Some Artemis and Butler friendship to make up for my hideous inability to update lately - see the bottom for the full A/N. Until then, enjoy!

War brings with it a certain sense of brilliance; it is not beautiful, but it captures the eye.

He thinks of this as he strolls the grounds, arms crossed over his chest in some feeble attempt at warmth. The gardens are immaculately kept, and the transition between blazing autumn and ice-capped wonderland is as smooth as ever, but white is white and that is all it will ever be. The flush at his cheeks and the scattered bristles of dark green serve only to underscore the monotony.

There's a dark smear leaning off a ways, back in the direction of the manor, and he approaches it only when he's ready to make his way back to home and hearth. There is no idle conversation, nor is there any conversation at all. Artemis nods and Butler straightens stiffly; multiple series of gestures, entangled and interlocking like parts of a finely-wrought machine. It's all cogs and gears, and they do their jobs nicely, but there is no conversation.

There hasn't been for some time, now.

Mornings go the same as they always have: coffee waiting by his breakfast (the mug tilted outward to accommodate his preference for his left hand), the newspaper waiting freshly-pressed and perfectly folded on the table (there is not much left for him but to read about the world, at the moment), the laptop on the table already whirring (he has never had much patience for rebooting). His shoes click on the kitchen's hardwood floors, his coffee cup tinkering lightly no matter how much care he takes setting it down, and Butler waits in a state of silence that is not so much tense as it is too formal.

The kitchen is a lovely shade of red – Mother insisted on repainting it upon his father's return – but all the same, it isn't quite the right shade. He's seen the firefight smear of a hurtling shuttle, star-coursing poisons like Stygian steam, sparks flinging off tiny bullets that caused explosions like manmade stars, and Mother's paint swatches do not quite compare. The world seems cloaked by a greyscale gauze. He does not miss the bite of Siberia or the burn of bullets grazing his shoulder, but he does miss the color – or perhaps it's simply that the proximity of death brought with it a renewed sense of aliveness.

Easing the mug from his lips, he unfolds the paper only to pause at the sight of the headline: How Long Have We Been Fighting? And it's surely some political drivel, but his head falls a bare degree to the side; it is not the first time he speaks into the ever-present silence hanging between himself and Butler, but it's the first that Butler almost seems inclined to answer.

"You know, sometimes it does seem like a while."

He is no stranger to the idea that death is an imminent thing, even now; he's woken enough times to the sting of his hand threaded between his teeth to remember what it's like to feel himself slipping ever-faster over the edge. Still, he considers it as he stares out to the morning, fingers thrumming on the cover of a childhood favorite. And he wonders.

Because he was not so much at war as he was war itself, blazing and brilliant and burning against the sky. In the midst of it, he had called it greatness, but the brightest do burn the most quickly, falling so fast until there's nothing left but the puff of an empty lighter. He thinks of words he's read a hundred times over in his inane school studies – "Our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world - that is the myth of the atomic age - as in being able to remake ourselves." – or of how Pippin sacrificed his one perfect act to live on with Catherine and Theo, and he wonders how much of him has really been lost with the renouncement of battle as opposed to how much of him has been lost to that aching, stifling silence.

When dawn breaks over the horizon in a sleepy flash of rose and gold, he's gotten his own coffee, leafing through that same book he's read a dozen times over when there's a quiet rustling at the doorway.

He glances up and his mouth twitches – not quite a smile, but there's a sense of newness in his eyes that's been absent for some time, now. "Butler," he says, tone soft and businesslike, "I do think it's time I returned to my old self."

It's the first time in months that the smile at Butler's mouth has been genuine, and it lines his face in unfamiliar ways, like the crack of stiffened leather. "We'd be lucky to have you back."

My apologies for the slowness of the update! Life took a sudden turn for the blindingly busy, and as such I haven't had much time to write. The play I've been in wrapped up production yesterday, so my schedule will be clearing up dramatically. The following updates should come much, much more quickly, and naturally requests are always welcome (just as reviews are greatly appreciated).

Also, if you caught the Marina and the Diamonds and/or the Pippin reference(s), kudos to you. (: