Artemis Fowl had been alive for almost a year when his mother came to him with an odd favor.
“Arty,” she said, her soft voice almost lost in the swells of his piano playing. He frowned, but stopped the music at once, standing to face her. It was most unusual for her to approach him while he played. Surely, this was serious.
“Yes, Mother?” He asked, searching her face for clues of disaster. She looked worried, apprehensive, but not upset. That was a relief.
“I’ve been thinking, and I can’t help but feel that you’re…lonely,” she’d started off strong, but her last word was a hesitant murmur. Artemis stared at her, unsure what to make of this statement.
Lonely? He thought on it. Yes, he supposed he was lonely. By all means, he shouldn’t be; he had his family and the Butlers, who may as well be family, with him, all safe and happy. He had meaningful work to do each day to help rebuild the world. He had no right to be lonely. But Angeline was right. Artemis Fowl II was lonely.
“Your father and I, we thought on it and arranged…Oh, Arty, promise me you won’t get mad?”
Artemis’s eyebrow rose at that request. Clearly Angeline had done something she rather suspected would upset him. But he couldn’t allow himself to get upset. She was worried for him and trying to help, whatever she’d done. And she’d asked him not to be mad. After losing his family or himself so many times, Artemis could hardly ever say no to them. He nodded his assent, and Angeline gave him a small smile.
“Well, your father and I arranged a meeting for you and a lovely young woman, Daphne. Actually, it’s not so much a meeting, really. You’ve met Daphne before, do you remember? She’s the daughter of a dear friend of mine and they attended many of my events when you were small.” She looked at him so hopefully just then, and Artemis was unclear on what that hope was directed, so he took the obvious route.
“Daphne McCauley, if I remember correctly. With the red hair? She always wore a green ribbon in it.”
Angeline smiled brightly at him, and he felt relieved that he’d answered correctly.
“Say you’ll meet her properly, Arty?” She asked, eyes alight with excitement.
“Mother…Mum,” Artemis said hesitantly, and he saw her smile freeze, as if bracing herself for disappointment. His gut twisted. He hated to disappoint her. “I’m not saying no,” he assured her. “I merely want to know what it is you expect from this meeting.”
“Nothing, of course.” She hastened to reply. “Just meet her and let’s see where it goes. What do you say?”
Artemis knew exactly where it was going but he said, “Alright, Mother. I will meet with Daphne.”
Artemis allowed his mother to fuss about his suit and hair for nearly three minutes before he shook off the attention. Why, he wondered for the hundredth time that day, did I agree to this? She beamed at him, and he remembered exactly why. Angeline just wanted him to be happy. Misguided as she was in arranging this meeting with Daphne McCauley, she’d been sincere in her attempt to make him happy. Less lonely.
When the meeting commenced in the sitting room, Artemis shook hands with Daphne’s parents and gave the young lady herself a small bow, as Angeline had instructed. She seemed pleased and giggled prettily. Really, everything about Daphne was pretty. Her red hair cascaded down her back in waves and her green eyes gleamed with intelligence and good humor.
When the adults left them for another room, Artemis escorted Daphne to one of Angeline's favorite chairs, and he sat across the cherrywood coffee table on a couch that he knew for a fact Beckett kept his rock collection in. He smiled pleasantly at Daphne, hoping that his social smile no longer conveyed bone-chilling contempt. Daphne smiled back, so he could only assume he’d done well enough.
“It is a pleasure to become reacquainted with you,” Artemis said, unsure where to go from there. “You look well.”
“Yes, it’s nice to see you too. You’re considered quite a mystery, you know. How could I say no to entering into a courtship with a man who has been declared dead twice in so many years?” Her tone was light, but it sent chills down Artemis’s spine. Something was wrong, he realized right away, but whether with Daphne or himself, he was not yet sure.
He engaged in conversation with her for an hour, and they ate lunch together with their parents. By all means, it should have been a pleasant day. Daphne was no genius, but she was clever and entirely witty. And her beauty, Artemis realized more throughout their time together, really was extraordinary. If you shrunk her down, she could be a porcelain doll. Yet, through it all, Artemis felt vaguely sick. At every mention of courting and each thought of her beauty, a wave of dizziness washed over him.
Whatever was wrong, he knew by the time he bade Daphne goodbye, it was something within him.
That evening, Artemis had a video call with Foaly planned to go over new ideas for returning humanity to its former technological age. They had bi-monthly meetings of this nature. Artemis sat at his desk, drinking tea to wash down the antacids he’d taken while he waited for the centaur to answer his call.
“Arty!” Angeline Fowl burst through the door, excitement overflowing from that one syllable. “How was it?”
“Fine, Mother.” Artemis didn’t relish the idea of explaining to his mother how his stomach had turned and his head pounded through most of the day. She’d chalk it up to nerves.
“You two seemed to get along, just like I knew you would! She is lovely, isn’t she?”
“Yes,” Artemis agreed tiredly. “Although I wasn’t aware I was meant to be courting her.”
“Please don’t be mad, Arty. I thought you wouldn’t agree if you knew the nature of the meeting.”
“You’re right, I wouldn’t have,” Artemis was growing irritated, though he did his best to keep his temper down. He knew the ache of his head and lingering nausea was dictating his mood. “But you did say this meeting didn’t have to lead to anything.”
“We’ll call it even, then. After all the times you’ve lied to me it’s hardly fair to get upset over an innocent lie about a date.”
Artemis sighed, knowing she had a point.
“Are you alright, Artemis?” She asked, noticing his clammy skin and his face twisted against the ever-growing pain in his stomach and head.
“Fine, Mother. Thank you. Daphne is lovely and I enjoyed her company,” it wasn’t a lie, but it worsened his headache. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting with Foaly.” Who had, no doubt, been eavesdropping on this conversation.
“Alright,” she said hesitantly, but took her leave.
Artemis swiveled his chair to face his computer again, and Foaly appeared on the screen, looking pleased as punch.
“Well, well, well, little Arty is growing up! A date, huh? How’d that go? Did you scare her off with your vampiric smile?”
Artemis frowned, but he’d worried the same thing.
“I didn’t call you to discuss my social life,” he said, hoping to distract the nosy centaur. It was useless, of course.
“Or maybe she was the vampire,” Foaly snickered at his own joke, no doubt a reference to his sickly appearance. “But seriously, Artemis, you look awful.”
“Thanks.” He shot Foaly his best sneer, but his head hurt and it rather diminished the effect of his ire.
“You and Holly should start a club,” Foaly seemed to think this nonsensical remark was the height of hilarity. Artemis frowned.
“She seems to be allergic to romance too,” Foaly grinned. “You remember her short fling with Trouble Kelp?”
“Yes,” Artemis said with distaste.
“Well, she always came back from their dates looking sick as a dog. Then, on their last date, our dear Holly actually fainted—” he paused here to snort a laugh, “like a real damsel. Only, when she woke up she went berserk, thinking she was in battle. She’s banned from that restaurant for life, you know!” Foaly was away on another fit of giggles, and Artemis couldn’t help a smile as he entertained what, exactly, Captain Short had done to get herself banned. But this was hardly the time to engage in gossip.
“As amusing as this all is, Foaly, we do have important business to discuss.”
Artemis woke up the morning after his date feeling better than he had the day before, although a small coil of unease remained in the pit of his stomach. Now that his head was free from constant pounding, his symptoms seemed even more curious to him. They’d appeared from nowhere and had spiked at specific points in conversation or thought.
“How odd,” he murmured to himself with a frown. It all felt rather like the magic inflicted illness he’d experienced when he’d possessed fairy magic and had entered a dwelling uninvited. If he didn’t know better…But he did. He shook his head and proceeded to get ready for the day. Clearly he’d been unhappy with the prospect of dating Daphne, and his body had responded to this by imitating the fairy sickness.
There was only one thing to do, really. Though he dreaded it.
It took all day to collect his courage, but at dinnertime Artemis waited for conversation to peter out. After Beckett proposed grandly to Juliet with a bouquet of flowers pulled from the garden, roots still attached, and a charming earthworm ring, Artemis cleared his throat.
“Mother, I’d like to thank you for setting up the meeting with Daphne,” he started, already dissatisfied with his words.
“Of course, Arty,” she smiled so happily, he almost reconsidered.
“However, it would be deceitful for me to continue seeing her under the assumption of a courtship. I’ve no desire to date her. I apologize for my disinterest in pursuing a romantic relationship with her. I know how much you’d hoped…” As he delivered his speech, guilt spread through him for disappointing Angeline, but at the same time the coiled snake in his stomach vanished, and the prospect of another pounding headache receded.
“Well,” said his mother, “it was worth a shot.” And, amazingly, she dropped the subject, just like that.
Beckett wandered into Artemis’s room after dinner, looking utterly desolate.
“Jules says she won’t marry me,” Beckett said, genuinely hurt by this.
“Beckett, Jules is a grownup,” Artemis explained. “She can’t marry you.”
“But I love her!” Beckett complained. He’d proposed to Juliet no less than nine times in the last year. At first, he’d gone to their parents for comfort after the heartbreak of her rejection. But for the last five times, he’d come to Artemis instead. Artemis still wasn’t sure why.
“Yes, but you’re too little to get married,” Artemis said reasonably, to which Beckett pouted.
“Mum wants you to get married,” Beckett accused, as if the two matters were related. Artemis sighed.
“Mum thinks I’m lonely, and old enough to need someone. You’re not lonely and you’re too young to even be able to need someone like that.”
“But I’m so little I always need someone!” Beckett made a good argument.
“Yes, you’re right. You need Mum and Dad, and me and Myles. And I suppose you do need Juliet, too. But you need us to look after you and keep you safe. When you’re older that’s when you’ll need someone to love and marry. Right now you just need family and friends.”
Beckett thought this over. “But Holly keeps you safe.” He said this as if it were the winning line in an argument. Artemis was surprised at this insight from Beckett, and the implication of it, whether Beckett knew what he was saying or not.
“She does,” was all Artemis could manage. He wasn’t sure how to reason with five-year-olds. He sometimes thought his brothers were the only people who could win debates against him. Surprisingly, Beckett was especially gifted at beating Artemis in battles of the wit.
“And Jules keeps me safe, see?”
“No, I don’t ‘see,’” Artemis said, but Beckett didn’t care. In his eyes, he’d won. “But it doesn’t matter, Beckett. Juliet won’t marry you.” Beckett’s eyes filled with tears and his lip quivered. This wasn’t tantrum crying; Beckett was the king of tantrums and used them frequently to get what he wanted. But the tears building up in his eyes now were far worse, they were those of genuine hurt. Artemis couldn’t stand to make Beckett cry like this—the kid was tough as nails and hardly ever cried in earnest.
“She won’t marry you,” he said, scooping up the boy in his arms, “yet. Give it at least ten years before you propose again and she might take you more seriously, alright, little man?” Beckett’s tears ran dry at once and he smiled at Artemis.
“You think so, Arty?”
“Sure I do, Eck.”
Artemis held Beckett as they stared out over the balcony of his room. Artemis wasn’t ever the most physically affectionate person, but Beckett seemed content in his hold, and Artemis could hardly put him down.
“Why are you lonely?” Beckett asked after a long moment. Artemis looked to his little brother with surprise. Myles may have gotten the same genius gene Artemis had, but Beckett was by far the most emotionally intelligent of the three brothers.
“I miss my fairy friends,” Artemis was surprised at his words. They were the truth, but he hadn’t even admitted them fully to himself, much less said them aloud.
“Why? You talk to them a lot.” He was unsure how Beckett knew this, but he nodded in agreement.
“I was constantly caught up in some grand adventure with them,” he said quietly, staring out over the estate lands. “For years I was heavily involved in fairy missions to save the world. And we always won. Almost always won. And now…I talk to them over the phone, but I don’t see them as much. And Holly and I certainly don’t go galavanting around time paradoxes and—,” something itched at his brain. He stored it away for later. “I miss it. I miss them.”
“You miss Holly the most.” Again, Artemis couldn’t disagree with this uncalled for insight from his baby brother.
“Yes, I suppose I do. But it doesn’t matter, our days of dangerous missions are over.” The knowledge instilled in him a melancholy he’d only ever felt once before. After telling Holly he’d lied to and manipulated her to save his mother. “You know,” Artemis said with a small laugh, “Last time I missed The People this much, I got involved in a demon kidnapping just to get in on the magic again.”
“So,” said Beckett, as though explaining something very simple to a child even younger than himself, “just kidnap a new fairy.”
“Now what’s this about a Fowl kidnapping another fairy?” Captain Holly Short asked, pushing open the doors to the balcony and materializing as she stepped inside the room.
“Holly!” Beckett squirmed out of Artemis’s arms, launching a full aerial attack on the elf captain. She let his tackle hit home, more to catch him and break his fall than anything, Artemis was sure. Holly’s dragonfly wings retracted the moment the boy hit her, and the two of them tumbled to the floor.
“Oof,” Holly grunted, propping herself up on her elbows. “Beckett you are growing like a troll,” she laughed as Beckett scrambled off of her and stood at his fullest height. “Soon you’ll be the size of your brother when we first met.”
“No I’ll be bigger than Artemis,” Beckett said, frowning at Holly as though she’d insulted him.
“Well, eventually you might be. But not yet.” Holly accepted Artemis’s hand and he pulled her to her feet. Sparks danced along his hand radiating from the point of contact, but when he glanced down at their hands he saw no evidence of dispensed magic. Interesting.
“No,” Beckett insisted. “I’ll always be bigger than Artemis was because I have musk-culs,” he refused to pronounce muscles correctly, despite Myles' best efforts. Artemis suspected it was Myles' irritation that guaranteed the mispronunciation. “And Artemis has got none.”
“You make a good point,” Holly said, laughing again. Then she turned to Artemis, “So, what fairy are you kidnapping now, Fowl?”
“Not a demon,” Beckett assured her. “He already did that, he says—,”
“I was hardly at fault for the kidnapping of No. 1, I merely said I was involved in it, Beckett.” Artemis sighed, “Not that that’s the point, in any case. We’re not kidnapping anyone Holly, I promise.”
“Maybe he could just kidnap you again, Holly,” Beckett plowed on, oblivious to Artemis’s attempts to move on from the subject. “Since he misses you the most I bet if he stole you that would have to get your ‘tention.”
Artemis and Holly both stared at Beckett for a moment, unsure how one was meant to respond to a statement like that. In the end, Artemis hoisted Beckett back on to his hip.
“It’s time for bed,” he said, heading for the door. “I apologize, Holly, I’ll be back in a moment.”
“But I don’t want to go to bed!” Beckett complained. “My bedtime isn’t until midnight,” he lied shamelessly, struggling against Artemis’s hold. “I want to play with Holly!”
But nothing the small boy said convinced Artemis to put a halt to the bedtime regime.
Artemis returned to his room nearly forty minutes later. Holly was reading an old copy of The Sea~Wolf and Artemis felt suddenly sheepish, standing there in the doorway to his own room. Holly was sitting neatly in the middle of his bed, legs tucked into what Beckett called criss-cross-applesauce, one elbow resting on a knee, and her cheek pressing into her palm. He cleared his throat as he entered the room and crossed to sit on the edge of the bed. His weight on the mattress made her shift ever so slightly closer to him.
“I’m sorry about Beckett, he never seems to stop talking.”
“He comes by it honestly,” Holly grinned at him, “the lot of you never seem to know when to shut up.”
“I suppose,” Artemis glanced at the book still in her hand. “Still, I am sorry for abandoning you in order to tend to him. I’m afraid I’m a terrible host.”
“But a good big brother,” Holly said, marking her place with a folded corner. Artemis was so pleasantly surprised by her words that he didn’t even notice her defacement of his book. “Besides, you’re a much better host now than you were once.”
“That is a low bar,” Artemis said, stomach twisting in guilt in the familiar way it did when the subject of Holly’s kidnapping came up. Of every betrayal and hurt he’d given her. She was smiling, uncaring, having forgiven him—for this, at least—many years ago. But the older Artemis got, the more he knew he could never forgive himself. Every moment with Holly was a moment spent reminding them both of the pain she’d suffered by his hand. A reminder that Artemis had tainted their relationship from the very beginning. He hated himself for that. And yet, he knew he’d do it all again. And so he hated himself even more.
“Besides, if I’d had important business with you I’d have made you pass Beckett off to your mother.”
“So this is a social call?” Artemis asked, surprised. He hadn’t seen Holly in person for nearly three months. She didn’t have the time or the clearance to come visit him top side unless there was something going on.
“I was performing The Ritual at our tree and decided I’d pop in to check on my favorite mudboy.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call it our tree as if it were a place of great significance and sentimentality for us.”
“Well, isn’t it? I’d say you kidnapping me was significant—momentous, really—wouldn’t you?” Holly laughed at Artemis’s scowl. “Besides, it is the tree under which we first met. That’s got to be sentimental, don’t you think?”
“Fine,” Artemis huffed. “When do you need to be back in Haven?”
“I could get away with tomorrow afternoon if you’ve got the room for a visitor in this house.”
“Of course, we’d be delighted to have you. Can I offer you something to eat?”
“Sure,” Holly said, springing off the bed and landing on her feet on the floor. “Have you learned to make anything besides pasta?”
“You underestimate me. I can also make sandwiches.” Artemis smiled at the snort Holly gave at that. Mulch was very fond of telling everyone how terrible Artemis Fowl II was at making sandwiches. But Holly followed Artemis to the kitchen and settled herself on a countertop while Artemis put on noodles. The Fowls still employed a full staff, but as Holly rarely stopped by during the chef’s hours she and Artemis had taken to raiding the kitchen and making pasta.
“Here you are,” Artemis said a quarter of an hour later, sliding a bowl of bow-tie pasta with butter and parmesan in front of her, just the way she liked it. He pulled up a barstool so that he sat at the tall marble counter Holly sat on.
They ate in a happy silence for a while, and as Artemis poked at his food he was reminded of another red-headed girl he’d recently shared a meal with. He’d told his parents of his intentions towards Daphne, but he’d yet to talk with the girl herself. She could very well still be under the impression that he intended to court her. His stomach twisted at this, and a wave of dizziness washed over him.
“Are you alright?” Holly asked him, noodles halfway to her mouth.
“Fine, thank you,” Artemis said. But he wasn’t fine. He’d thought he’d gotten rid of this sickness. But one thought of Daphne had him hurting again. He frowned. No, not just the thought of Daphne. The thought of dating Daphne. “Holly,” he said suddenly, startling her a bit.
“What?” She asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
“When you went out with Trouble, Foaly says you got sick.”
“Yeah…” She looked at him like he was crazy. “But that’s hardly any of your business. Foaly’s either. You can’t tell that centaur anything, I swear, he’s the worst gossip I know.”
“What did it feel like?”
“When you dated him, what was your sickness like?”
“I don’t know,” Holly said, exasperated. “Does it matter?”
“I think it might,” Artemis said but didn’t offer further explanation.
“My stomach hurt—,”
“Like cramps or nausea?”
“Nausea, I guess. But not strong. My head hurt, too. Made me downright disagreeable, if I remember correctly.”
“Foaly mentioned you passed out. Did you experience any dizziness before then?”
“Yeah. I did,” Holly frowned, thinking back. “You know, it was weird. It got worse each date.”
Artemis nodded, “Did you feel sick between dates?”
“Not really.” She paused. “Wait, no, I did between the last two.”
“You did not plan to have a second date after the first, no doubt.”
“How could you know that?” Holly asked wearily. “Anyway, can we stop talking about my love life, it’s weirding me out.”
“I’m afraid not, Captain Short.”
Holly groaned. “Why are you so interested all of a sudden? You’ve never cared before.”
That was blatantly untrue, though Holly had no way of knowing it.
“Before Trouble, when was your last romantic engagement?”
“Romantic engagement?” Holly asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes: a date, a kiss, anything with romantic connotations.”
“It’s none of your business, mudboy,” she snapped, and her cheeks and the tips of ears became furiously red. Artemis knew there was only one possible reason why she’d reacted like this— before Trouble, her most recent romantic encounter had been with Artemis. Their kiss.
“One more question,” Artemis promised.
“And then you’ll tell me what you’re on about?”
“Yes. Before we went back in time, you never experienced any sort of sickness during dates, did you?”
“No, of course not. I don’t know what it was with Trouble, but it’s only ever happened with him. Mulch suggested it was love. I puked on his shoes the moment he said it. Now he thinks I’m allergic to all things Trouble.”
“Allergic,” Artemis said with a laugh. “You may believe that sooner than what I’m about to suggest.”
“Well, spit it out, Mudboy,” Holly prompted, impatient. Artemis faltered, unsure how to proceed.
“I may be wrong,” he started carefully.
“Artemis Fowl II, admitting he might be wrong? That’s a first. Come on, tell me why I puked on Mulch.” She was amused now.
“I believe we may be, uh,” he cleared his throat. Holly was giving him a puzzled look; he never used words like uh or um. It had made sense in his mind, but saying it out loud…the very idea of it now seemed absurd. But it was too late to back down. Holly would have it out of him one way or another. “You and I, Captain, may well be married.”
Holly’s eyes went so wide she could have passed off as a pixie. Then she burst into laughter. Doubled over, red in the face, and gasping for breath level laughter. Artemis bristled at her reaction, but she was holding up a hand now, stopping him from explaining further.
“Alright,” she said between laughs, “and how did that happen? And why wasn’t I ever informed?” She’d managed to pull herself together to get the majority of the question out, but her composure broke and she was back to wiping tears of mirth from her eyes.
“I assure you,” Artemis replied as coolly as he could, “that I was no more aware than you were. But I’ve just experienced fairy sickness over a date. Same as you did with Kelp.”
“Wait, you went on a date?” She wasn’t laughing, just staring wide-eyed at him, like she honestly couldn’t believe him capable of dating. Whether she doubted his ability to get a date or his desire to go on one was unclear, but he suspected the former.
“Yes, Holly, I went on a date. With a pretty young woman named Daphne,” he winced, hand twitching towards his head before he stopped it cold. “And just the mention of my attraction to her makes the sickness more prominent.”
Holly’s eyes narrowed. “You’re joking, right? Fairy sickness from romance? Unheard of.”
“Yet you experienced it too. It was merely too out of context for you to recognize it at the time.”
Holly paused, considering this. “That is weird, but I’m missing something here, Arty.”
“Of course,” Artemis could feel heat creeping up his neck and frowned. Fowls didn’t blush. “If you’ll think back to our trip back in time, you’ll recall that No. 1 was rather amused by our predicament.”
“Yeah,” Holly said slowly, her own ears tinging red at the reminder of that whole experience.
“As a fun little joke, he pronounced us ‘man and elf,’ if I remember correctly.”
“I never did strangle him properly for that,” Holly said. “Fun little joke my—.”
“Indeed,” Artemis interjected. “He is a powerful demon, and during that time he was still learning how to control his powers…” Artemis trailed off, raising an eyebrow meaningfully at Holly. She caught on.
“You think No. 1 accidentally officiated our marriage?”
“It’s possible, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Maybe, but—I wish I’d paid more attention in my fairy traditions class!” She ground a fist against her head, as if trying to beat the information she sought out of it by brute force. “I think I remember something about old fairy binding…but fairies haven’t been bound by marriage like this in ages. As in, not since we all lived on the Earth with humans. Or maybe I’m thinking of that old bread-making technique…D’Arvit! I’ll have to look into it.”
“We’ll have to consult with No. 1, as well.”
“Do we have to?” Holly groaned. “He can’t keep gossip under wraps, not against Foaly. And when Foaly gets it in his head that we’re married we’ll never hear the end of it.”
“If you ever intend to date again, I suggest we deal with the gossip.” He frowned at his own words. Something was profoundly distasteful about them.
“I’ll call No. 1,” Holly sighed. “His moon mission will hopefully keep him free of Foaly’s clutches for at least a little.” She grinned, bright and teasing. “After all, if I’m magically bound to you I’ll never find my one true love. It’d pass me by while I was too busy puking.”
Artemis smiled back weakly. “Then we are on the same page.”
“Arty, wake up,” Holly hissed and Artemis jolted awake.
“What’s wrong?” He was fighting his way to awareness. Holly was crouched by his pillow like a cat, wide eyes and white teeth jumping at him from the darkness.
“Nothing,” she laughed. “I just got off talking to No. 1.”
“And?” Artemis hadn’t expected her to get to it so quickly.
“Well, he laughed for about ten minutes.”
“Before or after you’d fully explained?”
“Both,” she shrugged. “He says he probably did marry us, though. That’s what really tickled his scales. Imps.” She rolled her eyes.
“Ah, so I was right.” Artemis wasn’t sure if he should be getting out of bed or not. He settled on propping himself up on an elbow, facing Holly. “But I don’t see why you had to wake me up just to tell me. Surely it could have waited for morning.” But he wasn’t really displeased by her interruption of his sleep. He’d rather talk with her, in any case.
“Oh, get over it. Anyway, No. 1 talked to Qwan about the Old Way of marriage.”
“Of course, Qwan was alive back when The People lived on the surface, when you suspect the marriage bond was used.”
“Yeah, and I was right. But it’s a pretty serious thing, Artemis.” She was no longer smiling.
“What do you mean?”
“The People take marriage very seriously, and they especially did back in Qwan’s time. For one thing, fairy sickness is just the start. If I’d made it much longer with Trouble, I could have died from it.”
“The fairy folk do not like infidelity,” Artemis mused.
“But that’s not all. Qwan thinks we’ll have a hard time breaking the bond.”
“But No. 1 untangled a much older restriction with ease,” Artemis’s brow creased.
“Typical,” Holly said. “Leave it to you to forget the feelings part of marriage.”
Artemis’s heart stuttered to a halt in his chest. Feelings? What was Holly saying?
“It’s much more tricky to untangle personal magic. Magic that’s wrapped up in emotions and interpersonal relations. It could have been fixed easily enough…a couple years ago.”
“And why can’t it be broken now?”
“A couple reasons, I guess.” Holly looked distinctly uncomfortable now. “To start with, we’ve left the bond for so long that it’s settled into our lives pretty deeply. Older marriages are always harder to disband.” Artemis nodded. That made sense. “And we are close, which didn’t do anything to stop the bond taking hold. And you died…No. 1 thinks the marriage bond actually helped you stay anchored for as long as you did.”
“Then, once again, I owe you my life,” Artemis smiled, soft and warm. A smile his ten-year-old self would have detested.
“Who’s keeping count?” She returned the smile. “But marriage is usually a death-do-we-part deal. Only we didn’t part.”
“Further strengthening the connection,” Artemis nodded. Holly still seemed twitchy, awkward almost. Ah, thought Artemis, that. “I don’t suppose our kiss helped any.”
“No, it didn’t.”
And the feelings that had been attached to it. Fairy magic was very intuitive. It wouldn’t have taken such a deep hold on them if there hadn’t been something there. Artemis sighed. These thoughts were for an alternate Artemis Fowl II. The nonexistent version that hadn’t hurt and manipulated Holly. This Artemis, the Artemis he was, had no right to ponder the implications of either the kiss or the marriage bond.
…your elf-kissing days are over.
“And your age regression muddled things,” he said aloud, more for him than Holly. She shifted beside him, almost like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
“Yes, that definitely…had on effect on how the first day of our marriage panned out.”
“We’ll figure something out. We always do.” Artemis yawned and sunk back down into his pillows.
Artemis Fowl II woke up next to his wife. The moment he realized she was there, propriety kicked in. He was carefully removing himself from the tangle of blankets and sheets his bed had become, intent on exiting before—Holly sat up, stretching herself awake with a yawn. Her eyes fell on Artemis, sneaking away as if from a crime scene.
“What are you doing Mudboy?” She asked, head cocked. “This is your bed, you know.”
“I—yes, I am aware of that. Thank you, Holly.” Artemis scowled at her amused expression. “But this is entirely inappropriate. If my mother knew—” actually he wasn’t sure what she’d think of the whole situation. “It is considered uncouth to share a bed with a lady,” he finished, lamely even by his standards. Holly guffawed.
“We’ve slept next to each other plenty of times, Arty.”
“Yes, but this is different. We’re in my bed and—,”
“We’re married. So there’s nothing scandalous about this.” She was still laughing at him, if only with her eyes. Artemis relented and relaxed back onto the bed, sitting now instead of poised to leap off it.
“Right. Beckett will be delighted when he finds out.” Upon Holly’s raised eyebrow, Artemis elaborated, “He has this false comparison between you and me and himself and Juliet. He’ll see it as more proof she ought to marry him.”
“Poor lamb. Doomed love isn’t nearly as fun as all your daft movies make it out to be.”
“You speak as though you have personal experience.”
She looked at him then, face solemn and eyes boring into him as though she could see his soul, encased though it was in this body. A body that still felt wrong. It was a body that had not been through all his adventures. It bore no switched fingers and it lacked one hazel eye. The eye that, for as long as he’d possessed it, had been Artemis’ favorite part of himself.
Then she cracked a smile, “Well, I’m married to you, aren’t I?” Artemis gave her an amused smile.
“Yes, I suppose that is rather damning,” his smile turned rueful. “What is this marriage if not doomed?”
“Hmm,” Holly agreed, gaze unfocused, as though her thoughts were elsewhere. “Anyway, I’m sorry to have ruined your chances with Daphne.”
“My chances are hardly ruined,” he told her.
“Right. Of course not. You can win her over once our marriage is annulled.” Oddly, she seemed rather angry. Artemis had no idea what he’d done to deserve her clipped words and chilly gaze, but knew better than to ask.
“I only meant that there was no chance of me and Daphne to begin with,” he clarified carefully. “She is a very agreeable young woman, and beautiful to be sure. But can you imagine it? Me, courting?” This earned a laugh from Holly.
“You’d be awful at it.”
“Indeed.” Artemis looked at Holly and did a double-take.
“What?” Holly snapped. “Do I have bedhead?” A ridiculous question. She hardly had enough hair for that sort of nonsense.
“I’m just shocked to see you out of uniform,” Artemis admitted. He hadn’t realized she’d changed clothes last night in the dark while they talked about the nature of their bond. A talk they’d both fallen asleep durning, like children at a slumber party. “Are those Spider-Man pajamas?”
“Found them in the guest room closet,” Holly shrugged, looking down at the pajama top.
“Yes, they used to belong to the twins. Mother confiscated them a couple months ago. Myles and Beckett were always arguing about who Mother got them for.”
“Beckett argued that Spider-Man is a superhero, and therefore falls solidly in his domain. Myles maintained that Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker, is a genius, which puts the pajamas in his domain.”
“Compelling arguments on both sides,” Holly grinned. “Whose side were you on?”
“I suspect that Mother bought them for Beckett. But I’ll admit to thinking he ought to have just let Myles have them.”
“Because Peter Parker is a genius?”
“No. Because Myles is infatuated with him.”
“So you’ve got one brother in love with his Butler, and the other in love with a fictional arachnid superhero?”
“Yes. I’m not sure which is more doomed.”
“That’s sweet. That you know about their crushes.”
Artemis frowned. He was unused to being called sweet. And by Holly, no less.
Artemis showed Daphne around the grounds. She lightly held to his arm during the tour, and laughed prettily at his dry humor. All the while, the fairy sickness crept through him. It was manageable, likely because it knew he intended to end things with Daphne during this meeting, but it still kept a light hold on him, reminding him that he shouldn’t be with this girl.
“You’re going to tell me you won’t be pursuing a relationship with me, aren’t you?” She asked, red hair gently brushing against his shoulder as she turned to look up at him.
“Yes,” Artemis said curtly. There was no sense in denying it. He had been planning a more tactful route than this, but she’d intuited his intent right away. “I apologize for wasting your time, Daphne. I’ve enjoyed our time together, but I’m afraid I’m unable to feel for you what a man courting you ought to.”
“You’ve got someone else, haven’t you?” It wasn’t accusatory or mournful. It was simply a question. No, an observation. Artemis thought of Holly. Even if they weren’t married by ancient fairy bonds, he suspected she would still have been the reason his courtship with Daphne would fail.
“How could you tell?”
“I had an inkling you might be involved already. There’s quite a rumor mill about you, you realize. People say you have a secret lover who visits you in the night. Someone mysterious and magical. It just fits with the twice-dead image. I don’t know about mysterious and magical, but it became clear to me there was someone. Because sometimes I’ll catch you looking at me as if you thought I was someone else and then felt disappointed when I wasn’t.”
“Again, Daphne, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel less-than.”
“Don’t be silly, I’m not so easily offended. I hope that you’re able to be with her, whoever she is.”
Artemis knew from the moment he answered the video call that Foaly knew. He groaned and prepared himself for all the ribbing that was sure to come. And come it did.
“I can’t believe I wasn’t invited to the wedding,” Foaly cackled.
“Invitation or no, you were present at the ceremony.”
“That’s right, I was, wasn’t I? Holly looked the picture of perfection in her wedding gown, wouldn’t you say Mudboy? Your choice of red was a little untraditional, but a bold move and I think you really made it work. I just wish I had a wedding video of you two love birds.”
“Hilarious, Foaly, really. Is there an actual reason you called or did you just want to pester me?”
“Hey, I just wanted to congratulate you. That’s what friends do when you get married. I’m sorry my wedding present got lost in the mail!”
“I’m hanging up,” Artemis said coolly, reaching for the controls.
“Alright, fine. I’ll get to the point,” Foaly huffed. “You really are no fun. I thought I’d call to tell you before Holly had to. I am a good friend, you know.”
“Tell me what?”
“Well, news of your marriage…got around.”
“How do you mean?” Artemis asked, eyes narrowing.
“The whole city may or may not know about it. It’s caused quite the sensation down here. It’s a huge scandal, absolutely, and the city’s split in their reaction. There’s already plans for multiple movies and a TV series to be made about your love story,” Foaly was rambling now, shifting on his legs with nervous energy.
“You told all of Haven about mine and Holly’s predicament?” Artemis cut in, seething with anger.
“Me? No! I didn’t even get a heads up on the gossip, just got it the same way everyone else did. Qwan made a big announcement about it. Waxed poetic about humankind and The People uniting and how you and Holly set an example for us all. Went on and on about how strong your bond is and how a return to old traditions can be beautiful and the like.”
“How’s Holly?” Artemis knew she had to be in the middle of the storm Qwan had created.
“She’s holding up, you know Holly.” The shifty quality of his eyes told Artemis that something wasn’t being said.
“Foaly, what is it?”
“She’s getting heat from the LEP for marrying a human, but there’s not much to be done about that. There’s no actual laws against it and they can’t do anything about her marrying whomever she chooses. Which was you, as far as they know. The thing is, that marriage bond you guys have got going? That’s serious magic, Arty.”
“I know, Holly told me.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s potent stuff but that’s not what I mean. We take old magic seriously down here. Your bond is a sacred thing in the eyes of The People. The ramifications Holly could face if people find out that it was a mistake aren’t pretty. That’s like me waltzing into your National Archives Museum and using the Declaration of Independence to wipe my arse.”
“I’m Irish, Foaly.”
“Yeah, I know. But I was watching National Treasure. Point is, a lot of fairies will see her, albeit accidental, use of the old magics to marry someone she doesn’t love, and then breaking of that marriage bond as a betrayal to our morals…it’s tantamount to blasphemy.”
A headache started to build in Artemis’s skull. And he’d just barely gotten rid of the last ones this afternoon when he’d broken it off with Daphne.
“And people are already starting to talk. You and Holly haven’t ever been seen together acting like a couple. Trouble’s doing all he can, but people are calling for an investigation.”
“What do I need to do? To ensure Holly has to face the least amount of these repercussions as possible?”
“Simple,” Foaly grinned.
Artemis wasn’t sure if Foaly’s plan was wise. No, that was incorrect. He knew it to be unwise. What he didn’t know was how else to handle this situation. He sighed, glancing out the window and away from the now blank screen Foaly’s face had previously occupied. He’d have to talk with Holly.
But it was no easy task, getting hold of her. She was always running about Haven, taking care of The People, which left little time for phone calls. And she’d just visited, so Artemis had no hope of seeing her for a month, at least. So it came as a surprise to him when he got a request for a face call from Foaly and, assuming the centaur had forgotten to deliver an especially hilarious punchline, opened the call to find Holly’s much more pleasant face staring back at him. Startled, he simply stared at her with wide eyes. With an awkward cough, he regained his composure, then smiled.
“Captain Short, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Cut the crap, Fowl. Foaly says we have scheming to do,” Holly glared, and Artemis could imagine their four-legged friend pulling her out of work on some nonsense pretense for this call.
“Typical of Foaly to leave this to me,” Artemis felt suddenly apprehensive. “I’d have you know, Holly, that I was not actually the one to come up with this particular scheme. And I’ll be the first to admit that it has its problems.”
“Out with it,” Holly said with no sympathy for the very awkward situation Artemis found himself in. He took a deep breath, reminding himself that this couldn’t be worse than telling Holly they were married.
“Foaly filled me in on the scandal we’ve caused. He informed me of the backlash you’re facing as a result, as well.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not the first time I’ve been under fire from my people. I’m the ‘crazy girly captain,’ remember?” But even though she tried to convey levity and nonchalance, it was clear that this time was different. This was an infringement on the fairy people’s most fundamental and sacred beliefs.
“Huh,” Artemis said, genuinely surprised by his ability to perceive this. “Either I’ve become more adept at reading social cues, or I really do know you too well. Either way, you’re downplaying the severity of your situation and we both know it.”
“Fine then, I’m in a real spot of trouble, is that what you want to hear, Artemis?” Holly snapped, scowling. And, actually, it was what he wanted to hear. If there was trouble it meant it needed fixing. And that meant that Artemis Fowl II had his way back into fairy affairs. He had not, however, imagined it would be through trouble of this variety.
“There is a simple solution,” Artemis hedged, Holly’s attention snapping to him at once. “But I’m afraid you won’t like it much.”
“Let’s hear whatever it is you and Foaly have cooked up.”
“We ought to pretend to have married intentionally.”
“And why would we do that?” Holly asked, incredulous.
“To show The People that you are a good and honorable fairy with proper values. If we can convince them we married out of love and not as a result of a throwaway joke, they’ll leave you alone.” He held up a finger, countering her objection before it even made it out of her lips. “But then we’d be married in a more permanent way then we want, yes, I know. However, do you really think an elf and a human will be allowed to stay married?”
“No way,” Holly grinned, catching on to what Artemis was suggesting. “They’ll put all their efforts and resources into figuring out how to annul the marriage. Solving our problem for us. Finding a workaround law claiming our marriage isn’t valid shouldn’t be too hard for the slimy worms, either.”
“And even if they can not, I’ve no doubt they’ll find a way to twist your arm into agreeing to leave me.”
“And if they don’t?” Holly asked, reality falling on her as it had Artemis after he’d heard the plan. “If the people—dear god—rooting for us win? Or the marriage bond is unbreakable?”
“Then you will be free to find proper love in roughly sixty-five years,” Artemis told her with little care.
“Don’t you dare,” Holly’s eyes flashed dangerously.
“What, die? Holly, I can hardly help dying.” He raised an eyebrow, finding her threat humorous. But her face was now completely red.
“Yeah, of course,” she said, as though she’d honestly forgotten the nature of his lifespan. “But what about Daphne? Or Minerva?” She asked, hurriedly moving on.
“I already told you I had no real interest in Daphne,” Artemis frowned, regarding Holly through the high definition screen. “And I’m flattered you remembered my brief crush on Minerva. But by the time I returned to her, my romantic affections had already dissipated.”
“She waited, what, three years for you? And you’re telling me that your feelings changed in the hour or so we were in limbo?” Holly barked a laugh.
Holly, begging him for help. A blade poking through her chest. Blood pouring from the wound, from her mouth, still pleading. Her eyes, terrified, empty…
Artemis blinked against the memory, then met Holly’s mirthful eyes with resolve. “Yes. And Minerva, while rather dismayed at the time, has found a better partner in someone she met while skiing in the Alps. We still talk periodically. But there’s nothing there.”
“And what if someone comes along and there is something there? If the worst-case scenario pans out, you’ll be damning yourself to a life without love. How could I ask you to do that, Artemis?”
“You’re not asking me. And you’re wrong in assuming my life will be loveless. Besides, I rather doubt I could ever fall for anyone else, no matter my marital status.”
“Fine. We’ll go with your lovey-dovey plan. But I’ll make sure we’re so grossly in love that the council will have to break us up.”
“As you wish,” Artemis said, relieved she hadn’t picked up on his slip.
…I rather doubt I could ever fall for anyone else…
“It is strange,” Artemis noted, “that despite our many years of friendship, this is my first time in your house.”
“Is it really that strange? I didn’t like you nearly enough to invite you here back when you’d have actually fit.” Her point was accentuated by Artemis’s head hitting a lamp as he turned to look at her. “And anyway, when have we ever had time for house calls?”
“Or clearance,” Artemis sighed. Theirs was a friendship across worlds, and try as they might to bridge the difference, they were always being pulled apart by something, whether it be plotting pixies or the mundane reality of security clearance and passports.
“But that’s one benefit of the marriage, huh?” Holly grinned, and Artemis couldn’t suppress a smile either. Foaly had exploited marriage laws right away, despite the section on dual-citizenship and free travels between lands having been written for fairies who married out of their city. It was valid only if both parties could prove the importance of their residence in either city, and was a rare privilege granted to usually those in high government. But, as all fairy marriage laws, it did not specifically exclude humans. And it was easy, really, to argue that Artemis was needed in Ireland while Holly was needed in Haven. So, they were granted the right to see each other with ease.
“You can come fly topside whenever you’d like now.”
“I’m going to use that perk every chance I get until they invalidate our marriage.”
“As well you should,” Artemis said warmly. Then, looking around, he said, “You don’t stay here often, do you?”
“It’s my house, Arty.”
“Yes, but it feels nothing like you.”
“You really are getting more in touch with feelings lately, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not here all that much,” she admitted, giving the living room they stood in a once over, as though trying to suss out the void of her disuse that Artemis had sensed the moment he’d come in. “I’ve moved a lot over the years, especially recently. The change of my income and status fluctuating so hugely and frequently has made it hard to really settle down. Besides, you know me. I’m a workaholic.”
“I’d wager you have a cot in your office you sleep on at least once a week.”
Holly shrugged, “I like my work. And—,” but she didn’t finish. She frowned, unhappy with whatever she’d been about to say.
“And?” Artemis asked, one slender eyebrow raising.
“And it’s lonely. It’s all empty and lifeless. Way too quiet for my tastes.” She laughed, obviously embarrassed. “I guess I really am getting old. I want…” she trailed off, tracing her fingers across a small sculpted fairy girl, holding an acorn. “Sometimes I want someone. To fill that quiet with something more. Maybe even…” but she shook her head, tearing her eyes away from the fairy child as though burned.
Maybe even someone to start a family with, Artemis guessed. His heart seemed to twist at that thought, but he pushed away the pain with impatience. He had no right to feel such things, and so he could not allow himself to acknowledge the feelings when they came anyway. He resolved to find a way to break their bond within the year. For Holly. He took a deep breath, steadying himself against the regret that tried to overtake him.
“I’d like to attend your wedding,” he said. And he meant it. He wanted to be there for her for the rest of his life in every way she would allow him to be. “So we shall have to get out of this marriage before I lose that chance.” If he were being entirely honest with himself, a selfish part of him had hoped to spend the rest of his life bound to Holly. He wanted all her attention for himself for as long as he had left. But that was unfair to her. She wanted more than a friendship with twisted roots. She wanted love. Maybe even a family, though Artemis had never considered her the type to want kids.
“Any ideas on where to start, then?”
“Actually,” Artemis smiled, sweeping the lonely room with his eyes once more, “yes.”
“And a white picket fence,” Holly was saying to a furiously scribbling sprite. “Isn’t that right, Arty?” She crooned sweetly, arms clasping tighter around his own right arm. He almost laughed. A white picket fence. The very picture of domestic life.
“Yes, and room enough for a garden.”
“And I want the house to be yellow. I’ve always wanted a yellow house.”
“With white trim.”
“And of course we’ll import all the furniture we need from the surface, so you won’t need to worry about custom making any of that.”
“I’ll send you the plans for our ideal house by the evening. All you need to do is build it and paint it the right shade of yellow. Do you think you can handle that, Mr. Rein?”
“Oh, yes sir. We’re the best construction team in all of Haven! We’ll have her up in a flash.”
“How marvelous.” Artemis smiled, aiming for enthusiastic but, judging by Rein’s face, it was a touch more sinister than anything. The sprite’s smile faltered for a moment.
“I mean, of course, this is assuming you don’t want a mansion. We can easily build a human sized house in just slightly longer than a fairy sized one. But, if you’re looking for something huge, Sir, that’ll take a bit more time…”
“Nothing grand,” Artemis said. “All we want is a house I fit in.”
Holly laughed the whole way back to her house, which she’d already put on the market.
“Can you imagine the fit they’ll throw? Building a human house in Haven? It’ll drive them mad!” She cackled happily, and Artemis smiled down at her, still holding his arm as though they were actually a young couple just back from buying their first house together.
“How long do you think the city will wait to tear it down once we’re unbound?”
“I’ll never let them have it,” Holly told him. “You’re designing it to be comfortable for both of us, aren’t you? Why shouldn’t I keep it?”
“Until your next husband takes you house hunting, in any case.” She jutted into him with her hip, and he laughed. He was looking forward to drafting the plans for their house, even if it would ultimately be left behind by them both.
“You’ll have to come back tomorrow for a proper date,” Holly said as Artemis climbed into the shuttle pod that would take him back to the surface. “Do you think you’ll have the time?”
“I’ll make time,” he told her. “But I must warn you I have no idea what the proper procedure for a date is. And what is the dress code? I’d like to know now so I can plan accordingly.”
“I’m not sure if you’re joking.” He wasn’t. “Oh gods, you’re not, are you? Procedure, really, Arty? Dress codes? Dating isn’t like all your rich mudboy events. You just go with it and have a good time.” She laughed. “Not that you really have to worry about tomorrow. You can show up in your only pair of jeans or in your fanciest suit and either way it wouldn’t matter.”
“Holly, you’re not helping my nerves. I feel as though I’m expected to play the lead in a lost Shakespearian play before being allowed to read the script.” He paused for a moment, unable to resist further explaining his comment. “I could, of course, play any known role in any of Shakespeare’s works on a moment’s notice.”
“You, in tights? Spouting love ballads? Now that I’d like to see.” Then her mirth softened to something Artemis could only label as fondness. “Are you really nervous over a date with me?”
“I have never been more nervous for anything in my life. Or my death.”
“That’s almost cute of you, Artemis.” And she slammed the shuttle door shut, sending the craft into auto take off.
Artemis’s face did not cool down the entire ride home.
Artemis cycled through almost his entire wardrobe. He couldn’t settle on what to wear. Holly had not told him the nature of their date, if, indeed, she had a plan for it at all, and so he was woefully lacking in information needed to choose the proper attire. He’d been anxious before his date with Daphne, suspecting, if not knowing, its true nature as a date. But it had been laced with dread and a desire for it to commence so that it may end faster. This was different. It wasn’t even a date, simply a ruse masquerading as one. Yet he couldn’t stop the giddy, panicky feeling that rose in his chest every time he thought of it.
Beckett wandered in on Artemis’s third run through his narrowed down choices, lazily eating a hunk of bread almost as large as his head. “Juliet says you’re preening,” Beckett informed him, and Artemis immediately dropped his hand from arranging his hair. “What’s preening mean?”
“It—,” Artemis was torn between teaching his little brother a new word and saving his own pride. “It means when someone is trying to look their best,” he said carefully.
“You’re seeing Holly?” Beckett asked, interested now and planting himself on Artemis’s bed, clearly intending to stay awhile.
“How do you know that?” Artemis asked in amazement, turning to look at Beckett. “You’re five, and yet your ability to pick up on social cues and nuances is more advanced than many adults’.” Beckett just shrugged, taking another bite out of the bread. Getting crumbs all over his finest suits. Artemis could only hope the bread was not buttered. But he knew his brother better than that.
“You always wanna look pretty for Holly.” Artemis almost blanched at that, but Beckett just examined the mess of crumbs he’d made. “You better clean up your room, Arty,” Becket said seriously. “Mum will be sad if you don’t put your dress up stuff away.”
“They’re not dress-up clothes,” Artemis bristled. “They’re my prospective outfits for my…playdate with Holly today.”
“Oh! You don’t know what to wear.”
“No.” Artemis sighed. “And I’m willing to take advice from a five-year-old. So what do you think I should wear?”
“Not that,” Becket said, not even looking up from his bread. “And your hair looks funny, Arty.”
“Marvelous. Thank you, Beckett.” Feeling even more nervous than before, Artemis turned back to the mirror, frowning at his reflection. Perhaps he had styled his hair too much.
“Here,” Beckett said, jabbing Artemis in the side. Beckett held up a tangle of black and white, which Artemis took carefully from his brother’s buttery hand. Simple black slacks and a white button-down. A classic pairing, though rather more understated than Artemis typically preferred.
“What have I got to lose?” And so, Artemis tried on the ensemble and presented the final look to Beckett, who squinted his eyes and stuck out his tongue as he examined it.
“You used too many buttons,” Beckett finally said. Artemis frowned, but humored him, undoing the top two buttons on the shirt. Beckett seemed satisfied with this and he gave Artemis a thumbs up. “Jules dressed Myles up one time like that. She said he looked dashing,” Beckett scowled, which prompted Artemis to tousle his blonde hair. “Myles looks lots like you. But you can’t let Jules see you, okay? Or she’d want to marry you and we don’t want that.”
“I won’t let Juliet see me, I promise,” Artemis told him, though he was sure nothing he could ever do would make Juliet want to do any such thing.
“You look nice,” Holly said, entirely genuine when she opened the door for Artemis.
“Thank you,” he said, entirely flustered at the comment. “Beckett picked it out,” he winced. It was all he could think to say, and it was true. But he probably shouldn’t have admitted to it. Holly just laughed, stepping out into the street.
“I should have known,” she took his offered arm and started pulling him down the street.
“You’re…very pleasing to behold tonight,” he offered, aware that his phrasing was lacking but unable to fix it. Even after all these years, he was terrible at expressing his feelings. Unless he was faking them. And he didn’t want any part of his time with Holly to be spent acting. It was too much like lying. And it was a well known fact that Artemis Fowl II had done more than enough lying to Holly Short to last a lifetime.
“Thanks, Arty.” She wore a simple red dress with black pumps that gave her another couple centimeters. Artemis knew she hated heels and idly wondered how long it would be until she was carrying them rather than wearing them. But the effect of them striding down the street together was striking. And Artemis was glad for dressing down; it made Holly the focal point, as she should be.
“Where are we going?” Artemis asked as they strolled through streets that he’d never been down before.
“Somewhere you’ll like,” Holly said and Artemis was tempted to point out that he’d like anywhere she took him. But he kept the thought to himself and let Holly pull him onto what Artemis assumed must be Haven’s Main Street. “Two hours,” she told him, steering them towards a beautiful building of sparkling glass, large enough for an average sized human to navigate through comfortably. “You’ve got two hours to run rampant here before our dinner reservations.”
Artemis recognized the building without even having to read the fine gold lettering above the grand doors. “The Fairy’s Museum of Fine Art?” Artemis looked to Holly with astonishment. “You hate museums.”
“I know,” she gave him a smirk. “But you don’t. And I know you’ve been dying to come here since the moment you learned about it.”
“I’ll be the first human in history to ever see any of the masterpieces held inside,” Artemis said, unable to hide his excitement. He’d never have been allowed here if not for his precarious dual-citizenship. And he would have never expected Holly to come with him. “Thank you Holly, truly,” and before he could think better of it, he swept her up in a hug. She laughed, hands coming up to clutch his back to stabilize herself.
“You really love this stuff, don’t you? I’m sure I can count the number of times you’ve hugged me on my fingers, and those were usually after one of us almost died. Or did die, come to think of it.”
Artemis cleared his throat awkwardly, setting her down carefully and offering his arm again. “That was terribly undignified of me.” He blamed his family’s insistence on physical affection for rubbing off on him. They were all determined to make a hormonal fool of him.
“Let’s get this over with then, shall we?” Holly asked but she didn’t seem as reluctant to go in as she might once have. Perhaps there was still hope for her.
“Alright, time’s up, Mudboy,” Holly said, giving him an exaggerated yawn.
“Yes, alright,” Artemis tore himself away from the dark mural he’d been examining. It showed a beautiful scene of the surface of the earth, painted with heavy strokes and fantastical flourishes. At first glance that was all there was to the painting, and that alone was magnificent. But, upon closer inspection, the ground on which the humans stood was made up of screaming fairy folk, blending into the rock beneath the surface. A commentary on the current configuration of the world, though it had been painted back when Haven was first proposed as a solution.
“Freedom,” Holly sighed in bliss when they exited the building. Artemis laughed. Holly had been a perfectly patient and enjoyable companion through the museum, telling Artemis bits of history and lore not included in the plaques. He’d even caught her smiling a couple of times. But he wouldn’t point that out. The captain had an image to uphold, after all.
“I never dreamed I’d be allowed in such an important fairy landmark,” Artemis said. “Thank you, Holly, for taking me.”
“Sure, don’t mention it,” she shrugged easily, but Artemis was sure she knew how much this meant to him. “Now let’s go eat.”
Artemis noticed, as the started off again, that Holly had shrunk back down to her usual height. He smiled fondly and plucked the heels from her hand. She grinned then, and gave a shrug as if to say, ‘hey, I made it pretty far, didn’t I?’
Artemis noticed his mother slip into the room from the corner of his eye. She made no indication that she had something to say, rather she sat down in one of the fine armchairs with a cup of tea and tucked her feet up underneath her. Artemis knew this meant she was here to listen, so he continued playing, his fingers dancing across the keys of his great grandmother’s piano with ease. It had been hard, at first, wrestling this body into his old ways. Muscle memory was a powerful force, and he’d lost all of his in one fell swoop. But, luckily for Artemis, the soul was an even more important player in such matters. It had taken him only months to gain back a lifetime of physical skills.
Even so, his marvel at being able to do things he’d once considered so simple had stayed with him. Dying did that to a person, he supposed. He’d thought all the simple things in the world lost to him forever when he’d given himself up to die. Even with the hope of a clone, he hadn’t predicted how well he’d adjust to life in a new body. All his memories had returned, and all his motor skills, too. It was tantamount to a miracle, how well he’d fallen back into life. And the gratitude for that settled in on him during quiet moments like these, as he sat and played the piano for his mother.
When he finished, finally lifting his hands from the keys, his mother clapped, as all mothers do when their child has put on a show for them. Artemis smiled slightly, standing.
“There’s no need for that,” he told her, but of course she couldn’t be deterred.
“Oh, Arty, that was lovely.” She smiled, coming over to touch his face with tenderness. “The house was so lonely without your music.” He knew then that she’d been overcome by the same wave of emotions he had during his concert for her. How many times had Angeline Fowl thought her eldest son lost to her forever? Artemis felt the familiar weight of guilt settle down on him. But Angeline shook her head, a fierceness in her eyes now. “Don’t look so sad, Arty. I have you back, now. We all have you back. And that’s all that matters.” She took his face in her hands and held it steady, looking into his eyes. “It’s not your fault you’ve got too big a brain to stay out of trouble and too big a heart to keep yourself safe. I’m proud of you, Artemis. And of everything you’ve done. So stop beating yourself up over it so much.”
Artemis just nodded, pulling her hands from his face and looking away. Annoyingly, he felt the urge to cry. Angeline gripped his hands in hers, holding tight. And then her fierceness was gone and her soft, loving smile was back.
“You’ve been happy lately,” she said gently. “Happier than I’ve seen you in a long time.”
“Have I?” Artemis looked to her in surprise.
“Yes,” she laughed. “You have. Not so lonely. I noticed Holly’s been dropping in more often recently, is she doing well?”
“Yes, quite well,” Artemis said. Beckett had most certainly inherited his emotional intelligence from their mother. Both of them were able to perceive his moods and pinpoint the source with ease. Holly was, of course, what had vanquished his loneliness. They’d been seeing each other at least once a week, often more, for the past month and a half. It would be a hard adjustment back to normal once the council found a way to void their marriage. And, make no mistake, the council was working hard to meet that goal. Holly had been right, their house, now almost finished, had infuriated a large portion of the fairy people. And, even more discomforting, had delighted a group almost as large.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Angeline smiled, pecking a kiss on Artemis’s cheek before turning to sweep out of the room. “Was there a love song in that mix, Arty, or are my old ears deceiving me?”
Artemis tried to sputter an indignant response, but Angeline was gone. Yes, Beckett and his mother were entirely too alike, Artemis decided.
“You guys should really go see Love Beyond while you’re on your date today,” Foaly snickered, trailing behind Artemis and Holly as they inspected their almost completed house. “It just came out today. I saw the premiere, though. Tickets were hard to find, but my reputation got me in.”
“You actually went to see that trash?” Holly asked, shaking her head as though disappointed. But it was no less than could be expected of Foaly.
“It was surprisingly accurate. Sure, they got some stuff wrong and there were a lot of overdramatized bits, but that’s the movie industry for you.”
“So, are they marketing this movie as a sequel to the other cinematic retellings of mine and Holly’s adventures, or are they completely disconnected?” Artemis asked, amused as ever at his celebrity among The People.
“There’s been no official stance on the matter,” Foaly shrugged. “It’s a complete recast, though, and the spin on your character is completely different, so it doesn’t make sense for them to be connected. Still, that’s not stopping everyone from analyzing the old films for easter eggs of your romance.”
“How ridiculous,” Artemis said, and Holly laughed.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Holly told him. “Those old films have no room for romance.”
“You saw them?” Artemis asked, genuinely surprised. Holly shrugged, abashed.
“Sure I did. For a laugh, you know. I like the actress they got for me in those much more than this new airhead they’re trying to pass off as me in Love Beyond.” She made a face at the name. Or perhaps at the thought of the actress. Or both.
“At least they didn’t get Lily Frond to give acting a try for the role,” Artemis put in innocently. He could never resist poking fun at Holly’s irrational dislike for the corporal. Sure enough, Holly bristled.
“Oh, you’d have loved that, wouldn’t you, Mudboy?”
“I’ve never met her personally, so I can’t say.” But he knew that he’d always prefer Holly to any pretty girl, fairy or human, he met. He’d accepted that long ago.
“You’re just lucky they did full CGI for you,” Holly grumbled, moving on from the topic, though it was clear to Artemis that he’d put her in a bad mood with his Lily comment. Foaly wasn’t one to let an entertaining topic die, however.
“Actually,” he said, ignoring their detour in casting opinions, “you’d be surprised at the chemistry you two have in the Fowl and Short films.”
Holly groaned, “Foaly, shut up, will you? I’ve got a romance with Artemis in real life to deal with, and isn’t that enough? Why would I want to go see that on screen, too?”
“It’s not really a screen,” Foaly pointed out. “Fully immersive—,”
“I know, Foaly. I’ve been to the movies. Anyway, I don’t need to see some computer rendering of Artemis kissing a pretty elf with moon pale skin and a ginger-tinted pixie cut.”
“Would it have been better or worse if they’d cast a look-alike or CGI’d you too?”
“Shut up,” Holly snapped, stomping off to the back of the house, leaving a guffawing Foaly behind next to a confused Artemis. Because he hadn’t missed her ears reddening before she’d disappeared around the corner.
“I have a temporary place of residence in Haven,” Artemis informed his family one night during dinner. “I got notice today that construction is complete. I don’t anticipate staying there more than a couple nights a week. However, it is a substantial enough amount of time that I felt it prudent to warn you.”
The table went silent. Even Beckett had stilled his silverware, which was quite a feat considering how much that boy loved to eat. It was Juliet who broke the silence.
“How the fu—,” she glanced at the twins and cleared her throat. “How did you manage to pull that? Since when can humans live in Haven? Even part-time?”
“It’s hardly a typical allowance. But there are extenuating circumstances, in my case. And my presence in Haven is something of a necessity because of them.” Both Butler and Juliet eyed him suspiciously. They were the only ones at the table able to properly understand how strange it was for the fairy people to let a human take up residence in their city, especially when that human was Artemis Fowl II. He had mixed receptions among The People, but most everyone could agree that he was trouble.
Angeline pursed her lips. “But you’ll still live here, with us, too?”
“Yes,” Artemis was quick to tell her. “And I don’t believe my residency in Haven will last longer than a couple months. A year, at most.” A year. That had been his promise to himself: break the marriage bond with Holly within a year. That had been a little past two months ago. The clock was ticking ever closer to the end of his first, and last, marriage.
“Well, alright then,” and Angeline smiled. Neither of the Butlers seemed so content to let it go, however, and Artemis suspected he’d have to give them a good explanation.
Artemis traveled to Haven that same night, avoiding any further explanations for the time being. He took only a small bag of luggage. Although he’d been told the house was finished, and despite the constant visits he and Holly had made to it, he was still surprised to see the completed house. Soft yellow and white trim, with a generous yard and a picket fence. He would have called it small, for it was, by human standards, a modest abode. But the scale of it was enough to make it look large, even when compared to the taller apartment and office buildings. It both stuck out from and blended in with the neighborhood and Artemis smiled at the effect.
“We’ve already gotten four letters from concerned citizens in the area. They say our house is breaking regulations,” Holly scoffed, and Artemis turned in surprise to find that she’d joined him on the sidewalk outside the gate. She really was too good at sneaking about.
“Only four?” Artemis asked, opening the gate and gesturing for Holly to go in.
“Everyone else must have missed the post.”
“Indeed. How many of those letters do you think are from actual concerned citizens?”
“My bet is on none,” Holly grinned. “The city council is furious with us. They’ll do whatever they can to discourage all this. And angry letters from neighbors we don’t know yet is a nice welcoming, don’t you think?”
“How petty,” Artemis had no doubt that they’d get their share of hate mail, but their mailbox had only been open to receive mail since mid-afternoon. Who would have known to start sending the disapproving letters today?
“That’s politics for you. Foaly’s already been through to set up all the tech. He wanted to show off to you, I’m sure, or he would have just let you do it.” Holly flipped on the lights as they walked in revealing the thus-far sparse entrance. “I was just walking him home. You know how he pouts if you leave him alone.”
“I do,” Artemis said, taking in the boxes already lining some walls. “I see you’ve started moving in.”
“No point in waiting,” she shrugged. “My old place is technically mine for another week, but you know how moving gets.” She paused. “Actually, no, you don’t, do you? You’ve lived in that fancy mansion all your life. Moving out of that would be worse than any move I’ve ever had to make.”
“You overestimate me, Holly. Moving would hardly be a hassle for me, personally. I’d have no part in any of the real work.”
“No,” Holly laughed. “Of course not.”
He dropped his bag in their room before turning back to her. “The night’s still young. Shall we go see what else we can do to get you moved in?” Holly stared at him for a moment.
“You mean you actually want to come help me pack? You wouldn’t even do that for yourself, you just said so.”
“No,” Artemis agreed, “but I’m perfectly happy to do it for you.” Artemis shed his jacket and waistcoat, laying them neatly on the bed to be hung up later with the slacks. On further consideration, he took off his tie as well. He turned to follow Holly out of the bedroom and, ultimately, back to her old house. But he found her still standing in the doorway, looking at him curiously. It might have been the light, but Artemis was sure he could detect a faint blush on her nut-brown skin.
“Stop being so thoughtful,” she told him, turning abruptly from the room and thumping down the stairs. Artemis followed with amusement.
“Or what?” He asked, mimicking one of Beckett’s favorite lines.
“Or I’ll forget what a pain in the ass you are. And we wouldn’t want that.”
“No, we wouldn’t. But the two things are not mutually exclusive, Holly. I promise I’ll take the next opportunity I can to remind you that I’m an absolute nuisance.”
“Keep talking,” Holly grumbled. “I’m already starting to recall.”
Artemis, of course, was happy to oblige. He talked her ear off about all manner of things she could not have cared less about all the way to her house. And well into the packing process, too. He didn’t even fret about the dust collecting on his trousers or the scuffs on his shoes. He rolled up his shirt sleeves without a spare thought towards the wrinkles it would cause.
“This isn’t as bad as you made it sound,” Artemis said, closing off a box with an efficiency he hadn’t possessed two hours ago.
“It’s not so bad, sometimes,” Holly admitted. “But trust me, it gets old quickly. And it’s way worse alone.”
“My week is relatively clear,” he told her absently. “You won’t have to be alone this time.” It wasn’t until he noticed her wide-eyed stare that he realized the deeper implications of his statement. He went a good deal redder than was entirely called for, and thanks to his vampirically pale skin, it was painfully obvious. Holly laughed.
“I know,” she said, though it wasn’t altogether clear to what she was referring. “Thank you.”
“Naturally,” Artemis managed stiffly. Holly just laughed again, earning a scowl from Artemis. She stood up and stretched, cat-like, before holding a hand out to him, as though to help him to his feet as well.
“Come on, Mudboy, let’s go home.”
happy valentine's day ya'll
“We only have one bed,” Holly said, flinging open their front door, hand still in Artemis’s. “Don’t be weird about it.”
Artemis bristled at the accusation. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” Holly just stared at him dubiously.
“You were weird about it last time. And that was just an accident.”
“I wasn’t mentally prepared last time,” Artemis informed her. But, in truth, he was unconvinced such a thing as being mentally prepared to share a bed with your best friend turned accidental and unwilling wife existed. So he added, “don’t we have a guest room?”
Holly grinned in an I knew it sort of way. “Sure, but the bed hasn’t arrived yet.” She pulled her hand from his, gave him a hearty clap on the shoulder, and disappeared into the house. Artemis heard running water moments later and assumed she was getting ready for bed. He sighed, climbing up the stairs to do the same.
He was already settled in the king-sized bed, reading, when Holly stepped out of the master bathroom, toweling down her hair. Artemis rather thought it would be dry before it even touched the pillows, there wasn’t much to retain water, after all. But her hair was far from the only thing on his mind. She wore pajamas quite a lot prettier than the Spider-Man ones he’d seen her in before. The two piece set was a soft shade of sea-foam green that brought out the green tones in her hazel eye, and complimented her rich skin in a way that sparked thoughts of nature. Artemis found himself embarrassingly caught on the simple beauty of Holly in her casual nightwear. He forced his eyes back to his book, trying not to be weird about it, but the task was a tricky one.
“I’m turning off the main light,” she told Artemis, and he nodded, reaching out to flip on the lamp by his head. Holly easily maneuvered to the bed in the dim light and slid under the covers with no hesitation or unease. “What are you reading?” Holly asked, and Artemis flipped the book up to show off its cover as he said:
“The Sea~Wolf. You started it at my house, do you remember?”
“Yeah, the night you proposed. How could I forget?”
“I did no such thing,” Artemis spluttered. “We were already married, I only—,” but his ramblings were cut off by Holly’s laughter.
“I know, Arty. I’m only teasing.” She turned onto her side, facing Artemis completely. “I liked what I read of it.”
“It is my favorite of Jack London’s works,” Artemis confessed. “I’ve read it a dozen times, at least. You ought to finish it when you have the time.”
“I have the time now,” she said, and Artemis looked to her with incredulity. Did she want him to hand over his book? That hardly seemed fair, as he was currently reading it. “Read it to me?” He stared at her a moment more, then smiled a small smile and opened to her dogeared page. He cleared his throat and began to read:
“For the most part, the remaining four hunters leaned on the table or lay in the bunks and left the discussion to the two antagonists. But they were supremely interested…” As Artemis read, Holly drifted closer and closer, as if drawn to him by his voice. Her eyes stayed open and alert, keenly interested in the novel for almost forty pages. By the time she’d drifted to sleep, Artemis’s throat scratched from the effort of reading so long, but he was sad to mark their place and put the book aside. Holly was curled into his side now, breathing soft and deep, content as Artemis had ever seen her. He hated how much he loved it.
He reached for the lamp and turned it off, then sunk down into his own pillows, careful not to disturb Holly.
Artemis woke up to the pleasant sensation of warmth pressed in hard against him. He knew even before he was entirely to wakefulness what—or who—the source of that warmth was. Holly seemed in no hurry to wake up, and Artemis didn’t fancy speeding up the process, either. He sat up carefully and reached for his phone, quickly checking to make sure the world had not fallen apart—any more than it already had—while he’d slept. Confident that everything was as it should be, his attention snagged, once again, on his best friend.
Artemis Fowl II knew that he was in love with Holly Short. He’d known it for years. He knew, also, that he would never love anyone as he did Holly. It was simply an impossibility. No one but she could understand him so fully, had been through it all with him. There were many beings in the world—under it, mostly—that knew of Artemis’s change of heart and character. Who knew how much he’d grown and how far he’d come. But no one else but Holly had experienced it so personally so as to know it and understand it almost as well as Artemis did. He had kidnapped her. As his first interaction with her, he’d tranquilized her and locked her up. Held her ransom for a treasure that, indeed, he had needed, but the price he had paid for it was one he was still trying to pay off. And yet, Holly had forgiven him. That was one of the reasons, Artemis was sure, that Holly was the only possible person for him. She’d known him when he was at his worst. And still, she loved him. Maybe not in the way Artemis selfishly wished she would, but she did love him.
Artemis sighed, low and heavy, tearing his mind away from such thoughts. He didn’t dwell on it much. He couldn’t. His elf kissing days were over, and with good reason. He owed it to Holly to let his feelings, if not go, than settle like silt in the river of his mind. But it was hard to push it all aside, at times. More and more frequently, he found his treacherous mind aiding his heart’s plea for Holly. It was why this fairy bond was so dangerous, why acting the married couple was so terrifying.
“You look like you’ve swallowed a dwarf’s—,”
“Thank you, Holly,” Artemis said pointedly, and Holly laughed. He hadn’t noticed her waking. He worried at how long she’d been awake, at what his face might have betrayed to her in that time.
“Speaking of swallowing, are you hungry?”
“A little less now than I had been previously,” he told her dryly.
“Come on then, I’ll teach you how to make an omelet. No fancy chefs for you down here,” she smirked. “And we can’t live off of pasta the entire time we’re together.”
Artemis pretended to be reluctant, but he couldn’t hide his smile as he climbed out of bed and ambled down to the kitchen with Holly.
Artemis, to no one’s surprise, proved terrible at making omelets. Holly just laughed at his disaster of a breakfast and promised to whisk him into shape. She’d then laughed at her terrible pun for so long that Artemis had been unable to resist joining in. When they finally had their wits back about them, Holly plunked down at the table and Artemis followed, eating his omelet with surprise.
“It looks wretched,” he said, “but it doesn’t taste half bad. It’s no culinary masterpiece, but I do believe I’ve been forced to endure worse meals.”
“You’re such a snob,” Holly said with a huff of a laugh. “And, yeah, it’s pretty hard to entirely screw up an omelet.” They continued to eat, a happy quiet over them, for several minutes.
“I’m going to have to tell Butler and Juliet,” Artemis broached, breaking the comfortable silence.
“You mean you haven’t already told Butler?”
“No,” Artemis shook his head. “Beckett is the closest of any human to know about our situation, and all he knows is that we went on a date.”
“Well, since my whole world knows about us, I don’t see why it should be a secret from your family.”
“You think I ought to tell my family?” Artemis asked, alarmed.
“Artemis, haven’t you had enough of secrets?”
“It’s not so much a secret as a private matter,” Artemis ruffled at her question. “I am hurting no one by keeping it to myself.”
“No,” Holly agreed with a tilt of her head. “But it can’t hurt to share, don’t you think?”
“My mother wouldn’t know what to do with herself if I told her I’d been married to an elf by an imp, on accident, while she was in her room sick near to death. She’d be upset I didn’t invite her to the wedding, no matter that it was unbeknownst to us or that she was too delirious to have noticed one way or the other.”
“She’d want us to have a proper wedding, I’d bet.” Holly snorted.
“I’m sure she would,” Artemis said, though he hadn’t even thought of it before now. “And she’d be devastated upon our divorce. Even if we explained everything to her.” Holly’s playful grin fell from her face at the mention of their marriage bond and the fate it would ultimately have to meet. Sometimes it was easy to forget that it was a serious thing they were trapped in.
“I guess she would be,” Holly sighed. “Tell the Butlers, and tell your family, if you want. I won’t be upset either way.”
“Even if my mother insisted on having you over for an excruciating cup of tea?”
“Did you have a good time, dear?” Angeline asked, looking up from her work. A fundraiser, Artemis recalled, for animal shelters. The world was a different place now than it had been when Angeline Fowl had last graced the world with her events and causes, but she was the same as ever. People forgot, in these times of hardship, that smaller issues still existed, that they were worse than ever and in need of fixing. Angeline had focused her attention on just such problems.
“I did,” Artemis said, coming to sit across from her. He absently picked through the scattered papers—his mother was never an organized planner, and she liked it that way. He found pages of scribbled numbers in need of computing and logistics in need of solving. He worked silently on these as his mother puttered along doing whatever it was she did to breathe life and love into her receptions.
“So,” Angeline said with a sly smile after an hour of comfortable work. Artemis knew to fear this smile of hers, and he braced himself for whatever she was about to ask of him. “Aren’t you going to tell me?”
“‘I’m sorry?” Artemis stared at her blankly, completely lost, as he always was when social cues or hints were dropped.
“About Holly, love.” Angeline giggled, probably at the look on Artemis’s face. He could tell he must be making an exceptionally foolish one. “Beckett says you went on a date with her?”
“Traitor,” Artemis muttered, but he should have expected it.
“I wondered when you’d mention it yourself,” Angeline sighed. “But it’s been months. You’re playing love songs, going on dates, and now, if I’m not mistaken, living with Holly. Don’t you think it’s time you tell me about it?” Artemis didn’t know what to say. Of course his mother had known something was going on.
“Yes,” Artemis sighed, rubbing his temples. “Yes, I do. I was planning to tell you today. Only I couldn’t think how to do it.”
“I always thought you liked her, you know,” Angeline commented idly, which just made Artemis groan. He was struck with the strange desire to bury his face in his arms and tell her to stop being embarrassing. “I just couldn’t imagine such a relationship working, since she lives so far away and is…well, not human. You’re always so lonely when she’s not around, Arty, I wanted you to have someone that could be with you and make you happy,” Angeline sighed. “But I knew Daphne, or any other girl, would never stick in your heart the way that fairy has.”
“Mother,” Artemis narrowed his eyes, “Did you intentionally push a redhead on me?”
“Oh, you noticed that, did you?” Angeline laughed. “I thought it worth a try. I’m not surprised it didn’t work. I’m just so happy that you’re happy, Artemis.”
“I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood,” Artemis said, his skin prickling with the knowledge he was about to disappoint his mother again.
“Oh?” Her eyes were sharp, all her attention on him.
“Holly and I are,” Artemis paused, flustered. Angeline seemed all the more intrigued by this. “That is to say, accidentally, you understand…”
“Artemis, I don’t think I’ve seen you this tongue-tied since you were two.”
“Holly and I are married,” Artemis forced out in a rush. “By an ancient fairy magic. It was, however, completely unintentional. Holly and I only recently found out ourselves.”
“You…accidentally got married?” Angeline asked him, torn between amusement and concern. Artemis hastened to explain, lest she come to her own conclusions about how such a thing had happened. Angeline seemed troubled still, however, as Artemis had known she would be.
“You’ve been married so long, and I never knew.”
“Nor did I, until very recently.”
“You were too young to get married, Arty,” Angeline scolded, as though he could help it.
“I know,” he said, instead of pointing out that fact.
“We’ll have to have a proper reception,” and her eyes gleamed with the thought. Artemis was sure she’d love nothing more than to plan his wedding.
“Holly said you’d say that,” he said, a smile gracing his lips as he thought of her, and of their time together last night and this morning. Angeline only beamed wider upon seeing this, and Artemis quickly schooled his face into something more himself. “The trouble with that, Mother, is that we don’t plan to stay married.” Angeline’s face fell at once.
“It was a mistake, we didn’t mean to marry. It’s only natural that we’d seek annulment.” Artemis said, producing a frown from Angeline.
“But you love her, don’t you?”
“I’ve no right to,” Artemis said bitterly, but didn’t allow his mother to reassure or question. He no more deserved reassurances than he did the feelings to begin with. And she’d feel terrible if she knew his one and only chance to be more to Holly had been lost forever when he’d lied to her in order to ensure he could save none other than Angeline herself. “We’ve never had a romantic relationship, and the marriage bond between us is—not what she wants.”
“But then why are you dating her? Living with her? That seems counterproductive, dear, if your goal is truly to divorce her.”
“It seems that way, doesn’t it?” And he explained this further, too. He told her of the magical properties and sanctity of his marriage. He even mentioned the sickness he’d experienced with Daphne. And he told her of the situation in the Haven, of his and Foaly’s half baked plan to deal with it.
“So,” she said, brows scrunched together. “You’re acting in love so that these council people will tear you apart?”
“It’s more nuanced than that,” he sighed again. “But, essentially, yes.”
“But don’t you know,” Angeline smiled, “that love always wins?”
Telling the Butlers was not as bad as telling his mother had been. Juliet had laughed madly, and even Butler had cracked a smile, but he seemed concerned, too. Artemis had the uncomfortable feeling that Butler knew how he felt about Holly. But he had more tact than to mention it.
Angeline had promised to tell his father, which relieved Artemis greatly. He was least sure what to expect from Artemis Senior, and was glad to allow his mother to buffer it for him. He was rather afraid his father might see fit to deliver a long-overdue speech about girls and love. As if Artemis were a teenager in need of such a talk. It was quite a different spiel, however, that Artemis ended up receiving from him.
“Come walk the grounds with me, won’t you, Arty?” Artemis Senior asked, and Artemis knew better than to blow off the summons, genial as it may be. A part of him was still that young boy, eager to impress a distant father who treated him more like a subordinate than a son. Getting to know his father again had been one of the hardest and happiest things Artemis had ever done. They were better now than they had been before, and their relationship was strong and loving. But Artemis could never forget the father he’d known for the first ten years of his life. And, sometimes, Artemis couldn’t help but fall back into the skin of that child. Like now, when he dropped what he’d been doing and came to attention, rigid and formal, before falling back into this new role as the son. He tried to cover it up, walking casually with his father out of the mansion, but he didn’t miss the deep sorrow in his father’s eyes. He knew that Artemis Senior regretted his decisions regarding Artemis Junior all those long years, but there was nothing either man could do to erase them. So they did all they could; they moved forward, together.
“Is something on your mind, Father?” Artemis asked, suspecting he already knew what this walk was about.
“Your mum has just told me some interesting news,” Artemis Senior said, his tone light and amused. Artemis didn’t know how he was expected to respond. So he didn’t, instead waiting for his father to go on. He did. “I should congratulate you on your marriage, if you’ll please excuse my lateness.”
“Hilarious,” but he smiled, “I assume Mother also told you that my marriage is doomed, and so deserves no congratulations.”
“Marriage,” Artemis Senior said, some of the joviality leaving his voice, “is a difficult thing, son. It can be hard to keep such a union strong. And yet, you and this Holly of yours—,”
“Holly doesn’t belong to me,” Artemis interrupted, which was not like him, especially when speaking to his father.
“No, of course not,” his father smiled. “Your mother raised you right, even if I didn’t. I only meant it as an expression, Arty. Nothing more.” Artemis nodded, abashed now at his outburst. “As I was saying, you and Holly seem to have kept your marriage strong and well, and that was without you knowing of it. It’s endured a lot, your relationship, and you shouldn’t count out the possibility that it will survive through your schemes as well.”
Artemis had not expected his father to buy into his mother’s hopeless romantic ideas.
“Now,” Artemis Senior cleared his throat, and Artemis could feel his father’s mood shift to something more serious. “I have some concerns about your relationship with Holly.”
“Concerns?” Artemis almost laughed, despite his father’s tone, devoid as it was of all amusement. “You and the entirety of Haven. And Atlantis, too, I should think.”
“I’m serious, Artemis. All this fairy business is beyond your old man, but if I remember correctly, isn’t Holly quite a lot older than you?”
Artemis stopped mid-step, turning to stare at his father with a slackened jaw and wide eyes. This was why he was worried? “The People have longer life spans than humans,” Artemis said slowly, not sure what his father wanted to hear. “But comparatively, she’s not that much older than I am. And that gap closes each year as I age while she, essentially, does not. She’s hardly any older than she was when I met her, and I’ve grown a good deal since then.”
“My point precisely, actually. You were a child when you met, and she an adult. Angeline says this marriage happened when she fell ill?” Artemis nodded stiffly. “You were a child, then, too.”
Artemis was suddenly very glad his father didn’t know of the kiss Holly had bestowed on him shortly after their marriage. Even if ages had gotten…confused during their trip to the past.
“I only worry that she’s—,”
“What?” Artemis cut in once more, furious at the implication. “Taking advantage of me? A predator? I’ll admit any romantic advance at the start of our relationship would have been inappropriate, but I assure you there were none. When Holly overcame her hatred for me, we became friends. And, after undergoing numerous traumas and saving each other countless times, we grew close. But there was never any possibility of romance in her mind. Even still, she has no interest in pursuing such a relationship.”
“You really do care for her, don’t you?” Artemis Senior asked, looking over his son. “Alright, I won’t mention it again. I’m sorry to have upset you, Arty, but you have to understand that I worry about you. It’s my job as your dad, you see.”
“I know,” Artemis said haltingly. “I apologize for my abrasive behavior.” He paused. “I find it increasingly difficult to tolerate even a single word against Holly.” His father nodded sagely, then his demeanor shifted back to good-humored and light. He clapped a hand on Artemis’s shoulder and smiled wide.
“You’ll have to bring her around soon,” he said. “Intending to divorce or not, I’d like to meet your wife.”
“I’m sure Mother has already planned tea,” Artemis said, glad to have this conversation behind him. “As soon as she informs me of the time and date, I shall invite Holly over.”
“I had no idea you were so fashionable,” Artemis said in way of greeting Holly as she stepped into his room through the balcony, dragonfly wings already curving into the dainty looking jacket they’d been attached to.
“Sometimes I think you’re almost making progress with these sorts of things,” Holly said, half her mouth quirking up in an amused and lopsided grin. “Then you open your mouth and that comes out.”
“My apologies, Captain,” Artemis said, offering to take her jacket, which, surprisingly, she yielded, revealing the slight poof to her cropped sleeves. With its Empire waist and knee-length skirt made from layers of tulle, the dress looked very much something you might put a baby doll in. His mother would love it.
“Stop staring,” Holly snapped, moving from amused to self-conscious in the handful of seconds between appropriate appraisal and gawking.
“You must understand that before we started this charade, I was genuinely unaware that you owned anything other than uniforms.”
“What, you thought I just lived in the LEP regulation jumpsuits and uniform variations?”
“Yes,” Artemis said. “And clothes in the same vein”
“For a genius, you sure are dumb.”
“I know,” Artemis sighed. “I happen to have a wife that reminds me all the time what a fool I am.”
“Keep her around,” Holly said. “She sounds like she has some sense about her and someone has to keep you in line.”
“I’ll try,” Artemis replied wryly. “Shall we?”
“Can’t put it off any longer, can we?”
“Not likely. Mother is almost certainly waiting impatiently at the door for you even as we speak.”
“She’s at the door, and yet you’re here, in your bedroom.”
“Waiting for you, too, only I knew where you’d be landing.”
“Didn’t share that with her?” Holly laughed, taking Artemis’s arm before he’d even had the chance to offer it. She’d known he was about to and had preempted it. Artemis smiled ever so slightly at the small gesture. They’d gotten into a routine in this charade of theirs and it had come to feel natural and right.
“I wanted you to myself for a moment before all the commotion,” he said simply. Holly faltered, stumbling slightly in her low heels. Artemis steadied her easily, not missing a beat.
“You can turn down the adoring husband act when we’re topside,” Holly grumbled, but Artemis noticed that she seemed not just surprised by his comment, but flustered. Curious, he thought. He’d caught her blushing a fair amount recently. It was unlike her.
“I’m a method actor,” he told her with a sly smile, rather than tell her he wasn’t an actor at all. Not in this. To do so would be selfish and end with awkward feelings between them he didn’t want interrupting their time together. He’d do anything to keep this time with her, to get more time with her, and for it all to be unmarred by his own fool heart. Even tweak the truth, in harmless ways such as this. “I thought I should debrief you on the disaster this day is likely to be.”
“Artemis, it’s only tea.”
“Fowl Family Tea,” Artemis said importantly. “It will start quiet enough, but I assure you everything will get out of hand in ways not even I can predict. My brothers have a way of doing that to events that should be peaceful.”
“Did they turn your date with Daphne into a disaster?”
“No, that went surprisingly well,” Artemis admitted, and Holly pursed her lips. Artemis wondered what he’d said to provoke her displeasure this time. “But the boys adore you. You’re one of Beckett’s personal heroes. There’s no way they’ll act politely with you as they did with Daphne, who might I remind you, was a stranger to them. And you know Juliet’s a hopeless snoop. She’ll find an excuse to come join in the revelries and all will turn to chaos. You’ll see.”
“Sounds like more fun than I’d bargained for,” Holly grinned, a new bounce to her step. “Chaos is what I do best.”
Myles was the first to spot them as they came down the grand staircase. He squinted at Holly, as if she were a stranger like Daphne, but his little face turned to a smile soon enough. “Mum!” He called. “Artemis had Holly in his room!”
Artemis was mortified at this announcement, but Myles barreled on as the rest of his family turned their attention on the pair still only halfway down the stairs. “I didn’t know you liked pink, Ms. Holly,” he said, prompting Holly to laugh.
“Let me guess, you thought I only ever wore my uniform.”
“Of course not,” Myles scoffed. “I’m not a simpleton.” Holly smirked again at Artemis, but he had bigger things to worry about than inadvertently being called a simpleton by his younger brother. Nerves were already gnawing at his insides over the thought of this entire event. He wanted very much to steal Holly away and back to the privacy of his room.
“Silly Myles, you’re supposed to say it simple-toon,” Beckett corrected with a tut he could only have learned from Artemis. Myles glowered, but was unable to get a word in before Beckett had scampered up the stairs past him, attention already diverted. “I won’t tackle you today, Holly,” Beckett said, serious as Artemis had ever seen him. Startled, Holly dropped her pre-tackle stance. Artemis loved this possibly most of all about Holly. How good she was to his brothers, how ready she was to wrestle with Beckett on the grand staircase on a moment’s notice.
“Why not?” Holly asked, taking the bait curiously.
“You look so pretty,” Beckett told her earnestly.
“And that, gentlemen,” Holly announced, “is how you give a compliment.” She chucked Beckett on the shoulder playfully. “You look rather dapper yourself,” Holly told him, and Beckett turned to Myles.
“She means you look good,” Myles translated. Beckett and Myles both looked nothing short of adorable in matching pastel colored button-downs and plaid bowties, with their hair styled neatly. Artemis wondered if he looked like that when he first started wearing suits. Cute instead of imposing and smart. He hoped not.
“Thanks!” Beckett smiled toothily at Holly. “But I’m marrying Juliet, so don’t fall in love with me.”
“She’s already married, little man,” Juliet said, nabbing Beckett off the staircase where he’d been blocking Artemis and Holly’s descent. “What’d Mulch say when you told him?” She asked Holly, one twin tucked under each arm.
“That’s a story for another time,” Holly laughed, and Artemis realized that he hadn’t seen much of their dwarf friend since Qwan had announced their marriage to all of fairykind. “Actually, I can sum it all up by saying this: he reacted just how you’d expect him to react.”
“Got shi—poop for having an interspecies relationship, did you?”
“Yes, I did. He tried holding an intervention.” The girls laughed, and then finally it was time for his parents to officially and formally meet Artemis’s wife. His best friend. His savior. He felt himself start to sweat under his suit. He was more nervous than he’d thought. And he’d thought himself a good deal nervous.
“Mother, Father,” Artemis said, standing in the foyer at last, Holly on his arm looking as delicate and pretty as a peony. He felt like a teenager introducing his prom date to his parents. “This is Holly,” he considered a label, but wasn’t sure how best to describe their relationship, especially given the current circumstances. “I’ve told you about her at length. Holly, this is my father, Artemis Fowl, Senior.” His father took Holly’s hand and shook it with an appraising gaze, Holly followed suit, and Artemis thought his wife and his father might very well be sizing each other up. He might have been amused if he were not so notably stressed. “And this is my mother, Angeline Fowl.”
Angeline was far less formal than her husband, sweeping Holly into a warm hug and kissing her cheek lightly. Artemis watched this with as much apprehension as he had the interaction between Holly and Artemis Senior. “It is so nice to finally meet you, my dear,” Angeline said, hands still holding Holly’s shoulders. “I owe you a great debt, my sanity, my husband, my son, you’ve brought them all back to me. Thank you, truly, for all you have done for me and my family.”
“Oh,” Holly managed faintly. “You don’t have to do that, really. It was no trouble.” Angeline only smiled brighter and hugged Holly once before releasing her.
“Let’s sit for tea, shall we?” And the precession followed Angeline obediently to a fine sitting room. Artemis and Holly found seats together on a couch—thankfully free of rock, moss, and bug collections, which was a rarity in Fowl Manor since the twins had become mobile. Butler stood diligently at Artemis’s shoulder, more out of habit than anything else, while Artemis’s parents sat across from them in ornate chairs his mother loved and his father detested, but always sat in so as to be next to Angeline. And Juliet sat in the remaining armchair, settling in for a show as Artemis had known she would. Beckett insisted on climbing into her lap. Juliet argued, but she wasn’t much of a fighter when it came to the twins, and at Myles’ red-faced pout, she pulled him onto the over-crowded chair too so they all sat squished in together.
Idle chitchat and the spectacle of Juliet juggling two boys with their tea and cakes on her lap, trying to avoid getting crumbs down her top and spills on her skirt was sufficient in keeping the exchange pleasant and distant enough for comfort. Artemis kept glancing at Holly, to make sure she didn’t need an excuse to leave, but she smiled and laughed and seemed to be enjoying herself, in no need of a rescue. Until, that was, Angeline started probing. Then they could both have done with some rescuing.
“You and Artemis are very close, aren’t you?” Angeline asked, pouring Holly tea as conversation burbled pleasantly around them.
“Yes,” Holly said without hesitation. “We’ve been through a lot. He’s got to be the person who understands me best in the world.”
“Really? But you’re not even the same species.” Angeline was leaning in close, and Artemis watched her small smile wearily. She was up to something.
“You don’t realize how close you are with someone until you try to casually mention some trauma to a different friend and see the look on their face.” Holly laughed. “It’s almost frustrating sometimes, trying to talk with people and realizing that they just can’t see all of you. How could any fairy understand me better than the human who’s been through practically every defining moment of my life with me?” Artemis didn’t mean for it to happen, but his hand found Holly’s, resting on the couch, and eclipsed it. He’d never felt so known as he did when he was with Holly. And to know she felt the same was a tremendous joy. Holly didn’t pull her hand away, and so neither did Artemis, though he knew he should.
“Yes,” Angeline nodded serenely. “It’s like he’s more a part of you than anything else. Artemis is the same. He gets terribly dreary when you’re not around, like you’ve taken a piece of his soul with you. Or maybe you are the missing piece of his soul.” Artemis was about to object, face hot with embarrassment, when Holly nodded slowly.
“Maybe more than our eyes got mixed during our time in Limbo,” Artemis spoke as if prompted by the nod, desire to cover up his mother’s embarrassing commentary gone. “I certainly feel as though I’m more complete in your presence.”
“I’d like that,” Holly smiled, bringing her free hand to tap just under Artemis’s once hazel, now blue eye. “I miss seeing that piece of me in you.”
“I’m not magical, of course,” Angeline hummed, politely reminding the pair on the couch of her company. Artemis and Holly turned away from each other so fast it got a low rumbling chuckle from the mountain of a man behind them. Artemis had momentarily forgotten where they were. In the middle of tea with his entire family. And he’d started spouting nonsense. “But that’s how I’ve always felt about my Timmy. I suppose the concept of soulmates is universal.”
Artemis could hardly believe his mother, but she just smiled innocently back at his accusatory glare. Holly stared at the both of them in shock for a moment, then she laughed, and it was so unexpected that Artemis’s concentration broke and his attention flew back to Holly.
“It’s mums that are universal, if you ask me,” Holly said once she’d settled enough to speak without breaking out in renewed laughter. Artemis smiled, thanking her silently for understanding his mother’s antics and excusing them as nonsense. She squeezed his hand slightly, accompanying a shrug that said I get it, don’t worry. Artemis stared down at their hands, now intertwined, and wondered when that had happened. Holly had, at some point since his hand had covered hers, flipped hers around to twine their fingers together. And he hadn’t noticed. How had he not noticed?
As Artemis looked on in awe at their hands, he almost missed the curious way that Holly gazed at his mother. With something close to wonder herself, wary and guarded, like she was trying to figure something out. Angeline just nodded a tiny bit and moved the conversation along tactfully.
“You look lovely,” Angeline said, pulling Holly out of whatever thoughts had consumed her. “I just adore your dress.”
“Thank you,” Holly shifted, a little uncomfortable, though she smiled pleasantly. “I’ve never been to tea before, so I asked Caballine for help. You’d love Caballine, she likes to hold social events and the like, too. She’s what you humans call a renaissance woman. Centaur, really. I should have known better than to ask for her help, though, because I’m afraid she took it as an invitation to use me as a dress-up doll. She actually made this for me,” Holly said, picking at her skirt.
“She sounds fabulous,” Angeline said, “I do wish I could meet her, too.”
“She’ll be pleased to hear that. Artemis has communications set up with Foaly, I’m sure you could borrow his vampire cave to call down, if you wanted. Caballine’s a very social type, she’d be glad to talk with you about tea parties and—,”
“Weddings?” Angeline asked sweetly, and the side conversations ceased at once, leaving the room silent as all attention turned to Artemis and Holly at that single word, ringing clear in echo.
“As I’ve explained,” Artemis said, breaking the silence. “There will be no need for a wedding, Mother.”
“Maybe,” Angeline said, tapping her lip in thought, “but it would be beautiful, don’t you think? A proper ceremony between the two of you for all the world to see,” she frowned. “Only all the fairy world, that is. Humans aren’t ready for fairies just yet.”
“You’ll simply have to put off your ambitions of wedding planning until Myles or Beckett gets married. There is no possible reason why Holly and I would have a wedding.”
“Unless there was,” Holly said, a mischievous smile on her face. Artemis was sure this was leading to a bad idea he’d agree to against his better judgment. “Imagine the spectacle our wedding would cause. It would light a fire under the council’s backsides.”
“More than building a house did?” Artemis argued.
“Keep on like that, Arty, and I might take it personally that you don’t want to marry me. Besides, we’d be broken up before the wedding date even came.” Artemis stared at Holly, aghast. How was he supposed to diffuse this idea politely with his entire family as an audience?
“Can I be ring bear?” Beckett asked, wiping jam on Juliet’s skirt. She’d clearly given up on the battle to keep clean ages ago, spotted as she was in stains and smears of food, tea, and her own coffee that Beckett had made a grab for earlier.
“Ring bearer,” Juliet corrected, as Myles was clueless to the ways of weddings and thus wasn’t able to take up his usual role in correcting his twin.
“Oh, yes,” Angeline gushed, clapping her hands together. “Beckett would make a darling ring bearer, though we’d want to sew the rings to the cushion. And Myles could be flower boy, unless you’ve got someone else in mind?” Angeline paused, looking to Holly.
“No, I haven’t. All my relatives are dead.”
“Splendid,” Angeline said distractedly, mind already far ahead of the conversation. “Do you think Caballine would be interested in helping me plan the wedding? I would love to host it here, of course, but that’s a bit tricky, given that you’re not meant to exist and it’s a rather obvious event, a wedding. Although,” her eyes lit up now, “Artemis told me about your time warp thing…”
“Time-stop,” Artemis said, “and it’s completely impractical to set one up for a social event.”
“But it would be so romantic! They could freeze time just at just the right moment and your entire wedding would be backdropped by a beautiful sunset, or any other scene you decided on.”
“No. 1 could make that happen,” Holly put in, clearly just to antagonize Artemis. “And he owes us a favor, for getting us into this whole mess.”
“I’ll work under that assumption, then. You’ll have to fill me in on the traditions of your people’s weddings. We’ll want a nice blend of human and elf, don’t you agree?” Angeline was talking a mile a minute and Artemis, as well as everyone else, lost track of her planning. Finally, she petered off, though she was scribbling notes on a napkin. One from a finer embroidered set, too.
“What is it that made you forgive Artemis for kidnapping you?” Artemis Senior asked into the new silence as his wife destroyed another napkin with wedding plans. “I’ve always wondered.”
“He was a kid,” Holly said, and Artemis winced inwardly, feeling it was the wrong thing to have said considering his father’s concern with their mismatched ages. “A kid desperate to get his dad back. The reason he kidnapped me was for you, a father that shouldn’t have left him alone in the first place. Kids are dumb, no matter how smart they are, and Artemis was no exception. He hadn’t lived long enough to know how to make good decisions. That’s what parents are for, to stop foolish, dangerous ideas before they get any further than being ideas. I didn’t see it at first, though. I held him accountable for his actions as if he were a man acting like a spoiled child and not a lost and terrified little boy who pretended to be an adult so well that everyone forgot he needed to be taken care of. And that’s what he wanted, really, to be taken care of and loved.
“He’s asked a lot of me over the years, your son has. He asked me, a fairy he had just imprisoned and conned her people out of their gold, to heal his mother’s broken mind so that she would recognize him. He asked me to go to a noxious snowy wasteland and save you, so that he may have his father back. And again, when I thought my adventures with him over, we got a call and there he was, asking for me to bring Butler back from the dead so that he would not lose what was, at that time, the most reliable person in his life. He causes a lot of trouble, a lot of hurt, too, but in the end, he really was a kid trying to hold together a life that was falling apart, he just had the resources and intellect to figure out how to pull it back together, no matter the consequences. I’ve forgiven Artemis a lot for his youth and love.” Holly seemed to finish and Artemis Senior seemed to be impressed with her blunt response, which was an immense relief, though Artemis himself felt the ever-present guilt burbling higher as Holly spoke. His youth had run out, surely, faster than most children’s. His adventures had to have taught him his lesson, surely. And yet he did it all again, inevitably, hurting Holly and taking from her. And as for his love…his love for other people always led him to take more from her. Even his love for her had caused her pain as he’d died to save the world. To save her. How could his youth and love be reason enough to justify her forgiveness? But Holly wasn’t done talking just yet. “And I’ve forgiven him the rest for watching him grow and become a far better man than that child tried to convince the world he was.”
“Thank you for helping to shape him into who he is now,” Artemis Senior said, the last vestiges of apprehension gone from his face as he offered Holly a sincere smile with his thanks.
“Mum says it’s rude to talk about people like they aren’t here,” Myles broke in, and Juliet groaned.
“It was just getting good, did you have to derail it, Myles? Did you really?” She asked, exasperated. “This whole thing is straight out of a soap opera and you can’t just shush and watch it?”
“But Juliet, you hate soap operas,” Myles protested. “You always make me turn off A Bright Sun!”
“That’s different,” Juliet chided. “Who wants to watch A Bright Sun when you could be watching wrestling? No, my small friend, drama is only fun when you personally know the people involved.”
“You’re not a very nice friend, Jules,” Beckett piped up. “Don’t worry, though, I still love you.”
“Sure I’m nice, I just also like to watch my friends struggle through hilarious situations. Nothing mean about that, is there?” She was grinning, fully expecting her young charges to berate her, which they loudly did.
“I told you,” Artemis leaned into Holly, “chaos.” For now, the boys were arguing with Juliet, who was cackling, and his mother was still writing on napkins, pulling his father into her planning process as a sounding board. Butler, behind them, spoke for the first time the entire afternoon.
“Could have been worse, couldn’t it?” He asked with a smile.
“Much,” Artemis agreed. His father hadn’t outwardly accused Holly of anything untoward, though she’d rightly read his mood toward her. And, somehow, had won him over through criticizing him as a father. It had all seemed like some hidden macho ritual where the person who could punch the hardest was considered worthy of respect.
“One question, though, Holly,” Butler said, as amused as his sister, even if he didn’t show it quite the same. “If this magical bond can’t be broken, are you really going to marry Artemis?” They all eyed Angeline’s growing pile of notes and wondered how to stop her from putting on a wedding unless legal action was indeed taken.
“I suppose I’ll have to,” Holly laughed, and Artemis let himself pretend, for one single moment, that she wouldn’t mind so terribly if such a thing should really happen.
Sorry ya'll I got distracted with other fics and then it took me a long time to wrestle this chapter into being but I am planning to get back to updating this more regularly
Also thank you all for putting up with the typos I always miss when I first post things I honestly can't believe I dont get more comments being like 'ummm you spelled this wrong' so anyway I love you all
Artemis was at once relieved and saddened when tea came to an official end, hours later and after Holly and Juliet had swapped numerous stories of people they’d beat up under staggering odds against them. There had been something especially satisfying about Holly recounting her escapades while dressed so sweetly.
Now, Artemis escorted Holly out of Fowl Manor after fond goodbyes and, in Beckett’s case, tears to try and make Holly stay. Artemis would not have minded if they’d worked. But Holly had work to be getting on with in Haven and the Fowl boys had already stolen so much of her time. Deep in the gardens, Artemis finally felt it prudent to return Holly’s jacket to her, which he had retrieved from the coat closet and carried over his arm until this instant. Holly pulled it on and zipped it tight.
“Thank you for coming today,” Artemis said and she rolled her eyes, likely at his formality.
“I had fun.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“What,” she grinned, teasing. “Didn’t you?” A complicated question.
“I…” He frowned, considering how to answer. Doubtless, Holly had sensed his nerves through the entire event and knew full well that fun wasn’t the word to describe his experience. “I was glad to have your company. While I didn’t particularly enjoy myself, I’d rather have spent the day doing just this than have spent it without seeing you at all.”
“Stop it,” Holly grinned, elbowing him playfully. Which was to say, elbowing him painfully, but with good humor. “I told you, you don’t have to act so mushy without the people of Haven to see it.”
“Surely you realize how much I missed you,” Artemis said, stopping them abruptly to stare at Holly, a little shocked. She stared back with a mirrored expression. “My mother, for all her eccentricities today, was correct in her analysis of my feelings when you’re out of my immediate reach.”
“Don’t be silly,” Holly said, half-smile creeping back on her face, looking as amused as she did confused. “We see each other all the time, what could one day cost you?”
“We see each other all the time now.” Artemis shook his head. Holly was usually so good with feelings, how could she have not known this about him? “Every time life returns to some semblance of normality after our grand adventures, I get terribly—,” there was no other word for it, “lonely. I miss you. I miss the adventure, the thrill, the challenge, the magic, my fairy friends. But I miss you above all else. I’ve been afforded a luxury these last months in seeing you so often, but I won’t take it for granted. I can’t. Once our marriage bond is broken, our privileges to travel between worlds will be taken, too. And then it will be back to late-night visits, hurried and spastic, and I’ll be lucky to have you next to me twice in one month. One day, Holly, costs me a great deal. It costs me a day of feeling truly whole and right, as I never do when I’m alone. Especially since—,” he’d risen a hand to gesture to this new body of his, but stared at it with distaste, instead, unsettled by the proper placement of all his fingers. Holly watched him, smile gone, eyes wide, and clearly at a loss. Eventually, she reached out and took Artemis’s offensive hand, clasping it between her own hands. Hands that Artemis felt he knew better than his own. He’d known them longer, after all. They’d been with him through more than his own had.
“You are whole, Artemis. And right, and good, and everything else that you are, with or without me.” She was looking determinately down at his hand, at her hands still holding it.
“Then why don’t I feel it?” He asked, simple and truthful.
“I don’t know,” Holly’s voice was soft as dandelion fluff. “I didn’t realize you missed me so much.”
“Aren’t I always hopelessly desperate to get involved in a new fairy scheme whenever I can?”
“I never thought that…” she trailed off with a shrug. Then her eyes rose from their hands to meet his. “I’ll miss you more than you know, Artemis.” The intensity in her eyes made him think she wasn’t only talking of their freedoms under the marriage bond. “So we’d better not waste a day. Let’s both feel whole while we can, shall we?”
“Unless I am much mistaken, Captain,” Artemis started slowly, a smile coming naturally to his lips, “you’ve just said that I’m right.”
“Oh, don’t look so pleased with yourself. You’re right enough of the time you should be able to react to it with some decency.”
“I don’t think I will,” Artemis told her, smile growing even more at her scowl, which wasn’t so much a proper scowl as she was pretending it was.
“I’ve got to go,” she said after a moment and Artemis nodded, smile falling away.
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she squeezed his hand before dropping it, dragonfly wings unfurling. “I’ve got a wedding to help plan.”
Artemis watched as her lithe figure rose into the air and then disappeared. He stood for long minutes after she’d gone, imagining that she was still there, invisible to the eye. Then her absence settled in like a persistent ache and he retreated to the house, feeling for all the world like Holly had taken a small but essential sliver of him with her. As though part of his soul resided in her, as though it had been confused upon waking anew into this world and had not all found its way into the body prepared for that exact purpose. As though some small portion of his soul had sought out her familiar presence and had taken refuge in it.
“Juliet, I’ve got a present for you!” Holly’s voice rang out and Artemis pushed himself away from his desk, chair rolling just far enough for him to peek out his balcony’s open door and spot Holly, touching down in the evening light, but not, as he would have expected, on his balcony. Curious, he got to his feet and took a better position to watch the drama unfold. Juliet was playing pirate siege with the twins, and Holly’s interference was being assessed by both sides.
“You can’t fool me into surrendering my ship, little fairy,” Juliet said, deciding that Holly was in cahoots with the boys.
“It’s from Mulch,” Holly continued, her voice a singsong and suspicious coo, as though this was somehow set up by Myles and Beckett to tempt Juliet from her ship.
“Mulch?” Juliet parroted, interested. “What could he have to give to me?”
“Not sure,” Holly said, approaching Juliet. “It’s wrapped. If you can call this wrapped, anyway,” she brandished a grubby package that seemed to be covered in a used rag. Juliet’s eyes trailed on the parcel, and Artemis was sure she was dying to snatch it from Holly, but after a moment’s hesitation, she stood strong.
“You can’t fool me,” she shouted. “I will not be distracted—,” but she stopped, no doubt feeling the hard tip of Beckett’s wooden sword in the small of her back.
“Too late for that,” Myles said with a superiority that reminded Artemis of his ten-year-old self, swaggering out from behind his and Beckett’s base of cardboard boxes carefully arranged. Holly, it seemed, recognized it too, because she started laughing. “Ms. Holly has inadvertently handed us the win, Juliet. You should know better than to let yourself get distracted at a crucial moment.”
“Ouch, schooled by a child, how does it feel?” Holly asked Juliet, struggling to keep her face straight. Juliet scowled.
“You tell me,” Juliet shot back. “At least I’ve never been kidnapped by a kiddie.”
“Not yet. Give it time, you never know. These Fowl boys are a tricky breed.” Holly glanced up to Artemis’s balcony, as if she had sensed his watching eyes. She winked at him, as if to say she was teasing. Or, at the least, that she liked the particularities of Fowl boys.
“Surrender, Jules, it’s over,” Beckett said, ready to get back to their game. Juliet dropped her own toy sword and shoved the plastic eyepatch up into her hair, as if she were ready to forfeit and quit this pirate adventure for the time being. Artemis recognized her lazy confidence. She wasn’t out of the game yet.
“Not yet,” Juliet said, smiling. “Here’s a trick for you, Holly, the next time Artemis gets out of hand.” She craned her neck to look down at little Beckett’s blond curls and wooden blade. Then, sweetly, “Beckett, my love, if you let me go and surrender your fleet to me, I’ll give you a kiss.”
“No!” Myles shrieked, realizing that he’d made a tactical mistake, sending Beckett to fight against the love of his life. The heart couldn’t be trusted to win wars.
“Really?” Beckett asked, sword already dropping.
“Yes, really,” Juliet spun around, squatting down to Beckett’s level. “Do we have a deal?” She held out her hand, and Beckett took it with his own, dwarfed in her grip as they shook. “I am the Pirate Queen,” Juliet declared, snapping her eyepatch back into place before standing with a flourish and swinging Beckett up onto her hip. “And I’ve just found myself a new king!” As promised, she planted a kiss on Beckett’s cheek and Artemis watched as one of his little brothers laughed happily and the other one stomped a foot in childish defeat.
“That’s cheating!” Myles insisted.
“All is fair in love and war,” Juliet shrugged, advancing on Myles with a devilish grin. “Don’t worry, Myles, I’ll give you a kiss too!”
“I don’t want a kiss! I want a victory!”
“Sounds like another mudboy I know,” Holly said, tossing Mulch’s package aside and sweeping in to save Myles from Juliet’s outstretched free hand. “What do you say, Myles, should we team up? I bet we could take them.”
And the battle started anew. Artemis watched it unfold from his room, but the teams seemed to be evenly matched. He briefly considered joining in, but knew his efforts would tip the scale unfairly towards whichever pair he lent them to. And, besides, he was happy to stand, leaning against the rail of his balcony, and watch.
“Come inside for dinner!” Artemis heard his mother’s voice ring out, doubtless from one of the windows overlooking the pirate battle. Grumbling and laughing, the ragtag crew dropped their weapons and made for the manor. Juliet picked up the bundle from Mulch as she walked past it, tucking it away into her skits.
Artemis met them in the dining room and Holly made right for him. “Your brothers could take over the world if they set their minds to it,” she informed him.
“I’ve known it since the moment I met them,” Artemis said, looking fondly after his brothers, Myles squashed in Juliet’s embrace and being showered in kisses unwillingly as Beckett complained loudly at the unfairness of the situation.
Angeline herded them all to the table. Dinner was later than usual tonight and the chef had been sent home after making it so Holly could join them without extra eyes assessing her human-ness, or lack thereof. Juliet and Butler insisted on bringing dinner to the table.
“Not going to help?” Holly teased as Artemis sat next to her.
“I tried, once,” he told her, unable to stop a small frown. “I dropped the beef bourguignon and have since been banned from helping.”
“Figures,” Holly snorted.
Dinner was a pleasant affair, and already it felt natural to have Holly at the dinner table. She fit extraordinarily well, talking easily with every other person at the table. Once the meal was finished, Angeline ferreted Holly away to talk about wedding business, and Artemis found himself with the Butlers and the twins in a sitting room outside Angeline’s study.
“No way!” Juliet’s delighted giggle caught the attention of the other occupants of the room and they all turned to her. “Look what Mulch sent me, that wonderful little bugger,” and she happily fanned out a collection of movies. Artemis recognized the old Fowl and Short films, but there was one he hadn’t seen before. Despite this, he knew it to be Love Beyond before he’d even read the title.
“That looks nothing like Holly,” he said, taking the offending movie from Juliet’s hands with a protesting ‘hey!’ from her. The cover was clearly one of a romantic film, but although the lead male looked very much like Artemis, the female actress looked as much like Holly as Juliet did.
“This doesn’t look like Fowl and Short,” Butler observed.
“You ass—,” Juliet cut off, too late. The twins turned to her with wide eyes and she stared back in horror. “You didn’t hear that,” Juliet told them sternly, then rounded back on her brother and Artemis. “You butterbums knew there were movies and you never told me? I had to find out from Mulch?”
“Sorry, little sister,” Butler said, smiling. “It was on a need to know basis.”
“I’m watching these right now,” Juliet said, yanking Love Beyond from Artemis’s hands. “And none of you are invited.” She stuck her tongue out at Butler, turned on her heel and made to disappear, likely into the theatre room. The twins, obviously, didn’t think that her non-invitation extended to them as they scampered on after her.
“Don’t watch Love Beyond with the boys,” Artemis called after her. “I have no idea what’s in it.” He wasn’t sure she’d heard and considered an undignified chase through the halls after her. Chuckling, Butler turned to Artemis.
“I didn’t realize they’d rebranded those old reluctant ally movies into a romance.”
“So far as I can tell,” Artemis replied, turning away from the idea of a chase, “they didn’t. It’s a new franchise, based on some information that has recently come to light.” Butler nodded, but his face turned a note more serious.
“Not that it’s my business, Artemis, but how are you holding up?” Of all the things Artemis had expected Butler to ask or say, this was not one of them.
“I’m fine,” Artemis said, unsure how else to answer.
“I know you and Holly have a complicated relationship. I’m sure being married to her is hard on you, knowing she has no intention of staying married.”
“Ah, yes, that is…it’s worth it, to see her so much, even if only for a year. Nine months, now.”
“Your mother’s pretty determined to make that wedding happen,” Butler nodded his head towards the door, behind which Angeline and Holly were busy planning. Artemis was sure Holly was bored out of her mind. “The thing about Angeline Fowl is that she doesn’t set her heart on things she can’t have.”
“Yes, I’m aware that she thinks my feelings towards Holly are reciprocated.”
“Why are you so convinced they aren’t?”
“Because she doesn’t—couldn’t love me,” Artemis said, with more venom than he’d meant. He sighed, rubbed at his temples. Then, softer, tiredly, “How could she fall in love with me, Butler? After all we’ve been through, she couldn’t. I know that. I’ve accepted it.”
“I’ve known you both since the start, and I can see how your relationship has changed. Have you tried talking to her?”
“Talking to her?”
“Yes, Artemis, talking to her. Tell her how you feel. I’m willing to bet it would help.”
“I can’t, old friend. I can’t tell her, I have no right to.”
“To tell her or to like her?”
“Both. I’ve hurt her so much already. For her to know that I’ve done all I have despite my feelings, that I was able to hurt her so much and so often even when I cared for her so deeply? She’d hate me. It’s despicable, Butler, what I’ve done. How could she forgive me for that? How could she trust me not to do it all again?”
“Talk to her, Artemis,” Butler said again, firm. “You owe it to yourself and to Holly to give this marriage a real chance.”
Artemis would have argued further, but the door opened and Holly and Angeline spilled into the room. Or, rather, Holly burst in looking frantic, and his mother chased after, looking confused and ready to comfort and appease. Artemis’s pulse increased by a large margin. Had Holly heard? Was it possible that she now knew of his love for her?
“I’m not cut out for wedding planning,” Holly announced loudly. “I can’t do it, I just can’t, and I don’t know why anyone thought I was the girl for the job. Sure, it’s my wedding, but what do I know? If it were up to me we’d elope. Wait, we practically already did that, didn’t we? Urgh! It’s all the talk of color stories and flower arrangements and frilly decisions, it’s turning my brain to mush!”
“Overwhelmed, Captain?” Artemis asked, trying to hide his immense relief that her agitation was due to this and not because she had overheard his conversation with Butler. But he was sure, if Holly had been paying attention, she would have noticed the brief spike of fear he’d felt when she’d burst into the room.
“Entirely,” Holly said. “It’s only been an hour and I’m ready to have a mental break down. You’re the one who’s good at planning. You’re the control freak. Why aren’t you planning the wedding?”
“It was your idea,” Artemis said, “I didn’t want to impose.”
“Please,” said Holly, “impose.”
“I’d be glad to.”
“But, Holly, dear, you’ll pick out the dress, won’t you?” Angeline said worriedly.
“Yes,” Holly relented. “The dress. I could do the dress.”
“We’ll make a day of it!” Angeline brightened. “You, me, and Juliet. It’s bad luck for the groom to see the dress before the wedding day, you know.”
“Is it?” Holly grinned conspiratorially at Artemis. “The groom won’t see it then.”
“Yes, wonderful,” Angeline’s mind was clearly already somewhere else.
“I’ll step in to plan, then,” Artemis said, feeling strange at being called a groom. It made this whole ridiculous plot seem more real which was, in turn, completely surreal. “Let me know if you have any requests.”
“I’ll think on it,” Holly said, oddly hesitant. It led Artemis to believe that, possibly, she did have requests, but was unwilling to voice them. He didn’t push the issue but stored the information away for later.
“Holly, you’ll be staying the night, of course,” Angeline said, mind coming back to the room and away, for a moment, from wedding plans. She said it with such authority that Holly just nodded. “I’m sure you know where the guest room is—the one nearest Arty’s room. I’ve had the maids spruce it up, if you decide you’d rather sleep there.”
“As opposed to where?” Artemis asked, and three pairs of eyes looked him up down like he’d just said something terribly stupid. It dawned on him that he had. Holly and Butler may have spared him the embarrassment, but his mother answered with an amused smile and a raised eyebrow.
“With you, Arty. Where else?” She fondly patted his cheek, and drifted away back to her study.
“You’re not really planning to spend the night in here, are you?” Artemis asked skeptically, finding the elfin captain sprawled on her stomach across his bed when he returned from showering. She frowned.
“Would you have a problem with that, if I did?” She asked, offense and something akin to hurt edging into her voice.
“No, of course not,” Artemis was quick to amend. “You’re welcome here anytime you’d like. I just wondered…why?” He couldn’t come up with a single reason why she should stay in his room when there was another option readily available. At their house—he still got a swell of pleasure at the words, their house—they still hadn’t put together the guest room. The bed frame and mattress sat abandoned and unassembled. Artemis had made no efforts to remedy that, as the moment it was suitable to sleep in, he’d feel obligated to move there for the nights spent in Haven.
Holly looked at him, sitting up slowly, then shrugged. “I like it.”
“You—,” Artemis went a shade of red that could have rivaled Holly’s old commander, nicknamed Beetroot for his furiously red face.
“Besides, how can we get through all of Jack London’s works if I don’t stay over?” She added sweetly, but the grin she flashed him did nothing to dissuade him from reading more into it than that. Whatever the specifics, Holly liked sharing space with him, liked their nighttime routine, liked waking up next to him. That meant something. It had to.
“You’ll mislead me, Holly,” he said it so quietly that she couldn’t hear. He sometimes wanted to do just as Butler had advised and talk to Holly, if only so she would understand why she couldn’t say such things to him, offer him such kindnesses and tender touches. But that, too, was selfish. With effort, he pushed those thoughts aside and continued with their usual rituals, but as he reached for the book—Call of the Wild, now, as they’d long since finished The Sea~Wolf—he came up short.
“I’m afraid I’ve left our book in Haven,” he told her, appalled at his poor foresight.
“You didn’t expect me to invade your bed topside,” Holly laughed, “It’s understandable.”
“I apologize for the inconvenience,” he said, still frowning. But Holly was smiling.
“Turn off the lights, we won’t die for missing a chapter tonight.”
“No, I suppose not,” and he did as he was asked. But shortly after he’d receded down into the blankets, Holly carefully stepped out of the bed altogether. He wondered if she were leaving after all. But all she did was open every window in Artemis’s room, including flinging the balcony doors open wide. As she crawled back into bed, Artemis smiled, overfilled with affection for his best friend. “You’ve completely ignored security protocol,” he told her, trying to sound serious and disapproving.
“Don’t worry,” Holly said, “I’ll protect you from any bad guys who try to climb into your room.”
“Thank you, I feel entirely safe now.”
A beat of silence.
“I’ll miss this.”
“So will I.” The moment was perfect, begging to be elaborated on. We don’t have to lose this, he could say. He didn’t say. Instead: “Holly?”
“Yes?” The moment swelled. I don’t want to give you up, he could say. He didn’t say this either.
“Earlier, what was it my mother said to get you worked up to such a state?” His question efficiently broke the moment.
“Oh,” it came out as more of a laugh than anything else. “Thought you wouldn’t ask.”
“I’m curious to know what cracked you.”
“She had me writing vows,” Holly said, and Artemis chuckled.
“Oh, yes, she said I should start drafting them now so they’d be perfect for the wedding.”
“Well, they were damn good. All heartfelt and way too frilly. I’m sure you could’ve done better, since writing is one of the many, many things you’re good at. But I got in the zone and was writing up a storm. Your mother,” she said it like an accusation, which, Artemis supposed, it was, “was reading over my shoulder the whole time.”
“Not surprising, she’s terribly nosy.”
“I’ve noticed. Anyway, she commented on it. My, uh, vows.”
“I hope she was nice.”
“She was—unnervingly nice. But then she asked if I’d write vows for my wedding—my actual wedding to some unnamed groom.” It surprised Artemis to hear that his mother had acknowledged that the wedding she was planning was fated to be canceled, when she’d so adamantly acted as though it were inevitable. “And when I didn’t answer she just started throwing all these decisions at me about meaningless pomp, you know? I felt silly, I guess. Putting so much thought and effort into something that won’t happen. I got frustrated, especially since I don’t care about weddings, least of all one that isn’t real, but I still couldn’t make a choice on what kind of napkins we should use, or if the serving plates should be silver or gold.”
“Silver,” Artemis said. “Given our history.”
“Gold,” Holly countered, “given our history.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t make a decision.”
“Changed my mind. That’s my request, and I’m the bride, so you have to listen to me.”
“How many times am I going to hear that over the next months?”
“As many times as I can say it.”
“Gold,” Artemis mused. “I do have a fondness for it, but, are you sure it’s entirely appropriate?”
“If we’re getting fake married—,”
“We’re already fake married,” he reminded her.
“No, we’re real married, just unwillingly.”
“A good point,” Artemis conceded. “You’re entirely correct and I rescind my earlier statement.”
“Yes, well, it’s bound to happen sometimes. But if we’re having a fake wedding, we should face it head-on, don’t you think? Our history. No skirting around the bad stuff or avoiding reminders of our nefarious meeting or misadventures. If we really got married, that’s how I’d want it. To be us, not a pretty and generic ceremony with meaningless fluff.”
“You mean it?” He turned on his side to face her fully. She mimicked the motion. Her eyes glimmered through the dark, striking and beautiful. “You’d marry me with reminders of all the times I’ve hurt and betrayed you woven into the wedding?”
“You think I ever forget all you’ve done?” She asked solemnly. “I don’t, not ever, not even for a second, Artemis. Every time I talk to you, look at you, think of you, it’s all there. But I haven’t ever hated you for it, not really, not since before I knew you.”
“You dumb mudboy, that’s not all that we’ve got. We’re more than the bad times. You’re more than the times you’ve hurt me. I could tell you every moment you have, if you asked. But I can’t name every moment you’ve made me smile, or laugh, or feel better. When I think of you, it’s not just the painful things I remember. It’s all the times you’ve saved me, too. All the times you’ve been there for me. We’ve been through a lot,” Holly sighed, hand reaching to brush hair back from Artemis’s eyes. He felt sparks at the contact, but knew by now that it wasn’t an effect of magic, but just a byproduct of Holly’s touch. “But we’re stronger for it now. That’s why I won’t shy away from our history. It’s part of us. We can’t change that. And I wouldn’t if I could.”
“Nor would I,” Artemis admitted. “I’m sorry.”
“I know.” Then she yawned and shifted closer to him. “And I forgive you.”
Artemis wasn’t sure how, but his mother had not only booked out every notable bridal boutique in Ireland for private use with no employees present so that Holly could browse with ease, but she’d also acquired permission for her and Juliet to go to Haven for shopping there. Angeline Fowl could achieve anything when she set her mind to it. It was lucky for everyone that she had no evil ambitions.
Artemis paced the whole day they were away. He worried needlessly over Holly being spotted above ground. He worried, rather more understandably, over his mother and Juliet wreaking havoc and mayhem below ground. And, lastly, he worried for Holly’s nerves. She was not cut out for wedding planning or anything adjacent to it. She’d been pulling her hair out, proverbially, of course—she didn’t have long enough hair to get such a grip on—after one hour with Angeline.
Holly would have to weather an entire day flouncing about bridal boutiques with his mother and Juliet, the only topic of the day being weddings. Angeline would prattle happily about the details of the dresses, how each fabric, color, cut, and lace trim would fit into the grander scheme of the wedding, what satin versus chiffon said about a bride, and much more. Artemis could only imagine what Holly was being subjected to. Juliet, at least, would provide some relief. She and Holly would talk on the practicality of each dress: how easily one could fight in any given gown; the best way to rip it down to a more functional length; whether any part of it could be weaponized. Regular, properly feminine things of the sort. The idea of the scandalized faces of the Haven shop assistants was enough to make him smile.
It was nearly 10 PM when Angeline and Juliet returned. Over twelve hours since their departure this morning. Angeline only floated past Artemis with a kiss to his cheek before retiring upstairs to bed. Artemis turned to Juliet.
“Your wife was fine,” Juliet rolled her eyes. “We returned her home in one piece. Cute place you’ve got down there, by the way.”
“She didn’t—,” Artemis was unsure how to ask what he wanted to know, had spoken before formulating a satisfactory question. Juliet smirked.
“Have a mental breakdown and burn all the pretty little dress shops in Haven to the ground?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, she didn’t. It was only the one shop. And Binky Von Shmiggimbottoms was asking for it.”
“You’re joking.” Please let her be joking.
“Yeah,” Juliet grinned at Artemis’s palpable relief. “But it was a close thing. That dunderhead wouldn’t let us in his stupid shop because he’s a racist.” Artemis frowned. It was an unpleasant thing to hear, even when Juliet reported back comments or treatments she’d received at the hands of humans. To be told that The People would bar Juliet from an establishment was unsettling, to say the least.
“Surely you’re mistaken, Juliet,” Artemis said hesitantly. “Our prejudices can’t mean anything to the fairies.”
“Not racist about me,” Juliet snorted loudly. “Racist about you. So, in a way, about me too. But not because of the Asian thing. Because of the human thing. They’re rather nasty about humans, aren’t they? Old Binky didn’t approve of interspecies marriages, but not in a fun, chummy way like Mulch. In a ‘gather your fairy pitchforks and burn the filthy human’ way.”
“I wouldn’t call that racism, precisely,” Artemis said, relieved to hear this. “That's just how fairy folk are. And can you blame them? Humans have done nothing to earn their respect. Furthermore, I have certainly done plenty to earn their hatred.” He was sure that he had been half the problem to Binky, even more so than his species as human.
“Frick that. You’ve saved their arses tons. Anyway, racism is racism and I’ve seen enough of it to spot it a mile off. Fairies don’t get a get out of jail free card on that, Arty. No one does, no matter how we’ve treated each other in the past.”
Artemis might have argued further, but he supposed that, technically, she might be right about this.
“That aside, you and Mother behaved?” He asked.
“We were on our very best behavior, as instructed. Haven’s cool. Real short,” she pinched her fingers together to demonstrate the vertical constraints of the city, “but I liked it.”
“I’m rather fond of it myself.”
“I can tell.”
“And Holly was…okay? You’re sure?”
“Didn’t love the shopping and all the dresses dear Mrs. Fowl made her try on, but she was surprisingly pleasant most the time about tolerating it. She’s not patient about frills and the like, though, so she did get crabby. That was a time, but your mum got her calmed and sorted. Magic, that woman is.” She frowned. “Figuratively, unless there’s something you lot haven’t told me.”
“She does work wonders when emotions are running high.”
“Yeah. Good thing she was there for Binky because Holly was mad. I wasn’t kidding, that girl was about ready to throw down with the fancy prick for talking—,” a quick glance around for the twins, “shit on you.”
“Was she really?” The thought amused Artemis. Holly fighting to protect his honor.
“You better believe it. She’d have knocked that guy into next week if Mrs. Fowl hadn’t been there to talk her down.”
“How lucky for Binky. That can’t possibly be his name, can it?”
“How would I know?” Juliet shrugged. “He didn’t give it to us. But Binky DeShnottsy fits him, trust me.” Artemis didn’t point out that his name had changed since she’d last said it. She knew, no doubt, and was just having fun.
“And how was your search?” He asked. “Were you successful?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Have it your way,” Artemis sighed, tired by the importance put into the dress and its secrecy from him. “But tell me one thing, please.”
“I might. What do you want to know?”
“Will Holly be subjected to another hunt of this magnitude?”
“Nah, I don’t think so.” She yawned hugely then, and her posture shifted to one of a person about to leave. “Go to bed, Artemis, you’ve been up too late waiting for us to report back to you about a dress.”
“I’m not one of your charges, nor am I anything resembling a child.”
“You weren’t any of those things a couple years ago, either, but it never stopped me before and it won’t stop me now.”
“A point well made,” Artemis smiled. “Good night, then, Juliet.”
“Night night, little man.”
“Juliet says you tried to set fire to an establishment to protect my good name,” Artemis said first thing upon his next night in Haven. Holly snorted, reminding Artemis very much of Juliet’s snort nights before.
“What good name? And fires are a disaster down here. I might have punched that sprite around a bit, but he was asking for it.” It was little wonder she and Juliet got on so well.
“My knight in shining armor.”
“What if I want to be a prince charming, instead?”
“I suppose you could be, if you so pleased. But knights generally get to hit people more.”
“You’re right. Knight it is, then. You know me so well.”
“Better than I know myself.” He got a curiously soft look from her over that, but she turned away before he could properly analyze it. He thought she might be pleased, though. “Juliet and Mother will tell me nothing of the dress. Did you find one?”
“I’m not supposed to tell you either.”
“Very well, but I had to try.”
“Why?” Holly laughed, turning slightly from her paperwork to shoot him a bemused look. “What does my wedding dress matter to you?”
“I’m curious. One of my many vices.”
“You’ll see it eventually, just wait for the big day.” Her pencil stopped scratching a near minute later. Artemis hadn’t corrected her. He should have corrected her. It would have been the proper thing to do in this situation. The normal response. A light jab poking fun at her for forgetting that, in actuality, Artemis would never see the dress. There would be no wedding to wear it to. But he hadn’t. Had let the timing slip by as he held to that sentence, tried to keep himself from analyzing it. She’d forgotten, if only for a minute, that there was to be no wedding, no grand love story, no big day, between them. It might mean that—no, he told himself firmly, it means nothing and you do yourself and Holly a disservice by clinging to this childish fantasy. But it was too late now to recover and make light of Holly’s mistake.
Artemis hardly breathed, waiting for Holly to laugh it off or, perhaps, flush brightly and stumble over words as she tried to take it back. She did neither of these things. Her pencil hovered over her page, unsure. Her shoulders bunched in tension. Her breathing was as shallow as Artemis’s. Still, she said nothing. A moment passed like this. Then another. And another. Finally, her pencil resumed its scratching against paper, her breathing evened out, and her shoulders relaxed. Nothing more was said between them until much later in the evening. Almost, the whole thing could have been forgotten, lost in the endless moments they now shared. But Artemis couldn’t forget it. Couldn’t help but dwell on her scratching pencil in lieu of correction or admission that she’d misspoken.
in case anyone is confused about Juliet's racism comments in this chapter, I've decided to interpret Butler's (and therefore, Juliet's) 'eurasian descent' as more asian-leaning, even though she has blonde hair so that's what that's about haha. And I love the idea of her trying to Big Sister Artemis, especially now that he's chilled out a bit, you feel?
also im sorry ive been absent lately. i have no excuses whoops but i love you guys?
“And one more thing, Captain,” Artemis said before Holly could disconnect their call. It had been a busy week in Haven and in Ireland. They’d been unable to make time to do anything more than video calls, which hardly felt like enough. Artemis realized it was a problem, how used to Holly’s company he’d become. A year ago, he’d have been happy with a call once a month, and now he was dissatisfied with one practically every night. Holly tilted her head, quirked up an eyebrow, prompting him to go on and say what he’d wanted to. He absently straightened his tie, then forced his fingers away from this nervous tick. “I’d like to invite you out for a date.”
“No, absolutely not. Why would I go on a date with you?” But her straight face fell apart almost as soon as she’d finished speaking. “Yes, of course. When?”
“At your earliest convenience.”
“I could do…let’s see,” she bit her lip in concentration, clearly running through her schedule. “Saturday. Does that work for you?”
“Perfectly. Let’s meet at Fowl Manor at five, shall we?”
“Sure. Anything else you need to tell me? I’m ready to fall into bed and sleep for about ten years,” and as if to prove as much, she yawned hugely. Artemis felt one building in the back of his jaw, seeing hers, but he fought it off.
“Just this: wear something casual and comfortable.”
“I’ll see you Saturday, Holly.” And he cut the connection with a small smile.
Artemis was waiting for Holly in the garden. She always flew over it when approaching Fowl Manor and he was sure she’d notice him standing in it and touch down here instead of continuing to his room as she usually did. It was 5 on the dot when Artemis smiled and, turning, said:
“How’d you know?” She phased into the visible spectrum. She flew in close, her beating wings carelessly disrupting his hair. She peered closely into his eyes. “New tech you want to tell me about?” He laughed.
“Nothing of the sort. Foaly's almost illuminated the shimmer of shielding with his latest gadget. But it’s still there.”
“I was behind you.”
“That you were. I can feel it, if you must know.”
“Feel it? Feel what?”
“You. Your magic. Your presence. I’m unsure if it’s connected with our bond, or with my death and subsequent revival, or if I’m subconsciously picking up on signs of your presence but can’t identify how exactly I’m doing so, and therefore have just subscribed my superior observational skills to a feeling.”
“You smug bastard,” she finally tapped to the ground and her wings molded to her jacket. “But you look almost normal today, Artemis. What on earth are we doing for our date?”
“You’ll see. Now, if you’ll follow me,” he led her to the front of the manor, where a black Jeep sat, ready for them.
“Alright, that does it,” Holly said, stopping to gawk at the vehicle. “First jeans and now a Jeep? I’m not well versed in human automobiles, but even I know Artemis Fowl II should be driving a Rolls Royce or something. Not a Jeep. Who are you and what have you done with my husband?”
“Not that it isn’t fun being called pretentious so subtly, but we’ve got somewhere to be. Get in the car, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Okay, okay, I’m getting in.”
The drive was at once familiar and foreign. He’d only properly driven it once before, had only been driven down it once before that. But it stood out in his mind in crystalline detail. Everything about that day did, so it was no surprise. Holly, to her credit, didn’t make any comment if she recognized where they were going. He parked the car and rounded it to open the door for Holly. She snorted, rolled her eyes, but took his hand and let him help her down. He didn’t let go of her hand, once her feet were on the ground. And she didn’t make an attempt to drop his, either.
“Artemis, are you taking me where I think you are?” She asked, but it was obvious, at this point, that he was. They broke through the last of the brush and came to a great oak tree, a blanket spread under it adorned with food.
“Our tree,” he said simply and Holly looked from the tree to him with amazement.
“You made me a picnic? Under our tree?”
“Yes, I thought that was clear. Would you like to sit or stand here gaping some more?”
“You hate being outside.”
“I’m not overly fond of it,” Artemis admitted as they both found spots on the blanket to settle down on. “But I don’t hate it nearly so much as I once did.”
“You did all this yourself?” She asked, rummaging through the food, grabbing a slice of the relatively intact fruit tart right away. Artemis thought about criticizing her for eating dessert first, but—rather wisely—decided against it.
“Yes. I wanted to do something for you. Truly do something, since we both know I have enough money to buy you anything, and enough skilled servants to make you anything, but…” he shrugged. Actually shrugged. What was wrong with him? But, suddenly, under Holly’s gaze, he felt rather sheepish about this whole stunt.
“I love it,” she smiled, a little like she didn’t believe this. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet, you haven’t seen the worst of my creations.” She laughed at that, and Artemis’s nerves were washed away by the sound. “I’m afraid I’m still an abysmal chef,” he held up his hands to show her all the little cuts and burns he’d accumulated for his efforts.
“I assume Butler was the poor soul forced to try and cram some cooking skills into you?” She asked, taking one of his hands gingerly in hers and turning it over to examine the damage.
“A sound, and correct, assumption.”
“Thank you.” She glanced up at him through her eyelashes, and her voice was soft and full of genuine emotion. As though she felt this simple picnic was something bigger than it was. Artemis flushed, but only slightly. “For doing all this for me.” And she bent back over his hand, brought it up to her lips and gently brushed a kiss against the worst of his burns. He felt a shock run through him even before the blue sparks of magic danced across his skin, healing every burn and nick he’d acquired.
“Holly,” he’d said her name in surprise, in wonder, almost without realizing it. It took another second for his brain to start working. “Don’t waste your magic on me,” he said, thoughts of her lips on her skin all collected and locked away. They were small injuries that would heal quickly and easily, there was no reason for her to heal him.
“I have never,” Holly said firmly, taking up Artemis’s other hand, “wasted magic on you.” And she did it again, rendering Artemis speechless. “Every drop I’ve used for you has gone to good use.”
What was there to say to that? A thank you didn’t seem like it would do the job. And Artemis knew, if he tried, he’d stumble over words. So he just squeezed her hands in his and let the silence stretch on, until the moment had passed. But he knew Holly understood. How much that meant to him.
The silence bled into easy, meaningless conversation that Artemis would have claimed he hated until he’d started spending enough time with Holly to have such idle conversations that were, essentially, about nothing. He loved every moment. And the food, while not suburb, was edible and Holly ate it with minimal complaint and teasing. The tree remained untouched by human or fairy life, save for them, and the sun filtering down through the leaves faded until the moon shone above them. It was time, by all means, to end the date and go home. But neither of them made any move to get up. In fact, Holly fell back onto the blanket to stare up at the sky through the heavily adorned branches of their trees.
“I liked this,” Holly said, pulling at Artemis’s arm until he gave in and allowed himself to lay beside her. Artemis turned his head to smile at her.
“As did I,” he said. Neither of them mentioned that the night was basically pointless, as the charade of dating was for the benefit of the Haven council, and there was no way this particular date would reach their ears. There was no reason for doing this. But Holly had not objected, had not commented on it at all. She turned then, to look at him too and her smile was worth anything Artemis could possibly give to receive it.
“What are you thinking?” She asked, touching a finger lightly between his brows as if smoothing out a crease.
“A lot of things. Nothing, too.” It was an insufficient answer, and Artemis finally settled on telling her the biggest thought. “I was thinking of the last night we were both here, under this tree.”
“You better not be about to apologize again,” she warned.
“No, I’m not. I should apologize, but that wasn’t what I was thinking. I was actually marveling at how lucky I was, that night, to find you under this tree instead of any other fairy.”
“As guilty as I am for kidnapping you, I’m equally as grateful for it. After all, I got you out of it. I got this.” Whatever this was. “And, when you think about it, it was a wonderful coincidence that allowed us to meet and for our fates to become entangled. A million tiny factors created that circumstance. And, while I certainly would have found a way to capture a fairy had you not show up when you did…well, it might have been anyone, mightn’t it?”
“I guess so. You could have been stuck with Grub as your partner in crime.”
“So you can see why I’m feeling so lucky.”
“Yes. I see it perfectly. How lucky we were.”
It was late when they finally drove home. It felt somehow intimate, climbing out of a car in the middle of the night with Holly helping him to unload the remnants of their picnic. It felt like something any married couple on the surface would do. It felt real.
“Will you be staying the night?” Artemis asked as they did one last check in the Jeep before he locked it up. Holly hmmed in thought.
“I didn’t plan on it. I don’t have pajamas.”
“When has that ever stopped you?”
“Good point, I’m sure you have something I can borrow.”
“Undoubtedly.” The Spider-Man pajamas she’d used once before had gone inexplicably missing, but whichever boy had stolen them had kept quiet about it. So when they reached Artemis’s room he found a long nightshirt and offered it to her.
“You know,” Holly said as she took the shirt from Artemis, “I really should keep an overnight bag up here.”
“It was an oversight on your part not to have done so already,” he said.
“Shut it, I don’t remember you ever saying anything about it, either.”
“Maybe not, but the bottom drawer there,” he nodded towards his dresser, “has been empty for months, in case you ever decided to make use of it. Not to mention the guest room that is completely at your disposal.”
Holly stared at the drawer, then to him, saying, “You never said…”
“No, I didn’t want to be presumptuous.”
“When will you learn to just be blunt with me?” Holly laughed, turning her back to him. “It’s the easiest way to communicate, you know. Actually talking.”
Butler’s advice darted through his mind at that. Talk to her. But how could he do such a thing? He watched her idly, lost in thought, before realizing what he was seeing. “Holly,” he said, completely alarmed. “What are you doing?” Because, really, it rather seemed like she was stripping. Already, she’d stepped out of her pants and, at the moment, she was tugging off her emerald green t-shirt. She laughed.
“I’m getting changed, Mudboy, what does it look like I’m doing?”
“It looks like you’re getting undressed,” he said, so stunned that it took the movement of her hands to the fastenings of her bodysuit—one that reminded Artemis very much of the only other time he’d seen Holly in such a state of undress—to jolt him back into himself so that he could turn away. Furiously red, he said, “Not that I’m looking, of course. That would be almost as inappropriate as you shedding your clothing in front of me would be.”
“Yeah, that would be scandalous, wouldn’t it? But I knew you’d turn away. A true gentleman, that’s what you are. When you’re not being an evil fairy snatcher, but we’ve moved past that.” She was having great fun, Artemis could tell.
“It wouldn’t have been hard,” he said, “to change in the bathroom. Hardly any movement would be required at all to get there.”
“Artemis, I don’t know how many times I’ve said it, but we’re married so you can stop worrying about propriety. And besides, you’ve undressed in our room, down in Haven, before. I never shoo you into the bathroom.”
“I do not,” Artemis responded hotly. “I only had to change shirts because you spilled your coffee on me.”
“You’ve done it more than that once, you liar. You’re constantly changing your shirts because you can’t decide which color of off-white goes with your suit. Sometimes, if we’re feeling risky, you rotate through some actual colors, too.”
“That’s different,” Artemis insisted.
“Not really.” Another small laugh, then, “Alright, you can turn around now. I swear I’m decent.”
True to her word, when Artemis turned he found Holly standing in his nightshirt, which draped over her like a nightgown. She grinned an amused and teasing grin. He was aware that the color had not yet drained from his cheeks. And, if he was being honest, seeing her in his shirt wasn’t helping matters.
By the time Artemis was changed—something which he did not do in front of Holly—and ready to climb into bed, Holly was already situated in her usual spot on the right side of the bed, every window flung open, and book held in her hands, which she handed off to Artemis the moment he’d slipped under the covers. It was such a route thing, having her sink down into the cushions beside him as he cracked open their book and prepared to read. He wondered if this tradition was something they’d lose when they divorced, or if, on the rare occasion Holly snuck a night to stay with him, they’d continue on with it. A thought struck him and he paused. Holly noticed, kneed his leg lightly to say get on with it. He looked to her and tried applying a sliver of Butler’s advice. Talk to her. And Holly’s too. Be blunt with me.
“You won’t do this with your next husband, will you?”
“What? Make him read old human books to me every night?” A smile danced on her lips a moment, then disappeared, replaced with a pensive tilt of her head. “No. I won’t. This is ours. It’s not for anyone else.”
“I’m glad.” And, with that, he started to read.
Holly lingered in the morning when Artemis saw her off. She wasn’t generally the type to draw out goodbyes. Especially not since their goodbyes were so short-lived these days. Artemis knew that she had something to say. Something she’d put off saying, perhaps, for a longer time than he’d noticed. He considered prompting her, but decided doing so could lead to defensive snapping on her part.
“Artemis,” she started, and Artemis had the good sense to be wary of what she’d say next. “I didn’t want to mention last night since we were having such a good time. But, I got a notice. In the mail.”
“A notice?” Artemis felt compelled to ask after too long a pause.
“A court summons. The fairy council has finally found something, I guess.”
“It took them rather longer than I’d have expected,” Artemis said briskly, “to pull together a plausible legal case against our union.”
“Or a way to break the bond.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “Or that.” Holly was looking at him with pursed lips. He was trying not to let it show, how the news had hit him like a physical blow. But some aspect of his expression—which he’d thought he had kept immaculately impartial—must have betrayed him. Artemis had always known that he’d have to come back down to reality soon enough, but it still hurt to be pulled down so abruptly. Hardly abrupt, he thought, annoyed with himself. This had been coming from the beginning. It was part of the plan. The plan to sever the bond between himself and Holly. The plan to restore Holly’s life and freedom to her. To let her have a real love and a real marriage.
“When is it?” Artemis asked, and Holly frowned deeper.
“In a week. I’ll send you the details.”
“Sure,” Holly shrugged. She lifted off the ground and Artemis expected her to fade into the air with nothing but a slight shimmer to show where she’d gone. Instead, she maneuvered herself, as if in a last-minute change of heart, close to Artemis. Too close. They were practically nose to nose and Artemis could feel the vibrations of her wings beating the air. “Do you think they’ve got something? Really, actually, found something to get rid of our bond?”
“I don’t have enough information to formulate an accurate hypothesis. But, they might have.”
“You think it’s possible?”
“To break the bond?”
“I do. I must admit I thought Foaly or No. 1 would find an answer sooner than the council.” Artemis considered how strange it was that neither of their friends had reported any information back to them on the matter. He’d done some digging himself, but he didn’t have the resources to find much in way of an answer. Nor, he supposed, did anyone else. But the council might have found something, nonetheless. A way to tear Holly from him. “We’ll find out in a week.” He dreaded the meeting, but he didn’t let it show. Holly huffed, then vanished. He wondered if there was anything he could have said to make her stay, even just a moment longer.
Artemis had never been more reluctant to visit Haven in his life. They were set to meet with the head of the council in five hours and forty-three minutes. Artemis wasted four of those minutes with the hatch to his transport shuttle open. He wasn’t claustrophobic, but today the thought of closing himself into the little pod seemed daunting. It would carry him a step closer to the end of this chapter in his and Holly’s relationship. But he couldn’t allow himself to stall any longer, so he reached to slam shut the door, allowing it to do its work and take him to Haven.
It wouldn’t be so bad, returning to how things had been before the marriage was apparent to them. He’d still have a relationship with Holly. A really good one, in fact. That was the most important thing to remember: no matter what the council did, no matter if their bond was broken or their marriage deemed illegitimate, nothing but death could keep him and Holly apart. And even death had failed twice.
But, even armed with that knowledge, Artemis knew it wasn’t so simple. The council could, technically, keep him and Holly apart. Social conventions and obligations and them each having their own lives had done so before, and it would happen again. If he was to be completely honest, the real reason he was able to walk to the cheery door set in their yellow house with such calm was because he kept seeing Holly, in his mind’s eye, fingers idly caressing a statue of a small fairy child, speaking softly and self consciously of a love she one day wished to have. He’d promised himself then that he’d do all he could to find a way out of their marriage. He’d fallen down on the upkeep of that particular promise, however. He’d let it sit too long untouched, and he couldn’t do so any longer.
“Holly?” Artemis called into the house. It was too quiet and too dark for Holly’s usual ways and, for a moment, Artemis thought she might have slept at the office. The thought made him oddly sad and melancholy to think—Holly, sleeping on a cot in her office instead of in the house he’d designed for her. For them. But Artemis found Holly, sound asleep in their bedroom, curled among a nest of blankets, pillows, and books. Curious, Artemis swiped a tome off the bed and paged through it. It was on ancient magics. And another was about the Old Ways. More books on customs, traditions, and even laws littered the mattress. Holly, obviously, had been doing some research of her own. How often, Artemis wondered, did she stay up late trying to free them of their bonds while he’d slept peacefully?
He cleared all the books away and tugged a blanket to cover her more fully. If she was still asleep, she clearly still needed the rest. Next, he found a charcoal dress and a blazer in her closet and set them out. He was sure he’d never seen Holly wear either piece and was sure, also, that she would be loath to wear them today. But it was a fitting outfit for a court summons. He pulled out stockings for her, too, and was almost convinced she’d sooner strangle him with them than wear them. But she had them, didn’t she? She must have recognized that she’d have need of them, eventually. Artemis already knew exactly what he was going to wear, but didn’t bother changing just yet. There was still a good number of hours in which suits could get ruined before the set meeting time. So he left his suit hung on the door next to Holly’s clothes and carefully departed the room.
It didn’t occur to him until he was halfway down the stairs how intimate an act that might be considered. Certainly, a few months ago, he would never have considered invading Holly’s personal spaces in such a way as rummaging through her clothes. But it had seemed only natural to do so this morning. He’d have to re-establish boundaries between them, he realized with a frown. They really had abolished a plethora of them in their time as a married couple.
“What in the ever-loving—Artemis, are you cooking?” Holly asked, not even an hour later, groggily descending the stairs and finding her way to the kitchen.
“I’ve gotten passably acceptable at it,” Artemis told her, sliding a perfectly intact omelet onto a plate and offering it to her. “Some aspects of it, in any case.”
“I never thought I’d live to see the day that you cooked me breakfast,” she marveled, sitting down and digging in with no pretense. She was ravenous in the mornings, Artemis had learned. When she’d finished, she found his eyes and grinned. “But it shouldn’t be a surprise, you made me a whole picnic first. You’re turning into a well-rounded member of society.”
“How dare you suggest I’m a member of society.”
“Right, my bad. You’re above society, of course. Laws and conventions can’t bind you.”
“Nothing can,” Artemis knew he was smiling, could feel the softness of it on his face. It had once been so foreign and strange, but he’d become used to it. And he liked the way Holly always lit up when it visited. She laughed then.
“Nothing except for me,” she said with a quirked smirk. If only she knew how right she was.
“Not for much longer,” Artemis said, smile turning wry and stale. Holly cut her eyes away and shrugged.
“True enough.” Silence settled over them for long minutes. Then Holly laughed, the sort of laugh that you don’t mean to let escape. But escape it did. Artemis raised an inquiring eyebrow at her. “I saw you picked us out matching outfits for this evening,” she explained.
“We should present a united force.”
“Then you can wear the stockings.”
“They’d clash with my belt.”
“You’re the worst.” She was smiling again, a true, purposeful smile meant to be shared.
“You’re the one who married me.”
“Doesn’t count. I didn’t know.”
“That you were marrying me or that I am the worst?”
“Then,” Artemis said, standing up and offering her his hand. She took it skeptically and he pulled her to her feet. “Are you ready to get divorced?”
“You know it, Mudboy.”
“We won’t waste your time with nonsense,” the stubby elf said the moment Artemis and Holly had been pushed into his office. Iggy Noble, head of the city council, did not even stand to greet them, nor did he introduce himself. Obviously such niceties and manners were part of the nonsense he wouldn’t waste their time with. Still, the pair approached the desk and the chairs across from Noble’s. Artemis pulled one out for Holly, which she took graciously—not even a quirked eyebrow at the gesture. She was used to it by now. But Artemis did not join her in sitting, opting instead to stand next to her chair, a hand on her shoulder so she knew he was there. The chairs seemed specifically designed to be difficult for a human to sit in without looking a fool. And Artemis did not enjoy looking a fool. So he stood and would remain standing for the duration of this meeting.
“Then let us cut to the chase. Why have you summoned us here this evening? Have we done anything unlawful?” Artemis quarried. Noble snorted.
“Don’t play coy, Fowl. We’ve got it.”
“Got what?” Artemis asked, tone neutral but dancing on the edge of mild interest so as to annoy the elf as best as possible.
“A way to break the ancient marriage bonds,” Noble said, leaning back in his chair with a satisfied smirk. Was it possible that they’d actually found something? Artemis took in the elf before him, recalled also the eagerness of the pixie that had led him and Holly to this room. Noble wasn’t bluffing. That didn’t mean whatever he’d found would work. But it was possible. Unlikely, but possible, that they’d have found the actual answer in so short a time, all things considered.
“Have you now?” Artemis kept his voice pleasant and a touch confused. “And why would such a thing matter to myself and my wife?”
“Your wife, bah!” Noble scoffed. “A fairy and a human cannot marry.”
“And yet, we have. There are no laws against it. And, in fact, there are laws protecting the rights of interspecies couples.”
“An oversight,” Noble waved his hand dismissively. “No one expected that humans could be considered under those.”
“Legally, we are,” Artemis countered. For Holly’s reputation, he had to give enough of a fight to be believable. To make it seem like they were truly in love and meant to stay married.
“Unless a law excluding humans predates all of those silly oversights.”
“What are you implying?”
“You two won’t be married for much longer is what I’m implying, Fowl. But the council is reasonable. We don’t wish to impose any undue trauma or embarrassment on you. If you’d just naturally find that your relationship has run its course and a divorce is necessary…we could help you out.”
“And if we are entirely happy in our current relationship?”
“Then we will have to take you to court. And you don’t want that.”
“Nor do you,” Artemis observed. Holly and Artemis had their share of support among The People. The council wouldn’t want the PR mess a trial would cause. But they should have expected Artemis Fowl to bring them as much trouble as possible.
“This is a bad idea, Artemis,” Foaly said, dancing nervously around their kitchen.
“It won’t be so bad,” Artemis assured the centaur. Holly had called him the minute they’d left City Hall, demanding he drop what he was doing and meet them. He’d been in their kitchen, munching on carrots, when they’d arrived home. “I’ll bluff a defense. Stage a trial in which Holly and I fought nobly for our love but make sure that we will ultimately be torn apart. The next movie they make of us could be a court drama.”
“Or a tragedy,” Holly said around her own carrot.
“Oh, it’ll be a tragedy, all right,” Foaly snickered nervously. “If they force you to break the marriage and the bond that comes with it—it could be bad news, you two.”
“How so?” Artemis asked. Was this a hint as to why Foaly had been silent on the breakage of the bond thus far?
“It’s supposed to be a choice. Old magic is intuitive, it can feel what you want. The council forcibly snipping it could be dangerous.”
“But we do want it gone,” Holly said, exasperated. “Does it really matter if it’s snipped under false pretenses?”
“It might. That’s the thing: we don’t really know. Why do you think No. 1 and I haven’t been experimenting on you all this time, trying things?”
“What damage could it do, realistically speaking?” Holly asked.
“Having a bond like that forcibly torn from you? Could mess with the workings of your magic, Holly. Could cause brain damage, or a heart attack, especially in Artemis. Could leave you both numb to all feelings for an indeterminate amount of time—possibly forever. We don’t know. But bad things have happened, so far as the imp and I can tell from old stories, to fairies who messed with old magics best left alone.”
“Do you suppose the council is aware of this?” But Artemis already knew the answer.
“Of course. Can’t research the subject for long without running into horror stories. But they care more about setting the precedent about fairy-human marriages than about your safety.”
“Thank you, Foaly,” Holly said, quiet but somehow commanding all attention to fall on her. “It was good to have you over. I’ll be calling again soon.”
“What? But I just got here—,”
“Give your wife my love,” and she was leading him to the front door and ushering him out. There was no arguing with Holly right now, and Foaly gave Artemis a look that even he could read to mean good luck before dejectedly taking his leave. Holly shut the door and sighed, so tired and frail in that instant that it almost terrified Artemis. Holly was not tired, not like this, not ever. Holly was anything but frail or fragile, even in the worst moments. Moments of defeat and loss and sadness too great to bear. So why did she seem so easily broken, propped against their front door, black pumps kicked off carelessly by her stockinged feet and face buried in a hand?
“Holly,” Artemis hedged, but was unsure where to go from there.
“Artemis,” she returned, and her voice was as exhausted as her posture and countenance. “We need to rethink this.”
“You’re worried that Foaly’s theories hold truth?”
“Worried?” Holly barked a laugh but it sounded all wrong. “Artemis, I’m terrified.”
Artemis’s ears echoed with the confession. Terrified. Holly was terrified. That wasn’t right. She was fearless. How could something like the possibility of magical repercussions scare her? Ice began to build in Artemis’s heart, pumping into his veins. If Holly was scared, he should be too. “What do you propose we do?” He asked her, voice too quiet.
“I won’t—I can’t risk it,” Holly said, and she was fierce again. A desperate ferociousness overlaying her fear, but more like herself. Enough to relieve Artemis a little. She stormed across the room to where he stood and stared up at him, intense and determined. Whatever she was about to say, she wasn’t going to back down and nothing he could say would change her mind. “We’re not breaking it.” That was—not what Artemis had expected to hear. Not even in his wildest dreams had he put those words in Holly’s mouth.
“Our bond?” Artemis clarified, floundering because, surely, this couldn’t be real.
“Our bond,” Holly confirmed. “We’re keeping it. We’ll stay married. We’ll look for a safe way out but if there isn’t one—I don’t care—Artemis, I won’t lose you. Not any sooner than I have to. And if ripping this bond from you could hurt you—I won’t do it.”
“Holly,” but, again, what could he say? “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Of course she was. Artemis had known even before she’d spoken that she was determined. He didn’t probe further. Didn’t ask her if she realized that she was signing away decades of her life to a marriage she didn’t want. Didn’t try to reassure her that they’d be fine if the bond were broken. Didn’t try to talk her out of it. But not because he’d like nothing more than to stay married to her. No, the reason he didn’t raise any objections was because to do so would have been pointless.
“I’ll start preparing likely defenses for our trial.”
“I’ll set Foaly on it too.”
One last time, Artemis had to ask. “We’re winning our case?”
“We’re winning our case.”
so like i have no idea how the fairy government works and no matter how hard I looked into it, I couldn't find any hints in canon about it. So if you happen to know how it works, I'm sorry. I'm just making shit up and it's too late to go back now lmao
The news leaked to Haven within the week. Captain Holly Short and Artemis Fowl II’s union was being contested by the council. Related news leaked at home on a similar timeframe.
“Arty!” Angeline called, breathless as she rushed into the sitting room. Artemis looked up, rather alarmed at the abruptness of her entrance and urgency in her voice. But she looked far from upset. She looked…delighted. Artemis scooped Beckett off his lap and set the little boy down by his twin. They had been learning about Anne Bonny, but pirates could wait until later.
“Mother?” Artemis stood to meet her.
“I’ve just been on the phone with Caballine—,”
“I’d prefer if you would ask before using my office,” Artemis couldn’t help but interject. Angeline didn’t even scold him for the rude interruption.
“—we were talking about wedding plans, and she was just telling me how excited she is to be planning Holly’s wedding, especially now that it’s real.” Damn Foaly and his big mouth. “Artemis, is it real? Are you getting married?”
“It’s more complicated than that,” Artemis sighed, casting around for an appropriate explanation.
“Wait!” Myles screeched the word with such insistence and conviction that everyone froze. Artemis and his mother turned fast to see what was wrong, but Myles just had his hand out in the universal signal for stop. “Wait, okay?” And, slowly, he backed out of the room, still holding out his hand to signify they should stay put, as one might do to a dog they were training. When he reached the hallway, he turned heel and ran, scampering away and leaving his brothers and his mother staring after him, nonplussed. Nobody spoke until Myles dashed back in, dragging a baffled Juliet behind him.
“What is it, Myles?” Juliet asked, glancing around the room for a clue as to why she was here.
“Mum says Artemis is getting married to Holly for real,” Myles said seriously, and Artemis suddenly knew what this was about. “You said you liked watching real-life drama and this seems really dramatic so I paused them to come and get you.” Myles looked very pleased with himself, and Beckett looked slightly peeved that Myles had had this idea instead of him. Angeline gave a startled giggle.
“Is he being serious?” Juliet asked Artemis, not the least bit ashamed to be prying. Or that a five-year-old had fetched her specifically so that she could pry. In fact, Artemis watched as she ruffled Myles’ dark hair and whispered something to him that Artemis could easily read as ‘good job, little man.’
“I suppose the fewer times I have to explain, the better.” Butler and his father were out for the day—his father at work and Butler on a well deserved day off. But he could tell them later. Or, more likely, Angeline and Juliet would make phone calls shortly after this and both men would be up to date by the time they got home.
“Is that a yes?” Angeline asked eagerly.
“Not exactly. Holly and I have decided against severing our bond, which means that we will stay married and will continue with the wedding as planned,” it was well known in Haven that they were planning a wedding, they couldn’t very well cancel it.
“But the plan was to cancel it,” Juliet pointed out.
“Then we will go on with the wedding despite our earlier plan.”
“My little boy, getting married!” Angeline seemed bursting with joy, and she smiled radiantly at Artemis before gathering him into her arms.
“Mother, please,” Artemis tried to escape her. He didn’t want to give her the wrong impression. “It’s more complicated than you’re imaging. We only decided to keep the bond because of the potential consequences of it being broken.”
“Consequences?” Angeline asked sharply, holding Artemis steady at arm’s length. She knew to be wary of the consequences of magic.
“It’s old magic, our marriage bond. And it’s settled deep in our souls after years of close friendship and repeated shared trauma. And little is known about the bond. Nothing particularly concrete, at least in the way of severing one. But Foaly and No. 1 think that there’s a possibility of death, among other unsavory things, if the bond were to be broken,” especially by the council, though Artemis decided against getting into the court details just now.
“Death?” Angeline repeated, face paling.
“Which is why we’re not going to risk it,” Artemis explained. Juliet whistled, long and low.
“The fairies gonna let you get away with that? After how aggressively progressive you guys have been about your interspecies love?” She asked. Again, she and Butler were the only ones among Artemis’s human friends who had insight into the workings of fairy affairs.
“No, they won’t. But we won’t give them a choice. We’re staying married, one way or another.”
Artemis had correctly predicted the travel of news through Juliet and Angeline to Butler and Artemis Senior. Neither had said much on the topic that evening, but Artemis suspected that something on it would be said eventually. After all, it was a large thing. To be married. To stay married. And he was having a wedding. An arguably real one.
He’d actually get to see whatever wedding dress Holly had ended up with. The thought made his heart flutter, even as it filled him with guilt. Holly didn’t want to marry him. Wouldn’t want to wear that dress—assuming she hadn’t talked Angeline into letting her wear a pantsuit—not for him. But…she would look lovely. And he’d get see her walk down the aisle. Towards him.
“What’re you smiling about?” Holly asked, and Artemis jolted back into the present. He looked up from the napkin orders he’d been filling out and when he met Holly’s eyes he couldn’t help the sudden flush that overtook him. Because his mind had, very unhelpfully, provided a picture of what generally came at the end of the aisle right when he looked to Holly’s face. A face which now grinned broadly at the color on his own.
“I was just…” Artemis gestured lamely at his forms, “Trying to decide between creme, blush, or eggshell for the napkins.”
“Well, we have to go with blush now, don’t you think?”
“I know I am.”
“It’s got an undertone of soft pink—,”
“A little more subdued than your face?”
“Holly, I’m serious. Don’t you want to know what color they actually are before you decide?”
“No. I’m the bride and I say I want blushing napkins to match my blushing groom.”
“You’re impossible.” But he sighed and marked down blush on the order form.
“Impossible and thirsty. Go get me something to drink?” Holly asked, sugar sweet. Artemis thought about it for a moment, decided a walk to the kitchen would be nice, and stood up to. Holly burst into laughter. “Arty, I was joking.”
“I thought you might be,” Artemis admitted, but he didn’t sit back down. “But I also know you’d appreciate a glass of orange juice even if you were.”
“I can get my own orange juice,” Holly told him, the tips of her ears burning red. “Sit down.”
“No, I’ve already decided to get it for you.” But he paused in the doorway. “I think we made the right choice. About the napkins.”
“Oh, go get me my damned juice,” Holly snapped, but her scowl was half-hearted and they both knew it.
It didn’t take long for Artemis to procure a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice for Holly. But it took long enough for his father to find his way into the office that had been taken over for wedding preparations and planning. Artemis froze in the hallway just outside the door as he heard his father’s voice.
“So the wedding is back on?” He asked, casual and friendly.
“It was never off,” Holly said, and Artemis could imagine her shrug. “Or, more accurately, it was never on before now.”
“I respect you, Captain Short, but you have to understand my apprehension.” Artemis could have groaned out loud. He’d thought they were past this. “Are you sure all this is a good idea? Getting married…I think it might be very difficult for Artemis to continue being with you as he has these past months.” And Artemis recognized, by now, the particular brand of concern that snuck into his father’s voice. He’d noticed too, then. And he worried, no doubt, for Artemis’s delicate heart just like Angeline and Butler did. Artemis had to go in there. Had to stop the conversation before his father said something that would give it away. He could never tell Holly that he loved her, but if, somehow, he could, if he did…it wouldn’t be like this. He was poised to rush in and interrupt the conversation when he heard the scrape of chair legs against wood floor. Holly was standing up, and by the sound of that scraping, she was fired up.
“I understand your feelings towards me,” Holly said, steely and unflinching. Artemis was sure that she assumed what he had at first: that Artemis Senior still had qualms with her respectability and character. “But I promise you we’ve got the same goal. You think I want to hijack Artemis’s whole life with this bond? You think I’m happy to be stealing his youth like this? I want what’s best for Artemis, just like you do. But the alternative to this could be death. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to risk that. Better to have him bound to me than to have him dead. Or brain dead. Or incapable of emotion. Or any of the other possible repercussions.”
“You’re right, of course,” Artemis Senior said, sounding only slightly shaken—a side effect of imaging having to bury your child. Again. Everyone got like that when Artemis and dead were used in the same sentence, as if even the mention—the thought—of it could bring him back into death’s embrace. But they needn’t worry. He didn’t plan on dying again any time soon.
Artemis swept into the room before either Holly or his father could say anything more on any of the possible subjects—whether Artemis’s death, his undying love for Holly, or the small matter of his father worrying Holly was unsavory, the resulting conversation wasn’t one Artemis wanted to happen. Both occupants of the room looked to him with a mixture of surprise and guilt, like they’d been caught. And they had been caught. But, for once, Artemis displayed some level of tact and pretended he hadn’t heard anything at all.
“Your juice,” he said, holding out the tall glass to Holly. She took it gladly.
“Of course.” Their eyes caught and lingered a bit too long. Artemis Senior cleared his throat.
“I’ll let you kids get back to your wedding planning, then,” and with that, he strode to the door, pausing only once to shoot Artemis a concerned glance.
“Thank you, Father,” Artemis said, grateful he was removing himself. Holly sipped her juice, watching the door he’d just left through. She waited until he was well and truly gone before looking to Artemis with a little furrow between her eyebrows.
“Do you think he hates me?” It was a surprise to hear Holly ask him that. Strange that she’d actually care about such things.
“No,” Artemis answered honestly. “He’s just…”
“We all are, I guess,” she sighed. “When it comes to you.”
“There’s no need for that. In fact, since I’ve come back from death, don’t you think I’ve proven myself capable of being alright, even against all odds?”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
Quietly, “I know.” Artemis sat down on the couch he’d abandoned earlier and Holly sat down carefully beside him when he gestured to the open seat. “I still have nightmares,” he admitted. He’d never spoken of this to anyone. Not even his mother. Not even Butler. “Nightmares about your death, Holly.”
“Mine? On Hybras?”
“You saved me within a minute,” she said.
“Fifty-eight seconds, actually.”
“Artemis, I’m fine. Like you said, it never happened.”
“But I remember it. I let it happen.” Her eyes, wide and pleading. His, filled with tears. He could still smell Hybras, if he let himself be consumed by that memory. Sometimes, at night, he couldn’t help it. Holly grabbed his hand and only as she did so, holding tight enough to hurt, did he realize it had been shaking.
“You saved me. You didn’t let me die, you didn’t abandon me. You did what you had to and it worked. It never happened, not to me. It was nothing, you shouldn’t…”
“But it doesn’t work that way,” Artemis reminded her. She reached to put her glass down on the coffee table, cluttered with papers she didn’t bother moving. Then she shifted on the couch, leaning in close to him and tucking her feet up onto the cushion on her other side as she rested her head against his shoulder. She sighed.
“I know. D’Arvit but do I know too well about those nightmares. They’ve gotten better since we started sharing a bed. Now, half the time I wake up from one of those dreams, you’re there. Just right there. And it helps to know I could reach out and touch you and you’d still be there. Not like in my dreams.”
“Yes,” Artemis agreed softly. “It helps.”
“It’s bad, Artemis,” Foaly said the instant Artemis picked up the emergency call from him—so urgent it could not even wait for Artemis to get to his office. A call to his cellular decide from Foaly had been enough to make Artemis worry, and the greeting did nothing to help.
“What is is, Foaly?” He asked, fighting off panic. “If it Holly? Is she okay?”
“She’s fine, mudboy, but the both of you might not be for very long.”
“Why? What’s happened?” Artemis wished Foaly would stop stalling and just tell him whatever it was that was so terrible.
“It’s the case. I know a guy who has an ear into the council’s business. He’s just told me their argument against you.”
“Nothing we can’t handle, I’m sure.”
“I don’t know that we can. It’s got to do with The Book.”
“The Book of The People?”
“That’s the one. They’re going to use it against you.”
“That’s absurd, there’s nothing in The Book about union between fairies and humans.”
“So it’ll be a stretch, but it will still work.”
“Every argument they could make is easily refuted,” Artemis protested.
“It’s The Book, Artemis. The Book. Our most sacred and upheld book of rules. We follow it like nothing you humans could comprehend. Even a construed and iffy rule will be hard to get The People to ignore or overturn. It’s almost certainly a doomed cause.”
“So Holly and I will be forced apart against our wishes and there’s nothing we can do about it?”
“You could try to run, but you’d get a mind wipe and Holly would get prison for life. You can’t evade the law. Not ours. Not for long.”
“This is bad,” Artemis agreed. He tried to think, but what could he possibly say to turn fairies against their sacred text? Their guiding document? “But we have to try.”
“Of course we’re gonna try,” Foaly said, sounding offended Artemis would even feel the need to point this out. “I just thought I’d warn you where this’ll probably end up.”
The weeks preceding the trial were spent in a flurry of furious planning, prepping, and rehearsing. Every possible angle had been considered and prepared for. Every reaction and expression had been thought out. There was nothing more that they could have done, and when the day arrived, they were ready. As ready as they could be.
Artemis was nervous but this was where he excelled. Using his intellect to win, finding loopholes and refuting fact—remolding fact, if he needed. He could do this. He had to do this. So he held his nerves in and presented himself as calm and collected. Holly was beside him the whole time, hand wrapped around his. She had the expression of an elf about to face down doom. She’d already decided they’d lose, but she was staring it in the face with poise and unbreakable bravery. How many times had Artemis seen her wear that expression? And, thus far, they’d always eked by. Today would be no different.
“The Book has guided us, The People, since it was scribed.” It started, and, just as Foaly’s information had claimed, it was about The Book. “It has led us true and wise. It is our most sacred and precious possession as a collective. By following its commands, we have stayed safe and civilized. By following it, we honor our ancestors and the earth—the magic which it lends us. We can not cast off its advice, not even for love.” Here there was a pause to allow gasps and murmurs as the fairies in the courtroom digested that this was the argument the council intended to use. “Every fairy has memorized its most potent caution: But, Fairy, remember this above all: / I am not for those in mud that crawl, / And forever doomed shall be the one / Who betrays my secrets one by one.” The words rang loud and clear through the room and there was a sort of reverence to them. It was the obvious choice and Artemis had anticipated their usage of it. He had arguments against it to fill hours—Artemis had already gotten his hands on The Book years ago, what did it matter now if Holly’s personal copy were technically his as well through their marriage? He already knew all its secrets, and none had been granted personally by Holly. Beyond that, it didn’t offer clearer insight or opinion on a marriage between the Fairy and those in mud that crawl. It was ridiculous to hold this up as a ‘command’ against their union instead of for the caution it was. And, more than that, The People had disobeyed The Book before, and in a more severe way than this. The Rule of Dwelling had been abolished and the spell attached to it untangled. It was hard for Artemis to believe that this argument against him and Holly could possibly win the approval of The People.
The trial got started in earnest, then, and Artemis presented his points flawlessly, with just the right amount of conviction mixed with a deep respect for The Book. Once it got started, it passed in a blur. After all the work they’d put into it, the duration of the actual trial seemed to be nothing at all. Holly’s grip on him tightened steadily through the proceedings and her nails bit into his skin. He didn’t mind. Never once tried to shake her off. He could tell, just as she could, where this was going.
“It is the official ruling of The People that Holly Short and Artemis Fowl II are forbidden to the sacred right of the marriage bond on the grounds that it disobeys The Book.” And it was over.
Even after every brilliant argument Artemis had put forth, they’d lost. He’d been hard-pressed to believe it, that the council could win with such a tenuous argument just because The People wouldn’t disobey their book. But all members had voted against the marriage, and none of the observing fairies had called that ruling into question—which was their right, if they so wished. But the entire council had voted and that vote was backed by The Book. So all the observers filed out of the room, chattering among themselves. Artemis stayed put. He’d…lost. He couldn’t do it. He’d done everything he could but it hadn’t been enough.
Holly’s hand slipped from his and it felt all wrong now, without hers in it. He’d failed her. But soon arms were wrapping around him and her face was pressed into his chest and she was hugging him as tightly as she ever had before. He returned it without hesitation.
“We’ll be okay,” Holly whispered.
“I’m sorry.” He said. “I’m so sorry.”
She just shook her head and held tighter. But they weren’t allowed to stay interlocked for long. Rough and uncaring hands pulled them apart and Artemis was suddenly all too aware that Butler had been required to stay outside the courthouse. Looking around the room, it was completely empty but for himself, Holly, and the team of L.E.P. Officers currently tugging their hands behind their backs and securing cuffs around them. Holly gave a fight; of course she did. Got a couple of the officers pretty good too, but there were too many of them and they got her detained as surely as they had Artemis.
“This is not proper procedure,” Artemis said calmly, and then found the room going dark. The last thing he saw before succumbing to unconsciousness was Holly’s panicked face. He wished he could save her.
Artemis woke up in a small chamber with an ominous looking contraption that somewhat resembled a coffin in the middle of the floor. And it was just his size. He sat up, dazed, and looked around. He was on a surface not unlike a doctor’s examination table. And in a thin paper gown to match.
“Holly.” He said, his spinning head honing in on the panic on her face when last he’d seen her. “Where’s Holly?”
“She’s perfectly safe,” a soothing voice told him as a door in the wall opened and a pretty pixie stepped in. For one confused and terrifying moment, Artemis thought she was Opal Koboi.
“What is the meaning of this?” Artemis demanded.
“I am Doctor Delauc, and I’ll have you fixed up and back home in no time. The council thought it was best for the bond to be removed as quickly as possible,” she smiled, voice still trying to calm him. It couldn’t. Nothing could. But he didn’t let it show. He closed his eyes and considered for a moment why this would be necessary.
“The trial was rigged,” he said, a new comprehension dawning on him. “Every fairy allowed a say in the outcome was against my marriage to Holly in the first place. That’s biased, Doctor.” She only smiled at him. “The rest of the population will believe that it was a fair trial, they’ll believe the council voted how they did due to loyalty to The Book.” Just like Foaly and Holly had. Just like he had. “But Iggy Noble has been replacing his council members over the last six months. To ensure they’d vote as he wished. I should have seen it.” How had he not seen it? He knew the answer. Holly had distracted him. The simple joy of married life had pushed all scheming from his mind. Ironic, considering the ‘married life’ was, itself, a scheme. “Now you must be rid of the bond before anyone can get suspicious.”
“Now, Artemis, don’t look at me like that. You know it won’t do for a fairy to marry a human. For the good of The People, we can’t let that happen. Imagine what future it could bring.”
Qwan, waxing poetic about a world where humans and fairies got along. Fairies on the streets of Haven, stopping Holly and Artemis to say they were glad to see that such different creatures could love each other so deeply. His mother and Caballine, calling each other practically every day, already close friends. Tabloids and movies and books centered around Holly and Artemis’s love. A city full of fairies excited to see a world in which a human could marry a fairy. A world in which humans and fairies could get along.
“But it’s the future The People want,” Artemis spat, disgusted by this doctor and her council.
“Wanting something doesn’t make it right,” she chided. And Artemis paused. Because he knew something about that. Wanting Holly didn’t make it right to be with her. But—
“This isn’t right.” But he knew there was no point. Doctor Delauc was armed with the belief that she was doing the right thing, and there was nothing more dangerous than that.
“Shall we begin?”
A chill ran through Artemis. He’d forgotten in his righteous fury what he was here for. “No,” he said, and she laughed softly.
“Don’t worry. It will be alright.”
“No,” he said again, louder. He lurched to his feet. “You can’t break it. If you do, I could—,”
“And what do I care for a reformed evil human?” She asked lightly, a delicate eyebrow raising.
It occurred to him then that there was another reason this had to be done quickly. He could petition the court to keep the bond on the grounds that to break it could be deadly. They’d go through a long process of getting divorced, legally. But, perhaps, they’d be allowed to stay married magically, if only for their safety.
“No!” He said, charging for the door, but it was locked. “I need to tell my family, I can’t—,”
The world went black once more and this time all Artemis could think of was his family, gathered around another grave.
Artemis woke up.
He woke up.
That was a relief. He was alive, at least. And his brain functions were all there. And—and he still loved Holly. He was, by all counts, okay. He felt no different. Tired, a little sore, but entirely like himself. Artemis dragged his eyes open, struggled to sit up. He was in that same room, back on that thinly padded table. And he wondered if it was possible that the procedure to break the bond had not yet happened. Perhaps he had only been knocked out because the good doctor had found him annoying. He almost smiled, imagining Holly’s voice: it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.
“Holly!” He hadn’t meant to say it aloud, so perhaps his mind was a little addled. Was she alright? Where was she now? Was their bond really…gone?
The door opened again, and there was Doctor Delauc. She smiled tolerantly at him and nodded to a sprite hanging back in the doorway that Artemis could only assume was an assistant. He shuffled in nervously, placed Artemis’s suit—cleaned and ironed, he was sure; it was common protocol—on the foot of his table, then scurried away. As if he thought Artemis would pull out a death ray and shoot him.
“You may get dressed,” the doctor told him.
“It’s done, then?” He asked.
“Yes. Your marriage and your bond with Holly Short have both been terminated.”
“I want to see her.”
“Get dressed, please. We will debrief you and Ms. Short in a moment.”
“Very well,” Artemis said, waiting for Dr. Delauc to leave him so he could do as she asked. She took her time, and Artemis had the feeling that she was doing it purposefully and specifically just to unnerve him. He changed into his suit as quickly as he could, and the now intimately familiar softness and fresh scent of fairy cleansing proved that he’d been right about the laundering.
Delauc appeared in the doorway as soon as he’d finished, and Artemis decided not to think on the implications of that too much. She led him through hallways and he followed silently, knowing that bombarding her with questions just yet would be pointless. He was let into a chamber and was immediately tackled by a small red-haired elf. Not caring that they were being watched by Delauc and now the head of the Haven council, Artemis scooped Holly up in his arms and held her to him tight. Nothing right now mattered beyond this: they were both safe and they were together.
“Is it gone?” Artemis asked her, and he could feel her grip tightening around him.
“I don’t know—I think it might be,” she said. Artemis nodded. He couldn’t tell. He’d thought that he’d be able to tell. He’d been sure it would feel like a gaping hole in his soul, to have Holly ripped from him. It made him doubt now that the council had succeeded in their attempt to break the bond. But Holly—surely she’d know. She was a creature of magic. She was more in tune with it than he could ever be. She must know. And she thought it was gone.
At last, he set her back down on her feet and, hands grasped together, they faced Iggy Noble, sitting smugly behind his desk.
“I’m so sorry about your marriage,” he told them, voice taunting and detestable. “But since it’s fallen apart, I’ll have to revoke all privileges previously granted to you because of it. After this, Mr. Fowl, I doubt we’ll be seeing you in Haven again, so I suggest you pack carefully tonight.”
“And you’re sure you’ve managed to break an age-old bond that not even your most powerful warlock could unravel? In a matter of hours?”
“We are,” Noble showed all his teeth in a wretched smile. “But would you like to see proof?” It was clear that he wanted to show them his proof very much. Without even waiting for a reply, he waved for Delauc to come forward. She stepped neatly up to the desk and produced two small vials from her pockets, placed them carefully on the desk, and stepped away. They were identical, the bottles. Both filled with golden, spinning magic. It seemed impossible, but—
“Is that it?” Holly asked, rushing forward—dragging Artemis with her as a consequence—and then grabbed for one of the little bottles. Noble slapped her hand away and she actually growled. Noble regarded her warily and Artemis noticed that Holly and Noble each looked a little scuffed up. He smiled, despite it all, imagining the hell Holly must have raised before he’d come in.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it,” Noble asked, taking a vial into his own hand and examining it from every angle, “that such a huge problem could be so easily extracted. And look at how small your grand love really is, in its most basic form.”
“You stole it out of us?” Holly asked, aghast, her face crumpling into disgust and rage. “To force magic out of another creature is—beyond terrible. It’s unspeakable.” And even Artemis had to admit he felt the violation, watching Noble turn magic he’d stolen from him, or from Holly, this way and that.
“A necessity, Captain. I’m sure you understand. But you can keep the magic if you’d like. It’s meaningless now.” And he offered the vial out. Holly snatched it from him with more aggression than the movement should have been able to convey. She swept up its twin from the desk too and held them tight against her chest. Artemis could see now the neat initials on the stoppers. H.S. on one and A.F. on its match.
“You’re despicable. This was all an underhanded, dirty trick. When it gets out—,”
“Make no mistake, it won’t get out. Not as long as you want a job. Not as long as you want to be credited as a hero instead of a crackpot fool, driven mad for love of a human. It’s happened before. A good elf turning rotten.” The reference to Turnball Root and the threat were both clear. But Iggy Noble was a terrible fool if he thought Holly cared more about a job or a reputation than doing what was right. But even if Iggy Noble got what he deserved, he’d already gotten what he’d wanted. One way or another, Artemis and Holly’s love story was at its end.
Butler was being held in a fortified holding cell by the L.E.P.. Artemis had easily been able to identify the sizable damage he’d inflicted on the city on the way there. Of course he’d have gone berserk when Artemis had not come out of the trail. Artemis just hoped he hadn’t inflicted any irreversible harm. When he and Holly were let into the room Butler stooped in, the first thing he did was a body check for injuries.
“I’m fine, old friend,” Artemis said tiredly. “They pulled a dirty trick on us, but I should have anticipated it. I’m fully functional, I promise.” But Butler was not satisfied until he’d run through the whole procedure—which included asking Artemis a variety of personal questions to ensure he was himself, and some challenging questions to check for mental functions. Finally, when deemed suitably safe, Artemis was pulled into another hug. It could have been bone-crushing, but Butler was acutely aware of his strength and how it was being used, so the hug was gentle and careful, though tight enough to feel.
“You’re never going anywhere without me again.”
“You say that every time I almost die,” Artemis said, patting Butler’s shoulder as he was released from the hug. “And yet we never seem to be finished with this particular conversation.”
“This time I mean it.”
“It won’t be necessary,” Artemis rubbed a hand at his temple. “I won’t be welcome back in Haven in the foreseeable future.”
“Is that so?” Butler said, turning to Holly. She nodded, and he grabbed her into a one-armed hug. He didn’t betray any more emotion than that, simply nodding and saying, “You’ll be okay, the both of you.”
As they drove back to the little yellow house, Artemis and Holly told Butler about the trial and the extraction. There was no better way to put it, though thinking of it in those terms was unpleasant. In fact, the entire experience had been unpleasant. Butler listened calmly, then told them about the events on his side of things. He had not, as it turned out, hurt or broken anything too horribly.
“I’ll leave you here to pack, Artemis,” Butler said when they reached the gate to the white picket fence.
“Please, Butler, go back to Fowl Manor. I’ll be along in a couple hours. There’s no reason for you to wait.”
Butler gave Artemis a hard look, but nodded. “Don’t get into any more trouble tonight,” he said before retreating. Artemis was thankful that Butler had allowed him this, though he could see in his friend’s eyes how badly he had wanted to keep Artemis in his line of sight. But Butler knew, of course, how hard this was for Artemis. And how important it was, too.
Artemis and Holly worked in silence, packing up all his things neatly into boxes. It was amazing how many of his belongings had made it down to Haven during the time of their marriage. Slowly but surely, he’d moved into this house. And now he had to move out all at once. Still, they made quick work of it together and in what seemed like no time at all, seven boxes and a duffle were stacked by the door.
It was time to go.
“Holly—,” what to say? “Thank you.”
“It’s been,” she paused, looking around the house, at the pile of boxes, at her hands. Anywhere but at Artemis. Finally, she gave an exasperated sigh and looked him full in the face. “We were alright, weren’t we?” He had no idea if she was talking about how they’d been ‘alright’ at being married or that they were alright even with the bond broken.
“Yes,” Artemis agreed. Either way, it was true. “We were.”
“This is what we wanted, isn’t it?” She asked, eyes slipping again to the door. “We did it. We got it all. The bond is broken and neither of us is any worse for wear.” Not entirely true. Artemis was certainly worse for wear. How was he ever supposed to feel whole again, now that Holly wasn’t fit into his soul? Now that he knew what it felt like to have that completeness? But he couldn’t complain. Holly had gotten what she wanted, even if the means by which they’d come by it had been unpleasant. He had no right to make her question that. And he thought—perhaps naively or wishfully or stupidly—he thought that he might be able to make her question that this was what they wanted. Her eyes were big and sad and wanting of something. Almost…almost it felt like there could be more to them than what there’d always been. But he couldn’t make it messy. Couldn’t do that to her.
“We did it,” he said, urging a smile onto his face. “Just as we always do.” Even if he’d said something different, and even if Holly wanted him to have said something different—a big if—it wouldn’t have mattered. Their bond was broken. Their marriage deemed illegal. There was no future in a love between them. And Holly deserved a love with a future.
Holly nodded and her face was unreadable. Artemis knew this was where they were meant to say goodbye. But neither of them said a thing. Then, slowly, Holly reached into her pocket and pulled out two little bottles of writhing magic. They clinked as they rolled in her palm, held out to Artemis.
“Do you want yours?” She asked with a laugh that didn’t sound quite right. “For old time’s sake?”
“No,” he said and something shifted in her eyes and she started to draw back her hand. “But I’d like yours if you don’t mind?”
Holly’s hand stuttered in its retreat, then she maneuvered one of the bottles to her fingers and closed the other in her palm. Artemis took it and noticed with relief that Holly seemed pleased. “Take good care of it, will you?”
“I’m offended you even have to ask.”
“It’ll be strange, not having you around,” Holly said, finally voicing what they’d both been thinking.
“It will be awful, not having you visit so often.”
“This is goodbye, then?”
“No,” Artemis said, stern and sure. “Goodbyes aren’t for us. I’ll miss you Holly, but we’ll still be—as we always were. It will be harder, but it isn’t goodbye.”
“You’re right,” she smiled. “You damn clever mudboy, who ever gave you permission to get good at emotions too? It’s unfair.”
“Life isn’t fair,” he told her, then pulled her close and hugged her again. It wasn’t goodbye. Not really. But it felt like it.
In another couple of minutes that seemed completely insufficient time, Artemis left the house with his last box in his arms. And it occurred to him as the gate closed shut behind him that it wasn’t his house anymore. Not his and Holly’s. Just Holly’s. And, presumably, eventually, Holly’s to share with someone else.
Artemis left his boxes in the car. He and Butler could come retrieve them later. But he wasn’t in the mood to haul them all up to his room and unpack them right now. All he brought in with him was the magic stolen out of Holly, carefully tucked away in his pocket. Artemis wasn’t sure what to expect when he went inside and he paused at the door, steeling himself. He wasn’t sure what Butler had told his family of the events of the trial or of the following excitement. He dreaded the pitying looks or ceaseless questions that would soon befall him. But there was no point in putting it off.
Artemis walked in to find his entire family gathered in the sitting room just off the entrance hall, and he was struck then by his uncanny luck. He was alive and well, despite it all. He felt stupid—a rare feeling indeed—to have dreaded this. Here were his parents and brothers, all waiting so that they might be here for him when he came home. And he had. He’d come home to his family tonight, which had, hours before, seemed unlikely.
His mother looked up from her reading and smiled.
“Alright, Arty?” She asked. He nodded, but her smile fell away so he must not have been convincing. She was starting to stand, no doubt to come interrogate him, but just then Beckett’s curly head popped up from behind the couch to grin toothily at him and the reality of his luck truly sunk in. The reality of what could have been instead. “You’re shaking,” Angeline said, alarmed.
“Strange,” Artemis said, because it was. He wasn’t prone to such obvious signs of distress, but he noted, as his mother had, how his hand shook as it reached out to tousle Beckett’s hair. “But you needn’t worry, Mother,” he told her, and he meant it. Mostly. Then he reached over the couch to heft Beckett up and over it, crushing him into a hug. “I’m home.” And that in itself was a miracle. Had been a miracle for fourteen months already.
Beckett, perceptive as he was, wrapped his little arms around Artemis and nestled in close, knowing that his big brother needed a hug. And then Angeline swept across the room, gathering Myles up on the way, to offer her comfort too, followed shortly by Artemis Senior.
Artemis would tell them of his day, but later. For now, he let himself be glad for what he had and tried to let it overshadow what he’d lost.
Life slipped back into what it had once been, and marriage seemed a topic well and truly passed. Artemis thought he ought to be grateful that he’d been able to experience it at all, and with the only person he’d have wanted to marry too. What a great luxury it had been. But a week was gone, and then another, and by the time four had disappeared without an in-person visit from Holly, that luxury he had experienced felt more like a fantasy. He pulled out his little bottle of stolen magic, sometimes, just to assure himself of the bond’s existence.
Now Artemis lay in bed, falling slowly into sleep when his phone lit up. The ringtone was Holly’s and he had it in his hand not even a second later.
“Are you alright?” He asked as greeting.
“Fine, mudboy,” she laughed. “Can’t I call just to say hello?”
“Of course,” Artemis said, even though she hadn’t for weeks. And neither had he. They’d tried, at first, to talk every night, but somehow that made the ache worse. They couldn’t see each other in a real way, couldn’t touch, couldn’t be together. And the imitation of what they’d so recently had had been a hard adjustment that they’d given up on adjusting to. But maybe now they were ready to try it, with the memory of marriage a little farther behind them than it had been last they’d attempted this.
“How’s the moon tonight?” Holly asked, and Artemis smiled sadly for her.
“Shall I go ask it?”
“Yes. Someone needs to make sure she’s doing alright.”
Artemis shoved away his blankets and got to his feet, pushing open the balcony doors—which had, already, been left ajar out of habit and sentiment—he strode into the night air and looked up to the moon.
“She looks well,” Artemis told Holly. “Beautiful and full tonight.” I wish you were here to see it. But he didn’t say it. Holly missed the moon and the stars and the sky terribly already. It was hard for her, Artemis knew, to be back to scarce visits to the surface.
“Wasn’t Artemis a moon goddess?” Holly asked.
“Among other things, yes.”
“That suits you.”
“You think I’d make a good moon guardian?” Artemis wondered, amused.
“I think you and the moon are similar in a lot of ways.”
“Don’t mock me,” Holly told him, but he could hear the soft laughter in her voice. “You’ve both got one side you show to the world and one you hide. You’re both associated with a darkness even though you bring light—,”
“Metaphors, really? You are going soft.”
“Shut up, I could be a great poet and you know it.”
“If you say so,” Artemis said, but he was glad that this was a voice call, or else Holly would have called him on his blush.
“And I miss you both,” Holly finished. “So, see, you’re a lot like the moon.”
“You’re feeling sentimental this evening,” Artemis observed. “Is there any reason?”
“Not really. Kind of. It’s just—you can’t understand what it’s like down here right now, Arty. Everywhere I go and everywhere I look there’s you and us. But I haven’t really seen you since the trial.” Artemis nodded, though, like his blush, Holly had no way of seeing it. Her situation in Haven made sense. She lived alone in the house he’d designed for her, slept alone in the bed they’d shared, woke up alone in that bed after nightmares. “The fairies of Haven are in somewhat of an uproar,” she said, which Artemis had trouble connecting to her previous statement for a moment.
“The news of that wretched councilelf was leaked?”
“Not by me, if that’s what you’re asking.” It was. “Foaly and I were brainstorming ways to tell our story without it being seen as mad ravings of a spiteful elf. But then the news broke itself. People started questioning the decision that was made as the coverage of the trial was broadcast a week or so ago. No matter how Iggy Noble tried to spin it, your arguments were good. And theirs was a stretch. A lot of things about it add up to underhanded plays, from the quick decision on the verdict to the way it wasn’t questioned to the immediate breaking of our bond afterwards.”
“And the people cared enough to add all of that up?” Artemis asked, surprised at the investment Haven had in his and Holly’s relationship, though by now he should not be.
“Yes. They found that Iggy Noble has been rearranging his council since you and I went public with out marriage. And that every fairy at the trial was vehemently against us from the start. And there are rumors that the bond was broken in a crude and dangerous way without our knowledge or consent.”
“I wonder where that rumor could have come from.”
“You can’t prove anything.”
“I’m hardly the one you need to worry about.”
“Iggy Noble can try his worst, I’m not worried.”
“You never are.”
“Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets kicked off the council for this.”
“Really?” Artemis asked with interest. “Such drastic action would be taken over our trial?”
“Humans might let each other get away with corruption, but fairies like our governing bodies to be fair and just without secret agendas and a track record for foul play.”
“How enlightened,” Artemis said. “Perhaps we humans should take our cues from you.”
“You really should. It would make the world a better place.”
“I’ve no doubt.”
“But the reason I called is because there’s talk about reversing the decision on our trial.” Silence hung over the line. Artemis didn’t think he so much as breathed for a long moment.
“Is there?” He asked weakly.
“Or a retrial. I thought it was nonsense, since there are still a good number of those glad to see our marriage abolished. But today—,” a deep breath in. “Today I found out that a law is being drafted that would make it illegal to break up marriages on grounds of species.”
“I had wondered if the council’s ability to break up our marriage would make others nervous for their rights,” Artemis mused. “We weren’t the only interspecies relationship in Haven, just the most conspicuous and controversial. And that trial set a precedent against all interspecies relations, not just human-fairy ones.”
“And Iggy Noble’s behind the times on those relationships too, it would seem. But, Artemis, if they make this law—what does that mean for us?”
“I’m not sure,” Artemis admitted.
“Right,” Holly said, and she sounded a little cross. But Artemis had no time to inquire why. “How’re things going with you? Did your family take the news well?”
“They were glad to hear that they needn’t worry for my death anytime soon,” Artemis answered, bewildered at the change in tone and topic.
“I imagine your father was glad to be rid of me.”
“My—? I told you, Holly, he’s over whatever issues he may have had with you. He got over all that months ago. Father was no happier to hear of the council’s decision than anyone. Except, perhaps, my mother. She took it hardest.” After Artemis, that was.
“She had put a lot of work into that wedding,” Holly said, and her tone was less chilly than it had been. Artemis breathed a sigh of relief, thinking himself out of whatever trouble he’d gotten into with her. “But she can save it and use it all on your real wedding.”
“My real wedding?” Artemis repeated, incredulous.
“Go call up Daphne or Minerva now that you’re a free man again. Charm one of them into marrying you.”
“Why would I—? Holly, I’m sure I’ve said it before but I have no intention of ever getting married again. To anyone.” But Holly had already hung up. What had he said wrong? Why was she so mad? They’d started out well enough. Artemis sighed and looked up again at the moon.
I miss you both, she’d said. But then she’d gone glacial and hung up on him. He could scream with frustration. But he didn’t. He wasn’t an emotional creature. So he just walked back into his room and shut the doors tight behind him. And then every window too, for good measure. And, finally, he crawled back into bed and fell asleep, the bad mood following him into his dreams.
“You’ll never guess what I just got news of,” Foaly said, very rudely interrupting Artemis mid-sentence.
“What?” Artemis asked, less than thrilled to be derailed like this.
“Iggy Noble got the boot,” Foaly was grinning widely, obviously expecting a similar reaction from Artemis. Admittedly, the petty revenge was satisfying. Doubly so because he’d had no part in it—which was strange, as usually Artemis liked to exact his own revenge. But it was better than anything Artemis could have done to know that Councilelf Noble had lost his position because his own people had insisted on it.
“How splendid,” Artemis said, but Foaly, blowing air through his lips, was dissatisfied with the lack of jumping up and down in glee.
“Does nothing excite you anymore?” Foaly asked with a pout. “Back to being an unfeeling little turd just because—wait, wait, wait. This isn’t a side effect from the bond being broken, is it?”
“I’m still capable of experiencing a full range of emotion, Foaly, if that is what you’re asking.”
“Wouldn’t hurt you to show it every now and then,” Foaly muttered. “You haven’t even said thank you to me for my part in getting that law passed.”
“The law…that forbids the council’s ability to break up interspecies marriages?” Artemis asked, surprised by the news.
“You didn’t know?” Foaly asked, surprised by this news.
“No, I did not. I’ve been too preoccupied with the goings-on up here to be monitoring fairy news as diligently as usual.” Not entirely true. His ignorance of recent news from Haven was more by design than accident. He just needed a moment away from it all after such full immersion to reacclimatize to his role as observer rather than participator in that world. And two months wasn’t enough of a break.
“Holly didn’t tell you?”
“No.” It hadn’t even occurred to Artemis that she would have. They hadn’t talked much recently. Foaly’s gaze was scrutinizing, but Artemis pointedly ignored it.
“Holly and I both gave testimonies for the case,” Foaly said. Artemis wasn’t sure what Foaly wanted him to do with that information.
He settled on, “Thank you.”
“Sure thing, Mudboy.”
“And is Holly…has she been with anyone as of late?”
“For the love of—you too?” Foaly let out a horsey sigh and Artemis was somewhat taken aback by his reaction.
“Me too?” He asked, nonplussed.
“No, Mudboy, Holly hasn’t been with anyone lately. She’s had two beaus in the last twenty years and she puked on one. Any guesses who the second is?”
“Ah. I only wondered if she might be otherwise occupied. Or felt any misgivings in telling me she’d found someone.”
“No, you only wondered if she’d moved on. You two are both hopeless idiots. Anyway, Arty, I’ve gotta go. Unlike you, I’ve got a wife to attend to.” And he’d disconnected before Artemis could protest to the unfairness of that last quip. After all, it wasn’t Artemis’s fault that he didn’t have a wife. If it were up to him…
But it wasn’t. It was a two-way relationship, a marriage. He couldn’t be alone in wanting it. And there was the matter of the court decision. He couldn’t win their case, it was out of his hands. Nothing to be done. There’d been no choice at that point. But now…now the ruling had been overturned. They could, if they wanted, go back to court. Get remarried.
Artemis pushed off from his desk, his chair rolling aimlessly across the floor. He pulled out his phone and stared down at it. It had been two weeks since he’d talked with Holly last. It had been stilted and awkward. Artemis didn’t know how to mend it. Should he call her? Would that help?
You too? Foaly had asked. Was Holly inquiring after his love life as well, then? It was ridiculous that she would be, he’d said perfectly clearly and on multiple occasions that he wasn’t interested in dating or marriage. Not if it was with anyone besides her. Not that he could tell her that. She deserved better than his love.
Artemis pushed out of his chair, discarded his phone on his bed, and made for the balcony. A new habit he’d developed since his time with Holly was reduced to nothing. She’d walked through these doors so often, touched down softly right here. He missed her so much. Judging from Foaly’s exasperation with the pair of them, he wasn’t alone in the aching for her, for them. But she was upset with him, and while he wasn’t sure exactly why, he knew it to be true. He ought to apologize. But she wouldn’t accept it unless he knew what he was saying sorry for. The truth was, he’d apologize for anything. He’d apologize for every last thing he’d ever done if it would make her talk to him again.
He already repented every day for his love of her. He didn’t deserve to love her as he did. He had no right to it. But that didn’t stop him. And it never would. The truth of it hit him then, as he looked up at the moon, waiting—for that’s what he was always doing; waiting—fruitlessly for Holly to touch down right here next to him. This love wasn’t going anywhere. And it seemed, suddenly, a disservice to keep it to himself.
He might not have any right to love Holly, but nor did he have any right to keep it from her. To deny her the opportunity to decide for herself whether she wanted it or not. A tiny spark of hope had settled into Artemis months ago, the sliver of a thought. An impossible thought that maybe, just maybe, Holly would want it. He’d ignored it for so long out of some misguided sense of nobility. Thinking he was doing what was best for her by keeping his feelings to himself. But Holly was a grown elf, she was perfectly capable of deciding what was best for her and who was Artemis to take that choice from her?
“I should tell her,” he said. To himself and the quiet grounds and the night sky and the bright moon. But there was, of course, another reason he’d buried that spark of hope deep in his heart.
He was afraid.
Terribly, horribly afraid that it was wrong. That he was wrong. That Holly wouldn’t return his feelings. Worse, that she’d react to them how she had every reason to; with disgust and betrayal and hate.
Artemis slipped a hand into his pocket and withdrew a bottle of glittering, tumbling magic, tiny and bright. And, in his fingers, it looked a lot like the spark of hope in his heart. He closed it in his hand, held it gentle but tight, then made his way swiftly into his room to collect his phone before he could change his mind.
“Artemis?” Holly’s voice was heavy with sleep. “Artemis—what’s wrong?” The sleep was gone, replaced with razor-sharp alert.
“Nothing,” he couldn’t help the smile his face took at the sound of her voice. The little vial in his palm seemed to pulse with heat, urging him on. “But I’m afraid I have to make an entirely selfish demand of you.”
“Anything,” she said at once, the worry not yet gone from her.
“I need to see you. Do you think you could pull a few strings and come visit?”
Artemis waited under a grand oak tree, the moon full and bright in the sky. The best way, as always, to earn a trip to the surface was through The Ritual. Holly’s magic wasn’t technically in need of a refill, but there was no way to prove it and so she’d easily acquired permission to go topside. It was lucky the full moon had been so close when Artemis had made the call but, even so, the three-day wait had been excruciating.
“Impatient to see me, mudboy?” Holly asked, touching down just next to Artemis. He smiled down at her.
“You know me, I don’t like to wait.”
“How’d you know I wouldn’t go straight to Fowl Manor?”
“I know you. You’re adequately convinced that I’m in no immediate danger and therefore no undue rush was needed to visit. But when summoned by a Fowl, it’s always behooved you in the past to be running hot. I knew you’d want to perform The Ritual while you were here and it made more sense to do it before our meeting. But I didn’t want to wait any longer than necessary.” Artemis took a step back, gestured to the rich earth under their tree. “By all means, Captain, perform your ritual.”
“This all feels very familiar,” Holly said, a smile on her lips as she scanned the ground for a seed.
“I’ll admit I thought the same thing, waiting for you. Here,” Artemis said, pressing something into her palm. “I was feeling sentimental,” he told her when she opened her hand.
“An acorn.” Holly tossed it in the air, caught it again. “It’s perfect, thanks Arty.”
Artemis watched as she knelt and buried the acorn. He always liked watching The Ritual. The magic in the air was so saturated he could sense it and he liked the way it wrapped around Holly, becoming a part of her. It was finished within breaths and Holly was standing again, brushing the dirt carelessly from her knees.
“Did you know that it’s considered a great intimacy to watch another fairy while they complete The Ritual?” She asked, a lilt to her voice.
“Yes. Was that not mentioned in any of the research you did on our culture?”
“I don’t believe it was. There’s actually not a guide to the intricacies of romance and intimacy in fairy culture.”
“Did you look?”
“Yes,” Artemis said but he didn’t think Holly believed him. “Although some things were obvious even to me.”
“The kiss,” she said, leaning back against the trunk of the tree and peering up at him curiously. She was the one that had opened the way for this line of conversation, but she was clearly surprised that Artemis was engaging in her carefully casual exploration of it.
“You…remember it?” Obviously, he remembered it, but remember wasn’t the right word for what Holly was asking. There simply wasn’t a word to sufficiently capture that question. But Artemis understood the gist of it. You think about it? Still? It means something to you? You didn’t throw out the memory as unimportant?
“I’m loathe to admit my youth, but it was my first kiss. My only kiss. And it was, in a word, magical.”
“You never mentioned it again,” Holly said, slow and hesitant. She couldn’t figure out where this was going, or else she couldn’t believe where this was going. Artemis offered her a tiny shrug.
“My elf-kissing days were over. Over is over; not a challenge.” It wasn’t a confession. Not a proper one. But already Artemis could feel his heart beating as fast as it ever had. He’d drafted dozens of confessions over the past three days. He’d perfected a good number of them too, but they were all so obviously rehearsed, so clearly constructed that he’d discarded each one. He wanted to offer Holly something organic, something that was so obviously from him that there’d be no question over it being an act. But now that he was here, in the moment, he was drawing a blank. It seemed uncouth to blurt out I love you, but it seemed equally odd to start waxing poetic about her and about their relationship. Holly seemed to recognize his discomfort and it was unclear whether she was taking pity on him or feeding off of it when she spoke.
“And if I reinstated your elf-kissing privileges?” She asked, a smirk on her lips and a spark in her eyes. She was so herself, it was a relief.
“I suppose,” Artemis said, taking a slow step nearer the trunk of the tree. To Holly. She watched him approach and did nothing to stop him. So he took another. And another. And when they stood toe-to-toe, he took a steady breath. “I suppose, I’d try kissing you again.”
“Only try?” Holly asked, voice whisper soft and eyes bright. Bright with the same hope Artemis had kept tucked away in his chest for months.
He wasn’t good with these sorts of things, but Holly knew. Of course she knew. She knew him better than anyone. So it was only with slight self-consciousness that Artemis reached for Holly’s face and fit his palm against her cheek. She brought her own hand up to hold to his wrist lightly, a smile gathering in the corners of her lips. He’d like to see that smile but it was slow-growing and his momentum was already pushing him forward. He was already tilting her head up gently and leaning down carefully. He never got to see that particular smile; he’d make up for it. He’d be sure to see thousands of smiles from her in the future. But not this one. This smile, he felt against his own lips instead of seeing with his eyes.
It was the briefest of touches but it was accepted. Holly didn’t push him off and, when their lips parted, her grip around his wrist tightened, an obvious request that he not step away. He didn’t. Looking down at her, he saw that she was already smiling again. Perhaps she’d never stopped.
“Your only kiss? Really?” She asked. It would have come off far more brazen if not for the flush across her cheeks and smile that was too soft to be teasing.
“Yes, really,” Artemis said with as much exasperation as amusement. “When else did I have time and opportunity to kiss someone? Who else would I kiss? Why would I kiss anyone besides you?”
“Why would you kiss me?” She challenged. But it was an easy question. And Artemis was finally willing to give her the answer.
“The same reason I’d never date anyone else. The same reason I’d never marry anyone else. The same reason I can never stop thinking about you. Holly, I’ve loved you since long before any of this marriage business came to light. I’ve loved you for longer than we’ve actually—had actually been married. I love you. And if I’m not with you, I don’t want to be with anyone.”
“Then be with me,” Holly said. Artemis was nothing short of astounded at her surety and the confidence with which she spoke. “And this time, stay with me.”
“Why Holly, are you proposing to me?”
“Moving too fast for you?”
“You flyboys are notoriously fast but since we’ve already been married once before, I’m wondering if perhaps we moved entirely too slow.”
“You should have said earlier,” Holly told him.
“I was afraid you’d react poorly.” He didn’t mention any of the other doubts and worries that’d kept him from telling her. She’d call him stupid, as well she should. But there’d be time for that later. Right now, all he wanted was this.
“You worry too much,” Holly said, free hand sliding up his arm and drawing him slightly closer to her. Then she laughed. “Alright, it was probably wise of you to wait a bit after the paradox. But a couple months would have been fine, Arty. I didn’t need years.”
“My mistake,” Artemis smiled down on her, a part of him still unable to believe this was real.
“So what do you say, Artemis?”
“About marrying you?”
Holly laughed in delight, pushing herself away from the tree and unfurling her dragonfly wings. Artemis felt the slight misplacement of air twist around them as she rose up to meet him fully. She slipped her arms around his neck and he found one of his hands holding her waist, the other still against her cheek, now brushing back into her short hair and against one of her pointed ears.
“Artemis?” She asked, only inches away from him. Too close to be anything but completely distracting.
“Hm?” He couldn’t even offer her a real word, so transfixed was he by her Cupid’s bow lips.
“I love you.”
“Oh,” he said. “Good.” And he kissed her.
i officially call an end to the suffering. rejoice. (at least I'm PRETTY sure nothing bad happens lmao we're almost to the end what could go wrong?)
Love you all, thanks for being so patient with my erratic updates!! 💜💜💜
Artemis couldn’t recall a time he’d smiled more. His face actually hurt from the continued effort but every time he thought he might be ready to collect himself back into a reasonable and logical being rather than a lovesick fool, he’d catch another glimpse of Holly and realize that he absolutely was a lovesick fool. An entirely happy lovesick fool.
“You’re going to wrong way,” Artemis called, currently smiling at the sight of Holly’s diminutive figure situated into the driver’s seat of his Jeep. He’d worried when she’d first requested to drive that she’d have trouble reaching the gas. His worries had been proven unnecessary, Holly could get to the gas just fine. A little too well, if he were being honest.
“I know what I’m doing,” Holly told him. “I’ve flown this path tons.”
“Yes, but, Holly, we’re driving, not flying. And despite this being an all-terrain vehicle, it won’t fare well over the hills that are this way, you’ve got to go around them.”
“D’Arvit! No fun,” Holly grumbled, pulling the vehicle around in a sharp turn that was jarring enough to break Artemis’s smile for a moment. “Fine, Mudboy, we’ll do it your way.”
Artemis didn’t even point out that it was hardly his fault that Jeeps were incapable of flight. He was in that good of a mood. So he just sat back and enjoyed the ride. Though, enjoyed was a strong word for it. Holly’s driving was terrifying and the only reason Artemis didn’t insist on her slowing down was because he knew what a capable driver she was, even if it felt like they were likely to crash and burn at any moment.
It was late when they arrived at Fowl Manor and Artemis led Holly through the dark hallways straight to the kitchen.
“Pasta?” She asked and, again, he was smiling.
“It’s tradition,” he told her, faux serious as he put on the water to boil.
“It’s been a while,” she said, settling in her customary spot on the counter.
“Too long,” Artemis agreed, smile finally fading as he came to stand across from Holly. “I am sorry for the way I withdrew. After the bond was broken, I—,” how could he explain the ache after that every time he talked to Holly? How could he describe the loss he’d felt when thinking of her or of their yellow house or the bright golden magic that used to bind them?
“I know,” Holly said, reaching a hand over to take Artemis’s. “I know. I felt it too.” And his smile was back, softer this time. Because Holly understood. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. She always did. But it was such an amazing wonder to be understood in the way Holly understood him. To be known in the way Holly knew him.
“Even so, I regret my minimal efforts to see you these past months.”
“Either of us could have tried harder,” Holly was unconcerned, as willing to forgive him as ever. He brought her hand to his mouth and pressed a kiss against it. Artemis didn’t think much of the gesture. It had simply felt like the right and natural thing to do to express his thanks. His affection. But when he looked back to Holly’s face he saw that she’d gone redder than he’d ever seen her. The reaction surprised him for a moment. Then he realized that this—this simple show of affection in the middle of a moment that was not unlike any other moment they’d shared, more than anything else, was telling of the change in their relationship. It had caught Holly off guard and that had caught Artemis off guard in turn, the crimson of her face spreading across his own.
And then he laughed.
“We’re getting married,” he said with all the awe those words deserved.
“We’re getting married!” Holly echoed, dissolving into laughter with him and then, somehow, she was against his chest, laughing into his shirt.
“Mother will be delighted when she hears the news.”
“Foaly will be insufferable when he hears it.”
“Do you think Mulch will give us another lecture on dating outside of your species?”
“Does he ever pass up a chance to irritate me?” Holly asked and they both laughed harder at the obvious question. “I think the water’s done,” she said after a time, pushing Artemis lightly away. He was reluctant to leave Holly’s arms but he knew it was a foolish impulse to refuse to do so. He had the rest of their lives to be with her, he could step away from her for a couple of minutes.
It wasn’t until he’d handed Holly her bowl of appropriately buttered and parmesan’d noodles that his brain placed and processed what was wrong about that thought. The rest of my life, Artemis corrected. I’ll have Holly for the rest of my life. And then he’d leave her alone again. In the scope of her lifespan, he’d only be with her for a short time. She’d have the rest of her life to mourn him, once he’d gone.
He watched her carefully as they ate and talked, searching for an indication of that knowledge in her. She had to know. Must be aware, even better than he was, that with their mismatched lifespans, she’d watch him die. Again. She knew the pain she was signing up for in agreeing to this brief happiness. After all, the more she loved him, the more it would hurt. But Holly was too strong to let it show, and perhaps even too happy to worry about it in this moment.
Artemis hated that even now, even with all the love he had for her and with all his efforts to amend for the pain he’d caused her in the past, he’d still hurt her. It would be his final act on this earth, a parting gift of pain for the one he loved most.
Artemis woke up with the image of a blade in Holly’s chest. The unimaginably horrifying sound it made as it was pulled free sounding as clearly in his ears as it had the day he’d actually heard it. He reached out and, for the first time in months, found Holly, alive and breathing, laying next to him, a quiet sigh exhaled in sleep replacing the horrid audio in his mind. Usually, that would have been enough. Usually, he’d withdraw his hand, satisfied that she was well, and go back to sleep. But tonight was not usual and the brief loss of her life wouldn’t leave him, terrible imaginings of losing her like that in a more permanent manner settled into his bones and wouldn’t leave. A sympathy ache for the loss his love would bring Holly in the end.
No, the simple touch to her shoulder was not enough. Not tonight. He snaked his arm around her waist and drew her close, notching their bodies together. Holly gave a low, groggy hum and pulled his arm tighter around her.
“You okay?” She asked him sleepily. He didn’t answer and she didn’t press, just nestled deeper against him.
“I won’t leave you again,” he whispered into her skin long after she’d fallen back asleep. There had to be a way to ensure she’d never have to suffer because of him like that again. Already, his brain was formulating a plan. “I promise.”
Unrelated to pretty much anything but as I was skimming through my copy of Lost Colony today for reference I noticed that it is, apparently, signed which is hilarious and super cool because I'm sure I got it at a secondhand shop somewhere when collecting my own set of the books (I borrowed my older sister's when first reading them and frequently listen to the audibooks but I guess I'd never properly opened my own copy lmao). Anyway I was excited and wanted to share
Beckett was the one to spread the news. In a manner of speaking. He’d barged into Artemis’s room—how, exactly, he’d gotten past the security system had yet to be figured out—and pounced on the bed to wake Artemis up, squealing in delight when Holly had appeared from under the blankets too.
“Holly’s back!” He’d shouted. And continued shouting as he ran laps around the manor, waking everyone up.
“That’s one way to do it,” Holly said, detangling herself from the blankets and from Artemis. “Do you think we’d better go explain before we’ve got the whole family in here asking awkward questions?”
“A sound idea,” Artemis agreed.
Breakfast was a happy affair, including numerous hugs from Angeline to both Holly and Artemis, a high-five from Juliet, and excited questions from the twins making sure they were actually getting married this time. Myles had a chart and was calculating the possibility of a real union based on previous data. Artemis was simultaneously mortified and proud of his little brother.
“There’s so much still left to plan,” Angeline fretted as she saw them off after their meal. “Holly, I hope you had the good sense to hang on to your dress!”
“I never had it, Mrs. Fowl—,”
“Angeline, dear, please.”
“Angeline,” Holly amended. “You didn’t trust me not to ruin it, remember?”
“Oh, that’s right,” Angeline nodded, brightening. “Have a good trip and tell Caballine to call me the moment you’ve told her the good news!”
“I’d feel better if you let me come with you, Artemis,” Butler said, pulling Artemis aside and speaking to him in hushed tones. “Remember what happened last time you visited Haven.”
“The circumstances are quite different today, old friend,” Artemis told him. “And the fairies won’t be happy at my unannounced visit, it would be even more difficult to clear up if you came along. Remember what happened last time you visited Haven.”
“They had it coming.”
“Be that as it may, it would be better for you to sit this one out. I’ll make sure Holly knows she’ll have to answer to you if I’m kidnapped again.”
Finally, Butler relented and allowed Artemis to depart with Holly. There was a good deal of spluttering and blustering on their arrival in Haven but Holly effectively waved all the complaints away. Artemis had rather expected Holly to drive them home. If not home, then he’d have expected to be taken to Foaly’s house. He actually had something he needed to discuss with the centaur and it was a trip he anticipated making before he was politely shuttled off to the surface again. Soon enough, though, he’d have full visitation rights again so the prospect of being chased out of Haven was more humorous and less painful than it had seemed only a week ago.
The house they pulled up to was one Artemis recognized but had not visited frequently, as its owner was rarely home. The warlock No. 1 was always busy and in high demand on some project or another. Today, however, appeared to be one of the rare occasions he was home or else Holly would not have come here.
“I was going to ask No. 1 to officiate our wedding,” Holly explained before hopping out of the car. “If that’s alright with you.”
“Yes, of course,” Artemis said, pleasantly surprised by the idea. It wasn’t one that had occurred to him but he liked that Holly had thought of it. Liked the implication there of reinstating their bond.
They were cheerfully greeted and led into the house by their friend who bobbed about offering to make tea and insisting they have some of the muffins he’d made fresh this morning.
“I just got back last night and I must say I was surprised to learn about all the hullabaloo around you two that happened while I was off-grid. Terrible reception on the moon, you know. Not to mention I got my communicator crushed on my second day. I was planning to have a word with you two today but I see that you’ve already sorted it all out so there’s really no need. Nice of you to drop in, though.” No. 1 smiled brightly at them.
“Sorted what out?” Artemis asked suspiciously.
“The bond,” No. 1 said, then frowned when Artemis and Holly both stared at him blankly. “You don’t know, then?”
“Know what?” Holly asked, impatient.
“But you’re back together, aren’t you?” No. 1 asked.
“Yes,” Artemis affirmed. “We plan to get remarried.”
“We came to ask if you’d do us the honor of officiating the wedding,” Holly added. “But what is it we don’t know?”
“I’d be happy to officiate the wedding!” The little warlock said excitedly. “But you’re already married. Technically.”
“The Council—,” Artemis started but was cut off abruptly by No. 1 shaking his head vigorously.
“No, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!”
“For the love of—No. 1, if this is you trying to tell us something, I’d hate to see what it’s like trying to get you to explain something you didn’t want to,” Holly huffed.
“No need to be upset,” he pouted but at another glare from Holly, hurried on to explain. “Well, I just remembered something while I was on the moon. Lots of time to think when you’ve got no way of staying in the loop. And I remembered something Qwan told me when I first asked him about the marriage bond. He said that the main force binding you together is love and so long as you hold each other in your hearts, it cannot leave you. In other words, the bond is only broken when no love is shared between the bonded pair. No matter what. Which means that no one besides the two of you could ever break it.”
“How could you forget something like that?” Holly demanded.
“In my defense, you called me very late that night and I was tired,” No. 1 said sulkily. “And there was a lot going on, it’s not my fault it slipped my mind for a bit. And then Foaly got me so worried about what would happen if it could be stolen from you that I just forgot it can’t be.”
“And Qwan never thought to mention it to us?” Artemis asked. “All this time and he never said a word.”
“I think he thought you knew. You two should know best if the bond was actually broken. But I knew better than that, I was sure you still loved each other. So I was going to clear things up today but you’ve already worked it out. More or less.”
Artemis stared at No. 1, completely dumbfounded by the news, then turned to Holly and saw his own surprise mirrored in her face. After everything they’d been through these past months, it had all been pointless. They’d never been divorced by fairy law. Not technically. Their bond had never been broken. But…he slid the small vial, warm with magic, out from his pocket and stared down at it a moment before presenting it to No. 1.
“This was extracted from us,” he said. “If it is not proof of the bond’s removal, then what is it?”
“Very impressive,” No. 1 said, taking the proffered vial and turning it in his hand. “This is an extraction of the magic binding you,” he said, handing it back to Artemis with a little shrug. “But love isn’t finite. There’s more where that came from, more than could ever be taken from you.”
“We’d better go clear up our marital status so our visitation rights are reinstated,” Holly said when they left No. 1’s house an hour later. Artemis nodded absently.
“Yes, you’d better do that. But would you mind taking me to Foaly’s first? If I don’t tell him and Caballine the news soon, Mother will. And then Foaly will be both insufferable and mopey.”
“You’re right,” Holly said, grimacing. “He’s so sensitive sometimes. I don’t envy you the job of telling him, though.”
“I’m sure he’ll save plenty of gloating and awful punchlines for you, don’t worry,” Artemis said dryly.
Holly dropped Artemis at Foaly’s with the agreement to meet back home after their business had been attended. As much as Artemis expected to be the victim of a life time’s worth of teasing over this, the satisfaction of Foaly’s surprise when he opened the door to find Artemis Fowl II back in Haven was no small condolence.
“Afternoon, Foaly,” Artemis said smoothly. “Are you going to invite me in?”
“Right, come in, come in,” Foaly regained the use of words and ushered Artemis in, already speaking a mile a minute. “What in the—what’re you doing down here? Not even a call to let me know, no, just show up at my doorstep in typical mudboy fashion. How’d you get back? Does Holly know—of course, Holly knows. Did you pull your heads out of your—?”
“I’ll explain in greater detail in a moment,” Artemis interrupted. “Hello, Caballine,” he nodded to her when they entered the living room. “My mother has requested you call her the moment I’ve finished speaking, so I’ll make it short, shall I? Holly and I are to be married after all, by our own choosing. We would be entirely grateful to have you back on the job of planning it if you’d be willing to lend us the help?”
“I’d better go call Angeline!” Caballine bustled out of the room excitedly, which Artemis took to mean yes, she would help them. “And congratulations!” She said, poking her head back into the living room. “I knew you two were meant for each other.”
“Thank you.” Artemis tried not to color at the words. He wasn’t used to it being such an open topic yet.
“I’m going to need a more detailed story than that, Arty,” Foaly said. “I need enough details to go sell the movie rights to the story. Actually, that’s not a bad idea—,”
“Holly will be furious if you do,” Artemis cautioned. “She’s still seething over the last one.”
“We’d get her a better actress,” Foaly said with a horsey grin.
“Disregarding that, there are several things I wish to discuss with you about my marriage to Holly. And, perhaps, a favor or two. If applicable.”
“Oh?” Foaly asked, interest piqued. “I’m listening.”
Artemis had only managed to spend a single night in Haven before his mother had recruited him for full-time wedding preparations. Holly, for her part, had avoided all aspects of planning admirably well by claiming she was busy sorting things out with the dunderheads in charge down in Haven. She very well might have been but Artemis knew it was partially an excuse to avoid the chaos of planning. Until today. Today, Angeline had managed to convince Holly to come. More impressively, she’d also gotten her way about No. 1 visiting to go over her plan for a sunset Time-stop wedding.
It was sunset now, too, though Artemis was looking for his soon-to-be bride instead of marrying her. She’d stepped out for air nearing forty minutes ago and he’d thought it prudent to, if not retrieve her, then offer her company.
“There you are, Holly,” Artemis stepped carefully through vibrant flowers, navigating to Holly. “What are you doing here of all places?”
“I came here all the time, not too long ago,” she told him, not looking to him just yet. Artemis followed her gaze, knowing before his eyes landed what they’d see. As he’d known the moment he’d spotted her. His grave. His eyes slid away from it quickly. Artemis had never made a habit of visiting his grave. Didn’t like thinking about the body—his body, his real one—buried beneath all the flowers.
“Holly,” Artemis started but his voice overlapped with Holly’s, calling his own name. They both chuckled and Holly finally tore her gaze away from the stone. “You go first,” Artemis offered.
“We’ve got the time. What’s on your mind?” He thought he might already know. There were thoughts well suited to graveside visits.
“I’ve made a decision on the flowers,” she said, surprising him completely.
“The flowers? For the wedding?”
“Yes. Marigolds. I want these flowers.”
“Why?” Artemis couldn’t fathom the answer. “Why would you want any reminder of,” he gestured around, “this?”
“Artemis, this is where we got you back.” She was looking at him strangely, as though surprised that he didn’t understand. But, truly, he didn’t. “I like marigolds. They make me glad. And grateful. This field of them gave you back to us. To me. And I’ll always love them for that.”
It amazed Artemis that Holly could think of this field in such a way. Six months of grief and uncertainty and it was all overshadowed in her mind—in her heart—by one moment. A swell of love for her swept over him and he was amazed again when he realized he could act on it. So he did. And when he leaned down to kiss her it didn’t feel as clumsy or awkward as it had when he’d last tried it, which hadn’t felt as strange as the time before that. There’d be time for all the apprehension to fade away completely. There’d be time for this to become entirely natural. And the thought of that—of doing this enough for that to happen…it was almost as exhilarating as the kiss itself.
“Forgot your wings, Captain?” Artemis murmured against her lips as her hands knotted into the lapels of his jacket, yanking him down farther. Holly wasn’t a fan of tiptoes, which meant that, when tables weren’t around for her to sit on and her wings weren’t on to lift her, Artemis got pulled down instead.
“Shut it, Fowl,” she responded, pulling back just enough to shoot him a warning look that wasn’t very convincing. “One of the best parts of kissing you is not having to listen to you. And you’re ruining it.” Her exasperated sigh was all for show and Artemis couldn’t help himself.
“Only one of the best parts?”
Holly’s responding laugh filled up his chest like it was his own. She pressed another kiss to his lips before releasing his lapels and circling arms around his middle instead. The sigh she let out this time was a real one.
“We should get back to the planning committee, shouldn’t we?” She asked. Artemis understood the note of reluctance in her voice. They’d had very little time alone since becoming properly engaged. Married? Purposefully engaged to be re-married? In any case, moments like these had been harder to come by than he would have liked. Which meant it was the perfect time to talk. But it was also such a perfect moment that he didn’t want to puncture the light happiness of it with a more weighty discussion.
“We’ll get back to them soon enough,” he assured her. “In plenty of time to tell them we want marigolds.”
“Two weeks.” Holly pulled away from him. “Two weeks and then all of this wedding stuff is done with forever.”
“Yes,” Artemis agreed, straightening his jacket before taking her hand in his. “Two weeks. And then the rest of our lives.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic, we’ve already been living the married life for ages.” She laughed and started them walking. Artemis brushed fingers over the flowers absently.
“Holly, there’s something I’d like to talk with you about.”
“What have you done now?” She asked without missing a beat.
“Nothing,” Artemis laughed at her accusing face, though he wondered if perhaps he should be offended by it instead. “Not yet.”
“Then what’re you scheming?”
“I’m scheming to stay with you. For as long as possible.” The reaction was instantaneous. Holly froze in her tracks, stilling Artemis as well.
“What does that mean?” She asked, her mood impossible to pin down.
“We both know there’s a rather glaring issue with us being together. I’m not a magical being, I can’t live as long as you; my body won’t hold up against the years, not even with your magic to elongate my life. We saw the fate of a romance between human and elf.”
“I know. I’ve always known. D’Arvit, Arty, I knew what I was getting myself into when I fell in love with you. I knew before then, since we became friends. From the moment I cared about you at all, I knew. But it’s not something for you to worry about. I know and it’s okay. I’ll be okay. It’s worth it.”
“How could I not worry about it?” He protested. “How can I be okay with making you watch me die again? I’ve already made everyone I care about attend at least one funeral for me. I think, this time, it’s my turn.”
“What are you saying?”
“Foaly’s a hoarder,” Artemis said simply. “He still has the chrysalis device. Cloning already worked once. Why not again?”
Holly’s eyes went wide. “Foaly thinks it could work?”
“Yes. There’s no way to be certain, of course, until the time comes but…we’re fairly confident it could be done.”
“Artemis…” Holly said, slowly shaking her head. “I couldn’t ask that of you. You belong—this,” she flung a hand around the estates, “is where you belong. I can’t ask you to stay with me and live without them for so long.” Artemis nodded. He’d considered this, of course.
“Myles and Beckett will be the hardest,” Artemis admitted. Every child lived with the knowledge they’d outlive their parents. If the world was kind enough to allow it. That’s how it was meant to be. And Butler too. Even with the extra life Holly’s healing had given him so many years ago, Artemis knew he’d be attending his oldest friend’s funeral before he had another one. Juliet, he wasn’t sure about. They were close in age and the ability to get themselves into dangerous situations. But his little brothers… “I almost expect Myles to come up with his own way to prolong his and Beckett’s life.” Otherwise, he might have to meddle. But Myles was a genius, after all.
“Holly, I know. But it’s no use arguing. The nature of our bond will naturally take me past the usual limits of a human lifespan. I’ll outlive them all anyway. And I think I owe it to them to be the one mourning for a change. Even if I have to bury my brothers, this is the course I’ve decided on. I’m staying with you Holly, to the very end. If you’ll let me.” Please, he thought, don’t make me hurt you again.
Holly’s grip on his hand was painfully tight and her eyes were uncharacteristically watery. Slowly, she rose onto the tips of her toes and very carefully kissed his cheek.
“Thank you,” Artemis said, knowing he’d won.
“That’s my line,” Holly huffed a laugh that was close to a sob. She wiped the tears from her cheeks and smiled, pulling Artemis along as she started walking again, plucking a flower from the ground as she did so. “Marigolds,” she said, “are my favorite flower.”
there's really just no perfectly happy ending regarding Artemis's life-span if you ask me. stupid interspecies romance.
Artemis woke up with Holly in his arms. He spent a moment to just lay there and appreciate the feel of it. He could never get over the fierce joy and the familiar rightness of this. Of her tucked into him, hands tangled up in his shirt. Even months of this hadn't taken away the wonder of it.
Holly stirred, large eyes blinking awake and up at Artemis. He smiled at her and brushed a hand lightly against her temple.
“Morning, love,” he murmured softly. Holly shook her head fondly as a smile took her face.
“Are you always going to be so sappy?” She asked. “Every morning we're together you go and get all soft in the eyes.”
“It's a ruse,” Artemis said, kissing her temple before lazily pushing into a semi-upright position. “I'm only nice until we're married. Then I’ll get slovenly and never wish you a good morning.”
“So this is my last morning in paradise?”
To hear Holly call this paradise, even in jest, made Artemis’s heart swell. And then he remembered. Today was the day.
“We're getting married,” he said in awe.
”Yes, Arty, we're getting married today. It's not like you to forget such important things.”
“Though, I suppose we are already married by fairy standards. We're having a wedding, then.”
“And getting married by your law,” Holly pointed out, which thrilled Artemis again. She cared enough of his people’s laws to count their marriage at least partially incomplete. He felt seen when he was with her. He felt like himself. Human, still, at the root of his soul. And she accepted that part of him too. Accepted it as a part of her through him.
“It's a big day,” he said, unable to articulate how her simple words had affected him. He thought she understood despite his lack of words.
The door endured an abuse of pounding just then and Holly was to it in an instant, opening it before Artemis had even thought to start moving.
“Holly, what do you think you're doing here?” Juliet demanded.
“Sleeping?” Holly offered. Juliet threw her hands up in exasperation.
“You're not supposed to sleep together the night before the wedding,” she berated.
“It's tradition. Anyway, come here, there's still so much to do!” Then Juliet craned her neck around Holly and told Artemis, “You too, Arty, time to get up. Your mother sent me up to get you going. So. Get going.”
“I will, Juliet. Thank you. Holly, I'll see you—,”
“At the alter,” Juliet finished. “Mrs. Fowl’s orders.”
And with that, Artemis’s bride to be was whisked away. The door fell closed with a heavy thwump and then there was nothing left to do but, as Juliet had said, get going. He did have something of a drive to do this morning. Climbed out of bed, he started in on neatly making it when his eyes fell upon the book that had gotten lost in the covers.
Artemis picked up the volume, smiling down at it. They'd fallen asleep last night while reading and Artemis took a moment to think fondly of all the times they might do so again.
The estates looked lovely. A golden sunset washed across the grounds and cast the manor in brilliant light. But the sun was unsatisfied to stay in her domain, and so gold seemed to spill from the heavens directly onto the earth in the form of delicate petals. Marigolds. It looked magical. It was magical. A Time-stop. It was more than anything Artemis could have imagined for himself and he was glad for all the assistance he’d received in putting it together; no less than this could befit Holly Short. She deserved to have the world stopped for her. She’d saved it enough times to have earned its appreciation and admiration.
Deep breath in. And out. Artemis grounded himself to this moment. He wanted to commit every detail to memory: Myles carefully distributing slivers of the setting sun down the aisle. His mother sweeping gracefully down the petal-strewn path on his father’s arm, both of them beaming as they sat down in the front row of meticulously arranged chairs. Butler escorting Caballine next, the both of them taking their place. Butler at Artemis’s shoulder as he always was. Juliet walking next to Beckett, her heels too high and her groomsman too short to allow a traditional hold. Beckett happily clutched her fingers in his and when Juliet went to stand with Caballine, he found his way to Myles and grasped his hand instead, absolutely bubbling with excitement.
Last came Mulch, alone by his own insistence. He’d been meant to walk with Juliet but had waved the idea off. I’d rather walk down with the gold than have people think I’m taken. And with a mudgirl, no less. He’d gotten his way once Beckett realized that letting Mulch be ring bearer meant he got to walk with Juliet.
The piano swelled and Holly stepped into view. She was captivating. Breathtaking. Radiant. And she was going to be, by no uncertain terms, his wife. Gratitude and love almost overwhelmed Artemis, watching her walk down the aisle. Toward him. In the dress he hadn’t thought he’d get to see. Holly was—she was more than words could express. She was perfection. She was the sun manifested in skin and bone and magic and grit. She was wrought by every hardship and every wonder. She was the love of Artemis’s life.
And she looked stunning, the ivory lace sleeves of her dress binding her arms in reaching branches adorned with leaves and flowers that left her shoulders and collarbone bare. And the skirt was full in the way of a blooming flower turned on its head, crafted in layers of fabric as fine and gauzy as a morning mist. There, too, were branches and vines beautiful embroidered in gold. For something so delicate and exquisite, the dress reminded Artemis wonderfully of their oak tree, gilded in gold and threaded into the skirts, wrapped up in the sleeves. He wondered if Holly had seen the same thing in it. If, perhaps, she’d chosen it for that reason.
Holly’s bouquet was a simple collection of marigolds tied with a ribbon. A tiny vial of magic hung off it. The hand not clutching the bouquet—really, Holly, it’s flowers, not a gearshift—was tucked into Foaly’s arm. Commander Julius Root would have been the obvious choice for this but he was wasn’t even here to see Holly get married. Likely, he’d have gone beetroot red and spluttered at the announcement. But he would’ve walked her down the aisle all the same. Foaly had one of Root’s foul cigars tucked into his front pocket in honor of the fallen commander.
“You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Artemis whispered when Foaly placed her hands into his. “And that dress—I’m speechless, truly.”
“It’s alway gold with you,” Holly whispered back and they shared a private smile. This was them. Every part of this wedding was built on who they were, who they’d been. The gold from a long-ago ransom. The flowers from a not-so-long-ago death. They’d been through so much. Been through it all together.
Artemis was pulled out of the moment by a disturbance behind him. Myles and Beckett, though Artemis wasn’t sure what the tussle was over and Butler had it sorted before he’d gotten a chance to look. He wouldn’t have looked anyway. Now that Holly was here, he couldn’t look at anything but her.
As No. 1 started the procession, Mulch quietly produced the rings from the depths of his beard. He was an entirely unorthodox ring bearer, and Holly made a face when she took the proffered ring from his beard hairs.
The exchange came first, between Holly and Artemis; a mix of both their people’s customs, fairy and human. Artemis presented Holly with an acorn, plucked fresh from nature that morning, and a band they’d had formed from one of thirty-seven infamous bars of gold. He slipped the ring onto her finger, the acorn into her palm. She did not have to ask where it was from to know. Holly fashioned Artemis in the golden band that was a match to hers and, from the center of her bouquet, plucked a single marigold, stem still hung with a few delicate ropes of root. He did not have to ask where it was from to know.
Then Holly took his hand and held it against her heart. He took her remaining hand and pressed it to his heart in turn. Another wedding ritual common among The People—it was this that elves considered to be the binding of the marriage. The ritual that made the marriage true. Artemis closed his eyes, knew Holly was doing the same. No. 1 recited a verse in Gnommish and Holly and Artemis, in perfect harmony, spoke the ancient words that promised their hearts to the other. Artemis felt magic pulse through him, incited by Holly’s touch and the promise that was so laden in magic, it allowed him to feel it as he hadn’t felt it for years.
When they pulled apart at last, Artemis felt realigned. He felt sure of the magical bond they shared in a way he never had before. He could feel the magic now, tying him and Holly. He could still feel her heart thrumming under his palm, despite that his hand was back at his own side. Meeting Holly’s eyes, Artemis knew that she felt it too. She smiled, soft and lovely. A smile just for him. He returned it in kind.
It came time for the vows, which they had opted against practicing in full before now. Holly took his hands again, looking fiercely up into his eyes. She was squeezing too tightly and it filled Artemis with even more affection and even more wonder. Because Holly Short was nervous. Holly Short, the bravest individual he’d ever met. Holly Short, who’d saved the day so many times that most people didn’t bother to keep track. Holly Short, who’d saved him so many times and in so many ways. He never lost track. And she was nervous over this, over him. Crushing his fingers in hers, Holly took a deep breath and began.
“Artemis Fowl II, if I’d known what you’d grow into when we first met, I wouldn’t have thought it possible. If I’d known what you’d come to mean to me, I would’ve run for the hills. But I never could have known, never could have guessed. It was so slow that I got lost in it until one day I looked at you and realized that you’d grown and you’d made me grow, too. And, somehow, we got all tangled in that growing, we’d grown into each other’s hearts and souls and I couldn’t imagine life without you—,” she swallowed. “But I didn’t have to imagine it. Without you, I felt like I could never be properly me again. I hadn’t realized how much I loved you until you were taken from me. Taken from the world. When I got you back, I felt like I could breathe again. I could feel the warmth of the sun again. I could smile again and feel it was the truth. When I got you back, I never wanted to lose you again. If I could have you walk beside me again, I thought, that was all I needed. If you would just stay, that’s all I needed. Because I love you in a way that is bigger than any of this. I love you as my best friend. And as my partner in crime. And, now, as my husband. Artemis, you are my soulmate in the way that my soul can not bear to be without yours.”
Artemis did not typically get emotional but his eyes were misting. He gave Holly’s hands a squeeze, though their grip on each other could hardly get any tighter.
“One way or another, it’s you I need more than anything. I didn’t see it coming, but here we are. Still alive, despite it all. Still okay. Still together. So let’s keep growing, you and me, let’s keep growing together.” She finished and Artemis wondered if perhaps they ought to have practiced the vows before now. Without a strong idea of what he was supposed to be doing in response, emotion took over—which was a rare thing for him. He’d accidentally nodded through her last statement and now, like a fool in love, brought her hands to his lips and kissed them briefly.
“Holly Short,” Artemis said once he’d collected himself enough to speak. “You know me better than anyone and so you must know I’m not particularly well versed in expressing my feelings. You don’t often need my clumsy words to understand and I’m hoping you will understand today too. What I have prepared as my vows to you, I spent months working on and perfecting. Even before I knew the reason for it, it was always about you. For you.” Carefully, Artemis pulled his hands out of Holly’s. She watched him curiously as he gestured for the pianist to vacate his seat.
Artemis took the bench, readied himself. He saw Holly’s gaze still fixated on him. Heard her delighted bark of laughter before a hand came up to cover her mouth, as if it could cover up her un-ladylike behavior at her own wedding. Artemis was glad for the laugh.
He began to play. The music stretched across the estates and across time. His life. And Holly’s. And their tangled journey together. It spoke of the devastations and the triumphs. Of the time they’d spent together, working and fighting and saving the world and growing. And all through it was woven the love. Best friends. Partners in crime. Soulmates.
When the final note faded out, he looked again to Holly and found her crying. She’d understood. He stood and was hardly back in front of her when she pulled him into a hug. We really should have gone over proper reactions to vows, a corner of his brain thought. But he was glad they hadn’t. This was more them.
No. 1 led them through I dos. And then:
“I now pronounce you Man and Elf,” the imp said cheekily. The very words that had married Artemis and Holly in the first place. “You may now kiss the bride!”
Artemis and Holly didn’t kiss. Not just yet. Instead, Artemis pulled a vial out of his pocket and Holly turned to disentangle another from her wedding bouquet, which she’d pushed on Caballine earlier in the proceedings. This was an added step they’d concocted on their own, not letting anyone else in on the secret.
Theoretically, the magic stolen from them was still theirs, still part of a larger magic. There was no sense in keeping it trapped in little vials, they’d both agreed. Holly grinned at him.
“You ready for this, Mudboy?” She asked. “A life of magic and fairies?”
“I am. After all,” Artemis said with a wicked smile, “I have been, since the very start, fairy bound.”
He unstoppered the bottle containing the sliver of magic extracted from Holly. She did the same, setting that which had been taken from him free. Their magic spun around them in a soft and brilliant golden light, already flowing back into them and their bond by the time Artemis had his arms around Holly and she had her hands in his hair and they met in the middle of it all with a kiss that was every bit as magical as their first.
Holy shit guys. Just over a year and almost a novel's worth of words and you're still here. Thank you so much for reading and for all the love you gave me along the way! And thank you for being wonderfully patient with me even when I wandered off and didn't update for ages, you guys are the best!!
I put off writing this chapter for forever because I hate endings (they make me sad, even when they're happy) and being done with writing Fairy Bound was a bittersweet idea to me. It still is. But here we are! We made it to the ending and I hope it's everything you all needed it to be <3
Thank you again so so so much for coming along on this adventure with me 💜💜💜