Author: SullenSiren (sullensiren(at)gmail(dot)com)
Summary: "Three was a good number."
Spoilers: Post Oceans' 12
Warnings: None specific
Prompt: Danny/Tess/Rusty - A solution
Notes: Written for the takethehouse fic challenge. I fully intended for this to go NC-17. But for some reason, it didn't want to. So . . . my apologies for lack of smut.
"It isn't working," Tess tells him. She's said it before, and Danny has his arguments ready. His ways to work around it. His way of kissing the spot behind her ear that makes her shiver, of promising that he'll fix it. It's not a lie because he always does believe that he can. That this time is the one time it'll work.
But when he goes to speak they don't roll off his tongue, the old excuses. She's washing dishes, slim white hands turning a plate over and over beneath the faucet, precise and detail-oriented, every smudge and spot gone. Tess was like that. She noticed the little things that Danny never did. She'd have made a hell of a thief, in another life. A detail-man. Planner. Like Rusty.
Which was funny in its own way. Who knew he had a type?
"I can't do this anymore, Danny," she continues. "I can't . . . walk around the elephants in the room and just pretend they're not there anymore. Big, huge, pink elephants, Danny." Tess finished the plate and turned to face him, drying her hands on the dish towel. He could see the pulsebeat in her neck, the way she dried her hands long after the water was gone, just looking for something to keep them busy. He knew all of Tess' tells. She wasn't ready to leave. Not really. She was waiting for him to talk her out of it.
He just watched her hands as they finally hung the dishtowel back on its hook, as one slid up to rub nervously at the side of her neck, thumb brushing the taut cords there. "Danny?" she finally asked, voice soft and hesitant.
In the next room, a pink elephant was having a scotch and soda - not his drink of choice, but it had been Isabelle's, and Rusty was nothing if not a fan of irony.
Danny wrapped his arm around her, dropping a kiss onto soft red hair that smelled of bottled flowers. "It's not," he admitted quietly, feeling her shoulders tense further. "But it will," he added. He sounded convincing, he knew, but it wasn't his usual fast words and smiles. It was a statement.
Tess pulled away, eyes narrowing as she studied his face. "I hope so," she finally told him, picking up the drink she'd set on the counter and squaring her shoulders, walking back out with a hostess smile that she should have dropped around Rusty a long time ago, but never had.
Danny picked up his own drink and sipped it, listening to the strained small talk from the other room. He didn't have to see her to know what she looked like – knees together, shoulders stiff. Prim and proper and elegant in all the right ways. She'd been looser since Amsterdam. Understood better the rush that Danny got from stealing, why he couldn't give it up.
Rusty never saw that though, never saw her tip her head back and laugh. Never saw her tipsy on wine, never felt the sloppy drunken kisses she pressed to his face. He'd never understood why Danny and Tess worked at all. He just understood why they didn't. Danny knew what he looked like without looking too. Rusty would be relaxed, all long lines and easy grace, amused and a little uneasy behind it in a way he'd never let on but Danny knew anyway.
He'd told her once that he only lied about being a thief. He still maintained it was true. He'd never lied about Rusty, he just hadn't gone into details. Omission wasn't the same thing as a lie, the way Danny figured it.
Danny walked out, leaning against the doorway, glass in hand. Rusty and Tess were doing small talk. The kind of small talk they both hated but would still do, if they felt they needed to. (Tess had it down to an art form, nonsense syllables and slight smiles to the people at her art gallery, who knew nothing of art and bought to impress their colleagues anyway.) Neither of them was saying anything memorable or important. Not with words, anyway. Everything Tess didn't know how to say was there in the way she sat and moved, though. The clink of her nails against the glass when she picked it up.
Rusty gave less away. To anyone but Danny, maybe he didn't give anything away at all. But Danny knew him well and saw the way his eyes slid when Danny entered the room. Saw the way he turned his glass before he picked it up. He gave Danny a quirked eyebrow and a slight smile as he mentioned something about the plants out front that he didn't care about, but knew Tess did. Tess liked beautiful things.
He'd always wondered why she didn't like Rusty better, because of that. Not that she didn't like him. He was fairly sure she did. It was just the elephant thing.
Tess didn't ask him to give up thieving anymore. She understood why he couldn't now. Why he couldn't leave it behind. Maybe she knew there was more than one thing he couldn't leave behind, and didn't want to ask and be told no, because there were things Tess had to draw lines over. He was pretty sure openly admitting to cheating on her with another man was one of them.
But things can only stay the same for so long. If you're going to go, go big. Three was a good number. Three stints in prison. (First was three months when he was 22 and learning the hard way that showing off to impress the old time thieves was a bad idea, as they'd leave you to hang yourself.) Three casinos in one night. Three tries at making it work with one woman.
Danny set his glass down with a deliberate clink that brought two sets of eyes toward him. He walked over and tugged Tess to her feet, kissing her, deep and easy and assured. Even in company, he felt her melt a little. He smiled at her when he pulled away, fingers lingering on her chin. "It's okay," he told her, winking once. She crossed her arms over her chest as he stepped away, toward Rusty.
Rusty was already standing, blue eyes glinting with amusement and the excited edge that Danny recognized. He'd seen it when he proposed the Benedict job. He'd known Rusty would say yes long before his little speech to sell him. He'd known by Rusty's eyes.
Danny slid an arm around Rusty's waist, feeling Tess' eyes burning a hole in the back of his neck. "You know what you're doing?" Rusty asked, voice too low to be heard by any but Danny.
Danny smirked. "Poaching elephants."
Rusty grinned back as if he understood, and maybe he did. Rusty always knew what Danny meant, even when Danny himself wasn't sure. "Ivory fences for a fortune in the right market."
"This is a good market," Danny answered.
And then he kissed him.
Kissing Rusty was different than Tess. Tess was about the differences between them. About bringing out the sly humor and laughter she hid beneath her stern exterior. When Danny kissed Rusty, he felt like he was kissing himself, in some ways. Which probably made him narcissistic, but he'd never claimed otherwise anyway.
He loved them both. Needed them both in different ways. His detail men - and woman - who took care of the mundane aspects of life and crime so that he could dream big and stupid. Who reined him in when he needed it - and he needed it frequently. (Even if he didn't always listen.)
He heard Tess gasp, felt Rusty's tongue sliding over his lips, felt a hard thigh press between his legs. He pulled away finally, one arm staying locked around Rusty, head turning to meet Tess' eyes. He held out his other arm toward her. "It will work out," he told her quietly, convincingly. But he left the last step up to her.
Tess looked between them. "It's not right . . ." she murmured.
"Neither is stealing," Rusty pointed out. "Sometimes the wrong thing is right for the right people."
"I think Hemmingway wrote that," Danny agreed, smirking a little, eyes still on Tess' pale, beautiful face.
"I don't want to be an afterthought," Tess answered. "There are people out there who could have me, Danny, JUST me and be happy. There are people who don't need as much. There are people who don't have to screw their best friends and their wives."
"You could find a thousand someone else's, Tess. You know that. But they won't be me. And all the things that are wrong . . . there's still you and me. And this could work. If you let it. No more elephants. No more omissions."
"Lies," she countered. Danny smiled a little. "You'd let me walk out. Would you let him?"
"He wouldn't want to," Rusty answered, shrugging. Danny'd known that. Rusty would always come back. Just like Danny always would. Tess was the wild card.
Brown eyes flicked between them. "So this is it?"
"If you want it to be," Danny told her.
Rusty slipped away from his side, long arm sliding smoothly around her. Tess trembled a little, but she turned her face toward him, searching for some validation there. Rusty smiled, wide and easy, and then he was kissing her. Tess didn't quite melt, and some part of Danny was glad for that - there should be something that was just his and hers, just like there were things that would always be just his and Rusty's. But she kissed back, Tanned skin against porcelain pale.
She ended it first, dazed looking and trembling still, but a faint hint of a smile she'd never let Rusty see before. "I won't be second choice," she warned. Danny wasn't even sure who she was talking to.
"You couldn't be," Danny answered.
"Just two first choices," Rusty agreed, and Danny heard the lie in his voice, but Tess wouldn't, so he didn't say anything.
She looked between them again and narrowed her eyes, but it was playful now. "If you two are conning me, so help me, I will throw the both of you out, hunt down Isabelle, and take pictures of what happens when two hot women get really drunk and really tired of thieves."
"Ouch," Rusty said, smirking and feigning a wince. Neither of them mentioned that Isabelle wasn't likely to get tired of thieves, given her current profession.
Tess laughed and shook her head. "Alright boys . . . lets go to bed. And if anyone says one word to Saul or Linus, I quit."
"We won't have to," Danny told her, threading one arm around Rusty, the other around his wife. "Saul will win the pool." Tess laughed, and Rusty grinned in a way that said he might have a stake in the pool. Danny kissed each in turn and grinned.
Three was still his favorite number.