Six to Eight Months
by Cherry Ice

~ arrêt~

Tess met Danny at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was February and grey outside with the slush and the smog, so she wore white. She was in a glam phase, an art buyer for a small but trendy (obscenely expensive) gallery nestled between almost twin towers of glass and steel, so the diamonds on her handbag were real.

The exhibit was new age, modern. Danny looked like something the new year forgot, with a green ascot just a shade too bright. Standing in the corner and sipping something amber when everyone knew that a clear drink, or brightly coloured, brought attention to the way you handled the glass, the quirk of your lips as you toasted.

There was a carefully dead space around him. People would brush though it, sidelong glances, but the steady undulation of high-society kept a measured distance. He was staring intently at a twisted mass of iron and ebony and blown glass.

"I think," she said, breaking the dead space, "that it rather resembles two amorous aardvarks."

"Nah," he said with an inclination of his head. "*That* one looks like a pair of amorous aardvarks. This one looks like a jellyfish trying to mate with a rather unwilling anteater."

She tilted her head. If she hadn't gotten herself so trained out of it, she may have laughed. "You're right." There was a silence, and she watched his hands. The way they were unearthly still. She was willing to bet he smoked -- not cigarillos, not Cubans, just plain old cigarettes, unfiltered and never mind the mild or the menthol. "I'm going to buy it anyway."

He cocked an eyebrow. "Really? I've have thought the Vermeer two rooms over was more your style."

It was, but she wasn't going to let him know he'd picked out her favourite in the museum. "I know a nice old man uptown who'd love it."

"A nice, old, rich man, I take it."

"A nice, old, corrupt oil tycoon." Someone bumped into her, a man with invisible eyes, and she fell off balance.

Danny caught her, and he nodded. "Ah. One of those. What will your cut be?"

She named a figure. He blinked, and shook his head. "I'm in the wrong line of business," he said.

When she reached into her purse his eyes narrowed for a fraction of a second, then were purposefully neutral. She gave him her phone number, and told him to call her if he ever got into the right one.

It wasn't until she got home that she realized she didn't usually carry a pen in her bag.


Rusty takes her home, after they put Danny into the back of a police car and he smirks through the window at her, with his cravat just the wrong shade of blue and the blood on his lip the wrong shade of red.

Rusty is the one who finds her sitting on the steps, still in that stupid gold dress and those stupid little shoes and she's *always* hated heels.

"Hey," he says, and drops down beside her. Impeccable suit and tie the right shade of maroon, his hands dance a rhythm against the marble cool beneath them. He looks naked to her, vulnerable, and there's a moment where she thinks it's because Danny's not there.

But it's just because there's nothing in his mouth. When she thinks of him, he is sprawled across Danny's couch, talking and working his way through one of those tootsie-pop rolls, and she's always wanted to ask him how many licks it takes to get to the centre.

"Ready to go?" he asks, and she shakes her head. Mist from the fountain hits them and she shivers. Her toes and knees are bare, and the chill creeps up the sleeves of her coat to work at her fingers, clenched inside.

"My stuff," she says. "It's all still --"

He looks at her kindly, and she wonders if she was right the first time. His mouth quirks, and she thinks she sees something of Danny in that smile. "Is it really your stuff?" he asks, and she's wrong because Danny is wonderful and sweet and he'd never pick up on the subtle changes, the oriental styling of Terry's suits and the embroidery upon her dresses.

"Let's go," she says, and Rusty drapes his suit jacket over her shoulders. His shirt is shiny and matches his eyes (or his eyes match it) and when he wraps an arm around her, it's silky beneath her cheek.

"First things first," he says as they walk away. "We're going to get you some *shoes*..."

~ décalage~

Tess's hair was bright red when she met Danny. She remembers because when she was jostled and fell against him, her hair swung across the white fabric of her dress and it looked like she was bleeding and she didn't even know it.

When she married him there was a bit of purple in it. Just a little, so no one would notice the tint. But Rusty did. Danced with her at the wedding (best man and the bride and they danced so beautifully, knew all the right steps and how to keep people at arm's length), kissed her on the cheek and whispered that the purple suited her. She'd just wanted it to look less like blood, and she didn't notice -- wasn't glad -- that Rusty kissed her cheek instead of letting his hand linger a second or two too long on Danny's back.

When she moved into the Bellagio, she dyed it a low, burnished copper. Terry never said anything about it, about how she'd picked it specifically because of the way it caught the lights in the casino and hotel, but there was always a smile on his face when he ran his fingers through it, kissed the crown of her head.

She'd let it lapse back to a brown after Danny went to jail. A plain, ordinary colour for an ordinary woman who'd failed to notice her husband did not, in fact, sell insurance and bibles door-to-door, but was in fact a criminal mastermind.

Strange that for all the things she'd noticed and not said a word about, that one had escaped her notice.


There are eleven of them. The job's over and done, and not a one of them is ever going to have to work again, but they finished an eleven different than they started. The get together and hold a vote one day, the correct remaining ten, and they cut Tess in. She's not sure, exactly, what Rusty had to say (and do) to get them to agree to the idea -- the notion that they had too much money to know what to do with not really holding amongst thieves -- but she takes the money anyway.

And they drift apart. One by one, until it's just Tess and Rusty in a city that doesn't want them.

They hit the road after Bruiser pays them a visit. He breaks down the door to the hotel room (Rusty sleeps on the sofa, restlessly, but the one night she made him take the bed he slept restlessly as well), picks it up again, and sets it gently into the frame. "Sorry 'bout that," he says. "Has to look impressive."

Rusty makes tea, and Bruiser makes some intimidating noises. Throws himself up against a wall and hits his fist to his palm so the noise of fist on flesh comes from somewhere. Tess sits on the sofa, feet drawn up beneath her and Rusty's blankets pooled around her. When Bruiser breaks the coffee table, she points out a rather heinous piece of art that's been offending her sensibilities for the past few weeks. Rusty sits down beside her, hands her a cup of tea (half cream, no sugar) and they talk about Boston, New York, LA. Bruiser drops down across from them, breathing hard, and drinks the third cup of tea (two sugars and a swirl of honey) while Rusty and Tess pack.

They talk about ways to tell if you've set off a silent alarm, how to get past a metal detector, and whether or not Christina lip-syncs.

Traveling with Rusty isn't bad. He's still driving the same old beast, but the seats are wide and comfortable, the radio's loud, and there's always something on hand for snacking. One time they talk for an hour and a half about the relative merits of Da Vinci and she finds someone else who thinks Da Vinci's paintings, more than anything, show his scientific mind. On their way through Kansas they have a conversation about aliens, the noble platypus, and experiments in wheat bombing. She doesn't say anything about the stain on the floor in the back that probably isn't marinara sauce.

It's something different in every town. Slowly at first, but Tess is a quick learner. Insurance in Albuquerque, pool in Boston, pockets in New York, a stamp museum in Houston.

LA is a grafter's dream, but Rusty's really more of a grifter and Tess is --

They don't stay long. Rusty looks in on his kindergarten poker club, takes them for enough that they'll never play him again after Ashton decides it would be a good idea to lick Tess's neck.

"Who says there's no honour amongst thieves?" Tess asks as they fly down the interstate. Rusty is drinking Dr. Pepper from an old-fashioned glass bottle with one hand on the wheel and she's counting the money with the top down.

The sun is bright and warm, and he laughs.


Rusty has developed a fondness for crackerjack, and Tess has developed a fondness for the surprises inside. She keeps them in a small inside pocket in her suitcase, and Rusty only smiles and catches popcorn with his mouth.

They send Danny a box. Tess opens it up to slip a different prize inside, colours the wrapping with pencil crayons. Rusty watches over her shoulder, and she is so used to his crunching that she only realizes *what* he's crunching when half the box is gone.

There's no return address, no card, but with the nail file and the missing popcorn, they think he'll figure it out.

~ et nulle part~

She doesn't remember meeting Rusty. He's just always been there. Where there was Danny, there was Rusty. If you find a coin, you don't just find one side of it. Danny dreamed the dream, and Rusty made it come true.

Sometimes she thinks that when she met Danny, she met Rusty. Not face-to-face, but that part of him that was always there. Something in Danny's wry grin always spoke of him.

She and Rusty were never that close. Sometimes it seemed that Danny was all they had in common; because at that time she was the model wife. Was unaware of the looseness within her own skin, her own chimerical tendencies.

Even if she had been, Rusty was just Rusty, or a very good impersonation thereof.

Now, she looks at him and sees the pieces of who he is a bit at a time. Rusty is never in his own skin; never still or steady.

She looks at him and sees the ways he fits together. She sees the love for the con and the win and the way he squirms in small spaces and the way he always has to be able to see exactly what's going on, sees the way he can't be trapped into any one place or any one person or any one skin; and if Danny went to jail for her this time, she doesn’t think he's ever done time for himself.


They're the perfect couple. He's got the right amount of wave in his hair and his suit is perfectly tailored and the small wire frames balance jauntily on the bridge of his nose. Her hair is blonde and bouffant and her ankles are neatly crossed. She sips her tea (two creams and a sugar), holding a teacup and saucer perfectly still to spite the fact that the emeralds on her bracelet make her wrist heavy.

They sit in a library. Rusty chats amicably with their host about the price of oil and the foreign markets and those damn faggots in the military while his wife confides in Tess about her family's secret strawberry shortcake recipe and the declining standards in schools today (there's a guttergirl in her little boy's class, and what does the school think they're paying these thousands of dollars for if not to keep their little angel away from riffraff like that?).

Tess nods and sips at her cloying tea and watches Rusty. Watches the way he leans back in the leather chair, the line of his neck, the lines around his eyes and the cadence of his voice as he talks about the good ole' boys and moral decay. Sees the way the crucifix falls from beneath his collar as he leans forward to confide that sometimes he thinks the country would be a better place if all the foreigners went back where they were wanted.

Tess smiles at the wife again, asks after her polo club, and tightens her hands around her cup.

She watches Rusty at home in this skin, looking for any traces of the Rusty below, because it's all that's stopping her from tackling the woman sitting across from her and strangling the life out of her on her very expensive oriental rug.

She makes a note to make sure they lift the rug as well.


The carpet is deep and plush (should be with the rate they're paying for this room), and it prickles her elbows. Rusty is sprawled on his back across the couch with his head hanging off. He's chewing on a green straw and watching the TV upside down, but he's still kicking her ass at Grand Theft Auto. He's completely focused, and his eyes are unguarded.

"How'd we meet?" she asks.

"Stop trying to distract me," he says. "Wait your turn and take your whooping like a man."

She sighs and watches him lift two more cars, then turns the TV off. "Hey!" he says. "I was playing that. You were going to be too, but now I get your turn."

Tess cross her arms and looks down at him. He's still upside down and half-off the couch, and doing his best to be invisible.

It's not a thing. Nothing specific, but he always gets like that when he's being questioned. Probably doesn't even realize that he's doing it.

And she's seen it before.

"Danny?" he asks with a quirked eyebrow. "I can pretty much assure you we met through Danny."

"Ever been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art?" she asks.

The eyebrow makes another appearance. "I'm a con artist. I'm a thief. What do you think?"

"I think we met beside an exhibit that bore a rather striking resemblance to a jelly fish mating with an anteater."

"No, I was with you the first time. Two amorous aardvarks. The other one just looked like someone stomped on an orange."

"Uhuh," she says, and waits for it.

He shrugs. "Turn the TV back on?"

"Thanks," she says, and does so.

He blinks. "For what? Stealing your wallet?"

She remembers the twitch in Danny's eye and she reached for her purse. He hadn't put it back. "For the pen," she says.

Rusty shrugs, and kicks her ass at Grand Theft Auto some more.

~six à huit~

They meet up with the Malloys in New York. Go to one of Yen's performances that one night they venture back into Nevada. Have dinner with Linus in Chicago. Hang out with Saul at the track and watch the dog races. No one asks when Danny's getting out.

She saw Rusty mail a letter once. Doesn't need to have seen the envelope to know whom it was to, have read it to know what it said. 'I'm taking care of her.'

She thinks of Rusty, putting in his time with B-list starlets, and it's okay, because if she'd written Danny a letter, that's what hers would have said. 'I'm looking after him.'

She thinks Danny knows. She always did.

It's inevitable, really. They come together like they're breathing. Like they've forgotten to breath. Rusty and his casual touches as he slips skins, the way she lets her hand drift to his back to remind him that sometimes he has to come back to himself.

He's reading schematics over her shoulder, his breath warm on her neck and he smells like grape lollipops and new leather. He leans forward, taps his finger against the weakness in the bank vault, and he's got his arm around her. His sleeve is rucked up, clearly displaying the tattoo that twines up, black ink marking him as who he is, reminding him to come back home when Danny's gone and she's not around. "There," he says, tapping his finger again, and she can't help but agree.

She turns her head (because that's all it takes, doesn't have to lean up or down or forward, just turns her head) and takes his face in her hands and kisses him. Long and deep and it's like she's remembering that there's this thing called 'air' and yes, it's good (so good) for you. There's a second, a minute, and hour where there's nothing and he's got one hand on the table behind her and the other joins it and *there.* She winds her hands behind his neck, pulls him in deeper, and he shifts. Runs his fingers through her hair and down her sides and kisses her jaw, her neck, and she gasps and arcs.

Then his hands are on her hips, a familiar, half-remembered weight and the ghost of lips race before his and she pushes him away. Shakes her head, her hair loose and unruly and in her eyes and she can hear Rusty's long exhalation.

"Right," he says, and his voice is painfully neutral. He's in a stranger's skin, but he's not wearing Danny's any longer. Grabs his coat from the chair and heads for the door.

"That's not what I --" she starts, but Rusty is still walking, so she throws herself forward. He can't get out the door if she's leaning against it. "That's not what I meant," she says.

Rusty's eyes are his own, at least. Burning and full of self-recrimination. "I'm sorry," he says with that even voice. "It wasn't supposed to--"

But it *was,* and she has no words, so she yanks him against her. His hands are around her waist, those wonderful, animated hands sitting so very, very still, and his mouth quirked to one side. She knows that if she just stays here he'll have to start doing something with it because he can never not.

But that's not what she wants. She wants --

She can see him swallow. Feel his heart beat. She knows that he wants this. A perfect circle. "You --" she starts. "With Danny." She's always known she was sharing Danny with Rusty, but she's never said it out loud. "You don't play Tess with Danny. Don't play Danny with me."

And he just looks at her. Some surprise (but not much) in his eyes, and does he really thinks that Danny is the only one who's ever wanted him?

"Just Rusty," she says, and his hands on her hips shift almost imperceptibly and maybe he doesn't notice the looks Linus gives him or the women on the street or the men in the bars.

He kisses her and it's nothing like familiar and it's exactly like everything she's been missing.

~ à l'infini~

After the heist, they had enough money to do anything they wanted. Rusty and Tess rolled across the country. Lost a bit of cash here and there but came out with a great deal more than they started with.

And when they pull up to the penitentiary it's in Rusty's same old beast.

They're a few hours early -- had to make a hasty exit from Reno, Benedict's goons -- so they sit in the parking lot with the top down and stare at the sun. Her hair is back to reddish brown and Rusty still has a tan from the week they spent in Florida. She knows just how far the tan goes, and she doesn't think it'll be long before Danny does too. That'll raise some questions -- that, and the bruise she left ever so neatly where Rusty's shoulder slopes into his neck.

They're going to have to deal with this eventually, but she and Rusty have been good about sharing thus far, and Danny's been really quite good about sharing himself.

"It's going to be fine," Rusty says. Her feet are resting in his lap and she wants to kiss him, but Benedict's guys followed them all the way from Reno and she really doesn't feel like giving them a free show.

"It's going to be more than fine," she says, and kisses him anyway. He slips something onto her finger, and she stares down. "I sold this," she says, sharply.

Rusty shrugs. "And I bought it. Lucky coincidence."

She really doesn't know what to say.

"Time to collect the prodigal son," he grins, swiping half her sandwich off the dash. He swings out and strides across the parking lot. She flips their audience the bird as she slips into the back seat.

It feels odd, to be in the back. To be alone, and she thinks of climbing back into the front, sitting in the middle with her arms along the seatback.

Someday maybe, but today is not the right day and the symbolism is all wrong anyway.

She smiles, because Danny's still wearing that suit with the ascot just the wrong shade of blue, and Rusty's still a perfect picture on shifting skin, and she really can't think of anywhere else she'd rather be.

The road is open before them, the sun is bright, and she can't remember the last time the sky looked this blue.

~ initié~