Actions

Work Header

Four Ways Starsky Lost Terry and One Way He Didn't

Work Text:

"Dave. Dave?"

The insistent call woke Starsky from a light doze, and he started awake guiltily, feeling his neck crack as he moved too fast. He shook his head, trying to clear the muzzy feeling of too little deep sleep from his head. He looked groggily around the bedroom and couldn't remember what time of day it was. There was light coming through the window; as he focused bleary eyes on the placement of shadows, he decided it must be morning. Probably around ten o'clock.

"Dave!" Terry's voice had gone from petulance to panic in the few seconds it took him to orient himself, and the familiar surge of adrenaline brought him completely awake.

"Right here, sweetheart." Starsky levered himself out of the bedside chair, wincing at the soreness in his back and shoulders. He cursed himself for falling asleep after giving Terry her breakfast. It was a variation in their routine and variations, no matter how slight, upset her.

"What do you need?" He sat on the bed beside her and gently stroked her hair, feeling relief as the slow repetitive motions gradually calmed her. Her hair felt brittle and stiff under his fingers, even though he'd only washed it the day before. He tried not to remember the wealth of soft brown waves he'd loved to bury his hands in.

"I want . . ." Her voice trailed away, and his relief vanished. When she was foggy on the names of things this early, it was usually a sign of a bad day to come. She looked up him, her eyes clouded with confusion and fear. One pale thin hand clutched at his arm, the sharp bones of knuckles and wrist all too prominent.

"I want the thingy," Terry murmured, and shook him slightly. "Give me the thingy."

"I'm sorry, hon, I don't get it," he said. "Can you try to tell me another way?"

"The thingy!" she snapped, and batted at him in irritation. "You know!"

He tried the usual memory tricks—what color is it, how big is it, what do you do with it—but none of them worked. It was a vicious circle: the more frustrated Terry got, the worse her memory got, and the more fixated she became on whatever it was she couldn't remember. Once she reached a certain level of frustration, the anger spilled out uncontrollably, and anything he did or said or gave her brought on screams of fury and flailing hands aiming for every vulnerable point on his body.

When he'd first brought her home from the hospital, he'd assumed that as time went on and she got used to her surroundings, used to him, that the outbursts would eventually die down. It had taken months for him to really accept what the doctors had told him.

It wouldn't get better. Ever. The damage done by the bullet was permanent and untreatable. With some brain injuries there were ways to adapt and work around the damaged area, but for Terry, it had proved to be impossible. Her memory, both long and short term, had become a fragile sieve, with the holes opening and closing at random. The mood swings were a result of the bullet, too. They might have been controllable with medication to some degree, but the pills made her either nauseous or disoriented. The panic brought on by sickness for which she couldn't remember the cause was even worse than the raging, as far as Starsky was concerned.

Today, though, as her confusion and desperation grew, he wished he had accepted the last prescription just to have something to calm her down for a little while and give them both some peace.

By the time he finally guessed that she wanted her emery board, they were both worn out, and Terry was so upset she couldn't work on her nails anyway. If that was even why she'd wanted the emery board in the first place. She turned it over and over in her hand for a few minutes, and then tossed it indifferently onto the nightstand.

Starsky felt a spurt of rage well up inside him, and quashed it fiercely. It wasn't her fault she couldn't remember, and it wasn't her fault she had the emotional control of a three-year-old. He knew damn well whose fault it was, and the rage was replaced by the old bitter familiarity of guilt.

As it occasionally did after an outburst, Terry's mood lightened once she was tired out. Sometimes, when he was feeling sorry for himself, Starsky thought it was because once she fucked up his head for the day, it made her feel better. He knew that wasn't her fault either—she didn't have the capability any longer to plan something that mean, and if she had had it, she wouldn't have done it.

Round and round and round, he thought wearily. Round and round and round.

While she was cheerful, he got Terry to the bathroom, got her washed and her teeth brushed, combed her hair and got a fresh dressing gown for her. She didn't need to stay in bed all the time. The doctors encouraged her to get as much exercise as she was able, to stimulate her feeble appetite. But on her bad days, even moving from room to room was enough to confuse her, and Starsky wasn't sure he had the strength left for another session.

Once he got her settled again, he brought the paper in from the front step and read to her. He wasn't really sure how much she followed of what he said, but he knew in her good moods she liked the sound of his voice. It broke his heart all over again when he saw her drift off as he read to her about the election coverage. Once they had talked and argued about everything, her quick intelligence and sharp sense of humor as appealing as everything else about her. Now—

He choked the thought off and kept reading, quietly, soothingly. Terry looked vaguely out the window, and gave no sign that anything he read had any meaning to her at all.

By the time he'd finished reading, she was beginning to stir restlessly, a sign she was getting hungry.

"What would you like for lunch, sweetheart?" Starsky asked the question every day, and most of the time got nothing useful as an answer. Today was no exception. Terry looked at him blankly.

"Lunch?"

"Yeah, it's lunch time. You want a sandwich today? Nice meatloaf on seven-grain? Hutch brought some bread yesterday." He cursed himself silently. Yesterday might as well have been a different millennium.

To his surprise, she replied easily, "We had that yesterday. I think I'd like some soup today." It was unusually decisive, and Starsky couldn't help a chuckle. Every now and then there was a little flash of his old Terry, and as painful as they were, he treasured every one of them.

"One bowl of soup, coming right up for the pretty lady." He gave her quick kiss on the cheek, further heartened when she didn't pull away.

He whistled as he heated the soup, and put it and a small plate of crackers on a tray. Maybe, today wouldn't be such a bad day after all. There still were some good ones, days when her memory was close to normal, when she knew him—knew him, Starsky, not just the person who looked after her in the meaningless fog she drifted in so much of the time.

It all came crashing down as soon as he reentered the bedroom. Terry was agitated, her hands plucking at the cover he'd put over her knees, her head turning from side to side in a frantic quest for something. She gave the tray a suspicious look, one he'd learned to recognize as her way of hiding that she wasn't quite sure why something was happening.

Confusion often made her angry, and anger always made her lash out, so Starsky hastily said, "Here's lunch, sweetheart. You said you'd like some soup, remember? Cream of chicken. It's your favorite."

He shouldn't have added the last words, knew they were a mistake as soon as he said them. Cream of chicken was Terry's favorite, but she hated being reminded of things she thought she still knew.

"Don't want this shit!" She struck wildly at the tray with both hands.

The bowl hit him in the chest, soup splattering over his shirt, dripping down his legs. There wasn't much burn—he never brought Terry really hot food because there was no way to know exactly where it would end up—but the nasty wet feeling in his clothes was suddenly enough to make his stomach turn.

Without even picking up the bowl, he lurched out to the bathroom, the feeling of his sticky damp jeans rubbing against his legs with every step only intensifying his nausea. He barely made it to the john before the heaves hit, almost turning him inside out with their intensity. He retched endlessly, aware at some point that there was nothing left to come up, but unable to control his stomach.

When it finally stopped, Starsky slumped down on the tiles beside the toilet, too weak to even move. It hadn't been this bad in a long time, he thought dimly, not since the first few months when hope had died a long and miserable death and he'd puked and cried in what seemed like equal measures for days on end. It looked as if hope had tried to make one last reappearance and been shot down.

He felt himself tilt sideways until he was lying curled on his side on the floor. The smell of vomit and congealing chicken soup made him heave again, but there was nothing left, and he just spat some bile out weakly. He wished he could pass out. Wished there were some of the pills the doctors had offered to keep Terry calm. Maybe a few of those would make him feel better. Maybe a bottleful would do an even better job.

The pressure of cold floor on his hips and shoulders eventually became so uncomfortable that he had no choice but to move. Another bout of nausea hit him from the stench, but this time he controlled it. He flushed the toilet a couple of times, turned on the fan, washed his face and brushed his teeth. He managed to get his clothes off, and tossed them in the general direction of the laundry hamper. The sheets probably would have to be washed too, and Terry's clothes—

A wave of exhaustion hit Starsky so hard he had to grab onto the sink to stay upright. It was the endless round of laundry that took the most out of him. He kept buying sheets and towels and nightgowns, and yet it always seemed that he was only barely keeping one load ahead on clean clothes. He let himself slide down to sit leaning against the vanity and just stayed there, shivering and wondering how long it would take to get up the strength to move.

He vaguely registered the sound of the front door opening, but couldn't be bothered to lift his head.

"Starsk?" a familiar voice called. "Hey, buddy, you here?"

"In here, Hutch," he said wearily.

A few seconds later, Hutch leaned against the door, staring at him with the concerned look that was so much a part of him these days. "You okay, partner?" he said, before squatting down and shaking his head. "No, you're not. Bad one?"

"I got her some soup. She couldn't remember wanting it. She threw it at me." Starsky recited the facts in a monotone, wishing he didn't sound so much like a perp copping to a plea. Knowing there wasn't anything to feel guilty about didn't stop him from flushing with shame.

"Ah, shit. She okay now?" Hutch asked.

"Don't know." Starsky gestured absently in the direction of the toilet and his dirty clothes. "Kinda got distracted. Christ." He braced his hands against the tiles and started to lever himself upright. "I need to check."

Hutch slipped an arm around his waist and helped pull him upright. The look on his face slowly shifted from concern to outright worry.

"Starsky, when was the last time you ate?" Hutch demanded.

Starsky shook his head. "Can't remember. Can't remember being hungry, either, so I must have."

"Your ribs say otherwise. You've lost a hell of a lot of weight there, buddy." Hutch gave him a little pat on the stomach. "Why don't you go get yourself a sandwich or something, huh? I'll take care of Terry."

Starsky shook his head. "She'll need to be cleaned up. That soup probably went everywhere."

"I can do it," Hutch said firmly. "I'll sing for her a little. A few verses of Black Bean Soup always cheers her up. And let's get you out to the kitchen first, okay? You need to sit down before you fall down." He reached for the bathrobe Starsky had hanging on the back of the door. "Let's get you into this, too."

Starsky winced. "It's bad today," he whispered. "I don't think she'll remember you. She might get . . . cranky." The word seemed so inadequate to describe Terry's mood that he felt a crazy half-laugh bubble out before he could stop it.

"Doesn't matter." Hutch's voice was completely matter-of-fact. "I know she doesn't mean it."

By the time Hutch guided him out to the kitchen and got him settled at the table, Starsky felt strong enough that he didn't grab for Hutch's hand when his partner patted him on the shoulder and left him there. Not strong enough to summon up the effort to get himself any food, though. Not even to pour himself the remainder of the chicken soup on the stove. His stomach churned again at the thought. Something told him he'd never be able to look at the stuff again.

He could hear Hutch singing as he moved around the bedroom, occasionally heard Terry's voice, but not clearly enough to understand what she was saying. At least she wasn't shrieking at Hutch or throwing things.

Slowly Starsky put his head down on his arms. The feeling of utter exhaustion was back, and when he felt the first sting in his eyes, he couldn't summon the energy to fight it. He wouldn't let himself sob, but couldn't stop the steady drip of tears along his nose.

"Starsk? Where's—oh, shit." Hutch's voice was tender as he pulled Starsky up from the table and into his arms. "Easy, buddy, it's okay. I got you."

"Oh God, Hutch." Starsky wiped his eyes savagely, but the tears wouldn't stop flowing. "What'm I gonna do, huh?"

"Shhh." Hutch rocked him quietly back and forth. "Just breathe here, okay? Take it easy."

"I want it to be over." Starsky pulled away to stare at Hutch in agony. "What kind of a bastard does it make me that I'm wishing she'd died when that bullet hit her? This ain't a life, Hutch. Not for either of us. But I can't want her dead. Jesus, Hutch—"

"Shhh," Hutch repeated. "I know. I know. You're human, Starsk. That's all. And this is way more than you ever bargained for."

"Not fair to you either, pal." Starsky felt another wave of exhaustion roll over him. "You're over here almost every night, every weekend, helping me out, doing stuff for us. You need to get your own life; find a girl." Even as he said it, Starsky knew he was hoping with every fiber of his soul that Hutch wouldn't really take him up on it.

To his infinite relief, Hutch simply shook his head. "Me and thee isn't just about shooting at the bad guys. If that's all it was, I'd have bailed years ago. We're partners, and that means we're together for the long haul.

"Look, I know you don't want to hear this, but I'm saying it again. I've got money. Take it. Please. I've hardly touched a penny of what my grandpa left me. Better for it to be doing some good than just sitting in the bank collecting interest."

"I can't take money I'll never be able to pay back." The hopeless sound of his own voice didn't haunt Starsky as much as the underlying weakness. He wanted to take the money. God, Hutch would never know how much.

"You don't have to pay it back. I told you that. It's a gift. From me to Terry, if you want to think of it that way. To the Terry we knew." Hutch gently shook his shoulder. "C'mon, Starsk. You could hire a nurse; take some of the pressure off. Spend more time being her husband and not her caretaker."

Starsky shook his head. The thought of respite was like a mirage in the desert, an illusion of hope for a man dying of thirst.

"It's your future," he forced himself to say. "You're gonna want to make a nice home for your wife, send your kids to college, have a good retirement."

"I don't even have a girlfriend, mushbrain, so thinking about kids twenty years down the road is a little premature. Won't hurt them to work their way through school anyway," he added with a little grin.

"I can't sponge offa you." Starsky tried to make it sound final.

"Saving your pride can't be better than tearing yourself to pieces with guilt and wishing she was dead."

"It's my fault!" Starsky whispered, voice breaking with pain. "She wouldn't be like this if it weren't for me."

"If it weren't for Prudholm," Hutch said.

"Me. I shoulda killed him right at the get-go. None of this would have happened if I'd just shot the son of a bitch between the eyes when I had the chance."

"So you're going to make Terry pay because you think you deserve a hair shirt?"

"You bastard!" Starsky snarled, pushing away, trying to ignore the vertigo that rocked him.

Hutch grabbed his shoulders again just as he staggered, and shook him firmly. "Listen, you dope. I love you, I love Terry. You two are probably as much family as I'll ever have. Fuck your pride and take the goddamn money. You wanna know what my worst nightmare is? I show up here someday and you're both dead. I'll lose you both because you think you have to be Superman to make up for what's happened to her. Well, you don't. There is another way. Take the money."

From behind the bedroom door came a crash and a thin wordless wail. Starsky looked over at Hutch in utter despair, barely able to hold back a wail of his own.

"It's okay, partner," Hutch whispered. "You just sit back down and rest a little more. Close your eyes and rest a little, okay. I'll take care of her."

 

***

 

Starsky and Terry got married two months after Terry got a clean bill of health from the doctors. Starsky had pushed to do it sooner than that, but Terry insisted they wait until every test was normal. She wanted it to be a real marriage, she said, not just something he did to make it up to her for getting shot.

Starsky said he didn't care what shape she was in, but deep down inside he knew at least some of that was guilt talking.

Six months later, he knew he'd made a mistake. Not that Terry wasn't a terrific girl and a great wife, but by then Starsky had figured out he didn't really like being married.

And he really didn't like not being able to fuck Hutch.

Hutch had pulled the plug when Starsky said he was going to marry Terry. Hutch had a thing about not going after married women, so it shouldn't have been much of a surprise that he wouldn't go after a married man either. But Starsky still felt as if he'd been kicked in the teeth. He'd argued, but shut up when he realized if he kept pushing it, Hutch might just shut him down completely. So he backed off, said everything was cool, and waited for Hutch to come to his senses.

Only he didn't.

Hutch still loved him, still wanted him—that was easy enough to spot. But he stopped the teasing and flirting that had been so much a part of their relationship, and kept his hands strictly to himself. It wasn't until it didn't happen any more that Starsky realized how much of his world had revolved around Hutch's shoulder and stomach pats, around shared cups of coffee, or sandwiches passed back and forth. He hadn't known how much he'd taken for granted those times when Hutch would lean back in his chair and casually open the top button or two of his shirt to show some skin, the sly little grin on his face saying he knew just how much Starsky enjoyed the view.

Starsky thought he'd miss the sex, and he did: those late nights or early mornings when they'd end up at one of their places and just fall into bed, tearing their clothes off, not caring who did what as long as there was lots of bare skin and friction involved. Nobody, male or female, had ever been able to keep up with him the way Hutch did. Nobody ever knew just where to touch and how to make him nuts and keep him that way. And as much as Terry enjoyed sex with him, she couldn't seem to figure out what really pushed his buttons.

Yet what Starsky missed more than the sex was the contact. Their connection had sometimes floundered on the words, but touch never failed them, and not being able to have that made Starsky ache inside as if he were constantly hungry and nothing could satisfy him.

The abstinence got to both of them. The little digs got sharper; the silences got louder. Starsky couldn't help teasing Hutch, showing off what he was missing. He wore his jeans tight, kept his shirt unbuttoned halfway, made sure he put a little extra strut in his step when he was walking in front. If Hutch thought he could just turn off the tap, then he was damn well going to suffer just as much as Starsky did.

It took longer than Starsky expected, but in the end Hutch caved, just like Starsky knew he would. Eight months after the wedding, Dobey assigned them to a stakeout of a suspected counterfeiter's hideout. For three solid nights they sat in the Torino in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do except try not to think about how close they were to each other, how quiet and dark it was, how fucking frustrating it was to be so close to what you really wanted and not touch.

Around two in the morning on the third night, Hutch suddenly swore and grabbed hold of Starsky, damn near tearing the shirt right off him. It was fast and rough and messy and the hottest thing Starsky had ever had. Luckily for them, the counterfeiter and his buddies showed up about three hours later and weren't happy about being arrested, so they had a logical explanation for the bruises and swollen lips and why Starsky was walking a little funny the next day.

Once they started, they couldn't keep their hands off each other. Hutch felt guilty as hell—he started smoking again, and lost about fifteen pounds so fast Dobey wanted to send him to the doctor—but he couldn't give it up any more than Starsky could. Once they'd broken down the fence, all bets were off.

They'd both been cops long enough to know that changing patterns was what got nine out of ten cheaters in trouble. They also knew, from setting up stakeouts, that if you slowly added stuff to an old pattern, people were a lot less likely to catch on that what they were seeing was a new pattern. So they still went bowling every alternate Tuesday when they could get away, but cut out a little early. Starsky took some ribbing for being henpecked, and Hutch rolled his eyes and kept saying he'd have to start driving his own car so he could play the full game, but within a surprisingly short time, it was SOP that they didn't stick around all evening. They still played basketball with Jackson and took Kiko and Molly out to Little League, and if they took the kids home a bit early and came home themselves a little late, it wasn't that obvious.

Everything went smooth as silk, and Starsky started thinking that maybe in another few months, he'd tell Terry that it just wasn't working, and how would she feel about a no-fault divorce. Physically, she was completely recovered, back to teaching and everything, so it wasn't like he'd be abandoning a sick woman while he went on his merry way. And if she ever did need anything, he'd be there for her.

Just not as her husband.

Another night, on another stakeout, they were parked in the alley back of Micky Fraser's Second Hand Appliance Jamboree, waiting for the guys who were fencing a truckload of stolen TVs and stereos to show up. Neither of them figured there'd be any action—Micky was strictly small-time, the kind of guy who might buy a few cartons with dubious provenance, but who didn't have the cojones to fence out the results of a hijacking. At best, they'd catch somebody doing a side deal on part of the merchandise, and then have to work their way back up the food chain.

They were passing the time the way they enjoyed best on boring shitwork like this. Starsky was keeping an eye on the back door, while Hutch had his head down, giving him a long and leisurely blowjob.

When the first flash of light filled the car, neither of them had a clue what was going on. Starsky yelled and jumped, driving his cock down Hutch's throat, and pushing Hutch up hard against the steering wheel. That made Hutch scream, which was damn lucky, otherwise the sheer surprise and pain might have made him clamp his teeth down on Starsky's cock.

The shock kept them still through two more rapid flashes, and then both of them dived into the footwell, pulling their guns. There was another flash and then darkness. In the silence, they could hear the sound of feet pounding down the alley.

Starsky recovered first, and realized what had happened. "Camera!" he yelled, and scrambled out of the Torino. His belt was undone, and his jeans unzipped, so he had to do an awkward little dance to keep his pants from falling down as he chased after the guy.

The delay wasn't much, just a couple of seconds, but it was enough for the guy to make it to the end of the alley and scoot off down the street. It was also long enough for Hutch to get himself together and catch up, just as Starsky was raising his gun and taking aim.

Hutch grabbed Starsky's arm, squeezing so violently Starsky wouldn't have been surprised to hear bones crack. "Drop the gun!"

"What're you doing?" Starsky snarled. "He's got pictures! He's getting away!" He tried without success to wrestle free.

"What am I doing?" Hutch yelled back. "You're the one about to shoot an unarmed civilian in the back!"

"He's getting away!" Starsky struggled enough that he dragged Hutch a few feet along the pavement, but there was no give in the hands that held him. He watched in helpless disbelief as the guy with the camera crossed the street at a dead run and vanished down another alley.

When it was too late, Hutch finally let go and simply stood there, looking down the empty street and shaking his head.

Starsky grabbed him by the shirtfront and slammed him back against the wall. "What the hell did you do that for? We coulda caught him. Smashed the camera. Grabbed the film. Something."

"And then what?" Hutch scrubbed his hands over his face. "Unless that 'something' included killing the bastard, he could have just gone off and told everybody what he saw."

"Without proof, it's his word against ours. There's been rumors about us so long nobody even pays attention anymore. And once we found out who was behind it, we could get the goods on them. Turn it around somehow. But this way—"

Starsky broke off and looked at Hutch, saw the misery and fright and desperation he felt reflected back at him.

"We're fucked," Hutch said simply.

"We're fucked," Starsky agreed, feeling an emptiness form under his breastbone, one he was sure would consume him. "He got away, and by tomorrow everybody is going to see those pictures. Dobey. The chief. Internal Affairs." The emptiness grew until he felt as if he was about to be sucked under.

"Starsk. It's worse than that." Hutch looked as if that same void filled his eyes. "Think about it. That wasn't some newspaper snoop or some goon from IA. Somebody like that would have braced us, used his badge on us. That was a private investigator."

Starsky hadn't thought the emptiness inside him could get any worse, but there it was. "It's blackmail then. He'll go after our families. Aunt Rose. Terry."

Hutch shook his head. "A private investigator, following us around to take pictures of us getting it on? Don't you get it, buddy? Terry already knows."

 

***

 

Paperwork was a motherfucker, Starsky thought. Lately it felt as if the entire legal system was one giant paper machine, designed not to catch crooks but to make sure the pulp and paper companies made a healthy profit every quarter.

Starsky pulled the last sheet of the report out of the typewriter and checked it over. He'd learned the value of proofreading pretty quickly after Hutch transferred to bunko and Starsky suddenly had to deal with his own reports. Hutch always said that Starsky responded better to positive reinforcement, but Dobey had never learned the meaning of that. He yelled, Starsky typed, he yelled some more. Starsky sometimes wondered if Dobey secretly held stock in the company that made corrector ribbons and White-Out.

Thinking of Hutch made him check his calendar. Tomorrow night was their weekly beer and bitch session at Huggy's. Nothing short of being called out on an active case ever interfered with those nights.

After Vanessa had been murdered, Hutch lost some of his drive for the streets. When he'd started talking about taking a transfer if a good one came up, Starsky hadn't taken it seriously, sure Hutch was just mourning and needed time to recharge his batteries. But as the months went by and Hutch let both his diet and grooming go to shit, Starsky accepted that they were finished. In the end, Starsky decided that trying to save the partnership would probably kill everything that made it worthwhile in the first place. If saving their friendship meant letting his partner go gracefully, he could do it.

Even after he made that decision, Hutch's transfer to bunko had been a wrench. Working alone was hard to get used to, but not the complete shock it would have been a couple of years before.

Once Starsky had married Terry, spending seventy-five percent of the time with his partner wasn't an option. They were still closer than brothers on the job, still made time for each other off-duty, but Starsky had somebody else in his life. He was determined to do a better job of being a husband than so many of the guys on the force who treated their homes as a place to get laundry done and their ashes hauled once a week. He loved Terry, couldn't imagine not having her in his life, and thanked God every day that Prudholm's aim had been just a little bit off.

He sometimes thought back to the long-ago conversation he'd had with Hutch about being bugs that knew how to swim in the toilet bowl, and came to the conclusion that having a home and somebody there whose life was worth fighting for made that swim more than an exercise in futility. He'd read somewhere once about people you loved being hostages to fortune, but he figured the guy got it backwards. Somebody to back you up meant the fight was worth more, but also weighed easier on you.

He and Terry tried to set Hutch up with a few nice girls, hoping that he would find somebody special, but nothing ever came of it. Hutch would be polite and pleasant, but he'd always say afterwards girls like Terry were few and far between. After two bad marriages, Hutch really didn't have a lot of faith in happily ever after. He dated women who knew the score, and were ready to have some good times with a guy who treated them right but didn't expect anything more than the occasional phone call.

Even if his personal life didn't get settled, moving to bunko still did Hutch a world of good. Not having to deal with the physical and psychic wounds that were part of a street cop's life let those rubbed-raw places on his soul heal. And his career took off the way it never could have under Dobey. Hutch's memory for details and his knack for logically figuring things through were made for the fraud and corruption squad. He could follow a paper trail like a squirrel hunting down the last nut in the forest. He'd developed an appreciation for computers too, and kept trying to talk Starsky into investing money in computer stocks.

When Hutch's talent for following the money got them teamed up again to take down James Gunther, it seemed just like old times for a while.

But even then, Hutch never expressed any desire to return to the streets. Starsky buried his feelings of homesickness and loss, and yeah, a little betrayal, too, and thanked God that he and Terry were solid. Maybe the professional part of his life was lonelier than he'd have liked, but the personal was doing just fine.

Although, thinking of the professional—

He picked up the phone and hit the number for bunko. A few muted rings later, a soft drawling voice answered.

"Fraud, Detective Wilkes speaking."

"Hey, Wilky, it's Starsky. Can you put Hutch on for me?"

"Sorry, Starsky, no can do. Hutch didn't come back after lunch. Said he had to head over to the library to look at some financial reports."

"The library?" Starsky gave the phone a puzzled look. "The public library?"

"Nah, the library over at the college. He goes there sometimes lately. Claims he can get a lot more background where there's professionals to help him look for stuff. Me, I think he might have a girl he's seeing out there."

"You're kidding, right? He hasn't said anything to me."

Wilkes chuckled. "Not kidding about the library, at any rate. He says some of the guys from the business faculty get a kick out of helping a cop do research for a case. Sure paid off in the Coldwell case last week—their lawyer never expected anybody to actually compare the statements they sent to the clients with the fine print in the annual reports."

"Hey, Hutch always did have brains." Starsky couldn't keep the pride out of his voice. Maybe Hutch wasn't his partner anymore, but he still could work rings around most of the cops on the force.

"You want me to give him a message?"

"Nah, thanks anyway, I just thought we'd touch base, maybe grab a coffee before I head home. See you around."

"Not if I see you first." Wilkes hung up with another laugh, and Starsky set the phone down a little more sharply than he'd meant to.

He looked around his desk for a moment, and then felt a contented grin growing on his face. Insurmountable as the mountain of paperwork had seemed when he'd sat down, it looked as if he'd managed to actually whittle the whole thing right down to the bare surface. The smile turning into a smirk, he picked up the armful of folders and carried them over to Dobey's in-box. The thump they made as they hit the box made his grin grow even wider. The whole mess was Dobey's to deal with now, and he was going to take a leaf out of Hutch's book and head out.

During the drive home, he occupied his time with thoughts of how to spend the little slice of freedom he'd sneaked for himself. A lawn chair in the back yard with a beer; oh yeah, that was a must. Maybe he'd set up the barbeque and they could have an early dinner with some nice juicy steaks and a bottle of good red wine. It would only take a couple of minutes to get to the store if Terry liked that idea. On the other hand, maybe he could skip both the beer and the barbeque, and the pair of them could have themselves a little afternoon delight. It had been too long since they'd made love in natural light.

His street was peaceful in the afternoon sunshine. Most driveways were empty of cars, and Starsky couldn't repress another smile of satisfaction as he pulled into his. Poor suckers were still stuck in their offices, probably working on piles of paperwork even bigger than his, while he got to come home. There were some kids playing basketball in the street just down from the corner, using a parked sedan as a boundary marker for their improvised court. When the ball bounced away and across the sidewalk onto his lawn, Starsky scooped it up and dribbled it a few feet down the street before sending it back.

As he approached the door, Starsky thought about how much he loved this house. They'd fixed it up, putting in evenings and weekends on carpentry and painting and working in the garden. This wasn't some tenement apartment like his folks had had back in New York, or the saggy little bungalow Aunt Rose and Uncle Al rented near the car lot. This was a solidly built house, with its value rising every year because of the improvements he'd made. A real home, on his own land, that nobody could raise the rent on or throw him out of just because it suited them.

The house was cool and dim, with most of the curtains drawn. He could smell something good from the kitchen, and when he lifted the lid of the crockpot, he saw beef stew. The recipe book out on the counter was open to the section on quick breads, and Starsky smiled again as he saw that Terry was planning on making country biscuits to go with the stew.

Could this day get any better?

He opened his mouth to call for Terry, and closed it again. She was either in her sewing room or out in the back yard. Either way, he could sneak in and surprise her. And with the crockpot already on the go, there was no reason why a little afternoon delight couldn't turn into a nice evening of loving.

He made his way quietly along the hall. The sewing room door was open, and while the quilt she'd been working on was spread out over the table, Terry wasn't there. He was about to head back to the kitchen and out to the yard when he suddenly realized he could hear a vague murmur of voices from the bedroom. He was feeling so good he didn't even blink at the unfamiliar sound and even had time to wonder why Terry had moved the TV in there before he opened the bedroom door.

They were fucking on the armchair by the bed, Terry's nude body rocking up and down on the man's lap, her head thrown back and her hands gripping his shoulders tightly. The big hands splayed out on her back and ass were so familiar he didn't need to see the man's face.

Terry and Hutch.

For a moment, Starsky flashed back to the day he and Hutch cornered Johnny Lonegan in a bar to tell him the truth about his wife and Matt Coyle. It had been embarrassing to watch a bruiser like that cry like a baby over a worthless blonde chippie. Embarrassing, yeah, but maybe a little funny too—he'd always figured Lonegan was a world-class sap for letting himself get horned by a smooth-talking asshole like Coyle. When Lonegan rolled over on Coyle, he'd assumed it was all about hurt pride and revenge.

Now Starsky felt an urge to find the man and apologize. If Lonegan had hurt the way he hurt right now, he had to give the man points for even being able to stay on his feet.

Starsky could barely see through the tears as he pulled his gun.

 

***

 

The printer made a disgruntled rasping noise as it spat out one final piece of paper. Starsky looked up from the pages he was reading, pushing his glasses down slightly to focus on the computer screen. Satisfied, he gathered up the printout and hit the off switch.

Time for a quick cup of coffee, and then he'd head to the station. Hutch could take the paperwork for the warrants to the DA while he brought the rest of the squad up to speed. With any luck, they'd have a green light for the bust by lunchtime.

It was too early for the kids to be up yet, but Terry had the coffeemaker going, and bagels and juice on the table. Starsky gratefully poured himself a cup and leaned on the counter, rubbing a hand over his aching eyes. He'd gotten a couple of hours sleep on the couch, but most of the night he'd spent either on the phone or going over the printouts as more information had come in on the gunrunners they were chasing. He couldn't wait to wrap this mother up.

When Terry came in, he saluted her with his cup. She smiled half-heartedly and poured herself a coffee before turning to face him, chin lifted. He recognized the look and sighed inwardly, bracing himself for some complaint about the kids or the car or the plumbing that she'd expect him to deal with before he left. Twenty years of marriage, and she still didn't get that there were some days when other things had to come first.

He heard her take a breath, start to speak, and then pause. Another breath, another faltering start, and then the words came out, high and fast.

"I want a divorce."

Starsky put his coffee cup very carefully down on the counter and turned to face his wife. "What did you say?"

It was Wednesday morning, so Terry was dressed in one of what he'd come to call her "real estate lady" outfits. She had nearly a dozen of them: suits in pale neutral colors, matching shoes with fashionable but sensible heels, neatly understated classy jewelry. Her hair was carefully styled and highlighted, and her makeup discreet but flawless. She still looked gorgeous, tasteful, the kind of woman that a family would trust to sell them just the right house in an upscale neighborhood.

Starsky figured he looked pretty good for a guy who'd spent close to twenty-five years on the streets as a cop, but when he looked at Terry it always made him conscious that his hair was definitely going grey and he didn't spend nearly enough time at the gym any more.

"I said, I want a divorce," Terry repeated.

"What? A divorce? What're you talking about?" He couldn't stop the weak little laugh escaping. "This some kind of a joke?"

Terry took a deep slow breath and let it out carefully. "No, Dave. I mean it. I've been trying to talk to you for days now, but you've hardly been home, and when you are I can't get you to sit down and listen." She gestured helplessly. "I didn't want to just say it like that, but I couldn't think of anything else."

"A divorce." The fleeting thought he'd had of the gym suddenly made him straighten sharply. "You been seeing somebody?"

"You would think that."

"That's not an answer." Starsky didn't raise his voice, but he was all too aware that its inflection had become the one he was likely to use in the interrogation room. Terry noticed it too, and her face hardened.

"I'm not some scumbag you've pulled off the streets, Dave, so don't use that tone on me."

There was something so weird about those words coming out of that mouth, with its delicate pink lip gloss and perfectly whitened teeth, that Starsky shook his head in disbelief.

"Then don't lie to me," he growled. "I'm not one of your twinkle-toes interior designers or some rich boob you can bamboozle into paying twice what a house is worth just by talking up how close it is to Hollywood."

"I'm not lying!" Terry said tightly. "I haven't cheated on you, ever. Not like you'd have anything to get all high and mighty about even if I did."

"Terry, I told you—"

"Oh, you told me, all right. 'Kira and I had to go undercover, there was nothing going on at all, we just had to spend the evenings going out dancing and the nights shacked up together.' Why you ever even bothered to make up such a stupid story—how dumb do you think I am after all these years?"

"We were undercover! Jesus, ask Hutch! He was there!"

"Oh, yeah, as if Hutch wouldn't lie for you. As if he wouldn't cover your ass no matter what. Me and thee always won out over everything else. Do you really think he'd be honest with me about that?"

Starsky dropped his head into his hands. "Terry, I don't know what to say here. I haven't been stepping out on you, and I don't know how to prove I'm not. And when I ask you the same question, you start stonewalling like some perp. I haven't done anything. What am I supposed to say when my wife drops this kind of a bombshell? Tells me she wants to tear the family apart and won't even give me a reason?"

"Oh, come on." Terry had dropped into the silky-smooth tone that always reminded Starsky of the department's hostage negotiator. "It's not like we've been a real family for a while. You work more overtime than you did when you were patrolling the streets with Hutch. And even when you're home, half the time you're on the phone to somebody down at headquarters, or in your office doing God knows what."

Starsky felt a cold burn of fury. "You sure as fuck didn't mind the long hours when the overtime paid for this house. Or for that trip to Acapulco last year. Or buying the kids the stuff they need."

Terry looked down, bit her lip. "You've always been a good provider, I'm not arguing about that. But being a husband is more than just bringing home a paycheck. Most of the time it already feels like I'm a single mother. How many times did you make it to one of Mike's basketball games last year? Or Joan's softball tournaments? Sometimes it seemed like you only had time for our kids when one of Hutch's strays was there."

"That's not fair! Just 'cause we had Kiko and Molly over sometimes—"

"It wasn't we, Dave. It was you. Kiko was a juvenile delinquent, and Molly was a nasty little bully. Mike and Joan both hated having her here, and you never listened to them any more than you listened to me. I kept telling you she stole things, and you just brushed it off."

"For Christ's sake! Molly's been dead nearly five years, and we're fighting about her coming over here to play when she was a kid?"

"No, we're fighting about the fact that the only people that matter to you are the ones in your police life. I'm tired of being so far down the list that I don't even make the first page!"

"That's not true!"

"Face it, Dave. I have. Being a cop is your life. Your real life. The kids and I, we're just distractions."

"No!"

"Yes. I guess getting married was part of the whole life plan for you—job, wife, kids, house—the normal American dream. But the only part of that you ever really wanted was the job. The only reason you married me is because Prudholm shot me. Otherwise, I wouldn't have held your interest for more than a couple of weeks at most."

He could feel his hand coming up, then saw her back away. The sudden fear on her face filled him with vicious satisfaction. The moment he realized it, shame replaced the satisfaction. This was his wife, the mother of his kids, and he was going to slap her like a snitch in an alley?

He turned away, clenching his hands tightly at his sides. "Sorry," he muttered. "You know I'd never—"

"Do I?" The surface of Terry's voice still sounded smooth, but he could hear the lick of fear and anger underneath. It made his chest hurt in a way it hadn't since he'd been shot so long ago. "This is how you handle things. The cop way."

He whirled, stung by the injustice. "I've never raised a hand to you!"

She sighed. "If you mean you've never slapped me around, no, you haven't." She spread her hands, pleading for understanding. "But you bring the street home with you. You're so used to dealing with the kinds of people you can slap around, you just carry it home to us.

"You're a good cop. But you're a lousy husband. I want this over while the kids and I can still respect you for the good man you are, instead of coming to hate you for the things you aren't."

"Just like that."

She nodded.

"And what about me? What about the way I feel? Dammit, Terry, I love you! Mike and Joany are everything to me, you know that. I've done the best I could, and now what? I'm supposed to pretend I don't have a family anymore?"

"Look at your overtime log for the last two months and then tell me you haven't been doing that already."

His jaw tightened. "Just because I've got a job I love doesn't mean I don't love you."

"But you don't love me more. And that's what a family is about. Getting the part of you that's real and important. Not just what you've got left over."

Before he could answer, the phone on the counter rang. Habit made him snatch it up; it was only when he saw the look of resignation on Terry's face that he realized it had been a mistake.

"Starsky?"

"Yeah, Hutch. Look, can this wait? I gotta—"

"No, it can't. Padachenko's on the move, right now. It looks like the buy for the guns is going down ahead of schedule."

"Sit tight. I'll be there."

When he put the phone down, a look of grim determination had replaced the resignation on Terry's face.

"Pack a bag, Dave. I don't want you coming back after your shift."

"Look, I can't talk about this now. We've got a bust going down." When Terry rolled her eyes, he almost lost it again, and had to consciously hold himself back. "Don't look like that! Life goes on, even if you are having some kind of a hormone meltdown. Look, I'll make sure I get home on time tonight. We'll have a nice dinner, and we'll talk, okay?"

He didn't wait to see if she agreed or not. Before Terry could answer, Starsky picked up his keys and headed out the door.

 

***

 

Starsky checked to make sure his cane was securely placed before he leaned over and laid the bouquet of red roses down in front of the headstone. Straightening up, he gave the white granite curve a tender lingering stroke. "Hi, sweetheart."

Then he made his way carefully back to the bench beside the gravel path. The curve in the path at that point placed the bench only a couple of feet from the headstone, and the small cedar tree sheltering it gave a sense of seclusion in this crowded section of the cemetery.

With a grateful little grunt, Starsky sank down, shifting until he found a position on the warped wooden slats that minimized the ache in his chest and back. He wiped his face, grateful for the shade. The walk from the parking lot had taken nearly all his energy, and he knew getting back would be a killer. Still, this was an overdue visit. Despite his discomfort, there was a sense of accomplishment at having made it all the way under his own steam.

"Nice day for a visit, huh?" Starsky gave the headstone an apologetic look. "I know I haven't been around for a while, but I've got a pretty good excuse. I kinda got shot, back in May. Was laid up in the hospital for a while. I'll tell you, sweetheart, it got nasty. Pneumonia, infections—you know how bad some of that stuff reeks? Could make a sewer rat gag, honest to God.

"I'm doin' okay now, though. Hutch sprung me about a month ago, and the docs all say I'm coming along pretty good for a guy with three bullet holes in his back."

He sighed and scratched his chest, then guiltily lowered his hand.

"Not supposed to scratch," he explained. "Itches like a sunnovabee where they shaved my chest, and it still isn't growing out right.

"Can't complain, though. Wasn't sure I'd get another chance, not even at being alive. Won't kid you, it was touch and go for a while. Thought once or twice you and me might be seeing each other a lot sooner than I'd ever figured. But the latest word from the doc is if I keep plugging away at the physio and watch out for chest infections, I might get back to pretty close to normal. Won't be out on the streets, though."

He sighed again and lowered his head, looking down at the front of his t-shirt. "No way around it. I can get a lot back, but not enough, no matter how hard I work at it. There's not enough lung capacity left, and my shoulder doesn't have a big enough range of motion. No more charging down alleys and wrestling perps and climbing up over fences.

"And if I can't do that, I can't back Hutch up, and we'll fu—mess up the job. He'll hold back because I can't handle it, and I'll try to push harder and screw things up, and we'll blow a bust or get somebody killed."

He made a brisk dusting motion with his hands. "So that's that. Hutch is going for the lieutenant's exam next time it comes up, and me, I'm getting stuff together to apply for college. Yeah, surprised me, too. See, I still wanna do something with the cops, can't imagine not being part of that world. And I still want to see the bad guys get taken down. They'd give me desk work, but you know how well I'd do with that, huh? Don't think the department's got a big enough typewriter budget. Anyway, last week, this young guy name of Grissom was giving a talk over at the academy, about how forensics was gonna be the next big thing in police work. Finding evidence, handling it right, analyzing it—he claims in a few years time, they'll be able to identify some whippo just from a few hairs or a piece of used Kleenex.

"It sounds like it could be real interesting. You used to hear me bitch all the time about how we just knew somebody did something, but there was no way to prove it. Well, maybe in a few years, that won't be a problem any more. And it's not just findin' the guilty guys, it's proving who's innocent, too. Still gives me the cold sweats sometimes, thinking about how easy Hutch coulda gone down for Vanessa's murder.

"So that's the story. Me, David Michael Starsky, goin' to college. Pop woulda been proud. I'll be the first person in our family, y'know. That's assuming I make it. Biology shouldn't be too bad, and chemistry's just figuring out how to make stuff blow up, right? More fun than training for the bomb squad. But calculus—oh, man, that's gonna be a killer. Hutch says he'll help, but still . . . Just between you and me, I'm kinda worried.

"Anyway, there's something else I gotta tell you."

He hesitated, and felt a faint blush rise in his still pale face. "Geez, I'm a grown man, you wouldn't think this would be so hard. Okay, here goes. The real reason I'm here is 'cause, well, me'n Hutch have been gettin' it together. You know what I mean.

"Never thought I'd get another chance after you. Yeah, yeah, I bet you thought Rosey Malone was it. But it never coulda worked out. Different worlds, that's all. And don't even mention Kira. I don't want to think about how far my head was up my ass, thinking anything good would come outta that.

"But it turned out okay in the end, because that was when Hutch finally laid it on the line. Turned out the reason he was being such a bastard about her was 'cause he couldn't live with the idea of me walking away from him again. Yeah, I don't quite get it either. How he figured stealing my girl was gonna get him somewhere with me . . . You know Hutch, right, sweetheart? When it comes to women, he just doesn't seem to have enough common sense to fill a thimble, like Aunt Rose always says. Good thing he's got me to keep him on the straight and narrow from now on.

"I think this is it for both of us. Hell, we're almost as old as Pop was when he died. It's time we settled down. Made some plans for further along than next Saturday night."

His smile turned rueful and slightly bitter. "That's the only good thing about me not being able to hack it on the street. We're not partners anymore—I'm not even a cop anymore. So it's nobody's damn business if we get together. Won't have to worry about us getting split up or fired or left to twist in the wind if something goes bad."

He paused and leaned forward earnestly, elbows on his knees. "I sure hope you never think I didn't mean the things I said to you. 'Cause I did, swear to God, every word. I wasn't thinking about Hutch like that back then, and I'd never want you to think I was playing you or anything like that. But things are different now.

"You remember, you always said I was your best friend. And I'm real happy you felt that way about me. But when it comes right down to it, Hutch has always been my best friend. And I'm his. So us getting together kinda fits and makes sense for both of us.

"I love him, Terry, and he loves me. We're gonna try real hard to make this work. And if you can see us, I hope you'll be happy for us, 'cause I know you loved him too."

Starsky wiped his eyes unashamedly. "Gotta be a real kick in the head that you're the only person I can tell about this." He grinned, with no small amount of self-mockery. "Think I'll just sit here a while longer if that's okay with you, sweetheart. I'm really not looking forward to the trek back to the car."

He leaned back, relishing the slight breeze that ruffled his curls. Still too short, as far as he was concerned, but better than the hospital buzz cut he'd had, when the nurses got tired of untangling his hair from the oxygen mask. After a while, he tried cautiously raising his arms to lay his elbows on the back of the bench. The stretch burned a bit, but it felt good. A healthy burn. A sign that the damaged muscles were finally healing up enough to respond.

When the shadow on his face deepened, he didn't even need to look. "Hey, Hutch."

"Hey, Starsk." A weight settled on the bench beside him, and he slowly cracked one eye open.

Hutch looked good. The burned-out adrenaline junkie of a year ago seemed to have vanished for good. And now that Starsky was in no danger of having a relapse, the frazzled haunted hospital visitor was fading too. The only word Starsky could think of that really fit Hutch was "open". Hutch had opened up, and it had taken years off his looks and his spirits too.

"What brings you here?" Hutch's tone put Starsky on alert, and he turned his head to get a better look at his partner. Hutch hastily moved his hand so whatever he was holding dropped out of Starsky's view.

"Just having a little talk with Terry." Starsky shifted so he could see better. "Whatcha got there?"

Hutch looked down sheepishly, and held out a small bouquet of pink carnations. "Thought I should pay my respects too."

Starsky felt his throat tighten and blinked rapidly. "Great minds, huh?" He elbowed Hutch lightly. "You want I should go? Give you some privacy?" Only when he heard them did Starsky realize his words might have sounded like mockery.

He felt relieved when his partner gave him a genuine smile and shook his head. "I like to think she was a friend to both of us. Like to think she'd be okay with this." Hutch gave him a questioning look. "You think—?"

Starsky nodded emphatically. "She always had room in her heart for both of us. Best friends, remember?" He nudged Hutch's shoulder. "Go ahead."

Hutch got up and approached the stone tentatively. "Hi, Terry." He crouched down to set his carnations beside Starsky's roses. Starsky was amused to note that Hutch gave the headstone the same light caress he had.

"I guess Starsky already spilled the news about us. I just want to tell you: I'll look after him. Now, it might be a full time job keeping him and the tomato in line, but I figure a little extra vitamin E and wheat germ, and I'll be able to handle it." He laughed softly as Starsky grumbled under his breath.

Hutch's smile faded, and he looked at the name on the headstone as seriously and tenderly as he had ever looked at the girl who bore it. "We're not making time or playing games. This is the real deal. We won't ever forget you, and you'll always have a place in our hearts."

He glanced back at Starsky. "Doesn't feel like it's enough, you know?"

Starsky nodded. "She's past us both, Hutch. We're alive, and we gotta keep putting one foot in front of the other. She'd never want us to do different."

Hutch rose and gave the headstone one last touch. When he leaned over Starsky, the hand that curved around the back of his neck was no less gentle. "You think you can make it back to the car now?"

Starsky nodded and planted his cane firmly to push himself to his feet. "Yeah, let's go."

Behind them, the petals of the roses and carnations mingled in the delicate morning breeze.