"Tell me about this one."
Arthur's voice is as soft as his hands, the words barely heard over the roaring of the wind and the waves crashing relentlessly against the rocky shore while his fingers trace the lines inked on Eames' back.
Eames shivers at the touch. "You don't want to know about that one, darling. It's boring," he chuckles. His voice is muffled against his crossed arms where his head is resting comfortably, Arthur's weight solid on his thighs.
The fingers caressing his skin claw and rake over it, the feeling more pleasant than painful, but still a reminder of what those same hands are capable of inflicting, will be inflicting shortly.
Eames smiles; the marks they shamelessly leave on each other in the waking world, their blatant shows of ownership, are nothing compared to this. The bites, scratches, and bruises they proudly exhibit are for other people to see, for the rest of the world to know they have been claimed.
This here, this is entirely for them.
"Tell me," Arthur insists, leaning forward and pressing his torso against Eames' back, his skin as hot as his breath on Eames' ear. "I do want to know."
There is a story for each of Eames' tattoos, the same as there is one for each of Arthur's scars. He remembers most of them as if they had happened yesterday, and will keep them in his mind for as long as the ink stains his body. This particular memory has the hours numbered if Arthur's question is anything to go by.
He's not terribly sorry to see it gone. It was never one of his favourites.
"I was nineteen and drunk," Eames finally says, thinking back about that time. He had been both, and a lot many other things he isn't anymore. "I was madly in love with her the entire time we were together. My true love for just one night."
Arthur is silent while Eames reminisces, moving away from his body to get the things he's going to need. Eames feels the momentary loss of contact and heat, mourns it the second they are separated and allows his voice to drop, the sounds meaningless without an audience.
He picks up the tale the moment Arthur climbs back on top of him, wordlessly urging him to continue as he begins the ritual. He cleanses the skin with warm water while Eames talks softly about a doe-eyed brunette whose name he wouldn't even remember were it not etched on his skin.
Then comes the salt, first harmless and nothing more than the itch of a few grains rubbing against Eames' skin. It's not enough to make him falter in his tale of lust and idiocy, and Arthur's hand is firm as it moves over his back.
It doesn't stay that way for long, the first drops of blood blossoming on scarred tissue. Eames takes a deep breath, lifting his head from his arms and hissing at the sudden burn of alcohol being poured over the bleeding area. He curses under his breath, stiffening, and turns his head searching for the bottle of whiskey.
"Here," Arthur says, stopping momentarily to take a swig of the bottle before giving it to Eames. He leans forward, pressing his lips against Eames' neck and gently touching his side before continuing what he's doing.
The salt now burns against his raw skin, the whiskey helping him to take his mind off it. Eames talks over the pain, embellishing the tale where the memory is too frail and old for details. Arthur doesn't interrupt him as his voice begins to slur, the alcohol dulling his mind and senses, his entire back throbbing with pain. Eames feels each swipe of the salted cloth in his toes, his hands clenched around the bottle. The story grows more fantastic as his memory of it fades, the details vanishing from his mind with each drop of ink removed from his body.
Time twists on itself as Eames talks and Arthur works, the seconds dripping slowly only to jump forward when Arthur's hands pause in their motions, moving comfortingly over Eames' spine to soothe him after what feels like hours of pain.
"It's almost over," Arthur whispers, kissing the soft skin behind his ear. He takes the bottle of whiskey from Eames' hand and pours it on the raw wound, caressing the bumps of his spine when Eames arches and moans. "Just a bit more."
The words turn nonsensical after that, just background noise intersected with hisses and curses, Arthur's voice keeping him grounded and asking him to continue, to finish, all the time erasing the mark on his body.
Eames does, letting his mouth work on autopilot. He's not remembering anymore, and doesn't even know if what he's saying happened or it's all a fabrication. He's not thinking about that, he's thinking about Arthur removing all traces it ever happened.
It will still be there when they wake up, the ink dark and permanent. But there will be nothing else beneath it, just skin and muscle. No memory, no name. Just the ghost of Arthur's touch and the reminder of this pain.
That's what makes this entire ritual worth it.
"Then I woke up with a bitch of a hangover and a name tattooed I couldn't even put a face to," Eames finishes breathlessly, his eyes unfocused and his mouth pasty with alcohol and exhaustion.
Arthur cleans the mess of bloody tissue and ink one last time, climbing down from Eames' body to fetch new gauze. He touches the area reverently, running his fingers butterfly-soft over the edges of the wound before covering it.
Arthur is silent when he finally lies down next to Eames on the tiny bed, his back bare and unmarred except for the words Eames is carefully tattooing between his shoulder blades. He reads it over and over again as his eyes close and his breathing evens out.
It will also be gone when they wake up, invisible to everyone's eyes but their own.
It's enough if only the two of them know the real marks on their bodies. The rest, Eames' map of misspent youth and Arthur's mementos of past battles, are shared with the rest of the world.
These are marks of ownership etched deeper than skin level.
And they are only for the two of them.