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The Layover

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The one-stop layover in Dallas made a cheap flight even cheaper, and Puck never likes flying, so why pay more for it? Once, he paid a lot for business class on a nice airline, but the entire time he was in the air, hating it, he kept thinking about how much he had spent. He never did that again.

Flying was part of his life, though, for better or for worse. Since the second time he’d left Lima, in 2013, Puck was pretty sure he’d never really stopped moving. A new city, a new state, and even if he has a mailing address and a decent studio apartment, home is something he either doesn’t have, or carries with him. He’s not sure which it is. He thinks it might be somehow both at the same time.

The thunderstorms in Dallas, the results of Tropical Storm Harvey, give Puck too much time to think. How did he end up with a layover in Dallas was an easy question to answer—he was going to Oklahoma City, and LAX to DFW to OKC was a lot easier to schedule than a direct LAX to OKC flight—but how he’d ended up on the overall path he’s on, that’s more complicated. A plane outside taxies to the gate, the only one to land in over an hour, and Puck settles into his seat in the waiting area. He doesn’t mind watching the storms blow in.

The story Puck told people was that he’d been bitten by the travel bug somewhere on the back of a motorcycle crossing the plains states in late 2012, and most of the time, he believes himself. Even if he’d realized later that he didn’t love flying, he still loves the traveling. A new city, a new state, a new problem to solve, a new set of people to meet and peripherally keep in touch with. His LinkedIn page has so many connections that people ask if he’s really met everyone on there. He definitely has more rabbis that anyone he’s ever met that isn’t a rabbi, since every city has meant a new synagogue.

When he’d arrived back in California at almost-twenty, that time in San Diego, he’d taken a few months to figure out what kind of job he could sustain that would let him travel. Two years in San Diego for his gen ed courses, another two years up the coast in Santa Clara to finish his degree, and a single cold year at SUNY-Albany for his master’s, and Puck had a job he never would have foreseen: traveling around the country as a forensic accountant.

He’d spent a year at Santa Clara beating up on himself for not trying to make a go at music as a profession, until one of his accounting professors pointed out there was no shame in having music as a dedicated hobby. Puck still travels with his guitar, his laptop, and a small carry-on, and not much else. The guitar usually confuses people.

Forensic accounting was a little bit of a strange job in general, and Puck knows most people he used to know would think it was even odder for him. A small part of him, though, had always wanted to do detective work of some kind, figuring out the puzzle. A spotty juvenile record, though expunged, would have made policework difficult, even if Puck could have gotten past his own internal issues with the police and the police culture. Math had always come easy to him. The way corporations broke laws and stole money infuriated him. The accounting degree had been a piece of cake.

Some of his contracts were the federal government outsourcing, and some of them were various insurance companies, most of whom had closed their own private fraud investigation units. Sometimes he drove to a new assignment, but most of the time he flew, and in the days or weeks he spent in a city, he usually could forget about the next flight.

If anyone asked, his job was the reason he didn’t really date. It wasn’t even a lie. The idea of meeting someone, maintaining a relationship, trying to get to know them, and fitting all that in between the near-constant travel? Sounded like a massive headache. Sure, maybe he’d seen the supposed best years of his adulthood come and go without a partner or even a friend with benefits, but Puck figures being thirty-six doesn’t mean he’s dead. And yeah, he’d been telling himself there was still time for at least a decade, but it doesn’t mean it’s not true.

In a different era, with a different set of religious beliefs, Puck would have made a good itinerant preacher, circling a large area on horseback. As it is, he uses his traveling to send random things to Beth, since he'd reconnected with Shelby and Beth in 2019, after he got his first “real” job. Beth might be in college now, but she still seems to like the tzhotchkes Puck finds.

All of Puck’s thinking means he stays at the airport for a while, watching cell after cell roll in over the airport. Once, there’s a tornado warning, and he dutifully goes underground with the rest of the people stranded at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. After a few hours, though, the storms have a calm minute—probably due to dumb luck—the flight board still reads canceled or delayed for almost every flight, and Puck realizes it’s time to find out when he’ll be able to leave Dallas, and then find a hotel to last until then.

Forensic accounting doesn’t make him rich, but he can at least afford a pretty decent place, since his cheap airline is unlikely to foot the bill, and while Peters & McNeal is a pretty decent firm to work for, Dallas’s thunderstorm issue is not their problem. After being informed that he won’t be leaving until at least the following morning, Puck starts looking for nearby hotels that aren’t the Grand Hyatt physically at the airport. A few are still too pricey, a couple are almost too cheap, and one of them is sold out, but the Hawthorn Suites, when Puck calls, says they have just a few rooms available after being mostly bought out by Delta.

“Lucky for Delta passengers,” Puck says, then reads off his credit card number so they’ll hold one of the four remaining rooms, only available because the people who were going to use them couldn’t land in Dallas. It takes another hour to get on a shuttle, get to the Hawthorn, and get in line at the check in desk. He feels a little smug, unnecessarily, when he sees people leaving dejectedly, telling others that the Hawthorn is now sold out for the night.

Probably, Puck decides, the hotels around the airport love a good thunderstorm. Guaranteed guests for at least a night has to mean good income and probably decent tips. The working part of his brain wonders if employees who work near airports are more likely or less likely to try to steal from the company.

***

For the life of him, Finn still can't figure out airline logic, or why he has to change planes in Dallas/Fort Worth to get from Indianapolis to Boston. At least the layover for this flight weighed in under four hours, whereas his two alternatives—Chicago and Atlanta—offered eight and six hour layovers, respectively. After a weeklong seminar on city management in Indianapolis, Finn just wants to get home to Caroline and the kids.

Well, home to the kids, at least. Going home to Caroline means taking the pin out of the conversation they’d started a few hours before his flight out of Boston to Indianapolis. He’s dreading that pin. It feels like a finger stuck in a hole in a dam, and when he takes it out, everything will come flooding out all at once, harsh and ugly. He still misses elements of home, though, like Christopher and Josie, Hammer the yellow Labrador, the worn out Tigers shirt Finn wears when he’s mowing the lawn or tinkering around in the garage with the Pontiac Firebird that has seen better decades.

That's just one more thing to fight about —Caroline sees it as a waste of space, money, and time he should be spending with her or the kids. To Finn, the old Firebird is more than a rusted out junker he rescued from the car graveyard (Josie’s term); it’s a link to his own father, who drove an ‘81 from the time before he met Finn’s mom until he died when Finn was a baby. The Firebird is more than a metal shell being slowly filled, piece by piece. It's also a bridge of sorts, between the childhood with his father he doesn't remember and the teenage years in the tire shop with Burt that he does.

Christopher, Josie, Hammer, Tigers shirt, Firebird. Finn repeats the list like a mantra as the plane hits a rocky patch circling in for a landing at DFW. Rain pelts again the small, oval window, everything beyond the plane’s wingtip a grey blur. The plane tips—please let that be part of the normal descent, Finn prays silently to some nebulous deity, please get me safely to the ground—and then they’re spiraling down and down, the blinking lights of the control tower cutting through the weather. Then, hallelujah, they’re touching down on the runway, a barely felt fishtail as they skid down the tarmac.

“Folks, I apologize in advance for any delay,” the pilot’s voice cuts into Finn’s thoughts. “We’re starting to get the outer bands of Tropical Storm Harvey, and all the gates are full at the moment.”

Of course there's a tropical storm down in Dallas when Finn only needed to fly from Indiana to Massachusetts, neither one known for its excess of tropical storms. Finn exhales heavily through his nose. The beginnings of a headache tease at his brain, just above his temples, and he presses his fingers to the spots, rubbing slow, firm circles. Stress, maybe, or barometric pressure. He’ll have a full-blown migraine before they make it to the gate. Does he even have anything for a migraine in his carry-on, or is it tucked away in his checked bag? Knowing his luck, it’s the latter.

The plane sits on the tarmac for over half an hour before it taxis to an empty gate. Finn breathes an audible sigh of relief when the seatbelt sign turns off and he can stand to get his carry-on from the overhead compartment. With over three hours left until his connecting flight, he has plenty of time to get a sandwich or something and make it to the next gate with time to spare.

Or so he thinks. He's in line at the Einstein Bros. Bagels when the airport intercom crackles and hisses, and a woman’s voice with a strong Texas twang announces, “Attention Delta passengers. Due to inclement weather from Tropical Storm Harvey, all Delta flights have been delayed. Please take your ticket to the nearest Delta terminal for more information regarding specific delays to your flight. We hope you enjoy your visit at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.” With another pop and hiss of static, the intercom cuts out.

Finn continues to wait for his bagel, because layover, delay, or otherwise, a little bag of Biscoff and a lukewarm cup of coffee don't make an adequate breakfast for anyone, let alone a man his size. An asiago cheese bagel with a liberal veggie cream cheese schmear in one hand and the largest possible latte Einstein Bros. offers in the other, Finn makes his way back down the terminal towards his outgoing gate. The line has backed up far beyond the seating area and into the terminal’s walkway, but Finn reluctantly joins the line, eating his bagel and drinking his latte as the queue inches ever-so-slowly forward.

By the time Finn reaches the counter, his bagel is gone and his cup empty. The woman behind the counter—name tag reading, improbably, soon to be ironically,“Destiny”—looks at Finn’s boarding pass for a few moments before typing something into the computer in front of her.

“Indefinitely,” Destiny declares.

“Huh?” Finn asks.

“Your flight,” Destiny explains slowly, like she suspects English isn't Finn’s first language, or maybe just like she thinks he’s on the dim side. “It's delayed indefinitely. There's a tropical storm out there. Tropical Storm Harvey.”

“Yeah, I heard about that,” Finn says. “Is there a different flight to Boston I could take instead? Even if it has a longer layover.”

Destiny types away at her keyboard, then shakes her head. “Those flights are delayed indefinitely, too.”

Finn sighs as his headache tightens its vice grips around his temples. “Is there a flight to anywhere near Boston? I don't mind flying into a smaller airport. Downgrade my seat if you have to. That's fine.”

“Hmm,” Destiny says. She attacks the keyboard again, each tick tick tick of her fingernails again the keys like metal nails in Finn’s head. “Delayed indefinitely.”

Finn is certain he must sound desperate, possibly even borderline hysterical, now as he asks, “What about New York? I could fly in, take a train, rent a car—”

“Delayed indefinitely.”

“Destiny,” Finn says, putting both hands on the counter and leaning forward to gaze deep into to Destiny’s eyes. They are, he notes, the same oppressive steel grey as the clouds outside the terminal windows. “Are there any flights, leaving to any airport leaving at any point in the next twelve hours?”

Destiny’s eyes return to her screen and her fingers to the keyboard. Her fingernails seem long for a job that requires so much typing. They’re painted hot pink.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Destiny says, conveying as little regret in an apology as a human could possible manage without an accompanying urge to actually murder the target over their apology, “but every flight is delayed—”

“Indefinitely,” Finn interjects.

“Yes, sir,” Destiny says.

“Is there a bus I could take to another airport?” Finn asks. Destiny looks at him dubiously. “Or a car, I guess?”

“Sir, the whole airport is shut down. There’s a tropical storm,” Destiny says. She looks pointedly towards the windows, where the rain beating against the glass completely obscures any view of the planes beyond.

“What am I supposed to do now, then?” Finn asks himself aloud. Though he wasn't addressing his hypothetical question to Destiny, Destiny answers him anyway.

“If you’ll take a seat over there, we’re working with our guests in order of seating priority to arrange alternative accommodations,” Destiny tells Finn, sounding like someone reciting from a script, which, given her periodic glances down to her computer screen, she very well might be.

“There?” Finn asks wearily, pointing towards an already crowded seating area.

“Yes, sir,” Destiny says. “We’ll call you up by section.”

“Thanks,” Finn sighs, then slouches towards one of the lone empty seats in the indicated area. He waits as they call up all the first class passengers first, then begin on business class, apparently flight by flight. The Delta employee calls Finn’s section about four flights into the business class list, and after another long line, he has a comped room at the Hawthorn and, after a third long line, a shuttle bus to the hotel.

“You’re lucky there’s a lull,” the bus driver tells him as he boards. “Otherwise, you’d have had to wait a long time.”

Finn would already describe the amount of time he’s waited as ‘long’ but he doesn’t argue, just tucking his carry-on bag into the space under his feet. The rain starts up again just as the driver pulls under the covered space in front of the Hawthorn’s front doors. Finn tips the driver, because it’s the least he can do given the weather, and slings his carry-on bag over his shoulder to walk in to the front desk and use the information he was given to check in.

***

The woman behind the counter at the Hawthorn hands Puck his key just as the doors open and what appears to be a busload of passengers starts to enter the lobby. “Delta?” Puck asks her quietly, and she nods. “Good luck,” Puck tells her, wheeling his carry-on out of the main thoroughfare. The staff at the Hawthorn was keeping the complimentary cookies and coffee supplied, and Puck definitely wanted some of each before heading to his room. Maybe he’ll even come back out of the room for the evening social hour.

The Delta contingent lines up like a sad business-suit-uniformed dystopian army, and Puck pops one cookie into his mouth as he gets his coffee. He leans against a table to eat his second cookie, surveying the line of weary travelers. He stops halfway through the cookie and tilts his head, studying the line more closely.

“No way,” he mumbles to himself, and he hurriedly eats the rest of the cookie, wiping his hands on the provided Hawthorn Suites napkin before tossing it. “No fucking way.” The man in front of him is older, sure, but Puck’s older, too, and he has a beard, but Puck’s had various amounts of facial hair over the years. The improbable part is that they’re standing in a hotel lobby in Dallas, Texas, because of a tropical storm, but Puck knows stranger things have happened. He picks up his stuff and casually walks towards the line, slowly looking closer at the surely-not-actually-Finn person in the line, wearing a slightly too big, rumpled suit. Nothing dissuades Puck from his reasoning, though, and he finally stops near the line, parallel to Finn’s position in it, and clears his throat. If the guy looks up and looks at him, Puck’ll know, one way or the other.

The guy looks up, and it’s definitely Finn, because he says, “Puck?”

“Well, hell,” Puck says. “It is you.”

“Wow,” Finn says, shaking his head and looking baffled. “How are you here?”

“Transferring planes to Oklahoma City,” Puck says with a shrug. “You?”

“Boston.”

“You were on Delta, though,” Puck says, gesturing to the line.

“Yeah. You?” Finn asks.

Puck shakes his head. “Cheap seats. I’m gonna hate flying no matter what, why pay more for it?” He shrugs philosophically. “So what’s in Boston?”

“Home,” Finn says. “What about Oklahoma City?”

“Next job site, I’ll probably be there three or four weeks,” Puck says. “Long enough to settle in but not too long.”

“So you move around a lot? That’s gotta be hard,” Finn says.

“Nah, it’s by design. Life gets boring if I stay in one place too long.”

“I’ve been in Boston for sixteen years. I mean, technically we’re in Brookline now. I work for the town.”

“But you didn’t say if you were bored or not,” Puck says, suddenly grinning.

Finn shrugs. “It can get a little boring in the Town Administrator’s office,” he admits. “I’ve got hobbies, though, plus the kids, so I stay pretty occupied.”

Puck somehow isn’t surprised that Finn settled down and had kids, but a small part of him feels almost disappointed, not just for himself but in himself, in Finn, and with the world in general. “Hobbies are mostly portable, at least in my world,” Puck finally says. “It’s not bad.”

“Well, the Firebird isn’t portable yet, but that’s just a yet. I’ll get it running eventually,” Finn says.

“There you go,” Puck says. “Okay, you’re almost at the desk, are you coming back down to the social hour in a few minutes?”

“I hadn’t planned on it, but if you’re gonna be there, then yeah, I’ll come back down,” Finn says.

“Yeah, I try not to turn down the free stuff,” Puck says, grinning again. “See you in a few?”

“Yeah, sure thing.”

Puck nods and wheels his carry-on to the elevator, shaking his head a little as soon as he’s out of sight of Finn. What were the odds of running into Finn at all, and what exactly does Puck think he and Finn are going to talk about at the social hour? Still, Puck takes himself back downstairs a good five minutes before the social is even supposed to start. Whatever they’re going to talk about, he’ll be there.

Finn doesn’t come down until ten minutes or so into the social hour, giving Puck a sheepish grin as he sits in the arm chair next to Puck’s. “Sorry I’m running a little late. Had to call home.”

“Yeah, I only had to send a quick message to my boss at the firm,” Puck says. “They’ll handle telling the client in Oklahoma.”

“That probably went a little more smoothly than my call, then,” Finn says. “Caroline, my wife, wasn’t happy with the flight situation.”

Puck stares for a minute, then laughs. “You live in Boston and you’re married to someone named Caroline?”

“She’s not from Boston,” Finn says, laughing a little, too. “That makes it better, right?”

“No, it’s still really funny,” Puck says. “So you’re to blame for this tropical storm, then?”

“Oh yeah. I timed it on purpose to miss Josie’s soccer match, because that’s just the kind of asshole I am,” Finn says.

“Well, I’ll be sure to tell the boss. ‘Not my fault, but I can tell you whose it is,’” Puck says. “So what does a town administrator do?”

“It’s basically the same thing as a city manager,” Finn explains. “Supervision of town departments, hiring and firing, town budget. I’m just the Deputy Town Administrator, but my boss is retiring next year, and she’s going to recommend the Board of Selectmen promote me. That’s why I was in Indianapolis. They have this big city management seminar every year.”

Puck blinks. “I’m allowed to think that’s mostly boring, right?”

Finn laughs. “Yeah, okay, it’s pretty boring, but it pays alright, benefits are good, not a lot of travel or anything.”

“I’d hate that,” Puck says. “I picked my job so I could travel.”

“Caroline had a job waiting for her in Boston as soon as she graduated. She interned with this advertising firm her last year, so it made sense to take the job they offered,” Finn says. “So I was kind of stuck in Boston if I wanted to keep seeing her, which I did, obviously, so here I am. Or, there I am, I guess.”

“Huh,” Puck says, and for a moment, he finds himself comparing he and Finn. Neither one of them sound like they have a balanced life—Puck doesn’t have long-term people around him, and Finn sounds like he might fall asleep at any point of his job—but they went the opposite directions to get there. “Anyone ever embezzle anything from the town?”

“It’s funny you ask that, because we did actually have some money go missing two-and-a-half, maybe three years ago out of public works. The town had to hire someone to come in and go through everything to figure out where it went,” Finn says.

“Did they find it?”

“Yeah, it was finagled out through the recycling program, apparently. I’m not entirely sure how they managed it, but these two guys had set up some way to skim off the top of the recycling fees, then were turning around and dumping a portion of the recyclables,” Finn shakes his head in disgust, like that’s the lowest possible act of governmental sabotage and he’s appalled by it.

“Oh, you’d be surprised at what people can manage,” Puck says. “Who’d they bring in?”

“Peters & McNeal. You know them?”

Puck laughs. “What’re the odds? That’s the firm I work for.”

“That’s crazy!” Finn says. “So it was just luck of the draw, and we could’ve run into each other three years ago.”

“Yeah, I tend to draw more corporate stuff these days, is probably the only reason.” Puck shrugs and grins. “I like bringing the fat cats down.”

“No real fat cats in Brookline,” Finn says. “So you work and you travel. Is that about it? You seeing anybody?”

“I meet people, I have a thriving LinkedIn network including a lot of rabbis, that’s about it,” Puck says. “There’s still plenty of time for other stuff. We’re not old yet, you know?”

“I feel a little old,” Finn says.

“That’s probably the job title,” Puck says, “or the impending promotion.”

“Could be the kids, too. They’re ten and eight now.”

Puck gives Finn a look and shakes his head. “Beth’s twenty, don’t give me that.”

“Yeah, but you were practically a baby when you had her, so that doesn’t count,” Finn says.

“It counts when I notice how old she is.”

“She’s so much older now than you were when she was born, though,” Finn says. “Does that feel weird?”

“No weirder than most other stuff, you know? Life in general is weird.” Puck wants to say that sitting in a hotel lobby talking to Finn is far weirder, but he isn’t sure if they’re going there. Should he mention the times he almost called Finn in 2014, or the times he went as far as Googling Finn, then closing the tab before reading the results? That seems like it’s getting even closer to ‘too weird for the Hawthorn lobby’.

“I guess that’s true. Life can be pretty weird. Not mine these days, really, but in general, yeah,” Finn says.

“This isn't weird, right now?” Puck asks.

Finn shrugs. “A little, maybe. Not bad-weird, though.”

“I didn't say anything about any of it being bad,” Puck says, feeling a little irrationally stung.

“It isn’t bad, is what I just said!” Finn says. “But there are bad-weird parts of life, or my life, at least. Don’t you have bad parts?”

“Not too much, because—” Puck cuts himself off. “Shit, listen to us.”

Finn sighs. “Yeah. It’s just the same as before. The exact same shit.”

“Yeah,” Puck says. “I get a lot of people making snide comments about how I live. That's all.”

“I’m not making snide comments. I wouldn’t. Come on, I know it’s been a long time, but you know me better than that still, right?” Finn says. He moves his leg to bump his knee against Puck’s. “I have a lot of flaws, but I don’t think that’s one of them.”

“Maybe this is just too much for the social hour at the Hawthorn,” Puck says wryly.

“This might be too much for anywhere,” Finn says. “It was so much that it’s been, what, sixteen years? Seventeen? I don’t think that gets all neatly wrapped up in a couple hours.”

“Was that why you came down? To wrap everything up, so we can go our separate ways tomorrow, never speak again?” Puck asks.

“I came down because I wanted to see you,” Finn says.

“Then maybe we don't worry about the wrapping up part right now?”

“I just—” Finn sighs. “I wish the edges didn’t feel so sharp.”

“This feels like… it's too good of a chance to waste it, Finn.”

“I wish this place had a bar.”

“We’re near an airport, there has to be one close,” Puck says, looking at the now-bored front desk clerk. “We could ask.”

“Anything’s gotta be better than social hour,” Finn says.

Puck laughs and stands up. “C’mon. Do you have an umbrella or anything?”

Finn shakes his head. “I don’t even have my luggage.”

“Carry-on only, it's the way to go,” Puck says. “My umbrella’ll cover both of us, probably. Or we can see if anyone's willing to drive for money in this.”

“I wouldn’t feel right asking someone to drive us in this, even for money,” Finn says.

“Walking it is,” Puck says. “Let's see if the Dallas locals have a recommendation for us?”

***

Finn holds the umbrella, because if Puck were the one holding it, it wouldn’t be tall enough for Finn. As it is, Finn hunches over to make sure they’re both adequately covered, which lasts exactly as long as it takes for the first tropical storm–strength gust of wind to catch the umbrella, which promptly turns inside out like something out of a cartoon.

“That didn’t work!” Finn says over the noise of the wind and rain, both of which immediately pelt them and soak their clothes. He hopes his suit isn’t ruined, but it’s a suit leftover from his fat years, which means he really needed to get rid of it anyway. Maybe Tropical Storm Harvey is just giving him an excuse to ditch it. Maybe Tropical Storm Harvey’s just giving him an excuse for a lot of things.

“Maybe we just accept that we’re going to be soaked tonight?” Puck half-yells back. His t-shirt is already plastered to his skin, and his dark jeans are even darker.

“I’ve got an undershirt and a change of boxers in my carry-on back in the room,” Finn says, leaning in closer to Puck so he doesn’t have to shout. “The suit might be done for.”

Puck raises his eyebrows. “It might already have been.”

“Yeah, it’s leftover from the fat years. I swell on planes. It’s the altitude or something.”

“You aren’t drinking enough water, probably because you don’t like using airplane bathrooms?” Puck guesses. “That’s why most people do.”

“They’re too small!” Finn says. “I hit my head on shit!”

“I’m not saying you don’t have valid reasons, but that is why. Water intake.”

“I’ll keep that in mind tomorrow when I’m swelling in my wet fat suit.”

Puck just laughs, and the two of them run as fast and they can against the rain and wind until they get to Chill Sports Bar & Grapevine, which is, luckily, still open, though the parking lot is pretty empty. As they step inside, Finn makes a show of pretending to shake out the inside-out umbrella. Puck snorts. “Thanks for the attempt?”

“I think you’re gonna need a new umbrella, man. Sorry,” Finn says. His shoes are full of water, but it feels rude to dump them out at the door, so he shifts foot to foot, making them squish, as they wait for a hostess.

“We should take off our shoes once we sit down,” Puck whispers.

“Yes! Thank you,” Finn whispers back. The hostess approaches and asks them if they prefer a booth or table. She doesn’t offer them bar seating, but a quick glance in that direction suggests that Finn and Puck weren’t the only stranded travelers who discovered Chill. A booth will be quieter and more private, anyway, which is good in case Finn makes an ass out of himself again. Only one witness.

“Hey, we made it time for Happy Hour!” Puck says after they sit, sounding genuinely delighted. “Four dollar appetizers.”

“Awesome. I’m starving. That cookie did absolutely nothing for me,” Finn says. “Want to get a few and split?”

“Yeah, sounds like a good plan,” Puck agrees. He runs his hands through his hair twice, shaking off the excess water. He’s grown his hair out just long enough for it to curl.

Finn can feel himself smile as he reaches out to touch Puck’s hair. “You got grey!”

Puck laughs. “Yeah, your face isn’t grey at all, huh?”

“Yeah, but I’m used to my face,” Finn says, shrugging. “It’s just…” He shakes his head. “Nah, it sounds stupid.”

“I’m sure I’ll say something stupid within, oh, fifteen minutes,” Puck offers.

“That long?”

“I’m counting on the appetizers putting it off.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s fair,” Finn says. “I guess I just kept you in my head looking like you used to. You were, I don’t know. Like, suspended in perpetual youth in my memory.”

Puck nods slowly. “Sometimes it seemed like it was… I don’t know. Better not to find out reality?”

“Is it bad? Seeing me for real?”

“No,” Puck says quickly. “But… okay, don’t think I’m too off-balance, but sometimes I’d think about Googling you? And then I’d close the tab really fast, before I could see the results.”

Finn nods. “Don’t think I’m a jackass for not Googling you, okay? It was just kind of a hole I was afraid I’d fall into.”

Puck looks thoughtful. “Guess you had more to lose, if you fell in a hole.”

“Yeah,” Finn says, nodding again. “Got to keep my eyes on the goalpost and all of that. The goalpost just keeps moving.”

“At least you’re thinking about the goalpost,” Puck says, sounding amused. “Most of the time I put that off. Not sure either approach is great.”

“I’m not even sure what the next goalpost is. If I get the Town Administrator job, that’s as far as that career path goes. The only thing after that’s getting the kids off to college, I guess,” Finn says. He shrugs. “I don’t know. What else is there to do after that?”

“Retirement, I guess, or that’s what they tell me when they take a chunk of my paycheck for my 401(k),” Puck says. “Are we waiting for a drink or two in us to get down to the nitty-gritty?”

“Oof. Yeah, probably.” Finn gestures for the waitress, who hurries over, since they’re the only people seated in the booth section.

“What can I get y’all?” the waitress asks. “You’re here in time for our four dollar appetizers, but I also strongly recommend the bacon-wrapped shrimp. They’re our most popular item.”

“Okay. Yeah we’ll get some of those, and the mini tacos,” Finn says, looking at Puck to continue.

“Loaded nachos, bottlecaps, and…” Puck looks up at Finn and grins. “Two Long Island Iced Teas?”

“Make that four Long Islands,” Finn says, grinning back. “We’ll be here a while.”

“Alrighty! I’ll have that out for you in two shakes,” the waitress says.

“I don’t think I’ve had a Long Island Iced Tea since the last time we went to a bar together with those terrible fake IDs,” Finn tells Puck.

“I’ve had a couple of people buy them for me, but that’s about it,” Puck says.

Finn laughs once. It feels a little insincere. “So, people buy you a lot of drinks, huh?”

“Okay,” Puck says slowly. “So we’re doing this?” He sounds amused and guarded at the same time.

“What? All I asked was if people buy you drinks,” Finn says. “I can’t ask that? I’m just making conversation.”

“It wasn’t the question, it was the tone,” Puck says with a small shrug.

“I didn’t have a tone. Jesus, you’re as bad as my wife. Tone,” Finn scoffs.

“I’m just saying, considering you have a wife, maybe sounding jealous of my bar escapades is a little bit of a tone,” Puck says, now sounding more amused.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, I haven’t seen you in almost sixteen years,” Finn says. “I’m just curious about your life. I’m not jealous. Why would I be jealous?” He huffs loudly. “Fuck. We should just wait for the drinks.”

Puck leans back against his side of the booth, seemingly unconcerned. “To answer your question, no, I haven’t been celibate since we last met, but no, I don’t usually meet people in bars. As you said, it’s been almost sixteen years. There’s been a small amount of bar-going.”

“I didn’t think you were celibate. Did I say that? Why would I care who you fuck?” Finn asks angrily.

Puck stares at Finn for a few moments, their drinks arrive, and Puck takes a sip before nodding a little. “You don’t care about that, huh? But you couldn’t Google me.”

Finn very intentionally keeps his eyes away from Puck’s face as he drains about two-thirds of his Long Island. “It’s not like that,” he insists, finally putting his glass down. “I just wondered what you’ve been up to.”

“Forensic accounting,” Puck says blandly, “but I don’t think that’s really what you want to know.”

“You don’t know what I want to know.”

“Can we try not to act like we’re still nineteen?” Puck asks. “C’mon. I’m trying here.”

“Fine,” Finn says, smacking his palm down on the table a little too hard. “Guys?”

“You want me to lie right now, don’t you?” Puck says. “You already know the answer to that.”

Finn polishes off his first Long Island and then knocks the second one back in about three swallow, immediately catching the waitress’s eye and motioning to his glass to indicate—at least—a third drink, maybe even a fourth.

“Why would I ask you something if I already know the answer?” he says, once the waitress is headed towards the bar.

“I don’t know,” Puck says. “Maybe to make yourself feel better? To make me feel bad? Or the reverse? But you still knew before you asked. You knew it a long time ago.”

“Fine!” Finn says, a little too loudly. “Fine. I knew. So?”

“So that’s my question. Why did you want me to say it out loud?”

Finn’s hand smacks the table again, like it has a mind of it’s own. “Because why them and not me?” he asks. “How’d you make it work with them, and not with me?”

Puck looks almost confused. “Make it work? One-night stands, the occasional two-week stint, that’s making something work?”

“Well, I never could, after you,” Finn says.

“You got married,” Puck says, still looking confused.

“A woman,” Finn says. “There weren’t any other guys after you. If I couldn’t with you, if it didn’t work with you, how would it have worked with any other guy? You’re—you were you!”

“I couldn’t settle down in one spot,” Puck says. “Or one person. Guy or girl, didn’t matter. Hell, I purposely did half of undergrad in a different place than where I finished. It didn’t work with us because—” Puck sighs heavily. “Because I couldn’t commit to anything.”

“That’s not why,” Finn says.

“Huh? Yes it is,” Puck insists.

Finn shakes his head. “No. It’s because I always had to look around before I would kiss you. It’s because when I put my arm around you, you’d shrug it off.”

“Because I knew you,” Puck said. “That was… okay, yeah, I mean, being queer in Lima, that was an experience, and not one I’d wish on anyone. But maybe if I’d been able to settle down, we could have gotten through that, gotten out of there.”

“Are you fucking kidding me right now? I ran as fast as I could away from there, first chance I got, and I didn’t even fucking Google you,” Finn says harshly.

“Yeah, I got that part already, thanks!” Puck snaps.

“You could’ve come after me. Or called. Or something!” Finn says. “How could I look for you, after that? If anybody could’ve made me make it work, it would’ve been you, but you didn’t, you didn’t want to, and you didn’t care when I left.”

“I couldn’t give you what you wanted!” Puck says. “Calling you, chasing you down, none of that would have changed that. You had a kid before I had a steady job!”

“I just needed somebody to need me!” Finn counters.

The waitress ducks in with the drinks, all four of them, and hurries away from the table before either of them can acknowledge her, let alone thank her. Finn picks up Long Island number three and finishes it in two swallows this time.

“And I was afraid of letting someone down, especially someone who needed me,” Puck says.

“But fuck,” Finn says. “I loved you.”

“Loving each other wasn’t exactly the problem,” Puck points out. “Loving each other didn’t make us not look around before kissing, or not be unable to settle down.”

“Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the one who can’t be happy with what he’s got,” Finn says.

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about myself, and everything, over the years,” Puck says. “I genuinely don’t think I could have made the commitment and kept it, not the one I would have wanted to make. Not the one you would have deserved. That’s on me.”

“Just FYI, keeping a commitment? Isn’t what makes me happy,” Finn says. “Commitment I can do.”

“Then what does make you happy?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know anymore!”

“Oh, fuck, don’t tell me that,” Puck says, looking genuinely distressed for the first time in the conversation.

“Why not? I thought we were laying it all out there,” Finn says. “Why not tell you I have no idea how to be happy anymore? Not for more than a little while at a time.”

“Because at least the idea that you were happy made it easier!”

“Made what easier?”

“Being me! Being the way I am, not able to make it work with you!”

Finn lets out a short, bitter laugh. “Maybe making it work is overrated.”

“I thought you’d be happy. You’d have what you wanted,” Puck says.

“What did I want, Puck? Huh? What did you think I wanted?” Finn asks. “Do you think I have that? Is that what you think my life is like?”

“You wanted the picket fence, Finn! The settling down, the kids. And I couldn’t, deep down, promise myself, much less you, that I wouldn’t wake up with someone else six months down the line,” Puck says, getting louder as he goes. “I didn’t want to break you down. I couldn’t come after you ‘cause I had to give you that chance.”

“Well, thanks a lot for that. I haven’t woken up next to somebody other than my wife for almost fifteen years, and you want to know how happy I am? Are you looking at me and seeing somebody who is completely happy with his life? His boring life, as you pointed out to me.”

“You know, whatever else I’m guilty of? I’m not to fucking blame for your marital issues,” Puck says, almost snarling.

“You’re right. You’re not. You’re just the person who’s going to sit there and tell me what he thinks I needed to be happy,” Finn says.

“Yeah. What I thought when I was nineteen, and twenty, and twenty-one, and you’re going to tell me you weren’t happy when you got married, and when the kids were born? Really?” Puck says disbelievingly. “‘Cause that sounds like so much bullshit.”

“Why do you think I never Googled you? Why do you think I never looked for you, huh?” Finn asks. “Because I would have walked away from them the second you asked me to.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to walk away from your kids,” Puck says softly, looking almost hurt.

“But I would have. That’s the kind of piece of shit I am, Puck. I would have, if you had asked,” Finn says.

“So are you mad at me or at yourself?” Puck asks. “Because I’m not really sure anymore.”

“Myself. Both. Fuck, I don’t even know anymore, either,” Finn says.

“I didn’t let you go, and then settle down with someone else. I watched you, all the time, and I knew you, and after it was over…” Puck sighs. “I couldn’t see how I could make you happy.”

“And I didn’t see how I could make you want to stay,” Finn says. “And now we’re both where we’re at, and that’s the way the story ends.”

“Is that what you want?” Puck says. “We settle up the bill, walk out of the bar, and never see each other again? The end? Really?”

“No, but it was already over before you ever saw me in the hotel. It was over for sixteen years. I don’t know how to make it start again,” Finn says.

“If it was over, you would have Googled me.”

“If I Googled you, I’d have had to think about you, and not thinking about you is how I made everything else work.”

“Then it’s not over,” Puck says with a shrug. “It was… I don’t know. Long-term pause.”

“I don’t know how to do this,” Finn says softly. “How do I do this, and tomorrow I get on the plane to Boston, and you get on a different plane to Oklahoma City? How do I unpause it and then just go on with my life after?”

“I don’t know, because apparently I shouldn’t tell you how I think you’d be happy,” Puck says wryly. “I don’t know, but it’s already unpaused. You know that.”

Finn looks down at his hands, because he can’t look at Puck, not now. “I know,” he admits. “I do know that.”

“Here’s the cool thing, though: the next part isn’t written yet,” Puck says. “It’s like we’re in a Choose Your Own Adventure movie.”

“I have kids. I have a wife. You don’t stay in one place for more than a few weeks. How do we not fuck things up?” Finn asks.

“They’re already fucked up. Yeah, we probably have like a ninety-five percent chance of either making it worse or keeping it at the same level of fucked up, and maybe a five percent chance of making it better. And we’re both a few drinks in, so we’re not going to make any long-term plans tonight. Right? But five percent is, you know, more than we had this morning. A lot more. And five percent is way above the threshold to trigger an investigation,” Puck says, grinning with the last sentence.

“So what do we do now?” Finn asks.

“Investigate?”

“Then I guess we need to settle up the bill either way.”

***

Out of everything that Puck’s done since landing in Dallas, and out of all the really good things, he still thinks stopping at the front desk to get extra towels was one of the best, and another one of the good ones was changing the thermostat in his room before heading to the bar. When he opens the door for him and Finn, they aren’t greeted with a blast of cold air, and Puck can immediately hand Finn two big towels.

“No complimentary robes here, but these are pretty good, considering we just walked through a tropical storm. Again,” Puck says.

Finn shucks off his sopping wet suit jacket and starts mopping up the water in his hair. “Yeah. That suit is definitely ruined.”

“Yeah, I’m so upset about that,” Puck says, shaking his head. “What did you mean, anyway? Fat years?”

“When I moved from the Recreation department to Town Hall. I was all of a sudden sitting at a desk all day. I got fat for a while, there, before I started coaching Josie’s soccer team,” Finn says.

“Oh yeah, the desk pudge,” Puck says, nodding. “I always find the gym first thing when I pull a new assignment. Gym, synagogue, and a deli.”

“In that order?”

“Usually more like deli, gym, synagogue,” Puck admits. “Unless I land on a Friday morning.”

“Let’s just say it took me a little longer to find the gym,” Finn says.

“You probably know where most of the delis are, too,” Puck says. He tosses his wet shoes and socks into the bathroom and nods for Finn to do the same.

“Yeah, there’s a couple, and I maybe made an unintentional note about synagogues, for no particular reason,” Finn admits. “Habit, maybe.”

“Just don’t drop in on an Orthodox one,” Puck says. “I’m going to get out of these wet clothes. You want me to put something else on or be egalitarian and match you?”

Finn shrugs. “Just be comfortable.”

“Oh, all my clothes are comfortable,” Puck says through the wet fabric of his t-shirt as he pulls it over his head. “If you want to, I don’t know, throw the suit in the trash can? The kitchenette one is largest.”

“And ride the plane in my shorts and an undershirt? Pretty sure they won’t let me board,” Finn says. He does start unbuttoning his shirt, though, fumbling a little with the wet fabric.

“If the airport’s open, there’ll be sweats for sale,” Puck points out. “I have a stunning pair of pants from Denver, as a matter of fact. Similar situation. They’d be a little short on you. More like capri sweats.”

“Still gotta get to the airport.”

“Toss the jacket here, toss the pants in the airport bathroom.” Puck shimmies the rest of the way out of his jeans, then swaps his wet underwear for dry, still talking around the mostly-closed bathroom door. “You’ll brighten some janitor’s day.”

“It was a nice suit, once upon a time,” Finn says.

“Once upon a larger time, some years ago,” Puck says, swinging the door open. “Just like some tv shows. Then they get too big and too old, and it’s nicer to throw them out.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Finn says. His wet, oversized suit is discarded to the side now, and he’s in a dry pair of boxers and a fresh undershirt. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Puck says. “Warm enough?”

“Yeah. Still warm from the drinks, I think.”

“C’mon. Let’s sit,” Puck says, but he heads for the bed, not the small loveseat. Finn follows, and sits down next to him. Puck runs one finger down the back of Finn’s hand, tentatively, then picks it up and holds it between both of his hands. “What do you want, right now?”

“Can you kiss me? Like it hasn’t been sixteen years?” Finn asks, his face already turning towards Puck’s.

“I think you might like it better if I kiss you like it has been almost sixteen years,” Puck says, tilting his head slightly.

“Just… kiss me like you never forgot me,” Finn says. He slides a hand into Puck’s wet hair as their mouths meet. Puck shakes his head minutely, trying to communicate that there’s no way he could have done that, and in the process, his lips part a little. He is acutely aware of every place that the two of them are touching, and as he feels Finn, and how Finn is responding, Puck wants to somehow yell while still kissing. Whatever else they do, the kiss is good, and Puck could live in it for awhile.

“Couldn’t,” Puck says when they do pull apart, and he rests his forehead on Finn’s.

“Me either,” Finn says. “Not ever. I still remember everything.”

“You still feel the same way.”

“Your mouth still tastes the same.”

“I could probably drown in yours,” Puck says, breaking eye contact when he realizes he said it outloud.

“Yeah?” Finn asks. He’s breathing heavily, his other hand hovering close to Puck’s leg, but not yet touching it. “You could?”

“Who needs to breathe?” Puck quips.

“Overrated.”

“Kiss me again?”

“Yeah,” Finn says, his lips already on Puck’s, his tongue in Puck’s mouth. He leans in, closer to Puck, yes, but also pushing them both back against the mattress. Puck can feel himself grinning, and he drops Finn’s hand to grab at Finn’s upper arms. They feel the same and not the same, and the bigger part of that, Puck thinks, is that he remembers enough to make that judgment.

Keep kissing me,” Puck says, mumbling against Finn’s lips.

“All night, if you want,” Finn says. “I can do this all night.” As Puck’s back hits the mattress, Finn is on top of him, pressing his body against Puck’s as they kiss again. Puck can feel his body relaxing, and his mind starts to follow. He knows, deep down, how dangerous what they’re doing might end up being. Ninety-five percent odds against them sound too high, but with Finn on him and around him, Puck can’t help but hold out hope.

“Just this?” Puck finally teases, after what seems like at least half an hour but probably is far shorter. “You feel so good.”

Finn shifts slightly, one of his legs between Puck’s pressing up and rocking forward. Finn’s cock is hard and pushing into Puck’s hip. “I can just do this, if this is all you want, I just want you, to be with you, I don’t care,” he mutters in a long stream against Puck’s lips.

“We’re here, both here, with each other,” Puck says, feeling himself marvel a little at it. “It’s good, Finn.”

“I missed you,” Finn says. He nips at Puck’s bottom lip before kissing him again.

“I’m sorry,” Puck says. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, I’m sorry, it’s me, it was me,” Finn says. “You were always so good, I loved you so much, I just fucked it up so bad.”

“No, no,” Puck insists, shaking his head and putting his hand on the side of Finn’s face. “I love you.” He realizes a second later he used the present tense, not the inaccurate past tense, but he doesn’t take it back.

“I love you,” Finn replies. He kisses Puck’s mouth a little longer, then moves his lips to Puck’s neck, sucking and kissing the skin just under Puck’s jaw. He rocks his body against Puck’s again, exhaling in little huffs through his nose.

The two of them move almost silently for what feels again like long minutes, and then Puck tenses up a little. “Finn? Uh… do you have any other underwear?” Puck whispers.

“Yeah, in my bag,” Finn says, trailing his tongue along Puck’s neck. “Oh. Yeah. My checked bag.”

Puck lets out a short laugh. “Let me save your boxers for tomorrow?” he asks, moving one hand to Finn’s waistband. Finn nods his head. “Good.” Puck slides his fingers against Finn’s skin, slowly working the fabric down and out of the way. “You’re still almost-cold.”

“Uh-uh, I’m good, I’m okay,” Finn says. “This is so good.”

“Not going to stop,” Puck promises. “We’re so close. And you’re right here, fuck, we’re right here.”

“I want to stay here with you forever,” Finn says. His teeth graze the skin along the edge of Puck’s jaw, then he finds his way back to Puck’s lips again, kissing him deeply as he cants his hips forward, pressing his cock against Puck’s skin.

“This is forever,” Puck says, knowing that the part of his brain that always used to try to write bad poetry about Finn is back to fully operational. “I know you.”

“You were gone. I missed you.”

“Not gone. Here,” Puck says, and he rocks up hard as he speaks, pushing the two of them together.

“Tomorrow, though,” Finn says. He grinds down against Puck, letting out little gaspy breaths, but quiet, still.

“Stop worrying for now,” Puck says. “It’s not tomorrow. It’s never tomorrow.”

“But I missed you, I missed you,” Finn whines against Puck’s lips. “I can’t lose you again.”

“We won’t,” Puck says, and he knows that much will hold. Neither one of them can stand the uncertainty again. “I love you. So close.” He pushes against Finn’s cock, relishing the feel of it on his skin. “You should come now.”

“I want to keep doing this,” Finn says.

“We can keep going all night, but right now…” Puck says, his voice trailing off.

“You too,” Finn says. “You have to come, too.”

“Of course,” Puck says, because that’s how they almost always did it, before.

“I still love you so much,” Finn says, and he’s clinging to Puck, shaking, coming hard and hot against Puck’s stomach. Puck hears himself moaning, and the shock at the intensity of it all, at how Finn feels and sounds, is enough for Puck to start to come almost immediately after Finn.

“Me too, me too,” Puck says softly. “Shhh. Me too.”

“Puck,” Finn says quietly, resting his face alongside Puck’s.

“I’m here.”

“Stay. Stay with me.”

“I’m here,” Puck repeats, and suddenly his earlier thoughts pop back into his head. “You can keep me with you.”

“Okay,” Finn says. He drapes his body over Puck’s, wrapping around him, until his skin is against Puck’s in as many spots as possible.

“You feel so good,” Puck says in a low whisper. The air conditioner hums a little in the background, and Puck can hear the rain hitting the window. It feels like they’re about to fall asleep that way, and he shifts his head until his face is exactly the right amount of buried in Finn while still letting him breath. They should probably get up and clean up, first, but it’s one of the last things Puck wants to do right then, and he lets himself close his eyes, breathing slowly, to drift off.

When he wakes up again, the rain is still hitting the window, though less intensely, and Puck turns his head to squint at the clock, confirming that it’s the middle of the night. Finn is still draped over him, and Puck slowly runs a hand down Finn’s back, then back up to the nape of his neck. He slides Finn’s hair between his fingers.

“Finn?” Puck murmurs.

“Hmm? Yeah?” Finn say sleepily. “Puck?” His eyes open and he blinks a few times, the smiles. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Puck says softly. “It’s the middle of the night.”

“Confirmed real, not just a good but a little weird dream, right?”

“I’m going to take that as confirmation you dream about me,” Puck says, smiling into the dark.

“Maybe,” Finn says. “Maybe sometimes I do.”

“If you really need confirmation, we can turn on the light,” Puck suggests.

Finn grumbles, but he kind of half-reaches and half-crawls over Puck to flip on the lamp. “Looks real to me. You don’t have grey hair in my dreams,” Finn says.

“You either really hate that grey hair or really like it,” Puck says, still smiling. “You look pretty real, too.”

“I like it. It looks good.” Finn brushes his fingers over Puck’s hair.

“Smooth talker,” Puck teases.

“That’s me,” Finn says. “So smooth, like silk.”

“Oh yeah?” Puck stretches up enough to kiss Finn. “A little scratchy, too.”

“I can get up and shave if you really want me to, I mean, I don’t want to scratch you.”

“You’re not getting out of bed,” Puck says, even though a small part of him would feel inordinately smug if a clean-shaven Finn got on the plane the next day.

“So I guess you don’t hate the beard too much, then,” Finn says.

“That seems like something to take up after we’re already out of bed,” Puck says, kissing Finn again. “Not now.”

“Do you have to call your airline at a specific time to find out when your flight’s rescheduled for?” Finn asks.

“Not until at least 11, they said,” Puck says, shaking his head. “You?”

“They’ll text me with the information. All I have to do is show up and check in.”

“So we’re good for now,” Puck says. “Good. Kiss me again.”

Finn obliges him, taking Puck’s face in both hands to kiss him deeply. Puck slides his hand down Finn’s back again as they kiss, resting it on Finn’s lower back and then pressing down, like he can somehow bring Finn even closer. For his part, Finn seems intent on wrapping himself entirely around Puck if possible, all without letting go of Puck’s face.

Puck puts his other hand on Finn’s hip, squeezing gently, and as they keep kissing, the kiss continuing to deepen, Puck thrusts up with his hips. Finn makes a low noise into Puck’s mouth and presses more firmly against him.

“Let me touch you,” Puck says into Finn’s mouth, squeezing the hand on Finn’s hip again.

Finn whines a little, but he rolls them both onto their sides and moves his left hand from Puck’s hair, stroking down his Puck’s chest. Puck shifts into the touch, and moves his hand too, trailing his fingertips across Finn’s waist. Finn’s hand moves lower, until he’s wrapped it around Puck’s cock.

“Yeah,” Puck says softly, breathing out and moving in Finn’s hand. He finishes dragging his fingertips across Finn’s waist, then drags them up the length of Finn’s cock twice before taking it in his grip. “Mmm, you feel so good, you know that?”

“You make me feel good. I know that,” Finn says. He moves his hand on Puck’s cock, not fast, just slowly and steadily.

“Dragging it out, huh?” Puck says, grinning suddenly. “We can go slow.”

“Just taking advantage of the time we’ve got,” Finn says.

“We’ve got time,” Puck says, nodding and sliding his hand up and down Finn’s cock. “You feel exactly the same.”

“You’re just like I remembered you,” Finn says, then laughs softly. “Except for the grey.”

“Glad I could improve for you,” Puck says.

“Like wine. You got all vintage on me,” Finn says.

“Yeah? Guess we’d better get back to the tasting, then?”

Finn snorts. “God, you’re still such a dork.”

“Yeah, you like that part even more than the grey, I think,” Puck says.

“It’s just so familiar.”

“Uh-huh,” Puck says, stroking faster and kissing Finn almost abruptly. Finn’s hand speeds up, too, and his touch gets a little rougher. Puck rocks his hips as he moves his hand, deepening their kiss and putting his other hand on the back of Finn’s neck. After only a few more minutes, Finn makes a surprised sound and suddenly comes in Puck’s hand.

The second time in just a few hours feels, if Puck’s being completely honest with himself, possibly even better than the first time, and it makes him thrust up faster and faster into Finn’s hand until he knows he’s about to come. He kisses Finn hard, harder than before, and does come, shaking a little in Finn’s hand. Finn just holds him close, kissing him until he’s still again.

“Good?” Finn asks.

“So good,” Puck says. “I love you.”

“I love you,” Finn says, resting his forehead on Puck’s. “That was never what was wrong.”

“I know.”

“Yeah.”

Puck grabs one of the discarded extra towels from the floor and wipes their hands, then the rest of them, before tossing the towel back in the floor. “Don’t step on that one.”

“I’ll do my best,” Finn says. “Come here.” He tugs Puck down against his chest. Puck wiggles a little until he finds a comfortable place for his head, then exhales.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

Puck grins. “We flew a long way just to exchange some greetings.”

“Good thing that’s not all we exchanged, huh?” Finn says.

“A few more things we should probably exchange in the next six or eight hours, too,” Puck says. “We’re such exchangers.”

“Yeah? You don’t think we exchanged enough already?” Finn asks. “I probably need a couple of hours. I’m getting kind of old, you know.”

Puck laughs. “Okay, we can do that, too, but I also meant, you know. Contact information. So there’s no Googling necessary.”

“Yeah, of course. I’m making sure you have all of that before we get on our planes,” Finn says.

“I’m strangely grateful to Dallas and Harvey.”

“Me, too. And to the city management seminar, but only because that’s what got me on the plane to begin with.”

“It’s the only time someone’s been grateful for a business seminar,” Puck says with a laugh. “C’mon, there’s gotta be some part of your job you really like.”

“I work with some nice people. I like Brookline. The actual job part is pretty boring,” Finn says.

“Yeah? Brookline’s on the T, right?”

Finn’s chest moves as he nods. “Yeah. It’s nice. You pass Fenway going into the city.”

“Still a Tigers fan, though?” Puck asks.

“Still got that same t-shirt you hated, even,” Finn says. “Remember that one? The ringer one.”

“Are the rings the only thing holding it together?” Puck asks incredulously. “Does it have holes?”

“It’s mostly holes at this point. I wear it when I work on the Firebird. It’s the most comfortable thing I own,” Finn says.

“You need to go shopping, then,” Puck says, shaking his head back and forth. “Tell me something else.”

“Will it be weird for you if I talk about my kids?”

Puck shrugs. “They’re your kids. I get that. Talk away.”

“Caroline’s pretty tall, too, so you’d think the kids would both be tall, right?” Finn says. “But Christopher is such a shortie. I don’t know where he gets it from. Josie’s already as tall as he is, and he’s ten and she’s eight!”

“Aww, maybe he’ll grow still,” Puck says. “Or maybe it’s your mom’s fault.”

“Maybe. I think he’s hoping he’ll make up all the extra height once puberty hits, but he’s just a small guy.”

“Just don’t call him ‘Peanut,’” Puck says.

“No way. I call him Monte Cristo, but he hates it,” Finn says. “He likes to go by the full ‘Christopher’.”

“So proper,” Puck says. “What about Josie?”

“She’s so girly. Only wants to wear dresses every day. We have to buy her those bicycle shorts to wear under them. She even wears them to soccer practice!” Finn says.

“She gets that from you,” Puck deadpans.

“Uh, I’m not the one of the two of us who wore a dress to school,” Finn says. “Lady Gaga doesn’t count.”

“I made that dress look hot, which is more than you can say for most blue light specials,” Puck points out.

“You had the legs for it, for sure.”

Had?” Puck says, lifting up one leg and pointing his toes.

“Not saying you don’t now. Just saying you already did at the time,” Finn says. He runs a hand down Puck’s lifted leg. “Still do.”

Puck lowers his leg and drapes it over Finn’s legs. “What else?”

“I have a dog.”

“Not a little yappy dog, right?”

“Yellow Lab. His name’s Hammer,” Finn says.

“Does he help you work on the Firebird or something?” Puck asks. “Is that why he’s Hammer?”

“He came already named Hamlet, but Hamlet turned into Hammers turned into just Hammer,” Finn says. “He’s a good dog.”

“You should get him to fetch tools,” Puck says. “That’d be so funny. You could video it.”

“He could probably do that. He’s great at fetch.”

“Do you take him for walks, too?”

“Yeah, usually twice a day. We’ve got a fenced yard, too, though. He usually hangs out back there while we’re at work,” Finn says.

“Aww, long day for him, I guess? Town administration people probably don’t work from home?”

“Nope. Town Hall.”

“Important question. You don’t take the elevator, do you?”

“Stairs,” Finn says. “How do you think I got out of my fat years?”

Puck laughs. “Yeah, okay, but it’s a quote, too. ‘Never take an elevator in city hall.’”

“I don’t know that one,” Finn says. “Who’s it from?”

“Harvey Milk, ironically enough for our circumstances,” Puck says.

“Yeah. I do take the stairs, though,” Finn says.

“Good.” Puck turns his head a little to sniff at Finn’s chest. “Tell me something else,” Puck says quietly. “It doesn’t have to be happy. I want you, not the greatest hits.”

“Okay,” Finn says. He’s quiet for a bit, then says, “Whatever happens with me and Caroline, it’s not because of this, okay? It isn’t… we haven’t been happy for a long time. We don’t like the same things anymore. We don’t want the same things. It’s just, you know. Easier to be unhappy than to fix it.”

“Relationship inertia?”

“Yeah. I think the only way to fix it at this point is to end it, so it was just easier to leave it be and tiptoe around it. We both work long hours, and I do a lot of stuff with the kids on weekends, so there just hasn’t been a lot of impetus to address it.”

Puck nods, thinking about some of his coworkers, and people he’s met at various jobs over the years. “Do you think that’s what she’d say, too?”

“I don’t know. Is it bad that I hope so?” Finn asks. “I just hate to think what we’ve got now is enough to make her happy.”

“Okay, yeah, I get what you’re saying,” Puck says. “Okay.”

“I don’t want her to be unhappy, but if I’m unhappy and she’s happy? What does that say about us?”

“Not everyone fits together for a long time, I guess,” Puck says. “That’s all.”

“We tried, you know? At first. And it was pretty good for a while, when the kids were little, because we had them in common,” Finn says. “Now, I don’t feel like I really even know her. I have no idea what her favorite song is, or if she has a new favorite movie. I don’t know the last tv show she watched. I probably only know the names of a few of her friends.”

“Yeah,” Puck says. “Is there yelling?”

“Not usually. We’d have to be in the same room long enough for yelling to happen,” Finn says. “She thinks I spend too much time on the car, but she doesn’t even really yell about that. She just frowns.”

“That’s something, for the kids at least,” Puck says. “Really.”

“I hope so. They seem happy,” Finn says. “I hope I don’t mess that up.”

Puck waves one hand. “You love ‘em. That counts for a lot.”

“And they’re smart, you know? I’m sure they know me and their mom don’t really spend any time together. I don’t want to hurt them, though, or let them down.” Finn sighs and puts an arm around Puck, holding him tightly.

“I know,” Puck says. “But like you say, if they’re smart…”

“Yeah,” Finn sighs.

Puck is quiet for a moment. “Don’t read too much into this. Or do. I don’t know,” Puck says. “Would they like me, if they met me?”

“How could they not? I liked you when I met you,” Finn says.

“Uh, a lot of reasons,” Puck says.

“Well, okay, yeah,” Finn concedes. “But if they just met you as a person, I think they’d like you a lot. I don’t know how they’d feel if they met you, you know, with me.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Puck nods a little. “We’re getting into that five percent territory.”

“In a good way?”

“Five percent is good. I just wanted to make sure now was a good time for you.”

“Honestly? I don’t know. It’s a complicated time for me, but it’s not a bad time,” Finn says.

“Because I don’t think either of us does too well if we fall into the ninety-five percent.”

“We’ve both got a lot to lose.”

“But we could gain.”

“Yeah. We could,” Finn says, nodding and putting his other arm around Puck, too. “I don’t think we can figure it all out before our flights, though, so I guess you’d better be prepared to talk to me a lot. Calls or texts, emails, whatever. Just don’t disappear while we’re trying for our five percent.”

“I’m not going to, but I think you have more to figure out immediately than I do,” Puck says. “And maybe my short time in Oklahoma City is a good time for us to think.”

“Yeah. I don’t want to lose this. I don’t want to lose you, not again,” Finn says.

“I know,” Puck says. “I feel the same way.” He slides his hand down Finn’s side. “I mean… you could lose the beard. Then the next time I see you, it’ll be even easier to recognize you.”

“You really don’t like it?”

Puck cranes his head up to look at Finn’s face. “I like your face better without it.”

“I’ll think about it,” Finn says.

“You know, I stay at a lot of hotels like this,” Puck says. “If I call, they’ll bring you a nice razor or two.”

“Probably gonna need three or four,” Finn says. “Five, maybe.”

“They can probably do that,” Puck says. “And shaving gel.”

“I said I’d think about it!”

Puck drags his hand over Finn’s collarbone, then his neck, then over the beard. “They’re very accommodating, is all I wanted you to know,” Puck says. He drops his fingers back to Finn’s neck again.

“Probably less so at,” Finn lifts his head, “two in the morning.” He lets it drop again.

“Eight, maybe.”

“I just hope I don’t get a text about my flight when I’m halfway through the beard,” Finn says. “Not that I’m making any beard-related promises.”

“Mmm, okay,” Puck says. “Probably we’ll have time for breakfast after the beard.”

“Want to get some more sleep?”

“Are you tired?” Puck asks.

Finn shrugs, jostling Puck slightly. “I can sleep on the flight.”

Puck grins. “I like that answer.”

***

Finn rubs a hand over his freshly-shaven jawline as they’re standing in line for coffee at Einstein Bros. Bagels. “It feels weird,” he tells Puck.

“It looks good.”

“Do I look younger?” Finn asks.

Puck tilts his head and then nods. “Less grey, yeah.”

“Not too young, though, right? I don’t want to weird out my kids or anything.”

“You don’t look sixteen,” Puck promises.

“Well, I didn’t think a shave was going to perform a miracle,” Finn says. “Still, you should remind me why you like it.”

“Oh yeah?” Puck leans in and kisses Finn, not nearly as hard as in the hotel room, but a little harder than most public kisses around them in the airport. When they finally break apart, Finn smiles at Puck.

“Gotta get what I can while I can, right? Before our thinking period,” Finn says.

“Yeah, we both have to get what we can,” Puck agrees.

“Five percent…” Finn trails off. “It’s not a lot.”

“No, it’s not, but it’s something,” Puck says. “And we’re both aware it’s not a lot.”

“And we both know there’s a chance this could be it, at least for something like this between us.”

“Yeah. We have to accept that and still work for it not to be, at the same time,” Puck says. “And after our thinking period, communicate.”

“Whatever we decide, I don’t want you to disappear out of my life again. I want you in my life, forever, however,” Finn says. “Even if it’s hard or weird, even if it’s sad. I don’t want to lose you.”

“I know.” Puck reaches out and takes Finn’s hand to squeeze it, but he doesn’t let go afterwards.

They stay hand in hand as they get their coffee order, then as they drink their coffee, standing in along the wall of the terminal. As Finn reaches the bottom of his cup, his flight is announced over the intercom.

“Well,” Finn sighs, tossing his cup into the trash can nearby. Puck throws his in after.

“‘All your bags are packed, you’re ready to go,’” Puck sings softly.

“Walk me to my gate?”

Puck nods. “‘So kiss me, and cry for me’?”

“No crying,” Finn says. “Well, you had better not cry, at least.”

“Maybe happy tears, later on?”

“Maybe. I hope so. If we’re lucky and smart and take our time with this.”

“We have time,” Puck says.

“And we’re gonna use our time to think it all through,” Finn says. “No blowing up or running away this time.” He leans in to kiss Puck again, lingering there until the announcement over the intercom repeats. Finn pulls back then. “Alright. Gate.”

“Fly safe,” Puck quips. “I love you.”

“I love you. I always did,” Finn says.

Still holding hands, they walk to Finn’s gate, where Finn kisses Puck one more time before letting go. Puck doesn’t say anything else, just smiles and watches Finn. Finn looks over his shoulder, back at Puck, as long as he can, but then he’s at the gate and has to hand the gate attendant his boarding pass. Then, too quickly, he’s walking down the jet bridge, taking his seat in business class, and fastening his seatbelt. He looks out the window, hoping the angle will let him see back into the terminal, but of course it doesn’t.

“Okay Hudson,” Finn says to himself quietly. “Don’t fuck this up. You can figure this out.”