This story first appeared in the zine, That's What Friends Are For #6 (1997). This zine and other fine S&H gen zines can be obtained from the editor at: Intertwined@webtv.net. Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
Changes and Constants
K Hanna Korossy
I thought you were his friends.
So did we, sweetheart.
So did we. Hutch's words haunted Starsky as he drove home from Venice. With all that had gone by in the past 24 hours: the trial, Lionel's death, Hutch nearly killed in the explosion, nothing else remained with Starsky like those words, their tone, the look in Hutch's eyes as he said them. So did we. Thought we were his friends. Thought we were doing the right thing. Thought we were doing it for the right reason. Suddenly, all of the last year was in those three words. So did we.
Starsky abruptly turned the car around with a vicious jerk of the wheel. He knew with sudden surety that something had just happened, something big, and if he didn't hurry, the "we" would become "I." So did we.
Did. Past tense.
The movie he'd half-heartedly resigned himself to going to was now forgotten. Something had changed in Hutch that day, and Starsky was afraid that it'd be too late to change with him. He'd already missed one transition, the metamorphosis of his clean-cut idealist partner into the worn cynic Starsky barely recognized sometimes. That had cost him dearly: the easy way they'd talked and laughed once, the constant touches, the fun. All he had left now was the endless love shining in those unfamiliarly sad eyes, and the trust, the core of his friend. Starsky's heart shrank from the unbearable thought of losing those, too. Please, partner, wait for me...
The Torino pulled up in front of Venice Place in the conspicuously absent LTD's spot. Starsky scrambled out and into the building, racing up the steps. He didn't wait for an answer to his knock, already fumbling for the spare key, nearly falling through the door in his haste to open it.
He knew Hutch wasn't there before he looked, but he looked anyway. The whole place felt empty, echoing how he felt inside.
The beach. Starsky's feet turned before he'd processed the thought, pausing only to lock the door behind him. He's at the beach. It wasn't a guess.
The drive was just long enough to give Starsky time to think. He couldn't remember how many times in the past he'd gone down to the beach to watch his partner. Jack's death, Gillian's murder, as Hutch recovered from the plague or Abby's departure or almost losing his partner. Starsky always knew, and he always came down to secretly keep watch over his friend from a distance. Hutch hadn't ever been aware of it; Starsky never intruded on his partner's meditations, merely kept him silent company. It was only the few times that Hutch seemed too lost to find his way back on his own that Starsky had followed him back to Venice Place and confronted him there. Hutch's need to work things out on his own was just one of their differences that Starsky respected and that made them fit so well together. A matched set, not because they were so alike, but because their contrasts so completely countervailed each other. Usually.
Starsky pulled the Torino up short by the sand and quietly got out, his eyes drawn at once to the sole person on the beach. It was midday and midwinter, leaving the beach uncharacteristically deserted. Starsky was grateful for the solitude, though he expected his partner would have been oblivious to any audience.
Hutch was staring out at the water, then at something shining in his hand. Starsky's throat constricted when he saw what it was: a pinwheel. Lionel's pinwheel. Once they had settled that there was no choice as to naming Lionel in court, Hutch had never said a word of blame to his partner, not for risking Lionel, not for leaving him alone after the explosion, not for Lionel's death. If he'd had to do it over again, Starsky knew he'd do nothing differently, and yet he did blame himself, too, for not fulfilling his duty. Now, Lionel was dead, and so was something in Hutch, too... Starsky started walking toward the solitary figure without second thought, this time not able to just sit and anonymously watch.
As he got closer, he saw the blond bend down and stick the pinwheel into the sand, anchoring it as the wind made it spin. A small tribute, but Starsky added his own silent good-bye. Then his partner reached into his pocket and pulled out a much smaller object, turning it in his hand as he studied it.
Starsky couldn't see what it was, but he didn't have to. His steps lagged for a moment, dread solidifying in his stomach into a weight so heavy, he could barely move. His mind went blank. He's going to do it. After all... Oh God, what am I...
The turning point. What he had come out to take part in so that Hutch wouldn't go it alone, so that they stayed together. But somehow, he'd refused to think of this possibility, that it would come to this choice. They'd threatened to quit before, Starsky had even typed his resignation once, but never like this, calmly thought out, rationally acted on... final. What would he be if he wasn't a cop?
Hutch was still staring at the badge, completely unaware of being watched. Alone. There was a peace about him, the peace of a man who'd finally made a decision and knew it was right. But Starsky could see so much more in his friend: the bone-weary fatigue, the hurting that had settled over the blond like a weighted blanket over the past year, and, most of all, the loneliness. His partner's recent cold attitude had been a thin disguise for his terrible loneliness in the past months, but Hutch's forlornness had never been so apparent as in the slump of his shoulders, the invisible wall around him now. He's going to do it without me. He doesn't trust- no, that's not true. He didn't even know, himself. And we haven't talked in so long... Starsky began walking again, unconsciously picking up his pace.
His partner had finished studying the badge and had begun to walk toward the water. This was it. Starsky swallowed but didn't slow, only a dozen feet away when he saw Hutch raise his hand, getting ready for the throw.
The other's movement aborted at once, Hutch turning, startled at the sudden intrusion. When he saw Starsky, color flooded his cheeks and he awkwardly smoothed his hair back. Starsky smiled sadly inside at the familiar gesture. Since when were we ever embarrassed in front of each other, blintz? He stared out at the water, trying to untangle his own jumbled feelings, sensing his partner doing the same. Starsky dredged up a weary lightness. "Polluting the ocean? Against the law." He'd let Hutch tell him.
"Thought you were going to the movies." The voice was quiet, firm, decided about everything but where to fit Starsky in.
Starsky heard the questions in the statement but deliberately ignored them. "Changed my mind." You are going to tell me, aren't you? He could feel Hutch turn toward him, as if in answer to his thought, but he kept watching the ocean, neither willing nor able yet to let his partner take a good look at his eyes. I'm not going to do all the work, darn it!
"What was that you were saying?"
The soft question threw him off. What were they talking about now? "'Bout what?" he asked.
"Something about... something being against the law."
Oh... "That. Pollution. Definite violation." I'll do it your way if you want.
Hutch's eyes returned to his badge. "Well, partner," he began, Starsky's eyes were also inexorably drawn to the worn metal, "the way I see it, this old badge has polluted me just about enough." He looked up at his companion.
Starsky could see that had taken nearly all his courage to say it. There was challenge in the words and in the Nordic blue eyes that matched the churning sea. But lurking behind it was sheer terror.
Starsky slowly pulled his own badge out. "Really," he quietly allowed. He knew the words were right, even if he didn't feel them in his bones. But there was one thing that was more important to him in the world than that piece of metal, and he was on the brink of losing that. The light reflecting off the gold flared and died. He gently unhooked the badge from its case, then sighed heavily, his gaze returning to the ocean.
Hutch was watching him; Starsky was aware of a change in the other's intensity without looking. For the first time in a long time, Hutch was reading him again, and he was disbelieving what he found. Have we gotten that far apart? Starsky silently wondered. You don't even know if I'd follow you. And yet... he knew that if he asked, Hutch would stay with him, would give up his decision despite feeling it was right, despite his slow drowning. Nor would he let Starsky follow him if he didn't believe his partner wanted it, too. But Hutch needed this, and Starsky needed Hutch. It wasn't their partnership at stake, it was the heart of their friendship. And suddenly, there was no decision left to make.
Starsky met his friend's look steadily, this time hiding nothing. The scared hope in Hutch's eyes dissolved the last of his doubts. He loved the Job, it was a part of him, but Hutch was even more so. "Mind if I join you?" I love you, he confirmed silently, and I want to do this with you.
Hutch understood at once. Starsky could see the recognition, and it was with one motion that they both turned back to the water and hurled the two pieces of metal as far out as they could.
For a long moment, there was only silence and the sound of heavy breathing. Starsky's breathing. He stared at the spot where the water had splashed for a moment, then smoothed over almost at once. It was gone, irrevocably. His whole life's ambition, the only life he'd ever known. He was no longer Detective Sergeant, First Class. And the amputation hurt. Overcome by the enormity of what he'd done, he sank down into the sand on the beach, still staring at the water.
"Starsk?" the soft, uncertain query came next to him. He turned woodenly to see Hutch kneeling next to him, concern and confusion etched in his face. "You didn't... I thought..."
Starsky's thoughts travelled back to time after time over the years that Hutch had been in danger, or hurt, or even dying, and Starsky had willingly offered up his car, his money, the Job, anything God would've been willing to take, in exchange for his partner's return to him. And he would've counted it his gain. Had that been any different?
He shook his head, eyes clearing as he studied his partner's face. "It's okay, Hutch," he said gently, meaning it. "I'm not sorry." His conscience pricked a tiny bit at the lie; he hadn't fully accepted yet the decision he'd just made. But he would. It was right. "Long as we stay together, we can handle this. I just...miss it," he added honestly.
A hand carefully settled on his shoulder and the blue eyes softened, melting. The doubt, the guilt were all gone; Hutch knew him well enough to tell what was real regret and what was simply his nature. Instead, the gentle eyes reflected a little of the old pleasure in life that had once fit the blond so well, and an intensity of emotion that nearly made Starsky self-conscious. His own weary soul responded at once, returning the feelings in even greater measure, beginning to heal itself and the battered bond between them. It wasn't the end, he realized with some surprise, it was a new beginning.
"We've got a lot to talk about," Hutch quietly echoed his thoughts, his eyes not moving, not hiding anything.
Starsky nodded, reaching up a hand to cover the one that squeezed his shoulder. "Yeah." He looked out at the water one more time. The loss still ached and the changes would be hard, but he still had one solid constant in his life. He turned back to his friend and smiled. "Let's go home, huh?"
Written in 1997