This story first appeared in the zine, Compadres #19 (2001). This zine, and other fine S&H gen zines, can be obtained from Neon Rainbow Press at: http://www.neonrainbowpress.com/ Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
K Hanna Korossy
He didn't know how long he'd been driving around, slowly, carefully, drunkenly. It was an amusing thought somehow, that what he was doing was illegal and could get him arrested. As if he cared. His life was a shambles anyway, what did one more failure matter? He stopped every few blocks and took another drink from the bottle in his hand, then tried remembering again, cautiously. No, the memories were still there, still crowding him, crushing him. He was beginning to think no amount of drinking or running away would ever get them out of his mind; Vanessa leaving him, the shootout that ended in... his partner in the hospital, Dobey trying to reassure him that it would be all right, that it wasn't his fault. He snorted at the thought. Yeah, sure. Every bit of it was his fault. It was his fault that their marriage fell apart, it was his fault that his problems with Van preoccupied him to the point of distraction, to the point of not being there when Starsky needed him. It was his fault that Starsky had almost died that day.
Once, he had thought that no matter what else he screwed up, at least he was a good cop. When the job was lousy and he hated what he had to do, he could always remind himself that at least he was good at it, that he was doing some good with it. That reminder came back to haunt him now. After all his failures, he had failed at the one thing that he thought he could do right. Helping others...
You helped, all right--you helped Starsky right into the hospital.
He stopped the car by a curb and squeezed his eyes shut while he took another swig, trying so hard to forget. And still failing.
"What's with you today, Hutch?"
Hutch started at Starsky's voice, almost spilling his coffee into his lap. "Nothing." He knew Starsky could tell he didn't want to talk about it, and he knew just as surely that Starsky wouldn't let that stop him.
"Was it about last night?" Starsky swung into his seat across the desk from Hutch and gazed at his partner expectantly.
Just like so many other mornings. Hutch would come in, dragging and depressed from another fight with Vanessa and Starsky would pester him until he talked about, got it out in the open, and eventually got over it. He didn't know how many times his partner's encouragement kept him going when he felt like giving it all up. But now... how could he explain that this was different? It hadn't been the same old argument with Vanessa the night before. He had come home well after midnight, later than usual, sporting a black eye from a resisting arestee. He had expected some scene, some rehashing of the old arguments, that he didn't care about her, that she was bored and lonely all day, and, the one he hated most of all, that he put Starsky ahead of her. That one always hit a little closer to home than he cared to admit. He would respond with the same apologies and excuses for the same complaints. And after a while, she'd finally give up, and their reconciliation would be sweet and passionate.
This time was different. Van had been very calm when he got home, a decisive calm. There had been no argument, no hysteria, just a coldness that he didn't recognize and couldn't deal with. And instead of reconciliation, only a door slammed in his face and a long night on the couch. She hadn't said it, but he thought she wanted to leave. But that wasn't possible, was it? She wouldn't really leave after all they had gone through together...
His thoughts were interrupted by the realization that Starsky was sitting across from him, patiently waiting for an answer. "What's that?" he asked distractedly.
Starsky shook his head. "You know, maybe that's what your problem is with Van. She talks to you and you're off in outer space somewhere."
Hutch was spared a response by the telephone ringing. He picked up and listened for a moment, then sighed. "Yeah, okay." He looked up at Starsky as he hung up the phone. "Petey says the word is that our jewelry store thieves are about to hit again."
Starsky straightened, all business now. "Does he know where?"
"Bannion's Jewelry Store over on 12th."
Starsky looked at him speculatively. "What do you think?"
Hutch thought for a moment and shrugged. "Well, it's the first break we've had and he might be telling the truth. We'd better check it out."
Starsky was already pulling on his jacket as he nodded in agreement and headed out the door, Hutch trailing behind him.
Bannion's Jewelry Store was located in a more deserted part of town, and the street was empty as the Torino pulled up to the curb a few stores away. From there, the two detectives could see a dark shape moving around in the deserted store. Both men pulled out their guns and slunk out of the car, staying low as they approached the store from the side. Starsky motioned that he was going around back and Hutch nodded, flattening himself against the storefront wall to wait.
In the quiet, Hutch's thoughts strayed back to Vanessa. He still remembered the flush of pleasure that he had when he saw her for the first time, sitting in a cafe, laughing with a girlfriend. At that moment he knew that he wanted to be the one to make her laugh from then on. And he had for a while. For a few glorious months, just being in love was all they'd needed. In fact he still felt that, still wondered why that wasn't enough. But somewhere along the way it had stopped being so, and now for the hundredth time that day he fought down the urge to call home and make sure she was still there, waiting for him, that she hadn't left...
His reverie was disrupted by the sound of gunshots and he glanced around, disoriented, Vanessa forgotten. The store...Starsky...what was going on? He was sure no one had come through the front door but a quick glance confirmed the store was empty now. He ducked around the corner toward the back, cursing himself for not paying closer attention. How many shots had there been so far? Three, four? Starsky could be dead...
No, Starsk, please, not because of me.
Hutch slid to a halt at the corner of the building and peered around it. Two men crouched behind a few trash cans with their backs to him, firing at a pile of crates at the far end of the alley. Hutch thanked God for the perfect set-up and then stepped out into the alley, gun at ready.
The two men obeyed and stiffly raised their arms in surrender.
"Drop it!" The guns clattered to the ground. Almost too easy. Hutch moved forward to collect the weapons. "Starsky!" he hollered over his shoulder.
Hutch began cuffing the first man, then paused. There was no response from the pile of crates. The cold thrill of fear from before returned, running up and down his back. Quickly he threaded the cuffs through the drainpipe on the alley wall and locked the other gunman to it, then raced down the alley, afraid of what he'd find.
He skirted the crates to find his partner leaning against the board fence behind him, clutching a blood-soaked sleeve. "Starsk?"
Starsky looked up and smiled wanly at Hutch, his face pale. "What took you so long?" he murmured.
Hutch caught him as he swayed.
The hospital was mostly a daze as people rushed around him while he sat and waited to hear about his partner. His thoughts slid to Van and he knew he should call her, but he couldn't seem to dredge up the strength. Instead he sat numbly, head in his hands, and waited.
Dobey drifted in to tell him that the two jewel thieves had been booked and questioned and had finally confessed to waiting in ambush for the detectives. It had been a trap after all, and Hutch had let his partner walk into it all by himself. My fault, my fault. The doctor came out, interrupting his thoughts, to tell him that Starsky would be fine and could even go home that day. Hutch wanted badly to go in and see him, to make sure for himself that his partner was all right, but he couldn't bear the thought of hearing Starsky speak the recriminations he had already flung at himself. Miserably, he left without a backward glance.
And then. Then, it was home. Van was still there, but with her car packed and her coat on. The rest was quick and anti-climatic. 'Good-bye, Ken, I hope you find someone someday who can take being in third place to a partner and a job. Being a cop's wife just doesn't have any future.' A few calm words that cut to his soul, an apology that she didn't mean, and she was gone. He couldn't really blame her, but he couldn't believe it either, not even as she took her suitcase and walked out the door. They had loved each other so much, why hadn't it worked? Why... His mind refused to function. Van...and Starsky. He had managed to lose in one day everything that was important to him. He sank down on the floor and leaned his head against the wall. And let the loneliness swallow him.
He didn't know how long he'd stayed there. A day maybe. He dozed off a couple of times, a restless sleep full of dreams of forlorn darkness. Loneliness followed him even there. Finally he'd roused himself long enough to grab a couple of bottles and go out to the car, not able to stand the quietness of the empty condo any longer. Nothing mattered anymore, he just followed the mindless impulse to run, to get away from the pain and the past. He knew somewhere deep inside that it wouldn't help, that he couldn't drink away or run away from the images that haunted him, but he also knew that he would drown in them if he stopped, so he kept driving.
When he looked up again, he was parked behind a Datsun. His partner's Datsun. He laughed humorlessly. Like Starsky's gonna want to see you now. He'd practically killed his partner the day before, and then had run off and abandoned him--Starsky would probably laugh in his face now. But Hutch had to hear it for himself, like a condemned man waiting for his sentence.
He got out of the car mechanically, a bottle falling unnoticed off his lap onto the floor of the car. Nausea rolled over him as he began to move, making him double over the Torino's trunk for a moment until he got it under control. Wouldn't that be the perfect finale?
He looked up at the house for the first time, wondering why he had come, what he could say, whether Starsky would be up. He made himself move, one foot in front of the other, methodically, until he almost bumped into the front door. He stared at it, unsure of what to do. It had seemed so clear before, but now... He didn't know if he could handle another rejection. Go away, go away, go away...he knocked. And the door opened.
He didn't know how he ended up inside, or even what he said, but before he knew it, he was sitting on Starsky's couch, something warm thrown over his shoulders, and the words began to pour out. Sometimes emotions overwhelmed him and sobs took over for a while, but Starsky waited patiently, sitting in front of him, watching, listening, caring. When the nausea rose again, Starsky propelled him toward the bathroom, holding him as his stomach rebelled violently. He barely paused as Starsky wiped his face with a wet towel and moved him back to the couch, unable to control himself now, all of his thoughts jumbling out; how he had botched being back-up, the terror of Starsky being shot, Van leaving him, all the doubts and fears, until the loneliness began to drown him.
Then Starsky cut in for the first time, sitting next to him and talking quietly. Most of the words didn't make sense, but their gentle sound soothed Hutch, hypnotic. He hadn't slept for so long, couldn't sleep, kept dreaming of everyone leaving him standing alone, calling, reaching... But those thoughts were receding, fading. He wondered somewhere in his mind if the alcohol was finally having the desired effect, yet he knew that wasn't it. The words continued, soft and enticing, and he succumbed to them, feeling safe in them, letting them carry him off. Blissful peace. His last conscious feeling was of slowly being lowered and surrounded by warmth. He went to sleep.
Hutch woke up slowly, experimentally. His body seemed to ache all over and his head felt like it was floating off somewhere. He moved gingerly, trying to figure out where he was or even when it was. Memories returned in snatches, but they seemed distant, almost removed. The alcohol, the empty house... That thought hurt, and he moved past it quickly. Starsky. That was what he kept coming back to. He remembered going to his partner's house, coming in, being welcomed. And then...what? He frowned and finally opened his eyes. To see a grubby pair of jeans thrown haphazardly over an overstuffed chair. Yeah, definitely Starsky's.
"You awake?" came a loud inquiry from somewhere behind him, splitting his head. He winced at it and shut his eyes.
"I think so." It was hard to talk and his mouth tasted awful. After a moment, Hutch opened his eyes again reluctantly and looked up to see that Starsky had moved around to stand in front of him.
"Let me rephrase that. You wanna get up?"
Hutch couldn't tell how serious he was being. He sighed and slowly sat up, swinging his legs around. It didn't hurt as much as he thought it would, he was surprised to note. "Not really," he said honestly.
Starsky grinned. "Welcome back to the world of the living."
Hutch gave a slight smile in return. That wasn't as hard as he thought, either.
Starsky picked up a pile of things off a nearby table. "I swung by your place this morning and picked up some stuff. You look like a refugee from some prison camp." He held out some clothes with a towel and some toiletries. "Since it's late afternoon and I had my shower about ten hours ago, the bathroom's all yours."
Hutch frowned at the time reference, but accepted the offered articles with an earnest thank you that earned him a quiet smile from his partner. He stumbled off to shower.
When he was done, Hutch felt like a new man, at least on the outside. Even his eye was beginning to look better. He started at the sight of some bloody clothes in the wastebasket, having forgotten that his partner wasn't in peak condition himself. As if he didn't have enough to deal with... Hutch felt hollow inside, the pain and guilt hovering somewhere nearby, and nothing in his heart to take their place. Now what, Hutchinson, he thought wearily. Is this where Starsky gives you the bad news?
He wandered out of the bathroom to find Starsky puttering in the kitchen, fixing some eggs. The table was set for two. He sat down heavily in one of the seats and watched his partner, who seemed to be unaware of him.
"How do you like your eggs?"
The question caught him off guard. "What? Oh. Starsk..."
Starsky cut him off. "No excuses. I don't think you've had anything inside of you for a couple of days now that hasn't come from a bottle, and your body's gonna start complaining about it soon. How 'bout scrambled?"
Starsky looked up at the flat tone, but then busied himself with the eggs again. In another couple of minutes, he triumphantly slid a plateful of food in front of Hutch. "Another masterpiece by that culinary genius, Dave Starsky."
Hutch didn't react, weary and numb to the core.
Starsky didn't push it, though, and the meal went quietly. Hutch didn't feel like eating, wasn't even sure he could keep it down, but after a few pointed stares from his host, he managed to swallow some of the food. After a while, Starsky wordlessly took the half-full plate from him and put it in the sink with his own, then sat back down across from Hutch, watching him languidly.
Hutch cleared his throat. "How's your arm?" he asked hesitantly.
Starsky seemed relieved at the initiative. "Still a little sore, but s'okay. Doctor says I'll be ready for duty in a couple of days."
Hutch nodded. "That's good," he answered lamely, not asking the question he wanted to, the one that was burning his mind.
Starsky seemed to be waiting, then finally sat up, exasperated. "Hey, I don't know how much you remember from last night..." Hutch looked up, frightened to hear what was coming, "...but you had some pretty wild ideas and I'm not sure you got rid of all of 'em." He paused, waiting. Silence. His gaze grew soft. "Come on, buddy, talk to me."
Hutch hated the tone of irresistible appeal that his partner -No, stop thinking of him that way!--that Starsky used. His eyes stayed on his hands clamped together on the table, but he finally began, haltingly. "Dobey says the whole thing was a set-up. Petey was paid off to lure us to Bannion's so we could be 'taken care of'." He risked a glance up at Starsky, who gave him an encouraging nod. "It was so obvious and I let you walk into it, didn't even back you up." The self-accusations were pressing on him heavily again. "I could have gotten us both killed..."
Starsky interrupted. "Yeah, that's what you told me too, yesterday, that everything was all your fault, and that I might as well find a new partner." He paused, Hutch wasn't sure why. "Problem is, you never asked me."
Hutch looked up at him, confused.
"See, the way I see it, we both knew Petey was unreliable, and I was the one who walked into an ambush." An ironic grin pulled at his mouth. "So it's both of our faults for not knowin' ahead of time what was going to happen and for not being able to see around corners." Hutch looked at him mutely, not sure what Starsky was getting at.
Apparently he looked as foggy as he felt. Starsky leaned forward.
"What I'm sayin' is that if all this is your fault, then it's my fault, too, partner."
The last word had more effect than anything else Starsky could have said. Hutch started and stared at Starsky, afraid he'd heard wrong.
Starsky smiled at the look. "What, you thought I'd ask for a new partner? I just got you broken in. Besides," he said, giving Hutch a friendly swat, "I'm kinda used to you now."
Hutch wasn't relaxing any. Starsky frowned. "Or maybe you don't want me as your partner anymore? Cause if that's it, you just have to say so and..."
Hutch shook himself out of his reverie. "No! I mean, no, of course not. I just thought..."
I just thought... That everything was over. But maybe not.
His partner always thought too much. Starsky had known that from the start. He smiled again at the worn blond across the table from him, this time out of pure fondness. "What did I tell you about thinkin', huh? Always gets you into trouble."
Hutch looked down at the table again, his face unreadable. Starsky was beginning to get worried. Hutch did let everything affect him more than was good for him, and occasionally dealt with a little bit of insecurity, but this was more. Starsky knew the Hutchinson marriage wouldn't last, practically everyone had except for Hutch, but this depression he had gotten himself into, even after the previous night's emotional release, was beyond Starsky's experience. He knew what had happened the day before had left Hutch dangerously close to the edge, but he hadn't realized how close that was until Hutch had appeared on his doorstep like a lost child, an emotional and physical wreck.
Just how good a doctor are you, Dave Starsky? Can you put someone you care about back together again? Even if he doesn't want your help... Guess there's only one way to find out.
"It's Vanessa, isn't it," he said softly. "Here I'm thinkin' you're worried about us, but it's really Van."
Hutch didn't react for a moment. Starsky wasn't even sure he was going to acknowledge him, when Hutch spoke softly without looking at him. "I thought you didn't want to be partners anymore, and the thought of losing you and Van at the same time..." he struggled to find the words, "was...more than I could think about. But I put you in the hospital and managed to push Van away. It's like...everything I touch is poisoned." He looked at his hands as if to find the source of the curse. "I don't know what to do anymore, Starsk." He looked up at Starsky, the previous blankness of his face replaced by all the doubts and self-recriminations of the past few days. His partner shuddered inside to see it.
Starsky thought for a moment, then chose his words carefully. "Sometimes it seems like love only brings pain with it. But it has its own rewards, too, that make it worth the pain. I don't have to tell you that, you had a lot of good things with Van, but she just wasn't meant to be a cop's wife. So you remember the good times and keep goin'." He hated the way the empty platitudes sounded to his ear. What did he know, he had never been married. But Hutch was listening to him, so he went on to more familiar territory. "As for you and me, well, someday we might not have each other anymore, but I still wouldn't trade what we have now for a future full of maybes. A friendship like ours is special, and I'm willin' to take the bad times with the good, if that's what it takes." He was being a lot more open than he was usually comfortable with, but Hutch needed to hear this and that was reason enough. "The question is, are you?"
Hutch was looking at him intently, thinking over his words. Starsky realized he was holding his breath. He didn't want to consider the option of Hutch deciding against friendship, but he knew that the only way his partner could live with himself was if he made a decision with all the cards down, facing reality.
The voice was hesitating, unsure. "I hadn't looked at it like that. I...I never meant to say that I didn't think our friendship was worth the effort..."
Terrific, now you've got him on the defensive. "Hutch, listen to me," Starsky said reasonably. "In the last couple of days, you've become separated from your wife, your partner got shot, and you've been drunk enough for five men. This is not the best time to be makin' major philosophical decisions." He regarded his partner evenly. "Now look. We've settled it that we're not gonna split up, right?" Hutch gave a tentative nod. "And I talked to Dobey and he's not expectin' us in for a few days. I say you crash here with me for a while. You sleep and get the contents of your bar out of your system and do some thinking, and I'll cook some real food, not that birdseed you got at home," Even Hutch smiled a little at that. "..and we'll talk if you feel like it, okay?" He paused, expectantly, hopefully.
He didn't have to wait long. Hutch met his eyes and smiled sincerely, if a little wanly. "Thanks, Starsk." It was the first genuine smile Starsky had seen on him since he had arrived. He was encouraged to see that Hutch looked as though he finally had some hope; it was a dramatic improvement.
Starsky laughed, enjoying the feeling, and patted Hutch's arm mischievously as he got up. "'Course, you're gonna do the dishes..."
Starsky and Hutch showed up on Monday morning in Captain Dobey's office looking rested and fairly relaxed. Dobey hid his surprise at Hutch's lazy smile, remembering the secret doubts he had harbored just a week before after seeing him at the hospital. But he also suspected that Starsky's cocky grin and confident swagger, both a little more pronounced than usual, had something to do with Hutch's miraculous recovery. Hutch still had some shadows around his eyes and Starsky seemed to be favoring his right arm ever so slightly, but they were both ready and waiting to go back to work. He gave them a quick briefing and sent them off gruffly, returning to his paperwork with a smile. It was good to have all the children back home again.
Written in 1995