Chapter 1: who are you?
She cried, curling up inside the cramped, stinking kennel like an animal. If anybody noticed, though, her tears didn't move them. Why would they? She was an elf, a pet to be paid no more attention to than a rambunctious puppy.
Less attention, in fact. Nobody wanted a sulky pet.
"Mama," the elf whispered between sobs. "Mama..."
But her mother was gone. Coral Short, the brave elf who had helped her daughter learn to navigate the dangerous world they were born into, was dead. There had been too much blood and screaming to pretend otherwise: fairies hadn't had the magic to heal themselves in a long time - not the ones destined for the pet trade, anyway.
The moon rode high and full that night, its pale glow creeping through the bars of her cage. The elf didn't care. A magical full moon couldn't bring her mother back, couldn't hug her and whisper I love you, my little Holly when the humans tried to touch her places she didn't want them to.
Holly sniffled and shifted; her entire body ached from inactivity, but there was nothing she could do except stretch and she had no will for even that. At least the emotional numbness somewhat counteracted the rest of the pain. Holly's muscles still hurt, but she could drown out the grief and melancholy for the moment, and for that she was grateful. The cold helped, too, creeping into her muscles and making them go tingly.
A long time passed as she lay there, too tired to feel but too overwhelmed to sleep. Eventually, though, her eyelids drooped, and she slid into the waiting arms of oblivion for the first time since the unthinkable had happened.
In the rays of golden pre-dawn light, Holly's sleep was troubled but deep.
Artemis Fowl the Second did not enjoy being summoned like an errand boy. Tapping his fingers impatiently on the handle of his briefcase, the Fowl family's heir apparent checked his watch again. It was intolerable! His father had been deliberately keeping him waiting for the past twenty minutes, and now it would be a miracle if Artemis made it to the guest lecture he'd agreed to give on time. He'd been looking forward to that talk for months, and this would diminish his credibility immensely if he wasn't careful.
A clock ticked on the wall opposite him. It was off by precisely twenty-one seconds, Artemis determined with a quick glance at his own watch - constantly updated to Greenwich mean time by way of radio signals. Perhaps he would mention it to his father when the man opened his blasted door. On a normal day, such mundane things as how accurate the clock was might have been simply a passing fancy, but right now Artemis couldn't help but feel petty. And not just about today's little waiting game: the things his father had said last night had been...
Well, what was done was done. There was no use dwelling on it.
Artemis straightened his tie, composing himself. The chair he'd been given was comfortable, at least, made of soft faux leather - dyed black - and neither too shallow or too deep. It kept his back comfortably straight without forcing things into position unnaturally. But then again, such was only to be expected at Fowl and Faire Friends. One had to have a sense of class to get ahead in business, and that was especially true in the exotic pet trade. The rest of the visitor center outside his father's office was designed to have the same effect: a long, elegant hall with wood paneling and old-fashioned sconces decorating the wall, it gave off the warm, welcoming air that one might expect from a very old building, without any of the downsides thereof.
The giant Eurasian, Butler, stood professionally to one side. A bodyguard did not sit down in cramped quarters such as this hallway. It obstructed the sightlines, and in any case the chairs were too small for someone of Butler's height and bulk. Still, he risked a glance at his charge, and found that he didn't like what he saw. To anyone who actually knew Artemis, the tension in the young man's shoulders stood out immediately.
"Might I suggest calling off your lecture and taking your brothers out for a change, sir?"
Artemis turned a calm, calculating gaze on Butler for a moment, then inclined his head. "You're right, old friend. Beckett has been asking me to do that for a while now. Perhaps I should. Today seems like the day for such things."
His voice was clipped but not harsh. Butler simply nodded and turned back to surveying the hallway to either side. Yes, mentioning his employer's younger brothers had been a good choice. The twins, more than anyone else, could get past the icy exterior Artemis projected to the world.
Additional light suddenly flooded the hallway as Artemis Sr. opened his office door.
"Ah, son." The two clasped hands, each with equally polite - and fake - smiles. "I'm sorry to make you wait, but there were a few last minute arrangements to make. It is a very important day, after all! It's not every day my eldest turns twenty."
Artemis the younger sighed, stepping into the office and standing in front of the huge oak desk. Dublin harbor was visible through the massive windows, shimmering below in the light of the midday sun, but he focused on his father instead with a reproving frown. The view, lovely as it was, was not the priority here.
"You know that I don't want any presents. I haven't wanted them for years, and I don't want any now."
His father's sigh was rueful. "I suppose the cage would have given it away soon enough, in any case."
Said cage sat in the corner, covered by a sheet of dark velvet. It was relatively large, which ruled out most small dogs and certainly ruled out cats, but beyond that it was impossible to say what might be inside unless the cover was removed. Nothing was moving under the sheet, and there were no audible sounds that Artemis could discern; the occupant was either asleep or very quiet. Perhaps both.
"A pet? Really, father, I'm a little old to be getting a pet for my birthday." Artemis shook his head, stubborn as ever. Surely his father had known this would happen? Pets had never been interesting to Artemis except as a source of wealth, and he'd never pretended otherwise. "I won't take whatever it is, and that's final. Now if you'll-"
A startled silence descended on the room. Artemis blinked. Father never yells.
The Fowl patriarch looked his eldest son in the eyes. Both of them had the same cold blue irises, but there was something in his father's gaze at the moment that told Artemis to shut up and, for once in his life, do as he was told. He didn't know what to make of it, but he shut his mouth anyway.
"You are a Fowl. You need to at least make an effort to look as though you support the family business. Understood?" When Artemis nodded, his father gestured to the cage. "You'll keep this pet and care for it for a year. You will take care of it, mind you, not anyone else. I don't want to find out that you've been fobbing it off on your brothers or Butler. But after a year, do whatever you want with the damn thing. Give it away, send it back, I don't care." He ran a hand through his hair. "There's an image to keep up, here, boy, and I expect you to remember that."
The last words came in a menacing growl that raised goosebumps on Artemis' forearms. He nodded again. "Yes, father."
"Good. Now open your present."
I will not sulk, Artemis thought as he strode over to the cage and knelt beside it. That would be undignified, and a Fowl is never undignified. Beckett's ridiculous exploits notwithstanding, of course. But touching the velvet made him grit his teeth: exotic pets were a fact of life, and the main source of his family's income, but he didn't have to own one himself to understand that they were valuable assets!
Oh well. Time to rip off the proverbial band-aid, so to-
A small, frightened fairy was huddled uncomfortably in a corner of the cage. Artemis thought it was an elf, but he wasn't well enough versed in the intricacies of fairy genealogy to say with certainty, and there were plenty of cross breeds at this point. It - no, he, the elf was a male - had what looked like brown skin, and his bright hazel eyes were trained on Artemis, wary and uncertain. It was a strange feeling to be caught by that intelligent gaze; the human almost shivered. One didn't have to be a genius to see the creature's distress. Being a genius didn't exactly hurt, either, but still... it disturbed him to look into the eyes of something he'd always been told was nothing more than an animal and see someone looking back.
Artemis held up his hands, a placating gesture. "I won't hurt you. Don't worry."
The elf pursed his cherubic lips. He didn't look convinced, but he moved to the front of the cage, peering around the room. Under the light his hair turned out to be auburn, styled into a short, neat crew cut.
"What's your name, little one?" Artemis asked.
But to his annoyance, his father answered before the fairy could: "His name is Lorcan, but you can name him whatever you like. He's yours now."
Was it just his imagination, or had the fairy winced at the name? Hm. That might call for closer inspection later. For the moment, though, the priority was getting the fairy home and helping him settle in.
"I assume you don't mind if Butler helps me with the cage," Artemis deadpanned. Heaven knew he couldn't lift it himself - the thing looked heavy, and though the fairy himself wouldn't weigh too much, the combined mass would be difficult to manage.
Wonderful, Butler thought, and frowned, though if either Fowl noticed they did not comment. Something else to lug across two parking lots and a ditch.
Chapter 2: harsh truths, artemis
I want to say thank you to the people who've reviewed, especially sheerheartic! Your reviews make my day, and really encourage me to keep going. Thank you!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A pained growl escaped Holly’s lips as, for the second time in as many minutes, the cage slammed into something, sending her flying into the bars. Thankfully, the bars had almost no iron in them - she’d get a bruise or two, but at least her skin wasn’t breaking out into serious chemical burns. Another bump, and Holly growled louder: she didn’t have to like the rough handling just because she wasn’t being burned, for Frond’s sake! The man mountain carrying her was clumsy.
“I don’t think our new housemate is very happy, Butler.”
Even slightly muffled by the thick cover, her new owner’s voice chilled Holly to the bone, stopping her mid-growl.
“My apologies, sir.”
A cold chuckle. “Perhaps you should save your apologies for the one growling at you, old friend. But thank you.”
Gods, that chuckle was frightening. Everything about her new owner was frightening, because she knew none of it. What did he want her to do? Would he expect her to stay by his side at all times? Stay in the cage all the time? There was no way to anticipate any of it.
Misgivings welling in her gut, Holly hunkered down as best she could among her dirty blankets. The best she could think to hope for was light duties around the house, like laundry or maybe helping cook. Holly knew how to cook some things, and though laundry baskets were hard to maneuver for someone her size, it was better than… other things. Yes, housework was infinitely preferable to the things she’d seen other fairies have to do, and nearly been forced into herself. The problem was, of course, that people this rich probably had plenty of people to do the housework already…
Stress and the vile smell of her cage brought bile to Holly’s throat. She grimaced at the acidic taste and tried to swallow it back down: the last thing she needed right now was the smell of her own sick on top of, well, everything else.
Another few minutes passed, and then the cage stopped rocking with a softer, final bump. That helped a little. Holly’s breaths came easier as the motion sickness - and the lump in her throat - began to settle. Though she could swear she heard a quiet, baritone voice murmur, “sorry”, which was odd. Did the big one just apologize? To me?
“Thank you, Butler. Now, why don’t we get our new friend out of his cage and to a shower? He’ll need some clothes as well. Perhaps Beckett has something in his size, just until I can get Juliet to go shopping.”
The big man’s voice took on an amused tone. “Well then, sir, I suppose you have some work to do.”
Holly almost giggled, only managing to quell it at the last second. Maybe she could learn to like this Butler guy. He sounded like he had a sense of humor, at least, unlike her new owner. That one was all business, and probably as cold as his voice.
He certainly didn’t sound pleased with Butler’s denial. His frown was almost audible. “Yes, of course, you’re right. I’ll ask Beckett about the clothes while the elf cleans himself, then.”
Ears perking up in spite of herself, Holly moved cautiously toward the cage door. Clean. She liked being clean. The opportunity had come a few times in the months she’d been stuck at the adoption center, but most of the time Holly hadn’t had the energy to move, let alone stand in a chipped old water basin and wash herself.
Part of her wondered, though, and Holly was glad that the cage was still covered so the humans couldn’t see her frowning. What made the cold one avoid naming her? Humans named everything from their cars to their computers, and pets were no exception. Not that Holly actually wanted to be called by her birth name, of course, but it seemed odd that the human was avoiding it, and that made her nervous again. So many unknowns!
Retreating footsteps - Butler was leaving, she thought. The steps were too heavy to be the cold one. Then the cover lifted suddenly, and although the elf had been expecting it, she still flinched as those piercingly blue eyes met her own. Her intuition buzzed harsh and painful at the back of her neck, making the hairs there stand on end: this human was a predator, and he had her square in his sights.
Fairy intuition was never wrong.
The cage door swung open. Holly blinked. She’d been so focused on his eyes, she hadn’t noticed where his hands were. A stupid mistake. She had to do better, or-
“You’re intelligent,” the cold one mused.
What? Holly’s insulted glare said all she needed to. Of course I’m intelligent. Stupid human!
Huffing a quiet laugh at her defiance, the cold one stood and beckoned, urging her out into the room. It looked to be a bedroom, though Holly had never seen one like it before in person. Dirty sheets sat in a hamper, hinting that someone was, in fact, using it, but there were almost no personal belongings in sight, just clean, neat sheets on the bed and a heavy old desk with a big screen sitting on top. Even the bookshelves looked like they’d been filled with a magazine shoot in mind, all blandly marked and evenly sized. An expensive magazine shoot, certainly, but a magazine shoot all the same.
“Curious, too, I see.” That chuckle again. Goosebumps popped on Holly’s arms. “You can explore once you get clean. Now come.”
Fair enough, really, Holly supposed. She had no doubt that she smelled as awful as her cage.
With that in mind, she followed the cold one into what had to be the most luxurious bathroom she’d ever seen. Everything was tiled in shades of blue and gold, and little glints caught Holly’s eye no matter where she turned. It felt a bit disorienting, so she focused on the plush, absorbent mat beside the tub instead. That was nice: it squished beneath her toes, and Holly imagined that maybe this was what clouds felt like.
She liked clouds.
A sudden thundering sound filled the room as the big tub started to fill with water. Seeing her jump, the cold one smirked and handed her a towel. “First time?”
“No,” Holly shot back. A lie, as it happened, but the human didn’t need to know that.
“Oh? Very well, then. I assume you can manage.” He reached in with one long arm to plug the bath, then stood. “I’ll find you something to wear once you’ve finished.”
His tone was brusque, yet he’d still made no move to harm her, so Holly let her ears perk up fully. “Thanks.” Best to be polite, after all.
The cold one gave her a searching look, his eyes narrowed and his lips thinning unpleasantly. Chills ran down Holly’s back. That look made her want to squirm, to run-
Don’t show weakness!
Holly’s back stiffened, defiance returning. That voice had sounded so painfully like her mother… but it was right, she couldn’t show weakness.
And she wouldn’t.
The cold one left, but somehow he didn’t take his chill with him.
“Can I meet him? Can I? Can I?”
“Not yet, Eck,” Artemis said, in a tone that one might use when explaining to a child that one plus one made two. “I’ve told you. Fairies can be shy at first, and he needs some time to settle in.”
Beckett pouted as he handed over his smallest sweatshirt and a pair of jeans. The kicked puppy look didn’t work on Artemis, though, years of exposure having hardened his heart to such expressions.
“Thank you,” the oldest Fowl sibling called over his shoulder as he swept from the room. He managed to keep his annoyance out of his voice, but only just: very few people got on his nerves the way Beckett could.
That was not to say that he didn’t love his siblings. Beckett and Myles were good children, really, all things considered, and they certainly got into much less trouble than Artemis himself had at their age. And yet. And yet, the twins never ceased to annoy him, which made Artemis all the more troubled.
It didn’t help that their parents doted on the twins, after having left their oldest son to all but raise himself…
Taking a deep breath, Artemis readjusted his tie. Don’t be stupid. Stop thinking about it. There are things to do.
Like dropping off the clothes in his arms and picking up cleaning supplies. That cage smelled wretched. He’d have to crack a window open while he was at it, to air out the smell.
The elf wasn’t done when Artemis dropped off the clothes, but when he came back with the cleaning supplies, he found that the fairy had pulled the desk chair over and used it to climb onto the bed.
A smirk spread across Artemis’ lips at the sight. “Enjoying yourself?”
Immediately, a pair of bright, hazel eyes snapped over to meet his own. The elf looked much better after a good cleaning - his short hair turned out a surprisingly pretty shade of auburn, and his skin was actually nut brown as opposed to… well, the shade of whatever had been smeared all over him.
He didn’t speak, though, and the wariness in his eyes left Artemis in no doubt as to why.
He thinks I might hurt him. The thought was unsettling, and the sense of wrong wrong wrong made the Fowl heir break eye contact. He stepped over to dump the cleaning supplies next to the cage, trying to mask his unease, and gestured at the little pile pointedly.
“Time for you to clean up. There are fresh sheets in that drawer.”
Artemis, who had already been in the process of turning on his computer, turned around to find that the spark of defiance he’d seen earlier had returned. The elf cocked his head, a calculating look in his eyes.
“Didn’t your daddy say you had to take care of me?”
You little… Artemis frowned, eyebrows drawing together as he took a step forward. He barely noticed how the elf took an involuntary step back, ears flattening. How dare the elf test him? The creature just had to keep his mouth shut and do as he was told, and everything would be fine. They wouldn’t even have to see each other that often if neither of them rocked the boat!
But he had to give the elf credit. He’d obviously been putting those pointy ears to good use, even in the office, and that gave Artemis the beginnings of an idea.
Turning his glare into a smirk, Artemis reached down to snag a spray bottle and a rag.
He shoved them into the fairy’s hands.
“But it’s your mess. Don’t test me, little one.”
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