everything looks perfect from far away
Thanks to Victoria P., geekturnedvamp, and the Spike for betaing this story. Written for Yuletide 2007.

When the customer service rep calls Danny's name for the upgrade, he gets up, but goes left, not right, away from the podium and down the terminal. Rusty's flight is an hour later and eleven gates away. He's sitting tall and loose-limbed over a seat and a half, working nonchalantly on some popcorn, eyes ostensibly fixed on the flatscreen on the wall showing CNN. Danny stands and waits. It isn't long.

"So," Rusty says, without turning around, "I see you."

"Yeah." Danny spreads his hands. "I kind of forgot to mention. Tess..."

Too many ways to end the sentence, and none of them are fair. Fortunately, he doesn't have to.

"It wasn't her fight."

Rusty's voice is matter-of-fact, when it could have been so many other things. He's as good at Tess as he is at everything else. Danny's whole life is the trick of making things look effortless, inevitable, force majeure rather than a scheme cooked up by some sleep-deprived guys in a motel room, and the fact is, no matter how hard you try, you do get caught up in your own story. He's never made a habit of stepping back to consider how goddamned lucky he is—he's always believed in odds, not luck.

But there's a warmth in his chest as he moves around the row of seats to sit next to Rusty, letting his own eyes settle on the screen. "What about Isabel?"

A slightly crooked sideways smile. "I've got a few days to burn."

On the screen, the reporter is trying, and failing, to explain the time value of money. They shake their heads in unison when he says "risk-free rate," then look at each other.

"So. Dubai?"

He tilts his head, considering. "Monte Carlo?"

Rusty arches an eyebrow.

"Paris," they agree.

Danny buys the tickets so they sit next to each other, a protocol violation. Only the slightest flicker of Rusty's left eyelid tells him he notices. Back when they started, Rusty's big problem was that he was a little too nervous, an oversensitive greyhound, another one of Saul's bets. He used to try to fight it, but even a con (maybe, especially, a con) can't change his nature. After a while, he learned to live into it. Now, he's a screen of slight tics, little gestures that have no reference to anything except themselves. The perpetual motion machine of con-artists. The white-noise background of Danny's life.

They take turns napping. Rusty spends most of the trip pocketing the small, valuable articles that their fellow first-class passengers inevitably leave unattended. Danny wakes up and slips them back into pockets and bags and overheads. Rusty pretends not to notice.

Paris has never been a great city for cons, though with the strength of the Euro these days it doesn't pay to be closed-minded. The Four Seasons isn't really their kind of hotel, either—too much personal attention—but they've just spent months in one bland Vegas room after another. Actual character is a welcome change, if, admittedly, disorienting.

The suite is big by Paris standards. Furniture's a little stuffy, but, as they say, tres agreeable. "Nice," Rusty murmurs, tossing his bag on one of the beds. "Classy."

He's got that tone that's just a shade too earnest. Con men live in an air of perpetual unacknowledged irony, Saul had once told him after too much Manischewitz. At this point, Rusty himself probably doesn't know what's sincere and what's not. Danny plays along.

"Especially the..."

"Sure, and the..." He waves a hand.

They'd gone to ground in Paris after one of their first big jobs, a fantastic Gaston Monescu in Frankfurt that would have been great for their reputation if anyone had been able to figure out who'd done it. Danny had been giddy with their success—not just the money (though it was always about the money), but the way he and Rusty had been absolute clockwork together. He could see the whole future opening up in front of them like one big con, a thousand angles intersecting. This was before Danny had learned to channel satisfaction deep underground to sustain his cool, and Rusty had seen the future, too; he was practically vibrating with enthusiasm. To keep under cover, they'd stayed in a dive in the 11th arrondisement, sharing a double tiny even by Paris standards, and it had been natural, so natural, that the sex had turned out to be clockwork, too.

There's a bottle of champagne in the hospitality basket, posed jauntily on some depressed-looking citrus. Danny opens it while Rusty sits on the edge of the bed, unlacing his shoes with care. He reaches up to take the flute from Danny's hand without having to look. Danny sits down across from him.

"Downstairs, the woman with the diamonds," Rusty muses.

"And the man with the peacock. I noticed."

"Wouldn't be a bad take."

"Yeah," Danny says, and nothing else. After a minute, he reaches out, careful, deliberate, cups the back of Rusty's neck with his hand.

There is something there, just a little extra energy, sincerity maybe, ungrounded, flowing up into Danny's touch. Rusty looks at him, and for a second Danny thinks he looks sorry. Rusty really is going to have kids. Sit out back with drinks and the neighbors. Take Isabel to Cannes every spring. No one will be the wiser. Not even Rusty. "Yeah," he answers. "Okay."

The sheets rumple artfully around Rusty as he reaches for his phone. He looks at the screen, snorts softly.

"What is it?"

He tilts the screen. "Reuben's already interviewing showgirls."

Danny glances at it, blinks, drops back onto the pillow.

"It'll be retro," Rusty protests. "There's a real market for retro these days."

"In most things."

Rusty clicks the phone shut, but keeps looking at it. "Remember how all the gadgets were going to make the job easier?" he finally says. "That time in Florence, with the cell phones the size of breadboxes?"

"And the girl who told you never before 2 pm on Wednesdays? Yeah."

"Things have changed."

"Reuben's going to hire Greco to do his security. He'll be fine."

"Yeah. Reuben will be fine."

Danny presses his knuckles lightly against Rusty's cheekbone and looks at the ceiling.

After a while, Rusty says, "It's not too late for a Harry Lime."

"Yeah, it is."

"...Yeah, it is."

Rusty rolls back towards him. The planes of his body are almost as lean and warm as they were twenty years ago.

Danny hates almosts.

They don't leave the room that weekend. They don't bother fighting the jet-lag, watching back-to-back airings of A bout de souffle and Jules et Jim side-by-side from the bed until dawn and sleeping so late that the chambermaid gives up in despair. Danny wakes to find Rusty leaning on the balcony railing, watching the well-dressed women flowing in and out of the expensive shops across rue George V.

"Hey," he says sleepily, "catch and release only."

Rusty turns back. "Room service is coming."


Rusty looks slightly offended. "And porterhouse."

Their room-service bill is going to be outrageous. Danny thinks he might actually pay it.

On Monday morning, he slips out of bed and goes down for a petit dejeuner, leaving Rusty buried in the depths of the duvet. The hotel restaurant is flooded with morning sunshine. Tess is sitting with her back to the door, buttering a croissant, and her hair gleams in the light. She's wearing a high-necked white blouse and pearls. Her gestures are small, elegant, Parisian. She could have been happy here.

Rusty would have told her everything was going to be okay now. He would have sounded as sincere as always.

Behind him, another woman has left her credit card unattended on the edge of the table. He pushes it closer to her with a flick of a finger and steps forward, into the light.

Feedback, positive or negative, always welcome. Leave a comment or send an email to Sarah T.