This story was originally printed in the S/H zine LIFELINE: A DECADE OF SWEET REVENGE, published by Jenn and Molly D. B. as Jenny Brown Enterprises in 1989. Special thanks to Daphne G. for translating to electronic format. Comments from this story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the author. Special thanks to Tex for getting it ready for the web.
Bounding up the steps to the squad room, Hutch could feel himself grinning like the proverbial idiot. Thirty minutes late getting back from lunch and he didn't care. If Dobey wanted me sooner, he could've called me at the hospital. But he hadn't, and Hutch refused to allow his overactive conscience to spoil his mood. Bodily running into the captain's solid bulk dampened his euphoria slightly and he backed away hastily, still smiling.
"Afternoon, Captain! Beautiful day, isn't it?"
"Hmpf. It's pouring down rain outside." The captain brushed at the wet stain on his suit where Hutch had collided with him. "You're soaking wet!"
"Starsky's coming home tonight!"
"That explains it," Dobey muttered as he continued out of the squad room. At the door he stopped and turned, "Bring the files on all your open cases up to date. Your vacation papers are on my desk, pick them up before you sign off. I've given you two weeks, let me know if you need more." He was gone before Hutch could say anything.
Sitting down at his desk, he opened the first file. Determined to finish, he pushed all errant thoughts firmly to the back of his consciousness and focused on the chore in front of him. Soon he was immersed in the details of current and old, unsolved cases. The paperwork wasn't difficult and moved forward smoothly once he'd set his mind to finishing it. When he reported back from vacation, he intended to start with a clean slate.
Several hours later, he signed his name and closed the last file. Picking up the pile, he went to the captain's office. "All finished, Cap."
"Good! Lay them on the desk. Go on, get outta here. Pick up your partner, I'll see you in two weeks."
Hutch couldn't help grinning all over again, "Sure you can manage without me?"
Dobey's perpetual scowl deepened, "I'll try. You just keep yourself and your partner out of trouble."
"Yes, sir. See you in two weeks."
Just like that, the months of waiting were over. Starsky, whole and without permanent disability, was coming home. Hutch's life was no longer on hold, but starting again.
Arriving at the hospital, he parked, then moved through the halls quickly. Smiling and nodding at faces that had become familiar over the months, he hurried to Starsky's room. His partner sat on the bed, dressed and waving a sheaf of papers at him.
"Ready to go, pal?" Hutch felt the words tumble out of his mouth around the growing knot of excitement that made speech difficult.
"Been waiting an hour. What took ya so long?" Starsky grinned.
"Duty called. Those your walking papers?"
"Yep. Signed, sealed ..." Starsky pushed himself off the bed and moved toward Hutch, papers extended. Hutch automatically reached for them, and Starsky slapped them into his hand, "... and delivered." Pointing to a wheelchair parked in the corner, "Find my driver and we can blow this joint."
"Patience, David, patience. I've got sick people to take care of." A nurse entered, a smile crinkling the skin around her eyes.
"Then you'll be needing my bed. Grab the cart, Hutch, and let's move it!" Starsky directed, like a general marshalling his troops; and they made a regular parade as the nurse pushed the wheelchair, with Hutch following and pushing a cart filled with plants, flowers and assorted stuffed animals.
Hutch was anxious to get Starsky into the car and headed home. There was a half-formed fear that someone had made a mistake and they'd snatch Starsky back at the last minute. His anxiety increased out of embarrassment when his partner broke into song, repeating over and over again, "I love a parade ..."
Once in the car, though, Starsky sobered, leaning back against the seat, eyes closed.
"What's wrong, Starsk?"
"Nothing. Just facing a little reality."
Fear leaped in his gut, and Hutch spared a quick look at his passenger. Was there something the doctors and Starsky hadn't told him? "What kind of reality?"
"Life in the real world, pal. For months I've been fed, clothed, and taken care of, without bothering to worry about where the money's gonna come from to pay my bills, buy food, clothes, a car. Sure, insurance will take care of the hospital bills, but disability pay won't stretch that far."
"Well, cheer up, buddy. With judicious use of your pitiful savings, I paid off the Torino and managed to pay the minimum on your credit cards each month. Boy, you sure live close to the edge. I even managed to continue to send your mother money each month."
"Hutch ..." Starsky looked at him warily, protest on his lips and fire in his eyes.
"I didn't use any of my money, Starsk, I promise." At least, not much. "I couldn't afford to keep both apartments going and neither was big enough for both of us, so I rented a house." Hutch held his breath, not sure what reaction this latest news would bring.
"A house?" Starsky whispered.
"Yep. We'll be there in about thirty minutes. I ... I hope you like it. I've got a short term lease ... I mean, we never actually talked about living together ..."
"Living together sounds great, Hutch, but a house? I ... uh ... I'll reserve judgment until I've seen it. How could we afford a house, Hutch?"
"I got a good deal and an option to buy. They waived the security deposit if I agreed to fix it up." Hutch risked a glance at his partner. Starsky sat with his chin on his chest and eyes closed. A short snore sounded and Hutch realized that his audience had drifted to sleep.
Don't worry, love, you'll like the house. I hope.
Pulling into their street, Hutch gently shook the still-sleeping Starsky. "We're here, pal. C'mon, Starsk, wake up, we're home."
Opening his eyes and sitting up straight as Hutch pulled into the driveway, Starsky looked around. His partner's face still held a wary look as he took in the Spanish-style adobe house with its neat lawn and roses lining the flagstone walk, "A fixer-upper, huh?"
"Yeah. You should've seen Dobey pulling weeds. He lost fifteen pounds before we were ready for Edith to plant the roses. Huggy had so much paint on him after we whitewashed the adobe that he made you look like a brother." Hutch carefully steered the conversation to areas that he and their friends had been able to fix. He didn't want Starsky asking where the money came from for the other repairs. "Wait 'til you see the garage. It's big enough for three cars." He punched the remote door opener.
"Hey, an automatic garage door opener. You can't tell me you put that in!"
"No, one of Huggy's cousins did, when we finally got a door to open."
But he'd lost Starsky's attention as the door slid quietly to a stop revealing the refurbished Torino, sitting there in lonesome splendor. He watched the changing emotions on his partner's face and remained in the car when Starsky got out and approached the garage. A look of awe was on his face as he reverently ran a hand along a fender before turning back to Hutch. "Hutch, I ... thank you. You didn't have to ..."
"I didn't. My welcome home present is in the house."
"If you didn't, who?"
"It was Dobey's idea. Once we knew you were going to be all right. He got together with Huggy and they took up a collection. Between what fellow officers donated and what your street friends came up with, there was more than enough to do the job. Especially since Merle only charged for parts he didn't already have in stock."
Starsky looked like he wanted to say something, but couldn't find the words. Silently, he turned towards the house.
"That's right, buddy, let's take a look at the rest of the house. How about starting with the pool?"
"Pool? We got a pool, Hutch?" Now he looked bemused.
Happiness welled up in Hutch and he rode the wave like a seasoned surfer. "Of course. Had to have a pool for you to exercise in and get your strength back. Besides, this way you won't have to go into the hospital every day for physical therapy."
Starsky's shoulders suddenly slumped and he stared morosely at the pool.
Hutch's heart lurched. What if he decides I spent too much money? What if ...? "Hey, pal, what's wrong?"
Starsky gestured forlornly in a wide circle that included the pool, yard, house, and garage, "Everything's done. If this is our house, where do I fit in?"
Hutch brightened. Boy, am I glad I didn't finish that last bedroom. "Oh, there's plenty, Starsk. I didn't want you to get bored when you were here alone, so I left one whole room for you to do. I call it the game room, but you can do anything you want with it. Besides, if there's anything here that you don't like, we can always change it." As he talked, he led the way toward the house. As he finished speaking, he reached the door and threw it open.
He continued to lead the way, not giving Starsky time to stop and explore, until he reached a closed door. This time the door opened into a shabby, unfinished room that said more than words about the condition the house had been in when rented. In the middle of the floor sat a pile of brightly wrapped packages. "Go ahead, open them, Starsk. They're my present to you."
Starsky fell to the task like a child at Christmas, and Hutch watched him, delighted with the expected response. At least in this, his partner hadn't changed.
"Trains! Hutch, you got me trains!" And his smile lit up the dingy room.
"Yeah, well, you were always talking about the train set you had as a kid ..."
"But I never had one. I just said I did because ..."
"You wanted one so much. I know, I called your mom."
Gently, Starsky laid the last box with the others, but he didn't turn. "This house is ours, right?"
"Well, we're renting it, yeah."
"And you want to live here with me while I'm on sick leave?"
"I want to live here with you, forever. I love you."
Hutch stood there watching Starsky, unsure what was coming next. His patience was rewarded when Starsky turned, eyes bright with overwhelming emotion, and held out his arms to Hutch who pulled him into a fierce embrace, the first time he'd held his partner since the shooting months before.
"That's what I want, too, but I was afraid you wouldn't. There've been too many changes and you seemed to want everything to stay the same. I didn't know how to tell you I wanted our off-again, on-again relationship to be permanent."
"I didn't know how to tell you, either." Thank you, God, for putting up with an idiot like me. I should've known he'd want this, too.
"Who do we rent this place from?"
Hutch swallowed and prayed silently that his plan would work, would hide what he'd done. "Northcutt Enterprises."
"You said that we had an option to buy ..." He looked up at Hutch, and Hutch nodded. "Will they sell it to us for the price it was before you fixed it up?"
They will, because Northcutt Enterprises became part of the Hutchinson Empire when my father married my mother. They will because they used my money to buy it so you wouldn't know I had. "Yes, I made sure that the actual purchase was written in the lease."
"And my GI bill will cover the price?"
Yes, and the payments we make will automatically be reinvested back into the securities I took the money from in the first place and, hopefully, you'll never know the difference. "Of course, do you think I'd buy a place you couldn't afford half of? Your GI bill will cover the purchase price and we can split the payments down the middle, satisfied?"
"What would you have done if I didn't want to live here?"
I'd have resold the house at its present value and made a handsome profit. "I'd have sublet until the lease was up and not renew. I love you, babe, and I wouldn't want this house without you."
"Come to bed with me, Hutch."
"The doctor said you needed to rest when you got home. He warned me against lettin' you do anything strenuous for at least tonight."
"Come to bed with me, Hutch, for a nap. Suddenly I'm so tired I could fall asleep right here."
Hutch just laughed as he put a supporting arm around his lover, "Okay, love, follow me. Our bedroom's this way."
Once settled on the big bed with Starsky held firmly in his arms, Hutch finally relaxed and started to believe this was real and not just another dream.