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(Post-ep for "Starsky's Lady")
Wishful thinking. Maybe that's what had interfered with his "Starsky radar"--a normally hair trigger mechanism. Hutch was tired; it had been a difficult year for them both. He was all too familiar with the kind of pain Starsky suffered from losing Terry, knew better than to expect the wound would ever completely heal. Still, he'd allowed himself the hope that his friend's indomitable spirit would withstand the fire, coming back stronger, if not unscarred. Starsky was tough. At an early age, he'd survived both the death of his father and relocation to a new home far from his mother and the only life he'd ever known. Surely he'd weather this crisis with the same tenacious determination.
It was more than two weeks after the night they'd opened Terry's presents before Hutch admitted to himself that Starsky was in trouble. The realization hit him abruptly during an innocuous and routine patrol, with all the subtlety of a Mack truck.
Hutch was driving, Starsky slouched in the passenger seat and drumming his fingers idly on his knee as he gazed out the window. It was nearly noon, and they were wrangling good-naturedly over where to grab some lunch.
"You know, you never listen to me," Starsky grumbled. "I'm tellin' you, you're gonna love this place! They got a burrito to die for, it's got everything..."
"Starsky, I can barely hear you over the sound of your arteries hardening! What's wrong with The Better Way? You can get a burrito there."
Starsky made a face. "Wheat germ and bean curd--they got a lotta nerve callin' that a burrito." He folded his arms over his chest and scowled. "Better Way. Better way to kill myself," he mumbled.
Hutch opened his mouth to retort only to snap it shut and lean forward, eyes intent on a figure moving quickly along the opposite side of the street. He hit the brakes, nudging his partner.
"Across the street, by the alley. Isn't that our friend Reno Glassman?"
Starsky straightened and looked in the indicated direction, his eyes narrowing. "Yeah. I can smell him from here."
The man in question, whip-thin with long dark hair slicked back from his forehead and sporting a multitude of tattoos on his forearms, took a brief, furtive glance around before ducking down the alley.
"What do you say we roust ol' Reno and see if we can find out just what he's up to?"
It was a rhetorical question--Hutch had already begun to execute a U-turn, the LTD's wheels screeching in protest. Rather than preparing to jump out of the car, however, Starsky slumped back into the seat.
"Aw, just forget it. He'll be long gone before we get anywhere near him."
"We're not that far behind, it's worth a look." Hutch navigated around a slow moving Cadillac piloted by an elderly man in a large hat.
"I'm tellin' ya, it's a waste of time," Starsky muttered. "Even IF there's a deal goin' down, and IF we catch the slimeball before he outruns us, he'll be out on bail before we can get the paperwork typed. 'Sides, we're supposed to be on lunch."
Hutch stared at him a moment before pulling the car to the curb. Throwing the gearshift into park, he turned to face his partner, one arm slung along the back of the seat. Suddenly, it was as if he were truly seeing Starsky for the first time in weeks, and the sight hit him like a slap in the face.
Normally olive skin too pale, darkening to bruised shadows beneath deep blue eyes lacking their customary sparkle. Despite the leather jacket, he noticed that the blue jeans and turtleneck sweater hung loosely on Starsky's frame, testifying to a weight loss of at least ten pounds. Abruptly, like a light illuminating a dark room, Hutch realized that although his friend had participated in the required banter about food, he couldn't recall seeing Starsky actually consume much of anything lately.
Almost frantically, he searched his memory further. There had been no trips to the movies, stops at The Pits for a beer, or marathon monopoly sessions. Since Terry's death, Starsky put in his time at work and headed straight home, politely refusing Hutch's invitations to grab some dinner or drop by for a visit. He'd allowed Starsky his solitude, reasoning that the man needed time to grieve in private. Now he couldn't help doubting the wisdom of his decision.
"Whatcha starin' at? Somethin' wrong?"
Hutch pulled himself from his reverie to face his partner's irritated glare. Starsky's brows knit together and his tense posture communicated uneasiness.
"I think I should be asking you that question." Hutch kept his tone light, but his eyes probed Starsky's.
"Me? I'm not the one sittin' there catching flies. Now if you've come to your senses about chasing Reno, can we please get some lunch?"
"Starsky..." Hutch trailed off, running a hand along his jaw. He sucked in a deep breath. "I've never known you to ease up on a lowlife like Reno Glassman."
Starsky bristled, his jaw clenching. "I told you. Five'll get you ten he'd be gone before we could put our hands on him. It's just not worth the effort."
Hutch lifted an eyebrow. "This from a man who once chased a punk ten blocks for snatching an old lady's purse?"
Starsky turned away to stare out the window, arms folded defensively across his chest. "I'm hungry. So sue me."
In for a penny, in for a pound, Hutch thought grimly.
"For someone who's so hungry, you don't look like you've been eating much."
Twin blue lasers snapped from the window to his face. "I'm fine, Hutch. What're you, my mother?"
Hutch moved his hand to rest on the leather-clad shoulder. "No, I'm your partner. And your best friend."
For just a moment he thought he'd broken through. Something raw and aching flashed across Starsky's face before he quickly regained control.
"Then act like it. Cut the fifth degree and let's get some lunch."
Sensing a brick wall, Hutch conceded temporary defeat and pulled the car back into traffic.
You win this round, partner. But this discussion is far from over
After work, he showed up on Starsky's doorstep with a pizza--the kind his partner loved, loaded with every topping imaginable and some he'd rather not. Hutch knew he was walking a thin line, trespassing boundaries that Starsky clearly intended him to respect. His partner possessed a volatile temper--push too hard and he might just wind up on his own ass.
But he had no choice. Eyes now opened, he'd viewed Starsky with increasing alarm all afternoon. Though his partner had made a great show of consuming an enormous burrito, he'd abruptly excused himself shortly afterward and returned with bloodshot eyes and a damp collar. Hutch had little doubt the burrito hadn't remained in his stomach long enough to do much good.
Back at Metro, Hutch had worked to engage Starsky in conversation, deliberately picking topics of conversation his normally gregarious friend would find impossible to resist. But each of his attempts had been quietly rebuffed. Starsky had displayed neither impatience nor anger, just a weary indifference that troubled Hutch far more than a more violent reaction.
He rapped briskly on the door, shifting the warm box to the other hand as he waited. Starsky appeared just as he was ready to knock a second time, a mixture of annoyance, exasperation, and affection on his face.
"What are you doin' here?"
"I brought dinner," Hutch replied, keeping his voice and expression light. "Thought maybe we could hang out, play some Monopoly."
Starsky's bulk blocked the doorway and he made no move to step aside. "I dunno, Hutch. I appreciate the offer but..."
"Got pineapple. And anchovies."
Starsky looked ready to argue; then his shoulders curled and he swung the door open with a sigh. "Well, when you put it that way..." he muttered, though Hutch suspected his acquiescence had less to do with the pizza and more with his pleading tone of voice.
The apartment was cloaked in shadow, the only light coming from a small lamp beside the couch. Two beer bottles sat on the coffee table, one completely empty and one halfway there. The television and stereo were silent, the kitchen cold and dark. Hutch flipped on the overhead light and set the pizza box on the counter, wondering just what thoughts had occupied his partner before his arrival. Uncomfortably certain they'd been bleak.
"Looks like it's a good thing I brought the food." He reached for a couple of paper plates, loading each with a slice and carrying them to the living room. He set one plate on the coffee table and plopped down on the couch, putting up his feet and looking pointedly at the beer. "Sure Starsk, I'd love one."
The corner's of Starsky's mouth twitched in the ghost of a smile, a pale imitation of his 1000 watt grin, but better than the blank detachment Hutch had seen all afternoon. His partner retrieved a bottle from the fridge and then joined him on the couch. Hutch watched for several minutes while Starsky poked and examined his slice of pizza as if it were a lab specimen.
"You gonna eat that or dissect it?" he asked, bracing himself for an angry retort.
What he got instead was a sidewise, slightly guilty look before Starsky scooped the slice off the plate to bring to his lips. The pizza made it halfway before his hand froze. Starsky stared at it for a long moment and then slowly returned it to the plate.
"I'm sorry, Hutch. I just...I can't." He placed the plate carefully on the table, then dropped his head into his hands.
"Talk to me, Starsk."
Starsky didn't bother to raise his head. "Ain't nothin' to say."
"I don't buy that, buddy. And if you're honest, I don't think you do either." Hutch leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees.
A distinct edge crept into Starsky's voice. "Forget it, Hutch."
Hutch shook his head. "I can't do that. And you know it." He sighed. "Look, you need to talk to someone about this. If not me, then..."
Starsky lifted his head, fixing him with a baleful glare. "Then who? Some departmental shrink? Thanks, but I think I'll pass."
Hutch hung on, refusing to be put off. "You're depressed. That's understandable. Terry's loss isn't something you're going to get past in a few weeks, or even a few months."
Starsky lurched to his feet, eyes black with anger. "Leave it alone." He said the words slowly, enunciating each syllable between gritted teeth.
Hutch also stood, purposely crowding into his partner's space. "No. I've left it alone for too long. It ends here, and it ends now."
Starsky's hands curled into fists, but he settled for giving Hutch a shove. "It ends with you not lettin' the door hit you in the ass on the way out!"
Hutch responded by seizing handfuls of Starsky's tee shirt and bringing their faces to within inches of each other. His partner's eyes were dilated with fury, his breath coming in short pants.
"I won't back down from you, Starsky. Not this time. One way or another you're gonna get some help. Now that can be me, or we can get Dobey to recommend someone. Your choice."
Starsky wilted. There was really no other way to describe it. His posture slackened into that of a rag doll and the fire left his eyes. Hutch slowly unknotted his fingers from his friend's clothing and stepped back, eyeing him warily. He half-expected Starsky's rage to return once he was released, but his partner merely dropped back down onto sofa. Hutch followed.
"Don't know what you want from me." Starsky's voice was soft, muffled by the knuckles of his folded hands.
Hutch reached over to lay his hand on Starsky's arm. "The only thing I've ever wanted. The thing we've always sworn to give each other. The truth."
"The truth? Trust me, Hutch. You don't want to hear the truth."
Starsky sighed, raking his fingers through dark curls. When he finally spoke, his words were so soft Hutch had to strain to hear them. "Truth is, I'm gettin' old. I'm tired. And I just got nothing left." He turned his head to gaze squarely into his partner's eyes. "I'm gonna quit the force, Hutch."
Words he'd never consciously expected yet instinctively feared. Hutch stared at Starsky, mentally flipping through a filing cabinet full of replies and finding none that were adequate. He slowly shook his head.
"I don't... Starsk, I don't know what to say."
"You don't gotta say anything." Starsky plucked at a loose thread from the hem of his tee shirt.
Hutch dry washed his face. "Look, it's no secret you've been through hell this past year. Give it a little time, you don't have to rush into such a drastic decision. You're hurting now, I know that, but..."
"You don't get it, do you?" The edge was back--Starsky's temper barely held in check. "Holding off ain't gonna change nothin'. Not this time."
"But Starsky..." Hutch swallowed, trying to gain control of his own emotions. "You love being a cop."
Starsky stood and paced over to the window, propping his arm against the sill as he stared through the glass. "I used to. There was a time it meant everything to me. Now..." He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and his throat worked soundlessly. When he finally resumed speaking his voice was rough and thick with unshed tears. "I hit those streets every damn day, knowin' my life is on the line. That at any given moment some hustler packin' a knife or a punk with an itchy trigger finger could end it all. God knows I've had my share of close calls, but I've never let that stop me. Because I believed in the job, in helping people."
"Believed," Hutch repeated quietly.
"What's the point, Hutch? We get beat up, shot, poisoned--not to mention the nightmare Forrest put you through--for what? So that a psycho like Prudholm can satisfy a warped need for vengeance by putting a bullet in the head of someone whose only crime is being the lady I love?" Starsky's voice rose a little with each word. "How long is it gonna be before I wind up watchin' 'em plant you in the ground? Am I supposed to just keep goin' until this job takes away everything that matters, everything I love?" His forehead dropped to his arm, his voice to little more than a whisper. "I can't do it anymore, Hutch. It hurts too damn much."
Hutch pushed himself off the couch and walked slowly over to stand behind his partner. He started to stretch out a hand toward Starsky's shoulder but pulled it back.
"Buddy, I know how much you've lost. I've been with you, every step of the way. But I've also seen the flip side. You've made a difference, Starsk, in a lot of lives. Together, we've managed to clean some of the garbage off the streets, made the world a little safer. And you've watched my back, stuck with me. Even when I hit rock bottom, sunk in a pit so deep I couldn't see daylight, you didn't give up on me." Hutch swallowed, his throat bone dry from a memory still undimmed by the passage of time. "I know the price has been high. I know it hurts. But, don't you see--if you quit now, Prudholm wins." He paused, then played his last card. "You and I both know how Terry would feel about this. She wouldn't want you to stop living just because she did."
He'd evidently said more than he'd realized, struck a nerve he hadn't intended. Starsky sucked in a sharp gasp of air and flinched as if Hutch had delivered a physical blow.
"What is it?" Hutch asked quietly.
"Terry..." The word was ragged as Starsky's breath hitched and stuttered. "Just before... 'S what she said."
"Oh." Hutch's chest constricted and his eyes burned. Terry had been much more than just Starsky's girl, Hutch had considered her his friend. Sweet, caring, spunky--she'd wrapped his partner around her little finger and made him happier and more content than Hutch had ever seen him. Impossible not to like her for that alone.
But their mutual love for Starsky sealed the bond. Unlike some previous girlfriends, Terry had never felt threatened or jealous over his unusually tight friendship with Starsky, making Hutch feel welcome if he stopped by unexpectedly and encouraging his partner to continue their periodic "boys' night out." They'd shared an almost conspiratorial relationship where it came to Starsky, affection for each other a natural outgrowth of their love for him.
To you I entrust Ollie and Dave. Please love them both, and don't let either one of them change
"She gave me a responsibility, Starsk. And I'm taking it very seriously."
It brought down the rest of the wall.
Starsky lifted his head. "She said she'd be here. That if I was scared, if my world was fallin' apart and I was feelin' all alone, I just had to close my eyes and remember her, and she'd always be here. She promised." His voice broke and the pale wash of moonlight caught tracks of tears on his cheeks. "I been tryin', Hutch. I been tryin' real hard, but I can't feel her. The only thing I feel is alone."
One gentle tug and Starsky was in his arms, tears soaking the shoulder of his shirt. It was the first time Hutch had seen him break down. He had no way of knowing what had gone on during those last moments in Terry's hospital room, but in the hours, days, and weeks following, Starsky had been almost frighteningly in control. Oh, he'd wavered a time or two--speaking with Terry's family at the funeral, helping to pack up her things, opening the presents... But he'd kept it together, never permitting himself to succumb to the grief Hutch knew he was feeling. The tension he now felt thrumming through his friend's body testified to just how much the effort had cost Starsky. Helpless, torn between sorrow and relief, Hutch could only hold on and murmur the words he knew Starsky needed to hear.
"Let it out, buddy. You're not alone. Never alone. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."
Eventually the storm passed, and they wound up back on the couch, the pizza now stone cold and Starsky limp with fatigue. Hutch scrubbed at his eyes and stifled a yawn with the back of his hand, exhausted himself from the stress and emotion but hopeful that a crucial corner had been turned.
I'm doing the best I can, Terry. For him, and for you
Starsky's soft voice, slurred with weariness, broke his reverie. "This doesn't really change anything, you know. I'm still old. I'm still tired. An' I still feel like callin' it quits."
Hutch's mouth curved, hearing the difference even if his partner didn't. "Uh-huh."
"Are you listenin' to me? Doesn't that bother you? How do ya expect me to be a good cop 'f all I can think about is packin' it in?"
Hutch turned his head and studied his partner's profile. "Yes. No. And it's not something I expect, it's who you are. You're a cop, Starsk. A damn good one. Nothing's changed that."
Starsky let that sink in a moment before slowly shaking his head and meeting Hutch's steady gaze. "I was. But I feel like I've lost my way, Hutch."
Hutch lay his hand on Starsky shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "You're not really lost, buddy. Just a little turned around. You'll get your bearings," he added with a grin.
Starsky chuffed a little laugh. "I will, huh? And just how am I gonna do that, oh wise one?"
Hutch sobered. "Nice and slow, one day at a time. And you know something, Starsk? You're in luck. 'Cause I'll be with you every step of the way. And I happen to have an unfailing sense of direction."
"That much I can promise." Starsky emitted a jaw-cracking yawn, his eyelids sliding to half-mast. "'M tired."
"I'm not surprised. How long has it been since you've gotten a decent night's rest, anyway?" Hutch dropped his hand as the shoulder beneath it lifted in a half-hearted shrug.
"Dunno. Been havin' trouble gettin' to sleep...nightmares." Starsky's eyes were closed now, his respiration slowing, deepening.
Nightmares. Something else Starsky had kept as carefully hidden as his grief.
"It's late," Hutch said aloud. "If you don't mind, I think I'll just crash here." And be on hand in case your dreams turn sour tonight
"Mm. Good idea," Starsky mumbled.
When after several minutes he showed no sign of moving, Hutch gave him a gentle nudge. "Go to bed, Starsky. I'll take the couch."
"'Kay." Belying his words, Starsky slid to the right and curled onto his side.
Hutch snickered softly to himself, stood, and lifted Starsky's legs up onto the cushions before covering him with an afghan.
Starsky's semi-coherent reply surprised him. "Sorry lost it back there, Hutch. 'M gonna get it t'gether. Promise."
He could've sworn he heard Terry whispering in his ear, telling him what to say.
"That's okay, Starsk. Best friends don't have to promise."