A/N: In terms of style this story is less ambitious than (Mis)understanding was, but I just had to write it – a straight-up romance, set a few years after TTP.
Love is always a problem, whatever our age may be. – C.G. Jung
"– she drew out an arrow from the quiver, and tested its point on the tip of her thumb. But because her arm was still trembling she pressed too hard, with the result that it pricked too deeply, and tiny drops of rose-red blood bedewed the surface of the skin. So all unknowing and without prompting Psyche fell in love with Love..."
Artemis Fowl paused in his reading to type a few notes regarding the passage, toying with the notion of putting out his own translation of the Latin text; some of the modern editions had taken overlarge liberties with the wording in places. He set the notion aside just as quickly: it was simply a distraction and already his mind was wrestling with two problems, both of a personal nature.
With a sigh, Artemis set down the book and rubbed his temple as the May sunlight crept through the window. The sun was still high above the horizon and already he could hear the murmurings at the back of his skull, the inhuman voices that came with the full moon and crashed through his mind like stormy breakers. In the years since the Hybras incident, most of the symptoms he'd suffered from stealing magic in the time stream had vanished, yet occasionally the effects would recur with the force of those first months. Sometimes the full moon brought with it an inundation of fairy voices and memories, a cacophony that drowned out his own thoughts and left his head throbbing almost past endurance. Even the migraine prescription he'd written himself only dulled it.
Who would have thought stealing a touch of magic would have such a hefty price?
He reached for the book again, The Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius, but his hands remained limp on the spine. He knew what followed (he could quote tracts of the original line for line): Psyche's loss of Amor's trust and of him, and the long litany of trials she would suffer before amends were made and relationship restored.
He rose as he heard his mother's voice. Blood thrummed his through skull and he pressed his hand to his temples, the coolness of his palm comforting. "Hellfire," he muttered. It would be bad this time.
A knock on the door. "Arty?"
He forced himself to smile as his mother entered his study. She was already dressed, ready for an overnight visit to London with the family. At six the twins were excitable and inquisitive and Angeline loved indulging their child-like wonder. Artemis could only remember himself at six as a dour walking encyclopaedia. "Why aren't you dressed, Arty? We're almost ready to go." She stared hard at him for a moment. "You're not feeling well, are you?"
He smiled wanly. She could always tell when one of his migraines was coming on. Something in the eyes, she said. Constricted pupils, most likely; photophobia was a common symptom of migraines. "I'm sorry, mom." 'Mom'... It was easier to say now, but still felt oddly informal at times. No matter. It made her happy to hear it. "I'm afraid I have the beginning of a migraine. I'll need to stay home, but you should all enjoy yourselves regardless."
"Are you sure? We could go another time."
"I'll be fine. I have my prescription after all and Butler will be here if I need anything."
She hugged him and then drew back to look into his face. "My tall boy," she said fondly, smiling at him. At eighteen (legally twenty-one) he'd managed to grow to the national average of five foot ten. Angeline's smile wavered a moment as she looked into his mismatched eyes. He didn't need to ask to know the regrets that troubled her. His contact with the People had changed him. For the better, by and large. But there had been a price, his parents' worry during his three year absence chief among them.
"I'll be fine," he assured her again.
"We'll be home tomorrow afternoon," she said.
As soon as his mother left, he sat back down – too quickly – and pain throbbed through his skull in time with his pulse. He reached for his pills and downed a pair with a gulp of water. At the back of his mind were the voices he couldn't understand, a low hum like the buzzing of insect wings, persistent and grating.
All this because of Hybras. Everything had changed there.
He had replayed the incident in his thoughts repeatedly, reviewing, analysing to see if he could have done something differently. There was one memory he normally skirted over. Holly's death and his subsequent rescue of her. Today he reached into the corner of his mind where he had sealed that memory so as not to lose it in the time stream. Perhaps the wash of his own pain, his own memories, could overwhelm the alien ones that clambered at the back of his mind.
He drew the memory out of the safe place he had stored it, and reviewed it with a critical eye.
He inspected it, turned it over in his thoughts, observed it from all angles, all the while manipulating it with caution, careful to keep it at a safe distance lest its edges cut. It resembled the pain of hearing of his father' disappearance, but even then there had always been the belief that his father had been alive. This pain was full of jagged edges: the horror of seeing it happen, the violence of it, its suddenness – these were the sorts of things that commonly led to post traumatic stress disorder in regular minds. But it never happened and the memory was relegated to the status of nightmare, one startling only for its vividness and detail.
Holly was alive and well and that knowledge dulled the sharp edges of memory. Even so, losing her, if only for a moment, had changed things. Idly, he wondered what she was up to now. Probably on a Recon mission; full moons were busy nights for the LEP.
With a sigh, Artemis rose and moved to a cushioned chair on the far side of his study. He eased himself into his seat, pausing a moment as the blood surged most unpleasantly through his temples again, and then turned on his plasma tv and switched to CNN. Even a magic-induced migraine would not rob him of the satisfaction of reviewing the fruits of his latest endeavour.
Don't shoot the tourists. Shooting the tourists is bad. Over the course of the past hour, those words had become Holly Short's mantra. She would have to end up on a surface-bound shuttle packed with a school field trip.
The collection of young sprites, elves, pixies, and even one dwarf, appeared to have consumed large quantities of sugar (or possibly energy shakes) minutes before boarding the Tara-bound shuttle. Their teachers had attempted to quiz them about Tara's history during the hour-long trip to the surface but that had lasted about six minutes before they'd given up and left the children to sing endless refrains of "The magma in the shoot spouts up and up."
Amidst the singing were occasional shrieks of indignation or queries of whether they were there yet. Next to her, one of the teachers, a youngish elf who looked to have gone prematurely grey, was massaging his temples.
"Faberr's tugging on my wings again!"
"Stop pulling Saya's wings, Faberr," said the teacher.
"I need to use the washroom," squeaked one of the young pixies.
"It's right there, Plin," the teacher said pointing to the door a few feet away from them.
Holly heaved a sigh. The council must have set this up somehow. Surely she couldn't be this unlucky.
It wasn't news to anyone that she'd been on thin ice with the fairy council for ages, ever since Artemis had seen fit to take her hostage all those years ago. But things had become progressively more complicated, especially after the time-travelling incident when their actions had loosed two Opal Kobois on the world. Three years later and they were still loose and wreaking havoc. There had been endless incidents and inquiries until finally the council had threatened to revoke her surface privileges completely. They'd even had Artemis himself brought to Police Plaza for questioning. Yet they'd not been prepared for what they were dealing with in Artemis Fowl. Not in the least.
"Take that, Mud Man!" Holly's neck snapped around to stare at the young elf. He was clutching a pair of action figures, one of an LEP officer complete with Neutrino 3000, and another of a human garbed in animal skins, brandishing a spear and grimacing in a manner Holly was almost certain was anatomically impossible for the human face. It looked like an expression one might see on a troll's face.
Holly's chest clenched. Artemis had been devious and conniving, a monster really when she had met him, but trolls could not change for the better. Artemis had.
Her thoughts turned to that day in Police Plaza when he had taken on the council, to their conversation before the hearing.
"I will not allow us to be parted on account of a council of petty bureaucrats." His habitual calm had dissolved and his newfound fervency had sent a shiver down her spine.
"Don't go overboard," Artemis. "The People have reason to distrust Mud Men in general and you in particular."
"I realize that," he said, straightening his jacket and tie, his coolness returned. He paused then for a moment. He caught her eye and a smile, not the smug smile she was used to, nor the toothy grin of the hunter, but a genuine smile, curved his lips. "But I'm afraid, Holly, that I couldn't do without you."
She'd caught her breath. To hear her own words on his lips, those words...
But there had been no time – there never was – and he'd been carted off by an armed escort to say his piece to the council. And what a piece it had been, too.
"Consult the history of my case," he'd told the council, standing so that he towered over them all. "You'll see that after being mind wiped I reverted to my past criminal behaviour in spite of the good influence of my parents who had been restored to me by Captain Short. The logical conclusion, then, is that it's the People whose influence is chiefly responsible for any improvements in my character. And since Captain Short has long been my main contact with the People, it seems patently foolish to try to sever that contact. Without her good influence, I cannot guarantee that I won't... backslide." His lip was curled to show the hint of an incisor. Reedy and deathly pale, he looked as dangerous as a shark.
Blackmailing the council. She'd been at once astounded and appalled. For all the changes in him, Artemis had never lost that ruthlessness.
And of course once they'd escorted him back to a holding cell it hadn't ended there. No, of course not. Somehow he'd managed to bug the council room and she'd caught him monitoring their deliberations. It had been a mess of arguing and finally they'd had to accept the truth of Artemis's statement, but what she remembered most were Vinyáya's words. Her former instructor had always been a supporter of Holly's. That day she'd argued vociferously on Holly's behalf until finally she had shaken her head and sighed. "What fate brings together, let none tear asunder." There had been murmuring.
"A quotation?" Artemis had asked, turning to Holly.
"A proverb." She hadn't told him where the proverb originated and, luckily, there hadn't been time for him to press her.
"I for one," Vinyáya had continued, "have faith in Captain Short. We know she can handle Fowl. Could you say the same of any other officer?"
Holly straightened as she felt the telltale shudder as the shuttle docked at port. Finally! She hurried out of her seat, flashed her badge to get through customs, and soon she was shielded and soaring through the cool, Irish air.
Yet for all the glory of the old country, and the sun dipping into the horizon, all the while she flew, the proverb rattled around her mind.