It should be noted that: 1. I do not own Artemis Fowl. 2. This is for Kitsune Heart's "The Perfect Gift" contest. 3. This is not in the same "canon" as Of Two Minds and Things Not as They Seem. There will be no references to either of those here; there will be no references to this one in them.
Juliet had been worried for Artemis, when she first learned he'd gone mad, of course. Worried, but confident that it would only be a temporary setback. After all, with Artemis' intellect and the People's technology combined, a little thing like insanity ought to be easy to fix. But as September became October, and then November and December, and Artemis showed little improvement, Juliet was concerned in earnest. How long would it take to heal him?
Her fears distracted her from the other significance of the season, and perhaps that was why she was so surprised when one day, Holly came to her and asked, "So, I'm helping plan a Christmas party for everyone. As our resident Mud Person, do you have any clue how we're supposed to do this?"
Of course, there were other surprising factors in that statement as well.
"Wait, you guys celebrate Christmas, too?" Juliet asked, focusing on what was perhaps the least weird part of Holly's question.
"No. But Angeline does, and she doesn't want Artemis to miss out on the holiday." Holly looked embarrassed. "She was going on and on about how she couldn't stand the thought of him sitting alone in his room on what supposed to be a big holiday, and well… I might have gotten a little carried away."
Juliet couldn't help wincing a bit. Christmases with Artemis tended to be painfully awkward. She remembered all too well the last time she'd been at the manor over the holiday season. Mr. Mrs. Fowl had wanted to go carolling; Artemis had preferred to sing every song on the same, slightly flat, note and lecture everyone on how they were actually celebrating the pagan tradition of Saturnalia, as Jesus had likely been born in the spring. "She's going to, ah, make sure he participates, isn't she?" she asked nervously.
"Wrong again." Holly sounded despondent but resigned. "She's heading back aboveground, so she can be with the twins and stuff. She wanted Artemis to go with her, but Dr. Argon doesn't want to risk him having a relapse or something. So she asked us to tape the party and send her a copy." The elf looked up at Juliet, with an almost sick expression. "This is going to be a nightmare, isn't it?"
Juliet shook her head. "You have no idea."
For some reason, despite the fact that several people had offered to lend a hand, Holly and Juliet found themselves stuck with the brunt of the work. Oh, Foaly had promised to rouse up a tree and decorations from somewhere (probably Caballine), Dom was providing the food, and No. 1 had vowed to work out some enchantments to liven things up, but they seemed to be in charge of making sure anything actually happened at all. Normally Juliet would have cried sexism, but in this case it seemed more likely that they were the only two who had anything other than dread for the event.
Well, the only two aside from Mulch. The dwarf had decided that he would be playing San D'Klass for the evening, in appropriate Mud Man-style garb, and was putting as much effort in trying to convince the girls to dress as "Santa's Little Helpers" as any of the others were in avoiding having to do any work.
The situation was compounded by the fact that, aside for a talent for convincing people that they had really better live up to their commitments, or else they would be very sorry they hadn't, Holly and Juliet were completely unqualified for the task at hand. Mrs. Fowl, at least, was helpful when she was available, providing advice on both Christmas themes and party arranging. In general, it was more terrifying than encouraging. She also relieved any of their financial worries, but that was so far down on the list of problems that neither took too much notice of it.
The one positive factor in the situation, as far as Juliet was concerned, was Artemis. He was actually beginning to show mild signs of improvement. He'd begun reading Hogfather, the closest thing he had to a favourite Christmas book, and he was already sarcastically explaining the origins of many beloved Yuletide traditions to anyone who broached the topic to him.
Okay, so maybe that wasn't as encouraging as she would like it to be.
Actually, it was looking like it was going to be a total disaster.
"Presents," said Juliet suddenly to Holly one day. "That's what we've forgotten."
Holly was going over their to-do list for what was far more than the second time. "Presents?" she asked wearily. "We seriously have to find presents for people, on top of all of this other stuff? Can't we just leave that part out?"
"No way! That's one of the most important parts of Christmas." She sighed, seeing Holly's sceptical, you-Mud-People-are-so-materialistic look. "Not like that, fairy girl. I mean, going out and hunting down something you know your friends will love and then getting to see the smile on their face as they look at it. Knowing that it's something you did for them that's making them happy."
"Fine, but I know what I want for my Christmas present," grumbled Holly. "To get through this party without any fatalities."
"You're sure you wouldn't rather have a nice, easily-wrapped box of chocolates or something?" asked Juliet. "You know, something, I think I can actually get you?"
"What makes you say that?" Holly asked suspiciously.
"Mulch sent me his latest designs for costumes. He included our estimated measurements, which he way overshot, by the way, probably hoping we'd write back angrily with the real information."
"You're right," Holly said furiously. "Can I change my gift? I think I want Mulch's head in a box instead." She sighed. "Do we really have to get presents for everyone? I mean, it's not like it's a gift exchange or something."
"It's not like the invite list is that long," Juliet pointed out. "There are what, twelve or thirteen people? We'll just get them something small, you know, as a gesture."
Before too much longer, a second list began to develop, a compilation of all the people that they needed to arrange presents for, and smaller lists underneath of things they might actually like. Some of the entries were terribly vague (Mulch, for example, was down as getting "something to eat"), while others were rather speculative (Foaly's gift was listed as "not something techie, he can make himself whatever he wants, d'you think he'd like a book or something?" until Holly crossed it out and replaced it with "hoof moisturizer"), but it was growing. Juliet had made sure to pick out something special for Dom, and Holly… Holly wasn't sharing her plans, but Juliet had every suspicion that she was going to get something for Artemis. Much as Juliet longed to help her friend out, she suspected that Holly wanted to do this herself.
And before long, a party began to take shape. It was nothing like the elegant affairs usually found at Fowl Manor, but there was a certain charm to it nonetheless. Perhaps it was the tree. Not a real one of course – Juliet did not even want to imagine the look of horror her friend would get if she discovered that they'd killed a tree for the party – but a surprisingly artistic fake one. It was possible that Caballine had gotten a little confused, but there was something about the curving branches and softly glowing leaves that looked quite nice when hung with a variety of glass orbs left over from the Fowl's tree. Apparently, they had been donated out of a sense of preservation, as Mrs. Fowl hadn't expected them to survive the twins. Juliet was not sure this made her feel any better.
The other decorations were not nearly as good as the tree, and mostly consisted of fake greenery that Mrs. Fowl had found lying unused in the attic. Juliet was amused by the little bundles of holly she had hung throughout the conference room they were using; the elf named for them was less so. There was a rather tacky Santa poster taped to one wall, and a few centrepieces scattered on the various tables.
No. 1 had been helping Holly and Juliet set up, chatting eagerly with them about his research when fixing Atlantis and how much he had enjoyed the Christmas movies Juliet had lent him. It made for an odd conversational juxtaposition. As Juliet hung most of the garlands and Holly arranged the tables, the little demon stood on a chair in the middle of the room, and waved his arms dramatically. The ornaments began to glow with swirls of light, and the tinsel sparkled with an inner shine.
"Ooh," said Juliet, impressed. "Fairy lights." The other two blinked curiously. "Another decoration," she explained. "Like, strands of little light bulbs that you hang on the tree. They look kind of like that. It's kind of a pun, see, because No. 1 made the lights, and he's a fairy…" She shook her head, letting it go.
"Mud Men," Holly said. "You waste so much energy, and just to make your house look pretty."
"It does look nice, though," Juliet said, a little defensive.
"I think it looks fabulous, myself," No. 1 chimed in. "Magnificent. Stupendous. Illuminating, though I'm not sure that quite applies to this situation."
Before either could respond as to the propriety of illuminating in the current context, there was a knock at the door. "Juliet? I've got the food."
"Hey, Dom," she responded bouncily, as she opened the door, letting her heavily laden brother through. He frowned at her. "Sorry, Butler. Whatever. Do you have any idea how weird it sounds to call my own brother that? Anyways, thanks for the food."
"No problem. Jus try to remember for the future that I'm a bodyguard, not a caterer."
"Aw, but you're so good at it," she teased.
After that, the guests started arriving proper. Artemis was not far behind Butler, though he remained quiet, with a markedly shut-in expression, and seemed satisfied to lurk in a corner. Apparently, he hadn't improved much. Luckily, Foaly and Caballine arrived shortly afterwards, so there was someone to talk to, though Juliet rather felt that Caballine was avoiding her. She felt it even more strongly when the pixie who had accompanied Mulch let his eyes bug out at the sight of her, or possibly Butler, and ducked into a nearby chair.
"Hey there, boys and girls!" said Mulch cheerfully, oblivious to his partner's distress. He had lived up to his promise, and was wearing a brilliantly red Santa suit. "Happy Christmas, and all that! So," he added to the hostesses, "where's the booze?" Juliet privately suspected that he had started celebrating on his own already.
"We can't serve any," Holly said smugly. "Since Juliet is hosting, any alcohol is, technically, being given to you by a human, and that would violate the tenets of the Book."
"Why can't I drink, thought? I haven't got any magic to worry about," he whined.
Juliet gave him a light, friendly punch on the shoulder. A punch on the shoulder, anyways. Mulch let out a little grunt of pain. "Because we don't want a drunken, pervy Santa."
"Like there's any other kind," he muttered, rubbing his arm. "You know that's going to bruise, don't you?"
"Oh, you can bet on it," she replied, smiling sweetly.
Holly had unofficially drawn greeting duty; though Mulch and Holly were used to her, the others were less easy in the presence of a strange Mud Woman. She'd already badly frightened Doodah Day; no need to repeat the incident. Feeling a little left out, she wandered over to Artemis, who seemed to share the sentiment. He was sitting on a chair in a corner, mostly alone except for her brother Dom, who was standing in the same vicinity, watching his charge with neatly hidden concern. Juliet gave her brother a little smile, and he nodded in return. She wasn't sure that Artemis had noticed. The boy's eyes seemed glazed – whether it was the Atlantis Complex or simply boredom, he wasn't quite there.
"Enjoying the festivities?" she asked cheerily, coming to sit down beside him.
Artemis gave her a significant eyebrow. "No, not particularly, I'm afraid," was the cool response.
"Well, you should," Juliet replied, feeling a bit irritated. "We're kind of having it for you."
"I do not recall suggesting the idea in any way."
"No, but it was Holly and your mum's idea, to cheer you up. So you didn't have to spend Christmas sitting around moping. If we would've known you'd just sit around moping anyways, we wouldn't have bothered."
"I do not mope, Juliet," he said, and she did not fail to notice his stilted speech, or the careful count he kept under his breath.
"Just go talk to people," she said, more gently. "I mean, Mulch and Foaly and No. 1, and Holly, and, and everyone else has been really worried about you." She could see his conviction wavering, if only from a desire to get rid of her. "Come on! It'll be fun, I promise."
"Fine," he said at last, and stalked off to talk to Foaly. Juliet sighed, and flopped into his now-vacant chair.
"You know," her brother said, his voice not quite serious, "I'm not really supposed to let people talk to Artemis that way."
"Please. We both know he just needs a push right now."
Dom's voice remained neutral. "Perhaps. Here, this is for you." He pulled a small package, untidily wrapped in bright paper, from the inside pocket of his suit coat. Juliet opened it eagerly to reveal a bracelet of jade beads.
"Wow," she exclaimed, impressed. "Where'd you get this?"
"From Angeline. She wanted to thank you somehow – both of you, actually. Artemis has something for Holly, but I wanted to give you yours myself."
"Tell her thanks for me, then. Just a second, let me get you yours." She darted to the tree, and pulled out her own present. "Here."
Dom looked a little bemused, especially after he opened the box to reveal a pair of watches. "It's a nice gift, I suppose, but why do I need a matched pair?"
Juliet rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Dom. It's a tracker watch. You can give the other one to Artemis – or plant it on him somewhere, if you'd rather – and you'll be able to see where he is at any time. And there's a little alarm that goes off if he suffers too much physical damage, or if he sets it off himself. It's fairy tech, so he probably won't be able to mess with it, either."
Dom looked rueful. "It's something I definitely need, at least." He took one out of the box, and handed it to his sister. "You take it. I need to be with Artemis – I won't do him much good if I'm far enough away I need a fairy watch to keep track of him. But this way, I'll know if you get in over your head and hopefully we won't have a repeat of what happened in Cancun."
"It's not much of a gift if you give part of it back," she protested, but her heart wasn't in it. "I'm sorry about what happened," she added sincerely.
"It's not your fault. Artemis was the one who did it, and hell, it's probably not even his fault. He's not himself. I just hate that both of you were put at risk because of it."
"Hey, maybe I helped out a little bit. It's worth it to me if that's the case. Besides, it's not like anything happened to me."
"It could have, though." He sighed. "I guess that's the reason I'm a bodyguard, and you're a wrestler."
"Yeah." Suddenly, impulsively, she stood up and gave her brother a hug.
"What was that for?"
"No reason. I just wanted to make sure you knew I loved you."
"Well, I love you, too, sis."
Juliet had one last duty she had to do – get as much on film as she could. Mrs. Fowl had given her a camcorder, in return for her solemn word that she would make sure she would record it for posterity. Of course, she had to keep it on the down-low, as not even Holly would be pleased that she was letting a recording full of fairies above ground, but everyone was too engrossed in their current activities to do anything about it.
Most of the guests were opening their presents, something she had definitely wanted on tape. There was No. 1, starting in on the book she had gotten him (one of Artemis' favourites from when he was six, so it was probably pretty good, right?) and Mulch beginning to poke through the frozen foodstuffs he'd received (okay, so she'd given him some of their leftovers, but Dom was practically a gourmet chef, and the hairy little creep ate dirt on a regular basis). Qwan and Foaly were debating the merits of magic versus technology, while Dr. Argon, who they'd invited more out of sympathy than anything else, was chatting with Caballine about the psychological interpretations of art. Doodah Day and Qweffor were making awkward conversation, while Butler and Trouble Kelp were uneasily comparing tactic notes, each scouting out the other in case of future conflict. Finally, Juliet caught sight of Artemis and Holly, sitting next to each other in a quieter corner. They were holding each other's presents, apparently deep in conversation. They deserve a moment to themselves, she thought, smiling at them.
That didn't stop her getting a nice, long shot of the pair with the camcorder.
And then, at last, the party was over. Holly and Juliet collapsed on a bench, looking at the slightly tarnished decorations. The tree did not look as fine as it had at the start of the night, and No. 1's lights had faded. Little bits of wrapping paper were strewn over the floor. The women let out a collective sigh.
"Oh, hey," Holly said without prompting. "I got you a present." She passed Juliet something small, flat, and vaguely square.
Juliet tore the paper off, letting it join the rest on the floor. She stared wonderingly at the set of discs. "Dino the Deadly vs. Turbot Trollkiller: The Ultimate Deathmatch of the Millennium? Holly, is this…"
"Fairy wrestling. I promised to send you some discs a long time ago, and, well, I couldn't."
"Duh," said Juliet, still entranced by her present. "I don't think gnomes going at in – zero-g, really? This just keeps getting better and better – is exactly what you should be giving to someone who doesn't know about the People."
"That's what I meant. We were getting to be friends, and then I just vanished for all those years. You were just a kid when I vanished, and now, you're probably older than I am, relatively speaking. I feel a little like we missed our chance."
Juliet put the discs down. "Don't say that. I do think of you as a friend, Holly. A really cool – oh, I'm sorry!" A look of horrified remembrance crossed her face. "I forgot to get something for you!"
"Well, nobody died, and Mulch wasn't too horrible, so I think I'm good," Holly said with a laugh.
"No wait, I've got it." Juliet leaned closer until her lips touched Holly's ears, a smile on her face. "I promise," she whispered, tickling her softly with her breath, "that I will never let you plan another party again."
A wide grin spread over Holly's face, and she gave her friend a hug. "And that," she said sincerely, "is the best gift I'm ever going to get."