This story was originally published in Uncharted Waters. This story is closer to the version of Circle's End the author had originally written. However, comments she received on the original Circle's End made her decide to rewrite that story and its published version appears here on the Archive as it appeared in Code 7 #4. Several years later, she went back to her original story, rewrote it, and had it published in Uncharted Waters. Comments can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
It's four in the morning an' I'm sitting here, all alone in this big empty house, trying not to think about the past. It ain't easy. The whole place feels like it's crammed with memories - some mine, some his - all crowding in to haunt me. I keep seeing faces in the shadows, faces that can't be there, and hearing voices, whole conversations that I know took place years ago. Maybe I'm finally goin' nuts an' any minute now I'll wake up in a room in Cabrillo State.
I wish I could wake up, find this was all a bad dream, but deep down I know that ain't gonna happen this time. You only get so much luck in your life, an' mine ran out ten hours and thirty-six minutes ago. Face it, Starsky, the cavalry ain't gonna come riding over the hill this time. You're on your own.
On my own? That's a hoot. I've been on my own most of my life. It's like my life is this great ocean of loneliness stretching as far as you can see, with all these little islands floating in it. They're the times when I wasn't so lonely. That big island over there - that was my childhood, when Nicky an' me were growing up on 84th Street. Before my dad was killed. And over there is Army Island, when I was in 'Nam. Made a lotta good buddies in 'Nam. Same with Academy Island - that's where I met Hutch. Then there's the People Islands, named after all the people I've loved one way or another, Like Ma and Terry, Huggy Bear. See that big one over there? The one with the golden sand all around it an' the big patch of blue overhead? That's Hutch Island, the biggest and the most beautiful of all my islands. I spent a lot of time there over the years, fell in love there - I mean really in love - for the first, and last, time.
I've known some beautiful ladies in my life and I've been in love with some of them, but none of them comes close to what I feel for my partner, Ken Hutchinson. He was more than a partner, more than just special - he was my life, my soul, and when the two of us were together it was like we were invincible. Nothing could touch us - or so we thought. We watched each other's backs, laughed together when things went right an' cried together when they didn't, and in between it all we fell in love. We were lovers for almost four years.
I guess it started to change the day Gunther's goons shot me. Being reminded of your mortality like that can really screw up your sense of reality. I came that close to buyin' the farm. I recovered - wouldn't be here now if I hadn't - but it changed things forever.
No ... I can't blame it all on Gunther. I guess, if I'm honest, it started before that. A long time before. I shoulda seen the signs when we had that trouble over Kira - Hutch didn't love her any more than I did, it was just his way of trying to show me how he really felt about our relationship - but then things quietened down again, got back to normal ... whatever that was. I still thought it was gonna work out for us. We talked about the future, what we were gonna do once we'd put in our twenty an' I told him all I wanted to do was settle down someplace quiet, with him. From the way he talked I thought he wanted the same.
Then it all fell apart - I won't bore you with the details, but we had a case that went wrong, a guy we were supposed to be protecting was killed. We quit, made this Grand Gesture and chucked out badges in the ocean. Of course, in the end we went back. Well, it was all we knew. All I knew.
It was soon after that I was shot, an' it was just after I got out of the hospital that Hutch disappeared. I couldn't do much about it at first, not till I was well enough to get around, but soon as I could I went looking for him.
It was Spring when I finally caught up with him, in a singles bar in Duluth, three months and five days after I set out from LA At least, according to the calendar it was Spring - the weather seemed to be having a hard time deciding. I felt like I'd traveled through every possible climate, in every state, lookin' for him, an' my head had gone through so many time changes jet- lag was a way of life. I slept when I was too tired to go on, ate when I was hungry, and in between the two I traveled, regardless of the time of day. Amazing what some people will put themselves through in the name of love.
Even now I can't believe two grown men could wreck ten years of friendship over a dumb misunderstanding, but that's the way it happened. She walked back into my life like a ghost from the past, reminding me of what Hutch called my 'innocent youth' (was I ever?) - then walked out again, taking with her the only thing in the world that mattered to me. Hutch. Okay, so it was as much my fault for losin' my cool and not listening to reason, an' when she finally came to me and told me what happened I knew I was in the wrong. But that didn't stop it hurting. Trouble was, by the time I reached their apartment in San Diego, Blondie'd taken off for places unknown.
I spent the next three months tracking down every ex-girlfriend of his I could think of, every pal from the academy and even the few college buddies I'd met - anyone I thought might take him in. Zilch. No-one had seen him or heard from him in months. In the end there was only one other place to look.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't under any illusions. I'd never met Stephen Hutchinson but I'd picked up enough from the little Hutch had told me to know the man had done something to turn his own son against him. Guess that's another mistake to add to the list of Starsky's Greatest Errors. Still, family is family - the worst he could do was throw me out.
By the time I reached Duluth I was just about bottomed out. No money, no car, no job or apartment to go home to. I'd let the lot go. Well, you can't travel on goodwill these days. Make or break time: either I found Hutch and we put things right, or ... I wasn't ready to think about the alternatives. I won't deny I was scared. I mean, I wasn't even sure if the man would know who I was! Or how much, if anything, Hutch had told him about us.
I understand so much more now, about what caused the rift between them and, believe me, not all of it was Stephen's fault. But I'll save that story for some other time, except to say that the man did everything within his power to help me find Hutch. No expense spared. I never actually told him what the relationship between us had been, but I got the feeling that by the time I left he'd worked it out for himself. Guess my concern did make it a bit ... obvious.
Anyhow, we eventually tracked Hutch down to a little place on the outskirts of the city. I shoulda known he'd try somethin' like that - hidin' right under our noses. When I asked him about it later he said he knew it was the last place I'd think to look. I went to the apartment first, but he was out. The girl across the hall couldn't be certain but she thought he used a bar a couple of blocks over, one of those places with soft lights and music. It was almost empty when I got there, everybody tucked up at home away from the snow. That night was for the lonely and homeless, an' as I sat in a booth near the door I couldn't help hoping Hutch would be one of them.
An hour and two drinks later I was startin' to give up hope. Maybe he was breaking with routine ... Maybe he had a date someplace else ... Maybe ...
The door opened, sighed shut again, and a solitary figure walked up to the bar, ordered vodka with a twist. I didn't need to look, I knew that voice better than I knew my own. For two full minutes I sat there, staring', too shit scared to even move. It was crazy! After all the weeks of searching, city to city, coast to coast, with only a few memories and half-baked ideas for company - I'd found him. Hutch was here ... an' all I could do was sit frozen in my seat. Crazy.
I'd picked the table well. From there I could see all except the farthest end of the bar, without him being able to see me. Gave me the time I needed to get my head together. He was lookin' good; he'd lost weight - a good twenty pounds I'd guess - but it suited him, gave him back that lean, prowling look. His hair was shorter, too, like the old days, but still that beautiful pale gold that made him stand out in a crowd. The memories hit then; the scent of that hair newly- washed, the feel of it in my fingers, soft against my skin, and the way it twisted into tiny damp curls at the nape after we made love.
I don't recall standing up, or walking to the counter, but a moment later I was by his side, watching his profile for any change as I said 'hello'. I was shakin' like a hid hauled up in front of the principal, a squadron of butterflies dog-fightin' in my stomach and my knees had turned to Jell-O. He recognized my voice right away, I could tell. There was a slight change in his position, a turn of his head then, very softly, he said my name.
"The one an' only," I replied. "How ya doin' Hutchinson?"
He turned then an' I saw the surprise - and the joy - in his eyes. Right then I woulda sold my soul for the chance to hold him, feel the strength and the love I'd been missing for so long. But for me it was too soon ... For Hutch it was too late. There was too much history between us. A Shadow crossed his eyes, and I knew the moment had gone.
"Ah ... I'm - I'm fine." He looked at me like he thought he was imagining the whole thing, like maybe he was daydreaming. Then, "Starsky ... What the hell are you doing here?"
I told him I was just visiting. Vague, I know, but I'd just gotten my first good look at his face - a face I knew so well, but hardly recognized now. He was slimmer, neater - good points - but he was also older. In a year he had seemed to age ten. He'd shaved off the cookie duster, leaving lines around his mouth, sad lines I didn't recall seeing there before. They were round his eyes, too, fanning out from the dark thumb prints beneath, giving him the look of someone who'd gone through a lotta pain. I coulda cried, 'cause I knew I'd done that to him. The spark was gone, that special fire that drove him on when everything else was falling apart, and I'd taken it from him, 'cause I was too damn' busy feelin' sorry for myself.
"What?" I said, suddenly realizing he was talking to me again.
"I asked who you were visiting."
I'd taken time on the way over to work out answers to some of the questions I knew he was gonna ask. "Just a guy I grew up with," I lied ... But then, was it so much of a lie? I reckon I'd grown up more in my years with Hutch than in all the time before. Grown, expanded, become a whole, independent being and not just the shadow of a dead father's dream. I sure had a nice way of repaying him for those years.
"Few days. Girl in your block told me where to find you. I heard about Alison ... I'm sorry." I couldn't tell him that Alison herself had confessed to walking out on him rather than destroy the little peace he had left. Didn't think he was ready to understand that much. The way he was seeing it, the last two people he'd trusted had turned away from him when he needed them most. It would take a lot to win back that trust.
"Yeah?" he said, one word, expressionless, as he turned to watch the reflection of the room in the bar mirror.
"I mean it," I told him. "I really thought it was gonna work out right for you this time."
"Well, it didn't." Before I could say more he called the barman over. "You want a drink? ... Same again, Harve, and a beer for my buddy ... 'less you want something stronger."
I told him beer would be fine. I still couldn't drink much - the business with Gunther changed a lot of things.
"Heard you're off the streets now," he said, like he was tryin' to keep the conversation going' but couldn't think of anythin' to talk about. "Huggy said something about the Academy...x"
Huggy? The bastard! He told me he didn't know where Hutch had gone. "'S right. Dobey fixed it, called in a few favours." What I didn't tell him was how, after he'd gone, I couldn't face goin' back on the streets without him beside me. I've worked with other guys when Hutch was sick, but that was only temporary. They wouldn't let me work alone an' I wasn't takin' on a new partner, so the only other way to stay on the force was to transfer. Don't think it woulda worked out too well long term, though. I'd spent too many years kicking against the rules to be able to stand up in front of a class of rookies and tell them 'this is what the book says you should do ... ' Hutch and me, we'd thrown the book away a long time ago.
"You like it there?" he asked.
"It's okay. Rewarding in a way. At least all the stuff we learned on the streets ain't goin' to waste ... How about you? Find anything yet?"
He told me he was working for a security firm, as a courier. It was mostly documents, stuff like that, with occasional packages of gemstones an' other valuables. All legal, he assured me, an' I wasn't about to doubt him. Hutch would be the last guy to get involved in anything shady. "They've got me working with this young guy. Andy. We've got a good arrangement; I teach him how to stay alive, he shares his address book with me. Shows me the 'in' scene."
He sounded so bitter. Reminded me of the day on the beach, when we watched our badges being swallowed up by the waves, the way we were bein' swallowed up by all the shit around us. The only thing that seemed real that day was us, what we shared, but even that was gone now. Y'know, when my brother, Nick, heard about it later he said we were dumb not to quit while we were ahead. I guess he was right for once.
"Can't be that bad," I said, trying to cheer him up.
He looked at me an' there was an expression in his eyes I thought I'd never see again. "Partner, you got no idea." He snorted a laugh. "An' I used to think LA was the pits ... "
If he said more, I didn't hear it. My mind had fastened on that one word - Partner - like a limpet to a rock. Partner. After all we'd been through, all the changes, was it possible he still thought of me that way? I'd never doubted my own loyalty to what we'd been, but Hutch was the injured party - he'd reached out for a little happiness and I'd forced him into a corner - he had the right to resent me. Seems like loyalty's a stronger bond than anger. Maybe there was still a chance to salvage something, if we could get away someplace quiet an' have a long talk.
"Can we get outta here?" I asked.
He looked at me, puzzled, then away again. "What for?"
"We said all there was to say. Let it rest in peace, Starsk."
"Nuh-uh. I'm a fighter, remember? Pop always said if you want somethin' bad enough you go fight for it, forget everything else, no matter what it costs. I never agreed with him till now." He started to protest but I shut him off. "You got transport or do we call a cab? My hotel's not far ... "
He sighed, an' I knew I'd won the first round. "My place is closer - unless you'd rather be on neutral ground."
"Neutral ground is for war zones. We at war ... Partner?" The word came naturally, like it had that first morning in Dobey's office, about a thousand years ago. It felt good.
So did walking down the street at his side, shoulder to shoulder. Funny how easily we slipped into the old routines of shadow-watching for each other. Couldn't help thinking back to one of our first stakeouts, when we'd spent the night talkin' about what we were gonna be like in twenty years. Funny how much a dream can change in a decade.
Before I knew it, we were at his apartment. "It's not much," he apologized as he let us in. "What didn't come with the place I begged and borrowed from people at work. Soon as I find a place I like I'll have Huggy send the rest of my stuff."
Not if I can help it, I told myself. "That'll please him. He's starting to get nightmares about bein' eaten alive by all your damn' plants!" When I saw the huge potted fern in the corner of the room I couldn't help askin' if it was a house-guest or a member of the immediate family. I guess it was nerves, but he started giggling an' whispered that it was really the landlord, an' how he met this little old lady in the laundromat who sold him a potion ... Coupla minutes later we were both doubled over with laughter. "Guess it beats hell outta paying the rent," I suggested.
It felt good to laugh again, hadn't done much of that since he'd been gone. I useta lie awake nights, rememberin' all the times we cracked each other up over some dumb joke. Good times. Thinkin' about it brought all the old aches back again, but it was the wrong time to let go. I shoulda known I'd never hold out ...
I needed a minute alone, so I asked where the bathroom was. I stepped through the bedroom door into a world so achingly familiar it was like someone jabbing a butcher's knife into my memory, slicing it to the bone. This was Hutchinson-gone-native: solid furniture, hand- worked blankets, enough greenery to fill a glasshouse ... Just like that first night, in the little motel on the Mexican border, when we finally stopped hiding how much we needed each other. Great place for a honeymoon ... maybe one day we'd go back there.
I coulda handled the memories, even though they hurt - I'd got used to the pain by then. But as I passed the nightstand, on the way to the bathroom, I saw one thing that just - wiped out what little control I had left.
If it had been anything else ... I can still remember that night, playin' - trying to play - Monopoly, waiting for the clock to chime twelve ... cryin' in his arms ... hurting over him the way he was hurting over me, like the pain was chasing itself in circles ... Terry's words, Hutch's voice - Please, love them both ... Don't let either of them change ...
Can't remember much of what happened next. One minute I saw Hutch standing in the bathroom doorway, lookin' kinda fuzzy round the edges, then he was sitting there beside me, arms around me, tellin' me not to cry, that everythin' was gonna work out. It hurt. I hadn't cried like that since the night Terry died. I couldn't breathe, couldn't think ... Just sat there, holding onto him like my life depended on it. Maybe it did. I just knew, right then, that I wanted him more than I had ever wanted anything in my life before. He was mine an' nothin' and no-one was gonna take him away again!
After a while he pushed me away, very gently, and looking into his eyes was like staring into the sun. There were tears on his face - mine or his? It didn't matter, not then. Not ever. His presence was the only truth I needed.
Then he kissed me. He was gentle at first, using his lips to feel my face the way a blind man uses his fingers. Oh God! I thought I was gonna melt right there on the spot! I was already reaching for him when he pushed me away, shaking his head like he was trying to deny what he'd done. He pulled free and backed away to the window, illusion of escape.
"God ... I'm sorry ... I-I never meant ... "
"Hutch, don't. There's no need - "
"Yes there is. Starsky, we can't do this. There's too much between us now."
I was losing him again. Hutch always had this thing about guilt. Anything went wrong, he always blamed himself. The morning after we became lovers he vanished into his shell and would've stayed there for good if I hadn't persuaded him there were better things to do with a vacation ...
"Hey!" I said. "Weren't you the one always tellin' me to live for the future?"
"What future? I threw our future away the day I chose Alison over you."
He was sinking fast, determined to hide away in his cozy little world of self-pity while the rest of life passed him by. But without thinking he had given me a way in. Self pity was something I knew a lot about. "Can't do that," I told him. "Maybe you can put it on hold for a while, give yourself time to think, but it's always there, waiting for you."
"What if I don't want it?"
"Who says you get a choice?" I'd been edging closer to him all the time we were talking and he hadn't seemed to notice. Standing in front of him I stretched out my hand to him, trailing my fingers through his hair, following the line down to his cheek, raising my other hand to cup his face between them, forcing him to look at me. Old and tired, but still so beautiful. "I musta been crazy to let you walk out on me."
He stared at me for a long time, his eyes picking up the red and green flashes from a neon sign across the street. Then I felt him swallow and his hands came up, hot against my own face. "I musta been crazy to go," he whispered.
"Fine pair we make," I laughed and after a moment he joined in. I guess we both knew there was no way back from there. There was only one way to end it.
"Starsk ... We should talk first."
I know I shoulda listened to him, but I was past that. "Later," I said. "We've wasted enough time." I could feel the fear reverberating between us, like it was that first night all over again. I saw the answer, the hunger in his eyes; but the last barrier belonged to him. I'd come so far, done all I could to put things right, but the final decision was his. Ever heard that expression about every second feeling like an eternity? Well, it was true for me as I waited for him. Then, suddenly, he bowed his head and sighed, and I knew ...
"I want you," he whispered. "I never stopped wanting you ... "
Looking back I can see all the things we did wrong, all the times we shoulda given it more thought, but when you're on a runaway train you don't stop to wonder why the brakes don't work. Act now, think later an' to hell with the consequences. Good thing that wasn't the way we worked.
There are a lot of things I can't remember about that night, and a lot of things I can. One of the best, the one that still sends shivers through me when I think about it, is that first moment when we climbed into his bed and settled into each other's arms. Y'know, that was the first time he'd held me like that since the night before I was shot - fourteen months before.
We've always been a pretty even match in bed, no hassle over who's gonna be on top, whose turn it is. We play it by instinct. But that night something in me needed to submit to him completely. I had my own guilt to work out, my own omissions to atone for. But it was more than that. I needed to show him that I was still alive, and that whatever had gone wrong in the last year it was all over.
I was scared, too. Once I was well enough to pick up what the doctors called a normal 'active' life, the only person I wanted to be active with wasn't around any more. I'd tried it with a couple of girls, but that didn't work out too well. Stage fright. Once - just once when I was really down - I thought about going with another guy. I've never thought of myself as gay, never wanted anyone but Hutch, but something dark and vindictive inside me kept tellin' me one body was just like another, all I had to do was close my eyes ... We got as far as the bar door before my conscience won the argument. After that I just couldn't be bothered.
Now, of course, I don't know what the hell I was worried about. The moment he touched me I caught fire, and when he wriggled down beside me an' that familiar mouth went to work ... Oh man, does he know how to turn a guy on! I thought I was never gonna come down off the ceiling. I didn't need telling it was good for him too. I was surprised the neighbours didn't come around to see who was gettin' murdered or, worse still, call the cops. That woulda made some headline ...
Some time around one in the morning he finally took pity on me an' let me rest. I managed a cat-nap, but I was too keyed up for anything more. Tossed and turned for a few hours before I woke up properly. Hutch was stretched out beside me, eyes closed, relaxed - like we'd never been apart. His hair was all mussed up and some of the lines on his face had gone, like makin' love together had taken the strain away. We still had problems, an' there was a lotta explaining to do - on both sides - but there'd be time enough for that later.
I began to stroke his body, from the curve of shoulder as far down his thighs as I could reach without moving, an' I couldn't help smiling every time I touched one of those sticky patches on skin. I was kinda lookin' forward to the shower we both needed. For a moment I was tempted to take him asleep - we'd done it a couple of time in the past an' he never complained - but sometimes things got a bit out of hand an' we were still too unsure of each other. Anyhow, I wanted him with me, wanted to watch those baby blues go wild again, so I settled instead for some slow, sexy kisses an' he was just beginning to respond in kind -- when I felt him grab hold of my shoulders and push me away.
I froze right where I was, my hand still curled around his cock, feeling the beginning of panic in the back of my mind. "What?" I said.
"Don't," he repeated. "Not now."
Trouble. I shoulda guessed it could happen. If he felt bad about our affair before then this could turn out to be the guilt trip of a lifetime. Well, at least I had ten years experience to back me up ... all we had to do was find the cause behind it. Step one; get the pair of us onto firmer ground.
"You're right," I said, calm as I could.
"I am?" I sense him looking at me. He hadn't expected that.
"Yeah. Last night was terrific - " I paused long enough to give him the Blue Ribbon David Starsky Leer, then ; " - but now we need to have that talk."
"Don't you think it's a bit late for that?"
I ignored the sarcasm in his voice and began to dress. "Fine conversation we woulda had, me with my concentration in my pants. You oughta know what I'm like by now. Gonna begrudge me a little reassurance?"
"Reassurance? Of what?"
"That you still wanted me that way. Give me something to fight for."
He laughed, but this time there was no pleasure in it. "What you mean is, it's harder for me to back off now."
"I never said that - !"
"But it's true. Last night I think I could have walked away from you ... now I'm not so sure."
The little thread of doubt in his voice hurt like hell, but I'd made up my mind - I wasn't going down without a struggle. "Get your pants on," I said. "I'll fix us some coffee."
The kitchen clock told me it was three-forty-five in the morning. I pulled back the drapes; it was still dark outside. Cold, too: there'd been fresh snow in the night. Ten minutes later he came out of the bedroom, his hair all wet from the shower - and my heart sank through the floor.
"Find everything okay?"
"Uh-huh. You're as predictable as ever, babe." I poured coffee and pushed his cup across the table.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just what it says - a place for everything an' like that." He didn't answer.
We sat in silence for a long time, drinking our way through the pot of coffee, Hutch chomping on some stale cookies I found at the back of the cupboard. There was a distance between us, like casual acquaintances with nothing to say once the usual amenities are dispensed with. Anyone watching us woulda found it hard to believe we'd been lovers so long. All the fancy speeches I'd been practicing vanished into thin air. This needed honesty, not clever words. "Hutch, please ... " I said at last. "I can't take this hate between us. It's gonna work out."
"Matter of fact, yes I do."
He answered with a sigh, shaking his head. "Wish I had your confidence." Without warning the anger was back, brutal, narrowing his eyes to glittering slits. "Why the hell did you come looking for me?"
Honesty. "I told you already. I - "
"Not that! I mean the real reason, dammit!"
I was gettin' mad now. Never did like bein' called a liar, 'specially by him. "That is the real reason ... Unless you can think of a better one. Hutch, we were lovers for four years. I happen to think that's worth fighting for."
His eyes were cold, an' when he spoke I felt the butcher's knife twisting in my heart again. "That why you gave me that little ultimatum? You or Alison, that's what you said."
"No!" I could handle his bitterness, his accusations, but no way was I gonna sit there an' let him twist my words to suit his needs. "I said if you and Alison had somethin' special goin' I wasn't gonna stand in your way."
"Same thing - "
"Nuh-uh. The choice was yours, lover ... I just never thought you'd walk out without another word."
"Would you have listened if I'd tried?"
Would I? Maybe not - I don't know. Never was much good at hindsight. But the ball was back in my court, an' Hutch was waitin' for an answer. I reached across the table and covered his hand with mine, grateful when he didn't pull away. "Talk to me now, love. Tell me what happened ... Make me understand."
But I insisted - I had to, 'cause now I knew what was wrong. In all those weeks at the hospital, and after, we'd never really talked about the shooting, how it was gonna change us. Oh, we talked about the event, about Gunther and his motives, an' about all the things we were gonna do when I was well again - but we never discussed how it would affect us. There had always been a kinda unspoken fear of the risks before - somethin' all cops learn to live with in time - but when the fear becomes a reality it can do weird things to your sense of perspective. Fancy words? Maybe. Only another cop would really understand what I mean.
"What's the point in talking?" he asked. "We've been through it all before - too many times." He pulled away then and sat back, putting distance between us like he was tryin' to protect himself from the truth.
"But not like this," I told him. "There was always a chance before, room to hope. This time the odds were stacked against us, babe. My death wasn't a possibility ... it was a fact. I died in that ICU ... how can that not change us?"
"You pulled through."
How could I hope to make him understand what it was like? You just can't put that kinda fear into words of one syllable. Just thinkin' about it, even now, scares the hell outta me. His next question wasn't any easier to answer - Did I remember much about it? I didn't need to ask about what. There wasn't much to tell; darkness ... a gradual slipping away to nothing ... cold ... empty ... alone. So alone. When I came round later an' they told me what happened, I was terrified.
"So was I," he confessed softly. The dam burst then, all the pain and the fear, the nightmares he'd suffered, the doubts - for himself and for me. I saw those weeks the way I had through Alison's eyes, when she came to me an' told me what she'd been through. The waiting outside ICU, watching those damn' monitors for any hint of change, never being told what was going on. He's holding on the only news they gave him. Dobey'd done his best to help but he had other cases to consider, other men to organize. Even Huggy could only do so much, he had his own life to lead. No wonder when Alison came along and offered to share the load Hutch jumped at the chance. I was so high on painkillers most of the time I didn't know what month it was, let alone which day. Now an' then I'd wake up an' he'd be sittin' there beside me ... but I was never sure how long he'd been there or how often. The days seemed to run into each other. I guess, in a way, she was standing in for me, helping him through the way I'd always done in the past, till he could cope with the world again.
"Why didn't you tell me before?" I asked. "It woulda saved all this."
He closed his eyes, like he was in pain, an' it was all I could do to keep from goin' to him right then. "Don't you understand yet?" he whispered. "You wanted more than I could give, Starsky. You think I didn't know what was going through your head while you were in the hospital? All that talk about how it was time we stopped fooling around and took our feelings seriously ... Have you got any idea what that would've done to us?"
"They needn't have known."
"No? Would've looked kind of odd when we moved in together, don't you think? We might as well have taken out an ad in the paper - 'David Starsky and Ken Hutchinson wish to announce ... ' - that's what you wanted, wasn't it? But you never stopped to ask how I felt about it, Starsk. That's why I had to get away, give us time to get over the shock. Alison was a - convenient excuse. I didn't plan on things going wrong ... "
There were no words for what I felt then. All the pieces were clicking into place like cogs in a well-oiled machine. In trying to hang onto the one thing that had given me a reason to pull through, I'd come close to destroying it. With so much pressure, no wonder he ran. I guess I woulda done the same. Suddenly I saw all the plans I'd made, all the wild dreams, turn to dust. I was going to lose him ...
"You still want it, don't you?" he asked, an' I knew he didn't need me to answer. All I could do was nod. What he said next was like a door slamming in my face. "I can't go back, Starsk. I can't face losing you again."
There were tears in his voice again - but there was also something else, a tiny thread of - challenge. Hutch was throwing the ultimatum back n my face, only this time the choice was between my job and my love for him.
"We can make it," I promised him.
"Can we? I don't know ... You remember Butch and Sundance?" Did I? I'd dragged him to see that movie a couple dozen times, kiddin' him it was Grandpa Hutch an' Grandpa Starsky ... "That part where the schoolteacher says she'll do anything for them - except watch them die ... That's us, Starsk. I've watched you die once, and it almost ... Don't ask me to go through that again."
I'd always wanted to be a cop, right from the time I was a kid in New York. It was never easy, but I made it, hung onto it through all the crud, stayed with it even when I couldn't work the streets any more. Between the army an' the police force I'd given close on twenty years - all my adult life - tryin' to make the world a better place. What did it get me? Not a lot when you think about it, except the satisfaction that at least I was doin' my 'bit'. Maybe it was time I took a little somethin' for myself.
"You won't," I promised him. "I'll quit the department, we'll go someplace new. Safe. 'Bout time we both settled - "
"No!" The word was cold, like someone chucked a bucket of ice-water over me.
"I can't ask you to give it all up just for me."
There was something about that didn't ring true, but at the time I couldn't figure out what. "Hey!" I said, "It's my life. I'll quit if I want to. Okay? I'm tired of livin' in shadows, Hutch, I want us to be together, without being ashamed of how we feel."
"You'll be asking me to marry you next."
Why did it hurt so much when he said that? Was it the bitterness in his voice, the put- down tone he used for the street punks? Or was it because, deep down, that depth of commitment - with all the promises and problems that went with it - was exactly what I did want? I David take thee Kenneth, till death do us part ... I finally realized that I could make those vows for him and keep them, and that I'd wanted to for a long time - maybe even since that first night. My only problem was to make him understand that.
"Is that what you want?" I asked.
He didn't say anything. Didn't need to. It was there in his eyes, a look somewhere between pity and - disgust. For the first time in the fourteen months since I was shot I found myself regretting the skill of the surgeons who saved my life.
"Hutch - " I started to move but he was there before me, on his feet and backing away to the door before I could reach him.
"You better go."
I couldn't let it go, even then. How could I just turn my back on him and walk away forever? So I told him I wasn't goin' anyplace without him.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said. "I can't live the kind of life you're offering, Starsk ... Correction, I won't live that way. I guess I'm just not the - marrying kind. Vanessa proved that. And Alison."
"So I'm damned either way," I threw back at him. "You won't let me live with you and I can't live without you."
There was fire in his eyes again, a kind of blind anger that was ready to hit out at anything and I didn't have the sense to duck. He told me to cool off, that I was turning the whole thing into some Victorian melodrama and I really wasn't about to pine away like Camille, and I told him I meant every word. I honestly believed I couldn't go on without him.
"Then I guess you'll have to learn to, pal," he said.
The answer to that came without a moment's thought and the implications scared even me. "Not necessarily," I said.
Through the years I've seen just about every emotion he's ever felt for me reflected in his eyes - except hate. Now even that was there, driving through me like the blade of a knife, and I knew I'd lost.
"Blackmail, Starsky? I move in with you, like a dutiful ... a dutiful wife - " he almost choked on the word, " - or you eat your gun? Another of your double-edged ultimatums?"
"I didn't mean it like that," I lied, knowing that woulda been the easy way out. Easy, but not the best. Like I said before, I'm a fighter, an' so long as there's life in my body I intended to keep on fighting for him. Maybe he read some of that in my face because suddenly the anger seemed to go out of him, like someone threw a switch, and we were left starin' at each other, two sad, tired men fighting over the past like dogs over a bone. How did we ever let it go so wrong?
"Oh god, Hutch," I said. "You've given me back my life too many times for me to just throw it away. I'm sorry."
"I know. Me too." He sat down again and leaned his head against his hands. When he spoke his voice was empty. "Starsky - David - I love you, nothing can take that away. What we had, those four years, were the best, the most important of my life. But maybe that's all we were ever meant to have. People change. I can't give you the commitment you need and I can't ask you to accept anything less."
"What if I said I'd take whatever you're willing to give?"
But he shook his head. I can still remember how the dawn light shimmered around it, like a halo. There he is, tellin' me it's all over between us, an' all I can think of is how beautiful he is an' how much I'm gonna miss him. "No, babe. Living like that would tear us apart and you deserve more than that. Someday you'll find someone who can give you everything you need. I really hope you do ... But from here we go our separate ways."
I tried to say something - anything - to change his mind. I wanted him to know there'd never be anyone else an' that being that close to him, even just as a friend, would be enough, but I knew we'd gone beyond that the first time we ever made love.
I left soon after; there wasn't much point in staying. He walked me to the door and put his arms around me and we kissed for the last time. No tears, no more recriminations, just a parting of the ways. The end of the circle, he said.
All that happened ten years ago. Ten years! Hard to believe ...
After I left Duluth I went to New York an' stayed there with Ma for a while, but in the end I came back here, to LA. It helped, seeing all the places we usedta go, talkin' about him to old friends. If I tried I could make myself believe he was just away on a long vacation an' that one day he'd turn up again with an arm-load of dumb presents an' a suntan to make a beach-bum cry ...
But he didn't, he stayed on in Duluth an' patched up the trouble with his father. He did quite well, too, with his own business. I wrote him a few times, just to let him know I hadn't carried out my threat. The letters never came back, but he never answered them either. His father, Stephen, sent me a card every Christmas to tell me Hutch was okay - that was the only news I ever got.
Till today ...
A package came from Stephen this morning, Hutch's birthday. Inside was a bundle of letters, an old white teddy bear and a sheaf of press clippings detailing an incident at a bank three weeks ago in which a 'public spirited citizen' saved a woman and her young son from attack by armed raiders. The man - ex-LAPD officer Kenneth Hutchinson - had himself been rushed to hospital with severe gunshot wounds in the chest. Ironic really.
The letters are mine, written to Hutch at various times over our years together and the first few months of our separation. All of them have been opened an' I guess he read them over and over, judging by the condition they're in. There's one from Hutch, too, addressed to me and dated the same day we stayed at that Mexican hotel, the first time we slept together. I don't need to read it yet - maybe I never will. I know what it says ...
The last letter is in Stephen's handwriting. He wanted to tell me personally that Hutch ... that Hutch died in the hospital three days ago from the wounds he received in the raid.
Dead God, it hurts! I haven't seen him or spoken to him in ten years, but it still feels like someone's tearing my heart out. I guess this is what he meant about Butch and Sundance, only they were lucky - they went out together. Must be a dozen times tonight I've reached for my gun, but I can't take that way out. I made him a promise - the only one he ever accepted from me - an' I'm not about to break it now.
But he was wrong. The circle doesn't end, it goes on and on until one cog wears away and another takes it place. At least I don't need to try any more. But I wonder -
- who's gonna take care of us now, Ollie?