Product Placement

Chapter 2 - Scars


It was a slow day, a rainy day. Unlike Third Street School the children were given free reign of the school so long as they didn't break anything or cause too much trouble. It kept the majority of the student body quiet and out of each other's hair, each clique getting it section with a few nomads traveling about the decided territories. The system soothed the faculty (no uproars or constant groaning) and the kids (no cabin fever or fear of another Rainstorm of '89).

The Hustler, currently residing in his basement kingdom, crossed his legs and thought, smiling just a little to himself while he counted his money. Funny he should think of an old storm like that, a popular story of one storyteller. Heh, he was probably off doing his own little thing – telling lies and scaring the wits out of children who wished to be gluttons for punishment. HK had to admit, even though he barely believed a word out of Butch's mouth that his stories were intriguing interesting, and were actually pretty popular.

All the more reason for Hustler to cash in on this goldmine before someone else did.

Sure, he tried before, with blurry and nondescript results. He was vaguely sure something happened, but what exactly he had no idea. Apparently it hadn't been fruitful, for Butch was still generally avoiding him, and no increase in his sales. He had tried the direct approach, and since that had failed he needed to try other methods.

But what would work on Butch?

Thinking about it now, considering Butch's… odd character. The idea would have to be as strange and unusual as he was, or it would inevitably fail. He could try-


Why was he even able to think this freely? Shouldn't he be waiting on people? He cursed himself of being so careless. It was raining, that doesn't mean he could just forget about his job, even if it was on ways to improve it.

But a quick check of his surroundings affirmed the he was quite alone with his thought.

This confused him. He was sure he and Fingers had staked out their terf and informed the people accordingly. He was sure he'd had customers this morning, and that it was still free period. He had his stock, he'd even recently restocked. What was the problem?

Hustler gave it a few more minutes, checking his watch every few seconds. When no one came (and HK felt like he was going to end up breaking something in frustration), he scaled the stairs and shouldered the door open.

The kid on the other side screamed and flung himself into the opposite row of lockers. Hustler raised a brow and the kid flushed, dusting himself off and clutching is heart like he was suffering a heart attack.

"Dude, don't DO that." He said, shaking his head. "Wh-What were you doing down there?"
"My job." He replied, holding the door open "We're still open if you wanna come down."
"Go… go down? There? Are you nuts? You gotta be kiddin!"
"No… I'm perfectly serious. Why? Is the basement haunted or something?"
"You mean you haven't heard the stories?"

Oh, Butch was a dead man.


Butch was angry. That much could be certain.

Francis gingerly touched his side, right where a fist had connected as it flew from the shadows. Butch on the other end snarled and seemed to foam at the mouth, eyes dark like coal and just as searing. The hustler counted with a bored expression and a sigh.

"What's the matter, Butchy boy?" He asked, tilting his head "Something I said?"
"You know damn well what you did you fuckin' bastard!"
"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about."

Another fist flew out of the dark, this time glancing off his chin. It was immediately sidetracked into the concrete nearby, forcing a howl of pain out of Butch and another fist into the hustler's torso. Francis grunted, twisted the other boy around, and pinned him until he was numbed enough to remain still. Hustler backed off and waited, knowing that in some small way that the attack wasn't exactly unwarranted. Was it his fault that, as a reputable salesman, he could have a rumor spread as quickly and effectively as some shadow sulking storyteller? It served him right for damaging his business so inconsiderately.

"Oh, Butchy, are you upset? What ever for?"
"Quit calling me Butchy, Francine!"
"What did you call me?" He rasped quietly, looking him dead in the eye
"What's the matter? You don't like Francine? Oh- okay. Lets try Fran. Ah! I like that. How about you, Franny? Oh! There's another."
"What the hell is your problem?"
"You ruined my fucking story you idiot! This is my thing! How would you like it if I ran up every time you tried to sell something to someone and told them it was shitty?"

Butch snorted and slugged him in a stomach, which Hustler countered by slamming him into the wall. They both hesitated, and Butch took that chance to slip away. Hustler didn't follow him, but he growled and snorted in his general direction. Butch had overreacted, Francis decided. It was just a stupid story about some scars he had on his neck – something about werewolves and a graveyard or something equally stupid and foolish that ended with a couple of scratches below his ear.

He would not lose this easy. It would take a hell of a lot more than a threat and a punch to the stomach to get him to stop hounding him. He ruined his business – he wasn't going to get off that easy. Not if it meant tracking him down and making him pay up for the lost wages.

But that came later. Francis coughed and spat on the ground, turning on his heel and heading of to third period.


"You guys got five minutes before your grade gets knocked down!" Coach Miller called.

The locker room groaned collectively and changed, talking and laughing and teasing. The hustler was slow in moving. He debated just blowing the while thing off - this way he could avoid showing off his bruises and cool his temper a bit before he had to deal with anyone else today. It was bad enough his business was behind, even worse that Butch was angry and he'd more than likely never get that deal he had been angling on. He shoved his locker shut harder than it needed to be, frowning to himself. Why couldn't he seem to best the damned phantom? It was like every time he got close, he'd just slip right through his fingers. It drove him nuts! It was the only thing he could dwell on, the one thing he could focus on-

Speaking of focus…

Hustler's head shot up, thoughts derailed, watching a streak of white hair bob and weave and worm its way through the crowd, right into the bathroom. He blinked – he was still in his regular clothes, so why did Butch feel the need to change in the bathroom? Self conscious? – No, Butch didn't seem like the type. But he'd never seen Butch change once. The thought passed that maybe Butch was hiding something from him, that maybe he was not exactly a he… but that was absurd. Hustler shook his head and grabbed his clothes, hell bent on cornering the storyteller if it was him, or just change in privacy if it wasn't.

As luck would have it, Francis did see Butch slink into the adjoined bathroom. Butch had disappeared into one of the stalls, a bundle of clothing under his arm. At present (as Hustler was entering the room) Butch had just gotten his shirt off and was trying to find the right hole to fit his head through. He leaned against the stall door, perhaps too heavily, since the old latch wasn't what it used to be.

As luck would have it, just as Francis stepped in, shutting the door behind him, the latch gave way and the door collapsed under Butch's weight, sending the storyteller flailing backwards until he could flail no more, flat on his back with the wind knocked out of him.

Francis looked down at Butch, who looked up at him, wide eyed and quiet. It was eerie quiet- the kind without breathing but not the silent kind- the florescent lights were too busy buzzing to give them a moment of peace. Butch seemed frozen in place, there on his back, his shirt clutched in his hand. Without thinking, Francis looked the boy over. Nothing to hide, not what he was thinking, anyway. But there was something else. Thin pink lines across his stomach, stretching from the uppermost point on his left to his right side.

Was this what Butch was hiding? How did he get them? Why did he have such severe (or what looked to be severe at one point) scars at such a young age? Why hadn't he said anything? Was he embarrassed by them? Was that why he changed in here? How long ago did he get them? Did he have a story for them like the ones on his neck?

"I… I gotta go." Butch muttered. He doubled over himself and tugged his shirt on, and repeated it every time Francs tried to open his mouth. By the time he was up on his feet again his face was bright red. He ran off before Hustler could so much as ask himself what the hell just happened.

Not that it would keep him from finding out eventually.


Francis sought the boy out again, though this time it was considerably harder to do so. HK thought every once in a while that he was being a little stalker-like, but it passed, replaced with a nagging want (need?) to know what had happened to him to disfigure him so? On second thought, it wasn't even a disfigurement. Just some scars. Terrible scars, yes, but why? Who did it – or what? Would he even tell him the truth? Butch did have a penchant for lying that was almost as steadfast as he penchant for smok-


Francis paused, looking around. He smelt that sour smoke drifting around in the shadows. The hustler followed it without thinking, and without fail the wispy trial lead him right to Butch.

He looked like hell- and that was putting it mildly. Smoke poured from his nose and mouth and he paced, holding his stomach like he would throw up any moment. He was muttering to himself, chewing on the stub of his cigarette. Hustler was concerned, if only for a moment. Usually Butch bounced back from embarrassing situations pretty quickly. Perhaps this scar thing went deeper than he wanted to admit. Then again, he seemed pretty damn willing to leave even before he could ask a question.

"Butch?" He ventured cautiously. He backed up quick, seeing Butch spin and flail wildly, looking like some rabid creature cornered in an alley.
"What. What do you want go away!" He snapped all at once. Francis approached anyway.
"What happened to you?"
"NO! No don't ask don't talk to me just leave me alone!"
"Butch, I'm not just going to walk away- who scarre-"

The sudden screech made the silence that followed it deafening. Hustler put his hands in his pockets, watching Butch warily. The storyteller shivered and stooped over, trying to puff at the damaged and used up cigarette. It took him a few minutes for it to click that the cig was burned out and he shivered again, clutching at his sides, itching and turning in place. Francis wondered (or was it that he knew): was this the image of a person falling apart piece by piece.

"Butch." He said softly, taking a step closer "Please."
"Shit… shit after all… after all this time… keeping it quiet. Being so fucking careful… shit and… and now… oh fuck you!"

Butch growled or roared or made some sort of angry noise and hit the wall hard enough to make Francis flinch. Broken spirit and broken fingers- two things he'd rather not deal with. But he'd gotten himself into this, so he was going to see it through.

"Tell me about it."
"Fuck off!"
"No. Tell me."

Again Butch made that noise, pulling at his hair and pacing. It was like watching a cage animal. A rabid caged animal. Hustler didn't want to get any closer, but he could prod it from here. Maybe it would pass out from lunacy.

Before he could though, Butch stopped pacing. He stared at Francis with red, wet eyes and seems to snarl and bristle up. Then he choked, coughed, looked down and away and began to shake. His hand balled into fists and he breathed through his teeth. Francis watched him pace, look up, and then pace again He punched the wall again and froze there, shaking more violently. He gasped for air, throwing glances at him, fighting with himself but thankfully making no move for him. At this rate, Butch would bite and might actually do some decent damage. It didn't deter him.

"Tell me." He said, no longer asking. Butch flinched but stared and kept silent "Tell me, Butch. What. Happened."
"You want to know what happened so fucking bad THEN LOOK!" Butch screamed.

He tore at his shirt, franticly trying to rip it off his body. However, it happened that the shirt got tangled around his arm while he was struggling with it and there it stayed knotted, dangling like a snake's shed skin. Butch shivered violently, breathing hard and choking a little, trying to keep from crying. Francis stared at him, eyes trained on the scars he had tried so hard to hide.

"You wanna know so bad?" Butch hiccupped, staggering toward him "I'll tell yah. I'll fucking tell you." Francis was still staring at his middle, and Butch was shaking hard and damned near collapsing.

"It happened a while ago. Unlucky thirteen. I was… My parents were gone for the weekend, and my brother was in high school so he had… people over. I bein' a good kid- stayin' outta his way. He said he's bust up my arm if I spied on him again, so I was bein' good. But… But I forgot my game downstairs."

He took a few moments, taking a few breaths. Francis was still looking right at his scars, eyes flicking up to glance at him. Every time the grey things locked with his Butch felt his breath catch and he just wanted to stop and have this be forgotten. But he pressed on. Something inside him just kept his mouth moving.

"I...went down to get it. I ran into this guy. I'd… I'd never seen him before but I can't unsee him. Never again I… I wanted to go upstairs but he… Fuck, I'll never forget the way he looked at me. Up and down like… like … he called me princess. Said… said he liked tomboys."

Butch choked on his words trying to catch himself before he turned into a bawling mess. He didn't realize it was already too late. He coughed, sniffed, and pressed on. He couldn't bring himself to look up or talk any louder than a strained whisper.

"I tried… I put up the best damned fight I could be he… he was too big. He got my shirt off an… and he fuckin' smiled and told me I'd fill out and he touched me everywhere. I dun even know why he thought- fuck he thought I was… he figured out he was wrong. Heh… he fucking figured it out when he groped me and felt… he wasn't too happy to figure it out neither. He flipped a fucking shit and he… he screamed and called me a slut and a faggot and shoved me down inta a pile of… beer bottles I guess. I heard a crash and… It felt like something was bein' split open. By the time I got to the bathroom I… I was bleedin' everywhere. I couldn't get it to stop… slept in the bathtub and hid from everyone til I could move without breaking the scabs…"

Butch fell to his knees, the shirt finally falling off his arm. He bent around himself, sucking in gasps of air or at least trying to. He'd forgotten how much it hurt – he was ripped apart and torn up. He felt sick all over again, just wanted to crawl into the nearest dark spot and stay there forever or at least until it stopped. He'd never told anyone. No one else knew. It wasn't like they would just automatically assume he was the victim and even if he was he was… he'd never be able to stand in the same room as that guy ever again without dissolving to tears and begging him not to hurt him again. Butch nearly wretched, sobbing quietly and holding his stomach. He was just a liar anyway. He had a fucking reputation for it. Butch and his crazy stories. Who the hell would believe –

"I believe you."

Butch stopped, for a moment. He slowly lifted his head, eyes trailing up the denim legs that were now much closer, up the grey trench coat and to the grey swathed arm ending in a hand that was out offering to help him up. Butch blinked and sniffed wetly.

"I said I believe you. Come on. I'll take you home."

Butch gaped at him. He sniffed again and rubbed his eyes, one arm still banded over his scarred stomach. He… he didn't want to be seen. He grabbed up his shirt and covered himself, trying to will himself to stand or at least shrug it off with a no thank you. Francis wasn't going to take that. He let Butch pull the shirt over his head and then lifted him off the floor, guiding him to his car. Butch didn't struggle or resist – he didn't have the will to.

All he could think about was how good it felt that someone besides him knew…


It was a struggle once Butch was in the mansion. He gaped quietly at first, and all the questions Francis had expected from the normally talkative boy were absent. It bothered him.

Trying to get him to take the shirt off again turned out to be a bigger obstacle than the hustler thought. He figured once was enough, the gates would break and he would willingly show. But no – Butch seemed doubly shy now that they were alone in the massive house. It made some sort of twisted sense, and Francis pitied him for it. He eventually coaxed it off; getting a first aid kit just to prove his point was in medical interest. Even then the storyteller squirmed uncomfortably and whimpered, reluctant to move his hands.

Kneeling, Francis examined the scars. Butch was moving around too much for him to get that good of a look, but it was better now that there wasn't harsh florescent light or shadows. The scars looked deep, noticeable, and some part of Francis wanted to say shiny. There seemed to be little flecks, but it was probably Butch writhing around uncomfortably. He reached out to touch them and Butch swatted at him, but under his fingers they didn't feel so bad. It wasn't as smooth as the rest of him, a bit rougher and gnarled. He pulled his hand away and Butch was quick to cover himself up.

"So… what happened exactly."
"I t-told you already."
"I couldn't hear you, not completely."

Butch sighed and relayed the story again, adding a few details that either the hustler had missed or Butch had just glanced over. He flushed and stammered, but Francis merely sat and listened, nodding every once in a while. He didn't say anything, though. He didn't think anything he was currently willing to add would help the situation – especially since all he could mange to think was 'Holy shit. That's fucking awful.' Regardless of his thoughts and the fact there was absolutely no reason to do so, He wrapped up Butch's old wound and let him put his shirt back on. The storyteller seemed to appreciate it and let him do as he pleased, looking more tired than anything else.

"You know…" Francis started "I'm not good at keeping secrets." Butch looked up at him, eyes as wide as they could mange as tired they were "I listened to your story. I'll keep it quiet as long as you do a lil somethin' for me."
"You… you can't" He whimpered, sounding broken and scared enough to almost make Francis think over the words that seems to jump right out of his throat. "No… it's not right."
"I never said it was. It's not gonna be hard – not for you, anyway. Just a little… product placement. I trust you know how that works."
"You bastard." Butch snarled, screwing his face up into as rage-filled of an expression as his fatigued self could manage. It was gone a moment later, replaced with closed eyes and a defeated sigh "What… do I have to do?"
"Throw in a few disclaimers, a few knocks to my competition and a few boosts to me. In return, I won't tell a soul what you hide under your shirt. Deal?"
"You're a dick…" Butch muttered after a moment, his arms wrapped around his middle "A dick whore cock sucking son of a bitch. I hate you."
"I know." Francis replied, perfectly okay with it. "I don't ask much, remember. I could do so much worse. It's a compromise."
"I have no idea. Pity, perhaps."

Butch slouched on the couch and shut his eyes, breathing deeply. He was far too exhausted to deal with any of this. He was just tired, but he'd never be able to sleep. He was too worried. Could the hustler be trusted? Surely, all it would take were a few stories – but not too good. He'd get trapped in that and burn out and then he'd… he'd be ruined.

Butch sighed and opened his eyes. Francis was standing in front of him, studying him. Butch hugged himself a little tighter, swallowing thickly. He didn't now why he was so nervous – he already knew everything because he couldn't keep his fucking mouth shut. He shut his eyes again and loosened up. No sense hiding it now… At least he hadn't asked for… for something more… Butch coughed, masking what probably would have been a whimper if he had let it alone.

Francis watched, feeling this weird attachment to the other boy. He supposed it wasn't too odd- Butch had shared with him his deepest secret. That had to account for something even if it was more therapist-patient relationship than that of a… friendship? Perhaps. They were friends, weren't they? To some degree, yes, but even then it was debatable. Francis supposed that this little incident meant they had no choice but to follow this 'friendship' and see if it came to anything. At least he was getting some good product placement out of it.

Looking at Butch now, deflated and exhausted, utterly spent – yes, he did feel bad. No one should have to go through that, no question. He felt bad for the boy – and he'd never tell anyone. He'd never tell him he wouldn't tell – that would be losing a deal (and maybe a few teeth)- but he'd never let it out. The guy had already been through enough and clearly suffered in ways he recognized and didn't recognize. Something like this wasn't easy to shrug off, he guessed. He did feel pity. He did feel sympathy.

And he felt himself lean forward and kiss Butch's brow.

He also felt the sudden punch to his gut.

Francis shook his head and coughed, stepping back and banding his arm around his own stomach. Butch was flushed and wide-eyed, ready to apologize. Hustler waved it off before he could say anything and sat beside him. They both sat in silence, half holding their middles and breathing a little heavy.

"Can I stay here tonight?" Butch asked quietly.




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