This is the final chapter. I contemplated writing an epilogue but nothing really came to me. I feel like this leaves the end of the story open, but with enough closure to satisfy. It's truly been a journey from the start to finish of Imperium. Thanks for sticking with me through all of it.
The first steps were an accomplishment, and the first lap around the hospital floor a veritable miracle. Muscle therapy left Artemis in a constant state of exhaustion, and there were days that Butler felt useless sitting by the wayside as his charge gritted his teeth in pain and soaked his clothing in sweat just trying to stand up straight. Holly oversaw every electrical stimulation procedure, watching over the physical therapist's shoulder like a hawk, and often calling in No. 1 to see if he could help accelerate the rebuilding of Artemis's muscles.
In a way, it was peaceful.
It was three weeks before Artemis was handed a cane, given a stern lecture on the importance of continuing his therapy, and cleared to go home. He insisted walking on his own to the LEP van waiting at the curb (the only vehicle they had access to that would fit Butler), but was so wiped by the short journey that he allowed Butler to take his arm on their way to the shuttle.
Holly waited for them by a private Tara-bound shuttle, chatting up a few Atlantis rookies who were staring in awe at her eye patch and, when they thought she wasn't looking, some of her lower attributes. All it took was a scowl from Artemis followed by a scowl from Butler to scare them away.
Holly rolled her eye, whistling slightly as she waved her gloved hand in front of the door, unlocking the craft. "Can't you two ever be nice?"
"Not when a bunch of imbeciles are unsubtly using their eyes to undress my —"
Holly raised an eyebrow.
"Er, you," Artemis amended, pink rushing to his cheeks.
Holly raised her other eyebrow to match.
"I was going to say my best friend," Artemis grumbled before grouchily thrusting his cane toward the door. "Is anyone going to help me in?"
"Whatever you say, Arty," Holly sighed, hopping up into the shuttle with ease and holding out a hand. Artemis eyed it dubiously and huffed, turning to his bodyguard with a scowl. Butler grinned and lifted the disgruntled genius up by his armpits to stand in the craft.
It was a quiet ride to the surface. Butler managed to convince the Major to take the bends in the tunnels at a fairly reasonable speed, but other than a few short quips, they just stayed silent and soaked up each others' presence. They only drew a few stares at Tara — after all, Artemis Fowl was no longer considered a threat among most, but a hero.
Holly let him get his bearings on the ground before she threw her arms around his waist and squeezed so tightly that he began to wheeze. After a moment, Butler sank to his knees and pulled them both into a great bear hug. Holly punched the bodyguard hard on the shoulder when they broke apart, but barely tapped Artemis in the solar plexus.
"When you're better, I won't be so nice," she told him.
"We'll see each other soon," he replied.
"Gods, I hope so," she said, and took both of their hands, which completely dwarfed hers. "I love you guys."
Artemis offered up a half-smile. Butler swooped down and kissed her forehead. "We love you too," he said on his charge's behalf.
It took a few more hugs, but eventually the Fowl and his Butler walked out of the shuttle station. Artemis looked back until it wavered and disappeared completely, replaced by a few grazing cows, and then turned around, huffing and puffing.
"Oh," Butler breathed. "Shit."
Fully prepared for death via bullet or radioactive volcanic ash or giant flying elephant, Artemis looked up with dread. What he actually saw was much worse.
A very still, very pissed-off Juliet Butler was suited up rather professionally and leaning against the driver door of the Bentley. She spared no eyes for Artemis and stared only at her brother, who had pulled on an excellent poker face.
"You want to explain where the hell you've been before I beat the shit out of you?" she yelled across the field. "Or should I just beat the shit out of you and ask questions later?"
Butler held up a hand for her to wait and kept walking Artemis to the car, holding his elbow as the Fowl heir lowered himself into the backseat.
"Give me a moment," he said softly. Artemis met Juliet's curious, infuriated eyes through the window and grimaced. Butler closed the door and crossed to meet her. They stared at each other for a good minute before Juliet wound back and slammed her fist into Butler's diaphragm. He made no move to protect himself and ended up leaning on the car, clutching his abdomen and swearing colorfully.
"Get in the driver's seat," Juliet said sharply. "I've been driving people around for the past three months. It's your turn."
She collapsed into the passenger seat, putting her feet up on the dashboard and crossing her arms churlishly. Butler caught his breath before taking his place at the wheel and pulling out of Tara. After perhaps five minutes, Juliet placed a hand on his arm and squeezed. He glanced at her and his lips twitched up.
"Uncle would kill you for putting your feet on his dash."
"Yeah, well, he would also kill me for quitting the Academy for a career of rolling around on the floor with skimpily dressed women, so I'm not too worried about it." She turned around, looking Artemis over critically and raising an eyebrow. "Why are you gimping?"
"I'm not gimping," Artemis protested.
"You have a cane."
Facing the lush Irish countryside, Butler lost the battle to suppress his smile.
Artemis's good mood evaporated the moment they entered the grounds, following the twisting drive up to the Manor. Butler pulled the car into the garage and helped his charge out, touching his shoulder gently.
"Do you want me to go first?" he asked softly.
"Together," Artemis whispered, patting a hand over his bodyguard's. Juliet huffed and flung the door into the manor open, strutting through it. Butler offered his arm and Artemis took it, hobbling toward the no-doubt furious Fowl patriarch whose curious voice could be heard wafting through the door.
"Not a word about the fairies," Artemis breathed as Butler helped him up the steps. "To Juliet or my father."
"There's a reason I didn't tell anyone where we were while you were out," Butler murmured. Artemis nodded, and the door creaked as he pushed it farther. The noise within the manor stopped.
"Juliet, someone's here," Artemis Senior breathed from somewhere in the kitchen.
"Yeah, I got that. I told you, I ran an errand this morning."
Artemis Senior turned the corner at the end of the hallway right as Butler closed the door to the garage. Artemis squared his chin, drawing his mouth into a line.
"Good morning, Father," he said stiffly. "I trust that you're doing we—oof!"
Artemis blinked rapidly, coming to terms with the man whose arms were surrounding him, his brain failing to comprehend the ragged breathing in his ear.
"Oh my God," his father breathed, his voice rough. "Oh my God, Arty."
Artemis couldn't help his eyebrows drawing together as his father drew back, running a thumb over his son's cheeks and touching their foreheads together. "God, where have you been?"
"It's...a long story," Artemis said awkwardly.
"I thought you were dead."
"You know?" Artemis Senior asked, pulling back rapidly and staring at the boy's face under his fingers. "You disappear off the face of the planet and all you can tell me is that you know?"
"I didn't think you'd care," Artemis said acidly. His father released his face and took a step back.
"You're my son," he said slowly. "Of course I cared, Artemis; I love you more than life."
Artemis blinked, leaning heavily on his cane. His father's eyes flicked down, but back up when Artemis gritted his teeth and said "You've despised me ever since she died."
"I — what?" Artemis Senior stepped forward again, his hands hovering in the air over his son's shoulders before settling on his upper arms. "God, is — is that what you thought?"
Artemis's lips went into a thin line.
"You wanted space," his father breathed. "You've always been thoroughly independent and you blame me for what happened to your mother." Artemis's jaw dropped, but his father hurried on. "Which is — it's fine, I just — I wish we had been able to talk —"
"You think I blame you?" Artemis gaped. "That's — no — that's completely incorrect."
Behind him, Butler shifted his weight, but it was already spilling from Artemis's lips. "I killed her — it was my mistake, and my fault. If I hadn't — if I had been able to stop it, her heart wouldn't have given out —"
"Artemis, stop — stop what, what are you talking about?"
Artemis gritted his teeth, taking in a long, hissing breath as he fought to keep the turmoil bubbling under the surface of his skin. The arm supporting his body shook, the cane chattering against the floor. Butler took his charges arms gently.
"He needs to sit," he said softly, and Artemis Senior backed away, completely nonplussed by the entire situation. Butler half-carried Artemis to the parlor, where he rested him on a loveseat and took his cane. Artemis Senior followed and sat hesitantly beside his child.
"When I disappeared four years ago, Butler gave you a very long and very detailed recount of something that you and Mother dismissed as lunacy," Artemis said after a shaky breath. "Your actions were understandable, but Butler isn't altered in the slightest. It's all true."
Artemis Senior's eyebrows drew together, but Artemis raised a hand.
"Please," he said. "Let me speak. And Butler, I would appreciate some tea; this is going to take quite some time."
When Artemis finished, the parlor had grown dark. His father was pale in the twilight of the fireplace, drawn and silent. Artemis was quite occupied with his long-empty teacup, his thin fingers playing at the edges of the china.
"Why," Artemis Senior asked softly, "could you not have told me this sooner?"
"It is of the utmost importance that they remain a secret," Artemis said firmly. "Until today, Butler, Minerva, and I were the only living humans who knew. I very much wanted to keep it that way."
Artemis Senior looked away, pinching the bridge of his nose. It wasn't until his breath caught that Artemis realized that he was crying.
"I'm so sorry," his father whispered. "The last time I saw you before you — you went off to this Imperium place —"
He paused. They both clearly remembered the fight in the kitchen without having to physically bring up any of the things that had been said.
"I'm sorry," he continued. "For everything, but most especially for what I said. All I could think for the last three months is that those are the last words I said to you. I just..." He swallowed loudly, a half-formed sob breaking free of his chest. "I love you. So much. I always have and I always will. And I'm so sorry. I just kept thinking about what I would say to you if I had one more minute before you left —"
He looked up as the weight on the couch shifted, his voice ceasing as Artemis's shoulder touched his. The Fowl heir's hands fluttered ever so slightly, his eyes averted.
"I should —" Artemis bit his lip. "I should like to hug you."
It was an awkward, unfamiliar thing, the two of them wrapping together tightly, but there was an old hurt that drew them closely together, causing their fingers to dig into cloth and their heads to rest in the crooks of necks and shoulders, their eyes closing in the firelight.
"I do too," Artemis whispered after ages had passed. A rumbling, questioning noise came from his father, and Artemis swallowed before he inelegantly, stiltedly, but still very honestly, breathed "I love you."
Artemis's hand froze, the paintbrush halting rudely on the canvas, and turned around to meet the unfamiliar voice with raised eyebrows. Behind him, an aged, slightly chubby elf lounged on his bed, his belly to the comforter, a glass of wine in his hand. His eyes were a little too young for his face, sparkling a bright, clear green.
Artemis stared at him for a moment before he cocked his head, pursing his lips, recognizing a few key features of his face; the cherubic lips, the turned-up nose, the pattern of smile-lines around his eyes.
"Good evening, Cupid," Artemis said, guarded. "How may I be of assistance?"
The god grinned, lazily tracing patterns with his feet in the air. "Well done, Artemis Fowl," he chuckled, his voice a little deeper than Artemis would have expected. "Though I couldn't expect any less from you after seeing your performance in our little puzzle."
Artemis sighed and began to clear the paint from his brush, accepting the fact that he wasn't going to be painting for a while.
"I'm quite tickled by the fact that you recognize me," Cupid giggled, twirling his wine glass. "It's because we look similar, my girly and I, isn't it? Does Holly even know that you're aware of her heritage?"
Artemis shrugged, drying his brush. "I believe I mentioned it once but she's most likely forgotten, as it goes with most of the things I say. Though I have known for quite some time," he said. "It was interesting to read about, at least. Proof that gods had, indeed, mated with mortals."
Cupid waggled his eyebrows. "Yes, we most certainly did. I was a little more renowned for it, though. Got me in trouble, on occasion."
Artemis settled in his desk chair, threading his fingers together and contemplating the god with narrowed eyes. Cupid flashed him a white-toothed grin.
"Why are you here?" Artemis asked quietly after a while.
Cupid gently set his wine on Artemis's bedside table, rolling around until he was sitting on the bed. "I thought you'd never ask," he said with a bright, slightly grating smile. "I'm here to talk about my great-granddaughter."
Artemis rolled his eyes, and Cupid scowled.
"Don't give me attitude, young man," he said disapprovingly, waggling a finger. "I'm more powerful than you know."
"You're wondering why I rejected her advances in Imperium," Artemis said in a monotone.
Cupid sighed. "Stop deducing, you're spoiling my fun," he pouted. "Yes, that's why I'm here."
Artemis crossed his arms, staring the god straight in the sparkling eyes. "Haven't I already talked to you? You are just one huge, powerful, omnipotent being who takes different forms, aren't you?"
Cupid scowled, miffed that the subject had been changed, but snatched up his wine and let Artemis question him. "Yes, you talked to the God," he said, sighing dramatically. "But I'm only a piece of her. She may be everything, but she's a jigsaw of beings brought into belief by billions of minds dreaming up metaphysical beings to explain occurrences. I was dreamt up to explain why humans felt the incessant need to shag each other like animals. Which is what I suppose you are. Very large, intelligent animals."
"But I digress," Cupid said with a grin. "Because of human desire, my lovely arrows and I were thought up — well, technically, Eros was thought up, but he's just a little bit of a bitch and I don't like to talk about him — and I became something between reality and dreams. Though I'll admit, the baby-with-a-bow-and-arrow thing got old really fast. So I grew up a little." He giggled, and sipped his wine.
"So at what point were you able to become human or fairy enough to mate with mortals?" Artemis asked, leaning back in his chair. Cupid tapped his bottom lip, contemplating.
"Oh...3,000 years ago?" he guessed, and shrugged dismissively. "It's not important. I was one of the last gods to start making babies with the mortals. But I was just the norm, if a little late. Saturn, on the other hand..." Cupid chuckled, remembering. "He got so much flack for the demon warlock incident."
Artemis rubbed his temples, his brow creasing. "How do you all exist in one being?" he asked, irate. "You're irritating just by yourself."
"Thank you," Cupid said, and Artemis rolled his eyes again. "But I'm not here to talk about me. I'm here to talk about Y-O-U. So let's chat, Arty."
"Don't call me that."
"Why not?" Cupid pouted, and then grinned wickedly. "My great-granddaughter's allowed to."
A muscle in Artemis's temple started to twitch.
"Ooh, you're getting testy," Cupid said, delighted. "You lied to her again, didn't you?"
"I refuse to speak about this with you."
"'Of course I love you,'" Cupid quoted, his attempt to imitate Artemis's voice much too shrill and unpleasant. "'You're my best friend.'" The god rolled his eyes. "Can someone say dwarf shit?"
Artemis pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes to keep from losing his temper.
"So she's an elf," Cupid said. "And you're a human."
"So what? I'm a god and Holly's great-grandma was hot, but still a different species."
Artemis slowly opened his eyes, raising his gaze to the god on his bed. "What are you trying to say?" he asked.
"That you can have her if you want her," Cupid said simply. "And I know you do."
Artemis sighed and swiveled on his chair to face the huge windows dominating the opposite side of his room. "It's not that easy," he said. "I'm not like you, Cupid. And I'm not ready."
"To let go of something you're never going to get back?"
Artemis didn't answer.
"You've got as long as you want to live," Cupid said softly. "What's holding you back?"
"I don't have as long as I want," Artemis murmured. "At the very most, I've got eighty years left. She's got up to 2,000."
"Oh, did I not mention that part?" Cupid asked brightly. "You beat Imperium, didn't you? So you've got the power of God."
Artemis swiveled his chair back around, narrowing his eyes. "I asked for No. 1 to receive that power when I thought I was dead," he said suspiciously.
"And the little warlock got the firepower to get rid of that silly little pixie," Cupid said. "But he didn't win. He didn't beat the place. And he really didn't need anything but what it took to knock that pixie out of the running. So he didn't get the real reward of having the power of God."
"You're immortal, kid," Cupid said. "You can live for as long as you want."
"I beg your pardon?" Artemis asked dumbly, his knuckles turning white as he gripped the arms of the chair.
Cupid rolled his eyes. "Frond, did getting that power make you an idiot? How do you think Jesus did it?"
"Oh come on," Cupid groaned. "Did she not tell you anything?"
Artemis rubbed his temples, fighting a headache. "You're telling me that Jesus Christ was immortal."
"Duh," Cupid said. "The only other person to ever make it through Imperium. How do you think he did all those 'miracles' and the fancy rise-from-the-dead-and-ascend-into-heaven?"
"I think I'm losing my mind," Artemis moaned, and dropped his head into his hands. He made no sign of moving any time soon.
"Knock yourself out," Cupid said, and downed the rest of his wine. "Nice mindfu — I mean, nice talk, kiddo. It's been fun, but I've got a meeting with a nice little dame on the other side of the earth, so I'll talk to you some other time."
Artemis looked up, but the god was gone, leaving only a splotchy purple stain on his fluffy white comforter.
The miserable mornings of standing knee-deep in snow were long gone, but Artemis was poised on top of the great hill regardless, looking past the headstone and out over the fall-tinted Irish countryside. With one hand in the pocket of his light coat, he used the other to tap out a slow rhythm on his leg, his mind reeling with a slow piece of somber music that he was composing on the spot.
"Butler said I'd find you here."
He didn't have to turn; he knew who it was before they had even spoken. One does not save the life of someone countless times and have that favor be constantly returned without recognizing their presence from nothing.
"Yes," he said softly, keeping his eyes on the horizon. "How are you, Holly?"
The major slipped off her helmet, staring at the headstone while Artemis continued to look out over Ireland. "Lonely," she said. "We're heroes back home, but, but with you two gone, all it's done is alienate me."
Artemis frowned, disapproving. "No. 1 is a hero as well, is he not? Certainly he's alienated as well."
"Yeah, but he's weird," Holly said, laughing and elbowing her friend lightly. "He's always been a little alienated."
Artemis shrugged. "I'm not…weird. I am still quite alienated."
Holly gave him a withering look, tucking her helmet under her arm and sticking out her hip with the perfect dash of sass. "Really, Arty?" she asked, rolling her eyes. "You're not weird?"
He scoffed; she slid off her wings and carelessly dumped them onto the ground (because Foaly insisted that this pair really was indestructible. Really).
She smirked as something cracked. Artemis winced for the poor, innocent piece of technology.
"Oops," Holly said, trying and failing to look remorseful as she stared straight into her helmet camera. "Foaly, you said this pair was absolutely, positively invincible and that this time you definitely weren't kidding. Guess I'll have to stay aboveground for a while."
"You know," Artemis muttered, "humans may be a little behind fairies but we have this amazing things called cars that can get you to Tara quite easily."
Artemis jumped nearly a foot in the air as Foaly remote-activated the speakers, bellowing into his microphone from his brand new, sparkling Ops Booth.
"D'ARVIT, HOLLY, YOU DID THAT ON PURPOSE, YOU DWARF SNIFFING —"
Holly silenced the speakers. Within a second, Foaly had them back on.
"—AND IT'S A FLUKE, THIS PAIR REALLY IS INVINCIBLE —"
The elf grimaced and handed the helmet to Artemis, who handled it gingerly as Foaly's voice berated his eardrums until he managed to get into the inner workings and disconnect the speakers. His ears were left ringing in the silence.
Holly flopped onto the ground, spreading out on the grass. "Sorry I didn't call ahead."
Artemis sat carefully beside her, his hands stuffed back in his coat pockets. "I can't say I mind," he said. "I expected you to visit soon anyway."
She rolled her eyes. "Look, Mud Boy," she said roughly. "I know we haven't seen each other in more than six months, but please, just get over here and give me a damn hug."
Artemis sighed heavily, drew his hands out of his pockets, and embraced the little body in front of him, and started choking as Holly's hug tried to end his life. When she let go, he was wheezing.
"Honestly," Artemis scowled, gingerly rubbing at his ribs. "Do our hugs always have to be a contest of strength?"
Holly grinned, stretching up and roughly ruffling his hair. Artemis's scowl deepened as he attempted to pat it back down. "Yes," she answered. "Because I'm a badass."
"Speaking of your apparent badassery —"
"Hold on," Holly said, her hand raising and effectively silencing her companion. "Did you just actually say 'badassery?'"
"Yes, well —"
"Gods, I'm such a good influence on you."
Artemis rolled his eyes, reaching forward and snapping the strap of her eyepatch. "Are you ever going to go with the robotic eye?"
She shrugged. "Eventually, when Foaly gets a single spare second, but probably just for work. Depth perception and all that. I kind of like the eyepatch, you know?"
"So do I," he replied. She raised an eyebrow, and it was Artemis's turn to shrug. "Maybe I like seeing my eye there."
Holly raised the other eyebrow.
"Blue goes nicely with your skin," Artemis said defensively.
"No," she said slowly. "I think you're a little bit possessive."
"Of course I'm possessive," he grumbled. "You know me well enough. I am the definition of possessive."
"I'm immortal," he blurted.
Holly blinked, leaning back a bit as he looked defiantly out over the countryside. His cheeks pinked in the late-afternoon sun, and she turned so that she was fully facing him.
"Artemis?" she asked softly.
"Your great-grandfather paid me a visit a couple of months ago," he murmured, still not looking her way. "Informed me of a few things I had overlooked."
"You can't trust a single thing Cupid says," Holly informed him cautiously, trying and failing to catch his gaze. "He loves punking people."
"This may have been the one time in his life that he's ever been somewhat serious."
Holly twiddled her thumbs, staying silent until Artemis turned to look at her, his cheeks flaming red and his jaw set.
"Come here," she whispered, and he leaned her way before hesitating.
"I'm not — I'm not ready," he breathed shakily, even as she rose to her knees and took his face in her hands. "My family is still healing, and —"
"That's okay," she murmured. "Just sometime in the next century, Artemis."
"Was that last part sarcasm?"
Artemis's breath caught as Holly kissed the corner of his mouth, lingering before ghosting over his lips and staying there.
"When I got stuck in the first task getting into Imperium," she breathed. "And you so nicely accused me of being a hundred-year-old virgin, do you know what really scared me?" She smiled, looking up at him through her eyelashes. "That awesome fantasy I was stuck in involved some good times with a certain genius named Artemis Fowl the Second."
Artemis rolled his eyes. "Obviously," he said snottily. "I figured that one out ages ago."
Holly groaned and flung herself backwards, landing with a thump on her back. "Why do I love you?" she moaned, throwing her hands up in the air. "You're so annoying."
Artemis chuckled, leaning back on his palms. "Too bad you're going to have to deal with me for the rest of our lives."
She blinked, craning her neck to look up at him. His lips flickered up in a genuine smile.
"You're going to have to wait a little longer," he said softly. "I've got a family up here and I'm just — not prepared, for lack of a better excuse."
"I can wait," Holly said, kicking her feet to the side, landing them in his lap and grinning at his scowl as her dusty boots dirtied his trousers. "I've waited this long, haven't I?"
"Shut it, Mud Boy."
He laughed and lay on his back beside her, looking up at the clouds glowing golden in the sunset. Eventually, Holly's fingers found themselves tangled in his hair, lulling him halfway to sleep.
"She would have been proud of you," she whispered, and his head titled just enough to knock against her side. "I'm proud of you," she added after a moment.
"You do realize that the entirety of the underground population is not going to be exactly gung-ho about this, don't you?"
"Please, they've seen it coming forever. Haven't you read the gossip magazines?"
"I don't lower myself to those standards, thank you."
Holly laughed, and Artemis laughed, and they lay on the top of the hill watching the sunset fade into night as nothing more than two friends so hopelessly wound together by past and future that there was no greater luxury in the world than to just sit and hear each other breathe. In that moment, that was all they were.
And in that fleeting, fragile moment, that was all that they needed to be.
Well, kids. It's been fun. I just read through all of my reviews and got a little mushy feeling inside. I'm so glad that so many of you enjoyed this fic and put in the effort to tell me so (because, really, we're all guilty of being to lazy to review sometimes). This is not the end for me at all. I'll be returning soon with a whole new full-length fic called The Almost Ones. At the very soonest, this will happen in a few weeks or so as I am in a very fast-paced summer college course, working 14 hours a day and getting ready to apply to college — eep!. If you want to keep in touch just shoot me a message or find me on tumblr — if you google Alchemechanist it should show up pretty near the top. I look forward to seeing you all again soon.
Thank you ever so much,