This story first appeared in the zine, The Scene Zine (1999). Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
Every Now and Then
K Hanna Korossy
...I get a little bit lonely and you're never comin' ' round...
"Starsky, where's your partner?"
Starsky stiffened at the question that the Captain was asking for--what, the third time now that day? It stood to reason that if anyone knew, it would be Starsky, but he didn't, and the captain's queries only rubbed in the reminder.
"I don't know, Cap'n, he still hasn't called in yet."
Dobey said nothing to that, only gave him a sympathetic, long look that said he understood far more than Starsky would've wanted him to. Well, so what? So what if Hutch had closed him completely out of this case? So what if his partner's involvement with the woman he was protecting, Marianne, was turning out to be more important than any other of his commitments, including that to his partner? So what if word out on the street was that Hutch's doggedness was making him some enemies, and it was dangerous for him to be out there, especially without backup?
So what if they were partners? Hutch couldn't seem to care less, why should Starsky?
Because, no matter what, you still care about him, the traitorous small voice whispered inside him. And, if you look past your hurt feelings, you know he loves you, too.
Starsky sighed, all his surface irritation draining away. That was true. It had been a rough year for his partner, and he'd known for some time now that Hutch was floundering. Starsky refused to believe that this phase was simply what their friendship had evolved into, that the change was a permanent next step for Hutch. Nor could he accept that something was bothering his partner that the blond was simply unwilling to share with him. Which left only...what?
Maybe that was the mystery they both had to solve. Well, hey, they were detectives...
Starsky stifled his amusement at the thought. No, this wasn't about work, about what was owed in a partnership, or even in a friendship. This was about Hutch hurting, and there was nothing Starsky wouldn't do to help his best friend. If only Hutch would check in, give the brunet something to work with...
He'd sat still for too long. If Hutch wouldn't come to him, he'd just have to go out and find his partner. Maybe Huggy would know something.
Starsky hurried through the squadroom door, leaving it swinging idly in his wake, unaware of the thoughtful eyes of his captain watching him as he left.
...I get a little bit tired of listenin' to the sound of my tears...
First Marianne, now Luke. And before them, Laura and Van and Gillian and Jack...all left. So many loved ones lost, dead or gone. He wiped at his damp face.
Good, Hutchinson. Have a few drinks and get all maudlin.
Hutch hadn't even realized before what his track record was beginning to look like, but Luke had made him start to think about it. If anything seemed solid in his life, it had been his former partner and mentor, the one who'd taught him not only everything about being a cop, but also about being a partner. Luke had been his role model.
An idol on a shaky pedestal. Only earlier that day, he'd fallen off into Hutch's arms, crying as if pieces of his broken heart were in every tear, his career and honor and future ruined. The thought of him sitting in jail at that very moment, waiting for an arraignment hearing, was almost more than Hutch could bear. . .
The tears were falling harder.
Luke's tarnished badge had hurt badly, like a wound that wouldn't stop bleeding, but really it had been only one of many injuries. So many losses... Starting with his older brother, dead too young, through his ex-wife, his high school best friend, his lover. All dead. And then there was Abby, attacked in his own home as twisted revenge against him, and Colby, his and Starsky's Academy buddy who'd betrayed them both. Not to mention all the times he'd nearly lost Starsky, too, to poison and bullets and kidnappers.
Hutch squeezed his eyes shut to try to stop the deluge.
Starsky. The one constant when everything else breezed into and crashed out of Hutch's life. The one person he'd loved who had never abandoned or turned against him. Did his partner have any idea how much he was responsible for Hutch's sanity in the past few years? Probably. Starsky always seemed to understand what was going on in Hutch's head before the blond even did.
Even between them, though, things had shifted in the past year. Walls that hadn't been there before were built by their pain: Hutch's building ache and cutting defensiveness as he tried to hide it, and Starsky's hurt at not being able to help. But how could Starsky help him when Hutch himself didn't know what was wrong?
Starsk, I don't know how much longer I can stand this.
The phone rang.
Hutch stared at it for a long moment, not certain whether there was anyone he wanted to talk to, then found that there was. One person.
He grabbed at it, suddenly worried it would stop ringing. "Starsky?"
"Yeah." No question how he knew. "Hutch, can I come over?"
Not too long ago, it would've been a statement, not a question, the answer already known. The soft request killed every protest and self-protective measure he usually retreated to. "Okay."
"Okay. I'll be there in a half-an-hour. Gonna pick up dinner on the way."
This time it hadn't been a question, and again Hutch didn't wonder how his partner knew he'd not eaten even though it was--he craned his head back to look at the clock--nearly eleven. "All right," was all he said.
A moment's silence, as if Starsky wanted to ask something. Finally, just, "See ya," and the phone clicked.
Hutch put it down gently.
There'd be no progress that night, he knew it and probably Starsky did, too. They'd skirt the issue; Starsky would probe carefully and Hutch would avoid the questions, not having any answers. The problem wasn't just Luke or his past losses, he knew that, but something so much deeper, and Hutch wasn't sure he could dig that far down without damaging something of the little that was still intact in his life. And so they'd solve nothing.
But it would be getting through another night. And with Starsky there, it would be less painful. Lately, that had been the best he could hope for.
The tears had stopped, and Hutch pulled himself out of his chair to go wash his face before Starsky got there.
...I get a little bit nervous that the best of all the years have gone by...
They had learned where Starsky's brother was being held, now all Starsky prayed for was that they'd get there in time, before Stryker and his men killed Nicky.
"He'll be all right as long as they need him for insurance," came Hutch's quiet voice from the passenger seat.
Starsky made a vicious right turn, then risked a glance at his partner. "Yeah, but how long's that?"
"They just got the full set of plates they needed. It's going to take them a while to print the money."
That, too, was logical, but Starsky's heart wasn't trusting logic right now. "He could be dead already. Maybe they just want us to think he's still alive--"
"Starsk," Hutch's voice had become even more soft, "they'd be pretty dumb to do that after taking the trouble to send you the tape of Nicky and warn you off. They have to keep him around until they're done, in case they need him."
He must have sounded as scared as he felt because a hand curled around his shoulder and stayed there, even as he made another sharp turn. Always knowing what he needed and giving it without hesitation, even when Hutch himself needed.
They were almost there. Starsky was silent for a moment, thinking. Hutch was probably right, and more than anything he wanted to believe him, but..."Hutch, Nicky left mad at me," he said helplessly. "I haven't even seen him in four years, and he's changed a lot since then. What if. . ."
The hand squeezed once. "He knows how you feel," Hutch said gently.
Suddenly, it wasn't just Nicky they were talking about, Starsky realized, but he couldn't stop to consider that because they were pulling up to the print shop, several other black-and-whites behind him, and he had to turn his concentration now to finding Nicky and getting him out safely. But he turned back to his partner for a brief moment as the blond's hand slid away to check his gun.
Hutch paused, looking up at him curiously.
A warm smile lit the blue eyes for a second. Amazing, despite all the changes, so many of them painful, some of them perhaps permanent, maybe the most important stuff hadn't changed at all. Regardless of his own demons, Hutch was still there for him, and Starsky was determined to do the same.
Then it was time, and they both jumped out of the car to go to the rescue.
...I get a little bit terrified, and then I see the look in your eyes...
Even to his confused and adrift mind, the sense of being in a hospital was clear. The smell penetrated first, already causing a reflexive reaction of fear and disgust. Then the noise of too many machines hissing and beeping and dripping, each extra sound a more dire prediction of the seriousness of his injury. The taste was like someone had coated his mouth with foul sawdust, the inevitable sign of post-surgery. And he could feel nothing except the ache that pressed against his chest from the inside. Yet another bad omen. Only sight seemed to refuse to cooperate. Hutch's fear was rapidly turning into terror, threatening to choke him.
What happened? His mouth tried futilely to form the words.
"Shhh," came from somewhere around him.
Confused, he tried to locate the voice. Something cool cradled his cheek, and the lone memory clarified of awakening earlier to that same voice and touch on his cheek, his forehead, his hand. He didn't think he'd stayed aware long enough then to figure it out, but he grew more agitated now at the not knowing.
"Hutch, it's okay. It's me, it's Starsky. Take it easy."
The tightness in his chest eased at the soothing words and the flood of automatic reassurance that name brought. Starsky. Thank God. What's going on?
The hand moved down to his, locating it for him, and pressed lightly. "You're in the hospital, remember? That kid shot ya during the robbery. But you're gonna be all right."
Vague memories of a young girl with wide eyes pointing a gun...then nothing after that except for snatches of Starsky-touch and words and worry.
He needed to see. With an amazing amount of concentration, he finally got his eyes to cooperate enough for a hazy view of white...and Starsky bending over him. The brunet smiled for his sake, but it was a gentle, comforting smile, not the enthusiastic one Hutch had somehow expected. Too close, huh?
The lines of strain in his partner's face and the worry that blurred his eyes did what no words or other reassurance could've done, unexpectedly driving the last of the terror away. Seeing how much he meant to the other, and thus needing to be there for Starsky had always helped keep his own demons at bay. It worked the same way in reverse, too. Death no longer scared him nearly as much as Starsky dying...or hurting.
He willingly gave his last bit of energy for a weak return squeeze of the hand and a brief smile. It had the instant desired effect on his partner's expression, and contentedly Hutch sank back to sleep. There would be time for more details later, and a return to the flippancy that saw them through countless crises, but for now, Starsky was there, they were together, and Hutch's fear was gone, replaced by a far better emotion.
It wouldn't have surprised him at all to know that it was another half-hour before Starsky let go of his hand.
...I get a little bit restless and I dream of something wild...
Hutch wasn't sure what illness he had that had struck so violently and quickly, but he didn't need to know to be sure that he was dying.
Actually, he had his suspicions. Vision problems, cramps, headache, sweating, difficulty breathing: it was a classic list of symptoms for botulism. His mind wasn't sharp enough to follow that amateur diagnosis back to where he'd contracted it, but if he was right, death was almost certain. And even if he wasn't, he knew that whatever it was was fatal. He'd felt the same surety in the hospital as he'd wasted away with the plague, which by all rights should have killed him if not for his very stubborn partner.
Ironic, that he would then die a year later from another illness, this one so treatable. With the plague, it had been the cure they'd needed to find. Now, it was the patient that was missing. The thought made Hutch laugh weakly, until the tightness in his chest turned it into a sapping cough.
What had they been thinking? Already, their foolish game of hide-and-seek seemed so ridiculous, childlike. Hutch hiding for a weekend, in disguise, in the worst parts of the city, while Starsky sought him--why? Had his intention truly been to prove to Starsky that he was smarter than the brunet? Had proving some now-unimportant point been worth all the silly disguises and immersing himself in the slums? Let alone death?
The tightness crawled up his throat again, and Hutch tried to cough to clear it, only succeeding in making it even harder to breathe. He struggled to somehow lift himself into a more comfortable position against the wall that held him up, but he didn't have the strength to do it. The attempted movement only set off another bout of weak coughing, robbing him of precious oxygen.
The angry hiss from by the window reminded him that he was not alone. He was still technically a hostage, although Hutch couldn't care less about Pardee. What did it matter, being held at gunpoint by the dangerous felon, if he was going to die soon, anyway? Hutch ignored him, coughing again to try to make it easier to breathe.
Pardee was one more part of the strange puzzle, though. Yet another thing Hutch had foolishly set out to prove, even though by then he was already ill and knew something was wrong. Why had catching the felon all by himself been so important? Was he really that desperate to prove himself?
Despite Starsky's teasing, though, and his genuine ire at the blond for having lost Pardee earlier, Hutch knew that Starsky's trust and belief hadn't lessened. He should've remembered that earlier that day in the hospital. Drawn by the news that Starsky had been shot, he'd found out that it was only an elaborate act to pull him in and that Starsky was just fine. And amidst his dazed relief, he'd never stopped to consider that something had to be wrong for Starsky to go to those lengths to find him, that it wasn't just part of the game. For Hutch, the hunt had become an at-all-costs affair, and dirty tricks were to be expected. That Starsky didn't usually pull cruel stunts like that or that their stupid game wasn't worth such anguish and trouble had never entered his mind.
It was a question he couldn't answer. And no matter what the reason, their foolishness--his foolishness--would soon cost them dearly.
Well, you proved yourself all right, Hutchinson. Proved that winning was more important than anything. Even your life. Even Starsky.
His stomach seized in a suffocating cramp, and Hutch suspected its cause wasn't wholly physical. It reminded him of something, and it took a minute to track down the memory. An empty alley, his vision just as blurred and his stomach as determined to turn itself inside out as he descended into the hell of forced heroin withdrawal. And then Starsky arriving, pulling him into his lap, rubbing his back, promising that he was no longer alone, that he was safe and cared for. And, above all, that he was loved, despite his wretched state.
The sudden yearning for such care was almost worse than his pain. With the clarity of the dying, he saw now that maybe that was part of his answer. The game hadn't been just about who was smarter or a better cop; that much had been clear from almost the beginning. They were both good at their job, and their partnership had been one of equality from the start. But maybe it had something to do with proving his abilities to himself, his reasons for becoming a cop, his interest in remaining one. To Starsky, too, but most of all to himself.
And if proof that what they had was worth Starsky going through hell-and-high water to find him, the further demonstration that their relationship still deserved that kind of commitment, helped refill his empty heart, perhaps that was a side-benefit he hadn't even consciously been looking for. Starsky had never been shy with demonstrating his affection, but something in Hutch needed more right now, and yet had a harder time accepting than ever before. One more thing he'd have to sort out with the brunet.
His middle twisted viciously, and with a groan he curled onto his side in an agony of retching. Starsk, I need you...
And then the pain shredded even that last coherent thought.
...I get a little bit helpless and I'm lyin' like a child in your arms...
Starsky felt so tired.
The fatigue was partly due to the last several nights spent playing bodyguard to Monique, following the young woman around to various disco joints while he kept an eye out for the nut who was killing all her one-night stands. And the drug she'd slipped him only that night was undoubtedly also part of it, making him clumsy and confused. The world kept going in and out of focus as he stared at the cuffed woman, still unable to process that it had been Monique's split personality that had killed those men. And would've killed him, if Hutch hadn't have ridden to the last-minute rescue yet again. His partner's steadying arm around his shoulders was the one reality that didn't seem to be wavering.
He slumped against the blond, his body and mind too tired to function anymore. Hutch, I wanna go home.
Hutch reacted at once as if he'd heard. Giving Starsky's shoulders a quick squeeze, he whispered, "I'm gonna go call for help." Then he slowly extracted himself and pulled away.
Starsky moved with him, toppling over bonelessly without the support.
"Whoa!" came the soft exclamation, and a jolt as Hutch caught him, rebalanced him.
Starsky momentarily forgot Monique, the case, even his fatigue, burying his face in his partner's jacket. For once, the physical dependence didn't bother him. It felt nice, to be temporarily looked after, to have someone else making all the decisions and doing all the worrying. It felt like old times, that kind of care.
A so-familiar hand rubbed his back for a minute, then slipped back around his shoulders. "Okay, partner, we'll go together. C'mon, I'll help."
Starsky let himself be hoisted to his feet, pressing his closed eyes more tightly against his friend's chest as the dizziness threatened to spin him off his feet. He wanted nothing more than to get out of there, to get away from the crying woman he pitied when it would've been easier to hate her. Her misery added to his confusion and emptiness. Don't feel s'good, Hutch...
"It's okay, Starsk. Everything's gonna be fine." Hutch's gentle voice drew his attention, bracing his wandering thoughts just as the arms around him supported his uncooperative body. "Can you try to walk a little for me?"
He had no clue if he was moving or not, reality becoming increasingly shaky in the synaesthesia the drug caused. Hutch's voice and touch, already a part of him instead of the outside world, remained his only solid guide.
Starsky couldn't hear Monique anymore, and suddenly the movement was changing. "Here, Starsk, we're here. First we'll getcha lying down and then I'll call for backup. Easy, partner. You're safe now."
He knew that already; Hutch was there. It took considerable more thought to process that he was lying down now, and he was about to protest the departure of his partner when Hutch was suddenly close again and a large hand was rubbing his arm and back in broad, soothing strokes. His last bit of tension drained away into the muddle, to be sorted out later.
"Try not to go to sleep, Starsky. I don't know what she gave you and I need to know you're with me here, partner. Relax, but try to stay awake; listen to my voice."
'Course I'm with you; where else would I be? He'd certainly never leave by choice. He listened passively to the sound of Hutch's voice as his partner called in for help, then began talking to Starsky again, still stroking as he spoke. His words were all muffled now, incomprehensible to Starsky, but their meaning was clear enough.
Starsky had missed that lately, the affection that had always been in the background before, but that was sparse and difficult lately. Not that it had ever gone--it couldn't return so quickly and naturally when needed if it had. But something had been blocking a lot of it lately. Perhaps he'd not reacted to it as dramatically as his partner had, but he'd felt the drag of the last year and the toll it had taken on them. He wondered idly if Hutch had noticed the changes, too, then caught the thread of sorrow in the other's voice, and knew.
They'd have to work it out in the future, because this was too important to lose. The simple touch, the reaffirmation of their relationship and priorities. Feels good...why don't we show it anymore except when the weirdos and near-misses make us?
Good question. He'd find a good answer later. But for now, he was just content to lie there, helpless, and take. Missed you, partner.
The quick ruffle of his hair told him that Hutch knew exactly why he was smiling.
...I get a little bit angry and I know I've got to get out and cry...
The first snatches of birdsong alerted him that it was morning, and he slipped outdoors to meet it.
Hutch almost wished he was in Venice, where he could've gone out on the beach to watch the sun come up over the city. Once upon a time, he used to be out at dawn, jogging, taking a walk on the beach, just enjoying life. Once upon a time, he'd been an early riser who enjoyed the peace of nature as it was just waking up.
But no, he was at Starsky's now, and once upon a times were far, far behind him.
With a sigh, Hutch eased the door shut behind him and wearily sat on the top porch step. The sky was just beginning to lighten in the east, in soft pinks and yellows, while that persistent bird sang in the tree next to him. Life went on. So, he thought, dropping his head into his hands, when did it leave me behind?
He still couldn't understand the events of the past few days, his actions unfamiliar, like that of a stranger's. Going behind Starsky's back had been wrong enough. But to do it with the woman Starsky loved, really loved, seemed inconceivable now. Especially when, with hindsight, he knew he'd never really felt anything for her, certainly not like Starsky had.
It hadn't just been physical pleasure, he could at least reassure himself of that. She'd said she wanted him, loved him, and that was more than he could resist. She'd made him temporarily forget his emptiness. And Starsky. The blond scowled silently at himself. How could he have forgotten Starsky? It was almost as if he'd wanted to. . .
Hutch had no desire to follow that thought.
The door creaked behind him, and he felt the object of his thoughts stumble out the door, still drowsy, and plop down on the step next to him, also looking out into the empty street.
For a long minute there was silence between them, Starsky's casual, Hutch's tense.
"Did you get any sleep?" The tone was mild, almost amiable.
"No." It came out more hoarsely than he intended, but Starsky gave no reaction.
Another set of seconds ticked by.
Eyes too deep to see in the dimness finally turned to study him. "It's over, isn't it?"
The words dropped like lead in his soul and he couldn't find the breath to answer. Over? Ten years of friendship over because of one mistake? Or had it just been one mistake? The whole mess with Kira hadn't been without catalyst.
Something of his thoughts must have shown, for suddenly Starsky leaned forward, his grip on Hutch's shoulder painful. "Not us, Hutch. I didn't mean that. I was talkin' about Kira."
Hutch swallowed thickly, barely comforted. "I don't care if I never see that...again in my life."
Starsky's hand spasmed for a moment, then he nodded and let go.
Still hurting you. Even after it's over, I can't seem to stop hurting you. Hutch squeezed his eyes shut. After Starsky had...hit him the day before, Hutch had ended up at his partner's house, so desperate to try to fix things between them that he couldn't think of going anywhere else. Starsky had forgiven him, and after they'd confronted Kira, they'd spent a night getting drunk together, rebuilding, tearing down some walls. Fixing things. There was no anger left between them now.
And yet rage filled Hutch to the brim, threatening to overflow into tears. At Kira for so easily driving a wedge between him and what he most held dear. At God for all the pain of the last year, all the losses. And most of all, at himself, not only for being so unable to help himself, but for also dragging Starsky down with him.
He hadn't even realized that the wetness splashing onto his hands was coming from him until Starsky mournfully whispered, "Aw, Hutch," and an arm around his shoulders coaxed him closer. Too tired to fight it, he went, resting his head on Starsky's nearest shoulder, and wept out his anger.
"You gotta forgive yourself, babe," Starsky continued softly. "We're never gonna fix what's wrong if you don't."
Hutch only shook harder. The house of cards had all come tumbling down, and he didn't have anything left to pretend.
"Kira..." Starsky swallowed heavily. "Kira knew what she was doin', too. She knew which one of us wanted to believe her and which needed to. You know, you coulda found an easier way to get my attention--" His voice was almost amused, but when Hutch tried to sputter a reply, he just pulled the blond closer to him and soberly hurried on. "--But it's over now. And, Hutch, if this is what it took to get you to talk to me, it was worth it."
Hutch didn't think he had any pieces of his heart left big enough to break, but he did.
But Starsky wouldn't let him curl up into himself. "I swear, Blintz, if that's one more thing you wanna feel guilty about, forget it. I'm not lettin' you." His sternness softened, and he reached around with his free hand to stroke the blond hair. "I mean it, Hutch," he said quietly. "The guilt trips end right here. I know it's been a hard year for you; heck, I watched you getting more and more bent over every day. I wanted to help you so bad, but you weren't ready. Hey, I can understand that. I wasn't ready to listen to you about Emily when you were dyin' to help me. And I don't think you even understood what you were feelin'.
"But that's finished now, partner. The next Kira's gonna do a lot more damage if we don't figure this out. So no more runnin' away, no more dealing with this by yourself, no more anger and guilt and hurtin', okay? I know that seems like a lot, but we'll just take it one thing at a time. Me & thee, right?" He shook Hutch a little.
"Starsk, I can't--" Hutch choked out.
"I know. But you're not gonna be doin' it alone anymore. Okay?" Another stern shake.
Hutch nodded mutely, still not wholly convinced.
Starsky's voice became as gentle as his caress. "Hey, this isn't just about me helpin' you, you know. I need this, too, Hutch, as much as you do. I can't do it alone anymore, either."
Hutch thought about that for a long minute, still now except for the occasional tremors of reaction. He'd started out with the kind of tears that drain emotion and leave the heart empty, but they'd turned into cleansing tears, and he wasn't empty now. Tired, yes, but there was light ahead that he hadn't seen before. Was it really possible to work out over a year's worth of accumulated oppression?
Then again, had anything ever been impossible for the two of them, together?
For both their sakes, and if he had the chance to give as much as he needed to receive, maybe they could do it. And with Starsky so determined, Hutch couldn't doubt it.
"Okay," he whispered.
Starsky's embrace became nearly crushing, then he pulled back to look at Hutch. "I think we'd better start when you can keep your eyes open, though, huh?" he said with a small grin. "What'd you do, stay up drinking all night?"
"I was watching you," Hutch answered without embarrassment. It had done him good, to see the face that his own actions had twisted with pain earlier, smoothed and peaceful with sleep.
Starsky colored a little, but his eyes were bright with affection. "Okay, so it's my turn. I don't think I ever made it to the bed--"
"Well, at least it's all made up for you then. We'll talk after you get up."
Starsky snorted, then helped him get up and into the house, not letting go until Hutch was curled up in bed, watching Starsky through half-open eyes. "I'm gonna talk to Dobey, then I'm gonna run out to the store so I can fix us a decent meal when you get up. You look like you haven't eaten for days, Hutch. You'll see how much better you feel after that."
Hutch didn't need to tell him how much better he felt already, but guilt--well, concern--twinged again. "What about you?"
Starsky smiled softly at him. "I'm okay. I started feelin' better when you came after me yesterday." He rested his hand once more on the blond hair. "Go t'sleep, partner. I'll be here when you get up." A final pat, and he stood and left the room, leaving the door open behind him.
Outside, more morning birds joined the dawn chorus, and the first rays of the sun reached the bedroom window. And with a lightened spirit and a profound sense of new beginnings, Hutch turned over and went to sleep.
...I get a little bit terrified, but then I see the look in your eyes...
He had a feeling they'd told him several times before, but his brain hadn't been able to hold the thought before now.
Three slugs to the chest, major surgery, cardiac arrest. "Prognosis is good"--what does that mean? Gonna make it just t'be an invalid all my life?
If Starsky would've had the strength to scream, or throw something, or pace, he would have. Instead, he was trapped with his terror inside a damaged body, perhaps for the rest of his life.
I'm gonna be sick. Please...
The door swung open a little bit, and Starsky grabbed at the distraction, making an effort to see who it was. Even a nurse would take his mind off of his spiraling desperation, if only for a minute.
A thatch of blond hair poked in, followed by the rest of his partner. At seeing Starsky awake, his whole face lit into a smile, the blue eyes fairly glowing with delight. Starsky could vaguely remember seeing that same utter delight during his earlier brief awakenings, but for now all he could think about was the tide of relief at Hutch's arrival. The internal scream wound down a little bit, waiting.
"Starsky." Such a warm rush of love in that one word. "You're awake!" Another stirring of déja vu at that, but Starsky couldn't place it. The blond came closer, gingerly leaning against the edge of the bed. "Huggy brought me by earlier, but you slept through that. It's so good..." The cheerful words and expression seemed to falter a little. Then, to Starsky's dismay, the blond's eyes filled.
Oh, God, it's true. The scream heaved against his chest, pressing the air from him, trying to get out.
"Starsk," Hutch's soft voice reclaimed his distracted mind. "I was so...Everyone was so sure..."
Wait, he was missing something. Starsky frowned, trying to clear the fog of drugs and fear away enough to understand the rest of the half-finished sentences, but his mind couldn't put two rational thoughts of his own together, let alone his partner's. He finally gave up on that, and instead tried to coax his hand into moving. That was too big an endeavor all at once, he soon discovered, but one finger at a time was willing to listen to him.
The movement caught Hutch's eye as he hoped it would, and he watched in confusion as his partner hesitated, then reached out too slowly. But Starsky's eyes shut in relief as that familiar touch gently enveloped his hand, grasping it lightly as if it were as fragile as the rest of him. None of his snatches of memories from before contained that touch, but as much as he craved the contact, its tentativeness added to his fear.
Please, just tell me. I can't stand this anymore.
"Starsky, I thought...the last year was so hard, I didn't think it could get any worse." Hutch's voice was hoarse with emotion, but Starsky didn't want to open his eyes to see if the blond was crying. He couldn't bear knowing. "But then I saw you lying there on the ground and...and it was so much worse than I could imagine. When you woke up again..." His voice trembled. "God, I am so grateful." A second hand joined the first in clasping Starsky's cold fingers.
Starsky was still struggling to understand. Grateful? The fear in him hesitated, uncertain.
"Starsk?" Concern now.
Grateful for what? Starsky made his heavy eyes open again, needing to see the other's face and expression. The blue eyes that watched Starsky burned with as intense a joy and relief as Starsky had ever seen in his partner. The lines of strain were all there, as well as new ones, but they did nothing to diminish the contentment that seeped out of his partner's every movement and glance. Starsky stared in amazement at his transformed friend. He'd almost forgotten what a really-at-peace Hutch looked like, but the return of his old friend made his own eyes burn. Was it possible that Hutch had finally truly found his way again? Did Starsky mean that much to the blond?
Hutch leaned close, freeing one hand to pull up a corner of the blanket, brush away a curl. "You're gonna be fine, Starsk. The doctor's really encouraging, says you should be able to get back on duty if you're willing to work at it. And I'll be here. My turn to look after you, partner." He pressed Starsky's warmed fingers with greater confidence.
That answered his questions, but Starsky found he hadn't needed the answers as much as he thought, after all. Seeing Hutch's gratitude had killed his own fears. Whatever ended up happening, they could manage it from here. Look after me--sounds good. I think I could use a little of that, least 'til I get back on my feet. Probably good for you, too.
His eyes shut of their own accord, the vanished fear leaving him exhausted. But before it carried him off into dreamless sleep, he found the strength to murmur an answer, and feel Hutch's resulting squeeze.
I really need you tonight, forever's gonna start tonight,
Forever's gonna start tonight.
Lyrics from: Total Eclipse of the Heart
Written by Jim Steinman
Written in 1998