His first night as a citizen of Haven was easily the most confusing period of Artemis's life. For one, he now found himself with an elven girlfriend who was not above manipulating him to get whatever she wanted. The fact that what Holly wanted—for the moment, at least—was all for Artemis's own good did little to reassure him.
So, step one was acclimation to fairy cuisine. Artemis was sure he would never become a fan of the tarantula burger, but at least it was free of pollutants. He was still having issues controlling his magic, despite previous possession of the energy following the return of Hybras, and anything unnatural in food would kick in his healing, making it impossible to eat surface food. His stomach thus filled, the pair moved on to step two.
"Clothing?" Artemis said, glancing about the shops with disgust. A mall. Really. He wasn't even certain he'd even stepped into one of the things as a human, and now he was being dragged through one like a dog on a leash. And not one of those retractable leashes that N°1 was so fond of. An iron chain connected to a spiked choker collar.
"You really think a single suit is going to last?" Holly chided, pulling Artemis's hand a bit harder as they approached an electronics store. Foaly would want to be involved in any computer purchases, and so far the best he could do to help them was establish a line of credit to get Artemis by until his gold was processed. "You are getting something besides a suit, and then there's nightclothes and coats and...d'arvit. This is going to take forever." She stopped and looked about the stores, trying to decide where Artemis would actually deign to shop. "Well? Anything strike you?" She turned to Artemis, then frowned.
He was looking off to the side, head tilted a bit and humming. He looked...pensive. "Mmm...yes. You could say it does."
Holly followed his gaze and saw a shop fronted with white marble and filled with long glass cases. Above the entrance, the words "Kingston's: Finest Jewelry in Haven, est. 11,000 BCE" blazed in white gold.
Holly dropped Artemis's hand and backed away, putting up her palms as a barrier. "Oh, no. You are not going in there."
Artemis looked at her and scowled. "And why, pray tell, not?" He prepared himself for another mini-battle. "The entire reason I became an elf was for you, and I really do not see myself reversing the effects. I mean...I had brain surgery for you. Do you know how they did that? They went through my nose!" He pointed to the recently punctured portion of his face. "My nose, Holly! I felt like an Egyptian."
"Artemis. No." Holly said this quite firmly, also digging in for the fight. "It's too soon. I mean...we've kissed—what?—four times? We haven't even been on a date or had an anniversary. I mean..." She ran a hand through her hair, laughing at the absurdity of the idea. "We haven't even slept together!"
Instantly, Artemis's expression changed. It went from stern and stubborn to...gods, what was that? Holly wasn't sure she'd ever seen him look like that before.
Holly backed off further. "A-Artemis? Why...why are you looking at me like that? You make me nervous when you look at me like that!"
It seemed he could barely speak around his enormous smile. "I get to have...premarital sex?"
Holly groaned and smacked her forehead, dragging the hand down her face. "Artemis, you stupid...come on!" Grabbing his tie, Holly pulled the enraptured elf into the nearest clothing store. She hoped his body could run through shopping on autopilot, because his mind—genius or no—would be stuck on that for hours.
Next time on Fowl Ties: How long, exactly, is a whirlwind courtship? Artemis's first night in Haven.
Artemis was sure that he could get Holly to do whatever he wanted, if he only said just the right words. Hell, he'd been doing that for the last eleven and a half years. Sadly, the addition of romance was seriously throwing off his calculations
He did his best to look lost and lonely. If he had a mirror, Artemis would have been quite pleased with the results. "Please?" he said adding a small whimper to his voice, though he was unsure if it would carry over the sound of the descending elevator's muzak. "Can't I stay with you?"
Holly looked sideways, eyes darting up and down her new significant other, then took a step away to help dull the intrinsic appeal of that idea. "No. That is the first place the press will look, and my security isn't great. This is the best solution Foaly could think up." She focused on the bent scissor gates, clasping her hands in front of her, lest the man make a grab for them to add touch to his argument.
Admittedly, this was also the best solution Artemis had thought of, though he had kept it to himself as Foaly and Holly planned, giving a little inward curse as it was alighted upon. Foaly expected to be just as swamped as Holly by paparazzi once the news of Artemis's transformation was released, and he refused to make matters worse for Caballine and Flash by hosting the new elf. A hotel room could easily be traced and would be impossible to secure, making it similarly unthinkable. They needed someone who wasn't too closely tied to Artemis by the media, but who trusted the criminal genius enough to put him up for the night.
Also...someone who was prone to establishing his own escape routes was a plus.
As Holly's incessant pounding, Mulch Diggums wrenched his apartment door open. His furious expression was not softened by the appearance of his old partner. "What in the name of the great god Shammy do you think you're doing here at 9 a.m.!"
Holly was not intimidated. She was, however, in a hurry. "Artemis needs your help."
Mulch tried to slam the door, but found himself thwarted by Holly's very solid shoulder.
"No!" He shot out, pushing at the door, cursing himself for not going to the gym more often. Or at all, actually. Really, a male dwarf in his prime being bested by a little female elf! "I am done with his schemes. Whatever he's got himself into, I do not want to be involved! One wrong move and the LEP will throw me back in prison, and I find I rather like my freedom!"
"Muuuuuuulch," Holly said, the word half grunt as she pushed back against the door. "It's not that big a deal! He just needs your couch!"
Artemis jerked his head back at this. A couch! How the mighty hath fallen...
"You leave my couch out of this!" Mulch rumbled, his bare feet slipping on the tile entrance to his apartment. He knew he shouldn't have had that extra drink before bed. Sucking pores would be so useful right now. "She's been a good couch! I do not want to know what Fowl has planned for her innocent upholstery!"
"Innocent upholstery?" Holly laughed, putting her hands to the door and pushing her body away while still keeping up the battle against the dwarf. "I read the file for the Amber Moon case! That couch is no innocent! Now, let me IN." At the last word, Holly tucked her arms into her chest and jumped forward, slamming her shoulder into the door and sending it crashing open.
Mulch staggered back, thoroughly outmaneuvered, but quickly stopped and stood with his arms outstretched, blocking the entry hall. "I know my rights! This is an illegal search and seizure of my property, and I won't stand for it!"
"No," Holly panted, grabbing Artemis and thrusting him in front of the other ex-con. "This is a couch-surfing."
Mulch had opened his mouth to shout at this new intruder, but just kept opening it until he was in full gape-mode. It would have been amusing, but for all the teeth.
Artemis tried to smile winningly, giving Mulch a little wave. "Hi."
Mulch suddenly seemed quite nervous. "What...did yo do to make Holly that mad?"
"Hey," Holly protested, "this is all him. I would never have planned a move so poorly."
"In my defense," Artemis snapped back, pride deeply wounded, "it was a bit more complicated than a cross-town relocation. You change your species on a day's notice and we'll see how many details you work out. I wanted to stay with you, but noooooooo."
Holly decided it was best to ignore Artemis. It was generally best to do so. Turning to Mulch, she clasped her hands together, holding them out to the dwarf as if she were trying to beseech him with a prayer. "Mulch...he needs a place to stay, and you have some of the best security in Haven. We all know that there's about a dozen escape tunnels in your living room alone. Just...a day. Two, tops."
Mulch muttered, contemplating the arrangement. "I don't know..."
"Mulch..." Holly actually seemed to be whimpering a bit. "Puh-lease?" She turned on the puppy-dog eyes.
Artemis looked at her, shocked. She had never done that to him, so he was completely unprepared. She was a master. Eyes wide, but not bugged-out. A slight glisten of tears barely held in by her long lashes. A tremble in her lower lip. And was she...she was! Holly was sniffling, as if moments from sobs.
Artemis took a step away. If he didn't, he knew he would sweep the woman into his arms and promise anything if she would only stop looking like that. He was glad she had never tried this during the Manor siege. He would have lost his hostage in minutes. If not to his own (admittedly absent, at the time) sense of pity, then to Butler's. Artemis hoped he would never turn that look on him. Act or no, he had no defenses against a distraught woman.
Apparently, neither did Mulch. He tried to look away, but the sniffles could not be ignored. "I...I...oh, alright!" He shook a finger at the manipulative officer. "But just one day. He can stay with you after that, if he doesn't have a place of his own!"
"I am completely okay with that," Artemis said, nodding.
Holly narrowed her eyes at Artemis, but dropped the implied threat quickly, giving Mulch a hug. "Thank you! I'll be by again around 5 p.m. to pick him up and find him a place of his own. You are a lifesaver."
Artemis glared at the dwarf. Mulch was saving something, certainly, but Artemis wasn't all that attached to it, at the moment. He was slightly appeased when Holly gave him a quick but forceful kiss (the kind that ends with a loud sucking sound and an exclamation of "mwah!"). Before he could recover, she was off, in the elevator, and soon out of sight.
Mulch and Artemis stood in the hall, awkward. It suddenly occurred to the younger man that they had never held a conversation outside of their adventures. Even in their adventures, most of the talk seemed to be centered on dwarf talents or threatening the boy with tunnel waste. "Soooooo..." Artemis began, casting about for a subject. "She managed that rather well."
Mulch grunted. "She learned to do that the first time it was her turn to clean the office restroom. I don't think she can actually get to crying, but I never had the heart to try."
"Thanks for the extensive research," Artemis sulked, not even sure if he could stand fifteen seconds of Holly like that himself.
Mulch patted the man on his back. "Yeah...you're screwed."
With an impressed chuckle—the Mud Man, joking and pining? Holly was an impressive woman—Mulch steered Artemis into the living room. "Ah, no worries. She's not exactly a shrinking violet. I doubt she'll keep you waiting that long."
Artemis did seem reassured by this, though his ease was swiftly destroyed by a glance around the dwarf's apartment. He had been the LA penthouse, but the finicky man was unprepared for the dirt floor and occasional bugs. At least the couch appeared clean...though, if Holly wasn't exaggerating, he didn't want to think about what had transpired on the green velvet cushions. Yes...he would make sure he had his own place tomorrow.
"So...here we are," Mulch said, nodding to himself. "Sharing an apartment." He squinted, as if probing deep into his mind. Then he looked up at Artemis, grinning. "How long, roughly, is a whirlwind romance?"
At first. Artemis was confused, thinking that Mulch was speaking of Holly and himself. Then his mind went back six (or was it fourteen?) years. He turned on his host. "We go on how many life-threatening missions together, and that is what jogs your memory? You are...sick! Stay away from my little sister!"
Mulch just grinned at this, backing out of the room. "Oh, no worries. She has another ten years or so to adulthood, right? A good miner waits for the diamond to develop from the coal before digging it out."
Artemis was left in the living room, certain he would completely lose this little verbal spar if he yelled after Mulch, but overcome with the desire to defend Lucy's honor. Eventually (being when Mulch's snores filled the apartment ), he decided it was best to just rest.
Then he looked at the couch and flinched. Dwarves...he'd have to get Butler to install floodlights in Lucy's bedroom.
Next time on Fowl Ties: House hunting, Holly's biological clock, and something steamy.
Holly arrived at Mulch's apartment promptly at 6:00 the next evening. Accustomed to Artemis's great love of sleeping and what she could only assume would be a huge transition from diurnal to nocturnal, she was prepared for quite a wait before the man was ready.
Instead, before she could even hit the door with a second knock, it was wrenched open and Artemis whipped around the edge, slamming it closed behind. "Go go go!" He yelled at Holly, pushing her in front of him towards the elevator.
Holly, unaccustomed to being handled in this way, braced her feet on the hall carpet, slowing their progress. "Artemis! What's wrong?"
Artemis groaned. "Mulch ordered in a breakfast burrito!"
"Say no more!" Holly both yelled and pleaded, dashing to the elevator and pushing the call button rapidly and repeatedly, as if that would bring the car quicker.
Once they were in the safe, open air (relatively, noting their residence underground) in front of the apartment, Holly and Artemis stood hunched over, panting more from the fear brought on by an imminent explosion than from their swift retreat.
"I can not," wheezed Artemis, trembling, "stay there another night. Do you know what that couch smells like?"
Holly grimaced at that. "I'd rather not imagine, though I'm sure I could." She finally got control of herself and began to dig about in her tight jean pockets, fishing out a set of keys. "Foaly called up his realtor. There's a few places on the south side of Haven, near his apartment, that she wants to show you. Then Caballine has insisted she take you shopping for furniture and art, and she is welcome to that task. I have never shopped so much in my life."
"Apartments?" Artemis said, straightening up and frowning. Even when he only had a few centimeters on Holly, she found the look a bit disconcerting.
"Mostly. A house, too, I think."
"The house first," Artemis insisted, watching as Holly strode to her lime-green scooter. It looked remarkably like an old Vespa (a 1980 P200E, Butler would have been able to point out), but Artemis highly doubted that the Italians had put any contributions towards its construction, outside of a lovingly stolen design.
Holly tossed him a helmet, securing her own and taking the front bump on the seat as her own.
Artemis felt ridiculous in the nearly spherical helmet, but merely secured the clasps and slid on behind Holly, wrapping his arms quite tightly around her waist.
"You learn quickly," she commented. "I thought you were going to fall off yesterday."
Artemis rested his chin on Holly's shoulder. "Actually...that's not what I learned yesterday."
"Oh?" Holly said, starting the scooter with a kick. "What did you learn, then?"
"If I learned self-preservation, I wouldn't be riding with a maniac like you," Artemis teased. "But...then I wouldn't be able to do this..." He squeezed Holly tighter, pulling the smaller elf onto his lap.
Holly yelped. Twice. First, as the pressure on her stomach as she was moved onto Artemis. Then from the pressure coming from a different location. Glad that her helmet hid her entire face and its impressive blushing, she jerked her body forward and free of the unorthodox seat. Then, before the far-too-clever elf could do anything more, she hit the accelerator and veered into traffic.
On the way, she made a call out to the realtor using her helmet communicator (not standard for civvies, but Foaly did give a girl the most wonderful toys) and directed the woman to meet them at the single house she currently had for sale. The realtor sounded ecstatic at the idea, as well she should be. The gnome had heard about the veritable mountain of gold that the former human brought to Haven to establish himself, and it would more than cover her most expensive property.
Holly knew the second they walked inside that Artemis was sold. His eyebrows raised just a fraction and he looked about the room slowly, though no other aspect of his demeanor changed. "Hmmm...quaint."
Holly was tempted to point out that "quaint" was what he needed, considering that he would have to maintain this property on his own, but she decided to let that one slide. Instead, she took in the finer details of the house as the realtor flipped through her data tablet for information on the house. Most of the trimming was done in fairy faux-wood, with the rest of the walls painted a variety of bold colors, with a bright daisy yellow in the entryway, cranberry in the kitchen, and what appeared to be olive in the living room.
"You fairies do love your colors," Artemis muttered to Holly.
"We fairies," Holly replied, elbowing him, "find it comforting to see bold shades. The cavern is pretty...drab, if you hadn't noticed."
The gnome realtor began to lead them about the house, starting with the public rooms downstairs before leading them into the backyard. It had the standard small structure of a recycling lounge tucked into a corner and hidden by a few trees. Holly heard Artemis mutter, "I thought indoor plumbing was supposed to be civilized."
Holly had to smile at his discomfort, though she also wrinkled her nose at the idea. Seriously...defecating where you lived. Even dogs preferred to relieve themselves far away from their dens.
As Artemis asked the realtor about the specifics of the house's structure, Holly wandered the yard. It was large, by Haven standards, where free space was an enormous luxury. There was probably enough room for a dozen guests to spend a comfortable evening celebrating together. There were a few plants—mostly evergreens and maples cut to miniaturized, bonsai-like structures—with the rest of the ground covered in smooth river stones.
At the opposite end of the yard from the recycling lounge, Holly found the toilet pond, which was surrounded by canna and iris, though none were actually in the deep water. She nodded in satisfaction.
Then a thought struck her. She looked over at Artemis and the realtor, the former fairy pausing in his conversation to slightly cock his head at the major. When she didn't say anything, he went back to his questions.
She had to wonder...Artemis had spent a few days in Haven, but had been placed in a hotel, which had its own facilities...and, as much as he had researched the People, she doubted toilet ponds were in many scholarly works. This...was promising.
Schooling her expression—though Artemis obviously detected something was up by the way he looked at her—Holly rejoined the tour. They went up an outside staircase onto a half-circle balcony, then through a set of enormous glass doors into the master bedroom. Artemis couldn't help but be sarcastic as he asked the realtor about the logic of having a "powder room" off the closet when the toilet was outside, but the gnome didn't seem to understand. He let the subject drop and continued the tour to look at the other two bedrooms.
"Master, guest, and office!" The realtor exclaimed perkily.
Artemis hummed, then looked sideways at Holly. "Or Master, guest, and nursery."
Holly stood there a moment, blinking. Then she padded out of the upper hall, down the inside staircase, and went back into the garden, where she found the largest tree available and began to slam her head against the trunk, exclaiming "SNOOZE! SNOOZE!"
Artemis and the gnome woman went to the downstairs garden entrance and watched the woman head-butt the tree. The realtor cringed with every blow. "What is she doing?"
Artemis didn't cringe, all too familiar with Holly's violent tendencies and high pain threshold. "I believe she is trying to reset her biological clock."
Holly came back to them, blue sparks flying off her forehead. She stopped before the pair, painting. "Nice place."
Artemis nodded. "I'll take it."
Paperwork seemed a lot quicker than Artemis had expected, but the lack of a mortgage—his gold more than covering the purchase—sped up the process considerable. Three hours after seeing the house for the first time, Artemis accepted the keys. He promptly took one of the spares and tossed it to Holly, who looked at the silver teeth for a long time. She was only broken out of her reverie by the arrival of Caballine, who was prancing in place at the thought of accompanying Artemis on a furniture and art shopping spree The centaur had just enough sense to remind Holly that she had orders to debrief the council on current Fowl affairs before sweeping her personal shop-ee out of the realtor's office.
The Council was obviously trying to hold an intimidating interrogation, but Holly had dealt with a few more intimidating people than the dwarf Cahartez and the smooth elf Lope, and most of the other similarly unimposing politicians. Only Vinyáya could had made her quaver, and she seemed mostly concerned over establishing secure communication for Fowl, who would undoubtedly hack any inconvenient restraints put on him.
Based on the questions and hints from the Council, Holly suspected that she was being tasked as the unofficial guardian and spy to Artemis Fowl. This suited her fine. She was certain that Artemis wasn't done with shady business, but she doubted he would be doing anything the Council itself would be concerned with, and so long as it wasn't big enough for her to be forced to notice it, she could handle looking the other way. Perhaps not the best attitude for a cop, but every relationship has its little compromises.
Holly had just settled into her office chair when her personal communicator went off. It looked remarkably like a human sliding cell phone (the design being something even the fairies couldn't improve upon), and, like a phone, she had set up individual ring tones for her most frequent contacts. So, when the strong opening chords of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (a popular fairy rock ballad) began, she instantly knew who it was. "Evening, Arty," she chirruped, briefly wondering if she should change the ring assigned to him. Unrequited love songs didn't fit him now, after all.
"Answer," she said, delighting at his annoyed sigh.
"Very clever. Listen. I have had a very long day. I have to sleep in a blasted sleeping bag tonight—as if the d'arvitting couch wasn't enough—"
"'D'arvitting' isn't a word, Artemis."
"Whatever. The point is, I am sweaty and sore and exhausted, and I just wand a good bath and a long sleep, but I can't find the blasted shower!"
Holly had to clamp a finger over the microphone to hide her giggles. She knew it! Once she was in reasonable control, she asked "What? You brought a house without realizing where the bath was?"
"I assumed," Artemis said scathingly, "that it was hidden in the powder room or the recycling lounge and there was some sort of taboo about mentioning it. I didn't expect to be playing hide and seek with the plumbing. Now. Where is it?"
Holly logged off her desk terminal and made her way to the parking garage. "I'll be there in twenty, Artemis."
"What? Holly, wait, I—"
Whatever he was trying to say in protest was lost as she snapped her phone closed.
One stop at her apartment (along with a quick change of outfit), another at a sporting goods store (for a small purchase), and a technically illegally fast ride later and Holly stood at Artemis's front door, trying to avoid bouncing in excitement as she knocked.
Artemis opened the door and his mouth, prepared for a tirade, but was stopped as Holly thrust a bundled-up mass of red fabric into his hands.
"Put this on, then meet me in back," Holly ordered. She darted around her paramour and into the backyard before he could protest.
Artemis came out a few minutes later, his face as red as the swim trunks he now wore. He tried to hide the rest of his body by holding a set of towels and some bottles of soap tight against his chest. He did not look happy. The sight of Holly sitting on a smooth rock next to the pond did nothing to improve his mood.
"You expect me to...bathe in the water feature?"
Holly swirled a bare foot in the clear, core-heated water. "You can get a shower attachment put in, if you want, but not many fairies like them." At his lowered brows, Holly thought it best to explain further. "It's called a 'toilet pond.' The older houses in Haven all have them. The water is reclaimed for the plants and recycling lounge. Hence the name." When Artemis didn't move, she stood and pushed him towards the steep steps. "Go on. You're not going to get clean by looking at it."
Artemis glanced at the fence blocking his neighbor's view, but saw no one. In fact, he had spent quite a bit of time searching through the recycling lounge for a shower attachment, but his neighbors had not said a word to him, yet they seemed to pounce when he had stepped out the front door later on. Likely this was a cultural taboo.
So, with a sigh, he set down his towels, tested the water, and went down the pond stairs, steadfastly ignoring the woman at his back.
It felt...amazing. Absolutely pure, deliciously warm water surrounded his entire body, its intrinsic cleanliness already working to strip away the dirt and sweat from his body. He dunked his head under, shaking it and rubbing at his scalp to spread that luxurious feeling. When he surface, he turned to comment on the quality of this "toilet pond."
Then he caught sight of Holly taking her shirt off.
This, understandably, derailed him, even if there was something underneath the shirt to keep her from being truly topless.
Holly saw him staring and smirked, undoing her work pants and twisting her hips a bit to shimmy them off. Then she stood at the water's edge, hands held behind her back and one foot raised so she twisted the toes back and forth, nervous. She smiled down at Artemis.
I believe most of us have heard that most popular of summertime songs, but Artemis had not, so the appropriate music did not begin to play in his head at the sight. However, allow me to supply the line for you all: she wore an itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie yellow polka-dot bikini.
It was obvious that Holly was posing, but Artemis really couldn't bring himself to care. After all, she was posing for him.
Moving slowly, a full sway to her hips, her feet tapping along in a straight line, Holly took delicate steps down the stairs. Once she was submerged to her chest, she drifted off, closing the small distance between them until she wrapped her arms around Artemis's neck, her body drifting in until they stood completely flush.
"Hi," Holly whispered, resting her forehead against his.
"Hello," Artemis breathed back, wrapping his arms around Holly's waist. Despite his best efforts to be suave, his gaze drifted down and became firmly stuck.
"Artemis," Holly said, nearly singing the words out. "My eyes are up here."
Artemis swallowed. "Holly, I am perfectly aware of where your eyes are. I just don't care, at the moment."
Holly scowled. She could appreciate his preoccupation, but there were better thing to do at the moment. With a little growl, she dug her hands into Artemis's hair and yanked his head back up, crushing their lips together.
Artemis could deal with this. In theory. Hormones were not his master.
In practice, however, he found himself utterly torn apart, trying to be in control of his body while also getting as close to Holly as possible. Not that there was a lot closer he could get. Holly was wearing so little...although there were those oh-so-interesting ties on the side of her bikini bottom...and his trunks had that interesting slit that was held closed by a mere bit of velcro...
Artemis took one arm from Holly's waist and began fumbling with the front of his trunks.
Holly responded by wrapping her legs around his waist, pulling herself closer until he had no room to maneuver with his hand.
Artemis didn't mind too much, at the moment. After all, it brought their hips together until he could have simply slipped into her...excepting the presence of clothing. And that closeness meant he was enjoying a lot of friction. "H-Holly. I need—"
"To calm down," the woman interrupted, chiding. He voice was also quavering a bit, but she had a few good decades of sexual activity behind her, keeping her in control. How long that would last, though...after all, this was Artemis. "Do you really want to do this while you're still all—" She tried to stop the word before it came out, well aware of how it sounded, but failed. "—dirty?"
Artemis groaned, pulling Holly closer so that their hips ground together. "I really don't care."
She needed more control. Fast. Holly unwound her legs and pushed off from the man's chest, breaking his grip and their close contact. "I do." She moved to the side of the pond, pulling herself onto the steps and searching about in the towels, pulling out two small bottles. She inspected the labels, then looked over her shoulder.
Then she groaned at her stupidity.
Artemis was frozen, watching her. Understandable, as she was dripping wet, wearing something fairly indecent, and on her hands and knees.
There were two ways to make him move. One: two invite him up with her for a rough, wild shag. Interesting. Not exactly how she imagined starting their relationship, however.
So she decided on number two: "Catch," she ordered, tossing the body wash in his direction.
The motion of the flying container and the feel of it smacking against his head was enough to distract the man. He immediately dived at the tube, giving Holly the opportunity to slip back into the relative cover of the water, but she didn't have time to move far.
When he surfaced to find his new partner no longer compromised, but still close, Artemis smiled devilishly, closing the distance between the with a few kicks. His hands went to either side of her chest, forcing the woman to back up until she was seated on the steps. His knees followed close after, pinning her down at the waist.
Holly held the shampoo between them. "Clean."
Artemis shook his head, leaning in and biting Holly's neck. "Dirty."
'Oh. Shit.' Holly thought, gasping. Too much. Unnaturally sharp teeth, warm water, cold air, a hard, urgent body covering her...too much. "Please," she whimpered, even as her head fell back to surrender more of her neck. "Not this way."
Artemis nipped her skin a bit harder, then sighed, pulling his head back, though he did not remove his body. "Why?"
"Just..." Holly was collecting herself, if slowly. "Not this way. Not the first time. Please."
Artemis looked down on her, considering. Then he squeezed his eyes closed, gritting his teeth. "The second time?"
"Oh, hell yes!" Holly laughed in relief as Artemis pushed off from the steps, freeing her. She remained there a while until she was as close to being in complete control as could be expected. Once she was assured of her sanity, Holly slid back into the water and dunked her head, then began working the shampoo into her hair. Artemis also began to clean off. Both did so in silence.
Things had gone from erotic to embarrassing rather quickly, with Artemis occasionally looking at Holly and frowning. She caught these looks and also frowned, but wasn't sure why he was suddenly so serious. They switched bottles with no comment.
Holly had just begun to work the rough soap along her neck when she looked up to find Artemis staring at her.
"What?" She snapped, a bit more angry and nervous than she had intended.
"Just...you." Artemis said dumbly.
Well...this was a bad idea, it seemed. Holly berated herself. Of course he was going to act like this. At least until... She blushed at the thought of what would cure Artemis of his preoccupation.
She turned her back on him and continued cleaning, though she could still feel his eyes on her, making her itch between the shoulder blades. It had been far too long since she had been in such an...intimate situation. One-night stands and short-term boyfriends had nothing on how embarrassing this scene was.
Holly rinsed quickly and made her way for the steps. Before she moved vary far, thin but surprisingly strong fingers grabbed onto her hips, pulling her back to the center of the pond. She barely resisted the urge to beat Artemis senseless for the unannounced move. Really, he would have to learn that surprising the officer was a bad idea. She then had to stop herself from squeaking as her upper thigh was jabbed by something she really didn't need to be thinking about if she was going to make a run for it.
"I've got to leave," she protested.
He let one side of her hips go, sliding his arm around her waist. "I'm afraid I can't let you do that." He plucked the body wash from her hand. "You missed a spot."
That...made a lot of sense, right? It she was going to get clean, she might as well get completely clean. Slowly, her muscles unwound and Holly allowed Artemis to wrap an arm about her waist, keeping her in place before him while his other hand slowly travelled across her back, not so much scrubbing her as gently feeling this flesh that he was finally allowed to touch. He hummed softly, this rumble transferring from his chest to Holly's back, and she responded with a slow purr. Not altogether feline, but at least a constant, low rumble of pleasure at this soft touch.
He moved slowly from Holly's shoulders and down her back while also moving his hands along her sides. Soon, he passed the small of her back. Perhaps he could have gone much further with his slow caresses, and he actually managed to dip his fingers just below the hem of her bikini. Then he made the mistake of leaning forward and nipping the tip of Holly's ear.
She groaned, arching her back so their bodies ground together deliciously. Then she yelped as she began to, once more, struggle for sanity. Pushing at Artemis's hands and turning in the water, she again found herself sitting on the stairs with Artemis close before her.
"Okay...so...mental note: teasing Artemis is a bad idea.' She needed a plan, and fast. She snatched at the only thing that came to her: the body wash. "Your turn!"
Artemis stared at the bottle, clearly trying to understand why he would be interested in that, given the situation he was trying to get himself into. Then he shook his head to clear it. "Right. yes. Very fair." To Holly's enormous relief, he turned his back to her and settled into her ministrations.
The moment Holly's hands tentatively touched Artemis's bare shoulders, she understood why he had taken so long. He had been learning. Moving slowly to find each of her many scars, each swell of muscle. Every small freckle and blemish. Memorizing them all. She didn't have nearly so well-developed memorization skills, but she did her best to take him in.
Artemis wasn't muscular. Holly doubted that he ever would be, and she thought she rather liked the idea of always being stronger than him. Despite this, though, he had a pleasing shape, his thinness making what little musculature he did have very easy to feel as her fingers massaged into his back. Except for some spots that she quickly worked loose, these muscles were not the hard wires of a bodybuilder, but the somewhat squishier flesh of the average man. His skin had only a few small blemishes, but no long lines from cuts or scratches. Chicken pox, her mind supplied in explanation for the old scars. Amusingly, they all seemed to be focused on the nubs of bone on either shoulder where his vestigial elven wings were now located, as if he had been bothered by the projections, even as a child.
Her hand settled lower to the small of his back, which jumped under her touch, but that was his only reaction. He was breathing slow and deep now, but Holly suspected this was just an act. Curious to test this, she leaned forward, putting one hand on his jugular to monitor the pulse there, her other hand drifting around to his stomach. His pulse was average. Holly felt vaguely insulted. And also challenged. Forgetting her previous conclusion on teasing, she decided to up Artemis's pulse a bit.
Tugging on the waistband of Artemis's swim trunks, she moved them just a few centimeters down. She smirked at the momentary spike in his heartbeat.
"Holly," he said, voice deliberately calm. "There is a term among humans for women like you."
"Oh?" She said, interested, but only slightly distracted by his words. She began to play with the soft, short hairs that began just underneath his naval, following it's path down and down...
In cultured tones, the dignity making the words all the more thrilling, Artemis answered, "Cocktease." Then he gasped, squirming. "Holly. Not that I don't appreciate the—er—'gesture,' but I am getting very mixed signals, what with all the 'laters' and current prodding."
Holly paused, confused. Prodding? She hadn't got that far, yet. She looked over Artemis's shoulders and smiled. "Oh, sorry. Not me. you can blame N°1 for that."
With incremental jerks, as if his neck was set on a series of gears that could really use an oiling, Artemis looked down, preparing for his world to be destroyed
He did not—that all the gods that had ever existed—see a demon warlock. Instead, he saw a small ball made of tiny, rapidly moving silver shapes. "Are those...fish?"
Holly rested both of her hands on Artemis's shoulders "Minnows, to be precise. N°1 got mad several years ago and broke the Haven aquarium. We got most of the big fish back—though there were a few suspicious seafood entrees that week—but the little ones were pretty much impossible to collect. Quite a few ponds have a little minnow population. People even swap a few, to keep them genetically fresh. They're good for the ponds. Help keep them clean."
"Clean?" Artemis said, wondering if this was why the water had felt so fresh to him.
"Yeah. They augment the filters. Which is great when you're washing the Mud Man off of you."
Artemis was about to shoot back a thoroughly insulted remark when Holly pushed him off the stairs and into the water, where he sank with an unprepared gasp.
He surfaced a second later and turned to face Holly, jerking his head back to flip the wet hair from his eyes. When he opened them, he saw Holly was already out of the water, rapidly pulling clothes back on over her still damp bating suit. "Wait! Aren't we going to..." He used two fingers to mime walking up the stairs to the master bedroom.
Holly considered this, then laughed. "What? Zipped up in your sleeping bag?"
He paused, then nodded. "I wouldn't mind."
Holly had a strong feeling that she wouldn't either, but there were other things to consider. She shook the water out of her short hair and struggled to get socks and boots on over her damp feet. "Soon. Just...you need to do a few things, first. Settle in, we should go on a date, you need to go on the Pill, stuff like that."
"And then?" Artemis pursued the subject relentlessly.
"And then..." Holly said with a little smile that was answer enough. Taking scooter keys from her trouser pocket, Holly gave Artemis a jingling wave.
Artemis returned it with a bit less sound and watched as Holly took her leave. He grinned as his gaze fell to her backside, where the already dark material of her work pants was further darkened by a wet bikini. Stunning...
Then her words finally processed fully. "Holly! Wait!" He surged towards the steps, feet slipping on the smooth edges. "What do you mean me go on the Pill!"
Next time on Fowl Ties: You should never mix business and pleasure.
Each day in Haven brought on its own small crisis for Artemis Fowl, but he faced them with his typical calm. For example, the day the paparazzi finally located the former human villain was also the day the paparazzi met the Scytheclaws, Artemis's demon neighbors. As it turns out, demons loved Fowl and Short, the saviors and liberators of their race. Even more so, now that there wasn't that nasty "being human" thing to work around.
Then there was his first experiment in cooking, after which the Haven fire department confiscated his pots and pans until "someone more competent" came to pick them up. Artemis subsisted on cereal, sandwiches, and take-out after that.
Then came his first laundry day, after which Artemis had to buy a new set of shirts, all the while drilling into his head that while the People were amazingly technologically advanced and had access to chemical compounds that humans hadn't even thought of, red boxers still bled and pink was so not his color.
The biggest challenge, however, came on Monday, when Artemis's alarm clock went off.
Artemis's eyes shot open, though the rest of him did not move, and he stared at the glowing yellow display. He didn't want to get up. It felt like the feather-soft mattress was trying to eat him. He was warm, perfectly supported, and drowsy.
But the alarm clock—a gift from Foaly—went on with it's song. "Lollipop lollipop, oh lolli lolli lolli. Lollipop lollipop..."
"I hate that centaur," Artemis muttered, sitting up and grabbing the offending device. It had no buttons, its display instead changing to show six lines of math symbols that seemed to be primarily made of squiggly lines, the bottom of the screen ending in "=?", prompting Artemis.
He blinked the sleep back from his eyes, squinted a bit, then declared "Five."
The alarm went silent.
Artemis considered going back to bed, but remembered Foaly's warning: the alarm would scan the room again in seven minutes and if it found Artemis in bed, it would begin again and remain on for twenty minutes, looping that song the entire time. Crude, but effective.
So, with a sigh, Artemis got up to prepare for his first day of...shudder...honest work. A quick breakfast, some light grooming, and a rather long period of time spent selecting something he considered to be "work casual," as Foaly had advised, and Artemis was ready to go. This suddenly excited him. It meant he had an excuse to drive.
Artemis had spent many hours scouring the Haven car dealerships (all two of them) in search of suitable transportation. When he saw the bright red sports car, he knew instantly that their love was pure and true, but the treacherous Holly Short nearly tore them apart.
"That thing? In Haven? For just you?" She said, glaring at it. "Look, I thought your car on the surface was a bit much, but that's a Mud Man thing, and it didlook nice. Down here, though...it's almost...obscene! That much energy spent moving about one person? No. A scooter or magna-bike will do just fine."
Artemis had merely looked at Holly and raised an eyebrow, speaking in his most cultured tones. "Ah...does that mean you shall be 'riding bitch' to me on occasion?"
Holly had shut up after that.
Thus, Artemis slid into the black-upholstered seats and spent a few moments reveling. Sure, he missed his gray car up in Ireland, but this...this was sexy.Red was so his color.
He couldn't tarry long, however, so Artemis pulled out of the garage and made his way into downtown Haven.
Just getting into Police Plaza was a battle in itself. The drivers of Haven had apparently based their habits off movies about New York, Los Angeles, and Rome. The magnastrip sections helped, but they had few exits, leaving Artemis to sit for a half-hour in un-stripped downtown Haven, glaring at every scooter that zipped between the cars.
When he finally did arrive at the LEP headquarters—only on time because Foaly had advised him about when to leave—he felt suddenly overwhelmed at the mass of fairies. He had been in larger gatherings before, but this...this was nothing but...police officers.
Artemis subconsciously began to formulate alibis as he walked up the steps.
A few fairies noticed the oddly colored elf ascending, looking utterly cool (even as his mind raced), but only one approached. This was a female elf a few centimeters above average height. Her hair was bouncy and fell to mid-back, the entire length shining a natural, luxurious strawberry blond. She seemed to have business casual down, though the length of her black skirt played with the boundaries of that distinction. She clutched a digital tablet close to her chest, her other hand holding a stylus, waving about as if it helped her balance. Which was useful, noting her ludicrously high heels. With her arm waving like that and the mischievous curve to her lips, she looked almost...predatory. Like a dangerous African cat.
Artemis knew the type. A secretary
He also knew the elf. "Miss Frond," he said, shaking her stylus-filled hand.
"Mr. Fowl," she returned, giving a small bob that seemed to resemble a curtsy. "Major Short thought you'd have issues with security—what with your history of grand larceny and kidnapping and all—so she sent me out to escort you."
"Good of you," he said as he followed the woman through the large front doors.
"A bit less so when she's my boss, but I'll still take the compliment."
Artemis was surprised, but he smiled. "So, she finally won out over that Vein fellow for Kelp's second-in-command?"
"Obviously," Lili said, turning a corner and approaching a wall of burnished titanium. "Just a few weeks ago. She's been a bit too..." Lili stopped in front of a wide door and let her gaze flick up and down Artemis's body, "preoccupied with other things to mention it."
Artemis remained cool. Lili was a society girl just as much as she was an officer. He could deal with her jibes. "Well, I'd like to congratulate her in person. Where is her office?"
Lili pushed the call button next to the door. "Third floor, over the entrance, but she's not in, at the moment. Gods know where she disappeared off to after clocking in..."
Artemis wasn't sure where Holly was, but he could guess why she was AWOL. Lili obviously didn't have enough clearance to know about her boss's position in Section 8. Before he was forced to make further small-talk, the thick metal door slid open.
"Fowl!" Foaly laughed, nodding in approval. "Dragged yourself out of bed on time, I see. Well, come in."
Lili stepped into the doorway after Artemis. "Have you seen Holly? She's nowhere in the Plaza and her communicator is going straight through to messaging."
Foaly shrugged. "I'm afraid I haven't seen her in a while."
Lili huffed and walked off, muttering about her life in general.
Artemis wandered into the center of the operations booth, letting his gaze drift about the dozens of monitors. Most were cycling between readouts, but the largest was set on a single camera: an eagle-eye view of a trio of gnomes skulking down a Parisian back alley.
Artemis jerked his thumb at the screen. "You haven't seen her in a while?"
"Oh, definitely not," Foaly snorted, closing the door. "I don't have cameras pointing into the helmets."
Artemis gave a small, approving nod and took a seat in one of the elf-friendly chairs, leaning forward as he got to the point. "I really don't see why you think I would be eager to work with you, Foaly."
The centaur also grabbed a chair, hauling his front legs into the low-set cupped seat while his back legs stretched out behind him. "The tech industry is your natural home...outside of criminal enterprises. So...duh."
Artemis gave a little yawn, covering his mouth with the tips of his fingers. It really was too early for him. He should have enjoyed more sleep, rather than dealing with the pony. "I could just set up my own company in opposition to you, like Opal Koboi. I even have the villain thing down, though my sinister laugh may be a bit out of practice."
"Maaaaaaybe," Foaly admitted, dragging a hoof along the floor, as if digging in and bracing himself. "But there are some great perks to working for the LEP."
"Well, surface visas are a bit easier to come by, for one. Excellent health insurance. Three weeks paid vacation. First crack at the most difficult problems the People face. And you get to keep all the patents. You've no idea how lucrative that is."
Artemis nodded at each point, but sighed, letting them all fall away. "If I ran my own company, I could just do that on my own, for the most part. As for the intellectual challenges, I'm sure the Council will be eager to test us against each other, and once I have made my reputation..."
Foaly did not seem unnerved by these conclusions. In fact, he looked phenomenally smug. "Well...then there is always the workplace philosophy and your...stunning team. The people you work with on a daily basis are very important when considering a job."
Artemis did not move his head, but his eyes flickered to focus on the dedicated screen, which had lately gone into action as the officer broadcasting sprang on the gnomes.
With a defeated grunt, Artemis held out his hand. "A trial week, then. To see if we can work effectively."
"Haha!" Foaly's laughter was short, but it exploded out. He slapped his hand against Artemis's, shaking once, then brought his hand back into a fist and tried to bump it against Artemis's still outstretched fingers, utterly bewildering the newcomer, who looked at his palm as if it were covered in something nasty.
"Er...we'll work on that," Foaly promised. "Come on. I want to show you my ideas for the neutrino 4000. I want to create a shield with free-floating magnetic balls, to guard against any small concussive forces, but I'm having issues with the power supply. Can't get it past ten minutes, and what good is that?"
The two techies spent the next few hours communicating over the inefficient design, and thus did not notice the main screen's transition from above-ground to a gnome-filled pod, and finally to the halls of Police Plaza. Foaly responded perfunctorily to the buzz from his door, popping the locks open while still going over equations with Artemis, but soon found that further talk was useless as Artemis focused on his girl.
"Artemis!" Holly cheered, giving him a quick hug before accepting a bundle of clothes from Foaly and going off to a corner of the booth. She grabbed the edge of a plastic curtain and pulled it around her for privacy, then began to change.
Artemis stared, wondering if he should tell Holly that he could see her silhouette. Then Foaly put a hand on the young man's head, turning it to the side in an attempt to preserve his favorite major's honor.
"Has Lili been asking for me?" The woman inquired, her words accompanied by a zip and further shuffling.
"Of course," Foaly confirmed, smiling at bit at the very notion that she would need to ask.
"UGH...Trouble had better change his mind about her clearance, soon. I don't want to break her like Vinyáya did to her secretary." She slid the curtain back and approached the men. Pointing at Artemis, she said "I need to borrow him."
Foaly eyed her sternly. "No taking him to your office."
Holly huffed. "No, Foaly. I'll be good." (Artemis looked crushed.) "We need to talk."
Artemis shot Foaly a panicked look. "We need to talk" were the four most terrifying words a woman can say to a man.
Rather than coming to the rescue, Foaly lifted a hind leg and kicked the back of Artemis's chair, vaulting him to his feet.
"Thanks!" Holly grabbed Artemis's hand, dragging him out of the Ops Booth (with Artemis glaring mutinously behind him) and shutting the door behind them.
Once out, she looked up and down the corridor. Finding it empty, she faced Artemis, squeezing his hand. "I've been running this though my head a lot, and I think...I think we should..."
'Oh, great,' Artemis thought, feeling his heart sink. 'Less than a week together and she already wants to see other people. What am I going to do? I can't—'
"I think we should go on a date." Holly finally managed to blurt out the words, ending with a nervous smile.
Artemis stared at her. "A...date?"
"Yes," she said, growing more amused and confident. "You know...a date. That thing couples do to get to know each other better? Very traditional."
"Traditional," Artemis replied, feeling himself relax, though he didn't warm to the idea. "I'm not sure I agree. What would we even do on a date."
"Well...that's your job to decide. At least this time. You know," Holly spoke coyly, glancing all about as if she were thinking, while truly avoiding focusing directly on Artemis. "The standards, I suppose. You pick me up and take me to a restaurant. We talk a bit, maybe go on a walk somewhere after dinner. Then a movie or dancing, something like that. And at the end you take me home, walk me to my door, kiss me goodnight, and then..."
Artemis wasn't terribly interested in this utterly mundane-sounding evening. "And then?"
"And then..." Holly said again, finally catching his eyes, biting her lower lip. "And then I decide if I really want to go into my apartment all alone."
Artemis blinked. Then he swallowed. "Ah..." He breathed out heavily through his nose. "Shall I pick you up tomorrow, an hour after work?"
"That'd be great," Holly agreed, giving Artemis a quick kiss on the cheek and disappearing down the halls in a thoroughly ninja-like fashion.
Artemis stood there a moment, then buzzed the door to the Ops Booth, walking back inside in a daze. He took his seat, looking at the floor as he tried to think.
Foaly eyed him. "All good?"
Artemis sorted through his thoughts until the most important one presented itself. "Those health benefits...is it possible to see a doctor before work ends tomorrow?"
Foaly tapped a hoof on the floor, then heaved himself out of his chair. "Come on. Let's see what Fairy Resources can do."
Next time on Fowl Ties: The first date, and one of the reasons Artemis might actually want to make Holly mad.
Chapter 5: Fringe benefits
Artemis was furious.
"Two weeks," he grumbled to himself, looking into the rear-view mirror as he tightened a black tie around his neck. He wasn't in a suit, finding that Haven was heated enough for him to walk about in a simple button-up shirt most of the time, but he would not eschew the tie. Not for a date. "Two. Weeks."
The journey to FR (Fairy Resources) had not been terribly successful. Rather than being pencilled in for an appointment that day, as Artemis was used to, he had been informed that all of Haven's medical professionals were booked solid for major magic-sapping patients in the weeks after the full moon. So Artemis had been relegated to an appointment just before the next full moon. He (and his nethers) were not happy.
Still muttering, Artemis got out of his car and flipped through the files on his personal communicator (heretofore to be referred to as a "cell phone") to bring up the final directions to Holly's apartment. She lived in a rather small one-bedroom nestled deep within a labyrinth of corridors in one of Haven's largest apartment buildings. The structure went all the way to the roof of the cave in one uniform black block. She claimed to not even have a window, which had surprised him. Not that the view of Haven was remarkable, but it seemed odd to be so sequestered.
Artemis followed her directions carefully and was glad for them. Whoever had numbered the units must have been taking some sort of very effective hallucinogen, as they followed no pattern that he could discern. When he finally arrived at number 108 (nestled between 257 and 665, directly across from 479), he looked between it and his phone several times, making sure he had the right apartment in this mad, mad place, then knocked.
"One second!" Came the call from inside.
Artemis gave a small sigh, looking about the hall in a terribly bored fashion. He wondered how long "one second" lasted for the woman. She didn't seem to have a very active dating life for the past decade, so he assumed that getting ready could take a while, her being out of practice.
He was wrong. Less than 30 seconds later, the jingle of keys was heard and the apartment door opened, Holly slipping out.
Artemis was stunned.
He had expected Holly in the casual clothing she wore at the Manor, but there is a huge difference between casual clothes and date clothes. What he noticed first were the capris. Artemis had heard of soaking jeans while you wore them to get a perfect fit, and that appeared to be what Holly had done with the black denim. The material clung to every bit of her, allowing Artemis to learn some very important things about Holly's backside.
Her back itself was a bit more modestly covered by her light brown bomber jacket. When Holly turned, she displayed a simple white shirt with a rather low-cut neckline...
Holly whistled, bringing Artemis's attention back up to her face, which was framed by the fuzzy cream-colored collar of her jacket.
That was when Artemis noticed something else. Something small and with an alluring yellow shine. "You wear...ear rings?" He reached one hand to the tip of Holly's ear.
Her hand shot up, grabbing his wrist before he made contact. "Ear cuffs. Rarely. And touching them is a bad idea."
He couldn't take his eyes off the two small bands. The call of gold had always been strong for him, and fairy blood made it sing even louder. Besides that, an ear cuff...it felt so...illicit. "Why is it a bad idea?"
"Ears. Touching. Proximity to bedroom." It was all she needed to say.
"Ah." Artemis nodded.
He reached with his other hand.
Holly grabbed again and began pushing him down the hall, hissing through her teeth. "Bad Artemis! What are you thinking?"
"Not much, I'm ashamed to say," he smirked, despite his supposed shame. "One day, though, I shall be capable of intelligent thought around you again."
"And that," Holly said sarcastically, letting one of his wrists go so she could push the elevator call button, "will be such a disappointing day for me."
"Actually," Artemis spoke slowly, each word carefully chosen. "I imagine that will be a rather...satisfying day for the both of us."
Holly looked at him, eyes wide. Then she flung his other hand away, as if suddenly burned.
Artemis chuckled. "Oh, Holly..." He quickly wrapped his arm around the woman's waist, pulling her to his side and nuzzling her neck, the wispy strands of hair on his forehead tickling her earlobe. "So twitchy."
She shuddered. "What happened to cold Artemis?"
"Blame it on the elven blood," he growled, moving his lips closer so they brushed against the cold metal of her ear cuff. "Or the prospect of 23 years of celibacy being broken in a fit of unstoppable lust with a rather violent red-head...your pick." With utmost care, nipped at the ear cuff, then blew on it, chilling the already cold metal.
The elevator door dinged and slid open.
Holy bolted inside.
Artemis strode in after her and the doors closed behind him.
Holly stared at Artemis, breathing hard.
Artemis remained supremely calm, his gaze soft, eyes half-lidded as he studied his former (and perhaps current) hostage. He raised an eyebrow. "Going down?"
"NO!" Holly yelped.
"Oh," Artemis shook his head, tutting. "The stairs? though I'm afraid that will make us late for our reservation."
Holly stared at him. Then she understood. "Oh. Um...push the button." She was not going to say "yes" to his question, even if he had rephrased it slightly. That was too dangerous, at the moment. Especially with an emergency stop button in the elevator.
Artemis complied. From his expression, it was clear that he felt he had won. Holly was inclined to agree.
Things had calmed considerably by the time dinner was served. Holly had insisted on a meal made entirely of appetizers, giving her the opportunity to smile in glee as Artemis made his way though grubs, earthworms, locusts, scorpions, and a wide variety of beetles. By the end, he was glaring, but had to admit that it appealed to his new taste buds.
"But I am not kissing you while you have antenna in your teeth," he declared, to which Holly sighed and went off to rinse her mouth while Artemis paid.
Following the meal was a gap in their schedule, which they filled by walking hand-in-hand down Haven's shopping district, both looking at the ground and blushing at the casual contact. After so much drama coming together, being a normal couple was odd. Almost unnatural. Still, the feel of their fingers intertwined as they feigned interest in window shopping was entirely worth getting used to.
Finally, the grand focus of the date came, with Artemis (being himself) defying everything Holly had expected. Not a movie or a play or even dancing (which would have pleased Holly beyond belief), but a place Holly had never been on a date. Actually, she hadn't gone there since grammar school.
"The planetarium?" Holly said, glancing away from the dome to study her escort.
"It seemed...original." Artemis replied, draping his arm over her shoulders so he could overcome her balking and steer the woman inside. "I suppose on the surface, when I was a human, we would be reduced to movies or star-gazing, and we've watched movies together, so...it was the logical equivalent."
"Logical," Holly repeated, looking about the dark ceiling with dismay. "You are such a nerd."
Artemis gasped, free hand flying to his chest. "Moi? I'm wounded, love."
That word. Holly instantly forgave the lame main event.
At least the seats were close, with lifting arm rests that allowed the pair to remain snugly together. Holly moved closer, laying her head on Artemis's chest, sighing as he wrapped his arm around her, rubbing his thumb along her upper arm. She smiled. She could hear his heartbeat.
The steep incline to the seat was nice, as well. Halfway to laying down. Holly let that thought drift, and it went back to her apartment, then to her rather small bed. Perhaps it was time to upgrade to two-person accommodations...although it wasn't like they couldn't squeeze in together...
The already dim lights of the planetarium went out and a deep voice boomed across the mostly empty seats. "BEHOLD! THE UNIVERSE!"
The ceiling blazed with lights as millions of stars were recreated across its surface.
Artemis raised his eyebrows, impressed despite himself.
"Oh, gods!" Holly spat in disgust. "This is the same recording as when I was a kid!"
"Truly? Then what is the first portion of the program?"
Holly chewed her lip. "The...er...I think—"
"I suppose you paid as much attention then as you do now, so shhhh. Astronomy." He looked back to the dome, but squeezed his girl closer to ease the sting of his tongue.
Holly settled down, but resolved that she would not be learning anything today.
Artemis did not seem so inclined. He took in the fairy names for the stars and their own set of constellations with his usual hunger for knowledge. Whenever a question was asked on human astronomy, he murmured the answer, nodding in satisfaction at his complete accuracy. He was even able to point out some of the dead stars from the past few hundred years, though incomplete records from Mud Man star-watching limited him.
One portion stumped him, though only for a few moments. A string of stars were highlighted and the voice went into its quizzing tome. "This constellation was broken up in the early thirteenth century, its loss coinciding with the disappearance of its namesake. Can you identify which star is missing?"
Artemis frowned, muttering so low that even Holly couldn't make out the words. His finger drifted about above them as he prepared to point out the wayward star. Suddenly, he hummed in satisfaction and pointed confidently at the dome. "Quite...poetic."
Holly glanced up as a star appeared right where Artemis had indicated. The lines of the constellation connected, then were superimposed with the rearing figure of a unicorn.
Holly finally looked to Artemis, feeling utterly calm in his arm even as her pulse increased. His eyes were wide, taking in every detail of the artificial sky with an unrestrained wonder she had never seen from him before. Artemis Fowl tended to come pre-loaded with knowledge, but now he was lost in the unbridled pleasure of learning.
"Amazing," Holly whispered.
Artemis looked down at her, eyes shining. "Isn't it?" He looked pleased with himself.
"Yes..." Holly stretched in her seat, reaching up to cup his face as their mouths moved closer together.
"Ah!" Artemis pressed a finger to her lips. "None of that. Learning." He went back to studying the ceiling.
Holly didn't know how to react, so she settled on flopping back into her seat, arms crossed, though she allowed Artemis to continue holding her. Still, that was the only concession she would give. Holly glared at her sneakers, ignoring the ceiling.
By the time that the presentation ended, Artemis was finally aware that something was wrong. "Er...Holly?" He said, giving her a small squeeze.
She stood without a word and walked to the end of the row, glaring back at him.
With a muttered "d'arvit," Artemis followed, hands shoved in his pockets.
The drive back to Holly's apartment was silent. Artemis almost bid her farewell from his car, but decided that politeness decreed that he accompany her to her door.
Once there, he was unsure what to do. Coughing into his fist and avoiding her eyes, he began. "Look, Holly, I wasn't sure what you would want to do tonight and—"
"What are you doing?" Holly snapped, leaning against her door, arms still crossed from long ago in the planetarium.
"I'm...apologizing," Artemis clarified, the words feeling odd in his mouth. "The date was terrible and—"
"First of all," Holly once again interrupted. "I've had way worse, and...for your first try at this with anyone, it wasn't that bad."
Relieved, Artemis smiled. "Ah...excellent. Though...'first of all' implies more than one thing to consider."
Nodding, Holly continued. "Second...the date isn't over yet."
He didn't understand. Then Holly raised her chin, closed her eyes, and parted her lips slightly. That made things clear enough, and Artemis stepped forward, placing both hands on Holly's cheeks as he gave her a goodnight kiss.
Before he could pull away, Holly wrapped the strong fingers of one hand around the back of his neck and opened her mouth, banishing all thoughts of retreat.
Her other hand was doing something a bit more confusing. It reached into her jacket pocket, taking out a set of keys, then fumbled back towards the door. Very soon, a 'click' came as the pneumatic bolt slid out of place.
Artemis could swear his ears twitched at this. He opened his eyes as the door swung open behind Holly and they both—lacking a steadying presence—took a few steps inside. He broke off the kiss and tried to back out, but Holly had a firm grip on him. "What are you doing?"
Holly nipped along his jawbone. "Like I said yesterday: deciding I don't want to go into my apartment all alone."
"But...I thought you were mad at me."
Holly chuckled. "Only a little, and...have I ever told you that being mad sort of..." she caught his eyes, which were wide and achingly innocent, "turns me on?"
Artemis swallowed. "No, that had not yet come up in our conversations."
"Well...it does. Are you coming inside?"
Artemis whimpered. "You really should watch how you word things."
Holly let him go, giving the young man a chance to bolt, and sashayed towards the living room, making full use of her tight capris. "Whoever said I wasn't?" She glanced over her shoulder, winked, and disappeared through the archway.
Artemis stared after her, berating himself. He should have expected this from Holly long before his change. A hot-blooded woman on the battlefield was not going to be cool in more intimate settings.
You haven't seen the doctor yet, he reminded himself.
Yeah? Well, she wants you, another portion of his brain (or perhaps a secondary brain housed much lowed in his body) countered.
Good point, Artemis conceded, kicking the door closed behind him as he followed Holly into the living room.
Next time on Fowl Ties: Artemis leaves Holly alone for a few minutes, and Holly does what she does best: reconnaissance.
Chapter 6: The sweet escape
Despite all of the teasing and less-than-subtle urgings, Artemis didn't begin to ravish Holly the second the doors closed. In fact, he was remarkably restrained. He enjoyed the burning kisses and holding Holly close, but his hands never strayed too low or too far forward. He was in control enough to take Holly's hand away from himself when she became too adventurous. He even forced pauses into this session by breaking off with the excuse that he needed air, thus giving them both time to cool down. He was behaving like...a gentleman.
It was really starting to piss Holly off.
All she could think as they sat on her couch (Holly more sitting on Artemis than the actual furniture) was that there was plenty of room on the cushions for them to lay down, so long as one of them was on top. She was even nice enough to let him decide who would be on top. If he would just let it happen!
Finally, as Artemis again backed his head away for a "breather," Holly could take it no longer. She bit his neck, making Artemis yelp in pain. She didn't care about his pain, though, being too focused on reaching the other end of the spectrum of feelings. "What is wrong with you?"
Artemis rubbed his bite mark, experimenting with sending a few healing sparks in to counteract the coming bruise. "I haven't seen a doctor, and you aren't keeping things under control, so it falls to me to be responsible for the both of us. As usual." He squirmed, trying to relieve a bit of his discomfort.
Holly squirmed back, making him gasp. "D'arvit! There are other options! I just want to—"
"A movie!" Artemis blurted out.
Holly stared at him. Was he really suggesting...well, she did own a camera, so...
"It will help distract you. Come, let's see your collection," Artemis went on, nodding at the television.
"Oh," Holly said, finally catching on. "A film." She considered ignoring this entire portion of the conversation, but Artemis pushed her shoulder so she was forced to face the screen.
With a few more grumbles, Holly made a quick hand motion towards the screen. The small camera embedded in the frame caught the gesture and the room was lit with a soft green light as a keyboard came up on the display. With a few swift mid-air taps, Holly logged into her media files. Then she slouched back on the couch. "Take your pick." She was having no part in this.
Artemis gave her a shaky and rather pained smile, which she steadfastly ignored. Blowing a bit of untidy hair (Holly's fault, not his own) out of his eyes, Artemis reached forward, waving two fingers at the screen to flip though the selections. After a while of finding nothing of interest, he paused.
"James Bond?" He said, giving Holly a sidelong glance. "I thought you weren't interested in human movies. Why the full collection?"
Holly looked at the screen. A tall, slightly muscular Mud Man with black hair and ice-blue eyes stood, completely casual, holding a black pistol with a silencer. He wore an immaculately tailored suit and sported a grin that was cocky and dashing to the extreme.
Holly looked at Artemis, eyes drifting along his body, then shrugged. "Call it...a dim hope."
Artemis frowned at this. Then he understood. "Hey!" He barked in protest, snapping his head about so that black hair partially obscured his blue eye.
Holly shrugged, not at all sorry. "Look, I don't spend much time on movies, so how about you log into your collection and go off and...I don't know, make teaor something while I choose. Angeline sent me home with some Earl Grey a while ago, and I've not touched the stuff."
Artemis perked up at this, swiftly logging into his own collection (thank goodness for fairy-rate data transfer and city-wide networking) and took his leave.
Holly waited for him to go, then smirked triumphantly once he was out. He didn't know her kitchen, so she had a few minutes. Time for some light recon. Really, if Artemis didn't want her to see all of his media, he shouldn't have left her alone. Right?
Holly was no naïve young elf, and she had a few boyfriends behind her. She was well aware of the "secret stash" every male kept tucked away in a series of innocuously named folders. These little snooping sessions had warned her off more than a few creepy guys. She didn't imagine stoic Artemis had anything too salacious, but she was intensely curious. Besides, when would she next get this chance again? It was too good to pass up.
Her hands moved swiftly, flipping through the files and diving deeper into the collection. Most of the folders contained files that were exactly what they claimed to be: family videos, some studies on Acorn's paces, a rather impressive Bowie library, and video of a few experiments. Soon enough, Holly caught the scent as a folder titled "personal records" popped up.
A few more small decoy folders and she found it. A single file with the innocuous name "Video 001." Looking over her shoulder to make sure that Artemis was not behind her, spying on the spy, she muted the television and hit "play."
A shaky camera view came up, going from the upper hall of Fowl Manor into a guest room.
Holly blushed. Surely this wasn't a recording of someone who lived in the Manor. Surely not. That was too—
The camera approached an enormous bed, the mattress covered in duffel bags. For a few seconds, a dark hand reached out, picking up a piece of gold fabric. Then a flash of silver from below the fabric seemed to catch the person's attention, and the camera was put down.
Holly gasped, then covered her mouth. Again she looked behind her, but no Artemis. She went back to studying...herself.
What was this?
The Holly on the screen was playing with a palm-sized device with a long white cord coming from the top.
Oh...gods. Holly thought, eyes widening. She understood. This was the day Juliet had accidentally lost her mind-wipe, and Holly was about to...oh gods.
On screen, Holly put the headphones in her ears and started the device. Very soon, she began to sway to the music, going from those light movements into full-body writhing.
He said there was no cameras! Holly seethed. That traitorous little—Then she remembered. His exact words: "No one in this house has been recording you."
My helmet! Foaly, you traitorous little—
Holly whipped about to see Artemis holding two steaming cups of tea, staring at the screen, as if he could will the video away. When that didn't work, he set the teas down on a bookshelf and dashed forward, desperate to stop the video.
He seemed so terrified that Holly couldn't help but feel sorry for the man. He'd had one video of her to enjoy over the years, and now he thought it was going to be his downfall.
Then Holly got an idea. It was a risky one, less because she thought it would fail (she knew for damn sure that it wouldn't) and more because it might be an unparalleled success. Still, that was not going to stop the woman once she made up her mind. Holly sprung to her feet, keeping Artemis from deleting the video. "Artemis, do—"
"I'm sorry, Holly!" He looked panicked, trying to sidestep her. "I should have deleted that years ago."
"Artemis, do you want—"
"I know, I know, I shouldn't even have had it in the first place!"
"Artemis," Holly tried again, growing very impatient, "do you want—"
"Just let me delete it, please, I—"
"ARTEMIS!" She boomed in the same voice she used to order around unruly subordinates. This finally managed to halt his babbling. She nodded in approval, finally able to make her offer. "Artemis, do you want me to dance for you?"
Artemis did not appear to have given her his full attention, as he began again. "It'll only take a second to delete and—"
"Artemis!" She grabbed his shoulders, shaking him a bit to break him from his own concerns. "Listen very carefully." She grabbed his chin, forcing Artemis to look straight into her eyes. "Do you...want me...to dance for you?"
"Uh..." Artemis managed.
"I'll give you a hint," Holly whispered, twining her fingers in the collar of his shirt. "The answer...is 'yes'."
"Uh..." Artemis swallowed and nodded slowly, unsure of the wisdom of the move. "Yes?"
Holly smiled. "Good answer."
Tugging lightly on his shirt, Holly led Artemis back to the couch, pushing the off-kilter man so he fell onto the cushions.
With a few quick flicks, she switched back to her files and pulled up appropriate music. When the hidden speakers throughout the room began to send out twanging guitar notes and syncopated cymbals, she turned to see Artemis staring at her, still not sure if this was really happening.
He was really going to have to work on that. So...un-Artemis.
Not that she wanted to help him at this moment. As the song began to add in cheering voices and brass instruments, Holly gave Artemis a slow wink.
His eyes widened and he took a long time swallowing.
And Holly began to dance. Not the sort of dance that had been in the video. This was full of swaying hips and roaming hands, sultry looks and dangerous flirting between her fingers and the hems and buttons of her clothes. Not a true dance. A show. All for Artemis.
Artemis was only subliminally paying attention to the song, too focused on this rather shocking display to say anything. By the time Holly straddled his hips, leaning forward to whisper in his ear that she knew she'd been a real bad girl, he had no idea what the song was talking about. Sweet escape? Who would want that? Being caught was so much more fun.
Continued in "Too Much." Rated M for a very good reason.
Next time on Fowl Ties: "Relations" within the LEP have their own risks, as Artemis soon learns.
Chapter 7: Knock knock joke
Holly was looking forward to sharing lunch with Artemis on the day after their first date, but found her plans thwarted by Foaly. She only got a glimpse inside the Ops Booth—enough to see Artemis staring off into space—before the centaur exited.
"Watch the monitors, make sure no one hacks us," Foaly ordered, shutting the door behind him. He turned to Holly and glared. "You. Come with me."
Holly had no idea what was going on, but she followed her friend to the cafeteria. Instead of getting food, she was taken to a circular table set in a small alcove, around which Trouble Kelp and Lili Frond were already seated, chatting animatedly.
Holly looked between her boss, handler, and friend. This boded ill. "So...what's up?"
"You," Foaly said in that same furious tone, "broke Artemis."
Holly frowned. "What? What are you talking about?"
"I don't know what you did to him—"
Lili laughed, shooting Trouble a rather suggestive look, rubbing her shoulders against his, and he gave back the look with the same intensity. "Oh, come on. We all know what she did." Lili put her fist to her mouth, as if to cough. Instead, she poked at the inside of one cheek with her tongue.
"Lili!" Holly gasped, scandalized.
The blond laughed, again lightly nudging Trouble, who seemed to share her moods perfectly. Which made sense, them being the resident playboy and playgirl of the LEP. Both looked to Holly.
There was a long pause, during which Holly clenched her fists, shaking with anger.
Lili's eyes widened. "She doesn't deny it!"
Lili and Trouble looked at each other again, then began to snicker, soon turning that into full-blown laughter. Their breeding and position should have demanded that they be a bit more mature, but no one had ever told them that. Or at least they never paid attention when anyone told them that.
"No wonder he's been like that all day!" Trouble shook his head, shaking a finger at Holly. "What guy expects a first date blo—"
"COMMANDER!" Holly broke in again, turning red. Whether from embarrassment or rage was uncertain even to her. Rather than dealing with the teasing elves, she turned to Foaly. "All day?"
"He's useless," Foaly moaned, tail whipping about as if he could flick off this annoyance in the same way he would rid himself of flies. "He showed promise on the first few days, but...Holly, if he keeps acting like this, I wont be able to justify keeping him on."
Holly looked to Foaly pleadingly, feeling like her entire body was drooping at this news. "Foaly, just...this is all really new to him. Even adjusting to Haven is harder than he lets on. Give Artemis a few more days. No guy stays like that forever."
Foaly whickered for a long time, his lips flapping with the exhaled air. "With you they might. I...fine." Shaking his head at the concession, Foaly seemed to lose all his strength, letting his arms dangle towards the floor. "I'll give him something simple, for now. He'd better be back to normal tomorrow, though!"
"Yeah," Trouble said, still too amused by his whispering with Lili. "No more scintillating nights with the boy."
"I don't know," Lili countered, resting with her cheek in her hand. "I think that might be a good idea. So long as you stop before things...get too good, shall we say?" The unattached elves consulted with each other briefly, then turned to Holly and nodded in unison.
Holly glared at them.
Artemis was jerked out of his daze by a box slamming down in front of him. He looked up to see Foaly standing with his hands on his waist.
"Subcutaneous sleepers," the half-man said in explanation. "They need to be processed and assigned to prisoners, and only an officer can do that. Take these to Grub Kelp. He's a sod, but he'll get it done the soonest."
Artemis frowned. That seemed like...lackey work. Before he could protest, Foaly had gone back to his screens. The young elf considered ignoring the job, but settled for a disgusted "tch!" and stood, taking the box out of the Ops Booth and into the many corridors of Police Plaza.
He had to ask a few officers about the young Kelp, and all looked apologetic as they gave him directions. Artemis felt like a large target had been painted on his forehead. By the time he reached the corporal's door, he was more than a bit reluctant to enter. He vaguely recalled a few of Holly's stories about the the corporal, and those vague recollections were all he wanted. The rest of the LEP seemed to have the same opinion, as all of the windows into the office were covered up, as if Kelp had been put in a little cell of his own.
Artemis berated himself for his balking. Whatever the corporal would say to him, he didn't have to be concerned. He was a techie, and thus mostly immune to anything that happened in the LEP. Of course, there was Grub's older brother to consider. The Commander did have some control over Artemis, and that would have to be remembered before Artemis cut into Grub for whatever offended him.
So, most of his confidence restored and a reasonable warning humming at the back of his brain, Artemis opened the door and stepped inside. "Foaly needs you...to..." He froze.
Grub looked up from his task and whimpered.
Artemis kind of wanted to whimper, too. Knock, you fool!
Wing Commander Vinyáya, who was seated on Corporal Kelp's desk—the younger elf standing in front of her and held firmly in place by the woman's legs wrapped around his waist—leaned back a bit, propping herself up with one arm. Everyone still had each button in place, but there was no denying what was going on.
Vinyáya began to drum her fingers on the desk. "Yes...?"
"Foaly," Artemis said again, holding out the box.
Grub took one his his hands off Vinyáya's chest and pointed at the floor next to the door. "Just...leave it there."
Artemis complied. Then he stood for about a second, trying to think of what to say. "Well...carry on." He nodded and left, closing the door behind him.
Once out, he looked up and down the corridor, wondering if anyone else had noticed. The hall was empty, however, with everyone seeming to be in constant retreat from Kelp's office.
Artemis shook his head. "Carry on..." Still quite disturbed, he made his way back to the Ops Booth, actually resuming work once he was there, not saying a word to Foaly.
The centaur seemed pleased with his focus, but also kept sending odd glances Artemis's way. It did not take the other man long to recognize what these looks contained: nerves. Or even a slight fear.
Artemis tapped the tip of his soldering iron on his workspace a few times, but the looks kept coming. Cursing the centaur mentally, he turned to face Foaly. "What is it? You're distracting me."
Foaly jumped like a startled colt. "The thing is...the thing is...Artemis, you've been pretty easy to distract since you started here. I'm sure some of that is due to adjusting to Haven—and Holly hasn't really been helping you—but..."
Foaly flicked a long ear at his computer, automatically reaching out to open his latest office message while continuing the lecture. "I think it's best if you take a few weeks to get yourself together, and then..."
Foaly's eyes went wide, both of his ears now aimed at the computer. "Grub is finished." He turned his head and stared at Artemis. "It should have taken him a few days to get that job done."
Artemis feigned interest in his fingernails. "Ah, yes. Let's just say...if I stay on, you'll never have to wait on him to process your paperwork again." He looked up, raising his eyebrows. Would the centaur be intrigued by his new power?
"How..." Foaly stopped himself, shaking his head and backing up a few paces. "Never mind. I don't think I want to know."
"No," Artemis said with a long-suffering sigh, "you really don't."
Next time on Fowl Ties: Keep your eyes on the prize, Artemis.
Me: Knock knock
You all: Who's there?
Me: Grub and Vinyáya screwing on a desk!
You all: (looks of utter horror)
Er...forgot to mention that Like I Like My Coffee is connected to The Living, I guess?
Chapter 8: Pure torture
As if Holly had not proven herself sadistic enough, she was now making Artemis undergo...this. This...torment. This completely unnecessary outing.
"I—huff—don't see—gasp—why this—hurrrrr—is necessary!" He managed to get out, wiping a bead of sweat off his forehead, certain that—at any moment—he would trip over his jogging feet and fall.
Holly hopped, landing backwards and keeping up pace with her partner, Caballine. "Butler was worried you'd become completely out of shape without horse riding to occupy you," she answered without a hint of lost breath. "And I agree. Besides, Foaly, Caballine, and I have been jogging together for years, and I am not letting you sit at home every night while we go out." She flipped back around and laughed with Caballine over the Irish-elf's (technically not being an Irishman anymore) struggles.
"Yeah!" Flash cheered, frolicking about the jogging/staggering man, kicking up his back hoofs with every leap, blond tail arched high in the air. "You need to see more of Haven, Uncle Artemis!"
Artemis stared at the foal. "Uncle?"
Foaly, who was jogging beside Artemis, barely a sheen of sweat on his glossy coat, nodded. "If Holly is an aunt, then..."
"Then you're Uncle Artemis!" Flash brayed stampeding past the women in front of the pack, wheeling about to encircle them all several times.
Artemis glared at the energetic mini-centaur. "Normally that—is a designation—left to a—married couple, Foaly."
Foaly laughed, patting him on the back, nearly making his coworker topple over. "So you get to pretend. Welcome to the family, Artemis. Just wait until Yule. He's a riot at gift time."
Artemis was sure that was true, but he was also sure he didn't care at the moment. He was going to die. "Be that—as it may—this is highly—unfair. I mean—you three—have four legs—and Holly—has been training—since before I—was born!"
Foaly agreed, but remained amused, adding a small buck to one of his paces, betraying where Flash got that trait. "Oh, you'll survive. Just keep the other advantages of exercising with us in mind."
Artemis scowled, trying to think of what could possibly be beneficial about this torment. "Being?" he prompted.
Chuckling, Foaly put his hand on Artemis's head, twisting it forward and slightly down.
Artemis tried to fight this rough treatment...then he understood.
Holly jogged along in front of him, tight exercise pants showing off an even tighter rear, which swayed hypnotically, each muscle of her legs highlighting the view on every step.
"Oh," Artemis said, eyes going wide, a burst of energy surging through him. "Indeed."
Next time on Fowl Ties: Artemis may be the scientist but Holly decides to conduct her own little experiment.
Chapter 9: Learning curves
Holly crossed her arms, staring down at the item laid out on Lili's desk. She avoiding looking at her secretary. That would be a mistake...although, the fact that she was still even here could also be a mistake, so perhaps that was a moot point. "You can't be serious."
Lili tapped a stylus on her tablet. "Completely."
"Then you're mad," Holly snapped. "Why in the world would you even think I'd accept that?"
Lili sighed, playing with a strand of her hair, inspecting it for split ends. "I make your schedule. Holly. I know you're going on a lunch date with Artemis today."
"So?" Holly poked at the proffered item.
"So...lunch dates are...different from normal dates," Lili said in a very professor-like tone. "You have several hours to make a good impression on an evening date, but only one hour to do so on a lunch date. Thus, you need to do everything in your power to make that impression a...lasting one."
Holly couldn't argue with that conclusion, but she could argue with what Lili was telling her to do in order to achieve the goal. "I wont wear that."
Rolling her eyes, Lili tapped her stylus a bit harder, though no faster than before. "Why not?"
"I don't know how to wear something like that, for one thing."
More rolling, this time paired with a disgusted tsking. "It's just a skirt, Holly."
Holly shook her head. "I don't think it even qualifies as that."
This was becoming far too difficult for Lili. Dating advice was not one of her duties, even if it was one of her areas of expertise, but she had wanted to give at least a little help to the clueless, butch major. So she skipped over the rest of her arguments and settled on the final line. "I wonder how how Artemis would react..."
Holly stared at the skirt for a long time. It was a dangerous item. Feminine. She hated feminine. At least when feminine things were associated with her. Holly had spent too many years overcoming prejudice in the LEP, and one of the things she had been forced to do was shed off whatever vestiges of girly behavior she had retained through her academy years and become "one of the guys." That...thing would ruin her carefully cultivated image.
Although...with a position as high in the force as she had... After all, Vinyáya wore a skirt to work as often as not, and she didn't suffer from teasing among the males. Although she wore a lot more skirt than that. Though...maybe...well, it would be kind of interesting.
Holly snatched the skirt off Lili's desk, retreating into her office. "Tell anyone and you die!"
Lili snickered. "Like the entire LEP isn't going to turn out to see the great Major Holly Short in a mini-skirt?"
Holly threw some choice insults at Frond, but the secretary let them fall off. She'd heard much worse.
Artemis knew something was about to turn his day on its head when he heard shocked gasps through the thick titanium door of the Ops Booth. The twitching, itching of his ears made the danger even more obvious, though its source remained undiscovered. He took a keyboard off his lap and turned to Foaly. "What is that?"
The centaur also looked concerned, becoming more so as the door buzzer sounded. He pulled up a feed from the camera trained on the entrance. Then his eyes became big enough to take up most of the space on his head. He turned to look at Artemis, a bit of amusement mixed in with his terror. "I...you'll see." Without further explanation, the centaur buzzed the door open.
Holly strode in.
Artemis felt his heart stop.
Legs. Legs for forever.
She was in her normal work shirt, covered in the bomber jacket, as well as calf-high steel-toe boots that would have fit quite well in her combat gear. Her work pants, however, were quite absent, replaced by a black mini-skirt that fit her hips like it had been poured on, the only looseness coming from a few centimeters of pleated, wavy fabric on the bottom, which fluttered as she walked. All the rest was long, long legs until her side-lacing boots.
Holly stood before Artemis. When he didn't move, she huffed, angling her body so her hip jutted out, making the loose end of the skirt ruffle hypnotically. "Are we going or not?"
Artemis looked to Foaly, as if asking permission.
The centaur made shooing motions, trying to avoid looking at his best friend. He was a happily married man. A happily married man with a foal at home. Very happy. Very, very happy.
Artemis jumped to his feet, then stopped himself. He counted to ten in his head and, by the end, he was his old self. Cooly, he wrapped an arm around Holly's waist and the pair left the Ops Booth.
The gasps proved to have their source in the hall filled with officers. There were even a few camera flashes, and Artemis was sure this little scene would be on the next tabloid front page. So long as there were no wardrobe malfunctions, he could deal with that. He would be the envy of all Haven.
"Lili?" He asked as they finally glared their way trough the crowd and exited the Plaza.
"No," she returned sarcastically. "I dug this out of the back of my closet."
"I'd have thought you'd burn such a thing, not bury it."
Holly seemed to agree, but she was also watching him closely from the corner of her eyes. Like any Recon officer, she was innately curious, noting any advantage she could take from this absurd plot. Artemis, sadly, was not reacting anymore. Maybe this hadn't been worth it...
She found herself wrong quite quickly as they took seats at a table outside of a small cafe near work. Holly began studying her menu intently, but soon felt tension in her chest. She looked over the laminated pages to find Artemis watching her, head tilted to the side. "What?"
"You confuse me greatly, Holly," he said, tapping his fingers on her menu until she put it on the table. "How is it that you walk like a woman, yet sit like a man?"
He tutted at her. Reaching out, Artemis put a hand on either of her upper thighs, bringing them together and crossing one leg over the other. Leaning in, he spoke lowly, making sure the rest of the diners could not hear. "While I am fascinated to learn that you have undergarments with tabby cats on them, I doubt you want all of Haven to see them on the next tabloid front page."
Holly squeaked at the touch and her momentary exposure, blushing.
Artemis ignored her reaction, returning fully to his seat and studying the menu.
"They're not tabbies!" Holly blurted out, then ducked her head, looking around to see if anyone else had noticed.
Artemis glanced at her over the descriptions of appetizers. "Really."
She nodded. "They're tigers."
"Ah," he said, feigning disinterest rather well. "In that case," he went on, blandly clawing at the air, "rawr. Have you ever had a nettle stir fry? It looks interesting, but I'm not so sure..."
Holly was too busy trying to figure out if she had really just seen Artemis literally cat-call her to answer, and that continued past the arrival of the waiter, with Artemis ordering for them both.
"I really did not expect the acquiring of a boyfriend to suddenly turn you...feminine," Artemis commented, still speaking as if he was only discussing power outputs with Foaly.
"I am not!" She protested, as if this were a true insult. She clutched at the sides of the arm-less chair, doing her best to avoid any more reddening or unrestrained reactions. "Only...I wanted to see how you would react."
Artemis looked highly annoyed. "I have another week until my appointment, and you thought it a good idea to continue with this...teasing?"
Holly's foot began to tap in midair, making her entire body shake slightly, yet rapidly. She noted that Artemis's gaze flickered momentarily down to her legs and chest before returning to her face. He was getting better at that...which was a pity.
"I wasn't teasing at the end of the last date, if I recall."
"Teasing to fruition is still teasing, my dear major." Artemis countered, nodding at the waiter as their food was set before them. He took a forkful and chewed. After a while, he shrugged and swallowed. "Besides, you did not allow me to reciprocate, so you must merely be making matters difficult for yourself."
Well, that was putting it rather lightly. The ten years of celibacy following the siege and her ostracization among the People had not bothered her nearly so much as the last two weeks of anticipation. "I can handle it," she said, despite feelings to the contrary.
"I highly doubt that," Artemis replied, but he did not seem annoyed at her proclamation. There was a withheld smile in his words, though it did not manage to stay hidden in his eyes, which burned whenever he looked at Holly.
She grabbed her glass of water, gulping down several mouthfuls—along with some ice—in an effort to remain right. He could not bother her as much as she affected him. She was sure of that. If someone was going to be in charge of this relationship, it had damn well better be her. She wore the pants around here! ...metaphorically.
The rest of the meal conversation was devoted to their projects that day, which allowed Holly some time to calm down. She had underestimated the problems the skirt would cause her. She rarely exposed this much flesh, and the cool air of Haven seemed to make her aware of every bit, making her shiver. Despite this, she was relatively normal by the time they left the cafe, even if she felt a little jolt of electricity rush along her limbs when Artemis wrapped his arm around her, his hand resting rather low on the curve of her hip as they returned to the Plaza.
When they were back in the Ops Booth (having had to wade through more astonished officers), Foaly looked relieved. "Finally! I am starving!" He sprang to his hooves, grabbing a satchel of coins and trotting out the door with his normal warning about stopping hackers as a parting shot to Artemis.
Artemis immediately went to the control panels, looking them over as if he had already lost interest in his lunchtime partner.
Holly waited for a suitable goodbye (the type that included tongue), soon beginning to tap her foot impatiently. When nothing came, she stormed towards the exit.
With a sharp hiss, the door slid closed in front of her.
Holly had a hard time processing this development, which is what kept her from reacting with her normal swiftness.
Artemis was suddenly behind her, grabbing Holly's wrists and pinning them against the titanium door. "Holly..."
The deep rumble in his voice made Holly's chest feel like it was already full of air, even as she tried to take in deep breaths to steady herself. "Artemis, let me go. Please."
"I aim to," he breathed into her neck, moving Holly's wrists above her head until he could clasp them both in one hand. "You are just so determined to ruin my composure." With the hand that was now newly empty, he traced down Holly's side, soon reaching and lingering on her hip. "Bathing, dancing, this..." He played with the fringe of her skirt. "Yet you seem to forget one thing."
She could break way. Artemis was not very strong, and he had no guards against an attack. It was just...she didn't want to break free. Her Recon-born curiosity was getting to her again, and she had to know what was going to happen. So, instead, she groaned, as if that would instill him with a sense of pity. "What did I forget?"
"You forgot," Artemis went on, taking the tip of Holly's ear between his teeth, flicking at it with his tongue, speaking around his small mouthful, "that you are not immune to me." His hand left the skirt, sliding in low between her legs. It inched up, speed steady, yet agonizingly slow.
Holly couldn't help but arch her back, panting. She could feel Artemis—specifically a very important part of him—behind her, and it was driving her crazy. That questing hand, which was getting so close, was not helping.
"And that it is possible," Artemis said, letting her wrists go, "for teasing to go my way."
"Oh, gods," Holly moaned, bringing her hands back towards Artemis, needing to grab something. Anything. It was so...
Artemis slammed his hand into the buzzer next to the door.
It slid open instantly.
"But not right now. Back to work!" Artemis laughed, giving Holly a push out of the door.
She staggered forward, nearly falling over. When she managed to recover and look back at the Ops Booth, Artemis waved at her and pressed the buzzer again, the door sliding closed, leaving Holly on the other side.
She fought for coposure, entire body tender, even to the point that she could feel the blood rushing in her ears. Holly was about to kick the door and demand to be let in when she heard the most alarming of sounds: a wolf whistle.
She looked about and suddenly remembered that the outside of the Booth was, as usual, full of officers, and all seemed to have realized what her pained expression and sudden eviction meant.
Holly responded to their scrutiny without hesitation, clenching her fists and standing straight. "Well? Don't you all have jobs? BACK TO WORK!"
They complied, though all did so with a smirk or a nudge to a friend. This would be all over the Plaza in minutes.
Berating herself all the way, Holly returned to her workstation.
In the small sub-office at the entrance to her more private room, Lili looked up from her scheduling. She was already grinning, though Holly couldn't see how the news got here so soon. Still, Frond was both resident playgirl and gossip queen, so who knew what nefarious powers she had at her disposal?
"Date go well, boss?"
"Great!" Lili pointed at the skirt. "I'll need that back, though. Good thing we're so close in size."
Holly glared some more.
"...it's available at Santini's. Got it in green, too."
Holly continued her glare...then nodded curtly. "Call them, have one of each color put aside. I'll be by after work to see which is better." She walked into her private office.
"Pick up some nicer lingerie, while you're at it, boss," Lili threw after her. "Tigers are just not sexy."
Holly popped her head back out of the door to stare at Lili, mouth open.
Lili held out a clawed hand. "Rawr."
Flushed in seconds, Holly retreated, slamming the office door behind her. How did she know?
Lili grinned in triumph, picking up her tablet and tapping out a message.
L. Frond: Mission accomplished.
A. Fowl: Most excellent. You have been a great help.
L. Frond: Just so long as you're a great help to her, soon. I'd like my boss to loosen up a bit.
A. Fowl: I shall do my utmost.
L. Frond: I'm sure you will. ;) Although...you do know she is going to get even, right?
A. Fowl: I would expect nothing less.
Next time on Fowl Ties: If your girlfriend is vindictive, it might be a bad idea to give her a key to your house.
Chapter 10: Burn, baby, burn
"Nice. Veeeery nice."
Artemis clenched his fists. Murder. Torture. Dire, inescapable pain and long hours of begging for said pain to stop. No one would blame him. Even is she was one of the highest ranking fairies in the LEP, Holly was not going to get away with this!
He looked straight forward as he stomped down the halls of Police Plaza, only averting his eyes to avoid catching those of females.
He was already yelling when he practically kicked open to door to the Short-Frond office unit. "HOLLY! Where did you hide the rest of my CLOTHES!"
Holly, who had been about to slip on a Recon helmet (much to Lili's obvious disapproval) looked at him and grinned. "Hey, love." She continued outfitting herself with no measurable concern for her irate and oddly attired significant other.
Holly took a single key off the desk, tossing it to Artemis. "Storage facility on Fairview. Space 374." Then she was back to the last preparations, snapping a holster around her waist and waving to Lili. "Don't look at me like that. I'll be back before the shift is over. I promise."
Lili did not let up, continuing her sulk.
Holly walked toward the door, but stopped to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her boyfriend. She gave him a quick visual once-over and smiled. "Been missing those," she said and stepped off. As she passed, her hand swung about, smacking Artemis hard on his blue-jean clad rear, making him yelp in surprise and pain. Then she was gone, her snickers floating in the air behind her.
Artemis glared at Lili. "Were you in on this?"
Lili snorted. "Are you kidding me? If Holly had asked for my help, you'd be in pleather pants and no shirt."
"Well, thank the gods for small miracles," Artemis snapped, pinching the lower edge of his black shirt, which was definitely too tight and Artemis was fairly certain (though he had not looked, preferring blissful ignorance) somewhat see-through in bright light.
Lili shrugged. "I told you she'd get even." She waved a rather limp finger towards Artemis. "Now, are you going to stand about in my office? Because, seriously, you're a bit scrawny for my tastes."
Artemis muttered to himself until he had collected his proper clothing, purchased lighter fluid, and set the jeans ablaze, at which point he laughed maniacally until his neighbors looked over the fence with great concern.
Really, this was what he got for giving the woman a key to his house.
Next time on Fowl Ties: Artemis finally sees the doctor! Yay! You all know what that means, right? Well...so long as the doctor doesn't tell Artemis something terrifying. Like how male contraceptives work...
Chapter 11: Keep movin' on
Artemis had only been in a hospital a few times in his life. His birth, pneumonia at age six, and brain surgery just three weeks ago. He was much more familiar with doctors visiting the Manor, but the People had few medical professionals (after all, there were only around 25,000 fairies, and most of those could heal themselves easily enough), so those that did practice tended to be housed in Haven's one hospital, with nurses sent out for hospice and in-home recovery. Certainly none went out for a simple physical. So Artemis spent the standard half hour in the waiting room, despite having arrived precisely on time for his appointment. When he was finally ushered into the actual doctor's office, he had to sit for another fifteen minutes before his physician tapped in.
Artemis was not prone to tolerate anyone he did not know well, and it is hard to warm to anyone who is significantly shorter than you (even if you really should be used to doing so, after years running about with mythical creatures), so he did not lessen his normal sneer at the spiky-pink-haired pixie, even when the woman smiled cheerfully.
"Evening Mr. ...Fowl?" She said, consulting her chart, as if she hadn't spent the last day thinking about seeing the People's resident anomaly. She had a fairly good acting ability, but the three other doctors skulking about her halls was a good indication that the entire medical community knew that Dr. Nesset would be seeing the "New Elf" today.
"Well, what brings you here today, Mr. Fowl?"
"Just a prescription," Artemis said flatly. "Contraceptives."
The doctor seemed to find something about this deeply amusing. Which was probably not a good thing, considering the subject. "Before I write a prescription, I need to run a few chemical analyses. Very standard. I just need to make sure the nanites wont react abnormally in your body."
Artemis suddenly perked up. "Nanites?"
Nesset nodded, taking an alcohol swab out and requesting Artemis's hand—which he gave—and started cleaning it. "Female contraceptives work by hindering ovulation and implantation, should ovulation still manage to occur. We found a hormonal approach in males killed off the sex drive, which was really such a shame."
Without warning, the doctor, took a small plastic rectangle from a pocket of her lab coat and pressed it to Artemis's index finger, the pressure on the device making the hidden needle snap out to jab his skin. At Artemis's wince, she rolled her eyes. "That's the worst part. I find men make a huge deal about it so I prefer the element of surprise." She was smiling a lot more as she swiped away the first drops of blood.
Artemis got the impression that her preference for surprise was not to help the patient in any way. This was the sort of doctor who walked into the rooms of gown-clad men while snapping her gloves and whistling. "Well, I appreciate not having that effect on my libido, but what do the nanites actually do?" He really should have looked this up himself, but found that any time he thought on birth control, his mind immediately went to why he needed it, and the medical end of the musing became irretrievably lost.
"They're not very strong, so the nanites decay quickly." Working swiftly, the pixie took a few small tubes and tapped them against the droplets of blood, siphoning them up. "So they try to replicate as fast as they can."
Artemis sensed something very wrong here. "And how do they replicate?"
The pixie suddenly resembled her megalomaniacal brethren quite closely. "Well...the nanites get their building blocks of life from your building blocks of life, as it were."
Artemis squeezed his legs together. "They...use..." He didn't' even finish. Her chuckle was enough. "Why?"
Now Dr. Nesset was taking a pair of cups from a drawer, still smiling that malicious smile. "Well, sterilization. If your sperm are eliminated, then there is no risk of pregnancy." She handed the cups to Artemis. "Or at least less of a chance. A few slip through, so it's only 98% effective or so. I'm assuming your mate is also on medication?" At his nod, she seemed a bit less severe, but only just. "Pregnancy prevention with the People is really just a monthly gamble. Live over a thousand years and you're bound to have a slip-up sometime, so...best to double up."
Artemis looked at his two cups, filled with dread. "Please tell me I have to spit in one of these."
The doctor put her hands behind her back, rocking on her heels. "Not unless you're very flexible. Like I said, chemical analysis, and part of that is checking the makeup of the nanite's environs to make sure they react correctly. And that means..." She nodded as a finish to that thought, sure the smart former Mud Man understood.
Artemis had to blush. He really should have held out the few extra days it would take to see a male doctor. "I...no."
She shrugged. "Okay. You can risk taking a random pill, rather than checking to make sure all is well and taking the proper variety. There is some chance the nanites will behave incorrectly and take extra materials from your seminiferous tubules." She looked to the ceiling, stretching to her tip toes. "I believe the interns call the result a 'purse full of pudding,' nowadays."
Fifteen minutes later, he was back in the office, both cups filled, arms crossed, refusing to speak. He really did not like pixies.
Dr. Nesset hummed as she put the samples into a toaster-sized (and colored, minus the flat-screen display) box on the counter, the blood samples presumably already inside. Artemis dimly recognized the tune to be "Another One Bites the Dust." She worked quickly, taking a few notes on her tablet (which she seemed to have synched to the device) and nodding in approval. After a while, she looked supremely happy. "Well! You'll be delighted to know that you are fully fairy, even down to your DNA. No half-human babies for you."
Artemis felt the strangest loss at these words, but shrugged. "I suppose that at least means I'm genetically compatible for when we're ready for children."
"True, true," the pixie was scribbling with her stylus, no doubt in a traditional doctor's scrawl. "Don't expect any pale, dark-haired, blue-eyed tots, though. Those are recessive traits in elves." She paused and tapped her lips with the stylus. "Though the hair at least is dominant in pixies. You got rather close to one pixie before, yes?" She waggled her eyebrows.
"I don't think attempted murder counts as 'close,' Doctor. Now, my prescription?"
She frowned, disapproving of this patient. She really preferred males to leave her office in great discomfort, and he seemed only semi-unnerved. "Already sent to the pharmacy. One pill ever 28 days. Try to sync it to the new or full moon, or with your mate's one pill, so you don't forger. Go too long and the nanites will disperse and...well...I'll be seeing your little lady in here when she thinks she's somehow caught the Mud Man flu. Clear?"
"They wont get out of control?"
"We've been using these for a hundred years, Mr. Fowl. The only time we have issues is when one stupid guy gives a pill to his buddy."
"And how quickly do they work? A few days?" Maybe he'd be fine by the weekend...
"About...fifteen minutes." At Artemis's shocked expression, she smirked. "They're very good at what they do. Call me if there are any issues, Mr. Fowl. Have a good evening."
The pharmacist gave him practically the same speech, though with a bit more color ("wait fifteen minutes before diving into the water") and with about thirty instances of stressing the importance of taking his one pill on time.
Artemis did not swallow a pill the second he walked from the line. There was something deeply unsettling about the...well, in all accuracy, they were tiny sperm-eating robots. Manic androids out to consume his little soldiers. Artemis put the bottle on the passenger seat as he drove, stopping himself just short of putting the lap restraint over it. He didn't trust the little green capsules in the back seat. He wanted to keep his eye on the sadistic monsters.
Artemis didn't have time to head home before meeting Holly for their date, which greatly annoyed him. This entire evening was turning out horrid. A misandrist pixie doctor, emasculating nanites, and he couldn't even put on a nicer tie. To top it off, when he knocked on Holly's door, she called out "I need a bit more time! Come on in, the door is unlocked."
Artemis went in rolling his eyes. It took her a grand total of three dates to get into the "inconvenient delay" habit of females. Superb. They were never going to make it to Reynard's in time...
And things did not stop there. Holly just couldn't be discrete about what Artemis had been doing before the date. "The doctor set you up?" she called from her bedroom.
Artemis fished the bottle from a pocket, bringing it close to his face, as if there would be fine print proclaiming "Psych! It's just chemicals, not horrific, technological testicle-residing predators." No suck luck.
"Yes...but..." Artemis sighed, shaking his head, even though Holly could not see the move. "I'm not sure about these."
From the direction of the bedroom, Artemis heard a creak as the door opened, though the woman did not step into the kitchen with her significant other, hovering in the doorway, leaning on the frame, arms crossed. "Why?"
She was not going to like this. "Holly, I'm sure this is entirely psychological, but give me a day or two to research these things. They're very," he looked towards the door. "Very..."
Holly smirked. "Very?"
"Holly," Artemis began. Coughing, he looked away, though his eyes were constantly darting in her direction before being restrained. "Holly, are you aware that you are missing a few items of clothing?"
"All...of them, in fact?"
"...do you have any intention of retrieving them?"
"Ah." Artemis looked at the bottle. "Well." He flicked the lid off with his thumb and shook a single green capsule into his palm. "Bottoms up, I suppose."
Holly tapped a finger on her collarbone. "I was never too fond of the position, but we could give it a try."
Artemis nearly choked on the tiny pill. Slamming his fist into his chest, he looked at Holly.
She smiled cheerily and walked back into the bedroom, closing the door behind her.
Artemis followed quickly, heart racing. Enough was enough. It was time to move forward.
Continued in Just the Beginning, which is rated M. For a reason. A reason I'm sure you can imagine.
Next time on Fowl Ties: So...how'd it go?
Chapter 12: Her one girly instinct
Trouble Kelp sat across from Artemis Fowl, who was intent on his lunch, and the commander was flanked by his two best friends, Ash Vein and Lili Frond, both of whom were also focusing on the new elf. Foaly sat nearby (willing to leave a techie in charge for fifteen minutes to get the scoop) and even Mulch Diggums had managed to sneak in, lost in the curiosity consuming the entire LEP. The only male that seemed to be absent was Chix Verbil, stationed at E1, but at the table in innuendo-filled spirit.
Vein was the first to break, leaning over the table and raising his eyebrows at the genius. "So...?"
Artemis chewed placidly.
Undeterrable as he was, Vein went on. "How was she?"
Artemis finished his mouthful and swallowed. "A gentleman does not kiss and tell."
Vein snorted. "Yeah, that is not what we're interested in, Fowl. Is Short a good lay?"
His lady's honor thus brought to the fore, Artemis sent a glare at Vein that was so sharp the sprite leaned back in his chair. "I believe that what Holly and I do in a private setting is no one's business but our own."
"Fine, fine," Vein said, wings fluttering. "Be all tight-lipped."
Artemis went back to his food, confident in the secrecy of his first night with his new lover.
Vinyáya gaped. "Five times?"
Lili was in complete agreement, having gathered up her hanging jaw to speak. "How are you walking, much less jogging?"
Holly, from her place on the treadmill between her two comrades, shrugged, but she was smiling goofily. "He's very...careful." She looked sideways at Lili, winking. "At first."
It is enormously to Holly's credit that Lili blushed.
Vinyáya was gradually overcoming her shock, soon copying Holly's impish demeanor. "I suppose there are certain advantages to taking up an untried lover. They are very trainable."
Holly and Lilii snapped their focus to the Wing Commander.
Vinyáya just tapped the treadmill up to the maximum speed, a flush soon rising in her cheeks.
Next time on Fowl Ties: Holly knows what Artemis needs.
Chapter 13: The cutest thing EVER
It took a while, but Artemis and Holly managed to become "normal" again. "Normal" being a state where a simple touch did not turn them into slathering, lust-filled beasts that had to run to Holly's apartment (and her office, on more than one occasion) during their lunch hour. Not that they didn't still do this on a nearly daily basis. Just that they didn't have to.
Foaly, finding his two closest friends (for Artemis was slowly being transferred from "coworker" to genuine companion) were now tolerable around each other, finally allowed Holly back into the Ops Booth. She had perked up significantly at the reversal of her exile, and had gone back to sneaking away from real work immediately, using the poor excuse that she was acting as their guinea pig for new technology to assuage her (very) slight guilt.
Thus, Holly was spending some quality time slacking off when she decided it was about time she blindsided her boyfriend again. "Artemis...I think I know what you need."
The new elf, while sane, was still in that stage where anything that was not explicitly non-sexual was implicitly sexual. He left his work and devoted every ounce of his attention to the woman. "Enlighten me."
She smiled, pleased that she had him so completely interested. That would make convincing him easier. "A pet!"
Artemis blinked once. "A...pet?"
"Yes!" She swing her legs back and forth, making the well-oiled chair swivel in counterpoint. "You never had one as a child, right? Ever child should have a pet. They teach...responsibility. And compassion."
"Compassion," Artemis said, nowhere near as far along in enthusiasm as the officer. "Let me get this straight: if I'd had a pet as a child, all of the bad things I did never would have happened?"
Holly paused. "Well...not everything." At his slightly lifted upper lip, she scooted her chair forward, grabbing his hands. "Oh, come on, Artemis! A big house like that? You should have a full-time companion, and I am not ready to fill that roll, yet. Just...give it a try."
Artemis was prepared to refuse, but suddenly came across an unavoidable obstacle.
Holly turned on her sad eyes.
"Oh, all right!" He threw his hands in the air. "But I'd better be able to return the beast if it doesn't work out. And it wont work out, I guarantee it."
Holly put both of her fists against her mouth to drown out a squeal of joy. It was not a very successful maneuver. "Thank you! I'm gonna go look at puppies!" Then she was off for some thoroughly non-policework-related recon.
Foaly watched the stunned Artemis, shoulders shaking. The boy knew this was not a promising situation.
"What?" he snapped, straightening out his tie in an effort to regain his dignity.
Shaking his head, Foaly turned back to his screen. "'Return it...' she is not going to let this go until you have something cute and cuddly for her to play with whenever she visits."
Artemis did not like that idea. If Holly was going to play with anything at his house, it was going to be him.
Holly proved herself remarkably efficient. Only a few hours later, after he had fought his way through traffic, Artemis opened his front door and found a cream-colored snout thrust in his face.
"Her name is 'Decaf!'" Holly proclaimed from behind the furry nose.
Artemis and the corgi puppy looked at each other for some time, sizing up their opponent. Finally, the strain became too much and the new resident squirmed, moving to close the distance between herself and her proposed master, small, pink tongue darting out and lapping at Artemis's face.
"Take her!" Holly ordered, practically dropping the furry ball into the man's reluctant arms, determined to make the pair bond.
Artemis managed to catch just in time, but did little else, cradling the pup. It gazed up at him, one floppy ear tucked down, the other standing straight up.
With surprising force, it began to squirm again, trying—with all the fervor of a religious zealot—to get back to licking Artemis's face. It's paws—which were far too big for its little body—flailed about, but did little to help its movements, as Artemis was displaying commendable agility.
"Why is she called 'Decaf'?" The new elf inquired, wrinkling his nose at the puppy breath. Good gods, what had this beast been eating?
Holly laughed at her dignified lover's evasions. "She was the least hyper of her litter."
"The least—" Artemis began, but stopped at a high-pitched yip.
He stared down at the dog. "What...did you say?"
"Ducks!" The puppy barked. Then, taking advantage of the man's confusion, she made a mighty lunge and licked from Artemis's chin to his left eye, which closed just in time to avoid an in-depth cleaning.
"YEAUGH!" Artemis held the puppy further down his chest, really desiring to just drop it. One eye closed, he glared at Holly. "Gift of Tongues?"
"Most dogs in Haven are here to do a job, but extra puppies are available as pets." Holly rubbed the dog's ear-tips between her fingers, resisting the urge to coo as it's mouth dropped open in canine pleasure. "Corgis are herders, though, as you can imagine, we don't have much to actually herd. This one's mother worked with egg-laying ducks and chickens."
"Ducks!" The pup repeated, looking up at Artemis, tongue flopping out. "Where's ducks?"
"I have no ducks," Artemis growled (in Dog, of course), feeling like a fool. He felt especially off-kilter when the pup began to whine.
Artemis was not normally affected by other people's emotions, but this was easily the most pitiful thing he had ever seen. He (and the pup) focused on Holly, hoping she knew what to do.
"Backyard?" she said simply.
"BACKYARD!" Decaf barked, immediately forgetting about the lack of ducks. She squirmed rigorously, escaping Artemis's grasp and falling to the floor. She yelped, then righted herself, zooming indoors. Very soon, the sound of little claws on glass was heard tapping away.
Artemis rubbed the saliva off his face. "Shouldn't I have been more involved in the choice of my own pet?"
"If I'd waited for you, then you'd have made all kinds of excuses and never got around to it." They began to walk through the house, pausing briefly to let Artemis wash his face at the kitchen sink. "Besides, a corgi is a great first dog. Not too big, not too small, and a good amount of energy."
Decaf was doing her utmost to make Holly a liar. The pup was standing on her hind legs, front paws scrambling at the glass door. Her whining was shrill and nonstop, interspersed with a few calls of "backyard!" and "play!" When Holly approached, she stopped scratching just long enough to turn her head towards the woman, panting loudly, ears still at half-mast. "Ducks!"
Holly did not bother to remind the dog that the only fowl in residence would not submit to herding, instead sliding the door open.
Feet slipping on the kitchen tile, Decaf shot outside, barking at the top of her lungs. She ran all across the yard, barely noticing the toilet pond in time to sail over it instead of crashing into the water, and returned a few seconds later to look at Holly, standing completely still, head cocked to the side. "Ducks?"
Artemis joined his lover in the yard, arching one eyebrow. "She'll never give that up, will she?"
Holly grinned. "Oh, she will. She just needs a substitute." The woman reached into her jacket and pulled out a yellow sphere. "Deeeeee-caf!" she sang out.
Both of the pup's ears went up at the enticing call. "...ducks?"
Holly shook her head. "Ball."
Holly nodded. "Ball." Arm a blur, Holly threw the tennis ball to the furthest corner of the yard.
"Oh my gods! BALL!" Decaf shot across the yard, stubby legs a blur.
Artemis couldn't help bit smile. He may not have an attachment to the beast, but Holly was certainly acting cuter than he had ever imagined she could. "You know...this might not be such a bad idea." When Holly turned to him, eyes shining with excitement, he held up a hand to steady her. "It's been three minutes. Give it time."
"Time?" Holly said, wilting. "Time for what?"
"Well...for her to fetch, for one." Artemis replied, sweeping his hand out to the corgi, who was busy barking at the now-stationary ball, jumping forward to snap at it before darting away in a quick circle and returning to bark.
Holly giggled (which surprised Artemis, as he had never imagined such a feminine sound would come from his macho mate) and whistled at the dog. "Decaf! Bring it back, girl! Fetch!"
"Bad duck!" Decaf yipped, pushing the ball with her nose, trying to get it to move on its own.
Holly shrugged and trotted off to get the ball herself.
Before she could succeed, Decaf noticed her and picked the ball up gingerly, taking off across the garden.
"Decaf! Drop it! Stay!" Holly called out as she ran after.
Artemis pulled out one of the patio chairs, sitting down to enjoy the show.
Despite her years of physical training, Holly was no match for a hyper puppy. Whenever she made a snatch for the ball, Decaf whirled about, circling behind her pursuer, once even darting between the elf's legs. When the dog felt herself far enough away from Holly to avoid capture, she would stop and slap her front paws on the ground, stubby tail wagging back and forth.
Holly merely laughed at these antics, and Artemis smiled in response. It was like watching her play with Lucy...
Artemis felt his heart twist. He'd only been gone a little over a month...when would he get his first visa? Holly hadn't even mentioned it, yet.
Before he could dwell on his surface exile for too long, Holly cried out in triumph. "Mine!" She ran back towards Artemis, arms straight up, holding the tennis ball like a gold medal, instead of a drool-covered projectile. When she stopped in front of Artemis, she was panting, much like Decaf, who was moving slowly through the garden, nose to the ground.
"Want a go?" Holly asked, looking truly wild with joy.
Artemis resisted the urge to pounce on his so thoroughly disheveled mate. "Maybe in a bit. She seems distracted."
Holly frowned and glanced over her shoulder. "She can't be tired yet...oh!" She faced forward again, blushing.
Artemis scowled "What is she—"
Artemis's eyes widened in horror. "That dog is not doing what I think she's doing in the irises, is she?"
Holly swallowed. "Er...yes."
"Take it back!"
"Take it back! I am not going to clean up someone else's feces unless they share half of my genetic makeup!"
Holly pouted. "It's not that bad..."
"Yes it is! Take. It. Back."
She whimpered so convincingly that Decaf—now running on empty—came up, standing on her hind legs in an effort to see the distressed elf better. It did not work on Artemis, however, and the woman soon gave up.
"Well, I can't keep her. I'm barely ever home."
"Then send her back. Or find someone else who does have the time and energy for a puppy." A pause. "And you are the one cleaning up that mess. I want no part in this."
Holly sighed, crouching and ruffling Decaf's ears. "Who do I know that has the time and ener...ah..." She cackled, fishing in her pocket and pulling out her cell. "Energy..." The conniving woman flipped the device open and hit speed dial. After a moment, she practically cooed into the phone. "Foaly? ...No, 'The Boy' hasn't done anything wrong. Lately. I just wanted to talk to Flash. ...Oh, no. No reason. Just a question. ...Okay. ...Hey, Flash! I wanted to ask you something. ...Oh, goodness, on fire? Really? ...It'll grow back, right? ...Well, that's good. Listen, my question: do you like puppies?"
There was a bray so loud from the phone that Holly had to hold it from her ear for a few seconds. Decaf yipped in surprise.
"I thought so. See, I've got the cutest puppy here, and she is so excited to meet you..."
Predictably, Foaly was pissed and Flash was in love. "She can sleep in my bed!" he proclaimed, and that was it. Holly beamed at her successful relocation. Artemis sighed in relief.
His relief did not last long.
The next day, Artemis came home and heard Holly's voice upon opening his front door. He called out to her, locating her response as coming from his bedroom.
This—understandably—made him very happy. Artemis bounded up the stairs two at a time, bursting in. "...Holly?" He surveyed the room about in puzzlement. She was nowhere to be seen.
Before he could call again, the officer popped up from the far side of the bed, where she had been crouched. "Artemis! Come on, I need your help."
"Happy to oblige," Artemis said, swaggering to her side. He lost some of his cockiness as she crouched again, thrusting an arm under the bed. Curious despite himself, Artemis sunk to his hands and knees and looked.
A triangular head with glowing green eyes faced him and made the most demonic sound possible. "RRRRRREEEEEEOOOWR!"
Artemis backed away. "What is that?"
"A kitten!" Holly chirruped.
Artemis stared at her. "Of what species? A lynx?"
"No," Holly said defensively. "Just a Siamese."
"Holly...why is there a cat under my bed?"
He tapped his fingers on the faux-wood flooring. "Let me rephrase that: Why is there a cat in my house?"
"It made sense."
"In what crazy, mixed-up universe does that make sense? Because it isn't the one I live in."
Holly, abandoning her quest for feline affection, sat on the edge of the bed, bringing her feet up with her, due to the vague (and not unfounded) fear of a sneak attack from under the mattress. "You didn't want Decaf because you would have to clean up after her."
"Nooooo." Artemis said slowly. "I didn't want the dog because I don't want a pet at all. Doesn't my opinion in this count?"
Holly stared at him.
"Right," he muttered, lifting up the bedskirt, treating himself to another death threat. "I should have guessed as much."
"Artemis, it's a great solution! Cats are even more popular than dogs in Haven, partially because we have automated cat boxes. You can even get one hooked up to empty directly into your trash, so you wont have to deal with that at all!"
"Perhaps," Artemis conceded, but he did not allow Holly to be perky for long. "I'll just have to deal with a minion of the Devil living under my bed."
"He's scared, Artemis" Holly soothed, as if she was actually talking to the cat. "Come on. Let's go hang out downstairs. Give him time to come out on his own."
Artemis looked longingly at the bed, but was taken away from promising activities by his lady, who set about distracting him in the living room with a fairy history program they had been taking in so Artemis could fill in the gaps in his knowledge.
Not very long later, Artemis was on his back, splayed across the entire couch, and Holly lay on top of him, her head resting on his chest as she dozed, not terribly interested in the program. She had learned about enough fairy history in college, and anything else that would be in any way pertinent to her life could be supplied by a quick search on the fairy web. Thus, she did not notice a seal point head peeking around the corner into the living room.
"Holly," Artemis whispered, squeezing his arms tighter around the woman to wake her. When she looked at him, bleary eyed, he thrust his chin in the direction of the feline.
Holly followed his directions and smiled. "Hello, little one."
Finding itself under suspicion, the kitten crouched, ears flattening against its head, but did not move away. Every so often, it's black-tipped tail would appear around the edge of the doorway, twitching rapidly.
Artemis could feel the tenseness in his lover's body, but she did not approach the cat, and the cat did not approach them. In fact, it seemed to be watching the film, as well.
As the disc ended, Holly groaned, sitting up. "Next episode?"
Artemis stood, stretching until his back popped. "Yes, but give me a moment to walk around. My legs have fallen asleep." He went off, moving slowly to make sure he did not collapse to the ground in front of his significant other. As he passed the cat, which backed away, mouth open in a silent meow, he held up his hands, showing himself to be unarmed. When he came back a minute or two later, Artemis did a double-take.
Holly was sitting up, the kitten curled into an absurdly small ball on her lap, purring away. She rubbed it behind the ears and under its chin, and it increased it's volume, the sound like a small jet engine, paws opening and closing reflexively.
Artemis sighed. This boded ill. He approached the couch, trying to figure out how to stop things before they went too far. "Well, it looks like—"
"RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRUUUUUUR." The demon's assistant proclaimed, the sound not translating in Artemis's head (most likely because the kitten was still so young, and possibly not actually 'speaking,' much like the Gift of Tongues would not work on a baby), but he understood well enough: "Back off! Mine!"
Artemis narrowed his eyes at the cat. "That is not going to work."
"Hey, now," Holly chided, taking her hand away from the kitten, but it did not seem to notice. "He's probably still scared."
"Oh, right," Artemis mocked, taking a step forward. "Because he is running away so quickly."
In response to the advance, the siamese stood, arching his back, claws coming out. "NNNNNNRRRROOOOOOWR!"
"Listen here, mister," Artemis warned, shaking a finger at the cat's face. "This is my house and that is my girlfriend, and you had better be able to deal with that! Got it?"
The kitten stared at Artemis's finger.
Then the kitten bit it.
"D'arvit!" Artemis backed away.
The cat had, luckily, already let go, so the man didn't find it following him as he retreated. Instead, it remained on Holly's lap, tail puffing up to thrice it's previous size. "REEEOWR!"
Holly seemed horrified at first, trying to determine if her lover was in true distress. However, when the blue sparks come forth from his finger, the wound so quickly healed that his blood was actually sucked back in, leaving nothing but a thin series of puncture wounds, she did what any loving girlfriend would do: she laughed at her man's pain.
She didn't need to be told that this pet was not going to be staying, either.
Artemis almost escaped the third attempt. Foaly asked him to take an early shift, so he arrived home long before Holly finished work. He had just settled in for a quiet evening of reading when his doorbell rang. As he spied through the peephole, he was puzzled. It was Holly, but she was facing away from the door, hitting the buzzer with her elbow. He had given her a key long ago and she had thus far shown no compunctions against using it, so what was she doing? Perhaps it had been lost...
When he opened the door, he got the real answer. A bullet-like head and serpentine body was writhing in Holly's arms, chattering irritably, demanding to be let free. The creature moved so fast that it seemed to be little more than a white blur.
Artemis tried to meet Holly's eyes, but she was so busy moving in time with the fuzzball that she never focused on him fully. Finally, knowing he would regret the question, he asked, "And what hast thou wrought upon me?"
Holly gave an extended grunt, two hands now firmly clasped about the creature's middle. "It's an ACK!"
It seemed to grow thinner in an instant, falling from Holly's hands and skittering into the apartment, back arched as it move in a caterpillar-like gate.
She looked longingly after it, then turned to her lover. "A ferret."
Artemis crossed his arms, tapping a foot. "Holly..."
"Oh, come on!" She wailed. "The pet store owner said it's perfect! Playful, it uses a litter box, and they are very intelligent."
Artemis sniffed. "He forgot to mention 'smelly.'"
Holly brought her fingers to her nostrils, then took them away quickly, sticking her tongue out. "You'll get used to it."
More toe tapping, this time slower, but louder.
"Artemis! Just give it a chance."
"You are not going to let this go, are you?" At her shake of the head, he sighed. "Fine. Tell me what I'm supposed to do with the beast."
Holly went to her tip-toes and kissed him on the cheek. "Great! Well, first of all..." She walked in, beginning an impressively long spiel on ferret care. Artemis wasn't particularly interested in the lesson, but he took it in, all while searching about for his newest trial roomie. Who was...conspicuously absent. "It appears we have an escape artist."
Holly chewed her cheek. "He's here somewhere." She switched into ferret-speech, traversing the house and calling out "dookdookdoookdook" all the while. Artemis refused to call, but he did join the search. A few hours later, he was furious and exhausted, and there was no sign of Mr. Ferret. Artemis, of course, blamed Holly entirely. She smiled slyly at him as he got ready to go into a tirade and proceeded to do her utmost to quash his anger.
One hour and a very happy Artemis later, they settled down to sleep.
That was when it started.
Artemis opened one eye. That sound...what was it?
"Holly," he whispered, squeezing the arm that was wrapped around his waist.
"Mrrrr? She answered, nuzzling closer to the back of his neck.
"Do you hear that?"
He felt her eyelids brush on his shoulder as she finally allowed herself to wake up. "Hear what?"
"That," Artemis replied, and at first he thought his voice was too soft for her to hear. Then he felt her nod. "Come on," he urged, sitting up and throwing the covers off, removing Holly's arm from around his waist.
Holly groaned, but the sound stopped when her lover clamped his hand over her mouth, a finger to his lips. "Shhhh!"
She bit his hand.
Wincing and holding back a gasp, Artemis slid off the bed. To appease his girl, he found her bathrobe and allowed her to cover herself before waving for her to follow him into the hall. Their ears twitched as they tried to locate the source. It quickly led them into the small side room next to the top of the staircase. The guest powder room. Then to the vanity. Then under the vanity.
Heart pausing as it prepared for the inevitable shock, Artemis flung the door open.
Albino-pink eyes looked back at him as the ferret raised its head from the rubber piping that supplied the vanity sink.
Artemis chuckled maliciously. "There you are, you little—"
The ferret lowered its head and, with a final rururu, bit through the water line.
Artemis was hit right below the left eye with a pressurized jet of hot water. Crying out in shock, he fell on his ass, clutching his face.
To add insult to injury, the white furball jumped on the soft spot of Artemis's stomach before it zipped up his body.
Before it could make it's great escape, Holly's Crunchball reflexes kicked in and she grabbed it's scruff. Without pausing to tend to her soggy significant other, she pelted out of the room.
Artemis at least knew enough about his house to locate the shut-off valve on the vanity, but not before a good portion of the floor was soaked. He sloshed out, kicking his feet at the doorway to dry them before walking back up the hall.
He found Holly in his office, sitting on an upturned wire mesh trash can, under which the ferret screeched in filthy Mustelidae.
She smiled, but it only transferred to half of her face. "Take it back?"
"Oh, no," Artemis said airily, "keep it until we visit the surface again. Mum loves mink wraps, and this is close enough."
Holly clutched the sides of the can, jaw dropping. "W-w-w—"
He sighed. "Joking. Yes, return it." At her only incremental easing, he went on: "And Mum is fully behind the 'fur is murder' thing."
She still eyed him nervously and so did the ferret. "I'll get the right pet next time. I swear."
"No," Artemis snapped, taking several thick books from the shelves. "If you insist on trying this, I will go with you to wherever you've been purchasing these monstrosities and browse for myself."
She nodded enthusiastically, rising off the can and allowing Artemis to place the books on, nodding in satisfaction at the makeshift cage. "That makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of different animals to choose from, so you're sure to find something."
After adding yet another pile of books, Artemis walked out of the door, throwing one last comment behind him. "I seriously doubt it."
"Oh, Artemis, look!" Holly called out from the back of the crowded pet shop. "It's perfect!"
Artemis glanced up from a tank of very colorful—and very non-destructive fish—and sighed. Pausing to flick off a chunk of hair from his suit for perhaps the twentieth time since he had entered the store, he weaved his way down a poorly-lit, narrow hall full of various pellet foods. At the end of his tricky journey, he met Holly in front of the bird cages. "Yes? What, precisely, is perfect?"
Holly pointed out the largest cage, wherein a blue and yellow bird with an enormous black beak was perched, jerking its head back and forth to inspect them with it's side-mounted eyes. "A parrot! You could talk to it!"
The bird flapped it's wings, speaking in Gnommish. "Pretty bird!"
Artemis glanced at Holly, raising an eyebrow. "Gift of Tongues, love."
She rolled her eyes. "That's not the point! You could teach it to speak in Gnommish, or even English! And the sign says they can live for decades."
"Oh, wondrous," he droned, sizing up the creature, which seemed far more reptilian to him than any bird had the right to be. "So, if I don't like it, I can put up with it for ages."
Holly punched Artemis's shoulder, and the pressure she used was finally getting down to the level where he merely winced, not actually crying out in pain from a dead arm. "I'll go ask the owner about the bird," she said and, before Artemis could react to inform her that he was not interested, she began to weave back down the corridor.
Artemis blew a strand of hair from his eyes. Copying the parrot's sideways position, he spoke at it in English. "Think, fairy. Think again."
The bird's entire body bobbed up and down as it shuffled along it's perch, and it's head moved twice as vigorously. "Fairy! Fairy!"
He sneered. "That's what I thought."
The bird tilted it's head again, and now it was squawking, not attempting to speak in a fairy voice.
It took a moment for Artemis's magic to switch from the languages of the many animals surrounding him to the parrot's speech.
"Peck out your eyes! Gonna do it! Come here!"
Artemis backed away. "Uh...Holly..." When she did not answer, he spun about, body working in rapid, jerky motions as he fought his way back to her, feeling somewhat elastic as he contorted his way through the feed sacks. "Don't bother!" He soon managed to catch up, grabbing her wrist. "I'm not really a bird person. Mite allergy, remember?"
She sighed disgustedly. "Dust mites. And we have fairy tech, remember? Pet birds down here don't have mites."
He cursed inwardly at the logic of this. "Still. Not fond of birds. How about..." He cast about for an option that was less likely to blind him. When glittering scales caught his eye, he surged to one wall of the store, which was significantly warmer than the rest of the building. "Snakes. That seems low-maintenance."
Holly backed away and shook her head. "Bad idea."
"Oh, like yours are so stellar."
"Artemis...what do snakes eat?"
He shrugged, though he very well knew the answer. "Insects. Fish." He paused, but, at Holly's urging hand, went on. "Rodents."
"Right." Taking advantage of the hand that was still around her wrist, she led the boy to another portion of the store, this one full of plastic boxes. Finding one at their height, she pointed inside. "Like mice." She tapped on the glass and squeaked at the black and white inhabitants. "Hey, guys."
One, with a particularly glossy white coat, came forward, squeaking back, voice so small the elves could barely hear. "Raisins?" It brought tiny hands to it's snout, rubbing nose and whiskers rapidly.
Holly glanced at Artemis, making sure she had his attention, and then turned back to the cage. "What do you think about snakes?"
The mouse froze. "Snake? Snake? SNAAAAAKKKEEEEEE!"
The rest of the inhabitants of the cage started alternately freezing or running about in a panic, squeaking so loud and fast that all Artemis could make out was "Oh, tiny gods, protect us!"
Holly again looked at her lover. "No snakes?"
He nodded. "Finw. Why not one of them, then?"
"Are you going to clean the cage?"
He shook his head, and they moved on, searching through dozens of other pet varieties. Almost everything in here was small, with the exception of the boa constrictors on the wall, which the store owner told him were a particular favorite of young buck demons, who thought having a pet that ate the same food they did (fuzzy, cuddly rabbits) was a great idea. Growing quickly despondent, Holly appealed to the sprite for suggestions.
Wings flapping slowly as he thought, kicking up even more fur and feathers (Artemis wasn't sure when this store had last been swept, but he would put good money on a date sometime before he was born, though the animals themselves were kept in immaculate conditions), the owner tapped his cheek, muttering to himself. He glanced around the store and suddenly grinned. "You know, I've been trying to get this species established as a pet, but no one is biting. Maybe an adventurous couple like you...?"
Holly elbowed Artemis. "Adventurous? That does sound like us."
Artemis was not so willing to agree, but he nodded, asking the sprite what he had in mind.
The green man look supremely excited. "Wait just a second! I have a great one in the back!" Then he darted off, actually flying over the cages, rather than fighting through the packed halls ("Huh," Holly had muttered, "so that's how he does it.") and disappearing into the storage room. He came back soon with a box covered in a towel, which he reverently placed on the counter in front of Artemis and Holly. "Now, this, this is perfect, I tell you! Not very messy, they don't eat much, and cleaning their enclosure is as simple as running it through the dishwasher and adding some new dirt. Just make sure they have water, and they'll be the best pet you ever had!"
Intrigued at the prospect of easy care, Artemis and Holly leaned over the counter, trying to peek under the towel before the big reveal came.
With a showman's flourish, the sprite whipped off the towel. "Ta-dah!"
Artemis and Holly jumped back in unison. "No!"
The sprite's wing's drooped. "Oh, just hear me out. They have a bad reputation, but—"
The owner sighed, looking at his pet project. "Sorry, buddy. No go."
"Fuck..." The toad muttered as the towel was replaced and he was swept back to the storage room.
Artemis threw his hands in the air. "That's it! Nothing is going to work, and I told you nothing would work, Holly!" He began to walk towards the door, ignoring her protests. "Why I even allowed myself to humor you, I'll never understand."
Then he saw it.
It was perfect.
Everything he could want in a pet. Easy to care for, yet somehow taboo, and thus exotic and rare. Primally dangerous, though actually close to harmless, if handled correctly. And, best of all, he could find it's food just about anywhere in Haven!
The sprite noticed his interest immediately. "Ah! That there is Jezzebelle. She's actually about to lay eggs, so she's not for sale, but you can hold her, if you want."
Artemis turned to the store owner with shining, mad eyes. "Really?"
"Of course!" The sprite flew over Holly's protesting head, landing next to Artemis. Opening the top of the heated terrarium, he stuck his hand in and prodded the creature. "Come on, Jezz," he said in Gnommish, not even bothering with the Gift of Tongues. It didn't work on creatures like this, which had no real language of their own, beyond pheromone messaging. Despite the lack of communication, the creature skittered onto his hand and allowed itself to be brought out of its enclosure and handed off to Artemis.
Artemis cupped his hands together to support the creature, and he had one of the widest smiles on his face that could ever be found. "She's gorgeous. Is it just the one, or do you have others available for purchase?" He chuckled as the broody female walked slowly up his arm, making sure to keep the sound low. He wasn't a ticklish person, but it felt so odd.
"I've still got a few from the last laying. And it's almost as easy to take care of these as the swear toads! In fact, you shouldn't clean the cage more than once a year, unless you see something wrong, like mold, and that is really uncommon."
"This is brilliant," Artemis declared as the creature perched on top of his head.
Holly finally got over her shock and stepped between Artemis and the owner. "No it isn't! This is...revolting!"
Tilting his head down to get a better view of his lover—which made his cranial companion swerve alarmingly close to her face—Artemis scowled. "How is this revolting?"
"Artemis..." Holly replied in her most reasonable tones. "You eat those."
Artemis did his best to look at the top of his head, where the cobalt blue tarantula was sitting quite comfortably. "No I don't."
"Yes, you do!" Holly cried out. "How could you forget that! Eat the spider?"
The sprite looked suddenly alarmed. "Woah, woah! These are not for eating!"
"Obviously," Artemis agreed, crossing his arms and raising his head high again. "Those tarantulas have orange and black legs. This is blue, and it's thorax is far smaller than those ones you've fed me. This would not make a good meal."
"It's weird," Holly groaned, watching as the spider flexed it's mandibles. She was certain it was sizing her up. "No."
"Yes." Artemis replied, smirking.
"No! Anything but this!"
"Nothing but this, Holly. Do you want me to have a pet or not?"
"Do I take one home, or do we go home empty-handed?"
They went home empty-handed. For a few weeks, Artemis heard no more of the pet-perusals, and he had settled back into his routine. Overall, he was pleased at the outcome. For once in their relationship, he was the undeniable winner of an argument. Which put him at something like...one to fifty.
Holly seemed generally sullen with him during this period. Until, late one night, long after Artemis would have expected to see her come by, she entered his office, interrupting his work with the cry of "Artemis...I've got a surprise for you."
He groaned, immediately realizing what was going on from her tone, which had none of her normal sultry notes. Turning his chair around, he faced the major, crossing his arms as a defensive measure. "No, Holly."
"Artemis," she began, holding her hands between them to make him stay in place, "just hear me out! I asked Foaly, and it's perfect. He's fastidious, non-aggressive, a vegetarian, and very smart."
"I don't care, Holly!" Artemis said swiftly, ready to end this before it started. "I thought we agreed this was over?"
She blinked. "I didn't agree to anything."
He groaned, trying to turn back to his computer. "Just save me the pain and return the beast!"
Before he could get completely turned around, Holly grabbed the arms of his chair and made him face her. "Okay, okay! I swear, if you object to his idea, I'll take him right back, and never ask you to get a pet again. Deal?"
Artemis held out his hand. "This had better be binding, Holly. I don't renege on promises."
She took his hand and shook it firmly, the firm grip momentarily surprising him. "Neither do I. This will work, I guarantee it!"
"Well?" Artemis asked, waving at the door. "Bring it in so we can get this over with."
"Oh..." She smiled mischievously. "He's already here." She began to unzip her bomber jacket.
Artemis smiled immediately, though for the wrong reasons.
A round, furry white head popped out of the top of the jacket. After blinking at the sudden exposure to light, the head turned around until the creature saw Artemis, at which point it stopped, going rigid in attention.
Artemis gaped. "Is that...Jayjay?"
The lemur squirmed, getting it's torso out of Holly's top, and chattered at the man. "Big Lemur!" He sprang, wrapping his arms about Artemis's neck, clawed feet gripping the elf's clothing.
Artemis reached out, lightly grasping the lemur's tail, as if touch would prove that the animal was a forgery.
Instead, Jayjay rumbled, jerking the appendage out of the man's grip. "My tail!"
"Okay, okay!" Artemis laughed, putting his hands in the air.
Eager to inspect his old companion, the nimble creature climbed up to sit on Artemis's shoulder, digging fingers through his hair in a search for parasites.
"Well...?" Holly ventured. Before the man could respond, she jumped forward with her argument. "You know his diet already, and Foaly told me he still uses a regular recycling lounge, though he does occasionally forget to flush. And his species can live over 20 years, so he's not what you'd call an old. Plus, you already know each other. I mean, he has a name for you!"
Jayjay chirruped happily. "Big Lemur!"
"I knew that wire-walking would come back to haunt me," Artemis said, but he was grinning.
"So...?" Holly bit her lip, and for the first time she seemed truly nervous about Artemis's response.
She needn't have worried. The man leaned forward, wrapping his arms around his mate, pulling her onto his lap. "Yes, yes! He's perfect. But is it safe for him to be here, and not under maximum security? I mean, Opal really wanted him."
Jayjay suddenly went rigid, fur puffing up and tail lashing about. He made a sharp squeaking noise, along with a sort of bark, and said some very unkind things about Miss Koboi.
"Our Opal can't use him, since she lost her magic, and we already sent Past Opal back to the past, so he's perfectly safe, no matter where he goes. Plus, Foaly already established a few new troops of his descendants in Madagascar, so he's done his duty to the species."
Artemis looked up at Jayjay and made little grunting noises. "You have kids?"
Jayjay settled, and rumbled deep in his tiny chest, which he puffed out, positively cocky. In fact, he somewhat resembled Trouble at the moment. A fuzzy Trouble with a banded tail. "Chicks dig me."
"Look, I'll give you boys some time to bond, okay?" Holly said, backing towards the door. "Foaly sent along some of his favorite food, so I'll just go put that in the garage, okay?"
"Yeah, sure," Artemis said as he lifted the lemur off his head and placed Jayjay on his lap, beginning to chatter animatedly about what he'd been up to since the rescue. The conversation was rather intriguing, involving (as Jayjay told it) innumerable female lemurs demanding his attentions right now, and thus Artemis did not dwell too much on what Holly was doing.
Which was a mistake.
"D'arvit! Artemis, what the hell did you DO!"
Jayjay's fur puffed up and he looked Artemis in the eyes. "Leader is angry. Your fault."
Artemis wanted to be distracted from the fight he knew was coming. "Leader?"
Jayjay pointed out the door. "Your mate is Leader."
"Oh...right..." Artemis nodded, muttering to himself in Gnommish. "Matriarchal society." Not that different from his life in general, actually. Not ready to face down his punishment, but realizing that Holly's yelling was only going to get louder, Artemis took to his feet, with Jayjay immediately climbing up to perch on his shoulder, hiding behind the elf's head.
When Artemis arrived in the garage, his suspicions were confirmed. Not that he ever doubted his conclusions. Holly's tone was enough to tell him she had found his latest purchase and did not approve. Leaning against the doorway, arms crossed, he prepared for the fight. "Yes, love?"
Holly pointed at one wall of the small garage, only a few feet distant from the side of his red car. "What is that?"
Artemis glanced over, then back. "I named her 'Taco.'"
Holly gaped at him. "You...name...have you ever even eaten a taco?"
"Noooooo," Artemis said slowly, and, as always, he was smirking. "That's why I named her 'Taco.' It's supposed to be reassuring."
"Reassuring?" Holly shrieked, pointing at the terrarium. "Reassuring? Reassuring would be not eating it's brethren!"
Artemis shrugged. "I can give up tarantula burgers. I'm not fond of them, anyway. Too fattening."
Jayjay, unable to understand the Gnommish, was endeavoring to discover what the two elves were so worked up about. He leapt from Artemis's shoulder, landing neatly on Holly and scampering to the end of her arm before jumping again, perching on top of the terrarium. Turning about, he leaned over, dropping so his head was on a level with the blue spider behind the glass. He froze, tail standing straight in the air, and chattered at the creature.
"Oh, good," Artemis said, walking to Holly's side. "I think they like each other."
Taco, who had been facing out and suddenly found herself looking into a furry white face, had also gone still for a few seconds. Then, suddenly, she pushed her body up, two front legs in the air, and bared her mandibles and fangs.
Jayjay responded by waving his tail rapidly, barking and screaming.
Holly glared at Artemis. "Take. It. Back."
He chuckled. "Holly, my love...not a chance."
Next time on Fowl Ties: It was bound to happen eventually...
Chapter 14: Sometimes, not the best policy...
Having spent years deceiving Holly and dealing with the markedly unpleasant results, Artemis firmly believed that any successful relationship he would have with the woman must contain a level of honesty he had not exercised with anyone in his life. Not complete honesty, mind. Artemis was intelligent enough to understand that certain questions should always be answered with a lie. Questions like "does this dress make me look fat?," "what are you thinking about?," and "do her boobs look fake to you?"
The answers to these questions, for the benefit of those males reading, are "Nothing makes you look fat, love," whatever she was talking about just a minute ago, and "Oh, look, that jewelry store is having a special on diamonds! Do you want to go browse?"
Thus, given these few caveats, Artemis was prepared to give Holly the honesty she deserved. So when she came to his house one evening after an extended shift, finding him engaged in light-speed typing, and proceeded to ask him what he was typing about, Artemis told her the truth.
"I'm hacking the patient records at Cumulus house. I want to find out about Opal's parents."
Holly had taken a sizable bit of time before answering. When she did, it was neutrally, which told Artemis that he was in serious trouble. "Those records are sealed, even to the LEP. You are violating doctor-patient confidentiality."
"Technically," Artemis replied without looking up, "I am not. I'm not their doctor."
"Artemis..." Holly rumbled in a voice that was colder than any she had used in years. "That is illegal. Stop it."
"Of course it's illegal, love, but I need to know. I've dealt with too many Kobois in my time, and I am not discounting her parents." He felt his pulse increase as a search finally produced results. Lety Koboi neé Cartier. Opal's mother. He opened the document and skimmed, forgetting the woman whom he had just been facing off against. "Interesting, interesting...her psychosis has no magical source. In fact, she was receiving counseling even before her husband's breakdown, and his commitment is what pushed her over the edge. And...she's doing very well...in fact, she—"
"Artemis!" Holly grabbed the back of Artemis's chair, pulling him away from his glass-and-chrome desk, insinuating herself between the man and his computer. "Stop it now!"
"Or what?" Artemis said scathingly, stretching up in his chair so he could get as close to Holly's face as possible without actually standing. "It's just a little information. It's not like I'm hurting anyone. Would you rather I be hacking the banks and re-routing someone's funds into my account?"
"The fact that you're not hurting anyone doesn't make this any less illegal!"
He had to sneer at this idea. "Holly...if you haven't caught on by now, 'illegal' is sort of what I do." He put his hands to her hips, trying to move the woman to the side so he could get back to his spying. When she remained firmly in place, he merely pulled himself closer to his lover, hissing out a challenge. "I am going to read those documents, whether you like it or not. I need to know."
"No," Holly said back, using the same snake-like tone, "you don't."
Chuckling deep in his chest, Artemis flipped his head back, loose hair rippling out his eyes. He was enjoying this little showdown, actually. Fighting with Holly had always been fun (when he knew he had a chance of winning, at least), and now he had the added incentive of making up with the woman to spur him on. "I do, I am, and there is nothing you can do to stop me. And you know it."
"No," she defied, placing her hands on his, squeezing tight. "There is."
Artemis felt his pulse go even higher, sure that the tight muscles along Holly's hips were fire-hot. How else could he explain the burning in his fingertips? "Oh...really? Prove it."
Holly nodded once, throwing him a sultry smile. "Certainly."
The next morning...
Artemis sat at his workstation in the Ops Booth, staring straight ahead. He'd been in this position for a half hour, quite closely resembling a soldier who had just managed to live through one of the most intense fire-fights of his career.
Foaly was furious. "She broke him again!" He had given the young elf some time to himself, but there was work to be done, and Foaly was finding himself unable to handle the load on his own, now that he had another genius to share the burden. With no care to the man's physical well-being, the irritated centaur kicked the back of Artemis's chair.
This harsh jolt seemed to finally awaken the Irish-elf, who turned to glare at his coworker. "What?" Even beyond his expression, he looked awful, with his hair only finger-combed and lacking a wash. He was also wearing the same clothes he had the day before, which were in dire need of a ironing.
"Come on, Artemis. You can't get distracted every time Holly surprises you. Adapt!"
"Adapt?" Artemis exclaimed. "Adapt? How am I supposed to adapt, Foaly? My girlfriend arrested me!"
Foaly whickered. In all honesty, he hadn't been sure if Holly had the will to reprimand her criminal mate. It was comforting to know that she did. "Hey, Cumulus got Mrs. Koboi to drop all charges, so long as you explain how you hacked in. You didn't even have to post bail! Besides, it was just overnight."
"Just overnight. Just overnight? Have you been to jail, Foaly?"
The techie knew he had taken the conversation in the wrong direction, and it was best to find some way to distract his opponent. The answer was simple enough. "If it makes you feel any better, I think she was just using it as an excuse to get you in handcuffs."
Artemis's eyes widened only a fraction, but that was reaction enough. The reprobate turned to his terminal, working swiftly and pounding at the keyboard as he tried to drown out the sound of Foaly's laughter.
Next time, on Fowl Ties: Fowl language, and something I've had issues with so many times!
Chapter 15: Old shame
Many changes took place in Chez Fowl over the following months. With the acquisition of two pets, Artemis found he needed to make special accommodations. Taco the tarantula was the easiest, housed in a terrarium so large it spanned one wall of the office. Artemis had initially placed this in his bedroom, but was forced to remove it when Holly flatly refused him any loving while it remained. No, she was not afraid of spiders, she just preferred her privacy. No, she did not want to hold it. No, she was not driving him to the emergency room, he could heal that broken finger just fine on his own!
Jayjay was a bit more difficult, but infinitely more entertaining. His main desire was to find the highest perch in any room, as well as a path that could get him there in under ten seconds, should he become alarmed. The first time the lemur was startled, this had resulted in a wild leap that wrenched the hanging light in the entryway out of its mount until he swayed on sparking wires. After that little repair (Holly was horrified when Artemis installed a crystal chandelier, if a small one), Artemis set about making his house lemur-friendly.
This was not as invasive or unsightly as it may seem. In the kitchen, it involved adding a hanging pot rack. In the living room, shelves were put up all along the walls in a random pattern, which his furry companion could scale until he reached the small gap between the entertainment unit and the ceiling. In fact, the only room that had evidence of there being an animal in residence was the office. In addition to the terrarium, a cat tree (in an emerald green and beige that was intended to mimic a real tree and failed utterly at the goal) had been placed next to Artemis's desk, and this tall piece of carpeted furniture soon became Jayjay's favorite spot; this was partially because Artemis spent so much time in his office, working on various projects, thus allowing the boys plenty of time together.
Artemis was currently in the middle of one of these projects, and doing his best to focus. By all accounts, it was the perfect space for anything he wished to pursue, from chemistry to physics to robotics. The steel and glass desk was compact, with several wings that could be pulled out for larger projects. Except for the areas left to his pets, the walls were filled with bookshelves packed with his human tomes. Currently, one of these bookshelves had an empty block.
The room also contained a female elf sitting on a red beanbag (her own addition to the room, brought in among many arguments on style) next to a stack of paperbacks, holding a thin (by Fowl standards) volume. One that inspired her with many giggles.
Artemis threw a dirty look at Holly as he maneuvered a thin wire into place on a mechanical dragonfly's wings. He looked through a mounted magnifying glass as he picked up his soldering iron, holding it just above the wire. Poised, holding his breath, he waited for the gap between his heartbeats that would give him perfect steadiness, rather than a slight jerk from the blood flowing into his fingers. It came and he moved.
"Hardness," Holly snickered.
"D'arvit!" Artemis tossed his soldering iron to the desk, where it clattered, offending his tender ears. The wire that he had so carefully placed was now connected one millimeter away from where he needed it. Grumbling, he took up a desoldering pump, disconnecting the mistake. Once that was done, he placed the wire again and waited. A drop of sweat began to move down his face and—rather than wipe it away—he ran his tongue across his lips to lick it off before his progress was further ruined. Ready again, he moved.
"Heaving mounds," Holly barked, holding the book to her chest as she rocked back.
Artemis's second curse was much stronger, as he had covered a size-able portion of his board in solder. Trying to keep a frenzy from his movements, Artemis began to scour the board, removing all of the extra material before his project had to be scrapped. This resulted in the loss of several other connections, counteracting hours of stressful, precise work. He scowled at the damage, calculating how much time he would need to put back into this spy-bot before it was operational.
Before he could despair at the total that popped into his head, Holly fell over, clutching her sides as she howled with laughter. Finally, she revealed why she was so amused: "H-heavenly opening!"
Jayjay looked over the edge of his cat tree, chattering. "Leader is challenging for territory?" He sat up, tail whipping in a threat display as he made odd rubber-on-rubber fighting calls, ready to follow his matriarch into a battle for new lands.
"No, no," Artemis replied in lemur, putting his soldering iron down on it's stand. "She is just trying to annoy me."
"Oh." Jayjay's tail slowed as he considered this.
He descended the tree, loping across the floor and out of the door, where he paused, looking at the elves, tail twitching near his temples. "Good luck, Big Lemur." Then he dashed out and down the stairs, no doubt in search of food.
Artemis sighed as his furry friend left. The creature had a sixth-sense for conflict, and the propriety necessary to leave before a fight between Leader and Big Lemur began. He had to agree with the assessment. He would not be putting up with any more distractions, and any reprimand he would give would likely result in a fight.
He drummed his fingers on the glass desk, its sharp echo filling the air. Artemis decided to be diplomatic, to begin. "Would you mind taking that into another room? I've got work to do."
"Come on, Artemis!" Holly choked, pushing herself back up. She flipped through the book frantically, beaming where she got back to her place. "Take a break and read this with me! It's very interesting."
Grunting, Artemis waved a hand in the air to knock the words away. "It's drivel."
"Artemis, it's your drivel!" Holly proclaimed, turning the book about to display the cover. "The Knight's Reluctant Mistress by Violet Tsirblou? Once Foaly tracked down all your pseudonyms, I was dying to read this. How did you manage to delete every digital copy of these things?" She again clutched the book to her chest, keeping her place with a finger slipped between the pages. "I never thought you'd keep a copy, and especially not bring them to Haven with you. This is just...oh!" The force of her joy was too much, and Holly fell back into the shifting beanbag, throwing her legs in the air, kicking.
The more amused Holly became, the less amused Artemis was, and he was quite rapidly approaching the point where he would gladly use the last of his lighter fluid to burn these rare tomes. "I would much rather not dwell on those things. They were a childhood experiment gone awry. It is most embarrassing."
"Hell yes it's embarrassing!" Holly flipped though the book, eyes darting across the pages. "Gods, the language you used. 'Mighty sword,' 'straining manhood,' 'throbbing shaft,' 'his great need.'" She let the book drop enough to look at her partner. "Really, couldn't you have just said 'cock'?"
Artemis swallowed at the word coming from Holly's mouth, which had set off a Pavlovian response in his groin. He shifted in his chair to hide this and scowled. "Romance heroes do not have 'cocks,' Holly."
She snorted. "The way this knight of yours acts? I believe it." She brought the book back up. "You know, the male parts I'd be willing to chalk up to you not wanting to talk about another man's junk, but even for the woman... 'Rosy peaks,' 'rump,' 'hidden nub,' 'untouched core'." She put the book on her stomach (pages open and spine straining, which made Artemis wince) and pointed out the parts as she spoke in her teaching voice. "Repeat after me: nipple, ass, clitoris, vagina."
Artemis coughed. "I am not going to say that. Bedsides, you just can't write those words in romance novels. That is just how the format works."
"Fine, fine," Holly conceded, "but it is not 'hidden,' for your information. I mean, you found it easily enough."
"I was nine when I wrote that book!" Artemis protested, voice cracking like he was still in the middle of puberty.
"Really?" Holly picked up the book, looking at the embracing knight (in full, yet remarkably bendable armor) and leather-skit-clad woman on the front. "I feel sort of dirty."
Standing, Artemis crossed the room. "If that is how you feel, I'll be happy to take them back."
"No!" Holly cried, holding the book as far behind her as possible, placing it far back in the corner of the room.
"Yes!" Artemis insisted, trying to bend over the woman and make a grab at the book as she tossed it between her hands. "Hand it over!"
"Never!" Holly roared.
Artemis knew had very little chance of winning, unless he managed to limit the woman's range. Moving swiftly, he put a hand on her collar bone and pushed, sending the unbalanced officer sprawling on her back, the beanbag filler shifting with a sound like crashing waves. To keep her from squirming away, Artemis sat on her hips, knees digging into the shifting bag, leaning over to make another grab at the book. "Give it to me!"
"No-o-o-o!" Holly cried out, the word broken up by laughter. She continued to rapidly pass the book between her hands, shrieking as Artemis tried to follow the switches. "You can't get it," she taunted like a bullying schoolgirl.
Artemis had never been fond of bullies, though none had dared to bother him, what with having a massive Eurasian to confront sooner or later. Holly was not so wise, but she was also in a poor position to tease. Artemis brought his hands down on Holly's upper arms, pining them to the bag. Moving swiftly, maintaining enough pressure to make sure the woman couldn't avoid his maneuvering, he slid his hands up her arms. Soon, he grabbed one wrist and lunged, clamping down on the book in her other hand. With a twist, he wrenched it free, tossing the book over his shoulder and somewhere in the vicinity of his desk, knocking over something that sounded quite expensive.
Looking down at Holly, Artemis concluded that the damage was worth it.
"My book!" She groaned, squirming as she tried to escape and reclaim her treasure.
Before she could get far, Artemis grabbed her other wrist, pinning the woman to the beanbag. "My book!"
Holly was strong, but Artemis had stumbled upon a perfect position: straddling her hips, all of his upper-body strength and weight devoted to immobilizing her wrists. The officer struggled, but there was little she could do without actually hurting him. "Artemis," she whined, trying to get her legs under her and only succeeding in accidentally thrusting her hips against his. "Give it back!" Holly's struggles and the friction they caused did not help her, but they did help certain other things.
"My book," Artemis repeated, bending his arms to bring their faces close together. "Mine."
Holly gasped, suddenly recognizing the position they were in. "A-Artemis," she quavered, "what are you doing?"
"Mine," he insisted, taking both of Holly's wrists in one hand, giving the other a chance to wander.
Artemis soon had Holly panting and cursing him under her breath. He didn't take her words to heart, merely smirking as he continued to capitalize on the situation. After all, she could break his grip on her wrists easily enough, if she really wanted to.
Things progressed and soon they were in what could be called a "compromising position," if one of them had actually been compromising, rather than a firm loss of power for one and a gain in the other.
Perhaps Holly would have let things go on in a more comfy setting, where she could twine with her lover in comfort, but this was less than ideal. So, she decided to instead engage in one of her favorite past-times: tormenting the Mud-Elf.
"Artemis!" Holly cried as she felt him against her, so close to the point where neither could stop. "Oh, Artemis! Your turgid man-root!"
Artemis, as could be expected, stopped what he was doing. He gaped down, squeaking.
Holly writhed, purring. "Sheath your sword in my scabbard."
"That's it!" Artemis barked, standing up and back away, kicking Holly's slacks back at her. "No sex for you tonight! Bad Holly! Go home!"
Holly's eyes went wide as she clutched the trousers to her chest. Se hadn't intended for this to happen, just for him to pause and move to a new, more cushy location. "Artemis, wait, I—"
"No sex! Out!" He gave Holly just enough time to don her clothes, picking up her shoes and jacket as he pushed her towards the front door. He thrust the last items into her arms before slamming the door in her face.
Holly stood on the steps, mouth open, holding onto the hem of her unfastened trousers to keep them from falling. This was not what she had intended.
The woman spent several minutes pounding on the door, but the only reaction she got was Jayjay appearing on one of the long windows that flanked the sides, his head tilting as he tried to ascertain why Leader wasn't within, where she so obviously wanted to be. She fished in her jacket pockets for her key, but came up with a house-less key ring, Artemis having confiscated her copy while she was suiting up.
After giving Artemis's phone a call and leaving a very precisely-worded message (nine-tenths of these words being unfit for tender ears), she gave the door a final kick. Returning to her scooter, she revved the engine and screeched down the street, leaving a long trail of rubber in her wake.
Holly found she had quickly adapted to having a steady lover, so losing him for even one night left her less than happy, to say the least. Thus, Lili appeared in the Ops Booth ten minutes into her boss's shift, fell to her knees before Artemis, and clasped her hands in supplication. "Please. Please go screw her. She's intolerable!"
Artemis shook his head and took a small data crystal off his desk. "I'll be back in a moment, Foaly."
Lili bowed, hands and nose touching the floor. "Thank you!"
There was a conspicuous lack of officers around Holly's door. This would have warned most men away, but Artemis was not known to quail or have a well-developed self-preservation instinct. Not bothering to knock, he opened Lili's sub-office and went into Holly's quarters.
The elf glared at him.
"You forgot your key," Artemis said, tossing her copy of the house key on the desk, where it clattered for some seconds, supplying the only sound in the electrified atmosphere. Not bothering to ask permission, Artemis picked up Holly's data tablet, sliding the crystal he had brought into the side and opening the only document it contained. Leaving that as the top window, he set the tablet back down and left the room.
He returned to the Ops Booth, where Lili stared at him, horrified. "You...five minutes...but I asked..."
Ignoring her, Artemis placed a keyboard on his lap and leaned back in his chair, studying one of the Ops Booth's larger screens as he worked.
Lili whimpered. "But...but..."
Foaly patted her back. "Cone on, Frond. You can stay here today and be my guinea pig for the new helmets." Entire normally-radiant body dulled as she sulked, Lili complied, giving subdued answers to Foaly's questions as he attached various wires to the half-constructed helmet.
Thirty minutes later, a knock came at the Ops Booth door. Foaly sighed at the monitors. Glaring at his co-worker, he hit the open button and dragged Lili to a further corner of the Booth, handing her a neutrino that was also connected to a chaotic mass of wires as an explanation for the move, should he be asked
Holly came in, noticed the distance between the techies, and nodded in approval. She went to stand behind Artemis, who did not face her. The major looked at her data tablet, reading a passage over and over. After a long period waiting for him to acknowledge her, she deigned to make the first move. "Articles of..."
Artemis nodded, raising a hand to point at his screen, looking for the typo that had managed to sneak into his code. Programming while distracted in this manner had not been a good idea.
Holly tapped on her screen, moving through the story. "You've...improved."
"Thank you, though I have more to draw on, now. It is to be expected." Finding the stray character, he edited the page, running the process again and nodding to himself as his own portions of the new gear began to supply him with information.
"Wishful thinking, on your part," Holly continued, re-reading one part of the text.
"Well, in my opinion, I would have gained you as a lover, even if I never did become an elf. This just makes conception more likely, and the longevity imbalance a non-issue."
"That's not what I meant," Holly said. "I meant...I wouldn't let you..." She swallowed, closing the file. "Never."
Artemis chuckled, shifting his chair just enough to let him lean back and give the woman his full attention. "Holly, when have you ever been able to resist me?"
"I'm not going to let you do something like this, Artemis!"
"No, no," he sighed, waving her denial off. "That wasn't my question. I said, 'When have you ever been able to resist me.' Quite a different thing." His teeth flashed.
The battle-hardened elf backed away. "I...I...Lili!" Holly bolted to her secretary's side. Grabbing the other woman's arm, she hauled her to the door. "Lots of work to do, so little time! Terribly sorry, but bye!" With her subordinate still sporting a mostly-unassembled helmet, they left the booth, the door sliding shut behind them.
Foaly glared at Artemis. "Thanks. Now I have to go and get my helmet and find a new test subject. Will you stop looking so pleased?"
"No," Artemis replied, swinging back to his screen. "I'm afraid I can't. By the by, Foaly, I am entitled to take some materials out of a lockup for testing at home, correct?"
Foaly shifted between his hooves. "Technically, yes. No weapons, though. What...do you have in mind?"
Artemis said nothing.
"You're right," Foaly muttered, opening the door so he could pursue his equipment. "I don't want to know."
Next time on Fowl Ties: A brief interlude from our lusty elves to answer a question that has arisen during In Another's Eyes: What the hell is Vinyáya's problem?
Chapter 16: The BIG explanation
The People were no more or less creative than humans, yet it was still very common to see a fairy toting a data table loaded with a Mud Man novel or, somewhat less often, to find one carrying an actual book. This was no slight on the abilities of fairies; there were simply more humans in the wold to produce literature (and pulp, on the opposite end of the spectrum), and the last few hundred years of printing had prompted the Mud Men to swiftly approach the full volume of Gnommish works over the millennium.
So Artemis Fowl was not surprised to see Wing Commander Vinyáya sitting a few tables away in the cafeteria with a human book in hand, which she put down on occasion to pound away on her tablet. He was intrigued by the title, however, pointing it out to his lunch partners that day—Holly and N°1—as he unpacked his tray. "The Wing Commander never struck me as one for comedy."
His time-traveling companions looked simultaneously at the elder elf. Holly shook her head, turned back, and rubbed a finger along the bridge of her nose. "She isn't. She's taking it seriously."
Artemis looked at the book again. "No, that can't be. I recognize that book. The Ultimate Zombie Survival Guide. I never read it myself, but Juliet got a few good laughs out of it." He frowned, poking his food with a fork. "Apparently, it's not the most informed treatise. At least for Butlers, though it's hardly fair for them to judge survival tips."
Holly rubbed harder. "Well, don't tell Vinyáya that. She's been obsessed with zombies for a few years. Trouble told me she wanted to do a class on surviving the zombie apocalypse, but all of the other commanders have to approve each others courses, and..." She shivered at the memory of that fateful day.
Artemis knew enough about his mate to fill in the blank, but the issue at large was still intriguing. "You said the past few years, yes? Why the sudden interest?"
N°1, who had been busy trying to twirl some rather wet pasta around his fork, coughed. "Well...that may be my fault. Heh."
Holly focused on her post-pubescent, fast-growing friend. "What? How?"
The little demon chewed on the end of the fork, the hardened starch shattering under his powerful jaws. "Well...when we had to send Koboi back to her proper time, Vinyáya was the escort, and there was a little...delay."
Having read every scrap of information on demons—including a few hundred reviews on N°1's time travel experiences before she undertook this mission—Vinyáya was not impressed by the time tunnel. She was perplexed by why she was now hovering in the blue and red tube, it's colors swirling about her like some mix of a lava lamp and kaleidoscope. She had been in outer space more than once, and this weightlessness was reminiscent of zero-g, but without the nausea. Watching her hair—which had been plaited in a long braid to make this trip easier—float about her, she scowled, speaking out to the shifting ether. "N°1, I'm waiting here." She searched for the internal, magical, retractable leash, but found none. Muttering darkly, the commander tapped her foot in midair. If she was lost in the time stream, she was going to fight her way out and kill that demon.
She had just gotten into the really interesting murder plans (those involving liquid nitrogen) when her ears twitched, detecting an unknown sound behind her. As she moved to face it, the old soldier's mind did a quick analysis: shuffling of fabric meant clothing, but there was a lack of breath that should have meant a person. A low hum instead filled the air, as did a crackle of energy, both of which she was unable to account for. Finally, there was an odd ripping that made her stomach shrink in on itself and sour in instinctive response.
Then she saw them.
A trio of figures staggered towards her from the far edges of the wide tunnel. They were blue, and none of these fairies should have been that shade. The leader actually should have been sprite-green, but even his one remaining wing—so full of holes that you could see the skinless head of the demon behind him—was a translucent teal. They wore clothes from millennium gone by, the elf on the right only covered by the last blades of a blood-spattered grass skirt, her breasts exposed even when the attire had been new. The skin between the teats and her collarbone had split under the weight, the mammaries swaying like pendulums against her stomach. Each of the figures had gaping mouths ringed with a dual-layer of triangular, blackened teeth. Energy from the time tunnel snapped against their backs, but all failed to notice, too busy fighting the energy to join the Wing Commander in the tunnel proper. Their eyes were yellow-green and, though devoid of pupils, undeniably focused on Vinyáya.
"Oh...my," the councilwoman breathed, hand flying to her hip in a desperate search for her neutrino. She failed to find the trusty weapon, currently clad as she was in only a skin-tight, flesh-colored sports bra and bike shorts. She cursed fluently, casting about for some sort of weapon, but nothing was solid in the stream but herself and these monsters. "D'arvit d'arvit d'arvit!" she hissed, bringing her limbs into her body, becoming a tight ball as she tried to remember old Wing Commander Mace's tip on zero-g combat.
The leader of the necrotic trio paused three arm's lengths from Vinyáya, swaying. With a crack, his jaw unhinged and the serrated mouth fell open until the chin rested on his chest. A long, thick tongue writhed out, it's glistening black surface covered in venomous green barbs and a stringy yellow mucus. It was prehensile and no-doubt heat-sensitive, flipping like a worm towards Vinyáya's face.
"Oh," she purred, tilting her head back to avoid it's caress, "the girls must love you."
Shrieking—the sound like that of a newborn baby laid out on a red-hot stove—the sprite lunged.
Ten minutes later, N°1 gasped. Nearly all of his body glowed white, interspersed only by the red light of his runes and two beams from his open eyes. "I've got her! I've got her!"
"Pull, boy!" Qwan roared even as he could see the tendrils of magic around N°1 go taut, sucking back into his body. If the inexperienced warlock had kept his grip on the Wing Commander, such a massive expenditure of magic would have been unnecessary, but the demon had panicked when their connection snapped, sending all of his power into the time stream to locate the lost woman. Now his magic was rapidly depleting and the outcome was a matter of which came first: Vinyáya reappearing or N°1's magic giving out. "Faster!"
"NNNNNNNG!" The apprentice demon cried, leaning back to add a physical effort to his supernatural hauling. With a deafening crack, the tension of his magic broke and he fell to the floor, head banging on the steel. "NO!" he howled.
"She's here!" Qwan shouted back, leaping the silver chain that circled his student, which had contained N°1's magic during this mission. "Medic! Hurry!"
Vinyáya knelt on the floor, fighting for breath. Her formerly long hair was now down to only her shoulders, the end ripped off. It was no longer silver, but covered in black, blue, and green, all oozing, as was the rest of her body, the floor around her quickly becoming covered in thick drops of sludge.
Though down she may have been, the Wing Commander was not out. When a medic reached her, she lashed forward with one of her bent legs, hitting the gnome in the middle of his chest and forcing him to back away, wheezing.
Never managing to rise higher than a four-limbed crawl, she crossed the spell circle until she reached N°1's side.
He had overcome his daze and smiled at her. "Wing Commander! I found you! You're all-ack!"
Vinyáya seized his throat, her long nails—the undersides coated in black, rotten blood—digging into his windpipe. "What. Were. Those. THINGS?"
Qwan was the one to respond, crouching at Vinyáya's side so he could run triage. "Quantum zombies. Those lost to the time tunnel. Unable to die, because time no longer passes for them. Turned into monsters by the magic of the stream." He seemed rather unconcerned by the fact that his protege was currently being suffocated, instead wiping ooze off Vinyáya's limbs and inspecting them for marks. "Few have ever seen them, and no one has survived a direct meeting. How did you last?"
Jerkily, she turned her head to address the master. "Oh...it wasn't hard." She held out the hand that was not choking his protege, unclenching her fingers with great effort. One-by-one, six yellow-green orbs splattered onto the burnished-steel floor. "It got much easier when they couldn't see me anymore."
N°1 gagged, bringing attention back to him.
"One more question," Vinyáya hissed, pulling the apprentice so close that loose strings of her viscera-coated hair began to brush against his face, leaving streaks of the multi-colored ooze along the warlock's cheeks.
"Y-yes?" N°1's voice cracked like a pubescent drifting between octaves.
Vinyáya smiled sweetly. "Can you send me back with a knife?"
Next time on Fowl Ties: Artemis and Holly their favorite bedroom game.
Chapter 17: A most intriguing game
Holly narrowed her eyes at Artemis, lips set in a thin line as she thought. He looked mildly unnerved by her close scrutiny, but this was his normal state when they were participating in this, their favorite bedroom game. It involved a level of trust that he was unaccustomed to, and, though she was his lover and confidant in so many things, there were some parts of him that would always protest when he prepared to let go of his boundaries.
So, when a light came to Holly's eyes and she opened her mouth, Artemis flinched the slightest degree, waiting for the attack to come:
"What is your favorite color?"
Lying on his back with his arms folded under his head in an act of complete nonchalance, Artemis blinked several times. "Really? That if your question? You should know that, or else I have addled your brain far too much for one night."
"Don't flatter yourself," Holly purred, still feeling deliciously fluid after their first hour in bed together. Now, as they had settled from the initial love-making and waited for him to rise for a second session, she felt playful and explorative. Thus, their favorite game: "Ask Me."
And why was sex not their favorite game (I hear you ask)? Because sex is not a game. It is very serious business.
"Besides gold," Holly continued "Or silver. No metals. A color."
"Gold is a color, you know."
"Artemis..." she growled, nails prickling across the skin of his stomach.
"Fine, fine." He considered for a moment. "Orange."
"Orange?" Holly repeated, jolting in surprise. "Why orange?" She looked at the navy-blue sheets of Artemis's bed, as if considering it evidence of a sinister lie.
"Orange is often overlooked when people list favorite colors. Sometimes even reviled, though yellow seems similarly detested. It seems odd, when the color is so striking and pleasing in many shades. It catches the eye."
"So why no orange in your bedroom?"
Artemis sighed. "Consider, for a moment, what my skin tone would look like next to anything orange."
Holly nodded, lips twitching at the horrific image. "Good point. Mine is blue."
Artemis sniffed, as if still smarting from her ridicule. "Blue. How common."
"Not ice-blue?" he queried, winking his retained eye.
Holly placed her cold feet on Artemis's calves, making him edge away, kicking his legs. "In your dreams, Mud Boy. Okay, your turn. Ask me."
Artemis was already prepared, his next twenty questions lined up long ago. "Favorite food."
"Oh, easy one! Strawberries."
"Fruit in general, berries in particular, strawberries above all. They are just...mmm!"
Furrowing his brows, Artemis thought back. "You ate strawberries on several occasions at the Manor. I noticed no particular fondness."
"I, unlike you, have some self-restraint."
"Excuse me? I am a model of self-restraint. I have complete control over myself."
Holly leaned in to nip the tip of Artemis's ear, whispering her retaliation. "I'll remind you of that next time you have to take an 'emergency lunch break' with me in my office."
Artemis lifted his head, removing one of the hands cushioning him to pinch the top edge of the bed-sheets, lifting them from his chest and peeking underneath. "Either you declare this game over or you stop behaving so shamelessly."
Holly giggled, crossing an arm over her bare chest to remove a temptation. "I'll be good. You answer."
Artemis groaned at her refusal and his memory of the surface, letting his head fall back. "I should really be ashamed."
Visions of Twinkies danced in Holly's head. "Ashamed? What is it?"
"A full dinner, really but the dishes must be mixed together to get the full taste. Whenever Juliet visited, she would bring in a..." he sighed, shaking his head, "a styrofoam container—I know, I know, but it was the only takeaway option they had—from the Dublin airport. Practically fast food." At Holly's prod on his upper arm, Artemis, reluctantly, answered her question. "Chicken tikka masala with rice and garlic naan. I can't even begin to tell you, Holly. It was sublime. Warm bread, perfect rice, and chicken in this sauce that was so spicy your eyes watered after one bite." He broke off his reverie to look at Holly, laughing at her disgusted expression. "I suppose I shall have to ask Juliet if there is a cheese or vegetable-based dish when we next visit, to avoid insulting your vegetarian sensibilities"
"Oh, no, go ahead, ruin your magic with dead animal flesh. You've got to come with me to one of our farms. Then you will understand why I hate eating things that can talk to me." To settler her stomach, Holly moved on. "You like spicy foods?"
"On occasion, and none of that 'mild' or 'medium' slop. I enjoy any cuisine, so long as it is prepared well and in accordance with tradition, and Indian food should always be so spicy that it clears your sinuses." He tapped his lips, then smiled at the idea that came to him. "I would be interested to see how such a taste impacts the act of kissing, actually."
Holly shook her head. "I'm afraid you wont get to try that in Haven. Spicy foods are considered a controlled substance." At Artemis's confused reaction, she went on. "There were some...incidents. With dwarves."
"Say no more. I beg you. Your turn. Ask me."
Holly smiled in a sinister manner, squirming with eagerness, her smooth skin sliding deliciously over the satin sheets. "Your. First. Kiss."
Artemis paled. "No. Out of the question."
"Was it me?" she asked excitedly, thinking his refusal was embarrassment over his inexperience.
"No..." Artemis felt genuinely sorrowful as her expression fell.
"Then...Minerva?" Holly played with the fitted sheet, pulling it away from the mattress as far as she could before letting go and watching as it drifted back down.
"No. Not Minerva."
"Then...one of your school mates?"
"I went to an all-boys school, Holly."
"No!" Artemis turned to lay on his side, reaching out to hold one of Holly's hands in his own. "It is obvious that you are not going to give up on this, but you must swear to me, Holly. Promise that you will not tell anyone. EVER."
Now Holly was intrigued. Her curious nature clambered to the fore. "Yes, I promise."
"On your Book, Holly."
She lay a hand to her nearly-bare chest, covering the fairy bible between her breasts. "I promise on my Book that I will not tell anyone about your first kiss."
Artemis toyed with his own copy of the Book—a gift from Holly on his last birthday, and something he had agreed to wear after quite a long argument on fairy tradition, law, and religion, which Holly only won because she pointed out that secretary was a direct descendant of the elven warrior-prophet—before giving his answer. "...Juliet."
Holly thought she would die laughing. Butler's little sister? No wonder he didn't want anyone to know. Bodyguard or no, Artemis's life was in jeopardy from that moment on. "Okay, that's it, spill. I want every detail."
Artemis groaned. "Holly..."
"Every sordid detail, or there is no 'round two' tonight."
"Damned hormones, you have once again betrayed me...fine." He took a deep breath. "I was nine."
"Oooo, playa playa."
"Ha ha. Do you wish to know or not?"
Holly locked her lips, throwing the invisible key over her shoulder.
"Right. I was nine, and Juliet had just turned fourteen. There was a school dance coming up, and she had asked a boy she was attracted to if he would accompany her. He turned her down."
Despite her secured mouth, Holly gaped, the image of the stunningly beautiful blond flashing before her eyes. "He what?"
"Was he insane? Or at least gay?"
Sighing, Artemis shook his head. "Juliet was a 'late bloomer.' At fourteen, she had no breasts to speak of, more muscle than sense, and..." he let the last revelation hang in the air until Holly leaned in, her eyes begging for more. "The most horrific set of braces in all of existence"
"Noooo!" Holly gasped in horror, trying to imagine her human girlfriend with train tracks in her mouth.
"Oh, yes. She took one too many shots to the head as a child. The process took three years, and looked like she kept farm equipment in her mouth the entire time."
"What happened?" Holly breathed, as nervous as if Juliet was still wearing the headgear and awaiting love.
"She hit a growth spurt that balanced her muscle mass, grew to a D-cup practically overnight, and had her braces removed that summer." He sighed at a fond memory. "Then kneed the boy in the groin when he asked her to the winter formal."
"Not that! I meant the kiss!"
"Ah." Artemis bit his lip, quickly formulating his story. "She was very upset, and I found her crying in the rose garden one day. This was before my father disappeared, so I was not quite as...prickly as I would soon become. I asked her what was wrong, and listened to her five minute rant about being ugly and unloveable and how she was considering converting to Catholicism, just so she could become a nun and have an excuse for living a life of celibacy, or else she would die alone and only be found when a bill collector came to her house and found her corpse half-eaten by her thirty-seven cats. She was quite specific on the number, actually.
"I waited until she was done, and gave her a little lecture on puberty and how her braces would soon be off, and I told her that would surely improve her looks. She just glared at me, and looked ready to storm off, so...I kissed her."
Holly was rapt, nodding to urge the man on, unable to imagine him doing something so selfless and physical as kissing a distressed young girl.
"She...laughed at me." Artemis also laughed at his younger self. "I had hoped to prove her wrong in some way, or at least make her think things through better, but she brushed it off. She said it didn't count as her first kiss, because I was so young, but I could keep it as my own. Three months later, she was stunning and I was long-forgotten."
"Aw..." Holly pinched Artemis's cheek. "You were such a cute, creepy little genius."
He batted her hand away, rubbing the abused skin. "Yours?"
Holly blushed, but smiled, enjoying the memory. "My neighbor. A pixie about five years older than me. Jazz. It was a nickname. His real name was Alfred Tyrconnel." She said the last two words in a nasal, semi-aristocratic voice, with a heavy dose of ridicule for the title.
Artemis winced. "Jazz is a marked improvement, yes."
"Our families were pretty close, so we did a lot of stuff together. We were at the artificial weather park one day, flying kites on a windy hillside, and my kite got stuck in a tree. I was seven, and I couldn't reach the lowest branch, so he climbed up and brought it back.
"Whenever my father did something nice for my mother, she would kiss him, so...I kissed Jazz." Holly laughed, covering her face (which grew redder with every second), shaking her head. "He started gagging and wiping at his mouth, then ran to his father. He didn't talk to me for two weeks."
"Well, no wonder! He was twelve. Most human boys are only warming up the the notion of girls at that age. I can't imagine how long it takes fairy boys."
"I didn't know! My parents did it, so I thought it was just something you did when someone helped you."
"Goodness, I hope you never walked in on your parents having sex, then."
Holly's eyes narrowed and she fell back to the bed, huffing. "Shut it. Ask me."
"The last person you kissed before we started dating."
Holly groaned. "Artemis, NO!"
"No backing down, Holly! I answered your kiss question, you answer mine."
She mumbled something.
Artemis cupped one of his pointed ears. "Pardon? I didn't catch that."
Holly held herself tighter. "...Trouble."
Artemis felt suddenly ice-cold. "You mean...the..."
"Yes, the commander! 'Trouble' isn't exactly a common name."
"No. I just thought...you never seem to...react around him."
"We never dated." She ran a hand though her hair, which was growing out of its buzz-cut and into an earlobe-length shag. "It was in December. I had to do recon on a runner, and found him in a good position for capture. Trouble came up to do retrieval, and it was flawless. Not even any property damage or signs of a struggle for the humans to find. I was hyped-up on adrenalin, and...I kissed him."
Artemis growled. "And what did he do?" No one in Haven was ignorant of Trouble's reputation. A new girl every weekend. The idea of the Commander and Holly...together...
"Well, he was sort of shocked. He could barely fly the shuttle back, and I was too mortified to speak. I would have died to avoid whatever he was going to say.
"So, we booked the perp and clocked out. Trouble walked me to the front of the Plaza, and...he kissed me."
"Grrrrreat." Artemis flashed his teeth. "Now I have a reason to kill him." He said it quite calmly, as he had just discovered the strawberries are ripe and it is time to make a pie.
"Let me finish!" Holly played with her fingers, pensive. "He seemed...shocked again."
"Oh, why? Because you let him?"
"No." Holly scowled at her jealous lover. "That he didn't like it."
Artemis blinked. "He...what?"
"Trouble has been trying to sleep with me since we met, and he said kissing me was like kissing his little brother!" She seemed outraged and disturbed by the comparison. "I mean, Trouble fucks any woman that lays down long enough, and when he didn't like kissing me, he was really confused. And when it happened the second time..." She shook hear head. "I heard Chix talking to his little gang the next day. They went out for a night on the town. Trouble picked out the elf with the biggest tits in the club and took her home to 'reaffirm his sexuality.' Quite successfully, I gather."
Artemis finally loosened. "Ah...well...good for him." Wrapping his arm about Holly's waist, Artemis rolled onto his back, dragging her along to lay flush to his side. He kissed her red bangs and sighed, content with the answer. "You're my mate."
"Of course," she whispered, reaching out to play with his Book, ignoring his slightly possessive tone. She had the notion that Artemis's interactions with Trouble would be strained for a time, but that was his problem to work through. "And...yours? Last kiss, I mean."
"Unless you wish to count Minerva up here," Artemis said, tapping his forehead, "then it was you at the oak. I certainly consider that the last one."
"Mmm...I agree." They rested together, Holly listening to the beat of her lover's heart, comforted by its steadiness and closeness in rhythm to her own. She wasn't the type to be idle for long, however, and soon she poked his sternum. "My turn?"
"Certainly. Ask me."
Holly turned her head up to watch Artemis's reaction. The anticipation was killing her, but she would have been willing to delay far longer than she had to in order to make him squirm.
When she noted his eyes begin to dilate, she let it loose: "Have you ever walked in on your parents having sex?"
Artemis gagged, the heaving a very clear affirmative. When he had his bile in control, he nodded. "Yes. Once."
Holly's eyebrows shot up. "Really? I thought you were smart enough to knock."
"Oh, yes, I am." Artemis grinned sardonically, remembering the last occasion he had been reminded of that virtue by his failure to practice it. "They...weren't in their bedroom."
Holly blushed. There is a mental block among all young people that makes it impossible to imagine their elders engaged in intercourse at any other locale than the bedroom and in any position but missionary. Gods forbid parents do it on the couch, or mothers give blow-jobs. That is just unnatural. "Where were they?" she breathed, in raptures, thinking of the dozens of rooms in the Manor.
Grimacing, well aware that he would again have to give full details, Artemis answered. "The dining room table."
Holly shrieked "The...the table? The one I've had breakfast on?" At Artemis's nod, she went on. "Oh, gods, I can never eat there again. What were they doing?"
"It," Artemis replied, hoping this would be answer enough. Based on the responding glare, it was not. "She was on her stomach and..." He couldn't continue, feeling all sex drive he had mustered flee before the memory.
Holly did not need him to elaborate, her mind filling in the blanks quite well. "No wonder you never want to do it on your dining room table!"
"I wouldn't be able to maintain an erection." Artemis admitted, allowing Holly her silent laughter at his expense. "I trust you shall be able to deal with the disappointment, from now on. Now you," he prompted quickly, hoping she would agree to finish the round before he had to explain what his father had been doing with the cherries...
"Way more times that I could count, when I was a kid. I had a lot of nightmares, and my parents didn't have a lock on their bedroom door, so I would go get in bed with them. I didn't even realize what I had done until decades later, when my dad let slip one of my old pet names."
"Oh?" Artemis raised an eyebrow.
She ducked her head, temple resting on his chest. "'My little blocker.'" At Artemis's soundless guffaw, she tried to justify herself. "I thought it was some sort of alternate name for a Crunchball goalie!"
"Oh, certainly, understandable." By his tone, it was not understandable at all. "And when you were older?"
"Well...I moved to the dorms for college, but I came home to visit a lot. One day, I didn't call ahead, because I wanted to surprise them, and..." She flushed. "In the toilet pond."
"Huh...why did that never stop you when we have intercourse in my pond?"
"Um..." Holly turned redder, eyes flicking up to Artemis's. "You haven't tried to put it...up my...ahem."
Artemis stared at the ceiling. "Well, not so far, but thank you for the idea."
"Arty!" Slapping his chest only caused Artemis to wince and grin at the same time, which did not satisfy the violent she-elf. "Don't you ever ask me to do that in the pond, or I will leave."
Perking up at her choice of words, Artemis asked the next logical question (for a male). "What about in bed?"
"Perv. Ask me. And not about that."
"Hmmm..." After briefly considering defying the woman and pursuing this stimulating possibility, only avoiding the subject because he assumed Holly would leave the room if he defied her, Artemis flipped through his mental list of questions. The next in line was the one that most interested him, but...
"Holly? I want to ask you something, but it seems unfair. You already know my answer. And it is quite a...sensitive subject."
For a minute, Holly thought on his warning. She had anticipated the question from the inception of the game, and was frankly surprised that Artemis had only brought it up at this moment, and not several weeks ago. Knowing that, one way or another, she would have to some day answer the question, Holly nodded in assent. "You can ask me, but...I get to ask you a question and not have to answer it myself, okay?"
Artemis deliberated, unable to think of what Holly would demand to know. He did not think long—far too curious and reckless in post-coital glow—before charging ahead. "Tell me about when you lost your virginity. Please."
Through the medium of his chest, Holly could feel Artemis's heart begin to race, but she remained calm, though it took all of her battle training to do so. She playing with the thin spray of his chest hair as she collected herself. "Age of consent for fairies is fifty-five. I was fifty-four, but that still made me one of the last among my friends. It's...important to fairies, but not as important as with humans. I mean, live a thousand years and you can have over a hundred lovers easily, so finding your 'one true love' for your first is something fairies never even consider aiming for." She paused, suddenly feeling Artemis's tension. "I haven't, by the way. Had a hundred lovers."
"Yes," Artemis said quickly. "I knew that."
"Sure..." Gingerly, she bit Artemis's side to reprimand him, then moved on when he yelped. "It was Jazz. We'd tried dating a few times, but it never worked out. But we had most of our firsts together, and he was always my backup date for school dances. I'd say he was sort of a big brother, but you'd have to have some weird family dynamics for that to be true. More...my heterosexual life partner? My male other half? I don't know.
"His parents were both doctors, and they were at the hospital almost all the time, so we hung out at his place. Watched movies, played video games. Teased, messed around, stuff. I guess it was sort of inevitable. One day we got a bit out of control and he asked me if I want to...and I did. A lot."
She paused, looking up at Artemis's face. She knew that humans were far more conservative than fairies in sexual matters—hell, some of them still thought homosexuality was wrong, the barbarians—and she worried about the disgust she might find in his eyes. Instead, he was attentive and neutral, nodding for her to continue.
Resting her chin on his chest, she went on. "Like I said, he was five years older than me, so he'd had a few partners before. He knew what to do, and he was...so gentle. I could have fallen in love with him for that, I think."
Now Artemis's eyes began to change, and Holly could not identify the emotion therein. "But...you didn't?"
"I think I started to," Holly admitted, biting her lips as she saw the alteration in his looks. "But he went off for college a few weeks later—I guess I decided to let it happen then because I knew he would be gone soon—and he brought back a girl when he next visited. That put the idea on hold."
"On hold? Not...eliminated?" The darkness deepened.
"Well, he does live in Atlantis, now, but he visits me once a year, and we have crazed weasel sex for a week straight."
"Kidding!" She couldn't help but tease, knowing how far off his feelings were from the truth, even if she knew it would unnerve him for several seconds. Once he calmed, she shook her head. "We never got another chance. He became a doctor, like his parents, and..." Holly's voice had cracked, and she stopped, squeezing her eyes shut in an attempt to control herself that failed utterly. "And he was the first fairy to attempt treating Spelltropy."
Artemis clenched his jaw as he felt Holly's tears begin to fall upon his chest. "Holly, I'm...sorry. I..."
"It's okay, Artemis," she lied, wiping at her cheeks. "I just...really miss him." She squeaked as she spoke. "He was my best friend."
Stroking her hair, murmuring words he didn't fully understand, Artemis tried to comfort his lover. He wasn't exactly sure how to comfort a distressed woman, but this seemed effective, if instinctive, and Holly was soon taking deep, steadying breaths.
"Okay...okay. I'm okay." She bolstered herself, making sure she would not collapse into tears mid-sentence. "Now you. I want to know...what is your biggest regret?"
Pinching at the corner of his mouth with one set of canines, Artemis considered for only a second. "Please don't be offended by this, Holly."
She looked at him, eyes wide, nervous as to what could possibly offend her. "I'll...okay."
He sighed. "I gave up so much to be with you. I wouldn't change that, because then my biggest regret would be not having a life with you. But...it's not just time with my family now that I gave up, but also my family to come. For the security of the People, I wont be allowed to meet them. My brothers' and sister's children, and Juliet's, too. And their children. And their children. On and on for generations, until one day I will look up the Fowls and Butlers, and they will be so far removed from me that I wont feel any sort of connection to them anymore. I will lose my family over and over again, until I stop caring."
Pulling her eyebrows down, Holly opened her mouth, but it took some moments for sound to come out. What did manage to fight its was free was less than the comfort she was shooting for. "That is really stupid, Artemis."
He glared at her. "Stupid? Oh, how so? Enlighten me."
"It is!" Holly protested, pushing her torso up so she could look down on him in a superior manner. "The very fact that you're worried and you assume you'd look in on them shows that you want to care. Maybe you wont know them as well as your immediate family, but you will still be interested in their descendants. You will always be a Fowl. People all around the world live far from their family, but they are still family!"
"Hmph. And the generational gap?"
"Do grandparents love their grandchildren less than their children? No! You will still want to be involved with them, if it's behind-the-scenes and illegal or out-in-the-open and...also illegal. You will want to help them in whatever way you can, like you do now." She lowered her brows at Artemis, who was trying to look innocent. "Don't act like I don't know about you hacking the computers of rival companies to the Fowl Empire, looking for scandals."
"I don't know what you're talking about." It was an automatic, indignant response. The sniff that accompanied it showed this was more a matter of form and tradition than an attempt at full denial, where full denial was so obviously impossible. "So invasive. I should put a sign on the office door: plotting, do not disturb."
Holly giggled at the image, but shook her head. "If I can't enter the office when you're plotting, then I wouldn't have been able to seduce you tonight, now would I?"
"Hmmm...true..." Artemis slid his hand down Holly's back, cupping at her buttocks. "Very true..."
"Be good!" She nipped his chest, already noting that the memory of their activities of an hour ago were beginning to affect her lover, making a continuation of the game imperative. "Your turn. Ask me."
Finding the ball so swiftly back in his court, Artemis fumbled it for a moment. His mouth began to move a few seconds before his brain, making him feel quite dull, even if the words made sense. "On the subject of progeny, I am quite curious."
Holly swallowed. "Yes?"
"Well...this entire 'being an elf thing' was all due to one block to our relationship, and I'm intrigued as to your opinion, since time has passed." He pulled his arms even tighter, making Holly transition from simply laying next to his chest to straddling his waist, both of their bodies under the covers, the lack of vision almost as erotic as the sight he knew would greet him if he could get a full look at their matching skin. "Holly Short...am I the elf you want to father your children?"
Muscles loosened in an instant, and Holly seemed to glow red in embarrassment "Yes. Of course. And...you? Do you want me to be the mother of yours?"
Artemis tugged down with both hands on Holly's waist, making her gasp and himself purr as they made contact beneath the sheets. "Yes. Ask me."
While it is commonly thought that only men have a mind that resides below their waists, that was where Holly's had decided to vacation, as well. She could only come up with one question. "How many?"
"Well...you can conceive every twenty years, and you are fertile until you turn about 1,000..."
Holly gasped, trying to squirm away as she did highly rounded mental math. "I am not having forty kids!"
Artemis held tight, groaning as the struggles made Holly move against him He was certain this wasn't her intention, but he was not going to let her slide...metaphorically. "No, no. Far too many. A dozen will do."
"A dozen!" Holly shrieked. "Why a dozen!"
Artemis shrugged. "It's a good, round number."
"No it isn't! Three is a round number!" Holly traced the digit in the air. "It has those two bumps, remember?"
"Well, how many would you want?"
"I don't know!" Holly slapped both hands down on Artemis's chest to stabilize herself. "One? Two? Maybe three?"
"Let's call this 'negotiable' for now."
"It is not negotiable! A dozen is out of the question! It's my womb, Artemis!"
"Fine, fine," Artemis breezed, leaving Holly thoroughly unsatisfied. "My turn, if you will."
Now sitting on Artemis's waist, Holly towered over Artemis. She crossed her arms over her breasts to forbid him access, scowling. "Ask me."
"Well...since we're on the subject, when do we start?"
Holly sighed, wishing he would go to a safer subject. "I don't know. We need more time to get to know each other. We should live together for a while, go on a few vacations without worrying about kids at home, have as much sex as possible before they begin to block us. That sort of thing."
Artemis nodded. "Quite right. I'm only twenty-four, after all. But...in the meantime..." He ran his hands up the inside of Holly' thighs, soon reaching his goal and playing upon his lover. "They do say 'practice makes perfect.'"
"Yeeeeeeeah..." Holly arched her back, silhouette gaining perfection in the dim light of the bedroom. She looked down at Artemis through hooded eyes. "That's not a bad idea. Ask me."
Artemis sat up, keeping Holly straddled on his lap with a hand on the small of her back, the other buried in her hair to bring their lips closer. "Can I have you now?"
"Yes," she hissed, pressing against him.
He moaned, tightening his fingers in the silken red hair, pulling her face even closer to his. The second before their lips came together, Artemis gave his un-asked-for answer:
"Yes. Always. Forever."
Next time on Fowl Ties: It is something every Irishman needs in great quantities.
Chapter 18: Into each life...
For the most part, Artemis Fowl and Holly Short had the same work schedule: a typical 9 to 5, even if that 9 was in the PM and the 5 in the AM. However, things were occasionally thrown at them that forced one or the other to go in for an emergency shift, as had happened that weekend, when Artemis was called in to tend to a general failure in the LEP's suit monitoring system ("So not my fault," Foaly made haste to inform anyone who would listen). Thus, on Friday morning, as Holly was shutting down for the weekend, Artemis was off gallivanting somewhere, instead of waiting to leave the Plaza with her for another weekend-long "sleepover." She anticipated some pleasant event for the evening, seeing as her lover had extra time to prepare, but got no answer to her calls or texts by the time she finally punched out.
Puzzled by this—Artemis generally answered her calls by the second ring, if that long—Holly made a trek down to the Ops Booth, finding Foaly also winding down for the day, giving his orders to the weekend techie—a demoness, somewhat surprising but generally pleasing Holly—which included the standard warning about hackers that was becoming something of a running joke, now that the only hackers that could beat his system were in jail or on his own team. Still, centaurs and paranoia, like peas and carrots, after all.
"Foaly," Holly called out, his attention instantly whipping to her. "Any idea where Artemis is?"
Foaly whinnied, waving about with a clipboard. "How should I know? Am I his keeper or something?"
Holly crossed her arm, foot tapping, "Fooooooaly."
"What?" He brayed, shuffling with little screeches of metal shoes on titanium flooring, making Holly's ears twitch.
"Caballine would be very interested to finally find out how Flash's tail caught on fire."
Foaly reared in alarm. "Come on, Holly! I don't track Artemis! Really!" He jerked his head at the demoness, in a less-than-subtle fashion.
Sighing, the new techie suddenly began to play with one of her curving, incredibly sharp horns in a manner much akin to most women fooling with a lock of hair. "Mr. Foaly? If you'll excuse me a minute, I must visit the lounge."
"Yes, certainly, Winifred," he said quickly, buzzing her out and closing the door so fast that it almost clipped her stubby tail.
Holly watched her go, smiling. "Smart girl. Nº1 met her yet?"
Foaly snorted. "If he did, I don't think the boy would be able to force a word out, do you?"
"No, I suppose not..." She tsked at the mention of her growing, easily-flustered demon friend. Courtship was certainly not easy for the young warlock, even if his future high-standing in the demon world would one day make him a choice mate. He seemed to be scared of women. Holly really had no idea why.
"Alright, then. Time to track your little man." Foaly side-trotted with something less than Lipizzaner grace, far-nimbler fingers soon traipsing along a holographic keyboard, each key lighting up for a split-second as it was pushed, paired with the standard sci-fi electronic beeping. On the main screen, a map of Haven came to the fore, swiftly zooming in to the east portion of the city, the street view disappearing as it flashed through rock foundations to a sub-level. This one seemed to be a large hemisphere carved within the rock, with only a few street paths, all thin and bordering off various sub-sections, each of which were color-coded, with several notes added in quite tiny text. There were a few officers on duty at this location, mostly centered about the tunnel entrance, though Holly didn't recognize any of their names. New recruits going through Traffic stints, mostly.
"Well, his car is at the artificial weather park. It's been there since...ten this evening." Foaly looked to Holly, shrugging. "Snow production went up yesterday. Maybe he's getting a bit of boarding in."
Holly blanched at the idea of Artemis on a snowboard, flying off rails and spinning in the half-pipe. Unnatural. Skiing seemed more his style, if he was going to participate in any sort of physical activity. Which he was not. "He'd die, I think. Thanks, though."
Waving at her four-hoofed friend, Holly made her way out of the Plaza and was soon zipping along on her scooter, taking a side-tunnel that plunged her into the depths of Haven. The cramped space had a significant car backup, but a smaller half-lane dedicated to magna-bikes and scooters was nearly empty, and the tunnel lights flashed by at astonishing speed, reminding Holly vaguely of the chutes. And then she was through, bursting into the shock of an over-illuminated parking lot, blinking to adjust.
Foaly must have been right about the new powder; the parking lot was riddle with fairies fresh off work, toting snowboards, skis, and sleds up the false mountain that dominated the dome. Holly's guess on Artemis's lack of slope-lust was also proven correct when she asked the cashier where the immediately-recognized elf had gone.
"Oh, him? No equipment, just walked off into the temperate zone. Thataways," she motioned oft to the left and took Holly's card for payment before moving off to the next customer.
The weather park was Haven's most popular attraction. Divided into several zones, it sought to diminish the cabin fever of the People. A windy beach allowed sprites to sail languidly along, wings barely flapping; a tropical jungle was heated for the fiery skin of the goblins; dwarves reveled in rich clay riddled with healthy plant-life and hundreds of rodents; and even demons had their own new volcanic landscape, with a few hot springs that drew in a decidedly...skin-friendly crowd.
The largest area by far, however, was the temperate zone. Resembling a variety of Western European landscapes, it was sectioned into thick forests, cultivated fields, chilly mini-mountains, and thick bogs. Holly wandered these, heart aching. She was one of those elves that found the under-funded park to be a pain to the heart, rather than a joy. She had visited the surface often enough to point out the little errors. Impossible plant combinations. Skewed humidity and temperature. Incorrect animal calls emitted from poorly hidden speakers. It wasn't just a pale imitation of the real world. To Holly, the park was like a three-year-old's crayon drawing of the Mona Lisa.
So she moved through the areas quickly, calling out to her young lover. Dense forests gave way to sparsely treed hills, and then to flat grassy plains. Then, as she came towards the end of this zone, she yelped, hit by a sudden shower of false rain. She jumped in surprise at the first few drops, shaking her head to dislodge them, but found the effort useless as the spray continued. It was rather warm, and it made her skin crawl, knowing such a rain would never have existed in the climate she was now exploring.
There were only a few fairies here, all young and shrieking in laughter, dancing in the purified drops. It felt wrong to Holly, who had enjoyed a few stormy nights at Fowl Manor. There was no smell of dust to warn her of the spray, and no light tang on her tongue from the bits of debris in the air that would have helped the raindrops form. The sky above was too far away to be seen, lost to darkness, without even the courtesy of painted-on clouds. There were a few twinkling false stars in the ceiling, and Holly shook her head at them. None of the constellations she knew. Not even a moon. One would think that there would be a bit more of an emphasis on realism, but, then, how many fairies would be able to point out the errors in a sky they only saw every few years on Ritual outings?
After about five minutes, during which time Holly was soaked right through her combat boots, the rain stopped and the sopping fairies began to disperse, chattering on about warm soup and dry towels available in the central complex. Holly ignored their outward flow, continuing towards the granite walls. Without proper heating to match the warm rainfall, the soaked grass tickling her hips soon grew cool and more natural-feeling, though it made Holly shiver.
"Artemis!" She called, trying to rub her clammy hands together for warmth. "Artemis, are you—"
Then she saw him and sighed in relief, knowing her ordeal was almost over. "Artemis!
Breaking into a jog, her passage making dewdrops fly off the long grass and wildflowers, she crossed the rest of the field.
He was no more than a hundred feet from the edge of the compound, sitting under a young yew, its branches barely twice his height, facing away from the end to the false bit of nature. Behind him, the trees thickened to mask the rock walls, in the hopes of convincing visitors that they played under the infinite expanse of a tumultuous Irish sky.
At first, as Holly arrived at his side and whispered his name, Artemis did not respond. He continued looking ahead, eyes unfocused and barely blinking away the water that fell from his forelocks. Only when she lay a hand on his shoulder did the man jolt back into this world, leaning away so he could look up at the intruder.
"Holly," muttered, "what are you...oh, d'arvit, you're soaked."
Standing, Artemis began to unbutton his coat, but as he swept it off his shoulder and prepared to wrap up his lady, he paused. Water dripped from the sleeves of the jacket, which hung like something long-dead and rotting. He stared at it for a while, then looked away from her as he folded the ruined covering over one arm. "I'm afraid I come ill-equipped."
"It's o-o-o-o-k-kay," Holly said, cursing her chattering teeth. When Artemis opened his free arm, she leaned against his chest—ignoring the squish of his sodden shirt—and tried desperately to combine their body heat. Like all elves—except perhaps the Irish-born Fowl—she loathed the cold. "N-nice place," she ventured, vowing to get hard liquor and hot soup into them as soon as possible. The alcohol might not help their actual body temperature, but it would at least feel warm.
"Mmm," Artemis acknowledged, resting his chin on her head.
Finding the silence unsatisfactory, Holly prodded further. "Been here long?"
"Since early evening."
"Exploring the park?"
Holly felt the tilting of Artemis's chin on her skull as he shook his head. "No. I've been right here. In this spot."
"Artemis!" She gasped, pulling back. "You idiot, it's f-freezing out here! What are you doing?"
"It's not so bad when they turn the water on," he argued. His lips—blue with the cold—twitched as he realized that she was looking at them in shock. "It was foolish, I suppose. Come. Let's go get you warm."
He began to move her away from the tree, but was stopped as Holly's hands came up to cup his face. She looked into his eyes, smoothing back the dripping hair from his brow for just a moment before holding on again. "Tell me, Artemis. Please."
What desires for mystery he retained while trying to attend to her chill was lost at the entreaty, but Artemis did not crumble. Merely sighing, he lowered his lips to brush against Holly's forehead, the kiss cold but tender. "I just...I miss the rain."
Next time on Fowl Ties: Homecomings, celebrations, and more than a few surprises.
Chapter 19: Several surprises
Artemis's day of being a sodden mess had one major advantage: in order to fight off hypothermia, he had expended nearly all of his magic, necessitating the performance of the Ritual as soon as possible. With just a little bit of finagling and a few pointed threats from their advocate (Wing Commander Vinyáya), Artemis and Holly were issued an extended surface visa. What they did up in the fresh air was left to their own devices, so long as they were discreet and had no contact with uninformed humans.
They had to take a commercial shuttle, so Artemis spent the entire trip fighting the urge to talk about Fowl Manor, as the nearby fairies would doubtless have raised large protests. All of his family would be in residence, and even Juliet was flying over to see the newly miniaturized genius. Minerva was being vague on her presence, and Artemis was unsure if having her about would be good or bad, based on the flash in Holly's eyes whenever the name was brought up. Telling her about the forehead kiss during their game a few weeks ago seemed like a terrible idea, in retrospect. Still, this meant every surface-dweller he could see was at least considering attendance, and Artemis couldn't have been happier.
Except for a certain warning from Butler about things he should expect from his mother. He still hadn't had the courage to tell Holly.
Still, Artemis remained firmly in the land of jubilation until the second leg of their trip began.
"Holly," he protested, trying to look over his shoulder at her, but she was shifting about too much to gain any sort of focus, "can't we just get Butler to pick us up? It's no trouble."
"We can't show any evidence to the People of these visits. Foaly is making sure Fowl Manor is a no-fly, surveillance-free zone, and I told everyone we're going camping, so no getting picked up by Butler."
"Camping?" Artemis said, and he was suddenly sure he had never said this vile word before. "Firstly, who would believe you could make me do such a thing and, second, how are you going to convince people when we get back?"
"Firstly," Holly repeated back sarcastically, pulling on a strap with all her strength, "pretty much anyone who has read a newspaper. Secondly, I'm going to make sure you're exhausted, very dirty, and very, very sweaty when we get back to the shuttle." She gave one hard smack to Artemis's ass to drive her point home before stepping back to inspect her work. "Besides, if we take the Bentley, then you don't get to test run these! You and Foaly have been working on them just as long as that daft gun shield."
Artemis did not move, concentrating on his invention. Small sensors attached to his neck caught the nearby electrical charges in his brain, translating them and making a dual set of translucent wings flutter open. Blue wiring ran across the surface in a honeycomb pattern, glowing softly when he flexed the membranes. "I am an inventor, Holly. Not a guinea pig."
"What?" she said, tapping the edges of his wings to ensure they hadn't been damaged in transit. "So I am a guinea pig, then?"
Artemis considered this before looking over his shoulder, one corner of his lips lifted. "I find the idea of comparing my sexual partner to a rodent to be...somewhat nauseating, actually."
Holly—busy strapping in her own LEP version of the prototype wings—also looked disturbed, and decided to ignore the idea entirely. "Well, if you don't want to test these out, you can walk."
"It's miles to the Manor!"
"Then that will give you a chance to walk off all the calories Mother-Hen Butler is going to shove down your throat." Her rigging finally attached, Holly's wings (which had a yellow glow, instead of blue) shot out. She began to rise in the air, looking at the grass below her and smiling. There wasn't a ruffle of wind to be seen, and the wing design—inspired by snowy owls, Artemis had explained—meant there was also no sound. The only reason the lights had been placed on these models was to help Artemis follow her during their flight today. Minus illumination, this new design would be completely undetectable, not to mention more efficient and environmentally friendly.
She was never going to hear the end of the techies' bragging.
"Come on, Artemis. It's the easiest set of controls ever. Just think of where to go, and the sensors will pick up on your thoughts and take you there."
"I did make these, Holly," Artemis grumbled, slitting his eyes in concentration. He thought about going forward, slowly. Hid body obeyed, rising and drifting forward. Finding himself right-side up and uninjured, he smirked. "Perfect."
"Of course," Holly indulged. "Now, we're going to start at 100 kph for this trip, to allow you to adjust, going North-East at a height of 100 feet. We should arrive at Fowl Manor in roughly 30 minutes. Full shield, no detours, minimal use of intecom. Do not lower your shield until orders are given. All clear?"
Artemis rolled his eyes at his lover. "Do you intend to order me around like a recruit for this entire trip, or is this just nerves?"
Holly scowled at the informality. Then her joy at being in the fresh air overtook her and she did an experimental backflip, ending with a wink. "You follow my orders now, and later tonight..."
Artemis had a brief internal battle with his excitement, and merely nodded, snapping to a thoroughly military attention. "Yes, ma'am. All clear." Images of his old bedroom flashed across his mind, and the wings responded so that he began to flutter sideways. Schooling his thoughts, he returned to hover directly before the major. He'd need to lower the sensitivity of the mind-reading components, or every mixed-gender squad that went out would have fairies accidentally flying up each-others asses. And some of the single-gender squads, for the matter.
"All right!" Holly began to wink out of existence as her shields went up, leaving only a faint yellow glow in the air. "Move out!"
They were off (forgive the cliché) like rockets, and whatever thoughts Artemis had of pouncing once they were retired to his childhood bedroom became lost, all thought going to aiming himself and not screaming like a castrato. He had no problems maneuvering—Foaly had made this rigging so simple that even a child on their first Ritual trip could navigate—but the mere idea of how fast he was going was enough to give him a healthy respect for any tall tree that came into his flight path. One good hit against a thick branch and, magic be damned, he was so much ground beef.
Only when the landscape began to grow familiar did he relax. There was the stream his mother had taken to dragging the family to for weekend picnics. There was the field where his father had lost his first soccer match against Beckett, though he had claimed that it was all a matter of his artificial leg needing a tune-up. In that pond over there, Myles had discovered a new type of stickleback, and had subsequently mapped it's genome in under a month. Even Artemis had paused to be impressed by that one.
For perhaps the first time, Artemis could appreciate the sense of violation the People felt whenever they considered the surface. These were the memories of his lifetime, and only a few years of it. If he brought Qwan—the last living fairy who had resided lawfully on the surface—to this land, what could he point out? Scenes of battles, forgotten graves, long-destroyed villages. Thousands of years of civilization. Good memories, smoothed over with asphalt and chain stores. Artemis wondered if this sudden resentment for humans was an elf race trait (and if Holly had felt something of this every time they talked to one another before his change), when the occasional, forgettable groupings of light on the horizon suddenly seemed far less insignificant. Far more...right.
Fowl Manor rested ahead, the downstairs lights on to act as a beacon for it's wayward son.
They touched down on the front lawn and Artemis waited obediently, only unshielding when Holly gave the all-clear. Once they were fully visible, Holly had to practically leap up the human-sized front steps, but Artemis hesitated. Now that he was finally here, he felt his stomach twisting in a quite uncharacteristic fashion.
Noticing his back position, Holly turned and regarded her mate, smiling encouragement. "Nervous?"
He nodded, unashamed. "It's been six months." And yet it felt so much longer. He suddenly felt the ninety-something that Holly was, instead of his own early-twenties.
"You've been e-mailing them," Holly pointed out. "Even a few video chats. It's not like you shunned them."
"Yes, but..." Artemis looked to her. "The last time I was gone this long..."
"They nearly went into a seizure of happiness when you came back. Now, come on," she ordered, taking a step down the stairs and offering her hand to the man, pulling him up to the covered entryway. "We've only got a few days. No wasting time."
"Yes...right," Artemis reluctantly agreed, mounting the final steps with her. The fact that they hadn't been so proportionally sized to him since he was seven years old was doing little to help his childish reluctance. He jogged the final steps with the impatient woman, and the months joining her and the centaurs in their evening exercises meant that he did not finish with a shortness of breath he would have experienced before the change.
They paused before the giant oak front doors. His hand drifted to the brass handles, and then hesitated. Shaking his head, Artemis knocked briskly.
Holly rolled her eyes. "Its still your house, and they're expecting you."
Sniffing in a dignified manner, Artemis remonstrated, "It would be rude. What if they aren't ready? I shooof!"
Artemis nearly tumbled backward down the stairs as a brown-haired tornado impacted at gut-level.
"Artemis!" Lucy shrieked, making both elves wince. "Acorn is going to have a foal!"
Whatever greeting he'd expected, this was not it. Still, he responded as naturally as he could, trying to crane his head to get a look at his sister's eyes. "Really? By?"
Removing her head from her brother's stomach, Lucy looked up, chocolate eyes wide. "Heart of Gold," she whispered.
Her awe was justified by Artemis's raised brows. "Dear gods. How did you manage that?"
A deep chuckle came from the vestibule. "An incident involving some previously...unnoticed wood rot in his stall at the last show."
Artemis looked up, brows drawn in confusion. His jaw promptly dropped.
"Hey, Bro," Beckett greeted, words rolling out in a firm baritone that seemed disproportionate to his mid-puberty body.
"That is why you only ever e-mailed!" Artemis exclaimed, wrapping an arm around Lucy's shoulder to take her with him as he went to stand before his brother. "When?"
"Not long after you left." Beckett ruffled his hair, turning it from the carefully styled faux-bedhead common at the time to a true mess, which still managed to look quite fetching, even on someone who was still far from adulthood. "Sorry, but I wanted to surprised you."
"You have succeeded," Artemis praised, shaking Beckett's hand in congratulation, accepting the younger brother's punch to the shoulder and only rocking back a few degrees. "And Myles?" He looked around the sporty twin's shoulders, knowing that his counterpart was rarely too far off.
"O...over here," came a quiet voice.
Artemis sidled past Beckett, already bright face shining even more brilliantly as he saw the most mentally gifted of his siblings. Family is not supposed to play favorites, but they had always got along the best of any of the Fowls, excepting the natural inclination of twins to share closer bonds. "Myles. You have been keeping out of the news for a few months. What in the world are you working on?"
Myles seemed to be trying to smile, but his lips only got thinner as he shrugged. "Mmmm."
"Secret, eh? I suppose I understand that," Artemis said as he turned his head to cast his eyes over the best secret he'd ever kept. "Where is everyone else? Mother, Father, Butler?"
"Mmmm..." Myles swallowed and took a deep breath. "Mum is in the kiIIIItchen." His lips snapped thin again.
Beckett roared with laughter, his deep tones bouncing about the small vestibule. "Oh, God, I've been waiting for that all week!"
Myles scowled at his brother. "It IIIsn't fUUnny!"
Holly had to cover her mouth with a hand to keep from being offensively amused as she approached. "Oh, come on! You're halfway there!"
"Beckett barely did that at all," Lucy confided as the elf came to stand by her side. "Myles has been like this for two months."
"It's thAAt stupID milk hEEE drinks at schOOl! It's got BGH in it!"
Beckett chuckled, deliberately going into his deepest tones. "Or maybe it's all those testosterone-pumping sports I play, eh? Can't exactly get your blood running hot with some chemicals, can you? Unless you're...ya know...weird like that." Beckett grinned, looking between his two elder brothers, who probably could get a bit hot under the collar from test tubes and tinctures.
"ArTEmis! Will it ever ENd?" Myles may have been a genius himself, but puberty could make even the smartest person doubt decades of well-conducted studies with a single thought: is this normal?
"I did it myself for about four months, when I was thirteen," Artemis confided.
Holly looked at him, a brow rising. "Really? We were talking a lot back then, and I never recall your voice cracking." In fact, all she recalled was one day ringing him up for a case and spending five minutes unable to remember the clues because her human friend sounded so different. His determination to address the case and ignore her questions had made it all the more difficult to concentrate.
"I designed a voice modulator to use when talking to you. You really never noticed?"
"Never!" Holly found herself mourning the loss of squeaky-voiced Artemis. It would have been killer blackmail material.
"Really?" Myles breathed reverently "I tried to make one, but it's too buggy to use in public."
"Hmmm...well, I wasn't out in public much, at the time, but...maybe we can take a look at your code, and see where you could implement some fairy techniques."
"You think so? I don't know if it needs software so much as something in the hardware. Maybe a faulty processor..."
"Don't negate the idea that a different programming language might handle things better. I had to create a whole new language for my audio converter."
"Really? What was it called?"
"I never finalized a name, but I did fancy that 'Masculinizing Audio Notation Vocal Output with Independent Simultaneous Equalization' or 'Man—'"
"Neeeeeeeerds," Holly and Beckett interrupted, giving each other pleased smiles at their syncronicity, while Myles and Artemis became similarly matched, though their looks were instead indignant, as could be expected.
"I believe you have...oh...parents?" Holly reminded. "And I think Butler would die of a broken heart if you didn't go see him before looking at a computer screen."
"Ah," Artemis subsided from his tech euphoria. He and Myles had enjoyed theoretical talks before, but it appeared Foaly had awakened in the Mud-Elf a manic glee over invention and improvements. With the prospect of mental manipulations suddenly taken away, Artemis was reminded of his duties, and it was like a wet fish to the back of the neck. "Right. Well...shall we?" He swallowed.
"We shall," Holly confirmed, tucking her elbow about his and dragging Artemis—his siblings following—towards the kitchen.
The difference in volume between the opening of the front door and the opening of the kitchen can not be more over emphasized. Lucy was an explosion against Artemis's chest. Angeline was the vacuum of space, robbing his lungs of every life-giving atom.
She stood at one of the many stainless steel sinks, busy taking the stems off strawberries and cutting them into fairy-bite-sizes, placing the small bits into a bowl of cream. When the door opened, she slowly turned her head, well aware of what she would see, but no less discomposed by the sight. She put the knife down, steel blade ticking softly on the black granite counter. She placed the back of a wet and faintly red-stained hand to her mouth, barely breathing behind it as she took a single step towards the door. She came to a faltering stop, blue skirt shifting about her bare feet. "Ah...Arty?" She squeezed her hand to a fist, a tear dropping from her cheek to darken her white blouse.
Artemis swallowed and nodded. "Yes...Mum."
"Oh, Arty!" Angeline cried, flying across the room and dropping to her knees to pull her eldest and smallest son into her arms. "Arty, you're home!"
Artemis stiffened for a moment, unused to such a burst of affection, even from his mother. It was, thankfully, this point where another trait of being an elf poked through his normal stoicism, and he whispered, "Mum," again before throwing his arms about her neck, letting himself be pulled even tighter to her body. "Gods, it's good to be home."
"Go-ods!" Angeline laughed, holding onto his shoulders so she could get a full-body overview of her son. "You little heathen," she chided, with enough twinkle in her eyes to put keep him at ease. "Grandma Broekhart must be spinning in her grave."
"Regina was cremated, Mum."
"You know what I mean. Tch..." Angeline squeezed her son's shoulders experimentally. "I expected you to be rail-thin, going practically vegetarian, but you look...very healthy. Although, Arty, I'm sorry, but...Spandex does not suit you."
With a suddenly aware groan, Artemis looked down at his civilian-grade black flight gear. "It's so my clothes don't fall apart when I shield. Butler should have some extras for us."
"You can shield, then?" Angeline asked, and her look of faint surprised somewhat offended her son.
"Yes. And heal, and we think I can use the mesmer, but it's a bit hard to be sure, with the Book's restrictions."
"Well...your father will be interested in hearing that. He is quite taken up with the idea of the mesmer."
"Ah...you do not approve," Artemis concluded. He had no clue what his father could be interested in the mind control technique for, though he had all faith it was nothing truly immoral, but Angeline would forever be wary of her husband's lawless days. "Speaking of, where is father? And Butler?"
"Together, actually. Sharing a drink in the parlor. I swear, those two have been jumpier this past week than I ever saw them when something illegal was involved." She rolled her eyes, standing and flipping a hand at the grand dining room's door, though which the next room—the parlor—could be accessed. "You go and see them. You three, go wash up for dinner. Holly, help me finish up these strawberries—Artemis did say strawberries are your favorite food, correct?—and we can have a quick chat, hmmm?"
Artemis looked to his mate, serene, expecting her to be excited over the prospect of Fowl Manor strawberries—undoubtedly organic and picked just hours before—but instead saw her face was almost as white as his own. Reaching out, he squeezed her arm, rubbing his thumb across her skin. "I'll bring back your change of clothes, love." Recognizing he'd let the word out naturally—with his mother just feet away—he felt a flash of heat go up his neck.
Angeline had noted the pet name, but was kind enough to let it go without comment. Inside, she rejoiced that her son could have ever found someone that he could make such a tiny mistake over.
Opting out of further exposure and embarrassment, Artemis left the kitchen, going into the Manor's main dining room.
This was certainly not where the Fowl's and Butler would be dining that evening. This was the room of power. Where business partners—legal, illegal, and some in-between—would be brought. It was dominated by an ancient wood table which, despite it's incredible length, was all a single piece, with the chairs all having been hewn from the same massive tree. Artemis could feel a sort of echoing spark as he laid his hand on a chair in passing, as something like the spirit of that long-dead tree whispered to him. He was pleased to note that the spark did not cause him pain or discomfort. Something about it's presence here agreed with the oak. At this realization, Artemis had to smirk. He truly was an elf, now, listening to the trees. Next thing he knew, he'd be petting the balustrade and congratulating the doors for opening and closing so well.
Eventually—the dining room being indeed rather long—Artemis pressed open the door at the end (Wonderful job; barely a squeak.) and looked inside.
It was a small room, designed to contain only a few of the Fowl Empires' closest business associates, and most often only containing one man. Gerald Fowl had passed almost two decades ago, but little puffs of ancient cigar smoke could still be released if one sat on his favored red velvet chair with too much drama. Like the room before, the two narrower walls had oak doors (Artemis had to wonder why his ancestors had used so much oak, as the table was also of the important wood; Hugo de Fole looking to impress the People, or just trying to piss them off?), while in here, the other two walls were lined with one of the most well-stocked liquor cabinets in all Ireland. Gerald had been forced to give up liquor when his psoriasis had begun to develop, and Artemis Sr. had never been fond of drinking, so the few hundred bottles in the room—all behind glass and oak doors, with small gold labels to identify their provenance—were growing more valuable by the day. Before long, it was likely that this room alone could be sold off to fund a minor Fowl family business.
One bottle at least was being depreciated in value as the two men in the room sipped their small glasses. Butler and Artemis Sr. sat across from each other, his father studying the chess board.
Butler had looked up even before Artemis made it through the door, but the far less-trained Mr. Fowl continued with his back to the entryway, head down. Artemis gave Butler a querying look, unsure how to interrupt, but all the bodyguard did was sweep his hand in a small go-ahead gesture, picking up his tumbler and sitting back to enjoy the surprise.
Artemis walked to the side of his father's chair, resting an elbow on the arm rest as he studied the chess board. "Da...are you losing to Butler?"
The man whirled in his chair. "Arty!" With a force that surprised the elf, he crushed his son into a hug, making it seem as if the interference of the chair's sides did not matter. "Yes, yes. I'm afraid my mental faculties fade far more easily under the influence than those of our old soldier." His words did not slur to incomprehension, but the whiskey had brought out more of his accent, and the sound was somehow comforting to the elf. It was a sound of home to any of the People, and especially to one such as he.
"I shall abstain during dinner and trounce you before retiring, Butler," Timmy said, pushing himself out of his chair and wincing as his false leg took on half his body weight. To hide the moment of pain, he reached up and patted his face, as if needing to smooth down the briskly maintained shape of his mustache and the half-inch beard limited to his chin.
The larger man had also risen and was already crossing the room. "If you can dig yourself out of the hole you so willingly fell into, then I will be duly impressed, Mr. Fowl." He stopped in front of Artemis, looking down on a full-grown man that could generously be called half his size. Butler rested one meaty hand on his charge's shoulder, and there was much room left in his palm. "It's good to have you back, Artemis."
Artemis sighed, content. "It's good to be back, old friend."
The room remained stuck in a companionable male silence for several minutes, knowing that nothing else could or should be said. Catching up could come later. Now, they absorbed one another's presence, letting liquor settle and chessmen go at-ease, a ceasefire called in their military maneuvers
It was not any of these that broke the silence. Beckett and Myles entered, unannounced only because the elder brother had arrived just before his more hyperactive counterpart. Myles had just opened his mouth to talk, but Beckett hip-checked him aside, too enamored of his own baritone to allow Myles speech for at least a few more weeks. "Mum says we're all set, though I'd appreciate it if you didn't sit at the table looking like an emaciated Power Ranger."
Artemis glared at his brother, who rumbled out a laugh. He thanked the gods that the People did not have voices that were as sharp as they should be on a human. An average-sized elf was just as deep-toned as an average-sized human. If his voice had gone squeaky with the transformation...he barely shuddered, then nearly crumpled as Butler patted his shoulder.
"Come on. I have your things laid out."
Artemis had already changed into what he had to admit was a rather comfortable—if terribly casual—pair of slacks and a blue sweater when he handed Holly her change of clothes. She barely registered the weight in her arms. She merely nodded and walked past him, into one of the downstairs bathrooms to change.
Artemis watched her go, and then turned to his mother and Lucy. "Did something happen?"
"Nothing, dear," Angeline chirruped, picking up a chafing dish and exiting to the family dining room.
Lucy, who had a much smaller chafing dish, met Artemis's eyes and shook her head very, very slowly. Then she turned and followed her mother, leaving Artemis to wonder what, precisely, could have been done to so thoroughly ruin his mate, who had faced on horny trolls while in a state of mild bondage with a minor and only come back with a few "d'arvits."
He waited for her to return, and had his mouth open to question, but it was almost smushed into her open palm as she came to his side. "Don't ask," Holly ordered. "Just...dear gods, don't ask."
By now, Artemis knew well enough to do what Holly said. It was just a wise thing to do. He wasn't whipped. No, not at all.
They arranged themselves about the table, which groaned under one of Butler's French feasts, and were about to begin when the great god Murphy, in his infinite wisdom, stretched out his glorious hand and did his work.
Angeline's cell phone rang.
"Oh, for goodness...!" She whipped her phone from her dress pocket ("No one told me dresses can have pockets!" Holly hissed at Artemis, outraged) and was about to deny the call when she caught the caller's name. "Oh, it's Juliet! Sorry, everyone, give me just a minute. Start serving yourselves." Flipping open the phone and greeting her unofficial eldest daughter cheerfully, Angeline drifted from the table.
As the vegetarian dishes (Beckett stuck out his tongue at Artemis and got a quelling look from his father for the impertinence) were passed around, all listened in on half of the conversation.
"Juliet, dear, is everything all right? What time is it there? You didn't miss your flight, did you? ...Added a layover in Los Angeles? Why ever would you do that? It's so far out of your way! ...Oh, really? How exciting! I've always wanted to meet him! ...Unexpected? ...Well, out with it, dear. Whatever it is, I'm sure— ...Oh. ...Oh. Yes, I see. ...Well, I suppose, yes. That's what you're supposed to do, but you shouldn't force... Oh, really? Well, what wonderful timing! ...No, no trouble at all! ...If I couldn't set up something like that by Saturday, during the off-season, I would really be getting old. ...No, don't even worry yourself about it. I know your style. ...It will be fine, Juliet. …Oh, dear, I love you, too. Now stop crying and get on that plane! I'll handle telling your brother. ...Yes, I imagine I'll need it. See you tomorrow. Bye." She flipped the phone closed, turned off all ring and vibrate functions, and reclaimed her seat.
Butler's eyes were riveted on his employer. "Los Angeles?" He knew the answer even before she had finished chewing her first bite.
"Juliet is bringing Jimmy along," Mrs. Fowl said, as if she were mentioning whether the blonde had obtained a window seat.
Artemis scowled. "That suitor of hers? Mum, he can't come! Holly and I will have to hide if he's around! The Council would never clear us to expose ourselves to him!"
"I know, Arty," Angeline commiserated, shaking her head. "It will only be until Saturday evening, and that night they'll stay at a hotel, and fly out for the honeymoon the next morning."
Butler exploded. Almost literally. "The WHAT?"
"A tour of France would be a nice wedding gift, I believe. He hasn't been there since his Blue Diamond training, she said."
"I think," Butler hissed through clenched teeth, "that you chose the wrong word, Mrs. Fowl. 'Vacation.' You see, 'honeymoon' implies..." He couldn't finish, though his expression showed that the implied word might, in fact, be "genocide."
"That they're getting married? Yes." Angeline sipped her wine and sighed, as would any hopeless romantic. "He proposed a week ago, and she was intending to surprise us. They'd planned on next spring, but thought it best to push things forward when the wrestling league's doctor told Juliet she's pregnant."
Next time, on Fowl Ties: Oh...you don't want to see him when he's angry...
Chapter 20: Easily broken
"Oh. Damn." Timmy said, though rather calmly. "Everyone, grab the food and back away."
All but Artemis looked puzzled and all but Butler complied.
Butler, as his contribution, stood so fast his chair flew back, cracking against the wall and scraping the gold-leaf paper, and then brought his hands down on the glass table. It wobbled for a split second, making a faintly bell-like sound, and then shattered, glass shards, none bigger than a coin, falling down onto the rug below like a deadly rain.
Lucy shrieked and jumped further back, hiding behind her mother, while Beckett and Myles edged closer together. Artemis was satisfied to find himself calm, though he did note that Holly seemed even cooler in her battle-ready state, eyes trained on Butler, legs bent and ready to send her springing wherever she was needed.
Artemis was about to speak to his former bodyguard, but his father sighed and waved at the family. "The banquet hall, then. Butler, if you would stay in here with me until you are calm. The table in there is an antique." He seemed unconcerned over the table itself, but looked forlornly at the vibrant carpet, which he very much doubted could be saved.
"Calm?" Butler squeaked the preposterous word. "Calm? Did you just hear...she said...the second I see that Chu, I am going to rip off his MPH!"
In a stunning display of bravado, Mr. Fowl placed his hand over Butler's spouting mouth. "My good man." He gestured at the rest of the eaters. "Please. Ladies and children are present."
Artemis smirked and considered telling his father the sorts of things Holly had said to him over the past few months, but he rather thought a good deal of it would be lost in translation. Kinks are surprisingly societal.
Butler leaned back, freeing his mouth. "My little sister is pregnant!"
"Yes. And there is to be a wedding." Timmy clapped a hand to Butler's shoulder. "Congratulations!"
As can be imagined, this did not improve Butler's view of the situation. Fowl Senior remained in the room to give the bodyguard what fatherly wisdom he could provide, considering the bodyguard was, in fact, a few years his senior (and many more, with fairy intervention involved). The rest of the family adjourned to the echoing banquet hall for a subdued dinner. All attempts at conversation were either swallowed up by the vaulted ceiling or interrupted by yet another bellow from the family dining room. The food itself seemed to taste wrong, as if the rage of the cook had been retroactively added.
Artemis and Holly had been shifting their schedules over the last few days, waking earlier and earlier, trying to get in sync with his diurnal family, but they were still some hours off. Artemis had just begun to feel his fatigue when Lucy crossed her arms on the table and lay her head down in their curve. A bit of her brown hair fell into the sauces on her plate, but she was far beyond caring.
Angeline took the cue eagerly, betraying her true intentions by a brief look back towards the room where her husband was hopefully settling their family friend into some sort of temporary peace. "We are all up quite past our bedtimes, I think. Holly, let me show you to your room."
Artemis shook off his fatigue, eyes snapping to the matron Fowl. "Her room?"
Holly jabbed her elbow into Artemis's ribs.
Artemis glared at the woman. "You will stay—hurk"
Holly jabbed Artemis harder, eyes blazing.
Artemis's following curse was drowned out by Lucy's voice, which began at a normal octave, but rose with the speed of an opera prima donna. "NooooooooooOOOOOO! Holly, you can't goooooo! You haven't told me a story in for-EV-er!" She flopped her torso onto the table, displaying the severity of her withdrawal.
Angeline frowned, but Holly gave the woman the smallest of smiles and spoke far softer than Artemis was accustomed. "I'm fine, Miss Fowl. I know the room you're talking about. I can find it on my own, after story time."
After quite some pause and intense looking-down on the elf, brows barely raised, Angeline clipped, "I trust you can, Holly."
Holly swallowed and nodded, rising from her seat and taking Lucy's hand, guiding her towards one of the banquet hall doors. Even though they were roughly the same height, there was definitely something mature about Holly that differentiated her from the girl. Artemis almost expected Holly to stoop and offer a piggy-back ride to his sister, as she had done several times in years previous. Luckily for Holly's spine, Lucy didn't demand, and they were soon out of the room, leaving Artemis to turn to his mother, who had her hands on the table.
Rather close to the sharper silverware.
Despite the comfort of his own former territory, Artemis could feel his ire rising and he crossed his arms over his chest, giving her a look that was as Fowl as he dared use on the woman (which, admittedly, was nowhere near his full powers). "Mother. What is going on?"
"Planning, planning, too much planning." Angeline sighed, looking to the ceiling, resting an elbow on the wood and propping her head. "I was really not anticipating this. I thought Juliet had a bit more foresight, but I suppose everyone is young and foolish on occasion. Her occasion was simply the most poorly timed one possible."
Artemis closed his eyes briefly, breathing slow. He had to wonder how well he would have dealt with such an answer before his move to Haven and Holly's civilizing influence. Though, on the other hand, he did have the emotions of an elf, as well, so perhaps it all evened out. Looking up at his mother once more, he tried again. "You seem to have greatly alarmed Holly. I would like to know why."
Angeline looked shocked. "Alarmed? Why, whatever do you mean, Arty?"
"Can we please stop trying to deny the main points here? When I came back into the kitchen, she was more nervous than I have ever seen her. And...her room, Mum?"
"It's the green room, in the east wing. She'll get plenty of early morning sunlight there, and the bathroom is just fabulous." Angeline smiled, dimples coming to her cheeks. When her son continued to glower, she raised a hand to press her index finger to her lips. "Oh dear. Will that wake her too early? Shall I move her to a different room? Juliet's room is already aired, and we can have another room prepared by tomorrow night."
"Holly," Artemis said evenly, "will be just fine with me."
Angeline was, like any socialite, a masterful actor. She could have taken such news with not so much as a flinch, and more graphic descriptions of why her son wished to cohabit with the same dignity.
Instead, her eyes narrowed so sharply that Artemis's mouth clicked closed the second his sentence was through. She gave him plenty of time to back-pedal and, when he did not, deigned to speak in a reasonable tone. "Arty. I understand that you and Holly have that sort of...relationship. And that it is not entirely uncommon in your generation. And," she sighed, letting a hand drift through the air, seeming to, just by chance, tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, "I will not deny that your father and I know what those temptations are like..."
Artemis would have gladly surrendered that very moment if it would have allowed him to forget what his mother had just said.
"But your father and I need to set an example for your brothers and Lucy, and if they see that we have let the two of you sleep in the same room, then they'll expect the same when they are in relationships." She wrinkled her nose. "It would be a very improper precedent to set, especially with Juliet needing to get married so quickly. As a parent, I must set a good example for the young children in this house. I trust that the two of you can stand to be apart for a few nights."
Artemis could not come up with a clever response to this. He had not thought about it before, be he was having a hard time recalling the last night that he and Holly had not shared a bed.
"Now, you should head off to sleep yourself. Juliet's plane will be in early, and I want everyone up and ready for her. She is going to need the warm welcome, I think."
Artemis clenched his teeth on the retort about what warm things he needed. It might have stopped his mother's musing, but would have been awkward enough to make him wish a quick death upon himself. "Mother. Think of the security risks, at least. Putting us in different rooms doubles the chances of discovery. More than doubles, in fact; my room has excellent security, and Mr. Chu will not find it odd that he is not allowed in my room, as he—and the world at large—believe me dead." He caught a brief flash of pain in his mother's eyes, and nearly lost his desire to continue the argument. "If...if Holly and I share a room, it would be far simpler and—"
"Arty, just stop," Angeline interrupted, "you are not going to win this argument."
Artemis was more than a little insulted. "Mum, simply consider all the factors. I believe—"
"Artemis Percival Fowl!"
Never in his life had Artemis been three-named, but some instinct common to all children made his words die.
With the cool smoothness of a born socialite, Angeline rose from her seat. "Make all the arguments you want, but I'm afraid none of them will work." Hands on her hips, Angeline bent over, giving her son the fiercest, most motherly glare to which he had yet been subject. "I am your mother. This is my house. And what I say...goes. Now. To bed."
Artemis himself did not make the retreat, but Angeline saved him having to lose face by turning herself, taking quick strides out of the banquet hall, leaving her son to scramble for some final argument long after the battle was lost.
What Angeline had said wasn't true, of course. Artemis Fowl won arguments. Not that he was always right. Beating his combatants had become so common that he often had to conduct the argument in his own head to discover if he was, in the fact, wrong. He did not do this now, however. While his mother might have had legitimate concerns about how to raise her children and set good examples, if that interfered with his time with his lover, he was having none of that logic.
But he was also unwilling to cause hard feelings between his family this early in the trip. It was only three nights. Tonight, he could suffer through, and the next two he would surely have Holly on his side and, therefore, at his side.
So, dragging his feet somewhat, Artemis left the dining hall and made his way up the ludicrously oversized staircase—he'd never realized how absurd it looked, but it certainly felt over the top now that he had to bring his leg up practically to his chest to get to the next step—and towards his bedroom.
He had disabled the passcode on the door when he moved out, but the young man still found himself almost through with the muscle-memory motions before he came to his senses and canceled out the command. Feeling somewhat ill at ease with the idea of not having his space locked down like...well, Fort Knox was no longer a good comparison...locked down like the Ops Booth, he turned the doorknob and walked in.
It was a bit of a blow. So very...unchanged. His family was not some middle-class household strapped for space, eagerly converting a college-bound child's room to storage, but he had expected...some kind of change. The trading out of a piece of furniture for another, giving his brothers a better option. Some books taken or deposited on his shelves. Perhaps a new set of bedsheets, to more effectively pull the decorations together. Instead, it was just...the same. The only slight difference was the luggage he had sent ahead, tucked into a corner, seemingly hiding in the shadows, aware of its intrusion.
Artemis had told Angeline that Juliet's beau would expect this room to be a monument to her lost son, but now he wondered if this was perhaps true. He'd like to have asked Holly what she thought. Though she probably would have failed to notice anything, in favor of crashing for the night, and that would have distracted himself enough to allow him some rest.
Instead, Artemis prepared himself for bed, struggling with the high bathroom sink and really disturbed that he was giving his own toilet a distrustful look. A few months with the fairies, and he was already thinking like them. At least in regards to the placement of plumbing.
He had to hop to get into his tall, custom-made bed, and Artemis had to wonder how Holly did it so gracefully before the move. Of course, she did so very rarely, and he probably wasn't going to criticize the elf's form when it got her so near to his idea of Heaven.
Having that thought on getting in bed was highly inconvenient, but a steady diet of Holly Short had reduced Artemis's will to handle matters himself. So, somewhat tormented by thoughts of his old self and the unchangeable major in this very place, Artemis lay back in bed, expecting to get very little sleep that night.