At what point does an elephant in the room turn into a blue whale, inflate, then explode? Whatever it is, Liz is pretty sure they’re covered in blubber and other assorted whale bits, with the wider world none the wiser. The final straw occurs when the very year, the very month gets mentioned without further comment. Not even so much as a charged stare in response to her gaping, nor a discreet eye-roll.
By the end of the day, she's had ample time to meditate on it, and is livid as a result. She storms into Finn’s office and shuts the door behind her with a quick glance at the department floor. It's finally clearing. Soon it'll only be them. Only them. Ugh.
He doesn’t acknowledge her presence.
Liz exhales, arms flopping by her sides. “Are we ever going to talk about it?”
“Talk about what,” Finn says, still glued to his iPad.
“How we fucked for a week straight seven years ago.”
His head snaps up. If an owl and a bush baby had some ungodly hybrid offspring that routinely inhaled pure cocaine through a helium pump, its eyes would be a bit smaller than his are right now.
“It was not,” he sputters, “it wasn’t a week - ”
“There were breaks for coffee.”
Inexplicably, he rises to shut his blinds, peering through the slits as if he expects - or hopes - there are snipers nearby. “Look, Liz, I was young and stupid...”
“I think you were a year older than I am now,” Liz recalls, frowning. Finn whips around and simply stares at her, hard. “Fuck you.”
“And you were younger and stupider.”
“I really liked you, you know.”
“Oh, so I suppose your attempted first-day-firing was the product of starry-eyed fawning?”
“Yeah. Duh.” Liz’s heart constricts at how his only response is humourless laughter. How annoying. She runs a hand through her hair, making a mental note to purge the memory of that emotional reaction with copious amounts of alcohol. “Look at it from my perspective, okay - ”
“Can’t,” Finn says, flatly. “I don't know what it's like to be beneath myself.”
“When I was fresh out of college I met this cute, dashing reporter who read a lot for fun and laughed at my jokes even though his mood fluctuated more than a defective drugstore ring. Older, but easily within societally acceptable range - ”
“I do fondly remember when you seemed to have standards.”
“- and we had great sex and talked about the future of politics and the media, then parted on good terms.” Is she getting misty-eyed? It must be his shitty cologne getting blown by the draft. It's cold in here. Like Hell. “Back home, I heard about you and the whistleblowing, and I assumed you heard about me and Instagram. So when I took the job, I thought I’d signed on to work with two of the smartest men in modern policing - ”
“Right.” Finn makes air quotation marks. “‘Work’.” He pauses and considers for a second. “‘Policing’.”
“ - only to learn you’re a washed-up, wrung-out snake who traded one gross habit for another, plus a mini atrocity or three,” Liz concludes.
He staggers back, appalled, almost colliding with the front of his desk in the process. “What the fuck is a washed-up, wrung-out snake? An eel?”
“Yeah, Finn, you’re a fucking dead eel,” she hisses. “You’re a zombie eel eating its own tail, committing the exact same ethical breaches you opposed, and worse - ”
“They are not the same,” Finn hisses. “That was the private sector. Those were billionaires exploiting the grief of working class families for cheap drama. This is an institution under attack, this is - ”
“This is worse because you work for fucking law enforcement and the institution is broken even without existing for profit. And you fucking know it! You know it more intimately than your palm knows your dick, so you can cover it up whenever it gets hard and shames you, like it's your dick.”
“You already said that!”
“There were two separate figurative comparisons in that sentence!”
This is ridiculous. His face falters, accidentally softening it somewhat, and for an all-too-clear second she feels twenty-one again - naked and invisible and only ever truly seen by this man. It's a sick contrast between here and where they last said goodbye, a rose-tinted romantic scene thrown into a different light that could more accurately be described as a fluorescent wasteland.
“Don’t you think -” Finn waves at the space between them. “That...this was part of why I didn’t want Richard to hire you?”
“It occurred in the past. You’re here now.”
Liz lets it slide. “Did you tell anyone we’d met? I didn’t.”
“I mentioned we were loosely acquainted once. I didn’t say, ‘We shagged each other silly for seven days in the summer of 2007 and come to think of it she may have slipped something into my system which is why I sabotaged my career shortly afterwards.’”
“Morals,” Liz snaps, “into your snake brain.”
“Cheap ecstasy,” Finn counters, “up my cock.”
“You know I was practically straight edge. You wouldn’t even let me smoke.”
He turns back to the window in a single sharp motion. “We’ve thoroughly disappointed each other, then.”
For the first time in weeks, she realises that she could walk away without another word. The city isn't at stake. Neither is much of her pride. She has no social or emotional obligation to this smoking crater of the past. Ex-smoking. Doesn't matter. So many things have been lost in such a short span of time, it hadn't really occurred to her that she'd had whatever...this was.
“All right,” Liz says, radiating a frankly worrying semblance of calm, feeling very much like Sisyphus when she catches a glimpse of Finn's lips thinning into that familiar grim line. “Let's assume we were young and stupid - ”
“I was. I've earned the precious past tense. You, on the other hand - ”
Annnnnd the boulder is rolling back down. “Yeah, because it's really grown-up to nitpick semantics - ”
He barks out an unkind laugh as he whips back around. “Did you unironically use the word 'grown-up'?”
Liz tugs at her hair with both hands, eyes bulging from exasperation.“What did I just fucking say?”
Finn catches his breath and sticks out his fingers, silently counting to ten. Then fifteen. Then twenty. He takes a step forward and takes another deep breath.
“Fine, let's talk like adults!” he shouts.
“Fine!” she shouts.
With that, they lapse into heavy silence. Funny how agreeing to do it makes it more difficult, like any of the promises she'd made to herself - and, implicitly, to him.
“Okay,” Finn says, guarded, a sight somehow more disturbing than when he's on the offensive. “What do you remember?”
“I don’t do this often,” Liz says. “I mean, the sex part.”
Finn Kirkwood raises his head from where he’s buried it in his pillow, hair hilariously ruffled from the recent friction of being vigorously rubbed against fabric.
“Which isn’t to say I haven’t done the s - had sex before,” she babbles, clinging to the rumpled quilt like it's the remnants of her composure. “I do it all the time. Or, not all the time, but enough. To know. Things. I just don’t do it like this. Not that there’s anything wrong with what we just did.” She pauses. “I'm not talking about positions.”
He pulls himself upright with a sigh. “You could say this was a first for me, too.”
“It was a first for you, too.”
Arse. She giggles, then immediately bites her lip, guiltily, in an afterthought for maturity. He rolls his eyes (God knows at what) and rolls over. Liz briefly admires the muscles of his back as he grabs a pack of cigarettes, one of many atop a pile on his cluttered nightstand.
It's past noon. They haven't left the bedroom in several hours. Most have been spent largely conscious; some in deep conversation, most in other senses of 'deep'. She has around six days left in London and she's whiling it away watching this man fish for a lighter, of which he also has multiple. A flash of lightning grants him a certain Byronic illumination. But only for a second.
“I wish we'd met sooner,” Liz admits, affecting wistfulness.
“Maybe we met too early,” he counters. “Maybe it would've been better for the universe if we'd locked gazes across a crowded room while you delivered the glorified eulogy for a pseudo-scammy yuppie peer-to-peer ridesharing company on international cable news - ”
“By then the announcement would be digital.”
“Well,” he deadpans, “consider me corrected. And I suppose you think I'd need the eulogy earlier.”
“Oh, I doubt it,” she claims, amicably. “You'll always have your place as ecological waste disposal. If a company falls in a corporate jungle and there's no journalist around to report it, did it really die?”
While he lapses into a bout of contemplation, she plucks the cigarette pack from his surprisingly relaxed hands and starts to remove one. He snatches it back - the unexpected contact of heated flesh-on-flesh threatens to cause palpitations.
“You shouldn’t smoke,” Finn explains. Then he removes a cigarette and sticks it at the corner of his mouth, lights it and smirks as Liz raises an eyebrow. “Do as I say, not as I do.”
“I’d rather do you again.”
He damn-near chokes on his cigarette at that, and barely has time to put it out and drop it before she straddles him. If he wants to reprimand her for the fire hazard, he doesn't have the chance. She smashes her lips against his. He tastes like ash and tar and other unidentifiable types of bitterness - really gross, if she's being as honest as he seems. But in some ways, it's one of the sweetest kisses she's ever had. Everything about him exudes the openness sorely lacking throughout her life: the wide-eyed reaction to how she looms, the way his mouth drops slightly and stays agape in the rare moments where they break for breath. There's nothing to hide, even as he buries his face in her shoulder.
Afterwards, he retrieves the cigarette. Of course. The faraway look in his eyes dims to a sort of recognition as he turns to stare at her, though something unreadable remains.
“What is it?” Liz asks. For the first time in years, she cares about the answer.
“I do wish you could stay, just a bit longer.” God, that honest vulnerability is gorgeous. How is she supposed to go back to emotionally constipated assholes after this? “But you're young, and stupid…” He ruffles her hair, almost affectionately; she leans into it with an involuntary keen, even as she swats him for the last remark. “You have things to learn.” His expression darkens. “Things I can't teach you.”
“Why not? Because it'd be unethical?” she teases. “You'd give me extra credit for silly things?”
“On the contrary.” He exhales heavily, with relish, the sound now thrillingly familiar after the few hours they've known each other. His teeth flash like the earlier lightning. “All evidence suggests that I'd be particularly hard on you.”
Rain patters against the window. In the now-dark room, the thick waft of the cigarette becomes especially noticeable. It occurs to Liz that she's secondhand smoking. Actually, she has been. For hours. She almost mentions it - you're already doing more damage than you think - but she stops upon glimpsing the return of Finn's pensiveness. Instead, she burrows into his warmth. Thinking can wait. She thinks.