Snapshot - The Specialist

Typical night-- beer, talk, and a homecooked meal. As he set the dishes in the rack to dry, Hutch reflected that he hadn't even asked Starsk to come over tonight, his partner had just come along. As if it were understood Hutch would feed him, as if it were understood that he hadn't any place else to go. Maybe it was.

He wished it didn't make him so uncomfortable. The best friendship he'd ever had, could ever hope for, and even as he relaxed in Starsk's company he could feel himself tensing up. Nervous, awkward, dropping the occasional non-breakable onto the floor. It would have been easier if he didn't know why; then he might have asked Starsk about it, and cleared the whole mess up in a single evening. As it was he knew exactly what the problem was, and he shied away from solving it. How do you tell your best friend, a man you loved more than anything, who loved you more than anything, that you'd fallen for him?

It should have been easy. A friend like Starsky was a person you could say anything to. He'd listen, accept, and forget or offer his help as warrented but not judge, not recoil, not... What *was* he afraid of? Messing with the status quo? He knew how to react within the relationship they'd defined. Friends, partners, the lines were drawn in charcoal around them, and it was by far the best thing he'd ever know. Changing that meant risking that, meant offering to lose what they had for something else which might be better, and might be worse.

Hutch didn't handle the unknown very well, when it came to serious relationships. He prefered to know beforehand what he was getting into, whether one night stand or casual long term or marriage-- surprises usually hurt, and he didn't want to hurt his friend. Or himself.

So he kept quiet, feeling what he felt and longing for what he wouldn't say, wondering when or if he'd become so obvious that Starsky would no longer be able to miss seeing how he felt. What would he do then? Would he understand why Hutch couldn't say anything, why he wouldn't do anything?

Of course he would. Starsk understood everything, when it came to his partner. That's why their friendship was so easy. But what if it changed?

He watched as Starsk flirted with Sally. It wasn't getting any easier, and Hutch was smart enough to know that it would only get harder. The easy smile and eager look as Starsky put his arm around her made Hutch want to scream. Starsk couldn't know-- else why would he torture him like this, showing him what he couldn't have? It wasn't fair, and damn Starsk for being a part of it. He responded to his partner's light-hearted tease 'what if' and was glad-- for just a second, at the way Starsk's face fell. Telling him he was a dullard as if that would make it easier to stop feeling jealous. Hutch felt worse.

What if. What if they died What if Starsky had been first on Drew's list? What if _he_ had been? Hutch stared at the walls, ignoring the sirens and shots coming from the tv set. He didn't think Strask was watching, but neither of them made a move towards talking. What was there to talk about?

What was Starsky doing? Hutch thought about their visit to the so-called massage parlour, seeing again how easily Starsk smiled at the ladies, played with them and flirted. He'd tried, half-heartedly, to see if that could be directed towards him, mentioning well-conditioned bodies to give his partner an opening shot. The look he'd received was just exactly what he'd been angling for and he covered by pretending it wasn't. But when Starsk turned right around and smiled at the ladies again Hutch knew that it hadn't meant a thing. That was just the way Starsky was, happy and flirting with anything that moved.

Didn't mean a thing. What if Hutch needed it to?

Sitting in a hotel room waiting for the man who never failed should have been enough of a distraction. It wasn't. For lack anything else he'd picked up the Gideon's bible and opened it at random. The book of Machabees-- who read the Machabees anymore? "Wherefore all men prayed that these prodigies might turn to good." All he could think about was the man lying between the two beds, legs propped open in unconscious cruel joke; Hutch had had to turn his chair so he wouldn't be tempted to stare.

What could he say? Nothing. It wasn't the time, and maybe if they were lucky, he'd have a chance to say it later. He laughed at himelf. Not that he'd take up on the chance, preferring still silence over the confrontation. But what of the risk of losing Starsk for good? Could he accept that risk? To let him die without telling him the truth?

'What if he doesn't die? What will I do then?'

Fear got them through dinner. That and one of the best motel steaks he'd ever eaten.. and two plain baked potatoes. Offering reassurance to Officer Hagen did distract him, thinking about how the young woman would react, whether she'd find her own strengths and whether they'd truly get tested. He and Starsk had spent the dinner talking about the changing role of women in society today-- eliciting a grin from Sally when she came by to check on them. Starsk had said once he was willing to let women take over, so he could spend the day at home watching sports on TV.

Hutch hadn't dignified that with comment. But now, lying in bed with the lights off and the tension high, he was thinking again. What if. What if he said it now? What if he went over to Starsk's bed and told him-- showed him, what he wanted? What if he did nothing and one or both was dead before tomorrow night? What if he said it all and Starsk looked at him like he'd grown a second nose? What if. What if?

The ceiling wasn't helping matters at all. Ugly motel dirtwhite, thinly coated with cigarette smoke and odours of a thousand traveling strangers. He didn't want to be here. He wanted to be home where things were normal, even if no easier to live with at least normal, where he'd know what would happen next and could prepare even if he had to scream his frustration into his pillow at night. He rubbed his face, wondering if he would sleep.

"What if I'd stayed in New York?"

The soft question didn't startle him, Starsk's voice never did, always just hovering below his awareness so he was always prepared to hear it. Calmly he answered, "We wouldn't be partners."

"Yeah.. I'd be a cop, though, I betcha. Even with as much trouble as I'd got into.. I think I'd still be a cop."

"Yeah.." Hutch felt his throat tightening. What if they'd never met? What if they'd never been partnered? "I'm glad you came to LA."

"Me too," Starsk's voice regained some of its chipperness. They lay silent for awhile. Then, "What about you?"

"Huh?" Hutch glanced over at his partner, barely able to make out his face in the darkness.

"If you'd stayed in Duluth would you still be a cop now?"

"No," he shook his head. That one was easy to answer. "I'd have finished college and been--" he stopped. Not because he didn't know what he'd wanted to be, what his career plans had been when he first started college. But because suddenly he couldn't not say it, and he didn't know how to start. "Starsk.."


"I gotta tell you something."

"What?" Starsk didn't sound worried, although Hutch knew he had to suspect.. they hadn't spoken about Drew, their chances of coming out of this alive-- what else could mean this change in conversation?

"Starsk..I just wanted to say that I love you." It was easy.

"I know. I love ya too, Hutch."

Hutch closed his eyes. Of course it had been easy. It hadn't been what he needed to say. Before he could try again, Starsk said calmly, "Go to sleep, Hutch. We'll find Drew in the morning, get him outta harm's way."

Hutch didn't say anything more.

They watched Cole take Alex Drew away, neither of them very happy with it but unable to change it. National security, confidential this that and everything else, and Cole's mysterious department would "look after" its own. Starsk asked, "What do you think they'll do with him?"

"Don't ask." It frightened him, angered him, and he wanted to run after the man and drag Drew away, send him off someplace safe where he could be tended to instead of... don't ask. Don't say it.

"Let's go home. I need a shower." Starsk headed down the hallway, and after a minute Hutch followed. He watched Starsk walking ahead of him, and realised that even this hadn't been enough. He wanted to tell him, wanted to reach out and hold him. He wanted.. he needed to be held, to say those things he had said last night and which hadn't been heard.

He stared out the window as Starsk drove, thinking of what ifs. When they reached his place he got out, turned down an offer to get a pizza later, and headed upstairs. Starsk drove off. But what if?