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1. desert planet

Since the Wookiee who owned the cantina was an old friend, all of their drinks and food were on the house. Rusty was beginning to suspect that Danny had brought them there just to watch Linus look terrified, though. The kid was doing his best, but it probably didn't help that three different species had already tried to buy him from Danny.

Linus should be grateful he didn't understand Aqualish. The last offer included a fairly graphic question about his spinal flexibility. It was almost enough to put Rusty off his second afternoon snack.

Danny leaned back against the booth as he waited for the green foam to settle in his drink. "I talked to Reuben yesterday. He said we should get over to Roon next week, he might have something for us."

"Good," Rusty said through a mouthful of sandwich. "I'm bored out of my mind."

"Quit complaining. We made good money selling those condenser parts."

"And we need to get the fuck out of this system before they start breaking, Danny."

"I know. We'll take off tonight."

There was a quick burst of noise and shouting at the bar, and Rusty grinned as Linus cringed against his side. They looked over to see two bodies hit the floor as an old man holstered some sort of beam weapon. One of the bodies was the Aqualish, and Rusty nudged Linus playfully with his elbow. "Guess your friend won't be after the pleasure of your company anymore, kid."

Linus turned red, scowling into his drink. "Shut up."

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2. cali roadtrip

Danny was ignoring the noise coming from the trunk. Noise plural, actually. Noises. Lots of them. He was ignoring the noises very carefully and completely because he was not going to ask. Because Rusty had been waiting for him to ask ever since Danny helped to load the trunk, and he wasn't. Going to ask.

He wasn't.

Instead Danny looked straight at the road and kept his voice light. "So where did you meet him?"

"At Frank's nail salon."

"Frank vouched for him?"

"Yeah. He's one of the best customers, I guess. Works as some kind of private detective in L.A."

"I still don't understand why he's paying this much."

Rusty shrugged. "Hey, I didn't ask. Five thousand to hustle a poker game? That's easy money."

"What does he have against this Spike guy?"

"I don't know. It seemed like a lot of history. He told me about the bar where the game would be, and he just kept repeating that we had to clean Spike out. Kind of weird, but whatever."

They were passing a sign that read WELCOME TO SUNNYDALE when Danny finally broke and demanded, "So why do we have thirty kittens in the goddamn trunk, then?"

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3. london town

Rusty couldn't shake the feeling that there was something not quite right about this. Even though Basher had arranged the meet, he was oddly fuzzy on exactly how he knew the Weatherby brothers. It had only gotten weirder from there.

For starters, they had a ridiculous amount of trouble finding the pub. Rusty couldn't understand why. It was right where Basher's directions said it would be, but they must've walked past it half a dozen times before Danny finally noticed the sign from the corner of his eye.

The place was tiny, dark and smoke-filled. The customers were a strange bunch -- one little man was wearing a cape, for christ's sake -- but they were mostly old and looked harmless. No one paid attention as Danny and Rusty got two pints of stout and took a table against the wall.

Which was the second weird thing. They were early for the meet, they were careful to sit watching the door, and their contacts still seemed to appear out of nowhere. Rusty turned his head for a split-second and when he turned back they were already dropping into the other chairs, saying cheerfully, "Oi, you're Basher's friends, right?"

The twins looked barely old enough to be in the pub. Rusty had already forgotten which one was Francis and which was Gerald. But they radiated serene confidence as they haggled with Danny over the price of the sapphires, and Rusty relaxed a little. At least they weren't dealing with amateurs.

He could tell Danny was still suspicious. When the price had been agreed, Danny regarded them for a moment before asking, "What do you kids want with these, if you don't mind my asking? They're pretty expensive jewels."

"Present for our Mum," one of them answered easily. "She's been a bit brassed off with us since we left school. We wanted to get her something nice."

Rusty felt Danny glancing over for his opinion. He nodded and let his expression ease into a smile. "Sounds good. You brought the money?"

"Yeah. Basher cleared the payment method with you?"

"He did. Unusual, but we're fine with it."

Danny passed the jewel case under the table to one of the twins, and his brother passed a small sack to Rusty. He glanced down briefly, loosening the string to check the money. Francis and Gerald did the same with their merchandise.

They didn't linger after the deal. A quick round of handshakes and the twins wandered away casually to order drinks as Danny and Rusty slipped out the door.

Danny shook his head, turning up his collar against the damp air as they strode down the street. "Funny name for a pub."

"Yeah." Rusty looked back over his shoulder, but the angle was wrong because he couldn't pick out the grubby little building anymore. "Jesus, I'm glad we finally sold those."

They were eight tube stops away before Rusty discovered that the gold had vanished from his pocket.

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4. vogon attack

There was a reason they'd gone for a drive in the West Country, but hell if either of them could remember what it was. The reason had become steadily less important with each successive hour in the Horse and Groom Pub. Since they could no longer balance unassisted on their seats, Danny was propped against the wall and Rusty was propped against Danny. Any movements were carefully coordinated in advance.

By the time the man in the dirty bathrobe took the next barstool and began drinking six whole pints with his friend, they had reached that state of happy intoxication that only resulted by accident, when you hadn't originally planned to spend three hours getting sloshed in the middle of the day.

When the noise started outside, they were so blissfully lubricated that neither of them could work up any genuine curiosity. Danny leaned forward just far enough to peer out the small window. "Yellow," he observed.

"Cool," said Rusty, maneuvering another sip of bitter to his mouth.

But when the pub's three televisions and two radios switched themselves on and started broadcasting the message from Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, it finally made a dent in their composure. "Scheduled for demolition," Danny murmured. "That doesn't sound very good."

They watched with mild interest as the other customers ran screaming for the door.

"Hey," Rusty said suddenly. "D'you remember the guy at that party?"

Danny nodded. He tried for a thoughtful expression, but it was spoiled when he also tried to prop his chin on his hand and missed. He wiped beer delicately off his nose. "Phil. The one who offered us all the money to do that thing."

"Good to know there are some things you won't do for money, by way."

"Just the one so far."

"Right. Anyway, he talked about a bypass." Rusty detached himself from Danny's shoulder and started to hunt blearily through his coat pockets. "He said I was too cute to get vaporized, and some other stuff. I don't remember exactly. You were doing that thing with your tongue and I kind of stopped listening to him."

"And?"

"He said something about towels, too."

"That's not very helpful, Rus."

"No, but he gave me something." Rusty finally surfaced with it. It was a short black something with a couple of flat switches and dials at one end, and he dropped it on the bar twice before he managed to get a solid grip. "I think he said I should push this switch? And then he mentioned protein."

"Wow," Danny said with the proper amount of respect. "Should we push it? Or worry about the protein?"

"Or worry about drinks? Maybe there won't be drinks after we push the switch." Rusty looked extremely startled at the possibility.

Danny considered for a moment, then shook his head. "No, there's always drinks. Let's push the switch."

"Yeah?"

"Sure. I hope that towel part wasn't very important, though."

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5. south island

The boy had gorgeous eyes. Huge and blue and practically hypnotic, though Danny was careful not to stare. Rusty was buying more drinks at the bar and he'd already glanced back pointedly a couple of times.

On a normal night Danny might've flirted a bit just to take the piss out of Rusty, but this wasn't a normal night. Stranded in Te Anau by a freak snowstorm and staying in the tiniest room the Kingsgate Hotel had to offer, Danny wasn't going to push his luck. They'd come south to keep a low profile until the heat from their last job in Auckland died down. He was having enough trouble convincing Rusty that running crooked poker games on the tourists would not be a good definition of "low profile."

So he was polite but he didn't encourage the boy, who took the rejection gracefully and returned to his three friends at the end of the bar. Danny watched with slightly insulted amusement as money changed hands. Apparently only one of the boys, the taller one with the buzzed mohawk, had bet against a successful pickup.

Then he saw Rusty moving sideways through the crowd. Circling around the bar to grab a bag of crisps from the food racks, sliding past the four boys with a barely noticeable pause, and returning to collect their pints from the barman.

Rusty was looking entirely too innocent when he sat down. Danny stared as he opened his crisps. "You didn't."

"What?"

"Tell me you didn't."

"Okay," Rusty said agreeably through the crunching. "I didn't."

"You--" Danny paused, fighting to keep a straight face. "This, also, is not low profile."

Rusty smirked over the rim of his pint. "Little bastard shouldn't have hit on you as soon as I left the table."

Two years later the publicity was everywhere, and those eyes were unmistakable. Danny spent weeks inventing new ways to ask if Rusty felt guilty about stealing a wallet from the only hope for Middle Earth.