It was the nervous jitter of Hutch’s left leg that caught Starsky’s attention.
They were driving back to the station in mid afternoon, after questioning a bartender about a possible witness to a murder that had taken place a couple of nights before. Since leaving the bar, Hutch had been very quiet, staring out the side window of the Torino.
Starsky stopped at an intersection, and his eyes traveled up Hutch’s restless leg to his hand. Hutch’s thumb was rubbing incessantly against his index finger.
Starsky had his suspicions about the cause. But he’d been wrong before, in years past. After an erroneous assumption on his part that had distressed his partner, Starsky had made the decision that he would never again ask about it before Hutch had a chance to tell him. He and Hutch had declared a pact of trust way back when it had so fiercely mattered, and Hutch had never violated it.
He had to trust that Hutch would not violate it now.
Starsky moved the Torino through the intersection, his mind beginning to leaf back through the day’s events. Before visiting the bar, they had spent an extra long time at a gas station while Starsky changed his spark plugs. Before that was some investigative work at the station. And before that had been eating out for breakfast. A pretty mundane day, all the way around.
“Starsky?” Hutch muttered, still looking out the window, "You need to stay with me tonight.” He swallowed audibly.
“Okay,” Starsky said immediately, his voice very soft.
He was fascinated by what was already starting to happen inside him. His heart was beating a little faster, but more with tenderness than with worry. A feeling of serenity and peace began to settle within, so that extreme patience would be readily at hand. He allowed his feelings of love to well up, and was determined to not shy away from the distant thought that he might get so full, he’d literally burst.
Not that he was immune to disappointment. Staying with Hutch meant canceling his date with LeAnn, whom he’d eagerly looked forward to taking out for the first time. He’d already had to cancel a date with her last week, due to needing to spend longer hours on a case that had just broken open. He wondered if canceling twice in a row would make her give up on him completely. He hoped not.
Hutch finally turned his attention to the windshield. He pushed a nervous hand back through his hair.
As they drove the remaining mile, the back of Starsky’s mind was still leafing through events of the day. He couldn’t identify anything that could have triggered Hutch’s urge to use. But then, sometimes the cause, if they could even pin one down, happened days before Hutch was physically affected.
Starsky’s curiosity was piqued. But there would be plenty of time to examine the source later. The last thing he wanted to do right now was badger Hutch.
In fact, the blond deserved a reward for being so committed to their pact, even after three years, the last two of which had seen very few of these instances. Starsky reached over and squeezed Hutch’s shoulder – thank you – and then brushed his thumb along Hutch’s cheek.
Hutch turned away and looked back out the side window.
Starsky squeezed Hutch’s leg in reassurance as he made the turn into Parker Center.
They typed their reports in silence, save for updating Captain Dobey on the case when their superior walked by. Starsky had to admit that if Hutch hadn’t said anything, he wouldn’t have known anything was wrong with his partner. Since he did know, he was aware of the blond’s normal nervous gestures taking on an exaggerated quality, but that was all. Starsky was certain that the request for his presence had given his partner a center of calm and security in which to anchor himself. That had been the point of the pact in the first place – that Hutch would always know that it was going to be all right, and he was never to question if Starsky would be there for him. That stability was his reward for admitting he needed help in the first place.
Starsky put the last report aside and jerked his finger toward the door. “Goin’ down the hall,” he informed Hutch, who glanced up briefly.
He exited, and then moved briskly past the restrooms until he reached Records. He smiled at the clerk, and then reached over the counter to the telephone that was on the desk, and pulled out his wallet. He found LeAnn’s phone number and dialed, and smiled at the dubious look the clerk gave him, the clerk no doubt wondering why he didn’t use his own desk phone. No point in rubbing Hutch’s nose in it.
He made the call and LeAnn answered on the second ring. He was so, so sorry to cancel out on her again, but something came up that couldn’t be helped. Could they reschedule anytime soon? She would have to check her calendar, because she had other commitments in the near future. She would call and let him know when she was free.
Starsky hung up, knowing the lack of enthusiasm in LeAnn’s tone meant that she’d probably decided he was a flake who couldn’t be counted on.
“Thanks,” he said to the clerk, and placed the phone back down on the desk.
When he entered the squad room, Hutch watched him approach, and then asked softly, “Did you have to cancel a date?”
Damn, he wished Hutch wouldn’t have asked that. The second Hutch had indicated he needed help, they were in Ultra Honesty mode. No games. No white lies, however innocent.
“Yeah,” Starsky said, avoiding the temptation to say that LeAnn had been eager to reschedule.
Hutch was still meeting his eye. “Sorry about that, pal.”
Starsky didn’t want apologies. “You ready to blow this place?” He pushed his chair beneath the desk.
“Yep,” Hutch said, rising.
As they made their way to the first floor, Starsky tried to decide on a plan of action. It was difficult when he had so little information to work with. He never knew exactly what form Hutch’s demons were going to come in. The craving in and of itself usually caused nervousness, anxiety, and agitation. When Hutch's body didn't get what it wanted, it sometimes punished him with some degree of withdrawal symptoms, though never as bad as they had been initially, after Hutch was first rescued from Forest. Sometimes all Starsky had to do was suggest activities that helped distract Hutch from the cravings until they passed. Other times, he had to play nursemaid. And still at others, he gently coaxed and listened, while Hutch nervously confessed whatever it was that had set the unwanted cycle in motion. They had agreed that open communication was mandatory, in order for Starsky to be as helpful as he possibly could, and for them both to best understand Hutch's addiction and how to deal with the intense desire to relapse, however blessedly infrequent those occurrences were.
Most important during these events, Starsky felt, was that he never judge Hutch for what he needed or for the behavior he displayed. Starsky never wanted Hutch to experience a single moment of feeling like a sideshow freak who needed special attention and monitoring. But instead, somebody who just needed some extra special, temporary loving – and deserved to have it.
That plan had always worked. Starsky had never had to stay with Hutch more than two nights in a row. His absolute trust in the pact – that Hutch would tell him if he was needed – was what allowed him to leave his partner alone. That’s why the pact had been necessary – when, for the first time since being rescued from Forest, Starsky had finally felt brave enough to let Hutch be by himself, so that they could return to a normal life.
They moved into the sunshine of the outdoor parking lot, where the Torino was. Starsky snapped his fingers. “Hey! How about going to the gym for a game of racquetball before dinner? You feel up to it? We haven’t done that in ages. We can work up an appetite and maybe eat out.”
Hutch tilted his head to one side, considering. Then, “Sure.”
Starsky clasped him at the waist with both hands. “Terrific. This will be great!”
They played for an exhilarating hour. Starsky still couldn’t tell that anything was wrong with Hutch. If the blond was suffering from anxiety, he was working it off in a healthy determination to best Starsky, which he did in two games out of three.
They were grinning, panting, and dripping sweat when they entered the locker room, which was sparsely occupied. After showering, they began to dress. “What do you feel like for dinner?” Starsky asked.
Hutch shrugged. “No preference. Just not pizza.”
Starsky began thinking about possible restaurants as he finished dressing. He looked up to see Hutch running a comb through his thinning hair, and then the blond suddenly turned toward the row of toilet stalls. He put his hand around is middle and knelt down before one of the heads. He retched, and then threw up.
Starsky released a breath, deciding to let Hutch have his privacy. He finished dressing, grateful that he heard Hutch wretch only the once, though the blond remained on his knees a while longer.
A man nearest Starsky in the locker room looked at him questionably, and Starsky muttered, “He just ate something that disagreed with him.” He grabbed a handful of paper towels, and ran them under cold water. Hutch emerged from the stall, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and Starsky went up to him and pressed the wet paper against his forehead.
Hutch took the makeshift compress and patted it along his face. “Thanks,” he whispered, and then put the paper aside while bending to the sink. He spent a moment rinsing out his mouth, as Starsky stood near, and then said, “Just came on all of a sudden.” He straightened, assuring, “I didn’t feel sick at all while we were playing.”
Starsky tried to keep his voice cheerful. “Guess that means dinner at a restaurant is out.”
Hutch turned back to his locker. “Yeah, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” He did look Starsky in the eye to say, “I feel okay now.”
Starsky nodded, hoping this would be the worst of the physical symptoms.
They left the gym a few moments later. As they made their way to the Torino, Hutch’s arm suddenly came up and clasped Starsky around his neck. He hugged him, and Starsky slowed his pace and chuckled softly, his hands gripping Hutch’s arms. He felt giddy at the open display of warmth and affection, despite the underlying need for reassurance.
They released each other when they reached the car. “Home then?” Starsky said as he got out his keys.
“Yeah, home,” Hutch said from where he stood at the passenger door. He nodded toward the gym. “This was a good idea. Thanks, buddy.”
They ended up at Starsky’s place. Starsky had picked up takeout Mexican food, as well as some candy bars, along the way. He sat and ate hungrily, but Hutch only picked at his food, ate a couple of bars, and spent an increasing amount of time pacing the living room. He would stop and pause to look out the window, though it was now dark. Sometimes he would stop and stare at the wall, or at nothing. Occasionally, he would cross his arms, as though to hug himself, but then drop them as soon as he realized he was doing it.
Starsky put the leftover Mexican food in the refrigerator. He started a pot of coffee, and then retrieved a deck of cards and sat on the sofa. “Want to play gin rummy?” he asked, moving aside magazines and a box of Kleenex that were on the coffee table.
Hutch shook his head. “I won’t be able to sit still.”
“Wanna try, anyway?”
Hutch shook his head.
Starsky began to lay out a game of solitaire. “Pal, you know this is going to go a whole lot of easier if you let yourself have some distractions.”
Hutch didn’t respond. He was standing by the bookcase, and Starsky asked. “Are you just really restless, or are you in physical pain, babe?”
Hutch shook his head, which didn’t answer the two-part question.
Starsky decided to be more direct. “Are you nauseated?”
Hutch shook his head again and resumed his pacing.
Just restless then. Starsky turned his attention back to his game, but he was very aware of the footsteps that dominated the atmosphere. Sometimes, during his body's desire to relapse, Hutch was a flurry of rushed explanations, as though he couldn’t talk fast enough to detail everything he was feeling. Other times, Starsky had to push and badger and deal with a lot of hostility and insults, before Hutch would relent and talk to him. Other times still, it was just a matter of waiting until Hutch was ready to delve into finding the source of what had set his urges into motion. At the very least, trying to identify a trigger gave them something productive to focus on.
After a few more minutes of playing solitaire, and watching Hutch wander about the apartment, Starsky decided it was time to give his distressed partner some prodding. He laid a card out, and then rubbed at his chin. “Do you know what it is that set you off?”
Hutch moved to the easy chair near the sofa and stared at it a long moment. Then he sat down. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, staring at the floor. Then he closed his eyes and turned his face away.
Starsky watched him, while part of his mind continued the card game. Quietly, he said, “You know what triggered you, don’t you?”
Hutch put his hands over his eyes. “Don’t want to talk about it,” he said gruffly.
Starsky put down the deck of cards, his attention fully on Hutch. In the past, Hutch had either wanted to talk or he hadn’t, the latter of which forced Starsky to prod him. But now Hutch was indicating there was an “it” that he was specifically choosing not to talk about.
“Why not?” Starsky asked gently.
Hutch pulled his hands away from his face, and rubbed one along his leg. He turned his face completely away. “Just don’t.”
Starsky tried logic. “Hutch, you know it can only help to be forthright about it. Keeping the reason to yourself isn’t going to get you anywhere.”
Hutch wouldn’t look at him, as he continued to rub his hand along his leg. Hoarsely, he confessed, “You have no idea how badly I want to shoot up right now.”
Starsky felt a stab of compassion. Deliberately calm and quiet, he said, “It’ll pass, Hutch. It always does. It’s been – what? – a year since the last time this happened?”
Hutch ran both hands along his thighs. “Eight months.”
Wanting to be encouraging, Starsky said, “I bet it’ll be a full year before the next time – if there even is a next time.”
Starsky watched Hutch a while longer, trying to pick up cues as to how his partner wanted to be helped. If Hutch wanted to be babied, he usually initiated the clinginess. If he wanted to assert his anxiety through aggression, he usually picked something inane to argue about. If he wanted to talk, he rambled incessantly.
It was difficult to know, this particular point in time, what he most needed. So, Starsky decided to ask the question directly. “How can I most help you get through this, Hutch?”
Hutch was abruptly out of the chair and pacing again. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Starsky tried to concentrate a moment on his game, while running Hutch’s statement through his mind. Hutch obviously had something that he needed to get off his chest, but he required firmer prompting.
Starsky asked, “Can you at least tell me where it was that you got triggered?”
“The bar,” Hutch replied immediately.
Starsky furrowed his brow as he placed cards on the table. The bar they had gone to this afternoon had been sparsely occupied. The bartender they interviewed had seemed nice enough and cooperated as best he could. “What was in the bar, Hutch?”
Hutch placed both hands on the bookcase and then leaned against it, as though stretching out.
Starsky said, “It’s not fair to either of us for you to keep this to yourself. What was it?”
When Hutch released the bookcase and turned around, his expression was bashful. It almost made Starsky smile.
Hutch wouldn’t look at him as he paced. “Did you see those two guys in the corner? One had a cowboy hat.”
“I remember seeing somebody with a cowboy hat, but I didn’t notice anything else about them. What about them, Hutch?”
Hutch sat in the easy chair again, his shy gaze on the floor. “They were together. An item.”
Starsky blinked. He definitely hadn’t noticed that. “You sure? That’s not a gay bar.”
Hutch nodded quickly. “I know. That’s why they stood out. They were…,” he tilted his head to one side. “You know, the way they were touching each other and sitting so close together.”
Starsky tried to comprehend why that meant something to Hutch. “Was one of Forest’s goons gay, or had a cowboy hat?”
Hutch shook his head as he continued to gaze at the floor. “This doesn’t have anything to do with Forest.” Then, in a soft, longing voice, he said, “They seemed so free, sitting in that bar.” Then quickly, “I know it can’t be like that for them, you know, day to day. But in that moment in that bar… they seemed free.”
Hutch’s logic tended to be very hard to follow in times such as these. But Starsky tried. “So… the feeling of freedom you got from them made you think about when you’d been trapped by Forest, and had the junk forced into you?”
Hutch looked up sharply, his eyes flaring as his voice rose. “I already told you it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with Forest.
“Sorry,” Starsky said immediately. “I’m just not following.” He abandoned the solitaire game and sat back on the sofa, his full attention on Hutch.
Hutch closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. He shook his head and said in a small voice, “I didn’t want to talk about this.”
Starsky clasped a sofa pillow. “I know, Hutch. But you’ve made it this far. Keep going.
More gazing at the floor. And then Hutch’s expression softened. “Remember when I dated Penny Peterson earlier this year?”
Starsky was completely thrown by the change in subject. But he remembered. She was a redhead who had a little more going on upstairs than most of the women that Hutch dated. But then, she was older than most too. “Yeah, you were seeing her for quite a while there, pal.”
Hutch nodded. “When I would tell her things that had happened on the job – funny things, scary things, incredibly absurd things, whatever – she would always say, ‘You should write a book.’ She said that so many times that I’d find myself writing a book in my head. You know, just imagining chapters and things, whenever something happened that seemed worth writing about.”
Starsky waited. He had never known that the imaginary writing of a book had gone on in that blond head. The things he found out about Hutch at times such as these….
Hutch was silent for a long time, a soft expression on his face. Starsky noticed that he no longer appeared agitated. Hutch quietly said, “It just hit me one day. That if I ever wrote a book about my life, I wouldn’t even be the main character.” He shook his head and back and forth. For the briefest of seconds, his eyes met Starsky’s. “The main character would be you.” He looked away again. “Starsky this, Starsky that. That’s what my whole life is about.”
A memory jumped to the forefront of Starsky’s mind. When Hutch had introduced him to Gillian Ingram. She had said, “It’s good to meet you at last. He talks about you all the time.” And Hutch had bashfully countered, “Well, not all the time.”
That was a memory Starsky savored to this day. However deeply Hutch’s heart might fall in love, it would always have room for his partner.
A similar feeling now, that all was right with the world, settled into Starsky’s chest, even as he gazed at Hutch’s turned away face.
He realized, too, how important it was, in this delicate moment, that he share an equally profound truth. “Hutch. The book you would star in would be the book about my life.”
Hutch appeared to accept that statement without comment.
Starsky was curious as to where all this was leading, but he didn’t want to disrupt the mood right now. Hutch’s arms and legs were quiet as he gazed at the far wall.
But then the silence stretched too long, and Starsky realized that Hutch needed further prompting. “And…?” When Hutch glanced his way, the blond’s foot began nervously bouncing against the floor. Starsky prompted, “Does writing a book have something to do with seeing those guys at the bar?”
Hutch appeared bashful again as he rubbed his hand along his leg. “Did I leave you out in left field again, partner?”
Starsky snorted with amusement. “You could say that.”
Hutch was abruptly out of the chair. He started pacing again, but with a longer, stronger stride than before.
“Hutch?” Starsky waited until he got a brief glance from his partner. “When you saw those two guys in the bar, what were you feeling, deep down inside? What about them made you feel that you wanted to use?”
Hutch abruptly plopped back into the easy chair. He brought his arms up to his face and seemed to want to hide behind them. Then he dropped them and gazed at the floor. “I-I wanted to escape. So I could be free. Like them.”
Starsky realized how hard that brutally honest statement had to have been for Hutch. But he still wasn’t understanding. “Escape from what?” he asked gently. “Free to do what?”
Hutch’s right hand scratched at his left arm. Suddenly, he was out of the chair. “I didn’t want to talk about this,” he said defensively.
Starsky restrained a sigh. “I know. I made you do it, so you can blame it all on me.”
Hutch continued to pace.
Starsky quietly prompted, “Escape from what?”
Hutch scratched more firmly at his arm.
Starsky turned to stretch out on the sofa. He held out his hand. “Hey, why don’t you stop scratching yourself up and come over here and hang onto me instead?”
Hutch came toward the sofa, but it was to rest both hands on the back of it. He bowed his head and said in a pained whisper, “I don’t want to need you so much.”
The statement caught Starsky off guard. He sat up, feeling his stomach twist. But he was determined to keep their pact, which meant no judgment allowed. “That’s what you were wanting to escape from?” he asked levelly. “Needing me?”
Hutch met his eye then. He nodded, looking thoroughly miserable, his eyes watering. Then he whispered, “We can’t be free.”
Starsky drew a deep breath. Then he admitted, “I’m not following you. How are we any less free than anybody else?” To emphasize his point, Starsky said, “I love you as openly as I’ve ever loved anyone.” He turned to lie back down. “Hell, half the Department thinks we’re banging each other, because of how we are together.”
Hutch gazed at Starsky for a long moment. He said, “But we aren’t. Banging each other.” He then started to move away and asked, so softly, “Why aren’t we?”
Starsky’s mouth fell open. That’s why it had mattered to Hutch that the two guys were “an item”?
Hutch paced away. “I didn’t want to talk about this,” he emphasized yet again.
“It’s okay,” Starsky soothed automatically. He rubbed at his lower lip, unsure of how to proceed from here, how to process what Hutch had just said. But he did want to make one thing very clear. “Hutch?” he said firmly.
Hutch obediently paced back to the sofa and looked down at him.
Starsky held the troubled gaze. He felt his throat suddenly close, as he said, “I need you too, buddy. Just as much. If not more.” He swallowed loudly.
Hutch lowered his eyes. His expression was suddenly weary.
Starsky sat up. “Let’s see if we can get you to wind down. Why don’t you grab the quilt off the bed and bring it over here?”
Hutch moved away. A few moments later, he was pushing a quilt and a blanket over the back of the sofa.
“Terrific,” Starsky said, looking forward to settling down with Hutch. “Why don’t you get some of the lights. Leave the kitchen one on.” He kicked off his shoes.
Most of the apartment went dark, and Hutch came to the sofa and sat near Starsky’s feet. While Starsky continued to mess with the bedding, Hutch pulled off his boots.
Hutch took off his shirt, leaving a T-shirt. “We’d have more room in the bed.”
“This is cozier,” Starsky said. He had the covers pushed to the back of the sofa, and held the edge. “Come on, Bronco, lie down here.” Hutch carefully lay down on top of Starsky, and while they each shifted to get elbows and knees in comfortable places, Starsky spread the covers over them both.
“There,” Starsky said with satisfaction when he felt they both were settled. Hutch’s head was resting high on his shoulder, and his own upper body was against the arm of the sofa. He had his arms around Hutch, beneath the blankets. He drew one hand up in order to furrow his fingers through Hutch’s hair. “How ya feeling?”
“Drained,” Hutch said simply. “Thoroughly drained.”
“That’s a good thing, I think,” Starsky said, feeling weary himself. He detected tremors along Hutch’s body, but they weren’t near as pronounced as at times in the past. “I’m predicting that by the time the sun comes up tomorrow, you’ll be one hundred percent fine.”
Hutch grunted doubtfully.
Starsky’s fingers continued to stroke through Hutch’s hair. Tenderly, he asked, “Do you believe me when I say that you’d be the main character, if I ever wrote a book about my life?” When there was no immediate answer he said softly, “I need you at least as much as you need me.”
“You don’t ever have needs like tonight, like I do.”
Starsky hugged Hutch with the arm beneath the covers. “Wouldn’t have missed it for the world, pal.” Then he said, “Do you have any idea how much it means to me that you let me help you at times like this?”
Hutch released a long breath, and then changed the subject. “I didn’t want to hurt you with what I said. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you.”
“I know,” Starsky whispered as his fingers continued their gentle stroking. “I’m not hurt.” He then admitted, “I don’t like being told that you felt you wanted to escape from needing me, but I suspect there’s a lot of other stuff going on with that statement.” He owed it to Hutch to continue the full disclosure. “I-I can’t say how I feel about it, Hutch. I haven’t had a chance to digest it yet, and this isn’t the time. I just want to take care of you.”
They were silent for a few moments, and then Hutch raised his head. “Damn. Nose is running.”
Starsky relaxed his hold and indicated the coffee table. “There’s tissue paper.” He couldn’t reach it without moving.
Hutch shifted and braced against Starsky to reach for the box.
Starsky grimaced “Watch the elbow, the elbow.” It put a lot of pressure against his ribs, but eased when Hutch had the box. Hutch leaned on Starsky’s shoulder with one hand, and held the tissue to his nose with the other. He blew gently, because his problem, Starsky knew, wasn’t compacted mucous, but annoying nasal drip.
Hutch tossed the used tissues onto the coffee table, and turned to place the box on the back of the sofa.
Starsky was hoping Hutch would lie back against him, but Hutch instead turned to sit on the sofa with both feet on the floor.
Starsky reached for Hutch’s arm and squeezed it, still feeling the small tremors.
Hutch shook his head. With frustration and sadness, he said, “It was just waiting for me. After all this time, it was just waiting.”
Starsky knew Hutch meant his addiction, and he was eager for details. “What do you mean?” He squeezed the arm again. “Tell me what it was like for you, Hutch.”
Hutch stared at the table. “I saw them sitting there. I know they knew that I was seeing them, seeing what they were. And it didn’t matter. They didn’t care. They were so content, sitting so close. Touching each other.”
Starsky was amazed that witnessing such a small moment could have such massive consequences for Hutch. He was puzzled that he hadn’t noticed Hutch’s attention had been diverted from interviewing the bartender. But then, one perusing their surroundings while the other gave his complete focus to the matter at hand was one of the numerous ways they worked so well together.
“I felt…” Hutch closed his eyes and vaguely indicated his chest. “… a deep longing. I wanted, in that moment, to know what they knew. To have what they had.”
Starsky held his breath, wondering if, even after everything they’d been to each other, he deserved to hear such private details.
Hutch’s eyes flew open and his quiet voice carried a touch of anger. “And there it was. It just bulldozed right in, almost like it had piggybacked onto the longing. Saying ‘you know what you really want.’ And it had me.” Long pause. “And then all I wanted was the smack. To lose myself in it so…,” he looked over at Starsky, his eyes watering and his voice very soft, “so I wouldn’t long for you so much.” A shaky hand reached to rub at his eyes.
Starsky’s heart was breaking. “Hutch, come on,” he prompted softly, reaching for him, “lie back down here. Lose yourself in me, okay?”
Hutch obeyed by collapsing against Starsky’s chest.
Starsky grunted sharply. “Easy, boy.” He encouraged Hutch to shift until the blond head took residence on his shoulder again, his feet moving to rest on the sofa. Starsky began rearranging the blankets over them both.
“I didn’t want it to be true,” Hutch said sadly. “I-I tried not to believe it. That, after all the months since the last time, it couldn’t happen again. That we were all done with it.”
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Starsky assured. He had an arm around Hutch’s back. With his free hand, he stroked Hutch’s cheek with a finger. He could well understand the despair Hutch felt at times that his demons had yet to be – and might never be – thoroughly cast out.
Starsky was eager to offer a more positive thought. The arm around Hutch’s back moved up to firmly squeeze his shoulder. “You amaze me, Hutch,” he said with admiration. “That’s incredible. That you knew almost immediately what was going on inside you. That you had that degree of awareness. We weren’t twenty minutes down the road before you told me.” Starsky shook his head. “The craving can’t control you when you attack it that fast.”
“It’s controlling me right now,” Hutch countered.
“No, it isn’t,” Starsky said gently. “You took control of it as soon as it happened. You looked right at it, so it couldn’t sneak up on you and grow more powerful. You didn’t want to look at it, but you were so brave that you did. And then you told me, and I’m here with you, not letting it harm you, beyond some temporary discomfort.”
Hutch sniffed, and wiped at his nose with the back of his hand. “If I thought I could make it past you, I’d be out that door, going down Arbor Street where all the junkies are.”
Starsky restrained a sigh. He was well accustomed to Hutch’s attempts to degrade himself when his body wanted to relapse. It often resulted in a ridiculous round of word games, consisting of attacks and counter-attacks which never solved anything, but served the purpose of distraction. Starsky wasn’t up to it now. “Well, we both know that the reason you told me in the first place was because you trust me to not let you past me. So, in a way, it’s the same as you courageously taking charge of your own relapse prevention. That’s why we made the pact.”
Hutch grunted. Then, suddenly, he gasped sharply, and then his hand went down to his stomach and his body jackknifed on the sofa.
Starsky held his shoulders. “Easy. Easy. Easy does it.” His other hand rubbed circles along Hutch’s cotton-clad back, as the mild tremors now turned into full-blown shaking.
“Oh, damn,” Hutch gasped raggedly, and then he curled into a ball and made gagging noises.
Ah, Hutch. “Hang onto me, hang onto me.” Starsky grabbed a trembling hand and put it against his side.
The hand gripped him painfully and Hutch’s whole body went stiff, shuddering emphatically. Starsky feared Hutch was having a seizure until he heard more gasping noises. He intently massaged Hutch’s stiff shoulders. “Ride it out,” he encouraged. “Ride it out.”
Hutch grunted deeply. Then, just as abruptly, he went slack, save harsh, heavy gasping noises.
Starsky used his most tender voice. “Eaaaasy does it,” he soothed, the circles on Hutch’s back having slowed. “Easy. Easy.” When the grip on his side loosened, and Hutch’s breathing drifted into soft pants, he said, “Man, that was a rough one.”
As Hutch lay there, recovering, Starsky tried to take stock of what had happened. He assumed it was severe muscle cramps. He could smell bile, so Hutch had thrown up, but he didn’t think it was anything that made enough of a mess to be tended to right away. He didn’t smell anything that indicated Hutch’s intestinal tract had been affected – at least, not yet.
Hutch had hunkered down low enough on the sofa that Starsky’s upper body was free to grab the box of Kleenex. He pulled a few tissues and reached to wipe at Hutch’s mouth. Then he tugged on Hutch’s shoulders. “Hey, boy, let’s try to get you more comfortable.”
Hutch almost seemed like a rag doll. With his face turned away, as he was still in partial fetal ball, it was difficult to know how he was doing. But Starsky continued to pull. “Come on, Hutch. Let me take care of you.”
Hutch finally made an effort to help and propelled his upper body along Starsky’s chest.
Starsky held the panting frame against him, his hand on the back of Hutch’s head, letting it rest on top of his shoulder. “God, Hutch,” he murmured, stroking the blond strands. “I’m sorry that hurt so much.”
Hutch turned so that his cheek was resting against Starsky’s neck.
Starsky realized that one of his hands had made its way to Hutch’s lower back. He reached beneath Hutch’s T-shirt and rubbed across the warm, quivering skin.
Starsky felt wetness against his neck and shoulder. He reached up and brushed his thumb along Hutch’s lower eyelid, detecting a pool of moisture.
It was pretty much a given that tears would appear at some point during these episodes. Usually they were from Hutch having given in to a sense of despair and hopelessness that he’d ever get completely better, however short-lived those dark feelings might be. Starsky wasn’t sure if that was the cause this time, or if it had been the intensity of the pain.
“Hey,” he whispered gently, “that was a scary one, huh? How you doing?”
No reply. Hutch’s breath was finally evening out. One hand moved up to Starsky’s chest and took his shirt in a lose grip. Hutch turned his face toward the back of the sofa, and his other hand grabbed Starsky’s arm, and held on.
Slowly, Hutch’s body got heavier, even as residual tremors continued their attack.
Starsky closed his eyes and stroked leisurely up and down Hutch’s back with both hands. He was certain that Hutch could use something to drink, and he himself was starting to feel cramped from being on the sofa so long, with Hutch’s weight on top of him. But he didn’t want to lose this moment. Whatever distress these wannabe relapses caused, Starsky was never sorry to be there for Hutch. On the contrary, he treasured the extreme intimacy such situations prompted. A closeness, a raw honesty, that was just as intense as being bonded together from being shot at and saving each other from life-or-death situations.
As he drifted, Starsky’s mind was teased by the things Hutch had said tonight. The newest, most startling secrets ever yet revealed. Every time he thought he knew everything there was to know about Hutch, the man threw him for a loop.
He saw two guys being lovey-dovey in a bar, and felt so strongly about it – wanting that for himself – that it opened the door for the chemical craving that was waiting for the right moment to express itself once again.
Starsky furrowed his brow. Why hadn’t he ever known about Hutch’s longings? After all they had shared together, why had Hutch not told him how strong those feelings ran?
As Starsky’s hands continued to pet and soothe, he acknowledged how difficult it had been for Hutch to confess all that he had. Their pact required it. He would like to think that all their past talking of things through, during these infrequent incidents, is what had given Hutch the awareness to so readily identify that his body was wanting to relapse.
Now that Starsky had this new information, what was he going to do with it?
He opened is eyes and looked down at Hutch. The blond head rested on his shoulder, turned away. Hutch’s mouth hung open as his breath moved in and out. Both hands kept their hold on the body that was his anchor.
Starsky would never be able to put into words how much he loved this man.
Why aren’t we? Hutch had wanted to know.
Why weren’t they banging each other, especially when so many others thought they were, anyway?
Starsky leaned down to Hutch’s turned away face. He squeezed the nearest shoulder. “Right here, pal. How are you doing?”
Hutch’s eyes remained closed. “That really sucked.”
Starsky closed his own eyes and forced down a thick swallow. Then he said, “It sucked for me, too, to see you hurting like that.” He gentled his voice. “How are you feeling now?”
“That I don’t want to move.”
“Then don’t.” Starsky squeezed him again.
“Have to,” Hutch insisted with reluctance.
“Okay. I think there’s some throw-up somewhere, so be careful.” He let his arms drop away.
Starsky had to endure elbows and knees digging into him, until Hutch had finally straightened enough to put his feet on the floor.
Hutch sat hunched forward, catching his breath.
“Need help standing up?” Starsky asked, getting to his own feet. It felt good, and he rubbed his hands along his legs.
Hutch started to rise without answering, and Starsky had his arms out, ready to assist. Hutch straightened, and for a moment seemed unsteady, but then he took a step toward the bathroom.
Starsky let him go. “You want some coffee? Anything to eat?”
Hutch muttered over his shoulder. “Coffee and candy, I guess.”
Starsky went into the kitchen and decided that a bag of Doritos was all he needed to go with his coffee. He placed filled cups for each of them on the table. And then placed a couple of candy bars next to Hutch’s cup.
He sat down and began munching the Doritos, and taking occasional sips of coffee.
It was a long time before Hutch emerged from the bathroom, appearing haggard. He slumped into a kitchen chair and ran a trembling hand through his hair. “I have the runs, and I took some Pepto and threw it up in the sink thirty seconds later.”
Aw, Hutch. Starsky said, “Maybe you can try swallowing it again in a little bit.”
Hutch picked up his coffee cup and his hand shook. He then lowered it the table and leaned down to take a few careful sips.
Starsky studied him a moment. “You’re probably dehydrated and should have some water.”
“Not right now,” Hutch muttered. He gazed off into space for a long moment. Then he ran his hand through his hair again. Looking away, he said, “I-I just keep thinking, you know, that I just need one hit. Just one. It can even be really diluted or something. It’ll take the edge off, and that will get me through. And I won’t need anymore. Just the one.” He looked at Starsky hopefully.
Starsky ignored those words and returned Hutch’s gaze. “You’re going to get through this. I’m right here. It’s going to be so much better in the morning.”
Hutch grimaced and looked away.
Starsky quietly said, “If you’re willing to take your mind off it, there’s some things I’d like to talk about.” When Hutch looked back at him, he explained, “You don’t have to say anything, Hutch, if you don’t want to, because this doesn’t have anything to do with your addiction. It’s not part of the pact.” He softly concluded, “This is for me.”
Hutch continued to gaze at him.
Starsky took that as an encouraging sign. He asked, “How long have you been wanting us to be like those two guys in the bar?”
Hutch snorted, and one mouth corner twisted into some semblance of a smile. “I’m not dense, pal.” He tore open a candy wrapper. “When it was apparent that the imaginary biography of Kenneth Richard Hutchinson had David Michael Starsky as the protagonist, it just…,” he shrugged elaborately, “seemed dumb.”
“Dumb? What do you mean?”
“That we’d never banged each other. How stupid is that?” Then, with earnest, “Why haven’t we ever done it?”
Starsky held Hutch’s gaze. “You never brought it up.”
Hutch took a bite of candy. After chewing a moment, he asked, “Why was bringing it up my responsibility?”
Starsky blinked. “Because it was your idea.”
Hutch took another bite. “You’ve never,” he began, and then swallowed.
Starsky grimaced. “Of course, it’s crossed my mind. But I never wanted to go down that road.”
It was such an honest question. Starsky released a long breath. Then, “I just, I just love so much what we have, Hutch. I love how we are together. I mean,” he searched for the right words, “if we intermingle body parts, how is that supposed to make things better than they already are?”
Hutch appeared exasperated. “We already intermingle body parts. Isn’t that what you meant by ‘how we are together’? Does it really matter which specific body parts they are?”
Starsky looked away, not certain how to answer.
“What?” Hutch continued. “It’s great if we put our arms around each other, but horrible and terrible if we put our hands around each other’s cocks?” He scratched at his arm.
Starsky decided it was okay not to answer because he still needed his original question addressed. “So, how long ago was it that you had the fantasy of writing your biography?”
Hutch obediently grew thoughtful. Then, “When I was dating Penny. Maybe three or so months ago? I broke it off when I realized that she and I were spending too much time together, and I knew I was always going to want to be with you more than with her.”
"So, why didn’t you tell me?”
Hutch considered a moment, and then said, “I wasn’t getting any kind of vibe from you that you’d be interested. I didn’t think you’d appreciate me bringing it up. I didn’t want you to do it with me just because I wanted to.” His voice grew accusing. “That’s just the kind of thing you would do – do it with me because I wanted to.” He scratched at his arm.
Starsky gazed at the tabletop for a long moment, trying to check in with himself and gauge his own reactions to the thoughts running through his mind. He sighed, and then quietly admitted, “You’re probably right.”
Hutch bowed his head. “Now it’s out there,” he said with regret.
Yes, it was. Starsky wished this particular subject wasn’t mixed up with an addiction episode. But there was nothing he could do to change that.
Hutch looked up. “What are you going to do?” he asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” Starsky admitted. Then he shrugged and managed a smile. “Keep loving you to death, for one thing.” He gazed at a far wall. “I don’t know, Hutch. I try to imagine feeling passionate about you… in, you know, a sexual way, and…. I don’t know. The feeling just doesn’t seem to be there.” He dared to look up.
Hutch was staring at him, as though calculating. Then Hutch declared, “You think I’m gorgeous.”
Starsky shrugged with a soft chuckle. “Yeah. What’s not to like?”
“You’re in love with all the things about me that annoy you.”
Starsky grinned up one side of his face. “’Course I am.”
More hesitantly, Hutch said, “You’ve seen me at the worst sort of bottom… and you still love me anyway.”
“Absolutely,” Starsky said with a brief nod.
“But you don't want to make love to me. I think you need a shrink.”
Starsky released a soft sigh. “Maybe.”
Hutch grew quiet for a moment. Then, worriedly, he said, “Maybe it’s that you don’t think I love you as much as I do. Maybe you don’t really know it.”
Starsky felt bad for how hard Hutch was trying. Wearily, he said, “Hutch, I have never, ever questioned how much you love me. That’s as solid as…,” he looked around, searching for the right word and couldn’t find it. “As anything.”
Thoughtfully, Hutch said, “Maybe you don’t think that sex between men can be good.”
Amused, Starsky countered, “How would you know if it can be or not?”
Hutch’s eyes grew distant for a moment. Then he said, “Those two guys at the bar. They were doing it, and they were happy.”
Starsky sighed and admitted, “One day soon you and I are going to have to go back there and see if those two guys are there. Either they must have something magical going on about them that is tangible, or else you’re way, way over-romanticizing what you saw.”
Hutch stared at the floor. Then he said sadly, “I can’t go back. Ever. It’ll take hold of me again.” Abruptly, he reached for the second candy bar and unwrapped it.
“Yeah,” Starsky agreed immediately. “That was a bad suggestion on my part. Sorry.”
Starsky watched Hutch slowly chew the remaining bar. Then he asked, “How are you feeling?”
“Exasperated with you.”
Starsky couldn’t help but grin. “I meant physically.” He stood and stretched. When Hutch didn’t answer right away, he said, “Is your stomach doing okay?”
“Maybe you should try the Pepto again.” He moved to Hutch and squeezed his shoulders. “I think we should hit the sack soon. If we’re lucky, you might be able to sleep the rest of this off.” He reached to an overhead cabinet. “How about some water?”
His back was turned and he didn’t get an answer, so he filled a glass with tap water. When he turned around, Hutch was watching him with a serious expression.
Starsky held out the glass to him. “What are you thinking about?”
Hutch accepted it. “How in love with you I am.”
Starsky felt a fuzzy feeling drift through him that made him weak in the knees. He knelt before Hutch. “Hutch, I think part of the problem I’m having is that I’m so accustomed to taking care of you, especially during these moments, that maybe it’s that I see you as vulnerable right now, and it would be like taking advantage of you.”
Hutch started drinking from the glass, his eyes on Starsky.
Starsky continued, “I think we need to talk about this when you’re past trying to relapse. So, you know, your health won’t be any kind of factor.”
Hutch put the glass down as Starsky stood. “So, once again, we’re going to have an excuse to sleep with each other, and not do damn thing.” He also rose.
Starsky reached to squeeze his shoulders. “That’s exactly right. Not a damn thing. So, don’t be gettin’ any ideas.”
Hutch abruptly grabbed one of Starsky’s hands and placed it against his crotch. “Does that feel like it’s capable of having ideas?”
There was only softness. Starsky pulled his hand away. “Cut that out.” But he was grinning.
“I can’t get a hard-on when I’m going through this crap.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear that you’ll be behaving yourself.” But when Starsky looked up at Hutch, he felt it necessary to say, “I’m not afraid of your hard-on, you know. I’ve seen every part of you in every state imaginable.” He realized his voice carried pride.
While Hutch moved to the bathroom, Starsky went to the sofa and turned on a nearby lamp. He found the vomit spot on the quilt, but it wasn’t very big or particularly gross. He dragged both the quilt and the blanket into the bedroom and placed them on the bed, careful to keep the soiled portion at the far end.
“Hutch,” he called out, “why don’t you try the pink stuff again, so maybe you’ll be able to sleep through the night.” He fervently hoped Hutch wouldn’t have anymore of those severe cramping episodes. The shakes were easy, compared to that.
Hutch entered the bedroom, having stripped down to his underwear. “I tried another dose.” He put his hand to his stomach. “I think it’s going to be okay.”
Starsky tilted his head and then approached Hutch, because something seemed different. He picked up the blond’s hand and held it up. “The tremors are gone?”
“Mostly,” Hutch said, then moved toward the bed.
Starsky blinked. “How’s the craving?”
Hutch was straightening the bedding in a nervous gesture. “Still there. But not so intense.”
“Hey,” Starsky said with amazement, “I think you’re getting past this already. You don’t even have to wait until the sun comes up.”
“Yeah,” Hutch agreed softly, as though afraid voicing it would jinx the truth of his recovery. He got beneath the covers. “I can feel that all the bad stuff is starting to fall away.”
Starsky smiled and briefly closed his eyes. “That’s great. That’s fantastic.”
He took his turn in the bathroom, anticipating a good night’s sleep, rather than a long night of worry and concern. When he turned off the bathroom light, the apartment was dark, and he stripped down to his briefs. He moved to the bed and got on his side of the mattress. It felt so good to stretch out, and he sighed happily. Then he reached to the other side of the bed. “Where are you, Blintz? Come on over.”
Hutch moved near and took Starsky’s hand. He pressed it against his underwear. “I’m definitely feeling better, buddy.”
Starsky couldn’t deny the hesitant growth, so different from just a little while ago, but he took his hand away. “Come on, nothing’s happening tonight. We both need to be our normal selves before we talk about it some more.”
Hutch leaned over him. “I don’t think talking is going to solve anything.”
Starsky made a point of not touching his partner. “Hutch, you’re not being fair. You’ve had months to think about this. I’ve had it sprung on me rather unexpectedly tonight.”
Hutch snorted. “It’s not like talking about it more is going to change what you already know is going to happen.”
“Probably not,” Starsky didn’t mind admitting. “But at least I’ll have come to a decision in my own way.” After a moment, he added, “Besides, if you’re so confident of what’s going to happen, then why are you pushing things?”
A warm forehead pressed against his arm. “Sorry.”
Starsky's heart melted. “Yeah? Well, don’t be. There’re few things that light up the world more than an eager, happy Hutch.” Starsky grabbed a shoulder and tugged. “Come on, lay down here.”
As Hutch settled with his head on Starsky’s shoulder, he said seriously, “I really don’t need to be babied like this.” Then, more softly, “I’m okay.”
Starsky closed his eyes. “I know you are. I just consider it my reward for taking good care of you. But you can move back over to your side of the bed, if you want. ”
Hutch didn’t move away. “You just wait, partner. I’ve got all kinds of other rewards in mind. They’ll feel a whole lot better than just snuggling up together.”
Starsky smiled with his eyes still closed. “Great, I’m looking for to it. Just not tonight.” He put an arm around Hutch and squeezed. “I love you, Blintz. More than anything.”
After a long moment, Hutch said, “I would kiss you goodnight, but I don’t think you want that either.”
“Not tonight,” Starsky agreed softly. Then he grinned as a new thought struck. “Think of this as the last night of our innocence. You can make it the closing chapter for your imaginary biography. Tomorrow, we’ll start a sequel.
Hutch settled more firmly against Starsky. “Sleep, buddy. And in the meantime, I’ll start mentally writing the sequel's opening chapter.”
Starsky’s grin widened as he felt himself gently drift into slumber.