Starsky was in a mood. One of those resentful, wounded animal moods that came upon him from time to time. He’d been like that for days, since he’d sat up abruptly with Hutch beside him in bed and realized the blonde hadn’t woken him after the ‘five minutes’ he’d requested. On top of that they didn’t have time before appointments, and Hutch going in for his shift, to initiate anything else. Since then, Starsky had barely spoken unless to complain. He’d taken to muttering about the food, about his stomach, the sliced tomato and lettuce as he peeled them off his sandwiches, the marinara on his pasta. The salads Hutch tried to pair with everything.
“It’s your fault,” Starsky growled. “You keep tryin’ to feed me rabbit food and it just goes right through like a flash flood! I told you—TOLD YOU!”
“I know, I know,” Hutch muttered. “You’ve told me… Multiple times.”
“No wonder my clothes still don’t fit.”
“Your clothes don’t fit because now you’re more muscle than f—”
“Chose your next words carefully,” Starsky gave him a long, narrowed look.
Hutch let the ‘F’ sound play around in his mouth a little, reshaped it with his lips to a noise like a wet balloon losing air. He thought it better to not push his partner any more, Starsky had a volatile temper, even more so of late.
It wasn’t just the food, Hutch could tell. Maybe it was that they hadn’t had much time together since Hutch’s leave had expired and he’d been back on the streets with a temporary partner. Starsky was usually already asleep when Hutch returned, or Hutch was exhausted and Starsky was left to putter around quietly or risk waking him.
Today, though, it was coming to a head. Sore and recalcitrant from physical therapy, psychotherapy, and ‘dinner therapy’ as Huggy called it, Starsky was still shuffling around the apartment with a half pout on his face and his arm braced across his abdomen, not even halfway dressed.
At least he’s put pants on, Hutch sighed to himself. But where did his shirt go?
Yes, he was sore. Yes, physical therapy had started really kicking his ass on a twice weekly basis. But, more than that, Starsky was stubborn, and on some level wanted to be fussed over, even if he wouldn’t admit it. So, it was Whiny-Juvenile-Mulish-Starsky that Hutch was forced to deal with.
“Look at you,” Hutch growled; “You haven’t even combed your hair—Where are your shoes? Did you even shower?”
“Would you put your shoes on, or comb your hair—brush your teeth—Something?”
Starsky flopped boneless across the bed on his face, limbs stretched out. He moaned.
“Look, I know you don’t give a rat’s ass about what you look like when Lydia sees you. You’ve made that abundantly clear. But I’m not taking you out into the civilized world like this. You look like the wolfman!”
Starsky growled threateningly into the mattress and Hutch threw a shirt over his head.
“That why you’ve been growing that rug on your face? Part of your Halloween costume?”
“Rug? ’s not that bad…”
Hutch could barely understand him. “Says you. You don’t have to look at it all day. I had to tell Dobey I had an allergic reaction to explain this shit you left on my neck,” He scratched at it.
“Fuck you,” The oath sounded far less acidic muffled through the bed.
“Do you have any idea how difficult it is to hide beard burn?”
“’shouldn’t’ve fallen asleep on me.”
“Look. My next day off we’ll just hide in bed all day, alright?”
He lifted his head enough to peer out hopefully.
“November first. It’ll be an easy date to remember. Yearly Anniversary of our first time… I’ll buy you flowers.”
“I have therapy on the first. You know that. I’ll be all cramped up. Worse than I am now,” He dropped his face back into the blankets.
Hutch rubbed his brow, “You insisted you had to go. I switched my day off just so I could take you.”
Starsky turned his face back out of the sheet, apparently unwilling to suffocate himself, no matter how tired he said he was. “I appreciate your sacrifice in my name, but I didn’t know I was gonna feel like this after Lydia finished with me.”
“You’re gonna let a five-foot-two woman beat you up?”
“She’s got muscles like a Russian pit fighter, Hutch. Only blonde… and tiny… and not as hairy. She’s a monster.”
“She’s five-two, a hundred-ten pounds tops, and you’re gonna let her pummel you to the point that you can’t find the energy to go out?”
“She didn’t pummel me.”
“Could have fooled me—”
“Monsters maul people. That’s what she does. She mauled me. Teeth, claws and all.”
“Werewolves again… This is the last time I let you watch Lon Chaney before bed. Did you have nightmares or something?” Hutch rubbed his face tiredly.
“Anyway, I thought you said you didn’t need physical therapy—That it would be a waste of your time?”
“I was wrong—and you don’t gotta be so smug about it.”
“You’re just upset because you’re not in as good of shape as you thought you were.”
“Sure. Has nothing to do with the therapist being a monster.”
“The only monster I see here is you.”
Starsky bared his teeth, but it lacked venom, even if he did resemble the wolfman. He rolled onto his back, becoming tangled in the sheets. Scratched at the hair on his face, “Maybe I should do a mummy thing instead… what do you think? It’d certainly itch less.”
“I think that if you don’t get up and put on your shoes, I’ll be left in charge of your holiday shopping. I don’t have another day off between now and Halloween, so you’ll have to give out whatever I decide to bring back for you. Unless you feel like walking or hitching a ride to the market.”
Starsky was quiet, thoughtful.
“And do you know what I’d get for all the little hobgoblins?”
“You can’t give kids plain apples for Halloween! That-That’s just cruel!”
“Watch me,” And he turned away, walking slowly toward the door. He was at the bottom of the stairs when Starsky appeared, one shoe on, one in his hand, shrugging on his red hooded jacket over his bare chest.
“Halloween is for candy—”
“Oh, yeah, sure… The whole country descends into lunacy and it’s all for the candy,” Hutch waited while Starsky eased down the steps and leaned against the railing to pull his shoe on. “I’ll be sure to tell all the criminals that, while I’m stuck on a beat with-with Bluto. I mean, Starsky says it’s all about candy! Right? So, it has to be about the candy! Not about the kidnappings, poisonings, rapes, and murders that happen every year because whackos hide behind masks and costumes to get away with crimes they’re too scared to pull any other day of the year.”
“Bluto?” Starsky grinned; “You mean Bines?”
Hutch rolled his eyes heavenward.
“Hey, that’s great! I told you you’d like him! You already got a real nice nickname for him!” He glanced away and muttered to himself; “Better than the last one you gave him at least.”
“I got a partner, don’t know what Dobey was thinkin—”
“It’s temporary! I’m gonna be back before you know it—Jeez, don’t let the guy think you’re a hardcase. You’ll have half the neighboring precincts thinkin’ you’re dangerous! You already scared that one kid down to Narco, don’t screw this up!”
Hutch continued to grumble as he threw himself behind the wheel of his car, slammed the door harder than necessary. Starsky climbed in much slower, slammed his door from necessity not spite.
Hutch glanced at him, then rolled his eyes; “Why didn’t you put on a shirt?”
“Not like you gave me much time,” He pulled the zip a little higher.
“I’ve been trying to get you ready for an hour!”
Starsky slumped tiredly back in the seat without comment, pulling thoughtfully at the hair on his chin.
“Your hair is a mess.”
“You look like a psychopath.”
“At least I’m not acting like one.”
“I heard that!”
Starsky grinned, hitched his feet up on the dash and rolled his head into the sunlight.
Hutch watched him from the edge of his vision, “I knew you wanted to come along.”
“Shhh, ’m sleepin’.”
Hutch snorted, but left him alone.
Starsky seemed to rally by the time Hutch parked outside the grocery store. There were women moving in and out, some younger, some older in coats with scarves tied over their heads to protect from the wind. Others still had children with them, whining and bellowing for sweets. Jumping up and down in the back seats of station wagons.
A little boy with a silver cap pistol and a cowboy hat was leaning out of a car window making wet, ‘pew pew pew’ noises while his haggard mother tried to make his younger sibling stop wailing. The boy snarled at them as they passed, rolling his lips back from his missing teeth and flipping his tongue up to touch his nose.
“Cute kid,” Starsky said and gave the boy a wave.
“Thanks,” His mother said, her tone indicating exactly how cute she thought he was. “Joseph, sit down and stop making that face, it’ll freeze that way!”
Hutch glanced over his shoulder, hands shoved into his jacket pockets; “Ah, parenthood… Wouldn’t you like a couple of those? A little Davey? Or a Daisy?”
“You kidding? I can barely take care of myself,” Starsky muttered, bumped playfully into the blonde’s shoulder.
Hutch grinned, bumped their knuckles together and cleared his throat, “I think I had a cowboy outfit like that as a kid. Hat, vest… Pair of cap guns.”
“Kind of a thing for most boys of that age. My mother thought so anyway.”
Starsky snapped his fingers, face split in a wide grin. “Gene Autry… Silver with the white grips, right?”
“I don’t remember,” Hutch chuckled; “Used to terrorize my sister with them. Mother got tired of it, took them away.”
“Ah, man, Hutch! I begged my pop for one for weeks. I played with that thing until the springs broke and it was held together with tape!”
Hutch chuckled, gave his partner a fond glance and a pat on the back.
The inside of the store wasn’t too busy. Bag boys helping ladies out with their purchases, a child or two racing around, up and down aisles, the various woman slowly perusing the canned goods and produce. Starsky snatched up a basket but Hutch took it from him, so he had to get another.
“Starsk, where are you going?”
“Candy. You can’t be trusted.”
Hutch rolled his eyes but let him go, selected the essentials that he knew the brunet would ignore. Some oranges, bananas, milk, eggs, and bread. A few items that Starsky could use to throw together a sandwich, or something equally fast and easy. He had a feeling this trip wouldn’t be as thorough as he would like. Not with Starsky in his current mood. Would it be possible to drop him back at his place and come out again once he was occupied? Stock the fridge and pantry with things that didn’t come prepackaged or swimming in unnecessary sugars and fats. It would have to be quick, but Hutch thought he could manage it. It just depended on how tired the brunet really was, and how much of it was obstinacy.
He found Starsky perusing the candy a few minutes later. Basket at his feet with his head bent over a package, turning it over and over in his hand.
Hutch nudged the basket in the floor with his foot, blinking at the contents. “Parents are sure gonna love you… Pushing all that sugar on their kids.”
“You know… there’s a reason my place never gets egged.”
“Usually, because we’re on patrol on Halloween.”
Hutch thought back over the years; “Well, year before last you were seeing that girl—What’s-her-name—And she was at your place… She gave out the candy?”
“Hundred-thirty kids. Ran out and had to turn off the light. Neighbors had over two-hundred. I’m going to beat them this year, just watch.”
“All that money wasted on twenty-seconds of a kid’s sugar high.”
“Do you just generally hate fun?”
“No, just the senseless waste of a person’s hard-earned money to fulfil a corporate agenda.”
“Corporate agenda? It’s candy.”
“It’s an excuse to sell bulk goods, and overpriced plastic costumes to spoiled children with haggard, overworked parents.”
“You’re lucky I don’t egg your place.”
Hutch picked up Starsky’s basket and carried it to the front of the store. Eyed the store circular ads while the other made small talk with the checkout girl. She was younger by more than a few years and was eagerly showing off her wedding ring. Starsky called her by name, offered quiet congratulations.
Hutch carried most of the bags, out of a sense of duty, but Starsky insisted on carrying most of his chosen candies. He seemed more upbeat now, maybe he’d managed a second wind.
He talked animatedly on their way back about the checkout girl. That she’d worked there for a year or two now, but the wedding had been a surprise; “Well, maybe not a surprise,” he said. “I haven’t been in there in months. I mean, how much did I miss! They rearranged stuff again, too. I thought I was lost for a bit there. Wound up looking at canned fruit. Why they gotta rearrange things every month? Why can’t they just leave stuff where it is?”
“Because then you would just go and get only what you need. You won’t browse. You won’t wander around like a turkey and see something you don’t need and buy it because it looks interesting. Why do you think they have gum displays and knickknacks near the registers? Impulsive buying. You’re an impulsive shopper.”
“Yeah. You need to keep lists,” He rummaged in his pocket and withdrew his, shook it in the other’s face, “Only buy what’s on the lists. Stay focused!”
“That how you do it?”
“Yes, that’s how I do it. I don’t look around, I don’t shop hungry. I stick to the list.”
When the time came to climb the stairs back to his apartment, Starsky was flagging visibly. Paused halfway up and pretended that he was inspecting one of the treads; “Does that step feel weak to you?”
Hutch checked it, bounced up and down a little just to allow his partner a moment to breathe without guilt, “No, feels fine.”
“Must be my shoe,” He hummed thoughtfully and continued up.
Hutch put away the milk, eggs and other items. Watched as the candy was stashed in a cupboard, but not before Starsky took out a package of Reese’s cups. Tugging the plastic open and licking the chocolate off his fingers.
“You’re gonna ruin your dinner.”
“Has it ever ruined my dinner?”
He didn’t have a reply.
Starsky sauntered off with his candy, sprawled himself out on the couch with the TV Guide and started humming loudly.
So it was that, barely five days later, just as Hutch was coming in from a long shift, Starsky made an excuse to send him to the grocery store; “There’s this new thing I just saw on the TV—I gotta get some for the kids before they’re all out! I made a list, look!”
Hutch paused beside the couch and looked down at the dark curls falling across his partner’s forehead, scanned the scrap of paper in his hands; “You ate all that candy, didn’t you.”
Starsky shrugged innocently; “Not all of it?”
“It’s two days until Halloween. The stores don’t have any candy left. I know, I helped break up a fight in one earlier.”
Starsky looked up guiltily; “Not even wax lips?”
“Not that I saw.”
He looked crestfallen.
“I knew this would happen. Every year you do this.”
Starsky narrowed his eyes, “’s been months since I had candy, what did you expect?”
“I expected you to have enough sense not to eat sixteen pounds of candy in a week!”
“Didn’t eat all of it. Just the Reese’s Cups,” He looked a little green about the gills; “Think I kind of went crazy with it,” He shuddered, “Can you be a candy junky? I felt like I couldn’t stop myself there for a while. I couldn’t get enough. I’ve never felt anything like it!” His eyes were wide, “But, I learned my lesson.”
“Yeah… Spent the last three days sick as a dog. Don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at peanut butter the same again.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
Starsky shifted uncomfortably in his seat; “You were working late and upset about Bines. I wasn’t gonna bug you because I had a stomach ache. ‘sides, it was my own fault.”
Hutch rubbed his face, “Five months of a doctor recommended diet, your system isn’t used to all that sugar.”
“You’re telling me,” He wrapped his arms around his middle. “You sure the store’s out? It isn’t fair not giving kids candy on Halloween. They’ll be disappointed.”
“Well, maybe next year you’ll think about that before you eat all the damned candy!”
“Yeah… I guess.”
“Look, I know how much you were looking forward to this. I can still go get some apples and oranges, so you’ll at least have something to give them.”
“Yeah, but it’s not the same.”
“At least they’re getting something.”
“You ever seen a kid’s face on Halloween? Not the kids like around here. But the kids who hop the bus, or walk in big groups from their neighborhood to the other side of town? Kids in hand made costumes— The ones who don’t get much good things happening in their lives, yanno? On Halloween it’s not always like that. It doesn’t matter if they’re poor and their parents can’t afford much… It’s not like Christmas. Halloween is different. Nobody knows who you are, or where you came from, nobody cares. Most of the time they’ll give you candy same as the next kid… But you can tell. I can tell. Those kids look at you like you gave ‘em the moon or something.”
And there was the face. All big regretful eyes and pouty lips. Even under that beard it was heartbreaking. Hutch sighed and rubbed a hand through his hair. Damn that sad face. Damn him for the sad kid stories, and damn him for looking so fucking heartbroken.
Hutch tilted his head back and rubbed both palms over his face, beaten. “You owe me,” He pointed sternly toward the far wall; “Move.”
“What?” Starsky looked half scared.
“I don’t feel like goin— I made a list—”
“No, just—” He pulled Starsky up and muttered about damn Bambi eyes, and lifted the couch with a grunt, kicked a package tightly folded in a paper bag out toward his partner’s feet. He dropped the couch with a loud thump. “There… Don’t say I never did anything for you,” and he sat down heavily in Starsky’s spot.
“What the hell is this?” Starsky pointed to the offending package.
“What do you think it is!”
“I don’t know but I’ve seen dope wrapped up like that before and I—"
“It’s not dope, you moron.”
He bent carefully, eyes on Hutch, and opened the package. He blinked, then gave a soft shake that turned into strangled giggles; “Hutch, you—uh- got something you wanna tell me?”
Hutch just glared at him.
“I mean, YOU, of all people hiding Tootsie Rolls and Twix Cookie Bars? I’m shocked! Where did you get it? None of this was on your lists."
“Not another word.”
“Why are they under the couch? Did you hide ‘em? ‘s like you feel guilty— Do you feel guilty?”
“I hid them so you wouldn’t eat them,” He snarled, “I know you. Every year you say you’re gonna leave candy for the kids, but you go out three and four times to get it because you end up eating it all. You know why your place never gets egged? You end up leaving a bowl of change on your doorstep, or have one of your girls do it—Dammit, it’s not funny!”
“Like hell it’s not funny!” Starsky pulled out one of the half-eaten packages; “Here you are, in my house, puttin’ your stash under my couch!”
“It’s not a stash!”
“If it’s not a stash, why’d you hide it!”
“Will you just get outta here with that before I change my mind and make you give those kids apples? It’d serve you right!”
Starsky took the package away and stuffed it into the cupboard. On his way back through the room he stopped behind the couch and wrapped his arms around Hutch’s shoulders. “Thanks,” And he pressed a kiss to the side of the blonde’s face.
Hutch crossed his arms, still feigning bitterness.
Starsky giggled prodding him playfully in the stomach, “You got a sweet tooth! Come on, admit it!”
Hutch smacked him in the face with a cushion.
“Admit it!” Starsky wrestled the cushion away, rolled across the back of the sofa and landed with his head on the blonde’s thigh. “Admit it! You’ve got a sweet tooth! You like candy just as much as me and were hiding that all for yourself! You’re an impulsive shopper!”
Hutch yanked the cushion up and flattened it over the other man’s face, crossed his arms on it, pinning flailing arms with his legs.
He could still hear Starsky laughing.