Holly curled in the oversized bed, her eyes heavy but refusing to close. Sleep never came easily to her, but on the night before the biggest mission of her life, Holly thought her brain would cut her some slack.
Artemis's guest room was horribly oversized, even for humans. Holly felt like an ant in the huge bed, watching the creeping shadows on the walls. She checked the clock; 4:00 AM. In just two little hours, she and Artemis would start their journey to Florida where Opal Koboi had last been seen. It made much more sense to just head out the night before, but on such short notice, Foaly would need to pull an all-nighter to gather all the equipment needed to catch Koboi.
So Holly had been sent to Fowl Manor to start planning with Artemis, but actually spending hour after uncomfortable hour locked in the guest room while Artemis tried to explain in hushed tones to his mother who exactly Holly was. Mrs. Fowl had found out about fairies through Opal; not something the LEP had taken lightly. While Holly had listened to the Fowl's conversation, she felt more and more like Artemis's girlfriend whom his parents disapproved of.
A clear voice pierced the silence that had assaulted Holly's ears for hours. She sat bolt upright, suddenly very awake.
"Artemis?" Holly's voice was cracked from neglect. The Mud Boy's voice echoed down the long corridor, accompanied by low groans.
Holly leapt from the bed and shielded. It would not do to have a sleepy Mr. Fowl find her prowling his corridors.
She crept down to Artemis's room, pushing the door open and wincing as the creak of the hinges filled the air. Artemis was splayed across his bed, his tousled hair framing his deathly white face.
Is he asleep? Holly wondered, drawing closer. She couldn't help but notice how perfect the boy looked. He really had changed since the age of twelve.
Well, duh, she added mentally, but couldn't keep her eyes off Artemis's face.
"Holly," Artemis murmured again, louder this time.
"Shut UP," Holly hissed, closing his door with a creak. "You want to wake up the whole house?"
But he couldn't hear her. Artemis was quite obviously asleep, though he didn't mumble incoherently like other sleep talkers. His voice was sharp and alert; if his eyes hadn't been shut so tightly, Holly would've been sure he was awake.
"I'm so sorry," he spoke again. With a jolt, she realized Artemis was dreaming about her. His brow was creased in concentration; did he plot even in slumber?
"Please, forgive me," Artemis moaned. Holly climbed, catlike, next to the sleeping Mud Boy.
"I do, I do, just shut up," she snapped quietly. But her heart lurched as Artemis spoke next; "I've hurt you. I've hurt you. What have I done?"
"I told you, it's fine," Holly whispered. "Be quiet."
Her voice seemed to relax him. But after a minute, Artemis's face contorted in anguish again. Holly sighed.
"…Can't tell you how much I care," Artemis said clearly. Tears gathered in Holly's eyes, but she wiped them away hastily.
"I know you do," she mumbled. "We have a big mission…"
Holly felt stupid, talking to Artemis while he slept. But for some reason she stayed by his side, anticipating his next outburst.
But Artemis became silent for the next twenty minutes at least. Holly watched his serene features, remembering painfully the way they looked caked with blood and dirt. How she had cried for him, how she had worried… and how foolish her choice had been.
She still remembered Artemis's lips against hers. All her adolescent worries had been lifted from her heart, along with everything else not concerning Artemis. It had felt so right, at the time. But the truth tainted the memory like deep scratches on a glass bowl.
Artemis's hand twitched, reaching for hers. Holly pulled away, not wanting Artemis to suddenly wake and find them like this. But his hand closed over hers, and her fingers became limp.
Holly, shocked, noticed the glittering droplets of water on Artemis's face. He was crying. The urge to wake him from the dream became all but unbearable, but Holly could not move.
"I love you," Artemis said quietly. Holly felt the hot tears fill her eyes again, and did not bother wiping them away.
"Artemis…" Holly whispered, more to herself than to him. He loved her. How? After all they had been through, after all he had done to her and vice versa. Though the discovery should have delighted the elf, it only filled her with a terrible sadness.
His grip tightened on her hand, his other hand reaching for her shoulder and pulling her down on top of him. Holly let a reluctant grin form on her lips as she thought of what would happen if Artemis should wake at this very moment. But he didn't.
"Impossible," Artemis murmured. "Unthinkable. Forbidden. Stupid. Insane."
Holly bit her lip and tried to pull herself from Artemis's arms. Though the position felt wonderful, it was as Artemis had said; Forbidden.
"I don't care," Artemis groaned after a moment. Holly froze, turning her head slowly to look at Artemis. Fear gripped her stomach, and she dug her nails into Artemis's arms, trying to escape.
Artemis brought her closer to him, her head touching his. Holly stopped resisting, letting her tears mingle with Artemis's as they dropped onto his face.
"Please, don't make my mistakes," Holly pleaded, though she knew no ears but her own would hear the words. "It won't work. It can't."
Artemis pressed his lips to hers without restraint. Holly felt the bliss wash over her, and tried feebly to stop it. But soon it overcame her, and she thrived in the moment, letting her lips move with his, freeing her hands from his to touch his face and hair. His lips parted slightly, so she did the same.
All too soon, Artemis's lips became still. His hands dropped to his sides, and his chest rose and felt rhythmically as his breathing evened.
Holly laid her head upon his chest, her shoulders hitching with small sobs. She had never known such happiness, or such bitterness. The worst part was knowing that Artemis wouldn't even remember the night's events; it would all be a dream to him.
Not to Holly.
To Holly, the night was a nightmare; a mindless dream gone wrong. How many nights had she lain awake, fretting over her feelings for Artemis? How perverted she had felt, feeling the unnatural leap in her stomach every time Artemis's face flashed before her eyes. And now she knew he loved her back, which made the whole thing seem creepier still.
Forbidden love was a fickle thing. It was even worse than unrequited love, for then you might move on. But when the love is real yet impossible, the flame lit in your heart for the other may never go out.
Holly turned so quickly to face Artemis her neck cracked; blue sparks shot out of her fingertips, lighting the room. Artemis was bolt upright, fully awake.
"What's going on? Why are you in my room?"His tone was surprised and a bit icy, and his emotions were composed and calm. Holly couldn't hide the pain in her eyes, but managed to reply.
"I heard you moaning, and came in her to shut you up," she said truthfully. "You might want to try biting a pillow during the night; your family members would thank you."
"Har har," Artemis groaned sarcastically. "Was I really that loud?"
Holly turned away from him again, not able to meet his gaze any longer. "Yes. The sound was tremendous."
Holly felt his hand, tentative and careful, on her shoulder. "Are you all right, Holly?"
"I'm fine," Holly snapped. "As fine as a person can be at four thirty in the morning on the night before a huge mission. Go to bed, Artemis. And I'm serious about the pillow thing."
She tossed a pillow at Artemis's head, and rose to leave. She realized too late that the teasing had sounded more like flirting.
"Are you crying?"
Holly was at the doorway when Artemis spoke again. He sounded shocked.
"No," Holly mumbled, wiping the single tear from her cheek. The boy missed nothing.
"Yes, you are!"Artemis had risen from his bed and crossed the space between them in three paces. "Holly, what did I say?" he asked, half jokingly, half serious.
"In your sleep? Oh, nothing much," Holly said quietly. "Go to bed, Artemis. I haven't slept a wink and if you'll kindly be quiet then I should be able to—,"
"I know I said something," Artemis said gently. "Did I hurt you?"
"You just said my name," Holly told him, taking a step into the hall. "'Holly'. That's all you said."
The little color in Artemis's face disappeared, and for a fraction of a second, his eyes widened. But then he was businesslike Artemis again.
"I see," Artemis said. "I'm sorry I woke you, Holly."
"I'll live," Holly promised. "Recon officers are used to sleep deprivation."
"No, but this one is, spending so much time with you," Holly grinned. Artemis smiled in relief.
"Good night, Holly."
Artemis closed the door, and Holly walked swiftly back to her room, shielded. To a human eye, it would seem drops of water were falling to the carpet one by one from about three feet in the air.
"Love you back," Holly murmured as she slipped into the huge bed, the sheets cold and unfriendly. She curled into a ball and shook with silenced sobs, the unfairness of her situation filling her head. The fresh memory of Artemis's frame under hers made her stomach twist into somersaults. Holly squeezed her eyes shut, trying to clear her mind; if she was lucky, she could sleep for at least an hour before morning.
A small ray of light, lazy and dim, shone through the window; the little beam hit the bed perfectly, traveling in a straight line up Holly's body. It rested on her heart like a final shred of hope.
Holly turned away from the light, and soon the beam faded and she was shrouded in darkness. Sleep finally came, and Holly dreamed restlessly. After mere minutes she spoke, the word sounding slurred and barely coherent.