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Skin Deep

Chapter Text

Now, Eames got all sorts in his shop; punks wanting ironic knuckle tats, goths getting Zim or Jack Skellington on their arms, frat boys getting ill-advised tribal designs, moms asking for mid-life crisis flowers, former gang-members getting portraits of the saints and their newborn babies.

He didn't get many walk-ins in thousand dollar suits, though. Especially not at ten to midnight. Eames wasn't even normally open this late, but he'd agreed to squeeze Ariadne in tonight.

"Be with you in just a second!" he called out when the bells on the door jingle. He was crouched over Ariadne, almost finished with putting a fragment of Sappho's on her chest. Ariadne had the blissed-out look of a dedicated tattoo junkie, smiling through the pain and high on the endorphins.

"Hot damn," Ariadne whispered, barely audible under the whine of the gun. "Check it out."

Eames risked a look behind him and saw a vision in charcoal pinstripes. He turned back to his apprentice. "That's going to make me lose concentration," he said.

She smiled. "Wouldn't want that. Hello," she called. Eames risked another look backwards, and saw the guy leaning on the counter, looking at him and Ari.

"Do you mind if I watch?" he asked.

Eames shrugged, and Ariadne said, "Nah. Is this your first tattoo?"

The man looked away towards the wall and said, "Sort of."

Eames raised his eyebrows at Ariadne. "Sort of? Sounds like there's a story there."

"There's really not, trust me."

Eames shared a look with Ariadne, and said, "Yeah, I know how that goes. Usually more of an epic saga than a story." Eames started on the last letter, this one directly over Ariadne's collarbone. She winced.

The man was quiet for a moment, watching, then said, "Does it hurt?"

"On the bone, yeah," she said. "The rest of the time it just feels like a cat scratching you."

"Over and over and over," Eames said, grinning. "Some people feel it a bit more than others. God, remember that girl that was in here last week?"

"The one that wouldn't stop whining? Christ, she was annoying. Just wanted an itty-bitty kitty cat on the ankle, took about twenty minutes, but she moaned the entire time. AND she didn't tip."

"And that, good sir, is how to get into your tattoo artist's good graces. Tip well and don't whine." He finished up the last letter on Ariadne's chest and leaned back, tapping his foot on the pedal rhythmically as he looked her over. "Go take a look in the mirror, tell me what you think."

He helped her up, then peeled off his gloves and turned to the man at the counter. He took a good look at him; about Eames' height, dark-haired, serious-looking, and wearing a suit that probably cost as much as a month's rent for the shop. Rather edible, in all honesty. He didn't seem the type to stroll into a tattoo shop in the dirty fringes of the SoMa district at midnight.

"So," Eames said. "Introductions. I'm Eames, that tart admiring herself in the mirror–"


"–Is my apprentice, Ariadne." He held his hand out for the man, who, after a moment's hesitation, took it in a firm grip.

"Arthur," he said.

"Arthur," Eames repeated, rolling the vowels around in his mouth. "Pleasure. Now, much as I'd love to do this tonight, I was actually about to close up. Luckily for you, I'm free as a bird tomorrow afternoon."

"Tomorrow?" Arthur said. He was staring at the black lines that curved along Eames' neck. "I think... yeah, I can do that."

"Lovely," Eames said. "Did you have a design?"

Arthur took a slip of paper out of his vest pocket and handed it to Eames. Eames unfolded it, laying it flat on the counter.

"Fibonacci spiral, lovely. Nice and simple for a sort-of first tattoo." He winked at Arthur, who didn't quite smile back at him, and Eames realized that the bloke was profoundly nervous. If he left, Eames doubted he'd be back tomorrow.

"You know," Eames said, "this probably wouldn't take me too long. I could do this tonight if you want."

"Oh, it's no problem to come back–"

"Nah, it's fine. Do you want it this size?"

Arthur was looking slightly pale. "Uh, sure. Yeah, I guess."

"You guess?" Ariadne said, sidling back up to the counter. "You're going to have it for the rest of your life, you should probably be sure."

"Oi," Eames said. "Bugger off and go put a bandage on your chest before you ruin all my hard work."

Ariadne sighed and walked over to the far counter. Eames smiled apologetically at Arthur, and asked, "Where do you want it?"

Arthur swallowed and shrugged off his coat. "My bicep," he said.

"Nice choice. You've got nice arms, that shape will work well right there," Eames said, walking towards the office in the back of the shop. "I'm going to go get this onto a piece of transfer paper. Ariadne, will you get his paperwork filled out?"

A few minutes later, Araidne appeared at Eames' desk. She set a cup of tea down at his elbow and bent down to look at the design. "Paperwork's done. I hope I'm getting overtime for this."

"You mostly get paid in free tattoos," Eames said. "So sure."

"Why couldn't this wait until tomorrow?" she asked, yawning. The endorphin high must have been wearing off.

"If he leaves now, he won't be back. Look at him," Eames said. They both leaned back until the could see Arthur through the open door. He was staring out the window, leg bouncing, his fingers tapping a rhythm out onto the arm of his chair. "He's about halfway to running out the door."

"Weird," Ariadne whispering. "I thought he said he sort of had one already."

"I know. Probably some smudgy thing he did to himself when he was fifteen and stoned."

"Mm," Ariadne agreed, then yawned again.

"Do you wanna have a kip on the couch? I'll drive you home when this is finished."

"Mm-hmm," she said sleepily, collapsing on the beaten-up loveseat behind him. "Scream if you need me."

Eames finished the transfer and walked back into the shop. "Alright," he said. "Ditch the shirt and step right up."

Arthur stood and started unbuttoning his shirt. Eames made an effort not to look like he was enjoying the sight overmuch, as he tuned the radio to a local tejana stations. Arthur shrugged out of the button down and was left in a soft V-neck. Through the thin cloth, Eames could see the shadow of another tattoo on his shoulder, though he couldn't quite make out the design.

"Should I take this off too?" Arthur asked, tugging at the t-shirt. Eames had to repress a multitude of dirty replies and dirtier thoughts.

"Nah," he said, because hitting on first-time customers was a bit smarmy, even for him. And Arthur still looked like he might bolt. "We'll just roll up your sleeve."

Arthur's arms were slender but muscled, muscles moving liquidly beneath skin. After he finished, Eames took his arm, glancing up when Arthur tensed. "Easy, mate," he said, looking up. Eames turned his arm over, so that the pale underside of Arthur's wrist was facing up. "Question for you. Did you want the design on the inside or outside of your arm?"

Arthur blinked. "I... what do you think?"

Eames smiled, then pulled Arthur's arm out. "I love when people ask me that." He touched the soft skin of the inner bicep. "Here," he said. "It'll look gorgeous when you flex your arms. And it's a bit more hidden, which seems more your style."

"My style?" Arthur said, half-smiling. "You think?"

Eames smiled as he finished setting up. "I wouldn't dare to presume," he said. "But yeah, on first impression. You certainly don't give much away." He snapped on a pair of gloves, wiped the area down, and swabbed Arthur's arm. He considered the area of bare flesh, the shapes in it, the three-dimensional canvas he'd be working on. Then, carefully, he set the transfer.

"Take a look," Eames said, gesturing to the mirror. He watched Arthur carefully as he looked the design over, moving his arm in different directions; this was the deciding moment, after all. This was pretty much the last chance the man had to back down from it.

"It looks good," Arthur said.

"Don't sound so surprised. Lie down with your arm like this."

When Arthur was finally in position, Eames grabbed the gun and dipped the needle in the ink. "This is going to hurt, and you're going to love it," he promised. "Deep breaths, and relax."

Arthur's eyes went wide when the needle hit his skin, and he sucked in a breath. Eames didn't hesitate, just continued to go over the lines he'd set. "So," he said. "Why the Fibonacci spiral?"

"I like order," Arthur said. His voice was husky. "I like simplicity in design, and beauty that's also functional. And it's ubiquitous. It's everywhere, but most people don't realize. Even people's brain waves, the underlying rhythm conforms to the ratio."

"Mmm," Eames said, wiping away ink and a small amount of blood. "It's comforting, I suppose. To know that a certain kind of beauty can be constant."

Eames loved watching his customers' faces as he works on them, especially the first-timers; the nervousness and half-panic that gradually gave way to wincing bliss. Arthur was no exception; he was more stoic at the beginning, refusing to flinch as Eames carved into his skin, but he got to that meditative rapturous state quicker. His face was flushing prettily, his eyes dilated, by the time Eames was finished, about half an hour later.

He set the gun down on the counter and wipes down the spiral. It stood out, shiny and wet against the red, swollen skin around it. "All right," he said. "You're a marked man."

Arthur sat up and looked at his arm, flexed the muscle and winced. "Huh," he said. "Wow."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Eames replied, getting out a bandage. He taped it down, and peeled off his gloves. He stood and stretched, and let himself enjoy the sight of Arthur gingerly getting dressed again.

"Here's a sheet on how to take care of it. Don't take the bandage off for at least 24 hours, and do not – and that's a not in big-assed capital, bolded letters – pick at the scab." He pulled out one of his business cards as well. "And here's my card," he said. "In case you ever feel like giving into an impulse again."

Arthur thanked him, handed over five twenties, and walked out the door. Eames watched him go, because really, he may have been a professional, but Arthur had a fantastic ass, and Eames was only human.

"He'll be back," came a voice from behind him.

"Have you been spying, Ariadne?" Eames said, cleaning up.

"Bet you anything," she said, emerging from the back room.

"Nah," Eames said. "One-off. You learn to tell the difference."

"Twenty bucks says he'll be back," she insisted, helping him put away the supplies.

He laughed, but six months later, she forced him to pay up when Arthur walked back in the door again.