In Fire and Blood
“In this part of the story I am the one who Dies,
the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.
Like all beginnings, this one had held so much promise.
A shared moment, a drunken lean, nose to nose, a hand lingering just this side of too long on a thigh. When Hutch thought back to that night, he could never get back to that beginning. The real beginning. He never found his way any further back than the sound of the baseball bat connecting with Starsky’s ribs, the odd smell of the oily cloth shoved in his face a fraction of a second before he lost consciousness. He never made it back to the kiss. The first kiss. The beginning of something new. The end of everything else.
Hutch’s birthday had been a much needed respite from the week of hell they had endured. The kiss in the bathroom had been unexpected, but not surprising. They already lived in each other’s pockets; it was a natural slide into each other’s beds. They had stumbled out of the back door of The Pits, over the protests of their friends and the raised eyebrow of Huggy, and headed out, arm in arm, shoulders knocking happily.
Starsky burrowed into his pocket for the keys to the Torino, Hutch behind him, his arms around his waist, nuzzling his neck, when they were surrounded. Starsky turned and dropped the keys when he saw the baseball bat headed for Hutch’s head. He instinctively jumped in front of Hutch, who shouted and whirled as Starsky took the blow meant for him and crumpled to the ground. Hutch didn’t have time to shout again as the heavy cloth covered his mouth and the darkness descended.
When Huggy poked his head out five minutes later, the alley was silent.
Before he opened his eyes, he knew they were moving. Felt ropes on his wrist, a pressure in his mouth. He tried to open his eyes, but realized he was blindfolded. Great. He moved slightly and his thigh hit something solid. He could only pray it was Hutch. Or maybe he should pray it wasn’t Hutch. He’d been down this road once before. He stayed very still for a minute, trying to stop the hinky panic from taking over his senses. This was not Marcus. Marcus was in jail. This was . . . what the hell was this?
They drove for what seemed like hours. Starsky couldn’t tell if it was highway or surface streets, he heard no telltale sounds of anything. He felt the body beside him move, and recognized Hutch’s low moan. He bumped his thigh against Hutch’s and murmured softly. Felt Hutch’s elbow in his side. Hurt, but he didn’t care. He and Hutch could deal with anything as long as they were together.
The van finally stopped and two men dragged them out, across a damp yard, and into a house that smelled of cigarettes and dog shit. Starsky tried to remember how many steps they took, how hot it was, if there was any air traffic – anything he and Hutch could use to figure out what the hell was going on. He stumbled on something sharp and fell to the floor. A hard shoe kicked him in the side and he groaned. And finally heard a voice.
“Come on, asshole. Don’t worry about him. Help me with this one.”
Starsky struggled to get to his feet and was held down by hands.
“Not yet, sweetheart. He gets to go first. He’s prettier.”
Then Starsky heard a door open and close, the hollow echo of feet on wooden stairs, and then nothing. He twisted his wrists, trying to loosen the ropes. He knew Hutch had gone down those stairs. To what? For what? Black robes swam in front of him and he felt himself sinking back into those caves, into that other nightmare. He kicked his legs out, trying to stop the descent, and managed to hit something solid.
He heard the swoosh before he felt a fist hammer into his cheek and mouth. He turned his head away and his mouth filled with blood. He heard Hutch shout below him. Then a crash and a shout. He struggled against the hands that held him down, knowing it was stupid, knowing it would certainly bring more pain, but he couldn’t just lie there and not do anything. The decision was taken out of his hands, though, as he fell, still struggling, into darkness.
At first they talked constantly. They had been handcuffed and then tied back to back, blindfolds and gags removed. The basement was dark and damp, with one small window, smudged and filthy. They heard footsteps above them, but no one came down for a long time.
“You okay?” Hutch nudged Starsky’s shoulder with his own and Starsky tried to breathe more evenly.
“Yeah, I’m fine. What the hell are we going to do?”
“Fine, Hutch. Can you scoot over a little? We could lean against something.” They worked for five minutes and Starsky let out a breath and winced as they finally relaxed against the cold, concrete wall.
“Starsky, are you sure you’re okay?”
Starsky grabbed Hutch’s fingers and squeezed. “Stop it.”
“Mother hen. We get out of this mess and then you can smother me.”
“Well, I just don’t want to have to drag your dead carcass up those stairs, okay?”
“Okay. So . . . who?”
“The list is pretty big.”
“We ain’t going anywhere, Hutch.”
They spent the next hour narrowing the possible suspects down to about twenty people who might want them dead. They memorized the room. The outlets, the doors, the window. They calculated when Huggy would notice the Torino, maybe call Dobey. They were interrupted in the investigation of their own kidnapping by sounds on the stairs. Two men clattered down into the basement and untied them. They first shoved Starsky face down on the concrete floor and then yanked Hutch up by the handcuffs.
“Ow, hey-” Hutch started to speak, but one of the goons backhanded him and he slumped forward.
“Leave him alone,” Starsky shouted and the other man sat his boot on Starsky’s neck. He couldn’t move, but he heard them drag Hutch through the door opposite the stairs and shut it. He struggled, but the boot squeezed the air from his throat and he stopped. He heard a shout and the sound of something solid connecting with something not so solid. Three times. Four times. He lost count as the floor of the basement threatened to swallow him. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see, couldn’t escape the horror of listening to Hutch moan as the blows connected. Every time. And then stopped.
The boot lifted and Starsky rolled to his knees and watched the other guy shove Hutch back through the door. His face was covered in blood and his head lolled from side to side. They dragged him backwards by the handcuffs, and his wrists were a bloody mess. Starsky moved without thinking. He had to get to Hutch. To make them stop hurting him.
To kill them. Slowly.
He forgot about the man in the boots, though, until something sharp exploded against the side of his head and he fell face first onto the cold basement floor.
“Starsky . . .” Hutch struggled against the goons who just shoved him against the wall and uncuffed him, recuffing his hands in front of him and then tying them to a rope hanging from the ceiling. They tied his ankles together and then did the same to Starsky. Then they turned and walked up the stairs without saying a word.
“Starsky.” Hutch tried to yank his hands down.
“Hutch . . .” Starsky raised his head and grimaced. “Damn. Head hurts.”
“They’re gone. You okay?”
“What they do to you? They say anything?”
Hutch hesitated. “I’m okay. Got it worse that time at Fat Rolly’s.”
“Yeah, but Rolly smells better.” Starsky ran his tongue over his teeth to make sure they were still intact.
Hutch tried to wipe the blood from his face onto his shoulder, but it seeped from the cut above his eye, the gash in his cheek. Starsky knew his partner was hurt worse than he was letting on, but he didn’t push. Nothing either one of them could do but wait. Ironic that waiting was the one thing he was no good at.
Coincidence that waiting was the least of their worries when they heard the door open and the men descended again just fifteen minutes later. Round two. This time they untied Starsky and dragged him through the door, Hutch shouting and cursing the whole way. Starsky tried to find something, anything in the little room he could use, but it was dark and the minute the door closed, the first fist hit his face, and he spent the rest of the time trying not to make any sounds, trying to spare Hutch.
He could hear Hutch shouting encouragement and cursing, knew he was wasting precious energy trying to stay connected to him, and Starsky concentrated on his voice, ignoring the pain. And then it stopped and he was shoved through the door and strung up again. The men trudged back up the stairs and the snick of the door sent a shiver down his spine.
“How bad?” Hutch twisted his head to look at him.
“Just gave me a little tune-up. I’m okay.”
What the fuck do they want?” Hutch pulled hard at the ropes, frustration and worry mixing with the blood on his face.
“Don’t know.” Starsky tried to catch his breath. “They didn’t say anything.”
“What the fuck do you want?” Hutch shouted and yanked harder.
“Save your energy. Don’t think we’re working with pros here.”
“Well, what are we going to do?”
Starsky heard the note of panic buried in the anger, and his stomach tightened. They couldn’t lose it. Couldn’t afford it. These goons had to make a mistake at some point and they had to be ready to turn that mistake into their escape. He needed Hutch pissed, angry, growling. He needed Hutch.
“We’re going to wait. How long till they come back?”
Hutch shook his head. “Don’t know. Maybe ten, fifteen minutes.”
“So we got fifteen minutes to figure this out.”
Hutch chuckled, a bit maniacal, but Starsky was just glad that his high panic voice was gone. The only reason he had even a glimmer of hope was that Hutch was next to him. They had to stay strong, alert if they were ever going to get out of this.
“You see anything in that room?”
“Just a table in the corner.” Hutch twisted his hands, trying to get a grip on the rope above his head. “You know, I was untied for a minute in there. Maybe if I can get these loose . . .”
The door rasped open and silenced them both. It had only been five minutes. Not enough time. Not enough time. Starsky cursed under his breath and looked at Hutch, who was watching the men come down the stairs with an odd expression on his face.
Hutch looked over and Starsky smiled. “Remember situationals?”
“Situ . . . the academy? Yeah, yeah. Why?”
Starsky ignored the men, as they untied Hutch again. “Remember what we said about them?”
Hutch struggled against his captors. Starsky waited for them to untie him, too, but they just left him hanging.
“Hutch!” he shouted as they dragged him towards the door.
“Yeah, yeah. I remember.” Hutch shouted back just before the door closed.
Starsky squeezed his eyes tight and willed himself back to that day of situationals, the last step before graduation. An empty building, two rookies, danger around every corner. The last test. If they passed, they were cops. But the goal of the officers recruited to play criminals and victims was a little different. They did everything they could to make it impossible for the cadets to pass the test.
Starsky and Hutch had been paired together. They’d huddled in the corner right before they went in and had made the first of a thousand pacts.
“Together.” Starsky held out his open palm and Hutch slapped it hard.
“Together.” Hutch pulled his vest tighter. “We get through this, buddy, we get through it all. Everything else is gravy.”
They’d passed with honors, garnering one of the top scores in academy history. Starsky tried to remember every detail, every step they took that day, as the sound of each blow to Hutch’s body rained down on him. He didn’t realize he was moaning until the door opened and they pulled Hutch in, unconscious. The moan turned into a growl as he watched them tie him up again.
“You fucking bastards! When we get out of here- “
The goons ignored him, but walked over and untied him. Shit. Not part of the plan. He looked over to Hutch, who was moving a bit. A good sign. In the middle of hell.
“Hutch. Hutch! Hang in there, buddy. You hear me? I’ll be right back. You stay awake. I mean it. Hutch!”
The door closed and the first blow to his head took him over the edge into the welcome darkness.
It’s usually the middle parts that get a little sketchy.
The pain registered before he was barely conscious. A sliver of hot agony pierced his chest and shot up to his skull. He cracked open his left eye. Dark. He felt a presence beside him – heard a soft moan. He opened the other eye and saw the small dirty window, the stained chair, his shoe lying half way across the room. The last few hours came hurtling back, and the memories shoved him wide awake. Angry pieces of the more horrific moments tore at him like the broken glass they had used to cut his shirt away from his body.
He sat slumped against the cold basement wall on the damp concrete floor. His legs stretched out before him, tied together at the ankles. His hands were trapped above his head, handcuffed together, with a heavy rope looped through the links and pulled high – knotted around a hook. He’d lost feeling in both his arms long ago. He licked his swollen lips, cracked and hardened from dried blood. He counted to ten and tried to remember what day it was.
He thought it was probably Thursday, but the last time they had talked, the last time they had both been conscious at the same time, Hutch thought maybe that it had to be at least Friday. Starsky hoped he was wrong. That meant they had been trussed up like this for two days.
Two days and no closer to any answers. No closer to any questions, come to think of it. No one had ever said anything to either of them after they had been shoved down the stairs the first time. Not a word. Just the merry-go-round to and from the room which had ended . . . when? He didn’t know why it stopped any more than he knew why it had ever started. As a matter of fact, he really didn’t know a damn thing.
He forced himself to turn to the body that was slowly moving beside him.
“Hutch?” he croaked.
He couldn’t bear to look at his partner – it shattered his heart. For all the fun and games they had both endured, Hutch had taken the worst of it. Both his eyes were swollen slits, his blond hair matted with blood, and only one of his arms was tied up over his head; the other one hung limp in his lap, broken. Bad from what Starsky could tell. From what he could remember.
He shuddered and sucked in a shallow breath, as his stomach objected to the memory. After the last beating, Hutch had managed to kick the guy dragging Starsky back into the room. The sound of the snap had echoed round the walls when the guy with the baseball bat had hit a line drive through Hutch’s forearm. Hutch had screamed and then Starsky had screamed louder, the shock and pain transferring from Hutch’s arm straight to Starsky’s soul, and he did the only thing he could. He spit on the man, who then turned and knocked a single off Starsky’s ribs. When Starsky could breathe again, he asked the one question they had both repeated over and over since they had been taken.
“What the hell do you want?”
The guy just stared at him, chewing on that godforsaken toothpick. Starsky heard footsteps above them and the guy turned and disappeared up the stairs, the bat clattering to the floor behind him.
Since then, neither one of them had been dragged into that room and they had only seen one other guy. Buster. That’s what Starsky had named him so that they could keep them straight. Buster was the one who brought them food. Took them to the little toilet behind the water heater. Left the bowl of water between them. A blue dog dish with festive red bones around the edges.
Starsky noticed it had been filled again. Good old Buster, he thought, thinking of all the ways he was going to repay good old Buster once he and Hutch got out of this mess. He leaned down as far as he could and sucked in the water. Cold. He must have just been down here.
“Don’t be a piggy, piggy,” a hoarse voice came out of the darkness. Starsky’s head whipped around, searching the small room. He could just make out a figure of a man seated on the bottom step of the stairs. This was a new voice, a different man. “Your partner looks like he could use a drink.”
“Fuck off,” Hutch whispered.
Starsky turned back to Hutch, glad to see him awake and aware. And still mad. Another good sign.
“Yeah, fuck off.” he echoed.
“Good one,” Hutch murmured. “Think of that yourself?”
“Morning to you, too.” The familiar banter eased Starsky’s aches and pains and his head cleared a little. Mr. Shadow. Starsky felt better now that he’d named him. Not much better, though. He turned back to the stairs. His instincts told him things were about change. He could feel his partner tense. They both felt it.
No sound came from upstairs. Just a siren, in the distance, fading away.
The man sat. Tapped a foot on the stairs. Watched the two detectives. Measured how long they had before one or both succumbed to infection, or dehydration, or fear. He’d seen other men in other basements do it. Just give up. Give in. Huddled in a corner, begging.
“What the hell do you want, asshole?” the dark one growled.
No, he thought, a little disappointed, not these two. The way it was going he could beat them to a pulp all day every day and they’d just curse him. It had to be something else. Something special. He watched as the two men took turns drinking from the bowl. Like dogs. They kept murmuring, leaning together, touching foreheads. Consoling each other, maybe plotting their escape. Futile, but interesting to watch.
He stood up. These two were perfect for his plan. He would play them off each other; get one to sacrifice himself for the life of his partner. And just before that one died, he’d kill the other one instead. Perfect, it was just perfect. He almost felt bad taking the money. Almost.
He walked over to them, kicking a shoe out of the way.
“Leave his shoe alone.” Hutch croaked.
“Yeah, asshole,” Starsky snarled. This made him cough, which aggravated his ribs, which made him writhe against the pain. His breath came fast and hard and he couldn’t catch up. He felt the room sway and his vision blurred and then a weight landed on his legs. Hutch.
The man had walked over and untied Hutch’s good arm and Hutch had immediately leaned over to his agonized partner. “Take it easy, buddy. Just breathe. You’re gonna be okay. You just have to breathe easy and regular,” Hutch encouraged. “That’s it, breathe.”
Starsky clung to Hutch’s voice and followed it out of the darkness. The pain eased a bit and he was able to open his eyes. Hutch scooted over so that they were face to face for the first time.
“You look like shit,” Starsky croaked.
“Check a mirror, pal.”
Starsky saw the man watching them and scowled. “Seen enough? Can we go now?”
The man laughed. A dirty laugh. Made Bellamy sound like Tinkerbell. Starsky shuddered. A lone thought skittered through his mind – we are not getting out of here alive.
He felt Hutch’s arm on his. He could hear the unspoken reprimand. Don’t, Starsky. It’s what he wants. He turned to Hutch, who had turned to Shadow.
“Okay, so you’re going to kill us. What good does it do if we don’t know why? Or who you are? Or what we did? Kind of pointless.”
“Detective Hutchinson, does death ever have a point?”
Shadow reached up and pulled on the rope holding Starsky’s arms in the air. He untied the knot and let the rope fall. Starsky’s arms, hands still cuffed, fell lifeless into his lap and he gasped in pain. He realized he was loose, and his first thought was to attack. He lunged toward Shadow, but he had no feeling in either arm and only managed to fall against Hutch, jarring his broken arm out of his lap and onto the floor.
Hutch cried out, instinctively pushed Starsky away, and clutched at his useless limb, gritting his teeth as he pulled it slowly across his leg, and laid it carefully back on his lap. Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead, and the effort not to scream took all the energy he had left. He slumped against the wall.
He looked up, Shadow dragged Starsky across the floor, pulled him up and into the chair, wrapped the rope tight around his chest and arms, leaving his handcuffed hands in front of him. Hutch hoped that might be his first mistake. In the midst of his own pain, Hutch then registered the fact that, except for the rope around his ankles, he was free. He looked around to see what he could use as a weapon when the man pulled Hutch’s own Magnum out of his jacket.
“Don’t even think about it,” Shadow clicked off the safety.
Starsky struggled against the ropes around his chest, but it hurt too much, so he sat for a moment, looking around the room from this new angle, memorizing the layout, the number of steps, the electrical outlets, anything that could help them get out. The gun was a new element. Buster and the other guy only had toothpicks and baseball bats. Shadow had upped the ante. Starsky felt a little better. Guns had a fickle way about them – always ending up in somebody else’s hands.
Hutch watched his partner’s mind work and waited till his eyes came back around to him. He willed Starsky to keep his eyes on him and said, “I was just wondering what kind of weak fuck tortures two defenseless prisoners who can’t even fight back?”
“Yeah,” Starsky added, his eyes never leaving Hutch’s, “you must be one sick fuck, Shadow.”
“Shadow, huh, Starsk? Almost too good for this prick. How about Fucking Idiot?”
“Or Stupid Fucking Idiot?”
The man laughed. These two were priceless. Textbook.
He looked at his watch. He’d better get started. He leaned down and wrestled Starsky’s hands up, pulling until he got his left index finger isolated. He leveled the gun at Hutch’s head.
“Now, gentlemen, we will begin.” He elbowed the struggling Starsky in the side of the head. “For every infraction, I break a bone.”
Hutch watched in horror as the man bent Starsky’s finger backward. He surged toward the pair, but Shadow drew down on him, stopping him in mid-action.
“No, Hutch, don’t.” Starsky warned. He howled as the bone gave into the pressure and cracked. Hutch fell back as if he had been shot. Starsky threw his head back, cursing as tears streamed down his face.
“You son of a bitch!” yelled Hutch.
“Infraction number one,” Shadow said calmly, gun pointed back at Hutch, who was breathing heavily, struggling to remain still. He didn’t want to do anything else that might hurt Starsky. “You must not speak. You must not move. Every time you do, your partner is punished.”
Starsky looked in horror at the man beside him. Sick Fuck would have been a better name. He didn’t know how much of this he could take. He saw Hutch struggling to calm his emotions. Their eyes locked. Hutch grew very still. Starsky sat silent, biting down on his lip, trying not to moan. Shadow grabbed Starsky’s hand again, isolating the pinky finger. Hutch flinched and his foot jerked.
“Infraction number two.” Shadow bent the finger back and Starsky braced himself for the pain this time. He kept his eyes focused on Hutch.
Sweat beaded on Hutch’s forehead as he looked into Starsky’s eyes. Watched them widen. Heard the snap of bone. Hutch felt his body react and turned and retched the miserable contents of his stomach onto the floor. He turned back to Starsky, who was still looking at him, breathing shallow. He couldn’t believe it when Starsky managed to roll his lip into a half smirk.
“Infraction number three,” Shadow continued.
“Come over here and try that with me, you son of a bitch!” Hutch growled and tried to stand. He didn’t care about the gun anymore; he couldn’t watch this man torture Starsky.
“Perhaps you didn’t understand, Detective. You move, I hurt him. Infraction number . . .”
“I mean it – do it to me. Leave him alone.” Hutch rose up on his knees. “Please.”
Shadow smiled and moved toward Hutch. “You want me to break your fingers now? Give you a matched set?”
Starsky struggled against the ropes. “No, Hutch. Don’t. Come back here, you sick son of a . . .”
Shadow whirled back and pointed the gun at Starsky’s head. “Or should I continue with your foul-mouthed partner?”
From somewhere deep, Hutch felt the rage ignite. No fucking way he would ever let this idiot put another hand on his partner. He ignored his arm, he ignored his chest, his head, and he lurched forward. If he were going to die, it would not be hovering against a wall.
He got as far as his knees. Shadow just walked over and backhanded him with the butt of the gun. Hutch went down hard. Starsky bellowed and threw his body, chair and all, against the Shadow’s back.
They fell in a heap. Starsky managed to get his hands around his neck and was squeezing hard, Shadow struggling to get out from under him.
“I’m going to kill you, you son of a bitch.” Starsky ignored the screeching pain in his fingers and his ribs and his head. He pressed his thumbs into the man’s larynx. Everything slowed down around him as he concentrated on pushing every last bit of oxygen out of the worthless piece of shit that had hurt his partner.
The echo of the gunshot barely registered. Starsky felt a sudden pressure in his leg, realized what it was and reached for the gun in Shadow’s hand. He yanked it up as Shadow pulled the trigger again and Starsky felt a breeze in his hair. With a final burst of energy, he shoved the gun down between his body and Shadow’s. They struggled for the trigger.
This time the blast was deafening. It echoed for a full minute. Starsky fell heavily on top of his enemy; his last conscious thought was that he hoped Hutch wouldn’t blame himself. The room fell quiet.
Hutch struggled to open his eyes. He knew by instinct that he shouldn’t move; felt sharp pains up and down his legs. His face was pressed to the cold damp floor. His left hand was crushed under something – he couldn’t feel his right. He opened his eyes and saw a foot; his left hand trapped under the leg. Starsky’s leg. And another leg. Unfamiliar. He pulled his hand out. Covered with blood. He ignored the pain rising from every inch of his body and managed to lift his head off the floor. He saw the window; the chair still tied around Starsky’s back and remembered. Everything. Every minute. His vision blurred and he willed himself to stay alert. Starsky wasn’t moving. He had to get help. He sat up, pulling his broken arm into his lap.
He inched his way up to Starsky’s head. Blood was everywhere. He realized Starsky was lying on the man he had nicknamed Shadow. Shadow’s lips were blue and his eyes were open. Dead. Hutch shuddered, tried not to lose it as he inched closer to Starsky and grabbed his arm. Cold. He recoiled, dropping the arm. Dead. He steeled himself against the nausea and reached down again. No pulse. He moved closer and felt Starsky’s neck. Cold. No . . . a pulse. Weak. Steady.
He had to get help. He couldn’t untie Starsky, or even move him to check for injuries. He had to use every ounce of his energy to get up the stairs and get help. He closed his eyes against a wave of nausea, against the smell, against the doubt that crept in when he took a look at the distance between himself and the bottom step.
He used the chair leg to pull himself to his knees. His broken arm hung at his side, on fire. He pulled it across his chest with his good arm and looked for something to make a sling. He tugged at the rope around his ankles, but it was tied tight. The ropes around Starsky were out of the question. They were wrapped and doubled wrapped and he didn’t want to risk hurting him. He pulled himself up and stood. He fought hard against the urge to let the black hole of despair and pain swallow him, but one glance at his deathly still partner gave him all the incentive he needed.
He took tiny shuffling steps until he was at the bottom of the stairs. He sat heavily on the bottom step, placed his arm on his lap and rested his head on the railing. They had been shoved down these steps blindfolded so he had no idea what was at the top. Perhaps a cheery kitchen, with a fully stocked medicine cabinet and a phone. More likely good old Buster sat at the kitchen table waiting for him.
He remembered his Magnum and glanced at Starsky. The barrel of the gun stuck out from under Shadow’s hip. He debated for a moment. Go back and get the gun, risking the possibility that he would use the rest of his flagging energy, or climb Mt. Everest and run into Buster unarmed. One-armed and unarmed – not a good combination.
He decided to risk it. He took one last look at the horror chamber that still held his partner captive and turned to his task, ignoring the voices that threatened to take him down. You want us to do your partner first, Blondie? Is that what you want? You like to watch? He closed his eyes and managed to stick his hand in the waistband of his pants. That would keep his broken arm fairly immobile. He drew in a breath and hopped to the second step. He gritted his teeth against the pain and the rising bile and hopped again. Dizziness blurred his vision and he sat heavily on the third step. He heard a moan. He thought it was his own voice. He heard it again.
He whipped his head around, which cost him precious time, since he had to wait till his vision cleared again and saw that Starsky’s left arm was moving.
“Starsky,” he croaked. He took a deep breath and tried again. “Starsky.” It came out louder. He heard a faint huh and then the chair began to move.
“Starsky, don’t move. I’m going to get you some help. But don’t try to move. I can’t tell what’s wrong with you.”
“I’m cuddling a dead psycho – that’s what’s wrong with me.” Starsky’s voice was jagged glass. “How you doin? Can’t see you.”
“Oh, I’m swell – just heading up the stairs for a little snack.”
“Bring me a taco . . .” Starsky said and then sucked in a breath. “Oh fuck, hurry Hutch.”
Hutch didn’t answer. Just turned, stood, and continued his torturous journey, both their lives perched precariously on his shoulders. He got halfway up and had to stop, as waves of nausea and dizziness wrapped around him and the whole staircase seemed to jut forward. You just want him all to yourself, don’t you . . . fucking queer assed cop. Wanna do him on top of that car of his, huh? Is that what you were about to do when we found you . . .
“No.” He shook his head and bit his lip against the pain and the images that wouldn’t stop swirling around him. He put a foot on the next step, and waited for the strength to do it again. It was agony. He didn’t look up until he reached the top of the stairs. Didn’t dare look back down at Starsky.
He made it to the kitchen, found it empty, and collapsed in the nearest chair, panting. He moaned as fire raged up and down his arm and he hugged it close to his chest, and let out a half laugh/half sob when he saw the cheery yellow phone hanging on the wall. He stood and then immediately sat back down as his legs couldn’t support him. Fuck. Perfect. Three feet from the phone and he couldn’t move.
He looked around for something to support him, and noticed the box of toothpicks spilled on the table. He sucked in a breath as the voice thundered back. “Come on pretty boy . . . you wanna save him, you gotta do something . . .
“Starsky, “he shouted, dispelling the voices, but increasing his anxiety when no answer came back. “Starsky – you okay? Talk to me buddy. I found a phone.” He waited, listening. All he could hear was distant lawn mowers, far away horns, the hum of the house. Fuck. He ignored his pain and stood again, coming down hard on his arm against the table, but managed to stagger toward the kitchen sink, so when he crumpled to the floor, he was closer to the phone.
The room swam in front of him. He waited for it to clear.
And saw Buster, with his baseball bat, hovering over him.
“No . . . no . . . please. Just let us go,” he pleaded, but Buster just stood there, grinning at him. “I’ve got to get help for my partner . . . please, just let me call an ambulance. No cops. Just let me save him . . .”
Buster laughed. “Oh you can save him. You know how . . . or I could just go down and have a taste of him myself . . .”
Hutch lunged, but only managed to dislodge his hand from his waistband. He groaned and slammed his head against the cabinet doors. “Please . . .” He hated the sound of his own voice. Couldn’t stop it. “Just do what you have to . . . let me get him help.”
There was no answer. He looked up. No one was there. He was alone. Except in his head. He couldn’t get them out of his head. He sat for a moment, breathing hard. He thought he heard a moan from the basement and yelled, “Starsky?”
He heard a soft moan, a faint huh. Gave him the push he needed and, with the help of the chair and the counter, he raised himself up. He stood shaking, braced against the kitchen sink and looked out between lacy lemon curtains at the quiet, normal neighborhood. Blooming jasmine, tall trees, kids on bikes, mailboxes with red flags at attention. He turned on the faucet and scooped water into his mouth. He wiped off his lips and was suddenly back in the bathroom of The Pits, and Starsky’s hands were under his shirt, rubbing, teasing.
“Come on Hutch, let’s get out of here.” Starsky’s breath on his ear had made him hard in an instant.
He had grabbed Starsky’s face with both hands and kissed him, pushing his tongue into the heat, into the taste of beer and whiskey, desire and amazement swirling together, sucking him down further. He felt something poke him and it was suddenly Buster’s hands on him, Buster’s tongue stabbing down his throat. He retched and hung his head over the sink as the images disappeared and the shiny strawberry soap dispenser mocked him. Fuck.
He couldn’t do it. He was done. The phone was still half a kitchen away and he knew that his body was shutting down, as waves of dizziness slammed into him, tilting him sideways into the refrigerator. He’d failed. He was going to pass out and Starsky was going to die.
Like most endings, this one came and went almost before anyone realized.
Hutch was inching his way along the counter when three police officers barreled through the kitchen door, guns drawn, shouting Hutch to the ground. He heard Dobey’s voice and managed to wheeze out “Starsky” and “basement” before he passed out.
Dobey thundered down the stairs ahead of the rescue team, and in violation of about ten protocols, but stopped cold at the sight of Starsky and the dead man. At the sight and sound and smell of that basement and the bone deep regret that it had taken him two days to find them. This one would stay with him. Haunt him.
Starsky heard Dobey’s familiar growl and just let go. All of it. Everything. He had been hanging on so tight. For Hutch. For them. The minute Dobey’s warm hand touched his cheek, he started shaking, teeth chattering. Dobey and two officers untied him and rolled him gently onto his back. Dobey sat down and took his head into his lap and held his arms steady as paramedics surrounded them, probing and checking vitals. Dobey laid a hand on Starsky’s chest and rubbed gently.
“It’s okay now, son. You’re okay. Hutch is okay. Stay with me here, Starsky. You’re okay.”
The paramedics wrapped and bandaged Starsky’s fingers and covered him in a blanket. It was hard to start the IV because he was shaking so much, but Dobey held his arms steady. He leaned down and whispered, “Starsky, we gotta go now. Okay? We’re taking you to a hospital. You just try to breathe regular now, while we take you out of here.”
Starsky drew in one last ragged breath and nodded. Dobey pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and carefully wiped Starsky’s face.
Starsky reached for Dobey’s hand and looked at him. “Who?”
Dobey ignored the question and helped the paramedics lift Starsky, and then pulled himself up. Two more officers came down the stairs and they carried Starsky out of the basement. Dobey took one quick look around as the Crime Scene guys swarmed down the stairs to begin their work. He murmured a quick prayer and followed Starsky up the stairs.
They lowered Starsky onto the kitchen table and went out to get another gurney. Hutch was already in the ambulance, and Starsky reached out a hand again to Dobey.
Dobey rubbed his shoulder. “In the ambulance already. He’s okay.” He turned to the men in the kitchen. “Wilson, what the hell are you doing? Get this man out in the ambulance. Now!”
Starsky cracked a swollen smile at the concern in Dobey’s voice, but then he felt his chest tighten and he began coughing and choking. Someone placed an oxygen mask on his face. He felt a prick in his arm. Then nothing.
The end was only the beginning.
They spent a week in the hospital being probed and medicated and interrogated. Between the tests and the treatments and the statements, they rarely spent a minute alone. Hutch had surgery on the second day to repair the tendon damage in his arm, and Starsky developed an infection in his lungs and spent the next day in ICU. Huggy finally came by and filled in the blanks of Dobey’s short, sparse reporting of the details.
He stood at the end of their beds, staring at the pair for a long time, then he moved up, touching arms, ruffling hair, trying to crack through the layer of gloom that seemed to have settled permanently onto their shoulders. Then he pulled a small chair between the beds and folded himself in half, propping his legs up on Starsky’s bed, keeping a hand resting lightly on Hutch’s ankle. Solid. Tangible flesh and blood after days of chasing their ghosts.
“It was Grossman, man. Can you believe it? Reached out from jail. His mother died six months ago. Sent him right over the edge. Although the cat hardly needed a push, you know? Went after everyone who’d ever messed with them. Hooked up with the Spook in the joint.”
“Shadow.” Starsky corrected.
“Shadow,” Hutch repeated and then closed his eyes.
“We called him Shadow.” Starsky watched Hutch. “You okay?”
Hutch opened his eyes and looked over at Starsky. “Yeah. Peachy keen, partner. You?”
“You guys look like shit. For real. Good thing Tiny dropped a dime, or I don’t know how we ever would have found you. You just disappeared.”
Hutch closed his eyes again as the voices whispered in his ears. “You want us to do your partner first? Damn fine ass he’s got . . .”
“Hutch!” Starsky’s voice broke through.
“Starsky, don’t yell.”
“Did you hear what Huggy said?”
Huggy looked from one bed to the other and shook his head. “I said that Tiny – you know, Grossman’s old bodyguard – gave us an address with one number missing and me and El Capitan drove the city for 24 hours looking for you. Hell, I don’t think the man ate the entire time. He was fierce.”
“I’m hungry.” Starsky rubbed his chest. “Can’t eat worth shit with these.” He held up his bandaged hands.
Hutch jerked as if he had been hit and grabbed his stomach.
“You okay?” Huggy squeezed his leg through the blanket.
“Fine. Just the thought of food . . .”
“Hutch, you haven’t eaten at all today.” Starsky poked Huggy’s foot. “Think you could score us some real food, Hug?”
Huggy unfolded and stood. “Say no more, my man. I’ve got Minnie cooking up a gumbo that’s guaranteed to have you up and about in no time.”
He straightened his jacket and looked at them both. “Glad you cats are okay. Don’t know what I would have done . . .”
“No soap, Huggy . . .” Starsky warned.
“ . . . with that red monstrosity choking up my alley.” Huggy finished and winked at Hutch.
“Hey, watch it!”
Huggy laughed, tipped his hat, and left and Starsky turned to Hutch. He was lying back on the pillows, his arm draped over his eyes.
“Hutch, you okay?”
“You gonna ask me that every five minutes?”
“Maybe. You in pain?”
Hutch tapped the cast that went from his shoulder to the tips of his fingers and then looked at Starsky. “Uh, well, yes. Aren’t you?” He swallowed hard and stared at Starsky’s fingers. “Those hurt?”
Starsky looked down at his hands and sighed. “Yeah. Fucking Shadow.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Hutch said it so softly that Starsky almost didn’t hear it.
He couldn’t breathe. The smoke choked him, the flames licked at his ankles, but he couldn’t move. He could just make out Starsky lying on the couch, oblivious. He tried to yell, to wake him up, but he couldn’t. He watched in horror as the fire roared over the ends of the couch, searing the blanket off Starsky in an instant.
Then the screaming started.
The flesh melted off Starsky, dripping to the floor. Hutch was finally able to move and he ran over, but he was too late. The fire slipped into the kitchen and Hutch was left holding a scorched I Ching coin.
“Hutch, hey Hutch. Let go. Wake up. Jesus.”
He opened his eyes to see Starsky bent over him, trying to pry the necklace from Hutch’s fingers. He dropped his hand, let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, and rubbed a hand over his eyes.
“Yeah, okay, okay.”
“You were screaming. When I tried to wake you up, you grabbed my neck. Are you okay?”
Hutch looked around the room. His apartment. No fire. He had fallen asleep on the couch. He shook his head. “Bad dream.”
Starsky sat on the coffee table. “That was a nightmare. Scared the shit out of me. I dropped the groceries in the hall. So much for omelets, huh?”
Hutch swung his legs out and sat up, careful not to bump his arm, still in a sling after four weeks. He watched Starsky try to pick up the spaghetti that had poured onto the floor. He just ended up spilling more.
“Damn fingers. You’d think I could take these splints off by now.”
“They have to heal, Starsky. Give it time.”
Starsky set the groceries on the coffee table and joined Hutch on the couch. “I’ve been giving it time. Too much time.” He looked at Hutch. “How much more time?”
“Huh?” Hutch moved his leg so he wasn’t touching Starsky, but Starsky just moved closer.
“I miss you.”
“I’m right here.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Starsky, we spend every moment together. I would think you’d be sick of me.”
Starsky leaned in and kissed Hutch on the cheek. It was so innocent, so tender, that Hutch couldn’t bear it. Starsky was just so . . . Starsky. The kidnapping and hospital stay just rolled off him. Hutch wished he could be so resilient. Because it was killing him. He felt like he was still stuck in that basement. Still trying to save them. Still coming up short. Every damn time.
They had both been to see the department shrink. Together and separate. Starsky danced and jigged and got released after two weeks. Hutch thought that Dr. Haynes might have been caught up in the blue eyes and the fact that Starsky kept reminding her that he had already been kidnapped once and that if he was going to crack, it would have been then – a larger psycho-to-prisoner ratio being his main argument.
”Hey, I was in a cave with twenty whackos and a damn bear, Doc. This was a walk in the park compared to that,” he had said and the doctor just chuckled and signed his release. She didn’t see his white knuckled grip on the steering wheel on the way home. But Hutch did. And blamed himself. For everything.
“These nightmares happen every night now.” Starsky rubbed Hutch’s leg.
“Yeah, thus the name – nightmares.”
“It’s the middle of the afternoon.”
“So this was a daymare?”
“Hutch, you shouldn’t be having . . .”
“Yeah, I know I know. I should be over it by now. Hell, you were held hostage by an entire cult, almost had your throat cut, why should this bother me?”
“That’s not what I’m . . .”
“But it’s true. I mean, I should just get over it. We got saved, right? Grossman’s back in solitary. We’re going back to active duty soon.”
“Hutch, shut the fuck up. I was there. I know what happened. Okay?”
Hutch looked in Starsky’s face. I could do you and let him watch, let him see what an easy mark you are . . . what an easy fuck you are . . .
He stood suddenly and Starsky cursed.
“That.” Starsky pointed a bandage hand at Hutch. “What is that? Why are you so jumpy?”
Hutch ignored him, walked into the kitchen, flipped on the heat under the tea kettle. He felt Starsky’s arms circle round his waist and he sighed.
“I don’t know what it is. I just can’t get them out of my head.”
“Buster. Toothpick guy. Fucking assholes. All of them.”
“What does Dr. Haynes say?” Starsky laid his cheek on Hutch’s back. “Talk to me, Hutch. Please.”
Hutch turned in Starsky’s arms and kissed him gently. He closed his eyes and felt Starsky’s hands move to his chest, rubbing lightly. He felt the hard splints through his shirt and he stiffened.
Starsky pulled back. "What?"
"Nothing." Hutch recaptured his lips and concentrated on the way Starsky moaned when he bit his lower lip, on the feeling of his hips pressed against the
sink. He remembered the bathroom at Huggy's, the kiss on the way to the car . . .
"No." He pushed Starsky away with his good arm. Starsky's eyes flew open and stumbled back a step.
"What? Did I hurt you?"
This was too much. "No. I hurt you. Look what I did to you." Hutch clasped Starsky's hand in his. "I let him break your fingers . . . I let him . . ."
Starsky grabbed both of Hutch shoulders. "Hutch. You didn't do it."
Hutch pulled away. He wanted to run, he wanted to scream, he wanted to crawl out of his skin. He headed for the couch, then toward the bedroom, then finally to the piano. He stood at the bench, staring down at the keys.
"I could have stopped it." His whispered confession was accompanied by his open hand slamming against the keys. The discord matched his despair. He ran a finger across the black keys. "I could have saved you."
Starsky stood at the kitchen table, head cocked, frowning. "What are you talking about?"
Hutch whirled. "I could have saved you. Okay? I didn't."
"How in the hell do you think you could have – Jesus, buddy, I know you got that WASP guilt thing, but there’s no way Shadow was going to let us . . ."
“Not Shadow. I could have let him fuck me."
Starsky started forward, then stopped. “What?”
Hutch started to pace. “Yeah, you know – in the room. They told me . . . “
“You said they didn’t say anything.” Starsky watched Hutch, who was now pacing fast between the bathroom door and the front windows.
“I know, I just . . .”
“They never said a word to me. “
“They would have let you go if I had just . . .”
“Oh hell. There was no way they were going to let us go.”
Hutch stopped pacing and looked at Starsky.
Was he crazy? Was Starsky right? And why didn’t they talk to Starsky in that room? Was Starsky lying? Trying to protect him the way he did in the hospital when he didn’t tell him about the other dead body the crime scene team had found when they searched that damn room in the basement. The cop from Cleveland. Who had arrested Gillian once and had a run-in with Mrs. Grossman over it. Third in the list of names they found in Grossman’s cell. Seven names. Three dead. Two missing. And them. It all kept running back to him. “We wouldn’t have even been there if . . .”
Starsky got up and walked toward him, shaking his head. “Oh no, I’m not letting you wallow in that shit. I knew it. I knew you were headed down that road. Goddammit Hutch. Do you hate yourself that much? Does it all have to come back to you? Huh?”
Did he? “It’s just logic.” Hutch moved to the couch, rubbing his arm.
“Well, hell then. Here’s better logic. I don’t see her in that room that day, we aren’t here either. Hell, why stop there? If Artie wasn’t such a scumbag, you might be married to Abby. Or wait – if I hadn’t shot Lonnie Craig – I’d be married to Terry and you’d be . . . hell, if you hadn’t given Jack head in high school, you might still be in Minnesota married to the ice bitch. It’s not going to fly, Hutch.”
“The ice bitch is named Vanessa.”
Starsky’s face turned a dangerous shade of red. “I know her fucking name.”
He walked slowly over to Hutch and stood over him. “Tell me everything they said to you.” His tone was even, but his face was set hard. Granite. Serious.
Hutch fussed with the string on his sling. He felt Starsky’s knees pressing into his. “Okay, but sit down. “
Starsky sat slowly on the coffee table, never taking his eyes off Hutch. “Did they hurt you, Hutch? In that room? Something you didn’t tell me?”
Hutch wanted the couch to open up and swallow him, but Starsky would probably just leap in after him. He stared at him. Wondered for a moment what would have happened if they had gotten back here on his birthday . . . would they have finished what they started? Where would they be now?
“I . . . he just . . .”
“Toothpick guy. I don’t know, you never named him.”
“Asshole. Call him asshole.”
“Well, Asshole said . . . that they were gonna have fun with you – fuck you good – and did I want to watch?”
“They didn’t touch me. Well except . . . fists . . . you know.”
“Every time he hit me, he asked me.”
“Jesus, Hutch, why didn’t you tell me . . .”
“I couldn’t. He said if I really wanted to save your life, then I could blow him and he’d let you go.”
Starsky moved from the table to the couch, put his arm around Hutch, rubbed his leg. “Did you?”
Hutch jerked away. “No. God, no. I . . . no.” He looked away. “I couldn’t do it. And look what they did to you.”
Starsky laid a hand on Hutch’s cheek, forced him to look back. “Hutch – look what they did to us. To you. It wasn’t your fault. They were just fucking with your head.”
“It worked. I’m fucked.”
“You are not. You just need to let it go. We’re okay. You got up those
stairs and . . .”
“Passed out. Lot of good I was. Huggy and Dobey did it. They found us.”
Starsky sighed and fell against the back of the couch. “Jesus. The guilt never ends with you, does it? You’re gonna blame yourself for the rain pretty soon.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’ll rain some day. And it’ll be all your fault.” Starsky rubbed both hands over his face. Then he slid down between Hutch’s legs. On his knees. Hutch’s thighs pressed against his hips. He took Hutch’s hand in both of his.
“Hutch. I’m gonna say this once.”
“And then what?”
“And then I don’t know what. But here is how this is going to play.” He squeezed Hutch’s hand, and then reached up and laid a hand on his chest. Took a deep breath.
“What happened was bad. I’m not going to brush it off. I’m not going to say I haven’t been waking up in a cold sweat these last few weeks, thinking about that damn basement. Hell, sometimes I can’t get back to sleep.”
“You never said.”
“No, because you’ve been burning yourself at the stake enough as it is. But there was nothing we could have done to make it any different. Nothing you could have said. Nothing you could have done. Nothing. So we just gotta find a way to live with it.”
“How do you do that?”
“How do you? You act like this is the first bad thing that’s happened to us. Hell, Hutch, how did we get through any of it? Huh? How did you make it through those nights at Hug’s after . . .” He stopped and looked at Hutch, who just nodded. They never talked about that. The heroin. The withdrawal. The relapse.
“Don’t remember it. That’s how. Was too fucked up. Am too fucked up.”
“Well, then we’re both fucked up. Because it wasn’t just you in that room, it wasn’t just you at Huggy’s, hell, it wasn’t just you on that damn cruise ship if you wanna get into it. It was us. Us. Together, that’s how we get through it. And you know it. Wanna know how glad I was when I woke up that first time in that van and knew you were there with me? I mean, I know that might have been a little selfish, but I just knew it would turn out okay. And it did. Don’t forget that.”
Hutch wondered how he had forgotten this part. This man before him. But he still couldn’t forget the sound of Starsky’s bones cracking right in front of him. All the talking in the world couldn’t relieve his guilt over that. Ever. He wanted to forget. Just like the heroin. He preferred the blank, empty spaces to the nightmares.
“Stop it.” Starsky squeezed his thigh.
“I see your wheels turning. Talk, don’t think.”
“It’s just that – that night . . .”
“I know.” Starsky leaned in and brushed his lips over Hutch’s. “That’s the part I hate. Cause it’s always going to be linked to this shit. And it shouldn’t. Been wanting to kiss you for a long time before that.”
“Oh hell, you know that. Don’t act like you don’t know that.”
“I just thought it was . . . you know . . . lust.”
“Well, I hope it was lust. Don’t know why else I’d want to kiss you.”
“But now . . .”
Starsky sighed. “If it were up to me, you’d be upside down on that bed in there, begging for it.”
Hutch raised an eyebrow and tried not to think about it. “Begging?”
Wanna see you beg for it, cop. Real good. I bet you’re real good.
He struggled to stay present, to focus on Starsky, to believe that Starsky was right. If they could just get through it together . . .
“I love you, Hutch. You gotta know that by now.”
The voices disappeared. “I know you do . . .”
“I mean, really.” Starsky frowned. “Love you.”
Hutch felt a smile threaten. He adored Starsky’s frowns. Irrationally loved them. He would often bait him into a mood just to see it.
“Love you, too.” Hutch was rewarded with a deeper grimace.
“Jesus, you’re dense.”
“And you’re too easy.”
Starsky answered with a kiss. Hard. Insistent. Hutch threaded his fingers through Starsky’s hair and pulled him closer. Starsky’s mouth opened and Hutch explored the heat. Starsky moaned and pressed hard against him. Hutch winced at the pain in his arm, but just as Starsky moved back, he pulled him closer, sucking his tongue deeper, swirling and thrusting, grinding against his lips until he tasted blood.
Starsky pulled away, panting. “Hang on, cowboy.” He reached up and fingered his bottom lip. “Don’t have to wear them out in one kiss. Ain’t going anywhere.”
Hutch sighed. He wished he could believe it. He laid a hand on Starsky’s cheek, already flushed from the kiss, and then he grimaced as pain shot up his arm.
“What is it?”
“Arm. Fuck.” Hutch laid his head back, tried not to move. “God, it’s on fire.”
Starsky scrambled to his feet, and headed into the bathroom for Hutch’s pain pills. He came back with a glass of water.
“Here, take these.” He dropped two pills into Hutch’s open hand. Hutch swallowed them and shook his head at the water. He drew his legs up into the pain, twisting toward the back of the couch.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Starsky sat back on the coffee table, place a hand very lightly on Hutch’s calf. “Maybe we should call the doctor.”
“No, just twisted something I . . . fuck.” Hutch curled his knees into his chest, holding his broken arm close. “Just let the pills work. Keep talking to me.”
Starsky stood, ran a hand through his hair. “What do you want me to talk about?”
Hutch hissed between his teeth. “Tell me something good. You were all talk just a minute ago.”
“Okay, well . . . hell, Hutch, let me take you to the hospital . . . there’s something wrong. You’re all pale.”
Hutch could barely hear Starsky now, through the waves of pain crashing against his skull. He tried to wriggle his fingers, but the pain shot through his eyes and he began rocking.
Starsky stood, took Hutch’s face in his hands. “Hutch, Hutch, talk to me. What’s going on?”
Hutch heard him, but couldn’t speak, just rocked and moaned. His arm felt like it was going to explode off of his shoulder. This was not right. He should probably go to the hospital now. But he couldn’t form the words. He bit his lips so hard against the pain that blood ran down his chin.
“Dammit, Hutch, you bit your lip. Hang on.” Starsky ran into the kitchen and grabbed a rag. He stopped at the phone, punched in a number, and then pulled it with him back to Hutch. He cradled the phone against his shoulder and his ear as he gently wiped the blood off Hutch’s chin.
“Yeah this is Sergeant Starsky – we need an ambulance at 1027 ˝ Ocean Street. No, I don’t . . . oh hell. Officer down. 1027 ˝ Ocean. Requesting an ambulance. Now!”
He threw the phone down and the tension in the cord pulled it back halfway across the room.
“Fucking regulations.” He looked down at Hutch. “You doing okay, buddy?”
“You’re going to get us fired.” Hutch managed between the waves of pain.
“Oh, hell – they asked me for some damn ID number. I don’t know my ID number – you know your ID number?”
“Seven four two three seven.” Hutch hissed.
“Smartass. You think you can move a little? Lie down?”
“No . . . talk.”
Starsky sank down on the coffee table, reached out and rubbed Hutch’s leg. “Okay, well, so I first wanted to kiss you about two years ago.”
“Two years?” Hutch struggled to look at Starsky, who was grinning.
“Yeah, about. You were wearing that green turtleneck and those pants with all the pockets and you had just tossed Jimmy Shoes into that dumpster and you were turning around and wiping your hands together, and you smiled at me and that was it.”
“Jimmy Shoes? That was . . . “
“About two years ago. You want me to talk, let me talk. So you looked at me and I don’t know, my stomach flopped. All I could do not to walk over and pull you down into the alley and give you the Starsky special.”
“Oh yeah. It’s special. Just you wait.”
Starsky heard the sirens and got up and opened the door. He walked back just as Hutch cried out and kicked the coffee table with his foot.
“Fuck. It’s killing me.”
Starsky grabbed Hutch’s leg and rubbed hard. “And then I didn’t really think about it again. Well, I thought about it, but I just thought it was . . . you know . . . a thing. And then a couple of months ago, it hit me again. I started calling it the Hutchinson flu.”
Hutch groaned a little laugh. Beads of sweat lined his forehead and his lip was swollen and still bleeding. He wiped it on the back of the couch and concentrated on the sound of Starsky’s voice.
“So I came down with it again. After you got sick. Which by the way, is another example of how we do what we do together. Even when we’re apart. So you were looking all sharp in your suit at court and you were all cocky and feeling good finally and you walked into the elevator in front of me and damn . . .”
“The elevator? In the courthouse?”
“Yeah – and you punched the button and grabbed my arm and hell . . . should have shoved you up against the wall and showed you the Starsky . . .”
“Special. I know. Must be good. How come I never heard of it before?”
“Don’t share it with everyone. It’s special.”
“So you said, “Hutch croaked and felt his fingers. They were cold. And white. He pointed and Starsky looked at the fingers and sucked in a breath.
“Fuck, where is the damn ambulance? It’ll be okay, Hutch. We’ll get you to the hospital and they’ll fix it. Whatever it is. I swear.”
Starsky smiled and winked. “I swear it on a Starsky special.”
“Better be good. Better be damn good.”
The heroes always ride off together in the end.
Blood clot. Removed and discarded. They spent the night in the hospital and Starsky wouldn’t leave Hutch’s side. The nurses brought in an extra cot, but Starsky just used it to fling his jacket across, set his shoes on. He climbed in right beside Hutch, sharing his pillow, his arm firmly snugged behind Hutch’s head.
The morphine drip worried him for all of three minutes, but when he saw Hutch’s face finally relax, he knew it was okay. Hutch needed some serenity. The man worried himself to death about the tiniest of details. Starsky absently rubbed Hutch’s chest and wondered what had really gone on in that room. Had Hutch told him everything? He felt Hutch’s hand touch his own, felt him move a little, and he reached up and kissed his cheek as he woke up.
“Hey there, Blintz.”
Hutch looked down at Starsky and smiled. Zoned out. All the way. “Hey there. You sleeping in my bed?”
“Looks that way. Although you could scoot over a little. My ass is numb from hanging off the edge.”
Hutch scooted and wrapped his leg around Starsky’s. He sighed and closed his eyes. “Man, I feel good.”
“Yes, you do. Morphine and Me. Deadly combination.”
Hutch snorted. “Morphine, me and thee.”
“Got that right.”
Starsky watched Hutch’s chest rise and fall, felt his own heartbeat slow down to match. He dozed briefly and then jerked awake as he heard Hutch talking in his sleep.
“No, don’t hurt him . . . . all I got . . . he’s all I got . . . no . . .”
Starsky rubbed Hutch’s chest. “Wake up Hutch. You’re having a dream.”
“No . . . I’ll do anything . . . let him go . . . don’t touch him . . . “
Starsky rose on an elbow and poked a knuckle hard into Hutch’s chest. “Come on, babe. Let it go. It’s a dream. I’m right here.” He leaned up into Hutch ear.
“I love you. I’m here.”
Hutch eyes flew open and he sucked in a breath. He grabbed Starsky’s hand and squeezed hard. Starsky began massaging his neck with his other hand, soothing.
“It’s all over now. All of it. I love you Hutch, never going to leave you. I swear. Please, let it go. Let it all go . . .”
Starsky kept up the mantra as he watched Hutch relax, rubbed his chest, whispered in his ear. Hutch moaned and then turned and kissed Starsky on the cheek.
“I love you.”
“Love you too. You doing better?”
Hutch sighed. “Guess. Keep having same dream. You burning up in a fire. Me watching, can’t move, just watching. Fuck.”
“My dreams are always about you in that damn oxygen tent.”
Hutch looked at Starsky. “What dreams?”
“You don’t think you got the market covered on nightmares, do you?”
“You never say . . .”
“Because they’re just dreams. You survived the tent. The plague. I just look at it as leftover trash.”
“Yeah, like the event is done, but my mind’s not done working through it. Too much to take in – the thought of you dying – so I just dream about it till it’s done. Until all the trash is at the dump.”
Hutch closed his eyes. “How do you do that?”
“Heal yourself like that?”
“What’s the alternative? Driving myself and you crazy? Making myself miserable about shit I have no control over? Just let your mind work itself through, Hutch. Empty your trash. You’ll feel better.”
“Feels like I’m dying, watching you die.”
“I know. But you aren’t. And you won’t. It’s over. Feel like tattooing that on your ass – except I’d be the only one to see it.”
“Yeah, I guess so. I hope so. Guess we never talked about it.”
“You tattooing my ass?”
Starsky swung his legs and sat up on the side of the bed. “No, me being the only one . . . I mean . . .”
Hutch smiled. A real one. The first one in weeks. “So you want to mark your territory?”
“Well, no, uh, I was just . . .” Starsky caught the glint in Hutch’s eye and frowned. “Oh, hell, Hutch. You know what I mean.”
“Yes, I guess I do.” He took Starsky’s hand in his. “Starsky – you know how I feel about you. Can’t live without you. Don’t want to. Couldn’t if I tried.”
“Means me, too. The same.”
“I know what it means, just never heard you say it.”
“I say a lot of things.”
Hutch tugged Starsky’s arm and he curled back around Hutch. “I know you do. Said something about a Starsky special if I recall . . .”
“Hutch – you can’t handle a Starsky special. Not in your condition.”
“Yep. As soon as we get you out of here, soon as you go see that shrink again, and you stop mixing the past up with the here and now – you’re on.”
“I have to see a shrink in order to get the Starsky special?”
Starsky looked at Hutch. “You know you should. Stuff you got in there,” he tapped Hutch’s forehead with his splint, “might need extra help.”
Hutch sighed. Starsky was right. He didn’t want any of the memories that invaded his nights, interrupted his days. But they were a part of him now. A part of them. The sooner he learned where to put it all, what to do with the bone-crushing guilt that hung above him, threatening to split his chest wide open, the sooner he could get back to the promise of that first kiss. That beginning. The sooner he could get back to living. With Starsky.
And he really wanted a Starsky special. “It better be good,” he muttered.
He leaned forward and Starsky kissed him. Starsky’s lips on his, Starsky’s hands on his chest, Starsky’s breath, his heartbeat. He grabbed Starsky’s head with his hand and pulled him closer. Starsky moaned and slid his legs over Hutch’s, careful not to bump his arm. Hutch pushed his tongue into Starsky’s mouth, tasting and memorizing every sensation. His hand slid out of Starsky’s hair and moved down to his chest.
Starsky broke away, grabbing Hutch’s hand. “Oh, no you don’t. I see what you’re doing.”
“I’m not doing anything.”
“That innocent act work with the ladies? You know exactly what you were doing. Trying to sneak yourself a Starsky special right here.”
“Was not. Just trying to get rid of my trash. You said to-”
“I know what I said. And doing it in a hospital bed is kinky. Even for you.”
“How do you know what’s kinky for me?”
“Because I know everything about you.”
“Not everything.” Hutch’s eyebrows wagged and Starsky grinned. Hutch felt another layer lift from his shoulders, carried up to the ceiling with the sound of Starsky’s laugh.
And sometimes, promises deliver.
A shared moment, a drunken lean, nose to nose, a hand lingering just this side of too long on a thigh. When Hutch thought back to that night, he could never get back to that beginning. The real beginning. He never got back to the kiss. The first kiss.
Couldn’t. And so the beginning became the end. Stillborn.
And then: another kiss, another touch, a stroke. Frantic whispers, gasping confessions, full of need and want.
Sometimes you just begin. Again.