He knew something was wrong the moment they pulled up to the house. The front door was left wide open. It could only mean trouble, but Butler was used to walking into trouble, so he turned to his sister and charge and told them to stay put in the driveway. He didn't like the idea of leaving them there, but it was better than taking them with him into potential danger, and besides, Juliet was more than capable of protecting Artemis in his brief absence.
He entered the house with his gun drawn. Everything was dark, but Butler didn't dare turn on a light, lest he make his presence known. He had only made his way through half the building before he felt someone else's gun at the side of his head.
How had someone managed to sneak up on him?
"Put your weapon down," the other man said. Butler had no choice but to listen. "Now walk back towards the door. Don't try anything."
He wasn't about to let this man anywhere neat Artemis or Juliet, so, naturally, he tried something.
In less than two seconds, Butler had the man in a headlock, his gun forgotten on the ground. He let the man breathe, but brought a knife to his throat instead.
"Are you alone?"
"N-no," the man suddenly laughed. "I wouldn't have left your friends out all by themselves…."
Butler's heart stopped. With the man still in his hold, he picked up the gun and rushed back to the door. He didn't like what he saw outside.
Juliet was thrashing, it taking three people to restrain her. Two of her captors had bruised faces and bloody noses. Butler couldn't help but feel proud of her.
The his attention went to Artemis. There was a single man behind him, holding him by the neck with long, spidery fingers. His other hand was rising up the boy's shirt and Butler noticed just how uncomfortable he was. The man appeared to be whispering to him, and Butler could see him shaking from where he stood multiple yards away.
The man holding Artemis looked up and saw Butler in the doorway. "Come on out, Mr. Butler!" he called. "Join the party."
He stepped into the sunlight with his hostage. "Let them go," he said. "Or he dies." He pressed the knife deeper into the man's neck.
Without hesitation, the man holding Artemis brought out a gun, aimed it, and killed Butler's hostage with a shot to the head. Artemis flinched at the sound of the gun in his ear.
"The only people with significance here are you, me, your sister, and your master. Everyone else is… disposable."
Butler let the dead man he was holding fall to the ground. "What do you want?"
"I want nothing more than to destroy you."
"You don't even remember!"
"Why don't you remind me?"
"You killed my daughter. Three years ago. There was a fire. You could have saved her but you chose to save this boy instead, not even willing to go back for her. And you don't even remember."
He didn't recall any of this. He knew he hadn't been in a fire three years ago, so why was this man so convinced that he had been?
"You must be mistaking me for someone else."
"No! No, you were there. You killed my daughter, so now I will kill those important to you."
Butler raised the gun he got from his hostage. "I will drop you."
The man laughed. "Only after I kill your principle, and your sister. As long as I kill them before you kill me, I will be happy."
The man whispered more into Artemis's ear, and the boy's eyes widened.
"Put down your gun, Mr. Butler. Let's make a deal."
He complied, seeing no other option.
"Pick one. Your sister or your master. One I will release, the other I will take with me."
"You're not taking anyone with you."
"Oh, but I am. Don't worry, you'll get to come, too. So pick one."
He looked to the two people he cared about most in the world. Juliet had stopped struggling once the gun was shot, but her handlers were clearly wary of her. Artemis just looked uncharacteristically scared. Butler wondered what the man had whispered to him.
The decision wasn't an easy one, but he knew what he had to do. Juliet was a Butler, she would be able to take whatever was thrown at her.
"Let Artemis go," he said.
The man didn't look surprised in the least, and neither did Juliet. "You'll pick this brat over your own blood? Tsk tsk tsk. Very well. Juliet will be staying here."
"What?! You said-"
"I know what I said. Obviously the boy's safety is important to you - more important than even your sister's. Why on earth would I leave him behind?"
"I'm going to kill you for this."
"Oh, yes, I'm sure you'll try."
Then the man did something that made Butler's blood boll. He kissed Artemis right on the lips. The boy tried to pull away but the man wouldn't let him. Then the man recoiled, slapping Artemis across the face.
"You bit me! You little shit!" He hit him again, and again. Artemis fell to the ground. Butler wanted to go to him, to stop the man, but there were guns pointed at the three of them and moving would be unwise.
When Artemis was upright again, the man made another move. "Bite me again, and I'll kill young Juliet." The man rubbed a thumb over Artemis's cheekbone where a bruise would likely form and kissed him again. His other hand cupped at the boy's groin.
You-" he pointed to a lackey when he pulled away, "-get the injections."
A syringe was presented to him almost immediately, and he brought it to Artemis's neck. He thrashed and struggled but couldn't stop what was about to happen and he went slack in the man's arms when the concoction was emptied into his system. Juliet went next.
Three of the men came for Butler next but they were careful. He gave each of them a dangerous look, daring them to come near him.
"I'll come quietly," he said.
"Oh, no, no. We can't have you conscious to see where we're taking you. How stupid do you think I am?"
Very, Butler thought, If you're bold enough to threaten my family.
When Butler looked at the man again, he was twirling a knife between his fingers. Butler didn't want to know what he would do with it.
"Accept the injection or we can do this the hard way. It's up to you."
One of the men approached Butler with the needle, slowly, silently testing if it was safe to keep going.
Butler didn't stop him, and soon he was out like a light as well.
Butler woke with a throbbing headache and fought the urge to throw up. He was sitting on a cold, hard floor with his back to a wall. It took him a moment to realize he wasn't alone, that someone way laying with their head in his lap.
The boy was asleep and shaking slightly in the freezing room. He wasn't wearing a shirt and slept fitfully.
Butler looked around. It was dark, with only a single bulb hanging from the ceiling, offering minimal light in the small, dank space. There was a door up some stairs to his right, leading him to believe they were in a basement of some kind. There was some noise coming from behind the door, sounding like laughter and celebration.
He groaned and tried to move his stiff shoulders, the movement causing Artemis to stir. His eyes fluttered open and he took in a quick, panicked breath before sitting up and looking around. He wrapped his arms around himself and shuddered, blinking and shaking his head as if to clear his mind. He looked up at Butler once realizing he was there.
"Don't worry. Stay calm, I'll get us out of this."
"Who was that man? He said you killed his daughter, that there was a fire… I don't remember a fire…"
"There wasn't one. He's just a deranged man, Artemis."
"He's going to kill us."
"He won't. I won't let him, I promise."
Artemis shook again. "It's so cold."
Immediately, Butler shed his suit jacket off his huge shoulders and draped it over his charge, swallowing him up.
"Thank you, Domovoi."
They sat together for a moment, both wondering what was to come but not wanting to alarm the other with their separate, dark thoughts.
Someone unlocked the door. Butler could hear the click of it. He stood with Artemis and put the boy behind him to separate him from what was coming.
The door opened and a large silhouette appeared in the frame. Clicking his tongue, the man slowly sauntered down the stairs. Once at the bottom, Butler could see his eyes in the faint light. They were black and cold.
"Gentlemen," he said. "Glad to see you're both awake."
"What do you want?"
"I told you. I want to destroy you…. What is the worst thing that could happen to you, Mr. Butler? To young Artemis? Think about it. Now multiply it. I promise you it will be worse than that. I promise you neither of you will leave here unscathed, if you leave at all."
Butler stood, frozen. There were few times in his life he was truly afraid, and this was one of them. He considered killing the man. He could do it, easily. But then what would happen to them? He knew the man had company upstairs, and he was sure they wouldn't let his captives go. Killing this man would be their death sentence. If he kept him alive, they would live longer, but at what cost? They would be tortured for his sick satisfaction, and they may not even get out alive.
"My name is Ritter. You will address me as Master Ritter, or you will be punished. Both of you belong to me. Artemis, come here."
Artemis circled his hand around Butler's right wrist in fear.
"No," Butler said.
Ritter clearly clenched his teeth and closed his eyes as he let out a breath. "What a shame," he said. "Mr. Thomas!"
Another figure appeared in the doorway. With a bat. He tossed it down to Ritter, who caught it with ease. Mr. Thomas slunk away and Ritter turned back to his hostages.
Without warning, he lifted the bat back and brought it down on Butler's left shoulder. It hurt, but being the mountain of a man he was, Butler didn't let his pain show. He had to make sure this man knew he was strong, that he wouldn't just step aside so he could do what he pleased to Artemis.
Ritter tilted his head and dropped the bat. "Oh," he said. "You're tough as steel. Should I bring out the whip?"
Butler didn't respond, but inside he was fuming.
"What I mean is, should I bring out the whip on Artemis? Or do you think the bat will work on him?"
If looks could kill, Ritter would be a dead man with the way Butler was glaring at him.
"Let's make a deal. Let him come to me willingly now, or I will just hurt him more. I promise I won't harm him in any way... Yet. You wouldn't want to put him in danger, would you?"
Butler took in a deep breath, considering his options. He took Artemis's hand in his and squeezed. He looked down at his friend and tried to tell him everything would be all right without saying anything. He must have understood, because Artemis nodded and released his hold, stepping forwards to Ritter.
Ritter kept his word when he said he wouldn't hurt him, but what he did do was almost worse. The man raked his eyes up and down Artemis's body disgustingly and once he was close enough he cupped his hand to his face, caressing the side of his neck as well. Artemis shivered but this time it wasn't because of the cold. His other hand touched the young man's chest between where Butler's jacket opened up seductively. Artemis couldn't look him in the face, just wanting it to be over.
When Ritter brought his lips to Artemis's like he had during their last meeting, Butler wouldn't stand for it again, and he stepped forward to push Ritter away.
"Don't do that. Don't touch him," he growled. "Ever."
"Bit jealous, are we? Yes, I'm sure you are. No doubt you two have gotten it on before-"
"You'll have to learn to share, Mr. Butler."
Ritter grabbed hold of Artemis's wrist and pulled him towards him, bringing their lips together once more. Before Butler could react, Artemis took matters into his own hands and pushed away only to spit into Ritter's face.
Ritter was not amused. In fact, it pissed him off. He grabbed the bat again and slammed it across Artemis's face, breaking the skin. It would no doubt bruise. Artemis fell to his hands and knees in pain.
"You said you wouldn't-"
"That was before he forced my hand."
Butler was on the floor with his charge in a moment, his hands on his shoulders, trying to discern how much damage was done.
"I'll leave you for now, gentlemen. But I'll be back, and so will be much worse."
Ritter turned and glided up the stairs and slammed the door behind him. On instinct, Butler raced to the door and tried to open it. It was locked, as he expected, and he slammed into it with his bulk but it was no use. When he concluded that there was no way out, he turned back to Artemis who was now clutching at his face.
Butler knelt next to him.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have-"
"It is not your fault, my friend." Artemis brought his hand away from his face to find it speckled with blood. "I think he broke my cheekbone."
Butler didn't know what to do. What was he supposed to do?
He comforted Artemis, and himself in the process. The pair sat back down and Butler told Artemis to lay down once more and try to get some sleep.
The room got gradually colder.
Artemis slept once again in Butler's lap for what must have been a few hours. He didn't even realize the decreasing temperature until the young man began to shiver. Artemis woke due to the discomfort and pressed himself to Butler's side, searching for warmth.
His teeth chattered as he said, "It's - s-so cold."
Butler's only response was to wrap his arm around him and hold him close.
When he looked down at his charge, Butler could just make out the bruise on his face in the faint light. A rage rose inside him and he made a silent promise that nothing more would happen to Artemis.
Little did he know that promise was bound to be broken.
The door opened.
"Ooh," Ritter said, descending the stairs. "It sure is chilly in here."
Butler got up and looked to Artemis, silently telling him not to move.
"What's your game this time, Ritter?"
Ritter punched him across the face, but Butler barely reacted.
"That's Master Ritter to you. Don't forget your manners."
"What's your game this time, Master Ritter?"
"Very good. I've come to collect you. You are my… party favors."
"I believe you heard me, Mr. Butler. Don't waste my time with having me repeat myself. Come along now."
Butler's blood turned cold. "We're not going anywhere with you."
Ritter chuckled, then pulled a gun, aiming it at Butler's head. "Come with me or die."
He didn't move.
In a flash, Ritter pointed the gun in Artemis's direction and fired. Artemis flinched as the bullet hit a spot right next to his head.
"Care to reconsider your options?"
Butler gave him a deadly look. "How do you know we won't escape?"
"Trust me, you wouldn't make it out alive."
With only a moment of hesitation, Butler reached a hand out to Artemis and helped him to his feet. The boy looked skeptical and more than a little frightened.
"It'll be all right," he whispered to him, though if he were honest, Butler didn't like to think about what Ritter meant by "party favors."
With his gun on them, Ritter led the two to the door. Butler was glad to be out of the cold, but his relief didn't last as they entered a full room. All eyes went to him, each balking at his size. One beautiful, blonde woman stood and approached him, looking him up and down appreciatively. She put a slim hand on his chest and looked into his eyes with a devious smile.
"I like this one," she purred. Butler pushed her hand away from him.
"Not interested," he said.
The woman didn't look hurt in the least. In fact, her smile widened.
"Who said anything about interest?" Ritter said. "I'm sorry, Mr. Butler, but you don't have a choice in the matter."
Before Butler could respond, the woman was pulling his head down and pressing their lips together. Immediately, Butler pulled away and smacked the woman across the face. Her head whipped to the side and an alarmed look crossed her face before she straightened and glared evilly at Butler. She looked like she was about to tackle him, but Ritter stepped in instead.
"Oh, wrong move, Mr. Butler. Mr. Thomas, take Artemis to the party room."
As one of the men moved towards them, Butler knocked him out with a single punch, putting himself between Artemis and the people looking hungrily at the pair. Almost everyone in the room surged at them at once, and Butler went to swinging. Everyone who came into contact with him was put down or put back, and he thought, just for a moment, that maybe they would get out of there.
Then a bullet was shot into his left leg.
He shouted in pain and was brought to his knees. Artemis was by his side in an instant. He had taken Butler's jacket from his own shoulders and was pressing it to the wound.
"He needs a doctor!" Artemis shouted at the room.
Ritter only chuckled. "He'll get one. Later."
Artemis was pulled away from his bodyguard, but he didn't go without a fight. He managed to rake his fingernails across one man's face, and kick another one between the legs. He knew he was doomed when someone's fingers circled his neck from behind him and squeezed, cutting off his oxygen enough for him to submit.
A tongue ran up the side of his face and Artemis fought the urge to vomit.
Ritter smiled. "Take him to the party room, Mr. Thomas."
"No!" Butler insisted, trying to get to his feet. It didn't take more than a kick to his wounded leg to bring him back to his knees.
"Don't worry, Mr. Butler, you'll get your chance with him."
"Go to hell," he spat.
Ritter only nodded, and Artemis was led away.
"Well, I'd better join the party," Ritter said. "I'll have you brought back to your room, though, first. Enjoy your night. I'm sure you'll see your dear employer sometime tomorrow."
Without a care, Butler was shoved down the stairs into the basement once more, landing awkwardly and painfully on his wounded leg. But he couldn't think about that. He had to think about Artemis.
But he couldn't stand, and he was in too much pain to move. He almost let unconsciousness take him, but that was when the screaming started.
It was Artemis. It was so clearly Artemis. It was a sound Butler never wanted to hear.
He promised. He broke his promise.
He couldn't stop himself from envisioning what was being done to his friend. He shook his head, trying to get the images out.
He wouldn't know for sure until he was returned to the room.
It seemed like hours before the door opened again. Three people entered: Ritter, an unconscious Artemis, and a man Butler had never seen before.
Ritter was supporting Artemis with one of his arms over his shoulder. The boy was naked except for his underwear. Ritter deposited him on the ground near the door, not bothering to use care.
Ritter spoke. "This is Dr. Mitchell. He's here to look at your leg. You should thank Artemis, he exchanged himself for Mitchell to be here."
What? Artemis had…
"You have fifteen minutes," Ritter said before exiting the room.
The doctor approached him with caution, but Butler didn't care. He just wanted to get looked at and have it be done so he could go to his charge.
The doctor removed the bullet, and Butler felt it, but it hardly mattered. He had been shot before, this was nothing new. Once he was stitched up and Mitchell scurried away, he limped to Artemis's still form.
"Artemis…?" he whispered. He put his hand on his master's shoulder and shook him, desperate for him to wake up, to tell him everything was okay.
But Butler didn't deserve that. He had failed.
He took to examining his body in the faint light. There were bruises, and cuts, and burns all over his back. When his eyes reached Artemis's backside, his heart stopped.
His underwear was speckled with blood.
And Butler remembered what Ritter had said.
He promised then that Ritter was a dead man.
And this time, he would do whatever it took to keep that promise.