NOTE: At the story's finish there are six different endings.

The Faces Of Love

I love you from every angle, every arch you twist into…

Danny's first serious girlfriend tells him love is like the sea.

What does that mean? He wonders.

The sea was big and blue and full of things that bite.

He tells her that love is nothing like the sea except for the biting. They happily put his theory to test.

Hours later, he arrives home at their apartment, and leans against the paint chipped doorframe—happy, tired and sore.

(And confused.)

Rusty wrenches the door open and Danny topples over with, though he'll later deny it on pain of death and Oprah, a shriek of surprise. Amused, Rusty hands a glaring Danny a cup of steaming hot chocolate with a demand to know everything.

Laughing at Rusty's curiosity, Danny accepts the cup and considers him for a long moment.

"Hey Rus', what is love?"

The question is nagging at him, like a tag in the back of a shirt, rubbing the skin raw and he can't stop thinking about it.

Rusty straightens, face suddenly serious. Like, maybe, he's thought about it too.

"Love is sunshine," the blond says, shaking the hair out of eyes to look at Danny earnestly, "It's warm, relaxing and essential to life. It can burn you if you aren't careful and even though it rains and it might seem like the nothing will ever be right again, the sun will always come back."

Danny blinks at the absolute conviction in his voice.

"If I didn't know better I'd think you've rehearsed that," he says, half-accusingly.

Rusty shrugs imperiously, as if implying that everyone knows what love is like. But he looks at Danny slyly, out of the corner of his eye like he's really just been waiting for him to ask.

But that's what he loves about Rusty.

He always has the answers to his questions. The details for his ideas. The keys to his locked doors.

Rusty turns away, grinning, but Danny catches a flash of something, maybe disappointment and maybe resignation and it settles uneasily in the bottom of his stomach, like an anchor.

There's quiet for a moment as they both sip their drinks.

"What about the sea?" Danny asks eventually.

"What about it?"

"Is it like love?"

Rusty snorts derisively, "No way. Fish piss in the sea, you know."

"Oh," says Danny intelligently, thinking about how Karen would react to that.

I won't tell her, he decides.

They pop in a movie, make a whole box of popcorn and settle down for the night.

Still though, the heavy feeling won't leave Danny and he finds himself gritting his teeth when he doesn't mean to. Rusty touches his shoulder to get his attention and he jerks upright.

"Hey," Rusty says, and what he's really saying is 'are you okay?'.

"Can we watch The Philedephia Story instead?" He asks and means 'I don't know'.

They fall asleep on the couch together, Rusty's head somewhere near his chest and Danny's hands tangled in his hair. Danny thinks there's one flaw in Rusty's idea of love—the sun disappears ever night.

(And love is always right there.)

When Rusty wakes up the next morning, the spot next to his is still warm and breakfast is fresh and waiting for him.

Smiling, he digs in.

Danny's second college girlfriend tells him she doesn't believe in love.

When he asks her what she thinks they are, she grins and pulls him back to bed.

"Convenient sex."

And they have lots of it, but Danny just feels like something is a little off. That something important is missing.

He breaks up with her in a discreet little English coffee shop a few blocks down from their university. He looks down at the daisy-patterned teacup and tells her that he doesn't feel it anymore. That he's looking for something more.

She smiles sadly but with understanding and offers to pay for her half of the bill. He declines and walks her back.

It's a big blue house with a spotless, white patio. Inside, he knows, all the rooms are equally pristine—even her own.

He thinks of his own apartment.

He thinks of the ancient door hinges that swing open with a wrenching screech, like drowning cats and see-saws, the kitchen which is always covered in the leftovers of Rusty's latest cravings. He thinks of their couch, their bodies permanently impressed in the upholstery.

He thinks of home.

On the front step he gives her a hug.

"It was nice," she tells him closing the door.

It was. But it wasn't what he was looking for.

(He wants sunshine.)

It's Rusty's girlfriend that brings it up again.

It's Valentines Day and she has a fit when Rusty sends her lilacs instead of roses.

"I was trying to be original," Rusty complains.

Danny nods his head reassuringly, thinking privately that lilacs smell better anyway, and slips his arm around the younger boy out of habit.

"But no, she says that roses are the ultimate representation of love," Rusty angrily shakes a lock of hair away from his face, pouting ridiculously,"And by sending lilacs I was rejecting our relationship."

Danny struggled to contain a smile.

They both should get haircuts again, he muses as Rusty continues his ranting, hair shaggy and hanging almost to his shoulder. But he doesn't mind, amused at the way tucks it behind his ear in frustration when he's working, studying the blueprints to a new building or doing calculus homework. The ladies love it, he knows.

Danny's stomach constricts painfully. He really needs to be more careful where he eats sea-food.

Despite the last name of Ocean, he's had some bad experiences.

(Like that first night Rusty slept somewhere else.)

"And then she dumped me," the younger boy finished petulantly, "And I didn't even really like her."

In response, he turns on the TV.

Rusty sighs happily, "At least you understand me."

Tucked up to the chin in his purple snuggie, a Christmas present, he promptly falls asleep. Oprah is talking in the background and usually Danny would turn it up and pretend not to be touched but today he can't concentrate.

Looking down at Rusty, he contemplates the importance of roses.

They would have to be red, he decided, to symbolize love and passion and desire. All but a few thorns should be cut off to symbolize that although compromise was essential to a relationship, some things just had to be accepted. Just had to be loved for the human flaws they were, without conditions or constraints.

They should also be handpicked.

Ideally from somewhere dangerous, where it was a risk to get—steal—them from, to show your partner that you were willing to take a chance on them.

On the television, a crying couple embraces desperately, hands gripping hands and faces and shoulders.

Danny doesn't know who they are; he understands anyway.

Next valentine they're dating Jamaican twins.

Rusty receives an anonymous bouquet of exotic, red, almost thorn-less roses and doesn't need to ask.

The next day The Museum of Rare Vegetation reported a mysterious break-in.

(Rusty just turns and smiles.)

Danny thinks this girl might just be the one. Her name is Sandra.

She laughs easily and has beautiful blond hair that she lets fall down to her shoulders.

Sometimes, he wonders what she thinks love is, but never quite gets around to asking her about it. It's not like it's important or whatever. He just wonders what she would say, sometimes.

He and Rusty are sleeping peacefully on their couch, Dangerous Beauty playing quietly in the background.

Sandra walks in on them. But that implies that they're doing something.

Okay, so they're both half-naked but it's the middle of August and they're air conditioning is broken air.

It's hot.

And maybe Rusty is wrapped a little too tightly in his arms. And maybe they look a little too comfortable together. Or maybe it's the way he expertly disentangles himself from Rusty's searching fingers.

Maybe it's the way he tenderly smiles at Rusty's sleepy complaints.

Personally, Danny thinks she was overreacting. It's not like they were doing anything.

"So, that's the reason you never stay the night," she accuses him, voice little more then a fierce whisper.

Danny bristles, "That is Rusty Ryan."

"And I am your girlfriend and I demand to know what the hell you're doing."

He realizes that she hardly knows him.

She doesn't know that his favorite color is dark red, the color of roses and wine and romance, or that he watches black and white movies every Friday.

She doesn't know his middle name, that he broke his leg in the same place twice or that his best friend in the whole wide world is the blond twenty-something on the couch behind him that she's accusing him of sleeping with.

He realizes that she definitely, maybe, kind of isn't the one after all.

"What is love, Sandra?" He asks her on a whim.

And closes the door in her face.

Accompanied by her furious, muffled shouts that love sure isn't this, you bastard, he makes his way back to the couch.

With the hint of sigh, Rusty presses closer against his bare chest.

Arms wrapped around each other, Danny falls asleep with a smile on his face.

The next morning Rusty tries to apologize. Danny really doesn't care if he ever sees Sandra again. Prefers that he doesn't, actually.

He can't honestly remember feeling better.

They're back in town for a little business.

"What is love?" He asks Aleesha over drinks in a discreet little English coffee shop a few blocks down from his old college.

He remembers the last time he was here, he let another girl down as well. As he thinks about it, he realizes that he doesn't expect Aleesha to answer right. He realizes that there's an answer, a right answer.

(He realizes that someone has already gotten it right.)

She tells him that love is like wine.

"It can be good or bad and gets better in time," she laughs, "Actually that sounds more like people."

He laughs with her and tells her nicely that his work is the most important thing in his life right now.

He almost wants to take it back, afterward. She looks so disappointed, but genuinely understanding as she hugs him goodbye. Besides, she's funny and original and understanding. He loves the way her blue eyes set off her red hair.

(But in the end he still only wants sunshine.)

He walks to their old apartment.

It's long gone, replaced with a brand-new mall.

He ambles by the various shops and eventually buys a king-size Hershey bar.

Rusty's appears to be reading a women's fashion magazine upside-down when he walks into their hotel room. Shaking his head, he throws him the chocolate.

Without looking up, Rusty reaches up a hand and catches it.

Years of practice.

"I broke up with Aleesha today." Danny adds, as an afterthought.

Rusty pats his arm sympathetically and informs him that she was an Aquarius, so they never really stood a chance anyway.

"You said that about Leo," Danny said skeptically, "And Virgo."

Rusty nodded gravely, "And the Gemini. And Scorpio. Sometimes the Capricorn and Libra."

"Seems like an awful lot."

"Is it my fault that you're practically incompatible?" Rusty asks indignantly, "Besides how many of those girls lasted longer then a few weeks?"

Danny hesitated. It was true.

"What about the brunette with the-"

"-nice fingernails? Hailey."

"How long-"

"-two weeks and a-"

"Oh yeah."

"I told you. No sex-"

"-with the Ex. Yeah."

And that was that.

Rusty kept track of Danny's girls and Danny kept track of Rusty's'.

(They were never good enough.)

It's so many, many years later now, more then he'll ever admit to.

He still asks the same question to any girl who stands a chance. None of them ever get it right.

Danny watches his latest catch with determined hope.

She's a real beauty—full red lips, long dark curls that she tosses over her shoulder. Intelligent too, he realizes appreciatively, as they debate the aspects of Picasso's brush technique.

He's almost afraid to ask her, he's had such a good time and he's not sure he wants it to end just yet…


Ending: The First


He's almost afraid to ask her, he's had such a good time and he's not sure he wants it to end just yet.

So he hides behind the laughter and good food. He cracks jokes and studies her face in the candlelight in case he never sees her again.

But he has a good feeling about this girl. He takes a deep breath and hopes.

"What is love?"

"Love is sunshine."

And Danny falls head over heels.

(He pretends not to know why.)


Ending: The Second


He's almost afraid to ask her, he's had such a good time and he's not sure he wants it to end just yet.

Hours later they're standing together on her doorstep, an old Victorian house painted a dark blue, and he can't put it off any longer.

"What is love?

Lips puckered for a kiss, she says coyly, "Why don't you tell me?"

"Love is Rusty," he answers without thinking.

(Oh. Oh-Oh-Oh. It feels good to say that out loud after so long.)

Tess frowns confused, "Love is rusty?"

But Danny is long gone.

It takes forever to get home. Danny's fingers tap against his seatbelt in time to his heartbeat.

It starts to rain outside as they turn the corner to the hotel street. He 's out of the door before the cab completely stops, throwing money into the front seat. The driver swears after him but Danny keeps on going.

Wet and disheveled, Danny runs through the lobby, ignoring the bewildered and disapproving looks sent his way.

He even forgoes the elevator, taking the steps two at a time.

IlovehimIlovehimIlovehim, his pulse seems to be telling him, a fluttering Morse code playing out under his skin. Fourth floor… fifth… sixth….

And then he's standing, dripping, in front of his door and realizes he doesn't know what to say. Everything.

He wants to press his fluttering heartbeat against soft lips and explain, apologize for being so stupid, so blind, so scared. Danny wants to let go, lock the door and stay inside until there are no boundaries, no crossed lines and no secrets.

And what if... what if Rusty doesn't feel the same way? He desperately tries hold on to that sureness that he had.

Taking a deep breath, he raises his hand to knock on the door.

Which is promptly opened.

Rusty ducks his fist and grins.

"Nice to see you, too."

You have no idea, he thinks and steps inside. Everything seems to be glowing. Maybe he's going insane. Maybe he already is.

"I'll just go get the drinks," Rusty says and walks to the kitchen.

"I've figured it out," Danny tells his retreating back.

How had he not known before? When it's so obvious? He knows every curve, has memorized all the arching lines, they're pressed into him like a tattoo, permanent and beautiful and his, always.

He should've known.

Maybe he's a better conman then he thought.

(Maybe he's just a coward.)

Swallowing back nervousness, Danny grins at Rusty as he emerges from the kitchen with two steaming cups of coffee. It's tradition for whenever they let a girl down. Their friends always joke about buying stock in coco powder.

If everything goes to plan, they won't need to anymore.

"I've figured it out," he says again, still grinning like a maniac. Like a love-struck idiot.

Rusty grins back at him, amusement clear in his voice, "So you said. Care to enlighten me?"

In response Danny pushes an unresisting Rusty down onto the bed with one hand.

(It tingles at the contact. Did it always do that? God, he's been so blind.)

Danny takes a deep breath and begins.

"Love is anonymous red roses. Love is hot chocolate in the summer."

Danny wants to push him back into covers, wants to hold on and never let go, wants to call everyone he knows and tell them that he finally sees. But Rusty's eyes lock him into place and he momentarily forgets how to breathe.

"Love is lying about Zodiac compatibility."

"Love is finding everything you want and not realizing you have it. Love is sunshine and laughter and-"

Danny stutters to a halt as Rusty's hand touches his chest, heat seeping through. They're so, so close, uneven breathes mingling in their air. A soft hand traces his jaw.

With a low growl, he leans into the touch.

"Love is playing the game like you have nothing to lose," Danny murmurs against Rusty's lips.

(Love is this.)


Ending: The Third


He's almost afraid to ask her, he's had such a good time and he's not sure he wants it to end just yet.

He tells himself not to be stupid, not to worry and just ask.

"What is love?"

"Love is the ocean," says Tess softy, slipping her hand in his. It feels nice.

"Isn't that right, Mr. Ocean?"

He has to laugh at that one and thinks that Rusty will get a kick out of this latest answer—Danny Ocean, a crusader of Love. It's catchy.

He chuckles, squeezing her hand lightly.

He likes her sense of humor. He likes her. It's a shame she answered wrong.

It's late and she has to get going, tomorrow is a big day for her at her art gallery, which he determinedly doesn't ask about. They make plans to meet the following Saturday in a discreet little English coffee shop that he knows all too well, as he thinks about how to best break the news.

He'll let her down gently. He'll tell her that his life is too complicated right now for him to be the dedicated man she deserves… and he'll mean it.

It'll hurt but she'll take it and move on and maybe they can stay in touch as friends. He would like that. She's no ordinary girl.

(In the end, the sun still shines the brightest.)


Ending: The Fourth


He's almost afraid to ask her, he's had such a good time and he's not sure he wants it to end just yet.

So he doesn't ask.

It's that simple.

They order food and she laughingly—lovingly—cleans his face of spaghetti sauce.

Late that night, later then he thought it would be, he walks her home, holding her hand the whole way. It feels warm and soft in his.

He kisses her chastely on the front step and promises to call. Her phone number is already imprinted on his brain, already running through a list of possible ring-tones. Something special.

He walks back to the hotel slowly, thinking about her.

Rusty is waiting for him, bouncing impatiently on the hotel bed.

"You're wet," he says in greeting and passes him his hot chocolate.

Danny looks down at himself in surprise, "I am?"

"You are," Rusty confirms with a slight grin.

Danny shrugs absently, "Must be raining."

Raising his eyebrow at the faraway look in Danny's eyes, Rusty asks, "What'd she say?"

Intensely aware of the scrutiny, Danny drops his gaze to his drink. It's a dark caramel brown, like her eyes. He should tell her that next time, he thinks.

"I didn't ask her."

Without looking up, he knows that all traces of the grin are gone.

(This shouldn't feel so much like betrayal.)

He wants to apologize. Tell him that she wasn't really that pretty and drink hot chocolate until his stomach hurts. He wants to forget her number and the smell of her perfume.

Rusty is looking at time, like all those years ago, with resignation and disappointment and maybe just a little bit of heartbreak.

(Storm clouds, he thinks.)

"Well, what do you think she'll say?"

And just like that the moment's gone.

Danny carefully places the mug on the table beside him, like it's a dangerous animal that could wake at the slightest movement. He spends the rest of the night telling him about her. Every little detail.

Together they try to guess what she would've said.

A bird.

A blanket.

A paintbrush.

"A paintbrush?" he asks Rusty perplexed.

"They're prickly," Rusty informs him.

Shaking his head in exasperation and disbelief, they go to bed, separate ones that feel large and empty and for the first time in a long time, necessary.

When they leave the next morning the cold mug is still sitting there.

(And it rains.)


Ending: The Fifth


He's almost afraid to ask her, he's had such a good time and he's not sure he wants it to end just yet.

He'll ask her after dessert, he decides. There's no reason to hurry. No reason not to relax and enjoy himself with the present company.

(Except that Rusty is waiting for him.)

He's halfway through a plate of risotto and an explanation of why electronic locks aren't nearly as safe as timed ones when his phone rings.

"Hurry back," she teases him, eyes twinkling as he makes his excuses.

It's Rusty.

"Trouble. Big. Meet me at the airport."

It's with a definite sense of having been cheated that he kisses her goodbye and hails a cab. He thinks she might've just been different.

At the airport Rusty is waiting for him with an apologetic smile and a cup of hot chocolate.

(The next time he thinks of Tess they're robbing her art gallery.)

Question: Which one of the endings was your favorite?