See? Eventually everything get's finished. Or at least, eventually everything Ocean's 11 get's finished. Except 'The More Things Change' which is, by accident and design, infinite in length.
Danny woke up slowly and groggily to the knowledge of pain and Rusty. Both seemed far away and for a little while he was content to drift in the hazy sea, not awake and not asleep, not knowing what had happened and not really caring. He wasn't exactly hurting and besides, Rusty was there.
Then there was something, some noise, some voices, and he was awake, had to be awake, because that meant they weren't alone, and if they weren't alone, how could they be safe? How could Rusty be safe?
With an effort he forced his eyes open, forced his mind awake and there was Rusty, Rusty sitting on a chair next to his bed, holding his hand and watching him, watching over him. He tried to smile and the pain hit him.
A sudden, screaming agony in his leg, and he remembered, the Zabinski Switch, and the running, and Mackenzie trying to shoot Rusty. He remembered the taste of his own desperation, and he'd jumped in front of the bullet. He remembered the pain. He felt the pain, lived the pain. And vaguely, he remembered Rusty getting him home, and he thought he remembered Rusty's fear, thought he remembered the doctor. Walt.
And now he could hear Walt's voice somewhere above him, and he felt the prick of a needle in his arm, but all his attention was on Rusty, and nothing else mattered because Rusty was there and Rusty was sharing the pain and he looked Rusty in the eyes, promising that he'd be all right and trying to ask the question, but Rusty was already answering it, and silently he promised Danny that they were safe, assured Danny that it was all right, that it was all all right, and Danny could, should, rest. And there were other things in there that had to be addressed, guilt and fear and anger and apology, but that could wait because Rusty wasn't going anywhere. Rusty was with him, so he contented himself with squeezing Rusty's hand tightly and he felt his eyes close again.
Rusty watched Danny drift back into unconsciousness and took comfort in the fact that he'd been there, that he'd looked at Rusty and he'd been coherent enough for conversation, for reassurance. It was one thing to hear Walt say that Danny was going to wake up any minute now, it was oh, so much better to see it for himself. He closed his eyes and concentrated on not grinning out loud.
"Hey, kid. He's going to be fine," Walt told him gently, and Rusty opened his eyes and looked round with a frown.
"Yeah," he agreed.
Walt persisted. "I know he wasn't really awake there, but probably the next time he wakes up he'll be able to tell you so himself."
"He did," Rusty pointed out blankly, and then he saw the uncomprehending look on Walt's face, and he winced inside. Right. Right, that had all been them being them, and people noticed that and people didn't understand that, and Saul had said that maybe it made them vulnerable and they'd agreed to try and be more aware of it all.
"He recognised you?" Molly asked from the doorway. Huh. Rusty hadn't even heard her come back in. She hadn't rung the doorbell this time.
"Yeah," he agreed. It sounded like an explanation but there was something in her eyes and for the first time he wondered what it was that Bobby had actually said about them.
Walt nodded. "That's good. You mind?"
Rusty moved aside a little to let Walt get in and he watched Walt fuss, watch Walt make all the little checks and tests that told him that Danny was alive.
It was an hour later that Danny woke up properly and became aware that there was a woman in his bedroom. And, normally, he liked to be introduced before that happened.
His eyes flickered over to Rusty, even as Walt started quietly fussing over him, and silently he was screaming the questions, demanding to know what was important.
Rusty's expression was quietly reassuring. "Think introductions are in order. Danny, this is Molly Caldwell. She came by a little while ago."
Bobby's Molly. Well, that was okay. He didn't think he liked it, not even a little bit, but it was okay. He smiled and concentrated on being as warm and charming as he could. "Pleasure to meet you at long last."
She shook the hand he offered and smiled. "Nice to meet you too, Danny. And you needn't bother flirting. Rusty's already taken care of that."
He blinked. Oh, that they were going to be talking about later. He smiled at her again and turned to Walt. "How am I doing?" he asked, because he already had Rusty's answer, but things could have changed.
"You're fine, kid," Walt said reassuringly. "Healthier than I am."
He gave a sigh of relief and Rusty squeezed his fingers reassuringly, and should they be doing that in front of other people? Somehow he couldn't bring himself to care so much. Not as if he didn't think – know – that Rusty had been holding his hand most of the night. Not as if he could honestly bring himself to end it.
Walt coughed to get his attention. "Listen, I'm going to take off for a few hours. These," he produced a pack of pills, "are the painkillers. I want you to take one every three hours and no being macho about it, okay?"
He nodded. He'd see how they made him feel. And he could feel Rusty looking at him and he wondered how much of a say he was really going to get in this.
Walt looked from one to the other of them. "I should give these to you?" he asked Rusty and Rusty, traitor that he was, smiled and took them. Oh, Danny wasn't happy. "I'll be back later in the day. Couple more prescriptions for you, a referral to a physio I know, and I'll bring a pair of crutches. I've told Rusty all this."
Yeah. That didn't mean it was going to happen.
Rusty was looking at him and the steel in his eyes suggested he thought, maybe, it was.
Danny quietly suggested that maybe all this was an overreaction and Rusty should stop being a hypocrite.
With a fragment of misery and a hint of guilt, Rusty suggested that when bullets were involved it was a different thing altogether, and he wanted, needed, Danny to get better as soon as possible, and couldn't Danny just do what the doctor wanted? For him?
And even as Danny was succumbing to it, even as Danny was losing, he managed to suggest that Rusty didn't know how to play fair.
Walt and Molly were looking at them and Danny winced; they were supposed to be being more subtle than that, more careful.
Walt's bag was in his hand and Danny smiled at him. "Thank you," he said sincerely. "For everything."
"Never thank a doctor till you get his bill," Walt told him seriously and Danny grinned.
"I'll walk Walt to the door," Molly told them abruptly and Danny knew she was giving them time to talk.
Which was good. They needed to.
The door swung shut and Rusty looked at Danny for a long time before he managed to begin the apology. Because Danny was hurting and he was to blame. "I'm - "
Evidently Danny had been waiting for it. Of course he would be. " - it's not your fault. You're not the one who shot me."
"No," Rusty agreed and he thought of Mackenzie with a gun and he should have known and it shouldn't have been Danny, should never have been Danny.
"What?" Danny demanded and his eyes were narrowed and dangerous.
"He was aiming at me," Rusty pointed out tightly.
"You should have - "
" - I should have what?" Danny demanded incredulously.
The words, the truth burst out of him and he was powerless to stop it. "It should have been me!"
Danny didn't say anything but his fist clenched convulsively around the edge of the duvet, and Rusty could see exactly which memories were playing out in his head and he remembered the bar and the fights he'd started and the look on Danny's face when he'd screamed at him, and he knew it wasn't so very long ago that Danny wasn't still frightened for him and he had to stop that now.
"Not like that," he said firmly. "I don't want either of us hurt. It's just it's . . . " He shrugged, helpless to explain. "It's just if one of us has to be it would be better if it was me." They were used to it being him, after all. He was used to being hurt, it wasn't such a big deal, wasn't momentous and terrifying.
Danny was watching him. Danny was understanding him. And Danny didn't look at all happy. "You're a selfish bastard. You know that?"
He blinked. Danny's voice had been calm and matter of fact and he'd meant every word. "Not wanting you hurt is selfish?"
"Yes," Danny said immediately. "God, yes."
He didn't understand.
Danny sighed and looked away. "Look," he said finally. "Suppose . . .suppose there's someone that you love more than . . . more than you'd think that one person can love another. You'd die for them in a heartbeat, right? And seeing them in pain hurts so much more than being in pain yourself."
He nodded. Not exactly something he had to strain to imagine.
"Right. Now. Imagine they feel the exact same way. And imagine you know that seeing you in pain hurts them much more than if they were just in pain themselves. A hundred times more. A thousand times more. So if you get hurt stopping them from being hurt, it just ends up hurting more. Much, much more."
Rusty blinked. "So self-sacrifice is selfish?"
"Most selfish thing I can think of," Danny agreed.
"And you - " Took the bullet for me, got hurt for me, hurt yourself for me.
" - I know who I am," Danny interrupted with a slight smile. "I'm always going to be selfish that way. Just like you. It's who we are."
He couldn't deny it. And that really only left one question. "Did it feel like this?" He didn't specify a 'when'. He didn't have to specify a 'when'. There were eight long years of 'when'. Half his life-time of 'when'.
Danny looked at him for a very long time, studying him, and Rusty knew that he didn't want to answer. "Yes," he said finally, in a whisper. "Every time."
Rusty swallowed hard. He'd known it hurt Danny, of course he had. But he'd never wanted to think about how much, never wanted to think about how bad it must be for Danny to spend his life watching Rusty bleed. "I'm - "
" - don't you dare apologise," Danny interrupted fiercely, loudly. "Not for him. Not for what he - "
There was a knock and they froze and Rusty stood up and opened the door and smiled at Molly. There was something, the vaguest trace of discomfort and he wondered what she'd accidentally overheard, what she might be wondering about. "Saul's on the phone," she told him quietly and he nodded and looked back at Danny.
"I'd better -"
" - you had," Danny agreed.
He walked out into the hall and picked up the phone. "Hi, Saul."
"Rusty," Saul sounded happy to hear his voice. "How's Danny feeling? Molly said he was doing fine."
"He is," Rusty agreed and he paused. "You didn't need to get her to come here and - "
" - I did," Saul interrupted in a tone that didn't invite disagreement.
Rusty scowled and he'd swear that somehow Saul heard it.
There was a sigh. "Not just for my own peace of mind. Look. What do you think would have happened if Danny had to be taken to the hospital?"
He shook his head. "I don't . . .we'd have been in trouble."
"Yes," Saul agreed. "And there are ways of dealing with that. Cons that Molly could play that you can't. Yet."
He sighed. Yeah. He could understand that. "I hate being sixteen," he muttered.
Saul snorted. "You'll grow out of it."
Surprisingly he found himself grinning slightly. "Yeah." In the background he heard a tannoy and he hesitated. "You at the airport?"
"Yes," Saul said simply.
"Thought you said that you were in Vegas till next week?" he asked lightly.
Saul didn't even hesitate. "That was before Danny got shot."
"You don't need to come back," he protested. "Danny's going to be fine."
"I want to," Saul explained, with a calm edge to his voice. There was a slight pause. "Listen, if you don't want me to come by - "
The truth was on his lips before he'd even thought about it. " - we do."
"Good," and Saul sounded relieved and happy. "Now, you gonna tell me what happened? Molly said it was a Zabinski Switch?"
"Yeah," Rusty agreed dully. "We were just coming out of the bar with the money when the real security van pulled up. We must've got the timing wrong. I must have."
"You think so?" Saul was non-committal.
"I don't know." He sighed and rubbed at his mouth. He'd been sure. "I thought I had the schedule down perfectly."
"Probably you did," Saul said quietly. "Maybe they skipped somewhere. Maybe they were in a hurry. Maybe the traffic was with them. Could be anything. Bad luck happens, Rusty. You can have every detail taken care of, every angle covered, and still be surprised by random chance."
He nodded and didn't say anything. Saul was right, of course. But he liked to be in control. He liked to be able to predict the ways everything was going to play out. Danny was the gambler; Rusty needed to cheat.
There was another tannoy announcement and Saul sighed. "They're calling my flight. I'll see you soon, okay?"
"Okay," Rusty agreed. "Bye, Saul."
"Take care of yourselves," Saul instructed. "Both of you."
When he hung up the phone he was smiling a little.
Molly smiled at him and settled on the chair that Rusty had vacated. "Can I get you anything?"
"No thanks," he answered politely.
"How are you feeling?" she asked and he smiled and ignored the pain.
"I'm fine," he told her.
She nodded thoughtfully. "Uh huh. How did you tell Rusty you were feeling?"
He didn't think he quite managed to keep the surprise off his face. He blinked at her for a second then grinned appreciatively. "I've been better," he admitted. "It hurts some."
"I'll bet it does." She smiled at him and the sympathy was open and easy and he didn't resent it. "You can have a couple of painkillers in an hour.
He nodded and unconsciously glanced over at the door, wanting Rusty to come back, always wanting Rusty.
"He'll just be a few moments," Molly told him gently. "You know he doesn't like leaving you."
"No," Danny agreed. Hated it, actually.
"You know, I got shot the week I met Bobby," Molly mused and Danny looked round. "Hurt a lot and I was terrified." Danny could understand that. "Anyone would be. But I think Bobby was more scared than I was. He proposed in the ambulance."
Danny blinked. "He proposed . . . ?"
"Uh huh." She smiled. "And it would've been more romantic if we weren't already married."
He wanted to ask. He really, really did, but he found himself hesitating and she'd already moved on.
"And Bobby's had a couple of close calls since we were married. Both times while he was working for the Feds, actually. First time he got shot. Second time he got hit with a lawnmower."
Danny's thoughts came to a minor grinding halt. "A lawnmower?" he asked, involuntarily.
She smiled slightly. "Just a small one." The smiled faded. "He was in the hospital for four days. I think it's almost worse to be the one waiting, you know?"
He understood what she was trying to tell him. Understood that if they were different people, if they'd come from a different place, it would be good advice. But it was a lesson he'd learned a very long time ago. "Yeah," he said simply and he was met with a quick look of surprise and sympathy.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly.
"'S'okay," he said evenly and then, thankfully, Rusty came back into the room and he was immediately looking at Danny, checking on him and Danny resisted the urge to roll his eyes and promised that nothing bad had happened to him in the last five minutes.
"Saul's at the airport," Rusty announced. "He'll be here later this morning."
Danny frowned. "He's flying back up? Because - "
" - yeah," Rusty agreed. "You really - "
" - No." He didn't want to argue with Saul. Not any more than he had to.
Molly was looking slightly amused. "Why don't I fix us all some breakfast? Walt said it would be good for you to eat, Danny. If you feel up to it."
He considered carefully. The pain was far from overwhelming. A persistent agony, not an unbearable one. "Thank you," he smiled. "If you're sure you don't mind? You don't need to get back to - " The name was nowhere in his head.
" - Linus?" Rusty covered entirely smoothly, as though he was just finishing Danny's thought.
She shook her head. "My folks know I might be out all day. They're delighted. So's he. A chance not to have Mom around explaining that popcorn is not a breakfast food."
Rusty blinked. "It's cereal," he pointed out, uncertainty in his voice and Danny bit back his laugh.
"Oh, you'd be a bad influence," Molly smiled. "What do you have I could make?"
They exchanged an uncertain look. To Danny's knowledge they had a couple of bags of potato chips, a packet of oreos, assorted tootsie pops and a tin of ham that had just kind of turned up one day. "Mostly we eat out," he explained.
Molly didn't look especially surprised. "Where's good? And close?"
"Bakery on the corner," Rusty suggested. "They do bagels."
Huh. His favourite. Apparently the way to win the semi-permanent, semi-serious where-are-we-eating argument was to get shot.
He moved ever so slightly and the pain shot up his leg and he decided that no bagel was worth it. He didn't need to look at Rusty to know that other things were.
Pretty much as soon as Molly left the room Danny looked round at him and shifted his shoulders slightly and Rusty understood and immediately lay down on the bed beside him and gripped Danny's hand tightly. "It's okay," he said out loud. "It's really all okay."
"Yeah," Danny agreed and he exhaled and some of the tension flowed away.
They'd been frightened. They really had been. And for a long time they lay together and took comfort.
"I like her," Danny said presently.
"Yeah," Rusty agreed. "She's . . . " He didn't finish the sentence. Didn't matter. Danny nodded anyway.
"Exactly." There was a slight pause and Danny was looking at him. "So . . .?"
He frowned. "What?"
"You hit on Molly Caldwell? Really?"
Oh, that was annoying. "No. No, I didn't. Flirted slightly, maybe. But she started it."
"Uh huh." Danny looked amused. "For future reference, hitting on your friends' wives is discouraged."
"I didn't," he repeated patiently. "And even if I had, I didn't know who she was at the time."
Danny blinked. "So you were just going to hit on whoever turned up at the door?"
He sighed. "Is there anyway out of this conversation?"
Danny smiled and burrowed his face against Rusty's shoulder. "It hurts," he admitted quietly.
Rusty rested his hand on Danny's hair. "I know," he said, and he wished he could do something.
Eventually Danny looked up at him. "So what does this change?" he asked cautiously and Rusty didn't pretend not to understand the question.
"I don't think . . ." He shook his head. "We could walk away from everything now, play at being normal, and either of us could get run over by a bus tomorrow." He hoped it was what Danny wanted to hear. It was what he wanted to say.
"No guarantees," Danny nodded and there was relief in his eyes and Rusty smiled to see it.
He thought back to their conversation six months ago. "Guess nothing to lose - "
" - little more than we thought," Danny agreed. A lot more than they thought. If it included them, if it included Danny . . . that was a lot to pretend they weren't risking. Danny caught his look. "Regrets?"
"Too few to mention," Rusty assured him and that got a smile. Except there was something else and he rubbed at his mouth and Danny frowned.
Rusty stared up at the ceiling "If we're playing like there's nothing to lose, why are we hiding?"
He could feel Danny's frown on the side of his face. "What - "
" - you don't need to tell me that you're bored in college. When's the last time you sat through a class without thinking about our next job? And we both know I hate school."
"Everyone hates school," Danny protested quietly. "And we agreed - "
" - I have the choice now, Danny. Because of you - "
" - us," Danny interrupted firmly and Rusty nodded.
"We got the opportunity. I could finish school and, you know what? I don't want to. It's not where I want to be." He turned to face Danny and he could see the thoughtful acceptance in Danny's eyes. He'd already known that really, college wasn't where Danny would want to be.
Danny smiled and nodded and like that the decision was made. "Doesn't get us any closer to - "
" - we've eaten pizza in Vegas," Rusty pointed out.
"That was only half the plan," Danny grinned.
Rusty shook his head amused. "Right. Right. You see the men with guns? Maybe our eyes are too big for our stomachs."
"In your case it's the other way round," Danny answered and sighed. "We still need to be careful for the next two years. I mean if you drop out, maybe there'll be questions."
"What, nothing to lose unless there's social services involved?" Rusty asked with a hint of annoyance.
"Suppose they send you back?" And Danny's voice was quiet and Rusty gripped his hand tightly and they were united in the knowledge that they wouldn't let that happen.
"Saul asked if we wanted him here," he said, admittedly out of nowhere. "And I said we did."
Danny understood the issue. "World's getting bigger," he said with wonder and amusement.
"Yeah." It was. So much bigger than he could ever have imagined. So much bigger than even they'd ever dreamed. He turned his head and smiled at Danny. "I want to see it."
Danny smiled back. "Then we will."
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed this story.
And if you haven't already, please go and have a look at the challenge on the forum. You don't actually need to be wanting to write a story to contribute. Thanks.