A/N: Twelfth door of our advent calendar! Is that like the twelfth day of Christmas? Probably not. And here we have the conclusion of this two shot!

Rusty was the only thing that cut through the confusion in Danny's head.

He remembered pain and screaming, and then the world had exploded and there'd been more pain, and for a while there was nothing and he'd been waiting. For Jade. Not for Rusty.

When he'd heard Rusty's voice...when he'd looked up to see Rusty beside him...for a moment it had been like the very first moment they'd met. He'd looked up to see Rusty and nothing else had mattered. Not Jade, not Wolf, not the pain and the fear and the spiders. There was only Rusty and that was enough.

And then he'd been in a car and he'd clung to Rusty, and he hadn't had to explain. The drive had lasted forever as the world had slowly darkened, and then somehow there was a bed with cool sheets, and Rusty was standing over him, bandaging his arm.

He opened his eyes and smiled sluggishly up at Rusty. "'m okay," he mumbled in response to the tight look on Rusty's face. "You got me safe."

Rusty flashed him a quick smile. "Doc's on his way," he said reassuringly, his hands not pausing. "Shouldn't be long."

Danny frowned. The haunted look hadn't faded from Rusty's eyes, and he reached out wonderingly and took Rusty's hand and the knuckles were bruised and split. "Rus'?" he asked uncertainly.

A sigh and Rusty raised Danny's hand to his lips and kissed it lightly. "'s okay," he said softly. "Just rest, huh?"

Didn't seem like it was okay. But a sudden coughing fit took him by surprise, and his chest ached with the simple effort of breathing, and Rusty was calling his name anxiously, but he couldn't answer. His eyelids were heavy and the pain wouldn't be denied, and in spite of himself, he drifted back into the darkness.

Rusty kept his head down and concentrated on washing Danny's blood off his hands.

Sounded crazy but he would swear he could feel his reflections' eyes boring into him. He deliberately didn't look up. Didn't think he could bear to and he couldn't decide whether he was more afraid to see that he looked different or that he didn't.

He stared down at the trickle of red staining the sink and he could see the blood and tears on Markie's face, could smell the acrid urine, could hear the broken pleas.

He closed his eyes. Danny was lying in that bed out there, safe, if not well, because he'd done that. Not like he didn't know it was worth it. Now all he had to do was lock it away, deep inside his head, and never think of it again.

His hand was almost burning where Danny had touched him.

Walking out of the bathroom, he brought a chair over to the bed and sat beside Danny, watching him sleep.

He'd called Stan the moment they'd reached the hotel, knowing perfectly well that Stan'd be too far away to help, but hoping there'd be someone close that Stan knew and trusted. Thankfully this one thing had gone his way, and Stan had given him Doctor Lambert's number. Competent and discreet and he could be here in an hour, and that was all Rusty cared about.

He'd called a couple of people he knew back in Memphis too. Made some enquiries. Found out enough to be certain that Jade wasn't going to be coming after them any time soon. And that was a relief. He looked at the evidence of what Danny had endured and viciously drove his fingernails into his own hand, until the tears stopped threatening to fall.

He should have stopped this, he thought, as he tried to ease Danny through a violent coughing fit. Surely he could have made Markie talk sooner. Maybe he was too squeamish.

Danny was pale and in pain, and his breathing was harsh and raspy and when Rusty had been getting him cleaned up he only found more injuries. When he'd seen the way Danny had been shaved, for a moment he was sure he was going to throw up. He had to force himself to look carefully. Checking for any sign that...just generally checking.

He should have been able to stop this.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, knowing that Danny couldn't hear him.

The brisk knock at the door startled Danny half out of sleep and into panic, struggling to get out of bed, thrashing wildly, his eyes glazed and frightened.

"No!...she's found us...don' let her...please, don't let her..."

"Shhhh," Rusty soothed, his hand pressing lightly down on Danny's chest, trying not to hurt but frightened that Danny might hurt himself. "'s okay, Danny. She's not here. You're safe."

Danny almost managed to focus on him. "Rus'?" His voice was hoarse and cracked. "No, Rus', you need to get out of here. She can't...I can't protect you."

The guilt was a physical ache. Ignoring the second knock at the door, he lay down next to Danny and gathered him into his arms, whispering soft words of love and reassurance, and eventually Danny quieted and he could steal away to let Lambert in.

"You said it was urgent," Lambert said, sounding slightly irritated at being made to wait.

With as much patience as he could muster, Rusty nodded. "Yeah. Sorry. Come in."

He did so and as his eyes fell on Danny he sighed with a sort of weary resignation. "Well. Let's get started then."

There was someone here he didn't know. There was someone touching him and he didn't know who it was and he cried out as cold hands touched him, trying to fight, trying to escape, trying - "Rus'!" he screamed, and in a second Rusty was there, and he couldn't hear what Rusty was saying, but that didn't matter because Rusty was there, holding him, and that was a promise that he was safe.

He didn't feel safe. He was still shaking.

Shouldn't he feel safe?

"Your...friend...should be fine," Lambert said delicately, as he finished dressing Danny's arm. "He's got the beginnings of a chest infection of some kind, but I've got some antibiotics to help with that, and I'll leave you some topical anti-histamine for the bites, and some analgesia."

He nodded, not letting go of Danny, and watching as Lambert left the medication on the table and stood looking at him expectantly. "I've got some cash," he said after a second, realising what Lambert was waiting for. "Give me a moment."

He watched as Lambert counted it out and nodded approvingly. "I'll be back in a couple of days to check on him," Lambert said, gathering up his bag and coat. "Otherwise, if there's any changes or the fever gets worse, just call me."

"Thanks," Rusty said sincerely, showing the doctor out, before returning to Danny.

Danny had rolled onto his side, curled up tightly, his knees drawn up to his chest. Danny looked like he was trying to hide and Rusty couldn't bear it. He lay down next to Danny. "Hey," he said softly. "'s just us now. Doc's gone. Just you and me."

As he watched, Danny shivered violently, moaning slightly, and Rusty couldn't tell if it was fear or pain. Either way, he reached out and put his arms around Danny, uncurling him and cradling him against himself. God, what had been done to Danny...the grief and anger were warring inside him and part of him longed to go after Jade, to hunt her down, to hurt her.

Markie hadn't deserved it. Jade deserved so much more.

His fingers gripped Danny's arms tightly. Right now, he didn't want to let go. He wished he could take all Danny's pain away. Wished he could make everything better.

It was late and it was dark but Rusty was lying beside him so he felt safe. With a soft grunt of pain, he rolled over, wanting to be as close as possible. A couple of moments of warmth and reassurance, and he felt an itch on his stomach, and with a grimace of discomfort, he reached down to scratch it. His fingers encountered a lump under his skin, and he could feel movement beneath it, pulsating and swirling.

His eyes snapped open and he watched in horror as the lump crawled up his body, on his chest, and he was paralysed, couldn't breathe, couldn't scream, and as he watched the lump bulged, throbbing and pulsing wildly.

Then it burst and thousands of spiders erupted out of him, and he was submerged beneath the creeping, the scuttling. They were everywhere. They were all over him, inside of him, and he couldn't scream, he couldn't scream, but Rusty was right there, wasn't he? Rusty should have noticed, why wasn't Rusty helping him, getting them off him.

With unbelievable effort, he managed glance sideways just in time to see Jade's smile as she brought the knife down into Rusty's stomach and dragged it upwards, splitting him open and blood spilled over the bed, over him, and the spider legs were slick with it.

Now he could scream.

The spiders swarmed over his face and everything went dark.

He heard Rusty's voice calling to him through the darkness. He knew he was dreaming and he tried to answer, to find his way back, but he found himself dragged down into another nightmare.

Danny was slow to heal and Rusty wasn't surprised but he was worried.

The next few days he spent soothing Danny through fever dreams, feeding him ice chips, changing the sheets, applying the anti histamine cream to the bites, changing dressings, getting Danny to swallow painkillers...he didn't have time to eat or sleep or think.

Most of all he was there for Danny. Holding and loving and comforting.

He called the doctor twice more, as the fever got worse and Danny was wracked with harsh, unstoppable coughs. Lambert came quickly enough and he was thorough and reassuring and Rusty still wished that Stan was here.

The nightmares were constant and beyond horrible to listen to. Danny begged him for help. Screamed, and Rusty held him tight and listened to his pleas and shushed him and promised that he was safe.

When he closed his eyes, even for a second Danny's frantic cries faded into Markie's desperate terror.

He'd left Danny to get hurt.

He'd beaten Markie with his bare hands.

Eventually, despite his best efforts, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror.

His eyes were cruel.

Danny drifted along in a haze of pain and confusion.

He was dimly aware of Rusty, always beside him, aware of the constant attention. Again and again, he snapped almost out of nightmare to find a hand on his chest, arms or legs, rubbing bitter-smelling cream into him. He'd struggle a little, until he realised it was Rusty, then he'd lie still and the cream would soothe away the itch and the pain.

Every noise had him convinced that Jade was going to appear. Going to walk out of the shadows and start hurting him all over again.

He needed Rusty. Maybe more than he ever had before, and when Rusty left the room, even for a second, he was terrified beyond all reason. He opened his eyes on a blurry world, and he was alone and he hated it.

"Rus'!" he mumbled hoarsely. Jade must have found them. She'd found them and she'd got Rusty and he had to go find Rusty before Jade hurt him.

The floor came up and hit him hard and he tried to crawl away. He needed to find Rusty..."Rus'..." he said again, and everything was spinning.

Just before he got lost in the darkness again, he heard Rusty's voice, felt Rusty's arms around him.

Fourth day the fever broke.

He was rubbing cream onto one of the bites on Danny's face that he'd tore open earlier in his last moment of desperation, trying to get the spiders off him, and he suddenly felt Danny looking at him.

He glanced up sharply and Danny's smile was weak but his eyes were clear. "Hey."

He smiled, feeling the ache of relief. "Hey yourself. How are you feeling?"

Danny screwed his face up. "'m fine," he said.

"Liar," Rusty said softly. He could read the questions in Danny's eyes. "'s been four days. You've been out of it a while. Doctor's been by and you're going to be fine."

A pause and Danny nodded and Rusty had never known him this subdued before.

"Jade and the guy are in jail," he added, lying down beside Danny, his hand pressed against his cheek. "Got picked up and they found a bunch of outstanding warrants. They're not gonna get out anytime soon. We're safe. Both of us."

Danny nodded again, and he still didn't say anything, and Rusty curled around him, as close as possible, doing his best to let Danny feel protected. (Loved.)

"You been looking after me?" Danny asked, after a long moment's silence.

Rusty shot him a look that was all about the Of course and the Always but what he actually said was "I know you'd rather have someone in a shorter skirt."

"I like you," Danny replied muzzily.

He grinned. "But in a shorter skirt, right?"

Danny nodded, his head burrowing into Rusty's chest. "Your knees drive me wild," he said.

His arms were tight around Danny and suddenly he felt so much less lonely.

Gradually he was starting to feel like a human being again. Took time though. Even with Rusty helping him every step of the way, it was a while until he felt up to getting out of bed, even to go as far as the bathroom. Though when he lay back in the bath, immersed in hot water and bubbles, the effort felt more than worth it. Even if it did make all his various injuries sting.

He still had long coughing fits that left him dizzy and struggling to breathe. The remains of some kind of chest infection, Rusty told him. Danny figured the black gunk hadn't exactly done his lungs any favours. The antibiotics would apparently clear that up. Really, Danny just took the pills when Rusty wanted him to.

Most of the time he spent sleeping or staring at the TV. Or reliving every punch, every touch, every second of painfearalone, and trying not to let Rusty see the nightmares. That never worked. Rusty saw every time, and he'd lie next to him, grasping his hand in silent support until the fear was soothed away.

He dreamed that Jade came back for them. Sometimes she wouldn't even look at him, she'd just gesture imperiously and Wolf would grab Rusty and haul him away, fighting and struggling while Danny watched.

Other times Rusty would be nowhere in sight and Jade would shove him backwards onto the bed, straddling him, cutting his clothes away, leaning in so close that he could smell her perfume, smell her excitement. She'd look into his eyes for a long moment, smiling and not saying a word, and no matter how he tried he could never prevent the soft please that bubbled out of him. When she heard that, she would laugh. And start cutting. And Danny would scream.

He saw that smile all the time. Didn't matter if he was asleep or awake.

"You said that Jade was arrested," he asked Rusty as casually as he could.

Rusty looked up from his coffee. "Yeah," he said. "There were cops there when I got you. I'd called 'em to make Jade leave the shipping container. Anyway, she pulled a gun when she was chasing us and the cops didn't appreciate that too much."

He nodded, picturing the scene.

"Way Jonas tells it, they've got her on a murder charge, a couple of aggravated assaults and a whole bunch of smaller shit. None of it has anything to do with us." He looked at Danny keenly. "She's not coming after us."

"I know," Danny said. He did. It just didn't stop him jumping out of his skin every time there was a knock at the door. "She was looking for you," he said quietly. "That's what she kept asking."

There was a pause and Rusty's face was carefully neutral. "Danny - "

" - I didn't tell her anything," he said quickly. But he remembered the pain without end and fear beyond reason, and he wondered...

"I know," Rusty said, and there wasn't any doubt in his voice. Wasn't any suggestion in Rusty's eyes that Danny could ever have done different. "I know that, Danny. 's just..." He shrugged helplessly. "She was looking for me."

And now Danny understood, and he couldn't imagine how he'd missed the guilt before. "Hey," he said gently. "She was looking for you cos she knew there were two of us, that's all. 's not like she would've been any more gentle if I'd been alone."

Rusty didn't look convinced.

"And you saved me," Danny reminded him. "You came after me." A vague memory from the fever haze stirred. He frowned. "How did you find me?"

There was a very brief smile. It didn't reach Rusty's eyes. "Found someone who knew. Asked them."

"And they told you?" he asked.

Rusty just shrugged.

Danny reached out and took Rusty's hand in his, turning it over. If he looked carefully, he could just see the shadow of old bruises.

"He told me," Rusty said quietly.

Danny squeezed his hand gently.

Normally they'd be thinking of leaving by about now. No one was looking for them, Danny was over the worst of it, his bruises starting to fade, spreading green and yellow across him. Right now, though, neither of them were talking about going anywhere. The hotel was nice, the staff were incurious and more; they had nowhere else to be. No momentum. No grand adventure calling them on. No burning desire to get back in the game. Fall off a horse often enough, you had to start thinking that maybe the rodeo wasn't for you.

That was the thing; there was a 'normally'. Somewhere along the way they'd developed a routine for when one of them had been beaten half to hell. Oh, maybe it hadn't happened more than a handful of times, maybe it had never been as bad as this...but there was a normal. On some level he was used to seeing Danny hurt. Used to being afraid that Danny would die. Suddenly, he somehow wasn't so sure this was how he wanted to live his life.

Danny spent most of his time sleeping, whether in bed or on the sofa with the TV playing. After the first sign of uneasiness, Rusty made sure the light was on all the time. And he spent most of his time watching Danny sleep. Looking at the fresh lines of pain and wishing... He still couldn't sleep himself. Every time he closed his eyes he saw Markie's bloodied face. Saw the look of terror and confusion in his eyes. Every time the need to throw up got a little stronger. And if it wasn't that, he'd imagine Jade hurting Danny. The details might be nebulous, but he could see Danny's face. Hear Danny screaming, see all the pain he couldn't help with. Yeah. Sleep just wasn't gonna happen.

So he lived off coffee and necessity. Danny needed him, after all, and he needed to know that Danny was okay. Still felt sort of like Danny might just disappear if he looked away, even for a second. And more than that because he knew Danny was still hurting, knew Danny was still plagued by nightmares, and he was here to listen whenever Danny wanted to talk.

"She wouldn't stop touching me," Danny said quietly, and up until a second ago he'd been lying still in bed, pretending to sleep.

Rusty looked over at him quickly, fully able to hear the misery and revulsion in Danny's voice, and immediately he was thinking about the way Danny had been shaved. He reached out and laid a hand on Danny's shoulder, offering silent reassurance.

"Her hands were all over me," Danny went on his voice shaking. "And she said..." He broke off, his shoulders shaking.

Quickly, Rusty laid down beside him, pulling him in close, and Danny still wouldn't look at him. Awful possibilities were crowding in his head, and he wanted to go find where Jade was being held and find some way to make her suffer. "Did they - "

" - no," Danny interrupted. "Not really. She said she was going to..." There was a choked sob. "And her hand on my...oh, Rus', it made me feel like..."

He held Danny tightly, his hand pressed against Danny's face, trying to drive away all the horrors in Danny by force of will alone.

"And she had this knife," Danny went on a low voice. "Used it to, uh, shave me. Said she was going to make a few cosmetic changes."

His grip tightened as horror suffused him.

"I can still feel her hands on me," Danny added, his voice choked. "Like I can feel the spiders."

He pulled Danny over quickly, pressing close to him, and he held Danny long after the tears had stopped.

Rusty was always there for him and right now Danny needed that reassurance more than he ever had. Rusty was there, waking him up from the nightmares, holding him, and promising it would be okay. Rusty was sitting beside him when he nodded off on the sofa and woke up an instant later, convinced that Jade was standing over him. Rusty was there, watching over him when he woke in the middle of the night, terrified he was alone.

Rusty was always there, looking after him, coaxing him to eat, taking care of him in every way imaginable.

And that did kind of beg the question. When was Rusty sleeping?

Took a few days before Danny came to understand that Rusty wasn't. He wasn't sleeping and he was barely eating and Danny could see the deep lines of exhaustion on his face.

He had to guess, this had been going on since Danny got hurt and guilt raced through him. He should have noticed sooner. Shouldn't have let his own pain and fear blind him to what was going on with Rusty.

Thing was, he didn't know exactly what that was. He knew Rusty felt guilty for not saving him sooner, but they'd both felt that guilt before and it had never been like this. Although neither of them had ever been hurt this bad either. Maybe it was that.

"You want to get some sleep?" he suggested as it got dark.

"Nah," Rusty said, not looking round from the TV. "'m not tired. You go ahead though. You still need to rest."

Danny nodded. "You are tired," he pointed out.

Rusty tensed. "Can't sleep," he said briefly.

With a sigh, he placed a hand on Rusty's arm. "Can't you at least try?" he suggested hopefully.

"No," Rusty said, shaking his head. "Honestly, Danny, I'm fine."

"I don't think you are," Danny disagreed. He hesitated. "Is this...is it because I got hurt? Because you found me. You think anyone else could have..." He stopped dead. Rusty had flinched. He took a deep breath. This was about Rusty finding him. About how Rusty had found him. Not like he had forgotten that revelation. Not like he didn't know how that would affect Rusty. But he wouldn't have expected this. "When you were looking for me..." he said softly. "Who were you...asking?" He winced at the dark look of amusement Rusty shot him for the euphemism. But Rusty said nothing. "One of Jade's accomplices?" he suggested, and that had been his assumption. Used to be that Jade employed several guys like Wolf.

"Yes," Rusty said immediately. But he was lying.

Danny frowned. "Who, then?"

Rusty shook his head.

"Don't you think you need to talk about it?" Danny tried.

Even as he watched, he could see Rusty shutting down, could see the steel doors descending behind Rusty's eyes, closing him out. "I'm fine, Danny. 's done and I don't regret it."

Alarmed, he laid a hand on Rusty's arm. "You know - "

" - yeah," Rusty said, flashing him a smile. "I told you. I'm fine, or at least I will be. Just that I don't want to talk about it 's all.

"Yeah," Danny said quietly, and he supposed he could understand not wanting to talk right now. "Yeah." Truth was, it didn't feel like either of them was coping especially well right now. Maybe Rusty had the right idea. Just bury all these feelings in the back of his mind and never think of them again. After all, he didn't need to know exactly who and how to know exactly what Rusty had done for him, any more than Rusty needed to know exactly what Jade had done and how it made him feel. There had been pain and sacrifice, they both knew that, and there were things Rusty didn't want to talk about, just as there were things Danny didn't want to talk about and maybe they could just skip over the pain and go straight to the comfort. Because God knows he needed it.

With a sigh, he shuffled closer to Rusty and silently pressed in closer to him.

Rusty looked at him and took his hand without saying a word.

The room had dark corners.

Was beginning to feel like he was seeing the world through cotton wool or something. Felt like everything was laid bare, maybe. Felt wrong anyway. He was well aware that he needed to sleep. This had gone on well past the point that even he thought he was okay. But he couldn't sleep. If he closed his eyes even for a second...

Punches and kicks rained down and blood flowed after them. The pain was immense and inescapable, Rusty was sure of that, and he could read every second of it in Danny's eyes. With each new blow, Danny was gasping, whimpering with pain. And he still wasn't talking.

"Where is he?" Rusty asked, time and time again, as his fist crashed into Danny's face, body. He hurt and hurt and destroyed. "Just tell me where he is."

"Stop. Please, Rus', stop," Danny begged, the look in his eyes wild and bewildered and Rusty wasn't going to stop.

With a gasp, he jerked awake on the sofa and Danny was looking at him, half stood up, like he'd been rushing over to wake him. "You okay?"

"'m fine," he snapped irritably, waving Danny to sit down again. A second later, he regretted it. Wasn't Danny's fault that he was worried, after all. Not like he wasn't worried about the fact that Danny still had nightmares every time he closed his eyes. He shot Danny an apologetic smile and Danny nodded slowly, his eyes not leaving Rusty's face.

This wasn't working. They were barely treading water here. They'd hardly said a word to each other all day, and okay, so they didn't exactly need to, but that wasn't the point. This hadn't been the comfortable silence of friendship. This had been the exhausted silence of having nothing to say. And it was hurting him, and it was hurting Danny, and all this was his fault.

He had to talk to Danny. Had to tell Danny everything he'd done, everything he was thinking, and he had to persuade Danny to share, and then, somehow, they had to remember how to move forwards.

He sighed. "Danny," he began, before he blinked and realised that Danny was on his feet, his hand posed over the bathroom door.

"I was just going for a shower," Danny said, shooting him an enquiring look.

"Never mind," he said with a smile. "It'll keep a few moments. Take your shower."

Danny nodded and disappeared into the bathroom. Rusty lay back on the chair and stared up at the ceiling, trying to figure out exactly what he wanted to say. Exactly what he wanted Danny to say. Exactly how he went about admitting that he was no better than -

A piercing scream interrupted his thoughts. He was on his feet instantly. Bathroom. Danny. He forced the door open with his shoulder and he didn't know exactly what he was expecting to see, but it wasn't Danny huddled against the shower door, staring beneath the sink at a spider no bigger than his thumbnail.

Danny didn't even seem to realise Rusty was there.

"Don't...get them off...please don't...please..."

He glanced between the spider and Danny quickly, seeing the absolute terror in Danny's eyes, and the decision was immediate. He stepped towards the sink and brought his foot down with a vicious twist before approaching Danny slowly, clasping his hand tightly. "Danny, it's dead. You're fine. You're with me."

A couple of long seconds of anxiety while Danny stared right through him, and he could feel Danny trembling, but eventually Danny blinked and seemed to focus on him. "Rus'?"

"Yeah," Rusty said quietly. "You're fine. Come on. Let's get out of here, huh?"

Danny resisted the gentle encouragement. "There might be more," he said, and the fear and hesitation were painful.

Rusty looked at him for a second, reading the revulsion and the exhaustion, and he pressed his lips against Danny's briefly. "I'll check," he promised. "You stay right here."

He disposed of the dead spider quickly, and then searched the rest of the hotel room thoroughly, moving every piece of furniture, looking into every dark corner, making absolutely certain, and all the time he kept up a steady monologue, letting Danny know where he was, that he wasn't alone.

It was a good ten minutes before he walked back through to Danny. The fear had faded somewhat, and Danny looked embarrassed, but he hadn't moved.

"You didn't have to kill it," Danny said uncertainly.

Rusty shrugged. He hadn't wanted to, but if it made Danny feel safer...well, he was more than willing. "Come on," he said, shaking out a towel easily and wrapping it around Danny. "Let's get you taken care of."

He led Danny through to the bed, and Danny sat down heavily and looked up at him. "I thought...what's wrong with me?"

"Danny..." He shook his head and knelt in front of Danny, taking his hand lightly. "It's going to be fine. You'll be fine. You - "

" - just freaked out cos I caught a glimpse of one little spider," Danny said, his voice heavy with self disgust. "'m a coward, Rus'."

For a moment, Rusty just stared, certain he must have misheard. "What?"he demanded at last. "No!"

"Yes," Danny insisted. "I told you. Jade wouldn't stop touching me. And she said she was going to cut...she had the knife. She meant it. And I was scared, Rus'. I was so fucking scared. But she said I wasn't the right sort of scared, and they dropped me in this box and poured..." His eyes were distant. Rusty was hardly able to breathe. He squeezed Danny's hand urgently and Danny looked down at him and smiled remotely. "I screamed then too. Thought I was never gonna stop screaming. And I was begging her to stop. She said I wasn't the right sort of scared and that was cos it was for you. But I keep wondering..." Danny swallowed hard and his voice was a scratchy whisper. "If it had been something...or even someone...else. Maybe I would have...sometimes I think I might have - "

" - you wouldn't," Rusty said immediately.

Danny made a disbelieving noise. "How can you - "

Standing up, Rusty placed his hands on either side of Danny's legs, leaning in impossibly close. " - Look at me," he breathed, and Danny maybe didn't have a choice. "There is nothing that Jade could have done to you that would have made you tell her anything. You're the bravest man I'll ever know and nothing is ever gonna change that. Doesn't matter if you screamed then. Doesn't matter if you screamed now. Fuck, it doesn't matter if you scream every time you see a spider from now on. You lived through everything she did and came out the other side. You think I'm not proud to..." For a moment he couldn't speak. "You think I'm not proud?" He swallowed hard, his mouth dry and he carefully reached up and squeezed Danny's hands tightly. "You're not a coward, Danny. Not ever." He let Danny see every inch of his feelings, all the pride and love and terror and joy, everything he felt for Danny, and he didn't look away even after the doubt and self-loathing had faded from Danny's eyes.

"Rus', I - "Danny began.

Rusty leaned forwards and planted a kiss on Danny's forehead. "Hush," he commanded.

"Right." Danny smiled. "You know I don't take orders from you." Obviously exhausted, he lay back on the bed.

"You don't thank me either," Rusty said with a shrug, lying down beside him and everything felt a little lighter.

For a long moment Danny looked at Rusty, lying so close to him. Rusty's eyes were closed and if Danny didn't know better he might have thought Rusty was asleep. But he did know better. And they weren't done yet. Because he might feel better but -

" - Markie Fox," Rusty told him softly. "'s who I beat up."

Oh. Danny remembered Markie. He'd been a cowardly little weasel, but he hadn't been...he wasn't his sister. Not by a long shot.

"I needed to know where you were," Rusty went on, opening his eyes and staring at the ceiling. "So I punched him. Beat him. He was crying. Begging me to stop. I kept going till I'd made him betray his sister. Even made him piss himself, Danny. And none of it mattered to me."

The anguish in Rusty's voice was very real and Danny understood absolutely. If their positions had been reversed, he'd have done the exact same thing after all. And he wouldn't have regretted it for a second, no more than Rusty did now. But that didn't mean it didn't hurt. That...that wasn't who they were. Violence against the weak and the undeserving...they were never going to take pleasure in it. Couldn't just move on and forget it.

"Oh, Rus'," he whispered, his heart aching.

Rusty still wouldn't look at him. "Only difference between me and Jade is that I was successful," he said, his voice haunted and almost inaudible.

A whisper of fury ran through Danny, and without conscious thought, he rolled on top of Rusty, his hands lightly gripping Rusty's wrists. "Care to repeat that?" he asked dangerously.

Rusty looked up at him. "I didn't mean...but you think I would've stopped if Markie didn't tell me what I needed to know? You think I wouldn't have got..." An almost imperceptible shudder. "Creative?"

"Of course you would have," Danny said quietly. "Just like I would have. But it's never gonna be our first choice. Unless you're seriously trying to tell me that you went in there and just started - "

" - no," Rusty said fiercely. "But I went in there knowing full well that's where it would end up."

"It still wasn't - " Danny tried.

Rusty snorted. " - oh, right, you mean it's alright to torture someone as long as you're really, really sorry after - "

He was cut off abruptly as Danny leaned down and kissed him, offering strength and certainty and love and forgiveness. When they finally broke apart, Rusty stared up at him.

Danny smiled slightly. "You're still the same person, Rus'. It's not okay. It's never okay. But it isn't you. You are nothing like Jade."

"He begged me to stop, Danny," Rusty said, looking straight at him, endless misery in his eyes.

Danny didn't try to minimise it. "I know," he said softly and he held Rusty tight and he could feel Rusty shaking, could feel the emotion and the reaction, and he held Rusty close until it all fell away.

Later, and Rusty smiled up at him. "You know you're naked and on top of me, right?"

Danny grinned and folded his arms comfortably across Rusty's chest. "Yep. You objecting?"

"Of course not," Rusty answered immediately. "Just that you're a little heavy is all."

"Heavy?" Danny repeated with mock outrage.

"And with bony elbows," Rusty nodded pensively.

With a sulky sigh, Danny rolled off him and lay pressed against Rusty's side instead.

For a while there was silence. The comfortable kind of silence.

"D'you..." Rusty began, and stopped dead.

Almost asleep, Danny propped himself up on one elbow and looked at him. "What?"

Rusty sighed. "'s - "

" - something," Danny said firmly.

Rusty smiled slightly and looked intently at him. "Do you ever wonder if it's worth it?"

Danny tensed immediately. "Sometimes," he answered quietly. Sometimes like this week. More often when Rusty was the one battered and bleeding, and he was the one left to watch and think.

"She hurt you," Rusty said quietly. "And we have a routine for that."

"Yeah," Danny agreed.

Rusty looked at him. "I don't know that I want to have a normal way of acting when you get hurt. I don't know that I want to be sitting here knowing - "

" - there's a next time," Danny finished. There would almost certainly be a next time. There would always be a next time, right up to the point where there wasn't.

"'s not about - " Rusty said anxiously.

" - I know," Danny cut in. This wasn't about them, not really. He wasn't what Rusty was thinking of giving up.

All the bravado," Rusty went on. "We act like nothing can touch us."

Danny grinned. "You think that maybe we just aren't that bright."

"'s something to think about," Rusty said with a sigh.

He rolled onto his stomach and regarded Rusty seriously. "Look. We do what we do because it's fun, it's easy and it's what we do. What we've always done. But if you don't want to do what we do anymore, then I don't want to either."

Rusty was looking at him searchingly, clearly trying to see just how serious Danny was. And the answer was completely. "What would we do instead?" Rusty wondered.

A shrug. "Start a band?" he suggested.

Rusty grinned. "You can't sing and neither of us can play any instruments."

Danny shrugged again. "A punk band then. Point is, I don't care, Rus'. If this isn't what you want anymore, we'll find something else. Something...safer." The word tasted strange on his tongue.

"Something fun," Rusty added quickly, grabbing his hand. "I'm never gonna ask you to become an insurance salesman or whatever."

"Good," Danny said, smiling slightly. "Cos everyone wants to hurt insurance salesmen." He hesitated. "Are you asking?" He tried to make his voice as neutral as possible. He'd meant what he said. If Rusty wanted to get out the game, whether forever or just for a while, he was done too. Not like he could do otherwise. Because with this reasoning, Rusty wouldn't quit if Danny was still working. And, dentist appointments aside, Danny was never gonna force Rusty to do anything he didn't want to. But Danny wasn't altogether sure that he was ready to get out the game just yet. He waited breathlessly.

For a long moment Rusty struggled. "No," he said at last, but he didn't sound completely certain.

Danny bit his lip. "You sure?" he pressed, because just like he'd never want to make Rusty do anything he didn't want to, Rusty would never want to make Danny stop doing something he did want to.

Rusty smiled at him. "'s not about you," he said affectionately. "I don't want to be here again, but I think about hearing about someone like...well, someone like Jade...and doing nothing, or I think about never coming up with something like the Freeze Frame again, never seeing another plan through to the end..." He grinned. "Guess I'm really not looking to settle up just yet." He squeezed Danny's hand again. "I'm not asking, Danny."

Danny gazed deeply into Rusty's eyes, searching for truth, and Rusty wasn't hiding it. He smiled. "Good," he said simply. He lay down again, his head against Rusty's shoulder and sleep beckoned for both of them.

"Tomorrow, let's get out of here," Rusty suggested quietly.

He nodded drowsily. "Yeah. 's time. And I think - "

" - vacation," Rusty agreed. "Somewhere hot."

"Island paradise," Danny suggested, his eyes already closing. "Sand, surf - "

" - and drinks that come in coconuts," Rusty contributed.

"'xactly," Danny smiled. He gave it a few seconds. "Just pack your shorts this time."

He could feel Rusty smiling at him. "I'll get some speedos," he promised. "Just for you."

Danny laughed. Felt like everything was getting back to the way it should be.

And that's the end! Thanks for reading, please review.