Chapter Three:

Dolphins and Hypocrisy

Paradizo Chateau

It was late evening. That brief, perfect balance between dusk and dark where deep swaths of purple and fuchsia still swept the lower half of the heavens, but higher up, the first, boldest stars were already making their grand debuts. Holly, lost in thought, barely noticed.

Amazing, she mused, how drastically three short years could affect the course of a lifetime—how one young boy could turn a grown woman's world upside down, quite without her consent, and not even realize it. After eighty years, Holly could count the sum of her romantic relationships on one hand—a fact she typically attributed to dedicating her life to the LEP—and yet, most recently…

A soft-spoken, "Is this a bad time?" nearly startled her off the railing, and Holly spun, head whipping around, fingers strangling the wrought iron, and heart giving an ominous, base drum thud in her chest. In the first second, her eyes could have cut steel; in the second, and her tension melted with recognition.

"Butler," she breathed—a sigh of relief as much as a greeting. The capacity for such a big man to move so softly never ceased to amaze her.

"Sorry," the guard apologized, looking mildly abashed, and he lingered with a rare air of uncertainty on the threshold between manor and balcony. "If you'd rather I leave…"

The evening light cast deep shadows on his broad frame, and at nearly seven feet, he half filled the archway, reminding Holly of a time—not so long ago—when such a sight would have inspired well-placed fear in her heart.

It felt like a lifetime ago.

Tossing him her best attempt at a smile, Holly shook her head. "No, it's alright," she assured. "You startled me, but I was…thinking too much anyway." About things I ought not in my right mind be dwelling so much on in the first place, added a more cynical, unhelpful inner voice, and she frowned, returning her eyes to the shadowy countryside. "Now's as good a time as any."

Butler grunted, making no verbal response, but took her reply for the invitation it was and joined her in silence.

Minutes passed.

Fuchsias went mauve. Purples deepened, darkened, and eventually turned navy, then black. White stars solidified out of thin air like tiny gems, revealed only after time sifted through the dust of day to disclose of the sky's true treasures.

Finally, her face veiled by the new dark, Holly sighed. "I am sorry," she said, and Butler spared her a glance. "My reaction was…impulsive, biased and…horribly hypocritical." At the last part, his eyebrows rose impressively, and she snorted, "Oh, please," matching the look with one of her own. "I know he tells you everything…" At his silence, she shifted, anxious, against the rail, suddenly uncertain. "He…did…tell you…didn't he?"

Butler folded his arms under him, his expression masked in shadow, unreadable. "What?" he asked at last. "That you kissed him eight years ago?"

Holly shut her eyes, glad for the dark.

It didn't feel like eight years ago. Of course it was, technically—but not to her. Just months, to her. "Yes," she said finally, "that…" happy that the words made it past her throat—never mind their hoarse, ragged edge. When she opened her eyes, Butler looked pensive, evaluating.

"You're tearing yourself up about it," he realized, making it a statement, and Holly gave a dry laugh—thin and humorless.

"A little," she admitted. "But…not because I kissed him." She let her head slip back, resting it against the wall, and drew her eyes idly over the navy sky, now salted generously with glittering, winking stars. "I think it would have been ok…if that were the end of it," she conceded. "I lost some years in that warp. He gained some. I was…hormonal." Ignoring the tinge of warmth in her cheeks, Holly shrugged, not quite daring to meet Butler's eyes. "I guess it just seemed like a good idea at the time…and maybe right then, it was, but…" she trailed off. "That should have been it," she insisted, softer. "It can't work here, now…and I know that. There are too many things wrong. I have to just forget it, but…that's what I tear myself up about." She turned her gaze to the North Star, a constant. "Not so much that I haven't put it behind me yet, but more that…I don't want to."

After a long, dragging pause, she risked a peek at her companion. He, too, was contemplating the stars, not even watching her.

She leaned forward. "I believe," she whispered, her tone low and conspiring, as if prompting him from a script, "this is the part where you beat me up."

His eyes flicked her way. Surprise dominated for a moment. Then, gradually, the humor seemed to sink in, and it won her a fleeting smile.

"I see," responded Butler at length, "and that would be to…defend my charge's innocence?"

Innocent Artemis.

Holly felt the first snicker bubble and clapped her lips together. She tried to stifle it—really—but failed, choking on it instead. The end result: a bitten-off half-breed between a giggle and a snort, muffled poorly behind a hand which reached her mouth too late.

Butler's amusement shone through uninhibited.

As soon as she could manage, she shot him a glare—but it lacked menace.

"Alright," she growled, "so maybe he's not…exactly…the vulnerable, impressionable child type, but…don't you even worry a little that-"

"-you'll garner your feminine wiles, utilize his youth and inexperience to seduce him expertly at the cusp of manhood only to…what? Convince him to do something he'll deeply regret? Corrupt him? Wheedle a proposal out of him only to dump him a day after tying the knot and make off with half his riches?"

"Erm." Holly blinked inarticulately. She tried to imagine anyone 'seducing' Artemis out of his riches—and nearly cracked a grin.

"You can see why I lack concern," grunted Butler, apparently reading her mind. "Unless of course…" He tilted his head, another ghost of a smile teasing his lips, "…you only want him for his body?"

Holly teetered on her perch, eyes going saucer wide and cheeks flaring up like an incinerator pack—and Butler laughed. Not loud or jeering, but oh, how she wished for something to throw at him.

"You…that's…" She pointed an accusing finger, narrowing her eyes. "I'm serious. You and I both know this has nothing to do with his money or his…well…" She lowered her hand, face keeping its flare, "…perhaps it has something to do with his innocence, but…why aren't you concerned? You certainly have more right to lash out now than I did when…" Again, her words trailed.

"More?" Butler asked dubiously. "Look, Holly…" The large man took a breath, steeling himself. "Artemis is young…but I trust him, as I always have, to make his own decisions. Frankly…I find myself hard pressed to imagine him becoming smitten with any young woman considered 'appropriate' for someone of his age and social status…excluding, perhaps, Miss Paradizo, but even there, his interest so far has proven to be…minimal, at best…and needless to say I can hardly picture him being tricked into any relationship he doesn't already thoroughly approve of."

"Mm." Holly pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Yes, well…that only seems to emphasize how wrong I was to object in the first place…even if I'd seen you two putting your tongues down each other's throats."

Unfortunately, Butler's floored expression betrayed only a grave lack of comprehension.

Holly resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "So let me get this straight," she prodded stubbornly. "You don't object to me developing some sort of…possibly romantic attraction to your charge…but you still find my initial objection to you having any sort of similar relationship with him…reasonable?"

"I'm definitely missing something," admitted Butler, lost.

Holly screwed her eyes shut. "Alright…for my benefit: explain. Why, again, would it be ok if, say, I…a fully grown woman, decided I wanted to pursue a…'relationship' of some non-platonic sort…with Artemis?"

Butler frowned. "As I said, he's fully capable of making his own life decisions. He reached a level of maturity by age ten that some never reach in a lifetime…and he holds you in high regard, I'm not blind to that. He's nearly sixteen…eighteen, legally, not twelve anymore. If he chooses to associate on a personal level with someone decades his senior…what business is it of mine?"

"I'm a different species," Holly countered.

"You're a smaller, more magical variation on the same basic concept," grunted Butler, unmoved. Then he frowned. "You understand I'd be decidedly less pleased if he took an unprofessional interest in bottle-nosed dolphins."

Holly grimaced. "About that size-difference?" she reiterated, smoothly changing the subject, and Butler quirked an eyebrow at her.

"I thought bigger was bett-"

Holly coughed. "Right, then. So…" She opted to ignore his wink. "From that line of reasoning, how do you possibly conclude that my objection was reasonable?"

Butler's continued confusion was unduly frustrating. "Holly…I'm his bodyguard. He's my charge. He-"

"-is also a criminal," added Holly, "and I'm a police officer." She tapped her chin. "You know what, you're probably right. I'm sure the professional aspects of our lives would never allow for us to actually develop feelings for hi… Oh. Wait." She leveled him with a meaningful stare, and Butler actually blushed—a little.

"That's…hardly fair," he sniped, little more than a muted grumble. She smiled. "But…" Butler took up the gauntlet again, determined. "He's younger than my baby sister. I couldn't possibly-"

"I thought we already discussed age?" asked Holly, and Butler startled. "There are more years between you and I than there are between you and Artemis," Holly pointed out firmly, unrelenting, and it took him a long moment to regain his bearings.

"That's…" Butler struggled for a base of reason—understandably difficult. He had just argued that Artemis could choose from whichever age group he took interest in. Finally, he shook his head. "You're a fairy. You age…differently. I'd be old, dying, before he reached his mid-life crisis. It-"

"Actually," Holly interrupted again, and Butler scowled at being cut off for the fourth time over the course of his last four comments, "it wouldn't be a stretch to say you'll probably outlive him…by several decades."

That was enough to make him forget his frustration—and blanch.

Holly watched in silence as the reactions tumbled in kaleidoscope fashion over Butler's features: first disbelief, then confusion, and finally, slow, reluctant comprehension. When he finally faced her, a foreign desperateness lingered behind his mask of calm.

"Surely," he said quietly, "the effects weren't that drastic…"

Odd, for a man to face the prospect of living well past his self-prescribed expiration date and look…distressed? Holly didn't think so. There was a difference between living a long, healthy life, and living to see not only your parents, but also your friends, your siblings, and those young enough to be your children pass away before you.

Obviously, outliving Artemis had never been on Butler's things-to-do list.

"That operation aged you ten to fifteen years internally…but it probably added anywhere from fifty to seventy-five years to your total lifespan, at least," said Holly, and Butler blinked, looking down, taking it in. "I wouldn't be surprised if you have another full century to go. You'll live to see Artemis through the rest of his teens, his adolescence…and on into his old age." Here, she cracked a small smile. "Provided, of course, that he doesn't get us all killed first."

Butler returned the smile—barely. "I'd say either possibility is at least as likely," he guessed, then shook his head. "Forgive me…I have no reason to be this taken aback. It just…never occurred to me that I might…"

"…live to see him through everything?" asked Holly, and Butler tilted his head at her, a new, curious expression dawning.

"Well, when you put it that way…" His smile became a tad more genuine, "…it doesn't sound so bad."

"No…not so bad, and keep in mind," Holly consoled, "the lifespan difference is far less drastic than any that would show up in a fairy/human relationship…I'll still be at the latter end of middle-age when you're both on your deathbeds."

"I suppose…I never really thought much about it," conceded Butler.

Holly didn't feel the need to point out that she had—probably more than was healthy.

"Still," Butler pushed up off the rail, returning persistently to the original topic, "I'm his guardian. I've watched him grow since before he could walk. If it's not professional, it's more of a…father son relationship than anything else." Apparently, something in her expression gave her away, because his lips pursed and his shoulders squared. "What?"

"Really?" Holly asked, a pinch of amusement sneaking in despite her best intentions. "Because you know…I could have sworn there's a key element missing in that analogy…"

"Oh?" Butler folded his arms. "Humor me."

Holly smirked. "Do you honestly think he sees you as a figure of authority?"

Butler stared. Blinked. Then continued to stare.

"As far as I can tell, you'd let him get away with murder. No, wait, let me rephrase that." Holly eyed her companion closely. "You'd help him commit murder, if that were his wish." She watched his brow furrow and imagined the figurative gears in his brain clicking and whirring as he processed the concept. "Feel free to correct me, if you disagree."

After several long minutes, he'd made no such correction.

Finally, Butler huffed brusquely. "You're as difficult to argue with as he is."

Holly flashed a grin. "That I doubt," she said, failing to add that he didn't even bother arguing with Artemis. Few did. "But…I'll take it as a compliment, anyway."

Butler grunted. "What were we discussing?"

"I was apologizing," said Holly. "I said sorry for being a hypocrite, but then you wouldn't even believe I had reason to apologize, so…" Her lips twitched up. "I had to prove myself."

"Ah." He looked the part of a man rapidly developing a headache. "Well…at least you're female."

It was a last line of defense. Holly recognized that much. And yet, she couldn't help but treat it with puzzlement.

"Ok, but what does that have to do with…?" she started to ask. And then, it hit. Her lips formed an "Oh" of dawning realization before almost immediately thinning to a tight, pursed line, and she rolled her eyes. "Right, sorry," she quipped. "Forgot that Mud Men still took issue with that sort of thing."

Butler's eyebrows quirked upwards. "Primitive?" he asked, but she met his mildly surprised inquiry with an honest scowl.

"Oh, no," she crooned sarcastically. "I agree completely. If he must fuck a dolphin, let him have at it, but heaven forbid he consider bedding someone of the same sex…what is this world coming to? If-"

Oh dear, Holly mentally backtracked, had she really just compared herself to a fucked dolphin…aloud?

Judging from Butler's impressive state of slack-jawed inarticulacy, she guessed the affirmative.

Wincing, Holly took a personal note never to allow Minerva to connive her into taste testing any Mud Men wine samples before engaging in important conversations—ever.

Fortunately, said blonde French genius chose that precise moment to save Holly from her self-inflicted peril, jumping in a moment before Butler found the words to answer with a chipper, "There you two are!" and turning two heads at once.

"Minerva," Holly and Butler chimed in unison, relieved and hoarse, respectively.

"Dinner's to be served on the hour," informed Minerva, her voice deceptively cheerful even as her eyes darted keenly between them, missing nothing. By her observations end, she quirked a dainty eyebrow, reminding Holly a little too sharply of Artemis's similar all-knowing stare, but thankfully, she made no comment. Instead, she nodded her head towards the inside, saying with the same cheer, "Come, as soon as you're ready, but I'd advise you make it quick. It would be a pity to serve you your thank-you banquet cold."

A/N: Haha, I made Holly say the eff word. :P *Ahem*

Anyway, in case you didn't guess YES that was a rant I've wanted to get out there for a while, and I'd appologize for shamelessly making use of the characters to argue it out for me, BUT…I'm not sorry. I can totally accept the fact that there are people who just don't like the Dom/Arty ship. Fine. I'm ok with that. You don't have to like every ship. But to say that it's wrong and disgusting? Ok…maybe…I COULD let you get away with that…AS LONG AS YOU DON'T SHIP A/H AT THE SAME TIME. -pant;pant- There could be something I'm overlooking, I suppose…but as far as I'm concerned, they have…like…ALL the same issues. (Age difference, size difference, proffesional clashes, they're even both supposed to be falling under the "friend" category.) The only worthwhile differences I see are a.) Holly's a different species and b.) Butler's…very male. Yes? No?

I'm not trying to start a shipping war or anything - promise. I'm totally fine with the Holly/Artemis ship (srsly, it's canon, ya'know?).

Oh, and yeah, I know I promised more plot development this chapter, and…well…oops? I posted in favor of keeping to a "once a week" schedule - which I probably won't make next week, but maybe. (School's back in, yada, yada. But I'm reading Beowulf, so that makes it ok, right??) Whatever the case, though, I really, really will develop the actual, non-romance-oriented part of the plot…next time.

Until then! :D

P.S. Just remembered: yes, I took a wild guess at how much time Holly's magical healing actually added to Butler's life. I've always wondered but Colfer never said (I now have book confirmation of this), so I decided to make it up and let her fill him in. I like the idea of Butler living long enough to see Artemis through (understandably enough). Too many people treat him like he's on his death-bed and he's not even FIFTY, gosh. Plus, canon supports a "longer than natural" life; why not take advantage of it? I didn't think that having him live to at least 125/150+ years was unreasonable after having a shit-ton of magic jam packed into his system. -shrug- 'Tis my simple line of reasoning added to selfish "make Butler live forever" desire. :D