It could’ve been a human statue sitting in front of Starsky’s window. Dobey, emotionally weary, lumbered to Hutch’s side and asked, “Any change?”
Keeping his eyes on his partner, Hutch replied, “Not since you asked fifteen minutes ago.” There was an air of indifference to his tone that spoke volumes to Dobey of the turmoil that was brewing in him.
“Just got a call from Reception. Councilman Whitelaw would like to see you in the chapel.” Dobey was pleased to see Hutch could still move, even though it was only a flinch.
“Peter Whitelaw?” Hutch asked, openly puzzled at this unexpected visitor. “Did he say why?”
“No, just that he wanted to see you.” When it appeared that Hutch wasn't going to leave, Dobey continued, “Go hear him out. Maybe he has some information he'll only give to you. I'll stay with Starsky.”
It took almost a minute before Hutch relented. “Fine. But call me if anything happens.”
Dobey sighed and shook his head as he watched one half of his best team slowly stand as if his entire body was in deep pain. Yeah, well, when one hurts, so does the other. Often worse.
Hutch, operating on little sleep and fewer calories, opened the chapel door with more energy than he thought he had. Whitelaw, sitting in the last row of chairs, turned as he entered.
“Detective Hutchinson,” he said before Hutch could speak, “thanks for coming.” His eyes were drawn to the bloody, makeshift bandage on Hutch’s wrist. “Are you okay?”
“It’s nothing.” Compared to Starsky’s wounds, it’s less than nothing. “What can I do for you?”
The brusqueness in Hutch’s tone silenced Whitelaw momentarily. “I, uh, know this is a very rough time for you and want to offer you something that might help.”
Hutch entered the row but remained standing several chairs away from Whitelaw. Not feeling generous or courteous toward anyone at the moment, he growled, “How the hell would you know?”
“Have you already forgotten that I lost the man I loved?”
Hutch felt a deserved wave of shame crash over him, yet it didn't drown the unrelenting hostility and futility that clung to his soul like leeches ever since this waking nightmare had begun. “Sorry. I didn't mean --”
Whitelaw held up a hand to stop Hutch. “I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have snapped at you.”
They nodded at each other, accepting the offered apologies. More calmly but still with an edge, Hutch asked, “What could Starsky possibly mean to you? You don't know him. Or me.”
Whitelaw smiled. It seemed genuine, the kind of smile when one remembers something or someone fondly. “I know him better than you think, Detective. John talked about him often, how Dave was family, how proud he was of him, how... frightened he was every time Dave was hurt. I’ve come to feel about him the same way to an extent.”
“Why are you really here? It certainly isn’t to discuss Starsky and John Blaine.”
“You're right. I know you want to be with your partner, so I'll come right to the point.” Whitelaw paused to take a breath, as if doing so gave him the courage to say what was coming next . “I came to tell you about a group of people—specifically, gay men whose partners have passed or been victims of violence—who could be there for you, if you want.”
Hutch squeezed his eyes tightly. Here we go again. People making assumptions. He opened his eyes and purposefully bore his gaze into the councilman. “Why would gay men want to help me?” he asked crossly. “I'm not gay, and neither is my partner.”
Whitelaw nodded. “Oh, it’s obvious to me that the two of you are not gay. But that’s not really the point. You do remember that I’ve seen you together at John’s service and wake?” At Hutch’s nod, Whitelaw continued, “I can tell by the way you look at one another, your body language around each other, that you have a... different kind of love for each other.”
Hutch felt unwanted but insistent curiosity sneak in. “You care to explain this different love?”
The councilman's brow knitted, his fingers stroked his moustache. Hutch wondered if this was how Whitelaw looked when he was considering how to vote on an issue.
Whitelaw cleared his throat, his brow relaxed, and his fingers now pointed at a chair near him. “Please, sit, Detective.”
Hutch considered this for a few seconds, then sat in a chair three over from Whitelaw—far enough away that there would be no intentional or accidental touching. He was averse to touch from anyone other than Starsky, had been since the shooting. He barely tolerated Dobey or Huggy's touch and accepted it only because they had a need to physically connect with and comfort him.
“Okay, I'm listening.”
Whitelaw waited several beats before resuming with, “When I was a teacher, I learned quickly how to read my students. Who was getting the material, who was struggling, that sort of thing. Then I noticed that I could read not just my students, but most people, and quite accurately, I believe.” He exhaled noisily, as if he were frustrated with something or someone.
“When you and Dave questioned me,” Whitelaw continued, “I saw his sorrow and sense of betrayal. Your sorrow, I came to realize, was not only for the loss of John, but also for what Dave had lost. You projected significant empathy for him.”
“Anyone except a sociopath could’ve figured that out.”
“True, Detective, I’ll give you that. It was rather evident. But there was something else.” Again, Whitelaw paused, and Hutch found himself with burgeoning impatience. He held his tongue, however, out of respect for the office rather than the man who held it.
“During that interview, I sensed a strong connection between you and Dave. I thought it was a partner thing. You know, the bond that police and other people in high-risk professions develop for their colleagues. But when I saw you look at each other once the interview was over, I saw something that, that...” Whitelaw trailed off, looked away.
Hutch, patience now non-existent, prompted, “What 'something'?”
Whitelaw looked back at him. “Something that made me envious. I don't have a word for it. I doubt anyone does. I've seen that... look that passed between you and Dave only once before, it's that rare—at least in my experience. What I see is profound trust, unconditional love, and singular caring, all given freely without expectation of anything in return, reserved for the most important person in the world. There's unsurpassed joy and serenity there, and awe.” He fell silent again.
How, Hutch wondered, could just a look say all that? He knew it did, though, and it said even more—absolute acceptance of who you were and fierce, unwavering loyalty.
“I know you’d die for each other,” Whitelaw continued, “but more importantly, you live for each other. You are one soul. You and Dave are the personification of that quotation of Aristotle’s --”
“‘Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies,’” Hutch finished, a nostalgic tenderness unintentionally creeping into his words as he recalled Starsky reading that quote to him a few years ago.
“Ah, a student of the classics.”
“Not exactly.” A student of Starsky. Much more interesting—and worthwhile.
“I saw the same look again at John’s memorial service every time Dave glanced at you while he delivered the eulogy. And you sent him that look right back. I saw it when the two of you huddled together at the wake, unaware of anyone else but each other.” Whitelaw’s cheeks pinked. “How can I, or anyone else, not be envious of that?”
It was Hutch’s turn to look away. He wanted to speak but his vocal cords had seized up, along with his brain. It was incomprehensible that someone who didn’t know him could put words—something he’d been unable to do—to how he and Starsky felt about each other.
“Oh, I’ve made you uncomfortable, Detective. That was certainly not my intention. I just got carried away. Please accept my apologies.”
Hutch returned his gaze to the councilman, hardening it in an effort to hide the vulnerability he felt swarming through him. He wasn’t about to forgive a virtual stranger for voicing something so terribly personal about him and Starsk, especially at a time when they both were barely hanging on by an unraveling thread.
“Wh-why are you telling m-me this?” Hutch rasped, ashamed that his stutter chose this moment to rear its humiliating head. “And wh-why is this any of your business?”
Whitelaw had the grace to look contrite. “I want you to know that you’re welcome at that gay men’s group, because I fear if you decide to talk about all that’s going on to a group of straights, you wouldn’t be accepted, much less supported. At least gay men understand that deep love is possible between two men.” He leaned toward Hutch, who didn’t flinch at this breach of his personal space. “The way I see it, it is my business because I love John, and John loved Dave, so I love Dave and the person Dave loves above all others,” he whispered earnestly, giving the words the intimacy of kinship.
Thoroughly rattled, the only thing Hutch could do was stare at Whitelaw and let the perceptive, well-meaning politician slip the business card for the Friends of Dorothy support group into a pocket of his jacket. If Whitelaw said anything else before he left the chapel, Hutch didn’t hear it.
Hutch made his way to the nearest restroom. He went to the closest sink, doused his face with cold water. When he finally looked up, he didn’t see his reflection in the mirror; he saw Starsky, stretched out on Hutch’s sofa, snuggled under a striped blanket, his red-socked feet on Hutch’s lap.
Starsky shivered, despite the wool gloves, the two long-sleeve shirts, his favorite belted cardigan, and snow pants. “Hey, Hutch, you think I’ll ever get warm again?”
“Of course you will, dummy. Doc Franklin said you should recover fully. It’ll just take a little more time. How about you get in your flannel pajamas? Maybe that’ll help.”
“I ain’t no invalid. Only invalids wear PJs in the middle of the day.”
“Starsk, you just got out of the hospital after being poisoned. You are an invalid.”
“Nope. Just temporarily… squishy.”
Without warning, Starsky’s entire body bunched up, transmitting the spasms through the couch they shared. “Oh, Jesus Christ!” Starsky swore, his voice strained, angry, and frustrated.
“Well, you’re the opposite of squishy now! Just take some deep breaths, buddy. How about I get you a muscle relaxant?” Hutch started rubbing Starsky’s legs.
“Naw, naw,” Starsky replied after hissing like a cat cornered by a predator. “Can ride this out. Don’ last like before.” He hissed again. “‘Sides, I hate how those pills make me all loopy and wacko.”
“Glad you told me, ‘cause I never noticed any difference.”
Soon, Starsky’s muscles relaxed on their own, as he’d predicted. A few more minutes found his breathing back to normal. But then a hard shiver had him ramming his hands into the cardigan’s pockets and hunching further beneath the blanket.
“Hey! I forgot about this.” Despite his chill, one hand pushed the blanket to mid-chest, the other withdrew a folded piece of paper. “That really cute candy striper gave me this while you were bringin’ the car around.”
Hutch snickered. “Jailbait, Starsk. Throw her phone number away.”
Starsky pulled a face and huffed as he waved the mimeographed paper at Hutch. “That sweet kid said she writes quotes down on paper to give to patients. ‘A remedy for boredom,’ she called it.”
“Nice of her. Read me one.”
Starsky sighed, cleared his throat. “Okay, first one. ‘The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.’ Kinda sounds like us, huh?” He held a hand out to Hutch, who took it and squeezed. Starsky squeezed back.
Hutch nodded and said, “Yeah, I suppose it does. Who said that?”
“Martin Luther King, Jr.”
“Wise man. Still can’t believe he’s dead. At least his words live on.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
Hutch reluctantly released Starsky’s hand. They were quiet for a few moments, then Hutch broke the pensive silence with, “How about another one?”
Starsky scanned the page. “Oh, this one’s interesting. Short and sweet. That Aristotle guy wrote it. ‘Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.’”
Another silence ensued, both of them contemplating its relevance to them while Starsky stared at the paper and Hutch gazed out a window. Eventually, Starsky spoke, his voice soft and posture unsettled, neither changing where they were looking.
“If that’s possible, then what happens if one guy dies and the other doesn’t? Does the dead guy leave the soul to the live guy, or does he take it? And if he takes it, where does that leave the live guy? Without a soul, is the live guy all empty like a zombie robot? What would be the point of living?”
Hutch faced Starsky, who was already looking at him. “Maybe it’s love that merges the souls of two people. That soul can’t desert the guy left behind, can it? It’s, well, the soul doesn’t split because the love itself doesn’t die when one guy dies, right? So the soul’s still gonna be shared.”
After a long moment, Starsky nodded. He said, almost tentatively, “I think this could be us, Hutch. Ya know, kinda diff’rent way of saying ‘me and thee’?”
“I think you’re on to something, partner.”
“So when we kick, we kick off together, like --”
“Butch and Sundance,” Hutch finished for him.
And Starsky’s face lit up with the look he reserved for Hutch alone. Hutch reciprocated.
“Wanna go halfsies on that brownie Edith sent over?” Starsky asked with a twinkle in his bright eyes.
As if doing so would seal the deal.
The image in the mirror faded and Hutch regarded himself. Exhausted, bleary-eyed, pale, worried beyond words. Plagued by the thought that he’d seen that look for the last time over the roof of Starsky’s car just before their world suffered a seismic shift.
It’s not his—our time yet. I have to see him, talk to him.
Dobey stood when Hutch entered the ICU corridor. “How’d it go with --”
“Not now, Cap,” Hutch interrupted, heading for his other half’s room.
“Did Whitelaw have --”
Hutch paused only long enough to raise a shushing hand. “I said, not now.” He slid past his superior and entered Starsky’s room.
He was still petrified of touching Starsky, afraid he’d snag something and pull it out, harming his partner. I have to get over this irrational fear. I will be careful. He rubbed his hands up and down the sides of his jeans several times, a nervous habit he sometimes employed.
He dragged the lone chair next to the bed, eased his tired body onto the seat. He sighed, at a loss of what to do next. Ashamed, he realized he hadn’t said a word to his best friend, since he’d been loaded into the ambulance, despite the fact that the nurse had told him he should talk to him, in case he could hear, even though he was in a coma.
Then the words were there, and his voice, the fear fast becoming a distant memory.
“You gotta wake up, babe. I’m thirsty, starved… hell, greedy for that look. The one you have just for me. Without it, I feel like I’m wasting away. You haven’t looked at me that way very often over the last year or so, not that I deserved it.” He took a deep breath to further calm his jumpy nerves. “And it’s sure as hell not time for the Butch-and-Sundance thing, Gordo.”
It suddenly dawned on him why Starsky hadn’t dropped to the pavement: his partner, his brother, had purposefully made himself the lone target, intending to take any and all bullets, to save Hutch. To die for him, so he could live.
With more courage and strength than he thought he had, Hutch sandwiched Starsky’s chilly, pale hand between his. He leaned in until his mouth was at Starsky’s ear. “Okay, Starsk,” he whispered, his voice quaking with more love than he believed possible for one person to have for another, “listen up. You died for me. Now, dammit, live for me and thee.”