A/N: Many, many thanks to InSilva for reading this chapter through and helping me make it better. To be exact, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many thanks. All for you, mate.

A/N2: This is the second last chapter of this fic! And the final chapter will be very short and hopefully also very soon.

Linus arrived back at Danny's hotel room right on schedule and was surprised to see Danny and Rusty weren't back yet. That was odd. He'd had to make a detour to pick up the painting but they'd been supposed to head straight back here. They should have been back ages ago. He sat down uneasily. They must have been held up somehow. Or maybe they were in the middle of some new twist to the plan he wasn't privy to. Or, hell, maybe they'd stopped off for a hotdog, or this was a new game called let's-see-how-long-it-takes-before-Linus-starts-worrying. Which, for the record, was slightly less than thirty seconds.

He sighed, wondering what he should do. Sit tight, surely. There was no point in panicking and running off half-cocked. No, best to sit here, watch TV, stay cool and the chances were the guys would walk in that door in five minutes, smiling and full of some unlikely story.

Five minutes turned into ten. Then twenty. Then half an hour. He tried their cells a couple of times but they were evidently switched off. By the time he heard the knock at the door, coolness had evaporated and he leapt up, practically throwing the door open in his haste. "Where have...oh!" It was David. He sighed and stood aside. "Come in."

"Yeah, sure," David nodded. "They not back yet?" he added, looking round casually.

"Not yet," Linus said tersely.

"Oh. Right." David blinked and walked further into the room, staring at the TV for a moment or two, before wandering to the minibar and pouring himself a drink.

Linus watched him uneasily.

"When are you expecting them?" David asked abruptly. "Soon, right?"

"They're late," Linus told him. "And I haven't heard from them."

"Oh." David drained his glass quickly. "Well, I'm sure they'll be fine. You were getting the painting, right?"

"It's on the table," Linus said coldly and he watched disapprovingly as David hurried over and eagerly pulled the painting out of the message tube.

"Magic," he grinned.

"Careful," Linus emphasised. "I'm sure Alvarez won't be happy if you get greasy fingerprints all over it."

David shot him an injured look. "I'm not an idiot," he said.

The jury was still out on that one in Linus' opinion. "Yeah. Well. Just be careful," he suggested. He glanced down at his phone again, hoping that somehow they'd called and he'd missed it. There was nothing, though. He sighed. "I'm going to go out and look for them," he announced, and when he looked up he realised David was looking at him awkwardly. "What?"

"I, uh, had a bit of trouble slowing the real workers down," David explained.

Linus stared at him. "How much warning were you able to give them?"

David looked away shiftily. "None, really. But it wasn't my fault, I swear! And I'm sure it's got nothing to do with this!"

"God. We should've called Turk and Virgil." His mouth was dry as he imagined the real workmen showing up while Danny and Rusty were still there. No way that would end well. Even so, Danny was the best. Linus couldn't count the number of times Danny had talked them out of a sticky situation while they'd been working together. The last thing he wanted to do was blunder in and make things worse. Danny would tell him to stay put, he knew. He bit his lip. "We need to go find out what happened."

"It wasn't my fault," David repeated mutinously.

Linus threw him a disgusted look. "Right now I've got more important things to do than throw blame around," he said, heading for the door. "Come on." Reluctantly, David followed.

Twenty minutes later and they were standing outside the Halfmond Art again, watching the real workmen at work. He didn't dare get closer – there were two security guards prowling across the lobby and the whole place had a feeling of being on high alert. There was too much chance he'd be recognised from earlier.

He could send David in, of course, but truthfully, even if he trusted David not to get caught – which he didn't – he didn't trust David to get the info he needed.

Instead he spied out a coffee stand in the square opposite and – with a smile that proclaimed he didn't have a care in the world – slowly sauntered up and bought a coffee and a pretzel. "Heard there was a bit of excitement earlier," he said to the woman casually.

She nodded eagerly. "Oh, yes," she agreed. "There was all this fuss with a kid breaking the floor with his skateboard. You wouldn't think it, would you? And then would you believe, the workmen who came to fix it were dragged out of here. By the police. I suppose."

Yeah, Linus doubted it. "You suppose?" he asked lightly.

"Well..." she said slowly. "I didn't see any uniforms. And the van was unmarked. I guess it was plainclothes, although they've always been a funny lot in there. Insular, you know? Maybe they decided to take them to the police themselves."

Or maybe they'd decided to take them somewhere else. He grinned unaffectedly. "Never a dull moment, is there? See you around?" He walked back to David, trying not to run.

All his efforts at being inconspicuous looked sort of pointless when he got back to David, who was looking round nervously and trying to hide his face with his coat collar. "We need to get out of here," he told Linus quickly. "Suppose they do have Rusty and Danny? They'll know all about us by now. They'll be looking for us."

"Even if they do have the guys," Linus said with difficulty. "They won't have told them anything." That would just never happen. He knew that. After Carson...how could anything else compare?

"Yeah? Well, I'm not prepared to take that chance," David snapped. "I need to get that painting to Alvarez and then we need to get out of town."

Linus stared at him. "We need to figure out how to help Danny and Rusty," he hissed. "Apparently they were taken away in plain van, so we know it wasn't the cops."

"I'm not crossing Halfmond," David said mulishly. "Not when Alvarez is already pissed with me. That's the last thing I need."

"But Rusty...he's your brother," Linus said incredulously.

David looked away, embarrassed but determined. "I can't help. Rusty will understand."

"Yeah. I imagine he will," Linus said disgustedly. "No one expects very much of you, do they? And even that you manage to screw up."

Jaw set, David just walked past him and hailed a cab.

"You're really leaving?" He just couldn't get his head around it. "I can't believe it. How can you be this selfish?"

For a moment David looked at him, stubborn and sullen. Then, without another word, he got in the car and it sped off.

God. Linus was on his own now. It was up to him to save Danny and Rusty, and he had no idea how.

He was focused. He was absolutely calm and focused and not in the slightest bit in danger of suffocating. He just had to concentrate on that, try and stop his heart from actually pounding out of his chest, and watch for an escape opportunity.

Not that one was likely to present itself any time soon. They'd been held at gunpoint in the Halfmond building for barely ten minutes, as the building security desperately tried to find out what they'd done, barking questions at them furiously. They hadn't laid a finger on them though. Clearly there was some question of demarcation here. And he and Danny hadn't said a word – not a helpful one, anyway – and all the while Danny had been silently checking on him, furious and guilty and worried.

Wasn't like Danny had anything to be guilty over. David was his brother, and he should have known better.

After that, a fresh group of men – ones without ID badges, and with larger guns – had arrived and forced them outside. They hadn't been searched at that point, luckily. Danny had been walking on the outside and Rusty had managed to slip his phone across, and Danny had calmly dropped them both down a drain. There. Bad guys would never find them, and even if they did, they'd be ruined and useless.

There'd been a van waiting outside. Apparently that provided the cover that the men had been waiting for, because once they were inside, they were both immediately slammed against the wall, and then there were hands all over him, feeling over every inch of him.

Searching him, he told himself fiercely. Nothing more. He could feel Danny's silent pleading, begging him to stay with him, to stay focused, right alongside Danny's fury at the man touching him. Somehow, he had to prove this didn't bother him – to Danny, to their captors, and maybe most of all to himself.

He twisted his head round to look the guy in the eyes. "And we haven't even been introduced," he drawled, and he didn't flinch when the guy spat in his face and knocked his head against the wall.

"Shut up," the guy grouched, and in his head Rusty mentally labelled Oscar. "Or else I'll stop being so nice."

He grinned widely. "Oh, Oscar, you couldn't be nice if you tried," he declared. "I bet birds stop skipping and bunny rabbits fall out of trees as you pass."

"Or the other way around," Danny chimed in, with a look just for Rusty that translated as 'Point made,now shut up'.

Apparently Oscar agreed. "Shut up," he snarled again, punctuating his words with a punch to the kidneys that Rusty really could have done without. "Fuck it, I'll make you shut up." He pulled out a roll of tape from a shelf in the back of the van, and roughly sealed a strip over Rusty's mouth, before binding his wrists together behind his back.

He had to stay calm. Had to let Danny know that he was okay, that he wasn't panicking, because Danny was already on the edge, and if he tried to fight, they would hurt him.

This was...this was okay. This was just restraint, and he'd known that was going to happen. This was just like he'd practised. Not like Moffatt. Not like Moffatt at all.

(Moffatt had used tape for a whole month, after he'd scored some off Sicko in maintenance, in exchange for some time to show Rusty how he'd got his name. Moffatt had got off just watching Rusty's face.)

It was far worse than when he'd been practising. He acknowledged that and, with a couple of deep breaths, silently rode out the couple of seconds of panic while he was shoved down onto the van floor. Danny was beside him, similarly bound and gagged, and that sent a fresh of surge of anger and terror through him.

They were supposed to be hiding the fact that they were anything more to each other than team mates, and still Rusty couldn't help but meet Danny's eyes, needing to swap reassurances. If there was a way out of this to be found, they would find it.

But they'd been driven across town to the airport, and dragged aboard a small plane, and there'd been no opportunity. And starting a fight while they were in the air sounded like a really bad idea, even if their hands weren't still taped.

He supposed they were headed to Halfmond's place in the desert. Could be a long flight. And no one was bringing them peanuts.

Certain that no one would see, he pressed his leg against Danny's very, very gently and felt the answering pressure.

He should never have taken the call from David in the first place, let alone agreed to have David take part in the con. What had he even been thinking? Everything David touched he screwed up. At least Linus hadn't been caught. Hopefully the kid would have the sense to keep his head low and get out of town at the first opportunity, though Rusty seriously doubted he would. In his own way, Linus was every bit as loyal and as stubborn as they were.

What a fucking mess. They were going to be hurt, tortured, and possibly killed, and he was sure he could cope with the physical pain – far better than he could cope with being tied up, really – but he didn't think he could cope with seeing Danny be hurt. And he really didn't think Danny could cope with seeing him hurt. And maybe that had always been the case but it was different now. He wasn't sure if he could count on Danny keeping calm.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Danny shoot him an agonised look, and maybe Danny wasn't so sure of that point either. There was no one looking. He shot Danny a smile, bright and brief. They were together. That mattered. That made all the difference.

Alright. He closed his eyes and concentrated on trying to unpick the tape from his wrists. He already knew it couldn't be done. Not without something sharp. He'd had enough experience to teach him that, but it still wasn't going to stop him trying. As long as nothing stopped him trying, he knew he was still okay.

Eventually, they landed and they were shoved out of the plane and down onto a sandy runway. There was a car waiting, and he found himself remembering what Linus had said about the guy being dragged naked behind it. At high speed, the sand would cut like glass. But they were shoved inside, guns pressed into their sides, just in case they got any ideas about running into the middle of the desert with no supplies and their hands tied behind their backs, he supposed.

The car journey lasted about ten minutes and then they pulled up outside a large house. Little bit tacky baroque, for his tastes, but then he doubted Halfmond had brought them here for architectural critique.

"Alright, boys," Oscar sneered. "End of the line. Out you get." He opened the door expectantly, and Danny made a show of getting out slowly, stretching nonchalantly as he did so. Oscar grabbed him by the arm and pulled him roughly, knocking him face down on the ground as he did so, and Rusty tensed, instinct telling him to kick out, to try and protect Danny from what might follow. But Oscar stood back and let Danny get to his feet, and he relaxed, just a little.

"Come on," one of the other men grunted and they were hauled towards a small outbuilding just next to the main house. Generator shed, he guessed, and when the door was flung open he just had time to see that he was right before they were tossed inside.

Oscar actually smiled as he knelt down beside him. (Too close and he struggled to keep his face impassive.) "Don't want you wandering around in here," he said to Rusty almost cheerfully, and he pulled out the tape and roughly bound Rusty's ankles together, before moving over and doing the same to Danny. "Mr Halfmond will be here in a few hours. And then the fun will really get started. In the meantime, try and get some rest. You're going to need it." He snorted with laughter at his own joke, stood up and walked out.

As soon as the door was closed, the shed was dark. He couldn't see an inch in front of his face.

(Bound and gagged in the dark and waiting...Moffatt had left him like that once. The store room on the second floor. He'd been stripped naked, lubed up, hog tied and left on his knees with his ass facing the door, so anyone who opened it would see...Moffatt had said he was leaving him for whoever found him to enjoy. He'd known it was just another of Moffatt's games, he'd known that Moffatt would never let things fall that far out of his control, but as the time ticked by, the dread and uncertainty had killed him, until he'd been close to crying with relief when Moffatt opened the door and slid inside.)

A touch on his arm. Panicked, he flinched back, rolling away, until he realised.


Apologetic he moved back, and Danny's head was pressed against his arm, offering comfort and concern. Right. It still wasn't time to panic. Hell, it was never time to panic, and guiltily he ducked his head down so his cheek rested on Danny's hair. As much as he wished Danny wasn't here, he was glad he wasn't alone.

Now Danny had his attention, he moved so he was half lying on top of Rusty, his face at Rusty's hands, and Rusty nodded in understanding, no matter if Danny could see it or not. The tape didn't allow him much range of movement, and his fingers were numb with the lack of blood supply, but after a few rough starts he managed to tear the tape off Danny's mouth.

"Ow," Danny remarked mildly, and Rusty grinned thankfully. It was so good to hear Danny's voice. "Okay...now let's swap over."

A couple of minutes later and Danny had pulled the tape off his mouth. "That's better," he said, moving his mouth experimentally, still tasting the glue. "So, generator shed, huh?"

"If we were the A Team, we'd have already built a tank with a potato gun out of some copper line and an old lawn mower," Danny agreed.

He laughed. "I'll settle for something to cut this tape," he said, trying to sound light and nonchalant, but the truth was, he needed to be free.

"Yeah," Danny said quietly. "Place looked pretty empty though."

It had. There'd been a cage taking up half the room where the generator itself was stored, and it looked like there had been tools in there. Where they were though, there was dirt and them, and that was about it. They were trapped. Waiting. In the dark.

Danny shuffled close to him, lying against him, a silent promise that they weren't going to give up.

"It'll be okay," he told Danny softly. "We'll get through this."

They would. Somehow.

Without much of a clue what to do next, Linus stayed in sight of the Halfmond building and did the thing that he hated most in the world. He called Dad and asked for help.

Dad would be in work right now, he knew. Hopefully he wasn't in the middle of something, and he waited an agonising few seconds before the phone was answered. "Hello, Linus. How's the job going?" As little as he wanted to have this conversation, hearing Dad's voice was always reassuring.

"We're in trouble," he blurted out.

There was a second of silence, then he heard Dad excuse himself from the room. He waited breathlessly. "What happened?" Dad demanded tersely. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Linus reassured him. "But Danny and Rusty..." He swallowed hard. "They got caught and taken away by Halfmond's people."

"Damn," Dad cut in heavily.

"I don't know what to do," Linus admitted. "I don't know how to find them."

"Okay, stay calm," Dad told him. "You said before you were in charge of running research on Halfmond. Did you find anything out that might be useful? Known associates, any other property he owns?"

"There's a place in the desert!" he exclaimed. How could he have forgotten that? But then his face fell. "I wasn't able to find out where, though."

"Linus," Dad sighed. "This is why research matters."

"I know, Dad," he said loudly. "Do you think this is really the right time to be giving me a lecture? Danny and Rusty are missing!"

"Alright, Linus," Dad said patiently. "Someone must know where this house is. I'm leaving now...I'll be with you by tomorrow morning. What I want you to do is start going through anyone local you can think of – ask them about this house. Start with the people who told you about it, then - "

Linus was only half listening. " - hang on a minute, Dad," he interrupted. A black limo with tinted windows had just stopped in front of the Halfmond building, and as he watched, Halfmond himself stepped out, followed by Gregory Hart. Neither looked happy. They walked into the lobby, and stood talking to the security guards for a moment, before the receptionist brought over the fake Warhol. Halfmond stared down at it for a moment, before violently throwing it against the wall until the frame shattered.

A moment later they strode back out of the building and back into the limo.

Everything he'd found out suggested Halfmond liked to take a personal interest in things. He took a ...hands on...approach to dealing with his enemies. And that meant he was probably going to where Danny and Rusty were being held.

"That's Halfmond now," he told Dad breathlessly. "I'm going to follow him."

Dad made a worried noise. "Linus, are you sure - "

" - he'll lead me right to them," he interrupted impatiently. "He has Danny...I have to do this, Dad. I'll be careful, I promise."

There was a moment's silence. "Okay," Dad said at last unhappily. "Just...keep in touch. Tell me where you are. And don't make a move without telling me."

"Of course not," he lied. He'd do what he had to do. "Talk to you soon." He hung up and sprinted for the car, letting the limo get a way ahead before pulling out and following. Really, if you had to follow a car, a limo was an idea target. It didn't move too fast and it was very, very easy to spot. Still, he kept a couple of cars between them.

After ten minutes or so, he realised that they seemed to be heading for the airport. That wasn't necessarily good. If they were going to the place in the desert, they wouldn't get a plane, surely? Not unless they had their own private airfield. Which was always possible...he just didn't know.

God. Every moment counted here. Right now the guys could be being beaten. Tortured. They were counting on him, and he wasn't about to let them down.

There was a loud bang as something crashed into his car from behind, sending him swerving across the road before he managed to regain control. Shocked, he glanced in the rear view mirror in time to see a large black car speed forwards and crash into him again. Desperately, he put his foot down. He'd been so busy trying to follow the limo he hadn't checked to see if anything was following him. Maybe this was some bodyguard of Halfmond's?

The car hit him a third time. It seemed to be trying to force him off the road. He couldn't let that happen. He couldn't... There was another bang and a squeal, and suddenly he was skidding, and he slammed on the brakes unthinkingly, and the car span round, terrifyingly tipping onto two wheels for a long second, before finally coming to a stop on the verge, facing the wrong way.

For a moment he just sat there, breathing heavily, watching the blood drip onto the steering wheel. He must have hit his head...he hadn't noticed.

The door was forced open and he found himself looking up at a gun.

"Linus Caldwell?" a voice demanded, and he nodded dumbly. "Mr Alvarez would like to see you."

This was ridiculous. He couldn't get abducted now. Danny was counting on him.

Nevertheless, half an hour later, he found himself in Alvarez's office. The man himself was sitting behind his desk, and behind him the Warhol was already mounted on the wall. David was there as well, sitting in front of the desk, holding a cappuccino and looking terrified and out of his depth. This had to be his fault. Linus felt his blood boil.

"There some reason I'm here?" he demanded, and maybe belligerent wasn't the right tone to be going with here, but he'd had a really bad day, his head hurt, and he didn't have time to be abducted right now.

Alvarez looked up at him slowly. "Mr Caldwell," he said with a pleasant smile. "Please. Take a seat."

There was something in his tone that suggested this would all go faster and easier if he obeyed. He sat down, gritting his teeth. "Is there some reason I'm here?" he asked again, quieter this time. "You have your painting. I thought that's what you wanted."

"It was indeed," Alvarez beamed. "But I believe you've had some trouble since then, and I find we're in the position to help each other."

Oh. "I'm listening," he said politely.

"You see," Alvarez went on pensively. "I was never really expecting David here to be able to get the painting."

"I told you I could," David said sullenly, and closed his mouth quickly as they both turned to look at him.

"But you couldn't," Alvarez went on mildly. "So when my people told me that you were so confident, and you'd found some outside help, I sat up and took notice. I did some digging. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that David Ryan – poor, bumbling, useless David – is closely related to criminal royalty. That's the sort of information that can really make a difference to a man's understanding of a situation."

Damnit. Sounded like David hadn't been keeping his mouth shut like he should. "I still don't see what this has to do with me," he said guardedly.

Alvarez smiled. "It's very simple, Mr Caldwell," he said. "David here tells me that his brother and Danny Ocean have been kidnapped by Halfmond. I am of a mind to have them rescued."

He kept his face blank as best he could. "What's the catch?"

"Clever boy," Alvarez said with a delighted laugh. "Indeed, it would be a stupid man indeed who committed such a benevolent act without getting some return. And I assure you, I am anything but a stupid man." He waited expectantly.

"Of course not," Linus managed to murmur.

"Danny Ocean. Rusty Ryan. These are names which mean something. I have reports of their genius and ingenuity that stretch back two decades. They seem to have managed to accomplish remarkable things. Impossible things. I think I would appreciate having such men under my employ. Oh, not forever," he added, seeing the look on Linus' face. "But let's say...for six months? That doesn't sound so bad, does it? Six months of working for me in exchange for their freedom. I would say that's fair. David here certainly agreed."

David shifted uncomfortably. "Well, I wouldn't say - "

" - oh, but you did," Alvarez said agreeably. "You were more than happy to make this deal. However, I know that I certainly wouldn't honour any business dealings a weasel like you made in my name. You, on the other hand, Mr Caldwell, you are a different matter. They brought you in with them. You're their friend, yes? Their business associate. So. That's really the first question here. Would Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan honour an agreement you made in their names?"

He swallowed hard. "I don't know."

"Oh, come now," Alvarez chided. "No false modesty. They respect you, don't they? They'd do what you promised. Especially as the consequences for you if they didn't would, naturally, be unpleasant."

Damnit. He nodded slowly. He was sure they'd do it for him.

"Well then," Alvarez smiled. "It seems we have a deal then, yes? I get your friends to safety and they work for me. I'll get a contract drawn up shortly. Let's have some champagne."

They'd do it for him, if he asked. Any distasteful task this man would set them. And the alternative was that they'd be hurt, maybe killed, and wasn't that what he wanted to avoid? He wanted them safe. He wanted them back.

"No," he said quietly.

Alvarez paused in the act of lifting his phone. "What was that?" he asked mildly.

"I said no," he repeated loudly, swallowing hard. "We don't have a deal. I won't make Danny and Rusty work for you. No matter what."

"Really." Alvarez shook his head, looking surprised and just a little amused. "Well, well. How...unexpected."

"Linus," David hissed. "Maybe we should think about this. Mr Alvarez is offering to go to a lot of trouble - "

Linus turned on him fiercely. " - no," he said flatly. "No. Not ever." He glanced back at Alvarez. "So that's it, right? We've got no more business to discuss. You've got your painting. We can go now."

"Certainly," Alvarez agreed affably. "No one is stopping you." He waited until Linus had stood up. "I like you, boy. You have spirit. I hope that when your friends turn up mutilated and broken, they don't blame you too much."

He froze, trying not to think about it, trying not to imagine it. He'd get them free himself. Somehow.

"Thank you, Mr Alvarez," David gabbled as Linus was walking to the door. "Thank you for at least considering...no hard feelings, right? And may I say the painting looks very - "

" - I suggest you leave," Alvarez suggested pleasantly. "Now."

David practically sprinted past him on the way to the door. Once outside, he immediately turned on Linus.

"This is your fault, now," he snapped. "You should have taken what Alvarez was offering. Now whatever happens, it's all your fault. I hope you know that. And I'll be telling Rusty what you did. We'll see what he says."

Linus looked at him for a long moment. "You don't know anything," he said. "And the next time you get the urge to shoot your mouth off about your brother, I suggest you do us all a favour and staple your lips together."

"Fine then," David said huffily. "I'm leaving town while I still can. Just like Rusty told me to after the job."

This time Linus didn't even try to stop him as he stormed off.

Anger and outrage were crashing through him. Rusty was tied up...vulnerable...going to be hurt, and Danny couldn't stop it, and he couldn't stop the screaming in his soul.

He wished it wasn't dark. Not that he had a problem with the dark so much – he just couldn't stop thinking, if he could only see Rusty's face, if Rusty could only see him, this would be so much better. He'd be better able to tell how Rusty was really doing, better able to promise that, somehow, he'd get them out of here.

Savagely, he bit his lip. This was his fault. It had been his idea to use David. Him being sentimental, and he'd ended up putting more importance on their privacy than their safety. And he should have insisted they leave immediately after Linus, to hell with looking suspicious. He'd let them get caught. He'd let Rusty get caught, get tied up and trapped, and that was the last thing he'd ever want to happen.

This was the first time this had happened since they were back together. Over the past two years, all the danger seemed to come from the inside. And yes, they'd kept right on lying, cheating and stealing, and of course he'd realised there was a good chance they'd end up here or somewhere like it sooner or later – hell, he'd had nightmares about it almost as often as he'd had nightmares about Rusty back in prison. He just...he wasn't prepared. Maybe there was no way to prepare.

Maybe he should have put his foot down when he'd got Rusty back. Maybe he should have decided long ago that it was more important to keep Rusty safe than to stay in the game. Hadn't Rusty suffered enough, after all? It wasn't like they needed the money. He'd retired for Tess once, why wouldn't he do the same for Rusty? Because he was selfish and stupidly over confident and -

" - Stop thinking," Rusty told him suddenly, unexpectedly pressing his shoulder against Danny's in the darkness. "You're giving me a headache."

He grinned tiredly. "I just - "

" - well, don't," Rusty said quickly. "We're here now and wishing isn't going to change that."

Yeah. So far neither were effort, ingenuity or luck. They'd attacked the tape with fingernails, teeth, the rough stone floor, the corner of the metal cage around the generator – anything. It had proved invincible. Rusty didn't seem surprised. Danny carefully wasn't asking, but the anger burned.

He sighed. "They're taking their time."

"You got somewhere you'd rather be?" Rusty asked lightly, and the humour was there, the panic controlled, and Danny felt so damned proud. He knew the effort Rusty had put in eighteen months ago, trying to learn to cope with being tied up, but they'd both known full well that the actual would be so much worse. "Waiting makes everything worse," Rusty added a second later, and Danny shivered slightly at the simple knowledge in Rusty's voice.

"Or they've forgotten about us," he suggested lightly.

There was the slightest pause. "Maybe there was something more interesting on TV," Rusty suggested.

Danny pursed his lips. "I'm sure you can't get a decent signal all the way out here."

"I think you're thinking of phones," Rusty said. "And I saw a satellite dish when we were coming in anyway."

Danny turned his head and stared at an approximation of where Rusty was. "You looked for a satellite dish? What, were you hoping they'd let you watch JAG or something?"

"I was looking for skylights and shit," Rusty explained with dignity. "Figured we'd be taken inside. Was looking for potential ways out. And JAG makes me sea sick anyway. Think it's the uniforms."

The humour was more than a little forced. "We'll get out of here," Danny promised him gently. "Like I said, it's been a while. When we turned up missing, Linus will have called Bobby."

Rusty groaned. "I just got done with people looking at me like I'm going to break."

"Price we pay for getting kidnapped," Danny said easily. And if that was the only price, he could live with it. Though really, they wanted to get out of here by themselves. He wanted Rusty safe.

But they heard the sound of a car pulling up and footsteps coming closer.

"Halfmond," Danny guessed softly, and he could feel Rusty nodding beside him. Halfmond. And that meant they were out of time.

The door was thrown open. The light was blinding and they lay blinking helplessly, until their eyes adjusted enough to see Jerry Halfmond standing in the doorway, flanked by Gregory Hart and the thug Rusty had christened Oscar.

"Here you are, Mr Halfmond sir," Oscar said eagerly. "Just like I promised. All tied up and waiting for you."

Out of the corner of his eye Danny could see Rusty's face remained impassive. But he could feel the tremble that passed through him and that was the moment he realised they were still lying too close together.

"Very cosy," Halfmond remarked softly. "So. You are the men who stole my Warhol." He walked further into the room and idly kicked out at Danny.

It caught him in the shoulder. He didn't react, aware of Rusty's fury nonetheless.

"Not very impressive," Halfmond commented, looking back at Hart.

"They're out of their league," Hart agreed.

"Look who's talking," Danny smiled, his eyes flickering from Hart to Halfmond.

With a howl of rage, Hart strode across the floor, aiming a kick at Danny's jaw. He barely had time to brace himself before the pain hit, and he cried out briefly before savagely biting down on his tongue. God, that hurt. But as long as they were focused on him not Rusty -

" - you like hitting people who can't hit back?" Rusty demanded loudly. "Let me guess; you were bullied as a child, right? What happened? Did Mommy make you wear pigtails? You look like the type."

For a moment Hart stared at him. Then he leapt over Danny and started kicking, and Rusty lay there and took it, and didn't make a sound.

Danny snarled, desperately trying to get free. "No!" he shouted, unable to help himself, the blood pounding through his head. With every kick and blow he died a little, and his wrists were bleeding as he tried to pull them apart, tried to get free, knowing he would kill Hart in an instant.

"Not exactly proving me wrong here, are you?" Rusty said when Hart stopped, and even Danny couldn't hear the pain in his voice.

"Not very bright, your friend, is he?" Halfmond remarked to Danny as Hart delivered another powerful kick to Rusty's back.

He gazed up at Halfmond, torn between pleading for him to let Rusty go and showing his hatred. He already knew that neither would do any good. In fact, he could see it in Halfmond's eyes. Nothing was going to do any good. Rage crystallised. He had to keep the attention on him, and he had to make sure they didn't realise that nothing would hurt him more than seeing Rusty hurt.

He forced a grin. "So, I suppose you want to know where your painting is, fucker?"

Halfmond held up his hand and Hart stopped immediately. Thank God. Danny struggled to hide his relief. "Clever boy," Halfmond said approvingly. "I want to know where my painting is, and I want to know who put you up to this. Answer those two simple questions and I'll let you go with only a very little inconvenience."

The plan was Halfmond was supposed to see him considering it. Supposed to think that he was the weak link, that he could be...persuaded. Only for a moment, Danny found himself really considering it. What was Alvarez to him, after all? Nothing. Less than nothing. Alvarez would make for a good mark in his own right. And yes, that would lead straight to David...but Danny wasn't exactly feeling overjoyed with David either. David's safety or Rusty's. It shouldn't even be a question. Fuck morals. Fuck the rules. Fuck everything he was, if it came to that. Rusty was tied up and hurting and at this man's mercy, and nothing else mattered.

Even if Rusty never looked at him the same way again, even if Rusty never forgave him, wasn't that better than the alternative?

"Don't," Rusty whispered. "Please."

Danny didn't look at him. Not even for a second. But he still couldn't say no.

"We burned it," he lied, looking straight at Halfmond. "Protest against pop art."

Halfmond sighed. "And for a moment there I thought you were going to be sensible." He looked thoughtfully from Danny to Rusty and back, and Danny tensed, feeling like they were being laid bare. Exposed. "Very well then," he said regretfully. "You really are insisting on ruining our evening, aren't you? It's Gregory's birthday, you know. We had a reservation at Torelli's. Having to cancel in order to deal with you imbeciles has not exactly brightened our day. So remember. Two answers. That's all we're looking for."

He moved back and Hart and Oscar crowded round and the pain began.

Boots and fists. Punches, kicks and body blows. After a couple of minutes or hours, the world constricted to a blur of pain, and still Danny was craning his head, desperate to see what was happening to Rusty, and then blows that hit him didn't hurt half as much as watching the ones descend on Rusty. He saw the blood. Watched the bruises form. Saw the blankness in Rusty's eyes, the disassociation, and he was going to kill them. He was going to kill them all.

Danny couldn't suppress the soft gasps and groans of pain. Rusty was silent, and as awful and terrifying as that was, Danny rejoiced. More evidence to show that he was the one who'd break, he was the one they should be concentrating on, and he'd let a little more of the pain show deliberately, not enough to be obvious but enough that they'd see.

He could feel Rusty glaring at him. Oh, Rusty knew what he was doing but he already knew Rusty couldn't do the same. The conditioning ran too deep, and he was sorry...

Hart brought his heel down on Rusty's cheekbone, and Danny screamed...

It stopped at last. Halfmond walked around them both for a moment, looking round like he was assessing the damage. Then he crouched companionably beside Danny. "This is just a taster, you know," he said confidingly, his thumb digging viciously into the bruises on Danny's shoulder, and this time Danny couldn't suppress the gasp of pain if he tried. "We're going to do so much worse. To you and your little friend."

Not Rusty. Not Rusty, please.

"Just two questions," Halfmond pressed.

Mouth set, Danny shook his head, not trusting himself to speak.

Halfmond sighed regretfully. "Very well," he said, and he nodded to Oscar.

A second later and they were hauled to their feet and dragged over to the cage.

For the first time Rusty made a noise, a soft gasp of startled misery and Danny looked over to see Halfmond holding two sets of handcuffs. Rusty's face was pale. For a fleeting moment Danny wondered why. Just what had happened that made handcuffs so bad. Not like they could have been a regular feature, surely. Different possibilities danced in front of his eyes, and the fury led to him kicking back viciously, stamping on Oscar's knee, and it wasn't so much about the thought of escape as the desperate to desire to punish someone, even a little.

The howl of pain was briefly satisfying before he was thrown against the inside of the cage, next to Rusty, his hands cuffed through the fence above his head. A moment later and Hart was bent over in front of him, tying his legs to the wall with copper wire, pulling it viciously tight. Painstakingly he went up Danny's body, making absolutely sure that there was no give, no possibility of moving even an inch away from the metal cage. This couldn't be good.

He was supposed to be trying to make them forget all about Rusty, but it wasn't working, and he couldn't help but look over anxiously, couldn't help but check how this was affecting Rusty. There was carefully hidden hell on Rusty's face and he wasn't looking at Danny. Too many memories here. Too many awful possibilities and Danny was swearing at Halfmond, spitting hate and fury in a fit of helpless rage.

The words bounced off Halfmond like he didn't even hear them, as he carefully donned large rubber boots and gloves, before turning his attention to the generator itself.

Oh, God. No. Please, no. He looked around urgently, practically forcing Rusty to meet his eyes in his need. This was going to be bad. This was going to be very bad indeed, and he took comfort from the strength in Rusty's eyes, offered the same comfort. Together. Always.

Oh, Rusty. He was so, so sorry. He should never have let this happen. He should never...

"The hose, Gregory," Halfmond said pleasantly, and he moved aside and a second later the water was crashing over the back of them, cold and painful and stagnant, soaking every inch of them.

He was shivering as Halfmond stepped forwards with two leads in his hand. With a contented smile, he clipped one onto the wire cage by Danny's hand. "Now, he said easily, looking Danny straight in the eyes. "Are you ready to think about answering my questions?"

This was going to hurt. This was going to be hell. He longed to reach out and take Rusty's hand.

He shook his head.

Halfmond nodded. "It's your choice," he said, and he clipped the second lead onto the cage next to Rusty.

The pain came immediately. He was being burned alive from the inside out, jerking and convulsing, helplessly throwing himself against the wire, feeling like he was about to tear himself to pieces. Bright rivers of light seared across his eyes until he was certain they were going to melt out of his head. The sound of his own screaming echoed through his head and he couldn't stop, he couldn't...

It stopped at last, and he slumped, the handcuffs and the wire the only things keeping him upright. The smell of burned meat soaked through him. There was blood trickling out of his mouth. He must have bit his tongue.

Desperately he tried to lift his head, needing to see Rusty, needing to see if Rusty was okay, but his muscles just wouldn't respond to him.

"Rusty..." he gasped. "Rus'."

"'m here," Rusty promised indistinctly, and now Danny could hear the pain, and Halfmond had done this, Halfmond had hurt Rusty and he couldn't bear it.

With a sigh, Halfmond grabbed him by the hair and wrenched his head up. "Are you ready to cooperate now?" he demanded mildly.

"Go fuck yourself," Danny said hoarsely.

Halfmond straightened up the lead already in his hand, and the pain came again. And again. And again.

Danny lost track of the times. Lost track of anything but the agony and Rusty. He passed out at some point, and Halfmond backhanded him harshly.

"We are not going to waste our entire evening on you," he snapped as Danny blinked up at him stupidly. "I promise you, this is still only a fraction of what you can suffer. Let me show you."

At his signal, Hart – grinning – pulled out a trolley covered with knives and saws, scalpels and hammers and things that Danny wasn't even sure what they were supposed to be used for if not to inflict pain.

Halfmond looked slowly from Danny to Rusty, and picked up a chisel. "Now," he said. "Gregory and I are going to go and enjoy a romantic dinner, and maybe a little sex, if all this has put us in the mood. You are going to stay right here, and you're going to look at all these instruments and you're going to think about just what we can do to you. Nothing so nice as what you've experienced so far, I promise you. Nothing that will heal. And maybe by the time we come back, you'll have reconsidered answering my simple questions."

They walked out of the shed, hand in hand, laughing, Oscar following behind them.

"Rusty," Danny said weakly, before being overcome by a fit of coughing. "Rusty. "

There was no answer.

The trolley of instruments gleamed with awful promise.

It had taken a lot of fast talking and the sort of nerve he hadn't even known he possessed, but Linus had managed to get his hands on the flight plan Halfmond's pilot had filed. It showed a journey to a private airfield in the middle of the desert, and that sounded promising. Linus could only hope it was accurate.

Looked like there was a road of sorts that would lead straight there, but he figured it would take at least a five hour drive, and that was going flat out. Halfmond already had a headstart and he'd be flying. Linus could very well be too late already.

He took a deep breath and clenched his fists around the steering wheel. No. He couldn't think that way. Danny and Rusty...the guys had survived worse than this, he knew. He'd get there, and somehow he'd get them out, and they'd be home in Chicago, enjoying Mom's Sunday lunch before they knew it.

As he sped off, he glanced down at his phone. He should call Dad. He had to call Dad, really – someone should know where he was going just in case...just in case. Unfortunately he already knew what Dad was going to say.

"Linus?" Dad answered anxiously. "I'm just about to get on the plane now. What's happening?"

"Halfmond flew to an airfield in the desert," Linus told him breathlessly. "I'm guessing that's where Danny and Rusty are being held. I'm going after them now."

"No," Dad said immediately. "That's suicide. Wait for me. We'll figure out a plan. Do it properly."

He could hear the fear in Dad's voice and it hurt. "Dad..." He licked his lips, his mouth suddenly dry. "I can't wait. You know that. They're my friends, I can't abandon them. I'll be careful, I promise, but I'm going and you can't talk me out of it."

There was a long moment of silence and he waited, somehow nervous.

"If it was you, you wouldn't wait," he blurted out.

Dad sighed. "No," he admitted softly. "No, I wouldn't. Alright. Just be careful. Call me when you get there and don't do anything without talking to me first." He paused, and Linus could hear someone in the background asking for his ticket. "I'm...I'm very proud of you, Linus," Dad said at last with difficulty.

There was a lump in his throat. "Thanks, Dad," he said hurriedly, before he said anything stupid. "I'll see you soon."

He hung up the phone and put his foot down.

Oh, God, let him get there in time.

It had been an age since Halfmond left. Rusty couldn't guess how long – hours, anyway. The pain was still thrumming through him. The burning had subsided to a duller agony, and it felt like every muscle and sinew in his body had been torn and twisted out of place. He hadn't felt this sore since Moffatt and the cane. Worse were the soft noises of pain Danny was making with every breath and movement. He could feel the agony Danny had been left in, and he couldn't do a thing about it. No matter how much he stretched and struggled, there wasn't enough wiggle room for him to reach out and touch Danny, and though he'd tried for what seemed like hours, all words felt inadequate.

This was his fault. This was all his fault. He'd seen the way Halfmond looked at Danny. They were going to concentrate on Danny, he knew, and that was because he hadn't been able to attract their attention. He'd tried, he really had. He'd tried to scream and shout, tried to just make any noise at all, knowing they were looking for what they thought of as weakness. Sort of ironic that he was too weak to fake it. And so instead they were going to hurt Danny. They'd left lights on this time around. And waiting in the dark was bad, but waiting in the light, staring straight at the rows of sharp and gleaming death was so much worse.

Imagination. He couldn't stop picturing these tools in Halfmond's hand, seeing the moment when they cut into Danny's flesh, seeing the blood flow, the bone shear, leaving horror and mutilation behind. And pain.

Not Danny. Oh, please, not Danny. How had he let this happen? He was supposed to protect Danny, no matter what. It was his job.

"Now who's giving who a headache?" Danny said, his voice cracked and hoarse.

Rusty swallowed painfully and strived for lightness. "I was just thinking about pie."

"Uh huh." Danny took a deep breath, wheezing and rattling. "What flavour?"

"Cherry," he said. He closed his eyes for a second. "Danny - "

" - I know," Danny interrupted gently. "I know, Rus'."

He turned his head painfully and Danny was just inches away and still out of reach. Their eyes met in an exchange of love and agony and forever.

"No matter what," Danny whispered.

"No matter what," he echoed, and still he'd give anything for Danny to be far away and safe. There had to be something. Some way. Surely. Because it was looking increasingly likely they were going to die in this shed.

As if in answer to his thoughts, the door slammed open and Halfmond strode in followed by Gregory Hart.

"I've just had a very interesting phone call," Halfmond announced, walking straight up to Danny and leaning in close in a way that made Rusty growl. "It seems my Warhol is now hanging behind that Philistine Alvarez's desk."

Oh. Well. Looked like they didn't have any more questions to answer.

"You don't look like Alvarez's usual thugs," Halfmond added, reaching out and grabbing Danny's chin to peer more closely at him. "Not that it matters. We don't have any more need for you." He paused expectantly then frowned. "This is the part where you're supposed to beg for your lives."

"Not going to happen," Rusty said with a charming smile.

"You might as well skip onto the next part," Danny added, sounding bored.

The next part. He didn't look at Danny but inside he was howling. He didn't want to see Danny die. He couldn't...he couldn't.

Halfmond's face darkened with displeasure. "I'm going to make an example out of you," he told Danny. "I'm going to teach you the true meaning of pain, and then you can go and tell anyone who asks just what a bad idea it is to steal from me."

At his signal Hart stepped forwards, unlocking Danny's cuffs, and Rusty watched breathlessly as Danny immediately punched out, trying to get free. But Hart just sighed and punched him in the face, and Danny was ripped off the wall and dragged onto the floor, his hands secured onto an iron hoop set in the middle of the floor, and Rusty was screaming. "No! No! Let him go, you bastards! Let him go!"

"Hush now," Hart commanded, standing up and punching Rusty twice in the gut, leaving him slumped and struggling to breathe. "It'll be your turn soon enough." Hart laughed as he walked past, grabbing the trolley of tools and hauling it back to Danny.

No! Danny! Nonononononono! He struggled futilely, trying anything and everything to get free, and Danny turned his head, looking straight at Rusty, and the love wasn't enough to hide the fear.

"Let's start with the basics," Halfmond mused, tying a tourniquet around Danny's arm and pulling it tight. "Something that will ensure you don't put your greedy hands on my property ever again." He picked up a large jagged saw. "I'm afraid this is going to get somewhat messy," he said, and Danny's eyes were wild and terror-filled.

He had to do something. Anything.

"Wait!" he said loudly, injecting his voice with all the calm authority he could, and Halfmond stayed his hand (Thank you, thank you, thank you) and looked up at Rusty, waiting. With a desperate effort, he managed to smile. "Maybe there's something else you want. Some other arrangement we can come to?" He tilted his head and tried to look enticing and flirtatious, tried to consciously project the air of sensual sexuality he'd once worn as a casual cloak.

Must have been at least slightly effective.

Hart stood up, intrigue in his eyes, and Halfmond at least put the saw down. And Danny...Rusty could see the horror dawning in Danny, immense and absolute, and resolutely looked away, focusing all his attention on Halfmond and Hart.

"And why would we be interested in that?" Halfmond asked mildly, but Hart was walking over towards him, staring at him with fresh eyes.

"He is very pretty, Jer," Hart commented. "Even with the bruises and shit."

"Really," Halfmond said, an edge to his voice.

Hart glanced back over his shoulder. "Oh, don't be like that Jerry. It's my birthday and I just want to be on top for once."

Rusty bit back on all the obvious comments. This wasn't about causing trouble, this was about protecting Danny. That was all that mattered here.

"No!" Danny had found his voice, choked and strangled though it was. "No. Don't...don't..."

Halfmond looked down at him sharply. Rusty didn't. "My, my," Halfmond said, like he was re-evaluating something. He looked back to Rusty, a thoughtful smile playing around his lips. "So what exactly are you offering?" he asked, as though they were discussing the weather.

Rusty smiled widely and licked his lips. "Whatever you want," he promised breathily. "Whatever - "

" - no," Halfmond said mildly. "No. Be specific. And don't act like you want it."

Oh. He looked Halfmond straight in the eye. "I'm offering to let you fuck me," he said flatly. "I'm offering to let you use my body any way you want. As much as you want."

He could hear Danny shouting at him, lost somewhere in a world of helpless incoherence and fury. He kept his eyes locked on Halfmond. This was between them.

"Mmm," Halfmond said softly. "I suppose you might as well check out the merchandise, Gregory."

"No!" Danny screamed, as Hart stepped forwards grinning, and started running his hands all over Rusty's body. Rusty did his best to hide the shudder of disgust, all too aware that he was tied up, that he couldn't move, couldn't get away, even as Hart slowly pulled the zip down on his overalls and tore open the shirt he'd been wearing beneath, and this echoed to more memories than he could count and he couldn't stand it and inside his head he was screaming.

"He's gorgeous, Jerry," Hart called back delightedly. "Nice even tan, smooth soft skin..." He dipped his hand around, somehow forcing his way between Rusty and the cage, leaving the wire dragging into him painfully, and with an appreciative whistle he started groping Rusty's ass. Rusty tasted blood as his teeth tore into his tongue. "Good muscle tone too. Shame about these scars though," he added, sounding slightly disappointed. "They ruin his looks a little. Still. This might just be the best present you've ever got me."

Didn't seem like Halfmond was really listening, instead talking conversationally to Danny. "You hate this, don't you? Seeing Gregory touching him. Imagining us both on top of him. Don't bother trying to deny it, I can see it in your eyes. Is he yours? I can see you love him, anyway - you're more afraid now than you were when I was going to cut your hand off. I'm going to enjoy coming in his ass, knowing you're watching. It isn't even rape, is it? He offered, after all. This is all his idea."

Rusty flinched. Hart's hands were still busy exploring.

Danny let out a sound that might have been a snarl and might have been a sob, but was more miserable and devastated than Rusty could have imagined.

He knew what the alternative was. This...this was worth it. This had to be worth it. It wasn't even really a choice.

He was shaking as Halfmond stood up slowly, leisurely walking over to him.

"Alright, Gregory," he smiled. "Since it's your birthday, we'll have some fun."

Hart grinned. "Thanks, Jerry," he said, leaning over and kissing his boyfriend, quickly and tenderly.

"Now then," Halfmond said softly, turning to Rusty. "We're going to make this hell for both of you. And you're going to do everything we say, because if you don't, I use the saw." His eyes were full of laughter, and they all knew he was going to do that anyway, and still it didn't even matter. He paused and glanced back towards Danny. "Do you think he'll ever look at you the same way?"

No. No, he wouldn't. Danny would hate him for this, and he was sorry, but he couldn't do anything else.

Halfmond stepped forwards, pressing his body against Rusty's, grinding against his hip and kissing him forcefully, his tongue thrusting deep into Rusty's mouth, like he was taking possession, like Rusty was nothing more than a doll that he could use, abuse and throw away.

Danny was screaming his rage and hatred.

This was hell.

It was dark now. Linus had been driving for hours but he'd arrived at the airfield, anyway, such as it was. It was simply a flattened track with a strip of lights. The only reason he even recognised it as an airfield was because there was a plane sitting at the end of it. This had to be the right place. There was a trail leading away, deeper into the desert, and that had to be the way to the house surely.

He followed it carefully, and when he saw the lights in the distance, he stopped the car and shut off the engine, not daring to drive closer in case he was seen.

Alright. He swallowed hard. This was it. He was here. And he had no idea what to do next.

Biting his lip, tense and nervous, he called Dad. Not surprisingly, it went straight to voicemail. Dad's plane would still be in the air. "Hi, it's me," he said unnecessarily. "I've reached the house. It's not far from the airfield. Everything seems quiet. I'm going to take a closer look." He swallowed hard, his mouth dry, and these might be the last words he ever said to Dad. "I'll...uh...I'll see you when I see you, okay?" He hung up and sat for a second, his head hung low, breathing hard. Alright. He had to do this. Danny was relying on him.

Carefully, he stole closer on foot, pausing at the top of a low ridge, and the house was spread out beneath him. Two stories. Some sort of a shed out back. A car parked at the front.

Okay, there would need to have been someone taking Danny and Rusty here. Say two men, assuming one of them had been flying the plane. Then there was Halfmond and Hart themselves, plus their pilot. That meant there were at least five people in the house, and there could easily be twice as many. And there was only one of him. Hell, he didn't even have a gun. He should have. He should have thought to pick one up from town, he could have got one somewhere he was sure.

But he hadn't and all he had was his ingenuity and his wits. Somehow he needed to cause a distraction so he could sneak into the house and rescue Danny and Rusty, and he needed to do it soon.

For all he knew he was already too late.

If this was a nightmare, Danny would like to wake up now, please. This was all his worst imaginings come to life while he watched, helpless.

Rusty was untied and stripped to the waist. Hart stood in front of him, holding his wrists and biting obsessively at his throat, leaving little dots of blood on Rusty's skin, while Halfmond stood behind him, running his fingers possessively down Rusty's back and looking straight at Danny.

"If you look away, even for a second, I'll staple your eyes open," he promised. "Then I'll do the same to him."

"Don't," he begged hoarsely, before he could help himself, and Halfmond smiled and grabbed Rusty's hair, forcing his head back and to the side and kissing him harshly, and Rusty didn't make a sound, and Danny choked on the taste of hatred in his mouth. How could Rusty do this? How could...

There was iron determination on Rusty's face, but Danny could see the hell in his eyes.

Hoping against hope that it worked, Linus crept towards the house, keeping low. So far so good. He snuck around the edge of the car and, with a certain amount of effort and silent swearing, managed to force the gas cap open. Okay. Now the tricky part. Hurriedly, he tore off his tie and his shirt sleeves and dipped them into the gas trunk. Now all he needed to do was to lay them under the car, splash out a trail of gasoline and get as far away as he could before throwing the match.


He couldn't look at Danny. Before, Danny might have been a source of strength. Now, he thought the shame would kill him.

He was dressed only in his boxers now, and their hands were all over him. This wasn't a nightmare, and he felt sick to the stomach. He'd chosen this. Asked for this, because it had been the only way to protect Danny, the only thing he could think of to offer, and that didn't make it easier to bear. Especially not when he knew this was hurting Danny all the more.

He couldn't just stand and let them do this. Not with Danny watching. It would be seven years ago all over again, only this time Danny really would hate him forever.

But he couldn't fight either, because Danny was still bound and helpless, and if he didn't win – and he wouldn't win – they'd hurt Danny, and Rusty had put this idea in their heads now, had got them aroused and interested and maybe...maybe...

He couldn't fight. Not on his own, anyway.

"On your hands and knees, whore," Halfmond ordered pleasantly, lightly shoving him, and he stumbled, falling against Hart, his hand oh-so-accidentally ending up resting against Hart's groin.

"Eager, aren't you," Hart laughed, grabbing Rusty's hand and pressing it against the crotch of his pants, and the sensation made Rusty long to grab that saw and cut his own hand off.

But it meant that Hart really didn't have a hope of noticing when Rusty's hand slipped into his jacket pocket and grabbed the handcuff keys.

"I said on your knees," Halfmond reminded him, and as he sank down, he sent the keys spinning across the floor towards Danny's right hand.

Of course, he had to look at Danny to do so.

Danny's eyes were an endless well of anguish, and he was looking at Rusty like they were right in the middle of the end of the world. But his hand closed around the key instantly, and it was already hidden when Halfmond turned to him.

"Anything you want to say?" he asked Danny, his hand resting possessively on the small of Rusty's back. "Or should we just get on with fucking your boyfriend's brains out? By the time we're through, he probably won't even remember your name."

"Please don't do this," Danny begged, his voice hollow and defeated. "I'll do anything."

"I want you to pay attention," Halfmond said calmly. "This is the consequence of stealing from me."

There was the sound of a zipper behind him, and even as Rusty was bracing himself, Hart was kneeling down in front of him, his lap level with Rusty's face, and he reached out and grabbed Rusty's hair, pulling him forwards towards the awful bulge in his pants, and Halfmond's hands were on his boxers, hauling them off, and at least they were going to be too distracted to notice Danny freeing himself.

He closed his eyes. That was no comfort at all.

Out of nowhere, the sound of an explosion ripped through the air, close at hand.

Hart was on his feet immediately. "What the fuck was that?" he demanded, already running to the door. "Shit, there's smoke," he reported back. "Something's on fire...I can smell gasoline?"

At that moment there was a yell and the sound of gunfire.

"Shit," Hart said again. "We'd better go find out what's going on."

Halfmond nodded, standing up swiftly and wiping his hands off on his pants. Even though Rusty saw the kick coming, he was powerless to avoid it. For an instant he felt the sharp pain in his temple, and then everything faded away.

The car had exploded satisfactorily, and everyone had come running out of the house, just as he'd hoped, but then they'd seemed to catch sight of someone, and that wasn't what he'd planned at all.

For a moment he thought they'd caught sight of him sneaking around the side of the house, towards the back windows, but then there'd been shouting and someone shooting back, and obviously something else was going on.

Alvarez's men, he realised, recognising the one who'd kidnapped him taking shelter behind the still-burning car. Obviously Alvarez had decided to go ahead with his plan and try and negotiate terms with Danny directly.

From a certain point of view it was probably flattering, but right now, it was just irritating. Now he had to try and free Danny and Rusty before Alvarez did, and before Halfmond's men got back into the house.

The tourniquet was still cutting off the blood flow, and his hands were still shaking with shock and anger, and the after effects of the electricity, and that made twisting his hand to unlock the cuffs almost impossible.

He gritted his teeth; he didn't have much time. Whatever was going on, someone was going to come looking for them sooner rather than later. At last the handcuffs came open, and he clambered painfully to his feet, limping over to where Rusty had been cuffed unconscious to the cage, and after a half-second's hesitation, started to uncuff before trying to bring him round.

Didn't make a difference; Rusty started to stir almost immediately, gazing up at him with bleary, unfocused eyes. "D'nny?" he slurred. "You need to run. Leave me."

"Uh huh." His mouth set grimly, Danny concentrated on unlocking the handcuffs. "Think there's been enough of that from you tonight."

"Sorry," Rusty muttered wretchedly.

The cuffs fell open and Danny caught Rusty's hand and very briefly brought it to his lips. "Later," he promised. "Right now, you need to get dressed and we have to run."

But there would be a later.

Linus reached the back of the house and immediately started looking for a likely window to get in. With all the fuss around the front, it seemed impossible that anyone would be here, which was why the soft cough behind him had him leaping out of his skin. "What the..." He span round to see Danny and Rusty leaning against the wall of the generator shed, looking beat to hell but obviously alive and free.

Of course. He should have known. It was inevitable that they'd find their way out of this with no help from him. But even as he was thinking it, he was so so glad to see them, and without any element of conscious control, he stepped forwards and threw his arms round Danny, hugging him tightly, and Danny gripped his arm lightly in a moment of understanding reassurance, and a second afterwards he automatically turned to Rusty, but Rusty jumped (flinched) back before he'd even touched him.

"I'm all bruises," he excused himself.

Linus nodded, and it was obviously true, but some part of his brain was busy acknowledging that this was the same sort of jumpiness Rusty had displayed during the Benedict job, when Linus hadn't known him well enough to realise how uncharacteristic it was.

"Your handiwork?" Danny broke in, smoothly covering the moment and nodding towards the plume of smoke and the pitched battle still raging from the other side of the house.

"Yeah," he nodded. "Well, Alvarez sort of crashed the party, but the explosion was all mine."

"Thanks," Rusty said quietly. "You got a ride to get us out of here too?"

"Oh. Yeah, we should move," Linus agreed. "The car's just up this hill." He hesitated, because the more he looked at them the worse they looked. "Are you going to be okay? I mean - "

" - we'll manage," Danny told him dryly. "We'll manage just fine."

All the same, the scramble up the hillside seemed pointedly silent, and at first Linus assumed that pain and effort accounted for that, at least until they reached the car and he saw the way Danny followed Rusty into the backseat without actually looking at him.

His brain-to-mouth filter let him down once again. "Are you guys fighting?" he demanded incredulously. Somewhere in between getting kidnapped and tortured and escaping they'd found something to disagree on? Really?

Danny met his eyes in the rearview mirror. "Just drive please, Linus," he requested evenly.

Right. Not his business and they wanted to get a head start before Halfmond or Alvarez...whoever won...realised they were gone.

He drove and watched them not watching each other, and he hadn't been around at the start of the argument last time, but he'd seen the effects and it didn't exactly take a dedicated student of human nature to realise they were much happier together.

"We'll get you to a doctor when we get back," he said, and that was met with no response whatsoever. "Think Doctor Stan is pretty close, isn't he? I'm sure he wouldn't mind the trip." More silence. "Oh, and Mom invited you both for Sunday lunch tomorrow. I mean, if you don't feel up to it that's fine, but I got the impression she'd really like to see you. Both of you."

It was almost a relief when the black SUV appeared in the rearview mirror, bearing down on them rapidly, Hart hanging out the door, gun at the ready.

It was even more of a relief when the helicopter came over the horizon seconds later and landed on the road just ahead of them, and Dad leapt out wearing his FBI jacket , holding his gun, and looking straight at Linus like he'd never been so glad to see anyone.

They were in the air and heading home before the SUV had gone thirty yards.

With an effort they managed to shrug off all Linus' anxious looks and deflect Bobby's probing questions. Right now father and son looked rather more alike than either of them would probably be comfortable with.

He hurt and he really needed a shower and it was easy enough to be gracious and grateful and thank Bobby for getting them to the safe house in Palm Springs, and for the fact that Stan would be flying in to see them, and just for the rescue and everything, but really, all he was focused on was Danny and the coldness hovering in the air between them.

Shock and anger, he thought. Not hatred. Danny was understandably hurt and angry, but he didn't think he'd ruined everything. He hoped he hadn't ruined everything.

Sometimes their friendship felt so much more fragile than it ever had before. And he truly didn't know if that was just because he understood what he could lose.

Didn't take Bobby long to notice things weren't right between them, and that gave them a whole new string of questions to evade. "Fix this," he said quietly, as they were going upstairs.

Easier said than done, Rusty thought.

"We need to talk," Danny said, as soon as the door closed behind them and they were alone.

He nodded. "Shower first," he pleaded.

Danny looked at him and he didn't know how to go about hiding the stench of filth and degradation.

Danny's eyes softened. "Shower first," he agreed, and he stepped forwards and drew Rusty into his arms and for a moment Rusty just hung there, limp and uncertain, before he realised that Danny needed this, Danny needed the touch, the connection and reassurance, far more than he had.

"I'm sorry," he whispered miserably, and he could still see the look in Danny's eyes when Halfmond had forced him to the floor. "I'm sorry."

There was silence, and Danny's hand rested on the back of his neck, holding him close. "Shower first," Danny told him, kissing him gently on the forehead. "I'll be waiting when you get out."

He stumbled into the bathroom and managed to get undressed. His muscles still felt like they were on fire, and he was exhausted, barely able to keep his eyes open let alone stand up in the shower. But he needed to be clean. Danny's anger hadn't gone anywhere and he had to be able to focus on that. He ducked his head under the water, pressed his hands against the tiles and imagined all the filthy handprints from where they'd touched him, just washing away.

The door opened after five minutes or so. No knock. And that was either good – Danny acting the way they always would – or bad – Danny not trusting that he wasn't in here hurting himself.

"That was Linus at the door," Danny said into the cloud of steam. "He brought some clothes round for us."

Huh. "It's two o'clock in the morning," he pointed out. Where did he find them?

Danny shrugged. "He has ingenuity and gumption."

Rusty smiled tiredly. "Yeah." He tried not to think about how much they owed the kid right now. He'd really come through for them. Far more than they'd ever have dreamed of asking.

"I'll see you in a minute," Danny said as he exited the bathroom, and he hadn't seemed to be checking on Rusty.

He got dressed slowly and walked out into the room.

"So," he said, swallowing hard.

"So," Danny nodded. He'd got changed into fresh clothes as well, and somehow that only made the cuts, bruises and lines of pain stand out all the more. They'd hurt Danny. They'd hurt Danny and if he hadn't stepped in it would have been so much worse. He imagined again the saw cutting through flesh, digging into bone, and he could hear the sound of it, could hear Danny screaming.

"I can't be sorry for stopping them," he said heavily. "He was going to cut your hand off, Danny."

"And you really think he wouldn't have gone straight back to that once he'd..." Danny paused for a second, struggling to speak, the shudder running through him. "Once they'd finished with you?"

"Of course not," Rusty said immediately. That had never been in the cards. This had been all about delaying the horror, not having it happen right there and then. "But every second he'd put the saw down, we had the chance of getting out, right? That's how it works, Danny. We need time to watch for the opportunity before anything - "

" - permanent?" Danny's mouth twisted. "You really think it would be alright if - "

" - no," he interrupted harshly. "No. I don't. But talking practically, there wasn't anything they could do to me that hadn't already been done. There's nothing new they could take."

"That doesn't make it okay," Danny cut in, his voice low and heavy with grief, his face pale and drawn. "What, is rape just another option now?"

It had always been an option. He took a deep breath. "That's not what I'm saying - "

" - you put the idea in their heads," Danny told him, almost shaking, and Rusty wasn't sure if it was anger or pain. Both, he guessed. "They weren't even thinking about doing that until you suggested it."

He swallowed hard. "Yeah. They were just going to saw your hand off, right?"

Danny paused. "It's not the same thing."

They locked eyes. "Exactly." Agitated, he ran his hand through his hair. "Look. I'm not saying it was a good idea. I'm not saying it's okay. It's a very long fucking way from being okay. But it's...I could get through it. I could survive – I did before, after all." Barely. And only because of Danny, and they both knew it.

"I'd rather die," Danny told him, his voice low and fierce.

Rusty stared at him and when he spoke his voice was every bit as low, every bit as fierce. "And would you rather we both die?" he asked. "Because maybe that might be the choice. You need to think about that, Danny. You can't protect me from everything."

"I know," Danny said, his voice haunted, and he was looking straight at the bruises on Rusty's face.

"I didn't want to let them..." He took a deep breath. "I didn't want to let them. I got the keys, remember? I gave them to you so we could fight them together. So we could escape. I wasn't gonna just lie there and take it, Danny. I swear it."

"I know," Danny said again, miserably, and Rusty knew he was imagining that fight. Them, badly hurt, barely able to stand, trying to take on two armed men who'd enjoy every second.

"Thank fuck for Linus, huh?" Rusty said, offering a subdued smile.

"Yeah," Danny agreed. He shut his eyes tightly. "Rus'..." There was a long second of silence and when Danny looked at him again Rusty could see every inch of agony, every heartbeat of helpless rage, all the what-ifs and the might-have-beens and the overwhelming plea; 'Don't do this to me again. Don't let me lose you again.'

He reached out, his hand trembling, and he rested his hand on Danny's check. Danny turned his head and kissed Rusty's palm tenderly, and it felt like forgiveness, and in that instant he thought about everything that had happened that day, and Danny held him close until the threat of tears had died away.

"We survived," he reminded them both softly.

Danny smiled crookedly. "Thought we were all about living these days."

"It's a work in progress," he said, the answering smile flitting gently over his lips. "Want to go reassure Linus and Bobby that we haven't killed each other yet?"

Danny grabbed tight hold of his hand. "A moment longer," he said softly, and looking into his eyes, Rusty silently offered all the promises he could – that he was here and he wasn't going anywhere.

A moment longer later, they found Linus sitting on a chair in the hallway, facing the stairs, looking for all the world like he was on guard, though his chin was nodding against his chest and his eyes were closed.

Rusty imagined he hadn't exactly had an easy time of it either. Was tough to be the one waiting...searching...worrying.

Danny stepped forwards and laid his hand on Linus' shoulder. "Hey, kid," he said gently.

With a yawn, Linus stirred, blinking up at them owlishly. "Oh. Yeah. I was just waiting..." He yawned again. "Stan phoned. He'll be here in about two hours."

Really, Rusty wasn't so sure that they needed a doctor, but he wasn't going to argue. "Thanks, Linus," he said instead, sincerely, and he was amused to see the kid blush pink.

"It's nothing," Linus assured them earnestly. "Since this was my...I mean, it's the least I can do."

He exchanged a quick look with Danny. "How do you figure it's your fault?" Danny asked slowly.

Linus backpedalled furiously. "Well, I know it's not my fault, but I should have managed to get to you sooner. By the time I got there you'd already escaped."

Uh huh. He could hear the rich guilt in the kid's voice. "Linus," he said, his voice serious enough that Linus turned and looked at him immediately. "You got there right on time. Yes, we got out by ourselves, but if it hadn't been for you, Halfmond would still have been in the shed when we did. And that...wouldn't have gone well."

Linus shuddered, obviously imagining. "No," he agreed.

"You did good, kid," Danny chimed in gently. "You saved us. Time to be proud."

"And it really wasn't your fault," Rusty added firmly, as Bobby came up the stairs. He hesitated for a second, but he had to ask. "Did you see David after?"

"Yes," Linus said unhappily. "He...he left town. I tried to stop him. I'm sorry, Rusty."

Rusty breathed a sigh of relief. "'s okay. He can look after himself."

That earned him three incredulous looks. He grinned slightly in acknowledgement. "He can keep his head down until the danger's passed," he amended. "I'll give him a call, let him know it's safe."

"Or you could just leave it," Bobby and Linus said in near unison, and they stared at each other, startled.

Danny smiled. "Did someone mention something about Sunday lunch?" he asked.

Bobby's face lit up. "Molly would be delighted to see you," he said. "In the meantime, I got coffee and sandwiches downstairs. You should have something before Stan gets here."

Sounded good. He looked at Danny as they were walking downstairs. They were both hurting and exhausted, and they'd faced death and worse-than-death and still...

Danny smiled straight back at him, his eyes warm and full of hope and love.

Things could be so much worse.

A/N: Thanks for reading, please spare a moment to review. :)