Hey there! This is a story that was inspired by two great buddies of mine, Any and Sandra, and, gee, guys, thank you so much forb giving me the opportunity to write this! :)
Disclaimer´s, of course, the same as always, I own the crazy one, the comic-named one, the couple and the dead, but NOT the cutie pies... Gee, life sucks, doesn´t it? *sigh*
The WARNING is that this gets really sorta dark near the ending, though the ending itself could be called kinda... happy... I think. :)
A special THANK YOU goes to LisaG for her continous support, encouragement and sweet reviews! You always make my day, you do! :)
David Starsky was in a bad mood and not only a 'Monday morning, Hutch´s car to work, out of peanut butter'-bad mood, but a real, REAL bad mood.
Jumping from where he´d been rummaging through Hutch´s fridge, Starsky shot his partner a dirty look. "Man! Don´t do this to me!"
Laughing, Hutch continued his way from the shower to the bedroom, whistling happily to himself. That didn´t exactly improve his grumpy friend´s mood.
"You know, you oughta consider having your ears checked out!" Starsky called after him, hands still on the open fridge door. "I´ve been here for five minutes now!"
"So what?" came the answer from the bedroom, where Hutch wondered when his floor had been promoted to wardrobe.
"'So what'?!" Starsky replied, grabbing something out of the fridge without looking, and approached the bedroom. "It coulda been anyone! Don´t you think you should have at least asked who it was when you heard someone open the door?"
"Well," Hutch answered in a muffled voice from where he was shuffling through the mess of clothes, trying to find something to wear, "I figured that since no one came in and shot me, it had to be you."
Leaning against the door-frame, Starsky rolled his eyes. "That´s not funny, Hutch."
Mouth open to shoot back a reply, the blond looked up, froze--and arched his brows in mock confusion. "Uh, probably not. Buddy, what are you doing with my plant?"
Glancing down at the thing he´d produced from the fridge, Starsky almost let it crash down, startled. "Urgh. What the hell´s this?!" Wrinkling his nose, he outstretched his arm, so that Hutch could release him from his greenish-brownish-bluish burden.
"A plant, Gordo," Hutch replied, stroking the limp, cracked leaves tenderly.
"Don´t say. What are you doing with a plant in your fri... Oh God, you´re not gonna... Hutch, no offence, but tell me you´re gonna cook this thing, I´m outta here."
Hutch stared at him for a few moments, then lifted the plant so it was next to his face and gingerly pointed at Starsky. "See, that´s the guy I told you about. Hm?" He lifted his brows questioningly, turning his ear to a particularly large leaf, and nodded. "Yeah, I know. But you get used to him."
"Ha, ha," Starsky muttered.
"She likes you," Hutch grinned, put the plant aside and finally found a clean shirt to wear.
"Oh yeah?" his partner replied, turning for the kitchen again. "I think it´s ugly."
Following him, plant in hand, Hutch chuckled, "That´s okay, she thinks you are too."
"Your plants get nicer every day."
Before the grumpy man had another chance to examine the contents of his partner's fridge, Hutch had already passed him and carefully put the plant back, not forgetting to stroke it once more, then closed the door.
"Hutch," Starsky started, the relief of finally having found a target for his sour mood audible in his voice, "I know I don´t wanna hear this, but why do you have a plant in your fridge?"
"She´s sick," the blond replied, grabbing two cups. "Want coffee?"
"Uh... yeah," Starsky answered slowly, his gaze focused on the closed fridge door. "Sick?"
Hutch nodded matter-of-factly, while pouring his friend a cup of coffee. "Yep." A shrug followed as he leant against his breakfast bar, cup in hand. "She gets this from time to time and somehow cold helps." Another shrug. "Don´t know why. But it works."
"And you think that´s healthy?" Starsky asked doubtfully.
"Told you, it works. Two more days and she´s gonna be as good as n-"
"Not the plant, dummy, you!" Starsky cut him off, rolling his eyes.
"What d´you mean?"
The smaller man blinked, tilting his head to the right slightly. "Hutch, you´re having a plant carrying a disease next to your food. You think that´s healthy? Not that," he added, gesturing with his free hand, "It´d make a difference CONSIDERING your food, but still-"
"Oh, no, don´t worry," Hutch smiled, "I don´t have food in there. See," for a proof, he opened the fridge briefly again, "just beer."
Starsky bent down to stare inside, then peeked up at Hutch. "You don´t eat when your plant´s sick?"
Hutch shrugged. "Nothing that´d have to be in the fridge."
"`Cause I got a plant in there that´s carrying a disease, Gordo. That´d be kinda risky, wouldn´t it?"
Starsky stared at his friend for a second, looking very much as if he had to restrain himself from committing a crime, then leaped up onto the breakfast bar, shoving Hutch aside a little. "I´m hungry," he stated, putting his coffee away so he could open one of the drawers next to his head. "Where´re my Choco Crunchs?"
With a deep sigh, Hutch produced the half-full bag of brownish balls from where he kept it hidden in a far drawer and handed it to his partner.
Grinning, Starsky opened it and inhaled. "First good thing today," he informed Hutch, looking up to ask for, "Mil...", only to realize that milk didn´t belong to the inhabitants of the Hutchinson fridge any longer.
"Sorry," the blond said apologetically, sipping at his coffee.
"Damn that plant," Starsky mumbled, grasping a handful of Choco Crunchs to shove them into his mouth.
"Hey, watch it, buddy," Hutch warned.
"Fy?" Starsky muttered through his chewing. "Ifn´t fe fritch `oor foundproof?"
Glancing at his friend, Hutch smiled slightly. "What´s with you today, anyway? You seemed in pretty good mood when I left the bar last night."
Swallowing down the dry cereal, Starsky made a face, quickly slid from the breakfast bar to open the fridge again and--with great care as to not get near the patient in there--produced a bottle of root beer. After a long gulp, he looked around briefly. "Got a bowl?"
Frowning, but complying to turn around to get one from his drawer, Hutch asked, "So what happened? That cute little blonde had to get up early? What was her name again?" Turning again, he handed his friend a small bowl.
Twisting the corners of his mouth in an annoyed grimace, Starsky accepted it, filled it with the Choco Crunchs and--to Hutch´s visible dismay--poured the root beer over it. "Spoon?" he commanded.
Hutch just stared. "You´re disgusting."
"I´m hungry," Starsky corrected, drew open a drawer, got his spoon and could finally start eating, Hutch watching him with awe and a seemingly frozen wrinkling of his nose.
"Keri," the curly haired man said after a second, while climbing up on his favorite spot on Hutch´s breakfast bar again. "Her name was Keri, and she´s married."
"Double-ouch. She was waiting for her boyfriend."
"She has a husband and a boyfriend?" Hutch asked.
"But not you?"
"Wow, that hurt, huh?" the blond asked in a mixture of honest sympathy and pure amusement, earning an annoyed glance. Chuckling, he patted his friend´s knee. "C´mon, lighten up. She wasn´t THAT cute, anyway."
"Denying the truth´s not gonna help," Starsky sighed, finishing his root beer-cereals. "That was the THIRD woman I met this weekend who was otherwise engaged and just wanted to talk to a nice guy." Casting the taller man a sad sick puppy dog look, he sighed again. "Face it, buddy, somethin´s happening. We´re getting old. Women don´t think of us as available fun anymore. Suddenly, we´re just 'nice guys'!"
Shifting his head slightly to the right as if thinking, Hutch frowned, then repeated, "Uh... WE?"
Starsky looked at him and said quietly, "Hutch, you´re having a relation-ship with a plant."
"Why am I listening to this?" the blond asked as if to himself, blinking upwards. Turning, he put his empty coffee cup away. "C´mon, oldtimer, or we´re gonna be late for work."
Sliding to the floor, Starsky followed, but stopped at the fridge and, looking after Hutch, peeked inside again, shaking his head.
"Starsky! Leave her alone and come on!"
"Yeah, yeah," the smaller man muttered and hurried after his partner.
They were called to a murder scene before they´d even arrived at Metro. A male body had been found in an alley nearby.
That wasn´t exactly spectacular, yet a huge crowd of passer-bys blocking the view from the main street had formed all over the crime scene, and the unis were having problems keeping the sensational-seeking people at bay.
Once the two detectives approached the actual scene, they understood.
"Suddenly I´m so glad I skipped breakfast," Hutch muttered at the sight that met them. Taking in a deep breath to brace himself for the closer examination of the body, sensing Starsky next to him doing the samething. A quick, assuring glance was exchanged, before they started their work.
The victim had been in his early thirties, good looking. Smooth, boyish features matched short black curls that fell over his closed eyes. He was completely naked and had been nailed to the wooden backdoor of a small shop. Apart from the dried blood around the wounds on his spread arms and his feet, where the nails had been forced into his flesh, there were words carved into his bare chest, barely readable due to the blood covering them. Other injuries weren´t visible, no bruises nor cuts.
"What´s that?" Starsky asked, squinting his eyes to read the bloody message on the body. "Can you read this?"
"'I'," Hutch started, taking a tentative step closer. "'I something him.' Looks like a f."
"Or a t," Starsky nodded. "Have to wait for the autopsy."
"Yeah," Hutch replied, giving a small sigh as he caught his friend´s glance. "So that´s two."
"Yep," the smaller man said quietly and turned. "Fuck."
Only three days ago, a murder had shaken up the city by its cruelty, its horror movie style. The young man had been nailed onto a wooden door with his arms spread out, his throat cut, the word "FAG" carved into his back in large letters.
The door had been found leaning against the front door of a local bar that was known to be preferred by homosexuals.
"Someone called Peterson and Lynn?" Starsky asked one of the unis, referring to the two detectives who investigated the 'door-murder'.
The officer nodded, and Starsky returned to his partner who was still trying to figure out the word in the middle of the short sentence.
"I think it´s 'forgive'," he said as Starsky´s approaching.
"'I forgive him'? That´s sick."
"No doubt `bout it," Hutch replied. They stood in silence for a few moments, before finally driving to the precinct.
"Hey Hutch," Starsky called out for his partner when he re-entered the squad room a few hours later after a visit to the candy machine. "Just met Lynn, and you were right, it´s 'forgive'. Here´s the autopsy report."
Looking up from his own report he was busy writing, Hutch frowned at the thin file in Starsky´s hands. "What are you doing with it? It´s not our case."
"Huh? Oh, I just, uhm... Hm." Now frowning himself, Starsky glanced outside the window door as if looking after Lynn, then back at the file. "She just gave it to me. Guess I forgot to ask why."
"You forgot to ask why?"
"Yeah," Starsky said matter-of-factly. "Hey, did you know Lynn´s neither married nor engaged?"
"Starsk, you two were seeing each other like a month ago. I sorta figured she didn´t marry in the meantime."
"Oh. Right." Thinking, Starsky studied the ceiling for a moment, before asking, "I wonder why I broke up with her. She´s great."
"Hm. Maybe the fact that she suggested breaking up had something to do with it," Hutch said sarcastically, snatching the file out of his partner´s hands, ignoring the look he received for the comment, but added, "You know, you´re always a pushover when it comes to women."
Just about to shoot back a reply, Starsky almost fell from the table he´d sat down on, when Dobey suddenly burst into the room. "Hutchinson! Starsky! In my office!"
While Hutch stood to follow his captain, Starsky slid carefully to his feet, rubbing his ears, trotting behind.
"Close the door," Dobey ordered, taking his usual position behind his desk while Hutch sat down in front of it. Watching the smaller detective making a big show out of rubbing his ears more, Dobey rolled his eyes. "Starsky, would you please?" he asked impatiently, pointing at the second chair next to Hutch´s.
When Starsky sat too, the captain looked from one to the other briefly, and informed them that "I´m putting you on the door-case."
The detectives exchanged a quick glance. "On both murders?" Hutch asked.
Dobey nodded. "To Peterson and Graydon, it´s obvious that it´s the same killer."
"And why don´t they keep the case?" Starsky asked.
"Both victims were gay," the captain replied. "And obviously that was the motive too. According to Peterson and Graydon´s file, both men were regulars at the "Bird of Prey"."
The "Bird of Prey" was the bar the first victim had been found at.
"Someone out there is killing homosexuals," Hutch asked, "and he makes a point out of presenting his actions as... a sign? Yes?"
"That´s what they think," Dobey replied.
"Okay," Starsky nodded, "and why don´t they keep the case then?"
"Because it would be a good idea to investigate on this from the inside," the captain answered. "You two are on an undercover assignment."
"Okay," Starsky nodded again, nervousness visibly edging its way forward on his face, "but why don´t they do this undercover assignment, since it´s their case?"
Shooting his partner an amused look, Hutch replied, "I guess they think Lynn might not quite fit into this particular scene."
The curly haired man looked at his friend, then at his captain, then back. And shook his head. "No way."
Two pairs of eyebrows climbed up, while two pairs of eyes watched him questioningly.
Looking from one to the other desperately, Starsky whined, "I don´t wanna be gay," before stopping to listen to his words. "That didn´t come out exactly like I´d planned it."
Hutch stifled a chuckle, exchanging a glance with Dobey, who frowned. "This is an order, Starsky. You´re an undercover cop on an undercover mission."
"Aw, pleeeaaase. Why can´t Hutch do it alone?" he suddenly suggested, obviously relieved by that idea. "I´ll be the... straight back-up."
"What?" the blond asked, turning to look at his partner.
"Starsky," Dobey sighed.
The smaller man´s shoulders slumped. "Sometimes I hate my job, you know that?"
Rolling his eyes, Hutch looked back at Dobey. "We´re on."
Feeling their gazes on him again, Starsky gave an exasperate gesture. "Yeah, we´re on," he repeated unenthusiastically.
Hutch grinned, patting his shoulder. "Buddy, don´t worry, I´ll be there to watch your ass. Uh, back."
"That´s NOT funny, Hutch!" Starsky replied, jerking away. "I´m nervous already. I don´t feel comfortable around... uh..."
"They´re just men who don´t see women, buddy," Hutch explained, hesitated and added matter-of-factly, "You know what? That definition would make you gay too."
"Oh you´re one to talk! Last time you had a date, Kennedy was still president. `Sides-"
"Would you two mind?!" Dobey barked, and instant silence filled the room.
"Thank you," he added, his amusement well hidden behind gruffness as he muttered "Maybe I should ask two adults to do the job," before waving his men off. "You can go then."
"Okay," Hutch nodded and was about to stand up, when Starsky´s voice held him back again.
"Uh... We don´t have to do this as a couple, do we?"
For the third time that day, he was the target of two blank glances and squirmed under them. "I mean... Hutch, we don´t... For the cover story, we won´t pretend to be... you know."
Glancing from his partner to Dobey, Hutch stated in a tone that made his captain almost burst out with laugher, "Wow, I think I´m actually hurt."
"I mean," Starsky continued, gesturing wildly, "just because we´re ga... pretending to be gay, doesn´t mean we´ve to be together, right? There are gay singles too, right? Like just because people are straight, doesn´t mean they´re automatically with someone."
"Or very lucky at finding someone," Hutch nodded, grinning at his partner´s expression.
"Whatever you do is fine with me," Dobey said, exasperated, but stopped when suddenly he was met by two pairs of questioning eyes. "I mean..." Trailing of, he cleared his throat, then added, "Just get that lunatic. I´ve been talking to the press all morning, trying to convince them we´re not letting this go by uninvestigated because of the police´s position in those matters."
Suddenly very serious, Starsky frowned, "They believe that?"
"No, but they want the people to believe it," the captain answered, his voice shadowed by anger.
Hutch nodded sadly. "Hate sells."
"Okay," Starsky broke the short silence that followed, heading for the door, "c´mon, partner, we got work to do. I ain´t gonna take you nowhere dressed like this."
With that, he was out, leaving Hutch behind to exchange an unsure glance with Dobey, before he too stood.
"You boys have fun," the captain called after him.
"That´s so funny, Cap´n," Hutch replied and closed the door.
Hutch noticed the sudden shadow rushing over Starsky´s features as they sat on their desks, going through the files Peterson and Lynn had sent them to get into the case. "Buddy? You okay?" he asked, frowning slightly.
"Huh?" Starsky´s head snapped up, the remains of his shock about what he´d just read slowly leaving his eyes to leave thick, dark sadness behind. "Yeah. Sure. Just... I just read the autopsy report on Guinn."
Harold Guinn had been the first victim, 26. They would split the cases in order to get better ground for comparisons.
"He was raped," Starsky continued. "Shortly before his death. Or... while he was dying."
Hutch felt himself paling. "Oh." He swallowed dryly.
"Yeah. Oh. How `bout Larson? Anything like that in the report?"
Quickly searching for the information, Hutch waggled with his hand for an answer. "Maybe. They found large amounts of sedatives in his system. And there´s evidence that he did have sex the night before, but no signs of a fight or struggles. But then-"
"He might have been out while..." Starsky finished, running a hand over his face. "Oh man."
"You can say that again," Hutch muttered, feeling emotionally exhausted. They were used to cases that tore at their nerves, but this rarely displayed hate, this madness, had caught them both off-guard. "You know," the blond started after a moment, an idea hitting him, "they both were attractive kids."
"And if they both were raped-"
"You think the killer´s homosexual himself?" the smaller man asked, frowning as if thinking. "Good idea. Maybe he never accepted that."
"Yeah," Hutch nodded. "Was brought up thinking that it´s evil to be that way."
"That would explain the nailing down. Like a ritual." A pause followed, before Starsky frowned again, "But what do the carvings mean? First 'fag', that´s rather despiteful. And then forgiveness? And who forgave whom? I don´t get it."
Hutch shrugged. "The first time, he wanted to kill that kid. Because of who he was. He himself. Maybe those messages are not for us or the victims. Maybe they´re for him."
His partner lifted his head slowly, distress flickering through his eyes. "And now he forgave himself?"
The blond just looked at him.
"Scary," Starsky stated.
"Terrifying," Hutch agreed and checked his watch. "Ya know what, I need a drink. C´mon, honey, I´m buying."
Starsky´s gaze followed him without dragging the body along for a moment. "Didn´t we discuss the couple-thing?" he asked, exasperated, though most of it was fake. The case was visibly tearing at Hutch´s nerves, and the easy banters never failed to ease his mind.
"So?" the blond asked, rising his brows. "You´re a free agent, pal. Get used to it."
They were taking the LTD to the "Bird of Prey", since with Starsky´s Torino there was always the risk of being recognized. It wasn´t that they were commonly known in that particular drug scene, but you could never know.
As always when he´d been forced into his partner´s car, Starsky leant back carefully as if he was sure to be met with litter whenever he moved, letting a disgusted look wander over the interior of the battered car.
Following his action from out of the corners of his eyes, Hutch smirked. He could almost sense his friend´s nervousness rise, and actually it didn´t surprise him. Starsky wasn´t fond of undercover things in those areas of society, and not because he was truly taken aback by it, but because it was one of the very rare occasions that he felt uneasy, that he didn´t know how to behave, how to play this.
But then it was one of the very rare occasions that his partner´s distress actually amused Hutch.
"Maybe we shoulda taken the tomato after all," he said, breaking the tensed silence that up until now had only contained the noises of Starsky shifting on his seat in order to avoid strange looking spots on the material.
Shooting the grinning blond a glance, the curly haired man frowned deeply. "Watch it, pal. Say one word `bout my car, and I´ll give out your address to the highest bidder."
Chuckling, Hutch waggled his brows. "Bidder? Should I be flattered?"
"Will you cut this out?" Starsky replied desperately. "I´m nervous!"
"It´s just a job, Starsk."
"Yeah, but we really have to stay there. Not just talk to people and go, but stay there. Undercover," he added miserably. "Undercover and gay bar don´t mix in my vocabulary."
Hutch couldn´t help but laugh as he patted his shoulder assuringly. "You can do this, buddy. Just be sure to be prepared," he grinned evilly. "For, uh, interrogations."
"Sometimes I just hate you, you know that?"
Laughing even louder, Hutch drew his hand back. "Men have tried to hit on you before, Starsky. `Sno big deal. You just say no and stroll along. We only want to find out about Guinn and Larson. Besides," he added, that grin making a re-appearance, "you severed in the Army, you´re naturally trained at this."
Starsky snorted, but a light sparkle visibly flickered through his eyes as he stifled a chuckle. "That´s the Navy, dummy. And it´s such a pathetic cliché, too. It´s like saying all fancy college dudes tried it."
"Well, all FANCY college dudes sure did," Hutch replied, raising his brows in his best 'appalled WASP'-manner.
Now stifling a growing laughter, Starsky blinked at him innocently, "And were you successful?"
Glancing at him, Hutch smirked wryly. "Funny, smart-ass." They both chuckled again, Starsky visibly relaxing, until they turned around the last corner, heading for the "Bird of Prey".
The place seemed crowded, small groups of people stood outside, smoking, chatting.
Starsky drew in a deep breath. "Showtime."
Grinning again, Hutch cast him a mocking warning look. "Remember, tiger, we only want information. Don´t overdo the... show."
"Did I mention already that I hate you?" Starsky replied, annoyed. "I don´t know why I´m the nervous one here, anyway. The way you dress you´re bound to be target of the day."
"Huh?" Hutch asked, lifting his brows in surprise. "What´s that supposed to mean?"
Watching some of the easy amusement drain from the blond´s face, Starsky presented him with a sweet smile. "Oh. Nothing."
Hutch studied him for a moment. "Okay," he finally muttered, as he drove past the bar to look for a parking place. Feeling Starsky´s gaze still on him, he turned again. "What?"
"Nothin´," his friend winked innocently. "Nothing." A short pause followed, before he spoke again, "Did you notice how many of the guys out there have mustaches?"
His partner blinked, cutting of the engine. When he remained silent, Starsky added, "I mean not that that´s, you know, sorta 'en vogue' among just... them, but..." Trailing off, he grinned brightly as he patted his partner´s knee and opened his door. "C´mon, buddy, let´s go see who collects less numbers."
Deciding to let his friend get away with his payback for now, Hutch followed him, frowning slightly to himself as he brushed a quick finger over his mustache.
Next to him, Starsky grinned.
A small cross had been put on next to the "Bird"´s entrance, Harold Guinn´s photo pinned to it. Flowers surrounded it, a few cards lying on top of them among obviously personal items, a teddy bear, some books, pictures. Candles surrounded the small commemorative place, a few were burning, their dim light seemingly sad as it illuminated the community's shared grief.
The two outsiders exchanged a quick look, their banter forgotten for the moment. Death was the same everywhere. As was violence. The feelings it stirred never differed, no matter what area of society it hit. Not for the ones who suffered. And not for the ones who investigated.
"Hey cutie pie, buy you a drink?"
"Huh?!" Snapping out of his thoughts immediately at the sudden deep voice next to him, Starsky almost jumped to his side into Hutch, when he found himself the object of an unmistakable grin. The man was tall, broad, older than the detective, and the hand he used to gently brush a stray curl out of the smaller man´s forehead seemed twice the size of Starsky´s.
"Never saw you here, did I? I´d sure remember you."
Watching his partner froze on spot, his eyes wide, Hutch quickly grabbed his arm to drag him away. "He´s just out of rehab," he called over his shoulder at the startled customer, shrugging apologetically, while shoving Starsky to the entrance.
"See, buddy?" he asked, hiding a grin. "Everything´s easy. You just say no and stroll alo-"
They were almost inside, when the curly haired detective suddenly planted his feet, causing Hutch to stumble slightly, and turned to head back to the car. "Starsky," Hutch chided, holding him back by his collar.
"I´m outta here."
"No, you´re not," Hutch replied sternly, turning his friend around again. "You´re going in there."
"The hell I do!" Starsky burst out. "I´ve just been violated. I quit."
Rolling his eyes, Hutch stared to shove him forward again. "He didn´t even touch you. Stop whining."
"Yes he did! And he called me 'cutie pie'!" the irritated detective informed the blond, exasperate.
"You call women worse things," Hutch stated. "Now get in there and do your job."
Looking up at his partner angrily, Starsky freed his arm, for once using his own warning finger as he waved it at Hutch. "Okay, I go. But I get touched one more time, I´ll pull my gun."
With that, he stormed inside, throwing the door shut behind him, into Hutch´s nose. Sighing, the blond squeezed his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger.
'Uh, this is gonna be fun.'
"Hey Blondie," a voice behind him sent him turning slightly.
"No," he waved, "not inte-"
"You here with Curly?"
Turning fully at that, Hutch looked at a man his size, black haired and smiling shyly.
"Yeah, I´m..." he started, but at the disappointment sinking in the young brown eyes, a sudden evil grin spread on his lips. "Oh wait, you mean am I WITH him?" he asked, watching the man´s face lighten up expectantly. "No. Just friends."
"Really?" the other one asked happily. "I mean I don´t want to interfere or something. But, gee, he´s a hot-"
"Oh please," Hutch interrupted him, opening the door for him politely. "Be my guest."
'Yep,' he thought, following the younger man inside, stretching to look for Starsky, 'this is gonna be fun.'
The place really was crowded, loud dancing music boomed through the large room, and Hutch stood for a moment just taking in the scenery. He couldn´t help suddenly starting to feel a bit uneasy too, his smile growing very shy when men passing smiled at him. Looking around, he tried to locate Starsky and finally spotted his partner at the bar, obviously busy getting rid of the young guy Hutch had let in.
The nearly desperate expression on Starsky´s face sent a sympathetic frown to the blond´s forehead, though he couldn´t hide his amusement rising again. Slowly making his way through the crowd, he approached his partner, who finally was alone again, clinging to a beer bottle as if for dear life.
"Oh God, Hutch," Starsky greeted him, grabbing his arm to drag him next to himself. "Stay here and don´t move."
Surprised, the blond laughed, spotting already another man who studied his nervous partner appreciatively.
"Looks like you´ll win at collecting numbers this time," he informed Starsky, pointing slightly at the approaching come-on. Shrugging mockingly, he turned to order a beer too, "Should have known a guy can´t lose EVERYWHERE."
Mouth open to shoot back a reply--or rather a curse--Starsky wheeled around when he felt a hand on his shoulder, giving a startled yelp.
"Oh, uh, sorry," the man in front of him apologized with a smile. "I´m Jake. You new here?"
"Yes," Starsky replied, "I´m new, I´m Dave, and THIS," he added quickly, reaching out to Hutch next to him, "is my... partner." His hand found the blond´s back, then at the doubtful frown on Jake´s face, his butt.
Hutch flinched violently, snapping around. "Wha-"
"Kenny," Starsky interrupted him hastily, locking a desperately pleading gaze with Hutch´s, "meet Jake."
"Hey there," Jake greeted him with a disappointed smile before turning to Starsky again. "Partner, huh? Pity."
"Yeah," Starsky laughed nervously, his hand once more on the blond´s butt possessively. "Sorry."
Jake smiled again, lifting his own beer at Hutch. "You lucky pup."
Looking up at the man from where his eyes had wandered over his shoulder down to Starsky´s hand, the blond detective grinned wryly. "You think?"
Inwardly rolling his eyes, Starsky punched his arm with the hand that held his beer. "He´s SUCH a comedian, aren´t you?"
"You know me, honeybunch," Hutch replied, widening his smile at the look to kill he received from his friend.
"Wow, true love," Jake stated friendly. "You two been together long?"
"Yes," Starsky answered the same time Hutch said, "no." Looking at each other, they laughed, Hutch in earnest, Starsky faking it through his growing irritation.
"Actually," Hutch said finally, ignoring his partner´s burning stare, "he just made up his mind." Gesturing a 'you know how they are', he sighed, then laid his arm around Starsky´s shoulders, drawing him closer, inwardly bursting with laughter at his friend´s tension.
"I see," Jake grinned, voice of own experience, and lifted his beer to wave goodbye. "Well, I better let you two love birds alone then. Sorry again."
"Nothing to be sorry for," Hutch assured him, "happens all the time."
They both watched Jake nod and disappear into the crowd. "Whatever happened to 'just because they´re gay doesn´t mean they´re with someone'?" Hutch asked, lifting his arm off his friend´s shoulders.
"I adjusted the theory to reality," his partner replied.
"I see," Hutch nodded in mock seriousness and paused briefly, before speaking again. "Uh, Starsky, would you mind taking your hand away now?"
Eyes focused on the moving crowd as if he was studying an open area of dangerous wild animals, the smaller man shook his head slowly. "That hand stays on your butt until every single guy in here has seen it there. Get used to it."
Rolling his eyes, Hutch grabbed behind himself, peeled Starsky´s hand off of him and placed it onto the bar. Immediately, it was lifted again, fingers curling around Hutch´s arm. "Buddy," Hutch sighed, "we need to get to talk to people."
"Fine, go ahead. I´m right behind."
Slowly getting exasperated, since the thought of spending all night at the place didn´t particularly improve his mood either, Hutch turned to more or less order that they´d split up, when a tall, slender man approached them, making his way through the crowd easily as people stepped aside to make room for him instantly. He was greeted by every single one, slapped on the back affectionately by a few.
"Hey there," he smiled when coming to a halt before the two detectives. "You guys are new, aren´t you? Welcome to the 'Bird of Prey'." Lifting the glass he held, he made a gesture with the other hand, waving at the whole room. "Hope you enjoyed your visit so far."
Since it´d sounded like a question, Hutch opened his mouth to answer, but stopped himself, startled, when he felt a hand on his behind again. Looking down, he spotted Starsky grinning at the stranger.
"Hi, this is Ken, and I´m here with him."
The stranger stared at him for a second, then chuckled. "He´s funny," he told Hutch, who forced himself to laugh grimly, while secretly kicking Starsky´s foot.
Touching his glass to Hutch´s beer bottle, the man introduced himself. "Nylon Caspar, pleased to meet you, Ken and..." Raising his brows at Starsky, he trailed off.
"Dave," Starsky answered, lifting his bottle too. "Pleasure."
"Davey," Nylon smiled, not noting the wince on the curly haired man´s face. "Well," he then asked, "how d´you like my little establishment?"
Surprised, Hutch lifted his brows. "You´re the owner?"
"Yes," Nylon nodded, smiling. "Built it all, together with my partner. Uh," looking over his shoulder, he stretched his neck. "Winston, darling? Do you got a minute?" Turning back to the detectives, he explained with an affectionate chuckle, "Winston´s my better half."
An unsure smile popped up on both the detectives´ faces.
When Nylon turned again, they exchanged a quick look. "Wins... Ah, there he is," the bar owner exclaimed happily, reaching out to lay an arm around a swiftly approaching figure that turned out to be a tall, slim, bald man who was dressed in a bright pink shirt and jeans so snug Starsky´s appeared wide compared to them.
"Ken, Dave," Nylon introduced then, "please meet the sweetest bartender on earth, Winston." With that, he placed a loving kiss on the other one´s cheek.
Hutch felt Starsky´s hand instantly leave his butt. Suppressing a grin, he nodded politely. "Pleasure to meet you. Nice place you have here. How long has it been open now?"
"Oh, yeeeaaars," Winston waved, sending Hutch flinching back a tad, blinking in surprise.
Starsky just stared.
Leaning against his lover, the pink-dressed man continued in a high-pitched, excited voice, "When Nylon and I first met, we KNEW we´d have a bar INSTANTLY. We fit together PERFECTLY."
"Ni-" Hutch started, but was cut off immediately again.
"And we both had the same idea about the name. It´s so... grrr," Winston finished, holding up clawed fingers, before laughing.
Again, Hutch flinched back, feeling Starsky´s fingers interlace with his shirt sleeve briefly. "I-I see. That´s very... original."
"Yeah, it is, isn´t it?" Winston grinned. "We wanted to have an eagle in here too, in a cage, but those party poopers from animal control wouldn´t allow it," he sighed, Nylon patting his shoulder supportively.
"Pity," Starsky mumbled tonelessly. "What this place really needs is an eagle."
"Yeah, doesn´t it?" Winston nodded at him earnestly. "I´m glad you see it like me. Nylon here, he always says I´d forget to FEED it." Throwing his arms in the air dramatically, he shook his head.
A brief silence settled, before Winston all but cried out, causing yet another flinch, of both detectives this time. "Ladies, you GOTTA have a drink with us. Nylon and I ALWAYS have a drink with new customers."
"No, tha-" Starsky started, but was cut off by a kick punch to his middle with Hutch´s elbow as the blond smiled gratefully. "Why, thank you! That´d be lovely."
At his partner´s piercing glance, Starsky quickly nodded eagerly. "Yep. Lovely."
"Terri-fic," Winston grinned, shoving Nylon in front of him. "Go, go, go and clear a table, darling. We´re right behind you."
Winking at the detectives with his index finger, he put both his hands on Nylon´s shoulders and followed him through the crowd. After a moment of hesitation, Hutch followed, reaching behind himself to drag Starsky along.
"C´mon, buddy, it´s gonna be terri-fic."
Grumbling something unintelligible, Starsky stumbled along. As the four of them shoved their way through the crowd, over the dance floor to the tables, an occasional "nope, sorry" or a "I´m with him" would reach Hutch´s ears from behind, until he suddenly felt his partner´s hand grabbing his waist and making a point out of snuggling up on him. Startled, he looked down to meet Starsky´s exasperated glance.
"I hate this place," the curly haired man stated.
Deciding this was beginning to get a high rank on his amusement scale, Hutch once more layed his arm around him, hugging him closer. "Well, it sure likes you."
"And I hate you."
Frowning in mock hurt, Hutch tilted his head to one side, pushing his clinging partner away a little. "Make up your mind, honey, I ain´t gonna wait fore-"
"Will you cut it out?!" Starsky hissed over Hutch´s chuckles. "Bad enough I-"
"Well, here´s one" Winston´s voice swallowed the rest of his sentence as he turned around in front of a table Nylon had cleared for them, clapping his hands together joyfully. When the two detectives stopped, waiting, he studied them dreamily for a second, "You two are cute," the final statement came. "Aren´t they cute, darling?"
Grinning, Nylon nodded, mentioning for them to have a seat. "All our customers are, dummy," he chided playfully, while he slid onto a bench at the well next to Winston. The detectives smiled uneasily, sitting down on chairs across the bench.
Before either of them could utter a nervous thank you, Winston pointed a perfectly manicured finger at them, saying, "A month. Right? I´m right, aren´t I?"
Leaning back, so that his shoulder brushed against Nylon´s, he informed them, "I´m always right."
"He´s great at this," Nylon nodded, wrinkling his nose conspiracy.
The detectives exchanged a confused look. "Beg your pardon?" Hutch finally asked.
"You two," Winston explained, looking a bit irritated by their lack of understanding. "You´ve been together for a month. Oookay," he added, rolling his eyes as he waggled his hand, "plus a week or so."
"Actually-" Starsky replied, but Hutch had already started to talk over his words. "That´s amazing. How do you do it?"
"Oh," Winston winked, giggling a little as he shrugged. "It´s my gift, I guess."
"Really?" Starsky asked unenthusiastically. "What a kicker." At his partner´s intense glare, he cleared his throat, forcing a smile on his lips. "And you two own this great bar, yeah? That´s `trif... great," he corrected himself much to Hutch´s hidden amusement. "Looks like things are going okay for you, hm?" Pointing at the crowd behind his back with his head, he was about to add something, when Nylon jumped to his feet, gesturing apologetically.
"Forgot the drinks."
"Aw, darling," Winston chided, shaking his head, and stood himself, sighing like a martyr. "Sit down already, I´m going to get them. He always picks awful stuff," he informed his customers and hurried away.
Watching after him, Nylon slowly slid onto the bench again, then bent closer to Starsky and Hutch, his voice low. "Please don´t ask questions like that. He´ll just get excited."
"Why?" Hutch asked with a frown, sensing Starsky next to him go into cop-modus too, his expression suddenly innocent, interested.
When the man hesitated, Starsky gently reached out, placing a hand on Nylon´s. Hutch almost coughed in surprise.
"Hey," the curly haired detective asked sympathetically, "something wrong?"
Visibly fighting to keep his emotions under control, Nylon drew in a deep breath, patting Starsky´s hand gratefully, before he drew his hands back to wipe over his face. When he looked at the detectives again, they could see unshed tears in his eyes. "We lost two of our customers recently," he said hoarsely and cleared his throat, before adding, "Two good friends."
"I´m sorry," Starsky said honestly.
"Me too," Hutch added, compassion lowering his voice as he caught the sad man´s gaze. A victim's eyes. Never easy to look into those.
"Thanks," Nylon muttered, forcing himself to smile as he wiped his eyes once more. "I´m sorry, I´m... I wanted to not open today, but Winston said Thommy wouldn´t have wanted us to close. After Harry... That was the other one," he explained and sniffed. "Harry Guinn. He died before Thommy."
Hutch nodded to keep Nylon talking, his heart aching for the grieving man. At a brief touch on his arm, just a brush, he quickly glanced at his partner whose eyes had settled on the bar owner again.
"After Harry died, Thommy said a bird of prey wouldn´t... break," the last word was a mere whisper as his voice failed him. Again, he cleared his throat, then continued and looked up from the table into two pairs of understanding blue eyes. "He said a bird of prey wouldn´t break because of this. He said it would fight. So we fought. Didn´t close. And now..." A deep breath escaped him and he bit his lip. "I´m sorry, I shouldn´t..." Waving both hands as if he could keep the emotions flooding him at bay by this, he gave a short, apologetic laugh. "God, listen to me, here I am, ruining your evening."
"No-" both detectives started in dismay, but he cut them off with a jerk of his hands.
"No, we don´t want to talk about the dead anymore. It´s the living ones who are important. So," glancing over them he spotted his lover and lowered his head as if sharing a secret with his customers, "quick, tell me, how long have you two really been together? He never guesses right."
Laughing in surprise at the sudden change in the man´s eyes, Starsky and Hutch looked at each other, stuttering simultaneously. "Uh... I think... uhm..."
"Just recently," Hutch finally said when he could already hear Winston´s voice behind him greet another customer. "We had to do some talking first."
Nylon nodded and to Hutch´s rising amusement, smiled at Starsky as if understanding. Before the smaller detective could add anything to the story, though, Winston placed glasses of wine before all four of them, sat down heavily again and kissed his lover on the cheek. "I´m back," he stated when looking at the other two men again as if they couldn´t have noticed. Lifting his glass, he cast first Nylon, then Starsky, then Hutch a suspicious glance.
"So, what was all that whispering about?"
"I think," Nylon answered in an equally faked tone of importance, "I found out that sweet little Curly here just recently had his... you know," he grinned, waggling his hands.
The glass he´d lifted almost slipped Starsky´s grasp as he stared at the bar owners, divested. His partner couldn´t help but giggle helplessly at his expression, trying to hide it with his head bowed.
"Oh?" Winston all but cried out in a high-pitched voice, raising his glass as if for a toast. "How lovely! You know," he added, pointing his index finger at the miserable detective, "I thought you were sort of new."
"Really?" Starsky asked unenthusiastically, annoyed at the stifled noises coming from his right. "How come?"
"You still walk around with those biiiiiig blue eyes saying 'Wow, I just entered Wonderland!'," Winston informed him, stressing the sentence excitedly. "It shows."
Nodding with a forced smile, Starsky glanced to his right, where his partner fought against suffocating from his suppressed laughter by gulping down his wine.
"Well," Starsky said slowly, eyes focused on Hutch, "I´m just glad I met Kenny-Pooh here. He´s been gay all his life."
The laughter immediately stopped as the blond´s head shot up, light blue eyes meeting grinning cobalt ones.
Not aware of the silent cursing that were exchanged in front of him, Winston nodded again, this time meaning Hutch. "See, I thought that too," he said proudly.
Smiling in delight at his friend´s gaze snapping to the bar owner, Starsky took a sip from his wine, and leant back, savoring the blond´s distress. "Yeah baby," he told him, gesturing at Winston for agreement, "it shows."
The kick to his lower leg under the table was expected, yet he still flinched slightly, grinning into his glass.
"True passion," Winston stated, as he let his gaze travel between them, before looking at his boyfriend with a dreamy smile. "Just like we were, darling, right?"
They kissed lightly, and the detectives simultaneously got very busy studying their wine..
"Oh, I almost forgot to ask," Winston suddenly cried out, turning to look at them again. "Where´re you from?"
Without looking at each other, they replied, "San Fran," then turned to study the other one, surprised.
"Uuuhhhh!" Winston was delighted. "What a great city! And," he added, tilting his head playfully, "what a great place to meet someone, huh?"
Nodding slightly, both detectives glanced at Nylon as if looking for help, but he just lifted his hands ever so slightly, though visibly amused by the scenery. Obviously, surviving Winston was part of the introduction ritual at the 'Bird of Prey'.
"D´you have any idea what a great karma San Francisco has for couples?" Winston continued excitedly, and leant back, half against his boyfriend, studying the two of them like a precious picture. "Your love is blessed. You must be so happy." The last words were chocked out as the man was almost moved to tears by his discovery about the new customers. "Are you happy?"
"Very," Starsky answered flatly and looked over his shoulder, shifting on his chair.
"It´s over there and to the right," Nylon said, pointing in the direction.
"What?" Starsky asked.
"What you´re looking for," Nylon answered.
"Oh," the curly haired man nodded grimly, "uh thanks." His gaze falling on Hutch, who chuckled, he stood and bent over his partner´s shoulder. "Be right back, babe. You be good." With that, he ruffled Hutch´s hair and turned to stroll away.
Busy brushing his hair out of his face, Hutch missed Winston´s concerned look and was surprised by the bar owner´s sudden grasp on his arm, his worried tone as he asked, "He still has doubts, hasn´t he?"
"Uh... wh-what?" Hutch stuttered, looking at the hand on his arm. "I´m sorry, what?"
Compassionate eyes tried to lock with his. "Davey. He still has doubts about you two, right? Don´t bother to deny it," he advised, waving the unspoken words off, "it shows. I can see it in his eyes."
"Winston," Nylon chided sternly, "leave Ken alone. Maybe he doesn´t want to talk about it."
Feeling very unreal suddenly, like all at once having been placed in a soap opera, Hutch tried to look convincingly as he smiled with a shake of his head. "Don´t worry, really. He´s just... not that... emotional," he finished lamely, frowning when the sympathy only sank in deeper in his opposite's eyes. "H-he doesn´t like so many people around, he´s... uh... shy." It sounded almost like a question.
Studying him closer, Winston placed his elbow on the table, laying his chin on his curled fingers. "You´re so very understanding, Ken. That´s great. It really touches my heart to see how you´re trying to... Aw," he sniffed, bringing his fingers up to his suddenly watery eyes. "I think I´m going to cry."
Hutch stared, dumbfounded, dismayed. "Uh.. P-please don´t... cry." Casting a helpless look on Nylon, he found him rolling his eyes, though there was a hint of shared pain in them. Waving slightly at the blond, he bent to his boyfriend, stroking his cheek. "Darling, why don´t you get us some more wine? Hm?"
"Yes," Winston sniffed, avoiding Hutch´s gaze as he hurried away from the table.
Looking after him, then back at Nylon, Hutch gestured feebly. "I... uh... I really d-didn´t mean to-"
"Oh, no," Nylon winked, "don´t worry, it´s not your fault. Like I said, he gets excited so easily these days." Pausing sadly for a second, he suddenly frowned, dismayed. "I´m sorry about what he said. That Dave has doubts. He didn´t mean it, really. He´s just all messed up now."
Somewhat touched by the man´s sincerity, the blond smiled warmly. "I understand. It´s okay."
"No," Nylon insisted, "it´s not okay. It hurt you."
Suddenly grabbed by the irrational fear Nylon Caspar might break into tears because of him too, Hutch quickly shook his head, raising his hands as if in self-defense. "No really, it´s okay. I understand. Star... Davey can be kinda..." A sudden idea settling in his mind, Hutch let his gaze wander down to his hands playing with his empty glass. "We had a fight this morning, I guess Winston sensed that. Actually," he added, wiping his eyes, "we fight a lot lately."
Frowning, Nylon leant in a little closer. "Why?" he asked softly.
Hutch hesitated, then glanced up. "When you told us about your two friends, well... We read about that," he added with an almost apologetic shrug. "We didn´t want to distress you further so we didn´t mention it. I´m sorry."
"Oh," Nylon winked, "it´s okay. I figured you´d know."
Smiling gratefully up at him, Hutch let his gaze drop again as he continued, "It´s those murders. He doesn´t feel safe in this city, and we just moved here because of... my job," he hurried to say after having had to think for a second.
When he felt the look resting on him soften considerably, he almost cringed, not faking his staring down any longer. 'What´re you doing here, Hutchinson? Using a grieving person´s feelings? - It´s for his own good, okay?! As long as this guy is on the loose, no one in here is safe! Besides, it´s my job!'
While inwardly arguing with his conscience, he continued, "And then today when I suggested coming here, we had this huge fight. I don´t know," he sighed, "I guess he´s just scared."
"Scared?" Nylon repeated.
Hutch glanced up. "Yeah. Scared." He paused briefly, before asking, "Aren´t you?"
"We´re all scared," Nylon replied, looking directly into Hutch´s eyes. "But not just since last week."
Surprised at the sudden change of tone, the blond opened his mouth, but didn´t know what to say and closed it again.
Nylon watched without any expression on his face, then slowly stood up. "Excuse me, Ken. I think I better check on Winston."
With that, he left, leaving Hutch staring after him, frowning and with the distinctive feeling he´d just blown their cover.
Jumping at his partner´s voice, Hutch snapped out of his thoughts, turning to find Starsky grabbing his arm, standing next to his chair, wide-eyed and obviously heading for a hysterical breakdown.
"Hey, buddy, what-"
"You gotta dance with me," Starsky cut him off. "Get up!"
"Get up!" Starsky insisted, pulling on Hutch´s arm, until the blond jerked it free, unnerved.
"I don´t wanna dance with you, Gordo. What the hell´s gotten into y-"
"There´s this guy following me," Starsky hissed, looking over his shoulder as if expecting his pursuer to pop up behind him any second. "And he won´t give up until I showed him I´m here with someone. Now come ON!"
His worries about Nylon forgotten, Hutch stared up at his partner. "You mean this?"
The curly head bobbed up and down fiercely.
"Starsky, for Christ´s Sake, just sit down. I won´t dance with you."
"Okay," Starsky shrugged, "it´s either that or you´ll have to accompany me to the john for the rest of the night, for I´m not going to try to talk to this guy again."
Arching his brows in mock sympathy, Hutch tilted his head to one side. "Aw, that bad?"
"You have no idea," Starsky replied miserably, before grabbing Hutch´s arm again, tugging. "Please, Hutch, pleeeaaase! Be a partner, will ya?"
Amusement quickly finding its way back in light blue eyes, Hutch grinned, "'Be a partner'?!" Frowning in mock suspicion, he studied his friend closer. "You´re not setting me up, pal, are you? I mean, first you promote me to your boyfriend, then you warm your hand on my butt and now you´re begging me for a dance? You know, maybe you´re hitting on me after all."
"No," Starsky growled, pulling harder at Hutch´s arm, "but I swear I´ll HIT you if you don´t get your feet moving RIGHT NOW!"
Blinking up on him, Hutch finally stood up, grabbing his startled partner´s waist with a fake sigh. "You know I can´t resist you when you get brutal."
Rolling his eyes, but biting back a reply, Starsky followed him to the dance floor, where they stopped, looking around at the other dancers for a moment, feeling eerily out of place. The last chords of a song just ended, and everybody stopped to take a breath, change partners or simply wait for the next one to start.
"Uh..." Starsky whispered to his friend, "how-"
The beginnings of a very slow, romantic song could be heard as it grew louder. Men found each other on the dance floor, hugging in slow movements.
The detectives stared at each other.
"I get to choose lunch for a long time doing this, buddy," Hutch finally informed his partner grimly as he dragged him closer, starting to move. "Long time. And leave your hand some place decent this time."
"Did I mention already how much I think this whole idea STINKS?" Starsky replied, placing his chin on Hutch´s shoulder and after a second asked, "Did you find out anything from Nylon?"
Hutch hesitated. "I don´t know. Maybe."
"I´m not sure. But we gotta talk to him again. I think I screwed up a bit."
Pushing away a little, so he could look at Hutch, Starsky frowned. "Screwed up a bit?" he repeated, lifting his brows.
Hutch grimaced, twisting the corners of his mouth.
"Large bit or little bit?"
Instead of an answer, the blond looked around, avoiding his partner´s glance. "Don´t you see your guy somewhere so we can stop this crap?"
"You´re one to talk, your dancing´s awful."
"It wasn´t my idea, you know," Hutch shot back, before sighing slightly. "Large bit."
"Think he knows?" Starsky asked, serious again.
"I don´t know," the blond replied, frustrated. "But maybe it wouldn´t be all bad. He seems okay, don´t you think? And he cares. Maybe he could help us."
"If he could help you find a dancing teacher, that´d be a great start," Starsky joked, unnerved. "Do you really not feel the difference between my toes and the floor?"
Suddenly planting his feet, Hutch looked around for a split second, before he spotted a lonely looking, tall man in his twenties standing at the side, watching.
"Hey," Hutch called out to him, nodding when the guy looked at him questioningly, "Yeah you," and pointed at his partner with his head, "Wanna dance with him?"
"Sure," the guy smiled as is face lit up.
"Terrific." Ignoring his friend´s glare, Hutch waited for the new dancer to get onto the dance floor, before he ruffled Starsky´s hair with an evil grin. "You be good, baby."
With that, he turned, stretching his neck to look for Nylon Caspar.
It didn´t take him long to find the "Bird"´s owner at the bar, giving orders to the bartender in a friendly voice. Winston, though, was nowhere in sight, and Hutch was glad about that.
As he turned to face the detective, the smile that´d appeared on Nylon´s face while talking to his employee faded quickly, affirmation Hutch´s suspicions. He didn´t say anything, but lifted his brows questioningly.
Hutch´s gaze dropped for a moment. "Uh... I-I got the feeling I somehow said something, uh, stupid back... Uhm... I mean, I think y-you... I didn´t mean to..." Trailing off with a deep sigh, he looked directly into eyes suddenly softening by amusement. "You know Dave and I don´t belong here, don´t you?"
"Weeeell," the other man replied with a stifled chuckle, stretching the word as he bent nearer to the surprised blond, "I don´t know about that, but I think I figured out that it´s not looking for fun that brought you and your friend here tonight."
Hutch stared, blinked, and opened his mouth, but Nylon cut him off with a now clear grin. "Don´t look like that, Ken. You lied to me, leave me at least some 'scare the tough guys'-fun, will you?"
A frown appeared on the blond´s forehead like a crack, deepening as his thoughts caught up on the words.
Nylon rolled his eyes dramatically and placed an assuring arm on Hutch´s shoulder. "Yes, I know you two don´t belong here. I knew you two weren´t together when I first saw you, and I think I knew neither of you´s gay when I first talked to you, and after your little show at the table, I think I figured you are cops." Visibly satisfied at the stunned expression on Hutch´s face, he took a sip from his drink, before adding with fake innocence, "Am I right about any of this?"
"You´re better at guessing than your partner," Hutch replied with a smile. Somehow, he felt relieved at being able to talk openly to the man. Not that he generally despised lying to people as far as his job made it necessary, but Nylon Caspar seemed smart enough to be of actual help in the investigation, and being himself would make conversation a lot easier. Besides, having a helpful source inside the scene probably meant he and Starsky wouldn´t have to become regulars, and THAT idea he definitely liked.
"Headline news," Nylon shot back, rolling his eyes, and snapped his fingers at the bartender, who produced a beer Nylon handed Hutch. "Here, on the house. I take it cops don´t drink wine, anyway. Now that the family secret´s in the open, you can stop pretending to have class. Cheers."
Looking down at the bottle in his hand and back at Nylon, Hutch raised his brows surprised. "Any other cop cliché you´d like to share with me?"
Smiling sweetly at him, Nylon touched his glass to the bottle. "Touché."
They exchanged a look, and Hutch´s startled irritation faded as he finally recognized the signs of hurt pride in the older man´s eyes. "So," he started after a moment, "what gave us away, anyway? Let me guess--Dave."
"No, actually it was you," Nylon replied.
"Oh yeah?" the blond grinned.
"Yeah," Nylon sighed, "I mean, honest, what DO they teach you boys about us in the force?" To Hutch´s dismay, he waved at the detective, taking a half step back to study his appearance, and shook his head sadly.
"Huh?" Following the bar owner´s glance, Hutch looked down at himself, missing the evil grin that quickly rushed over Nylon´s lips. "Wh-what d´you mean?"
"Oh come on," Nylon played on, "who did you ask what we supposedly look like, Gary Cooper?! Well, no matter who it was, let me tell you, he was wrong. We long ago settled for a more... subtle style."
As Hutch´s eyes widened even more at that, Nylon shook his head once more and reached out to tip his index finger against the blond´s cheek, turning his face slightly to one side. "And that mustache..." he sighed. "Honest, Ken, talking about clichés..."
Hutch cast him a panicked look, but caught the twinkle in the older one´s eyes. "Subculture humor?" he asked dryly, his lips twisting in an annoyed grimace.
With a parting pat to his cheek, Nylon drew his hand away. "Absolutely."
"Uh huh," Hutch nodded, a humorless grin rushing over his features. "Let me tell you, that´s not funny."
"I think it´s a scream."
"I bet," the blond replied and took a calming gulp from his beer, before he studied the other one again. "You don´t like cops, do you?"
Nylon shrugged. "Does anyone?"
That brought a smirk to Hutch´s face as he nodded in a 'you have a point there'-manner.
"But you´re cute," the bar owner added after a brief moment, lifting his glass. "So I guess it´d be okay to talk to you."
Hutch´s gaze snapped on him again, their eyes met. Simultaneously, they smiled and stated, "Subculture humor," and touched their glasses again.
After a sip from his beer, Hutch bowed his head a little, getting serious. "I know what you," he waved slightly at the whole room to indicate who he meant, "think about the force´s ambitions concerning... this, but you have to trust us. We´ll do everything to get this guy, and we will get him. But we need help."
Nylon looked at him seriously, an expression Hutch had seen a lot over the years glimmering in his eyes. It was a mixture of distrust, trust, fear, hope and sadness. The look of a person who didn´t really trust a cop, but had figured he had no choice, anyway.
Though it always pained the detective to be confronted with that rarely displayed doubt, he knew it was a good sign to receive that look. It meant that some of the ice had been broken, that he was at least given the chance to prove his words.
Blinking, Nylon suddenly looked away, at the dancing crowd. "By the way, where´s that equally cute partner of yours?"
"Oh." Having completely forgotten about Starsky, Hutch followed Nylon´s gaze, twisting one corner of his mouth downwards like a little boy who´d been caught red-handed. "Oops."
At the frown he received from Nylon, he lifted his beer, stating in mock seriousness, "He´s, uh, checking out the dance floor."
Nylon´s eyes widened briefly, then settled for an ironic smile. "You mean the dance floor´s checking out him."
"Yep," Hutch nodded curtly and at the stifled chuckle next to him threw the bar owner a glance. "Cop-culture humor."
Laughing in earnest now, Nylon tilted his head to one side. "That´s cold, cop, cold."
Hiding slightly behind his bottle as Nylon chuckled more, Hutch turned so he wasn´t facing the dance floor anymore. "Nylon," he spoke, serious again, "about your friends... We believe the killer might be homosexual himself."
All amusement vanished from his face, the older man frowned. "Why?"
"Uhm, we have our reasons," Hutch answered, deciding it to be the best to not inform the grieving man about the ordeals his friends had had to live through. "What I want to know is, are there any regulars you know about who lead some sort of a double life? I mean who are maybe married or have jobs they can´t let on who they really are, because it might endanger their position?"
Nylon gave a short, bitter snort. "Oh please, Ken."
Cringing at himself, Hutch arched his brows apologetically. "Pretty much everyone, huh? Okay," he sighed, "sorry. What about new customers? Men who you´ve seen entering the scene just recently?"
Thinking, Nylon scratched his forehead. "There are a few. Not after Thommy, of course..."
Hutch looked away briefly, leaving the man a private moment to regain his composure. "No, we´re looking for someone who probably entered the scene recently, maybe a few weeks ago. Someone who maybe appears shy, inexperienced, unsure, but who is charming enough to attract young, good-looking guys like Guinn and Larson."
There was a brief, stunned silence, before Nylon spoke again, fear coloring his words. "Attract them? What did you mean? They... Are you saying they knew the killer?" His eyes settling on the dance floor, unseeing, he asked tonelessly, "Did they sleep with him?"
Hutch squeezed his eyes shut briefly. He didn´t look at Nylon when he answered, "Yes. From what it looks like."
"Were they... ?"
Hesitant, the detective nodded. He cleared his throat before speaking again. "We´re not sure about Larson, but... The probability is very high. I´m sorry."
Nylon still didn´t look at him, his gaze focused on the moving crowd. "If I help you," he said after a while, "I want to be sure that you meant what you said." Turning, he cast Hutch a dark, hateful look. "I want you to get this animal, and I want the state to fry him."
The blond swallowed dryly, a shudder grabbing him at being faced with so much hate. And though he knew it wasn´t what would happen, and it wasn´t what SHOULD happen, either, he nodded slightly. "We´ll get him."
It was all of an answer he could give. All of an answer he wanted to give. There was no use in trying to make a grieving victim understand what his torturer had gone through, yet just giving in to such unhidden hate wasn´t part of his personality.
So again, he just nodded. "I promise we´ll get him, and he will pay for what he did."
'I bet he already does,' he thought, but kept the thoughts from flooding his face as Nylon gave a curt nod and drew in a deep, calming breath.
"Okay. There are two customers who are new and very... shy, as you put it," he smirked sarcastically. "And good-looking."
"And do you believe them capable of murder?" Hutch asked, cop-modus taking over, somewhat to his relief. It was his job to catch a killer, he had no business musing about the unfair cruelty in the outfit of the society.
It felt good to concentrate on the black and white facts.
"Me, I don´t believe ANYONE capable of such slaughtering," Nylon replied sadly. "But what do I know?"
Sensing that the man had reached his emotional and moral limits, Hutch nodded and asked softly, "Do you know their names? Or are they here?"
"I haven´t seen them today, but one of them has one of these strange cover names," he waved dramatically, gesturing his despise of such things, "to hide his real identity." To emphasize his disgust even further, he rolled his eyes.
"Uh... what makes you think it´s not his real name?"
Nylon shot him a look. "Clark Kent?!"
"The other one I haven´t talked to much yet. His name´s Randy, I think. Or Ray. Something with R, anyway."
"Okay," Hutch nodded. "Thank you. Could you describe them?"
Nylon thought, but lifted his gaze suddenly, when he spotted Winston waving at him from across the room. "Uh, hot. They´re both real hotties. Listen, Ken, I´ll be right back, okay? Just have to check on my partner over there."
While excusing himself, he was already putting his glass away.
"Yeah, su..." Hutch called after him, but Nylon didn´t turn on his way. "...re." Watching the bar owner being swallowed by the crowd, Hutch sighed and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and index finger. Watching the quick changes in Nylon Caspar´s behavior had somewhat exhausted him, and one of his award deserving Hutchinson Headaches was starting to form behind his forehead. Lifting his empty beer bottle, he finally turned to the bar again and jumped when he was met by Starsky standing behind him, hands folded behind his back, seemingly having waited for him to turn patiently.
"Uh... S-Starsky. Ahm... Hi." Still panting slightly from the shock, Hutch switched on a wide grin as he shoved his friend aside to reach the bar. "Had a nice dance?"
When no answer came, he glanced at the smaller man next to him again, suddenly nervous. "Hm?"
Starsky stared at him for a split second longer, looked down, up again, drew in a breath and stated very, very quietly, "I am going to kill you."
"Oh... Right here?"
"No," Starsky replied, still convincingly serious and calm. "Once we´re outside. I just thought since we´ve been friends for so long now the least I could do was to inform you about it."
"I appreciate that," Hutch nodded, wrinkling his nose slightly.
His partner looked at him, the first signs of a furious outburst edging their way forward on his features and increasing Hutch´s nervousness. "Uhm," he started after having gotten his ordered beer and held it out for the curly haired, seething volcano next to him, "have a beer?"
Self-restraining failing, Starsky grabbed the offered bottle only to wave it at his partner in fury a split second later. The blond flinched. "You´re SO going to pay for that, Blintz! Say goodbye to green lunch, goodbye to the garbage can, goodbye TO LIFE!" The last two words were accompanied by a threatingly step forward, that send Hutch stumbling backwards, his hands risen before his body self-defendingly.
"Starsky, buddy, c´mon, calm do-"
"Don´t 'Starsky, buddy, c´mon, calm down' me!" Starsky cut him off, taking another step forward. "You left me in the hands of... And what are you LAUGHING at?!" he yelled in a high-pitched voice when Hutch´s lips quivered with stifled laughter.
"Uh, s-sorry, but..." A giggle broke free. "I left you 'in the hands of'?! *giggle* Odd choice of wor-"
Giggling, laughter and talking instantly stopped when Starsky without a word grabbed the front of Hutch´s shirt, effectively making him cough a little. "Starsk... *cough* Buddy..."
"Who is going to choose lunch for the next two hundred and sixty-four years?" Starsky asked calmly, looking up into light blue eyes that were pleading for more air.
"And whose car won´t see the street for an equally long time?"
"Come on," Hutch cut him off, struggling to unclench the other one´s finger that eventually let him go. Smoothing his shirt and stretching his neck, Hutch shot Starsky an almost reprimanding look. "Don´t you think you´re exaggerating?"
Rolling his eyes, Hutch sighed. "Starsky, was it that bad, yeah? What´d he do, step on your feet?"
About to shoot back a reply, Starsky closed his mouth at that and tilted his head to one side as if thinking. "No, actually, he´s a great dancer."
Before Hutch could even finish his out bursting chuckle, his partner shot him a look again. "But then, compared to my former dance partner, King Kong would appear great."
"Ow, that hurt," Hutch smirked, grabbing his heart in mock hurt.
"Pull something like that on me one more time, BABY," Starsky replied, waving the bottle at his friend again, "and you´ll find out what pain really is."
Hutch raised his brows and hands simultaneously, until Starsky nodded curtly and emptied the beer, placing the bottle onto the bar. "`Nother one," he told the approaching bartender and pointed at Hutch. "His tap." He looked at the blond again, gesturing in the direction Nylon Caspar had went. "Did you at least settle the large bit while I was entertaining Superman?"
"Yeah, I told Ny... Wait a second--'Superman'?" The blond´s gaze snapped up at his partner from where he´d tried to get the bartender's attention again. "The guy you danced with?"
"Don´t start," the smaller man sighed in annoyance, grabbing his new beer from the bar to take a sip. "That was NO metaphor whatsoever for whatever your sick brain wants to-"
"Was his name Clark Kent?" Hutch interrupted him, excited.
Surprised, Starsky lifted his brows. "Is that trivia knowledge I hear? How d´you... Oh wait, Nylon told you somethin´ `bout him?"
Instead of an answer, Hutch turned to lean against the bar, overlooking the dancing crowd, asking, "Where is he?"
"Went home," his partner replied. "Said he had to get up early tomorrow. What did Nylon say about him?"
"D´you got his number?"
"Uh... yeah, but... Why? What did Nylon say-"
"Terrific," Hutch smiled, patting his friend´s shoulder. "Great. You´re going to call him tomorrow."
Starsky stared at the blond for a second, then frowned.
"What?" Hutch asked.
"Nothin´, I just thought how very well they managed to hide your lobotomy scar."
Rolling his eyes, Hutch snapped to order another beer, then turned at Starsky again. "There are two guys Nylon knows about who fit our momentary picture of the killer, and your acquaintance happens to be one of the-"
"Starsk, that guy gave you his number, so he´s obviously interested, and he´s about the only lead we have so far." As a grin popped up on his lips, Hutch quickly bowed his head as if to look into his beer bottle. "Think positive. Finally, you´ve got a date."
"A da... Hutch, I´m NOT going to call that guy. Forget it. No way." At the blond´s silent glance, he waved his hands again fiercely. "NO way! He kissed me on the cheek for Christ´s Sake!"
Hutch shrugged. "So that proves he likes you. Come on, Starsk, what´s so big about it? You just meet him for a drink and-"
"I already told him I´m otherwise engaged, and he saw me with you," Starsky said desperately.
Giving a very convincing performance, Hutch arched his brows in sympathy, placed a hand on the smaller man´s shoulder and told him, "Babe, I know this is gonna hurt you, and I hate myself for that, but I just realized I dig women after all. It´s over. I´m sorry."
Starsky glared up at him. "I hate you. Did I ever tell you that?"
Drawing his hand back, Hutch shrugged as he lifted his beer. "You mentioned it once or twince today. But," he added after a thought, "you´ll get over us. Eventually."
Watching Hutch grin into his bottle for a moment, Starsky finally threw his arms in the air, an image of utter despair. "Why me? What´d I ever DO?!"
"Don´t think that way yet, buddy," Hutch smirked. "Maybe he´s nice. Ever heard of destiny?" The spreading grin fading, he flinched back when his partner reached out for him again.
"Ever heard of nosebleed?!"
"Starsk, calm down. It´s just an undercover job. I´ll be there all the time. Well, maybe not ALL the-"
"Will you cut it out, damn it?!" Starsky interrupted him, annoyed, rolling his eyes at the following stifled giggle. Scrambling at the label on the bottle, he leant against the bar, shoulders slumped. "God, I hate this job! I´d be less nervous if I knew for sure Kent´s the killer. I mean, what if he isn´t?" he asked, looking up at Hutch pleadingly.
"Uh..." the blond started, but was released from an answer by Starsky, who studied his bottle again. "Then I´m gonna have to tell him that I don´t like him or something." As a sudden thought hit him, he almost dropped his beer, a panicked look finding Hutch. "Oh God, what if he starts to cry?!"
Hutch blinked, then shook his head as if coming out of a trance, squeezing his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger.
Starsky didn´t notice. "I mean, gee, I hate it when that happens with girls, but with a man... Huuuuutch, I don´t wanna do that. Please don´t make me have a date with a guy!"
"Starsky, it´s the only lead we´ve got right now. Maybe he knows something. And maybe," Hutch added sarcastically, "you´re lucky and he tries to ravish and slaughter you before he starts to cry."
"Ya think?" the smaller man asked hopefully, having not even listened.
Staring at his partner for a second, Hutch did his clearing head-shake again and finished his beer with one gulp. "Come on, you little heartbreaker, we´re going home."
Starsky blinked at him with mock doubt, but put his bottle on the bar too to follow Hutch outside. "Who´s hittin´ on whom now, Blondie?"
Not looking back, Hutch started their march through the crowd outside. "Don´t bother hoping, kid. I never ring twice."
Sighing, Hutch rolled his eyes before he´d even heard Starsky´s next words. The familiar tone of voice was enough to tell him he´d soon find himself drawn into yet another nonsense conversation with his ever child-like, nonsense-loving partner.
They´d left the "Bird of Prey" about twenty minutes ago and were on their way to Starsky´s place after having informed dispatch of their quitting for the night.
"What?" the blond asked, unnerved. As always, HIS tone of voice wasn´t recognized.
"If we were a couple, who d´you think would be the feminine part?"
Hutch blinked. Once. Twice. "Uhm..." Though he´d known David Starsky for quite some time now, the man´s ability of taking him completely off guard never ceased to amaze him. "Uh... HUH?!"
"I think it would be you," Starsky went on innocently, glancing at Hutch, before looking outside the car at the city´s nightlife again.
"Uh... wh-what... Starsk, what kinda question is that?!"
"Hm?" Starsky asked as if having just snapped out of a thinking trance. The way he always started their nonsense-conversations. "Oh, I just thought, you know, all those couples we saw today, like Nylon and Winston, one of them always seems to be the feminine part. Like with them it´s Winston. Right?"
"No," Hutch answered. "That´s the idea, mush brain. There IS no feminine part in a gay relation-ship. And if there was, it surely wouldn´t be ME!"
"What´s that supposed to mean?" Starsky frowned, turning slightly to look at Hutch. "You sayin´ it´d be me?!"
"Are we really having this conversation?! We´re no..." But as his thoughts rolled on, an inner grin settled somewhere in Hutch´s mind, and he shrugged innocently. "Why, of course it´d be you, buddy."
"And what exactly makes you think that?!" Starsky shot back.
Again, the blond shrugged. "Well, first of all you´re shorter than me."
"Hutch, that´s so sexist."
"Okay, you´re a neat freak. You actually ENJOY cleaning up. That´s pretty feminine."
"That´s sexist too," Starsky shot back. "And at least I don´t talk to plants."
"Chicks dig plants, Starsk. Give up."
The smaller man´s eyes widened in surprise. "Chi... Hutch, d´you have any idea how utterly dumb it sounds when a guy like you says 'chicks'?"
"A guy like me?" Hutch asked as now his brows flew upwards in surprise.
"Yeah, one of them sensitive, understanding, soft... feminine kinda guys," Starsky smirked.
"Excuse me, Rock Hudson, but wasn´t it your hand that explored forbidden areas for support tonight?"
"Right," the curly haired man nodded contently. "See what I mean? Male behavior, taking over control. Feminine behavior..." Trailing off, he waved at Hutch, who glanced at him, incredulous, then back at the street.
"You´re weird, buddy, d´you know that?"
Grumbling something unintelligible, Starsky sprawled down further on the seat, silent for a moment, before he started again. "Hey Hutch?"
"D´you get those guys? I don´t get them."
"Well... them," Starsky said, emphasizing the word with a curt gesture. "I mean... I don´t understand it. Why don´t they like girls? I like girls," he added in a less high-pitched voice after a second, sending a grin traveling over Hutch´s lips.
The sarcastic undertone was obvious, a Starsky way to start a non-nonsense conversation.
"I´m glad to hear that," the blond wise-cracked, mockingly sliding away from his partner.
"Ha, ha. No, honest," Starsky continued, seemingly lost in thoughts again, "if I was gay, I´d always be afraid of sex."
At the almost hysterical laughter next to him, he glanced at his partner, startled. "What´s so funny?"
"Uh... no...nothing," Hutch panted through his laughter. "Just... Do you sometimes listen to yourself? To what you´re actually saying?"
"I mean that. It´s-" Starsky started to explain, but was interrupted by his still giggling friend.
"I know, buddy. That´s what´s so funny."
"Okay," Hutch offered, raising one hand to indicate he´d be through laughing in a second, drew in a deep breath and put on a mockingly serious face. "Okay, Starsk, why´d you be afrai..." Another giggle broke off the question, and Starsky rolled his eyes, yet still replied, "Just think about it. It hurts, doesn´t it? I wouldn´t like getting hurt in certain... situations."
"I think I´m gonna pull over until we´re through here," Hutch managed through once more bursting out laughter. "I might cause an accident or something like this."
"So glad you´re enjoying yourself," Starsky grumbled.
Eventually, he calmed down, wiped his eyes and threw his partner a glance. "You don´t really think about stuff like that, Starsk, do you?"
Irritated, Starsky raised his hands in an excited gesture. "We´re on this case, so we sorta need to understand what we´re dealing with. And I don´t get those guys. They´re making me nervous."
"Really?" Hutch replied dryly. "I´d never have guessed."
"I´m serious, Hutch. I don´t like being around them. And I definitely don´t like them drooling on my cheek."
"Awww," the blond teased, reaching out to brush his index finger against Starsky´s cheek. "Poor Pooh."
"Okay, okay." Drawing his hand back, Hutch settled for looking at the street again, but glanced at his silent partner, then said, "I knew a guy at college who was gay."
Surprised--more at the sudden seriousness in the blond´s voice then at the beginning of the story--Starsky frowned. "Yeah?"
"Yep," Hutch nodded. "Rob. He didn´t have may friends, was on his own mostly. Shy kid, had problems at getting to know folks. Great student, though. Really smart."
Turning slightly, so that he could watch Hutch, Starsky listened.
Hutch continued without looking at him. "We used to learn together at the library. We weren´t friends, but we worked together pretty good. And eventually we started to talk about more than chemical elements or math too. You know, just chatting."
Though Hutch didn´t look, Starsky nodded.
"And one day, when we tried to figure out what a particular Latin word in a particular context meant, Rob revealed to me that he was gay. Just like that. One moment I´m sitting next to him, swearing over my insufficient vocabulary, the next he´s gay." A short, bitter laugh broke free, but was replaced quickly by a sad sigh.
"What d´you do?" Starsky asked quietly after a moment.
Glancing at him, Hutch shrugged matter-of-factly. "What d´you think?! Freaked out, of course."
His partner grinned in sympathy.
Joining in the smile for a moment, Hutch bowed his head with a snort. "My girl-friend couldn´t complain about not enough attention for quite some time."
Now, Starsky laughed slightly. "There´s a positive side to everything."
"Yeah, right. Anyway, of course I questioned myself 'Why´s he hanging out with ME?', 'Is he attracted to me?', stuff like that. But I never asked him, just shrugged, said 'Oh really?', and tried not to think about it too much."
A short pause followed, and suddenly Starsky realized that the story had a moral. That it was something Hutch had chose to tell him in that particular moment out of a particular reason. The grin fading, he frowned again slightly as his partner bowed his head. They´d long ago reached Starsky´s apartment, the car stood still.
"One day," Hutch finally continued, "he asked me if I thought it to be okay for him to, you know, tell his parents. I only then realized he´d never told anyone before. Only me."
A small soft smile tugged at the Starsky´s lips, somehow it didn´t surprise him that even back then people had sensed it to be okay to trust Kenneth Hutchinson. The White Knight wasn´t an image an adult had created, it was something inside Hutch, always had been.
"And what did I know?" Hutch asked, glancing up at his partner ever so briefly.
To his dismay, Starsky found shame in the glance. Hutch was ashamed of himself. The light blue eyes dropped the moment cobalt blues met them.
"I just didn´t want to listen to it, so I said of course it´d be okay." Again, the blond paused, shaking his head slightly at his own younger self. "I didn´t even really think, I just said yes. I didn´t think he was going to take my opinion seriously." Another pause. "And I didn´t care, anyway. Just didn´t want to listen to... that. So off Rob went to enlighten his parents." He waved with one hand sarcastically, but it dropped like the one of an actor who forgot his line.
"I don´t know what they told him," he continued after a very long second, "but they found his body the next day in his father´s room. He shot himself. In the head."
Silence settled, thick, chocking. Starsky watched his friend, watched him crawling his way back through the fog of time to the present, his eyes seemingly searching for Starsky before they focused on him.
At his partner´s gentle gaze, Hutch smiled, understanding. "You know," he said after a second, sadness lowering his voice, "I never really questioned my sexuality. I mean, sure, I didn´t feel comfortable around him and, gee, did I bug my girl with just how incredibly manly I was," he laughed briefly at that, "but I always knew I wasn´t gay. When I heard about his suicide, though, I questioned my character."
Glancing up, he met Starsky´s eyes again, adding, "And that hurt."
Unspoken comfort, not even real words, filled the narrow space between them, as their gazes kept locked, one soul longing for understanding, the other one willingly providing it with.
As always, it amazed Hutch what relaxing effects Starsky´s mere look had, how his partner´s presence eased the confused pain grey matters always stirred within him.
'Grey matters,' he thought when he saw Starsky´s gaze wander up as if thinking. 'That´s what they are. Not wrong or right, but confusing. Scaring. Grey. Oh, getting poetic, Hutchi-'
"I had this sergeant in the Army," Starsky´s voice suddenly tore him out of his toughts, and he blinked as he adjusted his ears to the reality, catching the next words, "who´d always slap my tushie. I absolutely hated him."
The exaggerated seriousness with which the information was given matched Starsky´s expressionless gaze, sending Hutch´s brows upwards.
"Uh... wh-what?" the blond stuttered, shaking his head briefly again as if he tried to adjust to STARSKY´s reality now. "I´m sorry, what?"
Ignoring his partner´s confusion, since he knew Hutch had heard perfectly, the curly haired man just went on, "He thought it was funny. But it really hurt."
Hutch blinked, frowned, found Starsky´s gaze--and understood. Fighting a huge, grateful grin to break free on his face, he arched his brows doubtfully, forcing his voice into a dry tone, as he stated, "He slapped your tushie? Isn´t that an official Army salute?"
"Very funny, Blintz," Starsky shot back, knowing his subtle comfort action had been understood. "You just keep on laughing, until someone violates you, and then we´ll see."
"Vio... Starsk, you slap MY tushie all the time."
"Not like that," Starsky defended himself with fake fierce.
"Oh no? How `bout today?"
"That was a Survival Slapping, you can´t count that."
"More like a Survival Grabbing," Hutch corrected with a wry smirk. "Maybe I should inform Internal Affairs about my partner´s continous-"
"Maybe I," Starsky interrupted him, waving his finger at him, "should inform IA about MY partner´s lack of dancing abilities."
"Oh, please don´t," Hutch said dryly. "They´ll fire me."
"Well," Starsky said after a moment of thought, studying Hutch, while he already opened the passenger door, "I´ll think about it. See you tomorrow, Blintz."
"Yeah," Hutch nodded, stifling a sudden yawn, as he reached over to drag the door closed. "Sweet dreams, cutie pie."
With that, he sped off, the roaring of the engine cutting off Starsky´s retort.
"'McGuill´s'?! Starsk, you can´t take him to 'McGuill´s'."
Following his partner through the front door into Metro, Starsky sped up to catch up on him, arms spread wide with exasperation. "That´s what you said about every other place I suggested! Where the hell AM I supposed to take him? And don´t say home," he warned, waving his index finger at Hutch´s back.
Grinning widely since Starsky couldn´t see it, the bond raised both hands next to his body innocently. "Wasn´t planning to."
They´d reached the squad room that the morning saw nearly empty, and Hutch finally stopped, turning towards his partner while opening the door for him. "You can´t take a guy just anywhere for a date, Starsk, okay? Ever heard of that little something called bigotry we have in our society? A gay couple can´t choose a restaurant like everybody else."
Starsky planted his feet, his gaze snapping up at Hutch. "We´re NOT a couple!"
"Don´t give up hope," the blond smirked and ducked when Starsky instantly reached out for him, throwing the door shut behind himself quickly.
When Starsky entered with an air of desperate fury surrounding him, Hutch had already made it to his desk, sitting down innocently. The curly haired detective shot him a dark glance, but settled for checking on the coffee supply instead of strangling his partner--at least for the moment.
"Okay, Dr. Ruth, which etablissement would you suggest?" he asked over his shoulder, while filling a cup for himself.
Hutch lifted his shoulders in an exaggerated shrug. "Do I look like I´d know... Safe if," he finished as he saw a grin spreading on Starsky´s face. "Why don´t you let him decide where to go? Say you just moved here."
The grin fading, Starsky picked up his coffee, strolled over to his desk and sank down heavily, glancing up at his partner with arched brows. "Do I really have to do this, Hutch?"
The question was asked in such a miserable tiny little-boy-lost-voice that the blond felt almost tempted to say 'no', yet years of practice had trained him to look through the child-like facade at the man behind, and he nodded curtly.
The curly head fell forward, shoulders slumped. "Damn."
"But look at the positive side," the blond encouraged with an evil smile, standing up to get coffee too. "You´re dating Superman."
Before the smaller man could shoot back a retort to kill, a sudden female voice came from the door. "Who´s dating Superman?"
Turning to smile at Lynn Graydon, Hutch pointed at his partner with his cup. "Starsky is."
"Aw shit," Lynn interrupted her ex-boyfriend´s feeble reply. "It always goes like that, doesn´t it? Once you dump `em, they march off to grab all the great guys."
With a deep sigh, she approached Hutch, who--always loyal to his partner--at least tried to stifle his laughter, and leant next to him against the shelf, arms crossed in front of her.
Together, they looked down at the miserable detective behind his desk, who looked for all the world like a five-year-old about to cry.
"Come on, Davey," Lynn continued to tease, "at least share some details with us lonely singles. He cute?"
Dropping his gaze sullingly, Starsky started shoving some unorganized looking files from one side of his desk to the other. "I don´t think I wanna talk to you two anymore."
"I´d say he looks okay," Hutch informed Lynn with a loud whisper, leaning closer to her as if sharing a conspiracy. "And from what I´ve heard, he´s a fantastic dancer."
Starsky rolled his eyes, ducking his head a little as if having to physically restrain himself from doing something he might regret later.
"That´s nice," Lynn replied in an equally audible mutter as they both continued to watch the seemingly occupied detective. "He loves to dance." A sentimental sigh followed her words, before she continued in mock sincerity, "I really hope this is it now, you know. He deserves it."
A tiny sound indicated Starsky gritting his teeth.
Hutch nodded, his expression one of utter care and concern, "Yeah, I know, me t-"
"Will you two stop it already!" his partner´s irritated yell cut him off. "Jeez!"
Unimpressed, Hutch waved at Lynn. "Never mind him. First date, you know how it is." Strolling back to his own desk, he found himself at the receiving end of a look to kill. Smiling back sweetly, he endangered his life even further by reaching over to nudge his friend´s cheek.
"Come on, buddy, you don´t want to grump around on your first date, do you? You know what they say, 'blue never was in style'," he sang dreamily over Lynn´s giggles.
Submitting, Starsky arched his lips to a grim smile, knowing Hutch could read 'PAYBACK WILL BE HELL' perfectly in his eyes.
"I take it your night was eventfull then?" Lynn asked amusedly.
Nodding eagerly, Hutch informed her, "Oh yeah. First he got intimate, then he forced me to dance with him, and when I broke up, he went straight for Clark Kent."
Laughing, the female detective pushed herself off the shelf to sit down on Starsky´s desk. "Except for the Superman-part, that´s pretty much what happened with me too."
At her gentle hand stroking through his hair, Starsky placed his chin on his palm, watching her with dry humor. "You enjoyin´ yourself, yeah?"
Chuckling at the subtle flirt going on in front of him, Hutch checked his watch. "When´re you planning on calling him?"
"The day I forgive you for this."
"`Kay," Hutch stated, unimpressed. "Noon it is." Looking up again, he playfully punched his friend´s arm. "Care for breakfast? I´m buying."
Starsky blinked, but didn´t move. "You do realize that that won´t change anything about you having to go through hell for this some time in the not so far future, don´t you?"
"Sure," Hutch replied matter-of-factly.
"Okay." Standing up, Starsky hesitated in front of his ex-girlfriend still positioned on his desk with her legs crossed. Tilting his head to one side, he studied her briefly. "D´you know that all of Superman´s secret loves start with L?"
In mock surprise, she lifted her brows. "Is that so?"
"Yep. Lana Lang, Lois Lane..."
Turning discreetly, Hutch made his way over to the door, leaving his partner blinking down at Lynn in playul seriousness as he continued, "You could almost think that the letter L," he leant forward slightly, his hand on the desk next to her for support, "holds some sort of sexual attraction for Crypton´s."
Lynn didn´t move, a smile tugging at her lips. "Is that so?" she repeated in a whisper.
"Oh yeah," he nodded gravely, his voice low. "And, you know, I never happened to tell you, but sometimes, when I´m around Kryptonite, I get this feeling tha-"
A sudden, feathery light kiss stopped him in his tracks, his brows flying up in surprise, but before he could respond to it, it was broken again, Lynn´s smile very close to him. "Safe it for Clark, Davey."
With that, she slid from the desk, ducked under his arm and was gone before he had regained his speech. Only Hutch could be seen standing at the door when Starsky wheeled around to look after Lynn. A mixture of amusement and sympathy on his face, the blond held the door open for his friend.
"I didn´t know that. `Bout your reaction to Kryptonite-"
"Oh shut up and buy me food," Starsky grumbled, rushing out of the room.
Hutch could see him smile even though he walked behind him.
An extra large burrito with everything, a pile of fries worth half of Hutch´s paycheck, a chocolate shake and two candy bars later, they returned to the squad room to make The Phone Call and plan the operation.
His mood improved by his earlier encounter with Lynn, Starsky had even finally managed to join in on the business talk about the case, much to Hutch´s relief. Amusing or not, their plan was dangerous. They didn´t know who Clark Kent was or--more importantly--if he wasn´t a psychotic killer on the trail of his latest victim. And though he enjoyed teasing Starsky about his role in this, Hutch was still worried, as always when his partner had to face a suspect on his own. If he was entirely honest to himself, he even had to admit that he felt a little guilty about having literally chosen his partner to be the main part in their plan. Yet, being as experienced as they were, they both new the undercover investigation was absolutely necessary, inevitable. Bad luck for Starsky. Shit happened.
"Hey Blintz," his partner´s voice drew Hutch out of his musings as they strolled down the hall to the squad room. "Earth to Blintz."
"Huh? What?" Blinking, the blond glanced at his friend. "I´m sorry, what?"
"Nothin´," Starsky grinned. "Just wanted to avoid you running into a wall."
"Oh, thanks. Hey Starsk," Hutch asked after a moment, "d´you think I should shave off the mustache?"
Almost walking into a wall himself by surprise, Starsky raised his brows. "Huh?!"
To his rising amusement, his partner blushed slightly. "You know... I thought maybe it was time for a change again. I mean, I had it for quite some time now, and maybe I-I´d-"
"You´re asking me for my opinion concerning your appearance?" the smaller man asked, grinning from ear to ear.
"I´m just-" Hutch started, but he was beyond rescue.
Arching his brows in mock hurt, Starsky stepped away from him slightly, blinking fast, "What´s this, your idea of 'let´s stay friends'? First break up and then ask for my opinion? When did you ever do that when we were still-"
"Oh please," the blond rolled his eyes, annoyed, "forget I asked."
"Don´t bet on it," Starsky smirked.
"No, no, I won´t," Hutch sighed and followed his partner inside the squad room, where a uni just turned from where he´d placed a sheet of paper on Starsky´s desk.
"Oh, hey, Starsk, that´s the information you wanted."
"Great, thanks, Ben," the curly haired detective smiled, patting the man´s shoulder as he left the room.
Hutch frowned, sitting down behind his desk. "Information?"
"Yeah," his partner replied, sitting down himself while grabbing the paper, "about Kent." Glancing down at it, he continued, "Not much, though. Was once caught with pot, but was too young for... What?" he asked at Hutch´s stare, confused.
"You asked for a check-up on a guy called Clark Kent?"
"And they did it?!"
"As you can see," Starsky replied, obviously really not understanding his partner´s confusion, and waved the sheet of paper at him. "But, as I said, there´s not much to find out. Well, at least that´s what it looks like." Looking up at the blond´s still wide eyes again, he lifted his shoulders, exasperated, "What?!"
"The guy´s name really is Clark Kent?!"
"Of course it is. What d´you think, that he made up some sort of cover name or what?" Snorting, he shook his head as he glanced at his watch, and reached for the phone. "Okay, buddy boy, watch, listen and learn."
"You´ve to give the kid he´s got taste," Hutch stated, his gaze wandering over the interior of the "Bunbury", taking in the elegantly composed arrangement of tables, chairs, sofas and a huge, barockesque bar.
Having been named after a ficitional character from an Oscar Wilde-play, the establishment actually looked like an English club room. The comparison made Hutch smirk inwardly--club rules back in the stylish times had always been 'Men Only'.
Suddenly aware of Starsky looking up at him from where he was snapping nuts out of a glass bowl on the bar into his mouth, the blond turned with an exaggerated sigh. "Well, at least in SOME parts of his social life..."
Taking the insult with a smirk, Starsky swallowed a few nuts, waving at his partner, "I´m sorry I don´t fit in here as perfectly as you do, Blintz."
That earned him a quick, dark glance, even widening his grin.
"But you can always come back when we´re done with this case. Just for fu-"
"Shut up and don´t eat all the nuts," Hutch interrupted him, jumping onto a bar chair next to Starsky and grabbing the bowl out of his hands. "Okay," he started after a moment, chewing, "let´s see... There would be good." Pointing out at a particular table at a far wall, he casually moved the bowl out of Starsky´s reach, making a show out of ignoring his grumbling friend.
"Hutch, it´s the most... lonely table in the room," the curly haired man complained, trying to snatch the bowl back, but failing.
"So?" Hutch asked. "It´s perfect for observations. We´ll be able to watch you from every other angle." Frowning slightly in thoughts, he handed the bowl back over to his partner with a suddeness that sent Starsky almost falling backwards, and slid off the bar chair , examining the table he´d suggested for Starsky and his date more closely from different other ones in the room. Obviously contend with what he saw, he turned to his partner with a shrug. "Perfect."
Scowling, Starsky put the bowl aside onto the bar and jumped to the ground to approach Hutch. "But it´s the table the farthest away from all the other tables," he repeated in a whine.
"Your point being?"
"Jeez, haven´t you ever heard of dating tactics?! That table is like a come-on line!"
"Yeah," the blond nodded innocently. "So? What with your come-on lines, it´s probably a good idea to leave it to a table to come up with one."
"Very funny," Starsky mumbled, his eyes taking on the expression Hutch had seen so often since the beginning of their plan--resignation. "Hutch, I´ll be here with a guy," he muttered miserably, "can´t you leave me at least some dignity?"
"Maybe next time," the blond said comfortingly, patting his shoulder, before he turned again in a business-like manner. "`Kay, that table it is. And we´ll take this here, that over there..."
Watching his partner making mental notes about the composure of the stake-out scenery, Starsk strolled back to the bar, sitting down on his chair again. Absent-mindedly, he grabbed the bowl again and started chewing, his gaze focused on Hutch, unseeingly, though. What he saw, lost in his thoughts, was a considerably younger version of his blond friend. A normal all-American college boy, glad beyond his wits to finally not having to live with his parents any longer, eager to learn, easy to make friends with, a little clumsy, a little weird, but fun to hang around with. The Ken Hutchinson he´d met at the academy, that had always been his image of College-Ken too, though, of course, there´d been yet another soul-darkening fight with his father ahead for the College kid, when he´d decided to change his career plans and attend the academy.
Ever since he´d met Hutch, Starsky had always understood the incredible, deep kindness that seemed to be the basis of Hutch´s outfit. He wasn´t just a nice guy, but really wanted to make a difference. He could be rough, of course, and over the years as cops they´d both learnt to recognize situations where you HAD to get rough pretty soon, but what made Hutch a particularly good cop--in Starsky´s eyes--was the kind of naive kindness he´d never lost. The naivety itself. Deep down inside his soul, Hutch had never stopped to actually hurt over the unfairness he saw displayed in the world he worked in every day. And he´d never stopped wanting to make a difference.
A rare quailty in a cop, Starsky thought.
It wasn´t that he himself didn´t care over the victims--all of them, sometimes the perpetrator too--but it was a different kind of caring that, just like Hutch´s, had its origins in his youth. He´d grown up learning that people were always tougher than they appeared to be. That just because you didn´t interfere with their lives didn´t mean you were cold. They wouldn´t break. They would hurt, heal, scar and move on.
As far as David Starsky was concerned, that kind of thinking was probably the most street-wise like thing about his person. That and the undeniable knowledge that once you started to try to do more than you could, you´d fail and break. You had to take what you really could get without breaking down yourself. You had to help them without letting their sorrow draw you into the dark void they lived in too. You had to see without seeing too much.
With Hutch it was different in a way that sometimes scared Starsky, worried him. Hutch couldn´t stop seeing. Though he always appeared to be as street-wise and experienced as Starsky, he naturally wasn´t, first of all because he had a completely different background, but then also because in a way he was too much like them. He wasn´t the cliché of an upper-class cop giving the needy ones money--he was a complicated, deeply hurt, confused person. Just like a real White Knight in a tale, he had a reason for doing what he did, his need to help others had sprung from the lack of help he´d experienced early on his life.
To Starsky, it sometimes seemed that though of course everybody who knew them would say he was the child-like one, the keeper of child-like wonder--he and Hutch both knew it was different. They were both equally connected to their inner child, but Starsky had chosen to embed in his outfit only the good, the happy things, the wonders of childhood, whereas Hutch hadn´t been able to shake off the fears and doubts that had accompanied him ever since he´d been a kid. Hidden deep down somewhere in his subconscious, little Kenny Hutchinson still wondered--with all the naivity of a child--why the people who were supposed to love him, obviously didn´t. What he´d ever done wrong to be not worth his father´s attention and praise.
Sitting there on a bar stool in the "Bunbury", watching Hutch at work, Starsky felt the sudden knowledge that it had been that inner child of his partner who´d taken all the guilt for Rob´s death at college.
Though no one understood the somewhat frightening confusion gay men could stir in oneself better than Starsky, he also suddenly understood that what had Hutch shaken the most about that incident was that there´d been another kid like him, neglected by his parents, psychologically abused, someone he now felt he might have been able to help. It was just like Hutch, no matter at what age, to feel like he´d let Rob down, despite his own, very understandable emotions in the whole matter.
"Hey buddy, you done there?"
"Huh?" Snapping out of his thoughts, Starsky lifted his head slightly, shaking his head a little as he focused on Hutch before him. "What?"
The blond looked at him, arms folded in front of his chest. "Did you hear a word I said?"
"Sure," the smaller man replied, nodding fiercely. "Absolutely."
"`Kay then," Hutch smirked slightly, turning for the door. "Come on, we´ve to get you some decent clothes for your date."
"What´s decent about a gay bar?" Starsky called after him, jumping from is bar stool. "Why don´t I just borrow some of your-"
"Shut up, buddy."
Kenneth Hutchinson enjoyed himself.
After the first twenty minutes of genuine worry, watching his best friend´s uncomfortable smile seemingly freeze on his blushing face and listening to Clark Kent´s charming table manners, his over-protective partner-modus had slowly, but steadily been lowered like a shield, just like the frown on his forehead had been smoothed away by the overtaking amused expression he now shared with his colleague across the table he sat on.
Since it´d have been rather suspicious to attend a "Bunbury"-table by oneself, Starsky and Hutch had gathered together three more detectives for the stake-out, so that two observing pairs, one including Hutch, surrounded the "Gordo Dating Table" (as Hutch had so eloquently named the table on their stake-out scenery plan--much to his partner´s delight...). They were all connected with mikes and thereby able to follow the discussion taking place on the GDT while also watching the suspect from the far.
An absolutely normal undercover observation it was--a bait, a bunch of cops, a suspect. Yet, what had started out as this, soon turned into a much welcomed show for the four bystanders as it became more clearer by the second that Clark Kent, though obviously--and AUDIBLY--lacking any killer instinct at all, had the ability to flirt a guy to death.
First alarmed when watching the younger man constantly touching their "bait"´s hand, trying to pat his knee, waggling his brows at him, the observing team had soon agreed that they hadn´t invited the killer.
A fantastic program, as one of them had stated dryly over the mike--adding much to Hutch´s effort to stifle his increasing giggles--but not the killer.
"At least we´re not wasting our time," Detective Jake Klayman stated with an audible smirk. "Wouldn´t have wanted to miss this for a Laker´s game." He was older than Starsky and Hutch, known for his sarcasm, but genuinely liked by both of them.
Well, until then, anyway.
"Very funny," Starsky hissed in response, only increasing the other´s amusement as his "date" lifted his head from where he´d been re-arranging his napkin on his plate, frowning slightly.
"Beg your pardon?" Kent asked.
"Uh... What you just said," Starsky hurried to say, giving a poor version of his ear-to-ear grin. "About your, uh, job. That was very funny. Honest." Lifting his glass as if wanting to give a toast to that, he widened his smile.
Inside his ear, he could hear various chuckles, one more suppressed than the other three. "You go, Starsky," Jake Klayman grinned somewhere behind his back.
Since he was confronted by Clark Kent´s own special grin, he couldn´t glance away, but still Hutch, who sat on a table facing Starsky, felt his partner´s gaze upon him just as well. The poor guy was furious. Desperate...
"You really think so?" Kent asked, excited, placing his small boyish hand over the darker man´s tenderly. "That´s so sweet of you. You know, most people think working in a post office is just selling stamps, but there´s so much more to my work than that."
"Oh yeah?" the curly haired detective asked innocently, discreetly drawing his hand away to place his chin onto his palm, elbow on the table.
If the kid noticed the gesture, he didn´t show. "Sure," he nodded fiercely, his expression reflecting his inner settlement for what turned out to be a long, detailed description of his job.
Hutch could almost hear his partner´s silent pleas for help in his head, while he listened himself to Clark Kent´s rambling as well as to his colleague´s occasional remarks.
"Think he´ll show you his stamp collection, detective?" Brownie Berger, a rather young officer who´d made detective just a short while ago, whispered censoriously, waggling his brows at Hutch who sat across of him.
Starsky didn´t even know what pissed him off more--the comment or the following high-pitched giggles he just knew too well.
Glancing sideways at Hutch, who was visibly working on restraining himself from bursting out loud, he caught his partner manage to mouth a silent "Sorry" to him, though the apology´s credibility turned out to be doubtful considering the blond´s continuous chuckling throughout the rest of Kent´s tale.
That had just reached a point Kent thought to be perfect for a subtle change of topic, as he stated with a playful slight tilt of his head, "I mean, I´ve to INTERACT with people, you know." That boyish hand made an appearance again, this time covering Starsky´s other one. The detective´s gaze snapped down to it in an almost comic-like manner that was missed on the comic-named person opposite to him.
"Me personally, I think that´s what makes me so... competent for this kind of job," Kent continued, his voice suddenly husky, so that Starsky had to strain to hear it over the coughs, giggles and gasps for air in his ears. "I´m very good at interacting. How about you, Davey?" The name was added after a short pause, making it sound almost like an obscenity.
"Uh... I-I..." the detective stuttered, having to listen unwillingly to whispered cheers and the unmistakable sound of someone trying to swallow as much wine as he could possibly get into his mouth. "I d-don´t kn-"
"Oh." Clearly dismayed, Kent drew his hand away, embarrassed. "I´m sorry. To fast, huh?" Arching his brows, he let his gaze drop like a puppy that´d just been kicked. "I´m sorry. I didn´t mean to..." Gesturing with both hands, he searched for the right word.
"Interact?" three voices completed the sentence in Starsky´s ear, and he rolled his eyes.
"... startle you like this," Kent finished, talking over them, something that had happened quite often that night, adding its best to drive the already edgy detective nuts. "I´m sorry. Don´t think... You know."
Giving a light laugh, the kid looked up again, facing a very nervous looking David Starsky, whose gaze would slip sideways ever so often.
"I´m normally not like this. But... Well, what with you calling and... You know," Kent said after having trailed off, suddenly nervous himself, "we´re just talking about me here. So--what d´you do?"
"Huh?" Starsky replied, looking back at the other man from where he´d tried to sent a silent message to Hutch. "What?"
"You," Kent smiled. "What´d you do? You never told me."
"Oh. Uh... Nothing exciting, really, just, uhm, I..." Searching in the emptiness for the answer he´d laid out for that question, the detective found himself on the receiving end of various suggestions streaming into his ear.
And, lost somewhere between, Hutch. "Photographer."
"I´m a cop..." Starsky finally stated extra loud to shut up the voices, but stretched the last letter helplessly as he watched the kid´s forehead wrinkle in an increasing frown. "...pyshop owner. I... have a copy...shop."
Silence in his ears, then, whispered. "Good safe, partner."
"Oh," Kent said wittily, raising his brows in an attempt to be polite. "How very... fascinating. And what d´you do all day?"
"Copy things," Starsky replied impatiently, while glancing at Hutch again, his expression unmistakable. "Listen ki... uh, Clark, I´ll be right back, okay?"
Not waiting for an answer, he rushed away from the table, heading for the rest room, only pure will power keeping him from dragging his partner along with him on the way.
Exchanging a mockingly fearful grimace with Brownie Berger, Hutch waited a few seconds, then stood up himself to follow Starsky.
He found him examining the small, longish window in the rest room, literally standing on his toes to be able to reach up to it.
Leaning against the closed door, the blond folded his arms across his chest, shaking his head with a chuckle that startled Starsky, who jumped and whirled around.
"Don´t do that to me! I thought it was the Green Goblin."
"Aw, buddy, that´s not nice, is it?" Hutch chided, scowling mockingly. "He seems to be a-"
"Totally innocent, un-killing, gay citizen?!" Starsky exclaimed with a desperate gesture.
"Well, great for him. Hope it stays that way. Now gimme a hand here, will ya? Before he comes looking after me."
Smiling, Hutch pushed himself off the door and crossed over to his friend, but only to gently grab his arm and steer him away from the window. "C´mon, buddy, it´s almost over."
"No, no, no, YOU come on, BUDDY," Starsky shot back, planting his feet. "The kid said he had his coming out when he was like what, eight? He´s impossibly our guy, and that means I´m outta here."
"And how´s that going to look?" Hutch replied, frowning slightly when he found he´d just sounded like his mother.
"Like he´ll have to lick his stamps by himself toni-"
"Urgh! Starsk, please!" Hutch cut him off with a grimace, though his eyes glittered with amusement as he shook his shoulders in an exaggerated shudder.
Smirking wryly, Starsky slightly raised his hands innocently, leaning back against a near wall.
"Oh, buddy, come on, you don´t really want to dumb the poor guy just now, do you? Think about what that´s going to mean for his young, vulnerable ego," Hutch said urgently, placing both his hands over his heart.
Unimpressed, Starsky watched, waiting a moment, before speaking again. "You through?"
"Okay, okay," Hutch gave in with a submitting gesture. "So, what´re you gonna tell him?"
"That I won´t arrest him for intentional attempt at boring an officer of the law to death if he pays the bill?" Starsky tried.
"Okay," the smaller man winked, "I´m just going to tell him the truth."
"That I´m not ready for a new relation-ship yet."
Hutch rolled his eyes. "Star-"
"I mean, it´s been only a day since..." Cutting himself off, he bit his lip and gave a very convincing little sniff, gazing at his feet. "I can´t deny that I still miss you, Blondie. Though you really hurt m-"
"Would it make you happy if I dared him to fight me over you?" the blond shot back dryly.
"Oh yeah," Starsky grinned.
Just before Hutch could end the banter, a sudden voice muttered in both their ears, "`Ey, you two clowns, would you mind skipping the nonsense? Our guy´s getting impatient out here."
"Thanks Jake," Hutch replied, while Starsky talked over his words. "If it seems like he´s about to make any trouble, arrest him."
"Hey Curly," Brownie Berger´s voice cut off Hutch´s unnerved reprimand. "D´you realize we got all of this on tape? If I were you I´d get a transfer to dispatch for a few month."
"Don´t mind if I do, Zebra Eight. And I know exactly who´ll be checking out the suburbs at the end of each shift then."
"Grumpy, aren´t we?" Berger shot back, his smirk audible.
"In danger, aren´t WE?" Starsky replied, glancing up at Hutch who was listening in silent amusement. "And what´re you grinning at?"
"Nothing," the blond replied quickly, smoothing the smile off of his face.
"Keep it that way."
"Yes, sir." Lifting his hand in a mock salute, Hutch nodded curtly. Before the banter started again, though, Jake Klayman´s voice could be heard again.
"Okay, everybody, the kid´s positively getting nervous. Either you come back now or we´re plugging the plug."
"Awww," Berger made, sounding like a begging child. "Staaaaarsky, come on. Just a little longer. He didn´t even try to get ungentlemanly under the table yet."
At that, even Starsky couldn´t help from laughing. "Look how much attention you paid," he replied.
Hutch grinned. "What´d he do, slap your tushie?"
Blinking in a perfect image of startled fear, Starsky crossed his arms close to his chest. "I´d rather not te-"
"Will you fruitcakes cut it out now?!" Jake Klayman called out over the mikes, making everyone cringe. "Jeez, you three are worse than my kids!"
"Sorry," three voices mumbled in unison.
A deep, calming sigh followed, then, "Hutch, Starsky, it´s your operation. So what´s it gonna be?"
The detectives exchanged a look. "Maybe we oughta tell him the truth," Starsky suggested. "See if he knows something."
Hutch frowned. "I don´t know. Look at the guy, he´s as pure as snow."
His partner´s eyes popped into saucer-wide size.
"Oh," Starsky nodded, completely serious. "Okay. So, we´ll just let him go?"
The blond shrugged. "We should, shouldn´t we? What´s the point in scaring him like that, anyway?"
"Fun?" his friend suggested innocently. "Revenge?"
Sky blue eyes locked with cobalt blues.
"Uh... none?" the smaller man tried with a wry smile.
"Bright boy," Hutch praised dryly, patting Starsky´s shoulder.
"Ooookay, guys, prepare yourself for the last act of 'Who´s afraid of David Star-'"
"Brownie," Starsky cut off Berger´s muttered speech, already heading for the door, "if I were you, I´d get out of here the second Superman shoulders his cape."
"And fast," Hutch added with a chuckle, as he held the door open for his partner. "Run, kid, run."
Despite the threat against Brownie Berger, the five detectives had met for a drink at Huggy´s after operation "Superman Date" had been broken off, each of the observing team buying their poor victim at least one drink to make up for the comments that couldn´t seem to be stopped from slipping out.
It was long after midnight when the two investigating detectives found themselves alone at the bar, Starsky half asleep on top of it, while Hutch still nursed his second beer since he hadn´t had a doubt about his driving duty that night.
"Hey buddy," the blond finally exclaimed, nudging his partner´s cheek while draining his beer. "Starsk."
"Yeah, whatever. C´mon, Lois Lane, I´m beat." Placing the glass onto the bar, Hutch slid from his stool, reaching out to drag Starsky with him.
"Huh?!" the intoxicated detective made as he jerked awake. "Wha´?"
"Home, Gordo," Hutch muttered impatiently while working on keeping the swaying man on his own two feet.
"No´ mine," Starsky stated after a brief examination of his surroundings.
"Aw," Huggy, who sat behind the bar, only half awake himself, replied, "that hurt."
Hutch chuckled, grabbing Starsky´s waist while waving an apologetic gesture at his friend. "Don´t listen to him, he´s drunk."
Smiling his goodbyes, the blond staggered them both outside to his car parked in front of the bar. When he´d managed to open the passenger door, he was panting from the effort. "Y´know, you could at least pretend to move your feet, you big lug."
"What?" Hutch asked, sticking his head inside the car again, hands on the door to shove it closed.
Only snoring answered him.
Rolling his eyes, the blond closed the door and head for the driver´s side, never seeing the twinkling reflection of a street lamp´s light in a pair of light-colored eyes in the shadows.
The next morning saw Hutch mentally working through their case in the shower, trying to figure out a new plan to begin with since they´d scratched the first name on the list of suspects, when a sudden thought made him groan in frustration.
"Damn, the Tomato."
What with its owner having been unable to even get into his apartment by himself, the Torino was undoubtly still parked at Huggy´s, meaning Hutch had just been promoted to Chauffeur of the Day.
Grumbling, the blond turned off the water and, clad only in a towel, dripping all the way, headed for the phone to inform his burden of a partner that just because he didn´t have a car didn´t mean he had the day off, it being a Sunday or not. Hutch had no doubts about that idea being exactly what would settle in Starsky´s hung-over head once he´d entered the world of the living again.
Which he obviously hadn´t yet if the steady ringing of his phone was any indication.
"Come oooon, Starsk," Hutch muttered to himself, brushing wet hair from his forehead. "Come on! Pick up!"
It rang for the tenth times, the elventh...
When he´d almost dried by standing in his living-room, Hutch hung up with a deep, annoyed sigh and turned for the bed-room with anger quickening his steps. Great day this was going to be, he inwardly grumbled, images of his snoring partner still dead to the world on his bed flickering through his mind only to add fuel to the fire.
When he was pulling over in front of Starsky´s apartment a while later, he´d already banged the door to it shut a thousand times in his mind, each time sending his irritating friend crashing to the ground with a satisfying thud.
In reality, though, nothing happened after his banging of the door. The place was still, dark...
... and Starsky-less, as Hutch found out, appalled, once he entered the bed-room where he´d left his partner the night before. The blue sneakers he´d managed to slid off his friend´s feet still lay next to the bed, along with his jacket and the blanket Hutch had covered him with before driving home himself.
"What the... ? Starsk?" he called out again, turning to check the bathroom, though he could instinctively feel that his search would be fruitless.
Starsky wasn´t there.
A hundred thoughts at once running through his mind in circles, the blond hurried to the phone in the kitchen to call the precinct.
Like he´d supposed, Starsky wasn´t there, either. Hutch´s hand shook when he hung up again.
'Okay, okay, Hutchie, calm down. This doesn´t mean anything. Maybe he went for... breakfast,' he tried to calm himself while walking back into the bedroom, absent-mindedly picking up the crumbled blanket.
'Right, without his sho...'
His gaze suddenly falling upon the wrinkled sheet of the bed, his fingers froze intertwined in the blanket he suddenly clung to.
There, on the light blue material covering the mattress, was blood. Not much, but a few large, dark drops nevertheless. Next to the pillow.
"No, no, no, no, no... Shit!"
Rushing back to the phone, Hutch tried his best to swallow back the rising panic gnawing at his insides, all the time muttering to himself.
"Shitshitshitshit... Yeah, give me Dobey." The receiver trembling in his hand, he sank heavily against the wall, squeezing his eyes with his free thumb and index finger.
"Hutchinson, d´you have any idea what ti-"
"Cap ´n," Hutch cut off his superior´s barking, his voice audible shaking with fear. "I think he got Starsk."
"What?" came the reply after a brief startled silence. "What d´you mean 'got' him? Who?"
"I-I don´t know," Hutch almost yelled. "Our psycho probably!"
"I´m at Starsky´s place. There´s blood on the bed, and he´s not here."
"Damn it! I knew we were too thoughtless about this whole thing! I never should have left him alone! I-"
"Hutch, Hutch! Calm down," Dobey growled, genuine concern audible for the ones who could read his voice. Like the panicking detective.
"Sorry, Cap´n. I´m just..." Drawing in a deep breath, Hutch pushed himself off of the wall, checking his watch.
"I know," Dobey said gently. "But you´ve got to stay calm, son, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah," Hutch nodded. "Sorry."
"Okay. I´ll have an APB on him. What´re you going to do?"
"Check out Superman," Hutch replied and hung up.
So this was it. The biggest, baddest mother of hangovers. The Queen of Headache. The...
And why the hell couldn´t he move his arms?!
Squinting his eyes closed against the bright light in the room, Starsky gave a low moan and winced when the small noise seemed to split his skull like a sledgehammer.
'Shouldn´t do that,' he thought dryly and winced again. 'Ow! Shouldn´t think this loud, neither.'
When the pain in his head had settled for an at least bearable level, he tried the open-his-eyes trick again, this time more successful as he could make out the blurry outlines of a small room. Empty, grey walls stared back at him, cold, windowless, dead.
'What the hell?!'
Suddenly alarmed enough to get more alert, he blinked faster and despite the agony it caused, shook his head slightly to clear his vision.
No, he was not dreaming. The room was real. As was the cold he now noticed to seep through the skin on his bare feet and his thin, half-open shirt. Fully conscious now, he could also feel the tight cuffs around his wrists, the skin under them sticky with warm, half-dried blood. His ankles were tied too, and he was pretty aware that the mind-numbing pain inside his head wasn´t caused merely by a hangover, but even more so by a stinging crack on the back of his head, where he could feel blood trickling down his neck.
'That´s cold,' he thought with a wince as he turned his head slightly to take in more of his surroundings. 'Knocking out a drunk. Talk of unnecessary violence.'
Bits of his memory flashed through his mind when he tried to recall how he´d gotten into this mess, yet he couldn´t seem to remember anything past Hutch covering him with a blanket and banging the door shut much too loud.
'Banging the door shut?' He frowned. 'Hutch wouldn´t do that after tucking me I... Aw shit!'
Frustrated as realization hit him, he let his head fall back against the wall, only to hiss in pain the moment the contact was made. "Crap."
'That´s great, Davey. Real great. Terrific. There you are, the bait of the day, drunk as a skunk, just WAITING for a whacko to come along and grab you. Great.'
But, he thought with a confused frown, who had him? Had they really been that wrong about pure-as-snow Clark Kent?
'Well, obviously,' he scowled at himself, starting to struggle against the cuffs and ropes that held him without achieving so much as hurting himself further.
Resigning, he stopped after a while, panting slightly from the effort and the pain in his skull. His vision swam in and out of focus steadily, and if the nausea rising in his throat was any indication, he was pretty sure he had a concussion.
'Well, if I don´t get outta here soon, that's gonna be my least worry,' he thought grimly, feeling himself starting to tremble slightly at the thought of what his captor might have in mind for him. Images of Harold Guinn and Thomas Larson flashed before his inner eye, their mangled bodies barely recognizable, a psychotic killer´s message carved into their flesh, the last thing they´d experienced in their life having been...
Swallowing down the bile that rushed up his throat, the scared detective started to struggle again, his heart hammering in his chest as if trying to escape itself.
'Oh my God, oh my God... Calm down, Davey, calm down.'
It was futile, and he knew it. At the prospect of that happening to him, he couldn´t calm himself.
'Hutch is bound to find out I´m in trouble when I don´t show up for work, right? Right? Right.'
But what time was it? How long had he been out? And even if Hutch would find him--would he make it in time?
At the sound of a door opening to his right, Starsky jumped, almost falling to his side. He hadn´t noticed the door, though of course he´d assumed there was one hidden somewhere in the all-consuming grayness of the room.
Trying very hard to banish the terror that rushed through his body in waves from his face, the detective sat up straighter, forcing himself to meet his captor´s eye.
Somehow it didn´t even surprise him when he saw that it was not Clark Kent who entered the room, but a man he´d never seen before.
He was taller than Starsky, a little younger, in Kent´s age probably, and had the distinctive appearance of a lost soul, his blue eyes almost as light as Hutch´s, but empty, glassy, as if they´d ones been darker but had been covered by a thick, murky fog a long time ago. His hair was short, neatly combed and such a dark black it shimmered almost bluish, like Superman´s in the comics. Boyish good looks seemed to have been forced into a constant grimace of sorrow, regret and anger, the corners of his mouth twisted in a despiteful curve. He wore suit trousers, a white, neatly ironed shirt and a matching grey tie, looking for all the world like any young business-man, invisible in the crowds of people marching down the streets to their jobs every day.
His hand still on the doorknob, the young man studied his prisoner like an annoying insect, and then slowly, neatly, closed the door.
Starsky watched his moves timidly. He couldn´t help thinking that if he'd seen this man in an interrogation room, he´d have felt pity for him, for the youthful lust for life that had so visibly died right there on the smooth, polish features. In there, though, inside the small, grey, frightening cage the room was, he felt only fear, so overwhelming he couldn´t seem to even speak through it, his throat closing with terror.
The man stepped away from the door until he stood in front of the detective, looking down at him, hands in his pockets.
Cold silence filled the room like deadly gas, until Starsky couldn´t bear it any longer.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice steady, calm, but, as he could see, not fooling the other one for a second.
A thin smile snaked over the man´s full lips. "Randy," he said in a smooth, melodious baritone voice.
"Okay. Randy. Hi."
A surprised chuckle escaped Randy and he lifted his hand to cup his chin briefly, blinking at the man to his feet in pleasant amusement. "'Hi'? That all you have to say, detective?"
Since he´d kidnapped him from his own apartment, it didn´t surprise Starsky that the man knew he was a cop. What did surprise him, though, was the sudden causality that seemed to engulf the formerly tensed, drawn body.
"Uh... What d´you want?" he tried, feeling like he played along in a carefully laid out scene to entertain the disturbed man.
"Yeah," Randy nodded, the smile vanishing from his face, "let´s chat." Slightly drawing up the material of his trousers, he sat down in front of Starsky, crossing his legs.
The detective flinched.
"Relax," Randy said casually, resting his elbows on his knees. "I´m not going to hurt you."
"Did you say that the last time too? I might have missed it."
An appreciative grin crossed the boyish face. "Well, I admit it wouldn´t have been really necessary to knock you out like this, but," he shrugged, "unconscious people don't snore, and you would have waken up the whole neighborhood."
"Charming," Starsky replied, drawing his legs closer to him a little more as he tried to get farer away from his captor. There was no use in denying that the man´s calm appearance had him scared witless.
"I am usually," Randy nodded.
"I bet." A short pause occurred. "You said you wanted to talk."
"Right," the younger man said as if pleased that Starsky brought the conversation back to its start. "Very right. Tell me, Detective Starsky... Or--may I say David?"
He actually waited for Starsky to nod curtly, before he continued, "What do YOU want?"
Starsky frowned slightly, but remained silent.
"Come on," Randy urged. "Just say it. Anything. Whatever you can think of first."
"You in a straight jacket," the detective replied, his temper once more getting the best of him.
Randy smirked. "Uh huh. You like blows to the head, don´t you, Davey?"
Raising his hands apologetically, Randy nodded. "David. Sorry."
"Okay, I told you. Now you. What do you want?"
"Nothing. I have everything I want right here." An evil grin settled on the younger man´s lips as he saw the color drain from Starsky´s features. "That´s sweet, Dave. Normally, people blush when they´re flattered."
"I know," Randy nodded gravely and stood up again, sending yet another violent flinch through the terrified detective´s body. Ignoring it, he started pacing briefly, before coming to a halt on his former position again. "You´re not gay, David, are you?" he asked as if merely out of curiosity.
"Lucky you." There was a hint of sadness, mixed with hate in the man´s pretty voice that sent cold chills crawling down Starsky´s spine.
"What d´you mean?" the detective tried, fighting back his increasing panic. "Are you?"
"Oh, David, please," Randy said, disappointed. "I don´t like talking to you when you play me for a fool."
A pause followed, Randy studying the man on the ground. "You´re a handsome man, Dave, you know that?"
"Uh... thanks," Starsky replied, sure he didn´t want to go where the conversation was heading to.
"I bet you´re on dates all the time." A conspiracies smile tugged at Randy´s lips.
"How did you like it with a man? Entertaining?"
Starsky frowned. "You were there?"
Randy didn´t listen. Anger had replaced amusement in his ice blue eyes. "Did you enjoy fooling him? Huh? Was it exciting to play with some dumb little fairy?"
He made a threatening step forward, sending Starsky shrinking back against the wall. "It wasn´t like that," the detective said in self-defense. "It was an undercover-"
A sudden blow to his face cut him off, sending his head crashing into the wall behind him. Stars exploded in front of his eyes, his own strangled yelp echoed in his ears. Before he even had time to gather his wits again, he felt himself being grabbed by his hair and drawn close to Randy´s blurry face.
"Yeah right, pig! Undercover mission! Stupid fucks, you cops! Finally someone´s taking care of the fag prob, and are you GRATEFUL?! No of COURSE not!" With a violent jerk, he let go off Starsky´s hair, straightening his posture, panting from anger.
The detective fought to stay conscious, darkness edging its way forward through the bright white pain behind his eyes. "R-Randy..." he slurred, but found himself coughing helplessly; when his captor´s surprisingly strong fingers suddenly clutched his throat, squeezing unmercifully.
"God, I´m so SICK of you people," Randy hissed into his ear, hate wavering in his voice like a scent. "First you tell a guy he´s sick, he needs help, he needs rest, he needs..." Disgusted, he suddenly drew his hand back, wiping it on his trousers as if he´d soiled it, while Starsky´s head fell forward, its owner desperately gasping for air.
When Randy spoke next, it seemed to be in the far distance, the words muffled. Yet, Starsky understood.
"That was my PROOF for you. What you always wanted me to do. All of you! 'Don´t say you´re like that, Randy. You´re not one of them, are you, Randy? Don´t tell anyone, Randy'!"
Out of watery eyes, Starsky watched the tortured man grab his head with both hands as if in pain.
"Shut up!" Randy yelled, pained. "You all! Just shut up! I´m NOT one of them! I´m NOT sick!" His gaze at Starsky´s again.
The detective shrank back at the overwhelming pain he saw burning in the suddenly eerily colorless young eyes. "Ran-" he tried in a shaky whisper, but couldn´t be heard.
No one could.
"I started to make a DIFFERENCE," Randy yelled at him, furious in his despair, "can´t you see that?! Why d´you have to HUNT me?!"
"Y-you *cough*... You´re just a... *cough* .... murderer," Starsky croaked and yelped in startled shock, when the younger man lashed out for him once more, this time nearly knocking him out again.
"Murderer?!" Randy repeated, his hand hovering above the semi-conscious man to his feet, ready to inflict more damage, when a sudden calmness creeped into him, settled on his features like a silky cloth, smoothing the wrinkles of hate.
"Yes," he whispered as if he had had a beautiful idea. Crouching down next to his victim, he gently cupped Starsky´s cheek, ignoring the weary struggles against his palm. "I have an idea, David," he stated quietly. "I am going to show you my world. Would you like to see my world?"
Starsky was terrified. He felt like he couldn´t stand the look of sheer destruction of sanity in the light blue eyes, yet couldn´t seem to tear his own gaze away from it, either. Scared to the point of trembling, he remained silent, swallowed dryly.
"My world´s easy," Randy promised, caressing the other man's bruised cheek with his thumb, not aware of the shudder he caused. "Easy and dark." His grip hardened, fingernails digging into the smooth skin underneath them. "And all yours."
The last sentence was said in such a despiteful tone it reminded the detective of that of a child, uncaring in his overwhelming, furious, powerful anger. Not seeing anything but his pain, the unfairness of his, his, his life.
"All your fault," Randy went on, his fingers scarping over Starsky´s cheek, leaving three bloody scratches behind and then wandering like toes over them again as they made their way upwards to his forehead, smearing blood all over the dark face.
Too dazed to actually feel the pain, Starsky watched in wide-eyed horror as Randy laid his palm flat against his forehead and explained, "You listen good, David. Listen good to everything you will hear. I´m going to show you what you created. I´m going to take you with me into the hell you locked me in."
Each single word was emphasized with Randy´s hand slowly shoving the curly head back nearer to the wall. The quiet, absolutely convinced tone alone was enough to send a wave of shivers through Starsky´s body.
Yet somehow, he managed to swallow back his rising panic. "Very... poetic," he croaked, but winced when his head connected once more with the wall behind him.
"We´re good at poetry," Randy hissed, "remember?" His hand still rested on the detective´s forehead, still applying pressure as if wanting to shove his head through the wall. A small whimper escaped Starsky despite his efforts to remain still.
An ice cold shudder grabbed him when he felt Randy very close to his ear, his mouth almost touching his skin. "Do I make you nervous, David?" the younger man whispered. "Do we?"
Starsky closed his eyes, feeling the room spinning without looking, bile rising once more in his throat.
'Oh God, please,' he begged constantly inside his head. 'Please no. Please, please no.'
"Are you scared of monsters?"
And then, suddenly, with an airy rush, Randy was gone. Blinking his unfocused eyes open, Starsky could only make out the door falling slowly shut behind his captor, and found himself alone in the room.
A breath escaped him he hadn´t known he´d held, and the adrenalin rushing through his body like a stream of ice cold liquid made him shiver violently until he almost lost his balance.
He couldn´t help retching slightly, partly from the pain burning in his skull, partly from pure, naked fear. Nothing came up, though, and when he carefully leant back against the wall, the lights went out, utter, undisturbed darkness engulfing him.
A split second later, he heard the screams.
Inside his car on the way to Clark Kent´s apartment, Hutch heard screams too. And though they weren´t as real as the ones his partner´s ears were forced to endure, his concern-induced fantasy managed to create them undoubtly as horrible as those in a far away part of the city.
The other disturbing sensation the two detectives unawarely shared in that moment was the images of the two murder young murder victims displaying before their inner eyes, leaving them both shaking with fear, one huddled against a cold concrete wall, the other one curling his long fingers around the steering wheel in a death grip.
He couldn´t help it, no matter how hard he tried to concentrate on the street, the task that lay before him--in his terror-filled mind Hutch couldn´t help seeing his partner in Larson´s place, in Guinn´s, tortured, bleeding, begging, struggling, scared, hurt, dead. In amazed irritation he wondered why his mind could supply him with so credible audio illusions of his partner screaming in fear and agony.
Guilt was adding immensely to the tightening choke hold his own fear seemed to have on his heart, every single wise-crack that´d left his lips ever since he´d decided for Starsky to be the bait in this operation echoed inside his head like angry thunder, eerily distorted, his own words suddenly sounding like he hadn't cared, hadn't bothered to really check things out whereas his partner had been suspicious about the whole idea right from the start.
He knew that wasn´t the truth. They´d done their job, and they´d done it with the same responsible carefulness as always. But still--he HAD introduced his partner to Clark Kent and he HAD left him alone the night before.
'Introduced?! Hell, I practically threw him into the turkey´s arms! Oh God, buddy, I´m so sorry. Just hang on. Please hang on.'
Yet, despite his inner ranting, the blond couldn´t seem to actually admit they´d been wrong. Call it instinct or maybe experience, but the cop Kenneth Hutchinson just knew that Clark Kent wasn´t the killer.
Probably even quite the contrary.
"Good Morning," Hutch greeted the young, slender man that opened the door to Kent´s apartment at the very first knock. He was smaller than Hutch, with short red hair that fell over his tired green eyes under which dark smudges dug into his pale skin.
"I´m Detective Hutchinson, BCPD. And you are... ?"
"Ashton Tripp," the young man introduced himself, visibly alarmed by the sight of the blond´s badge, his air of authority, urgency. "H-has something happened to Clark?"
Hutch blinked, only briefly surprised, and instantly softened his tone slightly as he studied the worried features more closely. "No," he shook his head. "Actually I came to talk to Mr. Kent. This is his apartment, isn´t it?"
"Ours," Tripp replied, opening the door fully at that, drawing his lips downwards apologetically. "I´m sorry, please come in, Detective... ?"
"Hutchinson," Hutch muttered while entering the small place, looking around.
"Hutchinson, right," the younger man nodded, turning to look at Hutch, who´d stopped in the middle of the living-room.
"You live here too?"
"Yeah. Clark´s my best friend. Since high school... But you said you wanted to talk to him?"
"Did Mr. Kent come home at all last night?" Hutch asked, ignoring the unspoken question.
Tripp shook his head sadly. "No. He, uh, he had a date last night, but he obviously never made it home." A nervous laugh made the last words sound quivery as Tripp ran a hand through his disheveled hair. "This is not like Clark, you know. Not at all."
Hutch didn´t listen. His alarm bell was ringing in a deafening volume. "Is that his room?" he asked, pointing at the nearer one of two rooms, the door slightly ajar.
"Uhm, yeah, but..." Frowning, startled, when the detective just marched into his friend's room, Tripp followed hesitantly, watching Hutch going through the pages of a small black appointments diary he´d found lying openly on the table.
"What´re you looking for? What happened to Clark? D´you know where he I-"
"Randy," the blonds appalled mutter cut him off. The small book trembling slightly in his hands, Hutch stared down at the name that had been written in the column under the day before. Panic danced in his light blue eyes like light when he looked up at the younger man again. "Who´s this Randy? D´you know where Clark met him?"
Tripp studied him hesitantly for a moment, then sighed. "You know `bout Clark´s... lifestyle, don´t you?"
The detective nodded curtly.
"Okay. He met the guy a week or so ago. At the "Bird of Prey". That´s a-"
"I know the place," Hutch interrupted him, not unfriendly. "They´re going out?"
"No, not really. More like seeing each other at the "Bird" by coincidence." The last word was emphasized with clear sarcasm. Hutch suddenly found himself wondering if Ashton Tripp was straight. "Randy asked him out for dinner the day before yesterday, but then Clark met someone at the "Bird" that night, who called him yesterday to ask him out too, and so he cancelled the date with Randy. At least that´s what he told me. He was really excited. I don't know who this other guy was, but Clark definitely liked him."
At the blond´s uneasy expression, Tripp frowned again. "Why? What happened? Why´re you asking about thi... Oh my... D´you think something happened to Clark?"
Unable to meet the anxious green eyes, Hutch looked at the name in the book again. 'Kent´s been not only not the killer, but the next victim. And I sent Starsky right in the line of our psycho... Oh, damn it!'
"Have you ever seen Randy?" he asked, cop-modus keeping his voice quiet despite the guilt that flood him like hot, choking liquid. "Maybe talked to him or something?"
"No," Tripp answered. "I don´t visit the same... places like Clark."
"I see." Finally glancing up, Hutch braced himself for what he´d have to say next, knowing exactly what sort of pain he´d inflict on the young man. "Mr. Tripp, I´m sorry I have to tell you, but I think your friend might be in grave danger. So if you know anything, and I mean anything, about this Randy, please tell me now. Your friend´s life may depend on it."
In watchable speed, all color drained from Ashton Tripp´s face. "Wh-what d´you mean, danger? He..." His hand flew up, covering his mouth as realization hit him like a blow. "Oh my God. A-are you saying Randy´s the... the one who killed those two other guys at the "Bird"?"
Hutch´s answer was soft, full of sympathy. "The possibility is very high, yes. I´m sorry."
For a moment it looked as if the younger man would collapse, but he gathered his wits quickly again, slamming his flat palm against the doorframe in angry frustration. "Damn, I told him not to go there anymore! I practically begged him to stay away from there for a while, but he wouldn´t listen. He´d just discovered it and he was so... happy about meeting all those new people there he could connect with and... Wait a second." A sudden thought cut off the desperate man´s rambling that had left Hutch feeling even more guilty than before.
Happy. All the kid had wanted had been to have some fun, meet people like him--same thing everybody wanted. His friend´s tone clearly indicated that before the "Bird", Clark Kent had been most likely lonely, lost in a world seemingly not created for him. And then when he´d finally found a place to belong to, what had they done? Used him. Distrusted him. Set him up, him and his excited happiness that´d been a good laugh to four undercover cops.
Hutch felt like an asshole, like a kid who had just come to think about his actions possibly hurting other people´s feelings when it was too late.
"Clark didn't go the date with Randy," Tripp, unaware of the cop´s inner turmoil, continued. "I told you, he met with another g-"
"That was my partner," Hutch said gently, the sigh finally breaking through to the surface, before he went on, avoiding Tripp´s stare, "He´s missing too. I think it´s most likely Randy followed Clark last night and probably kidnapped them both."
When only silence answered his words, Hutch glanced up to meet unbelieving eyes. "You had an observation on CLARK for this? Clark?!"
"That was a routine investigation. We have to follow every lead we come across," Hutch answered in a monotone voice like he had so many times before to questions like that. "And it looks like we got our lead," he added, cringing inwardly the second the cynical comment had crossed his lips. "Mr. Tripp... Ashton, please, think, is there really nothing more you can tell me about Randy? Anything? Did Clark mention a last name? Maybe a phone number? Did Randy give him his number?"
Noting how his words seemed to increase the scared man´s trembling, the detective slowed down, lowered his voice to an almost soothing tone. "Anything could be helpful, Ashton. Just think."
Tripp nodded, breathing in and out deeply to calm down. "I-I don´t know. Randy called him once, but I told you, they usually just met at the "Bird". They didn´t go ou... Oh hey!" He snapped his fingers. "Wait a second!"
"Give me that," Tripp muttered, snatching the small book out of Hutch´s hands, going through the pages with quivery fingers, while explaining with his breath sped by a sudden rush of hope, "He has a business card of Randy. He took it when Randy paid his drink one night."
"Took it?" Hutch asked surprised.
"Yeah, well, he can be sorta pushing at times. Specially with men. Guess he wanted to have the guy´s phone number just in ca... Ha! There it is," he exclaimed excitedly, tearing out one of the small pages that had a business card glued to it, handing it to the detective.
Hutch studied the card that had Randolph Connor´s name written on it, complete with his address, phone number and a rather silly slogan praising his qualities as an insurance agent. 'Just because life is deadly, doesn´t mean it has to be for nothing. Life insurances--get paid for getting old.'
"I think," Hutch stated, dashing the card into his pocket, already heading back for the door, "your friend´s pushiness may have saved his life, Mr. Tripp."
'And Starsky´s too. I hope.'
"Yeah, uh, hey," Tripp called after him, and Hutch turned on his way down the hallway, rising his brows. "Uhm... bring him back, okay?"
The blond detective gave a soft nod, then sprinted back to his car.
Starsky was scared. Terrified. And hoarse.
After having spent half an hour yelling Randy´s name on the top of his lungs, he finally had have to stop, his voice fading to a painful croak. It hurt to swallow, and even more so to cough, since his head still felt like it´d explode at the slightest movement.
The black darkness he sat in hadn´t eased things, neither. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn´t seem to adjust his eyes to it, probably--as he figured, frustrated, after a while--because there was nothing to see in the room.
Yet he didn´t allow himself to close his eyes, block out the sounds of despair and agony that still carried through the walls of his prison, out of fear of falling asleep with a concussion.
The screams he´d heard had faded too, but whatever was being inflicted on the poor victim was obviously still enough to make him plea, beg, cry, gasp and occasionally yelp.
The captured detective didn´t have the least doubt about whose agony he was witnessing. He hadn´t recognized the voice, but then it hadn´t been that difficult to figure things out. Guilt added to his pain, leaving him desperate in the dark void of helplessness.
'Some hotshot cop you are, Dave,' a nasty voice inside his head kept on rambling, its effect in the darkness strangely frightening. 'There you have the next victim, the link to the killer literally on a silver plate and what d´you do?! Dump him. Smart, detective, real smart.'
And not only dumped him, Starsky thought with a sharp stab of shameful regret, but used him, wise-cracked on him. Somehow the memories of the night before, his exaggeratedly displayed nervousness, his colleague´s comments, even increased the growing heartache listening to the unmistakable sounds of a man going through hell left him with.
Sure, the kid had been a real pain in the neck, boring, pushing and without a doubt the worst dating partner the curly haired detective had ever had the displeasure of meeting. Yet right in that moment, Starsky would have--without a thought--given his life for Clark Kent, done anything to spare him from the agony he was exposed to.
And that wasn´t only cop-instinct. That was pure Starsky.
He stopped his vain attempts at freeing his hands, when he heard heavy footsteps approaching. Stiffning against the wall in fearful anticipation, he held his breath, staring into the direction of the door without being able to make out its shape.
The moment it was opened just a crack, he had to squint his eyes closed, the dim light falling into the dark room already to much to take for them after the long neglect. Blinking fast in order to clear his vision, he could only rely on what he heard--a grunt, a following low thud, a breathless whimper.
"Hey, are you awake?" Randy´s voice suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere directly next to his left ear, and Starsky jumped, startled.
His captor laughed, patted his shoulder, causing another violent flinch. "Relax, it´s just me."
Under every other circumstances, Starsky would have given the guy credits for his humor. At the moment, though, funny didn´t quite cover the situation.
Actually, no word did.
His eyes having adjusted to the light, the detective could now see the broken form of Clark Kent, crumbled on the ground. He seemed to be semi-conscious, his eyes were moving, trying to take in his new surroundings, and though there weren´t many injuries visible on his naked body, it was pretty obvious what had caused his screams.
Starsky closed his eyes briefly, turning his head away. "Oh God."
"Hm," Randy made, tugging the corners of his mouth inwards like a child contemplating about a problem, sliding down the wall until he sat next to Starsky, where he drew his legs to his chest, resting his elbows on his knees. "He was good."
Starsky swallowed back bile. His eyes were still closed. As if in a far distance, he could hear Clark Kent whimper incoherently.
'A nightmare. This has to be a nightmare. Nightmare´s are like this. Please let me wake up. I want to wake up now. Please.'
"A little lethargic," Randy went on without mercy, "but good. Are you sorry now you didn´t give it a try?" he asked the detective curiously, before glancing back at his victim. "I bet you are. You should be. I mean, look at him. He´s a handsome fellow, isn´t he?"
The other man finally turned to look at him again, brows arched and eyes wide with deep, desperate sorrow. "Why´re you doing this?"
Randy gave it a thought, then shrugged. "Because of what I am."
"And what are you?" the detective asked without any sarcasm breaking through the pure grief he felt at the whole situation. Though he wouldn´t have been able to put it in words, he instinctively sensed that there were two victims in the room with him. Two broken things, a body and a soul.
"Sick," Randy answered casually, smiling thinly. "Haven´t you guessed that by now?"
With that, he pushed himself off the wall and strolled over to where Clark lay.
"No!" Starsky threw his upper body forward, struggling against the cuffs once more, but only resulted in losing his balance. "Leave him alone!"
Randy stopped in his tracks, blinking in surprise.
"Please, Randy. Please just let him be. What has he ever done to you?"
"What have I ever done to you?"
Taken aback, the detective stared for a second with his mouth hanging open. "Wha... I-I don´t understand."
"Oh," the younger man laughed, "I think you do." Producing a knife from his waistband, he continued his slow walk around the fallen man, circling him like a tiger ready to plunge its claws into its helpless prey.
Starsky was beside himself with terror, wriggling on the ground, while constantly talking to the insane man. "No, I don´t. I don´t understand, Randy. Why don´t you explain it to me? Huh? C´mon, let´s... let´s talk. Why d´you think you-"
"They told me I was sick," Randy interrupted him quietly without breaking his walking circles.
"Who? Who told you that? Your parents? Teachers?"
"Everyone." He looked up, stopping. "You would have told me too. If you´d have gotten the chance." Slowly, he lowered himself to his knees. Clark, sensing his torturer´s presence, gave a small moan and tried to crawl away but was too weak to even lift his hands.
"Clark," Starsky soothed. "Hey, shh, it´s okay-"
"Don´t talk to him!" Randy cut him off with a yell, swiftly crossing the space between his two captives to grab a handful of Starsky´s hair and throw his head against the wall once more. The detective was too stunned to even yelp, stars dancing through his visions, his stomach protesting fiercely against this treatment.
A whimper escaped him, when Randy shook his head once more, leaning in close to his face. "Don´t pretend to care, Dave. Don´t play me for a fool, I don´t like that."
"I... I do car-"
"Oh you do, don´t you?!" Randy hissed into his ear. "You care enough to use an innocent bystander as a bait, set him up and just dump him when you´re through. You care enough to get the willies at the sight of a gay bar. You care enough to UNDERSTAND!"
Shaking with sudden fear, Starsky forced himself to look at the distorted face next to his, into the sparkling, hateful eyes focused on him. He was sure he´d never seen such insane agony before. That he didn't even make sense anymore was lost on Randy Connor. Inside his mind, he WAS making sense. A deadly one.
Silence settled like a freeze from a movie with Starsky studying the other one, feeling like he could look right through into a tortured, destroyed soul. It hurt to look, but still he did it.
"What happened to you?" he finally asked softly, his voice merely a whisper. "What have they done to you?"
The words hit home. A single tear slid down Randy´s boyish face. Annoyed, he wiped it away, staring at his hand for a second, then reached into his pocket to produce a roll of duct tape.
"I´ll show them," he mumbled, ignoring Starsky´s feeble attempts at rolling away from him as he scraped at the tape. "They want to be right, so they will be. I´ll show them." Tearing off a piece of the material, he looked at his captive again. "I´ll show you."
"Randy, please, no, don´t-"
The rest of Starsky´s desperate pleas were sufficiently muffled by the tape being securely placed over his mouth.
"Watch," Randy told him with a smile slowly spreading on his lips. Patting the detective´s cheek slightly, he then turned to Clark again who´d lost consciousness.
Grimacing at that realization, Randy sighed, started his walking circles again, stopped and looked at Starsky, who watched him with infinite terror.
"You like poetry?"
The detective swallowed. He felt light-headed, nauseatic, and his breathing was ragged, the jerky movements it caused increasing the stabbing pain in his skull. He couldn't seem to tear his eyes away, helplessly forced to watch the hideous scene before him.
"I do," Randy went on after having actually paused as if waiting for the gagged man to answer. "You wanna know which one I like best?"
Again, there was a short pause, before he shrugged and exclaimed, "'Rime of the Ancient Mariner'. Coleridge. D´you know that?"
This time not waiting for an answer, he slowly started to walk again, staring down at Clark, while reciting with a sort of cool passion.
"Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide, wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony."
Starsky couldn´t contain a muffled cry, a pleading whimper, when Randy lowered himself to his knees next to Clark´s body, the words obviously calming him, preparing him.
"The many men," he went on, reaching out to caress the unconscious man´s chest, before looking up at Starsky with an evil grin.
"... so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand, thousand slimy things..."
His voice broke. Badly.
In horror, Starsky watched him lift the knife slightly, tears cascading down his face as he went on,
"Lived on--and so did I."
The detective couldn´t look away. Not even when the screams started again. He just couldn´t.
Poetry dominated Randy Connor´s bookshelves, table and walls. In a neat, clearly readable handwriting, verses, words, rhymes had been thrown onto the walls, seemingly shrinking in the room to the point that the black sentences seemed to come nearer, engulfing the intruder.
Hutch swallowed dryly, looking around from where he stood in Randy Connor´s door. The man wasn´t home, that much was obvious.
Chiding himself when he suddenly found he was actually reading the walls, the blond pushed himself off the door and into the small apartment. Its spartanic interior stood in contrary to the walls, and it wasn´t difficult for the detective to quickly find what he was looking for. A diary among the poetry books, containing some poorly written verses and what looked like an endless stream of consciousness. Pages of rambling and ranting about the evilness of homosexuality, the duties Randy Connor saw himself obliged to being 'one of them, but in knowledge of the truth'.
Hutch shook his head with a sigh, wandering if the man kept some comic books hidden under the piles of poetry...
"'Truth is beauty," he whispered to himself the following lines from the diary, "beauty is truth. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.' Hm. Keats. At least he´s got taste."
Placing the book down again with a mental note to put it on top of the list once he´s got a warrant for the suspect´s home, and dug in deeper into the books crowding the table until he found what he thought he´d been looking for--a plan of a building downtown. Randy´s insurance firm was to be found in there, along with a dozen other companies.
The basement had been colored on the plan Hutch held, his heart beating fast with hope and dread.
Turning on his heels, he headed for the door, but stopped, swearing, and turned again to rummage through Randy´s table once more, until he finally produced a strip of unused pass photos from one drawer.
Stashing it into his pocket, he sprinted back to the car, the plan crumbling in his hands, and ordered some back up to meet him at the building.
'Hang on, Starsky, just hang on, please.'
Clark Kent was staring at Starsky, lifeless eyes, seemingly drained off their color, had settled upon the shaking detective what felt like an eternity ago.
The blood no longer ran free, but had dried on his naked body, the puddles underneath it glittering in the dim light illuminating the room.
There was a word on his chest, the beginning of a sentence not finished yet. Annoyed at his inability to recall the whole line he´d wanted to carve in the dying man's chest, Randy had left the room to check it out "upstairs", leaving Clark Kent to finally die and Starsky to witness.
The detective had long since the beginning of this nightmare snapped out of his trance and attempted to look away, to close his eyes. He´d heard Clark´s screams, incoherent please--and his own name, whispered in surprise, shock. Regret.
Every time he´d closed his eyes, though, Randy had forced them open again. Either by punishing him, so that Starsky had his own share of bruising by now, or by threatening to kill his victim right then if he wouldn´t look.
Clark Kent had been beyond saving, but Starsky couldn´t help his eyes snapping open each time Randy used that trick. A part of him knew that it probably would have been a mercy killing--Clark was in agony. Death would come as a friend, releasing, not robbing.
After the carving in of the first word, Randy went out, and Starsky´s eyes fell instantly shut. He could feel the dead man´s glance on him, wished he could reach out and close his eyes too.
Silence filled his prison except for his own breathing, and he felt eerily deserted by thoughts. He was cold, and he was afraid.
That was all he knew.
The rooms of the companies were empty except for a few workaholics who´d wanted to use the weekend to get some more work done.
Unis in civil clothes had been positioned to surround the building, while Hutch a handful of other detectives checked the inside.
The light in Randy´s insurance company was on, and two men stayed on the hallway to it, while Hutch and the rest made their way downstairs, using Randy´s plan to get to a seemingly long forgotten part of the basement.
His grip on his gun tightening, Hutch swallowed past the fear, dread rising inside. God, how he hated basements!
They´d reached yet another corner, the last one before the colored part on the plan, when the sound of the elevator arriving stopped them.
Communicating without words, the police officers arranged themselves in a semi-circle around the slowly opening doors that revealed a young, good-looking and completely taken off guard man.
"Freeze! Police!" Hutch ordered, and to his utter surprise Randy Connor froze, wide-eyed.
Again, the younger man obeyed, slowly, without hesitation. The second his feet touched the floor of the basement, though, he threw himself against the nearest detective with his full body weight, sending them both crashing to the ground.
In the confusion following his action, he scrambled to his feet and ran, Hutch on his heels.
After the corner he´d just turned around, the blond stopped. The hallway was long, too long for escape.
"Stop!" Hutch yelled after Randy, taking aim. "Stop or I´ll shoot."
He waited a split second, and when there was no sign whatsoever of Randy complying, he aimed at the fleeing suspect´s upper shoulder and fired.
As if by instinct, or moved by an invisible hand, Randy turned half around in just that particular moment. If he´d kept on running, he´d have been thrown to the floor by the impact of the bullet hitting his shoulder. He´d have lived.
Hutch gasped in startled shock, when he watched Randy´s head being thrown backwards forcefully, his whole body following until it hit the wall and slid to the ground, lifeless. The bullet had hit the left side of his face, blood covered the wall in a long, dripping streak.
It looked like a long 'I'. The beginning of a sentence.
Hutch stood, staring, his own breathing too loud in his ears. He took a step forward, stopped--and turned, ran back.
They´d found the room marked on Randy´s plan and were working on opening the door, when Hutch returned, informing his colleague´s about the suspect´s death. One of them headed back outside to call an ambulance.
The door finally gave in and the detectives rushed inside the room.
The words seemed to slip off everyone´s lips as they stood, stunned, staring, trying to absorbing what lay in front of them.
Clark Kent´s mangled, lifeless body lay sprawled in the middle of the small, dimly lit room, his eyes open, unseeing. Blood covered him, the puddle underneath him strangely still like a sea asleep.
And Starsky. Cuffed, gagged, eyes squeezed closed, huddled in a corner. Shaking like a leaf.
Hutch was the first on to snap out of his shock and rushed to his partner´s side instantly, kneeling next to him. "Starsk. Starsky, it´s me, Hutch. It´s over." Bending closer, he drew in a shaky breath, his hand hovering over Starsky´s bruised face, afraid to startle him. "C-can you look at me? Starsky? Open you eyes."
His partner didn´t react. He kept his head slightly turned away from the horrible sight in front of them, eyes squeezed shut, shaking.
Glancing over his shoulder, Hutch quickly shifted his position so that he blocked Starsky´s view at the corpse, and tried again. "Buddy, can you hear me? It´s Hutch, it´s okay now. I got you. It´s over."
The blond could no longer restrain himself; tentatively, he reached out to cup the darker man´s cheek. Starsky flinched, his skin felt clammy to the touch, cool.
"Shhh, it´s okay. It´s just me. Open your eyes and you´ll see. Hm? Babe, c´mon, open your eyes."
The trembling increased. Hutch was near despair.
"I-it´s okay, buddy. It´s... I'm going to remove this thing now, okay? Okay? It´s gonna hurt, but trust me. Okay? Starsky? Buddy?"
But the man he touched was unresponsive, withdrawn and so completely unlike Starsky that it scared Hutch witless. Quickly, mercifully, he remove the tape from his friend´s mouth, and Starsky gave a tiny gasp, but his eyes stayed closed.
Near panic himself now, Hutch gently placed one hand on the back of Starsky´s head, wincing when he felt the dry stickiness of blood-matted curls.
"Buddy, are you hurt anywhere else? Starsk? Talk to me."
When there was still no reply, Hutch started to carefully untie his partner´s ankles and took the cuffs off of him, all the while continuing his soothing, feeling the looks of the other detectives upon them, utter horror displayed in them. The sight of the young man´s corpse was enough to haunt any of them in their dreams--watching the deadly injuries being inflicted... Not one of them could even start to imagine what it would do to him.
Once his arms were free, Starsky brought them forward with a wince of pain, and hugged his knees to his chest, burying his face in his knees.
Hutch watched in dismay, softly stroking his trembling friend´s curls. "Buddy, talk to me. Please. Are you hurt anywhere else? Starsk? Starsky? Look at me. C´mon, buddy, please. Please look at me. It´s okay. I´m here now, right here. It´s okay."
But it was not. Nothing was okay.
Turning to look at the entering paramedics, Hutch stroked Starsky´s back, while placing his other hand on his forehead where it touched his knees, as if, contrary to his words, holding the curly head down for the moment. Silently, he pleaded with the paramedics to cover the corpse, and, taking in the scenery, they nodded, understanding. Clark Kent´s eyes were finally closed, a blanket spread over him, shielding the world for its own protection.
Another blanket was handed to Hutch who took it gratefully and turned to his shaking partner again. The paramedic crouched down next to him, frowning.
"He´s in shock. I think it´d be better if you-"
"No," Hutch interrupted the man softly, keeping his voice low as he covered his friend with the blanket, causing another flinch. "Please, just let us be for a sec, okay?"
Catching the look in the pain filled light blue eyes, the man finally nodded, giving the blond´s shoulders a parting squeeze, before he stood up again.
Hutch looked down at his friend again and gently forced Starsky´s head up. "Buddy, please open your eyes. Starsk."
The tiniest of whispers finally answered his pleas. "Hutch?"
"Yes," Hutch replied, relief washing through him. "Right here, buddy. Right here. Can you open your eyes now?"
Blindly, the shaken detective lifted his sore arms, grasping for his partner, finding the lapels of Hutch´s leather jacket, and drew himself closer. "No," a quivery whimper reached Hutch´s ears, who, dismayed, wrapped his own arms around his friend to hold his trembling form against himself.
"Please," Starsky added, burying his face in Hutch´s chest.
"Hey, buddy, hey," Hutch soothed, appalled, feeling his partner´s grip tighten, his shivering increasing. "Hey, Starsk, `sokay. Okay. You don´t have to look, it´s alright. We´ll just get you out of here, hm? Shhh, calm down, it´s alright."
Adjusting the blanket, while keeping a securing hold on his partner, Hutch threw the paramedic a helpless look, Starsky´s scared whimpers torturing his ears.
Hours later, Hutch sat in an too awfully familiar, uncomfortable chair at Starsky´s bedside, watching over his partner´s sleep. All the way to the hospital, the curly haired detective had not once opened his eyes, except when they´d been forced open by the paramedics to check on his pupils. And when they´d done it, he´d screamed, jerking his head away, reaching blindly for the support of his dismayed friend who´d supplied him with it willingly.
His behavior had more and more changed from lethargy to openly displayed terror, his shaking increasing to the point of his teeth clattering, his reaction to each and every touch of the paramedics shrinking back towards the protective hands of his partner.
At the hospital, though, the necessary examinations had quickly worn him out, and by the time the doctor had informed Hutch about the list of injuries his partner had suffered--except for the concussion only minor bruising--Starsky´s had already been sound asleep.
Hutch shifted his position on the chair, suppressing a yawn. It was afternoon, rays of sunshine struggled to get into the room through the window shades. The detective felt like he hadn´t slept for a month. Had it really been just yesterday he´d left his drunken friend sleeping in his clothes on his bed?
His eyes squeezed shut as if by their own will at that thought. Yes, it´d been yesterday, and yes, he´d left Starsky alone in a state nowhere near possible self-defense.
Not to mention Clark Kent. Clark Kent who was dead.
Wiping a tired hand over his face, the blond patted his sleeping partner´s arm with the other one.
"I´m here, buddy," he whispered softly. "Right here."
For all Hutch knew about his partner--and that was more than the man knew himself--compared to the guilt trip Starsky would experience once he´d be coherent enough to think about the incident, his own would look like a child´s bad conscience. There was no letting himself fall for Hutch in this. Instinctively, he braced himself for catching his partner, subconsciously knowing that would ease his own self-doubts too.
A soft knock at the door brought him out of his thoughts, and he turned to meet Brownie Berger´s apologetic look. Giving him a curt nod, Hutch squeezed Starsky´s shoulder briefly, muttering a few intelligible words to him and followed the younger detective outside.
Brownie wore the unmistakable expression of a young police officer being confronted with the darker side of his job for the first time. His features were strained, pale, and it was obvious that he´d been crying some time ago.
Hutch briefly touched his shoulder with an understanding smile that was answered with gratefulness.
"I thought you, uh, you´d like to know that Connor was undoubtly the killer," Brownie told the blond in a low voice, glancing at the sleeping form behind the glass of the room´s window. "I just read Kent´s autopsy report."
Hutch sighed, nodding. "They found semen?"
Brownie swallowed, didn´t meet his gaze. He nodded.
"Damn," Hutch muttered, squeezing his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger, before looking at Starsky like Berger had before. He didn´t know if he felt this bad because of his sympathy for the poor victim or because he hated himself for feeling so utterly glad about the fact that it was Clark who´d been raped, tortured, murdered, and not Starsky. He knew it was only human, yet he didn´t want to face this part of him. He shouldn´t be glad that another human being had to go through this, he just shouldn´t!
Yet--he was. 'Truth is beauty...' he thought, shaking his head slightly.
"Uhm...Hutch," the younger man started again, fumbling nervously with a sheet of paper he held in his hands, obviously for pure support. "There´s something else. They were able to read the... word. On Kent´s chest."
Dread washing through him, Hutch swallowed. "Yes?"
Silence hit the two men like cold. For a while, they both stood, staring through the window, then Hutch squeezed Brownie´s shoulder once more, his smile forced onto his face with visible effort, and entered again, leaving the younger man behind, alone with the first demons to haunt him on a growing list.
Hutch wasn´t sure what had woken him. Blinking against the demanding heaviness of his lids, he yawned slightly, rubbed his face. When he looked again, he found Starsky sitting upright in the hospital bed, and though he couldn´t see his eyes in the dark room, Hutch instantly knew they were wide with fear.
"Starsk," he said softly, reaching out to touch his friend´s hand. "Hey."
The other one flinched, a tiny sound of pain accompanying this, but recognized the hand holding his. "Hutch?" he whispered fearfully.
"Yeah," Hutch nodded and stood to sit down next to his friend. "Right here, babe. We´re in the hospital, remember?"
"Can you turn on the lights? Please?"
"Sure," Hutch replied instantly, and reached out to switch on the light that was mercifully warm, dim, and startlingly bright. Looking back at his partner, Hutch noticed the slight tremors running through his body and gathered up the woolen blanket a nurse had supplied him with hours ago, to gently place it over Starsky´s quivering shoulders.
The smaller man smiled gratefully. Silence settled for a moment, Hutch´s hand remaining on Starsky´s back, before a tiny voice broke through it. "He's dead, isn´t he?"
Hutch bowed his head, but forced himself to answer. "Yes. They both are."
The blond nodded with a sigh. "Shot him. It was an accident."
Starsky watched him, then nodded too. Again, silence engulfed them.
"Starsky," Hutch began after a while, but noticed he didn't know how to continue. Instead, he let one hand wander up to stroke his friend´s head. "I´m here."
"They´ll need my statement," the curly haired detective muttered instead of an answer.
His friend blinked, he hadn't thought about that yet. "Maybe not," he said soothingly. "The autopsy report makes things pretty clear. And the suspect´s dead. Maybe it won´t be necessary." He wanted to add that talking about it would be inevitable, though, but held himself back for now. It was the middle of the night, and Starsky had just wakened up. Pushing him at that point wouldn´t help a thing.
Yet, looking at his partner, taking in his vacant glance, his tensed shoulders, the blond suddenly knew that pushing him would be inevitable too.
"How d´you feel?" he asked after a moment. "Any pain?"
Starsky looked at him as if that was the most ridiculous question he´d heard in a long time, and shook his head, only to wince afterwards. "Barely," he mumbled sarcastically with his eyes squeezed shut against the stabbing sensation inside his skull.
Hutch smiled in sympathy. "You took quite a blow there, but the doctors say you´ll be as good as new in a few days."
"Yeah. Yeah... Hutch?"
"Hm?" the blond made, lifting his brows questioningly.
His friend turned his head, glancing at him. His mouth opened--and closed. "Uh... nothing. Nothing. I'll..." His gaze dropped to the sheet at his feet, and he lay back again. "Tired," he mumbled, "just tired."
Frowning with concern, Hutch adjusted the blankets over him. "Okay, buddy, you just re..."
Starsky rolled onto his side, his back facing Hutch and curled up on himself.
"Just rest," Hutch finished after a stunned moment, settling in his chair again. "I´ll be right here. Won´t go anywhere."
For the rest of the night the two men remained silent, demons crowding in the room before two pairs of wide awake eyes.
The inevitable didn´t happen in the morning, either. Starsky was uncharacteristically withdrawn, tensed, and quiet.
It was driving Hutch nuts. Every now and then he´d place a comforting hand on his friend´s, looking him directly in the eyes with open concern, not questioning nor pushing, but offering.
Each time, Starsky would smile, pat the hand and look away.
When Dobey came to visit him, he barely said anything beyond "hi Cap", answered only with headshakes or nods. The look the Captain threw Hutch before he left spoke volumes.
"Buddy," Hutch said around noon, checking his watch and stretching slightly. He´d sat in that chair for hours now, his friend´s quietness making the fresh air coming through the half open window sticky, "I-I´ve to go for a while, write that... report." His voice faded as if he expected his shaken friend to break down at the slightest reminder of his ordeal.
Yet Starsky just turned his head from where he'd looked out of the window, his expression blank. "Okay."
"I´ll be back later." The blond paused, studying his friend, who nodded and turned away again. "D´you... want anything? Maybe I could smuggle in some food or..." Hutch trailed off, feeling clumsy. "I don´t know, uhm, how `bout something to read?"
Starsky didn't look. "Okay."
Hutch sighed. "Starsk-"
"When can I go home?" his friend´s toneless question interrupted him.
"Uh... I don´t know. Probably soon. Want me to ask the doctor?" There was a hint of urgent hope in the blond´s voice, relief at hearing his friend being interested in going home.
But to his disappointment, Starsky shrugged.
"I´ll ask him on my way out, okay buddy?"
Hutch rubbed his face, then stood to leave, but hesitated. Starsky gazed out of the window, unseeing. After a moment, the blond swiftly walked around the bed and crouched down next to Starsky, looking up at him.
"Starsk, talk to me."
The curly haired man blinked, his gaze lazily wandering down to meet Hutch´s. "I can´t remember the poem," he said, sounding frustrated.
Hutch frowned, dread creeping up his throat. "Poem?" he asked softly.
"I only recall one line. Forgot the rest."
A nervous hand drove through blond hair, leaving it tousled. Its owner didn´t care. "How does the line go?"
Starsky blinked again, swallowed. "'A thousand, thousand...'" His voice broke, but he caught himself, avoiding Hutch´s pain filled glance as he continued, "'slimy things lived on; and so did I.'"
It took all Hutch had to not just wrap the man before him in a comforting embrace, to try to protect him from whatever demons had settled within him, from whatever abuse his vulnerable soul had taken. Instead, he straightened to sit down next to his partner like the evening before. "Coleridge," he said softly.
At least that brought reaction, cobalt blue eyes lifted again to meet his. "Yes," Starsky answered, surprised. "D´you know it?"
"Not by heart," Hutch replied gently. "Did Connor recite it?"
"Randy," Hutch corrected himself.
Feeling as if he was inching his way forward on a fragile bridge towards relief, the blond asked in a voice soft enough to not break through the abstract material, "When?"
"Wh-when..." Starsky started, but couldn´t go on. He sniffed, swallowed, his hands fumbling with one edge of his blanket. "Hutch?"
"C-can you... Can you look that poem up for me?" As if afraid, he glanced up at his friend´s worried face. "I´d like to know the rest of it."
"Sure," Hutch promised. "I think I have it somewhere at home. I´ll look it up for you."
"Thanks." A pause occurred, and Hutch almost thought that´d have been it, the one crack in the shield he was about to witness for the time being, when his partner´s small voice once more could be heard from where his head hang.
"I´m so sorry. I´m so sorry they had to die."
"I know," Hutch whispered, covering Starsky´s hand with his own. "Me too."
"I... I wish it woulda been me."
Hutch closed his eyes. 'I don´t.' But he didn´t say it.
"It shoulda been me."
Hutch´s eyes snapped open. "No," he exclaimed, a little too loud, and lowered his voice when he gently lifted Starsky´s face to look at him. "Don´t say that. It should have never happened to anyone. That´s what should have been. No change in victims would have made things better."
Such pain, such self-doubt, such sorrow displayed on his friend´s face--Hutch could barely stand looking at him.
Then, suddenly, as if switch had been turned, Starsky´s eyes closed. "Tired," he said, freeing himself from Hutch´s grip, and laid back, turning away from him. "I´m tired."
Hutch watched, his hand still hovering in the air, and sighed. "Yeah," he finally said and stood. "You rest, buddy. I´ll be back soon."
When he looked back over his shoulder at the door, he thought he saw a tear shimmer on his partner´s pale and bruised face.
No response. After a second of hesitation, he left.
Looking up from where he´d spent the last ten minutes of staring at the last sentence he´d typed without seeing it, Hutch blinked once, twice, then smiled politely. "Lynn. Hey." As his vision seemingly cleared, he frowned. "What?"
"I´ve just been to the hospital," she answered, worry evident in her voice. "Did you know Dave signed himself out three hours ago?"
For a split second, the blond detective stared at her dumbfounded, then blinked once more. "Excuse me... What?"
"They told me at the reception when I found his room empty. He signed himself out against doctor´s advise and took a cap."
Drawing in a deep breath, Hutch snatched the receiver off the phone, dialing Starsky´s number with fingers that shook with anger. "That stubborn, irresponsible..."
It rang a dozen times, before he hang up, standing in the same movement. "I´m going to drive to his place. Thanks Lynn."
"Yeah," she replied, still worried, and held him back before he turned for the door. "Uhm, Hutch... Uh... Tell him... Tell him I was there to see him, will you?"
His expression softening, he gave her hand a brief squeeze. "Sure."
"Thanks. And... you take care of him, okay?" A tiny, sheepish smile tugged at her lips, and before he could answer, she turned away.
Hutch sprinted out of the precinct and to his car, all the time swearing under his breath.
At first the absence of the Torino startled Hutch into thinking his friend wasn´t home after all, but then he remembered the car still stood at the bar the Team Gordo Date had left it the night before.
A lifetime ago.
Swiftly making his way up the stairs, while nursing his anger in order to suppress what other emotions that sudden thought might stir inside, he first knocked at his partner´s door, then called out for him and finally let himself in.
Starsky wasn't home. A dreadful déjà-vu caught the blond like a shudder as he rushed inside the bedroom, but found it just like he´d left it. The sun had set outside.
"It´s all in a day," he muttered to himself, frustrated, driving a hand through his hair, glancing around as if he had somehow missed his friend who would pop up out of nowhere if Hutch just looked for him intensively enough.
After a while, though, the blond´s shoulders slumped, almost disappointed, and he shuffled back into the living-room where he sank down on the couch heavily, face in hands.
As it had happened every time since they´d been plunged into this nightmare, images of Starsky huddled in that room of horror, terrified, shocked, flickered before Hutch´s inner eye the second he closed his real ones.
Gasping as if just running out of air, he blinked them open again, leant back. They had contrary problems. He couldn´t close his eyes where Starsky couldn´t open his.
Letting his thoughts wander on, Hutch tried to recall what he´d seen of Randolph Connor, wanting to understand his partner´s momentary ordeal. He hadn´t even known he was surprised at Starsky´s reaction to it all until now. It seemed that what had shaken him to the grounds of his soul wasn´t the brutality of what he´d witnessed, but its causes. It hadn´t been watching Clark Kent being killed what had disturbed him to the point of scaring Hutch, but Randy Connor doing it.
So what did he knew about Randolph Connor, Hutch thought. He´d been insane. A destroyed soul himself, forced to destroy bodies.
How very poetic.
Snorting at himself, the blond squeezed his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger--and froze. Poetic. Why hadn´t he thought of that sooner?!
He was back in his car in a second.
He found Starsky asleep on his couch, small piles of books on the ground next to him, one lying openly on his chest, steadily rising and falling along with it.
Watching his partner for a second, door still ajar, key in hand, Hutch carefully closed the door behind himself and stepped inside his apartment, coming to a halt at the couch.
Ever so tentatively as to not startle his worn out friend, he picked up the book from Starsky´s chest and turned it.
The 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' was glaring back at him with all the destroying despise its words contained, their blows arbitrary, leaving him breathless, suddenly cold. He'd known the poem, but had never before noticed its impact, its hidden meaning.
Hidden to the point of nonexistence. As long as you didn´t fill it with your own demons, it was just that--a pain filled description of a surviving mariner. Randy´s 'Rime', though, had been bursting with dark-colored fright, wings of devils circling in his soul.
'I closed my lids,' Hutch read, 'and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky,
Lay like a load on my weary eye...'
He swallowed, closing his eyes as the last sentence of the verse echoed in his mind, which chosen to read it in the voice of his partner. 'And the dead were on my feet.'
With a quick motion, as if disgusted, he closed the book and put it down on the coffee table, as far away from his friend as possible. Looking back then, he sighed, gathered up a blanket for Starsky from the back of the couch, but hesitated, his hands holding the cover hovering over his friend´s still form.
Too still. His face too pale. His breathing strangely shallow.
"Starsk?" Gently, Hutch crouched down next to the couch, laying his palm flat on Starsky´s cheek. When he got no response, he slapped it slightly. "Starsky, wake up."
Again, there was no reaction. The white gauze covering the wound on the back of the curly head stood out like a warning signal. "Starsk, c´mon, wake up," Hutch urged him more, carefully shaking his face now, at last causing a tiny moan that grew louder after a few seconds.
Relieved, the blond drew his hand back, but remained next to his friend´s head, frowning down at him with worry. "You wakin´ up, buddy? Open you eyes, okay? Starsk? You with me?"
Unfocused blue eyes cracked open a bit, but squeezed shut again instantly, a groan informing the concerned audience of the pain that action sent washing through the bandaged skull.
"Uh... Hutch?" The whisper was strained, breathy, but at least proof of coherence. A wince followed, then another quivery question, "Hutch?"
"Right here," the blond answered softly, sitting back on his legs while watching his partner adjust to reality slowly. "I´m here. Just thought I´d wake you. Didn´t know how long you´ve been asleep."
The disheveled looking man blinked, confused, and struggled to sit up, grasping Hutch´s offered arm for help with a thankful smile.
"You shouldn´t sleep unobserved with a concussion," Hutch lectured him matter-of-factly, his calm voice not fooling his friend a second.
Grinning sheepishly, Starsky glanced down and shifted on the couch so that Hutch could sit down next to him. "Sorry."
The blond, though, remained where he was and from where he could look up into the pale face of his best friend with concerned eagerness. "How d´you feel?"
"Sleepy," came the reply, and a yawn followed to prove the point. "Dizzy." The curly head shook slightly as Starsky tried to clear his vision, and his pale face was covered by his hands for a moment, before with a feeble gesture of wiping the sleep off his face, he brought them down in his lap again, looking beat, tired. He blinked up at Hutch briefly, gave the ghost of a smile, and looked down again.
"Pain bad?" Hutch asked, still not moving to stand up from his crouching position.
Starsky shrugged, sadly. "I´ll live."
Bowing his head, Hutch drew in a deep breath, and finally sat down next to his friend on the couch. Seconds passed, silent, tensed, and long. From where his head hang, Starsky stared at the book on the table, Hutch could feel it.
"Why d´you leave the hospital?" the blond asked at last. There was no accusation in the question, just concern, caring.
Again, the smaller man shrugged. "You know the food there. It´s an insult."
"I offered to bring you real food."
Starsky glanced up. "I wanted to read the poem," he said quietly after a short pause.
"I offered to bring you that too."
Cobalt blue eyes wandered down again. "I don't know."
Hutch sighed. "Buddy, what´s going on here? What´s happening to you?" He could sense more than watch his partner tense up next to him, but forced himself to continue. "I know what you witnessed was horrible, I understand that you´re shaken up. But I can´t help you unless you let me in."
Starsky shifted slightly, visibly uncomfortable with the situation.
"Please, Starsk, just talk to me. It´ll make you feel better, I promise. I want to help you."
"I don´t..." his partner started sharply, but cut himself off, and after a moment drew his feet up onto the couch, hugging his legs. Like he had in the basement. "I don´t think I want to feel better," he muttered.
Hutch´s brows arched in dismay.
"I don´t deserve that," Starsky added in a whisper that tore at Hutch´s heart to the point of a small sound of shared heartache and despair slipping off his own lips.
"Of course you... Buddy, look at me."
Starsky obeyed hesitantly, forcing his eyes to meet Hutch´s.
"Nothing that happened was your fault. You´re a victim in this too. You were forced to watch something incredibly horrible and it will take time to get over that, but I´m here. You won´t have to do this alone. Understand?"
He waited for a nod, but got none.
"And of course you deserve to feel better. You didn´t do anything to deserve what HAPPENED in the first place."
A bitter snort shook the darker man's shoulders. "Didn´t I?" he muttered.
"Did you ever," Starsky interrupted his friend quietly, bitterness changing into sadness, "think about what you´d do if maybe one day you had a kid and he´d turn out to be... like Randy?"
"Gay I mean," Starsky added, the words that followed dripping with sarcasm. "Not insane."
Taken completely by surprise, Hutch started, "Uhm...", but cut himself off, thinking. "Uh... I don´t know. Nothing, I guess. What´d there be to do `bout it?"
His partner smiled without any humor displaying on his face, and nodded. "Right. Nothing." He paused. "Me... I´d freak out."
Understanding hit Hutch like a lightening, but strangely not increasing his dismay, but his confidence in being able to help his partner through this. "You think?" he asked softly, in the tone of voice that always indicated the beginning of the Hutchinson Tactics.
Starsky blinked up at him as if surprised by that question, but let his gaze drop onto his knees again. He didn´t answer.
"Because I think," the blond continued, "that the fact that something that hasn´t even happened yet frightens you like this, means it´ll probably not happen at all."
It wasn´t until his friend spoke again, that Hutch realized Starsky hadn´t heard a word. "He cried all the time. All the time he..." He swallowed, closed his eyes. Hutch´s fingers closed over his shoulder, unregistered. "And when I... looked away, he´d yell at me to... to watch or he´d kill him." Again, he had to pause. Hutch could see the dark blue eyes moving, following images displayed before them.
When Starsky could finally speak again, his voice was a whisper. "He killed him, anyway. He killed them all, just to prove..." He trailed off, and Hutch could feel the shoulder beneath his hand start to quiver. He was about to encourage his friend some more, when Starsky winced, brought up his hand to his forehead.
"I´m... I´m tired," the darker man winked, avoiding Hutch´s look. "I´ll better go home."
Before Hutch could even overcome his surprise, Starsky had pushed himself to his feet, only to sway dangerously and crash down next to the couch.
"Starsk!" In an instant, Hutch was kneeling next to his fallen friend, who already tried to weakly push the helping hands away as he sat up against the side of the couch.
"I´m okay. Just felt a little woozy here. It´s alright."
"Woozy," Hutch repeated, "sure. No, stay down for a moment, will you?" Gently, he held his struggling friend down, while looking closer into slowly focusing blue eyes. "Okay now?"
"Yeah, I´m fine," Starsky muttered, sounding annoyed. "Fine."
Frustrated at his partner´s tone, Hutch squeezed his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger, suppressing a small sigh of impatience. "Okay, c´mon, let´s get you to bed," he then offered, standing to help Starsky up, who accepted the support, but glanced stubbornly at the blond when he was upright again.
"I said I want to go home."
"Well, obviously, you´re not going to make it home," Hutch replied sharply, but softened his voice when he continued, "Just humor me, buddy, alright? Stay here for a few hours, get some rest, and then we´ll see. Hm?" Lifting his brows expectantly, he already started to maneuver his weak friend in the direction of the bedroom.
They were inside, before Starsky even noticed. "The couched be just fi-"
"Humor me some more," Hutch cut him off and drew the blankets on the bed back. "Now get in there and shut up."
Submitting, Starsky complied and didn´t even protest when his friend made a show out of tucking him in. His eyes had found yet another ceiling to stare at. Ceilings were like movie screens, he´d found out at the hospital. Wide and light and cruel.
"Huh?" Blinking, Starsky turned his head to glance at his friend who obviously had been calling his name for some time now. "What?"
"I´ll be right outside."
That--at last--brought the ghost of a smile to the darker man´s face, and even though he found himself struggling against it, the warming mixture of concern and affection his friend´s velvety voice always showed in situations like this, made its way down to his heart, easing the pain settled there against his own will.
"Okay," he acknowledged and watched Hutch open his mouth as if to add something else, but turn at last and head for the door.
"Yes?" The eagerness in the instant answer to his partner´s whisper spoke volumes.
Yet--again, Starsky couldn´t seem to let the words flooding his mind go. He felt strangely cowardly at the mere wish to say them. "Uh..."
Hutch waited, brows lifted slightly, eyes bright.
"`S just... uhm..." Starsky swallowed, blinked, looked away. Closed his eyes. "Thanks for letting me stay," he finally mumbled and rolled onto his side, away from Hutch, whose head dropped a bit, resignation seemingly loosing the tension in his muscles to the point of his arms suddenly hanging limply as if all life had been drained out of him.
"Anytime," he answered quietly and turned, leaving the door slightly ajar.
Ceilings were bad, bad things. As were inner eyes.
No matter where what he looked at, it instantly turned into a mirror, reflecting his thoughts, the images branded on his retina. No matter how hard he tried to listen to other voices in his head--Hutch´s mostly, or Terry´s, his mother´s--Clark Kent´s screams swallowed them like dark, thick water, muffling his own inner pleas, but not Randy´s.
' The look with which they looked on me
Had never passed away.'
He rolled onto his other side, a feeble attempt at escape. His hands crawled forward on the sheet until they covered his ears.
And still he heard.
' The soulds did from their bodies fly,-
They fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul, it passed me by... Watch, Dave! I´m doing this for you! One sore less. Dad used to call them that. Sores of society. In promised him to do something about it. For, see, I am blessed. The only one who can fight them.'
A hysteric giggle had broken through the insane speech at that thought, like every time when a glimmer of the intelligent, witty young man Randy Connor was managed to shine through the dark curtains covering his self.
'D´you read comics, Dave? I always loved comics. The good ones. Where the hero´s no hero at all. Just...well, let´s say I always got the feeling, Batman´s a little... mentally instable, don't you think? It´s like in literature--greatness has its price. Is it greatness to just free the earth of them? No. THAT´d be too easy. But BE like them... You understand the sacrifice this is, don't you? I promised my father. Promised him...'
A small moan escaped Starsky´s throat, and he instantly bit his lower lip, burying his head under the pillow, while curling up so much he kneed on the bed as if trying to be a smaller target for the demons tormenting him.
'I don´t like being around them, Hutch. They make me... nervous...'
He whimpered, dragged the blanket over his head. It only shut out the light, though. Darkness filled with his own voice.
'I just think they shouldn´t be this... open about it, okay? I mean, whatever everyone does in his own bedroom´s fine with me, but... I don´t really want to know about it. Do you?'
Something wet and hot seemingly scalded his flushed cheeks, and when he came up for air, he felt tears slowly cascade down his face. Angry, he wiped them away, taking in deep breath. His heart beat against his chest as if it wanted to break free from his body. Free from this person that was him.
He could absolutely understand it. He wanted to run himself. Looking around, taking in the familiar shapes of Hutch´s bedroom, he gave in to the tears burning in his eyes, but only for a moment, before he fiercely rubbed his face again, letting out a deep breath along with jumping out of bed. Holding onto a wall for support until the stars spangling his vision had vanished, he searched for his shoes.
Where to he didn´t know. Just out of there. Away from Hutch. Away from caring, love, understanding, friendship--sympathy. The urge to flee grow like panic in his chest, though he didn't understand why. He wanted to huddle somewhere, curl up on himself, close his eyes to nothingness and never move again. He wanted that pain to go away and at the same time to engulf him fully. Like he felt he deserved it.
He wanted to pay for what he´d done.
Sneaking to the slightly opened door, he peeked into the living-room, to find Hutch on the couch, obviously asleep, if the steady rising and falling of his chest was any indication. The book Starsky himself had read in before falling asleep earlier lay openly on the blond´s chest, one arm seemingly hugging it in sleep.
Starsky being Starsky, he couldn´t--even in his momentarily confused state--help smiling inwardly at the picture. Hutch and a comfort book... It fit perfectly in his image of young Kenny Hutchinson.
Ever so carefully, he finally slid into the room and, always checking on his sleeping friend, managed to get to the door without so much as a stir from Hutch.
Allowing himself to sigh in relief, he opened the door...
"And just where d´you think you´re going?"
... and jumped so much it tore a startled yelp from his throat. Whirling around on his heels to stare at his partner still sprawled on the couch, he lost his balance slightly and stumbled back against the door that fell shut under his weight. Panting, he grabbed his heart, then his head, where the arrival at a whole new level of pain was being celebrated by the evil little dwarfs with their sledgehammers who obviously had settled in there some time ago.
"Man, give a guy a heart attack!" Starsky exclaimed, his voice shaking too bad to actually sound accusing.
"Man, break a promise," Hutch replied dryly. He still hadn´t moved but for sliding his arm behind his head to lift it slightly on the cushion. "you said you´d humor me and get some sleep."
"I did sleep," Starsky defended himself, his breathing slowing down some. "Now I´m done, and I want to go home."
Hutch studied him, his expression soft, openly offering comfort. Just from looking at him his partner knew that he'd heard his stifled crying, his thrashing around. He´d just waited for Starsky to try to sneak out of the apartment.
Deep inside under the pile of forced annoyance at that realization, Starsky wondered if he´d known all that too. If he had subconsciously done just what he knew would lead to exactly this situation. This chance.
As if he´d read his thoughts, Hutch slightly shook his head on his arm. "I don´t think you do."
"Shows how much you know," the smaller man muttered sarcastically, but didn´t make any attempt at leaving.
A short silence passed, hanging like fog in the room, before the blond slowly, carefully, as if not to startle his friend, lifted the book off of his chest, closed it and sat up, placing it onto the coffee table. Throwing Starsky a glance, he patted the upholstery of the couch next to him. "C´mere."
Head bowed, feet shuffling over the ground, Starsky obeyed, like a kid awaiting a lecture. He didn´t look up, but sat down, hands lying limply in his lap.
Hutch watched him for a moment from where he sat in nearly the same posture, not touching his friend, but subconsciously filling the distance between them with invisible, sensible comfort. He gathered his thoughts, braced himself for the task ahead, and started.
"I don´t know what it is that has shaken you up like this. First I thought it was watching Clark die, but that´s obviously not it. I think I know," he added quietly after a moment´s thought, "but I´m not sure. And it´s scaring the hell outta me." He paused, waiting for a response, but didn't get any. "I want to help you, Starsk. I want to understand what you´re going through. But I can´t if you don´t let me."
It looked as if he wanted to add some more, but thought different and closed his mouth, eyes focused on his partner who seemingly took a particular interest in the pattern of Hutch´s carpet.
Silence stretched, but Hutch forced himself to remain quiet, hoping, unconsciously holding his breath. 'Your turn, buddy.'
When Starsky finally spoke, it was so soft, Hutch almost missed it. "D´you remember the time John died?"
Starsky nodded. "I was... devastated. And not only because he was dead, but because he was..."
His voice trailed off, and Hutch nodded. "I know. I remember."
"Yeah," the smaller man muttered, never looking up at Hutch. "Right." He paused, drew in a quivery breath. "What kind of a person does that make me?" he asked flatly, rhetorically.
His partner stared, chin traveling south, understanding hitting him with the full force of a body blow. Instinctively, his hand reached out to touch Starsky´s shoulder, but the other one moved away slightly, avoiding the contact. He wasn´t done yet.
"And when we checked out the "Bird"... I was really nervous, Hutch. That wasn´t just joking around. When those guys tried to hit on me..." A nervous laugh broke free at the memory, yet it was choked, shaky. "That terrified me. And what you told me about Rob, I mean... I never thought of myself as someone who has, you know, prejudices. But I do. I don't understand their way of living and that scares me. If I´d been you back then, I probably never would have been able to look into Rob´s eyes again."
Hutch´s gaze tilted sideways as a sudden memory hit him. 'I didn´t really, either,' he thought, but remained silent, sensing how important it was for his friend to say everything that had built in his mind to the point of crushing it.
He looked at Starsky again in time to see the curly head shake sadly, eyes still focused on the carpet. "I don´t think I like that part of myself, Hutch," he stated in an almost frightened whisper. "I keep thinking about Randy and what he said about his father, and I can´t help thinking that I... that I´m..." His voice broke badly, but again he moved away from Hutch´s hand reaching out to comfortingly touch his arm. When he spoke again, his voice shook with unshed tears. "He never did anything wrong. And just because they didn't understand him, they destroyed him. And... and all the others, Clark, the other two... God knows how many more..." He sniffed. "They all had to die, because people are scared of what they don't understand. Like me. They all had to die... to suffer terribly, because of people like... like ME!"
As his voice rose, he covered his face with his hands, unable to look at Hutch, though this time he didn´t move away from the blond´s touch.
Hutch was dismayed. Shocked. -- And incredibly proud of his friend. Gently stroking Starsky´s arm, he tried to soothe him. "Shhh, buddy, listen-"
But Starsky wasn´t ready to listen yet. "What kind of a person am I that I place straight couples above gay ones? What kind of a person am I that they make me nervous?! I´m just like the ones who made Randy do what he did!" He looked up at Hutch for the first time, tears glittering in his eyes, ready to fall, but Hutch knew they wouldn´t.
Starsky didn´t cry easy, and if he felt like he didn´t deserve the release of crying--he just didn´t.
It was the cruelest way of self-control Hutch had ever come across, and it always hurt himself to the point of tears to watch his partner do it.
"You know, what I said earlier," the curly haired man continued, unaware of his friend´s own rising pain, "about how I´d react if my son was gay?" His gaze dropped again, and though he tried, he was unable to speak. In the end, a shuddering sigh grabbed his shoulders, before they slumped, a whisper finishing his speech.
"God, Hutch, I hate myself."
Hutch closed his eyes at that as if not looking at his friend while he said it made it untrue. When he looked again, he found the smaller man staring ahead at the floor, spent, broken.
Drewing in a deep breath, Hutch took his hand away and shifted his position so that he could look directly at Starsky. "And now you listen to me," he said quietly, in a tone so determined it caught the other one´s attention. Surprised, Starsky blinked up at him.
Hutch smiled. "I´m proud of you."
Cobalt blue eyes narrowed, tilted to the left, then to the right, as if trying to catch a thought too fast for them--and widened, dumbfounded. "Huh?"
"What kind of a person does this all make you? A person who was forced to think about himself and came to the conclusion that he´s been wrong about a particular aspect of life all along."
Starsky laughed slightly, eerily relieved, though still not understanding what Hutch was heading at. "You sound like a college proof."
"Yeah, well," Hutch answered in mock earnestly, "it is a common psychological phenomenon you just descri-"
The blond grinned, but grew serious instantly, looking directly at his friend. "You know, most people would hate Randy Connor for what he did. They´d think he was evil. But you, buddy, you looked behind his insanity. You managed to see the boy Randy once was. That he was a victim too. You see the real evil in all this." He paused, letting his words sink in, before he added with a warm smile, "What kind of a person does THAT make you?"
Starsky blinked, sniffed, blinked again, Hutch´s words visibly falling into place inside his head.
"And yes," the blond continued, "you did have prejudices. Maybe you still do. Gay men make you nervous. That´s not bad, that´s human. But you KNOW all this, don't you see? The moment you realize something you think or do doesn´t quite match with what you think makes a person good, you can work on that. Nobody could ever die because of people like you, buddy. They die because of ignorant, cowardly people. And you´re neither. Hell, you´re the bravest person I´ve ever met!"
To Hutch´s amusement, his partner blushed slightly and looked down. "C´mon-"
"No really," Hutch interrupted him gently. "It takes courage to realize the truth about oneself. Most people don't do that. But you´re different." He hesitated as a thought hit him, and smiled. "You´re the kind of person that makes others feel human."
"What kind of a line is that?" Starsky asked, frowning as he tried to get the meaning.
Hutch dragged his lips down, thinking. "It´s from a poem I once read, I think. But I can´t remember the rest. It´s about someone who feels isolated and, well, sorta out of place on this planet. But there´s the one person he knows who to him is the proof of his humanity. The idea is that if this particular person decided to hang around with him, he can´t be all bad."
His smile took on a slightly melancholy note as his gaze wandered off, then settled on his face, and he looked back into his confused friend´s face. "That´s what you´ve always been for me."
Before Starsky could even overcome his wide-eyed-and-open-mouthed reaction to that statement, Hutch lifted his index finger. "And I´ll never say that again, you hear me? Despite of me being one of them understanding, sensitive, kinda feminine guys, I hate soapy scenes too."
Starsky stared at him, closed his mouth, swallowed, looked right, looked left--and wrapped his friend in a bear hug.
The contact didn´t last long, and no words were spoken.
"Hutch?" Starsky asked when they sat next to each other again, unconsciously close enough for their shoulders to touch.
"I think you should shave it off."
"Huh?" The blond frowned. "Wha... Oh." Understanding, he nodded, brushing a finger over his mustache. "You think?"
"And why would I take the opinion of someone who still wears long johns seriously when it comes to fashion?"
"Because this thing makes you look ten years older?" Starsky suggested.
"Oh. Well, what´s wrong with seniority? Chicks dig wisdom, you know? And experience and-"
"I bet they particularly dig it when they´re called 'chicks'," the smaller man wise-cracked, shooting his friend an amused look. "And as for the wisdom-"
"Safe it, buddy, safe it," Hutch cut him off, and Starsky shrugged, then scrambled down carefully so that he could rest his head against the blond´s shoulder.
"You okay?" Hutch asked, instantly worried again. "Pain bad?"
To his surprise, a smile tugged at the darker man´s lips, as he replied, "No. Not at all. But--I´m starving."
Relief flooding his heart, Hutch rolled his eyes as if annoyed. "Headline news."
"Hey, I´m sick!" his friend protested, sounding like a five-year-old.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let me up and I´ll see what we-"
"I want pizza."
Unable to keep himself from chuckling, Hutch sighed. "You can´t have pizza with a concussion, dummy."
"Good, I want anchovies, anyway."
Carefully lifting his tiring friend´s head, Hutch stood up, placing a cushion under Starsky´s curls, satisfied to see the blue eyes closing already. "I see if I have anchovies somewhere," he smiled, while covering his partner with a blanket he snatched from the back of the couch.
Starsky frowned, already half-asleep. "But I want pizza."
"Nooo," Hutch whispered in a playfully hypostasizing voice. "You want to sleeeep."
"Okay," the blond laughed softly, patting his friend´s shoulder and turned for the kitchen. "Maybe I can make pizza soup."
"Oh joy," Starsky mumbled, the words slurred by sleep claiming its aim. "Hey... Hutch?"
"You don´t need no proof."
Watching his best friend finally succumbing to slumber, Hutch smiled with a small, grateful sigh, before he turned for the kitchen, humming under his breath.