"Arty, why don't you go tell your brothers a bedtime story?" Angeline called from the family room as Artemis shepherded his younger brothers to their bedroom.
"Whopee!" Rather than settling down for bed, they seemed to get even more wound up; despite how they normally felt about Artemis' stories.
Artemis escorted Myles and Beckett to their bedroom, unable to refuse the request from his mother. Truthfully, he enjoyed the time that he spent with Myles and Beckett. While they found him dull at times, he found himself opening up to them and didn't find the same unfamiliarity he felt after being separated from Butler or his parents for three years. The twins felt no shyness or awkwardness around him and simply accepted the way he was; Artemis could only return the kindness. No matter how uncomfortable it might be for him at times.
"Artemis, we want to hear Peter Pan!" Beckett was all smiles as he hugged Artemis' knee.
Myles fetched the book from the small shelf of picture books across from the dresser and said, "Artemis is a good reader."
Artemis sat down in the family rocking chair that had been put into the center of the room for these sorts of occasions and accepted the book from Myles. Beckett continued to lean into Artemis' lap, making him set the book on one knee so the twins could see the pictures. Myles however sat cross-legged on the floor watching Artemis read.
The twins had an unusually long attention span this night, no stuffed animals were thrown and the boys were still wrapped in the story when Artemis closed the book. Mother must have given them sweets after dinner. Beckett had sat down a few times but was underneath the arm of the chair, leaning on Artemis' thigh. Myles had stood up at the end and looked up at Artemis with something like worry.
"Artemis, did you go to Neverland?" Beckett asked.
Artemis knew that children were often insightful, but nothing prepared him for this question. He rather carefully considered the implications of this question. The twins understood that he had been gone for some time and had not aged past his last pictures. Hybras had not been fanciful like Neverland, but there had been danger, excitement and magic. In a way it was like Neverland, he had returned different in mind, but not body; fought demons and saved fairies. He contemplated his answer, knowing of course he had not been to Neverland, but he couldn't mesmerize his baby brothers into thinking he had always been there.
"No, I didn't go to Neverland." Artemis said, ruffling his brother's hair.
Before Beckett could ask more about Artemis' disappearance, Myles asked what had been worrying him. "Artemis, do you believe in fairies?" He looked on the verge of tears.
Beckett covered his mouth with his hand in surprise before whispering loudly to Myles, "No! What if Artemis says no?"
Artemis had to smirk a little. It wasn't a mischievous smirk like those he always used to wear. This was one that signified his leaving the real world momentarily to think about how much he believed in fairies. It was a melancholy and nostalgic smile very uncharacteristic of him. Of course the People were supposed to be a secret, but he looked at the twins and their anxious stares back at him. Children their age would believe in fairies no matter what he said, it would only break their hearts to lie. "I do believe in fairies."
Myles and Beckett lit up even more than at the mention of a bedtime story. They started holding hands and jumping in circles shouting, "I do believe in fairies!" It was very cute, even to Artemis. They settled a little bit before asking a barrage of questions about fairies.
"Are they short like Tinkerbell?" Artemis thought that the closest fairy would be a pixie, but even they weren't that small, "Not all of them."
"Are they beautiful?" Beckett had a hard time with the word beautiful, but Artemis understood. He thought about Mulch for a minute and sort of shuddered, "Not all of them."
Myles looked suspicious for a moment, "Have you met a fairy Artemis?"
Artemis felt he was on a slippery slope, but it wasn't likely that the twins would take him at face value, or remember for very long. Artemis smiled, "Yes, I have."
Beckett started saying, "I want to meet a fairy" over and over again, but Myles continued his interrogation. "Can she fly?"
Artemis thought that there was nothing Holly liked better than flying, "Yes."
"Is she pretty?" Artemis thought this was a strange question for Myles, but pondered the answer anyway. In his mind's eye was a slideshow of Holly at all sorts of moments in their adventures together. He didn't really need a visual to give him the answer, but he enjoyed it anyway. "Yes."
"What's her name?" Beckett had stopped prancing and was tugging on Artemis' pants. "It's Holly." He said with some reservation. He had no problem admitting that she was attractive, but using her name when he told his brothers about his pretty elfin friend made him a little embarrassed. They were two different heads for the same dragon; the part of her that was beautiful and astonishing, and the part of her that was fierce and his equal but opposite. If he put them together and tried to describe this dragon, it was unlike any mythical creature before it.
"It's time for bed." He said without much conviction, thinking instead about what their parents might think if the twins ran to tell them that Artemis was friends with a fairy. His faced reddened a little when he thought what Butler might say. Butler knew the truth; that there really were fairies. But this sentimentality was unusual, and Butler was always so good at reading people, something Artemis envied at times.
The twins climbed into bed and were tucked in by Artemis, soothed by their contented faces. The boys were tired, but still very interested in Artemis and fairies. "Do you miss her?" Myles said when Artemis had reached the door and the light switch. Longing resounded in Artemis' heart like a rarely rung church bell. He missed her, he missed all of his underworldly friends at times. But this was different, over 4 years of occasional, death-defying visits had brought them closer than he and his parents were after 14 years. Artemis turned out the light and masked the emotions within, "Yes, I miss her."