Hutch awoke tasting whisky and Starsky. He groaned and rolled off the couch, crouching for a moment on the floor, waiting for the headache and nausea to subside. He carefully stood and moved to the bathroom, kicking an empty fifth under the couch. It had been almost full last night.
In the bathroom he looked down at the sink instead of the mirror. There wasn’t anyone there he wanted to see. He gazed blindly at his toothbrush for a long moment, tongue moving gently through his mouth, finding all the little pockets where Starsky lingered. He picked the brush up, deliberately applied a measured amount of paste and began to brush. He didn’t stop till his mouth was raw.
Hutch had barely finished dressing when Starsky turned up at his door like a stray uncertain of welcome. He bore a small offering of donut and coffee, and Hutch dug up a smile of thanks from somewhere, but he had no words to offer in return. He could only watch as the glimmer of hope in Starsky’s eyes faded to resignation.
Outside, the bright sun tore at his eyes. He put on his sunglasses and thought longingly of the iron winter skies above Duluth as he eased into the Torino. Starsky’s door-slam made his head pound again and he reached for the glove compartment, looking for more aspirin. He swallowed two with a gulp of coffee, feeling Starsky’s eyes on him, though his partner didn’t say anything.
They drove past a couple of girls skating down the sidewalk and Hutch suddenly remembered learning to skate as a child. He’d loved the speed and sense of freedom, the physical illusion of coasting. At times it’d almost felt like he was standing still, feeling the rotation of the world beneath him.
Was that happening now? Were he and Starsky stuck in one place while the world spun away under the Torino’s wheels? If they turned around could they move back in time? Or maybe they could spin sideways. Quit. Move somewhere quiet and green where people didn’t beat their kids and dogs or pass judgment on things they couldn’t understand. Was there anyplace they could go where they wouldn’t lose everything?
The Torino stopped and Hutch looked up, confused for a moment before he recognized where they were. Starsky let out a breath, scrubbed his palms against his thighs and reached for the radio.
“Zebra 3 in position, Control. Please log us in at 1500.”
“Roger, Zebra 3.”
“Another day, another stakeout,” Starsky murmured, giving the sagging hotel across the street a dark look through his shades.
The words fell into Hutch’s silence, lay heavy in the place where fear and hunger churned. He’d gotten used to the ache of loving Starsky a long time ago. It was as much a part of him as the ache in his leg during wet weather, the phantom sting of needle pricks in his elbow. Old pain was useful. It helped a man remember he was alive; remember what he was fighting for and what he had to lose; the terrible price that anyone who loved him back would pay. He’d accepted it. He had—till last night’s shared madness had undone all his resolve. And now what the hell was he supposed to do? How could he ever keep Starsky safe?
Starsky’s fists wrapped themselves tight around the steering wheel. There was a small bandage circling the tip of one finger. Hutch watched as the hands flexed and twisted, tension traveling up the forearms, cording the veins. He could feel Starsky’s pulse vibrate against the dust particles caught between them.
Starsky shifted in his seat. It creaked—made Hutch realize he was looking.
He turned away. The sun-baked metal of the doorsill burned. He left his arm there anyway and scanned the unforgiving afternoon, tongue absently suckling his soft palate, still searching for Starsky’s taste.