Chapter 1: Partings
Chapter 1: Partings
They sit together on an old couch that Dairine dragged into the basement during the summer after her sister, home from college, started to complain that hearing the two of them talking in the next room kept her up all night. At the time, Dairine was glad that talking was all Nita had heard. She and Roshaun had fought each other and themselves for long enough that when they finally, reluctantly, begrudgingly came together as partners in more than just wizardry, the result wasn't exactly quiet.
That first month was a whirlwind as they found or made the time to see each other across what seemed like half the known galaxy. But even for wizards, long-distance relationships are difficult—especially when one of the wizards in question is in charge of ruling an entire planet and the other is applying to colleges in multiple arms of the galaxy.
There were weeks, later on, when at the end of a particularly long day, Dairine gave up her bed in favor of the couch in the basement, hoping that she'd wake up to the slight sizzle and fizz of someone passing through an active worldgate. Sometimes she got lucky. More often her alarm woke her, banishing the vestiges of peace she found most regularly in her dreams.
The visits have been fewer and further between, the last month or so. And when they see each other it's different, even Dairine's noticed. Neither of them wants to talk—their problems have exhausted them, and at the end of the day even the company of another likeminded individual struggling with similar issues can seem like too much. They talked about it all, once, but Dairine's beginning to realize you can only say the same thing so many times before looking for a change.
She's still awake when he appears, Spot acting the part of dutiful computer and allowing her to work on one more college application essay while she waits. Dairine looks up from her work to see a world-weary Roshaun step through the gate, acknowledge her presence, and sit down on the couch beside her. She hits the key command to save her work, then sets Spot down on the floor, where he promptly scampers off out of sight.
Dairine closes her eyes and lets out a long breath as she leans sideways toward Roshaun until her body is angled so that her head rests on his shoulder. She can feel the tension in his muscles, knows it's been another hard day by the way that he doesn't respond to her gesture by putting his arm around her shoulder or leaning his own head against hers in turn. Something is bothering him. She feels a sympathetic stress in the pit of her stomach, halfway between nerve pain and nausea.
It's a while before either of them speaks, and in the end it's Roshaun who says, "This isn't going to work."
The nausea intensifies. She wants to unlean herself from him but she's not sure she has the strength. He looks at her briefly, then turns away, as though afraid of how she'll respond. Maybe he thinks she'll yell, or cry—that this will be the final straw, the moment that is just too much.
Dairine does not yell, and she does not cry. She feels his words sink through her like a heavy stone through deep water, inevitable motion despite its deceptive slowness, and says, "I know."
The silence resumes, leaving her acutely aware of his proximity, the warmth of him against the right side of her body. Neither of them moves to break the connection, but they don't look at each other anymore either, just keep staring in front of them, intent not to lock gazes.
"We're still friends," he says, and she's impressed that he makes it a statement instead of the question that's lingering on her own lips.
She nods against his shoulder. Although she knows objectively that he has to leave, and sooner would be smarter, there's something about having someone physically there for you, someone to lean on. "Penpals," she suggests. She knows herself well enough to know that the only way to end this amicably is if she doesn't see him at all for a long while. Maybe, Dairine realizes, she doesn't want to stop touching him because she knows that the next time they make contact it will be as something new, something they've never quite been before. They will still be friends, but she can already tell that her body will be long in forgetting him.
"I believe that would be wise." He shrugs his shoulder ever so slightly, and Dairine removes her head from its customary rest just before Roshaun gets up from the couch and walks over toward the worldgate in the wall. His ceremonial robes swish audibly, heavy as they are with embroidery and expensive fabrics, and for the first time she sees him not as Roshaun, but as the Sun Lord.
He stops in front of the wall, and she sees his neck twitch, as though he means to turn around, to see her one last time, but he masters the desire and steps through the worldgate, deactivating it behind him.
Artemis prides himself on innovation and originality, so it's particularly painful for him to employ clichés, and yet he finds himself facing down Captain Holly Short with nothing under his belt other than the perennial favorite: "That's just not fair."
She arches an eyebrow at him, surveying him with her hazel eyes, and even though they're both standing and he's the taller one by half a meter at least, something about the gaze makes him feel small. Worse still, it makes him feel young. "You're the genius," she says, a healthy dose of sarcasm in her words. "You shouldn't be so surprised. You know the People could never let a Mud Boy—"
"I'm eighteen now, Captain," he interrupts, and even through the void of disappointment he finds some pleasure in the look of consternation on her face. "Certainly I at least deserve the title 'Mud Man'?"
Holly raises an eyebrow at him, with a look that says, Don't play the age game with me. We both know who wins. And neither of us likes that. "We can't let a Mud Boy," she repeats, "gain access to the most prestigious institution of higher learning under this earth. Do you know how much public panic is caused by your mere presence below ground? And you think the LEP is going to authorize you to attend school here, on a regular basis, to learn the secrets of Fairy technology?"
Artemis realizes he shouldn't be quite so indignant. The LEP responded with the logical answer to a ludicrous request; they did exactly what he would have done if one of his arch-nemeses had approached him and asked for tutelage.
Well, not exactly. The fairies didn't take Artemis's play for knowledge as a threat. Artemis would never write off such a request from an adversary. But the People, for all they know, don't know Artemis as well as he knows himself.
At least, most of them don't.
Her voice softer, Holly adds, "Artemis—I'm sure that going through polite channels to get into the Lower Elements Science Academy was only your first move."
Artemis tries his best to project nonchalance and unconcern. But he doesn't feel it. If anything he feels a gnawing detachment, a gap between how things are and how they ought to be. "And if it is?"
Holly reaches out her hand, as if to touch his arm, but drops it suddenly in the moment before contact. "Go back to the surface," she says. "Spend some time with your own kind for a while."
He dares to catch her gaze and hold it as he says, "My own kind are no match for me."
He expects a response to the backhanded compliment, and he gets one, but it's not what he expected. She flinches from the words, and there's a sadness in her eyes as she says, softly, "But I'm no match for you either, Artemis. I can't be." She looks away from him and whispers, "Go."
Chapter 2: Meetings
Dairine hears about him before she sees him. Not from anyone in particular, and not by name, but talk about the whip-thin Irish student who shows up to class in suits and has yet to miss a point on a problem set permeates through MIT’s computer science department. She doesn’t take too much notice of it; after all, she’s overheard people talking about her, too, when they think she’s out of earshot, and word on the street is that upperclassmen (and even some graduate students) are wary of the feisty redhead who’s already started to compete with them for research funding.
The university absolutely refuses to allow her to take advanced classes as a first semester freshman. They also absolutely refuse to let her take more than five classes at a time. Dairine’s angry at them for a while, but eventually she’s thankful for the lighter course load; it makes it much easier for her to balance errantry and education. By December, she’s set all the curves and more than a few records in the required introductory courses while simultaneously negotiating a compromise between emerging machine intelligence and native organic lifeforms in a neighboring galactic arm. Not bad, even for her.
Second semester, the university relents and allows her into the advanced classes she wanted to take in the first place. She shows up to the first of these right on time, ignores the stares of her classmates who’ve obviously heard all the rumors, and picks a seat, setting Spot down on the table before her. Now, all eyes are on him instead of on her, and she allows herself a small smile. Even disguised as a computer that she could in all probability have built for herself, he draws admiring gazes. She’d love to see the looks on their faces if they saw him in one of his stranger forms. Even the professor is eyeing Spot with wonder.
Dairine wouldn’t have noticed the boy walk in, but she sees the professor’s gaze slip away from Spot and toward the door, and hers shifts involuntarily in the same direction just in time to catch the entrance of a slim, dark-haired boy in an impeccably tailored suit.
At first glance, Artemis is not impressed. He’s heard stories about this girl, even done the requisite internet searches to find out what he can about the competition, but from everything he’s learned, he wouldn’t have thought she’d look like this: short, freckled, glasses-wearing, wild red hair tied up in a ponytail, and wearing a black t-shirt with the Star Wars logo emblazoned across it. He raises an eyebrow, just a hair, and sighs to himself. He’d expected more of her.
But then his gaze shifts to the laptop she’s set on the desk in front of her and he realizes that behind this devil-may-care façade there’s an intelligence that might even be worth the challenge.
Chapter 3: Conjunctions
“Do you have a partner for the project yet.”
Dairine slips Spot into her messenger bag and looks up. Artemis is there, looming over her, insomuch as someone who hardly outweighs her can loom. “I was going to work on my own.”
“I wasn’t aware that was an option.”
It isn’t. “I was going to talk to the professor about it.” What she really means is that she plans to talk the professor into it. It won’t be the first time.
Artemis raises an eyebrow at her, just slightly, and Dairine suppresses a grin. “Well, if you change your mind, I have some ideas that might catch your interest.”
Dairine stands, slings her bag over her shoulder, and shrugs. No harm in hearing him out. “Such as?”
For the first time, she sees him smile.
The next week after class they go back to his place to work on the project. Artemis carefully observes the look on her face as he unlocks the door and they enter his studio apartment a few blocks from campus. At first there’s shock, probably at its size—quite extravagant for the average student—but that’s quickly replaced by an expression of impressed jealousy. She precedes him into the room and crosses to his “office” corner, with its state-of-the-art computing setup. Dairine just stands there and ogles it for a minute, but only a minute—after that her cheeks redden slightly, and she turns to face Artemis. “Okay, let’s get to work.”
Artemis is not sure how this “working with others” thing is supposed to go. The only person he’s ever met with an intellect to match his own is Foaly, and while he and the centaur have more than once worked on the same team, they’ve never been in charge of the same things at the same time. And Foaly had the advantage of understanding the massive advancements of fairy technology—something Artemis is certain he could master, given the time and opportunity—but of course he had not been given either.
By the time she leaves two hours later, Artemis has come to understand that working with Dairine is nothing like working with Foaly. He’s not sure how, or why, but he knows for sure that it’s better.
For the first time in her practice of the Art, Dairine is upset to be going on errantry, because she hasn’t finished up this project yet and doesn’t want to give that Artemis Fowl any reason to think her inferior. He won’t know that she’s balancing their project with another one assigned by Life Itself, so he might get the wrong idea. He might think that she’s slipping. And that’s the last thing she wants.
Artemis looks at his watch and is mildly surprised to find that it’s two in the morning. He looks up from his computer desk and over to the controlled chaos that is Dairine’s temporary workspace. Over the course of this project more and more of her things have migrated to surround the leather armchair in front of the coffee table that she’s claimed as her own, and she sits in the midst of them now, her computer balanced on her lap, typing furiously, oblivious to the time.
He should tell her it’s late. They have class in eight hours, and he’s beginning to realize she’s always grumpy if she doesn’t get enough sleep.
Instead he smiles—he’s been doing that more often, lately—and says, “How’s it going?”
She looks up at him, the fierceness of her grin matching his own, and says, “I think we’ve almost got it. Another hour and we’re golden.”