This story first appeared in the zine, Closer than a Brother (1998). 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: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
K Hanna Korossy
After a search among the refuse in the old tunnel, Starsky finally found the treasure he was looking for. Lovingly, he retrieved his rock and, petting it, set off back toward the mouth of the tunnel and his waiting partner.
He was surprised to find Hutch alone, leaning against the side of the LTD, patiently waiting for him. "Black-and-whites and Dobey took them in," the blond answered at his upraised eyebrow. Starsky nodded, slipping his pet into his pocket as he got into the passenger side of the car and Hutch went around to the driver's side.
They'd already started back when Starsky first realized something was off. It had been a long, exhausting day, and they were both worn out, physically and emotionally. Still, there was a silence that hung over his partner that had something more to it than just weariness. It wasn't obvious, wouldn't have even been there for the rest of the world to see, but then, the rest of the world wasn't tuned to Hutch's feelings, either.
Starsky was silent for a moment, then ventured softly, "I didn't mean t'hit ya so hard."
Hutch started, turning to look at him in surprise. "What?"
"In the bar. Didn't like hitting ya at all," Starsky admitted, uncomfortable.
"It was part of the act, Starsky. Not like it was personal." A pause. Hutch turned back to the steering wheel. "You owe me one, anyway," he said more quietly.
Starsky mentally cursed; they'd never talked about that night at Gillian's since, and it certainly hadn't been his intention to bring it up again. "Hutch-"
His partner turned back to him, understanding in his eyes. "Starsk, it's okay. Really." His mouth quirked a bit. "I thought we put on a pretty good show."
Starsky smiled back. It was a relief to have that out of the way, hating the memory of not being able to help, to make sure Hutch was okay after seeing him fall from Starsky's blow. Not that he'd thought Hutch held it against him, but that still hadn't made it much easier to do. He glanced at his partner, weighing the other's mood. A little lightened, but there was still something...
"How'd you know it was Fargo?" he asked slowly.
The back went more rigid and Starsky could almost see the tension flowing through the other's frame. Bingo. "He knew more than Dobey or I told him. It didn't take much to figure out he was in on it and he'd made you. Then we just had to figure out where he was going."
The last sentence was phrased correctly, but Starsky knew what it meant. It hadn't been Fargo Hutch had been looking for. Another frantic search, racing against time to find the other before it was too late. God knew, Starsky was familiar enough with that feeling. It hadn't been too long since Hutch's two-day disappearance into Topanga Canyon.
"Good thing you figured it out." It was said with just the right degree of levity to not make his partner uncomfortable and yet still convey his sincerity. He was rewarded with a glance and a quick smile. Starsky wasn't finished, though, there was still one more shadow that had to see light. Hutch would mend better for it. "I woulda never guessed he was behind it," he said tentatively.
Hutch slowly deflated, tenseness and anger replaced by sorrow. "Yeah."
That was it. Dirty cops always hit Hutch hard, like a personal affront. It was one of the things Starsky had come to admire most in his partner, his unwavering belief in Justice and the Job. And one of the things for which he hurt most of all for Hutch, too. Starsky was too much of a realist to trust in abstracts, but he had complete faith in Hutch, and that sometimes included defending his partner's idealism and shielding him from the harshness of the world as best he could. It was a small price to pay for the belief Hutch had restored in him.
"Hey," he said, nudging the blond with an elbow. He waited until he got a tired, questioning look. "They were wrong. It happens. Doesn't take away from what we do." He waited for a glint of comprehension in the other's eyes, then smiled fondly. "I'm not gonna turn on ya." Hutch knew that, but it didn't hurt to remind him from time-to-time that there were constants. His partner tended to forget things when he got to thinking too much.
The reason for those words got through even Hutch's preoccupied state. His cheeks colored a little with touched embarrassment, Starsky smiled privately to see. Hutch only nodded, his eyes already back on the road, and Starsky settled back for the remainder of the ride, keeping a half-eye on the other as he drove. There was still a lingering sadness, but the earlier weight was gone and buried. He'd deal with the rest on his own. Joys doubled, sorrows halved, his aunt's old saying came to mind. Starsky was content to take more than his half anyday.
"Starsky, Hutchinson, I want to see you in my office."
The two detectives exchanged a long glance. Dobey's oft-barked command had been delivered quietly, almost reluctantly. That boded ill. As he followed his partner into the office, Starsky tried to think of something that had happened recently that would account for the captain's mood, but nothing came to mind. If anything, their boss had been rather pleased with their work lately, although he'd never tell them that to their face. He'd merely been yelling less.
Starsky softly closed the door behind him, then moved forward to stand beside his partner, shoulders nearly touching. If the news was bad, they'd need the support.
Dobey cleared his throat, shuffled papers on his desk, did everything but look up at them. Starsky shared a look with Hutch again, seeing the same assessment in the other's eyes. He spoke for them both.
"Cap'n, you wanted to see us?"
Dobey glanced up, frowning, then went back to looking through his paperwork. "The Board has just reached a decision about Officer Raymond Andrews," was all he said, muttered under his breath.
Starsky's jaw hardened. The way Dobey was trying not to say it, the brunet already knew what that meant. Somehow, the young officer, Jackson's killer, was getting off. "What?" he asked quietly.
The captain finally looked up, regarding each one in turn. "Three month suspension and a reprimand on his record. Then he goes back to active duty."
The words were nearly physically painful, and Starsky was aware of their impact on the man beside him even as he himself felt it. Jackson had been Starsky's old war buddy, but he'd become both their friend. And to see that racist... murderer get away with what he had.... Starsky wasn't sure which of them was going to lose it first.
"He's going to get away with it," Hutch echoed his thoughts out loud. "With two witnesses, and an innocent man killed..." His voice trailed off. The tone was empty, Starsky realized, bottomed out. He silently began to shore up his own coping skills to balance for Hutch, who obviously wasn't doing it for himself.
In contrast, Dobey's voice was heavy with resignation. "Sometimes things turn out that way. They just didn't have enough evidence-"
"Tell that to Mrs. Walters," Starsky allowed bitterly. He knew it wasn't Dobey's fault, but the anger had to go somewhere. The captain would understand.
Dobey merely pursed his lips; there was no answer to give. Starsky sighed, understanding, and finally snagged his partner's arm and tugged him toward the door. Hutch didn't resist.
In the squadroom, Starsky pushed the blond's jacket into Hutch's hands while grabbing his own. "C'mon, we're going home."
There was no argument. And amidst the fresh welling of grief that washed through Starsky, there lingered a background awareness that something more was going on his partner's mind.
Hutch sat silently, idly watching the swirls of alcohol in his glass. Starsky was slouched in the chair halfway across the room, intently watching him. The darker man was not one to usually talk out his problems; pain and grief were facts of life and dealt with as needed. Even now, he grieved deeply for the friend he'd buried such a short time before. But Hutch was who he was really concerned about. Because when his partner didn't work through what was bothering him, he didn't heal. And that was reason enough for Starsky to want to talk.
But Hutch wasn't cooperating. Starsky finally sighed and straightened in his chair. Hutch continued to sit, undisturbed, lost in some private world. Starsky had thought at first that he was being ignored, but his partner had apparently turned off the sixth sense that usually kept them attuned to each other, and seemed completely oblivious to his friend's scrutiny.
Starsky shifted again and finally decided to break the silence. That or go crazy from the quiet. "You know, Hutch, that's what I like about you. Always a good conversationalist."
The attempt to rile didn't elicit a response. At all.
Starsky grimaced and pushed himself up out of the chair to cross the room and bend over in front of his partner. "Didn't anyone ever teach you it's polite to answer when you're spoken to?" He grinned a little, hopefully.
He noticed Hutch didn't even start--he had been aware of Starsky all along, after all, just had chosen to tune him out. Starsky didn't know if he should be annoyed or worried. Then his partner looked up and met his eyes, and he knew.
"I'm not sure it's worth it anymore, Starsky." The voice was matter-of-fact, but with the kind of neutrality Starsky recognized from victims who told their horror stories in voices devoid of emotion. Because there was too much for them to deal with.
"What?" Starsky asked quietly. He hoped with all his heart that this wasn't going to be as serious as it sounded; he was too emotionally drained to handle another crisis.
"Being a cop." Hutch was still looking at him, being as honest as Starsky had hoped earlier he would be, except Starsky didn't want to be hearing what he was hearing anymore. But Hutch meant it and they both knew it.
Starsky sat back on his heels to think about that a minute. He wanted to blow the whole thing off, tell Hutch to have a drink and it would all look better in the morning. Except it wouldn't, and then they'd just have to go through this all over again. Hutch had had thoughts like this before--they both had. Particularly after a trial of faith. Like the death of a dear friend at the hands of a cop who'd tarnished his badge. And it seemed like they'd had this talk more than once recently...
"Don't you believe in the Job anymore?" he finally asked, afraid to know.
"No... I don't know. Yes. I do. I'm just not sure it's still right for me." He glanced up at Starsky again, then let his gaze slide down into his lap.
"Because o' Jackson?"
There was a pause as Hutch thought that one through. At least he was trying now. "Jackson's death brought it up again, but it had already been on my mind. Ever since Gillian," he added almost to himself.
Gillian? Now Starsky was really getting scared. Hutch's ideals were often the only thing that made the atrocities on the street bearable for him. If some bad apples had made him question how he himself measured up to those ideals, his very faith in himself was at stake. "You know it wasn't your fault that Gillian-" Starsky tried automatically.
"Don't." Hutch was looking at him earnestly now, and the soft pleading in his voice cut Starsky off completely. "It's just... Maybe I should have gone to law school and become the lawyer Van wanted. I'd probably keep more psychos off the street that way than being a cop..."
Starsky forced a laugh. "Are you kiddin'? You in a stuffy courtroom all day? You'd wilt." No reaction, not even a glimmer of a smile. His own heart was sinking, weighed down by Hutch's unhappiness. "Hutch, if we weren't out there doin' our jobs, those lawyers wouldn't have anybody to keep off the streets, you know that. What we do is important."
"I used to think so. I used to think that I was one of the good guys. We went out there, we helped people, we put bad guys in jail. But I seem to end up doing more harm than good."
"No, it's not. Listen to me. It was a cop who killed Jackson-"
"Yeah, but that was some trigger-happy rookie. You can't-"
"No, just listen." Hutch was getting agitated. Starsky shut up. "It's me, too. Abby's only mistake was falling in love with a cop, and she almost got killed for it. And Commander Jim, he just wanted to get away from those radio waves, and we helped him get away, all right. Permanently." His knuckles were white around the glass.
Starsky gently freed the glass before it cracked under the pressure. He wished fervently he could do the same for his partner. "Hey, hey, now that's not fair. We had no way o' knowin' about Commander Jim or Abby. Or Gillian. We did the best we could, and-"
Hutch jumped up. "That's not good enough, Starsky! This isn't some office job where making a mistake means you blow a deal or lose a client. When we mess up, we get people killed! I don't know if I can deal with that."
A brief anger kindled in Starsky at all the "we's." He had no regrets. Well, not many. He stood up to face his partner. "So we can't help everybody, so nobody said we were perfect. And I got news for you, pal: nobody is. I'm proud of what I do, and I think I'm a good cop. You are, too. Yeah, things don't always turn out the way we want, but that's life. You gotta learn to live with that. And we can still do a heck of a lot more good than most of those three-piece business suits, too."
Hutch had been looking at him, and Starsky could read the reaction in the blue eyes. He doesn't see it! How can he not see it?... Then, the troubled eyes cleared again, the emotion dulling in them like the flat voice back in Dobey's office earlier that day. "Look, I have to go," Hutch smiled, badly. "Don't worry about it, huh? I'm just letting off steam. I'll see you Monday." He moved quickly toward the door, leaving Starsky behind him, speechless. Reaching the door, Hutch hesitated, almost seeming to want Starsky to argue. The brunet raised a hand, opened his mouth to say something... and found no words. He watched, sick, as the bent shoulders sagged lower and the other disappeared out the door.
Starsky aimlessly wandered out of the kitchen into the living room for the tenth time that night, unable to concentrate on anything for long. The phone was enticing, but he still didn't know what to say and he doubted Hutch would answer, anyway. Great. Saturday night, and he was spending it home, alone and unoccupied. No, not exactly unoccupied, he amended silently. He was quite busy worrying.
Finally, he plopped down in front of the television, flipping through the channels in hopes of finding something that would hold his attention. Coming across an old black-and-white Lionel Barrymore movie, he sat back to watch.
The painful image of Hutch's palpable distress continued to intrude on his thoughts, however, even as he struggled to concentrate on the movie. Starsky had no illusions that anything had been settled that evening, and even if Hutch managed to bury the doubts and unhappiness for a while, they'd still be there, silently eating away at him as they apparently had been for some time. Burying some things only made them take root and grow.
His eyebrows drew together in frustration. The trouble was, he knew Hutch, probably better than his partner knew himself at the moment. The failures and the evil they encountered in the Job weighed heavily on his partner, but the rewards, everything that had made them both become cops in the first place, usually balanced things. Hutch was a good cop because he believed in the Job. And by his own admission, that hadn't changed.
The only problem was that Hutch sometimes forgot the good parts of being a cop, the opportunity to protect and serve. He didn't even realize how many lives he himself had affected, how much good he'd done, and that blind spot sometimes made him doubt. It had always amazed Starsky that his partner was so effortlessly caring, and yet so completely unaware how his natural gentleness touched those he came into contact with. His intuition, intelligence, and character made him good at his job. His heart made him unbeatable.
Starsky made a face; now he was getting soapy. The movie played on, and with a sigh he turned his attention back to it, worry tiredly mingling with the events on the screen.
Suddenly, he straightened on the sofa. His attention focused on the TV as something clicked and an idea began to take shape. It was crazy, but then, so was the whole mess. And it was perhaps just the obvious kick Hutch needed.
He turned the TV off; he'd seen the movie before and he knew how it ended. How it was supposed to end. Only if he worked it out very carefully... He had a lot of thinking and planning to do.
It was a part of the day Starsky didn't often see except when he was working. He glanced at his watch as he bounded up the last of the apartment steps. Not quite 8:00 AM. Well, knowing his partner, Hutch would have already jogged around the block and had breakfast by then, even on a Sunday morning. Starsky smiled fondly at the thought as he rang the doorbell, then bounced on his toes and hummed a few bars, glancing idly around the empty hall. In a few moments, his gaze returned to the door. Nothing. He knocked this time and put his ear against the wood to listen. Silence. Starsky frowned; it would be just his luck to come right when Hutch was out running. Well, that was okay, he'd just wait inside and surprise the other. Starsky took the key off the lintel and opened the door.
He nearly smacked his partner in the face with it. Hutch jumped back from the door he'd been reaching for and stood, in pajamas, regarding Starsky blearily, confused and looking very much as though he'd just woken up.
Starsky smiled widely. "Don't tell me you were still in bed at eight o'clock in the mornin'!"
Hutch was even more lost. "Starsky, it's Sunday."
"So what are you doing here?" Hutch asked with exaggerated patience.
"I'm takin' you somewhere," Starsky said enthusiastically.
"At eight o'clock on Sunday morning? Starsky, have you lost your mind?!" The blond now seemed to be deciding between anger and astonishment.
"Nope. But you'd better get dressed if you don't want people lookin' at you funny."
Hutch hesitated, gave up. He couldn't always figure out his partner when he was wide awake, let alone at eight in the morning. He turned back toward the bedroom, raising his hands in surrender. "All right, all right, but where are we going?"
"I'm not tellin' you." Starsky was clearly enjoying himself.
Hutch stopped short and turned to look at him. "This isn't April first today, is it? 'Cause, so help me, if this is some kind of gag..." He raised a finger in silent warning.
Starsky grinned innocently. "'Think I'd do that to you?"
"Well, this is on the level. Hurry up and get your clothes on or we're gonna be late."
Hutch retreated back to the bedroom shaking his head and muttering to himself. "Mind telling me what clothes to wear?" he called out sarcastically.
"Somethin' decent," Starsky called back, wandering into the kitchen in search of coffee. Despite his good humor, eight o'clock was still earlier than he usually cared to be conscious.
Fifteen minutes, Hutch was still grumbling as he sat in the passenger side of the Torino. "Why can't you tell me where we're going? You know I hate surprises, Starsky."
"You're gonna like this one," was the imperturbable reply.
"How do you know?"
"Because I know you. Now just shut up and relax, we're almost there."
"Where?!" Hutch lost his last shred of patience.
"Here," Starsky smoothly pulled up in front of a brick building.
Hutch turned to stare at it. He was still staring as his friend came around to his side and opened his door.
"Well, you comin'?" Starsky asked patiently.
Hutch looked up at him and back at the building. They hadn't been there much after Terry had died, Starsky having found her former school too much of a reminder. Hutch had stayed on to help with the recreation, but he, too, had left with some relief at the end of the year. The place held too many memories for them both.
He slowly got out of the car, eyes still on the building, then looked back at his partner questioningly. Starsky's smile was gentle this time. He'd already made peace with that part of his life. "Come on, they're waitin' for us," he said softly.
Starsky led the way through the door and Hutch followed, down the quiet corridor to the cafeteria. There, Starsky opened the door and held it, motioning his partner in. Hutch glanced at him one more time, then stepped into the noisy room.
He was instantly deluged. They'd apparently been waiting for him as half the room suddenly crowded around him, talking, patting him, wanting a hug. Hutch recovered quickly and responded in kind, smiling, returning hugs, listening to the excited kids who wanted to tell them their latest news. It was several minutes before one of the teachers could get the group to move back to the tables and sit down, but Hutch was still the surrounded guest of honor.
Starsky watched with quiet satisfaction from the shadows of the doorway as his partner's breakfast kept getting interrupted by the kids. Hutch couldn't seem to stop smiling at the outpouring of love that surrounded him.
A tall black woman spied the recluse and came over to stand next to him. "This was a good idea, Dave," she said quietly. "The kids missed Ken, and they were so excited to hear he was coming."
Starsky's eyes were back on his partner and a smile of affection softened his face. "Yeah, looks like he's enjoyin' it, too. Thanks a lot for lettin' us come, Angie."
"It's my pleasure, I'm just sorry you two can't come more often."
Starsky grew serious. "Angie..."
Angie touched his arm. "That's okay, Dave, I understand. I miss her, too."
He nodded gratefully. Angie was one of the few friends he and Terry had had in common, and the older woman's strength even in the black days immediately following Terry's death had been one of the things that had helped him pull through.
"Why don't you go join him," Angie suggested a moment later. "The kids would love to see you."
Starsky shrugged. "Naw, this is his day. 'Sides, he spent a lot more time with them than I did. We'll both come back some other time." His eyes asked for her acceptance and, not fully understanding, she nevertheless gave it. They turned back to watch the kids, young and old.
It took an hour before Starsky could pry his partner away from the crowd. Hutch had beckoned to him to come join them more than once, but Starsky had smiled and shook his head, silently watching instead from the sidelines until it was time to go and he waded into the crowd after the blond. Hutch had been given more keepsakes than he could carry, and Starsky juggled a few of them in one hand as he pulled his partner along with the other. They left amidst a chorus of good-byes, Hutch apparently as reluctant to leave them as they were to see him go.
It was hard for Starsky to keep from smiling as his partner gushed in the car about the kids, the progress they'd made, the gifts they'd given him. "They're great kids, Starsk," he enthused.
Starsky's mouth quirked in agreement. "Yeah."
Hutch fell silent, looking at him earnestly for a moment. "I'm still not sure why you did this, but I really enjoyed it. Thanks."
Starsky's perked up. "Oh, that wasn't it."
"What wasn't it?"
"That was just the first stop."
"What is this, a tour?" Hutch's earlier impatience crept in again, tempered by the good mood he couldn't completely shake.
"You could say that," Starsky was trying not to grin again.
Hutch frowned at the cryptic answer but settled back without argument to look again at his treasures. Silence fell as Starsky's thoughts moved to their next destination. The kids had been a safe bet, but he couldn't help but wonder if his next idea, the riskiest, was sound.
Fifteen minutes later, Hutch looked up to see them pull into a parking lot. The pleasure drained from his face, replaced by irritation. "What is this, Starsky?"
"Calvary Lutheran," Starsky replied calmly, already opening his door. "Thought you'd remember."
Hutch didn't budge. "Why are we here?" he demanded, voice edgy.
His partner turned back. "Hutch, you used to come here every week you could make it, remember?" he said. "You said it was 'like back home.' Why don'tcha come anymore?" His voice was quiet, curious.
"We haven't had much time, you know that," Hutch mumbled, reddening.
Starsky paused. "Look, I know I'm no saint, but I still go to services when I can. Everybody needs God, Hutch, especially in our line a' work."
The blond digested that for a moment. "What about you? You're going to come, too?"
Starsky smiled. "Same God, partner. Don't think Rabbi Friedman would have a fit. Besides," he sobered, "I know your pastor."
Hutch frowned. "What? Rev. Stewart? How-"
"He called after the Solkin thing was in the paper. Wanted to know how you were doin'." Starsky was busy fiddling with his keys. "Then I called him while you were in the hospital with the broken leg, and later on with the plague. He said he wanted to know so he could pray for you..."
Silence. Starsky didn't dare look up, feeling uncomfortably exposed. Finally, the voice softly spoke up next to him. "Well, I guess we'd better go in or we'll be late."
Starsky's smiled at the floor. Maybe this wasn't such a bad idea, after all. He got out and, meeting his partner at the front of the car, traded a look before going inside.
Starsky had never attended a goyim service before, but he was intrigued by the different traditions and styles. Even the hymns sounded strange and he tripped over some of them. Hutch, however, seemed to know them all by heart and sang with quiet sureness.
Then they sat through the sermon, the brunet's attention divided once more between his partner and the service. Hutch was listening attentively, a peace in his face Starsky usually only saw in those few moments following some crisis, when his arrival granted his partner some comfort and relief. The presence of that expression now, fascinated him.
The message, ironically, was on joy, the gist of it being that those who who knew God had a source of joy independent from the sorrows of life. It was an interesting thought, Starsky mulled, and not unlike the lesson he himself was trying to impart. Watching Hutch's attentiveness, the straightening of his shoulders from a lightened load instead of stiffening tension, Starsky considered that he'd have to try to talk Hutch into doing this regularly again. His partner often neglected to take care of himself even physically, let alone spiritually.
After the service, Starsky stumbled through the prayer that everyone else recited from memory, then followed his quiet partner out. When they'd almost reached the door, he noticed the figure waiting and stood back a little to watch.
"Ken!" a deep voice boomed out and the tall man with dark hair and a mustache stepped forward from his post by the door, reaching for Hutch's hand with both of his own. "It's so good to see you! How have you been?"
Hutch's cheek went pink, but the minister didn't seem to notice. "Pastor Stewart," he smiled almost shyly as his hand was earnestly pumped. "I'm sorry I haven't been here for a while--"
The larger man's compassion radiated as clearly from his face as it did his voice. "I heard about some of your troubles, son; we've all been praying for you." His smile returned. "It's good to have you back, though. Is everything well with you now?"
"Sure." Hutch hesitated. "Mostly." The second word hardly carried back to Starsky, who could almost see the walls rising around his friend.
The pastor placed a sizeable hand on Hutch's shoulder. "Son, you know you can always come talk if you want to. If not to me, then to God."
The walls faltered. "Thank you," Hutch stumbled over the words earnestly, looking up into the placid brown eyes. "I might take you up on that."
"Good." The hand clapped his shoulder. "It was good to have you here today." The sincerity in his voice was unmistakable. He gave Hutch a gentle smile, good-byes were said, and Hutch almost reluctantly moved on, his hand enthusiastically shaken one last time. Starsky only paused to take the large hand that was offered to him next, along with a knowing smile. He returned it with a nod and a ghost of an answering smile, then hurried to follow his partner. If Hutch noticed the silent exchange, he didn't mention it.
Quiet had again settled in the car, the comforting kind Starsky had grown to value. Funny, it was only with Hutch that he'd discovered a silence that he never felt pushed to break...
"Guess I needed that more than I thought," came the soft observation from the passenger seat. Starsky didn't answer. Hutch turned toward him. "Starsk, do you believe in God?"
Starsky looked at him with surprise. "'Course I believe in God. Didn't I say that before?"
"No," Hutch shook his head, "I mean really believe in Him. Like do what the Bible teaches, pray, stuff like that."
"Not as much as Ma would like," Starsky conceded after a moment's thought. "But He's a lot more real since I've been a cop."
"Yeah?" Hutch prodded with interest.
Starsky nodded. Deep subjects weren't his favorite topics of conversation, but if Hutch needed something from him, nothing was off-limits. "It was the only way I could accept the stuff I saw on the streets and in the jungle. I figured if that was all there is to life, there wasn't much point in living," he shrugged.
Hutch considered that, staring at the windshield. "But sometimes it doesn't seem much like He's still around," he finally said quietly.
"That's why it's called faith, Hutch. Besides," Starsky glanced over at him, "did you ever stop to think that maybe that's why we ended up where we are, like one of God's way of helpin' people?"
Hutch snorted. "You mean God needs our help?"
"No," Starsky countered patiently, "but maybe we're..." he struggled to put his feelings into words, "... I don't know, doin' His work. I mean, what where the chances of a hotshot kid from the wrong part o' New York and a blue-blood Minnesota hick ever findin' each other in the LAPD, huh?" His eyes shone with amusement and something else as he looked at his partner again.
Hutch had no answer. He frowned and sank into deep thought, even forgetting to ask where they were going next.
Starsky was also thinking, feelings churning. Is this working? It had seemed fairly obvious the night before: show Hutch how much good he'd done, how many lives he'd touched, and give him back his faith. The only hard part had been choosing which people and places to visit; there were so many. Just thinking about it had astonished Starsky. Despite the defeats, the horrors, the Forests and the Simon Marcus's, it was a wonderful life they had. Now he just had to get Hutch to see that. And he had no idea if it was working.
A quick glance at his partner showed a thoughtful man, even troubled. The kids had done him good, Starsky knew, and church had fed a starving soul. Nor was the tour over yet. But was it enough? Or was the change in Hutch permanent?
No. He couldn't believe that. The very thought of his partner being a quitter, a resigned cynic, contradicted everything Starsky knew and admired in Hutch. There had just been too much recently for him to deal with, enough to drive even a strong man to despair. No, he'd keep going with his plan. And pray as hard for his partner's spirit as he ever had for Hutch's life.
Some time later, the Torino pulled up in front of an elegant café. Hutch was deeply enough engrossed in thought that it took a snap of Starsky's fingers in his face to pull him back to the present. "What?" he looked around. "Lunchtime?"
"Uh-huh." Starsky got out.
"This isn't your usual class of eating establishment, Starsk. Is this another stop on our treasure hunt?" Hutch shut the car door behind himself.
"Sorta," Starsky smiled.
Hutch frowned at the unhelpful answers. "And you're still not going to tell me what's going on?"
"Uh-uh." Starsky was looking positively mischievous as he strode past his confused partner and up the walk to the door. When Hutch didn't follow, Starsky sighed and and rejoined him on the sidewalk. "Are you coming?"
Hutch shook his head and followed, going through the door that was held open for him. Starsky stepped up behind him just as his casual glance froze on one particular figure approaching them. "Starsk..." he whispered.
"Handsome Hutch." The smile, the soft blond hair now neatly done up on her head, the drawl were all so familiar, even if the clothes and setting weren't.
"S-, uh, Alice?" Hutch
managed to get out.
The smile became even more shy, a mixture of embarrassment and pleasure. But the eyes were glowing with joy. "S'rprised?" she asked.
Starsky was having fun watching all the different expressions his partner was going through that day. "Surprise" seemed particularly inadequate for this one. The smile that spread across Hutch's face was ear-to-ear and absolutely delighted. "Alice," he said once more, warmly.
Starsky hid a smile of his own. "You said that already," he pointed out helpfully, taking Hutch's arm and pulling him toward a table. "C'mon, dummy, you can't stand there and gawk all day."
Hutch completely ignored him even as he followed obediently and dropped down at the table, his eyes never leaving the girl's face. "Alice, you look wonderful!" he finally seemed to recover himself. "It's good to see you," he said earnestly, taking her hand.
The girl's cheeks were positively red. "Thank y', Hutch." Her voice fell. "I told y'I'd go straight someday."
"Yeah, you did." His grin widened. "I'm so happy for you. Starsky, isn't that terrific?" he addressed his partner half over his shoulder but didn't wait for an answer, already turning back to Alice, stroking her hand. "You work here now?"
She nodded, straightening to let him look over her simple black-and-white uniform, her eyes searching his for approval as a daughter would have a father's.
Hutch shook his head once in admiration. "You're beautiful."
Starsky watched as Alice smiled with pleasure. They'd both heard the rumor that she had quit the streets, but he'd had to go to Huggy the night before to get a confirmation and details. Now, even if the day wouldn't work out as he'd hoped, he was at least glad for this meeting. Sweet Alice had always been a bittersweet reminder for Hutch of some of the hardships of life he couldn't seem to change, and yet he'd always had a faith in her that even Starsky hadn't understood. Perhaps it was the innocence and the blonde, delicate features that were not unlike Hutch's own little sister. The big brother protectiveness was certainly there. Whatever their unusual bond, her success was as meaningful to Hutch as his approval was to her. Starsky sat back to watch once more, content to be ignored.
It was still early for lunch so the café was not full, and Alice stayed for a few minutes to talk, the two blonds apparently oblivious of anything but each other. Starsky noticed that Alice's hand remained firmly in Hutch's. He also learned that she had had the job nearly six months already and lived in a flat, above the café, that the owner rented out to her. The bigger news, though, she imparted almost hesitantly, was that she'd met someone. It was still a developing relationship, but the man knew about her past and loved her anyway, and he made her happy. Starsky thought his partner was going to burst with pride. It finally took a wink from Alice's boss and several insistent tugs from Starsky before the two finally separated and she took their orders and left.
Hutch's smile relaxed into happy contentment. "That's incredible," he murmured to the table.
"Y'think so?" Starsky asked.
Hutch glanced up at him in surprise, then flushed a little at the realization that he'd spoken aloud. It took a moment for the question to sink in. "That she quit the streets and did all this?" he asked. "Yeah, don't you?"
Starsky cocked his head a little, thoughtfully. "Sure, but she had help." At Hutch's puzzled look, he leaned forward and added, "She had somebody who believed in her."
Blonds blushed so obviously, it was almost too easy. "Starsk, I never helped her, I didn't do anything..."
"Hutch," Starsky leaned forward, hands clasped in front of him, all seriousness now. "You know the numbers. Most girls don't make it off the street. Sweet Alice was always special, but she also had something most other girls don't. You respected her and you believed in her, and that made her believe in herself." He leaned back again. "Don't tell me you didn't do anything."
Hutch shrugged one shoulder, eyes on the table, no answer once more. Starsky's honesty and the rollercoaster of a day had worn away the outward cynicism and quick comebacks he usually wrapped himself in, and instead he was thinking, really listening. And that alone was plenty cause for hope, Starsky thought.
Lunch was delivered with a wink and a smile, and Hutch seemed rejuvenated once more by the joy in those shining blue eyes. Over their meal, he picked up the banter with Starsky that had been missing from their talks lately, and the brunet responded without thought, the easy, gentle teasing coming back without effort. And he shamelessly basked in it. Especially, he reminded himself with pain, when he wasn't sure yet if they'd have much longer together to enjoy it.
The good-byes were much harder this time, and Starsky didn't think he'd ever pry his partner away. But with a promise given to check in on her again, Hutch finally let himself be dragged off.
They had been driving for several minutes before Hutch finally spoke up. "I know what you're doing."
Starsky looked over at his partner, trying to remain expressionless. "Oh, yeah?"
"Yeah. This is about yesterday. Starsky, you shouldn't have."
Starsky felt a weight close around his heart, making it struggle to beat. His eyes went back to the road. "What're you talkin' about?" he bluffed.
"All this... this tour. I really appreciate it and I've enjoyed it, but it's got nothing to do with with... what we were talkin' about."
The weight sank, dragging everything inside him down with it. He drove on, automatically, trying to figure out what to say and only able to muster surprise that the world continued to go on as normal when something so important was at stake.
Hutch knew how he felt, he had to, that hadn't changed. He hurried on, "Starsk, I didn't... I mean, I know you're trying to cheer me up, but you don't have to. I'm okay, really. I'm just... considering other options, y'know? Maybe somewhere else where I can be more useful. You can understand that, can't you?" There was a tinge of pleading in his voice.
Starsky's own questions were too many to sort out. What about me? Why doesn't he get it? He still doesn't see... He swallowed. "Do ya wanna go home?" he asked quietly, his voice annoyingly hoarse.
He could feel Hutch's incredulity. "You mean there's more left?!"
That prompted a small smile. "It's only two. We still got mosta the day left."
"Starsky..." Starsky finally glanced over at his friend again, hiding his hope, seeing Hutch trying to hide his own concern, neither of them succeeding. A sigh. "No, we can finish," was the resigned reply.
"Okay," Starsky nodded with outward satisfaction. Inside, he was panicking.
Starsky's next destination was one of the larger department stores downtown. Hutch stared at it with puzzlement. "This is one of the stops on memory lane?"
"You'll see," was Starsky's only answer. His enthusiasm had waned since that morning. If Hutch noticed, he didn't show it.
Hutch's look of confusion deepened as they went inside and headed for the women's department. "Starsky-"
The shriek was nearly enough to make him go for his gun. Instead, Starsky watched in visible amusement as a small figure appeared behind a row of dresses and, with a loud squeal of delight, launched herself at Hutch, who automatically put his arms around her.
"Oh, Hutch, I'm so glad to see you! Hi, Starsky." The last was an aside tossed to him, the head of curls already turning back to Hutch. "I'm glad you finally get to see where I work! You know, I almost got that job in San Diego, but then I decided I didn't really want to do that, so I came in here looking for a job and Mr. Farris hired me right away! And he said that if I want to arrange my schedule so that I could take some classes and get my high school diploma, he'd be happy to help me work it out--isn't that wonderful, Hutch?"
Hutch looked as though he were the one breathless after that long speech. "That's great, Mickey, I-"
But she was already talking again, now hanging on to Hutch's arm. Hutch looked over her head at Starsky, who only shrugged and grinned. Mickey led them over to a counter where she managed to ring up several customers while not letting the two men get a word in edgewise.
She finally left to retrieve something from their stockroom, and all Hutch could do was look at Starsky, dumbfounded. Starsky couldn't help it anymore and began to laugh as his partner struggled to stay sober.
"It's not funny, Starsk! Did you hear what she said? She's been clean ever since we busted Amboy, and now she's even getting her high school diploma."
"Yeah, but some things don't change," Starsky grinned.
Hutch cracked up then, followed by a massive effort for stoicism as Mickey reappeared and resumed her monologue. He only partially succeeded, and Starsky didn't even try, but Mickey never seemed to notice.
Neither of them were sure exactly how they got out of there. They finally managed to get away somehow, but not before ending up with a useless variety of women's make-up and perfume, and, Starsky thought ruefully, a mild headache. But he was even more curious as to what was on Hutch's mind, the lines of thought reappearing in his partner's face.
"Penny," he offered as he got into the car.
Hutch frowned. "I was just thinking about when we first met Mickey," he said bemusedly, staring off into the road ahead of them. He paused. "You remember?" he turned to Starsky.
The brunet nodded, sober once more. It would've been hard to forget the pathetic kid they'd come across one night on patrol, beaten up by one of her tricks and left crying in an alley. It hadn't been too far into their careers, idealism still flying high, and after they'd brought her to the hospital to get cleaned up, Hutch had taken her home for the night despite his partner's protests. She was gone before he woke up, and Starsky didn't know how many more times they found Mickey on the street again after that night before it began to dawn on Hutch that despite his best efforts, she wasn't likely to change. And even then he kept trying.
He always did. And he usually did end up making a difference, even if a little one.
Hutch was shaking his head, eyes unseeingly focused again on the windshield. "I couldn't believe it. She couldn'ta been more than 14. I didn't know know somebody could do something like that..." His voice trailed off and Starsky didn't know if the words were directed at him or if Hutch was even aware of talking out loud. Starsky listened anyway. "I guess I got used to stuff like that after a while..." Another fragment of thought, this one sounding pained.
Starsky couldn't ignore that. "No ya didn't," he countered quietly.
"What?" Hutch stared at him, surprised.
"You learned to deal with it. There's a difference. I can see it your eyes when you look at homicide and rape scenes," Starsky glanced at him matter-of-factly. "Don't tell me you don't still feel it."
Hutch gave a bitter laugh. "Great, just what they need, a cop with a bleeding heart."
Starsky suddenly screeched the car to the side of the road and turned angrily to his astonished partner. "What is it with you?! First you're moanin' about not doin' the job right. Then you say you're used to it. Then you call yourself a bleedin' heart. What's really botherin' you?"
Hutch's eyes narrowed. "Where do you get off-"
"I'm your partner, Hutch, that's where. What affects you, affects me, remember?" His anger disappeared just as quickly as it'd come. "You wanna know what I see?" he asked softly. "I see a cop who still cares about the people he works for. Who maybe doesn't get sick at crime scenes anymore, but who still hurts just as much inside. And who manages to help people anyway and makes 'em feel better because he's got a good heart and they can tell that. That's not a bleeding heart, that's bein' a good person, Hutch."
The moments of honesty that turned up in their daily exchanges usually elicited touched embarrassment and a quick change of subject. But the rarer, serious talks left no room for shyness. Starsky had laid his cards out on the table and to do any less in return would've been insulting to them both. The pale blue eyes suddenly turned transparent, vulnerable. "I'm tired, Starsk," Hutch whispered, gaze rooted to his friend.
The knot in Starsky eased just a little bit. That was the first thing Hutch had said that rang completely true, the rest just excuses for his doubts. "I know," Starsky soothed. "But look at Alice. And Mickey. And all the other people you've helped. It's a pretty long list, partner. And you made a difference because you cared about them. It makes it harder on you, but it's got some pretty good rewards, too, Hutch."
There was a long moment of silence between them, Starsky aware only of the struggle going on in the pair of blue eyes across from his. Then Hutch finally broke the eye contact to shake his head. "I don't think..."
Starsky sighed, sinking back into his seat, feeling slightly sick to his stomach. The car had idled to a stop and, upon collecting his strength, he automatically started it up again and pulled out into traffic. The quiet between them clung this time, enveloping and confining. Starsky suddenly felt tired, too. And there were still two more stops to go.
The Torino pulled almost gently into a school parking lot. The kids yelling and running around them seemed a strange counterpoint to the heavy mood inside the car. "You ready?" Starsky finally asked.
"For what?" Hutch seemed to have put their talk behind him already as he looked around curiously. "It's Sunday; what're all the kids here for?"
"The big game," Starsky answered wryly. Maybe he was the only one who felt the heaviness? They began to make their way in the direction the crowd was going, 13- and 14-year-old boys racing by them in dark blue baseball jerseys with the name "Rockies" proudly stenciled on the front.
Hutch's eyebrow rose. "We're going to a little league game?" he asked.
"Best seats in the house," Starsky nodded smugly. "We've been invited to watch."
"Oh, really? And why didn't I know about us being invited?"
Starsky shrugged. "Guess that's what you get for missin' the meeting." Despite his growing dejection, it was hard not to catch some of the pleasure of the kids around them. It reminded him of games with his father, playing in the alley behind their house, his father cheering him on at the neighborhood games...
He shook himself out of his memories and turned to find Hutch watching him. This time it was his turn to flush and fidget, but the blond didn't say a word. Instead, a gentle smile curved his mouth for a moment, then he spoke up with decided cheerfulness. "You know, I haven't been to a little league game in... I don't know, a few years now. Not since Kiko played."
Starsky found a not-so-painful smile to give back. "Who do you think we're comin' out to see?" he asked.
Hutch started. "But Kiko hasn't been in the league for a while now."
"Uh-uh," Starsky shook his head reprovingly. "Not Kiko. Pete."
"Pe- You mean Molly?" Hutch's mouth was open. "Molly's playing?"
"You really oughta think about becoming a detective."
Hutch grimaced for a second, then grinned. "Molly. Well, whaddaya know."
The blond was beginning to get used to unexpected meetings, not looking the least bit surprised when Kiko Ramos ran up to him and fervently shook his hand. "Kiko, how are you doing?" Hutch enthused, one arm trying to find its place on the tall teenager's shoulders. "Hey, d'you grow another inch in the last month?"
The boy's cheeks turned pink. "Mom says I'm growing like a yerbajo," he confessed.
Hutch laughed. "A weed, huh?"
"You're here to watch Molly play?" Kiko looked up at them both, his gaze lingering a moment longer on Starsky.
"I guess we are," Hutch also turned to glance at his partner. "I didn't even know she was in the league."
Kiko grinned. "Well, they don't normally let in girls, but Molly wouldn't take no for an answer. Besides, she played too good for them to keep her off the team."
Starsky grinned at that, too. Molly had changed a lot in the year since she'd been with the Ramos's, but she was still very much the girl who had once defiantly stood up to two policemen who had her cornered.
Hutch's arm remained slung over Kiko's shoulder, shoulders that were beginning to fill out, Starsky noticed. He fell behind a step to watch the pair, pleased at the relaxed ease he saw in Hutch's movement and expression as he talked with the young man. Starsky could remember when Hutch had signed up for the big brother program shortly after they became cops, a volunteer activity the LAPD had introduced him to. He'd tried to get Starsky to join him then, but Starsky had uncharacteristically hung back. Enjoying his own second childhood was one thing, but he wasn't sure he was ready to take part in another child's, particularly one without a father. The pain wasn't buried deeply enough yet. Besides, kids were always more Hutch's bag.
He'd nevertheless enjoyed meeting Kiko, watching his partner funnel his enthusiasm and care into a young child who soaked it up, seeing the fulfillment it gave Hutch, too. He had no doubts the blond would make an incredible dad some day, but until then, Starsky was grateful for Kiko. And as he watched the boy grow over the years into a young man, he was reminded each time anew of the difference one person could make. Had made.
As if reading his thoughts, Kiko said something to Hutch that made him turn and look for his partner, and Starsky immediately moved up to rejoin the two, his thoughts set aside for the time being as he joined in the cheerful conversation. They followed Kiko as he led them with some authority to a spot on the bleachers next to the waiting Mrs. Ramos.
"Ken, David, I'm glad you could come." Her warm brown eyes included them both in one sincere look. "Molly was excited to hear you would see her play."
Hutch gave his partner an ironic glance. "It's our pleasure, Elena. How are you doing?"
"Oh, muy bien," she answered, nodding. "Kiko you know about, sí? And Molly is doing very well in school now." Her accent grew more pronounced with her obvious pride.
"Really?" Starsky interjected from Hutch's other side. He hadn't heard much about Molly over the past year except for secondhand news from Hutch and one birthday party they'd both attended. Somehow he wasn't surprised at the news, though. Molly had thrived in a loving atmosphere almost from the start.
Hutch, however, seemed pleasantly surprised. No, not just surprised, moved. Score another one for the home team, Starsky mused. Hutch had been responsible for Molly's new home, had gone out of his way to make it all happen and transition as smoothly as possible, had been so sure it was the answer, and still found it hard to believe that it had worked.
"That's terrific," he said now with feeling. "Kiko was telling us about how she got onto the team."
Mrs. Ramos' eyes twinkled. "She can be very... ¿Como se díce,"testarudo"?
"Stubborn," Hutch supplied with a smile.
"Sí," Elena Ramos smiled back fondly. Starsky saw the mirroring look in his partner's face.
The game began, and it took Kiko's pointing out the No. 5 Rockies team member for them to recognize Molly Ramos. With her hair stuffed under a baseball cap and the undiminished swagger in her stride, she was nearly indistinguishable from the boys. The way she played, however, made her stand out. Starsky had never enjoyed watching a game so much before and found himself yelling until he was hoarse as she stole several bases and made two runs, including one to tie the game. Nor could he help but notice that Hutch was being no less vocal beside him.
It being little league, ties were accepted and the teams ended up even at 8-8 at the end of the 7 innings they played. Starsky was surprised by the pride he felt as he watched the two teams file past each other and shake hands. But a glance at Hutch made him look again. Hutch's face was composed, eyes fixed on the field in front of them, but he was seeing something else altogether. The pale blue had darkened to deep azure, thoughtful.
Molly was pushing her way through to them and Starsky saw his partner visibly shake himself, the reflectiveness disappearing as if it'd never been there, no one but Starsky apparently having noticed it. Starsky reluctantly let it go.
"Hutch, didja see the game?" Molly's face glowed with pleasure. Up close, Starsky could see that she had indeed changed, some of the little girl look disappearing with her growing maturity. He was quite sure Hutch saw it, too, especially when his partner's voice got unusually subdued.
"I sure did, Molly. You looked great out there!" He shook his head. The girl blushed at the one-armed hug he gave her but didn't seem to mind it at all. Hutch half-turned with her to glance at his partner. "Starsky enjoyed it, didn't you, Starsk?"
Molly noticed him now and cheerful greetings and congratulations were exchanged again. Starsky couldn't help but sneak in a comment about lefties, despite Hutch's grimace. Or maybe because of it.
"Aw, we woulda won if Sam hadn'ta dropped the ball," she grumbled, digging the toe of her sneaker into the dirt.
"Molly," Mrs. Ramos gently admonished, "Sam was trying his best, too."
Molly instantly looked contrite. "I guess," she said. Then, guiltily, "I'm sorry." Her eyes lit up again as she looked at the older woman. "But didja see that hit I made in the 5th inning, Mom? It was almost a homer!" She had moved out of Hutch's embrace and now stood in front of her adopted mother, who stroked the hair back out of her face as they talked.
Hutch looked at his partner, his eyes bright. Too bright. Starsky knew what was on his partner's mind. "Mom." He smiled softly in response.
Mrs. Ramos hugged her daughter and said something with a smile, and Molly nodded, then turned back to Hutch. Starsky doubted she could have looked happier if she'd won the game all by herself.
Yes, she'd definitely grown, but even more noticeably, Starsky realized, the haunted look that he remembered so well was gone, the pain that had made him ache, too, and that he'd seen echoed in Hutch's eyes that Christmas season. He marveled silently at the change that he'd had a part in, too. And he couldn't help but wonder if Hutch had thought of the same thing.
I've only been thinkin' about me and how much I'll miss him. What about all the other Molly's out there who'll never know what they missed? Somehow, he couldn't seem to muster much enthusiasm as the party of five went off for celebratory hot dogs and ice cream.
"Last stop, I promise," Starsky said wearily.
They hadn't spoken a word since dropping the Ramos's off at their house and saying good-bye. Now, Hutch looked up at him with a start and Starsky could feel his partner's surprise but he didn't acknowledge it. How can he not know? he wondered dully.
They were nearly at the end, and all his optimism and enthusiasm of that morning was gone. Reality was staring him in the face now. Hutch couldn't be convinced of how much good he'd done, how many he'd helped, and he was going to quit. Starsky had failed. Maybe it took heavenly intervention to work, he didn't know anymore. He was too deflated to think much anymore, except that at least they were going somewhere where he could try to drink and forget what the following days would bring.
Hutch kept glancing at him during the whole trip but didn't say a word. Starsky tried to be remorseful for that. All he could feel was relief.
The club they ended up parking by was running full-swing, the dim light filtering out onto the streets and mixing with the jazz to entice people in off the sidewalks. The steady stream of customers attested to the club's popularity despite its tucked away location.
Hutch didn't need to ask about this one. It wasn't Starsky's kind of place, but Hutch had been there alone or on dates several times before. Particularly since an old friend had become the star attraction.
"Vic Rankin's club," he gave a shadow of a smile, glancing at his silent partner. "It's been too long since I've been here. How did you know he was playing here now?"
"Evelyn," was the quiet, laconic reply. Hutch's brow furrowed again, but he followed Starsky out of the car and into the smoky club.
The music was smooth, a sedative for the senses. Starsky was more into pop music than blues, but the mellow mood of the piano and saxophone combo and the drowsy haze of smoke and lighting seeped into his rubbed-raw emotions and smoothed their roughest edges. He found himself, if not relaxing, at least calming , tired resignation replacing the worry of before. They'd both survive this all right somehow, if not as intact as before.
Hutch was swaying to the music, his eyes closed with contentment, and Starsky couldn't help but smile at the look of bliss. They had always found their own joy even amidst the ugliness of the street, but times like this when all that fell away completely and left happiness unhindered, were to be treasured. He tugged his limp partner over to a corner table and sat them both down.
A bartender wandered by and Starsky managed to get an order in for two beers. Then he sat back to listen to the music.
Rankin sat at the piano in the front of the room, a saxophone player behind him and to the right. The pianist looked to be in about the same level of nirvana Starsky's partner had achieved, aware of only the music, a small smile on his lips as he played. He was almost unrecognizable as the man they'd help save nearly two years before, at the end of his rope and on an apparent permanent losing streak. Hitting bottom had been a catalyst for change, but so had his wife's and Hutch's urging and the open hero-worship the blond had shown his former idol. Starsky shut his eyes. If only Hutch believed in himself sometimes as much as he believed in the hopeless wretches they sometimes came across on the job...
The soft query broke into his withdrawal and he opened his eyes with a start. "What?"
Hutch was looking at him with complete attention, no longer even aware of the music that had held him entranced. "What's going on?" The concern in the voice was undiminished by the firm demand for an answer.
"'M just tired, Hutch. Been a long day, y'know," he smiled smoothly, evening out all the catches that threatened his voice. Hutch just looked at him steadily, listening but plainly not believing. Starsky tried again. "Look, don't worry about it. I'd kinda hoped... But you're right, if you wanna go do something else, you ought to." That last he could at least say with firm conviction. Hutch's interests always came before his own, no matter how painful it was to him. "I just... wanted ya to see that it wasn't a waste, these years on the Job." He winced at how defensive that sounded and fell silent, the tabletop suddenly commanding his full attention. It had been a long time since he'd felt this horribly exposed in front of his best friend, and he could've kicked himself for placing that kind of load on Hutch. You want him to stay just to make you feel better? he miserably chided himself in silence. And even more unhappily, he couldn't wholly answer no, even knowing the cost of that answer.
The music played on, oblivious to the one corner of the room it didn't touch.
"Let's get out of here," Hutch suddenly said, voice level. Startled, Starsky looked up at him, but his partner was already on his feet and turning toward the door. Starsky blindly followed, confused and scared without knowing why. He didn't even see the irate waiter just arriving with their beers.
Outside, Hutch didn't turn toward the car, his steps instead decisively veering to the left, around the corner onto a quieter side street. Starsky picked up his pace a little to keep up with the long strides, nevertheless staying half a step behind.
Almost at once, Hutch slowed and Starsky unconsciously fell into step at his side. The club's music dying away behind them, the two walked silently, together. Always together, so balanced it was frightening. What happened to a balance when one half of it was gone? It could never right itself again. Starsky shivered.
He couldn't stand the silence anymore.
"Hutch, I'm sorry about today. I didn't mean to spring it on ya like this, but when I heard you talkin' last night... I got to thinkin' about Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life, y'know? It was the late movie last night. He was always doin' good and helpin' people, and it wasn't always easy on him and it felt like he gave up a lot, but that's just 'cause he didn't realize how much he had. He had changed all those people's lives and had a great family and he was the richest man in town, only he couldn't see it because he was so fed up. And Clarence came along and showed him what it would be like without him, how much worse off people would be, and that made him see how lucky he was." The words just poured out as if he expected to be interrupted any minute, or perhaps just out of sheer desperation. "I couldn't do all that, but I could at least make you see some of the people you had helped, who really needed you. I just picked out a few of 'em, but there are an awful lot of others, Hutch, like Lisa, and Tom and Ella, and Jeanie, and all the people we'll never know about because we saved 'em before they became victims." He paused to catch his breath, heart pounding in his ears.
"So you decided to play my own personal guardian angel?" Hutch's voice sounded faintly amused at the idea, but Starsky couldn't see his face to confirm it.
The brunet blushed at the phrasing. "Well, I didn't exactly look at it that way," he affected a touch of outraged indignation. Then he grew serious again. "Hutch, if you're sure, if you're really sure about this, I can accept that. Just tell me and we'll both take our resignations to Dobey tomorrow morning." If he noticed the momentary falter of the other's step, he didn't acknowledge it. His voice got quieter. "But you havta know first that you did a lot of good out there. We both did. And I couldn'ta done it without you 'cause you were there for me most of all."
That was all he had to say. One of the longest speeches he'd ever made in his life, and the fool he'd just made out of himself was worth every bit of it if a single word got through. Starsky pulled his head back into his shell and waited.
Hutch slowed, stopped. Lisa. Terry's kids. Sweet Alice. Tom and Ella Cole and their beautiful son, now two, who would be taught in time why his middle names were David and Kenneth. The parade of faces staggered him. Jeanie, with bittersweet memories. Mickey. Molly and her love for her new family.
Hutch had known. He'd known all along, but he hadn't remembered, not until someone cared enough to patiently and skillfully work through all the pain and defenses and excuses he'd piled up around himself. Hutch had felt it at church, at Alice's cafe, begun to consider it in the talks with Starsky in between, and had to admit it at the game, unable to miss even in his self-denial the feelings between Molly and Kiko and Mrs. Ramos. But it had been watching his partner the rest of that evening, seeing how important this was, he was to Starsky, that had removed the last bit of blindness. No one who was that loved, who was that important to someone else, could be a complete failure. It was true, he had saved a lot of lives, influenced even more, and protected Starsky too many times to keep track of. That was what cops and partners did. But it had never been just a job, not for either of them. How could he have forgotten that? Maybe he had changed his small corner of the world; it was all obvious now, had been even before Starsky's confession. But then, that earnest speech just endeared his friend to him all the more. Who else would have gone through all this trouble just to ease his weariness?
Starsky stood next to his silent partner, neither of them looking at the other, waiting as if he expected a blow. What he heard after some time, was a very soft, very sincere voice, the kind that held nothing back.
"Starsky, today was wonderful. I don't know how to thank you."
It warmed Starsky despite the stubborn chill of his thoughts. At least he was being let down easy. But his partner wasn't done.
"I didn't realize how much this was getting to you. You know I let off steam sometimes and then I get over it." Starsky's eyes flashed up to meet his, dark with hurt at the wrong words. Hutch hurried on, suddenly stumbling in his desire to say right what he wanted to. "I don't mean... You're right, it was more than that yesterday. It just... all got to me, y'know?" The blue eyes watching him softened, attentive and not daring to hope. "But-but I became a cop because I love it, the chance to help people. I may not have it in my blood like you do, but I do love it. I-I just forget that sometimes." He gave a half-embarrassed laugh. "Guess I've got a short memory."
Starsky watched him very carefully, squelching his own feelings with the necessity of understanding exactly what Hutch was saying and thinking. Having Hutch back for the wrong reasons was nearly as bad as not having him back at all.
Hutch knew that, too, and his voice gentled further as he clasped Starsky's arm. "I guess what I'm saying is that I don't want to go. I don't think I ever really wanted to, but you reminded me why."
Starsky stared at him a moment longer before feeling the emptiness fill and the weight fall away. Just when he thought he'd lost, it had turned out all right after all. "You're sure?" One last reassurance.
He couldn't control the big sloppy grin that insisted on appearing. "Welcome back," was all he could think to say.
Hutch laughed, warm and easy. Then he grew serious for a moment. "Starsk...this doesn't mean someday...it may be too much. I'm not sure I can do this all my life, not the way we're living now."
Starsky knew that. Someday, decisions, changes would have to be made, and he would make them without hesitation. But this was not the time. He matched his partner's sincerity, returned the touch. "That's okay. I'm not sure I can, either. Important thing is we do it together."
Another smile, this one of a deeper joy. Starsky's eyes mirrored it.
Then Hutch took a deep breath. Turning back toward the club he inclined his head towards it. "You wanna go back, have those drinks?"
Starsky shrugged. "Sure. I'm kinda hungry, too."
Hutch raised an eyebrow at him. "After three hotdogs?!"
"Hey, they weren't that big. 'Sides, you ate most of one of 'em."
Hutch shook his head with fond exasperation. "Okay, Clarence. I'll buy."
Heading back with his heart light and his partner at his side, Starsky wouldn't have needed wings to fly.
Written in 1997