There was a breeze off the sea and the sandy dune held Starsky comfortably as he basked in the westerly rays of the sun. A day off, the beach, and any moment now Hutch would appear with food.
Starsky turned his head at the soft thud and shuffle of feet on sand. "You're a prince," he declared.
"I'm a greasy prince," Hutch said. "Sit up, will you? I can't believe I drove five miles down the road for this, and I certainly didn't do it so that you can get sand in our food."
"Not my fault that you thought I looked so comfortable that you gave in to your altruistic impulses." Starsky bolted upright in sudden alarm. "We are talking altruism here?" He eyed the large pizza box Hutch cradled. "You didn't do anything that we're both gonna regret, like order a bean sprout pizza?"
Hutch dropped onto his butt, the precious pizza box held level with easy balance. "Would I do a thing like that?" he asked, for all the world like a man who'd never in his life been cavalier about the importance of his partner's food preferences. His smile was as easy as his descent to the ground.
"Yes, you would, and we both know it. I need assurances here. No bean sprouts?"
"There are no bean sprouts on this pizza."
"No vegetables of any kind except for tomato and mushroom?"
Hutch smiled and ducked his head, the way he did when he wanted to pretend that he didn't think that Starsky was so very funny. "That isn't assurance, it's interrogation. I swear to God and you, Starsk, this pizza is as pristinely bad for your arteries as any pizza can be, and that's because I ordered extra cheese and pepperoni."
"You really are a prince," Starsky said, and reached out both hands to grab the box and open it and lay it between them.
Hutch reached first into one pocket of his light-weight jacket, and then the other. "Plus sodas to wash it down."
Starsky gestured approval, but his mouth was filled with anticipatory saliva and talking was less important than that first ecstatic bite.
"Noisy eater," Hutch grumbled in affectionate disapproval, and made short work of his own share.
His belly filled, Starsky lay back down again and listened to the background rush of the sea. High above them, seagulls squawked and reeled while Starsky watched.
"Terry loved this place," he said.
Hutch's voice was slightly guarded as he answered. "It's a pretty spot."
"Yeah." Starsky turned his head, watching the man sitting beside him. Starsky was sprawled on the slight slope of the dune. Hutch sat, his knees drawn up to his chest and held in the circle of his arms. He gazed out at the restless ocean, and the wind blew his hair back from his face. Just for a moment, Starsky thought that he caught a glimpse of the craggier lines that his friend's face might fall into, in the future. But then futures were funny things. Unpredictable. Starsky smiled.
"What?" Hutch asked.
"You've said you don't believe in what if. Not ever?" Starsky queried. He regarded it as a rhetorical question with Hutch. The man was a thinker and a brooder.
"Not as such. But sometimes I just wonder - what some things would have been like if other things turned out differently." Hutch tilted his head towards Starsky. "Is Terry one of your what ifs?"
"Yeah. I was thinking of the first time we tangled with Prudholm, and the zoo. Cornering him. I was tempted to kill that bastard, Hutch. Strongly tempted."
Hutch was still watching him. "Anyone would have been."
"But you weren't. Not right then. Said my name and reminded me that I was a cop, not another wild animal."
Something changed in Hutch's face then - a tiny shifting into uncertainty.
"Do you blame me for that? For what he did to Terry?"
"No!" Starsky protested. "That wasn't what I meant at all."
"Okay." And it was - Starsky observed how Hutch's squared shoulders loosened. "So, what then?"
"If I'd shot him, killed him, would you have backed me up? It would have been easy. After what he did no one would have pushed it if we produced a plausible story." Starsky leaned on his elbow, his eyes fixed on his friend. "Do ya think you'd have helped me put a plausible story together, partner?"
Hutch shrugged. "I expect so," he said. His eyes were narrowed against the lowering sun, but he returned Starsky's look fearlessly.
Starsky dipped his head, pleased in an odd, sad way. "Yeah, I thought you would."
"But I didn't need to," Hutch said, his voice barely rising over the whistle of the wind in the dune grass.
"No, you didn't." Starsky lounged on his back, sprawling in the slope of the sand once more, his hands raised as if they could shape his words somehow, like sandcastles on the beach. "How I see it, if we did that, if I'd put Prudholm down like a mad dog, Terry would still be here, but the guy that she fell in love with... he wouldn't be here." He stopped, filled with irritable frustration that his words weren't saying what he needed. "Everything would be different."
"Yes. Yes, it would." Hutch was looking out to sea again, his shadow behind him.
Starsky laughed. "I don't make much of a philosopher, huh?"
"Is that why we came out here? So you could try to be a philosopher?" Hutch smiled.
"It's more'n a year. I figured I might have got some perspective, now. And she loved this place. And I do have perspective. And pizza."
"Ah." Hutch nodded like this all made perfect sense. "Perspective. And pizza. And good memories?" he questioned. "Because Terry loved this place?"
Starsky didn't say anything, but he smiled, staring up at the blue sky which was starting to pale as the sun dropped towards the water.
"There are worse things," Hutch said.
"Now, there's a philosopher."
"You're a nut," was Hutch's reply.
"Yeah. But you knew that already," Starsky said, still smiling.