The Miracle of Life
Part the second
It was timing that presented the major problem. Even assuming that elfin pregnancies proceeded at three quarters the rate of human ones, his method of choice was already technically non-viable according the General Medical Council. Based on the dates of Holly's visits in the summer months, Artemis calculated that she was fourteen and a half weeks pregnant-still in the equivalent of her first trimester but two and a half weeks too late for mifepristone. Of course it was all artifice, persuading himself that this was any different from drugging Holly and performing the operation surgically. The only difference was that the first method could, just possibly, be explained away as a miscarriage.
Artemis fully expected to hate himself forever. He was not even certain that he would be able to hold Holly as she wept and not confess his guilt. As to what he would do if she looked him in the eye and asked if he was responsible, he was undecided. The fact of the matter was that this plan was not logical-if Holly discovered the truth, everything would be broken between them and he would lose her as completely as if she were dead. But she was all that was good about him and he didn't know what the world was like without her in it except that there was madness in it. So in the wake of his decision, which he had come to that morning on the manor steps, he told Holly that he had a lecture to prepare that day but that he would be happy to see her for brunch the following morning. She had been known to sit beside him while he worked, but he had correctly predicted that she would want some time away from him that day. She fired up her stealth-suit and went flying over the Irish Sea and he walked to the wing of the house set aside for his use and descended to his makeshift laboratory.
He was in no way immune to the morbidity of manufacturing a drug that would abort-kill-his unborn child. He could have had the medicine delivered-it would have been a small matter to register Fowl Manor as a medical storage site-but he preferred to make it himself, with a couple of alterations that increased the effectiveness at this later date and reduced the risk of side effects. In the room that had appropriately once been used a dungeon of sorts, Artemis mixed and measured his own particular brand of poison. Nightshade and bats' blood would have been more appropriate, brewed at the dark of the moon. In the stories it was always the women who made the potions; weathered old hedge witches who handed them over to pale girls in alleyways in exchange for a few grimy coins. The message was clear: children are women's business. But love? he thought, We men are allowed our say in that, surely? Cupid was a man, after all. And I do love her.
He was almost finished when there was a knock at the door. Artemis's hand jerked and he nearly ruined the titration. Carefully unscrewing the burette, he called, "Yes?"
It was Beckett. Though the Fowl twins were not identical, they were similar enough-in height and build and curly hair-that they were often mistaken for each other anyway. The lighting by the door was too dim to make out the boy's features, but while both Artemis's younger brothers tended to dress 'casually' (he had another word for it) only Beckett would choose to wear a muddy football strip and manage not to notice the twigs caught in his light brown hair. He was clutching an exercise book and had a disgruntled look on his face, presumably at the thought of the studies that had interrupted his sport. Artemis himself had worn much the same look when forced to take part in gym classes as a child.
"Artemis, will you help me with my French homework? Myles says he's done it, but I think he's taking the mick."
Taking it where? His elder brother might have joked on another occasion. This time he reached out one hand and accepted the grubby jotter. After a moment or two he closed it.
"What was the topic?"
"Um…" Beckett screwed up his nose, which was freckled from the sun, "A letter to someone in class, using the vocab we've learned so far. Name, age, family. That kind of stuff."
"I see," Artemis tapped the cover, "If you wish to seduce your friend through a risqué love letter, you couldn't ask for better. You proclaim yourself a lover to rival Napoleon and state that whoever labelled the French as great romantics clearly hadn't met you or your brothers."
Beckett groaned, "I knew that didn't mean 'My brothers and I enjoy trips to the seaside'. We never go to the seaside." But there was a reddish cast to his cheeks and Artemis did not miss it.
"A pretty friend, Beckett?"
"She's alright," his brother shifted in embarrassment and a twelve-year-old's pride, "But I wish Myles would keep his nose out. It's my business. If I mess things up I'll do it on my own, thanks."
Artemis was abruptly dissatisfied with the conversation, and not just because twelve was, in his opinion, far too young to have a girlfriend. He returned the book to Beckett and bent over his titration once again. "Ask Butler to help you-his French is fluent. Better yet, do it yourself. The exercise is not difficult. It should take you ten minutes at the most."
"With my second-rate mind, yeah?" Beckett grinned with the easy good humour that people always commented on in him and his twin. Serious little chap, isn't he? They had said of Artemis at the same age, or that kid scares me (this one out of earshot), "I'll give it fifteen and then ask Butler to check it. And if you see Myles before I do, tell him I don't need his help with girls. 'Brotherly concern' doesn't mean he gets to screw with my life."
And he left, Artemis's little brother, shedding grass and clods of earth and leaving Artemis with a lot more to think about than Myles's filthy vocabulary.
Finishing took longer than it should have done. 600mg should do the job effectively, he thought. Holly did not drink 'mudman fruit-juice', claiming the preservatives made her vomit, but she found it hard enough to stay awake during the day that she would take a little coffee. The difference in taste would actually work to his advantage, as Holly would be less likely to detect the taste of the drug, especially if he made her coffee strong. The drug would remain in her system for some time, but there was nothing he could do about that. He could only hope that her medics, sceptical as they were about the feasibility of bringing an elf-human hybrid to term, would not think to check.
His ring communicator vibrated against his hand. Artemis raised it to his mouth, "Good evening, Holly."
"Evening," she sounded amiable enough, "Done with your lecture?"
"I've finished the notes, yes."
"Good. I'm still on the coast. There's a shuttle-port near here with a sleep-pod attached. I could crash out here and fly over tomorrow?"
The question was there, unspoken between them. Artemis closed his eyes and massaged them with his free hand, thankful that Holly couldn't see, "Father is home tonight. He'll probably want to have drinks. I haven't spoken to him in a while; he's obsessed with trying to get his handicap down…"
"That's fine," said Holly quickly, cutting him off before he could embellish anymore, "I'll see you tomorrow, Artemis."
The line went dead and Artemis sighed. He had hurt her again, though she'd never admit it. But he was sick unto death of lying to her and he could not bring himself to do it again just yet, in the darkness that had always been such a friend to them.
Morning arrived in shades of crimson and gold, as if nature had acquired an artistic eye and had chosen the shades specially to complement the autumn-touched trees that shaded the grounds of Fowl Manor. Angeline Fowl donned a wrap in deference to the chill and went for a walk with her husband, while Beckett took his football and dedicated the morning to practicing his goal-scoring. It had been suggested that Myles play opposite him to make up for the French homework, but as soon as Mr and Mrs Fowl had left, Myles announced that he was meeting a girl in town and left his twin in the lurch with a breezy clap on the shoulder. (The twinkle in his eye died somewhat when he learned that Juliet would be accompanying him. It is bad form to bring another girl on a date, even if she is a bodyguard.) So it was that only Butler remained to prepare brunch for Artemis and his guest, a fortunate turn of events as it meant that they could eat in the breakfast room without fear of discovery by the less informed members of the household.
Butler was worried. Holly's visits normally brought light to Artemis's eyes and an almost-human colour to his face, but this morning he was bone-pale and his eyes had the shadowed look of one who had slept poorly, if at all, the night before. This was more worrying than it might have been, as Holly had been inexplicably absent the night before. When Butler had finished setting the table and Artemis had stopped pacing, collapsing instead into one of the antique redwood chairs, the giant manservant hovered a moment by his employer's elbow.
"Artemis, are you alright?"
"What?" Artemis started, looking up from minute contemplation of a teacup.
Butler hesitated. Discretion was one thing, but really, they knew he wasn't blind. "Holly. Have you two had a fight?"
It could have been laughed off-for a second he could see Artemis thinking about it and the ghost of the retort rose between them. Really, old friend, Holly and I make a point of having three fights before breakfast. He took a deep breath as though to speak, but was distracted somewhat when his laptop turned itself on. This was an uncommon enough occurrence that it would have drawn their attention even if Foaly's face had not immediately filled the screen. He looked worried.
"Mud b…man," he lingered a little over the second word and Butler frowned, "Is Holly there yet? She's not answering her communicator and she keeps making the cutest efforts to shut down her locator chip. My big red dot over Fowl Manor keeps blinking on and off."
"I am expecting her any minute now," Artemis conceded, "But I'm afraid I am going to have to ask you to respect her privacy, Foaly." And he turned off the laptop, removing the battery for good measure. Butler was completely in the dark, but then, he often was where Artemis was concerned.
Foaly's locators were, as always, spot on. The glass doors of Artemis's breakfast room swung open and Holly appeared, jabbing repeatedly at a button on her helmet, "I am going to strangle that medic. Even you humans have such a thing as doctor-patient confidentiality. I've been trying to lose Foaly all the way here."
"Really?" Artemis murmured, closing the laptop. Holly was rubbing her eyes.
"Being dead on my feet doesn't help. I need coffee," then she remembered, "D'arvit!"
"Decaf," Artemis moved to the table, busying himself with cups and saucers, his back to the room. It took him several moments to add milk and sugar, though as it could well have been the first cup of coffee he had fixed in his life, this was understandable, "The taste will jog your body's memory an achieve a false sense of wakefulness. A placebo effect, in short."
Holly swallowed the hot liquid in two mouthfuls, wincing as it burned her mouth. A second later she jumped and nearly dropped the cup as Foaly's voice emanated from the laptop, "So it's true, then?"
Artemis stared at the battery he still held in his hand, "Impressive."
In Butler's defence, a better man than he would have been bursting with curiosity, even without the added concern of his employer's safety. Perhaps Holly was aware of the superhuman effort it took him to remain silent. She half-turned so both he and the closed laptop were in her line of vision, "Yes, Foaly. It's true. Artemis and I…we're going to…I'm pregnant."
Butler locked eyes with Artemis. After a second or two, his charge have a minute nod. Butler smiled, "That's…fantastic news," watching Holly smile, his exclamations gained fervour, "Congratulations!" he stepped forward and clapped a hand on Artemis's shoulder. Artemis gripped it hard.
Foaly was speaking again, "…Caballine told me what one of the fairies at her palates class was shouting about, I thought it was just another rumour. Like the one about you recreating the old cell in the basement for…entertainment purposes, Mud Man," Artemis raised an eyebrow, "Speaking of entertainment, you're not saying much, my would-be technological rival. Have you thought about the…complications?"
"I thought about little else last night," Artemis took a deep breath and knelt, "Holly, you are one of the bravest people I know. You risk your life every day. To expect you to show any less courage in the face of this…gift, it was unworthy of you. The fact is…" he swallowed, looked down, met her eyes again, "I don't like to think about what's left of me, without you. I don't want to risk finding out. But that's not my decision. I need to learn to trust your judgement," he smiled with just the barest glint of his incisors, "In matters outwith my expertise, at least."
Butler suddenly became very interested in buttering himself a croissant, blinking hard as he did so. Foaly's tone was one of grudging approval, "Very pretty, Artemis. You should write poetry. I take it I'm not to be concerned with the batch of abortives you were cooking up in your underground lair last night, then?"
Holly's eyes flashed to the cup in her hands, then to the man before her, "What is he talking about, Artemis?"
"You have nothing to worry about," he covered her hands with his own, "It was just coffee. Frightfully low quality, but it is difficult to find decent decaf in Ireland. I had a-very brief-lapse of judgement. I entertained notions…but that's over now, I promise you. In my defence, you are still teaching me how to be a decent human being."
"So that's what you threw out this morning," Butler commented mildly, "I did wonder."
"You're taking this all very calmly," said Foaly.
"Thankyou," said Butler and Artemis together.
"I think he means me," Holly told them, rolling her eyes. Men, "I know. But it's Artemis. When he only almost does something unforgivable, it's more a cause for congratulations that anything else."
Which was mildly insulting, the young man reflected, but far less so than he deserved.
As soon as they were alone, Holly hit him.
"That is for almost killing our baby."
Artemis rubbed his arm-he was fairly certain she had just punched an old bruise, "I thought you said…"
"I know what I said. We have to put up a united front from now on. People are going to take the mick out of us enough without them seeing us fighting every five minutes."
What is this 'mick' anyway? Artemis thought. Aloud, he said, "So I'm not forgiven, then?"
"You have some grovelling to do," Holly allowed, though her hand had wormed its way into his own and she leaned against him in a way that implied the grovelling might not be of an entirely unpleasant sort.
After a moment or two, he said, "My father's family runs to boys, you know. But you and I never have conformed to tradition. I don't know how names are chosen among the people, but I was thinking-if we were to have a girl-that we might call her Miriam."
"Miriam," Holly said the word slowly, tasting the syllables, "Is that Arabic?"
"Hebrew, actually. It means 'wished-for child'. So that she'd always know…that we wanted her."
"Miriam," Holly tried it again. Wanted. Desired. Yearned-for, "It's a pretty name. Fancy, but I suppose your mother is called Angeline. I'll think about it. And I'll tell you what," she smiled up at him, "If it's a boy, we'll call him Diana."
Artemis blinked. He had wondered if her gift of tongues would be affected by the loss of her magic, but this seemed an odd error to make, "You mean Artemis, of course."
"No I don't!" Holly snorted inelegantly, "You and your father already have the same name and Frond knows how confusing that must be. I'm not about to make things worse. I thought Diana and Artemis were the same person anyway?"
"It is the Roman equivalent…" realising that this was not the way to make his case, Artemis backtracked, "Holly, Diana is a girl's name."
She looked at him very sternly, "You've spent the last twelve years telling me what an honour it is for a man to be granted the name of the virgin huntress. Were you lying? Again?"
"Artemis, I don't want to argue. It's bad for the baby."
The man subsided, though his face went through the most interesting set of contortions as his features tried to decide, once again, how to arrange themselves. It was an effect Holly had never tired of being able to produce and one which she anticipated seeing many times in the coming months. The scans performed by the People on their pregnant women were far more sophisticated than these click-and-bounce things the Mud People were currently experimenting with. The sex of the child, and much more besides, were known from the word 'go'. But she had months as a hormone-addled whale with no magic to speak of ahead of her, and it would provide some much needed amusement to wipe the smug look off his face once in a while.
Once she got too big to do it the traditional way, that is.
A/N: So that began much darker than I intended and somehow spiralled into uncontrollable silliness. I do apologise for the last bit, but I just couldn't resist. I