This story first appeared in the zine, Remote Control #16 (2001). These zines can be obtained by contacting the editor at: http://www.thewateringhole.com/kathy.html Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
For All One's Worth
K Hanna Korossy
"Component part...total minus...annual deductible...." Starsky's murmuring voice was the first thing Hutch heard as he let himself into the apartment. After two unanswered knocks, it was more curiosity than worry that finally led him to use his spare key to silently get inside, ready to leave just as quietly if Starsky was...entertaining. The words he heard didn't sound like company, though, and Hutch came closer, frowning, to see what was going on.
The sight of his partner hunched over a desk with papers everywhere was a familiar one at the office, but not in Starsky's bedroom. He seemed to be very involved in whatever it was, and Hutch debated leaving him alone once more, but inquisitiveness and the desire to perhaps help won out. "What are you doing?" he asked cheerfully.
Starsky jumped. "Don't do that," he grumbled, glancing up with a grimace before returning to his paperwork. "I'm tryin' to figure out my insurance stuff."
"Oh," Hutch nodded. He'd guessed as much. But for all they'd had to deal with insurance companies in their line of work, he doubted he'd ever had as much problem with his own as Starsky seemed to be having. He shrugged out of his jacket. "Can I help?"
Starsky looked up at him, this time with deliberation. "You any good at this junk?"
"Some. I've done enough of it."
The little-kid grin appeared, apparently at the prospect of getting out of the work, and Hutch abruptly wondered if he'd been had. "Be my guest," his partner generously waved at the mass of papers.
Sighing with not-so-reluctant resignation, Hutch pushed up his sleeves and dove in.
Starsky watched him for a while, then wandered off to do other things, coming back occasionally to peer over Hutch's shoulder and check on things. When he asked questions, though, Hutch's attempts to explain what he was doing were met with blank stares and the blond finally gave up and ignored his partner, concentrating on the figures. It was a mess, but it was the kind of challenge he liked and had a knack for, and he found himself making good progress.
Nearly an hour-and-a-half later, he filed the last paper away and stretched. Starsky appeared again. "Well," Hutch said slowly, "It's actually in pretty good shape. You've met your deductible already, so they're paying most of the bills, and your secondary covers the rest. You're just behind one deductible payment and then you won't have to worry about anything else; the companies take care of the paperwork themselves." He held up a slip. "That's what you owe."
Starsky's eyes went round. "That's it?" he squeaked. "I thought I was gonna have to hock somethin' to pay my bills." He peered at Hutch suspiciously. "You sure you did that right?"
Hutch laughed. "Yeah, dummy, of course I'm sure. It wasn't that hard, you just had some of the figures mixed up."
Starsky blinked at him, an odd expression on his face that confused Hutch for a moment. Then he smiled at the blond, turning back toward the kitchen. "Well, thanks," he called over his shoulder. "I owe you dinner for that, at least. You okay with pizza?"
"Is pizza all I deserve for pulling you out of bankruptcy?" Hutch chided as he stood to follow, shrugging off the observation.
Starsky paused in front of him as if considering that answer, and Hutch frowned again at the sudden shift of mood he somehow felt and didn't understand. Then it was gone just as quickly. "Okay, we can go out someplace fancier." Starsky turned back toward him.
"Pizza's fine, Starsk," Hutch assured. "I'm kinda beat, anyway."
Starsky nodded, moved to the phone to call in an order. By the time he was done, Hutch was settled on the living room sofa, reading a magazine.
"Where'd you learn all that stuff?" The voice came unexpectedly from the kitchen.
"What?" Hutch looked up, trying to place the question.
"The insurance stuff. Why's it so easy, where'd you learn that?"
"Uh." Hutch paused, contemplating. "Well, I was always good at math in college, and a lot of it just makes sense to me. I guess it helps that I took some accounting classes, too. I don't know," he shrugged. "It's not that hard."
Hutch sat and stared at the kitchen, feeling like he was missing something that was going on. With Starsky, that was a rare and unpleasant feeling. He rose to go into the room as the doorbell rang, and he altered his course instead to go the door. The pizza had arrived. Making a face at his partner's timely absence, Hutch dug out some money to cover it and took the large box into the kitchen.
"Pizza's here," he slid the hot food onto the table. Hutch got out beers from the refrigerator and joined Starsky at the counter in retrieving paper plates and napkins.
"Wanna watch a movie?"
Hutch shook his head with a smile. "Creature feature again, Starsk? Don't you ever get tired of that junk? Rots the brain."
Dark blue eyes flashed up to meet his for a moment, then slid away again just as quickly. Hutch found himself standing frozen as he tried to decipher the feelings he'd just seen in Starsky's expression. Puzzlement? Or even hurt? He watched Starsky sit down and get out a slice of pizza as if nothing had happened. Hutch finally moved, stiffly heading over to the opposite side of the small table and sitting down. He didn't seem so hungry suddenly, but he reached for some pizza anyway.
He was extremely tempted to ask, to push until he found out what was going on. Something was bothering Starsky, that much was certain, and Hutch had a sinking feeling it had to do with him. But his partner, straightforward thinking as he was, did not respond well to direct inquiry when on the defensive, usually getting either evasive or hostile. His youth had taught him well to hide insecurities, and while the rules were different with Hutch, the blond still had to be patient to get his partner to talk to him.
Then again, he supposed the same could be said for him. Maybe it was one of the reasons they were stuck with each other.
The dinner went mercifully smoothly. Starsky wasn't brooding, to Hutch's relief, and the small talk was comfortable and familiar. Hutch could almost believe that nothing was wrong, except there was a hint of something in Starsky's speech and expression that he couldn't quite place, something hesitant. Unnoticeable probably to anyone but him, but he knew.
They both cleaned up the leftovers and
boxes after eating and were doing the few dishes when Hutch spoke up. "So,
you were saying something about a movie?"
That earned him a surprised, sideways glance. "Thought you said they 'rot your brain'?" was the cautious response.
It couldn't be that simple, could it? Hutch wondered. "That's okay, being around you always has that effect on me," he teased encouragingly.
That didn't get the desired response. Hutch could see the shoulders next to him visibly slump, as if in dejection. He stared at his partner. It was him, something he was doing that was digging them both in deeper. Hutch's jaw set. Enough was enough.
"Starsky, what's going on?"
His partner half-turned and smiled an almost genuine smile at him. "Nothin'. What do you mean?"
At least he wasn't mad. Hutch wasn't sure if that was good or not. Probably not. Hutch automatically accepted the outstretched glasses and dried them without thought. "C'mon," he coaxed. "What's bothering you?"
Starsky shook his head. "'M fine. Leave it alone."
Hutch set a glass down with more force than he meant to. "I don't want to leave it alone, not when something's wrong. Did I-"
The dark curls shook vehemently. "'S not you." The answer was reluctant.
Hutch forced himself to keep his voice even. "Then what?" A pause. "Starsk, talk to me."
Starsky looked up at him again, almost pleadingly. "Forget it, Hutch, really. Please just...leave it." He dried his hands in one quick motion and hurried out of the kitchen into the living room.
Hutch followed him, watching as Starsky flopped onto the couch and reached for the remote. Long fingers closed over his hand before he could turn the TV on. Starsky looked up into the searching eyes.
"You're pushing it, Hutchinson." The voice was low and even.
Truth or consequence. Starsky was his best friend, already as closer to him than Hutch had figured anyone could get, and in some ways they were still just getting started. They'd been friends for some time but only been partnered a year, and they were both still learning. But there was an utter sureness about their friendship, a bedrock that only death or betrayal could break, and even then Hutch wasn't sure. There were just a few, steadily decreasing amount of things left that he was not yet completely sure about. Like sometimes when to push and when to give.
But this was Starsky. Needing. Right or wrong, that was something Hutch couldn't ignore.
He gently pulled the remote away, not surprised to find Starsky didn't fight him. You're not really mad, are you. "Starsky," was all he said, softly.
The defiance faltered and fell away. "It's stupid," the quiet voice mumbled, abashed.
"Hey," Hutch said softly. He waited until the other looked up at him. "So? This is me. Tell me anyway."
That seemed to do it. Starsky made a face and spoke with defeat. "It's just... I'm not as smart as you are. I didn't go t'college or learn all that stuff you did or know where some African country is or who some famous guy was. I can't do a lot of math besides adding and subtracting. I mean," he stared at Hutch, eyes filled with embarrassment, "it's gotta bother you, being stuck with such a dummy. I won't even be able to take the lieutenant's test with you. What kind of a partner..." The rest seemed lost in a mortified mumble.
Hutch stared back at him, appalled. His gentle teasing from earlier came back to haunt him, along with several comments he'd made during their most recent investigation. He cringed; he'd had no idea... "Starsky--"
"It's okay...leave it alone, huh?" Starsky pushed himself up. "I shouldn't 'a said anything, I'm sorry."
Hutch's hand shot out without thinking, grabbing onto Starsky with an steel grip. "It is not okay. Sit down," he said firmly, knowing how the command would sound to the other in his present state of mind but not caring. Some things were more important.
Starsky sat, surprised and tense.
"Starsky...." Hutch shook his head, not sure how to begin. "I don't know.... How do I tell you..." He swallowed. "I guess I don't really tell you, never felt I needed to, but Starsk, I have never, ever looked down on you at all. I swear. You may not have a piece of paper from a college stuck away in some drawer, but you know more about life and the streets and detective work than I ever will. Even those stupid trivia facts. You're always comin' up with stuff I'd never even heard of before." He ventured a small smile.
Starsky opened his mouth, then closed it. Hutch sobered again.
"Starsk, just because you learned different things than I did, in different places, doesn't make them any less valid. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who was in Vietnam already got a full education, plus what you learned from the streets.... You've got incredible instincts for the job, and you always know what to say to me, even when I don't know what's wrong with me. You'd also put any psychologist to shame with how you handle people on the streets. Why do you think I stand back and let you take over so often? You make me proud every time, partner."
"Proud," Starsky snorted in disbelief.
"Yes, proud," Hutch pressed. "What's wrong with that?"
Starsky was slowly shaking his head as if he didn't or couldn't believe. His partner always had such natural belief in self, Hutch thought numbly, had he really so undermined that with his unthinking comments? How could he even begin to convey to Starsky all the things that he admired about him, the things Hutch wished he himself had: that eternal optimism, the ability to bounce back from whatever life threw at him, the unique ability to understand and deal with people on their level. And the kindest, most selfless, caring heart Hutch had ever known. He shouldn't have had the power to change that.
But maybe he did, just as Starsky could cheer turn Hutch's whole day around with a grin and a dumb joke.
Dumb--I use that word pretty freely. He didn't even think about that. Then again, he didn't have to keep proving himself every day, his background and breeding speaking for itself, unlike with his New York-accented partner. It had never seemed to bother Starsky in their work; people underestimating the brunet even worked for them sometimes. But if he thought his own partner looked down on him....
Hutch swallowed. Who was the dumb one now?
Out loud, he said, "You're one of the wisest people I've ever known. I didn't mean to--" Didn't mean to? The idea had never even crossed his mind. His voice fell. "I'm sorry. I'll w-watch what I say, I promise." His tongue tripped over itself in his unease, but he refused to let himself blush. If you couldn't make a fool of yourself in front of your best friend--and not have him think less of you for it--then who else was there? He'd never forgive himself if he'd ruined that.
Starsky looked up at him sharply and Hutch suddenly had the impression that his partner had heard just as clearly what he hadn't said. Well, why not? He dropped all pretensions, his voice and gaze even now.
"You're my best friend, Starsk--you'd better know that. And I don't want anybody else as a partner, I want the best." There was too much feeling in his voice to be taken for anything but honest sincerity.
Starsky stared hard at him, one emotion chasing another through his eyes faster than Hutch could follow them. He was smarter than Starsky? What a laugh. He was often the one trying to keep up with his partner's rapid-fire thinking. How could Starsky not know that?
And then the dark eyes warmed, the beginnings of a grin creeping onto Starsky's face. He gave Hutch's face an affectionate pat. "I don't know about the best, but... I wouldn't have been keen on gettin' a new partner, either," he admitted with a small smile, voice husky. "I'm sorry."
Hutch shook his head, dislodging the hand. "Uh-uh, don't apologize. It's my fault for making all those cracks. I shouldn't have--"
"I know that. Guess I just needed to make sure. Don't change, Hutch," he said solemnly.
Hutch smiled at him, touched, then got up and settled on the couch next to his partner, still a little uncertain as to the resolution of the other's doubts. He squeezed the leg next to him. "You really thinking about the lieutenant's test already? We haven't even gotten our gold shields yet."
This time, there was humor in the other's grin. "Sure, why not? Don't know about you, but I plan on being the youngest homicide detective in the department."
"Second youngest," Hutch automatically corrected.
Starsky looked at him with an earnest gaze. "Yeah," he nodded happily. "They'll never know what hit 'em."
"Starsky, coming your way!"
Hutch's shout came from around the corner Starsky was closing on. They'd split up to circle around the building in two different directions, hoping to trap the fleeing thief between them. They'd been tracking the guy for nearly a month, and as their stint in Robbery had rarely given them the chance to catch a felon in the act, they were both determined not to lose their prey.
Suddenly, there was a clatter and a yelp that sounded suspiciously like his partner's. Starsky's stomach flip-flopped as he skid around the corner with a burst of speed, only to stop short at what he saw.
The young man they were chasing was standing there, arm tightly cinched under Hutch's chin and a knife poised to slash the long throat in a second. Even as the point of the knife dug into the pale skin, drawing a drop of bright red blood, the eyes above the knife stayed their usual calm blue, watching Starsky with steady faith.
Starsky swallowed. The felon, on the other hand, looked drugged, half-crazed. It wouldn't take much to set him off. Starsky licked his lips. "What're you doin', Andy, there's no need for that," he said softly, his hands spread unthreateningly. "Why don'tcha let him go?"
Andy nervously took a step back, dragging Hutch with him. The drop of blood became a trickle and Hutch closed his eyes for a second, opening them a moment later to once more focus on Starsky. They were loud and clear with reassurance that he was okay and belief in his partner.
Starsky could neither afford nor bear to look at those eyes long, instead concentrating on the thief. "Andy," he soothed, "listen, I know you don't want to go to jail. You've been there before, you know what it's like. But listen to me." His voice was nearly hypnotic, his gaze locked with the young addict's. "If you kill him, there won't be anywhere to run to. I'm gonna have to arrest you and they're gonna send you to jail for the rest of your life. You can't kill a cop and get away with it." He slowly lifted a hand, wincing when he saw the knife press tighter in response. Hutch still didn't flinch, absolutely still, those wide blue eyes expressing everything. Starsky nearly faltered. "But if you let him go," he vowed, evening his voice, "I promise, I'll do my best to see you get sent to a treatment center instead of jail. Get you some help. Wouldn't that be better?"
"I ain't goin' back to jail!" Andy shook his head emphatically.
"Andy," Starsky carefully took a step, pleased when it didn't prompt further retreat from the young man and his hostage. "I want to help you. You know murder isn't your thing. There's no way you're gettin' out of here, with or without him, and if you kill him, nobody's gonna be able to help you. Is that what you want, to be locked up for good?"
"No," Andy wavered.
Some uniforms suddenly clattered around the corner behind Starsky and he emphatically thrust out an arm to wave them back. Andy's eyes widened as they looked beyond the detective and took in the new arrivals.
"I told you--" he yelled. His arm tightened around Hutch's neck, tilting the blond head back in a choke hold even as the knife dug in under the exposed chin. Starsky frantically glanced at his partner's face, seeing the beginning struggle for air, the now visible fear and pain, but also the unchanging trust.
"Andy," he said frantically, "what about your mom?"
"My mom?" The addict stilled, watching Starsky now. "What about my mom?"
"We talked to her yesterday, Andy. She loves you. What do you think she'd say if she knew what you were doin'?" Andy's mother was a faded woman who no longer seemed to have the energy or interest to care about what happened to her children, let alone a drug-addicted felon of a son. But Starsky had seen in her a dying spark of what had been, of a love that Andy probably once knew. And, if Starsky perceived correctly, would've given anything to earn again. It was a longshot but it was all he had to get through the burned-out mind of the boy.
"Momma loves me?"
It was a pathetic tone, and Starsky's gut twisted even as he pushed it, but one glance at Hutch told him he had no more time or chances. "'Course she does, Andy," he took a step forward, now only a few feet away. He heard the uniforms stir restlessly behind him and cursed them silently, but Andy's attention was fully focused on him. "It's gonna break her heart if you do this."
The knife wavered. "You promise? No jail? I can see Momma?"
At that point, Starsky would've lied to God Himself, but his answer was sincere. He slowly moved forward. "I'll do my best, Andy, I promise you that."
The knife fell so quickly, it clattered to the ground before Starsky could even catch it. The suffocating hold was released right after, and he only dimly heard the policemen behind him rush forward to secure the felon, his attention only on his partner who, no longer held upright, began to fall to the ground, choking for breath. Starsky lunged forward to grab him, easing him instead over to sit by the corner of the building and leaning him against the wall there. Andy was led away just behind him and Starsky spared him a glance, then put the addict out of his mind. He'd deal with the kid later.
Hutch was coughing, trying to fill his air-starved lungs again. His breathing had not been completely cut off, but enough so that he was weak with oxygen deprivation. Starsky tipped the trembling blond head back against the wall, grimacing at the amount of blood on the neck but grateful that it didn't look serious. He dug out a handkerchief to staunch the already slowing bleeding. "Hutch?" he said quietly. "How you doin'?"
His partner's eyes opened. "I'm alive," he said hoarsely, prompting another spell of coughing, which, in turn, acerbated the bleeding again. "Thanks to you," he added a moment's later in a whisper.
Starsky shook his head, tying the
handkerchief around the bruised neck as he waved off an offer of an ambulance
from an officer. "Dummy," he chided, "how'd you let him get you
in the first place?"
Hutch shrugged. "He swung around. Caught me off guard. Lucky you got there." He reached gingerly up to his throat and the hand that had just finished tying a knot in the makeshift bandage. "You were great with him. Thanks." He squeezed the hand. "Guess you are the brains of the team."
Starsky started, staring at him. Hutch didn't need to... or maybe he did. They didn't usually have to be obvious with each other, Hutch showing his feelings in a hundred different looks and touches and small favors each day. But he could be overt when he needed to be, if his partner needed him to be. You didn't do that for someone you looked down on. The last lingering doubts suddenly looked very foolish and Starsky discarded them without a thought, silently nodding his understanding. "We're gonna make a heck of a homicide team, partner," he said softly.
Soft blue eyes shone at him. "They'll never know what hit 'em," Hutch echoed.
After a moment, they slowly got up and made their way out of the alley, side by side.
Written in 1997