My entry for Kit's 'The Big Reveal' Contest. Enjoy!
Huge thank you to Ru-Doragon. If not for her, I wouldn't even have been able to finish writing and plotting this. Half the credit of this fic goes to her (the latter half, especially). And then to Pearl-chan, my personal editor, who helped me out a lot too.
Beta'd by The Grey Lady. :)
Perfect was the only word for it.
There they were, the only elves in the restaurant's balcony. They were surrounded by the darkness of Haven and dimly illuminated by yellow electric lamps that lined up on the intricately curvilinear balustrade and hung up on the columns of the three arches leading to the hall. Vines crept on the wall's faded terracotta brick strips, creating the effect that they were separated from the fairies inside, just the two of them together.
The slow, sweet music moving around the hall, passing through each occupant, setting just the right mood, bringing couples together over their tables, their lips meeting… Trouble tore his eyes away from the musicians on the other side of the archway. He smiled and sighed contentedly and looked at the beautiful elf right across from him. Through the dull glow between them, he could see her lips imitating his own. Her lips—those full lips, plump and moist, so attractive... The way she would bite her lower lip always caught his eyes, invoking a desire within him.
Holly's smile turned into a full grin, making her eyes sparkle. She then turned away and rested her chin on the back of her hand, pretending to watch the band's handsome gnome oboist from afar, but a small smile was still visible on her mouth. Trouble could only stare at her silhouette. The dim lights surrounding her made her look exquisitely dramatic, like a goddess in apparition coming to greet him to answer his prayers. She slowly chewed her lower lip, drawing Trouble's eyes at them once again.
Gathering his courage, Trouble stretched out his arm and mentally encouraged it to steadily make its way to Holly's resting hand beside her glass of sim-wine. Upon doing so, she glanced back at him. She placed her free hand on the edge of the table for support as she raised herself, approaching him, turning her head to one side, coming closer… So close he could even see the dip in the middle of her chest from under her loose dress.
He then shut his eyes, waiting…
The elf was jerked away from his daydream (or nightdream, as it was night in Haven) rather violently, making him jump on his seat and almost push himself away from the table. He looked around. He was not in a dimly illuminated balcony nor were he and his partner being serenaded by a band of fairies. Rather he was alone sitting in a polished square table of an equally fancy restaurant, but without the romantic ambience surrounding him. In fact, his date had just called him from behind.
Walking towards him was Holly Short, looking as pretty as always even though she was carrying herself in an uncharacteristically feminine outfit in a very awkward manner. A forest green knitted bolero wrapped around her hunched shoulders like a web over a flowing cream-coloured dress with the lace lining swishing just above her knees. The tiny floral-and-vines print that crept up from the hem swayed with the fluid fabric every time Holly took a step, looking as though there was an imaginary wind surrounding her. Trouble's breath hitched. He couldn't believe it. This must be one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Trotting behind her, much to his disappointment, was Artemis Fowl, or as the boy had insisted fairies and human around to call him, Orion. Well, he certainly did look more like an Orion instead of an Artemis with his choice of clothing. He wore a black t-shirt and a pair of denim trousers, plus a mop of slightly messy hair placed on his head and an unnervingly roguish grin plastered on his face. Trouble noticed a foreboding suitcase in one of the human's hand. His other hand was held around the wrist by Holly, like a child's, navigating him in between the tables of slightly fazed fairies.
Orion. As much as Trouble owed the human for the occurrence of this date, he could not change his expression into something not looking as though he swallowed a lemon. The fact that he was indebted to Fowl or any of his alters was not a pleasant thought, knowing that once he got himself together, he would want a payback tenfold.
Yesterday, Foaly and Captain Short managed to integrate Fowl and his alters. Was he cured? No. But those few hours were enough for him to be Artemis Fowl and save the day once again. He was still undergoing electroshock therapy and staying in Haven until he fully integrated. In the meantime, he was assigned to be with Captain Holly Short at all times because no other officer was willing to take care of a demented Mud Boy and, in addition, the Mud Boy, as Dr Jargon explained, had a suicidal fragment personality that could be triggered by almost anything, say, a stinkworm. Trouble knew this was the reason why Holly brought the boy with her tonight, along with the fact that she did not trust Orion and Artemis's other alters to be alone in her flat.
Thus, Artemis was presently Orion, and he was still also yesterday when Trouble had asked Holly to go out—to relax after the exhausting misadventure with the human. The captain had been about to refuse (again) when the Mud Boy had interrupted their conversation and said yes for her. Holly had looked as though she wanted to punch him but he had ignored her. He had turned to Trouble with a sympathetic look on his face, as though knowing his pain. Foaly had told Trouble that Orion was really nice, that even though the human liked Holly, he was willing to help Trouble go on a date with her. But this was Fowl's alter, thought Trouble. Surely this alter still has a bit of Fowl's old self? If anything, Trouble was quite positive Orion was simply checking out the opposition. Still, if it was not for him, Trouble would be alone tonight. In his bedroom. Alone.
Holly sat down on the seat across him and tried to smile, but instead, she managed to look displeased with an expression between a scowl and a grimace. Trouble hoped it was because Orion was with them and not her wishing to magic herself away to be with her neglected paperwork. Neglected paperwork, of all things.
'Please forgive her, Commander Kelp,' said Orion apologetically, trying to not knock the table with his knees as he sat on a very low chair, the only chair wide enough to support him, especially reserved by the restaurant's staff. He placed the suitcase on the floor, leaning on his right leg. 'Miss Holly is feeling a bit sour because I ransacked her flat to find something more appropriate for tonight. It's a date; I can't have her leave looking like she had just come from a dwarf-hole raid, now can I?' He gave the elf a suave smile. 'Even if she can look staggeringly beautiful wearing nothing but a rubbish bag and a face smeared with foetid dwarf recycling. Am I right, Commander?'
'Orion,' said Holly in a dangerous voice, 'I told you to quit it.'
Orion stared at her with a look of surprise. 'Oh, but, Miss Holly, you really are a walking effigy of glamour and loveliness!' He turned to the other elf. 'What do you say, Commander? She is looking fine, isn't she?'
Trouble could feel that this would be, to put it mildly, an unpleasant evening.
'Yes, Holly, you look gorgeous tonight,' he said, nodding slightly. 'And—er—you could probably pull of that—that look Fowl—Orion—said… and…'
What was happening? thought Trouble as he cleared his throat. He was the commander! The night was supposed to be his, and Orion was simply an extra baggage that Holly carried around. He mentally nodded to assure himself as he raised an index finger to catch the attention of the waiter who was talking animatedly with one female of the resting band members in the table near the raised platform. The female fairy pointed a thumb at Trouble, making the pixie waiter's head turn. His grin quickly slid off his face. He gaped at the human, whom he recognised as the notorious Artemis Fowl, his eyes widening in horror and disbelief and his walrus moustache twitching. On the way to the table that brought him dread, he picked up three menus from the condiment counter adjacent to the constantly swinging kitchen double doors and accidentally knocked off some saltshakers. He braced himself as he approached the assorted group. Thankfully, the human refused to eat. That meant less interaction with him, thought the pixie.
Contrary to what most would expect, dinner was quite uneventful—by Fowl standards. Only one fairy managed to be unnerved by Orion's presence and ran off warily out of the place with his confused child in tow. There was also a small argument about Holly's choice of having a four-worded dish, Beroe à la reine, which would, by Orion's allegedly accurate calculations, surely give Holly a four-lettered disease, noma. He then suggested a five-worded dish named after an oddly brave goblin that served during the D'Klass Dynasty.
Miffed as he was, Trouble could only hold a work-related conversation with his date due to the unwanted presence of the human. Holly, of course, was being civil enough to respond with a certain degree of energy, but her eyes kept on shifting down on the gold-banded watch around her wrist—not a good sign, surely—and then to Orion, who had assured them both that he would make himself as scarce as possible as to not disturb them. Needless to say, he was failing; under his breath, he couldn't help but recite the notes for the second movement of Beethoven's Eroica while the fingers on his left hand twitched in minimum movement to conduct the elves's dinner in front of him into playing the symphony in his head. The fingers on his right drummed gently on his suitcase in accordance to the right tempo.
'… fa, la, fa… No, no! Fa. There—espressivo!—do, ti, mi—'
He was getting nervous glances from the fairies in vicinity, to which he was oblivious. However, he was snapped from his reverie when Holly finished her food and brought her hands together. His previously conducting hand abruptly bolted to grasp hers, as though stopping her. Shaking his head, he frowned.
'Holly,' he said disapprovingly, 'cracking your knuckles is unfitting for a lady and would ruin other fairies' view on you. It is also very inappropriate on a date.'
Holly glared up at him and cocked her head to one side. Her face had a look that said, 'I don't care. Zip it.' It was all she could do to stay civil in front of the commander—not that she was a model officer or anything, because Frond knew she had appointments with the Internal Affairs that rivalled Mulch's arrest record.
Orion might have understood the silent message, but he did not show it. He simply smiled. 'Don't worry. In my eyes though, it does not mar your wonderful countenance the slightest.'
Trouble resisted the urge to roll his eyes. This boy had certainly swallowed a cheesy romance novel, he was sure of it. Maybe something written by Flambough. He felt his heart plummet upon seeing Holly slightly blush, despite the annoyed expression on her face.
Orion stood up. 'Oh, if you'll excuse me, I need to use the recycling lounge. Please, continue talking.' Then he muttered, 'Hmm. Where is the pixie? I don't know where the lounge is...' He walked away.
Holly watched his retreating back, but her attention turned back to Trouble who had let out a huge sigh. He cleared his throat.
'Look, Captain Sho—Holly,' he began, 'I know that you have no feelings for me that is more than friendship. You've turned my invitation down multiple times. I will not ask for reasons.' Because I don't want to know. His thoughts landed on the Mud Boy. 'But please, just listen.'
Trouble didn't look like the famous LEP gung-ho officer or Commander Root's successor. His eyes looked beseeching and his lips were pressed anxiously. He gave an appearance of a shameful boy admitting to have kicked a ball right through the neighbour's window. Holly nodded with reluctance, which made Trouble sigh again—this time, with relief.
'I like you. A lot. We have been colleagues for more than a decade and friends for more than five years, and we've gotten to know each other...' He gulped. 'If—if that incident hadn't happened six years ago, if you hadn't been thrown against that human, maybe—just maybe—is there a possibility, Holly? A small chance?'
No, Holly would have replied but kept her mouth shut. Simply because she had not met the man she supposedly would love did not mean her feelings would be directed at the next male elf. It did not work like that. But it was entirely theoretical, because it was not a fact that Artemis was the man she supposedly loved. Not at all.
'I—I don't know, Trouble,' she lied. Her hand drifted to her wine glass, swirling it to hypnotise herself, as she avoided Trouble's gaze.
'I might be in love with you, Holly. I—'
Trouble looked up beside him; he had felt a heavy hand pat his shoulder. Orion had come back from his unsuccessful pixie search and now sported a pitying look. Somehow, Holly was relieved that Orion was back. An awkward atmosphere was preferable than a love confession from a superior.
'You poor, poor elf. You haven't an ounce of idea what you're getting yourself into,' said Orion. He gave the elf another pat and with a few steps, returned to his seat. Bringing the mysterious suitcase up to his knees, he entered a code on the small keypad on top and with a click, it propped open, revealing an ordinary Mud Mad laptop, a folder, and extra clothing inside.
'What are those for?' asked Holly, eyes narrowing suspiciously. 'Orion…'
But the human ignored him. He lifted the laptop's lid and powered it up and then took out the folder. In it was a pad of official-looking paper. He riffled through them with a thumb and picked one.
'Aha!' he exclaimed. 'Let's see… Commander Mite Kelp. You chose "Trouble" to be your name upon your manhood ceremony, twelve successful recons in less than a year upon your promotion as captain… hmm-mm…' He laid it down flat on the table surface, running an index over the words, looking for something.
Trouble bristled. 'Is that my record, Fowl?' he growled. 'That is a crime—an act punishable by law—even if you are human—'
Orion looked up from the paper as though merely distracted by a fly. 'Let me just correct your assumption, Commander. I did not hack your files. Scorpius did. (He's another alter, if you must know.) I simply found this prepared for me with a note attached that I bring it tonight, and I think that Scorpius is being rather helpful. Deep down, he's a very nice chap. Deep down.'
'Orion, Scorpius is your ev—bad alter,' said Holly, remembering what Dr Jargon told her.
'Oh, pish posh!' Orion waved a hand at Holly impatiently. 'He is just misunderstood! And I am the alter that is out, so whatever he had done, I will utilise it for the greater good.' He winked at Holly to assure her, which had done nothing of the sort. He then turned to Trouble with all seriousness. 'We—the other alters and I—are to discuss about Holly and your ability to support a family.'
It was just Holly's bad luck that she chose that moment to have a drink from her glass. She choked and almost spurted liquid through her nostrils as her eyes widened. 'What?' she blurted out incredulously in unison with Trouble.
But Orion was not hearing anything. He was typing away on his ancient Mud Man device. After a few more taps, he turned it around for the fairies to see. Or, in their current state of shock, gawk at.
'These are charts of how many ingots you make in a year, your monthly salary, and your work's hourly rate. Underneath are advantageous cases that may help increase your income,' said Orion in a crisp tone that made Holly think it was Artemis speaking, whole and integrated. 'Commanders receive a considerable amount of income. Ample, and more than enough for a self-sufficient fairy. However, I know that you are also supporting your brother plus the expenses for his monthly trips to Haven's Greenhouse. Adding Holly to the household—'
At this, Holly, who was a bit flushed, stood from her seat and punched the human very hard on his arm, making him halt his lecture. For a moment, Orion stared off into space. He then raised his eyes to the ceiling and blinked. Five times, Holly counted.
'Oh, d'arvit,' she muttered, taking a step back.
'Holly?' Trouble inquired, shifting his gaze from her to Orion and back.
'I think I just triggered a change in alters.'
Holly waited, knitting her brow. Which alter this time? She knew he had other alters but she had only met a few. Even Scorpius was just a reported alter. She berated herself for resorting to physical retaliations.
'Orion?' she asked cautiously.
The Mud Boy looked down at her, puzzled. His eyes darted around, as though seemingly trying to scope the place and familiarise himself. His gaze went back to Holly, who was biting her lip anxiously. He smirked.
'Did I scare you, Miss Holly?' he said. 'You are quite adorable-looking like that, as if anticipating.…'
Compliments. Orion. Still Orion. Holly closed her eyes and sat down, her fears assuaged.
Orion slid the laptop off his knees and onto the little space on the table. He reached out inside his suitcase and took out a dark brown blazer and a matching felt fedora. 'It's a bit cold,' he explained, putting a hand through one of the sleeves. He proceeded to do the same on the other. Upon completing his outfit, he spoke again: 'Now, to continue—'
'No,' Trouble interjected. 'I don't need you ruining this night—'
Orion gave him a foul look—a Fowl look, but ten times worse—making him feel a shiver and successfully shutting him up. Shifting his hat to a jaunty angle on his head, Orion said, 'Where were we? Ah, yes. We were on the topic of the commander's inability to support a family. While he is alive and well today, we cannot be sure tomorrow.' He held up a hand upon sensing that Holly was about to cut him off. 'Listen to me,' he commanded her. 'I also have the records of his expenses and loans and had compared them with his income.'
'Get to the point, Orion,' said Holly, crossing her arms. 'Or are you Scorpius now?'
Orion was unperturbed by this accusation, but did not affirm it. 'My point is that you will have no hope whatsoever with this lowly boor. He is a destitute hundred-year-old elf.'
Trouble's hand shook. If he were in another situation, he would have attacked this arrogant kid for his uncalled-for remarks. But he thought of Holly. He could've congratulated himself for all his self-control.
'I, on the other hand,' Orion pressed on, 'am only fifteen. At twelve, I managed to bring the Fowl name back to the billionaires' circle. I can support you, as another addition to my household, and I will have no hesitation in doing so. Foaly's record of my fortune will serve as proof.'
'What are you getting at? Why are you doing this, Scorpius?'
'Orion wanted to help this elf.' He cocked his head on Trouble's direction. 'Or at least check out his chances with you. Orion is useless so I had to make my move.' He met Holly's eyes with intensity. 'Holly, I am in love with you.'
Then he scrunched his face in reaction to the feeling as though a great force was pushing him back. He looked straight and saw everything vanishing to a point, blackening out. He tried to blink it away. Five times, Holly and Trouble counted. And then everything stopped.
Orion frowned, feeling momentarily disoriented. He seemed puzzled at his own garment and then shrugged. He was about to say something that might help Trouble figure out how to properly maximise the use of his income, but he noticed Holly's rudy complexion. 'Red accentuates the lovely shape of your face, Miss Holly. You look very striking—'
Holly groaned. 'Orion, pack your stuff. We are going.'
Orion pouted, but nodded slightly.
Holly faced Trouble. 'Commander Kelp—Trouble—please. I'm sorry for the disastrous night. If—' She caught herself; saying 'if I could just make it up to you' always attracted more bad luck. 'I'm sorry.'
'It's all right, Holly,' replied Trouble rather stiffly. 'Do you need a ride home?'
'Oh, no. We're fine. Thank you.'
Trouble braved to grasp Holly's hand and raised himself from his seat to kiss her cheek from across the table. Holly just nodded and forced a smile. Not the reaction he hoped, he thought sadly.
It was well past midnight, but Holly was still up. She raised one knee on her swivel chair and reached out for her mug of coffee as she perused through her latest daily report about Artemis and his illness on the tablet she held. Nodding with every acceptable sentence, she took a sip and yawned. The digital clock on her desk was telling her to go to sleep, but it was necessary that she make this report as accurate but innocuous as possible—meaning no mentions of love confessions and family talk even with the notes of Scorpius's tendency to come out more often.
There was a knock on her bedroom door and she knew that it could only be her assigned case person. Her toes easily manoeuvred her seat to face the entrance just beside her desk. The door opened.
'Orion…?' said Holly slowly, raising her eyebrows in inquiry.
The human, clad in dark blue pyjamas, stepped inside, ducking low as to not hit the top doorframe, and smiled.
'Artemis, actually,' he said. 'I've come to say goodnight.'
Holly tilted her head back to see him better. 'Goodnight, then,' she replied, smiling back. She leaned back to relax her aching back a bit, drawing Artemis's eyes on her thin nightshirt with the top two buttons undone, exposing her smooth caramel skin.
Artemis coughed in his hand and dragged his sight back to her face. 'And ask about how the night had gone,' he added, 'seeing that I can't remember.'
Holly was caught off-guard. Such a simple statement but that brought some confusing things back to her mind and blood to her cheeks. She tried to sound nonchalant when she spoke. 'Well, let's just say there won't be another date.'
Artemis arched an eyebrow in interest. 'What have I done? Anything embarrassing?'
'Not much.' She shrugged. 'You made it a bit interesting, but the night had been mostly… uneventful,' she lied.
But Artemis didn't hear her. He was staring at Holly's report on the table. After unintentionally reading a few lines, he knew something in it was triggering a memory. Eyes closed, he could see flashes—memories of the alters that he had not yet integrated to his core.
'Artemis?' said Holly, concerned. Artemis stood rigid on the spot. She could see his furrowed brow from her seat—and worry made her climb and stand on her desk to reach up to him. Cradling his face, she spoke: 'Artemis, what is it? Tell me.' She placed a palm on his forehead.
It took Artemis a while to open his eyes, and when he did, he did something unexpected: he smirked.
'He's right, you know,' he said, eyes sparkling mischievously.
'What do you mean?'
'Scorpius. He's right. I do love you.'
Before Holly could so much take a step back or fully blush, Artemis placed a hand on the left side of her neck and lowered himself to give her a chaste kiss on her right cheek, taking the elf by surprise. And a bit of disappointment, said a stray thought in her brain as she bit her lower lip to cut off her embarrassing outcry of 'Eep!'
'Goodnight, Holly,' Artemis whispered in her ear, his warm breath sending tingling sensations to its pointy tip.
He straightened up, his smirk becoming more pronounced with each second, and turned around to the exit, leaving her staring at the now closed bedroom door.
Please review. Constructive Criticisms are welcome.
PS. Holly's outfit: (dot)tumblr(dot)com/tumblr_l5rqdrQySW1qau9h6o1_500(dot)jpg. Don't judge the drawing much. I know the legs are messed up, okay?