|Gamble IV: Assignation
Author: Guede Mazaka
It hadn't been a good night's sleep. Suddenly, Linus' nerves had been jumping all over the place, twigging at this shadow and that noise. And of course, all of that had been just slightly out of range of normal people's senses. Thanks, Mom and Dad. Learning how to scam old grannies out of five-dollar bills had obviously been more important than certain unusual parts of the family genealogy.
Christ. Danny and Rusty probably thought Linus had a permanent tic in his neck muscles. And fingers. And eyes.
"Good morning," cheerfully saluted the doorway. Linus jumped backwards and nearly fell off the couch as he tried to plaster himself into the cushions. Danny blinked, then kept going until he'd reached the expresso machine. "Mr. Caldwell, I can assure you that I don't bite."
"Him. You don't bite him." Rusty crookedly strolled in a moment later, impeccably dressed in a shark-gray suit. His blue shirt was open at the top to display a long stretch of faint nibble marks on his throat, and his entire demeanor had an ineffable air of low-key satiation to it. He'd lost that restless edge that had characterized his smooth charisma, and instead moved like…fresh cream.
Linus made a note to steer clear of Tess for the rest of the day, if she hadn't left yet.
Punching the buttons on the coffeemaker put Danny in profile, halving his smile. Didn't do a thing to diminish the pleased cast to it. He banged two mugs under the drip and dosed one with plenty of sugar and mocha, which he then passed over to Rusty. The plain one he held up as the two of them turned to Linus. "You want any? Steamed milk?"
"Oh…well, sure. Splash of milk, no sugar." Linus carefully pried himself out of the couch and slumped over to the proffered caffeine. "So…all those ideas you were throwing around last night. Any of them stick?"
"Yeah, I think so." Danny began to say something else, but was distracted by the sight of Rusty adding even more mocha powder to his coffee. As was Linus.
And Miguel, who showed up from nowhere and freaked the hell out of all of them. "I believe most women would kill for that metabolism."
"Could say the same for your hair," Rusty managed, after a bit of stifled sputtering. Apparently, the java sludge had gone down the wrong pipe. "How was last night?"
Miguel shrugged and examined one of his fingernails, which had a chip in it. He whipped out a file that could've doubled for a railroad spike and proceeded to smooth it away, somehow making it look not only manly, but cool. If that was the kind of thing Linus got with the half-immortal gig, maybe the weirder side of his parentage was worth looking into.
"It was all right. If I were talking to a psychiatrist, I'd say that I worked out a lot of negative emotions in very constructive ways. Do you have a plan yet?" Miguel made the nail file vanish and pulled out a cell phone…so he could check his voicemail. The action was slightly disappointing in its normality.
Danny seemed to be a little thrown as well, clearly expecting something more in tune with the non-stop surprises of last night. "We've got a shopping list. Most of the guys are in town or nearby, but a couple we'll have to-"
A single glance was all Miguel needed to negate that idea. "No. If I let you leave now, then I'd have to kill entirely too many people. The sewers would backfill." He produced two more cell phones. "You can call, but if someone needs more convincing, then either I go, or you don't get them."
That took Rusty and Danny aback, but they quickly recovered. It was obvious Miguel wasn't going to budge, so they made their polite assents and walked back to their bedroom/war room so they could throw sentence fragments at each other. Being in the middle of that had suddenly made it very clear to Linus what people meant when they talked about twin-speak.
And all the sidelong looks hadn't helped Linus' concentration, either. Between that and the inside jokes just soaring, condor-like, over Linus' head…Danny had a really nice ass.
"Linus." Expression a cross between amusement and patient forbearance, Miguel shoved Linus' glasses back up his nose, a second before they fell into his coffee. He really should've tried to get a better fitting pair, but the security guard had been unusually twitchy and there hadn't been another rack of reading glasses for half the mall.
Huh. He must be finally getting over his shock, if he was starting to check out guys again. And-oh, fuck, no. He was not noticing that Miguel looked damn good in pinstripes. The bastard had completely ruined the next three weeks for everyone, and he'd left bruises on Linus' arm, and he'd been why Linus was currently having a bit of an identity crisis.
Unfortunately, Miguel was also the only source of information Linus had on certain subjects, unless G decided to show up by herself. She had a strange fondness for hanging around Tess, even when the other woman was being kind of bitchy. Granted, that state of mind was understandable, but…right. Being asked a question. Linus should probably answer soon, given Miguel had made it clear he didn't like conversation spacers. "What?"
Okay, it wasn't intelligent. But it would do.
"I said, were they telling the truth?" A tiny furrow of annoyance appeared between Miguel's eyebrows.
"Oh-you-look, what do you take me for? Your own personal spy? Well, think again; I may need you to settle-" Linus made vague gestures, since he still didn't really understand those details "-but that does not mean I'm just going to lie back and take it."
That was when Linus got slammed up against the wall. The bruises from the last time screamed like hell, and then they got their tongues tangled up in Miguel's. Or…no, Linus wasn't a freak. He only had one tongue. It just felt like he had more, because something soft and teasing was caressing every single one of his nerves, and-
--breathe. Remember that air was necessary. "Whoa. That was…"
"We're on a tight schedule." Miguel's voice was slightly rough, and Linus was inordinately happy to see he'd mussed up the other man's hair. "I'll need your decision by tomorrow night."
Then Miguel pivoted, a model-perfect bevel, and stalked out of the room. Linus' head cleared and he realized that he'd just royally screwed himself. It was not a good idea to fuck with the guy who thought of killing as stress relief. Especially when he was also the guy who got to mess with Linus' lifespan.
Linus definitely needed to sit down and think. Maybe talk to someone-if he could find a person that actually knew what they were about when it came to…shit. When it came to non-relationship relationships.
G literally ran into a storming Miguel. Her toothbrush almost poked out his eye, and his shoes utterly crushed her bare toes.
"Mutha-" she spat out the foam "-motherfucking son of a bitch! You do not interrupt a girl when she's in the bathroom!"
"Is that why they go in groups? Not herd-instinct, but pack-instinct?" He shoved right past her and ripped open his sleeve to display a rather stained bandage. The wound underneath didn't look serious, but it was the fact that he'd gotten hurt at all that worried G enough to shut up. "I don't believe this. They haven't even been here for twenty-four hours."
Ah. The amazing ability of humans to screw up anything that had the remotest hint of organization. And poor Miguel hadn't even tried to ease himself into it by stages. G felt a little sorry for him. A little.
He bent over and she had to poke. His head shot up, and she innocently looked at him from around her busily working toothbrush. "Why do you dislike me so much?" he asked, the faintest trace of strain in his voice. "I happen to know you've done worse to them than me, despite your professing to be so fond of them."
"I've not fond of humanity. I'm fond of individuals." She snagged her water cup from the side of the sink while he splashed his face and started to wash the cut. "And you annoy me because you're condescending to cover up the fact that they scare you."
"They scare me," he incredulously repeated.
"Make you twitchy, at least." G met his gaze and didn't look away. After a minute, he sighed and returned his attention to his arm. "Look, they're not idiots. They're just prone to being emotional. Stop being such a control-freak, and then it won't be so hard to duck the backlashes."
Miguel pensively stared at the mirror, little bits of uncertainty sneaking into his eyes. It made G feel as if she was supposed to be far wiser than she in fact was, or wanted to be. So she simply did the sensible thing and slipped him the right tin of salve, then tiptoed out of the door.
In the bedroom, Tess was waking up from a messy sprawl on the bed. Hangover etched the whites of her eyes with sore red, and put a greenish tinge to the skin around her lips. She lifted her head, then flopped back and groaned. "Please tell me I didn't get drunk because a girl kissed me."
"You didn't get drunk because a girl kissed you," G obediently repeated. She got out the heavy-duty painkillers and poured Tess some water. "You were already drunk, because your ex-boyfriend was kissing a boy."
One too-bright eye glared out from the snarl of hair. "You were better at the sympathy last night."
"So you'd like another kiss?" G grinned when Tess inched away. "Didn't think so. I'm not your type."
Tess gulped down the pills G handed her, then followed that with the entire glass of water. Her breath smelled like rotted goat-cheese that'd been sitting in a Chicago dumpster for two days, but her attitude hadn't softened a bit. "And how would you know what my type is?"
"I watch. I listen. And I've done that for a long, long time." G checked the time; another fifteen minutes before she had to go to work. "You like style. You think you prefer substance, but you've got a nose for the edgy ones. And until you decide whether you like the crooked or the straight, you're going to be very, very confused." She pretended to think a moment. "Wait. Was I describing your taste in men, or in art?"
"You-" Tess' hand jerked up six inches before G slapped it down and pinned it to the mattress. The woman had a pretty good swing when she was drunk, and G wasn't interested in seeing what it was like when Tess was sober.
"You look better angry than depressed." And either way, Tess continued to toss up surprises.
Of course, she did complicate things to hell; G was surprised Miguel hadn't tried to throw her out yet. Good that he hadn't, because no matter how cool and collected Danny was, matters still hadn't been settled between him and Tess, and they weren't going to be until Tess could speak without looking as if she was about to Cubist someone. Those two needed a talk in order to really settle all the remaining doubts and possibilities and off-chances. Or else Rusty wouldn't be sticking nearly that close to Danny's shadow.
Fred and Dean had done that to Ahmed during the first few years, quietly terrified that he'd up and leave them for…the third or fourth time. Blockheaded swordboy…but once he'd decided, he was faithful beyond belief. G's instincts were telling her that Danny ultimately was the same way, but he apparently wasn't going to show that right off the bat, like Ahmed did. Probably against the shyster rulebooks, or guidelines, or whatever the hell they followed. Dishonor code, maybe.
"Why are you so interested in me?" Tess turned away as she spoke, irritated and miserable and still snappier than a swizzle stick.
G laid back on the bed and kicked up her heels. When the other woman curiously glanced over, she brought up her most nonchalant grin. "I've always wanted to do that in a four-star hotel."
"And you've never…how old are you?" Some of the anger began to recede from Tess' face.
"Much, much older than you. Believe me." So many damn faces. So much that people had done, and so much they almost had but hadn't-and they still threw up new things every year.
The mattress sank under Tess' weight as the other woman rolled back over. She absentmindedly began to braid G's hair. "I thought you were some snot-nosed college student, when I first met you."
"I get that a lot. It amuses me." G started to sit up and suddenly tasted cherries again. This time, they were slightly soured, as if a little fermented, and her mind did a lazy turn as a hand combed through her hair, as warm air mixed just beneath her nose. She swept her tongue through Tess' mouth one last time, then withdrew with the other woman's moan. Her hand cupped a truly confused face as she looked as deeply as she could into Tess' eyes. "Do you even like women?"
"I…it's not like you really count for either category, does it?" Offended and defensive, Tess tugged away and wrapped her arms around herself.
"I chose long ago to be what I currently am. I don't play with that." G never liked doing it, but the situation called for a serious tone. She got off the bed and smoothed down her shirt with one hand, then picked up her duffel bag. "I like you, Tess. But I like you for the who of you, without the make-up and the social etiquette, and not the what of you."
Widened eyes. And it finally hit the woman that she'd been under surveillance. Many other realizations could be seen in Tess' face, none of them especially pleasant. Well, there was still enough alcohol to get Tess a little drunk, but not enough for anything like inebriated coma.
"I kill, and I'm immortal, and I do a lot of other nasty things that aren't even addressed in the law books. That's the what of me. You decide anything, you keep that in mind." With that little piece said, G walked out of the room and then out of the hotel.
After that, she paused under a tree to make a call.
"Hey, Ahmed. You never mentioned what a bitch it is to be…nice." G distastefully mouthed the last word.
A short pause while in the background, some rustling noises died away. Then: *Why else do you think it scares people so much? Listen, G…it'll be worth it.*
"Thanks." She smiled into the cell phone. "You're helpful when you're not embarrassed."
"Three…more…calls," Rusty gasped, clawing at Danny's shoulders. "We need to-and because of the time zone difference-damn it, lower."
"You'll have to move up some."
Actually, Danny took care of that himself with a well-timed shove. Rusty slid up the wall, missed a scone by about half an inch, and then promptly forgot about its existence in his hurry to get that stupid tie off of Danny. "Ugly. You know wide stripes went out with finned cars?"
Mouth on Rusty's throat, collarbone. Nipple, and Christ. There went another batch of brain cells. Hopefully, they'd be able to find their way home after the party. "I have it on good authority that they're coming back."
Rusty looked at him. Whereupon Danny shifted his grip from ribcage to waist, and jerked Rusty down. Held him still until the spasms worked their way out, which incidentally trapped Rusty's hands within striking distance. That was odd, Rusty noted as his vision blurred: he didn't think the skin beneath his nails was supposed to be a sensitive spot.
"You seem to really like that tattoo," Rusty gasped, trying out a wriggle. Danny's eyes went pure black.
"I like it," the other man acknowledged, diving behind Rusty's ear and rasping his teeth over the soft skin there. It was a wonder any of Rusty's nerves were still functioning, but they were. And apparently, they were all going spastic to the tune of Danny's whistling.
"So do I. And would you stop that? It's distract-" A mouth descended on Rusty's lips, cutting off his speech, but also halting Danny's grating keen. Thank God. The man had many gifts, but a sense of pitch wasn't one of them.
Sense of timing, though. Sense of heat, and completion, and-Rusty was never going to be able to see the world the same way. For one, he wasn't sure if the bright spots in his vision were ever going to disappear.
Danny bucked and groaned into Rusty's neck, then subsided. Heavy, but in a good way. Let Rusty know the man was still with him.
"Do we really want to inflict Miguel on Frank C.?" Danny asked after a few minutes of slowing down and catching up.
"Especially when we can't watch?" Rusty stared at the ceiling. "Well, he is being stubborn. When did he get a girlfriend?"
"Around the same time I…" Danny faltered, and by now Rusty knew what that meant. "…the same time I met Tess."
Rusty was beginning to regret not having pestered Danny into letting him meet her earlier. Sure, it'd spared him a lot of grief then, but if he had, then he would've known with what he was dealing now. There were all sorts of odd currents between the two of them, and while he was sure most of that was personal issues, it was the tiny percentage of shared concerns that worried him.
"We really need to do something about that," he reluctantly said. "Okay. On the to-do list."
Danny's face brightened.
"But not when you've got me propped up against a wall," Rusty added.
"Oh, right." The mock-addled expression on Danny wouldn't have fooled an eighty-year-old virgin spinster. "I should do something about that, too."
Which cued Rusty's eyeroll. "You do any more and I won't be able to wa…" Damn, the man's mouth was quick.
And that cued the interruption.
"Hey…Rusty?" called Linus' voice.
They stifled their groans against each other, and Danny eventually let Rusty down and helped tidy things. Then steadied him until his balance decided to show up. "Why's he asking for you?" the other man asked.
"I wouldn't know. Did you get any on my pants?"
Danny did a fast but thorough once-over. "No, you're good. Wrinkled, but a half-hour with the travel iron should fix that."
Because he deserved it, Rusty smacked Danny upside the head as he left to go chat with Linus about…whatever partially-immortal rookie grifters needed to discuss. Did he even have the background for this kind of thing?
Never mind. He could always fake it.
Tess watched a speck of dust swirl all over the space above the bed, then blew at it when it started to descend.
She'd kissed G.
She wasn't drunk.
She was here because of Danny.
Was any of this even supposed to make sense? Or was it one of those fractured screams in metal and wood that aimed to completely shatter any conscious thought?
More likely she was on the rebound, and reacting with the closest warm, marginally friendly body. And there was absolutely no truth in what G said. None.
Okay, so maybe Tess cheated a bit on her tax returns. Her and almost three hundred million others. And she did double-park once in a while. And snitch candy from the big bins, even when the store offered free samples upon request. But she wasn't a criminal. She didn't like criminals. They were unshaven brutes that showed up on the news and glowered at the camera, and they murdered and raped and stole-
--God. She'd just heard details of a plan to break into the Met and steal a priceless work of art and history, which maybe was also an instrument of mass-destruction, and she wasn't even doing anything. A phone was sitting right across the way, and she wasn't lunging for it so she could inform the police, like she should.
She should. She really should, no matter how appealing Danny still was, and how generous G had been, and how threatening Miguel was. She had a duty.
She wasn't moving.
Obviously, Tess was still traumatized. And because of that, she'd developed a serious…oh, for God's sake. Even her pity-party wasn't believing that.
It was much harder to turn in the criminals when they didn't act like criminals. Danny knew the right wines to go with everything, and far too many details of jewelry and collectibles, but he'd been thoughtful and funny and genuinely engaging right up until…actually, he'd been pretty restrained through the ongoing mess of them, whereas Tess had made quite the fool of herself.
That could have been an act. Somehow, Tess didn't think so. Well, not really. She had a feeling that nothing was ever entirely free of sleight-of-hand in Danny's world, but he had been trying to keep that away from her. He wouldn't have to make that kind of effort with Rusty, of course. Must be nice for them.
"And they are not pretty together," Tess muttered. "G was wrong about that, at least."
They were not. They did flow into each other as easy as river joining river, but that was long acquaintance and like mind. Though…
When she'd walked in on them for the second time, Rusty had had the strangest expression. Eyes almost closed, hands twined so tightly in Danny's shirt they'd seemed to merge with the fabric…and something close to pain on his face.
If it'd been a photograph in a gallery, she would've bought it on the spot for the sheer power of it. And then she might have started to notice the aesthetic aspect.
Too late for that alternate route, though-not after Danny's words in the hallway. The only chance Tess would've had with that would have been to come in at the same time, and she'd thrown away that. Those two were welded together now, bone to bone and mind to mind and hand to hand.
Anyway, wasn't she supposed to be slightly more concerned about her sudden shift in sexuality? She'd gotten side-tracked a good deal since Danny had shown up in her life, and she still was. World shifts, and she was barely registering them, let alone reacting. Which hinted that she didn't actually have as many anchors as she'd thought she'd had.
Face the truth. "I've been unhappy. And then he came and made me laugh."
Tess rolled over onto her stomach, filling the dip G had left. "And she came and made me think. Great."
However things turned out, it wasn't going to be an easy solution.