[ATTENTION: Most characters and settings are © the great Eoin Colfer... and any original characters aren't worth remembering. Story © myself. Cover by Acaciathorn. Rated T for scads of adult themes and a few bits of grisly violence, but there's hardly any language (excepting 'D'Arvit').
BEFORE everyone and their uncle starts crying plagiarism, I freely admit Chapter 1 is merely a scene from Time Paradox slightly re-imagined (as a sort of prologue), and rest assured that from Chapter 2 it picks up where Atlantis Complex left off. So it's sort of a book 7.5. Further notes afterward.]
TARA SHUTTLEPORT E1, IRELAND; NINE YEARS AGO
Artemis Fowl the Second found himself torn. When had his life become so complicated? It seemed like scant days ago – though it was actually years, and technically they were in the future rather than the past - that everything had been clear; he was a self-made villain, heir to a criminal empire and budding mastermind with a tenuous grip on the Way Of Evil. Elegant simplicity. Then, somewhere along the way, things had become muddled. Lives in the balance. Too many wants, too many needs. Perhaps there should be a few more thrown into the mix, just to drive him further to the depths of insanity. Yes, that's it; insult to injury. It seemed to be his lot in life, anyway.
Holly Short climbed onto the bonnet of their 'borrowed' vehicle, resting her back against the windscreen. "Maybe they don't want to rule the world. Maybe that's just you, Arty."
Guilt gnawed at Artemis's stomach like a ravenous vulture, desperate for a long-denied meal. It was impossible to concentrate on the subject matter of their conversation; something about dwarfs as a species. He sullenly gazed at Holly's familiar elfin features, delicately outlined by sunbeams. How could he keep lying to her? She didn't deserve that. Out of anyone he knew, she deserved it the least.
"It's a pity we had to steal this car," continued Holly, closing her eyes to better soak up the light she usually went days or weeks without due to living underground. "But the note we left was clear enough. The owner should find it without a problem."
Artemis couldn't spare much empathy for the owner of said car. He had bigger nails in his coffin. "Yes, the car," he made himself mumble to seem invested in their dialogue, though his mind was struggling with an altogether different burden.
I need to tell her. I have to tell her.
Artemis used the Mini's front tyre to heave himself onto the bonnet beside his friend. They sat idly for a few minutes, and Artemis focused his entire being on the shared experience. If this conversation took the turn he feared it would, he would need this memory safely locked away in the vault of his innermost mind. Something to savor when ones like it would no longer be coming his way.
"Sorry about earlier. You know, the thing."
When he glanced toward her, she met his eyes briefly. He chanced a feeble smile while asking, "The kiss?"
"Yes." She turned away, eyes closing. "I don't know what's happening to me. We're not even the same species. And when we go back, we'll be our old selves." Holly covered her face, a hollow laugh escaping her throat. "Listen to me, babbling. The LEP's first female captain. That time stream has turned me into what you humans would call a teenager again."
This was not untrue; both travelers' bodies had been subtly altered. Mostly, Artemis found the shift in her nature was negligible; perhaps she was a tad more emotional than he was accustomed to, but otherwise she remained the same police elf with an unflappable sense of duty. He suspected what she meant was outward appearance - physically, both compatriots were now roughly in their late teens or early twenties. Though their minds were mostly as they had been, the decades-encompassing age gap had been effectively closed. Such a seemingly unimportant detail had disrupted the dynamic of their friendship far more than he would have expected. He'd surmised that she was perhaps as much as sixty years his senior (though in elfin years this made her not yet middle-aged). Shunting her back into his demographic... it changed things.
"What if I'm stuck like this?" she suddenly asked, voice uncharacteristically meek and pleading. "That wouldn't be so bad, would it?"
A weighty silence hung over them as they both contemplated the significance of this seemingly-harmless notion. Perhaps Holly hadn't even intended for it to have any deeper meaning than her looks and youth being restored, but the quick glance he stole of her eyes showed him that it had caught up to her, and now she was... afraid. Afraid of both the interest she may have exposed, and of his answer. Whichever direction he leaned in, it was going to have devastating ramifications.
If you answer this question, it will be the worst thing you have ever done.
His chest felt constricted as he realized what it would mean to address this issue without clearing the air between them, because he had done something terrible. To her. He made himself think that, drove the point home to his conscious mind: to her. Not involving her, or something that resulted in her being maligned. The thing he'd done, no matter the purity of his reasons, was a direct affront to their friendship.
What good was he?
Artemis was on point of telling her everything; the words were bubbling up from his throat, but his own fear of her response kept pushing them back down. He hesitated too long. Just as he was steeling himself to go through with it, she spoke.
"You... don't feel the same," she whispered, incorrectly guessing at the reason for his silence.
"What?" he said, at first unsure of what she was talking about. "About- oh, Holly, don't be s-"
"Then you agree with my earlier points." She was refusing to look him in the eye now. "We're apples and oranges. What business do we have bucking traditional values, mixing human and fairy-kind like that? Asking to be run out of town with the equally-traditional pitchforks and torches."
"Pitchforks and torches?" he half-laughed, unable to remain serious in the face of this turn of phrase. "Where did you come up with that? I didn't think Haven's technologically-advanced borders had any use for either of those archaic implements."
"It's a metaphor," she snapped, cheeks burning. But he knew they weren't burning because she was embarrassed by her 'angry villager' reference. "And you're skirting the issue."
"Holly, the issue... is not the issue." What kind of genius was he when that was the best way he could think to get his point across? "I m-mean- there's something I have to tell-"
"Don't say it," she interrupted. "I know the next word out of your mouth is going to start with an 'M', anyway."
"Mmm," he said, thoughtful. "Mmmmalevolent? Myopic? Madagascar?"
Holly shrugged her shoulders, trying not to laugh again. "Back to our monkey friend, eh? No, I meant Minerva."
"Minerva?" He found himself surprised at this, and especially at the jealousy that dripped from the word when Holly said it. Or was he applying some ill-placed significance to her tone that didn't belong? "Why would she- I mean, what's that got to do with anything?"
"You and she... I get it, I'm not a total cowpog. And why wouldn't you? She's a Mud Girl genius, and you're a Mud Boy genius. Simple enough math that even a non-genius such as myself can work it out."
"Please," he said grumpily. This sidetrack was getting in the way of larger concerns. "She's scarcely said two words to me since you and I returned home from Limbo. Came to visit me once just after my return to Fowl Manor, made sure I was well, promised to call... then nothing. Irksome, that, but there you are."
"I'm sorry," she said earnestly. "I really thought you guys had, y'know... an 'ember' or whatever."
"Perhaps one that got smothered by the sands of time. Three years is quite a long stretch to carry a, er, torch for someone who ostensibly no longer exists." Holly did laugh at his use of a word she'd so recently brought up, but again they were carrying on and on about stupid things, when there was a dark secret weighing on his bothersome conscience. They didn't have much time before Mulch would have found his way inside the shuttleport; it was now or never.
"Holly, I- what I'm about to say will probably cause you yet more undue sorrow, but please, it is of the utmost import that I be allow-"
His brain went as blank as a stretch of unused canvas when the soft lips found his, mashing inward with such potency and force of motion that he was nearly bucked from the bonnet and sent to the earth below. He automatically raised his hands to her shoulders, intending to ward her off, but as her fingers slid around the base of his neck the will to do so left him; no blue sparks were needed to add to the magic of these unforeseen passions. Her trim body drew flush with his, and his heart-rate sped to lethally high levels.
What is this, exactly? he wondered. Am I...
Then she was at a semi-safe distance, still lying beside him, cheeks burning crimson as she gasped for breath. "Artemis... that's- don't say anything yet, I didn't mean to do that, but I want- can I have a chance t-to explain?"
"By all means," he squeaked, surprised by the odd quality in his own voice.
Again, their eyes locked, and he gazed into the mismatched irises staring back at him; one of hers, and one of his own. They were forever bonded by this ocular swap, part of each other until they were no more. Was this destined from the beginning?
"Y-you," she began, then thought better of it, and cleared her throat to steady her nerves before she tried again. It didn't appear to work. "We have come a long, long way in our relationship since you kidnapped me and held me for ransom."
"Thanks for the refresher," he said glumly.
"No, no, that wasn't supposed to- okay." A deep breath. "What I mean is... we've become... I know this sounds sappy, but I'd like to think we're something like friends now. Let me know if I'm out of line."
"You aren't," he told her simply.
"Good. Because... I think this is moving too fast, and we're up to our pointed ears in it too early. Or, well, your ears aren't pointed at all – which is part of the problem, since I'm an elf, and you're not." She closed her eyes for a moment and let out a weak laugh, tugging at the collar of the white shirt she had borrowed from his younger self's wardrobe. "D'Arvit, I sound like a schoolgirl."
"Do you... are you telling me you'd rather not associate with me anymore?"
"No!" she exclaimed, alarmed. "Gods, no, that's not what I meant at all! It's the last thing I want – at this point, I think it would pretty much kill me!"
Her meaning was becoming clear, and Artemis felt his face grow hot. What was she confessing to him?
This was all wrong. He had intended to get his awful deception out into the open before this happened. Much worse was the fact that she was expressing far more desire to deepen their bond than he'd anticipated. Time was running out, in more ways than one.
"So," she breathed. "Do you... could we ever..."
"I have to tell you something first," he said bluntly, words overlapping in his haste.
"What is it?"
"You're not going to like it. I... what did I do? Because all of this feels so, so desirable and correct, but how can it be when I've..."
Her expression instantly turned darker, though the shame of her confession lingered in her voice and cheeks. "You did... something terrible. Artemis, what is it now? Is this all some get-rich-quick scheme? Oh gods, please tell me you didn't fake your mother's illness just so we'd-"
"No, for heaven's sake!" he blustered. "I would never... but alas, you are uncomfortably close to the mark. This is-" Bandage. He needed to get this over with, like ripping off a bandage; already they had drawn it out too long. "It wasn't you, Holly."
"What wasn't me? I don't-"
"You didn't infect my mother. I did it. It was me – or that's my theory. I had a few sparks of magic left over from the tunnel and I made my parents forget I'd been missing for three years. So... so I'm guessing that if either of us caused this outbreak, it's most likely me rather than you, as I was the most recent one to..."
Her brow knit at the center, and he was struck with the thought that he wished she never had to wear this expression again. "I didn't... but you told me..." And then it zeroed in on her mind, filling it with the ugly reality of what he'd done. Instantly, her tones were frostier, her body language less open – and more openly hostile. "I see."
"I had to do it, Holly," he persisted, his desperate mind reasoning madly that the rest of the story would make his actions seem less despicable. "Mother is dying... will be dying. I needed to be certain of your help. Please understand..."
But by the end of it, he knew it was hopeless. He was an utter cad to have treated her this way. He weakly added a, "If there had been another way, Holly, believe me," but there was little point. Her face was carved in stone.
"Please, Holly. Say something – anything. I..."
With no further ado, she leaped down from their position atop the car, straightened, and said in flat, emotionless tones, "Fifteen minutes are up. Time to move out."
And he watched her go – watched with the regret of a man who's thrown it all away over nothing. Even in his old clothes, she made for a stunning figure. He could have trusted her; he knew that, now. So what if his criminal nature railed against such concepts as trust and companionship? Blame or no blame, if he'd merely begged, insisted that this was of the utmost importance for both his mother and the future of the silky sifaka lemur, she most assuredly would have relented and helped her friend. But there would be no repairing the bridge he'd burned.
Extraordinary. What have I lost?
A mud-coated Mulch Diggums was waiting at the shuttleport's entrance. When he asked "What kept you?" in snide tones, neither of them answered. It was going to be a long, wearisome trip.
o o o END Chapter One o o o
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Happy Mother's Day! In celebration (except totally unrelatedly), here it is... what I honestly (I mean it this time!) intend to be my very last fanfiction for a good long while. "Mixed Signals" received some favourable reviews in spite of its appallingly-tiny fandom, and I was glad to wrap up my X-Men epic as well. But this... I've had it started since the dead of Winter, and for some reason I didn't have the heart to crack it open again and polish it up for proper viewing until this past week (following EvF's completion). I'll get AF:AC splashed across the IntarWebs and then fade into oblivion once more.
This is a steamy inter-species romance het-fic (WHAT? Jessica X writing something other than femmeslash?), with a healthy dose of humor and an underlying message of racial equality. And I'm sure there's a thousand Arty/Holly fics out there, but the more the idea blundered around my brain, the harder it became to ignore. Forgive me? I'll be taking them down a long, twisted road, and there might be happiness at the end, and then again...
Ready for more pain, misery and suffering as only Jessex can dole it out? You are? Spiffing! Off we go.