With sleep still lingering in his eyes and a throbbing headache pounding in his temples, Hutch got out of bed, and headed to the coffee pot on his kitchen counter. Fetching a mug, he poured himself some of the hot liquid.
Absentmindedly, he leaned against the counter slowly sipping the coffee. Hutch was pondering if going out for a run around the block would make him feel better or if he'd rather go straight to the shower.
Finally deciding to skip the run, Hutch put the empty mug in the sink and headed to the bathroom. He took a long shower, trying to get rid of his exhaustion and the edginess that of late had become his usual, invariable companion.
Hutch was reluctant to face it, but the truth was that something had changed for the worse in him. The blond one didn't know how or when it had all begun, but he knew that at some point something had started going wrong with him. He didn't feel his old enthusiasm for his work, his life or, and this is what bothered him the most, his friendship with Starsky.
Sure, Starsky was still his best friend, and Hutch would still put his life on the line for him, any moment, just as he would always do. But somehow, despite how much Hutch hated to admit it, he felt that he could use some time apart from the upbeat, childlike brunet.
Actually, the source of his mixed feelings could be found in the past few years. Years in which Hutch, along with Starsky, had dealt with the ugliest face of the world.
Because of his stay in Vietnam, or perhaps because of his rough upbringing in Brooklyn, Starsky had seen much more evil than Hutch could picture. But maybe because of it, the dark-haired man had been able to go through the nastier side of their job with his optimism and zest for life almost unscathed. However, Hutch hadn't been as lucky or strong as his partner was, and he began slowly sliding downhill, finally reaching the point of becoming totally discouraged and drained of emotional strength.
The climax for that state of things arrived with Kira, the female detective he'd slept with after Starsky had stated that he was in love with her.
After those events, though Kira had left their lives for good, things had been pretty rough between the friends. They had done their best to fix the damaged trust and love they felt for each other. They did it, eventually, but then, when everything seemed to be getting back on track, the assassination attempt on Starsky by Gunther's hit men had added a huge extra strain in their recently tested friendship.
In the months after the shooting, Hutch had been constantly by his friend's side. He left aside his own life to help Starsky achieve what doctors had labelled an almost miraculous recovery. But all that they had gone through had been hard beyond words. In the blink of an eye, both men had to cope with challenges, fears and changes that neither of them was quite ready for. The worst one, once Starsky had recovered as much as he was going to do, had come a few weeks earlier. The review board had refused to clear him for street duty, mostly because of the damage that his lungs had sustained from the shooting. As a matter of fact, Starsky could carry on with a normal, productive life, but as the review board members' had stated, the physical effort required to be a street cop was outside of his current capabilities.
That rough end to their hope of coming back to the streets as partners had hit both detectives very hard. At first, Starsky had felt miserable and furious with the whole world, as never before in his entire life. Soon, though, he began to bounce back, struggling to preserve his buoyant nature. On the other hand, the only feelings left for Hutch were emotional exhaustion and grief. Grief that, no matter how hard he tried to deal with it, was slowly turning into a bitter resentment against everything and everybody.
Along those long, painful months and unable to find a better way to deal with his increasing stress and his sleepless nights, Hutch had begun drinking a little more than he had ever used to do. He didn't drink enough to get drunk, and he was perfectly able to function and help Starsky every day in any way the brunet needed, but a couple of shots of bourbon, tequila or any other hard drink had become a daily ritual before going to bed. One drink sometimes turned to two, and occasionally to three if the day had been particularly hard, or if he'd had to go through another gruelling physio with his friend, but the fiery liquid burning down his throat always made him feel just a little better. Meanwhile, Starsky; too exhausted both physically and emotionally had been unable to take in what was really going on with Hutch. And of course, the blond one hadn't wanted to consider that the dull headache and queasy stomach he'd woke to almost every morning could just be the way his body had to warn him that he was starting to overstep a tricky line.
Feeling just as tired as when he had gotten out of bed a short while ago, the blond one stepped out of the shower. He was wrapping a towel around his waist and heading to his bedroom to get dressed when he bumped into an unexpected apparition. An apparition that had too much of the real and not nearly enough of the supernatural.
"What the?..." Hutch trailed off, startled, to gaze thoroughly, from top to toe, at the figure standing in front of him. A large red and white Easter bunny smiled from ear to ear, holding a big basket, full to the rim with coloured Easter eggs.
"You ready Blondie?" asked Starsky, temporarily turned into the biggest, most lurid Easter bunny Hutch could have pictured. He blew the limp left ear of his costume away from his eye.
"Starsky, for God's sake! Don't you have any sense of the ridiculous?" The blond one snapped callously. "And what I should be ready for, if you don't mind me asking?"
"The kids, Hutch," the brunet said as his smile faded. "The kids at the hospital. We're going to visit them today, remember?"
"Oh, sure... the kids at the hospital," Hutch lied. Actually, he had completely forgotten about the visit. It hadn't been his idea but Starsky's, who, coaxed by a nurse he had been dating some weeks ago, had keenly agreed to pay a visit to the pediatric wing of Bay City Central Hospital to give some Easter goodies to the little patients.
"You forgot, didn't you?" Starsky asked, placing the basket eggs onto the floor. His question was actually an statement.
"No… I… Damn! Yes, Starsky! I forgot it! I forgot completely about that stupid visit, so sue me!" The blond one burst out. He strode towards his bedroom to get dressed with Starsky in tow.
"Mind?" Hutch asked waving his hand at Starsky in a get out gesture. "Can I get a little privacy to at least get dressed?"
"What's wrong, Hutch? What bothering you, huh?" Starsky asked, ignoring his partner's request to be left alone. He stepped closer to him, fondly placing a felt-covered hand on Hutch's shoulder.
"YOU, FOR GOD SAKES! You bother me!" Hutch answered harshly "Look at you, Starsky! Stuffed into that ridiculous thing and fooling around as if nothing was wrong with your life! Acting and looking like a five year kid instead of the grown man that supposedly you are!" The blond detective snickered coldly before adding more hurting words to the ones that had already passed his lips. "A five year old? No, that's too mild a way to put how you look right now. Actually, you do look rather like a moron, a pathetic nutcase that, if you ask me, I wouldn't feel too proud to be seen around with."
There it was. The harm was done. Once more, Hutch had spilled onto Starsky the venom of his anger and frustration. Once more he was regretting his thoughtlessness and feeling the already familiar pang of guilt squeezing his guts.
But this time, maybe, it was too late to backtrack and amend things…
Starsky's eyes, clouded by a mix of sadness and pent up anger, locked into his. The brunet addressed some quiet words to him.
"I know it, Hutch. I'm not as dumb as you think I am. I know better than anybody else how much I've lost… But, even so, wanna know something, buddy? I'm alive and for first time in months I'm feeling quite good again… Now, I'm just trying to go on; to cope with things and do my best, to not waste the second chance I got in life sitting in a corner and drowning in self-pity. I just wonder why the hell you can't get it...why of all people, it has to be you; the person who has helped me get back my life, the one who is now making things harder and more difficult for me."
"Starsky…I…" Hutch trailed off, too ashamed to find the right thing to say.
"No, Hutch…whatever you got to tell me, I don't wanna hear it now." Starsky stated, dead serious, trying to control his anger. "What I need now is some fresh air. Besides, a bunch of sick kids are waiting for some well-deserved fun. And I'm not going to let them down."
Without giving Hutch time to react, Starsky picked the egg's basket up from the floor, and strode resolutely out of the apartment, leaving a couple of cracked chocolate eggs in his wake.
For a moment, Starsky had wanted to yell at Hutch. He had wanted to tear his living room apart, even punch his partner in the face. But Starsky didn't do it, because he knew that Hutch was hurting. Derision and hostility were just a way for his best friend to hide a sour frustration too strong to deal with it. Actually, Starsky suspected that the emotions impelling Hutch to act the way he had been doing lately were the same frustration and distress that he had been trying to banish out of his soul with all his might.
Right after Starsky's exit, Hutch's first thought was to run after him. He strode towards the door just to stop midway, unable to move further as Starsky's grim words resounded in his mind.
I just wonder why the hell you can't get it... why, of all people, it has to be you, the person who has helped me get back my life, the one who is now making things harder and more difficult for me …
No Hutch…Whatever you got to tell me, I don't wanna hear it now…
Starsky had stated it in no uncertain terms. At that moment, he didn't want to hear any of Hutch's lame apologies. Once more, his so-called best friend had hurt his feelings, and he was entitled to feel angry and to deal with that anger on his own terms and at his own pace. Hutch only could respect that.
The blond one spent his day off at his apartment, feeling alone and angry with himself, yet knowing deep inside that it was just what he deserved. Later in the evening, he, unsure of what to say, picked up the phone receiver and dialled Starsky's number. Hutch released a relieved breath when at the third ring his friend answered the phone.
"Hi, buddy. How was your Easter Bunny performance?" Hutch asked trying to sound nonchalant.
"Oh, fine. The kids had a great time, I guess." Starsky answered. There wasn't any trace of resentment in his voice yet Hutch was aware of a hint of dejection tingeing his words.
"Sure… I'm sure they did…Listen Starsky." Hutch said after a couple of seconds of hesitation. "Mind if I come over with a pizza and a six pack? We could have dinner and some chat."
"Look, Hutch, I'm kinda beat. Today I pushed myself a little hard, ya know? Just now I was about to fix a sandwich. Later I had planned to take a shower and hit the bed."
"You okay, Starsk?" Hutch asked, quickly shifting into protective mode.
"Yep, I'm fine, Hutch. Just a bit tired." Starsky answered plainly.
"Listen, Starsky. I wanna…well; I just wanna apologize for how..."
"Forget it, Hutch, okay?" Starsky cut him off. "Just forget it."
"Okay Starsk… Sleep tight. I'll pick you for work at seven."
Next day both partners had an uneventful day, a day as ordinary as the next ones were going to be. Starsky did paperwork and interrogations while Hutch tenaciously kept dodging Dobey's attempts to find a new partner for him. He spent most of his time doing the same kind of work Starsky did.
Meanwhile, the relationship between the friends, though not awkward, wasn't quite as smooth as it had been in the past. Something wasn't working, and both men were very aware of it. It was not that the affection between them was gone. What was gone was simply the happiness that in the recent years had made them enjoy every moment they spent together.
Finally, things came out into the open when one evening Starsky asked Hutch to come over to have dinner with him at his place.
"We haveta talk, Hutch." The curled-haired detective said straightforwardly, once they had sat down on Starsky's couch with a couple of cold beers.
"What's wrong, Starsky?" Hutch asked. He was already sure by the tone in Starsky's voice and the grave expression on his face that it couldn't be anything good.
"Listen, Hutch… I don't know how to tell you this, so I'd better do it without beating around the bush, okay?"
The only answer from Hutch was a deepening of his furrowed brow.
"I'm leaving, Blondie. In ten days I'm going back to New York."
"SAY WHAT?" Hutch asked, bolting to his feet.
"A few weeks ago I asked for a transfer to NYPD. Today I got the approval." Starsky explained softly, getting to his feet too.
"Oh, great, Starsky! That's great! You asked for a transfer a few weeks ago but forgot to tell me about it until now, when you're about to leave!"
"I'm sorry. I just didn't want to tell you about until getting the approval." Starsky said soberly. "Look Hutch, I'm not going to argue with you. I know how hard my decision seems, especially at first, but believe me, I'm just doing what I think is the best for us; for me as much as for you."
"Yeah, sure, the best for us!" Hutch snapped "And tell me, Starsky; what the hell makes you think that you're being so damn wise, huh? What?"
"I can't go back to the streets, Hutch. That's a clear fact." Starsky kept explaining in an appeasing tone. "If I don't find another job; if I stay on the force, I'm just going to spend the rest of my working life behind a desk. That's what I have to deal with. It's not what you have to do. And we both know that as long as I am around, you won't move on with your own life. You won't accept a new partner and you'll stick by my side, doing the work that you hate just as much as I do. No, Hutch. Think about it... That wouldn't be any good for us, or for our friendship."
"Is it because of the appalling way I've been acting lately? Because I've been nothing but a fucking bastard to you and everybody else around... Are you leaving because of that?" Hutch asked, forlornly, sitting back down in the couch and staring vacantly at his feet.
"I am leaving because I care too much about you and our friendship to risk it by staying, and forcing you to hold back your life for me, Hutch. I love you too much to let that happen. I owe you my recovery and my life. You are, and you'll be always my best friend. No, more than that. A true brother to me. None of that has changed. And by leaving now, I'm just preventing it from changing."
"But Starsky… You…You can't leave… This wasn't how things were meant to be! It just doesn't seem right."
"Maybe right now it doesn't seem right, Hutch. But it is. And you'll see it eventually."
Starsky had made his decision and Hutch knew that nothing was going to make him change his mind. It was settled. Starsky was leaving to try and start over far from him. And if he was going to be honest, Hutch knew that he couldn't blame his best friend for it.
The next ten days passed in a rush. Starsky spent most of his free time packing up his clothes and some of his belongings to ship them to New York along with his prized Torino. Hutch knew what his friend was doing, but he was unable to gather the courage to offer him his help. Somehow the blond one felt that in helping to pack up Starsky's stuff he was approving his decision, and now that it was too late Hutch realized that he had never wanted his friend to leave.
Starsky, perfectly aware of Hutch's feelings, didn't ask him for help. Instead he managed to talk Huggy into lending him a hand putting the items he wanted to take with him into cardboard boxes. Of course, the reaction of the lanky bartender when Starsky told him about his plans had been one of utter shock and disbelief.
"But, Starsky, my man, you can't do that!" Huggy had said vehemently, stepping out from behind the bar to get closer to Starsky"You belong to this city, bro; you know it as much as I do. Things aren't going to be the same without you around."
"Oh, come on, Hug, cut me some slack, will ya!" Starsky retorted, feeling somehow uncomfortable under Huggy's scrutinizing look. "I have my reasons to leave. I've already explained them to you and they're good reasons, you know it."
"Sure, good reasons," Huggy mocked. "Good reasons, my ass! Things turn a little rough between you and Blondie and your only way of sorting things out is leaving?"
"LISTEN TO ME HUGGY!" Starsky raised his voice, slamming his palm against the bar, regardless of the other customers' looks. "If I don't leave, Hutch isn't going to move on! He's not going to accept a new partner nor try and go for the lieutenant's exam! He's just going to waste his career and his life because of me. And believe me; I'm not going to let that happen. Not if I can help! Got it?"
"Yeah, of course, man, I got it. Anyway… instead of giving up and retreating like a chicken why don't you give the lieutenant's exam a shot yourself?" Huggy asked candidly.
"No, Huggy. I really don't think I would've much of a chance to pass it," Starsky answered, sullenly.
"And let me guess, you aren't even going to try, right?"
Nursing his beer, Starsky shook his head without looking at Huggy. "I've already made my decision, Huggy. Now, can we drop the matter, huh?"
Even though he knew that Starsky's decision was the wrong one, Huggy had no other choice but to give up. He tried to coax his friend into throwing a small goodbye party at The Pits, but Starsky refused the offer, telling Huggy that he just wasn't in the mood for parties. He would rather just say a quiet goodbye to his closest friends, like Dobey and his family, before leaving.
Finally, much sooner than Hutch had wanted, he was in the large terminal of the Bay City International Airport trying to hold his emotions at bay as he bid Starsky goodbye.
"Come visit us, Hutch. Come whenever you want. Mom will be very happy pampering and overfeeding you with lots of her terrific homemade dishes. Besides, maybe by the time you've come, I'll have gotten my own apartment. You know…a full time Jewish mom can be a little too much to deal with," Starsky joked, with his patented crooked smile.
"And what about you, Starsky? Are you going to visit me some day soon?" The blond one asked, hopefully.
"You bet, Blondie. I'll do it as soon as Captain Melville gives me a few days off. Besides, I'll phone you often. Every week. I want to be sure that your new partner is treating you well."
"Starsky... Listen Starsky, why…" Hutch began to say in a final attempt to change Starsky's mind.
"No, Hutch. I'm doing what I must do. The right thing." Starsky stated once more before Hutch could continue speaking. "Now go back to work, let Dobey find you the best partner in the whole precinct and keep giving all the bad guys in the city hell, like ya' used to." Starsky's words were interrupted by the first call asking all the passengers for the flight 307 to New York to get to their boarding gate.
"Well, it's time, I guess." Hutch said a little uneasily, fondly smoothing a small wrinkle in the front of Starsky's shirt.
"Yep…Gotta go, Hutch. Take good care of yourself, ya hear me?"
"Sure Starsk… I'll do it..." Hutch couldn't end his words before Starsky pulled him into a bone crushing yet brief embrace. Then, and without further word, the brunet turned and hurried to the boarding gate.
A few minutes later, Hutch, feeling alone and miserable, stood looking through one of the large plate-glass windows in the terminal as the plane carrying Starsky to his new life grew smaller, finally disappearing into the blue Californian skies.
Once the aircraft was out of sight, he spun on his heel and headed to the exit. Still lingering was the feeling of what had to be the last embrace from Starsky for a long time.
Just a few weeks ago Hutch had been craving some time apart from Starsky. But now that his friend was gone he just didn't know how he was going to survive the daunting solitude that already was creeping up inside him, eager to nestle in the deepest part of his heart… TBC