Author's Notes: Thanks to Yan and the real Patrick Foley, for allowing me to steal their names. Thanks to Tyranny for the beta.
Also, anyone who doesn't recognise the man with night stitched into his robes must go and read The Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman. You are currently very deprived.
Dedication: to Kitty Rainbow, for helping Holly/Juliet persist with me, and for dreaming dreams as incoherent as these.
"If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I'll never have to live without you." - A.A. Milne
…an amoeba splits, crying out…
She wishes she could remember how to fly. But she can't, so Juliet's seven-year-old legs scrabble at the rocks, and she is already tired of running.
She hears the call. It is the faint, almost-lost echo of a shout: "Holly! Holly!" She can't quite remember who it is she calls for (that is the way of dreams), but she remembers a name, and knows it is important.
Juliet is strong; so strong she can uproot oak trees, but not strong enough to stop the tears falling because Holly has left her. Juliet is nimble; so nimble she can balance on the edge of memory until it doesn't hurt any longer.
The mountain path is steep; her breath is shallow, catching on brambles which drive through her raw throat. She reaches the top. "…holly…holly…holly…" is reflected from the facing sandstone cliff. A tree towers over her, tall and strong; unmoving.
mountains of sandstone
created of sand
eroded from a mountain's side
mountain of sand
Is that Holly, entangled in the white-bleached branches of the dying tree? Or it is only a bird's nest, created from sticks and twigs and spit?
The entangled creature moves, jolts – Holly! – and, free, takes flight.
Juliet follows. She remembers how to fly, the memory rises through thoughts of face painting with Domovoi, running so fast down the driveway that she fell, pushing little Arty to the ground so he cried. She lifts one leg, then the other, and gravity is only a word not yet defined for a child…
hush, little mudfairy flight is no longer for you
She flies. Chasing Holly, who tries to leave forever by flying ahead through purple clouds. The darkness skulks across the sky, hiding the sun, hiding Holly, hiding, hiding… No!
She is gone. In an instant (lasting a moment, lasting eternity) it becomes far too dark. A red light suffuses everything, like a warrior's bloodlust.
Gravity is weight, it is direction - up and down are more than adverbs. And her body memory cries out at the imminent hurt, and the wind streaks past her face.
She disappears into madness…
…and Domovoi catches her. He pulls her to her feet, and the rocks become toys she forgot to put away, and the scratches of the brambles become the wounds of yesterday's play. He leads her to her bed, and she snuggles between a Panda and Katrina-Bear.
"I'm here, Juliet, I'm here," her brother says. "I love you, dear heart. I'll never let you go." He is large and soft, scary and comforting. Domovoi Butler, her warm brother. Here. He's here. Always.
She says nothing, snuggling further under the blankets and Domovoi's large hands. She feels the solid weight of her brother pressing down the covers.
"Do you remember what it was? Do you want to talk about it?"
He is concerned, and he loves her. She loves him too. "I was dreaming," she whispers into the soft darkness of the night. "I was flying, and falling, but Holly was flying too. She was leaving me. And I was lost, in the mountains, and I had to find her. She'll be home soon, won't she? She promised she'd come back to me by Christmas." Juliet catches a sob in her throat, because Butler's don't cry. "She won't leave me forever, not like Mommy. Not like Daddy."
"Oh, my love, my brave heart," - and he hugs her tight, which is bad and ominous; she has feared such bear hugs (without the teeth and unwashed fur) since her mother left - "Mommy and Daddy are in Heaven. They're part of the trees and the stars, and you can feel them when you go to the beach or play in the grass. And Holly's there too. She's not coming back, however much she wants to. However much you want her to."
Juliet is pulled from her bed, into monstrously huge arms which try to hug away the black hole that has opened in her gut. "Come on, let's go make some warm milk. It'll make you feel all better."
He pulls her from her bed and into his huge arms, one hand rubbing her back. Outside her window the storm of reality wages war against the vegetable garden.
"Why is Holly dead?" she asks the storm, but Domovoi answers.
"Don't be silly, little princess. Holly is a doll, she can't die. We'll find her as soon as the storm lets up, I promise."
"You will find her for me, won't you, Dom?"
"Of course, what else are big brothers for? Come on, we can have cookies with our milk, and can watch the lightning from the big window." Her arms encircle his throat, and she can feel his heart beat beside hers. "Tell me what you want for your birthday; it's not every day a girl so special turns 7."
He pushes up from the bed, jolting to his feet. She rocks and jolts with him…
…The train accelerates away from the station, and her head falls forward.
"Wakey, wakey, Holly-dear."
She opens her eyes, blinking as blood rushes through her head.
"You shouldn't have let me sleep, Pat; I wanted to watch the world." She pokes the man beside her, who flinches in mock-annoyance. His sideburns are thin, of wiry mouse-brown hairs; they make his face look scraggly and vaguely horse-like. Holly hasn't ever had the heart to tell him this.
"You look like you need your rest. And you were smiling. Good dreams, eh?"
She pauses, brow creased in thought. "It wasn't a good dream at all. I… I was dreaming that I was dreaming. You know how that happens: you wake up, but you wake into another dream. I was Juliet. In my dream, I was dreaming I was her. Follow?" Pat smiled, nodding. "It was strange. She was searching for me, and… something… happened. I can't remember. There was a doll in it, a porcelain-faced doll that was precious to me. To her. Whatever."
"I had a dream with a doll in. But that was only after we watched Chuckie."
Holly pokes his arm, and an exaggerated wobble sends him back into his seat. "You're an idiot, Patrick Foley. I was being serious." Across the aisle a young girl is spreading peanut butter sandwich across her mouth, sharing the spoils with a plush frog.
"So was I: Chuckie was scary. You never know when a doll might be out for your blood. Or clowns. I always hated clowns."
"I never thought you'd be the type to get scared of a doll."
"Oh, the macho-man is all an act. I'm really a big coward inside."
She rolls her eyes once more, and thinks of Juliet. She thinks of golden hair sprawled over the back of Foley's couch; of drunken slurring at Jackson's party when they were both 16; of promises made in adolescence - talks of love, and an apartment together after the Leaving Cert. The frog turns its peanut butter face to her, and his glass eye winks.
"What if she doesn't love me anymore? Or even like me."
"Juliet. I haven't seen her in almost a year. What if she's really forgotten all about me, and met some cute girl who's smart and funny and beautiful, and just hasn't told me because she didn't want to hurt my feelings." The stitching at the side of the frog's mouth have been loved undone; a smile dissolving though harsh affection.
"She has met some cute girl who's smart and funny and beautiful – back in fourth year when you moved to Meath."
She smiles, "you're sweet, Pat," and looks out the window at the passing ground. It is desert, a land of harsh browned yellows. She is used to green Irish fields with trees as living hedges. But it never rains here, and the life is thirsty. Dark clouds, almost purple, gather in the distance - over the city, never over this desert.
America: an unfamiliar birthplace turned refuge; America: where Juliet went to escape her family's shame or chase her own dreams. Her brother visited her, but only when his charge had business in New York.
"Budge up, Hol," says Foley, as he pushes her closer to the window. "Mind if I use your shoulder for a pillow. You can always shove me off if your arm goes numb."
Holly pulls her jumper from her waist and pads her shoulder with it. "It's the closest you'll ever get to sleeping with a woman."
He takes mock offence, using his elbow liberally while settling down for a nap. She props her Patricia Cornwell novel against the window. It is not long before the words blur, the mystery unravelling like a pawned woolly jumper. Kay Scarpetta comes walking down the carriage, asking if anyone has seen the body she misplaced…
…The graveyard is bright with fallen snow. The ground was frozen, so Juliet's grave took two men hours to dig, and their sweat lines the broken soil.
Holly hovers beside Domovoi, and her breath is hot upon his tear-tracked cheek.
"Why is it so hard?"
"Death is always hard, but trying to forget is even harder." No one notices the chief mourner talking to himself, as the other black suits are here to rub shoulders with Artemis Fowl, and so don't pay attention to anything but the cold and the conversation.
"We went to a fairy psychic last year, together. For fun, really, but fairy psychics are accurate. He said…" Holly's voice wobbles, "he said we were always together. Brothers in war, two poets, siblings. She was a Mud Man priest once, and I was a parishioner she had an affair with."
Domovoi almost smiled, then held his chest as he walked away from the cold new soil. "But…?"
"But we aren't ever together. What did we do so we can never stay? Why are we never happy?"
"Because you're strong enough to not need to be happy."
So the strong man leaves, and only the whisper of the wings, and the cold of the earth remains…
…Juliette wakes, pushing away cloying darkness, her lover looking down at her.
She can see into the mirror above their dresser from where she lies; Holly's hair is spiking at the back. She brings a few fingers around to stroke it flat, but her fingers aren't there, in the mirror world.
A small hand languidly strokes Juliette's hair; strands fall through fingers like lazy dominos taking an age to collapse to nothing. Holly bends down to tickle at Juliette's pointed ears with her tongue.
"Oh…hmm, that's nice. Join the LEP with me and we can mess around in a federal broomcloset?" Juliette asks, and to an outsider it sounds like an old argument rehashed, one which has lost its sting and is meandering towards becoming an old joke.
Alone, she gets up. In the mirror Holly flattens her hair with splashed water, caring nothing for the drops which land on the carpet.
"I don't need to. I've got you, and you've got me, why do we need the LEP?" Juliette squirms and Holly rests her hands upon small, elfin shoulders. "You've got too much heart for the police force. What are the odds that if you join up you'll end up pushed to some corner, under the command of some idiotic chauvinist?"
The mirror-Holly turns her back on her own reflection and leaves the room.
"Probably pretty high, but they need a feminine touch around the place."
"Apparently one of the Frond Princesses was hired the other day – doing office work or something. You'll have to wake up every night, brave the traffic to get to the Plaza, deal with all the scary shit – the drugs and deaths you can't change - and then have to share the bathroom facilities with a Frond."
The Holly comes back, an instant-smoothie clutched in one hand. She examines the crow's feet around her eyes, then slaps moisturiser on her ear tips.
Juliette smiles, slow and lazy against the afternoon. "You're such an anti-monarchist, love. However, you do have a good point. A Frond. So very ick."
"There's another thing too, dearest…" Juliette is stilled as Holly lies across her languid body. They are perfectly matched in height, Holly's nutbrown skin looking like soft coffee beside cream. "It's dangerous, and I couldn't do anything without you." She tries to grin, to cheapen her words, but it doesn't come. "Stay home; we'll have more time for ourselves. Or join the mud-wresting circuits or something, if you want to beat up felons."
Holly removes her pyjama top, examining thick lashes of scar-tissue which slash across her breasts and belly.
She covers herself up in a bright-green jumpsuit.
Juliette winces, so Holly looks apologetic. Holly falls forward into a long, possessive kiss. "I love you, Holly. Nothing's going to happen to me."
Holly nods, hugging her lover to her to keep the bad karma away. She closes her eyes, pressing her face to Juliette's shoulder. Through the purple haze that dances before her eyes she feels it: Juliette, sitting alone in a bare concrete cell, a Mud Girl with bright eyes and dark hair bringing her chopped vegetables. For some bizarre reason her stomach turns – anger? envy? – and she tries to waken herself from the thought, but her mind is sluggish and will not surrender the image of the future.
Holly leaves, switching out the lone light-bulb as she goes.
Holly catches sight of something in the mirror, but then it is gone. A trick of the light.
"It'll be alright, Hol. I won't make Recon for years, if at all, and nothing will happen to me down here."
"Sure, Juliette. I know it's what you want to do."
Concrete cell. Bright eyes. Carrot sticks scattered across the floor…
...it is the shadows, not the light, that wake me. As the Venetian blinds open, ponderously, one string broken so the whole operation is angled precariously, the shadow of the blind cuts across my face. Cold sunlight (winter is almost here) shines on the projected image of the Schlieffen Plan.
Yan's elbow hits me below the ribs, and I raise my head to blink at her. Germany invades Luxemburg (I see it - Belgium covers Yan's right eye, the Rhine is a developing laugh line), and Yan mouths --are you alright?
I nod. My mind is lethargic – heavy with lead, filled with the bitter aftertaste of lemon and broken daydreams.
"Holly's coming back tonight," I whisper. But now we are outside, and my words are drowned in the crowds of students buying sausage rolls which will leave grease clinging to the roof of their mouths.
"No, she's not, Jules." Yan bites into a sausage roll; pastry flakes over her shoes and catches on her jumper. "She's not going to come back."
My heart breaks. The segments are still struggling to beat as a completed whole even as they fall to the dirty, concrete floor. Rain drops, dropping from a benevolent heaven, are pooling in my blood. The water cools my heart, swirling through veins and arteries, fingers becoming as numb as my mind. Anger and passion leave no note as they depart.
"You're pretty sick, you know," she munches. "They way you act, anyone would think you're bonking, not twins. Face it, your dear sister has found herself a boy, got a little messed up with drugs, and won't been seen here again for a very long time."
"But she loves me. We're… You know all that tosh about joined at the soul, mental connections and--"
"And your girl found herself a boy and has run off into the sunset of a trailer park."
"She'll call me. She'll come back."
The world around me turns to mist. Cloud-like thoughts – emotions, evaporated; they permeate the air, but are too sparse to dampen my clothes.
"Yeah, Jules. I bet she will. Soon." Yan's voice comes from a mile away, whispered to the darkness.
I feel like I am waking. Waking? Was I sleeping? Dreaming, again?...
… Juliette tries to pull herself from the dream and force her eyes open through the sludge of sleep. It is difficult, and as she tries to remember what it was she was dreaming she knows it is already gone.
She has never been able to remember her dreams.
Sleep? Is this sleep? Her head is throbbing, and the light is harsh and artificial, nothing like what they get underground. The Mud Men! The mirrored glasses! D'Arvit, Root will kill her. And then Dom will kill whatever remains once Root is done.
"Hello, Captain Bellwort," says a mirror-eyed Mud Man.
Juliette spins around, her head spinning out of sync. "How do you know my name?"
"I am fluent in Gnommish, as is my staff. Of course, you've been with us long enough to tell us your lifestory." The Mud Man gestures towards a wad of cotton on her arm, and her stomach sinks. He is short, for a Mud Man, with a smooth face like a pixie's; in a fair fight she could probably take him, even without her wings. "How is your brother? Your lover? Will they be missing you already?"
She would have lunged at him then except a dark man, tattooed all over and crossed with scars, has followed him into the room. He is obviously a bodyguard of some sort, but somehow he looks like her brother white, clean-shaven, dressed in a dark suit to talk with investors around the eyes.
"May I have some food?" she asks instead. "Fruit or vegetables. And some water."
"You have been very cooperative. Tell Holly to bring the Captain what she asks for."
The door swings shut with a loud clang. Immediately her breathing quickens – locked, enclosed, I'll never get out out out –
The door opens.
A girl comes in, carrying a tray of chopped vegetables, and a few petals besides. "Thank you," Juliette says.
The girl smiles, looking down on Juliette from above. Her cheeks crinkle, pushing her sunglasses up towards her brow. "I used to dream about fairies, when I was a kid. They ate flower petals." The girl gathers some of the petals in her hand, letting them fall down down down to the concrete floor. "I wanted to be a fairy, and one day I ate so many flower petals I was sick. But I've never met a real one before."
"We never get to play in the flowers, you know. And fairies are never as beautiful as you." Juliette's voice is soothing, layered with her tone rather than her magic. "Why don't you take off those sunglasses? Let me see how beautiful the sun has made you."
"But Artemis said you were dangerous."
"Do I look dangerous? I'm just a girl, just like you. I'm scared too."
And the girl, silly girl, took off the sunglasses. The problem was that she was beautiful. She should never, ever, cover her beauty. Or always do so, so that no one but the one she loved could ever...
Juliette flinches internally. What is she doing? Mooning over a silly Mud Girl like she was forty again. Lili. What will Lili say? She'll never know, who could tell her? And it's not a crime to notice beauty just because you're in a relationship. But it might be treason to not utilise an advantage to the best of your ability in a hostage situation.
"Oh, yes, beautiful eyes." Juliette's voice lowers, layers, and her eyes darken to a blue so deep as to be purple, "look, here's your brother," Holly looks puzzled, "sorry, your mother - she wants to tell you how much she loves you."
"—Mum! I thought you were dead! Oh, I love you!" Holly runs forward, arms outstretched, and would have thrown herself upon the floor if Juliette hadn't side-stepped to catch her.
"I'm here, Holly. How about you sit down," Juliette steers the Mud Girl towards the camp bed, "and we can talk."
"Oh, I missed you so much, Mum," there are tears in the girl's eyes, and her words come in the spaces between breathy sobs. "When you left I—I didn't know-- Jack's been taking care of me, now. He got me a job with him for the Fowls, even though I'm so young, and…"
Juliette disentangles herself from the girl's arms, and the shoulder of her uniform is wet with salty tears. She slips out the still-open celldoor. And, now, she had to escape.
Magic tingles over her fingers, and her eyes glitter. She pushes open a door…
…A young woman sits here. Perhaps she is not young, but she is not old. The lines on her face trace more laughter than pain, but the blue eyes are glazed with unfallen tears.
"Let me tell you a story," she says to the children gathered around her feet. Artemis is the slightest and most alone, already known for his arrogant intelligence. Juliet's wide smile, bright eyes and blonde hair fade beside the tiny Holly, so fiery the others only laugh at her when they are alone. Domovoi is the eldest, efficiently diverting attention and helping the younger children – he is a blessing to Angeline. And then the three brothers: Briar power-hungry, short and dour; Trouble rational and calm, in spite of his name; Julius alone and overwhelmed, responsible for everyone but unable to fix the wrongs.
"In Ancient Greece there was a – yes, my son, that is where your name came from and we know the stories – there was a young woman, a great warrior named Iulia. Her arm was the strongest, her aim the surest, and her love the most pure. When her lover, Ilex was taken away from her, deep into the underground – yes, Julius, she followed her, but you're jumping ahead of the story – Iulia asked all the gods, all her family, everyone on Earth what could be done. They told her to kill herself, and then she would be reunited in death. They told her to move on, find a human to replace that which had been taken from her.
"But she didn't want to let go of her lost love. Finally, she was told of a fiery tunnel which would take her deep underground, to the land of Hades on the other side of the Styx. That's a river, which separated the dead from the living. So she journeyed to that tunnel, and went through it—"
("Yeess!" Holly hissed in triumph.)
"—until she came to the land of Hades. And there she found her love – she was lost and alone, trapped in the underground. But that was not enough, Iulia had to make a bargain with Hades and his wife—"
("She made a bargain with the devil?")
"- he wasn't really the devil, Briar, just a god who helped keep the World of the Dead nice and neat. Hades told Iulia that she could take Ilex back with her. But Ilex would follow Iulia out to the surface, but Iulia couldn't look back to make sure she was following."
("But how could Iulia know Hades would keep his word? That Ilex would be alright, if she wasn't there?"
"Trouble knows, don't you, Trouble?"
"He'd know because that was right, Julius. You don't have to know everything, you know."
"Yes you do!"
"Only you do, Arty.")
"On with the story, children," said a man in the corner.
"Thank you, Timmy." The storyteller cleared her throat. "So Iulia had no choice but to leave the underground, all the time worried that her love would not be following. She was so worried that she--"
("No!" Holly gasped. "She can't turn back.")
"—just when the sun was on her face, at the opening of the tunnel, Iulia turned back."
(Juliet grasped Holly's hand tight, shushing her.)
"She saw Ilex behind her, caught up in the mist of the Underworld. And then Ilex was lost forever."
("No, no, no."
"It's only a story, Hol.")
"And now off to bed, kids! Boys, go with Timmy. Arty, come with me. Say good night to everyone."
There was a chorus of 'good night' 'good night' 'night night'.
"You'll take the girls off, won't you, Domovoi? Thanks, you're a good lad."
Holly and Juliet held hands as they followed Domovoi down the corridor, into the room they shared. The quilts were pulled down, the night light switched on, foreheads kissed by a big brother.
"Sweet dreams, Jules, Holly." Domovoi's form was silhouetted before the open door, which closed. And they were alone.
"I'd never leave you in the underworld with nasty Hades, Holly. I'll always keep an eye on you. Because you're my best friend."
Holly smiled in the semi-dark. "See you in my dreams, Juliet."
"Night night. Don't let the bed bugs bite."
They slept. And dreamt...
…The door opens and an old friend – you can't quite remember their name but they shared their sweets with you at the age of seven - leads you inside. Beside you someone is chattering, but you don't care.
And there they are: Holly and Juliet, back from their travelling honeymoon. They look young, pale in the moonlight, but you suppose that is only a trick of the light and nothing more.
Immediately you rush up to them, wanting news of their travels – you know they emailed you continuously, but somehow you can't remember any but the very first. Surprisingly, no one else at the gathering does the same, but it's not everyone who knows them as you do, it's not everyone who desires to hear every detail and live through them.
You hug them both, exuberantly, and they smile at each other and pat you upon the back. "You're back!" You're grinning like a goon, but hardly care. "Did you have fun? What was your favourite things you saw?"
"Hey, it was only Midsummer Night's Dream, no need to burst a blood vessel." And that is Juliet, voice of reason, but… Midsummer Night's Dream? That was where they went on their first date. Did they go again, for nostalgia's sake? But the way they talked, and the way their arms weren't linked as you usually see them – attached at the hip, at the shoulder, at the mind – what is happening?
Soon they move off, into the dark corner Holly first kissed her. You would recognise the setting – the old friend's house, you're sure – but for the purple-tinged lighting throughout, as though ultra violet was the only source of illumination, and no one is wearing any white.
"Woah, I didn't see that coming." Someone asks you. You stare into the middle distance, perplexed. "Holly and Jules, kid. Think they'll last?"
You nod. "Do you know..?" You turn, but no one is standing beside or behind or in front of you.
Your mind tingles; you struggle to remember – phone calls, laughter, the play of sunlight on hair, the sound of heels as they walk together. Feelings, emotions, those you remember – jealousy, anger, affection, awe, a swelling constriction in your chest, like a heart attack which passes as soon as they go.
But where were they? They were in India and Italy and here..?
…a red-haired child, crying into a Labrador's blonde coat…
… an angel, waiting at the gates of Heaven for their mortal love to die…
…two amoebas, locked together…
This dream is not for you, says a man with night stitched into his robe. His eyes burn with a thousand stars. Wake up.
… You wake.
The Dream continues elsewhere.