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I'M TEMPORARY TOO

I AM A SLOW WRITER. MY WORDS SMELL OF GUILT AND MISSED DEADLINES.



That little stunt actually makes things better, for a while. Reese starts calling him asking for the usual brand of shifty information and illegal favors, and Fusco’s only too happy to supply it because he misses when things were normal.

The day when Fusco realizes that this, this, has become his normal is a very bad day.

But it’s only a bad day because he doesn’t understand how much worse things can get. Reese’s calls get more infrequent, and at first it’s great because he has time to focus on his real job, time to devote to HR. For the first time in months, he feels like he can be seen in public with his kid without painting a bullseye on Michael’s back. He’s not safe, exactly, but he’s stable. He can ride this out a while, as long as he keeps his head down.

So when he starts getting that feeling again, that itch between his shoulder blades, that terrible nervous pull somewhere deep in his chest, that feeling like he’s being followed by a man in a suit, he knows it’s for real.

It doesn’t take as long for him to pick up the phone this time.

“Good morning, Lionel,” Reese says airily. It’s 6 AM. Fusco’s sitting slumped at his desk in the precinct, nursing last night’s hangover with a Styrofoam cup filled with the worst coffee money can buy. Reese is probably sipping a latte right now. Fuck this guy.

“No. No, it’s not a good morning,” he hisses into the phone. “We need to talk about boundaries. Or I need you to stop staking out my apartment.”

There’s an actual, audible smirk. “Lionel, I think you have an inflated idea of your own importance.”

“Maybe so. Stop parking across the street from my building all night and I’ll tone it down.”

Reese’s voice is thick with mock-concern. “You see a car parked across the street from your apartment and you assume that you’re under surveillance? Pretty paranoid of you. Have you thought about seeking help?”

“Yeah, a bunch of times,” Fusco says, leaning his head on his hand, cupping the phone close to his ear as Carter skims past his desk with her nose in a file. “But it was you, wasn’t it?”

He doesn’t say anything for a while. It’s just quiet breathing on the end of the line. Fusco almost gives up and hangs up on him when Reese says, “Yeah.” His voice is soft and muddled, like he’s surprised at the answer himself.

Fusco feels relief, which is a different kind of surprise. “Why do you do that?” Fusco asks him.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “I think I just feel responsible.”

“For what?”

“You?” He sounds deeply tired.

Fusco doesn’t think he’s equipped to handle this, whatever this is. “You’re not,” he says firmly under his breath. “You’re not responsible for me. I am responsible for me, because I am a grown-ass man.”

“I know.”

They sit in uncomfortable silence, listening to each other’s background noise. It sounds like Reese is somewhere outside, somewhere with cars and people. Somewhere that isn’t here.

Good.

“Are you going to stake out my apartment again tonight?” he asks.

Reese is awfully, tellingly silent.

“Get a hobby, guy.”

“I’m sorry, Lionel.” He sounds like he’s lost somewhere.

Fusco’s thumb shifts over the button that will end the call, but he hesitates, makes a horrible decision, cringes as he speaks. “Listen,” he says. “I’m picking up Thai food on the way home.”

Silence. “You’re…?”

“I’m bringing home dinner. You can come up and join me, or you can go out and do whatever it is you do when you’re not following me around. Any of that in-between stalker shit? I start making noise.”

“It’s a nice idea, Lionel,” Reese says. His usual hushed, smoothed-over, mocking tones are back, and Fusco immediately regrets extending the invitation to this smug asshole. “I’ll think it over. Anything else?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Why do you use my first name so much?”

The call ends with a sudden blip.

Fusco thinks he might have won.

Then he remembers the invitation.

888

He’s not really sure what to expect when he gets home, plastic take-out bag in hand. Reese could be there. He could not. He could fail to show up in person but call Fusco, one of those unsettling calls where he seems to know just what Fusco’s doing.

If Reese does that last one, Fusco will have to do something, because he said he would. He can’t just lie down and take it, not after that. If he doesn’t get Reese to leave him alone now, he never will. This poses a problem, because Fusco knows it’s an empty threat. It’s not like he can go to the police, to HR. They’d want to know how it all started, who Reese is to him, and that’s a road he’s not prepared to go down because that road ends in either prison or death, and Fusco isn’t interested in either.

He guesses he could call Finch, but Fusco just isn’t sure he’d care.

It’s a load off his mind when he opens up his apartment door and there’s no one there.

He sets the take-out on his coffee table, breathes a sigh of profound relief. His shoulders sag, his heartbeat slows, but there’s this nervous prickle at the back of his neck so he winds up going through every room in the apartment, hand resting lightly on the grip of his handgun.

He’s not going to draw it. It’s his home, for god’s sake.

But still.

But every room is as he left it. There’s still a load of dishes in the sink, still soap scum in the bathroom, still unmade covers on his bed and dresser drawers hanging wide open in his own bedroom, still the quiet unease of a space half-lived-in in his son’s room.

It’s still just him.

He steps out of Michael’s room, turns to face the living room, and almost jumps out of his skin when he finds Reese sitting on his couch, casually, like he belongs there. He’s digging through the take-out bag in an ineffectual sort of way, like he’s starving but holding off out of politeness. Reese glances up at him, and for a moment there’s a strange, earnest light in his eyes.

“Which one’s mine?” he asks, holding up a Styrofoam carton.

Fusco’s leaning against the wall, still blindsided. “Don’t you knock?”

 “Not really my style,” he says. “I don’t know why you’re so surprised. You invited me.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t think you’d show.” Fusco’s heart rate is finally something like normal, and he tries to walk into the living room like someone who isn’t in a shooting mood. He stops and grabs two forks and two beers from the kitchen as he walks through. That helps. That’s an ordinary thing.

He situates himself on the opposite end of the couch, passes Reese a fork and a beer. Reese gives him the bag in return and Fusco starts dividing up the spoils. “If you didn’t think I’d show up,” Reese asks, “then why’d you buy extra food?”

“Shut up and eat your dinner,” Fusco says, jamming a container into Reese’s hands.

There’s about five minutes of silence between them, just the squeak of Styrofoam as their forks scrape against the side of containers. Fusco realizes he’s not being scrutinized, not even being judged. Reese isn’t even looking at him, he’s just eating. Which is weird; incongruous is probably the five dollar word.

If the man in the suit eats, that means he’s probably human.

And he’s sitting there, eating pad Thai on Fusco’s couch, drinking Fusco’s beer, and he looks fucking haggard. It’s not something Fusco’s ever noticed about him, not something he’s even capable of noticing because sometimes he can’t even bring himself to look at this guy for longer than he has to, but Reese looks like complete shit. Dark circles, ashy skin, subtly disheveled suit. That kind of bright-eyed, manic twitch you see in junkies. And Fusco’s not blind; he knows that the man in the suit is a good-looking guy. It probably takes a lot for him to look like complete shit.

“Rough night?” he asks, because he’s not sure how else to talk about the fact that there’s something wrong with Reese.

Reese laughs, flat and cold. “You mean the night I spent parked across the street, spying on you? Was that rough?” He pauses, swallows a quick mouthful of beer. “Not comparatively, no.”

“You want to explain that?”

“No.” He twirls a noodle around his fork. “Maybe. I think I have to.” He takes a long, slow breath. “I just moved into a new apartment,” he says.

Fusco keeps quiet, lets him work his way to the next part of the explanation, realizes it’s not forthcoming. “Is that supposed to be an excuse? ‘Cause it’s not good enough.”

“It’s a nice apartment. Finch bought it for me. It’s better than anything I would have picked for myself, but I only need a place to sleep, I don’t want…” He coughs. “I don’t need that kind of space.”

“Sorry your apartment’s so big. That’s a fucking tragedy.”

Reese ignores him.

“The real problem is, business is drying up. Not permanently; there’re always going to be murders, but sometimes we get…dry spells. As far as information goes. And there’s nothing for us to do but wait. And when we do get information, it’s over too quickly. We’re getting too good at this. Making less work for ourselves.” He’s grinding the tines of the fork into the bottom of the container. “I can’t be in that apartment, Lionel. Not for that long, not with nothing to do or think about. I’ll start climbing the walls.”

Fusco takes a thoughtful bite of his drunken noodles. “You’re going crazy in your apartment, so you come around to my place and drive me crazy in my apartment?”

Reese gives a weak little shrug. “Not exactly. I just need a simple problem to focus on.” He leans forward. That earnest light is back. “You’re very uncomplicated.”

“Fuck you too, buddy.” Fusco sits further back on the couch, turns so he’s not looking at him.

The uncomfortable pause returns. “I meant that as a compliment.”

“Yeah, OK.”

They return to their meals, and Fusco realizes that it’s not the same uncomfortable silence at all. It’s closer, more fragile.

“So,” Reese says, suddenly. “Pad Thai, huh?”

“Yeah, I didn’t know what you wanted…”

“You didn’t ask.”

“…and I didn’t really care, so I thought, ‘Who the hell doesn’t like pad Thai?’”

They’re watching each other out of the corners of their eyes, both refusing to look, refusing to break, resolutely facing the blank TV. “I could have been allergic to peanuts. You don’t know.”

“Yeah, but you’re not.”

“But if I had been.”

“Then you’d be dead,” Fusco says. “And all of my problems would be solved.”

He can’t tell, because he’s still refusing to look at Reese dead on, but Fusco thinks Reese might be shielding a smile with one hand. Fusco clears his throat, starts to rise. “I’m getting another beer. Put something on.” He nudges the remote towards Reese.

“Put what on?” Reese calls after him as he goes into the kitchen.

“I don’t care. Whatever you want.”

They end up watching some kind of bizarre, disjointed, self-imposed clip show as Reese flicks through channels at random, clicking away whenever he becomes bored or annoyed, which doesn’t take long. “How did it get so much worse?” he asks.

Fusco is finally making himself comfortable, losing the jacket and the holstered gun. He’s got his finger resting on the knot of his tie and is loosening it when he says, “How are you just finding out about this now?”

“I don’t own a TV,” he admits. “Haven’t for years.”

“See, this is why you stalk people. Buy a TV, watch a Knicks game sometime. You’ll sleep better.”

He’s not sure when it is, but at some point he falls asleep himself. He didn’t think he could do that, just doze off while his mortal enemy sits next to him on the sofa, but he does.

He’s woken up twice. The first time, it’s some sharp noise from the TV that pulls him out of sleep. His eyes flicker open and Reese is looking him right in the face and his expression is so overwhelmingly fond that it hurts a little. Reese’s hand is resting on the side of Fusco’s face; his thumb drags over the ridge of his cheekbone. “Go back to sleep, Lionel.”

He does. He can’t not.

The second time, he’s not sure why he wakes up. It might be a lack of input this time, because the TV’s off and he’s alone, lying on his side on the couch. He gets up, goes to the kitchen, finds empty beer bottles on the counter and his leftovers boxed up in the fridge. Reese is gone.

He returns to the couch to pick up his clothes, because if he only has a few hours to sleep before his ex drops Michael off for the weekend, he’s spending them in his actual bed. It’s at this point that he notices a note sitting on the coffee table, scrawled on the back of a receipt.

It reads, “Next time: my order is Massaman curry.”

Fusco crumples the note. He tells himself there won’t be a next time.

He can’t stop smiling.



Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
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livenudebigfoot
Jun. 1st, 2012 03:27 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked it! I'm getting really close to finishing the whole thing, and I'm hoping to have it done by the end of next week at the latest. Thanks for reading/the encouragement!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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