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Title: Devious Cartography (aka the guns and casual sex mix)
Characters: Arthur, Neal Caffrey
Summary: Written for my own prompt on inception-kink, which was basically: Neal and Arthur, guns and theft and nice clothes. Arthur/Neal, implied Arthur/Eames. Most of this was inspired by the 'if you're not cheating, you're not trying' quote.

Neal meets Arthur at a Paris cafe, four days after Kate leaves him.

Well, meets is a strong word.


Four days after Kate storms out of their apartment, taking all of her things (and some of his things, too), Neal sees Arthur at a Paris cafe, only really notices him because he flops into a chair, and drops his hat onto the tiny table.

Two more days, and Neal is drawn in by the apparent fellow feeling.

When Neal asks (in accented French) if the seat is taken, Arthur gives him a slow, measuring look. Neal realizes belatedly that he should be smiling, that if he wants an in, he should be trying for one, but before he can fumble a smile (real or otherwise), Arthur gives him a cool, rueful smirk, and says, "Sure, what the hell," in crisp American English.

They chat for a little while. Neal asks what brings Arthur to Paris, and Arthur shrugs, elaborately casual. "Work."

It's a lie, but the look that Arthur gives him, arch and amused, tells Neal that prying will get him nothing but more lies.

Neal touches the hat on the table in front of him instead of calling bullshit, and he hazards a guess. "Waiting for a partner?"

"Hmm." Arthur sips his drink instead of replying, but the evasion is answer enough.


Arthur appears at the cafe every morning, and by the end of the week, he has a cup of very fine coffee waiting for Neal.

"This is a surprise," Neal says, but he slants a smile in Arthur's direction anyway, a good one, not like the half-assed ones that are all he's had energy for since Kate left. Arthur smiles back, but it's colder than Neal expected, brittle around the edges.

"I figured you might as well have a drink, if you're going to monopolize that seat."

Neal wonders who the seat is really meant for. He doesn't ask, though.

That would be no fun.


"So, Arthur. No last name?"

Arthur smirks and flicks a New York State ID across the table. It says that his name is indeed Arthur, no last name, that he's twenty-four (his birthday is in May), and from Syracuse.

Early morning sunlight is pretty good for this kind of inspection, makes it easy to verify the holographic seals and the barcode details.

"This is quality work," Neal drawls, even though he can't find a single flaw; if it isn't real, it's the best work he's ever seen.

Instead of taking offense, Arthur smiles. "Thanks."

It's the way that Arthur says it, the way his mouth tucks in at the corners to flash a truly impressive set of dimples, that makes Neal aware that he's accepting a compliment.

The ID isn't just quality work, it's Arthur's work. Intriguing.


Under other circumstances, Neal would already be sleeping with Arthur; they'd be having marathon sex in the sparsely-furnished Paris apartment by day, and stealing priceless art by night. Instead, they tell each other lies over coffee every morning, and Neal misses Kate (and misses Kate and misses Kate.)

Arthur has his own issues, and either doesn't notice or doesn't care.


If Neal hadn't fucked up a short con (and he really shouldn't have, he was just off his game because of Kate), they never would have gotten past morning coffee.

As it is, Neal lets slip a few details about the job he's going to pull, and Arthur tails him to the scene, lurking expertly in an alley out of sight of the actual crime, but in the middle of the best escape route.

Neal blows in while Arthur is having a heated argument with Mozzie, but the minute he spots Neal, Arthur whips open a black messenger bag and demands, "Jacket and gloves. Now." And after Neal quickly tucks them into the bag, Arthur hands over his hat.

"Put that on and let's go."

Arthur is wearing a sleek, dove-gray waistcoat that makes him look terribly skinny and not at all dangerous. He all but drags Neal around the corner between buildings, through another alley, completely ignoring Mozzie's protests and ruining Neal's planned escape route. After a couple of wrong turns, Moz just gives up, throws up his hands and says, "I hope you know what you're doing," and disappears.

"Do you know what you're doing?" Neal asks, when they round another corner and end up in a blind alley.

"Oh yeah," Arthur says. He sounds breathless, but it's not from running -- his eyes are lit with excitement, and the edges of his smile are excruciatingly sharp. "Come on." And just like that, he's scaling the ladder-like brickwork along the side of the building.

It's only three stories, and Neal makes it easily, even though his shirt tugs uncomfortably tight across his shoulders on the way up (but he's staring at Arthur's ass most of the way, which is nice). When he gets there, Arthur gives him a hand up, grinning wildly, all dimples, his hair a complete mess. "Alright, one more thing."

Neal races after him across the gentle slope of the roof, dodging chimneys until they reach the edge of the building. The midmorning sun beats down on them, and Neal is kind of surprised that the hat is still on his head. The inner band prickles faintly on his forehead like an admonition -- you've been made.

"Ready?" Arthur is standing a little bit back from the edge of the roof. His body is a taut arch against the brilliant blue sky, and Neal's breath catches on nothing at all, on the way Arthur takes off running and flies across the narrow gap separating them from the next rooftop. This sense of awe compels Neal to follow; it's not actually that difficult, but it's terrifying, not like rappelling out of a window at all, and he staggers when he comes down, clutching at Arthur and panting with the excitement of it.

Arthur laughs, not mean, but like he knows exactly what Neal's feeling, and he lowers them both to a sitting position, then to lying down on the flat rooftop, careless of the way his hat falls off of Neal's head.

It takes Neal a minute to recover, and he lies flat on the warm shingles, staring at the blue blue sky and relishing the throb of his pulse all the way to his fingertips, his toes, feeling more alive than he's felt in months. He turns his head, and Arthur is right there, still grinning at him, and Neal holds his gaze, can't help laughing a little in delight, and it's so natural to reach for him and kiss him (never mind Kate, forget about Kate, Kate who?) to roll over him and run his fingertips along the edge of Arthur's jaw, through his messy hair.

Arthur rolls them over again, and Neal slides his hands around his waist to press their bodies closer, and when Arthur finally pulls away, Neal says, "Not your first rooftop chase through Paris, huh?"

Arthur laughs, licks into his mouth again, and Neal barely notices that this means (again) that Arthur isn't going to answer.


Neal has to stop before they get past the threshold of Arthur's bedroom.

"I think I've conned you into sleeping with me."

Arthur hums smugly, and Neal can feel the curl of his smile against skin just below his ear. "I know."

"Wait." Jerking back, Neal says, "You know?"

"Yeah, I like it." Arthur returns his incredulous stare with interest. "What? Now you're judging me?"

"It's cheating! You're sleeping with me under false pretenses!"

Arthur laughs, loud and jarring, and Neal has to stare. "Neal you're-" he gasps. "Oh Jesus."

Arthur pulls him in close, buries his face in the curve of Neal's neck and says, softly, a little breathless, "Of course you've conned me, babe. If you're not cheating, you're not trying."


Neal shows up at Arthur's place after a long day of conning gallery managers, and Arthur has all his guns laid out on the table in pieces.

"Come here," Arthur says, before Neal can turn around and head out the way he came. "I want to show you something."

"I don't really do guns," Neal tells him. "Too dangerous." He sticks his hands in his pockets like he can hide the way they're shaking, and he hopes that Arthur will let it go, let him escape the room with a little bit of dignity.

Instead, Arthur beckons him towards the couch. "Sit. I want to teach you some stuff."

Neal ends up perched on the edge of the couch, as far away from the spread of solid metal as he can get. He can smell the oil and solvent from where he's sitting, and it makes him jumpy, unsettled.

It takes Neal a little while to realize that Arthur's watching him carefully, his eyes watchful, a little worried. Slowly, he puts down the empty (thank god) mag that he's holding and reaches out for Neal, settling a hand on his leg.

"Hey," he says. "I wouldn't, if I didn't think it was important."

And yeah, alright, Neal gets that. But he can't figure out how to say so, can't quite find it in him to trust Arthur this far.

"It's like the con," Arthur says, then, turning his attention from Neal to the pieces of his guns. The statement is so unexpected, (there's nothing less like a con than a gun) that it gets Neal's full attention.

Arthur slots the slide back onto his pistol. "Everything in its place," he says, replacing a lever-like piece of metal just so, his fingertips steady and sure.

And that's how Neal ends up sitting on the couch, assembling and breaking down handguns until he can do it with his eyes closed.


"Now exhale," Arthur says softly, "And squeeze."

Neal flinches the moment he starts to put pressure on the trigger. Arthur puts a hand around his arm and holds him in the shooting stance. "Do it again." And this time, when Neal flinches, Arthur's hand is there, pushing him back, and Arthur is murmuring, "It's not even loaded, Neal. You're not going to shoot anything. You're alright."

The tone of voice that Arthur's using to direct him is low, gentle, insistent, and Neal is half-hard just listening to it, because Arthur is muttering instruction into his ear, in a voice that he usually reserves to describe really good tailoring.

"Come on." Arthur walks around and adjusts Neal's aim, his hands steady on the gun, around Neal's wrists. "What did I tell you about kickback?" He grabs Neal's wrists and shoves, making him totter and take a step back to avoid falling over.


"Why do you think that love isn't something you can cheat to get?"

Neal tries to parse the question, and can only decide that they've probably had enough to drink. He puts down his glass and says so.

Arthur just rolls his eyes and says, "No, come on, really. Why can't you just steal it or whatever?"

"It shouldn't be that way." Neal knocks back the rest of his drink and says, "It should be honest."

"Jesus," Arthur says, sounding exasperated, but he's not looking at Neal, now. He's sort of staring into the depths of his drink as though he can find some kind of anchor within. "That's overwhelmingly romantic."

Neal looks at him. "What's wrong with that?"

"How will you ever get what you want, if you aren't willing to do whatever it takes?"

And, even though it goes against every instinct, Neal says, "There are some things more important than getting what I want." Because it's true, he doesn't want love that he didn't earn.

Arthur laughs, the little shit, he just laughs at Neal. "Yeah, but love's not one of those things."

"You're really nuts."

"If you're in love with someone you can cheat, well. They don't deserve you."

It occurs to Neal then, that for all that Arthur has his plans and his organization and his pragmatic attitude, he is far more insane than Neal will ever be. His standards are outrageous. Neal didn't mean to say that out loud, but Arthur replies.

"Not outrageous. Just. If I'm going to put everything into the effort of catching one person, they'd damn well better be worth it."

"Catching? You're supposed to woo, Arthur."

Arthur scoffs. "You're fucking drunk."


Mozzie doesn't like Arthur.

"Never date a trigger man, Neal. If I've told you once, I've told you a dozen times."

(In fact, Mozzie has never told Neal this before. Neal hates guns; it's never come up.)

"Arthur's a trigger man, ergo, you should not date him."

Neal can admit that it is sound advice, not least because Arthur loves weapons the way Neal loves art -- indiscriminately and with a deep and abiding passion.

But it's not like they're actually dating. Sometimes they have coffee, sometimes they forge IDs, and sometimes they fuck. That's all there is to it. Arthur doesn't even know where Neal lives. (Actually he probably does, he's just too polite to show up without an invitation).

Arthur has a delicate touch, for a trigger man -- he's supernaturally precise with an x-acto knife, and he applies fiddly holographic laminate with deft fingers that never leave smears or bubbles.


In his line of work, Neal has seen all kinds of eccentric tics -- Mozzie alone accounts for several dozen. Kate used to have a thing about washing her favorite scarf herself, the night before a con. And Arthur-- Arthur dreams on Saturdays.

On Saturdays, Arthur opens a case of neat little vials and drinks one down, grimacing the way he does when he drinks good coffee black, (the philistine). Once, Neal asks about it, and Arthur says, softly, "I can't dream naturally. After a while it makes you crazy." He says it like he's telling the truth (like he might know firsthand).

Whatever designer drugs Arthur is on, they must have some kind of sedative in the mix, because he's impossible to wake on Saturday nights, unless Neal literally rolls him out of bed.

Neal wonders what Arthur is dreaming about. Usually, he sleeps like the dead, almost scarily still, as if his soul has slipped out to have a little fun without him. But the drug makes him restless in his sleep, and more than once Neal has woken on a Saturday night to the feeling of Arthur's arms around him, tugging him in closer.

Of course, once Neal knows that Arthur won't wake on Saturday nights, he takes advantage of the time to rifle through Arthur's wallet.

There's the New York ID, an international driver's license, some cash (alright, a lot of cash), a couple of cards under the name 'Arthur Heller', and one under the name 'A. M. Cohen'. It's a criminal's wallet, and a little scrutiny reveals that there is an LA driver's license tucked into a discreet pocket in the lining, not as pristine as the New York ID; the font is slightly wrong, and the laminate is peeling off the lower left corner, but that might just be age. Also, it's for 'Arthur Darling', which suggests it's as much a private joke as a useful ID.

Then there's a Scottish ID card, but it's not for Arthur. Neal examines it. It's for Daniel Eames, and it's expired, but recently. This looks like the answer to the question of who Arthur was expecting, all those mornings in the cafe. Neal doesn't know enough about Scottish ID to determine if this is the same quality as the other work. For all he knows, this one might actually be real.

Eames is thirty-one, (birthday in September), has blue eyes (looks more like green in the picture), is five-nine (not in metric, obviously), and has brown hair. He lives, (or lived, or said he lives) in Edinburgh.

And unless he is genuinely thrilled to be taking an ID picture, he smiles like a pro. He has crooked teeth.

In his sleep, Arthur curves towards Neal, unconsciously seeking out the comfort of his body. Neal runs his hand through Arthur's hair, and looks at the small picture, trying to read, in the shape of his mouth, the charming tilt of his eyes, and the rakish edge to his grin, the kind of man who would give up Arthur's quiet, single-minded devotion, without a backward glance.

Because it's Saturday and he's drugged, Arthur doesn't wake when Neal puts everything in the wallet back in order, and places it exactly on the nightstand where Arthur left it. Because it's Saturday, when Neal shimmys under the blankets and pulls him close, Arthur makes a small, satisfied sound, and curls against him easily.


On the last night, Arthur shows up at his place, like he knew Neal was getting ready to leave, and he smiles, even at Mozzie, who has never warmed up to him, and he drags Neal over to the window that looks out on the lights of the city to kiss him goodbye.

The apartment is clean -- Neal and Moz spent the afternoon packing and sweeping the place for incriminating evidence -- so there's no use denying that he's leaving town.

Neal already has his hand on the doorknob before Arthur asks.

"Where are you going?"

Neal would lie to him if he sounded more I won't let you go instead of I'll send you a postcard, maybe. As it is, he says, "Denmark." And then, uncertainly, "You want to come?"

Arthur glances over his shoulder at that, something strangely soft in his eyes, and Neal remembers that Arthur had already been in Paris for weeks when Neal met him. Arthur sighs, and Neal easily predicts his answer before it even hits the air.

"No. I'm waiting for someone here."


Years later, on the other side of prison and failing (and not failing, which was worse) to find Kate, Neal thinks about that look, about the way that Arthur wanted to be tricked into his bed, about the ID with someone else's photo, and he'll wonder if Arthur got what he wanted. Or if he's still in Paris, waiting.


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July 2015

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