This story first appeared in the zine, Above & Beyond (1996). This zine and many other fine S&H zines can be obtained from Agent with Style at:www.agentwithstyle.com. Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
The Medicine of Life
"A faithful friend is the medicine of life." -- Sirach
Starsky glanced over from driving to look at his silent partner. "Hey, Blintz!"
That got a reaction, but the look was only one of halfhearted annoyance. "What?"
"You okay?" Starsky had been studying him, noting the lackluster expression and tiredness that seemed to oppress his partner more and more as the day had gone on.
"Yeah, I'm fine." The flat tone and the fatigue in the motion of dismissal belied the words. "I'm just tired."
Starsky didn't press, but his gaze continued to dart over to his companion, his puzzlement and worry increasing. Hutch seemed as oblivious to his partner's scrutiny as he had been to everything else that day, and that only added to Starsky's concern.
He ran the last few days through his mind, looking for anything that could have dragged his friend into one of the depressions he fell into from time-to-time, but with no luck. In fact, Hutch had been the one pushing him, playing more of his stupid practical jokes than usual. And their cases had been routine to the point of boring, so the jokes had been flying even more heavily, keeping them alert, in synch. Personally, he longed for more excitement, an interesting case to keep them busy and thinking, but he knew the quiet times were good for them too, especially for Hutch who seemed to revitalize with the let-up of stress.
Starsky looked over at his withdrawn partner again. Hutch certainly didn't seem revitalized now. In fact, now that he thought about it, his partner hadn't been eating all day either, begging off lunch by claiming his usual revulsion at Starsky's voracious appetite, looking even sickened at the thought. The idea made Starsky pause. Sickened...could that be it? Perhaps it was as simple as that, something physical instead of emotional, some bug Hutch had picked up. He regarded his partner once more, weighing the fatigue and dull look. Yeah, that was it, he was sure.
The evaluation unexpectedly relieved him. He could handle all kinds of emotional hurdles when necessary, had cleared many of them with Hutch before, but he felt more comfortable with the physical than the intangible. Not that it would be easier on Hutch, but luckily they had a rare three-day weekend coming up and the blond would have enough time to get over the worst of it. Starsky felt a twinge of sympathy as he recalled how much he himself had been looking forward to this particular weekend, but at the same time he couldn't help feeling amusement at the irony of his health-obsessed partner being the one amongst them who came down with everything. So much for clean living.
"Hey, partner, you got any plans for this weekend?" They often spent their vacations together, but with he and Sheila going away for the weekend, well, three would definitely have been a crowd.
Hutch seemed to rouse himself from half-sleep to answer. "No, think I'm just gonna go to bed."
Starsky's grin widened in mischief. "Anyone I know?"
There was no response again, and this time his partner looked like he was dozing in earnest. The amusement faded a little from Starsky's eyes and he turned his attention to getting to Venice as soon as possible.
A few minutes later, the Torino pulled up in front of the apartment, and Starsky reached over to lightly shake Hutch's shoulder. "Come on, Sleepin' Beauty, we're here." He watched as his partner seemed to be summoning up the strength to get going. Whatever Hutch had, certainly had hit him fast. Starsky's hand lingered on Hutch's shoulder for a moment longer. "Hey, you sure you're gonna be all right?" All trace of teasing was gone from his voice.
Hutch did notice the tone this time and turned back toward him with a slight smile of thanks. "Yes, mother. I'll see you..." he had to think, "uh, Tuesday."
"Yeah..." Starsky's voice trailed off as he watched Hutch drag himself to the building door and, after fumbling a minute with it, go inside without a backward glance. Starsky shook his head and started up the car, his thoughts already shifting forward to his evening plans.
A shower and a beer later, Starsky's mind was still on Hutch, no matter how much he tried putting his partner out of his thoughts. Sheila was to come over in just two more hours so that they could leave, and it annoyed him that he couldn't get the blond blintz out of his head.
Starsky finally reached for the phone, then stopped himself. "Yeah, that's a good idea, wake him up when he's probably just gone off to sleep," Starsky muttered to the quiet apartment, annoyed at a world where people, especially partners, got sick right before the start of a long weekend. He began to straighten the cushions on the couch. "After all, who died and appointed you his guardian anyway?" That wasn't a reassuring thought; he knew the answer all too well. It wouldn't have hurt to at least accompany Hutch upstairs, make sure he got settled... Starsky pounded the pillow and tossed it down, more askew than it had been before, and moved around to pick up the plates scattered on the coffee table. "Hutch is a big boy, doesn't need a babysitter." Yeah, like when he had found Hutch in the canyon, trapped under his car. The memory absorbed him for a moment, until the sound of shattering ceramic returned him to the present. He stared in surprise at the broken plate in the sink, then set to cleaning up the mess, disgusted with himself. "...lettin' him get to you. He'll call if he needs somethin'." He attacked the room with a renewed vigor that began to fade almost as soon as it began. Hutch did call when he needed something, but all too often not when he needed someone. Starsky was never sure if it was a streak of martyrdom in his partner or if Hutch genuinely fooled himself into thinking he could handle everything alone. Sometimes his partner seemed to forget that backup didn't always end on the streets.
Starsky finally gave up all pretense of cleaning and slumped on the couch. Every once in a while it scared him a little, being so intertwined with another person, feeling their needs as acutely or even more so than his own. It was a responsibility he wasn't always sure he wanted.
Starsky sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Well, whatever the answer to that question, the here-and-now of it was that he knew he wouldn't rest easy until he checked up on his partner, maybe talked him into going to the doctor in the morning, or at least made sure he didn't need anything. Starsky smiled wryly to himself. With any luck, all Hutch would need was tucking in, and then he'd be back in plenty of time to meet Sheila. His grin widened as he grabbed his jacket and went out the door. After all, it wouldn't do if Hutch was in his thoughts all weekend.
The rush hour traffic had thinned, and Starsky made good time to Venice Place. It took a moment of feeling along the doorsill before it dawned on him that the key wasn't there. He subdued a sigh as he pulled out his own set of keys; Hutch had obviously been too out of it to worry about minor housekeeping details. He opened the door quietly, not wanting to wake Hutch if he was asleep. The room was darkened, and it took him a few seconds to realize that the rumpled heap behind the sofa was actually his partner, on the floor, half-dressed and propped up against the couch. He stepped inside hesitantly. "Hutch?"
The blond head rolled toward him at the sound of his voice, and the eyes opened tiredly. "Starsk." The voice was soft, but the relief in it was clear.
Not much of a conversation, Starsky thought as he shut the door and hurried forward to crouch by his friend. Close up, he saw with a sinking feeling that Hutch looked much worse than before, his cheeks flushed and his eyes bright with fever. He was also shivering, sometimes violently, although he was covered in perspiration. Starsky chewed his lip as he took stock; he hadn't realized his partner was this badly off. But Hutch's eyes were on him and so he forced a grin. "Hey, don't you think the bed would be more comfortable?"
Hutch seemed too hazy to catch the teasing. "...bed's too far from the john..." The broken speech was cut off by a harsh cough.
Starsky winced at the helpless words and the trusting eyes that were watching him. He hadn't often seen Hutch like that, and it always cut into him to see his normally self-assured partner so vulnerable.
"Well, come on, buddy," he said, pulling one of Hutch's arms around his neck and hoisting him up. "You don't want to catch cold lyin' here on the floor." The attempt at humor died on his lips as Hutch flinched, almost slipping out of Starsky's grasp. "What's wrong?" he demanded quickly.
" 'Side hurts." The answer was mumbled through clenched teeth.
Starsky frowned, readjusting his grip to favor the side in question, and then half-dragged, half-carried his partner over to the bed. "You'd think with your birdseed diet, you'd weigh less, you big lug." He eased the blond down on the bed and then laid him back. Hutch curled up in a fetal position, still holding his side and shivering.
Starsky watched him for a minute, fighting a wave of deja vu: Hutch in the hospital with the plague, Hutch in withdrawal, Hutch in pain. He shook his head and banished the images with annoyance. "Can't even come down with a regular cold like everybody else," he chided. It wasn't fair, not just when he had the best weekend of his life set up. Sheila would be waiting, and their reservations... But while he wasn't sure whether Hutch had to go to the hospital or not, his partner obviously needed some kind of help. And Sheila would probably end up having to spend the weekend alone, Starsky resignedly added. He moved over to the telephone and, after thinking briefly, dialed a number.
"Hello, Jace Broadhurst, please. Hey, Jace? It's Dave Starsky." He paused to listen to the warm greeting, stifling his guilt about disturbing the doctor on a Friday night. Hutch needed help.
"Yeah, Jace, I'm fine, but I've got a problem." Starsky hesitated a moment. "I'm at Hutch's house and he's sick, I'm not sure with what, but he's not doin' too well and I don't know if I need to take him to the hospital -- he needs to see a doctor but I don't think I can get him in to one..." He realized abruptly that he was rambling and shut up for a moment to listen. In response to the doctor's query, he began again, outlining the situation and the symptoms.
Broadhurst's response chilled him. The word "pneumonia" resounded in his head, the rest registering only in snatches, "...blood sample...be over tonight...temperature...keep him comfortable." The calm voice loosened the knot in Starsky's stomach a little, enough that he could concentrate on giving the necessary directions to Venice Place, and then he hung up.
Pneumonia. People die from that. He shook his head angrily at the thought. No, not anymore, only maybe the weak and the elderly, not people like Hutch. Jace hadn't sounded too worried, he reassured himself, hadn't even told him to take Hutch in to the emergency room, so it couldn't be too bad. He pushed the fears into the back of his mind and quickly made the necessary call to Sheila, impatient to get back to his partner. Her anger at the late cancellation didn't even sink in, and she was already forgotten as he moved back to the bed.
Hutch still lay curled up on top of the covers, his eyes shut and fever-dried sweat plastering his hair and his T-shirt to his skin.
Starsky leaned over him and spoke softly, "Hey, Hutch, you know where the thermometer is?"
Hutch's eyes opened groggily and his voice was slurred with confusion, "Wha'? 'ometer?" He attempted to sit up.
Starsky grimaced and pushed him back down. "Some help you are," he grumbled under his breath, but at Hutch's continued struggles, he sat down on the edge of the bed and rubbed the trembling shoulders soothingly. "Hey, it's okay, I'm right here. Come on, take it easy... Easy, just relax and the doc'll be here soon." Starsky wasn't sure anymore how much his partner understood, but he was relieved to feel the body under his hands yield a little.
A quick search turned up a thermometer in the bathroom cabinet, and he stuck it into his partner's mouth, having to hold it in so Hutch's shaking wouldn't knock it out. After counting to a hundred he took it out and studied it. "103.1 . Swell. Looks like we're gonna have a long night, buddy." Hutch seemed out of it now, so he gave up the conversation and moved around the house gathering pajamas, a washcloth, and a bowl of water. He stripped the shivering man and rubbed him down gently with the wet washcloth, wiping away some of the dried sweat and heat. The water disappeared immediately on the hot skin, but it seemed to cool Hutch down a little. Then Starsky wrapped him loosely in the clean clothes. When he was convinced he had made Hutch as comfortable as possible, he piled on a few blankets and settled back in a chair beside the bed to wait.
He didn't stay settled for long. By the time Dr. Broadhurst arrived half an hour later, Starsky was becoming frantic with worry. Hutch had become delirious, his unintelligible mutters broken by jarring coughs that were bringing up bloody fluid and leaving him breathless. It was taking all of Starsky's self-control to keep calm, carefully cleaning the blood off and wiping the burning face with cool water. But what scared him most of all was the lack of recognition in the feverish eyes, Hutch oblivious to his presence. Hutch's rapid deterioration had rattled him more than he had thought and Starsky sagged with relief to see the doctor.
"Jace, am I glad you're here. He's got a temperature of 103.1 and I don't know what to do for him. I think he's gettin' worse."
Broadhurst smiled reassuringly as he took his coat off. "It's okay, Dave, I know the first part seems pretty bad, but he'll get through it all right." He began his examination silently, Starsky hovering over his shoulder, in the way. After a few moments, Broadhurst turned back to him with deliberate patience. "Look, Dave, why don't you measure his temperature again, hmm?" he asked, extending a thermometer.
Starsky was relieved to be doing something useful. "Oh, sure." Hutch's restlessness hindered him, so the effort occupied him for some minutes, and Broadhurst was almost finished when Starsky removed the thermometer and visibly blanched at the reading. "104.2 ," he whispered, looking up at the doctor. The fears he'd had no time for before were coming back in full force now.
The doctor didn't seem particularly worried, though. "That's about what I expected," he said placidly, beginning to pull the blankets off the form on the bed.
Starsky stared up at him, his eyes wide. "Is he gonna be all right?"
Dr. Broadhurst looked up in surprise at the childlike tone, then stifled a smile. "Yes, he'll be fine. His fever's high, but as long as it stays under 105, there's nothing the hospital could do for him that you can't do here." He regarded Starsky thoughtfully. "That is, if you're willing to stay and take care of him. He's going to need a lot of looking after for a few days, otherwise I can have him admitted to Central Memorial and they'll see to him."
The doubt in Broadhurst's face suddenly cleared Starsky's head and determination drove away the fear and hesitation. "S'okay, Jace, I'm gonna stay with him." The doctor noted with approval that his color was coming back and resolution strengthened his voice. "Just tell me what to do."
Broadhurst dug through his bag. "Well, I'm pretty sure it's just a bad case of bacterial pneumonia -- the shakes, the sharp pain in the side, the rapid pulse, the fever and coughing are all common symptoms; he could've picked it up anywhere. But I've drawn some blood to make sure." He pulled out a bottle of pills and turned back to Starsky. "I brought along some antibiotics. I'll leave them here and if it turns out that I'm right, I'll call you and you can start administering the medication." He glanced back at Hutch who mumbled something in Spanish and then broke into another coughing fit. "In the meantime, we've got to get his fever down some. I'm going to need a towel and some ice. We'll try ice water at first, and if that doesn't help, we'll use the ice directly."
Starsky hurried off to collect the necessary items, and returned to find that Broadhurst had uncovered Hutch and opened his nightshirt. The doctor took the ice from the bucket and dumped it into the basin of water, then steeped the towel in it and began to sponge the burning skin.
Starsky watched him for a moment, then silently took over, pausing only to wring and re-soak the towel. He blocked out Broadhurst's voice as the doctor went off to use the phone, fixing his complete attention on the restless figure before him. "It's okay, buddy, I know this ain't no fun but it's gonna be all right. Just hang in here with me, huh?" He stopped every few minutes to measure the fever, relieved to find that it was going down.
When the thermometer finally measured 103 again, he sank back in the chair for a moment to watch Broadhurst check the patient.
"All right, Dave, that's better. Now keep him warm, but if his temperature starts to climb again, you'll have to repeat what you just did now. If it does go above 105, call me immediately. Otherwise, make sure you get some liquids into him and keep an eye on him until the fever breaks -- should be about 2-3 days." He eyed Starsky again. "You sure you're up to this?"
Starsky waved him off with a wry grin. "Didn't plan to sleep much this weekend anyway, Jace. I'll take care of him."
Broadhurst nodded, a little surprised at the fixed purpose in the last statement. "Okay. I'll call you about the antibiotics as soon as I get the lab result."
Starsky escorted him to the door, then turned back toward the bed. As much as he had appreciated Broadhurst's help and presence, he was relieved to have him gone. "Looks like it's just you and me, kid," he breathed softly as he checked his friend's temperature. Satisfied, he wrapped Hutch back into his nightshirt and tucked him in again, then went to get some fresh water.
The night was long for both of them. Starsky found faint relief in Broadhurst's phoned confirmation that it was indeed pneumonia, but at least he could start Hutch on the medicine. The rest of the time, Starsky fought the fever stubbornly, alternating between piling blankets over the shivering form and rubbing him down with ice and cold water. Hutch kept calling for him, but then fought him in his delirium, and sometimes it was all Starsky could do to keep him in bed as he thrashed around. Hutch was rambling in English mixed with Spanish, and what little Starsky could make out intermingled the unfamiliar past and the all-too-familiar present, but the dominating nightmare seemed to be Hutch finding himself back in the canyon, trapped under his car again. Starsky ached at the fear and pain in the hoarse voice as his partner pleaded and cried for help and for his partner, but was unable to hear Starsky's response. Starsky finally climbed onto the bed and pulled Hutch into his lap, wrapping his arms securely around his partner, trying to reassure him that he wasn't alone. He began crooning softly, "I'm here, buddy, I ain't goin' nowhere," rocking the blond like a child. Finally, something got through the fevered mind and Hutch calmed, and Starsky slowly settled back to stay, talking quietly and bathing his friend's face and arms.
In the early morning, when Hutch's temperature finally went down to 102.8 and stayed there, Starsky gently laid him back down and covered him, keeping contact with a hot, limp hand. He collapsed into the chair beside the bed and they both fell into an exhausted sleep, the connection unbroken.
Huggy's arrival woke Starsky up a short time later. He didn't question the black man's presence -- Huggy always seemed to know what was going on everywhere, but he was grateful for the company. Hutch was still resting quietly, so Starsky turned his attention to the sandwiches Huggy had brought, realizing with a start that he hadn't eaten anything since the afternoon before and he was famished. He seemed to lack the strength for conversation though, so they ate in silence, Huggy studying him unobtrusively. After the meal, Huggy pointed him toward the couch, and, with one last look at his still partner, Starsky went. He was asleep the moment he stretched out.
Hutch's fever didn't break for another day and a half. In the interim, the blond alternated between periods of delirium and coma-like sleep with Starsky snatching a few hours of rest whenever Huggy was by and Hutch was quiet. But even Huggy couldn't budge him when Hutch became agitated, only Starsky's presence seeming to calm his partner. Jace also stopped by at one point to nod his approval at Hutch's progress (what progress? Starsky wondered tiredly), and Dobey and Edith dropped in the second evening with some food (who called the captain? He couldn't remember if he had or not...).
But the respites were few and the greater part of the time was taken up with cold sponge baths and compresses, changing sheets, and forcing liquids and medicine into the feverish patient, alternated with trying to keep Hutch calm and quiet when he was out of his head. The coughing was still vicious and seemed to utterly drain him, but Starsky seized the periods of exhausted quiet in between to talk, Hutch lying silent and still, apparently listening to the sound of his voice. Humor and small talk were too much of an effort to keep up long, though, and Starsky's mind soon wandered back to his former train of thought.
"So why are you so important to me, huh, Hutch?" he wearily asked the motionless form. "Why am I spending my weekend here with you instead of with Sheila, when you'd probably be better off at the hospital?" He paused, studied the pale face. No response, not that he expected one. He sighed.
"No, I know that's not true. I feel better with me lookin' after you instead of a bunch of strangers. But why do I bother with ya'? God knows there are times I wanna quit ya', like when you play those dumb practical jokes on me, or when you faked amnesia and scared me half t'death. Times I wasn't sure what to make of you, was afraid of my trust running out." His voice faded for a moment. Well, it wasn't like he hadn't pulled a few boneheaded stunts of his own. He'd jokingly asked Hutch once why they were friends, why they were so close, and Hutch had simply shrugged and told him not to question success. Success...
"Okay, t'be fair, you were always there for me, too. I was scared out of my mind when I was runnin' out of time and I could feel myself dying, feel Bellamy's poison killin' me. I'd be dead if it weren't for you." Not just by finding the poison, he conceded silently, but also by keeping him going till then. "And didn't ever tell you how much it helped that you hung in with me when I lost Terry. Just about moved in with me until I got my head back on straight." His voice trailed off again and he watched Hutch silently, willing him to sit up and respond. Silence. Starsky leaned back and shut his eyes. A new thought made him frown.
"That's not why we're together, is it? Just 'cause we owe each other? Or just to even the odds a little when the stakes are against us? That wouldn't be friends, that would be..." He searched for the word. "I don't know. Too tired to think all this through." He rubbed his eyes, then looked at Hutch almost accusingly, "Come on, you're the college boy, you should be able to figure this out."
There was a long pause, broken as Hutch began to cough again and stirred restlessly. Starsky immediately leaned forward, "No, I'm sorry, it's okay. I'm here, shhh." He twined his hand more tightly through Hutch's. "See, I'm not going anywhere. Easy, boy." He kept up the whispered words until Hutch seemed to doze, then, careful not to let go, he leaned back in his seat and picked up the one-sided conversation again.
"You're right, I think we're there for each other because we care about each other and not versa...visa..." He smiled sheepishly. "...the other way around. Does that make sense to you? I dunno, maybe we don't need a reason, we should just be grateful it works."
They fit, they meshed, they balanced, they trusted, and they loved. What was the point of questioning it? "Success, buddy. Guess you were right." He grinned self-consciously. " 'Course, I'm not gonna tell you any of this again, know you don't like soapy scenes..." He knew he didn't even need to. Maybe Hutch had known it all along.
A friendship like theirs was a gift, not a chore. Suddenly it was very obvious why he was there. Because he wanted to be, and neither of them would have it any other way.
He leaned forward to frown at his partner. Hutch's breathing had quieted and he wasn't moving at all. Starsky's heart forgot to beat for a moment while he reached out to hesitantly touch Hutch's face. The skin was cool to the touch and sweat was beginning to roll off of him, soaking the bedding; the fever had broken. Starsky's face lit up in a triumphant smile. "Hey! We won!"
Why was it so hard to wake up? Hutch felt like he had been sleeping forever, but he was still so tired, he didn't want to wake up. He tried to move his body a little, but everything was so sore, he gave it up with a quiet groan. That's right, he'd been sick, had gone to bed right after he got home. Must've fallen asleep for a while, probably should call a doctor if he felt this lousy. He pried his eyes open, and stared in confusion at the blurred bright red and blue vision before him. "Huggy?" It was hard to talk and the single word seemed to use up all his strength.
The vision smiled at him, pleased, and nodded, but held up a finger to his lips for quiet. Then he pointed to the other side of the room. It took some exertion, but Hutch turned his head obligingly. His partner was sprawled awkwardly in the easy chair, arms and legs akimbo. He was also fast asleep, his clothes rumpled and his face etched deeply with fatigue. Hutch turned back to Huggy, his eyes questioning.
"You've been out your head, Hutch." Huggy was whispering. "Starsky's been playing nursemaid round-the-clock, but I made him get some sleep. If he gets sick, I'm not about to nurse both of you." He sat back with a self-satisfied grin. "How ya' feelin'?"
Hutch started to nod his head, but it was too much effort, so he settled for a slight smile. He didn't understand, but as long as Starsky was around it was fine, his partner would take care of everything. He was going to tell Huggy that, but somehow he dozed off first.
Starsky sat by the bed, staring off into space, his mind finally wandering back to the everyday details he had temporarily forgotten during Hutch's illness. He figured he had three days worth of mail piled up by now, the pizza in the refrigerator was bound to be growing mold, and there was some making up to do with Sheila. He cringed at the last thought, unapologetic for what he'd had to do but still dreading the explanation. Maybe Dobey would give him another long weekend soon...
"Wha's wrong?" the sleepy voice startled him, and he looked down into the pair of blue eyes drowsily watching him.
The last bit of tension in him finally relaxed at seeing the familiar eyes clear and lucid for the first time in three days. He grinned cheerfully. "Oh, nothin', just thinkin' about how I had nothing better to do this weekend than look after a partner who didn't have brains enough to wait until after vacation to get sick."
Hutch looked puzzled, his mind still working a little slowly. "Weekend?"
"Yeah, Blintz, it's Monday night. We'd be due back to work tomorrow morning, except Dobey said he didn't want to see your face till next week." Starsky shook his head in mock annoyance. "Some guys have all the luck."
Hutch shook his head a little. "I can't remember..." He began to cough again, and Starsky leaned forward to hold his shoulder supportively until the fit passed.
Starsky nodded at him, "Most people are a little out of it when they've had pneumonia and a fever of 104." Hutch's eyes widened at the news, but Starsky cut him off before he could say anything. "Speakin' of which, you're not supposed to be talkin' too much yet, gotta let your lungs clear first."
Hutch obediently stayed silent but looked at his partner inquiringly. Starsky grinned. "S'okay, Jace was here and he said if I kept your temperature down, you didn't need to go to Central. He left some antibiotics, too; you're gonna have to stay on them for a while but you'll be on your feet in a coupla' days."
Hutch continued to watch him; they both knew that wasn't all he was thinking about.
Starsky flushed a little under the gaze and squirmed in the chair. He suddenly wondered if he had made the right decision, if Hutch would be uncomfortable with his vulnerability in front of his partner. He began again, defensively. "Look, I know how you don't like hospitals and I don't trust doctors a lot myself, and Huggy stopped by a couple of times to help, and, well, you're my partner," he finished lamely.
Hutch digested that for a moment, then smiled gently as his eyes began to drift shut. "Thanks for taking care of me, partner," he whispered.
Starsky watched him fade into sleep. Then again, he should've known better. "Anytime," he answered softly.
"Hey, Starsk, 's that you?"
Starsky maneuvered through the door with his hands full, and shut it behind him with a foot. " 'Course it's me, dummy. Told you I'd be by after work." He paused by the couch for a moment to grin and shake his head at the sight of Hutch wrapped in a nest of blankets, reading on the couch. "So what'd you do today?" he called back over his shoulder as he went into the kitchen.
"I ran the 5k marathon," was the dry response.
Starsky's grin widened as he put the eggs and juice away and pulled out the skillet. "Watch it, Hutchinson, or I'll spike your omelet." He waited for a moment, but there was no response. He stuck his head out of the kitchen. "Hey, you still out there?"
"Yeah." Hutch's voice was a little odd. Starsky set the skillet down and walked back out into the living room.
"You okay?" He studied Hutch's face. His partner had been up and slowly getting around for two days now, but maybe it was still too soon...
Hutch met his gaze with a frown. "Starsk, why are you here?"
Starsky shrugged, "To fix dinner -- what, d'you forget already?"
Hutch shook his head. "No, I mean why've you been here since all this started, looking after me?"
Starsky was taken off guard by the question he himself had wondered about only a few days before. "Well, 'cause... why, don't you want me here?" he regarded Hutch a little uncertainly.
Hutch shook his head in frustration. "Of course I do, that's not what I mean, it's just...don't you have anything else to do? Anything you'd rather be doing?" This time it was he who was looking at Starsky apprehensively, holding his breath for the answer.
Starsky relaxed. Was that all Hutch wanted? He shook his head firmly, "No."
Hutch blinked, and then said softly, "Oh." That was it. Simple, no explanations asked for, none needed. Maybe that's what a good friendship was, someone to just be with. Starsky was still watching him, though, seeing if that was enough and so he smiled at his partner appreciatively. "Omelet, huh?"
Starsky grinned and turned away, saying, "Yeah, with optional hot sauce on top." The theatrical groan from the couch kept him laughing all the way back to the kitchen.
Written in 1995