Wood. And dust.
God knows why every damn studio smells the same, but it does. At least the sections devoted to auditions: lighting equipment burning up the dust motes in the room into hot microscopic carbon particles, and of small stages that see too much hard use and too little care, the polish long since worn off and the wood's porosity gathering dust and giving off that particular smell. Like schooldesks, evoking vague memories of chalkboards and roomfuls of kids. Not so different now, after all. Lots and lots of them, all hoping to pass the test, the only difference being that the brass rings get fewer and fewer as you grow older.
Way to be optimistic, Paul. He shakes his head ruefully at himself. Older. Thinking like an old man at twenty-five. This business messes with your head, makes you a little nuts – but then he's always kinda known that.
He shifts on his creaky chair, one of a whole bunch of creaky chairs, filled with a whole bunch of hopefuls who all look disconcertingly like him. He looks up, tries to meet the eyes of the actor sitting in the chair facing his. Paul feels his lip quirk upwards in his faux-Bogart smile, the one little kids and ladies like. "You come here often, schweetheart?"
It's meant to be a joke – God, he wouldn't be so naïve as to come on to a fellow-actor here, not in an audition, even if the guy was his type which he isn't – but the man's face tightens, closes off. A muscle in his jaw quirks and he stands up smoothly, shoves his hands in his pockets, strides off down the corridor.
Well, that was a bust. Paul stares after him. Terrific.
Giving up on making nice with his fellow-man, Paul looks further afield. Beyond the rows of hopefuls is the hustle and bustle of gaffers, cleaning crews, the hundreds of people who staff every studio. The lighting folks, the set builders, the makeup artists – Paul rests his eyes on them, sees their easy camaraderie. A makeup girl takes another girl's foot in her lap and starts to rub the tension away. Two stuntmen in fireproof suits share a sandwich, laughing.
He takes a stick of chewing-gum out of the pack in his pocket and leans back in his chair. Social animal, his ass. Everyone on set may be, but actors just ain't social animals. A glance at his fellow-auditionees confirms what he's always known: each actor seals himself inside his own little bubble, saving his energy for the big moment when he looks into the camera and lets it all out. A little wary, a little cagey, around other actors. Competitors. Has to be.
Paul wonders who this guy is whom he's supposed to be auditioning with. As usual, the studio's been about as forthcoming with information as the Soviet Union is about its missile installations. Partner to some hotshot actor on a cop show. Period. A smile plays around his lips as he remembers the cop shows he grew up with. Dragnet. The Saint. Yeah, those were fun, but the shows he loved best were I Spy and The Man from UNCLE. Now that's the kind of show he'd like to do. They always made him feel good, back when he was a kid, even when the plots were dumb and the directing dumber. Some of the mistakes those chumps made—
"Paul Michael Glaser!"
He's up off the seat and moving towards the door before he even looks at the short, uninterested-looking casting assistant who checks his name off the list, sparing Paul a cursory once-over before jerking his head in the direction of the auditioning studio.
He steps through the double doors – must be a big hall, he thinks automatically – and blinks in the glare of the big Arri's, 2K's at least, powering their beams onto a barroom set. The rehearsal area off to the side that they lead him into is dark by comparison, though it's lit perfectly adequately with task lighting. "Hi," says a young guy – probably a fourth or fifth AD. "Here's your dialog." A script girl shoves a sheet of dialog into his hands. "Take a few to read it while we get set up for the test. Sheila will read it with you 'til David's ready."
David? Ah, probably the actor they want a sidekick for. Paul lets the AD wander off and scans the page. Starsky – that's him – and Hutch, the other detective in the script, interrogating some suspect at a bar. Lots of 'turkey's' and faux-threatening tough-guy talk – he can see what it's supposed to sound like, but it's not that impressive. How's he supposed to bring anything to this? Mechanically, Paul reads the lines, Script Girl Sheila bouncing the even more unimpressive replies off him. She's pretty – big black eyes, big black Afro – but she's catching his despondency, her responses getting flatter and flatter. Finally, he looks up from the page, putting her out of her misery. "I can take it from here," he says kindly, and Sheila nods and thanks him, no doubt needing to go back to the hundred and one duties of a Girl Friday.
Paul scans the page one more time, and looks up.
His jaw drops.
Coming towards Paul is springtime.
Okay, okay, not springtime, it's a person, but it's this guy who makes the air cool and sweet, like Paul's out of the oppressive studio and is listening to birdsong, walking by a river or something in the sunshine.No fooling. Tall, blonde, a smile like he could light up the world never mind the room – unassuming, gotta be a crew member, though he's got the looks for an actor – but no, not in that plaid shirt – not a gaffer, though, doesn't look like a gaffer – script guy, maybe? Blondie bends to pick up some papers that Sheila, the script girl, dropped – and there and then Paul decides he'd better get to know the script people better, because this script guy is – is – hell, he's beautiful.
And in the time Paul has been thinking this, Blondie the script guy is standing in front of him. No, wait. He's not a script guy – Paul's met him before. Actor, a damned good one, and a nice, decent guy to boot. Dave, that's his name.
Dave's just standing there, big blue eyes staring at Paul. If Paul didn't know better, he'd think the fella was giving him the eye. Not that he'd mind. "Hi there. David, isn't it?"
"Call me Dave." Dave ducks his head and gives Paul a shy smile. His eyes are the clean washed blue of the sky on a summer's day. "Oh, thank God, someone I can work with."
The guy seems really glad to see him. Paul can't help a real, genuine grin at that. In this business, someone with something nice to say? He can't help wondering what kind of chumps Dave's been partnered with, though, if he's this relieved to see Paul. Paul offers up his best friendly smile. "I'm Paul."
"Oh yeah, I remember," the other guy says, with a hint of shyness. "You, uh, you wanna go over the audition scene?" He brandishes a paper similar to Paul's own. "The dialog kind of sucks, but I think…"
But Paul's tuned it out, just a little, to stare. He's liked working with the guy before, but he didn't know that this self-effacing cutie-pie – in a flannel shirt, yet – was the hotshot actor everyone was auditioning to co-star with. Damn, Paul really should pay more attention to what his agent says.
"…so what do you think?" David asks shyly. And right there, what? The guy's shy in front of Paul? Paul isn't exactly a nonentity – he's got a few acting credits – but he also knows that said credits are not that many steps up from Secretary and Man#3.
He's still thinking those thoughts when Dave smiles, and right then and there, the script, the world, hell, everything is swept away by the sheer intensity and brilliance and sincerity of that smile.
"I, uh…" Think you're beautiful. "…think we oughta read it through." And he reads out the first line.
Dave reads the next, and they're off. It's good – not as good as it could be, not with decent dialog, but the back-and forth is good, feels right, feels true. They get done, and they look up, and their eyes meet. That was good. We're good together.
Good together. It would have sent Paul into a rush of double entendres, if he wasn't just so shocked at how he knows, he just knows, that Blondie thought it along with him. Paul knows he wasn't imagining it: he heard that, just as sure as if Blondie said it.
He smiles shyly.
Dave smiles shyly back.
And Paul thinks, I'm not losing this guy.
"I need a gaffer over here!"
The yell jolts them out of their shared smiling space, back into this dusty room filled with lights and techs. Dave's gaze clouds, and Paul knows Dave's thinking the same thing he is. This is good. Too good to miss. Too good to let go. Only trouble is, there's a hundred other guys out there. A hundred guys just waiting to take his place with Blondie. And nothing in this page, nothing that'll let him reach out and show those suits that he and Blondie belong together.
Blondie's looking at Paul worriedly, with those gorgeous blue eyes that make Paul want to say fuck the entire SAG and let's go abseiling. "I, uh, I think there could be something there," he says worriedly, like he knows what Paul thinks of the writing and the scene and is maybe thinking the same thing. "But you can't really sell it since this dialog sucks."
"This dialog doesn't suck," Paul says firmly.
"Huh?" A little frown line appears between Dave's brows. Paul wants to kiss it away. "You don't think so?"
"Nope." Paul pauses for dramatic effect, but he swears Blondie can see the punchline coming just before it hits. "It blows chunks."
Their eyes meet, and Blondie giggles. Giggles. Well, it's a manly giggle, a little huff of laughter, but the sound makes Paul want to scoop the guy up in his arms and tickle him to death. Or something. Just so's he'll never have to stop hearing that laugh. "So what," Blondie says, "are we gonna do about it?"
"Do?" Paul frowns. Where he comes from, you don't 'do' anything about a sucky script. Not unless you want your head bit off. "We oughta read it through another time, see if…"
"Dave! Get up here with the next guy!"
Paul looks over, past the blinding lights. Barry Shear's in the director's chair. The guy's cool, he's had nothing but good vibes from him before, but there are execs on the sidelines, and suddenly he's broken out in a sweat. This is good, this is maybe the best thing he's ever stumbled on in his entire life. And it's going to slip through his fingers, he doesn't have a clue in hell how to hold onto it, he doesn't know how to sell it good enough to make them let him be with Blondie, and Shear's giving him the walkthrough and it's all going by too fast, too damn fast and Dave's summer-skies gaze is on him, but it's slipping out of his control and Paul's about one step away from falling into a stage-fright funk the likes of which he hasn't had since summer stock, maybe before.
They step back, into a corner to prepare, as Shear checks with the DOP before they start. There's a moment of reprieve, something needs to be done with the Fresnel to the right of the set, but Paul's gone freezing cold. They're working with three cameras, not one – instead of shooting three times, once at a distance, once medium-length and once in close-up, they've got three cameras trained on the set. Saves time in camera tests, to be sure, but it means that he only has one shot at this, that he won't have the chance to do the scene over for the mediums and the close-ups after they shoot the master. One shot. Like the theater. It shouldn't faze Paul – he's done theater, he's a veteran at auditions, but he knows he's not going to make it this time.
He stares at the script, the words blurring and running before his eyes. He doesn't know how to infuse life into the lines, and he knows, with awful certainty, that he's going to lose it, this perfect place that he can hardly be said to have even found.
"Hey." The voice is gentle, soothing. "Paul." There's a hand warmly wrapped around his elbow, shaking away the cold, a little. "You'll kick ass."
Paul swallows. "Sure."
"Sure, you will."
There's a little urgency in the still-gentle voice. Paul can't quite meet the fellow's eyes. "Yeah," he finally mutters.
Then, because it's poor form to just stare at the floor, or maybe for some other reason Paul can't place, he glances up into Dave's eyes. I don't want to mess this thing up.
The clear blue eyes are wide and warm, pupils full and open as Dave looks into Paul's face, then nods once, acknowledgement. Leave it to me. I'll fix it.
Paul stares. How?
Dave still has a hand on Paul's elbow, an anchor in the dust, the glaring lights, the noisy space. There aren't any answers in his gaze, but he keeps his hold on Paul tight as he casts about, looking around for a solution.
Shear yells something. This is it.
Paul's chilled to the bone, sweat trickling down his spine as he steps up to the audition set, Dave's hand the only thing he can feel, the only thing keeping him moving. Mechanically, he raises the script to his eye-level, tries to focus on the words that he'll be reading, but they're blurred, swallowed up by his ridiculous but real stage-fright. He wasn't this scared the first time he was with a girl, the thought crosses his frozen mind. He lets Dave lead him along, guide him into position. With a shock, Paul realizes he's surrendered his trust to Dave, placed his faith in the other man to find whatever miraculous rescue he's looking for.
And Dave tosses him a handful of peanuts.
Paul blinks. Grabbing the pebble-like, rough objects, keeping them from slipping through his fingers with difficulty, he raises his eyes to Dave's, sees the smile in them just as Shear calls, "Action."
Dave's face slips into the tough-cop mask, but there's still that warmth in his eyes, that camaraderie. He reads a line, cracks a peanut, tosses it to Paul.
Taken off guard, Paul catches it, pops it in his mouth, chewing, as he reads his own line, cracks a nut, tosses it to Dave. Mesmerized, he watches the other actor catch it on his tongue, flip it into his mouth, watches the play of flesh over his cheekbones as he crunches it up, swallows it, reads his line. Unconsciously, Paul readies himself as Dave's long white fingers crack a nut, prepares, catches it. He chews it slower this time, to the side of his mouth, making his words a measured drawl, cutting his eyes over to catch a reaction from Dave.
Dave smiles, blue eyes on Paul's own fingers, already cracking a peanut, and as Paul throws it to Dave, Dave's there, catching it, this time starting his line before he eats it, crunching his white teeth into the nut halfway through a word, making Paul raise his eyebrows and grin, thinking how this display, more than anything they're saying, will surely drive home to the perp how in sync they are, how they'll be on him in seconds if he tries anything. They move forward, closing in on the perp.
The lines don't matter, nothing matters. Paul realizes they've never mattered; nothing matters but this, this connection, the easy, natural back-and-forth, invisible thread linking them, between them, Dave throwing Paul a peanut, then the reverse, back-and-forth, talking, cracking, tossing, crunching, moving closer, closer. Connected. Joined.
Paul blinks. They're done.
Not only done, but Barry Shear is smiling, not broad and you-were-great-darling-NEXT but genuine and controlled, trying to hide it, hide how satisfied he looks, but it's shining in his eyes and in the Now we're getting somewhere outlined in his posture. Dave is smiling too, shepherding Paul off the set, and Paul suddenly wants to throw his arms around the big lug and thank him and feel how it is to be in his arms and kiss him—
"How's it feel to be in the groove," Dave grins, "partner?"
Actors are a superstitious bunch. "If I wasn't Jewish, I'd cross myself," Paul mutters. "Don't jinx it, Blondie."
"I've got a good feeling about this." Dave's voice is warm, pumping Paul full of energy like some kinda helium balloon. "Admit it, so have you."
Paul forces himself not to smile. "I don't go around jinxing stuff."
"Ah, right, Jewish. That explains the gloom and doom."
"Don’t knock it till you've tried it." Paul can't help the grin this time. "Guilt and chicken soup. Proven keys to success."
Blondie laughs, clear and free. He sobers up, though, when someone calls his name from the bowels of the set. "Hey." He catches Paul's arm. "I gotta go. Don't know when they're gonna wrap here, but… you wanna go out for a drink tonight or something?"
And at that, Paul can't help the grin that breaks out on his face.
"…so Nichelle Nichols is so woozy from the painkillers that she has to go home early. And Shatner's being a gentleman, he takes her home. So then, her son's home, he opens the door, and he sees his mom fainting with a strange guy. And this nine-year-old kid, he just puffs himself up to his full height and he yells, "What the HELL did you do to my MOTHER!" And Shatner's about pissing himself. "I didn't do anything to your mother, honest! She collapsed on set…"
Dave decides to cut his anecdote short there. Paul's doubled over on his couch, tears of laughter streaming down his face. God, he's beautiful—all vivacity and laughter and life. Even this morning, nervous, lost, his light half-damped by the oppressive atmosphere of the set, Dave could see it. He glows – not the surface gloss of Hollywood handsomeness, but the inner-metal satisfying strength that'll only grow stronger when the glamour of youth has passed. He's willing to bet that Paul will look better at seventy than he does now. He wonders idly if they'll still know each other then.
He grins and passes Paul another brew. Paul takes it, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. He's fallen against Dave in his last giggle-fit, and now his head's resting half on the sofa back, half against Dave's shoulder. Dave is warm all down his side where Paul's touching him.
Taking a chance, Dave snuggles a smidgeon closer. Paul just grins, still chuckling low and deep in his throat, and clinks his bottle with Dave's. "Oh, man," he chuckles. "Oh, man."
Paul's head falls softly back onto Dave's arm. Dave jolts, just a little, at how wonderful and right the warm weight feels. "Musta been hard for her." Paul's tone is contemplative, but then he spoils it by letting out a little burp. Dave giggles. Huh, they must both be drunker than they thought. Paul's still talking. "…drop-dead gorgeous, but even a gal like that, so many directors, casting people, they still can't see past that an actor's black."
Dave finds his eyebrows rising. He's had that kind of thought a couple of times, but he's learned not to say things like that in the movie business. People get embarrassed, discreetly change the subject, and then you find someone else got the part and there's a rumor going round that you're a troublemaker.
"Troublemaker? Fuck that," Paul replies. Wait, what, did Dave just say that out loud? He must have, else Paul wouldn't be answering him. "You can bet if you or I were black we wouldn't be having this discuss—dusc—scuss—well, anyway, we wouldn't be talking. We wouldn't'a even met. They wanted two guys who looked different, but God forbid one of 'em be black."
Dave nods. The motion makes Paul's head roll gently on his shoulder. "When was the last time you saw a black guy in the lead on TV? Not since—"
"I Spy," they end up saying in unison.
"You watched that show? I loved that show." Dave notices his beer is empty, wonders whether it's worth leaving the warmth of Paul here on the couch to trek over to the kitchen and get another one. Nope. On the other hand… "Lemme have some of that." He swipes Paul's beer and raises it to his lips. "Hey, this is empty!"
"Neglectin' your duties as a host."
"Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa," says Dave, pounding his chest theatrically with his fist.
Paul giggles. "Do that again. Makes your voice sound funny."
Dave obliges, breathing deep like in voice-training, letting out a long, "Aaaaaaaaaaaah," energetically pounding himself on the chest to make it come out, "Aaa-aaa-aaa-aaa-aaa." At the cartoony sound, Paul dissolves into full-out laughter, slipping off Dave's shoulder and falling into his lap. That laugh—it sends a shiver through him with its sheer vitality and joy, and yet it's a comfortable shiver, somehow. Home.
"You're cute, Blondie," Paul grins, all lopsided and quirky. "You know?" he says, voice adorably slurred. "Kissin' you seems like a good idea right about now."
Dave freezes. It's not that he doesn't want to, it's just--
Paul smiles into Dave's eyes, languid, lazy, intense. There's not enough words in the world to describe the energy radiating from this man. "Would you deck me if I kissed you?"
"What? No, I uh—"
Embarrassment clouds over the other man's blinding smile, and Paul turns his head to the side. "Aw, man, I'm sorry. What was I thinking? Gotta be the alcohol—"
"No, Paul, listen, wait, I just—"
"It's okay, really, I—"
Paul turns away a little more, like he's making to move out of Dave's lap, but he's uncoordinated and Dave's already reached out to keep him there, with the result that Paul slips off the couch entirely and lands on the floor, hitting his head hard against the edge of the coffee table on the way down.
"Oh, shit!" Dave tries to rise, but ends up slithering off the couch as well. It takes some acrobatics to avoid crushing Paul with his knees, but he manages by holding himself up off of Paul with his arms while shoving the coffee table out of the way mid-fall with his ass, finally landing on the floor with said table at his back and Paul wedged between Dave and the sofa. Never let it be said those gymnastics lessons weren't useful. "Lemme see," Dave says bossily, like he's some kind of doctor instead of a fellow-thespian lying in a drunken heap next to Paul. He reaches out and palms the hand that's pressed to Paul's head. The handsome face is screwed up tight, eyes squeezed shut. "I didn't mean…" Dave begins, gently shifting Paul's hand aside. He knows better than to touch, but the wild, dark curls are blocking his view of any injury that may lie beneath. Very, very softly, he parts Paul's hair, looking beneath for any sign of blood. "Doesn't look like it's cut…" he says, belatedly noticing just how compliant, how trusting Paul is beneath his hands. And how awkwardly they're sprawled on the floor. "Hold up…"
Dave shoves the coffee table another couple of feet further back, enough to sit up. As he does, he realizes that Paul's hand has come to rest on his, Dave's, shoulder, fingers curled and fisted in his shirt.
It was like he didn't know he had a heart before this moment. Not like this, not the way it feels it's being pulled out of his chest and twisted in knots and surrendered wholesale to this big clumsy lug's trust. "C'mere…" Dave takes Paul by the elbows, lifting him half-upright in his lap. Paul nestles into him, blinks his eyes open, hesitantly, closes them again. Dave has to swallow, hard. He has a much better view now with Paul's head on his chest, and he parts his hair, looking close. "Doesn't look that bad." Taking a chance, he slips his fingers in deeper, all the way to the scalp, palpating, very gently, to see if there's a lump. There is, but Paul's suffering is probably more due to the alcohol than to any serious damage. As Dave touches the swollen scalp, Paul lets out a little whine and pulls in closer. Like Dave's going to protect him from the pain, and damned if that doesn't make Dave feel ten feet tall.
Having satisfied himself it's nothing serious, Dave smoothes Paul's hair back down over the bump, stroking it softly. Paul snuggles in, smiling. "Mm. Nice. Feels better."
Dave chuckles softly. "Big baby." And he pulls Paul in, and before he knows it, on impulse, he's bent a few inches and planted a big, loud smooch on the bump on Paul's head. "There. All better."
"Mmmm," comes the low baritone rumble, deep with satisfaction. Dave raises his head to find Paul's cracked his eyes open a slit, though the light clearly still hurts his eyes. "You're nice." He smiles widely, comfortable as a cat. "You know that, babe? You're nice."
And at that, Dave does kiss him.
Every day, Dave likes it more, the angle they've taken on the characters. Very early on, they sat down to work at the kitchen table – he doesn't remember any more whether it's his or Paulie's. They sat close, script pages fanned out in front of them, shoulders touching. It's like he can't live without touching Paulie – bumping shoulders, taking his arm or his elbow or his hand. Sometimes Dave wonders how he lived before Paulie came into his life. He always stops wondering pretty soon, though, because it's so cold he doesn't even want to think about it. So there they were, at the kitchen table, and Dave had started out by saying, "This macho cop stuff – it's bullshit."
"Formulaic," Paul said sagely.
"Shoulda thought of that myself. You," Dave pointed a finger at Paulie like an accusation, "are cultured."
"Takes one to know one," Paulie retorted almost absently, then went back to the point. "This 'two hard-hitting, streetwise bachelor cops' – it's…" he waved a hand, looking frustrated. "It's…"
Dave saw what he was getting at. "Lacks humanity," he suggested. "Unsympathetic."
"Now who's cultured? But yes, exactly. We need an angle. Otherwise, we're just cardboard action heroes."
"No we don't." Dave remembers saying it suddenly, remembers the way the realization dawned on him.
Paulie looked like he was listening. "You sound like you have something in mind."
"We don't need an angle," Dave says, "because we already got one. We can just be ourselves."
"Ourselves, as in…?"
"Just two guys. Working stiffs. Pulling regular days…"
Paulie was nodding by this time. "Regular guys, who just happen to be cops."
"Who just happen to be really, really crazy about each other."
"Who'd maybe die for each other."
They look at each other. "By George, I think she's got it."
They become legendary on set.
Paul always thought they'd be good together, but he never thought they'd be this good together. It's like they can read each other's minds.
He can't wait to get in to work every morning. His definition of 'something fun' has been modified to read 'anything that includes Davey'. They could assign them anything, no matter how dumb and boring, no matter how little sense it makes, and it gets reclassified as 'fun' as long as Davey's around. It's like being in love.
Now, waiting for the call of 'Action', sharing a secret smile with his co-star, Paul tries to amend that thought, reclassify it, then gives up. Fact is, 'in love' is such a dumb way to put it: it kind of cheapens what he's found. He's been in love, and it sure wasn't ever this satisfying. Winning the lottery comes close, maybe; being five years old and getting everything you wanted on Christmas morning, maybe. Love hurts; Paul's been in enough relationships to know that. But this doesn't hurt – it nurtures. He feels like a flower in the sun. Ah, hell, scratch that – not a flower. Something manly. A weed. A weed in the sun. he grins at that.
"Whadda you smiling at?" Davey says, mock-gangster, smiling too even if he doesn't know what the joke's about.
"I'm a weed."
Davey stares at Paul a moment. "I knew it. All that fame's gone to your head, warped your brain."
"Can it, they're checking sound," Paul warns.
"Lighting?" calls the director.
They spring out of their crouch, run side-by-side, hard expressions firmly in place, and stop at the chalk mark on the ground. Popping sounds shower dust on them from where the explosives in the wall above them are simulating bad-guy gunfire, and they drop as one, back-to-back, waiting for the 'gunfire' to stop so the fella playing the drug dealer can shout for them to come out, their cue.
It stops, but the cue doesn't come. No 'cut' has sounded, though, so they stay in character, in place. Not that he has to work to stay in character when his character is feeling safer and more comfortable just by being back-to-back with his partner.
Beneath the boxes, out of camera range, Davey slides his hand down to hold Paul's. Paul interlaces his fingers with Davey's. It's the warmest, the safest, the most grounded he's ever felt.
A weed in the sun. Yeah, he can live with that.
Some days are good. Some days Paul wakes up in a cold sweat.
What the hell is he doing? What is he here for, in this life? What good has he ever done others? Dumb cop show, acting—wouldn't a doctor have been better? Why's he famous? Why aren't the soldiers who died for their country famous?
He drives to work, but he doesn't really want to. He drives to work, although he'd much rather be curled up under the covers. He drives to work, even though he doesn't believe for a moment that it's making any difference to the world.
When he gets on set, he discovers the real reason he came in to work. The same reason he comes in every morning. Tall and blond, standing right there in the middle of the lot.
Paul parks the car and walks up to Davey. He finds he's shaking.
Then Davey looks at him with those baby-blues full of affection and sympathy and Paul loses it. "I'm down," he blurts, "I'm scared, I don't know what the answers are. Hold me."
Davey doesn't say a word. He just reaches out, enfolds Paul in those long arms of his, pulls him close, and Paul hangs on, burying his face in Davey's shirt. They stand there, in the middle of the lot, rocking back and forth a little.
They stand there until Paul's fear subsides.
The press labels them "prime-time, French-kissing homos" and all Paul can find it in himself to say about that is, "They say that like it's a bad thing."
Yeah, they're in love, and so fucking what? Even the fact that he's a boy, and so is Davey, doesn't seem to make a difference. Jesus, on set, it's an open secret, thinly camouflaged as a joke. The folks on set are staunchly loyal to them both, hell, even Lynne's cool that her boyfriend's stepping out, hinted more than once that she'd like to be in the middle. But anyone from the press, they close ranks. Deny it vehemently, cite male friendships from history. Paul couldn't wish for a better crew. Never.
Dave can't believe he's watching this.
Paulie's hanging from a wooden crossbar, strung up by his wrists, toes barely touching the ground. Dave's off behind the camera, but he can already see Paulie's poor hands reddening and swelling from the strain. Paulie's starting to sweat. And all because of the crazy, crazy urge for verisimilitude from the director.
Who's also Paulie.
They've talked about this directing gig. Paulie said to him, with real feeling, "You know, you're sure, I don't want to leave you, Davey?"
"I know. I'm sure."
"I just… I hate being trapped, you know?"
Dave hugged him, and laughed, and cheered him up, and told him he'd always bust him out of jail if it came to that. But he knows Paulie really chafes at the wording of his contract, feels he's somehow enslaved, and that's why he encouraged the man's directorial debut.
But not like this. Jesus Christ.
All through the long shots, they keep him strung up. Then they go to the close-ups, his reaction shots in the long back-and-forth when he's convincing the girl with the knife to cut him down. By this time, Paul's shaking, Dave can see it, and he's about ready to run out and cut him down and call a halt to this insanity.
The only thing that stops him is that Paul, damn his dedication, would string himself right up again and demand that they do it all over.
The moment they cut Paulie down, Dave wants to run to him, but he can't, because the maddening, exasperating idiot hasn't called "Cut" yet. Figures that he'd want to go all Stanislavsky on his freaking directorial debut. And Dave can't undermine his authority – wouldn't, for the world. But he suffers through the fight scene with barely concealed impatience – Paulie tells him afterwards he liked his performance – and finally, finally, he has Paulie in his arms, and all he can do is hold him tight and rub the back of his neck, until the idiot's got what he wanted, and calls "Cut!"
He gets his revenge that night.
Of course, after the wrap, he insisted on dragging Paulie down to the clinic, and of course, his wrists were abraded, and of course the doctor creamed and wrapped them. And of course, Paulie, high on a sense of achievement, is horny, and of course, he comes over to Dave's.
"You can't use those hands," Dave says nonchalantly, sitting back in an easy chair and crossing his legs, though he's horny as a bull, too.
It is so much fucking fun watching Paulie explode. "Whaddaya mean, I can't use 'em? I'm fine, Blondie! Fine! Look!" He flexes his fingers, and grimaces.
Dave puts on his most annoyingly superior expression. "You're hurt."
"I am not hurt. I'm fine." Comprehension appears to dawn. Paulie comes over and kneels by Dave's chair. "What's eating you?"
Dave sighs and leans forward. "Verisimilitude," he says softly, "does not mean you get to hurt yourself."
"Would you have made me do that?" Dave snaps.
Paulie looks down, and Dave knows he's got him. Dave knows Paulie'd give up half his career, probably, if it meant protecting him.
"I'm sorry," Paulie says eventually. "It just means a lot to me."
"'But dear boy, why not just act it?'" Dave says smoothly, paraphrasing the famous Olivier quote.
Paul gives a tired bark of laughter, sliding down to rest with his back against the front of Dave's armchair. "Got me. I just thought it'd be… more authentic… I dunno."
Dave reaches out and palms Paulie's shoulders, shocked for a moment at how deeply knotted the muscles are from hanging from the ropes. "Next time," he cuts to the chase, "you don't hurt yourself."
Paulie's leaning forward to give Dave better access to his back, all but moaning with pleasure. "Didn't really…hurt," he murmurs contentedly.
"Tell that to the company massage therapist tomorrow." Dave kneads the tight knots of muscle with the pads of his fingers, then smoothes the heels of his hands up and down the knobs of Paulie's spine.
"Mmm. You are making me…"
"What is this," Paul's voice is all relaxed and pliant from the massage, "a punishment?"
"Damn straight. Let your little head remind you, if your big head won't."
Paulie lists to the left. "I got folks lined up… to… zzz."
Dave holds onto Paul's shoulders. "Paulie. Are you on painkillers?"
"After… th' take… asked the clinic… to give me something…" And the erstwhile director slides to the floor.
After he's half-carried, half-dragged Paul to the bed, stripped his jeans off, and covered him up, Dave stands there, gazing at him fondly. After a moment's thought, he crawls in beside him. After all, the ban on sex only stipulates this evening.
Tomorrow, all bets are off.
"How you doing, Blondie?"
"Like hell, thanks for asking."
Paul smiles although he doesn't feel like it, slides into a chair, pulls it way in close to Davey's head. Then he rests his head on Davey's pillow.
"Get your own, can't you?" Davey says, amusement coloring his previously bleak voice.
"Fuck off," Paul says, but he says it nicely, like a compliment. "So. Straight up, Davey, what do they say?"
There's a long, shuddering sigh. Oh, shit. Worse than he thought, then.
After a long silence, Davey says quietly, "No skiing."
There's something about the finality of that pronouncement that falls like lead into Paul's stomach. He thinks about asking if the movie's kaput, reasons that of course it is, else Davey wouldn't be putting it like that, and somehow ends up asking, "How about other activities?"
"I'll still be able to fuck you, if that's what you mean."
Paul tunes out the venom in the remark. "Got fellas lined up around the block to fuck me. Get in line, Blondie," he retorts tonelessly, mouth on autopilot while his mind's running through the reasons there's so much pain in Dave's voice. He latches on the obvious. "You hurting?"
"What does it look like, moron?"
"Why the hell didn't you ask for something?"
"They—gave me…" Paul ignores what Davey's saying, looks at his face. Yes, there's bitterness, he's upset and downright terrified, but those lines bespeak more pain than should be there, even taking everything into account. He storms out to the nurses' station.
"Hi," he says smoothly to the matron on duty. "David Soul needs more pain medication."
The woman looks up at him with a just-because-you're-famous-doesn't-mean-you-get-special-treatment face. Oh, one of those, he has time to think before she bends over her clipboard again. "He's had his dosage. He's next due at five o'clock."
"Well, it didn't work too well." Paul leans over the desk. "He's in pain."
"He's had a very involved back surgery. Some pain is to be expec…"
"You a Puritan, ma'am? One of those folks who believe suffering's good for the soul?"
Coldly, the woman looks up. "I don't see what…"
But she trails off when she catches sight of Paul's expression. "Just because I'm smiling," he grits out through clenched teeth, "doesn't mean I'm pleased."
The color drains from her face and she actually swallows. "I'll get him another dose at once."
He supposes he ought to feel vindicated, but all he feels is worry and relief.
Five minutes later, another nurse, looking rather harried, is injecting something Paul hopes is heavy-duty into Dave's IV port. "This should take effect immediately… sir," says the little nurse, looking as though – TV star or not – she fully expects Paul to make like a creature from a feature and bite her arm off.
He watches Davey's face anxiously, fully expecting to get hit with a remark about hovering, but Davey's eyes flutter closed and the tension whooshes out of his body in a sigh as his pain is eased. Paul bites back a curse. They can't tell when a man's suffering. Some angels of mercy.
Davey breathes for a few minutes, then turns exhausted eyes to Paul. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Paul grins as bright as he can, then reaches out to take Davey's hand in both of his. "You're hurting. But you'll be okay."
"No skiing. No movie." Davey raises his greyish face to the ceiling, eyes closed. "They said I was lucky I could even walk again."
"There'll be other parts, babe." Paul can't quite keep the sadness out of his voice, but he's trying.
"Yeah…" Davey turns his face away, and Paul can tell he's crying.
Paul picks up his chair and goes round to the other side of the bed. He doesn't know what movements will strain Davey's back yet, so he just lays his head next to his on the pillow, and puts an arm round him, and holds him as he cries.
Paul knows it hurts Dave when people call him fat. Hell, one critic called him 'tubby' in print. Paul would like to give that critic a back injury and see how svelte he stays. Davey can't move around as well, what the hell do people expect?
And then, on top of that, there's the pneumonia. It was utter hell being with Davey in that hospital. Especially the respiratory therapy, where it fell to Paul to hold him while a respiratory tech pounded on his back to make him cough, which was excruciating on Davey's already shredded lungs, while another tech stood behind Paul's back with a kidney-shaped bowl to catch the phlegm and blood Davey brought up. It's always a nightmare when Davey's in pain, and sitting there holding Davey in his arms, supporting his friend's chest against his own because he hasn't the strength to cough and hold himself up at the same time, while Davey held weakly onto him and moaned in pain as he coughed, jolting his damaged lungs, has to qualify as a special kind of hellish.
And this stupid, stupid episode – it's not enough that Davey has to spend take after take of playing a botulism victim with his lungs paralyzed, drawing on the time when he could barely breathe, making those horrible wheezing sounds that chill Paul's blood, but now they're throwing him down the stairs. Paul hates it, hates it, hates it.
"Can't you get one of the stunt guys to do it?"
"It's just ten stairs. I'll be careful."
"The hell you will! You just got out of the hospital!"
"Ah, just quit it."
And Paul has to watch as Davey channels his pain into anger, stalks away from Paul, and does the take. He's good, of course, Davey always nails it: the bad guy has him hostage, only he's too weak to walk, and he falls down the stairs.
He's as good as his word, steadying himself with his hands, but that doesn't make Paul's heart pound any less frantically. As soon as Davey's landed, Paul's running over to him. He crouches by his side. "You okay? Huh?"
But Davey's grimacing hard, clearly hurting. Paul slips his arms round him, holds him. Davey melts into Paul's embrace, lets Paul steady him, rests there for a moment before letting Paul lift him the rest of the way up.
Then he disengages and walks away.
Paul looks off into the glare of the lights, after Davey's retreating form. If only you'd let me help you up, babe. I'm here.
"I'm worried. About Hutch."
Paul does this sometimes, when he's drunk enough. Sits down and has a heart-to-heart with his character. It started out as a Method exercise, then became second nature, and now is great stress relief. Except he doesn't think anything in the world that could relieve the stress he's feeling now. Well, except Davey being okay, but he's not holding his breath on that one.
It really isn't a relief to him that Starsky feels exactly the same way.
He looks up at the character he plays. "Join the fucking club."
"I miss being able to cuss," Starsky mutters. "It sucks being on network TV."
"Yeah, like 'bloody'. Who the hell outside the British Isles uses 'bloody'?"
Starsky and Paul share a smile, then sober up. "No, seriously, Paul. I'm worried about Hutch. He's burnin' out. Fast."
Paul takes a long pull at his beer. "Tell me about it." He stares down into his glass. "Davey's… I don't know, anymore. He's hurting bad, and I can't get in."
"Not like I used to," Starsky sighs.
"Yeah." Paul takes another drink. "The light in his eyes, it's going out, and to see that, it kills me."
"Remember that first season? All golden and shining. Like he was made of light."
Starsky's face softens. "I just want to hold him till he lets it all go. All the pain, everything."
"Only he'd punch you out if you tried."
"Didn't used to be that way, but now…" Starsky shrugs. Paul thinks about correcting his grammar, then decides against it. Audiences find Starsky's turn of phrase endearing, and who is he to mess up a good thing?
"It's kind of unfair," Paul finally says, thoughtfully, "after the times you saved his life." He grimaces. "Not like me and Davey. I'm just some thespian off the street. A few years after this show's done, who's to say he's even gonna remember who I was?"
"You don't really believe that," frowns Starsky.
"No," Paul says slowly. "Sorry. It's just… I love Davey, and it's, it's just hard, you know?"
Starsky's face darkens. "The way he breathed, that time with the poisoning."
"He was channeling the time he had pneumonia." Paul shudders. Watching Davey struggle and gasp for breath was one of the – well, he could go a whole lifetime without that experience, thank you very much.
"And his back."
"Oh God, his back." Paul passes a hand over his eyes. "The schedule kills him, and I'm always scared he'll push himself too hard and land up in a wheelchair some long day of shooting."
Starsky nods. "Half the time I'm scared Hutch will get his fool head blown off because he's so off his game."
"I worry about you on the streets sometimes," Paul blurts.
Starsky laughs mirthlessly. "Least of your worries. We're recurring characters in a TV series. Not like they can kill us off."
Paul's stomach goes cold and heavy suddenly. "Matter of fact…" He swallows. "I heard rumors."
Paul's not a detective, but Starsky is. His eyes snap up, and he already knows what Paul means. "Rumors," the detective repeats.
He's said it; might as well go the whole hog. "Yeah. Rumors," he repeats. "They're saying… they might deal with me leaving by," he swallows, "you dying."
"Oh, shit," Starsky says. Paul knows what he'll say next. "It'll kill Hutch."
And Paul knows, just like that, with absolute certainty, that losing him would kill Davey. However much Davey lashes out, however messed up the guy is, Paul knows.
He looks up to tell Starsky he'll fight the decision, but his concentration's wavered, and Starsky's gone, back inside his head.
I'll fight it, he tells the character. I'll fight for you to live.
Thanks, Starsky responds. Take care of Davey.
You take care of Hutch.
Paul waves for another beer.
"I, uh… heard about what happened."
"Happened? Nothing happened. I'm what happened. I attacked her. Attacked my own wife." Dave takes a deep, ragged breath. "She pressed charges. She has every right…"
"What's gonna happen?"
"Oh, she's got a restraining order, and her doctor says she'll be okay…"
"No." Paul's voice is a little harder. "What's gonna happen to you?"
There's a deep sigh down the line. "Anger management counseling. If I get through it clean, I'm in the clear."
"That doesn't sound too bad."
"No—" Dave's anger explodes. "Except I assaulted a woman! I—I…"
"You sat on a pregnant woman's belly."
The bald statement hangs there. There's nothing but the crackling of static on the line. Finally Dave speaks, defeated.
"Why are you still here?"
"Because I love you, you turkey."
"I also shouldn't drink, smoke or swear." Paul's voice turns serious. "Davey, I know you. You wouldn't hurt a fly. What – what would make you go that far, babe? What's going on with you?"
There's a long silence, followed by an unintelligible mumble.
"I said…" Dave mutters, "I wouldn't have done it if it had been you."
Neither of them speaks for a few moments.
Finally, Dave breaks. "It's – it's like I'm punishing every woman for not being you."
"So it's my fault?" Paul raps out.
"No! God, no. I just… I wish we'd never, you know."
"Never gotten together?"
"Never split up."
"We haven't, Blondie." Paul's voice is gentle, but there's a firm undercurrent to it.
"I mean…" Paul hears the sound of Dave's exhalation against the receiver. "Ah, hell. It's all gotten so complicated. I don't know if I can take it anymore, Paulie."
"Sure you can," Paul soothes. "Sure you can. I'll help you. But you gotta stop beating on pregnant women, Davey. On second thought, I said that wrong. You gotta stop beating on women, period."
There's a long, shuddering breath. Dave's crying.
"I don't know what the fuck's wrong with me, Paulie," he finally chokes out. "Where I went wrong. It's like… one wrong decision after another, and the whole thing snowballs."
"We'll work it out. We'll work it out, babe." There's a pause. "What're you doing this weekend?"
A sniffling breath. "Getting drunk, probably."
"No you're not. You're visiting me."
Dave's voice, when it comes, is small and ashamed. "Can't go out of state…"
"Oh, shit. Okay. Okay, I'll come to you. Where you at?"
There's an exchange of addresses and a discussion of tentative meeting-times, and when they hang up, both Dave and Paul are feeling just a little bit better, like maybe things can be fixed.
The mourners aren't so much a knot as a sea, deep black against rolling green. Elisabeth was a good person, had a lot of friends, a lot of admirers. Dave can't really care about the admirers. He knows who he's here for, and he's not ashamed that it isn't Elisabeth.
Dave scans the blur of mourners as his Volvo crests the hill. He can't make out Paulie, not at this distance. The priest is standing apart, and his body language indicates that he's talking. He continues to scan the crowd as the car pulls in, then shakes his head. Only a few years since he quit playing a detective, his detective skills have gone all to shit. What was he thinking? Of course, Paulie'll be in the front row, close by the priest.
It brings back memories as he jogs through the slight incline of the grounds. He ran to save Paulie so many times, Hutch saving Starsky from the bad guys. Too bad he can't swoop in and save the day for Paulie. Not this time.
I would if I could, Paulie. I swear.
The mourners part for Dave like the Red Sea. Sometimes he forgets the whole fame thing, especially at times like this. Like a curtain parting, the last pair of black-clad ladies move in opposite directions, and in the watery sunlight, he sees Paulie.
The man's a hero. Holding onto his last surviving kid, his last surviving family, hugging ten-year-old Jake tight, Paulie stands alone, everyone keeping a respectful distance. He stands with his head held high, planes and new lines on his face picked out by shafts of sunlight. He's steadily crying, tears openly rolling down his face, but his expression is stoic, impassive. God knows he's cried so much and so often over the past few years that it's a wonder the man has any tears left. And yet, here he stands, head held high, honoring the memory of a lady so brave that she deserved to be Paulie's partner – and God knows there are few people Dave would put in that category. And now she's gone, and Paulie's by himself, standing tall with his chin up like the figurehead at the prow of a ship, facing life alone.
So very brave, so very vulnerable. So very much alone.
Dave doesn't know quite how he got to Paulie's side, but he's suddenly there, opening his arms, and the stoic façade drops like a curtain. Paulie lunges into Dave's embrace with the desperation of a drowning man, and Dave gathers him in, crying too, wrapping his arms around him, rubbing his back, pushing his fingers into Paulie's hair, kissing the top of his head, and repeating a litany of "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
Small arms wrap around them both, and Dave wraps his right arm tight around Paulie and pulls Jake in with his left. The kid's all cried out for now, but he's shaking. Paulie holds him, too, but his grip is weak, fumbling, like he has nothing left to give. "'S alright. 'S alright. I got it," Dave says with a strength he doesn't feel. God, he feels so fucking helpless. So fucking helpless. "Hey, Jake," he says softly. "Crying's good. She's worth it."
Innocent, reddened eyes look earnestly up at him.
Dave nods, still holding them both tight. "When someone we love goes to Heaven, we miss them," he goes on. God knows where he's even getting the words – they're sure not coming out of his rational mind. "The tears we cry for them – the sadness we feel – it means they meant something to us. So don't be—" he finds he has to swallow, himself. "Don't be ashamed to cry. To feel sad. It means she was really something."
There's a great gulping sob into his shoulder, and God forgive him but he can't turn his attention to the kid anymore. All Dave can do is wrap his arms tight around Paulie, and curse himself for not being able to keep his world from falling apart. Paulie's hands are fisted tight in Dave's coat, clinging to him like his anchor in a storm, and he's shaking with the force of his weeping. "I'm sorry," Dave murmurs. He so wishes there was something he could do. "I'm sorry. I feel so useless. If I could take her place, I swear, I would."
Paulie jerks in mid-sob, stills suddenly. "No." His throat's half-closed, but the choked word is quite coherent. He pulls in air with a horrible wheezing sound—Dave never wants to hear that sound coming from Paulie again, never, never—and buries his face in Dave's collar. "God forgive me," he whispers. "No. That—" He burrows deeper into Dave's embrace, and Dave holds him. "…I wouldn't survive that. God forgive me."
"I'm sorry," Dave can barely get the words out himself. "I didn't mean…"
Paulie shakes his head violently against Dave's chin. "Can't lose you," he breathes. Then he breaks into sobs again, clutching his son tight, looking over Dave's encircling arm at the grave. "God forgive me. One thing I can't lose."
Dave realizes he's been crying for some time, tears soaking into Paulie's hair. "Sorry," is all he can say. "I'm sorry."
"Don't," Paulie chokes. "Don't be." He gives up and cries into Dave's chest. "I'm sorry."
Dave shakes his head, kisses the top of Paulie's hair. "Don't be."
"Right here. This is our photographer…"
Dave believes it's got to qualify as some kind of guilty pleasure. He knows so many stars who just barely tolerate them, but Dave has to admit, not without some shame, he likes fan conventions. As for Paulie, of course, consummate exhibitionist, he loves 'em. It's always wonderful to watch Paulie glowing, in his element, and seeing Antonio is always a blast. God, he's been lucky, so lucky to have these people in his life.
"Could you move a little closer, Mr. Soul?"
"Please, call me Dave."
The photo-op is nice – Nancy, the lady running the con, is the soul of courtesy, and by now he's au courant with the jargon enough to recognize terms like 'vid' and 'squee'. The crowds of screaming young girls who used to greet them when they were young and dumb have given way to groups of charming middle-aged ladies, respectful and glowing with a kind of girlish delight that makes Dave feel young, almost like a kid again. Better, because now he appreciates it, appreciates everything he took for granted back then.
Paulie, of course, is beautiful as always, exuding that Latin charm. Dave always secretly admires how he's kept his gorgeous physique over the years. Aged like fine wine, you have, Paulie. Dave smiles happily as he watches his friend work the ladies'-man charm. As for Dave, he hides his embarrassment at being a tubby gimp by hamming it up with his walking cane, working the 'blind man' schtick till he gets Paulie about ready to up and bean him with it. He feels like laughing evilly. Mission accomplished.
It's later, at the dinner, that he starts to regret it. It starts slow at first – a muted spike up his spine – and he shifts a little in his seat and tries to will it away. Fat men shouldn't have long days, he rebukes himself as the spike comes again, sharper this time. Paulie looks at him sharply, but Dave makes like he doesn’t notice. The conversation has shifted to William Blinn and Brian's Song, and a small knot of people is discussing the pros and cons of the movie. Dave glues his eyes to his plate and tries to ignore the skewering pain, growing sharper by the second. And here he's left his painkillers back at the hotel. Stupid, stupid, stupid…
He starts as a warm presence steps up behind him. Gentle hands palm his burning spine, and Dave doesn't even have to think: Paulie. "Relax, now. Lean forward a little," Paulie murmurs, low enough to go unheard by the convention-goers. Letting out a tiny moan at the very back of his throat as Paulie's hands soothe the pain, Dave places his elbows casually on the table, letting his chin rest in his hands. He knows the drill – let your arms take the weight of your head, take some of the strain off your vertebrae. And Paulie's at his back, rubbing, smoothing the spike away, still working the charm, smiling and shining at everyone at the table from behind Dave. Working the charm and working the damaged tissue, soothing Dave's spine like he can't just stand by and watch Dave in pain. Dave's a little disappointed in himself: is he that transparent? He thought he had a better poker face than that.
Anyway, no matter what he puts over on whom, he's always transparent to Paulie. Dave smiles. He knows that much.
Davey opens the door to the shabby little London bedsit, and opens his arms.
Paul steps in, engulfs him in a huge bear-hug, made bigger by the giant coat he's wearing. "Only you," he mutters, muffled in Davey's robe and his own bulky outerwear, "would take up residence in the North Pole."
"Wimp," Davey retorts good-naturedly. "Come over here by the fire, Paulie. God, it's good to see you."
"Same here." Paul shivers as he takes his coat off. But Davey's already unbelted his robe and is holding it open like big double doors, an invitation for Paul to lunge inside, slipping his arms underneath it, burrowing into the warm place between Davey's robe and his clothing. "Mmmmmmm," Paul murmurs, warm and hedonistic as he rubs his face against Davey's shoulder like a cat, feels Davey's arms snuggle round him and wrap him in the ample folds of wool and rub his back till he's almost purring.
"You," Dave says softly into his hair, "are decadent."
"Takes one to know one. Schweetheart," Paul tacks on in his best Starsky-Bogie voice. Dave knows what that voice means by now, and he maneuvers till they're nose-to-nose, giving Paul a smoochy kiss – not urgent and passionate, just I-love-you-and-you-love-me-and-we-both-know-it-and-let's-cuddle-because-everything-else-in-the-world-can-sure-as-hell-wait.
Paul slides his hands up and down Davey's back, trying to gauge the state of his health, fingers carefully palpating the muscles around the spine. "Mmm." This time it's Davey who starts purring.
"Cold hasn't been good to you?" Paul phrases it as a question, but he already knows the answer as his fingers encounter knots of muscle where damaged nerves seize up and send bolts of pain. He flattens his hands and just pushes his palms in against Davey's aching spine, letting the heat and pressure relax and loosen the twisted muscle and nerve. "You oughta be taking hot baths."
Davey stiffens, and Paul curses inwardly. There's no bathtub in this dump. Now that's something he'd never have wanted to see: his Davey impoverished. Sure, he's made some dumb choices, but someone so beautiful, so valuable—He's not going to think like that. He's already taken steps to fix it. No moping, now.
Paul snuggles tighter into Davey's arms, breathing in the fireside-wool-cologne-sweat-warm that's uniquely him, measuring the pressure to his spine, sliding his hands up and down his back. "Mmm, nice and warm," he murmurs, face still buried in Davey's chest. "Hate to have to go, but I'll just settle in, then be right back."
He feels the little ripple of surprise run through his human blanket. Every time he's come to London before, he's stayed here with Davey. "Finally wised up and got a hotel?" The voice rumbling under his ear is a little thin, a little rough, a little hurt, and it makes Paul pull Davey a little closer, stroke his back a little more.
"Nope," Paul says languidly. "Apartment."
Paul forces himself to keep it casual, act like he can't hear the undercurrent of unhappiness in Davey's voice, the Oh well, couldn't expect him to stay over in this dump every time he comes over. Eventually, Davey rallies, asks in a controlled tones, "Where'd you get one?"
"A floor down."
"Come again?" Davey releases Paul, takes a step back to look at him. "A floor down from here?"
"Didn't know there was a law against it."
Davey's face lights up, even as he shakes his head incredulously. "But… I didn't know the Pawsons were even renting it out."
Davey's arms fall to his sides completely, his face not so much suspicious as filled with the echoes of past wounds. "You going to tell me the whole story instead of making me play twenty questions?"
Paul gives him the old trademark 1000-watt grin. "They weren't renting it out. They were selling."
Davey's still giving him a blank look, on the edge of fear, so Paul steps closer, brushes Dave's elbows with his hands. "I bought the apartment downstairs." Still nothing, so he talks on, gently, like talking down a skittish wild animal. "It's got two rooms, a bathroom with a real bathtub, not a shower out in the hallway, big fireplace…"
"Charity? Is that it?"
It's an echo of Dave's old aggression, borne on a broken rasp of breath. It sounds angry, but there's so many years between them that Paul can recognize the misery for what it is, the bruised pride. But the most hopeful, the most positive sign, is that Davey hasn't stepped out of Paul's loose grip on his elbows. Paul tightens his grip, steps closer. "You can call it what you like," he says, a bit dismissively. Damned if he hasn't earned the right to cut through the bullshit, after all these years. "No law says I can't buy an apartment in my best friend's apartment house."
"It's not my…"
"You know what I mean." Dave trembles a little under Paul's hands, but Paul stands firm. He needs to look Davey in the eyes to say this. "Makes sense to stay here when I'm in town. Got a bunch of trips lined up. Be coming to London back and forth all year. Home from home. And when I'm not here, it makes sense to have a convenient house-sitter right upstairs, right?"
Davey swallows. Then his eyes mist up. He looks down, to the side, away from Paul. Paul can see the lines in his face deepen into furrows, face crumpling, smooth expression cracking with the effort of hiding that it's just too much, too much for one man to take. Too many upheavals, too many bad breaks, and here the guy is, soldiering on, and now, no wonder it's just too much for him. "Hey," Paul says, gently. "Hey."
But Davey's turned completely away from him now, hands fisted, arms stiff and straight at his sides. His shoulders are shaking.
"Hey, you numskull." Paul closes the distance between him and Davey, slips his arms around his friend from behind. He cheats and shifts a little to the side, too, so he can rest his cheek against Davey's upper arm. "I give a pal a pleasant surprise, the least he can do is have the decency to be pleasantly surprised, huh?"
Davey's head shakes, jerkily. He makes a harsh, incoherent sound that indicates he's fighting back tears. Paul waits. Eventually, Davey chokes out, "…too much…"
Paul pulls Davey in tighter, gives him a tiny shake. Can't jostle him too hard, not with that bad back. "Too much what? For whom? You think it's too much for me to have an apartment in London? Huh?" He listens to Davey's attempt at speech, then starts again. "Or maybe you think you're gonna be seeing too much of me, now I'm the boy downstairs?" He grins in spite of himself. "Sounds good, doesn't it? The boy downstairs?"
Davey makes a sound that's like a valiant attempt at a laugh, only it comes out a sob. Paul wraps his arms around Davey's, folding his hands around his chest. Davey shakes his head, hard, and Paul does not want to hear it: the crap about Paul being too good for Davey, how Davey's a failure, how he ruins everything he's ever touched, with a helping of the fat middle-aged has-been for good measure. Paul does not want to hear it. He doesn't want Davey to even think it. "Boy downstairs," he murmurs nonchalantly, "with a hot tub."
Davey doesn't let up sobbing exactly, but Paul's hands can tell that it's less violent. "Big enough for two," he continues smoothly. "Had such a time getting it put in, I can't even tell you."
"Getting what put in?"
"Shut up. Live in England one lousy decade and you get a one-track mind."
"Oh, so I'm the one with a one-track—"
"No, seriously." Paul's comfy now, arms round Davey, cheek settled against Davey's back, all the time in the world. "If you're British, you get unconscionable pleasure in—"
"Someone's been hitting the thesaurus."
"Shaddap. Unconscionable, I said, pleasure, in eking—"
"And you say you haven't been hitting the thes—"
"—eking out every last little bit of sexy double entendre out of everything you can say, might say or will say in the future, but try getting a plumber to put in a two-man bathtub and horrors! Maiden aunts fainting here, there and everywhere. Man oh man, if you knew how the plumber looked at me. You know," Paul says thoughtfully, stroking Davey's shoulders absently from the front, "I think it wasn't so much the sex as the extravagance. The British are damned stingy."
"It's called being frugal, mushbrain."
The tone is so perfectly Hutch-superior that Paul suspects the crisis has passed. "Mmm," he murmurs. He doesn't want to kid around about frugality lest it remind Davey of his own financial situation. "So, you gonna come downstairs, help me set myself up, maybe try out the hot tub?"
Davey turns, and thank God, there's peace and joy in his eyes. "The boy downstairs, you said."
"Why do I hear some kinky in the voice, there?"
"You must admit it has all kinds of possibilities." Davey's slipped his arms loosely around Paul, and Paul reciprocates. God, he loves how Davey feels now that he's gained weight: softer to the touch, warmer—just beautiful. "Delivery boy, postman…"
"Complaining about the noise…" Paul volunteers.
"Complaining about just about anything, really." They come together, sharing a kiss that suddenly flares with passion, after a freaking lifetime. Go figure.
"I think I like the complaining scenario," Paul mutters low in his throat. "It's doing things to me."
"Yeah, same here." The huskiness in Davey's voice sends a shiver all down Paul. "What say we make it here in the bed, narrow as it may be, and christen the hot tub on another occasion?"
"You make it sound like the Queen Mary." Paul kisses his Davey again. "Like we're christening a boat."
"If you're going to buy champagne, I get to drink it. No smashing."
"You're smashing." Paul idly wonders how they've gotten to the bed.
"Takes one to know one." They're already half-undressed and under the covers.
"Ah, shit," Paul complains. "Here we are snug as a bug in a rug—"
"Two bugs—and you've got no lamp by the bed. Which of us is gonna crawl out of bed and hike the three feet to the lightswitch?"
Preoccupied with nuzzling Davey's neck and how heavenly it feels, Paul isn't paying much attention, but asks pro forma, "How come?"
"Forgot to feed the meter."
"Oh, for crying out loud," Paul murmurs happily, letting his hands roam the soft, beloved body. "You still running on that medieval thing that takes 5p coins and if you don't pay it, the electricity goes—"
They're plunged into darkness.