|Gamble III: Target
Author: Guede Mazaka
When Danny and Rusty walked in, Tess tried to get off the couch and leave. Her stomach, unfortunately, wanted to stay.
Luckily, G was very handy with ice buckets. Tess didn't ask why, because she was too busy blushing, throwing up half a bottle of excellent whiskey, and wondering how the hell she'd managed to do both at once.
Someone handed her a handtowel full of ice, which she gratefully pressed to one burning temple, in hopes that the nascent throb of pain would freeze out and drop from her mind. Good God-she wasn't even sobering up yet, and the hangover was already starting. "Thank…"
Danny looked extremely apologetic, his shoulders shifting uncomfortably under his rumpled suit. And Tess was not going to connect that with what she'd just witnessed, because she was feeling horrible enough as it was. He tried to give her some aspirin, but Tess batted his hand away and spat out another mouthful of bile. G much more sensibly passed over a wet napkin so Tess could wipe her lips and chin.
"Look, Tess, when we started dating, I didn't know. In fact, I didn't realize anything until…" he checked his watch, which was much too shiny and reflected light directly into Tess' greatly-abused eyes. "About three and a half minutes ago."
"Well, I hope you're very happy," she muttered as she crumpled up her napkin. Then she threw it at him, and got a small twinge of satisfaction at his face when he ducked it.
"If it helps, I wasn't expecting any of this either," Rusty put in. And Tess believed him. She didn't blame him-very much, anyway. What fault she did lay at his feet, she could recognize as being entirely spite-fueled. Whenever her rational side decided to get the better of her humiliated anger, anyway.
Polite throat-clearing. "If you don't mind, I'd like to get the basics out on the table before dinner arrives."
Tess glanced up with every intent to glare until that bastard shriveled into ashes, but instead, she found herself looking away from Miguel's cool, vaguely menacing calm. "Then I think I'll be leaving."
"Actually…you can't. Not right now." G was over by the window, gazing at something that appeared to be on the other roof. "Maybe in a couple hours."
"Damn. I thought I'd gotten all of them this afternoon." Miguel rocked back on his heels and made a curious gesture with one hand, while G also did something with her fingers.
Danny's eyes narrowed, and behind him, Rusty tensed ever-so-slightly. Like the proverbial dog at the master's heel, Tess bitterly thought to herself. No-like two halves of a seashell, only with the mother-of-pearl outside and the disgusting chalky ridges inside.
That was unfair of her, but frankly, she didn't care. It hurt, down in the bottom of her gut all the way to the top of her throat, to see how well they fit together.
"What are you doing?" Danny asked in a carefully inquiring voice, words like polished jade.
G stepped back from the window and pulled the curtains shut behind her, facing him like a mischievous schoolgirl. "What do you think? I'm getting your newly ex-girlfriend drunk and vulnerable so I can take advantage of her while Miguel's laying out our nefarious scheme. You never saw a soap opera, or what?"
"You said you didn't need her," Danny pressed, ignoring the jibe. Rusty did succumb to a small chuckle, but covered that up with his hand.
Tess palmed off the bucket, which was beginning to smell, to a sorely puzzled Linus and used the side of the nearest sofa to haul herself onto wobbly ankles. She did her best to fix her glare on the back of Danny's head so she could sear a hole through it. That didn't work, but he did seem to sense the hostility, and he turned around. Whereupon Tess slapped his arm.
She was aiming at his cheek, but given the ominous squelching in her stomach region, any kind of hit was probably a great success. "Danny. We are not dating, if you haven't noticed. You're also not a close relative, or even a substitute parent-figure-"
"-because that would be getting way too weird-" Linus mumbled. He put down the bucket and nudged it beneath a table with his foot.
"-so you have no say in my decisions. I'm a grown adult, and if I want to stay, I'll stay." When she finished her little declaration, she lifted up her chin and silently dared him to contradict her. Tess was adapting to the slight sway of the world, and she figured that on the next try, she could land one on his face.
"If I have to be the voice of reason," Miguel dryly broke in, "I'm going to be very disappointed. Would everyone please sit down?"
Which was good timing, because Tess was getting quite dizzy. And this way, she could do it without seeming weak; that would help recoup from her ridiculous sobbing fits.
Rusty and Danny naturally took up one couch, and Linus apparently thought it was safer to sit with them than with Miguel. So that left Tess with the choice to sit by herself, or next to a languidly amused G. Who'd been helpful during the second crying bout, but hadn't been excessively sympathetic. And she kept grazing against Tess' hair in a peculiar manner.
"I thought you had a meeting," the other woman said as she moved over to make room. Her gaze objectively flicked down Tess, and then she reached across to swipe off a smudge of runny blush. The skin briefly tingled under the touch, and that just brought home how pathetic Tess was acting, if such a simple gesture could do that to her. "Is that going to be a problem?"
"I took a sabbatical. I was due for one, and if I see another piece of art, I'd probably take a sledgehammer to it," Tess gritted out. And it was true. Somehow, just thinking about abstracts of paint and glass and tortured metal irritated the hell of her. It was probably because art was so personal, expressing so much of its creator's passion and pain-and right now, Tess really didn't give a damn about anyone else's suffering. She knew there were starving people who were going through worse, but what good was it knowing that she could be hurting even more, when it was already bad enough?
What was definite was that she was in no condition to negotiate anything. Of course, that brought up the question of why she was still hanging around Danny, when she didn't even want to look at him.
The answer? She didn't know. But she had a feeling that things between Danny and her weren't yet settled, and she didn't feel like leaving loose ends alone. Not when the last one had recoiled so nastily.
All in all, Miguel had worked with more tangled situations. But that still didn't mean he enjoyed doing so. He was beginning to wonder if Ahmed had known something he didn't, considering how eager the usually dedicated man had been to drop work and go off.
Then again, he normally didn't deal with mortals for a good reason: they were natural complications, in and of themselves. He liked being orderly, because that streamlined the process of getting rid of the various bodies, ruins, etc.
"To begin with, you always need to remember three things. One: we're not human, and that includes the mortality clause. Two: we kill. That's what we do most of the time. Three: we don't kill people if we can help it." Miguel sat back and took in the various reactions minus G's, which was an ostentatious yawn.
Danny and Rusty were professional blanks. If they'd been wearing sunglasses, they would have had the perfect faces for the stereotypical interrogation scene. On Danny's other side, Linus swallowed hard and pulled off his glasses, with which he then fiddled while not showing the least sign of eye-strain. Tess was alternating between vicious glances at Danny and nervous recrossing of her legs; Miguel momentarily wondered if the woman knew she was inching closer to G.
"Why not?" Rusty asked.
"Because the people we normally run into generally are involved in or will be involved in…let's call them important events. It's impossible to truly predict the future with any accuracy, but determining when a convergence of possibilities will happen can be done." Miguel pulled out one of the herbed cigarettes and flipped a flame at the end until it caught. He blew the bluish smoke in Linus' direction. "So is figuring out which people are most likely to be part of it."
"And nature abhors a vacuum." G examined her nails, then rubbed at the top of one. "The last time one of us killed a person we weren't supposed to, an island sank."
Linus temporarily emerged from his shell and blinked cutely at her. "Atlantis? That was real?"
"Not really. Krakatoa was a little small for that. Very pretty, though." But enough of the side-chatter. Miguel picked up his laptop from the side-table and plugged in a few cables, then brought up the photos on the TV. Everyone took the cue and twisted around to look. "This has been mistakenly identified as an Incan matrimonial mask. In fact, it's the relic of some immortal moron that got on the wrong side of the Incas and afterward, wanted to catalyze the Spanish invasion a few centuries ahead of time."
"Of course, that didn't work. He messed up the time-magic conversions." In the middle of her sentence, G flopped sideways so her head was an inch from Tess' hip. The other woman startled, and G smiled pleasantly upwards. Then she looked over at Danny and Rusty, who appeared more absorbed in the bits of the security system that were visible on the screen, around the mask. "It's set to go off in about three weeks. So you're going to steal it for us so we can dispose of it."
Rusty didn't look away from the screen as Miguel changed to the floor plans. "It's owned by someone like you."
"And we can't be killed by them, because later on we'll be doing something spectacular." Danny tilted his head and began to lift a finger; Miguel felt obliging, so he backed up the virtual tour.
"If they get to you. I'm fairly certain they won't. G and I aren't going to be idle while you're working." Miguel tapped at his keyboard, and on the TV, the shot scrolled out to display the front façade of the building. "More importantly, the mask is currently stored in a rather public place, which we'd like to remain intact. Our talents aren't suited for that kind of operation. We specialize in destruction."
Tess stopped looking sulky and nearly whistled. "I'd say. The Metropolitan Museum of Art?"
"Exactly." Rusty's eyebrows were sky-high, and the wheels were soundlessly ticking off details in his head. In between his clicks were Danny's silent, thoughtful eye-glints. Well, they were interested. As Miguel had figured, the challenge had thoroughly caught them up. He wouldn't have to worry too much with the intellectual part of the theft now; he only had to watch out for that clever perverse streak in those two.
"And why is this precious weapon of mass destruction in the Met?" Linus mumbled. The kid actually had quite a mouth on him, but his low slurring did a damn good job of cutting out its effectiveness. For a moment, Miguel had a strangely strong urge to provoke the other man and see what developed.
His sense of schedule squashed that, and instead, he merely pulled up the next data file. "Because it's gotten cracked, somehow. The current owner's having it repaired there because that way, he has access to the libraries. Which he needs for other reasons that aren't your concern."
"All right, first things first." Danny folded his hands together and propped them under his chin. He casually glanced at the TV, then met Miguel's gaze with equanimity; the man did have quite the attractive aura of confidence around him. Too bad that he didn't seem inclined to share at all, to judge by the way affairs with Rusty and Tess were falling out.
Miguel grudgingly crushed his appreciation for those two men, and looked attentive.
"We're conmen. We'll take your job-and only the job you offered. But we're not mercenaries, so you'll have to deal with anything else by yourself." At the end of his statement, Danny calmly sat back and watched for a reaction. Beside him, Rusty moved forward, resting arms on knees. A perfect starting position for shielding Danny, if anything happened.
Cute, Miguel sardonically thought to himself. It almost lent credence to a legend he'd heard while going through Asia, a few centuries ago: at birth, everyone was linked to their soulmates by an invisible red thread. It simply took some people an extraordinarily long time to notice the slender mark of inevitability.
He turned to Linus. "And you?"
"Like I have a choice. You want my soul, too?" The glasses popped back on, giving the man a kind of geeky barricade that, while being rather flimsy, was at least a try at defense. Linus couldn't be older than twentyish, with that wobbly, defiant tilt to his head.
"No. I think I'll let you keep that," Miguel replied, allowing a little of his nighttime activities to creep into his smile.
G sat up and stared at him, then began to laugh. Before anyone could ask her about her mirth, someone timidly knocked at the door. "Dinner. I'll get that."
"I'm worried about Tess," Danny said.
The olives were calling, but Rusty ignored them in favor of passing Danny the blueprint specs of the Met's other vaults, the ones very few people knew about. The ones that definitely weren't paid for by taxes or any kind of public donation.
Occultism was real. Who knew?
Though it was a relief to find out that the genuine thing didn't consist of tacky hallucination parties and messy blood sacrifices. Rusty was already down one suit, and he didn't want to lose any more until his sources of income were once again under his control.
"You're not listening." The other man smoothed out the papers as he began to go on, but then the same detail Rusty had noticed caught Danny's eye. "She's…wait. You think…? No, it can't be that easy."
"It's not. Here's the overlay for the back-up security system." After handing over the transparency, Rusty finally succumbed to the urge and palmed a few stuffed olives from Danny's plate. He happily munched on those while Danny pored over the plans and started drawing the same conclusions as Rusty had.
Trying to steal the strawberries had been overreaching, since those were Danny's favorite, but they were covered in dark and white chocolate. And, well, it was a challenge.
Which Rusty didn't quite meet. His wrist got snagged only a quarter of the way back to his mouth, and before he could even think about fending off the other man, Danny had neatly tucked him into an arm lock he hadn't seen since they were teenagers scamming the beach babies. "Hey. They were starting to ooze."
"Maybe I like them that way," Danny suggested, voice suddenly warm raspiness. Rusty almost forgot about the chocolate melting all over his fingers. But then the humor drained from the other man's face, and Danny turned uneasily furtive as he glanced at the door. "Did we lock that?"
"Yes." Rusty closed his eyes. "Even if she wasn't smart enough to know better now."
A stressed sigh ghosted over his face, and then Danny let go of Rusty. They sprawled on the floor of their new bedroom, on opposite sides of a mass of papers and one laptop, deceptive relaxation overlying the tenseness.
"I still like her," Danny finally said. He tugged his tie off and threw it onto the bed behind him. "Not that it compares, but that wasn't how I would've wanted her to find out."
"That's what happened." The strawberry was perfectly ripe, nearly too sweet but for the slight bitterness of the chocolate. Rusty took his time about eating it, first nibbling off the tip and then catching the fragments of the shattered chocolate coating with his tongue. They melted in his mouth, laying the inside with fruit-tinged creaminess. "Are you really going to eat those other ones?"
"You're dodging the issue." But Danny handed over the remaining strawberries anyway.
As he picked out the next luscious victim, Rusty nodded. "I am dodging the issue."
Because while he did feel sympathetic towards Tess, he wasn't going to beat himself down for the results he'd gotten. He had Danny. He was happy. And now they were to going to try circumventing one of the best, most esoteric security systems he'd ever seen. Frankly, aside from Miguel's continued eeriness, life was good. Maybe it wasn't for Tess, but that was how the world worked. Something had to first be taken away in order to be received. Losses couldn't be erased after the fact, though they might be handsomely compensated.
And while Danny was free to do that, with Rusty's willing help, Rusty was not, under any circumstances, going to encourage any sort of reversal of events. He wasn't. Not even if Danny begged. "This is going to take some work."
Danny's right index finger twitched into a curl. He looked at Rusty.
"Fairly big crew. Ten or eleven guys." While consideration was the dominate feature of Danny's face, it still wasn't engagement in the matter at hand. Rusty glanced at the two leftover strawberries, then at the blueprints. And after that, Danny's eyes, which was when Rusty always gave in. "What do you want to do about her?"
The other man lifted and dropped one shoulder, still thinking on that one. "Well, first I'd like to know why she's still around. It doesn't make much sense."
Stickiness on Rusty's hand was starting to annoy him, so he poked the cuff out of the way with his chin and sucked off the drying juice from his thumb. "G."
"G. She did tell you the truth." Rusty waited for the laugh, knowing that in the end, it'd be him with the mocking rights.
Instead, Danny's pupils did that strange narrow-widen routine that inexplicably made Rusty's lungs cease behaving. The other man shoved aside the computer and grabbed Rusty's arm, drawing him over without anything resembling a struggle. "So we've got bankrollers. Murderously inclined, but they dress well enough to fit in," Danny muttered as he licked slowly up Rusty's finger to the edge of the tattoo. "Where'd the Malloys get to?"
"New Mexico, last I heard." Rusty clamped his free hand down on Danny's shoulder and climbed astride the other man's thighs. "I think Saul's in town. Slumming it in Brooklyn."
He never even saw the hand, but suddenly Rusty's shirt was hanging open and Danny's head was inside its halves, mouth exploring Rusty's throat. A tongue stroked the pulse even faster, and Rusty had to muffle a gasp in the side of Danny's head. "What do you think of Linus?" he asked, also nibbling at Danny's ear since it was conveniently there.
"His father said he was learning pretty well. I'm not sure about that yet, but he's got to be here for a reason. Should bring it up with Miguel." Danny skated his palm around Rusty's side, down the backbone like he was teasing the ivories, and then let his fingers ride the resulting shudder even further. In consequence, they shifted a bit, and things abruptly got even more-
--door knocking. From the other side came G's voice, laced with knowing lewdness. "As much as I hate to say this, knock that off. Linus will be along in a minute, after Miguel gets done talking with him."
"She likes to watch," Danny noted, tone a touch exasperated and a shade confused. "So…Tess? G? I'm not sure I like that."
"Well, if it helps, I don't think Tess knows." Third time had better be the charm, Rusty sourly told himself. Even his patience wasn't inexhaustible. He reluctantly got off Danny and fixed his clothes…though he did leave the cuff on his tattooed hand unbuttoned and slightly pushed up.
Right. Back to work. "Know any good demolitions geniuses? All the ones I know are on jobs right now."
Smooth as fresh milk, Danny stole a kiss before answering. "I met this guy named Basher Tarr when I was walking through SoHo last week…"
Linus cornered Miguel between the umbrella stand and the oversize porcelain confection that Miguel supposed was a vase. It was difficult to distinguish the real flowers from the china ones thickly clustered along the rim.
"I need to talk to you," the other man declared, and then he snapped his mouth shut.
Miguel waited. And waited.
After about three minutes, Linus added, "So I'm…yeah. You don't seem very worried, considering I could-"
"You couldn't. I've got millennia on you." The other man looked rather crushed, but in the manner of a willow twig bends, and not of a polished surface suddenly shattering. Miguel decided he was finding Linus a little too appealing for his own good, and started for the door again.
Whereupon Linus actually shoved him back. Reflexes kicked in, and Miguel stopped himself from crushing Linus' windpipe just a few moments before the other man would have asphyxiated.
Damn it, he was losing control of his temper. Between G's demure but constant grind and the annoyances that kept popping up on the street, Miguel was rapidly coming to hate this assignment. With a passion. He didn't do passion. "Listen. You're whichever you want to be. But you have to choose, and soon. That's the only reason I'm concerned. Well, that and how well you'll actually perform during the job."
He dropped the other man, stepped over the wheezing crumple, and headed for the door.
"Christ, why didn't you just say that, right off the bat? You get off on being mysterious, or something?"
Miguel paused just long enough to throw a contemptuous look over his shoulder. "Is there a reason you like baiting me, despite it being proven detrimental to your health?"
Linus didn't have an immediate answer to that. Whereas Miguel did, but it was an asinine thought that didn't deserve any sort of contemplation. So he locked it out of sight as tightly as he locked the door-physically and magically-and then he headed for the nearest potential massacre. To hell with his suits. He could always buy another one, afterward.
For once, G was sitting quietly by herself, checking the levels of various supernatural activities. She wasn't trying to start anything. Which of course meant that Tess wandered over and struck up a conversation.
Slight tipsy rant, if G was honest. She finally cut off the other woman's monologue by asking a reasonable question. "Are you in love with him?"
"I-" Tess ducked her head behind a scarlet distraction. The woman's hair shimmered flame so vividly G was tempted to catch some sparks off the edges and play hell with them. "No. We've only been dating for a few weeks. But…there's the maybe."
"You're actually taking it pretty well. I've seen worse reactions." G ironically curled her lip over those words, remembering the fight between Liana and Ahmed. Now that had been a messy break-up.
"I'm absolutely furious with him, and yet I can't be. He wasn't cheating on me, and he wasn't lying to me…about Rusty. He wasn't even doing it on purpose. And I want to stomp on him while wearing six-inch heels." The last word clipped off before it was fully out of Tess' mouth, drenched in bitterness. She glared at the innocent bowl of water between G's hands, the sheer aggravation rolling off of her nearly wrecking the spell. "What are you doing?"
G carefully tipped the scrying bowl towards the other woman. "Checking to see who I have to kill tomorrow."
"And then there's this!" Tess dramatically gestured about the room, like a ballerina gone haywire while pirouetting. And sitting. And yes, it was a bad metaphor, but that truly was what she resembled. "Cons, planned thefts, murders, unexplainable phenomena-and why I'm not going to the police, I simply don't know."
"One, you're still drunk. If you went, they would probably arrest you instead." Having finished with her quick survey, G cleared out the lingering remnants of the visions by puddling her fingers in the water. She set the bowl aside and picked up a box of tissues.
Behind her, Linus suddenly stomped past and barged into Danny and Rusty's room without knocking. Hopefully, he didn't walk in on anything; while G couldn't exactly understand why, she was perfectly cognizant of the fact that most people didn't enjoy two lovely men making out. Shame, but if it meant more enjoyment for her…
"Two, we wouldn't let you." She tipped up Tess' chin and began to dab at the ruined make-up for the third time in the hour. It wasn't really necessary, and considering how often it'd been smeared, she wasn't sure why Tess still bothered. Probably something about taking refuge in routines and simple tasks, or whatever Fred had been trying to explain to G in Istanbul. "And three, that would involve losing track of Danny."
"I want to know why I lost," Tess whispered, unexpectedly lost and small and susceptible to just about anything. She smiled, beautiful lips in a beautiful curve of dejection. "Spoken like a true ex-girlfriend."
And G abruptly found herself unable to do as she said she would. Fucking…she would have to notice her conscience now. One part of hanging about with humans that could be damned inconvenient. "So move on. Forget about him. Be happy somewhere else."
"I can't. Not while I know he's around-I could do it if he had to be somewhere else, out of sight. But he's not, and…it's like watching a car wreck. You know you should look away, but something glues you to it." Tess glanced down at her hands, which were picking at the hem of her skirt. "I sound like the poster child for battered women."
"Yes, you do." It was mostly likely going to get G slapped, but she'd had worse. Besides, Tess needed a shock, and simple pain wasn't going to do it; the way she was now, she wouldn't even notice a little more.
So G kissed her. On the lips, with tongue. Tess tasted like whiskey-soaked cherries, which was a new, intriguing one.
"Mmmph!" The other woman jerked back, eyes as big as eggs. "What-you-what-"
"I need to go check on the others. Be right back." G got up and sauntered off, secretly crowing over the fact that her cheek wasn't currently aching. Of course, she wasn't going to get anything after that, but at least she wasn't going to spend the next few years wondering. Sometimes it was really nice to not have moral restrictions.