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honey, beware, you’re in for a scare

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   “Let’s get this movie night started!”

 

   Artemis ducked as the empty dvd case came tumbling past his head. With a small scoff, he picked it up, observing the cover with a suspicious gleam in his eyes.

 

   “And you’re both certain this is a good idea?”

 

   Another dvd case flew past him, and Artemis wisely decided to move. 

 

   “Of course!”, Tom grinned, furiously searching through the Riders’ movie cabinet. After a few seconds, he found the series he was looking for- kicking the cabinet door closed, he stood, the stack of cases precariously balanced in his arms. “We do this all the time- It’ll be fine, I promise.”

 

   Artemis moved to help, taking a couple of the cases himself. Their gristly, off-white covers sent a shiver down his spine, though he buried the feeling- he’d seen far worse in his life. Certainly he could handle a few horror movies. On the side of one of the cases, a number caught his eye, and he raised a quizzical eyebrow. “It says there are seven of these, Tom-“ Artemis turned to Tom. “It’s already eight, I don’t see how we can finish these all in one night.”

 

   “It’s called an all-night marathon for a reason, you know.” 

 

   Alex’s voice had a tinge of humor to it when he walked in- he gave Artemis a wink as he set about picking up the discs and cases that Tom had scattered. “Lots of kids do it. Also, it’s a Saturday and you don’t go to school anyways, Art, so…”

 

   Artemis sniffed, ignoring the way his chest had grown warm at the nickname. “Fair point. I’m assuming you’ve arranged all this with Jack, then? I’d hate to keep her awake.” He knew that Alex’s guardian was often busy- three loud teenagers and a horror movie marathon was no doubt a quick way to a sleepless night, and he wasn’t sure if she had any case work the next day. 

 

   “She knows.” Alex said with a shrug. “Me and Tom do this all the time, remember?” His grin suddenly fell away. “Does Butler know? I don’t want him breaking into the flat thinking we kidnapped you or something.”

 

   Artemis paused. After a second of deliberation, he nodded and pulled out his phone. “I did tell him I’d be here a while, but if it’s going to be an all-nighter, I’d better check in. I think I’ll call him- do you need my help setting everything up?” 

 

   Alex plucked the cases from his other hand. “Nope!”, he grinned cheerily, seemingly oblivious to the way Artemis’s face reddened as the other boy brushed past him. “We’ll start when you come back- Tell B I said hi.” In seconds, he had disappeared into the hallway’s shadows, leaving Artemis alone in the foyer.

 

   Frowning, Artemis shrugged his jacket tighter around his shoulders. As much as he was looking forward to a fun evening with Alex and Tom, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that he was intruding into something decidedly personal- while he had been invited with open arms, Artemis knew that this situation was miles out of his depth. Casual evenings were simply not his usual, work or research often taking up all of his free time- it’s not like he was invited to many parties.

 

    That’s exactly why you’re doing this , he scolded himself, absentmindedly tapping the screen of his phone as he scrolled to the top of his contacts. This is what normal people do: they hang out with their friends in the evenings. Alex invited you- get a hold of yourself and relax a little.

 

   In seconds, he had found Butler’s name. Shaking all thoughts of normalcy and nerves from his mind, he set about the task of explaining to his bodyguard the sudden change in schedule.

 

— — — — — — — —

 

   By the time he made his way to Alex’s room (now with Butler’s full permission to stay over), Alex and Tom had already sprawled across the bed, chips and various confections scattered in bowls around them, all within easy reach. The two seemed deep in conversation (something about samurai?)- upon Artemis’s entrance, Alex shifted to give him room. Without much of a second thought, Artemis settled beside him.

 

   While Tom fiddled with the tv settings, Alex gave Artemis a curious stare. “Have you watched a lot of horror movies before?”

 

   “No.”, Artemis admitted. “I’ve watched one or two with Juliet- haunted houses and such- but I can’t say I’ve really seen much. I do know it’s a fascinating genre, however, and that most are not as terrifying as they would like you to believe.”

 

   Alex stretched, nodding his head in agreement. “That’s true. Tom says this one’s supposed to be pretty gnarly, though, so who knows? Maybe-“

 

   “ Quiet !”

 

   Tom’s voice was hushed, and Artemis realized that he had finally gotten the movie running. With one flick of a switch, the room was plunged into darkness, and the screen began to flicker. 

 

   It turns out that Tom’s prediction had a grain of truth to it, as it became clear rather quickly that this movie had little to do with plot and was focused almost entirely on gore and shock value. After only a few minutes in, several people had already passed in gruesome fashion, courtesy of the antagonist’s games, and while Artemis himself identified in seconds the appropriate ways to escape, that didn’t make watching the people on screen inevitably fail any less distressing.

 

   He often fancied himself a brave person. He had survived situations that others could barely dream of- he had stared down monsters and murderers, and defeated them too. But even he fought back a shiver as another unfortunate victim let out a chilling shriek. Absentmindedly picking at his sleeves, he tried to swallow down his nerves. They were only halfway through the first film, with six more to go- he couldn’t afford to become scared now. 

 

   To their credit, Alex and Tom seemed only mildly alarmed, if at all. Both winced and groaned in sympathy at appropriate moments, and Alex made an off-handed comment about how he’d “seen worse” (his expression said otherwise), but for the most part they appeared to be having a great time. By the time the first credits were rolling, they were loudly discussing how they saw the twist coming from miles away.

 

   (To be fair- the twist had been very easy to spot).

 

   As the screen went black, Artemis shuddered, grateful for a brief reprieve from the violence. Maybe he wasn’t as cut out for this marathon as he had originally thought.

 

   Tom stretched, hopping off of the bed and snagging one of the now-empty bowls. “I’m getting more snacks before we start the next one- you want a soda, Artemis?” 

 

   Normally, Artemis would have outright refused a soft drink- most were too sweet for his taste- but at the minute, a hit of caffeine sounded great. So he nodded, and busied himself trying to reorganize the area a little bit. 

 

   “Having fun?” 

 

   Alex’s voice startled him out of his thoughts, and Artemis fought back a yelp. The other boy was shuffling one of the room’s scattered blankets around himself, a bowl of popcorn haphazardly tilted beside him. He didn’t look the least bit rattled. 

 

   Artemis nodded half-heartedly, then sighed. “I’m enjoying being here, if that’s what you mean… though I will admit I am feeling a little bit unnerved- I’m not the biggest fan of… bloody movies.”

 

   Alex’s brow quirked- he scooted backwards to give Artemis some more room.  “Do you want to stop watching this?”, he asked. Artemis was surprised to see his eyes darken with concern. “We can find something else-“

 

   Artemis hurriedly shook his head, dismissing that thought entirely. “No, no , I promise I’m fine. I am merely unused to this.” With a small huff, he straightened his tie. “And, as you know very well, Alex Rider, I am no quitter.”

 

   Alex gave him a skeptical look. “I’d remember that next time Butler makes you go on a jog.” 

 

   Artemis huffed, flushing scarlet, now thoroughly determined to see the marathon through. “Sometimes I wonder why we are even friends, Rider. You are occasionally the most irritating person I have ever met.”

 

   The other boy grinned, pleased to have gotten a rise out of Artemis. “Bonded by trauma, remember? You told me that yourself.” 

 

   Artemis was about to give a sharp retort, but the sudden appearance of Tom in the doorway stopped him in his tracks, a can of some dark cola-esq beverage quickly tossed into his lap. 

 

   “Who’s ready for round two?”, he cheered, tossing Alex his own drink before crossing the room and clambering back up beside Artemis. 

 

   “Just a sec,” Alex said, a hint of mischief in his tone, and Artemis had the distinct feeling he was grinning behind him. Suddenly, an arm snaked around his waist, and in one swift movement, he pulled Artemis to him.

 

   “Wh- Alex! ”, Artemis shrieked, startled. 

 

   “For safety.”, the blonde boy said, voice all mock seriousness. Artemis turned to give him a glare, though there was no fury behind it. 

 

   Alex blinked down at him, his easy-going smile having returned. “It’s a lot easier to watch a horror movie like this, trust me. Why do you think I always watch them with someone, instead of alone? Here.” Alex shifted a little so Artemis was now tucked close to his side, the blanket draped around their shoulders. “That better?”

 

   Artemis was about to protest, but the sudden warmth of being held close brought him to a screeching halt. His mouth opened, then closed- after a moment of deliberation, he accepted the gesture, drawing his knees up to his chest and pulling the blanket tighter around him. He tried to ignore the flush in his cheeks, choosing instead to right the half-tipped popcorn bowl and set it in his lap. 

 

   Alex hummed softly as they waited for Tom to finish setting up the next film- an endearing habit of his. Artemis had to admit, he did feel less anxious curled up close to the other boy. Maybe it was because he knew Alex was the safest thing to be around, or maybe it was simply the pleasant feeling of being near another person- whatever it was, his apprehension slowly withered away. 

 

   The second film, however, was a bit different from the first- there was more of a developed plot, a larger group of unfortunate victims… and an even more horrific series of ‘games’. Artemis, while slightly invested in the general mystery of it all (it was a challenge to unravel when one was busy struggling not to wince), nevertheless found his fear returning, fighting back a wave of queasiness as someone onscreen began to howl in pain. The sickly yellow palette of the film didn’t help, and Artemis found himself shuddering.

 

   Alex shook his shoulder lightly, sensing his unease. “You okay, Art?”  

 

   Artemis didn’t answer, mute with fright. The best he could manage was the smallest shake of his head. 

 

   “Here.”

 

   Alex carefully draped an arm around his shoulder, dragging him even closer- Artemis was virtually curled up against him, head resting on the other boy’s shoulder. “Lean on me.”, he murmured. “You don’t have to look at the screen if you don’t want to, I’ll tell you what’s going on. I didn’t realize these movies were this bloody.”

 

   Artemis forced himself to wrench his gaze away- thoroughly embarrassed, he nevertheless shut his eyes and leaned his head into Alex’s shoulder. Better to show his weakness now, as much as his skin prickled at the thought, than be ill for the rest of the night. That would be humiliating.

 

   After a few moments, Alex gave his shoulder the tiniest shake. “It’s over- the detective is back on screen. You can look now.” 

 

   It became a sort of system- whenever the violence on screen became too much for Artemis to handle, Alex would hug him closer, and Artemis would hide his face in the other boy’s shoulder. Something about this felt decidedly childish, but Artemis ignored it- in this instance, he would make an exception. He supposed that there was something to be said there, about being comfortable enough around Alex to allow it, but Artemis chose not to reflect on it- that was a matter for another day. 

 

   Occasionally, when the movie could not be drowned out by this alone, Alex would lean in, whispering some quip or joke in an effort to ease Artemis’s tension. To Alex’s surprise, it worked quite well- it wasn’t hard to get a chuckle out of Artemis. The rest of the movie passed in a similar fashion- Alex watching, his arm draped over Artemis’s shoulder, Artemis himself paying less and less attention as the night wore on. 

 

— — — — — — — —

 

   By the end of the third movie, both Tom and Alex were beginning to grow a bit tired. The films, while not necessarily boring, were beginning to grow tedious- and if Alex was being honest, even he was becoming exhausted by the repetitive violence. 

 

   “Think we should stop here, Tom?”, he said, surprised when Tom suddenly held a finger to his lips, pointing to Alex’s right. 

 

   Artemis had, at some point during the latest movie, fallen asleep.

 

   His head rested against Alex’s shoulder, eyes closed, expression devoid of it’s usual concern. Gone was the anxious furrow in his brow, or the nervous tension he held when awake- the Fowl heir looked completely relaxed, curled against his side. His chest rose and fell, soft and even. Dark lashes fluttered slightly as his eyes roamed beneath their lids, and his hair, normally so carefully styled back, was slightly ruffled- small wisps fell, out-of-place against his pale skin. 

 

   Alex, without thinking, smoothed them back into place. Artemis didn’t even stir.

 

   While Tom set about collecting all the scattered dvds and returning them to the living room, Alex slowly shifted into a more comfortable position, careful not to disturb Artemis. It was almost strange- he had never seen the other boy so at ease. It may have simply been circumstance (it was well past midnight, after all), but it felt like he was being trusted with something precious, normally guarded and hidden away. 

 

   Absentmindedly, he found himself humming, soft and tuneless- the weight of Artemis against his side was surprisingly pleasant. Half-asleep himself, he almost didn’t notice Tom standing in the doorway, staring back at him. His expression was softer than normal. 

 

   “What is it?”, Alex whispered, confused.

 

   Tom shook his head slightly, smiling. “Nothing. You just looked... really happy, sitting there. It’s nice.”

 

   This gave Alex pause. He turned to look at Artemis again, his expression softening. Something warm flickered in his chest.

 

   “Yeah.”, he murmured. “It is.”