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Chapter 17 - Smoke and Mirrors


Francis was beginning to suspect that finding Butch was about as possible as holding down a shadow.

He'd looked everywhere, in every alley, under every rock, in ever spare room and stairwell. Butch was nowhere to be found and no one had seen hide nor hair of him. The hustler knew he was on the premises, seeing as how he spotted him in class earlier, but there was no sign of him now, and it was beginning to piss him off. He knew he couldn't expect Butch to be in the same place at the same time – that wasn't his MO – but it sure as hell would have been helpful. Butch was all about being sneaky and secretive and mysterious, which meant he was hard to find, which meant Butch found whoever was looking for him first, which meant Butch got the rare opportunity to scare Francis into making a very un-businesslike noise, which made Butch nearly fall on the ground in hysterics.

Once Francis had gathered himself and got his heart rate down and kicked Butch in the shins to shut him up, he withdrew from his coat two tickets. Butch, who was still getting his breath back, sort of stared at them, then at Francis, waiting for an explanation. The hustler wasn't very good at those, at least not in these situations, so he was blunt about it.

"I've got two tickets to the new park opening up next weekend. Do you want to go with me?"
"You're not going to hock them?"
"Tried. Market's saturated."
"Glad to know I'm second best."
"Are we going or not?"

Butch went quiet again, looking at the tickets, the hand that held them, up coat swathed arm and to the waiting face. He wondered if HK knew the proposal he was making sounded as awkward to him as it did to Butch. The bland look on his face indicated otherwise. To Butch, it sounded a hell of a lot like a date and, sure, he liked the guy well enough, but not enough to date him.

On the other hand, Butch did want to go to the park. It had been ages since he actually went out anywhere not in town, and this was a great offer. Francis would, no doubt, give him some sort of weird discount in exchange for whatever, and even if he didn't it would be a pretty good chance to see HK relax and loosen up for once. At the very least he would get out of the house for a little while.

So casually, like it was no big deal (and it shouldn't have been because it wasn't a date or anything no matter what his gut was telling him), Butch lit up and nodded, reaching for his ticket. Francis snatched it back, stowing them in his coat.

"So yeah?"
"Yeah. Sounds like a plan."
"Great. I can drive both ways."
"Lord your Beamer over me, why don't you?"
"Bite me. You love my car."
"It's pretty sweet, but you should have opted for the Caddy, Mr. Moneybags."
"So I'll pick you up Saturday at noonish? Will you be awake by then?"
"Yes. And fuck you. Thanks."
"No problem."

With a needless flourish of his hustling coat, Francis turned on his heel and left the storyteller alone with his thoughts, however scrambled they might have been.


"Holy shit, that was a good one." Butch admitted, his walking more stumbling while the blood and organs settled back into their rightful place inside him. Rollercoaster's were not things to be fucked with. Francis, who's own walking was somewhat stunted and stumbly, agreed by chuckling and nodding slowly, looking as if he was trying to keep everything down and in where it ought to be. Butch grinned and stretched, glad to see the fearsome, stoic hustler all jumbled, if only for a moment.

"So what's next?" Butch asked, already scanning the buildings and tents, looking for the next thing to victimize himself on.
"Tilt-o-Whirl, Big Swings, and Log Flume are all waiting until my stomach unknots itself. Games are out because I know your ass is broke and I'm not paying for it. That leaves... the Haunted House, Bumper Cars, Ferris Wheel-"
"Hey, the Tunnel of Love is-"
"I fucking refuse to be seen on that with you.'
"Francis!" Butch faked a pained expression "I thought you cared!"
"Shut the fuck up. I'm not going in there with you because I know you're going to pull a stupid stunt. In fact, same goes for the Haunted House."
"You're a dream killer. And a fun sucker."
"I also paid and drove you here. Keep pushing it and you'll be hailing a cab home."

Butch laughed despite himself and lead them along, wandering the park aimlessly. He really was grateful to Francis for his generosity and probably would have hugged him if it wouldn't look so fucking gay. But he did want to repay his kindness somehow, if only by giving them some time to relax after the gut-wrenching ride.

Suddenly, the solution appeared right before his eyes. Butch smacked Francis' arm with a resounding thud, then tugged on the fabric and pointed. Francis blinked at him, wondering just what the hell was going on.

"I wanna go in the Fun House." Butch elaborated, pointing to the ramshackle building.
"You can't be serious."
"Why not? It's nice and quiet for your bitchy stomach, and we haven't gone on it yet." Butch had already decided, walking towards the old building. "It's just a mirror house, Franny. What, scared of seeing your pretty face all distorted?"

Butch laughed, letting it settle into a grin when he heard heavy footfalls behind him. He hadn't quite expected the slap upside his head, but he let it slide. Truth was Butch was scheming. The Funhouse was old and pretty shitty looking, but it would be quiet and empty, and that was what Butch needed. After all, how would he show his appreciation with people watching?

They made their way past the half awake ticket taker and walked right on in, the floorboards whining loudly in protest. They meandered through the halls, not touching the sides, fearing splinters or smudging the glass. It didn't take them long to get to the ending room despite the jokes they were making at each other's expense. In fact, by the time they got there Butch had almost forgotten his plan in favor of goofing off some more. But once Francis opened a door and their reflection stared back, Butch remembered clearly. A smile crept over his face and he shoved HK inside.

"When you're done checking yourself out, prom queen" He drawled "We'll work our way out."
"Shut up."
"I'm thinking we get a bite to eat and I run you the hell over in the Bumper Cars."
"Fine. Now shut up and help me navigate."

Butch did no such thing. Rather he followed behind Francis, poking fun at him when he pumped into mirrors and cursed. It was just as well. Francis could do this just fine by himself, and Butch would probably be utterly useless and run into walls. It would have been nice if he hadn't been such a raging dick about it, but the hustler could manage. He was starting to get a bit hungry himself and the motivation of food, even the crappy amusement park kind, was enough motivation to get him going.

Butch, on the other hand, seemed to be hungry for something much, much different.

They stumbled across the center of the mirror maze entirely by accident, and were promptly surrounded by reflections of themselves on all sides. Butch grinned like mad. Francis sighed a little, clearly annoyed with having to paw around until they found the way out. Before he could do much of anything, however, he watched Butch's reflection advance on him, and turned abruptly to catch the real Butch in the act. He raised an eyebrow, allowing Butch to corner him, keeping an eye on the weird smile on Butch's face. It dawned on him suddenly, just as Butch's hands pressed against his chest and he back fell flush with the mirror.

"Up for a little fun, Hustler?" Butch cooed.

Francis returned his smirking grin, embracing Butch for the time being. Butch and his crazy ideas. They never ceased to amaze him. Said storyteller, chuckled softly and leaned up into him. Rather than answer him in the verbal sense, the hustler leaned down and kissed him, just like Butch wanted, and left him do as he pleased with his wandering hands.

He was just glad the mirrors were sturdy.


"Come on you guys!" Vince shouted, stomping his foot "It's the Sinister Twister! The most awesomest roller coaster in the state!"
"Yeah!" Spinelli agreed, "I mean even Gus is going, and he hates this stuff"
"Hey, I'm a lot bigger now." Gus muttered "And it doesn't bother me after basic training-"
"Whatever jarhead" Spinelli dismissed "Point is they're being chicken and that ain't right."
"It's opening weekend – you won't get another chance like this again!" Vince implored, "You guys don't wanna be the only ones not going, do you?"

But Gretchen and Mikey were not swayed. Though Gretchen was interested in the gravitational and centrifugal force reacting together in the form of an entertaining ride, her stomach could only handle so much experimentation. Mikey also had a weak stomach and had, moments before, devoured his lunch and everyone's leftovers. They both declined over and over, faced with protests from all sides until TJ finally stepped in

"Look guys, they don't wanna go, so we can't make 'em. Sure, they're missing out on a once in a lifetime opportunity, but that's their problem. Let's just go and we'll meet with them afterwards."

The three reluctantly accepted and left with TJ, leaving the thankful Gretchen and Mikey to their own devices. For a while they just wandered around, looking for something to do. Gretchen preferred to sit or look into some of the tents detailing the past blue-ribbon winners or the history of the park. Mikey wanted to watch the performers and maybe grab something more to eat – though Gretchen had to steer him from that because they were already dangerously short on funds. So they compromised with bits and pieces of each, making peasant conversation (though the topics differed and often had nothing to do with each other).

As they were rounding a bend nearby the Arcade and Tilt-O-Whirl, Mikey stopped suddenly, and Gretchen ran into him. She recovered without falling, fixed her glasses, and peeked around the large male to see what he was looking at.

"Look Gretchen! A Funhouse! Oh how delightfully charming – would accompany me? Please?"
"Please Gretchen – I know it isn't educational, but it would be so lovely to rekindle a boyhood wonder at simple reflection."

Gretchen smiled a bit, her mind already screaming warnings. Mikey was prone to regression more than anyone she had ever know – something exceedingly troubling in someone who was still very young. TJ had warned her to guide him away from the kiddie rides, fearful of another Bonky episode. But this one seemed harmless enough. And Mikey, with his pout and manner, were rather hard to resist.

"Well… alright. At the very least we can get out of the sun."

Mikey clapped his hands in delight and thanked her profusely, then dragged her to the ticket taker. He woke the man, offered him the appropriate tickets (that he took grudgingly), and dragged Gretchen inside. They had about as much fun as to be expected. Mikey flouted about, inspecting mirrors and reciting poetry about the reflected image. Gretchen attempted to enlighten him, tell him the true physics behind reflection and the bending or light, but Mikey mostly ignored her (he didn't mean to, of course, he was just infatuated with the distorted reflections). Gretchen had given up on educating the large male by the time they got to the mirror-lined hall.

"Worry not, Gretchen" Mikey said, holding his arms out. "I'll clear the way."
"That is very nice of you Mikey, but it's unnecessary. By using the angle of the lights and the mirrors, and with Galileo's help, we should be out of here in no time."

Gretchen had pulled the old but often updated machine out of her pocket, rousing the helpful frog, but Mikey had already started forward, nudging his girth through the hall, getting a good way inward before Galileo had downloaded the blueprints and calculated their location via GPS. Gretchen took over from there, though Mikey protested, and they had an amicable back and forth over who could prove most helpful, until there came a sudden, echoing groan. Mikey froze, and Gretchen ran into him, distracted by the sound. She adjusted her glasses and stepped back.

"Be it a friendly spirit haunting these grounds?" Mikey stage whispered, leaning down to Gretchen, who was tapping at Galileo.
"I don't believe so. It sounded more like a structural fault. Ideas Galileo?"
"I'm afraid Mikey was more correct, Gretchen." The little frog elaborated, flittering about on the screen. "It was a human moan – though one that was decidedly alive. I'm afraid I'm not sure of the reason for said noise but if I suggest we find the source, lest they be injured."
"Good idea. Let us advance!"
"Cautiously, Mikey. There is no need to stamp through and possibly scare and injured person."

So they moved forward steadily, looking around for anything or anyone broken or in need of help. The reflections made it hard to see, and the groans, though small, were more frequent. They supposed that meant that they were close to the source, and hey looked harder. The mirrors kept their reflections looking back at them, hiding the potential problem.

Until it didn't.

They rounded the bend, and suddenly the image reflected back at them wasn't their own. It was of two different people who seemed very, very caught up in each other. Though somewhat glad the building wasn't haunted and neither looked the least bit injured, both Gretchen and Mikey (and even Galileo, who had covered its eyes with its little flippers) were struck dumb for a short while, just watching. The two continued on, oblivious, attached at the mouth, arms wrapped around each other and hands roaming. Another gasp and low moan slipped from them and through the halls, bouncing off the mirrors. They parted from each other, if only slightly, their flushed and smiling (or smirking) faces reflected in the smooth glass.

Instantly it clicked and both Gretchen and Mikey gasped, clapping their hands over their mouths a second afterward to block the noise. They exchanged glances, not horrified but really rather shocked that these two (these two especially!) were so wrapped up in each other. Gretchen reeled, trying to calculate the likelihood of this pairing, and eventually giving up and blaming it on chance. She'd recalculate again later, to be sure, but she'd need the aid of Galileo, and the computer seemed unwilling to come out of standby. Mikey, on the other hand, seemed much more at ease with the situation. Always infatuated with the romantic, the large male sighed a wistful sigh and smiled, watching the two engage in another lovers kiss, not-so-secretly pining for the same fate to befall him (though preferably one of a female nature – honestly, what did sensitivity and passion for the arts have to do with ones preferred sexuality?).

However, before Gretchen could stop blinking dumbly at the reflection and before Mikey could think of a word to rhyme with 'amour', the two tangled teens detached and wandered off, somewhat red-faced and noticeably happier than usual, but otherwise acting like nothing had happened. They heard the echo of a laugh and then a door shut at the end of the hall, and seemingly snapped out of their revere all at once. Again they exchanged a glance and nodded, looking determined.

They knew exactly what to do.


"You saw who doing what in the where? " TJ stressed, having to be told again, even after hearing it six or seven times. The first three had to have been a joke – but at time six he was worried that it might actually be true. And if it was, what the hell?
"Like I said, we saw Butch and the Hustler sharing a loving moment in the hall of mirrors!"

TJ blinked and leaned back on the couch in his basement, nursing a soda. After spending the day at the park, the gang had decided to plan a tactical retreat to TJ's basement and spend the rest of the night hanging out. Mikey had dropped the bombshell about five seconds after they had all settled in (despite Gretchen trying to be more tactical about it). No one believed them at first, but Mikey was being so adamant and Gretchen – the honest, bright, almost-never-wrong genius – was backing him up.

"I'm not buying it." Vince said, shaking his head "It's too weird."
"I must admit, I'm shocked at our findings-" Gretchen started
"Shocked nothin." Spinelli spat, chugging her drink and crushing the can "I mean seriously?" Do they even know each other?"
"Obviously if they didn't before, they do now" Gus added, withering a little bit under Spinelli's glare "I mean, I guess they do. I've seen them hanging around after school."
"Whatever it is, it's still kind of out there." TJ admitted "Are you totally sure, Gretch?"
"Why are you all making such a fuss?" Mikey questioned, putting his hands on his hips and staring them down "Why shouldn't they have free reign over their lives? Who are we to judge if they find solace and love in one another?"
"Keep it down, Mikeo. We're not against it or nothin'." TJ placated, holding his hands up in defense "It's just... we weren't expecting it. It's like a… surprise."
"Like tuna surprise." Vince mumbled, wincing when Spinelli ribbed him for it.

TJ stood amongst the chattering teens and raised his hands to stop their arguments. Once quieted down he took a breath, and relayed his plan of action.

"Listen, I say we make a pact, here and now, to keep this quiet." TJ shushed protest from all sides and explained further "I have nothing against it. Heck, I'm happy for 'em – but there's a reason that they were doing that in private and not out on the benches. At least there probably is – but I don't wanna end up wrecking something they got that makes them happy by blabbing it all over the place. It'd be too much like snitching. We'll just keep this between us and let them go on about their business."

The group nodded in agreement and turned their collective attention to the remote, which Spinelli and Gus promptly argued over. TJ collapsed into his seat, crisis averted, and watched with some amusement. He glanced over at Mikey, and was displeased to find him frowning and looking sort of sour. So he sat up and scooted over to Mikey's side, patting him on the shoulder.

"What's the problem, Mikeo?"
"I just don't see why we need to keep this so hidden and secret. There is nothing more pure and perfect than love – why hide it?"
"I'm not… Look, Mikey, I'm on your side here. I think it's great, but my thinking is what if they don't?" He shook his head at the larger boy's skeptical look "We're just keeping it quiet like that nurse and that preacher guy did for those two kids in that one book – the one where everything was written all poemy like? You know what I'm talking about."
"Are you referring to Shakespeare's immortal work of Romeo and Juliet?" Mikey asked, perking up considerably and clasping his hands together
"Uh… sure, okay." TJ said, shrugging his shoulders.
"Wonderful!" He said "It's like watching work come to life before my very eyes! Oh, but I do hope they have a better ending."
"We all do, Mikey. We all do."


The following Monday proved to be quite dull. Everyone chattered away about the park and what rides were best and that one kid from Fifth Street that threw up in the Pirate Ship. Francis had enjoyed himself, but his break was over, and he had a job to do. So he made polite chit chat with the customers, but otherwise put the experienced behind him.

Until Butch ambushed him.

It wasn't even an exaggeration on Francis' part. Butch literally reached out from his shadows and grabbed a hold of him, yanking him into the alleyway. He stumbled but kept his footing, grunting in protest but otherwise letting it happen. Before he could turn and tell Butch not to do that, the storyteller had wrapped his arms around his neck and kissed him hard.

"Afternoon, Hustler." Butch greeted, sliding back to the wall and lighting up a cigarette "How's tricks?"
"Not half bad." He touched his mouth and shrugged, smirking a little "What was that for?"
"For treating me yesterday. I didn't think 'hey thanks' was enough."
"Molesting me is?"
"I thought it helped."

The hustler shook his head and grinned, stepping toward Butch, pinning him against the wall. The storyteller grinned around his cigarette, raising a brow. He pressed his hand to Francis' chest and felt him breathe and chuckle against his fingertips. He didn't think fooling around right now was a great idea, but they were alone enough and he had started it, so he was going to take his punishment as he saw fit.

Until he heard something crash.

In an instant Butch and Francis were on the opposite sides of the alley, looking towards the source of the noise but as separate entities. They stared at the huge teen, who was standing pigeon-toed and hands clasped in the mouth of the spot, casting an even greater shadow on it, exchanging glances at the bright smile Mikey flashed them.

"Salutations, Hustler and Butch!"
"Hey there Mikey. Whatcha here for? Want a story?"
"Or a Winger Dinger?"
"Oh no no no – I come to inform you that your secret is safe with me."
"Secret?" the two of them chorused "What secret?"

Once more, they exchanged glances. Francis shrugged minutely, hoping that Butch knew what he was going on about. Butch only took a drag, quietly exhaling it through his nose and mouth looking back to Mikey. The large boy simply sighed at their confused faces, clasping his hands together. Butch winced and the Hustler braced himself while Mikey took his stance. They already knew he was going to start reciting – but why and what about eluded the both of them.

"Oh to see a happier couple!" He cried suddenly "Although you've lived on separate islands for al these years a storm of good intentions crashed both lonely masses together to allow such bliss!" Before either boy could react to him, they were gathered up in Mikey's arms, rocked back and forth by the sentimental male "But! Fear not, my dear friends! I will not speak of your affairs and cause a vile storm to dampen such wondrous fireworks." He hugged them extra tight, making them choke and gag. "I did not wish to upset you, I just could not contain my glee at the vision of such a rare love blooming!"

The two boys, held together by the steel bands that were Mikey Blumburg's arms, were suddenly very aware of how bad this situation was. Someone knew. Not only did someone know but they had blown it way out of proportion and twisted it into something a lot more confusing than they wanted. So they squirmed, all too aware of how this looked and how close they were pressed together.

"Oh no no no no!"
"You got that all wrong!"
"Silly misunderstanding"
"You can't be serious."
"Yeah you're joking –good one!"
"Yeah, had me going."
"Haha! Oh boy. Yeah, but no."
"We're just friends."
"That's it. Good pals."

They kept moving and wriggling amidst Mikey's tight but well meaning hold until Butch finally broke free, stumbling across the blacktop. Francis was lowered to the ground a few moments later, looking kind of worried despite his usual poker face, and seeing him so bothered made Butch dig out a new cigarette and puff heavily. But, now that they had their footing, they felt better. Mikey wasn't holding them up to his expectations. They just were what they were and Mikey would have to understand. It wasn't like he had any proof otherwise-

"But dear friends! I've witnessed your love – in the hall of mirrors. Surely you must be coupled together to have shared an embrace, a kiss like that!"

They were screwed. They were totally screwed. Butch choked on his inhaled smoke and Francis seemed to be struck still. Both boys looked pleadingly at Mikey, begging him silently to drop the whole thing – or at the very least stop fucking reciting poetry about them. Someone was going to walk past and get the wrong idea (Hustler was already scanning the yard for possible eavesdroppers). Butch, sucking heavily on his smoke, tried to refuste it, but Mikey was so wrapped up in his fantasy of love and junk that Butch went with the first thing he thought of to get him to shut up already.

"I fell!" Butch said suddenly, drawing an incredulous look from Francis "I fell. Right over. Old building you know. Fell right over and pulled somethin. Old buiding you know – surprised you didn't trip on it." Butch took another deep drag to steady himself "Fran had to hold me up til I could move again. Had to use the mirror though – support himself 'cause I was kinda bein' a baby about it – but that shit hurts, you know! Burns like hell. So anyway he was holding me up and all the mirrors there are tilted and messed up so it must have looked like we were… that. Yeah- no. He was holdin' me, yeah, but not like…that. No way."
"I know I know, it's not all nice and poemy and pretty an good and nice. But that's the truth. Why would I lie about something' like that, huh? Wouldn't do that to you, Mikey. No way."

Mikey looked at Butch sadly, his shoulders sagging some at his fantasy gone awry. He then looked to the hustler for confirmation who nodded solemnly when he tore his gaze away from the sudden outpouring of fiction from Butch's smoky mouth. Defeated, Mikey relented his need to verse, and took a deep breath.

"Alas, that which comes must go, I suppose."

With that (before Butch or Francis could think to dispute that there was nothing there in the first place), Mikey bid them adieu and left them alone in the alley. Francis made sure he was gone (Butch was too busy lighting up another and puffing away) before approaching the storyteller. He placed a careful hand on his shoulder, prepared for but disheartened somewhat by the way he twitched. Francis offered a small smile and a shrug, squeezing the shoulder under his palm gently.

"He's – he fell for that, right?"
"Of course."
"He's kinda gullible, and that was pretty good for a spur of the moment thing, right? Not my best work, but it… it worked, right?"
"I think so. He seemed to buy into it."
"So we're okay." Butch assessed, nodding to himself, stubbing the smoke out on the wall. "We're fine – you know, so long as he don't blab."

Francis nodded again and patted his back, hoping that Butch was correct, but knowing he probably wasn't. Butch knew it too, and he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to focus on the warm hand on his back for a few minutes.


Mikey, the kind and thoughtful boy he was, dutifully reported his findings back to the group so as to clear up an confusion and possible rumors. Gretchen tried to depute him, but was unable to back herself up, seeing as how she had asked Galileo had trashed the data, thinking it was useless and an invasion of privacy (plus- if her parents found that on her computer she would be seriously grounded). Everyone else seemed to accept the news with aloof agreement to still keep quiet about it, and then promptly ran off to go challenge Lawson to Kickball.

Save their leader.

TJ called some serious bullshit on this one.

Normally TJ believed Butch to a certain degree. His stories were lies, yes, but had their roots in truth more often than not. He thought of Butch as more of an embellisher than an outright liar – and he thought of Francis as a pretty honest businessman. In this case, though, too many things didn't add up right and TJ couldn't swallow down such a quick change like Mikey could. Plus, now that it was out there, he kinda saw that Butch and Francis maybe kinda sorta had a thing going on. Maybe.

The more he thought it over the more it seemed clear that Butch was lying to cover up what he was sure was nobody's business. But, rather than agonize whether or not there was a situation to protect in the first place, TJ decided to skip all that fluffy espionage stuff and just go straight to the source.

Surprisingly, the first (and only) source he could find was Butch. The hustler, though on his rounds, seemed hell bent on avoiding TJ and any one of his friends in particular, even going so far as to stumble into opposing territory to avoid doing business with them. TJ settled on Butch to pester. He'd rather know the whole truth before he went back to protecting a secret, anyhow.

Butch wasn't too hard to corner. There were only so many shadowed alleyways on school grounds, and if one were able to follow the thin trail of cigarette smoke then one would inevitably find Butch or someone who knew where Butch was. TJ lucked out, having only to check two alcoves before getting a nose full of smoke, finding a nervous looking butch at the center of the cloud.

"Hey Butch." TJ said, skipping the formalities and covert stuff to promptly scare Butch into dropping his smoke. "Oh, uh. Sorry. Hey you alri-"
"Yeah fine just great! Hey there Teej, how you been? Whatcha need?" Butch blurted, digging into his pocket for another cigarette "Wanna hear a story? Or you want one tailored to scare your sis again? I got plenty of both- just as soon as I find my light…"
"Ah no. Nothing like that. I kinda wanted to ask you something." TJ paused, watching Butch nervously paw around for his lighter,, find it, and light up "You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah fine never better what's up?" Butch exhaled, seeming calmer now that he had tar in his mouth.
"Okay. Uh." Tj shifted his feet, then stepped further into the shadows near Butch, who backed up accordingly.. "I'm not gonna beat around the bush here, so I'll just come right out and say it: Is there something going on between you and the hustler?"

Butch seemed to stop dead, nearly loosing his cigarette again. TJ had drastically underestimated how awkward this was turning out to be, and he winced for Butch, trying to look sympathetic. Maybe this wasn't the best idea, but he couldn't take it back now.

But then Butch started laughing. First it was hollow and soundless, but then his whole body got in on the act and warmed up with it. He mouth curled into a grin and he took a short drag, laughing out the smoke and shaking his head like TJ was so sadly mistaken it was funny and sad at the same time.

"Ha! Oh man oh man, do you guys got some crazy ideas. You know you're not the first of you guys to come up an' ask the very same things. Haha, oh man. But no. No nothing like that. Nothing going on at all. Not a thing. Well, we're pals. But that's it. Good pals. Like you and Spinelli."
"I dated Spinelli for a few months." TJ interjected.
"I meant you and Vince! You and Vince. Yeah. Just real close. It's funny didn't think I'd like the guy that much seems like a tightwad don't he? Yeah no he's pretty cool. Mhmm. Just pals. That's it."
"So nothing."
"Nope! Not a thing. Didn't hug him or hold him or do any of that lovely dovey junk in the mirror hall. Nope. "
"Yeah 'cause Mikey's got this crazy story. Funny really. Like we were all wrapped up in ach other or something and that's so not what happened. I just kinda messed up my leg a bit but not to bad I'm okay now I can walk and stuff. Should probably keep off it anyway, right? Yeah that's what I thought."
"Okay, Butch."
"'Cause it's kinda funny really what he came up with and-"
"Butch I said okay."
"Oh. Yeah. Right."
"I won't tell."
"Oh God thank you, TJ." Butch whimpered, deflating some "Please don't. And tell them to stop fucking asking me Jesus Christ I can't do it anymore."

Butch relaxed some, slipping down against the wall until he was seated. He held onto the cigarette like it was precious, hugging his knees to his chest. TJ felt kind of bad. He'd sort of dragged it out of him. Then again, he looked better and less neurotic than he did before, so maybe spilling his guts or knowing someone else knew his secret made him feel better. But TJ was nothing but a curious boy, so he pushed the envelope a little more, wondering if he could get Butch to elaborate some – or at least clear up his last few questions.

"Not that it's any of my business" TJ started "But are you dating in secret or…?"
"No! No no… we're just trying out a little arrangement, that's all."
"Should I ask?"
"I'd like it very much if you didn't."
"Good enough for me! I'll get them off your back. Mikey especially."
"No problem."
"One more thing."
"Mikey and Gretchen-"
"They said they saw-"
"Yes! Yes they did. Drop it now. Please."

TJ grinned and nodded, backing up out of the alley. Whatever the reason, he felt a whole lot better about everything. Knowing the truth did that, he supposed. And Butch seemed thankful that he was going to keep it private. What exactly Butch and HK were hiding was still kind of a mystery to TJ, but he figured that if it made them happy and didn't hurt anyone else (except for maybe Mikey, who seemed to be head over heels for the idea of them paired off), then TJ was happy for them.


"You're tense."

Butch whined in Francis' lap, wiggling away from the hands on his back. He knew he was tense. He had fucking reason to be tense. Right now though he wanted to fucking forget about it. Such was proving difficult with Fran's warm hands pressing down on his shoulder blades and spine like that. It felt good- great actually – but the added statement meant to be taken as a question negated the nice feeling.

He opened his eyes to stare at the back of Francis' leather sofa, partially blocked by the collar of his hustling coat. He attempted to bury his face deeper into the mixture of cloth and skin at the junction of Francis' shoulder, but the hustler wouldn't let him get away. He caught Butch by the chin and goaded a kiss out of him, keeping him in place some.

"Detwiler and his friends get to you?" Francis asked after a few moments.
"M'sorry." Francis murmured, leaning back against the sofa "That's partially my fault."
"How so?"
"I avoided the hell out of them. I figured they'd take the hint if I didn't stop to chat. I guess they defaulted to you instead."
"Hey, I said I was sorry."

The hustler moved his attention to kissing Butch's sensitive neck, pressing his fingers into the taut back. He attempted to work out a few knots, but Butch seemed unwilling to sit still for it. Eventually Francis just gave up and focused on the entire body in his lap, feeling it out and playing with it.

"Fuck." Butch half moaned, falling off his lap dramatically to land twisted a bit on the padded seats. "We're totally boned."
"I don't think so."
"Explain why you're not stressed out like I am?"
"I'd say something about getting off more regularly than you, but I usually go to you for that."
"Shut up."
"The way I see it TJ is as trustworthy as they come. He won't say anything if he promised to keep quiet."
"You think?" Butch asked more quietly, peeking up from his spot.
"I know." Fran insisted, "Now come back up here. I want to one-up your little stunt from before."
"On your living room couch."
"You want to wait until we're upstairs?"

Butch crawled up onto his lap and kissed him without any further argument.



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