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"No." Starsky said defiantly. "No more."
He faced Hutch, face covered with sweat, chest heaving, the rejected ten-pound barbell between them on the bench. Starsky's breathing was harsh and noisy in the nearly deserted police gym. On a Monday morning, David Starsky and Ken Hutchinson were the only ones working out. And at the present time, there was very little of that going on.
"I'm not doing anymore."
"Ten more." Hutch tried to keep his voice impassive, just another one of the difficult things he had to do lately. He knew Starsky hurt; that every time he raised his arm to lift the little weight pain would rip across recently repaired chest muscles like a serrated knife. But the only way Starsky could ever recover the strength he'd lost was by keeping up the rotations. Which he was refusing to do. In the hospital Starsky had fought with such unflappable optimism, sure that he could recover and get out. Even on the days when he'd be trembling from the pain and puking his guts out he'd promised Hutch they'd be back out on the streets together fighting crime.
So why did he seem to be faltering now when the goal was so much closer? He was out of the hospital and off most of his medications. Each day of the last week or two he'd sunk deeper into a sticky morass of depression, ennui sapping his energy, stalling his progress.
In the last few days Hutch had really noticed Starsky's stonewalling. His partner had stopped trying as hard, refusing to continue physical therapy sessions and ignoring the medical staff's recommendations for his recovery. That was why Hutch had taken over from the Physical Therapist. He could get Starsky back to work even when the sweet faced little girl with the rock hard biceps couldn't. Except today.
"I'm tired." Starsky whined, his face petulant, looking too drained to get off the bench and make it back to the locker room.
"Just ten more." Hutch repeated his tone stony. "Then knock off for the day."
"What difference does it make? Ten more or less?"
"The difference between you making it on the streets and loosing your way. Pretend it's a rifle and you've got a sniper between your sights."
"Ain't no rifle and there ain't no sniper."
Hutch closed his hand around Starsky's narrow wrist, still appalled at how thin Starsky had become. His hand completely engulfed the joint, his fingers overlapping. Starsky had no meat on his bones, the muscle definition nearly gone. There had never been much fat but now he could feel the bones shift under his fingers without any benefit of padding.
Starsky had lost so much. He had so little left except that indomitable spirit that had carried him past nearly ever hurdle on sheer will alone, but now even that was flagging. Those ten repetitions suddenly seemed so vitally important to Hutch. He needed his partner back; beside him on the street, whole, strong and vibrant. If that meant he had to be a harsh taskmaster, so be it.
"Try to break free," Hutch ordered. "Fight me."
Starsky's expression clearly showed he thought Hutch had gone completely daft. At close to 20 pounds underweight, he would be no match for the tall blond. Before the shooting they'd been fairly evenly matched despite Hutch's slight height and weight advantage because Starsky's street fighting prowess and quick reflexes had always given him the edge during roughhousing. But now was another matter entirely.
"I can't," he said, obviously close to tears.
"You're not even trying." Hutch stood, forcing Starsky to come up with him. He didn't want to start anything with the two of them straddling the bench. If Starsky bumped into it, he'd hurt himself with so little muscle to cushion the impact.
"Damn you, Hutch." Starsky jerked his hand back, anger flushing his cheeks. "I said no more." He twisted his arm futilely, unable to break Hutch's grasp.
"You can do this." Hutch hadn't intended letting it go this far. He'd just planned on making Starsky annoyed enough to start fighting again, but now he realized how much it mattered to both of them. Gunther had taken so much. Starsky needed to prove that he still had what it took to go back out there and be a cop. He had to rediscover his own self-worth.
The dark haired man's jaw tightened, tensing his body for a fight. Watching warily, Hutch understood his best friend's need to be independent, that needing to depend on others, even Hutch, had severely shaken his confidence. It was one thing to know that he'd needed help in the hospital, but being back in his apartment had just driven home the naked truth of how helplessness he still was.
"Let go," Starsky snarled, panting with the exertion.
"Make me," Hutch challenged. He wasn't using all his strength against Starsky, he didn't need to. But, when the smaller man exerted himself a third time, jerking back against his captor's closed thumb and fingers, Hutch tightened his grip involuntarily. Starsky was a lot stronger than he seemed and apparently very determined to win.
Starsky paused, wiping sweat out of his eyes, breathing raggedly. His ineffective attempts to escape had widened the distance between them so that they were now a good four feet apart. He straightened, twisting his wrist slightly and stepping in closer to his opponent with the glimmer of thought showing on his face.
His fingers starting to cramp, Hutch shifted his grip slightly, grinning when he saw Starsky's demeanor slowly change. The stooped weariness had been exchanged for a steely-eyed shrewdness. He'd seen that look on his partner's gaze before, whenever Starsky was faced with what seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle.
The Biblical David had brought down Goliath with a slingshot but Starsky didn't have one of those handy weapons at his disposal. He seemed to have something up his sweatshirt sleeve, though. Waiting much longer than he would have in a real fight, Hutch was content to let Starsky take the lead. He needed to have the control back in his life. Starsky gritted his teeth, taking a deep breath, his face reflecting the pain that flared up in his chest.
"Damned lung," Starsky whispered. "Damn Gunther and damn you, too, Hutch." Starsky slammed his imprisoned arm backwards at the same time his pointy, sharp elbow connected with Hutch's unprotected side.
That did it. Hutch let go with as a gasp of air whooshed out of his lungs. Rubbing his newly acquired bruise, he regarded his opponent warily because Starsky was crouched in a fighting stance, his arms loose and outstretched for balance.
"Give it up, Starsk, you won." Hutch grinned when he'd gotten back his wind. "I'm not wrestling with you."
"You started it." Starsky wouldn't last long in a clinch, he didn't have the stamina. But it obviously had been good for his ego to have landed that blow.
"And I can stop it just as easily." Hutch held up his hands in surrender. "You did it, Starsk, you showed me you could."
"No more weights?" Starsky coerced.
"You've proven you need something more stimulating." Hutch agreed with a conciliatory smile. "C'mon, out to the showers with you."
"I'm not done yet." Starsky was short of breath, but still had the cocky stance of a gang member in West Side Story.
"What're you going to do?" Hutch wheedled, "It's an uneven match. I could pin you in a second."
"Then try." Starsky pointed to the blue and white floor mats.
"Starsky." Hutch laughed uneasily, not liking the monster he'd created.
"C'mon...you wanted me to keep at it." Starsky hitched up the sweatpants that threatened to slide off his narrow hips. "Try an' pin me."
"I don't want to hurt you." Hutch envisioned Starsky smacking hard into the unforgiving floor, surgical incisions all popping open and gushing scarlet blood in all directions. Nausea started to broil in his belly.
"It hurts all the time, Hutch," Starsky said with naked vulnerability. "What's one more ache?"
"Then, I don't want to be the one who hurts you again." Hutch frowned, not really happy with the way things had turned around on him, like a dull knife, carelessly wielded. He'd just been trying to bring back Starsky's determination, not plum unknown depths of aggression.
"You wouldn't let me stop when I wanted to," Starsky spat, baring his teeth with undisguised rage. "Asshole, try an' take me."
Hutch made an awkward grab at the dark haired aggressor, but Starsky feinted to the left, grabbed Hutch's arm, jammed a knee behind the blond's knees and shoved him forward. The momentum sent Starsky crashing down next to his partner, so that he landed on all fours.
"Starsky!" Hutch scrambled up, astonished at the turn of events. He hadn't been hurt, but he was concerned that all this activity could really aggravate Starsky's still healing injuries. Facing Starsky, he leaned forward to help him up, only to be met with a cocked fist.
Starsky came up fast, swinging wildly, all the buried anger at Gunther coming out in a hurricane of emotion. Hutch still had far more strength and agility than Starsky could muster at the present. He caught the punch, propelling Starsky into a tight hold, expecting him to struggle. Instead, the curly haired man sagged against him, rattling off every swear word he'd ever heard: in English, Polish, and a few choice selections he'd learned in Viet Nam.
"Hey, hey..." Hutch eased him down, settling on the ground with Starsky curled in against his chest. Resting his back against the wooden bench, Hutch kept his arms locked around his best friend, feeling Starsky's shoulders start to tremble, tears wetting the front of his grey t-shirt. "What's wrong, champ?" he asked quietly, twining his fingers through the hair on the dark curly head that rested against his chest.
"God, I hate him."
No need to ask who HE was. Gunther. The man who had caused all the current pain and fear. "I hated him, too." Hutch admitted. "When I went to his office, I was going there to kill him... I thought nothing short of shooting him in the chest would make everything better."
"But you didn't." Starsky wiped his eyes on his sweatshirt sleeve; so exhausted his movements were almost in slow motion.
"When I got there, he was just an old man--one with a lot of power..." The words he'd spoken to Huggy the day they'd discovered Gunther's identity--"He turned down the chance to be President because it would be a step down in power,"--reverberated around in his memory. "And if I killed him, that would just lower me to his level. So, I arrested him and took the first plane back here. To be with you. I was so damned afraid you were going to die."
Digesting these words, Starsky sat quietly. "Do you still hate him?" he asked after several minutes.
"It took too much work." Hutch sighed. During those long vigils next to Starsky's hospital bed he'd been choking with the emotions piling up inside of him. The realization that he needed to bleed some of them off or they'd overwhelm him completely came one day when he'd been unable to stop crying. Even the news that Starsky was strong enough to start on a liquid diet had reduced him to tears.
And he'd been so tired. Starsky had needed all his love, concern, worry and hope. The anger and hatred had been too exhausting to hold onto and had been the first to be purged in a wild assault on the punching bag that hung in this very gym. "I couldn't. Not and stay sane."
"What do I do?" Starsky asked mournfully. "It hurts so bad inside sometimes I can't breathe."
Knowing he wasn't talking about physical pain, Hutch gently massaged the place between Starsky's scapula where he always carried his stress. "Fight back, Starsky. Show him he can't control you."
"I ran out of fight. All I got left is the pain."
"Not from what I saw." Hutch raised a blond eyebrow with a grin. "You looked pretty strong from here, Ali. Left some bruises..."
"It's that pale, Nordic skin," Starsky teased, a spark of life back in his dark blue eyes. "I'm not sure there'll be anything left of me if I let go of Gunther."
"You were always stronger than he was, Starsk, right from the very beginning. You had to be, to survive."
Starsky regarded him with suspicion, as if he didn't truly believe what Hutch was telling him.
"Don't you get it?" Hutch smiled. "You're alive. He couldn't control you. He'll be in prison for the rest of his unnatural life and you're free to get on with your rest of yours." He reached over to the shelf of clean towels on the right, wrapping one around Starsky's neck. "Holding on to your anger doesn't hurt him, it only hurts you. You can't really completely heal until you let it go, buddy."
"I'm not sure I can, Hutch. Some days I think it's the only thing that keeps me from giving up," his partner admitted forlornly.
"Wrong, Grasshopper, it's that stubborn pain-in-the-ass persistence of yours that gets you out of the bed in the morning," Hutch disagreed, tousling Starsky's sweaty curls.
He untangled his long legs from his partner's, pulling himself up with the support of the bench. Judging his friend's emotional keel to be a little more on the even side, he asked, "How 'bout some Gatorade and water, then maybe a few repetitions on the rowing machine?"
"You're the persistent son of a bitch, y'know that, Hutchinson?"
"I've always considered that your sobriquet."
" Sobri...what did you just call me?" Starsky retorted, accepting help to stand and a tumbler full of green fluid.
"Same thing you called me."
"Not a very nice thing to call a conversant."
"Only if the shoe fits." Hutch laughed when Starsky proved his eagle eye aim was unharmed with a pitch that landed one of his stinky Adidas shoes right into the blond man's belly. "You'll pay for that one, partner."