Comments about this story can be sent to: britwrit@juno.com

Part One
The Bond of the Prodigal Son
Musings from Sweet Revenge

by

Brit
3/10/00

PART TWO

   The call to Dobey occurred closer to 3:15, with only a few updates on the newest charges of extortion against James Gunther given. Hutch's diligent legwork had provided some much needed data for the Prosecuting Attorney to build the case that would go to court at the end of the month.

   Starsky headed for the shower before dinner, leaving Hutch alone to contemplate the evening's meal. He was surprised to hear a car pull into their driveway at 3:30, having just hung up with the Captain. The large man had made it a habit of stopping by each evening on his way home from work to check up on Starsky's progress. Whoever the visitor was it couldn't be Dobey yet.

   As Hutch opened the front door he was shocked to see his parent's climbing out of a rented Cadillac.

   "Surprise!" Muriel called out as she shut the passenger door and moved toward her son, arms outstretched to embrace him.

   The younger Hutchinson's jaw dropped as he crossed the sidewalk and stepped into his mother's arms. "Mom! Dad... what are you... why didn't you call?"

   There was something to the glint in his father's eyes that sparked an uneasy feeling in Hutch. Richard offered his son a hand to grip. "It's good to see you too, son."

   "I'm sorry, of course it's always great to see you, I'm just surprised. You've never just dropped in on me without calling is all. It's not like Minnesota is around the corner or anything."

   Muriel had already moved to a better position in order to view the house. "Oh Ken, it's adorable!" Richard's cringe at the word "adorable" wasn't lost on his son, but Hutch didn't pursue it with the older man.

   "Thanks mom, it's... well, it's home." The warmth in their son's voice wasn't lost on either of his parents. Hutch turned back to the rented car. "Are your bags here? You know you're welcome to stay with us. You can have my room."

   Richard's voice held a hint of a something. "And where would you sleep?"

   The younger man looked at his father in slight confusion at the tone in his father's question. "On the couch, of course. Look, why don't you come in? I'll give you the grand tour."

   The sound of running water and Starsky's deep baritone from the shower greeted the trio as they entered the living room. "He'll be out in a bit. Let me show you around."

   The tour of the small ranch took only a few moments, with promises to explore Hutch's garden after coffee when Starsky could join them. Hutch ushered his parents back into the living room and seated them on the couch. The younger man sat opposite them in an arm chair and uneasily crossed his legs. His mother seemed the same as always, happy to see him, warm and vibrant. But his father.... what the heck's going on here? The older Hutchinson was clearly agitated, his facial muscles growing increasingly tense, and Hutch could feel the storm brewing from deep in the pit of his stomach.

   "Well..." The older man finally stated from between clenched teeth. "You're probably wondering why we really came out here."

   Muriel's head turned abruptly to face her husband, confusion marring her perfect features. "Richard?"

   "Muriel, I didn't want to get into this with you before we came out here, because I knew you'd try and talk me out of it. Look Ken, I'll come right out and say what's on my mind." The older man leaned forward to stare his son straight in the eye. "I know what you are and I am not happy about it."

   Hutch was taken aback. Confusion overtook his features as well as his mother's. A familiar sense of dread and angst began roiling in his gut. What was this about? `You know what I am'? What the heck is that supposed to mean? The heroin...? Neither Starsky nor Dobey had ever spoken to his parents of his forced addiction and he had certainly never mentioned it. What a war that would have been! Hutch rapidly searched his memory for other possibilities. Whatever he's dreamed up, I shouldn't be surprised.

   "Dad, what... what are talking about? You know I'm what?"

   Richard looked distinctly uncomfortable. "I know about you and your...your `partner'."

   The younger man ran a hand across his face and looked at his father expectantly. Richard shifted uncomfortably in his seat and slapped his hands on his knees.

   "Alright, I'll come right out and say it. Ken, I know that you're gay!"

   "WHAT!?!" Hutch and Muriel's voices exploded at the same time. Hutch shot out of his seat with fists clenched in hurt frustration.

   "Richard, how on earth can you think such a thing!"

   "Now listen Muriel, I've given this a lot of thought and it's something we should have realized a long time ago, isn't that right Ken?"

   "I don't believe this!" Hutch raged. "How could you POSSIBLY think for even one minute that I was GAY!?" Angry energy put the younger man in motion as he paced furiously across the room. The livid and raw hurt that etched across his features were unbearable to look at. "Where on earth did you get the idea that I was gay?"

   "All the signs were there..."

   "All the signs? What does that mean?"

   "Look Ken, now that we know about it, we can get this taken care of. My friend Dr. Williams referred me to a very reputable clinic out here. We can get you the treatment you need without anyone even knowing about your...your `problem'..."

   "Wait a minute, wait a minute. You talked to someone about these delusions of yours? Who's Dr. Williams?"

   Muriel broke in. "Ted Williams? From the club?"

   "Oh great. You talked to some podiatrist at the health club?"

   "No! Ted Williams is a psychologist. I told him all about your... your questionable behavior and he agrees with me that you have all the symptoms of being a homosexual."

   "Symptoms? Homosexuality isn't the flu, dad, it's..." Hutch's face turned an even darker shade of red. Pale blue eyes burned with an inner rage. "I can't believe this. No, no... I can believe this. You know what's even worse than you thinking that I'm gay? Do you? What's worse is that instead of talking to me about it, you just come barging in here, deciding that your prodigal son has `questionable behaviors' and how you're gonna fix it. just like that! No discussion, no nothing! Slip your queer son off to the fruit farm before anybody knows about it so that you're not embarrassed and a quick `thank you Dr. Freud' for making him `normal' again. But, boy, that really shouldn't surprise, me, now should it, Dad?" The last word was spit out like a curse. "What was it Dad? What made you think I was gay? Hmm? What exactly were those "signs" you saw? The fact that I'm not married? Divorced? Is it the art? The music? The way I dress? The way I wear my hair? My friends? My...." The light came on in Hutch's mind. The blonde's pacing ground to a halt. "That's it, isn't it? It's my friendship with Starsky. It's because he's staying here with me..."

   "Yes! That's it - you're living with your... your `partner'!"

   Hutch stopped and turned deadly eyes on his father. "Yes, partner. You say that like it's a dirty word, Dad."

   "Look, ever since you hooked up with him, you've changed. You've..."

   "Oh come on! That's not the truth and you know it! You can't blame him for how you look at me! You've ALWAYS disapproved of me, Dad - always! I never measured up to the expectations of the Hutchinson yard stick! You always thought I wasn't ambitious enough, never smart enough, never strong enough. Do you know how many things I tried all those years just to try and prove something to you? How different ways I tried to get your attention? Well you know something, I quit trying to live up to your idea of who I was supposed to be years ago!"

   "Don't I know it!"

   "You don't get it, do you? I don't know why that doesn't surprise me though. Why should I think that you would know me well enough to know that I - am - not - gay?" The last words were spat out vehemently.

   "Oh, don't be so melodramatic. I know you better than you think. You've always been different, Ken, different from all the other kids - so sensitive, so withdrawn. You'd rather be off by yourself reading or drawing or playing music while other boys were out playing sports..."

   "Ken played sports, Richard!" Muriel interjected angrily.

   "Yeah, but only because I made him."

   "That's a load of crap, dad! The arts...the classics, music doesn't make somebody gay or even effeminate. That is probably one of the most absurd, asinine comments I have... where on earth are you getting these warped ideas?"

   "Fine! What about your partner, huh? You two were always inseparable and now you're living together. And neither of you can maintain a relationship with a woman! What about that?"

   "Women? Of course we see women! But you have no clue what our jobs are like... the hours... the.. the stress. How on earth can I maintain a relationship with a woman, let alone find the time and energy to meet a nice one..."

   "You and Vanessa were happily married until you met your friend!"

   "Vanessa and I happy? That's one word I wouldn't have used to describe that relationship!"

   "Fine, the marriage didn't work. But why aren't you interested in other women?"

   "How can you think that I'm not? I'm on dates all the time..."

   "But nothing permanent!"

   "Not for lack of trying! For crying out loud, Dad! What I do for a living is not a 9 to 5 job, it's 24 - 7. I get called in the middle of the night or during my days off. It's an unusual week when I don't put in a couple of 14 hour days, and when a case is hot it's typical to work several days and nights straight until it breaks. What woman would put up with that?"

   "Your partner does!"

   "You're out of line, Dad!

   The two men's voices had long since escalated and overrode one another's.

   "Look, I've had enough of this behavior! No son of mine is going to embarrass this family. We're going to get you to a shrink..."

   "And I've had just about enough..."

   Both men were drawn up short by the explosive gasp from across the room. Muriel had all but been forgotten during the heated confrontation until she caught sight of Starsky as he entered the room. The raised voices had been initially drowned out by the shower, but once the brunette had stepped out to dry off he caught wind of an argument, though he couldn't figure out who Hutch was fighting with or why.

   Pulling on his sweat pants as quickly as his healing body would allow, Starsky had rushed into the bedroom without finishing getting dressed and drew his Baretta from his nightstand. He had no idea of who his partner was talking so heatedly with, but from the intensity of the voices it was going to get ugly fast. For a fleeting moment Starsky wondered if he was overreacting to think that someone would be so bold as to assault a cop in his living room, but then again, he didn't expect someone to try and take them out in a police garage either.

   As he entered the living room with his gun thrust unsteadily in front of him, all air seemed to be sucked from the room. Richard, Muriel and Ken took in the sight of him in a heartbeat: the patchwork of puckered scars from the bullet wounds and surgery incisions; the pale skin against the still too-thin frame; the shaking hands that held the pistol, still safely sheathed, but menacing nonetheless. It was the agonized face caused by the painful movement of forcing his muscles to work beyond their strength and fluidity that elicited a drawn breath from the unsuspecting Muriel.

   "Hutch?" Starsky's face ran a gauntlet of concern, anger and then finally embarrassment as he saw the disgust and pity on the faces of Hutch's parents. Starsky then drew himself up from his semi-crouch with as much dignity as he could and ignored the embarrassed reaction of Muriel and Richard. "Sorry, I thought I heard....voices." He acknowledged his partner's parents with a polite and slightly abashed grin as he lowered his weapon. "Mr. Hutchinson. Muriel." Starsky's civility didn't quite reach his eyes, feeling the electric tension radiating off Hutch. Cobalt eyes looked questioningly at the blonde. "Hutch, is everything okay?"

   Seeing Starsky's discomfort at the attention given to his wounds and the pain caused from his exertion, Hutch unconsciously moved between his partner and his parents, shielding the smaller man from their gazes. He inconspicuously disarmed Starsky and gripped his right shoulder in acknowledgment of what the effort had cost. Warring feelings of anger, grief and appreciation crossed his own face.

   "Yeah, Starsk, sorry if you were worried. We... my parents.... decided to pay a visit."

   "That's... great. If you'll excuse me, I'll finish getting dressed." Starsky paused to make eye contact with Hutch. His brows raised - you okay? Hutch's look sought to reassure him with gentled eyes - Will be, I'll handle it. You alright? Starsky nodded in response and left the room. His movements still stiff, the exit wound scars on his back continued the tribute of what the man had survived and the pain and limitations yet to overcome.

   "My God, how... that was all from the shooting?"

   Hutch turned vehemently back to his father, waving Starsky's holstered Barretta before him. "Yes." he ground out. "My partner survived three slugs to his chest and abdomen. His heart stopped. He was dead for over two minutes until they brought him back. You know all about bullet wounds, Dad. Doesn't that make him `a real man' in your book? A normal man? Do you want to know what else? He stood and faced the gunman when he could have hit the dirt. I yelled a warning to him. I told him to get down! But instead, he went for his gun, he spun around and faced the bullets because a millisecond before he saw me standing - he saw that I wasn't safe! He faced certain death to protect me - me! His partner! And it wasn't the first time, either. When he was dying..." the young man's voice cracked with the intensity of his emotion. "...dying from a poison that was sucking the life right out of him, he chose to give up the one chance that would save him because I was at risk. He chose death so that I could live. That's how much I mean to him. He's the best friend I ever had and the best man I ever known. That kind of partnership - that kind of friendship - bonds you to a person, don't you see? Yes, I love him - but it's not how you think. It's not the twisted way you're making it out to be. I - love - him. But I'm not in love with him." Hutch's tirade slowed to a defeated resolution. "I will never be the type of man you think I should be, Dad. But I'm also not the type of man you think I am. Heaven help me if I was." Hutch slowly walked to the door and opened it. "Goodbye. Mom, I'll call you soon. But right now I think you both should go."

   "Ken, wait..." Richard stepped up to grab his son by the arm, hope and exasperation warring on his features. "You're not gay?" It was still more of a question than a statement.

   Hutch ran both hands across his face. "No, Dad, I'm not. Never have been, never will be."

   "I... I just don't understand..."

   "Exactly, Dad. You never did and probably never will." Hutch dropped his hands from his face. "Please leave."

   Muriel nodded silently and gathered her purse and sweater. As she walked to the door, she paused and laid a trembling hand on her son's cheek. "I love you, Ken."

   Hutch reached up to her hand and turned it, kissing the palm. "I love you, too, Mom."

   Muriel turned and cast a glance back in the direction that Starsky had left. Her gaze then rested on her husband with something close to fury. Hutch knew there'd be hell to pay later at the hotel room. Richard picked up his overcoat from the back of the couch and paused, trying to find something to say to his son. Finally, accepting the futility of words right then, he walked out the door and didn't look back.

   The creak of the Starsky's bedroom door opening caused Hutch to finally pull himself away from where he had been staring down the now empty street and shut the door. The darker man made his way to the couch and sat down. "You okay?"

   "You heard, huh?"

   "Old houses have paper-thin walls, remember? You okay?"

   "Sure, sure. I'm just great." Hutch muttered sarcastically.

   "You wanna talk about it?"

   "No. I want to run."

   Starsky looked up sharply at his partner as he crossed the room. "Whatdya....? Oh." His unfinished question was answered by Hutch pulling on his track shoes. "You already ran once today."

   "Well, I'm going again. You gonna be okay here alone?" Hutch's voice was sharper than he intended, but at the moment he couldn't find the energy to temper it.

   "I... sure. I'll be okay."

   Hutch nodded curtly and stormed out the front door, slamming it shut behind him. Starsky caught a glimpse of the blonde head as it surged across the lawn and streaked down the sidewalk. Starsky's own anger continued to smolder, fighting against the empathetic pain he felt for his best friend's rapidly deteriorating relationship with his father.

   Stiffly the brunette pushed himself up off the couch and made his way toward the hall closet. Somewhere he remembered seeing Hutch put away his suitcase. He would be gone before the blonde returned.

>

   The ride back to the hotel was filled with a stony silence. The suite's door had only shut when Muriel turned and lit into her husband. "Richard, what on earth possessed you!?!"

   "Now Muriel..."

   "Don't you dare patronize me with `now Muriel'! Of all the absolutely asinine things you have ever done in your lifetime, this was over the top!"

   "Look, if you'd give me a moment to explain..."

   "There's nothing to explain, Richard. You were crystal clear back at Ken's house. How could you? How could you hurt our son this way?"

   Richard crossed to the small wet bar and poured himself a Scotch. "My intent was not to upset the boy, but if his feelings were hurt in the process, well... that was simply an unfortunate result of solving the problem."

   "Solving the problem? Richard, you arrogant fool, there was no problem! No, no... I take that back. There has always been a problem - but it wasn't with Ken."

   The connotations were not lost on her husband. "Now what is that supposed to mean?"

   Muriel sighed, the burning fury of the last few moments stoking into the old feelings of loss and discomfort when contemplating the relationship between her husband and her son. "Richard, sit down."

   The blonde man crossed over to the long bench seat nestled at the foot of the bed. For a moment the two sat silently, facing opposite angles in the room. Finally Muriel spoke. "Richard, I love you. I always have and I always will. But I haven't always liked you." The tall man began to object, but was quickly cut off. "No, you need to hear me out. You're a good man, a decent man. You've been a good husband and a good father. I haven't always agreed with you. Many times I wouldn't voice my opinions or my objections, though when it came to the children, I tried to bring things to your attention.

   Honey, you have to have known that there were times when I was unhappy in our marriage...especially after the war. I missed you so much those years and when you came home... well, you had changed. I just hoped that things would eventually get back to normal and they did for the most part. But I thought you'd remain the same tender and loving man I married. When you came home, something had changed....I don't know what it was, there was just something different about you.

   I know that your leg wound changed you physically, but I think it changed you inside too. Perhaps since you were facing physical limitations you focused all your time and drive into succeeding in business. It was like you had to prove something to someone, perhaps to yourself. What you didn't seem to grasp was that you didn't have to prove anything to me. You became so distant then. At first I thought it was me... that you didn't love me anymore... but our life went on. The kids came along and that helped ease my... my loneliness. I tried not to show it, but the kids picked up on it.. my missing you. Especially Kenny. Somehow he could sense the distance between us. He felt my pain. Do you know that he used to have dreams of having to protect me?"

   "Protect you from what?"

   "From you. Not that he thought you were going to be violent or anything, it's not that. He only knew that you had hurt me somehow. That you were cold, distant... driven. Kenny sought to ease my pain...fill that void in my life.." Muriel emitted a short, harsh laugh. "Boy, I'll bet Dr. William's would have a field day with that. Don't you see, it's no wonder he became a policeman. It was just an extension of who he's always been, what he always was."

   "I never knew..."

   "No, your focus was elsewhere. You left me at home to raise the kids, keep the house. It was almost like I needed to be both a mother and father to them..."

   "Now wait a minute..."

   "No, you wait a minute. You need to hear this Richard. There were occasions when you spent time with Ken - good times, important ones. But they were few and far between He needed to be with you, but you were too busy, had other priorities. As Ken got older, he tried to make friends that would stand in the gap. That's why he always seemed so distant and melancholy to you. When you looked at your son you expected to see a reflection of yourself - a miniature Richard Hutchinson. What you did see was that empty part of his life - the part without you in it."

   "I didn't know. I... I don't know what you want me to say..."

   "Don't say anything. You've said enough for one day. Just think about it. And think about this, too. It's perfectly understandable that he's not married right now. First, he was devastated when he and Vanessa broke up. Our son really meant every word of those vows. They were an oath before God and man, and Ken is a man of his word, same as his father. Divorce just about killed him and when he needed someone to help him through all of that, it was Dave that picked up the pieces. And there were other women in his life. Women he truly loved..."

   "What others?"

   Muriel turned and gave her husband a look mixed with anger and disappointment. "I've told you a number of times. Any time he's written or called to tell us about the latest love, you just didn't listen or didn't find it important enough to remember. He would have married Gillian I think..."

   "She was the one who got murdered."

   "Yes. And there was Abbey. She left him because he was a cop. He loved her, but she was too frightened of what his job included, what he had to face every day. How do you think that made him feel? He was devastated. But he had Dave to lean on. And there were others. Jeannie... I don't know all the details, Dave only filled me in on a little, but Ken was hurt because some of the things that she was involved in. And then this whole Kira business...." Muriel sighed. "Your son isn't married for lack of trying. Even after being hurt by these women, he hasn't given up on love."

   "No, I guess not. But what about all those other things I've mentioned? What about him and Dave? Ted Williams seemed to think his being gay was possible."

   "Ted Williams is full of crap, Richard."

   "Muriel!"

   "Oh Richard, let the man worry about his own Oedipal complex. His job is to get union workers and management to play nice together. As far as Dave and Ken go, they're friends and partners, that's it."

   The knock on the hotel suite's door came as a surprise to the Hutchinsons, and filled them with both expectation and dread. Richard stood to answer the door, but was stopped by his wife's hand on his sleeve. "This discussion is not over."

   Richard nodded and crossed to the door, anticipating an even greater confrontation with their son and his partner. Neither expected their visitor to be Harold Dobey.

   "Harold? What...? What a surprise, please come in." Richard moved away from the door to allow their guest into the suite.

   "Richard, good to see you. Muriel, you're looking lovely." The large man shook both their hands in turn.

   Muriel stood and offered the Captain a chair. "Harold, how nice of you to drop by. How did you know we were even in town?"

   Richard joined his wife and sat back down on the bench seat. "Did Ken call you?"

   "No. Actually I stopped by to see Starsky...I've been checking in on him ever since his shooting. It's on my way home in fact. Hutch...er, Ken was out jogging, so Dave and I were talking....

   "... and he told you about the fight and where we were staying." Richard finished. "Was he mad?"

   A smile tugged at the corners of the Captain's mouth. "You could say that. If he hadn't been laid up like he was, he might have taken you out, Rich... sorry, Muriel."

   A sad smile graced the petite woman's features. "Harold, pardon my manners, how is Edith? We haven't seen her and the children in years. And can I get you something? A drink perhaps?"

   "No thank you, I'm fine. And Edith and the kids are terrific. Rosie's in the first grade this next school year and Cal's finishing up a summer baseball league. He's playing first base this season."

   Richard anxiously stood up and crossed over to the room's wet bar to pour himself another scotch. "So, tell me Harold. What exactly does my son's partner think you're going to be able to do or say in all of this."

   The Captain studied the blonde man for a moment before answering. "Nothing, actually. It was my idea to stop over here and visit with you. Have the two of you had dinner yet?" The Hutchinsons indicated that they hadn't.

   "Good. Let's go for a drive."

>

   It was well after dark when Hutch headed back to the small ranch house. The sweat from his run had long since dried, leaving his hair in slightly curled tendrils about his face. The anger left him quicker than he had anticipated, draining him of both emotion and energy, and leaving him feeling like a dry, empty husk. As he turned the final corner onto Topanga Boulevard he was able to see the living room lights beginning to glow warmly through the picture window. Unexpectedly, a flicker of contentment pushed away some of the lifelessness that had shrouded his heart since the encounter with his parents earlier that day.

   Home. The thought of the safety and security the new house offered, coupled with the comfortable companionship of his partner lightened his step. He was surprised, however, to see the garage door open, it's light straining to illuminate the driveway. Hutch quickened his pace. His surprise and concern increased when he found his partner sitting on the steps leading from the garage to the house, a small suitcase sprawled near the Torino.

   "Starsk, what on earth...?"

   The darker detective's breathing was coming rapidly and his face had lost some of it's color. His arms were firmly clenched around his ribs and a fine sheen of sweat covered his brow and upper lip.

   "What are you doing out here? Are you alright? Starsk?"

   Finally Starsky nodded when Hutch knelt down in front of him and placed worried hands on his friend's shoulders. A tired and resigned grin tugged at his partner's mouth.

   "`M okay, just give me a sec.... muscles tightened up on me..."

   "Not exactly the best time to be taking a trip, don't you think?"

   "Wiseguy... help me up, huh? My butt's gettin' cold."

   Hutch gently supported his friend the best he could without adding to his discomfort and helped him back into the house. Starsky was quickly maneuvered to the couch and Hutch retrieved the heating pad and plugged it in. Starsky's hands were shaking as he tried to unzip his windbreaker.

   "Here, let me." Hutch made short work of removing the jacket and wrapped the now warm pad around his partner's midsection. "When was the last time you had you're meds, pal?"

   "I dunno. Maybe around lunch..."

   "Starsk..." Hutch got up quickly and crossed to the kitchen cabinets, spilling out Starsky's evening dosage and pouring a glass of juice. He was immediately back to where his partner sat, head thrown back on the couch, his arms hugging the heating pad to his cramped abs. "Here."

   Watching his partner swallow the anti-inflamitories and pain relievers, a twinge of anger sparked by his concern colored the blonde's voice. "Now are you going to tell me what you were doing with a suitcase, headed for your car?"

   "Look, Hutch, I just.... well...."

   "You `just figured' that things would be easier for me with my dad if you weren't around here to give him the wrong impression, is that it?" The immediate realization dissolved the blonde's anger. "Oh Starsk, you idiot. What am I going to do with you? I don't care what he thinks of me anymore."

   Starsky lifted his head up from the back of the couch. "Sure you do. Otherwise you wouldn't have gotten so ticked."

   Hutch acknowledged the point with a nod. "Okay, it still bugs me some. But it's not going to change who I am. Or who we are. So don't go thinking that you don't belong here, alright?"

   "Alright."

   "Heating pad helping?" Starsky nodded, his cramped muscles giving in to the relaxing heat. "What brought on the spasms? Doing too much?"

   "That and having to reach up into the top shelf of the closet for the suitcase. I think that did me in."

   "You're just not ready for the big leagues yet, pal." Hutch stood and stretched. "I'm gonna grab a quick shower. You okay for a bit?"

   "Ain't going' nowhere." Starsky groaned. "Hey, Hutch? You really okay with all of this - what your father said and all?"

   "No, but what I am gonna do? Once he has his mind set about something, that's no talking to him. What about you? His little revelation included you too."

   Starsky tried to conceal his disgust at his partner's father, but the emotion rolled off him like a wave. "I'm not gonna lie and say it doesn't tick me off royally."

   "I'm sorry, you know."

   "You don't have anything to be sorry about. It's just that.... man! I can't believe he thought we were....like that. You don't suppose other people think..."

   "No, no I don't. I am sorry, partner. I know how you feel about... well, all of this."

   "Well sure. But I ain't gonna freak out about it."

   "Good, it's not worth it. I mean, we kinda sorted through all this before with John Blaine's case."

   The memory of Starsky's mentor's death brought a barrage of memories to both detectives. Starsky had spent his teen years living next door to the Captain, who had nurtured the young man after the loss of his father. The revelation that John Blaine was gay compelled the two detectives to confront the issue of homosexuality on the police force and work through their own issues on the subject.

   "He's was a good cop. Just because he was gay - doesn't mean he was a bad cop. I don't know... I guess I still don't understand it, but that doesn't mean he wasn't a good person, ya know?"

   "Right, but that isn't the same as being labeled it yourself. Sheesh, by my own father no less."

   "Maybe somebody took a picture of you and Huggy dancin' together at `The Green Parrot' and sent it to him."

   Hutch shot his partner a chilling look. The anger was short-lived however, when he realized his partner was comfortable enough with the whole episode and his father to joke about it. "Yeah, but I was dancing with Huggy, not you."

   "Whatever. At least if we were gay, everybody would know that you've got good taste."

   Hutch looked more than a little dumbfounded. "Starsky, you are mental."

   "The result of being around you too much. Look, like I said, I'm not gonna freak out over this. He's your dad - good, bad or ugly. But I gotta tell ya, I don't know what burns my butt more, him thinkin' we're... we're like that, or the crappy way he's treatin' you in general."

   "We've never exactly had a Ward and Beaver Cleaver relationship you know."

   "Yeah, I know. But it still grinds me."

   "I know." Hutch turned to make his way to the shower, but paused at the doorway and turned back. "Thanks, pal."

   "For what?"

   "For being on my side."

   "Where else would I be?"

>

   The streets of Los Angeles, particularly the area locals referred to as `The Bay', were often disconcerting during the day. By night they were nothing short of haunting, but not in the sense of a deadness. The communities that made up Metro's beats were anything but stillborn, regardless of the time of the day. At 9:00 P.M. the neon that reflected off the pavement created a pulsating life all it's own, as if the evil and degradation that at times ruled life there lived underneath the black top, scratching and clawing it's way through the tarmac.

   Richard and Muriel watched the nightlife through the safety of Captain Dobey's car with horrific fascination. The hookers, hustlers, junkies and general assortment that made up the community of night dwellers flew by in a panoramic film for its audience. Mile after endless mile the nightlife went on, occasionally broken up by the flashing lights of a patrol car or ambulance. Almost fifteen minutes of silence permeated through the vehicle. Finally the Captain spoke.

   "This is where your son spends most of his days, and many of his nights."

   "Harold, if you drove us through this vision of Dante's hell to scare us, you've done a good job." Richard bit out. "I just don't understand why. Why does he do this day in and day out?"

   The larger man looked in the rearview mirror to make eye contact with his guests in the back seat.

   "Your son makes a difference here. Each day he and his partner are out here, chipping away at it. You look out there and you see a lot of wasted human lives. You see the destruction caused by drugs and greed and the lowest forms of degradation. Ken looks out there and sees what the city could be, what the people could be - not what they are."

   Dobey shifted in his seat, his eyes returning to sweep the streets before him. Another moment of silence passed before Richard spoke again. "How can he hope to make a change? He's only one person. How can one man make a difference against all of this?"

   "No, there's two men. There's two fighting together, and two can make a difference, even if it's only one person at a time. So now there's one more person pulled out of the sewer and so there's three fighting the battle..." Dobey looked back at Richard again to get his attention. "Richard, you and I are old soldiers. I'm proud of the battles we lived to tell about. Try thinking of your son in that same light."

   "It's not the same Harold."

   "Isn't it? That son of yours is fighting a war, Richard, make no mistake about it. Yes, I know all about him protesting Vietnam and how you felt about that." The Captain raised his hand to cut off the blonde man. "But that's all water under the bridge. This is a different warzone and he keeps going into battle day after day."

   Richard's gaze returned thoughtfully to the streets outside as Dobey continued. "Do you have any idea how many arrests they've made? How many cases they've solved? You can't even imagine the number of people's lives your son and his partner have made a difference in." The large man snorted. "Actually, I've lost count years ago. I can tell you how many times they've been decorated in the line of duty. Five Richard. Five. Most officers retire without ever receiving one."

   The car turned onto a less crowded street. "When you were fighting in Korea, did you get close with any of the men in your squadron there?"

   Richard turned away from the window to stare at the black man. "Of course."

   "I mean really close? Someone you would have given your life for?"

   "Well, yes. Many men in combat form those kinds of bonds... it's a horrific, intense time. You never knew when the enemy was going to strike and... and you did everything you could to save yourself and your buddies." The blonde shook his head at the memories, feeling them acutely, even after the healing balm of time and distance.

   Dobey nodded his head at memories of his own. "It meant everything in the world to have someone you could trust, knowing you had someone on your side, guarding your back."

   "Exactly." The older Hutchinson shook his head in agreement. "Some of those guys...Wally, McPherson, Andrews...I would have done anything for them. It would be natural to become close to someone who had saved your life and that you were trying to keep alive as well."

   The sedan swung abruptly to the curb and was thrust into `park'. The Captain swung around in his seat and gave the blonde man a critical eye.

   "Exactly."

>

   Sunday was a typically a leisurely day for the two detectives. On this Sunday silence ruled the small house, neither man bringing up the previous day's events or conversations. The morning passed uneventfully and the two went out for their daily walk around the neighborhood. Lunch was taken care of and the two men settled in the living room to read the Sunday press.

   Hutch heard the car pull in and instantly recognized the low growl of a Cadillac. Throwing his partner a look, Hutch tossed his section of the paper on the couch next to the smaller man, and made his way to the door before his parents arrived at the stoop.

   "Mom. Dad."

   "Hello sweetheart. May... may we come in for a moment. Your father has something he wants to say to you before we leave." A glint of underlying anger tinged the normally complacent woman's voice. Still waters... Hutch thought with a hint of pride and gratitude. I'll bet last night at the hotel was a party. The younger man stepped away from the door to allow his parents to pass. As they entered the room Starsky dropped his feet from the coffee table and gathered up the newspaper.

   "Hello, David."

   Starsky returned Muriel's greeting with genuine friendliness, then turned a less than warm expression to Richard, whom he simply nodded to in acknowledgment.

   "Would you like a seat?" the brunette offered. Hutch had already claimed a portion of the couch next to his partner. He had actually been sitting on the armchair across from the couch earlier, but in changing his position obstinately made a point.

   The older man claimed the vacant armchair after Muriel sat on Starsky's left. After an awkward moment of silence Richard finally cleared his throat.

   "Ken, you said I never understood you and never would. I... I want to understand. Please, help me understand."

   Hutch looked over at his father. How do you explain a lifetime to someone who was around, but never saw...never heard... never understood?

   "Please...son."

   Hutch swung his gaze over to Starsky. The darker man cocked his head - an inquiry - Stay or go - your call. The blonde smiled slightly, gratefully. He would have liked to have his partner nearby, but knew it would be less comfortable for his parents with his partner in the room while the Hutchinsons aired their `dirty laundry'. Hutch lifted his hands slightly and tilted his head to the bedroom - Thanks partner. Starsky's face registered understanding and gave the blonde a knowing look as he stiffly lifted himself up off the couch - If you need me... In turn Hutch offered him a nod of understanding.

   The exchange wasn't lost on either of Hutch's parents, especially his father. The unspoken dialogue was distinctive, even if he didn't understand what was `said' between the two men. The communication between his son and the other detective reminded him of something, but he couldn't place a finger on it, like the lyrics of some old forgotten song.

   "You don't need words..."

   Hutch shook his head, still looking at the door Starsky had closed behind him, as if he could still feel his partner's comforting presence in the room. "Not always. When you're sneaking up on someone who would just as soon blow your head off as talk to you, you learn to communicate that way. It's natural that it would fall into the rest of our lives."

   "Your partner... he understands you."

   "Often better than I understand myself."

   "And... and that's something you think I have never done." It wasn't a question, it was a statement. Hutch turned to look at his father.

   "Have you? Did you ever try?"

   "Now look, Ken...."

   "No, you look, Dad. I'm tired. I'm tired of this game, and this will be the last time I play it. I've spent years of my life caring too much what you thought of me. As a kid I was always trying to earn your love, get your attention. I would have settled for your understanding. But I never succeeded. When I..."

   "Of course I loved you!"

   The tension in the room escalated. Hutch studied his father's outraged face for a moment. Finally, the younger man shook his head, a tinge of sorrow marring his features.

   "Do you realize that I'm 32 years old and that's the first time I've ever heard you say those words?"

   Richard's mouth moved as if he were trying to speak, but no words came. Muriel turned her face to the hands clasped in her lap, hiding her own pain of loving such a man.

   "When I left for college, I tried to earn your respect, but I never got that either. I spent 22 years of my life trying to make myself into the mold you sculpted for me. But I couldn't do it. I was miserable. When I came out to California I became my own man. I made something of myself. Something I could be proud of. And somewhere in the back of mind I thought since I had finally figured out who I could be, maybe - just maybe - you'd like that man, too. But that didn't happen either. So finally I just quit caring what you thought of me."

   "Until now."

   "No. No, not really. Though I'll admit you threw me for a heckuva loop. All that crap I went through as a kid just kind of came rushing back at me is all."

   Richard's face became stony. Muriel laid a hand on her husband's. "What crap?" the older man ground out.

   Hutch swung his gaze to his mother, his expression softening. "The both of you taught me some important things growing up - to be honest, to be kind, to stand up for what's right and protect those who can't stand up for themselves. I've always been grateful for the things you introduced me to - the education... art, music, literature."

   "You've never been without." the older Hutchinson interrupted. "You've wanted for nothing."

   "You're right, there's not been a `thing' that I've needed. But Dad, don't you see that I wanted to share those things with you? And don't you understand that they were just `things'? I wanted you. Some of the best memories I have are the ones where you found the time to be with me - learning to ride my bike, teaching me to hunt, taking me for my test drive. I didn't want things, I just needed you to be a part of my life."

   "I was part of your life! Sure, some times work would call me away, but I was there..."

   "..there in the same house, but not in my life. Don't you see, Dad? I loved you. I wanted to be with you. Is that so hard to understand? I needed to know...." Hutch paused to draw a breath in order to steady himself. "I needed to know that you loved me too, that you cared about me. That I was worth something to you."

   "Ken, how could you think that you didn't?"

   "How could I think that I did? I never heard it, Dad. And it's not like we spent enough time together for me to see it."

   "Kenneth, I don't see how..."

   "You were a lonely boy, Ken." Muriel's quiet voice interrupted the two men's escalating ones. A moment of silence permeated through the room. "You and I had so much time together, but it wasn't the same as having a father spend time with you. I know that you felt like there was something wrong with you that your father didn't want to be around you, but I couldn't... I didn't know how to fix that."

   Hearing his mother put into words the hidden pain that had lived in the shadows of his heart for a lifetime almost brought tears to Hutch's eyes. The younger man ducked his head and worked at consciously loosening the tightening band from around his chest.

   "Son, I.... how could you think that there was something wrong with you? You were the best and the brightest. We did everything we could to give you every advantage, every opportunity..."

   "Everything but tell your son you loved him and made sure he knew it" came Muriel's quiet reproach.

   "He knew I loved him the same way you knew that..."

   "1976."

   "What? Muriel..."

   "February 15th, 1976. That was the last time you told me you loved me. You had gotten called away to the office the day before when we were supposed to have a special Valentine's dinner. You didn't get home until 4:00 A.M. the next morning and you woke me up and told me that you were sorry and that you loved me. February 15th, 1976."

   "Muri I..."

   "No, you need to hear what Ken's..."

   "Stop it. Just stop it." Hutch's voice held no anger, only resignation. "This is going nowhere."

   Muriel rose quietly. "I'll be in the garden. Richard, listen to your son." The slender woman walked quickly out of the room. Hutch ran an unsteady hand through his hair.

   "Look Dad, you wanted me to try and help you understand. I have no idea how to do that. All I can say is that growing up, you and I were never close. I had a need to know that you loved me and I never did. I always felt like there was something wrong with me that a man like you... I always thought that you were a giant, did you know that? You were this great war hero that I wanted so much to be like. And I tried, Dad. God knows I tried. I just wanted you to like me. I would have given anything for you to be my friend, to feel like you were on my side. I wanted to know that you accepted me even when I didn't succeed at something, or I wasn't the best, or the fastest or the smartest."

   "I was just trying to make you the best you could be, Ken."

   "Maybe you were. And I did try harder because of it. But inside I just had this gnawing ache that I would never measure up for you. That I'd always be a disappointment. But even when I did win, even when I was the best... I never heard what I needed to hear."

   "That I loved you."

   "Yes. That you were proud of me. That what I did was good enough, that I was good enough."

   "Do you still... do you still feel that way?"

   Hutch sighed and got up from the couch. He walked to the windows facing the west. Streams from the setting sun caressed him and covered him with diffused light.

   "When I became a cop, I knew this was something I could do and be good at. Here I could make a difference in peoples' lives. I was needed. I was enough. I've been a good cop and that's been one of the most significant things in my life. But there's something more than that that's told me that I have value." Hutch turned away from the window and looked across the room to the shut bedroom door. "My friendship with Starsky has meant more to me than any gold medal or gold shield I could ever earn. Within the first year of knowing him he... he validated my life. Starsky saw me for who I was and accepted me, warts and all. He liked me just because I was me - nothing more, nothing less. I was enough just as I was.

   He became the brother I never had, the friend...the friend I always longed for. He's somebody I can trust implicitly, with everything - my back, my life...everything. He'd give up his life for mine in a heartbeat. And I'd do the same."

   "That's the bond you two have... it's unusual. I just didn't understand ..."

   "Dad, you'll probably never understand it. I'm not so sure I do either. But it's there and I can't imagine my life without it...without him. I hope to God I never have to."

   "Your Captain, Harold, he took your mother and I for a ride."

   "He did?"

   "Yes. He showed us quite a bit of your territory. I guess you call it your `beat'". The older man searched his mind for some connection, some understanding that he could reach out to his son with. "I guess I can see why you rely on each other so much. It's quite a dangerous area."

   "It can be. That's why we need to trust each other as much as we do. Maybe that's what keeps us so in tune with each other. All I know is that I probably wouldn't last long out there without him."

   "Ken, why on earth do you do this, then?"

   "Because here - here - my life makes a difference. What I do can mean life or death for someone. It's a helluva responsibility and an incredible privilege, and one I don't take lightly. Yes, sometimes the pressure's enormous. And sometimes the price is high.... much, much too high. But if we don't do it, who will?"

   "I... I felt the same way about being in the service. There are just some things that are worth fighting for."

   "Exactly Dad."

   "Ken, I...I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I mistook your depending on Dave as something more than it was. I was wrong. And I was wrong to think that you were....it takes a brave man, someone with conviction to face what you do day in and day out. I can see by what you're up against every day that you are fighting in a different type of war. And for that, I am proud of you."

   Hutch had to swallow past the tightening in his throat. "Thank you."

   "Ken, I... I don't know what else to say. Talking about things like this have never been easy for me. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for how you felt growing up. I'm sorry that I never told you that I loved you. I do, you know. I hope you know that."

   "Thank you for saying it, Dad. I... thanks."

   Silence dominated the room for a moment as the two men measured one another through different eyes.

   "So... where do we go from here?"

   "I don't know. I guess we'll just have to take it as it comes. But first maybe we should rescue mom from the back deck."

   The two men made their way through the kitchen and out the back patio door. Few words were spoken as they said their goodbyes, with promises made to call more frequently, even though Starsky's crisis had past. Hutch walked his parents to their car and waved them off as they drove away. The blonde paused in the driveway, hands tucked in his back pockets and watched the retreating car. A few minutes passed before he slowly made his way back inside. He wasn't too surprised to see his partner waiting for him in the living room, but he hadn't expected to see him dressed in his sweat pants and a t-shirt, holding out his Adidas for Hutch to put on for him.

   "What do you think you're doing?"

   "It's a nice night, I thought we could walk down to the park and play catch."

   "Starsk, it's getting late. It'll be dark soon."

   "So we won't stay long."

   Hutch's eyes narrowed as he looked at his partner, knowing there was an ulterior motive behind the sudden desire to throw around the baseball.

   "Starsk, we don't have to, you know. We did a lot of talking. I'm fine."

   "Since when? I think you're certifiable, but that's besides the point. C'mon, I wanna play a little catch. Unless my slider's getting too much for your tired old body to squat down for?"

   "That'll be the day, Gordo. Okay, fine. Sit down so I can get these smelly things on your feet before they render me unconscious." Starsky obediently sat down on the couch and lifted his right foot a few inches off the floor. Hutch knelt quickly and slipped the shoe onto his partner's foot, then tying the laces.

   "Hutch?"

   "Hmm?" The blonde grasped the left foot and inserted it into the tennis shoe.

   "Thanks."

   "It's no big deal, pal." Hutch replied patting the shoe after he finished.

   "I don't mean the shoes. I mean for what you said about me... about us."

   "Oh. You heard that, huh? Listening at keyholes again, Sherlock?"

   "Nope. Paper thin walls, remember?" Starsky grinned back. The smile became less mischievous and changed to one of contentment. "I love you too, Hutch."

   "Same here, Starsk." Hutch gripped his partner's knee before standing and stretching. "All right, c'mon Ace - time's a'wasting. Let's see this incredible slider of yours."

   "Hutch, this pitch'll be so fast, you won't be able to see it!"

   "Dream on, DiMaggio, dream on."

   "Uh, Hutch, DiMaggio played center field."

   "Shut up and let's go, Starsk."

>

   Sunset found the two men sitting companionably silent next to one another on the deserted park's swings, gently rocking. Words were sporadic, a few questions asked, a few admissions shared. Starsky's third yawn prodded Hutch into action and the blonde pulled himself out of the swing and offered a hand to his partner.

   "C'mon, it's time to hit the sack."

   "What's the matter, I wear you out?"

   "In your dreams, old man. The mosquitoes were beginning to find me particularly interesting."

   "There's no accounting for taste." Starsky nodded, yawning again. Accepting Hutch's proffered hand, he hauled himself to his feet. Healing muscles cramped after the exercise and prolonged stationary position, causing the smaller man to stumble into his partner.

   "Whoa there, Champ. You okay?" Hutch caught Starsky in an awkward embrace, then steadied him. Anxious blue eyes searched his partner's face for signs of distress.

   Starsky nodded and stretched his back and mid-section, but didn't pull himself away from the steady hands that bore him up. "Just stiff." Looking into his partner's worried face, he laughed gently and pulled the blonde into a brief embrace, slapping him on the back. Starsky felt the bond between them as surely as he felt the cool evening breeze caress his face. Gently releasing the friend, the brunette steered his partner in the direction of Topanga Boulevard. "Let's go home, partner."

   The last rays of the setting sun set the world in amber. The waning light cast a single shadow from the pair, bonding the two into one. Through the field the prodigal son headed home, his partner by his side.

   "Home it is."

THE END