All He Needs to Hear
The truth brings with it a great measure of absolution, always. ~R.D. Laing
Hutch was thinking about the lies he’d told.
The small lies.
“Sorry, Starsky. They were all out of bratwurst. Yeah, veggie burgers were all they had.”
“Haven’t you heard? These new vitamin shakes will really rev up your sex life.”
The necessary lies.
“You knocked them dead, buddy. Didn’t you hear them laughing? Your act is funnier than the Marx brothers.”
“I don’t remember what happened last night.”
The big lies.
“Oh, that girl? You don’t want to date her. She’s not your type. Trust me on this one.”
“We were drunk. It was just, you know, one of those things.”
He’d once thought those were the worst lies he could tell. What he hadn’t taken into consideration, however,
had been those lies of omission, those words unspoken, and the things he’d said that he only thought were true.
Was lying to your partner worse than lying to yourself?
He’d been pounding down the alley after the kid with the gun. Three steps past the garbage cans, he felt a sharp pain
in his side, a sudden pull, like a muscle tearing. It made him miss a step, tripping over his own feet and knocking his shoulder
against the wall.
Starsky had been on his heels, and now he was ahead. His momentum had carried him past Hutch and down the alley. Hutch saw
him hesitate, his stride broken.
Hutch waved him on. “That way! He went that way!”
He could see the question in Starsky’s eyes. “I’m fine!” Got a stitch in my side, Hutch thought
irritably. “Get him!”
Starsky was around the corner and out of sight before Hutch finished yelling at him. Hutch tried to follow, but, inexplicably,
he tripped again. He landed on his hands and knees, and the mild cramp ignited into fire. He grabbed for his side, felt
something hot and wet ooze between his fingers, and promptly lost his balance completely, landing on his hip.
It was true, he thought.
You never heard the bullet with your name on it.
It was only when the pain had subsided somewhat that he could give serious thought to lies and to the fact that he was not,
after all, fine. He was stuck on his back, in a filthy alley, looking up at a gray sky. He couldn’t move, couldn’t
call for help. And he was all too aware that the fire burning steadily in his gut needed only the slightest encouragement
to erupt into an inferno.
He did manage a quiet chuckle, however, when it started to rain.
Hutch had always known that God had it in for him.
There was nothing he could do, so he stayed where he was, hand clamped tight below his ribs. He could feel his shirt sticking
to his back as the blood pooled and grew cold beneath him. Or maybe it was just rainwater.
He hoped it was rainwater.
And he hoped that Starsky had caught the kid with the gun, and that he hadn’t been shot himself, and that maybe, eventually,
he would wonder what had happened to his partner and come back looking for him.
He wouldn’t even mind if Starsky gave him hell for lying about being okay.
Still, Hutch reminded himself, lies weren’t just the things you said. They were also the things you didn’t say.
The things you wouldn’t let yourself see.
He closed his eyes, remembering the last time.
“How do we keep ending up here?” That’s what Starsky had said, propped on his elbows beside Hutch.
“I live here,” said Hutch. He admired the curve of Starsky’s ass, the small of his back, and his broad
shoulders. Starsky had lost all his clothes somewhere between the front door and the bedroom. Hutch still retained his socks,
but nothing else.
“That’s not what I mean!”
It occurred to Hutch that Starsky was far too sober if he was asking questions like that. He, on the other hand, was suffering
from no such difficulty. Alcohol was percolating nicely through his veins, giving everything a warm, golden haze. He rolled
Starsky over on his back and nipped his bottom lip, sharply. “Who cares?”
He saw the flash of hurt in Starsky’s eyes.
He told himself it didn’t matter.
Now that he’d told what could very well be his last lie, Hutch’s rationalizations seemed to be made of cheap and
flimsy material. If it feels good, do it. If no one’s getting hurt, what’s the harm? Sex is a beautiful thing.
It doesn’t have to mean any more than that.
What a crock.
In the pretty, made-up world he’d invented, sex was something that happened accidentally. That’s right, Hutch
thought sardonically, trying to ignore his heartbeat racing under the hand he pressed against his side. You tripped, and
somehow ended up with your dick up your partner’s ass. Incredible how that happens.
In his fantasy world, he’d been happily heterosexual, a swinging bachelor, no ties and no responsibilities to anyone.
And he’d cast Starsky in the same role. They were friends, best friends, sure, but nothing more than that.
But with these carefully constructed lies now punctured and bleeding out, Hutch remembered very clearly the reproachful glances
Starsky had given him. The barbed comments. The resignation.
Starsky shouldn’t have to be resigned. It went against his nature.
He could hear police sirens now, and the distant rumble of thunder. He focused on breathing. It should be automatic: pull
the air in, lungs expand, push it out, repeat. But it didn’t feel automatic anymore. It felt like a chore. He briefly
considered not breathing, but that sparked a flicker of terror in the back of his mind and he thought he’d better not
Not yet, anyway. Starsky might get upset. The real Starsky, that is. The one he’d never actually taken to bed.
Hutch wondered what it would be like to take Starsky to bed, without the lies. To undress him tenderly, like a lover. To
really look at him and see what he was feeling. He wanted to make Starsky smile, and then he wanted to make him come. And
afterwards he wanted him to stay, and spend the night holding him, and wake up without a hangover, and make breakfast, and...
Hutch tried to open his eyes. They stayed shut. He wondered if he’d really heard his name, or if it had just been
He panicked briefly, but then his eyes opened. Not very far, but enough to see Starsky leaning over him, his hands spread,
as if afraid to touch him.
“You’re hit. Why didn’t you tell me? Jesus, Hutch.” Now, with one finger, Starsky was trying to
lift up the corner of his jacket and look underneath.
Hutch gasped, feeling the slight movement of cloth like a branding iron against his side. “Sorry...”
Starsky wasn’t listening. “Aw, this is a mess. I’ve, I... uh.” Suddenly he turned and bellowed,
“Hey, we need a medic, here!”
With his eyes open, Hutch felt nauseous. The ground was tilting and heaving under him, the world turning to noise and confusion.
He reached for Starsky only to find him gone, and he wanted to cry with frustration.
How could he tell the truth, if Starsky wouldn’t give him a chance? He wanted to live in the real world, not the one
he’d made up before, and definitely not this new one, either. He swallowed and closed his eyes, trying to shut out
some of the chaos.
Then Starsky was back, his sneakers slapping the wet concrete. Hutch felt him tug at his hand.
“Let me see, okay?” Starsky was talking too fast, his words tumbling over each other. “I’ve got
the first aid kit from the car. Remember? I said all we’d need would be aspirin and band aids, and you insisted on
putting in a field bandage and surgical tape. You had to go and make a liar of me...”
Hutch wanted Starsky to stop talking. He also wanted him to stop messing around with his side. It hurt. He couldn’t
begin to describe how much it hurt. He pulled his knees up, trying to push himself back and away from the pain.
An arm settled across his chest, and he could feel Starsky’s breath on his cheek. “Easy, babe. I have to keep
pressure on this hole you’ve got in you. The ambulance is coming, okay? Just hang on.”
“Sorry,” said Hutch.
“It’s okay. I know it hurts...”
That wasn’t what Hutch had meant. He was trying to tell Starsky something important, and Starsky wasn’t listening
“No, don’t say it. Just save your strength.”
For crying out loud, thought Hutch. Here he was, bleeding like a stuck pig, possibly on his last breaths...
It occurred to Hutch that he should probably breathe a bit more regularly. He focused on that for a few seconds, before continuing
his line of thought. Pull air in, push it out. Breathing like a champion.
His lungs were sounding a bit funny, though. And blood tasted like crap.
What had he been thinking? Something about lies. And truth. If there were big lies, and little lies, and lies that landed
you on your back in an alley with a bullet in your side, then there also had to be different kinds of truth.
Maybe he was going about this all wrong. Saying ‘sorry’ could be a kind of truth, but it wasn’t the biggest
or most important one.
Hutch looked up at Starsky’s face, saw the wet hair plastered to his forehead and the water on his face. He knew he
wasn’t going to die, because there was too much left to say, too much he still had to fix. But right now, before the
paramedics arrived, he could tell Starsky the biggest truth of all.
“I love you.”
The world slipped out of his grasp, lost in pain and confusion.
In the fractured red and black, Hutch heard voices, but he couldn’t make sense of what they were saying. He was sliding
backwards and recognized the familiar feeling of medical sedation.
Here again, thought Hutch. Here, still?
He opened his eyes, and saw a white ceiling. He heard hospital sounds, the clatter of metal pans, someone being paged. He
wondered if they’d found Callendar, and then thought that wasn’t quite right. Starsky had been shot...
That sent a jolt of panic through his system. Starsky!
He hardly recognized his own voice. But the sound of it woke him up enough to remember that it wasn’t Starsky who had
been shot this time.
That’s all right, then, thought Hutch. He stared at the acoustic tiles covering the ceiling. Memory filtered back
in slowly. An alley. Red light reflected in rainwater. Starsky’s face.
“I love you.” That would have sounded pretty good, if he’d been eighty five and had emphysema.
He considered saying it again, just to hear the truth for himself. Starsky’s face moved into the space above him, his
expression worried. “Hutch? Are you awake?”
Hutch closed his eyes. The last thing he heard was Starsky saying, “Guess not.”
The next time Hutch woke, things were clearer. He blinked a few times, and was pleased to find that everything around him
stayed in focus. He was vaguely aware of the pain, but it was a reasonable distance away and easily ignored. A nurse was
bent over, attaching something to the side of his bed, and there was Starsky in the chair by the window, watching her.
Hutch rolled his head to the side, and looked at Starsky. He saw the weariness lining his face and the exhausted slump of
his shoulders. He saw the way Starsky had picked to pieces the rim of his Styrofoam coffee cup, the white flecks littering
his lap. And he saw that Starsky’s hands were motionless now, that he wasn’t seeing anything, asleep with his
Hutch licked his lips. “I love you.”
He was vaguely aware of the nurse smiling, but his attention was fixed on Starsky. He saw the way Starsky twitched, as if
the words had sent an electric shock through him.
“Man,” said Starsky, leaning forward. “They’ve got you on some good drugs, don’t they?”
The nurse patted Hutch’s leg once, and collected her cart.
“Drugs?” asked Hutch, apprehensively.
“I mean medication,” said Starsky, quickly.
Medication sounded fine to Hutch. That was what you got when you were in hospital. He felt sleep pulling him back under,
and went without a fight, content for the moment.
“I love you,” said Hutch, without opening his eyes.
A female voice answered him. “Aren’t you the sweetie.”
Hutch’s eyes flew open. He searched the hospital room, and found it empty, except for a nurse with a tray of needles.
“Who are you? Where’s Starsky?”
But if she gave him an answer, he missed it.
One of the things Hutch hadn’t taken into account, when he’d decided to start telling the truth, was that Starsky
might not believe him. Or perhaps the issue wasn’t so much that he didn’t believe him, but that he just didn’t
understand what Hutch was trying to say.
Hutch didn’t know of any clearer way to put it, so he settled for saying it as often as he could, in the hope that repetition
might drive the point home.
The door opened, and Hutch looked up expectantly. But it was Dobey this time, easing his way uncomfortably into the room,
a large bouquet of carnations in his hand.
“Hey, Captain,” said Hutch.
Dobey cleared his throat. “You’re awake. Feeling better?”
“Yeah, I...” Hutch paused, spotting Starsky peeking around the edge of the door. “I love you!”
“What?” exclaimed Dobey.
Starsky made a strangled sound, and vanished.
Hutch could only wrap his arms around his midsection and wheeze with laughter, trying not to cry at the same time.
“I love you,” Hutch said as Starsky stepped cautiously into his room.
Starsky turned bright red. Moving quickly forward, he leaned close to Hutch and whispered, “C’mon, buddy, this
Of course it was. That was half of the pleasure of saying it. But it was frustrating, too. Hutch reached up and grabbed
the collar of Starsky’s shirt. “I’m trying to tell you I love you!” He wished he had enough strength
to drag Starsky down onto the bed and show him, but all he could do these days was say the words.
And, goddamn, his side hurt. And his stomach. And his... well, he didn’t have a spleen anymore, did he? Good thing
it wasn’t a more vital part of his anatomy.
“I know,” said Starsky, impatiently. “I get it, already.” He took Hutch’s hand and laid it
back down on his chest. The care he took with the task was in direct contrast to his tone of voice.
Hutch shook his head. “No, you don’t.”
Starsky paused, his hand still covering Hutch’s. “I don’t?”
“No.” Then Hutch grinned. “But I love you anyway.”
Starsky aimed a gentle cuff at his ear, which Hutch didn’t bother trying to duck.
“You’re crazy,” said Starsky.
They played checkers that afternoon. Periodically, Hutch would look up from the board to catch Starsky staring at him quizzically.
After the game, they talked about inconsequential things, work and stories in the news, until visiting hours were over. Starsky
had a distracted air about him when he left.
Hutch looked up from his magazine as Starsky came into the hospital room. “I...”
Hutch blinked. “What?”
Starsky rubbed the back of his head, smiling. “I thought I’d better say it first.”
Progress, thought Hutch.
Hutch was fully dressed and sitting up when Starsky pushed the wheelchair into the room.
“Hey, buddy,” said Hutch. “What took you so long?” It was discharge day. Freedom. He’d even
managed to get his shoes on, though the nurse had tied his laces for him. Bending over for anything was still not a great
idea. He felt as if he’d been patched together with packing tape and staples. One wrong move and he might snap in
Starsky glanced over his shoulder, confirming that the nurse was still talking to someone out in the hall. “Aren’t
you going to tell me you love me?” he asked, quietly.
“Okay,” said Hutch, happily. “I love you.” He didn’t care who heard. The truth was an addictive
“I think I could get used to hearing that.” Starsky fussed with the brakes on the chair for a few minutes, before
glancing up with a shy grin.
Hutch felt a warm glow start somewhere in his chest. “I knew you’d get it eventually.”
Hutch lay back in his own bed, and looked up at his own ceiling. It was good to be home, though it felt a little strange
still. Starsky had washed and changed his sheets, folding them down with crisp square corners before leaving for work. The
bed felt cool, unused.
He thought about the state it had been when Starsky had first brought him back. Untouched since the shooting, it had been
unmade and rumpled...
“Smells like a locker room in here,” Starsky had grumbled.
But that wasn’t what Hutch had thought it smelled like. He’d leaned against the door and thought of the last
time they’d both been here.
Pushing Starsky up against the wall, the taste of beer on his lips. Tugging at his clothes, a knee between his thighs,
and tumbling into bed... Hutch had watched Starsky strip the sheets off the mattress, and hoped he wasn’t trying
to eradicate the evidence of what they’d done.
Hutch reached down under the blanket, and idly felt himself. There was no reaction from his body. The doctor had said it
would take a while, between various medications and the shock his system had been through. Hello, Mr. Floppy, he thought,
and snickered unkindly as he removed his hand.
Sex was out.
So, how the hell could he get it through to Starsky that he was serious about loving him? Just saying it wasn’t enough
any more. He needed to show him.
“You don’t have to sleep on the couch,” said Hutch.
Starsky burrowed down under the blankets, practically disappearing into the cushions. “Your house, your bed, and hell,
you’re the invalid. Go to sleep, Hutch.”
Hutch bit his lip. “No, I mean, there’s room for two.”
A startled eye appeared from under the blankets, followed by a tousled head. “You don’t want that, trust me.”
“I think I know what I want,” said Hutch, acerbically.
“No, you don’t.” Starsky disappeared again. “I swear, if I didn’t know better, I’d think
that bullet had gone through your head, not your gut.”
“It didn’t go through my gut, it went through my--.”
A loud and very pointed snore interrupted him.
Hutch gave up. He didn’t have the energy to argue with Starsky, and he certainly didn’t have the strength to
get him drunk and throw him on the bed. Life had been so much easier when he’d been able to pretend the sex didn’t
mean anything. “I love you,” he said, loudly.
“Yeah, yeah. I know,” said a muffled voice from the couch.
Hutch turned too quickly and then had to brace himself on the wall for a moment, waiting for the gray static to clear from
his vision. Damn body. No fucking use at all. He was halfway to the bed when he heard Starsky say, “Me, too.”
Hutch fell asleep smiling.
“I should go home tonight,” said Starsky. He poked his fork into the carton of chow mein balanced on his knee,
and came up with a bean sprout. He studied it with apparent fascination.
Hutch felt his heart sink. “I don’t mind. Mi couch es su couch, and all that.”
“Well, I mean, you’re a lot better. And I’ve got to show up at my place every now and then or the landlord’s
gonna think he can rent it out to someone else...” Starsky trailed off awkwardly.
Desperation isn’t attractive, Hutch reminded himself. “Okay.” He stared at the TV for a moment, and then
summoned up a smile from somewhere. “What are you doing tomorrow night?”
Hutch stretched, yawned, and casually draped his arm over the back of the sofa behind Starsky.
Starsky looked over at him skeptically.
Hutch took his arm back and folded his hands in his lap, staring at the movie.
Hutch checked his watch, and then opened the oven to inspect the roast. It looked done, but the recipe called for ten more
minutes. He straightened, feeling the slight pull of scar tissue in his side, and surveyed his apartment. Table set, check.
Flowers, check. Candles, check.
This wasn’t the first time he’d pulled out all the stops for Starsky, though it had been a few years. And things
had been different back then.
They hadn’t been...
Hutch leaned back against the kitchen counter and crossed his arms, thinking about it. Was that what he’d been doing
with Starsky lately? Dating him? No, more like courting. They hadn’t been on a proper date yet.
Hutch heard a key turning in his lock and smiled to himself. Right on time.
Starsky paused just inside the door, surveying the room. “What’s this?”
Hutch stayed where he was, his fingers curling around the edge of the counter. “It’s our first date.”
He was proud that his voice didn’t betray his nervousness.
“Our... what?” Starsky closed the door and turned to look at the table again. He lifted his head and sniffed.
“The Paul Muni special.” Hutch decided that five minutes wouldn’t make any difference one way or another
and reached for his oven mitts. He fussed with them for a moment, glad of the excuse not to look at Starsky.
When Hutch put the casserole dish down in the center of the table, Starsky was still standing by the front door with a stunned
expression on his face. Hutch straightened, looked at him, and when Starsky didn’t move, finally said, “You should
sit down and eat. Otherwise it’ll get cold.”
“Oh,” said Starsky. “Right.” He walked over to the chair and carefully hung his jacket and holster
on the back of it before sitting down.
Hutch carved a thick slab off the roast and dropped it on Starsky’s plate. He added some potatoes, turnips and onions,
and a generous helping of gravy. Starsky stared at it, and then back up at Hutch.
“Isn’t this a bit backwards?” asked Starsky, finally. “We’ve already, um...”
He was only going to tell the truth, Hutch reminded himself. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
God help him.
“We’ve had sex,” said Hutch, carefully. “But we’ve never made love.”
“Huh,” said Starsky. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his mouth. “You, uh, bought me roses.”
Hutch nodded, helping himself to a slice of roast. He had no idea how he was going to eat it. His throat was too tight.
“So,” said Starsky, slowly, “you don’t just love me, you’re in love with me, too?”
Hutch nodded again.
“Till death do us part, and all that? The whole deal?” asked Starsky.
“Yeah,” said Hutch.
Starsky stared at him a moment longer, then suddenly smiled. “Okay!” He cut a chunk off of his roast and stuck
it in his mouth.
As the tension vanished from the room, Hutch suddenly remembered to breath. “What, just like that?”
“Sure,” mumbled Starsky around a mouthful. “Commitment, fidelity, cleaving unto, however the hell that
goes. Any way you want me, you got me.”
“I do?” asked Hutch. He felt heat building in his cheeks as he realized what he’d said.
Starsky’s eyes crinkled in amusement. “Truth is, you’ve had me for years. You just didn’t know it.”
“That’s what the truth is?” Hutch stared at him in disbelief. He’d arranged an elaborate seduction,
designed to show Starsky what ‘I love you’ really meant. He’d spent time and energy worrying that it wouldn’t
work, that his partner didn’t want anything more than what they already had, that perhaps the feeling wasn’t mutual...
Hutch began to laugh.
“What’s so funny about the truth?” Starsky gave him a mock frown.
“Nothing,” said Hutch. “And everything.” He grinned, feeling a familiar if long-missed heat awaken
inside. “Are you... hungry?”
“Damn right I am.” Starsky took another bite, as if to make a point. “I’ll have you know, I’m
not a cheap date.”
“But do you put out?” asked Hutch, hopefully.
Starsky choked on his food, coughed and buried his face in his napkin. His shoulders shook.
“Starsk?” asked Hutch, worriedly.
More noises emerged from behind the napkin, resolving into chortling. Starsky looked up, grinning widely. “You don’t
have to get all mushy, you know.”
Starsky leaned over him, tracing the line of Hutch’s newest scar with careful fingers. Hutch gasped, arched his back,
drawing his knee up between Starsky’s legs. Starsky lowered his head and kissed Hutch once before pulling back to look
His smile was sweet.
“I love you,” said Starsky.