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Even Game

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Above all things, Arthur requires time to do his job properly. He's greedy for it, and in the strongest possible terms, he resents Saito stashing him in a traditional Japanese inn without so much as a project outline to start working on.

Most especially, he resents being stashed in said inn with Eames, who has changed into one of the soft, expensive robes waiting for them in the room they are sharing.

"It's a yukata," Eames says, nodding toward the robe on the tray. "It won't bite, pet, I promise. They're really quite comfortable."

"I'm not--" Arthur stops, checks his temper, and says, "I was told we were going to start the job tonight."

Eames shrugs easily, unconcerned, and of course he can be -- because whatever his faults, Eames is brilliant on the fly. Arthur can build piece by meticulous piece, with occasional bursts of ingenuity, but Eames can take all the pieces, shake them up and dump them on a table, and reassemble them in ways that would make Arthur deathly jealous if he were inclined to be so. Which he is not.

"Saito has his reasons, I'm sure. Tomorrow will be here soon enough, and you'll be able to wallow in research to your heart's content," Eames says. "You may as well enjoy yourself while you can. Join me for a drink?"

The irritation is almost physical , but Arthur sinks down to sit on the tatami, and accepts a cup of hot sake -- Eames must have ordered it just before Arthur arrived. He takes one sip, and then lets the cup rest on the table with a click of porcelain against fine, lacquered wood. "I was just looking forward to it, that's all," Arthur says, unable to keep the petulant tone entirely out of his voice. "I was hoping it would be -- interesting."

Eames' own cup is dangling precariously from his fingertips, but Arthur knows that not a drop will touch the woven mats underneath. "Oh, I don't think there's any doubt about that. You can't think that Saito would have you come all this way for one of those milk runs you've been doing lately."

Arthur narrows his eyes at that, but it's not the first time that Eames has kept tabs on him, and anyway, he could have heard it from Saito or Yusuf or Ariadne. He refuses to rise to the bait. "I thought you were going to lie low for awhile."

"There's lying low, and then there's passing up opportunities to work with you," Eames says lightly, and Arthur never knows if that particular smile is genuine.

"Saito didn't tell me you were on this job," Arthur says. "If I had known, I might have turned him down."

Eames laughs at that, low and knowing. "No, you wouldn't have done. It's all about the work for you, darling."

Arthur appreciates Eames' analytical eye on jobs, but dislikes it as applied to himself. He covers his annoyance with another sip of sake.

"How shall we amuse ourselves in the meantime?" Eames says. "Fancy a trip to the hot springs?"

He does, actually, but there's no point in giving Eames more ammunition. "I'd rather play a game of Go," he says, gesturing toward the set laid out in the alcove that faces a garden.

Eames has the grace to look pleasantly surprised and intrigued, and if it's a front, it's beautifully done. "Well, well," he says, putting his cup down and rising to his feet. "That is certainly not an offer to be passed up. A game of Go with patient, murderously meticulous Arthur? Be still, my heart."

Go is Arthur's game, and if he must suffer Eames' incisive observations and flagrant innuendo, he'll at least trounce Eames thoroughly. "If you want a handicap, I'll understand," Arthur says as he accepts Eames' offer of a hand up.

Eames pulls him up and pulls him close. "A handicap? You're a wretched tease, darling," he says, voice low and throaty, and Arthur nearly shivers when he looks in Eames' eyes.

"Suit yourself," Arthur says, and if it doesn't come out as curtly as he hoped, at least he still feels somewhat dignified.

They sit down at the Go board, Arthur cross-legged and Eames with one knee drawn up, revealing some very well-developed calf muscles.

They begin slowly, Eames laying out black stones and Arthur following with white, but there's nothing tentative about the way they play. Arthur is looking ahead, ahead, always ahead, mindful of the pattern of stones he is shaping, the escape routes that he is closing off, one by one. Eames is here and there, capturing stones and muddying the shape of the game.

He's not sure how long they play for -- and he's not given to using dream metaphors for real life, but the steady flow of play does bear some resemblance, except that even in Arthur's dreams, Eames is never this quiet for so long.

Arthur sees his margin shrink, hold steady, then shrink some more.

And then Eames lays down one last stone, and says, "You win."

"No, I didn't," Arthur says, and all of his irritation from earlier is back. "We tied."

"Ah," Eames says. "But by many versions of the rules, if we tie, then white wins. Congratulations. More sake?"

"Did you do that on purpose?" Arthur demands.

"Did I do what?"

"Don't play stupid -- I'm not one of your marks, and I'm not falling for it. Did you deliberately play me to a tie?"

"You're terribly suspicious," Eames says soothingly. "I promise you, I played with every intention of winning. Or don't you think I'd give you my best?"

That brings Arthur up short. "No," he says haltingly. "You always do."

Eames smiles at that, and it's startlingly sweet. "How pleasant to find that my efforts do not go unnoticed," he says.

It hits Arthur then, the way that these little flashes of brilliance always do, and he knows what he's going to do next.

Arthur's hands go up the knot of his tie, and as he begins to undo it, Eames' eyes go almost comically wide. "Er, darling, I don't think we were playing for stakes," he says, his eyes glued to the movement of Arthur's hands as he undoes the buttons of his waistcoat, one by one.

Arthur stands, letting both tie and waistcoat fall to the the floor. "Don't be ridiculous," he says, and walks back into the main room to pick up the remaining yukata. "I'm going to change," he says, dropping his cufflinks on the table.

He hears Eames make a gratifyingly strangled noise, and when he turns to look, Eames is averting his eyes like the gentleman he is.

"You can look," Arthur says, and he doesn't know where this is coming from -- it would only be for Eames, who always gives Arthur his best and meets him in the middle.

"If it comes to that, darling," Eames says, taking in Arthur's open shirt with such obvious hunger that Arthur has no choice but to believe it is real, "I'm rather sick of of only looking."

Arthur unbuckles his belt and pulls it free. "I happen to know -- on a purely professional basis, mind you -- that you have plenty of imagination. Why don't you put some of it into action?"

Eames is up and crossing the room in an instant, and he gives Arthur one quick, assessing look. "There's nothing I would like better, as long as this isn't a whim," he cautions.

"It's not," Arthur says. "Persuading Saito to get me here a day early, that's a whim."

Eames grins at that, not particularly troubled at being caught out. "Oh no, that's not a whim -- that, love, is strategy."

"So is this," Arthur says, and lets the shirt slide down off his shoulders. "Do you want a handicap?"

Eames kisses him, then, and proves that he doesn't need it.