Hour of Separation
Whenever Hutch was awake on his days off, Starsky seemed to be on duty.
When he slept, he imagined that Starsky had come by and been unable to wake him. The pain pills, once they took effect, were that good.
Not your fault, buddy.
Not anybody's fault really.
Their paths, like parallel lines, did not cross for another week, and when Hutch went back on duty, he eyed the station for Starsky. No luck.
Batos allowed that it was easier to stand the heat if one did not keep suffering oneself to adjust to a super-cool car interior. Some days they even drove the LTD, circling around the city, looking for the right bust, waiting for the word on the street. Shifts went down to single eight-hour duty, and the heat dropped below three digits. Dobey was due back in 12 days.
Hutch went into the station on a poundingly humid Monday to check the schedule, to see if he could arrange some time where he and Starsky would be off at the same time. To see if they could talk about this thing between them. And saw him there, by some freak accident, their end and beginning of shift latching together like two puzzle pieces. As Hutch walked down the hall, he saw that the dark haired figure was staring at the cold drink machine, which needed to be re-filled twice a day, his hands slipped into his back pockets. Hutch thought for a second that his partner wasn't really focusing on the machine, simply using it as an excuse to stand very still while the world passed him in the corridor. Not buying a drink, or waiting his turn. Just standing there, staring at the splotched wall behind it. Staring at nothing. Not something Hutch had often seen him do, probably didn't even realize he was doing it.
He walked forward, steps soundless as he could make them. Reached out for a bare forearm, just as Starsky turned his head to look at him.
Fingers slid to grasp gently, he felt the hairs slide beneath his palm.
I'm touchin' you, Hutch thought, gently.
"Buy you a cold one, mister?" he asked aloud, wishing he were one of those people who did funny voices.
Half-lidded, the eyes swung up to meet his, heat exhaustion framing them. Starsky's shirt was sticking to him with sweat, jeans stained with black city dust. Andrews obviously wasn't looking after his new partner as well as Hutch would have.
Doubt anyone could.
"You are on."
Hutch slipped money in the machine and they settled back in the disgustingly stiff chairs in one of the interrogation rooms. Hutch closed the door and Starsky carefully landed his feet on top of the table, while Hutch slipped his beneath, stretching them out, chugging back a large swallow of soda.
A comfortable silence ensued, rare for its absence, new in its texture.
Didn't we used to do this all the time? Hutch asked himself. Yes, when we weren't yammering our fool heads off.
He felt a little shy at the idea of bringing up the kiss, uncertain as to its measure of importance. Starsky hadn't seemed to mind it, had in fact reached for more. Which didn't really surprise Hutch; Starsky was always reaching to touch his partner. As if to reassure himself of the other's existence. Sometimes reaching past walls thick enough to stop an army.
Those walls can get pretty tense, partner.
The kiss had seemed so natural, such a right and proper consequence to the measure of closeness they shared. And of course, it was also only natural that something like that would only happen after they had been separated.
Love knows not its own intensity, quoted Hutch to himself, smiling.
Well, enough of that. He brought up his legs and turned to face Starsky to bring up the issue, as they always had. But Starsky was asleep, his hands folded across his chest, chin tucked down.
"Hey, partner," he said, almost whispering, "hey, Starsky, hey."
The dark head lifted slightly, the eyes opening even slower. "Is my shift ova?"
Hutch smiled, looking away. "Yeah, long over. Let me take you home."
It took Starsky a full minute to get to his feet, but once there, was wide awake.
"Nothin' doin'," he said. "You gotta go to work and I gotta stick my feet in some ice."
Which made Hutch very angry. It meant that Andrews had made Starsky walk beside the strolling car, a technique that should not be used in hot weather.
Starsky was halfway out the door before Hutch realized he was going.
"Later?" he asked, arching his brows.
"It's okay, Hutch," said Starsky, again responding to the unspoken words. "They can't keep us apart for too much longer."
When Starsky arrived home, he knew he should go straight to bed. After a double shift in 100 degree weather, that's what you were supposed to do. You were supposed to have a light meal, a cool shower and slip between cool sheets. You weren't supposed to sit on the couch in your sweat marked, dust-sifted clothes and brood about how you fell asleep on your partner the first time the two of you were alone together. You weren't supposed to imagine the worst, that you and he would be apart forever. You weren't supposed to let the heat fill your mind with unproductive thoughts.
When Hutch's eyes, vividly sharp and focused, had met his, he knew that Hutch was worried about him. There had even been that little frown that would sometimes appear when Hutch knew there was nothing he could do to fix things. Starsky didn't like for his partner to worry, but it was nice knowing someone cared. And Hutch had never actually said, I'll always be there for you, but the words themselves were unnecessary. Unnecessary when everything could be communicated with a look or a touch or even one of Hutch's annoyed sighs.
He'd told Andrews that Hutch loved him like a brother, and that was true. It was one of those givens in the world, the kind you depend upon without thinking, like tomorrow is another day, the earth is the third planet from the sun, and Hutch's love.
Starsky shook his head and pulled himself from the couch ignoring the necessary shower in favor of a root beer. He drank it while standing in front of the open fridge, knowing that if he was doing his own version of "Hutch's love is like..." then he was more tired than he thought.
That love was something he felt did not need to be defined, or so he'd always thought. Or was it just that he'd never analyzed it before?
Why was he thinking about it at all?
Because he was, and he knew Hutch was too.
Because Hutch had kissed him, and that from a man who loved to make love.
Because he'd kissed his partner back, and he who only kissed when he really meant it.
He blinked, realizing that the inside of the fridge was just about the same temperature as the kitchen, and that his root beer was all gone.
Better get some sleep.
He and Hutch were going to have to talk about this one. No damn doubt.
Starsky raced down the stairs, two at a time, then three, then jumped over the banister altogether. Upset the routine flow of the station as he raced up the middle of the corridor after Hutch's tall, retreating form. But he couldn't very well scream "Hutch, wait!" in this crowd; co-workers probably thought he was chasing a suspect as it was.
Both hands slammed on the swinging doors heading to the main hall; his sneakers screeched to a halt and he looked left, then...
Hutch was just going out the side door and Starsky took off, slipping through a hooker and her pimp, who probably had come in to post bail for somebody.
"Bread and butter," he muttered, hopping past them along the wall. And burst out the door, looking up just as Hutch did. Their eyes met, blue on blue, as Batos gunned the engine and the car pulled away.
As Starsky turned to go back inside, he felt like punching someone; not that he would have really known what to say to Hutch when he caught him. Last night when he'd gone to bed, it had seemed really, really important that they talk. Like they always did. And it wasn't as if the kiss had upset him; the way he and Hutch hung around each other all the time, it was almost inevitable. Wasn't it?
He'd called Hutch's house that morning and let it ring and ring. Even called the station and left a message for Hutch to wait for him when he got off shift.
"Guess he couldn't wait," he said to himself.
"Who couldn't?" said Andrews coming up to him with an ice cold pop in each hand. He handed one to Starsky who pulled the top open absently.
"Aw, I really needed to talk to Hutch; left a message for him to wait."
There was a smirk in Andrews' voice that he didn't quite like. "That's why Batos was so pissed."
"They got off at four-thirty and he was going to drive Hutch home, but Hutch said he had to wait around here. Wouldn't say why."
Starsky looked at his watch. Nearly six. Jeezus. He felt bad all over.
Andrews laughed silently into his pop. "Star-crossed lovers."
Starsky closed his eyes and pretended that Hutch was standing right there, tipping his head to one side, warningly. It was the only way to keep from punching Andrews.
"Can you tell me now why we had to wait before I could take you home?"
"I told you. Starsky wanted me to wait for him."
"You're kidding, right?"
Hutch merely looked at him.
"I wouldn't wait that long for my mother."
Hutch shook his head, laughing to himself. There was sarcasm in Batos' voice, but it was tinted green and it gave him a perverse pleasure that he and Starsky shared what someone else might want. He'd never thought about it until he'd met Batos.
"So, you two are close, right?" persisted Batos.
Hutch made a fist and gently showed it to Batos. "Starsky tells me we're like this."
The other's jaw dropped. "How...how does that make you feel?"
How did it? A personal question, that, but maybe Batos deserved an answer, maybe Hutch needed to give him one. But there wasn't any, only another question: what didn't it make him feel?
In the growing twilight, he said, "He is the only constant in my life."
Batos did not reply to this, and dropped Hutch off at his place.
As he got inside, the phone was ringing, as if off the hook.
"I just missed you at the station. Why dincha tell me you were gettin' off early?" It was Starsky.
"I didn't know," he replied quietly. "I waited."
The voice at the other end sounded supremely tired. "I know. I saw you leaving; Andrews informed me how long you'd been waitin'."
"With a certain amount of relish, no doubt."
"Yeah, and mustard too. How long before Dobey gets back?"
"Listen, do ya think he'll undo what Brown did or leave us the way we are now?"
Hutch winced all over at the prospect, and the thought, the very idea which had occurred to him before, began to needle at him anew. "Don't ever think that, Starsky," he warned.
"Hey, you're supposed to be the pessimist, not me."
I am, buddy, I am. And we've got to find you some new rose-colored glasses.
He heard the sound of Andrews' voice in the background and then of Starsky's voice muffled by what was probably a hand. It sounded like swearing.
He came back. "Hutch, I gotta go."
There was a moment of silence, and Hutch felt like they were listening to each other breath.
How sentimental we are getting.
"Later," said Starsky.
It was goodbye, but somehow it seemed to mean more than that.
Starsky and Andrews were returning from the end of their shift, and it had gone as badly as usual. Andrews was driving through the parking lot like his wife was in the passenger seat about to give birth, like Mario Andretti trying to cross the finish line, like someone in a bumper-car ring. Starsky thought he'd pissed Andrews off this time by breathing too loud.
Either that or he wants to send me through the windshield to pay me back for being right about that snitch.
Starsky had tightened his seatbelt about five miles back.
And when Andrews jumped on the brakes as a black and white pulled out of the garage, Starsky felt his neck snap forward but not back, heard the crack, and felt the white heat. But his head stayed intact.
Andrews slammed the steering wheel with his hand, swearing under his breath. He might have been whispering, but Starsky heard him very clearly. He'd never been actually hated like this. Well, maybe by I.A., but that was different.
And then Starsky discovered that he couldn't move his arm. Really couldn't even twitch it. When he did try, his whole upper chest burned, and he felt the sweat break anew on his face.
"If you're going to puke, do it out the window," snarled Andrews.
"I ain't goan to throw up," rasped Starsky, gulping, for he felt like doing just that. "I think you broke something..."
"Aw, shit, bullshit!"
"You don't believe me?" Starsky was stunned. "Man, it hurts!"
"Well, here comes your nursemaid now."
Starsky raised his head. Here he was all sweat and mustard stained (there had been a tussle at lunch, as usual), hurting like hell, and there came Hutch. Fresh and new, clean hair defying the hot breeze, pale cotton shirt, looking for all the world like he never sweated a day in his life. Like an angel from heaven, with the devil in his eye.
"Just what the hell is going on here?" Hutch demanded. Obviously he thought they were a couple of rookies or joyriders or something. But the second he caught sight of Starsky, a number of things happened. The storm came and went from his face as it would for a mother while deciding how to discipline a child who had narrowly escaped danger she had warned him countless times about.
"Glad to see you guys have your seatbelts on," he said, his voice sounding neutral. The anger was still in his eyes, however.
Hutch leaned down. "What is it, are you okay?"
"I think I dislocated it," gritted Starsky.
Indeed, the shoulder was pushing awkwardly forward.
"You gotta push it against something, Starsk. Then it'll snap into place."
Starsky looked up at him, brows drawing together, a slight twitch to his lips. "No, you do it."
Hutch nodded. "'kay, I'm at a better angle anyway." He placed the warm heel of his hand against the pushing curve of bone.
"I'm gonna count to three, Starsk, and then push. I want you to count with me and try to relax."
"Okay...one...two..." Then he pushed before Starsky could stiffen, and Starsky could feel the nerves rubbing against each other as the pieces slid together with a click.
"HEY! You said onna counta three!"
"I lied." He watched Starsky rubbing his shoulder, and Starsky swallowed, feeling the whiteness and sweat rolling over his face in agitated waves.
"You okay?" Hutch asked quietly, his hand on the shoulder again, almost in a caress.
"Awww, jeezus," muttered Andrews, "quit babyin' him, will ya? It's not like he's dyin' or nothin', jeeze!"
Hutch pushed through the window, forcing Starsky back with a solid, gentle elbow. "You just shut your mouth, Andrews, or I'll show you how bad it feels to have a dislocated shoulder."
Andrews blinked, his mouth falling open and shut almost in slow motion. Starsky could almost feel the blood that was boiling behind Hutch's eyes cool a degree or two. Hutch shook his finger in Andrews' face, ignoring the silent laughter he felt in Starsky's chest. "When your partner is down, you help him; when he's hurt, you help him. You don't just sit there like a dumb cop, you HELP him. Understand?"
While Andrews nodded silently, Starsky whispered in Hutch's ear, his voice, on the edge of a snort of laughter. "And that's what partners are for."
Hutch pulled back, tousling the dark hair, catching the deep eyes with a smile. "I gotta go on patrol, you gotta fill out reports, no doubt. See ya 'round."
He turned to go, and Starsky waved faint-heartedly at him.
Hutch walked into Brown's office to question him why, for the third time that week, he was being assigned to the docks when everyone down there knew him already. It was an oversight that Dobey wouldn't have missed. But when he got there, he was surprised to see both Dobey and Brown.
"Captain Dobey, what're you doing back?"
"I don't have to apprise every damn worker of my every damn move!" blustered Dobey.
Hutch cheered up right away.
"There are a number of cases we have to get on, pronto. You and Starsky better start reviewing..." he thrust a number of manilla files in Hutch's hands, "...this one, this one...and this one. Get going, some of them need MVR's."
It was a moment to be relished. "I'm 'fraid I can't do that, Captain Dobey." He made himself not look at Brown. Revenge was much sweeter when one didn't gloat.
"Why not? WHY the HELL not?"
It was best said simply. "Starsky and I were assigned new partners."
A loud pause filled the room.
"WHO decided that? WHICH FOOL?"
Hutch looked archly in Brown's direction. Dobey followed his line of sight and his whole face turned into a frown. He motioned towards the door. "Hutchinson, you're excused, take back your old partner."
As soon as he shut the door, he could hear Dobey's voice railing at poor Brown. It was horribly funny. He couldn't wait to tell...
"Starsky, psssssst, Starsky!"
Starsky saw Hutch waving him to come closer, and never actually hearing the summons, only saw the mouth move around the words. He had not thought to find Hutch at the station in the middle of the day, though both their schedules were so screwed up he wasn't sure whose shift was whose.
He tore down the hall only to be grabbed by Hutch before he could slam into Brown's office to find out what had Hutch hovering around the doorway like a thief. An arm encircled him, and one broad hand came up to cover his mouth.
"Shhhhhh," mimed Hutch and when Starsky nodded his understanding, the hand came away from his mouth. Hutch made listening motions towards the office and Starsky was surprised to actually hear Dobey's voice.
"You did WHAT?"
"I assigned them new partners."
"Did they go along with it?"
"Yes, but unwillingly, very uncoop--"
"I'm surprised they didn't kill somebody, especially St--"
"They almost did."
"Damnit man, you don't go messing with the best team I've EVER SEEN!"
"Yes, but you were complaining about--"
"I know what I said - but that don't give you the go ahead to mess with perfection in my DEPARTMENT!!"
Of course, to celebrate Dobey's return, they had to go to The Pits and demand that the first round of the evening be on the house.
"Don't mesh with perficshon, you bet," intoned Hutch, while Starsky giggled into his beer.
"The besh team," he continued.
Starsky evidently agreed for he put down his beer and nodded slowly. "The besh." He raised his glass and clinked it against Hutch's.
Of course they both realized unspoken that they ought not to get too plastered, but it was only just shy of 11 pm when Hutch flung his arm across Starsky's shoulders and kissed him on the cheek.
"Ya know I love ya, Starsk," said Hutch quite clearly.
"Yes," Starsky nodded, his expression serious upon hearing this profundity. "Yesh, I know."
They were a team again! Driving through the streets in Hutch's LTD, roaming the city looking for bad guys, protecting and serving the innocent, and Starsky's hangover was pushing his brain through his eye sockets. His eyes felt like two dried raisins, and he swore he could hear his eyelashes growing.
"Will you quit grinding your teeth!" Hutch hurled as they drove through the back streets.
"I'm not," defended Starsky. "What you're hearin' are the three out of four cylinders that are missin' on this tub of yours."
That seemed to shut Hutch up for a second, though Starsky knew they were both hurting bad. How many pitchers of beer could ten bucks buy anyway? All of his money was spent, even the spare five he kept stashed in his extra pocket in his jacket. Maybe Hutch still had some money.
"How 'bout some coffee, Hutch?" he suggested.
"No thanks," Hutch returned sourly, "don't care for any."
"I meant for me," Starsky clarified, realizing distantly that they were halfway to their first civilized conversation of the morning. "We could even get some of those sticky buns you say you never want but end up eatin' anyway."
Hutch was turning his head slowly to look at him, eyes incredulous. Don't do this, Starsky, he seemed to be saying.
"Ya know, the kind with all that caramel stuff drippin' off the sides; hey, we could even get extra butter."
The LTD came screeching to a halt at a gas station. Hutch leaped from the car and went racing to the men's room, his face white. Starsky followed at a more leisurely pace, knowing, with a smile, that Hutch's hangover would be better once he'd thrown up a time or two. And by the time he got to the bathroom, Hutch was through, but now bent over the sink to wash his face and rinse his mouth out.
"How can you always get me to do that?" asked Hutch, through a sluice of water.
"Natural born talent, my friend," Starsky replied, almost bringing his hand down to pound Hutch on the back. He froze an inch away and brought it down with softness. "And years of watching you try to get better without throwin' up."
Hutch snorted, patting his face dry with about a dozen too-small paper towels. Starsky jigged on his feet, wishing the other would hurry up. Public restrooms always gave him the creeps, with their sour who-knows-what combination of smells. But of course Hutch had to rinse his mouth out one last time and spit elegantly into the sink.
"Can we go now?"
Hutch caught his eye. "Why? Don't you have to puke?"
Starsky smiled and cocked his head, patting his stomach. "Nope. Cast-iron stomach here. Come from a long line of non-pukers."
Of course he was on the verge of throwing up, but he would never tell Hutch that, not in a million, zillion years.
"I'll just bet," Hutch snorted again.
They got back in the LTD, ostensibly to a stakeout, Martin's Drug Emporium Starsky remembered vaguely, invariably to get caught up in something else along the way. That was the way it usually worked.
"Can we get some coffee now? Please?"
"Oh, all right," returned Hutch, frowning while he obligingly turned into the first donut shop along the boulevard. "We're going to be late for Martin's," he warned as they pulled up to the drive-through window.
"No, we won't."
"Yes we will if you don't hurry up and tell me what you got your sugar-loving veins set on this morning."
"Coupla bismarks, coupla chocolate raised, large coffee," he told Hutch.
Hutch wiped his suddenly moist forehead with the heel of his hand. "Jeezus, Starsky, you'll really bring on your diabetes with that."
Starsky swallowed his grin. Hutch was going to throw up again. Any second now.
"Will you order it already? The girl's waiting."
The warm scent of just-baked goods came through the small, sliding glass window and hit Starsky's stomach with a thump. He was starting to feel a little queasy himself when he realized that Hutch wasn't ordering. In fact he wasn't even talking to the cashier like he usually did, just sat and stared through the windshield, clenching and unclenching his jaw.
"Again?" Starsky squeaked.
Hutch shot him a look, those blue eyes so dark that Starsky was taken aback.
"Hey! I'm not the one that made you have all that beer, not to mention those chili dogs that Huggy whipped up special."
"Chili dogs?" Hutch whispered.
"Yes, chili dogs. An' I still can't believe you had two whole ones all by your selfish self."
A voice came from above. "Hey, you guys goan order, or what?"
It was all over. Hutch opened his door hurriedly, but it banged against the building and there was no way even his slender frame could squeeze through. He turned in his seat, getting all the way on it, hands and knees.
"Outta my way, Starsky," he growled.
Starsky tried to slide off the seat, but not fast enough as Hutch's elbow jabbed him in the stomach.
"Awwwww, c'mon, Hutch!" Oh nooooooo.
But Hutch was beyond a reply, sprinting towards the finzer bushes at the edge of the adjacent dirt lot. Hutch was bent over the bushes and Starsky had half a mind to join him as his stomach rumbled a native tattoo. He swallowed the hot moisture that sprang to attention in his mouth, paused, swallowed it again.
He was not going to puke. He refused.
Maybe if he rinsed his face a little.
But by the time he found the facilities, he knew he'd passed the point of no return. And by the time he'd rejoined Hutch, in the car at the head of a long line of angry would-be customers, it was five minutes later.
Hutch greeted him with a smile, glee sparkling in his eyes.
"Old iron guts, eh?" Hutch was feeling better, alright.
It was the nicest things they said to each other all day.
Hutch managed during the heat of the day to find some shade and had angled the car, windows down, to make full use of the tree-cooled breeze. As for Starsky, he was sleeping, head tilted back against the headrest as well as someone else would have been on the finest mattress and creamiest linen sheets. Faintly snoring away, sweat dappling his upper lip, one curl dancing madly over his left eyebrow. It, if the truth be known, wouldn't take much to wake him, but while he was out, he was out. Hutch envied him. When Starsky sat, he sat. When he ran, his wind sprint was very difficult for Hutch to keep up with. And he never saw anyone go into a shooting crouch faster than Starsky. In fact, he whole self became whatever he was doing. And it wasn't, Hutch decided, as if he had a one track mind, like some simpleton. No, that would be too easy. He instead had a one-thing-at-a-time mind, such a sense of concentration that whether he was eating or focusing down the barrel of his gun, he wasn't at the same time worried about whether he'd watered his plants yet that day or if he had indeed forgotten to pick his laundry up again. As Hutch knew he himself was wont to do.
And Starsky could sleep off the remains of his hangover, but for Hutch time and time alone was the cure. Starsky could take a hair of the dog and feel better or three aspirins and a glass of juice and bounce right back. Or do as he was now, head to one side, mouth gently open, hands loosely laid in his lap. Hutch sighed, determined not to wake one of Metro's finest, snoozing away the mid-day heat, until absolutely necessary.
He wondered why they had been so stiff with each other all day, hangover notwithstanding.
The same thought occurred to him later when he dropped his silent partner off at his apartment. As Starsky, maintaining his dignity, stomped off, Hutch realized that they had not discussed what had occurred at his place. The kiss. He had meant to; he knew Starsky had meant to, at least Hutch thought he did, but somehow their being together again had eliminated the desperate urges that had brought it about in the first place. Urges that had, for all the obvious reasons, been ignored. Gone unnoticed. And of course it... they ...had only surfaced at a desperate moment, when both of them had feared they'd never be together again. A one-time thing.
Was there any more to it than that?
Starsky burrowed his nose deeper into the pillow, relishing the finest moment of the day, when he was just awake and totally relaxed. Then the phone rang. He hit the receiving end with the heel of his palm and it popped into his hand.
"Starsky, is that you?"
"Where the HELL are you?"
It was at this point that he had to tighten all the muscles that didn't want to move and remind himself why he never wanted to go on a drinking binge. Ever again. His hangover was still mildly with him.
"Hutch?" He squinted at the clock, but it was turned the other way.
"Damn straight, it's Hutch! We were supposed to be in Dobey's office half hour ago for a briefing, and we are late!"
"Why dincha call me?"
The tone at the other end of the line was positively superior. "Because, dummy, I ASSUMED that you were on your way and would arrive any second."
"Feh half hour? It's only ten minutes to your place."
Silence met his reply.
"Besides which," Starsky continued, "it's your turn to drive."
"It is NOT!" retorted Hutch hotly. "Besides which, you said you'd drive."
Starsky rubbed the sleep from his eyes with the heel of his hand and reminded himself that it was in his best interest to remain calm. "Actually, what I said was--"
"You said you'd DRIVE!"
Starsky winced and held the phone against the pillow. Obviously Hutch's
hangover was lasting much longer, much harder than his own.
"Take it easy, blondie," he said when there was silence. "What I actually said was that I couldn't drive because the tomato needs a tune-up."
"A TUNE-UP?" asked Hutch, overly loud. "But you've barely driven it in over a month!"
It was hard to be patient with a non-car freak, but Starsky did his best. "That's precisely why it needs a tune-up, so it'll be in top condition when I do drive it."
There was nothing Hutch could do, he knew, but give up and give in. The tomato was one area Starsky was absolutely solid on and they both knew it.
"How long will it be at Merle's?"
"Just today, maybe tomorrow."
"Damnit, Starsky, I don't have any gas in my car."
There was no real reply to that. Hutch was notorious for putting a dollar's worth of gas in at a time, some times less than that. And it did no good for Starsky to remind him of how bad that was for the engine. So he didn't.
"I'll be ready when you get here."
"You'd better be," came the growl.
"Oh, and don't forget," Starsky couldn't help but add, "to call Dobey and tell him why we're late."
He hung up before Hutch could reply.
Of course Hutch never looked like he had a hangover, realized Starsky sourly when they arrived at the station, even if it tended to linger for days. One would never know by his coffee-brightened eyes and flash of teeth that the real reason he was moving so slow was because his bones felt like they were grinding together. No, after about three cups of straight black, he seemed as chipper and ready as an athlete in his prime.
Only Starsky knew that even Hutch's eyebrows still hurt and what it was costing him to remain in an upright position.
Which didn't keep him from snapping back when Hutch growled "C'mon, dummy, move!" at him.
"You move," he grumbled low so Dobey wouldn't hear. "You're in the way I go in."
"Dobey is waiting," Hutch grit at him with a fake smile.
Dobey was looking at them through his doorway. "You turkeys get your butts in here! I don't care which one is first."
"After you," spat Hutch.
"No, after you," snarled Starsky, bowing low and wishing he hadn't. His head began to pound. He realized, too, that a number of the office personnel, detectives and Minnie, were staring at them. It probably was a sight: he and Hutch usually did their arguing in private. And why were they arguing, anyway?
Later, when Hutch stepped out into the hallway to bitch at a file clerk, and as Starsky waited for the right files to be pulled for them, he realized that Batos was sauntering slowly over to where he sat.
"Hey?" said Batos by way of greeting.
Starsky stared at him, thinking it was easier to relate to him since he wasn't Hutch's partner anymore. "'Lo," he replied.
"How's it going, being together again?"
"Sucky," replied Starsky without thought. Then he laughed.
"What's so funny?"
Starsky looked at Batos' concerned face, and knew what his question meant: if it's so bad, why are you laughing?
'Cause, my man, I'd rather be arguin' with Hutch than anybody else.
Naturally he couldn't tell Batos that, so he just shrugged, and mumbled something about it being better than crying.
Then he also wondered how he and Hutch were going to make it up if they only made each other angrier with everything they said and did.
That night, Hutch dropped him off at Merle's to pick up his car. Silence surrounded them both and when he got out of the LTD, there was no goodbye, just a cloud of dust as Hutch spun out of the parking lot.
What the hell is wrong with us?
They drove into work the next day separately so Starsky could make sure everything worked on his car. By the time he arrived at the squad room, half an hour late because he'd taken the long way in to break in his new spark plugs, Hutch was already there.
Starsky looked casually over at his partner while getting a cup of coffee, but Hutch's eyes remained fixed on his work. Starsky hoped he wasn't going to be ignored all day.
Dobey came up and poked him in the chest with the edge of the file he was carrying. Starsky prepared himself to cringe obligingly at what was sure to be a severe scolding for being late.
"Your dedication to duty is admirable, Starsky," snapped Dobey, "but you don't need to check out a suspect on your own time. To relax means to relax and when you're off duty, I want you relaxin'. Ya got me?"
Starsky nodded, head down, eyes flicking over to where Hutch sat, fluttering bits of paper around a dangerously piled desk, studiously, oh-so-carefully, ignoring the tableaux not two feet from him. Starsky could well imagine who'd fed Dobey that line of crap.
Still me and thee, huh? Even if we are fighting. It was something he knew, but it was nice to be reminded.
"Hutchinson didn't want to tell me but I made him."
I'll just bet.
Starsky hid his smile and nodded at Dobey. "Well, he didn't want you to think I was polishing apples or anything. It was just something that needed to be done."
"Well, good work, Starsky. If only your partner were as conscientious."
Starsky swallowed his snicker, sat down at the desk opposite Hutch and continued to be ignored. But it was the quality of the ignoring that made him realize that Hutch was very much aware of him. It was the flick of an eyebrow when Starsky made some semi-off color remark to Minnie, the tilting of his head when Starsky got up and moved around the room gathering files, or even the ability to hand something to him when he went by that side of the desk. Without looking up. Ostensibly, he was writing some of his infamous copious notes in one of the files, not paying any attention to Starsky at all: blond head bent over the desk, pale skin, cream colored shirt, pouting in his concentration. He seemed so unaware of anything else, that Starsky began to believe he'd imagined the sensation altogether.
He isn't any more aware of me than he is of anyone else.
It was ridiculous to think he would be.
But he was. Starsky got up to get a drink and that blond head was tilted his way, attentive. He got the feeling that if he so much as sneezed, Hutch would be the first one to say "bless you."
But they continued not really talking much as they drove around that day, and Starsky had to content himself with an extra coke, so he could occupy himself by chewing on the ice. Hutch sighed heavily but Starsky continued, feeling that if Hutch wanted him to stop, he would have to ask.
"You can't ignore me forever, ya know."
"I'm not ignoring you," replied Hutch loftily, his chin going up a notch.
"You ain't talkin' to me much," Starsky pointed out
"I am simply exercising my right not to communicate with someone who can't remember whose turn it is to drive."
Starsky whirled in his seat, facing Hutch. "You still on that? That was yesterday, and besides, I tol' you I wasn't going to drive!"
"No, you didn't."
"Yes, I did!"
No answer. Stalemate. Starsky slouched back down in his seat, and chomped on his ice, not enjoying it very much. It would be better, he supposed, if Hutch actually did bug him about it, wouldn't it? Yes, he very much wanted Hutch to say, Starsky, will you cut that out? And then he could say, make me, and they could start some nice little spat and throw ice at each other which would help Hutch out of this horrible mood he was in that made him so mean and cranky and awful to work with, and why did he want to work with Hutch anyway?
He cast a glance over to his partner, looking away as soon as he saw the huge scowl. He couldn't think of a single good reason. All the ideas he'd had about them working together again were being eaten away like a riverbank in a high flood. Him and Hutch as a team, him and Hutch laughing together, him and Hutch saying goodbye at night and hello in the morning all melting into something so liquid and intangible that there was no way he could get his hands around it. Something he desperately wanted to do, needed to do, somehow, to grasp what had been real and good in his life, back in the days when he and Hutch had been partners and never thought another thing about it.
"Starsky," replied Hutch, interrupting with cutting tones, "I don't want to argue with you about it anymore, so don't bring it up."
Starsky jerked his head back. "I was only gonna--"
Starsky watched as one by one Hutch's bad qualities came to the fore like mad lemmings. Ice crystals formed in his eyes before he turned slightly away, shoulders slumping forward. And he was positively twisting the steering wheel in his hands.
"What the HELL is the matter with you?" Starsky demanded.
"Yeah, with you! You been this grinch, and I know it ain't just 'cause of no hangover!"
Silence. Utter, utter silence, and Starsky thought, there's no way I can bring him out of this, just no way.
"Listen," said Hutch, unexpectedly, "let me drop you off at your car and I'll meet you at your house with something to eat."
Well, that was better. Starsky knew he couldn't do this alone. "Sure," he said, "that'd be good."
And maybe if Hutch was nicer to him, he could be nice back and everything could be the way it was.