?” Erica asks. Finley thinks it’s a rhetorical question, so he doesn’t say anything, but then Erica just looks at him until he realizes that she’s waiting for him to do something in response for some reason.
He widens his eyes and shrugs and shakes his head, schooling his face into a look of bafflement like he always did when his ex-wives would ask him where that lipstick stain had come from or something of the sort.
Now that he thinks about it, he might be overselling this a bit.
Yeah, he definitely is, he thinks when he sees Erica’s thoroughly disbelieving expression. “You’re lying to me right now. That’s what’s funny about that.”
“Come on, Erica. It’s nothing you want to know.”
“Um, it’s clearly something serious if Riley’s that worried about it. I know how much she cares about you.”
“Oh, c’mon. She doesn’t care about me, we’re just mates.”
“Yeah, whatever. I get the feeling that you don’t want to tell me this because you think it’s going to make me mad. Like with the popcorn!”
“Alright, the popcorn was a mistake, I read the label wrong, I didn’t know it would catch fire like that!”
“I wasn’t even angry! Why do you keep defending yourself after I already told you that?”
Because no one else would’ve believed me.
Of course, Finley doesn’t say that. He just shrugs.
“What’s the damn thing?” Erica asks, Jesus, like a dog with a bone, she is.
Finley shrugs again. “I forgot.”
“Really?” Erica asks, making her most unimpressed face. It’s a pretty good one for an artist, but Finley spends his working days with a whole lot of police-grade unimpressed faces, so it’s going to take more than that to get to him.
“Yeah, definitely. You wanna watch some telly? Must be something on. Or we could take this conversation to the bedroom,” Finley suggests, giving Erica his best cheeky smile.
She still looks unimpressed. “Are you sure there’s not something that you don’t want to tell me but that would probably make you feel better if you told me?”
He knows that there are lots of things he never wanted to tell Erica that he actually ended up being glad he told her, but this is making him want to fake-accidentally stab his hand with a fork or something to get him out of this conversation. There’s a tightness in his chest, and he’s starting to feel his eyes burn, which would be just great, crying in front of his girlfriend, not that he hasn’t way too often with Erica but he’s not going to mention that even to himself, so he clears his throat and looks down.
She’ll leave if you tell her. She doesn’t want to share her life with a crazy man, especially when she already knows how stupid you are and when she’s so good about helping you with things even though you shouldn’t need her help. Don’t tell her, if you tell her she’ll leave and then you’ll have to leave. You’ll have to jump into the Thames or get your gun and shoot yourself. Or maybe hang yourself like John, how about that?
Finley shakes his head from side to side like he’s a dog trying to dry himself off, and blinks. “’S nothing,” he mutters, slumping down in his chair and feeling his frustration building up like he wants to break something.
He remembers the telephone, the crank calls that didn’t really feel like crank calls at all, that reminded him of when he was sixteen and he kept hearing this voice coming from behind the curtains, telling him to stab himself in the neck. He’d never checked behind the curtains, and it’d gone away after a while, after he’d started drinking and heading out to find someone to spend a bit of time with.
But the telephone. The telephone he broke. He hasn’t really gotten over that. It made the voices in his head that don’t really like him (well, he doesn’t like them either, the dicks) louder.
Finley jumps when Erica’s hand covers his own. It feels soft and cool.
“Will you look at me?” she asks. “Tell me what’s bothering you?”
“No,” Finley says, shaking his head. “You’ll hate me.” His voice sounds choked. Jesus fuck, what is he, a girl?
“I couldn’t hate you. You’re a good man, Finley. I think I could even say I love you.”
It’s the first time she’s said it, and the first time a a girl has ever been the one to say it to him first, and for a moment he feels so fucking guilty that he’s tricked her into falling in love with him that he says, “After you broke up with me, I tried to off myself.”
Then he pulls his hand from hers and turns away, hunches over so that his elbows are on his knees and his fingers are digging hard into his scalp, so hard it hurts.
Of course everything was going great and he fucked it all up.
Erica hasn’t said anything. He hasn’t even heard her breathe or move or do a single solitary goddamn thing. Probably wondering how to tell him to go away. Probably wondering how to tell him to never come back.
He’s got a straight razor at home, the one he’s never used because why the fuck would he use a straight razor? He’ll slit his throat. Leave a note so nobody’ll think he went and got himself murdered.
“Finley?” Erica says in a small voice, much smaller than anything he’s ever heard from her, sounding like she’s trying not to cry, shit, he didn’t want to make her cry, but apparently that’s his lot in life, making women cry.
Finley doesn’t hear her move, but she must because her hand is on his shoulder. He doesn’t get startled or anything. He feels too leaden for that.
“Finley?” Erica says again. “I love you.”
He didn’t expect that. He didn’t expect her to say that, not for a second, and he definitely didn’t expect her to sound like she meant it.
“Wha’?” he asks, so surprised that he actually looks at her. Her eyes are watery and they’ve leaked a couple of tears, and it turns out she’s got a pretty ace sad-worried face too.
“I’m not mad, see?” Erica says. “And I don’t hate you. I just…it…it’s scary, it…I didn’t know you’d…that you could…react like that. We hadn’t been together very long, so…”
Finley laughs bitterly. “I know. I know, it was crazy, but I get these ideas into my head and can’t get them out and I really liked you and you just…I thought that there was nothing for me because even when I was what Riley said I should be, my best self, you didn’t want me.”
“You know it wasn’t that, it was…Emerson was in a really—”
“I know. Why d’you think I’m still around?”
Erica breathes in sharply, like he just hurt her.
“Sorry,” he mutters. “Can’t keep my big mouth shut.”
“She talked me down.”
“Remind me to buy her a pint.”
Finley lets out a rough laugh in spite of himself, and Erica giggles thinly.
“Christ,” Finley mutters. “Christ, it’s been a long day.”
“I know,” Erica murmurs. “I know.”
Her hand slides down his arm and she locks his fingers through his, and he takes in a deep breath for what feels like the first time in a long time, a breath that opens his chest up instead of locking it with anxiety.
“I love you too,” he tells Erica.
“Of course you do,” Erica says lightly, tugging him to his feet.
When they stand, he leans on her too heavily for a moment, and they both stumble.
Erica giggles, loopy and high-pitched, and that makes Finley laugh too, and then they’re leaning on each other as they stagger to bed, drunk on absolutely nothing, laughing helplessly until they collapse onto the bed and the giggles taper off until they’re both staring at the ceiling.
Finley wonders if Erica’s also thinking about how she’s not sure what to do now.
“It’ll be fine, you know,” Erica murmurs, turning her face towards him so he can feel her wine-sweet breath on his cheek.
Finley lets out a short bark of laughter. “Sure.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’m here,” Erica says, like it’s the most obvious answer in the world.
“And when you’re not?”
“Why is it when? Why isn’t it if?”
“It’s never if,” Finley says bitterly.
People leave me. It’s how it’s always been.
“It doesn’t have to be. I want…” Erica trails off. “I want you.”
“I want you too.”
“I know it’s real, Finley. I know it’s real because I want to help you. I want to stay.”
Finley turns his head and finally looks at her. She looks like she’s telling the truth, and it’s weird, both of them telling the truth, every bit of the truth, at the same time.
Finley thinks honesty might not be as bullshit as he’s always thought.
“Alright,” he says. “I’ll believe you.” He pauses, and then he says, just in case she doesn’t know, though he’s not sure how she could’ve missed it, “I want to stay too.”
God, she’s beautiful.
“I love you,” he says again, and she lets out a huff of laughter and presses her face to his shoulder, whispering I know, stupid, against his skin.
He knows she knows.
He just likes meaning it.