This story first appeared in the zine, Seasoned Timber 1 (2001). 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.
Peace of Mind
K Hanna Korossy
The key turned noiselessly in the single lock, manipulated by careful fingers. Hutch's place had two bolts; Starsky had gone out and bought the second one, even installed it on his partner's door without Hutch's knowledge or permission after Forest's alarmingly easy break-in and kidnapping. Hutch had given it and him a long look when he'd first seen it, but never said a word. That Starsky hadn't considered doing the same for himself said something about what he worried about and where his priorities lay. Hutch had never commented on that, either. He understood far too well that need to protect.
Maybe that was what had brought Hutch over at that darkest part of night, when even traffic was dead in a city that never seemed to sleep. He wasn't sure why, but neither had he fought the feeling much, rising from a badly mussed but hardly slept-in bed to pull on his jogging sweats and tennis shoes before slipping out to his car, knowing where he was going without ever really deciding to go.
Starsky's house, naturally, was dark and silent, as he'd expected it to be. It was late, even for his night-owl of a partner, let alone the fact that Starsky had gone to bed early because he wasn't feeling well.
That hadn't stopped Hutch. He had keys. Starsky had probably not had such a use in mind for them when he'd given them to the blond...though who knew? His partner often anticipated his actions before he himself knew what he was going to do.
The door swung open equally silently. Hutch slipped inside before turning to close it behind him, not bothering to relock it while he was there. He wouldn't be staying long, anyway.
Hutch knew his way in the dark, a path he'd traced before. Across the living room, to the right, to the bedroom door that stood open. And there, just inside, he stopped. He hadn't thought beyond that point.
The bed was only a few steps away, its outline becoming clear as the blond's eyes adjusted to the faintly moonlit room. Its one occupant was a lump in the middle, the covering yellow blanket stark even in the pale light. The room was silent except for the sound of the congested breathing of its owner, broken by occasional coughs.
Hutch stood inside the door, his eyes moving idly over the bed, the pile of clothes next to it on the floor, the half-empty mug of something dark, probably tea, that sat on the nightstand next to the phone, then back to the bed. Listening to the loud breathing, the soft sounds of the sleeper's restless stirring. Feeling peace.
He truly hadn't done it on purpose. His partner seemed to suspect otherwise, but when Hutch had been knocked into the water at the docks the day before, he'd had enough to do just to overcome the shock of the cold water and abrupt dunking, swimming at once underneath the pier to the other side where he knew he could climb back up again. Half-submerged and on the far side of the pier, he'd thought he'd heard Starsky's voice calling, but Hutch intended to join him a minute later and didn't dream his partner would jump in after him, fearing he was drowning. Maybe he should have anticipated it. With hindsight, he'd have done the same, but when he thought about it, Hutch was still touched. He did know how much his friend hated the water. Particularly in the cold of November, and filthy harbor water, at that. It was a miracle they both hadn't come down with some serious bacterial infection.
But of course, Starsky had been the one to become thoroughly chilled and, sure enough, an hour later his temperature was rising and he was sniffling. Hutch had listened patiently to the stream of increasingly stuffy grumbling and fussing as he'd driven them both to his place. The complaints didn't slow as he'd dug out some clean, dry things and a set of towels for Starsky, shoving him toward the bathroom to shower and change, but Hutch didn't argue back. He'd felt a little guilty, sure, even though he'd not done anything deliberately wrong. But mostly Hutch was just aware of the honest fatigue and cold misery under the camouflaging prattle. Even as he'd tucked Starsky in on his couch, it had seemed a small compensation, considering his partner was getting sick because he'd jumped into the water out of worry for him.
Starsky coughed in his sleep across the room. Hutch startled at the sound, watching as the brunet curls disappeared farther into the nest of blankets, his stuffy breathing audible even through the bedclothes. Which didn't look too warm, actually, and Starsky seemed to be curled up under them in an attempt to find heat.
Still soundless, Hutch left the room to go as far as the linen closet in the hall. He eased the door open, finding quickly what he was looking for, then returned to the bedroom. Just inside the doorway, he paused again, making certain he'd not disturbed sleep, before creeping to the side of the bed. He unfolded the thick blue quilt, the one he'd given Starsky from among those his grandmother had given him, settling it over the bed and tucking in the corners. The extra pillow he didn't dare slide in, knowing it would wake the sleeper, instead just laying it on the bed next to the dark curls. Starsky would find it in his restless sleep, and the elevation would be sure to help his breathing. With that, Hutch retreated back to the doorway.
There was no need for the vigil, of course. He was almost as eager to keep from waking his partner out of embarrassment at his presence as he was out of concern for Starsky. The cold was apparently a nasty one, but Hutch was sure that was all it was, a cold. He could, in fact, give no good reason for his compulsion to be there.
Though maybe it was the same reason that had compelled Starsky to join him earlier that day at the wedding party that turned into a wake for could-have-beens. Starsky had been quite vocal about his sacrifice of crawling out of bed for the stakeout at the docks, yet even after Billy had been arrested and Starsky could have returned home, he'd gone with Hutch to break the news to Nancy, Billy's jilted fiancee, then stuck around in an effort to cheer her and her mother. And all he'd gotten for that was a faceful of cake and a hoarse voice by the time they left. The afternoon had worn him out and he'd gone straight to bed upon arriving home.
If Hutch had pressed, Starsky probably would have said he wanted to see if he could help the two women, be there for them. That was no doubt true in part, but the one he'd really been there for was Hutch, offering the unspoken support of his presence as the blond had done for his "adopted little sister." The same worry as at the docks, expressed yet another way.
Nancy's sorrow had hit Hutch hard, if he cared to admit it. She had been very much like a sister to him once, and her showing up in LA had been like having family around again. It'd been nice, and he'd been so proud at the thought of giving her away at her wedding. Her anger at his investigation of Billy had hurt, but not nearly so much as her pain at Billy's betrayal. Hutch had almost forgotten what being a big brother felt like, the love and joy mixed in with grief and worry.
Or maybe he hadn't.
He moved silently to the chair near to him, one that faced the bed, and gingerly sat down. He wouldn't stay long, he repeated to himself. Starsky was all right, he knew that, or at least would be within a few days. Maybe Hutch would even coddle his partner a bit, and Starsky, once he started feeling a little better, would milk it for all it was worth. It wasn't fear for his partner's health that had brought him out in the middle of the night, not really. He just...wanted to sit there for a bit, maybe count his blessings. Keep watch.
Just for a few minutes, then he'd go.
He'd woken up several times, his internal clock not turned off so easily either by sickness or days off, only to remind himself each time that he and Hutch were no longer on the Friday-through-Monday rotation. That was good because he really wasn't feeling too great and the day would be miserable enough spent in bed, let alone on the job.
A sneeze rattled his teeth, and Starsky reached blindly toward the nightstand for the box of tissues, encountering instead a bottle that he didn't recall from the night before. Curious, he pushed the covers down far enough to see what was under his hand. A new bottle of cough syrup, its seal broken in preparation for use, with a spoon resting expectantly beside it. And next to that, a white bakery bag. Now thoroughly baffled, Starsky pushed himself up further, pausing for another sneeze, before snagging the bag and peering warily inside. Nestled in it were two jelly donuts, his favorite kind.
Awareness began to dawn, clarifying as he glanced around his room, at the clothes he knew he'd shed tiredly on the floor the night before but that now sat folded on the hamper, and the thickest of his quilts that had been added to the bed since he'd turned in the night before. Even the half cup of tea he'd not finished before falling asleep had been cleared away, replaced by a covered mug that still felt warm to touch. His visitor, then, hadn't been gone long, coming by only to bring him a few little things, do him a few small favors. Show a lot of concern.
Grinning with sappy delight, Starsky took a long, throat-soothing sip of the lukewarm tea, then slid back down under the covers. It was an indescribably warm feeling to know his well-being mattered that much to someone else. The day ahead of him suddenly looked a lot less dreary. But he had some serious recovering to do before Hutch really got worried about him, and on that thought he dozed off again.
Peace of mind restored, miles away in Venice, a tired blond crawled into bed with a smile and also fell fast asleep.
Written in 1999