The first time they meet since is standing next to a trashcan in Newark’s American terminal, trying to finish their “liquids not allowed past the gate” before the plane began boarding. Linus is making his way through a fancy not-quite-coffee drink from Starbucks, which he is drinking with a determined kind of focus because he’d paid almost eight bucks for it. He has one eye on the clock, even as he swallows the lukewarm liquid. He wishes he could appreciate the caffeine hitting his system and takes a few precious seconds to close his eyes, breathe. He’d spent the last week lifting at casinos in Atlantic City and had finally tired of the slightly guilty feel in the air, the dirty grownup-Disneyland aura that stuck to his skin.
He almost misses Chicago.
When he opens his eyes, Linus notices that he’s been joined at the trashcan. But instead of a harried businessman, another college student headed back to Northwestern (Linus was thinking of conning his way in, seeing how far he could get with a used ID and a smile), there stands the last person he would have expected. Rusty Ryan is dressed in something shiny paired with well worn khakis, a sort of “disco casual”, eating peanut M and M’s and chasing them with healthy gulps from a liter of Mountain Dew. Just looking at it makes Linus’ stomach hurt.
“Starbucks makes crap coffee,” says Rusty, crumpling the candy bag and sticking it into his pants pocket.
“Thought you were still in Rome,” Linus says back, leaving off the with Isabel, because he knows that Rusty would only talk about it if he brings it up himself.
Rusty shrugs, which is… more of an answer than Linus was expecting.
“You working?” Rusty asks and Linus mimics his shrug. Rusty smiles at that and nods a little.
They announce Linus’ flight, and Linus tips the last bit of his coffee into the trashcan—‘cause it was crap—and slants a smile at Rusty.
“Gotta go.” It’s not quite awkward.
Rusty gives a little half wave with one hand and goes back to draining the soda bottle.
The second time is about ten minutes later, when Linus settles into seat 14B (bought on a borrowed credit card, of course) and there’s Rusty sitting comfortably in 14A, halfway through an article in the inflight magazine.
“Are you following me?” asks Linus suspiciously, remembering the “random” visits from some of the guys after the Benedict job, emails full of advice from Basher. Hell, Danny had even sent him pictures of his new house.
Rusty makes a noise that sounds almost like laughter.
“I have business in Chicago.” When Linus keeps staring at him, he smirks. “…and I heard you were flying today.”
“You heard…” Linus’ head drops into his hands. “You called my mother?”
“Had a lovely chat, actually. She wanted me to remind you that just because you’re committing multiple felonies, it doesn’t meant that you can skip out on calling her. And wear your scarf.”
“I hate you,” Linus mutters.
“Poker or gin,” says Rusty, shuffling the deck of cards that he pulls from his pocket, along with the half-full bag of M and M’s.
“Poker,” says Linus. “If you promise never to call my mom again.”
“Is this a bad time to say she invited me for Thanksgiving?”
“I really hate you.”
Linus loses twenty bucks and a pack of Twinkies he’d forgotten he had in the hour-long flight to Chicago.
“Where are you staying?” asks Linus, watching the sunlight stretch across Rusty’s face as he stares out the window.
Rusty shrugs, which is how he and Linus end up eating cold Chinese food in Linus’ crappy student studio at nine o’ clock at night, passing a fifth of Jack Daniels back and forth.
Linus is in the middle of telling Rusty about some of the stuff he’d been up to: slipping room keys from the pockets of absentminded bellhops, swiping tip money left by businessmen overeager to impress their bosses, the day he took from every idiot at the slot machines, left all the cash in the tip jar at TGI Fridays… then put the wallets back.
“You’re getting good, Linus,” Rusty says, and it sounds better than it ever did, because he can tell Rusty means it. Because it tastes like the pride stuck in Linus’ throat.
He asks, “how’s Danny?” and chases the question mark with a sip of Jack, almost wincing as he breaks the rule: if Rusty didn’t bring it up, he wouldn’t talk about it.
Rusty gives another half shrug, which would be enough of an answer if Linus hadn’t seen the shifting of Rusty’s eyes to the floor.
(You look down, they know you’re lying.)
“Still hungry?” Linus asks, around a mouthful of eggroll that he hastily swallows.
Rusty smiles, and damn if he doesn’t look hungry, but in a way that makes Linus shuffle his feet back and forth (don’t shift your weight).
“Maybe,” is what he begins with, but the rest of it is swallowed by Linus’ mouth, swept aside by a tentative brush of tongue.
Rusty tastes like soy sauce and liquor, with a hint of sweetness that might be the chocolate from the plane. Linus presses closer, running a hand along Rusty’s arm, feeling the muscles tense and relax, shift and move as he curls his other hand around the back of Rusty’s neck.
Rusty makes a sound, part needy and part satisfied and sharp edged where it broke free from his throat. Linus almost smiles against the line of Rusty’s jaw at the unconscious arch of Rusty’s spine as he tugs at Linus’ shirt, the uncertain trailing of fingers into his back pants pocket, like Linus hadn’t been the one to start it, hesitant like he’d never seen Rusty be.
There is no graceful stumble to the bedroom: Linus only has the one room with a futon (a set piece in his role as poor college student) three kisses and a groan away. Later, he can feel Rusty mouth words against his skin, whole conversations in gasps and breathing and moments that pass almost too quickly.
The next morning Linus is almost, but not quite, surprised that there’s no tension. They joke about Frank’s new obsession with nail salons over black coffee (Linus) and pale sugared coffee and jelly donuts (Rusty).
They walk out to the street so Rusty can catch a cab.
“Where you going?” Linus asks, which is as close to why as he can get.
Rusty has found the M and M’s again somewhere and slides one into his mouth.
“Airport,” he says, and Linus can hear the candy click against his teeth.
“But I thought you said you had business in Chicago.”
Rusty leans in towards Linus, smelling like peanuts with breath misting warm against his face as a cab slides to a stop next to them.
“See you at Thanksgiving.”
(Never use seven words when four will do.)
Linus watches the cab drive off, then digs the bag of candy he lifted from Rusty out of his pocket.
That night Linus orders Chinese and waits, patiently, for it to be almost cold before picking up his chopsticks.