This story first appeared in the zine, That's What Friends Are For #8 (1998). 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.
90 - 10
K Hanna Korossy
Hutch was already halfway down the watertower when it occurred to him that he was descending alone. He'd assumed that Starsky would be following him, but as he looked up in surprise, he saw the motionless figure was now high above him.
The figure didn't move. Hutch's concern coalesced into worry. Even from a distance, Hutch could see that his partner was staring at the broken body of Commander Jim on the ground far below. Starsky had already been in no shape for this bust, plus there was the fact that heights terrified him...
Hutch quickly began climbing again, up and over, going as fast he could. When he was arm's length from the blue-sneakered foot above him, he tried again, "Starsky?"
No reaction at all. Hutch climbed the last few feet silently until he was eye-level with his partner.
Starsky was trembling though he had a white-knuckled grip on the tower strut, matching his ashen face. His eyes were wide with shock, dazed, like a man who'd seen too much, and they were firmly fixed on the ground below him. It took Hutch's nearness to drag his gaze away, but the shock they reflected told the blond that Starsky was still seeing the lifeless body. "I... I can't," he tripped over the words.
Can't get down? He was stuck and clearly in shock, Hutch could see, but he couldn't try to fix the latter before he did something about the former. His first priority was to get them both safely down from the tower.
"It's okay," he murmured back as he began shifting, making his way over to behind his partner. Then he slipped an arm firmly around the other's middle. His voice was low and even, careful not to startle. "Starsk? Let go and climb down with me. Slow and easy," he gently pulled.
At first there was hesitation, resistance, then Starsky began to move, clumsily, fumbling to find new footing. Hutch patiently waited on him, directing him with simple instructions and tugs in the right direction. Starsky's hold was uncertain, but Hutch doggedly hung on to him and helped him keep his balance, and slowly they made their way down the large structure. Hutch hadn't realized how far they'd climbed until he gratefully reached the ground some time later.
Starsky remained slightly hunched over, withdrawn into himself except for his unblinking stare fixed on the body. "Why did he...?" The shaky whisper trailed off.
"He slipped, Starsk," Hutch said kindly. "He was confused."
Starsky dazedly shook his head as though trying to clear it, but couldn't seem to not look at the body. Hutch kept his arm around his partner's waist and directed him around the watertower's base, forcibly turning him away from the gruesome sight. Falls were never pretty, and the blood seemed to be everywhere. His own stomach turned at the scene.
They'd only gone a few steps when Starsky began to gag, sagging to his knees. Hutch sank down with him, his free hand instantly going up to cradle his partner's forehead. Starsky hadn't slept or eaten much since the whole ordeal began, though, and could only choke on dry heaves now, sending heavy shudders through his whole frame.
Hutch just held on, not worrying about anything else for the moment while he concentrated on his friend. Even when the reflex released Starsky back into his arms, the blond continued to calm. "Shh," he soothed, pushing back plastered curls, "It's all right." Starsky's face was impossibly even paler than before, and all Hutch wanted to do was get him to the car before the other folded on him completely.
"Sorry," Starsky muttered, hollow-voiced.
"Nothing to be sorry for," Hutch automatically reassured. He got Starsky to his feet, surprised that the other managed to find shaky footing and stay upright. Though it took Hutch's gentle urging to get him moving.
They had climbed up the outside of the building in their hurry to get up to the roof when they'd arrived, but now Hutch had no intention of trying to get his overburdened partner back down the same way. Casting about for another option, his eyes lit on a locked stairhouse. He led Starsky over to it, forcing the flimsy lock with one savage twist, then slowly drew his partner down the stairs with him.
They'd just reached the Torino when the first siren could be heard in the distance. Dobey. He'd known where they'd gone and without them checking in, had probably sent reinforcements. Hutch was grateful for the captain's foresight; he wanted to get Starsky out of there as soon as possible and it would be a relief to leave the whole mess in someone else's hands for the time being. One-handed, he fumbled with the door and finally pushed Starsky inside.
"Thanks, Hutch." The words were blurry, exhausted, as Starsky curled up in the seat.
Hutch absently rubbed a folded leg while crouching beside the open door and reaching in past Starsky for the mike. He called in and outlined the situation quickly for Dobey, avoiding specifics about his partner. That was nobody's business, not even their boss's. Dobey didn't push, willing to take their reports later and to direct the arriving units until the crime team arrived. Hutch signed off with relief, and with a final touch and a long look at his unmoving partner, shut the door and went to talk to the officers who were just arriving on the scene.
Several minutes went by as he gave cursory instructions and details, deflecting any questions about his partner's whereabouts and keeping the uniforms away from the Torino. Hutch wasn't about to let anyone see Starsky like that, especially not patrolmen. When he finished, Hutch paused a moment to look at the body lying at the base of the tower. He didn't feel their failure with Jim as keenly as Starsky did, but his heart still grieved at the death, at the tragedy of the confused young man. Helen's death seemed all the more meaningless. With a heavy sigh, Hutch turned back to the red-and-white car and the still-walking wounded.
Starsky seemed to be asleep but his breathing was uneven and his eyes were tightly squeezed shut. He had reached his limits. Hutch merely laid a hand on the nearest shoulder, wincing as it flinched from his touch, and started the car.
He spent the drive back alternately watching his passenger and silently debating with himself. Of all the unfortunate scheduling, Helen's funeral was to be that afternoon as planned by her parents. Starsky wanted to attend, the blond knew, had quietly mentioned it the previous day before hurrying on to some other subject. As it was, though, Starsky was in no condition to go anywhere but home to rest. Yet Hutch knew that if he missed the funeral, he'd never forgive himself. There were few options.
"Starsky?" he tried softly. The other's brows drew together. "Starsk, Helen's funeral's this afternoon. You still wanna go?" He waited, half-hoping his partner would refuse or even not respond. If he couldn't pull himself together enough to make the decision, Helen or no, there was no way Hutch would let him go anywhere but home.
A long sigh sounded from next to him. Then, quietly, "Yeah."
"Okay." Hutch chewed his lip. "Then we'll go back to your place and get something to eat first, huh?" he glanced hopefully at Starsky, gauging every reaction.
Not much to see. His partner was shuttered off, pulled back into himself. Starsky didn't do that very often and it unsettled Hutch to see it. The affirmative noise his partner made also sounded wooden, reflexive. Hutch wasn't sure how good an idea this was after all, but they were committed now. He was committed. And he'd see to it that Starsky made it through that afternoon.
At the house, he turned off the car and waited expectantly. Still no reaction. He sighed. "Starsky?"
Starsky started, eyes flying open. Seeing where they were, he seemed to marshal his strength to get moving, and Hutch resolutely got out of the car and followed him up, watching closely but not helping.
Inside, Starsky automatically flopped down onto the sofa. Hutch went right past him into the bathroom, turning on the shower before he disappeared into the bedroom. He came out a few moments later with a bathrobe and towel and approached the sofa.
Crouching in front of it, he waited until washed-out blue eyes met his. "How you doin'?" he asked softly. Everything seemed to take Starsky great effort as he roused himself now to shrug. Hutch smiled soberly. "Shower'll help," he said, piling the stuff he'd collected into Starsky's hands and tugging him up off the couch. "I'll fix lunch."
Starsky obediently went.
Twenty minutes and a long silence later, Hutch was just beginning to serve lunch when the bedroom door opened. Starsky came out in slacks and a sweater, smiling wanly at Hutch's inquiring look. A little life seemed to have returned to his eyes, too, though the shower had only highlighted the drawn and pale face. Lord, keep him together for just a few more hours, Hutch prayed, grinning as he held up the pan. "You ready for some food? You're gonna love this!"
Starsky slid into the seat but grimaced at the sight and smell of the omelet. "'M not hungry," he protested, subdued.
"C'mon, Starsk, when's the last time you ate a decent meal?"
"What you call decent? Probably been a coupla years."
The sarcastic answer would've been encouraging, except that the humor seemed more reflex than Starsky's old self. And it had neatly avoided the question. "Well, I couldn't find much that was edible in your cupboard but this is still better than nothing," Hutch answered in kind, serving a healthy portion of the omelet to Starsky. "And you're not going anywhere until you eat it," he added with mock sternness.
Starsky was unable to keep up the banter. For a moment, his gaze came up to meet Hutch's, and the pain in the blue-black eyes stopped Hutch's breath. What the...? Then fatigue washed it away into the empty look of before. The dark head dropped over the plate and Starsky slowly began to eat without a shred of enthusiasm.
Hutch shook himself. Helen and Starsky had broken up over a year earlier, why the intensity of grief? Then again, he'd never seen Starsky lose anyone before, except for the mourning he'd done for Lonnie Craig, but that had been different. This was...
A memory touched him, bobbing to the surface after he'd carefully tucked it away so many years before, another of the treasured possessions he'd gained from Starsky's trust. A late night talk not long after their academy graduation, a lot of alcohol and its equivalent amount of honesty, and a confession. "My dad died when I was eight, Hutch. Three months later, Ma sent me out here to live with Aunt Rosie and Uncle Al. No one's really stuck around for me before." He'd gotten too embarrassed to continue despite the alcohol's loosening, but the sense of a little boy abandoned had sharply etched itself into Hutch's mind. As had his intention to break the pattern.
But anyone with a history like that was bound to take the death of a loved one hard. Added to that was the death of the equally victimized Commander Jim-a death that represented a defeat for them both-and being physically exhausted, and even resilient Starsky was hard-pressed to deal with it. Especially alone.
He reached out and put a hand on Starsky's. The other's mechanical motions hesitated, stopped. "I'm here," Hutch said softly. Before, the touch alone would have conveyed that as it normally did a hundred times a day, but now it was important to Hutch that the message be obvious.
Starsky didn't look up but Hutch could see him swallow, then, finally, nod a little. After a moment, he resumed eating.
Hutch stayed there several minutes longer, eating one-handed in silence until Starsky finished and wandered into the living room, then he also reluctantly left to shower and change.
Hutch had already attended more cop funerals than he cared to admit, but none had ever cut quite so close before. He'd known Helen well, too, first professionally as a rookie riding with them, then socially as she and Starsky began to see more and more of each other. At one point, he'd been sure the two would get married and, though he would never have said it, the idea hurt. He and Helen had always gotten along, but somehow when he tagged along, three seemed a crowd. Not wanting to intrude, he'd begun distancing himself from the pair. But then Helen broke up with Starsky shortly thereafter, permanently. A part of the blond had been relieved, but the break hadn't been easy on his partner. And Hutch didn't choose to speculate on its cause.
But anyone who affected Starsky, affected him. And so he stood now next to Starsky by the coffin, his hand protectively holding his partner's elbow in support, mourning. And acutely aware of the sheer willpower it was taking his friend to simply remain upright and composed. Hutch was past worrying; now he was just concentrating on getting Starsky through that afternoon.
The pastor finished his message, a few eulogies were given by familiar faces Hutch couldn't quite place, and then the 21 gun salute sounded. He felt Starsky jerk with each retort and tightened his grasp. He and Starsky had both been invited to be in one of the honor guards or the ceremony, but Hutch had refused for them both with Starsky's tacit agreement. He was glad now; neither of them were up to it.
The last shot faded away and everyone began to move. An older couple-Helen's parents-looked over at Starsky and their eyes met for a long minute. Even the blond couldn't tell what he was thinking behind the dark glasses Hutch had scrounged up for him, but they seemed to understand each other and the couple finally moved on.
Hutch could feel Starsky's energy ebbing, like a clock winding down, the emotional drain finishing what the physical enervation had already wrought. Several others who knew Starsky from work or Helen's circle of friends approached the pair now, and Starsky stiffened, struggling to shore himself up for the condolences.
Hutch moved at once without thinking, smoothly planting himself between his partner and the sympathizers. Words were exchanged in low voices with quick side glances, but no one pressed and Hutch ignored the unspoken queries even as he felt Starsky's attention slip away again. A few of their closer friends from work gave him understanding looks, but it was only at Dobey's kind, knowing look that Hutch almost felt himself falter.
"He'll be okay, Cap'n, he just took it kinda hard," Hutch said quietly.
Dobey nodded. "You two take all the time you need," he answered with an uncharacteristic lack of gruffness. Edith reached out from next to him to squeeze Hutch's free hand, a gesture he returned, then the older couple moved off. Hutch swallowed and turned back to his partner, his hand still clutching the other's elbow.
Looks like he's going to pass out, Hutch frowned. "Starsk? You ready to go?" he asked as he lifted the glasses, needing to see his partner's eyes.
Starsky looked up at him blankly, not even blinking in the sudden sunlight.
Light's on but nobody's home. "C'mon, partner," Hutch gently tugged his unresisting friend along with him, "let's get out of here."
Within a half an hour they were back at Starsky's, and Hutch paused only long enough to ease him out of some of his fancier clothes to make him more comfortable, then put him to bed and pulled the covers up. Some awareness had returned to the other but he seemed too tired to fuss, his acceptance of the care making Hutch flinch as much as it filled him with warmth. Starsky already let him fill his need to give, to parent, in so many ways, Hutch was very aware of that. But this rarely-seen degree of need was disconcerting. Each time he saw it made him more resolved to protect and care for that which was entrusted to him.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, he lightly ran his hand up and down the other's back, across the shoulders, up to the tousled curls, expressing with touch what was not getting through in words. An idea struck him and, after a moment's hesitation, he softly began to sing. He'd never done so just for Starsky before but it somehow seemed right now. The quiet ballad slowly slipped under the isolation Starsky was wrapped in, and Hutch didn't pause when the first tear fell or when the last one finished soaking the pillow and a hand shyly slid into the one he'd left resting on the bed. Only when the heavy breathing grew too soft to hear and the shadowed eyes had been closed for a while did he stop, and even then, held there by the other's grasp, he stayed a time longer, silently watching. As the shadows on the wall lengthened, he finally gently drew his hand away and, convinced the other was undisturbed, left the room.
Hutch was sitting at the kitchen table reading Starsky's copy of Ivanhoe. His partner's range of interests in reading material never ceased to amaze him, from comics and stupid trivia books to works of literature even Hutch had been too daunted to try. This was an old favorite from his own childhood, though, and he was enjoying revisiting it more than he would've thought, particularly with the apartment newly cleaned around him and a casserole staying warmed in the oven.
He'd only gotten to Ivanhoe's wounding when the bedroom door creaked behind him and he turned to see Starsky shuffle out in a bathrobe, looking not fully awake. "Good morning," Hutch smiled at his partner.
The darkness of before was dispersed by the small but bona fide smile he got in return. "Is it morning?" Starsky asked, making his way over to the coffeepot.
"Not really," Hutch cheerfully answered, his spirits rising proportionally to the improvement he saw in his partner.
Starsky eyed him suspiciously. "What time's it?"
Hutch pulled out his watch. "About 3:30."
One eyebrow rose. "PM?"
"How long was I asleep?"
Hutch did a moment's mental math. "About twelve hours."
Starsky forgot about the coffee, dropping into the other chair across from Hutch instead. "Twelve hours?!" he repeated in disbelief.
Hutch's look lost some of its playfulness. "I don't even think that was enough, Starsk." He hesitated, fell silent, waiting.
Starsky frowned. "I don't remember a whole lot of...the funeral." He colored, suddenly studying the tablecloth. "Just a little bit after...," he trailed off.
"Starsky...," Hutch hesitated. The last thing he wanted was for his friend to feel ashamed. It had seemed so obvious to him before; would it make as much sense to Starsky? "The way I see it," he finally offered, meeting Starsky's gaze with deceptive surety, "we've got a 90-10 partnership." He saw Starsky narrow his eyes and hurried on to avoid an interruption. "Most of the time, when we're on the job or hangin' out or whatever, we're 50-50. That's the ideal, right?" A reluctant nod. Hutch was getting animated as he warmed to his topic and did his best to be convincing. "But sometimes one of us can only give 10% and the other has to give 90. God knows, I've had my share of those times when I was only getting and not giving." Starsky's eyes softened in mutual remembrance of an all-too-recent occurrence. Hutch smiled gently again. "It's nothing to be embarrassed about, just means we're human. Around each other, we can afford to be." He realized with some surprise that Starsky was the only one he could've been that honest with. And Starsky would know it.
"90-10?" Starsky asked tiredly, the warmth of Hutch's expression and words touching his eyes. "Where'd you get that from?"
Hutch colored and shrugged. "Reader's Digest?"
"I don't think so," Starsky shook his head a little. "Most people don't have a 90-10 partnership, partner." The last was said with fond inflection.
Hutch nearly started. That was it? No moody self-consciousness or second thoughts? It wasn't the first time he'd been taken off guard by how easily Starsky received from him, a lesson he himself was slowly learning. But the acceptance filled a need in him, too. Maybe that was what made their friendship so unique, that even in giving 90% he was still getting 90%. He acknowledged Starsky's meaning with a silent nod.
Concern nudged him again; Starsky was still pale and drawn, his eyes not yet fully alive. "How you doin'?" Hutch leaned forward in his chair again.
An absent shrug. "Okay. Tired. I'd say about 30%." Another teasing smile that wasn't at all provoking.
"Yeah?" Hutch rose from the chair to go to the oven. "Well, you're going right back to bed in a few minutes, but first I got a casserole here that just might help with that last 20%." It was a pleasure to hear Starsky laugh after seeing that shell of a stranger only a day before. Starsky rebounded quickly, but he was still learning that people didn't always leave, and Hutch had every intention of remaining cook and babysitter for the next few days until he was sure that worry was laid to rest.
At least, until the next time he was in for 90.
Written in 1997