Disclaimer: I do not own. That is why I write.
Chapter Four – Danny launches a surprise ambush which Rusty is entirely unprepared for.
Perhaps it was because Bobby had been his mentor, and he knew firsthand how difficult pleasing that man was. Perhaps it was because Linus was young enough to be his son. Or maybe it was just the air of vulnerability the boy had, something Danny hadn't seen in this game for a long time.
Whatever it was, Danny was very sure of one thing; he wasn't going to let let Linus become another in the long list of Rusty's toyboys. And girls, for that matter. The best word when it came to describing Rusty Ryan was 'indiscriminate'…that and 'easily bored'. This, of course, was the whole problem.
Why did this have to happen tonight of all nights? Jail itself wasn't too bad – if Danny could con a man like Benedict keeping prison guards wrapped around his little finger wasn't an issue – but the loss of control over events in the outside world for such long periods of time was infuriating.
For a moment Danny considered calling Tess, but there wasn't much she could do. Besides, it was too soon. Things between them were too delicate. She needed time to sort herself out, time to realize that the man she really wanted was him. At least, that was the plan.
When Danny reached Rusty's suite he let himself in and sat on the bed. Slowly he took deep breaths – his track record when it came to winning arguments against Rusty wasn't great. In fact, it was pitiful. He needed to be relaxed, and focused, and not say anything he would regret.
He had only been there what seemed like seconds when Rusty appeared, and Danny was granted the rare privilege of seeing Rusty Ryan do a double take.
"Danny? What are y- "
"No, what the fuck are you doing?"
Realisation dawned on Rusty's face, and his tone morphed from bewildered to defensive.
"I don't see how if affects you, Danny."
"You don't see how it affects me? For Christ's sake Rusty! 0f everyone one here, why did you choose him? The youngest, the most inexperienced, and the most vulnerable? To you it's nothing, but it'll kill him."
"I'm not planning on pretending nothing happened tomorrow. I like him - I like him a lot. I'm not going to hurt him, Danny."
"You're Rusty Ryan. Of course you're gonna hurt him. I know you. You mess around for a few weeks, go out to the fanciest restaurants and best clubs, and then you get bored and walk away. Usually without informing the other person. Don't deny it."
"This is different, Danny!"
Rusty actually sounded angry. This was new. Usually when Danny berated him for his treatment of his lovers he shrugged it off, or made some wisecrack about conmen not being the greatest relationship material.
"Oh really? How so different, huh? He's pretty – don't think you're the only one to notice – he's young, he's emotionally fragile, you just happen to be there…"
"Shut up! It isn't like that. I don't know what it is, Danny, but trust me, it's different. I don't deny or regret what I've done before. It was… life. But this time - I mean, he's in his room now, alone, sleeping off the vodka. Would I usually do that? "
Danny had to admit Rusty had a point. More than that, he looked like he meant it. Hell, he sounded like he meant it. But if Danny knew anything, it was that people don't change so easily, no matter how much they want to.
Rusty stepped forward, and slowly sat down beside him.
"Please, Danny. I don't want to say goodbye fighting."
"Easy solution then; leave Linus alone."
"I won't do that."
Danny let out an explosive sigh. He didn't care how much it showed; he wanted Rusty to see how frustrating this was. But he certainly didn't want to head away for three months fighting with his closest and best friend. He needed Rusty. He may be the mastermind, but Rusty was the one who really ran things. Together, they were invincible. Grudgingly, Danny supposed he would just have to trust him.
"You know what - Fine. Fine. But be careful, ok? Take it slow, and keep it low key. It'll affect his career more than his name does."
Rusty was smiling, his lazy, contented smile. Danny knew he had given in too quick, but tension with Rusty was the one thing he couldn't live with. Sometimes he felt Rusty was the only one who really understood him, understood the thrill of the perfect job, and understood why he couldn't give it up. After all, Rusty couldn't give it up either. He always talked as if he only cared about his precious hotel, but Danny knew he would give it up in an instant if it was a choice between the hotel or the game.
"I really mean it, Rusty. I'm not just worried about Linus. If – I mean, when – Bobby finds out, he is going to kill you. He will hunt you down."
"He doesn't seem to care all that much."
"He cares too much. What you saw tonight was overcompensation. He doesn't like the fact Linus means so much to him, so he pretends not to care. He's a brilliant con artist, but a fucking terrible parent."
"Why didn't you say that to Linus?"
"It's not the sort of thing you can just hear. He needs to discover it for himself, or he won't really believe it."
"You sound like Oprah. But I suppose you're right."
Rusty collapsed backwards, stretching out full length on the bed with a yawn.
"Do you still want me to look after Tess?"
"Yeah. I guess so. I trust you with her."
At that, Rusty gave a soft chuckle.
Danny lowered himself down to lie quietly next to him. The silence was unusual in that it was comfortable, almost soothing. The only sound came from the occasional passer by outside, and the ticking of his watch.
His watch… Danny glanced at it and immediately resented the shiny (and expensive) piece of metal sitting on his wrist. It was nearly three. To stay out any longer would be pushing it.
Sitting up, he had already picked up his coat and got halfway across the room when he noticed Rusty had fallen asleep. He gazed for a minute at the still form of his friend and, feeling more than a little awkward, said a soft goodbye.
"I'll miss you, Rus. Be careful, ok? "
He wasn't quite sure what he meant by the last part – there were a lot of things it could mean, and he couldn't quite decide which one he agreed with most.
As Danny left, he was watched through half closed eyes. Rusty Ryan had never needed much sleep, but he hated saying goodbye.
When Linus finally woke up in the morning he was disorientated, bewildered and hung over. He was also, after he fell out of bed, significantly bruised on his left side.
Stumbling to the bathroom, Linus splashed his face with brutally icy water until he was awake, and took some painkillers for his head. The bathroom was not only really well designed but also well stocked. In fact, the whole room was beautifully set up. There was an enormous bed, a giant TV, a couch, a cute little kitchenette and a minibar… Rusty had really outdone himself…
Linus froze as memories flooded in. Last night…phone call… Rusty…
Oh. God. Please. No.
Linus half sat, half collapsed onto the tiles. He couldn't have made out with Rusty Ryan last night. It was impossible. For one thing, what could Rusty see in him? Rusty was, well, Rusty. The best there was. He was implacable, unreadable, always in control. On the other hand he, Linus, was an inadequate, incompetent, clumsy, inexperienced rookie. It was absolutely impossible – it must have been some sort of weird dream. That's right - a dream. A confused, alcohol-fuelled dream.
He realized he wasn't even fooling himself. It had happened, though why or how were totally incomprehensible. The only thing he could come up with was pity, and that was just too much to bear. It would be far better if Rusty had just wanted an easy lay. Considering Rusty's reputation, that wasn't out of the question, but it was going to make things very awkward.
Linus pressed his fingers against his temples, feeling throbbing in the veins that matched the pounding behind his eyes. Why had he drunk so much? Oh, yes… Dad. It was his own fault, in a way. He shouldn't have expected anything else from Bobby. Not seeing Dad for months – a year even, he couldn't quite remember – must have altered his perception more than he thought. Hearing five stories a night about how wonderful his father was had the effect of eroding his memory. The worst part was the stories were all true. Bobby was a legend.
He had to pull himself together – this was pathetic. His bag sat untouched near the door. He was still wearing his suit from last night, a slim lined black one he had bought in France. He sighed, trying to make up his mind. He wouldn't deny his suits were nice; it was just that he felt odd wearing them everyday like Danny and Rusty did. He knew that the t-shirts and jeans made him look younger, but that was useful working the subway in Chicago, and apart from all that he was comfortable in them.
He compromised with a white shirt, top button undone, and dark jeans. Just classy enough not to get thrown out. Rusty really did run a very nice place. Now for breakfast – if only he could locate where to get some.
Half an hour and what seemed like a thousand wrong turns later, Linus walked into the main restaurant. It was set up for breakfast, enormous white-clothed tables laid out with steaming trays. He couldn't see too many people; it was late, and most people would have finished their breakfasts ages ago.
Trying not to look too lost, Linus was just about to sit down when a slender, surprisingly aged waiter sidled up beside him.
"You are one of Mr Ryan's personal guests?"
"Ah… yes. Yes I am."
"Excellent. This way if you please, sir."
Linus followed the little old guy down a corridor and into a much smaller room, similar to the one they had held the party in. Sliding glass doors and large windows neatly compartmented the area, making it seem bigger than it was. There was bacon, eggs, toast, a bowl of fruit and various mysterious silver lidded trays. The small bar had a row of breakfast martinis on the top – honey-infused gin with a dollop of orange marmalade. That wasn't something Linus saw every day, and for some reason made him smile.
Inside, most of the Eleven were arrayed on various sofas. Except for Rusty, and of course Danny. Virgil was leaned across the table talking while Turk, Livingstone and Basher listened intently. Basher's eyes were bulging, and Virgil kept making slightly frenzied hand gestures. As he walked in he caught a fragment of what they were saying. It sounded suspiciously like; "… and it was Linus… I swear, then Danny saw it and he just lost it, he was so mad… "
Virgil trailed off the second he saw Linus. Turk pretended to be saying something about the new release BMW C-Class, tongue tripping over convoluted, hasty comments. Linus greeted them with a face he knew gave away nothing. He wasn't going to give anyone the satisfaction, or cause any more embarrassment. He knew it gave away nothing because he'd practiced it ever since meeting these people. They all, particularly the older ones, read his face too easily. All four of them returned the greeting just a little too loudly, turning away a little too quickly. They were good enough too hide it from nearly anyone, but Linus wasn't just anyone. They knew.
Not only did they know, from what Virgil said Danny was mad at him. Danny had every reason to be mad, too. What right did he have, a newcomer, to mess everything up? One of the only things his dad had ever taught him was the most important thing in a job, any job, was the people. Getting the right people who could work together perfectly was a delicate balance. They had to be comfortable with each other, but not too comfortable or there would be no competitive edge. They had to know each other well, but have their own private lives. They had to like each other, but not too much or it would cloud judgment. And the thing that messed up that balance the most was gossip.
Utterly dejected, Linus wondered if he was capable of doing anything at all without screwing it up. In the last 12 hours a phone call had taken care of anyone who didn't think he was a stupid kid already, Rusty was playing some sort of game with his head (though deep down he felt that one was worth it), if they all didn't know about last night by now they would within the next quarter of an hour and Danny was furious at him for messing things up. Again. Murphy's Law had well and truly made itself heard.
Linus looked up as the door clicked. It was Rusty.
Rusty didn't regret waiting. It was so much more fun this way. The expectation, the anticipation, the excitement when he laid eyes on the kid; it was something he hadn't experienced for a long time. The thrill of the chase. Ever since he'd gotten rich – ever since he'd gotten his own hotel – there hadn't been much chasing. Or rather, he had been the one being chased, not a position he liked at all.
Walking jauntily along the corridor, he paused for a minute at the glass doors, admiring the room he had set up, the friends he was looking after… and, in particular, the young man who sat a little apart from the others, gazing at his own feet and eating an apple.
As he walked in Linus looked up, and Rusty was unnerved to see him jump up and all but flee the room. Silence fell, and everyone else was suddenly very seriously studying their bacon. Throwing subtlety out the window, Rusty only waited a few moments before following him.
He found the kid in his room, kneeling by the bed putting clothes in a small soft black bag. Rusty, for the first time in a very long time, wasn't sure what to say. This was not what he had expected.
Linus didn't turn around until he had pulled the zip on the bag closed. When he spoke he didn't sound upset, but unexpectedly calm and in control with just a hint of weariness.
"What is it?"
"Why are you leaving?"
"Why don't you want me to? I know you and probably everyone else is laughing at me, and that's your prerogative I guess, but Danny is angry and I just want to go…please just let me go, ok?"
Rusty hadn't even considered that Linus could be seeing things that way. Was his opinion of himself that low? And what was he talking about, Danny being mad? Slowly it dawned; his fight with Danny must have been loud enough for someone to overhear, but not loud enough for them to get the details right. Who had he put in the next room? Virgil or Basher, he couldn't remember, but they must have just heard shouting and Linus's name.
"Linus, Danny is not mad at you. And I can't speak for anyone else but I'm not laughing at you."
"Danny isn't mad? But I heard Virgil say he was furious."
"Yeah… at me. Thought I was fooling around with you. Got all protective."
"Oh." A sheepish pause. "Oh…"
His relief was evident. Rusty quashed a splinter of jealousy. Linus obviously cared a lot about Danny's opinion. It must have shown, and Linus must have misunderstood, because he began to apologise.
"I'm sorry I got you in trouble. I know you and Danny are close."
"You didn't. We sorted it out. He realized that I wasn't and won't ever mess you around."
Linus shook his head exasperatedly.
Linus looked him straight in the eye, frowning slightly. Rusty had a flashback to the first time he met Danny; it was the same gentle but inexorable scrutiny. Linus drew back slightly, and then nodded with a small smile.
Rusty treated him to his slowest, laziest grin. Now he knew where he stood, this was where he was comfortable. With exaggerated care he placed his arm around the younger man's shoulders.
"Well…lets just say I stay in a very nice penthouse when I'm here, which is more than big enough for two. Would you maybe consider postponing that ticket back to Chicago for a little while? "
Linus cocked his head to the side, in mock consideration of the offer.
"I might give it a go."
"That," Rusty practically purred as he pulled closer, "is a most excellent answer…"