This story was written before the publication of The Atlantis Complex, and was my prediction of how the book would go. I proved phenomenally wrong. In addition, it was the prompt for "The Big Reveal Contest,"which asked writers to submit their versions of Artemis's "embarrassing professions of love." Winners will be announced on September 1st, and recorded as podfics, to be available at the Audiofic website.
Things Best Left Unsaid
Chapter 1: Bad Company
"Really, I like Atlantis."
Holly tightened her grip on the submarine controls. She had never been as skilled with submersibles as with aircraft, and nicking the docking bay would be poor form, even if the double hull would keep everyone in the craft from being crushed by the oceanic pressure.
"All that water. Brings back some nice memories. You went to Atlantis University, correct, Ms. Koboi?"
"Yes. I loved it. I wanted to open my first manufacturing plant here, but the building restrictions were intolerable." The petite former pixie kicked her feet, flexing her bare toes as she reveled in her extra modicum of freedom. Her wrists and ankles had been secured to her chair by thick magnetic bonds, and her eyes were shielded by a band of reflective metal that looked like sunglasses from a sci-fi movie (in the off chance she summoned enough magic to perform a mesmer on the other sub occupants), but she considered the change of scenery from her isolation pod in the depths of the ocean to be worth the physical restraints. At least for now.
"And you, Mr. Root? From whence did you matriculate?" She let the last word pop on each syllable, ending with a full-lipped smile that showed how she savored the complicated sounds.
Turnball Root sighed, swinging his head back to bring some grey hair out of his eyes, unable to do so with his hands, courtesy of similar bonds. "Just Haven College, I'm afraid. Mum and Da didn't have nearly enough money for Atlantis, what with my new baby brother to think of."
"So sad, really," Opal crooned, flirting shamelessly with the magic-less elf. "And him being such a poor investment, what with the short career."
A second later, all of the sub occupants winced as a long shriek filled the cabin, their seats vibrating as Holly scraped along the docking bay for a third of the sub's length. The only one with hands free—Artemis Fowl—covered his ears and whimpered, rocking in his seat. He was counting up in powers of five, and was somewhere around twenty digits, with no signs of stopping. His eyes locked on the digital readouts, cringing whenever a four popped up.
Holly did not bother to apologize as the screeching ended, though the convicts gave her sour looks. Docking procedures were already under way, and a moment later control of the vessel was transferred to the Atlantis marines, who made a flawless connection to the cabin, all while muttering over the radio about the crazy girlie captain's interesting piloting style.
Breathing out slowly to get her temper back in control, Holly snapped off her seat-belt and stood, crossing to Artemis's chair. She crouched in front of him, frowning when he did not respond to her presence. Normally, she would have been able to look into his eyes by standing as he sat, but the genius was hunched, eyes darting along the tiled floor, cursing its squareness and penchant to fours.
"Artemis, will you listen, please?" Holly whispered, reaching out to brush the hair from his eyes. She lay the back of her hand along his forehead, checking his temperature. He felt cool, but humans were generally cooler than fairies, so he could very well be running a fever even as she thought he felt quite normal. "Are you fine to walk?"
"Step on a vine, count to nine," he muttered, fingers twitching as he counted words. "But twenty's best!"
"There are no vines, Artemis," Holly said deliberately, portioning her words to reach five, just as Artemis did. It seemed to calm him, even though it taxed her to focus on the count when she should have been focused on the debriefing to come. "We're going to LEP headquarters. I need you to help me by walking, okay, Artemis?" Whenever she talked like this, she inevitable said his name every other sentence, and was forced to add in a lot of words Artemis would have once rolled his eyes at, like "okay" and "alright." He didn't seem to be complaining now, though.
Artemis's every move was jerky. He matched his eyes to Holly's, pupils shaking minutely as they flickered their focus, taking in her every facial feature. "I...you...we're not dead?"
"Of course we're alive, Artemis," she whispered, taking the initiative to unbuckle the seat-belt. When the straps flitted away, she tugged Artemis's hand, pulling him from the seat.
"But there are f-four of us. Four is...very bad."
"It's just a number, Artemis." Holly twined her fingers with Artemis's, guiding him from the cockpit to the door, which hissed as the Atlantis crew equalized their pressure against the city's.
"Don't let the number gods hear you," Artemis breathed, stumbling over a bump on the floor, which he could have easily avoided in a more cognizant moment. He was running into a lot of things, lately, unable to take his focus off his elven savior. It was imperative that she never leave his sight. She could bring him back to life. Far more than Butler, the cursed man, could do, even if Butler's presence would have brought the sub's roster up to five. Five was so beautiful. "They'll be angry." There. Ten words. A multiple of five. Five was perfect.
Artemis knew the look that flashed across Holly's face was annoyance for his mentioning of numerical deities, but he could not care too much. Especially when it was gone in a heartbeat, replaced by a small smile that, while pitying, was heartfelt. "Then do some more math to appease them."
Artemis frowned. "What sort of math, Holly?"
Briefly, she looked blank, searching her college memories for any sort of formula that could occupy her friend. She finally seemed to remember something as they came to the shuttle door, and she beamed. "Digits of pi." She paused, then resembled the quintuplet rule. "Sound good?" She put her hand to the omnisensor at the door, trying to keep in a blush as Artemis clutched at her available hand all the tighter. It was painful to see her intelligent friend so discomposed, and very confusing. Even the stalwart Butler had been shunned, but she was still desperately needed. She couldn't turn him away.
"Hmmm." Artemis said, considering. Then he looked troubled, and Holly realized he was trying to decide if onomatopoeia counted as words.
Leaving him to his pondering, Holly crossed to the panel next to the prisoners, where she began to type in the ridiculously complicated password. They weren't taking any risks with these two. Removing them from their isolation pods was bad enough, but leaving them would have made it impossible to determine which was behind the plot of the week.
"Three point one four one five nine two six five three five eight nine..."
Soon, with a paired "ka-thunk," the magnetic wrist and ankle restraints released from the chairs, though the spheres remained around Koboi and Root's wrists. As Holly held her neutrino at the ready, she had first Turnball and then Opal stand, directing them to bring their hands behind their backs, where they snapped together again. Their ankles had a similar setting that would go off if their legs moved too quickly (such as with running or kicking), they broke the distance parameters, or the captain triggered them for whatever reason she deemed fit, effectively hobbling them.
"Between ten and fifteen feet from me, convicts. Am I clear?"
"Six six nine two three four six oh three four eight six..."
"Yes, Miss Short," Turnball sighed, tapping his foot. "May we go, now? This sub stinks of Mud Man." He looked to Opal and winked slowly. "No offense, my lady. Your scent is quite pleasant."
"You are such a shameless liar, Mr. Root. I haven't had access to anything but filtered sea water for days. But I thank you." She bent her knees in a curtsy, which was met with a bow.
Holly groaned. Opal flirting was a very disturbing sight. "All right. Let's go."
Artemis looked up, biting his lip, computations forgotten.
"Please," Holly amended. She placed a hand on the small of Artemis's back ("Eight nine two five nine oh three six oh..."), about as high as she could comfortably reach. Pushing him, she guided the group through the tunnel to Atlantis.
The elf she saw on the other end was expected, but she still felt her heart lighten at the sight of his crooked nose and rust-colored crew cut.
The relief he felt seemed to match hers, and Trouble did not bother hiding it, jogging forward to reach her, wrapping her up in a crushing hug. "Gods. You're alright. I really thought those two would mutiny." He held her out at arm's length, inspecting her quickly. Then, blushing and with a small, would-be-distracting cough, he brushed off the captain's lapels and stood back, going to an at-ease position.
"I'm fine, Trouble. Commander." Holly amended, then had to speak again, noticing Artemis's wide eyes. "Fine."
"And how did it go?"
Holly scowled at the casual wording, but then her peripheral vision caught the twitch of the commander's fingers. He was counting words. So he hadreceived Foaly's message about the Atlantis Complex. "The prisoners haven't given us a bit of trouble, except for being sort of creepy."
Trouble narrowed his eyes at Turnball, having fully expected psychological warfare from his old enemy. "Good to hear. And Fowl?"
"I am quite well, Commander." He sniffed, trying to seem insulted by the inquiry, but the effect was hampered by the whisper of "nine eight three three six seven three three six..." escaping his barely parted lips, so quiet only the two closest fairies could hear.
Trouble watched Artemis for a beat, then sighed, returning his attention to Holly. "Sorry, Hols. I guess Reynard's is off for tonight, then?"
At first, Holly slouched, but she also nodded, blowing some of the new fringe away from her eyes. "MREs by computer screen again."
"I can try to reschedule..."
"Don't worry, Trouble. It's fine." Holly tried to put on a brave smile. She'd been excited for her evening after work, and then Artemis sent over that damned invite...
Trouble interrupted her sullen thoughts by leaning over and catching Holly in a soft kiss that was as chaste as he could manage, due to the crowd that surrounded them.
Holly felt like she was in a movie. Or watching one. For a moment, she was outside of herself, observing as her lover tried to comfort her with the soft caress of lips. Then, in slow motion, they parted, and she looked through to see the face of Artemis Fowl, his mouth open, gods-appeasing numbers forgotten. His gaze snapped between the two elves, trying to process what he had just seen, but the confusion still on his face showed that he was unable to do so.
Holly could also see him from the corner of her eyes, and did everything she could to not focus on him directly. Not yet. Not now.
Trouble stood straight, jerking his chin at Koboi and Root. "I'll go ahead, to clear the way. If they try anything, you hear-by have my permission to kick some ass."
Holly nodded and waved her lover off, wondering if she should feel more or less tense as the man retreated. Artemis stood at her side, silent, and she swallowed as they were left (relatively) alone.
When he didn't move or speak, she reached out for his hand. "Artemis? Are you all right?" She knew this moment would be a shock, either way. Holly had wanted to tell him in private, but there had only been running and the two murderers behind her, lately. She hoped touch would remove the freeze on his limbs. Her fingertips brushed against his.
With a yelp, Artemis jerked his hand away. "Yes, Captain! I'm perfectly fine." He begin to go after Trouble, steps jerking, fists clenched at his side. He was no longer muttering numbers, and Holly was unsure if this was a good or a bad thing.
She began to follow him, her prisoners trailing along behind like evil ducklings, shooting each-other crooked-lipped looks.
"Artemis, please, slow down! Are you sure you're all right?"
Artemis stopped so fast Holly was forced to back pedal, lest she run into him.
He wheeled about, eyes wide and feverish. "All right? No, I am not 'all right!' Even an idiot can see that I am as far from 'all right' as humanly possible. I have some sort of fairy OCD, I may have bankrupted my family, Butler is irate with me, I was nearly burned alive, I saw fifteen fairies turned to so much carbon, one of these two psychos is at fault, I'm not sure which it is, I've already forgotten how many words I've just said, the number gods are pissed, my suit is ruined, the whole world is going to be destroyed by pollution, you are involved with that moron, and I am in love with you, Holly! So, no, I am not 'all right!'"
Before Holly could even squeak a response, Artemis stormed down the hall, turning a corner and going out of sight.
It was not that Holly made a noise, the sound perhaps intelligible to dolphins or bats, but not so much for elves. Behind her, she could feel a pair of eyes sizing her up, analyzing the situation, and computing the best path to use to take advantage of what had just been said. She was about to turn and threaten the owners of those eyes when a head popped back around the corner, making Holly yelp and step away.
Artemis cleared his throat, running a hand through his hair to remove it from his eyes. "Please ignore that last part." Then he was gone, leaving the fairies alone again.
"Well," Turnball murmured, voice milk-chocolate-smooth. "This is an interesting revelation. Wouldn't you say so, Miss Koboi?"
"Yes," Opal purred, her tones honeyed to match Root's sweetness. "I can hardly contain myself. Quite...intriguing."
Gloves cracking as she clenched her fists, Holly walked down the hall without a word to her prisoners. They followed while continuing to chatter, prodding at her defenses, but Holly did not break.