Plastic Flowers, As Opposed to Other Things
i. one day after
Artemis heaved a sigh, raked shaky hands through his hair, and refused to meet her mismatched eyes. Contacts, she had explained.
She was fake. Everything was fake.
"You mean to tell me," he said quietly, a painful tremor visible in his voice, "that I am nothing more than an assignment to you?"
Holly stared blankly at Artemis, CIA badge gleaming icily on her vest, but there was a smouldered kind of pain behind her hazel eyes, behind the clutter of memories, of infinite summer evenings and stolen kisses. Holly sighed. "You were a dangerous suspect in our investigations, and the agency insisted that I make sure you weren't involved. I had to get close to you, and . . . this was the only way," she said impassively.
Artemis lifted his eyes slowly to meet her familiar ones. No. Artemis swallowed the heartache. Not familiar. Never familiar.
"Short, come on. We're needed elsewhere. It's done," called Holly's partner, Foaly, from behind the living room.
"Yes, Commander Short," sneered Artemis, voice tight and broken. "You are needed elsewhere. Please leave."
Holly ignored Foaly for a few moments, her face expressionless, devoid of emotion, so opposite that of the smirking face of his Holly. "I am sorry, Artemis," she said. Artemis strained to hear something in her monotonous voice break, but nothing.
Holly made for the door before pausing. She turned around, giving Artemis one long, last look before leaving the room without another word.
Artemis closed his eyes and staggered back against the wall, his throat clogged with what ifs and what should have beens.
Was it even real?
ii. one hundred and fifty days before
Artemis stares at the woman seated across his youngest brother, Beckett, in the study, and frowns, narrowing startling blue eyes as the unlikely pair high five after the excited youth blurts out some sort of scientific definition.
He trails a skeletal finger across the stainless steel kitchen counter and plucks an apple from a crystalline basket. Turning to Juliet, who hums tunelessly whilst slicing bunched parsley, Artemis asks, "Who is that woman with Beckett?"
". . . hmm?" Juliet pauses, looking up. "Oh- that's Beck's tutor, Holly. She's a pretty decent teacher."
Artemis raises questioning eyebrows. Elaborate.
Juliet leaves the cutting board and strolls to the refrigerator, opening several compartments of freshly grown vegetables before choosing a head of lettuce. "What?" she says, somewhat defensively, which furthermore surprises Artemis. "Beckett's a smart kid but he's got the attention span of a Yorkshire terrier. He's gunna need a tutor to pass his science class, Arty, and you know it," she tells him with a helpless shrug.
"Why hire a tutor then? What about Myles? I am positive that Myles is a competent tutor and would be more than delighted to assist his brother with his studies," Artemis points out, taking a bite of the apple. Juliet rolls her eyes at the argument and twirls the knife in her hand much too languidly for Artemis' liking.
"Myles is ten years old," she says matter-of-factly, "and would much rather spend his time in his room doing Lord knows what instead of tutoring his hyper active twin brother- even if you paid the boy!" Juliet adds quickly at Artemis' dignified splutter. Artemis sits back down and shoots Juliet a glare, which Juliet returns with a flutter of condescending eyelashes.
"Alright Juliet, I'm off for the day!" the woman calls from across the room.
Juliet waves a manicured hand. "Same time next week, yeah?"
Artemis' swift gaze travels to the woman by the door. A graceful woman of toned curves and high cheekbones, dark lashes framing large, mismatched eyes- one a pleasant hazel, the other a deep, crystal blue, much like his own. His eyes fall at the sight of her hands, which are scratched and mangled by a set of thin, white scars. The woman, Holly, flashes Beckett a quick smile and then settles her eyes on Artemis for a split second before twisting the knob of Fowl Manor's ancient wooden double doors, which are gilded with specks of yellow and rose gold. "Yeah," Holly confirms breezily, smirking brazenly at Artemis before departing the manor with a confident air about her.
Artemis frowns again and stares after the door, feeling both curious and mildly annoyed at how blissfully unaffected she seemed by him.
"Beckett," Artemis calls, leaving his apple completely forgotten on the marble counter. Beckett trots to the tabletop, a child of the sun and fields, flecks of gold highlighting his otherwise pale hair and skin. "Yeah Arty?"
"Am I an intimidating fellow?"
In the far corner, Juliet snorts.
iii. one hundred and twenty three days before
Beckett knocks over an antique clay vase Artemis had spent over five hundred thousand dollars illegally bargaining for in a flurry of unanticipated excitement and carelessness as he runs over to where Artemis and his mother are seated, practically shoving the manila envelope up his older brother's nose.
Artemis' protests are muffled and ignored as Angeline Fowl carefully separates the folder from Beckett's bony fingers and unseals the envelope. Her critical eyes travel down the paper for a moment before her face breaks into a delighted smile, her eyes crinkling in pride. "Oh darling! I am so proud of you!" she trills, placing a plethora of unwanted kisses on a squirming Beckett.
Artemis unsuccessfully masks his eye roll and nicks the paper out of Angeline's hands. "We are delighted to inform you that Beckett Fowl has improved dramatically in his science class over the course of three weeks, and has been achieving astounding marks in all of his test papers . . ." Artemis looks up at his beaming brother and relents a rare smile, extending his hand and ruffling his blonde curls. "Well done, brother."
Just then Myles pokes a head into the living room, worry troubling his serious countenance. "I heard something break earlier?"
Artemis sighs heavily and points an elegant finger at the demolished vase, which lies in a heap of gleaming porcelain and clay fragments on the floor. Myles' face relaxes and he saunters in through the glass doors, claiming a seat by the snapping fireplace. "Good," he says, "I never liked that one- a bit too poetic for my liking."
Artemis narrows his eyes. "A bit too poetic?" he repeats incredulously.
Angeline frowns at the direction of the vase, concern falling over pronounced Russian features. "I don't remember purchasing that antique."
Artemis' heart flips and his brain promptly generates a white lie. "It was a gift from the president of Niger- remember we met him sometime ago at father's art gala?"
Angeline purses her lips and Artemis decides that now would be the perfect time to meander their subject of conversation back to Beckett's grades. "Care to tell us how you've been achieving such stellar marks in school, Beckett?" Artemis asks with a too wide smile. Topic long forgotten, Angeline nods at the question and looks expectantly at her youngest son.
Beckett pretends to ponder the question for a minute, and at Artemis' wry twitch of the eyebrows, chuckles good-naturedly. "What can I say, Arty? Holly's a miracle worker."
iv. ninety six days before
Weeks roll by after Beckett receives his congratulatory letter, and Artemis finally makes it a point to personally thank this Holly for her efforts with her after school lessons.
"She comes every Wednesday at five o clock," Beckett tells Artemis whilst shrugging his school bag into place, eyeing the pile of freshly baked cupcakes on the marble tabletop. Myles disappointedly shakes his head at Beckett and waves his carrot stick in the air. "Wouldn't you rather eat something that'll satisfy your bowl system rather than your absurd taste buds?" he asks condescendingly, making a show of biting into the carrot.
Rather miserably, Myles fails at pretending to savor the taste of the tinny vegetable and Beckett, obviously not buying it, snorts at his brother and snatches a hazelnut cupcake from the top of the pile before giving it to Juliet, who incases the pastry in the appropriate tupperware.
"Five o clock," repeats Artemis.
Beckett nods. "Don't be late though. She'll probably not take you seriously if you're late."
Without meaning to, Artemis smiles slightly at that and promises the youngest Fowl that he won't be tardy.
She enters through the double doors at precisely five o clock later that day, and Artemis looks up from his tablet, an expression of polite disinterest greeting his guest.
Holly arches a slender eyebrow and takes a seat opposite him. "Well then." She smiles, all cheek and dimples. "Someone's all grown up."
"Beckett still hasn't arrived from his soccer practice, I'm afraid," Artemis explains. "A cup of tea while you wait?"
Holly leans back against her chair, mismatched eyes glinting playfully at him. "A cup of coffee would be splendid, sweetheart, thanks." Artemis almost chokes on his own spit and tries not to walk too quickly towards the kitchen, electing to ignore the 'sweetheart'. Coffee, then.
"What brings you from America?" he asks carefully from the kitchen, attempting to make small talk –which is something Artemis is never really good at in the first place- while he gathers sugar, coffee beans, and cups from antique wooden cabinets. Holly, much to his discomfort, strides towards him, hips in full sway, and rests her arms on the kitchen counter, elbows dangerously near his hands. She is so close that Artemis can smell her grass and citrus perfume. "Much as I hate to admit, I much prefer the British education system over the American one. And besides," Holly taps the coffee maker in Artemis' hand, "Ireland's known for its coffee."
"And it's alcohol consumption," mutters Artemis darkly, which earns a laugh from Holly. He blinks, pleased, but not entirely sure why, and tries very hard not to stare at the way the sun drenched room reflects twisted shafts of twilight off of her chestnut skin, or the way the shadows cling to the hallows of her cheekbones, giving Artemis the distinct impression that she was elfin yet queenly with her cropped auburn hair and simple navy blue suede jacket.
They converse on this and on that- topics that both entertain and amaze Artemis. For one she is as intelligent as she is bold, and he discovers that she is a student at Trinity College, pursuing her masters in Foreign Policy.
"International relations," Holly declares over her third cup of coffee, "is more interesting than you think."
"I am sure it is," drawls Artemis, surprised that he feels this at ease with her in such a short time period. She is snarky, yet brutally honest, quiet yet sly with her charm, and not at all an enigma, which, in Artemis' case, is a relief, putting him out of his misery in trying to decode a person within two minutes of their initial meeting. Holly drains the last of her coffee before flicking playful eyes at Artemis, and asks, "So what do you do for a living? You a billionaire IT computer technician? A corporal lawyer of some multi-billion dollar company? Or are you just really, really lucky?"
Artemis inwardly cringes. More like the head of an illegal billion-dollar industry. Outside Artemis gives her his trademark vampire smile. "I seek knowledge at every nook and niche, and so I would say I am an expert in the little things."
Holly arches dubious eyebrows and folds her arms, looking every bit as doubtful and unimpressed in the late evening sun. "The little things?" she repeats dryly, pushing her copper streaked bangs out of her eyes.
Artemis smirks despite of himself and leans back against his chair. "The little things," he nods, raising elegant fingers to inspect them. "You know the like- industrial engineering, biochemistry, computer programming . . ." he counts the majors off his fingers as if he were listing his favorite animals, which to his utmost delight, seems to achieve its goal in largely irritating Holly. "Alright, alright." She rolls her eyes, still managing to look unimpressed. "Now I can tell where Beckett gets all his smarts from."
Artemis stills. Beckett.
A loud silence suddenly weighs down on both Holly and Artemis. Artemis glances at the old grandfather clock nestled in the crook of the kitchen and his heart drops to his stomach. 6:45 pm.
Holly stands up quickly, as if the chair burned to the touch. Artemis pulls his smartphone from his pocket and unlocks it; only to find –oh bloody hell- seven missed calls from his mother.
There is a text message from Juliet: Emergency room. Now. And bring Beckett's onsie pjs.
According to the doctor's report, Beckett has developed serious allergies to hazelnut, cinnamon, and peanuts.
Artemis collapses on the stool by Beckett's bed and cradles his head in his hands. Beckett giggles at the sight of his brother and he and Myles share a knowing look. "You-are-so-irresponsible," Artemis rasps, calming himself by inhaling through his nose and exhaling slowly from the mouth. Beckett folds his arms defensively. "How was I supposed to know that I'm allergic to hazelnut! I'm ten years old and I am not letting some lame allergy stop me from living my dream!"
Myles sighs. "Eating cupcakes is your dream?"
Beckett shrugs. "It's a complicated life," he says. Artemis rolls his eyes but calms down, nonetheless. He pockets his smartphone after texting Holly on the wellbeing of his insane little brother, and she replies instantaneously with a "thank god the kid's not dead". Beckett raises pale eyebrows at the sight of Artemis texting and slyly asks, "Is that Holly you're texting?"
Artemis furrows his brow. "Yes?"
Beckett widens his grin. "Exchanging numbers I see . . ." He smirks. "Are you guys dating now?"
Myles looks up, hazel eyes wide with alarm, and stares at his brother, but he is a Fowl, and it makes him curious as well. Well, Arty, are you?
Before Artemis could answer, a text blares through his cell phone screen: Keep me company tomorrow?
Almost immediately, Artemis types: Location?
He could almost hear the smile in her voice. I know a place.
v. ninety five days before
It isn't long before Artemis stands squarely in the middle of Ireland's regional carnival gates, feet shuffling awkwardly from side to side as he waits.
A few moments later, Artemis identifies Holly in a sea of unfamiliar faces and debates whether he should raise his hand or call out her name, but before he could do so, her eyes find his and she smiles wide and for reasons unbeknownst to him Artemis smiles back.
They experience roller coasters, haunted houses, water slides (which Artemis immensely regrets partaking in, seeing as his entire lower half is drenched with chlorinated water, meaning he has to throw away his favorite pair of Armani slacks and loafers) and after a couple of hours, retire to playing cheap carnival games to avoid facing seemingly infinite waiting hours.
Holly, Artemis discovers, is superior to him in every carnival game he could possibly ideate, and because she is irritating and competitive and so full of energy, Holly makes it a point to publicly humiliate Artemis after each carnival game, which Artemis only finds highly unnecessary.
"You're just sore that all those majors haven't benefited you in the real world," she teases, the slow setting sun kissing her bare shoulders and face, ethereal eyes twinkling in amusement and something close to fondness. Artemis rolls his eyes and shushes her with his index finger. "I have learned that patience is a virtue especially useful in useless carnival games. Just you wait and see."
Holly cocks her head to the side. "And if you win?"
Artemis considers her question for a moment. "Then I will treat you to dinner."
"I hate restaurants."
"The manor then."
Holly taps her chin for a good two seconds, and seeing Artemis' exasperated face, laughs something gorgeous in his ears. "Yeah, alright."
Artemis picks up the baseball from the basket and quickly sanitizes the filthy thing before narrowing his eyes at the target.
Concentration don't fail me now.
The ball misses the target completely.
Artemis groans loudly and glares at the man in charge of the game as Holly snorts mercilessly at his failed attempt. The man takes pity on the uncoordinated man and hands him a bouquet of fluorescent plastic flowers. "Just take 'em and get outta here, sonny," he says gruffly, a hint of a smile lighting his eyes. Face stained scarlet, Artemis snatches the flowers from the man's hand and retreats quickly to the other side of the area.
Holly is at Artemis' heels before he is aware and she slips her hand in his, a slight smile tugging at the corners of her red lips. "No worries, Artemis. We're still on for dinner at the manor."
Rather shyly, Artemis offers Holly the plastic bouquet, and she accepts it, pressing a light kiss on his lower jaw.
vi. three days before
The Fowl family instantly fall for Holly's charm and cheek, Angeline almost tearing up at the sight of Artemis' fingers tangling with Holly's as they dine on Butler's exquisite Thai cuisine.
Holly, much to Artemis' pleasure, makes it a habit to stop by every other day, grabbing Artemis by the hand and leading him towards whatever place she fancies going, and Artemis only willingly obliges, because he loves the feel of her soft hands in his and the way she nips at his lower lip whenever she feels like getting her own way (sometimes Artemis argues with her for this reason in specific, but Holly doesn't seem to mind, so he has no reason to stop).
They mostly stay at her apartment in the outskirts of Dublin's city life, watching old art documentaries and playing chess while listening to many of Artemis' self composed symphonies, that is, only after he and Holly compromise a music schedule since she isn't much of a classics kind of woman to begin with.
"Are you staying in Ireland after your masters?" Artemis mumbles into her neck as he envelopes his arms around her waist, taking particular pleasure in her grass and citrus scent.
Holly whirls around to meet his gaze, her mismatched eyes gleaming wickedly in the dim apartment light. "You think I should?" she asks innocently, running her hands through his thick hair, which Artemis secretly thrills at. He smirks at her before peppering kisses on her jaw, working his way down to her neck. "It's up to you," he mutters before kissing her again.
Holly's gaze drops to the floor.
"Up to me," she echoes, swallowing thickly.
Artemis hears the tremble in her voice but thinks nothing of it.
They are both in love and young and happy, so what is it that could possibly go wrong?
A/N: You're a sweetheart for taking the time to read this. Please leave a note; corrections, criticisms, or thoughts regarding the fic. I'm open to any and all ideas! Thank you c: