Product Placement

Chapter 27 - The Perfect Out


They had been fighting. A lot. Over stupid shit and not so stupid shit and every once in a while something rather important. Point was they had been fighting. Not arguing. Fighting. Thrown punches and words and kicks and curses. They had often talked a big game and play fought before, but that was never more than wrestling and throwing glancing blows. It had gotten so much worse lately. Francis was worried. Butch was starting all of it. Francis ended it.

It wasn't that Francis didn't like the guy, but he had been something of a raging asshole as of late, so he needed to beat some sense into him. He felt guilty and sour afterward, but Butch almost never did. He always had this stupid little smile on his face after he wiped some of the blood away, and often he would chuckle as he brushed himself off, looking like nothing had happened. It confused the salesman almost as much as it infuriated him. He'd punch Butch afterward on impulse, but that would only make Butch smile wider (and make himself feel worse).

Whenever Butch started to get on his nerves he resolved to end it verbally. It had yet to end through words alone, however. Butch seemed to know exactly what to say to get the hustler's infamous temper flaring. What's more, even if he tried his very hardest to keep himself level headed, Butch knew how to turn his words around until he choked on them, enraged, and tried to strangle Butch so he could suffer the same wordless fate.

But what Francis didn't realize was that Butch not only instigated but also welcomed these exchanges.

Butch felt better when Francis wasn't being sweet to him. He was trying desperately to call back the days before they were together, before this exclusive arrangement turned into something mundane. Butch thought that maybe then he would forget about his terrifying revelation and he could just get over it. He'd decided that would be the easiest way to cope with the slightly hollow thudding in his chest. Granted, he chose the absolute worst and most fucked up way he could think of, but it was almost working, so he kept on with it.

The only problems were times like these. The moments after or between. When Francis would attempt apology or reconciliation. He'd do the same thing every time. He'd tend to his wounds (if he had any), the not quite sneak up on him, always managing to corner him at a bad place or time. He'd watch quietly at first, wait it out, give Butch the chance to say something or at the very least lift his head and look in his direction. Butch tried not to (he'd slipped a few times), but it didn't matter. Francis would approach him anyway and somehow work his arms around him. Then Butch would give in.

It was so simple. So stupidly simple. It made him sick to know he fell for the same thing every time. It made him hurt to fall in love with him all over again whenever he pulled that bullshit stunt. It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair that all Francis had to do was shrug his shoulders and forgive him like it was nothing.

They'd often end up sleeping together after the more violent random fights. Francis blamed it on overactive hormones. Butch blamed it on his pathetically weak will power.

Tonight was one of those nights.

It was midsummer, so the AC was on to cool them off. On top of that, with Francis being rich, his room was temperature controlled, so the machine was working somewhat frantically to restore the room to a comfortable sixty-five degrees. They hadn't felt it before, too consumed in each other, but the heat had dispersed and blanketed the room, leaving the two chilled and shivering for more than one reason.

Bruised and sweating, covered in marks, they lounged on top of the sheets on top of each other. They tried to catch their breath and move sore, cramped muscles. Butch had welts on his back and front and everywhere really and had begun to shiver from the cold air washing over his skin, so he shifted off of the hustler and under the sheets, tangling himself up in them despite the slight pain it caused. He could hear Francis panting beside him, grunting against his own scratches and bite marks. Butch shut his eyes. He didn't want to look at him – not yet. Probably not until morning. It wasn't that he was ashamed of the sex (he'd done it often enough) or even the circumstances (again, he'd done that often enough) – just that he gave in. He always gave in.

"Why?" Francis asked someone. Butch wasn't sure if it was directed at him, but he answered anyway.
"Why what?"
"Why are you so pissed off lately?" Then came the question Butch had been dreading. "Did I do something wrong?"
"So what's up?"
"Fuck you. That's what's up."

Butch rolled over onto his side and winced, taking the blankets with him. Francis followed. He draped his arm over Butch and Butch didn't bother struggling. He couldn't anymore tonight.

"I don't like hitting you." He mumbled, clearly sleepy.
"Then don't."
"Lemme rephrase. I don't like fighting with you."
"Well that really sucks for you then."

Butch listened as Francis inhaled, as if he was about to say something. But the words never came. Instead, the inhale turned into a yawn and was promptly stifled when Francis bowed his head, pressing his mouth to Butch's mostly uninjured shoulder. He winced, but didn't say anything, opening his eyes and looking at the wall. He was in mild pain, parts of him ached, but he felt that strange warmth creeping around him, dulling everything else. He caught himself sighing and going limp in the other's arms. He tried not to, but he couldn't stop it, and words tumbled out of his mouth before he could quiet them.

"I'm sorry." He muttered quietly, hoping it went unheard. "I don't know what I'm doing anymore."

Francis made a noise and made Butch spasm. The hustler paid him no mind and pulled him into his burning body. Butch bit his lip, afraid that Francis knew the real meaning behind those words, that he knew absolutely everything and was just fucking with him now. That would be exactly what he deserved for being so fucking stupid. He had tried so hard to refuse it but now… now it was inescapable. He loved Francis, absolutely and without question.

Butch waited for the deep, rhythmic inhales to become steady. It was only then he dared turn around and looked at the sleeping face. He very nearly whined, curling into the other's relaxed hold, pressing his face to the bruised and nearly broken skin. It was only then he would let himself go completely, fall into the truth he tried to avoid in daylight, and pretend Francis knew and felt the same.

It was only then he could sleep soundly.


"Hey boss."

Butch strolled up to the hustler's garage in a considerably better mood than usual, taking a hit off a fresh cigarette and poking around aimlessly like he owned the place. Francis rolled his eyes but let him do as he pleased while he finished up taking stock. Butch seemed content with putting his fingerprints on everything, so Francis took an extra few minutes to clean off the shiny-surfaced items, fixing the other male with a look that made most people wither and crawl off. Butch only grinned cheekily and leaned against the wall, eyeing the lighters.

"So what do you need me to push?" Butch asked, breaking the silence while HK locked up
"I don't need you to push anything."

Butch dropped his cigarette. Francis barely noticed, pulling the garage door down and locking it, punching in the codes. He glanced back when Butch made a few half-attempted words and belatedly stamped on his cigarette to put it out. The hustler made a face and indicated for him to sweep it up. Butch ignored him and stared.

"I mean it." Francis said, handing him the brush and pan. "It's okay."
"But our deal-"
"I was never going to tell." Butch gaped at him. "Did you really think I was going to? Give me a little credit Butch – I wouldn't betray your trust like that. I'm not completely heartless."
"Oh. Yeah I… I mean I figured but… uhm…"

Butch gestured uselessly with the brush, ultimately giving up and dropping to his knees, sweeping his mess and then setting it aside. He looked worried, dubious. He was expecting the punch line, the 'but you can do this for me instead'. But there wasn't one coming. Francis merely crossed his arms and shrugged.

Francis didn't want to, but he sort of had to.

Butch was confusing as a general rule, but lately he'd been more perplexing than usual. It was like he was bipolar, or at the very least unhappy with something. After some extended thought Francis figured Butch was getting sick of their product placement arrangement since all the fights more or less started in or around his stock. He didn't see the use in explaining this to the other boy. He didn't have to say anything and he didn't owe Butch anything, and Butch didn't owe him anything or have to tell him anything either. Really, he just wanted this whole mess to be fixed. It was bothering him much more than it should have.

"I'm cutting you loose. It's okay. I'll manage. Go enjoy your freedom."
"… Alright." Butch mumbled, looking at the ground "Guess that frees up my weekend…"
"Want me to give you something to do? This place could use sweeping. Since you're down there already."

For a second, Francis thought that Butch was actually going to go for it (and if the boy was that desperate then the hustler really had no cure). But then he laughed instead and shrugged, smiling some and turning on his heel, waving over his shoulder, saying something like he'd seem him later. The hustler was equal parts glad that he'd done something good for his friend and concerned that Butch took it in such an odd way.


The following Monday, something strange happened.

Francis was in the courtyard, minding his own business, when some of the Fifth Street kids came by. They pointed and eyed him, but no one bothered to approach until one loped up and rubbed his nose and blinked, clearly tired (or high) and looking for something.

"Hey, you got any of those things?"
"I have plenty." Francis said, opening his coat (he was used to these vagaries) "What thing are you lookin' for?"
"That thing from the story. With that guy."
"You know. That thing he's got. Before he croaks. Or after. Or was it the other guy. I dunno."

The hustler stared, somewhat bewildered, but glad for the business. Fingers glared at him from his corner (good naturedly-of course) and Francis snapped back to attention, sending him a triumphant smirk despite his inward confusion. He belatedly picked up on the word 'story'. Francis could only think of one place where this kid heard a story with subliminal advertising. He thought of asking him where, just to be sure, but then the guy grunted in recognition.

"Oh, there it is." The kid reached in and picked on up, grinning to himself. "How much?"
"How much you got?"

Amidst his haggling, Francis was smiling an unnaturally pleasant manner, making a mental note to pay a visit to a certain someone.


Butch, as always, was relatively easy to find.

Francis lingered in the alleyway, waiting for Butch to notice or wave him in. Butch made a spectacular show of trying not to ignore the shadow of the hustler and go on with his smoking. Undeterred, Francis approached him. He didn't say anything right away, but standing so close forced the storyteller to turn and notice him. When Butch resisted even that, Francis cleared his throat and asked him:

"'Cause." Butch mumbled, hiding behind his cigarette "I've been thinking."
"No specifics?" Butch shook his head "Anything I can help with?"

Sighing, Francis looped an arm around Butch's shoulder casually. Butch shifted only slightly, but seemed to hold the weight pretty well. For some reason it felt heavy around them, like something was unspoken, and neither party could really put their finger on it.

(That was a lie – Butch knew. Francis didn't)

"You don't have to, you know." The hustler murmured, almost afraid to break the heaviness. It was like it was holding them in place.
"I know."
"I thought that was what you wanted. Me to stop, you know, using you."
"You're not- I didn't think you were."
"I wasn't"" Francis amended quickly "But every fight happened after or around work…" The hustler lowered his head some, looking sheepish. "I jumped the gun, I guess."
"Yeah. No. It's cool."
"Was it the… other arrangement?"

Butch's calming mantra ground to a sudden, screeching halt. His head snapped to look at the hustler, who looked both sheepish and completely serious. His insides dropped to his feet and rebounded inside him, scattering and settling in all the wrong places. He felt sick, but tried not to show it, biting down on the filter, trying to figure out how things went so terribly wrong in less than forty-eight hours. Francis shifted uneasily under his unbroken look of dread so to break the silence (as he often did) he continued to talk.

"We can stop that, if you really want-"
"No!" Butch blurted suddenly, the cig falling to the floor unnoticed.
"No. No no, I… that's fine. I'm just… I'm fine. Better now. I'm good, really. I like the way things are."
"I only ask because you seem off lately. You sure there's nothing I can do?"
"No. Yeah." Butch shook his head. "I'm fine. Really. Believe me, Franny. It's not you, it's me."
"You're sure this isn't a breakup?" He replied jokingly.
"Nuh-uh." Butch shook his head and rolled his shoulders, seeming a bit anxious. "It's cool. We're good. I am, anyway. Are we?"
"I assumed so."

Francis gave him a smile and patted his shoulder. They parted awkwardly, but Butch couldn't help but grin. He felt like the weight had been lifted from him, like he could breathe again. Crisis successfully averted, or so it seemed. Butch reached for his cigarette, belatedly discovering it was on the ground, and tried to play the motion off like he was thoughtfully rubbing around his mouth for some reason. Francis caught him on it and smirked. Butch punched him in the arm.

He was sure everything was back to normal now.
At least as normal as he thought he could get.



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