I'll Never Be Anything I Hate
by alejandra

"i built a dam out of hatred, man
blocking out everything that i knew"
- headstones, cut

Rusty knew it would be a bad idea even before he stepped foot on the airplane. He knew it would be a bad idea before Danny even opened his mouth. He knew it would be a bad idea before they'd woken up that morning. But Danny was in love and Danny liked to think that he always got what he wanted and Danny wanted those Incan masks

Danny knew enough to not bother to ask Rusty to go with him, and that was Danny's mistake. He wanted to prove that he didn't need Rusty and all he ended up proving was that Rusty was right from the beginning about Tess -- and that Danny wouldn't die if he had to spend three years in a cell.

Three years without Danny, three years to replay all the events in his head and think about everything he could have done differently, three years of smiling his way through Hollywood, scamming baby actors who didn't know any better; he even consulted on a crime movie (or three). Not because he needed the money, but what else did he have to do? He sure as hell wasn't going to sit around like some teenager with a broken heart.

Life's a scam, so you're either the operator or you're being conned. Danny conned Rusty -- Rusty knows it. Maybe Danny doesn't. And you can't go back -- you gotta think on your feet, go forward with the game no matter what. Frank's good at that; so is Rusty.

Rusty's been waiting for Danny to show up ever since he got the call from Frank: now it's a scam on Danny. How does Rusty convey a bit of surprise without giving Danny the upper hand? He wasn't expecting Danny to show up at his poker school; Danny doing the unexpected is new.

He wonders what else is new about Danny, but the answer is easy: nothing. It's about a girl, because it's always about a girl with Danny, and it's about revenge, because it's always about revenge with Danny. Rusty spends the next few weeks -- and then the next three to six months -- waiting for Danny to spring the surprise, waiting for Danny's scam, the real scam, not this Terry Benedict bullshit, to show itself.



So maybe that's the second unexpected thing Danny did: it really was about the girl.

Rusty's a bit dubious, because -- no. He doesn't ask that question, the one that is always on the tip of his tongue, ever since New York, five and a half years ago when Danny met Tess and told her he was in investments. Rusty doesn't ask that question, not even at night, when no one's looking, after a fifth of scotch and some of that cheap, late-night Cinemax porn, is: what does Tess have that Rusty doesn't? Red hair and bad taste in art that complements perfectly Danny's bad taste in art, and that's about it, as far as Rusty can see. Well, red hair, bad taste, poor fashion sense, and a real distaste for Danny's lifestyle.


Bad taste, poor fashion sense, and a real distaste for Danny's lifestyle are the three things Tess has that Rusty doesn't, because when Rusty swings by Tess's small condo in Los Angeles, Tess has blonde hair.

"Ready?" he asks, and Tess runs a hand over her hair.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" she says to him, and she looks uncertain, but Rusty can tell she's smirking on the inside.

"That's a good color for you," he says, and holds the door open for her. On their way out of the city, Rusty stops and gets a greasy taco with too much orange cheese on top. If he's gonna scam Tess for three thousand miles, he's going to need fuel.


The first night they stop at a small motel right off the highway, and Rusty pays cash for a room. Tess isn't thrilled with the mattresses -- Rusty has to agree; springs poking him in the back don't make for restful sleep -- but she holds up well nevertheless, and Rusty's a little annoyed, because he wants her to complain, to make it even easier to dislike her.

They take turns in the bathroom and don't talk to each other except to decide what to eat for supper, and she reads a novel while Rusty flips channels until he hits poker games on ESPN.


The drive is easy, fast; hell on the car. He keeps the top up during the day and puts it down when the sun goes down; Tess pulls her hair back in a filmy orange scarf that reminds Rusty of cat vomit, but doesn't complain.

Rusty's waiting for Benedict's guys to show themselves, and they do, the second night, in a seedy diner. Rusty's eating pecan pie -- it was their waitress's suggestion, and it's surprisingly good. It came with a phone number on a napkin tucked under the plate, a barely readable scrawl, labeled "Wanda June."

If Tess wasn't there, Rusty still wouldn't call it, but he does let himself appreciate Wanda June's even-toned brown skin and almost-black eyes and the swing in her step. She walks like she's a waitress in a movie, not a waitress in a one-stoplight town in the middle of nowhere.

When they're done eating, Tess goes over to talk to Benedict's men, despite Rusty's warnings not to. She looks disappointed when she slides back into the booth -- disappointed by what they said? By Rusty still being there?

"Terry sent a message: he says he's watching." She cradles her face in her hands and stares at Rusty. He ignores her eyes, focuses on his pie and creamy coffee. "He's watching you," she says, and Rusty hears it, the bit of resentment: she's still sulking about being tossed over for one hundred fifty million dollars.

"Of course he's watching; what were you expecting? Danny stole his girlfriend -- and Benedict thinks Danny stole his money, too." The last bite of the pie is all buttery crust, and Rusty washes it down with a last mouthful of coffee.

"Gee, Rusty, I wonder why Terry would think that," says Tess, a little too sharply, and Rusty finally looks up at her.

"I don't know why he'd think that, Tess," he says evenly, and motions to Wanda June for the check.


Rusty expects Tess to break on the third day, but she ignores him. She's reading The Maltese Falcon, and Rusty spends most of the drive thinking about which one of them is Sam Spade, which is Brigid, and which Iva, and doesn't come to any conclusions he likes -- because any way you play it, Rusty is either Sam or Iva, and Tess is Brigid.

Except if you play it the right way, Rusty is Sam and Danny is Brigid and that's not a way that Rusty likes to think about.


Tess breaks the third night.

She turns to Rusty before she puts her book away -- she finished The Maltese Falcon and started on God Save the Mark, and Rusty's thinking is that she's got this going on purpose -- and waits for him to look at her.

He can watch poker forever, but lets her have her small victory; what else does she have, really?

Well, she has Danny, so perhaps Rusty shouldn't have looked over at her so quickly.

"It'll never be the same between you two now that I'm back," she says coolly.

Rusty says the only thing he can say -- which he knows because he knew it would come up sooner or later; he doesn't like Tess and he doesn't like who Danny is around her, but she's not stupid and she's not blind, for all that Danny can be. "He really did take Benedict's money."

Then he turns off the television and turns out the light, and by the time Tess is recovered enough to say anything -- if she recovered at all -- Rusty was asleep. Rusty won't regret it, not for one minute; he wouldn't trade the look on Tess's washed-out face for another share of the take or all the tea in china or a really good burger stand.

He'll pay for it, though, when they reach Danny.


Tess's book for the last half of the fourth day is The Getaway; now Rusty knows she's sending him a nasty message.


They find a burger place -- Jersey is full of them, although not as full as it used to be now that there's an Applebee's on every other corner, and Denny's in between -- and Rusty's halfway through his third when his chest starts to burn. He tosses the burger, but knows it's just Danny, walking out of the doors, down to Rusty, and it's like old times for the few steps to the car.

Then Danny slides into the back, which had to have been Tess's plan all along, since she'd been shotgun when Rusty got out of the car to stand at the gate. She played him; maybe he let her because he didn't want to have the fight he knows is coming.


Rusty is holding firm to his theory that this is still a con. Danny can't really want Tess -- the hundred fifty million, eleven person heist (fourteen-person, actually, if you include Bruiser, Charmaine, and Tess, which Rusty does, even though none of the last three get a cut) can't just have been so Danny could get his ex-wife back. His ex-wife who divorced him when he stole her ridiculous Incan matrimonial masks.

Of course, that was the only heist she knew about, and that was only because Rusty hadn't been the detail man on that job. She never knew why Danny took her to Belize on their honeymoon, why Danny had to travel all over the world to make investments instead of just using a computer, why Rusty was always around -- she must have suspected something.

Maybe she thought they were lovers.

Maybe Rusty would have to take back his judgment that she wasn't stupid.

Maybe the moon was really made of green cheese, like Rusty's mother had claimed when he was two years old.


One of the packages Tess brought with her was a small book on Manet, and opening it made Danny grin in a way Rusty really didn't like.

If this wasn't a con, Rusty was giving up, and taking his cut, and going back to L.A. and his precocious actors. Danny always swore he'd never stay in L.A. longer than twenty-four hours at a time, so Rusty would be safe from Danny's sappy smiles and Tess's triumphant ones.


Day two with Danny: they are going back to Nevada, to Reuben's estate. This seems like a mistake -- but it seems like more of a mistake to contradict Danny in front of Tess, and Rusty has no opportunities to talk to Danny without her. She doesn't even go to the bathroom, or let them piss together.

Rusty wants to drive, but Danny insists that he should get to, so Rusty is relegated to the back seat and Tess sits in the front next to Danny.

This is not the way of the world.

Tess's novels are all in the back -- she hadn't gotten to the omnibus of Cornell Woolrich. Rusty read I Married a Dead Man, and didn't think about what message that was sending.

When they stop at a rest area, Rusty teaches two five year old girls how to cheat at cards while Danny and Tess disappear into the trees. He lets the girls win every game and wonders when he became such a softy.

Danny looks pristine when he and Tess emerge from the woods, but Tess is rumpled and has a grass stain on her blouse. Danny isn't usually that careless; Tess must have wanted Rusty to see, to know. Rusty crumples up his almost-empty potato chip bag and climbs into the back of the car.


The rest of the trip is more of the same. He and Danny don't talk about old times -- Rusty tried to bring up one or two and Danny didn't grin and joke around. He glanced back at Rusty and then over at Tess, who was reading The Long Goodbye (which makes Rusty scowl; he is not one of Danny's alter-egos, and they are not two sides of the same coin to never be seen at the same time), and shook his head very slightly.

Danny and Tess sometimes talk about buying an apartment, where they should live, what Danny should do with his life. Tess wants to go back to being a curator, although she's sure that Benedict won't give her a reference.

"Sure he will," says Rusty, and thinks very hard about how much he doesn't want a bag of Skittles or a cigarette. "He's feeling guilty about throwing you over for money."

"I don't want to play on his guilt for my job," says Tess coldly.

"You won't have to play him. Just call him and be yourself," replies Rusty. The rift between Tess and him grows wider every time Danny picks which one of them to speak to first -- always Tess. Always Tess. And the thin covering over the rift -- all they have left is civility -- is wearing thin. Rusty wants to pick at it, to make Tess crack first. He wants Danny to see who she really is.

She's fucking scamming Danny fucking Ocean and Danny isn't gonna do a fucking thing about it. She's conning the number one con in the business, and he's just gonna let it happen.


Rusty never thought he would see the day when Danny Ocean wanted to be scammed, wanted to believe in the scam.

It's almost a relief that now he knows how this is going to end. He doesn't want it to, but he does want it to -- he wants to stay, he wants to leave. He wants to leave, and he wants his oldest friend to choose to go with him -- but he knows it's never going to happen.

Rusty knows he's scamming himself when he tells himself that he can accept that as long as Danny's happy.

He's relieved when they finally reach Reuben, because atmosphere in the car is heavy and thick -- like when it was just him and Danny, but now it's because of Danny and Tess.

Rusty doesn't like that, which is enough of an understatement to have him smirking at himself for the last hour of the drive.


In the last town they stopped in, Rusty tried to find a noirish crime novel in which the female died, but couldn't, and when he asked the bookseller, he received a funny look for his trouble, and left the store quickly. He wanted to send Tess a message, but when they reach Reuben, the irritation on his face when he sees Tess is message enough.

Except Reuben has a line on a new job, and Tess gets to send Rusty a message when she squeezes Danny's arm. Rusty wants to be surprised when Danny tells Reuben that he can't go in -- but life doesn't work like that.

Rusty wants this to be a big scam, Danny's biggest ever, but he's getting the idea that it's really not, that maybe Danny's out of the business for good. He'll get lazy and he'll go soft, and he'll always have an eye for the heist and an ear for the con, but he'll never do it again -- at least, not so long as Tess is standing there between Danny and the rest of the world.


Rusty never thought Danny would think of him as part of the rest of the world, but when Rusty and Reuben leave for France and some kind of music box that plays mathematical codes, Danny claps him on the back and Tess smirks at him.

"Watch out for Benedict's men," warns Rusty, standing in the doorway. "They're getting impatient."

"You know I can take care of myself," says Danny. The grooves around his mouth are deep, and Rusty knows no such thing, but he still climbs into the back of Reuben's garishly white limousine and drives away.


Reuben lights him a cigar and has the driver stop at the next greasy taco stand they see, and the game is on -- but Rusty's heart isn't in it until they reach France and meet Julian, their new idea man.


"I hear you're good with details," says Julian, shaking Rusty's hand. His grip is stronger than he looks, and he's got some kind of fancy accent. Rusty's gonna figure him out fast -- faster than usual.

"He's the best," says Reuben, who has already seated himself in what looks to be an extremely uncomfortable armchair that doesn't actually have any arms. Danny would know what it was -- probably some kind of French furniture.

But Danny isn't here, and Rusty reminds himself of that. Julian holds onto his hand a bit too long, and keeps his stare a bit too long, and maybe that's just because he's European, but maybe not. So maybe Rusty can do this a little better than he thought; he hasn't lost his edge; he's only lost his partner.

"If Reuben says it, then it must be true -- I'm the best," he confirms with a cocky grin. Julian looks at him long and hard, and when he finally lets go of Rusty's hand, Rusty tosses a couple of M&Ms into his mouth.

It's time to play the game, and it's true -- Rusty is the best. Now that Danny's out, anyway.


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