This story is unpublished. This alternate version was written at a friend's request. Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
This alternate version is preceded by two other stories: Process, and Reverse Process.
Reverse Process: Alternate Version
At the sight that greeted his eyes, the figure on the bed, the tangled blond hair and sky blue eyes, all the doubts and denials disappeared. In fact, all thoughts stopped except for one.
Hutch was alive.
"Oh, God..." Whether that was thanks, a question, or a plea, he wasn't sure. The next thing Starsky knew was that he was sitting on the bed, his arms full of his partner, and Hutch was hugging back. Whole. Alive.
The warmth was like an electric shock to his system. Not just warmth and life, but that life, that unique vibrance that he always felt when he was near Hutch, the presence that he had reassuringly felt at his side without needing to look and actually see it. The last of his doubts were dispelled by this unshakeable proof. No one else could feel that right.
His senses filled with it, restoring memories, reviving a lot inside of him that had shut down the day he accepted Hutch as dead. The sixth sense that knew what his partner was thinking. The peace that the knowledge of another's love gave. The confidence that the world wasn't so bad because the two of them could share it. The laughter that always seemed to be on the tip of his tongue because he had all he wanted in life. What was it about this klutzy blond that made him want to smile all the time, and that made the world worth smiling about?
It was like filling an empty well, and he soaked it in, trying to keep from crying as all the different emotions crowded him, the love and security almost overwhelming. Storing the memories for the next separation.
That thought made him pause, and then scramble back, breaking out of Hutch's embrace and surprising both of them.
"I thought you were dead. I saw you die." Starsky's voice was hoarse with intensity.
Hutch's face softened, the patient blue eyes shining with understanding that made Starsky irrationally angry. He didn't understand it himself, why would Hutch?
The anger cut through the confusion in him, and suddenly the jumble inside of him was pouring out. "You were dead, I saw it. You ran into the burning building, and it collapsed. They found your body, they had a funeral, Dobey assigned me a new...they told me you were dead." It sounded childish even to his own ears, but he didn't care. The good feelings of a moment ago were still there somewhere, but right now all the accumulated anger seemed to dominate his mind and heart.
"Starsky, it was a set-up. They made it look like I was dead, knocked me out as soon as I got in the building. I guess they got me out of there before it collapsed. I don't know, I woke up later, at Baldwin's." Hutch was trying to get Starsky to meet his eyes, but Starsky didn't want to. He could only deal with one thing at a time at the moment, and right now he gratefully pushed his feelings aside and concentrated on facts.
"Baldwin? James Baldwin? But why?" He looked up at Hutch, then immediately down again, trying to sort it out. James Baldwin, head of one of the bigger local syndicates. Not one of the good guys, that was for sure, but they had never crossed paths with him before -- what did he have against them?
"It was a...demonstration." Hutch's voice had taken on a hard edge. "He was making a statement to some of his competitors. Show them the extent of his power and score some points for taking care of a pesky cop at the same time. He was going to get rid of me after a while, after he'd finished showing his 'prize' off," the word was given all the disgust Hutch could muster, "but he didn't count on the Feds showing up on his doorstep. Turns out they had him staked out for a while but they didn't want to move in until they were good and ready."
Starsky heard the flat tone of the words, and concern and curiosity finally made him risk a glance up. Hutch wasn't looking at him; he was busy staring up at the ceiling, his face flushed with anger and bitterness. For the first time, Starsky began to consider what the past two months had been like for his partner. Belatedly he thought to ask, softly, "Are you okay?" There was no sign of injury, not even an IV...
Hutch turned back toward him, and once again Starsky felt overwhelmed by the warmth of emotion that returned to his partner's eyes as they met his.
"Yeah," was returned equally softly. "Just a few bumps and bruises. They only have me here for observation." He leaned forward against his drawn up knees to study Starsky more carefully. "Are you okay?"
The look in the blue eyes had changed now from uncertainty to -- what, worry? No, more like concern. Loving concern. Two months he hadn't seen those eyes, and Starsky still understood what they said in silence better than what others said out loud. Like riding a bicycle... Starsky felt a little giddy.
"I missed you," he said quietly. It didn't have to be said, but he wanted to, and a lot more in that simple phrase. He avoided Hutch's eyes, the emotion in them distracted him, but he reached out for a hand and found one. Or rather, it found him. The connection gave him the strength to keep going. He continued. "I thought you were dead for the last two months." He said it haltingly, like a confession, but he wanted to say it, to tell his friend everything, share the last two months with Hutch just as they had shared everything all those years. "I didn't believe it for a long time, didn't even go to the funeral, I couldn't." He looked up with shame burning his cheeks, but there was no condemnation in the eyes that watched him steadily, only compassion and understanding. Starsky suddenly understood why -- if anyone could understand what he had gone through, it was Hutch. He took a deep breath, went on. "Kept expecting you to show up and surprise everybody. It just didn't make sense..." He trailed off, not trying to stop the tears anymore. Just thinking about it hurt, made him feel sick, but he had to talk, at least tell some of it now. Later he would get drunk and share all of it, the denial, the fears and anger, the grief...but he wanted Hutch to understand now. Starsky looked up again, was caught by those deep blue eyes. Mesmerized, he went on. "Dobey tried to assign me a new partner, Barnes, but it didn't last long, it was just too weird. I already had a partner..." He gulped, his eyes still held, went on. "But then I cleaned out your desk at work, and I was sure it was over. Even went through the box of cards people sent." He stopped, then, more softly and sincerely than before. "I thought you were really gone."
The hand in his squeezed back hard. "I'm sorry." Hutch's voice was soothing. It was said with equal earnestness, and, absurdly, made everything seem right again. Almost.
The anger of before came back suddenly, finding a target. "Why did you do it?!" The outburst startled them both, and Starsky pulled his hand back as the grip on it loosened in response. "Why did you run into that building without me? Don't you know that you can get killed without back-up? That was the stupidest thing you've ever done!" He couldn't stay seated, and had now paced to the other side of the room. When had he become this emotionally unstable? Was it before or after the wringer of the last two months? he thought wryly.
Hutch was trying to follow the changes in the conversation and his partner's mood. "Starsky, you know I had to! They said there was a little girl in there, I couldn't just leave her!" His face suddenly altered. "What did happen to her, do you know? Did she make it out okay?"
"There never was a girl, you dummy!" Starsky was yelling now, but he didn't care. "It was a set-up all along, and you fell for it, hook, line, and sinker." He turned back to his partner, trying to catch his breath after that outburst.
Hutch's face fell. "Oh."
Great, now you got him upset. What is wrong with you?! Hutch wouldn't have been the Hutch he knew and loved if he hadn't have gone into a collapsing building to try and save a young girl, Starsky knew that. The thought just frustrated him more, and suddenly he had to lash out, use up his anger on something. He whirled away from the bed and furiously laid into the chair that sat innocuously behind him. The world focused down to that one point, and the chair became Baldwin, then Barnes, then life in general that had seen fit to put him through hell for the last two months. The leg of the chair gave out on the second blow, splintering in half, but Starsky continued to strike out at it, enjoying having a physical target for all his strong feelings. It beat having to focus and think things through.
The restraining hand on his arm, pulling him back, didn't even register at first, and then it startled him. The chair suddenly became just a chair again, considerably battered, but not the evil it had seemed before. Just like his life. Spent and sobbing without even knowing why, Starsky sagged into the hands that were pulling at him. The hands accepted the burden, and he was pulled into a tight embrace. Then the two of them were sitting on the bed again somehow, which was good because he didn't feel he had the strength to stay on his feet, and he clung to the solid reality and safety that enfolded him. He could feel the gentle hand on his hair and rubbing his back, but the only thing that mattered were the two arms that were holding him close, supporting him in every sense of the word. He cried until all the tears were gone, and then he just rested in the arms, enjoying being held. The fears slipped away, and so did the last of the anger. Yes, the last two months had happened, but they were over. He had survived them, maybe even grown from them. He had slowly learned how to live again, but God had given him a second chance now, and he'd be a fool not to take it. A chance to love again, too.
"How ya' doin'?" the soft voice interrupted his thoughts, and he smiled at the familiar voice. Yes, he'd definitely missed that blond idiot. Who else would still have him after the scene he'd just put on?
"I think I'm finished." He grinned soggily.
One arm fell away, but the other stayed comfortably around his shoulders as his partner studied his eyes for confirmation. Apparently satisfied at what he'd found, Hutch nodded. "Okay then. D'you bring that red tomato with you? I think I'm ready to get out of here, how 'bout you?"
Even the crack about his car couldn't get a rise out of Starsky, he felt too good. Refreshed and ready to start over again. "Oh, yeah," he said sincerely. It was time to move on.
Together, as always.