Liz is woken by something tickling her face.
She opens her eyes, then frowns as her vision adjusts to the sunlight, the fog of sleep still clearing from her head. It's a paper...swan? And her cheek has crushed it against the mattress. It looks pitiful, flattened and crumpled, such a disheartening thing to see first thing in the morning...
Sometimes, he leaves before she wakes up, without warning or a note or a kiss goodbye. (Maybe he did, once, but she isn't sure whether she dreamed that.) But this? This is a new low.
It must be some form of retaliation against her stance on the recent wave of cyber attacks. She grabs the swan in a fit of anger, intending to chuck it across the room; she just ends up crushing it further, with a sickening crunch. Instantly, she feels like a monster.
At work, the first thing she does is locate Finn. Liz scowls, anticipating taunts about how she unwittingly murdered his handiwork, maybe a jab about a crime against the origami Queen and procuring her from his pocket.
"What?" he prompts instead, annoyed. She huffs and walks off. If that's the way he wants to play it, fine.
For the rest of the day, she's more hostile than usual, even ducking her head when he tries to sneak a kiss at lunchtime. He actually has the gall to act confused, returns her silent glares whenever they cross paths afterwards.
They've only begun to reconcile that night, and only because Liz is stressed and feeling lonely. Finn follows her into her flat and straight to the bedroom, still appearing bewildered and upset but decidedly smug about her inability to stay away from him.
Mid-kiss, he notices the origami lying on her pillow.
"Is that what today was about?" he questions, his tone halfway between irritation and amusement.
She glowers at him before pointedly flicking the swan onto the floor. When she stomps on it and grinds it under her heel, that's the loudest she ever hears him gasp outside of sex.
Every morning after that, Liz wakes without Finn but with an origami swan, which she's inevitably crushed in some way. He makes them out of different materials related to the ongoing debate: newspaper clippings, press releases, photocopies of documents. They're probably very pretty while they're still dimensional.
It's unclear if he has a stash somewhere, or if folding a swan is part of his morning routine. Either way, he's certainly putting effort into them. Maybe he's trying to be nice to her, in his typical roundabout fashion. But then why does he place it there? She can envision it happening - he carefully lays an origami swan on her forehead, and she rolls over and squishes it with some body part, usually her face.
“I’m not crushing them on purpose, you know,” Liz tells him, in case there’s been a misunderstanding. She doesn't feel the need to specify what she's talking about.
“I know.” Finn glances at her dispassionately. “It happens when you roll over in your sleep. I've seen it.”
“So maybe you should leave them somewhere safer.”
The conversation ends there.
It takes a week for Liz to properly confront him. The cybercrime issue has been resolved for the time being, and buried beneath a pile of fresh minor crises they're able to cooperate on. So what's up with the fucking plain-paper swans?
“They’re not swans,” is Finn’s first defense. “They’re cranes. Do your bloody research.”
“Did you really develop this talent just to make me feel bad?”
“I already knew how to do it. The making you feel bad is a bonus.”
Liz sniffs in disdain. “Yeah, well, I don’t care how much effort you put into your shitty paper birds. I don’t care when I sleep with you, and I don’t care when I sleep on your fucking origami. Feel free to keep wasting your time.”
“Thanks, I think I will.”
She does the research, then the math. One crane daily for the next two and 3/4 years equals one wish, which will be for the willpower to stop sleeping with Finn. (Although this formula assumes she’s going to sleep with him every day for the next two and 3/4 years.)
“I’m the one who makes them,” he points out, as the meeting room clears. “If anything, I’d be entitled to a wish, not you.”
Liz raises an eyebrow. “Let me guess: for City Hall to spontaneously burn to the ground? To have my job? To perform some depraved sex act on me, or vice versa?”
“An infinite supply of paper, for folding origami cranes to put on your head every morning.”
“Or you could just wish for an infinite supply of origami cranes.”
Finn brushes against her as he walks past. “The effort is what makes it worthwhile.”
Unbeknownst to him, she's been plotting her vengeance.
Liz watches videos, reads articles, does finger stretches. She practices in secret until she’s an adept, like an origami ninja. When she feels that her skills are sufficient, she buys a pack of fancy specialist paper, the foil-backed kind with patterns; she even considers scented ones, but the smell might wake him and ruin the element of surprise.
To get Finn to stay in the morning, she 'accidentally' sets her alarm to 4 a.m., and following their minor squabble, fucks him so hard that he's practically knocked unconscious. Pinning him to the mattress ensures that he remains lying on his back. Quietly, she retrieves a meticulously-folded crane, her best yet. Its fate is a shame, but a necessary sacrifice.
She holds her breath while she gently places the crane on his forehead and hops off the bed. She leans against her bedroom door, watching, waiting.
The alarm blares again. Finn yawns, rolls over, and outstretches an arm towards her side of the bed. (Wait, is he reaching for her?) As he moves, the crane drops beside him - his hand lands smack-dab on it with a satisfying crunch.
Liz almost shouts with joy. In an instant, he's jolted awake, propping himself on one elbow and gaping at the carnage. His eyes widen in disbelief and, she's pretty sure, horror.
It takes him half a minute to process this turn of events. He only glances up when she clears her throat.
"I was but the learner, now I am the master," she quotes, and rushes out of the room before he can yell at her.
The next morning, she wakes up alone, with the usual eyeful of crushed crane.
She sighs, sits upright - and hears a familiar crunch. She looks down...only to find another origami crane flattened beneath her palm.
Liz makes origami in her free time, hiding them in various locations throughout her flat. To flaunt her prowess, she switches from cranes to more complicated animals. She smuggles them to work, sneaks into Finn's office when he isn't there, and plants them on the floor beneath his chair so that he'll accidentally roll over them. This happens three days in a row. His increased belligerence suggests she's successful each time.
Finn starts folding his cranes in plain sight: during meetings; while they're watching TV; immediately post-sex. It's an intimidation tactic, she thinks. She could snatch the cranes out of his hands and rip them to shreds, but that hardly seems sporting. And it's...nice to watch him, in the way that it's interesting to watch old wartime footage of missiles on an assembly line.
"I'm always up for anything involving your fingers and folds," Liz explains. Peering at his most recent crane, she stifles a laugh. "You realise the quality is dropping? I might as well crush it now, to put it out of its misery."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"The neck is disproportionate to the body. You're losing your touch."
"I'm branching out. It's a swan," Finn insists. He holds up a smaller crane. "And this is a duck."
"You're just making cranes in different sizes."
"Who died and made you the judge of origami water fowl?"
Nevertheless, he seems to take her criticism seriously. Soon, the cranes evolve. Now he can do ducks, swans, herons, and something which he claims is a malnourished penguin on its stomach.
Liz doesn’t have the heart to throw away the crushed birds. She stores them in a shoebox, which she places at the bottom of one of her kitchen cabinets. She will combust from embarrassment if Finn ever finds out, she’s sure of it.
One evening, Finn steps into the doorway of her bedroom and hums. Liz ignores him, trying to conceal her worry, until he says, "Look what we have here."
She does, then almost bolts from the mattress. Cradled in his hands is an origami butterfly.
"Have you been going through my things?" she demands.
"You left it outside, by your laptop. Which had the instructions open." He examines the butterfly closely, weighs it in his palm. “Hmm. This is nice. Not as nice as mine, obviously, but passable.”
"Well, thank you."
His gaze darkens. “I’m going to unfold it and turn it into a crane.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Liz scoffs. Finn doesn't break eye contact as he pulls back a flap. "You can't refold it into an entirely new thing. It'll look bad. And it's harder with crease marks." He slowly backs out of the room, fiddling with the captive butterfly. Panicked, she calls after him, “I’m going to collect your cranes, recycle them into a big piece of paper, and make a giant origami animal!”
“I bet it’ll be a snake!”
The next day, Liz storms into Finn's office to yell at him over something or the other. She almost stops upon noticing the butterfly sitting on his desk, intact.
They're at a stalemate. Finn’s birds are folded better with a greater degree of consistency. But Liz can produce a wider assortment of animals in larger quantities. She calls a truce by wordlessly handing him an origami artistic interpretation of a ceasefire, which he argues is an act of aggression in itself.
“I made the first crane as a...present...for...you," Finn admits through gritted teeth, as if it physically pains him. "I thought it would be funny to put it on your head. Then, I had to take a call. I left for work while I was still on the phone, and I completely forgot. You were angry, I was defensive, and it...escalated from there.”
“That’s so sweet." Liz presses a kiss to his forehead and starts to unbutton his shirt. She sensually whispers, "I don’t believe you one fucking bit.”
Once he's fast asleep, she retrieves paper from her nightstand and folds two cranes. She positions them on the mattress so that they'll be the first thing he sees when he wakes up. To keep him from rolling over, she curls up around him, his head cradled in one arm.
Finn opens his eyes at midnight, after she switches on her light and has a deliberate bout of coughing.
"Oh." Squinting at the cranes, he asks, "Are they kissing or fighting?"
"One of them is regurgitating into the other's beak," Liz explains. "It represents your relationship with the press." He rolls his eyes. She adds, nonchalantly, "You know, cranes mate for life."
"Which isn't long, in your bed," he deadpans.
"That's not the only thing that doesn't last long in my bed."
"Mates wouldn't regurgitate into each other's beaks. Get your incestuous cranes out of my face."
"I wasn't aware we were aiming for complete ornithological accuracy," she snaps.
Finn's expression softens somewhat. "I like them. Really." He leans over Liz, tracing her skin with his fingertips. "Do you even remember what we were arguing about? I mean, when this began?"
"The cybercrime wave," she answers, immediately.
"Fuck you," he grumbles, though she catches a hint of a smile in his voice.
Before he rolls on top of her, he takes the cranes and places them on his nightstand, safely out of harm's way.