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Hughie stood just outside the store, pulling out his keys. It was seven in the morning. Hughie was tired, exhausted even. Butcher had kept him up well into the night, trying to see how many times Hughie could cum until Hughie either begged him to stop or pass out. (He passed out.) Hughie’s hair was still wet from the shower he’d taken that morning. Could it be called a shower if Hughie spent most of his time on his knees with Butcher’s hands stroking through his wet hair? 

Despite Butcher’s older age, the man had a libido that made Hughie weak in the ass and knees. Either he thought Hughie was insatiable, or Butcher hadn’t fucked in a long while and was blowing steam. Hughie doubted it was the first and doubted it was the second (Butcher could clearly pick someone up at a notice’s moment) so Hughie didn’t know what to believe about any of it.

Still, Hughie was struggling to keep his eyes open during his commute. He’d been tempted to buy himself a fancy coffee from Starbucks, but Hughie knew there was a crappy coffee machine in the back of the store. Hughie was trying to save some money. He didn’t want to turn thirty and still live with his dad in the apartment he grew up in. He needed to branch out, be a real person in the world, maybe find another job than the tech-store. He could be doing more, Hughie reasoned, a lot more. 

Hughie would blame it on his exhaustion that he hadn’t seen the girl at first. She was, after all, behind him for the most part. Even though it was the city, Hughie wasn’t threatened often near his place of work, so strangers passing by him weren’t cause for suspicion. Still, it was a bit strange to have someone ask him if he was, “Hughie Campbell?” 

“Yeah?” Hughie turned around. 

Then he was shoved up against the glass door by a pretty blonde woman with dark brown eyes, an arm to his throat. She was pretty, but right now she was angry, very angry at Hughie. His head banged against the glass painfully. Hughie gasped, trying to hold his head, but her grip on him was firm and incessant. 

“I’m just telling you right now,” she said, threatening, “if you ever go near Robin, I’ve got a gun and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Hughie winced. “Why does everyone have guns?” She pressed at his throat harder. Hughie opened his eyes and got a good look at her. “I’m guessing you’re Robin’s new girlfriend?”

“Yeah,” the girl said, voice cold, “and I know straight guys like you need to be put in their place, so get one thing clear: she’s a lesbian. She isn’t into you, and she won’t ever want to have sex with you, and she is not a girl-on-girl fantasy for you to think about when you’re alone in bed. Got it?”

“Jesus Christ,” Hughie said, a laugh caught in his throat, “I got it. I more than got it. She’s gay. I know. I haven’t even seen Robin since we broke up.”

“I know. And I want it to stay that way.” The girl backed away from Hughie, but still looked like she was ready to deck him.

“Okay?” Hughie winced, rubbing the back of his neck. “Tell Robin I said hi.”

“I won’t.”

“Well, was that it?”

The girl crossed her arms. “Why aren’t you threatened?”

Hughie grinned, a little manic. “My boyfriend can be pretty scary too. I’m used to it by now.”

The girl’s anger wiped from her face, replaced by shock. “You’re gay too?”

“Bi, but thanks for throwing me into a wall.” Hughie gestured to his door. “Can I go now?”

“Yeah, yeah,” the girl shifted on her feet, “listen, I’m sorry about--”

Hughie waved his hand, “I get it, alpha marking her territory. It’s all good.” Hughie went inside without another word spoken between the two of them.

Hughie rubbed at his face as he got into the store. He touched the back of his head, feeling the tender skin there. So he probably should’ve been more freaked out than he was about Robin’s new girlfriend showing up at his place of business and threatening his life. Hughie would like to say he’d been through worse (doms at Noir ignoring safewords and all that) but it was more like a first. If anything, Hughie felt a little honored about being threatened. Was Hughie an imposing figure? Certainly not, but Robin’s girlfriend seemed to think so and that was an interesting new perspective of himself.

Hughie was not a confrontational person (usually.) Hughie was not an aggressor and certainly wasn’t a fighter. When Robin turned to him one day, weeks after touch-and-go feelings and romantic gestures, to announce that she thought she might not be straight, not at all, Hughie hadn’t fought her on it. Sure, did it suck? Yeah. Hughie loved her, was ready to look at apartments together, thought yeah, I could marry her and have 2.5 kids with her, but was that the case now? Absolutely not. Hughie respected Robin’s sexuality because he demanded the same respect. Hey, he’d gone through the whole am I straight or am I gay whole debacle in college and landed firmly on the bisexual spectrum. This was long before Robin.

She had asked him about it once. Hughie liked to think his feelings on the whole sexuality and identity crisis might’ve helped her come out in some way or another, and he was glad he had helped her get to that point. But in a dark, needy, selfish way, Hughie regretted telling her his thoughts if only because their relationship was done for and Hughie missed their stability, the love they had created. But Hughie wouldn’t fight her on it. What kind of asshole tried to pull that bullshit?

Letting Robin go was another sort of thing Hughie was willing to not fight on. He didn’t fight his dad on the pizza rolls, he didn’t fight his boss for a raise, he didn’t fight the doms at Noir, and he certainly didn’t fight Robin when they broke up. Only Butcher brought out the fight in him. Sure, Hughie backed in the corner almost every time they tried to fight about their relationship and Butcher got mad and insisted they weren’t in a relationship. So? Hughie was a coward. Hughie would rather lay over and die before he actually fought someone. Sure, he and Butcher had the nasty habit of fucking away their problems, but so what. Hughie was only biding his time really. He’d eventually find his words. Once he figured out the entire picture, knew what was behind Butcher’s curtain, Hughie would get it right.

Still, Hughie was too tired to fight these days. With Butcher fucking him into the mattress practically every night, his father asking him too often where Hughie spent his nights, and working overtime to get more money, Hughie was not ready to put up a fight. Not to angry lesbians and certainly not to disappointed customers. Hughie already knew he was going to cancel with Butcher that night (Butcher tried to casually mention that he had Thor: Ragnarök on DVD and if Hughie wanted to come over, there’d be pizza, but this would only be a casual movie viewing, not a date at all, certainly not) so he could get some sleep in his own bed and get his dad to stop asking so many questions.

He needed coffee ASAP if he was going to go through the rest of the day with his eyes open.


 

Hughie yawned as he slid his key into the lock. He was ready to pass out. As soon as he ate some dinner, he’d let Butcher know the news and then go to bed. Hughie opened the door.

His father stood in the hallway, hands rubbing each other nervously. His father’s face, often concerned, was warier than usual. Hugh Campbell glanced side to side, brows permanently raised, eyes wider than what was probably healthy, and paler than Hughie during the winter. Hughie shut the door behind him.

“Hughie,” his father said, voice nervous, “I was about to call, but then I reasoned you’d be home soon enough and I just thought—well, I—now you’re here and I—”

“Dad,” Hughie said, coming further into the apartment. “Is something wrong?”

“Well—you see, haha—when I came back from work—I could’ve sworn I locked the door behind me—and I, well it could be anything really, I haven’t been in your room for so long, you’ve been gone so much and—we should really talk about where you keep going—is it drugs? Please, please don’t be doing weed, Hughie—but I—”

“Dad,” Hughie practically shouted. Hughie was too tired for this shit. He shook his head. “What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

“I guess it’s better if I show you,” Hugh Campbell said before leading his son to his own room.

Hughie noticed that his door was ajar, the light off but open. His father pushed the door more open and revealed the inside. Hughie stepped in and turned on the light, foot colliding with messy papers. Hughie didn’t remember dropping anything in his room. The light turned on.

His room was a disaster. Bookshelves had been upturned, figurines crushed underneath books, his entire floor and bed covered in disheveled papers. His bedsheets had been coated in red paint. His old records crushed. His trophies from playing soccer as a kid were smashed. His closet unhooked of every sweater, jacket, and shirt, every drawer opened and rifled through. Hugh Campbell shuffled nervously beside his son at the mess.

At first Hughie thought the room had been broken into, robbers pissed that Hughie had no valuables and vandalizing his home instead, but his window wasn’t smashed and his Ipod, clearly on his side table, was still there. Then he thought of been Robin’s new girlfriend, trying to send him a message again about staying away.

But then Hughie looked up at the sci-fy posters hanging on his walls and the red paint smeared across his favorite Star Trek cut out of Leonard McCoy. Scrawled across his walls in blood was a message. Maybe the message was for him, but Hughie doubted it. No, Hughie was a nobody. It was meant for someone else, someone who often went snooping in the wrong direction. His wall read one word, in all caps:

BUTCHER.

Chapter Text

“And who is this man again?” Hugh Campbell asked while he hung Hughie’s shirts.

“His name is Butcher,” Hughie said, picking up papers and trying to realign his bookshelf.

“Hughie, answer me honestly,” his father said, trying to look his son in the eye but unable to, “are you—this man—Butcher, is he your drug dealer? Are you doing drugs?”

“No, Dad, I’m not doing drugs. I’ve never done drugs.” Except for alcohol. And that one time he got high in college and tripped balls. And all those times he went to Noir and went to the backroom, but that was something different, something natural.

“So who is this Butcher? Are you involved with a gang? Is it the mafia?” Hugh brought a hand to his mouth, “Dear god, it’s the Polish mafia. They got you. Cynthia—your mother, her uncle, I swear—he wasn’t strictly legal—he got you to join a cult didn’t he.”

“No, Dad, I’m not in a Polish mafia. I don’t think that even exists.” Hughie rubbed his face. “I—Butcher and I—” Hughie frowned; he was starting to sound like his father. How did he explain to his father his relationship with Butcher? Hey, Dad, you know how you were pretty chill about me being bi, well here’s my gruff older fuck-buddy that likes to call me princess and fuck me at all hours of the day and sometimes cooks me breakfast but refuses to admit feelings. And hey dad, while we’re at it, I like to get spanked and would much prefer being on my knees for a dude than fucking a girl most days. Yeah, that would go over well. Hughie sighed. “Listen, I’m not involved with any shady shit, I promise.”

“Promise?” Hugh looked over at Hughie was wide eyes.

Hughie nodded, “Promise.” Why did that suddenly feel like a lie? They went back to cleaning Hughie’s room.

There was a knock on the door: Butcher.

Hughie finished stacking his notebooks and went to the door, calling out that he was coming. He checked the peephole—could never be too careful now that his room had been vandalized—and opened it to find Butcher, who looked as irresistible as ever. His beard, groomed but still thick, and his hair, mussed from the wind outside and running his hands through it, always gave Hughie dark thoughts, dirty ideas about where to put his hands. Now was not the time to drool over Butcher. The older man didn’t seem to catch that memo because he leaned against the doorway, looking Hughie up and down, lips stretched wickedly.

“Hey.”

“Hi,” Hughie said.

“So I finally get to see your apartment, huh,” Butcher grinned. He tried looking into the hallway, eyes taking in what he could from the door.

“I live with my dad,” Hughie told him, trying to stop this line of flirtation before his dad could hear. “I didn’t call you over so we could fuck.”

“Oh?” Butcher frowned.

“I need to show you something,” Hughie opened the door.

“I hope its an old schoolgirl uniform,” Butcher told him, stepping inside.

Hughie rolled his eyes. He led Butcher down the hall. “I think someone left a message. For you.”

That wiped Butcher’s smile of his face. They went into Hughie’s room and Butcher’s face went from grim to grave. His lips pressed firmly down his face, revealing his age and the weariness of his years. That was the face of a man who had seen many tragedies, could tell a tale if he was six drinks in and feeling morose. Hughie hated to see it on Butcher’s face, hated to know it confirmed Hughie’s suspicions: something bad was going on and Hughie was now tangled into it.

Hugh Campbell cleared his throat. Butcher jolted and looked over at the other man. Hugh extended a hand to Butcher. “Hello, I’m Hughie’s dad.”

“Nice to meet you,” Butcher said, voice more polite then than any other time Hughie had ever heard him speak. “I’m Hughie’s—”

They looked at each other. Was this the moment? Fuck then, let’s do it. Hughie cleared his throat. “This is my b—”

“Friend,” Butcher said. He shook his father’s hand firmly. “I’m his friend. Billy Butcher. We hang out sometimes.”

“And how did you two meet?”

“At a bar,” Butcher told him. “Hughie’s a great lad.”

“Yes, I know.” Hugh looked Butcher up and down suspiciously. “You’re not in the mafia are you?”

“Dad!”

Butcher laughed. “No, but I’m a P.I.”

“Are you getting my son into any trouble?”

“Nothing he can’t handle,” Butcher said, winking at Hughie. Hugh frowned; Hughie blushed and wanted to jump out the window.

“Well I want it to stop,” Hugh said, literally putting his foot down. “I won’t have our home broken into again so whatever mess y-you’ve gotten him into, I’d like it to stop right now.”

Butcher raised his hands in surrender. “Alright, sorry, mate. I had absolutely no idea this would happen. A case I’m workin’ on right now is a bit sensitive and I guess someone’s been keeping tabs on me. They must think Hughie’s an easy target because none of my other friends are.”

“Well, can you make him less of a target?” his dad sniffed, pulling the sleeves of hid cardigan over his hands. “I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.”

“My apologies,” Butcher said, hand going to his chest, covering his heart. “Won’t happen again.”

Hugh Campbell nodded. He cleared his throat and looked at Butcher then Hughie. “Well, I’ll leave you to clean this mess. Hughie, try not to be up too late.”

“Night, Dad.”

His dad nodded, stepping over some glass to leave the room. He nodded at Hughie, then Butcher before leaving, hand rubbing at his chin in concern. Hughie closed the door behind him. When they were alone, Hughie turned to Butcher.

“What the fuck, man,” Hughie said, pointing at his room.

“Listen, mate, I’m sorry. You weren’t supposed to be involved.”

“Butcher, what the fuck is happening?” Hughie pointed at his favorite poster. “Whoever did this destroyed my room! That poster cost me fifty bucks!”

“I’ll get you a new one,” Butcher promised. He looked at the Leonard McCoy poster, brow raising. “Really? Fifty bucks?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Hughie crossed his arms. “What shit did you get yourself into?”

 “Been in, really.” Butcher sighed, hand running through his hair. “Listen, Hughie, been workin’ a case. For a while now. I’m close. I’m so close to solving it.”

“Well? What’s the case?” Hughie expected answers. He deserved answers if his room had been destroyed. “Who did you go after this time? A mob head?”

Butcher snorted. “Close enough.” He clarified, “John Homelander.”

Hughie blinked. “John Homelander? As in head of Vought? Humanitarian relief fund and philanthropist John Homelander?”

“One in the same.” Butcher rolled his eyes. “That bastard gets his dick wet thinking he’s helping people.”

“What dirty shit could John Homelander possibly be involved in?” Hughie asked in disbelief.

Not only was John Homelander a war hero, but he was involved with plenty of charities that sought to improve the lives of everyone from the homeless to veterans to those with disabilities. There wasn’t an issue Homelander wasn’t involved in: climate change, education reform, the opioid crises. Homelander was on the cover of Time magazine last year. Homelander was one of the few public figures that wasn’t sexist or homophobic. And here Butcher was, trying to tell Hughie that Homelander, America’s modern hero, was a bad guy and was targeting Butcher and anyone associated. Was he for real? What could Homelander possibly have done?

“For one thing, trafficking heroin.” Butcher sighed. “For another, murderin’ my wife.”


 

Hughie should’ve known. He should’ve fucking known.

Of course. A wife. No wonder. How hadn’t Hughie realized? How could he have? Sure, he knew Butcher was also straight, knew he’d been involved with women before. Hell, the two of them, when they’d first started their thing, had both admitted they were going through heartbreaks of one thing or another. Hughie thought it had been a divorce for Butcher. Hughie could see the tan line of a ring on Butcher’s finger when he looked hard enough. Clearly he didn’t wear the ring anymore. Hughie thought widowers would still wear rings. His dad did. After Hughie’s mother had died, Hugh Campbell had never been quite the same. And she had died from cancer. Murder? No wonder Butcher was fucked up. His wife had been murdered.

Fuck.

Hughie sat on the edge of his bed, head going to his hands. Butcher stood there, awkward for a moment. “Listen, I didn’t tell you I had a wife because I didn’t think—”

“I don’t care about that,” Hughie said. It was the truth. Hughie didn’t care that Butcher had a wife. They both had pasts. Butcher more than Hughie, but still, pasts just the same. Hughie looked up at him. “I figured you were married. She was murdered? Murdered-murdered?”

“Yes.” Butcher’s jaw clenched tight.

“By Homelander?”

“Yes.” His eyes darkened.

“How? Why?” Hughie wanted to fall into a coma and wake up lifetimes later. He needed to get to bed. Could he really have this conversation like this? Right now?

“Was investigating another murder,” Butcher told him. “I used to be a copper, you know.” That surprised Hughie. Butcher, a cop? In uniform? Not in leather? Handing out parking tickets? Still, the man wouldn’t look at Hughie as he spoke. He stepped further into Hughie’s room, hand reaching out to touch along the papers and books on Hughie’s desk. “Very skilled, meticulous kill. Wife of a Vought competitor. Realized what was going on. Started asking questions where Homelander didn’t want me to. The day I told my boss I thought it was him was the day I came home and Becca gone missing.”

“Missing?”

“Missing,” Butcher confirmed. “Nothing was out of place, not a chair upturned or a photo broken. At first I thought she’d gone to see a friend, forgot her charger, then I got her finger in the mail.”

Hughie thought he might throw up.

“Forensics showed she was alive when he cut it off. Fucking bastard.” Butcher rubbed his jaw. “Spent years trying to find her. Went insane looking for her, got kicked off the force, found other ways of information. The last eight years, I been trying to find something, anything to connect her to Homelander, to find her.”

Hughie hated to ask, but, “What changed?”

“Got her skull in the mail six months ago.”

Hughie gagged at the thought. “Her head? He sent you her head?”

“No, not her head, just her fucking skull. Cunt sent it in a gift box with a bow and everything.” Butcher spoke calmly throughout all of this, but it was clear to Hughie he was upset.

“Jesus Christ.” Hughie rubbed his face. Then he had a thought. “Six months ago…we met six months ago, are you telling me…?”

“I was drinking that night 'cause of her,” Butcher confirmed. “I took you back to mine to get out of my head.”

“So I was a distraction?”

“And I wasn’t for you?” Butcher returned, brow raised. “Pretty sure you told me your girlfriend had just dumped you.”

“Good point, sorry.” Hughie yawned. “Jesus fuck. I need to go to bed.”

“That’s it? That’s all you have to say?” Butcher asked. “Thought you’d ask me bunch of fucking questions, your mouth is always goin’ off on some spew.”

“You fucked me three different ways last night,” Hughie glared, “I’m a little tired after that, work, getting my room destroyed, and finding out your wife was murdered by America’s favorite billionaire, cut me some slack.” Hughie wasn’t going to mention running into Robin’s new girlfriend.

Butcher shoved his hands into his pockets. “Listen, get some sleep, yeah? Clean this up in the morning." Butcher looked at him. "I’ll call you, we’ll talk more then.”

“Will we?”

“Get some sleep,” was all Butcher said. Hughie nodded, slow, absent. Butcher stood there for a moment longer, watching Hughie, before he remembered himself and left his room.

Hughie cleared off his bed and kicked off his pants. He got under the covers and passed out. Thoughts of Butcher, his murdered wife, everything else, that would have to wait until the morning when he could truly freak out over it all. For now, it was time to sleep.

Chapter Text

The first person to call him the next morning wasn’t Butcher. Hughie slept until ten—it was the weekend after all—and then got up to clean his room. His dad came in with some toast before he want out to go grocery shopping. Hughie didn’t know what he was going to do about the paint, he guess he’d leave it there for now and take down the posters later. He got his room to a more acceptable appearance, perhaps a little cleaner than it had been before the vandalism, when he got the call.

“Hello,” Hughie said, not even checking the caller ID when he answered. He’d figured it was Butcher anyway.

”Hughie?” a voice asked.

He stilled. It felt like a punch in the gut to hear that voice. He swallowed. “Robin?”

Yeah, it’s me,” she said, voice soft. Her voice was never soft, never so fragile. Only when she’d broken up with him had she sound so unsure of herself. “Listen, I heard what happened yesterday.”

Hughie blinked. How did she hear about his room getting trashed? Then it came to him, suddenly and ferociously: Robin’s new girlfriend. “Oh! Yeah, yeah, about that, hey, it’s all good. New girlfriend wanting to steer ex-boyfriend away, I got it. It’s all good.”

Hughie, it’s not ‘good.’” Robin’s voice firmed. “You always do this: let yourself get beat up by people when you don’t deserve it.

“Yeah, well,” Hughie called. “I don’t want to start any trouble with your new girlfriend.”

Can we meet?

“What, like right now?”

Yeah, we could go to our old diner or that coffee shop that opened up where the Taco Bell used to be.

“Man, I miss that Taco Bell.”

Drunchies,” Robin confirmed. They had spent many a drunk munchies adventures at Taco Bell in the early morning. “I can meet you there in fifteen?

“I—” Hughie paused. Was he really going to meet up with his ex for coffee? He hadn’t seen in her in months. He was over it now. Their relationship had been a long one, but Hughie had been devastated by the loss. But it was okay now, Hughie had Butcher, right? If he got upset, he could just get Butcher to fuck the thoughts away. “I might have to leave,” Hughie told her, “soon after, I have a—uh, someone to call me about a thing.”

A thing?” Robin laughed, disbelieving. “Are you that scared of me you need an escape word?”

“Not at all,” Hughie smiled. “I’ll see you soon, Robin.”

See you.

He hung up. Hughie was still smiling to himself, looking down at his phone in surprise. They sounded like they were together again, laughing, Robin goading Hughie to be better, Hughie stumbling over himself to talk. But they weren’t together. Was this how people stayed friends with their exes? Hughie’s last relationship (before Robin,) had ended terribly, and Hughie doubted his ex-boyfriend would ever want to see him again. Still, Hughie had warm feelings for the man, despite their tragic ending.

Hughie finished cleaning up his room, got dressed, and headed out the door. He walked the six or seven blocks to get to the place where the Taco Bell used to be. Hughie hadn’t walked in that direction in a long time, but his feet knew where he was going. Robin lived (or maybe used to live, Hughie didn’t know) right around the corner from the place they were meeting. The Taco Bell had been replaced by a hipster coffee shop with overpriced macchiatos and chocolate croissants that would probably give Hughie a heart attack.

He stepped inside the place and found Robin already waiting for him at a table. She stood up as he walked over. They smiled at each other. It was all very familiar. On the table were two drinks and a couple of pastries. Robin had already ordered for them.

Robin wrapped her arms around him when he got closer. “Hughie,” she said, pleased, “it’s so good to see you.”

“You too.” They stepped away from each other. “You dyed your hair?” Robin laughed. Her curls, which were now a purple hue, bounced with her laughter.

“You let yours go a little longer,” Robin returned, a happy surprise. Hughie ran a tentative hand through the curls atop his head, a little self-conscious. He had let just the top grow out a little longer. He liked it that way because it let Butcher get a better grip of his head and Hughie liked the way Butcher’s fingers felt running through the strands. Huh, Hughie thought, taking note of the two of them. They both looked gayer now.

“Yeah, just a little,” he said and sat down. Robin did the same.

Robin looked a lot better now than she had been the last time he saw her. There was a happy flush to her face, no bags under her eyes, a new hair color. The clothes she wore were brighter too. Hughie wondered if he looked better or worse. Probably like shit because of his long work hours, but better because he was getting fucked almost on the daily.

“How are you doing?” she asked, taking a sip of her drink.

“Fine, and you?”

“Good, good, I got a new job,” she smiled. “Finally working at a newspaper that respects me.”

“That’s great!” Hughie was actually happy to hear that. Robin deserved more respect as a writer than copy-editing for sexist assholes who wrote baseball op-eds. “I’m still at the store, but I’m saving up to move out.”

“That’s fantastic, Hughie.” They smiled at each other. Robin broke their eye contact and drank some more of her coffee. Hughie did the same. She laid her hands on the table. “Listen, Hughie, about Annie, I’m really sorry about that.”

“It’s fine.” Hughie shrugged. “I get it, she has something prove, thought I might be a creeper. I get it.”

“It’s not okay,” Robin told him. “She had no right to go after you like that. You are not a bad person, you never were. Annie…” Robin shook her head, “she works in a very male-dominated field—cops, you know—who can get really gross really fast when they find out she’s gay. When she found out I used to date a guy—she was just trying to protect me, I promise, but she had no right doing what she did.”

Hughie shook his head again. “Robin, I already said I’m over it. She barely left a scratch.” A bit of a lie: the back of Hughie’s head was still a little tender from Annie shoving him into glass, but still, Robin didn’t need to know that.

“Still…” Robin shook her head. “Thank you for being so understanding.”

“No problem at all.” Hughie ate a croissant and gave Robin a considering look. “So? Does she make you happy?”

“So happy,” Robin grinned. Her face flushed and her eyes lit up at that. Hughie was both happy and sad to see it. Sad because Hughie never made her smile like that. Happy because Robin deserved it more than anyone else in the world. “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before,” she told him. She remembered herself, “I’m sorry, is that a little rude to tell you?”

Hughie waved her off. “It’s okay, Robin, I’m not offended. I’m happy for you. I really am.”

“Are you seeing anyone?” Robin asked, trying to be sly. “Annie mentioned you had a boyfriend?”

“Yeah, no. We’re just screwing around, you know how it goes.”

Robin gave him a pitying look. “Hughie, you and I both know it’s never just screwing around with you.”

“Well…” Hughie shrugged. “That’s just how it’s got to be right now.”

“Don’t let this guy run you over,” Robin told him. “You don’t deserve that. No one should do that to you.”

“I hate to say this,” Hughie interrupted, “I really do, because I like you Robin and I’m happy to hear from you again, but maybe don’t try and tell me that after you ran me over with our break-up?”

Robin gaped. “Hey, I was—”

Hughie raised a placating hand. “Robin, Robin, I know, I get it. You needed to come out, you needed to figure yourself out, and I get that. I respect that. Completely, you know that. But,” Hughie shrugged slightly, “you threw it out there so suddenly, I got whiplash, and all I could do was step back and let you go. If you’d brought up your concerns, your feelings about it, earlier, maybe just a conversation before our breakup, I probably wouldn’t have felt like shit afterwards.”

Robin looked like she might tear up, which was a first for her. “I’m sorry, Hughie.”

“You don’t need to apologize, I got over it.” Hughie grinned, a little pained, more than honest. “But don’t try and tell me to not get run over, when you did it yourself.”

Robin wiped at her eyes. “Can I just say,” she started, voice raw, “how proud I am of you?” Hughie’s brow furrowed. “When we were dating, you never would’ve stood up for yourself like that. You would’ve never told me to cut my own bullshit. I’m proud of you, Hughie, really proud.”

“Uh…thank you?”

“I’m really glad we got to talk.”

“I’m glad too.”

They drank their coffees, ate their croissants. They chatted a bit more, but it was clear that what they had talked about what was needed to be talked about. Their issues were resolved. Maybe not resolved, that made it feel like a task to be completed. They were better off. They were both better for talking with each other. Not every ex was like this, but Hughie and Robin didn’t break up like most people.

When their drinks were finished and their pastries eaten, Robin and Hughie finally stood up to go. Neither liked lingering at restaurants, cafes, or even bars. Before Hughie could turn to leave, Robin put a hand on his arm, drawing him back to her.

“Listen, if you need anything, and I mean anything, feel free to call.” Robin pulled him for a hug. “I still care about you, Hughie.”

“I still care about you too, Robin,” he said. "You do the same." He rested his head atop hers and sighed. It felt like a piece of himself had settled in his chest. Like a scar finally healed over. It was a good feeling. Hughie should get closure from more of his exes.

“Promise me, Hughie, promise you’ll call,” she mumbled into his chest.

“I promise,” he murmured. He meant it too. “I’ll call.”

“Good luck, Hughie,” she said, pulling away.

“Good luck, Robin,” he smiled.

Chapter Text

Hughie stood just outside of The Boys Private Investigation, nervous in a way he hadn’t expected himself to be. Butcher was a cliche. The door to his office was fogged glass, with their name printed in black letters. The office was above a Chinese place that smelled familiar to Hughie. He never thought he’d be standing here, outside of Butcher’s office, waiting to go in like a client trying to find out if their husband was cheating on them.

When they started fucking, there were a few unspoken rules between them. Plenty had been broken over the months: no dinners, no spending the night, and definitely no keys. (Hughie hadn’t realized Butcher had given a key until a night after fucking and he found it in his wallet at work.) One that hadn’t been touched was Butcher not going to Hughie’s home and Hughie not going to Butcher’s work. Looks like those ideas were long gone now. Next thing you know, Butcher will admit feelings for Hughie.

Hughie snorted at that. Butcher would probably prefer his dick cut off than admit any potential feelings for Hughie. 

He knocked on the door and then went inside when someone called out. Hughie twisted the rusty knob and opened the door. The Boys Private Investigation was a clean space, white walls and modern furniture. It felt like Hughie had stepped inside a utopian pharmacologist office instead of a P.I.’s. There were even plants in the room. There was a black man sitting behind a white desk in the center of the room, writing something in a planner, headphones in. It was clear this was the man’s personal space. Everything was tidy, perfectly so, all to his own constraint. Behind him were two doors. Was Butcher in one of them? Hughie stepped more fully inside. 

The man looked up, pulling out an earbud. “Can I help you?” he asked, brow raising. The guy was built, kinda massive. Hughie already knew he didn’t want to get on his bad side.

“Uh, yeah,” Hughie stalled. He cleared his throat and straightened up. “I’m here for—I’m looking for Butcher? Is he here?”

The man squinted. “You’re here for Butcher?”

“Yes?” Hughie shifted from foot to foot, awkward. He stood in front of the man’s desk. Hughie looked down at his golden name plate: Marvin Milk. Weird name. 

“Name?” 

“Hughie, Hughie Campbell. Do you need to see my ID?”

“That won’t be necessary.” Marvin leaned over his desk and picked up the receiver of his phone. He dialed something on the console. “Yeah, Billy, I got someone named Hughie Campbell here to see you?” Marvin looked Hughie over. “Are you sure? He doesn’t seem like much…” Hughie straightened his shirt. Did he look like a mess? “Alright, I’ll send him in. Should I let Frenchie know?” Marvin snorted. “Okay, well, fuck that.” Marvin put the phone down and looked back at Hughie, face blank again. “You can go in.”

Hughie nodded, stepping away. “Which, uh? Which office is his?”

“The one with his name on it.” Marvin raised a brow, looking at Hughie like he was an idiot, which he probably was. He went back to his music.

Hughie didn’t say anything else and looked at the two doors. The one on the right had Butcher’s name on it. Hughie opened the door and went inside.

Only to be immediately pushed against the closed door. Butcher was a hot line against him. His hands held Hughie against the glass and his mouth was already on his. Hughie made a surprised sound intp the kiss, eyes falling shut and falling easily into their normal routine. Butcher’s fingers unbuttoned Hughie’s pants.

“We’re in your office,” Hughie gasped when Butcher rubbed him through his jeans. Butcher’s teeth scraped against his throat. 

“That we are,” he chuckled.

“Butcher—” Hughie tried to slap his hands away, but ended up getting tangled up in his shirt. “Anyone could hear…”

“Then we’ll just have to keep your mouth occupied now won’t we.” Butcher kissed him again. Hughie moaned. Butcher undid his pants.

“Marvin’s—”

“M.M.?” Butcher laughed. “He won’t bother us.”

“He’s literally outside.”

“These walls are thick.” Butcher squeezed his dick and Hughie made a noise, getting hard. Butcher rubbed against his thigh. Hughie could feel the thick length of him trapped his pants. Holy fuck. Hughie didn’t come here to get fucked, but hell— “Besides,” Butcher murmured in his ear, “I’ve been meaning to get you over my desk.”

“Fuck, really?” Hughie stared at Butcher. 

Butcher leaned back and raised his brow. “You have to ask?”

“Okay, okay—fuck, you’re an exhibitionist aren’t you,” Hughie said as Butcher pulled him around and backed him towards the desk.

“No, I just like watching you squirm,” Butcher grinned. Butcher’s desk was clear when Hughie was pressed to it.

Hughie noticed papers, books, and trinkets on a counter by the window. “Did you plan this?”

“Shut your trap and turn around.”

Hughie couldn’t help but laugh as he turned around. Fuck, Butcher had planned this. He was absolutely ridiculous. Hughie imagined Butcher taking the time to clear off his desk, move his computer into the drawer, and set out the lube just so he could fuck Hughie over it. Butcher pushed his chest onto the table. Hughie went down easily enough. His neck craned so he could rest his cheek on the wood, so he could try and see Butcher leaning over him. 

Butcher’s hands came down to rub Hughie’s ass through his pants, then grip the cheeks and spread them, pressure hardening. Butcher rubbed himself against the crease of Hughie’s pants, letting him feel what was to come. Hughie didn’t know what to do with his hands so he laid them flat on the wood. Butcher nuzzled the back of Hughie’s neck and rolled down his pants and underwear, leaving his ass bare for him. One of Butcher’s hands cupped an asscheek. Then he slapped it.

“Fuck!” Hughie gasped, hips jerking. Okay, he was definitely hard now.

Butcher chuckled, rubbing at the stinging flesh. “Thought you didn’t want anyone to hear?”

“Well when you slap my ass like that, what do you expect?” Hughie bit out.

Butcher slapped his ass again, on the other side, then the same spot again, making Hughie pant. His eyes slipped shut and he rubbed his cheek against the wood, pushing his ass back at Butcher. “Talking back are we?” Butcher thumb delved between his cheeks and rubbed at his hole. Hughie moaned. “You going to be a good boy for me?”

Hughie nodded.

Butcher rewarded him by spreading his cheeks and pouring some lube on his crack. It wasn’t cold, but Hughie still jerked at the sensation, the sudden wetness making him slippery. Butcher rubbed at his rim with a wet finger before sliding a finger in. Hughie pressed back on it. Butcher, efficient as ever, added a second one soon after. Hughie’s eyes squeezed shut. Two fingers so soon could be painful and even though Hughie liked it, that didn’t make it hurt any less. Butcher ran his other hand down Hughie’s spine, soothing him as he scissored him open. Hughie melted into it, mouth falling open when a third finger was added and Butcher kissed his head. 

When Butcher was fingering him, Hughie had tried to keep his sounds muffled by biting his lip, but by the time Butcher was balls deep in Hughie, his moans couldn’t be contained and his cheeks were flushed with the embarrassment of it all. Hughie was getting fucked over a desk. He was getting fucked in Butcher’s office, where his coworkers were nearby. He was getting fucked by Butcher. And he couldn’t keep his damn mouth shut.

“Yeah, princess?” Butcher asked, fucking into him. “You like it that much?”

Hughie tried to shut his mouth. Butcher slapped his ass again and Hughie jumped with it. Fuck. His dick rubbed against the wood of the desk, painfully if Hughie was being honest with himself, but he didn’t care, not when Butcher’s cock rubbed against his prostate like that with each thrust and made him see stars. Fuck, Butcher was still wearing his pants, just unzipped, cock out, fucking Hughie. They were both more clothed than usual. Jesus Christ, why was that hot?

“You want M.M. to hear you, princess?” Butcher slammed him into the desk. 

“N-no,” Hughie shook his head. “No—I, fuck—”

“Then you’ll have to be more quiet, dear.” Butcher gripped his hips tightly, nails digging into the skin at his front, thumbs rubbing at his ass. Butcher fucked him harder.

“I—I—” Hughie keened. “I can’t—please, please—”

“You always beg so pretty,” Butcher murmured, lips pressed against his neck. “You need something to keep you quiet? Need me to fuck you harder? Make you quiet?”

Hughie shook his head. “Please, please—”

Butcher pulled Hughie up so he was standing, cock driving deeper into him. Butcher placed his one hand over Hughie’s trapping it underneath. The two of them leaned against each other, hands on wood to keep themselves standing. Butcher’s other hand reached up to hold Hughie’s jaw and chin. His thumb pressed against Hughie’s bottom lip. Hughie opened his mouth wider, tongue swiping at Butcher’s thumb.

“Need something in your mouth?” Butcher asked, voice low, heavy, out of breath. Hughie nodded. “Need something to suck on?”

“Please,” he asked, voice pitching. “Please, let me—”

“Good boy.” Butcher sucked in a breath, nose at Hughie’s throat. “So good for me.” Two of Butcher’s finger dipped into Hughie’s mouth. His tongue curled around them, lips sucking at Butcher. His moans were muffled by Butcher’s fingers, but he could hear Butcher groan low in his throat, feel the rumble of his chest as he fucked Hughie harder and harder. “Suck, c’mon baby boy, suck them for me. Get them all wet.” Hughie drooled at his words, tongue moving faster. Butcher moved even harder in him. The desk was starting to move with their thrusts. Butcher’s fingers teased further down Hughie’s throat and he welcomed it, welcomed the distraction, the fullness, how surrounded he felt by Butcher. He was ready to cum. The desk provided enough friction that he was teetering on the edge. He knew the moment Butcher wrapped a hand around him, he’d be done for. Butcher’s thrusts were aimed directly at that spot inside of him, faster and faster grind of his hips. Butcher’s lips were tethered to Hughie’s throat. He laced his fingers through Hughie’s on the desk. Fuck, fuck—Butcher dug his teeth into Hughie’s skin and came, hips flush to Hughie’s ass, no longer moving.

Hughie stayed on the edge like that with Butcher inside of him, not moving, mouth laving at the tender skin of Hughie’s neck. Butcher pulled his fingers out of Hughie’s mouth, moving slowly, drunkenly. Butcher kissed Hughie’s neck softly, tenderly, little pecks all over. He wrapped his wet hand around Hughie cock and stroked him. Hughie came with Butcher’s hand in his and his sweet whispers in Hughie’s ear.

Hughie laid down on the desk, absolutely exhausted. Butcher rubbed a hand down Hughie’s spine and slipped out of him. Hughie almost wished Butcher hadn’t worn a condom, so he could feel his cum in him all day, a reminder that Butcher was always with him, but he hadn’t and so Butcher rolled off his condom and threw it in the trash. Butcher grabbed some napkins and wiped Hughie down, cleaning up the mess Hughie left on his desk. If Butcher was a crueler man (which he could be) or Hughie’s real dom (which he honestly should be) he’d make Hughie clean up his own cum with his tongue. Alas, Butcher didn’t, but eased Hughie back into reality regardless, getting him to turn around and lean against the desk for better support, to tuck Hughie back in his pants and kiss him better.

Hughie and Butcher kissed lazily against the desk for a few moments, their arms around each other. Hughie almost liked the warmth of this more than he liked Butcher inside of him. This at least, couldn’t be explained away by simple fucking. Post-sex kissing sessions were for intimacy and domesticity, not to get in each other’s pants again. Hughie liked doing this with Butcher.

Butcher pulled away. He was soft right now, at ease, but Hughie knew Butcher would harden up in a few minutes. Hughie didn’t have much to think about that. Sure, it sucked that there was a switch for Butcher and he could flip it on and be a hardass again, but that was just how Butcher was, and Hughie liked Butcher. He liked Butcher regardless or because of stoicism in his face. (He did not like Butcher when he was in denial, but he could deal with a stern man. In fact, Hughie quite liked a hardened man.)

“You get much sleep last night?”

“Slept like the dead,” Hughie told him.

“Yeah, alright.” Butcher gave him that. “We need to talk Homelander,” he admitted.

Hughie straightened up at that. Guess Butcher couldn’t bask in the glow for too long, god forbid. Hughie leaned back, crossing his arms. “So. Homelander. America’s favorite.”

“‘Merica’s most dangerous,” Butcher corrected. Butcher stepped away and towards a side filing cabinet. He pulled out a spray. “I know you won’t take a gun, but I want you safe. Here.” Butcher tossed him the can.

Hughie caught it and looked down. “Mace?” Hughie raised a brow. “You’re giving me mace?”

“I can’t have you going out there completely helpless now can I?” Butcher pointed at the can. “Keep it, use it, don’t make me spank you.”

Hughie’s cheeks burned. He cleared his throat, putting the mace down beside him. “So, what are we doing about Homelander? Am I just going to looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life?”

“Homelander only sent that warnin’ because I’m onto something.” Butcher came back to Hughie. “I’m close. We know he’s smuggling a type of heroin. We don’t know through which shell corporation yet, but we’re close.”

“And why is Homelander targeting me of all people?” Hughie gestured to himself. “ I haven’t done anything to him. I’m a nobody.”

“He knows we spend time together,” Butcher reminded him. “He thinks he has leverage over me now ‘cause he could get to you.”

“And does he?” Hughie asked, brow raised. “Does he have leverage over you, because of me?”

The open warmth of Butcher’s eyes shuttered close like blinds to a window. Hughie saw the moment he lost Butcher, tilt their whole conversation into something else, something more dangerous. Hughie knew the answer even before Butcher spoke. His eyes turned away from Hughie and at the wall. Hughie looked down at his legs. “Hughie, look—” It was a no. Hughie knew that immediately.

There was a knock at the door. 

Butcher closed his mouth. He stepped away from Hughie and moved to the door. He opened it only just so and growled at the person on the other side, “The fuck is it now?”

“You two done fucking in there?” Marvin asked behind the door.

Hughie hid his face in his hands, completely embarrassed. Fucking hell. There went any good impression he could’ve had with Butcher’s coworkers.

“None of your fucking business,” Butcher snipped. “What the fuck did you need me for?”

“We got a lead on the Homelander thing,” Marvin said. “Hey, Frenchie! Get out here!” Marvin’s voice called out to the other side of the office. Hughie heard the sound of a door opening up and two bodies stepping outside. Hughie wasn’t trying to listen in, but there wasn’t anything else to do.

“That was my fucking case,” Butcher growled, which translated to Why the fuck are you here? “I didn’t ask you to be a fucking part of it.”

“We get it,” a new voice said, accented. Frenchie, Hughie guessed. “You are a man with a vendetta, a fallen warrior set on revenge. But even Achilles needed an army. So we looked into it for you, be your Trojan horsies.”

“Fuck off, Frenchie.” Butcher shifted in the doorway. “What’s the fucking lead?”

“We got back some data about the crate used to smuggle the Compound V,” Frenchien said. “There were traces of saltwater, gasoline, and fish on it.”

“Which means port-smuggling,” M.M. translated. “We got a list of companies related to Vought with connections to the different ports. We’re gonna narrow it down from there. I was thinking Frenchie and Kimiko could do some surveillance around the docks and I could get in contact with an old coastal guard buddy of mine.”

“Alright.”

“Is there someone in your office?” Frenchie asked.

“No,” Butcher said, just as Marvin said,

“Yes.”

“Oh? An amie? Or maybe a chaton?” Frenchie speculated. 

Butcher stood more firmly in the doorway, grip tightening around the handle. “No, there is no one in here. Fucking, back off—“

Butcher was pushed aside as a skinny man with a shaved head and a strong Asian woman barged into the room. “ Mon coeur!” the man, Frenchie, gasped. “It is you!”

Hughie blinked. “Do I know you?”

“You are Butcher’s new paramour!” Frenchie continued.

“Frenchie, you didn’t…” Butcher asked in disbelief. “Tell me you fucking didn’t.”

“You know how I get, and you! You were acting so strangely, of course I followed you! And I discovered your little rendezvous with your pretty little fraise.”

“Bloody hell, Frenchie, stop tailing me.”

“This is the guy you’ve been seeing?” Marvin asked, clearly surprised. Hughie took some offense to that. “I didn’t actually think you two were fucking—awe, man, in the office? C’mon, Butcher.” 

“Quick, Kimiko, mon coeur, the photos. The ones in your bag.”

The woman, a silent being, twisted the bag strapped around to her front and unzipped it, pulling out a stack of photos.

“I’ve been tailing your fraise for weeks now and I saw him this morning with this woman!” Frenchie threw a stack of photographs at Butcher, who caught them while a few fell on the floor. Hughie stepped close and took a look at the photos. They were of him hugging Robin. How did he get those photos developed so quickly, it had only been a few hours? “I couldn’t believe it. Your paramour, he is cheating on you! With a woman!” Frenchie sounded like a conspiracy theorist.

Butcher looked at the photos in his hand. “Frenchie get the fuck out,” Butcher voice was quiet. Frenchie’s mouth was open, ready to spill another round of crazy. “Everyone out.” Everyone in the office stilled. “Now!” Butcher yelled. That got Frenchie and the others to leave, tails tucked between their tails. Butcher slammed the door behind them.

Hughie reached down and picked up the photo of him and Robin. It was the moment where they hugged, looking softly and relieved at one another. There was closure in these pictures, not romance, not cheating, not any other bullshit Frenchie said.

Butcher cleared his throat. “Why were you hugging Robin, Hughie?” He wasn’t looking at Hughie, holding the photographs in his hands, back stiff, face drawn.

“You know who this is?” Hughie pointed at Robin.

“Of course I know who that fucking is,” Butcher told him.

“How?”

“I don’t fucking sleep around with street cunts without looking into them.”

Hughie shouldn’t have been shocked, but he was. No, he wasn’t shocked anymore. He was angry, a little violated. “You looked into me? What the fuck Butcher! I’m a nobody, why would you fucking do that?”

“I’m a P.I., Hughie, it’s what I do: look into people, make sure I’m not screwing a mobster’s niece.”

“You’re fucked up, Butcher.” Hughie’s grip on his photo tightened. Hughie wasn’t going to say some shit about Butcher having trust issues because even Hughie, in his anger, could understand why Butcher looked into him. His job was his life. Did it suck? Yeah. Would Hughie have liked some heads up or some discussion of that before? Fuck yeah. But should he have expected it from a man like Butcher? Just a fucking little, Hughie.

“‘Course I’m fucked up! My own captain ratted me out to Homelander and got my wife killed.” Butcher threw the photos across the office. Hughie didn’t even flinch. “What the fuck were you doing with Robin?”

“Talking,” Hughie told him.

“So fucking?”

“Fuck no, talking ,” Hughie glared at him. “Why do you fucking care anyway?”

“She’s your ex!”

“We’re not dating!” Hughie gestured between the two of them. He crumbled up his photos and threw it to the ground. “We’re not together, Butcher! You keep telling me that, so you don’t get to  be fucking upset if I go and talk with my ex.”

Butcher huffed and turned away. “I can’t do this with you right now.” Butcher kicked at a pile of photos, foot crushing the image of Hughie.

“Of course you can’t.” Hughie walked to the door. 

Butcher tried to reach out for him, but Hughie shrugged him off. “Where’re you going? We need to talk more about Homelander.”

“I can’t do this,” Hughie said, throwing his words right back at him. “Call me when you actually want to talk like a grown ass adult who has feelings.” 

Hughie slammed the door behind him.

Frenchie, Kimiko, and Marvin all stood just outside the door, pretending like they weren’t trying to listen in on their argument. Hughie rolled his eyes and walked towards the office exit.

Mon coeur,” Frenchie called out, apologetic, “about the photos—”

Hughie slammed the other door behind him too.

Chapter Text

After getting home from Butcher’s, Hughie took the biggest nap of his life because he was physically and emotionally exhausted. He woke up again when it was dark outside, ignored texts from Butcher on his phone and a bitter anxiety creeping up his spine. Hughie hated that feeling; it hadn’t been here in a while. Hughie needed to do something, distract himself, get out of his own head. Usually Hughie would get Butcher to fuck him over the nearest kitchen counter, but that was clearly out right now. 

So what’s a guy to do? Research.

Hughie spent the first few hours reading articles about Vought, Homelander, the death of the Vought competitor’s wife as well as Butcher’s until his eyes bled and he was presented with mixed messages. Nothing on the internet suggested that Homelander or Vought were dirty in any way or form. They were, if Hughie was going to be honest, suspiciously too clean. When that led to nothing, Hughie was strapped with his frazzled brain and that itch still there.

He remembered what Marvin had said before Butcher and Hughie had their little argument—no, Hughie, you said you weren’t going to think about it—about the docks and shell corporations. With the boredom and the anxiety and the curiosity all pooling inside of him, Hughie spent the rest of the night compiling a list of companies related to Vought as well as looking into a certain cop before passing out.

(He refused to look at Butcher’s old police records, to see what kind of cop he was. He didn’t want to know. Unlike someone, Hughie preferred talking about one’s past instead of rudely digging into it.)

The next morning, Hughie rolled out of bed and headed out the door. He only had her first name and a face, but it was easy enough to figure out that Annie, was Annie January and which precinct she worked out. The real deal breaker was when he stumbled across a fluffy news article about a pageant girl by the name Starlight working in the big city as a cop. Hughie cringed, thinking about what Robin had said. Annie was probably teased relentlessly for her old shows. No wonder she could be so mean.

Hughie strolled into the precinct, crappy coffee in one hand, two powdered donuts in another, wearing shades because he’d only got three hours of sleep this morning, and his eyes peeled for a blonde cop. He found her sitting alone at her desk, working on a report, wearing her blue uniform.

“Annie January?” he asked. They were playing out an old scene.

“Hm?” the girl slowly looked up. The moment she registered Hughie’s presence and then realized who he was, she rolled her chair back in surprise. “Oh gosh, Hughie—”

Hughie sat down in the empty chair beside her, probably where perps sat. He pushed his glassed up to his forehead and smiled. He laid one donut down for her and ate the other. “Morning,” he said casually.

“About yesterday—”

Hughie did his best New Yorker expression when he waved her off with a, “Forget about it.”

“No, seriously, Hughie, that wasn’t cool of me,” Annie said. “Robin told me you two met yesterday?”

“I promise I wasn’t trying to steal your girl,” Hughie said immediately.

Annie laughed, startled. “I didn’t think you were.”

“Well, after you threatened me, thought I might clarify.” Annie’s expression turned pained again. Hughie backtracked. “Sorry, about that…I hate to ask, but I kinda need a favor from you.”

“A favor?” Annie raised a squinted. “Are you trying to blackmail me?”

“What? No!” Hughie laughed, actually laughed. “Jesus Christ, no, why is everyone so paranoid? Fuck, I just thought, since I now know a cop, I could ask for some help.”

“That depends, Hughie, what’s the favor?”

Hughie reached into his back pocket, almost spilling the coffee he’d put on Annie’s desk, and pulled out a piece of paper. He unfolded it and laid it out for Annie, the list of companies Hughie had narrowed it down to. “I was just wondering if you could tell me if there’s been any suspicious activity with any of these companies.”

Anne’s brow raised, looking at the piece of paper. “What’s this for, Hughie?”

“Uh…” Hughie rubbed his face. “Is it okay if I don’t tell you that right away?”

“Hughie, are you in trouble?” Anne tried to reach a hand out to him, but Hughie wasn’t a victim, not really, he didn’t need consoling. 

“It isn’t for me,” Hughie said. “It’s for my—” Well, he definitely couldn’t call Butcher his boyfriend, definitely not after their spat. “Can you just, please, let me know? I promise this’ll be the only favor I ever ask of you. I just need to know.”

Annie’s face smoothed and she looked at the list of company names. Annie’s face moved into consideration. “I can’t just look up information for you, Hughie, I’d lose my job over it,” she told him. Then she peered around the precinct and back at him. “But,” she drawled out, pointing at a name on the list, “I have heard some…chatter about this one. Don’t know if that’ll help. Hughie,” her voice went soft, “please be careful. If something’s going on, go to the cops about this. We can help.”

“Thank you for your help,” Hughie said. He circled the name on the list that Annie had pointed to. “I really got to get to work,” he told her, and then stood up.

Annie tried to stand up after him, but Hughie was a bit too fast, grabbing his coffee and donut and going. Maybe it was rude of him, but Hughie didn’t care. Besides, he’d left the other donut for her. He just hoped Annie wouldn’t tell Robin about their meeting. 


During his fifteen, Hughie pulled out his wallet and dug through it for a well-worn card. Over the months, Hughie had pulled out the cards many times, rubbing the edge along his thumb, thinking about calling the number, never doing so, always wondering about the man on the other line. Butcher’s handwriting, the Call me if you ever wanna get naughty, it made him smile. Today, Hughie wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t looking at Butcher’s message nor his phone number on the card. No, his eyes landed on a different number on the card.

Hughie dialed it.

The Boys Private Investigation, how can we help you? ” Marvin answered.

“So I think I figured out which company is smuggling the drugs,” Hughie said. Then he remembered himself. “Also, it’s Hughie by the way.”

I figured. Really, you found out? Who is it?

“Stillwell Co,” Hughie said, reading the list.

The fucking baby formula people?” Marvin turned exasperated. “Hell no, my baby girl used to drink that stuff. There’s no way.

“Yeah, well, I have a cop friend who told me there’s been suspicious things going around there.”

Fuckin’ horseshit.” Marvin sighed. “Okay, French and I’ll look into it.

“Can I come too?”

What?” Marvin snorted. “Are you being for real right now?

“This guy broke into my apartment, I want to catch him too.” Lie, total lie. Hughie was not about vengeance or vendettas, but Hughie couldn’t let this go. The curiosity was overwhelming him. Hughie usually tried not to fixate on things, but he couldn’t stop. It was either fixate on this or fixate on Butcher’s hangups. He needed to know for himself that Vought was bad.

Hell—” Marvin coughed. “Fine, you can come. But don’t tell Butcher and if there’s trouble, your ass is yours, got it?

“Got it.”

French and I are heading over at eight, meet us there.

“Okay, see you then.”

And Hughie?

“Yeah?”

Wear something black. You’re white enough to be reflective.

“Sounds go—”

Marvin hung up on him. Hughie looked down at his phone and shook his head. Time to get back to work.


Hughie, Marvin, and Frenchie met at the docks. They didn’t say anything, only nodded at first, and then led Hughie up on top of one of the shipping crates with some binoculars. It was cold outside. November was turning into December. Hughie had layered up, but he knew if he stayed out here for longer than an hour or two, he’d lose some fingers. Laying on some cold metal definitely didn’t help.

“I’ll look around the west side,” Marvin said, getting up. “When I get back, French, you take the other half.”

“What do I do?” Hughie asked.

“Stay here and don’t get shot,” Marvin told him then left. 

This left Hughie and Frenchie alone, shivering atop a container. Hughie wished he’d brought some coffee or a thermos of some kind. There wasn’t much to see; Frenchie had the binoculars and there wasn’t much light. Still, Hughie checked the few light posts he could see, looking for any workers or shady guys. 

“Hey, Hughie,” Frenchie whispered, still looking into the binoculars, “about the photos…” Frenchie had perhaps the worst or maybe the heaviest French accent Hughie had ever heard. Every word sounded like a Z or a OUI. 

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Where is your passion?” Frenchie lowered the binoculars and looked at Hughie. “Listen, I apologize. I get a little paranoid sometimes, and I check on my friends. It was rude of me to make assumptions about you and that girl. Hm? I know you are not as devious as I thought you were.”

“Thanks?” Hughie’s face twisted in confusion. Was he supposed to be upset or relieved?

“I shouldn’t have had any doubts about you, my fraise, you have been nothing but a relief for Butcher.”

“Excuse me?” Hughie sat up slightly. What was Hughie, aloe Vera? Was that all he was? An ointment to put on your sunburn?

“No, no, no!” Frenchie waved at him to relax. “Do not take offense, you are a blessing, Hughie. He ‘asn’t been nearly as prickly in months because of you.”

“I think that was the abstinence.”

“Non, no mon fraise, it is more than that. If you were just a hole to fuck, then Butcher would still be a prickly son of a bitch, no, what you bring out of him, Hughie, that mon fraise, that is something more. Feelings! You breathe life back into him!”

“Can you stop calling me a strawberry?” Hughie asked. Hughie looked away. He was pretty sure if Hughie was doing anything to Butcher, it was sucking his dick, not breathing life or whatever the fuck Frenchie was talking about. “I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I think you know,” Frenchie grinned. “I think you know, but Butcher refuses to see his Isolde, and you are but a flower without the tender sun you need.”

“Jesus fuck, are you a real person?” Hughie asked. “I thought most P.I.’s were hardasses.”

“I am a Frenchman,” Frenchie told him, “but I am also very skilled with a knife, oui?” 

Marvin climbed back on top of the crate. “Frenchie, you can look at the other crates now. I didn’t see anything.”

Frenchie nodded and got up. He passed the binoculars to Hughie and left. Marvin got down next to Hughie, taking the binoculars from him and staring out into the shipyard. Hughie settled into his spot, getting ready for a long stretch of silence. Marvin didn’t seem like the type to get chatty, especially with the likes of Hughie. Still, it came as a shock when Marvin actually spoke.

“Frenchie’s right,” Marvin told him. “You’ve definitely changed Butcher.”

Hughie turned his head, surprised. “How the fuck did you hear that?”

Marvin gestured to his ear. “We got earbuds? For surveillance?” Marvin handed him one.

“Is everyone listening in?” Hughie’s cheeks burned, putting it in. “Is the girl going to pop up to me next and tell me I’m an influence on Butcher too?”

“No, Kimiko’s off tailing Homelander’s dirty man.” Marvin told him and before Hughie could ask, added, “And Butcher’s hitting up Mesmer for more info.”

“Who the fuck is Mesmer?”

“Butcher told me you two worked a case together?” Marvin looked him up and down. Oh fuck, he’s talking about Noir. The gay club, Kevin, fucking in the backseat of Butcher’s car. Hughie’s face burned. He was glad they were in the dark. “Translucent had photos on Mesmer and Mesmer’s got deets on Homelander.”

“Fuck, everyone has the worst fucking names.” Hughie rubbed his eyes. “You all sound like supervillains. Why can’t anyone be a Crawford or a Pegg? You’re all Quaid’s and Alonso’s. Jesus Christ.”

Marvin chuckled. “You’re an alright dude, Hughie.”

“Glad to get your seal of approval.”

“Butcher’s got his head up his own ass,” Marvin told him, returning the subject to the beginning. “He doesn’t know what to do with himself about you. He hasn’t been happy in so long he doesn’t know what to do with it once it’s right there.”

“Then he should go to therapy for fuck’s sake.”

Marvin snorted. “Men like Butcher, they don’t know how to do that. He’s learning though. He’ll figure his shit out sooner or later, Hughie. Just give him some time.”

“I don’t think I can give him much more,” Hughie’s voice was tired, honest. “I’m getting to a point if I don’t turn back now, I’m going to get fucked up if he isn’t there with me.”

Marvin opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it when a voice filtered through the lines.

Guys, you won’t believe what I found,” Frenchie said.

“What is it?” Marvin asked.

I took a little looksy into one of Stillwell’s crates.” There was a pause. “I think there are people inside.

Jesus fuck.

Chapter Text

John Homelander, America’s favorite war hero, philanthropist, and charmer was a murderer, drug smuggler, and human trafficker. At first Frenchie, Marvin, and Hughie debated on what to do with the evidence presented in the storage crates. Both Frenchie and Hughie wanted to let those people go immediately. Marvin and Hughie both thought someone else should really handle the situation (the police.) Both Marvin and Frenchie wanted to get photos of the crates and the people inside. (In a second container, there were crates of drugs.) They all wanted to call Butcher.

Butcher told them to get photos, get water for the people, then give an anonymous tip to the cops. 

Hughie didn’t want to leave those people behind. It made him sick to his stomach to think about how long they’d been in there, trapped without water or bathrooms. There were crying children in there. There was no justice in leaving them here. But Frenchie and Marvin were adamant. If they stayed, they’d get caught and arrested. If one of Homelander’s people found them, they’d dispose of the evidence before the cops got there and their only lead to taking down Homelander would be gone. Hughie followed Frenchie and Marvin through the dark.

“This won’t get Homelander,” Marvin said as they left the docks. “He’ll say the manager switched the shipping labels and Stillwell isn’t liable. Their public image is too perfect for it to be anything but someone else’s fault.”

“Won’t the manager say it wasn’t their fault?”

“In cases like these?” Marvin sighed. “It’s a private port. Homelander probably did it that way because he’s got leverage over the manager. There’s no way they’ll testify.”

Hughie’s heart sunk. It was hopeless then, either way. They’d gotten nowhere.


 

The next morning, Hughie asked his boss if he could leave at seven instead of eight. His boss didn’t care, which Hughie left relieved. Then Hughie texted Butcher and told him to meet him at Noir. After their findings last night at the docks, Hughie got to thinking and realized he might actually know someone who might have some sway on the matter. Hughie never thought he’d end up calling a favor from Chad, but he guessed when it came to taking down America’s most beloved, it was an all hands on deck sort of situation. Who knew Hughie had so many cards up his sleeve?

Hughie refused to answer any of Butcher’s texts. 

And why should he? They weren’t glued to the hip. They weren’t together, duh. They were just fuck-buddies. Hughie didn’t need to answer every text, only the ones about coming over and fucking. 

Homelander was an idiot for targeting Hughie. He wasn’t important to Butcher, he wasn’t his most prized possession or his soul mate or some bullshit like that. All they did was fuck. (Even Hughie knew that was a lie, but it was more depressing to be caught in that limbo state with Butcher than to be in firm denial of his own feelings. Hurray! Nothing in the world mattered!)

Still, Hughie was now in the mess Butcher had gotten himself into eight years ago. Butcher must’ve been, fuck only a few years older than Hughie when his wife had been murdered. Jesus Christ. Murdered. Kidnapped, tortured, murdered: that was the fucking awful fate of Butcher’s wife. That should’ve never happened to her. And now Homelander was gearing up to do the same to Hughie. Step one: vandalize his home, step two: probably kidnap Hughie, and step three: mutiliate and murder him. Fuck, and it won’t even do to Butcher what Homelander thought it would.

No one would know where Hughie had gone, why he’d been murdered. No one would care save his Dad and maybe Robin in a passing sort of matter. Jesus Christ.

As Hughie closed up the shop for the night, he took a long look around the store, at the nanny cams and the HD TVs. Would this be the last place they got of Hughie on camera? After tonight, Hughie would be stepping fully into the Homelander-drama. Once he pulled his only card, he’d be involved. His life would be at stake. He could turn back now. He could run. He could end it with Butcher and get extra locks on his apartment, maybe move to a different neighborhood. Hughie could do all sorts of things. He didn’t need to do what he was about to do.

But he was going to. He was going to do it anyway.


 

Hughie went home, ate dinner, changed, and grabbed something he’d buried deep in his closet years ago. A little black velvet box. Hughie hadn’t touched the box in a long time. He hadn’t opened it in years, a little afraid to see what was inside, a little sad to have those memories be gone. He opened the box, pulled out the familiar golden necklace, and put it on, laying it underneath his shirt collar.

It was time to go back to Noir.


 

He met Butcher outside the club. Butcher looked like his usual self (leather coat, floral button up, thick beard—Hughie still wanted to jump his bones) if not a little exhausted. Hughie was feeling it too, but he’d taken a shot of coffee before he left his house and it was starting to kick in. Hughie nodded at him and gestured to go around back. Butcher followed after him.

“Listen, Hughie—”

“So I think I might have a way for us to get the port manager to stand as a witness against Homelander.”

“What?” 

Hughie led him away from the Noir line and down the alley. Walking down the alley gave Hughie memory whiplash to both the time he and Butcher fucked in his car and the times he’d been here on his knees for other dudes. Both brought up good and bad feelings. “I know a guy, kinda like Homelander. He’s a public figure too, but he’s clean now. He used to do bad dealings, but now he deals with gay youth and the homeless population.”

“Hughie, hold on.” Butcher pulled him by the shoulder. Hughie stopped walking and moved with the motion, getting turned around and looking at Butcher. The man tried searching his face, but Hughie wasn’t sure what he found there. “About the other day. I’ve been on edge ‘cause of Homelander. I’m sorry I looked into you.”

He rolled his eyes and moved on in the conversation. “Anyway, the guy, I think he can help us. His influence stretches across New York, I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew a few people that could help get the manager to help us.”

“And why would he help you?”

“He owes me a favor.” Hughie started walking to the back of the club. 

“A favor? A public figure who frequents Noir owes you a favor?”

“Yeah.” Hughie reached the back door of the club. Besides an entrance within Noir, this was the only way to get into the backrooms, where members of Noir could participate in their BDSM endeavours without issue. Hughie still couldn’t quite remember how he’d ended up in the backrooms the first time, but once he started subbing for Chad, Hughie was a frequent guest among the ropes. Hughie knocked on the door.

A familiar bouncer opened the peep gate. “What you want?”

“Hey,” Hughie cleared his throat, “I’m here to see Ezekiel.”

“No one here goes by that name. Fuck off.”

“Look,” Hughie huffed, “can you just let him know his Chamuel is here?” Hughie lifted the necklace up from his shirt collar and presented it to the bouncer. The necklace Ezekiel gave him all those years ago bore the cross with Chad’s initials engraved as well as Hughie’s. It was their one year anniversary present.

“Chamuel?” The bouncer blinked, shocked. “Fuck, why didn’t you say so?”

Hughie smiled, tight lipped. “Can you please go get him for me?”

“Yeah, fuck, I’ll be right back.” The peep gate closed.

“What the ever living fuck was that?” Butcher asked. 

“I used to be uh…” Hughie shrugged. “I don’t know, someone else might say I was big around here, but I wasn’t—Ezekiel was. I was just his sub.”

“His ‘sub’?” Butcher blinked. “Fucking hell, Hughie, you actually lived this life?”

“I wasn’t a professional,” Hughie told him, “not that that should fucking matter, but yeah, I used to be more involved in the community. Why do you think I knew Noir so well? How do you think we did half the shit we did together if I didn’t know what was up?”

“I don’t know,” Butcher sighed, “I thought you were...a little submissive, not someone who actually knew about this.”

“Yeah, well, I guess you don’t really know me all that well do you.” Hughie turned away from him.

“Hughie, mate—”

The bouncer came back and opened the door. “Ezekiel says you can go back.”

“Is he still in room thirteen?”

“No, he,” the bouncer looked down at his feet, “moved to seven shortly after…”

Hughie nodded. “Thank you. I know my way around.” Hughie led Butcher inside. The back of Noir was painted in red lights, gold chandeliers, and velvet furnishings. The different rooms were of different styles. There were thirteen rooms total. Room one was basic, but room thirteen had ropes, gear, a spreader table, leather, and all sorts of other things to it. 

“Who’s this Ezekiel bloke anyway,” Butcher asked as they walked down the halls. Hughie passed by some subs and doms, some familiar, others new. Most of the subs wore leather collars. Hughie remembered those days. 

Noir could be a shady sex club if you ended up with the wrong doms. Most were alright, but the rules against the bad ones weren’t as stringent as they should’ve been. In the beginning of his time at Noir, Hughie had been passed around from dom to dom until he eventually landed at Ezekiel’s feet. Hughie wouldn’t ever say Ezekiel saved him, because Hughie hadn’t needed saving, but Ezekiel was the first dom that tried to keep him, that wanted him for more than one evening.

Ezekiel had been the first dom to take him home and lay in bed with him, the first one to kiss him the morning after, and the first to hold Hughie outside of scenes. Ezekiel had been his first real boyfriend even if they had met as dominant and submissive.

“Chad Carmichael,” Hughie murmured. His fingers trailed along the velvet walls. The touch was taking him back to his nights at Noir. If Hughie stayed here long enough, he might fall back into a headspace he’d spent years avoiding.

“Chad fucking Carmichael?” Butcher asked. “You tellin’ me you know Chad fucking Carmichael?”

“I knew Chad before he even came out,” Hughie confirmed. Chad Carmichael, heir to the Carmichael Institution, used to be everyone’s favorite wildcard bachelor. He fucked his way through model bombshells like Bruce Wayne on cocaine. To the public eye, he was a straight, young blooded American, Christian in a way that left heads turned, and a Wallstreet bigshot. But to Hughie, he was a closeted insecure gay man who’s sexuality expressed itself in religious-themed scenes and a lot of sadomasiscim on Hughie’s ass. 

“Chad fucking Carmichael is a kinky son of a bitch and you were his sub?”

“Stop acting so surprised.”

“I am surprised!” 

Hughie rolled his eyes. “Look, it’s not a big deal. We were involved, that ended, it’s been a few years, and he owes me a favor. Can we move on already?” 

Nowadays, Chad Carmichael was out, happily married to his husband Seth Reed, still America’s favorite, and a public figure on LGBTQ+ issues as well as religious intersectionality. Hughie had kept tabs on Chad over the years, reading the editorials and watching the interviews. Hughie always laughed when interviewers asked Chad what led him to come-out (Chad would, in one way or another, mention Hughie without his name and compliment him on their relationship.) Hughie knew Chad also kept tabs on him in one way or another, sending Hughie a graduation present when he finally finished college after taking a few years to get there, and sending him a birthday present when he turned twenty-five. Hughie and Chad hadn’t spoken to each other in years, nor text, nor email, but Hughie knew that had been for the better.

They broke up mutually. 

Hughie led Butcher to room number seven and knocked. There was a voice from inside, calling them in. Hughie stepped inside. Ezekiel looked different now than he had been with Hughie. His face was clean-shaven, his white hair back to its blond hue, and cut now instead of mangy. He still wore white, but that was because Ezekiel liked to wear white in his scenes. It fit in with the religious themes. His husband wasn’t there, but there were two pretty subs sitting at his feet, both wearing angel wings. Hughie remembered those days. Hughie wouldn’t be surprised if Seth was watching the whole scene in another room, a notorious voyeur for his partners. Hugie had introduced the two after all.

“Chamuel,” Ezekiel smiled, arms spread wide, “as I live and breathe. The prodigal son returns.”

“Listen here you fuckin’—”

Hughie held up a hand to stop Butcher, plastering on a smile. “Ezekiel, my prophet, may I speak to you, the Lord, his Son, and the Holy Spirit?”

It was as if a haze lifted from Ezekiel’s eyes.

Unlike most doms, Chad had a safe-phrase instead of a safeword. Chad did not have the hubris to call himself a god, so lickening him to one was always a way for Hughie to detangle from a scene with Chad without a hard stop. Their actual safeword used to be the Virgin Mary, but that was more extreme and had only needed to be used once in their relationship. Hughie was never really into the whole religious themed role-play, but Ezekiel knew how to spank Hughie and praise him for doing the Lord’s work on his knees, so they’d worked out a balance between the two of them. Hughie smiled when Chad came down from the scene. The man still smiled at Hughie, and leaned down to his other guests, whispering something in their ears. The two angels giggled and got up, leaving the room, probably to join Seth.

Chad sat up in the leather sofa he was on, his legs coming to a close. “Hughie, it’s great to see you. How’ve you been?” Chad reached out to shake Hughie’s hand. His grip was warm and firm, familiar. Hughie had forgotten what his hands felt like.

Hughie smiled kindly at him. “I’ve been good.”

“Yeah? Your wrist giving you any difficulties?” Right, their break-up. “Sorry, I’m sorry. I know I offered you a specialist, but—”

“Hey, man, everything’s perfectly fine.” That was the truth; Hughie was fine after all they’d gone through. “And look at you! I’ve seen you in the papers—congrats on the wedding and the merger, man, and I love the new hair.”

Chad laughed. “Hughie, you always knew how to charm.” Their hands let go. Chad looked at Butcher. “And who’s this? Is this who you replaced me with?”

“No—”

“Yes,” Butcher said leaning forward to shake Chad’s hand. “Billy Butcher. I take real good care of him.”

Chad looked between the two of them. “I see…” Chad leaned back in the sofa, crossing his legs. There were two seats at the edge of the room, and Hughie grabbed one, sitting down in it. Butcher stayed standing. “So,” Chad cocked his head at Hughie, “what brings you here, Hughie? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my Chamuel. Were you looking to scene? I’m sure Seth would be interested in seeing you again, Hughie.”

“Ah, no, actually,” Hughie laughed, “I don’t scene as often as I used to, but thanks for the offer. We actually came here for some help on a case Butcher’s working on. He’s a P.I.”

“Oh? That rocks.” Chad nodded at Butcher. “What’s the case? It must be a biggie if you’re coming to me, Hughie.”

“It’s John Homelander,” Hughie broke the news. “I know it might sound a little crazy, but he’s shadier than you think.”

“That Judas?” Chad shook his head. “That son of a bitch almost got Seth last year when I wouldn’t back a housing merger, but I couldn’t prove it and no one would believe me.”

“Well we’ve got something big,” Hughie said, not trying to go into details before Chad agreed, “but we’re pretty sure the witness won’t speak up because their under duress.”

“So what do you want me to do about it?”

“Chad, I know you.” Hughie grinned. “You’ve got pull everywhere, amazing lawyers, even better security. I was hoping you could help us persuade them to testify.”

He thought it over for a moment, then nodded. “Alright, I’ll do it.”

Butcher made a noise. “Just like that?”

Chad shrugged. “I guess so.”

“No fucking strings attached?”

“Hey, dude, I owe Hughie a favor,” Chad explained, “and if I can nail that Homelander dickwad to a cross while I’m doing it, even better for me. I’ll have my people call your people tomorrow, Hughie, and we can set it up, talk more then.”

“Thank you,” Hughie said, relieved. “Thank you.”

Chad stood up; Hughie did as well. “Hey, it’s nothing, dude. It was great seeing you.” Chad and Hughie hugged. This went so much better than Hughie could’ve ever imagined it. “Seriously, if you ever wanna scene together again, hit me up whenever. No one else has ever compared to my Chamuel.”

Hughie smiled, tight lipped, and nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.”

They let each other go. Chad turned to Butcher, extending a hand to him. “Great meeting you, Billy. We’ll talk soon.”

Butcher didn’t shake his hand, staring suspiciously at Chad.

Chad shifted awkwardly on his feet and smiled again. “Well, if there’s nothing else, I’d like to get back to my scene.”

“Of course, Ezekiel.” Hughie bowed slightly and grabbed Butcher by the arm. “May peace be with you.”

“And with your spirit,” Chad returned, bowing.

Hughie took Butcher out of the room and breathed easier in the hallway. Butcher didn’t seem to think the same. “The fuck was that! Hughie!”

He got them down the hall, nodded at the bouncer, and was now in the chill of the alley way. It was a lot easier to breathe out here. It wasn’t so much that Chad was giving him a panic, but the reminder of Ezekiel, his hard blows, those punishing kisses, they threatened to pull Hughie down into the Chamuel headspace.

“I’m just glad that worked,” Hughie breathed, laughing into the night. “I didn’t think it would.”

“What went on between you two?” Butcher demanded. “That must’ve been some really fucking big favor if Chad Carmichael was so willing to get you Homelander’s head on a silver plate and not bat an eyelash. What did you do for him? Wear a nun costume for a year?”

Hughie laughed, a little hysterical. Butcher looked at him wildly, as if he didn’t know what to think about him, didn’t know how to handle Hughie like this. Usually they just fucked. “No, I—well, funny story actually, he—um, well. He broke my wrist.”

Butcher stilled. “What.” It wasn’t a question.

“Listen—it’s really not what you think it is,” Hughie told him. Butcher looked like he was ready to storm back into Noir and beat the shit out of Chad. “We took a scene too far, we both did. Neither of us were in a good headspace. I safeworded out, we stopped, he got me to the hospital. My wrist is fine.” Hughie held it up to him and wiggled it around. “See? Perfectly fine.”

“Fine? Fucking hell, Hughie, that’s not okay!” Butcher yelled.

“I know it wasn’t!” Hughie yelled right back. Hughie lowered his voice and wrist. “We broke-up after that. There were other things going on in our lives at the time—I was about to fail out of college and he was struggling to come out and we couldn’t keep seeing each other. Not like that. What happened in scene wasn’t out of animosity, Butcher. I had egged him on. Really. Both of us should’ve known better but we didn’t.”

“That Christian fuck broke your wrist and it’s your fault?” Butcher pointed at him then Noir. His eyes burned with something Hughie never thought he’d see. 

But it was the truth. It really had been Hughie’s fault. This wasn’t victim blaming or emotional abuse or anything like that, Hughie had honestly and truly been the one to take things too far. And Chad had been devastated over it. Their incident had fucked the both of them up. They found their limits, their we-can’t-go-back-from-this moment, and it had hurt at the time, but they’d both grown from it. Chad still felt at fault over the whole incident, but with this favor, any penance Chad felt he needed to pay would be absolved. It was better like this.

“It just was okay?” Hughie took off Ezekiel’s necklace and put it in his pocket. “You clearly won’t listen to me about it, and there’s no point in arguing about it, so let’s just move on. We got what we needed from Chad. We can get Homelander.”

“You don’t know if that cunt will actually follow through.”

“He’ll follow through,” Hughie told him. “Chad’s always been reliable.”

“What, and I’m not?”

“Jesus fuck, when did this become about you?” Hughie glared at Butcher. “Believe it or not, not everything’s about you, Butcher.”

“It’s my fucking case.”

“Yeah, and I’m breaking it for you! Would it kill you to say thank you for once in your life?” Hughie stalked down the alley, back towards the front of Noir.

Butcher ran after him. “Hughie, wait up, mate, slow your roll.” Hughie’s steps slowed. “I’m sorry, alright? I’m sorry.”

“You don’t actually mean it,” Hughie said, voice quiet, looking down at his feet. 

“I’m sorry,” Butcher repeated. He tilted Hughie’s chin up with a finger. Butcher’s eyes were dark pools of molten brown. If Hughie got to close to them, he’d sink into them. “Sorry.”

Hughie didn’t say anything.

Butcher, finger on his chin, tilted Hughie’s head even further. Their lips brushed one another. “Sorry,” Butcher murmured, then kissed him. Hughie’s eyes fell shut. Their mouths moved slowly against one another. Whatever tension they had bled out as their mouths opened and closed, their tongues rubbed against each other, as Butcher’s hand reached up to pull Hughie’s head even closer. They made out like that, in the middle of the alley. Hughie knew it was a distraction. Butcher was trying to calm him down; Hughie let him do it anyway. Hughie wouldn’t let himself sink back into the Chamuel, but he could sink back into Butcher, who murmured empty apologies against his lips as they kissed.

Hughie grabbed Butcher by his lapels. 

Butcher backed him into a wall. “Did he ever call you that?” Butcher asked between kisses. Hughie was pressed firmly into the brick, Butcher’s leg between his. Hughie was going from zero to one-eighty in so many different ways today, his dick got hard in the confusion of it all. 

“Call me what?” Hughie panted as Butcher’s hand skimmed underneath his shirt to touch his sides, his mouth glued to Hughie’s jaw like he was trying to mark Hughie for everyone else to see.

“Good boy,” Butcher asked. Hughie’s hips jumped. “Did he ever call you that?”

Hughie’s head rested on the brick, his eyes staring blindly at the streetlamps as Butcher got their dicks free and rubbed them, hand dry, grip too tight. Fuck—

“Did he?” Butcher asked again, thumb rubbing cruely at the head of his cock.

“Fuck—fuck—” Hughie whined when Butcher did it again.

“Did he ever call you his good boy, baby?” Butcher demanded. “Answer me, princess.”

Hughie shook his head. “No, no—” He gasped when Butcher got his hand wet and wrapped it around their cocks, stroking them together. “Fuck—”

“Is it ‘cause you weren’t a good boy for him?” Butcher asked, fucking into his own wrist. It was as if Hughie’s cock only existed for Butcher’s to rub against. Hughie rode the sensations, eye’s clenched. He was going to cum, embarrassingly fast too. There was no other way around it. Butcher was harder with him tonight than he’d ever been before, demanding Hughie to submit, reminding him of his place (as Butcher’s good boy.) “Were you too fucking naughty? Only good boys get to cum, princess, are you a good boy?”

“Yes—yes—” Hughie keened, hips rising faster and faster.

“Are you?” Butcher asked. “What do good boys do to cum, hmm?” Butcher twisted their wrists and Hughie moaned. It felt like a punch to the gut. “They ask for permission, princess. You going to be a good boy for me and ask to cum?”

Hughie nodded, but no words fell from his lips.

“Well?” Butcher asked. “I’m waiting.”

“P-please,” Hughie asked, “please let me cum, please—please—”

“Alright,” Butcher said, like he hadn’t just demanded Hughie to beg, “I’m waiting. Go on then.” His grip around their cocks loosened. Hughie whined.

Hughie shook his head. “I c-can’t. Need you—need you to—” Butcher was still stroking him, loosely now, but enough that Hughie still teetered on the edge. “Need you to do it, please, please—”

“Need to do everything ‘round here,” Butcher murmured, but his grip tightened around Hughie anyway, stroking him anew. “Can’t fucking get off without me. Need me that much, my good boy.” Hughie nodded. Butcher kissed him again, tongue overwhelming Hughie. He was lost to the sensations, completely gone for a moment. “Cum for me, cum, my darling. Cum for me.” Hughie whined and disappeared from existence. 

When he came to, Butcher’s cock was painting white on Hughie’s, marking him as his. Butcher stroked him through their aftershocks, mouths pressed against the other’s, bodies fused together. Hughie drifted off again. When he woke up for real, Hughie was in the passenger seat of Butcher’s car and they were stuck in city traffic. Butcher looked over from the driver’s and smirked at Hughie.

“Finally awake are we.”

Hughie rubbed his eyes and sat up in the seat. “Where are we going?” Hughie asked, more like slurred. He was exhausted. Jesus fuck, what a heavy night.

“Your place. Your dad texted, wanted you home an hour ago. Thought I’d deliver.” Butcher was riding some kind of high while Hughie was slumped in some sort of low. Butcher clearly didn’t know how to handle subspace because he’d done practically nothing to help Hughie’s disorientation settle into comfort. At least he’d stayed with Hughie. There were a couple of times at Noir, both before and after Ezekiel, where'd Hughie woken up in strange places, feeling like complete shit, and no one there to help him. Still, Butcher could’ve done better.

Hughie tried to wake himself up by rubbing at his eyes, face, and neck. His eyes weren’t working quite right—he felt tipsy—and a little sticky. The silence stretched between them even though traffic didn’t move. Hughie stared out the window, pieces of their alley fuck and the conversation with Ezekiel coming back to him. They should’ve never fucked at Noir’s. Not after seeing Ezekiel and they certainly shouldn’t have fucked after the fights they were having. Jesus Christ, what a fucking mess. Still, Hughie wanted—needed—to set the record straight.

“Ezekiel never knew,” Hughie said, eyes glued to glass. He saw Butcher look over through its reflection.

“Never knew what?”

“About my thing.” Hughie coughed. “About ‘good boy.’ He never knew.”

“He didn’t know?”

“I don’t tell people about it.” Hughie shrugged, then admitted, “You were the first.”

Butcher didn’t say anything. Hughie got it; it was as if Hughie had presented Butcher his heart on a platter. He’d given up a piece of himself to Butcher, both when he first admitted the kink and when he told Butcher this. Now it was Butcher’s turn to either offer something to Hughie in return or ignore him. Butcher seemed lost with himself, like he didn’t know what to say. He opened and closed his mouth several times, but never spoke. 

Hughie got tired of it. “We shouldn’t have fucked in the alley,” Hughie said.

“Don’t be a priss. It wasn’t too dirty in there.”

“No,” Hughie glanced at Butcher, “ we shouldn’t have fucked. I can’t keep doing this with you, like this.”

“Hughie…” Butcher’s voice was sad, condescending, like he thought Hughie was a naive child opening his eyes to the bad world for the first time.

“No, I can’t. I keep giving you myself and you won’t give me you in return. This needs to stop.”

“Hughie, let’s talk about it in the morning. We’ve had a long day—”

“Day?” Hughie snorted. “Try week. No, better yet, try month. Ever since the whole fucking Chinese food incident. One thing after another, Butcher. I’ll still feel like shit in the morning, so let’s just end this now, okay?”

“No, for fuck’s sake, Hughie, no .” Butcher’s eyes never left the road, but his hand reached out and tangled with Hughie’s over the console. Their fingers laced together. Butcher had never done something like that before. “Just—” Butcher cursed under his breath. “Please, just fucking wait until after the case is over. Fuck, Hughie, please. Just a couple more days.”

Hughie didn’t say anything, but he didn’t pull away from Butcher either. He leaned his head back against the headrest and tried to breathe, eyes falling shut. They didn’t say anything else during the ride. Their hands stayed like that. Butcher’s hand was warm, familiar on his body but not between his fingers. Hughie didn’t know what to make of it, what to make of any of it. Still, a greedy part of himself settled in his chest as he held Butcher’s hand, like a kitten who finally swiped the mouse. 

Butcher dropped Hughie off right outside his apartment building, squeezing Hughie’s hand twice. Hughie sat up and got out of the car. He was about to close the door behind him when Butcher leaned over the console and called his name. Hughie stopped. “What?”

“You forgot this, at the office.” Butcher handed him the can of mace. Hughie took it. “I want you safe.”

Hughie nodded and closed the door. He turned to leave. 

Butcher rolled down the window. “Oi, Hughie!”

Hughie stopped.

“Call me tomorrow, yeah?”

“Alright.”

“Get some sleep, Hughie.”

Hughie nodded and walked away before Butcher could say anything else, try to delay this any longer. Hughie’s grip on the mace didn’t loosen until he got into his apartment. His dad was fast asleep; Hughie would be too soon enough. He kicked his shoes off and put the mace on his bedside table. He stripped. Hughie got into the bed, feeling like both the dead and the reborn. Hughie didn’t know what to think about it, so he just slept.

Chapter Text

It felt weird to go to work, but Hughie did it anyway, normalcy and all that. Hughie wasn’t trying to think about what the other boys were up to, probably doing actual investigative work. They were probably chasing down leads, cornering bad-guys, and researching cases. Hughie didn’t really know what P.I.s did, but it sure did beat the work of a tech-guy. All Hughie did all day was deal with returns of baby boomers, sell TVs to college bros, and advertise nanny cams to paranoid mothers. 

Still, Hughie’s boss let him take an extended lunch, so Hughie would be able to meet up with Butcher and Chad with the dock manager. Hughie wasn’t necessarily needed for the whole excursion, but Hughie doubted Butcher and Chad would get along without Hughie there to buffer their interactions. Chad could be…overly relaxed, and Butcher was Butcher. If Hughie wasn’t there, someone would probably get a black eye. Hughie wasn’t all that sure if it’d be Chad, Butcher, or him. 

His boss didn’t wave to him as Hughie left, barely looked up from his phone as Hughie walked out. Hughie slung his backpack and walked out into the city streets, busy at this time of day, wearing a scarf to fight off the chill. The metro was a few blocks away. Yes, there were closer ones, but the one Hughie needed to get over to the port was out of his normal route. Hughie didn’t mind the walk, nor being lost in a crowd. He was listening to Billy Joel; he could walk anywhere with that running through his ears.

He didn’t notice at first—fuck how could he with his fucking headphones in and his general sense of security in the city—but when he did, it gave Hughie a little pause. A voice in his head, one that took on a weirdly British nature, ordered Hughie to act normal, to keep heading where he was heading, to not look back, to not make a scene. But Hughie felt the eyes of another prickle on his skin, creep along his spine like a spider ready to bite. Hughie didn’t like the feeling. He’d felt it before, at Noir, and the one time he got mugged when he was fifteen, but since then, never.

Someone was following him.

Hughie walked a little faster, turned the volume down, and wove between those walking the streets. He was maybe two, three blocks away from the metro. Fuck. Hughie looked ahead. There were less people where he was heading. Either he’d need to get through the empty space faster than he usually walked, or he needed to turn down a street to throw the guy off his ass. Fuck, he should text Butcher. No, that would distract him. Fuck, the mace was in his bag, but if he stopped to get it out, his tail could jump him. Fuck, fuck, he was a block away from the metro now. The streets were practically deserted. Hughie thought that shit only ever happened in movies. Fuck, shit, Jesus Christ, he needed to walk faster. He needed to figure out what he was going to do next. He needed to get to Butcher. He needed to get to a crowded space.

None of it mattered. The moment Hughie stepped near an alley, he was grabbed by the backpack and thrown into the dark wedge between buildings. Hughie fell to the ground, knees scraping the asphalt. Fuck, his jeans were torn. The guy who’d grabbed him was a tall black man wearing Matrix-level sunglasses. The man cowered over Hughie, wearing all black. 

Whoever the fuck this dude was, he wasn’t scared of getting caught because his foot slammed into Hughie’s gut in two kicks. Hughie curled in on himself, voice trapped in agony. “You fuckin’ piece of shit, you think you can fuckin’ take Vought down? Nah, fuck that!” the man shouted. Tears burned at Hughie’s eyes. Jesus fuck—what the hell?

“Stop!” he begged, not afraid to admit the pain he was in. Hughie had never been beaten up before. Fucked, spanked, punched, whipped, yes, but beaten up? No one had ever laid a hand on Hughie before, never nefariously. That wasn’t the life Hughie lived. He never got himself into that kind of shit.

“Oh you want me to stop?” the man asked. “Want me to stop?” Hughie nodded. The man kicked him again. “Fucking back off from Homelander then. You don’t? I’ll be back and I’ll fuck you with your own baby prick, got it?”

Hughie’s mouth tasted metallic, “Got it.”

The man nudged Hughie in the chest with his toe again and shook his head. “Fucking pathetic.” The guy tsked and walked away, leaving Hughie there.

Hughie blinked, laying there on the ground for a moment. Literally, what the fuck? That was it? Not that Hughie was complaining, but when a guy jumps you in the street in broad daylight, you tend to walk away without some fingers. Guess he was now thoroughly warned to back off. Jesus Christ. Hughie wanted to hide behind his own shadow and slam Homelander’s face into a spike at the same time. Fucking hell. Being around Butcher far too long was starting to rub off on him.

He sat up on the ground. Fuck, his stomach hurt. He was going to have bruises tomorrow, absolutely. It felt like that guy had steel-toed shoes. His bones felt bruised. Fuck. He probably looked like a mess. He stood up and tried to straighten himself out. Fuck, he needed to get to the port soon. Shit. Hughie’s ankle felt a little sore when he stood more firmly on it. Whatever, he’d deal with it later. Work was going to suck ass.

When he left the alley, he saw Kimiko across the street, watching him. Hughie wiped the dirt off his elbows and walked away and into the metro. He’d deal with that shit when he got there.


 

By the time Hughie got to the port, he looked presentable again. As long as Butcher didn’t try to fuck him again today or the next few days, Butcher would never know. The bruises would be gone soon enough. Hughie didn’t want either Butcher nor Chad to see them. As long as Kimiko kept her mouth shut, Hughie’d be fine. He’d be fine. No, he was fine. Nothing was wrong.

Hughie showed up to the port looking like less of a rat and more of broke twenty-something. Meanwhile Chad, who was leaning against his white town car, wore an elegant suit, and Butcher with his usual leather coat, had forgone the floral button-up for a dark blue and his hair, for the first time in six months, combed back. It felt wrong seeing Butcher with neat hair. At least he still had the beard. It felt wrong to see Butcher period after last night and his interaction with Homelander’s dirty man. Hughie thought he reeked of a secret and Butcher was usually a bloodhound with those kinds of things. 

Hughie stood in front of the two men he had feelings for, strong feelings for. If Robin was here too, it’d be Hughie’s own tragic documentary on the meta-narrative of the modern bi man post-recession. Both Chad and Robin were better off without Hughie, fulfilling themselves in other endeavors. Hughie never really had Butcher at all, and watching this case go on,’it was like watching a madman unhinge himself from reality. Despite their moments, now further and few between, Butcher’s eyes were set on one goal, and it had nothing to do with Hughie. Still, Hughie knew how this comic book ended: the tragic hero avenges his beloved’s murder and in the final battle, the hero’s new flame is artfully sacrificed for the greater good. Hughie would rather hope sacrifice from him didn’t mean murder.

“Ah, Hughie,” Chad stood up from the car. “Great to see you.”

Hughie shook his hand. “And you, thanks for letting me tag along.”

“No problem, it is your case after all.”

Butcher opened his mouth, probably to growl out that it was his case and not Hughie’s, but he shut his trap (Jesus Christ, Hughie was starting to think like him) and stalked off into the shipyard. Hughie and Chad strolled after him. Chad was perfectly at ease here so Hughie pretended to be too. Besides, it was obvious Chad had other intentions as well.

“You know Hughie,” he started, sounding casual, “at Carmichael’s we have a tech branch that’s working on generating low-cost, energy efficient cell phones. We could really use a guy like you on our team.”

Hughie laughed, “Chad, I’m not going to come work for you.”

“You wouldn’t be working for me ,” Chad said, “you’d be working for the company. I know that store you landed in isn’t doing any wonders for your mental pursuits. Where was the solar-obsessed kid I used to know?”

“He got a job at a tech store?” Hughie sighed. “Listen, thanks for the offer, but the city’s infrastructure is too coal and oil for me to have much success there.”

“Who said anything about the city?” Chad grinned. “We have research facilities all over the world. I could get you to Greece or Costa Rica like that,” he snapped his fingers. “Just think about it, okay?”

“Okay.” But he wouldn’t. Hughie would never leave New York City, not if Homelander himself threatened to snap his neck if he didn’t. He just wouldn’t.

Butcher didn’t say anything during this, but Hughie could tell, from the taut line of his shoulders, that he had heard and he didn’t like the sound of it. For fuck’s sake… 

They stepped up a flight of stairs to get to the manager's office, which oversaw the whole yard. Apparently the manager would be expecting them, but there was still a terse moment where the woman behind the door didn’t let them in, staring at them, trying to judge their intents, their trustworthiness. 

She let them in.

The woman sat down behind her desk. She wore a plaid shirt and her red hair fell around her face like a crown. She looked like a lumberjack. She looked like a queen. She looked like a poster for butch lesbians. She looked tired and on edge. She looked at the three of them and clearly smelled trouble. That was just Butcher.

Chad sat down across from her and crossed his legs. “Maeve, can I call you Maeve? I know Carmichael’s offer of investment and shareholder may feel a little intimidating.”

“A little?” Maeve snorted. She cocked her head. “Try very. I don’t see why your company wants to be involved in a small port like mine so suddenly.” She smiled at them, teeth sharp, “We at Queen Port do offer speedy docking, but I have one buyer and he pays just fine.”

“Yes, we know.” Chad rested his clasped hands on his knees. He looked like the cover of a smart person magazine. “I have sources and evidence who tell me the fine people at Queen Port are involved with drug smuggling and human trafficking.” Chad smiled. He could look cruel too. That wiped the look off Maeve’s face. “I’m here,” Chad sat up, “to offer you a path to legality.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re referring to,” Maeve said, voice a bladed edge.

Butcher reached into his coat and pulled out a stack of photographs, plopping them onto her desk. “I think you do,” Butcher groused.

Maeve looked at the photos. “Those weren’t taken here.”

“You can see your logo right there.” Butcher pointed at the crown insignia.

“These are doctored,” Maeve insisted.

“What does he have on you?” Chad asked, interrupting Butcher and Maeve’s circle. “We can prove you’re port was used for these crimes. You’ll go to court over it, but we both know you weren’t meant to.”

Maeve bit her tongue.

“Homelander has something on you, what is it?” Butcher asked.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Listen,” Chad started, as if he was letting Maeve in on a big secret, “I can get you out of this whole deal with Homelander or whatever. Carmichael? We’ve got better lawyers than Vought anyday and we can protect you from anything.”

Maeve narrowed her eyes at the them. “And why would you do that?”

Chad laughed and pointed at Hughie. “I owe him a favor.”

Maeve’s eyes moved from Chad and Butcher to Hughie, who was leaning against the door of the office, arms crossed, observing the conversation. Maeve looked him over, eyes squinted now, confusion clear in the turn of her lips. “Well why do you want to help me?”

Hughie looked between Butcher and Chad, who were both watching him as well. Good question. Why was Hughie doing all this? Hughie cleared and looked at Maeve. “For one thing, I saw what was in those crates and that’s fucked up,” he told her. “And for another, Homelander wants to kill me so yeah, I’d rather not let that happen.”

Even Hughie knew this was a little empty. All he needed was for Butcher to buy it because Hughie didn’t know what he’d do if Butcher knew that there was more to it. Because Hughie had always known it was never about him. It never could be; Hughie wasn’t special like that. But Butcher was. And if Butcher knew all the steps Hughie had taken for him, just for him, and still couldn’t consider himself with Hughie…well, sometimes life didn’t work out the way you wanted.

Maeve seemed to accept this though because she sat back in his chair. She bit at her thumbnail as she thought, not looking at any of them. “How do I know this isn’t another trap?” she asked. “That you aren’t going to screw me over in the long run.”

“You’re already screwed with Homelander, mate.”

“We can make a contract,” Chad offered. “We can make it so you have full power over your exit from our company and anything like that. I won’t fight you on it.”

Maeve nodded at that. “And what do you want me to do?”

“Testify.” Butcher said. “And honestly too. We’re gonna nail that fucker to the wall. You got any books on the guy? About the real shit that happened?”

Maeve nodded. 

“What’s he got on you?” Butcher said, more like demanded. “We’ll need to know so we can protect you. You’ll ‘ave to go on record about that too.”

Maeve ran a hand through her hair. “My girlfriend,” she said. Fuck, Hughie had superb gaydar. “She got sick a few years ago. Vought paid for her treatments, experimental ones, and supported us financially while we got back on our feet.”

Chad nodded. “Any debts they’ll try to sue you for, I’ll pay in full.” Her jaw dropped. Hughie got the feeling. When he dated Chad, half the time Hughie couldn’t handle the way he threw around his money. At least now he was using it to help people instead of filling bathtubs with hundred dollar bills. Chad snapped his fingers and smiled. “I’ll also get a security team set up for you and your girlfriend. Once we’re in business together and the trail’s over, we’ll work to rebrand and revitalize the port. Hey, I’ll even pay for your wedding if you ever wanna marry your girl.” Chad grinned. “I’ll get Oprah to officiate if you want.”

Maeve still looked startled by the new reality presented before her. Hugie got it; it was a lot. Hughie hated to think that the moral of this story was that money solved everything, and it was clear Butcher thought this too, but Hughie was thankful things didn’t end in gore or Homelander walking free. That would suck.

 Maeve and Chad shook on it, setting up a time tomorrow to go over the contract and begin the proceedings. Maeve was going to go to the police station and get immunity for her crimes in exchange for information on Homelander and becoming a witness against the Vought enterprise. Butcher explained that Frenchie, Kimiko, and M.M. were sending in info to a police station they’d worked with before (that wasn’t crooked.) By the end of their meeting, Maeve looked settled and Hughie felt like he could breathe again.

It looked like things were looking up.

Butcher, Chad, and Hughie left Maeve’s office, heading back to the car. “How do you know she won’t turn on you and rat you to Homelander?” Butcher asked him.

Chad pointed at the new crane outside the port. “I got her that last night. She won’t turn back on this. Not when she knows she’ll get more tech soon. What’s Homelander done for her the past few years? Nothing. This place looks a wreck. She’s with us now.”

They reached their cars. 

Chad looked over at Hughie. “Call you soon?” Chad grinned. “I’m not letting you get away from me this time, Hughie.”

“I’ll think about it,” Hughie returned, a smile on his face.

“There’s always a place with me.” Chad nodded at him then at Butcher. “Till next time, Butcher.”

Butcher smiled tight-lipped. At least it wasn’t a snarl. 

Ciao .” Chad got into his car and drove away, leaving Hughie alone with Butcher, who waltzed over to him.

“You wanna ride?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows. Wow, who knew Butcher could misread the situation so wildly. 

“I’m good thanks.”

Butcher hummed, hands reaching out hold Hughie by the hips. As long as Butcher didn’t move him to hard, Hughie’d be fine and Butcher none the wiser. His fingers curled through Hughie’s belt loops, his face coming up to brush against Hughie’s cheek and neck. “We’re so close, Hughie,” he murmured. “That bastard’s going to pay for what he did.”

“I know,” Hughie agreed. His eyes were planted firmly on the shipping crates behind Butcher. 

“I’m almost there,” he continued.

“Okay.”

Butcher pulled back slightly so that they could look at one another. Butcher’s lips were so close to his, but they weren’t touching. Hughie felt his head go heavy at the closeness, at the slightest brush of breath on him. These were the moments Hughie could fall into, could never wake up from. 

They kissed.

It was a slow press of lips, like they were kissing each other for the first time and trying to sort out how they fit against one another. It was a good kiss, a great kiss even. It made Hughie’s heart rumble and his cheeks flush. The kiss warmed him from the inside out. This was a kiss without lust, without any other intention than wanting to feel another. It was a kiss people could start love stories to.

But why did it feel like, when their lips finally parted and Butcher grinned at him, that it was their last?

Chapter Text

John Homelander was arrested three days later on charges of fraud, smuggling drugs, and human trafficking. Hughie spent the three days before getting the call anxious and trying to act normal. When were they going to do it? Would it happen during the day or the night? Would it be televised? Would Hughie’s name ever come up in a report or any of the legal proceedings? Would the man that had kicked the shit out of him come around and make good on his promise? Still, he got the call about Homelander way after watching it go down on screen.

“Hughie?” a familiar voice asked over the phone.

“Annie?”

“Are you—” Annie cleared her throat. “Were you involved in the Homelander take down?”

“Uh…” Hughie looked around the tech store. “Maybe, why?”

“Oh Jesus,” Annie swore. “Robin never said you were a badass.”

“It’s because I’m not,” Hughie told her. “I’m really not. I just…helped out.”

“Okay, well, Detective Raynor has him in for questioning right now. Some deadbeat cop named Butcher’s here too. He turned in the evidence. Did you want to come watch the interview?”

“You guys would let me do that?”

“I mean…I just thought,” Annie laughed, “after we got off on the wrong foot, I’d like to be friends Hughie.”

“Do you take all your friends to watch interrogations?”

“Only when they’re badasses.”

Hughie laughed. “Okay, I can be there in half an hour.”

“Awesome.” They hung up soon after that. Hughie closed up shop and headed over to Annie’s precinct. He spent the entire metro ride looking around at strangers, making sure that guy who’d beaten him up wasn’t there. It made him nervous to be in a public space, and by himself; Homelander could send someone at any time, any place to come kill him. Hughie could step onto the street or get on a plane, and he’d be done for. Still, Hughie hoped Homelander wouldn’t come after him; Hughie wasn’t nearly as big of a fish to fry in these matters. Frenchie or Marvin were much more suited for this.

The outside of the precinct crowded with reporters, police, and protestors of some kind. The news had broken hard and fast, like a bank vault kissed by a bomb. There would be an uprising here, Hughie could feel it in the air. It was terrifying and exciting. It was more than a little sad. Vought represented a brand that provided goodness to the world, untouched by scandal, but there was crime lurking underneath the charming veneer of Homelander’s smile. It was the end of an era, a salute to facades and underdealings. Hughie knew the political implications of Vought’s fall and already dreaded the loss of the many legit programs the company created. And it would tumble because of the mania of one crazed man: Homelander.

Hughie sifted through the crowd, ducking between bodies, murmuring apologies, and moving around police barricades. No one stopped him. He walked up the steps and through the doors to get inside. Instead of getting into an elevator, he took the stairs to the third floor. Did he lose his breath? Yes, but did it give him a moment to think? Most definitely.

Butcher would be in that precinct, who knew who else, as would Homelander, like a smack down between two gods. These days, Hughie’s was feeling like Persephone: about to get dragged into a ditch.

He found Annie at her desk and sat in a chair, crossing his legs and acting casual. Annie looked up from her work and gave him a once over. “You are full of surprises, Campbell,” she said.

“Oh?” Hughie raised a brow.

“I was talking with one of the guys in the break room, his name is M.M.?” Hughie nodded. “He told me you made this all happen.”

“I didn’t make any of this happen, it was all Butcher,” Hughie said.

“Yeah—is Butcher—?” Annie leaned over, glancing around the precinct for listening ears, “Is he the guy you’re seeing? Because I remember you saying this was for someone else and that your guy had a gun and that dude gave off serious machismo vibes with the leather.”

“Uh...yeah, but we’re not—” Hughie shrugged, “It doesn’t matter. What matters is we got Vought and we got a murderer.”

Annie cringed. “He hasn’t confessed to murder.”

Hughie blinked. “What? Really?”

“I heard from Karl that there hasn't been a confession yet—we’ll get him either way—and Jack told me Butcher was going in soon to talk with Homelander.”

“They’d let Butcher into the room?” Hughie raised a brow.

Annie shrugged, “I mean, he did most of the work and Raynor probably owes him for one thing or another, so if should be fine.” Anne smiles, it was a little disarming and terrifying. “Did you want to go watch it?”

“Sure.” They both stood up and left. 

Hughie could see Marvin and Frenchie standing at the other side of the room, Kimiko squeezed between them, all drinking coffee and chatting among themselves. Frenchie saw him and waved, Marvin giving him the nod, and Hughie returned it. Kimiko did nothing, her eyes glued to him. It was more than a little terrifying; what secrets did her eyes hold? But it was fine, Hughie reasoned, he had nothing to worry about. Butcher wasn’t out here—must’ve already been inside.

Annie took him to a viewing area of the interrogation room. There were cops huddled inside. Hughie and Annie squeezed themselves close to the mirror, like children at the aquarium trying to take a peak at a dolphin through the crowd. Through the glass, there was a detective, two lawyers, a police chief, and between them all, Butcher and Homelander. The two men were locked in each other’s gaze. Butcher glared while Homelander smirked calmly across the table. Butcher looked harder than Hughie had ever seen him, if not a little bloodthirsty. Butcher looked like he was ready to reach across and slam Homelander’s pretty face into the table. 

“At first I didn’t think you were seeing this guy,” Annie admitted.

“Really?” Why, was it because Butcher looked so much better than him?

“He gives off some really straight vibes.”

“He’s the biggest top I’ve ever seen,” Hughie agreed, “he could be called a T-shirt.”

Annie snorted. Hughie looked over at her. “Sorry, sorry, it’s just Robin says that sometimes too.”

Hughie chuckled. “She got it from me, so don’t forget it.”

Inside the interrogation room, the lawyers and detectives were having a terse discussion. “My client has already admitted to many of these crimes, against my own recommendation mind you, so I don’t see why we are still here,” the lawyer said.

“It’s not enough, I want a confession,” Butcher growled.

“For what?” Homelander tilted his head to the side like a shark, voice innocent even though everyone knew he wasn’t.

“For my wife’s fucking murder!” Butcher shouted, getting up. “You motherfucking cunt—”

“Butcher,” Detective Raynor interrupted, settling him in his chair. “We are recording here.”

“Why is he here?” the lawyer gestured to Butcher. “This man has no business here and has harassed my client for the past eight years for no reason.”

“I want him here,” Homelander smiled. “He has such a silly accent, don’t you think?”

“I’ll cut your eyes out and shove them up your—”

“Butcher!” Raynor glared.

“No, no,” Homelander eased. “Let him speak, he’s clearly upset by the loss of his wife. He clearly has never moved on from her unfortunate disappearance.”

“She was murdered and we both know you fucking did it.”

“I have a question for you,” Homelander spoke, sitting up. His hands, chained in cuffs, moved from his lap to the table. “Is it worth it? To hold onto the grief?”

“What the fuck are you on about?”

“I’ve seen who you’ve been with,” Homelander admitted. “I’ve seen them all come and go, pass through your little one-bedroom without a moment’s notice. Clearly you, like me, are a man of skill and passion.” 

“You’ve been stalking me?” Butcher asked, brow raised.

“Don’t answer that,” the lawyer said.

“Yes,” Homelander said. “I’ve had Raymond keep an eye on your for a while know. How surprised we both were when he told me about your little toy that’s stuck around.”

Butcher’s jaw clenched.

Hughie blinked at the interrogation room. Were they talking about…him? Of all things, him ?

“What’s more important, Billy, your new happiness with the boy or avenging your wife’s death?”

“My wife’s fuckin’ murder you pillock.”

“So you wouldn’t care…at all…” Homelander was gonna break his neck with how much he tilted it, “if something were to happen to him?”

“Not at all,” Butcher answered. “He means nothing to me.”

Annie turned. 

Hughie blinked. Okay then. That was great. Good to know. The final nail in his coffin.

“You put my wife’s fucking skull in a fucking present you fucking cunt…” Butcher’s voice faded from Hughie’s focus, overrun by his beating heart. His eyes blurred, but he wasn’t crying, fuck that, no, of course not.

“Hughie,” Annie started, voice full of pity.

He took a step back from the window. Fuck, didn’t he try to distance himself from this whole fucking situation so his heart wouldn’t fucking feel like this? Fuck. Fucking shit. Fuck. Fuck this. Fuck, Hughie—

“Hughie,” Anne said, “cops—they’ll say anything, really anything, in interrogation to get a confession, he probably just—”

“No.” Hughie cleared his throat. He smiled. He turned around. Fucking hell, of course Frenchie, Kimiko, and Marvin were standing behind him. They all had the faces of deer trapped in light, of children caught in a plane. “I know when he’s telling the truth. I know that much.”

Anne tried to reach out to him. The other three tried to stop them. But it didn’t stop Hughie. He shrugged past them. He was done. Finished. There was no point and staying here any longer, to look Butcher in the eyes and know what he wouldn’t say, that he wouldn’t even try anymore to convince Hughie he cared. Hughie walked out of the room, out of the precinct, out of Butcher’s life and into the cold air of December. 

 

Chapter Text

New Voicemail

December 16th, 7:02 PM:

“Fuck, Hughie, mate where’ve you been? Haven’t heard from you in a couple days…” There was silence over the line. “I was thinking you could come over…”

Message Deleted


 

New Voicemail 

December 17th, 9:16 AM:

“Oi, Hughie, it’s Butcher. Call me back, yeah?”

Message Deleted


 

New Voicemail

December 21st, 3:25 PM:

“Hughie, it’s been a week. Please pick up the fucking phone—I swear to fucking hell if you’re fuckin’ dead, I’ll—”

Message Deleted


 

New Voicemail

December 25th, 2:58 AM:

“‘Ello Hughie, it’s Santa…’ave ‘ou been a naughty boy this season or a good one? Only good boys get ta sit in Santa’s lap and get Santa’s cock—”

Message Deleted


 

New Voicemail

December 27th, 1:03 PM:

“Fuckin’ hell, Hughie, Frenchie told me—fuckin’ cockshit, call me back you bastard.”

Message Deleted


 

Would you like to permanently block this number? 

Yes or No

Please choose—


 

New Voicemail

December 31st, 11:58 PM:

“Hughie, I know you’re probably off celebrating with Robin or Chad Carmichael or whoever the fuck you’re friends with, but I just couldn’t—” Butcher sighed, painfully, like tears threatened his being. “I never thought this would go anywhere, never thought this thing with you would lead me down a different path than a nice fuck and a place to keep warm. 

“I know we should’ve…” Butcher cursed. “No, I should’ve , it was me, all me—I should’ve talked with you, really sat down with you and talked this through and shit—I’m a grown ass man, I fucking know that okay?

“But my wife…she brought out the good in me. You would’ve liked her, Hughie, truly. When I lost her, I didn’t know—I clearly don’t know how to handle myself anymore. I’m a grieving widow. What I said in there—you should know you mean something to me, really do mean something to me, Hughie. You remind me…you remind me there’s more to the world, more to life than what I remember.

“Becca took something of me with her, and I’ll never have that back, I’m sorry Hughie, but there’s something here, between the two of us for fucks sake and I see myself a better man because of you. Hughie, I—” Butcher cleared his throat.

“Maybe I don’t deserve you, not at all, maybe we’re not meant for each other, but I want to give a proper go at it. Fucking hell, Hughie, I can’t stay away. Please let me in, let me in for real this time, please…

“You know I’m not the sort of man that sits by for what he wants, but I’ll wait for you Hughie. I’d wait years for you—lifetimes if I had to, just to have a real chance with you.”

Butcher was quiet on the line for a long moment, then seemed to gather himself again. “Call me back soon, Hughie, okay? Happy New Year’s, I’ll be thinking of you…”

Message Saved


 

New Voicemail

January 3rd, 8:34 AM:

“Are you even getting these voicemails? Please call me back. Soon.”

Message Deleted


 

New Voicemail

January 7th, 3:01 PM:

“Fuck, Hughie, thought I saw you on train today, but I guess it wasn’t you. I must be going crazy. Is your hair longer? Did you get it cut? I got mine cut, a little, so I look less like a woolly fucking mammoth…I miss you.”

Save or Delete Message?


 

Every time Hughie went to help a customer, he thought it’d be Butcher. It had no rhyme or reason to it. Butcher’s memory clung to him like a ghost. He’d see him out of the corner of his eye. He used to turn, but no one was there. Now, Hughie looked away. 

The messages weren’t helping.

Hughie didn’t know what to do. A part of him kept thinking he couldn’t just walk away, Butcher and the others, they taught him better than that. He should’ve stood up for himself, should’ve screamed and cursed and thrown a punch or two at Butcher. But the rest of him was tired, everything else wanted to go to sleep until his heart no longer curdled. Hughie wanted to wake up and be better. 

Fuck, his break up with Robin hadn’t been like this. He just drank himself silly and fell onto Butcher’s cock until it was all better. The thought of trying to fuck anyone else made Hughie cringe. He just couldn’t. He’d tried to, at a New Year’s Eve party, but the man he’d flirted with left a bad taste in his mouth; he wasn’t Butcher. Fuck, his break up with Chad hadn’t even been this painful and his wrist had been broken.

Hughie guessed that was what happened when you didn’t have closure. With Robin and Chad, they’d laid it out on a table, they’d both talked, both agreed about the break. Even if Hughie didn’t have much to say to Robin, he still spoke to her. With Butcher? It was as if they’d been twined around each other for months and now Hughie’s string was cut, leaving him unraveled.

The worst was when he was at work. After the rush of Christmas and New Years, there was nothing to occupy his thoughts, nothing to distract him. He used to be so easily involved with the technology before him and now? Now, he’d rather lay in bed.

It had gotten so bad, Hughie had started looking into other jobs. He was twenty-nine, still working in electronics, and now he needed a change. Some people could go their whole lives working in stores and be perfectly happy, but Hughie wasn’t, not anymore. He wanted to look at rooftop gardens. In college, he’d spent many years working at the community gardens. It had been another outlet when Noir wasn’t a good fix. He’d only gotten his undergraduate, maybe he could go to grad school, but maybe he could be doing more, something better. All Hughie knew was he wasn’t about to crawl to Chad for a job, and he wasn’t going to answer Butcher’s calls.


 

It got so bad his dad worried. But in usual Hugh-fashion, he stepped into Hughie’s life just as he was starting to get better. 

He was going to Annie’s and Robin’s for a movie night. The three of them had been hanging out more in the recent month. Hughie chalked it up to their pity for him, but they always insisted Hughie would’ve always been welcome at their place. It was okay though, Hughie was happy to hang out with the couple. Usually they spent their meetups binge-watching Xena , but tonight they were going to start a Star Trek marathon.

Hughie’s favorite character was the series’ insufferable good doctor. McCoy was a hardass, but clearly had a soft spot for Kirk and his crew. Plus, it was funny watching the cast of characters react to the events unraveling before them. When Hughie was a kid, he would watch old Star Trek episodes with both of his parents, so the franchise had always had a soft spot in his heart. 

Hughie, Robin, and Annie sat huddled on the ugly brown couch of Annie’s apartment, blanket shared between the three of them and a big bowl of popcorn devoured. On the coffee table, between their feet, were three steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Robin had even splurged and bought them whipped cream. Annie and Robin were curled around one another, looking more like a couple than Hughie and Robin ever had. He was happy to see the two of them in love. They both deserved it. They both deserved happiness. Hugie, he deserved…he didn’t know what he deserved anymore. What he deserved was a night with his two friends to watch his favorite movies. Hughie deserved a night with some piece of mind.

As they were watching the first of the three reboot trilogy, Annie made a questioning noise when Hughie’s favorite character came on screen. Bones was going into his monologue about how much space was a clusterfuck and Kirk was nodding along—Hughie could quote Bones word for word if he wanted to. Annie’s head tilted, looking back and forth between Hughie and the TV screen. Hughie raised a brow in return.

“Doesn’t he kinda…?” Annie looked like she was walking on eggshells, shrugged, and continued, “He reminds you of someone, right?”

Hughie blinked. “What?”

“He kinda looks like—”

Robin nudged her, sending a warning look. “Let’s just watch the movie.”

“No, what’re you talking about?” Hughie asked.

Annie looked trapped. Robin sighed and slumped against the couch, pinching her nose. “Well,” Annie started, overly cautious, “he kinda looks like…Butcher.”

Hughie squinted. “Really?” He looked at Bones on screen. No way. He didn’t look… “I don’t see it.”

“We both see it,” Robin told him, still not looking at him.

“No, not even if you added a beard and stuff, they look very—”

“Hughie, they look the same,” Robin said. “You’ve got a type, sweetie.”

“No, I—”

“It’s okay, Hughie, we’ve all been there.”

“I’m sorry I brought it up,” Annie said.

“No, I just don’t see why he has to come up in every conversation.” Hughie crossed his arms. “This should’ve had nothing to do with him! I just want one damn night without…without his bullshit.”

“Hughie,” Robin said, voice softy. “You fell on your ass.”

“I know that.”

“And are you going to stay there? What have you done to get up? I see you checking your phone every five minutes. What are you waiting for? A text from him?”

“No.” Hughie looked down at his lap. “No, there’s nothing there.” Robin reached across the couch to grab his hand, to show him comfort. 

“You need to make a decision. Don’t get stuck.” Robin’s thumb rubbed the back of his hand. He looked over, seeing her warm face, the love in her eyes. She would always love him, he realized, just like him to her, in one way or another. Annie’s face showed the same tenderness, the same care. It made Hughie nod, accept their words, fall into their ease. 

Hughie settled into the couch and ate some popcorn. The movie continued on. Hughie would make a decision in the morning. 


 

He picked the phone one morning and prayed no one would answer.

“Hey, Butcher, it’s Hughie, but I guess you already knew that…I’d rather you didn’t call. Thanks for the messages, but I’m trying…” Hughie throat was hot, constricted, raw. “I don’t know…”  He rubbed at his face and cleared his throat. “None of it matters anyway. None of it. Bye.”

Chapter Text

Hughie woke up in his bed, the covers tangled around him. His room was still dark with morning. It would be cold outside of the covers. He didn’t want to get up, he wanted to stay snuggled in his bed. He rolled over and grabbed his phone, bringing it close to his chest and turning it on. The brightness made his head hurt so he turned it down. He had a few snaps from Robin and some more from Annie. Marvin had left a message again, something to do with Hughie getting paid for his work; Hughie didn’t care about any of that. Plus, that would require going to their office. Hughie would rather not. There was another voicemail from Butcher. He wasn’t going to open it, no he wasn’t. 

(Even he knew he was going to listen to it.)

Hughie got out of bed, got dressed, and brushed his teeth. His room looked like a mess. Dirty clothes strung across his floor. He kicked them into a pile and decided he’d do laundry tonight. His favorite posters were taken down. They’d all been vandalized and Hughie couldn’t handle looking at the red paint anymore. It was too much Butcher in his safeplace, in his bubble outside of his reach. 

Hughie left his room and moved down to the kitchen. His dad was on the couch, watching the news. Hughie made himself a bowl of cereal and joined him.

On screen, their were images of 

“Today in an unexpectant speed, the Homelander trial begins with a preliminary hearing at the courthouse. John Homelander, founder and CEO of Vought, was arrested for human and drug trafficking. He was also accused of murdering two of his adversaries’ wives, as well as threaten the lives of countless other competitors. John Homelander, is you recall, was the war hero who…” the news reporter drones on about the heroism of Homelander and Hughie rolled his eyes. Media, PR, and lies packaged and delivered to your morning news.

His dad turned to him, mug of tea in hand. “So, Hughie, my boy, will you be okay while I’m away?”

Hughie smiled a thin smile, “Yes, Dad, I’ll be fine.” 

A few weeks ago, Hugh Campbell won an unexpected cruise to Cuba. And it was real too; Hughie had done all kinds of research and asked Annie to check it out for him. It was all good and Hughie felt a little silly afterwards to have felt so paranoid that his dad’s trip could’ve been a trap from Homelander. He really was his dad’s son.

“I ask because Ms. Ashley told me there were a bunch of break-ins in the neighborhood.”

“Ashley has sixteen cats and is more paranoid than you, Dad.” Hughie smiled at him, for real this time, trying to summon warmth and safety. “Enjoy your trip, don’t spend it worrying about me.”

“But you know how I worry,” Hugh laughed. “You’ve been so off lately, Hughie—are you sure it’s not—”

“Dad, I’m not on drugs.” He probably should’ve been. Antidepressants were useful. But Hughie knew these dark days would pass for him. 

“Okay, but—”

“Please just have a great trip, there’s no need to worry about me.”

Hugh sighed. “I’ll always worry about you.”

“I love you too, Dad.”

“In other news, John Homelander’s bodyguard Raymond Keyes has been arrested.” A picture came on screen. Hughie almost gasped when it was of that guy that had cornered Hughie in an alley and beaten the shit out of him. Damn, his bruises had hurt for weeks. He was only now able to sit up and not have his torso ache. “Keyes has been arrested for assault, stalking, and attempted murder. He tried to evade the police by boarding an A-Train yesterday, but this speedster has run his last mile. Back to you, Jessie…”


 

“Hughie, will you take a look at the new shipment we got?” his boss asked.

“Sure, what is it?”

“I dunno,” Antony shrugged. “Some spyware stuff, I  guess. After that whole Homelander thing, everyone thinks they’ll bring down the other mega-company.” Antony snorted. “Whatever, good for us though.”

Hughie didn’t reply much, just nodded and went to the backroom. There, he found a set of boxes need to be unpacked. He got a boxcutter and got to work, slicing the boxes open and digging out their contents. Hughie flicked through webcams, nanny cams, and ear plugs until he came across button cams. Huh. That was a bit more advanced than usual. Hughie opened up a box of one and took out the button, turning the camera on. It was so tiny. It could be so easily crushed, but could just as easily record everything. Hughie imagined a wife, totally insecure in her relationship, applying the button to her husband’s shirt without his knowledge, just to catch the fruitless meeting of him and the other boys. How full of anxiety and despair the world must be for spouses to turn on one another, for whistleblowers to wear button cams out of fear, for employers to spy on their employees. Tragic.

Hughie finished unpacking the items and then sorted them. He was already thinking about where to put what. The spy stuff should probably go together, but definitely near the bears. He would need to resort the chords and maybe move the TVs over a couple of feet. 

Antony stayed at the front of the store, chewing bubblegum and flipping through a tabloid, while Hughie did all the work. There weren’t many customers today. There never were. Still, one or two did stop and ask Hughie for some help, despite Antony sitting on his ass and doing nothing out in the open. When I’m gone, Hughie thought, you’ll have to do everything. You’ll regret not learning how to reconfigure the TVs because I won’t be here to do that for you. 

The day was a long one, but it came to an end, as they always do. Hughie headed to the back room to get his stuff. Antony was long gone by now, probably off to fuck his wife or some other classic American thing. Hughie was wondering if it would be concerning if he spent his first night alone at home with a bottle of wine and some porn on his computer. Probably. Still, Hughie had nothing going on and he didn’t want to bother Annie and Robin tonight. Hughie took one step into the back room and stalled when his phone began to sing, 

“This is the start of how it all ends, They used to shout my name, now they whisper it!”

Fucking, speak of the devil. Hughie scrambled to get his phone. “Can you stop changing my phone ringer? How the fuck do you even do that anyway?”

“Hughie, now’s not the time,” Annie said, voice urgent.

Hughie froze. “What’s…up?”

“Homelander escaped custody.”

He gaped. “He what ?”

“No one knows how he did it, but he fled during transport from the courthouse.”

“Jesus fucking Christ—”

“Language,” Annie scolded. “Not the Lord’s name in vain.” 

“Shit, sorry—fuck! Where is he now?”

“No one’s sure. They think he’s fled the country. Non-extradition countries that would like Homelander would be China or Ethiopia or Laos, we’re really not sure.”

“Why the fuck are you even telling me this, Annie? Fuck, what the fuck—who let him fucking escape?”

“I thought you should know, get a head’s up.”

“Does Butcher know?”

Annie was quiet for a moment, clearly debating with herself before answering, “Yes.” Hughie cursed. Butcher would go after Homelander. He’d hunt that man until the both of them died, no matter who the other lost in the process. “We offered him protection, but Butcher shrugged it off. Hey, I have to get back in there to help with the search, but be safe, okay?”

Hughie nodded, then remembered she couldn’t see him nod. “Okay, yeah, I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“See you. Hopefully we catch this son of a bitch soon.”

“Good luck.”

Annie said her goodbyes and hung up. Hughie stared down at his phone, alone in his tiny electric store. It felt like an invisible man was going to pop out and jump him. Hughie gave a cursory look around the room and wondered. Fucking shit. Homelander escaped? Hughie didn’t want to think about it, but he was thinking about Butcher now and how he must’ve felt and what he must’ve been doing. Hughie imagined him sitting at the foot of his bed, a glass of whiskey in one hand and a gun in the other, counting bullets, maybe looking at an old photograph of his wife. Hughie hated that his vision of Butcher was less like he really was and more like a cold, distant assassin about to take his last shot for redemption. But Butcher wasn’t like that. Butcher was probably throwing papers around and stomping down some stairs, wearing a leather coat, cursing everyone and their mother’s too to get out of his fucking way, two guns strapped to him and eyes cutting glass. 

Hughie hated that he was thinking about Butcher, but it was inevitable really. All roads led to Butcher. The old question was were they good or bad roads. Hughie could now admit they were both.

Hughie grabbed his stuff and started to head out. He passed by an aisle and stopped again, thinking. He picked up an item. He considered it. He wondered. He took it out of its box and kept moving.


 

He got a phone call from Butcher on his way home. He ignored it. Maybe that was stupid of him, maybe it wasn’t. Hughie wanted to drink vodka and eat Doritos. Sue him.


 

Call Hughie paranoid, he didn’t give a fuck. He thought of it as being a New Yorker. You had to know your fucking shit and which streets were not to be crossed at night. That was the way of fucking life.

Being a New Yorker or even being a comic book reader was knowing the moment your key twisted in the lock of your own apartment that you’d meet trouble inside. There was nothing else to it. It was like knowing when someone was following you around the streets and about to fuck you up. It was like knowing the night club you frequented would rather you be on your hands and knees than on the dance floor any day. It was like knowing you were walking into a bar, asking to meet Trouble. It was a lot of things and Hughie had it.

He tried to act calm about it. His dad was clearly out of the home, so Hughie knew one, his dad was safe and two, that Hughie was not. The light in the kitchen was on. Hughie shrugged off his backpack and closed the door behind him. He didn’t lock it. Why should he? He was about to meet his ungodly demise. He was about to get an arrow through the gut, he knew it. He just hoped someone would find his body and not get sent little presents in the mail, because that was fucked up

Hughie stepped into the kitchen. He went to pour himself a glass of water.

Someone stepped out of the shadows. “My, my, the man I’ve been waiting for.”

He turned around. Homelander, clean shaven, out of prison uniform, bruises under his eyes, smirked at him. Hughie tilted his head. “Are you sure it’s me you’re waiting for?”

“You’re right,” Homelander agreed. “Apologies, we both know it’s Billy I wanted to see.”

“Well he’s not here.”

“For a pawn,” Homelander decided, “you’re not too keen on being used are you? If anything, I’ve come to find you powerful, Hughie.”

“Thanks?”

“It’s a shame I’m going to break your every bone, cut out your tongue, and fuck you where your eyes used to be.” Homelander smiled. Fuck, fucking shit, Hughie didn’t want Homelander’s cock anywhere near him. The actual fuck. “In another life, Hughie, I’m sure we would be allies.”

“I doubt that.” Hughie smiled back. 

“Still,” Homelander took a step towards him, “you really must see why I have to kill you, right?”

“Is it because I uncovered the drugs and people you trafficked?”

Homelander rolled his eyes. “Yes, Hughie, that’s it.”

“Why did you murder the others?”

“Don’t you already know why?” Homelander smirked. “Hassel refused to let me buy him out. And Butcher? Becca’s death was necessary to keep the company out of hot water.”

“What did you do to her?” Hughie asked. “Are you going to do the same thing to me?”

“Oh to you? No, no.” Homelander tsked. “She had it much worse. I mean, I kept her alive for weeks after she ‘suddenly disappeared’ I almost thought I’d last a whole year with her. Sometimes I can make it last with my playthings, you know, break them down into pieces until they’re begging to be mine. But with her? She jumped out a window before I could do much more than break her leg, cut off some fingers, and really have some fun with her. You know which kind.” Homelander winked. Hughie thought he might throw up. “Never even got to touch her.” Homelander sighed. “I know I could have made her a needy bitch if she got a taste of my manhood—Billy is clearly not so satisfying if you’re here with me and not out with him—but I had to make do with the others, I guess.”

“Is that what you’re going to do with me?” Hughie asked, gulping. “Rape and murder me?”

“It’s not rape if you wanted it,” Homelander said. “And I know dirty playthings like yourself always want it.” Homelander took a step closer. Hughie backed against the counter. “I know I can’t keep you for long. Any other plaything, and I’d put you in my cellar, but Morocco is calling my name. Besides, with you, I want to prove a point more than anything else.”

Hughie stepped back. Homelander came closer. “A point?”

“Oh, yes, and I think it’s a good one too.” Homelander was close enough that he could reach out to Hughie. He took a step even further. Hughie stilled and tried not to look at him. Homelander reached out, grabbing his jaw and forcing Hughie to do something. Homelander had no knives, no guns, no weapons on him, and yet being in a room alone with him was enough for Hughie to know he’d never leave alive. “Butcher thinks he can outsmart me. You think so too, bringing in Carmichael of all people to solve your problems, but you will never outsmart me. None of you will ever outsmart me. I am a god. Billy thinks he’s my Arminius, but he is not! And I will take everything of his, ruin him until all that is left of him is rubble.”

Hughie squinted. “And I fit into this…how?”

Homelander pinched his nose. “You are the one person Butcher cares to see live. You are an innocent. Murdering you to get to him would crush him. I plan to squash him like a bug.”

Hughie made an ah-ing noise. “I actually don’t think he cares that much…”

Homelander’s hand landed on Hughie’s shoulder, close to his throat. He squeezed tightly and pointed a finger in Hughie’s face. “Listen here, I know Butcher. I know what he cares about and I know how much he cares. And I am going to—” Homelander slammed Hughie’s head into the cabinet behind him, “—use you to fucking—” he slammed him again, “—fuck with Butcher!”

Hughie’s vision was…spotty. Jesus Christ. Fucking hell. This was really how he was going to die. Homelander was going to do it now. Hughie really thought getting Homelander to monologue would last longer. He seemed like the slimey egomaniac to wanna talk all about himself. He mostly spent his time talking about Butcher. That’s fucking gay. Ah, shit, he might be losing brain cells.

Homelander punched him in the nose. Hughie cried out, clutching the blood spilling out. Homelander grabbed him by the lapels, mumbling some batsht nonsense about the Roman empire and Vaught and Butcher and Hughie, and threw him onto the kitchen ground. Homelander got on top of him, fist poised to break Hughie in two. Hughie shut his eyes instinctively.

Fuck— 

The door creaked open. Two heavy footsteps. Homelander stilled. Hughie rubbed his face and blinked up at the ceiling. His vision wasn’t double, so that was nice. Fuck, he was going to need a doctor soon. Or maybe he should just get murdered faster. Hughie wasn’t sure which would be better.

“Honey, I’m home,” a familiar voice called. 

Homelander scrambled to his feet, like a fucking puppy to its master. Hughie peered around the kitchen table to look at a familiar leather coat. Homelander brushed his hair back and straightened his vest. Fuck, that was some gay shit right there. Butcher had a gun poised at Homelander, eyes dark, face cold.

He looked different than what he’d seen last time. Butcher hadn’t lied; his hair was trimmed. It still was thick enough that Hughie could run his hands through it if he had wanted to, and oh man how he wanted to. He must’ve really lost some brain cells because all Hughie couldn’t think about was running his hands through Butcher’s hair. And maybe touching his beard. Holy fuck, Butcher’s beard was trimmed. He looked fresher, like maybe he was primping himself up for somebody. And all Hughie wanted to do was rub his cheek against his, maybe feel the scrape of his beard between his thighs. All Hughie wanted was to hear Butcher say his name. To have him look at him. 

Hughie blinked. Fuck, what the absolute fuck? Hughie rubbed his face and sat up. He should probably get up soon, get away from Homelander. Maybe now that Butcher was here, Hughie could sneak off into the streets and hide while they solved their shit. 

“I didn’t think you’d come,” Homelander said, pleasantly surprised.

“You wouldn’t have pulled this fucking bullshit if you thought I wouldn’t,” Butcher replied.

“Ah, well, the best plans really do go well.”

Butcher didn’t laugh. He had the gun trained on Homelander. “Give me one good fuckin’ reason why I shouldn’t pull the fucking trigger now and get this hell show over with.”

“Your wife’s murder will never be solved,” Homelander said. “And you’ll go to prison for the rest of your life.”

“Self-defense,” Butcher reasoned. 

“You think this one can lie on the stand?” Homelander asked, nudging Hughie with his shoe. Homelander laughed, looking back at Butcher. Hughie slowly got to his feet. “I also don’t think conjugal visits count for queers, so you’ll never get to see him again.”

“Equal rights are equal rights,” Butcher said. 

“Marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Hughie rolled his eyes and looked at his counter space. Oh cool, the drying rack. Maybe Hughie could do something.

“Marriage, you fuckin’ twat, is between two fuckin’ people that fuckin’ love each other, and you wouldn’t know the first fuckin’ thing ‘bout it ‘cause you’re a fuckin’ cunt who’s never felt anything other than sadistic glee.”

“Maybe so,” Homelander said, “but I’m right after all.”

Hughie picked something up and turned to Homelander. “Hey man, go be a homophobic bitch somehere else.”

Homelander turned towards Hughie. “I—”

Hughie slammed a frying pan into Homelander’s head. The man fell, head hitting the kitchen table, and landing on the floor.

“Hughie, what the fuck!” Butcher shouted, lowering his gun. 

“I stopped him, didn’t I?” Hughie asked, lowering the pan. He poked his foot into Homelander’s side. That bitch was out cold. “We should probably call the cops or something.”

Butcher pocketed his gun and rubbed his face. “I fuckin’ can’t with you.” Butcher laughed. “Fuckin’ hell, Hughie. You knocked the most dangerous man upside the head with a fuckin’ pancake pan!”

“He was gonna murder me!”

Butcher laughed again. “I’ll call Raynor.”


 

When the adrenaline faded and the cops finally came, Hughie’s head was a lot clearer. The whole bizarre situation fucked Hughie in the head sideways. Fucking hell, he really was about to get murdered by Homelander. Hughie wasn’t even sure if Butcher being there was going to stop it or not. Either way, Hughie almost died, and that fucking sucked. There were way more things Hughie wanted to be doing with his life: living in his own place, getting a job that he liked, maybe settling down with someone that actually wanted him. He knew the “clarity” he had right now was just the endorphins of being alive and the relief of not getting murdered making him manic, but still, Hughie hoped he’d follow through with getting his life fucking together one way or another.

Butcher talked with the cops. Someone checked Hughie over for a concussion (thankfully he didn’t have one.) Homelander was in cuffs and escorted out of the facilities soon after. When Hughie was done, he stepped over to Raynor and Butcher. They both glanced at him when he came into their circle, but continued on with their conversation. Hughie began unbuttoning his shirt. 

Butcher blinked. “And I—” Butcher’s eyes kept getting caught in the motions of Hughie’s hands. “I came here ‘cause—”

Hughie’s shirt was half unbuttoned, skin bare to the room.

“Excuse me,” Raynor interrupted, turning to Hughie, “what are you doing?”

Hughie untangled it from his shirt. “Here,” he said, handing her the button cam. “I think there should be plenty of footage for the prosecutors or whatever on here.” Raynor took the camera and the wire attached.

Both of them looked at Hughie in surprise. “You wired yourself?” Raynor asked, disbelief clear in her voice.

Hughie shrugged. “I was pretty sure Homelander was gonna come for me. I didn’t want to be another unsolved murder.”

“Fuckin’ hell, Hughie.”

“Thanks,” Raynor said. “We’ll take this back to the station.”

“Cool.” Hughie gestured to the door. “Will you’ll be here for much longer?”

“Uh…” Raynor scanned the room, considering Hughie and Butcher themselves, and said, “no, probably not.”

“Great.”

When it was time for them to go, Hughie escorted them to the door. Butcher stood behind him as Hughie said goodbye to the police and Butcher did some weird nonverbal farewell with Raynor. Butcher did not leave with them. It was unspoken between them. Butcher was staying, even if just for a moment to talk alone. Hughie closed and locked the door. Then he sat down in the hall.

He didn’t want to go back near the kitchen, Hughie already knew that. The couches were too close to the kitchen. The kitchen was too haunted right now. Maybe in the morning it wouldn’t be so scary, but right now, it was. He didn’t want to take Butcher into his room. There were too many implications there and Hughie wasn’t about to fall into old bad habits. He wanted good habits. He wanted to be good. So, hallway it was.

“The fuck are you doin’ down there?”

“Sit down with me,” Hughie said, but it felt more like a question. He wasn’t looking at Butcher.

Butcher stood there for a moment, shifting, then sat down across from Hughie. Their two legs were almost touching, spread across the hall space. Hughie rubbed at his eyes, more than a little tired. There was silence between them. Good. It wasn’t time for Butcher to command the scene, but for Hughie. It was time for Hughie to speak. To fucking speak. Fuck, how was he going to fucking start?

He laughed. It was a broken laugh, one that many felt when they’d almost fallen down the stairs or got hit by a train. Hughie laughed like a man that had almost died, but not quite. “He really was going to kill me,” Hughie said.

“I know,” Butcher replied, voice quiet. He was staring at Hughie, watching his every move. Maybe he was drinking him in, seeing as much as he could because he didn’t know if he’d ever see him again. Hughie already knew the answer to that.

“He said some fucked up things,” Hughie told him. “About your wife. She—well, she—”

“Hughie, you don’t have to be the one to tell me,” Butcher said. “Raynor will let me see the tapes later.”

“No, I want you to know now.” Hughie cleared his throat. “You need to get your own fucking closure before we can—before you and I—fuck.” Hughie sighed. “No conversation between or about us will matter if you don’t get to know what happened to your wife. You are unable to step away from it, I know that.”

“I’m sorry, Hughie.”

“Don’t be fucking sorry,” Hughie snapped, venom in his mouth. “One of the things that I lov—like about you, Billy, is that you care so fucking much for others even if you won’t fucking admit it. I am almost positive if Homelander had murdered me tonight, you’d never get over it. You’d always want to know what happened to me even if we’re not together. Even if you don’t—”

“Hughie, I care—”

“Your wife,” Hughie said, a little loud, mostly trying to return the conversation to its first point. “She jumped out of a window before he could do much to her. She knew what he’d do to her and saved herself from torture.”

Butcher looked down at his lap, hand going to his jaw, rubbing it. “Fuck.”

“I probably would’ve done the same,” Hughie told him.

Butcher cursed again, but nodded. “Thank you for…thank you for telling me what—what happened to her.”

“You needed to know.”

Butcher nodded.

It felt like his skeleton had disappeared. Hughie slumped against the wall and looked up at the dim light above. Fuck. Now what? His ass was starting to hurt from sitting on the hard floor already. 

“Hughie,” Butcher started. They both looked at each other. “He knew I was gonna come for you when he broke out.”

“Yeah?”

“You missed the rest of that fucking interview,” Butcher told him. “Homelander saw right through me and knew I cared about you a whole fucking more than I intended to—shit, did you really think I didn’t care at all?”

“I mean…”

Butcher laid a hand on Hughie’s ankle. “Hughie, fuckin’ hell, I fucking—fuck, why is this so much fucking easier in a call?”

“It’s easier to say things you don’t mean when you don’t have to look them in the eye.”

“Fuck you, Hughie, I care about you,” Butcher said, voice firm, eyes glued to his. “I said I’d fucking wait for you, and I’d fucking do it you needed it. I’d do whatever the fuck it takes to show you that I care about you. I’d even go so far as to say I’m in lo—”

Hughie lunged across the hall and covered Butcher’s mouth with his hand. He was on his knees, leaning over Butcher. “Don’t say it!” Butcher raised a brow. “Don’t say it, I’m not—we’re not ready for that. We’re not even—” Butcher licked his hand. Hughie let him go. 

He started to pull back but Butcher reached out and grabbed him by the arms, pulling him closer. Butcher widened his legs and Hughie put his knees on either side of Butcher’s leg. Butcher pulled him so he sat down on his thigh. Then Butcher reached up to hold Hughie’s face. His hands were warm. It had been a long time since someone held him like this, since Butcher held him like this. 

“I want to have a proper go of it,” Butcher told him. “I want us, Hughie.” Butcher’s thumb rubbed at his cheek.

“I can’t do this if we keep putting only one foot in the door. I can’t go back to that.” Butcher’s other hand ran through Hughie’s hair, calming him. “I was starting to fall for you, so please fucking…” Hughie shut his eyes. “I’m sorry, please just—tell me that it will be real this time. Tell me that we are together.”

“Hughie,” Butcher said, voice soft, “I want us to be together. I never want to let you go again.”

Hughie nodded, eyes still closed. He felt Butcher sit up and pull him closer. He ran a hand along Hughie’s throat and jaw then back up to his cheek. Hughie let his own hands come up to touch Butcher’s leather coat. His hands curled around his shoulders.

Hughie’s eyes parted slightly. Butcher was watching him, eyes hooded. Their faces were incredibly close now. Hughie could feel Butcher’s breath on his lips. Hughie’s tongue swiped along his bottom lip, anticipating. Butcher saw this, brown eyes darkening. He pulled Hughie even closer. Their lips touched.

They kissed slowly, tentatively. And then their hunger and their yearning got the better of them. Hughie reached up to hold Butcher by the back of his head, eyes falling, pulling him closer, shifting onto Butcher’s lap even more so they could press against one another. Butcher held Hughie by the jaw, thumb rubbing at bone, his tongue dancing along Hughie’s. There was a gentleness to Butcher’s kisses even if Hughie felt devoured by him. Butcher kissed like the only way to keep living was through Hughie. His head felt floaty, exhausted, rushed, all sorts of feelings that never made sense, but made perfectly good feelings bubble within him when he was pressed against the man he wanted.

Butcher broke the kiss to tell Hughie, “I do think I’ll love you.”

“You’re saying it too soon,” Hughie said. Maybe he whined it. It didn’t fucking matter. Not when Hughie’s crotch was pressed against Butcher’s thigh and when Butcher kept making hungry noises for more kisses. 

“In another six fuckin’ months, it’ll be the same. In another century, I’ll still love you,” Butcher told him, voice more raw, more honest than Hughie himself would’ve believed. He never thought Butcher could feel that way about him, but here he was, clearly and absolutely head over heels for Hughie.

They kissed again.

They made out on the hallway floor for as long as Butcher’s ass and Hughie’s knees could take. Then they were standing up and Butcher was mouthing at his neck against the wall, and Hughie was making needy sounds like a virgin who’d never gotten their hand held before, much less felt the touch of a man that wanted you. Butcher’s jacket came off and Hughie’s shirt was unbuttoned again. Was there more to talk about? Probably. Was Hughie okay with them making out instead? Most definitely. 

There wasn’t an emptiness inside of him anymore. Hughie knew Butcher wanted him, really wanted him. He knew Butcher cared about him, maybe even loved him. He knew he felt the same. He knew he never wanted to leave ever again. 

Besides, they weren’t going to fuck right now. It was more obvious than a confession on tape that what Butcher and Hughie were about to do wasn’t just a simple fuck. No, there was more this time. Way fucking more.

Hughie grasped Butcher and kissed the fucking shit out of him. The only thing that was empty right now was his ass, and Hughie knew just the cure.

Hughie, still kissing Butcher, pulled him along and into his bedroom, flicking on the light, and peeling away from the man to look at his room. “I’m sorry,” Hughie told him. “My bed is tiny.”

Butcher nuzzled his neck. The beard tickled skin. Hughie shivered; he hadn’t felt that in so long, he’d missed it. “I don’t care,” Butcher murmured, kissing the skin there, “Hughie, all I want is you.”

Hughie turned around and kissed him, pulling the damn beautiful man by his ears to Hughie. Butcher smiled into the kiss. Hughie felt it settle into his chest, the warmth, the closeness. Hughie reached down to unbuckle Butcher’s pants. Butcher got to work on Hughie’s shirt. They undressed each other slowly, thoroughly, touching whatever skin they could find. Hughie felt Butcher’s hands all over him. Butcher must’ve felt him just as much. The two of them were leaving themselves on one another. Neither could say they were without the other now.

Butcher and Hughie got onto the bed. Hughie snagged the lube and laid down on the pillows. Fuck, his bed really was too tiny. Still, Butcher got on top of him either way, kissing him on the lips, the jaw, the neck, collarbone, and down his chest. Hughie relaxed into the bed. He felt surrounded by Butcher, warmed by him. Both of them were hard, but that wasn’t really the point here. The point was the touch of skin, the glide of lips on one another, the breath shared. The point was they wouldn’t stop touching the other and Hughie could settle into this feeling forever. The point was Butcher was here, with him, now, forever and always it seemed. 

Butcher whispered soft things into Hughie’s skin as he fingered him open. Hughie was getting heavy, lulling in a way he recognized and wasn’t afraid to greet. He was safe here, like this, with Butcher taking care of him, with Butcher focused all on him, with him focused on Butcher. Nothing mattered but being in each other’s arms.

When Butcher slid into him, wet and loose and all for Butcher, they were kissing. The roll of their hips was slow, sensual, natural. They moved to a rhythm not set by either one. They moved against one another the just felt fucking good. Hughie’s hands ran up and down Butcher’s chest, nails scratching at his lower abdomen in a way that made Butcher’s hips jolt and his breath stutter. Butcher’s thumb rubbed along Hughie’s throat in a way that kept him red and flushed. Their mouths pressed and touched and moved against one another in a way that made their lips puffy and their tongues loose.

“Billy,” Hughie murmured, eyes falling shut when Butcher ground into that spot inside of him, the one that made him all melty. “Billy, please.”

“Yeah?” Butcher asked, sucking a mark into his neck and doing it again and again. Hughie moaned. “Feel good?”

“Please,” Hughie mumbled. His arms wrapped around Butcher’s neck and pulled him closer. Butcher’s weight settled more heavily on top of him. “Please…”

“You’re so good,” Butcher said, “so good for me.”

He keened.

Butcher’s lips came onto his. They kissed, they rolled their hips, and they moaned. Hughie’s legs wrapped around Butcher’s hips, driving him closer into him, keeping him settled, flushed against Hughie’s ass. It felt so good, maybe too good. All Hughie knew was that his chest felt like it could crack open and love would come spilling out, but that was okay, it was more than okay, because Butcher would be there to hold him, to kiss him, to love him.

“Are you gonna cum for me, my dear?” Butcher asked, rocking into him a little harder. 

Hughie mewled. “Y-yeah…”

“Yeah?” Butcher did something with his hips. Either way, it made Hughie tighten around him. Fuck. “Yeah, gonna make a nice and pretty mess all over yourself? Just for me?”

Hughie nodded. 

“Come on then,” Butcher chuckled. “Cum for me, darling.”

Hughie ran his hands through Butcher’s hair, tugging at the strands. “Need you…need you to do it, Billy.”

Butcher’s hips rocked a little hard. He smiled at Hughie. It was a smile of surprise, of relief, of eagerness. Butcher wrapped a hand around Hughie’s cock and rubbed a thumb at the head. “Knew you would. My good boy.” Butcher kissed him again. “Cum for me, cum for me, Hughie.” He twisted his wrist.

Hughie fell into it, moaning into Butcher’s mouth, body strung tight then collapsing, nails sharp at Butcher’s back. Butcher groaned back, tight grip on Hughie. He felt the familiar wetness inside of him, a present just for him. Hughie and Butcher slumped back into the bed, heads foggy, warmth circled around one another.

 He started crying.

Butcher sat up slightly. He tried to pull out of Hughie, concern in his eyes, but Hughie tightened his legs around his hips and pulled Butcher back in. Butcher reached up to brush Hughie’s hair out of his face. “What’s wrong?” he asked, voice gentle. The tears, hot and sticky puddled at his eyes.

“Are you going to—” Hughie looked away and up at the ceiling. “Ar—are you going to—to take care of me this time?” Hughie wiped at his one eye. His throat felt like it was going crush itself. He couldn’t look at Butcher.

Butcher made a shushing sound and reached out, wiping at his other eye. He pressed a brief and chaste kiss on Hughie’s lips. “Yes, yes—fuck, Hughie. Yes, I’m sorry about before.”

Hughie nodded slightly, but still couldn’t look at him.

Butcher tilted him down by the chin, making Hughie look at him. His eyes were soft brown, molten, adoring, all for Hughie, all for him. “I will always take care of you. Understand?”

Hughie understood.

Butcher pressed kissed across Hughie’s face, at his chin, his lips, his cheeks, the tip of his nose, his forehead, and even near his eyes. Each kiss settled something in Hughie. Butcher’s hands soothed along his arms, chest, hips, neck, anywhere he could reach. They settled into the bed, curled around one another, legs tangled, Butcher still pressed inside of him. Hughie’s emotional tornado settled into something easy and soft, something that could last him a year in warmth.

Butcher held him throughout it all, murmuring little praises, little endearments. They kissed lazily, comforting against one another. Their breathing evened into something gentle, something mirrored. Hughie could’ve fallen asleep like that, in Butcher’s arms, in his love, in his tiny ass bed with only one blanket to share. In fact, they did fall asleep like that. And what a long, peaceful sleep it was to be surrounded by the one you loved.

And when they woke up the next morning, the sun pouring through Hughie’s curtains and the sounds of the city drumming away, Butcher had only one question to ask Hughie. “Are you going to go on a damn date with me or not?”

And there was only one answer to that of course.

“Yes.”

The End