Hutch set the platter on the table and lit the candles, the steam from the pot roast and vegetables rising to warm his face. The Paul Muni Special; how many times had he made this over the years? It had come to be the standard comfort food...Hutch's way of putting a band aid on the owie. He'd done it the first time almost eight years ago, when a case had been hard and Starsky had struggled with the death of a relationship and a friend. Hutch had done it a lot since then. He thought back to another time--years ago, after that child abuse case had been so heartbreaking for both of them. The one they'd so recently finished bringing all that back, too. Then, just a few months before, when Starsky had gotten another emotional blow: the school for the developmentally disabled where Terry taught was being closed, and the students there relocated to a newer and bigger building. The reason for tonight's dinner was just as tender and equally needing of Hutch's TLC. They'd just returned from vacation where Starsky had learned way more than he'd ever wanted about his father's life and death. He had the answers he so desperately needed, but at one hell of a price. So Hutch did what he did best at times like these. He waited alone at his place for Starsky to come over after taking his suitcases home to unpack and do laundry, knowing that was easily translated to, "I need a little time alone, babe."
The phone call to say Starsky was on his way had come not long before, giving Hutch just enough time to dish everything up and light the candles.
The door opened and he turned, blowing out the match. Starsky stood for a moment, his eyes fixed on the table, then rising to meet Hutch's own. "Hey, that smell...." Starsky inhaled, closing his eyes in pleasure as he breathed in and out then walked slowly toward the table. He reached out his arms and engulfed Hutch in a hug, resting his face against Hutch's shoulder. "You always know just what I need...don't you?" Starsky kissed the soft, freshly shaved cheek near his lips and leaned back slightly. "And what do you need?" he asked, eyes full and loving.
"Just you, like always," Hutch answered, leaning into the kiss. "Sit down, everything's ready."
They ate slowly and in more silence than anything, each absorbed in his own thoughts. Not needing to share at the moment, the proximity enough, the talking would come later.
"That was great, thanks." Starsky broke the quiet first. "If you'd have asked me on the way over here, I'd have said I wasn't hungry. I guess two helpings of everything made a liar outta me, huh?"
Hutch smiled softly and leaned over for a gravy-flavored kiss. "You never can resist the Paul Muni Special."
"And you always know just when I need it. Thanks for going back east with me. I hate like hell that you got hurt while we were nosing around, but honest to God, Hutch, I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't been there."
"You've been there for me, too, babe. We don't need to keep score," Hutch answered softly as he began to clear the table.
"Do you ever stop and think about it?" Starsky asked.
"Think about what?" Hutch responded, making another trip from the table to the sink.
"How many people we have to say good-bye to in one lifetime?" Starsky said, drawing circles on the table in the ring of condensation left by the glass Hutch had taken.
"Babe...." Hutch started, wanting to deflect the subject matter.
"I think about it sometimes. You know, remember times I had to...like with my dad...with Helen, or Terry." He looked up and met Hutch's eyes calmly.
"Sometimes it's hard...but you know you'll get through it. You're not happy, like when Helen died, but you keep going. Then there are the other times when it hurts so bad it doesn't seem like you'll survive it either, you know?"
"Like Terry or your dad?" Hutch asked, hoping he was on the same wavelength.
"Yeah. It hurts so bad, ya can't help but get mad about it. That just makes it worse. Then you feel guilty about being mad at someone you loved who isn't there anymore."
"Then I guess we better be really careful so neither of us gets killed and pisses off the other." Hutch tried to make a joke out of an increasingly uncomfortable topic of conversation.
Starsky looked up again with a snap, rising out of the slouch he'd assumed at the table. "I wasn't talking about you and me...."
"Good," Hutch answered with a gentle ruffle of Starsky's curls.
"I love you so much, I know how that would go down." Starsky slowly stood and pulled Hutch into his arms. "The second after your heart beats its last, mine will stop, too," Starsky whispered against Hutch's neck.
Hutch closed his arms around Starsky to hug back tightly. It might feel like that's the way it would be, but trust me...it doesn't happen that way. Your heart will keep right on beating, just like mine did. I couldn't understand why at the time either, but it did.
"You don't believe me do you?" Starsky challenged.
"Hey, who's the one who already tried it, huh? Who's the expert here?"
"Starsky, don't kid around...."
"I'm not kidding. I died, that's a fact. We've both had to come to grips with that. I didn't stay dead, that's the kicker. Why do you think that was? Huh?"
"Starsky..." Hutch began to pull away. "Please..."
"Because when I got to that light at the end of the tunnel or whatever it was, you weren't there with me. It didn't matter who was; do you hear what I'm saying? It didn't matter that there seemed to be nice things over there waiting...whoever it was, standing there...I knew it wasn't you. So I couldn't go, it was that simple." Starsky let Hutch pull further away, then reached to cup both hands around his face and hold it.
"Me and Thee, Hutch. It's been that way for so long now, I can hardly remember a time when it wasn't. And that's the way it's going to stay. I don't have any doubts and I don't want you to, either."
"So when we go, we'll go out together, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, huh?"
"Damn right. Me and Thee--it's stronger than anything. It always has been." Starsky sealed his opinion with a soft and gentle kiss.
Oh, babe, you almost make me believe...Hutch thought as he melted against that mouth.
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