This is the backstory I mentioned in 'Afterwards'. And I know, I know, we all hate Minerva (well, most of us), myself included, but I am determined to make her awesome. Can't let Kit have all the fun!
Also, as several people pointed out, in 'Afterwards' Minerva is still very young, that was my bad. My timelines got a bit confused. In my head I had already written this and so I felt like she'd got a lot older somewhere along the line. Which, of course, she hadn't. Oops. Oh well.
Thanks to Ilex-ferox, as usual, beta-extraordinaire.
Neither of them said anything as they walked down the hallway, leaving the Taiwan police enthusiastically cleaning up the mess they'd left behind. They rode the elevator down in silence. The bell dinged at every floor but neither of them said a word.
It wasn't until they got back into the rented Lexus that the silence was broken.
"Let me get that," said Butler, doing up her seatbelt. They both knew if it had been any other person, or any other time, she would have delivered a scathing remark on her complete competence in the area of seatbelt usage, thank you very much.
Instead she just said, tremulously, "Thank you," and felt very small sitting in the front seat of the car. When Butler joined her, sliding into the driver's seat, she reached out a very small, very white, very shaky hand and laid it on his wrist. He looked over at her, his face empty, further speech utterly beyond him.
"Thank you," she said again and, though she swallowed at the end – tears, nerves, who could tell – her words didn't tremble as she looked him straight in the eye. Her eyes were blue, but not the right blue. They moved him anyway. Somewhere in him a small voice wondered that anything could affect him now.
He covered her hand with his and squeezed her fingers. He nodded and gave her the best smile he could manage. It wasn't a reassuring smile, to be truthful it was actually quite terrifying. To see such a strong man's mouth shake as it tried to form itself into something so simple. To see someone so brave reduced to something so broken. This is a crime, Minerva thought, I should be locked away. When she looked back on that day it was that smile that she would mark as the moment she knew that she had done something unforgivable.
She raised her hand, no longer shaking – someone had to be strong here, and it shouldn't have to be him – and laid it on the corner of his lips. "Don't bother," she said, "I know what I've done. You don't need to try to make me feel better. You've done enough already."
Something suspiciously like a sob escaped Butler and Minerva bit her lip. She was trying to be strong but she was only twelve, and helpless herself, and how did you comfort someone in a situation like this, anyway? She leaned over the gap between their seats and hugged as much of him as she could. For the first time in her life, she felt entirely inadequate. In her arms his body shuddered, but he didn't make a sound.
Cry, she thought to herself, who am I to judge you? Please, just cry.
Eventually, he did. She didn't know if it made her feel better or worse.
"Could I ..." she trailed off, looking shy. Eyes on her toes, she asked, "Could I visit you, maybe, sometime, perhaps, Butler? Would that be alright? Would you mind?"
Butler cocked his head to one side, clearly surprised. "Visit me?"
"Yes," she told her shoelaces.
Ahead of them, beyond the barrier, her father and Beau waited in the company of a new bodyguard; Juan Soto was nowhere to be seen. Behind them, planes thundered down onto the tarmac, crowded with people coming home and going away. Planes were very hopeful things, Butler thought suddenly, full of second chances and new beginnings.
"I would like that," he said at last. "I'd ... that would be ... very nice, Minerva."
Her lips curved in a self-mocking little smile. "Very nice," she parroted. "Or are you just trying to comfort me again, Butler?"
"No," he said. "I don't have the energy. Besides," he looked at her, "how do you comfort someone in a situation like this?"
She nodded in understanding. "Shall I call you?"
"Yes," he said, "do that. I – well, it ... that'd be nice," he finished lamely. It was such a pathetic sentence he even managed a small smile himself.
Her eyes glinted suspiciously but she beamed at him nonetheless. Throwing her small arms around his middle, she hugged him as tightly as she could. "Thank you, Butler," she spoke into his shirt.
"You keep saying that," he mused, laying a hand on her tired, lank curls.
"It bears repeating," she told him.