This story first appeared in the zine, Of Dreams & Schemes #14 (1999). Comments on this story can be sent to:email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
K Hanna Korossy
Starsky knew the same moment his partner did.
It was a quiet morning, still early, and the squadroom was deserted but for the two of them. A good time to catch up on paperwork, Starsky had glumly observed before they dove in. The ringing telephone had actually been a welcome interruption.
"Hutchinson." His partner had snagged it before him and gave Starsky a smug look. Starsky stuck his tongue out in dignified response.
His amusement died out as something in Hutch's face changed, something that didn't bode well. Starsky gave up typing and paid attention.
"Mom? Is everything okay?" Hutch's voice clearly indicated that he doubted it, and Starsky knew then, the same time he saw worry creep into his partner's eyes.
The pause was too long. Starsky felt like a deaf man trying to listen to a conversation he couldn't hear by simply reading his partner's face, and everything he saw there was bad.
"How bad is it?"
Sounded like something with Mr. Hutchinson, or maybe Hutch's sister, Chris. Starsky hoped it wasn't Chris; she had two small children at home. But Mr. Hutchinson wouldn't be good, either. And from his partner's distress, whatever it was wasn't promising.
"I'll catch a plane out tonight, Mom. I--I'll be there as soon as I can. He'll be okay, you know how tough he is."
Hutch's dad, then. Paperwork was forgotten altogether and Starsky got up to circle around to his partner's desk, perching on the corner and laying a hand on Hutch's shoulder. The blond glanced up at him a moment, just enough to share his fear, then turned back to the phone.
"Okay, Mom. I'll take a cab from the airport and meet you there.... Okay. Try not to worry. I'll see you soon.... I love you, too." And then he hung up the phone and just sat.
"Your dad?" Starsky asked quietly after a moment.
Hutch glanced up at him again, looking as undone as Starsky had ever seen him. "Yeah...yeah, he had a heart attack this morning. He's in the hospital."
Starsky squeezed gently. "Bad?"
"They're, uh, not sure yet. They're running tests."
The lost sound in Hutch's voice made Starsky frown, but while Hutch had a cop's instincts for functioning even under the worst conditions, even a cop faltered when it was personal and there was nothing he could do but wait. "I'll take ya home and we'll get you packed and on an airplane this afternoon."
A plan. That seemed to snap Hutch out of his daze and he smiled wanly at the brunet. "I've got my car here, remember? I'm okay, I'm just--uh, I think I'll go home."
"Okay," Starsky said carefully. "I'll talk to Dobey."
A little warmth crept back into Hutch's shell-shocked eyes and he patted Starsky's hand before he got up. "Thanks. I'll call when I know something."
Five seconds later, Hutch was gone without another word, and Starsky watched through the squadroom window as his partner rushed down the hallway, heedless of who he was bumping into. With a quiet sigh, Starsky went in search of their captain.
And still preoccupied when he left, Starsky never noticed the car that pulled out behind him and followed him home.
Toothbrush, toothpaste, razor. Hutch picked up each item and packed it with meticulous care. Socks, t-shirts. Not like any of it really mattered, but the first flight he could get to Duluth wasn't until late that evening and he needed something to do in the meantime. Desperately. Slacks, a warm sweater...
The phone rang, and Hutch stopped in mid-fold to stare at it. When he'd called his mother earlier that day to tell her his flight arrangements, there still had been no news. What if...
He snatched it up. "Hutchinson."
It wasn't his mother. In fact, it was probably the last person he wanted or expected to hear from just then, and certainly the last one needed.
"Hutchinson, remember me?"
He wasn't particularly good with voices, but this one was soaked into his memory with blood. Gillian's blood, his lover killed by--
"Very good." The voice contained no gloating though. "You probably didn't hear, Hutchinson, and even if you did you wouldn't have cared, but Mom died last month. She died because of you, because of the prison you put her in."
Cop instincts were fully on-line, but Hutch felt no emotion, not even anger, as if all his feelings were tied up in Duluth. His answer came out far flatter than even he intended. "If you're looking for someone to blame, Grossman, go look in the mirror. You and your mother just got what was coming to you."
Grossman, cool before, suddenly exploded. "You think you're so high and mighty! You don't even know what it's like to lose somebody important to you!" He calmed, far too suddenly. Hutch's skin prickled in warning. "Well, you're going to, Hutchinson. You're going to right now."
The warning became full-blown fear. It suddenly occurred to Hutch that it was unlikely Grossman was calling him from prison, and the man's instability made his threats worth paying attention to. "Grossman--"
"That girlfriend of yours was a tramp, a nobody. How about losing someone you work with, one of your fellow brothers in blue? The one you're closest to? Maybe that'd show you."
Starsky. Hutch's mind, his voice, his throat closed off. Not now, not with his father... Please, not Starsky. Anger usually helped clear his head when he was scared for his partner, but right now there were too many blows all at once to deal with, too much fear. He put his hand over the one on the receiver to keep it from shaking. "Grossman--" he began again, nearly begging.
Whether the man could tell his effect on Hutch or not, this was his show and he was enjoying it. "Your partner is no substitute for Mom, but they say you two are pretty tight. I figure it's a good place to start."
There were shifting noises, then a background sound he'd not focused on before suddenly became clear: heavy, labored breathing. Hutch grew frantic for air, too. Starsky--
"Any last words?" Grossman taunted.
"Grossman, listen, if it's me you want, I'm right here." The words were tumbling out of him. "You hurt Starsky and you're signing your death warrant, I promise you. And I'll still be here, Grossman, when you're long gone--"
"But you won't be enjoying it much, will you?" The edge was back in Grossman's voice. "I want you to see what it's like losing the person who means the most to you. Living alone when everything you've lived for is gone. I want you to feel what you've made me feel!"
Hutch opened his mouth to try one more time, but there was no time. His words froze solid in his throat as one gunshot, then another, made him jerk as if he'd been the one struck by the bullets. The loud breathing vanished, followed by a thud.
Starsky's body, or his own heart?
The line went dead.
Time sped and slowed. Images, memories...anguish. Numbness. Amputation never hurt right away, not until shock wore off and the brain started working again, but, oh, God, it still hurt, more than he thought he could hurt and stay sane. How could he survive it once it really sunk in?
Starsky was dead.
There were things that he should logically do. He knew that, even knew what they were. Dobey would need to be called, a crime lab sent over to Westchester...to his place, Grossman's freedom and activities checked into. Hutch had to start soon because he had a flight to catch in three hours...
No, he's not. Dad's the one who's in the hospital, but he'll be okay. Starsk'll be waiting here for me when I get back. He will--
It just wasn't so, couldn't be so. One crisis at a time. His dad--
"No." There, he'd said it out loud so it had to be true. No one spoke up to call him a liar. Emboldened by his rebellion, he pressed the hang-up button on the telephone with his free hand, the other still clenched whitely around the receiver, and dialed the captain's number at Parker.
"Cap'n, Grossman just called." Amazing, the normal sound of his voice. Maybe that was what real loss was, the hell of going on normally, life flowing serenely around you, when you knew it was all a sham? Steady, you're losing it.
"Grossman?" Dobey's voice sharpened. They hadn't told him all the details about Gillian's death, but he knew enough to apparently remember the name all-too-readily. "Is he out?"
"I think so," Hutch answered idly. Unimportant details--was everything else going to be unimportant now? "Cap'n, he said...he has Starsky and I think...I think he s-shot him." Shooting wasn't killing. So there.
"What?" The captain sounded on the verge of a heart-attack himself. Hutch almost smiled at the gallows humor, beyond the capability to be shocked, until he shuddered at the thought. What was wrong with him? Dobey was still yelling. "Hutch, what's going on? Tell me what happened, everything."
And he did, his mind wandering away from the conversation even as he said the right things. The living room was cold, and the suitcase stood half-packed nearby, almost a welcome distraction. His father was ill, but he was in the hospital and they'd take care of him. He'd be fine. Starsky...
"Do you think Grossman killed him?" Dobey's voice was so gentle, Hutch found himself answering without raising defenses first.
"I don't know. It sounded like...yeah." There had been no sound of breathing, the body had fallen, and for the first time in nearly nine years, he felt utterly alone. The future lay ahead empty and endless. Panic began to beat at his thoughts in earnest. He didn't want to, couldn't think about this.
Starsky's dead...and Grossman killed him. The anger missing before began to seep in now, and he grabbed on to it tightly. The sheer black drop into grief was far too deep.
"I'm comin' in, Cap'n," Hutch said with new determination. "Can you check on Grossman for me in the meantime?"
A hesitation. "Are you sure, Hutch? Starsky said you were flying out this evening--"
"I'll call Mom. She'll understand." Would she? He didn't. Trading the living for the dead...
"All right. I'll get on it right away."
Hutch hung up the phone at that, the weight of depression gone for the moment, neatly folded away until he had no more excuse to avoid carrying it. But for now, he had a mission and he wouldn't think about anything else.
But even numbed amputations bled.
"...so apparently this guard, Runnerson, arranged the schedule so that Grossman was alone for a few minutes and had a chance to slip away while they were loading laundry. They've already tracked Runnerson down and with an 'accessory to murder' hanging over his head, they couldn't have shut him up if they wanted to. Only problem was, he has no idea where Grossman is now."
Dobey's news was hardly a surprise, and Hutch sat through it impatiently. Grossman's mother had died three and a half weeks before, and Grossman had apparently paid off a guard to help him escape only two days prior to his call. After which Grossman had immediately disappeared.
"What about Starsky's place?" He planned to go over and take a look for himself, but Dobey had dispatched a black-and-white to check it out almost immediately after hearing from him.
"The door was open, no sign of forced entry or struggle. Starsky's car's still in front of the house. It looks like Grossman just walked right up to the door and grabbed him when Starsky opened it."
Hutch nodded. Bare facts on a case he could handle, especially when he didn't let himself attach names to them. "Okay. I want to talk to Runnerson and then I'm going to do some digging on Grossman."
"All right," Dobey nodded. "Just ask for what you need."
Hutch hesitated. That the captain was letting him work this at all was a real concession, with his personal stake in it, but his boss's understanding was almost too much, like warmth that thawed his protective layer of cool unemotion. But it was meant well and reminded him he wasn't alone. "Thanks, Cap'n."
Back to his desk, skirting Starsky's carefully. The squadroom was hushed around him; they were backing him up the one way they knew how, with deference and quiet sympathy, but no one dared speak to him. Losing a partner hit a little close to home for every detective in there. And Hutch's intense focus invited no interruption.
At least his mother had understood. His father seemed stable although he wasn't out of the woods yet, and Chris was there with their mom. Mrs. Hutchinson had told him to stay until he knew something and Hutch was grateful for at least that much weight lifted. He still avoided thoughts of his family, though, too stretched thin to deal with the fear for his father. One crisis at a time. It'll be all right. He couldn't see how but, oh, please, he hoped so.
Grossman's file was laid out in front of him, spread out on his desk and spilling over onto Starsky's, something that would have annoyed his partner if... Each time he read the man's name, every monstrosity Grossman had participated in, his anger grew, remaining just short of fury because once he reached that point, he'd have no control left whatsoever, and right now he needed that control to find his prey. But once he did, he wouldn't try to rein himself in any longer .
Uh-uh. You're not gonna lower yourself to his level. You can do this right. You have to.
Hutch chewed his lip and ignored the voice in the back of his mind.
The file and all his searching was of no help, however. Grossman had many holdings, but most of them had been sold or seized. The massage parlor that had served as his base was now a realtor's office. The home he'd shared with his mother had been sold and was occupied now by another family. Grossman had had next to no friends, no one to go to or trust in, and his few associates were in jail or dead. Nothing at all to show where the man would go when free, let alone where he'd take a hostage. It would just suit his perverse insanity to leave Starsky someplace where Hutch would never find him. Not even a body to bury...
He teetered on the brink for a moment at that thought, perilously close to letting the pain hack away his one last thread of control, and if it did, he knew he'd never find Grossman, would probably never find his way back at all. The ground under his feet was gone and he couldn't afford to lose the one thing he hung on to.
You may not want to, but you can do this. Even if it hurts more than you knew it was possible for someone to hurt. No quitting allowed. Not now...or after.
Hutch sighed wearily and rubbed his eyes. It was getting late. Okay, the file on Grossman wasn't the answer. He'd already talked to someone at the prison and they were sending him over Grossman's meager belongings. A few books, magazines, letters from his mother. The last provided him a little hope of a clue, but somehow he doubted it. There was method to Grossman's madness, and he wouldn't have ruined his chance at revenge with carelessness. Still, with his mother gone, the letters were the one...last...
His mother. Hutch nearly dropped his pencil. With their focus on Grossman, no one had bothered to check out his mother.
The roomful of detectives gawked at him as he streaked out the door and down the hall to R&I.
Hutch knew it the minute he saw it. The insignificant-seeming notation was the answer. The property was still in her name, now condemned but still hers because it hadn't been worth it to the city to seize it. Her old home, the home she'd raised her son in.
That's it. You found it, and now you can go and deal with whatever you find there. You will survive this. Even if he didn't want to.
He wanted to stay angry so badly, even if it seemed a cheap replacement to genuine pain. The anger was safer and he nurtured it, encouraged it. Dobey must have seen it, too, if the four black-and-whites following him to the address were any indication. Cap'n doesn't want you to do something stupid.
Neither do I. By the book. You can get through this.
Hutch didn't know if he was grateful for the constant monologue, or resentful.
He didn't want to survive, to do things by the book. His partner, his life, was gone. There was too much empty space in him that Starsky had filled--most of his soul, it felt like. Grossman couldn't suffer enough to satisfy that loss, and when he was finally taken care of, Hutch didn't want to bother with anything else ever again.
Don't be dumb, he's not worth it, and you are.
Damn his conceited conscience, anyway.
They were getting close enough to be heard, and he cut the siren, calling in to the other units to do the same. They coasted the last few blocks in eerie silence, to the rundown, apparently deserted house in one of the slums near the docks. The empty house with a car in front of it.
Hutch was out of the car before any of the others, bounding up the sagging steps. There was nothing more he wanted than to blindly charge in and take care of Grossman. If he died in the attempt, at this point he didn't care at all.
You'd better! Your partner would kill you for any less.
That made him pause, long enough for several uniforms to join him. Some hand motions and they staked out the house, one staying with him to go in the front door.
They crashed in on the count of three. "POLICE! FREEZE!"
Empty silence. Then, faintly, a small noise from below them.
Three of the cops were already searching the first floor, and one other joined Hutch just as he found the basement steps. He slammed through the door first, gun at ready, but there was nothing to be seen past the wall that set off the stairs. Hutch slipped down the steps cautiously, nerves taut to the point of snapping. Everything by the book, just as the voice insisted. He wouldn't let Starsky down one more time.
Around the corner of the wall there was a large family room, crumbling and dusty with age and undeniably empty. A short hallway stretched off it to one side, and there were three doors off that. Hutch motioned toward them with one hand, and the trooper fell into step beside him, covering him. They slid together to either side of the nearest doorway.
But the second one felt right. Hutch shut his eyes for a moment, trying to prepare himself for what he might find and knowing he never could. Then he nodded to the cop and slammed the door open, diving in.
The instinctual dive saved him from the shot that flew harmlessly over him, and he automatically shot back in the direction the bullet had come from. A gun clattered to the floor, and Grossman cowered in the far corner of the room, clutching a bleeding arm.
Fury washed over Hutch then, stealing his vision, his coherent thoughts. It was true, the expression of seeing red, for he saw nothing else that moment. And when it cleared, he had his hands wrapped around Grossman's throat and was squeezing with all the passion of his broken soul.
Stop it! You can't do this! Don't do this, please. Don't ruin your life because of him.
Hutch gasped, letting go before he even thought about it. Grossman fell at his feet, wheezing for breath.
Good boy. I knew you could do it.
It was Starsky's voice, rich with pride and warmth. Hutch didn't know why he hadn't recognized it before, except that it was so much a part of him, he'd taken it completely for granted. And now it had kept him from a revenge that had been well-deserved.
It's not about him, it's about you. Killing him would destroy you.
As if there was anything worthwhile left of him.
Don't you dare say that, the voice snapped back, furious, relentless. Not about my best friend.
Best friend. He'd been a best friend once. Now he was...
Still Starsky's best friend. That wouldn't change. With him survived the memories and essence of the most unique, most caring individual he'd ever known. He had to keep going because, through him, some part of Starsky that remained would too.
It was like looking into the heart of hell and willingly taking the first step toward it. But he would do it. He had to. Is that what you wanted me to say?
There was no answer.
The patrolman had come up behind him and was crouching by Grossman, already having handcuffed the prisoner. He sat back on his heels now and looked at Hutch, waiting for his cue as to what to do next, his expression carefully neutral. Hutch wondered idly if the man had tried to stop him when he had his hands locked around Grossman's throat, then decided it didn't matter. He'd won the battle.
Hutch stared dispassionately at the still-coughing Grossman, then reached out and hauled him to his feet by both arms, ignoring the groan as he jarred the injury. "Where is he?" he asked quietly, dangerously. Grossman didn't have to know about his decision to do this right.
"I don't know...I don't know!" The man was blabbering, tripping over his tongue in his fear. Typical bully, preying on women and...but call his bluff and he folded.
Hutch shook the man once, hard, and growled, "Where did you leave him?"
"Right here, I swear!" Grossman was getting desperate. "He was tied up and stoned; he wasn't supposed to be able to go anywhere!"
Wasn't supposed to... The meaning of the words rocked Hutch on his feet.
His grip loosened without his even realizing it. "He--he's not dead?" he asked unsteadily.
Grossman was watching him now and could see the change, and some of the fear was replaced by smugness. "What do you think, cop?"
That was a mistake. Before, Hutch's anger had been fueled by revenge, reckless anger he knew was wrong and that needed to be controlled. But if Starsky really was out there somewhere, alive, probably needing help, Hutch would willingly break every bone in Grossman's body to find him, and Dobey would probably back him up on it.
Without warning, Hutch slammed Grossman back against the wall, heedless of the way the murderer's head bounced against the brick. "What--did--you--do?"
The just-barely controlled violence of his tone turned Grossman white and wiped the smirk off his face as if it'd never been there. "I didn't shoot him, I just wanted you to think he was dead...well, maybe I winged him a little, but he wasn't dead when I left him, I swear."
Another slam against the wall and Hutch's voice rose a notch. "Tell me!"
"Okay, okay! Look, I just had him hung up by his wrists--there's the rope," he jerked his head once, but Hutch didn't take his eyes off his quarry. Grossman licked his lips. "I dosed him so he'd behave. And when I called you, I shot at the rope...I figured you'd hear him drop, think he was dead...but your stupid partner tried to knock me over and I think I ended up clippin' him in the side instead. When I got the rope the second time, he fell."
"Then what?" Hutch growled.
"He was still moving, trying to get up, so I gave him another shot of the stuff and locked him in here. That's the last time I saw him, I swear it!"
"What did you give him?"
"I don't know, some stuff Runnerson got me. It was supposed to make him easier to handle. I wasn't gonna kill him, not before I had some more fun..." His bravado drained away at the look in the detective's eyes.
Hutch stared at him hard, feeling the hammering of the man's heart even through his shirt, seeing the panicked truth in his expression. For better or for worse, Grossman was telling the truth. Hutch lost interest in him all at once and shoved him at the patrolman, then turned to check out the scene.
The rope hung from an exposed beam in the middle of the room, its frayed end several inches above Hutch's head. There was no sign of the rest of the rope, only some blood on the floor beneath it, not much. Hutch knelt by it, rubbing a finger gently over the now-dry spot. Hopefully, the lack of a lot of blood was a sign of a less-serious injury, but still, with Starsky's system full of drugs plus even a minor traumatic injury, shock or worse was a real, dangerous possibility. Time wasn't on their side. Where are you, partner?
He raised his head to study the room, and noticed the window for the first time. It was only a tiny sub-basement window, looking impossibly small for a man to fit through, but it was open a crack and there was a chair knocked over beneath it. Hutch jumped to his feet and righted the chair, climbing up for a closer look. There was a smear of dried blood on the sill, as if something bloody had brushed against it, and some more dark red stains on the window lever. Grossman had been right, Starsky was alive and had somehow gotten out that way. The only questions were how long ago, how far could he get in the condition he was in, and, most importantly, where was he now?
But Starsky's alive! It was just beginning to sink in, and that made everything else possible, like hoping, breathing, living. Fatigue and shock forgotten, he left Grossman with the officer and hurried outside to get a better look at where to start.
Hold on, Starsk, I'm coming.
There was still no answer, but he no longer needed one.
"Zebra Three. Patch me in to Dobey."
"10-4, Zebra Three," dispatch answered. Hutch leaned against the car impatiently.
The captain's voice came on. "Dobey here."
"Hutch, Cap'n. We found Grossman--he says Starsky's still alive and it looks like he's right." He said the words with unbelievable satisfaction.
"Hutch, that's good." He could hear Dobey's relieved smile. "Where's Starsky now?"
Hutch sobered just as quickly. "He doesn't know. Apparently, Grossman's been drugging him, might've even grazed him with a bullet, but he locked Starsky in the basement and he's not there now. Footprints by the window look like he took off north; we're just about to organize a search." Still those bare, cold facts. Starsky's apparent return to life had yanked him out of his grief, but left him even more confused and overwhelmed than before, and Hutch was trying not to think too much about his partner's condition. If Starsky had escaped from Grossman, he was on the run and probably doing his best to hide, just when Hutch needed to find him the most. Not to mention that with God-knew-what drugs in his system, he could easily do something foolish and get himself killed on his own, if shock didn't do it for him. Hutch's jaw clenched at the thought. No way. He wasn't about to lose Starsky again, not when he'd gotten so far.
"What did Grossman dose him with, do you know?"
He jerked his thoughts back to Dobey. "Uh, no, he says Runnerson gave it to him. Have someone--"
"Already on it. I'm going to put an APB out on Starsky, too. Do you need any more help?"
"I've got six uniforms here already. I'm going to try to trace Starsky's steps and the rest of 'em will be canvassing the streets. I'll let you know."
"You do that. It wouldn't hurt to ask Huggy to keep his ears open, too."
"I was just about to do that, Cap'n, thanks. Hutch out."
He placed the call to Huggy, his eyes inexorably drawn back to the house as he talked. I'm sorry I couldn't be here earlier, partner--you've got a coupla hours headstart on me, but I'm gonna find you.
Their friend promised his help, and Hutch quickly signed off but didn't move. He rubbed his eyes tiredly, his whole body feeling saturated and heavy with worry. But there was no one there to notice.
It took him a long minute more to find the strength, then he patched another call through, this one to his mother. The hospital took several minutes to locate her, and he could feel himself tearing in two as he waited, so scared to hear the news, even more scared to delay any longer the search for his partner. All the anger was gone, leaving only that choking fear.
"Ken?" his mother's voice interrupted his misery.
"Mom, how is he?" Hutch asked her while he could still make himself. Her news made him sag against the side of the car.
John Hutchinson was stable enough for surgery, and they'd just taken him in. Chances were 50-50 at best, but they wouldn't know for several hours. His mother was trying hard not to cry, he could tell, and he wished he had strength left to give her. His strength was missing, somewhere out in the city, lost.
Or so he thought. "Mom, everything'll be fine. Dad just retired--he's not about to leave you now, you know that. It wouldn't be a very smart business move." The light teasing came easily, somehow, and his voice was gentle, soothing, like his mother's had been so often with him. Police training had its advantages. Cracks in the heart didn't show in the voice.
Not that he could fool his mother. When she asked about Starsky, he almost crumbled then, except if he started he wouldn't be able to stop, and he needed to be together, peak form, to help his partner. His mother seemed to understand. "You'll find him, sweetheart," she ended the conversation. "It'll be all right." Almost the same words he'd used. His face drooped into a weary smile at that, and he'd said his soft good-bye with a promise to call later. Later, when he'd know if he'd lost two of the most important people in his life in one day.
He hung up the mike and drew a deep gasp of air.
Efficiently dispatching the officers was next. Starsky was well-liked around the station, and most were already itching to go out and begin searching, waiting only for Hutch to give them their instructions. One, Burgess, volunteered to go with him, but Hutch found himself turning the man down before he even thought about it. No, he had no desire for either company or distraction. The more people were out looking, the likelier it was that someone would spot Starsky, but Hutch was going to go by what he knew of his partner, by his heart, and he neither needed nor wanted company for that.
The uniforms were finally dispatched, leaving Hutch standing there alone. My turn. Resolutely, he went around to the back of the house to those footprints again, then taking his clue from them, began to search.
The houses on that block were all abandoned, decrepit, ready to be torn down. There were signs of squatters, homeless people who had temporarily found shelter in one or two of the sagging cottages, but for the most part the street was quiet and empty. Dead. Hutch suppressed a shiver.
There was an occasional half-print in the dirt in the backyards he was running through, and he followed their trail closely. It had last rained three days before and the ground was mostly dry and hard, but there were spots that still retained impressions, although Hutch was bothered to see that the tracks weaved more than would have been likely in merely trying to escape detection. The effect of the drugs? Or weakness from blood loss? Anger at Grossman welled up for a moment, streaming away just as quickly. That wouldn't help a bit now, and it messed with his focus.
And then, abruptly, the grassy dirt ended in pavement.
It was an alley between the last house and a larger building, a warehouse of some sort. To his left, the alley opened out into the street, and to the right it dead-ended into another building, but there was a fire escape that went from the ground up to the top of the building. Hutch hesitated, indecisive.
"Don't heights bother you? Starsky had stared at him incredulously.
"Only when I can't see down."
"'Only when you can't see down'?! You know, there's somethin' very weird about the way you think."
The exchange, some light-hearted back-and-forth during one of their cases, suddenly came to mind. It was true that Starsky hated heights, but even if he was trying to escape detection? On the other hand, the drugs seemed to be messing with his coordination at the very least, probably his vision, too. Going up the fire escape could have easily been suicide, and even as muddled as Starsky was, surely he recognized that, too.
Hutch turned down the alley toward the street. At its mouth, he immediately veered right, still heading north, away from Grossman's house and the danger Starsky would have known resided there.
That area of town was almost empty, settled in the days when Los Angeles was still building up, then abandoned with time as the houses aged and the area around the docks became more industrialized. In time, as the water-based industries diminished also, even the businesses moved on. It was a good place to hide a hostage...and a rotten place to look for one. Few witnesses, too many places to hide.
Hutch didn't slow for a minute.
The street finally ended in an intersection with another equally empty street, this one going east to west. At the west end, about two blocks away, it dead-ended into the piers and the open water. There were plenty of places to hide around the piers, not to mention more people, but Hutch stared at it doubtfully.
"You know how much I hate the water."
It hadn't stopped Starsky once from diving into the stuff to try to save his partner when he thought Hutch was drowning, but Starsky truly wasn't comfortable around deep water. Hutch shook his head and turned the opposite way, going deeper into the neighborhood, tracking along the corners and alleys he knew Starsky would have tried to stick to to avoid being seen.
A block up, he was rewarded by the first sign he was on the right path. A trash can tipped out across the sidewalk, trash spilling from its top. The sight would've hardly stood out in that area of town, except that only one or two pieces of the garbage had been carried away by the wind already, and even those hadn't gone far, the rest still strewn around the overturned can. Recent, then. Hutch bent down for a closer look, and a minute's careful study revealed what he'd hoped and dreaded to find: faint smudges of blood. As proof positive as he was likely to find, and yet it was a bad sign that Starsky was apparently still bleeding when he'd been by that way.
With a sigh, Hutch rose and took a moment to call in his findings, repositioning two of the searching units to more likely areas. He was about to put the walkie-talkie away when it crackled to life again.
"Hutchinson, this is Dobey."
He yanked it back out. "Hutch here. What've you got, Cap'n?"
"Runnerson. Says he got the drugs from a dealing friend of his and isn't sure what they are except that they're some kind of downers, possibly a mixture of narcotics."
Hutch winced. "That's just terrific."
"It could mean that Starsky's just going to curl up and sleep it off somewhere, you know," his boss admonished.
"And just bleed to death. He still thinks Grossman's after him, Cap'n. He's confused and he's running. He could even pass out in front of a car and get hit," Hutch answered bitterly.
Hutch sighed, running a hand tiredly over his face. It was nearly dark and the day had seemed far too long already. He was so tired, his body leaden and his mind sluggish with fatigue even as his imagination raced on without him. "I'm sorry, Cap'n, I didn't mean that like it sounded. I'm going to keep looking."
"You do that, Hutch, and don't forget, your partner has never given up on you before, either."
That was one reminder he didn't need. Hutch stuck the walkie-talkie away and kept going.
Frustration mounted as Hutch went on. Each intersection and alley he came to brought a whole new array of options, and it was often by instinct alone that Hutch chose his way. Once, only the presence of an old LTD, a virtual twin to his own dilapidated car, made him turn down a street, and his vision blurred for a moment, almost able to imagine Starsky drawn with hope to the familiar sight. But he found no indication Starsky had been there, nothing but his heart's certainty.
Other times he had even less to go on, and found himself frequently backtracking when there had been no sign that he was going the right way, only to finally pick up the trail again. However, his instincts were his main guide, honed together with Starsky, almost shared. They already finished each other's sentences, anticipated each other's reactions--like an old married couple, his sister had once said. Would that work here, too, knowing what his partner would do, where he'd go? Hutch had little more than that to go on.
And yet there were some confirmations that he was on the right path. People were few and far between, mostly the owners of tiny stores or older people who seemed permanently camped on their crumbling front steps, even as the evening wore on into night. Most couldn't help but a few remembered, always from hours before, someone matching Starsky's description weaving in the shadows but no odder a sight than the many drunks and transients that seemed to be the majority of the population of the area. Hardly any had given him a second glance, not even the one who'd gotten close enough to hear the man protest he was a cop. But Hutch had his partner's badge and ID in his own car, found by one of the patrolman at Grossman's place, so Starsky had nothing with him to prove he was not delusional. With his slurred voice and disheveled clothing, most would have been hard-pressed to believe anything different. Hutch drew what hope he could from the reports, swallowed his frustration at the apathy, and went on.
"You ever get the feelin' you're all alone in the world, nobody loves ya?"
His partner hadn't even thought Hutch was there when he'd said that, but the words had only been jest, martyred humor. The voice in Hutch's head was still, silent remembrances making up now for the absence. No surprise there; Starsky was crammed into every corner of his heart, his life, a part of nearly all his significant memories from the previous nine years. So many more shared memories than Hutch had from twice that time with his father...
"So who do we trust?"
"Like always, me and thee."
If he truly could find Starsky now through his knowledge of his partner, Starsky would know with equal certainty, drugs or no, that Hutch would find him. Even in the worst hallucinations of his own heroin nightmare, Hutch had always known, always trusted his partner. Trust, the ever-present, invisible steel line between them, never seemed so tangible to him as now, drawing him closer to his partner like some guide rope.
And if Starsky trusted him, anticipated his search, he'd also be doing his best to find Hutch or to help Hutch find him, even as he evaded the perceived threat from Grossman. Which meant what?
Hutch stopped short. A safe place. Some place that meant something to them both. They had chosen one once, the old ballroom downtown, in case there was trouble and they had separated and needed to meet covertly, a place Starsky had even used on one occasion, although Hutch hadn't been able to join him. But the ballroom was too far away, impossibly far for someone who was hurt, who couldn't make himself understood enough to get help. No, it had to be someplace close, someplace his partner would've chosen and known Hutch would figure it out...
"Come in, Hutch."
The captain's voice crackling on the walkie-talkie distracted him only for a moment, and Hutch was still sorting through possibilities as he absently thumbed the radio's button. "Hutchinson here. Any word, Cap'n?"
That broke his concentration, and suddenly worry for his father, lingering darkly in the background, loomed over everything. "Did my mother--"
"No, no. There's been an accident on Sepulveda, near Harbor View. Apparently someone matching Starsky's description hotwired a vehicle and drove several blocks with it before losing control and wrapping it around a telephone pole. Witnesses say the driver got out and despite the fact that he was bleeding from the head and unsteady, shrugged off all offers of help and staggered away, no one's sure where."
The whole thing was beginning to feel unreal. Even crisis control broke down when inundated, and Hutch's quickly cobbled together coping mechanisms were beginning to fail under the strain. "What?" he stammered. "They--nobody did anything?!"
Dobey's voice was very kind, and Hutch didn't even notice, or care. "Several witnesses say it seemed to them he was drunk and they were worried about trying to restrain him."
"So they let him--" Hutch almost laughed. Beckett had nothing on the absurdity of real life. He shoved his exhausted, wrenched mind back in gear. "Cap'n, where did he, uh, take the car from?"
"It was parked in front of an apartment building, on Metler."
Hutch closed his eyes for a moment, drawing up a mental map of the area. He had been heading the right way; Metler was only a few blocks ahead of him. As for the direction Starsky was going... It was possible Starsky had simply taken off for anywhere, wanting to get as far away as possible, but Hutch doubted it. What's that way? Business area, manufacturing plants...
And suddenly, just like that, he had it.
"Cap'n, I think I know where he is," Hutch said breathlessly into the radio as he began to run toward the black-and-white that had just turned onto the street several blocks up.
"What? Where?" Dobey barked back.
"I'm going to check it out--I'll let you know." He released the radio button and shoved it into his pocket as he picked up speed, ignoring the strange looks he got from those he dashed by.
"What took you so long?" Starsky's plaintive voice from another bad time rang in his ears.
Hang on, partner, I've got it now.
The patrol car had pulled over to the side of the road for whatever reason, and Hutch started yelling before he even reached it, pulling his ID out as he did. "Detective Hutchinson. I need to borrow your vehicle."
His urgency sent both uniforms scrambling out at once, even as they stared at him in bewilderment. "What--?" one began.
Hutch pulled out one of the radios from the patrol car and shoved it into the man's hands. "Call Captain Dobey, 9th Precinct. He'll explain." And ten seconds later he was roaring off, leaving the two officers gaping at him from the sidewalk. Hutch didn't give them a second thought, intent on his goal, certain he was right.
You've done your part, Starsk. Now it's my turn.
De Pew's meat-packing plant was way off of their beat but they'd been there more than once, following up leads and tracking down people. Mostly forgettable work except for one memorable occasion when Huggy had set up a mouse racing track in the unlikely location of an old meat-packing plant's basement. The same meat-packing plant that was only minutes away from the scene of the accident and was exactly in the direction Starsky had been heading. Please be there. You have to be there.
The memories played on as he drove. After they'd gotten the information they needed from Huggy, he and Starsky had left to return to the car, only to be locked in an airtight room and nearly blown up by the bomb the suspects had kindly left for them. It had been a classic example of their different methods, as Hutch had sat down to calculate how much time they had left while Starsky had built a battering ram and gotten them out of there. Other times, it had been Hutch's cool thinking that had gotten them out of jams Starsky's more hands-on approach couldn't lick. That was how they worked, in balance, each one doing what he did best, contributing his half to add up to the 200% they usually ran at. Even now, even when one of them was in trouble.
I'm coming, pal. You know that.
"I trust ya."
He had no particular memory to attach to that response; Starsky had said those words so many times before: lightly just before the punchline; whispered in the midst of a crisis, when it was the most important thing in the world; matter-of-factly any time Hutch needed to hear it--unlike his father, who had never said much of anything, mistakenly assuming that his son would just know. And Hutch, once past the innocence of childhood with its free and open expressions of love, had learned his lesson well and become equally undemonstrative. It was a stoicism that had lasted until he'd met his future partner at the Academy, and Starsky had taught him all about not being afraid to show feelings, satisfying his unrealized hunger with open affection. Hutch had just begun applying that example to his relationship with his father, but there was so much left for the two of them to work on. If he had the chance...
He glanced at the mike for a moment, debating, but left it be. Dobey would reach him if his mother called, and he had something else urgent to worry about at the moment. Another part of his family.
Moments later, he was there. The black-and-white screeched up to the back of the large building, at the entrance they'd gone in once before, the one that led to the supposedly airtight room. Hutch jumped out of the car and took the steps two at a time. Then froze at the door, suddenly uncertain.
He'd been so sure he was right, it was hard to entertain the idea that he could have been completely off-base. As muddled as his partner undoubtedly was, Hutch couldn't be positive he even remembered that old case and the plant, let alone knew that the blond would also head there. The idea of failure, of failing Starsky, was nearly unbearable, but he steeled himself for it anyway and opened the door.
His yell reverberated in the large, empty room, sending back at him the panic in his voice. He'd been praying somewhere in his mind all day long, but now his mouth moved silently with the plea. Please, God, let him be here and be all right.
There was no movement or sound no matter how hard he strained to hear, and he went down the steps just inside the door, into the shelled-out room. Apparently, no one had cared enough to try to repair the damage the bomb had done, debris and ruin still decorating the place. Hutch had to step over a few chunks of concrete and twisted metal, but otherwise he found his steps unimpeded as he made his way deeper into the room and the hallway beyond.
No sign of life.
Hutch crossed the room, then went out the door that Starsky had once knocked down just in time, saving both their lives. The hallway stretched ahead of him, murky and cluttered, doors exiting off to each side. Hutch's heart sank at the sight. So many places his partner could have curled up to hide. And that was without even any guarantee that he was there at all.
He's not hiding from you, stupid. He would've come here because you'd come find him here and Grossman probably wouldn't. So what's safe without being too hidden?
Several of the hallway's doors were ajar; that was a good place to start. "Starsky?" he hollered again for good measure, not really expecting a response.
He therefore almost missed the one he got. Not even an answer, just a noise, but he turned toward it frantically, narrowing it to one of two rooms on his right. "Starsky!" he yelled, rushing toward the closer one. "Starsk, it's Hutch. Where are you?"
Not a sound, but elation was riding high and he couldn't restrain the hope anymore, not even though he knew the fall of disappointment could be dangerous. "Starsk!" he tried once more, opening the first door.
And nearly stumbling over the body in front of him. Hutch flipped the light on, not realizing he ought to be surprised that the single bulb in the ceiling flared to life. What he saw before him was all that mattered.
"Starsky," he murmured, dropping to his knees and feeling for the pulse he knew would be there, and it was, thumping slow and strong against his fingers. His partner was sprawled face down on the ground, and Hutch carefully eased him onto his back, supporting his neck and head with one hand. There was blood stiffening the dark curls, some of it still bright red and wet, but not as much as he feared and the face it trickled down on wasn't white with blood loss, just pale. "Starsk, can you hear me?" he asked quietly. There was no reaction, but Hutch's hand rested tenderly on the curls for a moment, unable to believe the reality in front of him. Then it trailed down the still face, checking eye reactions, a bruise on his cheek, continuing farther down to the sternum and chest, his other hand feeling along extremities. Part of the t-shirt was bloody, and he lifted it to check what was, indeed, just a scratch from the bullet, only enough to bleed a bit and scare the life out of his partner. Bruises on his abdomen indicated some injury either from Grossman's manhandling or the accident, although Hutch's probing fingers felt no fractures anywhere. Continued searching revealed the abraded wrists, one badly swollen, but nothing else injured that he could see.
"Starsky?" he tried once more, hopeful, his hand going back up to cradle the face he'd missed so much and that he'd been so certain at one point to never see again, not with life, not...stirring? "Starsky?" he leaned closer, in his partner's line of vision.
The head rocked a little in his hand, but he kept the contact steady, gentle, full of his love and worry and hope. "Starsk, open your eyes for me, please."
And Starsky did, sleepy and blurry but looking at him. Hutch watched, spellbound as recognition lit them with the glow of contentment, and, incredibly, his partner smiled at him. "Hey," he mumbled thickly.
"Hi." Hutch smiled back, though he doubted he did as steady a job. "How ya doin'?"
"T'rrific." Starsky's attention seemed to drift for a moment, the drugged pupils wide and tracking slowly, then his eyes opened a little wider, wandering about the room until he seemed to remember where he was and why. They returned immediately to the blond. "Grossman--"
"It's okay," Hutch said quickly. "We got him."
But Starsky was shaking his head, wincing with the effort. "No...said he killed me, din't he?"
"Yeah," was Hutch's hushed answer.
Starsky sighed, a world-weary sound, and his good arm found its uncoordinated way to Hutch's knee. "Sorry."
His voice was just as full as Starsky's gesture had been. "Yeah."
A chill ran through his partner then, and Hutch started guiltily, realizing he hadn't done a thing for the injured man's comfort. He quickly pulled the radio and rattled off all in one breath location and a request for an ambulance, not waiting for response, then tugged out his handkerchief and pressed it against the scalp wound that was barely bleeding now, shrugging awkwardly out of his jacket at the same time.
"Hutch--" Starsky's voice sounded as tired as he felt, but it jerked him to a halt.
"'M okay, just ge' me up off the floor, huh?"
Hutch opened his mouth to protest, then realized he had no good reason to. That Starsky had made it that far was pretty fair sign there was no spinal injury, nor did there seem to be any broken ribs. "Okay," he nodded once, "just let me do the work."
Starsky almost smiled at that again and mostly obeyed, letting Hutch pull him up so that he half-sat, cushioned against the warmth of the blond's chest. Hutch wrapped his jacket around his partner, then held on to him, one hand stroking up and down the spine that rose and fell with each wonderful breath, each sign of life.
Starsky sighed once more, this time with contentment. "Y'remembered, huh?" he asked drowsily.
It took Hutch a moment to realize what he was talking about. "This place? Yeah. After you crashed that car, which, by the way, I think Dobey's not too happy about, I figured you were comin' here."
He could almost hear the smile in his partner's voice. "Still don't think 's an airtight room."
Hutch blinked hard. "Idiot," he muttered.
"Wha' 'bout your dad?"
The newfound peace cracked. Hutch squeezed his eyes shut. "Don't know yet," he said hoarsely. "He's in surgery now. They say his chances are 50-50."
Starsky shifted a little, the tiny tremors of cold abating as Hutch's body warmth--and reassurance of his own safety--seeped in. "Shoulda gone home."
"I couldn't." He was almost whispering.
Starsky's only answer was to bury his face into Hutch's shirt, right over the blond's heart. They sat for a moment in gentle silence.
When Starsky spoke up again, his voice was so low, Hutch had to lean forward a little to hear. "'M tired."
"Rest," Hutch said softly. "Your head looks okay, it's just the drugs still in your system. I'll take care of you." Pulse and respiration were too strong for him to be much worried about drug overdose, but Starsky had his undivided attention anyway in case there was any change.
"Know that," Starsky breathed, already half-gone. In a moment, he grew heavier as he let go of consciousness altogether.
The far-off sound of the ambulance made its way to Hutch just then, and he willed it not to hurry. Starsky was in no danger, just needing rest and time to heal. As did Hutch. Part of his heart was still out there, in limbo, but part was there safe and warm in his arms, and he was in no rush to let go. "Rest easy, partner," he whispered. "Thank God you're back."
He had been sitting on the edge of the chair, slumped over with his arms hanging loosely between his legs and his head bowed. Raising it took a lot of effort, and he stared at the nurse smiling in front of him. "Yes?"
"There's a telephone call for you."
Hutch shivered. The woman was still smiling at him but he couldn't seem to smile back, rising instead automatically to follow her over to the nurses' station, where he woodenly picked up the phone. "Hutchinson."
"Ken? He's going to be all right." His mother was crying now.
"All right?" he repeated dumbly.
"Yes, dear. Your father's going to be just fine--in fact, he already asked for you." She ran on, her words tumbling over themselves in her joy much like Starsky's did when he was excited, telling Hutch about the surgery and the doctor's orders and the recovery regimen. She was still crying, but her high-spirits were evident in every word despite the tears. He stood still, listening silently but not really hearing, trying to absorb it, until she asked him about Starsky and he answered her with he wasn't even sure what, except that it seemed to satisfy her and make her even happier.
"I love you, Mom," he finally said, and hung up.
He was still standing there when another nurse touched his arm. "They've settled Detective Starsky in his room now, and he's woken up a few times asking for you. Would you like to go stay with him awhile?"
Hutch followed her without a word, too. The blood tests were all reassuring, showing only foreign agents that would work their way out of Starsky's system without worry, and besides a badly-sprained wrist that was quickly splinted, all the other injuries were superficial and easy to tend. They were keeping him just overnight to make certain there was no problem with the drugs still affecting him, but the only prescription was rest and no complications were expected.
He followed the nurse into the room, and the sight that met his eyes was more reassuring than all the reports. Starsky lay curled up in bed sleeping naturally, peacefully, not even an IV bottle in sight. The nurse smiled at him once more, then turned and left them alone.
Hutch just stood and watched for a long time.
When he finally moved, it was just to go over to the side of the bed and draw the single chair near. There he settled in to sit and continued to simply watch Starsky breathe.
It finally began to sink in. It was going to be all right--his dad, Starsky, were both safe and mending. His world, in pieces only a few hours before, was intact and solid and safe once more. It no longer mattered that for hours he'd thought Starsky dead, or that he hadn't been able to make it home to share the vigil with his family while they waited for news, or that his mother had cried.
At least it shouldn't have mattered. Everything was all right again; it was safe to feel again. Except he couldn't.
The intensity of the day--well, the day before as it was already well after midnight--plunging and soaring to the extremes of adrenalin, rage, uncertainty, and raw fear, pressed on him now, needing release. For several hours, he'd been so certain that Starsky was dead, and for even longer he'd thought he'd lose his father, too. So he'd done what was necessary, partitioned off the despair so he could do what needed to be done and keep from killing Grossman or losing himself in grief. But his system was overtaxed by the incredible effort, in tatters, and couldn't deal with all the stopped-up deluge even now, even when everything was finally okay. If he stayed in stiff check, keeping the flood dammed up, he could still somehow function and hold himself together. Giving in would tear him apart.
His hands were wont to shake but he kept them tightly clenched between his knees. Hutch sat so, hunched with fatigue and tension, eyes fiercely dry, and just watched his partner breathe, too spent to even think any longer.
Starsky woke slowly, feeling bruised and sore but somehow still thoroughly contented. His recollections were fuzzy, yet he knew he was safe now, safe and at peace.
There was something nevertheless nagging at him, something he couldn't quite put a name to but that he could feel was wrong, and it roused him the rest of the way. He slowly, sleepily opened his eyes, blinking a few times until they cleared, knowing before they did that he wasn't alone in the room.
The blond leaned forward, the harsh lines of his face softening into a real, gentle smile. "Yeah, I'm here. How're you feeling?"
Starsky stretched, and a yawn broke before he could answer. He smiled tiredly despite his growing unease. "Okay. Still a little fuzzy. Head hurts."
Hutch touched the curls lightly. "Well, you've got an impressive lump, buddy, but you're gonna be fine. There're still some drugs in your system; they're what's making you fuzzy."
Starsky nodded, still watching his partner, trying to figure out what was bothering him. Hutch looked so old and tired, drained, but that Starsky could understand. He didn't imagine the other had gotten any sleep that night, or had slowed down for a minute while his partner had been missing. No, that wasn't it, but rather an odd tension, like he was about to crack from the pressure...
Starsky's eyes widened at a sudden thought.
"Hey, your dad...he's not--"
Hutch shook his head, still smiling, his eyes so gentle as if talking to Starsky was the only thing in the world that mattered, or maybe the only thing he saved his strength for. "He's fine. I just talked to Mom a little bit ago and she says he made it through the surgery with flying colors."
"Hey, that's great." Starsky pushed himself up gingerly, waving Hutch's hand away as he shoved the pillows in place so he could prop himself more upright.
"You're supposed to be resting," Hutch said disapprovingly, abating back into his chair where he again sat in that strange stooped position, as if the weight of the world rested on his shoulders. Or threatened to fall down on him.
Starsky was beginning to get the picture. "'M okay," he insisted, grinning sheepishly when another yawn cut off more. "I can sleep later. I wanna talk to you first."
One eyebrow rose, so Spock-like, Starsky almost laughed. Spock used it as a delaying tactic, too, as he recalled. "Okay. What do you want to talk about?"
The other eyebrow went up.
It was so normal, and yet so not. There was a cracking, weary strain even in the light words, which worried Starsky. He wondered briefly if any others of their friends had been around to notice and be there for Hutch as he struggled to deal with a weight Starsky could only imagine, then dismissed the question because he already knew the answer. Hutch clammed up tighter than a clam when something was bothering him. And anyway, nobody read him like Starsky did. "How're you doin'?" he asked more softly.
"You're okay and Dad's okay. That's what counts."
So why do you look like you're about to snap? "Your dad almost died," Starsky said gently.
"Grossman made you think I was dead, too."
Hutch's eyes closed and there was a long pause.
"I wanted to kill him," Hutch finally scraped out.
"Why didn't ya?" Starsky whispered.
An almost-smile creased his face. "You talked me out of it."
Starsky nodded in understanding, not even needing to figure that one out. "Musta been tough."
Haunted, strained blue eyes rose to meet his. "Starsk--" the soft voice trembled.
"It's okay to be scared, Hutch. It's just me here."
That was all it took. Or maybe just what it took. Starsky watched, concerned and relieved, as all the checks broke down and, with one inviting tug, Hutch was on the edge of the bed and had buried his face in Starsky's shoulder, beginning to shake and crumble. Starsky just held on and rocked.
"It's okay, partner," he whispered, the words coming so easily. "It's all over. I've got ya and you're not gonna fall apart, I promise."
There had been one time, when Rachel Starsky had fallen ill with pneumonia just when they'd been in the middle of an undercover assignment that they simply couldn't blow. Starsky had talked to the doctors in New York nearly on an hourly basis, and to his partner the rest of the time, waiting to hear if his mother would be all right, worried sick. And when it had been over and word had come that she was out of the woods and resting easily, it had all come crashing down on him, the fear and the drain of needing to keep on despite it, and the memories of parental loss. He'd felt like he was drowning, terrified.
Hutch had said nearly the same words to him then, offering a release just between the two of them, and Starsky had finally given in and sat there for some length of time in his partner's arms, crying like a baby. If being a cop had taught him anything, it was that occasionally everyone needed to let their guard down someplace safe. And if being Hutch's partner had taught him anything, it was that their partnership was always someplace safe.
"Shh," he soothed again, but didn't really mean it, knowing the purging was necessary and content to sit there as long as his partner needed it. Hutch had thought him dead--and had still managed to not only go on, but also deal with an ailing parent and not lose his control with Starsky's "murderer." The new layers of depth and strength he found in his partner never ceased to impress him. And make him proud. Starsky rested his cheek on the blond hair and shut his eyes tiredly. Yeah, Hutch had definitely earned a release. "Everything's gonna be all right," Starsky murmured again.
Maybe not yet, but it would be. Finding a lost friend worked both ways.
Written in 1999