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: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
The pain permeated every cell of his being, ice in his veins, fire in his stomach, wiping out everything else. Glass half-full or half-empty - did it matter? Either way, the glass was being drained.
"It hurts, Hutch. Oh God, it hurts." A plea to both.
One responded immediately. Invisible arms pulled him into an embrace, warming his body and his soul, dispersing some of the mists of pain. He slid down the step, allowing himself to be pressed closer, trying to hide himself in the safety and comfort. The warmth surrounded him, rocking him gently, daring anything to pass through it first before reaching him. For the moment, he rested, protected.
God also came through then; the pain eased off to where he could manage it again. Strengthened by the flow of love, he pulled himself away, ready to go on.
One arm remained around him, an unspoken promise, and a face flushed with worry studied him. "Are you okay?"
The question would've seemed trite to some; it was obvious he wasn't. But that wasn't what Hutch was asking. Can we keep going? Starsky nodded.
Hutch helped him upright, doing most of the work. He waited patiently for Starsky to find his balance, then slowly guided him back out to the car, this time not waiting to ask before settling his partner into the passenger seat. Starsky didn't protest. Hutch ran around to the other side and got in, casting a brief glance at the other before asking the hard question.
"What do we do next?"
There was no answer, no more leads to follow. Starsky sighed, deflating further.
Hutch immediately placed a hand on his leg, anchoring his friend. He wasn't about to let either of them give up. "Okay," he said softly. "Bellamy's out, Martini's out. Everyone's lookin' for Wedell -- he's gotta turn up soon. In the meantime, looks like we've got a little time on our hands." The irony of those words almost broke his composure, but he resolutely went on. "How 'bout we go back to your place, make some calls from there?" Huggy, miscellaneous snitches... Mrs. Starsky. For the first time, tears stung his eyes.
Starsky nodded without looking up: agreement and resignation. Time to tie up loose ends before it was too late, and say good-byes. And a few other things he wanted to say.
The trip back to Westchester took a little while in the afternoon traffic, but neither said a word. Hutch's hand didn't move the whole time. He found himself listening to the breathing of the man next to him, louder now with effort. He memorized every sound, every detail, every feeling of having this one person sitting next to him, being with him. While there was breath, there was life, and while there was life, there was hope. And while there was hope, Ken Hutchinson had purpose.
The Torino pulled up in front of Starsky's place, and Hutch once more hurried around to get the door. He received a quiet smile in return. Independence had taken a back seat to the luxury of contact and the need to conserve strength; they went up the stairs together.
Inside, Hutch led the way to the sofa, making sure Starsky was comfortable, helping him take his gun and holster off, fetching a blanket that he tucked around his partner. Starsky grinned up at him wryly. "I'm not dead yet, Hutch."
The attempt at levity as before suddenly fell flat now. Hutch froze for a moment, staring, then, to his dismay, unexpectedly blew up.
"Is that supposed to a be a joke, Starsky? Dear God, with twelve hours left to go..."
"Eleven," came the quiet correction.
Hutch's control slipped further. "Eleven," he choked. "And you're sitting there like an ass making jokes?! I don't believe you! How far do we have to go before you realize this could be it? Maybe our luck's run out this time..." He trailed off helplessly, anger extinguished by the hurt in the dark eyes that had nothing to do with physical pain.
"You think I'm having fun? I'm the one dying here, Hutch," Starsky retorted without thinking.
Nothing he said could've hurt worse. Starsky knew that as soon as the words left his mouth, knew all along that the only reason Hutch was acting like this was because he was even more scared of Starsky dying than Starsky was. But too little sleep and too much pain and fear had fogged his thinking. He flinched as his partner's face crumpled in complete misery, then turned away.
So little time left and all we can do is hurt each other! Hutch would need more if he was going to survive this. Starsky struggled to his feet, fighting light-headedness and nauseating pain before being able to step forward and turn the other toward him. Even so, the face remained averted. Starsky didn't need to see it, though, to know how badly his friend was hurting. His own pain forgotten in the other's needs, he became the comforter this time, drawing Hutch to him and down onto the couch, hugging him fiercely. The blond was limp in his arms, shoulders shaking silently. "Ah, Hutch," he sighed unsteadily, not knowing what else to say. When had it become more selfish for them to wish to be the one to go than the one left behind? In eleven hours, much as the thought scared him, it'd be over for him, one way or another. But he couldn't even imagine the hell that perhaps awaited Hutch. All he could do now was give as much as he could, and make it lasting.
The shock worked itself out. He could feel Hutch gain control again and knew that he'd stay together now and remain strong for Starsky until the end, however it would play out. But after that, there might not be anyone to hold Hutch. And that thought made Starsky cling all the tighter. All the words he'd been planning, the verbalizing of the love they'd always taken for granted, became unnecessary. This was all that mattered and this said it all.
Hutch's arms eventually stole around him, too, accepting and returning. Starsky smiled into the blond hair. He'd be okay now; both of them would.
Time passed, but Starsky didn't begrudge it. His stomach twisted several times again, but Hutch just hugged him harder. Otherwise, they sat silent and motionless, inadequate words left behind for truer communication.
Hutch finally, reluctantly pulled away, but his embarrassment melted at the look in Starsky's eyes; there was no time for barriers or holding back anymore. His own pain was eased, replaced with love and commitment. Me & Thee to the end. "Think you'd better call your mom now?" he said softly.
Starsky nodded silently, not taking his eyes off the blond while Hutch retrieved the phone for him, then moved a few steps away to give him privacy, trying to resist his overwhelming urge to climb the walls in the meantime. But he stayed close for Starsky to be able to feel the support of his presence.
The call drained Starsky emotionally beyond what his depleted system could handle. He hadn't wanted to tell his mother the whole truth, but Rachel Starsky was not a dumb woman and figured most of it out. Her tears and the distance between them was almost more than he'd been ready for.
Hutch suddenly appeared and sat down in front of him on the coffee table, no longer trying to keep space. He met Starsky's eyes and silently held them while his partner continued to stumble on, sharing strength and restoring Starsky's balance. The brunet watched him, eyes wide and unguarded, while struggling to calm himself and his mother. He was shaken but relieved when the conversation was finally over with his promise that they would call with any news. Starsky broke the connection and blinked a few times.
"If somethin' happens, you'll have t'..." he started in a low voice.
Starsky shuddered, leaning his head back against the sofa. "Oh, man, Hutch, I don't know if I can do this."
Hutch paused for a moment, thinking, then placed his hand on his friend's leg. "Look, you can't ever hide anything from your mom. They just know. But if you just call Nick and your aunt and uncle, it'll be easier, you don't havta tell them anything. And I think it would mean a lot to them if... something should happen," he added honestly. "I'll stay right here if you want."
Another long look passed silently and Starsky put a hand over the one on his thigh, trapping it there, then picked up the phone.
Fifteen minutes later, he hung it up again with a deep sigh. Hutch hadn't moved in all that time, but now stood and sat next to him, shoulder to shoulder. He finally broke the long silence. "Are you hungry? Can I fix ya anything?"
Starsky shook his head wearily, then suddenly grimaced, half-turning. Hutch recognized that look now and braced himself for another attack. Instead, Starsky began to cough, then gag. Alarmed, Hutch nevertheless went into first aid mode, hauling up his friend and half-dragging him to the bathroom, then supporting as the other heaved and vomited over and over again. This time, there were no simple reassurances, no promises he could make, save one. "I'm here, pal. I'm right here. I'm not leaving. Just take it easy and let me help."
Starsky caught a breath. "Oh, Hutch, it hurts," he groaned.
"I know," Hutch soothed, "I know. Just go with it, don't fight it. Hold on to me," he placed Starsky's clenched hand onto his own arm, where the white fingers uncurled long enough to grab onto him, digging painfully into his arm. "That's it, try to relax. It'll get better." The last was more a fervent wish.
The retching finally lessened to painful cramps once more. Starsky was drained, only half-aware of being turned so that his cheek rested against an arm that reached around him to keep him from falling on his face. Wetness on his face revived him a little. "Hutch?"
"Right here. I'm right here. Just rest for a minute."
Starsky was only happy to do that. Cool fingers brushed damp hair off his forehead, then rested for a moment against his cheek, checking the fever.
"You wanna get up?" The tenderness in the voice made him sigh. What're we gonna do without each other, Blintz? But he only nodded in response.
The trip back to the couch went easier than he expected, and by the time he sat, he was feeling steadier than before. Hutch nevertheless treated him as though he were made of china.
"Starsk, I think we should go back and see Cheryl again. She said she could give you something when it got bad," he sat down, watching Starsky.
The offer was tempting, but he wasn't quite ready to go back yet. It was only -he glanced at the clock - 6:30, and he didn't want to spend the rest of his precious time cooped up in the precinct lab. He shook his head. "Not yet," he said stubbornly.
"How about Huggy?" Hutch offered after a moment's pause.
Starsky glanced up hopefully. "You think...?"
"Worth a try. Few snitches I wanna call, too." He patted Starsky's knee gently. "You rest for a few minutes, partner. I'm right here if you need me."
The few minutes stretched into a half-an-hour. It was a relief for Hutch that there was something he could do to try to help besides helplessly watch his partner suffer. He tried every contact he knew, then went through Starsky's bunch. But Huggy hadn't turned up a thing and the street seemed totally dry; whoever had planned the hit had gone about it very quietly. Hutch finally gave up on the networks in frustration. If they were to find any answers, it would have to be through some old-fashioned policework. And a lot of help from above.
Starsky had been half-dozing while Hutch was on the phone but now roused himself, already knowing the result. One less option. They didn't discuss it; Starsky changed the subject instead. "Hutch, I wanna drive," he said suddenly.
Hutch started. "What? Where?"
"Anywhere. To the beach. I just wanna drive her one more time." He struggled to sit up straighter and look as though he was up to it.
He didn't fool his partner for a second. Hutch's eyes softened. "Starsk..."
"Please, Hutch, just a li'l bit."
The pleading was too much; there was nothing the blond could forbid him now. "All right," he sighed, "for a little bit. Around the neighborhood. Then I'll take us to the beach."
Starsky brightened. "'Kay," he smiled.
He rallied enough to make it out the door by himself, but would've tripped down the steps if not for his partner's steadying. Hutch's mouth pressed tighter but he didn't say anything. They made it to the car all right, the blond pausing to help the driver swing his legs into the car, then getting in himself.
He was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly the drive went. Starsky drove slowly, both in deference to his limitations and with an apparent desire to savor the pleasure. They circled the neighborhood for a while before Starsky turned back toward home without hesitation. He wasn't about to tell Hutch that his vision was beginning to blur a little.
Back at his place, he eased over and Hutch went around to trade places with him. Then they drove out to the beach, Hutch's hand once again resting on Starsky's shoulder, anxious to take advantage of every chance for contact.
They reached Venice quickly, but upon parking near the water facing the ocean, Starsky made no move to get out of the car. Hutch frowned and leaned closer to him. "Starsk? We're here. You want to go sit by the water?"
Starsky shook his head, face pinched. "Naw, just wanna sit here and watch. Y'mind?" He turned his face toward Hutch with difficulty, not surprised to see the sky blue eyes stormy. They both knew he wasn't telling just how badly he was hurting.
"No," Hutch said quietly. He turned back to the water.
After a minute, Starsky glanced at him shyly. "You want my car?" he whispered.
Hutch's heart broke. He closed his eyes and drew his eyebrows together as he tried to regain control. Finally able to look at Starsky again, he managed a bittersweet smile but could find no voice, only slowly shook his head no. Starsky nodded, mouth curving a little in response.
After a minute, his breathing quickened as he fought a new wave of pain. Without a word, Hutch slid over and drew his friend away from the door to lean against him, gently squeezing the fragile figure.
"Hutch..." The voice was barely a whisper.
"I know. Me too." The answer was almost as soft. All was said.
Together they watched the sun go down, then, in unspoken agreement, turned back toward Parker. They'd had their lifetime together. Now it was time to get to work and make sure all the finalities were completely unnecessary.
Hutch had never been so happy to be rolling a wheelchair before in his life. Only three days before, his whole future had been dim, given a 24-hour sentence. And he'd beaten the clock. It had been close, but the absolute beauty of those words, "I think your friend's going to make it," had kept him smiling ever since. They'd gotten it all back.
The recovery would take some time; Starsky stayed in the hospital for two days to make sure the poison was fully reversed and he was mending steadily, but Hutch had had no doubts after his partner had first woken up that early morning, confused but alive, and getting better. For a while, all they'd been able to do was hang on to each other and unsuccessfully try to hold back the tears. And no one had been able to get him to leave Starsky's side since then. Before, the closeness had been comfort and need; now, it was restoration and pleasure.
But getting Starsky out of there made his joy complete. His friend was still in some pain and drastically weakened, but he got better every day. And now they had all the time in the world.
Hutch wheeled the chair over to the Torino, unlocking the passenger door and helping his slowly-moving patient inside. He caught the glint of a smile in the dark eyes as he did, and returned it with a wide grin of his own.
They'd only been driving a few minutes when Starsky turned to him in surprise. "Where we goin'?"
Hutch's grin still hadn't faded. "You'll see."
Starsky frowned. "Hutch, I'm kinda tired..."
The blond glanced at him, sympathetic but asking for trust. "It won't take long, Starsk. I think you'll like this."
That answer Starsky couldn't argue. He nodded and settled back with a sigh to wait for his surprise.
He didn't raise an eyebrow when they got to Venice, but his lips began to curve as the Torino turned toward the beach. It'd grown into a contented smile by the time they pulled up near the ocean, much the same place they'd been only a little over two days before. Several lifetimes ago. He glanced at Hutch, who stopped the car and turned to look at him. "I like it," he said simply to the blond.
Hutch's smile was more serious now. "You wanna get out?"
The going was slow, but with Starsky leaning on his partner's arm, it went easily enough. He was nevertheless happy to finally drop down into the sand a hundred feet or so from the edge of the water. The blond sat down next to him, folding his long legs. Starsky leaned against him a little and together they watched the water.
A long time later, Starsky finally spoke up.
"I know. Me too."
Starsky smiled. Some things didn't change. Five words, five hours; it didn't make a difference. A lifetime in both. The rest would just be the icing.
With a deep sigh of contentment, he settled back to wait for the sunset.
Written in 1997