Finding Terra Firma

Dawn came slowly. First, nothing but a slim ribbon of dark, dreamy purple on the horizon. Then, maroon and magenta, mulberry and mauve. From the wrought iron rail of his balcony, Butler watched it progress.

When was the last time he’d watched a sunrise?

Not twenty feet from him, his charge lay fast asleep in his bed. Not “his bed” as in “Artemis Fowl’s bed,” but “his bed” as in his—Domovoi Butler’s—bed. His black hair stained the pillowcase, his lithesome body spread out, all long limbs and pale skin. If Butler shut his eyes, he could just make out the soft rise and fall of his breathing. His grip on the rail tightened.

Put the principal first, said every rule drilled into him since birth. The principal is your life, your blood, your reason for existence. Butler drew a slow breath, feeling the icy morning air tickle his throat on the way down. Never doubt an order. Never hesitate, and, of course, Butler let the breath out, watching it condense instantly: Never make attachments.

He sighed. Well, obviously, it was too late for that. He had officially broken the code of attachment back in Knightsbridge, the moment he revealed his first name. Dying on the floor of a fish restaurant, it hadn’t seemed to matter. Of course, there was a rather pointed difference between revealing his first name and dragging his charge naked to the sheets.

The former could be—had been—overlooked, on account of extenuating circumstances: no one had expected him to get back up after a bullet wound to the heart. Butler frowned at the thought of attempting to explain the “extenuating circumstances” of the latter to his old Master.

Well, you see, he already knew my name, so I figured, why not sleep with him too? He’s really quite stubborn when he sets his mind to something. Not to mention extremely persuasive…

Oh, yes, thought Butler. He imagined that would go over just spectacularly.

Scowling dejectedly, he strummed thick fingers on the cold rail.

Eighteen years. For eighteen years he had served as the Fowl heir’s ever-present guardian. He’d witnessed his first piano recital, given him his first dictionary, taught him to play chess—lost, of course, but that was beside the point. Domovoi Butler had watched Artemis grow from Adam, spent more time raising him than his parents, lived and breathed virtually every second of every day with him and yet, somehow, he had missed the crucial shift.

At what point had the thin, pale-faced boy locked behind the computer screen become the bright, sure-sighted young man now tangled in his bed sheets? When, pray tell, had Artemis Fowl grown up?

He’d signed up for an unadorned, solitary lifestyle. No ifs ands or buts. Just rules. Orders. Straightforward things. And what did he get?

Behind him, Artemis stirred in the sheets. Butler glanced over his shoulder—and immediately regretted it.

Fuchsia sunlight filled the bedroom. It spilled in from the balcony, flooded the floor, and overflowed onto the sheets. It painted his charge. Pink and gold across his chest, ruby and sapphire in his hair. Before Butler’s eyes, dawn’s fingers played Picasso on every inch of fair flesh available, making a masterpiece of the blank canvas of Artemis’ skin, and the result took his breath away. Then, Artemis yawned, body drawing up like a cat in his sleep, unwittingly ushering the sheets lower.

Butler forced his gaze to the horizon.

That, he thought. That was what he got. The single most brilliant, beautiful, impossibly complicated bundle of trouble the world had ever seen; a hundred and twenty pounds of record genius, striking character, and more dry wit and sarcastic humor than could fill twenty textbooks. Butler smiled grimly. Of all the stodgy, rich old bastards in the world waiting, begging for a handyman, he, Domovoi Butler, had gotten Artemis Fowl. Perhaps it was the luck of the Irish after all.

“Butler…” The barely audible utterance made Butler jump. “If you’re quite through reassuring yourself that the sun will, in fact, rise perfectly well unsupervised…would you mind sparing a moment to fetch me some suitable morning attire?” inquired Artemis, voice little more than a muffled rustle beneath the sheets. “It seems that in my haste to rid myself of last night’s garments, I failed to predict the state they’d be in come morning…oh, and remind me to tell father your mattress needs replacing. There’s a lump in it somewhere that irked me half the night…not to mention I’m reasonably certain it creaked. Hardly optimal. Also…” For a moment, the strain of words paused. Then, “Butler, are you listening to me?”

Said bodyguard blinked, momentarily at a loss for words. Then, after promptly shaking his head to clear it, he nodded. “I…yes, sir, of course,” he replied, working very hard to act both completely natural and simultaneously stare at anything but his charge as he stepped in from the balcony—difficult, considering Artemis chose that exact moment to sit up, toss all but a thin sheet back from his body, and begin stringing drowsy fingers through a thick mass of thoroughly bed-tousled black locks. “Chemise or polo? And what color?”

“Pastel button-down, if you would,” said Artemis, “anything but yellow. And make it something other than silk…cotton maybe. Something light…and khaki slacks. Have you made breakfast yet?” Butler opened his mouth. “No wait…forget I asked,” interrupted Artemis. “Of course you haven’t. You’ve been lamenting all morning.” Butler frowned. “No matter. Just leave the clothes outside the bathroom door. I am in desperate need of a shower and feel as if I’ve been rear ended by a fright train…I’ll meet you downstairs and you may deliver the rough draft there.”

Butler tilted his head, paused with one hand on the door. “The…rough draft, sir…?”

“Yes, Butler, the rough draft,” Artemis repeated, undeterred, frowning as his fingers caught a knot. “The one that starts ‘You’re too young and I’m too old,’ almost undoubtedly contains some drastically exaggerated number of highly respectable yet completely unnecessary words like ‘duty’ ‘honor’ and ‘respectability,’ and may or may not end with a ridiculously frivolous reason for why ‘it would never work.’ Mind you I’d certainly prefer the latter, but dread the former considering…” Artemis took a breath, then met Butler’s gaze. “I have watched you kill people, Butler……but I have never seen you look so guilty.”

“I…” Butler met his charge’s gaze—fifteen years old, a reformed criminal mastermind as mind-bogglingly brilliant as he was arrogant, and yet—he dropped his gaze. “Artemis-”

“Butler,” Artemis interrupted, and when their eyes met again, he arched an eyebrow. “Clothes?” he inquired. Butler blinked. “Unless of course,” continued Artemis, “you’d rather I make do withou-”

“Yes! I mean…no, no, you won’t need…that is…” Butler cleared his throat. “I’ll have them right over,” he promised. “Is there anything…specific…you want? Er…for breakfast…that is.”

“Mm…” Artemis appeared to contemplate for a moment, and if he hadn’t known better, Butler might have thought he was examining his nails. Then, he said, “Something…savory. An egg dish, perhaps…but not an omelet. Poached, I think…with cheese…and brioche.”

Butler bowed. “I’ll have it ready,” he said.

Fifteen minutes later, Butler stood alone in the Fowl kitchen, pureeing basil, garlic, and oil for pistou, and adding water to a medium skillet, sincerely regretful that his younger master had not been more in the mood for something that involved a good deal more chopping. Minced carrots or nuts would have done the trick. Maybe even something that needed to be shot before served. A deer—or elephant. Butler tapped the counter listlessly, frowning at the still water. Waiting for pots to boil did very little to ease tension.

Really, though, he reasoned silently, what had he expected of his charge? Bashfulness? Insecurity? He snorted at the thought, shaking his head as he retrieved eggs from the fridge. “Bashful” and “Artemis Fowl” hardly fit in the same sentence, let alone defined each other. Still, insecure or not, carrying on regularly from this point seemed a near—if not total—impossibility. Which, of course, brought back to mind Artemis’ demand for the “rough draft.” Butler sighed.

Quite honestly, all things practical, Artemis should have fired him years ago. After the cryogenics incident, he had never been the same. Never as fast. Never as efficient. He couldn’t protect Artemis the way he used to. Over time, he had worked on it, of course, trained his body back up, and now he was still probably better than the overwhelming majority simply due to experience—but he wasn’t the best. Somewhere out there, somewhere along the line, there was someone who could take him down, and God help him if that person ever came between him and Artemis. He’d never forgive himself.

Convincing Artemis of that, however…

“Surely,” The soft voice from the kitchen archway nearly resulted in a crushed as opposed to cracked egg, “it’s not as bad as all that…is it?” drawled Artemis, and Butler stared.

If guards were not meant to engage in intimate relations with their employers, there had to be some sort of rule that forbid any principle under the age of thirty from presenting themselves to anyone anything less than fully dressed, towel-dry, and one hundred percent professional—which, of course, completely ruled out Artemis’ current state: shower-damp, pink-cheeked, and barefoot. The fact that his loose, casual dress looked precariously easy to take off didn’t help.

Butler swallowed thickly. “Artemis, you’re…here,” he observed, and Artemis raised an eyebrow, expression almost amused as he crossed the threshold into the kitchen.

“So it would seem,” he agreed, stepping up beside Butler and casually rescuing the imperiled egg from almost certain death. “You have my apologies for the rather brash morning greeting earlier. Did you sleep well?”

“I…” Butler watched with a distracted, third party air as Artemis’ fingers closed around the breakfast ingredient, slightly more focused on the soft, petal texture of the his charge’s touch than the actual exchange. “Beautiful,” he said. Then, at Artemis’ look he shook his head. “Ly,” he added hastily. “Beautifully. I slept very,” He cleared his throat, “well. Thank you.”

“Mm.” Artemis’ expression alone betrayed his disbelief, but he made no comment. Instead, held up the egg. “How many?”

Butler stared at the dairy product. “Uh…”

“Eggs,” clarified Artemis. “How many eggs do you plan to cook?”

Cursing his distraction, Butler forced his attention elsewhere, trying rather unsuccessfully to convince himself that cold marble countertops really were a much more fascinating sight than long black lashes, hazel-blue eyes, and pearly white skin. If anything, it made things worse.

“It depends,” he answered eventually. “How hungry are you?”

For some time, the silence stretched between them. Then, finally, the Fowl heir sighed, and Butler ventured a sideways glance. He found his charge with his back to the counter, eyes downcast and distant.


“Again, I apologize,” said Artemis. “I thought perhaps…” He shut his eyes, then shook his head. “I thought it could wait until after breakfast, but now I see some things were simply not made to be put off. I imagine it is in both of our best interests to just do it now and get it over with.”

Butler frowned. “Do…what, exactly?”

Artemis looked up. “I mean I believe you should give it to me now,” he said, and Butler stared.

“Ah…Artemis, are you su-”

“Your speech, Butler,” snapped Artemis, impatient, “your excuses. Quote your teacher or your rulebook, your morals or your ethnic code…say there are too many years between us, that it’s not right or proper, or that it would compromise your duties to me as a guard…hell, Butler, tell me I can’t kiss to save my life and you’d rather procreate with a horse if that’s the case, but you left the bed at four thirty-six this morning, rose, dressed, and spent almost three hours alone on a cold balcony, don’t tell me you just wanted to watch the sun rise…I-” A single finger stopped the sentence, and Artemis’ eyes darted up, sapphire and topaz, to meet Butler’s.

“Artemis,” he said quietly, “you kiss magnificently.”

Artemis laughed breathlessly. “I see,” he said, “and that’s why you can’t seem to find it in your heart to meet my eyes this morning?”

After a moment, Butler sighed and withdrew his hand. “In a way, yes,” he admitted. “Artemis…you know as well as I do that all the arguments you mentioned are valid. I-”

“Do I?” interrupted Artemis. “Name one.”

“Our ages?” offered Butler.

“Oh, yes,” agreed Artemis with sarcastic emphasis. “There are, what, a full…eighteen years between us? I can see how that would put magnanimous gaps in our relationship…especially considering how well I handle the masses society deems ‘age appropriate’ for me…”

“Twenty-one years after the time warp, Artemis,” corrected Butler, “and you don’t handle your peers all that poorly…” At Artemis’ look he almost winced. “Well not too terribly poorly!” he defended, and Artemis rolled his eyes.

“A second piece of rock solid wisdom, if you would?” the young Fowl prompted, and Butler sighed.

“How about your safety? My first order of duty is your absolute protection, and, as you already mentioned, attachments compromise that. A personal relationship would be…distracting…among other things, not to mention dangerous.”

“Mm, of course,” said Artemis, “and that argument makes perfect sense because before last night, you obviously had absolutely no emotional attachment to me whatsoever, and, naturally, if we cease and desist this instant, any possibly distracting emotional attachments present now would no doubt immediately disintegrate, leaving you as cold, hard, and ruthless as you’ve always been, am I right?”

Butler glowered. “You’re not making this very easy.”

“Should I be?”

“You were the one who asked to hear this…”

“So that I could argue each point to dust!” said Artemis. “Think of it,” he advised, “as an…opportunity of sorts. A chance to get everything off your chest before I crush every point you make, convince you of the futility of it all, and we both move on with our lives.”

“And live happily ever after?”

“To the most plausible extent, yes.”

Butler resisted the urge to groan. “Artemis…” The words trailed off, and eventually, he sighed. “What about your parents?” he asked. “In case you haven’t guessed, physical intimacy wasn’t part of the job description, and I’m reasonably certain it wasn’t something they bargained for when signing my contract…something tells me they wouldn’t be too pleased with the change of plans.”

Artemis rolled his shoulders, shrugging it off. “At this point, Butler, I hardly see it as any of their business. Legally, I’m eighteen and fully capable of making my own decisions on such matters, and while I love them, quite honestly, their opinions on my personal affairs are little of my concern.” He paused, then added, “Of course, if it’s the job description that bothers you…I’d gladly alter some fine print and up your paycheck to ease your conscience…”

“My…” Realization dawning, Butler’s cheeks flared, and he glared down his wickedly grinning charge. “Artemis, this is serious, you know…”

“I was being serious,” countered Artemis.

Butler snorted. “My paycheck is hardly the thing at issue and you know it, and if not your parents, then what of everyone else? Holly? Foaly? Minerva? The rest of the world in general?”

“I hardly see Holly minding, Foaly will either come around or he won’t, Minerva informed me of my sexuality, and the rest of the world? Frankly, I haven’t had much practice caring what the rest of the world thinks.”

Butler sighed. “Then what about you, Artemis? You’re young. You have every option open to you. You could have anyone. Don’t you think you deserve better than-”

“-than what?” snapped Artemis. “Better than you? Not possible. Better than anyone and everyone else in the world other than you? Well, I most certainly hope so.”


“I don’t want anyone else, Domovoi! I have a man with whom I’ve spent virtually every waking moment of my life, one whom I’ve learned more from and admitted more to than anyone I know, and whom I love…more deeply and dearly than I ever thought possible of anyone…let alone myself. I…” Artemis swallowed thickly, shut his eyes, and turned his head. “I have nothing more to search for,” he murmured softly. “There is no shallow girl in the world I want more than you…no boy on this earth that could ever hope to take your place. I know this. If you regret anything, by all means, tell me now, but if you think for one second that I-”

If possible, Artemis’ lips tasted better than Butler remembered.


~~~~~~~~ Back to Artemis Fowl ~~~~~~~~


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