This story first appeared in the zine, Better Together (1997). 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.
It simply wasn't real. That was all his mind kept throwing at him, that it was all a mistake. None of it made sense, not the long, sympathetic looks people kept giving him, not Dobey calling him by his first name and never yelling at him. It was all a mistake and they would feel awfully foolish when they realized it. And the funeral -- they couldn't be serious. He refused to go; it would be admitting they were right. It was a fact of life that living, breathing people went from life and movement to death and stillness in seconds, he had seen it happen himself, but not someone with so much life, with so much left to do, with so much depending on him...with one depending so much on him. Not him.
Couldn't even say his name. That was silly, that one word had once been the most natural on his tongue of all his vocabulary. The first one he thought of when he was hurt, or scared, or happy. The one he called when he needed something or just someone. The one he invoked to dispel all fears. The one that came to mind unbidden when he had something new and wonderful he wanted to share, be it a new pet, a perfected card trick, or the girl with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life. It was the one that meant security, fun, acceptance, comfort, love. Five letters with a world of meaning.
Maybe he was on vacation. It had only been three days since he had seen his partner -- that was nothing, and he would most likely show up in a few days as he always did, expounding on the wonders of the wilderness he had trekked through, or the joy of a few days spent back home again with his family.
Or maybe it was the job. Neither of them ever went undercover without the other's knowledge and involvement, but maybe this was something special, something they couldn't both be a part of for some reason. That had to be it, it made sense. Dobey would probably tell him any day now that it was all just an act, part of the job.
'Course, he'd really chew his partner out when he came back. They were a team and they did things together, and if the powers that be said otherwise, then screw them, no one could split them up. But his partner could be an idiot sometimes, and, idealist that he was, he had probably been sweet-talked into the assignment, swallowed some line about it being for the public good or something. Blonds never were supposed to be very bright. Like running into a burning building on the brink of collapse to try to save some kid. Dummy, he should have known it was too risky, and going off and doing something without waiting for his partner to back him up, of course he went and got himself...
But people survived things like that. There were stories in Reader's Digest all the time about heroes risking life and limb and coming through it all right. Besides, the body they'd found in the ashes was burned beyond recognition, coulda' been anybody. It was all a mistake, and wouldn't they all be surprised when his partner walked back into the squadroom and announced that it had all been a set-up. Or a mistake. Either one.
It was possible.
And he would turn out to be the only one who'd never doubted. In fact, he already had something he was waiting to show his partner when he returned, a new greasy spoon he'd found that even served yogurt. Something for both of them. Wouldn't he be surprised? They'd all be surprised. They'd see. Hutch would show them.
Please, God, don't let it be. Not dead. I didn't believe it, not 'til today. I needed him today, expected him to be there, running to the rescue, but he wasn't. If he was alive, he'd have been there, he always was before, so... he must be gone. But is that just it?
If You just give him back to me, we'll quit, I promise. I know, it wasn't the job that finally...killed him. Ironic, isn't it? Just Hutch being the stupid do-gooder that he is...was. But I'll take better care of him if You just give me another chance. I woulda gone into the building myself, but I had to stay behind to call it in, and he didn't wait for me. It's not possible that You should let someone die for a good deed, is it? Please, don't do that to me.
God, I'm scared without him. Life only seemed manageable and interesting 'cause he was there. Don't even know what I did before I met him. Wandered around, I guess. Oh God, I'm scared. I've never been this alone before and I don't know if I can handle it. At least when You took Terry, Hutch was around to be there, put my head back on straight. I can't go this one alone, I can't. Please, I'll do anything, just bring him back. Take anything else you want from me, none of it really matters anyway.
What was Dobey thinking, assigning me a new partner?! Thinks he can replace Hutch just like that. Just stick anybody in the front seat with Starsky, give him someone to do paperwork with, he'll snap out of it. Doesn't work that way, Cap'n. How can you replace eight years of being with someone, of loving them more than life itself, of total trust and unity of thought? How can you even find someone like that to begin with? Just lucky, I guess, as Hutch would say. So you can take Barnes and hand him off to someone else 'cause I ain't goin' for it. The body's...hardly...cold yet...
I think I'm gonna be sick.
How could you do this, God? What'd we ever do wrong? Gave everything I had already, all we wanted was to make life a little better, to clean up one small corner of the world. But it's not worth it, not at this cost. Maybe it woulda been better if we'd never met than to have had him by my side for eight years, to get used to walking in symmetry, to have learned to live my life in balance with another, and then to lose that. I was okay before, why couldn't we leave it at that? Now I've changed, learned to be one half of two people and I can't feel whole without him anymore. Why did You do this?
Oh God, I didn't mean that. I'd'a never known what I missed, but I do know now -- how can I say that? I'm sorry, God, I didn't mean it. I'm glad I had him as long as I did; he taught me to share, to not be alone, to start to love life instead of just to live it, and I don't want to go back to how I was before that. Only, why did You have to take him?
It's not fair. He shouldn't have ever gone in that building. He saw same as I did that it was about to go down. He always was selfish, would rather risk himself than risk me. That's a laugh, I guess that's exactly what I wanted, too. It is hardest for those left behind; I teased him about it then, but we both knew that was the truth. Of all the partners I coulda' gotten, he would have to be the one who always played good Samaritan. Idiot. Wasn't even worth it, there wasn't even anyone inside to save. All for nothing. He shoulda' known better.
I shoulda' known better.
I just don't care anymore. Cleaned out his desk today, a boxful of stuff the only thing to show for ten years of service, of friendship. Of giving all of himself. A lousy boxful of stuff. Not much to show for a person's life.
The house is so quiet, I hate going home, and the squadroom's so quiet, I hate going to work. People don't stare anymore, they just avoid looking at all. Been spendin' a lot of time at the Pits -- at least there it's loud and busy and people don't pay any attention to you. Don't even seem to notice how empty the chair next to you is.
I sure do.
I've heard all the speeches. Dobey gave me another one the other day about quality of my work, or some garbage like that, I don't remember. Didn't really listen. Doesn't seem much point in doing this without you, partner. As far as I'm concerned, I gave already, more than it was worth, and now the world can go to pot for all I care. What makes it worthwhile? You do everything for people, daily risking your life and the few things you hold dear in order to do what? Be jeered at and called names by a bunch of ungrateful people. I'm too old for this and I just don't believe in miracles anymore.
What good did we ever see in this? Why did doing it with you give it purpose? And how can I do it alone now? Or should I even bother? I don't know, few more weeks like this and Dobey's gonna can me anyway. Barnes keeps complainin' too, but don't care about him. He's not my partner, just some guy I have to work with. A guy only gets one real partner, and even that only if they're lucky, and once he's gone, maybe it's time to go, too. Shoulda gone with you into the building, after all. We always made it 'cause we were together...
You know what the funny thing is? I miss campin' with you most of all. I know, I always fussed and complained, didn't want you to get too smug about it. But the long days of doin' nothin', of just being together, seein' the worry and weariness disappear from your face as nature worked its magic; it didn't get much better than that.
That's the worst part, ya' know, remembering all the things we did together and knowin' that I'll never do them again, that I can never do them with you again. Strange, that memories can make you feel so good and so sad at the same time. Deep down I knew then how special it was, but I always kinda took it for granted, ya' know? Guess we both did.
How can I learn to do it without you?
Is it worth trying?
I've never been so drunk or so sober before. Drunk enough that I started talkin', and once I started I couldn't stop. (Didn't say nothin' Huggy didn't know before, but he listened anyway. All night.) And sober enough that I remembered next morning what I'd said. It wasn't all true, I made up some tall tales about you, but if felt good, somehow fit. It was always easier to not be serious and let our hearts say what our mouths couldn't.
When Huggy left, I finally went through the box of cards people sent. I couldn't before, but I figured I owed it to them. You're really missed, buddy. People I'd forgotten about wrote to say how much you meant to them. Sweet Alice -- ya' know she got married? Found a nice guy and settled down just like she always promised she would. And she's expectin' her first kid now and wants to name it after you. And Molly and Kiko both wrote. You'd be proud of them, Molly's turnin' out to be a real writer and Kiko wants to be a doctor. And Mrs. Walters -- a lot of people. I read them all. I wasn't the only one who loved you.
I cried for a long time when I was done. Was never embarrassed about that in front of you, no reason I should be now, and I hadn't cried for you, for us before. I remember some of what my grandmother and mom taught me, and they all believed in something after this life. Well, I do too, partner, 'cause I plan on seein' you again.
What we did was good, it was worth something. Not worth losing you, but still worth a lot. We put away some bad guys, saved some good ones, made a difference. That's why I'm gonna keep bein' a cop. I... I don't think you'd like it if I gave up now, not after all we've put into this job, this city. It would be like sayin' everything we did before together wasn't worth anythin'. And I'm not gonna do that to us, or to you.
I'm still not sure what I'm gonna do about Barnes. He's not so bad, he's just...not you. And I don't know if I can deal with that yet. I'm not ready to give anybody what I gave you. I don't know, I'm workin' on Dobey and might just be able to go solo soon. That would be better, I think I could deal with that easier. Ain't nobody gonna ride with me, partner, that seat's saved for you.
Oh, God, I still feel so empty. Will it always be like that? It's not a bottomless pit anymore, only real empty. But life goes on, and I'm gonna have to learn how to play solitaire again. It's just...there's something missing, some color.
Straw blond, maybe.
I don't believe it, I can't believe it. Just figured out life without him, and now suddenly he's back again. Well, I'm not bitin' until I see for myself. Come on! Traffic always moves slow when you're in a hurry. Calm down or you're gonna get yourself in an accident. Wouldn't that be some joke. It can't be real, not after everyone's spent the last two months tryin' to get me to believe he was dead, he can't be alive again.
Wish I'd listened better to what Dobey was saying. A set-up, but not our guys? Wouldn't have put it past the Feds. But who, then? Who'd have the muscle to make this happen? I saw that building collapse right after he ran in, keep seeing it every night after in my nightmares. And why? What's going on? Or does it even matter? I should just be happy to see him, grateful I got him back. If it's true.
Been to the hospital so many times, I think I could drive there in my sleep. Maybe I am. That would explain all this; maybe I'm dreaming, wishful thinkin'. Or maybe the last two months were the dream, some nightmare I'm finally getting to wake up from. I'm so confused, too much going on. Just concentrate on what Dobey said. 'Bout near split his face with that grin when he told me those three words I woulda sold my soul to hear two months ago, "Hutch is alive." That's all that's important, the rest doesn't matter, we can sort it out later. We've got all the time in the world. And this time I won't have to do it alone.
'Where's Officer Hutchinson?' My voice doesn't sound normal, but nothin' is today. The nurse is lookin' it up, doesn't look surprised at my question. Can't believe it, it can't be real. 'Course, we always did make our own reality -- Me and Thee, a different world of safety and love. 'Room 311.' That close, only a few floors and walls separating us? Yesterday it was all of space and time... 311. Upstairs, this... no, the next floor. That's it. 303, 307...
311. I can't do it. After all this, can't open the door. My hands are shaking. Two months of hell undone in fifteen minutes. How can that be? I finally got you out of my head, and here you are, back again. Is this your work, God, that second chance I asked for? I've almost forgotten hope, but I'm gonna risk it one more time. Please let it be him, all right and safely given back to me, and I promise, I'll take care of him this time. Please. I don't want to lose him again.
Turn knob, open door. Very good, Starsky, soon you'll qualify for Kindergarten. Step inside. Look. Long, lanky figure on the bed. White-blond hair, a little long, but that's okay. Face turned this way, eyes opening. Sky blue. Enough said.
Did I say I didn't believe in miracles?
Written in 1995
The sequel to this story is Reverse Process