FLUFF. Sad fluff, but fluff none the less. Kudos to ilex-ferox for sparking the idea for this one, though I wish I could give you something a bit less haphazard to read. Anyway, the idea's been niggling away at me ever since she mentioned it. So, for what it's worth...
Could, possibly be seen as a follow-up to This Time, but wasn't planned that way. Also, even though Root's apparating, it has nothing to do with any of my other Apparting!Root stories.
'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Except Artemis, of course. It was only one a.m. and the night was still young. He sat before his laptop, frowning as he read a new report on Fort McMurray. The sky outside was a thick, rich blue in which the stars glimmered like, well, stars.
Ominously, the digital clock on the corner of his screen changed from one-oh-three to one-oh-four. Artemis heard a rustling sound. He looked up.
To his credit he didn't swear or jump or even faint, only gaped for a millisecond before snapping his mouth shut again.
The late LEP Commander Root looked mildly disappointed. "Good evening, Mud Boy," he said.
"Good morning, actually, Commander," Artemis returned. "And happy Christmas, while we're about it. Though I suppose you don't celebrate Christmas."
Root shrugged. "One winter festival is as good as the next, the way I see it. Happy Christmas, Fowl."
"And to what do I owe the pleasure of your ... company?"
Root chuckled. "I just wanted to see your face when I arrived, that's all. I should have known even visits from the dead wouldn't faze you."
Artemis shrugged, trying to look modest. "You are ... you are dead, then, Commander?" he asked, swallowing.
"Oh yes, very much so."
Artemis nodded. "And ... how is that?"
"Oh, not bad, actually. I can't say I'm actually properly dead quite yet though, still in limbo."
"In limbo? Does that exist?" Artemis sat up a little straighter in his chair.
"Sure. It's a pretty fancy getup they have going on too: posh restaurants, great swimming pools, the works."
"Sounds lovely." Artemis frowned. "Is it because there's a queue?"
"Is what because there's a queue?" Root tweaked a fungus cigar out of his pocket. Artemis wondered briefly how cigars became ghosts.
"Are you in limbo because there's a queue for ... well, death."
Root laughed, snorting. "A queue for death! Ah, Mud Boy, you are priceless sometimes. No, there's no queue. This is just how it works. Sometimes ... Sometimes people die without doing all they should have done, or they die without the person who should be with them, so they wait in limbo until the situation is ... redressed."
"Without the person who should be with them?" Artemis focused on Root with alarming intensity.
The late LEP commander shrugged, looking at his cigar. "Yes. Some of us ... sometimes there are people we don't get the chance to ... to be with when we're alive, whom we were meant to be with. We have to set things right before we can die." The elf shifted uncomfortably in his seat, not meeting Artemis' eyes. The boy didn't care.
"You mean people we should have loved, but couldn't," he clarified.
"Or just didn't," Root added.
Artemis suddenly seemed to realise what this meant. "Who are you waiting for?"
Again the late commander shrugged. "None of your business, Fowl, so forget about it."
Root looked up, surprised. "Did you just say 'alright'?"
"Yes. It is none of my business."
"And since when did has that ever stopped you?"
It was Artemis' turn to shrug. "I'm not dead yet, Commander, but I think – no, I hope that when I die, I will have the chance to do the things I will never be able to do in this life. The chance to live ... in another time, as it were. And if you get to keep your secret, you'll be less likely to pry into mine."
Root eyed the human for a moment. "What one earth could you possibly want that you can't have? You've stolen gold from fairies, for Frond's sake!"
"I hope I am old enough to know, now, that there are some things more precious, and more rare, than gold."
Root snorted. "I think you've gone soft, Mud Boy. Is it a girl that's done this to you? It is, isn't it? Ah, the great Artemis Fowl, felled by a girl!" He rubbed his hands together, delighted
Artemis smirked. "Hardly. She's no girl, Commander, and I am still standing."
"Standing's a relative term," Root shrugged. "Your father stands, and he's only got one leg. I wonder what you're covering up? But it is a she then, eh? Someone I know?"
Artemis only smiled mildly. "I left your secret alone, please extend me the same courtesy."
Root paused. Licking his lips, he said, "Are you sure it's impossible? In this life, I mean? I know you're not one to give up easily but, when you're dead, you realise just how much you missed out on in life, usually for pretty stupid reasons."
"It's not impossible, but it would hurt her, in the end. There's no way around that. It's funny really: she's told me herself that we belong to another time. In this one it's already too late."
"You actually really care for this mystery woman, don't you?" Root looked slightly awestruck.
Artemis smiled wryly. "Yes, I do. I hope that doesn't shock you unduly, Commander."
"I – no. No, it doesn't," Root lied. There was something so sad in the boy's expression that he couldn't bring himself to be sarcastic. "That's a bit depressing though, waiting until you die to be with the woman you love."
Artemis shrugged again. "It's no worse than some of my other schemes. Besides, she's worth the wait."
Root nodded. "I know that feeling."
"Artemis?" Warily, she raised her hands to his face. It was softer than it had been the last time she'd seen him, and he was younger. "What are you doing here?"
Artemis smiled, turning his face to kiss the palm of her hand. "Waiting for you. You took your time."
"I ... but you're dead." She blushed at the gesture.
"That makes two of us."
"Two ... I'm ... but where are we?" She sat up, looking around her. It looked like his old bedroom in the Manor.
"In another time," said Artemis, watching her.
Holly paused, and to him the centuries of her life seemed like seconds compared to that pause. But then, finally, she turned to him and smiled. "The right one," she said, and kissed him.