Rain drummed outside the window. This is absolutely typical weather for Ireland. A strong gusty wind tried to bend the trees to the ground. Gray clouds obscured the whole sky, and the rare lightning bolts twisted like snakes and slipped through the gloomy crumpled clouds.
Drops trickled down the glass. A huge lightning flashed and lit up the room. Thunder rumbled. The elf looked from the window to the opening door. She sat on an expensive antique sofa of the XVI century, crossing her legs for convenience. A pale and thin young man with raven black hair came into the room.
“I apologize, Myles detained me with some questions about orthotropy.”
“The dissimilarity of the properties of the medium in mutually perpendicular directions.”
She didn't have to ask.
“A great replacement grows in place of you. But, I fear, the People will not accept another Artemis Fowl.”
“Replacement? I'm not retiring yet. The People wrote me off early.”
“Oh, believe me, you weren't written off. Although they clearly hoped for it. When the Council learned that you were alive, one dwarf literally fainted. Others asserted that it was a ridiculous statement, and you are just one of those clones that each person has in several copies. Well, they were partly right.”
Artemis sat down next to the elf. Another flash of lightning pierced the sky and lit everything up, but the rain had already decreased.
“I still don't remember very well returning from Hybras. This flight through space and time, in which body was splintered on atoms, and consciousness was simultaneously connected with all the demons.” Artemis said through easiest shortness of breath. For his new body, which had lain motionless for six months (that is, most of his life) walking up the stairs still wasn't the easiest thing to do. “It was happening so fast. Some dreams seem more real than what happened to us.”
“You already remember almost everything. Such progress in two months is amazing.”
It was wrong to encourage Artemis's already inflated self-esteem, but it really surprised her and certainly pleased her. He had a proud vampire-like smile on his face.
“If my genius brain didn't succeed, you should be worried. What if this is the lost soul of berserk that captured the body instead of me?”
“Wow, that was a joke? Maybe it's really not you, but some berserk?”
The elf suppressed a sudden impulse to embrace mud man, punching him in the shoulder. She missed these rare and casual conversations so much.
“Remembering my life again and again, I wonder about what could happen, if one Christmas winter day I did not catch an elf? I would never be who I am now. And I would be definitely bring the world much more harm than good. I remember how surprised I was when I met myself in the past. It ... wasn't a pleasant meeting. To think that I'd be like this forever.”
Artemis rarely shared his emotions. Especially about himself. And it was also a rare manifestation of his trust even to the closest people, which undoubtedly touched the elf.
“You're not the same boy who kidnapped me. You've changed. Who would have thought that in the end you would save the world with your life. I'm proud of you, Artemis.” Holly said, swallowing a lump in her throat. “I'm so glad, that now when you are alive, I can finally tell that.”
In chest all sharply shrank from pain. Pictures of the last year spent at the Argon's Clinic, and then Artemis's death and the growing of his new body in the chrysalis painfully flashed in elf's head at the speed of the hummingbird's wings flapping.
All this time, Artemis looked at her with unreadable eyes. Hearing these words from his dearest friend was extremely pleasant and very important for him. This admission showed that he had done the right thing, even though he had paid too high a price for it. He still managed to inflate the spark of decency, about which Holly many years ago told him. And it was she who was inflating it all this time until the spark turned into a real flame.
“I've changed because of you. You fixed me, remember? You returned my family and Butler. You became my friend and didn't let me stumble. Although I still managed to do it.” Artemis said with a wry smile.
The bitter incident with deception made him feel an unpleasant prick from the feeling of guilt.
“We've already talked about it. The past must stay in the past.”
His gaze was set aside.
“Look at me, Arty.”
She put her right hand on his face and turned to her. Their eyes met. Holly put her second palm on the other cheek and lowered his head so that they touched foreheads. The voice dropped to a whisper.
“Never again. Do you hear me? Never again risk your life. Otherwise ... Otherwise I will get you from the next world. I've already done it once and I'll do it again. Whatever it takes.”
Artemis put his right hand over hers.
“I will do my best.”
This is the maximum that Artemis could squeeze out. Giving his best friend a promise, he could break at any moment would be at least mean. And he already knows what happens when you cheat your friend.
Their noses were five centimeters apart. Artemis could hear his heart pounding in his ears. His pulse began to beat 15 beats per minute faster. Another moment and the distance between them had already decreased to two centimeters. Hot breaths burned their lips, while cheeks became treacherously heated.
At this time, sharp not only in appearance, but also in hearing, elf ears heard the opening door. In an instant, she moved away from Artemis at a decent arm's length and turned away.
“Arty, can I come in?” The voice of Angeline came from behind the already opening door. “You have guests?”
Angeline Fowl, like the whole Artemis' family, was dedicated to the mystery of the existence of the People. And she was even familiar with some of them. That was not surprising, because someone had to explain how and why one day Fowl family saw their son alive and unharmed.
“Good evening, captain Short.”
“Mother, did you want something?”
“First of all, I wanted you to call me mom. And secondly, I wanted to know how you were feeling. Dinner will be in half an hour. Timmy will arrive soon and we can have dinner with the whole family. Holly, will you join us?”
“Thank you, Mrs. Fowl. I am here for a short while.”
“Oh, please stay.”
“Mom, Holly really has a lot of work. She barely found an hour and a half to get here.”
"In any case, my offer stands. I see you're all right. I'll come back later. I won't bother you. Holly, it was nice to meet you. You should join us for dinner next time.”
“Sure, Mrs. Fowl.”
Angeline said goodbye polite nod and left. She did not want to deprive Artemis of the rare opportunity to spend time with her friends, who were not so many. And even though they weren’t humans, Angeline was glad that her son could find a common language with someone and talk not only about business or quantum physics.
The devise on Holly's hand lit up. New message from Foaly. It's time to return to the Haven.
“I really have to go.”
The awkwardness of the situation plunged the friends into hush. No one wanted to break a heavy silence, hanging in the air, fearing to stumble and take an unwary step in the wrong direction.
“Next week I need to complete the Ritual. I'll see you back at yours in a while.”
“I'll wait you, captain.”
Captain. So business-like and formal. He's trying to distance himself and pretend like nothing happened. Probably he did the right thing. Why didn't she like it?
The elf kissed Artemis goodbye on the cheek and flew through the window towards sun breaking through the dark clouds. Staying longer was too dangerous.
They traveled in space and time. Suppressed the uprising of the goblins. The People was saved from the crazy pixie and the paradox. They even came back from the dead. And yet the most dangerous test for them was to be around all the time. Walking on the edge, balancing on a thin blade, without crossing the boundaries of the two worlds.
Right now, they must concentrate on his recovery. Returning him to the usual life. His body and mind need rest. And then ... Then they decide what will happen next.