Third Time Lucky

Disclaimer:  All characters and situations taken from the Artemis Fowl books belong to the author and his publishers, not me.

Foaly pushed a button beside one of his computers - it got him a direct line through to Commander Root.  "Julius?"  The distraction could be heard in his voice; he was still staring at the main plasma screen, disbelieving.  He looked over at a different screen that showed Root's (slightly bloated) face, who was already glaring at Foaly wasting his time.

"Anything on Scopes about Captain Igneous, centaur-boy?"

"Not yet, Commander, I'm on it though."  He glanced over at the other screen again.  "It's something else.  I'll have to send you the file, you wouldn't believe me if I told you what I'm looking at – listening to, really."

Foaly clicked an icon next to the audio media that was open on the plasma screen, sending it through to his Commander.  "All you have to do to play it is click on the green button."

"I know how to play an audio file, donkey-breath!"  Root looked away and Foaly heard the crackle over the com-link of the file being played.  It stopped.  Root looked back, and when he spoke Foaly thought it amazing that it wasn't an outright bellow of indecent insults about Foaly's damn technology.

It seemed another layer of wrinkles had been added to Root's forehead within a minute.  He ran a hand over his head and noted that his hairline seemed to have turned from the world and was routing in the direction of his crown.  "I never thought I'd hear that voice again…"

"I know, sir."  A pause.  "Are you going to send Holly up?"

Root thought about it for a moment.  "I think I have to.  But I'm also sending Kelp and Retrieval One.  And your little bunch of useless scientists with their miracles of nanotechnology – perhaps they'll be able to do something right this time."

"I don't know how it could have happened, Julius."

"That's why you're a technology boy, Foaly.  It's the rest of us who have to figure out things like that, you just pretend it never happens." 

Foaly opened his mouth to defend his resources, but Root cut the connection between the screens, and a moment later (after Foaly heard a yelled 'Newt!  Get in here!') the audio link as well.  Foaly looked back at the original screen, and the call that Scopes had sent to his computers covered in flashing red warnings.  He pressed play.

"People, LEP, magic, Haven, shuttle ports, sprites, B'wa Kell, trolls, time-stop, Recon, Atlantis."  Then a gap in the transmission, where there was the hint of an ironic laugh.  "It's Artemis, as you can probably guess if you possess a twelfth of the intelligence you believe you do.  I need to see Holly.  I know about the mind-wipe and everything and…  I… Well, I need to see Holly.  …Thanks."

It had been sent to The Times crossword hotline, in mockery of the events of not-quite a year ago.  It had originated from Fowl Manor in Co. Dublin.  

* * *

When Holly arrived, barely past sun-set, she waited until the dark Benz parked in the drive left before opening a window and climbing through into a hallway in the East Wing of the Manor, not far from Artemis's office.

She checked her shield and flew towards the office on the same swift and silent wings as Death was rumoured to fly upon.  She almost laughed at the thought of Death wearing a pair of Hummer 270s.  She set her ear to the closed door. 

"Artemis, it would be best if—"

"The doctors don't know what they're doing, Father."

"They've got more experience than you do.  You should let them—"

"They're a bunch of bumbling idiots.  I'm amazed you were able to find people so incompetent and conservative."

"Thomps is the national authority on cancers.  Dr Fielding is the leader in the field." 

"Ha ha, Father.  Ha ha."

"There's nothing I can do, Artemis.  You're quite welcome to offer your own suggestions and solutions."

"I have!  They won't listen to a 14-year-old."  Artemis's voice through the door dripped dark sarcasm with his next comment, and it also moved towards the door, away from his father's desk.  "No one ever does."

Holly pushed away from the door just in time to avoid being nicked as it swung open.  Artemis made to turn back to his father to add something else - another ironical, cynical comment, no doubt - but caught the shimmer Holly made in the air and thought better.  He moved along the corridor, not looking back to see if she was following, simply assuming that she would.

She had traveled from the bowels of the Earth already; nothing was going to stop her going to Artemis's bedroom if that was what it took to find out how he had beaten the mind wipe.  He opened the door to an antechamber of an unknown room, and she unshielded the moment he closed the door again.

"What the hell do you think you're playing at, Mud Boy?  I'm just here to keep an eye on you until Trouble's boys and the mind-wiping techs get here, so don't you think that you can make any demands of the Underground."

Artemis held up a hand to stop her.  "I called you here, Holly, as a gesture of good faith.  If you kept even the most drunken eye on me you would have undoubtedly found out sooner or later that I had my memories back.  And then you would have sent all those nasty sprites with their lasers after me again, and it all would be rather messy.  You'd ask annoying questions repetitively, I'm sure – like most police forces the world over."

"How did you remember?  Where did you hide the files?"

"As I understand it the mind wipe works by blocking the unwanted memories behind a mental wall, a wall that is stronger than the average amnesia and far less obvious because over such a large period of mind wipe other memories will take their place.  Only something that strongly connects with something behind that wall will be able to cause the barrier to degenerate and the old memories to flood through, when the mind giving hints that an event actually occurred is too strong.  If it's only a small trigger, not significant to initiate total recall, then the memory trigger will just be like déjà vu."

Holly nodded, just once; Foaly had told her something of the sort a while ago.  "You found a big enough trigger."  She announced, barely surprised.  "What was it?"

He smiled a small, pain filled smile.  "Reshield.  I'll show you." 

Holly did what he asked and Artemis pushed open the door leading from the antechamber.

Holly saw Juliet sitting in a hard chair beside the bed – she looked up when Artemis entered.  Her face was haggard with exhaustion and, now Holly thought about it, Artemis' own face held the same haunt as well.

She saw the figure in the bed.

Butler looked older than he had even in the first moments after she'd completed the healing in that cryogenics pod last April.  His figure was shrunken, near dwarfed by the bed and the room and the sheer number of apparatuses that were operating tubes to suck whatever out of his body and shove whatever else into it.  Juliet was holding his hand in a soft grip, but Holly got the impression that this softness of touch was only because Juliet had grown weak with clinging to him, trying to drag him back from death.

And that was clear.  He was dying.

"Mother made you some dinner, Juliet.  It would be best if you humoured her once in a while."  She glanced down at her brother guiltily.  "Don't worry, I'll call you if he wakes."

"Of course, Artemis."  She stood, gave Butler's hand a final, lonely squeeze and left the room.  Artemis took her place in the chair beside the bed, taking the barely-warm hand in his.  As Juliet passed, Holly saw that her eyes were red from crying, the sockets swelled and bloated because the tears had lasted hours until there wasn't enough emotion to allow for the salt water drips any more.    

Holly unshielded as Juliet left the room.  She hovered above Butler's sleeping form, scared to touch or move any closer.  "What happened?"  She asked, hesitantly, a conflict of grief, curiousity and morals taking place in her mind.

"The doctors say advanced cancer, but they're not quite right.  One mentioned in passing that some of the symptoms were quite like those that occur when a patient's body rejects an organ after a transplant."

"But you don't think it's cancer?"

"No.  It's the Kevlar fibres still stuck in his chest.  That's how I remembered about the fairies, about everything.  About Domovoi's other two waltzes with Death in my lifetime.  His body is rejecting his internal bullet-proof vest.  His breathing was restricted already, but with his immune system trying to fight his own heart and muscles…"  Artemis stroked an emaciated hand, "I'm amazed he lasted this long.  But I'm not, not really.  He's a Butler, they can fight for a very long time."

"Is there anything I can do?  Did you call me so that I could try and…"

"A healing cannot be undone, you said so yourself.  I… I thought you might care to see him.  And that Root would appreciate knowing that the number of mind-wiped humans you need to worry about will soon be reduced to two."

Holly bit her lip, shaking her head at the thought that Chairman Cahartez's reaction would be just that.  Fairies had such a hard time thinking of humans as people, they lived such short, useless lives. 

Holly reached out to touch Butler's brow.  It was warm, but so sickly pale.  And her right hand looked so small resting on it.  "Is he in pain?"

"A bit.  He won't take the morphine the doctors bring.  And he won't be moved to a hospital, but we wouldn't let him be moved either."

"I can help with that."  Holly brushed her hand lightly to his temple, and placed her left against his other temple.  Sparks drifted lazily down to her palms and from there, disappearing into the crop of short grey hair that had grown since Butler had become bed-ridden.  She let go after a moment and backed away.

His eyes opened, and saw Artemis checking the doctor's charts and instruments.  There were tears in Artemis's eyes, as he remembered the times magic had saved his friend, and the time now when it couldn't.

"Artemis."  His voice was small, but just as deep as always, and he swallowed because his mouth was dry. 

"Good afternoon, Domovoi."  Artemis poured a glass of water from a jug, put a straw in, then put it down on the table again so he could help Domovoi sit up slightly on his pillows.  Once the emaciated bodyguard was comfortable, and no longer wincing against the movement, Artemis held the glass close to his lips and Domovoi took a small sip.

"You can unsheild, Holly.  Domovoi asked me to bring you here.  Juliet doesn't remember though."

Holly did as Artemis asked, and Butler gazed up at her in amazement, as if he hadn't believed his memories of the fairies until now.  "Lovely for you to come, Captain."

Holly didn't know what to say, her mind was blank.

"I'll tell Juliet that you've woken up, Domovoi."  Butler nodded, and Artemis left the room quickly.

"I… The People…"  She gulped.  "I never should have brought you back in the first place.  No one should raise the dead.  And if I hadn't you wouldn't be here, like this, in this bed and…"

"Of my family, those who died in their beds, surrounded by those they care for, number about seven.  The rest, all the rest, died in battle in some desert thousands of kilometers away, fighting for something they don't believe in, for someone they don't respect.  Or by suicide in a POW camp, as they were tortured for information.  Or even in central London, taking a bullet that wasn't meant for them.  I'm far, far prouder to be number eight."  Domovoi shifted on the pillows, raising the glass of water to his lips with a shaking hand.  "You'll have to excuse me, Captain, I'm not used to long speeches."

Holly mumbled some disagreement, brushing off his complacency, feeling embarrassed.  She took the glass from his weak hand and held it for him so he could drink through the straw.

"I thank you, Holly.  This way… this way I got to spend time with my sister, and I know that Artemis is safe, and I can give my regards and farewells to old friends."

"Surely there's some non-magical ways to help you?  Skin grafts or… kem-zo therapy."

"It's not just my skin, the Kevlar is in my muscles.  Even my heart.  Nothing they can do, it's hardly an usual affliction."

"But… you're dying!"

"I don't expect someone who lives for two millennia understanding the feeling that comes with understanding your own imminent mortality at age eleven.  There's nothing you can help me with, but perhaps a death while still dignified." 

Holly's breath caught in her throat and she shook her head almost violently.  "I couldn't possibly… I… I couldn't!"

Butler nodded.  "I understand, Captain.  I hesitated once when my friend asked it of me, when I was very young.  I just thought that perhaps… I could not ask it of my sister, and although Artemis would do it, and he would know why… But I…  It doesn't matter."

"Artemis will think of something for you, and I'll get Foaly onto it as well - there's no need to go throwing your life away."

"I'm hardly throwing it away, simply acknowledging my Karma.  I should have died twice, but you saved me.  I had thought that perhaps for the third time, you might help me on my way instead.  Third time lucky?"

"I'm sorry, Butler.  I couldn't possibly."  She looked at him, seeing the lines on his face, the grey beneath his eyes, that his lips had lightened by so many shades as to be indistinguishable from his overly-pale skin.  Sunken cheeks, the mass of his body lying beneath the sheets seeming to have shrunk to the body you might expect of an accountant, not the best bodyguard in the world.  And the eyes… pain filled, worldly and tired, tired of cheating the enviable.

And for a moment she was tempted to do what he asked of her.  It wouldn't be hard, a shock from her Neutrino on even a low setting would be enough to stop his heart…

She had almost pulled the weapon from her belt when there was a timid, un-Juliet-like knock at the door.  Holly slipped on her shield, and Butler sighed when he could no longer see her. 

"Good bye," came the whisper from mid air.

Butler nodded in recognition, "Slán."

Juliet entered the room, Artemis close behind her.  They took their places beside his bed, Juliet saying that if he died anytime soon she'd kill him, and Artemis checking the screens, monitors and charts that were doing far more to keep him and the doctors busy than what they were doing towards keeping Butler alive.

Butler smiled a pained smile, and laughed a rusty laugh.  Artemis gave an uncharacteristic kiss to Butler's brow and stood, giving Juliet time to speak to her brother.  He left the door open for long enough for Holly to fly through.

"Did he say everything he needed to say?"

Holly nodded, then realized that he couldn't see her.  "We said our good byes.  He said… He asked me to…"  She breathed in, tried her hardest to focus while silent tears were washing down her face, leaving trails of salt upon the skin of her cheeks.

"When did you remember?  About us, about everything, I mean?"  Holly asked.

"When he asked me to call him by his first name again."

* * *

He died soon after, but the timing didn't matter much, because he had been gone for a while before.  He had only stayed around for other people's sakes.

Irish Lexicon:

Slán     -            used as 'farewell', lit. 'health; healthy person'.