Hour of Separation
"Did you get my note?" Hutch said into the phone the next day when the mercury exploded. The receiver was so hot in his palm, slick with his own sweat that he had trouble holding it up to his ear. The couch seemed unusually lumpy beneath him.
"Of course I got it," Starsky half-shouted, sounding absurdly normal to Hutch. "That's why I'm callin' you!"
Okay, thought Hutch. Okay. "Can you make it?"
There was a small heat-crackle of silence.
"Aw shit, aw shit," muttered the other end. "Brown's got my shift lined up for some dumb first-aid meeting."
"First aid's not dumb, Starsky."
"Yeah, well you know what I mean. How 'bout tomorrow?"
"No." Hutch sighed, wiping the moisture from his upper lip with the back of his hand. "I'm working."
Their attempts to meet in the middle somewhere kept shifting as if to compensate for their intensity upon it.
After they hung up, Hutch found himself thinking about the picture. It wasn't enough to understand why it existed or who had taken it, or what had been going on at the time. More, it was the issue of when it had been placed in that particular spot where it served that particular purpose. Hutch thought that what with the crime wave and the heat wave and this uncalled for separation by Brown, that it might just be a way for Starsky to hang on to a reality he preferred to exist in.
Hutch preferred to think it was because Starsky missed him.
He certainly missed Starsky, though he wasn't sure if it was because the other man had become a habit or if he really was such a part of his life, his existence, that he couldn't function without him.
It just wasn't possible that he was spending so much time analyzing a single picture, was it?
Well, yes and no.
He readjusted his legs on the coffee table, the beer on his legs and his mouth around the beer. Re-wedged his free hand in between the cushions of the couch and continued to stare at the TV. Nothing was on but some old western, so black and white it was dusty. That didn't surprise him. What did was how supremely bored he was. Why he continued to watch was some faraway comprehension that refused to allow him to turn the damn thing off.
Now, if Starsky were here...
Yeah, if Starsky were here and we were actually watching TV instead of talking the night away, we'd have munchies and beer, probably even a card game going and end up talking over the dialogue anyway.
And having a great time.
But Starsky was at work and he was not and if this was the way it was going to be, then he'd really like it if Dobey came back tomorrow. Which didn't reassure him in the least, since Dobey could be quite unpredictable at the oddest of times and was just as likely to leave things as they were, insisting that Starsky and Hutch were so set in their ways that they needed a change. Just like Brown said.
Starsky would fight tooth and nail against that ever happening. It was a comfortable thought. When Starsky had threatened to quit, Hutch had stopped him, hoping that things would be okay, or at least not so bad. But things weren't okay, they were horrible. Not for him personally, or for Starsky especially (though Hutch found himself somewhat uncomfortable not being able to worry about Starsky personally), but for the essence of them-ness, us-ness, we-ness, so secondary to his nature that he did not know how to operate without it.
And now the hope had turned into desperation, a secret silent plea to some higher, somehow merciful power to connect them back together again. Like Humpty-Dumpty, only there were two pieces, one light and one dark, a balanced fulcrum against the ravages and uncertainties of the real world.
Hutch squinted into the mouth of his beer bottle, realizing that if he was echoing such profundities in his own head, he was well on his way to an all-nighter. Tying one on and all by himself.
He frowned severely at the beer, at his hands, scowled at the TV. It didn't work. The small flutter worked its way up from his chest to his mouth and he was glad at least that no one was there to see his jaw twitching with the effort to contain. He scrubbed at an eye with the heel of his hand, and leaped to his feet.
One more beer, he promised himself, knowing it was all the fridge contained.
Starsky crouched in the weeds alongside the tattered asphalt square that made up the basketball court closest to his place. It had minimal shade, an uneven surface that made the wackiest English on the ball, and cars whizzing by not a sidewalk away on two sides. But he felt comfortable there. It reminded him of the neighborhood back east where he'd grown up.
The last game was over and he sat on the regulation sized ball to wait for the next group that would somehow gather to get a game, humidity or no. It made him feel 10 again, having to ask, "Ya wanna play?" or "Can I get a game?" It would be different if Hutch were here.
There was a quarter floating in his pocket and he debated going home and fishing out some more change for a chocolate shake at the Dairy Queen two blocks in the other direction. Calling the game off altogether. Now, if Hutch were here he could scrounge some change from him, have time for that shake, and still get in another game.
It was really too hot to play anymore, regardless; his shirt was sticking to him in semi-circles and one more fall would tear open his elbow even further. There would have been Bactine and a huge band-aid, if Hutch were here, and the ice cream, even if he personally didn't have enough money, would have been a foregone conclusion. And even if nobody showed up, like nobody was, they could have gone one on one, the hot sun slanting through the buildings, reflecting in dirty waves from the streets and sidewalks.
If Hutch were here, it would have been a perfect day.
Hutch's presence was notable not only by his absence, but also for Starsky's own insistence that this selfsame absence was unnatural. As if he were missing a spectacularly vital body part, like a pair of lungs, a cerebral cortex or a spine. Something like that. And it wasn't like Hutch was dead or missing, in the hospital or even sick. He was fine and Starsky knew, for the most part, right where he was. Simply, and in direct opposition, was the fact that a huge chunk of himself was missing, like he didn't know what to do with himself without Hutch around.
"Jeezus," he muttered, working himself to a stand.
As he walked home, he realize how dull everything seemed. How dull the grass looked, brown in the wiltingly hot California summer. How dull he felt.
He was going on a stakeout with Andrews later, and that prospect of future dullness ground his teeth together, made his hands slam the ball that much harder as he dribbled his way home.
Stakeouts with Hutch could be tedious, or trying, or dangerous, but never that all encompassing, dust-filled lung feeling that Andrews brought with him.
Starsky cheered up somewhat as he entered his faintly cooler apartment, thinking of the cool shower he would take, the cold drink he would have. Wished he had a Hutch to talk to in between here and there.
The smile formed before he realized it was happening.
Everyone should have a Hutch to talk to.
After his shower, he pulled on some jeans and padded over to the water cooler, filled a glass with that and topped it off with ice. His teeth sang as he downed half of it, lips almost numb as he refilled it and went to stand in front of the sink and stare out the window.
Just what was it that made Hutch a spectacularly un-dull person to be around?
Starsky hadn't a clue.
"You've been coming over here each day for the last three days. You lose something?"
Hutch straightened with a jerk as Batos' smooth tones approached from behind him. The squadroom was fairly empty at midday as Hutch looked around, but he felt conspicuous anyway. He moved his hand and the papers under it to cover what he'd been looking at.
"Uh," he shrugged in reply, "habit, I guess."
But Batos was not fooled. He tapped Hutch's wrist with his pencil and motioned for him to move. "Stand away from the desk, sir," he intoned with mock seriousness, and looked down at what Hutch's hand had been covering.
"What? A memo about a company picnic? Since when were you a joiner?" Batos dismissed it, tossing it aside. "You got a funny look on your face, Ken, what's up?"
Hutch didn't know what to say. Starsky had added a new picture to lay next to the one of a solitary Hutch. But he couldn't quite describe what had happened to his insides when he'd first viewed the picture of him and Starsky from their early days on the force together. No way to coherently explain what it did to him: a black and white of him and Starsky, Starsky talking to someone off camera, and himself smiling goofily at the photographer. Where had Starsky dug this one up?
"Just, ah, just a creature of habit, I guess."
"You said that."
"Well, you should have listened the first time," snarled Hutch, striding away. He stopped at the squadroom door, and turned. Batos' eyebrows had shot up, but if he was reminded of he and Hutch's first days together, when Hutch had been cold to him all the time, he didn't say.
"I'm going to get some lunch," Hutch said, staring at the floor.
Batos seemed to accept this as an apology. "Guess you miss him," he replied, coming closer.
Like the moon would miss the sun.
It was Andrews turn to drive Starsky home after the stakeout and he did so in utter silence, obeying the speed limit and allowing even the tourists out at midnight to pass them on the freeway. The agony of it pulled at Starsky till he tipped back his head and groaned.
There came an answering snort of exasperation. "Would you please quit doing that!"
It wasn't a request or even a question, more a demand on Starsky's whole body to go with the boredom, to blend in with the dead weight of the atmosphere until his backbone became fused with the cushion of the seat.
His whole body then rebelled, jerking to an upright position, toes curled, hand at the ready on the doorhandle and at the next interminable stoplight, he spoke. "I'll get out here."
Andrews expression said, excuse me?
"I'll get a bus."
The response was a pair of rolled eyes and lips that whispered, oh Jeezus.
"I can't let you out here," said Andrews with exaggerated politeness. "We're in the middle of Beverly Hills and you don't live anywhere near here."
No one Starsky knew lived anywhere near here, but that wasn't the point, and both he and Andrews knew it. His outfit and the late hour would have him spread-eagled on the ground before he had time to reach for his badge. And nobody, but nobody, walked in this part of L.A.
"I'll take a cab."
"I think I'll take you home now," said Andrews, as if they had been arguing and he had just decided to do it.
The light turned green and Andrews rolled with the traffic, his usual care and precision still in place, hands at 10 and 2. Starsky remained at the ready, teeth grit. Even straightlaced Hutch had a little flair to his steering, sometimes driving with his hands at 7 and 5, or if he was eating, drove Starsky style, with the heel of a palm doing the steering.
That was it. At the very next stoplight, and Andrews did manage to catch all of them, Starsky bolted from he car, ignoring the frantic shouts. He suddenly didn't give a shit. Not about Andrews and his anal attitude, not about the Beverly Hills cops, and certainly not about how he was going to get home. He'd find a way. All he wanted was out.
His anger was enough to carry him to the frontage road of a major east-west freeway, which he followed westward. Even this late at night, cars whizzed along elevated concrete slabs, taxis passed with homeward-bound passengers, and sleek, dark, expensive sounding vehicles seemed to need to turn at every corner he came to.
But once out of Beverly Hills proper, he felt at a loss. This wasn't his territory, nothing like his own neighborhood.
He could imagine what Hutch would say. Could even hear the even, cutting tones in his head.
Whadja go and do a dorky thing like that for?
No. That wasn't right. Hutch would never say dorky, would never run his words together like that. It would probably go something like...
Starsky, do you have any idea what sort of picture you present to the police in that neighborhood?
Except for the tone, it was pretty much what Andrews had said. Why did he feel looked after when Hutch said it instead of harangued ?
None of it was making sense and he figured it was the late hour, and he was exhausted. He caught a bus going uptown and placed himself gloomily towards the back. Stared out the window and watched the night go by.
The fact was that when Andrews scolded, he was a bastard, and when Hutch did the selfsame thing, it was a whole different ballgame. And this in spite of the fact that Hutch could be some nag.
The things I put up with you, pard.
And not only put up with, like his nagging, or mother-henning, but defended, or covered for, like his needing to do any female thing he came across, even when it interfered with his professionalism. But Dobey, nor anyone in the department for that matter, was going to find out about that particular weakness of Hutch's. At least not from him. And Hutch could get silly, too, and he would laugh with his whole body at Starsky's antics. Knew the weirdest shit and could spout off whole passages of encyclopedia-like information, without even thinking it was anything special. But most of all he seemed to understand Starsky without Starsky ever having to explain every last damn thing. Yeah, Hutch got exasperated and complained, but he never left. He seemed to want to be around him.
Of course, the hardest part was having to explain Hutch to people who'd only met him once or twice, like his mother, or Aunt Rosie. "He's not very personable," his mother had told him after her visit to California. "He seemed, well, cold."
Distant, his Aunt Rosie had said, agreeing. Detached.
Yeah, Hutch was detached all right. Distant enough to hand over to Starsky any spare change he might happen to have, simply because Starsky happened to want it. Cold enough to run his fingers through Starsky's hair to help him relax. Uninvolved to the point where he would give Starsky a bite off his own fork, just because Starsky wanted to taste whatever it was he was eating. Detached enough to hold Starsky against his chest beneath a hail of bullets while a dark, damp river of blood from a shoulder wound soaked both their shirts.
And, yes, Hutch could be cold, and aloof, and superior. But very few people were patient enough to wait for the good stuff. Yeah, Ma, thought Starsky to himself as the bus jolted along, you didn't see milk come out of his nose when he was laughing at a joke I told him. Or that time he grabbed me in a hug when he came out of the hospital. Or the time he cried when reading Terri's letter till it almost melted in his hands. He's like one of them geode things and only I get to peek inside.
All of a sudden, Starsky missed Hutch horribly.
"Seven days," muttered Starsky to himself the next day, "seems more like seven months."
It had been a week since the disastrous drug bust, the concept of "to protect and to serve" gone dreadfully awry. The hardest thing he'd had to do after that had been, not the reports or actually not pushing Andrews' head through the window, but watching Hutch walk off without him. With someone else.
"I don' wanna do this no more," he said, almost aloud.
"What was that?" snapped Andrews.
Starsky merely shrugged. His still newish partner had come that close to getting his head smashed in, he deserved to be a mite snappish. And he'd always thought Hutch was the one with the temper, not him.
"Nothin'. Let's just do these reports and go home."
They entered the station which, air-conditioner-less, seemed like an imported food steamer. Starsky removed his jacket, thinking that at least outside there was a breeze, and bent to catch a mouthful of water at a cooler. It wasn't working either.
"Damn!" He slapped the side of it and tried to keep a rein on things. It wouldn't do--
"Starsky, would you come in here a minute, please?"
It was Brown and Starsky looked up, instantly wary. The Captain was being too nice. Andrews followed close at his heels, like a vulture. A damn, circling vulture.
"Sit down, Starsky."
He thought a moment to make some vicious point and remain standing, but it was really too hot for that. He sat, laying his jacket on the arm, idly slouching down in the hard-backed seat.
"I won't drag this out," said Brown, "but I won't suffer fools gladly."
Starsky stared at him blankly, feeling the boredness oozing out of him. "What is it, Captain?"
Brown hesitated, then burst into it like a tiger through a flame. "Hutchinson's been shot in the head, Starsky."
He shot to his feet. Felt Andrews' hand on his arm and shook it off.
"Now, hold on, hold on. It's just a crease, he'll live -- but when he went down, he got himself a bad concuss--"
He was shaking badly by the time he reached the front door, the ends of him ice cold, the center of him sending out waves of heat. Patting himself wildly, he realized he had no keys to a car, no car since, in fact, Andrews had driven.
Shit. Andrews would never knock off early so he could go see Hutch.
See Hutch. It was his only thought.
Something surged through him, blending hot and cold together until it became the perfect fuel. He lunged into the street to hail a passing cab, but it whizzed by, thinking him gone mad with the heat, no doubt. Maybe he could run all the way...
A car pulled up to the curb and someone leaned over and told him to get in.
He realized suddenly that Andrews was telling him to get in, that he was going to take Starsky to the hospital. Starsky got in and the flow of words continued like a verbal river going on and on until they managed to form themselves into something that made sense.
Hutch was all right, they were holding him overnight for observation only, and would release him the next morning.
"How do you know all that?" asked Starsky, his voice sharp.
Andrews pulled into traffic and slipped it into high gear. "Paged Batos at the hospital, he filled me in."
Like I shoulda done, thought Starsky, stayed calm, like Hutch woulda.
"Too slow," he muttered. He was not Hutch. "Too damn slow."
"He's gonna be okay," said Andrews, clearly exasperated.
"Yeah, but I shoulda been there!"
"How? I mean, you're not his partner anymore, there's no way you could have."
"Don't say that," growled Starsky, not taking his eyes off the traffic, as if by some means he could help them slip through the lattice work of cars faster.
"DON'T!" he bellowed. "Just DRIVE!"
Andrews poured on the gas and they reached the hospital. Before the car came to a halt in the visitor's zone, Starsky was out and running, willing his feet to find purchase on the heat-melted tar. And heard Andrews behind him.
"Hey, HEY! Wait up!"
He slammed into the first nurse he saw, and she obligingly directed him to the information desk. But by the time he got there, Andrews had caught up, and slipped a hand around his upper arm.
"If you would have waited," he whispered fiercely, "I could tell you: he's on fourth floor. The elevator's this way."
Allowing Andrews to show him the way was very hard. And the whispered comments didn't help.
"Would you calm down? You're like a leaf!"
The two other occupants of the elevator eyed him with some pity, and Starsky knew he was acting like someone had died, for cryin' out loud.
"Okay," he said, taking a huge breath and shrugging to loosen his shoulders. "I'm okay." He nodded at Andrews. "I'm okay."
Andrews frowned. "Sure you are. Jeezus."
Trying to remain calm, but knowing that he would have pushed Andrews if it would have helped, Starsky followed him down the hall. A uniformed officer pointed them towards the correct room and Starsky leaped past Andrews and fairly flew through the door.
Hutch had had about enough coddling and was ready to go home now. But of course they wouldn't let him. Possible fractured skull, shit. It was the tiniest of headaches, really. Batos could drive him home now, and then he could sleep in his own bed. Ever since he'd had the plague, he despised hospital beds, and hated, HATED the fishbowl, let's-poke-him-here-and-see-what-happens attitudes of the young interns. And then Starsk could drop by with something ice cold, or maybe, he felt suddenly inspired as the nurse finished up with the injection he was holding very still for, maybe Batos could drop him off at Starsky's place. Yeah, that was it.
The door burst open with a whoosh of air, and Starsky himself flew in like he'd been shot from a cannon. His face was white, dripping with sweat, though he was jacketless. Andrews, behind him, stepped through the doorway and waited while it swung closed. Starsky had that look in his eyes, like his heart was pounding wildly. Three steps brought him to Hutch's side, and Hutch felt better the second Starsky's hand touched his.
"Man," said Starsky, gulping, "it was like I couldn't stop, ya know?"
Hutch nodded. He knew. It had been one of his comforts while the doctor had poked and prodded to imagine Starsky worried and on his way, another being the grateful thought that Starsky wouldn't have anything to worry about once he got there. He hadn't imagined him all worked up like this, though. Starsky was a control freak in a crisis, but he usually didn't go ballistic until he got all the facts. He wondered how he'd been informed of Hutch's "mishap."
"They said you weren't hurt bad, but why should I believe them? You all right, Hutch?"
Hutch nodded, closing his eyes briefly, and opened his mouth to speak. He wanted to tell Starsky how very glad he was that the other was here. To let him know that it was all right now, everything was going to be all right.
"I had to drive him," interrupted Andrews, "doin' society a favor, he coulda killed somebody."
Starsky whirled around. "Yeah? Well, I guess even assholes can have their good days."
Hutch jerked a little. "Starsky?"
Starsky turned back around, the pupils in his eyes consuming their irises. He seemed a little shocked himself. His grip on Hutch's arm tightened and the space between their faces became insignificant. "Aw, Hutch, he could be anybody. This whole thing's drivin' me crazy. I've been doin' this too long with you to start over wit' someone else."
"That's it," sputtered Andrews, "I'll go wait outside, I think."
Just as he opened the door, Batos came in and stood at the foot of the bed. And Andrews didn't leave, fascinated, it seemed, in spite of himself, with Starsky's dramatics. And dramatics they were, Hutch knew, though it felt good to know someone cared. Especially refreshing after the soothing "you'll be fine" noises of the staff, was to have someone be really worried.
"How you doing, buddy?" Batos asked, smiling at Hutch.
Hutch was about to say, as pleasantly as he could, that he'd seen better days, when Starsky let go of him and lunged across the foot of the bed at Batos. Grabbed him by the shirt collar and sent them both flying into the free standing bed screen. Starsky jammed him and the screen against the wall, shaking Batos firmly with stiff jerks.
Hutch knew himself to have a temper. It came from trying to contain it for so long that it naturally spilled over with the intensity of a volcano. Starsky, on the other hand, was not known for his explosive tendencies. But when he got into a mood like this one, driven by the heat or by the new partner's lack of sensitivity, he was just as likely to become a one-man flow of magma that lasted for days.
"Starsky," Hutch said, knowing it would do no good.
Starsky, predictably, ignored him. Instead he knocked Batos head against the wall. "You NEVER, and I mean ever, EVER let your partner take a bullet like that!"
Batos seemed unfazed by either the snarl or the thump of emphasis that went with it. "What was I supposed to do? Throw my body in front of his?"
It was obvious that Starsky assumed the answer should be yes, because to him it would have been the only answer. The situation was now out of control, threatening to spill over into something larger and darker. Hutch had to stop it.
But Batos didn't seem to understand, and Andrews, shaking his head, was either irritated or dismissed the whole thing as a further display of dramatics.
"Starsky," said Hutch in almost a whisper, "Staaaarrrsky."
With one final thump, the dark head whipped around, eyes blazing dark, breath fast.
It was one word, but it reached Starsky like a sudden dash of cold water in hot. He released Batos and let his feet rest on the hospital floor. Stood waiting, head bowed as if expecting a severe scolding.
"It was a shot gone wild, Starsk, Batos was ten feet away. There was nothing he could have done." He kept his tone mild, gentle. "I'm okay, Starsky."
Batos humphed in his throat.
"There was nothing anyone could have done," he conceded.
A nurse, a doctor and an orderly entered the room and they all looked around as if expecting the place to have been torn apart.
"Everything alright here?" the doctor asked.
It was obvious that everything was; after all, nothing had been knocked down.
"Yes," said Hutch, with his "pleasant" face.
"Looks like you've got too many visitors," stated the nurse flatly.
"Batos," said Hutch, wanting to reach out to touch Starsky but knowing that if he moved an inch, the nurse would be on him like a shot. "Thank you doctor, we're fine here. Batos," he said again. At least the two of them had a working relationship which was more than Starsky and Andrews had. "Would you do me a very big favor and take my partner home? See that he gets there?"
Batos paused, his hand half raised as if pointing to himself. "I'm..." The look on his face was clear: This guy just tried to break my head and you want me to drive him home?
"Please?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
"But?" Batos motioned, confused, to Andrews, seeming in fear for his own life.
"Andrews, I'm sure, is in a terrible hurry to get back to the station to file his reports. You, on the other hand, are going out by where Starsky lives."
There was another pause of silent confusion, but on no account would Hutch allow Starsky to endure another minute in Andrews' presence. It was obviously driving him up a tree.
"Is there a problem?" Hutch looked evenly at Batos, who appeared to swallow his doubt.
"Okay," Batos said. "Let's go."
The three of them turned to exit, Andrews in the lead, and Starsky, the last.
"I'll stop by tomorrow, Starsky," Hutch said to the retreating back, "after they release me."
His partner nodded, one hand on the door.
At the sound of his voice, the dark head came up and Starsky looked at him.
Hutch made a fist in front of his chest.
Time never passed like this when he was with Starsky, did it? Like two whales humping in slow motion? He supposed he had probably been just as bored, but never had it seemed a waste of time when they were together.
After the release forms from the hospital had been signed the next day, a forever long process, Batos, who so far had not said one word about Starsky, had driven him to the station. There, he filled out more reports, and then was whisked to the police shrink to see, as the rather young looking psychologist put it, "if there were any kinks in his psyche." The whole process was taking all day; all he wanted to do was scream. No, he said politely instead, no, he was fine. A little shaken perhaps, but well-balanced. Wiser. Remarkably stable. Could he go now?
She released him with a three day leave-of-absence, which Dobey himself would have scoffed at, though allowed. Batos was waiting for him outside.
"You look like she just committed you," remarked Batos, following him down the hall. "Listen, can I take you someplace?"
Hutch stopped mid-hallway. He had no car, and very little cash.
"Take me to Starsky's," he said slowly. It was where he'd wanted to be all night, and it had been the only thing that had let him sleep.
Batos seemed to consider it as a warning, for he put up his hands. "Hey, far be it from me. I wouldn't feel up to running there myself."
They drove in silence for a moment, the air conditioner on very low.
"That partner of yours..." Batos started, and then trailed off. "Man, he was mad, like a killing rage."
"Starsky wouldn't hurt anyone," replied Hutch, his eyes not moving from their unfocused spot on the dash.
"Yeah," Batos waved his hand expansively. "But he would have me, had you been hurt worse."
Hutch brought his hand down from where it had been propped under his chin. "You weren't to blame, Batos."
"Yeah, I know that. I think your Starsky knew that too; he was just blowin' off some steam."
Hutch nodded vaguely, hoping that Batos was close to finished. When they made the left turn onto Starsky's street, Hutch felt the throb in his head start to build. He slipped a painkiller in his mouth and swallowed it dry.
"That partner of yours really, you know, he's there, right? At your back, covering your ass." His voice got quiet as he pulled into the driveway and set the vehicle in park. "I know you and I won't be together at the end of this month; homicide just really isn't my area."
Hutch paused before unlocking the door at the seriousness in other man's voice. Batos turned to him.
"I hope, well, someday, that'll be there for me."
The fair head dipped in acknowledgement as Hutch got out of the car. Only if you're very, very lucky, he told Batos silently.
When he entered the apartment, Starsky was just adjusting the fan in the window.
"Took ya long enough," he said.
"Let's not argue, Starsky," said Hutch, trying to ignore and hide the fact that the pills had not yet kicked in. "You know it wasn't Batos' fault."
"Yeah?" demanded Starsky, whirling around. He was glowering and his eyes smoldered. "Then who told him to stand enough feet away so it wouldn't be his fault?"
Control slipped. "I DID!" Hutch yelled, curving his hands to his chest. "I did, damnit, Starsk. It was the same spot I would have directed you to."
The ensuing silence told Hutch everything he needed to know. The magma flow had stopped, at least momentarily, and they were left facing each other. The black fan spun cooling air slowly across the room.
"Got any more root beer?"
Starsky nodded and turned towards the kitchen. "Yeah."
The first swallow attacked his head with a cold grip, biting before numbing the crease in his head. He swallowed the mouthful, frowning.
"You okay, Hutch?"
Hutch opened his eyes as Starsky stepped closer, lines etched in his forehead, hand frozen with its drink halfway to his mouth. There was such a tightness in Starsky's stance, muscles all bunched through his shoulders that an unidentifiable wave swept through him.
"It's just an ice headache, you know the ones I get."
Starsky stepped even closer, his half smile responding to what he understood Hutch to have not said: didn't mean to worry you, buddy, thanks for being there, thanks for caring.
"I wasn't there to protect ya," he said.
Hutch looked away, smiling.
"Hey! Don't make fun of me, man!"
He swallowed his smile and tried to reassure. "I'm not, believe me, I'm not making fun of you."
"Then why you smilin'?"
"I should have gotten a picture of you for my desk. I'm sorry." He looked at his partner as he said it, felt it.
"You saw it?"
"Them," Hutch corrected gently.
The dark-haired form came forward, head bowed, and bumped it against the hard bone of Hutch's chest. Continued pressing as if he wanted to burrow his way through the wall of flesh, right down to the soul. As if he were sure there was one there, somewhere, accessible if one pressed hard enough; something Hutch didn't quite believe himself.
He reached up with his free hand and curved his palm around the back of Starsky's neck, his fingers lacing through the thick-silkened hair. Something he'd been waiting to do for days, ever since he found Starsky staring blankly, not caring, at a pile of in-use body bags. While his wound was visible, Starsky's was not.
Which one of us needs more, at this moment, me or thee?
Starsky's arm draped itself loosely around his waist, and the dark head came up, as if for air, to rest in the curve of his neck. There was soft, warm breath across his collarbone, and a rising and falling against his ribs.
"Starsky?" he said.
In response, Starsky tilted his head back, mouth crooked in that half smile of his, eyes catching the light.
Hutch pressed his lips against Starsky's forehead, catching the movement of dark lashes fanning closed, hearing the sigh.
"Thanks yourself," the other man said.
Starsky's head tilted back again in a rocking motion, eyes opening halfway. And Hutch found himself dipping down, pressing the ashen-rose lips with his own.
A shiver ran through him, wanting to inhale more, to taste more, but he pulled back.
"Jeeze, I'm sorry, I--"
The second Hutch pulled away, Starsky felt like part of him had been hacked away. On the other man's face was self-surprise, eyebrows raised, mouth open, almost in a frown.
Starsky put his hand on the back of the taller man's head, slipping across its silky-fine hair and pulled Hutch close. Kissed him, his lips sensitive to the new feel of a part of Hutch he'd only ever looked at. Found the hand around Hutch's waist stroking bare flesh where the shirt had loosened itself. Muscle-covered warmth, not starting at the contact but tightening. Hot.
"I'm touchin' you," he said, feeling the wonderment in his voice, breath shallow. It wasn't new, this touching, simply a reverence which their separation had fleshed anew. The opportunity to actually give or receive a liberal pat or a fond, tightened grip was so rare that this touch, once so ordinary, seemed laced with wonderment.
They stared at each other, and Starsky felt the pull of the long moment. There were no words inside of him, no need for any really, only sweet surprise, to now be touching, feeling features he'd looked at and memorized long ago.
How we must seem to each other, he thought. They both pulled away at the same moment.
Hutch's eyes, as if they'd gathered the heat to their blueness, had darkened. He seemed to be trying to say something, but turned away, shaking his head. Put his hand to the side of his temple.
It was an out and Starsky used it. "Listen," he said, swallowing the shake in his voice, "let me take you home, you should get some sleep."
Hutch nodded silently.
The drive there was a silent one, only the creak Hutch's leather jacket making any conversation at all. Starsky felt acutely aware of the presence next to him, but there was nothing he could say.
What happened back there? he wanted to ask. It was not like him and his partner not to talk about everything together. Not like him to feel this wall of silence that he couldn't barrel or badger his way past. Hutch himself seemed incapable of speech; when he caught Starsky's glance one time, he looked away quickly. Not in anger, more in confusion.
Okay, buddy, he told Hutch silently. If you want it never to have happened, it didn't. No questions asked.
But he wanted to ask them.
Just what happened back there?
He pulled up in front of Hutch's place, the car in park like he always did, waiting for the unspoken invitation to come in. Hutch held up one hand, almost a warning to stop, then took Starsky's hand from the steering wheel. Turned the wrist slowly and brought the palm up to his mouth. Kissed it, eyes closing.
Starsky drove home, not seeing the road, not even realizing where he was until he pulled into his own drive.
Sleep was an instantaneous thing that swept him up the moment his fully clothed body hit the mattress.