Author's Note: OK, final chapter! I hope you like it. Again, a huge thanks to all my reviewers - especially the anonymous ones!
"When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
and nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmer, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars."
- When You Are Old, W.B. Yeats.
Artemis let out a long breath. He had wanted something like this for years. A chance to reconnect: to be friends again with the first being that had formed a friendship with him without being paid for the trouble. Not that he and Butler weren't still close, although the older man had retired some years ago to a modest Tuscan villa.
Then again, if being married had taught him one thing, it was that relationships never stayed the same. Not really. He and Jessica had managed some spectacular arguments that attested to this.
"So how's the marriage going?"
Artemis jolted out of his reverie at Holly's show of apparent psychic ability. "What?"
"You were playing with your wedding ring. It keeps catching the sunlight and blinding me. How often do you polish that thing, anyway?"
"Once a week." He replied absently. Now that Holly had pointed it out, he became more aware of his movements. Eight years was a long time to wear a piece of jewellery, and the ring had become as much part of him as his heart or his eyes.
Well, one of his eyes, anyway. He still saw the hazel eye as part of Holly. He found it helped to remember her.
"You and Jessica are alright, aren't you?" It may have been his imagination, but he thought he heard a slight force veiled behind her concerns.
"Actually...," he gripped his thighs with tense hands, shoulders square, and a sigh somewhere at the bottom of his voice. "I'm terrified."
"Of what? Her? Last I remembered she was about a foot shorter than you."
He laughed in spite of himself, although Holly noticed his posture didn't relax. Silence rustled the grass and carried children's screams from the playground over to them.
"Artemis, whatever it is, I'm sure -,"
Holly's mouth formed a small 'o' shape, slacking from after her voice was cut off. With difficulty, she worked her mouth into a short, incomplete sentence.
"How many months?"
"Two. You're the first person I've told, actually. It's not really a good idea to mention a human pregnancy before the third month." Holly nodded. With fairies, pregnancies were much shorter. By two months the world and his wife would know you're expecting.
"What are you afraid of?"
Artemis laughed, visibly more relaxed as though he had just confessed a painful secret. "Honestly? I have no idea. I always heard first children were the hardest to deal with - the second time around I should be completely prepared. Jessica thinks it's normal prenatal worries, I just...," he swallowed. No doubt the next secret would be even harder to admit. "...I don't think I make a good parent."
Holly scooped a piece of falling blossom from the air. He watched, fascinated, as it shivered for a second in suspension and then vanished, the vibrations that kept Holly shielded jolting the blossom along into invisibility. There was no other evidence that she was there for a few seconds, leaving Artemis to shuffle guiltily before she delivered her verdict.
"I don't know much about children, Artemis. Practically nothing about human children. And a nurturing nature isn't exactly your strongest attribute." She paused for breath as the weight of what she was about to say settled somewhere near her hips. "But seeing you with your daughter, you look happy. More than that: you look content. And, however inexperienced I may be, I can tell you belong here. That there's nowhere else you'd rather be."
"Right here?" Artemis raised a questioning eyebrow, indicating the graffiti-ed bench. Holly hit him on the shoulder.
"You know what I mean."
Silence reclaimed control of the conversation, but it was different this time; companionable. The wind sighed through the trees, blowing more cherry blossom off its branches.
"You're going to make a brilliant mother."
Now it was Holly's turn for the eyebrow raise, but of course, Artemis couldn't see this. "Maybe I will. But I don't know. I'm not sure I'll be passing on genes anytime soon."
"Oh? I wouldn't be quite so certain about that." Artemis's voice was high and rather tight.
"Why?" The question was quick in coming.
"You've seen Ailíne, haven't you? Noticed her eyes?"
"Yes, I did think they were quite unusual...not...no..."
"Both mine and Jessica's eyes are blue. Well, both hers are. One of mine is a fetching shade of hazel."
"Not strictly true. It's quite simple, actually. When we switched eyes, the magic must have altered our DNA slightly, to stop our bodies rejecting the new organs. What is slightly unusual is that both her eyes are brown whereas normally heterochromia - that's different coloured eyes - is either inherited or ignored. I suppose the magic could have made the brown colour my dominant allele, but that -,"
"OK, I take it back. It is possible. Don't bore me with the details. She has my eyes?"
"Yes she does. And - oh, I think she's bored of the playground. She's coming over."
Holly duly shut her mouth as Artemis stood up and walked over to his daughter. Shielding made her invisible, not inaudible, and although she had hundreds of questions pushing against her closed lips, she wanted to see Ailíne's eyes, properly, for herself.
"Are you ready to go home?" Artemis's voice took on a gentler tone when he addressed Ailíne.
"Home." She repeated, walking up to her father's leg and nestling into it with a large yawn. Artemis smiled and bent down to pick her up. Holly's right, he thought. There's nowhere else I'd rather be.
The journey back to Fowl Manor was spent largely in silence. Ailíne fell asleep in her booster seat almost as soon as Artemis had strapped her in, and Holly heard no noise in the boot but the sound of the wheels on Irish tarmac and the occasional crescendo in whatever classical concerto Artemis was listening to. She liked the quiet. There had been so little of it lately.
Holly jolted awake at the sudden onslaught of waning sunlight. D'Arvit. How long have I been asleep? Luckily it was Artemis who opened the boot, and so it didn't matter that she didn't have chance to shield.
"Sorry. Did I wake you?"
"No, it doesn't matter. I shouldn't have been asleep anyway. What time is it?"
He checked his watch: Swiss, obviously. "About half past four. There was an accident on one of the roads, so we were held up for a while."
"What about Ailíne?"
"Still asleep. She always wears herself out in the playground; she loves the climbing frames."
"And you're quite sure she's your daughter?"
Artemis scowled at her.
"So is there anything you want to do? Sunset's not for another two hours - I take it you're waiting to complete the ritual."
Holly nodded. "I'd still better go. I've only gotten a twenty-four hour visa and despite being Commander of the LEP, for some reason I still have to have a valid visa. And I'm guessing Jessica will be home soon."
"Yes, but you don't have to lea -,"
"I do, Artemis. Trust me. Being a third wheel is not my idea of a good time." The resignation in her voice made his breath catch, but he didn't push the issue. He had a feeling she'd done enough couple-watching from a lonely sideline to last a lifetime, and this time she wouldn't even be able to make sarcastic comments.
"Well then. This is goodbye, I guess."
"Something like that." She picked up the wings which remained in the boot during their park outing. Artemis took them off her and held them out so she could slide her arms through the loops.
"Yes?" Her voice was distracted as she adjusted the clasps, wondering how they managed to become badly fitting despite having been used by her only a few hours ago.
"We'll keep in touch this time." Artemis let go of the wings as the final click! meant the wings were in place. Holly turned around with difficulty.
"Of course we will."
"Not necessarily a romantic partner. Find a companion. Someone who makes you happy."
"Artemis, I am -,"
"I was going to say happy."
"You spend your life working so that others can spend it living. That doesn't seem like a fair trade."
Holly laughed. "You can't resist psychoanalysing people, can you?"
"It gives me something to do."
"I'll think about it. Thank you for today. It made a nice change."
The fairy stretched out her arms. He mimicked the gesture and they walked into each other's arms, hugging tightly; fiercely. "And don't think I missed Ailíne's name. 'Elf'? Subtle."
Artemis let go of Holly, a rueful smile on his face. "Well, some things are too good to be forgotten."
The LEP Commander tutted, flicking switches on her wings. "Don't try doing sentimental, Artemis. It's painful."
And with that, she took off out of the car boot, suddenly invisible. The dark-haired man watched the sky for some time after he would have lost sight of her even with normal vision, and then, with a sigh, closed the boot to the car and turned to wake his sleeping child; his new-old fantasy. His elf.
OK, that's it! Just in case the end confused you a little, Ailíne means 'elf'. According to the website I found, anyway. A lot of people said they found it meant 'gas', so who knows? Let's just go on my interpretation.
What did you think of it? As a whole, or just this last chapter. Be honest!
Reviewers get their own long goodbye with an Artemis Fowl character of their choice. Or me! Since this is goodbye for this fic. :)
Oh, a little P.S. for anybody following The Private Wound. It's still in progress! Just moving at rather a snail's pace due to exams. Sorry.