This story first appeared in the zine, Our Favorite Things #17 (2001). Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
K Hanna Korossy
Starsky got out of the car with all the grace of a lead balloon and about as much buoyancy. Too tired to skirt the lawn, he spared the grass only a glance as he trod through it. It was long overdue for cutting, yet another chore that had taken a back seat to work the previous week. Dew shone on the blades; dawn was on the way, even though the sky was still deeply black. Well, it didn't matter if it was about to get light. He was ready to sleep through the day and into the night that followed.
The slight crunch of footsteps behind him reminded him he wasn't alone, as if even fatigue could have made him forget. Hutch had left his car there a very long twenty-eight...nine?...hours before and still had to drive on to his place. Starsky didn't envy him the task. If he'd had that much energy, he'd have dropped his partner off himself.
The tinkle of keys behind him became a clatter as they fell to the ground, followed by Hutch's muttered curse. The corner of Starsky's mouth turned up, but without mischief. He could sympathize with fingers that were clumsy with fatigue.
He turned to watch his blond partner bend tiredly to retrieve his keys, then try again for the door. Starsky opened his mouth before he thought, too weary even for that.
"You wanna come inside for a while? Have some dinner?"
Hutch squinted at him in the dim light. "Dinner? You kidding?"
Somehow, Starsky didn't want to give it up. "A beer?"
Hutch glanced at his car, then back at his partner. But Starsky had a feeling his partner was no more anxious to go than Starsky was for him to leave, hesitating only to try to convince himself otherwise. It didn't work. Hutch finally gave a loose shrug, sliding his keys back into his jacket pocket and following Starsky, his long, heavy stride quickly eating up the space between them. They reached the door together.
Starsky peered closely at the keys before picking the right one and inserting it.
"Breakfast," Hutch said.
Midway through opening the door, Starsky turned to frown at him. "Huh?"
"We missed dinner. It's time for breakfast."
Okay, so sleep-deprivation affected the mind, too. Starsky merely stared at him a moment before shoving the door open and waving Hutch in. "At three o'clock in the mornin'? Maybe for you it is."
The light switch by the door was broken, number one on his ignored to-do list, but Starsky reached for the lamp by the end of the couch and flicked it on, even its dull light pushing the darkness back and making them both squint.
"You oughta fix that," Hutch said, flicking a thumb at the lightswitch.
"If I'm ever home," Starsky answered mildly. He dropped his keys next to the light, followed by his jacket and, with a sigh of bliss, his holster and gun. Even when he forgot it was there, taking off his weapon was a tremendous relief. Its weight was only partially physical.
He trudged on into the kitchen without a glance behind, knowing his partner would make himself at home. Heck, Hutch was practically there as often as Starsky and knew every corner of the place. The idea of being a guest didn't even occur anymore.
Two beers in hand, he shoved the refrigerator door shut with his foot and walked back into the living room. His partner hadn't sat down or divested himself of his own holster or even his jacket. Instead, the lamplight glinted unevenly off the back of the blond head as Hutch stood in front of the window, staring out onto the street beyond. It wasn't much of a view, but Starsky's street was on a gentle slope and a few blocks of houses were visible, only street lights and porch lamps and the windows of a few rare night owls shining in the dark neighborhood.
Starsky crossed the room to join his partner, standing next to him to look out the window. The beer he held out was wordlessly accepted. Hutch's hand was still trembling a little as it closed around the sweating bottle, but Starsky didn't comment on it. They both knew too well what it was like to come down off the adrenaline spike of a bust going down, a shootout, a near miss.
They drank side by side in silence, staring out the window into the city. Their city, the people they risked their lives for each day.
"The grass is getting tall." Hutch's soft voice didn't seem to break the quiet.
Maybe he should have rented an apartment, then he wouldn't have had to worry about the grass. "I know, I've been meanin' to get to it but..."
"You go see Personnel about that problem with your paycheck yet?" Starsky asked as he watched a dog cross the street two houses down, followed by a man in a jacket and shoes and pajama pants. The man looked as sleepy as Starsky felt, and yet he knew there was no way he could have slept just yet. They were probably both too tired to sleep.
"When?" was Hutch's answer, and Starsky snorted an agreement.
Another hush. It wasn't hard to share conversation, but you could only share an easy silence with someone you were really comfortable with.
"You ever think about getting another job, with regular hours?"
Starsky glanced at his partner again and found that Hutch's eyes were on the stars, not the streetlights. He didn't match his partner's gaze. Hutch had always been the dreamer of the two of them. "What, and give up all the money we make?" he answered dryly.
Hutch laughed briefly. "What was I thinking?"
Starsky knew exactly what, but he was too tired to talk about that now. Maybe ever. Instead, he turned away from the window, flopping down on his back on the couch instead, propping his bottle on his stomach. "You?" he asked in kind, not even bothering to try for the casual tone that fooled everyone but his partner.
Hutch turned toward him, eyes very blue and clear of sleepiness or signs of inebriation. "Sometimes." He suddenly shook his head as if dismissing the thought, and came closer, flopping into the easy chair beside the sofa. "I didn't hear the score from last night's game, did you?"
"We lost." Starsky took another swig of his beer, letting it and Hutch's change of conversation steer his thoughts in another direction. Hutch's bottle caught the lamplight and Starsky could see it was still almost full, while his was nearly gone.
Hutch arched an eyebrow at him. "'We' New York or 'we' LA?"
That made Starsky smile. He'd forgotten the two teams were playing each other, much to his chagrin. "'We' New York."
"Oh." Hutch didn't seem to mind being included in that "we," taking another sip of his beer.
Starsky's smile lingered. His loyalties in baseball still lay across the country, with his boyhood team. Most of the rest had been transferred to Los Angeles, though, to the LAPD, to his neighborhood. To the blond klutz who was beginning to look permanently settled into Starsky's easy chair. He wondered briefly how Hutch would have survived the gangs and street punks Starsky had grown up with, then decided he would have done all right. Hutch was skinny but he was tough. On nights like that one, you could see it in his eyes.
Hutch sat up a little, his gaze on something in the kitchen. "It's still alive?"
Sitting up and turning to look at what "it" was seemed like too much effort, but Starsky thought for a moment about possible culprits. "You mean Milton?"
Hutch gave him a disbelieving look. "You named a plant?"
"Sure. Plants are alive, too." That made sense to him.
Starsky watched as Hutch rose and walked past him, beer still in hand, heading toward the kitchen. Curiosity and an odd desire to keep an eye on his partner finally won out over fatigue, and Starsky edged up on one elbow to turn and watch.
Hutch stopped by the entryway, reaching out with a gentle finger to touch the leaves of the spider plant. It had been his gift of months before, given to Starsky with the half-defiant declaration that it was a plant even Starsky couldn't kill. Starsky didn't test the assertion, instead finding one of the sunnier places in his home to put it and feeling the dirt every time he walked by it to make sure it didn't need water. Even their outrageous schedule hadn't managed to kill it with that kind of attention. Enough love and care could keep almost anything alive and healthy.
"Why Milton?" Hutch asked over his shoulder, eyes still on the little plant.
Starsky almost rolled his eyes. "It looked like a Milton," he said over-patiently.
"Probably reminds you of Sticky Miltie. Seems like he's got as many hands as 'Milton' has fronds."
Fronds--Starsky filed that one away. He'd thought they were leaves. But Miltie wasn't where the name had come from. Someday Starsky would have to mention Milton-Bradley to his partner.
Hutch wandered back to the chair, his eyes a little warmer than before. Probably touched about the plant, Starsky thought with affectionate exasperation. Of course he'd taken care of Hutch's gift, and if that wasn't a given, it was too late at night and they were getting far too maudlin.
And yet they also seemed too tired to talk about anything but inanities. "You gonna take your car in tomorrow?" Starsky lay back down on the couch.
Hutch had settled into the chair again and gave Starsky a confused look. "What for?"
"The muffler, dummy. Sounds like you're running a race car under that rusted hood."
"That's power, Starsky." His partner was trying for haughty, but the yawn that interrupted him ruined the effect. "Powerful engines make a lot of noise."
Starsky grimaced. "Well, your 'powerful engine's' gonna scare off the bad guys two blocks before we even get there. Call me when you drop it off and I'll pick ya up."
"Starsky--" Hutch began in protest, then seemed to give it up. "You'll probably still be asleep," he muttered instead.
Starsky belatedly caught his partner's earlier yawn. "Doesn't matter," he managed around it. "I'll come if you call."
Hutch's face thawed. "Yeah," he agreed softly.
Starsky's throat suddenly felt tight. Big lummox. Hutch was the one who should've still been uptight after that night, but there he was looking all understanding and content, the earlier hardness gone from his eyes, hearing all kinds of things Starsky wasn't saying.
It really was getting late. They'd never have had this conversation wide awake...whatever it was they'd been talking about.
But maybe Hutch had the right idea about relaxing. Starsky tried it, taking an experimental deep breath, the now-empty bottle he rested on his chest rising and falling with the inhalation. Forgetting what had almost happened that night. Falling into his partner's rhythms just as they usually did with each other.
His second deep breath came out as more of a sigh, and Starsky turned slightly to look at his partner again. The blond-framed face was smoothed out, eyes closed and one cheek resting against the back of the chair. Even as Starsky watched, the long fingers loosened around the beer bottle, and Starsky got himself moving again in time to catch it before it fell and sloshed its contents onto the rug. More than half the bottle, he noted. Sometimes it was Hutch who needed a few--they seemed to take turns. Depended, too, which one of them had had the close shave.
Starsky set both bottles gently onto the coffee table, then shuffled into his bedroom. He returned a moment later with a blanket that he draped over the sleeping figure.
He stood there and watched his friend for a minute, inertia conspiring with his remaining unsettledness to keep him right where he was. Hutch would no doubt complain at length the next day about waking up with a stiff neck, but he looked so beat, Starsky didn't have the heart to wake him. Maybe he didn't even want to. Maybe Hutch had planned to stay all along, just to remind Starsky he was alive and well. It wouldn't have been the first time, for either of them.
Maybe that was what it was really all about, not the mess they worked to clean up a little of each day.
His eyes were beginning to droop. Sleep was sounding better and better, and Starsky had an idea maybe he could manage some now. With a faint smile and a last look at his safe partner, he turned and headed off to bed.
Written in 2000