It was no secret that Hutch didn’t like Nick Starsky, but for Starsky’s sake he usually tried to behave around him. The feeling was completely mutual, however, Nick had never even tried to hide his opinion about Hutch, especially when Starsky wasn’t around.
They usually met in Bay City – where the Home Team was David Starsky and where Hutch had a certain advantage over Nick. This time – unfortunately – Hutch had to fly to New York, where his position was downgraded to being the Visiting Team. To make things worse, he had to go there alone, for Starsky was still in no condition to travel by plane after the shooting. Hutch agreed to go only because Starsky asked him directly and Hutch could never say no to his best friend, especially now and especially for this particular reason.
Nick’s facial expression said everything when he opened the door of his mother’s home, but Hutch knew that Nick respected Starsky and his decisions to a certain extent. This was why they were both sitting on the floor of the living room, sorting through the things that Mrs. Starsky couldn’t or didn’t want to take to Bay City with her when she moved.
“Hutch, Ma can’t do it alone,” Hutch remembered Starsky saying after a series of particularly exhausting exercises. They were both lying on the mattress, enjoying a moment of respite in Starsky’s PT.
“You should be the one helping them.” Hutch shook his head, slightly irritated. He didn’t like the prospect of what Starsky suggested. He reached for a bottle of water and drank greedily. He suspected that for him the regime was far more disturbing than it was for Starsky, because he hated to see his partner in such pain. It was worse than if it was Hutch hurting.
“And you think it’s easy for me?” Starsky shot back equally irritated. “You think I wouldn’t want to be the one going there?”
“Starsk, I can’t even imagine how you mother must feel moving out of a home where she spent the last forty years. But sharing this experience with a stranger?” Hutch got up and reached his hand to help Starsky up.
Hutch remembered the excruciating pain of hanging on the bar from his own physiotherapy sessions after he was shot last year. In Starsky’s case it must have been even worse, but they both realized it was necessary if not crucial. So Starsky accepted his help and got to his feet.
“You are not a stranger,” Starsky stated. “And I want somebody I trust to help her.”
“Nick will be there,” Hutch whispered with only barely concealed annoyance. He reached up and adjusted the bar for Starsky’s height, standing behind him.
“I’m’ not so sure about it.” Starsky took a deep breath and lifted his arms.
Hutch braced himself for the pain he knew was unavoidable for Starsky and it came.
“Hutch, she will need somebody there who can prove it's the right decision,” Starsky said through clenched teeth when the pain decreased.
Hutch couldn’t help it, he put his hands on Starsky’s sides, knowing he wouldn’t be able to help him anyway. But he needed the contact and was glad that Starsky allowed it.
“Are you sure it was the right decision?” he asked.
Starsky turned his head to face him. “What do you think?”
Hutch knew the answer. He stepped back and let Starsky continue. Sometimes change was the most beautiful thing that could happen and Hutch was ready to embrace it with his entire life this time.
“You know, it would be easier if Dave moved here, instead of Ma and me moving out,” Nick said with iron conviction, reaching for the duct tape to wrap another box to be sent to California.
“Maybe,” Hutch admitted, but his heart didn’t agree. Nonetheless, if Starsky had made such a decision, Hutch would have followed him without a moment of hesitation.
Nick looked at him, frowning. Hutch held his gaze, but Nick apparently didn't find any answers there.
“What difference does it make anyway?” he asked.
Hutch sighed. “Home is not a place.”
Nick looked around. Empty closets, bare floor, boxes waited to be shipped or given away. The general emptiness of this place only confirmed what Hutch meant, so Nick gave up the packing. “I don’t understand you.”
Hutch looked at him in shock. Nick usually avoided such declarations and this confession took Hutch by surprise. However, he knew that Starsky’s brother had already made his decision about following his mother, so he also deserved some explanation.
“Tell me, what keeps you here?” Hutch asked, taking a break as well.
This time it was Nick, who appeared surprised. “Everything,” he said as if explaining to five years old. “I’ve spent all my life here.”
“Everything is not an answer,” Hutch pointed out. “Name one thing you will miss in Bay City.”
“Home?” Nick’s voice betrayed that it wasn’t a very convincing lie.
Hutch just shook his head. As far as he knew, Nick wasn’t a person who felt attached to places. “Do you have friends here?”
“‘Course I do,” Nick bristled.
“How many of them would follow you to California?” Hutch wouldn’t give up, he knew it wasn’t fair, but he couldn’t back off. He thought that Nick would react as he usually did to such provocation, but Nick just winced and shook his head.
“That’s what I don’t get!” Nick was looking at him, completely lost.
Hutch regarded him in silence. He could understand Nick – to certain level. Starsky’s mother was doing something that not many people would be brave enough to do, and Nick wasn’t one of them for sure. Facing the reality – alone – wasn’t an action Nick could easily perform, but now he had no other choice.
“You don’t have to follow her,” Hutch added mercilessly. For him the mere fact that Nick was still living with his mother was a statement by itself.
“She’s already chosen. It’s my turn now,” Nick said bitterly.
And that’s when Hutch understood. For Nick it was always a matter of choice. A choice of who his mother loved more. Suddenly Hutch couldn’t look at him anymore. He understood it too well. He had to face the same pain after he had left Duluth and he still didn’t like the conclusions that came later. Now, however, he understood things that he hadn't more than twenty years ago.
“Maybe she’s chosen you, making this decision?”
He didn't expected Nick to understand what he meant, but Nick nodded. “And I’ve chosen them.” That was all he said before he went back to packing.
Hutch didn’t move for a long moment. It was time for him to also face a new reality and he wasn’t sure he was ready to. Yes, he wouldn’t have hesitated to follow Starsky to New York if necessary, but was he ready to... share him? Nick was Starsky’s biological brother and he would take his rightful place once he was back in Starsky’s life. From now on Hutch would lose his privileged position – nobody would be the Visiting Team anymore.
And somehow he suspected Nick knew it as well.