Linus Caldwell stared at the door in front of him, white with blue trim, all perfectly normal. He hesitated, looking at the door and then back at his feet, reluctant to disturb the happy couple inside. He told himself he should turn around and go back. It was late and they wouldn't want to be bothered with his problems. It had been stupid to fly all the way out here like this, just on a whim. Okay, so it was more than just a whim. He was going to go mad if he didn't get someone to help him, and Danny Ocean was the only one he could think of that could help.

"Linus." The boy in question jumped, looking up guiltily at Danny. He hadn't heard the door open but there Danny was, leaning against the doorframe with that confident, cocky smile of his. Danny extended a hand in greeting and Linus took it slowly, still nervous and unsure and half-convinced he was intruding somehow. From further in the house he heard Tess call something he couldn't quite make out. Danny shouted a response back, "It's Linus."

Then there was a hand on his arm pulling him inside. "Why don't you come inside? You don't look too well. Is everything alright?"

That was a loaded question. Linus opened his mouth but he really had no idea where to start, what to say. Just then Tess bustled in, sweeping him into a hug and taking away his chance to answer for the moment.

"Linus, it's good to see you again." They'd only met once before, when the couple had been passing through Chicago and Danny had wanted to stop in and visit, but apparently Danny had been talking him up because Tess greeted him like an old friend. As she pulled back from the hug her face scrunched up and she took Linus' head in her hands. "Are you alright? You look sick."

He sighed. Yeah, he probably didn't look all that great considering how little sleep he'd been getting recently. "I'm fine, though that's kind of why I came here to see you."

Tess and Danny exchanged a look and then Tess was mothering him, pulling him along into the kitchen. "Have a seat, Linus. Can I get you anything?"

"Water's fine." Linus slipped into a chair at their kitchen table, a light brown affair with white painted legs. It looked like something straight out of Better Homes and Gardens or Martha Stewart Living. Tess and Danny settled side by side on the opposite end. It felt like he was in front of a jury, pleading his innocence.

"So, what's up?"

He looked at Danny, looked at his glass, then his hands. He knew he was stalling but it was just... He was scared. With a sigh he let his fingers weave through his hair in one of those nervous gestures he knew enough to control. "It's Rusty."

There was a flash of concern crossing both their faces and he sat up a bit straighter, realizing what he'd just said. "He's alright," he covered quickly. "He's just..." Several words flashed through his mind, none of which he said. There was a lot of the situation that he was sure Tess and Danny didn't know about and he wasn't sure how much of it Rusty wanted them to know. Linus wasn't even sure how much he wanted them to know considering the high potential of backlash in the situation. He didn't think he could handle that right now but there wasn't really any way to avoid it. Rusty was mad at him anyways, what was one more thing.

"He won't talk to me. I need to fix it." Emotions came back with the words and he felt his hands start to shake. He let his face fall into them, half to keep them steady, half so that he wouldn't have to look up and see the disgust on his friends' faces when they figured it out.

"Have you tried calling him?" He could tell Danny was at a loss for words.

"I tried. He won't answer." The omission made him shake harder and he could feel the tears forming again, useless, unmanly, betraying drops of water that hadn't left him for more than a day recently. "Can I borrow you bathroom, please?" He needed to get out of there and pull himself together again.

"Right this way." Then Tess was leading him down the hall and they both pretended not to notice as Linus hastily wiped away a single tear drop that was falling prematurely. He locked the door behind him and buried his face in his sleeve, biting the fabric to still any noise as he sat curled on the tile floor and cried.

Tess looked at Danny, her eyes saying enough that her mouth didn't have to.

"Right." Danny felt like a concerned father, about to call out his daughter's first boyfriend. In a way Linus kind of felt like a son to him. They'd hit it off well towards the end of the Vegas job and he knew Tess liked the kid. "You talk to Linus, I'll call Rusty."

Tess nodded and grabbed his cell phone, punching in the numbers in rapid succession. Two rings and then a familiar voice answered. Rusty sounded off, not as cheerful as he normally was.

"Rusty." He added a slight warning to the word, signaling that something was up.

"Danny." Rusty's voice didn't give anything back. So he wasn't expecting Linus to talk to them, or if he did, wasn't concerned about it.

Might as well just plunge in. "You wouldn't happen to have any idea why Linus is crying in my bathroom?"

The response was immediate. "Fuck." There was a long drawn out silence on the other end while Rusty collected himself and took some time to think. That meant he hadn't been expecting it at all. "Tell me he isn't?" Rusty pleaded.

Danny didn't have to say anything.

"He is. Christ." He could tell Rusty was pacing. There was that distinct tap-tap of Rusty's shoes faint in the background.

It was Danny's turn to ask a question. "Tell me you didn't." Not so much a question as a demand really. He was half hopeful that Rusty had taken their conversation close to two years ago to heart and hadn't blundered into what Danny had a strong suspicion he'd done.

Rusty's guilty silence was all the answer he needed. "You did. I hope you know what you're doing." That had been part of their little conversation too. If Rusty did 'know what he was doing' and it involved what was going on right now, Danny would most likely be on the next plane to Hollywood to smack his friend into some common sense.

"I thought I did but I swear I wasn't expecting this." Okay, so he didn't have to head to the airport right away. "Look, do you think you could keep him there for a bit? I'm on my way out." That was even better and Danny had to force down a smile. "We'll be here."

There was a polite knock on the door and Linus quickly scrubbed his face dry. "I'll be out in a minute." He splashed some water over his face real quick to hide the tear stains, a meaningless effort but it made him feel a little less vulnerable. Tess was waiting outside the door with a small, motherly smile on her face.

"Come on, let's go upstairs and you can tell me about it, okay?"

Slowly, he nodded and let the woman lead him upstairs to a small bedroom set at the end of the hall. Tess closed the door and sat next to him on the bed. "What'd Rusty do?"

Linus had no clue where to start. With a sigh, he let his mouth figure things out and hoped his babble turned out to be at least somewhat coherent. "I can't go anywhere with him without bumping into someone he's been with and I can't help but wonder what number I am. But I can't ask, so it just sticks in my head until I see him again and I wonder how many people he's been with since I last saw him. And I can't ask. I can't ask anything. When I try he evades and then goes all silent. It's the silence I can't take. It's incriminating, like he hates me and it feels like a sign that he really doesn't care because he won't tell me anything."

Tess placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "That's not you, Linus. Rusty's quiet like that. He doesn't like people asking questions about his life. He doesn't even answer Danny half the time."

"Yeah, I know. But it still hurts, a bit."

"So what happened?"

"I..." Linus faltered. He forced the tears back again. He wasn't going to cry again. "I pressed it. We were talking, kinda. I'd been running on and on about my parents 'cause he'd asked me, so I asked him back. I mean, it's the polite thing to do, and really, I wanted to know. I can't help but want to know, you know, 'cause I..." Linus cut himself off, not wanting to admit to Tess what he hadn't even told Rusty yet. "He did that evade thing, brushed the question off, so I asked again and he got sterner about it, told me I didn't need to know. I..." He looked at his hands as they toyed with the end of his shirt. "I got mad at him. Couldn't help it, you know. It's been almost a year of evasions and I'm sick of it, kinda. So I yelled at him for it, right there in the middle of the restaurant, caused a big scene and then stormed off like a girl." Realizing what he'd said, he looked at Tess a bit sheepishly. "No offense."

"None taken," Tess replied amiably.

"Then I got home and he wasn't there. So I waited it out a bit and still nothing. I got a call three hours later. All he said was that he was going out of town and he'd be back. Didn't say when. I tried to take it alright, not make too much of it but the thought that I'd messed up just wouldn't go away. So I called him but he wouldn't answer." He looked at Tess, his eyes probably reminiscent of a kicked puppy and he tried to keep the injured tone that was creeping into his voice muted. "It's been two weeks and every time I call he either says he can't talk or just doesn't answer. We've never gone this long without at least saying hi, so I know I fucked up."

Again he realized he misspoke a little too late. "Begging your pardon." Tess just smiled reassuringly at him so he continued. They both pretended his voice wasn't cracking sharply every five words or so. "He won't even talk to me and I can't stand it. I had to do something or I was going to go insane. So I figured Danny might know how I can apologize since he knows Rusty better than I do."

"Shh." Tess patted his hair and he realized he'd started crying again. She pulled his head down to her shoulder and hugged him tightly. "It's alright. I'll talk to Danny." Linus smiled at the thought. They were willing to help him. They didn't hate him, which was what he'd half-feared when he'd come here. He hadn't had a lot of good experiences with people outside of his immediate family accepting the whole gay thing so he was a little worried.

"Why don't you lie down? Try to get some sleep. You look exhausted. I'm sure you'll feel better in the morning." Tess was pulling away slowly, placing a motherly kiss on his forehead as she stood.

"Are you sure it's alright?" Doubts spun around in his head, twisting knots in his stomach. "I don't want to be a bother."

"You're not a bother. You're more than welcome to spend the night here."

"Are you sure? I can..."

"You can stay here, Linus." Tess said smoothly. "It's alright. We'll talk to Rusty. Things will work out. Don't you worry."

"Thanks." He smiled weakly. "I mean really, thank you. I don't know what I'd do without..."

"No problem, now get some sleep." With a reassuring smile Tess slipped out of the room.

Danny looked up as Tess descended the stairs just minutes after he finished his conversation with Rusty. "Hey." He smiled one of his most dazzling smiles and held out his hands for his wife.

"Hey yourself," Tess answered. "Did you talk to Rusty?"

"Yeah. How's Linus?"

"He's asleep. I told him to stay the night."

"Good." Things couldn't have worked better if planned. "Rusty's on his way out. What's the abridged version?"

Tess sighed and settled onto the couch. "They've been together over a year, getting close, but Rusty won't talk. Linus got mad about it, and Rusty's been giving him the silent treatment for about two weeks. It's eating Linus up inside."

That's what he'd been afraid of. Rusty didn't know how to handle sensitive people. Whatever made him think he could was beyond Danny. "This is exactly why I told Rusty to be careful."

"You knew?" Suddenly Danny was skating on very thin ice. Thin, cold, jagged ice. With lots of sharp pointy bits.

"Not about this," Danny covered. "I knew Rusty was interested back in Vegas, but we talked. I said Linus was too young, too innocent, too sensitive. All the reasons a guy like Rusty shouldn't get involved. That and we didn't know the kid's preference at the time. Top all that off with the fact that he's Bobby Caldwell's kind and Bobby'd have his head if he did something stupid. He never told me anything about this." Danny looked over at Tess. She was keeping something back. "What else?"

"Linus loves him."

Well that just took the cake. "I think Rusty and I need to have a nice long talk when he gets here."

Danny opened the door five seconds after the chimes rang. "Rusty," he greeted, a small fake smile plastered on his face. The morning sun was just beginning to come up over Rusty's shoulder and it was a chill almost-winter morning.

"Danny." The response was sober. Neither of them moved. "How's Tess?"

"She's fine." If the reply was a bit cold neither of them took offense. "I thought you knew what you were doing."

"I did." Rusty looked at him, looked away, and sighed. "I thought I did. Things changed." It was as much an apology as Danny was going to get. "Can I come in?"

"Yeah." Danny stepped aside. Rusty'd been to the house enough times to know his way around.

"Where's Linus?" That question should have been asked first, but it wasn't the way Rusty worked. He had to ease into the subject, go around in the circle of pleasantries before jumping right in.

"Upstairs. Sleeping. Have a seat in the kitchen. Tess'll be down in a few and I was just starting to make breakfast. How do you want your eggs?"

Rusty preceded him into the kitchen, not smiling. He poured himself a cup of coffee, using that yellow smiley face mug they kept around just for him, and sat at the table facing Danny. His shoulders might have been slumped a bit too far forward. It was hard to tell.

"So what are you doing?" Danny asked slowly, tossing a package of bacon into a skillet while he let butter melt in another. Rusty hadn't answered him about the eggs so he went with the normal scrambled.

"I was having a relationship. Just hit a snag."

"In relationships, people normally talk to each other. It's what they're about."

"We do talk," Rusty replied, his tone bordering between defensive and sulk.

"I mean about the important things." He added ten eggs to a large bowl, beating them in with some milk. The concoction hit the skillet with a loud hiss. "There's that whole sharing thing, Rusty. No secrets, if you're doing it right."

Tess walked in with an eyebrow raised and a smile for Danny. "Good morning Rusty." She gave the man a pat on the shoulder as she brushed past to fix herself a cup of tea.


"We don't have any more secrets." Danny pecked Tess on the cheek as she came to stand at the counter next to him. "That's the thing, Rusty. You lose focus in this game for one minute and someone gets hurt."

"Hey, Tess, can I..." The words were cut off as Linus walked into the room, his eyes fixing on the guest at their table. There was a hint of betrayal in his eyes as he looked at Danny. "I thought you were just going to talk to him."

"I've always thought talking is best done face to face." Danny replied glibly.

Rusty slowly stood. "You two don't mind if we..." He waved a hand meaningfully towards the stairs.

"Be my guest."

Rusty walked over, apology written all over his face as he put a hand lightly on Linus' arm. The boy shrugged it off, looking all hurt and Danny saw all sorts of possibilities for things to go wrong.

"Please." Rusty caught Linus' gaze, held it. Danny watched the boy soften, but not melt. He took that as a good sign. He'd been worried a bit about dependencies considering how badly Linus was taking things.

"Alright." Linus glanced back at them, looking for reassurance and Danny gave him the smile he was looking for, before he followed Rusty up the stairs.

Rusty shut the door to the small bedroom behind them, and Linus kept his back towards him. Slowly, the boy turned around, almost reluctantly.

"I'm sorry," they both said at the same time. Linus looked down and Rusty rubbed the back of his head.

"So what happened?" Rusty took a step forward and put his hand on Linus' arm, not accusing, just inquiring, and he was glad when Linus didn't shrug off the touch like he had the first time.

Linus kept his face away, hadn't really looked at Rusty straight in the face once since he'd got here. The glimpses he had seen weren't that comforting. Linus looked tired and Rusty hoped that wasn't because of him. "You weren't talking to me so I thought you were mad and maybe..."

"Maybe?" Rusty prompted after Linus had trailed off.

"Maybe you weren't coming back." The admission was small, tiny, and Rusty pulled the boy into a hug to keep Linus from shrinking in on himself.

"I was going to come back." He ran his fingers through Linus' hair, knowing exactly how calming it was to the boy.

"Then why didn't you say anything?" Linus pulled back a bit, still staying in Rusty's arms but separated just a tiny bit and he looked straight at Rusty with hurt and accusation in his eyes. "Why wouldn't you talk to me when I called?"

"I thought you were still mad, figured you could use some space."

"I wasn't mad," Linus said softly.

"You were," Rusty reminded.

"Not for long." Linus let his head fall onto Rusty's chest and breathed deeply. "I just wanted to talk to you. I don't know anything about you, Rusty." There was a light tensing of the boy's shoulders and then he sighed like he was giving up. "But if it's that big a deal I won't push it again."

"It's alright." He pulled Linus tight to him in a reassuring hug. "It's okay to ask. I'm just not used to... this. But I will be, eventually. So I'll try to answer, sometimes, but I can't promise to tell you everything. That alright?"

"Yeah. Thanks." Then Linus smiled up at him and it was like the sun finally came out after two weeks of hiding behind clouds. Rusty couldn't help but smile back. He leaned forward, moving slowly until their lips met in a soft and gentle kiss. Linus melted, too drained to do more than just tilt his head back. As they broke apart Rusty glanced at the lines of tension in Linus' face and he ran his thumbs lightly over the bags under the boy's eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you this upset."

"It's okay," Linus protested softly. A faint blush flitted across his cheeks and Rusty knew the boy was beating himself up about how he had acted. "It's nothing."

Rusty moved them to the bed, sat down and pulled his boy down with him. "It's not okay." Then he kissed Linus, tried to say all the things he couldn't verbalize with his mouth and tongue. He said how sorry he was as he pushed his way into an open mouth. He said that he'd missed Linus in the way that he held Linus close, and he said that he wouldn't do something that stupid again by running a hand idly up and down the boy's back. The hand that reached down to undo the button on the boy's pants said that he'd make it up to him. As he pulled his mouth away, let Linus gasp for needed breath, he kissed his way down the exposed neck to say that he'd try to understand.

"We shouldn't do this here." Linus' hand only half tried to push him away as he pulled the boy's cock out of his boxers, stroking it lightly with one hand.

"It's okay," he whispered. "Danny and Tess won't mind." Then he shifted so that he could lower Linus back onto the bed and watched the red that crept into his boy's face.

"But..." He could tell Linus wasn't fully okay with it. He kept glancing at the unlocked door with worried eyes but Rusty just smiled at him in a flash of teeth that was sure to distract as he wormed his way lower on the bed.

"Shh," he soothed, still petting the half-hard cock. "Just a little. It's alright." He watched Linus' eyes as he lowered himself down and took the boy in his mouth.

Surprise flashed the strongest across his face and Linus flung an arm fast across his mouth, but Rusty could still hear his name muffled against the cloth. The boy shivered, his legs subconsciously parting just a bit wider as his eyes glossed over and Rusty knew no one had ever done this to his boy before. Linus was hard before he'd even completed the first bob. Rusty knew every trick in the book, had even penciled a few in himself, and he used them, watching through lowered eyelids as incredulity shone on Linus' face and he came hard and fast in Rusty's mouth. He swallowed slowly, cleaning Linus off as he pulled away and then licking the corner of his mouth as he finally sat back. Linus just lay there, a pool of goo, and stared at him with eyes already dimming with the approach of sleep.

He tucked Linus away, gave him a little pat as he finished zipping up his pants and then flopped on the bed beside him. "I probably should have said this sooner," he said quietly as he brushed his knuckles across the side of Linus' face, "but... I love you."

Linus' eyes got real wide and he just stared at Rusty for a long moment. "Rusty?" His voice quavered on the name.

"I do." The certainty was clear in his tone.

"Me too," Linus said with a smile. "I mean," he stumbled, "I love you too. I have for a while but I wasn't sure if... I mean I know we said but..."

"Now you know."

"Now I know." The smile that Linus gave him made it all worth it, small, barely even there, with a hint of shyness but so much emotion that it made Rusty pull the boy close. "Rusty?"

He hummed querulously as he petted Linus' hair.

"Thanks for coming out here for me."


He held Linus close until the boy's breathing evened out into the hollow tones of sleep. Then he stayed, just a little bit longer, before carefully breaking away. He crawled off the bed and carefully tucked the boy under the covers, as quiet and gentle as a thief. The door barely made a squeak as he tiptoed out of the room. He glanced back once at Linus' sleeping face and smiled before he made his way over to the upstairs bathroom. He cleaned himself up, rinsed his mouth, and then went downstairs to find Tess and Danny talking softly over coffee in the kitchen.

"Hey," Danny greeted, and the cold, standoffishness of earlier was completely gone from his voice. Leaning back he pulled a plate out of the oven and set it in front of Rusty. Tess handed him a fork.

Rusty smiled and answered back. "Hey."

"Where's Linus?" Tess asked softly.

"Sleeping again." Rusty nodded back towards the spare bedroom. "Thanks for letting him stay here, I owe you one."

"No, you don't." Danny waved off the comment with a smile. "He's a friend. It was our pleasure." He turned a shrewd glance at Rusty, the same calculating look he used to measure jobs. "Better?"

"Better." Tess and Danny both smiled at him.

"Since you're all the way out here, why not stay for a while?" Danny asked. "It's been a while since we got together."

"We'd love to have you stay," Tess chimed in. "Both of you."

Rusty shrugged easily. "I'd have to check with Linus but it sounds good to me." He knew Linus would agree.

"Good," Danny said, and the matter was settled. His manner switched from friendly to all business and he leaned forward with his fingers woven together. "So exactly when were you going to tell us?"

The stern glance Tess gave him was priceless and he couldn't help but laugh. "We want details, Rusty. Lots of details."

With a smile on his face, Rusty broke into the story.

[Continued in Winner Takes All