This was not the way it was supposed to happen.
Not that there was ever a "right" way to deal with fairies, but they were creatures of myth that Eames really should not have messed with. He had thought it would be easy to invoke a spell that would give him a charm to avoid authorities; he couldn't be too careful after the Fischer job, and being that close to limbo had rattled him far worse than he wanted to admit. It had been an old spell, one he was sure his contacts would have lied about, but they had been surprisingly honest about it, and Eames had been all but untouchable.
Likely, they knew what would happen once he used it.
The Seelie fairies were impressive, beautiful and frightening in an ethereal kind of way. They were capricious, and thought he would make an amusing little pet. But a day in Faerie could be any amount of time in the mortal world, and he didn't relish the thought of stepping back into earth and then crumbling to dust or some such action. The fairy that held his contract of sorts, the one that had created the charm, was a lithe creature of indeterminate gender with blue-green skin, black eyes, an Aquiline nose, no hair at all, and a draping kind of dress over the torso. "I helped you hide, mortal," the creature said, the voice melodic and searing his brain. "The price is a day by my side, doing as I wish."
Eames' throat closed. It might be fun, it might not be. He had no idea, and the unknown in this case was terrifying. "And what do you wish?"
The fairy laughed, a high pitched titter like the tinkling of bells. "I could use your eyes in a potion I'm brewing. I do adore the color of them."
Uh, no. Very no.
"Is there something else I can do for you? Maybe that would be equal in value?"
Frowning a bit, the fairy came in close, so close that Eames could see himself reflected in the unceasing blackness of those eyes. "What do you have that equals the knowledge in your eyes? What do you have that would be as new and interesting as your addition to my craft?"
"Folklore often says a lot about equivalencies," Eames said, pasting a sincere smile on his face. Because if it was one thing he could do as a forger, it was lie his way out of awkward and awful situations. And this certainly counted.
The fairy sniffed at him. "Your mortal folklore is certainly poor on the details. Little would work for my particular spell."
"What is it that you're making? What could the knowledge in my eyes add to it?"
"It is a love spell for my lady Yasmin. She desires a high prince in the Unseelie court, and she needs to sway ours to allow it."
"So you need love," Eames said, smiling confidently. "If I bring you new love—"
"True love," the fairy told him flatly. "False as you are, you would inspire a paltry thing, and I would not expose my lady to such."
"Done. How much time do you need?"
"The brew will finish in a day."
"How much mortal time?" Eames insisted.
"The flow of our worlds would make it six or seven of your months."
Eames managed not to sigh in relief. "I'll have to make do, then. I'll find you true love." And save his eyes in the bargain.
That also meant that he had the perfect way to get the two of them together.
He told himself that this wasn't harmful. Ariadne had a crush on Arthur, and the point man had been exceedingly obvious that the architect fascinated him. Both were entirely too proper, and would likely dance around the attraction without saying a damn thing. Eames was certainly tired of hearing her wistful what-ifs when they spoke on the phone or in person, so this was entirely for her benefit. He was simply getting two friends together. Their love would bloom, and the fairy could harvest a bit of it like snipping roses from a bush. It would be perfect, and he would feel satisfied that he'd done friends a good turn.
Life was too short for not enjoying it, especially his.
As much as Arthur irritated him at times and was fun to needle, he was a solid and dependable sort of man. Ariadne was sweet, with her own ruthless streak that was bound to appeal to Arthur. Eames had no doubt that the two of them together would find true love.
Playing matchmaker was an odd feeling, not one he had done outside of a job. The fairy had been right; Eames had been the bait in a honey trap often enough to know how to fake it. But he could use it to contrive ways to get Ariadne and Arthur together, maybe drop some subtle hints about how perfect the two of them would be.
Watching the two of them dance around each other, the looks as they discussed the job, the needs for the level, the subtle meanings that Ariadne would have to evoke from the surroundings. Eames wanted to smoosh the two of them together and have them kiss and be done with it. But that would be lust and not love, and that wouldn't work. Plus, it was a disservice to them both.
"Look, why don't you just go under together?" Eames finally told them, exasperated. "You can tweak the level as you need it right there, and Arthur's subconscious certainly isn't going to attack you for changing things up."
Ariadne flushed a bit, and looked down at her sketchbook. "But you don't like changing things around in your subconscious..."
"That was completely different," Arthur replied, shutting his Moleskine. "This is for a job."
"Oh." There was the faint edge of disappointment in Ariadne's voice, and Eames was sure he would hear more about it later. Another Why doesn't he feel anything more for me? What am I not doing? Or is this all in my head? would simply make him want to scream.
"Go, go," Eames urged them, making a shooing motion with his hands. "I'll watch over you, promise. You two need to get this taken care of."
It wasn't long before the two of them were hooked up to the PASIV, sedation primed for an hour apiece so they would have plenty of time to hash out the level for the job. After securing the suite and making sure he wouldn't be disturbed, Eames set himself up for forty minutes. That should give him enough time to lend a helping hand and get out.
He found them sitting on a bench overlooking the quad. Arthur had a Moleskine in hand, and Ariadne had a sketchbook. The simple blouse and jeans that she wore in this dream made her look like a college student. Arthur was in jeans and a pullover as well, and had Converse sneakers on his feet. She looked anxious and he seemed to be relatively indifferent. Oh no, this simply wouldn't do.
Looking around, Eames could see that there was a gazebo at the quad. He could subtly exert some will that made the campus buildings all locked, and it didn't seem to trigger Arthur's subconscious security. He was used to Eames' presence, after all, but Eames wasn't about to overstay his welcome. Shifting his facial features using the reflection in a building's window, he strolled down a walkway as if he was simply another projection.
"The atmosphere isn't light enough. It won't make him feel comfortable."
"It's a university, Arthur. It's like what he had before, both in structures and overall tone. Anything too out of the ordinary, and it won't feel like his dream."
Eames had to agree with Ariadne. Arthur seemed to be nitpicking for no good reason.
But on closer inspection, there was reason enough right there in front of Eames. Arthur's thigh was pressed against Ariadne's, and his eyes lingered too long over her mouth when she spoke about design features. Her cheeks were flushed a bit in indignation, her eyes were bright, and she wasn't even dressed in those hideous layers she tended to wear that hid her figure. She was a slight woman, but the petite form was nicely rounded and shapely. Oh, clever girl, she had the curve of her breast pressed against Arthur's arm and he was oh so subtly rubbing against her as he shifted through his pages of notes on the job.
Idiots, both of them. Arthur was so conscientious, he was probably afraid of spoiling their working relationship. Arthur had gotten too used to being on the run, he didn't want to drag anyone down in his wake. Ariadne was brilliant and strong, loyal and endearing, just Arthur's type. Eames knew for a fact that Ariadne was afraid of coming on too strong and driving him away, just as she had with her last boyfriend.
He knew Ariadne wished to move things beyond friendship. Arthur was hoping for the same thing she was, and was being too damn honorable. Time to give them a push.
Rain poured down in torrents, and both Ariadne and Arthur gasped in surprise at shock. "I didn't do this!" Ariadne cried.
Projections left and right looked around suspiciously and angrily, but Eames was taking off for cover the same as they were. He even copied their suspicious glances for good measure.
As he hoped, Arthur and Ariadne headed for the gazebo after realizing that the closest building was locked up tight. Their clothes were plastered to their bodies, and they shivered with cold. He and the projections bypassed the gazebo, but he stayed relatively close to it so he could hear what they said.
Arthur had his arms around her. "You're shivering," he murmured. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I'd make it rain like this, and for it to be so cold."
"Do we need to make a joke about your subconscious?" Ariadne asked with chattering teeth.
"The way I feel is anything but cold," Arthur told her in all seriousness. Eames could imagine an earnest expression on his face. "I like working with you."
No wonder those two couldn't get together. That was a perfect setup for his feelings!
"Oh," Ariadne murmured, sounding a touch disappointed. She shivered violently, teeth chattering loud enough for Eames to hear. "S-s-sorry."
Moving to her side, Arthur wrapped his arms around her. "No, I'm the one that's sorry. This is my fault somehow, but I'll fix it."
He wouldn't be able to stop the rain that Eames caused, but it was noble of him to try. As awful as it was to be caught in this downpour, Eames knew it wasn't real. He stayed close to the gazebo, under the shrubbery behind it. Eames had more of the rain pouring down, and he was gratified to see Arthur and Ariadne clinging to each other like a second skin. That was more like it. They were getting somewhere now.
"And the level? Is there something to change?"
No, no, no, not about the job, Eames wanted to shout. Honestly, Ariadne was just as bad.
"It's perfect, really. I suppose I was just worrying for nothing." Arthur sounded contrite, at least.
Ariadne sighed. "I know that perfectionist streak," Ariadne began.
"I can't help it, I guess," Arthur continued gently. "I don't want anything to go wrong. With anything. Too much is at stake."
Sharp as a tack, Ariadne pulled Arthur in close and turned inside the circle of his arms so that she could face him. "It's not just the level, is it?"
Arthur looked panicky for a second, and it was such an awkward look on him. Eames had never seen that expression before, and it was fascinating. "Ariadne..."
She pulled on his shirt until he ducked down and kissed him. It was passionate, nothing chaste at all in it, and there was no mistaking her intentions for Arthur at all.
He was shocked, but not in a way that would bode ill for Ariadne. He let out a sighing breath, then slid his hands down her back. "This could change everything," he whispered, anguish in his expression. "And if anything happens—"
"Then we make sure it doesn't," Ariadne told him in a firm tone. "I trust you."
In this business, it was better than love. They didn't say the words "I love you," but Eames could clearly see the emotion in their eyes. He would take it, but would the fairy?
Dipping his head down again, Arthur kissed her. It was an adoring kiss, the kind that could go on for days, the kind that made Eames' own breath catch. He was definitely superfluous here, and maybe it would be best to retreat while they didn't know he was there.
Eames slit his throat to wake up and clean up all evidence that he joined them in the dream. He hadn't really needed to do anything after all. All they needed was proximity, and he could easily repay his debt to the fairy.
Breathing a sigh of relief, he was all smiles when the two woke. Even better, the two of them were also relaxed and full of confident smiles.
Looks like everyone was getting a happy ending after all.
Eames was drinking a glass of wine when he realized he wasn't alone at the table. Putting the glass down, he looked over to his right and saw the fairy sitting in a chair that hadn't been there a moment ago. He managed not to startle as badly as he would have, but it was a near thing. "Ah," he grunted, trying to think of something to say. "This is less time than I thought I had."
"I grew impatient," the fairy told him, black eyes blinking owlishly. "And you have found what I need, so I don't have to wait the full day."
"It doesn't have to..." He waved his hand about in a useless gesture, suddenly afraid that the fairy would take the burgeoning love and destroy it before it had a chance to truly begin. "Ripen? Develop? Whatever it is you need them to do?"
Looking at him with a stern expression, the fairy grasped Eames' wrist. "Your own emotions betray you, thief."
With its free hand, the fairy made a stroking gesture in the air. Eames hadn't realized why no one was staring at them, but it seemed as though time had frozen solid around them. The shy smile on Ariadne's face haunted him, as did the way Arthur's eyes crinkled in the corners. His own fear was like bile in his throat; he knew he would throw them under the bus if it came down to it, if his own survival was at stake, but he liked Ariadne and wanted her happy. This wasn't supposed to hurt her. She couldn't be damaged because of his own idiocy.
Something like a red filament was coming out of Ariadne's chest. A corresponding red filament was drawn from Arthur's, and it flew toward the fairy. A crystal vial with a flared base appeared, floating in midair, and the red filaments poured into the vial, splashing inside of it.
And then to Eames' horror, a similar filament came out of his own chest to add to the vial.
"Imagine my surprise," the fairy said in droll tones, "to find you actually care for someone other than yourself, and that it is genuine emotion." A stopper appeared and wedged itself into the mouth of the vial, securing the red liquid.
Rising, the fairy smirked at Eames. "You were right. This is a much finer addition to my potion than your eyes. I do appreciate the bargain struck."
Before he could do more than blink, the fairy and vial were gone. Movement and voices picked up again all around him, and Eames drew in a shaky breath. It didn't look like anything had changed in Ariadne's or Arthur's expressions. He even reached out to clasp her hand over the table, his thumb caressing her skin. She smiled at him, happiness almost blinding, and Eames breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't hurt her, then, and their fledgling romance would be able to grow with time.
Tossing money down on the table to cover his half eaten meal, Eames hurriedly left. Time to disappear again, and hopefully not make the same mistakes all over again.