This story first appeared in the newsletter, Black Bean Soup (1999). Information about the newsletter can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/TelevisionCity/Studio/7556/Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
When It's All Just Too Much
Starsky knew. How could he not?
Child victims usually struck deep into even the most hardened cop, let alone someone who bled like Hutch did. And when the child was a victim of a parent's cruelty... Starsky was sickened, outraged, and the anger gave him a release for his helplessness and horror. Hutch just silently suffered.
And so Starsky had stood behind his kneeling partner that afternoon, one hand on Hutch's shoulder, while the blond stroked that small, dark head and gently soothed the pain in those large, dark eyes. That was all he'd been able to do, the frail body too badly battered, evidence of months of abuse and neglect, to handle any more than that. But Hutch had kept talking, fearless wide eyes watching his every movement, until the paramedics finally came and bundled her away.
Hutch had slowly climbed to his feet then, his eyes still on the door the child had gone through. Then a single look back at his partner, and Hutch had stumbled out the same door. Starsky, of course, had followed at once. Not because there wasn't anything else to do at the scene; they'd pretty much done no policework at all. But the Ken Hutchinson who had looked at him a moment before wasn't the same Hutch he'd arrived at the house with, and Starsky was considerably worried about the stranger who'd just left.
The rest of the day was hell disguised as normalcy. Starsky had already done his grieving, railing at the bathroom wall about a world that could treat children so, throwing the cement birdbath halfway across the yard at the house, and finally resigning himself to the fact that monstrosities like that existed and they did have some small effect on them in their job. The scene they'd arrived to was still there in the back of his heart, never to be wholly forgotten, but life went on. It had to.
Hutch said next to nothing, bent over his paperwork as if he had no desire to recognize anything outside the rote report he was typing. And therein lay the deception, for Starsky was certain his partner was working solely on the kind of automatic pilot cops developed to let them function during the most horrible of experiences. Outwardly calm, inwardly numb, mentally poring over the details until they made sense. The detachment wouldn't last; emotions couldn't be avoided, merely delayed, but Hutch had never gotten even that much right. He hurt throughout. It was one of the things Starsky most envied and hated in his partner.
Thus it didn't surprise Starsky at all when, upon finishing the paperwork, Hutch wearily shoved back from his desk and reached for his jacket.
It wasn't the kind of statement that encouraged response, but that had never stopped Starsky. "Hutch?"
His partner paused, already half facing away, and looked back at him. The room got quiet for a moment, other detectives all-too-well sympathizing with what had happened that day, but the silence went unnoticed. Several heartbeats--Starsky could feel them--and finally Hutch's mouth bent just a little, smiling briefly not in humor but in thanks, and then the slouched shoulders turned away and disappeared out the squadroom doors.
Starsky chewed his lip for a long moment after that, then sighed and turned back to his own work.
An hour later, he finally gained his own freedom and left for home. By way of Venice. He hadn't intended it, but his car and his concern seemed to have other ideas. Not Venice Place; he drove right by Ocean, toward the beach, listening to his instincts and his familiarity with his partner. It took a little driving up and down until he saw the blond, windblown figure, alone even in the crowds, almost at the water's edge, the weighted shoulders hunched against the breeze this time. He stood there, watching the waves break, or maybe watching some private show solely for his eyes. Starsky suspected he knew which.
A car was pulling out nearby and Starsky took advantage of the spot, parking at a convenient angle to keep an eye on the one section of the beach, the one person out there who interested him. Then he just leaned back in his seat to watch. There were times when Hutch needed a kick to get him to talk, or yell, or whatever it was needed just then, exactly as he'd done the same more than once for Starsky. The brunet usually knew when those times were, but this wasn't one of them. Some things a person needed to work through themselves, at least at first.
But there were many different ways of providing support. Starsky sat there, silently watching, thinking, wishing, for a long time before finally starting the Torino and turning toward home, leaving the object of his thoughts standing almost exactly where he'd discovered him two hours earlier.
Starsky was back at nine that evening. He whistled to himself as he jogged up the stairs of Venice Place with the covered dish filling both his hands. This time he'd come straight to the building, again simply knowing where to go. The lack of light in the big front window didn't deter him at all, nor the soft sounds of a guitar that seeped into the hallway. Balancing the dish carefully on one knee and one hand, Starsky knocked on the door with the other.
The guitar died out almost at once, but there was a long minute before any other sounds took its place. Starsky waited patiently.
"It's open." The voice was almost inaudibly quiet and not particularly inviting, but that didn't matter. Starsky balanced the dish on his knee again and opened the door, stepping into the dark room and shoving the door shut behind him with his elbow.
Actually, the room wasn't completely dark. A single fat candle flickered on the coffee table, just enough light to dimly outline the living room furniture and the sole figure that sat on the sofa. Not that Starsky needed the light; he'd navigated that room in the middle of the night enough before, and he usually could sense where his partner was. He headed unerringly through the dimness into the kitchen with the dish. "Ya shouldn't leave the door open like that," he admonished as he went by the sofa.
"I figured you'd be coming."
"Brought dinner." Starsky set the dish down on the counter and began to set the table by touch.
"Starsky, dinnertime was a few hours ago."
"Did you eat?"
There was a pause, then the hint of exasperation from a moment before was replaced by resignation. "No."
"So I brought dinner."
"Starsky..." A sigh, part surrender, part fondness. "You need some light?"
"Whatever." He was letting Hutch set the rules that night.
He heard the light thud of the guitar being set down on the floor, then the vague shape that was his partner rose and moved over to the lightswitch on the wall. They both squinted a moment in the sudden glare.
What the light revealed was what Starsky had already guessed from his partner's voice; Hutch was still hurting, but had found a little of the peace he'd sought. The beach, the guitar, and the Bible that sat on the coffee table beside the candle had all helped, Starsky could guess. Dinner and some conversation, he hoped, would do even more.
"What'd you make?" Hutch asked with genuine curiosity as he also came into the kitchen.
"Vegetable soup, the way my Aunt Rosie makes it."
"I hope it's not like her chicken soup." Hutch sniffed the dish warily.
Starsky batted him away from the food. "I wouldn't do that to ya."
"Hmm." Hutch didn't look convinced, but even the dampened attempt at humor was promising. Starsky eyed him speculatively as the blond turned away to get drinks and ice out of the refrigerator. His clothes still seemed to weigh far too much for the lean frame. Grieving was never an overnight process.
Sometimes he almost thought Hutch had finally learned how to shield himself a little from the daily hurts, and at the same moment fervently hoped not because he prized that caring in his partner. And then there came along a day like the one they'd just had where he realized there was no danger of Hutch growing hard, for he cared far too deeply for that. Far, far too deeply.
Starsky chewed his lip as he went back to reheating the soup.
Hutch spoke up this time. "I called the hospital before." Amazing how casual those words sounded, but they set all Starsky's worries on edge.
"Yeah?" He turned back to his partner, studying what blue he could see under the flop of blond hair.
The blond head lifted, letting him see the relieved eyes. "Seems like she'll be okay. They've already got a foster home picked out for her for when she's better."
"You gonna go see her?"
A one-shouldered shrug. "I was thinking about it."
He would, too, Starsky already knew. Hutch was never one to leave his job at the end of the day. Would it hurt more or help? "Good thing we got there when we did," he floated experimentally.
As he suspected, that was all it took to uncover the bitterness. "Yeah, because a neighbor finally called."
"And we came and we did what we could. We got the little girl outta there. You made her feel better. She probably got more love from you this afternoon than she has the rest of her life."
He hadn't meant them to, but his words made Hutch flush and blink hard as if his eyes suddenly stung. A moment later, he turned away, apparently in dire need of some potholders. Starsky smiled, then turned back to stir the soup.
The moment hung there comfortably until finally Starsky spoke up again without turning around, more softly than before. "Bein' sensitive's not a bad thing, partner. It may not seem like it right now, maybe even seems like a weakness, but it's not. Heck, in some ways it makes you stronger. I know it hurts you a lot, and I'm really, really sorry for that, Hutch. But I hope to God you never change. Makes you one great cop, and friend. Maybe that's selfish, but I kinda wish I had more of that, too, y'know? I wouldn't change you for anything, pal, 'cept maybe make it easier on you."
It was much more than he intended to say, and still less than he'd been thinking all that afternoon. God knew, he'd felt every bit of that little girl's pain, too, and yet, as always, he'd gone out for a minute to vent his anger, while it had been Hutch who'd sat and talked to her, stroked her hair, shared her hurt. And paid for it later. The soup was splashing out of the dish with the vehemence of his stirring.
There had been no sound behind him since he'd begun to speak, and yet he knew Hutch was still there. The silence, so easy before, was nearly choking him with suspense.
And finally, quietly, came from behind him, "Don't sell yourself short. Who's making whom dinner?" Then the rummaging sounds began again, still apparently searching for those incredibly important potholders.
Starsky smiled into his soup. Oh yeah, this had been a good idea. A little food, a little talking, a lot of quiet, but that did its own good, too. Sometimes it was just all too much and it did get to one of them, but that's what the other was there for, a reminder that there was a lot more to life than the nightmares they sometimes witnessed. Love was always stronger than pain.
And maybe, when Hutch found his balance again, Starsky would teach him a thing or two about throwing birdbaths.
Written in 1999