Reese wants him to deliver a suitcase to the office of a guy called Professor Whistler. Fusco’s not impressed. Maybe try Doctor Birdname next time, Glasses. Be a little more obvious.
It’s not like it’s all that out of his way, he thinks, sitting in the hard plastic chair outside Professor Whistler’s office, although he bitched to Reese that it was. And it’s not that he minds running errands like this, ‘cause he’s missed it, in his way. And it’s not as though he isn’t relieved, bone-deep relieved to know that Reese is OK and Sameen’s OK and the crazy girl with the guns is OK and Glasses is OK and Toto too, but.
It’s just that he hasn’t seen Finch since DC.
And it’s just that in DC, Finch had been firm about the nicer hotel. For his own comfort, Fusco figured. ‘Cause if you’re a guy with back trouble, who’s in pain a lot, and who’s used to the finer things, you don’t want to sleep in some fleabag motel, feet away from a guy who snores. And then he was also firm about the nice dinner. Fusco’s not the type to look a gift meal in the mouth, but this was some serious gourmet Michelin-starred shit to the point where it made Fusco suspicious of Finch’s motives, of the half-smile on Finch’s face when he ordered for Fusco all confident and proprietary, of the soft hand that closed over Fusco’s and soothed away his questions.
And then back at the hotel, Finch perched on the couch, ringed in his phalanx of laptops, had asked Fusco to help him and, fuck, isn’t that what he’s there for? Fusco’s never seen any evidence that points to him being any more useful to Finch from a technical angle than fetch and carry and do what I say, but that night, Finch seemed to appreciate it. And Fusco can admit that there’s something about doing simple things he barely understands for someone who seems so sure of everything he asks that is like a massage for the brain.
And late that night, Finch had taken him gingerly by the wrist and said he should go take a shower, he should go off to bed, he should plan to sleep in late because Finch wanted him well-rested and he’d gone into the shower radiating warmth because he felt so looked-after, so cared-for.
And when he came out, hair wet and curling, wrapped in a fluffy bathrobe, Finch was waiting for him. Neat and straight-backed at the end of the only bed, tie straight and cuffs buttoned, eyes demure and half-lidded, the only hint of presumption his shoes, which he’d removed and placed half-under the bed, toes peeking out. He’d wanted to make a joke of it, wanted to back down and offer to sleep on the couch, but something in him got all brave and desperate, so he walked up to Finch, let his rough, calloused, shower-warm hand brush against Finch’s smooth cheek and delicately take off his glasses.
Less than 24 hours from that moment, Finch would send him away.
He made himself a liability. Fusco realizes that now. A smart guy - and Finch, whatever else he is, is a smart guy - doesn’t bring personal shit to work. You don’t fuck your fetch-and-carry guy ‘cause if you do, and if somebody holds a gun to that fetch-and-carry guy’s head, they maybe have the kind of leverage to make you give up something important.
It was a bad mistake the two of them made, Fusco thinks as he fiddles absently with the latches on the suitcase. An unrepeatable mistake.
He recognizes Finch’s footsteps coming up the dimly lit hall before he even bothers to lift his head. It’s a sickening thing, to miss someone so badly that you know them by the sound of their feet, but then Finch’s limp gives him a distinct tread, so maybe he shouldn’t beat himself up so badly.
Finch looks a little less crisp than he used to, a little more rumpled and dusty. Like how a college professor is supposed to look, Fusco guesses, though he never went to college. He rises to his feet as Finch approaches, reaches out to meet him like he might take Finch’s hand, might shake it or just hold onto it in a reassuring way, but Finch slides right past him and busies himself with unlocking the office, so Fusco never has to decide.
“You have it?” Finch asks, eyes on the door.
“Yeah.” He holds up the suitcase, tries to force Finch to look at it, look his way.
“My office hours start in fifteen minutes,” he says, as if that means something. Finch looks up at him, blinking behind smudged glasses, and Fusco meets his eyes, gives him a look that he hopes says “That sounds like your problem.” He guesses it does because Finch opens the office door and steps aside, ushering Fusco in.
The office is cramped, maybe one step up from a converted janitor’s closet and made tighter by books and papers lining the walls, slumping and rustling into one another. He thinks one wrong move could mean an avalanche, a maelstrom, and the two of them buried in the vortex of Finch’s new identity. But they are standing close, almost nose-to-nose, by Finch’s desk, so mostly it’s important to think of anything else.
“If you would?” Finch asks.
Fusco sets the suitcase on the desk and Finch promptly busies himself with the combination lock. “You doing OK?” Fusco breathes. It seems wrong to speak over a whisper in here.
“I am, detective,” Finch murmurs, matching his tone. “And you?”
Back to detective again, Fusco notes. “I’m good,” he says. “It’s good to have you back in one piece. All of you,” he adds, when the first thing feels too painfully specific.
“Well,” Finch whispers, “we were never really gone.” The lock on the suitcase springs free and he pops it open, takes a look at what’s inside, snaps it shut just as quickly. “Perfect. Thank you for your help, detective.”
So that’s it. Not so much as an explanation. Not so much as a handshake. “No problem,” he says, because he can think of nothing else. Fusco rests his hand on the door, prepares to leave, except something won’t let him, probably the same thing that made him bold in DC. He turns and asks, “You really teaching here?”
“I am,” Finch says. “An advanced programming course.” He says it like you wouldn’t be interested. He says it like please leave.
“And that’s going good for you?”
“Yes,” Finch says. And after a moment, “Perhaps not. It’s not a popular course.”
“The subject matter may be a little obscure. But then, I suppose that’s the point.”
“You bored?” he asks.
“Terribly.” Finch’s thin lips twitch. And then, as though it has a greater importance, he adds, “Nobody’s coming to my office hours.” His hand drifts close to Fusco’s almost of its own accord, his two fingers come to rest on the inside of Fusco’s wrist, directly over his pulse. “Tell me you’re well?” he asks and it sounds so different from a moment ago, when Finch asked, “And you?” He thinks his pulse must leap beneath Finch’s fingers.
“I feel like I gotta apologize,” Fusco says.
“No,” Finch says, very firmly, as his hand curls around Fusco’s wrist. And then, “For what?”
“What happened in DC.” Fusco feels like he has to lean in closer, like they’re both speaking too softly.. “I distracted you. You had to give up your...well, whatever it was.”
Finch shakes his head. “That couldn’t be helped.” He sounds so calm, so easy. “The plan wouldn’t have worked without your help. I couldn’t have done it at all without you with me.”
“If I could’ve fought them off…”
Finch tsks, releases Fusco’s wrists only to deliberately straighten his tie. “A bit action hero, don’t you think?” He asks, lips pursed. “They threatened the guard. If that hadn’t mattered to you, I’d be reconsidering our association.”
“What happened at the hotel…”
“...Was completely irrelevant.” He says it so flat and hard it’s like a bucket of cold water and Fusco would flinch away except Finch has him by the lapels, rolling the scratchy fabric of Fusco’s suit between his fingertips. “I was fond of you before that night and have continued to be fond of you since. What sort of person would I be if all that was required to make your life precious to me was...that?”
He has a point, Fusco guesses.. Finch has a way of talking about it that makes the whole thing sound transactional, like a token of his esteem that Finch gave without thinking all that hard about it. But it meant something to Fusco, in the moment. It means something to him now.
“I hope you don’t feel abandoned,” Finch says, really softly and kindly, but the words fill him up with this white hot, wet rage that rolls down the back of his neck and wells up behind his eyes, because he does feel abandoned, because he feels like Finch used him up and threw him away, because he thinks about that night all the time and he bets Finch only thinks about it in a perfunctory way, the same way he does about the hotel room and the dinner. A nice treat, all finished up. “It’s only that things are different now.”
“Because of the thing you didn’t get?” he asks.
Finch is tellingly, horribly silent.
“Because of the thing you gave up for me?”
“Not just because of that.” But that’s just a fancy, negative-space way of saying Yes. Because of that. Because of you.
He recoils, or he tries to, but Finch has hold of his lapels still, and Finch trades that for arms draped loose but inescapable around his neck and suddenly Finch is sighing against his mouth “Oh, Lionel,” like he’s the saddest, strangest thing in the world and then Finch is kissing him again.
Again. Is it right to miss a thing that only happened once like this, like it’s the air he breathes? Is it OK that he wishes he could become a thing that doesn’t think and doesn’t feel and just kisses back? Is it OK to wish Finch would make him keep standing here, half-pushed onto the crowded desk, just loving this and not pulling away, not wrenching back the way he feels himself doing?
But, yeah, he has his hands on Finch’s shoulders and he pushes him away, real gently. And he makes himself say, “I should go,” like he means it.
“Oh, no,” Finch murmurs.
“Better do that,” Fusco says, groping for the door handle. “If one of your students comes by…”
“They won’t.” Finch reaches for him again but looking at Fusco stops him short, makes his hand hang in the air.
“Lemme know if you need me to deliver another suitcase,” Fusco says as he pushes the door open, as he just looks at the floor ahead of him and not back at Finch, whatever he does, and when he hears Finch say “If that’s what you want”, that’s when he lets the door fall shut behind him.
They still work together, of course. It’s not like there’s a middle ground where Fusco can keep doing this and never see old Glasses again. He thinks Finch wishes he could retire Fusco, give him whatever the secret spy equivalent of a gold watch and a pension is and send him on his way, but he knows he can’t do it without ripping the scab off this ugliness again. So he won’t.
Instead, they’re good to each other. Finch is polite to him, asks him along on his technical fetch-and-carry missions and Fusco ribs him, gives him nicknames, like he would anybody else, and Finch thanks him for the work he does. They treat each other like people and it’s almost normal, except maybe their hands linger when one passes hardware to the other and they say each other’s names a bit too carefully and sometimes their eyes meet, sudden and guilty, because one was looking at the other too hard and the only reason he got caught is because the other was looking back.
He’s not sure what Finch is doing, by way of dealing with things. Planting more secret microphones and cameras maybe, or burying himself in his work. What Fusco does is, he writes things down. Things Finch says during the fetch-and-carry, things that sound significant or words Fusco doesn’t understand. He looks the words up afterwards. Finch can see his search history, or he assumes Finch can, and Fusco doesn’t care too much about that. If Finch wants to fight him over improving himself, he can do that, if that’s a battle Finch wants to pick. Fusco doesn’t think it is.
The significant stuff, all fraught and out of context, that he writes down with a pen and paper and hides away. He thinks Finch will slip up one day, Finch will drop one too many puzzle pieces and it’ll all come together. Fusco’s not even allowed to know what he did, what his screw-up cost them. He’ll know everything one day.
Months and months later, Finch invites him to a wedding. It’s for work, he knows, and Finch doesn’t try to spin it any different. What he tries to sell it as is fun. Good food, a party, and a chance to save some lives. Not the worst thing in the world.
The worst thing in the world is where his mind goes: Finch in black tie, himself dressed to Finch’s exacting specifications. Taking Finch’s arm as they walk, half-supporting him. The two of them sitting close, their hands a tangle beneath the table. The dance floor, the barest rocking as they drift against each other all heady, all warm. All play-acting.
He turns Finch down, of course. But it drags at him, makes him slam the phone down before he can take it back.
He thinks Finch will make other invitations, still hopeful, still eager.
He thinks it will get harder to turn them down with time, not easier.
He thinks that if Finch gives up on invitations, he will start to make them himself.