Years ago, Arthur stared to measure life by his scars. Silver ridges and grooves along his skin, like heavy marks made on a paper by a pencil, sharply pointed as a pin, only to be erased in an attempt to hide or forget. But even if those inked words are gone, the paper still holds those bumps of stories, quietly screaming out to be heard.
Arthur has actually begun to compare his skin to one of his moleskins - full of notes and reminders written in his own private language so when a lover strokes the lines of his skin as they lay together in bed, covers thrown open for all to be seen, and asks him in a sweet sated whisper, what happened? He can just shrug it off with a Not as interesting as it looks and then roll them over for a round two.
His stories are for himself and himself only.
Not all of his scars came with violence.
He can still remember his very first one, the one right below his left elbow where he fell off a bike as he was practicing to show off to Daddy when he got home from work. His mother had run out of the house screaming, still wearing the cake batter smeared apron.
Despite the tears of his six year old self, he holds this scar fondly.
Eames is just as everyone describes: charming, charismatic, and above all else, intelligent. He's brilliant and smooth and knows it. He's unafraid to show it off either.
Arthur likes this about Eames.
So when Eames invites him to a drink after the job is complete, Arthur accepts.
But some scars do came with pain.
He was just 21 when it happened. As a member of the Special Forces that worked with secret government projects, other enemy organizations would find him an appetizing meal for information.
Arthur had known that someone in his team would be targeted and taken up sooner or later. He just hadn’t though it would be him.
It took eight days of kneeling on the cold dirt ground, of wondering where he was, of wondering where the hell his team was, of being crudely gagged with a grimy ash-tasting cloth, of chaffing from the bristly twine around his wrists that held him up, of having only greasy water as food.
Of his own blood brushing down his back.
He doesn’t think of it anymore.
Eames is so politely courteous when they first go to the bar that Arthur thinks he may have misread Eames’ intention. They talk about some jobs they’ve taken, recommend some people they’ve worked with, shoot shit about some others.
There are subtle hints of attraction when it comes to Eames. No leering, no bad come-ons. Just a touch here, a glance and grin there.
It’s just friendly enough as to just be a companionship if Arthur wasn’t paying attention. But Arthur is paying attention, and he sees the sight seduction that Eames puts into his actions.
Then Eames asks if Arthur would like to come back to his room with him and Arthur thinks, Finally.
He’s proud of some of his scars.
He doesn’t mention them to anyone, just like how he never mentions any of his scars to anyone, but he sometimes thinks that if anyone pointed to the puckers on the back of his thighs he might say that he was shot when he carried a wounded soldier out of the line of fire, that he and the fellow soldier still talk and have a pint together and have barbeque while his wife chases his kids around the backyard so they don’t get sauce all over their clothes.
But probably not.
Arthur grabs Eames by the arm to push him against the wall to press their lips together once he kicks the door closed.
Eames seemed to radiate confidence and power and the promise of a great lay as he shoves Arthur against the opposite wall and kisses back just as fiercely. They paw at each other’s clothes, eager to rid themselves of the barrier between their heated skin. Eames looks smug, like he had hooked Arthur on his line without his knowledge, which Arthur finds absurd because he’s using Eames as much as Eames is using him.
They continue on like that into the bedroom, leaving a trail of clothing behind while biting at lips, necks, and jaws, touching and gripping onto well muscled shoulders and defined hipbones.
He doesn’t notice the scars, the angry welts and ridges and craters and checks and burns and imprints of a dangerous life that decorate Eames’ skin, doesn’t notice until right before Eames pushes into him and thrusts again and again and again as Arthur moans and scratches new marks onto Eames’ back.
Arthur comes to the thought of how similar they are.
There are quite a few scars he isn’t proud of.
He has what happened locked safely away, right next to his bank numbers and names of friends and family and personal information, buried deep underground, underwater, underneath his skin, hidden securely away from everyone else.
There’s the first time he had to silence a civilian because she saw too much and was a liability.
Arthur can still remember what she had looked like before he had to slit her throat.
Before he got to her, she had taken a piece of broken glass and slashed him from just below his left ribs to his right hip. He could have easily avoided it.
But even the blood he spilt from his own body couldn’t match the amount blood he spilt from hers.
There are dozens of other times he’s not proud of. Despite the fact that he is a ludicrously wealthy career criminal, Arthur still has morals.
They lie together in the yellow light of the hotel lamp, still panting slightly from the intense round one. Arthur’s so pleasantly sore he might have to hold off round two for the morning.
When he tilts his head to look at Eames, he sees him staring, cataloguing all of Arthur’s imperfections that he’s never really been self-conscious of. Arthur realizes that he’s stroking the snaking streaks along Eames’ abdomen because he freezes when Eames reaches out with a finger to follow the web of delicate threads spread across his arm he got from being shoved out of a bay window in Maine.
Arthur relaxes under the touch. Maybe because he’s too fucked out to care, maybe it’s the knowledge that Eames has been through the same. He rests his hand over a suspicious bunch of burn marks on Eames’ thigh.
They don’t ask the other to stop, they don’t wonder what happened, and they don’t tell each other their stories.
But when Eames takes Arthur’s hand and kisses the torn and mended skin on his knuckles, Arthur thinks that perhaps he can read the language written on Eames’ skin, that perhaps it may even be the same language, same dialect, a story that can be read if he wants to.
Arthur doesn’t think he’ll say anything this time, but maybe next time he’ll tell Eames that the faded scar that his fingers are skating towards was from a high school soccer tournament when someone tripped him and he landed on a surprisingly sharp rock.
Yeah. He’ll do that next time.