March 17 2001 This story is for entertainment only and its purpose is not to infringe on any rights to Starsky and Hutch (God knows, I wish I had the rights to them!)
Comments on this story (good or bad) can be sent to Anne at Lrs4147@AOL.com
THE GREATEST CHALLENGE PART I
Late fall was a beautiful time of the year in California, at least Detective Ken Hutchinson thought so. He ran his hand over his head, thinking, as he always did lately, how fast his hair was thinning and that he'd probably have to start wearing a baseball cap one of these days. With his fair coloring, his head would be in danger of getting sunburned if he didn't. But he wasn't going to let that dim his enthusiasm for the day. Dave Starsky, his partner, on the other hand, would no doubt have all that hair of his until the day he died. He could really hate him for that.
Speaking of his partner, Starsky was already waiting for him impatiently, so he jumped into the other detective's bright red car and they squealed away from the parking garage.
It became obvious as soon as Hutch settled into the car that his partner was in an agitated frame of mind. Not wanting to set off his sometimes volatile best friend, he decided to remain quiet and see if Starsky wanted to talk about whatever was on his mind. When nothing was forthcoming, he eased his way into the light banter that the two men were comfortable with and enjoyed, to see if he could bring the man out of his reverie.
"Hey, man," he said casually, "If you don't have plans for tonight, I'll spring for a five-course dinner, place of your choice."
For a moment Starsky looked hopeful, then remembering that his partner wasn't one to throw his money around, caught on.
"Yeah, right, McDonald's or Burger King?" Starsky asked.
"Starsky, I'd be wasting a good meal on you, anyway. Your idea of a five-course dinner would be a smothered burrito."
"That works for me," Starsky retorted. "Make that two and you're on."
"You and your cast-iron stomach. When are you going to let me set you up with some of those power drinks I whip up in the blender?"
"Power drinks," Starsky snorted. "The only thing those have the power to do is clean out drainpipes real slick. I should know, they did a job on mine the last time you conned me into drinking one. I wasn't the same for days. I get sick of hearing about your rabbit food, dissipated calf's liver, goat's milk, wheat germ and all that crap. If God wanted people to eat like that, he would've just let 'em graze like cattle."
Hutch answered indignantly. "That's desiccated, chump, desiccated, and you've got to admit cattle don't get sick very often, do they?"
"You also gotta admit they don't get much fun outta life either, pal," Starsky shot back.
Feeling like he'd lost another one to his wise-cracking partner, Hutch sighed, "You're never going to grow up, are you, Starsk?" secretly hoping he never would. "You've got to be the most stubborn person on the face of the planet!"
"Yeah, well, at least I'm real good at something, schweetheart," Starsky replied in his best Bogey voice.
Changing gears so suddenly that it took Hutch off guard, he asked, "Blondie, do you want to get married someday?"
"Gee, I thought you'd never ask," Hutch responded with a chuckle.
"Now, don't go gettin' all hot and bothered over it.... You probably would never feed me anything but your 'witch's brews' and I'd be dead in three months." Starsky glared at him. "I mean, really, with a lady?"
Sensing his partner was finally getting down to what was on his mind, Hutch stopped teasing and answered that question as truthfully as he could.
"If it comes to me, Starsky, I'll take it, but I'm not going to be out there actively looking. If I never meet the right woman, I'll just keep 'batchin it.' I gave marriage a try with the wrong woman and we made each other miserable. I'm happier alone," he said quietly. "Besides, there's not so many women out there who can handle being married to a cop. Have you ever thought of it, Starsk, if the roles were reversed, sending your wife off to work every morning to get shot at or whatever else comes down that day in the line of duty? I'm a realist. I'm not counting out the possibility, I just don't expect it to happen." Hutch sighed. "You know I've gotten close a couple times and been burned. I'm not anxious to set myself up for that again anytime soon."
Dark blue eyes met light blue for an instant. Starsky could see the hurt that had never quite gone away there.
"Do you sometimes feel scared?" he asked gently. It was a natural progression for him, considering all the rotten things that had gone down for both of them the last couple of years.
"Yeah, I'm scared, scared of losing everyone in my life that I care about, and the list has dwindled some." Hutch glanced over at his partner, who seemed to be chewing his lip in concentration. "I almost lost you not too long ago. You do remember that experience, don't you, pal?"
"Like I could ever forget. It's just like some of those close calls I had in 'Nam. I still wake up with bad dreams, but, really, maybe you would be better off without me. I'm only about half the man I was before the shooting," Starsky said wanly.
"Oh, that's pure exaggeration, buddy," Hutch came back quickly. "You could work at it a little harder and quit missing those therapy sessions you're still supposed to be going to. That might help," Hutch started to lecture.
"Get off my back about that, Hutchinson, or I'll bust you in the chops!" Starsky blurted out.
"You all right today?" Hutch asked. "I was just kidding around."
Evidently Starsky had finally decided to unburden himself about what was occupying such a large portion of his mind and he didn't waste any time getting started.
"Hutch, it's Sandy. I really think I love her, maybe even as much as Terry, but...."
Terry had been Starsky's fiancé a couple of years before. A man who hated Starsky because of the death of his son had been determined to make him suffer. An earlier run-in had gotten two cops killed before they'd been able to stop this madman whose only existence seemed to be tied in with making Starsky pay and pay big. He'd walked out of a mental institution, shot Terry and made an attempt on Hutch's life before they'd stopped him again. Hutch knew there was justifiable fear in his partner's mind that Prudholm could suddenly appear to wreak havoc in his life again, although he was once again behind bars. Terry had lived with a bullet in her head that could not be removed and they could only watch helplessly as that bullet inched closer and closer to ending her life. It had happened quickly, and she'd just about taken Starsky with her, something that Hutch had worked hard to keep from happening. He'd been there constantly with his friend, giving him a chance to talk about it, a shoulder to cry on, someone to get loaded with and even to give him a well-placed kick when he'd threatened to cash it all in. This had been hard on them both, Hutch had cared about Terry a lot, too.
"I said, do you want to talk about this, or should I just clam up!?" Starsky shouted at him.
"Sorry, I was just thinking about Terry," Hutch apologized.
"I know, I spend a lot of time there myself," Starsky said softly.
"So, what about you and Sandy?" Hutch pressed.
"She's so different, Hutch. So defensive, hard to handle. She seems to want to spar with me all the time. And she's also hot headed!"
Hutch smiled inwardly as he thought of how that description fit someone he was sitting very close to right at this particular time.
Starsky went on. "Terry always seemed to know what I wanted and did everything she could to make me happy, even if she didn't go along with my way of thinking."
Hutch interrupted. "She could have stayed in the hospital and it would have prolonged her life, buddy. She went against your wishes there, remember."
Starsky sighed. "I know, but that's the only thing we ever disagreed about. We never fought, not like me and Sandy!"
"Which relationship did you find more exciting, Starsk?" asking a question he shouldn't be asking, but feeling he needed to make his partner face something he needed to, Hutch was ready for the for the defensiveness he knew would come.
"Why'd you have to go and ask something like that?" Starsky erupted, letting his partner know he'd been thinking along the same lines and feeling very disloyal for it. "Terry was an angel and the best thing that ever happened to me."
"You and Terry were opposites who complimented one another," Hutch countered, trying hard to watch his words. "You were two very different pieces who came together to make a whole, but there wasn't the fire that you and Sandy have in your relationship. I'm not saying you didn't love Terry," Hutch quickly worked in when he saw his friend's face. "I'm just saying Sandy's so much more like you, she has the same faults and it's hard for you to handle.
Starsky sputtered. "And just what faults are you saying I have, buddy? Most people seem to think I'm pretty terrific."
It was rare for Starsky to leave himself so wide open, Hutch thought wryly, but knew it wasn't the time to drop a barb into the works. He also knew his partner didn't take criticism well, but decided he'd come too far to stop now, even if Starsky wasn't going to be happy with what he had to say.
"Well, you know you can be kind of impulsive at times." Gross understatement, thought Hutch, but was only out to help his friend, not send his self esteem straight into the crapper. " You come on way too aggressive and don't let other people, me, for one, take charge of a situation. You also don't listen well to people in authority." Hutch held up one hand when he saw his partner start to object. "I have more than a little trouble with that one myself, okay? That's the worst ones, I guess," he finished lamely.
"Well, gee," Starsky exploded. "I guess if I'd know I was so worthless as a partner, I'd have quit the force a long time ago! Didn't know you'd been carrying my dead weight around here for so long! Is there anything I do get right?"
"Aw, come on, Starsky, I'm not picking on you. You're the most caring person I've ever met, loyal to a fault and have the best instincts and sense of right I've ever seen in any law-enforcement officer, not to mention, I can trust you to watch my back and know you'd take a bullet for me without hesitation. You're a heck of a good friend, too!" Hutch finished with a grin.
His partner snorted derisively. "Man, you make me sound like some great big, dumb, slobbery St. Bernard dog."
Hutch pressed ahead, anxious to make his partner understand the truth. "Sandy is so much like you, buddy, you could be twins, aside from the fact that she's a lot better-looking than you are, of course." Hutch was getting a little irritated himself. After all, he was only trying to help. "You obviously care about each other. You just need some compromise, and, if you don't mind my saying so, you need to take more control of the relationship, because you're both fighting for the upper hand and somebody's got to have it. She's probably just as confused about it all as you are.""Have you been studying psychology on the side, again, Blintz?" Starsky asked, with more than a little sarcasm.
Hutch came back with, "No, hot shot, but I've been studying you for more than a decade, and I think I know you pretty well."
Just then, the radio crackled into life. "Zebra three, Zebra three, 211 in progress at the convenience store, 1264 Gladstone, repeat 1264 Gladstone." Hutch grabbed the mic with one hand and the mars light with the other in one smooth motion while Starsky wheeled the car around in a full circle, heading back toward the river.
"Zebra three, we're on our way!" Hutch bellowed into the mic.
As soon as they got to the action, they scrambled out of the car. As always, they worked efficiently together, anticipating each other's moves so well, it only took a nod for Starsky to indicate that he'd take the back and he was there seconds later. He flattened himself beside the back door and listened to what was going on inside. It was pretty quiet, with only the robber barking out orders. Obviously, he had a gun and was waving it around, terrorizing whoever was in his way. Starsky pushed the screen door open slightly and cringed when the hinges squealed softly. Suddenly he heard Hutch kick in the front door and yell, "FREEZE, POLICE!" and knew he had to make his move. He wheeled into the back room of the store and advanced toward the main room. He cautiously looked around the corner and saw that Hutch seemed to have everything under control and was about to enter when he saw a figure pop up from behind a row of shelves, a second gunman! And he had Hutch in his sights. Starsky knew he had to do something fast or his partner was dead, so he took aim and yelled, "DON'T MOVE!" The gunman quickly turned to face him, his gun set, and Starsky shot, hitting him squarely in the chest. At the same time, one of the panicked customers broke free and ran right into the line of fire. It was a young girl, maybe 14 years old and she fell at the same time the gunman did. Quiet settled over the store, then things erupted again as Hutch cuffed his man roughly and pushed him down by the counter. Starsky stayed frozen in place, dreading what came next. Checking the gunman first to make sure he would cause no more trouble, Hutch found no pulse and moving over to the girl, he found that she was gone, too. He looked up at Starsky and could tell by his stricken face that he knew it without asking. Hutch tried to reach his side, but backup had arrived and the store was crowded with people before he could get there. The minute things settled down, Hutch went out looking for his partner. He found him out on the stairway behind the store, staring out toward the river.
"Hey, buddy," Hutch called softly. "How you doing?"
When Starsky turned toward him and Hutch saw the anguish in his eyes, it wasn't hard to form his own opinion of just how his friend was doing. He looked like a little kid with dirt on his face and tearstains making pale white tracks down his cheeks.
"Starsk," Hutch tried to touch his shoulder, but was roughly pushed away. He tried again,
"Buddy, it wasn't your fault. You saved my life! You didn't mean for this to happen, everybody knows that."
"I don't know it, my friend," Starsky growled. "I went into that store in a rotten mood, with lots of things running through my mind, who knows, if I'd been concentrating better, if..." Starsky obviously was past the point where he wanted to talk about this, having come to his own conclusions about the events of the night.
Hutch reached out again, trying to find some way to bridge a gap that was widening by the second. His friend jerked back as if afraid of being touched.
"You're always too hard on yourself, man," Hutch said tenderly. "It really wasn't your fault!"
Starsky exploded, "What do you know about it. You're always the white knight, saving everybody. Why don't you save that kid I just wasted, huh? Look, do you want a ride back to Metro, or not?"
There was silence in the car on the way back to the office. Whenever Hutch thought of something to say, Starsky glared at him with cold, dark eyes and he bit his tongue.
After dropping his partner off without a word, leaving him to deal with the paperwork, Starsky headed home, wondering if Sandy would be there after the quarrel they'd had that morning. All he wanted to do was hold her, even as angry as he felt toward everyone. He knew Hutch had been trying to help, but his pride got in his way, big-time. That seemed to happen a lot lately. He was tired of being a burden to his friends and wished things cold be like they had been before the shooting. He regretted hurting his partner when he was just trying to make things better.
Parking in front of his apartment, he eased himself inside the door, half expecting, almost wishing for a barrage of pots and pans or cutlery to come flying his way. Sometimes the painful fighting cleared the air and made their relationship more intense afterward.
The apartment was absolutely still. He almost tripped over a row of suitcases and boxes lined up by the front door and his stomach churned at the thought that even Sandy must have given up on him. It looked like she was taking the first step toward leaving him standing in the rear-view mirror. His heart thumped painfully, then deep inside something hardened up like a huge, granite rock. He sure didn't plan on begging her to stay, especially since she'd given him so much provocation.
Sandy came flying in the door, almost colliding with Starsky, evidently in the process of carrying her stuff out to her car. She looked up at him and saw the iciness in his eyes.
"You weren't thinking of leaving without saying goodbye, were you?" he asked coldly.
"You know, Dave, I just wanted to get out of here without another argument," Sandy stammered. "I would have called you later tonight. I'm just getting so tired of fighting a losing battle."
Starsky started yelling, startling even himself. "So you thought running away was a better answer, huh? Put your stuff back! You're going nowhere!"
"No, it's us that's going nowhere and I don't want to live like this anymore!" she screamed back.
"I said, put your stuff away!" Starsky repeated in a menacing tone. He stepped closer and grabbed her by the arm. Sandy tried to pull away from him and he grabbed her other arm and started shaking her violently. She just stared, not believing that this was the man she trusted. Even when they had their worst arguments, they'd never turned physical, but she could see he was out of it and didn't even resemble the Dave Starsky she knew anymore.
More anxious to get out of there than ever, Sandy picked up a couple of her suitcases and tried to squeeze by him to the door, but he stopped her with a hard slap across her face, which knocked her back against the wall, and she slid down to her knees, stunned and dazed. Starsky began to pace, mumbling to himself, making very little sense, just a torrent of words. He grew more and more agitated, knocking things off walls and tables, kicking chairs over, breaking mirrors and glass knick-knacks, throwing the room into chaos.
Sandy just stared up at him, in shock from what was happening and bewilderment about what to do next. She cared about this man, but didn't have a clue how to reach him right at this particular moment.
Sirens blared in the background, bringing a squad car, as well as Hutch's LTD. Jumping from the car almost before it came to a stop, he rushed into the house, totally unprepared, eyes widening in disbelief at the scene that was unfolding.
"Starsk, I heard the call on the car radio, what...?" His voice trailed off. He didn't ask the question because he didn't want to know the answer.
Starsky stayed where he was, sliding down the wall and slumping on the floor, his hands over his face, refusing to answer any of the questions the officers were bombarding him with.
Hutch glanced around, his eyes lighting on Sandy sitting in the corner crying quietly. Blood was running from her nose and there was already a livid bruise which covered most of one side of her face. There were black and blue marks all over her arms as well.
"He did this?" Hutch asked unbelievingly. Sandy nodded, averting her eyes as if she were ashamed.
An ambulance was called and on its way. Hutch turned back and was treated to the sight of the two officers standing his friend up and cuffing him, while reading him his rights. They were going to be taking him in on a domestic violence charge. Hutch felt like he'd suddenly fallen down Alice's rabbit hole, but knew it was all too real.
"Hey, is that really necessary?" he called out, indicating the handcuffs, but was sternly reminded that with injuries involved, it was regulation. Hutch went over and laid his hand lightly on his best friend's shoulder, but got no response from him whatsoever.
With Starsky locked up for the night to cool off, after taking Sandy's things over to a friend's house, as she'd asked him to before she left for the hospital, Hutch had no choice but to spend a sleepless night agonizing over what seemed to be happening to his partner.
The next morning, he called and found out that Sandy had been released from the hospital with only minor injuries and was settling in with a girlfriend. He went to headquarters and tried to keep his mind off what was happening, but it was hard because everybody was either expressing concern and asking questions or gloating and whispering about what had happened.
Cap'n Dobey had Starsky brought to his office, and after trying hard to get through to his young detective, who seemed like a stranger, put him on suspension, with the promise that he'd get Starsky's gun and badge, as he didn't have them with him.
He was then released on bail and after stopping home to change clothes, made his way to THE PITS, where he'd spent a lot of time drowning his sorrows over the last couple years. He spent most of the day there, drinking one beer after another until Huggy tried to intervene when he saw Starsky was intending to drive himself home. Every approach Hug had made toward his old friend throughout the day had been rebuffed in no uncertain terms and when he asked for Starsky's car keys, the detective got up unsteadily, pushed Huggy against the bar and took off in the Torino.
Somehow he made it to a place he visited often, an outlook, high above the city, and parked where he could see the sun set. The place was deserted, being late in the year and a little too cool out to be enjoyable. The air here usually cleared his head and he did his best thinking, but given the alcoholic fog he was in, it did little good!
He took the badge that he wasn't supposed to have out of his pocket and stared at it for a long time. Pain washed over him in torrents, like an acid bath, all the traumas of a lifetime, all the things he'd seen and done. It was so intense, it left him gasping for breath, and the one word he could coherently think was "why?" He knew something had to be done to stop the pain. He knew in his heart that what Hutch said was true. He'd always taken things hard and guilt was a major component in his "emotional baggage". Starsky felt like he was fragmenting into little pieces and he had no idea what to do to hold together what was left.
He unbuckled his shoulder holster and slid it out from under his old brown leather jacket. He wasn't supposed to have this anymore either. He took the Beretta out of the holster. The metal felt warm to the touch from lying against his body. The weight and feel of the gun was almost like an old friend, maybe the only friend he had left. Without anymore thought, Dave Starsky put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
The sound of the shot spun and swirled around the canyon below before stillness, the silence of death, reigned supreme again.
Hutch had been looking for his partner for hours and knew he'd left Huggy's in no condition to drive, so when he started hearing reports on the car radio about shots fired and/or possible accident victim, he felt a knot tightening up in his stomach. He called for a location and sped toward the hills as fast as he could push his battered LTD. It was dark and the Torino was surrounded with people and bathed in bright spotlights when he got there. As he moved out of the darkness toward the light, some of the officers recognized him and tried to hold him back. He fought like a tiger, inflicting damage on some of the men that they would feel the next morning. Finally they gave up and let him go. Then he was by the side of the bright red "ride" that his partner had always been so proud of. He gasped for breath and his knees buckled when he saw Starsky slumped over the wheel, the gun still held in his hand, making it clear under what circumstances death had come. An investigation would take place, he knew, but hadn't a doubt that the only fingerprints on the gun would be his partner's. Hutch held onto the side of the car and vomited until there was nothing left to come up and he continued to retch for awhile after that. When he could breathe again, he got up to see the paramedics pulling his friend's head away from the steering wheel. He could see a gaping hole in the side of Starsky's head cluttered with bone fragments and brain matter.
Tears started running down the face of the young officer. There seemed to be an intense pain in his chest and for a moment he thought, not unhappily, that he was going to have a heart attack. But the feeling eased and he knew then that this was something he'd never be done with, not in a lifetime, not in a million lifetimes. He and Starsky had been in each other's heads for too long, they'd been able to read one another's minds. How was he ever expected to be able to give a friendship like that up?
As the scene became unbearable to him, he started to turn away. A paramedic came running up to him. "Sir," he said softly. "They tell me he's your partner. He does still have a pulse. We don't have much hope, but if you can stay out of our way, you can ride in with him, at least."
What he'd just heard galvanized Hutch into action. Without hesitation, he jumped up into the ambulance and helped pull his friend up beside him.
As the ambulance sped toward Memorial, Hutch pleaded with God to let his partner live. He'd never been much of a religious man, but he made a lot of bargains that night. He desperately wanted to touch Starsky, to talk to him before he was gone, but with all the activity going on in the ambulance, he could only comfort himself by sitting and holding tightly to the old brown jacket they'd had to cut from his friend's body.
The trip to the hospital was a nightmare. It seemed they'd never get there and the paramedics talked in soft undertones about other cases similar to this, none of which had favorable outcomes.
When they reached Memorial, and the gurney was wheeled through the ER doors, there were quite a few officers there already. Cap'n Dobey was having trouble keeping his composure, but he was holding on, only because he knew he couldn't let his men see him break down. No one would have blamed him. They knew he loved these two detectives just like his own son, even though they drove him to distraction with their antics and practical jokes.
Both Starsky and Hutch had made enemies on the force, Starsky largely by his cocky attitude and quick temper, Hutch for his sarcastic, cynical sense of humor, and some of their fellow workers felt that Dobey let them get by with murder. Even those who didn't like them had to respect the job they did and their reputation as the best team of detectives on the force, though. Internal Affairs was always coming down on them for something and that actually endeared them to a lot of the officers. Everybody hated IA.
Just before the gurney disappeared and an orderly stepped up to keep Hutch from going any further, he grabbed his partner's hand and whispered, "Don't leave me, Starsk. It's just me and thee, remember."
Then Starsky was gone and there was nothing left to do but wait. Many of the officers were being asked to wait outside because the waiting room was filling up, but they hung around as long as they could before they had to go back on duty.
Hutch dreaded what he knew he had to do next. He borrowed a black-and -white and drove over to the office building where Sandy worked as a legal secretary. He watched her face grow pale as she saw him approach. He looked down and was surprised to see that he was covered with his partner's blood, from the jacket he was still holding onto.
"David?" she whispered. Hutch nodded. "How bad?"
He sat down in a nearby chair to keep himself from falling over and breathed deeply for a second. "He's barely alive, honey. They don't think he's going to make it," he finished softly. Sandy ran to get her coat and they headed back to the hospital.
"How did it happen, Ken?" she asked once they were in the car. "Did someone shoot him? Was he in a car accident? I've been so worried something would happen ever since I left last night, but I've had no luck finding anyone who's seen him today."
Sandy started whimpering like a scared child. Hutch reached over and patted her absently on the arm, but he knew nothing was going to make this go down easier.
"Sandy, I need you to be really strong and to not fall to pieces on me. Starsky drove up to the hills last night and put a bullet in his head. There's no way he should be alive, but he is and it's going to take both of us to keep him that way!"
She gasped in shock. "Oh, no, tell me anything else but that, Ken. I can't take that! It's all my fault. I shouldn't have left him. If I'd stayed, we could have worked things out." Sandy started sobbing inconsolably. Hutch had no idea what to say or do and he feared losing what little composure he had left if he tried to talk to her, so he let her cry, patting her on the shoulder just to let her know he was there.
He hadn't expected any news by the time they got back to the hospital, so he wasn't disappointed.
As hospital waiting rooms went, Memorial's was okay, but Hutch had spent so many hours in this place already, it nearly drove him crazy. He'd done lots of time here ten months ago when Starsky had taken three bullets in the chest and everyone thought he would die and he actually had, but they'd brought him back. Hutch had been so grateful, but here he was again, with even less chance of recovery.
Knowing it would probably be awhile before anyone knew anything, Hutch spent his time circulating the waiting room trying to get some of the already beat officers to go home, getting coffee, attempting to keep Cap'n Dobey from pacing like a caged tiger. Hutch was worried about Sandy, all she did was sit rocking back and forth slightly, but one of the nurses was talking to her, so he left them alone. He saw Huggy rush through the waiting room doors and made his way over to him immediately. Hutch and Huggy had gotten off to a rocky start, he'd been Starsky's friend first and didn't think he had anything in common with Hutch's type. He'd learned fast not to judge from outward appearances, though, and the two had gotten very close during Starsky's convalescence, trying to keep a lid on their friend's natural enthusiasm and impulsive energy bursts. Several times they'd been tempted to hog-tie him to the bed so they could get some well-needed rest, but they'd worked as a team to keep his mind busy and stimulated long enough for his body to heal. All the time spent brainstorming had changed their acquaintance into a real friendship. Hutch could see Huggy was shaken and in a panic.
"Blondie, all anybody on the street will tell me is that Starsky shot and killed himself. I just can't believe that. It's not his style. Is he really gone?"
"Take it easy, Hug." The blonde man put his arm around the lanky black man's shoulder and felt him shaking. "He's not dead yet, and you and I both know well enough how many of these things he's been through and always come out the other side." He steered Huggy over to the coffee machine and got him a cup, pushing him down in a chair so he wouldn't look like he was about to fall down. "He did shoot himself, but there's a lot of things been running through that very active mind of his, he just got some of them a little scrambled, I guess." Hutch spoke softly, trying to reach his friend and calm him, then he went on to tell him all that had been happening lately. Huggy started to relax and rested his head against the back of his chair.
"I don't know if I can go through this again, Blondie, this is going to be bad! Someday that luck of his is gonna all run out."
Just then a doctor that Hutch recognized stepped out of the ER looking for someone who belonged with his patient. When he saw all the officers in the room, his eyes widened.
"Who's with David Starsky?" he asked.
Huggy, Dobey and Hutch hurried over immediately, all three getting there at once, causing the doctor to take a step backward to avoid being knocked over.
"Is Mr. Starsky a policeman?" he asked. " He came in in street clothes. I just didn't think..."
"He's an undercover cop," Hutch explained. "There's no reason you should have known."
"Dr. Chandler," the medical man introduced himself, shaking hands with each of the men in turn. Hutch suddenly realized Sandy wasn't there, looked over in the corner and saw that she'd fallen asleep, tear streaks all over her face. It seemed cruel to wake her up until he had to, so he turned back to the doctor to hear what he wasn't sure he wanted to hear.
"How is he, Dr. Chandler?" Cap'n Dobey asked.
The doctor looked at all three of them with a puzzled expression, the two so opposite-looking black men and the tall blonde, who couldn't have resembled less the man he'd been working on. "Are you friends of his family?" he asked.
Hutch answered for all of them. "Dr., we are his family! Now, how's he doing?"
Seeing he'd offended the men, Dr. Chandler muttered a quick "sorry" and got down to business.
"Somehow Mr. Starsky managed to miss the major parts of the brain," he started out.
Hutch's heart lightened and he muttered, "That's my partner," before he glanced up and saw the doctor looking sternly at him. He gulped and muttered his own version of "sorry" then and wondered where a remark like that could have come from.
Dr. Chandler's glare softened and he went on. "That doesn't mean he will live, there's a lot of damage in there. From the looks of things on the films, there's splintered bone, plenty of trauma and swelling, some nicked blood vessels that are causing internal bleeding, not to mention the bullet passed through much too close to the spinal column to suit me. We won't know until he comes out of coma if he's done damage to the optic nerve, which could cause blindness or if he's injured the column itself, which could cause paralysis. There could be damage to the speech center. I don't want to give you false hope. He has only about a 10% chance of a full recovery and the odds of his making it through surgery aren't at all good. He's lost a lot of blood. I've got to get him in there now, we've used a lot of valuable time assessing his injuries. The real work is ahead of us. I'll come and find you as soon as it's over." He clasped Hutch's shoulder with his hand and was gone.
Any relief Hutch had felt initially had popped like a balloon shortly after the doctor had started his explanation. The only thing he felt now was numb. He looked over at Dobie and Huggy and thought, if it were possible for the two of them to look pale, they sure seemed to him.
He fell into a chair to think about what the doctor had just said. How was Starsk going to fight his way through this one? He'd just barely come back to work and Hutch knew he wasn't up to his full strength yet. He'd seen him wincing in pain, he tired easily and needed to sit down frequently. Hutch had been giving him more and more of the paperwork, using the excuse that he had a sore writing hand. He thought Starsky could see right through that, but didn't argue about it, surprisingly enough. He'd always hated paperwork with a passion, scribbling notes on napkins and little scraps of paper in his sloppy writing, leaving Hutch, the perfectionist, to clean up the finished product before Dobey could yell at them. Hutch had also noticed that he was the first one to the action these days, where it had always been his fleet-footed partner who sailed right past him every time. Hutch was just going to have to be strong enough for the both of them!
He and Dobey spent some time trying to clear out the rest of the officers in the waiting room, telling them that their friend would be in surgery for hours and they should go and get some rest. Huggy took off, feeling overwhelmed and needing to get out of there. Dobey had to get back to the office to tie some things up, so the room started to get quiet fast. Hutch took the opportunity to call Starsky's mom. She hadn't been in good health for some time, so he told her only that David had been shot again and he would call her back when he knew anything more. Then he went over to where Sandy was still sprawled out, making little whimpering sounds in her sleep.
"Sandy," he shook her slightly to wake her. She sat up, dazed, feeling scared when she saw that most of the people had left.
"What's happening, Hutch?" she asked shakily.
"He's in surgery, honey," Hutch said softly. "He could be in there for hours. Why don't you let me take you home or back to your car. Do you feel like you can drive home?"
"I can drive, Hutch, but tell me how he is!"
Hutch explained carefully what the doctor had said about Starsky's condition. He left out some of the worst-case scenarios, but let her know her lover's chances were not good. Sandy closed her eyes tiredly and told Hutch she was ready to go back to her car. She begged him to stay, though, and call her as soon as he knew anything.
That wasn't hard for him to promise. He hadn't planned to move from this spot. He drove Sandy back to her car and when he got back, the waiting room was all but deserted. It was 4 A.M. in the morning and Hutch was dead on his feet, but after he slumped into a comfortable chair and put his head back, he couldn't put the thoughts to rest that were whirling around in his head trying to match the churning that was going on in his gut.
"Starsky, why couldn't you have come and talked this out with me?" he whispered to himself. "Whatever was hurting you so badly, I could have made things all right again." Hutch thought more about it and found himself getting really ticked off over the whole thing. "How could you do something like this to me? You had to know what this would do to me, to all of us, especially after we just got you well, and then you go and ruin all that by shooting yourself! What a way to repay me, man. When we do get you back on your feet again, I'm going to knock you right back off of them!"
Ashamed of himself after his fit, Hutch closed his eyes for just a minute and slept.
"Detective Hutchinson." The doctor shook him gently awake.
Hutch jumped up, immediately alert. "Dr., did he make it through surgery?" Hutch asked quickly. "And please call me Ken."
"He's still alive, Ken, although he did go into cardiac arrest. He's critical, in recovery and doing as well as we can possibly expect under the circumstances. We repaired all the damage and we've got him deeply in a coma with drugs for awhile. We don't know if he'll wake up when we withdraw the drugs, or even if he'll ever wake up. Until then, we can't tell what kind of damage has been done. The next few days are important. Now, why don't you go home and get some sleep? You look like you're half dead yourself."
The doctor looked as bad as Hutch, in his opinion, and got up a little unsteadily. "I'm going to sleep here tonight to be close in case he needs me," he said.
"Let me see him first, Doc, please," Hutch begged.
"You'll have to wait awhile until he gets out of recovery, and you can't stay long, but maybe it'll help him, too, if you're as close a friend to him as he obviously is to you."
"Thanks, Dr. Chandler," Hutch called softly.
"It's Alex. 'Night, Ken," he called back over his shoulder.
An hour and 45 long minutes later, a nurse came to take him to ICU. Hutch had been through this before and didn't expect the way his heart palpitated when he caught sight of Starsky's lifeless-looking body. There were tubes everywhere, catheters, monitor leads, IV's, all those Hutch had seen before. He was aware that Starsky was on a ventilator, with a respiratory tube in his trachea. The thing he wasn't prepared for was the sight of his friend's head. That brought tears to his eyes again. They'd shaved him for surgery, stripping all the dark brown curls his partner had been so vain about and a bulky bandage covered most of his head and one side of his face. There were also drainage tubes in place and the areas of his head not bandaged had dark bruises all over. Starsky's body was heavily braced, to prevent any movement, he supposed. Hutch got as close as he could and stroked the side of his friend's face that wasn't bandaged, then he sat down and took his hand.
"Starsk, I can't pretend to understand what was going through your mind when you did this. Maybe I've never known you as well as I thought, but I'll do anything I can to get you through this. I love you, man, more than I've ever loved anyone in my life, not my parents, or the woman I was married to. None of them ever began to understand me like you do."
Hutch realized how this sounded and hoped Starsky wouldn't quite remember this conversation. There'd been rumors that he and his partner were gay circulating the locker rooms the last few years. They both knew the truth of that and Hutch had given little thought to it. He'd heard the rumors about other partners who were very close. They were just two people who'd grown so close, so easy with each other, so used to each other, that they couldn't bear to change the relationship. Hutch had also heard cases of twins who were unable to ever leave to get married or move away because of this close bond. Starsky had been stung by it, though, raging like a bull at anyone he thought was thinking that way and the rumors had died down for awhile. They'd flared back up briefly after the shooting because of all the care and support he'd given Starsky, moving him into his apartment, spending as much time with him as he could, but most of the officers just laughed at the rumors now and the only time it came up was when someone new was hired who happened to come to that conclusion, and that was soon squelched.
Glancing back at the wounded body beside him, he went on talking softly to him about nothing, about everything, until the nurse came back and told him he would have to leave.
Being able to see for himself that his best friend was still alive, although for how long he had his doubts, and being able to tell him what he needed to had been right for him and now he felt like going home and sleeping. He totally forgot to call Sandy, though.
The phone brought him out of deep sleep and he glanced at the clock, eyes widening to see that it was three in the afternoon.
"Talk to me," he answered groggily.
"Hutchinson!" Dobey's voiced barked out over the receiver, causing Hutch to jerk the phone a few inches away from his ear to adjust his comfort level. "I've been waiting for you to resurface, but finally gave up and decided to see if I could rouse you."
"Are you at the hospital, Cap'n?" Hutch was ashamed that he could've slept so long oblivious to what was happening to his buddy.
"Yup, I've been here since about ten this morning," Dobey said, laying on the guilt a little thicker.
Hutch groaned. "What's going on, Cap'n?"
The big man sighed. "Déjà vu, Hutch, your partner went into cardiac arrest again and they had a lot of trouble getting him back here this time. He's hanging in there, though. Nothing else has changed."
"Have you been in there to see him, Cap?" Hutch wanted to prepare the man for what he would see, but Dobey answered, "Huggy and I went in this morning, just about brought me to my knees, Ken, and Huggy took off. I don't know where he went, but he was shook!"
Hutch knew when Dobey called him by his first name, he was pretty overwhelmed, so he quickly said, "I'll be there right away, Cap'n!"
He decided to see if Sandy wanted to come with him, but her friend came to the door and claimed she was feeling too shaky to go out yet. "What the heck...?" Hutch muttered to himself on the way back down the stairs. He was getting a very bad feeling about this, but was going to hope that he was wrong.
Hours stretched into days and days into weeks, each day with a sameness to it that bordered on madness. A month passed. The drugs were withdrawn, but still Starsky slept on, making Hutch wish he could just join him until this was all over. His partner's condition was listed as critical, but stable and Hutch began to wonder if this would go on for years. He couldn't even entertain the possibility that Starsky might never wake up.
He'd called Sandy a few times in the first few weeks getting a variety of reasons she didn't want to see Starsky. She couldn't stand to see him like that, she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown herself, he wouldn't know she was there anyway. Hutch patiently tried to explain to her that people in comas do know their loved ones are there and do hear them talking to them, but it was no use. Finally one night he went over to see her. He'd already decided what was going on in her head, but he wanted to hear it firsthand. He found her sitting down to dinner with a man he'd never seen before and the situation became obvious when he saw how guilty and embarrassed she was by the whole occurrence. She jumped up and begged Hutch to come outside with her and talk. He agreed and they went out into the hall.
"You sure didn't wait long to replace him, I see," Hutch hissed.
"Hutch, let me explain, please," she begged him.
"I think it's all too obvious, but try and make yourself feel better if you need to," Hutch said coldly.
"I just couldn't face the guilt. I was overwhelmed by the thought of what it would take to get him healthy again and I was worried about his mental state, that it would get worse. You know, he hadn't been himself for awhile. I just couldn't...."
Hutch interrupted her with a snarl that made her take a step backward. "Lady," he shouted, "if any man threatened to hurt my buddy like you're about to, I'd beat them senseless! I can't do that to you, but if you ever come around him again, I just may reconsider that!"
Sandy just stood there shocked, her mouth opening and closing as she tried to think of some other way to justify herself. Her friend stuck his head out of her apartment to see what the shouting was about and Hutch turned to him.
"She's all yours, pal, and good luck to you. You'll need it."
Back in the car, he laid his head against the steering wheel. His gut wrenched as he thought. Another heartache for his friend to wake up to! "God help us, now," he mumbled, a few tears running down his cheeks. He wiped them on his coat sleeve.
His father had told him men weren't supposed to cry and probably Starsky's dad had told him the same thing, but there seemed to be no end of tears for either of them lately. Sometimes he wondered if he were still " normal" or even sane at this point.
As he burst into the waiting room of the hospital, he startled Dobey and Huggy with his ferocity. They'd taken to gathering there a lot just to be close in case Starsky woke up.
"What's got your Viking temper stirred up now, Blondie?" Huggy asked.
"I'd just like to know how I'm supposed to tell Starsky when he wakes up that his 'lady' has gone out and replaced him with another man, that's all! How much is one person supposed to take? That man in there has done nothing but care about other people all his life and every time he tries to crawl up out of the pit, somebody kicks him back in again. I can't do this anymore! Maybe I should just 'cut and run,' too.
Dobey put a hand on Hutch's shoulder and squeezed. "You'll know how to tell him when the time comes, son," he said with confidence.
It was a few days later as Hutch was sitting by his partner's bed that he first felt, then saw his friend's dark blue eyes regarding him in puzzlement. His heart thumping faster than it should be, he hurried down the hall and found Alex Chandler not too far away and both men ran back to Starsky's room.
The man was beginning to thrash around, panicked by all the tubes and wires, trying to yell, but not being able to with the tube in his throat. Alex gave him a mild sedative, fearful that he was going to do damage to his already traumatized body and called a team in to pull the tube. Once it was out, Starsky started breathing for the first time in two months on his own. He still didn't seem to realize where he was or why he was there, but suddenly the world had gotten a whole lot brighter for one Kenneth Hutchinson!
He wasted no time relaying the news to Dobey and Huggy in the waiting room and got the expected reaction from them, too.
When he got back to the room, he found his friend sleeping again, but normally, aided by only the sedatives he'd been given to ease his agitation. Hutch put his head back and slept, too, but he didn't need any sedatives.
He came out of his sleep, just one soft word reaching him where he was, in a distant world where worries didn't intrude.
"Hutch," his partner called again, his voice so hoarse his friend could barely hear him.
"It's about time you woke up, buddy, you've been asleep for months." He tried to keep a light tone, knowing there were things to be faced here that were bound to get heavy.
"Really, months?" Starsky scrunched his face up trying to think what was happening. He winced in pain as he shifted a little. "What happened, Hutch, I can't seem to remember what hit me. My head hurts like a son-of-a-" He suddenly put his hand up to his head and found the heavy bandage there.
Hutch watched in terror as he saw the whole gamut of emotions run across his partner's face. He was reliving the whole thing and Hutch hoped to never see the expressions that passed behind his friend's cobalt blue eyes again in anyone else's.
Starsky suddenly turned his eyes away.
"Don't be embarrassed by what happened, Starsk. All of us get our thinking screwed up. It doesn't mean anything. You've been through so much lately." Hutch spoke as softly as he possibly could.
His partner's head snapped back around as quickly as was possible, considering the neck brace he was in. It must have hurt badly, as he gasped for breath, then fixed his friend with a look of blazing hatred. "What makes you think I 'm embarrassed, buddy?" making the last word drip with venom. "I'm just pissed off that I didn't do it right, and when I get out of here, I'm going to try it again and again until I do make it! I will, Hutch, I promise!"
Having said that, Starsky turned his face away, ignoring anything else Hutch had to say. Finally, he gave up and just left the room, confused by his friend's reaction.
Starsky was confused by his own reaction. What had made him do that to the man he loved like a brother? Knowing Hutch, he'd probably been sitting there pretty much since Starsky had been brought in. Months, he'd said. What did I do to my friends this time? he thought despairingly. There's just some people who shouldn't have friends to go around trampling on. But he knew that If Hutch were to come back in the door right now, he'd turn his head away again. He knew that without question, sure as God made little green apples. The thought of God made him blanch. In his Jewish culture, life was precious and God-given and suicide a direct sin against one's maker. His head ached as realizations came flooding in, carrying all the ramifications of what he'd done, the thoughts he should have thought before he did this thing. The truth was, he hadn't thought at all. He's done the ultimate impulsive act and for some reason, he'd survived even this. Hutch had been right, he was ashamed, deeply ashamed. "My brain's so small, I probably missed it entirely," he thought with some irony. He started doing some assessment of his injuries and decided everything was where it was supposed to be. When he got to his left arm, though, he realized something was wrong. Although he could make some movement with his arm, it was limited and he couldn't close his fingers at all. His leg was the same story! He couldn't move either normally. This scared him more than anything he'd ever been through, except maybe the time Hutch had been pinned under his car and Starsky couldn't find him, or the time his partner had botulism and only Starsky was able to get to him in time, or there was the time Hutch had a plague and had almost died before Starsky was able to locate the man with the antitoxin running through his veins. There'd been so many close calls and they'd made it through all of them and then he'd had to go and disrespect Hutch like this. He'd never thought of himself as a quitter, in fact, he had no respect for them. Now he'd found out he was the ultimate quitter! Well, if he was one, he was. Life didn't seem to be worth fighting for, maybe life as a quitter wouldn't be so bad. He forgot about his arm and leg, relaxed and thought about Sandy, wondering if she'd forgiven him yet. He drifted off to sleep, wondering if she was in the waiting room. It'd be good to see her.
When he woke up again, there was Hutch, an anxious look on his face.
Starsky moaned, "Aw, what do I do to get rid of you, man?"
"Seems like you've tried just about everything," Hutch said rather coldly, "but as you can see, I'm back!"
"Hutch, about last night, you were right. I was really ashamed of myself. You knew, you know me so well. I'm sorry I turned on you like that." Starsky hoped his friend would forgive him.
"You're lucky I do understand or I wouldn't be standing here now. I forgive you. Just try to keep your scorecard straight, okay? I'm not the enemy." He reached out his hand for Starsky to clasp it, using his left hand because he knew his friend liked it when Hutch catered to his "southpaw" partner. He was alarmed when Starsky didn't make a move to reach for his hand.
Starsky looked up at him with scared eyes. "I can't, Hutch, it won't work."
"Geez, how long did you intend to keep this your little secret?" Hutch scolded him.
Going to the door, he hollered down the hall for some help. Alex rounded the corner moments later. "What's wrong with you, Ken, this is a hospital, you know," he admonished irritably.
"Sorry, Doc, but I gotta tell you, this man can tick me off worse than anybody else!" Hutch said, glaring at his partner.
"It's a pity you made me work so hard to save him, then, isn't it?" the doctor quipped.
Starsky lay there between the two men, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.
"Well, Mr. Starsky," Alex asked. "What did you do to get your partner so worked up?"
"Please, just Starsky, Doc," he was quick to say. He started to explain, but Hutch broke in, so he decided to just let him "rave on" for awhile. Maybe he'd get some of his "mad" out of his system.
"My idiot partner has been lying here trying to make us believe he is perfectly all right, when the fact is that he can't move his arm." Hutch sounded thoroughly peeved, but Starsky decided to push the edge a little.
"Or my leg," he said nonchalantly.
That set Hutch off again, but he stopped when the doctor laid his hand on his arm and said, "We know that, Ken."
Hutch whirled on him, wanting to blame someone. "Was I going to be the last one to know? I am a partner in all this, aren't I?"
"We wanted to be sure. The nurses noticed shortly after he woke up that he wasn't using that side of his body, but we thought it might be temporary. I've already ordered the tests. We should know something later on today." Alex clasped Hutch's shoulder to try and calm him down a little. "Does he often get like this, Starsky?"
"Oh yeah, very bossy, bad tempered. It's his Viking genes, ya know. He can't really help himself."
Alex laughed and left the room to tend to some other task.
Hutch was obviously still irritated and didn't bother to talk to his friend, but walked back and forth, muttering to himself.
"What's that?" Starsky asked. "If you're going to grumble, at least let me in on it."
"How am I supposed to take care of you, if you won't let me?" Hutch said to himself as much as to his friend.
Starsky exploded. "I wasn't aware you were supposed to be taking care of me. I'm a grown man, you know. You've been getting real paternal on me lately and I don't think I like it. Don't you think everybody knows what you're doing, giving me all that paperwork, saying you want to sit down all the time, when it's me you're babying. I want to be a whole man, again, or nothing at all."
"Well, you've done just a great job of bettering yourself, there, haven't you, buddy?" Hutch was just as angry as his counterpart. "I'm just as sick of having you rush into things and get into trouble and needing me to bail you out!"
"Bail me out? I think I've done that for you a time or two, wouldn't you say? I'm the one here in this bed and you can't bail me out of this one, now, can you, pal?" Starsky's tone softened a little. "You look like hell, why don't you go somewhere and pass out or something?"
"Guess maybe I'll do that, if that's what you want. See ya around, Starsk." Hutch went to the door and started to open it.
"Hutch," his friend said quietly, "is Sandy out there?"
Hutch closed his eyes tiredly. I can't do this now, he thought. "I didn't see her out there, partner," he said truthfully.
"Would you get in touch with her for me, Hutch, please? I'd really like to see her, tell her how sorry I am."
Hutch couldn't get out the door quickly enough this time. "I'll do what I can, buddy,"
He headed for the office. He knew he had to spend more time there, but he rarely got anything done lately. He'd shared the news of Starsky's paralysis with Dobey and his answer was to assign him a new partner, over his violent protestations.
"I can't keep you on the payroll if you're not productive and you can't be productive without a partner," Dobey insisted. "It looks like Starsky's going to be out of action for quite awhile." Hutch just let it ride, but he didn't agree. He was working on his own solution.
After putting in a hugely unprofitable and frustrating day, Hutch went home to shower and shave and went back to the hospital. He met Alex in the hall outside Starsky's room and asked him if there was any news.
"Well, there's plenty of nerve damage, but with a lot of hard work and therapy, I think we can get him walking again. His arm, too, but only with cooperation from him and I'm afraid he shut down when I mentioned the cure. He says he'd rather stay like this than to go through it all over again. I've seen his charts, of course, and know what he went through a few months ago. I realize how hard he worked and to think about doing it all over again must be overwhelming." Alex sighed. "He knows this will be even harder and take longer. He also knows it's no sure thing. Basically, without hard work, his career is finished. Do you think you can get him to try?"
"He's stubborn, Alex," Hutch said honestly. "That can work for us or against us."
"I understand he has a girlfriend, although I've never met her. Do you think she could help him, Ken?" Alex didn't like the look in the other man's eyes.
"She wasn't a real girlfriend," Hutch said bitterly. "She made tracks as soon as it first happened."
Alex let out a colorful expletive that shocked Hutch. He felt bad for the young detective. He was beginning to succumb to Starsky's boyish charm just like everyone else and was sorry that the man had this cross to bear along with everything else.
"Does he know that yet?" he asked softly.
"Nope, I was just bringing him this last little bit of news. I've been stalling, but he asked for her last night." Hutch heaved a deep sigh. "I sure don't want this one, Alex, but I gotta do it, just the same."
There didn't seem to be anything else Alex could say, so he just walked away shaking his head.
Why is this up to me? Hutch asked himself. Starsky had always taken charge, barreled in, done most of the talking, pushed people around. It had kind of peeved Hutch at first, but after a couple years, he'd gotten used to it and even a little lazy, content to sit back and watch his dynamo of a partner "head 'em up and move 'em out." Since the shooting, though, it had been Hutch pushing him back to health, making sure he got enough rest, getting him to his Drs. appointments and therapy sessions, making sure he got something to eat besides junk food. That was a challenge. Hutch was always finding pizza boxes behind the 'fridge, burrito wrappers in the laundry hamper, greasy hamburger boxes under the bed. Now he seemed to be in charge of everything again and he was deciding he just wasn't built for all this responsibility. He was having to grow up too fast and Ken Hutchinson wasn't sure he was ready.
He found Starsky staring up at the ceiling, obviously deep in thought. He was looking so much better with the bandage off and his hair was growing in fast. Hutch remembered the first night when he'd seen him, how fragile and pale he'd looked. He was so busy in thought, he didn't even notice his partner was watching him.
"What were you thinking about, Blondie?" he asked curiously.
"About how much better you're looking, I guess," Hutch admitted. "You should have seen yourself that first night. It wasn't a pretty sight."
"Hey, I'll always look great, even when you've lost all your hair. It's getting pretty thin on top, you know," Starsky seemed to think this was funny. Hutch didn't.
"Well, Gordo, you looked pretty darn funny without hair yourself, you know," he countered.
"They tell me some of my parts aren't going to be working right from now on. Is that what they told you?" Starsky inquired.
"Not at all," Hutch said evenly. "What they said was with some work, you would be walking around soon. I guess you just heard 'em wrong, buddy."
"No more work, no more pain, I can't go through that another time," Starsky spit out immediately. "I'm a quitter now, hadn't you heard? I even tried to quit on life. I'm too stupid to do that right, apparently."
"Starsk, I'll help you, just like we did it before," Hutch begged. He got no response.
"Hutch," his partner said softly, "Sandy's not coming, is she?"
Hutch couldn't answer right then. His throat closed up and he just shook his head and dropped it down on the edge of the bed. A minute passed, then he felt Starsky touch his hand. He raised his head and saw tears in his friend's eyes.
"I did wrong treating her the way I did, Hutch." He lay there with tears running back over his hair, soaking into his pillow. "I was just so scared of losing another person I loved, I thought I could hold her by force. I didn't try to hold on to Terry hard enough and I missed so much. I maybe could have talked her into staying in the hospital. I could have had a lot more time with her, Hutch."
"You can't know that, Starsk, and she would have hated you for it," Hutch observed.
"But I could have tried," Starsky said regretfully.
"Since you brought Terry up, babe, have you given any thought to what she'd have to say about your plans to sit down and let life just pass you by!" Hutch saw a chance to make a point, but knew it would touch a nerve. "She had the guts to get up out of her bed and live life for as long as she had it. How could you possibly do anything else?"
He was starting to warm up to his subject, now. He thought he saw a little blue fire in his partner's eyes, but kept on going. "Can you just imagine it, Starsk? She'd march in here, pull herself up to her full five and three-quarters feet, put her hands on her hips and literally chew you up one side and down the other. Then if that didn't work, she'd probably kick your worthless carcass right off that bed and onto your feet, or whatever else you happened to land on, for that matter. She could have done it, too." Hutch stopped to allow himself a smile at that picture, as well as thinking it might not be such a bad idea.
"All that was a long time ago. Terry was a long time ago. I've changed, things aren't so great anymore. I just can't fight my way back again." Starsky pouted like a child. "I've made up my mind, Hutch, I'm just gonna sit down in a wheelchair and watch you and your new partner round up the bad guys."
Light suddenly dawned in Hutch's blue eyes. It was all he could do to keep from grabbing Starsky by the throat and squeezing until his eyes popped out.
"That's what this whole thing's been about, hasn't it, partner? I've wracked my brain trying to see why you really did this to yourself. I've listened to you come up with one insipid explanation after another, trying to understand why someone like you would all of a sudden give up on life like that, but I couldn't make any sense of it. It's like Huggy said, it's just not your style. You've been through so much and stayed strong and bounced back. I knew you weren't a quitter! You're a fighter! You thought you were doing this for me, didn't you?" Hutch was on a rampage like his partner had never witnessed before, so Starsky wisely kept his mouth shut. "You knew you couldn't keep this up, you knew I'd never accept another partner, you were afraid you'd get me killed if you made a mistake watching my back. You didn't want me to give up police work for you cause you thought that's what I wanted. So in that warped, twisted idiot mind of yours, you decided to take yourself out of the equation so I could live the way you decided I needed to live! That's selfish, Dave Starsky, really selfish!"
Starsky decided he had something to say about that. "Selfish? You call that selfish? I tried to give you your life back and you call me selfish? Why?"
"Cause all you could think about was what you could do for me, what you could give up for me! You didn't give me a vote. You didn't come out and say, let's talk this out, partner, we got a problem. You just impulsively and categorically charged in like always and you almost lost me the thing I care most about in the world!" Hutch paused for breath. His face was getting red and his partner was afraid he was going to have a stroke or something.
"I'm sorry, Hutch, I just never thought...." Starsky tried to calm things down a little.
"That's right, you never thought, you never think, you just do! You're so anxious to save the world, to be everybody's mine sweeper, you don't stop until you're out the other side and wondering what hit you. This time you almost didn't come out the other side. Next time you might not. I can't stand around and watch this happen anymore. Get yourself somebody who really enjoys suffering, Detective Starsky! I'm outta here!" And he was, slamming the door so hard the hinges vibrated.
Starsky didn't expect his friend to be back anytime soon and he had a lot of time to think. He never doubted for a minute that Hutch wouldn't be back, though, because if the roles were reversed, he could never have walked away from their friendship.
He wasn't surprised when he woke two days later to see Hutch sitting there just waiting quietly for him to come to.
"Do you think I could have my say now," Starsky asked rather coldly. "I believe you've made me wait long enough."
"Of course," Hutch conceded sweetly, because he already knew which way this was going to play out.
Starsky seemed to be pretty subdued, and a subdued Starsky was something Hutch hadn't seen before, so he listened carefully.
"I thought a lot the last couple days, Hutch, and I gotta admit you're right about me. Don't get used to me saying that too often, though," he said quietly. "I thought I wasn't going to be able to keep up with you anymore and our relationship would change completely, I'd have to take some kind of a crummy desk job, or something. I thought I had no reason to live, so why not let you. The reason was us, though, buddy. I'm willing to take whatever time you can make for me in your life. Our friendship is special and I should have known you well enough to trust that you wouldn't just dump me. I guess it's true, you really are the brains of this particular team, just like you always said. I'm sorry I gave you so much trouble."
"Just don't ever do it again, or I'll tell them to let you die, okay?" Hutch squared his shoulders. "Now let me tell you exactly how things are going to be, my friend, and I want you to just shut up and listen until I'm done. We both have to grow up, Starsk. I'm getting out from 'under.' I'm not getting any younger, the thrill is being driven away by fear. It's mostly hard work anymore and, no, I'm not going back out there without you to watch my back."
Starsky opened his mouth experimentally, but closed it again when he saw his friend's warning look. "Hey," he said by way of explanation, "that young idiot they put me with the other day almost got my head blown off!"
Hutch went on, "But I'm not going to stop being a cop, though, Starsky, and what's more, neither are you. I've looked into it and there are all sorts of opportunities for us to do police work until you're 100% and we decide if we want back in. As soon as you're out of here, you're coming home with me and we're going to do this one more time, and if you won't help, I'll be behind you all the way with a well-placed kick! We're going to let our apartments go and get one place where you can get around. If I need to get you a nursemaid, I'll do that, too, a big 300-lb black dude who can sit on you if you won't do what you're told." He grinned evilly. "Maybe I'll just get Dobey." Hutch paused for breath.
"You can't force me to do this, Hutch, you can't just make it happen." Starsky spoke in a low, menacing voice.
"Hey, Starsk, I don't think I would've had the guts to do what you tried to do for me, but I do have the guts to push you to do this for yourself."
Hutch sighed tiredly. "Anyway, better get used to it, buddy, I'm calling the shots around here from now on!"
A spark of blue fire erupted out of Starsky's eyes.
"I suppose you think you're big enough to do that," he challenged.
Hutch smiled a nasty smile and a dangerous glint appeared in his eyes. "Right now, I know I am."
Starsky thought that one over for awhile, then he turned back to his friend. "Okay, Hutch, we'll try it your way. But can I at least have a burrito now and then or a pizza or a big old ice cream sundae?"
Hutch put a hand on each side of his best friend's face and brought Starsky's forehead over to rest on his. He looked into those dark blue eyes and surrendered on this one point. "Sure, pal, anything you want."
Starsky looked back into his light blue eyes and said quietly, "You and me, maybe that's just the way it was always supposed to be, huh, Hutch?"
Hutch grinned and pushed his friend's hair back off of his face before he answered. "Gee, nothing ever gets by you, does it buddy?"