Product Placement

Chapter 24 - Aftermaths and Afterparties


Butch woke up 4am exactly, sat up, and coughed dryly. He stumbled half awake out of his couch bed, hit every piece of furniture his shins could find, and half voiced curses as he staggered up the steps to the kitchen. He didn't dare open his eyes or turn on a light, instead groping around blindly, trying to keep his dream within reach so he could get back to it without much issue once his drink (half spilled on himself, the counter, and the floor) was done with.

By some small miracle, Butch kept a decent amount of liquid in his glass and kept the glass in his left hand. He didn't fall over or crash into anything that warranted more than a hiss and a curse. He plopped down on his bed and considered turning on the TV. There was probably a good movie on this late/early, but then he reasoned he'd never get back to sleep and be exhausted by the time he had to get to school. So instead Butch leaned back against the couch and sipped his water in the quiet dark. In a few minutes, after he remembered where he left off in his dream, he'd put the glass aside and then go back to sleep for the precious two hours before he needed to get up and shower and go to school. At least it was a Friday, Butch rationalized, and he'd be free for the weekend after six some odd hours.

The thought made him smile a bit as he shut his eyes and continued to think (the dream forgotten) about anything and everything that decided to cross his mind, his back comfortable against the cushions, the glass cool in his hand.

It was 4:10am when the glass shattered against the opposite wall and Butch began to scream. He toppled his night table and tore up his bed, screaming into his cushions before he threw them full force every which way, not even bothering to watch them fly into his innocent items before hurling the next one. They knocked into things, making muted thump-thumps as they crashed, then caused the thing they crashed into fall to earth in some crumpled heap. Breakable things were broken, unbreakable things were disturbed and put out of place.

When all was said and done, Butch seemed to take on the characteristic of an unbreakable thing, just knocked over and confused about being there. He was, however, a very, very breakable thing, and if anyone could see in the dark he was actually just as shattered as the glass he threw. Anyone looking closer would see a very strange sight indeed. Butch, all hunched over in the middle of what looked like a very strange warzone, gripping and chewing on his blanket, making little distressed noises into it and looking like he was frightened out of his mind, and at the very least like he was about to cry.

Butch paused and listened, hoping his outburst hadn't disturbed anyone in the house. Though his parents were both home, they were heavy sleepers, and Butch was a full two flights and two doors out of their hearing range. Some part of him was thankful – he wasn't sure how he was going to explain any of this – but a larger part was distressingly hollow and doubly frightened by the prospect of being alone in this.

He rubbed his face, looking still very frightened as he looked around. It was almost as if he was wondering who messed up his room so bad. But, Butch gathered himself and, gripping his blanket, crawled slowly over to his ruined bed, mindful of the debris littering his floor. His clock was the only thing that seemed to weather the onslaught, and it glared at him, it's numbers skewed as it floated in mid air, tangled in the turned over table.

It was 4:27 when Butch curled up in bed. He didn't sleep. Just 17 minutes ago he realized he loved the man he'd been sleeping with for months. He didn't sleep. He couldn't sleep. He was in love. With Francis. The Hustler.

This was going to be a very, very long night.


Butch swayed as he walked, almost stumbling but never quite doing so. He chain smoked since he left the house, his eyes downward and half open, counting the cracks, watching his boots, the frayed threads of his jeans -anything to keep him from actually consciously thinking. He considered skipping class to count blades of grass so he wouldn't be trapped within he boring, off-yellow walls, but someone would find out and then detention would be a million times worse. It would just be him and his thoughts, and he was sure he'd tear out of his skin if he was forced through that. The previous sleepless night had early done him in as it was.

How could he have let this happen? It was so simple that no one could fuck it up (aside from him – Butch thought bitterly, spitting on the sidewalk). It was sex. Just sex. That' it. No strings attached. Friends with benefits. They'd pal around on most days and fuck when they wanted or made out of they wanted to blow off some steam but weren't that horny. They were there for each other if they needed it. Comfort sex, bad day sex, sex for sex's sake. No where in any of that what love ever involved. Butch sneered at himself for even considering something so stupid.

So they cuddled sometimes. Or just sat in silence with arms around each other or slept together without sleeping together. It didn't matter if they hugged or kissed in the shadows between classes or before one or the other had to leave for some reason. It shouldn't matter if they had nicknames for each other or that Franny called him cute or that the hustler sometimes (more often than not, actually) showed up in his dreams. Hell, it didn't - shouldn't even matter that they confided in each other their deepest secrets – Butch his scars and Francis his bullshit family. It wasn't even important that Fran knew just how Butch liked it and that Butch actually liked bending over for the hustler. It wasn't ever gentle – it was rough, needy, angry. It left him with marks and blood and some measure of pain every time. It didn't fucking matter!

But it did. It totally did matter, and it made Butch sick to think how hard he'd fallen without ever feeling any pain. He'd broken and became the hustler's plaything without thinking and then had the fucking gall to fall in love with the asshole. What hurt him worse was that he was never supposed to feel this way, but he did, and now he was paying for it. Now it hurt. It hurt bad - so bad he physically felt pain, enough to grip the fabric above his heart and wish he could tear it and the damned organ away and not have to worry about it anymore.

Butch had somehow gotten to school without murdering himself, and though he looked like he'd dragged himself out of a grave one brave soul sauntered up to him and offered a slip of paper. Butch eyed his fellow student, seeing an unfamiliar face (he must have been unfamiliar- no one who hailed from Third Street would dare bother Butch when he looked this bad). The kid shook the paper and implored him to take it, saying something about a huge party and lack of parents and social networking. The storyteller exhaled smoke in his face, but took the invite and nodded, bypassing the entrance to go smoke in the nearby alleyways until class.

He'd look at the invite sometime later. He'd think sometime later. Right now, he just needed to sit and deal for a little while. Hopefully, Francis wouldn't notice.


"The hell you pedaling?" Skeens spat, scowling at the strange brat trying to force a white card into his hand. Sleeps stumbled into his back, snorting and shaking his head, then resting it against his spine.
"It's… just a party man." The kid muttered, looking a lot more frightened now that Skeens was glaring and readying his spray can "Chill. It's tonight. Free food."

The Graffiti kid, calmed by the mention of 'food' (and more importantly 'free'), snatched the card from the strange student (who promptly scooted far away from the angry male) and stuffed it in his pocket. He reached behind him and poked Sleeps in the ear until he snored and woke himself, standing a little straighter.

"Oh… hey Skeens. What's up?"
"C'mon. We're gonna find Mundy."
"When did we get to school…?"
"Can you walk up the stairwell or are you gonna fall asleep again?"
"… hm?"

Skeens cursed quietly but smiled, hustling the sleepy blond inside and to the stairwell, then hoisted him up in a fireman's carry and stole up the steps, getting to the roof just as the bell rang. He dropped Sleeps once the door shut behind him, kicking a few loose bits of shale and tar to get Mundy's attention. Mundy ignored them for a bit, spitting over the edge of the school on latecomers.

When the redheaded troublemaker finally turned to them, Sleeps had fallen asleep and Skeens was doodling on the door with chalk, though his artistry was somewhat hindered by Sleeps sleeping on his dominant arm. Mundy made a face and called them fags, kicking Sleeps to wake him up. Skeens kicked him in return and they glared at each other for a while, until Mundy turned, spat, and fished out a white slip, waving it in the air.

"So there was some little bastard-"
"I know." Skeens interrupted, showing off his own white slip "Free food and shit. It's tonight. We gonna crash?"
"It's not crashing if we're invited."
"Fuck you."
"Yeah we're going." Mundy said, spitting "And we're bringin' a little something."
"Bringing something?" Skeens echoed.
"Yeah bringin' something."

Mundy chuckled, mumbling to himself as he plotted. Skeens eyed him, hoping Mundy wasn't going back to his 'trying to be nicer' days. That would just suck. He nudged Sleeps awake and pointed Mundy out to the dozing male, who blinked blearily.

"Oh hey Mundy… when'd you get here?"
"Shut up Lazy Kid." Mundy replied automatically, turning on his heel to face the two sitting males. "Like I said – we're gonna go a'right. But we're gonna bring something."
"Bringin' something, huh?" Skeens said suspiciously "Ain't that kinda… you know, nice?"
"Oh it ain't gonna be nice. Not what I got in mind."
"Oh?" Skeens grinned, catching on, "Whatcha got in mind?"
"I'll explain on the way. We're ditching. Wake up the lazy bastard, Skeens, and follow me. We gotta go talk to some people."
Without further ado, Mundy adjusted his vest and sauntered out the fire door and back down the stairwell like he'd done a million times before. Skeens, who was already into the plan, punched Sleeps in the arm and then shook him awake.
"Oh. Hey Skeens. Where's Mundy?"
"He's gone ahead. C'mon. Get up. We got stuff to do."


Butch was doing remarkably well for someone who was dealing with a huge revelation and emotional turn around within the span of ten hours.

He didn't look too well, and most people took his looks as a clear hint to stay away (Butch would undoubtedly tell them the tale of why at some point in the future, they were sure). As far as Butch was concerned, he was getting on alright – mostly thanks to cigarettes and shadows and shortcuts. There was one single instance where Butch physically ran into the hustler, but he'd just as soon put it out of his mind if he could. (It had been a truly pathetic event. Butch exited his class and walked right into the hustler's broad back. Francis turned, smiled, and began to say something, but Butch in his unshakable bravery whimpered and hightailed it across the building).

The bi-haired storyteller had smoked and sulked and felt bad about himself for a few hours, wandering aimlessly, trying desperately not to think about freaking out or Francis or kisses or sex or love – especially not love. He did his homework (every problem, essay, and reading assignment), cleaned his demolished room, and fixed himself and his family dinner (not well and nothing special, but keeping the house from burning down kept his thoughts occupied for a while) – all an attempt to distract himself. It worked, but only barely, and by the time night had fallen Butch was back to berating himself for being such a stupid fuck.

Having depleted his cigarettes, Butch emptied out his pockets in a last ditch effort to find a spare few on his person (because he sure as hell wasn't going to go to Fran to get more – oh fuck no. He couldn't bear that right now). When that search came up empty, Butch tried again, dumping the contents of his pockets out on the table, hoping to find at least enough spare change to get a pack of the cheap stuff. When all was said and done he was six dollars short and holding the white invitation from this morning, focusing on the time and place. The party hadn't started yet, and if Butch had any luck or skills as an orator, he could probably pull a few cigs from other invitees.

So with nothing much else to do in his empty house (that wouldn't have him derail into thought about Francis), he left a note for his folks and grabbed his jacket (searching once more for a spare cig and coming up empty), locking the door behind him.

By the time Butch got to the party the festivities seemed to be in full swing, which didn't entirely register with him because on the walk over he managed to remember to hate himself again. He greeted the kid from earlier at the door with a short nod and tried to slink around, but the house was so packed Butch could hardly find an unoccupied space. It bothered him some, but Butch managed. He counted and tallied the people he could see, and was rather impressed at the turnout even if he could only recognize those from Third Street. He spotted TJ and his crew, Lawson and his friends, Swinger Girl, The Pale Kids, the Ashley's, Randal (if you could believe it), Guru Kid, His Highness King Bob and his attendants, The Diggers, this kid even invited-

"That's right ladies and gentlemen! Just find the right card and you can win this genuine one of a kind comic signed by-"

Oh hell. Oh shit. Oh fuck. He was here. Francis was here. Right here – right over there, hustling like he did always. Butch choked and coughed and tried not to hyperventilate. He pawed at himself, looking futilely for a cigarette he knew he didn't have while he duck and wove into the next room. It didn't matter- Francis' voice carried and rang in his ears and Butch was stuck between going white and burning up. What made matters worse was when someone suddenly laid their hand on his shoulder and he yelped, spinning around and backing himself into a corner. He full expected Francis to be standing there, looking down at him and awaiting an explanation. What he got instead was TJ, withdrawing his hand and trying to smile, his friends fanned out behind him.

"Hey Butch, lookin' a little jumpy today."
"Er… yeah." Butch coughed and shifted his feet. "I-I'd let you guys know but, you now, long story. Would eat up too much of the uh, party."
"Okay sure. Some other time then." TJ replied amicably.
"We wished to wish you a grand evening, dear storyteller." Mikey stated, clasping his hands together "We feared you would be misplaced among the many rows of guests."
"We saw you before, but you ducked away before you could see us." Gus elaborated.
"Can you believe how many people were invited?" Vince marveled, looking around
"I must agree – there seems to be a rather large turnout." Gretchen agreed "I can only hope this particular domicile is zoned properly for this many."
"Yeah yeah yeah. Let's get some pizza before they run out!" Spinelli cried, effectively cutting the conversation clean.

With some measure of agreement (and after some small talk) TJ and his gang left Butch to his own devices. He watched them go, chewing his lip and picking at his fingers. Once they were out of sight (off to get food or pay respects to King Bob – he wasn't sure) Butch sighed inwardly – he had never been so happy to be ignored. It wasn't that he didn't like TJ and his crazy friends. They did a lot of good work and they were pretty good inspiration (and even better scary story targets), but the fact remained that they knew the barest details and if they knew the base they could guess how the story went. Hell, Mikey knew before he did, and that was dangerous. If he went spouting that love junk again…

Butch whined.

He knew – he just fucking knew- that if he was ever called on it this was one of those things he wouldn't be able to lie out of. He knew he's just babble and make himself look like a huge idiot. He'd be shamed into hiding forever and becoming even more of a recluse and social leper than he already was. And on top of that – Francis would hate him because he fucked up the relationship they had going when it was perfect and didn't need to be fucked up. It was half his fault anyway, Butch reasoned. Stupid bastard had to be so good to him and be nice and damn good in bed-

The storyteller whined again, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. Not matter how vehemently he could try, he couldn't pass the blame off to anyone else. It was his own stupid fault he fell in love with the stupid bastard. So fucking stupid.

Butch slipped into the kitchen and poured himself a cupful of punch. With any luck, Butch thought bitterly as he knocked it back, it'd be spiked and he'd pass the fuck out and forget the rest of this horrible night and it'd all be some terrible nightmare he could brush off.


TJ sat, holding a cup of water, but not drinking it. He couldn't force himself to gag it down, much less anything else. Something, just /something/ was gnawing at his gut. Something just didn't feel right and he couldn't figure out what it was exactly. It bothered the hell out of him.

"Hey Teej." Vince interrupted, jumbling his thoughts "You feelin' okay?"
"Yeah. There's just… I dunno. Something feels off."
"TJ…" Vince fixed him with a glare "It's a party, man. I know you got this whole intuition thing and it's never wrong – but it's a party. Relax. You gotta chill out and let someone else handle the problems. "
"I know I know but-"
"No buts, Teej. Just chill. Go with the flow. "

TJ frowned but sipped his water, looking around. Vince was probably right. It was a party. Not everything was a conspiracy – and even if it was, it wasn't his problem. This could be like a day off for him. Yeah – not his house, not his problem. He'd just sit back and people watch and then wander around, grab some food, find the others.

But then he spotted Mundy and Skeens and Lazy Kid, chattering quietly in the corner and passing a plastic water bottle around. TJ watched unabashedly (though he was concealed by the party itself) as the three laughed, woke the blond, laughed again, and scurried into the kitchen like roaches. He saw them reappear moments later, snickering and punching each other in the side. The bottle was empty.

TJ smelt a conspiracy.


"Alright, alright. You've got me. You've won. It's yours."

HK smiled and handed the comic over, raising his hands in defeat. The victor took the comic with a happy noise and fled, proclaiming his victory. The hustler was fine with this. He had more important things on his mind; How to balance out his extra inflow of cash, what to do about his sudden dip in stock, and find Butch. The latter was most important at the moment – Butch had been acting strange for the past few days and had gone so far as to flee from him this afternoon. The hustler wondered if it was something he did or if Butch was just in one of his crazy moods. Francis toyed with the idea that Butch had some sort of bipolar disorder, but quickly banished it. While it was true Butch could switch tempers and have mood swings with the best of them, he didn't think it was at that level.

What remained to be seen was actually finding the little bastard and actually talking to him.

It struck the hustler as odd, how much he liked Butch as a person. They seemed like the type to avoid each other at all costs, like opposites. Him a successful, honest (mostly) businessman with a ridiculous work ethic, and Butch the somewhat troubling bearer of bad news who lied almost as much as he smoked. It didn't fit at first, and even after Francis was left alone to pick it apart and piece it together their relationship (if it could even be called something that normal) still seemed bizarre to him. But it worked – and that was more than he usually had to go on.

Somewhere in the middle of his musing, Francis brushed off someone poking him on the shoulder, telling them to go look for stuff elsewhere. He had thinking to do. But the poking started up again a few moments later and wouldn't cease until the hustler grabbed the finger and wrist attached to the offending party, bodily dragging it around so he could front it face on. HK was surprised to find Butch was the one bugging him (and yet at the same time, not shocked at all) and immediately let him go.

"Hey." He greeted. "Was just lookin' for you."
"Aw, me?" Butch grinned "Yer too kind."
"Yeah well." Francis grinned at him, throwing his arm companionably over his shoulder. "I'm a pretty nice guy."

Francis had expected a playful shove or a scoff or even a plume of smoke in his face. Butch, however, seemed to be in an unusual mood. Instead of looking bitter or frowning and reluctantly dealing with it, Butch tilted his head up and smiled at him, pressing into the hustler's side.

"You are." Butch said, nuzzling his side through the rough coat "So nice."
"C'mere. Down here. I gotta tell you somethin."
"Uh…" The hustler hesitated, looking around quickly to make sure they weren't being watched too closely, then stooped a bit, "What's up?"
"I have a secret." Butch said, matter of factly, gripping his arm. He smiled, leaned in really close and said, "There's a space gopher comin for my pants."

The hustler started laughing, more relieved than actually amused by the statement (though it was pretty fucking funny). Butch was being an asshole, which Francis could deal with. He was being a hell of a lot more touchy than usual, but he was probably just doing it to piss him off.

It pissed him off more that Butch wouldn't let go than anything else.

The hustler, amused at the joke but with patients wearing thin, shook his arm and motioned for Butch to let go. Butch looked up and blinked at him wearily, his hold on his arm loosening. Francis smiled at him awkwardly and brushed him off the rest of the way. He muttered something about seeing him later and turned to the kitchen, hoping there was some food left.

"No wait. Wait." Butch quietly begged, grasping his hand, immediately lacing their fingers together. "Wait. Don't go."
"Let go of me." Francis snapped "Now."
"B-but I gotta tell you somethin'. S'important"
"Make it quick and let go of me." He hissed, forcing his fingers out from between Butch's as discretely as he could.

Butch bit his bottom lip, trying not to smile but failing miserably at it. He let go of Francis' hand but held fast to his arm, rubbing his chest and then his cheek against it. He whined for the hustler to lower himself so he could tell him what was so damned important it warranted Butch molesting his arm and acting creepier than usual. To get it over with more than anything, Francis bent down and turned his head so Butch could tell him. Whatever it was, it warranted another weird half repressed smile and squirm. Then both of Butch's hands flew up, cupping over his ear. Instead of hearing anything Butch just breathed (which made Francis involuntarily shudder) and then giggled, and then he stopped cupping his hand and threw his arms around Francis' neck, kissing his cheek.

Francis pushed Butch off of him half feigning disgust with his action. It wasn't that he hadn't had it happen before – but it was just too… bizarre in public. Butch wasn't acting right. He was the secretive angsty one. Not the cuddler. If anyone could be assigned that title it would be Francis – and even then that was only if they fucked or if he had a shitty day, and in both cases they were alone when it happened, and in both cases Butch was pissy about having to deal with it. To have him hanging all over his arm and nuzzling his shoulder and acting like some lovesick teenaged girl didn't fit him at all.

"Back the fuck off already." Francis growled, violently shaking off the next attempted touch "Not interested. Just fucking stop."
"But Franny-"

But Francis had already turned, stalking away into the crowd, rubbing the red out of his face with one hand and fisting the other deep in one of his pockets. Butch watched him go with bleary eyes. He reached up and rubbed one of them, then the other. As quietly and discretely as he could, Butch left, ignoring the warbled shapes and shaky illustrations of clowns and dolls that taunted him.


TJ had been right, as he often was when his gut told him something was up.

Gretchen confirmed his suspicions, checking all the party favors with the aid of Galileo for impurities. They found the punch was spiked and together ran very tight and panic-free damage control, informing the host and weeding out the few partygoers who had tried the pinkish liquid (there weren't that many – everyone seemed to have opted for the soda). As for the remaining liquid, TJ threw it and the bowl into the trashcan, then threw the trashcan into the street, then thought better of that and chucked everything down the nearby storm drain.

The trouble started when Spinelli caught wind of the incident and charged over to Skeens and Mundy and Lazy Kid, hitting all three of them in rapid succession and cursing at them as she was often prone to do when upset. Vince and TJ had to help wrangle her down, then Mikey took over, holding her up and trying to talk her into the path of peace. Spinelli didn't want to listen, exclaiming more often than once that 'those scumbags have teeth that need loosening LEMME GO'. The three boys threw insults at her until the host fought his way through the thick crowd and kicked the boys out.

Having to deal with a crowd now, TJ and his friends (with the aid of King Bob, who demanded order despite being relatively new to the thrown and still somewhat distrusted by those who weren't alumni to Third Street Elementary) worked their way through everyone, sending those who drank and hypochondriacs over to Gretchen for evaluation. Somewhere in the thick of it Francis approached the red-caped boy, helping him momentarily to usher partygoers outside or to the smartest kid in school for assistance. Once the crowed died down, the hustler confronted TJ directly, settling for half of his attention while he helped everyone else.

"Detwiler what the hell is going on?"
"Mundy and his stupid friends spiked the punch. You're not feeling woozy or dizzy or hallucinating or feeling weird, are you?"
"No. I didn't even get to drink anything. I was headed over there when this crowd started up."
"No worries, then. But if you see Butch tell him to go talk to Gretchen."
"…Why?" Francis asked, stiffening suddenly.
"Dave saw him drink a cup or two. He'll be okay – mostly drunk. But Gretch found somethin' more powerful in it. Just a little, but you know." He shrugged "Better safe than sorry."
"Yeah…. Yeah." TJ, who had missed the earlier wariness picked up on the sudden tight tone and suspiciously even keel "Sure. I gotta go talk to someone. I'll send Butch back if I see him."
"Cool." TJ said, watching him go and belatedly calling out a 'thanks' to him as he went on about his self-proclaimed duties,

TJ realized five minutes too late that 'talking' meant less of a friendly chat and more of beating Skeens, Mundy, and Lazy Kid's within an inch of their lives.


"I can't believe how easy that was." Mundy complemented himself, flipping the empty bottle up and down. "They're all gonna get so fuckin' wasted it won't even be funny."
"But we got caught, asshole." Skeens reminded, nursing a Spinelli bruise and a beer. "They're gonna get rid of it once Detwiler and his do-goodie pals blab."
"Who asked you?"
"Fuck you and your stupid plan, that's who."
"Hey… when's the party?" The blond asked, belatedly coming into the conversation, evidently confused.
"We're done with that, Sleepy." Skeens murmured
"Shut the fuck up the both of you." Mundy grunted, "I gotta think of somethin' else to do."
"You shut the fuck up."
"No you!"
"Not so loud…"

While the two more awake men argued to the point of screaming in each others faces, the sleepier one peered past both of them and watched as another person slipped into the alley, the large shadow looming over them. If Sleepy hadn't been so sleepy, he might have been concerned. As it was, however, he was positively exhausted from all the running around they'd been doing, so he kicked Skeen's in the shin and pointed, then buried his head into his arms and drifted off.

Skeens barked at him (his question going unheard) and Mundy tried to get his attention back to their fight. Both of them were cut off, however, when Francis threw his shadow on them, approaching them without a word. He stopped a few feet off and stared, hands in pockets, until Mundy spat on the ground.

"The fuck you want?" Mundy grunted, still pissed, still up for a fight.
"You're Mundy, right?" The hustler asked, pulling his hands from his pockets and picking at one of his fingers.
"Who's askin'?" Skeens spat, glaring at him.
"Are you?" He asked, looking to the redhead.
"Yeah. What's it to ya?"

The hustler focused completely on the slightly smaller male, stepping closer. Mundy took a reflexive step back. The guy looked like a fucking slab of concrete and he was getting pretty close which was pissing him off (and maybe scaring him a little). He didn't look mad though, just blank. Mundy figured he'd be fine. He could take this guy.

"What did you put in there?" Hustler asked suddenly, after looking directly at Mundy for a few long moments.
"What the fuck did you put in the punch?"
"Some booze and dust, man – Jesus chill you'll just have a hangover."
"Wrong answer."

Francis punched the redhead right in the middle of his fucking face, knocking him back into the wall. Skeens choked on his beer and threw down the bottle, tackling the hustler in the side in a mad attempt to save his friend (and getting punched in the gut for it). Even Sleepy, who watched the brawl for a good five minutes without moving (having been woken up from the sound of Mundy's nose connecting with an angry fist), suddenly kick-started his offense. He leapt into the fray, landing half on Skeens and half on the enraged hustler. It got him bucked off and thrown, but he did get a few cheap shots in to the back of the thrashing males head.

The brawl in and of itself lasted only a few moments before TJ (with Gus, Vince, and a few of King Bob's guards as backup). However, the damage done was disproportionate to the time spent. The three victims (or so they claimed) were bloody and bruised and loosing badly, on the defensive despite outnumbering the attacker. The hustler, by contrast, was bruised and had a few small cuts but barely registered any part of it. He was far too busy trying to rail all of them into the wall, shouting and demanding answers and looking for revenge (though, looking back on it he wouldn't be able to say why, exactly). At one point it seemed to calm down while Gus was pulling Skeens off his back, but then the bloody black-haired youth had shouted "Yeah you better run – go comfort your pansy ass boyfriend, ya faggot!", and the hustler, who had been placated by two of King Bob's agents, threw them off and charged again, somehow with more rage than he had before.

(In the fray, Francis had continually shouted about murder and breaking necks and knees and disfiguring them – not because they had poisoned him but ruined Butch. Hence, Skeens assumed Francis was pissy because he thought they might have hurt him – or he was just pissed because Butch was too drunk to put out tonight)

TJ risked his own skin and leapt on Francis (taking an elbow to the side for his trouble), holding fast until he began to pant, overexerted and shaking. While the hustler staggered under the weight of himself TJ forced his back to the wall and held his shoulders (gambling on Francis being to tired to hit him – and if he were to hit him it wouldn't be nearly as bad off as Mundy and his stupid friends). His bet paid off and Francis sort of went limp, but remained tense and furious in TJ's grasp, like an animal all to ready and willing to break free.

"Francis!" TJ cried above the shouting blood boys and the grunting guards running interference, forcing the hustler to look at him. "Francis listen to me. They deserve this. I know they do. I'd hold them down for you if I could but – Listen! Listen to me Francis. Butch. Where's Butch?"
"Butch?" Francis blinked and looked at his captor, slowly registering the word though he had been shouting it all of two minutes ago.
"Yeah. Go find him. Find Butch, okay?"
"Where is he?"
"I don't know. You gotta go find him. He's probably nearby. Can you do that? Can you go get him for me."
"I need to finish them- they ruined it. They're dead"
"Great! Yeah, I know. I'll hold them down for you personally. But Butch come first. Find him. Find him and then you can beat 'em up all you like."
"You're gonna find Butch and then everything will be okay. Okay?"
"Okay. Good. Go. We'll take care of them. Go."

Francis swallowed, stepping back from TJ. He wanted to run over, knock the fuck out of them, make them scream for mercy. But he stopped himself, then forced himself to start again, wrenching away from Detwiler and off of the property.

He needed to find Butch.


Francis found Butch just before he made himself into a colorful hood ornament.

Yanking the other male back into a nearby alley, Francis propped him up against the wall and watched while Butch slid down and crumpled onto the asphalt looking boneless, like a rag doll someone tossed on the ground. For a while neither said anything. Butch looking lifeless aside from the active holding of his stomach and occasional mumbling into the street while Francis paced, uncomfortable and still more than willing to punch something until it bled. He refrained, though, upon seeing Butch in such a state. He couldn't help but worry for his friend.

Kneeling down beside him, Francis reached out and rubbed the tops of his shoulders, ushering him back into a sitting position. Butch rolled up, still looking somewhat ill. Francis gave him a sympathetic smile, letting it drop when Butch turned his face away. He felt a pang in his gut and knew it was guilt. He'd overacted at the party, blowing the whole touchy thing out of proportion. He didn't know Butch was messed up. He thought he was just being a dick and all of it just confused the hell out of him so he reacted like a bigger dick. Point was he screwed up and he was sorry. So he told Butch so.

"About before-" Francis began "I… I'm sorry I yelled at you. Snapped. Whatever. Point is I freaked and you didn't deserve that."
"S'myfault." Butch mumbled "Was bein' weird."
"'Cause your drink was spiked."
"My point exactly then."

They lapsed into a comfortable silence for all of three seconds. Then Butch groaned, holding his stomach, bending forward enough to pres his forehead to the ground between his legs. Francis, though impressed but Butch's flexibility, pushed the thought aside and coaxed him up again. Butch had shut his eyes and seemed to want to keep them that way. That didn't stop Francis from stroking under his eyes and holding his head up.

"So what are you seeing, exactly?" He asked softly when Butch opened his eyes.
"Nothing now. Saw weird shit. Like everything was wavy. Melting."
"Also dolls. And clowns. Zeebo?"
"Did he have his nose?"
"Still feeling bad?"
"My guts do."
"Gonna puke?"
"Don't think so."
"Good 'cause that's fuckin' gross."

Butch smiled, however small, at the half joke. But he went quiet and somewhat still, lifting his eyes and looking at the hustler for such an uncomfortably long time that the taller male started chewing his lip some and shifting awkwardly. Butch opened his mouth a few times to say something, but nothing came out for a little while.

"I… I think I might…"
"Might what?"
"I think I might have… fallen…in-in-"
"Fall into something?" Francis tried, piecing together what he could of Butch's muddled speech. "When? Does it hurt?"
"More than I can explain."

Francis glanced up at Butch, the full sentence not what he expected from the inebriated male. Butch looked rather ill and turned a sickly shade of pink with Francis' eyes on him, and subsequently Francis found it hard to look directly at him (which made Butch feel about a million times worse). Butch shifted in the hustler's loose hold, struggling to an upright position. He cleared his throat and shifted in his spot, looking near but not quite at the hustler.

"M'gonna… gonna head home." Butch half mumbled, wiping the side of his mouth on his sleeve.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Yeah. Help?" Butch asked, extending one hand while holding the wall with the other.

Francis moved to his feet and clasped his hand around Butch's wrist, pulling him up to his feet like he was nothing at all. He popped up so easily that Butch lost his balance immediacy, teetering on his feet like a stack of blocks, and then collapsed into Francis. The taller boy didn't move and inch, moving his arms to hold Butch's arms and help him stand up straight, ignoring the slight tremble, writing it off as passing nausea. Butch, for his part, looked directly downward at their legs, the top of his head pressed to Fran's chest and his hands on the broad holders, holding himself in place. He took a moment, carefully composing himself (because he sort of felt like he was going to puke). For some reason he moved his hands, sliding them around the hustler's neck loosely, moving so his face was pressed just under his chin against the warm throat, looking at the nearby wall with the same intent stare he'd focused on their shoes moments ago. He just needed a minute. Just to take a few deep breaths and stop the world from spinning and then he'd go home and sleep it off and try to forget.

But then he felt Francis' arms creep around him, drawing warm paths over his spine that burned through every wall he fought to put up tonight, holding him gently but with the same strength as iron fucking bars. It was so warm and solid and so there and Francis was saying something but he didn't know what and he was so Butch choked on this lump in his throat and felt like he was cracking into a million peaces so he held on tighter and shut his eyes and tried breathing but every inhale smelt like rough trench coat fabric and soap and cologne and fucking Francis that he just started to hyperventilate instead and before he could try and push off and say he was alright he realized he was crying and croaking 'I'm sorry' over and over and he couldn't stop because he loved the stupid bastard and he wasn't supposed to and would never be good enough for him so he cried harder and clung to him and hoped to whoever would listen that Francis would understand.


Francis had stolen Butch's phone and texted his mother, telling her that he was fine and he wasn't feeling so good and he was crashing at Fran's (God it felt weird using a nickname he hated to refer to himself) place. Though the hour was late and the hustler was thinking about actually calling the woman and coming clean, the response came trembling through the phone before he could even take a step toward the phone. It was warm and kind as Francis could have expected and twice as simple. All it said was 'alright muffin xoxo' -and somehow Francis was absurdly affected by it.

(Not jealous. He wouldn't say jealous, because that was crazy. He couldn't be jealous over his best friend with benefit's mother. That would be too bizarre, even in the context of this insane night.)

He showered and dressed for bed, going about his nightly routine like usual up until the point where Francis poked his head into the guest room beside his room where he let Butch rest. He'd provided a bucket and a glass of water and a change of clothes if he woke up. The smaller male seemed content to lie there on his stomach, clutching the pillow underneath him. Francis felt bad, really, but Butch had frightened him somewhat. After he burst into tears in the alley and clung to him, all Francis could make out by way of explanation was a muffled, repeated ''I'm sorry". He wasn't sure why or what Butch was sorry about, but it had to be something big.

Still though, Francis approached Butch. He looked more peaceful, at ease, more like how he was supposed to look, and that comforted Francis some. It meant he was on the way to getting better. The hustler stretched some and knelt beside the bed, reaching out to stroke Butch's hair. He didn't stir, but that was alright. The last thing Francis wanted to hear was another excuse or apology. It would have been nice to have him awake for a while though, to make the house a bit less empty.

He kissed Butch goodnight, which wasn't what he normally did, but he did anyway. It wasn't like he loved the guy or anything (not that that wouldn't fit into the fucked up motif of the night), but Butch probably needed it, even if he wasn't conscious for it.


Butch woke up in the most unfamiliar, nonthreatening place he'd ever seen.

For a moment he thought he wound up at a ritzy hotel, but the lack of anything personable or lively led Butch to believe he was actually in Francis' house. Deciding that was probably the case, Butch yawned and sat up (mindful of his headache), and went into the attached bathroom, gulping down a few cupfuls of water and washing out his mouth. He gave up his search for aspirin after nearly demolishing the medicine cabinet, instead planning on going back to the nice bed and napping for the next year or so.

Francis was standing there when he wandered back into the room, leaning against the threshold with his arms crossed over his chest. For some reason, Butch felt somewhat uneasy, but he grinned and tried to look innocent. He glanced over to the unmade bed, then back to Francis (who had pushed off the door frame and crossed the threshold), his smile turning more sheepish than anything.

"So…" Butch began "Did we do it or just crash?"
"We're both fully clothed and you're not limping."
"This is true."
"You don't remember anything about last night?"
"Nope. I remember some feelings and stuff. Anxiousness and wooziness. But other than that I really don't remember the party."
"What about earlier in the day?"
"Nothing much there either. But that's not unusual."

Butch pushed himself off the door frame (he'd leaned on it in an attempt to looks nonchalant, but ended up looking kind of sick and tired instead). He sighed and rolled his shoulders, plopping down on the bed and rubbing his eye. Francis took a seat next to him, smoothing out his shirt. They sat in silence for a little while, up until Butch leaned over and rested his head on Fran's shoulder, expecting a small noise in acknowledgement. Butch was instead answered with a small hiss. Butch lifted his head and looked where he had pressed into, then up at the hustler's face. A small smattering of bruises and a scrape ran along under his jaw.

"Who beat you up?" Butch asked, lifting the short-sleeve of his shirt to peek at the bruise he'd rested his head on.
"This is nothing. You should see the other guys."
"Guys? As in plural?"
"Skeens and Mundy and that sleepy guy."
"Why'd they gang up on you?"
"You got it backwards." He muttered, deciding at that moment to tell him the truth. "I went after them. They spiked the punch and you had a couple of cupfuls and it fucked you up, so I got kinda mad and went after them."
"Ah. Explains the headache and why everything looked like it was melting in my dream."
"You said stuff was melting last night too." The hustler sighed and let his head drop to Butch's shoulder "M'sorry."
"For what?"
"I yelled at you. When you were messed up. I thought you were fucking with me."
"Eh. I don't remember, but I forgive you."

Francis smiled then, sliding his arm around butch middle. Butch squirmed and poked him in the side, but rested regardless. He was feeling better now, all things considered. His headache was subsiding, he was warm and comfortable (if not a bit hungry) and could have probably fallen asleep like this. Francis was just glad that Butch hadn't freaked out and started apologizing.

"Your mom wants you home sometime before the end of the week." The hustler mumbled into his neck.
"How do you know?"
"Oh. I stole your phone. Texted your mom and told her you were gonna crash here."
"Oh. Can I have it back?"
"I'm not done putting dirty pictures on it yet."

Butch started laughing and whapped him with the nearby pillow. His headache was completely forgotten by this point, far too focused on beating Francis to hell with his pillows (and trying to defend himself when Fran got the upper hand). Before too long they were rolling around on the bed, giggling and trying to strike at weak spots. Francis got on top and pinned Butch down, getting boxed in the ears with two throw pillows for his triumph. Francis could only see one retaliation fitting for this disrespect – namely kissing Butch, and he did just that.

Midway through the peck Butch remembered what happened all of thirty hours ago and felt it seize him up and freeze his insides. His stomach dropped and he half gasped, curling his fingers in Francis' shirt and trying desperately not to shake. He had lied before. He remembered, mostly, but none of it made sense. It was like a fucked up dream, but the fucking feeling burned through all that mess. What had happened that early morning was something he couldn't ever forget, no matter how much he willed it – the mere thought of it scared him to death, and the more the thoughts whipped though his head the more his fears were compounded. So Butch (with some measure of difficulty) attempted to detach himself from Francis and make his escape.

"M-m. Ngh. I-I've gotta go. Gotta go."
"But you just got here."

Butch made the mistake of looking up at him, frozen in place. For a minute he thought that maybe, just maybe…. Maybe he could say it. Just say that he was in love with him. Tell him the truth for once, get it out in the open. Francis wouldn't hate him. He'd beat the hell out of three guys and tracked him down and made sure he was okay. Surely Fran would understand that maybe he developed some sort of feeling for him. All he had to do was take a deep breath, look him right in the eye and tell him.

But then Francis rolled off of him, smiling like nothing out of the ordinary, and instantly Butch knew couldn't ruin that. He loved that smile. More than that, he loved the ease that came with it. He couldn't fuck this up. So it might tear away at his insides – he'd dealt with that before without too many serious consequences. He'd just keep his stupid notions of anything more to himself and just live with it. It probably wasn't love anyway, if Butch really sat down and took the time to think about it. It was probably just a crush or a byproduct of sleeping with the guy. Butch figured he could probably live with that, and if he couldn't then he'd figure out some way down the road. But he doubted he'd need to. It wasn't love (probably)(hopefully)(maybe).

So Butch smiled sheepishly back and sat up, scooting off the bed to fetch his coat and collect whatever had spilled out of his pockets. He glanced back at the hustler, who was sprawled out on his back and watching him mildly. Butch felt like he was a coward for running away and a fool for not running away fast enough. Before he could get out of the room completely, however, Francis somehow ghosted up behind him and gave him a friendly hug, kissing him one last time (as he was prone to do). Butch, flashed a grin and all but tore out of his grasp, shoving both hands in his pockets (lest he do something stupid and girly like touch his lips or swoon), and booking it down the stairs.

Francis, leaning against the doorframe, simply chuckled and let Butch do as Butch pleased, none the wiser.



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