Hopefully, this isn't too anti-climactic, it needed to be done!

As always, thanks to ilex-ferox.


After

"Artemis is back."

Her breath left her all at once. She wondered if it made her a bad person that her first feeling was of disappointment, not elation.

"Butler – that's, mon Dieu. Really?"

"Really."

"Thank goodness." Then she laughed, because she was happy he was safe. Because she was happy that Butler would be happy, at last.

"I can't believe it. After all this time."

"You always knew he'd be back, mon cher."

"Yes, I did."

"I told you you weren't mad."

"Yes, you did."

"You're talking strangely."

"Yes, I am."

"Butler."

"Things are going to be different now."

"Yes, they are," she agreed. As she wanted him to, he laughed on the other end of the line, over there in Ireland. And in France she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to keep from crying. Because Butler would be happy, and it wouldn't be her doing. Because she would never have been enough to fill the hole left by Artemis. Because now he was back, and Butler would leave. Shutting her eyes didn't help.

"I can hear you crying," he said suddenly.

She said nothing.

"I'm going to be a bit presumptuous here and say they're not tears of joy, are they?"

"No," she agreed, sniffing quietly, "they're not."

"Things are going to be different, but they're not going to end. Artemis isn't a topiary specialist and I'm not going to leave you."

She chuckled lamely. "I knew that," she lied. "But I miss you, and you're not even gone yet. Well, I mean, you're not anymore gone than you were before, when I didn't miss you, but now it's different, and I miss you." She paused. "I'm not making any sense."

"No, I understand."

"You aren't going to tell him, are you?"

"No. Not yet, at any rate."

"Ever?"

"Do you want me to?"

"Yes. I want to tell everyone."

He chuckled and she could picture his eyes disappearing into his crow's feet. "So do I, but could we at least wait until you're legal? Maybe even a few years after that?"

She smiled. A few years after that. He wanted her for years. For years and years. "Oh, well, you're probably right. Maybe. It would be difficult to visit you in a prison cell, I suppose. I don't believe the guards would be willing to let me get very close."

"No, somehow I doubt that."

She opened the window to let in some air. "Butler?"

"Mmhmm?"

"I really am glad he's back. I'm glad you're happy. Really."

"I am too." He paused, then added, "But I was already happy before he came back."

She pressed her hand to her lips, as though to hold onto her smile. "That's ... good to know."

"Yes, I thought it might be." She could hear the smile in his voice, mocking her just a little for having doubted it.

"Minerva?"

"Mmm?"

"Thank you."

"You keep saying that."

"It bears repeating."

"I know exactly how you feel."

He laughed and she smiled, wrapping an arm around her stomach. She knew it would be a long time before any other arms held her, but, as she listened to his laughter, she found she was alright with that. At least those arms weren't gone forever.