So, first and foremost, a large round of applause for ilex-ferox, beta extraordinaire, who went (and is continuing to go) waaaaaay above and beyond on this one. Also, thanks to GMontag who, unwittingly, started this whole thing by pointing out that there are very, very few stories in the AF fandom over 60 000 words. So, of course, I decided I needed to write one. Welcome to my first novel, in which, as per usual with me, not much happens. Rated T because the author likes to project her potty mouth and because - let's face it, this is me - eventually there are going to be references to sordid goings on of the A/H variety.
Also, for the first bit, everyone's going to be a bit OOC; I'm playing the trauma card as an excuse. Enjoy!
Chapter One: Unprecedented
Trouble crouches beside Artemis, watching in fascinated horror as Holly's body begins to visibly rearrange itself. 'I can't take her down to Haven General like this,' he says.
Artemis shakes his head.
'The Council will have to be informed; there's absolutely no precedent-' Trouble breaks off as one of her joints gives a resounding pop. 'D'Arvit, I hope she can't feel this.'
Artemis shakes his head again. 'The brain would have shut itself down under such stress, even if there weren't a sedative in the actual injection.' Science is his security blanket, and he wraps it tightly around himself. 'She can't feel a thing.'
'Can we move her?'
'Does it look like we can move her?' The boy gestures to her writhing spine as Butler fights to hold her still.
Trouble grimaces. 'Here just isn't very...'
Artemis glances around the decaying warehouse, in an equally decrepit corner of Dublin. 'This isn't surgery, there should be no risk of infection. Just so long as we aren't interrupted by anyone.'
'I've got men standing guard. They'll mesmerise anyone approaching. Though, at this hour, you people are usually fast asleep.'
'Usually,' agrees Artemis, watching Holly's fingers clench. His breathing comes in spurts, his ribcage contracting around his heart with every painful crack of her bones.
Trouble can see he is losing the boy's attention. Not that he can blame him. 'When she's still, we'll move then.'
'Yes. Butler and I will take her to the Manor.'
'Excuse me? Wait a second there, Fowl. If you think for one minute that I am going to let one of my officers disappear into that house of yours-'
Artemis's eyes focus on Trouble with alarming intensity. 'And if you, Commander, think for one moment that I will allow my best friend to be left in the hands of the Council to become some science experiment, locked away in a psych hospital goodness only knows how far under the earth, you are delusional. Besides,' his eyes go back to Holly on the floor, 'I have a debt to repay.'
'More than one,' Butler comments.
His charge gives a curt nod.
The LEPrecon Commander can hardly believe his pointy ears. 'That's all very heart-warming coming, as it is, from a felon, but don't forget who you're talking to here, Fowl. I'm not Root, you can't bully me into following your every whim.'
'No,' allows the boy, 'but Butler can.'
Trouble swallows, remembering that fateful night on the Manor lawns. But he rallies valiantly. 'As a member of the People, and as an officer of the LEP, Holly is my responsibility, and no concern of yours.'
'Once again,' Artemis smiles ruefully, 'you are mistaken. By the time it will be safe to move her, Holly will no longer be a member of the People and, as such, her position as an officer of the LEP will be entirely theoretical. However, she has helped me despite my species, and various other short comings, so I fail to see why I shouldn't return the favour.'
Trouble looks at the boy in something approaching wonder. 'You actually care about her, don't you?'
Artemis shrugs, wanting to be mature about the situation but not quite capable of shaking off the reaction of his subconscious 16 year old self.
'You know, Stockholm Syndrome is only supposed to affect the kidnapped, not the kidnapper.'
'We will return with her to Fowl Manor. Butler is fully trained in first aid, and I fail to see what pertinent information any of your doctors or scientists will be privy to which I do not already have.' Artemis acts as though he hadn't heard.
Trouble rubs his temples. If arguing with Artemis weren't so frustrating it would nearly be banal. He always knows he's going to lose before he's even opened his mouth.
'I'm going to call the Council,' Trouble replies.
'By all means.' Having won his point, Artemis once again loses interest in Trouble.
Holly Short will always vividly remember her last conscious moment as a member of the People, not that she recognised it for what it was at the time.
Lying on her back on dirty concrete, her vision beginning to blur, the only thought in her mind had been: Well d'Arvit, I really buggered that one up, didn't I?
There will be times when she wishes she had gone out with a little more eloquence - but there you go.
When she wakes up, which in itself is a surprise, she stares fuzzily at the room around her. High ceilings, wood panelling, velvet curtains pulled back to let the evening sun in through French windows-
Frowning, she pulls back the duvet and swings her feet to the ground. Toes sink into thick carpet and her frown deepens as she realises the sun isn't affecting her at all. Not that she misses the weak knees, the shakes, the nausea, it's just that-
'I'd get back into bed if I were you, Holly, before Butler finds you.'
Holly jumps, one hand on her hammering heart. 'King Frond the V! Artemis, you just scared the living d'Arvit out of me. Don't you ever knock?'
Sitting in an armchair at the foot of her bed, Artemis raises an eyebrow, 'When I've been in the room for hours already?'
'Watching me sleep that fascinating, is it?' Holly bites back, trying to cover her embarrassment at not having seen him. How on earth had she missed him? He's good, but her fairy senses are better.
'Actually, yes,' he replies. He opens his mouth to say more but apparently thinks better of it and quickly shuts it again.
Holly raises an eyebrow, 'Become a bit of a Peeping Tom with puberty, have we?'
'No,' Artemis glares at her, a faint blush creeping up his neck. Getting to his feet, he changes the subject. 'How do you feel? Muscle pain? Nausea? Headache? Can you move all your fingers and toes? What's the product of 57 multiplied by 48?'
Backing away from his rapid fire questions, Holly squirms as he puts a wrist against her forehead, checking her temperature. 'Have you lost it, Arty?' she swats away his hand, 'Elves don't get temperatures. I feel fine and I have no d'Arvitting idea what 57 multiplied by 48 is. And yes, look!' Sitting on the edge of the bed she sticks her arms and legs forward and wiggles all ten fingers and all ten toes.
Artemis purses his lips at her waggling digits as though they have all personally offended him.
'And what's all this about, anyway? Why am I here and not in Haven General? What happened after Opal shot me? Did Trouble's boys get her? And,' Holly remembers her original conundrum, 'why am I not being affected by that sunlight? Though, now that you mention it, I do feel a little weird. Like... like something's shifted. Not to mention I'm bone dry in the magic department. And you look different. Have you done something to your hair?'
Artemis sits down beside her on the bed, without saying anything. He looks at his hands as he fiddles with the crease in his trouser leg.
Holly feels something cold take hold of her intestines, 'Artemis,' her voice is quiet, 'what's happened? What's wrong? Are you... you're not hurt are you? She didn't shoot you after all, did she?' She lays a hand on his shoulder.
The boy takes her hand in his own. Holly swallows. Frond, someone must have died. 'Artemis...'
'The shot was never meant for me, Holly,' his voice is so quiet she has to lean in to hear him. 'She thought threatening me would be a way of making you do something rash. Apparently,' he tries for a weak grin, 'she was right.'
'What exactly are you trying to say here, Artemis?' Holly draws away from him, eyes narrowed, but his hand tightens on hers and she doesn't get far.
'Commander Kelp wanted to be the one to tell you, but he won't be back for goodness knows how long yet, and it wouldn't be right that you not know-'
Holy snorts, 'Yes, I'm sure the morals of the situation are really weighing you down. You want to beat Trouble to the punch and tell me first. Alright, I get it, so get on with it, will you?'
Artemis frowns at her, clearly peeved. She watches the sunlight play across his face, the shadows of the window's leading bisecting his features.
'It was interesting to watch you sleep,' he replies coldly, 'because since losing consciousness you have grown nearly 40 cm.'
'What?' Holly looks down at their hands in his lap. The last time they had held hands, naked, except for their underwear, and glaring at No. 1 for all they were worth, his hands had dwarfed hers. Now they were nearly the same.
Artemis bites his lip. 'Holly, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have started like that. There's... this isn't an easy thing to say-'
'Stand up, Artemis.'
He stands, taking her with him.
She swallows audibly. 'Artemis, what's wrong with me?'
The boy chuckles bitterly. 'You're human, Holly. That's what Opal's gun did. It was one of her science experiments, like the brain augmentations, like the magic enhancements. She wanted to do the worst thing she could imagine to you,' he laughs again, a horrible, sickly sound. 'I'm so sorry Holly,' voice pale.
Holly hasn't heard a word. Her eyes bore into his collar bone, something she hasn't been at eyelevel with in years. She tries to take a deep breath. Gotta keep calm, she tells herself. Instead, she chokes on the inhalation and it becomes a sob. Without a second thought, she pitches forward into Artemis.
'Oof,' exhales Artemis as, midway through a scientific explanation which hadn't been making either of them feel better, he struggles to support her weight. 'Holly-'
'Hold me,' she speaks into his shirt.
'Just do it!' Stronger men than Artemis have quailed before that voice.
With all the possible awkwardness of a sixteen year old holding the love of his entire teenaged life, Artemis holds her. He even, though very gingerly, pats her hair as she begins, in hiccups and gasps, to cry.
And this is how Butler finds them when he brings up tea: standing in the fading light of day, Holly's hands fisted into the back of Artemis' shirt, his long fingers shockingly white in the red of her hair. His mismatched eyes are wide above Holly's head, staring at Butler with a strange mixture of fear, misery, and, faintly, a disbelieving sense of triumph. She had clung to him.
Butler sets the tea tray down gently, coming forward to untangle Holly from his charge.
'Butler,' she gives him a watery smile, as he sits her down and places a cup of tea in her hand. Vainly, she rubs at the tears tracks on her face. 'Thanks for the tea.' She sticks to the obvious, unsure if she is capable of more.
'Don't mention it.'
The three of them sit in silence, one trying to come to grips with the end of her life as she knew it, one alternating between fervent wishes that his shirt never dries and curses for his pubescent sentimentality, and one chafing against his uncommon inability to make things right again. Outside the sky gets progressively darker and the air gets colder.
Eventually, they are sitting in utter darkness, but not one of them notice. Artemis stares into the gloom, seeing the room at an entirely different hour.
Butler, Artemis and Trouble stand beside the bed. Holly lies blessedly still, her breathing regular, her pulse strong.
'One of the Councillors suggested keeping her underground,' Trouble speaks suddenly, 'to look into her situation.'
'To find a cure?'
Trouble licks his lips. 'To find out how Opal succeeded. They think it might help alchemy research.'
'Alchemy research,' Artemis repeats.
'But that would lead to a cure,' Butler puts in.
'We understand the mechanics of cancer,' Artemis points out, 'and yet still have no cure. What did you say to them, Commander?'
'I told them you'd been right about them.'
'How unpleasant for you.'
'You're right about another thing too: they can't touch her now that she's human. It's against the Book.' Trouble fiddles with his uniform, 'Thank you for taking her.'
'I'll come back tonight, if I can. I've only got half an hour before sunrise as it is. Hopefully there'll be more news, but you know how slow the Council can be, even when in a good mood. Foaly'll be in touch I'm sure.'
'Of course,' replies Artemis.
Trouble swallows, nods, and takes to the sky without further ado.
Butler moves one of the armchairs to the foot of the bed. 'You may as well sit down, Artemis.'
The boy nods again, but doesn't move.
Gently, Butler takes him by the arm and pushes him into the chair. Artemis doesn't resist. Butler sighs.
'I'll go fix breakfast, shall I?'
Butler gives up.
The sound of Artemis' cell phone makes them all jump. The boy jerks out of his reverie. 'Hello?' he snaps with unnecessary force.
'Ah, always such a joy to hear your melodious tones, Fowl,' comes Foaly's whinny. 'Turn your computer on, would you? Trouble should be there any minute, and I want in on this conversation.'
'And what if it's a private conversation?'
'I could always turn your computer on for you,' Foaly replies.
Artemis snaps the phone shut and goes over to the laptop he brought in with him so many hours earlier. Butler realises with a start that the room is nearly pitch black and makes for the lights.
'Was that Foaly?' Holly looks up from the bottom of her cup.
'Mhmm. Your Commander should be here shortly,' Artemis says to his keyboard.
'Fabulous,' Holly swallows the last of her tea. 'Wonderful.'
From the light switch Butler heads to the French doors. In the black of the new moon the stars are bright above the hazy lights of Dublin.
Trouble Kelp materialises on the balcony railing. If the bodyguard is surprised, he doesn't show it. Without looking down, he puts out a hand to hold Trouble in place. 'Be gentle,' he says.
'Has Fowl told her already?' Trouble slips off his helmet.
Trouble rolls out his eyes. 'Classic,' he mutters, hopping to the floor.
Holly looks up as he nears her chair.
'I already know,' her face is calm, her eyes unblinking. Trouble shivers. Her face is calm, smooth like the ocean in the eye of a storm. But he can feel wind pricking the back of his neck.
'I know you already know,' he smiles wryly, 'I was sort of expecting it.'
'Fifteen years old and still predictable,' Holly monotones. Trouble thinks he sees Artemis' lips twitch in response, but it could have been the poor lighting. He decides he doesn't need to know.
'No, no, wait, don't tell me... I've lost my job,' Holly gives him a game-show host's grin.
Trouble sighs, putting his helmet down on the coffee table. 'Don't be like this Holly, please. I know it's hard-'
Her eyes go dark, and the wind tickling Trouble's neck now crackles along his ears, sinking its teeth into his skin. 'You know, do you? You know-'
'He's only trying to help Holly,' Foaly interrupts.
'I don't want help. I don't need help. What the hell kind of help can any of you possibly give me?' She rises from the chair, her words whipping from her like hail. But Butler can see the knobs of her spine through her thin cotton nightgown and they are shivering in terror.
Artemis decides now is not the time to point out that if anyone is going to be able to help her it would be Foaly and himself.
'Sit down, Short,' Trouble draws himself up, 'and stop feeling so d'Arvitting sorry for yourself. Shit happened. We know. But you will not talk to your commanding officer like that.' His voice gentles and he curses that sore, soft spot, like a bruise just below his heart, that Holly had unwittingly inflicted upon him years ago, 'Holly, we're your friends. We'll... we'll work this out. We'll take care of you,' he eyes Artemis for a moment, 'all of us.'
Artemis watches her sway in the slight breeze, her whole body billowing like a sheet in the wind. She looks emaciated, he thinks, as though she has simply been stretched longer instead of made larger. He knows this isn't the case, but still he would swear that her limbs look too fragile, too spindly-thin to support the weight of her life.
She sits back down, landing with a thump, a graceless tangle of coltish limbs still unused to themselves. 'But that's just it,' she whispers, 'I don't want to be taken care of.'
Foaly looks away. Butler swallows hard. Trouble runs his hands through his hair. Only Artemis watches her, unable to look away from the train wreck of her body.
Trouble rests a hand on her shoulder. 'The Council's been informed. I don't know what they'll decide, but don't worry, I won't let them...' he pauses, unwilling to mention what they had already tried to do. 'I won't let them hurt you,' he finishes, looking at Artemis over her head. The boy nods silently, he won't tell.
'Thanks, Trubs,' she rests a hand on his wrist, the storm subsiding as quickly and inexplicably as it had come. 'You're a good friend. I'm sorry, I-'
'Don't be,' he smiles. 'Who knows, maybe we can keep you on as our above ground liaison. Have you do all the kinds of stunts you and the mud boy used to do, only without the risk of you getting hauled off to a science lab.'
Holly pats his wrist, 'We'll see.'
'Well, I've got a question here, sorry to interrupt,' Foaly butts in, and Trouble rolls his eyes, 'but where's she gonna live 'til we get the legalities sorted out? Come to that, where's she gonna live after we get the legalities sorted out?'
Artemis frowns at the laptop screen, 'What on earth are you talking about? She'll live here obviously.' The words are out before he realises. He can feel three pairs of eyes fix on him. Butler smiles slightly.
The silence is interrupted by:
'What if I don't want to live here?' Holly asks, indignant. 'I am capable of renting an apartment, you know. I've been doing it since before you were born.'
Artemis blinks at her, taken aback. 'No one is questioning your ability to sign a lease Holly, but why waste your money, which, I might add, you haven't currently got, when you can simply stay here?'
'And what, sponge off of you for the rest of my life? What about your parents? What'll they say?' She is back on her feet, looking much more solid than before. Trouble steps back, out of the way, like a child watching a lightning storm from the safety of their living room couch.
'Holly, after all the things I have accomplished, do you really think I will have trouble convincing my parents of something so insignificant? And it's not like we haven't got the money-'
'Don't throw your money in my face, Fowl. Don't forget how you made it,' Holly balls her fists. 'I won't freeload. Especially not off blood money!'
Artemis draws back as though slapped. 'You're delirious, Captain Short. Clearly, you are in need of prolonged bed rest and I suggest you get some immediately.' His face is white, his mouth a pencil line.
'Artemis, I-' Holly puts her hands over her mouth, eyes wide. 'I didn't mean- d'Arvit. I'm being horrible tonight. Artemis-'
The combination of Artemis and Holly is an unstable compound to begin with, but add in emotional trauma and overt romantic tension and their combustion time becomes instantaneous. Relatively used to this by now, however, Butler steps forward, putting a hand on each of their shoulders; to reassure. But also to keep Holly from giving Artemis a bloody nose when he inevitably comes back with another witty response.
'Let's cross that bridge when we get to it, how about?' he speaks mildly, 'In the meantime, Holly, I know you hate it but, though he could have phrased it better, Artemis is right: you need to rest. You shouldn't even have gotten out of bed. Who knows what could still be going on in your system? For now it'll be easier if you simply stay here. Just until things get sorted out. Are you alright with that?'
Holly nods, her body already sagging against Butler's. 'Of course, yes. I didn't mean-'
'I know,' interrupts Butler. 'Artemis, would you go get some water, please? I have some vitamins I wants her to take.'
Artemis nods, his face still knotted with anger and hurt, and moves away.
'Commander, Foaly, if you wouldn't mind?'
'Pfff, better you than me, Mud Man,' Foaly shakes his head. 'Holly, sometimes I am amazed the two of you manage to get out of the house, never mind save the world on a regular basis.'
Holly hangs her head, turning her face away.
Foaly gnaws his lower lip, realising too late that now is not the time for witty repartee. 'Aww, come on, don't worry about it, Holly. Artemis can take a little insult here and there. And I was only kidding about the two of you. We'll figure this out. I'm a genius remember? And Artemis isn't a complete moron either.'
Holly gives him a weak smile.
'Atta girl. Oh! Speaking of money, send me your credit code and I'll have your savings exchanged for ... what do you want? Euro? And I'll set you up a nice human account. Sound good?'
'Fabulous. Thanks, Foaly.' Holly heaves a mental sigh. Not totally destitute then.
'No problemo. I'll see you soon. 'Night Butler.'
'Good night Foaly.'
The laptop screen blacks out. Artemis, returning with a bottle of water, sighs. 'I wish he'd let me turn it off manually, he knows that's bad for the computer.'
Trouble shrugs, 'He's gotta make his exit. I'll be back tomorrow night if I haven't got a Council meeting. Either way, I'll have Foaly call with an update. Not that he won't call anyway, any excuse to make long distance calls with government money.' He looks up at Holly, opens his mouth to say something, and closes it again. He lays a hand on her shoulder instead, and disappears into the night.
'I'll never get used to that,' Butler comments conversationally, handing her two pills and the bottle, 'just poof, and you guys are gone.'
'Well, don't worry,' Holly swallows dutifully, 'I'll never do it to you again.'
Butler grimaces. 'I'm sorry, I didn't think. Would you prefer it if we left?'
Holly nods, then stops. 'Actually... would, could, you stay?'
'Of course.' Butler smiles, moving to gather up the tea things, 'But I'll just go put another kettle on first, if you don't mind.'
The door closes behind him and silence hangs cold and heavy in the room.
Artemis returns to the chair at the foot of the bed. Holly hugs her knees to her chest, pulling the nightgown over them. Gently, she rocks back and forth on the duvet.
'I'm sorry, Artemis,' she says at last. 'I didn't mean what I said. It was a terrible thing to say. I'm just... I'm so... I don't know what's going on. Or how to react. I'm sad, then I'm angry, then I'm numb all over and then I don't even know what. But I do... I do appreciate what you're doing. It's very good of you. I... you're a good friend, Arty.'
'If you appreciate what I'm doing, why won't you accept it?' The hurt is palpable, rolling off him in lapping little waves, licking at her feet.
She flops backwards onto the bed, sighing. 'Nearly all my life I've been on my own. I have always taken care of myself. I am the one person who I can always depend on. I am entirely independent. And I'm proud of that. I'm proud of myself. It wasn't easy, getting where I am now. Where I was,' she amends tonelessly. 'But if... if I don't even have that anymore, if I just live here, and let you... take care of me... what do I have left? My independence, my pride, they're all I have Artemis, don't take them away from me.'
'But isn't that what friends are supposed to be for? Taking care of one another? Isn't that what all the books say?'
'There's taking care and then there's taking care. I won't become anyone's leech.'
'Leeches take without asking. I'm offering.'
'You weren't offering earlier, you were telling. You didn't even ask my opinion.'
'Is that the problem? For goodness sake, I simply thought...' well, actually, I didn't really think at all. I spoke before I had a chance to... 'I assumed you'd be relieved to know you had a home.'
'Come up here onto the bed, Arty. I don't like talking to you when I can't see you; I'm at too much of a disadvantage even when I can.'
'Not right now you're not. I hardly seem capable of forming coherent sentences,' but he clambers up beside her nonetheless. They lie side by side and stare up at the canopy, not quite touching.
For a while they drop the argument and lay silent, bodies slowly relaxing, the tangles of their muscles and the stiffness of their bones unwind and lay calm.
'This is my fault,' Artemis says at last. 'I am the reason that you are... the way you are. And I can admit that. But I owe you so much already. There are very few people in the world to whom I feel indebted, and you are most definitely one of them. And yet... you are always doing more. Your interest rates are astronomical.' He runs his hands over his face, 'I would like to take care of you, Holly, if you... if you'd let me. It's all I can do.'
He's speaking through his fingers, voice muffled, barely audible, but with words no less astute. 'I don't believe anyone would think less of you for it. No one below ground would even have to know.' This is a lie on his part. Very, very deep down, he knows he would want everyone to know. To know that she trusted him, that she let him do what she would let no one else. That she chose him to care for her. And he would want everyone to know that he was capable of doing exactly that.
'You're fifteen Artemis. What happens in twenty years when you meet some nice little woman and you lobotomize her half a dozen times until she agrees to marry you and then: Oh yeah, this is Holly, we used to work together, and now she lives here. But only in the west wing, so don't worry about it. It's just like having a poltergeist!'
'I would never give someone a lobotomy. That's utterly unprincipled.'
'That's not the point. And since when do you care?'
'I need to make amends, Holly. Don't you understand that at least?'
'Okay, new situation, twenty years from now and you're, as is more likely, still very much single, tottering around in this big house, avoiding me because you've promised to take care of me and still feel like you should. So, subsequently, you resent me and have grown to hate me more than life itself.'
'And you used to be so optimistic...'
'Changing species changes a girl, what can I say? Anyway, the bottom line is, I take care of myself. I always have and I always will. Thank you, Arty. Honestly, it's so good of you, I'm having trouble believing you aren't feverish. But I don't need to be molly coddled.'
The boy sighs. 'I act immorally, you lecture me, I act compassionately, you mock me. What exactly do you want from me, Holly?'
She turns away from him. 'I don't know,' she whispers to the headboard.