This story was originally published in Playfellows #6, published by Merry Men Press. Special thanks go to SHaron for scanning and proof-reading. Comments can be sent to: email@example.com
For the third time since they had left the scene of the teen suicide, Starsky bellowed, "I just can't see how anyone that young..." He smacked the steering wheel. "Or anyone at all for that matter... just giving up. Throwing their life away."
Hutch was staring out the side window, trying very hard to keep his patience with the whole subject. "You don't know what his life was like," he stated reasonably.
The blond could feel the driver look sharply at him. "What difference does it make, what his life was like? If it was at its lowest, there was no direction to go but up. It could only get better."
Hutch sighed. "Maybe he'd been waiting too long for it to get better."
"I don't believe that. Are you condoning what that kid did?"
"No," Hutch stated firmly. He realized his head had been turned away for too long, but he wasn't quite ready to meet his partner's glare. He compromised by looking out the front window.
Starsky's eyes kept switching back and forth between his partner and the road. "Then why aren't you pissed off about it?"
Now Hutch shuffled restlessly. "My God, Starsk, I didn't enjoy seeing what that kid did to himself." A gunshot wound to the head was never pretty. "And I am upset about it, but bellyaching isn't going to bring him back." That sounded cold, and in all fairness, wasn't truly an answer to Starsky's question. Hutch sighed again, summoning a degree of patience. He finally glanced over at his partner and said, "l can just imagine what it must be like, that's all. I mean, being that low."
Starsky's expression was contemplative as he watched the traffic. After a moment, he muttered, "Everyone gets low. That doesn't mean they have to throw everything away and go blow their brains out."
Hutch lowered his gaze and his voice. "People have their reasons for doing the things they do."
"That don't make it okay," Starsky insisted.
The blond looked at his partner, whose firm jaw and hunched shoulders matched the agitation of his voice. It had been a long day, and Hutch craned his neck to see the time on Starsky's watch, then gratefully reached for the microphone. "Control One this is Zebra Three."
"Go ahead, Zebra Three."
"Log us out at eighteen-oh-two hours."
"Roger, Zebra Three."
Hutch hung up the microphone.
Slightly calmer, Starsky glanced at him to ask softly, "Do you think he meant to do it?"
"Probably. People who intentionally try to mess it up don't usually put bullets through their skulls."
Now Starsky looked at him fully. "What makes you such an expert?" His attention returned to the windshield.
Hutch shrugged and said softly, "I tried to kill myself once."
The brakes squealed under pressure, and Hutch frantically reached to brace against the ceiling as the Torino came to a shuddering halt, its backend fishtailing. Other cars were heard braking and swerving behind them.
Hutch turned to yell at the driver, "What the—" But he stopped when he saw his partner staring at him, mouth open, eyes wide with a mixture of disbelief, betrayal, and other emotions the blond couldn't immediately identify. But Hutch got over his shock first, and he bellowed, "Jesus Christ, Starsky, are you trying to get us killed?" Other drivers were honking and yelling behind them.
Starsky's chest heaved, and in a deadly calm voice, he demanded, "What do you mean, you tried to kill yourself?"
"For God's sakes, Starsky, it happened when I was a kid—a teenager. Will you either get going or get off the road? We're going to get lynched." He was relieved when Starsky obeyed, ignoring shouted insults and moving the vehicle forward. But the feeling only lasted a moment, for Hutch now realized he had spoken without thought, and by doing so had released a can of worms that had stayed closed for a long, long time.
The darker man's face was pale as he stared at the road. He took a deep breath, and then his quiet, shocked voice demanded, "Why haven't you ever told me?"
Oh, yes, he should have seen this coming, should have thought it through before speaking. But it was too late now, and his partner deserved honesty. Hutch shrugged. "It just never came up, never seemed important." Then, reassuringly, "It was a long time ago, buddy."
The only response was a blink as the wide eyes stared out the front windshield.
Hutch took pity and softened his voice, reaching to lay a hand on his partners shoulder. "Starsk, it's okay now, all right? It's been okay for a long, long time."
He could see the effort the other man was making to relax, for Starsky drew a deep, deep breath. But the shock was still there, the jaw still firm.
The blond's fingers tightened on the shoulder. "I haven't been keeping it from you; it's just...," a shrug, "I just haven't ever even thought about it myself in ages. I mean, even seeing that kid lying there didn't make me remember. It wasn't until afterwards, when you kept talking about it...." He trailed off, not meaning to sound accusing. But Starsky simply continued to stare. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
The reply was accompanied by a firm head shake. "No."
It wasn't the answer Hutch was hoping for, and he leaned over the seat, slapping the back of one hand in the palm of the other. "Good Lord, Starsky, I'm trying to say that it's not like I've been keeping it from you. I was seventeen years old. It's ancient history."
The car stopped and it wasn't until the driver's door slammed that Hunch realized they had reached Venice Place. He got out, and as the blond shut his own door, Starsky was already trotting up the steps toward the apartment.
Hutch followed him with a sarcastic, "Gee, Starsk, why don't you come up for something?"
The other turned to him with a sharply pointed finger as Hutch reached the landing. Starsky's voice was steel. "You're going to tell me everything about it. Everything."
It was Hutch's turn to blink, the motion slow and puzzled. He watched his partner stand on his toes to get the key and open the apartment. While still on the landing, Hutch found his heart starting to pound. He was beginning to feel that he had done something very wrong, perhaps unforgivable, and wasn't sure why. And, yet, he had no problem with the idea of fulfilling Starsky's demand... except that his chest felt constricted and his throat was getting tight.
"You coming, blondie?"
Hutch started, then entered the apartment, feeling a touch of relief that Starsky had almost smiled while asking the question. Good. Maybe the other really wasn't that mad, didn't really feel betrayed. "Think we should order a pizza or something?"
The smaller man closed the door. "You'll have to pay. I'm broke."
"Excuses, excuses," Hutch muttered. He was grateful for the banter that was a distraction. He went to the phone, found the number from the well doodled pad beside it, and made the phone call.
While ordering, he watched Starsky take a beer from the refrigerator, then sit down on the sofa and kick off his shoes. He said something that Hutch couldn't catch.
The blond put his hand over the receiver. "What?"
"There's only one beer," Starsky pointed to the lone bottle, so get some pop."
Hutch took his hand away. "And two—no make that four—cokes" He watched his partner nod approval. "It'll be cash...thanks."
"What kind did you get?" Starsky asked as soon as Hutch hung up.
The taller man stood and started removing his jacket and gun. "What kind do you think, moron? Your usual poison. Lots of shit piled on top."
Starsky was watching him with an almost sly smile. Then he held out the beer. "This is for you."
Having discarded the outer items, Hutch unbuttoned his shirt halfway, then cautiously reached to accept the beer. Curious as to what his partner's reaction would be, he paused with his fingers around the bottle, then shrugged. "You're the guest."
The sky blue eyes darkened as the voice firmed. "But you're the one who's going to be doing all the talking."
It was ridiculous letting this turn into a big thing. Hutch accepted the beer, turned away to pace a few steps, then turned back. Voice slightly raised, he asked, "Why do I feel like you want to punish me for this, for something that happened before I even knew you?" Eyes on the other, he moved to an easy chair opposite and sat down, taking a sip.
Starsky had the grace to look away. In a nasal tone, he said, "I don't mean it as a punishment. It's just...," heavy sigh, then looking back at Hutch, "it's just something I have to know. That's all."
"Yeah, well, you could have gotten us killed the way you slammed on the brakes like that." He knew it was changing the subject and an exaggeration, but it kept the banter going. He ran his hand through his thinning hair dramatically.
"For goodness' sakes, Hutch," Starsky spread his arms for emphasis, "do you have any idea how that hit me? I mean it's like... like... " the arms waved in the search for an analogy, "like if I'd up and told, you I was adopted. Or that I served time in prison. Or that I'm related to the Pope."
Starsky sighed with impatience. Then his voice became softer as he leaned forward earnestly. "Hutch, if you'd... you'd really done it, you wouldn't be here now. Think about that!"
Such a simple statement, and Hutch found himself lowering his eyes.
The other man gestured to his chest. "All the belief I've had that I know you, it's got a big hole in it right now. Suddenly, there's this big 'something' that doesn't fit, doesn't sound like the man I know. I gotta know now: what made you do that?"
Hutch looked away. Then, timidly, "Of course it doesn't fit. The man I am now is a different person from the kid I was then."
Starsky shook his head. "How could you, at any age, have just given up like that? You're not a quitter."
There it was again, the feeling that he'd done something horribly sinful, disappointed this man who meant so much. Hutch put his hand to his forehead, the elbow resting near his knee. Striving to be as honest as possible—no matter how quickly it caused his heart to beat—he replied, "I didn't see it as giving up. I saw it as a solution to a problem."
"What problem, Hutch?" It was such a precise command, unhampered by sympathy.
Hutch straightened, sighed wearily, then took a large swallow of beer. He realized another big swallow would finish it, so he stood up and ambled toward the kitchen. He shrugged, voice congenial. "It wasn't a problem, Starsky. It was lots of little ones. They compounded each other and I couldn't deal with the weight anymore." He paused near the kitchen counter, then leaned back against it, realizing how silly it all sounded. He shook his head with a hollow laugh. "I wasn't very strong, Starsk. So I kept thinking of ways...," he shrugged helplessly, "to make it so that nothing ever hurt anymore." He tilted the beer back for the last swallow, realizing that his hand was quivering.
Starsky was sitting very still, staring at him with a heavily, serious expression. Then, in that deep nasal tone that Hutch had always envied, the smaller man said, "You're leavin' out a lotta details."
Hutch set the empty bottle down, then tilted his head to one side. "It was a lot of years ago, I'm not sure I even remember anymore." That established, the blond made his way back to his chair.
Starsky was leaning forward with his hands clasped into a fist between his knees. He gazed at the coffee table a long moment, then developed a slightly sheepish expression. "Yeah, I guess I shouldn't push for bad memories that are better left forgotten. I guess some things shouldn't be tampered with."
The blond man's eyes narrowed as he regarded his partner, trying to gauge whether the other was being sincere or dryly sarcastic. He refused to believe the latter, and felt a mixture of relief and disappointment that he was being let off the hook... that it could all be as if he'd never spoken.
Gently, Hutch assured, "Starsky, I can understand your being curious." It was easy to say, now that he wasn't being pushed.
The other man looked resigned as his chin now rested in his hand. "How did you do it?"
"Swallowed pills." That did bring on a deluge of memories. Hutch snorted with a head shake. "Believe me, no one would ever try to do that if they knew there was the slightest risk of being found before it's too late, and having their stomach pumped out."
Starsky's eyes narrowed speculatively. "Were you serious?"
The inner tremor was there again. Hutch quickly looked down, worked his jaw a moment, then said, "Let me put it this way: if there'd been a gun in the house, I wouldn't be here now."
Starsky's eyes dropped to the coffee table. Then they dropped lower to the floor... then moved to the sofa, the wall.... He blinked, staring at a point past Hutch's shoulder.
Hutch couldn't take the silence anymore. "Sorry, buddy. I feel like I've let you down."
"Let me down?" Starsky slowly repeated in a tone of disbelief. "You're the one who was ready to end it all." He drew a deep breath, as though desperately needing air.
Hutch was confused about his partner's point. Instinctively, he noted, "It's not your fault, you know. I was just a kid."
"I know that," the other responded sharply, glaring at Hutch. "Can't you see how hard it is listening to this, knowing there's nothing I can do to go back in time and make it better. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?"
The blond thought his insides were deteriorating, changing from matter to liquid, melting into a puddle. "Aw, Starsk." It was all he could think of to say. Then he sadly reminded, "You said you wanted to hear it."
"l have to hear it. You can see that, right?"
Hutch closed his eyes, heavily admitting, "Yeah." Maybe he could go into all the details. But would there really be anything to gain? After all this time, would the recollection somehow place it all in a different perspective?
The doorbell rang, and both men looked up.
"Shit," Hutch muttered, scrambling through his pockets, "they're faster than usual tonight."
"How much was it? I think I've got a coupla bucks."
"No, no," Hutch held up a hand. "I've got it." He was still trying to count all the loose change as he trotted to the door, then opened it.
Starsky came up to grab the food and drinks while Hutch continued to fuss with the money. Finally, the taller man dumped a mound of paper and coins into the delivery boys hand. "I think there's enough there for a tip," he said, slightly embarrassed at not being certain.
The curly-haired man appeared with a dollar, and slapped it on top of the rest. "That'll cover it for sure."
The delivery boy thanked them and left, Hutch closing the door.
Starsky began humming as he went about he task of getting ice and a glass for his soft drinks, and grabbing a handful of napkins. He placed the items on top of the pizza box, then pranced to the coffee table.
Hutch wanted to say something to encourage the playful mood. "I thought that's what the kitchen table was for."
"Quit grumbling." Starsky sat in the middle of the sofa, sorting through the accoutrements. "I intend to relax and so do you."
The blond had no interest in arguing with the command. He pulled off his shoes, then sat down between the couch and the table, next to Starsk's feet. It struck him funny that, in most things, Starsky followed where he led. Yet, whenever the smaller detective took a stance on something, Hutch rarely felt like disagreeing.
The taller man smiled to himself as he reached to take a slice of pizza. Theirs was a true partnership, true equals...better than a marriage. For, in marriage, even poor relationships sometimes had good sex to fall back on; or the husband needed the wife's ability to keep house and the wife needed the husband's financial stability, so they felt forced to stay together even if, personally, they drew apart. He and Starsky, there was no staying together by default. They simply downright respected each other. Liked each other.
Loved each other.
"What?" Starsky asked around a mouthful of food.
Hutch realized he'd been smiling. "Nothin'."
"Liar." But the tone was congenial.
Hutch took a second slice and rested back against the couch. Why hadn't he ever told Starsky about it? Though it was true that he rarely ever thought about what that troubled seventeen year old had done, he knew there were times when it had crossed his mind, when he'd been in his partner's presence.
He supposed part of it must be shame. He wasn't proud of what he'd tried. But, even now, he understood the desperate need that adolescent had felt to escape . . . even if it meant permanently.
Starsky would surely be able to understand that.
"I'd give you a penny...," came his partner's gentle voice.
Hutch glanced up toward the couch, smiled a bit sheepishly. "I was just thinking."
Hutch shifted so that his elbow was leaning on the couch, palm supporting a cheek, facing his partner. "Really, Starsk, I don't have a problem telling you about what happened... the parts I remember, that is. I've never felt like it was a big secret or anything." He shrugged. "It's just that I'd put it behind me years ago."
Starsky leaned toward the opposite side to eye Hutch speculatively. "You want to talk about it," he stated curiously.
Hutch fingered the aluminum side of his pop can, tracing the logo. "Yeah, I guess so." He shifted again, now kneeling and settling back on his heels. "I mean, it's all coming back to the surface, since it was brought up."
Starsky took another slice of pizza, then settled cross-legged on the couch, his back resting against the arm. "I'm all ears. Start from the beginning."
Hutch presented a timid smile, studying the sofa cushion. "I'm not sure that I can, because I don't know where the beginning really is. I mean, most of my teenage years I'd thought about suicide every now and then," he glanced up quickly to assure, "just as a passing thought, you know?" He watched Starsky nod, the other man visibly struggling to appear neutral. "I guess I saw it as a way to make my parents sorry." He chuckled softly, feeling his stomach tighten. "I'd... well, you know... fantasize about them finding me dead, being upset, devastated. I guess," A painful smile, "a part of me was aware that if I really did kill myself, I wouldn't be around to enjoy how devastated they were." He laughed at that, a terribly forced sound. He didn't need to glance up to know that his partner was unamused.
Sobering, he continued to stare at the couch, occasionally stealing a glance upward. "It was the spring when I was seventeen that everything went to hell." His voice was soft, but his heart was starting to pound. "You know, I was going with a—a nice girl." He wondered why he felt himself blush.
Now Starsky smiled and held out his glass of cola, as though to toast. "Tanya Holdenfield."
Hutch looked at his partner with a pleased snort. "Oh, I guess I've told you about her."
Starsky nodded firmly. "First love."
"Yeah," the blond drawled longingly. He shifted, but didn't change position. "We'd been going together since the beginning of the semester. Went out nearly every weekend, sometimes even during the week. My parents even liked her." So significant, that. "Anyway, after spring break, things sort of tapered off." He frowned. "I'm not really sure why. But she started seeing other guys. I started looking for other girls, but I wasn't really interested in any of them. I suppose by the time May rolled around we had more or less broken up." Hutch found a loose thread on the sofa, and twisted his finger around it. He wasn't sure why he was telling Starsky this; it didn't really have anything to do with it.
After an overly long silence, he cleared his throat. "I was having a hard time focusing at school. I'd always made pretty good grades; but it seemed, for the first time, I was starting to struggle. I don't know why," he shrugged, "I guess because nothing seemed to have much point. I remember," a sigh, "that in Poly Sci, my best subject, I got a D on an exam." He shook his head, drawing a deep breath. "It really let my teacher down. He was so... so disappointed. I was his star pupil. And I had no explanation. He made me stay after class and kept asking me what was wrong. I had no answer. I just sat there and—and stuttered. Felt like shit, that I had done that to him, almost flunked his test. And then," Hutch had to draw another breath, for now the words wanted to rush out. "I only made second string for the baseball team. First time I wasn't ever first string in baseball." He stared at where the sofa thread had a strangled hold on his finger. "My father was all over my ass about choosing a career. He somehow seemed to think if I hadn't chosen one by the day I turned eighteen, I'd never choose one. And, you know, he wanted me to be thinking doctor/lawyer/CPA. I kinda thought I might get serious about baseball... but after not making first string..."
He watched the finger turn a deep red. "And my mother," a bitter snort, "she... she...," he could only shake his head in disbelief. "her whole world was tied up in cosmetics and horse shows. She was just so... so, you know, phony. All she gave a goddamn about was putting on a 'correct' front." The finger was a fascinating color of purple.
Hutch pulled, feeling the thread tighten even more. Then it broke.
The blond settled back, sighing deeply as he unwrapped the small string, watching with detached interest as the color returned. He stole a glance at Starsky, wondered why the other looked so serious when he still hadn't managed to tell his partner a damn thing.
The other man gave a small nod, and carefully nudged, "Go on."
Now Hutch shifted, reaching to steal a mushroom from a remaining slice of pizza. It tasted cold.
"Anyway," he said after swallowing, "It was a rotten spring. That mutt dog of mine even died on me. My mother was so glad to be rid of the little shit. No breeding, you know." He shook his head, not trying to hide the sarcasm. "Can't have little mixed breeds running around." He gave in and reached for the whole slice of cooling pizza.
Over a minute passed while Hutch chewed, glancing about the house from one wall decoration to the other.
Starsky was leaning back on the sofa, sipping from his glass, an arm behind his head. "So, then what happened?"
"Huh?" Hutch looked at him. "Nothing." He shrugged. "I mean, I tried to do it, and it didn't work. And everything went back to normal."
Starsky blinked, quickly shaking his head. "No, wait a sec. You've lost me, Hutch. Go back," he gestured with a hand. "Go back. I mean, what made you decide to do it?"
Hutch felt like he'd missed something, and he quickly thought it through. Then he replied, "No, I told you. It was just all that stuff. It seemed to pile on. I couldn't take it. I wasn't very strong, you know, when I was a kid. I didn't have much of a constitution when it came to personal problems."
Starsky was still in a relaxed posture, but his voice was firm. "You grew up in that house, with those loving parents, spent all those years there, went on to be the best damn cop this city has ever seen, and you're going to sit there an tell me you were lacking some balls at one point?"
"No, it wasn't that I didn't have balls," Hutch felt inclined to argue, "it was just—just...," he shrugged lamely, "I don't know. You sink low enough, you eventually hit bottom. Then you do something crazy." He shook his head again. "I don't know."
"Sure you do."
Hutch took another breath. He wished he hadn't eaten that last slice; it was having trouble making the journey all the way down.
The other man's voice softened, and he leaned forward awkwardly. "Hutch, tell me about the day you did it. What happened when you woke up that morning? What were you doing? Who did you talk to? Did anything happen that day?"
Hutch looked at the carpet, focusing inward. His heart was in full gear, and his stomach and chest were doing acrobatics. It wasn't Starsky's fault. Answers were somewhere, and he supposed it would be best if they were forced out, laid open. But he had to squeeze his eyes shut at the image of such secrets being stripped to nakedness.
"Hutch." Such a gentle voice now. "What happened that day?"
He knew what the answer to Starsky's question was, had known it all along. And the wonder of how he'd known it, without knowing he knew it, filled him with an intense desire to understand the nature of human beings, and how their various levels of consciousness worked with each other, how sometimes one could—
"Hutch." A hint of worry in that voice?
The nerves of his insides had stretched outward. He felt cold and unsteady, and shuffled to sit with all his weight on the floor, his back against the sofa, arms wrapping around his knees. He made sure he kept his eyes on the wall, for he could not bear to look at his partner.
God, It was so stupid. Had he really been that dumb back then? So dumb that a mere question could become a matter of life and death?
He could hear and feel through the sofa springs, his partner shifting, moving. "Hutch, what happened that day?"
The blond quickly shook his head, eyes on the far wall.
Starsky was sitting on the sofa next to his head. Through the corner of his eye, Hutch could see that the other man was leaning forward, elbows on his knees, giving the appearance of being casual. But Hutch knew, from many years of experience, that such a stance was often when his partner was most dangerous.
"Hutch." Still gentle, but just a fraction more firm. "Was it something that somebody did? Something that was said? Something that—"
"Said," Hutch forced out, realizing his voice sounded like a small, frightened child's. Oh, God.
He nodded, the texture of the far wall seeming to move in and out of focus. He realized peripherally that his was chest was visibly fighting for air, but he couldn't seem to halt it.
"What did somebody say to you?"
Hutch shook his head quickly, weary eyes closing of their own volition as his chin dropped to his chest. "Don't want to tell you." That meek voice belonged to another person, and he didn't seem to have any control over what that person was saying.
"Don't or can't?" So gentle.
"Can't." Easy out.
"Okay. But who was it that said it? Can you tell me that?"
When silence followed, Hutch realized he was supposed to follow up the nod with an answer.
He swallowed thickly, opening his eyes, blinking away the fuzziness, trying to focus on the wall again.
Hutch swallowed again, feeling his Adam's apple protest as it rose and fell.
"It was your father who said something to you?"
His voice actually squeaked. "Uh-huh."
Such gentleness again, as Starsky leaned closer. "And you can't tell me what it was?"
He didn't deserve the sympathy, but Hutch felt trapped by the lulling, persistent voice. He squeezed his eyes shut, and the little boy answered, "No."
"Can't tell me because you're afraid of what I'll think, or because it hurts too much to say it?"
Hutch pinched the bridge of his nose. His insides were in chaos, but his outer body was numb. The apartment seemed so quiet, and only his own breathing could be heard. Finally, he forced his eyes open to stare at the carpet. In a slightly deeper voice, he obediently replied, "Hurts."
"Aw, Hutch." Hands reached for his shoulders.
The blond instantly stiffened, though otherwise didn't move. "Starsky, don't."
The hands paused.
The hands were removed, and Hutch was able to breathe again. He was grateful that Starsky would know better than to take the rejection personally, would understand that he simply couldn't bear that kind of compassion right now.
For nearly a minute, the apartment was deathly quiet.
Then Starsky moved, shifting from the couch to the floor. He rested his weight on a hip on the carpet, an elbow stretching to rest back against the coffee table. He propped his chin in his hand.
Hutch looked up just enough to see his partner's face through the corner of his eye. Starsky was wearing that I'll-stick-it-out-however-long-it-takes expression. It amused Hutch a little. He shook his head and softly said, "It's all incredibly stupid, Starsky."
Levelly, the other asked, "Stupid what he said, or stupid that it made you want to kill yourself?"
"That it—" the blond stuttered, realizing the answer to the question wasn't as important as correcting his partner's impression. "No, it didn't make me want to kill myself. I'd already been thinking about it. It was just the last straw, that's all. If it wouldn't have been that, then the last straw would have been something else."
"Then why are you having such a hard time telling me what he said?"
Hutch fought to restrain a flare of temper. Sometimes Starsky was downright annoying when he was using that calm, overly-patient tone.
"What did he say, Hutch? Did he belittle you? Humiliate you? Call you names?"
Yes and no. "He asked me a question." A snort of bitter amusement as he shrugged. Hutch finally looked at his partner squarely. "That's all." See how silly it is?
Starsky was slowly rubbing a finger along his upper lip. "What did he ask you?"
"A question." Hutch looked down, embarrassed by the stupid answer.
"What question?" Gentle persistence.
Hutch took a deep breath, brows furrowing as he wondered how one small sentence could mean so much. He abruptly straightened, and resisted the urge to get up and pace. It was so comfortable here, in this little spot, with Starsky sitting beside him, waiting for him to speak. The other was going to be so disappointed and confused when he heard it. But Hutch could say it now. He even looked at his partner squarely. "He asked me if I was a faggot." Only, the sentence didn't come out quite as bold as he'd intended; the little squeak was there, too, mixing with the bitterness.
Starsky's jaw seemed to drop to the floor, and he leaned forward, expression battling between shock and compassion. Whispering quietly and distinctly, he said, "Your father asked you that?"
Hutch had to struggle to not laugh at the baffled expression. "Yeah," he replied with a series of quick nods, desperately fighting the anger churning in his stomach. A quick shrug. "That's all." He sipped his lukewarm soda.
Starsky's voice was an intense whisper. "Hutch, why did he ask you that?"
"I dunno," the blond replied, realizing he was slurring his speech like his partner often did. "I hadn't had a real girlfriend until Tanya—and he liked her—and I couldn't keep her very long. I liked baseball more than football. I liked plants more than cars. I had a hard time making decisions about what I wanted to do." He shrugged with exaggeration, desperately fighting off the volcano simmering in his stomach.
Starsky bowed his head, a hand going to his temple. "Jesus," he whispered softly.
Afraid of what his partner might be thinking, Hutch firmly said, "It's not like he meant it literally. I mean, he didn't think I was a queer or anything. It was just an expression." How many times, in all their years together, had he ended up defending one or both parents to Starsky? It was such a strange position to be in.
The dark haired man's jaw dropped further. He slowly shook his head, as though in disbelief, and then seemed to remember what the point of the conversation was. He straightened, then—so seriously, Hutch thought—asked, "How did you answer?"
"I didn't. I walked away." Another exaggerated shrug. "What could I say? 'No' wouldn't have meant anything, because his question carried all kinds of meanings other than just 'Did I like boys more than girls?' I suddenly saw myself through his eyes, saw how he saw me." A quick snort. "It's not like I ever thought he was fond of me or anything, but," his voice became soft and earnest, "it made me realize just how thoroughly, thoroughly disgusted he was with me." His voice hardened, despite himself. "And I hated who I was." He had to close his eyes to add, "So much."
Starsky looked away, seemed to take a moment to recover himself. Then he turned back, concerned eyes watching the blond carefully. "Then what happened, Hutch?"
Hutch thought. The volcano was starting to dissipate. The hard part was over, the rest a breeze. "I decided I was going to do it. I started thinking how and realized I could do it that very night. My mother was always taking all these pills—for her dozens of 'ailments'—and both my parents were going to be out that night, and it was just so simple." He paused, remembering the boy he had been. "And you know something, Starsk?"
"It's really true, what they say. I mean, about how once you've decided to do it, you feel this sense of relief. It's true. Because after having thought about it for weeks, maybe months, I finally had a plan I could carry out. And all my agonizing about 'should I' or 'shouldn't I' and 'how should I do it?' was over with. I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And I was at peace."
Starsky buried his face in his open hands. "Jeesus."
"Seriously, buddy, it didn't hurt anymore after that."
Slowly, Starsky raised his face to look at him. Grimly, he demanded, "You were so desperate to get back at your father that you were willing to kill yourself, and you want me to sit here and believe you didn't feel a damn thing?"
Hutch remained calm, understanding his partner's anger. But also wanting the other to understand his motivation. Easily, he corrected, "It wasn't to get back at my father. Yes, earlier when I'd thought about it, it was to get my parents' attention. But by the time that day came around when I actually did it, what my parents thought or felt was the last thing from my mind." Now, his voice did harden. "I had to get rid of me. That's all I was after. Destroy myself. Destroy the horrible thing I was."
Voice carrying a distant tremble, the smaller man clarified, "That's all you were capable of feeling: self-hate?"
Hutch shook his head, the memory so vivid now. "No," he replied distantly, "not even that." He put a hand near his chest. "I felt empty, Starsk. Totally, totally empty. I was nothing. All gone. There was no me anymore. And I had to destroy the shell. And all that was left was peace that it was finally going to happen."
Raggedly, Starsky pressed, "So then what happened?"
"I waited. Spent the day—it was a Saturday—out walking in the park, feeling totally alien. I was, if anything, feeling satisfied that the world was going to be rid of me. Finally, my parents left to go to their party. I went into their bedroom, got my mother's pills and..." He shrugged with a snort. "I can't even remember what I took. But somewhere along the line I'd done some research, and there was a certain combination I was sure would do the job." He paused, feeling himself in that room, studying the bottles with such detachment. "I think I considered writing a note, then decided not to. I was sure it would be obvious... plus, I just downright didn't care about getting a last word in. I didn't deserve it. So, I took the pills to my room, got a big glass of water, and started swallowing them down. Then I laid on my bed, turned off the light, and just lay there. For a while, I felt a little nauseated, then I just started drifting... and I felt so... relieved."
Starsky clutched Hutch's hand. The blond let him do it, no longer finding a lack of contact necessary. And he understood why Starsky needed to. The curly haired man was swallowing thickly, hand rubbing at his bowed forehead.
Poor playful, fun-loving Starsk. Despite the grisly things they saw in their work, in many ways the shorter man was unprepared for the grown-up world. And Hutch had tried to protect him from it—let him play the innocent child, by having himself playing the watchful, affectionate, scolding parent, but he couldn't protect Starsky from everything. Certainly not from this.
Finally, after a deeply drawn breath, Starsky whispered, "But you didn't die."
Hutch smiled thinly. "A twist of fate. Maria, the housekeeper, had left her pocketbook in the laundry room. So, she came back that night to get it, and while she was there, she thought she'd take a pile of newly dried clothes to my room. She found me unconscious and called the ambulance."
Another deep breath from his partner. "Thank God for Maria."
Hutch presented a tiny, affectionate smile. "Yeah." A small shrug now. "So, the ambulance came. They were able to bring me to consciousness at the hospital while pumping my stomach—not a pleasant experience—and I lived. End of story."
"Wait," Starsky held up a hand, and the blond could see the effort the other was making to stay calm. "What happened afterwards? How did your parents react?"
Hutch had to think a minute. "My father never said much about it. I don't know what he thought. My mother let her friends know what an awful thing she'd gone through—with her son trying to kill himself and all—and she kept her pills locked up after that. Not that I had an interest in them afterwards. I really didn't ever get serious about it again; and if I'd had, I would have chosen a different method."
In disbelief, Starsky clarified, "You mean nothing changed? Everything went on as before; they didn't even try to figure out why you did it?"
The blond tilted his head to one side. The question had never occurred to him. "No," he final replied. "They never asked me. They just sent me to a psychiatrist for three months, which didn't do me a damn bit of good, because he was psychologically fucked up and spent all those $120 sessions talking about himself. And then I was supposed to go to some group teen suicide thing for awhile; but after the first meeting, I ditched the rest. No one ever mentioned it."
"And then what?" Starsky wanted to know.
"Nothing, Starsk. That was it. The summer was over, I went back to school, was voted 'Most Likely to Succeed', the next year I went to college."
The smaller detective shifted until he was sitting back on his knees. He pointed a finger at Hutch's chest. "Buddy, I may not be an expert about this kind of stuff; but it's obvious to me that you were suffering from some sort of depression, big time. Are you going to sit here and tell me that you just up and got over it?"
Starsky asked good questions, that was for sure. Hutch rubbed at the bare part of his chest, realizing he felt drained, but in a good way. After a thoughtful moment, he replied, "I still had a lot of buried anger. But I used it in a positive way. Turned it into determination. I decided 'fuck it' to whatever dreams my parents had for me. I focused on what I wanted, and set out to get it. The rest," he shrugged, "you pretty much know."
After an extended silence, Starsky put his hand to his head once more. "Man," he sighed heavily. "I never would have guessed."
Gently, Hutch noted, "That's why I felt I understood about that kid we found today. It's rotten that he didn't get a second chance, like I did, but he wasn't miserable when he pulled the trigger. He was at peace."
Starsky was firmly shaking his head. "Hutch, I can't believe that. I just can't. Anyone who wants to do that is a sick, sick person. And they need all the help they can get. And I don't know how the hell you found the strength all by yourself to pull out of it, but I'm damn glad that you did." His voice was ragged on the last.
They could argue about it well into the night, but Hutch didn't see any point in trying to convince the other of understanding something he had never experienced himself.
Suddenly, Starsky turned to Hutch, and grabbed the blond's right wrist with a air of desperation; he forced the hand to the left side of the Hutch's chest.
"What are you doing?"
"Hutch," Starsky tapped at a pale cheek, "look at me. Look me right in the eye."
"Okay. Now, I want you to swear to me, swear to me, that you will never, ever, EVER try to kill yourself again. Swear it."
Hutch's heart turned over. "Oh, Starsk...."
Hutch blinked, feeling a twinge of guilt that Starsky felt such a promise necessary... mandatory. And he understood why he'd never told the other before. "Starsky, this is exactly why—"
Hutch gave in, for it was easy to. And necessary to erase the other's troubled expression. He pressed a little more firmly against his own chest, leaned closer to his partner, and slowly and distinctly said, "I swear I will never again try to kill myself."
Starsky gazed at him, and Hutch saw the brain circuits working, as though the smaller man were wondering if there was a loophole somewhere that his partner could someday slip through. But then the darker man visibly relaxed. "Okay."
"Wha'?" Hutch almost smiled at the confusion.
"We're partners. You have to make the same promise."
"Oh, Hutch, I'm not the type who would—"
Anger emerged from nowhere. "Dammit, there's no such thing as a type! Don't you know that if I'd really done it—if I'd died—everyone who knew me, including my parents, would have claimed that I wasn't the 'type'. Yeah, I was depressed. But nobody knew it." His voice softened, for Starsky seemed startled by the outburst. "Starsky, there's no such thing as someone who would never kill themselves. Given the right set of miserable circumstances, anybody can be tempted to pull the trigger." He found a smile. "So humor your buddy and make the promise. Please?"
Starsky shrugged, "Well, since you said 'please'..."
Hutch's smile broadened. He helped Starsky place his hand over his chest.
Looking terribly self-conscious, the curly-haired man said, "I promise to never try—"
"Never, ever," Hutch corrected.
"Never, ever to try to kill myself." The hand dropped.
Hutch relaxed back again the sofa. "Thank you."
Starsky was suddenly a bundle of energy, gathering the remains of their dinner.
"You see, Starsk," Hutch said gently as he watched the clean-up process, "that's why I never told you. I realize that now. It seems that, once people know you've tried it, they always think you're going to try it again. They don't trust you anymore."
Starsky had gathered all the trash on top of the pizza box, which he now lifted. "I trust you with my life, Hutch."
"But you don't trust me with my life, now that you know."
Starsky paused on the way to the kitchen. He didn't quite turn around. "Do you blame me?"
Hutch watched him proceed to the kitchen. "No, I guess not. But honest, Starsk, I may have thought about it a few weeks, maybe months, after that time. But then I quit thinking about it. I've never considered it an option—even as a passing thought—since then. Not even after... after everything." He'd better stop right there. Both his and Starsky's losses had been great since they'd joined forces in the name of the law.
Hutch finished the last of the warm soda, then moved to the kitchen and filled a pitcher with water. It was always such a secure feeling, when he and Starsky were doing simple household chores together. He carried the pitcher from plant to plant, giving them each a small drink. It felt good to walk around. There had been a point in his life when he'd realized he'd never tell anybody. But he hadn't counted on his life including a Starsky.
Hutch finished with the plants, then plopped down in the middle of the living room and removed his socks. "Anything good on the tube tonight?" It was such a ridiculous question that he was curious as to what the answer would be.
Starsky had just finished drying his hands, and now approached. "Yeah, I spent all day with my nose buried in the TV guide."
"Wanna see what's on?"
Starsky settled on his knees next to him. "Not really," came the more serious reply. "My head's still spinning from everything you've told me."
Hutch laid back on the carpet, lacing his hands behind his head. "You know, buddy, I really didn't set out not tell you."
"I know, Hutch. I understand. I just hope you can understand how it's sort of a shock I mean, if you'd really done it... and I'd never known you..."
"Aw, Starsk, you can drive yourself crazy thinking like that. We've both been this close to cashing it all in in recent years."
"Yeah, I know."
Hutch wished he had something to drink. "Too bad liquor stores don't deliver."
"Yeah," Starsky automatically agreed. Then his brows furrowed, and he said, "You know somethin'?"
"I hate your parents."
That hurt for some reason. "You've never even met them, Starsk. And everything I've told you over the years is just one side of the story. You might actually like them. Besides," Hutch felt obligated to say, "they did the best they could."
"Yeah, well," Starsky rolled over to straddle Hutch in one smooth move, his hands resting on the blond's shoulders, weight on his haunches. "I wish I could tell them a thing or two. There ought to be laws that parents have to love their kids. What else is a kid supposed to do, otherwise?"
Hutch felt the usual pull to take their defense. "You can't force people to feel what they don't feel. Sometimes pretence is worst of all. Besides, Starsky, I know they each loved me somewhat, in their own way. And I wasn't exactly suffering materially, you know."
"I didn't have much material stuff," Starsky insisted. He slid his hands up the long arms, which had relaxed behind the head, and eventually reached the hands, clasping them and intertwining their fingers. "You would have been raised right, in my family. Even by my uncle Al. I mean, look how I turned out."
Hutch knew he was expected to come up with a clever retort. But his heart wasn't in it. He was too comfortable, and if they started flinging insults, then wrestling would follow...
My God, what other grown man could I ever lay with like this?
Look, Dad, your son does like playing with the boys. Or one particular boy. But not like you think. You and all your golfing 'buddies' who are really just business associates with ugly pants and shoes. You'll never know love like this.
He was surprised to find that he felt a little sad at that.
Starsky gently nudged his ribs with a knee. "What?"
"Still just thinking it all through."
"Yeah, I imagine it's gonna be a while before that brain of yours shuts off." Then, tenderly, "You've had a lot taken out of you today, pal."
"But I'm glad I did," Hutch noted quietly, realizing it was true. "It feels good to have it out in the open." His voice firmed slightly. "You know I wouldn't have told anyone else."
A soft smile replied, "I know." A pause, then, "Hutch, if you've still got something to say, I'm still listening."
The blond made a negative gesture. "All those memories are just running around in my head. It's going to be awhile before I can make any more sense of it all, if there's any left to be made. I really haven't thought about any of it in a long, long time."
Starsky cocked his head to one side. Gently, he asked, "Want some space? Want me to leave you alone?"
Hutch shook his head once. "Uh-uh." Don't you dare move an inch. That established, Hutch warily noted the grin that was beginning to spread across his partner's face. Starsky started to close his eyes and lean forward.
Hutch glanced up at the ceiling, giving in without a fight, except for a feeble, "Starsk."
Wet lips were planted on his lower left cheek. Hutch wriggled slightly as Starsky pulled back, and hands tightened on his wrists. "Come on, cut that out." He knew his words held no conviction.
Starsky's lopsided grin was full of frivolity. He seemed completely pleased with himself. Then, grin widening, he leaned down again.
"Ah, Jesus," Hutch mock complained, making a show of trying to turn his face away.
Starsky found his target—the other lower cheek—- and placed a particularly sloppy kiss there.
"Oh, God." As soon as Starsky pulled back, Hutch screwed up his face and strained to wipe the cheek against his shoulder. "Did you have to drool like that?"
"That drool," Starsky noted distinctly, "is to tell you I love you."
Hutch looked away, muttering, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." But, after a moment, he sighed contentedly. "Sometimes it seems like we're an old married couple."
"Yeah. If we're like this now, imagine what we'll be like ten years from now."
The blond had to chuckle at that thought. "We'll be even more like an even older, more married couple."
Starsky's brow furrowed, then he said, "You know what?"
"Lots of things, moron."
"It doesn't quite figure."
Hutch was intrigued at the others seriousness. "What?"
"After all that shit your father laid on you, you aren't.... Well, you know, I'd tend to think most guys who grew up like you did would have this big complex about trying to prove how macho they are. But you... you aren't running around trying to prove your masculinity."
Aren't I? Hutch wondered. All those girls. Playing the good guy, running around with a gun killing people in the name of Justice. And even with him and Starsky, he'd come to realize over the years that, generally, he liked to have the upper hand. He liked playing the parent to Starsky's child.
"I mean," Starsky went on gently, "it's kind of surprising that you let us do...," he shrugged, a bit sheepishly, "you know... this."
Wouldn't have missed it for the world, pal. But Hutch understood what his partner was saying and tried to find an answer. He shrugged. "Like I said, Starsk, there came a point where I just thought 'Fuck 'em'. I didn't care what my parents thought I should do, or be. I was hell-bent to make my own life, the way I wanted it. I guess I was one angry kid."
A tiny smile answered him. "l didn't have to be told all the other stuff to know that. It comes out in bits and pieces."
Truly, Hutch was surprised that Starsky had ever noticed. The other had never commented.
The blond was thoughtful a long moment. Then, while staring at the ceiling, he said in a small voice, "I have to admit, there's always been a little boy in me who wishes his mother would have given a damn that he did what he did."
Starsky studied him with puzzlement. "After what your father said, it's more important to have your mother care, than your father?"
Hutch shrugged. "Fathers aren't supposed to care, not on the outside, anyway. I never really expected much from him. But mothers...," he trailed off, suddenly finding it hard to speak. He had to take a quiet breath. Then, "Mothers are supposed to be, well, caring and warm and...all that shit." He met Starsky s eye. "I guess a part of me has always been puzzled as to what I did to deserve her indifference."
"Surely you realize by now the fault wasn't with you, buddy. Whatever qualities she lacked as a parent were her shortcomings, not yours."
Hutch's eyes lowered. "Yeah, I know." The blond's muscles were getting stiff, and he shifted barely pulling at the hands locked around his wrists, trying to give a hint.
Starsky grinned wolfishly. "Say uncle."
The taller man studied the other through the corner of his eye. If he gave in, then Starsky would let him up, and he wasn't sure he wanted that just yet. "Uh-uh," he replied easily.
The darker man had to think about that a moment. Then he threatened, "I'll kiss you again."
Hutch didn't really want that either, especially not the sloppy kind. "Uncle," he whispered.
Starsky's grin broadened. His hands released Hutch's, but as he shifted to one side, the blond reached for Starsk's back and gently pressed against his spine.
Starsky got the message, and chuckled softy as his lay beside his partner, letting his head and shoulders rest against the other's chest, part of which was left bare by the open buttons.
Hutch loosely wrapped his arms around the precious bundle of clothing and flesh. Thoughtfully, he said, "I've got to admit, there are times when I wish my parents could see what I've made of my life. See the successful career I've had, see the successful way I've handled my paltry—in their eyes, anyway—salary. See that I'm important, that I make a little bit of difference on the streets out there. See the special friend I've made...and kept."
Puzzled, Starsky said, "But you have told them, right? I mean, I know you don't go back to Minnesota very often, but when you do go back, you have to talk about something."
"They don't get it, Starsk. I've tried to share some of my life with them before, but it doesn't work, because they don't see it. Besides," he shrugged through a stab of pain his chest, "whatever growing respect they may have had for me went out the window after the divorce. They liked Van. When our marriage failed, it just validated everything they'd always felt about me." Hutch rubbed at his eyes. "Damn, I'm tired. Think maybe I'll turn in early. You stayin'?"
Starsky shrugged. "Sure. But I don't think I can sleep yet. Maybe I'll watch TV a while."
Starsky was so good at reading between the lines, Hutch thought. If he found he couldn't sleep and needed to babble some more, he could just come out and pin his partner in front of the tube. "Sorry there isn't any more beer."
"I'll live." Starsky straightened, and Hutch let him go. The darker man stood, stretching. "You ever gonna get off this floor?"
Hutch casually placed a hand behind his head. "No, I thought I'd sleep here while you watched the boob tube."
Hutch finally pulled himself into a sitting position, restraining a grunt. "You know something, Starsk? Your vocabulary is getting very limited these days."
His partner muttered something beneath his breath as he headed for the bathroom. Hutch didn't quite catch what it was, but it sounded somewhat like "dickhead". Chuckling to himself, the blond stood, carefully stretched and proceeded to bed.
Huggy placed two beers before Starsky. "Where's blondie?"
Starsky was fussing with the zipper of his windbreaker. "He had an errand up the street. He should just be a minute or two."
Huggy nodded. "Always looks kind of strange when just one of you sits here. After all, what's a Starsky without a Hutch?"
The curly haired man made a face. "Thanks, Huggy. I appreciate being told I'm only half a man."
"No, not half a one," the black man corrected easily. "It's just that together you two seem to be a third entity."
Finally the zipper was loose. "Jesus, Huggy, you make it sound like having a baby or somethin'."
"And you're making it very hard to be complimentin'. I think I'll just proceed and ask for your order."
"Good idea." Starsky settled back into his chair and put a leg up on the chair to his left. "The special?"
"Chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and peas."
The detective only had to think a moment. "Hutch'll eat that. Two specials."
"Comin' right up."
Instinctively, Starsky glanced around at the dinner crowd. The Pits wasn't very busy tonight; the place wasn't as smoky as usual. He shook his head. Create a third entity, huh? Yeah, I can see Hutch and I making a baby. Bored, he went on with the thought. The child would, well, be male, curly blond hair, blue eyes, be in between his and Hutch's individual heights, would have Starsky's natural instincts, and Hutch's brains. Hutch's charm. Starsky's charisma.
The curly haired man had to restrain a snort. With the way medical technology was going these days, maybe fifty or hundred years from now it would possible. Of course, it couldn't be a natural birth. Test tube or something. Yuck!
"You order yet or are you just watching dust collect on the walls?"
Starsky glanced up just as Hutch sat down in the chair to his right. "We're getting the chicken fried steak specials. That was fast. All fixed?"
Hutch pulled out the gold pocket watch. "Yeah. Good as new."
"Did it cost very much?"
Hutch shrugged as though the cost didn't matter. And Starsky supposed that was true. The watch had been passed down from his grandfather—the one relative that Hutch had a genuine fondness for.
"Hutch, if it were scientifically possible for two guys to have a kid, do you think you and I should have one?"
The blond blanched, then took on an expression of nausea. "Good Lord, Starsky, where do you come up with this stuff? What book are you reading now?"
The smaller man felt a bit annoyed that Hutch wouldn't take the question seriously. "It's not out of a book. Huggy just mentioned it, that's all, and..."
Huggy walked up with a tray. "I'll have you know that's not what I said, my man." He set plates before them, directing his words at the blond. "All I was sayin' was that you both are stronger together than you are apart."
Starsky looked at up him. "You specifically said we created a third 'entity'. That means person, living thing."
"I meant soul."
Hutch rolled his eyes. "I can't leave you two alone for a minute." Now an overly sweet smile. "If it's all right with the both of you, I'll just eat my dinner."
Huggy retreated, and Starsky called to the slim back, "'Soul' is a living thing, too, like a baby."
Hutch impatiently fussed with his silverware. "Starsky, where did all this baby stuff come from? You feeling maternal all of a sudden, or something?" He salted his food.
"Come on, Hutch," Starsky kicked at the other man's chair to keep his attention. "Humor me. If it were somehow possible, don't you think we should have a kid?"
"Starsky, to have a kid we'd have to have sex, not to mention that we're lacking in 50% of the necessary parts. Didn't anyone ever teach you the facts of life?"
The curly haired man made a face. "Come on, Hutch, you know more about this science stuff than I do. They're saying, just a few years from now, that couples who can't have children will be able to use a 'donor', stuff like that. They do it in a laboratory. The biological parents don't necessarily even have to see each other. So it doesn't have anything to do with sex sex."
Hutch was eating fast, as though trying to stuff down as much food as possible before the conversation made him thoroughly sick. "Starsky, why the hell would we want one?"
The smaller man sighed. Hutch was in one of his disagreeable, ultra-stubborn moods. "Because anyone with our combined best traits would be a great kid, a great person. Don't we owe that to society?"
Hutch grumbled something unintelligible. Then he asked, "Are you going to eat, or not?"
Starsky obediently started in. "I'm eating, I'm eating." He tried his best pout. "Geez."
Hutch shook a finger at him. "I'm not going to put up with that tonight."
Fine. If Hutch was going into his 'scolding parent' routine, then Starsky could whine with the best of them. "Whatsamatter with you, anyway?" His tone carried hurt.
Hutch opened his hands. "Starsky, I'd just like to eat my dinner in peace. That's all. I've had a long day, I'm tired, and I'd—"
"I've had a long day, too. And I'm tired, too. You don't work the streets by yourself, partner."
Now Starsky had his attention, for Hutch looked at him squarely. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Shit. The one comment that was truly half-assed, Hutch would have to take seriously. "Hutch, would you please stop being so sensitive? I'll shut up. Let's just eat." He dove into his food with purpose.
Hutch grunted and followed suit.
* * * * *
Later that night, Starsky hugged his windbreaker to his body, as he leaned back against his car staring out at the lone figure walking along the beach. The crisp, November air felt good to his lungs as he hoped it did to the solitary walker.
He'd dumped an only slightly less grumpy Hutch off at the blond's apartment, and then gone down the block to fill up the gas tank. By the time he'd finished checking the oil and cleaning the windshield he'd noticed a familiar silhouette making its way to the beach. Starsky had waited until the figure was far enough away, then drove to follow. He had no desire to interrupt the blond's solitude, just hoped to share in some of the fresh, sea air.
Starsky sat cross-legged on the hood of his car, chin in his hand, confident that he was well enough away from any lighting that Hutch could look in his direction and not see him.
Starsky, to have a kid we would have to have sex. Starsky restrained a chuckle. Hutch had said it like he expected to shock his partner to his senses, making him shrink back in terror, or some such.
Oh, buddy, if you only knew. Knew what, Starsky hadn't quite figured out yet. He just knew that he loved Hutch so much that sometimes he felt that he might burst. Thankfully, the big blond was needy enough that he could take lots and lots without feeling smothered by all those feelings that Starsky had to give.
At least, he hadn't appeared to feel smothered yet.
The curly-haired man sighed, wondering how much more love he had to give, how much more Hutch could take. It was confusing at times, loving Hutch so much. He took great satisfaction in moments when they could kid around, like when he'd kissed Hutch at the blond's apartment. Then there were other moments, when all the kidding around in the world didn't seem to be quite enough. And Starsky's heart would long to express itself further. But it wasn't sure how.
He wondered if it were possible to have a crush on someone you didn't really want to go to bed with. He supposed it was a moot point. This was one secret he was enjoying keeping from Hutch. For starters, it wasn't something he thought he could ever explain, because he wasn't sure where it had stemmed from or when it had started. He just knew that he wanted to be in the blond's company all the time. Once, a couple of years ago, they'd made a conscious effort to take their two-week vacations separate from each other. Not that they'd been fighting or anything; it just seemed that to truly be away from work, they should also be away from each other. Starsky had gone with a girlfriend to Mexico, and Hutch had taken one his few trips back to Duluth. Starsky had had fun at the beach, but it hit him the second day how much he missed his blond shadow, how much he wanted to share the fun with him. And, of course, Hutch hadn't enjoyed the trip to Duluth hardly at all. After the over-politeness of the first few days, things between he and his parents had been the same as always.
The thought of Hutch's parents turned Starsky's musings to the private little secret Hutch had revealed three months ago. That still hurt, knowing what Hutch had been through, and still not completely understanding how someone could ever allow themselves to get in that state of mind. And not being able to fix it and make it better. Whenever he thought about it too hard, Starsky tended to feel downright hostile toward Hutch's parents. But, then, he'd remind himself that such a cold upbringing contributed greatly to Hutch being the person he was. The person that Starsky loved. Surely, with a happier childhood, Hutch wouldn't want, or need, all the love Starsky had to give. And then they wouldn't have the special partnership they now enjoyed.
Starsky took a deep breath, noting peripherally that Hutch had turned around and was starting back. It would be at least ten minutes before the watcher would have to make his escape.
And the whole thing with Hutch's father... that was another reason Starsky was content to keep his overflow of feelings to himself. While it was true that Hutch seemed secure in his masculinity, Starsky couldn't afford the possibility of destroying that fragile armor by suggesting there might be some truth to what Hutch's father had suggested. Starsky had heard all that stuff about humans being bisexual, and cultural conditioning making them heterosexual, and he didn't know if it were true or not. Nor did he care. He just knew that he loved Hutch enough that if the other ever asked that from him, he was sure he would say yes. By the same token, he was secure in the knowledge that Hutch would never ask.
It would have been different, he decided, if Mr. Hutchinson had said to his son, "Are you a homosexual?" as a request for information, and using the answer as a way to deal with his son's troubles. But to ask if he was a "faggot" had, as Hutch had said, all kinds of negative and humiliating connotations. It was a horrible burden to put on anyone, especially your own kid.
Starsky wondered if Hutch ever agonized over the central meaning of the question. Did Hutch ever ask himself if he were gay! Between the two of them, Hutch was certainly the one most comfortable around gays. When undercover and such, Hutch was the one who received by far the most interest, and he'd always been cool about turning any such interest down. Whereas, Starsky would just get uptight, as though someone merely making a suggestion was in itself an act of rape.
Starsky had to admit he didn't care for the company of gays in general. He couldn't relate. And it wasn't for lack of effort. After John Blaine's death, he had done a little reading on the subject, trying to help himself understand it all more, so that he could treat homosexuality with the same ease that Hutch did. He never obtained the ease he'd striven for, but at least he'd found himself gaining a more educated perspective.
If it turned out that, deep down, subconsciously, Hutch were gay, or at least bisexual, then Starsky's perspective would adapt to whatever was necessary to keep loving him. There was nothing Hutch could do, or be, that would make Starsky turn away from him.
And, Starsky had to smile himself, it wasn't lost on him that his own feelings for Hutch put him very close to, if not right in, the same category that he found so uncomfortable. Well, he'd heard it said on some program once that being homosexual wasn't necessarily the same as "gay", for the latter referred to a lifestyle, not just a sexual preference. And he knew he wasn't gay. If being willing to sleep with Hutch made him bisexual or homosexual or whatever, then fine. Life was full of surprises. And he would take whatever surprises were offered, as long as Hutch was there with him to see it through.
The November air had done its job. Starsky got in the Torino and left the beach to his white knight.
Cindy Tenelli rejoined the two detectives at a table at the far end of The Pits. "Veronica can't make it," she said with disappointment. "Her father's been put back in the hospital with an ulcer and she's staying with him tonight."
Both men made noises of concern. Their plans for a double date were quickly falling apart.
"Is there anyone else you could call?" Hutch asked hopefully. "Do you have any other girlfriends who might be willing to join us?"
Cindy tossed her thick, blond hair and thought a moment. "Christie's studying for finals. And Tammy already has a date tonight." She shrugged with a what-can-I-do expression.
Starsky sighed while rocking back in his chair. "Well, I can be a sport tonight and bow out. I haven't gotten much sleep this week anyway, after all the undercover work I've been doing." He glanced at his partner, who would know the undercover bit a lie. "You owe me, okay?"
Hutch was obviously reluctant as he considered, then finally nodded.
"Hey, wait a minute," Cindy protested, "Dave doesn't have to leave."
"Three is a crowd," Starsky reminded.
Hutch quickly told her, "If you'd rather go with Dave, I can bow out."
Starsky tried not to make a face. Cindy was much more Hutch's type. He'd been looking forward to Veronica, whom he'd liked from a couple of prior dates. He'd rather go without than go with Cindy.
"I enjoy both your company," Cindy said, smiling in a way that made Starsky uncomfortable. "I mean," her voice became a bit coy, "I think I'm woman enough for both of you."
Hutch looked away while clearing his throat and Starsky simply looked away.
"Hey, guys," she whispered, "you know what would be sheer heaven for a liberated girl like me?"
Starsky continued looking away, desperately hoping she wasn't going to say what he thought she was going to say. He heard Hutch encourage her by asking, "No, what?"
Through the comer of his eye, the smaller detective saw Cindy grin leeringly. "I'd love to have you both... at the same time. How 'bout it, boys?"
"Well, uh...," Hutch began.
Starsky whipped around to face them both, expression hard. "No. Absolutely not." He shook a finger at her. "I ain't into any of that."
Her face fell. "Oh."
But Hutch was settling back, coolly sipping his beer. Casually, he said, "I'd hate to disappoint the lady, Starsk."
"Then find another guy," Starsky said firmly, hoping Hutch wasn't really serious. "There's plenty of 'em around, looking for kicks." He realized that his heart was pounding.
Hutch shrugged at him, then looked at Cindy. "I think that counts me out, too. I wouldn't want to do it with another guy." His smile became devious. "Now, if we could find another girl, I can handle a threesome like that anytime."
Starsky found his humor returning, relieved that his partner wasn't considering making it with another man. And he really couldn't believe that the blond was serious about doing it with him. He was probably just being polite by not immediately turning Cindy down. But Starsky knew Hutch would have no trouble with a threesome that was two-thirds female.
Cindy smiled back, but it was somewhat forced. "Well, as we know, I've struck out with lady friends tonight." She was looking around the bar, and then her eyes fell on someone in the distance "But, I think I see a man that I know." She looked from one to the other. "Excuse me, boys." She made her exit.
Silently, Starsky and Hutch watched her go up to a man and talk with him a short time. They left together a few minutes later.
"I think we hurt her feelings, Starsk."
"Yeah, well...," Starsky shrugged while looking at his partner. "Sorry I messed up your evening."
Hutch returned the gesture and the glance. "It's not your fault." He finished his beer. "Guess it's just you and me, buddy. Maybe we ought to go back to my place and catch the final quarter of the game." The football game was on the TV in the corner behind the bar, but their table had been too far away to watch any of it.
Starsky was beginning to feel claustrophobic, and going anywhere sounded good to him. "I'll get the tab," he said, standing and pulling out his billfold. He glanced at the clock and saw that it was already past nine. By the time they had made arrangements with Cindy and Veronica, gotten here and waited for Cindy, waited some more for Veronica, then waited for Cindy to call Veronica, nearly the whole evening had been wasted. The game would probably be over by the time they got home.
He left a pile of change on top of the bill, and he and Hutch made their exit to the back alley. They didn't speak as they got in the car, and Starsky realized he felt uneasy as he started the well-worn journey toward Venice Place. He tried to gauge Hutch's mood through the comer of his eye and couldn't read anything particular.
The blond asked, "Want to catch a flick?"
Starsky shrugged. "I don't think there's anything out that I wanna see." He didn't think he was disappointing Hutch, because the other wasn't really into movies. The question simply meant the other wasn't looking forward to a boring evening at home.
"You okay, partner?"
The question made Starsky smile. Mother Hutch. "Yeah, I'm okay. I've just been feeling a little under the weather." He sniffed, feeling obligated to say something to explain his unease. "Maybe I'm starting to catch that bug that's been going around." Lie, lie, lie.
Hutch leaned against the door and looked at him. "Maybe you ought to go home then and take care of yourself. If you get it in time, you might be able to fight it off."
Hutch sighed. "Well, if you're going to go home, do you mind stopping by a phone booth, so I can see if maybe Shauna is available tonight?"
"Sure. Shauna who?"
The fair-haired man shrugged. "I don't know."
"Tsk, tsk," Starsky scolded. Shauna was obviously good for a lay and nothing more. He'd never understood why Hutch was so hard up all the time. Hutch got it a lot more often than he did, and yet the blond seemed to be the one who felt most deprived.
The driver spotted a phone booth and pulled over. He waited patiently while Hutch spent over a minute fishing through his pockets for Shauna's number. Finally, he left the car and went to the booth.
When Hutch returned two minutes later, he was smiling. "Paydirt," he said as he got in. "She's free for the evening and meeting me at my place in twenty minutes. That ought to give me just enough time for a shower."
Starsky drove off, relieved that Hutch was going to get what he wanted tonight, even if it didn't appear to be from a great source. Doesn't even know her last name. Is she a lady of the night or what?
When they arrived at Venice Place, Hutch reached for the door handle. "Thanks, buddy. I hope you feel better." He got out of the car.
Starsky couldn't bear the thought of them separating for the night when he still felt a sense of unease. Making a quick decision, he also got out. "Hey," he called over the hood.
The blond had just closed the door and turned to face him.
How do I say this? Starsky wondered. "Hey, uh, listen."
Interest piqued, Hutch rested his forearms against the hood. "Yeah!"
"Look, Hutch, about what Cindy said... about the three of us..."
The blond nodded once. "Yeah?"
He's not making this any easier. "Look, I just want you to know... I like privacy and all."
Hutch seemed to consider that, then waited for more.
"I know we've done some... well, you know... sort of kinky things with girls in the past, but that's not really my scene."
Levelly, the taller man said, "I know. So?"
"Well...," Starsky fidgeted, desperately searching for the right words, "I just don't want you thinkin' that I was offended by it, or anything." The blond's expression was still blank enough to be of no help. "I mean, I wasn't put off by, you know, being with you. I just didn't think it was a good idea." He gestured helplessly as he trailed off, desperate for Hutch to catch his meaning.
A tender smile crossed the full lips. "I didn't think you were offended. Or 'put off'. You've never really liked Cindy much."
"Right." He was glad Hutch realized that. Yet, that wasn't the point. "I just don't want any threeways, Hutch. I don't like it like that. I mean, even with two girls."
A lip corner twitched. "Yeah. Whatever. No problem."
Starsky studied his partner a moment longer, reassuring himself that the soft smile was genuine. "Yeah. Okay. Have fun. See ya tomorrow."
Hutch waved and turned away.
Relieved, Starsky got back in the car and started home.
Two nights later, Starsky was awakened by the telephone. His first subconscious thought was He needs me. But following that was the subconscious reminder that it had been over two years since the heroin incident, and Hutch's painful relapses were well in the past.
As he reached for the receiver, Starsk's conscious mind wondered Oh no, who died?
"'lo?" he managed, the bedside clock corning into focus to read 2:10 am.
He sat up as he recognized the voice on the other end. It sounded quiet and hollow. "Hutch? What is it?"
A pause. Then again, "Starsk?"
Voice clearer now, Starsky worriedly said, "Right here, buddy. Is it happening again?" Maybe relapses could still happen years later.
"Huh? Oh. No." The other now seemed embarrassed. "No, nothing like that."
Impatiently, the awakened man said, "What is it, Hutch? Are you okay?"
"Uh, yeah. I'm okay. Uh, listen, my mother called just a bit ago."
Starsky clutched the receiver closer. "And?"
"My father died a few hours ago from a heart attack."
The smaller detective's eyes squeezed shut. "Oh, God. Oh, God, Hutch. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Memories of his own father's death flooded him, and he hunched over in the bed.
He thought he detected a faint laugh on the other end. "It's okay, Starsk. But, listen, I've made a reservation for a flight to Duluth at six-ten this morning. So, I'm going to be gone a few days—not sure how long I'll be. So if you can just let Dobey know..."
"Sure, sure." Starsky straightened. "Listen, sit tight. I'm coming right over."
"No, don't do that. I'm okay. I mean, it's not like we were close or anything. I'm okay."
"I'm coming over, anyway. Besides, you'll need someone to drop you off at the airport."
"Hutch, I'm COMING. See you in a sec." Starsky slammed down the phone and began tearing off his pajamas. He was puzzled as to why Hutch was being so stubborn. Surely, it wasn't pride. Hutch had never hesitated to call when he had suffered from residual after-affects of the heroin withdrawal, and that was about as humiliating an experience as a human being could be put through.
Hutch hadn't sounded like himself on the phone, though Starsky understood that it always seemed so hard to give someone else bad news, even when it didn't effect them as much as you.
He didn't bother with grooming, but simply pulled on the pair of jeans he'd worn earlier in the day, and grabbed a t-shirt. Within five minutes, he was on his way through the well-driven path.
Before trotting up the stairs to the apartment, he saw that most of the lights were on. He knocked once, then let himself in.
Hutch was sitting on the couch in his orange robe, bare feet on the coffee table, chin in his hand, the elbow of which rested on the arm of the sofa. "Hi, buddy," he greeted with a soft smile.
No liquor, no tears, Starsky noted as he approached. He didn't know if that was good or bad.
"You really didn't need to come."
'Well, I'm here now," Starsky said firmly, plopping down on the couch beside Hutch.
"I'm really okay."
Starsky didn't want to start that argument. He rested his elbow on back of the couch and conversationally asked, "What about your mother?"
Hutch considered the question. "She seemed... okay. Maybe in shock. I doubt it's really hit her yet. It just happened a few hours ago."
"Did your father have any history of heart trouble?"
"Mm...," Hutch was thoughtful, then sighed. "Yeah, I guess he had a mild attack about three years ago. I don't know if there might have been some problems since."
Curiously, Starsky asked, "When was the last time you saw him?"
More silence while Hutch thought. "I guess two years ago; that time you and I took separate vacations."
"You haven't talked to him since then?"
Hutch's eyes narrowed as he thought harder. Then, distantly, he replied, "I think I did. Yeah, maybe eight or nine months ago, he called and told me about some stock that he thought was a really good deal." The blue eyes looked at Starsky. "It was some new company just getting off the ground, and he wanted all his friends and family to know about it."
"Did you buy any of it?"
Hutch shook his head. "Nah. I meant to check it out, but...," he waved a hand, "I never got around to it."
"Did you talk about anything else?" Starsky hoped he wasn't prying too much. But Hutch didn't seem to mind.
The blond looked at the ceiling. "No, I think that was about it." Then, voice a tad harder, "We never could hold much of a conversation together." Hutch's feet shifted a little on the coffee table.
After a moment of silence, Starsky bowed his head and sighed heavily. "Aw, Hutch, I'm sorry."
The other man glanced away, his sigh quieter. "Yeah, I know." Then he looked at his partner. "It seems kind of funny, me going to Duluth to do the proper family thing... bury my father. But I," he shrugged wearily, "just don't feel like much of a son. It's going to be kind of awkward."
"Your mother needs you right now," Starsky said firmly.
"Yeah, maybe. Maybe not."
Hutch snorted softly. "You don't know how it is. Your family was always so close-knit."
Starsky shook his head and softly said, "But not perfect, Hutch. All families have their skeletons."
The blond presented a twisted smile. "Yeah, I guess."
They were silent, then Starsky slid next to his partner. He put an arm around the robed shoulders. "Come 'ere."
Hutch shook his head, as though knowing it was no use to protest, and let himself be pulled against the smaller body. "I'm really okay."
"But I'm not," Starsky told him. "It brings it all back—what it was like when my father died. I know it's not the same, Hutch. Still..."
"Sorry, buddy," the blond stated gently. He rested his cheek against the other shoulder. After a moment, he hesitantly asked, "When I called you, did you think I was... Did you think it was a relapse?"
"I wasn't sure. You just sounded... funny."
"Yeah," the other drawled in admittance. "I wasn't sure how to tell you. I knew you'd take it harder than me."
Starsky had to smile at the irony of that.
Hutch straightened and laid his head back against the sofa, staring at the ceiling. "I guess I don't have to wonder anymore if I should ever tell my father I thought he was a son of a bitch."
"Never did, huh?"
A firm head shake. "Nope. I've thought I would, before. But the moment I'm in his presence, I go back to be that weak little boy." He paused. "I guess it's good that I'll never be able to tell him now, huh? Because it wouldn't have solved anything." He slowly shook his head. "I don't even think it would have made me feel better." A soft snort. "It would have just made me a son of a bitch, too."
"You're already a son of a bitch," Starsky told him, then amended, "In some ways, anyway."
The blond looked squarely at him. "That's what I've always liked about you, buddy: your honesty. You cut right to the core of it. No bullshit."
The smaller man grinned. "Somebody's got to keep you in line. Otherwise, your vanity..." He trailed off.
Hutch put on an air of arrogance and blew on his nails. "Vain, you say?" he asked in a poor imitation of a British gentleman. "You don't know the meaning of the word."
Starsky chuckled. "Your British sucks."
"Fuck you." Perfect American.
"Well," Starsky hesitated, relishing the moment, and wishing he wasn't here for such a serious reason, "if you really want to..."
"Buddy, you're crude. Very crude."
Hutch worked his jaw a moment, then glanced at his partner again, voice quieter. "If you're waiting for a waterfall, it's ain't gonna happen. At least not now. If it hits me later, when I'm back in town...," he shrugged, "I'll give you a call and you can watch the show."
Starsky made a face. He got the feeling he was being pushed away. Softly, he pleaded, "Hutch, come on."
The blue eyes were back on the ceiling. 'You want to know what I'm feeling right now?"
"Really and truly?"
"Really and truly."
Hutch's jaw firmed and his eyes lowered to the coffee table. "I'm relieved that he's gone." He looked at Starsky. "How's that for honesty?"
Starsky shrugged. "It's understandable." And you know damn well it's much more complicated than that.
"I don't have to worry anymore about what he thinks of me. It's over."
"Except for the memories," Starsky reminded quietly.
Hutch thought about that, gaze on a far wall. Then, voice less firm, he said, "And he'll never know about me, that I've done okay with my life." He shook his head in what appeared to be a mixture of frustration and sadness. "He'll never know that I'm really an okay person." Suddenly, a pale foot shoved against the edge of the table, scooting it forward a few inches. "He'll never know."
Starsky watched, wishing desperately that he had the tools to fix it and make it all better. Quietly he suggested, "Maybe he did see all that. Maybe he was downright proud of you and he never had the courage to tell you that. Maybe he didn't know how to say it."
Hutch firmly shook his head, but his voice was calmer. "No, no. I know he never changed his mind about me." A bitter snort. "Besides, if by some miracle he had, I'll never know about it, so what's the difference?"
Starsky had no answer. "Yeah," he finally admitted, wishing he'd had the opportunity to tell Mr. Hutchinson a thing or two.
Hutch took a deep breath, and softly said, "Aw, Starsk, this is all pointless. He's gone, and that's all there is to it."
Starsky kept silent.
Hutch sighed. Then, "Hey, I think I'm going to try to sleep a few hours."
Starsky nodded, well knowing that Hutch was just going to lie there and stare at the ceiling. But, after all, that's probably what the other needed to do. "Okay," he said, kicking off his shoes and lying back on the sofa pillow.
Hutch, now on his feet, watched him. "Want a blanket?"
The blond padded to a closet and pulled out a quilt. He came back over to the couch and draped it over his visitor.
"Thanks." Then, as Hutch turned away, Starsky reached to take his hand. "Hey."
Hutch turned back. "Hm?"
Starsky squeezed firmly.
The standing man's eyes lowered, a tiny smile lighting his face.
Starsky squeezed again, then released the hand. "You gonna get the lights?"
Hutch lightly patted Starsky's quilted chest. "Yeah." He moved to the wall, and the lights went out.
Hutch went to the bedroom, and the apartment was silent the remainder of the night.