When she arrived back at the manor at around 1:30, Juliet was sitting on the sofa reading a book in front of the large fireplace in the living area. She looked up when the door opened. Victoria hung Butler's snow-soaked jacket on the coat tree, avoiding the butler's gaze so she couldn't tell she'd been crying.

"Oh! I didn't have to buzz you in. Artemis gave you the code?" Juliet strained her neck, trying to see if anyone else followed Victoria through the door. "Did- everything go well?"

Victoria, who was just about to retreat up the stairs, paused and gave the blonde an exasperated, almost disappointed look. "I came back in a cab, Artemis and Butler aren't with me, and I'm a few accessories short from when I left," she growled. "Tell me Sherlock Holmes, does that add up as 'well' to you?" Juliet stared at her, stunned, and her reaction shocked Victoria from her irritation. "I am- so sorry," she whimpered before sprinting up the stairs.

She locked the door to her room and collapsed on the bed. She felt so utterly alone. She couldn't call anyone; it was New Years, she didn't want to bog someone down on a holiday, not that there was anyone she could talk to. Her parents and Jenna and Joseph would think this was a good thing, the Fowls might fire her, and she just insulted Juliet. Charlie was unreachable. Then again, she didn't deserve their sympathy. She had chosen this for herself, in a roundabout way, and should accept the consequences for her actions. Still, Victoria cried until she exhausted herself into a fitful sleep.

The next day Victoria refused to leave her room. Artemis knocked on her door on multiple occasions in an attempt to reconcile with her, but she wouldn't even make a sound of response to his requests. When he tried the door, it was locked, and when he used the master key, he realized that furniture had been pushed in front of the door to ensure her privacy. He thought briefly about having Butler break the door down, then accurately assessed that that would only make the matter worse.

"Fine," he called, "If you won't talk to me in person, at least talk to me through the door. Victoria!" When he received no answer once again, the hair walked slowly back to his study, stopping multiple times to gaze through the large windows to the vast, snow-covered Fowl estate and think.

Artemis was conflicted about the whole New Years affair. On one hand, he had to admit he probably wouldn't have asked her to Minerva's party if he hadn't read her journal. However, his deception gave her no leave to overreact the way she did, and she needed to talk to someone about that vicious side of hers.

"It's almost like the Atlantis Complex, but in reverse," he hypothesized to Holly the next day. "She becomes this malicious woman intent on pain. I only had a brief encounter with her- it- but I've never seen that level of pure sadism in a human before." He looked dejectedly into his teacup. "And it was directed at me." Holly bit her lip. She knew the mudboy was at a loss as to how to proceed, and she wished she had the time to sit down with him and have a heart-to-heart, but...

"We're all sorry your girly friend dumped you, Artemis, but we have more serious matters to attend to." Artemis rubbed the bridge of his nose and shut his eyes in an attempt to refocus.

"Yes. Yes of course, you're right, Foaly. Where have you gotten with Minerva's files?"

"Well, Abbott did some number on her computer's hard drive. He wiped it clean, then threw a highly contagious virus in the mix to make it impossible to reconstruct."

"Sounds like this guy has a thing for viruses," Holly quipped.

"Yeah, well, he might as well have just nuked her computer. Very little is salvageable. Though we did find a few interesting journal entries about you, Artemis." The genius's gaze dropped and his concentration scattered again.

"I don't want to know. I'm done with journals for the time being." Foaly frowned inquisitively, but Holly shook her head at him over the video cam. The centaur coughed instead. "Still, from what the French genius told us, we can postulate that Abbott intends to load his virus into the spores of some sort of mold or fungus."

"Since Haven is basically a huge cave," Holly added, "it is home to many different varieties of fungus, suck in hard-to-reach crevices in the walls."

Artemis nodded and stroked his smooth chin, glad to have a logical problem to focus on. "Which species spreads its spawn through floating spores?"

"There are 12 species with floating spores, most of them common," Foaly said, his eyes darting as they read over various screens, "but the fungus with the widest distribution of spores is Frond's Messenger, a mushroom that grows all over Haven."

Artemis hummed. "I presume harvesting all of the mushrooms would be impossible," he said, staring into the middle distance as he schemed, "so I would suggest starting with the colonies around the air ventilation systems. Those spores would travel the farthest and the fastest."

"Should've thought of that," Foaly berated himself under his breath, then said aloud; "I've already got men out collecting the stuff. I'll send them to the air ducts right away."

"But that won't stop Abbott from finding another way to spread the disease," Holly argued, "And next time, he'll use a way we can't prevent."

"I agree," Artemis said, "and I say we use this to our advantage. Abbott will notice that we have discovered the method he is using to relay his deadly disease, but he does not know how much we have learned about his plans between the pages I took from his laboratory and Minerva's testimony."

"What are you proposing?" Foaly asked.

"This is the first active involvement the LEP has had with this case," the genius explained. "Once Abbott realizes the LEP are removing the Messenger, he'll undoubtedly put eyes and ears in the Plaza. So act suspicious. In a few days, put together troops like you're going to invade a base of operations, and make sure to use an abundance of code. This will cause him to panic and possibly make a mistake."

"What if all of our playacting causes him to release the virus prematurely?" Holly pointed out.

"No, this is about revenge, not world domination," Artemis replied. "Everything has to be perfect. He'll speed up the process to be sure, but he's not ready to reveal his piece de resistance just yet." The fairies were silent for a moment. There was always this moment after hearing one of Artemis's schemes; the moment they had to chose whether the incredible risks and imminent danger were worth the end game. Holly remembered Mallard on his death bed, and suddenly there was no contest.

"Alright, I'm in. But I won't be picking mushrooms. I'll go get Mulch and we'll work some- less reputable sources to see if we can find Abbott's home base," Holly decided.

Foaly nodded. "It's as good a plan as any. And for the record, I never heard her say that."

Holly laughed, glad to be on the offense again, on the hunt. Foaly signed off the conversation in order to inform Commander Kelp of their war strategy, and Artemis removed from a drawer some files he needed to look over. He paused when he realized Holly's face still wavered on his fairy communicator screen.

"Yes?" he asked, his pen poised over the papers.

"I was wondering what you're going to be doing while we're taking care of things below ground," she said. "Are those the files from Abbott's lab?"

"Indeed, but they contain information we already know," he replied. "It's Minerva's research." Holly frowned.

"Why didn't you tell Foaly you had it?"

"After he went through all that work to recover it from her computer? Heavens to Frond, it would make him furious!" Artemis chuckled, "Though it would have been nice to have Minerva's original formulas from her computer, to see which modifications Abbott made." He circled a few things on a page. "To answer your question, I'm going to try to develop an antivirus to kill the disease while it's airborne. I got the idea when Foaly mentioned that Minerva's hard drive had been infected." Holly nodded.

"I think I can help with that." The genius raised an eyebrow. The hard-boiled, gritty captain, offering help on a desk job topic? This was interesting.

"Oh really?"

"Don't give me that look. I did a bit of security detail a while back, during the big cancer scare in the 90s. In order to prevent the illness from mutating and infecting fairies, and to develop a treatment in case it did, some warlocks went topside to do some- human testing."

Artemis leaned forward in his chair. Voluntary human-fairy interaction? He'd never heard of the government approving of that before.

"They did their experiments on young children with cancer," she continued. "All little human kids believe in fairies, anyway. No one would pay them mind if they started telling stories of seeing little people in their hospital rooms. The tests were highly ethical, I assure you, and by the end of a year our alchemists were able to extrapolate a kind of cure that would stop the spread of cancer. However, we couldn't find a way to dissolve already large tumors, so the project was considered a failure." Artemis's mind raced at the implications of this new information.

"Since you're telling me this, I'm assuming you can get me the data?" he smirked. Holly grinned back.

"You mean those politically non-existent files no one has looked at in decades? They'll be in your inbox in an hour." The genius steepled his fingers, excited to finally have the upper hand. Then, his smile faltered. The last time he'd thought he'd had the advantage... Holly saw the change and sighed.

"Artemis, you should go talk to her."

He ran a hand through his hair and leaned back in his desk chair. "I've tried, she won't talk to me."

"I didn't say she had to talk to you," Artemis gave her a sideways glance, "but you need to talk to her. Tell her why you did what you did, and apologize for what you need to apologize for."

"But how can I-" he stammered, his mind running through various plans and scenarios "-I suppose I could- but you don't understand, she-" She raised her hands to stop his explanations.

"I'm not the one who needs to hear this, Artemis, and frankly, I've got work to do." Her words were harsh, but she smiled kindly at her friend. "You're a genius, Mudboy. You'll figure this out, and be a better man for it." She hung up, and Artemis stared at the blank screen for a moment before going back to his paperwork.

At around seven in the evening on January first, Victoria decided that it wasn't doing her any good being cooped up in her room. I've got to bite the bullet and buckle down, she thought as she grabbed her sketchbook, threw it in her box of supplies, and took the whole thing downstairs. The sooner I get this mural done, the sooner I can move out of this guilt trap.

Not that Victoria hated the Fowls, or never wanted to see Artemis again. But she and Artemis had crossed an employer-employee line the previous night, or at least acknowledged that the line was there, which should never be mentioned aloud. So, after a long night of half-manic contemplating, she resolved to bump her relationship status with the family back to acquaintance. This way, she could easily complete her commission and cut all ties with the Fowl estates as soon as possible.

Yeah, a piece of cake, she told herself as tears burned her eyes and the fairy wings she was painting blurred. Emotional detachment. Just another day in the life. Though it's funny, Charlie warned me against this. Victoria used her sleeve to wipe the tears from her face. She told me that the Fowls were a shady family, bad news. I should have listened. Should have been more careful.

As she thought over her regrets, Victoria moved away from the wall without checking where she stepped and tipped over a cup of water with her foot. She nearly cursed aloud as the paint-tainted liquid that didn't pool in the plastic floor covering soaked through her socks. She threw down her paint palette and took off her university hoodie to dab up the water. It was only after thoroughly staining the hoodie that she realized she could have used the paper towels in her supply box to mop up the mess. Pulling off her socks, she backpedaled to the opposite wall and slid to the ground, squeezing her eyelids shut as pressure built up behind them. Why was nothing going right? Why was she so alone, so afraid to move forward, and, on top of it all, so prone to bad luck? As if she didn't have enough on her plate, fending for herself in a foreign European country. Victoria rubbed her forehead against her folded arms till the friction burned. She needed to vent. It didn't matter to whom, anymore, she just needed someone to ask her-

"What's the matter, Da Vinci?" an all-too-familiar voice inquired. "Your progress on the mural is most impressive, and the lighting is coming along fabulously, so what's wrong? Is it- the mural?" Victoria tilted her head to see Artemis leaning over her, hands behind his back, an inquisitive expression on his face.

"Ugh. Anyone but you," she mumbled, her treacherous heart threatening to beat out of her chest. "I really don't need your false compliments right now. It's funny, before I would have accepted them gratefully, but I thought I made it quite clear that I want to go my own way."

"I wouldn't dream of obstructing your goals," he said, his jaw tense as he considered how to proceed. "But Victoria, I do need to talk to you."

She groaned and turned her head away from him, nestling her face between her knees. "Whatever it is, the answer's no."

"That's not a safe statement to make to a genius," Artemis pointed out, and she could almost hear the grin in his voice. "Can I take your word on that answer?" She sighed at his logic.

"Fine." Victoria sat up, her nose running from withheld emotions. Artemis offered her his handkerchief and she refused it, wiping her face on her soiled hoodie instead. "What is it?"

Artemis knelt down on one knee so they were on the same level. "I just want you to hear my reasons why I did what I did. It doesn't matter if you say no, I'll keep coming back until you listen." The artist crossed her arms. "But I want you to know the whole story before you decide whether or not our- relationship- is worth keeping."

Victoria considered his offer for a moment.

"Do I have to agree with your opinions?" she asked finally.


"Carry on then."

Artemis inhaled deeply- he hadn't had to reveal himself like this since his therapy sessions with Dr. Argon- and told her everything (well, within reason). He told her about how ever since he had accused Joseph of loving her, he'd been in love with her himself, but he had kept it a secret, even from himself. After he realized it, though, he immediately began to devise a way to confess his feelings, but, because of his lack of self-esteem when it came to these kinds of interactions, he could not scheme up a suitable reveal. Then, he found her journal.

"I'm sorry that I read it, and I wouldn't have if I'd known it would shatter your trust in me so completely," he said, placing a hand on her shoulder, "But learning that you feel- felt- so strongly for me made me ecstatic. And," he said, emboldened by her silent attention, "let's face it, I probably never world have known if I hadn't read the journal."

"You could have just asked me!" Victoria hissed, shrugging him off. "That's how all normal relationships are supposed to start! Besides, I'm not the most subtle person, so I've never been good at hiding my feelings."

Artemis shook his head. "Could have fooled me. You did, actually, and I'm an expert in human behavior." He looked thoughtful. "It's interesting, really, how heightened emotion can cloud one's judgment." He took a deep breath to continue his story. "In any case, I invited you to Minerva's party, bought you the necklace, and arranged everything to show you how much I love you- or perhaps how much of an amateur I am." He ran a hand through his hair and sighed heavily.

Even though she wanted to be angry, his self-frustration caused Victoria to pity him. She began to say something to comfort him, but then he continued; "I was confident because I took advantage in the knowledge that you loved me, and I was in error. In the future, I will consider the consequences of my advances and strive to regain-"

"Wait wait wait." Victoria stood and backed up a few steps to make sure he couldn't hear her heart throbbing. "'Advances'? You're not giving- you're not going to go away?"

"Well, I do live here," he said, patting down his slacks as he rose from his knees. He sighed at the horror on her face and the confusion in her eyes. "Do you really think so little of me- and yourself- that I would think you are worth abandoning so easily?" he asked. His voice was sad, but grew a hard edge when he proclaimed, "No, I meant it when I said I loved you, and I have reason to believe you haven't stopped loving me, either. One rejection isn't going to change the chemistry we share." He smirked. "Trust me, when it comes to science I'm quite the prodigy."

"Wh-well what if I reject you a second time?" she asked, wincing as she felt her more vengeful side take over.

"I'll try again," Artemis replied, taking a step toward her.

"A third rejection?" He grinned wider.

"To use an old cliche, you'll have to do better than that."

"A fourth, then?" Artemis grimaced at the horrible number, and Victoria grinned wickedly. "So four's the lucky number, eh?" The genius's brows flatlined, and he closed the distance between them before she could run away. Victoria, flustered by his proximity and divided on how to proceed, tried to back away, but Artemis matched her step for step, though he never tried to touch her.

"No matter how many times you reject me," he said in a low, husky voice, "no matter what lies you devise to drive me away, I'm not the sort of man who is accustomed to losing."

Is he trying to intimidate me? Victoria wondered, annoyed by his high-and-mighty claims. Her path curved toward to end of the mural, where her art supplies were, and Artemis followed, watching her face closely for her reaction to his challenge.

But if he read my diary, he should know, I don't like people exercising their authority over me. She glanced down at the paint buckets by her feet. It makes me want to fight back!

Before Artemis could stop her, Victoria dipped her hand in a bucket of orange paint and flicked it at him, her projectile splatting across his chest. The tension that built up in her chest dispelled when she saw the look of complete shock on his face, and she guffawed loudly.

"Oh, indeed!" Artemis said sarcastically, anger edging his voice. "You are the epitome of maturity, Miss Bering. This is a cashmere sweater!"

Victoria picked up the gallon of paint and prepared for a second attack. "Then I've saved you from a fashion faux pas!" she exclaimed. "I thought only women wore cashmere?"

"Shall I give it to you, then?" He was answered by another handful of paint across his face and shoulder. Victoria laughed diabolically.

"Good thing I had the foresight to put down so much plastic huh?" she said, gesturing to the floor with her paint-stained hand. "Otherwise, I'd feel bad for dirtying the carpet."

Artemis, stunned, reached up to touch his face. He stared at the pigment that came away on his fingertips.

"So that's how you want to play?" he muttered, looking up and giving her a near-murderous glance.

"What?" she asked. Her eyes widened as he picked up a tin of paint as well. "Artemis, no- I didn't wear my paint clothes today, Artemis-" She gasped as a string of blue paint splattered across the front of her Mickey Mouse T-shirt.

"What a coincidence," Artemis quipped, "neither did I." Victoria roared in response and threw another wad of paint at him. She mostly missed, but clipped him on the leg. He retaliated, this time he hit her in the face, covering her glasses with paint. She tossed them aside.

"The heck, Richie?" she yelled, waving her arms to steady herself as her socks slid across the transparent plastic. "Why are you so uptight? At least I have a reason to be angry, so stand still and take your punishment!" Artemis dodged her next projectile and launched his own.

"I have been punished!" he replied, ducking another assault. "Do you know what it's like to have the person you love reject you, then leave you at a party all alone? It's heartbreaking, not to mention humiliating!" Victoria faltered at the "heartbreaking" part, only to get a large steak of paint across her stomach.

"Well, how about the heartbreak I experienced, huh?!" she demanded, raining an onslaught down on him. "I thought you were different, as stupid as that sounds. I thought you could be the one! But then you went and stabbed me in the back!" Artemis gave up on defense and returned with his own slew of paint and pointed statements.

"Is that so? What happened to 'I never loved you' and 'I am prepared to abstain from relationships'?" he asked, though pleased by her confession. She grimaced as paint splashed across her cheek. She could already feel it hardening in her hair.

"I don't think you're in a position to accuse me of lying, Mr. I-can't-ask-out-a-girl-without-leverage! You've probably never done this before, but doesn't give you any excuse to cheat!" Artemis wiped some paint out of his eyes. It occurred to him through her lexical choices that Victoria had mistaken his noble pursuit of her for a rich heir looking for a way to amuse himself. It was time to end their silly game.

"At least I am honest about my affections!" he countered, his eyes calculating and his grin malicious. "I don't know which to be more concerned about; how much you lie to me, or how much you lie to yourself!"

Victoria had been secretly enjoying this back-and-forth up until now, but his last statement hit her where it hurt, and by the look in his eyes, he knew it. Of all the gall! She ran forward with her hand ready in the bucket of paint, going in for the kill. Artemis placed his bucket on the ground and raised his arms and spread his legs in a fighting stance he had most likely never used in combat.

Her frown deepened; he must know what is coming, so why doesn't he retreat? She was still contemplating this when her bare foot slipped in a pool of dirty water that she had failed to mop up earlier. The loss of what little friction she had caused her leg to swing backward and propel her body forward. She had just enough time to think "that scheming little snake" before her face collided with Artemis's torso. He wrapped his arms around her to keep her from falling. From her slumped position, her head pressed beneath his collarbone, she could feel his heart beat against her ear; it beat as fast as hers. She blushed so furiously that she didn't notice when he started stroking her hair; in fact, it was a calming touch, almost familiar.

"You can push me away if this is uncomfortable for you," Artemis murmured, clearing hair from her face and tucking it behind her ear. She swallowed hard. She knew if she wanted to keep up the illusion of anger she needed to flee immediately, but when they were this close the magnetism between them was as undeniable as it was intoxicating.

She looked up at him, her face rubbing blue paint into the orange already on his cashmere sweater, and he helped her to her feet. Her eyes searched his, trying to ferret out his character. At first glance, his eyes were startling, even dubious, and made her want to distrust him. But when she stood close to him and gazed past the shallows, she saw an illusive integrity in the midnight blue, and a purity in his soul that beckoned to her.

Artemis wondered what would happen if he did something rash right then. He hated using his ill-gotten knowledge against her, but her journal suggested that she could take quite a lot of emotional abuse in a relationship before permanently ending it. Not that what he had in mind was abuse, of course, but it would certainly make her angry. Really angry. But with her so close, her face open and honest and hopeful, the temptation was too hard to resist.

The hand he still had in her hair fell to the base of her neck, and he watched her green-hazel eyes for any change. Her pupils undulated as she scrutinized him, but other than that she stayed still. The hypnotic expansion and contraction of her pupils further drew him in, so that their foreheads almost touched. She had not rejected him yet, he noticed, despite all her talk, so perhaps his experiment was worth the risk. Careful not look down at her lips and betray his target, he leaned in and kissed her.

He didn't have the greatest aim; he caught the bottom of her nose at first, then quickly recovered and found her mouth, pressing against her till his lips completely covered hers.

Victoria's eyes widened with bewilderment as jolts of pleasure spread from her mouth to her fingertips and toes and sent her heart into overdrive. His lips were soft, if not a little stiff, and his eyelashes brushed her left cheek. She was aware of every lash against her skin; anywhere he touched her became hypersensitive. The sensation was similar for Artemis; warmth spread through his entire frame, a warmth he had never felt before. Her lips were chapped, but they melded perfectly with his, smoldering, and the fire stemmed from there. He pulled her closer, enjoying the new experience and wanting to feel more of that contagious fire.

When Artemis's grip on her arm and neck tightened, taboo alarms began ringing in her brain. Her rage rekindled as rapidly as it had been smothered, and her mind, on the verge of melting from happiness, iced over again as she realized what he had done. He was going to get it later, but now she needed to escape to a place where she was safe from him and her own traitorous emotions. Problem was, she wasn't sure he'd let her simply walk away at this point. Then she remembered she still held her gallon of paint. With Artemis still distracted by the kiss, she raised the bucket behind him and tipped it on its end, covering his head and back in orange. He released her immediately, and she skipped backward until she was a few meters away.


"You took advantage of me in a moment of weakness!" she scolded before he could complain.

"Was it a 'moment of weakness'?" Artemis asked, irritated at her stubbornness, but frozen to slow the paint's steady drip down his back, "or a moment of clarity?" Victoria sputtered for a second, struggling with his logic, but, realizing that she could make no argument, she left the mural hallway, not caring if she tracked painted footprints down the corridor.

Victoria's footsteps grew heavier the angrier she became. How dare he think he deserved her first kiss? She had put specific restrictions in place to make sure her first time was special, and her careful planning had been ruined by the impulsiveness of an overprivileged teenager!

She was more angry with herself, though, because she knew she'd enjoyed it. She was not of sound mind enough to return the kiss, but she didn't pull away either, which practically made her an accomplice. This derailed her intended apathy toward Artemis and probably gave him an immense ego boost. It's a good thing he's such a cleanliness prude, Victoria thought. He'll clean himself up before he comes after me, and I made sure that that will take a while. In the mean time, she'd hide in her room and convince herself that the ki- the event did not mean as much to her as it truly did.

Victoria heard her before she saw her. Still halfway down the hall to the main foyer, Victoria's eyes widened when she recognized the voice bouncing off of the high, manor walls.

"I'm not lying, pal! I'm here for Victoria Bering!" a female voice pleaded. "I'm not a terrorist or anything- my dad's ex-military!" Victoria's heart beat against her ribcage as she ran toward the foyer.

"I'm sorry, miss, but I cannot permit unauthorized visitors," Butler replied in his usual, blunt manner.

"Unauthorized?!" the intruder squeaked. "I knew the code!"

Victoria arrived on the scene as Butler began to forcibly shut the door on a slim, brunette woman carrying two duffel bags. Before he could, though, she threw one of her bags in the doorjamb.

"Look here, pal!" Her demanding voice echoed off of the arched ceilings of the foyer, and Victoria wondered if the whole manor heard their altercation. "I did not spend nine hours on a mother frikkin plane and a night in a shady hotel to be turned away now." She reached up to poke Butler on the lapel. He blinked, stunned, then frowned. Victoria reached them just as Butler's muscles started to tense. She realized she must look like a very colorful train wreck with her hair knotted, face red, and body covered in paint, so she didn't say anything, but instead grabbed the visitor's hand and swept her away before she had time to reclaim her bags. Butler watched them retreat, his face not betraying his discombobulation. After analyzing Victoria's splattered appearance, he wisely went in search of his ward, deciding that Artemis had gone unsupervised for long enough.

"Dear Lord, Vic, what happened to you?" the brunette asked, also noticing the artist's state. "You look like you barely escaped a Smurf ambush-"

"Charlie, what were you thinking, coming here unannounced like that?" Victoria hissed, now that they were out of earshot. "If I hadn't gotten there, Butler could have done much worse than kicked you out! They take their security very seriously around here."

"Nice to see you, too!" Charlie scoffed. "And that's some advice, coming from the girl who didn't heed my warnings about coming here." Victoria sighed and released her wrist.

"I'm sorry," she said. In truth, she was relieved that Charlie was there; she felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted. She moved in to give her a hug, looked down at the still-wet paint all over her and settled for holding her hand. They both laughed.

"Apology accepted," Charlie replied, "that is, if you bring me up to speed on-" she looked down at Victoria's ruined garb "-do I really want to know?" The redhead brought a finger to her lips.

"Shhhhh- not here."

The two ran the rest of the way to Victoria's rooms and locked the door behind them. Charlie barely had time to set down her one bag before her friend pushed her into the large restroom and locked that door, too.

"Victoria," Charlie said slowly, as if talking to a spooked horse, "why the heck are we hiding in your bathroom? Though you do need a shower in a bad way."

Victoria chuckled softly and sat down cross-legged on the padded toilet lid.

"The bathroom is the only place I can be sure Artemis didn't bug," she confessed. Charlie raised her eyebrows incredulously.

"Wow. That's some extreme paranoia you got going on there, hon."

"For good reason!" Victoria exclaimed. "You missed a lot while you were MIA." She went on to recount the events of the last few days, even the little things she thought might be relevant, like Artemis giving her the blue rose to wear. Charlie was unusually attentive for her, barely making any comments as she talked. Even without her input, though, Victoria's story took about an hour to finish.

"And so today he took the initiative and kissed you?" Victoria blushed and looked at Charlie quizzically.

"I didn't tell you that, how did you know?" Charlie gestured to her own lips and chin.

"You were the one who taught me that complimentary colors make a brownish-grey when mixed," she said, "and you've got a nice example of orange-blue brown around your mouth." The redhead's hand flew to her face.

"That's been there this whole time? That's worse than smeared lipstick! Ugh, and to think Artemis saw that!" Charlie grinned mischievously.

"Well, if it helps, that color really brings out your eyes." Victoria threw a stick of soap at her, and Charlie squealed. Both girls laughed.

"It's good to see you, Charles," Victoria sighed. "Do you have anywhere to stay?" Her friend winced.

"Actually, I was hoping that I could stay here. The hotel I stayed at last night was far less than savory." Victoria grinned, relieved.

"Give me half an hour to shower, then I'll see what I can do."

Yay, a friend for Victoria! Now will she be able to stand her ground against Artemis's advances?