This story first appeared in the zine, Remote Control #13 (2000). Fan-Q Winner. These zines can be obtained by contacting the editor at: http://www.thewateringhole.com/kathy.html Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
K Hanna Korossy
Even the California smog smells good, was Ken Hutchinson's first thought as he got off the plane.
He shifted his bag a little on his shoulder, giving the stewardess at the door a quick grin. She'd already slipped him her number, the piece of paper crinkling in reminder in his shirt pocket as he moved, but that was only icing on a great day.
Uncle Ken. It had a nice ring to it. It would be a year or two before he heard it, of course, for Peter Kenneth Talbott was yet only four days old, but Chris hadn't hesitated to tease her big brother about being "Uncle Ken" now, and he definitely loved the name--and the baby with the dark eyes and wispy hair who had given him the title. Chris had looked beautiful even in post-labor exhaustion, Greg had been unsinkable with the pride of fatherhood, and the new grandparents were now every bit as doting as they'd always chided their own parents for being. Hutch shook his head. Mom and Dad, grandparents. That's still hard to get used to. He couldn't wait to tell Starsky all about it.
Speaking of whom...he'd scanned the crowded terminal automatically as he'd entered, training never failing, and picked up neither a glimpse of the dark, curly hair, nor an impression of his partner's presence. Starsky had certainly groused enough--with a half-hidden smile--at Dobey's granting Hutch a rare three days off to go see his sister and new nephew, but the brunet had nevertheless promised up and down to be there to pick Hutch up upon his return. He shrugged. Well, it was certainly possible that a case had tied him up and he hadn't been able to come or to reach Hutch in time to tell him as much. No matter, he could always take a taxi. Even that wasn't enough to dent his good mood.
He made his way through the throngs, glancing idly about as he went. Starsky wasn't there, though, he could feel it. It amazed him a little when he thought about it sometimes, but there was really nothing supernatural to it. They'd been together in enough sticky situations where their lives depended on choreography and working in tandem, knowing exactly where the other was at all times. In time they'd developed a fairly accurate sense of when the other was nearby and where, and Hutch didn't question it anymore. After four years of partnership, they had already passed trust some time back and were well on their way to ESP. And in the rare moments that Hutch considered in amazement how far they had come, farther than most partners got in their whole career of service, he was simply grateful.
But mostly he took it for granted. It was just the way they were.
The cluster around the gate thinned, and Hutch hoisted his bag more comfortably as he started toward the main doors where the taxis would be lined up.
The uniform caught his attention from the corner of his eye just as its wearer stepped up to him.
He stopped, fingers flexing on the duffle as a little of his good spirits slipped away into unease. "Yes?"
"I'm Steve Berg. I was asked to come pick you up and bring you in, sir. Could I help you with your bag?"
Hutch blinked. "Bring me to the station? Starsky sent you?"
"No, sir, to both. If you'll come with me, I'll explain what I know, sir." Berg held a hand toward the door, apparently giving up on Hutch's luggage.
Only the knowledge that speed might be crucial made Hutch start toward the front door, Berg keeping up with his long, hurried strides. Good, Hutch thought absently, because he had a lot of talking to do. "Is Starsky okay?" That was the most important start.
"To my knowledge, sir. He was when I left."
The news made him relax a fraction. Maybe this wasn't as bad as his instincts were screaming it was.
The officer held the door for him and Hutch swept through without hesitation. To his credit, Berg was out a half-second later and leading the way to the black-and-white parked along the curb further down.
Hutch picked the conversation up again as they neared the car. "Left him where?"
"At the scene, sir. A go-go bar on Beverly. Hostage situation."
Hutch frowned, tossing his bag into the trunk the officer opened for him, then climbing into the passenger seat. A hostage situation at a go-go bar. Why would Starsky be involved in what seemed more like SWAT and Hostage Negotiation's territory? Although at least it explained what had tied his partner up, and it was a lot better reason than those Hutch's own overactive imagination provided.
Berg got in on the driver's side, softly radioing their location and status before he started the car. Hutch paid him no attention, his mind jumping ahead already, and a moment later he turned back to his driver. "Berg, fill me in, please."
The car pulled smoothly into the airport traffic. "Well, sir, I actually don't know that much about it. Some guy named Jolly Westin--I think you and Detective Starsky were his arresting officers?--escaped from custody three days ago. He turned up a few hours later at this go-go bar, The Cat's Pajamas, and started shooting up the place. I think he asked to talk to you or Detective Starsky, and the Sarge has been there ever since. Your captain asked me to pick you up and take you to the scene. That's about all I know, sir."
Jolly Westin. Well, that explained a few things. It had taken Starsky and Hutch nearly two weeks to track down Westin after the man's bloody rampage through a local store. The hunt had almost become a game of cat-and-mouse, with Westin knowing they were on the trail and unable to resist leaving them clues in his insane desire to play. Catching him had been a personal victory, and Westin had taken it personally too, both impressed and furious when they succeeded in stopping him, only two days before Hutch had left town. Didn't take him long to make a break for it, did it? And of course he looked up Starsk right away. Hutch shook his head. Talk about lousy timing. I should've been here.
Wait a minute. Three days ago?!
His head jerked up, turning back to Berg in startlement. "Did you say three days ago?"
"Yes, sir. That's when Westin escaped."
"And that's how long the hostage situation's lasted?"
"Why didn't they gas him out?" It wouldn't be the first choice, but the tear gas was quite useful in bringing stalemates to an end.
"The Cat's Pajamas is an underground bar, sir. No windows, and Westin's kept the doors closed. No possibility of sniper intervention, either."
That made sense. But... "And Starsky's been on-scene ever since?"
"I believe so, sir. Westin wouldn't deal with anybody except you or Sergeant Starsky, and he said he'd start killing hostages if one of you wasn't there to talk to him."
"I believe he killed two when he first took over the place, but none that I know of since then, sir. He even let them evacuate the wounded."
Hutch almost smiled at that. Sounded like Starsky's influence, all right. Neither of them were trained for hostage negotiation, but his partner had a way with people that Hutch sometimes envied. The brunet would be seething inside, but he'd say what he had to to keep Westin under control and get the innocents out of there alive, if at all possible.
The radio, crackling and chattering in the background all the while, suddenly grabbed both men's attention. "Seven-Adam-Ten. 10-57 on-scene." The code was unnecessary; Hutch could easily hear the pop of gunfire going off in the background and his whole body coiled in response.
"That's them, isn't it?" he barked at the officer.
"Yes, sir," Berg answered. "Should we go Code 3?"
Hutch nodded instantly, and Berg sped up as he flipped the lights and siren on. The detective reached for the radio. "What's your designation?" he asked the driver.
He thumbed the switch. "Nine-Lincoln-Three en route. What's your status, Seven-Adam-Ten?"
There was a long pause, then, "Seven-Adam-Ten. Scene is secure. We have a 10-53; request paramedics and ambulance."
"Seven-Adam-Ten, 10-4," dispatch answered a moment later.
A 10-53 was a man down, not an officer. The logical choice was Westin, or perhaps an unlucky hostage, but the tightness inside Hutch didn't loosen. He wouldn't relax until he knew for sure.
But there was no more information to be gotten this way. The Adam unit would be busy on scene, and Hutch reluctantly hung up the radio, swaying a little in his seat as the car took a sharp curve. At least Berg, for all his youth and callowness, seemed to be a good man and knew how important this was. Or at least he'd guessed.
Hutch rubbed his face, trying to recapture some of his optimism and cheer from...geez, only minutes before? Reality intervened fast.
The trip from LAX could have easily taken an hour in the midday traffic, but with lights and siren they were making good speed--though even instant travel wouldn't have been enough. Three days--Starsky had been running the show on his own for three days without a partner or a break? Why on earth hadn't the idiot called him? Or Dobey, or anyone else even, at least to let him know he was needed? Hutch could've gone to see Peter a week later just as easily, even if the trip had been welcome timing. They'd both been so tired from Westin and a pile of other cases that had buried them in the last few days, it had been really nice to get away. Of course, Starsky had been just as worn out as he...
The radio buzzed on but with no news, and Hutch impatiently willed them to go faster. What was taking them so long to get there?!
Finally turning the last corner, they ran into chaos.
It seemed that half the force was out, and all in motion. The SWAT truck stood to one side, its back open and empty. A dozen black-and-whites staked out the perimeter, most with their reds off as if they'd been there some time. Uniforms and plainclothes detectives were skirting each other, the majority of them clustered around what seemed to be a stream of weary civilians being led out of an underground doorway. On the opposite side of the crowd stood a rescue squad and two ambulances, and what looked like a few occupied gurneys.
Starsky was nowhere to be seen. Hutch got out of the car, Berg already forgotten, and grabbed the nearest uniform. "Where's Detective Starsky?"
The man shrugged helplessly at him, and Hutch let him go with a grimace. His eyes returned to the knot of rescue workers, and though he saw no familiar jacket or head of dark curls, instinctively moved in that direction.
It was slow going, so many people were moving about, and his temper was ready to fray as he reached the group. Closest to him, a dark-haired paramedic worked on a woman who seemed well enough, if pale. Hutch shoved past him, peering inside a closed ambulance as he went. Empty. Darn it, Starsky, where are you? Better not have gotten yourself shot or anything else dumb like that while I wasn't here to watch your back...
There was one more gurney, and he could only see the head of it, but the hair was wrong, redder and flat, thinning. Like Westin's hair, in fact. Hutch pushed his way through the last barrier of people.
It was Westin, or at least had been. A strawberry-blond paramedic was hanging up biophone, reluctance in his movements, then carefully drawing the sheet over Westin's face. D.O.S.--Dead On Scene. "I'm sorry, there wasn't anything we could do, Detective," he was saying to the man kneeling opposite him.
Thank God. Hutch surged to his partner's side just as Starsky nodded at the paramedic, his quiet "Thanks," barely audible to the blond. The paramedic began to busy himself putting away his equipment, and Hutch tuned him out, dropping a hand gratefully on Starsky's shoulder.
The shoulder jumped in surprise, and Starsky craned back and to one side to look up at him, face instantly lighting into a grin. "Hutch!" He went to rise at the same moment, but swayed midway, nearly losing his balance.
"Whoa!" Hutch corrected him gently, grabbing his partner's other arm until he was sure the man was upright and steady. "You okay?"
The moment he saw Starsky's face, his question was answered. The tired but energetic partner he'd left behind only three days before--probably right before the call on Westin had come in--was only a memory. Haggard didn't began to describe the dulled and red-rimmed eyes or the heavy exhaustion that lined his face or the weighty slump to his shoulders, as if the air itself were too heavy a burden to stand under.
Hutch tried not to look as shocked as he felt. Three days--and I bet you never left the scene, did you, buddy? He should have been expecting it but still it was a jolt.
"'M fine." Starsky shrugged off his concern, apparently firmly on his feet once more. "It's over an' Westin's dead." He glanced down at the sheet-covered gurney, then around the scene, his gaze a little too vague for Hutch's peace of mind. "Just a minute, I've just got some wrap-up here, then... uh, I'll take y'home."
Hutch stared at his partner, incredulous, as Starsky prepared to literally stumble off to do God-knew-what-else. I don't believe this.
And then he snapped out of it, moving to take control. Vacation was far in the past now, but it wasn't cop instincts that were kicking in. This was strictly about partnership--and friendship.
"Hold up, Starsk," he grabbed for the brunet again before Starsky disappeared, nearly jerking his unsteady partner off his feet. "They can handle the wrap-up. We're going home now."
"Cut it out," Starsky fussed irritably, trying to tug himself loose. "It's my scene. I'm..." His voice trailed off as he lost that train of thought. "Leggo, Hutch," he muttered instead, once more ineffectually plucking at the blond's fingers.
Moody, dizzy, sluggish--a nice mess you are, partner, Hutch shook his head. Wryly, he said, "Forget it. They can tie things up without you, or me."
"'S my scene--" Starsky began hotly.
But Hutch's eyes were drawn to another figure that was making his way toward them, and he smiled at the sight. "Oh, I think the cap'n can take it from here, don't you, sir?"
Dobey didn't look the least bit surprised to see them, and one long, measuring glance at Starsky followed by a raised eyebrow at Hutch made it clear he understood the situation. "Hutchinson, I'm glad you're here." He turned brusquely to Starsky. "Starsky, let your partner drive you home--that's an order. I'll take over here." Slightly more soft-voiced, he added, "Good job."
Starsky was peering suspiciously from one conspirator to the other, but he knew when he was too fogged to argue coherently. He finally sighed, rubbing his eyes wearily. "Yeah, 'm tired." His hand suddenly dropped as he frowned at Hutch. "What're you doin' back here? Thought you were visitin' Chris."
"It's been three days, dummy. I'm back now," Hutch said fondly, a smile in his voice despite his disquietude. He glanced around the scene, trying to locate the Torino, one hand still hooked in his partner's shirt for fear he'd wander off or fall on his face if Hutch let go of him. There was a flash of candy-apple red visible for a moment as the crowd shifted. There. He flashed a smile back at Dobey. "Thanks, Cap'n."
"Welcome back, Hutch." His boss grinned a little at him. "I'll fill you in after you get your partner off his feet." He leaned closer. "Don't tell him I said so, but he's the one responsible for saving all those hostages' lives."
"I heard that," Starsky mumbled incorrigibly from half behind his partner.
"Yeah, but you won't remember it, buddy," Hutch told him cheerfully, then aimed them both toward the car.
He was a lot calmer now than when he'd been on the way with Berg, not knowing what he was getting into. Starsky was alive and relatively unharmed, and the situation had been defused without further loss of innocent lives. Westin's death was regrettable, but hardly one they'd be losing sleep over.
But that still didn't mean Hutch wasn't concerned. They'd both had to function in times of crisis with a minimum of sleep, but usually at least they could spell each other, and they didn't have to go on such little sleep for so long. No doubt Starsky had taken a few catnaps in the interim, enough that, with the necessity of the situation, he'd been able to keep functioning well enough to take Westin out, but by appearances he hadn't gotten much rest. And sleep deprivation, no matter how easy a fix, was still serious. Not to mention hypoglycemia--doubtless Starsky had ingested little besides coffee since the stand-off had begun. Hutch had some serious mother-henning duty ahead of him.
Starsky muttered something darkly at the blond again, and Hutch shook his head. All-in-all, his partner was awfully compliant for being the equivalent of stoned drunk. But then, it never ceased to amaze Hutch that no matter how sick, hurt, or out-of-it he'd seen his partner, Starsky always knew Hutch and knew he was safe with him. It was something Hutch wished he'd never had cause to learn...but also oddly comforting to know.
By the time they reached the Torino, Starsky had managed to dig his keys out and was intently peering at them to find the one that went to the car. Hutch plucked the ring out of his hand and quickly opened the door, ushering Starsky inside.
Hutch nearly cracked up at the petulant voice. He felt sorry for his partner, really he did. But the whole thing definitely had some comedic potential. So help him, if Starsky regressed any further in age...
He got in on the driver's side, idly pausing for a moment to wonder about his bag, still in Berg's car. Or Berg, for that matter; he'd never even thanked the young patrolman. Hutch sighed. Well, he could track the man down later. For now, he had what he needed.
Starsky was staring at the windshield with great intensity, and lack of focus. Hutch found himself wondering if the brunet could see anything at all through three days' worth--and then some--of fatigue.
"So, how'd you end up getting Westin?" he asked conversationally, turning the car toward Westchester and Starsky's place.
Starsky roused himself, staring sluggishly at his partner. "Hmm? Oh. Talked 'im into comin' out." A slight grin. "I made him mad."
Hutch snorted. "That's all it took, huh? Guess the guy wasn't as bright as we gave him credit for."
The sleepy blue eyes cleared. "Took almost three days, Hutch. An' he kept threatenin' t'kill all those people..." He sighed, deeply, rubbing his forehead again. "Think 'm gonna sleep for a week."
Hutch's mirth faded. It no longer seemed funny, just sad. "Yeah," he said softly. "Well, sounds like you did good, partner. Only, why didn't you call me? I'd have come back."
His partner blinked at him, and Hutch could almost see the effort of slogging through the mush in his mind to put the words together. "F'r this? Lissen, nobody knew it would take this long, an' anyway, you were on vacation."
"Doesn't mean I couldn't have come home early."
But there was no answer, and a glance showed him Starsky was nodding off, only to jerk awake each time his head began to bob.
"We'll be there in a little bit," Hutch soothed. A thick nod was his only answer.
Another sudden awakening, this one startling Starsky enough to grab at the edge of the seat. Hutch shook his head with exasperated affection, and gave his partner a tug to bring him closer. The dark curls immediately settled on his shoulder.
Starsky was asleep within seconds.
The stairs to Starsky's place weren't all that steep, unless he was hurting or tired, or drunk. But now they seemed to tower, and Hutch had no intention of carrying his comatose partner up the whole flight.
Nevertheless, he couldn't help but feel guilty when his gentle shake made Starsky startle awake. "What?" he asked in confusion, one hand beginning to go for his gun.
Hutch stopped it. "'S okay, we're just home."
"Oh." A beat. Even that conversation was almost beyond Starsky's abilities, but he sleepily knuckled his eyes. "'Kay." And didn't move.
"C'mon, bright eyes," Hutch said with a sigh, pulling him out of the car by one arm. "Just remember your soft bed inside."
A glow of lust usually reserved for beautiful members of the opposite sex lit Starsky's face and he lurched up the stairs at a more-or-less steady pace.
Hutch kept a hand on his arm regardless, then took over door-opening duties. Starsky's hands were visibly shaking now with fatigue and the let-up of stress. Inside, the room smelled a little musty from the absence of its owner for three days, just as Hutch supposed his own did. It would need airing, but first things first. His partner needed no direction to head straight for the bedroom, sinking down with a grateful sigh on the edge of the bed, then almost tipping forward onto his nose as he tried to unlace the blue Adidases.
Hutch bit back another smile. "Need some help there, sleepy?" He pulled off the shoes one at a time, ignoring Starsky's annoyed attempts to bat him away.
"Do yer own shoes," the brunet growled.
"You're the one going to bed, not me." The socks he left, but the jacket was next, and he struggled to pull it off an uncooperative, heavy body.
His words completely redirected Starsky's befogged mind. "Bed...," he repeated dreamily. "'M gonna sleep for a week, Hutch."
"You said that already," Hutch absently answered, undoing the holster snaps that his partner's clumsy fingers couldn't quite manage, then pulling the whole thing off. Starsky didn't even offer token resistance this time, too busy yawning cavernously.
"Gotta tell me 'bout yer visit," he mumbled.
"I will when you can remember what I say," Hutch said, amusement in his voice. The remainder of the clothing he left. He supposed Starsky would be too tired to care about it, and could always get up later and shed the rest. Hutch pulled the blankets down instead, giving the brunet a slight push.
"Mmmm." End of conversation. Starsky was almost out the moment he hit the pillow, and it was with a sigh of long-suffering that Hutch lifted his legs and swung them onto the bed, then settled the blankets in place.
Starsky turned into his pillow with a contented sigh. His "'anks..." was just a slight breath.
"You're welcome," Hutch answered softly with a grin, knowing Starsky wouldn't hear. No matter. The blond was feeling thankful that it was only fatigue, not injury--or worse--that had hit his partner so hard. With a last shake of the head, he crept out of the room and the house.
Dusk was falling before he returned, paper bag in tow. The late summer evening was beautiful around him; Hutch had been tempted to go down to the beach to watch the sun set. But he had some unfinished business back in Westchester.
The door swung open silently for him, and Hutch awkwardly pocketed the key before reaching back to close it behind him, only to think better of the action and leave the door open. He locked the screen door instead, then put his bag down as he proceeded to circle the room and open all the windows as well. The room still held a trace of disuse, and with a rare breeze blowing, Hutch couldn't resist giving the place an airing. He'd done the same after Berg had stopped by his place with his bag, letting in the salt-touched fresh air for his plants.
That done, Hutch headed for the kitchen, pausing at the darkened bedroom's door to peer inside. It looked like the dark-curled head hadn't moved an inch from earlier that afternoon, and the sight made Hutch smile. Dobey had already called to tell him that his partner had the next day off, but Hutch wouldn't have been surprised if the brunet would have slept straight through no matter what.
He went on to the kitchen.
Soon after, the flat was already filling with delicious smells. But even that didn't seem to be waking his usually starving partner. Amused, Hutch fixed a heaping tray, added some juice, and took it into the bedroom.
This time it took three increasingly aggressive attempts to wake the sleeper before a blue eye opened to balefully stare at him.
"Now, now, is that any way to talk to your cook?"
Starsky frowned at him in bafflement, then pushed up on one elbow to get a better look, face clearing remarkably at the sight of the tray. "Food!"
"Not just any food," Hutch corrected, brandishing a napkin with a flourish. "This is my mother's recipe. Brisket and corn with salad."
"'S not any of that healthy junk?" Starsky peered at him distrustfully even as he sat up against the headboard.
"Nope. Disgustingly fattening. Which, after three days of nothing but coffee, I figured wouldn't kill ya."
Starsky wrinkled his nose. "Don't remind me."
Hutch settled the tray carefully on the bed, removing his own plate and glass and silverware. Grinning an answer to Starsky's genuine thanks, he watched as his partner dug in. Starsky was half done before he'd even tasted the food, but that didn't bother the blond a bit.
"So how was your visit?" Starsky asked between bites, giving his tired eyes another rub.
"Terrific!" Hutch grinned anew, his earlier high returning. "Starsk, you should've seen him. Peter's a good-looking kid--takes after his uncle."
"Poor kid," Starsky muttered. "How's Chris?"
"Great. I'll dig out some pictures later. Greg's ready to bust some buttons and Mom and Dad are already spoiling the kid rotten."
"That's what grandparents do, Hutch," Starsky patiently countered, scraping the last bit of sauce from his plate. Already his energy was flagging, his movements a little heavier, but Hutch was relieved that he nevertheless looked better and was definitely thinking more clearly.
"I know." Hutch paused. "So why didn't you call me?"
Starsky blinked at him, lost at the change of subject. "What?"
"Westin. Why didn't you call me? I woulda come home early."
"That's why I didn't call ya," Starsky said simply, shrugging as he moved on to his salad.
"Starsky, this vacation wasn't so urgent. I could have gone back and finished my visit later."
"Told ya, nobody figured Westin'd last that long." He yawned wearily. "'Sides, Chris needed ya."
"You needed me," Hutch argued.
Starsky gave up on the salad as too much trouble, yawning hugely again. "Chris is fam'ly," he said matter-of-factly.
"So are you," Hutch quietly answered.
That got through even Starsky's fatigue, and he started, then beamed tiredly at his partner. "Okay, next time I'll call."
"You do that."
Yet another yawn, this one threatening to crack his partner's jawbone, and Hutch got the message. Feeling like something important had been settled, he gathered the food stuff and tray and watched as Starsky slid sleepily back into the bed.
"Oh, Dobey said you're off tomorrow."
"Nice of him considerin' I just lost two days off dealin' with Westin," Starsky grunted, trying to straighten out his tangled blankets.
Hutch put the tray down and lent a hand despite his partner's glower. "Yeah, well, you don't want me out on the streets without back-up while you make up for lost time, do ya?"
Starsky looked up at him, momentarily wide awake and completely serious. "No."
Hutch flushed under the earnestness of that gaze. He hadn't even been thinking when he said it, but now that it'd come up..."Yeah, well, don't forget that the next time you're facing down some creep like Westin and I'm off havin' fun, okay? Family comes first, Starsk."
That lazy grin appeared, the one that meant all was right with Starsky's--and thus his own--world. "G'night, Blondie."
It felt good to be home.
Written in 1999