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That’s what I thought the first time I saw the Blond Blintz standing there on top of a Bay City warehouse: that he was golden.
I didn’t even know what gold looked like back then. Not really. Our kind only see black and white, not color. But I’d heard humans talk about gold and felt the glow of their golden sun and seen the statues they’d covered in the stuff, and one way or another, I knew Hutch must be golden.
Not that I even knew his name back then.
I’d only been in Bay City for a few days, a wandering Watcher looking for home. I’d never gotten used to being called an Angel. I wasn’t the sort of fluffy wings and halos creature the humans seemed to think of when they used the name. I’d been a warrior in the beginning, one of the Chosen fighting the Enemy. My wings were tattered from use, my armor was dented from battle and none of us have halos. But the being I saw on that building as I flew around my new home, he really was an Angel. I was sure of it.
It wasn’t his surroundings that made me think that. The building he was perched on was a decrepit hulk of a place in a neighborhood that ran more to pimps and drug dealers than law-abiding citizens. And his armor was as dented as mine, his wings had as many ragged feathers. But his expression, his attentiveness, the way he held himself showed me a being who still believed in this world, who still believed in the decency of the humanity we had been given watch over.
I slowed my flight and settled onto the roof of a nearby building, a tenement building teeming with human souls whose thoughts nearly deafened me. I shut out the humans and concentrated on the Golden Angel before me. It took a while for him to turn his attention to me, but I didn’t care. Time made no difference to me. He finally registered my presence with a start of surprise and a nod of acknowledgement I returned with a smile. He smiled back, but his attention was soon back on the streets below him and the humans under his care. I watched my Golden Angel for a few minutes more before I took to the air once again, determined to learn my way around this city I was now more determined than ever to call home.
I saw the Golden Angel every few days. Sometimes from a distance, his wings and hair flashing white in the sunlight, sometimes close enough that we’d share a nod of greeting. But we didn’t speak. Not until the night when I finally dared to land beside him on the roof of the same building where I’d first seen him.
“You’re new,” he said, stating the obvious.
“Yeah,” I said. “I got sick of winter in New York. Thought I’d try California.”
“I know what you mean,” he said with a laugh. “I came from Minnesota.” I liked the sound of his laugh as much as I liked his smile. Both were…golden.
“I’m Starsky,” I said, holding out my hand in a gesture humans use to begin a friendship.
“Hutch,” he said, and took my hand, and I knew right then that he was just like me. Because like me, he was a nomad, breaking the unspoken rule that tied us to one place on this little planet. And because like me, he’d taken a human name.
Cassiel. Damiel. Even Lucifer. Those are the names of Watchers. Of Angels. It had been so long since I’d used my Watcher name I couldn’t even remember it. As soon as humans had started naming themselves, I’d started stealing their names for myself. I’d taken the name of a warrior, a fighter, man or woman, great or small. I’d wear the name for a time, then take another, all the while watching the millennia pass.
“Why Hutch?” I asked him a few weeks later as we were patrolling what I now thought of as our city, watching over the prostitutes and bums who seemed invisible to everyone but us.
“It belonged to a man I watched grow up in Minnesota.” Hutch looked at the horizon where the sun was setting and taking the light with it. “He was an old soul, for a human. I took it to remember him.” I put my hand on his shoulder for a moment, and I could feel the winter within him.
“Why Starsky?” he asked me.
I took a deep breath before answering that one. Because of all the names I’d taken across history, this was one of the ones that meant the most to me.
“It belonged to a boy. From Warsaw.” I closed my eyes, and I could see men in German uniforms in front of an ugly brick wall that enclosed thousands of men, women and children. “He raised the Resistance flag over the ghetto during the uprising there, during their last world war.”
“What happened to him?”
“He died two days later.” The boy had died in the flames, which had probably been a mercy. There had been so many much worse deaths in that place. I’d taken his name as my own, my memorial to a boy forgotten by human history.
I’d stayed in Poland until the Nazis were driven out and the Soviets rolled in. I’d done my duty; I’d borne witness. And when it was all over, when I’d seen more horrors than even a Watcher could bear, I’d flown west, trading the Old World for the New, and the sounds of Polish and German and Russian for the English of New York City.
Hutch didn’t speak; he simply put his hand on my shoulder and leaned his forehead against mine. I couldn’t feel his thoughts—we can’t hear the thoughts of our own kind—but I felt closer to him in that moment than I have ever felt to another being, Watcher or human.
We were inseparable after that.
We spent our days and nights watching over the forgotten people: the girls who worked the massage parlours, the junkies trying to find enough cash for their next score, and the rummies panhandling for small change to buy a watered-down beer from the dive down the street. We saw small kindnesses and casual cruelties. We witnessed life in all its beauty and ugliness.
And on the days when there were too many cruelties and not enough kindnesses, we would spread our wings and take to the skies. We’d fly west until we were over the ocean, the waves glinting with the light of the sun or the moon. We’d fly low over the water, tracking pods of dolphins or blooms of jellyfish. We’d fly high in the sky, until we felt we could touch the stars before plummeting to earth once again. Whatever we did, our flights would always end on a deserted beach, sitting on sun-warmed sand with our wings lightly touching as they flexed behind us.
In all the eons I’d been on this planet, I couldn’t remember having been more content. But having seen so much, I should have known that nothing remains the same—not even immortals like us.
As the days grew shorter and the end of the human year approached, it seemed that the streets grew meaner. There were more beatings and muggings, and more ocean flights to escape the feelings they brought to us both. On Christmas Eve, three addicts we’d watched over for months overdosed on a bad batch of heroin. That day, not even the ocean felt like it could change our mood. Instead, Hutch grabbed my hand and pulled me into the sky and towards one of the ravines that ran through the city. He guided me through the trees until we settled in the branches of a big camphor tree that sheltered a ramshackle structure of plywood and canvas. That structure—more than a tent and less than a shack—was home to two of our flock. Eddie and Lonely survived on odd jobs and meals from the nearest street mission, but they never complained. They looked out for each other, sharing what little they had. As soon as I realized where Hutch had brought me, I understood. We needed more kindness, and we would find it with these two lost souls.
We sat in the branches of the tree, dangling our legs and leaning against each other as Eddie and Lonely made a campfire to heat up the dented tins of beans they’d managed to scrounge, and exchanged meager Christmas presents: a pair of socks for Eddie and a battered fedora for Lonely. They were never anything but gentle with each other, either in thoughts or words. Which made it all the more jarring when we started hearing a disturbance somewhere beyond the light of their campfire.
The thoughts I heard from the men approaching were jumbled and violent, and made me look nervously to Hutch. Hutch sat up a bit straighter and turned to where the sound was growing louder.
It took seconds for the source of the noise to appear: four young men, drunk and loud and angry at the world. And currently that anger was focused on two old men who would never have hurt anyone.
Eddie and Lonely stumbled to their feet, confused and worried. One of the young men, what passed in their company for a leader, moved forward and started to push Lonely, while another of them picked up a burning branch from the fire as a crude sort of torch and began to move towards Eddie.
“No,” Hutch whispered as the young man with the torch drew closer to Eddie. Then louder. “No!”
Before I could move, Hutch had flown down the short distance to the campfire and was standing between the men and their prey. As I watched, I could see him begin to change. It was as if he began to flicker, to become both less and more substantial. He flexed his wings, beat them once, twice, and then they were gone. As the wings disappeared, the men in front of Hutch pulled back in surprise.
“Hutch!” I yelled, even though I knew he couldn’t hear me.
I had to do it, Starsk. Hutch’s thoughts rang in my head. His human thoughts. I’m sorry.
“No you don’t,” I said, as I tumbled out of the tree and moved towards Hutch. “Not by yourself, you don’t.”
As I ran towards Hutch I could feel myself change, could feel the air spark around me, could feel an unfamiliar weight settling into my bones, could feel the pain of my wings disintegrating. I staggered as the world shifted and changed, and I leaned briefly on Hutch, taking my strength from him. We both had lost our wings, but we still had our armor, battered breastplates under our leather jackets. I blinked as I realized that the torch the man in front of me was waving around wasn’t the blacks and whites I had always known. It was made up of colors. I knew, then, that there was no going back.
Hutch spared a second for me, making sure I could stand on my own, and then placed himself firmly between Eddie and the man with the torch. I put myself between Lonely and his tormentors.
“Stay away from them,” Hutch growled.
“Where the fuck did you two come from?” one of the men asked.
“That don’t matter,” I said, planting my feet firmly on the earth and readying myself for the coming fight. “What does matter is that you get out of here.”
As the men stood and looked at us for the length of several breaths, I wished I could still hear the thoughts of humans. But then they finally looked at each other and charged.
It had been uncounted millennia since I’d fought the Enemy since the beginning of time, but I hadn’t forgotten anything. And this time I wasn’t facing fallen Watchers, but drunk young men who were as clumsy as they were furious. I met the invaders head on, blocking fists and landing punches of my own. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Hutch taking on the man with the torch, and winning.
The attackers were vicious, but they knew when they were beat. It took only minutes before they stopped and ran back the way they’d come, leaving us alone with each other, and with Eddie and Lonely.
“Who are you?” Lonely asked as I helped him to his feet, his expression surprised and grateful and just a bit wary.
“I’m Starsky,” I said, then pointed my thumb back to my partner. “He’s Hutch.”
“Thank you, Starsky.” Lonely reached out and shook my hand, then turned to his friend. “Say thank you to the men, Eddie.”
“Thank you, Starchy. Thank you, Hup.” He directed a shy smile at us both. I didn’t have the heart to correct him, and neither did Hutch.
We stashed our armor and bundled the two of them to the mission where they took their meals. There was a Christmas Eve service about to start, but Hutch talked the pastor who ran the place into taking them in for the night. We didn’t think those idiots would try to hurt two old men a second time, but after listening to human thoughts through the centuries I’ve learned to never underestimate how vicious some of the species can be.
After we had Eddie and Lonely settled in a safe place, we went looking for our own safe place. Hutch had been in the city that much longer than me, and he knew a church that kept its doors open at night and that didn’t have a Christmas service until later the next morning. So we walked there—how I missed my wings—and settled in a corner of the church together. There, wrapped comfortably in each other’s arms, we slept for the first time.
I woke up the next morning alone and confused. I don’t know how humans do it, figure out each morning where the hell they are and how the hell they got there, but somehow I managed it. And then I went looking for Hutch.
I didn’t have far to look. He was at the front of the church by the pulpit, surrounded by the light of the morning sun streaming through the stained glass windows. Standing in the light of all those colors I didn’t have names for yet, for a moment I thought I could see the wings he didn’t have anymore. There he was, my Golden Angel.
“What are you staring at?” he asked, making me realize what an idiot I must look like.
“Nothin’.” And then I grinned. I couldn’t help it. I should have been miserable. I’d given up immortality and my wings to save two people no one else in the world would have missed. But it felt right and it felt perfect because the one thing I hadn’t given up was Hutch. Not that I had a clue about what would come next. “What are we gonna do now?” I asked.
“Well,” Hutch said, returning my grin, “I’ve always wanted to be a cop.”
I thought back to the dawn of time when I’d fought the Enemy, when I’d been able to make a stand with my brother and sister Watchers. I thought about how I hadn’t been able to do the same for so many on this planet, how I hadn’t been able to fight with young Starsky or rescue those junkies yesterday. I thought about how good it had felt to save Eddie and Lonely, to finally make a difference, and especially how good it had felt to fight with Hutch at my side.
“Yeah,” I said, throwing my arm around Hutch’s shoulder. “Being a cop sounds fine to me.”