Holly Short breathed deeply of the night air as it rushed past her. During her time in the LEPrecon squad, she'd travelled the surface world, but the air in the old country was the sweetest. It still had a whiff of magic to it.
Squeezing an acorn in her fist, Holly glanced up at the gibbous moon. Full would have been better of course, but she couldn't wait the extra days; her magic stores were precariously low after healing Artemis yesterday. A pang shot through her as she remembered the sight of him on the laboratory floor, his white shirt soaked through with blood. She pushed the thought away. Artemis was safe.
She checked her wrist locator to verify her position, but after all this time, she could have found her way blind; she knew this stretch of Irish countryside like she knew the hallways of police plaza.
Fowl Manor loomed ahead, a black shadow in the night, and her heart skipped a beat. She chided herself. As bad as any schoolgirl. Yet even so, she could not keep a smile from curving her lips.
She alighted within the manor's walled enclosure, undetected and – in theory – undetectable, shielded as she was. Tugging off her helmet, she paused a moment to glance up at the gargoyles that leered down at her from the manor, more like old friends now than the gruesome stone guardians they were meant to be. So much had happened here. So much had changed...
Though not quite full, the moonlight still sent a shiver down Holly's spine, the promise of magic thrilling through her. The image of Opal Koboi's human-like features darted through her thoughts and she shuddered. To be a magical creature and willingly give up your magic... Holly would never understand how Opal could do it, much less how she could bear it.
It was only when she came to the cluster of horse chestnuts and oaks that rose between her and the manor that Holly unshielded. She paused to lay her hand against the gnarled bark of an ash. The trees here were old, so old they almost had voices of their own. Though she was not certain she would enjoy all of what they would have had to say. They had, after all, watched over generations of Fowls. A breeze sent the tendrils of a willow waving as if in greeting and Holly smiled. At least some of the stories would be good ones.
Finally she came to a halt near a patch of ground from which sprouted a number of oak saplings. As she knelt down, acorn in hand, she found she was grinning in spite of herself.
"Bury it far from where it was found, so return your gift into the ground." She started as the voice rose out of her helmet.
"The last time I checked the Book, it didn't say anything about having to bury the seed at Fowl Manor."
"Spying on me?"
"I would never."
Holly rolled her eyes. "And I would never break the rules."
"Speaking of which... One of these days, someone is going to figure out what you and Artemis have been up to."
Holly heard footsteps drawing closer and smiled. "We'll deal with that when the time comes. Now... are you going to be sticking around?"
A snort. "Sorry, you're breaking up. Must be some flares. Communications will probably be down until you get back."
Once again, Holly knelt and dug her fingers into the earth until there was a small shallow in which to place her acorn. She dropped it in and even before she'd covered it again, she felt the magic rushing through her. Joy coursed through her veins along with magic as the familiar footfalls drew near.
Smiling, she turned to look up at Artemis. He was dressed casually – or at least as casual as he got – in a silk shirt, a pair of pleated woollen pants, and a matching jacket. He was pale and reedy, hardly the standard of masculine beauty by human or even elfin norms, but something about the way the breeze tousled his black hair made her pulse thrum.
"There's a stream not far from here," he said. "I've been thinking about how we could have it rerouted onto the property, preferably with a bend in it. I rather enjoy the idea of the People coming here one day to perform the Ritual."
Holly shook her head. "I can't imagine many fairies would come here willingly." And then, sorrow touching her features as she looked on the oak saplings, "You'd be long gone by then anyway."
"But you could come," he said quietly. "You will always be welcome here."
Holly stood, brushing the dirt off the knees of her Shimmer Suit, and then craned her neck to look up at Artemis. "You had to go and get tall," she said as she activated her wings. She hovered at eye level for a moment, her gaze locking with his. Even now, after all these years, when she looked into a mirror and saw that one blue eye staring back at her, she still thought of it as his. It was a part of her, but she would always remember him starting back at her. She remembered the cold blue eyes of the boy she'd met long ago, but in the eyes of the man staring back at her now was a warmth reserved, she knew, only for her.
She hovered closer until she was near enough to hold his face in her hands and press her lips against his. His hands came to rest on the small of her back, beneath the whirring mechanical wings.
After a moment she drew back and pressed her hand against his chest where he'd been shot. "You gave me a scare yesterday, you know."
His fingers trailed down her cheek. "I'm sorry, Holly. I assure you it's not an experience I care to repeat," he said, his lips curved into a sly smile.
"You'd better not," she whispered and then leaned in to kiss him again – but then stopped short.
"What is it?" Artemis said, his voice, slightly husky, sending shivers down her spine.
"Give me your jacket."
He peered at her with raised eyebrows but pulled off his jacket and handed it to her. She took it and proceeded to drop it overtop of her LEP helmet. "Just in case," she said with a wink.
And then she kissed him again until they were both too breathless to speak.