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The Bond of the Prodigal Son
Musings from Sweet Revenge

by

Brit
3/10/00

PART ONE

    Muriel Hutchinson answered the phone on the second ring. She had been expecting the call, both pleased that her son was reaching out to her during this savage time in his life and remorseful that it took something as devastating as his partner's nearly fatal shooting to initiate his communication.

   "Hello?" Her greeting was almost tremulous. "Ken?"

   Richard Hutchinson entered the kitchen from the dining room, the newspaper he had been reading still held open by his right hand.

   "Ken, honey, what is it? Is it David? Did he...?"

   "Well, what is it?" the elder Hutchinson demanded. With a slight smile Muriel raised a finger, silently asking him to wait a moment more.

   "Ken, honey... it's okay.... go ahead and cry. I understand how relieved you must be...." Muriel clutched the receiver to her chest and turned to Richard. "David's awake."

   "So he's crying?" The older man shook his head.

   Muriel raised the phone back up to her ear. Muffled sobs were audible to both his parents. Muriel's voice was hushed. "Ken's just so overwhelmed.... he's been through a lot almost losing David and all." Mrs. Hutchinson turned her back on her husband and began to whisper comfort to her son.

   A confused look flitted across Richard Hutchinson's face as he left the kitchen. A steadily growing unease once again nestled in the pit of his stomach at his son's blatant show of emotion. Such displays always left him uncomfortable, especially from men. But for some reason it bothered him even more when it came from his only son.

   He returned to his study and eased back into his favorite chair. His left hip ached a bit with the recent change in weather, promising that the autumn rains would come soon. Distractedly the retired executive rubbed at a twinge in his thigh, a souvenir from the Korean war, and pondered his son's latest call. Not for the first time he wondered about the relationship between Ken and the dark-haired man. Could it be....? The very thought of his son being "one of those" made him nauseous. He had always been a sensitive child - artistic, bookish even...his mother's influence, really. But that didn't mean that he was....no. Not his son! But still.... if he were....could he accept that. Accept him?

   Since Starsky's near-death episode Ken had been in considerably more contact with his family, much to Muriel's happiness. Time and distance had not healed the rift between father and son though and the younger Hutchinson made little connection with his Minnesota family except on holidays and special occasions. Now with his partner (and that word in and of itself left an acrid taste in Richard's mouth as he considered their relationship) seemingly at death's door, Ken had reached out to his mother for her quiet comfort. Was he looking at his son's overt emotion unreasonably?

   Even as a child Ken was always a bit odd in Richard's opinion. Not in an obvious sense, but there always seemed to be something missing in the young man's countenance that made him seem incomplete, like a puzzle that's missing it's last few pieces.

   He could remember watching Ken as a boy and realizing that while he always seemed to be happy, there was a lingering wistfulness about him. Granted, there were really no children his own age to play with in their neighborhood, so Ken spent much of his after-school time with his mother in the music room or studying. Many times Richard would come home late from the office to find his son alone in the garden reading.

   Many summers during the boy's youth were spent at his grandfather's farm. There Ken seemed truly content, but whether it was from time spent with the old man or the simplistic life on the large farm, Richard wasn't sure. But once the boy came home in the fall, the bouts of moodiness and restlessness returned. One summer Ken had befriended many of the children from the Mexican immigrant families that had come north for work on some of the neighboring farms, but Richard had quickly put an end to that. Summer camp was soon implemented in order to find a `suitable' alternative for his son's companionship and use of free time. Ken made friends with Jack Mitchell one summer, shortly after his family moved into the area, and finally - finally - Richard Hutchinson's son had found an "acceptable" acquaintance.

   High school brought alternatively busy times of social interaction for the young man and periods of isolation. It seemed that the younger Hutchinson craved a connection with friends, but was often times disappointed with the shallowness of the relationships and retreated into his own company. During these times it wasn't unusual to discover him idly picking out a melody at the piano or cradling his guitar on the garden bench.

   Nothing the lonely young man tried seemed to fill the void - not girlfriends, sports, academic achievements, jobs - nothing. Richard dismissed it as a product of growing up in the "hippie years" and that his son needing to "find himself", but the shadow of emptiness never dissipated even after Ken reached adulthood.

   The chasm widened between father and son when the young man began attending campus protest rallies against the Vietnam war. Because of his studies in the medical field, Ken had been exempt for serving at this point in the conflict. The older Hutchinson fluctuated between embarrassment and rage toward his son's actions, and animated arguments became commonplace in their home.

   Still, Richard didn't give his observation about his son's peculiarity much thought after Ken left home for college. It wasn't until his son unexpectedly changed career directions, went into law enforcement, and was ultimately partnered with David Starsky that the elder Hutchinson realized that his son had somehow changed. The "missing piece" of his life was no longer evident to his father, though he could never put a finger on what change had occurred to make his son "whole".

   The few visits out to California found a new confidence in the young man, as if he were completely at ease with himself for the first time in his life. Ken had always shown a trust in his abilities, which was paradoxical to the awkwardness that had often plagued him.

   Over the past nine or so years Richard had found his son's bond with the darker man unusual. At first it had simply seemed that Ken had found a good friend, much like the one he had had in poor Jack Mitchell. It wasn't too many years after he and Starsky had been partnered as detectives that Ken had remarked off-handedly that `they were as close as two men could be.' His father didn't pursue the statement, even though he had found it odd. Richard could acknowledge that David was a good friend and counterpoint to his son, regardless of how he felt about their chosen profession. If only Ken would show a little initiative and take the Lieutenant's exams. But lately...

   Months back there had been some ugly business with the department. Not only had Ken quit, but the other had as well. The reports of dissent within the department and his son's disillusionment prompted an unexpected phone call from Ken and the news of his resigning. This brought considerable joy to his father. Perhaps finally, finally Ken would settle into a more reasonable and prosperous profession. But unfortunately, the two rejoined and it was almost business as usual - almost. There was more ugly business with some woman that the two ended up fighting over. That prompted another call from his prodigal son. The uneasy feeling the elder Hutchinson had in the pit of his stomach grew when he heard that Ken spent more time and effort in patching up the relationship with his `partner' than pursuing the woman in question.

   With a sigh the graying man snapped open his newspaper and returned to the article he had been reading when the phone rang. Tomorrow he would broach the subject of his son's behavior with his racquetball partner Ted Williams, a industrial behaviorist that had recently joined the athletic club. Maybe he could shed some light on his son's questionable attachment to the other detective. The twinge in his hip made the elder Hutchinson shift again in his chair. Ache or no, he would still play tomorrow: once you set your course, you simply stuck with it.

> 

   Starsky's room was cast in shades of amber by the setting sun's light. Walter Cronkhite delivered the evening news to watching America, but the detective had muted the volume to a near whisper. The dark-haired man twisted his bed covers around his hand then let it unwind, only to repeat the motion again as he stared forlornly out the window. Ken Hutchinson paused in the doorway, drinking in the sight of his healing partner, the picture of perfect boredom. He had hardly been able to contain his excitement throughout the day, and broke more than a few traffic laws in his hurry to get to the hospital, but the sight of his partner waiting for him brought him up short with the wonder of it all. Thank you God, for another day.

   "Hey." The blonde's voice carried the warmth of his smile.

   The face that turned to greet him with a grin of its own still looked drawn and haggard. Sharp cheekbones accentuated Starsky's thinning face and shadowed eyes, but the gaunt features lost some of their weariness with his smile.

   "Hey yourself."

   "You're sitting up. That's great."

   "Yeah, the doc's got me up for a few minutes twice now. Said we'll start doing it a bit more each day." Starsky cocked an eyebrow at his partner. "Ya just gonna stand there holdin' up the wall or are ya gonna take a load off?"

   Starsky's eyebrow remained raised as his partner sauntered past his customary chair by the window and continued over to his bed, perching next to his legs. "What's up?"

   Hutch gave his partner a smile that seemed to split his face in two. An uncustomary rambling poured excitedly out. "I got a surprise. Two actually, I think you'll like them. Well, I know you'll like one, I guess I'm not too sure about the other, but I think you'll like. I mean, I know you pretty well and all, and since you're getting better..."

   "Hutch..."

   "...I thought it wouldn't hurt. The surprise I mean. Well, the first surprise actually. Well, it shouldn't. That's why I was late, because of the first surprise. Well, actually, because of both surprises, but..."

   "Huuutch..." came as a pitiful whine. "I'm dying here!"

   "What's wrong? Are you hurting?"

   "No, but you're killing me! What the heck are you talking about?"

   The blonde took a steadying breath and his mischievous grin returned. "Ok, ok. Sorry, buddy. I've just been so excited, I couldn't hardly believe I kept this a secret so long..." A thought suddenly came to him. "Oh shoot. Here, I better give you your first surprise before it gets cold."

   Hutch reached into the space at his side between his jacket and shirt, and with a flourish presented his curious partner with one of Huggy's specials. Starsky's eyes widened as the blonde pealed away the wax paper wrapper to expose a 3/4 pound burger.

   "Food! Real food!" The brunette snatched the gift away, hands all but trembling in anticipation.

   "Sssshhh! You want to get me thrown out of here?"

   "Hmmnggghhhhhh..." was the only response from his partner as the burger was crammed in as far as his mouth with allow. "Oh, oh man. Almost paradise...."

   "Almost? You know how hard it was to smuggle that monstrosity in here? The floor nurse kept sniffing at me on my way up here! What do you mean `almost'?"

   "That was because of that sewer water you call aftershave." Starsky lifted the bun up with a sigh before stuffing the sandwich back into his gaping maw. "Mo monyins er hepainyos...." fumbled out as he chewed.

   "Yeah, right! There's no way I'm feeding you onions and jalpenos after they stitched up your insides with baling wire! That kind of a gastrointestinal nightmare would finally finish you off for good..." Hutch turned his head away with the realization of what he was saying. The enormity of the situation and the proximity of death was still too raw in his heart.

   A familiar hand rested on his knee. "Hey, c'mon. I'm gonna be fine. You know what the docs said. It's gonna be a long haul, but when has that ever stopped us?"

   Hutch nodded and turned back to give his friend a gentle grin. How was it that he came to the hospital with the intent of cheering up his partner and he was the one receiving the pep talks?

   "You're something else, you know that?"

   The brunette snorted. "And then some, buddy. Here, ya wanna share?" Starsky handed back the half-eaten burger.

   "What's the matter with it? Does it hurt to eat or...."

   Starsky put up both hands to stop Hutch before he worried himself into another tirade. A yawn elongated his sentence. "No, no, no...stop mother-hennin'. It was great, really - even without all the fixins'. I'm just full. Not as much room inside as there used to be." A lopsided grin appeared. "Thanks Hutch. That's the first decent food I've seen in over a month."

   Hutch gave his partner a curious look. Starsky's veracious appetite was legendary, but having existed on nothing but liquids for the first few weeks of his hospital internment, then a graduation to semi-solids, had all but depleted his capacity. Hutch accepted the burger and finished it off quickly, not realizing how hungry he had been.

   An amused look rested on Starsky's features as he watched his partner wolf down the remnants of the burger. He pointed to the blonde's mustache at some errant mustard.

   "When was the last time you ate Blondie?"

   "I don't know, yesterday I think. Now about the other surprise..."

   "Wait a minute... `yesterday, you think'? Hutch..."

   "Later, later. Now listen...."

   Rolling his eyes with the thought of crazed blondes, Starsky gave a long-suffering sigh and folded his hands in his lap, giving Hutch his attention.

   "I was thinking..."

   "Did it hurt?"

   "I was thinking - and shut up Starsk - about when we're finally able to bust you out of here." Now he had Starsky's undivided attention. "The way the doctors see it, you're still gonna need a lot of care when you're released. And probably the last thing you want is to have some stranger taking care of you..."

   "Unless she's a knockout nurse who likes to give back rubs and feed her patients peeled grapes and..."

   "...and we both know that ain't gonna happen, Gordo. So here's what I've been thinking: you can move in with me."

   "Move in? Really? But how are you gonna manage..."

   "Just a minute, hear me out." Hutch had already warmed up to the subject and had sprung up off the bed. The rest came out in an excited rush. "Look. Dobey knows I won't work with anybody else. Period. There was no discussion. Even though we've got an air-tight case against Gunther, there's still a ton of follow-up to be done and a mountain of paperwork to boot so we can nail him on a few other choice offenses. I worked it out with Dobey to be able to do most of this from my place - I don't have to be at the station all the time. We figure this is gonna take anywhere from two to three months alone on top of depositions and court appearances. So I can work from home for the most part and be there to help you out and get you to therapy and your appointments. After the holidays there's going to be some new training given to the uniforms on things like hostage procedure and negotiations. The Lieutenant's asked for me to take on training detail for the winter term and maybe spring, too. I'll be away at the academy more, but by then you should be up and around better. All worked out, neat and tidy. What do you think?"

   "I...I don't know what ... I mean, it sounds great, but your place is kind of small, and what about my place, I mean..."

   "Got it covered!" Hutch plopped himself back down on Starsky's bedside. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a photograph of a small Spanish-style ranch house. The photo was worn from handling. The excited blonde thrust the picture into his partner's hands. "Take a look at this."

   The house was small, but immaculately maintained. The well-groomed lawn was flanked by flowers and shrubs. "It's ours... I mean, it's mine, actually. But... what I mean is that I'm buying it."

   "Really? You've been talking about buying a place for some time now. When did this happen?"

   "A couple of days ago. You remember McAndrews from Juvie?"

   "Yeah, he retired - what? - four years ago?"

   "Right. But he got bored with retirement and went into real estate part-time for something to do. Well, I ran into him and we got to talking, and I mentioned that I wanted to start looking seriously for a house. He showed me this one. It was an older couple's that just bought a condo. The decorating's pretty dated - late 40's and 50's - but the roof's good and the electric's all updated. McAndrews took pity on me and offered it at a darn good price. I won't be shelling out much more per month then what I'm already paying in rent." Hutch took back the photo and began pointing out rooms. "It's not too big, but still has two bedrooms, two baths and a small study - big enough for the two of us while you get back on your feet."

   "Hutch, that's.... that's terrific." Starsky looked away from the photo and directly into his partner's eyes. "Did you do this for me?"

   Azure met sapphire in a warm embrace. "Naw, buddy. I did this for us. When you get out of here you're going to need me to be there with you and I....well, I need to be there with you."

   Starsky felt a warmth permeate from deep inside that had nothing to do with his medication. But still...Hutch would be giving up so much.... "Ok, but what about my place? I know this is only a temporary arrangement, right? After awhile yer gonna get sick of waiting on me hand and foot, and besides, someday you're gonna want to get married and have fifteen or twenty little Hutchinson's..."

   "Fifteen or twenty!?!"

   "...running around and you won't need old Uncle Starsky getting underfoot."

   "You're a masochistic dirtball." Hutch grumbled good-naturedly. "As far as your apartment goes, we've got that all worked out too."

   "Who's we?"

   "Me and Dobey. While I'm reassigned to following the Gunther paper-trail and training the uniforms, the department's bringing in a loaner from San Diego. Randy Johnston. He'll only be at Metro for a couple of months but rather than putting him up in a hotel for that long, he can stay at your place. Johnston does a lot of traveling and is sick of hotels, so he jumped at the idea. Everything's been cleared with the department so it's a "go"...if you say it's okay, of course."

   "Of course." Starsky chuckled.

   "And around the beginning of January Dobson from Vice is getting married, but his and his fiancee's leases are both up at the end of the year. Well, they want to build a new house, but would need a place to stay for four or five months while it's being built. Dobson also thought subletting your place through the spring would be a perfect solution for them until they can move in to their new place. See, it all works out perfectly. You move in with me, your rent's paid by somebody else so you don't lose your lease, and after a few months or so when you're ready to be on your own you can move back in to your own place if you want or you can... or whatever. So...."

   "So... you've got this all planned out, huh?"

   Hutch's grin grew into a small self-pleased smile. "I told you before I'm the brains of this duo."

   "Hmph." Starsky yawned and shifted his position on the bed. Tell-tale signs of fatigue and discomfort were beginning to show.

   "Gee, control your enthusiasm, partner."

   "It's not that, Hutch. I appreciate all you want to do..."

   "But?"

   "But...." Starsky shifted uncomfortably again.

   "What is it, pal? Is it the idea of somebody else living at your place? Or...or don't you want me to...if you'd rather have somebody else take care of you..."

   Starsky's hand darted out to grab his partner's arm. "Hutch. Stop it. I'm just getting kinda stiff from sitting up so long."

   "Do you want me to put the bed down? I can call the nurse, it's almost time for your meds anyway..." The grip on his arm tightened, though Hutch noticed it was nowhere near the steely hold his partner had a few month's prior to the shooting.

   "Man! You'd give my grandmother a run for the money in the frettin' department. Hutch, I appreciate all you want to do, all you've done. I couldn't have come this far without you. I just..." Starsky sighed deeply. "I just don't want you giving up so much of your life to take care of me."

   The words made Hutch's face grow completely still. The lack of expression couldn't quite mask the anguish hidden deep inside him. "Starsk, I'd give up a lot more if it would make a difference."

   Starsky could read the guilt that danced across his partner's face as clearly as if it were written there. Tight lines seemed to be permanently etched around somber eyes and the blonde's shoulders were in a constant state of tension. The shooting had taken a huge toll on Hutch as well. Starsky spoke out softly, repeating the words that he had offered many times since then.

   "Hutch, it wasn't your fault. You couldn't have prevented this."

   "No. But you didn't have to stand and take it either. You could have gotten down. But instead you stood and protected me because you didn't know if I was safe."

   "I told you before, it wasn't like it was a conscious decision. It was a ..."

   "...a reflex. That's just it, pal. You reacted without thinking. You put yourself before me, without thinking."

   "That's... that's what partners do."

   "Exactly." Hutch waved the picture at the brunette. "That's what partners do."

   Silence permeated throughout the room. The sun had set over the city and twilight lingered it's shadows throughout the hospital room. Finally Starsky broke the silence.

   "So you're gonna do all this because you feel guilty?"

   "No, I'm gonna do all this because you're my best friend."

   "Hutch..."

   "No, now you listen to me, Starsk. You and me, we've been together since... since forever. We've been through a lot of crap. A lot of it's from the toilet we work in, some of it from our own doing. But no matter what, it's always been you and me..."

   "Me and thee..." echoed the soft reply. Their eyes meant in a moment that communicated more than the words that the blonde was trying so hard to convey.

   "Starsk, we've never needed words, never needed to say the things that we just knew. But buddy, I've got to tell you..." Hutch's voice cracked with the intensity of his emotion. "When I saw you go down..." Starsky gripped his partner's arm again when the quiet sob escaped from him. They had never really talked about "that day" from Hutch's perspective.

   "Hutch, you don't have to do this. It's okay, I know what you're trying to say."

   "Buddy, I've got to do more than just try and say this." Hutch took a moment to clear his throat. "When I saw you go down, I thought you were dead. All the other times, and there were too many of those... all those other times when you were hurt I still had hope. There was always something I could do to fix it We always had a chance. But this time I figured our luck had finally run out. And I knew that you stood and faced it so I wouldn't have to... because you loved me that much. And as I stood there watching you bleed to death before my eyes all I could think of was that I couldn't remember the last time I told you how much you meant to me..."

   "I knew Hutch. I've always known."

   "Yeah, but I couldn't stand the thought of you... of you leaving without having heard me say it, Starsk. You know, I've lived my entire life without ever hearing my father say the words `I love you' to me. Never."

   Starsky's eyes grew wide at his friend's revelation. To not have your dad tell you he loves you...he couldn't imagine how that must have felt.

   "I can remember being ten years old and wishing my relationship with my father was different. Wishing that it was like the relationship I saw other kids having with their dads, being able to talk to their dads, spending time with their dads, knowing that their dads were pulling for them. My dad was just... well, when he was home, he was just there. Kind of a fixture in the house. I don't know how else to explain it. When he was home, I was either underfoot or just annoyed him, so he'd always send me away. All I wanted was to be with him and to know that he loved me.

   "My Sea Scouts troop had had a father and son banquet one night, I must have been eight or nine. Once again my father couldn't make it...there was something going on at the office or some such. So, my mom came, which was worse than going alone because she stood out like a beacon, signaling to all my friends that my dad was too busy to be with me. Or didn't care. And it wasn't the first time this had happened. Wasn't the last either. Well, that particular night I was so overwhelmed by the emptiness of our relationship, it was like mourning the loss of someone.

   "That night I went downstairs into my father's den. I thought that maybe if I told him first how much he meant to me that he'd tell me the same thing. I would have given anything - anything - to hear him say those words. So I'm standing there with tears in my eyes and he hardly glances at me above his newspaper. I got on my knees next to his chair - on my knees, Starsk! - and I gripped his arm to get his attention. He finally said something like `Kenneth, what on earth is the matter with you, boy?' And I just knelt there crying, and finally said, `I can't remember the last time I told you that I loved you, Dad.' And do you know what he said to me, Starsk?"

   Starsky simply shook his head, hardly daring to breathe, afraid of what Richard Hutchinson's response had been, mourning for the little boy that this once was. Hutch's voice barked off a laugh that sounded more like a sob.

   "He told me to `get a hold of myself and get up off the floor'. That was it. Oh, no, then he told me `I must be tired and weepy because it was so late and that I should go back to bed. Big boys don't cry'. He never moved, never acknowledged what I said - nothing. I swore that would be the last time I would cry for that man... for my dad. I still love him, Starsky, and I'm sure he's loved me in his own way. We did have some good times together, but it all seemed so surface... so sterile. That relationship will never be what I wanted it to be. That's something I've had to learn to accept. I didn't regret saying the words, or even crying. I still don't, even if he never told me that he loved me. No matter what the relationship with my father was or will ever be, I know that he heard me say the words. I know that I did all I could to let him know that I had loved him then."

   "Hutch... I can't believe... I sorry, man. I'm really sorry." Starsky's hand trembled as he reached up to wipe away one of the tears that streaked his partner's face. Hutch's hand passed his partners to quickly wipe away the evidence of his pain, then took hold of Starsky's hand. Feeling the tremor there, Hutch looked up to see the distress evident in his friend's eyes and the pallor of his skin. He must be hurting some by now. But the blonde knew that his partner's pain was more than the results of his injuries and stemmed from the bond between them. "You look like crap, Buddy."

   Starsky's responding laugh sounded a bit waterlogged as well. "Yeah, well you don't look so great yourself, hotshot."

   "Starsk..." Hutch looked away again, tears coming unbidden to his eyes, partly because of the hurt that still lingered in his memory from a lonely childhood, partly because of his love for the man that sat across from him.

   "Awh, Hutch. Buddy, I know you love me. You've said it before. It's mutual."

   "Yeah, but things haven't been easy between us lately. All that crap with Kira..."

   "Ancient history. Buried and forgotten."

   "I know, Starsk. And I'll never let something like that get in the way again. You're too important to me, pal. I don't want you to ever doubt that again."

   "I know, buddy, I know. You're...you're more of a brother to me than Nicky ever could be. Next to my dad, you're the best man I've ever known. I'm proud to be your partner. You're the best friend I ever had, and I don't know what I ever did right in my life to deserve you." Starsky smiled through tears of his own. "I love you, man."

   "I love you too, Starsk."

   "Me and thee." Starsky intoned.

   "Always and forever." Hutch answered like a pledge. The two men grinned gently at each other, the bond between them leaving no room for embarrassment. This was a moment few friendships ever reached and it was a time to savor. A few months prior, the connection between them seemed to have been severed, perhaps beyond repair. But even in the midst of the hurt, love had remained.

   "So..." Hutch finally drawled, breaking the silence in the darkening room. "You moving in?"

   "Was there ever any doubt? Hey, let me see that picture again." Hutch dug the photo back out of his pocket and reached up over Starsky's head to turn on the light over the bed.

   "What are you looking for?"

   "I'm trying to see what the houses next door look like. See, I figure if I get one of these cute nurses to fall madly in love with me, she'll beg me to marry her. Being the gracious guy I am of course..."

   "...of course..."

   "...I'll marry her and she'll be my love slave and will cook for me and do my laundry and give me foot rubs and..."

   "...and feed you peeled grapes..."

   "Exactly! Well, we ain't gonna shack up with you in the same house, so I figure we can buy one of the places next door to ya."

   "Oh yeah?" Hutch grinned at his partner's nonsense. "Next door, huh?"

   "Save on gas and long distance bills."

   Hutch rolled his eyes and searched his mind for a retort when they were interrupted.

   An older nurse who could have easily played defensive tackle for the L.A. Rams paused in the doorway. "Time for your shot, Detective Starsky." She gave Hutch a stern look. "Visiting hours are over, Detective Hutchinson."

   Hutch stood and leaned down close to his partner. "Is she the one, buddy? I'm not so sure I'd want her peeling my grapes..."

>

   The news that his son had bought a house pleased Richard Hutchinson, thinking that the young man was finally showing some responsibility, both socially and fiscally. The news that he and his partner were "moving in together" as Muriel put it, only added fuel to the burning fire of concern. He might be of an older generation, but Richard knew the connotations of what "moving in together" meant, especially amongst those weirdoes in California. He broached the subject with Dr. Williams the next day after a round of golf.

   "So you think that this purchase is their way of `setting up house' together, Rich?"

   "I don't know what else to think, Ted." The blonde man threw his golf shoes into the oak locker. Anger and tension coursed through his movements as he sat on the bench to remove his socks.

   Dr. Williams leaned against his own locker and looked thoughtful. "Well, from what you've told me, some implications are there: his inability to have a stable and lasting relationship with a woman; what you term to be a rather excessive display of emotions; his inordinate dependence on his partner... didn't you say that even when your son visits he ends up calling his partner at least once, even if he's only visiting for a short weekend?"

   "Yes. It's as if he can't go three days without talking to him."

   "And he's not seeing anyone?"

   "Not hardly. He can't seem to keep a woman around. You know that he divorced a perfectly fine young woman after he met his `partner'!"

   "And well, there is... Rich, I hate to bring this point up, but one of the classic behavioral responses to having a dominant same-sex parent, or in perhaps in Ken's case, having a weak relationship with his father, could prompt him to seek out... well, a male counterpoint to fill that void. Would it be safe to say your relationship with Ken wasn't and isn't all it could be?"

   Richard Hutchinson ground out a "yes" from between his clenched teeth. "So are you saying that his being gay could be a way of getting back at me?"

   "Probably not, more like his way of replacing you. Mmm-hmm. Were there any tragic or emotionally damaging incidents as a child? You know abuse? Sexual molestation?"

   "No! Of course not!"

   "Easy there, Rich! I wasn't implying that it came from you. Sometimes these things happen without a parent ever knowing about it. It's often inflicted by a trusted adult like a neighbor or relative. Did Ken spend any unsupervised time with a male adult that would have had such an opportunity?"

   Richard thought for a moment. "Well, actually he did spend quite a few of his summers with his grandfather upstate. But I don't think so. The old man was a bit of a loner, but he wasn't a pervert. Now, Ken did spend two or three summers at a boy's camp..."

   "Well, that's a possibility then. Now, didn't you say too that your son only seems to socialize on a regular basis with his partner and some other single male friend - a bar owner, wasn't it?"

   "Yes. Some weirdo by the name of `Huggy'. What kind of flaky name is that? It's probably some queer bar, too."

   "Well, some people think that homosexuality is the result of a person's genetic makeup. But that study was inconclusive. You know, I wonder if his being a police officer is a smoke screen..."

   "What do you mean?"

   "Well, you've mentioned that your son has a tendency to get into quite a few scrapes on the job. It's possible that he's trying to cover his tracks by acting out, you know being "macho" and all. Maybe he thinks that if he's aggressive enough - acting out machismo - no one will ever guess that he's...the way he is. That, or he's trying to deny it by acting out in a assertive, masculine manner."

   "Do you think so?"

   "It's another possibility. Do you see them... well, touching a lot? Or hugging? Holding hands? That kind of thing?"

   Richard Hutchinson slammed his locker door in disgust at the idea. "Well, no. Not that I can remember. But they always seem to be close to one another, you know - next to each other. You know how everybody has their own comfort level of having somebody stand right next to them?"

   "Personal space."

   "Right. With Ken and his friend, they're... well, they're always closer to each other than most, that's all."

   "Hmmm... intimacy? Well, Rich. I can certainly see where you would think that he and his partner living together is simply the proverbial `icing on the cake'. But remember now, this is just my hypothesizing. I specialize in industrial behavioralism not abnormal psychology or human sexuality."

   "Sure, right... but it's still psychology. Thanks for listening, Ted. And oh, thanks for promising to keep this on the Q.T. I can't even begin to imagine what the rest of the guys here at the club would think if they knew that my son was a... well... that way."

   "I understand, Rich. Don't give it a second thought. Besides, he is still your son. You're going to have to find a way to deal with your feelings and accept the facts of the situation."

   "Like blazes I'll accept this! That boy has never listened to a word I've said. He didn't want to follow in his old man's footsteps to go into business, that's fine. I could accept that because he was interested in medicine. It was his studying medicine in college that kept his butt out of the service, but I tell you Ted, it about killed me when I heard he was part of those government protest at the college. I was never so embarrassed that a son of mine wanted nothing to do with serving his country! Wanted to help people, not hurt them, he said. Said that it was all big government and politics, not about fighting for freedom or protecting the oppressed. Fine. I didn't like it, but I didn't push it. But then he ran off half-cocked to play cops and robbers in Fruitland, throwing away what could have been a promising career in medicine and now this.... I can't accept....I won't accept! That's not how he was raised and I will not be embarrassed by him. He could be doing so much more with his life, making something of himself. But this... this alternative lifestyle b.s. - I will never accept!"

   Richard Hutchinson formulated a plan as he left the athletic club and headed home. Anger continued to simmer as he calmly explained to his wife that it was high time they went out and visited their son, especially with his recent purchase of the house and his partner's hospitalization. Muriel was delighted at the prospect of a trip out west in the upcoming months just as he expected, especially since he didn't tell her the real reason for his desire to visit his son. It was time to straighten out the prodigal son once and for all.

>

   Moving Starsky into the house had been an easier adjustment than either of them had anticipated. Just prior to his release from the hospital Hutch and Huggy had gone over to the brunette's apartment to clean in anticipation of its subletting and to retrieve some of Starsky's necessary and more personal items. The day after the wild fracas and drenching in the hospital, courtesy of their impromptu "release-from-the-hospital" dinner party, Hutch had brought Starsky "home". The two men settled into a quiet routine quickly, enjoying the time of companionable healing for the both of them.

   Starsky continued to regain his strength and mobility, though rotor fluidity with his left arm was slow in coming. Muscle had to be rebuilt in his left shoulder, stomach and abdomen, as well as his redeveloping his general stamina. Throughout the first weeks of physical therapy Starsky was in constant agony, but never uttered a word of complaint to his partner. The silent suffering tore at Hutch's heart, but he respected Starsky's patient fortitude and tried not to hover over him. Instead the blonde became inconspicuous in making sure a chair was nearby when Starsky began to tire or was always available to rub away the ache in overtaxed muscles.

   With the amount of paperwork that tied him to the desk, Hutch had taken up jogging again to compensate for of time he spent off the street. In the past year he had fallen away from his focus on his health and committed himself to getting back into a regular regime. It was natural to appoint himself as Starsky's coach, conscience and cheerleader for the in-home exercises. To regain dexterity Starsky's therapy included a barrage of training he could do at home, one of which was "walking" his fingers up the wall and back down again - a boring process at best - but one that was proven to retrain his muscles. The daily routine took on a new level of tolerance when Hutch began to pop in favorite 8-tracks, encouraging Starsky to let his fingers "move to the beat". The frustration of the exercises reached a tolerable level when moving to Latin disco. Hutch even learned to ignore his partner's slaughtering of the Spanish language when he began singing along.

   Traditionally, the paperwork and papertrails of a case were torturous for the two detectives, but during the first few months of the brunette's convalescence it actually became another source of healing. For Hutch it was a chance to spend time with his partner and include him in legitimate policework. Hutch was grateful too for the opportunity to bounce things off the brunette and utilize the sharp mind that at times hid behind guileless eyes and a mop of curls. For Starsky, the work with his partner was a great distraction from the pain that plagued him and offered him the mental exercise he needed when the slower pace of his life seemed suffocating. Having his partner solicit his opinion and reasoning skills gave him a sense of satisfaction and self-worth, especially when he became disgusted at his current limitations.

   Typical evenings together were a light supper for Hutch, a strict diet for Starsky to rebuild strength and gain weight, and a second slow walk around the new neighborhood. The two men were getting to be a fixture already in the quiet suburb, with most of the neighbors already aware of the civic heroes that had moved onto Topanga Boulevard. It was not unusual for the two detectives to be greeted by everyone they came in contact with during their evening exercise.

   One particularly frustrating morning found Starsky aching and angry after his therapy session. Scar tissue and muscle damage was still limiting his range of motion, causing the healing man not to be able to lift his arms comfortably past his shoulders. The flexibility he had experienced in the hospital fled when he was taken off morphine. His left arm and hand remained weak and clumsy. The therapist confided to Hutch that his partner's motor skills were progressing as expected, but slower than Starsky had hoped for. The brunette sat in silence during the drive home, only answering his partner's attempt at conversation with grunts and monosyllabic answers. Once the two returned home, Starsky claimed he was tired and retreated to his bedroom to lie down for the rest of the morning.

   Lunch was greeted with the same moody withdrawal and conversation between the two was limited. As Hutch finished drying the dishes inspiration came to him. Putting away the last plate, he disappeared into his bedroom for a few moments then returned to the living room where Starsky sat staring morosely at a game show.

   "Let's go, Gordo. Time for our daily constitutional."

   "Our what?"

   "Our walk." Hutch reached out a hand to help his partner up. "Let's hit the sidewalk."

   "Not today, Hutch. I don't feel like it."

   Mild concern graced the blonde's face, though he deducted his partner's reluctance stemmed more from an emotional ailment rather than a physical one.

   "C'mon pal, how are you going to get better if you don't do your therapy?" Hutch's statement elicited a sour look from the man on the couch. It was, however, enough to motivate Starsky into taking the proffered hand up and easing to his feet. "Besides, I thought we could play a little catch this afternoon." Starsky's ragged baseball appeared in the blonde's hand.

   "You're nuts!"

   "Then I'm in good company. C'mon, Gordo."

>

   The park a few blocks from their house was predominantly deserted this time of day, with most of the children that frequented the playground still in school. A few young mothers and their toddlers played on the swings, but other than that the two men had the park to themselves. Hutch lead Starsky over to the single ball field and deposited him on the pitcher's mound. Handing the smaller man his baseball, Hutch retreated to the home plate and assumed a catcher's crouch.

   "Okay, Ace. Show me what ya got."

   Starsky gave his partner an almost angry look, then scanned the park in embarrassment. "Hutch, this is stupid. I don't think... I probably can't...." Anger at his limitations choked off his words.

   Hutch's features softened with sympathy for his friends. "Starsk I know that you probably can't sail it over the plate like you used to. But let's see what you can do and then we'll go from there."

   Starsky stood silently, eyes glued to the ball that he rolled awkwardly in his hands, his efforts clumsy. Hutch realized that perhaps he was asking a bit much during this first attempt and changed tactics. The blonde jogged back up to his partner and took the ball from his hands, then trotted a few more steps infield so that he stood only a few yards from his friend.

   "Here." Hutch launched a gentle underhand toss to his partner.

   Reflexes caused Starsky to look up just in time and brought his hands up to catch the ball before it struck his chest. He looked at his partner with a small grin, surprising himself that he had caught the toss. Expectantly Hutch raised his hands, encouraging his partner to return the throw. Starsky raised the ball over his left shoulder, but tightened muscles in his abdomen cramped, eliciting a gasp of pain and the lowering of his arm.

   "Easy, Starsk. Try it underhanded first." Starsky's features still bore a look of disgust, but slowly brought his arm down and awkwardly launched the ball back at his partner. The ball went high and wide, almost short of its target, but Hutch lurched forward and snagged it before it hit the ground. Starsky's hostile look didn't deter the blonde from grinning widely.

   "My grandmother throws better than that." Starsky groused.

   "Ah, don't worry pal. If any of the major league scouts come by, I'll just tell them that you're drunk." Hutch gently tossed the ball back to his partner. "Give me another one."

   Starsky managed to catch the ball again, initially feeling a twinge from the unused muscles, but as the game progressed, the ligaments began to warm and loosen. Concentrating with each effort, the brunette's tosses became smoother and closer to their mark. A confidence began to weave its way back into his spirit.

   "C'mon buddy, we've got to start headin' back. I promised Dobey I'd call him at 3:00 for an update."

   Starsky nodded and launched the ball at his partner one last time, a satisfied smile gracing his features. The two men made their way home in companionable silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Starsky paused outside the doorway.

   "Hutch?"

   "Yeah Starsk?"

   "Thanks."

   Hutch smiled warmly and gripped his friend's shoulder. "You're welcome."

   PART TWO