Yeah, yeah, I know, I vanished. I probably will again after this (school, job, boyfriend, other job, etc), but this has been sitting on my computer for the better part of a year, being tweaked and forgotten about, and tweaked and forgotten about, and, well, you get the picture. Anyway! Seeing as Kit Heart has returned to Ma Bete Noire (I know, I still need to review it, getting there! Obviously it was awesome) and I got a lovely note from one A. Thorn asking me where the heck I've been, I went and rooted through my files to see what state of my unfinished stories were in. Hopefully you enjoy it. I know this pairing isn't everyone's cup of tea. Non-beta-ed. Unbeta-ed? Beta-free. All mistakes are mine.
Hôtel Le Negresco
After Artemis took them under his wing, meeting was much easier. The teen would send Butler on totally implausible wild goose chases, telling him to take his time, take a few days, make sure he had found out all he could, and for what? Usually a piece of information Butler could have had from a phone call to the right person, without ever leaving Fowl Manor. But he certainly wasn't complaining.
It was her idea to stay at the Negresco. Far enough away that they would be anonymous, yet close enough that she could get there without necessitating one of the dreaded plane trips. Though, having promptly set up her own (quite lucrative) investment portfolio after the credit card debacle, she had solved that particular problem.
Butler had had no issue with her choice. He liked France, he liked the sun, he liked the Negresco. Mostly, he liked her. The rest of it was just icing on the cake.
"We have a reservation," Minerva leaned one elbow on the dark wood of the reception desk, needing all the extra three inches her heels gave her in order to do so, "under Jeeves. Mr. and Mrs."
The woman behind the front desk was well trained enough not to raise her eyebrows. "Of course, a room with a sea view."
"Mm," said Minerva, resting her chin in her palm as she watched the receptionist.
As she brought up their room information on her computer screen, the woman gave them a brilliant smile and said, "I hope you enjoy your stay." She spoke to Butler.
"I'm sure we will," Minerva answered.
"Nice room," commented Butler.
Minerva shrugged. "This hotel is a bit gaudy for my taste."
"I thought girls were supposed to like a little opulence in their lives."
Setting herself down in one of the armchairs, Minerva turned her legs out to the side so that she could stretch down and undo the straps of her shoes, unconsciously showing herself off in the process. "Is that how you see me, Butler?" she asked, jokingly, intent on her shoes. "Like a little girl wanting to play princess?"
"No," said Butler, head tilted to watch her hemline advance and retreat. "Not at all."
Something in his tone made her look up. When she realised he'd been looking at her, she blushed. Despite her joking, watching him watch her made her feel like a little girl, out of her depth.
Like most girls in their teens, Minerva could add several years to her age with several carefully applied layers of makeup. She left their room looking like a twenty-year-old who took care of her skin. Her hair had been forced into a French twist and she was wearing something velvety and Prussian blue. Her shoulders were bare and white and her throat looked even more delicate than usual with all of her hair pinned up. She was beautiful and she knew it.
In the hall two businessmen paused to watch her pass. Without a doubt they thought she was too. Biting her lip, she made her way to the bar. She was beautiful, but would he think so?
She was nervous and he could tell. "We don't have to stay," he said. "Would you like to go?"
Minerva looked down at her hands where they lay twisted in her lap. She crossed her legs and leaned towards him so that he could feel her breath on his cheek. "No," she said.
"You're unhappy," he told her, moving back so that he could look her in the eyes.
Her mouth twitched in displeasure. "How do you always know?"
"I'm a Butler," he told her enigmatically.
She rolled her eyes and sipped her wine, turning to watch the couples on the dance floor. They were mostly middle-aged foreigners with middle class budgets and upper-class aspirations. That's why she chose the Negresco. It was pretty, and all the people she knew would be elsewhere, where there were fewer tourists.
"Then the question is: do Butlers dance?" she asked, without taking her eyes from the dancers.
Butler snorted. "Do you really need to ask?"
She laughed, her head tilting back so that the light played along her exposed throat. "How silly of me," she said.
Butler stood and held out his hand to her. She beamed, biting her lip and turning her face to the side as she smiled.
Slipping off her seat, she put her hand in his. Behind them, the bar staff watched with mild interest. Laying her free hand on his chest for balance, she stood up on her tip-toes, despite her heels, and kissed him.
He raised his eyebrows at her as she pulled away. "Does that make you less nervous?" he murmured, his expression sceptical, as he led her onto the dance floor.
"Yes, actually," she told him, her voice prim as his hand came to rest on her back. "So much so that I may do it again." She leaned her head back to look down her nose at him.
He chuckled, tucking her under his chin.
As they made their way out through lobby, to walk along the Promenade des Anglais, she kept herself tucked under his arm. It was harder than it looked, flaunting social taboos. Her legs were shaky and she kept looking over her shoulder.
Once outside, he sat her down on a bench, his hands on her shoulders as he bent down to look her in the eye. "If you want to go home, all you have to do is say so. If you want to stop-"
But, of course, this was why she was throwing social niceties to the wind. Because here was a man too kind for words. Here was a man whom she loved. For whom she wished she could be everything but was willing to settle for being less. And there was no one else in the world from whom she would accept less than what she wanted.
She pushed herself to her feet under his hands. "I just want to be with you," she said simply.
He smiled slowly. "Alright," he said, and kissed her.
"By the way," he told her, as they wandered back towards the hotel, "you look beautiful."
"Would Mademoiselle like another coffee?" The waiter bent over her, smiling, his white teeth perfectly straight.
"No, thank you," Minerva replied, tempted to tell him it was Madame. But she could see Butler rolling his eyes in her head and resisted.
The waiter watched her as he busied himself behind the coffee bar. She was finely built, with delicate wrists and ankles. She was mostly leg, but, despite her smaller breasts, her waist tucked in neatly, giving her that much-sought-after hourglass figure. She was very pretty, especially when the sun came through the windows and got tangled up in her hair.
Suddenly, something caught her attention on the far side of the room. She put down her book and smiled, her whole face lighting up.
"You came," she said, standing.
The man crossing the restaurant was on a scale entirely opposite from her. Powerfully built and nearly two feet taller than her and twice as wide, the only thing they had in common were long legs.
Her father? Thought the waiter. But then she was kissing him. Her lover? He must be at least twice her age. I wonder what he pays to keep her.
Though, if you made it past his body to his face, you would see that his features were just as beautiful as hers. High cheekbones and what had once been a perfectly straight nose, now showing evidence of having been broken at least twice, made a face of hard lines and smooth planes. His eyes were dark, predatory, and slanted ever so slightly upwards.
He tucked her hair behind her ears in what seemed an impossibly gentle movement for someone his size.
"I missed you," she said, playing with his suit jacket's buttons. He looked down at her and his eyelashes cast shadows on his cheeks.
His lips were gentle, the waiter noticed. In fact, on such a dangerous-looking man, his mouth seemed almost out of place. But then he smiled for her, and his face was transformed.
The staff were always surprised by how much they talked. Trophy wives didn't usually keep up conversations with their husbands. Then again, trophy wives didn't usually wield the carte bleue either.
"Haven't seen your cigarettes in a while," Butler commented, sipping his coffee.
Minerva shrugged. "Like you said, they were a stupid habit. I'm too smart for that."
"You quit?" He raised his eyebrows.
She made a face. "I'm trying. You wouldn't believe the number of nicotine patches I go through in a week."
Butler frowned. "I haven't seen-"
"I make sure you don't. It's not your problem. You shouldn't need to worry about it." She grimaced. "I always thought ... I always thought I'd be able to quit whenever I liked. Addictions were for other people."
She laughed, nodding. "Stupider people. So I suppose it serves me right."
"It serves you right for starting, yes," he agreed. He put down his coffee cup and laid his and on her wrist. "Don't say it isn't my problem. I appreciate the thought, but your problems are my problems now. That's how this works."
Minerva opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again. "Okay," she said shyly, after a moment, "alright."
Butler smiled at her and finished his coffee.
"Butler, does this mean I too get to worry about whether or not Artemis has kale or chard for dinner when you return?" she asked him, tilting her head to the left.
"Yes," he said, "of course. That's a matter of life or death."
The staff weren't used to trophy wives laughing so much either.
"I never thought I'd become a regular at Hôtel Le Negresco, that's certain," Minerva mused, clipping her toe nails on the closed toilet.
"Mm?" said Butler, as he shaved under his jaw.
"Mm," agreed Minerva. "I suppose, however, being new to our money, it should be just the sort of place my family frequents. Actually, come to think of it, my parents may have come here for one of their honeymoons." She paused, thinking about this, before giving a delicate little shudder.
Butler shrugged. "Nothing like hiding in plain sight," he said, wiping his straight razor clean.
She shook nail clippings into the bin and chuckled. "See, that's what I like about you, Butler, your pragmatism. Well, among other things."
"My pragmatism?" Butler echoed, clearly bemused. There was something no woman had ever complemented him on before.
"Yes," Minerva nodded. "My father is a shallow man for whom reality is much too deep. Artemis is a deep man for whom reality is much too shallow. They create their own little worlds, each in their own way, and try to make the rest of the world follow suit. You, you take what you get and, what's that expression? You 'run with it'."
"And you like that?"
"Yes. It's refreshing. And a good reminder to me."
"To be grateful for what I've got. For what I have been given." Perched awkwardly on the toilet, a foot balancing on the rim of the bin, an elbow resting on the toilet paper stand, and wearing nothing but one of his shirts, she looked up at him and smiled. She was incandescent.