This story first appeared in the zine, Ouch! #6 (1999). This zine, and other fine S&H gen zines, can be obtained from Neon Rainbow Press: http://www.neonrainbowpress.com/ Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author.
Starsky paced from one end of the small hospital cubicle to the other. Too small a space; he felt claustrophobic, but the closed area wasn't really the problem, he knew. There just wasn't enough room anywhere to walk off all the worry of waiting to hear about a friend.
Not that he was a stranger to vigils. Unfortunately, as a cop he'd sat before with families waiting for any word about their loved ones, with fellow cops waiting for news of a colleague, even once with his mother and baby brother, waiting to hear that his dad was dead. The vigils for his partner were the worst, when his world bottomed out and there was no one there to lean on, not really. Those who did come couldn't feel what he felt, nor share the load that was his. There was only one other person who had ever been able to do that so completely, and when that person was hurt, maybe dying, the world stood still and confused around him.
Starsky blinked--where had that come from? It wasn't as though that were the case now, for which he was guiltily grateful. He shook his head, glancing across the small waiting area to the strained blue eyes that automatically looked up to meet his. No, Hutch was here with him now, thank God, and sharing the load indeed. It did help some. But still, until there was news of Huggy, he wouldn't rest easy, neither of them would. There was only one cure for worrying about hurt friends, he'd discovered, and that was seeing and touching for himself that the other was alive, mending. So many vigils. . .
His agitation must've telegraphed itself to his partner, for the quiet voice spoke up behind him. "Starsk, he's gonna be okay. Huggy's tough; a little knife wound's not gonna do him in."
It wasn't so much the words as the tone that made him relax just a little bit at that, and he knew Hutch had meant it so. His partner always knew how to get to him, and even if they both were aware it was useless for him to try to persuade Starsky to sit down and wait quietly, at least he could remind the brunet that he wasn't alone. Not this time.
Starsky stopped again, looking over his partner again with a more penetrating eye. Hutch had the most amazing ability to calm in a crisis, to see all the grays and empathize with everyone involved, and yet still set aside his own doubts and fears and stay controlled to do what needed to be done. It was a gift that had saved Starsky's life more than once. And yet, though the voice had had its usual steadiness, as soothing as his partner could be in a crisis, Starsky could still detect the signs of tension in the slim frame, in the way Hutch sat forward, long fingers tight-clasped and supporting his chin. He could explode into temper with the best of them, and a Hutchinson on the rampage was a sight that scared even Starsky, but when he was truly upset or worried, Hutch burned this way, inside, bottled up, still. Composed to the objective eye, but coiled and stiff with strain to those who knew him well. And Starsky knew him so well.
Hutch could feel him watching again, always could, and looked up at him with a raised eyebrow that was more an acknowledgment than a question. It pulled a rueful grin from Starsky. Any secrets they'd had from each other had been long ago given up to the telepathy they now seemed to share. But Starsky considered the lingering confusion in his friend's tired eyes, the weight of worry, the aloneness. No matter who one waited with, even a partner, hospital vigils were lonely affairs.
What was striking now, though, Starsky abruptly realized, was that he'd never seen Hutch waiting like this, when his partner's heart was fully engaged. Usually, he himself was the object of such vigils, and blissfully unaware of what agony his loved ones, his partner was going through. What he saw now was . . . disturbing. The being eaten away inside, the face so composed that the strain of stoicism formed its own lines of tension, the washed-out blue eyes. He'd seen Hutch hurt, worried, scared, tense, and explosive before. But never quite like this, caught in the agony of helpless waiting.
The look reminded him of something, and he had to think a moment to pin it down. After the shooting at Giovanni's, and then again after Bellamy had poisoned him. Both times, he'd awakened to the surety that he wasn't alone and hadn't been for some time, finding his partner by his side, ready to reassure and soothe and help. And drugged out and exhausted as he had been both times, just for a moment, just before relief and joy took its place, he'd caught a glimpse of that look. It hadn't sunk in before, but it was the same distress then that he now saw all over his partner. And for the first time, he understood.
Starsky's gaze softened, and he went over and plunked down on the seat next to the blond, restlessness momentarily forgotten.
"I'm okay, I just wish they'd tell us something." The blue eyes relented a little as they looked at him. "The waiting's always the hardest part, huh?" Hutch added softly.
Never too empty to find something left to give, Starsky thought. He nodded understandingly, tiredly, beginning to feel the fatigue of emotional strain. The pacing hadn't helped much there, but at least he'd been able to burn off some of the devastating energy of anxiety. In Hutch, it just licked away at him inside. Where did it all go, and what did it take with it?
"He'd better make it," Starsky muttered. "He still owes me twenty bucks on that Yankees game." He paused. "He'll be okay, Hutch, I know it." Humor and earnesty had always been his way of comforting, while gentleness and empathy was his partner's.
He could see the blond acknowledge the attempt and the reminder that the load wasn't his alone to bear, either, and Starsky patted him on the shoulder before jumping up to pace again. The touching they both had in common.
And while he couldn't sit still any longer if his life depended on it, the waiting nook didn't seem quite so cramped anymore. He glanced over at the chairs at his next pass to find Hutch now leaning back, still tense, still quietly simmering, but not quite as strained as before. A whole new side, indeed. If this was bad, waiting for news of a friend when the chances were good, then waiting to hear about a partner when the situation was serious and there was no one to share it with would take a toll he could only painfully imagine. Starsky felt humbled. They'd talked about it before, he'd experienced it himself, and yet somehow he'd never quite realized how deeply it cut his partner, how badly it got to him. But Starsky would know, the inevitable next time, and he'd be ready for it. Buried energy like that had to find resolution, after all, and being Hutch's outlet, looking after him, was Starsky's job. Had been for years now.
Starsky glanced affectionately at his partner, and the blond head cocked in response even though Hutch didn't look up at him. With a small internal smile, Starsky began to pace again.
Hutch mentally tracked his partner as he paced from one end of the room to the other and back again, aware even without looking. It should have annoyed him, the endless, restless movement, and perhaps from someone else it would have, but with Starsky it didn't. Instead, he tolerantly kept an eye on his restless partner's movements and let himself sink back into his own thoughts.
Somehow, it hadn't ever really occurred to them before to worry about Huggy. The barkeep got into some scrapes sometimes, would have probably even lost his life that one time if not for the detectives' intervention, but on the whole, their friend was a survivor. Even now, the medics had assured them that the injury did not seem fatal, but it had been deep, and there had been so much blood, Hutch couldn't help but feel a little scared. An all too familiar feeling.
Subconsciously, he registered that Starsky had stopped pacing again, and looked up once more when the gaze of his friend became too heavy to ignore. The sapphire eyes warmed him, reminding him that he was not alone in this each time he was in danger of forgetting. They sparked another question at him that he silently answered, then the pacing began again and Hutch, a little lightened, forced himself to relax and think more optimistic thoughts.
Like the fact that as hard as the waiting was, at least this time he didn't have to do it by himself. Starsky was the ever-hopeful one between them, and his support and companionship and comfort alone made the uncertainty so much more bearable. Not to mention the fact that this time it wasn't Starsky's life that hung in the balance. There was no more crushing weight than that, no greater black hole in his life than wondering if the person he relied on most, the one most a part of him, was to be taken from him or not.
Hutch mentally shuddered, and this time a hand glided over his hair in a brief, gently awkward gesture of comfort. He smiled down at the floor for a moment. No, he didn't have to do it alone at all, and that made a world of difference.
Hutch forced his stiff fingers to unclasp and wearily leaned back in the chair. Amazing, how exhausting doing absolutely nothing but being scared and worried could make someone. They'd only been at the hospital about two hours, he figured, and the stabbing had taken place maybe a half-hour before then, which meant it was still relatively early in the day, and yet it already felt like he'd been up two days straight.
His eyes absently followed the pacer, and Hutch marveled again at the seemingly endless energy of his partner. Starsky was tired, too; the blond could feel it across the room. And yet he moved with unflagging energy as if if he didn't walk it off, he'd explode with it. That energy often led others to believe Starsky childish, immature, unrestrained. And it was true that there was a childlike element in his partner that Hutch guarded even as he shook his head at it, but those blind condemnations didn't see Starsky take charge during a crisis, perform the impossible, give everyone exactly what they needed. . . and then crash hard afterwards, when there was nobody left to worry about but himself and the energy suddenly bottomed out.
Hutch frowned at the thought, taking a closer look. Starsky's steps were almost frantic, in contrast to the lines of fatigue in his face. It was Starsky's very advantage, his ability to see the world in black-and-white, that made it so hard on him now when there was nothing he could do, a paradox he could not make sense of, a problem he couldn't resolve. It was, undoubtedly, that driven nature of Starsky's that had led him to find his partner when Hutch had been hurt and lost in San Diego, and again that had seen them both through Hutch's heroin withdrawal. An endless store of energy that the blond had drawn on himself in order to make it sometimes.
But now, with fear draining all of Starsky's natural reserves and the helpless inactivity of worrying and waiting not allowing him to refuel, what happened when he hit bottom? It was an angle Hutch had never properly considered before, never even seen so obviously before. His memories of withdrawal were hazy and uncertain at best, and despite having experienced the waiting and worrying game himself, he'd never been there to see Starsky do the same. Hutch was usually the one who picked up his partner when Starsky's impetuous momentum slammed him into some obstacle or drained him dry. Who did that when Starsky needed it most, when he was alone and scared and wearing himself out for his partner?
"Starsk?" he spoke up again softly. His partner turned back to him, already straightening a little at the diversion of his thoughts and the quiet of Hutch's voice. "Why don't you go get us some coffee? Don't know about you, but I could use some."
He watched with almost amusement as Starsky's eyes flashed relief at having something to do, and with a nod, his partner disappeared around the cubicle's partition, intent on his mission. No doubt he knew exactly why it had occurred to Hutch to want coffee just then, but that didn't matter half as much as the thought and the chance to act.
Hutch leaned forward again, lacing his fingers together. His thoughts wandered back to Huggy once more, and he said another fervent prayer even as he consciously avoided the thought. They'd know soon, and the predictions had been hopeful. Instead, he thought about the side of his partner he'd seen that day. It was a glimpse he wouldn't forget, especially when and if, God forbid, Starsky would have another vigil like this to sit, perhaps alone. It was sobering, to mean that much to another, but it also made him all the more resolved to be there for his partner when he could, and to make up for it when he couldn't. Someone had to replenish and sustain all that burned up energy and determination, and that had been Hutch's willing role nearly since they'd met. For both their sakes.
Not that the giving was all his. Starksy slipped back into the tiny room with two cups of coffee in hand and handed one to Hutch, fingers lingering a moment over the blond's in thank-you and his own silent support. Hutch flashed a grin at his partner, watching as the other leaned against the wall to drink his coffee, momentarily still. It wasn't sitting down, but it was a start, Hutch contentedly decided as he sipped his own coffee.
The doctor watched as the two visitors crowded around his groggy patient, laughing and talking and squeezing the thin black man's hand in reassurance. Odd; the victim had seemed like one of the street-dwellers that so often came through the hospital with various injuries obtained in fights, gang violence, and petty crimes gone awry. He'd had his private reservations about the strangely named Huggy Bear being any different: friendless, homeless, anonymous. That there were two people, and such different people at that, who would wait and worry about whether Mr. Bear lived or died had been surprise enough. That the doctor had recognized them as police officers had been downright astonishing. And yet the relief and joy on their faces at his news of Mr. Bear's good prognosis had been unmistakable, as had been their concern before. Who would've guessed?
The visit had gone on long enough and Mr. Bear looked nearly asleep, and so finally the doctor had gone in to herd the guests out. Reluctant, cheerful good-byes were said, and then the two detectives left, the doctor following closely behind.
"Starsky," he couldn't help but overhear the taller, blond one address his companion, "this calls for a celebration."
"Uh-huh," the other one nodded.
"Not like that," the blond said at once, though the doctor couldn't see as though any suggestions had been made. "Your place. My treat."
His treat of what, he didn't say either, but the one named Starsky gave his companion a long look, apparently understanding the shorthand and adding a few things of his own, because the blond nodded back, finishing the strange exchange. Then, the blond with his long, relaxed stride and the brunet with his shorter, more energetic steps, continued down the hall and into the elevator, somehow remaining shoulder to shoulder and in-step despite their differences. A strange bunch that, indeed.
Not that it was his business. The doctor shook his head and went on to the next stop on his rounds.
Written in 1998