The Night Before Christmas

At five years old, Myles Fowl had abandoned any and all illusions relating to the existence of Santa Claus. Not only were his math skills sufficiently advanced to appreciate the impossibility of visiting every child in the world in twenty four hours, he also knew the combination to the safe in the west wing and had watched the gradual accumulation of presents throughout the month of December. This, combined with raiding the wastepaper basket in his mother's bedroom for old receipts, had confirmed his theory that every item on his 'letter to Santa' had been bought and paid for by Mum and Dad. Either his family had angered Santa in some way and were endeavouring to keep this fact from their younger members, or the man in question did not exist. And since several of his father's recent projects had been concerned with halting the melting of their yuletide benefactor's supposed home, Myles was fairly certain that the second option was the correct one.

Not so Beckett.

Myles knew his brother lapped up Mum's stories of elves and reindeer and fat men in red coats somehow squeezing themselves down chimneys. It was not the most ridiculous of Beckett's beliefs, not by a long shot. He currently had an imaginary friend called Patrick and was convinced that Mum's garden gnome was alive and would move if Beckett could only take him by surprise. He always shouted 'BOO!' whenever they passed the gnome in the garden, though so far the only person he had succeeded in surprising was the gardener, who tripped over his rake and fell into the pond. According to their teacher, Beckett was 'more typical of a five year old than his brother', though his taste for soy sauce in his morning milk was unusual. But the reception Myles received when he presented his anti-Santa argument to his twin was still annoying in the extreme.

"If Santa hears you say that," Beckett replied, yawning, as they waited for Juliet to return with their hot water bottles, "He'll put you on the naughty list." It was nearly nine o clock. They had been allowed to stay up an extra hour as a Christmas Eve treat, hanging up their stockings at the fireplace and laying out a mince-pie and a nip of whiskey for Santa.

"And I hope he enjoys it," Dad had chuckled as he helped Myles hold the decanter over the glass. It smelled disgusting. "That's a single-malt."

"I should imagine he'll be too drunk to tell by this point," Artemis had remarked, smirking as he watched the proceedings, "It's fortunate that Saint Nicholas is not confined by drink-driving laws, as I presume he will have had several million glasses of whiskey by this point. Imagine if he were to lose his license."

Myles had not quite understood the joke, but his parents had merely laughed when he asked for clarification and even Artemis, who seemed distracted and kept glancing out the window, had made a 'later' motion. He hated it when things went over his head, and he was still seething a little when Juliet helped him and Beckett into their pyjamas.

"There isn't a naughty list," Myles retorted now, "Mum and Dad buy the presents."

"Mum and Dad don't have our Christmas lists," Beckett shot back, with the smugness of one who knows his logic is irrefutable, "We put them up the chimney."

After Mum helped us write them, Myles was about to reply, but at that moment Juliet returned with their hot water bottles in her arms. All debates were forgotten in a five-minute wrestling match (they won, though not before their bodyguard had schooled them in the proper execution of a piledriver).

"And here I thought you were taking a break from wrestling," Artemis remarked from where he was leaning, arms folded, against the doorframe, "All your opponents who expect you to be soft and out of practice when you return will be sadly mistaken."

"These two could go pro," Juliet grinned and gently extricated herself from Myles and his brother, "Night, munchkins. Get to sleep quickly or Santa won't come!"

Myles rolled his eyes and thought he caught an answering twitch at the corner of his older brother's mouth. Artemis had, maddeningly, refused to discuss the Santa issue up until now. The younger Fowl suspected this was yet another attempt to 'preserve his childhood'. Now he tried to catch Artemis's eye but his brother was making room for Juliet to slip past him—and then looking at her in puzzlement as she stopped, grinning broadly. She glanced up.

Myles and Beckett knew their lines, "Mistletoe!" they chorused. Mum had fixed sprigs of the plant in what seemed like every doorway in the house and insisted that people kiss whenever they met beneath the white berries. For the most part everyone seemed to find it funny—though Dad had paid Myles ten pounds yesterday to keep quiet about the fact that he and Butler had passed each other in the hall without upholding the Christmas tradition. Myles couldn't see what all the fuss was about, personally. Artemis raised an eyebrow as Juliet pursed her lips theatrically, then kissed her lightly on the cheek. She ruffled his hair and left, leaving him looking decidedly put out. Artemis's desire to have every hair in place at every moment was another thing Myles didn't quite get. If you let people ruffle your hair they thought you were cute, and then they gave you things. Perhaps he would enlighten Artemis on the subject at some point, if he ever caved about the Santa issue.

"Good night hug!" Beckett demanded, and their big brother hugged them.

"Sleep well," he said, "Just think—when you wake up, it will be Christmas morning!"

Myles slid down into his warm bed, but Beckett was not ready to go to sleep just yet. Holding on to the sleeve of Artemis's shirt, he asked, "Arty…what happens if Santa didn't get our letters? What happens if they got lost on the way to the North Pole?"

"They didn't get lost, Beckett, don't you worry," Myles watched as Artemis tucked his brother's blankets firmly around him, "I have contacts in Santa's Workshop who have assured me that all Fowl requests have been fulfilled in a more than satisfactory manner."

Beckett's blue eyes widened, "You mean you know Santa's elves?"

Artemis's mouth twitched. He got to his feet and walked to the door, turning off the main light. Between the twins a nightlight glowed dimly—Beckett firmly believed that invisible monsters lived under his bed and ventured out in the dark to lay eggs in his hair. "In a manner of speaking."

Beckett settled down, eyes drifting closed, "Wow," he mumbled, "So for Christmas, you could get anything you want, right? Anything at all?"

Artemis reached up and ripped the mistletoe from the doorframe. His face as he slipped it into his pocket was unreadable. "Goodnight," he said, and shut the door.

*****

It felt like only minutes later—though the numbers on his digital clock revealed that nearly three hours had passed—when Myles was shaken roughly from a dream. It had been a strange dream; he was flying the Jet when he suddenly realised that Beckett's imaginary friend Patrick was in the co-pilot seat (this was a problem because Patrick did not have his Pilot's license). He was in the middle of explaining that they would have to perform an emergency landing at the North Pole when he realised he was flying a sleigh and that Patrick was in fact an elf who winked at him, flashing a hazel eye. It took him a moment to get his bearings and to realise that it was Beckett who was shaking him, voice low and excited as he whispered:

"Myles! Myles, listen! It's him! It's Santa!"

Myles listened. There was a strange noise overhead, a scraping and clattering on the roof that ended abruptly before he could listen properly. Beckett was beside himself, bouncing up and down on the bed, his hair sticking up in every direction, "Hear his reindeer? Myles, oh, Myles, let's go see him!"

"There's no…" Myles began, and then stopped. It was pointless trying to reason with Beckett, but if it turned out (as of course it would) that there was no Santa currently parking his reindeer on their roof, his brother might be dejected enough to see sense. There was an observation deck where Dad liked to set up his telescope on clear nights that provided a good view of the manor and its grounds—a quick glance from up there should show the lack of sleighs and then Myles could get back to bed. Only six more hours between him and that new microscope.

"Come on, then," he whispered back, and slid out of bed. Beckett padded after him, literally humming with excitement. Myles made shushing motions with his hands. Being caught halfway up to the observation deck by Mum or Butler was not part of the plan. They would say he was 'getting Beckett into trouble' again—as if he needed help. Myles would admit to masterminding the raid on the pantry, but Beckett had got stuck up that tree all on his own. Moving quietly, the two little boys padded along the landing and took the flight of stairs that led to the roof of the manor. Halfway up, Myles paused. He could hear voices up above. It was obvious what had happened now—someone was sitting on the observation deck and had slipped or dropped something, making the clattering noise that had woken Beckett. He turned to relay this to his brother, but Beckett—hearing the voices too but jumping to an entirely different conclusion—had pushed past him and was scrambling up the steps towards the open trapdoor. He was nearly there when one of the people above spoke again, and the twins, realising simultaneously who was talking, stopped and held themselves very still. It was Artemis, and he was laughing.

"…some sort of law about flying under the influence. I thought you were going to fall right off the roof."

As the boys watched, a smaller silhouette picked itself up from where it had been sitting by the edge of the deck and marched over—a little unsteadily—to smack their brother over the head. Artemis winced and put a hand to the spot, but continued to chuckle quietly.

"I am not drunk," said the small person in a voice Myles didn't recognise. He'd thought his brother was up there with a little girl, but this person didn't sound like a child, "I misjudged the angles, that's all."

"I wasn't aware elves celebrated Christmas."

"See?" Beckett's said in a hot rush of breath against Myles's ear, "Artemis said he was friends with Santa's elves!"

"He was joking," Myles replied, but his voice was uncertain. The facts were there. The height of the figure who was not a child. The sounds on the roof which had sounded very much like a botched landing. And Artemis had said elves

"We don't keep your human celebrations," the elf (if that was indeed what she was) scoffed, "It's midwinter—the shortest days have passed and the sun is returning to us. We dance around the fires to celebrate her rebirth."

"And consume large quantities of sim-wine, needless to say."

She heaved a long sigh, the world-weariness of which was slightly marred when it ended in a hiccup. As Artemis laughed again—sounding as relaxed and happy as Myles could remember him ever being—she tilted her chin haughtily away from him. The younger Fowls noticed it at the same moment, though it was Beckett that nudged his brother hard in the ribs. Her ears, backlit by the moon, were pointed.

"Here I am, cutting my own holidays short to drop in on you and all you can do is mock me. I got invited to nine parties tonight. Nine."

"You know it's always a pleasure to see you, Holly," said Artemis, and his voice was different now, quieter, so that Myles had to strain to hear it.

"See?" Beckett was triumphant, "Her name is Holly. Like the carol. So she must be Santa's elf. Myles, let's go look for him!"

Myles shook his head. For one thing, there was an elf sitting on his roof, talking to his brother like they were old friends, and there was no way he was going to miss a second of it. For another, he was no longer entirely convinced that he would not run into a man in a red suit filling their stockings if he decided to go back down to the house now. And if Santa knew (as surely he must, being so acquainted with Artemis) that Myles had spent the last month telling everyone that he wasn't real) it was bound to be an awkward meeting.

"I got you something," said Artemis up above, reaching into the pocket of his dressing gown and passing a small wrapped box to the figure beside him, "Call it a midwinter present."

There was the sound of ripping paper, the hiss of a lifting lid, followed by a faint chinking as something metallic was uncoiled from its repose. The elf named Holly held up a fine gold chain, upon the end of which a many-faceted crystal split the moon's glow into glittering shards.

"I know you don't wear jewellery," he said quickly, sounding nervous, "But this is the last of the ransom fund. I had it melted down. If you don't want it you could always give it to the Council, with my regards. Let them know their funds haven't been entirely squandered in the criminal underworld."

Myles frowned, trying and failing to make some sense out of this. He admitted defeat several seconds before the elf spoke. Her voice sounded stuffy. Could she have caught a cold at the North Pole? "Of course I want it. It's lovely." She raised her hands to fasten it about her neck, but she seemed to have trouble with the catch. The five-year-old watched as Artemis knelt behind her and settled the necklace in place. He remembered watching Dad do the same thing for Mum on her birthday, when she put on her favourite blue diamond necklace. Like Dad, Artemis lingered when the catch was fastened and for a second Myles thought he was going to kiss her on the neck as well. Then Holly turned to face him, drawing a hand quickly across her eyes as she did so, "I didn't get you anything, I'm sorry."

They saw Artemis's shoulders rise and fall, "You've given me enough."

"Nothing this precious, though." She fingered the smooth chain.

There was a brief flash of teeth in the moonlight as Artemis smiled, "Not in the material sense, perhaps."

She looked down, then reached out to pick up something that lay on the roof between them, "Look, you dropped this," she held it up and the berries shone white, "What is it?"

"It's mistletoe," he sounded ready to laugh again, "You know mistletoe, Holly, surely?"

"We're not exactly surrounded by greenery where I come from," she replied dryly, "Why are you carrying a plant around in your pocket?"

"It's unlucky for it to touch the ground. It's supposed to lose its powers."

"Which are?"

"It's the Scandinavian plant of peace," Artemis explained, fingering the bark, "If two opposing armies met beneath it in a forest, they put away their arms and were at peace for a day. It didn't matter what their people thought of one another—for that day, they forgot that they were different," he held the sprig a little higher, "And of course if a man and a woman meet beneath the mistletoe, they are obliged to kiss."

"Really?" the elf got to her feet, dusting off her rear end, "But you said it had lost all its powers. How unfortunate."

Myles did not hear his brother's reply, because at that very moment there was a soft snore from beside him and he realised that Beckett had fallen asleep. Surely Santa would be done with their rooms by now. He slid a hand over his twin's mouth to stifle any noise and shook him gently.

"Is it Christmas?" Beckett asked groggily, "Did I get my pogo stick?"

"Not yet," Myles whispered back. He glanced up. Artemis and the elf were standing now and she was checking her back, upon which Myles could make out the outlines of wings. There was still no sign of Santa. Maybe he had hundreds of workers who were sent out to deliver presents to different countries. That would be a solution to the timing problem, although Myles would have thought that Fowl Manor ranked highly enough to merit a visit from the man himself, "Come on, Beckett, let's go back to bed."

"Merry Christmas," said the elf, leaning forward to kiss their older brother on the cheek. Myles turned away and began helping Beckett down the stairs, tiptoeing to avoid a telltale creak.

"Midwinter luck," came Artemis's voice, muffled now from the space between them. Myles quickened his pace, but there were no sounds that indicated that the older Fowl was on his way down. He must have been watching her go. The five-year-old was half afraid that Artemis would look in on them on his way to bed—the twins slept between the stairs to the roof and Artemis's own bedroom. He wasn't sure how well he could affect sleep with everything that was buzzing around in his head. But although he lay awake for several minutes after Beckett's breathing became slow and regular, he did not hear Artemis pass his door before he fell asleep.

*****

"…and look what else Santa brought me!" Beckett crowed. Myles did not look up from his microscope. It was half past eleven on Christmas morning and Beckett had spent the last four and a half hours showing Myles all the wonders that had bourn his name under the Christmas tree. Beckett had received, as requested, a poncho, a pogo stick, a ukulele and a go-kart, among other things. His five minutes of heartbreak when it was revealed that Santa had misinterpreted his request for a parrot and only left him a model was quickly forgotten when it was discovered that the toy was remote-controlled and recite twelve different phrases. He had not mentioned their adventures the night before. Either he had forgotten them, half-asleep as he had been, or the lack of Santa Claus had rendered the expedition unworthy of discussion. Unless Myles had been dreaming…

"Mistletoe!" Juliet's trill rang through the house. Myles got up to peer through the living room door. Artemis, Juliet and Butler were standing in the hall. Artemis did not look pleased.

"Really, Juliet," he snapped, "I am not going to kiss my manservant just because of some Scandinavian tradition."

"That mistletoe fell down yesterday, anyway," said Myles, "It's lost its power."

Artemis looked around, but he did not look surprised or suspicious, "Thank you, Myles," he said.

"I've never heard that," Juliet pouted.

"In Scandinavia," Myles continued, "Mistletoe was the plant of peace. If two armies met beneath it, they put away their arms and were at peace for a day. They forgot that they were different."

Now Artemis's brow furrowed and he took a step towards his little brother, "That's true," he said, "I didn't know you knew that."

"I know lots of things," said Myles, satisfied, and went back to the living room. He had five new encyclopaedias to read and he still owed Beckett that Dominoes rematch, all of which would be much more fun than kissing elves on roofs in the middle of the night. Growing up, Myles Fowl decided, was most definitely overrated.

A/N: First off, a little note that has nothing at all to do with this story. I've had a couple of people asking me when I plan to update 'The Miracle of Life'. Sorry to have given you false hope, guys, but it was never meant to be more than a two-shot. I was actually going to upload it all at once but it got too long and so I had to go with chapters—which lead people to believe it was a full-length story. Some day I may write a fic where Artemis and Holly's child is actually born, but not yet.

On to this little thing—totally out of season, I know. Me and a couple of Uni friends decided to crack out the Christmas movies the other day, purely for laughs, and it got me in the mood for this. It has a different feel from the last chapter but then it's supposed to. This is meant to be a collection of stories tracing Artemis and Holly's relationship through time and I wanted to get in a couple of the other character's perceptions of them. Feedback on Myles would be appreciated. I tried to go for a very, very intelligent five-year-old who is nonetheless a little uninformed on the subtleties of adult interaction. I may go back and edit this, though—I'm not sure how well this came across.