Hu Gadarn

Disclaimer: Any characters/situations recognisable from the Artemis Fowl books belong to Eoin Colfer and his publishers. Not me.
Author's Note: The original version of this was greatlky inspired by Terry Pratchett's character Commander Sam Vimes and the Discworld books in which he appears. The original idea for this was inspired by Dispenser by The Book of Jude. If anyone has read any of the Watch books in the Discworld series, take a look at Captain/Commander/Dux Vimes and see just how closely he is in manner and personality to EC's Commander Root. They are Dr Evil and Mini-Me. Seriously. They even look the same. I recommend the Discworld books to almost everyone. Go read them. After you read this of course. The working title of 'Knurd' was also a takeoff of the concept of Knurd (the opposite of drunk; super-soberity that means that in comparison soberity is like having a bath in warm cotton wool) as put forward by TP in Guards! Guards!

"The Horned One" is a Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld. He was worshipped all over Gaul, and his cult spread into Britain as well. The Horned God is born at the winter solstice, marries the goddess at Beltane, and dies at the summer solstice. He alternates with the goddess of the moon in ruling over life and death, continuing the cycle of death, rebirth and reincarnation. Known to the Druids as Hu Gadarn. God of the underworld and astral planes.

The spirits swill around as he moves the glass in a hypnotic circle, sloshing up the sides, some threatening to spill over, but then deciding to stay, just in case Julius Root decides to actually drink anything tonight.

The barman moves towards the more rowdy patrons or, in some cases, the more distressingly sober, even though there are piles of empty glasses in front of them, and goes through the rhythms in order to get these regulars to consider leaving. It's not time for closing, but he knows some people would be better off sleeping. He pushes one out the door before turning to Julius, knowing that he'll leave as soon as he's asked, perhaps helping to clean up before he goes. The barman finds Julius his most curious regular, but doesn't really mind since he always stays out of the way, always buys a drink, perhaps two, but never touches a drop and so doesn't get rowdy. The perfect customer, or perhaps it's closer to the idea that he's part of the pub, part of the furnishings.

Julius never feels perfect. Every moment he curses himself and the world for all the imperfections it sports so unfairly. He curses his life, he curses 'what if', he curses the drink that sits in front of him - the continuous test to try and be strong, to try and be worthy so that maybe, just maybe, she'll see and come back. In fact, the real reason he won't let himself drink what he always buys is not that one drink's too many and two's not enough, or because his liver's failing, or because she didn't like him doing it, but because he doesn't want to forget. He wants to never forget any of the bad things, just in case he forgets some of the good.

The bartender comes closer, reaching out a hand as if to pluck the undrunk glass from the table but Julius' fingers close around the handle and the bartender backs off for another minute or two. He doesn't overly care about the ex-Commander sitting there in an untroublesome way. Julius can wait.

Julius' fingers grip convulsively around the glass… The colour of the spirits is the same colour as her eyes…

…staring at him from across the other side of the barrier, filled with guilt. She feels guilty… And so he feels guilty for causing her guilt. But he knows that this is the best thing for her, so he does it uncomplainingly. He would do anything for her. And he does.

"Julius Root, you are relieved of your post of Commander due to unlawful and truely disgusting conduct and no longer have any obligation to the city of Haven, nor those previously under your command. You are asked by the Council to remove your belongings from Police Plaza within 12 hours, and anything left after this time will be confiscated and distributed. Captain Trouble Kelp," he sees his Captain step forward, and Trouble glances at him for a moment before staring blankly, in the way that all policemen can, at the Council, " we hereby promote you to acting and permanent Commander of the Lower Elements Police. We understand you are fit for duty, and able to command our police forces, Commander Kelp, from this moment until further notice."

Trouble nods once, but murmurs under his breath 'I hope so'.

"This meeting of the Haven Council is hereby dismissed."

Trouble sidles up beside him as they get caught up in the flow of fairies leaving the courtroom. "I'm going to have quite a job ahead of me to fill your shoes, sir."

"No 'sir', Commander."

"No 'commander', Commander."


Trouble nods again. "Julius."

"I'm only size 6, Trouble. And it's not like you're going to have to deal with my reputation. No one's going to be comparing you to me." Julius' laughs, slightly mockingly. "At least not in a negative way for your part."

"I wish it wasn't going to be like that, Julius."

"Yeah. So do I." Julius catches a whiff of strong perfume on one of the Councillors…

… his nose crinkles since he's so unused to the overpowering smell. She never wore perfume. The bartender's ordinary-faced girlfriend sweeps past him, swishing her wide hips and overly large breasts.

Julius revolts from thinking of the barman's creature as attractive. Surely there were dating rules concerning modesty and subtlety. He used to like these oppressively simple girls - with IQs indirectly proportional to the size of their breasts. But since her he's not been able to go near them, fearing that somehow the idea will contaminate the perfect picture of her simple beauty that he holds as a precious fossil inside his head. But nothing could touch that image, not really. He's not scared, the real reason is that he can't stand the idea of anyone else. That's what desperation, dependence, love, does to you.

There's a slight pressure on his arm as she brushes past yet again ...

…her hand brushes against his shoulder, a worried caress as she struggles to understand him.

"Why do it this way? We could just tell the truth. That would be better; it'd work out fine. And it'd mean that we wouldn't have to hide anymore."

"No it wouldn't. It'd mean that both of us would be ruined, not just me. You've got so much potential, Hol," he strokes the side of her face reverently, "you're going to go so far… I couldn't see you give that up because of me."

"And what about you? Aren't you worth anything? Isn't your job worth anything, hmm? You're the best damn Commander the force has had! We can't lose you, Julius."

"I'm ordinary. Anyone can take my place and things would happen in much the same way as they do now. But you… You're important to a lot of people, Holly."

She shakes her head 'no'. "I'm just another storm trooper amongst the ranks."

"You're the best of the storm troopers. And what would the public, the grapevine, do to you? They're expecting some scandal to come from me, because something always will, and that's not all that bad, I'm used to it. But with you… There are fairies waiting to bring you down. I couldn't live with myself if I did nothing when I could have."

He leaned forward and kisses her lightly. She turns away. "I don't want you to do this, Julius. Not for me."

"I have to. And I want to. For you."

He hugs her to him, breathing in her nervous perspiration, listening to the footsteps in the hallway. They keep getting louder and closer and louder until…

… the girlfriend's earrings jingle a tinkly, annoying little tune as the girl and her breasts bounce up and down impatiently. Julius raises his head, intent on asking her to go and be cheerful and seductive somewhere else, preferably somewhere private, when he realises that 1) she won't listen and 2) then the barman would leave as well, and he'd be left alone on the sidewalk, dreading going back home to the mess she made of his old video collection and he still hasn't tided, back to the cold and the damp and her ripped uniform still hanging in the depths of his musky ancient closet where it sits with his dress uniform that still holds the sweat it gathered at his court-marshal.

He remembers his mother, always telling him to not 'tell stories' - which wasn't quite the same as lying, but somehow seemed to be worse. It seemed to say that no magic could exist, that no creativity or freedom could be let out because it might ravage the world. And he'd led his life by that, existing with truth and facts and whatever the world shoved in front of him. Until her. Then he has started lying to get time to see her, lying to make his little world more interesting in an effort to keep her closer for longer. And every morning he prayed that she wouldn't give him up that day because she had become his world and without her he would be nothing. She had been that important to him, she had featured in his prayers, for years and years before she thought she did. He told stories – to himself and to her – about that.

And then it had all ended with another lie… Or, rather, the lack of telling the truth, which was something his mother didn't specifically touch on all that often. He hadn't needed to lie in the end because everyone else had created the stories, created the wild and scandalous ideas, and all he had to do was nod. And make sure that his eyes didn't stray to her too often and give him away.

There are moisture rings on the table where drinks were spilt so long ago, rings overlapping, crossing over, giving the table age circles to be counted and…

…shown in the rings around her eyes, depth and depression and … he hopes that a gleam of desperation is love.

He knows that she hasn't been sleeping properly. Not only by her tossing figure beside him on rare nights, leaving before dawn to stalk the streets. But by her aggravation, her short-temper, her mood-swings… And the deep bags underneath her eyes that show, in an all too-human way, that she's too tired to be living this strange, secret life.

And he knows that he's most probably the cause … and he hates feeling this guilt.

He kisses her deeply. "I'm sorry," he whispers into her mouth.

"None of it's your fault, Julius. It's… I…" She buries her face in his shoulder, pulling him closer. "I don't know what it is."

She kisses him, hard enough so that she can almost forget the images of pain, loss, inequality. She can almost forget the fear that swamps their strange relationship.

"We shouldn't do this here." Julius broke the kiss, looking around at his boring office.

"We shouldn't do this at all, Julius."

He nods slightly. "Does that matter?"

"Not to me."

"Good." Julius renews his attack, pushing her against the side of his desk.

The door opens. Holly's eyes grow wide, her constant fear taking shape. Julius turns, knowing what they must look like.

Grub Kelp trembles in his over-sized, LEP regulation boots. "I… I'm sorry, sir."

Grub runs. Half a minute later, after they fix up their clothes, Trouble Kelp bursts into the room; not opening the door but cracking it open with the side of his body. There's a crowd outside.

"What were you doing to Holly?" Julius opens his mouth, rubs a shaking hand through dirty, ruffled hair. "I don't care that you're my Commander, tell me!" Trouble wraps a comforting arm around Holly's now trembling shoulders and glares swift death at Julius.

"Captain… Trouble… I…"

"You make me sick, Sir!" Trouble spits on the soft plush carpet of the office to emphasise his point.

The men under his command stare at him from across the safe boundary of the hallway. No one comes any closer. Their eyes are betrayed, some lost, some vindictive. All unforgiving. They may have all joked with Holly, but this was wrong.

Julius sinks down in his leather chair, the officers still watching him through the doorway. He rubs a hand across his eyes.

Then the anger comes. He causes the door to slam shut on their watching eyes with magic. It swings on the hinges; to his eyes only it appears in slow motion, and then it slams against the doorframe, the sound reverberating through his brain…

… and the annoying, slightly vibrating sound that accompanies the flickering fluorescent light hanging above him.

Anger's a funny thing. It always comes when it's not wanted, then it disappears without a trace when it could have given him strength, or at least a little energy and motivation. Maybe that's why he doesn't get angry anymore, not about anything. Anger takes energy, passion, and Julius doesn't have any of that anymore; he simply hates and likes and lives dispassionately. What's the point of having passion if no one's around to see it? Why get angry at everything if people don't understand that it's a continuation of a joke between friends?

Why try to keep up with friends that hate you? Why keep up with parents if they see you as a failure? Why keep up with the world at all?

Never put your faith in revolutions, politicians or pretty girls. Over his time, Julius had done all three. And almost regretted it, but never truly did, because the time with that obsessive faith was so much more enjoyable than the world as it is now, without hope.

He rubs a cold-fingered hand across his forehead. His skin is oily and the greasiness comes off on the tips of his fingers, highlighting the griminess of his entire body. It makes the gritty dirtiness of his entire being real somehow.

He rubs the oily, cold fingers together. There's only the friction given by the dirt now, but once…

…the oil caught under his fingernails is smooth and holds the smell of oranges so strongly it lingers on his tastebuds, even though he has only smelt it. He massages his hands over her back, rubbing and toying with the knotted muscles beneath her shoulder blades. She sighs, sinking into the soft mattress as far as she can go without loosing her body completely.

He leans down, warm breath ticking occult patterns on her skin. His image of her is so powerful that it changes him.

"I love you, Holly." He says, with the ghost of his last breath taken in.

She half-turns and looks up at him, seeing the devotion and desperation in his eyes and it scares her. It scares her so much that all she can do it watch it unseeingly - wishing she could respond to it, knowing she can't.

She pulls his head down, nuzzling at the side of his neck. He'll interpret it however he wants to. And maybe that interpretation will be more accurate than anything she can say directly. And maybe it won't hurt him as much.

But he sees it in her eyes, and sighs. He never had any illusions about what he was to her, although he had learnt over his years that you must hold onto hope wherever you find it. Wherever it finds you.

His hands slow, he pushes against the resistance of her twisted muscles. She always melts when he gives her a massage. So he gives it to her whenever he can. Seeing her there, boneless, unknowing, relaxed in a way that she never is usually - not while either awake or asleep… It makes him love her even more. And so he tries his best to help ease the pain of youth away. For that's what it is: it's the pain of being young, of being idealistic, of not being jaded enough to know that everything, absolutely everything, doesn't matter as much as you think it does. He gave up on worrying and hoping long ago, because those pains weren't worth bothering with. He promised himself that he would never be scared again, never be frightened of loss or rejection, never have enough stupidity to hope.

He's broken them all. All those promises.

He leans down, licking a line just underneath her shoulder blade, tasting the citrus oil. And tasting her though it: summer, spice, cinnamon, winter, chill, wood, earth, freshness, an underground stream, summer cherries, an icicle hanging from a stalagmite that he broke off and ate when he was young, perfection…

… the glass is raised to his lips, not tipping far enough for any of the spirits to fall onto his tongue. He only tastes the promise sitting on the rim of the glass. The bartender goes past him carrying a tray of spent beer glasses; all that is left in the bottom of most is a sloshy warmed mess and some dregs of white froth.

She never wanted him to drink. Not claiming it made him unruly, or because she believed he didn't need to do it, or because she never drank herself. She said she wanted him to stop because of his liver, which was what his doctor wanted as well. And it was hard to stop, not because he was an alcoholic, but because his job can't be done if you're sober. If you're sober you'd have expectations – realisations – and know that fairies are never going to change, know that there will always be a need for Julius Root, for a Commander of the LEP that doesn't just sit around in a nice suit. And so you can't do the job at all. Because the job requires passion, fire to catch the 'bad-guy', and if you're sober you can realise that your efforts are hopeless, that they don't matter at all. You can't know that and still go on. When you're drunk you are optimistic enough to believe that catching the Camptown Murderer will change the world – and not quite realise that next week you'll be chasing down a copy-cat killer.

But he stopped drinking anyway. Because it seemed that she cared about him by worrying about his health. And there was nothing he wouldn't do for a Holly who loved him.

And he got through the days, even the ones when officers died and psychopaths showed up on his streets.

Ironic that.

She comes in here herself every other night – not talking to him, but perhaps not seeing him at all - and a seat is saved for her in a corner booth where you stare at a collection of old bar-mats and quaff stains on the stone wall. The exact place that used to be his. Perhaps that's just the booth that's reserved for whoever's got the burden of LEP Commander. A solidarity of them all, all who have held the position over the years, their sweat and blood sunken into the leather of the seat over generations, the only traces, their only memorial. The people – the few, the only - who can understand it all are given a seat with a view of nothing as their reward.

She's there right now.

But everything under this Earth is ironic given enough time.

He traces the grain of the wooden tabletop with his fingertips. Wooden fingerprint to fleshy one. Tiny ridges and lines against his palms…

…soft skin. Strength. Softness. Smooth.

He hopes. About to open his mouth. About to speak his mind, heart, meaning. Love comes so rarely when the years weight upon you so heavily, but when it comes, after the shock, it takes over your life. And it doesn't let you go. And you know that it won't come back again. And you know that you can't let it escape without recognition, because then it might just be another one of your fantasies or day dreams.

Open mouth. Words on tongue. Stale air tickling the throat.

She sees it. She sees it in his eyes.

He almost smiles, confidence filling him.

She closes her eyes, long eyelashes resting on smooth rounded cheeks. Cutting him off.

He breathes in, wanting to not see it…

…and he lets the breath go at the same time as his misconceptions. It didn't matter that he loves her, had loved her, because she didn't love him back. And she never did and she never will. To her it was a game perhaps; a game to prove her guts, her perseverance, her daring. Or maybe she'd just been hurt so much and so often that she wanted it so much, but couldn't dare to give it in return.

It's a sad day indeed when one of the People can't stand to love, although that's what you get from trying to be human.

After a time a copper loses all faith in the world. After seeing too many of the bad people that the average person only hears about on the news up close you can't believe in anything. Julius lost that faith a long time ago, but that doesn't mean that he can't dream that the People would still be walking the straight and narrow, not knowing the purpose of a policeman, if it wasn't for the Mud Men. Sometimes he sees the hope in someone's eyes, he sees someone who hasn't been tainted by time and cynicism, and it makes him wish for them to become powerful, for them to never lose that innocence but have the ability to pass it on with a smile and a laugh and a perfectly timed joke.

That's what he saw in Holly the moment she defiantly stepped into his office on her first day – she wasn't apprehensive, not cautious, not forgiving. And not tainted, not dry and stale and lifeless. She had hope that she could succeed; that society could be fixed; that the bad things that happen to good people are not a part of life, only a slight, insignificant annoyance that doesn't have to matter if you don't give up and let it. And that's why he was so torn apart, so terrified, when she went missing.

Julius shifts in his seat as the girlfriend walks past yet again. Her breasts bounce up and down, hypnotising in their obtuse simplicity…

…staring at nothing for minutes, hours, time, after Foaly told him what had happened. The first time he had been able to respond at least with sarcastic comments and exaggerated actions so that no one could see what the knowledge of Holly Short being missing was doing to his insides.

But after that… It's the second time… How many times does luck intervene for one life? The reality of Holly perhaps never coming back into work with a bad excuse and a flustered face was sending twisting, churning feelings to his stomach. After Fowl kidnapping her, Briar talking so callously, Julius had realised just how shaky her life was.

But now… He knows that maybe she isn't going to come back. He knows that maybe he'll have to go to her funeral, say the eulogy, promote another captain who just won't be able to understand that when he snaps at him harshly that it's not him he objects to, simply the fact that the space for her had been filled by him.

Kelp enters the room. Julius doesn't raise his head from his hands - hands that clutch at a photo of her that he's not meant to have.

"Sir? They've found her. She's not badly hurt, only some bruises and a mild concussion. The medics are looking her over."

Kelp pauses. Julius still hasn't raised his head. "Sir?" Pause. "Sir? Are you alright?"

"Fine." His head snaps up, glaring at Trouble. "I'm fine. Just a few nasty realisations. I'll go visit Holly in the infirmary."

"Sir. They're—" The door opens and Julius leaves. "They're not letting anyone see her. And since when do you call her Holly?"

Julius hears the Captain from down the hall. He doesn't care about the opinions of the medics, the opinions of his 2IC; he just knows that he has to see her. He can't believe that she's alive before he sees it for himself. And he knows that tonight he's going to have to sit down and wonder why.

"Sir. I have to ask that you don't—"

"I don't care, Moore."

He enters the room and he's still; the angry, powerful energy from the last minute or so leaving him completely.

She's safe. She's here.

He holds her hand, closing callused worn fingers over a smooth palm.

And later, she wakes. And smiles, not quite realising what's a dream and what's reality. Then she remembers the difference. And tears stream down her cheeks as she remembers that which is too real to be a dream, and is too dreamlike, impossible, to be real.

He's half asleep himself, but the sobs wake him and he sees her on the bed, her face hidden behind crouched knees. He doesn't say anything, doesn't waste time with inane questions, wrapping his arms around her, slightly awkwardly, since he hasn't done anything of the sort before.

A medic comes in but Julius waves her away before she can speak.

He can feel salty wetness soaking through his shirt, making the material cling to his chest. He can feel the slight heaves of her body as she sobs without any sound. He can feel her trembling hands that clutch at his back. And her breath flittering against the side of his neck, when he was so scared that she might not breath again at all.

She's whispering something into his front, but he can't hear it properly. He catches words… 'death', 'pain', 'they', 'blood', 'death'…

He holds her tighter, feeling his own pain filled tears on his face.

She stops talking into his damp shirt and raises her face, meets his eyes.

"Thank you, Julius…" she whispers, sitting up straighter, closer.

She kisses him. And in the few moments between non-belief and personal glee he gently but firmly pushes her away. He's looking at her red-rimmed eyes, brushing a calloused hand against the salt-plains of her cheeks.

"No, Holly. You don't want this. Don't do anything which you'll regret. I'll call a medic to take a look at you. You'll be fine."

Her lower lip trembles and she nods, reality making itself heard in the depths of the muddle that is her mind.

"Good, good. How about I go now; it'll be best, I'm sure. Take care, Holly. Trouble, and McClae, and Foaly, and everyone else all want to see you. I'll come back and visit you before I leave the Plaza."

He departs, and he can almost imagine her staring outward at the blank, pale-grey walls, alone now, fingering the plastic-textured pot plant on the bedside table beside her. At the door, in the act of closing it, he turns and catches a glimpse of her. Her head is in her hands. He can see the gleam of dried tears upon her cheeks. He doesn't know what he should do.

He almost goes back in, but stops himself and walks slowly back to his office. It's better. He'd do something stupid if he stayed. Sometimes he excels in stupid things that ruin his life. Once he's there he calls through to the resident medic to tell her about Holly waking up.

The photo of Holly that he had been holding so tightly before lies on his desk, incriminating him. He pushes it away, back under the piles of junk in the lowest drawer of his desk. He looks up, and the boring, stale grey of the walls hits him like it does every so often. The entrance hall of the Plaza is done up in bright green and blue, with logos and acorns and awards decorating it. The hallways and communal work-station rooms where the officers and employees work are white and bright, with dark blue carpet that lifts the hallways as if they belong in an elegant palace. And his walls are grey, lifeless, bare… The starkness is somehow worse than any garish alternative would be, and his eyes begin to hurt. Maybe that's because of the tears of relief tracing the lines of his face. He feels the moisture sliding slowly down and tries to not think at all. He doesn't want to think about what just happened. He doesn't want to relive the moment, the feeling of her lips lightly pressing against his own.

The perfect feeling, but such an imperfect taste – like peppermint from the medic's mouthwash, and faint traces of blood and pain. He feels guilty even holding her when she was in such pain, because there was a selfish element involved at all times.

He looks around his office for distractions. The grey walls. The darker grey carpet. The wooden plaques on the walls, commemorating something or other. A small, framed picture of his old friend, old mentor, the Commander before him. In the picture he looks happy, free… It was taken on his retirement party and recognition ceremony. He didn't look like that for the majority of the time that Julius knew him. Even the air of the office feels grey against the skin, as though it would rather be off supplying oxygen to someone else, someone more worthy, someone who doesn't take advantage of friends and officers when they're in shock and traumatised. The grey swamps him, not letting him up. He can hear muffled voices through the walls, they're incriminating, talking as if…

… the huge, annoying noises created by people trying to whisper, when around them the volume is so loud that it's useless, and they're almost yelling themselves. Two women are on a table behind him, both quite a bit worse for colourful cocktails, stage-whispering to each other. But he can hear all their insensitive, gossipy words.

"Do you think the Council will let Short stay? She hasn't lasted long, has she? And who do you think will be sent in to replace her if she goes? I read in the Haven Times that she was being removed from post of Commander for being unfit for duty. Some doctor was quoted and said that her being… you know… assaulted… had a lasting effect on her mind."

"Well, you can't expect something like that to not affect someone. I mean, the trauma. He was 500 years older than her. And now, this scandal… I can't think that she'll survive in the position for much longer. Where did Kelp go? He was a good Commander."

"Trouble was only good until the Cyprus affair. That was just stupid."

"Yeah… But otherwise he was--"

"You're just saying that because you had a crush on him."

"I am not!"

"She is pretty, though. You can understand why whoever that commander was tried to get onto her."

"Yeah, she's gorgeous. Maybe that's why the Council hasn't sacked her over the Netherlands incident."

"Maybe. Sis, do you want another drink? I'm buying."

"Sure thing. My usual, thanks." One of the sisters gets up and walks over to the bar, tapping on it with her long fingernails. Julius can imagine the other sister looking around at the patrons while she's gone, or maybe just processing the latest piece of gossip, running a new scandal through her head. Julius is left alone with his memories and the clicking of the sister's nails.

Holly had come to Julius' office after she was released from the infirmary. First thing, before she met up with Foaly, or Trouble, or any of her other friends. She had stood outside the door, stalling, not knowing that Julius was watching her on the security camera footage hooked up to his (otherwise useless) computer. She had been worrying her bottom lip, shifting from foot to foot and twice she'd made as if to leave. She didn't. Julius almost wished she had.

It'd had become too much and, after switching off the monitor, he had strode to the door, flung it open, and yelled something meaningless down the hallway at Grub Kelp. And then faked surprise when he saw Holly trying to look inconspicuous while standing right in front of him. Julius had planned to be harsh but comforting, severe in the manner that all commanders should be. But she had looked so scared that he had only opened the door wider, gesturing for her to come in.

"Root? …Julius?"

Julius had just nodded, sitting down behind his desk after closing the door. He poured himself a drink from the bottle in his bottom drawer, holding the bottle up for her and flipping over a clean glass. She shook her head 'no'.

"So… Short. What do you want to say?"

"Why did you leave?"

"Why do you think?"

"You were scared. I know that you've got a crush on me, and so I—"

"Yes, I was scared. Scared because you don't want it, scared of change. Hell, I'm even scared of the council. And I'm scared of the time when you realise just how stupid you were at that particular moment."

"Don't be scared. I want it too. I swear."

"No you don't. You don't want me. Not as I am."

"How hard is it to believe that maybe I do?"

"Because you had to be desperate for any positive contact whatsoever, traumatised, before you'd do anything. How about we just put this all behind us, and start afresh? Please."

"That's a nice idea. Hello, Julius, I find you passably attractive and I'd love it if you'd come over to my place for dinner tomorrow. Good? I hope so." And she'd leaned across the desk, grasped the sides of his head and kissed him.

Who could resist that? Julius almost wished he had been able to. Almost, anyway.

Holly had never pressed charges, not after the Court-Marshall, in which she hadn't said much at all. For obvious reasons. But others – the Council, the public - took that as a sign of weakness. And the doctors took it as a sign of her still being fearful of him, even of him still harassing her. So she never had as much of a chance to be a great commander. Too many people and ideas were against her. They shouldn't have been, because she should have made it. She was making it. She is brilliant. And always has been.

If you could graph the job, it'd be shaped like a cliff-face. A gentle fluctuating slope, then a vertical drop. A long road upwards, perhaps a plateau that planes away for a few weeks, years, decades, but then there's the long drop down, where you get smashed on the rocks at the bottom. She had been climbing up Everest for years, then she had got to the top, and everyone started wondering when and why she'd fall. It was always like that. It always had been.

They wait for your failure and, after a while, you do too. You find it incredibly amazing that you've lasted this long, and know that it's a matter of chance as to when the same thing will happen to you as it did to your old commander. A matter of time until it does. And that's just the way it goes.

He heaves himself up, the seat of his pants peeling away from the wooden chair. As an afterthought he picks his glass up from the table top, swishing it slightly as if to reassure himself that there's still liquid in it and that he hasn't drunken it while thinking. He makes his way over to the Commander's corner, the bartender shooting him a curious look as he passes.

He slides into the booth beside her. Only then does she look up, with 'go away' sitting on the lips he remembers so vividly. Her gaze drops in an instant and she stares at the half-downed gin before her. She picks it up and swallows the rest, deciding that in order to talk to him she needs to be less sober.

"How are you holding up, Holly?" he says softly, whispering in a way the sisters hadn't managed; over here, so far from the life closer to the bar, it was audible.

"Horribly." Her face is blank, resigned, the corners of her eyes drooping.

"Thought as much. I could see it in the number of empty glasses."

"Are you drinking that?" She gestures at his glass on the tabletop.

He shakes his head and pushes the untouched glass towards her as a peace offering. "I gave up drinking when a girl told me to."

"Clever little chit, that girl of yours. I wonder where she is now."

"I'm hoping she's not too far away, but I think that maybe she's gone for ever. She left her spirit behind at some point, and hasn't found it since."

"It's terrible when things like that happen. But life's like that. It doesn't make allowances for anybody, not even so that their hopes don't get smashed and their ideals trampled upon." She replies, smiling sadly at him.

"I know a few people who haven't believed that. Haven't let themselves believe that. They were – are – magnificent people."

"I used to believe in it, but now it's too hard to believe in anything much."

"I'm sure you'll find your hope somewhere. I found mine."

"Don't talk like that Julius." She cuts the banter, the game that lets them deal with reality in an unreal way, short. "How can you still believe in me, in what I can do, when I'm here? Seated in your seat, playing the games you played with the political factions of the city. You know what the reality is, did from your first week I expect; I didn't know it then, but I do now. You're delusional. Delusional for thinking I'm different."

"But you're still Holly. And therefore, everything will be alright. Someday. Someway."

"You're bonkers, Root! As if things like that matter! You know what it's like to be here, in my position. Of course you do. Why do you still believe that somehow I can change these people, when you couldn't?"

"It's not about changing people, because it's damn hard to do that. It's about changing society so that people have the chance to change themselves. And everyone relies on hope, so if given something – someone – to be hopeful for, to have hope in, and they'll change themselves. I couldn't give them hope, because I was the epitome of hopelessness. Who has faith in a red-faced, half-drunk, angry, overweight elf."

He sighs slightly before continuing, "but you, you are—"

"We did!" Holly proclaims, not loudly, but emotionally. "We all had faith in you. No one believed in the assault—"

"They didn't? They created it! We said nothing, we just played along with their assumptions."

"Foaly didn't believe it. Vein didn't believe it, either. And Trouble didn't believe it, he even asked me for the truth later."

Julius looks up from tracing the patterns on the placemat with his gaze. "Did you tell him?"

Holly nods. "At first he had thought that it was probably Grub making it up, then he thought it might be something like it was. He just wanted the truth, so he could either hate you, or forgive you and try to block the injustice out of his mind. It was just after that when the whole Cyprus thing happened and he retired."

"Leaving the commander job for his Second in Command, Captain Holly Short. First female in that honourable, sought-after post," Julius says sarcastically.

She nods again. Then swallows a mouthful of Julius' sacrificed drink.

"You shouldn't drink, Holly. It's bad for your liver. And it makes your face red and your nose particularly bulbus."

Holly grins slightly, and downs the rest anyway. "Do you think we were good together?"

"You've had too much to drink if you're asking something that stupid. How about you just head home—"

"I'm not nearly drunk enough, Julius. Answer it."

Julius nods, just enough for her to pick it.

"I thought we were good too, if it wasn't for a few of the crucial little things such as common interests and being able to walk about holding hands in the street."

"There is that, I guess."

"I'm sorry, Julius, for leaving you. But I just… It was too hard. We both know that." She calls for another drink and when it comes she downs it in one gulp.

"I know, Holly. I just… Doesn't matter."

"I really am sorry." Holly's words are slightly slurred with emotion and sadness and alcohol.

"Come on Holly, let's get you home. It wouldn't do for you too be seen stumbling around Haven at 2 in the afternoon."

"Thank you, Rooticums." She giggles softly. "We used to call you that in the Plaza. I think Foaly was the one who made it up."

"I can imagine." Julius lifts her arm to around his shoulders and helps her out of her seat. "Come on, Holly. Don't worry, I'll leave money for the bill."

"Tony – my boyfriend - might be at my apartment."

Julius grunts, pushing open the main door out onto the street.

"Why do you do this, Julius?"

"Because I want you to be better than me." And love is harder lost and harder won when you're my age, Holly. You'll find that out some day, once you've lost your own.

…She would come back though. Insisting that that was what she wanted, from him, from the world. And he wouldn't have the personal strength to refuse her again. They would go out - or not really, since it was too dangerous for them to be seen together in public. They would instead met in secret dark places, where they wouldn't have to see each other's faces and be reminded of why they were wrong.

And when they would be found out the voices would whisper, the individuals would accuse, she would lose faith when the pressure becomes too great and they would fall – as anyone would have told them, if only anyone knew…

Julius sat at the side of the road, staring up at the lit window 7 floors above. You never lose love, never lose faith, when it comes so rarely.