The story was originally published in the mixed-media zine Red Hot Lovers. Special thanks to the author for providing the files and giving permission for it to be posted to the archive. Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org who will forward it to the author.
SKY BLUE AND BLACK
When the nurse pulled the I.V. needle out, Starsky was immediately relieved. It meant he was better, and he couldn't stand the thought of some long pokey thing in his vein. He rubbed at the top of his hand convulsively.
"Don't do that," snapped the nurse. "You'll make a bruise."
Ug, thought Starsky. Ug, ug. Needles, blood, hospitals. All of it. Aloud he asked, "When do I get to go home?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Mr. Starsky."
"Ya gotta know!"
"Records has your chart, Mr. Starsky. And I don't have access to that information."
Starsky kept himself from rolling his eyes from sheer force of will. Where was Hutch anyway? Always cool in a crisis, he would be the only one able to get the information without going ballistic on some poor candy striper. Unless he was still in that weird mood.
The first days of Starsky's recuperation had passed in their usual, fogbound muddle. Pain, surrounded by painlessness, followed by more dull aches as the medication wore off, or his I.V. ran out. And through it all, he'd been pretty sure that Hutch had been right at his side. Near as he could tell, it had taken him three solid days to come out of being out of it, and Hutch had been there. Then, as he began to feel somewhat better, Hutch had stopped coming by so much. Mumbled something about being missing for some mysterious bed count.
Bed count, bullshit. It was near noon, and Hutch hadn't come by at all.
It was that Bright crap again, he knew it was. His partner was taking all the blame for that and holding onto it like Knute Rockne at the end zone. And poor Dobey had no clue. Going off about how Bright had snatched Starsky, and Hutch sitting in that chair, all bruised up, knees stiffening, face pale. If Dobey had known Hutch thought he was responsible, he wouldn't have said anything. But he didn't know. And Starsky wasn't going to tell him. No one was.
Hutch wore guilt like a dark blanket, midnight against his blonde brightness. It sounded romantic in theory, but it was hell to live with. He took it on and wore it when something bad went down. Wore it to rags. Like that would change anything. Like he could affect it at all. Jeanie, Abby, Van. Shit, he probably even felt bad about Terri, and that was so far away from the truth it wasn't even funny. He would never throw it off until Starsky dragged it off him. They still hadn't worked through the Van business. It put circles under Hutch's eyes, and Starsky didn't like it.
"Never did," he said aloud.
"Never did what?" asked the nurse as she re-entered the room, lunch in hand. She set it up on the bed tray, functional frown firmly in place.
"Nothin'. Hey, have you seen my partner?"
Her eyes settled on him, slightly unfocused. "Pardon me?"
"My partner, Hutch. Ken Hutchinson. Tall, blonde guy. Visits me . . . sometimes."
"Oh, him." She brought her hand to her hair to push back some imaginary stray. It told Starsky that Hutch had flirted mildly with her, probably to be allowed in Starsky's room after hours. "He apparently checked himself out."
Oh. That sounded like Hutch. Hospitals weren't his favorite place either. "Guess I'll have to give him a call at home." Why he was telling this woman this, he couldn't fathom.
"That wouldn't do you any good," she told him.
Naturally this nurse wouldn't know what she was talking about. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Her voice was arch. "Your captain was in here a half hour ago, demanding to know why we'd let one of our patients escape. Like he was a prisoner or something."
That sounded like Dobey. "Why didn't he just call Hutch at home?" The conversation seemed to be going around in a never-ending spiral.
"Your Mr. Hutchinson is not at his place of residence. He is, apparently, missing."
Starsky pushed back the covers and landed his feet on the floor in one move, but the nurse, healthy and whole, was quicker. She grabbed his hips and legs and shoved him back in the bed and shouted for the orderly. Instantly he arrived, on cue, a huge, hairy armed individual who filled the doorway with his shoulders.
"You are not leaving this room, Mr. Starsky. You will not even try. Do you understand? Otherwise I will have to sedate you and strap you in."
The calm nod he returned to her was faked, but the shudder that ran through him was not. The situation reminded him, all of a sudden, of Cabrillo State. They were planning to pump him full of shit and tie him down. Only Hutch wasn't going to be there to make sure everything was all right. As a matter of fact, Hutch wasn't anywhere to be found. He tried to tell himself that the pumping of his heart wasn't from fury, but it was.
Damnit, Hutch, this is the second time.
Hutch never used to run off. Never used to disappear. That was more Starsky's line. Of the two, he was more likely to brood in solitude and then reappear when everything was worked out. Hutch needed someone to be there when he fretted, needed someone to help him through it. Needed Starsky.
He made himself lay back down, and allowed her to pull the covers back over him. Made himself smile and take a deep breath.
"You're not on the I.V. any longer, Mr. Starsky, but can I get you something?" the nurse asked. Starsky couldn't tell if she was fooled or not. The intern apparently was, for he unfolded his arms and backed out of the room.
"No needles, tired of those," he told her.
"Some codeine for the pain, perhaps?"
His heart was pounding again. How the hell was he going to get out of here with her watching?
"Yes, thank you."
And where the hell was Hutch?
After the nurse came by a little while later with the pills, Dobey stopped in. Starsky, bandage over one eyebrow, contemplated the man before him in silence. There had been plenty of occasions where both he and Hutch had pushed their senior officer far beyond the limits of prudence. Many a time had bent this regulation or ignored that dictum of sanity, or even taken an afternoon off, all in spite of, in the face of, Dobey's grizzling. And Dobey had taken it all, even, when pushed had come to shove, backed "his boys" to the I.A. all the way to the wall.
"C'mon, Cap'n, where'd he go this time? Up to your cabin at Pine Lake? C'mon, you can tell me."
The eyes that bored into him had grey circles beneath them, and there was a frown solidly in place. "I don't believe I have to inform you of my officer's whereabouts."
"Did Hutch tell you not to tell?"
Another quick look told Starsky the truth. "You don't know, do you?"
Dobey had to nod at that, and it looked as if he would rather keep his head down and fall asleep right there on his feet.
After Dobey left, chagrined, the phone at Starsky's bedside rang. Normally he would never let a phone go on more than four rings, but two went by as he stared at the thing, dumfounded. He never got calls in the hospital; hospitals were notorious for misrouting calls. It took him another two rings to untangle his arm from a tangle of sheet and blanket and he slammed it against his ear, wincing.
A soft, almost musical breath greeted him from the other end. It was Hutch, no one else breathed like that.
It was greeting and confirmation all at once. If his partner were actually in the same room, he would have been able to decipher from the lofty variety of expressions what was up. Now he had only his hearing to lead the way. And Hutch did not sound good. Not at all.
"Where the hell are you? You're not at the hospital, Dobey doesn't know—"
"Blue sky," said Hutch, suddenly.
"What?" He thought it was a description, like green trees or orange orange.
"'m at the Blue Sky Motel. Blue Sky."
Where the hell was the Blue Sky motel? "Hutch, c'mon home, will ya? Ya gotta get me out of this stupid hospital and feed me chicken soup—"
A sudden panic rose in Starsky's throat. "Did you get into an accident, where's your car, are you okay?"
A short silence ensued, and no reply was forthcoming. It seemed as if Hutch were reaching for something that took him away from the phone, for when he came back, Starsky heard him take a deep breath.
"Pain pills," said Hutch slowly. "Thought the bottle said two every hour, but there's a smudge here . . . I think it's a four, two every four hours. Can't operate heavy machinery anyway, don't you know."
"When did you start taking the stuff?"
"Got here at noon, er, noon. Not taking any more till tomorrow."
It was almost four o'clock and that meant that Hutch had taken eight instead of two. No wonder he sounded groggy.
"Can you put them away, like in a drawer? Do it now."
The phone was put down with a clunk and a thump. When it was picked up again, Hutch was breathing hard.
"'kay," he said, equably.
"Promise me something."
He could feel Hutch nodding at the other end, and was nodding in response himself, but he wanted to hear it.
"DON'T MOVE, ya got me? I'll be there as quick as I can."
"Stay right where you are. Where is this hotel, anyway?"
"Highway One. 'bout four hours."
Four hours of driving. He wasn't ready. His side still ached, he had a bad headache that wasn't going away, and a huge bone bruise on his left thigh. But for Hutch, it seemed not enough, somehow, to force himself to drive the distance to the motel; he would be willing to do that, and more.
"I'm leaving now. Hang in there, babe."
He got dressed, slipping his cutoffs over the large bandage on his left leg. His heart was pounding lest some efficient nurse discover his escape, and he realized the whole thing was stupid really. Hutch hadn't actually overdosed, and he could probably very well just call an ambulance to go and get him. But something else called to him, other than Hutch himself, some invisible tether that connected him. Was pulling itself taut, encouraging him to get his car and hit the road. When he got to Hutch, the tension would lessen, and everything would be all right.
It took almost an hour for him to get a taxi ride home, pack some things, and fill the tank with gas. He found that his appetite was completely gone, though he knew he should probably eat.
On the road, he promised himself. One of those roadside places. Of course, none was forthcoming along the way.
As he drove, he wondered if he might have left word for Dobey, who was probably still storming the hospital, tie askew. Left a note on his pillow or something. But what could he have said? Gone into detail how Hutch had confessed what he'd done? There was no way to properly convey the memory of Hutch's sweet, low voice in the darkness as he said, "I didn't want to die alone." Or the tender, satin lips on Starsky's temple as he kissed him. Dobey never did understand that level of their relationship. And he would probably scream blue blazes at him when they got back, although Hutch hadn't gone very far. And of course, Starsky would follow.
He found the motel by the headlights in the dark. It hadn't been very hard to find, almost as if he had pictured it in his head and had merely followed a well-known path. The clerk at the front desk pointed him in the direction of Hutch's room, and he stepped into the night air once again. His headache had faded and expanded and had taken a leave of absence for the time being, for which he was grateful. The throbbing in his left leg was just going to have to be ignored.
Knocking on the correct door, he walked in without waiting. Hutch stood quickly from where he'd apparently been sitting on the floor, off balance for a split second, putting his hand out on the nearby chair.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"You called me, remember?"
Both of their glances went to the phone on the nightstand by the bed. It was still off the hook, so long off the hook that it had gone completely silent. Starsky walked over, and hung it up, and cast a puzzled look at his partner.
"Don't ask, Starsky, you don't want to know."
"Don't tell me what I want to know." He shook his finger at Hutch. "I want to know what's going on in that damn head of yours."
"Will you just go back to L.A., please?"
From his position by the door, Starsky could tell Hutch was about to explode, a necessary but scary thing if you were the only person in his sights. His lips were in a thin line, eyes sending off sparks, his jaw tight.
Starsky approached Hutch slowly. "Hutch, it's okay now."
"It's not okay, it will never be okay, don't tell me it's going to be okay because IT'S NOT!"
Starsky forced himself not to step backwards, headache suddenly back with full force.
"It's just this simple," hissed Hutch, his head going down, "everything that happened to you and to me was my fault and there's simply not enough forgiveness in the world, let alone in you, for that."
Some of his trepidation faded away. It was just Hutch feeling guilty. "You want my forgiveness? Why? It's already yours."
"I gave you up." The words were simple, but it scared him that Hutch didn't seem to be able to look at him.
He made himself walk closer. "Oh, babe, like you said, you're human. I would have done the same."
He couldn't see Hutch's eyes but could imagine the expression there just the same. The spark and the snarl, tiger released.
"I believe your response was, at the time, and I quote, 'I would never do that.'"
Starsky closed his eyes. Trust Hutch to remember that. "Brave words," he said, "flying in the face of disaster. Spitting into the wind. And I woulda melted, I just never got pushed that far."
Now Hutch turned, eyes black slits. "Oh, didn't you. I call emergency surgery for internal injuries pretty far to be pushed."
Starsky stepped forward cautiously, toe first, finding purchase on the rug, and realized he was shaking. "Hutch, I love you, I forgive you. It's all right."
Sudden tears streaked down Hutch's face, one-two, one-two. Starsky reached forward with both hands. "Don't cry, you'll break my heart."
Hutch lunged forward, eyes bright, grabbed his arms, and Starsky thought, bruises, I'm gonna have permanent bruises. Shook him, tears gone, rage pouring out of him.
"Why are you STILL HERE?"
"Why, I . . . "
"I keep using you and USING YOU and you're STILL HERE! You've got to run out soon, though I don't know how I'll earn more points, I'm running out and you're running out and where's it gonna come from, huh?"
Firm hands shook him hard. "Hutch, I don't understand, talk slower, I—"
"It's always bad, never forgiveness or a favor for something small, oh no. Never, hey, buddy, lend me a twenty that I'll never repay you for or hey, buddy, I'm sorry I forgot to pick you up on my way to work this morning."
Starsky thought Hutch was slowing down as he took a large gulp of air and bowed his head. "Hutch," he whispered softly.
The blonde head came up, eyes silver-dark. "No, it's always, hey, buddy, cover for me under this gunfire, or sorry, I'm goin' off the deep end and taking you with me, or say, sorry you got tortured, it's all my fault. Shit like that uses up a man's quota real fast, wouldn't you say, Starsk?"
Hutch let go of one arm and began propelling him towards the door. Starsky had to hustle or get his shoulder dislocated. Before he realized it, Hutch had thrown him out and locked the door. He pounded on it.
"You bastard, open this door! OPEN THIS GODDAM DOOR!"
"You MORON," Starsky shouted, "I don't know what kind of roster you're working with, but you don't have a quota with me. THERE IS NO SUCH THING!"
The response was quiet, almost inaudible.
"There has to be."
"So I can earn it."
"Earn it? Love?" Starsky sniggered sarcastically. "Babe, you can't buy it, sell it, or earn it. It's not a commodity, there's no stocks on the market for this. It's invisible."
"Like the tooth fairy."
Starsky stared at the panels of wood, wishing he had his gun to shoot a big enough hole in the door to step through. Desperation rose in him when he realized that wouldn't do him any good. Nothing would do any good at this point, it seemed, and a sob rose in his throat. He pounded on the door again.
"Damnit, Hutch, IT EXISTS, it's REAL, love is REAL!"
Silence. Utter silence, a wall that was more than the door panels it was made up of.
Suddenly he was bone tired. He'd always heard that phrase before but had never understood it until now. It was a kind of exhaustion that pulled at his bones until he thought they would melt under the strain and he would be left in a formless heap on concrete. He figured he had two choices. One, he could try pounding on the door again. But even if Hutch did let him in, which seemed unlikely, he wouldn't have the stamina to go another round and try to help his friend make sense of it all. His second choice was to get a room. That, and make sure that Hutch wouldn't leave in the morning without his knowing.
He took his keys from his pocket and knelt gingerly in front of the back passenger tire of the LTD. He might sleep through a car being started outside his window, but there was no way he'd sleep through Hutch changing a flat.
Little socks on his teeth. He could swear that's what they were. Little fuzzy red socks, and the rest of his mouth was lined with cotton. Or was it wool? He tried swallowing, and ran both hands experimentally through his hair. All there. He'd had a bizarre dream about it disappearing.
No more painkillers for you, my boy.
He dressed slowly, imagining that he was not alone on the edge of the earth, and decided he would get some breakfast and drive north for . . . for what? For awhile.
But once he stepped outside he saw two things. A flat tire on his car, and beyond that a few spaces, was Starsky's Torino.
He's here, he loves me.
For the life of him, he couldn't figure out why.
He walked out into the parking lot to try and figure out which room had been Starsky's. And out of the corner of his eye he caught, way across the road, a figure on the beach. Walking along the shoreline. And Hutch knew it was up to him to make an effort to catch up. Which was no effort at all.
When Hutch reached him, Starsky was standing barefooted in the surf, the stringy fly ends of his cut-offs straying across his thighs and the large white bandage. Even fully dressed, he seemed naked, some animalness, some connection with nature made it seem as if the wind could caress every pore of him.
And I thought I was nature boy.
On top of which, Starsky looked a little bit better than Hutch remembered from the night before, though that whole memory was lanced with a drug induced haze. Plus, he looked pissed off. Hutch wondered why, all of a sudden, it was easier to be with a Starsky that was mad at him than it was to be with a Starsky that looked at him with love in his eyes.
Starsky sat in the sand, and Hutch sat beside him.
"Starsky, I'm sorry."
"What do I care?" asked Starsky, staring out to sea.
With a start, Hutch realized that his friend wasn't merely mad, he was angry, which didn't happen often.
As if Hutch had posed a question, Starsky continued. "I already forgave you and you couldn't accept that. And if you can't accept it then there's no point in my saying it again, or for you to keep saying you're sorry."
An impasse some would call it, but to Hutch it felt like a brick wall. No way up, around, or through. Once Starsky planted his heels, it was all over. He was one of the few men for whom the principle would always mean more than the money. Hutch felt his shoulders crumple in towards his chest, and his feet moved, helplessly, cross-legged, beneath him.
"I . . . don't know what to do, Starsky . . . I don't think I can."
As if he'd reached out a hand, Starsky looked at him, turning his head slowly, a solemn pull to his mouth.
"All right, let's start from the beginning."
Any man, thought Hutch suddenly, who thinks this guy lacks an analytical mind, is minus a few marbles.
"What is eating you? Why won't you let me forgive you?"
"Because, man, I gave you up, I turned you in. You can't forgive me for something like that."
"Why did you do that, give me up I mean. I know you tole me once, but . . . "
"I gave you up because I didn't want to die alone."
"I couldn't die without you."
Starsky thought about that for a moment. "Could you live without me?"
"Then you have to let me forgive you."
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do."
"Why isn't my forgiveness enough for you? If you don't accept it, it means that what I'm feeling doesn't mean anything to you."
"You know that's not true."
Starsky continued as if Hutch hadn't spoken. "It means that what you're feeling means more to you than I do."
Hutch's head jerked up. "That's bullshit!"
"No, it's the truth. How do you expect me to work with you in the streets, work the way we work, if I'm always knowing that you don't believe that I love you enough to forgive you?"
The logic of it was beautiful and perfectly circular. There was no way Hutch could deny any of it.
Starsky stared at his partner, unwilling to give ground, even once it had been gained. "You have to let me forgive you."
Hutch's voice was raw. "Why?"
"Why do you think you're the only one who cares as much as you do? I care. I love you, I forgive you, that's all you need to know. And if you loved me, really and truly, you would allow yourself to be forgiven. That's what friends do for each other." Starsky took a deep breath and went on. "What we're talking about before, the way you feel, that you couldn't go on living without me, that you wouldn't want to die alone, remember?"
""But you wouldn't have given me up, you said so."
"Quit harpin' on that, will ya? And that's beside the point, besides. If you had died—"
"Don't talk to me about feeling suicidal."
"Remember Terri? I meant what I said: I wouldn't have made it if it hadn't been for you, if you were gone, what reason would I have?"
"Hutch, don't break my heart, don't make me go on believing that you don't believe I love you."
Hutch stared at the sea, morning colors dancing along the surface.
"I guess my problem is that I don't understand why you love me. How you can love me that much."
"You want me to PROVE it to you?" Incredulous.
"No, I want you to explain it to me."
"I love you because . . . " Starsky sighed, ducking his head down. ". . . because I love you."
"That's not a reason, Starsk, you have to have a reason."
"Why?" The muffled voice sounded sullen.
Why indeed. Starsky was faithful beyond measure, and he sure didn't need any evidence that Starsky cared for him. His partner had never let him down. He took whatever Hutch dished out to him and never complained: from the incessant teasing about his lack of a degree to bossing him around to taking his food from him to the out and out cruel tricks he played from time to time. And he always forgave, understood, considered Hutch his best pal in the world. Even this time.
"And what do you get in return for all of that?" Hutch asked suddenly, cutting off the uncomfortable pictures in his mind.
"There has to be something you get from me that you don't get from anyone else, the reason that you keep forgiving me—"
"Something I get?"
"Yes, something you get."
It was obvious that Starsky was confused, but perhaps it was because he'd never thought about it before. Hutch started to panic. What if when he starts thinking about it instead of just doing it, then he'll realize what a crummy person I am to be around, what if . . .
"Well, our friendship is pretty special."
I don't see how, Hutch said to himself. Aloud, he explained, "No, that's not what I mean. Our friendship is pretty special, I agree, but what I mean is something you get from our relationship, that you take for yourself to make up for all the shitty things I do to you. Some selfish thing you take for yourself."
"Selfish?" Starsky squeaked when he was upset or startled, and Hutch realized that the word was just not a part of his friend's vocabulary. Never had been.
He tried again. "Yeah, something all for you, some need in you that only I answer. You're not a paragon, Starsky, there has to be something I give you."
"You want me to tell you something you don't know."
Hutch nodded. What do I give you that keeps you close to me. He wanted to keep doing it.
Starsky shifted on the still-cool sand, appearing not to mind the grains sifting into his clothes. He stared out at the stretch of grey-blue, squinting a little as if his answer was coming closer. Hutch waited beside him, shivering at the change in temperature. They both looked at the sea.
"You give me a place in the world." The voice came very slowly to him.
"Yeah, it's like I belong to you."
"People don't own other people, Starsky."
"Well, I belong with you, then."
What a difference a preposition could make.
And Starsky went on, his quiet voice, so unusually serious, mixing with the rush of water to soothe his heart.
"You probably don't know this, but one of the guys at the station already asked me this question, or one like it."
"Why I put up with you, why I like you."
"And what did you tell him?"
"Same thing I'm gonna tell you now, or near enough. He said to me, that Hutch is so mean to you all the time, nagging at you, taking your food, yelling at you, making you do his work for him, always putting you down. Why do you put up with that crap, I don't understand it. So I told him, you know Dan, when I come in and want money for a soda he gives it to me, if I screw up, he covers for me, some candy in his drawer? It's mine. Help working on my car. No problem."
"Dan said that sounded pretty tame, and I said, yeah, hey Dan, you know what, no matter what happens, no matter what I do or say or feel, he's always on my side. Always. Can you say that about anyone you know? Well, of course he couldn't."
A lump in Hutch's throat threatened to explode. He had to swallow three times to get it down. He didn't deserve to hear this, yet he still wanted, needed more.
"And you do nag, y'know? Always going on about what I eat, did I take my vitamins, how much sleep I look like I didn't get, am I wearing that again." Starsky was doing a credible imitation of Hutch by this point and it almost made him smile. "You mother me as if I were yours to mother."
"You like that?"
"You take it for granted that you have that right but let anyone else try it and you are all over their ass. Only you are allowed to boss me around."
"That's a lot to take for granted." The conversation had taken a sudden, unpleasant turn.
"Yes, but that's just you."
"How can it be right?" demanded Hutch. "First you all but say I own you and then you say I take it for granted and those are the reasons you love me? Are you telling me you like that?"
He looked at Starsky now, but Starsky refused to meet his gaze. He realized how unusual that was, for Starsky's eyes not to be right there whenever he needed to look at them.
"Please, Starsky, I do need to hear it."
Starsky swallowed, then nodded. "Part of it is that you take up where Aunt Rosie left off, where she gave up, y'know? She tried, she really did, but at nine . . . when dad died . . . everything kinda got stripped away, no more childhood, so what did I need a mother for? I was a wild kid."
A sudden grin appeared as a private memory flashed across the dark haired man's mind, and Hutch could suddenly see it as well: a five-fingered pick-up at the drugstore, and a wind-sprint getaway down the first alley; Starsky in the lead, whatever goodies stashed in his back pocket.
"And then you showed up, years later. Tellin' me what to do, mindin' my P's and Q's for me, picking up the pieces where she left off."
"I always thought partners should look out for each other."
"Yeah, but where another guy would draw the line, you kept going. For us there are no lines, right?"
Now Starsky looked at him, a mock serious frown turning his mouth down, but in his eyes was a real need to have Hutch understand.
So Hutch nodded.
"Remember after those Satanists had gotten me and I had the heebie-jeebies for a week?"
He nodded again. Knew what was coming.
"You came over to my place and slept on the couch the whole time. Fussed and fussed, called me a big baby."
Yes, he had done that. "So?"
"Yeah, but you never said a word about sleeping with every single light in the place on, never bothered to mention to me that you had a big date with that stewardess, the one with the huge—"
"How did you find out about that?"
"She called me, chewed me out. Said I shouldn't hog you on the only night she was in town."
Hutch shook his head. "Starsky, that's what friends are for, that's what they do. You've said that enough times yourself."
Starsky shook his head too. "You're not listening to me, it's more than that. The mothering part? The taking for granted part? There's more. You expect me to be at your side without question. Everyone in the department knows it. Without question, you depend on me, you know I'll cover you, back you up. You trust me like you do no one else. No one else trusts me the way you do."
"B-but you earned that."
"There's that earning shit again. Okay, yeah, so I earned it. But you gave me a chance to do that."
"Don't I give everybody a chance?"
"Yes, but they always screw up. I almost did, right when we met, when Dobey teamed us up. You looked me up and down, I could tell right away that you hated the way I dressed, most people do. And you asked me, you said, 'Can those jeans walk by themselves yet, or do they mostly just stand in the corner when you take them off?' Well, I almost told you to shove it, like I woulda most people, but instead I admitted that I only had two pairs. It turned out to be the right answer. You needed someone to tell what to do, and I needed someone to care."
"That doesn't sound like it's about trust."
"But it is, Hutch, it is. You trust me to understand that that's your way of saying you care. And I do understand it. And in return, you take care of me, make me a place at your side. No exceptions, 100%. It's like all I ever wanted."
What more could he ask for, what more did he want to make the badness go away?
He looked over at Starsky shivering in the sand, late March clouds rolling in on the breeze. The urge to mother was there, though it felt awkward after what Starsky had told him.
"You look tired," he said simply.
Starsky hung his head, knowing it was true, feeling his chest tighten with each breath.
"Why do you need a mother?" Hutch asked him suddenly.
A thousand replies rushed to the fore, something to explain how lonely it had been without feeling like there should be a poignant violin in the background. It wasn't like he'd ever suffered through a bedless night, huddled over an open sewer grate for warmth; L.A. just never got that cold and he'd never been without a place to stay. And he'd never lacked for anything in particular, even that bike he'd wanted when he was twelve. But it seemed a bitter wind had blown through him anyway, because there had been too many winters followed by too many springs where there hadn't been the money for the cross-continental visits. Too many weeks where the budget had been too tight for even a long distance phone call. And Aunt Rosie, had been a good caregiver, but never very motherly.
"I was separated from my mother when I was nine, Hutch. That does something to a kid," Starsky said finally.
"And I've taken the place of that."
"I'm not your mom, Starsky. Or your dad, for that matter."
"But you were, Hutch, even if you aren't now. Doncha see?"
Starsky could see it in his face that Hutch did not. It was hard for him to reconcile the horrible thing he'd done to Starsky with Starsky's continued love for him.
It suddenly became clear to Starsky what the essential problem was. Hutch could not allow himself to love someone he felt he had hurt, and everyone he loved he hurt, in some way. It was a snake with its tail in its mouth, going around and around and sent Hutch spinning with loneliness. Starsky felt as if he'd ridden an elevator to the top of a very tall building, and could see, spread below, a sea of toppled dominos, and only he could see over the tops of everything.
What Hutch needed and wanted, the same thing really, was the one gift he would not give to himself.
Hutch was hunched over as if waiting some sort of admonishment, some dire consequence from a figure in authority.
That, thought Starsky dryly, or a benediction from the Pope.
Starsky reached up an arm to encircle his partner's shoulders and felt a sudden heat along his side. His short intake of breath was involuntary, almost nonexistent. But Hutch was immediately alert, eyes suddenly clearing, shoulders going back. He put his hand to Starsky's side and it came away blood. Starsky looked down at himself to see the darkness soaking through his shirt.
For a single second, Starsky did not want to be fussed over. On the other hand, Hutch desperately needed to fuss. Needed to take care of Starsky, needed to feel as if he had contributed to his partner's well being instead of his destruction. He allowed himself to be pulled gently to his feet, with only a single, "Aw, Hutch, I'm okay," to maintain the illusion that the nursing Hutch was about to perform would make Starsky love him any more than he already did.
Hutch lifted him to a stand and helped him, one arm around his waist the other across his chest, back to the motel. He led Starsky to the bed and eased him down upon it and pulled open the buttons of his shirt, almost touching the once-again torn skin with the side of his hand.
"Don't move," admonished Hutch.
Starsky nodded, telling himself it didn't hurt, that the idea of muscles ripping anew wasn't making him want to gag.
The blonde left and came back again with a large handful of first aid gear, and set to work. Wiped away the blood with a damp cloth, wincing as Starsky winced, swallowing in tandem, breathing in sync, as if it were his own wound he were tending and not that of another man's. At one point, when Hutch was just about to apply the antibiotic, he suddenly leaned forward and laid his head, as if in exhaustion, against Starsky's hip. A tremor of the broad shoulders, and Starsky realized that his friend was crying.
"You're rusting my spurs," said Starsky.
Hutch lifted himself up immediately, wet tears still dripping from his face onto Starsky, his face working against something unidentifiable. It took Starsky a second to realize it was a snort of inexplicable laughter.
"Trust you to say the dumbest things," said the blonde in his most derisive voice.
Music. Pure, sweet music.
But even as Hutch was smiling, he lifted his hand and it came away damp with blood.
"This doesn't look good, buddy," he said.
"No," said Starsky, "no hospitals."
"Starsky," said Hutch, brows furrowing sternly.
Green Valley Hospital said later that Mr. Hutchinson had done the right thing: Mr. Starsky had been just one step from going into shock, and they had been able to clear the touch of pneumonia they found in his chest. But Starsky found the two days there before he'd been transferred to L.A. General very lonely without Hutch, who'd been busy getting both cars back to L.A. And busy explaining to Dobey why he'd felt it necessary to drag Starsky from the hospital on a wild goose chase. Starsky didn't imagine that that had gone very well.
But, true to form, once all that was over, Hutch had visited him every day. Well, almost every day, last Thursday Hutch had called him to say he couldn't make it.
"Got my one and only session with the departmental shrink."
Starsky could hear the shake in the blonde's voice, knew that his large hand was gripping the phone too tightly, and that Hutch was trying not to exhale his anxiety into the receiver. He wondered when they were going to continue the conversation they'd had in the car the day before Hutch had been abducted. Where it would take them when they continued it, and how even the simple acknowledgement of something special between them had marked them.
"Hutch," said Starsky.
It was a brave face that Hutch put on every day that he went to visit Starsky, root beer and smothered burritos carried in on the sly. It wasn't a face to cover the fear that Starsky was in any medical danger, Starsky was okay. He was going to make it. It wasn't one to cover the hope that Starsky would forgive him, he already had. Hutch had accepted it as best he could, and was trying very hard, as Starsky had admonished him on the ambulance ride to Green Valley Hospital, to forgive himself. That was a little more difficult than some things, but not impossible, not with that soft gleam in Starsky's eyes as he bit into his illegal burrito, and socked back a foamy swallow of root beer. The food told Starsky he was loved, and the voracious way he downed it told Hutch he was loved in return.
At least that's what Hutch thought it meant; that had always been the way they'd expressed it before, through gifts of food. Hutch would introduce Starsky to gourmet eating: caviar, old cheese, blackstrap molasses, vitamins; and Starsky in his turn would drag Hutch to every single dive that could even be vaguely described has having local color. The food from which kitchens turned out to be very ethnic, and usually very spicy. Heartburn time. He quietly brought out some packets of Tums and laid them casually on the bed tray.
"So you don't have to ask the nurse for some later and have her wondering why," he said, not looking directly at Starsky.
Starsky wiggled his toes beneath the bedclothes; Hutch could feel it against his thigh.
"You're awful quiet, talk to me."
"Just thinking," replied Hutch, suddenly very intrigued by the hangnail on his thumb.
He wanted to ask Starsky now about that conversation in the car, about how nothing would change them ever, only now everything between them had changed. About how many ways there were to say I love you without uttering anything near to those three words, but how they had to be said anyway. About why he'd driven off to get away from Starsky and ended up calling for him, how Starsky had driven for four hours in the rain, probably feeling like shit the whole time, and never saying a word about it. About how their lives and souls were intertwined like climbing vines . . .
But you couldn't start asking questions of a person who was trapped in a hospital bed.
Or a car for that matter, thought Hutch suddenly, remembering Starsky pursuing the topic of their relationship, when Hutch had been strapped into the driver's seat with no escape but a sudden attentiveness to his driving. Starsky could be ruthless sometimes, when alone with Hutch, taking the upper hand with very few words and a stern slice from his suddenly hard eyes.
"Hey," said a voice, and a root beer bottle was thrust into his face.
He turned. It was Starsky, offering him some of whatever he had, as he always did, in an attempt to bring Hutch back from his private morass of unproductive thoughts.
"Want soma my root beer? 'S good."
I love you, thought Hutch suddenly, wondering at the unexpected rush, I always have.
He scooted closer to the head of the bed, settling himself next to the pocket of Starsky's hip. Starsky did not move, or even blink, unaffected as if Hutch had been sitting that close all along. Hutch traced the dark violet splotches beneath Starsky's left eye with his thumb.
"Been sleeping okay?"
There was a pause before Starsky's reply and Hutch knew that it was a lie before he heard it.
Starsky did not even bother to defend himself, or deny it. He shrugged. "They got me on sleeping pills. Makes my mouth dry. I didn't take 'em."
Hutch, who had been where his friend was sitting right now, knew exactly how he felt. "How 'bout pizza and beer tomorrow?" he whispered, leaning in a bit closer.
"And beer?" squeaked Starsky. "How ya gonna sneak that in?"
"I have my ways," replied Hutch loftily, shaking his finger in his partner's face, "but I'll only bring it if you're good. Take your medication."
"I will," Starsky promised. "Bring in the good stuff, okay?"
The blonde stood up and patted Starsky's thigh. "Only the best for my buddy."
Over the next ten days, Starsky's condition improved remarkably, and he even gained a little weight, which the doctors chalked up to the miracle of modern medicine. Hutch chalked it up to a different helping of junk food every day, peppered by huge spinach salads with bacon, liver and whey shakes, and as many root beer floats as could be carried under one arm. It wasn't hospital food, which was precisely why, Hutch knew, Starsky was feeling better.
On the day Starsky was released, Hutch was on duty on the other side of town on routine day patrol, and he made a point of driving directly to Starsky's place when he got off work. Only Starsky wasn't there. He let himself in and dialed down to the station, surely the only other place Starsky would think of going. He managed to get hold of Minnie.
"Yeah, darlin', I saw him, lookin' as cute as ever. You took good care of him, I hear."
"Yeah, Minnie, look. Is he going to wait there for me or what?"
"I think he's been waiting for you since he got here, I'll tell him to keep hanging around for you."
Hutch smiled to himself. I thought she was going to say he's been waiting for me all of his life. "Thanks, Minnie. Tell him about half an hour."
"I will, whenever he gets back from downstairs."
Downstairs? "What's he doing down there? He's not on a case."
"Went visiting some collar."
"Who?" He couldn't imagine, unless it was Huggy for some reason. Starsky never visited prisoners.
"Well, hold on, sweetheart, let me find out."
He waited, frowning at the dust on the coffee table, the stack of mail by the phone, the over-watered plants, hearing the rustle of Minnie's investigation in one ear. When she returned, she said, very calmly, "Some character, Joshua Bright."
"Honey, don't yell. Some rookie nabbed him this morning."
"I'll be right there," he said, and hung up the phone.
The drive to the station went incredibly fast, 28 minutes, 23 seconds, at least a full minute under their old record, and which included the time it took to park. Hutch felt like he was trying to speed through molasses. He raced up the stairs two and a time and shot into Dobey's office, through the squad room, checking only to see that Starsky was not there.
"No bail on Bright, right?" he demanded, not letting go of the doorknob.
"I'm not a fool twice, Hutchinson," said Dobey sourly, pencil in one hand. He used it to point. "But that partner of yours is trying to walk on fire. I told him to stay clear; I imagine he ignored me."
"Not a fantasy, Cap'n," replied Hutch tartly. Hell, anyway, it wasn't Dobey's fault. "See you tomorrow."
Hutch turned right out of the squad room, and immediately saw Starsky coming up the set of stairs that led to the holding cells. But instead of turning left, and Hutch was sure Starsky had seen him, Starsky headed straight down the hall which would take him outside. Hutch bounded down the hall and laid his hand on Starsky's arm, noting the slight tremor there and the balled fists all at once.
Starsky didn't even pretend to have not seen him, as if his friend's presence was inexorable, unavoidable, somehow preordained. His face was closed, eyes shuttered.
"Hutch," he said.
"Starsky," Hutch replied.
"Take me home, I don't feel so good."
"No," agreed Hutch, "you look like shit. Are you sure they were supposed to let you out of the hospital today?"
"Why you askin' me? With you standing guard every day, double checking the doctor's notes, bawling that one intern out just to be bossy—"
"He was prescribing too much codeine—"
"And you're the one who made them keep me an extra coupla days, just to be sure. TODAY is the day you said I could go home."
"Oh," said Hutch, realizing that he must have been pushing the staff at the hospital around more than he'd thought. "Starsky, why did you go see Bright? That's not your style."
Starsky shook his lowered head. "Just take me home."
The taxi driver drove almost as badly as Hutch did, and Starsky smiled to himself at the thought of the surprise on his friend's face when he arrived at the station. He planned to take Hutch to a fine, fine restaurant on the strip that had dishes with names he didn't think either one of them could pronounce, wine that cost a half a week's salary, and a restaurant where you needed a reference from a prominent member of society for a reservation. He personally thought he could eat a horse, rare, and wondered vaguely, as the taxi pulled up in front of the station, if Hutch would try to feed him caviar again. He hoped not.
Dobey was in his office, elbow deep in paper, sleeves rolled up and a big coffee stain on his tie.
"Missed ya, Cap'n," said Starsky by way of greeting.
"'bout time you got your butt in here," said Dobey in return. "I wanted to tell you before anyone else did."
He seemed pleased with himself, so Starsky didn't think it was bad news. "Watsat, Cap'n?"
"Some rookie beat you boys to the punch."
"Cap'n, I'm just outa the hospital, my poor head . . . "
"Samuels, the new kid, he collared Bright this morning."
It took Starsky a minute. "JOSHUA Bright?"
Dobey shook his pencil in the air. "The same. He's in a holding cell, and he's going to stay there until the maximum security guys come to pick him up."
Starsky didn't know what to think or feel. He'd had a quickie fix-it session with the departmental therapist in the hospital but that had only been a band-aid. You'll be fine, time will heal. Worse than useless. And worse than that . . .
Dobey sighed. "Don't you go stirring—"
"I'm not," said Starsky quickly. "Where is he?"
"Out on patrol, said he was going by your place after work."
"Then he's not coming by here."
The dark eyes looked at him calmly, waiting.
Starsky felt anything but calm. "Can you do me a favor, Cap'n?"
"Make sure Bright is out of here before he finds out, huh?"
Starsky walked forward to lean his hands on Dobey's desk. Tried not to press too much of his weight forward, tried to keep his voice low. What had seemed just fine, had turned very uncertain. "He doesn't need . . . "
What didn't he need? To come face to face with a man who had beaten him up, tortured him, and to whom he'd given his best friend? Starsky thought that most of that was behind them both now. The question remained, could Hutch meet up with Bright again and not harm a hair on his head? Could he stand by and watch justice take its course, something Starsky knew Hutch was beginning not to believe in, and even if Bright was convicted, could Hutch watch him walk off to a prison from which he would probably be paroled in a few years? And even if Hutch could do all these things, surely only through a Herculean effort on his part, could Starsky stand by and watch him struggle with it?
"He doesn't need to see Bright right now."
"I thought this was all settled, that you two were okay."
There was a lump of anger that Starsky made himself swallow. Dobey had never been anything but supportive of both of them, almost fatherly sometimes, he didn't deserve to be yelled at. But the tremor was in his voice just the same.
"Trust me, Cap'n, he doesn't need that right now."
"What about at the trial, he'll have to see him in the courtroom."
His hand came up of its own accord to press the bone between his eyebrows, pinching the pain away, the image of Hutch on the motel room floor, arms wrapped around his knees. Head buried against his thighs, breath coming in short gasps.
"He'll be ready then."
I'll make sure he's okay by then, thought Starsky, or, by God, he's not going to be there.
"I'll do my best, Starsky."
Starsky opened the door to leave.
"And don't you go down there either, hear?"
Muttering an affirmative under his breath, Starsky shut the door behind him.
His feet, of course, did not obey Dobey's imperative. They had a mind of their own, stubborn things, and Starsky found himself going through the security gate and down the grey barlined hallway to Bright's cell.
The instant he caught Bright's vivid dark eyes, he knew he shouldn't have come.
Bright, somewhat tattered at the far edges, was nonetheless, still potent as he slowly rose from the bench nailed to the floor and walked towards Starsky.
"Well, well, Hutchinson's boy."
"You shut your mouth." The snap was out before Starsky could contain it. Keep your temper, he told himself. Keep it on a tight rein. Hutch was always the one to lose his temper, not him.
"It's kind of you to visit me," said Bright politely, as if Starsky had merely said good afternoon. "Did you bring me anything?"
For a second, Starsky was taken aback. It was the same tone he'd used in the bar, perfectly kind and gentle, offering nachos, selling cocaine.
"I wouldn't bring you water if you were on fire." Shit, he'd done it again. Where was his head, why was he here?
"I wanted to tell you," began Starsky slowly, "that you will never again walk a free man."
"Who's going to keep me in here, you?"
"You will keep you in here, asshole." Man, he was going to have to shut up and leave before he punched Bright right through the bars. The guards down here wouldn't take kindly to his disruptive behavior, police officer or no. "I'll be going now. Just wanted to make sure they tucked you in properly."
He turned to go, admonishing himself before anyone else could that a true officer of the law didn't use sarcasm, or anything but a courteous tone, even with scum like this. Fuck. He hoped Hutch didn't find out about it.
"Before you go, Mr. Starsky."
"That's Detective Starsky to you, asshole." He didn't stop walking or even turn his head.
"I wanted to tell you something about your friend, Hutch."
Starsky did stop then, cocking his head to one side. "There's nothing you can tell me."
"Oh, yes I can. I can tell you everything he told me before I slammed that two-by-four against his knees."
Starsky winced, drawing his eyes tightly closed, as if the pain were his own.
"How he turns his face away to keep from listening."
Starsky's mouth opened, and he found his eyes open as well, staring through the streaked square window in the metal door.
"I can even tell you how he hangs his head when he cries."
He whirled then, slamming his hands against the bars, not reaching in for Bright, but wishing he could. Wishing with everything he had to bash that red-haired skull against the grey metal till it ran red. But he made himself breathe very slowly, eyes never leaving Bright's. If he had anything to do about it, Hutch would never lay eyes on this man again. Never have to experience a flash of memory where Bright's hand was raised and brought down, never have to look at that face that smiled while it inflicted pain.
"There's something else, Mr., I mean Detective Starsky. I already knew who you were."
Starsky had never realized how dim it was in the basement before. How darkly grey everything was painted, they could use a couple more light bulbs, some more windows. He could barely see his hands in front of his face as they clung tighter to the bars. He knew exactly what Bright meant, but there was no way, short of grabbing another officer's gun and shooting the prisoner where he stood, to keep him from saying what he was about to say.
"I already knew your name, knew who you were, long before I grabbed Hutch. There was that newspaper article, you see, and there were plenty of people who could tell me who Hutch's unnamed partner was. You boys pissed me off, arresting me like that, and I wanted to see what it would take to tear you down."
There was a pause, and he could almost hear Bright smiling, though he didn't dare look at him.
"And you know something else?"
Now he had to look.
"He never told me anything, not even when I bashed his knees. Oh, he thinks he did, I know, but he didn't."
Starsky leaned his forehead against the coldness of the bars then. Heard very clearly, for the first time, Hutch's voice when he'd leaned over Starsky at the hospital. Finally heard the words Hutch had said before Starsky had passed out.
I love you, Hutch had said. I will love you till I die.
Of course he did. Why had it taken him so long to hear it?
Bright was saying something else now, but it sounded faint and far away. Starsky opened the door, his hand not feeling the knob, saying good evening to the officers on duty without hearing his own voice. And mounted the stairs, feeling very lightheaded. What was he going to tell Hutch? Was he going to tell him anything at all?
When Starsky got to the top of the stairs, he realized he was shaking all over and wondered if it was from rage or sorrow. He stopped and planted his feet to get a good breath. His fists refused to become unclenched, but the breath helped. He saw Hutch out of the corner of his eye, but he wasn't alarmed. He simply turned the other way, knowing that Hutch probably hadn't seen him, and then he could go in the parking lot on the side street and catch a taxi to somewhere else. At least till he could figure out what to do.
Then he felt a hand on his arm, so soft, and he turned. Hutch's eyes were bright with worry, and he wasn't letting go.
How could I imagine, thought Starsky, that you would not find me? We're like a pair of magnets.