A/N: This story is now a year old. Huh.
Danny stared down at his cellphone in disbelief. Rusty had hung up on him. Rusty had actually hung up on him. That was just...that had never happened before.
For a moment he hesitated, caught between the conflicting impulses. Rusty had said something had happened with Tess and Terry, something bad, and he had to go find her, had to help her. But at the same time, he'd heard the strain in Rusty's voice and something was wrong, and he had to go find out what.
Tess and Rusty, both in trouble, and he could only try and help one, and neither of them would talk to him. This might just be his own personal hell.
Alright. Rusty had told him to go to Tess. He had to trust that Rusty knew what he was doing. Of course, Rusty knowing what he was doing and Rusty doing something sensible didn't always exist within the same universe...
He sighed. He was about a half block away from the Bellagio. Time to sprint.
Once inside, he took the elevator up to the thirtieth floor and headed straight to the stairwell which Rusty had indicated. Not like he doubted Rusty was right. Rusty knew his way around the Bellagio blindfolded. And Rusty knew Tess.
Rusty knew Tess. Somehow, Rusty knew Tess better than Danny did. What the hell had happened while he'd been inside? The two of them had always got along, but they'd never been that sort of close. Only now Rusty felt confident predicting where Tess would go when she was upset, and when Tess was in trouble, she ran straight to Rusty. She ran to Rusty. Not to him. And that was fine, of course that was fine - obviously he'd rather she go to someone. And hell, everyone called Rusty when they were in trouble, it was just one of those immutable laws of the universe. So if Tess and Rusty had...got to know each other better...then it only made sense that...
He closed his eyes and paused for a second on the landing, his hands flat against the wall, and he felt like hitting something.
The truth was, it hurt. It hurt like hell. God, there was even a tiny part of him that was rejoicing that whatever had happened this morning, Rusty had obviously screwed it up enough to make Tess leave. And that made him feel sick to the stomach with himself. That wasn'thim.
Only it was Tess and it was Rusty, and it hurt.
And they still needed him.
He shoved the pain and jealousy aside and took the rest of the stairs at a run.
He slammed through the door and stared wildly round the roof, looking for Tess. After a second he spied her standing at the opposite corner, practically standing on the ledge, looking out over the strip and towards the desert.
He froze, suddenly remembering what she'd told him about her Mom, and it felt like his heart stopped beating.
Slowly - quietly - he walked closer, not wanting to startle her. She didn't look round. Didn't seem like she'd heard him. "Tess," he said softly, once he was almost within reach.
It was a long moment before she turned, and he could see at once that she'd been crying. For a second she looked surprised, like he wasn't who she'd been expecting, and in spite of everything he felt a pang of jealousy. But then she sighed. "Danny. I should have known."
"What are you doing?" he asked, as calmly as he could, his mouth dry, and he longed to pull her back away from the edge.
She blinked, as though puzzled, and then, with dawning understanding, she glanced over the edge of the roof and turned back to him. "Do you really think I'm planning on jumping?" she asked incredulously.
He just didn't know. "I'm worried about you," he said, looking straight at her, willing her to see his sincerity, to see how much he cared.
She looked away from him quickly. "I wouldn't do that," she said quietly, and she took a couple of steps further back onto the roof. "I just came here to think."
Rusty had said. But Danny was hardly listening now, because when she'd put her head down he'd caught sight of the cut on her head. "What happened?" he asked, horrified.
"What? Oh!" She put her hand up to her forehead self consciously, like she was trying to hide it. "It's nothing. I fell and hit my head, that's all."
He wasn't absolutely certain he believed that was all. He took a deep breath. "Is there anything I can do?" he offered softly. "I know you're angry with me, and you have every right to be - "
" - I'm too tired to be angry," she interrupted. "With you, with Rusty, with J...with Terry. Maybe tomorrow I'll go back to being angry, but now I'm just..." She closed her eyes. "Disappointed."
"I'm sorry," he said inadequately.
"You're here for a job, aren't you?" she said, looking straight at him. "I saw the men in Rusty's room. You're here to steal from Terry."
"I'm here for you," he said truthfully. "I had to see you again."
She shook her head. "If that was all you wanted, you could have just come and found me, Danny. You said Rusty didn't tell you about...everything."
"No," Danny said with difficulty. "He didn't."
"Will you tell me something?" she asked intently. "Truthfully, I mean."
There was a desperation in her eyes and he nodded. "Anything."
"Why Terry?" She swallowed hard. "And don't say it's for me, because Rusty didn't even know I was here until two days ago. And I know that Rusty doesn't go after marks who don't deserve it, so...why Terry?"
'Rusty doesn't go after marks who don't deserve it.' There was absolute unshakeable faith in her voice, and Danny battled the desire to give her a few names who probably hadn't deserved it, but could most certainly afford it. Instead, he sighed. "Terry deserves it," he said with perfect truth. "His business practices are less than reputable...people who cross him get a short sharp lesson, and then he takes out their family and friends, just because he can. He'll muscle out his competition anyway he can - spreading rumours, sending ringers in to cause trouble, buying out suppliers...flat out going back on deals. One guy I heard about had a restaurant that was struggling. Terry invested in it. Turned it around, promised the guy a partnership, then when the restaurant started doing well he pulled the rug out from under him. Left him with worthless shares in some holding company and a job waiting tables in his own restaurant. He's not a good guy, Tess."
Her eyes weren't giving anything away. "But that's just business," she stated. "That's how things are in this town."
Not how things had to be. He remembered Reuben doing business. There was no comparison.
"What else," Tess pressed. "What aren't you telling me?"
The things he never wanted to tell her. The things he never wanted her to know about. "People who really cross Benedict...they don't get away with just financial losses," he said slowly. "There's a room in the basement specially for dealing with cheats and troublemakers. One of his dealers got caught with his hand in the till a month or so back. He's still in the hospital. And there are rumours..." He stopped.
"Rumours?" she asked, her eyes insistent.
He didn't want her to know about this. Whatever else Tess did care about Terry, and as much as he wanted her to see what Terry really was, he didn't want her hurt. But hadn't he lied to her enough? She'd asked him for the truth. "Rumours," he emphasised. "About a few people who stood in Benedict's way on his way to the top, and some people who stole from him going...missing."
"He killed them," she said flatly, and the awful thing was, she didn't even sound shocked.
"Probably not personally," he offered. Probably, maybe. "And nothing was ever proved. The police weren't involved. They might just have got scared off." But he could tell, neither of them believed it.
"Some bodies are never found," she whispered, her eyes far away, and he didn't understand. "Thank you," she said. "For telling me the truth."
"I should never have lied to you," he said abruptly. He'd had four years to think about it, and he knew where he'd gone wrong. "I was just afraid you'd...I was just afraid."
"Don't," Tess said, with a small shake of her head. "Not now. Just don't."
Right. And yet, he couldn't just leave it. He took a deep breath. "I want you to know that I am sorry. For lying, for going behind your back...for all of it. I'm so sorry, Tess. I know I hurt you, but I want to help you now. You're in trouble. Let me help, and I promise I won't assume it means anything between us."
He waited, breathless, but she was silent and she wouldn't look at him.
"I hated you so much after you were gone," she said in a small voice. "You made me feel things I'd never felt for anyone before, and then it was all just a lie, and I felt so stupid."
"It wasn't a lie," he interrupted fiercely. "I never lied about the way I feel about you. Not once. I love you more than life itself, and that's never gonna change. No matter what." Even if she had...even if she and Rusty were...He still loved Tess.
Still she wouldn't look at him. "I had to leave New York to get away from what happened. I had to make a new life for myself. Start over, with nothing. And I worried about you every day, and I hated myself for worrying about you, and I hated you."
"I'm sorry," he said helplessly, fighting the urge to step forwards and take her in his arms. He didn't have the right. "I'm so sorry."
He could hear the tears in her voice now. "I tried so hard to forget about you. I found another job, I found an apartment, but I couldn't figure out how to live without you. Not really live. I was so lonely...And then I met John, and he told me you didn't care, and the first time he hit me I prayed you'd walk through the door and save me. But you never did."
The world came to a crashing halt. For a moment he just stared, struggling to make sense of the words roaring through his head.
"He hit you?" he repeated, his voice unrecognisable, and this was it. This was the secret that changed everything. This was what he'd missed, and he should have known, he should have been there, he should have...he should have..."He hit you?"
She froze, like she hadn't quite meant to tell him that. Then she looked up at him swiftly, fear and anger and hatred on her face. "Yes, alright. Yes, he hit me. Yes, I moved in with him anyway and let him...let him...He hurt me, and I would never have even met him if it wasn't for you. If you hadn't gone to prison...if I'd never met you, I wouldn't have met him and...and..." Her face crumpled and she turned away from him, her shoulders shaking as she sobbed.
Unable to stop himself, unable to wait a moment longer, he stepped forwards and wrapped his arms around her, holding her as gently as he could, and he felt her flinch but then a second later she reached up and grabbed his hand, and maybe she was just taking comfort in him because he was there, but right now he wasthere, and maybe that was what mattered.
After a moment, she pulled away from him. Her face was blank but there was a tinge of embarrassment rising in her cheeks. "I'm sorry," she said stiffly. "I shouldn't have let that happen. I'm not normally so...emotional." She almost choked on the word, and he could see her biting back several harsher descriptions, and he hated the formality, like they didn't even know each other.
"It's okay," he said gently, and his own voice was thick and choked. "Oh, Tess, it's always okay. I'm here for whatever you need from now on, I swear it."
He could see her shoulders shaking.
He wanted to ask who, and he wanted to ask where and he wanted to track him down, find him, make him hurt. But right now, that wasn't the problem. Right now there was Terry Benedict to be dealt with.
"Rusty knows," he stated as a lead in.
She nodded. "I...I called him. Like you asked me to. He...he got me away from there. Looked after me." Her eyes were shining with a love that even the anger couldn't completely hide.
Didn't mean that Danny wasn't grateful. He swallowed with difficulty. "And after?" he asked softly. "Why here? Why Terry?"
"Something happened," she said hesitantly. "Something bad."
"What?" he asked swiftly, and he regretted it as she shook her head.
"I can't tell you," she pleaded. "I can't. But I had to leave, and I ended up here. And I met Terry and he was...I thought he was a good man. When I was with him it felt like I didn't have to worry, or think about anything. He made all the decisions, and I thought that was what I needed."
He couldn't help but shudder at the picture she painted. He could see her, vulnerable and hurting (and where had Rusty been?) meeting Terry and being taken advantage of, and by the time she might have recovered, Terry would have taken complete control.
"He can be kind," she said, almost in protest. "And he's clever and good to talk to. I liked him because he was always so calm, always in control, and he's generous and thoughtful - he pays attention to all the little details."
Danny stared at her, his mouth dry. The list of qualities...he couldn't help but think..."He reminded you of Rusty."
Her face whitened. "Yes," she admitted in a very small voice. "I hadn't thought of it that way, but oh, God, yes."
He swallowed hard. "Don't tell him," he requested softly. Didn't matter that he himself might never manage to forgive Rusty, that particular twist of the knife would be too far and too cruel.
She shook her head, seemingly unable to speak.
"Don't go back to Terry, Tess," he said quietly. "Please. I can get you away from here, I swear." We could start over. He didn't say it, much as he wanted to. That would be her decision, not his.
"I'm not going to," she said swiftly. "Last night was enough. He didn't hurt me...but he hurt me. I don't want to live like that anymore."
"Then let me help you," he begged. "Please."
"No." She shook her head abruptly. "No. Nothing's changed. I'm still...you're my ex husband, Danny. That's it. You still lied to me. You still stole from all those people. I started to think for for a while it didn't matter, but I know where that leads now and I can't...I can't."
Right now, Danny would give up anything in the world to be able to take all that back. He just wanted to help. "What will you do?" he asked, subdued.
She looked away. "I've got a friend in LA," she said slowly. "I think I might go and stay with her, if she'll have me. It's been a year..." She looked back up at him hesitantly. "I might give you a call when I get settled in. If that's okay. Not for...just to let you know I'm alright."
He couldn't hope to hide the smile of thankful relief. Right now, he'd settle for any promise of contact. "That would be fine," he told her. "I've got a new number..."
He wrote it down for her quickly and she glanced at it before tucking it away safely in her purse.
"I should go," she said, glancing back towards the door. "Thank you, Danny. You've helped me get a lot of things straight in my head." She reached up and kissed him lightly on the cheek, and then she walked away towards the stairs, and she didn't look back.
Danny was alone again.
With a heavy sigh, he headed back down the stairs he'd come up. He was glad she was getting out of here, but this should never have happened in the first place. None of it.
Someone had hit her. Someone had actually hit Tess. The fury was cold and dark and overpowering, whispering through his head over and over again. He needed to know who. He needed to know who, because they should be dead. Tess was everything he'd ever want, and the idea that someone had dared hurt her... They should be dead.
And Rusty had known. God, he couldn't believe it. How could Rusty not tell him? How dare Rusty not tell him. The anger flared up at the thought and he clenched his fists tight. Rusty had just been trying to protect Tess. Only he hadn't done such a good job, because Tess had wound up in Vegas, and in his own way, Terry enjoyed hurting her too.
With a wordless cry, he slammed his fist against the wall.
He could blame everyone else all he wanted; truth was, so much of this was his fault. She was right. He'd lied to her and he'd left her alone when she needed him. He'd ruined her life, he couldn't blame her for not wanting him back.
He just wanted her safe and happy, even if that meant losing her. (Even if that meant losing her to Rusty?)
Right now, he should go find out what was happening with Rusty, but when he tried phoning his cell was off, and that made him frown. Whatever else was going on...however hurt and angry he was...there were still a few things he knew for certain. And Rusty wouldn't keep his phone turned off unless he was in trouble.
He took the stairs at a run, heading straight for Rusty's room, and he opened the door just in time to hear Linus say "But we got to tell Danny!"
"You have to tell me what?" he asked mildly, as he closed the door behind him and looked around the room. Linus, Livingston, Frank and Basher were standing there, looking at him with expressions of varying panic. "And where's Rusty?" he added, frowning.
No one answered either point. Linus was staring at him wildly, mouth moving silently.
This wasn't a good sign. His eyes flickered from person to person. None of them were willing to meet his gaze, and there was an air of worry and embarrassment...maybe even pity.
Everyone was keeping secrets from him. Rusty...Tess...now his friends. No more. He just wasn't going to let this slide.
He smiled sharply. "What's going on?" he asked softly, looking round with careful calculation and finally fixing on his target. "Linus?"
Linus spluttered for a moment. "Well...I mean, that is...we don't really know anything for sure - "
" - you knew Tess was with Benedict?" Frank cut in, staring straight at him.
Not anymore. But for simplicity's sake, he inclined his head. "Yes."
Frank nodded, his expression dark. He hated being kept out of the loop, Danny knew. Too bad. This was personal, even if it did affect the job. "She came looking for Rusty. Then she left and he followed."
Uh huh. Except he already knew Rusty hadn't followed Tess, because he'd called Danny to go and find Tess. "He followed?" he asked, hoping that there was something - some clue that would tell him where Rusty had really gone.
Frank shrugged. "They looked...close," he said carefully.
"Frank!" Livingston hissed, before looking at Danny anxiously. "I'm sure it wasn't what it looked like...I mean, Rusty wouldn't do that to you, right?"
Right. And now Danny had a good idea of exactly what it had looked like, and he couldn't help the fury screaming through him, the hurt.
"They looked very close," Linus contributed awkwardly when he didn't say anything, and he couldn't bear to see the sympathy on the kid's face.
"I got it, thanks," he said easily, and nothing was showing on his face, not a thing. "Did Rusty tell you he was going to follow T...to follow her?"
"No-o," Linus said slowly. "But he disguised himself first of all."
"There are cameras in all the corridors," Livingston pointed out. "I think he was trying to avoid them. But he knows this place backwards, Danny, even if someone was looking for him, they wouldn't find him."
That sort of assumed that security didn't know their own hotel every bit as well. He bit his tongue savagely. What had been in Rusty's head? He couldn't figure it out, no matter how he tried. There were so many pieces of this puzzle missing...and everyone was still trying not to look at him.
His best friend was sleeping with his wife, and that wasn't the secret they were afraid to tell him?
"What?" he asked, and he couldn't quite keep the edge from his voice. Enough to make Linus jump.
"You should talk to Rusty," Basher said with deep unhappiness.
Oh, he was going to. But right now, he was talking to them. "What?" he asked again.
Frank took a deep breath. "Rusty said he killed someone."
He just stopped and stared. He couldn't think of a single thing to say. He didn't know what to think, what to feel. Rusty had...Rusty had killed someone?
"Murdered," Linus corrected, like it made a difference, his voice low and subdued. "He said murdered."
"He said they deserved it," Livingston added quietly.
All the pieces fell into place. Rusty, colder and harder than he ever had been before. Rusty, loving Tess. Tess being abused. Tess having to leave Rusty because of something terrible.
He looked straight at Livingston. "Then he probably did," he said.
He knew what had happened. Oh, God help them, he knew.