Relationship Matters by InSilva
Disclaimer: I don't own. I only borrow.
Summary: If Danny and Rusty don't meet, does it matter? And if it matters, does it matter when they meet?
A/N: oh, in my head since about December. Had the working title of Advent Swirl. Which made it sound like a rather nice hazelnut option in a box of chocolates. Hmm. Probably not. And there is a little weirdness within that has slight Pratchettian echoes in my head. Not that I think I could write it any other way. Oh, and will be homaging Hitchcock too along the way.
Also, this is for otherhawk who remains amazing and supportive and who puts up with more than anyone would think possible.
Danny sat in Doug Quentin's office doing his best not to look at Rusty. The man's obvious wig was already a source of amusement and he did not need the distraction of seeing that amusement alive in Rusty's eyes. He kept his eyes straight ahead and listened to the droning monologue from across the other side of the desk as if it were the most interesting speech in the world.
After a while, he felt brave enough to risk a glance in Rusty's direction. Mistake. Blue eyes sparkled and Danny bit his lip.
You know what I'm thinking?
'No' you don't know or 'no'…?
Oh, you do know.
Danny turned his attention back to front and centre and ignored the fact entirely that Rusty was scheming…
The atmosphere in the saloon was lively. There was piano music being played and there was cursing and shouting and hubbub. There were no people.
The new arrival stared around at the setting and if surprise was felt, it wasn't shown. Picked out in spotlight was a table with two chairs. Sitting in one of them was what looked like a saloon girl, blonde curls and low cut dress, long gloves and a garter showing high on a thigh. Her skin was creamy and her face was blowsy and her eyes were irresistible. It didn't pay to look at her eyes for too long.
"You find this entertaining." It was a statement, cold and flat.
"It amuses." Her voice was light and laughing and there was an undercurrent of pure steel.
"And this?" A hand was waved in her general direction.
She leaned forward on the table and her teeth were bared in a smile. "You don't like?"
There was a pause. "I find it…distracting."
She laughed and sat back again. "I like distracting."
There was an infinite, infinitesimal shimmer of movement and she had changed. Still female. Still blonde. Clothed now in a living skin of moving picture: lights and dice and coins and sparkle. Her eyes remained the same.
The other sighed and sat down opposite, the very picture of a man bemused. "There is no one to impress."
"That never stops me."
"You wanted to see me."
She nodded, serious for a moment. "They are in danger. Possibly."
There was almost a snort.
"Your latest favourites? Autolycus… Odysseus… and now…" A pout appeared on her face and the other waved an impatient hand. Pouts would not work. There was a pause and then, seeking clarification, "Possibly?"
There was a room and there was pain and there was agony and things were close, very close, and they were…
"It's not clear," she said reluctantly. "I want to-"
"-protect. Of course you do. Doesn't make me any more partial than usual."
"I'll play you for them…" she offered. "If I win-"
"-yes, and if you win, you'll-"
"-save the favour."
Cards were dealt. Cards fell. Cards were laid and played.
"My game," she said softly, satisfied. "Well…?"
The other considered. "Alright. I'll grant them assistance."
"Assistance." It was the best offer on the table.
She got to her feet, her skin alive with colour and form.
"You'll know when you're needed," she murmured and her eyes of living silver hardened for a moment into mirror. "I'll remind you."
And she was gone.
The other sat at the table for a long moment. Impartiality ran through and through the inner being. If a slight bending of rules was required in one direction, then there was the obligation of similar in the other.
A screen of countless possibility was thought of and was: bristling, golden lines of intersection skeined out. The search was determined and definite and two threads, wound so tight they appeared as one, were plucked up. With deliberate care, the threads were pulled apart until they hung as separate strands.
The other was not in the habit of smiling. Even so, lips curved upwards.
Chapter One: Meeting
Rusty was bored. The man who had called the four of them to the briefing had provided all salient details within the first quarter of an hour. And yet he was still talking. Rusty wanted to stretch and he quite felt like yawning. Stretching without showing it and yawning without opening one's mouth were fortunately arts in which Rusty was proficient.
Doug Quentin continued to talk; continued to cover the same ground in yet another way. Rusty was more interested in his toupee which looked in perfect danger of dislodging itself. It was surely only a matter of time. Perhaps if something was accidentally knocked on the floor and had to be picked up…
Rusty's gaze tracked left. He tried to catch the eye of the dark-haired man sat beside him but there was steadfast refusal to look in his direction. Rusty sighed to himself. He supposed it was to be expected. It wouldn't really be appropriate for either of them to grin wildly when Doug was busy pouring out his story.
Instead, he looked across and under his lashes at the other two men. One with tightly-curled blond hair, dressed in a sharp suit and tie, late-twenties. He had a pugnacious expression in repose. Rusty had seen him walk through the door smiling though and then his whole face had been alive and his eyes had been dancing.
The good-looking man sitting next to him seemed to be holding back. That was the impression Rusty got. Control and calculation and caution were all in the man's face. He was giving nothing away. Rusty wondered briefly what the man would be like if he let himself go. Dangerous, he thought, dangerous.
Danny had also heard enough from Doug Quentin. The guy had had a bum deal and Danny was sorry for him and even willing to help him put things right for a price but he didn't need to hear the same facts over and over. Plus the wig was a distraction too far. He didn't dare look at his partner.
Instead, he looked without looking at the other two men Doug had summoned. One was a young man, early twenties, handsome with deeply dark eyes and nearly black hair not unlike his own. He hadn't rushed to put himself forward. He'd stayed way in the background as if he were holding back.
Unlike the other man. Late twenties? Mid-twenties, more likely. A little younger than he himself was. Blond and flamboyantly dressed, his air rakish and louche and devil-may-care. Laughter looked as if it was only ever just below the surface. Danny wondered briefly what the man would be like if he grew serious. Dangerous, he thought, dangerous.
Doug Quentin drew to a close.
"So, gentlemen, I want you to know that money is no object. I respect your reputations and I know of your abilities. I believe that the four of you will be able to help me. Are you in?"
The four of them looked at each other and they nodded.
"We'll make it right for you, Doug," Rusty promised.
"We'll make it happen," Danny added.
"Thank you, thank you so much," Doug beamed.
Rusty glanced at the other three men. "Plane to JFK leaves at 9.00 am. I'll book us on to it."
"Thanks," said the man with the blond curls. "I'm Rick Goodman, by the way."
"Eduardo di Costa."
Hands were shook.
In a bar…
"What did you think of them?"
Rusty swilled the whisky round the glass and considered. "Rick's a little rough and ready. Physical. As for the other…uptight…except I saw a hint of slick, slick charm at the end. As a con man, I guess he might be halfway decent. If he lightened up and smiled a little more, he'd probably do an even better job." Rusty thought again of what he imagined lay underneath the surface. "I think if he let himself go, he'd be one to watch."
In another bar…
"What did you think?"
"One looks ready to burst into tears. Sensitive and caring. As for the other…he's very pretty and he has blue eyes."
There was a guffaw. "Seriously!"
"Seriously…?" Danny grinned. "He looks as if he doesn't give a damn about anything in this life or the next." The grin faded. "I think he's the one to watch."