Foaly had always loved Holly Short.
From the day she'd entered Recon, he'd known that she'd be something special. He'd never mentioned this private observation to anyone, especially not Holly herself, but it didn't matter. He was content in knowing that he had realised, before anyone else, that Captain Short would change the world.
After all – she'd changed one world even before she'd become a Captain. His.
At first, Foaly had thought his interest in the elf was infatuation. She was pretty enough, and when she first came into the force, she used to subconsciously flirt with anyone she came near. It hadn't been her fault – she had simply been being more like a female than she should have been. Foaly had pointed out her mistake after the fifth guy had asked her out, and from that moment on, she had become less like a feminine elf stereotype and more like a Recon jock. And from that moment on, she's always come to him for advice.
More often than not, however, she came to him not for advice, but to rant, or simply to talk. It was the fact that he enjoyed her company and conversations more than anything else that led Foaly to believe that this was more than lust – that it was deeper than such superficial nonsense. Anyone who knew him well – and the numbers were dwindling these days – would realise that it was near impossible for him to carry on a conversation about anything except that which was related to technology. Specifically his. Anything else seemed trivial, and annoyed him to no end. Idle chatter was one of the reasons he had always preferred to work alone. With Holly, however, nothing seemed idle. Maybe it was the fact every word she said shone with such passion. No word came from her lips that Foaly didn't find meaningful.
Holly had changed many things about him. Foaly's lucky number had always been thirteen (weird, but then so was he). After he'd met Holly, his new lucky number became two. It was the number of times she'd hugged him (once on his birthday, and once on her promotion to Captain), and the number of times she'd been in his apartment (once to drag him out to Police Plaza, and once to drag him out to celebrate the same birthday as she'd hugged him). It was also the number of hours he could go without thinking of her (he'd timed himself once).
Sometimes he wondered what she thought about him. She entrusted her life to him every time she went into the flares. That made Foaly feel a kind of security – she didn't trust many people, Holly didn't, but almost every day she trusted him – or at least his technology. But he still wondered what she thought of him as a fairy. Pathetic, unsociable and magic-less immediately sprang to mind when he thought of himself – but maybe she thought different. He hoped she did.
Eccentric was something almost everyone called Foaly at one stage or another. Or those who didn't know the meaning of the word settled with "different". Many of these so called eccentricities had come form spending time with himself. When others came in contact with him, he would often let something slip, and be forever classified as "that strange centaur". Now he kept up most of his "strangeness" because it was what was expected of him. And because Holly had once mentioned how she hated people who never deviated from what was accepted – automatons, she'd called them.
Out of all the outré activities that he indulged in – most of which were simply bizarre one-off occurrences – Foaly only was only ever proud about one. His tin-foil hat experiment. It had started out as a joke. He'd read somewhere than aluminium foil had been rumoured to block brain wave transmission. He wore it one day on a whim, and on that day, Holly had happened to come past the Ops Booth.
He could picture the look on her face clearly – a mix of astonishment, curiosity and a little fright. Foaly remembered now that it must have been the first time she had seen one of his major oddities – something other than his unique mannerisms, or his sarcastic idiosyncrasies. For a terrifying second, he had thought that he'd messed up – that he'd finally made her realise how much of a freak he was.
But then she flew through the doors of the Ops Booth, grinning wildly. She'd snatched the hat off of his head. For a second or less, she'd been so close to him that he could smell the tiny dab of perfume on her wrists. His heart had been beating so fast that he hadn't noticed when she'd exited the room, holding her trophy aloft like a precious thing.
She'd returned later, still laughing, to fool around with it – placing it on his computers, and on his head alternately. Once she even wore it herself, but then declared green was more her colour and set about with a marker on a new sheet of foil, making a futuristic chapeau of her own.
They had matching hats. This never failed to make Foaly smile secretly to himself.
Now he seemed to live in constant fear of being discovered. Once or twice, he'd almost let something slip, and now he almost always was sarcastic when she was around – that was, if something did come out uncensored, he could cover it up more easily. What was harder to hide, however, was when he tried to get glimpses of her eyes. It was something of a challenging past-time. He'd spent an entire day doing it one December when the air conditioners had broken and Holly had retreated into the Ops Booth to work – he had thought he was being especially sneaky until Holly looked at him with her crooked smile and asked him why he was staring at her "like that".
She'd caught him staring twice before. Another reason for his lucky number being two. Something about her just seemed to capture his attention and hold it there until she left. He could never get anything useful done when she was in the Ops Booth, which was why he sometimes looked as if he actually might be doing something when she was gone. Everything about her seemed to mesmerize him.
That was another thing he lived in constant fear of. If she ever used her mesmer on him, even as a joke, he would be forced to admit it. He would be forced to admit that he liked her. And that would ruin everything. It would ruin the carefully constructed excuse of "friendship" he had made up to phone her late at night when he needed to hear her voice. It would ruin his façade of joking indifference, and leave him vulnerable to the fact that everyday he dreamed of her loving him back and everyday he saw her and knew that everything was the same as the day before.
He hated that.
A memory not-so-long-forgotten unfolded itself in his mind.
He'd been sitting at his computer desk when a thought had occurred to him. He could imagine the colour of Holly's eyes – if he made a program that could mix that exact colour using computer graphics, he would never be caught staring at her again. Or at least, not at her eyes.
So carefully, he mixed the colour, using the shading from some old photos and the image burned into his memory. Then he took a few fleeting glances at her true eyes when she entered the Ops Booth later that day, and put the finishing hues into the picture.
His sigh of satisfaction had alluded Holly to the fact that something momentous had just occurred behind Foaly's computer screen. She walked up behind him, just as Foaly decided it would look incriminating to close the window.
'What the hell is that?' she'd asked, squinting.
'What do you think it is?'
'It's … brown.'
Hazel, with almost auburn flecks, he corrected silently, but responded aloud: 'Doesn't it remind you of anything?'
She seemed to consider this question, her forehead creasing with a cute little line that Foaly almost reach out and brushed before he stopped himself. Her eyes flicked around the room, and settled near the corner, where the lounge Foaly had brought a few weeks earlier to decorate the Ops Booth sat depreciating.
'It's the same colour as that lounge.'
Foaly froze. She muttered something about paper work and retreated out the door. Foaly didn't even wave good bye. One through echoes around his mind, reflecting endlessly back to his ears.
You're buying furniture that matches her eye colour.
Foaly laughed now, aloud, but it was a harsh and sullen sound. From the corner, Holly looked up at him, her eyes concerned for a moment. He laughed brightly to make up for his lapse. She seemed content with this, but instead of going back to whatever she was doing, she stood and walked over behind him.
Foaly's mind raced. Had she suddenly developed ESP? Had she known that he was thinking about her? The very fact that she was standing only inches behind him made his heart pound so loud that he was sure she could hear it.
She seemed to be looking at his screen. Foaly made a mental check. There was nothing incriminating about what was written there. In any rate, it was Centaurian (Foaly always wrote in his native language, before translating into Gnommish), and Holly wouldn't bother using her Gift to make sense of it, especially if it looked as boring as Foaly wanted it to.
She went to take a step back. Foaly saw out of his peripheral vision that she was about to trip over his wires, and held out a hand to steady her as she jumped. It had been an automatic gesture, and for a moment the centaur stared at the offending hand as if it had acted completely of its own accord.
Surprisingly, she took it. A warm tingle raced up Foaly's arm and down into his stomach.
Maybe something had happened to Holly too – because the next thing Foaly realised was that she'd tripped over the coaxial cables strewn on the ground behind him. She pulled on his hand, swinging his chair around to face her. Foaly pulled her upwards, while she tried to regain her equilibrium.
Again, she overbalanced. This time she regained her footing just inches from his face.
Foaly's heart stopped. He had the relieved thought that now at least she couldn't hear it racing.
He went to pull back – anything to get away from being so close to her, or he was bound to do something stupid. He had forgotten that he was still holding her hand – immediately, he loosened his grip.
She didn't lessen hers.
His heart started beating again, bringing blood into his face.
She pulled his hand closer. Foaly realised with a thrill that she was bringing her face closer to his too. Suddenly, his lips were on hers, and something inside him screamed out. What was he doing? Kissing Holly? Gods, she was going to laugh so hard…
Then his frenzied thoughts caught up with him. She'd initiated the kiss – or at least, her lips were moving on his. Slowly, he drew away from her, desperate to look in her eyes.
'Again.' The words slipped out. No sarcasm attached, unfortunately. He wondered why he'd asked – nothing had been wrong with their kiss. It had been the most wonderful ten seconds of his life. It was just that…
'Why?' she asked, the line in her forehead reappearing. He reached out and ran his thumb across her brow.
'Two is my lucky number.'