Strahm wasn’t someone who typically followed what others told him to do.
But it was fair to say that things are subject to change when faced with life or death.
Dying in a Jigsaw trap was not something that he had on his agenda. Hopefully, it would never be on his agenda. Hopefully, his agenda could never mention the name Jigsaw again, besides maybe someday when he’s retired and in a retirement community, and there’s a jigsaw puzzle tournament or something happening. He was just fed up with the way that his life was going.
Trust wasn’t something that Strahm was sure he had learned from the whole excursion, but what he did learn, and this was more of a general lesson that had come from working on the Jigsaw case as a whole, was that listening to the rules and following them seemed like the better bet than not.
So when the tape said to enter the coffin, Strahm took a chance, despite the fact he doesn’t consider himself a betting man, and did just that.
He quickly considered the idea that he had made a grave mistake, as soon as he had done it and the door had closed and the walls had started to cave in. He felt a bit like that kid from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the one that got stuck in the pipe. This connection didn’t really make much sense, but he assumed it was the idea of being stuck in something and his frantic mind just couldn’t think of anything else.
Also, Strahm doesn’t even like chocolate so the comparison kind of sucked.
But, when the coffin started to slide down, and the world around him started to blur a bit from stress and worry, Strahm must admit that he let out the tiniest sigh of relief.
Which in hindsight might have been a mistake, because the end of that situation had resolved in him coming face to face with Hoffman. And he looked a little bit too excited about the events that had just occurred. Well, in the way that Hoffman could look excited, which meant he had kind of this look in his eye, like a rabid dog or an angry ferret.
Maybe a snake, but he didn’t look like he had any real venom behind his dull teeth right now.
If he did, it would certainly be dripping from his mouth as his face extended into a smile that would be unfair to call sinister but misleading to call genuine.
Could it even be called a smile?
Maybe not, more a smirk.
“Hello, Special Agent Strahm.” Hoffman said, putting emphasis on every syllable, voice laced with something Strahm didn’t care to analyze. He was more focused on the hand kept on the glass of the door.
“Let me out of here you bitch!” Strahm yelled, less aggressive than he wanted it to sound. But he was focusing most of his energy on banging on the glass, almost knocking in the friendly way one would to announce their arrival at a friend’s house.
Hoffman tilted his head slightly, and took his hand off the glass. “Did you learn your lesson?” He moved his other hand into his pocket.
Strahm stopped banging on the glass to ball his hand into a fist, it shook quickly and violently. “Did I learn my lesson? I played the stupid game, you freaky bitch! I followed the rules and fucking won! DIDN’T I?” He punctuated his statement by punching his fist into the glass, triggering the door to open.
It seemed he had placed all his weight into that punch, as he managed to fall out of the coffin and onto the floor. Hoffman took two steps backward to allow for Strahm to completely fall onto the floor. Broken glass pieces from behind him scattered around like some kind of modernist art piece, and Strahm had to admit he kind of felt like one too.
Strahm groaned on the ground, and debated just laying down on it, his body ached with the weight of the day, the weight of realizations, and the pain of laying on fucking broken glass.
Hoffman kicked at him lightly with the toe of his shoe, and Strahm considered grabbing his leg or something of the like to pull him down, but a broken glass wrestling match seemed a lot less fun than just existing on the floor for a second. Strahm knew he had all the information and proof he would need to put Hoffman behind bars, that is if he survived this, but there was something so agonizing in the idea of going onwards to a next moment in his life now that he thought of it.
Because he was absolutely certain there was no way he was going to go through two games without substantial life, a pause in thought, because Strahm wanted to say improvement but he would just settle for a change.
Strahm sensed that Hoffman had bent down, and this was confirmed when he felt a hand on his shoulder. It slid all the way down his arm until he felt another set of fingers clasp around his own. He groaned and lifted his head up slightly before feeling himself being dragged upwards. His shoes gilded and were unable to steady themselves on the shards of glass littering the floor. Strahm’s unheld hand slid up to Hoffman’s shoulder, and he pressed all the unsteadiness into it. For a split second the two almost looked like they were waiting for music to strike, so they could so elegantly dance and reminisce across the floor together.
The moment was short lived though.
As Strahm had quickly slid his hand placed on Hoffman’s shoulder to his neck, and soon untangled his fingers and placed it along the other side to match. Strahm didn’t even have the chance to apply any pressure, as he felt a needle enter his skin and inject something into his overall senses. He thought it was lazy of Hoffman to recycle a bit he had already done though.
Strahm felt his hands around Hoffman’s neck go slack, and they slid down his chest as Strahm fell once again to the floor. Back along the broken glass that loved him he guessed.
“You fucker.” Strahm spat before he fell unconscious.
Strahm woke up some unknown amount of time later, the direct sting of the glass embedded in his skin was gone. That means Hoffman must have taken the time and had the care to take them out.
He’s in a car, he’s buckled in and the seat is set slightly back. Considerate, Strahm guessed, Hoffman must have been expecting him to be unconscious for most of the ride, and leaning him back would have stopped a kink in the neck from forming. It’s dark out, and the car is stopped at a red light. Strahm watched with one eye open as it turned to green. He hasn’t looked over yet, but he knows Hoffman will be in the driver’s seat.
When the car starts back up to follow on whatever path Hoffman’s set, Strahm rolls his head over to look at him. He has on black leather gloves and a stupid little coat, Strahm thinks he looks like the most asshole chauffeur the world has ever seen.
Hoffman also looks pissed, and Strahm hopes he is.
“Where are we going?” Strahm bites, sounding like he’s more so chewing the inside of his cheek than wanting to make conversation.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Hoffman supplies back, and Strahm can hear the crunch of the leather gloves as he tenses his fingers on the steering wheel.
But the atmosphere isn’t violent, it’s aggressive, sure, but not the way Strahm would expect it to be if he was being taken out behind the shed.
And unwilling to spend another minute in this moment, Strahm closes his eyes and hopes he can fall back into the lull of unconsciousness. “Wake me up when we get there then.”
Strahm wakes up for the second time in this bitch of a situation by feeling the car pull to a stop and hearing the engine stop. He hopes that if he doesn’t open his eyes and pretends to still be unconscious that Hoffman will leave him like some dog while the owner’s running into a store. Maybe then he could run open the door and simply leave. Disappear like some lost pet.
But instead he gets a hand on his shoulder and is shaken, but he keeps up the pretense that he is not stirred. It doesn’t accomplish anything besides getting shaken even harder.
“We’re here.” Hoffman spits and Strahm groans before opening his eyes.
He’s greeted with the sign of a chain restaurant, a steakhouse actually. He hears Hoffman unbuckle himself and leave the car. Strahm rolls his eyes on how Hoffman slams the car door, it seems more like an act than genuine but he can’t place why.
It's a matter of seconds before the passenger’s seat door opens, and Strahm rolls his head over to look at Hoffman. He has a hand extended, Strahm takes it and places all his weight into it as he gets out of the car. He wanted to take Hoffman by surprise and topple him over, but instead he was greeted by a hand clutched tightly around his wrist.
Strahm closes the car door with his free hand, attempting to slam it more, elaborately, than Hoffman had. He fails at that.
“Why are we here?” Strahm asks, surprised that his tone sounded like an actual question rather than bitter and laced with anger. He gets dragged along by Hoffman through the half the parking lot before he gets an answer.
“Thought it’d be nice to go out to dinner.” Hoffman takes a long pause that seems almost like he’s debating on that being his final statement on the question. “This is my favorite restaurant.”
Strahm scoffs. “This is your favorite restaurant? Really?”
They’re getting closer to the door now, and Strahm becomes hyper conscious of the idea that he could potentially cause some type of scene that would allow for him to escape.
Strahm also becomes hyper conscious of the idea that even if he did escape, he wouldn’t know where to go.
Well, he would know where to go in like, the general scheme of things. He would go and turn in all the evidence he had collected, he would go and place Hoffman in jail, he would then mock Hoffman while he was in jail, just a little bit, but then he would move on with his life and spend more time thinking about something else.
But he wouldn’t know where to go within the split second of him having escaped. Strahm doesn’t really know where he is right now, and he doesn’t feel like wandering around in circles just for Hoffman to find him and drag him back to the door of this shitty chain restaurant.
Would Hoffman even look for him and drag him back? Strahm feels that he would, but also that he possibly wouldn’t. It was strange to say the least and in all honesty, Strahm didn’t feel like analyzing what ifs and possibilities when he was very much in a situation that was unfolding in front of him in such a way that he barely knew what was happening.
He hadn’t even realized that he was standing inside the restaurant at this point.
Hoffman let go off Strahm’s wrist and walked up to the hostess and presumably asked for a table. Strahm was too busy looking around to actually pay attention to the words being said.
The restaurant was busy in the way that chain restaurants get at night. There were about half the tables filled with people, and it was noisy in the way that happens when people talk loudly over the radio.
When Strahm saw that Hoffman was walking away from the hostess stand and towards a table, he absentmindedly followed him. Some reasoning in his head about how he wanted to keep tabs on Hoffman’s next steps, after all he had to have brought Strahm here for a reason right? He wouldn’t be able to figure it out if he didn’t play along,
At least that’s what Strahm was saying to himself to try and rationalize why he was allowing himself to have dinner with a dangerous asshole.
The hostess seated them at a booth in almost the center of the restaurant. If Strahm turned his head to the left he could see the almost completely packed bar, and to the right if he looked past the booth they were seated at he could see a couple tables seated next to the windows. The windows didn’t give a view worth anything, just the sight lights whizzing by in the dark that Strahm assumed was a highway.
Menus were slid onto the too smooth lamination of the wooden booth’s table as the hostess said something about a server coming around soon. Hoffman said something back as he slid into the seat opposite to where Strahm was standing, it was presumably a question because the hostess replied with something too long to be a customary way of allowing herself back to her post. Strahm didn’t pay attention to any of it, too busy trying to take note of anything that would seem to be useful for any reason. The hostess walked off before Strahm even sat down.
“Are you gonna’ sit or is this table not good enough for you?” Hoffman said as he tapped his fingers slowly on the table, most likely only to add dramatics to the situation.
Unlikely though, considering how much dramatics and ambiance can be added to a fucking chain steakhouse off the side of the highway.
Strahm slid in the booth and watched as Hoffman picked up his menu. He messed with the corner of the page as he read.
Strahm answered Hoffman’s question with a question of his own. “Why are we here?” Thankful that his voice sounded stern enough to impose some sort of tenseness into the air.
“Thought it’d be nice to go out to dinner. Besides, you ought to be hungry from running around all day.” Hoffman replied, not looking up from the menu.
“You don’t know what I’ve been doing today.” Strahm snapped, despite the fact it was obviously Hoffman did. He wouldn’t have planned out that fucking coffin if he didn’t.
“You know that I do.” Hoffman flicked the page over, Strahm still hadn’t picked up his menu. “If I buy you something nice for dinner you know that means you’re expected to put out right?”
Strahm let out a laugh that sounded more like a breath. “You tried to kill me! Least you can do is buy me something nice for dinner.”
“That mean you’re going to put out?” Hoffman flicked another page.
“I’m not going to put out!” Strahm debated slamming a hand down on the table but instead he decided on slamming it on his thigh. He thought that the table would have been a better decision as soon as he felt a sting.
Hoffman looked over his menu at Strahm, like some kind of alligator or crocodile, whatever the more dangerous one was. “I didn’t try and kill you either.” He broke up his statement with a scoff. “Besides, if you were dead I would be doing something very different right now.”
Hoffman smiled, no, the word smile didn’t suit the smugness behind it. But the word smirk didn’t suit the genuine amusement it had either. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Uh yeah! I would like to fucking know, that’s why I asked!” Strahm said a bit too loudly, as he noticed a few heads turning from the bar over to look at him.
But what the hell, why did he care about some random people getting drunk at the bar? He just survived a fucking Jigsaw trap, his second Jigsaw trap actually, he could yell in a restaurant a little if he liked.
Maybe those people getting drunk at the bar had the right idea, because getting drunk sounded like a good idea.
Hoffman dropped his menu down on the table. “They say you aren’t supposed to have sex on the first date anyways. Not that that’s ever stopped me or anything, but it’s the teasing and drawing it out that’s supposed to make it fun or something. Like a chase.”
“Are you saying this is a date?” Strahm asked, a bit thrown back. The putting out talk started to actually settle in his mind with meaning.
“Maybe.” Hoffman shrugged, but that fucking smug amusement stayed right on his face.
“This isn’t a date. I don’t date murderers.” Strahm hissed, mildly disappointed he couldn’t think of something either funnier to say or something that would hit some kind of nerve.
“Good thing I’m not a murderer.” Hoffman said as the waitress came around.
She said her name was Chrissy, and asked if the two of them have ever dined here before. Strahm was a bit grateful that Hoffman said yes to that question, as he was just not wanting to say anything besides a request for ten tequila shots.
Maybe ten tequila shots would be a bit much.
He would just get a margarita and see where the night takes him.
Maybe he would get two.
Strahm scoffed as he listened to Hoffman order himself a diet soda, like that was going to accomplish anything. He guessed that Hoffman would probably be drinking literally anything alcoholic by the end of the night.
“Are you gonna’ eat fried pickles if I order them?” Hoffman said nonchalantly.
Strahm made a noise that sounded like a strangled type of gasp. “Why are you asking me that? Why am I here actually? Why am I still sitting here?” The words in his last sentence stretched away from each other, adding more of a strain.
Hoffman turned to the waitress and said that they would take a plate of fried pickles.
She started to walk off, and before she could turn the corner Strahm yelled about how he needed two margaritas. He hoped she heard, but he wasn’t going to bug her anymore at her job than the ruckus he had already caused. People from the surrounding seats were turning to stare anyways.
“The answer didn’t change from the last time I said it.” Hoffman said, seemingly more enamoured by the menu than his supposed date for the evening.
Strahm let out a sigh through closed teeth. “What answer?”
Hoffman slid the menu down back on the table and looked Strahm dead in the face. “Are you stupid? You keep asking me why we’re here, it's because I thought it would be nice to go out to fucking dinner.”
“This isn’t a date.” Strahm spat back as quickly as he could get the words out, repeating his words that he not so far long ago said. He didn’t want Hoffman’s line of conversation to go back to attempting to push a romantic, but more barbaric tone.
Hoffman snickered. “I meet your one rule. Not a murderer.”
“Bullshit! And you know it.” Strahm hissed, but he wanted to add in a jeer. “Besides, I don’t date brunettes.”
“Maybe I’m a natural blonde, go up to the hair salon every week and get it dyed.” If it was long enough Strahm could just imagine Hoffman twirling his hair around his finger. “We both know you’re lying though.”
Strahm was lying, he did date brunettes. Almost exclusively brunettes, not that it was a thing that he planned or anything, just something that happened, but he was hoping Hoffman didn’t know that and instead was just saying things to fuck with him. There was no way he wasn’t.
“You didn’t specify what kind of margarita you wanted. Haven’t even looked at your menu.”
“I’m not too picky on what margarita I get. There’s like ten of them on the menu.” Strahm smiled his own little smug smile. “Besides, you said you’re buying me dinner. If I don’t like it I’ll just get a new one.”
Hoffman bummed. “Maybe we should consider this our second date then.”
“First can be that time I watched you get wheeled away in that ambulance. Don’t know if we even shared a word then, but I think we both felt a spark. Or a connection, something about being survivors.” Hoffman started to tap his fingers on the table again, Strahm hadn’t noticed earlier but at some point he had taken those leather gloves off. His nails were short and dull, Strahm thought they didn’t look jagged enough to have been bitten but not clean enough to have been cut with any sort of nail clipper. Maybe Hoffman pulled his nails off from one edge to the other when they got too long.
“You aren’t a survivor. Can’t be when it’s rigged.” Strahm said, hunching his posture and slinking back into his seat. Not relaxing, but more so attempting to show discontent with the situation as a whole, be a brat. Unintentionally settling into the environment.
“What if it's rigged against you?” Hoffman tilted his head, smug expression fading from his face but amusement still shown in his eyes. Strahm thought it was a bit scary, this seemed to be the most open emotion he had ever seen from Hoffman. That couldn't be a good thing.
“You know that’s not what I meant. Stop playing dumb.”
“Did I hit a sore spot?” Hoffman looked down at Strahm’s throat in the most unsubtle fashion anyone could ever muster. “Maybe I should hit it again.”
Strahm’s right hand went to his bandage without thought, he rubbed his thumb across it a bit too roughly. “You aren’t hitting anything.”
“Least not to the third date, right?” Hoffman seemed to dare Strahm for an answer, but he wasn’t given one in an amount of time he deemed appropriate. “Time’s ticking then, if we’re already on the second and we’re playing by Cosmopolitan's top ten dating tips.” He let out a hum. “Maybe this could even be our third, if we counted you bitching me out at the hospital.”
It was concerning how there was no underlying bite to Hoffman’s words, only undertone Strahm could get was giddy, amused, fucking playful. Hoffman was having too much fun, and that was a dangerous thing when dealing with dangerous people.
“It's the first. Only real time you’ve specifically asked me to be in a place with you.” Strahm said, knowing saying the word asked was putting a real stretch into things. But he could rationalize that he was asked into that coffin, but being asked something that lied with such deadly consequences couldn’t be called being asked at all could it?
Hoffman smiled, and Strahm didn’t feel guilty categorizing it as a smile. He felt guilty about other things though, and started to mindlessly pick at a cuticle with his hands under the table.
“Do you think-” Hoffman started to ask, he was cut off by the waitress, Chrissy her name was, coming to drop off drinks and fried pickles.
She slid a long and thick glass of fizzy brown liquid over to Hoffman, it almost spilled by just that little moment, far too overfilled. Next she placed down two glistening green and electric margaritas, coloring seemed far too saturated and artificial. Strahm didn’t care either way though, he would still drink them. The margarita glasses looked almost like fishbowls, the kind you would see goldfish swimming in on the pages of children’s picture books. Chrissy seemed unsure of where to place both margaritas, and took what could be called the safe bet by placing one on each side of the table.
She placed the fried pickles in the dead center of the table, in a movement that could only come in a practiced ease that resulted in hours upon hours of doing something mindlessly. She said something that Strahm didn’t catch, but it must have been her asking for their orders as that’s what Hoffman replied with.
“Thickest cut of steak you have for me, don’t care what the cut is called, you don’t need to tell me.” Chrissy looked over at Strahm, but Hoffman didn’t stop talking. “He wants salmon.” He said as he grabbed Strahm’s untouched menu, lined it up over his own, and handed them back to Chrissy in one movement. She walked off as soon as they were in her hand.
“You’re making decisions for me now?” Strahm grabbed the margarita that was placed in front of Hoffman and dragged it across the table. It spilled a little due to his jerky movement, he wiped the spill with his thumb, accomplishing nothing in cleaning up the spill and instead only spreading it. He licked the barely there liquid off his thumb.
“Already have been actually.” Hoffman pushed the straw he was given through its paper casing before jabbing it in his drink and spinning it around. “You didn’t even look at your menu.”
Strahm didn’t reply, instead he lifted one of his two margaritas and attempted to drink as much as he could in one swig. He used to always win those stupid drinking contests he had in college, the ones were he and a couple friends would see who could drink the most beers in ten minutes. Must have lost his touch since then, as he could only drink about half the drink before choking on it.
Oh well, slow and steady wins the race.
“Why are we on a date? Why didn’t you just leave me in that warehouse to find my own way out like everyone else?” Strahm asked, not changing the subject but more so pointing it to the left.
“Those aren’t the types of questions you’re supposed to ask on a first date.” Hoffman continued to spin his straw around in his drink, the ice in it clinking as it was dragged by the straw along the glass. “Supposed to ask me about my hobbies and shit.”
Strahm looked over at nothing, unsure what he was attempting to analyze before looking Hoffman right in the eyes. “I already know your hobbies. I don’t need to ask questions I already know the answers to.”
“Then you should still reconsider what you’re asking me. You already know the answer to that.”
“Fucking! No I don’t, tell me the answers again.”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
Strahm ran his finger along the rim of his margarita to catch salt. “Is this fun for you?”
Hoffman took a sip of his drink. “You’re always a pleasure to be around babe.”
“Not what I’m asking.” Strahm crumbled the salt on his fingers with his thumb. “Answer what I’m asking.”
“You’re telling me you don’t like the sound of it? Bad things happening to bad people. A chance at redemption.” Hoffman took some fried pickles from the basket in the center of the table.
“I think there are other ways for that to be accomplished.” Strahm replied before finishing off his first margarita.
Hoffman let out a breath that could be taken as a laugh. “How’s your margarita?”
“Bad.” Strahm said as he wiped across his mouth with his wrist before moving to drink the second one.
“How does it feel to be reborn, Special Agent Peter Strahm?” Hoffman seemed to sit in thought for a minute before talking again. “Or should I just say Peter? First name basis for our official first date.”
“How did it feel when you were reborn, Mark?” Strahm spat back.
Hoffman didn’t answer right away. “I’m debating on whether or not I like the way you say my name. Don’t think I’ve heard you say it before actually. Say it a bit nicer or say it like you’re about to rip my throat out. You’re too in the middle right now, tone inappropriate for a public place.” He laughed slightly. “Too inappropriate for a first date. What if you scare me off? Let’s face it, Peter, you aren’t getting any younger.”
“Neither are you, Mark.” Strahm didn’t change his tone. “Besides, I have a feeling I won’t be scaring you off. Have a feeling you won’t leave until you get what you want.”
“Then give me what I want.”
Strahm was thankful that he didn’t have to reply, as Chrissy interjected by bringing up their food. Truth be told he wasn’t exactly sure on what Hoffman wanted, but he wasn’t about to admit that.
Hoffman didn’t mention how he wanted his steak cooked but it looked rare. Rare may have been too safe of a word to use, because it looked raw. It was almost seeping blood as Hoffman stabbed it with his knife. Strahm wondered if he came around here enough that the staff knew what he wanted, but didn’t want to dwell on the thought.
His salmon looked nice at least.
“Why did you order me salmon?”
“I know you like fish.”
“Why do you know that?”
Hoffman scoffed. “You fucking heated up fish in the microwave, everything reeked after and you threw your scraps away in the trash can near my desk.”
“How are you certain it was me?” It was Strahm that did that, Hoffman wasn’t incorrect but there was some underlying feeling of being watched, being noticed, that he wasn’t sure how he felt about. He wanted to vivisect that feeling though, hold it, tear it apart, and stitch it back together.
“Couldn’t be anyone else. You’re the biggest asshole there.” The sentence was punctuated with the clack of a knife against a plate.
Strahm picked up his second margarita of the night and downed it. He set the glass down harder than he needed to, and gestured to his empty glasses. “Buy me another one.”
Hoffman did in fact buy Strahm another one, and another one. Maybe he had too much, maybe he did not have enough.
Maybe he was just an alcoholic.
Maybe, and he wouldn’t admit this, but Strahm might be having the teenest amount of fun with the situation. He wasn’t enjoying having fun in this, what could be fairly called a high stress situation. But he could blame it on the fact that he’s been through a lot lately, and he wouldn’t feel any guilt for that.
Well maybe just a little.
Maybe he was thinking too much in maybes.
His mind was rotted by artificially colored liquids and torn apart by attempting to analyze everything and nothing all at one.
Real shitty first date if he said so himself.
The restaurant had been almost empty by the time the bill came around, Strahm didn’t even get a chance to look at it, a final count on his margarita intake would have made the situation too real instead of hazy. He wasn’t sure what time it was either, but he didn’t think he cared.
But he remained solid in the idea that this pseudo chivalry was headed nowhere, and instead it was going to end up gnarled and mangled at the side of the road like a dead deer.
Strahm was ushered out of the restaurant in much of the same fashion he was ushered in there. The passenger seat of the car was still leaned back from earlier, which Strahm was thankful for, but for different reasons this time. He hoped that nothing else was planned for the evening, he wouldn’t be up to it anyways even if there was.
Hoffman slid into the driver’s seat and reassumed the role of asshole chauffeur, Strahm didn’t take any notice of if he placed those leather gloves back on, his attention too occupied by the ceiling of the car. He considered covering his eyes with his forearm.
“Was our date everything you hoped for and more?” Strahm spat as he felt the car starting to pull out of the parking lot.
“Remember what type of questions we said we’d be asking.” Hoffman had a quality and tone to his voice that Strahm just couldn’t place.
“Take me home then.”
“Alright.” Strahm didn’t see, but he more so felt that Hoffman nodded as he spoke.