Ahem. Well, though this story has had its moments, I can't say it's my best and/or favourite effort so, at long last, hurray, it's finished! Though I am glad you guys all seemed to enjoy it. I will, hopefully, eventually have more stuff up. However, at the moment, I'm doing my darndest to write original stuff so it may take a while.

Though, on that note, I am going to SHAMELESSLY plug myself because, if you do want to read something not AF-related, I spent half a day trying to remember my fictionpress password in order to finally post the first chapter of Prince & West, a mystery story I've been mulling over for months. Hurray, accomplishing things! I will happily admit that it's heavily influenced by my AF fanfiction. You can find it here: www-dot-fictionpress-dot-com/s/3242857/1/
Constructive criticism highly appreciated!
(Fair warning, my fp account also contains a recently rediscovered and embarrassingly large collection of horrendous, angsty teen poetry. We all have them.)

Anyway! Story time! Though, of course, no author's note would be complete without thanking my wonderful, wonderful beta ilex-ferox, without whom just about everything I've ever written for AF would not have been possible.

Chapter Twenty: The Sun Rising

11:22 pm, December 2nd, 2013, Teotihuacan

Butler sighed. Around his knees, pint-sized fairies were running everywhere, their agitated voices mingling to become one long stream of indecipherable, excited noise.

"Seriously. Professionalism. Anyone? Anyone at all?"

"Considering your new scheme to bend me to your will, I hardly think you're in a position to judge," Artemis sniffed, straightening his cuffs and dusting off his shirt. Butler's first instinct at the explosion had been to pull Artemis to the floor and cover him. And he had held him down through two more subsequent explosions. Artemis was not pleased.

"That is not the same thing. They're just making more chaos instead of calming it down."

"Well, fairies are an excitable race."

Holly appeared on Butler's other side. "Oh sure, let's play the race card."

Artemis threw up his hands. "There's just no pleasing you people, is there?"

"What's the situation?" Butler looked down at Holly.

She snorted. "There is no situation."

"What do you mean there's no— things are blowing up!"

"Yes, Foaly's jerry-rigged temporal vortex computer that he would have had to dismantle anyway, a bag of flares, and the long-empty snack table."

"That's it?"

"Yep. And would you care to hazard a guess as to who is missing from all this chaos?"

Butler and Artemis shared a look. Butler held out a hand at just under waist height. "Short guy? Hairy? Aggressive body odour?"

Holly chuckled. "In one. And he took Tezcat with him. I saw them disappear behind the packed gear," she jerked a thumb in the direction of the tall, neat stack of tech and weaponry waiting to be loaded onto the LEP transports. "They're not there anymore, however."

"Tunnelled out?"

"That would be my guess." Holly sighed, readjusting her sheet. "Better go find Trouble. They've had their 15 minute head start."

"Explosions aren't really Mulch's style," Artemis mused as Holly waded into the crowd.

"No," agreed Butler.

As if pulled by some invisible cord, their heads both swung to where Juliet and Lili sat against the wall, looking like innocence itself. When she saw them watching her, Juliet raised a hand and jauntily waggled her fingers at them.

Butler groaned.

"WHAT?" Trouble pinched the bridge of his nose. "I knew this was going too smoothly. I knew it. Bloody Diggums. MEN—"

"And women," Holly muttered.

He paused long enough to give her a withering glare before going back to his shouting. "I want this room searched from top to bottom for Mulch Diggums and Tezcatlipoca! Fan out! NOW!"

The LEP officers groaned but did as they were told, spreading out and ransacking the room.

"Oh great," said Foaly, coming up to Trouble and Holly. "Now we're going to have to repack everything. Classic Diggums."

Trouble frowned. "Actually, not really..."

Foaly raised an eyebrow. "What do you mea—hey! Where're you go— Trouble!"

But Trouble kept walking.

"Elves!" Foaly muttered.

"You too?" said Holly. "Frond, the stereotyping!"

"I—what?" Foaly watched, baffled, as she walked back to Artemis and Butler. "Seriously, elves!"

"You know that damaging government property is a crime, right? Doesn't matter what species you are," Trouble leaned against the wall next to Juliet.

Juliet looked over at him, confusion written large across her face. "Um, yes?"

"Even if it's just a snack table."

Juliet chuckled. "Though the court case would be pretty funny."

"Where did they go, Juliet?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"Yes, you do. Mulch and Tezcat."

"What, they're not still here? Typical men, leaving without saying goodbye."

Trouble chuckled despite himself. "And you, Frond? Anything to add?"

"To Juliet's gender stereotyping? Only that I thought we knew each other well enough to warrant a goodbye. I'm a little hurt, to be honest."

The LEP major shook his head. "You've changed, Lili."

"Yes," the other elf agreed. "For the better, I think."

Trouble looked back to Juliet. "You win," he said to her, though whether he was talking about Mulch's escape or their previous conversation was unclear. She nodded anyway and smiled.

He rolled his eyes. "At least stop grinning like a fool and pretend like you didn't just help two wanted criminals to escape justice."

Juliet laughed. "Yessir!"

Still shaking his head, Trouble went back to corral his troops.

It was the middle of the night before Retrieval and Foaly's tech crew shipped off back to Haven. A search of the Teotihuacan grounds had been performed (to the loud displeasure of the LEP officers) but it turned up nothing. Mulch Diggums and Tezcat had, for all intents and purposes, disappeared into thin air.

Having admitted defeat, and muttering that people didn't burn in hell they did paperwork, Trouble boarded the last of the shuttles. Standing in the open doorway, he looked down at Holly and Artemis. "Thank Frond at least you're not under my supervision," he said after a moment, gesturing to the pair of them.

Holly laughed. "See you on Monday, Trouble."

"Yeah, yeah, you're on R&R, rub it in." But he smiled as he waved.

"Call me!" Behind Trouble, Foaly mimed a telephone with one hand as the door slid shut and shuttle faded from sight. Holly waved, smiling up at the empty night sky.

Without the bustle of the Retrieval boys, the top of the pyramid was quiet and empty. A breeze rustled Holly's sheet and she shivered, squeezing the red purse tighter under her arm.

"Well," she said. "I guess it's time to go home."

"Oh good lord," said Artemis suddenly. "The internet. I'd forgotten."

Holly laughed. "Not to mention constant electricity."

"No, no," Artemis waved his hands, "even better: hot water."

Holly made an incoherent noise of happiness.

"Now, if only I could get the internet whilst in the hot water..." Artemis mused, holding out his arm.

Holly looped one of hers through it and they tripped off down the pyramid. "And the headlines will read: Irish tourist electrocutes himself in bath."

"Hardly. It's not like I'll have..." their voices faded as they got farther away.

"They really are sickening," said Tezcat, as he and Mulch appeared from the shadows.

"Ye-up," agreed Lili raising her hand to high five the other two fairies.

"They're adorable," Butler rumbled. After a beat he added, "And I will beat up anyone who disagrees."

"Totally cute," said Mulch. "So endearing."

Juliet laughed. "Way to use your powers for good, Big Bro."

Butler smiled seraphically.

"You two coming with us?" Juliet asked, turning to Tezcat and Mulch.

"Nah," said the dwarf. "Holly might be all about the post-coital bliss at the moment but I feel that would be short-lived if two freshly escaped felons turned up to crash in her love-nest." He chuckled. "Heh, get it? Short lived?"

Tezcat was the only one who snickered.

"At least someone appreciates me," grumbled Mulch.

"Where are you going to go?" Butler asked.

"Oh, I have a few places in mind," Mulch winked.

"Well, keep in touch, yeah?" Juliet said. "I'm serious about those unicorns."

Tezcat laughed. "Don't worry, Juliet. We'll find you your unicorns."

"You better believe it, buddy," said the woman, reaching down to hug the unsuspecting fairy.

"I... physical contact makes me very uncomfortable," he said when she released him.

"Yeah, 'cause you're outta practice and..." Juliet trailed off, raising her eyebrows as Mulch opened his arms to her. "No way, Diggums. Have you smelled yourself lately?"

The dwarf just laughed. "It's okay, honey, I know my pheromones are too strong for you. Get any closer and you'd lose control. I understand."

"Control of my gag reflex maybe," Juliet shot back, but she smiled and so did he. "I'll miss you guys."

"Not for long!" Mulch waggled his eyebrows.

"You know, that's really okay," said Butler. "I can wait a while. Maybe even until after your next bath."

"I'll miss you too, Big Man." Mulch raised one thick-fingered hand to wave as Lili, Juliet, and Butler began their slow descent.

Back at the hotel nothing had really changed. Despite the late hour, guests were still complaining, concierges still looked hassled, baggage was still being carted left and right, and French blondes were still making a nuisance of themselves.

"O Mon Dieu, il a dit quoi ?!" Nattering away on her phone and gesturing with the martini in her other hand, not that the person on the other end of the line could see it, she tripped over a ridge in the thick carpet of the lobby and fell forward into Butler. Naturally, he caught her. Slowly, she looked up at him. Then she bit her lip.

"You caught me," she said breathily.

Behind Butler, Artemis snorted.

"And your gin," Butler replied, setting her back on her feet. She took the proffered glass.

"Thank you," she said, looking up at him through thick lashes.

"Ah... no problem. No harm done."

"You're too kind." She had a dimple in her left cheek when she smiled. "Please, let me buy you a drink."

"Sorry," Butler replied and he actually sounded it. "I can't."

"Oh no, my dear," Artemis broke in, his voice drawling and wicked, "you can't possibly turn down such a pretty girl. I mean, just look at those lovely curls! Don't worry. We'll be fine."

Butler pinned his charge with a withering glare. "Artemis—"

But Artemis was not intimidated. "Have fun now," he smirked, waggling his fingers as he hurriedly ushered the others further into the crowd. "Don't stay out all night!"


They had disappeared into the lift.

"My name is Minerva," the blonde held out her free hand. "And you are...?"

He sighed. There were worse ways to spend the night. "I'm Butler."

Artemis snickered as he pressed the lift button. "Serves him bloody right," he said to no one in particular.

The others decided it was better not to know.

Artemis was contemplating the rising sun from a cocoon of hot water when there was a knock on his door.


"May I?"

He smiled, recognising the voice. "Of course."

Holly slipped in, locking the door behind her. "You know, with Juliet around to prank you, you really should know better than to leave the door unlocked."

Artemis laughed. "I'm out of practice, I suppose."

She nodded. "It's weird, isn't it? To suddenly be back here."


They were silent for a moment, watching each other. Eventually, Artemis raised an eyebrow. "Are you going to stand there eyeing me all night, Major?"

Holly laughed, shrugging out of his suit jacket. "Someone thinks quite highly of himself."

Slowly, she undid the crumpled tie and let the sheet fall.

"Tell me at least one of your dresses made it back in that ridiculous purse of yours, along with your gear?" Artemis watched as she stepped out of the pile of fabric.

She grinned. "What if I said it was the magenta one?"

He shuddered. "God, I'd rather they all be lost."

Slipping into the water with him, she finally let herself return to her proper size. She lay along his chest, resting her head on his shoulder. "You're in luck. One did, and it's the stripy one."

Artemis nodded, playing absently with her hair. "An altogether much better choice."

She hmm-ed in agreement as her body unwound. But the water only soothed her muscles, not her mind. "Things will be different now that we're back."

"Yes," he agreed. "But the essentials will remain the same. I'm afraid you're stuck with me, as Juliet would say."

She smiled suddenly. "Being stuck here with you... that won't be so bad, will it?"

"No," he said, laughing. "No, it will be everything but."