by Charlotte Frost  (c) December 2014



Ken emerged from bathroom in his stocking feet.  As he moved down the hall toward his bedroom, he heard his father's firm voice, in the kitchen of the floor below.

"He needs to learn how to apply himself."

Ken's heart skipped a beat, and he halted.

"Second place is better than most boys," his mother said.

"Do you want him to grow up better than 'most boys'?  Is that the standard you want our son to be judged by?"

He heard his mother's tired sigh.  "The boy that won had those incredibly long legs.  Ken had no chance against someone who is built like that."

"Excuses are for losers.  Our son is not going to grow up to be a loser."

"I don't think he is.  He makes good grades, does well in his every athletic endeavor he's ever tried, and everyone he's met comments on his good manners."

"Has he ever WON anything?  Been first?  No."

"I'm going to bed.  Do you want anything else?"

Ken quickly moved down the hall to his bedroom, and quietly closed the door behind him.  How foolish he'd been to feel proud of his second place trophy, against the best track runner in the district, if not the entire state.

Why was his father never satisfied?  What more could he do to WIN something?  To be better than everyone else?

At nine, Ken was too old to cry.  He turned off the lights and collapsed onto his bed.  He yanked the covers over himself, turning onto his stomach.

He imagined arms circling around him.  Not his father's, because he could never imagine his father doing something so sissyish as laying a hand on him in affection.

The arms pulled snug.  A hand rubbed up and down his back.  He liked that very much.

Not a woman's arms, like his mother's.  But strong.  Firm.

A hand pressed against the back of his head, beckoning it to rest against a broad, welcoming shoulder.

Ken let his worries go.  He felt a peace envelope him, as he drifted into sleep.


Hutch started awake.  The peace of the dream left him, as the walls of his cottage came into view.  He started to shift, and realized that every muscle in his body still ached. 

He had become a loser, like his father had always predicted. 

He decided right then that this recent ordeal was something that his father was never going to know about.

Hutch managed to roll over on the mattress.  His eyes fell on the sofa, against the wall.  Starsky lay sprawled on his back, in his underclothes, one leg stretched out so that the ankle could rest on a sofa arm, the other having fallen to the floor.  An Afghan was slung haphazardly across his torso, covering his upper legs.  One arm was folded back, the other draped across his stomach.

Hutch's throat closed.  What would he have done, what would have happened to him, had it not been for....

He swallowed thickly.  He hadn't been able to appreciate it at the time, but he knew how intensely arms had squeezed and tried to soothe the past two days.

Starsky didn't consider him a loser.

Hutch shook his head, and then tilted it, as he remembered the dream.  He couldn't recall having ever overheard such a conversation between his parents.  Plus, he had won various athletic and intellectual events, despite his dream-father feeling that he hadn't.

Hutch frowned.  Perhaps his subconscious still felt that his father considered him a loser, despite him having won many things.  It's the way his father had never seemed pleased....

At least, his child self had found solace in the dream.  Some kind of phantom arms coming around him, soothing, while his cheek rested against a strong shoulder.

In retrospect, Starsky had felt strong to him these past days.  Amazingly strong.  Yet, so gentle and encouraging, while even able to keep up an edge of humor.

Hutch gazed at Starsky.  I love you.

Then he snorted, feeling a smile at his mouth corner.  Starsky wouldn't appreciate those words one bit.  They went too much against his street-tough, masculine exterior.

Hutch's eyes found the clock beside the bed.  The hands read 9:23.  It was certainly morning, though the drapes were all closed.  They had arrested Forest yesterday afternoon.  Jeanie had seemed so sad.  She was going back to her mother in Phoenix.  Dobey had given them a four-day weekend to recuperate from the incident.  As Hutch looked at Starsky once again, it was evident that his partner needed rest at least as much as he himself did.

Of course, Starsky hadn't gone back to his own apartment.  Hutch firmed his jaw.  He knew his partner was going to be watching him extra carefully during this four-day weekend.  Hutch was going to have to tolerate it, because Starsky would have every right to be vigilant.  Hutch couldn't feel any urges within himself at the moment, but he knew that, while his body was cured of the physical addiction, his emotional self still might seek the most euphoric kind of relief whenever he felt unhinged, now that he knew what such relief could feel like.

Never again, he vowed to himself.  This had been done to him.  He'd never once injected himself, though he knew he would have, had he been given the opportunity.

He looked at Starsky once more.  There's your relief.  In the dream, the imaginary arms coming around him had felt so good.  You have it for real.  How had he ever come deserve it?  To deserve that much love? Especially from someone who seemed so unlike the nurturing kind?

The pressure on his bladder prompted Hutch to straighten and turn to the side of the bed.  He was wearing only briefs.  His feet landed on the floor more heavily than he'd intended.  Starsky made a noise, and then looked over at him, eyes blinking away sleep.

Hutch managed a smile.  "Sorry.  Go on back to sleep."  He rose to his feet with a sigh.  Instead of obeying, Starsky had turned his head to watch him, eyes questioning.

Yes, he was going to have to get used to this degree of scrutiny from the man he trusted most -- and whom he hoped still trusted him.  "I'm going to the head.  Then make some coffee.  Read the newspaper.  I don't plan on going anywhere today, except maybe for a walk around the block." 

Starsky seemed to relax slightly.  Hutch decided to offer, "You can have the bed, if you want, as long as you stay to one side of it."  After a rough couple of days, with no real sleeping accommodations, he thought that his partner might appreciate being able to stretch out on an actual mattress. 

Starsky merely grunted and curled up, closing his eyes.

Hutch showered, shaved, and pulled on a set of fresh sweats.  His appearance unnerved him.  He still had the black eyes.  Hopefully, the bruising would be hardly noticeable when he returned to work in four days.

Upon emerging, he saw that Starsky was still curled up and appeared asleep -- but now on the far side of Hutch's bed, under the covers, his back to Hutch.  Hutch smiled warmly and set about making coffee.  He realized he was desperately hungry, and was glad that there was still half a carton of eggs in the refrigerator.  He didn't feel like a nutritious shake.  Instead, he wanted a meal with substance.

Once he got breakfast underway, he moved around the corner to see the bed.  Starsky hadn't moved.  In a normal voice, Hutch called, "Starsk?  Want me to make you some eggs and toast?"

There was a grunt.

Hutch took that as an affirmative.  As he returned to cooking, he realized that, as good as it felt to be moving around, that his body was extremely weak.  Even lifting utensils prompted his muscles to protest.

Will I ever feel strong again?  Surely, after a few decent meals, and more rest....

It wouldn't do for Starsky to have a less than 100% partner, while confronting the danger of the streets.

What if I'm permanently changed?  Will never again be the man that I was?  Off the top of his head, Hutch couldn't recall any recovered drug addicts he knew of who went on to have lives that were both successful and happy -- at least, not for any length of time.

Hutch forced away the melancholy as he served up eggs and buttered toast on two plates.  He brought the plates to the bed.  "Hey, sleeping beauty, I've got breakfast."

Starsky roused, and pushed himself into a sitting position.  He struggled to place a pillow comfortably behind his back.

Hutch sat beside Starsky, and handed him a plate.  "Here."

Starsky picked up the fork and studied the plate.  "No jelly for the toast?"

"No," Hutch said, though he hadn't looked for any.

They both ate, their forks sounding loud as they hit against the plates.

"Guess I'm famished," Starsky muttered, while chewing.

Hutch scolded, "Don't talk with your mouth full."

Moments later, Starsky put his clean plate on the nightstand.  "You know what I think would be great?"

Hutch glanced at him.

"To go to that meat market that's a few blocks down, and pick up some T-bone steaks.  We can grill them for lunch.  We both a need a full-course meal."

Hutch felt warm amusement at how predictable his partner was.  "You just ate, and you're already thinking about more food."

"Just planning ahead.  You said you wanted to go for a walk.  So, let's walk there, when it's closer to lunch time."

Hutch made slight shrugging motion, feeling once again how little strength his body had.  He reached to put his empty plate on top of Starsky's.  As he straightened, he said, "In the meantime, maybe you should catch up on some more sleep, huh?"  I know that taking care of me had to be exhausting.  He looked up at Starsky, and found the other's gaze upon him.

"How you doin'?" Starsky asked.

When a moment passed, Hutch realized he'd missed his opportunity for the easiest answer, and now his partner's gaze was growing more intense.

Hutch ducked his head, managing a nod, but hating how he felt.  His body had betrayed him these past days.  He desperately reached for something neutral to say.  "I had a weird dream."  That probably wasn't really a neutral subject.


Hutch gazed at the floor.  "Just strange.  Like a memory that never really happened."

"What memory?"

Hutch put forth the effort to shrug again.  "I was a little boy, and I heard my father and my mother talking, and my father was grumbling about how I'd finished second to the fastest boy in the district, at some kind of track meet.  Second best wasn't good enough."  Hutch felt emotion well up, at his father's disappointment.  He managed a snort, while still gazing at the floor.  "But I never overheard an actual conversation like that.  My father seemed to think I was a loser."  He felt his lower lip quaver.

"In the dream?"

"Yeah.  And-and-and... you know... in real life.  In general."  Unsteadily, Hutch said, "If he ever knew about this..."

A hand squeezed his arm.  "Ah, Hutch.  There's no reason he needs to know.  Or that anybody needs to know.  You've got nothin' to be ashamed of, but if you feel he wouldn't understand...."

In his weakened state, Hutch couldn't handle Starsky's compassion.  His voice broke.  "I can't believe this happened to me."  His hand was shaking as he reached up to push his hair back.

"Hutch, Hutch, Hutch."  As the gentle voice lulled, hands gripped him, beckoning him closer.  "Come on, buddy.  It's okay.  It's okay."

Hutch didn't have the energy to resist the arms that circled around him, the hand that pressed on the back of his head, which encouraged his cheek to rest against the soft cotton of Starsky's t-shirt.  He did choke out, "Sorry." 

"You've got nothing to be sorry for, buddy boy."  A hand rubbed gentle circles along his back.  "You're just at a bottom, is all.  And that means things can only get better from here."

Even as Hutch wondered what Starsky thought of him, for continuing to be so needy, he let his weight grow heavier against him.  The open warmth and affection was something he was incapable of resisting.  It even gave him the courage to voice his greatest fear.  "What if I'm never the same again?"

"Ah, Hutch.  You're gonna be fine.  I know it.  You've just had all the strength zapped out of you, buddy.  We've got four days to recover, and I'm gonna be right here with you.  Once we get some healthy servings of food into you, and some warm sunshine, you're going to be fine."  Starsky's arms tightened and rocked Hutch as much as their positions would allow.  "I've got all the belief in you in the world."  Lips nuzzled against Hutch hair, then whispered.  "You think I'd be here for you, if I didn't think you were worth it?  If I didn't know I could have you back whole to watch my back on the streets?"

Hutch wanted so much to own up to that belief.  But... "What if I'm a loser, like my father thought?"

Starsky drew a breath.  "I don't know what all that's about, but you're my hero, Hutch.  My hero.  You're the only partner I got, the only one I want.  So, I'm going to help you get better."  His voice firmed.  "I'm not going away.  Whatever you go through, we both go through.  Got that?"

It was too much.  He couldn't make Starsky go away, couldn't shake his faith.  Hutch choked out a sob, as much an expression of relief, as regret that this all had happened, and that he was so much trouble.

Once that first sob emerged, others followed.  Hutch gripped Starsky's side, while burying his face in his shoulder.

Starsky's voice sounded unsteady, as his arms tightened.  "It's gonna be okay, Hutch.  You have to believe that.  It's going to be okay, because nothing can ever come between us."  A hand firmly squeezed Hutch's shoulder.  "It's me and thee.  Like always."

Eventually, Hutch caught his breath, and he lay against Starsky, exhausted.  He whispered, "Thanks," and then wondered if it was too soft to hear.

Starsky's firm voice was back.  "You don't need to thank me.  What I expect in return that you'll be there for me, in my darkest moments."

Yes, of course, he would be.  Hutch couldn't find the words, so firmly squeezed whatever flesh his hand came into contact with.

As Hutch rested quietly, wanting to milk the moment for as long as it lasted, Starsky continued an easy chatter, while his hands pet and squeezed.  "You're my lifeline, Hutch.  We know we can count on each other.  We should never feel we have to apologize for needing each other.  Okay?"

Finally, Hutch felt ready to move.  He pushed off of Starsky, and managed to straighten his upper body.  He muttered, "So tired.  Not sleepy.  Tired." 

Starsky pushed at him.  "Then lie down on your side.  If you can't sleep, then just lie still and rest."

Hutch crawled over to his side of the bed.  He curled up, facing away from Starsky.  And fell asleep.


A couple of hours later, Starsky drove the Torino to the merchant area of Hutch's neighborhood.  Hutch had decided he wanted to save their walk for after lunch.  Starsky thought it was a good idea, since he felt more optimistic about Hutch being able to move around reasonably well, once he'd had a steak lunch, complete with baked potatoes, a dinner salad, and green beans.

It was the first time they were separated since Starsky had gone to find Forest.  Starsky was confident that Hutch was physically over the craving.  There was obviously still some emotional baggage, but Starsky refused to be concerned about it.  When Hutch had had almost nothing in his system but heroin for quite a number of days, he could hardly be expected to be an icon of physical and emotional health.  Both were likely to return together.

He was perplexed about Hutch's revelation about his father's disappointment.  What he knew about Hutch's background was that it was a typical, white-bred upper middle class family.  What little Hutch had spoken of his years in Duluth had been stated with a smile, if not outright enthusiasm.  Obviously, there was some baggage there that had come up, thanks to this "I can't believe this happened to me" incident.  Perhaps, some night when they were both ridiculously bored during a stakeout, he'd gently prod Hutch for more details.

Starsky turned into a parking lot, slowing to look for a spot.

He had to admit that he was surprised at himself, for handling Hutch's emotional breakdown so easily.  Normally, he didn't have much patience for masculine emotions, and there were few things more uncomfortable than being in the presence of a man who was crying.  Yet, those rules didn't apply to Hutch.  All Hutch's weaknesses did was prompt Starsky to want to be strong for him, to nurture and protect.

Starsky found an empty parking space, and turned into it.

One thing he was certain of, was that his actions toward Hutch weren't entirely selfless.  Perhaps not at all selfless.  As he put the Torino in park, Starsky considered that everything he had done for Hutch, was at least as much in consideration of his own needs, however far in the future they might be, as they were concerning Hutch's needs.

Starsky turned off the motor.

He was paving a road for himself, a road that led away from darkness.  He sat in his seat a moment, relishing the feeling of security that washed through him.  The soul-deep knowing that whatever deep, dark place he might fall into, due to whatever circumstance or reason, that Hutch would be there to find him, and lead him back to the light.

Hutch was his light.

Starsky got out of Torino, and eagerly moved toward the meat shop across the street.  T-bone steaks was the first step in getting Hutch back to shining bright.





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