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Sliver/Splinter

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It’s hard to make out the little splinter of balsa wood; it’s nearly the same colour as Eames’ skin. Arthur readjusts the swing lamp and crowds in closer, turning Eames’ index finger in search of the best angle of approach.

“Ow,” says Eames. He’s said little else for the last seven minutes, ever since he let Ariadne’s model fall to the table with a clatter, popping his injured finger between plush lips and casting a wounded betrayed look at Ariadne.

(“I told you not to touch it,” she said, unmoved.)

“Shut up and hold still,” Arthur says. There — the free end of the splinter catches the yellow incandescent light and glows faintly. Arthur bites the tip of his tongue between his teeth and maneuvers the tweezers closer. They’ve all got good dexterity on this team, though for wildly different reasons: Eames, the pickpocket; Ariadne, the draftsman; and Arthur, the electronics technician.

“Ow,” says Eames again, though Arthur hasn’t done anything yet. “Ow!”

“You know,” says Arthur, “for someone who does intravenous drugs for a living, you’re being kind of a baby about having a little splinter under your skin.” He takes advantage of Eames’ brief distracted amusement to dive in, pinch the splinter end in the tweezer tips.

“Ow,” says Eames, gritting his teeth, crowding into Arthur’s light and watching with a grimace of pain. ”Ow, ow, ow, bloody ow!”

Arthur can’t stop now. He pinches a little harder and tugs at the splinter. It comes out in a single piece, nice and smooth and — okay, Arthur can admit it — a lot bigger than it looked buried under Eames’ skin. ”There’s your problem,” Arthur says, doing his best Adam-Savage-as-car-mechanic, holding up the splinter for Eames to see.

“Good lord,” says Eames, “it’s a tree!”

Arthur snorts in spite of himself. ”It’s not a tree.”

“It is!” Eames insists. “I’m a new mum. An earth mother. I’ve just given life to a majestic sapling.”

Arthur looks back down at Eames’ finger, letting Eames claim custody of the tweezers and the splinter with his free hand. The little hole where the splinter was lodged is welling up bright and scarlet and almost pretty. Arthur takes a couple of deep breaths, slow and quiet. He wasn’t expecting blood. Eames isn’t good with needles; but Arthur’s the one who doesn’t do well with blood.

“There, now,” Eames says, because of course he noticed, Eames notices everything. It’s terrible. ”I can do the rest, thanks, darling.”

“No, I,” Arthur says feebly, batting around for the rubbing alcohol, the bandaids he’d left to one side. His vision’s gone sparkly.

“Oh holy shit!” Ariadne shrieks suddenly from across the room, and Arthur’s already-overworked adrenal glands give him another jolt as he sits up and looks for the source of danger. ”Spider!” Ariadne says, pointing at a corner. ”Eames! Spider! Kill it!”

Eames cracks a grin at Arthur and sticks his finger back in his mouth as he ambles over to end the life of the hapless arachnid.

They all have their strengths, Arthur reckons, and decides not to shout at Eames about disinfecting his finger. Goes back to work, and tries not to think too much about Eames’ lips, Eames’ finger, Eames’ head crowded close to his own in the puddle of lamplight.