A/N: A long-overdue epilogue (of sorts) to my other story, The Book of Ages. This is me forcing myself to keep writing fiction.
It was quiet in the cottage by the sea, the one with the window boxes out front, and the sagging bookshelves inside. They sat side by side, against the wall on one of the two low beds Butler had brought in for them for the night. This was after Artemis convinced him to give them a day just to settle back down and process everything that had happened before making the calls to his parents and a young French girl. The bodyguard had retired to the cottage's small bedroom, leaving them – at their request – in the living room for the night.
Light from a waxing gibbous moon streamed in through the wide, south-facing windows to their left, causing their shadows to almost reach the one chair in the room. It was probably around two or three in the morning, but despite their exhaustion from the previous day's events, sleep didn't come to either of them.
The teen had sat up first, with the elf joining him on his bed, against the wall, shortly after.
Artemis Fowl sat cross-legged. Holly Short sat next to him, her legs extended out in front of them, covered by the soft sheets on the bed. Artemis' arm wrapped around the elf's shoulders, his right hand between Holly's smaller hands, resting in her lap.
They had arrived at the cottage shortly before dawn, nearly a full day ago now, though it had taken a tremendous effort on Holly's part to beg off being shuttled back to Haven with the veritable caravan that was sending the entire population of Hybras underground. She'd argued that another day wasn't that big of a deal when she'd already been missing for three years. Plus, they had an entire demon colony to process, so it wasn't like Section Eight was lacking work to do. Undoubtedly, with their display on the island, the tabloids would be running wild with the revelation of the newly returned captain's illicit romance with a Mud Man. Just what had happened in the last three years on the island of Hybras, they'd wonder. But the mess they'd face when Holly finally returned to Haven was only a minor nuisance in the back of the elf's mind, a dull and unimportant thought that was drowned out by the mass of conflicting emotions currently brewing at the forefront of her mind.
They were back. They lost those three years again, from the return of Hybras, not to mention all the other events they had experienced that were now wiped from history. They were a bit older now, and they had been through a world together that others were fortunate to never have to experience. And they had lost two dear friends in the process.
Holly replayed the events on Mu back in her head, with all of the details they had quietly omitted from their explanation to Butler.
"I can't live without you," Artemis had said, "Holly, I love you."
"I know," was all she was able to say at the time, as she'd prepared to let herself be killed to end the paradox.
She shivered, and then gently squeezed the Irish teen's hand.
"Artemis," she whispered, looking at their hands before turning to look up at him, "what we told Butler and Vinyaya and Foaly… all of that… it really happened, right?"
Artemis nodded slowly.
"We wouldn't be here otherwise," he said. "Last time, my parents visited this place almost immediately. And I seem to recall you saying they put you through a long series of debriefs and psych evaluations when you got back to Haven. It'll probably be worse this time when you get back, with the scene we caused in front of everyone."
Leave it to Artemis to point that part out. He had a small half-smile on his lips though.
Holly squeezed her eyes shut and rested her forehead against the teen's shoulder.
"I just don't know how I'm supposed to feel," she said finally. "Part of me wants to cry, and part of my wants to laugh in relief."
Holly was sure that the psychologist in Fowl had a half-dozen analyses for what she just had just said, but he didn't try to explain anything. Instead, he just held her tighter.
"I know," he whispered after a few moments. "But I'm with you. We'll face it together."
A less experienced Artemis might have said something about his brains and her brawn bearing them through, but they both knew that ultimately, neither had been what saved them. This Artemis was a less certain, perhaps more mature person, one who had been challenged – and aided – by forces even he couldn't begin to understand.
They were silent for another long while. The room darkened as clouds passed in front of the moon.
Holly knew he was right. They'd been through too much together – often through events others wouldn't even believe, much less understand – for them to do anything else but be each other's support. She silently wondered how her life had, over the past few years, become so inextricably intertwined with that of one Artemis Fowl.
"Artemis," she said, looking up at him again, her eyes searching his. "Artemis, I love you."
He said nothing for a moment, but then leaned down, bringing his lips to hers, tentatively, at first, but then quickly with more vigor as she tilted her head back and to one side. Holly closed her eyes and just felt, and smelled, and tasted the young human who she had somehow become closer to than anyone on or under the Earth.
She'd never said those words to him before. She couldn't do it on Mu, believing at the time that she would be gone forever in just a bit longer. Last time, the way Artemis had said it was like a reminder. This time, when she said it, it was a declaration. This time, by letting those words finally pass her lips, it was a declaration that she now had the audacity to hope.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Holly also realized that this was the first time Artemis had initiated a kiss. This time, it wasn't a kiss they could blame on her adolescent hormones, nor was it a last kiss goodbye, nor even one of overflowing relief. This one simply was. It was, because there was no use in hiding it anymore, no use in half-measures, no use in anything but admitting the truth, and facing the consequences.
When they finally pulled back, Holly felt more than a little breathless, and she could feel the rapid thumps of her heart in her chest.
"And I love you," said the teen with a smile, "but you already knew that."
And so she did. Holly let herself fall from leaning against Artemis' shoulder to lying sideways in his lap, never letting go of his hand in the meanwhile. She curled up her legs underneath her and placed his hand against her lips. She closed her eyes, and now, finally, felt the pull of sleep as she brought herself closer to his warmth.
For the first time in far too long, Holly Short felt at peace. Though she dimly wondered how long it would last, for now, in this night, in the cottage by the sea, she simply took comfort in the fact that they were together.