Chapter Fourteen: Happy Endings
Doctor Argon had not been satisfied that his star patient was himself again until Artemis not only pronounced the number four without hesitation, but began reciting its exponentiation aloud. He'd reached 4,194,304 before Argon had stopped him.
"Well, Mud Boy," Foaly was telling Artemis, "Doctor Argon's finally given you a clean bill of health. Not that he looked too happy about it."
Artemis glowered. "He certainly performed enough tests to confirm it. Do you have any idea how many times I've been electrocuted in the past hour?"
Foaly flicked his tail. "So the white knight's gone for good then. I think I might actually miss him, you know."
"Yes. No more 'noble beast' – though if you were becoming fond of the nickname, Foaly, I'd be glad to adopt it."
Holly jumped in before Foaly could reply. "There's a shuttle waiting for you, Artemis. Butler, Juliet, and your mother are already aboard and the pilot will drop you off at Fowl Manor. You're free to go."
He smiled his vampire smile. "Oh? The commander didn't find some way to press charges for this latest incident?"
Holly winced. "I think Trouble decided he'd rather be rid of you than have you in Haven any longer."
Artemis's smile faltered. "I can imagine he would," he said quietly, his eyes on Holly.
"You might be interested to know," Foaly began, "that we got your three old friends. Spiro, Kong, and Kronski are all being wiped and relocated. That'll be the last we hear from them."
"That's welcome news," Artemis said with a nod. "And Opal?"
Holly rolled her eyes. "She slipped off again."
"In that case, please pass on my thanks to the commander for his characteristically fine work."
That, Holly decided, did not merit a reply so she turned instead to Foaly. "Could you go on ahead and let everyone know that Artemis is finally cleared?"
"Right, I forgot. I'm not the LEP technical expert anymore. I got a promotion to pony express."
Holly raised her eyebrows. "Please, Foaly?"
He grumbled a few things under his breath but clopped off leaving them alone in the examination room.
For a minute neither of them spoke. Finally, Holly sighed and sat down on to one of the hospital beds. "I can't believe we were out for three days."
"Yes," Artemis agreed. "It seemed only a matter of hours." He sat down next to her, a slight smile tugging at his lips as he went on. "You do, of course, realize what day it is."
"It's been three days since the solstice. It's Christmas Eve, Holly. The anniversary of the day we–" He hesitated. "Met."
She smiled wanly. "You'll be with your family for the holidays after all."
"My parents will be overjoyed, I imagine."
She reached out to squeeze his arm. "You can start with a clean slate now."
He nodded, but he didn't look particularly happy. If truth be told, neither did she. "I guess," she began after an uncomfortable moment of silence, "I'd gotten used to seeing you every day."
"Will you miss him?"
Confused, Holly looked up. "Who?"
"Orion. Will you miss him now that you've lost your admirer?"
Holly sniffed. "No. I much prefer having you in one piece. Besides," she said slyly, "I don't think I've actually lost an admirer."
Artemis cleared his throat and reached out to adjust his tie – only too late realizing that he was still in the T-shirt and jeans his mother had brought him. "Of course you're right." He did not meet her eyes, and his face was unusually flushed as he spoke. "Orion was correct. We do share... feelings... for you. However, I would choose to express them in a more staid manner."
"Artemis... Would you have... said anything if it weren't for Orion?"
He looked down at her and shook his head. "After what happened during our romp through the past, I didn't wish to further damage our relationship. So no, not unless I had some indication that you would reciprocate." He shrugged. "And I had no reason to. Certainly when I saw you in Siberia, it wasn't difficult to make the link between your new hair style and your tendency to use Commander Kelp's first name. Not to mention Foaly's tidbit about the date." Holly winced inwardly but Artemis kept on as if he'd rehearsed the entire speech – which was not at all impossible given that he'd had the past few hours to think on it. "In addition, I suppose I hadn't fully acknowledged the extent of my emotional attachment at the time. I qualified it as adolescent confusion and did my utmost to ignore it, which, in retrospect, would only have accelerated the development of the Atlantis Complex."
Holly smiled at his awkwardness, his formality. He had always stumbled through personal admissions; it was how she knew he was sincere. "It's not like that."
"What was that?"
"With Trouble. He – I think he asked me out because I grew my hair out. But I didn't change my hair because of him."
"Oh?" Artemis said, eyebrows raised. "Then why?"
She looked away from him, fingers absently pushing back a lock of hair. "I just... thought it would be a nice change."
Crossing her arms, she stared up at him. "Why did you start working out with Butler? After all these years?"
"I'd always meant to. It just seemed sensible," he said cooly, but she could hardly miss the flush in his pale cheeks.
"I see." Holly glanced over her shoulder at the sound of footsteps just beyond the door. "I suppose you have to go. I'll come see you – as soon as I can."
"I would like that," he said quietly. "Very much." The silence seemed to suck the air from her lungs, the voice from throat. She had grown so used to having him there in Haven. Every day. Granted, it had been Orion she'd found at the clinic nearly as often as Artemis, but even so, she knew she would miss him terribly. He was still here and already she missed him.
"Holly." He shifted slightly so that he could face her.
"Hmm?" Turning, she glanced up at him. He looked so very serious.
"I realize that my relative youth may give you pause, so I would like to assure you that while according to Irish law seventeen is the age of consent, fifteen is considered old enough–"
"For this," she finished, and then reached up and kissed him.
She was not an adolescent this time, but she felt every bit as giddy as her lips tingled and a shiver of delight ran down her spine. Artemis's fingers brushed through her hair and she smiled against his lips.
Artemis was flushed but smiling – a little foolishly – as he said. "I was about to explain about what's considered allowable for those between fifteen and seventeen, but I see it's unnecessary."
"I– uh – looked it up."
"You looked it up?" he repeated, bemused.
She couldn't keep from smiling, even as she punched him in the arm. "Don't look so pleased with yourself. Especially when you're still wearing that shirt."
He glanced down at the cartoon character on his chest and shrugged, smiling his vampire smile. "My mother did imply it would help me win popularity with girls."
Holly winced. "I doubt I'm quite what she had in mind."
"Regardless, you are what I had in mind."
"Careful," Holly said, smiling in spite of herself, "or I'll start to think you've relapsed and I'm talking to Orion again."
Artemis straightened. "I like to think I've retained some of his more admirable qualities." "Just promise, Arty, no sonnets."
He chuckled quietly and nodded his assent. "Very well, Holly. No sonnets."
"No haikus either."
"You have my word." She found she was squeezing his fingers in hers, reluctant to let go. Artemis seemed to sense her reluctance –or perhaps he simply shared it – for he squeezed her hand in return as he said, "I'll call when things have settled down at the manor."
"I need to read the report about Opal but I'll email you once I get the full story about what happened while we were out."
"I'd appreciate that."
With a sigh, Holly hopped down from her perch. "We should get going. Your family's waiting."
He got to his feet and followed her towards the door. Her hand hesitated over the open button. "Artemis, that story you were telling me about earlier – the Dream of Aengus. What happened in the end?"
"In short, Aengus fell so ill that his family eventually intervened to try to cure him. They found the woman he'd seen in his dreams. Her kinsmen were not agreeable to the match but after some conflict and a trick on Aengus's part, he finally found her and they were married."
"A happy ending then," Holly said, looking up at him.
"Does that meet with your approval?"
"Yes," she said, smiling. "It does."
Still smiling, Holly reached for the door's open button, and together they walked to the shuttle bay, looking far happier than they had any right to be.