Author: jat sapphire
Obligatory Semi-Legal Disclaimer Thing: I don't own either Starsky or Hutch, and I'm hoping not to be haunted by this version of them any more, thank you. No money being made here. This is slash, and it shows sexual love between two men. If this disturbs you or you're underage, please go away.
Other notes: These story sections are not in chronological order. And this is not h/c.
Not With a Bang
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.--T.S.Eliot, "The Hollow Men"
He climbed the stairs. His chest hurt. He was angry already but as he neared the door with its dark plywood branches like a wood under a yellow winter sky, he felt, well, the only word for it was premonition. Bad. It was going to be bad. He touched the cold wood, the colder knob.
For a while, he just sat in the Torino, looking at the restaurant awnings, not really knowing why he'd come. It felt like a bad idea to jump right away when Hutch called. But now that he was there, he had to get out. What a fool he'd be, if he just started the car again and went home. The car door swung open, and then the street-level door. Upstairs somewhere was a muffled crash as if Hutch had knocked over a chair. Probably did, the klutz. Starsky began to climb the stairs, already angry.
The phone rang for a long time. Starsky lifted his head and stared at it for a while, then sat up. The couch was nowhere to sleep anyway. Stiff as an old man, as Uncle Al that last year after his heart attack, Starsky got to his feet and went over to the kitchen stool, hauled himself up on it and reached for the phone. Even that hurt. Christ, what a zombie he was.
"Starsk?" Hutch sounded weird. Distant. Uncertain.
"Yuh," he said, not inclined to be sympathetic. His mouth tasted like medication. So stupid how his face felt numb when the actual wounds pulled and hurt even after the pills. Unless he took enough to knock him out. Considering he'd fallen fast asleep on nothing but water, without even turning on the TV, taking more painkillers would probably do him in until tomorrow morning.
"Can you come over?"
Hutch didn't want to have that same conversation again, did he? Well, maybe not, because right now he wasn't saying anything. Starsky waited for him, nearly falling asleep again to the low hum of the line between them. He could almost hear voices talking, a swift cadence of exchange like teasing, like friends who could still do that.
"'Cause," said Hutch's hoarse voice, snapping Starsky awake, "'cause I'm asking."
"Okay," he said evenly, "you mean right away?"
"When you can." Such a long pause that he was going to hang up, and then Hutch said, "Starsk?"
"I'm, I'm sorry to put all this on you. If I ... could do it another way ...."
Again. And he'd go through it again after whatever Hutch found to say to him at Venice Place. Starsky was suddenly impatient. "Yes, all right, I'm coming."
As he eased on his jacket, he would have kicked himself if he'd been limber enough.
Which he wasn't, any more. But he was still a sucker for Hutch.
It had been such a long day, even just doing paperwork and a couple of interrogations, and Hutch had hardly spoken a dozen words to him. Even when Starsky had his partner alone in the car and tried to talk about the two of them.
"You wanna be on the street, take a temporary partner. Doesn't have to be forever, Dobey'd be cool about it."
"I don't want another partner."
A long silence, Hutch shooting little glances at him and then away.
Starsky, trying just once more, spoke as forcefully as if he could transfer some of his energy to his partner, right into that place inside that had gone all dead and dark. "You're feeling burnt out, Hutch. That's all." He waited. "Right?"
But Hutch turned his face away. "Yeah," he said to the window. "Pretty much." Another pause. "Yeah, burnt out."
"But, y'know, it happens. They've got counselors and stuff. They'll help." When Hutch looked back at him and didn't say anything, Starsky had to ask, "You'll try, won't you?"
It seemed like forever before Hutch said yes. And then he practically bolted out of the car.
"Yeah, buddy, that's just fine," Starsky said angrily to the windshield, the empty car, the space nobody else could fill and Hutch seemed unable to stay in, now.
It was like a bad dream, and he'd had those dreams, too. Climbing the stairs. Each step was a little harder because he really didn't have his lung capacity back, and though he'd exercised and worked at his PT, that young Dave Starsky who ran up seven flights to catch the IA creep and his hired guns was just gone, dead as if Gunther's hit had worked after all. He was middle aged, scarred and tired, and angry that Hutch was dragging him out and making him climb the damn staircase so they could have it all out again. He was dreading that. He clutched the railing that he'd hardly ever even noticed Before Gunther, hauled himself up step by step. Heavy legs, heavy air in his throat and chest, heavy heart.
"It's been a year, more. Why did we go back, Starsky? Why did we go back after Lionel? We quit. I threw my badge into the ocean and I meant it, I really meant it. I can feel it right now in my hand, that kind of greasy film on it, so dirty it made me sick, oh, Starsk, I don't know why I went back. If I'd stayed out, if you'd had a partner who was ... you wouldn't ..."
"Don't take that on yourself." God, why did Hutch have to do this tonight, spill his guts when Starsky was so bushed and they'd just had the other thing out all over again? He wanted to put out his hand and rub across the tense shoulders, pull Hutch into his arms, but how could he do that now? All the wrong messages between them. Almost dying shouldn't kill everything else. Like this.
So Starsky didn't reach out and Hutch, give him credit, didn't seem to be trying to get that physical comfort out of him. After a minute, Hutch rubbed his face, moved his shoulders and said, "I'm sorry, Starsk, this isn't your shit. Sorry to put it on you."
"Not yours either, babe. Nobody's fault." He had to believe that.
Sometimes their old telepathy still worked. "Believe that, Starsky. If you can ... maybe I can too."
After a minute or so, Hutch turned and got up, one hand on the back of the couch, facing Starsky. Not long ago he would have stood up too, and they would have kissed, held each other. Maybe Hutch wouldn't have left. Maybe they'd have sunk right back down on the couch and not even gotten to the bedroom.
Hutch was remembering too. They looked into each other's eyes and acknowledged that the past was gone. Hutch straightened and went to the hook by the door, got his jacket and put it on, and Starsky didn't stand or say anything until Hutch had the door open. "Get some sleep," was all he got out even then.
"Yeah," Hutch said, "you too," and left.
Starsky had a lump behind his adam's apple the size of a fist, but he forced the words out. "It's nothing, you know, the therapist said." Cleared his throat. "Happens on the drugs. I just ... we can still kiss and stuff. It's not that I don't want .... Or I could do you with my mouth. Don't want you to feel, you know."
And Hutch laughed. Laughed, the fucking bastard, an honest guffaw right out of his belly, but his face looked like some sort of mask.
"Don't, Starsk, don't," rocking on the couch, "oh Jesus--" he gasped, and Starsky wasn't sure any more that what he was hearing was laughter. "D'you know, you know how long--" hands over his face for a second or two, then Hutch sat up again and most of his composure was back. "I took that nurse of yours out. The one who was in the room when you woke up, the brunette."
"Miss Underbite? Her?"
"Well, who else was I seeing every damn day? Yes. I took her out, and did the whole nine yards, dinner and stuff, and she does dress up real nice. But when we were--"
Starsky tried a little humor. "When you took her to your whatchamacallit."
"Showed her my thingamajig," but Hutch still looked like a sad clown. "Except there wasn't much to see. She was good, she tried pretty much everything, but no go."
It ought to have been easier since they were both in the same boat. But it wasn't easier. They knew exactly why their tempers were short, why touching each other suddenly seemed unfair, like they were making promises they couldn't keep. They knew it, and it happened anyway. And gradually they both stopped trying. Didn't even hang out together as much, as if not having sex meant they couldn't play Monopoly or go see a movie or anything. Home alone like two high-school nerds.
So Starsky thought. But then one night when the drugs were first cut down and he wasn't comatose, for a change, he'd felt restless and unhappy and Hutch didn't answer his phone, so Starsky got in the Torino and drove around for a while. Past Venice Place and the Pits and some other spots, without ever seeing Hutch or his ratty car; down Ocean View and through some other scenic routes. The neighborhoods got seedier but Starsky just kept driving. Saw a couple of hookers, tourist-trade stuff in outrageous costumes, even little feather boas. Then a few more for the somewhat more sophisticated palate. Then a couple of boys lounging against the wall, trying to strike a balance between sexy-and-available if Starsky were a john, or just-waiting-for-friends if he were a cop.
A club door edged with neon, sleazy and trendy at once, and a fair-haired man coming out of it, green and pink light bouncing from him, shoulders a little hunched. Another man following, close, so close, and Starsky recognized the blond but didn't want to believe it. No, must just be one of those things, a phantom Hutch, a doppelganger, and he parallel parked in a rush and stared harder. No fooling. Hutch. And the other guy had a death-grip on his arm, stepping so close it was a wonder he didn't catch the back of Hutch's shoe. The stranger's hips swung just a little, and Starsky knew exactly how he felt, that special zing of successful pursuit.
"Fuck!" He'd said it aloud without thinking, and then snorted. No, no fuck, that was the whole problem. Then he banged the wheel with his palm, and then hit the dashboard for good measure.
After a while longer, moping, he drove home.
He could scarcely look at Hutch the next day. This feeling of betrayal made no sense, and he knew it. Even when they'd been lov-, when they'd been having sex, when they'd been closer altogether 'cause the sex was just part of it, and he never had thought it was even the most important part, but even then they'd both had other sex partners, and not every one was a woman. Most were, sure. That was just easier. But there'd been that young man they'd sometimes used as an informant, the one Hutch never did think was any good, but Starsky'd liked the way the hair fell on his long neck and the gangly wrists and big hands. A mistake, really, because after that Hutch couldn't even stand to talk to the kid, snitch or no, and Starsky had to deal with the blackmail threat alone. But that had sure been a sweet mouth. Born to suck cock. And they'd both been to a couple of public restrooms--everybody knew which ones--where a guy could get blown practically without even having to see the other guy, and for free, too.
Starsky'd already tried one of them, but nothing doing. Damn, it had been a very long time since he'd been that embarrassed.
And today he felt like Hutch had gut-punched him and he didn't know what to do about it. Talk, he supposed, though he hated that, and how could he start? And how could he keep it from going back to the, the thing, the thing he thought it was anyway, really, because it had been good between them and he thought Hutch still wanted it. Felt something, thought about it somewhere in that screwed-up blond head.
Hutch was giving such mixed signals. Looking away at weird times, staring at others. Moving in close, the way they used to, sitting on the arm of Starsky's chair or the edge of his desk so he couldn't lean forward to do paperwork without brushing Hutch's thigh, all that stuff they'd done without thought when it wasn't sexual and as a calculated tease when it was. And then acting all distant and pissy like he'd rather be on the other side of the room.
One time on the way home, Hutch said suddenly, "Paperwork is such shit."
"Yeah," Starsky said, almost hoping this was the beginning of one of those Hutchinson rants that he hadn't heard in seemed like forever.
But instead Hutch just gave him a sidelong look, almost sly. "And I can do it."
That stung a little, but Starsky knew better, really. "Doesn't take rocket science." Anybody could fill out reports. He'd only ever gotten in trouble when he was so damn bored with it that he'd tried to use the words to stay interested, make it like a book or something.
Hutch just smirked. The jerk. College boy. Starsky almost opened his mouth to say so, and then it occurred to him that this never had been about anything but getting under his skin. And perversely, Starsky didn't want to give Hutch the satisfaction of rising to the bait. So he shrugged and went on driving.
But they didn't find much of anything to say to each other all the way back to Venice Place.
They'd had some really good fucks. They knew each other so well, it was like being on the street when they'd just look at each other and know that Starsky meant to run up the front stairs and look in that window while Hutch would slide round the corner and cover the fire escape. So when Hutch wanted a finger up his ass, he didn't have to ask, just wriggled a little; when Starsky wanted to put in more than a finger, he just pressed a little harder and turned his wrist to the right and then back, and Hutch bent his legs and raised his ass, reaching for the nightstand drawer with one long arm.
Something about the reach, the stretch of the muscles, the fact that this spot up near the armpit was one of the places on Hutch's body where the skin was still soft and unmarked as a boy's, or maybe it was that pallid color that hardly ever saw the sun--anyway, Starsky reached out himself and brushed gently along the warm smooth skin, fingered a mole, swept down to nearly the elbow, which bent as Hutch brought back the KY tube. Starsky took the lubricant and got back to work, holding Hutch's luminous gaze with his own as he manipulated his friend's body and blew his mind.
And it was good for Starsky too, very good. He did love Hutch. The guy was his best pal. He didn't have any hangups about doing this--felt good, made Hutch feel good--what else was there to think of? Nobody ever had to know that among all the nights when they screwed swinging women or dined and danced with good girls who weren't ready to go farther yet, there were some when they got together like this. Starsky rubbed the fine skin over Hutch's hips, gripped and pulled on them, and it was great to use his whole strength and never feel like a brute. Beautiful to see the sweat on Hutch's face and know he'd put it there. Thrilling to hear his friend's voice with that special, out-of-control tone in it.
Not so good, though--Starsky pulled back, pushed in, concentrated on the sensation--not so good when he registered just what Hutch was saying. "Love you ... Oh, Starsky, yes ... love you, my lover, make it so good, better than anybody ...."
Hutch wouldn't even remember. The one time Starsky'd quoted back something he said, Hutch had flat denied it, and gotten all pissy besides.
How could he not know he said that stuff? That gay stuff?
Could you be in love with your best friend and not even know it?
He had meant Hutch, of course, when he wondered that. Could Hutch be in love, in love with ... Hutch was the one he'd meant.
He was still in the car, under a grimy old theater marquee with half the letters gone, so you couldn't even see what had been playing there when the place closed. Some sex thing, in this district. Still parked, though Hutch and the other man had gone, and Starsky was still thinking back over old junk, old crap, bullshit that didn't mean anything, he was sure it didn't. Anyway it didn't now, that was for damn sure, when Hutch was going to suck some other guy off, or fuck him, or maybe the other guy would top--no, why was Starsky thinking about it? Why was he imagining it?
Hutch's fair skin, the way it flushed, the sheen it got, the mole under his shoulderblade that was so fascinating in contrast. The heat of that big body, the strength when he moved, when he pumped back and forth, jolting Starsky up the mattress an inch or so at a time. They got crazy sometimes. They could, because they trusted each other .... how could Hutch find that release, that wild abandon, with some one-night pickup guy?
Starsky's hands were sweating, tacky against the steering wheel, and his head pounded, but his dick was never more than half hard, no matter how hot he thought the images of Hutch were.
"Get some sleep."
"Yeah, you too," Hutch said, and got himself through the door though he hadn't really opened it far enough. He moved with that weird awkwardness that made him sometimes run into furniture or drop things, the way he got when he knew he was being watched, but not undercover.
Starsky was watching, of course. He stared at the door, too, after Hutch was gone, as if the dark wood were the inside of Hutch's head, or as if he could figure out his own depression by looking at it. After a while, he yawned, which reminded him that he was supposed to be getting some sleep, hauling ass to work the next day, that kind of thing. So he pulled himself up off the couch. Washed down tonight's pills with lukewarm water from the bathroom tap. Went into his bedroom. Peeled off shirts, holster, jeans, underwear, and crawled into bed, where he lay yawning but with his eyes wide open, staring into the dark.
Hutch was probably doing the same. God, he sounded burned out. He looked exhausted, too, so even if he was sleeping it wasn't doing him much good. Starsky felt that, even though his own stamina was down, he was holding back that ashy-dry feeling better than Hutch was. He wasn't letting himself think too much about the paper-shuffling he was doing, whether it really did any good, whether being out on the street rounding up the sources of more paperwork would really be any more useful. There were always more whippos and wiseguys coming up, or bouncing back. It wasn't like he and Hutch could clean up the city.
They'd always known that. So what was different now?
Besides that. Besides that.
They weren't getting any younger, either. It was one thing to bounce around chatting up this one and shaking down that one, every week the same, the bachelor thing and the cop thing, when they'd been rookies ... and then what Johnny Blaine called "young Turks" ... and then those hot-dog cops in the papers ... but it was getting old now. Even a pretty reporter like C.D. couldn't get him revved up to show off what he did every day. Starsky, alone in the dark, snorted softly, amused. If another reporter showed up now, he knew just what other young Turks to hand her off to. Yup, those two could cart her around, deal with her misconceptions. Run across the roofs and down the fire ladders and up the radio towers. All that.
Flights and flights of stairs--he dreamed of them, and woke gasping, with a pounding heart. Shot down by hired goons in the Metro parking garage and he had nightmares about stairs! How dumb was that?
Still, he wished they didn't just go on forever. And look so dark. In the dreams.
So ... dragged from sleep and across town and up the Venice Place stairs, and here he was frowning at the door and seeing every grievance for months flash before his eyes, and that was damn stupid, now wasn't it?
He turned the knob and slapped the door hard. It swung open with a little creak.
Hutch wasn't on the couch. Not at the piano. Not in the john. Not in the kitchen.
Starsky took a few steps in, feeling almost as if he were at a crime scene, unsure whether the perps were still there or not. "Hutch?"
There was some kind of noise, but dull, not a voice.
Starsky took a few more steps, gliding along now, his back to the wall and reaching for his gun. Peered through into Hutch's bedroom-area, and there was nothing there but the tumbled covers and a glint of glass--colored glass--oh, an empty bottle. Shit, was Hutch drinking?
Starsky shook his head and kept going.
Thump against the greenhouse tile. Something soft, but Starsky couldn't place it. "Hutch?" he called again, and then heard a kind of gasp.
A chair lay crazily on its side, half blocking the way into the greenhouse. Starsky remembered hearing something like falling furniture while he was climbing, and that was it: his heart seized up, and he took a couple of sprinting steps into the room.
Hutch was on the floor. On his back, one arm across his face, feet toward the upturned chair, some mess on his chest--and all over the floor--Starsky blinked and realized it was a lot of plastery junk and a length of rope.
Hutch didn't uncover his face, but his free hand--fist--beat against the floor, twice this time. And then he gasped, loud, the sound full of so much pain that Starsky took one more step and then Hutch rolled on his side, facing away, drawing his knees up and wrapping both arms around his head.
Starsky looked up, and sure enough, the big hook was gone and so was a lot of the ceiling plaster. "Fuck, Hutch, you didn't--" but his voice just gave out.
Hutch was shaking.
So was Starsky.
He had no idea what to do, what to say, whether to hug Hutch or kick him in the head or yell at him or call an ambulance.
Or some guys from Cabrillo with a straightjacket.
Afterward he didn't really remember leaving the room, but there he was on the couch with his head in his hands, breathing pretty deeply and unevenly himself, and he still hadn't touched Hutch or gotten a word out of him.
He kept seeing the stairs in his mind. He kept hearing Hutch's voice on the phone: ... I'm sorry to put all this on you ...
It repeated, nagging him, until he stood up and said aloud, "But you did, you put it on me, dammit, dammit, Hutch! How could you!"
If Hutch's little plan had worked he'd have been dead by the time Starsky found him. Or still choking, dying right here and now.
Or else it was supposed to turn out just like this.
Anger took his breath away, and he wanted to yell, wanted to run back down those stairs and just keep running. He was actually at the door now, and it was still open, the stairwell like a dark pit and only silence behind him as if Hutch really had done it.
Starsky slammed the door as hard as he could, went back to the couch, sat down, reached for the phone but didn't know who to call--his vision blurred and he shuddered, couldn't even dial. He would've sounded crazy anyway, gulping and snorting around the tears that exploded out of him no matter how hard he tried to hold them--even both arms wrapped around his stomach didn't stop them, and they hurt coming out more than they'd hurt being held in all this time. Like pieces of himself coming off.
His eyes were shut and he'd been too wrapped up in his own meltdown to listen, but suddenly he knew Hutch was right nearby, staring. Starsky scrubbed at his face with the heels of both hands, and opened bleary eyes.
Hutch was kneeling on the floor, at the corner of the coffee table, one hand on it and one on the couch. His face was completely blank.
"Starsk," he whispered after a while.
Starsky opened his mouth, said something like "Thss" because his voice wasn't working, and then stopped. Cleared his throat and then coughed a few times for real, but Hutch didn't try to rub his back or anything. Just sat watching.
"This enough?" Starsky got out at last.
All the times he'd known without a doubt that they shared the same thought--but now he could only hope that what he meant was getting through to Hutch, whose face still didn't show anything much. Though the dent between his eyebrows was a little deeper now.
And then Hutch said, his voice still broken and raspy, "Seems like nothing is any more."
Starsky got it, and nodded. Not enough. He knew that tune, all the words to that, could name it on three notes. Not enough air, not enough strength, not enough sleep, not enough time.
Not enough for either of them, or for the two of them together.
The stairwell was so dark. His hands were cold. Hutch, within arm's reach, was too far away to touch.
"You ever scared, Starsk?"
"Huh?" How could he answer that? Everybody got scared sometimes, but it wasn't important, wasn't ... them, so what did the question mean? "Y'ain't backin' out now, are you?"
That got a laugh. "On graduation day? Hardly!" But the flicker in those pale eyes made Starsky think that Hutch had been asking something like that himself. They were both a little spooked by John Colby's sudden decision to drop out, trying to work out how to be a dynamic duo instead of the three Musketeers.
"Then what's scaring you?"
"Oh--" Hutch tugged at the ill-fitting collar of his uniform. "--that--that--all this--I--"
Starsky grabbed Hutch's shoulder and shook him. "Spit it out. Mr. Articulate College Boy."
Hutch pulled the hand off his shoulder. Starsky grabbed at his friend's tie and pulled it. Hutch backed up a step, got his tie back, gave it a little comic flap like Laurel and Hardy, and tucked it in again. Then he smoothed down the fine fair hair that only he could have thought was out of place. "Idiot."
"Idiot? That was what you were gonna say? Idiot?" He kept poking at Hutch, who squirmed and twisted and looked absolutely ridiculous and endearing. The grin on Starsky's face couldn't be stopped.
"Will you quit?" Hutch held both Starsky's arms now, and looked at him more seriously.
So it was time to settle down. "Okay. What?"
Hutch sighed, but it wasn't unhappy. "I just meant: do you ever think this is too good, how's it gonna last? Do you ever wonder if we'll get, oh, hard like Iron Mike or hating all of it, or cynical like so many cops, you know .... My sister's a teacher."
Starsky waited for it to make sense, but when it didn't he had to ask. "So?"
"Well, you remember how bad some of your teachers were. Of course they were, everybody's had some bad ones."
"Yeah," but Starsky still didn't get it.
Hutch's lips curved, but his voice chided a little: "But they can't have always been that way. When they started, they must've been young and idealistic like my sister."
Starsky shook his head. The old bats he was thinking of couldn't ever have been young, not to mention idealistic. But even if they had, the Blintz had it all wrong. "Look," he said, and heard the dismissive sound in his voice, but there was just no help for it if they were going to have this damn-fool conversation. "Stuff's gonna change, we're gonna change, that's for sure. There's a ton we don't know yet. We might start acting like, well ...." he'd been going to say Iron Mike, but really that was too much of a stretch. "But inside we're gonna be us, Hutch, me and thee. Right?"
Hutch's smile was just sweet, no other word for it. "Forever?"
"Absolutely. 'Til the end of the world."