The sun shone glaring and white through the windowpane, dust motes spinning lazily in the air, their movement as slow and drowsy as Alex himself felt. Spending his afternoon stretched out on the sofa wasn’t exactly a productive decision, but days off were a rare treat- it felt wrong not to savor them in relaxed fashion.
It was the height of summer holiday, and with no MI6 beckoning for the time being, he had plenty of time to sit and recuperate from his latest mission. It would have been the perfect time to study, if he was being honest, but upon finding himself temporarily released from duty (something about a ‘management error’), he had hurried to invite Artemis over. It had been difficult for the two to see each other recently- the last he had heard from the other boy, there were ‘outside obligations’ that kept his clever friend away.
Whatever it had been, it seemed to have finally released its hold on Artemis- he had eagerly welcomed Alex’s suggestion of a weekend away from the Manor (an offer he was sure Artemis appreciated- apparently, the twins were ‘quite the handful’). It had been merely a matter of hours for them to reunite, and just like that, the two fell into their easy rapport once more. It was quiet and it was comfortable- Artemis, for all his criminal reputation, was a peaceful soul at heart, more inclined to study than the thievery for which he was known.
However, Alex was beginning to see what others meant when they said Artemis Fowl was ‘unearthly’- and anyone who had ever breathed the word in insult must have certainly been some kind of deceiver.
With the window behind him, the light framing his features, reminisce of a halo- it called to mind the mythos from which the other boy derived his name. Alex was no mythology buff, but even in the most devout nonbeliever, there were some sights that inevitably cemented themselves in the mind as ‘holy’- of a radiance so bright that any description less than sacred ought to be a sin. Right then, with a shining ring of gold around his head, cerulean eyes gleaming, Artemis looked nothing short of divine.
“You are so, so pretty .”
The words left his mouth almost without thought, too quickly to be reined in.
Even as he said it, Alex realized how much of an understatement that was- certainly, there must have been a better descriptor for Artemis than merely ‘pretty’. But even as he stared at the other boy, searching, no words came to mind that could fully describe what he meant- ‘pretty’ was suited to the task through its vagueness alone, all-encompassing even as it fell miserably short.
“Wh- Alex”, Artemis huffed, a crooked grin flashing across his face, even as his cheeks reddened. He clicked his tongue, voice tinged with his best impression of scolding. “You absolute rogue-“
“Oi, I mean it- look at you!”
Artemis’s brows quirked upwards at Alex’s indignance, his amused grin widening. He rolled his eyes in mock-exasperation (an expression Alex was well familiar with by now). “Oh, stop it- you’re going to make me blush, and I’ll never live it down.”
Alex propped himself upright, brow furrowing. He didn’t know if it was the haze of the warm day, or the note of disbelief in the other boy’s tone, but he decided to stubbornly press the issue. “Art, I’m being serious. Right now, you just may be the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.”
To his surprise, Artemis looked away at that, setting his tablet down- the sudden dimming of his bright gaze confused and pained Alex in a way he couldn’t describe. For a second, the haze of the sunlight fell away, and clarity struck him.
“You don’t hear that often, do you?”
The other boy flinched ever-so-slightly, mask dropping away. He never could seem to keep up the walls when Alex was around. With a sigh of defeat, Artemis turned his gaze to the far wall, hands curling together in his lap. “I’ve been told I look rather vampiric.” he admitted, voice tinged with mourning. “Ghostly, wicked, inhuman- Victorian, in some cases. A… changeling child, if you will.” For a second, something flashed across his gaze, burning- just like that, however, it was gone, the glow reduced to embers. “I am many things, Alex, but I am not beautiful.”
“Artemis, with all due respect, that might singlehandedly be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard leave your mouth. You absolutely are beautiful- and pretty, and everything that’s in between.”
Artemis’s expression sharpened slightly at his persistence, in surprise, and then in challenge. There was a moment of pause as he furrowed his brow in thought. Then, he turned, stretching out, gaze now firmly fixed on Alex. His eyes were sharp, piercing- startling in their brilliance. “Really?”, he murmured. “Care to elaborate?”
His tone was light, teasing- all former traces of doubt gone. But underneath, Alex detected a note of yearning, the burning need for something other than the ghoulish taunts and ghastly nicknames that had marked his upbringing.
Alex found his voice briefly lost, utterly riveted in that bright blue stare. He blinked, tearing his gaze away. Now, he was left with the same problem as before. “I- I don’t even know where to begin, Art-“
“Pick something.”, Artemis interrupted, tilting his head. Then, he started, as if remembering himself. “I mean, if you want, of course.” Letting out a huff of embarrassment, he turned his gaze away. “I don’t mean to be a bother.”
The way his head bowed low, as if in shame, broke Alex’s heart. How terrible it was, that Artemis felt undeserving of compliment due to others’ unkindness- that he felt he didn’t warrant the thought of beauty, as if he wasn’t something to be loved and treasured without abandon. He was suddenly overcome with the urge to say something , anything to heal the hurt Artemis held.
“Your eyes, for one.”, he stammered, the words tumbling from his mouth in a desperate rush. “ God , Arty- your eyes are like nothing I’ve ever seen. They’re so bright, every time I look at them, it’s like I’m stuck- and whatever I was thinking about? Gone.” He paused in his rambling, trying to gather his thoughts into something resembling an organized state. “Mesmerizing. That’s the word for it.”
Artemis huffed a short laugh at that- when Alex glanced upwards, sharp retort ready, he shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he blustered, waving his hand in surrender. “I just find that description quite ironic. In all truth, I’ve never really found my own eyes to be anything special.” His expression turned thoughtful, and a little sad. “I know blue eyes are widely hailed as ‘attractive’, but I’ve only ever seen my father in them. I know people are unnerved when they look me in the face- my eyes are cold, Alex. Like ice.”
That gave Alex pause. His mind flashed back to his own meeting with the Fowl patriarch- there was some truth there. Fowl Senior’s eyes were as chilling as the cold of midwinter, an icy and piercing blue. Artemis had inherited that same intensity, and his stare was just as fierce- but the two were nothing alike. Artemis’s eyes were darker, for a start, and tinged with gold, hardly comparable to the harsh near-white of his father’s.
“I mean, not quite.”, he muttered, startling the other boy. “Your eyes aren’t cold, Artemis.” Alex’s expression turned thoughtful as he hurriedly searched for some comparison that could even come close to describing that strange clear blue. “Not like your old man. Your eyes are like… sunlit ice. You know, when spring’s almost arrived and everything’s melting, and it’s exciting because the sky is finally clear again? Like that.”
As he said it, he found that he just couldn’t stop. “Deeper than the bloody ocean, that’s what your eyes are- when the sun hits the water just right, and it’s blinding. Like it’s the middle of summer, and the sky is blue, no clouds in sight, but there’s a tiny bit of hazy yellow there too, because the sunlight’s so strong. Don’t let me ever hear you call any part of yourself ‘cold’ again, Artemis- you’re not. You’re warm , a lot warmer than you give yourself credit for. You remind me of sunshine.”
His voice was stronger than he intended- brow furrowed, he took a deep breath, surprised by the sudden outpouring of emotion. “And I mean it, I really do.”
Alex glanced upwards in an effort to gauge Artemis’s reaction. The other boy looked positively dumbfounded, almost slack-jawed.
God, I screwed up, didn’t I-
He blinked, startled as Artemis’s arms suddenly curled around his shoulders. It wasn’t quite a hug- Artemis didn’t dare squeeze him tight, and their positioning on the sofa made the embrace somewhat difficult, but the gesture was warm all the same. Alex found himself missing the contact when the other boy inevitably pulled away.
“ Thank you. ”, Artemis repeated, voice trembling with emotion, though his gaze was steady. “I’ve never heard something like that before- I was beginning to think I never would. You make me feel so wonderfully special, Alex, and I want you to know that. You are more precious than gold to me.”
Alex felt his face grow warm. “Of course, Arty. It’s the truth.” He looked away, breaking into a stretch in an effort to hide the red tingeing his features. “Anytime.”
The shadows had grown long and crept over the walls by the time that Artemis had finally given in, discarding his tablet to the coffee table in favor of resting against Alex’s side. Evening was drawing closer- Alex could feel exhaustion beginning to weigh on him, urging him to rest. Of course, it would likely be a long while before he could actually sleep (someone needed to be responsible for dinner, and he wasn’t quite sure he trusted Artemis with the stovetop yet), but that didn’t make its eventual promise any less appealing.
“You ready for something to eat yet, Arty?”, he asked with a yawn, glancing down at the figure curled against him. To his surprise, he found Artemis’s eyes already on him- they gleamed in the dim light like a cat’s, deep in contemplation.
“Moths’ wings.”, he murmured, seemingly without thought.
Alex balked at the strange statement, confusion clouding his gaze. “What?”
With a soft grin splitting his features, Artemis reached out to give him a feather-light tap on the nose.
“Moths’ wings-“ he repeated, “-are what your eyes remind me of.” At the sight of Alex’s blush returning, he continued. “Strong coffee, and copper metal, and soil in the summertime. Hot chocolate. Sable fur. Mahogany wood struck by the sun. You remind me of many wonderful things, Alex Rider.”
Alex rolled his eyes, unable to keep the smile from his face. “You’re positively sappy sometimes, you know that?”
Artemis tried his best to maintain a stern expression, even as his grin widened. “You are looking at a successful romance writer and former poet, thank you very much-“
“A very, very pretty poet.”
Artemis’s laughter at that was everything.
“Yes- a pretty poet indeed.”