Chapter 1: to see an American girl being so American
Whenever Finn sees Liz, it's like there's a dumbwaiter ding going off half in his heart and half in his head.
It doesn't have to be a confrontation. Sometimes he glimpses her through the glass walls as she walks by, or passes her in the corridors. It's anticipation of a fight, he supposes; evolutionary instinct kicking in, a warlike nature surfacing.
Ding! Liz is in view, heading down the hallway. "Welcome back!" Finn exclaims. "You haven't missed much, apart from everyone wanting to talk to you and no one knowing where you are." He holds his phone up to his ear and jokes, "Hi, yeah, call off the dogs and choppers, we've found her and she's alive."
She scowls at him. Mia informs her about Richard, who's currently in Liz's office, staring dramatically out of the big window.
"Don't worry," Finn begins in mock reassurance. He lightly grips Liz's shoulder. It's the first time they've touched since their introductory handshake. Although he was the one who initiated it, the closeness surprises him, just as her head immediately whips around at the contact. He quickly removes his hand, though not his smirk. "We've all been on the receiving end of a Miller bollocking. Usually, he's thoughtful enough to hit you where the bruises don't show."
Finn's eyes follow Liz as she approaches Richard. He remains nearby after Mia has left, busying himself with what's lying around as he watches the pair. Soon, they're laughing together, exchanging what Finn interprets as meaningful gazes. When Richard abruptly leans in and kisses Liz on the cheek, that's when Finn decides to leave.
Later, Liz calls a meeting without specifying why.
“What did he want?" Finn asks. "Tip for a good ramen noodle place? The name of your dealer?” A pause, during which she doesn't deign to respond; he studies her, ready to gauge her reaction, then adds, slyly, “Bit of a hug?”
She looks up for a split second to shoot him a bemused, irritated smile. A mental image flashes of the Commissioner hugging her - in a chaste way, not locked in a passionate embrace or whatever it is that lovers do - and it fills Finn with inexplicable anger. But he's always angry, anyway, especially when it comes to Liz, so he doesn't give it any further thought.
After she pops up on Sky News without warning, Finn Googles her. Liz has bested him this round. He's furious, agitated, and kind of impressed.
He's been spying on her since the day she was hired, but not this intimately, not scrolling through her Facebook profile on his work computer like he is now. Distantly, he recognises that there's nothing to gain from this. Liz is a PR prodigy, so she wouldn't have posted anything she didn't want complete strangers to see - in fact, she won't post anything unless she wants it to be seen. Current crisis aside, most of the information an Internet search supplies about her is just an extension of her fucking brand, a life she's molded into a resume. And he's buying into it.
Finn clicks again, and all of a sudden, Richard is in the picture. He and Liz are sitting together at a press conference, back in happier times; she's turned towards another camera, smiling big and bright, how he's never seen her in real life. For a moment, he wonders if there could be an actual person bubbling beneath the lid, if she might be more than someone constantly trying to be more than. Then he notices that Richard is staring at her as if she's salvation.
Something twists in Finn's chest, sharp and the sobering end of painful. He finally decides to call it quits.
Chapter 2: from what grace am I fallen
There's a fire raging inside Liz's brain.
Every day, she carries a bucket of water in one hand and a pail of kerosene in the other, and she can't tell them apart.
Some days, she gets home in a state of euphoria, brimming with ideas. She immediately retrieves her laptop and starts typing. The initial frenetic minutes drag into hours. (But she cannot stop, because the buzz won't be there in the morning; because it's music she only hears when she's in motion; because she has a momentum going, and a pause would be equivalent to trying to skid to a halt, and careening off a cliff.) She will possibly forget to eat, to change, to check the clock at the corner of her screen. She might finally take a break for dinner. She might stop for good at midnight. She might.
Other days, Liz gets home feeling like she's been brained by a mallet of fatigue. She's resigned to her inevitable fate, whatever that is, exactly. She procrastinates every movement: small steps, slow bites, gradual undressing interrupted by bouts of sitting in near-catatonia. Her inspiration is still buried somewhere in her, but muddied, unreachable. The worst days are when she cries. Usually, there's no particular reason, so there's nothing for her to attack until it retreats.
On occasion, there's a combination of the two. She pounds at the keyboard, tears welling hot and angry yet refusing to fall out. Words violently jostle against each other in their haste to escape her mind, then refuse to arrange themselves into coherence. Or she climbs into bed intending to nap it off and ends up staring wide-eyed at the ceiling; thought after thought races through her head in rapid succession, accelerating her heart rate until sleep is impossible. Neither mixed condition is 'better', but when she's caught in it, she finds herself longing for the other, or for the extremes.
Sometimes, Liz has imaginary conversations with people she's known.
Richard is the most frequent visitor. In the past, she'd talk about her plans, and he'd listen, and they'd laugh. It's gotten worse since he died. She weeps in real life while she's yelling in her daydreams. The ghost of him tries to place his hand on her face, always kisses her on the cheek before he leaves. This isn't how she wants to remember him.
Thus, more often than not, Liz plays out arguments with Finn, which isn't a massive exercise in creativity. She fantasizes about tearing him down, poking holes in his worldview until it deflates in a comical fashion - and 'fantasize' is a weird word to use, but she's well aware that that's what she's doing.
The problem is, the Finn in her imagination isn't static; he doesn't sit stationary and wait for her to finish monologuing. He keeps interrupting with wounding comments, makes unpleasant facial expressions in the rare moments when he's silent, fidgets nonstop with wild gestures and little tics of his head.
But it's easier to be stuck in a loop of righteous anger than crushing sadness. So she persists, and the voice and visage of Finn become more and more accurate, turning it into either a comfortingly broken-in enemy or an awful old friend. She can't tell which.
Often, Liz comes down with the type of nostalgia that's borderline agonizing. She tries to ease the ache by looking through old photos. Equally often, she worries that she's forgotten what she stands for, then reads through her recent ideas to remind herself. In both cases, she rarely recognises the person she sees.
Chapter 3: I can't get it right since I met you
Chapter specific warning: Semi-explicit masturbation and the start of questioning sexuality.
The first time it happens, Finn’s nerves are frayed. It’s been a shit day, overall: Inglis’ position is threatened; Theo Metaxas was found dead. And yet, turning out the lights, the moment he can’t stop replaying is his most recent confrontation with Liz.
In hindsight, the scene becomes clearer, its details refined and sharpened. The chime of the lift had accompanied the chime in his head. He'd been waiting round the corner when he spotted Liz, and had run to catch her. She'd barely glanced at him as he entered, pretended to be engrossed in her phone when he started whistling.
“Just FYI, we know you leaked the furniture sale.” Okay, maybe he could've phrased it better.
Liz hadn't looked up. “No idea what you're talking about.”
She'd deflected his accusation with the arrogant clumsiness of an amateur. She'd gotten his Star Wars reference right away, though she'd laughed at him for making it.
Finn's breath catches in anticipation of the initial plunge.
“Private contracting, whoring ourselves out?” Fuck, the way she spoke: the constrained venom in her voice, the brief ‘O’ of her mouth, how one eye squinted at him. Then she was stepping closer, and Finn realises with startling clarity that Liz is beautiful. She's fire and ice, composed of soft edges and jarring curves; she's either God's most hateful angel or a demon who's halfway back to Heaven. She'd taken his previous words and chucked them at him, “Tell me, Finn: is that the thin end of the wedge, or the fat end?”
Shit. Shit. In the lift, he had felt a twinge of vague desire, an inkling lost in the day's events. Now, alone in the dark, it's an unprecedented burn, coiling low in his stomach and, great, he's getting hard. Over this, of all things? Over ironic innuendo in a lift? Over Li - he can't bear to even finish the thought. It's a brazenly marked road to ruin. But he can't seem to shift his focus. He isn't sure he wants to.
Finn's hands twitch. They stay glued by his sides.
“It's a period of transition, Liz. We have to appear flexible,” he'd replied, throat going dry. He hadn't intended it to be suggestive. Had he?
“Mmm.” A short hum of mock understanding, easily twisted into a moan. He knows for a fact that despite maintaining his smug expression, he had to swallow the lump in his throat, that his gaze flickered downwards in a measure of self-restraint - only to notice her cleavage, which had never interested him before. “Is that what you tell yourself when you’re lying face down, biting the pillow?”
You have no fucking idea, he thinks. Then he turns his head abruptly and bites his pillow as he gives in, grabs his cock, and ruts into his fist.
It's fast. At the same time, everything drags out longer than he's used to, the climb to the precipice more like a creep. Finn keeps shoving Liz's existence into the farthest corner of his consciousness, but her face always springs forward with greater force. It's more intense than he'd expected, too, with her one foot into the door of his mind. He doesn't envision sex at all. The indistinct memory of her - in a limbo between resurging and receding - is enough to get him off.
“Fuck," he whimpers into the fabric, upon nearing the point of no return. (Although there's an argument to be made that he passed it minutes earlier, or possibly sometime today, maybe weeks ago.) He bites down harder, pressing himself further into the pillow as if to hide his face from an invisible judge. There's a distant whisper in his head, which he's quick to try to ignore: he wishes he could make her feel this way. That burst of her, and he seizes up, spilling hot and desperate through his fingers, and he's nearly crying out from how good and utterly terrible it is.
When orgasm has abated into aftershocks, Finn sits upright before the uneasiness can take hold. He mulls it over rationally, reasonably: there can be spikes in libido. A specific individual's presence in his thoughts at the time of climax doesn't necessarily mean he's attracted to her. Anyway, there's no such thing as the asexuality police. (If there was, he sure as hell would have joined it already.) He falls asleep pointing out that it may have been an isolated incident, atypical behaviour brought about by stress and an overworked imagination.
The third time it happens, he mouths her name as he comes. Immediately afterwards, he gets out of bed. He opens and slams every door in his house.
The fifth time it happens, it’s the morning in the wake of the riots. Finn remembers the sudden screech of tyres against asphalt. He remembers increasing anxiety dissipating into another, milder shock as he felt Liz grab his hand. And she kept clutching it tightly, through the car straightening and speeding up; upon noticing, she'd been slow (reluctant?) in releasing him. They had exchanged awkward glances, then returned their attention to the mob closing in on them.
He won't admit it to himself, but he would have fought the whole damn riot to protect her.
And later - later - Liz had touched him again. She’d meant to, that time. Her hands on his are different when it's deliberate: firm, gentle, both calculated and sincere. He didn't want to destroy her anymore. He didn't want her to let go. He wonders what those fingers would be like tugging on his hair, or wrapped around his prick, or laced between his own once more, just one more time -
He brings a hand up to card through his hair, chews hard on his lower lip. Shit. Fuck.
To his distress, Finn now intentionally prolongs these sessions. What was once an annoying pang has evolved into an ache. As he grips his cock so strongly it hurts, he can't shake the notion that a part of who he is has betrayed its whole, hijacked the entire system in order to crash it. (Haha, 'part', very funny, but one he can't hold or see, a single thread woven into what should be indelibly him.) And for what? Ten seconds of ecstasy, followed by hours of confusion? Regarding police procedure, PR, the chemicals in his brain - she's accomplished the metaphysical equivalent of unbaking a cake.
But does any of it matter, in light of her touch, her gaze, her?
“Liz,” he gasps, and the sound and thrill of saying her name is what tips him over the edge.
It's an admission; it's defeat. Again. He's too tired to be ashamed. Before moving on, or cleaning up, or dozing off, or anything to get himself further from present reality, he idly imagines curling around her after sex, kissing her damp, heated skin as she mumbles incomprehensible words into his. It makes him feel all melty inside. Also, like he needs to break something.
He wants to ask for guidance but he doesn't know how. He can picture himself sitting in front of a forum page, trying to work up the nerve to write I'm in my thirties and have a semi-respectable job and never once wanted sex but now I keep thinking of my boss shagging her boss and it's turning me on. He predicts the replies: are you sure you were asexual? Yes, yes, completely sure. Speculation about his chemical makeup and background; maybe you just have a low libido and didn't meet someone you're attracted to until now. They'll give him labels to choose from, like that automatically fixes everything, misunderstanding that he's not asking what or who but how and why.
She's forced him to confront his rigidity, gotten him dangerously close to confessing that he's been wr - less right. He hates her for it, and he wants her for it. It's layers of prolonged torture. It's the best thrill he's had in his life.
Yes, his mind insists, it does matter.
Because these kinds of feelings aren't supposed to occur in him. And whenever they do, then according to what he's read in poems or heard from songs, they aren't supposed to be this way.
The eighth time it happens, Finn is possibly willing to admit that maybe he might be developing a small crush on Liz.
Chapter 4: hard to be soft, tough to be tender
Liz wakes up suddenly in the middle of the night, heart pounding hard enough to hurt, brain crammed with half-formed sentences, world spinning like a hyperactive hamster running on a wheel. She's itchy everywhere. Her blood is on fire. The world is so quiet, she needs her thoughts to be loud.
The first thing to untangle itself is: Matt Coward was the cameraman she apprehended at the Thameside Centre. The immediate runner-up is: PC Collister is Warwick, the man who'd had a bounty placed on his head, and Neil Bancroft's wife, Davina, was one of the TSG officers who arrested Grant Delgado's son. It's a small fucking force after all.
And, in a dusty corner of her mind, illuminated by this burst of clarity: she touched Finn twice yesterday. The second time, it was on purpose, part of her attempt at an appeal. He jumped when she clasped her hands over his. He didn't push her away.
She can't go back to sleep.
On Monday morning, Liz goes to work early, not eating breakfast in her haste to get there. She marches straight into the Commissioner's office and announces, "I want to talk about Matt Coward."
Finn is already by Inglis' side. He stares her down, shoulders hunched, a particularly angry vulture eyeing potential prey. Her nameless anxiety flips in the face of his judgment, but she stands her ground. Try to eat this lion, motherfucker.
"Dare I ask why?" Finn sneers.
"We may be in the clear now, but we need to be ahead of everybody else. People are going to start asking why there's footage at all. Imagine their reaction once they learn it came from a black youth who was shooting an anti-cop documentary right under our noses, then got detained and had his house raided so cops could tamper with evidence." She speaks quickly to match the speed of her excitement, not giving either men the chance to cut in. "And he's a media person. If he didn't have a grudge when he began, he's sure going have one after this. Charles, what was he charged with?"
"Possession of a large amount of cannabis, planted there by Vas as a cover-up, or so Matt claims," Inglis replies. "But there's also the matter of trespassing and breach of confidence. We're holding him for questioning."
Liz is almost shaking with enthusiasm, the desire to be helpful, the drive to accomplish; ideas form and immediately click and stick together like Lego bricks sealed with superglue. "He ties into institutional racism, censorship, all the hot-button issues. Robbie Vas and Neil Bancroft didn't even give a fuck about silencing him for good, because they knew nobody would take him seriously."
"Vas is Turkish - " Finn begins.
"Shut up," she snaps, perhaps too harshly, remembering that debacle with Mia. "Do you not see how that'll snowball?"
"Armed Response raided his house acting on a staged call about a 'suspicious male' with a possible firearm," Inglis adds.
Finn groans. "So we're either incompetent racists, or Matt's a fucking hero."
"Who made the call?" she asks. "Not another cop, right?"
The question is directed at the Commissioner, but Finn answers, "Vas claims Miles and Jerry actively encouraged his misconduct." Liz sifts through the rapid carousel of images in her mind, but she draws a blank. Finn gapes at her in annoyed disbelief. "Miles and Jerry? The owners of the production company filming puff pieces about us? You met them on your first day? 'Scrote'?"
"Language," Inglis chides flatly.
Things that occurred weeks ago tend to slip her memory whenever Liz is having a creative streak. "Oh. Right. Them."
Finn rolls his eyes at her. "You have the long-term attention span of a narcoleptic goldfish."
"Yeah, they're the tiny turd topping on this growing mountain of shit," she continues, willfully ignoring his jab. "We spent taxpayer money to hire a company run by two old white guys who encouraged evidence tampering."
"You and Richard seemed to think they were a good idea," Finn points out.
Liz steps closer to him, arms folded. "They were, at the time. Just apparently not them, specifically."
He takes a few steps closer as well. "Mmm."
Finn opens his mouth, undoubtedly ready to unleash some catty, overly-personal barb, but Inglis interrupts, "Could both of you please sit down? That's what we have chairs for."
They bristle simultaneously. Finn pulls out a chair and, to Liz's great annoyance, gestures for her to sit. She complies with an insincere 'thanks', watches from the corner of her eye as he walks her chair's perimeter to sit beside her.
"I also want to reach out to Vas and Bancroft's social circle," she says, crossing one leg tightly over the other to hide their uncontrollable trembling; she presses harder when she thinks Finn is staring. "There's Tony, the cop who brought the footage in; Warwick Collister, who underwent a previous IPCC inquiry and was cleared of any wrongdoing; Davina Lewis, who happens to be a member of the TSG - "
"Liz, what's going on?" Finn interjects. "Are you filming your own tell-all documentary, or are you interpretative-dancing around the actual issue?"
"They're all cops, innocents in this situation," she explains, fingers drumming on the desk in impatience. "They've had their lives irreversibly affected by their colleagues' misconduct and by the idea of a cop code of solidarity. There's a deep human element to this, and we can use that. The message is: it's not us versus them. Bad policing hurts everyone."
Inglis contemplates for a moment. "Forget Matt and start with them," he decides. At his authoritative tone, Liz straightens in her seat, stiffening.
Finn notices. "You'll want to catch them in the immediate aftermath," he tells her, "while the emotions are still raw."
She relaxes slightly. "Good plan."
Inglis' mobile phone rings, a solid sound in the middle of the dismounting tension. "Home Secretary," he sighs, his dubious glance darting between his PR specialists. "Can you sort this out between yourselves?"
"Don't we always," Finn mutters.
Liz and Finn stand and exit the Commissioner's office together, not looking at each other. Once they're outside, she grabs his arm before he can stomp off; he tenses for a second, then glares at her.
"Finn, can you handle Miles and Jerry? They're cornered animals - they might try to pick a fight with us. Maybe bury them under legal terminology, yell a bit?" He remains silent, studying her face. "I don't have a preference for how, as long as you make them...not a problem."
"You could delegate this to Mia. Or do you need your 'best brain' on it?" he snipes.
"No, I need someone ruthless and petty and used to speaking with media wetblankets off the record."
He leans in, eyes flashing in an unspoken threat. Liz meets his hostile position with a quizzical tilt of her head, biting back a grin as he declares, "I am going to find out what you're up to, and I'm going to put a stop to it."
"Exactly like that. Perfect!"
She turns heel, smirking, and hurries away before things can escalate further.
Several hours later, Liz is returning from her series of interviews, too exuberant to feel most of her increasing fatigue. The world seems to sway in slow motion as she walks - it's unclear whether it's due to the triumph of the moment or her sleep deprivation. She's on her way to report in to Inglis when Mia intercepts her by the lifts.
"Just in," Mia announces, "three small publication offices report online hacking and death threats from an unknown source. CTC is on standby."
Fuck. Liz chews on her lower lip. "Is this out?"
"Not yet. We've literally just heard about it."
Liz rushes to the Commissioner's office, almost colliding into Finn when they arrive at the same time. They don't speak. He holds the door open for her.
Inglis is quick to fill them in, after they've been seated: "Hacking, prank calls, and what amounts to online flaming bags of dog shit. We suspect it's skinheads, though nothing concrete yet. Personally, I don't think it's a prelude to an attack, but we're sending in a token number of Protective Security Command." His lips purse wryly. "The 'potential targets' also want to be 'kept appraised of every detail on the developing situation', which roughly translates to 'give us all the juicy stories for free, please'."
Finn lets out an irritated huff. "That's operational."
Liz twists towards him, ready for a fight. "It's about their safety."
"Look, if there's a huge spider on somebody's back and they don't know, and they've got a reputation for screaming so loudly it fucking deafens babies, do you tell them before you brush it off?"
"Yes, in case they move and you accidentally flick it onto their face?"
"But if they know, they might panic, move anyway, and drag out the process. Everyone within earshot might panic for no reason, too."
"But if they don't know, they might be scared half to death if they get an eyeful of spider, panic, scream, then scream at you for not telling them."
"Okay, okay, save the contrived spider analogies for later," Inglis commands. "Liz, did you get what you wanted?"
"Yeah, the response was fantastic. Everyone is willing to do write-ups on their relationships with Vas and Bancroft. There's some really great stuff - it turns out Tony is gay and had to listen to Robbie making homophobic comments, and Warwick is suffering from PTSD following his previous shooting incident." Inglis and Finn stare at her in dead silence, appalled. "I mean, from a PR perspective, it's good. Not in general."
Inglis shakes his head and moves on, "What about Miles and Jerry?"
"Taken care of," Finn replies. "They're under investigation for numerous legal abuses. Tomorrow, they'll issue a statement personally apologising to the family of Karl Jeffries - " he shoots Liz a meaningful glance, " - and to Scotland Yard for preventing the course of justice. Satisfied?"
"Very," she answers coolly.
"Great," Inglis says, smiles humourless and tight-lipped for a second, then frowns. "Now we just have to deal with the fucking threats about to make journalists piss themselves all over the evening news, and we're all set for the next disaster."
"They might not be slumming it in Syria, but they should know there's an inherent element of danger in their job," Liz complains.
"It's right there with their typical childhood idols," Finn agrees grudgingly, "Clark Kent, Peter Parker - "
"- Lois Lane, Vicki Vale," Liz contributes.
"Well, it's personal for them," Inglis says. "If we don't give them something soon, they'll be out for our blood, and you've seen how vicious they are over situations that aren't life or death."
"Jesus. I'd rather be buggered by City Hall than the journos," Finn scoffs.
Liz raises an eyebrow. "That's good to know."
"I'm just saying, it's good to know."
Inglis motions towards the door. "If that's all?"
"I want to speak to Matt Coward," Liz blurts.
"This again? What could he possibly have to tell us?" Inglis questions.
Liz grips the edge of her seat so strongly her knuckles turn white, anchoring herself against the waves of her own conviction. "I can already see what's going to happen: he's going to approach The Guardian or something, and be presented as an intrepid filmmaker who exposed corruption in the Met, defying the will of his evil corporate employers. Which would be fine and well -" she powers through Inglis' and Finn's protests, "if it were true, but I've met him, and he's not doing it for justice or the art. We have to get to him before they can. Spin against him, buy him off, whatever, we'll cross that bridge when we get there - just don't let him run his mouth about town."
"That's not a terrible point," Finn admits.
Inglis lets out a heavy sigh. "I'll see what I can do."
Soon, she and Finn are exiting the office together again, averting eye contact again.
"You're welcome, by the way," he says, casually.
Liz's brow furrows. "I was getting to that."
"Day's over, Finn," she quips. "Time to head home and jack your rageboner."
His smug expression freezes. She suspects he might be sputtering in response, though she doesn't hang around to revel in it.
That night, Liz goes numb. It's the dreaded gradual decline; she's sinking and re-surfacing until she's submerged in it. It's a blackout in her brain. Even her migraine is dull, irateness coming slow and foggy. She turns down Granger's offer for sex and resists the urge to throw her phone after hanging up.
She lies in bed, in the dark, ostensibly meditating, really trying to whittle her mind back to its earlier sharpness. She touches her cheek and remembers how Richard's lips felt there, chapped and gentle yet insistent. She glances at the empty spot beside her, and reflects that Finn has nice hands.
Liz continues arguing with the imaginary version of him. Since their recent reluctant teamwork, it isn't fun anymore - because she doesn't feel any catharsis envisioning him looking lost and forlorn. In fact, it makes her sad. The fact that it makes her sad makes her even sadder. It's not a very fun cycle. Finn isn't evil, which is the worst fucking part. He thinks he's doing the closest he can to the right thing, but she knows all about trying to fill holes with the wrong plug. (Not sexually. Gross.) Plenty of things exacerbate her symptoms, amplifying aspects of her until they're obnoxiously obvious and blunting her into obtuseness at the same time.
He's exhausting, but their confrontations leave her juiced-up and bouncing like a pink rabbit mascot for any given battery brand, banging again and again on that old drum of transparency honesty openness. They're at a stalemate. He was right all those weeks ago, about her needing him, but he needs her, too. She's the fucking makeout of life for this institution, a gale of fresh air. He's a reliable trigger for her hypomania, one she's more than happy to squeeze on her own. He's also shaping up to be her living impulse control. Her awful, abrasive impulse control.
Now she pities Finn, in the intimate way she sometimes pities herself. He's a relic of the bygone era of classified document-bonfires and red tape self-bondage. Age-wise, he's nearer to her than to Charles and Sharon. But in terms of procedure, he's a T. Rex: ancient, loud, and often overestimated, with a short reach. Yet, he acts like a child. So he's kind of a baby dinosaur. No, wait, shit, some of those are cute. A baby dinosaur, brutally fossilized at the moment of extinction, currently being propped up at an exhibit by a rod up its ass. That's better.
The next morning, Inglis holds a meeting. It's the first amicable, non-emergency one the higher-ups have had since Richard's death, and the first time she's had to be near Sharon since the night of the riots. Liz tries, but it's impossible to avoid her gaze, still full of anger and hurt. The room seems too small for the number of people inside. Her heart thuds painfully, heavy; her thoughts come in sluggish steps.
Liz can only nod in mute agreement as the Commissioner goes on a tangent about how there's no constitutional guarantee of free press. She doesn't react when Finn steers the conversation towards managing the ongoing Jeffries fallout. In fact, she's entirely silent aside from nonverbal noises.
"You and Finn are going to meet with Matt tomorrow," Inglis informs her, towards the end. "I trust you - " at this, Sharon laughs, bitter and disapproving, "but not enough to let you do this alone. You might try to fucking recruit him, for all we know."
Liz swallows her pride in a single gulp, and replies, "Understandable, sir." Across the table, Finn drops his pen and stares at her so hard she can feel the pressure within her skull.
The next order of business is the Initiatives on Policing Conference. Inglis announces its new date in late April, around six months from now. She makes a mental note of that - PoCon would be a perfect platform to introduce something new, though she doesn't have the faintest idea what. Yet.
When the meeting is over, Finn practically chases her down the hall. "What the hell was that?" he demands.
"I didn't say anything!"
"That's what I mean."
"This may be a difficult concept for you to grasp," Liz says dryly, "but I try not to speak unless I have something worthwhile to say."
"Are your ideas a finite resource? Did you deplete your reserves in one go yesterday, or are you a PR polar bear in hibernation?"
A bipolar bear. Oh, fuck. Unfortunately, she can't say so, because that'd be publicly outing herself in two different ways. Fuck him. Fuck him.
"Are you seriously complaining about me keeping quiet and letting you hog the limelight?" she retorts instead.
"No, not at all. I just..." Finn blinks, bewildered, as he trails off awkwardly. "I'm onto you," he proclaims, following a pause to read her. He's forceful as usual, but there's an edge of uncertainty to his voice.
"Here's a fun activity for those lonely sleepless nights: Google me, put on your tinfoil thinking cap, and go digging around the third page with your bullshit shovel," Liz suggests, half sarcastic, half as an instruction. Finn glowers as he lets her go; she can sense his eyes on her when she brushes past, heated and suspicious and invigorating.
Chapter 5: my Paris was a post-war utility survivor
"The big filing cabinets on the fourth floor." Where the bodies are buried, Finn had said weeks ago. All right. Liz can do some gravedigging.
Mia walks her there during lunchtime, shutting the door behind them and handing her the keys to the three filing cabinets clustered in the centre of the room. They're not that big - each is shorter than Liz - though she shouldn't be surprised by Finn blowing yet another thing out of proportion.
“You mentioned a box marked 'Richard's Massive Ego',” Liz recalls. “Same box?”
“Same box,” Mia confirms.
Liz is grateful for her assistance, yet... "You could've told me its physical location, you know. In case I ever needed to set it on fire."
Shrugging, Mia explains, “I wasn't here for most of it. I just handled stories about charity donations and parent-teacher altercations.”
“You mean at PTA meetings, or...?”
“It's better if you see for yourself." Mia jerks her head towards the door. "I've got to take a call. Have fun.”
Liz squats and picks a drawer at random, assuming that the cabinets are organised in the same loosely ordered fashion as the rest of her department. She pulls out an opinionated profile on Richard from a tabloid. Information on Grant Delgado’s corporate ties circa 2008, some from public sources, some through emails and phone records. A binder of receipts. Loose documents that don’t make much sense out of context, full of vague references and euphemisms.
A printed email: Hello, Commissioner Miller. I would like to ask about your involvement in Operation… The name is whited out.
Next, a laminated newspaper clipping. The first thing she notices is the photo: Finn Kirkwood, younger, slimmer and brighter-eyed, his hair mussed and lips curved into a tiny smirk. His stare is as penetrating as ever. It would be petty to spit on the clipping, not that she doesn't consider it.
Whistleblower Switches Sides?
Liz was in college when the scandal had reached international news. She hadn't paid very close attention, but she'd been impressed by the new Commissioner Miller; by his eloquence, charm, and cool-headedness as institutions crumbled around him. Inglis had been there, too, stern by Richard’s side. At the time, she’d interpreted his standoffishness as an air of superiority. Now she knows he was protective over Richard and their joint claims to power. And she remembers Finn. Young, intrepid Finn, who had apparently been murdered and possessed by a reptilian overlord at some point.
Liz continues rifling through the cabinets, more haphazardly. Small stories, of importance she can’t discern. Dennis Trafford resigning after leak probe results were leaked, in what she mentally refers to as the leaky ouroboros. The official announcement that she’d been hired.
Satisfied for now, she shuts the drawers. She stands and begins to head out - then doubles back to lock the cabinets. Close call.
Outside, Liz runs into Mia, grabs her by the shoulders and pulls her into a corner to hiss, “Yeah, quick question, why didn't anyone tell me any of this?”
Mia furrows her brow. “Well -”
“I have to go rooting around my own fucking department's files to learn about Richard’s history with the press and the shit with Grant Delgado. How was I supposed to protect this police force if I didn't know its past?”
“We don't like to talk about it. We can’t let junior members have that knowledge. We can barely let Tom have that knowledge.”
“I still should’ve been told,” Liz says, arms folded. “Especially since my entire pitch was based on transparency.”
“You could file a complaint with Richard’s ghost.” Mia snickers to herself, balking as her insensitivity dawns on her. “Sorry. I mean…”
Liz laughs, rolling her eyes and briefly touching Mia’s arm. “See you later, Mia.”
"Why don't the skinheads target us directly?" Liz wonders.
She and Finn stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the lift, on their way to their meeting with Matt Coward. Alone. Scotland Yard's elevators are more compact than she recalls. Warmer, too. In the mirrored walls, she sees Finn frown. Instead of replying, he keeps chewing his gum and making that obnoxious smacking sound.
"That wasn't a rhetorical question, Finn." Her hair sways as she abruptly turns to face him, stray strands brushing against him as she shifts; she hears his breath catch at the contact, and files that away for later analysis. "Since this is about Charles - "
He sighs as if the answer is obvious. "If we allocate forces to protect the papers, we look like we're giving them special treatment. If we don't, we lose their support."
"That's a surprisingly smart move."
"They probably didn't plan it. These things happen due to bad timing and the inherent unfairness of the world, such as Hitler winning the 1933 election, or you remaining our Director of Communications."
There it is. She puts on a quizzical expression and peers at him so intently that she's pretty sure he gulps under her gaze.
"Do you wanna do this here?" she asks. Finn's silence is steely, challenging. "Equals, remember? Or do you wanna try tipping the scales right after we've spent a month balancing them?"
"You used Sharon to get a foothold with Inglis."
His accusation hits her in the chest like a whip. Liz's lips curl in distaste, and she scowls to hide the anguish in her eyes. "That was unintentional. I didn't stab her in the back so much as she impaled herself on the knife by recklessly reversing like a drunken truck driver."
"But you were already holding the knife, just in case?" Finn flashes her an unkind, knowing smile; the sight is another lash. "Maybe they've forgotten, but I remember the whole power struggle wouldn't have happened if not for you."
"I was acting out of self-defense," she insists, and believes it herself in the white-hot burst of fury, "from you, and your fucking KGB-lite threats."
"Go on thinking I'm the enemy, Liz. You're a snake eating its own tail." As soon as he finishes saying this, there's a ding! and the doors slide open. He stands aside to allow her to exit first, which earns him a glare and a curt 'thanks'.
Liz side-eyes Finn as he falls into step with her. "You would've done the same."
"No, even I'm not that cold."
Whenever she's having an episode, Liz gets an urge to sabotage him every two hours or so. But now, in her dull lucidity, she realises it's impossible. This reluctant cooperation is a hell they've created for themselves. Over the past few days, appealing to each other has become more strategically important than convincing the Commissioner alone. She's stuck with Finn, and vice versa.
One minute into their meeting, Matt Coward isn't speaking. He sometimes deigns to communicate with facial expressions and hand gestures, but they can't squeeze a single word out of him.
"Did he take a fucking vow of silence in the past three days?" Liz whispers angrily. “Is it standard procedure to remove suspects’ tongues?”
"Don't look at me," Finn murmurs. "I heard him speak a total of two words before I had to break up his slap fight."
"You don't have to worry about self-incrimination," Liz assures Matt. "There's no need for us to play charades."
Matt remains quiet, narrows his eyes, and shrugs.
"Well, he certainly lives up to the name, doesn't he?" Finn quips. Liz rolls her eyes, and they wait. Several seconds pass. Matt's ongoing silence indicates that they won't get anything out of him yet.
She wordlessly guides Finn out of the room, with a hand on his back. It's a shock; even more shocking is that he manages to avoid toppling over like a young myotonic goat. Her touch is firm, almost familiar - for a terrifying heartbeat, he worries that she's figured it out.
"How do you want to play this?" she asks, hand dropping. Both of them turn to look at where Matt is sitting with his head bowed. "Good cop/bad cop? Bad cop/worse cop?"
"I know we work for the Met, but I hardly think we're qualified to carry out impromptu waterboarding." Finn catches himself. "Sorry, rectally force-feeding hummus. I forget, you're American."
"Classy, Finn. Cards on the table?" Liz offers. He hesitates, then nods. "Silencing him isn't my main goal. We can use him to soothe the Jeffries burn, but I need to know what he was planning."
"We've raided his flat a second time, and intelligence has records of his online activity."
"Great for his porn preference, not for his motives." He scoffs, presumably at her banter, really at the implicit assumption that every man has a computer full of porn. "It’s probably not just us he hates,” she guesses.
“And here I thought we were special.”
“Considering everything he’s been through, mainstream media might disgust him as much as the police do.”
"The enemy of my enemy."
"It's worked for us so far."
"Play on his fear," Finn suggests. "Make his industry out to be the ones who fucked him over, and he'll have to stay clear of them. Though that doesn't solve the threat of him running to the press."
"We'll see. First, we need to unstitch his fucking mouth." Liz tilts her head to an extreme angle like she's having an idea, and starts to return to the room. He follows, but she shoos him away with a dismissive wave. "Maybe leave this bit to me, yeah?”
“Inglis wants me in there with you," he protests.
“But I’m sure he’d agree you're intimidating as the seventh circle of hell."
"As the third-worst concentric category? There are nine circles of Hell, Liz." Finn raises an eyebrow. "Treachery is the biggest sin."
"Sorry for not knowing the exact configuration of your home." Did she fucking do that on purpose? "Wait outside for now and stare at me ominously through the walls.”
"Fine. Don't sign over the rights to the Richard Miller life story!" he calls after her, as a cheap parting shot.
He watches Liz (ominously, he supposes) from outside. Taking a deep breath, she reapproaches Matt. Then, she actually shakes hands with him. What the fuck is wrong with her?
As she sits, she's picture-perfect PR, an ungodly hybrid of crisp corporate movements and genuine human warmth. Within two minutes, Matt is opening his mouth. Within four, he's saying full sentences. Whatever Finn may think of her unorthodox methods or lapses of character, she is skilled at what she does, and she seems to be better at the interpersonal interactions than he had ever been. Not that he'd admit it.
Lately, he's been noticing Liz’s day-to-day behaviour. Sometimes she’s either too loud or deathly quiet, detached or scarily engaged. He never thought that she was stable, exactly, but now that they aren’t trying to destroy each other during every interaction, it’s become more obvious.
The third page of a Google search had confirmed Finn's suspicions. Regarding the pendulum of her personality, one thing is certain: 'batshit cuckoo' wasn't terribly inaccurate.
"...so I can't guarantee amnesty, but I can try for some, and that's more than most people in my position would be willing to do for you," Liz finishes. Matt is less smug and more cautious than he was at the Thameside Centre, though her intuition tells her he's still capable of milking this opportunity for all it's worth.
"Can you deal with your boyfriend, too?"
Liz has to pause to process that. She's so used to accusations of being Richard Miller's last forbidden liaison that she doesn't understand Matt's snide comment until he nods towards the wall. She looks; Finn taps on the glass, frowning, and points at his watch.
Talk about trading down.
"Finn? Oh, yeah, sure," she snaps, swiveling around to face Matt again. She doesn't hear the door opening as she speaks. "I'll suck him off, and we'll call it even. That's how all transactions take place in the big, bad, scary police service."
Behind her, Finn asks in a loud voice, "Did I miss anything important?"
"Nope, nothing," she claims quickly.
"If you say so." Stepping into her field of vision, Finn's gaze lingers on her for a moment before he turns his attention to Matt. "I trust you've had all recording devices confiscated on the way in?"
"Everything," Matt confirms.
Is it her imagination, or did she just hear Finn say "too bad" under his breath?
Liz doesn't have time to dwell on it, because he's pulling up a chair, his version of the PR smile plastered on his face; it's the same ill-fitting grin he wore on her first day, prior to their open warfare.
"So, tell me what you've discussed so far," Finn says.
"Miss Garvey was saying she'll let me go free if I film a police porno."
They all laugh, with varying degrees of volume and sincerity. Within seconds, Finn's expression has shifted from warily amicable to downright menacing. He leans in so close to Matt that Liz almost thinks he's going for a headbutt.
"Don't try to be cute," Finn hisses, "you're a criminal, albeit white collar with a fucking Ovaltine stain. This isn't a negotiation or a get-out-of-jail-free card. You're on trial, with the possibility of a death sentence, and the only form of appeal is to entertain the judge. Jokes aren't cutting it. So fucking dance."
Liz's hitched breath thankfully goes unnoticed amidst the tension. Finn's melodramatic tirades are much more interesting if you're not on the receiving end, like a spanking, or audits.
Matt shoots her a glance.
"Right. Finn, back off. We want him to cooperate, not shit himself."
He doesn't relent. "Those aren't mutually exclusive."
"Come on." Sighing, she places a hand on Finn's shoulder. There it is again - the tensing muscles, the sharp inhale. As if she didn't have enough to think about already. "He doesn't need to be mauled by a vindictive PR person to round off the police brutality experience."
Finn finally relaxes into his seat once she lowers her hand. He maintains his death glare.
It takes ten minutes for things to escalate, an improvement on their previous record for civility. They leave Matt in order to confer outside and start tearing into each other as soon as the door is closed.
"You can't offer him a paltry fine and a community sentence," Finn says testily. "Point A, that's not your decision to make, and point B, really?"
"I'm not making the call here. I'll run it by Charles when we're done, and if he says no, I'll drop it," Liz promises. "You can follow me there and make your objections. I know it's a slap on the wrist - "
"It's a three-second long tickle! Is this what we do now? Negotiate with criminals?"
"He’s one film producer, not a room full of mobsters or a fucking bank CEO. And this is an exceptional case."
"Like ADD in the 80’s, and now every kid has it.” Finn jabs a finger in Matt’s direction like he’s trying to telekinetically poke his eye out. “Withholding evidence, trespassing, and an argument to be made for harassing an officer. He needs to be held accountable."
"So do we, more than anyone,” Liz replies, voice rising with each syllable. “Like it or not, without his covert filming, there wouldn't be any chance at justice for Karl Jeffries."
"Why do you communicate in fucking hashtags?"
"Why do you communicate in Morse code?"
Finn begins to retaliate, then stops. "You're going to have to explain that one."
She preens for a moment. "Slow, outdated, and hard to understand."
"Before this goes any further, hear me out." Liz crosses her arms as Finn continues, "There’s a way for us to explain the footage without capitulating to Matt, and come out looking good, or at least not evil.”
"When were you planning on sharing this?" she questions, eyes blazing. "Maybe when, I don't know, I said 'cards on the fucking table?'"
"When I was sure what we're up against. Now I am."
She watches him cautiously. “Okay, I’m listening.”
"We make Matt an unambiguous bad guy. Lump him in with his former employers as someone who took advantage of our trust. The angle is, it was a cop who preserved the evidence, even though it implicated his squad, and a cop who saw to it that justice was carried out - not a renegade filmmaker."
His idea goes over about as well as he expected. Liz rears back to gape at him in angry disbelief. "There are so many things wrong with that approach. First of all, you want to smear another black youth? The dead don't put up enough of a fight for you, so now you're going after the living?"
“It isn’t smearing.”
“Sure, it’s more like a playful smudge.”
“Matt Coward is not an innocent in this situation!"
“He's not the one who pulled the fucking trigger or moved the fucking gun!”
“Nor did he come forward when he found out they did,” Finn points out. “His knee-jerk response was to try selling the footage for profit, despite the civil unrest it would've caused.”
“And what would we have done if he had come forward?” Liz counters. He seethes, speechless. “Thrown him in the slammer for trespassing and violation of privacy. Raided his house anyway and slapped a marijuana possession charge on top of everything. No good deed goes unpunished.”
"Liz, you can play with whatever hypotheticals you like. You're trying to cut a worthless deal - " Finn sneers at Matt. "- with a worthless person."
She pauses to reflect. "I want to show you something,” she says, “but I need to set it up. Can you make sure Matt leaves the building unharmed, then stop by my office?” Finn is still glowering at her, but he nods. “Thanks. Don't eat him.”
On Liz's laptop screen, Robbie Vas gloats about punching a female officer on reflex. Matt's voice-over narrates, "In two days' time, this man will be armed and on the streets of London. The pin has been pulled from the grenade."
The video ends abruptly. "It's not the final cut, but..." Liz trails off.
"I get the gist."
"What sucks the most is that he was right. What does it say about us that a small-time producer was better at assessing our armed cops than we are?" Finn's lack of response may as well be an admission. She leans in, and declares, "Matt wasn't sensationalizing something insignificant. He was hoping to sell this based on a strong, existing sentiment. Maybe you can't see it up there in your ivory tower, but this is how the average person views the police. How they view us. And they're justified.”
Finn rubs his temples. "I know that. But that doesn't mean - "
Liz has a split second of doubt, then takes the plunge: "I need Matt to have a light sentence because I want him to finish this documentary." Finn gawks, too stunned to mock her on the spot; he looks progressively more horrified as she forges ahead. "Whether it's anti-cop or not is his prerogative, though I don't think he'll care about winning indie awards so much as being heard. I want us to publicly support it, no matter what its tone is."
"What the fuck?" Finn bolts from his seat and backs into a far corner of her office, like he anticipates that Liz is about to foam at the mouth anytime soon.
"It'll be a twist on the usual story," she explains earnestly, trembling with excitement. "We promote free speech, while the media tried to censor him! And it'll encourage future whistleblowers to come to us instead of the press."
"The message doesn't matter - the interpretation does, and the press has a vice grip on that. One scruffy filmmaker won't make much of a difference. If you rock the boat, everyone sinks. We can't change how things are. Even if we could, once it's time to pass the torch, the next generation will cock it up somehow."
"You know, I preferred it when you would get in my face and accuse me of sleeping with our boss." She approaches and demands, "What happened to the Finn Kirkwood who risked his reputation to expose widespread corruption?"
"Oh, so you finally Googled me."
“I visited the fourth floor this morning.” Liz promptly erases Finn's satisfied look by saying, “Some of those documents should be scanned, shredded, and soaked in water.”
“Absolutely not,” he says.
“They're just sitting there,” she exclaims, “waiting to be stolen or destroyed in a freak accident -”
“If we store them digitally, they're waiting for someone to hack us or for a glitch to wipe them out.”
“Oh, please! Technology is the bogeyman chasing you and Charles, isn't it? Your career revolves around dealing with the scummy underbelly of human nature every day, but no, it's the computers coming to kill us.”
“I know technology is operated by humans, Liz.”
“But you think it's as dangerous as guns on the streets. When’s the last time a hacker shot someone?”
Finn glares with the intensity of several suns, her body tingles from head to toe, and, wow, that's a weird but not entirely unexpected reaction.
“Get to the fucking point.”
"That Finn Kirkwood's story was riveting stuff, but no one says where he went afterwards."
"He nearly walked out on his Commissioner over a fucking police horse."
"I read your articles," Liz adds. That's the trump card she's been saving, paid for with two nights of insomnia. Finn's eyes widen. "Yeah, you deleted them, but I did some digging. I thought they were...really angry and defensive, but you made great points. How fear and power go both ways between government and the governed; the people gradually usurping the fourth estate from the press. None of that would have occurred to me, so I'm glad it did to you."
His voice is hoarse as he claims, "I was drunk when I wrote those."
"My problem is, you criticised the system so honestly and so thoroughly, but you didn't present any alternatives."
"Because there aren't any," Finn snaps. "It wasn't the prelude to an idealistic vision. It was a frank analysis of the situation, and I concluded that our reality will always be our reality."
"Whenever you see what I'm trying to do here, you react like a fucking militant atheist asked to recite the Nicene Creed. And now I know why." She pauses, examines him, exuding a patience she doesn't feel. "You're threatened because you believed in something, too."
He lowers his head. "Individuals or institutions, Liz. You can only pick one."
"A part of you wants me to prove you wrong."
"A larger part of me wants you to shut the fuck up." With that, Finn brushes past her and storms out of her office.
Hours later, Mia walks in, eyebrows raised, and hands two pieces of paper to Liz. She skims through them while Mia watches. It's a draft of a press statement; it begins by admonishing Matt Coward's crimes, in detail. Then it acknowledges the invaluable role his footage will play in the IPCC inquiry, and mentions how Commissioner Inglis is personally attempting to grant him a light sentence. It ends with a call for others to come forward to help hold the police accountable.
Liz immediately recognises the writing style as Finn's. It's not the angle she would've taken, but it's the best she can expect from him.
"How'd you manage that?" Mia questions.
Liz shakes her head, and presses the papers to her chest. "I asked real nice."
"Thank you," Liz says, from the doorway of Finn's office.
He focuses on the centre of his computer screen and clicks on nothing. "If this backfires, it's splatting you in the face."
"And I wouldn't have it any other way. But you signed off on it, as well."
Liz smiles at that, sincerely. "Right."
It can't end like this. Not on good terms. Not with her happy and a compromise reached and Finn's heart fluttering like he's going to fucking die.
“Liz," Finn calls, halting her exit. She glances over her shoulder, slightly startled. "You may be right about some things, but you're still wrong often enough." Aiming for as much nonchalance as possible, he adds, "Don't expect me to roll over and just take it from you.”
Condescension colours her laughter. "I'd be really disappointed if you didn't struggle a bit before I win.”
“And I don't play fair.”
“No, you fight dirty and desperate.” Now her smile has teeth. His blood sings; a sizable amount of it rushes south. “So do I.”
“Good night,” Finn growls.
“Good night,” Liz snaps.
He waits for her to shut the door. He watches her retreating down the hallway, her hips swaying in a triumphant stride. Then he grabs the nearest portable object on his desk, swivels in his chair, and hurls it at the wall.
Liz is late to work. When she finally arrives, Finn has done the 8:30 briefing and has begun heading a press conference.
She stands in the back, alone, and watches in case she has to intervene. It’s surprising how smoothly it progresses - he doesn't act too standoffish or get into a fight. Instead, he’s unfazed by the flashing bulbs and how reporters shout all at once; he delivers his lines clearly and confidently, addresses some of the crowd by name, even answers several questions before they have the chance to be asked.
“That’s all, folks,” he says, closing the conference. On the way out, he exchanges friendly words with people Liz doesn't recognise, his insincere smile matched with an acceptably placid tone.
When he exits the room, Liz hastens to follow. Forgoing a barbed comment on her presence, he bristles in silence.
"Hey, Finn," she begins, "you were actually pretty good."
Finn grants her a sideways glance. "I speak their language, Liz."
"Yeah, you seem fluent in bullshit and melodrama." They halt by the lifts, eyeing each other expectantly. "Look, maybe you can...handle these press conferences more often. Sometimes. They're not my strong suit."
He jabs the button far harder than necessary. "So, what is your strong suit, as Head of PR? Generating buzz through citywide disturbances? Instagramming PCSO's petting cats?"
"I'm granting you power. Visibility. Learn to just say 'thank you' and fuck off."
A lift arrives. Yet again, Finn motions for Liz to enter first; casual 'chivalry' has never been so infuriating.
"Inglis would've insisted at some point, anyway," he says airily, also jabbing the 'close' button with too much force.
"But he hasn't, and I'm choosing to do this. That should mean something to you.”
Finn doesn’t reply. He turns to face one of the mirrored walls, adjusting his tie and watching Liz. "Since you're in such a generous mood, I want to do the 8:30 briefing at least two days a week."
"Really? What value is there in the fucking briefing, besides more boring work for you?" she questions. "Do you even really want this, or are you testing how far you can push me?"
"Does it matter? I want to share the briefings. You can do hot yoga in your office on those mornings."
"Fine." Her brain wracks itself for suitable leverage. "But I want a list of your press contacts. All of them."
"Three-quarters. We'll be more efficient if we pool our resources," Liz argues.
"This isn't about resources, you want to monitor my activity,” Finn counters.
"Believe it or not, I don't reciprocate your obsession. I don't spend whole evenings wondering what you're scheming. It's a simple precaution. Can you fucking blame me?"
"So much for not being the Stasi."
“Yes or no? I’ll still let you do conferences and briefings if it’s a ‘no’, but...” She ambles towards him until she’s by his side, examining their reflections - she notes that they look kind of good together, aesthetically, both sharply-dressed and gauging each other’s reactions. Savvy, polished professionals. A pair of morally dubious hotshots. Her voice drops. “Equals. Do you give as good as you get?”
Now he faces her, leaning in somewhat. Her eyes stay trained on the mirror. Spoon-feeding power to her Deputy involves the same tactics as surviving an encounter with a wild cat: stand your ground, don't fall for the feint.
“If you try to turn anyone against me, I’ll know,” he says.
“I don’t think I’d need to turn them against you,” she retorts, sounding calmer than she is.
His jaw tenses. “I’ll have it in your inbox by the end of the day.”
“Helvetica Neue, size 12, in bulletpoints, please.”
“Fuck off. And Helvetica is a fucking hipster font.”
The doors open. Finn glares at Liz a final time, but a gleam lurks in his gaze, searching and...pleased? It’s similar to the look Richard had whenever she talked about transparency or Metwork. Similar to the look Granger had when he said he wanted to exploit her vulnerability. Almost, but not quite. Oh, fuck.
That night, Finn has his first wet dream.
"Half," dream-Liz murmurs. She's settled between his bare thighs; they're negotiating how much of his cock she'll take into her mouth.
"Three-quarters," he counters, and watches her lips envelop him, soft and warm, or so he imagines. He's not going to fucking last, it feels good but it's the sight that drives him crazy, the mischievous glint in her eye as she takes him deeper, and he isn’t sure what happens next but he thinks it involves her tongue or her beautiful hands and if she keeps staring at him like that -
Finn wakes mid-orgasm, rutting into the mattress. He hears himself moan "Liz". Shit.
Liz isn't greeted upon entering the Commissioner's office. She finds Inglis and Finn standing in one corner of the room, looking unimpressed at a board with several photos pinned to it.
Joining them, she quickly sees the problem. “All these pasty-faced, half-asleep, geriatric men,” she notes. “It's...”
“Like the crowd at a fucking Genesis concert,” Finn supplies. Inglis stares at him oddly; Finn shrugs.
“I would've said Journey,” she says, “but that works, too.”
“I don’t know any of these officers well,” Inglis grumbles. “Tom was the one who could tell them apart.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Liz replies, more viciously than she’d intended. “Why do we need to tell them apart? So we know what names to write in the cards for the consolation fruit baskets?”
"Sir, like it or not, we're maintaining this honeymoon phase because you're the first non-white Commissioner,” Finn says, in that near-diplomatic voice Liz hates, the one he uses when he’s in serious danger of making sense. “It won’t hold much longer...unless the Deputy-Commissioner is another crowd-pleaser.”
Liz picks up on Finn's thread of thought. "Ideally, we'd choose someone else who's not an old white guy. And we need them to adjust ASAP, to project the most stable image.”
"Someone reliable and already familiar with London policing,” Finn agrees.
"Someone we know we can work with,” Inglis muses.
"Sharon," they all conclude at once, and groan at various pitches.
Inglis’ groan is the longest and most painful-sounding. "Jesus. If I'm ever ousted for some reason, she’d be a shoo-in for Commissioner."
"We wouldn’t let that happen," Finn says, so firmly that Liz has to do a double-take.
"From a purely PR perspective, it's great," Liz explains. "Former opponents cooperating. A black man and a white woman at the top of the police. It's undeniably progressive, but not aggressively so." Inglis raises an eyebrow at her word choice but doesn't comment. "And you know I built her up during her campaign. That good publicity won't fade overnight. Plus, the Mayor liked her; maybe he still does despite her bad interview."
"The tricky part is getting her on our side," Finn remarks, derision blatantly aimed at Liz.
“Oh, is this where you try to stab me in the back with your pitchfork and miss a few times because you’re cackling too maniacally?”
"No,” Inglis insists. Finn rolls his eyes, striding to the other end of the room to distance himself from Liz; she clenches her fist as she glares daggers at his retreating form. “I need you three as checks and balances. Like rock-paper-scissors. Except with a flamethrower, an axe, and a woodchipper."
Liz's lips quirk in amusement. "Great banter, sir."
"I call flamethrower," Finn says.
"But would she even accept, knowing that none of us would support her in a future bid for Commissioner?" Inglis asks. “We’re not lying to Sharon about this,” he adds, before either Liz or Finn can open their mouth all the way. “That's a shitstorm waiting to happen.”
"I might support her someday," Liz admits. "If there aren't any better options after you.”
Finn whips around to face her, his sudden indignation crashing into her certainty like a freight train. "Just how long are you planning to stay?"
“We need to run it by a few people,” Inglis says, unceremoniously ploughing through the carnage close to unfolding in his office. “I’ll call the Home Secretary personally. Cathy can contact Jeremy.”
“Dunno if I've ever mentioned this, but Cathy is a pretty good aide.” Liz continues to answer Finn’s glare with her own, her fist balled so tight it hurts. “Efficient. Calm. Quiet.”
“Yes, she’s a marked improvement over Tom, isn’t she?” Finn’s lighthearted tone is a stark contrast to the cold fury smouldering in his eyes. “Knows her place.”
“Mmm.” Inglis’ gaze darts back and forth. “I have an appointment in five minutes, so if you could…” He motions for them to move along.
Liz ducks her head. “Sure.”
Glowering, Finn pops a fresh piece of gum into his mouth. “Of course.”
They attempt to exit at the same time, and discover that the doorway isn’t wide enough for them to squeeze through. Finn hesitates...and steps aside.
"Ladies first," he explains. A rage-induced intrusive thought suggests that she slam the door in his face while screaming LADY THIS.
"I think you're so accustomed to coming in second that you've started leaving that way, too," Liz snipes.
Finn sniffs disdainfully. "You're welcome."
Chapter 6: of God's city and Babylon's
A modest ceremony is held for Sharon's promotion. Finn had objected, citing the cost and security risks, not to mention how he thought the idea was “fucking trite”; Liz had argued that it’d divert attention from the Jeffries fallout and help them appear united, adding that fucking trite was what Finn did in his free time.
"Please welcome my longtime colleague and old friend, Sharon Franklin,” Inglis says. Sharon joins him, back rigid as a board, a plastic smile plastered on. “We may have had our differences in the past, but I’m confident that she’ll be a valuable and influential ally in protecting this great city.”
The applause is near-deafening. Inglis pins the new name tag to Sharon’s lapel. They shake hands, beaming at the veritable sea of cameras.
"Don't fuck this up for me," Inglis warns through clenched teeth.
"Same to you, Charles," Sharon replies, pumping his hand harder for emphasis.
Hidden in one wing of the stage, Liz and Finn frown.
"Jesus Christ, are they threatening each other?" Finn exclaims. "There are mics everywhere."
Liz gnaws her lower lip, too absorbed in her own concern to pay attention to Finn’s. "They’ve gotta stop shaking hands soon. The timing is generous since it’s a photo op, but..."
"Their grips are too tight. Body language analysts will be all over this."
"You don't need to be a body language analyst to see they've been shaking hands for thirty seconds straight and their faces have barely moved."
Finn glances at the crowd. "Less camera flashes now, but any videos..."
"Fuck it, I'm going in. Help me!" Liz hisses over her shoulder, when Finn doesn't budge.
Growling, he follows her to the centre of the stage. Inglis and Sharon don't acknowledge their presence, focused as they are on their trivial power play. Liz has to pry their hands apart while Finn tries to block them from view. The handshake from hell thus complete, Finn grabs Inglis by the arm and tugs him away; Liz places a tentative hand on Sharon’s waist to guide her in the same direction.
“We’re really eager to get to work,” Liz explains to a nearby cluster of reporters, shooting them a megawatt grin. Her gaze accidentally meets Finn’s, and they’re forced to smile at each other.
“We need to draft terms of engagement for this sort of thing,” Finn mutters, once they’re all safely out of earshot and have ceased bodily contact.
“Fuck your fucking draft, you need to start acting like sane, friendly human beings without us steering you through every normal interaction like you're blind bovines during mating,” Liz snarls. “What the shitting fuck was that?”
Inglis and Sharon just glare into the distance. Finn catches Liz’s eye over their heads. He presses his index finger over his lips to indicate that Liz should shut up - then briefly flips her the bird.
Liz sighs, recalling her disastrous attempts to prepare Richard for the hearing at City Hall. “This will be so fun.”
Two days later, there's a firebombing at one of the publication offices: a few minor injuries, no deaths. As Inglis predicted, the press is concerned about their free speech. News of the attack soon overshadows updates on the Jeffries shooting. The online furor is still there, but media coverage slows to a trickle, becomes practically nonexistent.
"So they're going to forget about him," Liz concludes, and the evil PR part of her brain tells her she should view this as a good thing, but she can't. "Just like that."
"Just like that," Finn confirms.
That night, she rereads her cocaine-fueled emails to Richard. She rereads Sharon's journal pieces, though the reminder of her hubris makes her cringe. Then she rereads Finn's old articles. She takes detailed notes, cross-references and collates their work until something new takes shape.
Liz and Finn convene in a meeting room, as tenuously agreed earlier in the day. Liz places her laptop on the big table and opens it. She sits in the chair beside Finn - to his mild distress - and angles the screen towards them.
“A PowerPoint presentation?” he observes, with a sneer. “What am I, an unvalued investor?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
Liz clicks once. The title flies across the screen: METWORK 2.0.
“Nope, fuck this, I’m out of here,” Finn immediately declares. He stands, but she lays one hand over where his are planted on the table, and he freezes.
“Hear me out,” she implores.
Glowering, he sinks back into his chair. Liz leans forward, grinning, eyes aglow as if she’s a kid in a candy store and not, in fact, a grown woman pitching a historically disastrous idea to her greatest rival at work. Her enthusiasm is kind of endearing. Also, extremely annoying.
“Picture this: grassroots journalism meets transparent policing.”
“That's a more heavy-handed crossover than the last scene of Who Framed Roger Rabbit."
“With the first Metwork, I had the right idea - " Liz glares at his scoffing, "- but I was thinking the wrong way. We shouldn't shut the press out; we should let the people in. This version of Metwork is a news network hosted by the public sector, and maintained by the public.”
“A system ripe for abuse and meaningless content," Finn says. "Like BuzzFeed, except with less cats and more violence. ‘I Can Has Tasing’.”
“It’s good to know you were last on the Internet in 2007.”
That shuts him up. Liz babbles excitedly as she clicks through the slides, which are coherent but seem hastily put-together. He's never seen so many exclamation marks in one contained space ever before in his life, to say nothing of the density of italics. She's clearly been inspired by those articles (he thinks, he should have been more thorough in deleting those, stupid, stupid), and it's disconcerting to have her go from calling him obsolete to echoing his past self.
Her plan is solid, in a warped sense she may not even realise. It's smaller than the original Metwork, without the cost of hiring professional journalists. It has the potential to be self-moderating, if she can create a system. The press can't criticise it too much without appearing to be elitists grappling for control. It won't make much of a difference, but it's a viable compromise. He's vaguely upset he didn't come up with it himself.
She continues, "We'll have policing-related pieces provided by citizens, TSG, PCSO’s - "
"Okay, Liz," Finn interrupts, "this is starting to resemble a hybridization of your failed vanity project and Sharon's failed vanity project."
"If you multiply two negatives, you get a positive," she retorts.
"But you're not multiplying, you're adding."
"Multiplication is really an extended form of addition. And that's what I'm doing." Liz outstretches an arm and moves it slowly from one end to the other, like she's parting an imaginary sea. "Adding and extending."
"If there's no way to convince you, tell me now," she says. "I'm not doing this without you."
Finn's eyes widen for a second. "Well, you couldn't, anyway," he claims.
She hums thoughtfully. "Pretty sure I could. But I do need you, in the long run. We're part of the same animal that is modern communications in policing. You said it yourself: you're the ass end of the snake."
"The tail," he corrects her.
"The ass end," Liz insists.
After enduring ten crammed slides, Finn chews on his pen along with his gum. “So, obviously there would be editors - “
“We’ll fix typos and formatting. Everything else will be presented as submitted. It has to be 99% authentic, to humanize the cops.” Upon hearing this, he begins to stand again. “But we’ll still fact-check and screen pending posts - manually weed out personal attacks and spam and hate speech."
"All right," he says warily, sitting back down. "It isn't total bollocks, but you're definitely not ready to pitch this to Inglis yet. I can make it less gimmicky."
Liz lets out an irritated huff, as if she thinks he's joking. Then she gapes at him. "Wait, are you serious?"
"It might be worth looking at, but it needs a lot of refining. And downscaling."
She checks her notes, shaking her head in disbelief. “I haven’t even gotten to the banner ads and the Daily Show-style media callouts.”
Finn grimaces. “Maybe it’s best if you quit while you’re ahead.”
“No half-measures, Finn. I’m not picking a fight with the press - I’m fucking taking it to war.”
"Yes, me, personally." When he rolls his eyes, she explains, "If this goes badly - and I doubt it will - you can cut me loose and spin against me, paint me as some Richard Miller groupie who lost her mind. Emphasis has to be on it being my project. People can’t connect this to Charles or the Met on the whole, so I have to be the scapegoat."
"Now that's a terrible plan. If you fuck up, no matter how far you distance yourself from us, it'll be bad for our image.”
“Do you have any other suggestions?” she snaps.
Finn sighs. “The blackmail material I’ve gathered is nowhere near enough to cover a quarter of the police force, but it should be enough to protect you while you sort this out. Mostly. Provided you don’t have a secret cultist past I haven’t dug up yet.”
“I appreciate the thought," Liz says, "but you should save your potential leverage for Charles, if there's ever any Richard-esque scandal.”
“There’s no need," he assures her. "I’ve known - "
“ - ‘spied on’ -”
“- Inglis for years. His personal life is as clean as a whistle, or a Christian joke book.”
“This isn’t what I’m asking you for.”
“It’s what I’m offering. Unless you relish the idea of being suffocated by the iron grip of ten angry corporations. And I don’t want to see you crucified by the media, because putting you down is my job.”
“Mmm.” She raises an eyebrow. “Plus, such a gallant gesture makes you invaluable to me.”
“I’ve always been invaluable to you. You just never knew it." Finn narrows his eyes. "And if your project does go as well as you hope, having your lone name all over it would be a major boost to your reputation. You want to get this out by PoCon, right? Solidify your role here?”
"Oh, I hadn't thought of that," Liz says, in a tone that suggests it was the second thing she thought of. She stands to leave, gathers her things while he watches.
“One last thing,” he begins, when she's almost out of the door. Tensing with dread, she visibly steels herself for battle before turning to face him. “Change the name.”
She sags in relief. “No.”
“It’s somehow both too aggressive and too cutesy.”
“There’s literally nothing else you can name a news network run by the Metropolitan Police Service," Liz argues. "If there’s a God, he manifested in my life solely through orchestrating all of history to make that wordplay possible.”
Finn waves her off. “We’ll talk about it.”
“No, we won’t!”
They meet daily to discuss Metwork. At first, Liz wants to power ahead like a high-speed train breaking through a styrofoam wall; Finn repeatedly has to remind her that they're more like a snail inching around a brick house. Until mid-week, her creativity hits a slump. She thinks realistically and becomes more open to suggestions, but her enthusiasm is in danger of waning...only to be reignited by Finn’s hostility.
She's grateful for him being there, in a weird way. His experience is invaluable. He still verbally spars with her over every other sentence, though he mentions Richard much less often and counters her impassioned rants with his own; they rarely end the day hating each other.
Sometimes she suspects that he's flirting with her. Then again, sometimes she feels like playing naked in traffic. Then again, sometimes she has brilliant, game-changing ideas. At any rate, trying to figure it out is a nice distraction whenever she needs it.
"This isn't going to be the social upheaval you're hoping for," Finn tells her, on one of her more subdued days. "This is a baby step in the right direction, at best. You're not saving the world by launching a government-run website."
"I know," Liz says, and reflects further on his words. "It's a news network, not a website - "
"You know that now. But will you know that this time on Monday?"
She surveys him coolly. "Are you implying something?"
The possible slight against her mental health sails over his head like a Frisbee, the idiot. "Don't lose sight of what this truly is: a desperate attempt to gain favour with the public at a time when none of the old institutions are credible, and ego and hasty opinion are valued more than stability."
Liz reclines so far in her chair, she almost falls off. She steeples her fingers contemplatively and questions in her best therapist-voice, "Do you make a habit of supporting things you believe are destined to fail?"
"That way, they never let me down."
"You're a ray of sunshine, aren't you," she notes. "You do cynicism in all the flavours. You're like one of those mini bottles of Tabasco people carry around just in case, except instead of a dash of pepper, we bring you out for a sprinkling of general despair about the human condition."
"You can compare me to all the condiments you want," Finn snaps. "It doesn't make what I say any less true."
"Really? Because I have one for ketchup, too." She bites back a playful smile. "It's a pun on 'catching up', if you were wondering."
One afternoon, Liz enters Finn’s office without a snarky word, sporting a grin in the face of his glare. Which means she’s feeling coquettish, not confrontational. Which is much worse. God help him.
She plops into the chair in front of his desk and casually announces, “I think someone has a crush on me.”
“Who, Tom?” He swivels away to hide the flush rising to his cheeks. “That was an open secret. Word is he has his eye on an Armed Response officer now, so you missed your chance as always -”
At the corner of his vision, he can see Liz straining to glimpse his expression. “You’re kind of cute if you’re not scowling like a badger eating a lemon.”
“Is that so?” Finn asks, aiming for sarcasm and failing because his voice cracks.
“Yeah, that's so.” She uncrosses and re-crosses her legs. Oh, Jesus. “On the rare occasions when you shut up, you really pull off that brooding misanthrope thing. I bet you once went through girls the way you go through gum.”
“That’s why I joined public service. Couldn’t keep up.”
“Huh.” Then Liz switches topic to Metwork’s fucking sponsorship options.
Finn waits a few minutes after their gratuitous argument has concluded and she’s departed. He stiffly heads for the nearest men’s room, locks himself in a stall, and rubs one out into the toilet, arm braced against the wall; he has to bite his lip to avoid moaning her name.
She knows. And she’s toying with him. Fuck, that’s hot. And humiliating. And hot.
Finn records some of their conversations without telling Liz. At the end of the week, he plays the audio for Inglis behind Liz's back; he also presents the search results and the documents she sends, which vary in length and quality.
"You know she's not..." Finn trails off, once he's finished. What's the politically correct word? Normal?
Inglis shakes his head. "Jesus, you'd think Richard would've briefed us."
"Maybe he didn't know, or care," Finn guesses. "Maybe that's part of why he liked her - he did have his own history of depression and poor impulse control. Anyway, I'd advise against trying to oust her over this. Legally, that would be an issue - "
"It isn't a dealbreaker for me," Inglis interjects. "I've served with my fair share of violent pathological liars with specialised training. A Communications director with a mild form of bipolar is nothing compared to that. And if you don't think it's a problem, I'll defer to your judgment." Inglis rolls his eyes. "Especially since you're so eager to pounce on her for everything else."
The Commissioner frowns. "Like a ruthless predator."
"Right." Finn clears his throat before continuing, "I mean, Liz is still a problem, but her mental health isn't. If anything, knowing makes it easier to deal with her. I just thought you should know, too. Transparency and all."
"I'll talk to Liz. In the meantime, you look after her."
"I'll keep monitoring the situation and watch her closely."
"Did you get the write-ups?" Liz asks.
Finn doesn't react to her presence with outright hostility anymore. Helpful, and slightly disappointing. "I did."
"There's such emotion put into them. Regret, anger, determination to do better," she lists. "You know, feelings. You could stand to learn those." He sticks his tongue out, but doesn't retort. "I really liked Davina's. And I barely had to edit any of them."
"Everything looks good," Finn comments, double-checking the email as he speaks. "Just remember to remove their names and we're all set."
"We're not removing the names," Liz says. His jaw drops at that. The Imperial March plays in her head as he swivels in his chair to face her fully. It's probably playing in his, too. Always. "I got their permission, in writing. Tony volunteered."
He claps one hand over his forehead in exasperation. “The only thing more capitalist than a peanut in a top hat telling you to eat peanuts is the Met’s Head of Communications wanting to sell police officers out to the press - “
“I have their permission!” she repeats. "Leaving the names makes it more relatable, adds a sense of civic duty - "
“Tony lost his whole squad, some cops consider him a snitch, and he's basically outing himself," Finn explains heatedly, "Warwick has severe PTSD. Davina felt obligated to stay in her marriage because of the inquiry, and she's in the process of ending it. They’re not PR puppets for you to play with - they’re fragile individuals in vulnerable positions. And whenever we put a face to a cop, people punch it in!”
"I met them in real life, and I was in contact with them," Liz protests. "You didn't, and you weren't. You don't know what they want."
"No, they don't know what they don't want."
"Your paternalistic bullshit means nothing.”
“Why do you think they’re letting you do this in the first place? Because they feel guilty. Because these are cops who give a damn about doing their jobs correctly.”
"All the more reason to single them out!”
“For the fucking firing squad!”
Angry silence stretches between them, the kind either of them usually use to storm off. But this is Finn's office, and she doesn't want to slink all the way back here to wheedle with him about Metwork. And he does have a point about the cops' privacy.
"Okay, you're right," Liz concedes reluctantly.
It takes Finn a moment to register this. A smirk spreads across his face. "Sorry, can you say that again? Louder. Maybe open the door before you do. The acoustics in here are shit."
To his visible astonishment, she complies. She opens his door and sticks her head into the hallway to yell, "Finn was right for once in his life!"
"I don't think that's what you said just now," Finn says.
"Oh, it was. Good thing you asked me to repeat it." Liz flashes him an innocuous smile, tilting her head. "See you later?" He grunts in agreement; she gives a small, sarcastic fist pump with her free hand. "Go team."
He scoffs. "We're not a team."
"Whatever you say, partner."
Finn flips her off as she exits.
Liz and Finn get into a particularly trying row over Sedito News, the news portal which hacked into the drone feed during the hunt for the Thameside Centre bomber. Liz doesn’t think the Met should devote any PR resources to combating them, saying it’ll be seen as an attack on transparency and civilians’ privacy; Finn points out that their existence is an operational threat and makes them look weak. The matter is settled when Liz insists that her word is final.
Or so she thinks. The next day, an article appears questioning the Met’s ‘soft’ stance on news portals. She knows that Finn dodges her for the whole morning, and she doesn't care enough to give chase. But, eventually, they find themselves in an increasingly familiar situation: alone in a lift, pressed against opposite walls.
Finn ignores her, checking his phone. Liz itches for a fight or a fuck, at the front of her brain, at the core of her chest, and with him around either is possible. She tries to glower as best as she can without fully facing him. Instead, she's quickly distracted by his fingers. They're long, likely strong and dexterous from years of rapid texting and typing…
He notices her staring and silently stares back.
“Just wondering how so much evil can be concentrated into one vessel,” she says.
“Would you believe me if I said I didn’t have anything to do with it?”
Liz pretends to mull it over. “No.”
“Worth a shot.” Finn pushes off his wall in a smooth motion and approaches at an ambling pace. “Remember, Liz, if my leash tightens any further, I could...choke. No telling what might leave my mouth then.”
“I should’ve put you down when I had the chance,” she claims, heart pounding in what somehow feels like fast-forward and slow motion at the same time. The nearer he gets, the more her pulse accelerates. “You’re a fucking two-faced, backstabbing, shit-eating scoundrel.”
His eyes have gone dark, downright sinful. He plants one hand on the wall behind her, a reversal of their positions on the day Theo Metaxas was found dead.
“There aren't enough scoundrels in your life,” he murmurs.
“Finn, I’m at max scoundrel capacity, including myself.” Liz swipes her tongue around her lips. “Lucky for you, you're already in my life.”
They hold a simmering gaze. It’s tempting to let her eyes wander lower, to his crotch - she considers how she’d wield more power in that single glance than he does in any of his extended metaphors. But not yet.
The lift dings, signalling that they've reached her floor. She begins to move before he’s even started to give her space. Their shoulders brush heavily, and her skin tingles at the contact. Now, she welcomes the searing sensation as he watches her exit, especially since she’s sure he isn’t just staring at the back of her head.
Chapter 7: what happens when two substances collide
That escalated quickly!
Chapter specific warning: Fairly explicit masturbation (towards the end).
When hypomania-induced hypersexuality meets ace-spectrum confusion, things are going to hurt.
Liz always assumed that their chemistry was an inevitability, the most predictable minor catastrophe on the horizon.
Finn had strode into her life overconfident, dark-haired, possessing proactive knowledge of her coffee order. From that moment, she’d figured that if she did manage to fire him, his severance pay would be a filthy, fast hatefuck. Sometimes he acts aware of her feelings, returning her stares and shooting her sly grins, making offhanded comments about her looks. Sometimes he seems totally oblivious, shocked at physical contact or suggestive banter. Finn Kirkwood doesn't play the long-game. He can't be trying to confuse her. Can he?
It’s a pattern she’s seen with Richard, with Granger, with the men preceding them. Her strongest desire isn't to nurture, or to be the sole exception to their jadedness. More than anything, the desire is to be understood; to be close to someone, assured that they have no business judging her while they bob on the same wavelength of selfishness and warped good intentions and erratic self-control.
The first time she fantasies about him, it’s admittedly better than any sex she’s had this year, although she feels she deserves more credit for that than fantasy-Finn does.
They’re in her office - obviously, she's incapable of having any dream other than a work-related stress dream. She's propped at the edge of her desk, naked from the waist down. His touch is bold and firm and everywhere, the finger tweaking her clit as cruel as the curve of his lips. But he falters once she nips at his earlobe, and he loses his goddamn mind as she licks around his mouth and shoves her tongue inside.
Bracing his hand against the desk, he desperately thrusts his cock into her fist, voice coming out as a whine: “Please, Liz, I want you, I want -”
Finn growls, and Liz moans against the rumble in the hollow of his throat -
She wakes drenched in sweat, panties soaked. Trembling fingers frantically rub to an shuddering orgasm. The morning meeting is going to be fun and awful. And fun. And awful.
"There's a major censorship concern," Finn announces.
Liz glances up. "Hello to you, too."
"Who gets to determine what counts as offensive material?"
"Oh. Shit. Uh, a team, half-police volunteers, half-civilian?"
"Okay." He continues eyeing her. "And who's going to ensure they don't abuse the system?"
Liz cringes. "We will."
"Because neither of us have ever gone mad with power."
"Are you shutting this down?"
"Not yet, but you need to think about it. Where do you draw the line between legitimate criticism and hate speech? And if cops are the judges, it looks like blatant censorship."
"Peer review," Liz decides, off the top of her head. "Maybe with points. Trust-based. And we apologise, right on the front page, for the flaws in filtering content."
"Not a perfect solution."
"Can you take care of it?"
Finn sighs. "I'll come up with improvements."
"This isn't just about Metwork itself. There's also the philosophy behind it," Liz says. Despite noticing him edge towards the door in anticipation of an impassioned rant, she presses on, "We're blurring the lines between protection and the people we're protecting. They aren't helpless or mindless. We're not a cushy Big Brother waiting for the inevitable fuck-up so we can swoop in, lock everything down, and say 'told you so' - we're a schoolteacher who intervenes to prevent name-calling escalating into brawls."
"Okay. Don't put any of that in the proposal." His tone is amicable. He opens the door to leave, seems to consider something, then closes the door again. "By the way, while we're talking about the as-yet-unnamed news network - "
"The as-yet-unnamed news network, I ran it by Inglis yesterday."
Liz's eyes narrow. "You what?"
"It was informal. I prepared him for the real pitch." Finn appears to be irritated at her indignation. "If I wanted to hide it, I wouldn't have told you at all. Transparency! You're welcome."
"Thanks." She purses her lips in displeasure. "Don't fucking do it again."
"I probably will." Finn smirks as she glowers at him. "He's skeptical, but he's willing to give it a listen, especially since I'm involved."
His confidence wilts slightly under Liz's close scrutiny. "Anything else?"
"You're lying," she accuses.
"And you're tolerating it," he retorts haughtily, though there's something in his eyes she can't decipher.
They continue meeting to discuss Metwork (the name is a concession Finn has made, much to his distaste; Liz doesn't care how he plans to retaliate, it's totally worth it to see him wince every time he says it). Now she's certain that he's flirting with her. He doesn't get in anyone else's face the way he does with her, even when confronted with incompetence or criticism or pushy reporters. He doesn't stare at anyone the way he stares at her.
So she enjoys it when she's in high spirits, uses it to boost her ego when she isn't. The relative lack of any pressing crisis allows Finn's true personality to shine through - he's by no means a nice guy like Tom, but she never did go for nice guys. And he's not irresponsible like Granger, nor is he dead like Richard. He's smart, and intense, and as dedicated to the job as she is. He's addicted to control. In her good and neutral moods, she's content to let him have some. In the vindictiveness of her dark phases, she wants him to lose it all.
She could do worse, is what she's thinking. Her occasional self-hatred has been so potent that being attracted to her former enemy hardly makes a difference in the grand, beautiful mess that is her life.
"I've been meaning to ask - " Liz says, at the end of a brainstorming session. She nods towards his office wall. "Why do you have a framed article about the Falklands War?"
"Why do you have a framed photo of you giving your TED Talk?" Finn counters.
She's been wondering if she should get rid of it, but he doesn't need to know that. "I was super pretty that day."
"Really? Nothing to do with remembering who you are or why you're here?"
"Come on, Finn. You're not that old."
He sighs, and answers, "The Falklands War had some of the worst media coverage of the 20th century. I was a child then, yet I have no memories of ever hearing about it until it was over."
"But you're displaying a random article about it at work because...?"
"I don't want that to happen again. Not the sensationalist reaction from the papers, not the government censorship."
"And presumably, not the war."
"Many journalists may be arseholes," Finn continues, "but we do need someone to keep the public sector in check. I've tried my best to reconcile both of their roles in my life."
"Wow." Liz is stunned into contemplative silence. She whispers, "You're a fucking nerd."
"You think it's cool."
"Kind of," she confesses. "You're still a nerd."
The more time they have to spend together, the more Finn's thoughts fixate on Liz. They quarrel frequently, and the cattiness is still there, though the outright malice is gone. He thought that his crush might lessen along with the animosity, but it's grown instead. Her teasing remarks and lingering touches aren't helping, either. It's like he's entered conventional puberty, given his new sex drive and questionable Google searches and staggering self-consciousness.
Workplace erections are fucking mortifying. No one’s noticed - they attribute his agitation to stress, anyway, maybe Miller paraded around with a hard-on the entire time, Finn wouldn’t know. It’s odd, simultaneously being eager to encounter Liz and dreading his body’s reaction.
Go back to normal, he pleads, squeezing forty ply’s worth of toilet paper against his pulsing cock. Liz laughing at you isn’t arousing. Liz rubbing her foot isn’t arousing. The words ‘Liz’ and ‘arousing’ don’t belong in the same sentence unless it’s ‘Liz is arousing my suspicion’ or ‘Liz is arousing men stupider than me’. Nothing is arousing to you.
Ten minutes later, she grabs a lollipop from the bowl at the centre of the table, unwraps it, and gives it an experimental lick. Finn thinks he almost comes right there.
He could try to sabotage her out of nowhere; unfortunately, he does think Metwork has potential. He'd tried to remove Liz when she was a threat, and he'd failed. Now he isn't even sure if he wants her gone. Who would match him in battle, if she wasn't there? Who would keep him in check, the way he'd once hoped to regulate the Met? Who would catch his film references; who would openly laugh at his jokes; who would he sneak glances at throughout the day?
During their walk to the Commissioner's office, he decides it's necessary to assert the nature of their working relationship.
"If we pull this off, I'll be watching you through every fucking step," Finn tells her, curt and acidic.
Annoyingly, Liz's response is amused instead of defensive. "You're always watching me, Finn."
"I mean in a suspicious way," he clarifies.
She nods sagely. "With your angry face on. Not in the forlorn, across-the-room way I'm used to, when you think I won't notice."
"You usually look so sad," she claims, without sympathy.
He's queasy at her scratching the surface of his inconvenient feelings. "That's ridiculous."
"Have you ever seen yourself stare at me?"
"In the lift?"
"So you watch yourself watching me."
"Yes," Finn says, then scrambles to backtrack. "No! Not intentionally. I can't help what I see in the mirrors - they're the fucking walls."
They halt outside Inglis' office. She tosses her hair, almost in his face; his brain unhelpfully supplies the slow-motion.
"Have you memorised your points?" he demands, concealing his flustered state behind contrived anger. "If we walk in there, and I give the introduction, and you start fucking moralizing off the bat - "
"No, I'm thinking I'll just totally wing it on this critically important presentation," Liz replies coldly.
This time, she holds the door open for him, lips quirked.
The presentation starts simply: a scripted opening, a rundown on Metwork's function and proposed features. Liz thinks Finn isn’t feigning the appropriate amount of enthusiasm - he somehow sounds more unconvincing pretending to be invested than being upfront about his reluctance - but she can hardly stop to yell at him.
“Won’t this upset the press?” Inglis asks.
“Definitely,” Finn replies, and doesn’t elaborate.
“And isn’t this still an especially delicate time?” Inglis presses. Finn fucking nods.
“I can give you an overview on the security options,” Liz cuts in, fighting to keep the desperation out of her voice.
“I think I’ve heard enough.”
Liz and Finn exchange a glance that effectively communicates we’re losing him.
Liz suddenly steps up to Inglis’ desk, resolute. Finn frowns; Inglis recoils slightly in surprise. “I have a question, Commissioner,” she says.
“This isn’t part of the plan,” Finn hisses into her ear. When she doesn’t relent, he repeats louder for Inglis, “This isn’t part of the plan!”
She looks Inglis in the eyes and asks, “What killed Richard?”
“The water in his lungs,” Finn snaps. “What the hell are you doing?”
“He shamed himself, but tabloid trash killed him. Sensationalism. Shallow entertainment,” Liz answers, with unflappable conviction. “Can you imagine the overall state of journalism currently? It probably involves a lot of people like Finn, except nowhere near as smart or semi-competent or socially responsible.”
“You had me at ‘semi-competent’,” Finn mutters, “let’s do it in the lift during the walk of shame back to our floor.”
“The press may not be our enemy, but they’re not always reliable in keeping us accountable, or providing a balanced view, or representing the general public’s opinion. It’s gotten worse in the past few decades. Nobody in this room has clean hands in the politico-media complex. Karl Jeffries, corporate contracts, News Corp…” She pauses uncomfortably. “Instagram.”
Finn’s head jerks upright. "That’s what you’re going with?”
“But we can make things better. We’re not here to be loved, just trusted. We can rebuild the trust by showing people that we trust them, too. Within reason,” she adds, before Finn can say anything about giving them keys to a tank, tanks don’t even use keys, fuck the Finn in her head.
Inglis is silent for too long.
Finally, he prompts, “Finn?”
“I’m only here because I saw something in the basic idea.” Finn sighs and holds Liz’s wary stare for a few seconds. “It’s what I believe is right but could never put into words. Don’t get me wrong, it’d be a massive fucking shitstorm. Not as bad as the original idea, but plenty of people would be pissed off, and understandably so.”
“Very helpful,” Liz grumbles.
“The world is a different place from when you and Richard joined the Met. From when I joined. Lines are blurrier. Metwork would be useful operationally, plus it’ll help us control the message and communicate directly with the public…”
“But we know that’s not what this is really about,” she concludes. “The night you became Commissioner, you said it’s a new era of transparency. Did you mean it?”
“I only say what I mean,” Inglis replies sharply.
He listens to the rest of Liz and Finn’s presentation - which is largely improvised from that point on and resembles more of a minor argument than a joint effort, but maintains his interest until the end.
Their initial pitch is finished. It went well, following the bumpiness at the beginning; she's amazed at how she and Finn bounce off each other - if the word 'synergy' had a real definition, it would be their partnership. Charles tells them he'll bring Metwork up at a later MOPAC meeting, once he's more settled into his role. It isn't the overwhelming approval she wanted when she first pitched its prototype to Richard, but it's a promising start.
Hell yeah, Liz is turned on. (Her heart is racing. Her head is full.) She's a goddamn goddess. (The world is beautiful, ready for conquering.) She's adapted and overcome; she's run the gauntlet with the grace of a fucking gazelle. In just over a month, she's laid the foundation for her radical vision, even with her series of near-breakdowns, Richard's death, and the unexpected change in Commissioner. And she's gotten Finn to help her, to believe in her.
Their eyes meet, and she smiles at him. The sky isn't the limit - it's where she's at now, and she wants to go higher and higher till she can't breathe. (She wants, and as she's proven today, she gets what she wants.)
They stay late to review their presentation. Departing for the lifts together, there's no one to interrupt them, no background chatter to disguise the crackling tension in the air. Finn is suspicious of Liz's silence; her persistent beaming makes it worse, somehow.
A lift arrives, and they enter. He jabs the button and chomps on his gum, her every movement putting him on edge.
“See how much better it is when we harness our talents?” she asks in a casual tone, leaning against one of the walls.
He musters a halfhearted glare at her. “There was no ‘harnessing’.”
“Even you can’t deny that was a collaborative effort.”
“Fine, but it wasn’t cooperative.”
Liz hums thoughtfully. “I don’t know. You need friction to generate power.”
She pushes off the wall and begins to approach, cautious and steady. Why is she doing that? Why the hell is she doing that?
“You have that gleam in your eye,” Finn observes. “The one you get when you really want something.”
“Metwork’s practically a done deal.”
“Yeah, it is,” she says - sounding distant, as if that wasn’t what she was talking about. “Thank you,” she adds, heated gaze boring into his, and he almost believes she means it.
“You don’t have anything to thank me for.”
They're toe-to-toe now. Liz raises a hand to touch his face; her fingertips are gentle, questioning. When he doesn’t stop her, she pecks him on the cheek.
Finn swallows his gum. Blood roars in his ears. Wide-eyed, he backs into the opposite wall and takes several seconds to assess the situation. She watches him think, looking excited and heart-achingly hopeful.
Then, he closes the distance between them until their bodies are only a small breadth apart, leans in, and presses his lips to hers.
By the time the lift doors reopen, they’re making out.
She's warm. He can't quit kissing her. She's trembling and solid in his arms, a bundle of contradictions he wants to unfurl; he thinks, they've destroyed each other more in this moment than during any of their brutal power plays or attempted psychoanalyses, but it's the kind of destruction that precedes creation - darkness before a supernova, a dirge at the start of a symphony. Whenever they part, he wants to dive back in and drown in her.
“You know, I’m going to have an embarrassingly short wank to this later,” Finn pants, and what the fuck is wrong with him.
And yet, Liz’s hands remain on him, one cupping his face and the other fiddling with his collar. “Why stop here?”
Oh. Oh, no.
“Because I was once sure you wanted to screw me and Scotland Yard over. I didn’t think you’d want to screw me over at Scotland Yard.” She catches her lower lip beneath her front teeth; the sight threatens to undo him on the spot. “Things will be weird.”
“Things are already weird."
“If you think seducing me will make it easier for you to -”
“Seducing you? Really?” Liz laughs, and the sound is pinpricks on his skin and music to his ears. "You’re the one who keeps giving me longing glances.”
“I haven’t,” Finn insists.
“You’ve eye-fucked me so often, my corneas have herpes.”
He captures her lips with his again - feels her grinning against him, oh fuck, he's in so deep - then reminds himself, “This is a bad idea.”
Liz's grip on his shirt tightens. “You said that about Metwork, and we’re going through with that.”
It's so, so tempting to give in, to throw this battle he'd never expected to fight. To lose control. To surrender to something, and something once impossible, at that...
“I can't fuck you, Liz,” he declares. His own certainty hits him in the gut. “You did say you weren’t having it.”
“That was about metaphorical fucking," she protests. But she releases him. He realises he should probably let go of her, too.
“They’re the same thing to me,” Finn lies. He manages to tear himself away, jabs the 'open' button and rushes out. She allows him to leave without further comment. Turning to face her is a mistake, because he sees her expression; it's so different from minutes earlier, confused and more than a little dejected. “Good night.”
"Good night," Liz echoes, in an uncharacteristic soft voice. She's still watching as the doors close behind him.
The next day, she calls him into her office at the start of lunchtime.
"Hi, Finn." Rising from her chair, she smiles with forced cheerfulness. "Just wanted to go over some things. Have a seat."
He remains rooted to his spot, examines her dubiously. "No."
Liz winces. "Can we talk about the elephant in the room?"
"Depends. Will you shoot it?"
"We've been working together in close proximity lately, without much serious conflict," she begins. Finn nods along solemnly. "From the moment we met, we did a lot of intimate cross-examination in low lighting. And you're...very distracting, with your eyes, and your rapid-fire wit, and your voice which is surprisingly nice if you're not yelling - "
" - and you, with your long hair, and your boundless enthusiasm, and your metaphors about abstract concepts fucking me," he finishes.
It's fortunate that there aren't many people outside, because they'd see them silently staring at each other for an extended beat.
"Let's keep things professional," Finn suggests. She crosses her arms, and he valiantly ignores how the action slightly pushes her breasts up. "Go back to how we were before we released the Jeffries footage."
"'Professional'," Liz echoes flatly. "As in, insults all the time, obscene gestures in front of our coworkers, melodramatic pissing-up, that sort of thing?"
"Yes. Exactly that. I'll even let you go first. You threaten to fire me, and I'll threaten to blackmail you - "
"We've been productive for weeks. Charles is more agreeable when we're united. Plus, you've had your tongue in my mouth," she snaps; he flinches at that. "You can't just go back to always lashing me with it."
"I don't get any of this," Finn admits, running a hand through his hair in exasperation. "How did this happen?"
"Maybe if you say 'fuck you' to a person often enough, you start wanting to."
"But why last night?" he questions. "I wouldn't have done anything if you hadn't...initiated. You've been so obsessed with Metwork, and once it gets off the ground, your first impulse is to try to shag m- someone?"
Liz frowns. "I wasn't aware it was an either-or deal. It was a celebratory buzz, you know?" No, he doesn't know. He's entirely bewildered, which she must notice, because she adds, "And it's worse for me. I climb one mountain, then I think I can climb every mountain."
"Right. Like a horny von Trapp."
She makes a frustrated sound, tries to explain again, "It was like my heart was catapulted, and - and flew until it hit a wall. I was happy, I was feeling confident - "
"I'll never understand you people."
"You people'?" Liz repeats, raising an eyebrow.
"Just people," Finn amends quickly. "In general." She continues glaring at him. "That wasn't a reference to your disorder, that was a reference to my...overall hatred of humanity."
"Look, forget what happened between us, okay?"
Liz rolls her eyes. "That'll be easy, since barely anything did."
Finn bristles, prior statement forgotten. "I don't think seventeen and a half kisses qualifies as 'barely anything'."
"You counted," she notes, stifling a loud laugh. "Why? Is that a category in the census form? Are you keeping a personal spreadsheet?"
"No, for the next time I need to remind you of the benefits of shutting up."
During this tense conversation, they've drifted from their respective corners to a midpoint. The large rational part of his brain screams at him to run, or at least retreat, but it's lost in the roar of her presence.
"I'm more of a hands-on learner," Liz murmurs, tentatively placing her hands on his waist to illustrate her point. He knows the line is so cliche that it shouldn't do things to him, yet the combination of her voice and her touch, so soon after last night, makes him want and want and almost need...
"Shut up," Finn growls, and kisses her. Eighteen.
She kisses him back right away, hard and eager, pulling him close. Nineteen. Twenty. Twenty-one. Hesitantly, he twines his fingers into her hair and, Jesus, it's as soft as he imagined it...
"No," he gasps before their lips have even fully parted, his thoughts escaping in broken bursts. "Bad idea. Glass walls. Unprofessional. Also, you."
Liz lowers her hands and her gaze as she says, still breathless, "I should go."
Finn's hands fall to his sides, as well. Something important occurs to him. "This is your office."
"Right!" She shakes her head; her stare stays averted. "You should go."
He does, fast.
They avoid each other for the rest of the day. There are no big problems, and Liz can't concentrate on her mundane tasks; she gets distracted by the throb between her thighs, finds herself staring into space as she remembers Finn's mouth on hers, him stroking her hair...
By evening, she's a wreck. Work is technically over. The department floor is clearing. She reasons, it can't do any harm to lock herself in a bathroom stall to fuck herself silly on her own hand.
Liz lowers the lid, sits on top of it, hikes up her skirt. Then she parts her legs and strokes a finger over her panties and, fuck, she's so wet that the fabric is damp. Over what? Over Finn?
She pulls her panties down. Her breaths stutter when she circles her clit with her thumb, increasing the pace when she recalls how Finn held her to him. She envisions peeling his clothes off, shoving him onto a bed, and straddling him. She pictures their positions reversed, him pinning her body with his, nipping at her bare skin, the glow of his eyes as he pushes into her -
"Fuck," Liz swears softly, two fingers delving in. Taken out of context, his lines from their previous arguments are fodder for her fantasies: "fuck me", "fuck you", the wavering, drawn-out 'oh' before "thank you, Miss America". She moans into the knuckles of her free hand at the mental image of him pumping his cock; she moans louder at the thought of him failing to stop himself from gasping her name, and she's too far gone to care if anyone hears her muffled cry as she comes harder than she has in a long while.
She stands as soon as the aftershocks have subsided, knees wobbly, blood singing with the afterglow and stomach curling with a growing sense of dismay. The ache is less insistent, not sated.
The restroom is thankfully empty. She washes her hands twice, splashes cold water on her face, straightens her clothes and ties her hair into a ponytail; it's her best to appear presentable, or at least not like she's just fingered herself in her workplace.
Mind still reeling, she steps outside...and nearly collides with Finn, who's exiting the men's room like he's being chased.
There's a faint flush on his dazed expression; his tie is loosened, his breaths are as heavy as her own. Liz's heart pounds faster than it already was as she pieces it together. Horrifyingly, it dawns on her that he's sizing her up, too.
He licks his lips and rasps, "You look tired."
"You've got sperm on your lapel," she retorts, and holy fucking shit he actually checks before he catches himself. With that piece of information to reflect on, she retreats into the restroom, claiming, "Forgot to wash my hands."
Finn's gaze follows her as she goes. "Sure," he snaps, "better make it thorough."
Liz's face twitches in anger - and arousal? - as she slams the door. He releases the brief whine he’s apparently been holding; he considers going back in, but they might run into each other afterwards. This could go on for ages. And better make it thorough? Why would he say that?
He's just willed his feet to move when the door reopens. Her eyes widen upon seeing that he's there.
"That was fast," he comments, and wants to kick himself in the mouth.
"I really was washing my hands." Liz scans him one more time, snipes, "Guess I can make you sweat after all."
"And I guess you really do need me," Finn fires back.
They gape open-mouthed at each other for a few seconds, both grappling for something non-humiliating to say. After nothing presents itself, they turn without another word and walk off in opposite directions.
The following morning, Liz experiences what can only be described as a hangover of acute embarrassment. Yet she can't stop revisiting the scene: Finn's undone tie, his mussed hair, the guilty look on his face (and she did that, however indirectly, she put him in that state). She gets off thrice before dragging herself out of bed. The last time, she hisses his name between her teeth.
When she sees the email, she spills her coffee (flat white, extra hot, why the hell did he know that? Who were his 'sources'? American baristas?) in surprise.
It's a reminder from Europol about the Law Enforcement Communicators conference next week. In the chaos following Richard's death, it seems to have slipped everyone's memory. Multiple versions of the message wait in her inbox; one is the original, the other was forwarded from Inglis. He mentions that they need to present a united front, and that it's a good opportunity to gather opinions on Metwork. And he not-so-subtly demands that she brings Finn.
As Liz finishes reading, her phone buzzes. It's a text from Finn: "FUCK".
There's no better way to respond to that than:"SHIT".
Chapter 8: exercise yourselves to your bereft
“It’s only two nights," Inglis reminds them. “Or only three days, if you're pessimistic and rounding up. What are you, six?”
“Fair warning," Liz says, grimacing, "I might become suddenly and inexplicably violently ill within the next week.”
“You can’t do that,” Finn objects, whipping around to face her. “I was planning to do that.”
“I find it difficult to believe either of you are willing to miss something this important for the sake of avoiding each other," Inglis chides. His advisers avert their gazes, shamed and seething. "If you want Metwork, you need to see this through."
"Understood," Liz snaps.
"Yes, sir," Finn grumbles.
Inglis peers at him with discomfiting scrutiny. "Liz, you can go. Finn, could I have a word, in private?"
Finn nods, exchanging wary glances with Liz before she exits. A moment of silence follows in her wake.
"All right," the Commissioner says, "what's up?"
"I'm okay," he replies, too fast, too loud. "Why wouldn't I be? I may not like Liz, but it's not the end of the world."
"What I said - I want you to go together, but between you and me, you don't need to. The first phase of Metwork will take longer, that's all. It'll be Liz's problem. We can send Mia with her instead." Shit, awkward attempts at accommodation are one of the many exact scenarios Finn had hoped to avoid. "Since you aren't trying to oust each other anymore - "
Finn shakes his head. "It doesn't matter," he tells Inglis. "I do need to be there, to keep Liz from giving away all our secrets or picking up ideas from the French."
"If you say so." Inglis still appears uncertain. "On the bright side, at least you don't have to worry about drunken hook-ups the way Richard and Sharon did."
"Right," Finn mutters.
Later in the day, he barges into Liz's office.
“Some people knock,” she protests. Her complaint goes ignored.
Finn seems to be looking straight through her as he recites, “Alarms set and lights out at agreed-upon times, a drawer each if there’s only one nightstand, wear something decent and unflattering to sleep. Or always.” He gives her a pointedly disinterested once-over. “Maybe a burlap sack for you.”
Did he just fucking compliment her in a backhanded way? “You know I could pull it off.”
“As in, with no holes for your head or limbs, and tied at the top.”
“Still could," Liz chirps. "I’d bring a whole new meaning to ‘good in the sack’.”
Finn doesn't even dignify that with a response; he walks out, without so much as a disapproving glance or a sigh. She finds herself longing for their old dynamic - at least those interactions had definite beginnings and endings.
He reenters her office a full minute later, and picks up where he left off. "We could implement a strict no-talking policy in between panels," he suggests. "No glaring, no middle fingers, no prolonged eye contact. We'll send texts if we need to discuss Metwork."
“Minimum communication." Liz nods in mock accord. "So, basically, what we're doing right now. What’s next - will we divide the fucking room in half with tape, like we’re fighting siblings?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of Germany during the Cold War, but that’s besides the point."
“Are these rules because of our default level of mistrust, or are they because -”
“Of the thing that didn’t happen?” Finn snaps. “Absolutely.”
“What, us almost sleeping together?" Liz exclaims. "Not the kissing before that, or the simultaneous masturbation after?” He blanches upon having it stated aloud in such plain words, but she persists, “Really, you should be more concerned by what did happen, not the thing that didn’t.”
“No, that’s what I meant," he explains impatiently. "I’m telling myself that the k- the things that did happen didn’t happen, either.”
“But you just admitted that they did.”
“Factually, they did happen. In terms of selective memory, they didn’t.”
“You can’t select your own selective memory.”
“I don’t remember ever hearing that.”
“I can’t believe I have to stay with you for three fucking days,” Liz sighs.
“Likewise,” Finn spits.
"Matt Coward is coming in this afternoon," Mia informs Liz, when she passes by the reception desk. "He says he'll be here at 3, but you know these artist types."
She hums in acknowledgment as she keeps walking towards her office, lost in the growing tangle of her thoughts. Then, an idea creeps up on her. Liz backtracks, resting her body against the wall by Mia's desk with a casual air; Mia raises an eyebrow, but doesn't comment on her closeness.
Liz broaches the subject in a nonchalant tone: "Hey, how long have you known Finn?"
"That could be any amount of time upwards of two seconds."
"Okay, around three years. Why?"
"I have a lot of questions about him, but I can't just ask, because we're not on great terms." Liz purses her lips in exaggerated contemplation. "For starters, does he actually live in Hertfordshire?"
"Is that where he lives?" Mia gasps.
"Does anyone know anything about him other than the approximate size of the stick up his ass?"
"He's pretty close to Charles outside of work." Liz groans. That's a dead end; while her relationship with the Commissioner has been improving, especially since pitching Metwork and their chat a few days ago, they wouldn't call themselves friendly acquaintances yet. "Look, we don't even celebrate Finn's birthday. He thinks they're a meaningless social construct and shouldn't be encouraged. His words."
"Hobbies? Religion? Pets?" Liz lists, with an increasing sense of urgency. Mia shakes her head at each one. "Significant other?"
"Well, as far as I can tell, there's never been anyone. Have you noticed that there's only one framed photo in his office? And he's always on call, like he doesn't have anything else to do."
Liz's attention lapses as half-formed theories resurface in her brain. "He could be hiding something. Maybe he's a spy, or a time traveler from the past, or secretly raising a family in his attic to evade the state-funded school system."
"That's ridiculous. Finn loves almost anything state-funded."
"Maybe he had a crush on Richard, too," Liz continues, horror dawning on her face. "Oh, God, maybe they were having an affair - "
"You had a crush on Richard?" Mia interrupts, clearly viewing that as a more appealing topic.
"That's not what we're talking about."
"Right." She shoots Liz a skeptical look. "We were talking about Finn fucking the former Commissioner...?"
"Being fucked by. He talks big, but there's no way he'd top." Liz stares off into the distance, eyes glazed over. "I'd have paid to see that."
"What's with the sudden interest in Finn's personal life?" Mia questions.
"Oh, because I'm going to destroy him," Liz claims smoothly, not entirely sure that she's lying. "I need to discover his weaknesses, and if I should feel guilty about any dependents."
Mia laughs. "Maybe his attic family."
"How much upkeep could they possibly require?" Liz jokes, gliding off the wall. "They live in a fucking attic."
Matt Coward is waiting in a meeting rooms. Liz takes a calming breath, but before she can enter or even peer inside, Finn darts past and blocks the door with his whole body.
"Go back to what you were doing. I'll handle this," he declares.
"We can handle it together," Liz counters.
"Given how the last meeting went, you might strong-arm me into training him as a PCSO next, or into collecting exciting bodycam footage for him to set to upbeat music and post on YouTube."
She pauses. "That could be endearingly self-referential - "
"No, Liz. Jesus." He can hear her complaining behind him, though she doesn't follow him in, thank God.
Matt is watching a video on his phone; he's startled upon noticing Finn, but his expression resumes its usual smirk within seconds.
"Hello, Coward. Terrible to see you. Let's get one thing straight: there's a very good chance I'll stomp on your documentary like it's a toy car in an old kaiju movie, then laugh for an unreasonably long time afterwards." Finn grins without warmth. "So, let's begin."
"Speaking of unreasonably long, I just finished Miss Garvey's TED Talk. Can I be honest with you?" Matt asks, as Finn sits down across from him.
"My, what a novel concept."
"I don't really want to do the documentary."
Finn scoffs. "Join the club."
"I'd rather film whatever's going on here." Matt nods towards Liz, who's observing them through the glass walls. Finn glares daggers at him when he presumes to smile at him knowingly. "Girl problems?"
"General problems, which those of us with real jobs have. Shut up before I toss you out of the building. Literally, this round."
"'Two straight white people are in love, but complications!' is a lot easier to sell than anything criticising the police," Matt explains. Finn's glare intensifies; the verbal dressing-down at the tip of his tongue is only stopped when Matt points at the wall again, where Liz is scowling and mouthing 'back the fuck off'. "Audiences eat up tragedy and romance no matter who it's about. They think it's humanising."
"You know what's really human? Not acting like a marionette pulled by the strings of popular opinion and easy money." Now it's Finn's turn to smile nastily. "This documentary is the closest thing you have to a Blue Fairy, and I'm going to grind it to dust before you have the chance to become remotely real."
Mia blinks up at Finn in confusion, and asks, "What?"
He huffs, as if the question didn't come completely out of nowhere. "You're friends, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I guess. I don't think she has any other friends in London."
"That's odd." Finn tries to pass his genuine surprise off as sarcasm. "She's likable enough. I thought that was her advantage over me."
"Likable at a distance. Nice once you get to know her, but bad at people-people," Mia replies, then falls silent for a moment. "Almost the way you are, kind of, except she doesn't want to alienate everyone." She beckons for Finn to lean in, her voice lowering to a whisper. "Her first week here, I invited her to a girls' night, and two drinks in she ended up rambling about perception and railroads and 'commercialisation of the self' or whatever."
"'Commodification'," he corrects her. Fuck, that's something he would do. Why does that turn him on? "Has she mentioned me lately?"
"I know you're going to the conference together. That should be...fun, like a coed communications sleepover."
"We won't be sleeping much," Finn murmurs to himself. "Because of work," he adds hastily, when Mia gapes at him. "And arguing. As we do. I'll have to sleep with an eye open like a dolphin to avoid being garroted."
She appears unconvinced. "Sure."
"Is that all?"
Mia hesitates for a second, then answers, "She asked me about you just a few hours ago." His head jerks upright before he can conceal his interest. "Personal questions. If you're seeing anyone, if Richard Miller ever shagged you, that sort of thing. And she might put a hit on your secret attic family."
Finn rolls his eyes. "Like I'd admit to having one."
Mia shrugs as he walks away. "Worth a try."
Liz hasn't seen much of Tom since he transferred to Sharon's staff. While Finn is occupied with Matt, she locates Tom in their floor's break room, as a form of passive-aggressive retaliation. He's brewing a pot of coffee for nobody in particular, as his job seems to entail.
She doesn't take long to cut to the chase: "If I asked you what you know about Finn, you'd say...?"
"Too much," Tom answers immediately, punctuating his unease with a nervous laugh. "He's highly unpleasant."
"I mean, concrete facts, not undesirable personality traits. Those are pretty obvious."
"Oh." He frowns. "Not much."
Liz tilts her head in what she hopes is a winsome fashion. "What has he said about me?"
"I couldn't bear to repeat most of it," Tom insists. Liz puts on her best disappointed expression, basically the PR smile turned upside-down; he adds, "But sometimes it sounded like he was...impressed? And he talked about you more than he talked about Sharon. The Commissioner found it rather annoying."
"We had a strategy session after you showed up on Sky News. When I mentioned inviting you to a Quaker meeting, he started acting more crotchety than usual."
"Huh." After Richard's death, she'd noticed Finn's attitude towards Tom shifting from mild irritation to outright hostility, but she'd assumed it was due to anxiety over choosing the new Commissioner. "This may sound strange, but is it possible he was jealous?"
Tom looks confused. "He probably couldn't handle a Quaker meeting. He likes yelling."
"Never mind." She backs away with a wink. "Thanks, Tom. You've been a big help."
"Why have you been asking around about me?" Finn demands, storming into Liz's office at the end of the day.
They haven't truly scrapped in a while, but the claws come out on reflex. She rises, curling her body threateningly as he marches up to her desk. "How do you even learn these things? You have one friend!"
"So do you," he points out angrily.
"You're right," Liz concedes, narrowing her eyes. "Who told you that?"
Finn's urge to fight wavers, as does his accusatory finger. "People?"
"People you asked," she concludes, voice icy.
The pause stretching between them is half-awkward, half-hostile.
"It was you that I wanted," Liz blurts.
His train of thought is violently derailed in a screeching crash and lies on its side, wrecked, on fire. "What?"
"In the elevator. With the kissing. And after."
"Yeah, I got that, thanks," Finn hisses.
"You, in particular," Liz clarifies, cringing as the words tumble out of her mouth unbidden. "If it makes a difference to you, I didn't just want any kind of post-Metwork celebratory sex. I want it with you."
"'Want'. Present tense," he notes. She nods; he gulps.
"Sometimes my sense of empathy is fucked," she says, gaze dropped and vaguely downcast. "Worse than yours, even. I misread people, can't consider that I might be wrong, get convinced I'm the most desirable person in the world. I'm sorry if I...if you want me to back off, I will," she finishes, biting her lip in uncertainty when she's done talking.
Finn makes a frustrated sound, doesn't look at her as he speaks rapidly, as rapidly as she does when she's hypomanic: "Listen - I do want you, too." They both suck in deep breaths at his admission. "Very much. And I find the attention...weirdly flattering. So don't drive yourself crazy with worry. But the thing is, I'm - I don't - " He sees her leaning in, rapt, as if he's at the cusp of delivering major news, and he loses his nerve. "I don't want Commissioner Miller's leftovers."
Despite his harsh words, he leaves with the crushing gravity of retreat. Liz watches him as he goes, trying harder than ever to decipher his behaviour. Her eyes well slightly; she doesn't know whether it's over Finn bringing Richard up again or the sudden rejection or stress or her hormones, or all of the above. She mentally curses Finn, and herself, and the limitations of her understanding.
Chapter 9: we were familiar foreign objects
WELL, THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY.
Chapter-specific warning: NSFW.
Here's how Liz assumes Finn would be during sex (specifically, sex with her):
Possessive. Domineering. Either stubbornly silent or espousing a stream of verbal abuse - not even related to dirty talk, just reminders of how she's a terrible person and he's better than her and maybe some references to Richard. His movements would be rough, and punishing, like he's trying to fuck the fight out of her. There would be teeth and nails. There would be bruises. He'd recoil from her touch once it's over, make it clear that it's purely physical, an extension of their conflict.
Some of it is guesswork: he probably doesn't do this very often. He likes to be in control. He's self-interested and proud, but also passionate and methodical.
In her mid-week slump, Liz hates him. She's lonely, feels increasingly isolated with every relatively-crisis-free day. She pictures herself all vulnerable and shit, too frazzled to be functional and too functional to be headed for a breakdown. Her intentions fluctuate between a desire to wreck him and a desire to fuck him, and everything in the middle.
Here's how Finn assumes Liz would be during sex (specifically, sex with him) (he can't picture her with anyone else; it sickens him. It's not his usual baffled indifference towards sex in general - it's a stomach-curling, heart-stabbing unease.):
Guarded. Coy. With a perpetual look of disgust, that same blatant WTF as when he'd opened a confrontation with a quote from The Godfather. Laughing in a semi-unkind manner. Craning her head away from him when he tries to kiss her too much; meeting his gaze with immeasurable anger - like, how dare you shag me with my explicit consent - and then he ends up arguing with her over that, sex forgotten.
She would compare him to every person she'd ever been with. (Richard. Oh, shit. There's that nausea again.) She'd mock him afterwards. They'd both regret it, for different reasons. They'd probably do it again, for different reasons.
On the plane, stony silence rules their interactions for ten minutes after takeoff.
”I've been thinking about when we kiss,” Liz declares.
“‘Kissed’," Finn corrects her testily. "It’s not happening anymore.” He really wishes he could believe himself for once.
“You taste like nicotine,” she continues, unperturbed, “but it’s...weird.”
“I used to chain smoke. I stopped around the time I joined the Met.”
“That explains the gum.”
“Yet another brilliant observation.” He frowns. “How are you so attracted to me?”
“Must be your charm and kindness,” Liz answers dryly. “And I’m not so attracted to you. It’s moderate.”
"Any level of attraction towards me seems excessive."
That triggers her laughter - surprised, plainly genuine laughter. Awful.
“I’ve figured it out,” Liz says, before their natural pause can revert to comfortably hostile tension. Finn turns to face her, incredulous; she offers a sly smile in exchange for his attention. “Why we view the world differently.”
“It took you that long to figure out that I'm a realist and you're a tinfoil-wearing cryptid hunter chasing the elusive big solution?”
“I already know that you’re a crusty relic and I’m a genius. The proof’s in our pasts. Our majors, for example.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Finn mutters.
“The basic economic problem is scarcity.”
“Is this where you blubber about how you fall short?”
“The Met has finite resources to solve infinite problems,” she says, surveying him with a coolness that sets his heart alight. “My job is to maximize our resources and allocate them in the most efficient way.”
“Last I checked, that wasn't in the job description.”
“Ever think that's why I was hired and you weren't promoted?” Liz props her elbow onto his unused armrest, looming closer, her deliberate invasion causing his jaw to tense. “You seem to think we can do everything with almost nothing. No political allies, no corporate sponsorship, lukewarm-to-terrible public approval, and the press circling us like mutant shark-vultures smelling an open wound.”
“That's the way it’s always been.”
“Yeah, how’s that going so far?”
He nearly unbuckles his seat belt to storm off, but a bank of turbulence reminds him of their confined space.
“Okay, Liz,” Finn caves, “I know overblown conjecture was probably the foundation of your education, so what do you have to say about mine?”
“Thoughts and words are limitless, so you overthink everything and never shut the fuck up.”
Shit, he’d do anything to wipe that self-satisfied grin off her face. Like...kiss her. Yes. No. “I know you think my background is silly - ” he begins.
“I think it’s wasted on you,” Liz interrupts, with roughly as much bitterness as he feels.
“As is your time,” he retorts, crossing his arms and turning away. His rejection would be more effective if he had the window seat.
From the end of the hallway, Liz can see that their hotel room isn't large, but it's not so cramped that they'll be bumping into each other.
“What, exactly, was the thought process behind these conventions?” she complains, by way of initiating conversation. “Put important European policing figures in one contained area so any nutcase with a vendetta has a good shot at wiping everyone out?”
At that, he regards her with familiar haughtiness, and it's fucked up how she's missed it. “It’s great to have a Head of Communications who thinks like a terrorist.”
“It’s just logic.”
“I can see the story now.” Finn frames her face with his hands, smirking. “Overheard at Europol: Scotland Yard PR director says ‘terrorism is logical'.”
Liz mimics his gesture and continues in a grandiose tone matching his, "'Deputy stands beside her, making stupid jokes.'"
He suggests that they split up and check that the room is "up to standard", whatever the hell that means. At least he doesn't have one of those ultraviolet semen-spotters. He switches the lights and TV on and off, configures the safe; she inspects the bathroom by turning on all the taps and testing the hot water, mentally claiming areas as she does. (She realises, they'll be naked in the same place, at different times.)
When she returns, she almost bumps into Finn, who's back at the entrance. Now he’s mouthing words to himself as he stares at the door.
“What the fuck?” she demands.
“I'm memorising the fire escape route,” he answers, not taking his eyes off the door. She watches him, disbelieving and morbidly fascinated. God, he's like a gross bug she wants to poke. “One of us should."
“I doubt there’s going to be a fire within the next two days.”
“But if there is, and I’m not here, you’d die squinting at a door.”
“If I stabbed you now, so would you,” Liz points out.
Finn emits an annoyed sound. “Choose your bed.”
She picks the one nearest to the hallway, leaving him with the bed by the picture window. There's only one nightstand, fuck. And the gap between their beds is small - she tries to push hers against the wall, but it won't budge.
He walks in, sees what she's doing, and gives her a questioning look.
"They're too close together," she explains.
"That wouldn't be an acceptable distance, either."
Liz huffs, blowing a strand of hair out of her face. "And what is?"
"The Atlantic Ocean was sufficient."
"Yell at me if I'm wrong," she ventures, rising, "but is it possible you might reconsider the I-don't-want-Richard's leftovers thing?"
"I might," Finn admits offhandedly. "How did you guess?"
"Within the span of two months, you've changed your mind on private contracting, the Jeffries footage, Matt Coward, Metwork, and trying to fire me," Liz lists, holding up a hand and sticking out a finger for each. "You flip-flop more than a pair of slippers."
"You were saving that," he accuses.
"Listen, already-complicated situation aside, I don't know what you want - "
"I don't know what I want."
"I feel like I'm sexually harassing you."
"Don't worry, you're just harassing me."
"Not helping," Liz snaps.
Finn rolls his eyes. "Tell you what: if I want you to stop, I'll say 'transparency' really loudly. You can use it, too."
"We have a safeword for flirting?"
"I like to be careful," he reminds her, jabbing a thumb towards the door.
"Okay. Does our safeword have to be my favourite word?"
The day goes by in a blur. It's still tense, but the fact is, they don't have enough time to fight or share charged moments. Between panels, Liz leaves to talk to fellow convention-goers. She excitedly rejoins Finn with bemused people in tow, like an overeager puppy bringing home other puppies. He knows that she's trying to network over Metwork. That combination of words threatens to send him spiraling into an apoplectic rage.
By evening, neither of them have made any friends. They stay in the room together, fully intending to ignore each other. It falls apart within five minutes. She lashes out at him for relying too heavily on the potential surveillance angle; he counters that everyone views her as a yuppie upstart who has no idea how policing works. She argues that it doesn't, which incites more debates.
"Hell is other people," Finn quotes, and to his astonishment, is subsequently subjected to a lengthy amateur analysis of Sartre's No Exit. According to Liz, the phrase is often misused - hell isn't people themselves; it's poor communication, selfishness, and unwillingness to claim responsibility for your own mistakes. Once she tries tying everything into accountability, he's torn between wanting to kiss her to shut her up, or just sitting and listening to her talk forever.
At his insistence, she showers first, and the bathroom smells like her soap and shampoo afterwards. It makes him giddy with excitement. It makes him want to stab himself in the eye with a complimentary toothbrush.
Per his rules, Liz has changed into sweatpants and a buttoned-up sweater over a tank top. She's now sitting on her bed, reading The Economist, which she almost drops when Finn exits the bathroom.
His hair is damp. He's also wearing sweatpants, his shirt leaving only his forearms exposed. And - he's fit. It's official: there is a God, and He must hate her.
Finn notices her staring. “This isn’t wildly inappropriate, right?” he asks, mistaking her expression for disgust.
“No.” She unconsciously chews on her lip. “But I’d prefer it if you slept in your work clothes.”
“I could put on a tie," he replies sarcastically, and that mental image does not help.
Liz scoffs and pretends to go back to reading, stealing glances at him as he walks by. As if she didn't have it bad enough for Finn without him ruining it further with his surprise muscles. Glaring at her, he settles into his bed and starts reading from his phone.
She peers at him from over the top of her magazine and observes in a nonchalant tone, “At least the view is nice.”
To her immense satisfaction, he nearly topples over. “What?”
“From the window."
"We weren't talking about the window!"
Liz flips the page loudly. "I'm just saying, at least I can stare at it instead of you."
"And yet, you're obviously not."
Nobody can win this conversation, so they lapse into uncomfortable silence. Eventually, she ties up her hair and yawns pointedly. Finn sets aside his phone. They both reach for the light switch, hands almost colliding. They glare at each other, unmoving, until Liz lowers her hand. Flopping onto her back, she sneaks a last peek at him before the light goes out.
That night, she tosses and turns. She adjusts the room's temperature. (It's difficult not to stare as she stands, because Finn was right - she probably looks amazing in anything.) She tosses and turns some more, the sound of her moving against the sheets eroding his sanity. She removes her sweater, puts it back on, leaves it hanging off one shoulder. She goes to the bathroom three times within half an hour, for increasing durations. When she gets up for the fourth, he's had enough.
"Liz, go the fuck to sleep," he snaps.
"I can't," she insists.
Finn reaches to turn on the bedside light...and accidentally covers her searching hand with his. They loose offended noises and drop their hands without actually flicking the switch. After a moment to collect his wits, he grapples for the switch again; this time, her hand accidentally lands on his, and the startled response is repeated once more. Several torturous seconds later, he finally manages to turn the light on, at its dimmest setting.
Now she's sitting upright on her bed. Her hair is freed from its ponytail, and she runs both hands through her scalp in frustration; his breath catches at the sight.
"What?" she hisses.
"How do you handle insomnia?"
"It doesn't matter - it'd keep you up."
"I'm up, anyway," Finn points out irritably.
"Don't we have earplugs?"
"I can't sleep knowing you're awake."
"Why? You think I'm going to stab you with a toothbrush?" He doesn't reply. Liz groans. "I fucking hate my life."
Sighing, Finn climbs out of bed and heads to the far corner of the room; she shifts, to watch him warily. (What could he possibly do? Stab her?) He opens a bottle of water, pours it into the electric kettle.
"What's keeping you up?" he asks, like it's her fault.
Liz sounds annoyed as she answers, "Racing thoughts. Anxiety. I usually read," she adds, and he feels like that's a rare glimpse into her life, the real one, not the projected social media crap. "But tonight I could finish a book and still be wide awake."
"You don't take supplements?"
"I do. Sometimes they're not strong enough, and the stronger ones make me drowsy in the morning."
The kettle clicks off. Finn pours the steaming water into a mug and crosses the room, to her bed.
"Here." He hands her the mug, handle-first; she accepts it, eyes narrowed in suspicion. "You saw me. I didn't spit in it or anything."
"Thank you," Liz mutters.
"It was hardly a complicated process," is his cold reply.
Finn sits at the edge of his bed and watches her drink, thinking she might try to stay awake just to spite him. Once she's done, she sets the mug on the nightstand, and they both lie down. She's less agitated, but still awake. So he ends up reciting statistics to her, in a bored, steady voice: the male-female ratio of the TSG, the percentage of white Armed Response members, year-by-year homicide numbers, and so on. After he runs out of those, he retrieves the Bible from the nightstand and reads Numbers aloud.
By the time he's at the third verse, Liz's body has gone lax, her breathing slow, eyelids fluttering until they remain closed. She's different like this - softer, peaceful. Still beautiful. He flips to Song of Songs and, as he feared, it's no longer as absurd as Revelation. Which fucking figures, because everything else is.
Finn wakes first. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he stands and stretches; he looks over at the adjacent bed and is gratified to discover that Liz, in fact, does not get up with blow-dried hair and a full face of makeup. Her eyes blink open, and he quickly turns away. He can feel her gaze raking over him and conspicuously resting on his arse before he stomps to the bathroom and slams the door.
The day goes by the same as the previous one: stale events with moments where they catch each other staring, or her ankle bumps into his, or his fingers graze her arm. They're only really comfortable in the spotlight. The spotlight is really only on them while they're together.
“I get it,” Liz tells him, out of nowhere.
“Civilian journalism is idiotic; you should go home and leave me behind to abort this?”
“You like it when I express interest in you, but you don’t like your own reaction.”
Finn glances at his watch. “The next panel is at 3:10, so maybe we should - “
“It’s a long walk.”
Now she looks troubled. Shit. “Finn, if you want me to stop - “
“Don’t do that." He glances at his watch again, then at a faraway pillar. A presentation has just ended; the conference room is clearing, but there are still people around. His voice drops an octave. "You're right. We do have time. You and I could go into that corner..."
The unfinished thought speaks for itself. Leaning in, he fixes her with the sultriest gaze he can muster. Liz's eyes cloud over, and she leans in, as well -
Finn bursts out laughing. "You actually thought - ? Really? In the middle of a crowded function room? Fucking hell, Liz."
"I'm there," she replies glumly.
"So, it is other people, after all," he crows.
"No, it's wherever you are."
The television is set to the international news. Finn sits in the armchair by the window, reading the papers. Liz is upright on her bed, brushing her hair thoroughly. Occasionally, she comments on something the newscaster says, and receives nothing but grunts in response.
Thirty strokes in, her phone rings. It's Sharon. Apparently a hack remembered her bid for Commissioner and wrote an article about misogyny and the Met, implying that Sharon's appointment as Deputy Commissioner was motivated by political correctness. Inglis assumed Sharon was involved, Sharon assumed Inglis was involved, and now they're at each other's throats. Naturally, Sharon thinks Liz orchestrated everything.
So Liz gets into an argument over the phone while still brushing in sweeping motions. She's actually better at confrontations if they're not face-to-face; this way, she doesn't instinctively absorb emotions from everything around her or misread physical cues.
After a few minutes, Finn sighs and tosses the papers aside. He stands (stiffly, she notes, and shielding himself from her), gathers clean clothes, and heads for the bathroom. Soon, she hears the shower turning on. She delivers an impassioned plea for Sharon to listen to her. The shower turns off. Then, she starts yelling again. There's a muffled curse from the bathroom, and the shower turns back on, longer this time.
Liz has hung up and calmed down when he returns, appearing jumpy and decidedly unrelaxed.
"Done?" she asks. He nods. "That was Sharon, if you couldn't tell. Can the PR department help with her visibility, make things up to her?" Silence. "It's in our interest, too," she adds.
Finn absently runs a hand through his hair. "We'll talk about it after the conference."
"Sure. What was that sound just now?"
"I dropped something," he claims.
Skeptical, she hops off the bed and enters the bathroom. It's cool inside; the automatic fans are off. Liz checks his soap - as predicted, it's not wet, and it's in the same position as it was by the end of yesterday. She thinks, for lack of a better word, that it's nice of him to not jerk off in the space they have to share. She doubts Granger would be this considerate.
Feeling resolute about her detective skills and current taste in men, she flushes the toilet once, then exits. Finn is back in the armchair. He's rereading the papers, ignoring her so hard that it's obvious he's focusing on her movements. She plops onto the side of his bed, facing him, her legs dangling over the edge.
"There's no steam in the bathroom." Liz tilts her head inquisitively. "Cold shower?"
"To chill my icy heart."
"Or to kill your raging boner."
“What? No!” Finn looks up, shocked, and turns his head to cough. He springs to his feet. “I need some air.”
Liz sweeps a bare foot down his calf when he walks past, making him halt. “There’s air in here.”
“There’s also you in here, and that’s - ” He steps towards her, finishing, “Unhealthy.”
"So you’re saying I take your breath away," she rephrases, one thing she knows she excels at.
“That’s it: your continued presence is suffocating.”
A grin tugs at her pursed lips as he closes the remaining distance between them. “I have the cheesiest line for that.”
Finn bends so that they're at eye level, pupils blown, voice soft. “Don’t.”
Liz does, cupping his chin with one hand. “Want me to try mouth-to-m-”
She cuts herself off, smashes her lips against his before she can complete that stupid sentence. Throwing her arms around his shoulders, she presses herself to him, and he deepens the kiss. It's as good and terrifying as she remembers. And it's disturbing, how not-wrong it feels every time, the least damning kisses she's had this year - her heart pounds harder than it ever has onstage or in front of the cameras or in the middle of nights when her head is screwed on wrong, her blood thrumming with the anticipation of more, with little dread for what comes next.
But once they part, he pulls away from her, snatches up his coat, and bolts for the entrance.
“Finn,” she calls after him. Her stomach sinks; her hands grasp at nothing.
“Air,” he repeats, slamming the door behind him.
"...tensions are mounting, and may soon escalate into all-out war," the newscaster announces in the background, and Liz really, really hates her life.
Finn returns hours later, past their established bedtime. (They're even now, he supposes.) He's tipsy - not enough to noticeably impair his judgment, enough that the buzz in his head has begun to distract him from the self-loathing. The rules dictate that Liz should barricade him out for his tardiness, but the rules have already been broken as badly as he feels.
"I was about to send a search party. Hounds, helicopters, the works," Liz informs him, a wobble in her voice betraying her otherwise cavalier tone. She switches off the TV, and how dare she look so lovely when she's worried, eyes all limpid and wide, how dare she. Her hair is up, and she isn't wearing her sweater; he can see that her skin is sleek and smooth, and those shoulder blades have no right existing.
"Just as well you didn't. I would've run away." Finn peels off his coat, goes the long way round to climb into bed.
"Are you gonna say the word?" she questions.
He avoids her eyes as he answers, "No."
“But we're not going to talk about it, are we," she guesses.
“Nope!” Finn literally hits the light switch. “Good night,” he snaps.
“Good night,” Liz echoes, like it’s a retort.
Minutes pass. She tosses and turns. He can’t even try to sleep.
“Finn,” she whispers, and fuck if his name doesn’t sound perfect when it’s her saying it in the dark. “You up?”
“No, I’m fast asleep, having insane sex dreams about you.”
It's quiet besides the unsynced ticking of their watches and the whir of the air conditioner. Maybe for five seconds, maybe an hour.
Then Liz says, “You can touch yourself if you want.”
“Jesus Christ,” Finn gasps, arousal resurfacing in a pang that's borderline painful.
“Are you doing it now?”
His hands fist stubbornly in the sheets. “Fuck you. Fuck you and your fucking…” he trails off, hearing her shift. “Shit. Are you?”
“I want to, but I won’t unless you do.” Liz’s voice is husky, maddening. The remnants of his better judgment deteriorate.
“I’m starting now,” he tells her, and it’s not quite a lie. He pushes his pants and briefs down, pinches the insides of his thighs. The blanket is cool against his cock. Finn’s own voice quivers, and he hates himself for that, among other things. “Happy? Or do you need proof?”
“You’re starting,” she acknowledges, in a canny drawl. “But are you just literally touching yourself, or is there a hand on your hard-on?”
Finn growls. "Why do you know me so well?"
"Many reasons. I feel like I've known you forever, in an arch-nemesis way. I spend a lot of time deconstructing you - I want to pry you apart. Piece by piece." Liz draws in a breath, deep and shuddering, and he didn't think his body could produce this much precome. Her tone whittles to an acidic edge. "You're also pathetically predictable, a clown who pulls the same joke over and over again." During her pause, he hears a wet smack - her lips? He hopes it's her lips. "You're a one-trick-pony, and I want to ride you."
That shoots a white-hot spike of desire through him, followed by dismay. Beneath the sheets, he wraps a loose hand around his throbbing cock, tentatively strokes from root to tip. In turn, her hips cant upwards in an unfaltering rhythm. He only repeats his motion once every few seconds, planning to do the bare minimum to see her get off. A part of his mind makes some snide remark about the black swan effect. It's summarily shouted down by the rest of him.
"You can watch me," Liz suggests. He's hyper-aware of the flick of her wrist, the drag of her nails against her own flesh. He dares to peek at her face, and to his mild relief, she's staring at the ceiling. Eyes squeezed shut, he grips harder, strokes just a bit faster.
"I see you making a fool of yourself everyday," Finn responds scathingly. "Sticking your fingers up your cunt isn't the dirtiest thing you've done in plain sight."
"Shit, that's hot," she mutters to herself, her head pitching back and forth on her pillow. She asks him, "Yeah? What is?"
"It's a tough call. I'd say using a missing child as a PR opportunity." He belatedly registers her words. "God, you're messed up."
"I'm mentally ill. Asshole."
"Oh, that's rich."
This is what they've been reduced to: trading single-word insults as they fuck themselves. Poetic irony, Finn tells himself with a twinge of hysteria. He hears the rustle of clothing - what the hell is she up to? He opens his eyes, chances another glance at her face.
"Are you leaking and aching for me? " Liz murmurs; it doesn't matter what she's saying, her voice alone is driving him crazy. "Are you jealous of my sheets, the way you're jealous of every other man in my life? Are you imagining your prick in place of your dagger - buried in me, to the hilt?"
"All of the above, you absolute bloody nightmare. I want you so much, and it's all wrong, it's not supposed to happen, but that makes me want you even more." She has no clue about the wider context behind his outburst. A small consolation.
"You can have me, you know. You're the only thing holding yourself back. As usual." No clue. Her sentences shorten along with her breaths. "You can come in me. On me. I'd let you. I'd thank you."
“After this, I’m going to lick your fingers clean, one by one,” Finn spits, “then I’ll shove my fingers into your fucking mouth, and we'll see what that filthy tongue of yours can do.”
Liz laughs, loud and weary. “I’m filthy? Maybe you should gag yourself with these.” In the dimness, he sees her throw something across the room, though it overshoots his bed and hits the window. He can’t help the broken sound that escapes him when he realises that was her underwear.
“Your aim is as shitty as your ideas.”
“So crawl over here and show me how it's done."
"Frankly, you don't deserve it." Nononono! his mind screams, but Liz moans low in her throat, why does she do that? "You deserve to spend the night worked-up and wanting me. You deserve to only come in the morning, on my hand, in the middle of the closing ceremony. But people rarely get what they deserve. If they did, I would have your job, and your knees would be sore from how often you'd lick my boots and suck my cock."
"Oh, Finn, fuck me, Finn," she whines, high and needy, with a hint of exasperation. And again, and again. From the corner of Finn's eye, he sees her arching off the bed, its frame rattling with the force of how hard she thrusts up into her hand, rhythm turned erratic. He pumps himself quickly, plan and resolve totally destroyed, tries to be there with her. It's so good, he wants so bad, but he can't.
Eventually, she drinks in a big gulp of air. Her panting peters into little contended sighs and mewls which go straight to his cock and cause his brain to do the organic equivalent of a short circuit. Chest heaving, she sinks bank into her mattress.
“You really got off,” he states. His mouth is dry. Liz hums in confirmation. “That’s - not fair.”
“I thought you’d be smug about lasting longer.”
“It wasn’t a competition!” That's it. Finn is about to either come his brains out or sob with want, or maybe both, he can’t tell.
She rolls over to face him. “Performance anxiety?”
He grits his teeth in frustration, hand slowing but still moving, too far gone to quit. “This isn’t funny. You did this to me.”
“Do you want me to help?” she asks softly, a stark contrast to her earlier venom, which simultaneously makes him feel better and worse. “Or...do you want to stop?”
"Help. Please, help," Finn answers, in that defeated tone he despises, the one she'd first heard when he'd relented on releasing the Jeffries footage.
Liz pulls up her sweatpants, swings her legs over the side of her bed, and stands. But she doesn't cross the gap to his bed. He panics, turns on the light to see what the hell she's doing.
"I'm getting you water," she explains.
Of course she is. Their relationship is symmetrical: attempts at sabotage, self-righteous monologues, and now this. He sits upright, resting against the headboard. Upon handing him the glass, she uncovers him, coos at the sight of him straining and slick for her. His skin burns, his muscles ache, and she was right yet again; Hell isn't other people, it's the space between them.
"Oh. Oh, no," she says, "you gorgeous prick. And your cock is pretty, too."
Water spills from how he's shaking. "Surprised?"
"Pleasantly," she answers, and if he reacts this way from her eyes on him, how will he handle her touch?
"I can't fuck you," Finn says once he's finished drinking, talking fast so that his mind won't catch up. "I want to, but I can't."
Liz kisses him on the cheek. "It's okay. But can I...?"
"Yes," he hears himself moan. "Fuck, yes."
As she positions herself beside him, it occurs to Finn that this is what Liz does - she tries to fix things in earnest, nonsensical ways. He reaches for the light switch, but she stops him at its dimmest.
"Leave it on," she instructs.
"Is that necessary?" he protests.
The stare Liz gives him is convincing enough. "I like to see what I'm working with."
She brings her hand to her mouth to wet it, but Finn snatches her wrist and pulls it towards him instead - her eyes widen when he laps at her open palm. He's appalled at how much he loves the taste of her.
Finn’s gaze drifts down her body, dark with uncertainty. “Do you want -”
Liz nips at his earlobe. “I’ll collect next time.” Next time?
Biting her lower lip, she finally wraps her hand around his length, and he legitimately believes he's going to die. The first stroke has him inhaling sharply and exhaling her name. The second has him shivering, grasping for her in an attempt to anchor himself.
She seems to know how to touch him better than he does. They both glance up and down, unsure if they'd rather watch each other's faces or her hand sliding over his cock. Maintaining eye contact is awkward, and gaping at the same thing is...also awkward. (It's like an obscene version of that advice about looking outward in the same direction, and that's fifth in the list of stuff he doesn't want to think about while Liz Garvey is giving him a handjob.) It's not what he expected; more curious than conquering, like she's trying to solve a puzzle instead of break him. She's focused to a frightening point - a triumphant gleam in her eye and a hard set to her jaw, similar to when she's ranting - and he suspects that her expression is getting him off more than her hand is.
When she abruptly lowers her head and presses a tender kiss to the tip of his cock, he bucks involuntarily and yelps.
"Don't," Finn chokes, marveling at how concerned she is at his distress - Liz could crush the world in her metaphorical grip, then cry over the pieces. "I need you to talk." Well, that's something he never thought he'd say to her.
If this was a competition, she's certain she'd be winning. Or maybe she's already won, and this is her prize.
He's making these desperate noises, some of which contain her name. Liz wants to eat them up. She licks the sweat from his throat and kisses him messily, but breaks off when she tastes alcohol.
"Fuck. Are you drunk?" she demands, hand stilling.
Finn laughs, humourless and tired. "I wish."
So she resumes, her gaze frequently darting up to his face. He looks like he's having a million conflicting emotions at once, yet very few of them resemble hatred. Her free hand changes position often, from kneading his thigh to squeezing his arm to toying with his balls. He explores her with what she suspects is reverence, traces his tongue along her collarbone, dipping into her cleavage before he catches her eye in an unspoken question.
"You can just grab me, if that helps," Liz teases. He shakes his head, undoes her ponytail, and threads his trembling fingers through her hair.
Multitasking is easy for her, but conscious effort is required to speak. Unfiltered thoughts are coming out of her mouth. "Yeah, fuck my hand," she encourages, and Finn responds with his own incoherent moans. "I'm still wet for you. Still soaking." He screws his eyes shut like he's in pain. "I want you to fucking come for me, Finn." It's all too porny for her taste, though it seems to be doing it for him, since he reacts to every sentence as if it's a minor electrocution.
Tiny impulses nag at the back of Liz's brain, like what if you stopped and laughed for a long time or what if you used this to blackmail him or what if you ripped his dick off and ate it. She ignores them all. That dark side is constantly lurking, rears its ugly head sometimes - the urge to destroy, to exact vengeance a thousandfold, to play rough. Her greatest battle has always been against herself. Finn was the one who reminded her of that, and she decides that she's not about to hurt him here. Not much.
His breaths are speeding up, stuttering beneath her touch. Heat is pooling low in her body again. She falls silent in concentration, rubs her thumb along his weeping slit, thinks he can't be far now.
"Say something," Finn pleads.
“The day of Richard’s funeral,” Liz begins, and they both flinch at the name. “What did you call me between chewing me off over Sky News and fantasizing about my head on a pike?”
Despite his wrecked state, he manages to side-eye her dubiously. “This isn’t standard procedure for dirty talk, is it?”
“What did you call me?” she repeats, voice low, firm, and chilling in its evenness.
Finn reluctantly answers, “The Queen.”
She twists her wrist on the upstroke; he swears and chases her hand with his hips. “Say the whole thing. Tell me what I am.”
He hesitates, swipes his tongue around his lips, mostly averts his eyes as he murmurs, “You’re the Queen.”
“Oh, I’m the Queen, all right. But you’re not the prime minister." Liz leans in so that her breath blows into Finn's ear, adds in a near-whisper, "You’re the royal consort. One word from me, and you roll over, make your pithy comments, and scowl as I fuck you with all my constitutional power.”
“Jesus fuck,” he gasps, and comes.
Liz strokes him through it. She revels in the liquid heat pulsing in her hand, his unguarded, utterly vulnerable expression; lips parted, jaw slack, gaze glued on her and devoid of contempt for once. A protective surge accompanies the thrill of victory, like she's bested him, yet can't bear to taunt him over this later. She recalls what Charles said about arresting Grant Delgado's son: savour it, drink it in, it'll keep you warm on cold winter mornings. Really, really warm, in this case.
“Stop, stop,” Finn begs suddenly. “Too much.” Worried, she starts to withdraw her hand, but he grabs it and insistently presses it back onto his dick, leaves his fingers twined with hers. “Not you,” he rasps, somehow sounding irate even as he fucks into her fist. “I was talking to the orgasm.”
“In my experience, orgasms don’t usually listen to reason,” she deadpans. His head thuds against the headboard. Finn's climax-face is the best thing she's seen these past days, but his post-climax-face is a close second. Sacred as the moment is, she can't resist a closing jab. "Better than your hand?"
"My hand doesn't ask stupid questions."
Liz gently pries herself from his grip. She presents her come-coated hand to him. He looks at it, at his spent cock, back up. Before she can do it, he envelops two of her fingers with his mouth and sucks. She squeaks, caught completely off-guard. Her clit pulses in approval - what kind of terrible romance novel shit is that? - and she's shaking, clenching between her thighs, sparks at the edge of her vision.
Hand still prone, she collapses half-on top of and half-beside him, and nuzzles into his shoulder. "Finn?"
"I think I just came again."
"That can't be right." His voice is faint, wondering; he licks her remaining fingers as she recovers, each lap sending tingles down her spine.
"A small one. Still nice."
She half-expects him to gloat. Instead, Finn whimpers and rests his head on hers. "Stay?"
"Yes," Liz agrees, and seals it with a kiss.
Chapter 10: beyond the interval of now and here
Chapter-specific warning: Possible triggers for internalised demiphobia, and discussion of casual acephobia and ableism. Plus, rampant miscommunication. Maybe read the end-of-chapter notes if you're unsure if you want to proceed.
I should probably stress that neither Finn or Liz's block-of text rants are my personal views. Or anything they say, actually. Problematic faves. I was cringing throughout.
Please bear in mind that this fic isn't intended to be informational, and the interactions depicted are very specific to my interpretation of these characters. Anyway, this is as 'heavy' as it gets in the (ludicrously long) story.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In the morning, Finn wakes up before Liz. His first coherent thought is that it’s worrying how little he regrets last night. Absently, he touches her hair, her arm, her face. Her skin is soft. Her breath is warm against his neck.
Liz opens her eyes, blinks at him sleepily, and does the worst possible thing. She smiles.
This is so fucking weird. In all of her fantasies, she never imagined this - he kisses her, and when they part, he's gazing at her with gentleness and a hint of fear. Inexplicably, she kind of wants to hug him, though she has a feeling that wouldn’t be well-received.
Instead, she runs one hand down his side. He tenses - force of habit, she supposes - but doesn’t protest or move away.
“Can I interest you in….?” she asks, throat still hoarse.
“I’d love to, but check-out is at 11.” Finn kisses her again, in the crook of her neck. "And I'd want to take my time with you."
Liz is beginning to suspect there’s something he isn’t telling her. It's inopportune to ask now. Glancing around the room, she sees they've made a mess last night. Their sheets are rumpled and hanging half-off the beds. She doesn't want to think about their biohazard level.
"I won't be able to look the cleaning people in the eye,” Finn sighs.
"You never do, anyway," Liz reminds him, "classist jerk."
The pause that passes between them is too familiar, too fraught with potential.
"Last night was a mistake." Finn's voice sounds foreign to himself. As an afterthought, he removes his hand from Liz's cheek. "A lapse. It was...nice. It can’t happen again."
Liz stiffens, pulls away. The loss of contact is unexpectedly painful. "So, basically, you used me, like always."
It would be easier to lie, but he claims, "That wasn't my plan. You wanted to collect 'next time'? Lie down, and if you can make it fast, I'll get you off, just this once."
To his immense relief and great disappointment, she doesn't call his bluff. "So much for not doing it again," she snaps, then covers her mouth and coughs, "Flip-flop."
"It’s not you, it’s - "
"Fuck off. I'll get even somehow." As she climbs off the bed with the grace of a jungle cat, he notices that Liz's angry tone doesn't match her expression. She takes an uncertain step back towards him. “We’ll always have the Hague?”
“Fuck you,” Finn replies. She tilts her head downwards, expectantly, and he kisses her one last time.
They're all smiles and friendliness during the closing ceremony - not to each other, mind - though Finn is so self-conscious that he's sure their acquaintances can tell what happened.
Someone has a few suggestions about Metwork, and leaves to retrieve his notes for Liz to copy. She absentmindedly strokes her pen while waiting; Finn watches from the corner of his eye. Try as he might, he can't erase the memory of a hand -
hand - on his cock and how he liked it and how he came, harder and more pleasurable than ever, and oh fuck -
“You're doing that on purpose,” he accuses.
Her fingers stop mid-stroke as she glares at him. “Yeah, Finn, I'm holding my pen so I can write with it.”
He snarls inarticulately and adjusts his legs to hide the growing stiffness between them.
The occasional terse word is exchanged throughout the train ride. They only start speaking again after the plane has taken off. He might as well tell her something. There's no point sitting through the inevitable deluge of speculation; he already does that enough at work.
"I have a confession to make," he begins, before Finn sees Liz’s suspicion-filled stare and frowns. "Or not a confession, because that makes it sound like it's a deep, dark secret - “
“Did you do something to Metwork?”
“Your mind really is the definition of one-track, isn’t it?”
“That wasn’t a denial.”
He exhales heavily. “No policing involved. It’s a personal thing.”
Liz sits up straight, primly crosses one leg over the other. “Okay, I’m listening.”
Finn grabs the armrest with one hand and shifts anxiously. "I've never done anything remotely sexual with anyone but you."
Her brow furrows; she's probably piecing together their previous interactions. If aeroplane windows opened, he would seriously consider jumping out to escape.
Finally, she says, in a voice too wavering for his taste, "So last night was the first time someone - "
"- tugged me off? Yes, it was," he answers harshly.
"You're almost a decade older than me."
"I fail to see how that's relevant."
"You’ve lied about having a wife," Liz recalls, hopping from one apparent point of contention to another. "Whenever I confront you with whatever shit you’ve tried to pull, your first reaction is always denial. How do I know you’re not fucking with me now?”
"You don't. You could believe me, and turn out to be an idiot. You could call me a liar and brush me off, but a part of you will always wonder if I was telling the truth.”
She scowls. "Fuck you."
Liz is getting that expression on her face: her I-want-to-save-the-world look, the righteously indignant one preceding her exclaiming ‘smearing a child?!’ or proposing bad ideas in the wake of Richard’s death.
"Finn, if I'd known, I would've - "
"Treated me differently," he snaps. "Tried to coddle me. Acted like it was a big fucking deal."
" - been more sensitive," she finishes, eyeing him critically.
At that exact moment, the plane hits a pocket of turbulence. Liz gasps and grips both of her armrests, accidentally clutching Finn's hand as she does. And she's so scared - skin paling, eyes wide, her breaths shallow - he doesn't have the heart to point this out or pull away.
They stay that way for a few minutes. Once the plane has steadied and the seatbelt sign switches off, she removes her hand without a glance or a comment. For a moment, he resents her deeper than usual, that she’s so unaffected by him, that the only time he can render her totally speechless is when he's attacking her character, while she floors him with everything she does.
"Can I ask why you haven't...?” she trails off. He’s never hated silence more. “Because if it's a religious thing, or - "
"I’m asexual. At least, I thought I was,” Finn says, getting more annoyed with every word. Her jaw has dropped a little. There it is. The proof is right beside him: transparency is bullshit, and bad things happen if you listen to Liz. “Asexual," he repeats, "like Rorschach or the Joker or...SpongeBob SquarePants.”
“I’m pretty sure SpongeBob is gay,” Liz protests, still visibly processing his words.
“He’s a sea sponge. Can we get back to the point of this increasingly painful conversation?” He barely gives her time to respond before starting, hassled, “Asexuality is - “
“I know what it means," she interrupts. "I’m sorry if I seemed put-off - I just wasn’t expecting it. I won't compare you to a plant or a single cell or anything." He peers at her skeptically. "I’ve been on Tumblr, Finn.”
“Liz, you practically are Tumblr.”
“I’m choosing to take that as a compliment.”
“It really isn’t.”
Liz looks queasy again; her forehead is creased with concern, and Finn gets a strong urge to smooth it out with both hands. Why can't she just laugh, and prove him right about her underlying awfulness?
“Did I pressure you - ?”
“I really wanted it. I didn't want to want it," he replies bitterly. "I especially didn't want to want it with only you."
"Does anyone else know?"
"Charles. And Richard did."
She slumps into her seat. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?" she questions; not upset, just genuinely curious, which is somehow worse. It’s his turn to be silent. "I doubt you were close to sleeping with either of them. I'm not trying to get into another argument about transparency, but it would've saved us a lot of grief."
"This isn't something I'm eager to talk about," he grumbles. She appears to be deep in thought. "And I predict it'll go downhill from here."
"Holy shit," Liz exclaims, bolting upright. "Right now, you're a flying ace."
Finn grimaces. "As I was saying."
"Sorry,” she murmurs. He suspects that she's intentionally making herself seem smaller somehow, shoulders hunched and eyes down. “I'll stop talking about it, stop hitting on you, and we can pretend nothing ever happened. "
His grip on the armrest tightens. "Now I want to talk about it."
Liz supposes this would be elaborate and nonsensical even for him. So she takes this as a rare opportunity to understand him better. And, she reasons, she also has experience grappling with uncertainty, the challenge of existing within an often-unrecognised spectrum, and unnecessary hyphens.
“Thanks for telling me," she says, switching gears clumsily. He gestures at her quickly, which is either a dismissive wave or a pathetic attempt to flip her off. “You...aren’t broken?” she tries, though the words ring hollow coming from her, as someone who’s so used to trying to fix herself and everything around her.
“Fuck off." She didn't think she could be shocked by him anymore, yet she instinctively recoils. “Don't come at me with that cookie-cutter, 101-guide platitude. You expect me to recount some sob story next, like I'm a villain and you're the hero and I'm expositing my tragic past, right? Well, fuck you. I knew who I was years before there was a word for it. I don’t need your understanding, and I need your sympathy even less. It's disgusting that sex is considered a cornerstone of being human. But I won't let you start viewing me as more human just because one aspect of my background appeals to your passive activism."
“Get over yourself,” Liz retorts. “And excuse me for wanting to positively relate to as many people as possible, including you. You. The same guy who repeatedly implied I'm a slut and tried to blackmail me on the very day I went into mourning over my alleged lover, then used my department to smear a murdered black kid right after. Yeah, a minute ago, it was tempting to justify your worldview in relation to how you have to deal with societal expectations and the media, but, you know what - I think you’re really just a highly privileged, obsolete, unrepentant fucker who happens to be asexual. So thanks. Thanks for putting things back into the context of you being an overall terrible person."
Finn relaxes back into his seat, looking oddly satisfied. “Oh. Good.”
Deep breaths. In, out. In, out. "Are we still talking?"
"Sure. Before you ask, no, I never wanted to confirm my lack of interest in sex." He appears to be getting furious at the version of Liz in his head again. "Why would I?"
“I know. It’s like - ” she begins, stopping when he glowers at her as if she’s just announced Metwork will have pop-up ads. (It will not.) (She's sticking to her banners.)
“Liz, if you bring up cake or any related baked goods, I will open a bag of peanuts onto your hair, so help me - “
“I'm not making an attraction analogy, promise. It's like riding roller coasters or eating insects. A lot of people might do it, but we don't expect everyone to try it once to prove they wouldn't like it.” Finn begrudgingly mumbles his agreement. Liz frowns as she attempts to extend the simile. “In this scenario, I’m...an insect you wouldn’t mind eating. It's better than 'a roller coaster you wouldn't mind riding'," she defends, as his gum-chewing becomes decidedly more aggressive.
He shakes his head. “Worse. You’re the one insect I get cravings for, even though I’ve only had little tastes of you."
"There's a term for you, you know."
"'Prick'? 'Arsehole'? 'Fuckface'?"
"Besides those. Regarding the asexual-with-an-exception thing." As it turns out, Finn has done extensive research, but he really hasn't explored the Internet since 2007. So she informs him of demisexuality and grey asexuality, of which she's retained comprehensive knowledge - a byproduct of insomnia, social media, and her persistent desire to bridge every gap in human understanding.
"Better?" she asks gently, once she's finished.
"No," he answers immediately.
This reaction was never documented in anything she's read. "Really? Not even a little sense of relief?"
"How can we have an emotional connection?” Finn demands. “I’ve known you for two months! You tried to fire me on your first day of work. We don’t even like each other.”
"Maybe it doesn't have to be romantic or...friendly," Liz suggests. "Plenty of enemies had a strong bond: Saladin and Richard the Lionheart, Holmes and Moriarty, Tom and Jerry..."
"There was a lot of subtext between Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner."
"You don't have to use the label, or any label. I’m just saying, maybe your asexuality is fluid."
"So is piss, and sweat, and blood."
Liz notices his grip on the armrest. His knuckles are turning white. “This is really bothering you, isn’t it?”
"It's...different. It’s a grey area. I don't like either. Surely you've realised that by now."
"Tell me how it feels," she prompts.
He glares at her; she doesn’t shrink back. Delicate situation or not, she refuses to be intimidated by him - she's seen his O-face for fuck's sake. “You have more experience there.”
“Compared to what you usually feel. Or don’t feel.”
Finn's glare intensifies so much that her skin crawls, but he explains, "It's waking up one day and suddenly being able to understand a language you couldn't before. And you'd think that's good, except it's a common, overrated one, like English. It was already loud and annoying and everywhere. But I can't shut it out, can't talk back, can't hear my own thoughts in the language I'm used to. It reaches a point where I wonder, what the hell was I speaking in the first place?"
Relating that to her episodes would sound self-absorbed, so Liz doesn't have anything to say to that other than a sincere, "I'm sorry."
"If you could write yourself out of existence, that would be great."
"Believe me, there are times I wish I could." His head jerks upright. "It's okay," Liz says quietly. "You're just angry and confused. Which is your default position on everything always, but this time, it's actually valid."
"So glad you approve." That stings. Finn turns away, scowling. “Do you still want me now?”
She feigns a moment to deliberate. “Yes. And not in spite of or because of anything you’ve told me.” Her gaze drags down his body. “You just have pretty eyes.” He laughs at that, and reluctantly turns to face her again. “I can give you some links to blogs - “
His jaw clenches. “Don’t you start.”
“This is typical of you," Liz complains, now feeling fiercely protective over the Internet and its denizens. "You think everyone else is fighting in a valley, and you're standing on a cliff yelling that they're all idiots. Except the twist is, your cliff is really in another fucking valley."
Finn rolls his eyes. "Liz, I appreciate what you're trying to do - "
"Don't bullshit me."
"I hate it, and your hair is one more piece of unsolicited advice away from smelling like palm oil and salt."
“Online communities have been a huge help to me, so I need you to explain why you’re so against them."
"First off, I'm white, middle-class, and male," he lists irritably. "Marginalised orientation aside, I’ve been lucky. I never thought I was broken. I still don't. I've never cared about fitting in. Experiences like mine should rightfully be irrelevant - other people need the attention more."
Liz examines him with a conflicted expression. “That’s either the sweetest or the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard you say. Possibly both."
“Shut up. In any discussion, my voice is louder by default. And I can be - ” Finn ducks his head briefly, and she finds herself lowering her own head to follow his eyes. When he lifts his head, his gaze is burning. “ - difficult. Aggressive."
"That's one way of putting it."
"Not exactly someone you'd want vulnerable teenagers to potentially be exposed to."
"I get the impression that's not all," she ventures.
“Asexual people already hear shit like ‘someday you’ll find someone you'll want to fuck' or 'you'd like it if you gave it a try'. I did find someone, and I did like what I tried with you. I'm a liability," he declares, matter-of-fact. "I'd know it isn't true, but the further I go with you, the more I become someone to point at and say, "See? He was wrong."”
"And that would...hurt your feelings?" she wonders, mystified. Even after everything they've been through, she can't picture Finn getting hurt. Furious, yes. Thirsty for revenge, sure. He's 99% exoskeleton. The world is his verbal punching bag. He hit the 'arse ceiling' and painted a masterpiece on it; he's a shitlord Michelangelo in a chapel dedicated to media manipulation. It's hard reconciling that image of him with this conversation, which has been equivalent to carefully untying the ribbon around a present, then ruthlessly tearing the wrapping to shreds.
Finn actually seems to consider her question. He decides, "No. I don't care. If anyone thinks I'm a liar or a freak, that's fucking fine by me. I just don't want to be upheld as an example of late blooming or conformity or some other bollocks."
"You're afraid of being used to invalidate others," she concludes.
"I'm not afraid of anything," he objects.
"Fine, you're concerned about the community as a whole." Liz purses her lips thoughtfully. "That's astonishingly noble of you, but personal issues are personal. Discussing it might help, but your identity and experiences are your own. You shouldn't have to worry about how they may or may not affect the rest of society."
Finn shakes his head in angry disbelief. "Everything is political. It's not even worth debating that with you. It's obvious that a money-grubbing business school grad like you wouldn't grasp fucking basic oppression dynamics. And you're one to talk. The Met's a big metaphor to you, isn't it?" She clamps her mouth shut with great effort, blood beginning to boil again. "I'll figure myself out, eventually. Alone." He raises an eyebrow. "I'd also remind you that I didn't make a big deal out of you being bipolar."
“You went to Charles behind my back," Liz corrects him testily, supremely annoyed at his double-standard definition of 'big deal'. Who the fuck does he think he is? “But I was expecting more scrutiny, speculation about how I’m unfit for a top position." She pauses for a second before admitting, "Then, I was planning to nail you for ableism."
"Self-grown lemons into lemonade." It's horrible how unsurprised Finn sounds.
"Instead, I got the nicest chat I’ve ever had with him. He told me you encouraged it. Why was that?"
“Your disorder is a chemical matter. I’d rather go after you over things you can control.”
Liz knows she should tie that back into his identity crisis. She knows she should be supportive, and patient, and remember to breathe, and listen, and bite her tongue until it bleeds, because this is about Finn -
“Who the hell are you to decide what I can control?” she challenges, so loudly that he twitches, startled, and several other passengers stare at them. He doesn't respond, turns his head away slightly. Shaking with anger, she hisses, “How much of the shit I’ve pulled was what I would’ve done anyway, and how much of it was because of you aggravating something I already struggle with?”
“If I’d known from the start - “
“So if I’d been open and honest, without knowing how you’d react.” Finn hesitates. “Yeah, think about that.” Glimpsing his expression, Liz suddenly feels sick. She almost reaches for a paper bag, either to throw up or bury her head inside forever. "I mean, in terms of policing, not your asexuality."
“We don’t have to play this pissing-up game.”
The nausea dissipates into cold rage. “Oh, I see. When it’s about my thing, it’s pissing-up.”
“Your ‘thing’. Like it’s a rocket launcher for you to whip out and use to violently derail a conversation.”
“Fuck you,” Liz spits.
“Fuck off,” Finn retorts.
Silence, save for the drone of the turbines and him gnawing his gum like he's pretending it's her head.
Finn sighs. “You of all people should know acceptance isn’t as simple as quoting an Urban Dictionary definition at someone, followed by total understanding and gratuitous hugging, and everything’s great and we can all fuck off into the sunset.”
Liz takes a long breath, almost painfully. “But it could be.”
“But it’s not.”
That’s the summation of their every spate with each other, in two short sentences. In her mind's eye, Liz can see the cognitive gap between them, a chasm short enough to shout across yet just shy of being leapable. Still, she notices him inching closer to her, whether he's aware of it or not.
They talk for the rest of the flight. For someone who doesn’t think about it much, Finn has a lot of opinions about the history of social justice movements and cyberculture and the state of humanity at large. She disagrees with over half of the things he says (he's gross cynicism made flesh, she's sure of it), but the more she challenges him, the more comfortable he seems. Once he mentions opportunity cost, she's leaning in, cheeks flushed, pupils dilated.
"- And...are you getting turned on?" he asks, noticing her closeness. Liz nods enthusiastically. "That's...interesting." He clears his throat. “Anyway, it isn't physically healthy to spend my spare time fighting with complete strangers over semantics.”
"High blood pressure?" she guesses.
"High anxiety, in general."
“You might get a heart attack."
“And how would that read in the papers?" He frames an imaginary headline with his hands. "‘Scotland Yard Deputy of Communications found dead while browsing asexuality forum, typing heated response to turdfucker69'."
"If it's any consolation, I'd personally spin against turdfucker69.” Liz almost places a reassuring hand on his shoulder, but decides against it. "I just wanted to make sure you haven’t been isolating yourself." Finn opens his mouth, prepared to launch into another tirade. "Okay, I hope your isolation is unrelated, not because you don't feel safe.”
“I'm never safe. But that doesn't have much to do with this.” She returns his unblinking stare for several seconds, trying to decipher his body language. "Honestly, I'm not entirely opposed to...more. Of last night. It could be worse than you." He rubs his temples, head bowed. "At the very least, I wish I wasn't interested in such a cliché."
"Blonde hair, blue eyes, long legs, perky arse."
Liz is thrilled by that - "perky arse", God, she could fuck herself nightly to those two words on loop - but keeps her tone erring on snide. "And here I thought you didn't care."
"I can do without knowing people would hypothetically say, 'who wouldn't want her, you're only human.' I don't feel 'human' wanting you. I feel the most alien I ever have in my life."
“Do you also feel like arguing with the imaginary version of those people?”
“Then don’t worry, you’re still fundamentally you.”
“Plus, we're co-workers," Finn continues. "You've seen firsthand how messy that can be, with Richard. On your first day, we started having power struggles. Two months after that, we're shagging? I don't have any experience with this, but that doesn't sound right. Why are you so willing to sleep with me? You do realise that would entail spending time together outside of work?"
"I'm a masochist," she deadpans.
“If that were true, I’m pretty sure I would’ve figured it out by now.”
“I enjoy the challenge." Liz leans in even closer, eyes sparkling. Unconsciously, Finn mirrors her, the tips of their shoes bumping together. “Salvaging the public image of a police force within the immediate aftermath of several crises -”
“- many of which were worsened by your actions -”
“ - that’s been one thing. That’s climbing Everest. It’s daunting and maybe even deadly, but it's not impossible." She shakes her head, smiling wryly to herself. "You, on the other hand - figuring you out is like flying to the fucking moon.”
“This may be a surprise to you, but people have been to the moon before.”
“Literally flying, Finn. Like a bird. With faith and trust and pixie dust.” Liz settles back into her seat, shrugging. "And, like I said, you're predictable. I can count on you to be something to fight. My world is chaotic enough without my disorder - today's crisis gets overshadowed by tomorrow's disaster." That's very poetic. She needs to write that down. "Buildings get bombed, scandals break, people...leave. In a twisted way, you’re currently the most dependable, constant thing in my life."
"That is twisted."
“With my moods and my grasp on relationships, I take the compromises I can find." She nearly elaborates, At least you aren't having extramarital affairs all over the workplace or snorting a ton of coke, but that would raise more questions. "Also, I never fucked Richard." Finn scoffs in disbelief. She bristles, managing to swallow the knee-jerk outburst. "Why are you so convinced that's a thing that happened?"
"I saw him kiss you."
She forgoes yelling at him for spying on her. "On the cheek. There was tension, and I had a small crush on him, but - "
"He liked sex, possibly to the point of addiction. You evidently like sex. You liked each other. Restraint and rationality were never either of your strong suits. You expect me to believe you weren't having sex?"
"Think of it this way: Richard was around twenty years older than me, had ongoing health issues, and my libido spikes in my hypomanic states. If we'd had an affair, he would've died." Liz pauses. "He did, anyway. But I imagine drowning was a less pleasant way to go."
"'Fatal shagging by Elizabeth Garvey' would've looked fantastic in the press release."
Before she can catch herself, she brushes her hand against Finn's arm; he doesn't flinch at the contact, doesn’t even seem to notice it. "And the offer still stands."
He goes "mmm" noncommittally as the plane touches down.
Back at work, it's taken mere minutes for them to regress into the usual routine. They quarrel over Sharon, angrily stomp all over his office, compare each other to various inanimate objects.
Liz lingers by the doorway before she leaves. In a jarringly soft tone, she adds, “If you ever change your mind, I’ll be here."
Finn smirks. "Waiting in my office."
"Within the general area."
"Is this usually how passionate hate-sex commences?"
"It's a period of transition. I'm flexible." Was that a - did she just fucking wink at him?
She tosses her hair over one shoulder and walks off. Once again, he picks up the nearest portable object. This time, he only halfheartedly throws it against the wall.
CRINGE. God, this was hard to write.
What's going on is a case where both people are educated about the topics brought up, and have good intentions, but they end up getting angry at each other anyway. And then that’s how they bond.
Liz and Finn are fun (and challenging) to have headcanons for because the nature of their field requires them to be social media-savvy. It’s plausible for them to have a lot of exposure to modern social justice movements. Given their personalities, it's also plausible for them to be strongly opinionated, while still open to discussion.
They're both mentally incapable of taking anything at face value - I think that's canonical, with their pop culture comparisons and monologues at the drop of a hat and strong sense of duty, however misplaced. (e.g., "saving an institution", "I don't do this for fun") So I imagine that personal identity would get jumbled up with their philosophies. They have to analyse the effectiveness of resources, how this affects their perception of something seemingly unrelated, what this could mean in fifty years, etc.
I don't want this story to be author tract-y, but I did kind of want to address how the Internet isn’t always an insta-fix for identity issues, and might even be detrimental to some people after a certain point. (One of Babylon's topics was already the Internet’s role in social justice, so I hope it doesn’t seem too shoehorned-in.) I figured it was in-character for fic!Liz to be all “woohoo online communities for everyone! technology! progress!” and fic!Finn having to give her a reality-check like “I am a pre-millennial who hates people, please don’t do this to me."
fic!Finn is in a position where it’s not so much his identity crisis which disturbs him (though it does), but how he relates to other people. He doesn’t really know how he feels - he does subconsciously think he's 'broken', but mostly in general, over his canon attitude. At work, he views fic!Liz as someone who bluntly tells him that there is something wrong with him, so he can start to fix himself. Her initial reaction pisses him off partly because it's so different from their usual dynamic, and partly because he's thinking, “Why am I only worthy of your empathy now?”
Meanwhile, fic!Liz might be too eager to try to find a label for fic!Finn, or to have him talk about his feelings. But fic!Liz is on the bipolar spectrum. With neurodivergence, having a name for what you experience is almost universally a source of relief. So is exchanging personal experiences. She’s trying to apply her own struggles to help fic!Finn, though it doesn't translate perfectly.
ANYWAY. Yeah. I can explain further if necessary, but I hope I haven't fucked up terribly.
Chapter 11: big trouble, losing control
Chapter-specific warning: NSFW almost all the way through.
A week after the conference, bad news arrives like buses: Robbie Vas and Neil Bancroft’s trials have been delayed, and Warwick Collister has requested a transfer to the TSG. Liz's blood boils beneath her skin; her heart races at the same speed as her brain churning out ideas and counterpoints and counter-counterpoints. She senses the ensuing argument with Finn minutes before he charges through her door.
“Attention will be on their former squadmates,” he complains.
“Exactly!” she concurs, already loud and on the defensive. “Which is why we should utilize the exposure instead of trying to hide them. What the fuck do you want to do? Ask Charles to encourage PC Collister to quit, or dismiss him? How do you think that’ll play out - the Commissioner personally fires an innocent cop with PTSD?”
“People don’t have to know.”
“They don’t have to know, but they will. Society as a collective is better at sniffing out dirt than even you are.”
“Look, PR clusterfuck aside, he shouldn’t be on the force at all.”
“He was cleared of any wrongdoing in both IPCC inquiries.”
"Both. Two inquiries in less than six months. Trouble clings to him like flies to a horse’s arse. Part of the confusion surrounding Karl Jeffries was because of his difficulty firing his gun. But third time’s the charm, huh?”
Liz sniffs in disdain. “Your capacity for sympathy never fails to impress me.”
“He’s also been thoroughly traumatized this year,” Finn adds, stiffly.
“Finn, forget your deep-seated aversion to human decency for a second and think about how we can spin it. He’s accepted that he can’t handle firearms anymore, but he’s still so passionate about the job that he'll continue serving in a different way. It’s inspiring. It’s a fresh start we’re letting him have.”
“No, a fresh start would be becoming a bank teller or a sex guru or a fucking llama herder. Do you have any contacts to help with that?”
“You could tell him all about shoveling shit.”
Their faces are now inches apart. It hasn’t been an invasion of personal space so much as a gradual annexation; it dawns on Liz that she's staring at his mouth.
Finn is transfixed by her lips, too. He licks his own and says, "To think I was beginning to tolerate your sense of ethics."
"You tolerated it all over yourself."
"In my defense, that had little to do with ethics, Liz, that was just a very good wank."
"Come on, reach deep down like I did with you, and unearth some common ground with Warwick."
“I don’t recall ever playing hooky while a bomb exploded.”
"Pretty sure you have, metaphorically,” she snipes, “though I meant a sudden career change. Debilitating paranoia. A finger on the trigger, and you can't bring yourself to pull it."
"It's not my fucking job to pull it."
"Neither is it his right now, but you still think he's a threat." Finn’s tie has gone askew, random curls of his hair springing free from their gel out of sheer agitation; she reaches out and, when he doesn’t object, straightens his tie. “So, what are you?”
“All right, have it your way,” he growls. “Yet again. It’s a migraine in the making and he’ll probably quit within two weeks. Happy?”
Liz musses his hair further, pecks him on the cheek. Despite the late-evening chill of her office, his skin is burning.
“Not really,” she admits, casually.
It shouldn't be this easy to get lost in his eyes. His eyes shouldn't look so lost. They both open and close their mouths, wanting to say something but unable to find the words. Finn raises a hand, as if he intends to smooth her hair, then catches himself and takes a step back.
“It’s not my fucking job,” he repeats.
She looks away, face stony and unreadable. “Good night.”
This is a bad idea. Liz hasn't seen Granger in over a month, since the day after the Jeffries shooting. He hasn't tried to contact her. The urge to call him is a warning sign itself; it comes when she's feeling persecuted or forgotten, grasping for stability and ending up with handfuls of regret.
She opens her front door. She doesn't feel anything.
This is a bad idea. There's work tomorrow. They ended the day yelling at each other, for fuck's sake. He's home, on the sofa, and her agreeing would mean getting up -
Finn drains his glass of wine, winces, and selects Liz's number.
Liz's phone starts ringing - she almost drops it when she sees that it's Finn. She motions for Granger to carry on without her, and plops onto her couch, heart pounding.
"Hi," she answers. Finn almost drops his phone, too. "What's up?"
"I can't stop thinking about you," Finn blurts. It feels like something warm burst in her chest, only for her to jarringly reenter cold reality via the sight of Granger undressing in her bedroom. "More than usual. It's terribly distracting. And if you still want to...give it a go, I - "
"I have a guy over," Liz interrupts hesitantly, in a hushed tone. His heart plummets. "Not an important guy, like a friend or an exterminator. But a guy-guy." His overactive brain helpfully supplies: work just ended, so she probably didn't go out and pick a random one night stand. Fantastic. All this time and energy spent obsessing over her and Richard, and it turns out she's been shagging someone else.
"Oh." The dead silence at the other end makes her stomach tighten with unease. Granger is now trouser-less. She's vaguely aware of the cruelty of the world and everything in it. "Well - that's - have fun - "
Finn is about to hang up, or possibly chuck his phone out of a window, when Liz adds, "I'd kick him out for you."
"Really?" She can tell that he's suppressing the eagerness in his voice, and it's horrifically endearing.
"Say the word." He wants to, kind of. He can't. "What are your plans otherwise? A night in with a photo of me, your right hand, and sad violins playing in the background?"
A pause. "I'm ambidextrous, actually."
"That's going to come in handy." Liz snickers at her own joke. "You know what? I think I'll get rid of him, anyway. This must have been divine intervention from the guardian angel of bad - "
Finn hangs up without warning. A minute later, she texts him her address.
“Why are you still in your work clothes?” Liz questions, by way of greeting. Finn doesn't have an answer ready. Her glee is palpable. “Do you start angsting over me as soon as you get home?”
“You wish,” he replies, stepping inside.
Her flat is, surprisingly, not a monument to tackiness. He'd expected her to decorate with half-completed D.I.Y. projects and fifty framed black-and-white photos of coffee. Plus, there's no trace of the...interloper.
"I didn't do anything with the guy," Liz says, from behind him. "But that was a close call."
Finn turns to face her, eyeing her skeptically. "What's 'anything'?"
"Not even a kiss. He does a lot of coke," she explains, "I try to avoid prolonged oral contact."
"You have terrible taste in men. Present company excluded.”
"I'm glad you're okay.” There's an ironic edge to her words. Finn nearly retorts sharply, but Liz saunters up to him. She runs her hands down his arms and back up again, to undo his tie. “And here I was, prepared to make you feel better..."
"Don't worry, I still feel awful." His gaze wanders out of self-consciousness, and he balks. "Why is your couch so fucking big? To accommodate your ego?"
"To accommodate orgies," she deadpans. "It's irrelevant, since we're taking this to the bedroom."
Nice as her roaming hands are, Finn holds them in place. "Rules, first."
She refrains from joking about operational procedure. "Okay."
"No patronising me. No comments about showing me what I've been 'missing out' on, or me wasting any particular skill or body part - "
Liz surveys him, mouth twitching. "You think a lot of yourself, don't you?"
" - and don't ask me if it was worth the wait," he finishes. "I wasn't waiting."
"Of course." She tosses his tie onto the couch. "Though I might ask you to fill out a feedback form afterwards."
Finn isn't the type of person who eases into challenges. He crushes his lips to Liz's, tugging insistently at her dress. It's the same one she wore on the day she pitched Metwork to Richard - he recalls seeing a zip on the back and starts to pull it down. (A pang of jealousy strikes. Who helps her zip it up? Or is she that flexible? What are the logistics of these things, anyway?) Apparently, that's the right thing to do, because she moans into his mouth.
It's a straight line from here to her bedroom, and the door is open. Liz hastily steers them inside, across the room. There's a natural traction to how they move; it's not all her pushing and him allowing himself to be pushed, but a sway of sorts, give and take. Once he bumps into the foot of her bed, he manoeuvres them so he can shove her onto the mattress and climb on top of her. The sultry look she gives him - lips parted, pupils blown - almost makes him lose control right there. As she unbuttons his shirt, he gets one knee between her legs, and she's rubbing against him -
Which is when Liz’s mobile phone rings.
“I should get that,” she grumbles.
“It might be work,” he agrees.
“Or a dying relative.”
Liz rolls her eyes at him and reaches for her phone. He sits beside her as she answers, removing his shoes.
“Hi, Charles?” She’s silent, listening; he studies her face. “Oh, Finn’s here, so we can - “ Finn jerks his hand in urgent cut-it-out gestures. Eyes wide, she stops mid-sentence. Too late. “It’s a thing we do sometimes. We show up at each other’s houses and yell, like a really unromantic version of the boombox-by-the-window - “
Finn plucks her phone out of her hand. “Hi. Yeah, we’re discussing Metwork.” He shoots Liz a death glare. “No, it isn’t going well by any stretch of the imagination.”
They're sitting cross-legged on Liz's bed, her laptop in front of them, the emergency press statement halfway done. Finn watches her type, and that’s turning him on. When he tries to focus on her face instead, that’s worse. And when he pays attention to what’s on the screen, he begins heckling her.
“You misspelled ‘organisation’," Finn gripes.
She squints at what she’s written. “Is this the part where we get into the customary American English power struggle?”
“I couldn’t be bothered to nitpick your spelling before. The content itself was more urgently atrocious.”
Liz angles her laptop towards him, scowling. “You fix it, then.”
He does. And deletes a whole paragraph.
“Hey!” she protests.
“It was a buffer of puff. Verbose sandbags.”
“You sound like a fucking captcha.”
Finn takes over writing the statement. While he's busy typing, Liz wordlessly shifts to sit behind him. He's about to ask what she's doing when she curls her legs around his body - his heart jumps as she resumes unbuttoning his shirt.
“We need to send this in ten minutes," he says, voice thick with desire.
Liz nips along his jawline. “So cooperate.”
She starts planting open-mouthed kisses down the side of his neck. Soon, he gives in, angling his head to capture her lips in a long, searing kiss, slipping his tongue into her mouth and holding her against him.
Then Finn becomes acutely aware of a rapid clickety-clack. It dawns on him that her hands have left him, and she's re-typing the paragraph he deleted.
He doesn't comment on it. Instead, still kissing her, he takes both of her hands in his and brings them to unbuckle his belt. She obliges, and moves on to removing his trousers. While she's occupied, he twines one hand into her hair to pull her closer; with the other, he discreetly reaches for the keyboard and holds down the backspace key.
The victory is short-lived. Liz dips her hand into his briefs and palms his half-hard cock. Uttering a small cry, he lurches forward, and has to use both hands to grasp her shoulders.
"Your approach is too heated," she says, in an unapologetic tone. Her stare is predatory.
Finn caresses the bare skin of her arm, leans forward to brush his lips across her exposed collarbone. "You're too soft."
They carry on like this, making out as they passive-aggressively wrest for control of the press release. He unzips her dress all the way and unhooks her bra; she gets his shirt open and his cock pulled out. At one point, he summons the willpower to tear himself away from her and concentrate on the screen, which goes well for a few seconds, until she suddenly pops into his vision dangling her panties between her teeth.
In the end, they settle on a compromise, leaving in half of her paragraph. Finn hits 'send' with three minutes to spare. His hands are shaking - but, he notices with satisfaction, Liz's are, too.
It's actually impossible for Liz to stop thinking, including during sex. If anything, the endorphins make her think more, in excited, half-formed bursts, about everything from transparency to to-do lists. So she doesn't try to coach Finn with don't think, just feel, because she's not sure she's ever done that herself, and she's not sure what would happen in that event.
She brings her laptop back to the living room. When she returns, Finn is sitting at the edge of the mattress. Locking eyes with him, she slips her dress off, lets it pool to her feet. He visibly swallows, then lifts his hips to pull down his briefs and toes them off onto the floor.
They take a moment to appraise each other.
"What do you even need that body for?" she demands.
He acts nonchalant, but he glows with pride, and that thrills her in turn. "Storing my brain."
"That's like building a mansion to house a pet rock.”
"I could still change my mind, you know." Liz shrugs out of her bra and flings it over her shoulder. She needs to stop doing that - retrieving her undergarments is such a hassle in the morning. Finn's voice is rough as he adds, "Probably not."
Her heels fly across the room, too. Possibly, they knock down a painting, but she's too fixated on his cock to care.
Liz practically pounces onto the mattress. He scoots back, and she worries that he's shrinking away from her, but she realises that he's giving her space to settle between his legs.
"Do you think about me when you touch yourself?" he questions.
"In my imagination, I've fucked you all over Scotland Yard. In our offices, under the desks. On the big table in the press room, with the mics on." While she speaks, Finn tentatively cups her breasts, and seems to gain confidence quickly, pressing a kiss to each before licking a line down her cleavage. "I'm very creative."
"I wouldn't desecrate that poor building further." He falls silent as he weighs her breasts in his palms, squeezing them.
"You can do more, if you want," Liz suggests.
Playfulness gleams in his eye, a rare sight outside a non-malicious context. "You'll have to be specific," he claims. She pinches one of her nipples to hardness, to demonstrate. "And I'm not a visual learner."
"Play with my nipples," she huffs. He gently knocks her hand away and leans forward to copy her actions.
"Please don't use the word 'nipple' around me," Finn echoes. He rolls one between his - fuck, wonderfully calloused - thumb and index finger. "I find it offensive."
"Smartass." She's about to say more, but she's cut off when he bends his head to suckle at her hardened nipple, scrapes his teeth in a way that makes her breath hitch.
He stops, frowning, mistaking her delighted laughter for mockery. “I haven't sucked on a tit in thirty-five years, Liz, and that was for a very different reason.”
“You're doing well,” she assures him. As a reward, Liz mirrors Finn’s pinching on one of his nipples - he squeaks, sputters. Oh. Oh.
“Did you know you’re sensitive there?” She strokes his chest, skims the tip of her tongue down flesh that's broken into sweat.
“I don’t make a habit of doing that!”
“Right. And you can’t do this to yourself.” Liz sucks one bud into her mouth, mimicking his earlier enthusiasm; he curses and shakes and twines his fingers in her hair. Giving him a last lick, she pulls back to gaze up through heavy lashes. “Think you can come this way?”
“Probably. Let’s not find out yet.” That’s promising. Good. "Condom?"
"Pill. And I know you're clean."
"Even if I was sexually active, that shouldn't be remotely in ques - nnn." She'd be unstoppable if grabbing his dick was acceptable in public.
Swapping positions is a clumsy endeavor, one that Finn can't resist sniping about. Liz sits against the headboard, thighs spreads. Before she can say anything, his fingertips slide up her inner thighs, tantalizingly near her cunt; a moan escapes her as she bucks into the unexpected touch. When he removes his fingers, they're glistening.
"Are you always this wet?" he asks, sounding awed. She shakes her head, then catches his eye meaningfully, lips pursed. He shivers, doubly so as she curls her hand around his length.
"Want a blowjob?" Her voice is brisk and businesslike, hopefully not betraying her giddiness at the prospect. Finn chokes and has to clear his throat.
"I probably don't have your stamina."
"I assume you've done the math."
"It was more of a cost-effectiveness analysis."
Liz tightens her grip on his cock, swipes her thumb over the head; he squirms, already looking totally destroyed. "But there were numbers involved."
"Yes, Liz, numbers," he says absently. "Please, can we - "
This is the second time she's heard him genuinely say please, and it's no less enticing than before. Lying down, she snakes an arm around Finn's shoulders to pull him onto her. Then, her hand joins his around the base of his dick, and she guides him. (She has to consciously refrain from mentioning proton torpedoes, or yelling 'first!' like a loser in a comments section.)
They both let out embarrassing startled noises when he sinks into her.
"Jesus,” Finn pants, “and I thought you were hot on the outside." Their eyes meet again - his wide in alarm, hers sparkling with amusement. "I mean, temperature-wise, not..." he trails off, gulps.
"Not physically?" Liz teases. "You once said I was, quote, 'very attractive'."
"You know you're beautiful," he tells her quietly. And that's such a weird way to pay a compliment - you know, not a subjective I think or a straightforward you are - but Finn pushes in further, looses a small gasp as he rests his forehead against hers, and she doesn't give a damn about word choice right now. “Fuck, Liz. Not gonna last.”
“Think of Metwork.”
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but that might actually make me come even faster."
“The original Metwork.”
Finn exhales shakily. “I’m trying not to prematurely ejaculate, not turn myself impotent forever.”
At his first experimental thrust, she rocks up to meet him. His eyes don't leave her face as he brings a trembling hand down to where they're joined, locates her clit and rubs. Liz mewls in appreciation. She flattens her palms over his chest, drags them lower, fanning them out to rest on his hips.
Finn is vocal as he fucks her, which she expected, but he's not saying anything mean, which she did not. It's a largely nonsensical yet intelligible stream of oh God Liz yes fuck. In between words (and sometimes in the middle of them), he makes every sex sound in the book, from high-pitched whines to guttural groans.
So Liz talks back. She describes the stretch and burn of him, says she wants to kiss him everywhere. She calls him gorgeous, and he seems to like that, nuzzles into her neck and sucks at the pulse point. When she lets slip good boy, his hips slow. He gapes at her with dark eyes. Looking up at him, she chews her lower lip guiltily, waiting for the angry reaction. Instead, he just grunts and latches his mouth onto hers.
"I was going to picture you when I was with coke-guy," she informs him. He falters for a second, quickens his pace until it's erratic. She slides one of her legs higher, and he grabs her thigh with his free hand, helping to hold it up as he kneads the flesh there; he's going deeper and harder and fuck, it's becoming difficult to form sentences, but she does anyway - because that's her fucking job, finding words when there really are none. "He knows who you are - I complain about you all the time. It would've been so awkward, screaming your name."
Finn snarls and slams into her, ripping a half-choked cry from her throat. In response, he pauses, shaking with the effort of restraint, and looks stricken. "Did I - ?"
"You're worried about hurting me now?" Liz intended for it to sound lighthearted, but a shadow passes over his face. She rolls her hips as a hint for him to resume. "I can take it."
He complies, but stalls again seconds later, flustered. “Maybe we should - I mean - maybe you should ride me instead.” Now he’s blushing furiously. It’s a grand experience, comparing the casual filth that leaves this man’s mouth throughout the workday to the suggestions that stun him in bed.
“If you want,” she coos, fingertips dancing in the space between his shoulder blades. “But I like seeing you on top. It's rare.”
Well. That convinces him, judging by the interested twitch of his cock.
“I do enjoy you lying below me,” he admits, voice deliciously low and gravelly. “What you do best and where you belong.”
“Yeah, reel it in.” Liz pats him on the ass - his muscles seize before he jerks in surprise. “Ow!”
“Sorry, I - sorry,” Finn mutters. He catches her arm and presses a kiss to her wrist. For once, all is forgiven on the spot.
They do usually make a good team, if they put the extra effort into working together. Minutes later, he drops to one elbow, rubbing frantically at her clit.
"Liz," he whimpers. Rhythm broken, his thrusts become short and shallow; her fingernails dig into his sides, and she hitches her leg up as far as it can go, tilts her head so that her throat is bared to him.
"That's it, come for me," she murmurs, barely minding that she isn't close yet, herself. Her heart thunders, expands, generally acts as dramatic as a climax entails.
He's trying to keep watching her, but his eyes roll back when Liz squeezes around him. That sends him over the edge - he manages to muffle most of his shout into her mouth. As he shudders and spills, she holds him tighter, thankful that he can't see her triumphant grin.
Spent, he collapses onto her. It's mildly uncomfortable - yet she decides that she likes his weight pinning her down, solid and warm and quivering from the aftershocks.
“Fucking hell,” Finn gasps, head lowered, his breath feverish against her shoulder. “Jesus fucking goddamn shit Christ. Fuck me. Fuck everything.”
They stay in that position, his cock softening within her as he recites a litany of cuss words. Liz strokes his back in what’s meant to be a soothing manner. He hisses as if she’s scratched him.
“Premature ejaculation is technically a myth, ” she says, between heavy breaths, “because time is a social construct.”
“Stop talking.” Groaning, he lifts himself off her body and sinks back on his heels. “Oh, fuck. I. I don’t think there’s usually that much. Fuck.” He runs his fingers down Liz’s inner thighs - through his own come dripping out of her - and her shivers heighten, the sizzle beneath her skin reigniting.
“It’s probably around the same amount, maybe a bit more. It just looks different from that...angle.”
“Yes, thank you for the intelligent analysis, Liz.” A contemplative pause, then he sucks his index finger into his mouth, making a face. “It doesn’t taste much better.”
“There are ways to improve it. If you’re so intent on eating your own spunk.”
“Don’t say that word.”
“Shut up.” His gaze lowers, dark on her exposed cunt. Almost critical, even. What the fuck. “We really should’ve used a condom.”
“Finn, you’ve run my reputation through the mud and smeared a few black kids, don’t tell me you’re bothered about my bed sheets.”
His eyes dart up, narrowing. “You didn’t finish.”
It sounds too close to an accusation for her comfort. “Sorry to disappoint.”
Finn grips her ankles and hooks her legs behind his head. Their eyes meet in mutual disbelief.
“Tell me if you hate this,” he says.
“I definitely do not hate this,” Liz declares. An important fact occurs to her. “But you came in -”
He flicks the tip of his tongue against her swollen nub. Once, twice. She faintly recognises that he doesn’t want to be outdone, and she figures she should probably attempt to reassure him. Then, he thrusts his tongue into her, and she temporarily loses her capacity for speech.
His face is flush against her cunt, his nose nudging her clit. The technique is unrefined, but he’s so damn eager, humming in contentment as he laps at her; she can feel the vibrations right in her core. And his mouth. “Fucking hell” is a sentiment she’ll gladly echo right now. Finn’s oral fixation must have given him killer jaw and tongue muscles -
“That makes sense,” she says aloud. He glances up, raises an eyebrow before returning to work. His inability to talk while he’s going down on her is just a bonus.
It doesn't take long for her muscles to tense, pressure building until it breaks. When she comes, Liz cries out "Finn!" as she bucks into his face, again and again, and he moans louder each time. He licks her through the orgasm, gripping her firmly by the hip to hold her in place until her breaths steady and she goes lax.
Finn skims his lips over her body on the way back up, but she scarcely notices it. Dropping beside her, he asks, "Good?"
“Fuck, Finn,” she slurs, light and happy and exhausted - it's a nice high he's brought her to, the kind that she can safely climb down from.
His eyes are bright. “You taste better than me,” he rasps.
“I’ll be sure to update our profiles.”
Finn swipes his tongue around his lips and swallows, staring at her...hopefully? Dazed into speechlessness. Fancy that.
“Can you come again, or are you too old?” Liz asks, taking a hammer to the delicate moment.
He laughs - not bitter, not angry, just surprised. “Can you make me, or are you all talk?”
Kissing him is the best answer. Their combined taste is mingled in his mouth, faint lipstick marks smudged at the corner of his smile; she tries to clean them off and ends up smearing them further.
Pulling back, she sees that Finn's eyelids are drooping. "Give me a minute," he says.
Liz nods and stares into the distance, cards her fingers through his sweat-matted hair. Confirming that he's dozed off, she inches away and switches off her light.
It's midnight when Finn wakes. Liz is asleep, too. They're not touching at all, though she's facing him. His gaze rakes down her figure and back up again; she has both hands tucked under her head, which, he notes, defeats the purpose of a pillow. He considers leaving without telling her, but he’s heard that could be regarded bad form, especially if you’re going to work with the person in nine hours.
Sex is awkward and messy and still grossly overrated - maybe he'd punch a guy in the face over one of Liz's orgasms, not swim an entire ocean or literally declare war. (He knows those sentiments are hyperbole, but years of experience in journalism and PR have taught him that exaggerations aren't lies.) He's glad he didn't try earlier, including with Liz. But it was good. He thinks, if this is will happen again, he should study up.
Eventually, Finn shifts nearer to her, just to...watch. The rhythmic rise and fall of her chest, the fluttering of her eyelashes. After a brief hesitation, he kisses her awake.
He can't remember the last time anyone looked so pleased to see him.
"Hi," he whispers.
"Hi," she mumbles.
Liz kisses back. There's less frisson in it now, more familiarity, though he still wants her so much it might concern him in the morning. Tearing himself away from her is a feat undertaken with great reluctance.
“I should go," he says, moving to sit upright.
She props herself up on one elbow, blinking at him sleepily. “Sure. But how will you walk with that erection?”
“What ere -”
And now she has him flat on his back, straddling his hips, hands planted on his chest. His cock twitches against her thigh.
Liz tosses her hair forward, and it hits him in the face. “That one.”
"Well, you're going to take care of it for me, aren't you?"
Even in the dark, Finn can see her eyes shining like clean saucers. "Answer some questions first."
"Is this the feedback form?"
“The abridged version. How did you feel the night Charles was made Commissioner, when I grabbed your hand in the car?”
Finn scoffs, though he’s smiling. “Like I was going to die in a fucking riot.”
Liz pins one of his hands above his head as she drops onto his cock, taking him to the hilt in one motion. “How about now?”
She keeps her hand over his while she rides him, the other remaining splayed on his chest, pushing him down. It's a brutal pace almost from the start; he instinctively clings to her waist for dear life as he struggles to meet her thrusts. As soon as he gets over the shock, he finds himself entranced by the swivel of her hips, the arch of her taut body, how she's somehow not worried about snapping either of them in half.
Finn is aware that he's beaming up at her like some fucking idiot, and the scariest thing is that he doesn't care. He thumbs her clit in circles, throws his head back over the pillow to take in the view. Jesus, it's more captivating than the skyline.
"Good girl," he says suddenly, with a hint of smugness. Her eyes flash. She keens desperately before grinding down and twisting so hard it knocks the air out of his lungs.
This time, Liz comes first. He didn't get to watch her climax earlier, and now he's determined to commit every detail to memory: her mouth hanging open, her exhaling his name, her hand clutching his. It's even better than he remembers - she clenches around him tighter and longer than any previous flexing, and he follows with a protracted groan, pulsing deep into her.
What he really likes are the moments afterwards, boneless and breathless, mind hazy with ebbing pleasure. She's lying on top of him, panting. Her fingertips trace patterns on his skin. He stares at the ceiling, attempting to pay attention to her strokes, and concludes that the only secret message is that Liz can still render him speechless with her touch.
“Have you ever examined the concept of simultaneous orgasms, semantically?” Finn asks. Liz stiffens, slowly lifting her head as he babbles, “We never mention ‘consecutive orgasms’ or ‘subsequent orgasms’. And how do you classify it if one starts right as the other ends?”
“...Are you okay?”
“Yes.” He gulps. “Perfect.”
Half an hour later, Liz helps Finn redress, pulls a robe over herself, and walks him to the front door.
"You're loud in bed," she says, disproportionately happy at her observation.
"I'm always loud. You're just more inclined to listen during sex."
"All five seconds of it," she retorts automatically.
He doesn't look offended at all, lets out a small huff of amusement before bending to press his lips to hers.
"This didn't change me," Finn says, upon them breaking apart. Liz nods solemnly. "And this doesn't change us."
If they'd had angry, spontaneous sex in the office like she'd assumed they would, she thinks she could easily agree. But it was sweet. The afterglow still buzzes in her blood, but there's also this melty feeling from her stomach to her chest, as if she could curl up next to him and purr.
"I don't know if I can take our arguments seriously anymore," she says. "I've seen you naked."
"Maybe if we argue while fucking, it'll normalise things."
Liz is unsuccessful at biting back her grin. "So we're doing this again."
"Sure, why not?" Finn replies. She grinds herself against him; it's tempting to tear his clothes off and go at it a third time, on the floor. "But we need a system," he gasps.
"Draft something up."
"I'll have it by tomorrow."
A pause follows - nervous, but not that awkward. He fumbles with the door handle, takes a single step outside, and turns around.
"Good night," Finn says. If there's a crack in his sincerity, it's undetectable.
"Good night," Liz replies. She doesn't shut the door right away, watching through the gap until his back is no longer visible.
Chapter 12: people can surprise you (or not)
Chapter-specific warning: Fairly NSFW.
Finn's email is in Liz's inbox by the time she wakes up. It's formally worded, more professional than her original Metwork proposal to Richard.
Sex at work is "strongly unadvised". He cites Richard's affairs and Davina Bancroft as disastrous examples. He doesn't actually explain what constitutes 'sex', because midway through the second paragraph, he's derailed himself into a thinly veiled criticism of Liz's handling of both situations. It's characteristically annoying. She still wants to fuck him again. Also annoying.
In the morning, they pass each other in the hallway.
"Liz," he says curtly, not looking up from the papers he's shuffling.
"Finn," she replies with equal contempt, not breaking her stride. Once she thinks they're a good distance away from each other, she halts and turns to watch him.
Except Finn has also stopped and turned around, staring at her. Their eyes meet. He ducks into his office, blushing. Biting back a smile, Liz surveys her surroundings and decides that no one saw. It takes a while for the grin to fade from her face.
That same day, Liz learns that Finn has been leaking details of Metwork to handpicked journalists. His insubordination doesn't bother her as much as the implication behind what he's been telling them.
Confronting him marks the first time they've really spoken since last night. She expects Finn to cross the room and try to shut her up with a forceful kiss, upon which she can shove him away and yell. He doesn't. He stands his ground as he glares at her; she's the one who approaches.
"You're warping my transparent news network into a covert surveillance system!" she accuses.
"It's political," Finn insists. "We need this push to sell it at MOPAC."
"People should know that they're being tracked, and to what extent."
"It'll be in the terms and conditions when they sign up."
"Nobody reads those. It has to be easy to understand and hard to miss."
"Liz," he says, rubbing his temples, "I keep giving you inches, and you keep trying to take multiple nautical miles in a short span of time like you're a suicidal submarine."
She's nodding rapidly. "That sounds good. That's gonna be my username on your shitty spy website."
"Spy news network," Finn corrects her. "Remember what I told you. Don't lose sight of the big picture."
"I don't think you know what that is," Liz retorts. "You don't see any picture, you just see words and statistics and churn them in your cold robot brain until they're a two-page report on how no one can be trusted and the whole world is fucked."
"You liked my articles."
"Those were written before you had your empathy chopped off and fell into a fucking authoritarian volcano."
The tension in the air between them throbs. She takes a step forward, decides against it, and turns heel to exit.
At noon, Inglis is due to attend a hearing with the Deputy Mayor. Liz convinces Inglis that Finn's presence would be seen as an act of aggression. "Like showing up to a funeral with a stuffed falcon on your shoulder," is how she describes it, but Finn knows this is her way of flexing her power.
Finn retreats to his office to work and brood. Online, he finds an article complaining about Inglis' 'hardline attitude'. He manages to refrain from arguing in the comments section, forwarding the link to Liz and Mia.
His phone buzzes. It's a message from Liz: Can you rephrase last night's email in simpler terms? I can't read asshole.
Smirking, Finn replies, I think you missed a comma.
I can't read asshole, asshole.
Fucking focus on the hearing, Liz.
Are you talking to journos now?
He rolls his eyes and dodges the question by asking, When do you need those updates?
Seconds later, she sends a followup: I need those updates like I need your tongue buried in my cunt.
Finn nearly drops his phone in shock. He glances around surreptitiously, then replies, Excuse me?
Liz replies with a succession of messages:
How can I make it any fucking clearer to you?
I needed them five minutes ago.
But I want them to be as thorough and precise as me licking wet stripes up and down the underside of your pretty cock.
Gulping does nothing to dispel the lump in his throat. His face flushes as he asks, Is this more about want or need?
You tell me.
The report is finished in record time, albeit typed with shaky hands; it's sent to Liz without anything in the body of the email. There are no more texts after that.
Until 1:30, that is. They're giving us a pounding. And not even the decent sort, like yours.
There are many ways Finn could respond to that, such as "stop quasi-sexting me at work" or "tell me more" or "'decent'?"
He doesn't get the chance. They're starting to ask about operational details.
Throw them some rough estimates if you need to.
You know I'm not going to resort to that.
I want them to fuck off almost as badly as I want you to fuck me.
I keep thinking that if you were here, at least I'd have something to stare at. Or I could tease you under the table and jerk you off to the sound of Grant Delgado's lapdog sockpuppeting lobbyist ideas.
How is she sending these so quickly? Fucking millennials. You'd probably bite your lip bloody trying to quiet yourself, but a whine would escape you, and you'd be a panting, sweating mess afterwards. Everyone would think you get off from corporate sponsorship.
Finn has to toss his phone onto his desk while he tries to calm down. He almost falls out of his chair when it buzzes again.
How are things at your end? Hard?
Retaliation would be ideal, but he hasn't the faintest clue how. He settles for a succinct, Fuck you.
Instructions unclear. Am now fucking self.
No, you're not.
But you imagined it, didn't you?
Well, now he is. Liz on a meeting table, skirt hiked up, legs spread, head thrown back, thrusting against her hand...
He sends her an image file titled 'I could put someone's eye out with this'. It's of his middle finger. Within ten minutes, she replies with an image file of her own, titled 'I want you to lick here'. It's a photo of her high heels.
At the very end of the work day, Finn barges into Liz's office unannounced.
"Hi," she greets him innocently, as he stands fuming by the door. "Did you get my texts?"
"As a matter of fact, I did," he snaps, "they're unprofessional and impertinent, and you need to stop."
Liz laughs. "Right." He keeps glowering at her. "What? If you didn't like it, why did you play along?" No response, just icy silence. Her face falls upon seeing the severity of his expression. "I'm really sorry. I should have asked first. I didn't mean -"
Finn cracks a small smile. "Liz, I'm fucking with you. Those were some of the best things I've ever read."
"Oh, thank God," she sighs. Her subsequent glare shoots a thrill down his spine. "Yeah? Right after your favourite book, the comprehensive guide on how to be a complete jackass?"
"But you still ought to be taught a lesson," he continues.
"What, on being a jackass? Because I already learned that from you."
"A lesson or two."
A pause. She says, conversationally, "You know, I've always wondered what the men's room here looks like."
"I could give you a tour."
"It'll be educational."
Finn marches up to Liz's desk. He braces his hands on both sides, looming over her, and murmurs, "Are you angry about Metwork?"
Her breath hitches. It's a tense moment before she replies, "Furious."
"And you still want to shag me?"
"I want to make you come so hard you forget your name and how to fight."
"Meet there in ten," he says, with a wavering air of command.
"Don't start without me," she calls after him.
Liz plops a 'cleaning in progress' sign in front of their floor's restroom, barricading the door. Finn is impressed by her foresight, not that he'd say it aloud. He doesn't think he'll get tired of kissing her any time soon, even in a toilet stall. He's about to reach up her skirt when Liz falls to her knees in one oddly graceful motion and practically shoves her face into his crotch.
Startled, he braces himself flat against the wall. "What are you doing?"
Her voice is muffled as she answers, "Unzipping you."
"Is there something wrong with your hands? Too much texting?"
Liz rears back to examine his face. “Haven’t you ever wanted to shut me up by sticking your dick in my mouth?”
Oh. His eyes shift from side to side. “That...sounds like a very complicated way to make someone stop talking.”
"If you don't want to - "
"Go for it."
Ducking her head again, she manages to catch the zip between her teeth and drags it downwards; the friction elicits a hiss. Wordlessly, he removes his jacket and holds it out for her.
Liz acts offended, though apparently not enough to get up. “I’m not a coat rack," she snaps.
Finn scowls, explaining, “For your knees.” Shit, that sounded too caring. She places the jacket beneath her knees, then frees his erection and blows hot air over it.
Her tongue flicks over the tip. His hips jerk forward involuntarily, and she presses them down. There's no preamble, like she's intent on getting him off fast. She slowly engulfs him with her warm mouth, and he has to cram a fist into his mouth to avoid crying out. Once the shock has subsided, he lowers one hand to thread through her hair, the other clawing at the wall behind him as she starts to bob her head.
As much as he wants to, he can't look down at her, because she's looking up at him, and if they maintain eye contact for more than one second he's certain this will be over too soon. She swirls her tongue around the head of his cock. He alternates between wrenching his eyes shut and opening them wide, trained on a spot on the ceiling.
“I used this stall on your first day at work, right before the shooting,” Finn babbles. She hums; he can feel the vibrations around his dick and, fuck, he really hopes it felt this good when she was on the receiving end. “Your coffee was in here, too. I washed my hands afterwards, but the point still stands.”
Liz's mouth is off him now, slick thumb swiping back and forth over his slit. “You’re so sweet. A real charmer. It's truly amazing you aren't Head of Communications."
“You talk a lot for someone sucking cock.”
“You have a lot of cock for someone who’s usually all talk.”
“Oh, fuck, that's good,” he gasps, referring to both the banter and her pumping his shaft, and she laughs. He tugs at her hair, almost affectionately.
"Do you really talc them?" Liz murmurs, her breath hot and teasingly light before she sucks him back in with a filthy slurp.
"What," Finn pants. Gulps. "What?" Nails scratch up and down his thighs. No response seems to be forthcoming and, oh fuck, oh fucking God she's rolling his tightening balls with her free hand. "Yes. Usually. I think."
"Too bad." She nuzzles his cock. "Could've licked you there."
The strangled noise that escapes him will be categorically denied later.
"Fuck, Liz," he chokes, "are you going to swallow? That's a thing people do, right?" No response, not even a glance; either she's ignoring him, or she's so focused that she isn't listening anymore. Both possibilities help drive him closer to the edge. She abruptly presses a knuckle to the spot behind his sac - and he sees white behind his eyelids.
Finn has no idea what he's saying as he comes, only that it's loud and probably nonsensical. It doesn't matter, because when he dares to peek at her she looks so fucking elated at his reaction. Drained, he slumps against the wall, knees trembling. She licks him clean until he whimpers from over-sensitivity - and she seems to love that, laps at him a final time to hear him whine her name.
Liz parts her lips, presenting the last mouthful of come she hasn't swallowed. Then, she turns sharply and spits. The sight is enough to make his dick jump again.
“I think,” he says, voice cracking, “we just found my second favourite sex act in the world.”
She looks deeply affronted as she tucks him back in. “Second favourite?”
“The first is…” He hauls her up, roughly plunges his tongue into her mouth a split second before their lips have even met. “It’s easier if I show you."
Breaking apart, she pecks him on the cheek. "You are not going down on me in a men's room."
"But a blowjob is fair game?"
"Your dick is out whenever you're here, anyway."
Finn's mind is reeling from how intensely it unraveled. He can't argue with Liz and her particular brand of logic right now. Instead, his thoughts travel down a different path: namely, that his email is obsolete. He picks up his jacket and folds it over one arm, frowning.
Noticing his darkened expression, she has the gall to be concerned. "You okay?"
"With Richard's physio, journalists really played on the public sector-workplace angle," he recalls. "Is this fucked up?"
"Oral sex in a restroom after-hours?" Liz purses her lips contemplatively; he tries not to focus on where those lips have been. "I don't think we're wasting any taxpayer money, no."
"Aside from the toilet paper used to clean up."
"Feel free to kneel on the floor and take care of your mess."
"Because you sucked me, and you were too stubborn to swallow every last drop."
Liz sinks back onto her knees. When she begins to lower her head, Finn makes an irritated noise. He rips a few squares of toilet paper from the dispenser, bends down, and wipes the mess from the floor.
She grins knowingly. "You like me."
"You don't want to see me degraded," she crows. "You don't even want my knees to get slightly sore."
"I don't care about any part of you getting sore," he claims testily. "The floor is dirty, and I might touch your knees later. You just negated the whole purpose."
Without thinking, he offers Liz his hand. She grasps it and rises, smug and radiant with an unspoken I told you so.
"I need a drink to wash you down," she rasps.
"There's a pub across the road," Finn says. "I could show it to you."
Liz takes a moment to process this. Her eyes narrow. "Are you asking me out?"
"Maybe. Are you saying yes?"
She stares at him in blatant disbelief for a few seconds and answers, "Maybe."
The Two Chairmen is full of off-duty policemen and other employees from Scotland Yard; the atmosphere is decidedly unromantic. If anyone from the department sees them, she has multiple excuses prepared. (Richard may have been off-base about many things, but not about those grey pies - they do look horrible.)
Honestly, she isn't sure why she agreed. They may be on not-terrible terms, and they may be developing into regular hook-ups, but Finn is still not her favourite person in the world. Spending three days with him in the Hague was, after all, a mild form of torture. (What does this make them? Frenemies with benefits? Enemies with detriments?) Maybe she's just lonely, or bored, or in one of her self-punishing moods.
"You were wrong," Liz begins. Finn fixes her with a quizzical look. "I wasn't top of my high school class. I did really well in my humanities, but I was average at everything else."
"Average," he echoes, with an exaggerated shudder. "Oh, the indignity."
She props her elbows onto the table, rests her chin atop her folded hands. "I bet you were that smart, arrogant kid everyone hated, but they had to be nice to you because you were friends with the teachers and carried the debate team. I should know. I usually had a sexually charged rivalry with that kid from junior high onward."
"Don't Hannibal Lecter me," he complains, scurrying to change the subject. "Supposing you're not, in fact, just some corporate stooge with delusions of grandeur - "
"Which I am not."
" - why did you want to work here?"
"I always wanted to help reform a police force, and Richard gave me a chance to."
"Why not search for opportunities at home?"
Liz raises an eyebrow. "Have you seen the state of American policing?"
Finn has. In fact, he can recite comparative statistics off the top of his head. That's strangely hot.
"So your system is still fucked up and in dire need of fixing," she concludes, "but it's like society contracted acute cholera instead of Ebola."
"I'm glad we're the less excruciatingly awful disease."
"But that defensive attitude needs to end," she says, jabbing a finger at him. Out of curiosity (and a habit of reusing old material), she repeats what she told Granger two months ago, more or less verbatim: that she came here because she wanted to have a greater purpose, and to serve the people. "Yes, you're not always perfect, but it is something to get out of bed for - saving an institution."
Naturally, he's inclined to attack her conviction. Some of it is familiar: Richard's resignation, Sharon's idea of chipping away the broken bits, Charles' standoffishness, Liz's own gritty idealism. Some of it is so purely, obviously him, hints of a person he used to be, someone she would've liked to meet and never will. He tells her that this isn't a playground for her ideas, that this is dangerous and ugly and will destroy her, as if she didn't already know that.
Once he's finished, Finn is breathing heavier than usual, eyes glazed over as he waits for her rebuttal. Liz slouches into her chair, amused.
"Fuck," she laughs, "is this doing it for you?"
"What if it is?"
She slides a heel up his calf. "Yeah? You like that?" Her voice drops to a low whisper. "You like hearing me talk about public service?"
His face falters for a second, then steels. "I did. Now it's getting ridiculous."
Still, he hooks his ankle around hers, and she scoots her chair closer.
Casually talking to Finn isn't easy - she can't shake the vague sense that she's on trial - but it isn't bad. She's alert yet not on-edge. There are few pauses; he understands her pop culture references, and she doesn't flinch if he decides to describe things by comparing them to small animals dying in a variety of ways. It's more like playing mental tennis than performing for a tough crowd. At times it even seems fun.
Their topics blur together. Somehow, she ends up sounding off strategies on how to improve the public's perception of Inglis.
“And I’m…” Liz cuts herself off. Her eyes widen in realisation, and she briefly clamps one hand over her mouth. Finn stares at her with a heat that makes her skin prickle. “...Ranting about work. Shit. I always do this.”
He waves a hand dismissively. "No, no, continue."
“You don’t think it's weird?"
Finn shakes his head. “It is weird. But it's productive, and kind of cute.”
She can’t help smiling. “Considering all the words we’ve used to describe each other, I never thought ‘cute’ would be one of them.”
He visibly stiffens. “I didn’t say that.”
“But you think the thing I do is.”
“There was that story about a leopard seal trying to feed a camera an assortment of penguins. That was cute. It doesn’t mean leopard seals are cute.”
Liz leans forward, enjoying their game. “The difference is, you haven’t been intimately inside a leopard seal while you called it beautiful.”
“You...don’t know that,” Finn retorts. "And I didn't call you beautiful. I said you know you're beautiful as a subjective truth. Uh, belief." He coughs. "Statement."
“You’ve only ever slept with me,” she points out, then frowns. “Unless you’re implying I’m a leopard seal.”
“It wouldn’t be an insult,” he says amicably. “They’re apex predators, and capable of compassion.”
“I’ll take that over ‘cute’.”
“But I didn’t say you were either!”
His flustered reaction provides a rush of power, but it's accompanied by a surge of warmth. Kind of like taunting a kitten with a laser pointer. An angry, scruffy kitten.
“People talk about winning the 'battle over hearts and minds',” Liz resumes, “as if it's a romantic struggle of us versus the Legion of Doom; like it's an abstract conflict divorced from direct action. But public support isn't something we'll achieve through esoteric rhetoric and a weekly victory in the headlines.”
“Are you reciting notes for your next TED Talk?”
"No, I think about my job a lot."
“Look, information is the medium of politics,” Finn says, wrists planted at the edge of the table as his hands wave in constrained motions. “It's a tool, not a foundation. Contrary to popular belief, the truth doesn't set anything free except metaphorical floodwater and a sense of entitlement.”
"The truth hurts you most when you hide it,” Liz counters, slapping the table for emphasis. Their glasses clatter. “It's the 21st century: society has become an ultra-dense, ultra-mobile organic bullshit detector. Now dropping a bombshell does less damage than hiding a landmine.”
“Why wasn't any of this in your fucking TED Talk? Or your pitches?”
“It was. The whole time. You just couldn't tell.”
“Then whose fault was that - mine, for not understanding, or yours, for not explaining it in a way I could understand?” Liz shrugs, and Finn's challenging gaze undergoes the seamless shift into a glare. “You should bloody well know, Liz, because it's the cornerstone of your entire social theory.”
“Maybe we were both at fault,” she suggests, outlandish as the idea is. “Maybe the most important thing is that someone acknowledged their fallibility and opened a dialogue.”
His lips quirk. “Who do you think that was?”
“Is all we have?” Finn recalls, rolling his eyes.
“Is a two-way street,” Liz finishes firmly. "If we want people to trust us by default, we need to trust them first. We need to believe that that society consists of generally sensible, compassionate human beings who are willing to understand and forgive our mistakes - if they're given reason to.”
He’s silent for a moment. The fact that he's contemplating her opinion is, admittedly, gratifying.
“I don't possess that staggering capacity for trust,” he says, virtually spitting the final word.
“Well, I do,” Liz declares, with a small smirk. “And I'm the boss. And that's what matters.”
Alcohol loosens Liz's tongue. She's been harbouring feelings since September, and it's like it all comes out in a flood which Finn is miraculously able to withstand. Faintly, she realises she may be revealing too much, but what is he going to do with her humiliating anecdotes? (Later, she will rationalise that opening up to him removed some of that invisible barrier between them, ha-ha-take-that.) Skipping over the parts involving Richard, she recounts her first uncomfortable interactions with Charles, up to her conversations with Sharon about applying for Head Commissioner.
“I think my exact words were ‘an open, friendly, accountable Death Star.’” Liz winces and adds, with air quotation marks, “‘A Perspex Death Star.’”
Finn regards her, unimpressed. “A literally transparent Death Star would only make it easier for an attacker to locate the thermal exhaust port.”
“Maybe an 85% Perspex Death Star," she amends. "And without the planet-destroying capability."
“The Rebels were glorified terrorists who exaggerated the Death Star's danger."
"Yeah, you’d think so, Darth PR, Dark Lord of the Shit.”
"The Emperor wouldn't have been stupid enough to blow up any more planets after Alderaan," he explains, grimly serious. “The potential was meant to scare civilians. Planning to destroy the first Death Star was like threatening a despotic government by bombing City Hall, on a work day, when the dictator's not even there.”
"That's not the point," Liz protests. "Okay, so you think the Death Star was more of a symbol for the Empire, or an administration centre? It was already scary and impressive without the superlaser. And think of how much harder it would’ve been for Rebel pilots to pull the trigger if they could see everyone inside.”
“They were mostly Stormtroopers. Willing, faceless servants of an oppressive regime. I imagine it would’ve been easier.”
"I'm glad you don't control drones."
"I'm glad you don't build space stations."
Finn offers her the last forkful of pie. She accepts it, chews thoughtfully.
"Not bad," she admits.
Liz brings Finn back to her flat. (On the way there, their fingers brush. They both stick their hands into their coat pockets and keep walking.)
This time, they don't reach her bedroom, nor are they fully undressed by the time they're on the floor and he's sheathed inside of her. They fuck fast and intense, bodies pressed flush together, their mouths rarely leaving each other's.
Afterwards, he rolls off and lies beside Liz. They're both panting. It belatedly occurs to her that he was cradling the back of her head, which is now resting on his outstretched arm. She nudges her own hand beneath his head, gently tilts him to face her.
"This is going to hurt tomorrow," she says.
"You could call in sick," Finn suggests, with a hopeful note in his voice.
"Because of a backache brought on by you fucking me into the floor? No thanks." He makes a face, but stays next to her. She strokes his hair, wipes the sweat from his brow. "Do you think you can handle a round two?"
"We shouldn't." To her mild disappointment, he sits upright, and she follows. "Long day tomorrow."
At the door, he kisses her goodnight. The expression on his face afterwards indicates that it was an accident. She returns the kiss, partly to spite him, partly because inexplicable impulse has gotten her this far.
The next day, Liz sends an email improving Finn's previous one. He can't determine if she's mocking him or sharing his caution, or some bizarre ungodly combination. The email outlines 'terms of engagement' (fucking hell), including acceptable behaviour around co-workers and a suggested code phrase for 'initiating contact' ("operationally sensitive"...fuck her, but also fuck her.)
Chapter 13: into the nearest face of a metaphor
On her off-day, Liz is fidgety and itchy beneath her skin, unable to focus past the first two points on her to-do list. Finally abandoning her laptop, she sprawls on her sofa and dials Finn’s number manually.
He picks up on the first ring, and she laughs to herself.
“Liz, what is it?” he demands.
To think she'd wondered if she fucked him into a boring state of permanent compliance. “Hi to you, too, sunshine. Can’t I call just to...talk?”
“Yes, I suppose I can rely on the sound of your voice triggering a frothing rage to motivate me.”
“I’m calling to catalogue your behaviour. To plot a regression chart. So, what’re you doing?”
“Work,” is Finn’s curt reply.
“I'm work,” Liz says, pausing to allow her meaning to sink in. “Do me.”
Amazingly, she's successful. Her one afternoon off, and she's using it to fuck her Deputy. They stand in her living room with limbs entwined, her rocking against him, gasping into each other's mouths. The edge of excitement hasn't dulled - if anything, it's sharpened with familiarity.
Midway through a particularly passionate kiss, the fridge buzzes. And buzzes. And buzzes. Her kisses persist on his jaw, down to his exposed neck; he peers over her shoulder, frowning.
“Should it be making that noise?” Finn questions.
“It sounds like it’s going to explode.”
Liz tugs impatiently at his shirt sleeve. “Well, it hasn’t exploded yet, so - “
"How do you sleep at night?"
Thanks to her fluctuating noise-sensitivity, she doesn't always. But she avoids answering, lest he lecture her on the irresponsibility of coming to work sleep-deprived.
"It's been this way since I arrived - eventually I freaked the fuck out and hit it so hard it broke," she confesses. "I had it repaired, but the noise started again after Richard died. Not really sure what to do next."
Finn shoots her a look she could almost mistake for pity. "I feel like I walked into the world's saddest metaphor."
"No, Finn, my fridge is not a reflection of London policing, though it is as cold and white on the inside."
"Oh, fuck off." At first, she thinks he's leaving, but he walks towards the fridge instead of the door. "I'm not about to die mid-coitus because of your bloody malfunctioning refrigerator."
Liz leans against her couch, arms crossed. "What do you want to do? Take a walk, fuck in a park?"
"That's a short-term solution," Finn snaps. He runs a hand down the side of the fridge, like he's trying to soothe an angry animal.
"Should I call a repairman right now? Maybe he can work on it while you're going down on me." He huffs, hand remaining on the fridge - she's beginning to get jealous of it. "There's not much you can do, unless for some inane reason you're willing to forgo sex to read the manual and fix it yourself."
Finn's head jerks upright. Oh, hell.
She locates a screwdriver, fully expecting him to electrocute himself, possibly with an ice cube. One manual read-through and a WikiHow article later, he's pinpointed the problem as one of the fan motors. Grumbling, he inspects the freezer compartment. Liz perches on one arm of the sofa, savouring eyefuls of his ass.
“Look at you," she purrs. "You’re the fucking fridge whisperer. You missed your true calling.”
Finn flips her off, head still buried in the fridge.
Ice is obstructing the fan blades; she doesn't have anything for him to scrape it off with. They leave the panel open and fuck while waiting for the ice to melt.
The fridge runs quietly after that. Almost disturbingly so, because sometimes Liz swears her own heartbeat is louder.
Weeks pass without major headlines. The days, which once dragged by the hour, now whip past in a blur. There's a transport strike - Inglis gives it to Sharon to manage, temporarily smoothing their relationship.
Liz and Finn keep hooking up, usually at Liz's flat, occasionally at the workplace though never on the clock. Finn does the math: on average, it's every two days. Not that he's upset about continuing, but he expected it to be a contained fire, all blaze and nothing in its wake except breathlessness and scorch marks.
They fuck like they fight: in bursts of hot intensity, obscene and honest, without compromise. Sometimes there are little moments of amusement between the relentlessness, tenderness masquerading as mockery. Mostly it’s fast and satisfying and easily repeated. In his spare time, he researches, reads articles and medical journals; when he watches amateur porn for more ideas, the boredom makes his eyes water.
One night, Finn extricates himself from Liz, sated. While she lays in bed, recovering, he quickly gathers the clothes strewn around the floor; by the time she sits upright, he's fully dressed.
She puts on her robe and follows him to the living room. Unusual.
“Well, uh…” he trails off. Leaving never becomes less uncomfortable. He rubs the back of his neck. “Thanks.” Thanks? Idiot. He grips the door handle. “See you on Monday.”
“Finn, wait!” Finn turns back to face her, expectantly; Liz bites her lip, embarrassed, as she struggles to choose her next words. “I moved here from San Francisco.”
“So I'm homesick for the sound of sea lions fucking and the constant threat of a devastating earthquake.” He raises an eyebrow. “Plus I get really, really cold at night…”
“I hear thermal blankets are effective,” he suggests. “The kind you plug in before bed. Knowing you, you’ll probably forget and burn your flat down, but then you’ll be really warm.”
Liz’s tongue darts out briefly, teasingly. “Stay.”
Finn freezes. He studies her face, searching for hints that she’s messing with him.
“We’ve already slept on the same bed once,” she reminds him. “And it is raining.”
“It’s always raining.” He takes another moment to absorb this. “You want me to be your human heating pad?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“What’s in it for me?” he asks, like the prospect of spending the whole night at Liz's place is unattractive to him and not an uncharted area he’s fantasized about in the rare moments where he has to handle his urges on his own.
She shrugs. “More sex? Mock me first thing in the morning? Criticise my cereal of choice?”
“Well, since you put it that way…” Finn follows her back into the bedroom.
They make an effort not to touch after the next round, they fight for the covers throughout the night, and she almost accidentally elbows him in the eye. But she’s warm, and the rise and fall of her chest soothes him; he counts her breaths to lull himself to sleep.
In the morning, Finn eyes her cereal boxes critically, as promised. “Seriously, Liz? Sugar-coated, half-synthetic crap?”
“You were a journalist,” she points out, cheerfully. “It should go down easy.”
“How does your diet alternate between pescetarian hipster with a gluten allergy and nine year old overcompensating for a chronic fatigue disorder?”
“Sorry we can’t all enjoy bran flakes and puppies’ tears with a side of sawdust, or whatever it is you usually have for breakfast.”
“It’s an acquired taste. Like you.” Finn sits across from her, concealing his inexplicable glee, and mentally notes that he should burn all of his cereal boxes should she ever set foot in his house - she can’t learn that he’s been eating the same junk as her for years.
She brews coffee for both of them, and he reads the newspaper to her. He leaves shortly afterwards.
Staying overnight becomes a regular thing; "ease of access" is how Liz terms it, like he's a fucking hose behind a sheet of emergency glass. They leave her flat together, then travel to the office separately.
Neither of them realise it, but each time, it takes more steps for them to part.
Five weeks into their liaisons, Liz looks sullen in the morning and frazzled by five o'clock. She's quieter than Finn is used to, her retorts long-winded and not terribly witty. He even holds back his vitriol a little, suspecting that she's about to cry.
At the end of work, he enters her office and says, "I need you to look at this." No response. She's staring bleary-eyed at a bare spot on her desk. He crosses the room to face her. "It's urgent. Operationally sensitive - "
"No," she snaps, when Finn tries to kiss her.
He steps back and blinks. "Okay."
A beast of burden stirs beneath her vacant stare: wild, restless, howling clamorous and inconsolable like a wolf. Does it want to be petted? Or would it bite off his hand? Metaphorically, that is. Finn’s arms fold across his chest, real hands remaining tightly clasped over his elbows.
Her refusal is the first there's ever been. Are their trysts over? Remembering how it started, he isn't sure he'd recognise the end.
"I'm just not in the mood," Liz adds. Finn nods, feeling awkward. What is he supposed to do now? Should he still kiss her before he leaves? "Maybe tomorrow."
He can feel her watching him as he walks away. Once he's a good distance away from her office, he turns around to check her reaction; now she's staring into space, looking as if she's listening to something only she can hear.
Tomorrow, Liz feels worse.
The demands of the job are starting to get to her. The Met itself hasn't had a major crisis in a while, but at least three things go wrong every day. And she has to handle the Twitter Q&A's. Her stress and anxiety (underwhelming terms for the crushing overwhelming dread of the future) have steadily increased, and now they bubble over.
By noon, she's exhausted and nauseated, every joint in her body aching. She's inclined to cry over everything and nothing in particular. She can't concentrate - and she doesn't lose focus in pursuit of something else; she just sits, near-catatonic, mind numb.
She tells Mia that she's going home, then drops into Finn's office to tell him as well.
"I'll hold the line," he replies. As predicted, he sounds non-judgmental, but unsympathetic. "Maybe you have UTI, or an STD."
Apparently, he's noticed how often she's excused herself throughout the morning. Liz shoots him a withering glare. "Do you have an STD?"
"I might, if you have one. Obviously, I couldn't be the source."
"I couldn't, either, since I've only been sleeping with you for the past month."
Finn's casual veneer wobbles. "Really?"
"Is that so hard to believe?"
"This isn't a decision you made in the interest of fairness, is it?" She hesitates, and his voice rises. "Just because you're the only person I - "
"Don't flatter yourself," Liz scoffs. "It's a preference. And I'm not exactly going out and meeting new people who can replace you."
She departs abruptly, following a rare awkward silence. He might have muttered something like "stay hydrated" at her, but she isn't sure, and that makes her worry that she's hearing voices again.
It isn't UTI, either. Back at her flat, she cries herself to sleep. Tears spill from her eyes, warm and quick and uncontrollable. (Like her, she thinks, and is seized by another bout of soft sobbing.) She tries to work from home, but she can't manage anything more than short texts to Mia. It takes two days for her to feel better.
During her absence, Matt Coward completes his community service and starts work on his documentary. He requests permission to film on the PR department's floor, citing his first visit there as an important part of the narrative. Finn rejects it.
Upon Liz's return, she finds out from Matt. She's furious. She and Finn engage in a fight that goes on well past the end of the work day. (Another side effect of their prolonged exposure to each other: the quarrels are longer. They can predict each other's counterarguments, fire back faster and with more room for discussion. There are less huffy exits, because now they're more liable to chase each other down in an attempt to have the last word and wind up making out.) The fight pauses, mostly, when they angrily fuck on Finn's chair.
They resume arguing right after. They don't spend that night together.
Soon, Matt Coward gets his permission, direct from Inglis. Liz and Finn avoid each other the whole day of the filming, whispering catty comments whenever they pass each other in the hallway.
In the late evening, the filming is over. Finn slinks into her office. He scuffs the floor with one foot, looks up oddly bashfully, and asks, "Do you still like me?"
"That's a trick question," Liz answers, suppressing a tiny smile. "I never began liking you."
They make up, per se, also through fucking on a chair. (Hers, this time.)
Around lunchtime the following day, she sees Finn and Mia chatting in an otherwise empty meeting room. As soon as Liz sets foot inside, Mia turns to face her, looking inordinately happy for someone who's been talking to Finn.
“Finn’s in love," Mia announces.
Liz starts. “What?”
“According to Mia," he hastily clarifies, shoving his hands into the pockets of his trousers. "I think that's bullshit."
"You were actually asking for advice," Mia says.
"Yeah?" Liz closes in so that Finn is trapped between the two women. "Sounds exciting."
He tries to brush past, muttering, "I should get back to work - "
Liz side-steps to block his exit. "No, wait. I wanna hear more." His glower fails to deter her. "Since you've taken such an interest in my personal life in the past, it's only fair. Equals, remember?"
Finn is silent, eyeing Liz with a stubborn not-quite-fury. He seems to weigh the pros and cons of staying in the room and enduring more embarrassment, or leaving and letting Mia gush inaccurately. A few heartbeats later, he turns away from Liz, moving to lean against the big table instead.
Oblivious, Mia carries on, “I don't know how they met, or what her name is. But based on what he's said, she’s funny and smart and gives him faith in humanity - “
“You’d hate her,” Finn interrupts.
Liz beams at him so hard that her mouth hurts. “Loads.”
While Mia keeps talking about Finn's mysterious new girl, Liz looks at him triumphantly. At the moment, she doesn't even care about the potential implication; she's just thrilled that he's been accidentally giving a good impression of her.
He squints back at Liz for several seconds, then demands, "Is that a love bite?"
“You’re trying to change the subject,” Liz argues.
Mia lapses into silence. Finn pushes off the table, stepping towards Liz with eyes still narrowed. “Jesus, it is. You came to work with an actual love bite.”
Mia gapes at Liz and said love bite; she has no idea that Finn’s smugness is at least partially because he was the one who planted it.
“And what if it is?” Liz retorts. “Is my skin the Met's property? Are you afraid of backlash from the dermatology lobby?”
"You’re flaunting it for everyone," Finn claims, his delight brazen.
"Most people don't stare intently at my neck."
"You should cover it up." He heads for the door, but halts in front of her to smirk. "We wouldn't want you compromising the integrity of the PR department."
"Don't fall too in love!" Liz calls after him. He flips her off without turning back.
Grant Delgado invites Liz for another coffee. She accepts immediately, figuring it’s good to maintain their amicable relationship. Maybe she can squeeze out some intel about the Mayor’s next move, or leverage in case Sharon becomes an issue again.
This time, they sit in a secluded corner of the cafe. Liz tries to bring up Metwork, but Grant cuts her off - “Frankly, I’m not interested in the Met’s latest money sink.” Smiling thinly, he questions, “What do you know about Finn Kirkwood?”
She doesn't miss a beat: “I know he’s good for rough sex and fixing fridges.”
“I've heard your September scuffle has died down.”
“We kissed and made up.” Liz sips her flat white daintily while Grant frowns at her.
“Careful, now. I might start thinking you’re serious.” His expression relaxes. “But your personal life is your business, of course. As you know, people have a right to their privacy."
Liz can’t help her mouth curving into a sneer. “Unlike Richard?”
“He broke sacred vows on public property. How could he have been expected to uphold the law?”
Styrofoam crackles under her tightening grip. “Was there a reason you asked me here, besides reminding me you practically threw a troubled man into the Thames just because he taught your pothead son a valuable lesson?”
The Deputy Mayor remains largely unfazed. He leans in as if his next words must be protected; she has a startlingly vivid mental image of headbutting him. “I’ve known of Finn longer than Charles and Sharon have,” he recalls. “There was always something separating him from the rest of the reporter rabble...”
“He told me everything that's happened over the last decade,” Liz claims. Well, it is true, in a loose way. She lowers her voice to a conspiratorial tone. “He showed me proof. Your past with Richard. Your corporate indiscretions.”
Grant has the gall to act amused. “Did he, now?”
“We’re indelibly united. Like Britain and America after World War II, or the colours of Benetton.”
"Hmm. Maybe you'll agree with my assessment, since you're so close. Finn has an uncanny ability to be at the right place when a story breaks. And, owing to his experience, he knows what to hide.”
Her laughter is loud enough to draw disapproving glances. “Are you saying there’s more to him than it seems?”
“No, I’m saying Finn Kirkwood is exactly who he appears to be. Richard was an iceberg. There's no depth to your Deputy besides bottomless depravity.” Grant stands to leave, stalling to advise, “Keep an eye on your people.”
“I usually delegate that to him.”
“Good luck with that guerrilla documentary, by the way.”
Liz knows better than to ask how he learned about it.
That night, Liz and Finn meet at The Two Chairmen, as per normal in the evenings of non-disastrous days.
“So, how was your meeting with the Deputy Mayor?” he asks.
She hadn’t told Finn. But she shrugs it off, having accepted his spying as an aspect of his warped charm. Anyway, it’s hard to tell whether he’s being careless or honest. It’s all part of their game.
“Useless,” Liz answers. “We didn’t even discuss Metwork. He wanted to warn me about you.” Finn’s fork scrapes uglily against his plate in surprise. “What’d you do to piss him off so much? Unflattering articles? Bad review of his son’s role in a nativity play?”
“Something like that,” he hedges. “Eat before it gets cold.”
She fixes him with a penetrating stare for a few seconds, then nonchalantly cuts and spears a piece of pie. "You're hiding something from me. You and Charles, but probably mostly you.”
"You've turned me into a true believer in transparency. Anything I hide from you is really for your own good."
"I think I can decide for myself."
"No, you can't, because I'm hiding it from you."
"I'm going to find out one day."
"I'm sure. But today's not that day. Today, you run the Twitter Q&A's, I play the role of faithful Deputy, and tonight..." Finn scoots his chair closer with a smirk playing on his lips, the tip of his shoe sliding up her ankle. Sometimes, it’s good to be Queen.
In the mornings after Finn stays over, Liz and Finn start showering together. (He claims it's a way of saving water, but he isn't fooling anyone.) They help each other get dressed. He zips up her dress and combs her hair with his fingers; she buttons his shirt and fixes his tie. There's a certain intimacy to it, even more than undressing - witnessing someone put their mask on and guard up, instead of the reverse.
One day, Liz is unusually energetic. She's a flurry of ideas and activity, snappishly interrupting others and gesturing wildly as she speaks. He loses count of the number of times he glimpses her rushing down the hallway. Whenever they interact, she hits back on his unkind remarks with the strength and swiftness of a professional tennis player, then leaves him standing alone in her wake to wallow in his shame.
That night, the sex is insane. She rides Finn so hard that he deliriously reflects that she didn't need to slip something up Richard's urethra to break his brain. Afterwards, he plans to curl around her and possibly die, but she’s hopping off the bed.
He cranes his head to watch. “Where are you going?”
“Living room," she answers, rolling her eyes at his subsequent frown. "Work.”
“It’s one a.m.”
"It'll just take five minutes."
Half an hour later, Finn is sick of alternating between checking his phone and staring at the ceiling.
Exiting the bedroom, he finds Liz hunched over her kitchen table. Her fingers are blurs over the keyboard of her laptop. She barely notices him walking up behind her, nor does she acknowledge his presence after he plants his hands on both sides of the table. Upon closer inspection, he sees that her eyes are wider than usual, and she's breathing from her mouth.
What should he say? You're worrying me. You have to get up early tomorrow. Aren't you tired?
"I'm horny again," he announces.
"Mmm." She turns her head to glance at him, licks her lips slowly; his concerns very nearly vanish. Then he realises that she's still typing. "Let me finish this, first."
Finn skims the email from over Liz's shoulder. “That’s literally nonsense.”
“You’re just jealous.”
“You’ve repeated the same sentence three times in a row," he observes. "Italicizing it and putting it in all caps won't change its meaning.” He brushes her hand away from the keyboard. She lets him, sits back as he begins to scroll down the page.
“Repetition is an effective tool of rhetoric.”
“You’re writing an email.” He scrolls lower, shaking his head in appall. “Jesus, it’s like you’ve forgotten what paragraphs are.”
“I can’t split them up,” Liz snaps, “the thoughts all run together.”
“That’s your fault, not grammar’s.” Finn scrolls back upwards and sighs. “Once you preface your pitches with quotes from Star Trek, I think we can safely assume you’ve lost any semblance of the already-shaky reasoning you possessed.”
She makes a frustrated sound. “Are you trying to say something? Because every time you open your mouth, all I can hear is how Charlie Brown’s teacher talks.”
“Liz, did you snort coke again?”
“What? No! And if I did, you’d probably be high, too, considering how much of me you ingest.”
It finally clicks. “Fuck. You’re having a hypomanic episode.”
“I’m having a fucking stroke of brilliance.”
“That explains the increased libido, the high productivity, the pissy attitude -”
“I am onto something huge here. I am the Nikola Tesla of Communications!” Liz pauses upon hearing her declaration. Her fingers keep dancing over the keyboard. "Okay, maybe I am having a hypomanic episode.” She waves Finn off, eyes glued to the rapidly filling screen. “Go home if it bothers you so much.”
“It doesn’t bother me. I just don’t want everyone in the department to wake up to seventeen unread emails from their boss, each progressively longer and less coherent.”
“Oh, this isn’t only going to PR. I’m sending this to Charles and Sharon. Maybe the Deputy Mayor.”
Liz doesn’t reply. Finn abruptly shuts her laptop screen, eliciting a yelp.
"We can arrange it into something that makes sense tomorrow," he says. She glares at him, pries his hand off the laptop, and reopens it. "But for fuck's sake, give it a rest."
To his chagrin, she's restarted typing. “You mean I should wait?” she demands.
“Yes, I mean you should wait!” A deep breath, and he continues, “That’s a thing people do sometimes, when they think they have a good idea. They wait.”
“Finn, the world is constantly in motion, not sitting around with a thumb up its ass -”
“It may be constantly in motion, but it isn’t going anywhere tonight."
They stare each other down for several seconds. Eventually, Liz sighs and shuts her laptop. Unconsciously, he sags in relief.
She nudges Finn's leg with one foot, bats her eyelashes, and says in a breathy voice, "Carry me to bed."
"It's only a few steps!"
"So you can walk!"
He does, anyway, and despite himself he laughs along with her as they tumble onto the mattress. She still fucks him again before finally falling asleep. He holds her, lightly, for the first time that night - he can feel her heartbeat pounding, her heated skin. When he tries to run his fingers through her hair, they snag on tangles he hadn't noticed before.
Liz and Finn arrive at the department's Christmas party at the same time, squabbling as they heap their coats onto the designated desk. They quarrel for five minutes straight while walking around and greeting people, including a stop by the water cooler.
Someone gasps and points in their direction.
“What the - ?” Finn glances up. His jaw drops. Liz follows his stare and discovers that they've halted under a sprig of mistletoe.
“Who the fuck put that there?” she demands, whirling around at breakneck speed. “You couldn't find red napkins or a wreath, but you can hang a fucking mistletoe?”
Her rebuke falls flat. A crowd has gathered, people whispering among themselves. Some fuckwit even pauses the music. All eyes are on them.
“Liz is morally opposed to convention and tradition,” Finn argues. “That’s why we’re knee-deep in shit every week.”
“I don’t want to be involved with any combination of...this,” Liz protests, waving at her immediate surroundings. “One is a plant-killing parasite, and the other is mistletoe.”
Tipsy and exhausted as they may be, their people know better than to start chanting ‘kiss!’ at their bosses. Still, they don't disperse. The murmurs grow. Mia raises her eyebrows and presses her index fingers together for a distressingly long amount of time.
“I guess once won’t hurt.” Liz eyes their eager audience. “For morale.”
Finn opens his mouth to object, then clamps it shut. “Right.”
It seems unsporting to give him a peck on the cheek - plus, they'd run the risk of an entire department yelling for a do-over - so she swiftly brushes her lips against his. A titter runs through the crowd, punctuated by the occasional godforsaken 'aww'. Her Deputy looks appropriately stunned.
“Ugh. Please turn the music back on,” she says, feigning gagging as she turns away. “I need a drink.”
“I - it wasn't great for me, either!” Finn calls after her.
They stick to opposite ends of the room for most of the rest of the party, casting infrequent glares for appearance's sake. At the midpoint, he crosses into her side of the room, ostensibly to talk to someone. Walking past, he slips a crumpled cocktail napkin into her hand.
She waits until she’s in a toilet stall to unfurl it: Hope you didn’t mind the taste of your cunt.
Later, Liz shoves a folded piece of paper into one of his trouser pockets. Ever-paranoid, he refrains from reading it until he's returned home: I like it about as much as you like the taste of your cock.
Then she flies back to the States for two days. An untitled email pops up in Finn's inbox. It's from Liz; attached is a photo of her hands - she's had a fresh manicure, apparently, nails filed neatly and painted bright red. Innocuous. Not suspicious at all.
Never, he replies, gripping his cock and wanking fervently at the sight, moaning her name into his pillow.
They even exchange unwrapped, card-less gifts, although neither of them would call it that. She gives him several pairs of black socks. He gives her a book on modern journalism, with stern instructions to pay attention.
On Boxing Day, Liz enters Finn's office, not bothering to knock. She clears her throat, dramatically flips her hair over one shoulder. He continues staring at his computer screen and chewing on his pen.
"So, I finished the book," she begins.
His pen clatters onto the desk. He glances up at her, wide-eyed. "In one day?"
"Yeah?" she answers, like it's the most natural thing.
Finn regards her with deep suspicion. "And you did read it? Not turn the pages fast while looking for pictures?"
"I skipped the bibliography," she deadpans.
Of course he then insists on quizzing Liz on the book, on the spot. There are some minor gaps in her knowledge, and she can't do a chapter-by-chapter recount, but she seems to have understood the overall idea.
"It's 110 pages," he says, in visible disbelief. "The print is small."
She drums her fingers on his desk. "Yes, yes, you don’t think I’m smart. Are we going to talk about it or not?"
"Liz, I was expecting you to finish in a week, maybe more if you reread bits you didn't absorb. I was going to predict your counterarguments and make notes on a word document and have elaborate imaginary fights with you." He shakes his head, bewildered. "Now you've gone and ruined the game."
"I can wait for you to catch up."
Liz blows Finn a sarcastic kiss before exiting, and they both wince.
Chapter 14: like the cat I have nine times to die
“I haven’t been able to find your medical records,” Finn says, one morning - casually, as if he hadn't attempted to breach Liz’s privacy. She’s prepared to let it slide when he asks the dreaded question: “What medication are you taking?”
“None.” He starts. In a halfhearted effort to placate him, she adds, “Well, not right now.”
Liz knows that look too well, from him and others before. The judgment, the skepticism growing and solidifying in his brain.
“I’ve tried a few,” she explains. “Some of them even seemed to work for a while. But I get exhausted, my memory worsens. They either amplify hypomania or prolong depressive episodes.” Finn is openly frowning now; she wishes she could smooth out the lines of worry creasing his forehead. “And the 'stability'...contrary to popular belief, they don’t make me happy, and it’s not exactly calm. It’s just...numbness.”
“Has it occurred to you that that could be what emotional stability is?”
“It did, once, but do you really expect me to believe that you and Charlie and Sharon and Mia and Tom are numb? All the time?”
“Maybe it’s relative. You can’t tell because you’re so used to the extremes.”
“Maybe it’s you talking out of your ass. You can’t tell because you’re not fucking bipolar,” Liz snaps. “I don’t see the point of taking something to 'help' me if the side effects are worse than what I naturally have. Work happens to be the best outlet for the bursts of energy and aggression. At least I get to actually do stuff.”
“How do you deal with poor impulse control? Or losing motivation? Or any other of the other gazillion things that could go wrong?”
“I let you fight me.”
Finn barks out a laugh. “You let me fight you.”
“Yeah.” Liz pushes her bowl aside and leans in, half-playfully, half-challenging. “Wanna go right now?”
“Yelling at me six days a week and shagging me for five doesn’t seem like a comprehensive treatment plan,” he notes.
“I exercise. I watch my diet. I take Vitamin D tablets and, like, nine fish oil pills daily,” she lists, feeling her blood pressure rise each time he fails to acknowledge her effort with anything other than a doubtful noise. “Sometimes an aspirin for the headaches.”
“That’s characteristically reckless of you.”
She grips the handle of her mug, reflexively, without intending to take a sip. “Fuck off.”
He’s unperturbed. “And you also self-medicate with alcohol and caffeine and the occasional hard drug, right?”
“For fuck’s sake, it was one time.” Liz stares at Finn strangely. “Don’t do this.”
“Try to control me. That shit flies and is, frankly, arousing at work, but not now. Not at my apartment, not in the train, not when we’re playing footsie beneath the table at The Two Chairmen.”
“This does concern work,” he insists.
Arms crossed, she surveys him with a chilling fury she hasn’t felt since September. “Did Charlie put you up to this?”
“Of course not. I haven’t told him anything about us. He still thinks we hate each other, with latent sexual tension fueling our productivity.”
“It’s my body and my brain.”
“It’s our workplace and the Met’s future.”
“I’m fine, all things considered.”
“Sure," he scoffs, "it looks that way to you, the one person in your life who doesn’t have to deal with you.”
Liz’s mug slams onto the table - he barely flinches, but uncertainty creeps into his expression. “I’m the person in my life who has to deal with myself the most.”
“I literally can’t take meds. That’s my chemical make-up, there’s nothing we can do about that. I’m lucky enough to respond well to alternative treatment. But instead of being relieved, you fucking question me.” Her mug slams again; now, he recoils. “Let me guess, next you're going to blackmail me into taking time off to find a psychiatrist and be prescribed something, maybe more time while I adjust. While you rub your grubby hands all over my department. Is that what this is about?” She doesn’t know when she started shouting; her grip on the mug’s handle is so tight that it feels like she might break something. “Is that what you fucking want, Finn? An unfair fight? Is that it?”
His head bows somewhat in deference, a rare sight. “No,” he admits, quietly. It’s unclear if he’s ashamed or angry or some combination. She’s furious. She feels sick.
“I know I'm a mess, Finn. But I'm not a total disaster. Not yet.” Liz stares at him, eyes brimming with tears, winded by a sudden wave of hurt that washes away most of the rage. “Not if I’m not pushed.”
Finn stands, averting his gaze and picking up his briefcase.
They avoid each other for the rest of the day. Until, at the tail end of work, he acquiesces on their week-long argument on how to address reopened cases of police misconduct.
“I’m not interested in a fucking pity victory,” she spits. “You could’ve gotten me flowers and a ‘sorry I was grossly insensitive about your mental health’ card instead.”
“This isn’t about pity,” Finn insists. “As much as I hate saying it, you were...more right than I was. It was good judgment on your part. In this particular case.”
Liz studies his face for longer than their angry, silent interludes usually last. He’s a terrible liar. But she can’t detect much dishonesty right now: no, this isn’t pity, but it’s an apology nonetheless.
“I’m still angry,” she says, truthfully.
“You can vent later.” His tone shifts from matter-of-fact to hopeful and cautious. “Say, at the Two Chairmen?”
She pretends to contemplate his offer. “Or before bed.”
“Or both.” He swallows. “If you’re that upset.”
When Liz wakes the next morning, there’s no Finn, and there are no flowers. But near her forehead, there’s a piece of paper folded in half with a large frowny face drawn on the front; she opens it, and finds ‘sorry I was insensitive about your mental health’.
They don’t discuss it further, but she catches his eye during their afternoon meeting with Sharon. They hold each other’s gaze for a few seconds before he flushes slightly, scowls, and looks away.
Liz gives Mia a key to her flat, in case of emergencies. She gives another copy to Finn. It's mostly for convenience's sake. She explains it to him as, "If I die, and I need someone to delete my browsing history and throw away my sex toys."
"How do you know I won't sneak in and murder you?" Finn pauses. "What sex toys?"
"Because you wouldn't dare murder me. If I ever get murdered, you'd automatically be the first suspect, alibi or no," Liz reasons. "Even if I'm shot by some gangster on a motorbike. People will assume you finally put a hit on me."
"True." His voice lowers suggestively. "You didn't answer my second question."
The PR Department’s water cooler has been fixed. Liz quickly drains one plastic cup, swishes the water around her mouth a little before swallowing; she’s refilling it when someone taps her on the shoulder.
It’s Mia. “I have the reports right here," she says, handing Liz a folder.
Liz grabs the folder, but Mia doesn't let go.
"Are you fucking Finn?" Mia blurts.
"No!" Then Liz remembers her creed of transparency, plus the fact that she's a pretty bad liar involving personal affairs. “Maybe a little," she concedes.
“How can you fuck someone a little?”
“As you may have guessed, he has a very small dick.” Mia releases the folder, then continues to stare at Liz as if she's announced that she wants to circulate fanservice-y calendars of Armed Response. (Which is - no, not a good idea.) "May I ask what brought this on?"
"You forgot your I.D. a few days ago. Finn said he'd drop it off when he saw you later."
Of course he did. He's fretted over people finding out because of her 'carelessness', and he's the one who slipped up. Idiot.
"That's no reason to assume we're fucking," Liz argues. "We could just be friends." Judging by the bemused expression on Mia's face, that's an even harder sell than the simple no. "Is it so surprising? You've seen the tension. Kissing is like shouting, except into each other’s mouths and with somewhat less noise.”
“Well, sure," Mia concurs dubiously, "it was a joke around here that you were hatefucking, but we didn’t think you’d actually do it.” Mia sighs, resigned to her role as the sole remotely sane person in the department. "Okay, how long?”
“Since the Hague.” Pause. “Please tell me that was what you were asking.”
She sees her friend piece it together. “So that girl he was talking about last month…”
Liz winces. “Me. Yeah.”
"And that love bite - "
“Oh, no." Mia shakes her head, almost sadly. "He sounds really into you. You should probably tell him that you’re on different wavelengths.”
Liz, amazing communicator that she is, says, “Uh.”
“Wait.” Mia’s jaw drops. “Do you like Finn?”
“No!” Mia stares at her harder. “Maybe a little.”
“Oh, Liz…” she begins, in a tone bordering on pity.
“He’s weirdly un-terrible outside of work, okay?" Liz snaps, feeling the need to defend her life and her choices and possibly Finn, the tiniest bit. "He can be thoughtful. He listens to me. He laughs at my jokes 60% of the time, which is 40% more than people usually do. He's like a garbage can someone accidentally threw a beating human heart into. I don't think we're dating or anything, but he's...not a fuckhead."
"But is he a head-fuck?"
"Massively." Liz catches herself. "You mean that in a 'mindscrew' way, right?"
Apparently, Mia doesn't have any further objections. “When I told you Finn hit the arse ceiling, I didn’t think you’d want him to hit yours.”
“I don’t even know what that means.”
Mia elbows her teasingly. “Sure you don’t.”
It’s become routine for Liz and Finn to stop by the Two Chairmen after work. No one draws any connections, either because Liz has managed to cultivate a respectful environment, or because everyone knows better than to speculate aloud about Finn's personal life.
“What are we doing later?” Finn asks.
Liz tilts her head. “‘We’?”
“Yes, that’s what I said.”
“I was thinking we could go back to my place and have angry sex while the news is on -”
“‘Angry’?” he interrupts. “Did I do something?”
“You’ve always done something,” she answers smoothly. “It’s just a matter of how much I’ve forgiven you by five.”
“Not too much, I hope.”
“Oh, I’m livid." Liz ponders telling him about her earlier conversation and decides to bite the bullet. "FYI, Mia knows about us."
Finn chokes slightly. "'Us'?"
She fails to conceal her smile. "That's what I said. It was your fault, by the way." She recounts the conversation (minus the part about her liking him) and waits as he quietly considers this turn of events.
"Mia knows better than to talk," he declares, at length. "I don't mind. Much."
"You're not going to ask if I'm okay with it?"
"I'm sure you are."
"But it's nice to be asked."
"Liz, are you comfortable with Mia knowing about..." He vaguely gestures at the space between them. " - This?"
"Overall, yeah," Liz says; she sees him twitch at her smugness, and that heightens it. "She's my best friend here, and I think she likes you enough to not think this is a totally horrible idea. Thanks for asking."
Fortunately, Finn doesn't ask for clarification on what 'this' is. He glances at his watch. "That was ten seconds we could've spent leaving for your place."
"And that's four more seconds you wasted being a smartass."
Everything is okay, except for the days when they're not.
It would be easy to conclude that Liz was in over her head accepting this position. The stress is chafing her sanity. But when she's good at her job, she's really good, especially after the bumpy first month. Inglis' approval rating is decent, as are relations with City Hall. The department develops a standard procedure for handling most crises, combining Liz's transparency with caution over operational sensitivity. She and Finn still argue daily, but there are no more attempts to fire or blackmail each other. (Something which she dimly recognises they'll have to address at some point, should...this...become serious.)
Inglis and the department are understanding of her needs. (She has a hunch that they find it a mild relief, like they require short breaks from her as much as she does from them.) Liz explains everything to Mia, and Mia calls her brave, which would feel patronising from anyone else but from her it's just comforting. Even Finn is helpful. In fact, he's probably the one who has the widest context of her infrequent half-days.
But the cynical half of Liz's nature suggests that she's only keeping her job because of disability acts; it tells her that behind her back, she is despised, that everyone thinks she's weak and unreliable and stupid and manipulative. She hasn't found a therapist here because she simply hasn't had the time, and none of her episodes have been bad enough for her to make it a priority.
She's inching towards a breakdown. She knows it. She can detect it in her gut and her blood and some demented, cordoned-off portion of her mind, the part that always feels twisted and wrong if she closes her eyes and concentrates on her body.
"How are you feeling?" Finn asks one night, when she's more subdued than usual. It's never are you okay?, maybe because he never thinks she's okay.
"Not well," she mumbles, "but I'll manage."
Then Liz can't get out of bed the next morning. She can't explain why, but she can't. This is the first time Finn had stayed the night before one of her severe depressive episodes; it's also the day of the MOPAC meeting where Inglis is set to pitch Metwork.
"Come on," Finn urges, from the doorway to her bedroom, already fully dressed with his briefcase in hand.
"I can't," Liz croaks. She buries her face into her pillow, partly to hide, partly because he's so impatient that the sight of him causes her anxiety to multiply tenfold.
He enters the room, sighing irritably. That puts her on the defensive, makes her muscles tense and teeth clench, aggravating her headache. The mattress dips as he sits at the edge.
"You have to get up now, or you won't have time to eat."
"I don't want to go."
Finn sucks in a breath. Dread clutches at her heart.
"Are you shitting me?" he demands. She hears him swallow. He continues, comparatively softly, "I know it's hard - "
"You don't know!"
" - but this is one time when you have to do what you said you would." Liz tries, she really does, but her muscles refuse to budge. He speaks again, voice strained. "Liz, just make it through today. Just one day."
"Do you really think you can talk me out of crippling depression?"
"I'm not commanding you to snap out of it. I'm asking you to cope."
"This is me coping!" Liz shouts.
Silence. She can sense the panic radiating off Finn. He stands and begins pacing around the room.
"Attend the meeting, and you can go back home. I'll see to it myself. I'll personally fight any fucker who pelts you with irrelevant questions or comments on how tired you look. Come on, Liz." He rummages through her wardrobe, picking out clothes. "We need you there. It won't work if you're not there."
Liz cries harder. The dark part of her mind churns out he hates you more than ever, he resents you because you took his job and killed his Commissioner, you're adding to his own stress and anxiety, and now you're the one person he's attracted to and you're you.
"Liz," Finn says firmly, cutting into her thoughts, "you'll get through this." He sounds like he believes it, too. Like it annoys him, actually. Fuck him.
She sits upright, starting the arduous process of leaving the bed, out of newfound apathy and spite. Once she's up, Finn hands her a few articles of clothing, which, alarmingly, she'd worn together in the past.
Somehow, Liz makes it outside.
Walking takes Herculean effort. She's dizzy and nauseated; the voice in her head runs like a motor, claiming that she's undeserving of love and attention and possibly existence.
Finn stays by her side the whole morning, talking about ongoing stories and remarking on the situation as if she isn't deathly silent, red-eyed, and sniffling. He only leaves to get her coffee and a bagel.
"It's wheat-free," he jokes, in an attempt to lighten her spirits. She's sorely tempted to chuck it at his face, but "weeping PR director assaults Deputy with bagel" is not a headline she wants to wake up to tomorrow. If she wakes up tomorrow.
While Liz confers with Inglis before the meeting, Mia approaches Finn.
"Did you force her to come?" Mia demands.
"I didn't," Finn insists. At her skeptical scrutiny, he elaborates, "I didn't haul her out of bed and hose her down and carry her to the tube. She made it this far on her own. Like a zombie, and with me watching her through every step, but on her own."
"You didn't see her." Indignation aside, he's suddenly overcome by a wave of unidentifiable emotion. "She was crying, she was shaking, she was - do you think it gave me any joy to goad her into this? I've fought Liz at her boldest, loudest, centre-of-a-supernova brilliant. After that, this is - I don't fucking relish it. But it's a crucial meeting, and she'd feel even worse in the long run if she'd missed it."
"Tell her you're proud of her."
"After this is over. Aren't you?"
Before Finn can finish, the door opens. Liz steps out, looking dazed.
"Finn," Inglis calls, jerking his head to indicate that he should enter.
Finn hesitates, eyes darting between his Commissioner and his...boss. No. Whatever the hell she is. Liz seems to be intentionally avoiding eye contact. He follows Inglis into the room; Finn turns to close the door, and sees Mia wrapping her arms around Liz to pull her into a tight hug.
"You're doing great," Mia assures her.
The tears brim in Liz's eyes. "You don't need to lie to me."
"Finn?" Inglis prompts.
Finn swallows the lump in his throat. "Sorry," he murmurs, then shuts the door. He doesn't know who he's talking to.
The meeting could've gone worse. It could've gone better. Liz stays at work for the rest of the day because she's basically given up, surrendered to a life of failure and disappointment, so what's another five hours?
Finn brings her back home. He doesn't comment on it, falling into step beside her at the lifts. He's visibly shocked as she pulls him into her bedroom and begins divesting her clothing, though he goes along with it.
Afterwards, her sweat is icy on her skin. The surge of endorphins intensified her alertness, for better or worse. Her head is clearer. Her heart is hammering in her throat. Everything hurts, but she can't pinpoint where. She's so wrapped up in her brain and a loop of self-loathing that she's startled at Finn speaking.
"Mia said to tell you I'm proud of you."
"Fuck you," Liz responds.
Despite his hotheadedness, Finn isn't easily wounded. "You had me worried this morning," he continues, extraordinarily amicable. "And I mean, not just about the fate of Metwork." Figures that he can't say I was worried about you. I still am.
"You know mine aren't as bad as other people's." Mine, referring to those moments where she's so fragile that it seems certain that every breath will shatter her; like the world is closing in and she's running from it as fast as she can though she can't determine why, yet she's too afraid to stop and see what happens if it ensnares her.
"I know. But do you have suicidal thoughts?"
Liz thinks of Richard's funeral, remembers the too-cold church and the too-bright flowers. She thinks of the former Commissioner standing above the Thames and wonders if he felt this way before he jumped - and for how long. Five minutes? A month? A lifetime?
"Sometimes," she admits. "Not strong ones. I've never tried to act on them."
"If they ever get bad - "
"I'm not going to kill myself, Finn."
She judiciously keeps her eyes glued to the ceiling, even as he questions, "Can I have that in writing?"
"Why? So you can sue my hypothetical corpse so hard, it comes back to life to counter-sue?"
"That's the plan." He rolls over to face her. "Glad to hear you're feeling better."
"I wasn't expecting you to be nice," she grumbles.
"I can fight you, Liz," Finn says. "I can't fight chemicals."
As he shifts again, their hands brush. Liz hesitates for a second, then presses the very tips of her fingers against his. His breath catches. He doesn't move his hand away.
In the morning, Finn is nowhere to be found. (Asshole.) Her head hurts and her heart aches, more than it should, more than he deserves.
While she groans and stretches out across the whole mattress, she notices something. There's a glass and a carafe of water on her nightstand, neither of which Liz remembers putting there. Maybe she really is losing her mind.
After spending a downright unreasonable amount of time staring at the water, she manages to peel herself out of bed and stumble into the kitchen. Sluggishly, she retrieves a box of cereal, pours it into a bowl, carries it to the table. She realises that she's forgotten the milk and concludes that it's too much effort to walk to the fridge to get it, nearly driving her to tears.
There's a lone paper napkin on the table, with a note scribbled on it in Finn's familiar hand: Gone out, will be back. Low bat. on your phone. I don't know where the charger is.
Liz is enraged. By the note's perceived tone, its location, the miscommunication, she isn't sure. She crumples the napkin and throws it against the wall. Then, she sobs for a few seconds. Then, in another fit of rage, she picks the napkin off the floor and rips it to shreds, crying, muttering, "Son of a bitch I fucking hate him the motherfucking cunt - "
The door re-opens, and Finn steps in. He's carrying shopping bags and looks largely unperturbed.
"Hi," he says. "I see you found the note."
Shame heats her cheeks. "You should've left it on the bed."
"I realise that now, yes."
Finn sits across Liz as she slowly spoons cereal into her mouth. He drones on about yesterday's meeting, the news, their next move; he's more affable than usual, but otherwise unconcerned with the condition she's in. She can't decide whether she appreciates or despises this, the illusion of normalcy.
Once she's finished, she pushes the bowl away. He's still talking.
"I want to fuck you," she announces loudly, eyes burning.
That shuts him up mid-sentence. "Are you sure?" he finally asks.
Liz kicks her chair aside. The sudden rush of blood to her head almost causes her to stumble for a split second - then Finn is encircling her, crushing her to him, and she wonders if he's aware that he's partially holding her upright.
They stagger into her bedroom. He shoves her onto the mattress, positioning himself between her legs. But instead of straddling her, he reaches over to her nightstand and pours water into the glass.
"Here," Finn says. She eyes the glass warily; he nudges it against her lips. Slapping it out of his hand would be unwise. "When was the last time you drank?"
"Don't fucking coddle me," she snaps.
He rolls his eyes, sets the glass down, and pins her to the mattress with his whole body.
It's rough, and fast, with her cussing at him repeatedly until he muffles her with a hand over her mouth and she bites him and that sends them both over the edge. In what passes as the afterglow, the throbbing in her head alleviates slightly, sense of despair somewhat dulled for the moment.
While she's pliant, he brings the glass to her lips again. This time, she accepts it. It occurs to her that she's actually very thirsty.
Liz dozes off as Finn strokes her hair.
In the evening, Liz drags herself out of bed. Finn is outside, working. She wordlessly plops onto her sofa and tries to work on her laptop, too, but she can't concentrate. Still, staring at a screen is better than catatonia or curling up and crying, so she scrolls through her emails aimlessly, then clicks through Reuters. It's not terribly interesting, but it doesn't make her feel like the universe is trying to squash her heart, which is good.
At some point, she looks around and discovers that there are two full bottles of water nearby, one on each end of the sofa. Before she can begin to contemplate this, Finn abruptly rises and puts on his coat.
He rummages through the shopping bags and pulls out several fruits. He walks over, dumps them onto the coffee table beside Liz's laptop before making his way to the door.
Liz watches him pass. "Where are you going?" she asks, voice rising in anxiety.
"Out," he replies, not quite as brusquely as she'd expected. "Don't worry," he adds, "I'll be back for another shag."
"You don't have any friends."
"I might go to the office, bug your desk, tear a few metaphorical floorboards from the foundation of Metwork, that sort of thing." Finn examines her passively. "Unless you want me to stay."
"As if." He isn't getting on her nerves, specifically, but some time to herself sounds good. She just doesn't know how long she wants it to be; whenever she says she wants to be alone, she risks people never coming back.
Liz is mercifully able to distract herself with the Internet, she suspects she's hungry and absentmindedly eats the fruit. There's a box of Panadol in the bags; she takes one before napping on the sofa, wakes two hours later disoriented and fatigued but with her chest feeling lighter. Finn returns soon after, with supper. They go for a walk, in silence, then watch the news together, also in silence.
They have sex one more time, but this round it's unusually gentle, Finn nuzzling into the crook of her neck, her kisses soft and languid. Afterwards, their bodies aren't touching, but their fingertips are brushing again, and he soothingly ruffles her hair with his free hand. She tears up, faced with feelings she isn't in a state to confront. She wants to say thank you but the words lodge in her throat. She guesses that he wouldn't know how to react, anyway.
By the time she's back at work, Liz is better. Inglis announces the good news days later: they've agreed to a limited trial run of a Metwork website.
"With 'possible sponsorship opportunities'," Finn adds bitterly, and makes a face.
"Tough luck, sweetheart," she replies, too giddily happy to argue this further with him.
She stiffens. "I was being facetious."
He smirks. “Sure.”
That night, she murmurs ‘sweetheart’ into his ear while he’s fucking her. He comes on the spot, hard, to the sound of her laughter.
Chapter 15: where is your sense of indignation
“I have a mood tracker,” Liz says. “Wanna see?”
Finn nods. She fiddles with her phone, then hands it to him.
It's a specialized app. She’s seemingly customised all of the moods herself, because each is accompanied by a fitting cartoon face. (He’s actually seen her make the ‘irritable hypomanic’ one a few times.) Scrolling down, he reads the ‘reason’ field for every entry: asshole journalist, forgot to buy more coffee, Metwork...
Then, a reason provided for an ‘enraged’ entry catches his eye: Finn.
A few entries down, for ‘frustrated’: Finn.
‘Mini existential crisis’: Finn.
“I’m a trigger for your negative moods?”
“You’re a few bad days from becoming a mood.”
He rolls his eyes and continues scrolling, trying not to count how many times his name appears. Eventually, he places her phone on the table and sits back, his mouth twitching against his will.
Liz squints at him. “Are you...why are you smiling?”
Finn shrugs. “I got laid an hour ago.”
“Please don’t ever say that sentence again. It doesn’t sound right coming from you. It’s like watching Big Bird sing opera,” she helpfully elaborates.
He scoops another spoonful of cereal, still smiling. He’ll never tell her that he saw one of the entries for a few weeks ago. ‘Happy’: Finn.
Metwork's beta launch is a disaster. It's a rushed job, out of Liz's own impatience and pressure from City Hall to see results. The website crashes five different times, deletes all posted content twice. They overlooked putting filters in the sign-up forms, so slurs, profanities, and anti-cop usernames make it past.
Liz and Finn get into a shouting match for twenty minutes - a new record for their disputes. They take a water break in the middle and end up fighting through that, too.
Robbie Vas and Neil Bancroft finally go on trial. In a case of supremely bad timing, public interest in Karl Jeffries renews as Metwork stabilises.
"It's more work for us, but it's good that people haven't completely forgotten about him," Liz concludes.
Finn just narrows his eyes at Liz and goes "hmmm", which is somehow worse than if he'd tried to debate this with her. She lightly kicks him under the table; he flips her off and continues reading the papers.
That day, someone posts a meme about the Jeffries case: "tfw no gun". General consensus among the department and the ground forces is that it's actually pretty funny. Liz allows herself a small chuckle before hiding in a toilet stall, sighing heavily, and brainstorming ideas.
"What's taking you so long?" Finn demands, close to yelling.
"I'm one guy," Matt protests, "and I have a small budget. You guys are barely chipping in."
"Then fucking split yourself like an amoeba! Sell an organ or two!"
"Finn," Liz warns.
Her Deputy scowls and storms to the other end of the meeting room, arms crossed. "I've half a mind to kill this."
"You?" She laughs angrily. "You think you have that authority?"
Finn rounds on her and approaches, jabbing his finger. "I may be your Deputy, but I'm your equal. I'm your connection to Inglis, I'm the one who keeps you from going batshit and tanking this police force with your everything-but-the-kitchen-sink transparency. These things happen at my discretion. You'd do well to remember that."
Liz stands her ground. "You and Charlie are here because of my discretion. Without me, you'd be throwing civilians under the bus left and right, fortifying the defences so much that you'd starve yourself out. This police force has been running smoothly because I choose to cooperate with you. You'd do well to remember that."
The tense silence is broken by Matt sighing.
They both whirl around to face him and shout, "What?"
"I really wish I could film this."
Before they can take turns eviscerating him, one of the police aides enters the room and announces that the Commissioner is waiting for Liz and Finn. They bolt from the room without bothering to dismiss Matt.
Unlike Richard and Sharon, Inglis panics in the most reasonable way possible, so calm it loops back into insanity. He wants to take the website down indefinitely, maybe issue an apology. He's worried about the sponsors' reaction (Liz notices Finn rolling his eyes at that), but he thinks they need to cut their losses.
"That would look like an admission of guilt, sir," Finn cuts in, preempting Liz's moralistic rant.
"It defeats the purpose," she agrees. "This is about us acknowledging our own fallibility."
Inglis rubs his temples. "Shit."
"It seems bad at the moment, but these are just technical problems," she insists. "Even the Obamacare website had those at launch, and it's...fine now. It's not a death sentence."
Finn glances at her, scowling. "Speaking of which, have you visited Metwork's blogs lately?"
Liz's eyes flash dangerously. "I have not, because I've been with tech, trying to fix it."
"People have been calling Jeffries a 'thug', among other insinuations," Finn explains. "Subtle, so the moderation system doesn't really work. A lot of casual racism is coming from cops and ex-cops and cop fanboys."
She gives him a lofty look. "Yeah, I know the type."
"But what's more unsettling is how often it's from ordinary people," he finishes. Inglis' eyes are darting back and forth between them, like he's watching a tennis match. Finn's voice is strained with irritation as he asks, "What should we do, Liz?"
"We can't remove those posts?" she asks, under the assumption that Finn is going out of his way to make her life difficult.
"They're not just posts," Finn replies testily. "They're discussions, in the loosest sense of the word. There were some decent responses, so if we remove the shitty posts, it looks like they're just shouting good points into a void."
Liz argues, "It's unpleasant, but this is inevitable in any public forum."
"It's not any public forum," Finn objects, "it's the police. We're providing a platform for bigots to wave their dicks around and yell, and it's dragging us down."
"Why did you wait until now to tell me this?" she snaps.
"It hadn't come up," he claims. Her jaw drops slightly, in disbelief. "We were both busy."
"You could've told me when - " She catches herself, shakes her head. "You could've found time. I know that for a fact."
"People are disgusting. That shouldn't be a surprise. If you don't set boundaries and tell them what to do, they run amok, hitting each other. That's why they need to be corralled and collectively cowed into submission." At this, Inglis shoots Finn a thoroughly unimpressed look, though Finn doesn't seem to notice. "You need to learn a lesson from this. Apparently, we all do."
"Yes, the beginning has been rocky," she concurs, voice rising as she turns to address the Commissioner. "Charles, it is going to be hard. People are cynical, they're stupid, they fuck things up for the good guys. But we have to step up. We need to believe that people are capable of being better, otherwise they wouldn't be worth protecting in the first place. We expose the weaknesses in society, even if it means a bloody battle. You said you wanted a new era? All births are messy and painful. Death from old age is quiet and peaceful." Her eyes are wide. Her heart and thoughts are racing. "Go broke or go home."
"Liz, you're the only one here who isn't from the general area," Inglis points out.
"If you think it's..." She gulps. Finn ambles closer, interest piqued. "Necessary, we can respond to these posts, condemning them. Not officially on behalf of the whole police force, but as socially conscious individuals. Staff members, police higher-ups. We draft a template and they follow it."
"We can even coach some of the ground forces," Finn offers.
"No," Liz says firmly.
Still, Finn's eyes gleam in triumph.
"It's worth a shot," Inglis decides. He motions for them to leave. She remains where she is.
"I have another idea, and you'll think it's a terrible one," Liz says. Finn and Inglis groan in perfect sync, in the same pitch - she wonders if they've been practicing. "But hear me out."
"Jesus," Finn exhales. "The Commissioner doesn't have time for this."
"Why don't you let the Commissioner speak for himself?"
"The Commissioner would like to do his job without having to listen to PR squabbles about bullshit, from children who don't understand what it takes to protect a city." Inglis' glare is directed at both of them. She feels the room frost over considerably. "But here we are. So let's get this over with."
"Do you remember how Matt ended up filming Robbie in the first place?" Liz questions.
"One of Richard's ideas," Inglis recalls. "Letting the cameras in."
"Look where that got us," Finn sneers.
Liz bristles. "It got us justice for Karl."
Finn throws his hands up in exasperation. "There she goes with the hashtags again!"
"Objectively true and powerful statements are not inherently hashtags, Finn!" She takes a deep breath. When she looks up, her eyes bore into Inglis'. "We produce and promote our own documentary alongside Matt's. Two perspectives backed by the same source, in the public eye at the same time. It's the best of both worlds: one uncensored, raw documentary on the Jeffries shooting, and another polished, focused documentary on the whole Met."
"Creating our own competition," Finn summarizes. "Although I admit, the official documentary would probably be considered more credible by anyone who matters."
"The entire fucking public matters, Finn," Liz says.
"The entire fucking public doesn't control our funding," Finn responds.
"The entire fucking public pays our funding. It'll be like the original one Richard was planning," she continues, shooting her Deputy a glare but otherwise ignoring his exaggerated menace. "The focus will be on Charles' adjustment period and the fallout from Jeffries. The trials, the police on the ground, Metwork...we show it all. No puff pieces. We don't censor it. We televise it and put it online, for free. If we're serious about transparency, we need to be open about the process. "
Liz watches the conflict play over Finn's face. She knows the exact moment she's won this round. He begins, "If we set the tone - "
"Within reason," she interrupts.
"I'll decide what that 'reason' is, thank you," he retorts. "And we have to think about logistics. Distributor, scheduling, the budget - "
Inglis gapes at them, having been rendered speechless since Liz's initial proposal. "You're telling me to film another fucking documentary in the middle of at least..." He makes a show of counting on his fingers, "Three crises, one of which you started? A documentary that would use taxpayer money and require an outside production team skulking around while we're on high-alert, months after the publicized security breaches of the last attempt?"
"Not a documentary, per se, just a short film - " Liz wheedles.
The Commissioner practically locks them out of his office.
With a sinking feeling, Finn realises that he's become Liz's ally - maybe they still argue, maybe he's still closer to Inglis than she'll ever be, but they've been lumped together. Those Two People. They're a packaged deal. Her mistakes are his mistakes, too.
They can't look at each other. She's undoubtedly realising the same thing. She faces him, and he opens his mouth, ready to restart the fight -
"Let's get a drink," Liz suggests, sounding weary. The manic glint in her eye has dulled.
He stuffs his hands into his pockets and grumbles his assent.
Neither of them have appetites, or the energy to blame each other. They finish their first drinks in stony silence, heads hung. Finn is halfway into his second when he speaks.
"He'll get over it," he says. "A well-worded email should do the trick."
Liz glumly stares down at her glass. "At least it's about security concerns and not his profile."
"I'm sorry for not telling you earlier." She lifts her head to gape at him, then whips out her phone. His stomach curls, but he powers through. "About Metwork."
"Say that again. Mostly the 'I'm sorry' part. I need to record this and set it as your ringtone." Finn glowers at her. "I just want it documented that you're capable of apologising for anything other than nipple jokes."
Liz snaps a photo of his expression, instead. "There. That makes us even. For now."
"I just found out yesterday, myself, but I was waiting for the opportune moment. Not to blindside you," he amends hastily, as she starts to complain. "To add...weight."
She raises an eyebrow. "And it won't happen again?"
"Of course it will. Besides - you didn't run the new documentary past me, either. Don't tell me you came up with it on the spot. Does this have something to do with PoCon as well?" Liz doesn't deny it; he wags a reproachful finger at her. "You should know that even if Inglis agrees, there's no way we can produce one in time."
"Miles and Jerry," she replies, preening subtly. "We can use what they've already filmed with minimal charge. We don't need to give them prominent credit. I may have threatened them a little."
"That footage is outdated by several months," Finn notes. "And you want to mix it with our own?" Liz nods; he laughs, long and sudden. "That's awful. And brilliant."
She rests her elbows on the bar, buries her face in her hands. "If we pull Metwork and the documentaries, I don't have any other ideas."
"You've only been here for a few months," he reminds her. "Lay low for a year before pursuing whatever crazy whim you have."
"I want us to have something to present at PoCon other than statistics on gun crime and dog shit. And when I want something, I get it as fast as possible." She looks up again. Her smile is ironic. "Like you."
"You mean we're similar, or I'm an example?"
"Yes," she answers vaguely, and motions for another drink.
Finn's collar is undone, and Liz is slumped over the counter, one arm pillowing her head. There's a row of empty glasses in front of them; he keeps straightening them into a neat line, and she keeps nudging one ever-so-slightly out of place.
"I'm falling apart," she blurts, breaking a lengthy bout of silence. "Slowly. Not in one go, like a Jenga tower. More like a dying star."
"A supernova lasts for seconds."
"Like I said, 'm not good at science."
"You've seemed fine, lately."
"Seemed. Even you don't realise it - I'm hiding it from you."
"Tell me what's wrong."
Liz runs both hands through her scalp. "I can't. I can't explain it to anyone; I can't even explain it to myself. There's something so wrong with me that it feels okay, like it's the way I'm meant to be. I am incredibly mentally ill. On my first day, Mia called the shooter a 'retard', and I thought that might've been a sign that I should've thought harder about how my disorder would clash with work. But I ignored it, because that's what I do, I push away my gut feelings, then act on impulse."
Finn frowns. She thinks that makes him look like a hedgehog, and that makes her giggle. "You have to see a psychiatrist."
She's annoyed that he can pronounce 'psychiatrist' while he's drunk. "Okaaaaay, Mom."
Liz sticks up her index finger. "Point one: I'll need to find a doctor. A doctor who's not a gigantic bag of dicks, like I have a talent for stumbling upon. Which will take time. Point B..." That doesn't sound right, but she keeps going, still sticking one finger up. "I don't want to go on meds, and anyway, starting them might make me...sick. Can't afford to let that happen. Not now."
"So you're sacrificing long-term functioning for short-term convenience."
"I learned it from you," she spits, then grabs him by the collar to kiss him. The alcohol is strong on both of their tongues. They both loudly gasp for air when it's over, which ruins the mood somewhat.
"You picked a hell of a field," Finn sighs, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
She flashes a weak smile. "What else can I do? Become an artist? Keep doing PR for websites? Stay at home and cry? I need this life. I need to make a difference; I need the rush, otherwise I'm just numb, and I may as well be dead. I might literally die."
Finn looks at her more sternly than he had after she'd suggested the documentary. "Do not die."
"You'd get promoted."
He considers this. "Not worth it." She's about to mockingly go "awwwww!" when he adds, "Two higher-up suicides in less than six months - "
Tears spill out of Liz's eyes. His puzzled expression exacerbates her misery. It's insignificant - that's one of the better reactions she could've anticipated from him, and she thinks she knows that he isn't trying to be cruel. But the disappointments of the week catch up to her, and she quickly dissolves into gut-wrenching sobs.
"Don't cry," he says, sounding lost, and did he actually fucking expect that to work? She wonders how full one of the glasses would be if she cried into it; how full it would be once he gets a fucking clue. He says, near-mournful, "I'm sorry." Finn picks up her phone and fiddles with it. Before she can snatch it back, he speaks into the mouthpiece, "I'm sorry."
He places her phone on the counter and plays the recording back for her until she laughs.
"This is a first for me, too," Liz admits, smiling semi-sad, still scooping tears from the corners of her eyes with her fingertips. He's tempted to lick them off, then realises that would be really, really weird. "Would you believe these past three months have been the longest and most stable relationship I've ever had?"
"Don't, don't call it that," Finn sputters. "Call it an...association, or a partnership."
"That makes us sound like we're cowboys."
"I'd rather be a cowboy than your boyfriend."
And, oh, that may have been the wrong thing to say yet again, because Liz briefly looks away like she's - humiliated? Hurt? Then she drains her glass and slams it onto the counter.
"Just as well," she mutters. "You have no idea what either entails."
For some reason, that bothers Finn even more than the 'relationship' remark. "Are you implying something?"
She pauses. "Have you ever seen a cow in your life? Like, a real one?"
"There are 10 million cattle in the U.K. And from what I can tell, being a cowboy has very little to do with actual cows."
"You're mixing cowboys up with gunslingers. Have you ever seen a cow in your life?" Liz repeats, with greater conviction.
"Several times. Not up close."
"What are you trying to say? That I'm more qualified to be your boyfriend?"
Liz just laughs. Hard, this time, for longer than necessary. The situation is so absurd that Finn starts to laugh as well.
The glare of the lights has turned harsh. The world seems to ebb and flow. Tender, squishy feelings are rapidly developing in her chest, blooming outwards in blotches of warmth. She scoots forward to kiss him again, but he pulls away.
"I've been getting panic attacks over sex," Finn confesses.
"What?" Her blood chills. Liz jerks upright on her stool. Through her inebriation, she recognises this as very bad. "You're not forcing yourself - "
"No, no." He waves her off. "The thing itself is good so far. But wanting it happened so suddenly, I'm worried that I'll just stop wanting it and never want it again. Worst case scenario, in the middle of it."
She's about to reach for him, but she decides against it. "If that ever happens, tell me right away."
"Yeah, because that makes it all better," Finn replies sarcastically. His gaze drops for a second. So does her heart. "And then what happens to us?"
Liz is mystified. "'You tell me."
He drums his fingers on the counter. "The basis of our rela - our - our time together is sex."
She rubs her finger over the rim of her glass, genuinely contemplative. "Is it?"
"It happens a lot."
"But not right now. Not throughout the work day. Hell, most our interactions don't involve sex. "
Finn examines Liz like he's seriously doubting her reasoning. "That's how this started."
"Just because something is the...cause, doesn't mean it's the only reason," she points out. "Or even the main reason."
"What else could be?"
They stare at each other, silently, for some time. Then they resume drinking, determined to pretend that nothing happened.
Liz kicks one of her heels off and slides her bare foot up Finn's calf. "You know, under a certain light, you're very handsome."
"And you're very pretty." He leans in, darting his tongue over his lips. "But I prefer you in the dark."
Way past their usual bedtimes, they drunkenly stumble into Liz's flat. They tug at each other's clothes, muttering half-coherent dirty talk beneath their breaths. Their attempt to kiss is hampered by the fact that they mostly miss each other's mouths, and she almost impales herself on her coffee table en route to her room.
"Hey, did you know - did you know - " she murmurs. Finn grunts, roughly shoves her into the mattress and climbs onto her. “You’re so much more than you pretend you’re not.”
In his intoxicated state, it takes him a while to process this. “Okay.”
“You’re like an armadild...armadillo,” she continues, taking advantage of his subsequent confusion to roll on top and plant her hands firmly on his chest. She blinks down at him with what he thinks resembles affection; he impatiently grinds upwards. “You’re all hard and spiky, but you need that armor because you’re so soft on the inside.”
“You take that back,” Finn commands, fire vanishing, eyes wide and glassy.
“I know I said everything is a shitty joke to you. I was wrong.” Liz cups his face, her fingertips cool on his cheeks burning from shame and something else he avoids identifying. “You care about justice, and honesty, and protecting others. You care so much - that’s why you want to give up. But you never did.”
Something shifts and swells in his chest. "I did."
"Before we met."
She gently headbutts him on the shoulder. "That's what you think."
"Did you not hear that speech just now about people being corralled?"
"You spend so much time picking others apart, you have no idea what your own heart is."
His eyes well; unnoticeable, he hopes. Too late. She carefully swipes at the corner of his eye, loosening a single tear onto her finger - and, funny that, she kisses it off.
"Where the fuck did you get that?" Finn snaps, voice not betraying his emotion. "Front page of Instagram, in Helvetica over a grayscale photo of a swing?" She shrugs. He digests this analysis for a second. Then he flips her onto her back, strokes her hair, her face; she leans into the touch, but he finds the motion oddly comforting, too. "Don't put me on a pedestal. I'm not a tragic hero. Neither are you," he adds, as an afterthought.
Liz cocks her head at a horrifically endearing angle. "What am I?"
“You’re a candle lit at both ends," he answers, following little deliberation. "I’m honestly not sure whether it’s better for you to burn yourself up for something you believe in, or if it’s merciful for people like me to snuff you out.” Her lower lip quivers; he traces it with one finger. “But I do know that, right now, you’re bright and beautiful - something illuminating in all the darkness.”
They pepper each other's faces with kisses as Liz reverses their positions again. She falls asleep with her fingers hooked into his trousers, her head resting on his chest. Finn wraps his arms around her and buries his nose in her hair, smiling to himself.
In the morning, they wake up at the same time, tangled together. They immediately recoil in opposite directions.
“What the fuck was that?” Finn shouts, jumping off the bed.
Liz tugs on her hair as if she’s trying to pull the memory out through her scalp. “It was the reverse of the alcohol-fueled angry hookup.”
He looks queasy. “Did I compare you to a candle?”
“Fuck candles, I called you an armadillo!”
“How did you get me to tear up?”
“How did you manage to say ‘illuminating’ while you were drunk?”
Neither of them have answers for each other, or themselves. Finn grabs his jacket and heads for the door.
“Where the hell are you going?” Liz demands.
He calls over his shoulder, “I need to take a shower, throw up, and take another shower!”
“I need to scrub my mouth with a loofah and burn my sheets!”
She checks her phone. The "I'm sorry" recording is still there; she keeps it, for posterity.
Liz keeps fighting. She gets dragged down slowly. She keeps working, cries for longer intervals afterwards. She self-medicates with caffeine and alcohol.
Finn doesn't relent. He keeps criticising her decisions at work and acting aloof while they're together. It's fucked up, but anything else would be jarringly out-of-character. Reality is already tilting topsy-turvy - she can't bear to exist in a universe where she has no ideas and no drive and Finn cares for her. Down the rabbit hole of her thoughts, it becomes worse: he'd care for her because of her growing helplessness, like being less somehow makes her more in his eyes.
He does care, though. They both know it. If he didn't, he wouldn't keep wordlessly following her home. If he wanted to hurt her, he would've leaked this to someone. He cares like it's part of his job, and his job is such an inextricable, natural part of him.
But he's never patronising, never so gentle that it hurts. She's grateful. She's terrified.
Inglis reluctantly agrees to review Liz's pitch for the documentary. She and Finn almost share a celebratory kiss before stopping themselves and spending the rest of the day sniping at each other.
As mid-February approaches, Finn begins worrying more than usual. It occurs to him that it's very possible he's in some type of romantic relationship and Liz has been inconsiderate enough not to inform him. He doesn't stay overnight before their off-day, then turns up in the morning unannounced.
Liz opens the door, sees what he's holding, and gawks at him so long that he wonders if her jaw's become unhinged.
She asks in a hoarse voice, “You got me flowers?”
“Condolence flowers. For the death of your integrity.”
Her shock seems to intensify for a moment, and he's tempted to throw the flowers at her and run away. When she smiles, tiny and amused, his relief is so palpable that he nearly keels over.
“And my integrity just happened to die around February 14.”
“It’s in a better place now,” Finn says solemnly.
Liz pulls him in and kisses him - just kisses him, without her hands roaming his body or her tongue slipping into his mouth. Once they've broken apart, she looks embarrassed.
"Can a mind-blowing fuck be my gift to you?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Liz tentatively brushes her lips over his cheek, and his heart flutters. "But yes."
Her heated gaze falls to the flowers. “I should put those in water.”
“They’re flowers, not fish.” He's too stunned by his lingering astonishment at her positive reaction to remember something important.
“Yeah, and that’s why your garden resembles a sparsely leafy nuclear wasteland.” Liz goes inside, leaving him standing in the doorway. She returns with an empty vase.
“By the way,” Finn quips, “they’re fake and flimsy, like my affection.”
“Cute.” Her cheeriness darkens; she appears ready to lob the vase at him. “You couldn't tell me this before I got water?”
“You could've fucking guessed, Liz, one of them has a price tag stuck to a petal.”
She doesn't mention that the flowers are her favourite colour, and he doesn’t dwell on the tenderness of her kisses. It’s not bad, this not-talking and not-dwelling thing. They should try it more often.
Chapter 16: there's always something to hide
Everyone's been awake for over a day, with minimal breaks in between. Inglis, Sharon, and Tom take one car. Despite Liz and Finn's protests, they and Mia are ushered into a separate one.
Five minutes into the journey, Liz dozes off upright, her head occasionally colliding with Finn's shoulder.
He and Mia exchange a glance. Mia nods, urging him on. He awkwardly shifts so that Liz is slumped further against him. It doesn't seem like a more comfortable position, but Liz moves closer. Mia grins, then mimes leaning down to kiss something. His face contorts in disgust; he mouths "no fucking way" before pointedly turning to stare out of his window.
Just months ago, the two of them were making fun of this woman as she recycled jokes and spoke with all the sincerity and spontaneity of a toy labelled with an "I Talk!" sticker. What the hell happened?
Liz is sick.
Liz is so sick, she's relying on Finn.
"Liz won't be coming in today," he announces to the department members gathered in a meeting room. "She's not feeling well. She might be out for a few days, or a few weeks. So if you could send her some - "
"Lucozade and grapes?" Tom recalls, visibly using every ounce of his body to muster sufficient sarcasm.
"No, updates and well-wishes." Finn glares at Tom so intensely that he shrinks back even more than usual. "You utter prick."
With that, Finn struts out of the meeting room. He does so relish these days when he's in control. He gets to make tough decisions and stand beside Inglis while looking important. And Liz trusts him. Not that she has a choice, but it's cathartic nonetheless.
Liz had suggested that the official documentary include employees other than police officers. Inglis is in favour of it, much to Finn's chagrin. They're still arranging filming schedules with the production company; Finn has been compiling interview guidelines and procedure. But before he can head to his office to review them, Mia waves him over to her desk. She looks worried. Being terminally unempathetic, he doesn't notice.
"Is Liz okay?" she asks. "I mean, I know she's sick, but is she - sick, sick?"
He raises an eyebrow. "She's down, that's all. It'll pass."
Mia leans in to whisper, "Should we call to have someone sent to her place?"
"'Someone'?" Finn is taken aback. "Like, what, a singing telegram?"
"Like a hospital person."
"I'll note down her address, just in case." Mia clicks her mouse several times, then recoils in shock. "Wait...you're Liz's emergency contact."
What. Finn's jaw clenches. "Well, none of you fuckers are reliable."
"She put 'friend' under relationship," she adds.
He has to clear his throat. "No wonder she's depressed." She keeps gaping at him. "Look, it's a better thing to put on a form than 'frequent shag’, isn't it?"
Mia wisely decides to abandon the subject. For the remainder of the day, Finn handles the department with a tighter grip than Liz does. He calls journalists to stomp on a few small stories and sends an email to Matt Coward which ends with a veiled threat and a series of passive-aggressive smiley faces.
Finn’s phone buzzes at the end of the day. He scowls at the screen and pockets it.
That evening, Finn visits Liz. Presumably, it's to update her and pass her some files, with the implicit hope for sex. He knocks on her door once before letting himself in.
She doesn't acknowledge his presence as he enters. She's on her sofa, hair unruly, wearing yesterday's clothes. Her laptop is open to a Metwork-related document and there's a pile of newspapers and used tissues on the coffee table. Finn wordlessly sits next to her.
"I probably shouldn't be your emergency contact," he says.
Her glare reveals that her eyes are red-rimmed and puffy; her voice is scratchy. "I thought you’d appreciate being first to know if I'm near-death, so you'll have a head start on arranging the parade."
"I don't mind. It's just that we work in the same place." At that, she deflates; he smiles. "It's redundant."
"Your area of expertise," she replies with an attempt at acidity, though her heart doesn't seem to be in it. Finn gently smooths her hair, and she rests her head on his arm.
Eventually, Liz's gaze lingers on the exposed column of his throat, hungry and expectant. Her mood must be improving. It’s a shame he needs to wreck it.
“We need to talk,” Finn says.
Oh, no. As Liz straightens, her expression does that thing he hates, where it falls from bright to downcast faster than he can blink, and some pertinent metaphor about Icarus will occur to him later. She flicks a piece of lint off the sofa like she’s imagining it's Finn's head.
"Fine," she mutters.
“So...the press is starting to sniff around Richard again. Calm down,” he adds, when her mouth crumples as if she’s hurtling through an accelerated course of the five stages of grief.
“Why?” She already sounds exhausted to her core; it’s hard for him to digest the uncomfortable twinge of sympathy in his gut. “I guess I missed something while I was gone. So what was the trigger?”
And her tone sharpens, puncturing his sympathy. “Finn.”
“Literally nothing. These past weeks have been uneventful, so there’s a sort of story vacuum to fill. The six-month anniversary of Inglis’ appointment is coming up - it’s natural that they’d focus on us.” Prematurely, Liz relaxes a little. He grits his teeth and soldiers on. “The thing is...Caroline Carey likely only caught wind of the affairs because I was busy covering up everything else.”
“Everything else,” she repeats flatly.
“After Miller was made Commissioner, there were complications,” Finn explains. “Concerns about police relations with the press. We had to play ball with the journos to prove that we weren’t always playing ball with the journos...fuck, Liz, don't look at me like that, I haven't been clubbing baby seals on the head in the name of service."
She chews her lower lip almost as hard as he gnaws his gum. “How bad was it?”
“Operational details were leaked on purpose,” he says, carefully adopting a passive voice to mask his very active participation. “Some related to the investigations, some about unrelated stories.”
Groaning, Liz pushes her hair back and massages her temples with both thumbs. Finn strains to catch a glimpse of her face, to no avail; when she stares at him again, her gaze burns like a brand on his latent soul.
“After that stunt you pulled about Maze Hill, Grant Delgado warned me about Richard,” she recalls. “I know he had something to do with Caroline’s snooping. But it did sound like he was referring to something worse than the affairs.”
Damn it, why can't she be in one of those episodes where she’s slow and quiet, not irritable and negative? “Whenever we dealt with City Hall and the press, it involved decades of personal and professional complications. Delgado was referring to this.” Come to think of it… “Why didn’t you tell me he said something?”
She huffs. “I’m sorry for not transcribing of all of my casual conversations and emailing them to you for you to browse at your earliest convenience.”
“Anyway, that’s why I was so against hiring an outsider for PR, an American outsider -”
“That couldn’t be all,” Liz interrupts, frown deepened. “Delgado called Richard’s tenure a ‘boozy lunch’ with the tabloids. What else?”
Shit. Finn suppresses his urge to panic. “The contact info of victims. Miller occasionally convinced papers to have personal stories spiked, in exchange. Minor stories. Like his salary and political preferences and where he brought his family for the fucking holidays.” Even confronted by Liz’s mounting horror, he finds himself irrationally annoyed at her unawareness - where the fuck was she then? (University and Instagram. Irrelevant.) "Mia knew about it, too, though not the full extent."
“I can’t believe this.” She rises, propelled by a burst of fury, and whirls on him with her fists clenched. Of all the crises they've been through together, she looks like her world is falling apart now. “I can’t believe you!”
“Look, on its own, it’s old hat, yeah?” Finn insists, standing to meet her. “This is standard practice. The problem is that seven years ago, we ran Richard’s campaign on the promise to be different from our predecessors, and we weren’t. But we tried.”
“You failed,” she spits, with a vehemence he’s nearly forgotten she could possess. They circle each other around the perimeter of the coffee table and wind up swapping sides.
“Says the woman who can’t do anything without my help,” he retorts. Her incredulous stare intensifies. “At the moment, anyway.”
“So, let me get this straight: you’ll store minor secrets in one physical location like a hoarding dragon, but you shove the mother lode so far up your ass it turns into a shit diamond for you to spit at me at high speed?”
“You truly wield your tongue as a brush to paint such lovely pictures.”
“How fucked is Inglis?” she snaps.
Finn exhales, allowing some of his tension to deflate. “Not much. I think. Richard preferred not to involve both of us at the same time. We’ve compared notes, but that shouldn’t be incriminating.”
“He must’ve wanted to protect Charlie.” Odd comment, though there’s no chance to dwell on it. Liz sighs, shoulders sagged as well. “Fuck. Can’t we just let him be dead?”
“You’re the one who waffled on about legacy, Liz,” he reminds her, with renewed indignation. “Good and bad. The true sum of a life - any life - isn’t going to be a shiny plaque and a wailing bagpipe.”
“To be fair, it usually isn’t a multimedia-broadcast betrayal of cherished values, either.” She side-steps the table and storms up to him, shoving her face in front of his so quickly that their foreheads nearly knock together. “How do you suggest we handle this? A SnapChat story? Skywrite the terms of his under-the-table dealings? Use part of our documentary to explore Richard’s professional past?”
Silence says more than enough. She balks.
“Oh - Jesus fucking shit,” Liz blurts, voice halfway between a gasp and a whisper. “Great idea. Here’s another one: why don’t we exhume him, string up his skeleton, and make him dance the can-can?”
“That would require hiring a puppeteer. It isn’t in our budget.” Finn eyes her meaningfully. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
“How to be a human being with a functioning heart?”
“If we go ahead, Inglis will instantly seem like the most trustworthy, progressive Commissioner in history, hands-down. Transparency,” he declares. “They want to dig for live ordnance? We’ll detonate something a hundred times more damaging in our faces, ourselves.”
Liz’s glare is searing. “I somehow doubt airing a dead Commissioner’s dirty laundry is a hundred times worse than cops covering up murdering a black kid, Finn.”
“You know what I’m doing.” You taught me, is what he leaves unsaid. “It's one episode's worth of content, Liz. We won't act without Inglis’ approval, every step of the way - ”
“You do realise this is fucking insane.”
“Right up your alley, then.”
Harsh, maybe, but that stuns her into thinking about it.
“We need to hold a pre-emptive press conference before the documentary airs,” she finally says, “or a follow-up afterwards. And tell the family at some point.”
“Sure, why not.”
“Okay, I’ll sign off on it.” Her chin juts out in a resurgence of defiance. “On one condition.” At the C-word, his heart constricts in another mild panic. Liz sniffles loudly and flops back onto the sofa with a thud, glowering. “Say I was right in September. Say I’ve been doing the right thing since I arrived.”
“I think I just did.”
“In actual words.”
“You are...rarely entirely wrong,” Finn manages. “Put that down. That's not what a throw pillow means -”
It sails past his head and smacks the far wall, displacing a framed poster, which wobbles tauntingly for a moment before crashing to the floor. She wasn’t really aiming for anything. Probably.
Despite that unpleasant surprise, soon - very soon - Liz feels better. Positively euphoric, in fact. It energizes her, masks her remaining unease over Richard. She undoes half of Finn's earlier decisions without informing him, sends an apology email to Matt Coward, and spikes a story about leaked surveillance camera footage of a minor celebrity. She's on a roll.
Until Mia intercepts her in the hallway, wide-eyed. "Liz, Richard's daughter is here to see you."
"What?" Liz has to take a moment to make sure she heard correctly. Her elevated spirits swandive and crash. "Me, specifically?" Mia nods. "Now's not a good time. And doesn't she have school?"
"Should I call Jennifer?"
Liz peers into her office. Richard's daughter - Brooke - is sitting primly and dressed in all-black, just like she had been when Liz last saw her.
"I'll handle it," Liz assures Mia. She takes a deep breath, then pushes the door open.
Few pleasantries are exchanged and Liz has barely sat down before Brooke begins rambling.
"...He was hot-tempered, but he tried not to take it out on us," she concludes. "The worst thing he ever did was not be there."
She's not a child, Liz reminds herself, do not coddle her, do not patronize her. Liz settles for a polite nod, bracing herself to respond to questions on her relationship with Richard.
"Please don't defame my father further."
That catches her off-guard. Reflexively, she answers, "I promise, we won't."
"But you're going to feature him in your documentary, aren't you?" Brooke fixes her with an intent stare. "What happened in September? How Uncle Charlie became Commissioner? Maybe more?"
"How did you find out?" Liz blurts, concerns about sensitivity forgotten. She immediately worries that she'll have to plug a leak in the department...or worse, if Finn -
"He visited the other day, to tell us in person."
Liz silently curses Inglis’ thoughtfulness. "Oh. Well. I assure you, Rich - your father won't be the documentary's focus." Brooke doesn't appear to be very comforted by this. "What we're showcasing about his personal life is already public knowledge."
Fuck. That was the definite wrong thing to say. She sees Brooke's face drop, then unexpectedly steel; Liz realises, too late, that her eyes are her father's. The resemblance is even stronger when they're narrowed in scrutiny.
"What about his professional life?" Brooke presses.
"Do you know something?" Liz retorts.
"I'm not an idiot. If he was cheating on my mother with multiple women for years, what was stopping him from the same type of shit at work?"
"Hey," Liz says, so stunned by this sudden assessment of Richard's nature that she can only finish, "watch your fucking language!"
This meeting must be a sign, the universe nudging Liz towards the right thing. Hadn't Richard paid for his mistakes enough, since he killed himself and is now largely discredited? And if she doesn't care for him anymore, then she should do it for his family's sake. Clearly she's been spending too much time with Finn. She used to pride herself on creatively solving problems; perhaps the relative lack of conflict has made her complacent.
"He wasn't a cardboard cutout for the Met, Miss Garvey," Brooke Miller protests. "He was a real person. You deal with real people - "
Liz holds up a hand. She smiles sadly, in what she hopes is a reassuring manner. "I promise."
She plans to confront Finn later. But when they meet by the lifts, the words won't leave her mouth. He holds the doors open, eyeing her quizzically when she doesn't enter straightaway. Shrugging to herself, she enters and smacks him on the ass as soon as the doors shut. Serious talks can wait until nighttime.
They return to her flat together. Liz grows calmer as the evening progresses, postponing the conversation with every passing hour. Her head hurts, the pressure behind her eyes throbbing. They eat while watching the news and prepare for bed soon afterwards. Finn begins sliding a hand up her thigh once they're lying under the covers in a position suspiciously resembling spooning.
"I have a migraine," Liz states.
"Orgasms are supposed to alleviate headaches."
"Maybe if you ground up an aspirin and rolled your dick in the powder. I could take it orally or as a suppository."
She can feel him wrinkle his nose against her back. "I'm not putting anything in there."
"It's interesting that that's what you have a problem with and not the aspirin-dick," she replies. "Get yourself off if you want, but I'm going to sleep."
"I'm tired, too," he says, removing his hand. His arm remains splayed over her waist.
Their eyes simultaneously widen in realisation: he's staying the night, they aren't having sex, and they're sober.
"I might be into it later," Liz says. "If you wake up, give me a poke."
"Right," Finn concurs, with a hint of embarrassed hysteria. "Like a midnight snack, but for my cock. Good thing you're not that type of metaphorical gremlin."
"On second thought, you can just smell my sheets and masturbate."
She scrambles to hit the light switch. They mutter "good night"s and roll over to face opposite directions.
Chapter 17: your two-way heart's diplopic error
It's the PR department’s turn to film. Liz and Finn complete their individual interviews without major incident. The cameraman assures them that the pop culture references can be safely edited out.
Again, Liz postpones the discussion until tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow. She's aware of hypomania escalating into agitation, the urge for confrontation bubbling up from somewhere deep within her. It takes a lot of effort to rein it in, and she feels like the slightest misstep could have her totally imbalanced. In the meantime, she obsesses over how to handle the Richard problem. Finn has never seemed to grasp that she's not so much safeguarding Richard himself, but what he symbolizes; she doesn't explain it, because she doubts he'd believe her.
Matt Coward's documentary is being produced concurrently, and they're in talks about possibly airing them one after another. It's a sore spot for Finn. To make matters more complicated, Inglis plans to quietly test-run a multilingual requirement for new recruits. Hostile tension spikes between Liz and Finn, though it hasn't reached a catastrophic level. Their productivity has suffered a small hit. The sex is fantastic.
Her hand is finally forced when she receives Finn's email concerning the official documentary. He's proposed half an episode focusing on Richard's final days, including the 'bold move' he took in hiring Liz. He also suggests securing an interview with Amy, the physiotherapist. That has to be worth a rapid back-and-forth and a resentful quickie.
At the end of the workday, she drains a cup of coffee in preparation for the upcoming battle, then marches into her Deputy's office.
She announces, “I want to revisit Richard.”
Finn's expression falls for a second before contorting with irritation. He swivels in his chair to face her. “We’ve been over this.”
“I want to go over it again.” Rolling his eyes, he takes a swig of water, his disregard immediately drawing her ire. “Yes, I recognise that it’s necessary to discuss his tenure. But if we're planning to reveal...the rest later, must we be so in-depth about September? Must we interview Amy?”
“All right, what brought this on?” Finn sneers, conveniently dodging her question.
He stands and ambles towards her; she warily watches his approach.
“Did you go through your Facebook timeline?” he questions. “Read old sexts?”
“Fuck off. His daughter visited last week. She was worried about the official documentary.”
Liz proceeds to recount the whole conversation to Finn, putting extra emphasis on how it was Inglis who informed the family.
Unsurprisingly, he's unmoved: "You can't compromise on your own idea just because some kid tells you to."
"How has mistreating minors worked out for you in the past?” she challenges. “Besides, it's a valid request. She's not asking us to post-process in sepia or use a One Direction song for the credits, she's asking us to show respect for her late father. You’ve already dragged his name through the mud while his body was cooling. We don’t have to rub it in.”
"Transparency," Finn snaps.
"Within reason," Liz counters.
"You possess so little of that. How can you be the judge?"
"Because it's my agenda, not yours?"
He scoffs. "For someone working for a police force, you have a skewed sense of justice."
"What does that have to do with - " Liz freezes, momentarily speechless as she pieces together his meaning. She can only bark out a disbelieving laugh. "Finn, you're a vortex of dark energy calling the kettle black."
"I had no problem with the Jeffries inquiries once we'd established that the cops were guilty," Finn says, and speaks over her subsequent objections, "I knew Miller for seven years. I even liked him. But he encouraged the rivalry between us, he was willing to sell Inglis out, and he was fucking women all over Scotland Yard. You have to admit, he contributed to the situation we inherited. I'm sure he'd agree."
She allows her jaw to drop and hang open for a few seconds. "Is that how you rationalise slathering yourself in gutter water like a freakish urban mudskipper - that it's about others getting what you think they deserve?" Mentally, she wonders, What do you think I deserve? "Who the fuck are you to decide?"
"You're one to talk. You constantly evaluate others using your impossible personal values and attack them when they don't match up. You justified combating Inglis when he had the gall to dislike you. You justified hating me by convincing yourself that I was evil incarnate."
"You never gave any evidence to the contrary." Liz arches an eyebrow. "You really aren't right now."
"The burden of proof wasn't on me," he argues. It's her turn to roll her eyes. "What's the worst thing I did to you before you fired me on your first day? Be condescending? Minor insubordination? Meanwhile, someone can singlehandedly jeopardize stability with his dick, and you worship the ground he inevitably shagged on. You grovelled to the public, but no one who matters bought it. The sole occupants in your mental la-di-da land of infallibility are you and Richard."
"Excuse me if I don't fall to my knees in penance thanks to a pseudo-psychoanalysis from someone near-universally hated," she hisses, "who jumps at any opportunity to spy on coworkers and smear kids. How did you even take the logical leap from the documentary to criticizing me? You're a self-important hack who gets off on the sound of his own voice." With that, she heads for the door.
Finn calls, "And you're a disaster waiting to happen!" Liz halts. Deep breaths do nothing to quell her temper flaring hotter. "If it hasn't yet. I'm the cynical sod I am now because I spent years protecting him; he was who he was because he wanted to make a difference and ended up making a mess. You'll either die like Miller or live long enough to become like me!"
Whirling around, she demands, "Is that from The Dark Knight?"
He swallows. "Loosely."
A pause, crushing in its weight. Neither move to close the distance between them.
“You want to talk about vigilante justice, Finn?” Liz asks. “Fine. Let’s talk about Caroline Carey.”
“What about her?” His brow furrows, traces of his earlier aggression largely dissipated; she can’t decide whether it’s worse if it’s an act or if his confusion is genuine. “Has she started dressing up as a bat and assaulting the mentally ill? Because we could use that against her.”
“She definitely didn’t have to dress up as a bat to attack me. Remember the phone records? A source close to Miss Garvey? 'Double act'?” she quotes. “You didn't even have the decency to wait a few days, or leak it to a different paper, or phrase it more creatively than the bullshit you spewed at me!”
“It wasn’t personal,” Finn insists.
“Sure.” Liz nods several times, too obliging to be true. “I could tell by how you gave them a photo I only posted on Facebook.”
“You tried to fire me out of pettiness and spite, I tried to fire you out of pettiness and spite. Clearly, we both failed.” He spreads his arms, simultaneously conciliatory and condescending. “Thank God we did. What’s the problem?”
“The problem?” Liz echoes. “The problem is, you never said a fucking word about it. The problem is that you routinely fuck the woman you fucked over based on your paranoia that she was fucking a married man.” She pauses. “Fuck you.”
“You're still here. You're still standing.”
“Because of me. No thanks to you.”
“If you say so.” Finn’s eyes shift back and forth. “I have a confession.” To her hypersensitive senses, the words sound forced.
Liz waves her arm in a gesture of mock invitation. “By all means.”
“In September, part of why I acted like such an arsehole was because…” A deep breath, and he finishes, “I was jealous.”
Finn stares at Liz, wide-eyed and uncertain, as if he's revealed some harrowing secret. Her tongue feels numb. Everything else feels inflamed.
“You were jealous,” she repeats.
“Really, this again?”
“I'm serious,” he claims, head bowed. “Yes, I was jealous of the clout you had with Richard, I was jealous of the title and the big office and the pay, but I think...I was jealous of him. Of how he had you. I didn’t know it then, so I assumed it was a special type of hatred reserved for you. I was wrong.”
"Great." Liz laughs without mirth. "So, because you cracked open your diary to show me your hurt feelings, you think that makes it okay that you pissed on mine and set them on fire and now you're pissing on them again in some stupid attempt to put out the fire, you prissy fucking bitch?"
The sentence ends as a shout. Finn flinches - they never call each other names during arguments, not seriously. But she’s too far gone to care beyond a smattering of doubt.
His expression is...wrong, a mix of exasperation, anxiety, and manic insistence. “It was hard for me - ”
“For you?” Liz lashes out, so fiercely that he staggers back. “I could've died, too! You tried to ruin my life and you nearly did, you could've killed me!”
“You were fine on Sky News,” he protests.
“Yeah, because my plan would’ve worked if I’d turned up sobbing with messy hair and running mascara.”
She was fine, actually. By then her trauma had steeled into a chilly determination that lasted for the next week. But he wouldn’t know that, would never know that unless he asked, which he hasn't.
“Would you do it again?” she questions.
His head snaps up. “What?”
“They're poking around. What if something suspicious comes up - something ambiguously linking me to Richard’s press issues, or renewed rumours of an affair?”
“I don't see how that would happen.”
“Hypothetically. Come on. You exclusively deal in worst case scenarios.”
“Yes.” That response was more predictable than tomorrow’s weather, but her heart plummets all the same. “I would.” His tone is strained with an emotion she can’t discern. He holds her gaze as he elaborates, “I would sacrifice your reputation if it meant protecting the police force. Especially if I thought the allegations were true.”
She has to blink away tears. Tears over Finn. Fuck.
“Did this place turn you into this person,” she asks, “or are you here because of who you are?”
“There isn't a straightforward answer to that.”
“No. Of course not.” Liz slumps with her heavy exhale, arms dangling limp by her sides. “There's a labyrinth of bullshit with a petty, scheming, misogynistic minotaur in the middle. And no one can tell which half is the monster.”
“Liz,” Finn says, charging to meet her with a jab of his index finger, “nothing is more important to me than the job! Not my personal life, not my friends, and definitely not you!” He lowers his hand, blinking rapidly. “Not whatever this is.”
This time, her laughter is cruel. “I know you're inexperienced, but did you really think there's anything here?”
He’s at a rare loss for words. It hurts, everything hurts, and in the razor-sharp clarity of her pain, she wants it to hurt him, too.
“Well, you know what, Finn?” She sniffles, beaming cruelly. “Joke's on you. You've done what you hated me for doing. You slept your way to the top.”
Finn's expression falters further. When he speaks again, his voice comes out much tinier than usual: “I didn't.”
“Oh, yes you fucking did. Why do you even think you're here? Because you're powerful? Because your opinion is oh-so-valued?”
“I know that's why I'm here. Leave the farfetched spinning to me.” His effort is valiant, but he can't hide the hurt seeping through the cracks in his anger, can't possibly fool Liz into believing he's untouchable and unfeeling like he did on that fateful day. Finn has a heart, and she intends to smash it the way he took a sledgehammer to hers when it was already at its breaking point.
“Know how it feels to be objectified?” she continues, blowing past his bravado. “From the moment we met, I thought I'd end up sleeping with you, not Richard. How does it feel to have someone assume they know everything about who you'd fuck and how often you fuck and how much it matters to you?”
“Liz, I was stupid, I didn't -”
“Are. You are stupid. You're a fucking English major, get your tenses right.”
“That's it? After everything?” asks Finn. His lower lip trembles considerably before curving into a sneer. “Maybe you are just a self-entitled sex-crazed maniac after all.”
“Maybe I am. What does that say about you?” No answer. She shuts her eyes and re-opens them slowly. It's like sizing him up at their first meeting, all over again: crystal clear and every bit as disappointing. “Finn, we were a good double act - ”
His breath audibly catches. ”You need me.”
“I need you like cancer.”
“Are you firing me?”
“Of course not. Your connections are invaluable. Your insight is occasionally passable.” Liz's eyes narrow. “But we're not equals anymore. You don't take a piss without me clearing it first.”
Finn scrambles to block her exit. “The Commissioner will hear about this.”
“Hear about how you want to ass-fuck his dead best friend's reputation till it disintegrates?” Smirking grimly, she adds, “How does it feel, being second best all the time?”
“I’m not through with you,” he growls, and her lips smash against his, or vice versa. It's more of an attack than a kiss, with teeth and clashing tongues and indignant noises. Breaking for air, his anger has melted into a daze. Hers has reached a boiling point.
“See you tomorrow,” Liz spits. She pushes past him and slams the door on her way out, too incensed to pay attention to the cold dread sinking into her heart.
Finn doesn't sleep well that night, though he tries not to dwell on it.
In the morning, he arrives at Scotland Yard earlier than he has in months. He lurks outside Liz's office. She doesn't appear. He goes to his office, drafts an email for ten minutes, then walks by the lifts and her office. She isn't there. When he checks again fifteen minutes later, she's seated at her desk. Upon spotting him peering through the wall, she glares so hatefully that his skin crawls; he flips her off and stomps away.
They encounter each other in the empty hallway at noon. No words are exchanged, just dark glances. She grabs him by the tie and pulls him into a secluded corner. Before he can ask what's going on, they're kissing - but it's not like it usually is, it's all fire and no warmth. Soon, she's unzipped him, cupping and stroking his cock as they ravish each other's mouths. It only takes a few rough tugs for him to come in his pants with a groan.
As the shudders subside, he becomes distressingly aware that her gaze is icy. Liz wrenches herself out of his arms and stalks off. He gapes at her retreating form, stunned, not trusting himself to walk or think straight yet.
At 7 p.m., he enters her office, ready to argue. Finn winds up on his knees, her foot firmly planted on his shoulder while he nibbles up her thighs to suck at her clit. She whimpers, squirms in her chair; he grips her hips for purchase and thrusts his tongue into her cunt as she bites her fist. When he's licked her to orgasm, he rears back to admire her flushed-pink skin, her fringe falling into her eyes. She's beautiful, breathless, and still utterly displeased to see him. Startled by the stabbing pain in his chest, he tears himself from her and scurries out.
They continue in this fashion for the next two days. Their professional interactions are at a bare minimum; they avoid eye contact during meetings; their emails are curt. But whenever they run into each other and no one's watching, Liz drags Finn into a corner, covers him in blistering kisses, gropes him, claws him. And he kisses back, clutches back, rubs against her and lets lust pilot his actions until one of them shoves the other aside and walks off. They don’t speak at all.
His gut tells him that he's made a terrible mistake - or several. But he's inexperienced. He doesn’t know whether it’s a game ordinary people play when they’re upset, if it’s a phase, or if he’s losing something he wasn’t sure he had. He can’t approach Liz in private without her slamming him against a wall and sticking a hand down his trousers, but even if he could, what would he ask? “Did we break up?” She’d either slap him or fuck him to death.
On the third day, Liz storms into his office before the 8:30 briefing. They've arrived early, separately, so at least there isn't anyone around to witness their squabbling.
"Jamie just called," she begins tersely. "He asked if I had any comments on the new second language requirements."
Finn's eyes stay glued to his computer screen. "Yes, I imagine he'd be interested in that."
"Weird, since no one in the department knows about it yet except you, me, and Mia."
Her voice lowers to a hellish undertone. "Finn, what the fuck are you doing?"
"Reminding you whose mercy we're at."
"Or making a power grab with baby hands."
Finn can easily have the story pulled, but they both know that isn't the issue. He stands and circles Liz languidly while she scowls at him; he's a shark taunting a dinghy that's armed with a harpoon.
"You once mentioned the long game," he recalls. "You don't know the rules like I do." Oh, he's missed the sick kick he gets from her expression twisting with hurt atop her mounting rage. "Tell me, how would you have spun the affairs? 'Police Commissioner selflessly donates own prick as a baton, tirelessly performs cavity searches into the wee hours of the morning?'"
Liz charges towards him. "Shut up!"
"The suicide?" he continues. Her fury-filled eyes look in danger of popping out of her skull. "'Richard Miller heroically leaps into a river to save his drowning ego, tragedy strikes when it proves too heavy, but he refuses to let go?'"
Liz pushes him onto his chair, which rolls backwards until it hits the picture window. She closes in menacingly. Already panting, he unzips himself and pulls his hardening dick out. She hikes up her skirt, revealing that she isn't wearing anything underneath. Then she turns her back on him.
He watches her, legs spread, confused. “Liz, what - "
Still not facing him, she sits on his lap and sinks onto his cock. He chokes in surprise, because he didn’t even know they could do it this way. He fumbles for her breasts, her clit, whatever he can, but she snatches his hands and pins them to her waist as she rides him.
Eventually, he gives up trying to touch Liz and desperately thrusts his hips to meet her unrelenting speed.
“Jesus, that’s so fucking good,” Finn gasps, and bites his lip, anticipating her response. He waits for her to moan in agreement, or rub circles on his thigh, or reach back to touch his cheek.
She's quiet besides small, involuntary sighs. Her hands tighten on his but remain where they are. A void is opening in his chest, expansive and bottomless. He presses his nose into the nape of her neck and inhales, the familiarity of her scent helping to anchor him. It’s fast, she's soaked wet and burning hot, he's going to pieces beneath her; but he can’t see her, can’t feel her, the angle is wrong, it’s all wrong -
Liz clenches around him and exhales shakily. There's barely any satisfaction as he comes, just the burst of pleasure followed by an implacable ache. She releases his hands, tolerates him absently running his fingers over her body; folding her arms, she shivers despite the sunlight beaming onto them.
They linger in that position for half a minute. Finn keeps his face buried in her skin.
“Please don’t go,” he whispers. “Please.”
Liz either doesn’t hear or doesn’t care. He shifts, and notices the state of her hair, frizzy and tangled. When he lifts a hand to card through it, she jerks away from him and stands as if he’s now physically repelling her.
“You have one hour to spike the story,” she says, straightening her skirt. She isn’t looking at him. “I don't care if you have to sell an organ or gag on a cock."
Unexpectedly, his eyes sting. “Liz - "
She's gone before he can find the rest of his sentence. Finn struggles to breathe for a few seconds. He gets up to stare out of the window, and recoils at the despondency of his reflection.
Hours later, he barges into her office, more jittery than usual as he gnaws on his gum. They're on the clock, so she ignores him, even after he clears his throat loudly.
"I can't do this anymore," Finn blurts.
"Filming ends soon," Liz replies.
"Sneaking around. Anything sexual. Not when - I - we -" He gulps. At the sight of his wretched expression, something inside her fractures and rebuilds itself crookedly. "I literally can't."
"Okay. Thanks?" She surveys him, indifferent. "Honestly, I'd rather have your resignation."
For a heart-stopping moment, he's obviously poised for a fight. Liz is more than happy to oblige. But his eyes cloud over, his shoulders sag; he gives her one short nod, then turns heel to exit without a second glance.
She's elated. She won this round, their longest, most twisted bout yet, where they got in close and sussed out each other's weaknesses. They'd played chicken with each other's feelings, and he'd been the one to swerve. It was fair in their special, dirty way. She feels invincible and powerful and like she could crush any other snails in the path of her life.
...Until that evening, her conviction collapses into regret and self-loathing. Frantically, she assures herself that her cruelty was a justified response to his: Finn had proved that he hadn't changed, couldn't change, had deceived her by pretending to be deeper than the creep she'd met half a year ago. Right? Right?
(All she can focus on is him pleading with her not to leave. The tiny tremor in his voice. The look on his face every time she pulls away, identical to back in September, after she'd claimed he didn't believe in anything. Her own malicious thoughts, following months of harmony.)
Liz spends the night alternating between weeping from intense guilt and furiously typing in a document titled 'why I hate Finn'. There is no middle ground.
Chapter 18: your form suffers some strange injury
Finn wakes up furious.
Before he's even had his first cup of coffee, he pops two pieces of nicotine gum into his mouth, chewing angrily. That's right. He won't be kissing Liz anymore. He can have as much gum as he wants. It's a fucking fantastic trade-off. He doesn't need breakfast, and he doesn't need forgiveness, and he doesn't need her.
Finn is no stranger to loss, but few aspects of his life have ever really been snatched away; instead, he learns that they didn't belong to him in the first place, that they weren't under his control. His calling. His conscience. His career. Months ago, his body and its impulses.
Liz was never his.
He lowered his guard. That was clearly a mistake. Never again, not that he could if he wanted to. Throughout the morning, he constructs elaborate plots to bring about Liz’s downfall. He could publicly denounce Metwork. He could leak how her mental health affects her work. He’s resolute, determined to destroy her once and for all -
Then he rounds the corner and almost bumps into her. Their eyes meet for a second - long enough for him to remember how much it just hurts. For a moment, the anger dissipates into a dull pang. It resurges with a vengeance.
“Liz,” he snaps, pouring all of his pain into her name.
“Finn,” she replies, toneless, looking straight ahead.
Striding forward, he counts the steps in his head. Four. Five. Six. He stops and turns to watch Liz leave; he wasn’t expecting her to be watching him, too. She averts her stare as she enters her office. Finn decides right there that retribution isn't worth the trouble. The best revenge is functioning like he had in September, when he hadn't been distracted by sex and conventional beauty and warm feelings of...complacency.
There's already a mauled piece of gum in his mouth, but he unwraps another and pops it in. It isn't enough.
A new problem has arisen: a group of hackers has been acquiring classified information and publishing it online, along with bomb threats and rants. Meanwhile, the official documentary finishes shooting at Scotland Yard, and the production team submits their raw footage to the PR department. Matt Coward also sends the first cut of his documentary. Liz overrides Finn's decision to view Matt's documentary beforehand, opting to involve other department members as well.
It’s one of the most illuminating forty-five minutes of Liz’s life. And one of the most uncomfortable. It certainly won’t be mistaken for a puff piece. The credits roll, and subordinates slowly shuffle out of the room, muttering among themselves; Liz desperately tries to break through the crowd.
As she makes a beeline for the lifts, Finn grabs her by the arm. He drags her into a meeting room. The door bangs shut behind them.
Liz pounces before he can: “Let me guess - the world is going to end because of one gritty documentary.”
“We can’t support it,” he claims. “We can’t authorize it. He’s flipping us the bird, and you’re hiking up our skirt, bending over, and saying ‘in here, please!’”
“Has it ever occurred to you that the fault lies in our system, in our forces, not in presenting them as they are?”
“That’s not how they are! It’s over-dramatized, indie award-baiting arthouse shit.“
“Like you'd know! What are you, the fucking Eye of Sauron?" Liz stomps up to him. "Matt Coward was at Cravenwood, at the Thameside Centre, with Robbie Vas throughout. He’s giving us the closest account we'll ever have to the truth. Besides, even if the documentary was shit, what do you want to do about Matt?"
"Revisit our terms," Finn replies, a cold undertone of threat in his voice.
"It's not that simple! If you shoot the messenger, someone else is going to take a video and upload it on the Internet." His only response is a glower. “Finn, what’s the worst thing that can happen?”
"This is a sensitive time,” he insists.
"It's always a sensitive time," she counters.
“Fine. We piss off a bunch of cops, they go on strike again, and riots overwhelm the city.”
“If our officers are that petty, and I doubt they are - ”
“What? What?” he barks. “We should accept it as proof we're wrong? Wipe the slate clean in a torrent of blood and guts?“ Liz watches him silently, seething, wondering what he'd do if she walked away. He throws his hands up in frustration. “Unbelievable.”
“Do you know what’s the best thing that can happen?” she questions.
“A few grudging Tweets patting us on the back and one article praising us for our ‘bravery’, soon to be forgotten in the drudgery of our everyday operations.”
“It's received as a strong response to the leaks. The news media goes nuts, there’s no way they can spin this against us, and we gain a new reputation for transparency. We set a new standard for everyone.”
“Which we’ll have to hold ourselves to for the rest of Inglis’ tenure.”
“Because standards are such a shitty thing until you can use them to undermine me.”
“I tried to abide by your standards," Finn says. Liz scoffs. "Then I discovered that subverting your ethics is justified when it comes to you. And Miller, of course, the golden boy. Our Dear Leader. The greatest shag you never had.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” she concurs sarcastically. “But you know what? I wish it had been him instead of you.”
He looks like he’s been slapped, but he immediately retaliates, “Way to aim below the belt. Or is that the only area you’re interested in? Maybe you don’t care much for Charles because you can’t fuck him.”
“Maybe you don’t care much for people,” Liz retorts, “because you can’t fuck anyone except me.”
Later, when she logically thinks through her statement, it won’t make sense. It’s a wordy ‘no, you!’ Still, she can see the potential connotation. She’s figured out Finn’s fighting style by now: he’s logical until it’s personal. Imbalanced, he fires like a loose cannon, dangerous yet often off-target. So she’s learned to exploit this flaw at the right moment, slipping him a proverbial dagger between the ribs by claiming something which isn’t necessarily true but gives him pause while she withdraws.
Whatever he thought she was saying, she didn’t mean it. She didn’t mean it. Regret is already chilling her blood.
“And I never will again,” Finn replies, a bit thickly. Their shoulders brush as he hastens to exit. Halting by the door, he adds, “I won't save you from your sinkhole of crazy, Liz. Don't come crying to me after your sanity returns. If it ever really does, and it's not just you faking it the way you've faked everything in your life."
"Don't you have something to fail at somewhere else?"
He slams the door. When she dares to exhale, her whole body shudders and won't stop shaking afterwards.
Liz opens the door to her flat and is floored by the silence. She spends a full minute absorbing it. Her surroundings are quiet, emptier somehow - and it's not as if they were inseparable outside work. Eventually, she's able to identify the signature of her feelings as loss, bone-deep and debilitating if she focuses on it.
She checks her email and ends up staring blankly at the screen, so she stands to pace back and forth by her window. The skyline blurs through her tears.
Right before bed, she notices Finn’s toothbrush next to hers. They're even in a vaguely romantic pose, where one toothbrush is leaning over the other, their bristles facing. The world is a cruel, awful place.
Then, Liz finds a dark curl of hair on one of her pillows. The thought of flicking it off makes her heart hurt, but saving it in a piece of tissue paper seems creepy. It's left where it is. She could call him, or at least send a text apologising, but she’s too exhausted to care and cares too much to sleep.
Fucking herself isn't a good distraction. Her mind drifts to the memory of Finn's eyes, his hands on her, the rasp of his voice. Her fingers are too small, her own touch too predictable. She tries to think of other men, including Richard, but she can only conjure him. Coming is more like missing a step than falling from a peak; mewling his name, she buries her face in her pillow, pretending it's Finn's shoulder. The afterglow lasts for two measly seconds. Guilt and loneliness rapidly set back in.
Her sadness is intermingling with her depression, anger with her wrath. Angst becomes an outlet for her errant chemicals. She doesn't know which is worse: having these feelings over him, over difficulties at the Met, or over nothing. Love and hate have always been inextricable emotions for her. Admiration is usually accompanied by frustration, the near-uncontrollable urge to mould someone until she can't see herself in them anymore.
It worked with Finn for a while; the best it ever had, because he was Liz's opposite in all the right ways. He was careful whenever she was reckless, driven whenever she was listless. He fought her so the world wouldn't have to, protected her from other things, and she's fairly certain that he loved it. But he wasn't a remedy - there really isn't any.
He was an idiot for getting close. And she was a fool for hoping he would stay.
Specialist Firearms is prepared to raid the house of the hacker group's suspected leader, with bomb disposal on standby. The surrounding area has been secured, the drone camera is live, and the higher-ups have gathered in a meeting room.
At the big table, Liz hands Finn a flash drive. Scowling, he pockets it without a word. Contrary to their usual arrangement, they take seats at opposite ends of the table; Inglis glances at Tom, who shrugs.
As the officers close in, unease stirs in the pit of Liz's stomach. "What if he's ready?"
Finn rolls his eyes as the Commissioner sighs, "Leave it to us, okay?"
"They have been able to intercept messages," Sharon admits, deflating somewhat, like she'd been holding this opinion but refrained from voicing it. "Maybe we should proceed with more caution."
Inglis and Sharon share an icy moment. He declares, "We're going in now."
"Are you sure?" Liz asks, looking at her phone, partially to avoid watching the scene unfolding in front of her, partially to check Metwork, as her newest nervous habit has become.
“Liz, now’s not the time to question your allegiance,” Finn snaps.
“I’m just saying, we - fuck.” She gapes at Metwork's front page - or, rather, where it should be.
“What?” Finn hisses.
Liz tugs at her hair, increasingly unhinged. “Metwork is down.”
“Tech will handle it,” Finn replies irritably.
"It's suspicious," Liz says, regarding him with angry exasperation. "Everything was fine a minute ago, but it crashes when we're about to - "
"Guys," Inglis warns. Liz and Finn exchange final glares before facing the screens.
For several tense minutes, nothing happens. The drone circles the perimeter. The cops continue to knock and shout for any occupants to open up. Deciding she won't be sorry if she misses anything onscreen, Liz attempts to access Metwork again.
She utters a small, surprised shriek and hastily closes the browser. Every head in the room swivels to face her.
“What the fuck?” Finn demands.
“It's all gone,” she answers, voice trembling. “The website must've been hacked. They replaced it with gory images. And writing. I didn’t read what it said.” Her chest feels like it’s going to explode - nope, not a good mental image, not after that.
“Let me see!” Finn sticks out his open hand. Liz shakes her head, now rendered speechless. He sighs, pulling the site up on his own phone, and immediately gags.
“I told you not to look,” she chastises him.
"That's probably related," Sharon notes, brow furrowed.
Liz bristles. "That's what I - "
"Can we track it?" Inglis demands, turning towards Liz.
"Maybe? I don't - "
Onscreen, windows shatter. Two officers break down the front door and are confronted with a hallway full of wires. They back away, calling for the bomb squad to move in.
The Commissioner's frown deepens as he tells Liz, "I need a yes or no."
"That's not my job, sir," she replies testily.
"The cybercrime department can - " Tom is cut off when Cathy enters and hands an iPad to him.
"The drone feed was hacked," she announces.
"It's Sedito News again," Tom adds.
"Jesus!" Inglis mutters.
"This wouldn't have happened if someone hadn't said not to bother shutting the website down, because it'd be seen as, quote, 'an infringement on freedom'," Finn says, eyeing Liz pointedly.
Liz almost lunges across the table at him. "I told you, you cannot take control. It's the fucking Internet. What do you suggest we do, slap it in handcuffs and give it a spanking?"
Inglis ignores the renewed infighting. "Kill the feed," he commands.
"We can't," Sharon objects. She nods at the screens. "We need a closer look." Inglis raises an eyebrow. She clarifies, "So we can make a better judgment, sir. The entire house could be rigged to explode."
"And if it is?" Inglis challenges. "If the suspect is on that website right now?"
A small fire comes into view on one feed, though thankfully not near whoever the camera's attached to. There's the sound of more glass smashing, more shouting.
"We could have tried to find the owners," Finn continues, sneaking glances at the screens. Dimly, Liz notices that he's speaking out of anxiety, but she can't take it, not in front of Charles and Sharon, not now. "Exposed them as the basement-dwelling conspiracy theorists they likely are. Scared them into - "
Liz stands and shouts,"Will you shut up for one fucking second?"
The room falls deathly silent. Liz is especially aware of Finn’s gaze on her. Judgmental, arrogant, distant Finn, Finn who’s come to represent every slip of conscience, every failure, every heartbreak.
He stands up, arms folded, and slowly approaches her. Before he’s even spoken, she can hear the hatred in his voice.
“Liz,” he begins.
Pushing him away, she actually screams, broken and wordless. Her thoughts are loud to the point of incoherence. She sees him instinctively reach for her, but he seems to remember where and who they are, so he awkwardly shoves his hands into his pockets instead. He's pale and shaking, too, but she overlooks it because it doesn’t fit the reality she's building in her head.
“Jesus,” Inglis repeats.
Liz can’t look at any of them. One hand clapped over her mouth, she bolts from the room and runs for the nearest restroom. She doesn’t know if anyone tries to follow.
She spends ten minutes crying in a toilet stall. Outside, the door swings open, and a pair of heels clicks against the floor.
"Liz?" Mia calls. Liz responds with a loud sniffle. "Hey. It'll be okay." Liz doesn't believe her, but she feels a rush of sad affection for Mia, like a gasp of air in the middle of drowning. "We have back-ups, Gavin says we can restore everything by tonight - "
"That's not the problem. It's a PR disaster." Swiping at her eyes, Liz explains, "Imagine the headlines tomorrow. The Met's official news network gets taken down by a bunch of pissbags at large?" She shouts the last few words; wow, she really hopes nobody else is in here. Mia doesn't reply. Liz takes a deep breath and continues, "Have you checked Twitter? Other sites? How many people are talking about this?"
"Finn's handling that."
A wave of nausea hits Liz - she can picture him phoning journalists, standing outside her office as he envisions where to put his things, yeah, Liz Garvey is batshit insane, she can't blink without fucking up, I told her so from the very beginning...
"You should help him," Liz says tearfully.
"Are you - "
"I'll be out soon."
In a softer voice, Mia offers, "I can stay with you until you, er, feel better."
"No, you can't."
"No, I can't," Mia agrees sadly. "But if you need to talk later..."
Liz doesn't need to talk. She needs to sleep for centuries; she needs to scream until she faints; she's a whirlpool of emotions and impulses, and none of them are remotely positive. This toilet stall seems like a decent place to die.
"It's okay. Go help Finn."
"Hang in there." Mia still sounds reluctant to leave, but her footsteps retreat. Liz waits for the door to swing shut. A single sob escapes as fresh tears roll down her cheeks.
Besides the official statement and apologetic tweets, Liz can't say anything else about Metwork; per her policy, trying to fix the situation will only worsen it. She returns home early, as acknowledged by a dismissive hand wave from Finn. He hadn't looked at her.
Ultimately, it's the fridge that does it.
The buzzing begins minutes after she walks through the door. Fuck. That's, like, the fourth old problem coming back to bite her in the ass this week. Cursing under her breath, she storms over to whack it on the side. The buzzing stops - then resumes, more insistent.
Liz cries out in rage, throws the door open, and slams it repatedly until the fridge emits a mournful sound and its light dies.
Her entire life has consisted of fluctuating between numbness, crushing sadness, and mundane exhilaration. She wants to dig her heels into one mood, though she knows she’ll sink. Now she desires so viscerally to live that it's going to kill her. There's so much to do, so much to feel, yet she doesn't have the energy or concentration to tackle any of it.
So she chases her high. One glass, another glass, another, alternating between wine and coffee, as she eats the few dairy products from the fridge. Pulse-racing ambient synthpop blares in the background. It isn't enough. Her heart is pounding, her feet are restless, her hands itch to be occupied, but tears keep welling in her eyes.
Alone, alone, alone. It’s 8:30 p.m. Plenty of time left to make mistakes. Liz reaches for her phone and pulls up her contact list. Her index finger hovers over Finn's name before scrolling down.
“Granger?” She grimaces at the responding question, a slurred who’s this? - and sighs, “It’s Liz." It's loud on his end, voices and a thumping bass that hurts her head and piques her interest. "Where are you?"
Finn plugs the flash drive into his computer, hoping to get this over with as quickly as possible. He sifts through the unedited footage without feeling. It’s substanceless - Tom explaining his duties, Mia answering phone calls, an incredibly awkward interview with Sharon where she talks about Thomas Hobbes for five minutes. But the title of one clip jumps out at him: ‘Garvey on Deputy’.
He double-clicks the icon. Liz appears, fresh-faced and well-composed, a distant memory resurfacing suddenly, although according to the date at the corner this was filmed only days before...before whatever they were turned into whatever this is. When she briefly stares straight into the camera, his heart swoons and plummets.
An offscreen voice asks, “Care to comment on rumours that you and Mr. Kirkwood fought on your first day at work?”
Liz frowns, like she’s very close to saying, “I don’t, actually,” but she remembers herself. “We did. I even tried to fire him.”
“Could you elaborate on that?”
“Finn was next in line for Head of Communications, but Richard hired me instead. We got off on the wrong foot then ran a mile.”
She mulls it over and answers, “People tend to think of the police as a uniform body, like a hive mind, but the truth is that we’re just like any organisation. We have internal tensions and disagreements. We have people with differing opinions, people who don’t get along, people who get carried away - myself included.” Wrinkling her nose, she concludes, “I’m not going to turn this into some talking-head on The Office about acceptance and forgiveness. But we learned to work together. The nature of this job - really, anything in life - is coping with what you can't control.”
His breath catches. Liz smiles a little, with a somewhat faraway look in her eye, like she’s suppressing laughter at a secret joke. He wishes he climb back into her head, wants to burrow into her cavernous, brilliant brain and stay there.
“Off the record, Finn’s the smartest person I know. I’m glad he’s on my side.” She pauses. “That was for flavour, by the way, that was totally on the record and I know it. Yeah, leave it in - oh, but keep this out - “
The video ends. Finn stares at his screen for a few seconds, and replays it. It ends. He replays it again, and again, and so on, until he loses track. Each time, a nameless sense of desperation grows. He reaches for his phone and, after several minutes of hesitation, calls Liz. She doesn't answer. He tries again. She doesn't answer.
Dancing is dizzying. Her heart hammers into her head; her head throbs in time to the beat. Against the growing itch at the back of her brain, she's been avoiding any contact with work. She doesn't check the news. She doesn't compulsively refresh Metwork's search results.
Granger stumbles up to her, holding two full glasses. His eyes are bloodshot and his breath reeks of alcohol, among other things. He hands her a drink; like her conscience, it burns going down. Grimacing, she returns the glass.
He fixes her with a questioning look. “Aren’t you having fun?”
“Yeah," she snaps, "yeah, I’m having so much fun, it’s leaking out of my fucking eyes. Jesus.”
Granger snorts, staggering off. Liz finally dares to peek at her phone: fifteen missed calls from Finn and three from Mia. Her instinctive reaction is terror, worsened by the vague messages Finn left. Call me. I need to talk to you. Why aren't you answering? He must've copied Richard's last texts on purpose, the utter dick. She can read between the lines: Who are you with?
Fuck him! Who does he think he is? It isn't any of his business -
She blinks, and the world rearranges itself. What is she doing here? She's sickness and weakness personified. She tried to induce a euphoric hypomania, and the only thing she has to show for it is a racing pulse and anxiety that seems to wrack her whole body. The thought of spending more time with Granger and his rowdy friends nauseates her. Her stomach sours further - Finn wouldn't do anything drastic, would he? Not ever, but especially not over her? She dials Finn's number. He doesn't answer. She dials it again.
“I want to go home,” Liz says, her voice lost in the din as she listens to the ringing.
In the distance - through the walls - there's shouting. Something smashes.
Finn’s panic escalates with each unanswered call. Assessing the remaining footage isn’t helping. His mind fixates on how Liz was willing to hook up with a cokehead ex shortly after she and Finn had literally slept together in the Hague and had a mea culpa on the plane. He knows better than anyone else that she uses sex for solace; she’s likely fucking someone right this moment. If he shuts his eyes, he can picture it, vivid and loud, her naked body covered with a stranger's, her moans intermingling with -
His chest tightens. He has to leave. Now. He copies the video onto his computer then rushes out of his office.
But before he can reach the lifts, Mia calls, "Finn, wait!"
Finn whirls around, agitated. "What?"
“There's a developing disturbance in Hackney Wick. A mini-mob clashing with the TSG, from a party that went out of control, maybe?" Wonderful. "Some residents are comparing it to the riots, but it’s not that bad.”
“Put out a holding statement, we’ll handle it tomorrow,” Finn says. He runs a hand through his hair and sighs.
"I tried calling Liz, but she's not picking up. She'll see it on the news anyway. She's probably...unwell." His stomach lurches; Mia peers at him closely. “Are you okay?”
“Long day. Longer than usual. I’m fine,” he insists, and hurries off.
Thankfully, the lift is empty. Finn avoids his own gaze in the walls. When the doors slide open, his phone vibrates with an incoming call. He can’t bear to check yet - it's either Liz, or it isn’t. He searches for his gum instead and realises he's chewed through a whole pack in one day.
The convenience store lights are garish, migraine-inducing in his fragile state. Finn’s hand hovers above a pack of nicotine gum, then drops.
For the first time in seven years, he buys a lighter and cigarettes. Not for the first time, he wonders if he ever really overcame addiction, or if he just replaced it with a different one - if he ever really solves any problems, or if he dumps cups of water on raging fires. His phone continues to vibrate as he pays, as it has been for the past fifteen minutes. Maybe the situation at Hackney Wick has worsened. As tempting as it is to smoke first, he should follow up.
Outside, he checks his phone, expecting a backlog of questions from his press contacts and non-urgent updates from Scotland Yard. What he discovers are ten missed calls from Liz and a series of messages, first sent in ten-minute intervals, now in rapid succession, including:
Finn, I can talk now
I'm sorry about everything, please pick up!!
I feel like I'm going to die
And I think there's something happening downstairs
Earlier worries about Metwork completely disappear around the third message. He quickly texts, Call me now.
Where are you?
His blood goes cold upon seeing her reply: Hackney Wick
PLEASE PICK UP YOUR PHONE
Oh, fuck. Fuck. Trembling, Finn selects Liz’s number for what must be the twentieth time tonight. Five rings later, he’s close to tears; he wants to chuck his phone into a bin and scream, not that that would help. As soon as the attempted call ends, a notification pops up: Liz (1)
They must have called each other at the same time. He bites back a bark of hysterical laughter, hands shaking so violently that he almost drops his phone. It’s a good thing he doesn’t, because it buzzes again.
When he hits ‘answer’, his eardrums are immediately assailed with heavy bass and what sounds like a large group of people having a competition to see who can whoop the loudest.
“Liz?” he shouts, too relieved to scold her yet. “Liz, fuck, why weren't you answering?"
“Why were you calling me?” she shouts back.
“I thought - I thought - “ Finn feels light-headed. Why was he calling her? “It doesn’t matter! Why did you say you feel like you’re dying?” Her reply is incoherent, not helped by the noise in the background. As he strains to listen, he starts to walk. “You're not in danger, right? You’re not on a ledge? You haven’t snorted coke off a drug dealer’s balls?” Passersby gape at him; he resists the urge to flip them the bird and keeps moving.
“I’m not on a ledge, but I’m on the third floor or something, and there’s an open window." She pauses for so long that he nearly yells at her to continue. "I can see the TSG moving in. That's...not good.”
“Do you know where you are?”
Liz sniffles. “It’s a nightclub. The one in a converted warehouse.”
"Maybe we can send a squad to get you."
"No! No, that's a terrible idea!" Finn is about to retort if she can come up with anything better when she adds, "Nobody can know I'm here. Especially not after today! And I need you here." Her voice cracks. "I need - " She pauses again, for another terrifying second. "Fuck! Finn, my phone’s gonna die.”
“It's packed in here. How will you find me?”
“Just - just stay where you are.” Jesus, Finn really needs to smoke now, not that he has the time.
“The fucking crowd is pushing - “ She cuts off, then resumes speaking in a frighteningly level voice, “I feel like jumping to get out.”
“Liz, don’t say that." His voice breaks as he repeats, "Don't say that."
“You have to hurry! I can’t - “
The line goes dead.
“Liz? Liz?” Finn gapes at the ‘call ended’ screen. “Fuck!”
Conveniently, the nightclub is located at the edge of the police cordon. Finn can see people fighting the TSG, rocks and bottles bouncing off riot shields, each collective shout and siren wail fraying his nerves; he thinks they're getting closer, he isn't sure.
A particularly distressed-looking officer approaches him. "Sir, you have to step back," the man says, tersely but not threateningly.
Finn opens his mouth to reply, snaps it shut, and squints at the man. "Warwick Collister?"
Warwick briefly looks as terrified as Finn feels. "Shit. How'd you recognise me?"
"I'm the Met's Deputy of Communications," Finn explains, flashing his lanyard. At that, Warwick frowns - Finn doesn't care to speculate why. "I need to get in there."
"Yeah, in case you haven't noticed, it's behind this here barricade, so - "
Finn lowers his voice. "You've met Liz Garvey? She's trapped inside and she's having a fucking breakdown." Warwick's eyes widen. "Can't you evacuate the building? Make an exception for this one nightclub?"
"Orders were to clear the area slowly. We don't want to cause a stampede."
“Listen, I’m not suggesting we go in there because I'm some fucking weekend warrior who wants to get his brains bashed in by hooligans. I know Liz well now, and if anything happens to her -“ Finn swallows. “She's our Head of Communications, so it reflects badly on everyone, and the trickle-down shit will drip into the stupid gaping mouths of every police officer in London.”
Warwick takes a moment to consider this, then backs off. “Okay.”
“You can get her.”
Finn balks. "Is this barricade so bloody important it can't spare one man standing by it?"
"I can't go in there dressed like this, yeah?" Warwick argues, visibly nervous, himself. "People might panic. You'll blend in."
"You're - I - fine!" Finn clumsily steps over the yellow tape.
Inside, it's densely packed and smoky. It looks and sounds like how he's always imagined the inside of Liz's mind does. He elbows his way through the unyielding masses, cursing the whole time - at them, at Liz, at himself. The gapped staircases are the hardest part, people crammed in so tightly that he fears the steps might collapse, as irrational as that may be. He deliriously makes a note to have the club checked for violating capacity laws, should he escape.
The horde thins somewhat on the third floor, but there's still barely room to breathe. The sole thing preventing him from having a panic attack is the knowledge that Liz is having one. (He thinks she was right, and they could die here, and tomorrow's papers are going to look really fucking absurd, and Mia will have to take over the department and she isn't ready...)
Then - he sees her. Shell-shocked, white-faced, upright and unharmed.
"Finn!" Liz shouts, as if there's any doubt he would be able to pick her out in a crowd.
He doesn't know how long it takes him to reach her. There's no time, there are no words to express his relief as he clutches her by the elbow. It's short-lived. Whatever way he had parted in the sea of people has closed - maneuvering her is an additional problem, and they almost get separated every few seconds, though she manages to get a vice grip on his arm.
He's surprised to find the ground floor clearing out. Warwick is by the doorway. They give each other short nods before Finn leads Liz away.
They make it a safe distance from the chaos. Finn halts abruptly and grabs Liz by the wrist. She turns to face him once he releases her, not quite meeting his eyes, contrite. He gulps a mouthful of air, repeats the action twice more; he's bursting at the seams, desperate to vocalize what he's been meaning to say for a while -
"Why are you so fucking stupid?" he yells.
He's uncertain if he's entirely addressing Liz. But she seems to think so, because she suddenly sinks onto the sidewalk, sobbing. He follows, queasiness resurfacing at the sight of her despair.
She draws in a shuddering breath and shivers. "I put you in danger."
"I'm okay," Finn assures her awkwardly. A brazen lie. "That was Warwick Collister just now. You know he holds his baton like it's a gun?"
Liz lets out a broken laugh. "Only you'd notice weird shit like that."
"Honestly, I was more worried about the cleanup PR than my safety."
"Or mine," she supplies.
He pauses. "I don't know."
If there was ever a right time to hug her, it would be now. Yet Finn can't. Apparently he can have sex, he can fight his way through three packed storeys in the middle of a mini-riot and back down again, but he can't put his arms around someone he thought he'd lost forever. He remembers the cigarettes and wishes he could smoke them all at once.
Liz stares straight ahead, stone-faced. "I'm cold," she says. Finn begins to remove his coat. Glancing in his direction, she glimpses the inner pocket and frowns. "Are those - ?"
"I haven't had any yet," he replies defensively.
She contemplates his words. "Can I have one?"
Instead of his coat, Finn hands her the pack. She opens it while he fishes for the lighter, twirling a cigarette between two fingers as she watches with unreadable eyes. He's still shaking everywhere; he struggles to ignite the flame until Liz clasps a hand around his and guides it towards the tip.
Her cigarette lit, she passes the pack back to him, sticks the cigarette in her mouth, and examines him quietly. He doesn't light one for himself, unable to tear his gaze from her, so awed at her presence and so afraid she might vanish if he stops.
And so lost in his stupor that he fails to react fast enough as she snatches the pack from him and tosses it into a nearby rubbish bin.
"You shouldn't smoke," Liz says.
She continues puffing her cigarette. Finn tries to summon an angry expression, though he's secretly some warped sort of grateful.
"Let me have that," he demands.
"We've established that I have better self-control than you."
Her gaze glistens with hurt. She doesn't budge. "If you want it so badly, you can buy more."
She takes another drag, pushes a plume of smoke through her parted lips. Desire wrenches his gut.
They spend a minute and a half sitting there in silence, with Liz smoking, him eyeing her enviously and fidgeting. Her cigarette is nowhere near finished when she puts it out slowly, staring at him in an unspoken challenge.
Finn's mouth is on hers in an instant. She tastes like ash and ill-advised, familiar but forgotten urges, hot and consuming and scorchingly comforting. Like always, she embodies many of the things he's given up over the years. Dependency. Belief. So he kisses her again and again, dulling the craving until he just wants more of her.
Liz has heard that passive smoking is unhealthier than actually smoking, but it's the thought that counts. Or the thoughtful impulse. And not in the second-best, good-intentions way. Only one of them needs to regress tonight.
She returns the kiss. Her hand gently curls around his shoulder, and she feels him melt ever-so-slightly. They break for breath, foreheads touching, exhalations tickling each other's lips. Her eyes well - from the lingering smoke, from joy, from a deep sense of dread, as if she's seeing him for the first and last time.
"Still cold?" he rasps. Liz shakes her head. It's a lie. Rising, she offers Finn her hand; he takes it, their fingers lacing together.
She hauls him to his feet - teetering in her heels - and says, "Let's go home."
Due to exams, the next proper chapter may take slightly longer than usual. But I might add more scenes to earlier chapters in the meantime. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 20: so you wind up next to me
Chapter-specific warning: NSFW.
Exhaustion has soured whatever sweetness had emerged earlier, a silent walk home re-escalating the tension somewhat. Spots dance behind Liz's eyelids; the throbbing in her head has dulled, not disappeared.
The door slams shut. Finn grabs her by the waist to crush her against him, attacking her mouth like he’s trying to devour her, and she gasps into the kiss like she's trying to breathe him in. A final nip to her bottom lip, and he pulls away.
“Did you fuck him?” His voice rumbles low and menacing in her ear, their faces barely apart. She frowns with the effort of concentration; it takes a considerable amount of time to remember that Granger exists. “Whatever shithead brought you there. Did. You. Fuck him?”
His grip tightens. “Why should I believe you?”
“Why should you care?” Liz's eyes slowly flicker to his. The lights are off, but she knows he falters for a split second. “Stay.”
“Why? So you can kick me out tomorrow?”
Her hands land in his hair almost on reflex, yet another poorly-wired response in the control centre of her brain. She tugs him down to meet her lips again, and they both melt into the heat of the kiss, his hands framing her cheeks, her hands dragging over his body. Soft Finn. Her fingers creep lower on his hip, tracing the outline of bone. Soft, warm Finn...
He catches her wrist in a vice grip. “Oh, I see how it is.” For the hero of the hour, he looks alarmingly wounded. “I'll tuck you in, and you can finger yourself while I glare at you. That's all you want with me, right? We don't talk,” Finn concludes as she wrenches her hand away; his voice is harsh, but his eyes betray anguish. “We just fuck.”
“That isn't true at all,” Liz protests quietly. “Do you need to do the math? Granted - ” she sniffles, “we've done both simultaneously, so that's...confusing.”
Finn laughs in surprise, cuts himself off with a loud gulp. “Liz, what if I can't? I haven't tried - ” He mimes jerking off and laughs again, self-consciously. “Since after we...it made me feel sick.”
Liz flips through a mental catalogue of platitudes to offer. Reassurance, affirmation. No. Not for him. What bridges the gap between them is typically a wedge for other people.
“It's okay if you can't.”
“What does that mean?” he questions, lips trembling. “What does it mean to be okay?”
Her head swims. Liz anchors herself by burying her face in his chest, rubbing her cheek against the fabric of his shirt as she tilts her head to stare at him with teary eyes.
“I don't know,” she says.
Finn nods once; his gaze darkens, falls to her mouth.
“I think I want you,” he says, and staggers back from the sheer force of shock at the realisation. The cracking of his voice breaks her heart. “Oh, fuck. But I need you to - I need you to not -”
“I need you to not be gentle,” Liz finishes.
Squealing may be an appropriate reaction to how abruptly he picks her up, but all she can manage is a gasp as she wraps her legs around his waist.
The journey to her bed is uneventful. The impact of landing is momentarily jarring, but the mattress is a relief beneath her back, hard and solid after a night spent swaying on her feet. Finn begins removing his trousers, groaning at his own touch on his cock. When she sits upright to help, he shoves her down. His scowl has returned. God, it's good to see it.
“Finn,” she whispers. His subsequent whimper should feel like a little victory. Instead it hits her chest, her stomach. She reaches for him, and he bats her away again, so she settles for removing her blouse and bra.
Fingers clumsy, Finn peels off her jeans and panties. He climbs on top of her, gaze aflame.
Liz's body rattles in a deep shudder as he enters her; she can't suppress the sigh that escapes her lips. It’s been less than a week, yet…
“I’d forgotten how well you fit me.”
“Don’t,” he warns with the first thrust, and she thinks that he intends to be harsh, but it comes out pained.
He’s angry. He’s fucking all of his frustration, all of his anxiety and hurt into her. Part of her wants to lie back and let him, because God, she’s so tired, too, so sick of being herself; she's lightheaded and thirsty and a billion sensations jostling for attention, the combination of which should indicate stop fighting, he's won this round, he's proven his point, whatever it was.
Instead, she rakes her fingernails down his back, sharply but careful not to tear his skin through the shirt he's still wearing. He hisses and pins one of her hands above her head.
"Did you miss me?" Liz questions, voice soft. Finn refuses to answer, bites her shoulder in retaliation and shoves his tongue into her mouth as he fucks her harder. Her free hand roams. She squeezes around his cock and, fuck, that's good, the stretch and burn of him serving as a reminder that she's real, that she can feel something other than fear.
He must like it, too, because his thrusts quickly turn erratic. “Liz, Elizabeth, Liz,” he gasps, and it’s the first time he’s called her by her full first name, which all at once fuels her desire and is hilarious and constricts her chest like a vice, so the only possible response is a broken laugh, and he slams into her just right -
“Finn!” she cries - a sharp, surprised wail puncturing their otherwise incomprehensible sounds.
Finn pulls out in a single motion and strokes his cock along her folds. "What do you want, Liz?" he growls.
"I want to come." He continues teasing her with the tip of his cock; a whine creeps into her plea. "Fuck me, Finn, please, I want to come - "
"Wrong fucking answer."
Her eyes water. "Finn - "
"Think really, really hard." Finn's gaze is authoritative and his grip on her wrist insistent, but his voice wobbles. "Come on. You were always better at this than me. Or did a contact high fry your empathy receptors?"
"You," Liz breathes. He doesn't acquiesce yet, his expression barely softens, but she sees him swallow heavily. "I want you." She chews her lower lip. "Finn. I want you. I want you inside me. I need you with me. I want you in my life, Finn."
"Fuck you," he chokes, and pushes back into her.
Seconds later, she comes with a near-sob, heels digging into the mattress, his collar clenched in her fist. He fucks her through her cresting pleasure and afterwards, shaking and swearing, like he's determined to keep going for the whole night. One look at his face confirms that he's struggling not to lose control.
"You can come, Finn." She brushes his damp hair out of his eyes, and they're both startled by the tenderness. "It's okay. It's okay."
He moans her name, wrecked, and she tenses in anticipation of him emptying himself into her. But his cock slips out mid-spurt - she whimpers at its loss. Finn jerks himself off onto her, watching with half-lidded eyes as come spots her bare stomach; panting, he smears it around and rubs it in. He forgoes a cliched declaration like you’re mine, opting to just stare at her in dark triumph.
“You piece of shit,” she groans.
“I thought we were past name-calling,” he says, then bends his head to lap his come off. The rasp of his tongue on her skin renews the throb between her thighs. He must notice her squirming for more friction, because he brings a hand down to her clit and thumbs it roughly. She clamps her mouth shut and lolls her head away, refusing to give him the satisfaction of seeing her resolve crumble again, until she can't endure any more and comes with a desperate keen.
Finn looms above Liz and kisses her once.
"I've never had make-up sex before," she reveals.
"We're not making up," he claims, rolling over and scooting away. He doesn't leave.
Finn fetches Liz a glass of water, rejoining her on the bed. They lie there for a while, eyes on the ceiling, just breathing.
"Finn, can I tell you a secret?” she asks.
"I don't like you."
He shifts to face her. "Great heart-to-heart, Liz."
"I thought I did, for a while. Maybe I still do, a bit. But last week you reminded me what a bastard you can be.”
“This is who I am. Mostly loyal, often unpleasant. You can’t change that.”
“I didn’t say I wanted to,” she counters. “It’s good for me, in a fucked-up way. You replenish my electrolytes like a hateful Gatorade. A Haterade.”
Finn hides an involuntary smile. Her hair has reverted to wildness these past few days, even worse in its post-sex state. He cards a hand down the limp curls, attempting to slide his fingers through the tangles.
"I don't want to be alone," Liz says quietly; he doesn't respond. "I think my judgment got impaired in September because I didn't know anyone here; there was nobody to ground me with who I usually am. I hear voices in my...head, I guess. They're not, like, schizophrenic auditory hallucinations or split personalities - I know they're all my own, and that they can't hurt me. Directly, anyway. I was so invested in protecting Richard because he sounded like the voice I wish I always heard. The one saying I'm brilliant and trustworthy."
"The negative voice in your head...does it ever sound like me?"
"Yeah. Uncannily. But it's been going on a while and it'd be there no matter what. I need you to nag at me loud enough to drown out the noise in my head."
"I want you to know - my intent was never to hurt you. Not now, not when we first met." She eyes him dubiously. He amends, "If ever, it was only a means to an end, and I didn't think about it much. I was trying to depose you, not fucking kill you."
"I'm American, it's the same thing." Liz finally rolls over to face him fully. "You can't just say 'I'm sorry' like a normal person, can you?"
"Neither can you," he points out.
"I honestly didn't sleep with him," she says, at length. Finn raises an eyebrow. "Richard, or the guy who brought me there. Who was cokehead ex, by the way."
"Knew it." Then he adds, "It doesn't matter."
"It sure sounded like it did," she retorts.
"I believe you on both counts," he says, turning to avoid her gaze. "Up until a few months ago I thought every non-asexual person let sex hijack their brains whenever it had so much as a toe through the cockpit door. I thought that was part of what made me special. But apparently, I really am that focused and efficient as a default."
Liz swats him lightly, genuine mirth breaking through her tired laugh. "You're full of shit."
"Were you going to snort coke and shag your ex, though?"
"That was the plan when I called him," she admits. "I kind of gave up three minutes into the first round." Her smile is tight-lipped. "See? It's not so bad telling the truth, is it?"
"Maybe from your end," he replies, a cold edge to his voice.
A heavy silence drops onto the moment.
"I did want to hurt you," Liz confesses. Unsurprising, but it stings nonetheless. "A lot. From the second we met. Did you know," she continues, sounding increasingly unhinged, "that when Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes first met, she fucking bit him? He actually bled. It was semi-sexual, semi-hey-asshole-I-do-what-I-want-with-my-poetry. When you started reciting statistics to say I shouldn't care about isolated shootings, I wanted to fuck you then dropkick you off a cliff."
"You confuse me, and I hate that, but that's a challenge, so I love it. Which is confusing. And so on. Do you get what I mean?"
Perfectly, in the depths of his excuse for a soul. "We really deserve each other, don't we?" he muses, hoping that he's successfully conveying pure irony. The tangles undone, he lowers his hand, keeps it glued to his side.
"Yeah," she says.
A full minute passes. Her fingertips graze his knuckles, questioning. He parts his fingers, allowing her to twine hers between them.
"Would you have come if I'd called you instead of Granger?"
"Probably. Though I would've complained the whole time." As much as he'd love to spend the night shagging Liz into a comforted stupor, they have a job to do at some point. "We still need to resolve the Metwork issue."
She dramatically slings her free arm over her forehead. "Can't the world stop for one fucking night?"
"I assume we're equal allies again."
He maintains a matter-of-fact tone, but judging by her silence, the significance of the word equal isn't lost on her.
"We are," she confirms.
"Then I'll handle the fallout for now. I imagine we'll trace the hackings eventually. It'll be tricky to rebuild confidence in Metwork, but today's events will get buried by the next inevitable shitstorm." Liz scoffs as Finn concludes, "We're going to look like idiots tomorrow. But believe it or not, this isn't the end of the world."
"Can you blame me?" she snaps. "Everything's a goddamn disaster with you. Well, more than usual."
“You do need to see a psychiatrist. Soon. Take some time off, maybe." She opens her mouth, forehead already creased in indignation; he cuts her off, "I'm not trying to control your life - I'm just saying we need a plan for...things like this. ”
She regards him skeptically. “How do I know you won’t run the department to the ground while I’m gone?”
"Finn, are you asking me to trust you?"
"Yes." He pauses for emphasis. "The way I trusted you months ago, when I started having feelings I thought I’d never have. Sexual feelings," Finn clarifies, belatedly. Liz sniffles, a familiar sound by now. He smooths her hair and assures her, weary and unthinking, "Ssssh. You're safe." For some reason, that makes her muffle a sob into her arm before she turns to him again.
She hiccups, "Your mouth is like an asshole that occasionally shits gold."
"And you frequently put your mouth on it, so who has the real problem here?"
He lets her straddle him and unbutton his shirt, her touch cool on his heated skin. Her cunt is slick and hot as she sinks onto his cock; he stifles a moan and has to fight the instinct to thrash beneath her.
"I love it when you're like this," he blurts, and covers it up with what he hopes is a suave, "So eager and wet for me."
"Shut the fuck up." Liz sighs, in what's either resignation or contentment. Probably both.
They look into each other's eyes as she rides him, until something aches in Finn's chest. It's a different pain from what he'd felt clicking through her Facebook photos after she'd appeared on Sky News, or replaying her interview, or during a panic attack. So he looks away - but she takes his hand and brings it to her chest. He isn't sure if she's urging him to palm her breast or feel her heartbeat. He does both.
The pace she sets is steady, gentler than earlier, her hips rolling and swiveling against his in a sweetly slow motion that makes his breath catch.
"You're not going anywhere this time," she purrs. Her free hand rubs up and down his stomach. "You're coming inside me." He hums in happy agreement.
Eventually, he holds her in place by the waist and strains against her, coming with a grunt. She mewls and bears forward, warm in his arms as she follows, and he buries his face in her hair to inhale deeply.
"We know who we are," she mumbles afterwards, at least half-asleep and on top of him.
His hand pauses where it's stroking her bare hip. "Last September I had a very clear idea of myself, and you inadvertently ruined it when you tried to cling to your idea of yourself. Then I wallowed in angst for weeks about wanking to you."
Liz shakes her head with a hint of a glare. "No, we know who the other person is. Fuck everyone else." She yawns. "Not literally, in your case."
"Ideally not in yours, too," Finn protests.
Thankfully, he receives no reply. She's dozed off, head rested on his shoulder, her fingers curled around his.
Today wasn't the worst day he'd had throughout his working life, all things considered. For the past three months or so, he's felt protective over Liz and somewhat appreciated and...happy, but not like this, not in one immense surge. Now he glances at her, and his insides go weird and mushy; he doesn't know what this feeling is, only that it can't be wrong.
"Finn," Liz murmurs, eyes still closed.
Finn is jolted out of his own drowsiness. "Yes?"
"The fridge broke again."
"Did you hit it?" he asks, pretty certain that he already knows the answer.
"Only a few times."
He sighs. "I'll take a look at it tomorrow. Later. Whatever."
Chapter 21: suddenly you
In the week after their Metwork/Sedito News/Hackney Wick debacle, Finn runs the department in Liz's absence. They split the work revolving around the fallout from Metwork's temporary shutdown. He only visits once, but they talk over the phone every day. One time, he idly touches himself while discussing the documentaries; he doesn't tell her, though the increasingly heavy breathing and choked-off moans from her end mean she's probably caught on.
"Try plotting that on a regression chart," he says, voice still husky from when he came. She laughs from deep in her throat and hangs up without another word.
Their arrangement seems to be working. But on Monday morning, Mia pops her head into his office and joyfully exclaims, "Liz is back!"
Finn practically topples out of his chair in his haste to stand. "What?" This was not the fucking plan.
Conflicted, he follows Mia to Liz's office. Liz is yet again rearranging that fucking photo of her TED Talk, dropping the frame onto her desk when she sees him. Her surprised expression retreats into sheepishness, doing little to quell his anxiety.
"Hi," Finn says.
"Hi," Liz says.
They appraise each other in an ambiguous fashion. Mia wordlessly backs off, still watching them until she's out of the room, the door shut behind her.
He finally remarks, "You're back early."
A corner of her mouth quirks, either in displeasure or amusement, he can't tell sometimes. "It's great to see you, too."
"You should've called me first."
"I just decided to come two hours ago. Besides, we would've argued."
"Because it might be a terrible idea," Finn snaps. "Nobody's been briefed, we have a hearing at City Hall later, I have no clue what your fucking mental state is -"
"I brought coffee." Liz thrusts a warm styrofoam cup into his hands, in an apparent attempt to defuse the situation. "Dark as night, no sweetener. Like your personality."
"Did it take you the whole week to come up with that?" Finn sips his coffee. "But...thank you. I guess."
She props the frame upright, by her laptop. "So I'll be handling things from here."
"Are you going to miss being in charge?"
"Immensely," he answers, without hesitation.
Liz grants him a few seconds to salvage his response before she prompts, "This is the part where you add 'but I missed you more'."
Finn shrugs. "You can't pinch control on the arse as it walks by."
"You know, you've never done that."
"I intend to start."
She does her lip-bite thing and steps closer, and he matches her. Gazes locked intently, they lean in for a reunion kiss. Then the door is flung open by Cathy.
"There's been a stabbing at Blackhorse Road station," she announces in a rush, oblivious to how Liz and Finn recoil from each other like a pair of visibly embarrassed springs. "Two injured, no deaths. The attacker was also apprehended alive."
"Oh, thank God," Liz sighs, unsubtly distancing herself further from Finn, who's already checking his phone. "A stabbing is so much better than a shooting."
As they exit together, he deliberately brushes his free hand against hers. Her look of confusion is worth the temporary awkwardness.
For the first time, Liz and Finn both accompany Inglis to the hearing at City Hall. Inglis grimaces throughout their joint attempt to prepare him.
"Remember to smile," Liz advises. "But not too much, or he'll think we're planning something. And try to greet him politely, but not too nicely, or he'll think we're going to ask for more funding."
"Jeremy has a pathetic handshake," Finn adds. "If you stare deep into his eyes and press a little too hard, you'll intimidate him and he might piss himself in front of his boss."
"Is that a warning or a suggestion?" Inglis demands.
Liz and Finn exchange looks. The Commissioner just glares at both of them, shakes his head, and walks off.
An hour later, the hearing goes well. Inglis largely avoids antagonizing Grant, who begrudgingly claims he's an improvement over Richard, conceding that he's made strides in terms of diversity and integrity. Finn waits for the Commissioner's or Liz's reaction and is pleased that there's none. Jeremy did nearly piss himself.
Liz grabs Finn's arm while Grant delivers his closing statement. "Are you as turned on as I am?"
He nods briskly, once. She releases him, wearing a hint of a grin.
Seconds pass. He bends his head and adds in a low voice, "Liz, if it wasn't extremely inadvisable, I'd drag you off and shag you in a toilet stall."
"Careful, or your hard-on is going to be very difficult to explain to Charlie." She shoots him a sly glance over her shoulder, and he has to gulp. "Do you need to excuse yourself for a few minutes?"
"I just remembered I have to leak a story about...the dog squad. ASAP. Very important. Bye." He can hear her stifling a laugh as he hurries off.
In the car, Liz strokes from Finn's thigh down to his knee while Inglis isn't looking. Finn almost moans reflexively, biting the inside of his cheek just in time. He stares out his window in an effort of self-preservation and notices that despite the dark clouds overhead, the city seems brighter somehow. Maybe he needs to get his eyes checked.
Liz returns to her office; one of her phones rings as soon as she sits down. Upon seeing who it is, her blood goes cold before it promptly starts boiling.
She takes a deep breath, accepts the call, and says in a measured tone, "Hello?"
"Liz, hi. I wanted to talk to you about the stabbings - "
"I can't comment on that yet."
"No?" There's a note of threat to the response that makes Liz steel herself. "What about rumours that your bipolar disorder has affected your ability to lead? Was it exacerbated by the death of Richard Miller, and now you've finally snapped?"
She stiffens, but keeps her voice level. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Some people sighted you at a Hackney Wick nightclub last week. They reported that you were with an unruly party. Were they involved in the nearby riot? Were you?"
"Contained clashes with the TSG," Liz corrects her acidly. "And no. Before you ask, it had nothing to do with Metwork's technical difficulties, either."
"I suppose you want me to take your word for it, maybe offer me a piece on how bodycams are manufactured - "
Liz veers close to losing her tightly-wound temper in a glorious explosion. It's at that exact moment that Finn appears in her doorway (without knocking, fucking fuck him), rambling about the stabbing. She clears her throat, cutting him off mid-rant, and gestures at the phone.
“Liz.” His eyes narrow. “Who is it?”
Shaking her head, she flips him off and points towards the door. He frowns, sighs, begins to exit - then doubles back to her desk suddenly and snatches the phone out of her hand.
“Hi, Finn Kirkwood here,” he says, successfully holding a struggling Liz at arm’s length. "Yeah, you too. Liz had to dash. No, I don’t know for how long. Well, she looked queasy, which I assume was your fault. Mmm. Mmhm.” He places his palm over the mouthpiece and says with perverse glee, “You’ve got to hear this.”
“I could've, if you hadn’t fucking -”
Finn puts her phone on loudspeaker and places it on the desk. “She’s back. Could you repeat that, Caroline?”
"I was offering Finn a way to get rid of you. He's been uncharacteristically tight-lipped for months. That must have something to do with you, but let's face it - you're a liability now more than ever. I hope he's come to his senses."
"No comment," Finn replies.
"Suit yourself. I still have a story without your input, anyway."
He covers the mouthpiece again and raises an eyebrow.
“Finn, can you...” Liz begins, wincing from the embarrassment of asking
“Say ‘help me, Finn Kirkwood, you’re my only hope.’”
She rolls her eyes and repeats in flat intonation, “Help me, Finn Kirkwood, you’re my only hope.”
He removes his hand and tells Caroline, “I'm afraid not. She's under my protection." Liz pulls a face but doesn't protest. "In fact, if you so much as suggest that a single hair on her head is out of place because of her mental health, I'll have your brethren on you like a pack of starved hounds on a bitch in heat smeared in raw meat."
The voice on the other end is silent. When Caroline speaks again, her tone is dripping with smugness. “Oh, I see what’s going on here -”
“Yeah, Caroline, Liz and I fuck each other every night on the stacks of paper we use to issue hard copies of the next day’s press releases," Finn says, undeterred. "These past months, the Met has been like a soap. There were Miller's affairs, then a cop involved in the Jeffries shooting went apeshit on the TSG member his wife was fucking behind his back. The two unmarried heads of Communications shagging after-hours isn’t exactly newsworthy.”
Liz leans in and adds, “On record, why don’t you crawl back into Satan’s steaming asshole, or wherever it is that you investigative journalists spawn from?”
"Don't touch anyone in my department," Finn concludes harshly.
Her head whips around. "Your department?"
"The department I belong to," he amends, with a glare. "Jesus, Liz."
"Both of you truly have soft spots for lost causes," Caroline snipes.
"Not enough to give you a break," Liz retorts, and snatches the phone from Finn to hang up. She eyes him and admits, “That was kind of hot.”
"She won't stay away in the long run."
"We'll scare her again."
"No, I need to be ahead of her." Liz opens a Word document and immediately begins typing. "I'm going to do a write-up on women working with bipolar disorder or some shit and post it on Metwork. Maybe send it to other news sources. Any objections?"
"Plenty," he murmurs, eyes resting on the folder full of stuff she should actually be dealing with right now. "But I won't try to stop you. This time."
She guesses, focused on the screen, "And you won't save me if it goes tits-up."
"I would," he says, so quiet she wonders if she's meant to hear. She lifts her head. In his normal volume, he finishes, "It's my job."
Liz smiles serenely and says, "Fuck you."
Finn fucking winks at her, flips her off, and exits.
Here's what Liz has learned about Finn:
He’s a cat person, for a given value of 'person'. He knows how to fold pizza boxes so they fit in the trash can. He insists on lying beside her, face-to-face, unhooking and rehooking her bra until he's perfected it and she's sick of the snapping sound. (She thinks that's that, but afterwards he wants to practice it one-handed.) She's familiar with his bedroom eyes and sex voice. They're eerily similar to his fighting eyes and leaking-stories voice, but not quite the same thing.
She loves how his mind works; she usually hates what it produces.
Here's what Finn has learned about Liz:
Light blues are her favourite colours - she finds them calming, for a given value of 'calm'. She's inexplicably managed to raise a healthy-looking small cactus in her living room, and it's not even by the window. Her Instagram account is full of decent photos of the skyline and averages at one coffee photo every month. He feels that it's a tolerable rate. She uses her curling iron and reads when she's depressed, to distract herself. Sometimes, she smiles in her sleep, and it lingers until morning.
He hates how her mind works; he's beginning to love what it produces.
That evening, Liz buys a pie from The Two Chairmen and returns to her flat. Finn meets her there, taking a separate route. They clear the couch of Liz's work-related clutter, sit side-by-side and eat while watching the news. A shared plate minimizes the clean-up later.
"We need to get you on one of those segments where they read the papers," he declares, waving his fork at the screen. "You might have enough experience in multiple areas to not sound like a total twat."
"We could send you instead, shore up your media presence. Maybe we'll gain more support from over-65's and demons possessing human bodies."
Finn scoffs. Liz briefly glances in his direction, and is quickly mesmerised by his rapt expression whenever something catches his interest, or his affronted expression whenever a reporter makes a particularly stupid statement. She only realises she's been staring when he faces her.
"What?" he asks, nervously.
"Nothing," she says, and pushes the last bit of pie over to his end of the plate.