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Men of Confidence

by girl-wonder

[Story Headers]

He rolled over and stared at the two of them. He would like to claim that it was his territory, make it clear to them that while they were welcome for this brief con, in the long term he had more invested in Texas than they ever could.

He wanted to make it clear who was in charge.

Instead, he saw the two of them getting ready for bed, the careful way that they didn't touch each other, the careful way that they were not aware of him, of each other.

He rolled back over and thought that he wouldn't need to remind them.

"Drinking alone tonight?"

He glanced at the man who took the seat next to him, the coifed manner that the man presented. He could con this man, he thought, especially if the man kept looking at him like that.

Business, he reminded himself. Right. "Waiting for friends," he answered easily.

"Huh. Friends? Lonnie sends his love, by the way." The man gestured to a booth, where someone else was already sitting. "Let's take this somewhere else."

Snatching what was left of his beer off of the bar, he followed.

"I'm Danny, this is Rusty." He shook the extended hand, smiling a wide Texas smile. He liked the role, most city cons thought he was dull, their loss, his gain.

He tried out his new name, tasting it silently before extending it to them, "Sawyer, nice to meet you, folks."

Inside he winced. He wasn't sure that Sawyer would ever say "folks" he tried to remember if he ever heard him say it before shaking it off with a smile.

"Well, Sawyer, we have an interesting opportunity here," Danny had the ball of the conversation. Everyone already knew that his participation was guaranteed, but really, they needed to keep up appearances.

He learned that he was good at conning by accident, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, though he knew if he was anyone else's son, it would have been the right place at the right time.

Realization came over a poker game. He charmed two men out of all their money and the third left with just barely enough to pay for a cab. At first he thought that it was luck, but when he got back to his room, counted the hundreds he remembered his satisfaction at taking the two men's money. He remembered how easy it was to see their cards in their eyes, mouths, fingers.

Under his breath he cursed. The next night at a new table, he made sure to clean out the third man, too.

It was his first trip to Atlantic City, his first real gambling experience, the first time he had run away from the foster family without the cops picking him up a town later. Eighteen and it was legal now, his leaving. He was legal. He could leave without goodbye and not go back, ever.

Thinking back later, he realized he should have been afraid that they would screw him over. Later, when he was running single man cons, when he stopped depending on anyone but himself (and his backers, but he also owed most of them a lot of money, so he didn't depend so much as realize their inevitability in his life) he would have laughed if two men had approached him in a bar with the name of a casual acquaintance and expected him to go for it.

But, Rusty and Danny were Rusty and Danny. Back then, they were just a little less green than he was, and the three of them had worked well together, his casual Texan persona mixing well with their city-slick ones.

He would still work with them now, if they showed up and asked.

Smiling, Sawyer could see Rusty walking up the beach, his eyes covered by sunglasses, his jacket hanging unbuttoned, his mouth chewing airplane peanuts.

He'd crouch down, and look at Sawyer over the rim of his glasses, "You're gonna burn like that."

Sawyer opened his eyes. Standing over him, Kate's head blocked out the sun. He squinted anyway.

"Well, hey there, sweetheart." He made a show of looking at the distance between him and the rest of the beach crowd. "Came all this way to see me?"

She frowned, and turned. He watched her walk down the beach.

Rusty probably would have allowed him the lecherous grin, but then Rusty always did know how to work situations when he had the advantage. Really, Rusty knew how to work situations until he had the advantage.

Rusty held out his card to the woman, his room number written on the back. It was a smooth play, Sawyer thought. Behind himself, behind Sawyer, he wondered if Rusty would sleep with her, if she had kids, if she had a son, if...

Next to him, Danny shook his glass, ice making a harsh sound in the silence. Out of the corner of his eyes, Sawyer was used to seeing the jealous glances that they threw each other. He'd lived with four other children, always saw love and power plays as inseparable.

Rusty wouldn't sleep with her. Danny gestured and the bartender refilled his glass. They had twenty minutes to get the bank's codes from her bag, and the hand that was resting on her thigh was distracting her from the hand in her bag. When Sawyer looked at Danny in the mirror over the bar, Danny was looking everywhere but at Rusty.

It happened short and fast, their first con together. It was a one-two punch. Three high rollers who wanted a game. They all bought themselves in at different times, one lost everything and left, making marks overconfident. The other two took everything the high-rollers had.

It was a good plan.

When they divided the earnings, it was an even three ways, one of the few good partings in his life.

In the business of conning, networking is more important than being brilliant. Reputations decide a man's fate. If everyone thought that you were someone who hurt other con men, someone who couldn't be trusted, then you don't get invitations to the world's biggest cons.

Hell, if you weren't brilliant and got caught, then prison was more like a fucking business conference. Frank? You the one who pulled such-and-such with so-and-so? Heard great things about you.

Sawyer had a clean record, never got caught cheating his partners, and knifed the one man who tried to betray him. When Rusty called him and said, "Come to Vegas," Sawyer bought a plane ticket.

Sometimes, he looked out across the ocean and wondered if they pulled off the heist that would make them legends. If they had to replace him with someone green, if it's already done.

He never wondered if they worried about him.

He found out about Tess Ocean, when she called their hotel room. The ringing caused them all to still, and stare. No one should be calling, front desk maybe, but if it was someone at the front desk who wanted them, someone who wore a badge, then they didn't want to let anyone know that they were there. On the other hand, they didn't want to be suspicious.

Danny picked up the phone first, shrugging off Rusty's hand.

"Hello?... Tess?"

Rusty went back into the bathroom, leaving Sawyer standing next to his bed. "Gonna go get some cigarettes," he said to Danny's back.

He watched them when they were alone, the casual way that they complimented each other. He had thought that they were partners in every sense of the word, but with this new person between them, he saw how their ebb and flow could easily be seen in a triangle.

Rusty showed up on a Tuesday, his last day on a con, the day of the pick up. He handed over his room key to Rusty and came back to find him casually thumbing through the Gideon's Bible. Placing the case of money in one corner, away from Rusty, he nodded at the room. "Shitty, but it works."

"Hear that you're doing pretty well for yourself," if there was censure in the comment, Rusty didn't show it. Instead he gestured around him, "I was thinking about going north, doing some two man jobs."

In retrospect, Sawyer remembered that he had heard that Danny Ocean was in jail for a job he did without Rusty, he heard that Rusty hadn't been at the trial, that Rusty was doing single man jobs in Florida.

Still, Rusty reminded him about his past, their past and it was tempting. He thought about getting away from couples for a while, and said, "I should probably get out of Texas anyway."

They bet on a horse that has no chance of winning, unless the projected winner of the race was blocked in the first turn, unless the projected winner also happened to have a new jockey at the very last minute, and unless someone in the stables let them know with enough time to bet on it.

Rusty tasted like cotton-candy sugar when they kissed. Winning always made him horny, slap happy and joyful, so Sawyer kissed him, even though he knew that Danny Ocean was in jail, and word had it that Rusty wasn't looking for a new partner.

The odds were not in his favor, but he was always one to take chances. Bet the whole pot on a queen-seven hand and you come away with more than you went in with. He knew luck was easy when he was playing with a stacked deck.

Boone approached out of the forest, little boy with a big knife, cutting away at greenery. He dropped a bottle of hand creme and a pack of batteries next to Sawyer's feet.

"You had good odds," Sawyer said, looking up from Watership Down. "But you've got shitty luck." Twist the end of the words, where he could have made it flirtatious if he was at a bar and Boone was a mark, he could make it bitter and angry, just watch.

Boone shrugged, "This should be enough."

Beyond the ocean, Sawyer saw a life he wished he had never led, lovers he wished he had never taken, and here on an island, the option to make everything better. It wasn't in his nature to be good, though. Years it had taken to learn that.

"I'm sure I could think of an easier payment," his drawl emphasized the word 'payment.'

Bonne tasted gentle, not like sugar and Rusty. He tasted like lunch of coconut and boar's meat. When he pulled back, he was more flushed than Kate had been. When he left, he was more curious, and Sawyer knew when the odds were in his favor.

He left with Rusty after the third con they pulled together in LA, Danny took a different flight, too many curious eyes, too many badges for them to not be extra careful.

"Tell me a story," the girl in the seat in front of them begged her mother, "story!" If she had asked him, he would have told her, just to make her pay for the hours of children's songs. Being caught like this was what he hated the most about plane flights.

"I'll tell you a story," Rusty said and burrowed into Sawyer's side. They looked like a gay couple, and it was a good cover. People's eyes avoided them, and so they weren't remembered. "Once upon a time," Rusty said into Sawyer's ear, voice smelling like the chicken breast lunch sitting in front of them.

Knowing that all the stories Rusty would ever tell had Danny Ocean as a main character never stopped Sawyer from listening.

The stories Saywer would tell, if anyone ever asked, were all about how he could survive more shit than they ever could, and don't you dare forget it. Still, he knew that Danny and Rusty had the right ideas about stories. All of their stories were about that time with the guy, and then the cops and then the escape. All of their stories put people at ease.

When they talked to marks, all their stories were about wives and families or jealous exes or crazy bosses.

Sawyer dipped his head towards the window and felt cold against his cheek, the air up here was too much a contrast to the heat of Rusty on his shoulder, on his arm. His eyes closed and he pretended to be asleep when the stewardess came by for their trash. She was a pretty girl, married but they didn't have a house yet. Her makeup was too thick, and the uniform cuffs didn't quite cover the bruise on her arm.

The foundation that rubbed off onto her white shirt cuff had given it away. Pretty thing, and he didn't have to think about how fast he could make her love him. The air up here was cold, colder than any air he had ever felt.

He pretended to be asleep when Rusty pretended to be asleep on his shoulder.

They met with a few of Rusty's contacts up north, found a few two men jobs, easy. It was coasting, it was clear, they were golden.

Danny Ocean was up for parole in three months and Rusty left him with half the money and the hotel bill. It wasn't a big deal, neither of them had said anything when they talked later on the phone.

"Come to Vegas," Rusty said. Danny had not been involved in the conversation.

"Stop whatever you're doing to Boone, ok?" Shannon glared down at him, clipping her words by tightening her lips. Kate had her arms crossed and stood behind Shannon. Her eyes were squinted, but jealousy was something Kate hid and anger was something she wore in her mouth, Sawyer didn't try to read her expression.

Second nature for men like us, Danny had said. We already know what they're thinking.

"And what would that be?" He tilted his head slightly, it made his hair shift slightly, reminded women about it. Made them want to touch it.

Shannon's fists clenched, and he knew that if he gave her a nail file she wouldn't care anymore. The ragged torn remnants of two of her acrylic nails drove her crazy, he knew.

In the end, he didn't care enough to take away her anger. Women like her needed purpose and if she wanted this, he didn't have the motive to steal it. Kate, behind her, calmly said, "Stop it, Sawyer."

It was useless to explain that it wasn't him that was changing Boone, wasn't him that made Boone come back later and later. If Boone spent more time with him, after "hunts"...

Pursuing partners wasn't something that he had ever had to do. Honey and flies, make 'em come to you and you won't ever be to blame.

Boone came back bruised, wanted to hurt more, wanted to be hurt more. It was violent that night. Rusty had never been one to hold back in bed, but it had never been this desperate, either.

Sawyer looked at the red of sand burn on his shin, and knew which was the more honest way to fuck. Hands grasping, desperate, were always more believable than the strange balance that Rusty kept in sex. When they had sex it was always like they conned, equal opportunity, equal reward.

Now, after the forest, Boone pressed his fingers harder and without the uncertainty he had before. No meat, but a knife was never out of reach.

At some point, maybe at the same time, but Sawyer wasn't picky like that, Boone had started holding the knife with the same familiarity that he pressed against Sawyer. They didn't speak kindly, instead he would reach out and hurt Boone with words the way he knew the jungle hurt him with leaves and roots. Slice him open like a pig with a few words.

Even if they had talked gently, like Sawyer had with so many women, he wouldn't have asked about the jungle, about the bruises, not his business, really.

Food was, but he wasn't worried yet, he had his rations and his share of fruit. Slowly, he was trying to impress upon Boone that he needed meat. All cons took time, especially ones where subtlety needed to be hidden beneath the sheets.

Tell me a story about you, Sarah (or was it Samantha?) said. Her husband had made some money in the real estate business, had enough to cover a briefcase full of hundreds.

Once, I had these two friends, he started. Stories were never the same in the retelling, but he imagined that she wouldn't appreciate an abusive foster father, an alcoholic foster mother. Three kids playing tricks on their teacher was so much easier on her ears.

Rusty and Danny and me were always getting into trouble, he said.

Stop, and switch partners, the song goes on. Rusty left him after a con, Boone left him after a hunt. Meat and suddenly Shannon was hanging out all over her brother, and he pushed her away, but didn't come towards Sawyer either.

Everything that night was flashes of grease and celebration and Kate in darkness telling him that he needed to stop trying to be the bad guy, she had enough of them in her past. She tasted like boar, salty and gritty, cooked just a shade too rare.

It wasn't more than that, a hint of potential. Knowing who he was, what he had done didn't scare her, but it didn't turn her on, like it did Rusty. She wasn't Boone, either, desperate for something, desperate for someone to lead him.

Locke watched Sawyer, and Sawyer knew it because he always felt eyes on him first, before any confrontation. If Locke was recruiting, he wasn't doing a good job of it, or he was doing an excellent job. Sawyer felt the tug, the desire to know, even if he didn't give in.

Never con a con, unless you think you can get away clean.

There was nowhere to run on the island, so maybe Locke thought he had the better hand. Then again, maybe this was how he would have looked at Rusty and Danny now, wary and without faith.

The night after Sawyer talked to Locke, Boone came back. Honey and flies, whoever thought that they were in charge rarely was.

They both slept with knives now, and he watched and waited when Locke and Boone went into the jungle and came back without boar.

Fourth job was something in New York, and by then the three of them had built up something akin to trust, but without any actual faith. Dependence felt a lot like trust when it was given freely.

High art, sold for higher prices. A few mentions here a question of taste and they were suddenly rich men. It felt almost legal. He could almost imagine that he would keep the money safe in a bank account and go straight.

In the end, he never could, but it was nice thinking about.

Calling his relationship with Boone fucking was easier than trying to figure out who was getting the better deal. If he trusted Locke, he hid it well, and continued irritating Jack as often as possible.

It was enough.

"It's not enough," and damn it if Rusty didn't know him, even after three months and thousands of miles. An ocean between them and nothing could hide how well they knew each other. Rusty would go back to Danny even after all the anger and all the time.

"I'm good. Don't need any new jobs now. I don't get caught like an idiot with my pants down." Sawyer tried to think of more, something that would make it rougher on them both. It would be easier that way. "My life doesn't need a five to ten year break."

Rusty chewed thoughtfully for a moment, the sound disconnected over the phone. "Come to Vegas."


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Fandom:  Other (Lost, Ocean's 11)
Title:  Men of Confidence
Author:  girl-wonder   [email]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG-13  |  *slash*  |  18k  |  02/22/05
Characters:  Sawyer, Rusty
Summary:  Thinking back later, he realized he should have been afraid that they would screw him over.
Disclaimer/Other:  Don't own anyone. Please don't sue.

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